Feb 232019
 


Henri Rousseau The sleeping gypsy 1897

 

A Fed Pivot, Born Of Volatility, Missteps, And New Economic Reality (R.)
Get Out Of The Bond And Stock Market, Put Your Money In Cash – Stockman (MW)
Global Sovereign Debt Will Top $50 Trillion This Year (ZH)
Mueller Won’t Deliver Report To DOJ Next Week (Hill)
Schiffting to Phase 2 of Collusion (Strassel)
‘Even Nixon Wasn’t Like Him’: Trump’s Bid To Upend Russia Inquiry (G.)
Great Investigations (Kunstler)
Theresa May Must Go In Three Months, Cabinet Ministers Say (G.)
UK Food Imports From EU Face ‘£9bn Tariff Bill’ Under No-Deal Brexit (G.)
Dianne Feinstein Snaps At Group Of Environmental Activist Children (ZH)
The Cold War in Tech (Barron’s)
Silicon Valley Wants In On It Pair Of Gene-Edited Chinese Twins (ZH)
China Blocks 17.5 Million Plane Tickets Due to Lack of ‘Social Credit’ (Ind.)

 

 

The folly of our times. The Fed has completely destroyed America’s market system, and thus its economy, and they are treated as wise men. There are no markets left, there are no pensions left, there’s only the Fed.

A Fed Pivot, Born Of Volatility, Missteps, And New Economic Reality (R.)

The Federal Reserve’s promise in January to be “patient” about further interest rate hikes, putting a three-year-old process of policy tightening on hold, calmed markets after weeks of turmoil that wiped out trillions of dollars of household wealth. But interviews with more than half a dozen policymakers and others close to the process suggest it also marked a more fundamental shift that could define Chairman Jerome Powell’s tenure as the point where the Fed first fully embraced a world of stubbornly weak inflation, perennially slower growth and permanently lower interest rates. Along with Powell’s public comments, Fed minutes, and other documents, the picture emerges of a central bank edging towards a period of potentially difficult change as it reviews how to do business in light of that new reality.

[..] Concern that years of solid economic growth and falling unemployment would inevitably rekindle inflation or threaten financial stability have been a staple of Fed debates, but had largely disappeared by the Fed’s Dec. 18-19 meeting, according to a review of Fed meeting minutes and officials’ public statements. It was a conclusion hiding in plain sight. After a year when the Trump administration pumped around $1.5 trillion of tax cuts and public spending into a full employment economy, the Fed in 2018 would miss its 2 percent inflation target yet again.

“I hate to say we were right,” Dallas Federal Reserve president Robert Kaplan told reporters on Jan. 15 in Dallas. “But we have been warning for quite some time that…the structure of the economy has changed dramatically.” Technological innovation, globalization, and the Fed’s commitment to its inflation target all held down prices, and “those forces are powerful and they are accelerating,” he said.

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Dave Stockman, too, keeps referring to markets. Stop it. A market has a definition, a function, based one-on-one on price discovery. And that simply ceased to exist.

Get Out Of The Bond And Stock Market, Put Your Money In Cash – Stockman (MW)

[..] thus far the market has bounded higher after shaking off a withering decline toward the end of 2018 that culminated in the worst Christmas Eve drop on record. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 19.4% since that time, breaking above a psychologically significant at 26,000 level on Friday, while the S&P 500 has advanced 19.5%, the Nasdaq Composite has risen 22.4% and the small-capitalization focused Russell 2000 index has returned more than 25%, according to FactSet data. Much of that gain has been underpinned by a Fed that has signaled that it is likely to slow a reduction of its $4 trillion balance sheet as soon as this year and a willingness to wait before increasing borrowing costs further. Both of those plans had been cited as a source of friction for markets.

However, Stockman has said a yawning deficit and an economic expansion in the U.S. that is making history for its length are signs that a reckoning my be at hand. He says easy-money days cannot last and has ramifications for all, arguing that the Fed must normalize its policy, at some point: “My point is, it’s finally catching up with us. We’ve gotten by with this for 30 years ‘cause the Fed has been monetizing the debt — buying bonds hand over fist. When Greenspan arrived, the balance sheet of the Fed was $200 billion; at the peak it was $4.5 trillion,” he told Cavuto, referring to former Fed boss Alan Greenspan. “We need to wake up and smell the roses here. We’re in year 10 of the longest business expansion in history.

We’re increasing the deficit at the very wrong time. They say it’s $900 billion this year it’ll be $1.2 trillion of borrowing at the same time that the Fed is beginning to shrink its balance sheet, which means they’ll be dumping bonds into the market,” he said.

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All that new debt and still pension systems are being fully gutted.

Global Sovereign Debt Will Top $50 Trillion This Year (ZH)

It has been one week since the US Treasury revealed that the national debt had topped $22 trillion (only 11 months after it had topped the $21 trillion threshold). And as the US budget deficit shows no signs of shrinking thanks to the Trump tax cuts and the death of the Obama-era budget sequester that has allowed for an expansion of federal spending (with more presumably on the way once the Trump infrastructure plan comes into focus), S&P warned on Thursday that worldwide sovereign debt could reach $50 trillion this year. According to Reuters, S&P predicted that governments will borrow some $7.78 trillion this year, up 3.2% since 2018 (the US will constitute more than $1 trillion of that all by itself). That’s a 6% increase in the total debt pile from the year before.

Most of this borrowing will be rolling over long-term debt. “Some 70 percent, or $5.5 trillion, of sovereigns’ gross borrowing will be to refinance maturing long-term debt, resulting in an estimated net borrowing requirement of about $2.3 trillion, or 2.6 percent of the GDP of rated sovereigns,” said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Karen Vartapetov. Governments, like corporations and individuals, took advantage of low interest rates around the world to step up borrowing in the wake of the financial crisis. Now, with borrowing costs expected to rise, these long-term burdens will become more burdensome to service. And with central banks slowly beginning to allow their inflated balance sheets to run off…

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No collusion.

Mueller Won’t Deliver Report To DOJ Next Week (Hill)

Special counsel Robert Mueller will not deliver his report to the Justice Department on Friday or next week, a Justice Department official told The Hill. The news comes amid broad speculation that Mueller’s probe into Russia’s electoral interference is wrapping up, with several news outlets reporting Wednesday that newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr was preparing to receive Mueller’s final report as soon as next week. The highly anticipated report is expected to cap off a sprawling, nearly two-year investigation into Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, a probe that has ensnared multiple former Trump campaign officials and associates.

Next week is already slated to be a busy week in Washington, with former longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen appearing for testimony on Capitol Hill and several other major hearings and votes set to take place. President Trump is also slated to travel to Vietnam next week for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. It remains unclear when Mueller will ultimately wrap up and submit his final documentation, though Friday’s news indicates the end of the investigation is at least a week away.

Mueller has been investigating Russian interference and potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow since May 2017, weathering constant attacks from Trump, who views the investigation as a “witch hunt” and has long denied allegations of collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin. In the course of his investigation, Mueller has unveiled charges against more than two dozen Russians for hacking Democratic emails and committing fraud in an elaborate plot to use social media to meddle in the election. The special counsel has also charged six Trump associates with making false statements, illegal foreign lobbying, financial violations and other crimes. However, none of the charges have alleged a conspiracy between the campaign and the Russians to interfere in the election.

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“No acknowledgment that Mr. Schiff & Co. for years have pushed fake stories that accused innocent men and women of being Russian agents. No relieved hope that the country might finally put this behind us. Just a smooth transition—using Russia as a hook—into Mr. Trump’s finances. Mueller who?”

