Marc Chagall Blue lovers 1914
A prime example of idiotic writing, this one from the Washington Examiner. And these people do not understand that this is why Trump won. Half the nation is addicted to its daily dose of Trump is stupid, and so the ‘media’ provide that. Article after article after article. Been doing it for three years straight now.
Denmark’s frustration is understandable, and Trump’s disrespect to Denmark is both idiotic and immoral. Idiotic, because Denmark is a committed and capable ally. The Danish military is well-trained and supported by increasingly advanced capabilities. Danish maneuver infantry, air strike, cyber, and anti-ship forces are especially impressive. They attest to a nation that intends to fight alongside keystone NATO forces if Russia ever attacks the alliance. The same cannot be said of many other European powers, including Belgium, Germany, and perhaps soon, Italy. But Trump’s words will only spark Danish public anger and empower left-wing politicians who want to weaken our alliance.
The stakes here are potentially great. What, for example, if Denmark now chucks the U.S. military out of Greenland? That would greatly reduce our ability to detect and defend against Chinese and Russian nuclear attacks. Trump’s words are also immoral. Unlike many U.S. allies, Denmark has fought alongside us in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Seven Danes gave their lives in Iraq. In Afghanistan, 43 Danes died, and hundreds more were wounded. There, Denmark chose to operate in the restive Helmand Province, taking the fight to the enemy. We should thank Danes for giving their sons’ and daughters’ lives for our common cause.
And this is equally idiotic. Let’s have more plastics! If ever science need to stick to the precautionary principle, this must be it.
Microplastics are increasingly found in drinking water, but there is no evidence so far that this poses a risk to humans, according to a new assessment by the World Health Organization. However, the United Nations body warned against complacency because more research is needed to fully understand how plastic spreads into the environment and works its way through human bodies. There is no universally agreed definition of microplastics but they are generally considered to be smaller than half a millimetre across. Plastic production has grown exponentially in recent decades and is predicted to double again by 2025, said the report, which means more beads and threads are breaking down into minute particles and winding up in water supplies, pipes, cups, throats and bellies.
Studies suggest bottled drinking water even contains minuscule elements of the polymers used in the container and cap. This has prompted concerns that humans might be contaminated by the chemicals used in plastics or the pathogens that ride on the particles. More alarming still are suggestions that vital systems could be overwhelmed by the alien matter, conjuring up images of seabirds, fish and other wild animals with their innards choked with plastic waste. These fears are not grounded in science, according to the WHO report, which summarises peer-reviewed research on the subject.
Counterintuitively, the report said larger microplastics (those bigger than 150 micrometres – about the diameter of a hair) are of least concern because they pass straight through the human body. Smaller particles could potentially pass through the walls of digestive tracts and get stuck, but researchers believe they are unlikely to accumulate in harmful quantities. Not enough is known about the tiniest nanoplastics (those less than 1 micrometre) to be sure of their impact. “Based on the limited evidence available, chemicals and microbial pathogens associated with microplastics in drinking water pose a low concern for human health. Although there is insufficient information to draw firm conclusions on the toxicity of nanoparticles, no reliable information suggests it is a concern,” the conclusion stated.
Investors in the casino?!
Government bonds aren’t the only instruments producing negative yields these days, with corporate debt recently passing the $1 trillion mark in a continuing sign of global financial displacement. Investors these days are facing huge amounts of fixed income instruments that carry no yield. Various estimates of sovereign debt in that category put the total in excess of $15 trillion, a number that has been escalating over the past several years while central banks drive interest rates to zero and below. Negative-yielding corporate debt, though, is a relatively new thing, rising from just $20 billion in January to pass the $1 trillion mark recently, according to Jim Bianco, founder of Bianco Research.
The trend poses a potentially dangerous threat, especially if market winds shift and bond holders looking for price gains rather than yield get stuck holding too much risk. “The interest rate risk that these bonds carry is huge,” Bianco said in a recent interview. “The financial system doesn’t work with negative rates. If the economy recovers, the losses that investors would take are unlike anything they’ve ever seen.” Negative yields have been confined to places outside the U.S., though some Federal Reserve officials have toyed with the idea at least in a hypothetical sense. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan recently jolted some investors when he said there was nothing actually standing in the way of negative U.S. rates.
Most of the negative-yielding corporate debt is in Switzerland, while some also is in Japan, Bianco said. Investors don’t actually pay to borrow money, but the negative yield is symbolic of how much above par investors are willing to pay for these bonds. That’s because those who buy negative-yielding bonds are essentially making a bet that rates will stay low and prices will rise, which is the traditional relationship when it comes to fixed income. Should rates start to rise even a little, that will start to eat into the capital appreciation that bond holders have been enjoying. For instance, Bianco said, if yields on Swiss bonds go up just 2 percentage points, it would amount to a 50% loss for holders. While some individual investors might be able to absorb such losses, they would be catastrophic for institutions.
