René Magritte The menaced assassin 1927
The longer it takes, the deeper the heels are dug in.
President Donald Trump walked out of the negotiations with congressional Democrats, declaring it a “total waste of time” after they repeated their refusal to fund any sort of wall on the border with Mexico. “Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time,” Trump tweeted, referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California). “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!” After the meeting, Schumer and Pelosi denounced Trump for refusing to reopen the government, just as they had the previous evening.
“Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way,” Schumer told reporters outside the White House on Wednesday. Federal workers are “as disappointed as we are that Democrats are unwilling to engage in good-faith negotiations,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters after the meeting. The US government has been partially shut down for almost 19 days, after Senate Democrats refused to back a Republican-majority House bill that would allocate $5.7 billion to building the border wall. Democrats took over the House on January 3, and have proposed bills to reopen the government, but have rejected any funding to the wall, ever, calling it “immoral.”
“This is a crisis… it is a humanitarian crisis, it is a security crisis,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said. “And the reality is that walls work.” Some 800,000 federal workers will soon miss their first paycheck, and each sides has accused the other of ignoring their needs and interests. Prior to the meeting, Trump said he would be willing to declare a national emergency if the talks with Democrats failed. Asked by ABC reporter Jonathan Karl if he would be willing to reopen the government for the sake of federal workers, Trump asked him if he would do so in his place. “If you would do that, you should never be in this position, because you’d never get anything done,” the president said.
First the rates, now a full 180º?!
Federal Reserve policymakers have indicated they may be open to tweaking a longstanding plan to shrink the central bank’s balance sheet, including by shedding housing-backed bonds earlier than anticipated or keeping a bigger-than-expected portfolio of assets. Those were among a range of options discussed at the Fed’s December meeting, minutes released on Wednesday showed. The discussion will continue at future meetings, the minutes said. JP Morgan chief U.S. economist Michael Feroli, writing in a note to investors, described the debate as informal “spitballing.” Fed Chair Jerome Powell himself said in December that shrinking the balance sheet was on “automatic pilot.”
But the discussion shows that the future of the plan may be in flux as policymakers become increasingly nervous about potential kinks in their control over short-term interest rates. The Fed for years bought bonds to stimulate a moribund economy, eventually accumulating a $4.5 trillion balance sheet, but began reversing course in 2013, first by slowing its bond-purchases and then, in 2017, allowing the portfolio to shrink. The Fed is now trimming its holdings by $50 billion each month, an amount intended to reduce the portfolio to a more “normal” size over a number of years without putting too much pressure on the Fed’s short-term policy rate. It has now shed more than $380 billion worth of U.S. Treasuries and mortgage bonds. But reserves are declining at a much faster rate, dropping to $1.51 trillion at the end of 2018, from a 2014 peak of more than $2.7 trillion.
Very timely given my essay yesterday, China Won’t Be Taking Over:
“..tension has developed as China is lending billions of dollars of its own to developing countries under opaque terms as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative to build infrastructure.
China is borrowing billions of dollars each year from the World Bank, despite its position as the world’s second-largest economy, according to a study released Thursday. The Center for Global Development found that the World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development loaned China an average of $2 billion a year, totaling more than $7.8 billion, since the country surpassed the bank’s income threshold for lending in 2016. The IBRD lends to middle-income and creditworthy low-income countries. It uses resources from those loans to help boost poorer countries. But tension has developed as China is lending billions of dollars of its own to developing countries under opaque terms as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative to build infrastructure.
The administration of U.S President Donald Trump has been critical of lending to China that squeezes out loans to other countries. But cutting off China from World Bank funding could remove a useful tool to influence policy. “If we want China to be a more responsible lender in the world, then let’s use the World Bank to help them along with that,” said Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and lead author of the study. The study looked at the type of loans granted to China and found that $3 billion, or about 38 percent of the total, went to things that provide benefits beyond China’s border, such as pollution controls and green infrastructure projects.
[..] Some lawmakers want China reined in. “We must end the World Bank’s lending to China, especially at a time when Beijing itself is saddling developing countries with predatory debt on unfair terms. Growing the Chinese economy is not the World Bank’s job,” said Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a member of the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees.