Schiffting to Phase 2 of Collusion (Strassel)

There’s been no more reliable regurgitator of fantastical Trump-Russia collusion theories than Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff. So when the House Intelligence Committee chairman sits down to describe a “new phase” of the Trump investigation, pay attention. These are the fever swamps into which we will descend after Robert Mueller’s probe. The collusionists need a “new phase” as signs grow that the special counsel won’t help realize their reveries of a Donald Trump takedown. They had said Mr. Mueller would provide all the answers. Now that it seems they won’t like his answers, Democrats and media insist that any report will likely prove “anticlimactic” and “inconclusive.” “This is merely the end of Chapter 1,” said Renato Mariotti, a CNN legal “analyst.”

Mr. Schiff turned this week to a dependable scribe—the Washington Post’s David Ignatius—to lay out the next chapter of the penny dreadful. Mr. Ignatius was the original conduit for the leak about former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s conversations with a Russian ambassador, and the far-fetched claims that Mr. Flynn had violated the Logan Act of 1799. Mr. Schiff has now dictated to Mr. Ignatius a whole new collusion theory. Forget Carter Page, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos—whoever. The real Trump-Russia canoodling rests in “Trump’s finances.” The future president was “doing business with Russia” and “seeking Kremlin help.”

So, no apologies. No acknowledgment that Mr. Schiff & Co. for years have pushed fake stories that accused innocent men and women of being Russian agents. No relieved hope that the country might finally put this behind us. Just a smooth transition—using Russia as a hook—into Mr. Trump’s finances. Mueller who? What’s mind-boggling is that reporters would continue to take Mr. Schiff seriously, given his extraordinary record of incorrect and misleading pronouncements. This is the man who, on March 22, 2017, helped launch full-blown hysteria when he said on “Meet the Press” that his committee already had the goods on Trump-Russia collusion. “I can’t go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now,” Mr. Schiff declared then. Almost two years later, he’s provided no such evidence and stopped making the claim..

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Perhaps even more than politicians, it’s the media that will keep the collusion tale alive. They wouldn’t know how to make money anymore if they didn’t.

‘Even Nixon Wasn’t Like Him’: Trump’s Bid To Upend Russia Inquiry (G.)

It was yet another bombshell report for a president already ensnared in multiple investigations against his campaign, administration and family members. This time it had to do with hush money paid to women to silence them from speaking about alleged affairs they had with Donald Trump. According to a New York Times report published this week, Trump asked Matthew Whitaker, his controversial acting attorney general, if he could install a loyalist at the helm of the investigation into the hush money.

Although Whitaker declined Trump’s request, the story has raised fresh questions over whether the president was seeking to obstruct justice and how the reported move fits into a broad pattern of Trump attempting to interfere with an investigation concerning himself. Since taking office, Trump’s fixation on the federal inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election – and potential collusion between his campaign and Moscow – has spurred a series of actions that could now imperil his presidency and prospects of a second term.

From high-level firings to public misstatements, Trump’s repeated steps to undermine the investigations that have clouded his two years in office paint a picture of a president who is his own worst enemy, legal experts say. “It is quite clear from all the evidence that the president has had the intent to obstruct this investigation,” said Andy Wright, a former associate counsel to Barack Obama and the founding editor of the legal blog Just Security. “It’s been in plain sight.” “It’s a fundamental abuse of power for the president to be trying to shut down an investigation in which he has a personal stake – both as a potential target himself and his political allies and family members,” he added.

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Jim stays on message. I changed the headline from Great Expectations to Great Investigations.

Great Investigations (Kunstler)

Meanwhile, their antics may be eclipsed by the now inevitable inquiry around the misdeeds carried out by public officials in Act I of the show: the Russia Collusion Ruse. Based just on the current Andy McCabe book tour, there will be an awful lot to get to, and it is liable to be far more compelling than the nonsense conjured up by the Three Stooges. Mr. McCabe, in his quest to hand off the hot potato of culpability to his former colleagues, and to sell enough books to pay his lawyers’ retainers, has neatly laid out the case for his orchestrating a coup d’etat within the FBI. It’s an ugly story, and it’s all out there now, like so much spaghetti hurled against the wall, and it won’t be ignored.

There are many other spaghetti wads already plastered on that wall ranging from Hillary Clinton’s Fusion GPS hijinks, to Loretta Lynch’s written assurances to the Clinton campaign that the email server matter would be dropped, to the rather complete failure of the FISA process, and much much more that needs to be ventilated in a court of law. I suspect that Barack Obama and his White House confidents will enter the picture, too, sooner later, and to the great dismay of his partisans who do not want to see his legacy tarnished. Whatever your view of all these dark events, it would be pretty awful for the country to have to see him in a witness chair, but it may be unavoidable. Ditto Hillary, who is liable to go all Captain Queeg-y when she finally has to answer for her campaign’s turpitudes.

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Can both major parties in Britain dissolve in just 4 weeks time?

Theresa May Must Go In Three Months, Cabinet Ministers Say (G.)

Cabinet ministers will make it clear they believe Theresa May should step down after the local elections in May and allow a new leader to deliver the next phase of the Brexit negotiations, the Guardian understands.Senior figures in government have suggested they want the prime minister to leave shortly after the first phase of the Brexit negotiations finishes – or risk being defeated in a vote of no confidence at the end of the year. May wants to stay in place for long enough after Brexit to secure a political legacy beyond the fraught negotiations. But some ministers believe she should announce the timeline for her departure “on a high” after the local election results, paving the way for a Conservative leadership contest over the summer.

Brexiters in the cabinet are keen to see a new leader take over for the next stage of the negotiations with the EU, which May has already pledged will involve more active involvement for politicians rather than advisers. The hardening mood among cabinet ministers on the timeline for her departure will place further pressure on May before a critical week of Brexit talks and votes amid a febrile climate in Westminster. On Thursday the Guardian revealed that remainer ministers emboldened by the departure of three MPs to the Independent Group (TIG) were threatening to rebel against her leadership to prevent a no-deal outcome – daring her to sack them.

And in a fresh blow to May, three cabinet ministers publicly say they would back moves to delay Brexit if she fails to get her deal through parliament. In a joint newspaper article, Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, the justice minister, and the business secretary, Greg Clark, say they want to ensure the UK does not crash out of the EU without a deal on 29 March. And they insist they are prepared to defy the prime minister and join those MPs pushing for an extension to article 50 if there is no significant progress next week.

Writing for the Daily Mail on Saturday, they argue that a no-deal Brexit would wreck the country’s economy and put its security at risk. “If there is no breakthrough in the coming week, the balance of opinion in parliament is clear – that it would be better to seek to extend article 50 and delay our date of departure rather than crash out of the European Union on 29 March,” they write. “It is time that many of our Conservative parliamentary colleagues in the ERG recognised that parliament will stop a disastrous no-deal Brexit on 29 March. If that happens, they will have no one to blame but themselves for delaying Brexit.”

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Both May and Brussels appear to think they stand to gain from a no-deal Brexit. Maybe that makes it more likely than we think.

UK Food Imports From EU Face ‘£9bn Tariff Bill’ Under No-Deal Brexit (G.)

The government is expected next week to spell out its plan to mitigate a potential £9bn food-price shock from a no-deal Brexit, as analysts predict the cost of staples such as beef, cheddar cheese and tomatoes could soar. With just over a month until the Brexit deadline, the Department for International Trade is expected on Monday to publish a list of new import taxes, or tariffs, that will apply to 5200 products, including food and clothing, should the UK crash out of the EU without a deal. The relationship with the EU is key to the price of food because nearly one third of the food eaten in the UK comes from the bloc. At this time of year the situation is more acute because, with UK produce out of season, 90% of lettuces, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruit is sourced from, or via, the EU.