Perception trumps facts. Stating the obvious.
On August 15, 2019 the Washington Post led with a story entitled Markets sink on recession signal. The recession signal the Post refers to is the U.S. Treasury yield curve which had just inverted for the first time in over ten years. We have been highlighting the flattening yield curve for the past six months. As we have discussed, every time the ten-year Treasury yield has fallen below the two-year Treasury yield, thus inverting the yield curve, a recession has eventually developed.
Blaming the yield curve for market losses because it inverted by a couple of basis points is a nonsensical narrative for talking heads on business television. This article is about a different concern, a second-order effect caused by headlines like the one shown below. The story in the Post and similar ones in many major publications have awoken the public to the real possibility that a recession may be coming. It is a dog whistle that may cause the public to alter their behavior, and even slight changes in consumption habits can produce outsized effects on economic activity.
The 2s/10s yield curve stood at 265 basis points on January 1, 2014, meaning the ten-year yield was 2.65% higher than the two-year yield. From that date forward, as shown below, it has steadily declined. Like the changing of the seasons, as the days passed, that spread steadily fell. Unlike the seasons, investors are somehow now suddenly shocked to learn that economic winter follows fall. Since the beginning of 2019, the curve has been as steep as 25 basis points but has flirted with inversion on numerous occasions.
“..reflects a strategic decision by China to rebalance the economy…?”
According to Fathom Consulting, a global independent macro research consultancy, its proprietary China Momentum Indicator 2.0 has slowed to 4.6% in June, the lowest reading since Aug. 2016. There is also a growing gap between the China Momentum Indicator 2.0 at 4.6% and official GDP data at 6.2%. Might suggest China’s economy hasn’t yet bottomed, could continue to decline through 2H19 into 1H20. Gary Cohn, the former chief economic advisor to Donald Trump, has said the slowdown predates the trade war and reflects a strategic decision by China to rebalance the economy. Fathom notes that China’s economy was even slowing before the rebalancing.
The global macro research firm said, “with the consumer share of total import demand on a downward trend since 2016, we also find little evidence to suggest that China is successfully rebalancing.” To combat dangerous crosscurrents of the trade war disrupting global supply chains in and out of China, Chinese policymakers resorted to the same playbook as before, pump the economy with record amounts of the stimulus earlier in the year. Currency depreciation came into the picture when President Trump escalated the trade war by raising tariffs to 25% from 10% on $200 billion of Chinese goods in May. Then a massive devaluation of the renminbi followed in early August, when the president slapped 10% tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, effective Sept. 1.
Not just the elite.
President Trump’s polls show that the issue that voters most trust him on is the economy. But on Wednesday, Politico reported that Trump and his team have been quietly prepping donors, other key Republican power brokers and members of the GOP elite for a mild downturn between now and the election, something that economists believe to be increasingly likely. According to Politico, Trump and his aides are aware that his biggest selling point heading into 2020 is the economy. But now that he’s gotten drawn in to this trade war with Beijing, Trump needs to find a way to prepare people for a mild or moderate recession as a matter of course, to ensure that his reputation as a businessman and as a populist who puts the economy first isn’t tarnished.
But without control of the House, the administration is examining its limited options to shore up the economy or assuage voters’ concerns if a recession arrives soon than economists expect. President Trump’s attacks on the Fed have worked so far, but whether the central bank delivers the 2-3 more cuts that markets are pricing in remains to be seen. And those reports about a payroll tax cut and shaving another few points off the corporate rate represent serious policy considerations. Trump famously said he’s been behind payroll tax cuts “for a long time.”
Then, there’s the trade war. The administration is also urging the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates sharply, a move Trump has long sought in his public attacks on the central bank, and it is pursuing a trade deal with China amid various tariffs that some businesses say are posing substantial economic risks. “The only thing they have in their control is China and putting out regulatory rules,” said one former senior administration official. “Beyond that, there is very little that they can do – but that does not mean people are not brainstorming options.”
[..] Trump spent Tuesday stridently defending his administration’s trade standoff with China, which many economic experts and Republicans pinpoint as the main driver of any U.S. economic troubles. “You should be happy that I’m fighting this battle, because somebody has to do it. We couldn’t let this go. I don’t even think it’s sustainable to let go on what was happening,” Trump told reporters as he detailed the way China steals U.S. intellectual property and argued none of his presidential predecessors were willing to confront China as he has. “My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t take China on. But I like doing it because I have to do it. And we’re getting great help. China’s had the worst year they’ve had in 27 years, and a lot of people saying the worst year they’ve had in 54 years,” he added.
A headline similar to that in many UK papers today. Except it’s largely nonsense; there’s no such challenge. Merkel said it could take two years or 30 days, but until there is a solid plan she will not let go of the backstop. Maybe she shouldn’t have said 30 Days at all, but it’s mostly moot.