There was a time when Business Insider wouldn’t have posted such flimsy articles.
German industry went into a sudden and unexpected collapse in November. The data is so bad some economists think it might be wrong. Germany may be in recession, economists said, after they trawled through an unexpectedly horrible set of industrial and manufacturing data published on Wednesday’s from the world’s fourth-largest economy. • German industrial production fell by -1.9% in November. • Year over year, production hit a low of -4.6% – the biggest trough since the 2008 crisis. • Germany’s exports fell -0.4% month over month in November, the government reported today. Suddenly, Europe is faltering.
Germany is the largest European economy and its leaders have an outsized influence on the rest of the EU and the European Central Bank. A recession in Germany could easily drag down France and Italy – and the latter country is already likely in a recession of its own. Greece is still struggling to recover from its debt crisis and neighbouring Turkey also dropped into a steep recession, triggered by the devaluation of its currency.
Let’s see Macron counter this one. Is he going to close the ATMs? The banks?
Yellow Vest protesters are hoping to trigger a bank run with a nationwide coordinated cash withdrawal. By threatening the French financial system, protesters say, they want to peacefully force the government to pass their reforms. “If the banks weaken, the state weakens immediately,” said Yellow Vest “sympathizer” Tahz San on Facebook. “It’s elected officials’ worst nightmare.” Protesters plan to empty their bank accounts on Saturday, withdrawing as much money as possible in a bid to undermine the French banks – if not the euro itself. The plan is to “scare the state legally and without violence,” forcing the government to adopt the movement’s Citizens’ Referendum Initiative, which would allow citizens to propose and vote on new laws.
“We are going to get our bread back…you’re making money with our dough, and we’re fed up,” said protester Maxime Nicolle in a video message shared on YouTube. A well-coordinated financial action has the potential to bring the French banking system – and by extension the euro – to its knees, as banks always hold only a fraction of the funds the country’s citizens have in their accounts. However, most banks limit ATM withdrawals to a relatively low amount, meaning protesters would have to line up inside the banks to withdraw the rest of their money, giving the state plenty of time to place restrictions on withdrawals – though this would, no doubt, spark further protest.
There will be a huge shift in power after the European Elections this spring.
Italy’s Euroskeptic deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has said he wants Italy and Poland to join together to create a “European Spring” which could end the long-standing French and German domination on the continent. Speaking during a press conference with Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski in Warsaw on Wednesday, Salvini said that Poland and Italy “will be part of the new spring of Europe, the renaissance of European values” which would create a “new equilibrium” where the dominance of France and Germany is diminished. The leader of the Northern League party said that upcoming European parliamentary elections, set for May, could lead away from a Europe “that is run by bureaucrats.”
Salvini, who is aiming to forge alliances with other Eurosceptic parties across Europe ahead of the elections, was in Warsaw for meetings with members of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, which shares a similar anti-immigration and anti-Brussels ideology. At the meeting, Brudzinski also praised Salvini’s immigration policy and his decision to close Italian ports to migrant boats, saying that Poland was also committed to “strengthening borders.” At a press conference with France’s right-wing National Rally leader Marine Le Pen in October, Salvini promised a new era of “common sense” was coming to Europe with the rise of nationalist parties. Salvini’s Northern League formed a coalition government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in June last year.
M5S leader Luigi Di Maio has also been seeking to make friends with other anti-establishment parties across the continent, holding meetings with a number of party leaders from Poland, Croatia and Finland who share similar values. Earlier this week, Salvini and Di Maio were embroiled in a public feud with French government officials after they threw their support behind France’s Yellow Vest anti-government protest movement. On his public blog, Di Maio urged demonstrators “not to weaken,” and said he planned to meet with some of the activists in the coming days, while Salvini accused French President Emmanuel Macron of being “against his people.” France’s Minister for European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, shot back, telling the Italian duo to “sweep their own doorstep” before commenting on French affairs.