“Food and drink tariff rates will be higher than those in any other supply chain,” says Richard Lim, chief executive of consultancy firm Retail Economics. “All stages within the food supply chain will experience increased costs, with retailers hit disproportionately as processed goods attract higher duties than raw materials and semi-processed goods.” In 2017 the UK bought about £34bn of groceries from the EU, which arrived on supermarket shelves and at factory gates without being hit by customs duties or other trade costs. But if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, both will fall back on the World Trade Organisation’s “most favoured nation” tariffs, which means they must pay import duties on each other’s trade. On that basis the UK’s 2017 EU food imports would come with a hefty £9.3bn tariff bill on top, according to Retail Economics’s analysis.

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Having been there for 30 years is not exactly a positive thing, given how much things have deteriorated in that time. Hand it over to the kids, they couldn’t possibly do worse.

Dianne Feinstein Snaps At Group Of Environmental Activist Children (ZH)

Armed with an impassioned letter and memorized talking points, the children belonging to three Bay Area environmentalist groups (Sunrise Bay Area, Youth Versus the Apocalypse, and Earth Guardians San Francisco) implored Feinstein to support the Green New Deal. The Senator responded: “Ok, I’ll tell you what. We have our own Green New Deal.” The video skips forward to the children warning Feinstein that “some scientists have said that we have 12 years to turn this around” – referring to a conclusion by a recent UN-backed report that man-made climate change will become irreversible if carbon emissions are not significantly reduced over the next 12 years (which Ocasio-Cortez turned into “the world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change”).

“It’s not gonna get turned around in 10 years,” responded Feinstein – drawing a harsh rebuke from an angry chaperone. “Senator if this doesn’t get turned around in 10 years you’re looking at the faces of the people who are going to be living with these consequences,” said the adult – as one of the children chimed in “the government is supposed to be for the people and by the people and for all the people!” Feinstein was not amused. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here and you say “it has to be my way or the highway.” “I don’t respond to that,” shot back Feinstein. “I’ve gotten elected. I just ran. I was elected by almost a million vote plurality. And, I know what I’m doing. So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit. -Dianne Feinstein

One kid shot back “I hear what you’re saying but we’re the people who voted you. You’re supposed to listen to us, that’s your job.” “How old are you?” challenged Feinstein. “I’m 16. I can’t vote,” said the girl. “Well you didn’t vote for me,” replied the Senator.

https://twitter.com/sunrisemvmt/status/1099075460649107458

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The new fight for control of the world. Orwell International Inc.

The Cold War in Tech (Barron’s)

Cisco Systems, an early Silicon Valley success story, has become one of the nation’s top tech exporters. Today, roughly half of the networking giant’s sales come from outside the U.S. As foreign countries sought to catch up with U.S. connectivity, Cisco helped plug them in. But a wave of nationalist thinking has put Cisco—and most of its peers—in an uncomfortable position. Earlier this month, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins described the current climate as “one of the more complex macro, geopolitical environments that I think we’ve seen in quite a while with all the different moving parts.” It’s likely to get worse.

While investors are cheering indications of progress being made toward a resolution of trade issues between China and the U.S., the battle for tech supremacy between the two global superpowers shows few signs of abating. Even as the White House was negotiating on trade with Beijing, it was also contemplating a U.S. ban of telecommunications equipment from Chinese companies like Huawei Technologies, essentially China’s version of Cisco. As President Donald Trump was tweeting about the importance of 5G on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was pushing U.S. allies to ditch Huawei. This is a fight that is not going to end anytime soon. For years, U.S. officials have worried about Chinese equipment being used to infiltrate U.S. networks and businesses for possible espionage and theft of intellectual property.

Even a resolution of the trade war won’t quell those fears. “The perception is that too much of the information- and communication-technology supply chain is centered on China,” says Paul Triolo, who focuses on global technology policy issues for risk consulting firm Eurasia Group. “If we are in a conflict and using infrastructure built by China, they could theoretically hit a button and shut off everything.” “After 30 years of saying companies should optimize supply chains and move some abroad, now we are saying it’s a security concern,” he says. “Adjusting to that is jarring.”

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The sort of thing you know someone will always try, no matter what laws are invented. And it’s not about Silicon Valley, it’s about the CIA through big Tech.

Silicon Valley Wants In On It Pair Of Gene-Edited Chinese Twins (ZH)

A pair of Chinese twins who were gene-edited for resistance to HIV may also have ‘supercharged’ brains, along with possible resistance to age-related cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In a controversial experiment led by Chinese scientist He Jiankui, the embroys of seven couples had their genes “edited” using a tool known as CRISPR. By removing a gene called CCR5, Jiankui sought to create a natural immunity to HIV – which requires CCR5 to enter blood cells. Based on new research, however, Jiankui may have also left the twins, Lulu and Nana, with improved memory and enhanced cognition, according to MIT Technology Review. They may also enjoy some degree of protection from Alzheimer’s Disease and other maladies which are rapidly being linked to chronic inflammation, as some groups of mice without CCR5 – or who have been given CCR5 inhibitors, experience less severe dementia or Alzheimer’s symptoms.

“The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains,” says UCLA neurobiologist Alcino J. Silva, whose lap discovered a link between CCR5 and the brain’s ability to form new connections. “The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins,” says Silva, adding that the exact effect on the girls’ cognition cannot be predicted, which is “why it should not be done.” Jiankui’s human experiments drew harsh rebuke after news of Lulu and Nana’s birth in late October or early November, and has reportedly been fired from his position at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen, China. Jiankui says there are more gene-edited babies on the way.

Silva tells the MIT Technology Review that “because of his research, he sometimes interacts with figures in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who have, in his opinion, an unhealthy interest in designer babies with better brains.” When word of Jiankui’s experiment went public, Silva says he immediately questioned whether enhanced cognition was the real goal of the experiment. “I suddenly realized—Oh, holy shit, they are really serious about this bullshit,” said Silva. “My reaction was visceral repulsion and sadness.” He Jiankui acknowledged that he knew about the potential cognitive benefits of removing the CCR5 gene discovered by the UCLA team during a Q&A session, though he said “I am against using genome editing for enhancement.”

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Brave new world: gene-edited superhumans controlled through embedded technology. That Orwell guy appears smarter by the day.

China Blocks 17.5 Million Plane Tickets Due to Lack of ‘Social Credit’ (Ind.)

The Chinese government blocked 17.5 million would-be plane passengers from buying tickets last year as a punishment for offences including the failure to pay fines, it emerged. Some 5.5 million people were also barred from travelling by train under a controversial “social credit” system which the ruling Communist Party claims will improve public behaviour. The penalties are part of efforts by president Xi Jinping‘s government to use data-processing and other technology to tighten control on society. Human rights activists warn the system is too rigid and may lead to people being unfairly blacklisted without their knowledge, while US vice-president Mike Pence last year denounced it as “an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life”.

Authorities have experimented with social credit in parts of China since 2014. Points are deducted for breaking the law, but also, in some areas, for offences as minor as walking a dog without a lead. Offences punished last year also included false advertising and violating drug safety rules, said China’s National Public Credit Information Centre. It gave no details of how many people live in areas with social credit systems. [..] The ruling party is spending heavily to roll out facial recognition systems, and human rights activists say people in Muslim and other areas with high ethnic minority populations have been compelled to give blood samples for a genetic database. Those systems rely heavily on foreign technology, which has prompted criticism of US and European suppliers for enabling human rights abuses.

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Aug 122018
 
 August 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Elephants 1948

 

Rand Paul Against the World (AC)
Saudi Arabia’s PIF and SoftBank Not Interested in Tesla Buyout (WS)
China Scrambles to Cool Overheated Real Estate Market (ET)
Beijing Struggles To Defuse Anger Over China’s P2P Lending Crisis (R.)
DNC Serves WikiLeaks With Lawsuit Via Twitter (CBS)
More Than 100 Constituencies That Backed Brexit Now Want To Stay In EU (G.)
Russia Defense Minister Warns Germany Against ‘Strength & Unity’ Strategy (RT)
New Zealand To Ban Foreigners From Buying Homes (SMH)
Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (Varoufakis)
Gene-Editing Startups Ignite The Next ‘Frankenfood’ Fight (R.)
UK Outlets Review Sale Of Monsanto’s Roundup After US Cancer Verdict (G.)
The Oceans’ Last Chance (G.)

 

 

’Rand Paul has persuaded the president that we are not for regime change in Iran..’

Rand Paul Against the World (AC)

President Trump has been known to be hawkish on Iran. Politico observed Wednesday: “Trump has drawn praise from the right-wing establishment for hammering the mullahs in Tehran, junking the Iran nuclear deal and responding to the regime’s saber rattling with aggressive rhetoric of his own….” There are also powerful factions in Congress and Washington with inroads to the president that have been itching for regime change for years. “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran,” says Senator Tom Cotton, once rumored to be Trump’s pick to head the CIA. So what, or who, is stopping the hawks?

Politico revealed Wednesday some interesting aspects of the relationship between Senator Rand Paul and the president, particularly on foreign policy: “While Trump tolerates his hawkish advisers, the [Trump] aide added, he shares a real bond with Paul: ‘He actually at gut level has the same instincts as Rand Paul…’.” On Iran, Politico notes, “Trump has stopped short of calling for regime change even though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Bolton support it, aligning with Paul instead, according to a GOP foreign policy expert in frequent contact with the White House.”

But this part of the story was the most revelatory: “’Rand Paul has persuaded the president that we are not for regime change in Iran,’ this person said, because adopting that position would instigate another war in the Middle East.” This is significant, not because Trump couldn’t have arrived at the same position without Paul’s counsel, but because it’s easy to imagine him embracing regime change, what with virtually every major foreign policy advisor in his cabinet supporting something close to war with Iran. “Personnel is policy” is more than a cliché.

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Musk will have to clarify his ‘Funding Secured’, either to his board or the SEC. Preferably both.

Saudi Arabia’s PIF and SoftBank Not Interested in Tesla Buyout (WS)

The whole scheme kicked off when Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted during trading hours that he was “considering” taking Tesla private, “Funding secured,” which caused the already ludicrously overvalued shares to spike. Later he added, “Investor support is confirmed.” But no details, no names, no tidbits, not even a tease. Two days earlier, he’d tweeted that “even Hitler was shorting Tesla stock.” We can brush off the Hitler tweet as just one more Musk idiocy gone awry, but “Funding secured” and “Investor support is confirmed” are big-ass phrases for a public-company CEO discussing a buyout that would be valued at $72 billion. Now some folks, including those at the SEC’s San Francisco office, are wanting to know where exactly this money is going to come from – and if funding was even remotely “secured.”

The Tesla true believers instantly figured that a deal had already been worked out, either with SoftBank or with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), or with both, or whatever. Turns out, it’s not going to be SoftBank, and it’s not going to be the Saudis, either. They’re not interested in creating the magic to pull this off. Reuters reported today that a source “familiar with PIF’s strategy,” said that the fund was not, as Reuters put it, “currently getting involved in any funding process for Tesla’s take-private deal.” PIF had made headlines recently when it came out that it had acquired a stake in Tesla of just below 5% by buying its shares (TSLA) in the market. None of this money went to Tesla. It went to Tesla shareholders that wanted to get out.

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They don’t seem to be getting it done.

China Scrambles to Cool Overheated Real Estate Market (ET)

The Chinese government went all out during the first half of 2018 to cool an overheated real estate market. Major cities in China have issued regulations for their local real estate markets more than 260 times through July of this year, according to data from Centaline Property Agency, one of the largest property agencies in Hong Kong. That’s an all-time high and marks an 80 percent increase in frequency compared to the same period in 2017. In July alone, more than 60 cities announced more than 70 revised sets of real estate regulatory policies. Chinese cities have sought to keep housing prices from skyrocketing by limiting the number of properties one can purchase and sell, raising the minimum down-payment ratio for homebuyers, and boosting the time period between a purchase and when a unit can be then listed on the market for resale.

The Chinese Communist Party has made it a political priority to “resolutely contain the rise of housing prices,” as discussed during a meeting of the Party’s powerful 25-member Politburo on July 31, according to state-run media Xinhua. While prices in the real estate markets of some first- and second-tier cities appear to have leveled off, prices in most third- and fourth-tier cities continue to soar. In June, among China’s designated 70 large and medium-sized cities, 63 experienced a price increase for newly built commodity housing units, or privately developed housing on leased land, compared with last year, according to official data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices for new commodity housing and “second-hand housing”—units previously owned that are now on the market for sale—in 31 second-tier cities also increased, by 6.3 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively, in June.

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Shadow banks and P2P -there’s overlap- have been instrumental in China’s runaway growth.

Beijing Struggles To Defuse Anger Over China’s P2P Lending Crisis (R.)

Peter Wang was asleep at his home in Beijing last Monday when police officers arrived before dawn to detain him, saying he had helped organize a protest planned for later that day. Across the city, others who had lost money investing in China’s online peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms – including some who had traveled from as far away as Shandong and Shanxi provinces – got similar visits from police. By the time they were released, the demonstration they had planned using social media chat groups had fizzled amid a massive security response around the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) headquarters in the heart of Beijing’s financial district.

[..] The size of China’s P2P industry is far bigger than in the rest of the world combined, with outstanding loans of 1.49 trillion yuan ($217.96 billion), according to data tracker p2p001.com, run by the Shenzhen Qiancheng Internet Finance Research Institute. P2P, in which platforms gather funds from retail investors and loan the money to small corporate and individual borrowers, promising high returns, started flourishing nearly unregulated in China in 2011. At its peak in 2015, there were about 3,500 such businesses. But after Beijing began a campaign to defuse debt bubbles and reduce risks in the economy, including the country’s enormous non-bank lending sector, cracks began to appear as investors pulled their funds.

Since June, 243 online lending platforms have gone bust, according to wdzj.com, another P2P industry data provider. In that period, the industry saw its first monthly net fund outflows since at least 2014, the data provider said. The latest burst of anger, which led to the planned protests, flared up ahead of a June 30 deadline for companies to comply with new business practice standards, which are still being finalised but could include bank custodianship of investor funds and tougher disclosure requirements. Many of them shut down rather than do so, Zane Wang, chief executive of online micro-loan provider China Rapid Finance, told Reuters. That caused panic in the broader market. Investors tried to pull funds from P2P companies, causing liquidity problems for many smaller operators, Wang said, although larger ones are faring better.

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But who exactly has been served? Assange can’t read Twitter.