“…even if an amendment did pass, the government would not be legally required to comply with what the Commons had voted for…”
MPs are weighing up how quickly to launch a bid for a fresh referendum on Brexit, after inflicting a stunning defeat on Theresa May which cleared the way for a Commons vote. Another Conservative revolt will force the prime minister to present her “plan B” within just three working days of what seems certain to be a heavy defeat of her proposed deal next Tuesday. The victory torpedoed Ms May’s apparent plan to force MPs to vote multiple times on that deal, while “running down the clock” to the threat of crashing out of the EU with no agreement, as the feared alternative. It triggered chaotic scenes in the Commons, as furious Brexiteers accused John Bercow, the Commons speaker, of blatant bias in allowing the vote, against legal advice.
The government must now table a motion, setting out what it plans to do if it loses on Tuesday, by 21 January – which, crucially, could be amended to allow parliament to “take back control”, as one senior Tory put it. Supporters of a Final Say referendum are weighing up whether to go for the kill immediately, or wait until after Jeremy Corbyn has, finally, set out Labour’s position. All eyes will be on the Labour leader, amid a growing expectation he will table a vote of no confidence in the government next week, to try to force a general election. That is likely to fail, piling enormous pressure on Mr Corbyn to then back a fresh referendum – without which a Commons majority for a public vote is unlikely.
[..] by 21 January, there may still be no Commons majority for any alternative to Ms May’s doomed plan, whether a referendum, extending Article 50, or the soft Brexit “Norway option”. Furthermore, even if an amendment did pass, the government would not be legally required to comply with what the Commons had voted for…
After next Tuesday the gloves really come off.
Theresa May’s room for manoeuvre should her Brexit deal be rejected next week was further constrained on Wednesday night, after the government lost a second dramatic parliamentary showdown in as many days. An increasingly boxed-in prime minister must now set out her plan B within three working days of a defeat next Tuesday, after the rebel amendment passed. There were furious scenes in the House of Commons as the Speaker, John Bercow, took the controversial decision to allow a vote on the amendment, tabled by the former attorney general Dominic Grieve. A string of MPs, including the leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom, repeatedly intervened to question the Speaker’s approach. Some accused him of being biased against Brexit.
But parliament went on to back Grieve as the prime minister was defied by Conservative rebels determined to hand control of the Brexit process to MPs if next week’s vote is lost. The fresh defeat, which followed a separate backbench amendment to the finance bill on Tuesday, means the government will have to return to parliament swiftly with a plan. An accelerated timetable will also pile the pressure on Labour to move quickly. The motion setting out the government’s plan can be amended by MPs hoping to push their own alternative proposals, from a second referendum to a harder Brexit.
One desperate woman. She now offers to break the deal she has with the EU. Then there’ll be nothing left.
Theresa May is on a fresh collision course with Brussels after the government said it would give MPs the chance to override a key part of the exit deal agreed with the European Union. In a new bid to win over Tory rebels, ministers announced they would support moves to ensure parliament is given a vote in 2020 on whether or not to enter the controversial Northern Ireland backstop. That could see MPs vote to block the UK entering the backstop, even though it would be legally bound to do so under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. The government said on Wednesday that it will accept an amendment tabled by former Tory minister Sir Hugo Swire.
The motion says that if no trade deal with the EU is in place by 2020 ministers must hold a vote in parliament on whether or not to enter the backstop, and must limit the UK’s participation in the mechanism to one year. Both appear to contradict the terms of the withdrawal agreement with Brussels, which states that the backstop is the default option if a deal on the future relationship is not in place by the end of 2020 and says that this will apply indefinitely.
“..call for the appointment of a “Minister for Hunger”..”
The government has been accused of presiding over “significant and growing” hunger as a report warns that one in five children in the UK live in homes that are severely food insecure – making it the worst for child hunger in Europe. A combination of high living costs, stagnating wages and the rollout of universal credit has led to a steady rise in food insecurity – yet ministers have allowed the issue to “fall between the cracks”, according to a report by the Environmental Audit Committee. In a damning indictment of the welfare system, the MPs accuse the government of being “silent” on food insecurity in its obesity strategy, and call for the appointment of a “minister for hunger” to ensure cross-departmental action on the issue.
The report cites figures showing that 2.2 million people in Britain are severely food insecure – the highest reported level in Europe. This indicates that the UK is responsible for one in five of all severely food insecure people on the continent. Recent data published by Unicef shows one in five youngsters under 15 now live in a food insecure home – which the committee described as a “scandal that cannot be allowed to continue”. It comes after Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in the UK, and that Brexit was exacerbating the problem.