DNC Serves WikiLeaks With Lawsuit Via Twitter (CBS)

The Democratic National Committee on Friday officially served its lawsuit to WikiLeaks via Twitter, employing a rare method to serve its suit to the elusive group that has thus far been unresponsive. As CBS News first reported last month, the DNC filed a motion with a federal court in Manhattan requesting permission to serve its complaint to WikiLeaks on Twitter, a platform the DNC argued the website uses regularly. The DNC filed a lawsuit in April against the Trump campaign, Russian government and WikiLeaks, alleging a massive conspiracy to tilt the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor. All of the DNC’s attempts to serve the lawsuit via email failed, the DNC said in last month’s motion to the judge, which was ultimately approved.

The lawsuit was served through a tweet from a Twitter account established Friday by Cohen Milstein, the law firm representing the DNC in the suit, with the intent of serving the lawsuit. The DNC argued the unusual method of serving a lawsuit over Twitter was feasible because WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, frequently uses Twitter and had even suggested it had read the DNC’s lawsuit. On April 21, the WikiLeaks Twitter account tweeted, “Democrats have gone all Scientology against @WikiLeaks. We read the DNC lawsuit. Its primary claim against @WikiLeaks is that we published their ‘trade secrets.’ Scientology infamously tried this trick when we published their secret bibles. Didn’t work out well for them.'”

The DNC also noted last month that there is some legal precedent for serving the lawsuit on Twitter. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the DNC notes, decided service by Twitter was a reasonable way to alert the defendant, who had an active Twitter account. “WikiLeaks seems to tweet daily,” the DNC said in the motion made to the judge last month.

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Cats in a sack.

More Than 100 Constituencies That Backed Brexit Now Want To Stay In EU (G.)

More than 100 Westminster constituencies that voted to leave the EU have now switched their support to Remain, according to a stark new analysis seen by the Observer. In findings that could have a significant impact on the parliamentary battle of Brexit later this year, the study concludes that most seats in Britain now contain a majority of voters who want to stay in the EU. The analysis, one of the most comprehensive assessments of Brexit sentiment since the referendum, suggests the shift has been driven by doubts among Labour voters who backed Leave. As a result, the trend is starkest in the north of England and Wales – Labour heartlands in which Brexit sentiment appears to be changing.

The development will heap further pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to soften the party’s opposition to reconsidering Britain’s EU departure. Researchers at the Focaldata consumer analytics company compiled the breakdown by modelling two YouGov polls of more than 15,000 people in total, conducted before and after Theresa May published her proposed Brexit deal on 6 July. It combined the polling with detailed census information and data from the Office for National Statistics. The study was jointly commissioned by Best for Britain, which is campaigning against Brexit, and the anti-racist Hope Not Hate group. The 632 seats in England, Scotland and Wales were examined for the study. It found that 112 had switched from Leave to Remain. The new analysis suggests there are now 341 seats with majority Remain support, up from 229 seats at the referendum.

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Russia remembers Germany 70 years ago.

Russia Defense Minister Warns Germany Against ‘Strength & Unity’ Strategy (RT)

The Russian defense minister has reminded his German counterpart that approaching Moscow from a “position of unity and strength” is not the wisest idea, citing the bitter history of WWII that should’ve made Berlin more prudent. “We are open for dialogue. We are ready for a normal cooperation, but not at all from a position of strength,” Sergey Shoigu told Rossiya 24 TV station. “I certainly hope that the time when we could be talked to, as someone once said, as a second- or third-class country has now irretrievably passed.”

Referring to the original question from the host, Yevgeniy Popov, who noted the recent call by the German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to engage in dialogue with Moscow only from a “position of unity and strength,” Shoigu reminded his counterpart that, while Russia seeks peace, it will not tolerate being coerced. “After everything Germany has done to our country, I think, they should not talk on the issue for another two hundred years,” Shoigu said. “Ask your grandparents about their experience of talking to Russia from the position of strength. They will probably be able to tell you.” Shoigu explained that NATO, including Germany, cannot come to grips with the reality of seeing Russia return to the world stage as an independent actor with a strong and powerful military force.

“We are not going to threaten anyone. We’re not going to start a war with anyone,” Shoigu said, noting, however, that Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking unprecedented measures to make sure the military is fully ready for any untoward surprises. “We’re doing a massive job to restore our army. Yes, the time has passed when we had no funds or time for the army.” “We now have a totally different army. And if that frightens someone, do come visit to see how we live,” he added, in an interview recorded after the wrap-up of the Army Games in Russia, extending an invitation to the NATO militaries so far missing out on the biggest annual international military competition.

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But there are exceptions.

New Zealand To Ban Foreigners From Buying Homes (SMH)

Foreigners face a ban on buying homes in New Zealand after a spending splurge by millionaires seeking doomsday bolt-holes crowded out local buyers and pushed up property prices. Home purchases by tycoons such as tech billionaire Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder, and Matt Lauer, the former NBC host who lost his job after allegations of sexual misconduct, have led the New Zealand government to crack down on the trend. The country’s allure for the mega-rich planning a safe space to ride out the apocalypse has become almost a cliché in recent years. Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, told The New Yorker last year: “Saying you’re buying a house in New Zealand is kind of a wink, wink, say no more”.

But the country’s centre-Left government, led by prime minister Jacinda Ardern, is blaming the apocalypse preppers for a major housing crisis, with rates of homelessness among the highest in the developed world. Ms Ardern’s Labour Party is adamant that a law change banning foreigners from buying most types of homes in the country – due to pass through parliament next week – will help damp down property prices. It also plans to build 100,000 affordable properties in a decade, resolve New Zealand’s zoning and infrastructure woes, and bolster its ailing construction industry. The bill will still allow foreigners to buy new apartments in large developments and multi-storey blocks. Existing homes remain off limits to non-residents, but people from Australia and Singapore will be exempt from the ban, due to free-trade rules.

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Yanis reviews a book by Adam Tooze.

Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (Varoufakis)

Every so often, humanity manages genuinely to surprise itself. Events to which we had previously assigned zero probability push us into what the ancient Greeks referred to as aporia: intense bafflement urgently demanding a new model of the world we live in. The financial crash of 2008 was such a moment. Suddenly the world ceased to make sense in terms of what, a few weeks before, passed as conventional wisdom – even McDonald’s, for goodness sake, could not secure an overdraft from Bank of America!

Moments of aporia produce collective efforts to respond to our bewilderment. In the late 18th century, the pains of the Industrial Revolution begat free-market economics. The crisis of 1848 brought us the Marxist tradition. The great depression produced both Keynes’s General Theory and Friedman’s monetarism. Over the past decade, the 2008 crash has given rise to a cottage industry of books, articles, documentaries, even films but not, so far, an overarching theory. Now, a compelling new book has arrived which deserves to be at the top of the reading list of anyone interested in the events of 2008 and eager to make sense of the aftermath .

Written by Adam Tooze, an English economic historian at Columbia University (and, in the interest of full disclosure, a colleague), Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crisis Changed the World combines simple explanations of complex financial concepts with a majestic narrative tracing the prehistory and destructive path of the crisis across the planet (including long, apt and erudite chapters on Russia, the former Soviet satellites, China and south-east Asia). It also offers original insights into the nature of the wounded beast (financialised capitalism). Of the myriad unacknowledged truths that Tooze illuminates, some examples follow.

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Nowhere is mankind’s insanity more on display than here. If you can’t oversee the consequences of your actions, the precautionary principle applies. Not the profit principle.

Gene-Editing Startups Ignite The Next ‘Frankenfood’ Fight (R.)

In a suburban Minneapolis laboratory, a tiny company that has never turned a profit is poised to beat the world’s biggest agriculture firms to market with the next potential breakthrough in genetic engineering – a crop with “edited” DNA. Calyxt Inc, an eight-year-old firm co-founded by a genetics professor, altered the genes of a soybean plant to produce healthier oil using the cutting-edge editing technique rather than conventional genetic modification. Seventy-eight farmers planted those soybeans this spring across 17,000 acres in South Dakota and Minnesota, a crop expected to be the first gene-edited crop to sell commercially, beating out Fortune 500 companies.

Seed development giants such as Monsanto, Syngenta and DowDuPont have dominated genetically modified crop technology that emerged in the 1990s. But they face a wider field of competition from start-ups and other smaller competitors because gene-edited crops have drastically lower development costs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided not to regulate them. Relatively unknown firms including Calyxt, Cibus, and Benson Hill Biosystems are already advancing their own gene-edited projects in a race against Big Ag for dominance of the potentially transformational technology. “It’s a very exciting time for such a young company,” said Calyxt CEO Federico Tripodi, who oversees 45 people. “The fact a company so small and nimble can accomplish those things has picked up interest in the industry.”

Gene-editing technology involves targeting specific genes in a single organism and disrupting those linked to undesirable characteristics or altering them to make a positive change. Traditional genetic modification, by contrast, involves transferring a gene from one kind of organism to another, a process that still does not have full consumer acceptance. Gene-editing could mean bigger harvests of crops with a wide array of desirable traits – better-tasting tomatoes, low-gluten wheat, apples that don’t turn brown, drought-resistant soybeans or potatoes better suited for cold storage. The advances could also double the $15 billion global biotechnology seed market within a decade, said analyst Nick Anderson of investment bank Berenberg.

[..] Biotech firms hope the technology can avoid the “Frankenfood” label that critics have pinned on traditional genetically modified crops. But acceptance by regulators and the public globally remains uncertain. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on July 25 that gene-editing techniques are subject to regulations governing genetically modified crops. The ruling will limit gene-editing in Europe to research and make it illegal to grow commercial crops. The German chemical industry association called the decision “hostile to progress.”

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Afraid they’ll be sued too?

UK Outlets Review Sale Of Monsanto’s Roundup After US Cancer Verdict (G.)

One of the UK’s largest DIY retailers is reviewing the sale of Roundup weedkiller products amid mounting concerns about their use, after a US jury found that the herbicide had caused a terminally ill man’s cancer. The manufacturer of the weedkiller, Monsanto, has insisted that British consumers are safe to continue using Roundup products, which are widely sold at DIY stores and used by British farmers. But a spokesperson for Homebase said it would be reviewing its product range after the ruling in California. A spokesperson for B&Q said it had already been undertaking a broader review of all garden products in an attempt to manage the range responsibly.

[..] Monsanto’s vice-president, Scott Partridge, said on Friday that hundreds of studies had shown that glyphosate, one of the world’s most widely used herbicides and a key ingredient of Roundup, does not cause cancer. Monsanto would be appealing against the jury’s verdict, he added. “It is completely and totally safe, and the public should not be concerned about this verdict. It is one that we will work through the legal process to see if we can get the right result. The science is crystal-clear,” he said. “The jury made a decision, but the decision that a jury or a judge makes has to be based on the weight of the evidence, and the overwhelming weight of the evidence that went in the trial was that science demonstrates glyphosate is safe; there’s no credible evidence to the contrary.”

[..] The scientific world, however, has raised doubts about glyphosate. A ruling in 2015 by the World Health Organization’s international agency for research on cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Campaigners are now calling for a review of pesticide regulations in the UK after the case, saying that glyphosate poses a risk to public health, soils and the environment. More than 2m hectares (5m acres) of farmland across Britain are treated with glyphosate annually, according to a study of government data by Oxford Economics. Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, described the ruling as a “dramatic blow” to the pesticide industry. “This is a landmark case, which highlights not only the problems caused by glyphosate, but also the whole system of pesticide use. We need to urgently change our systems of weed control to stop relying on herbicides,” she said.

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“It has taken years of negotiations to set up this conference. If we miss this opportunity, we will probably not get another opportunity to save the high seas for another 40 years. By then, there will probably not be much left that is worth protecting.”

The Oceans’ Last Chance (G.)

The leatherback turtle is one of our planet’s most distinctive creatures. It can live for decades and grow to weigh up to two tonnes. It is the largest living reptile on Earth and its evolutionary roots reach back more than 100 million years. “Leatherbacks are living fossils,” says oceanographer Professor Callum Roberts, of York University. “But they are not flourishing. In fact, they are being wiped out at an extraordinary rate, particularly in the Pacific Ocean, where their numbers have declined by 97% over the past three decades. They are now critically endangered there.” Leatherbacks are suffering for several reasons. They have been hunted for their meat for centuries and the spread of tourist resorts disrupts turtles when they come ashore to lay their eggs on sandy beaches.

But the cause of the most recent, most massive decline in numbers of Dermochelys coriacea has a far more pernicious cause: long-line fishing in the high seas. Some trawlers now drag fishing lines that are more than 75 miles long, each bristling with hooks. Tens of thousands of sea turtles get snagged on these and drown every year. “It is tragic,” says Roberts. And this carnage goes unchecked – for the simple reason that there is no protection at all for species, endangered or otherwise, on seas outside national waters. The list includes fish and seabirds, plus fragile ecosystems such as deep-sea corals. “Outside national waters, in the high seas, it is essentially a no man’s land when it comes to protecting sensitive environments and their inhabitants,” says Paul Snelgrove, a deep-sea biologist at Memorial University in St John’s, Canada. “It is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs.”

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Apr 082018
 
 April 8, 2018  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Johannes Vermeer The Concert 1663
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, the single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)
Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)
Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)
Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)
US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)
China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)
Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)
China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)
No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)
Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)
US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)
Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

 

 

At some point it will stop. But it’s just too tempting.

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)

The world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030, according to a shocking analysis that has lead to a cross-party call for action. World leaders are being warned that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top will fuel growing distrust and anger over the coming decade unless action is taken to restore the balance. An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030. Even taking the financial crash into account, and measuring their assets over a longer period, they would still hold more than half of all wealth.

Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) – up from $140tn today. Analysts suggest wealth has become concentrated at the top because of recent income inequality, higher rates of saving among the wealthy, and the accumulation of assets. The wealthy also invested a large amount of equity in businesses, stocks and other financial assets, which have handed them disproportionate benefits.

New polling by Opinium suggests that voters perceive a major problem with the influence exerted by the very wealthy. Asked to select a group that would have the most power in 2030, most (34%) said the super-rich, while 28% opted for national governments. In a sign of falling levels of trust, those surveyed said they feared the consequences of wealth inequality would be rising levels of corruption (41%) or the “super-rich enjoying unfair influence on government policy” (43%).

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Once they have new identities, nobody can ever ask them a question again.

Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)

Britain is considering offering poisoned Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia new identities and a fresh life in the United States in an attempt to protect them from further murder attempts, the Sunday Times newspaper reported. It said officials at the MI6 intelligence agency have had discussions with their counterparts in the CIA about resettling the victims poisoned last month in the English city of Salisbury. “They will be offered new identities,” it quoted an unidentified source as saying.

The paper said its sources believed Britain would want to ensure their safety by resettling them in one of the so-called “five eyes” countries, the intelligence-sharing partnership that also includes the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. “The obvious place to resettle them is America because they’re less likely to be killed there and it’s easier to protect them there under a new identity,” it quoted what it called an intelligence source familiar with the negotiations as saying. “There’s a preference for them to be resettled in a five-eyes nation because their case would have huge security implications,” the source added.