Becoming a weird story, fast.
The Dark Overlord hacker group has released decryption keys for a second batch of 9/11 documents, totalling over 7,500 files. Additional document leaks containing “more secrets” and “more truth” have been promised, for a price. The first batch of the supposed 18,000 documents was made available by the hackers at the weekend, along with a decryption key for ‘layer 1’ of the dump. The documents are believed to have been stolen from insurance companies, law firms and government agencies, and the hackers originally demanded an unspecified bitcoin ransom to keep them unreleased. After apparently failing to secure the ransom, the group then took bitcoin donations from the public, releasing ‘layer 1’ after collecting $12,000 – but then also releasing ‘layer 2’ on Wednesday despite not meeting its funding target.
So far, no ‘smoking gun’ has emerged detailing conspiracy or government involvement in the terrorist attacks. Instead, the documents build up a picture of insurance litigators brainstorming to see who they could sue for damages in the wake of the attacks. In emails, the lawyers discuss targeting the airlines, airplane manufacturers, the Federal Aviation Authority, the terrorists themselves, and foreign entities. Talking strategy, the lawyers mull taking action against Boeing for not fitting the 757 and 767 aircraft used in the attacks with automatic transponders, which could have alerted authorities sooner that something was amiss, a case that the lawyers admit in the documents was flimsy. The lawyers also discuss dropping a case against the FAA, for fear of rankling the government.
[..] The hacker group has promised three more layers of documents to come, if its price is met. The latest leak was accompanied with the message: “Continue to keep the bitcoins flowing, and we’ll continue to keep the truth flowing.” The hackers are asking for $2 million in bitcoin for the public release of its “megaleak,” which it has dubbed “the 9/11 Papers.” [..] The group may have a hard time paying its members if the latest ransom demands are not met, however. Cyberscoop reported on Tuesday that the group was posting recruitment ads on dark web forums in November, looking to hire four skilled cybercriminals. New employees were reportedly promised 50,000 pounds ($63,500) monthly, bumped up to 70,000 pounds ($89,000) after two years’ service.
Life cannot exist in a vacuum. We either respect it all, or none of it.
“They’re revered in Native Hawaiian legends which hold that tree snails can sing beautifully, and are known as the ‘voice of the forest’.”
George, a Hawaiian tree snail—and the last known member of the species Achatinella apexfulva—died on New Year’s Day. He was 14, which is quite old for a snail of his kind. George was born in a captive breeding facility at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the early 2000s, and soon after, the rest of his kin died. That’s when he got his name—after Lonesome George, the Pinta Island tortoise who was also the last of his kind. For over a decade, researchers searched in vain for another member of the species for George to mate with, to no avail. (Though these snails are hermaphrodites, two adults must mate to produce offspring, and researchers refer to George as a “he.”)
Photograph Courtesy Aaron K. Yoshino, Honolulu Magazine
“I’m sad, but really, I’m more angry because this was such a special species, and so few people knew about it,” says Rebecca Rundell, an evolutionary biologist with State University of New York who used to help care for George and his kin. Throughout his life, George was a public face for the struggles facing Hawaiian land snails. His death highlights both the vast diversity of indigenous snails—and their desperate plight. “I know it’s just a snail, but it represents a lot more,” says David Sischo, a wildlife biologist with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and coordinator of the Snail Extinction Prevention Program.
[..] In some ways, these snails are more like mammals or birds than other invertebrates: They regularly live well into their teens, take five or more years to reach sexual maturity, and give birth to less than ten offspring per year. They’re revered in Native Hawaiian legends which hold that tree snails can sing beautifully, and are known as the ‘voice of the forest’. (It’s not clear why since they aren’t known to make audible noises.) [..] Land snails and slugs represent about 40 percent of the known animal extinctions since 1500, more likely disappeared before becoming known to science …
Snails in the Achatinellinae family live on multiple Pacific islands, but are most diverse in Hawaii. Like many snails they face serious threats, particularly invasive predators, and hundreds of species have already gone extinct. Photographs Courtesy David Sischo, Hawaii Department Of Land And Natural Resources