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Some are more equal than others.

Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)

Facebook secretly deleted private messages from people’s inboxes that had been sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the company has admitted. Messages disappearing from people’s inboxes was first noted by TechCrunch, who cited three sources whose inboxes had been tampered with. It is not possible for normal Facebook users to delete messages from other people’s inboxes, though Mr Zuckerberg and other executives appear to have had access to the functionality for several years. Facebook said in a statement that the self-destructing feature was added in response to the Sony Pictures hack in 2014 that compromised personal information of Sony employees, as well as copies of unreleased films.

The feature may also have been used to prevent potentially embarrassing messages from resurfacing, such as a 2004 message sent by Mr Zuckerberg that reportedly called users of the social network “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their data. “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” Facebook said. “These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.” The messages were also missing when the affected users attempted to recover them using Facebook’s “download your information” tool.

Deleting private messages from people’s inboxes without their consent may potentially go against Facebook’s terms of service, which make no mention of removing content unless it is a violation of the firm’s community standards.

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We spy on you for your own good. Trust us, we know better.

Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)

Facebook scans the links and images that people send each other on Facebook Messenger, and reads chats when they’re flagged to moderators, making sure the content abides by the company’s rules. If it doesn’t, it gets blocked or taken down. The company confirmed the practice after an interview published earlier this week with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg raised questions about Messenger’s practices and privacy. Zuckerberg told Vox’s Ezra Klein a story about receiving a phone call related to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Facebook had detected people trying to send sensational messages through the Messenger app, he said. “In that case, our systems detect what’s going on,” Zuckerberg said. “We stop those messages from going through.”

Some people reacted with concern on Twitter: Was Facebook reading messages more generally? Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over how it handles users’ private data and the revelation struck a nerve. Messenger doesn’t use the data from the scanned messages for advertising, the company said, but the policy may extend beyond what Messenger users expect. The company told Bloomberg that while Messenger conversations are private, Facebook scans them and uses the same tools to prevent abuse there that it does on the social network more generally. All content must abide by the same “community standards.” People can report posts or messages for violating those standards, which would prompt a review by the company’s “community operations” team.

Automated tools can also do the work. “For example, on Messenger, when you send a photo, our automated systems scan it using photo matching technology to detect known child exploitation imagery or when you send a link, we scan it for malware or viruses,” a Facebook Messenger spokeswoman said in a statement. “Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behavior on our platform.”

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When Facebook looks at everybody’s everything, this should come as no surprise.

US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking to create a searchable database of hundreds of thousands of news sources, journalists, bloggers and “media influencers” for the federal government, a move a DHS spokesman called “standard practice.” In a job request posted last week to the Federal Business Opportunities website, the main contracting website used by the federal government, DHS wrote that it is seeking a contractor that is able to monitor up to 290,000 global news sources, track media coverage in up to 100 languages and can “track online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media.”

The request also seeks the ability to build lists of journalists “based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role.” Data to be collected would also include an analysis of each news source’s “sentiment,” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum and circulation. The database of “top media influencers” would include “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”

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Treasuries are the only thing China can buy with its -dollar- surplus.

China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)

When China builds a trade surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. That means its purchase of US dollar assets is non-discretionary unless it revalues its currency. Every time there is some kind of dispute between China and the United States, a litany of voices emerges to warn of spiking interest rates. These warnings are wrong-headed. We went through this very same exercise in 2010. And Michael Pettis’s commentary is useful in this context. Let me quote from Michael and explain what it means in today’s context:

“If China runs a current account surplus, it must accumulate net foreign claims by exactly that amount, and the entity against which it accumulates those claims (adjusting for actions by other players within the balance of payments) ultimately must run the corresponding current account deficit. And as long as China ran the largest current account surplus ever recorded as a share of global GDP, and the US the largest current account deficit ever recorded, and especially since China also ran an additional capital account surplus (i.e. other non-PBoC agents ran a net capital inflow), it was almost impossible for the PBoC to do anything but buy US dollar assets. Given the sheer amounts, a substantial portion of these assets had inevitably to be USG bonds.“

The source of acrimony between China and the US is China’s trade surplus with the US. Now, when China builds this surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. And so, for a large portion of that dollar hoard, the Chinese have decided to store it as Treasury bonds. We don’t have to argue the merits of the Trump trade position here. It’s irrelevant regarding China’s accumulation of Treasury securities or mortgage-backed securities. Note that now it is Germany instead of China that has the largest current account surplus. And the EU has drawn Trump’s ire for this reason.

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“..growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009”

Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)

The Reserve Bank of Australia is concerned that the rapid expansion of China’s shadow banking sector over the past decade poses a threat to financial stability.The RBA estimates that China’s shadow banking sector currently stands at USD$7 trillion, or around 60% of GDP, after growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009. This means China’s shadow banking sector is far largely proportionately compared to other emerging economies, and roughly on par with developed nations such as the UK and the US. The RBA points out that shadow banking has brought benefits to the Chinese economy, chief amongst them the provision of more innovative forms of financing to companies otherwise barred from the state-dominated banking system.

Chinese households also benefited by obtaining access to investment products that provide competitive yields, in a highly regulated financial environment that provides few investment options.These benefits have also created problems, however, in the form of surging debt growth beyond the purview of regulatory scrutiny, riskier lending that is still inextricably linked to the Chinese banking system, as well as liquidity and maturity mismatches.These risks have been further exacerbated by the relative inexperience of China’s retail investors, and the perception that many financial instruments such as bank wealth management products enjoy “implicit guarantees. ”Beijing is well aware of the risks associated with exorbitant debt growth via shadow banking activity, launching a crackdown on the sector over a year ago as part of a broader deleveraging campaign.

The recently merged banking and insurance regulator has also flagged a continued focus on local government and state-owned enterprise leverage, alongside concern over the rapid increase in household borrowing.According to RBA analysts, however, Chinese regulators are still struggling to control breakneck credit growth in the economy.“Chinese regulators have been trying to mitigate these risks for some time, but it has been a challenge to design regulations that address these risks and are not easily circumvented,” said RBA officials in the Australian central bank’s March bulletin. In January China posted record growth in lending, which surged to 2.9 trillion yuan (approx. USD$458.5 billion) for a five-fold increase compared to the preceding month.

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What Xi can’t control.

China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)

The transformation of China’s economy, both in terms of GDP growth rate and poverty reduction since it started its transition to the market system in the late 1970s, has arguably been the biggest macroeconomic event of the past half-century. The model that has characterized the country’s high output growth rates has followed in the footsteps of the Asian “tigers“: first, its high growth rates of capital accumulation, driven by high investment-output ratios; second, a marked outward orientation through export-led growth policies; and third, the pursuit of industrialization (in particular the production and export of manufacturing goods), a key ingredient for fast growth and development. By almost every metric, China has advanced from economic backwater to the world’s second-largest GDP (and by some measures, is now the largest economy).

But in spite of signs of renewed economic activity in March, the country’s debt build-up has provoked increasing concern amongst Beijing’s policy makers, as it points to an underlying long-term financial fragility, particularly if trade war pressures intensify. Just last October during the Communist Party Plenary, Zhou Xiaochuan, then head of the country’s central bank, warned of a “Minsky moment“: “When there are too many pro-cyclical factors in an economy, cyclical fluctuations will be amplified. If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky Moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.”

To elaborate on Zhou’s statement, the economist Hyman Minsky described how once the debt “disease” goes metastatic, there will come a “Minsky moment” (a term originally coined by economist Paul McCulley) when euphoria gives way to concern and then to panic liquidation and credit revulsion. When that dynamic is in full flower, policy makers are powerless to avert it, no matter how much they want to bring the punchbowl back. Governor Zhou’s public warning was no doubt in response to recent rapid increase of debt which, according to Professor L. Randall Wray, “increased from 162% to 260% of GDP between 2008 and 2016,” and remains “a topic of discussion, if not deep concern.”

It may seem odd to warn of a Chinese slowdown, given the recent renewed surge in exports and the corresponding rise in both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing purchasing managing indices (both the manufacturing and service gauges remain above 50, and therefore indicative of robust economic activity). But these gains ought to be viewed against the backdrop of a more hostile external environment for Chinese manufactured goods. Discussing the recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, the New York Times reported that Trump has already provided brief exemptions to “Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea” (countries that “account for more than half of the $29 billion in steel sold to the United States in 2017”), which reinforces the idea that it is largely China that remains the major target of Trump’s economic nationalists.

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A nice thought experiment.

No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum, I borrowed this line from the Eagles’ 1976 hit “Hotel California” as an argument against Britain exiting the European Union. I told audiences up and down Britain that if they voted to leave the EU, they would end up more entangled with the EU Commission than ever before. As British Prime Minister Theresa May is finding out, disentangling a member state from the EU is an arduous and complex undertaking. But how much harder would Brexit have been had the United Kingdom adopted the euro back in 2000?

For starters, the people of Britain would never have been consulted on whether they wanted to check out of the EU. In a hypothetical eurozone Britain, the very announcement of a referendum on membership would have triggered a bank run. Given Britain’s chronic trade and current-account deficits, an exit from the euro would have necessarily caused a decline in the international value of UK bank deposits. Foreseeing this, depositors would have responded to the announcement of a referendum by immediately withdrawing their euros in cash or by wiring them to Frankfurt, Paris, New York, or elsewhere. And, foreseeing that reaction, no British prime minister, not even David Cameron, would have dared announce a Brexit referendum.

Looking further back, what would the effect of 16 years in the eurozone have been on the relative strength of Leavers and Remainers within the Conservative Party? What would Britain’s economic circumstances have been like prior to 2016 had the euro been the UK’s currency? Would the political pressure to hold the referendum in 2016 have been weaker had Britain shared the same currency as Germany, France, and Greece? As with all counterfactuals, we are treading on thin ice here. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to sketch a plausible economic past for a UK that, hypothetically, entered the eurozone in 2000.

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Time to follow the money on pot.

Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)

Legalised cannabis use may help solve America’s opioid crisis, two scientific studies have suggested. Two separate peer-reviewed studies in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found significant drops in opioid prescribing in US states that had relaxed their cannabis laws. Both studies appear to offer insights into possible ways to solve a crisis that saw 17,087 people die from prescription opioid overdoes in the US in 2016. The crisis has its origins in soaring prescription rates after a new generation of opioids were marketed in the 1980s and 1990s with inaccurate claims that they could alleviate chronic pain with minimal risk of addiction.

The new research was accompanied by an opinion piece in JAMA Internal Medicine which said both studies produced “results suggesting that cannabis legalisation may play a beneficial role in the opioid crisis”. In the first study, researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, looked at Medicare Part D prescriptions for people over the age of 65 between 2010 and 2015. It found that prescriptions for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses per year from an average of 23.08 million daily doses per year when a state instituted any medical cannabis law. When a state opened marijuana dispensaries, opioid prescriptions dropped by 3.7 million daily doses per year.

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Loophole. And a dangerous one.

US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)

Researchers in the US have been given the go-ahead to use gene-editing techniques to alter crops and plants. The decision opens the door for scientists to create a new generation of genetically altered crops without serious restriction and paves the way for approvals for similar work in Britain and the rest of Europe. The decision – by the US Department of Agriculture – has delighted scientists who had feared that limitations on the creation and growing of genetically modified crops would also be imposed on crops created using far simpler gene-editing techniques. “I think this decision by American legislators will have all sorts of benefits in the long run,” said Professor Denis Murphy of the University of South Wales.

“This is a win-win situation because agriculture for gene-editing is cheaper, faster, simpler and more precise than the genetic modification of plants, in which a gene is taken from one organism and moved to another.” The European Court of Justice indicated in January that it does not think crops created though gene-editing techniques should be regulated by the rules that govern genetically modified organisms in Europe. “At the same time, Britain’s Acre – the advisory committee on releases into the environment – also seems to be sympathetic to this position,” said Professor Huw Dylan Jones of Aberystwyth University. “It is very encouraging.”

In the wake of hostile green campaigns, Britain imposed severe restrictions on GM crops two decades ago and few have been grown. The prospect that this fate would also befall plants created by the newer and simpler technique of gene-editing worried many researchers who feared a technology at which Britain excels would be banned. These fears are now disappearing, they say. “If we have our own domestic gene-editing industry then scientists trained at our universities will have something to work on here when they qualify,” said Murphy. “At present, our young scientists have to go to work in another country if they want to continue working on the topic.”

Gene-editing could lead to the development of domestic crops particularly suited to Britain, said Dylan Jones. “Loliums and clovers that are good for grazing could be improved to make them more hardy, for example,” he said. “It is very hopeful.” Genetically modified crops are generated through the introduction of foreign DNA sequences. Gene-edited crops are created by editing an organism’s native genome. Gene-editing is more efficient, cheaper, quicker and more precise. By altering the DNA make-up of a gene the characteristics of a cell or an organism can be changed.

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I don’t like calling living creatures ‘pests’, and the tone here is a bit sensational, but the core is resistance against pesticides. We must stop poisoning nature.

Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

A pair of major agricultural pests have combined to produce a “mega-pest” that could threaten crops around the world. Losses from the original pest species, cotton bollworms and corn earworms, already amounts to billions of dollars worth of food. But a hybrid of the two, shows signs of rapidly developing resistance to pesticides and it scientists fear it could cross international boundaries undetected, wiping out all the crops it comes across. Bollworms and earworms are closely related. The bollworm has its origins in Africa, Asia and Europe while the earworm is a native of the Americas. Both are in fact moth caterpillars and they feed on more than 100 plant species including vital crops like corn, cotton, tomato and soybean.

A team of Australian scientists who discovered the hybrid mega-pests think the combination of international species could be creating a new strain with unlimited geographical boundaries. It is impossible to tell which individuals are hybrids just by looking at them, meaning by the time the hybrids have been detected it may be too late. [..] In Australia, a combination of pesticides is currently being employed to manage the nation’s bollworms, but chemical resistance is a major cause for concern. Bollworms are generally better at developing resistance than their earworm cousins, and are immune to the effects of many major insecticides.

However, within the “hybrid swarm” they studied in Brazil the scientists found creatures that were largely earworm in their genetic makeup, but with bollworm DNA coding for pesticide resistance. The scientists warned that the Brazilian case highlighted the threat that new “agriculturally problematic” strains of pest could soon spread throughout the rest of the Americas. “On top of the impact already felt in South America, recent estimates that 65% of the USA’s agricultural output is at risk of being affected by the bollworm demonstrates that this work has the potential to instigate changes to research priorities that will have direct ramifications for the people of America, through the food on their tables and the clothes on their backs,” said Dr Craig Anderson, one of the study’s authors.

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