Boris Johnson has pledged to come up with a plan to replace the Irish backstop within 30 days, after Angela Merkel warned that time was running out to prevent a no-deal Brexit. The prime minister agreed that the “onus” was on his government to set out a solution, telling a joint press conference with the German chancellor: “You have set a very blistering timetable of 30 days – if I understood you correctly, I am more than happy with that.” Ms Merkel said her side was “prepared” for a no deal but struck a conciliatory tone during the trip, which is Mr Johnson’s first to a foreign country as prime minister. He will travel to Paris on Thursday for similar talks with Emmanuel Macron, the French president.
The prime minister claimed there were “abundant solutions” to the border problem in Ireland and that they had only not come to the fore because the British government had not pushed them hard enough in talks. He reiterated that the backstop needed to be removed from the withdrawal agreement and “plainly has to go”, and rejected even accepting a time-limited version of the policy. Ms Merkel, along with all other EU leaders, has said the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened and that any solution has to be found in the future relationship. “The backstop has always been a fall-back option until this issue is solved and one knows how one wants to do that,” Ms Merkel said.
“It was said we will probably find a solution in two years. But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?” British and EU officials tried in vain to find alternative solutions to the withdrawal agreement backstop, but have so far drawn a blank. Technological solutions mooted by some Brexiteers are not thought to currently exist.
“It was said we will probably find a solution in two years,” she said. “But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?”
Boris Johnson is to meet Emmanuel Macron later, hours after the French president seemed to downplay hopes of solving the Irish backstop problem. On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested a solution to the backstop – a key Brexit sticking point – might be achievable within 30 days. The PM said he was “more than happy” with that “blistering timetable”. But later on Wednesday, Mr Macron insisted reopening negotiations on the issue was “not an option”. Mr Johnson has said that the backstop – which aims to prevent a hard Irish border after Brexit – must be ditched if a no-deal exit from the EU is to be avoided. The EU has repeatedly said the withdrawal deal negotiated by former PM Theresa May, which includes the backstop, cannot be renegotiated.
But at a news conference in Berlin with Mr Johnson on Wednesday, Mrs Merkel indicated that an alternative might be possible, stressing that the onus was on the UK to find a workable plan. “It was said we will probably find a solution in two years,” she said. “But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?” A Downing Street spokesman described the meeting of the two leaders as “constructive”. However, hours later, Mr Macron appeared to downplay the prospects of a breakthrough, telling reporters in Paris: “Renegotiation of the terms currently proposed by the British is not an option that exists, and that has always been made clear by [EU] President Tusk.”
“More than two-thirds of the UK’s pharmaceutical imports come from the EU.”
Health leaders have written to Boris Johnson issuing new warnings on the impact of a no-deal Brexit. In a letter to the prime minister, the heads of 17 royal colleges and health charities across the UK say clinicians are “unable to reassure patients” their health and care will not be affected. They go on to say they have “significant concerns about shortages of medical supplies”. Government said it was working with the health sector on “robust preparations”. The letter, co-ordinated by the Royal College of Physicians, is signed by the heads of organisations including the British Dental Association, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Kidney Care UK and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.
It calls for the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock to be put on the EU exit strategy committee chaired by Michael Gove, who is in charge of no-deal planning. The signatories argue that – given the scale of the NHS – without sufficient planning, even the smallest of problems could have “huge consequences on the lives of millions of people”. And they say: “The public rightly expects candour from us, and we are simply unable to reassure patients that their health and care won’t be negatively impacted by the UK’s exit from the EU.” There are also, despite ongoing conversations with the Department of Health and Social Care, “significant concerns about shortages of medical supplies”, the letter adds.
“Delays at the border could exacerbate current supply issues and create the very real possibility that life-saving medication is delayed from making it across the Channel.” There have been concerns there will be tailbacks of lorries at Dover and Calais with longer customs checks, if there is a no-deal Brexit. The government has said it is drawing up contingency plans to create more ferry capacity for medicines and other vital supplies on other routes. More than two-thirds of the UK’s pharmaceutical imports come from the EU.
Like Gibraltar, Greece must stick to EU rules, not US ones. But yes, in Gibraltar it took a judge to point that out, politics was silent.
As an Iranian oil tanker which Washington wants seized heads toward Greece, officials Wednesday indicated that Athens would not help the ship reach Syria while seeking to play down the prospects of such a development. In comments to ANT1 TV Wednesday, Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said Greece has “sent out a clear message, that there is no way we want to facilitate the transfer of oil to Syria.” “We don’t want to facilitate the course of that ship toward Syria,” he said. He added that the vessel, the Adrian Darya 1, was too big to dock at any Greek port. If it were to enter Greek territorial waters, Greek authorities would respond accordingly, he said, without elaborating. “There is no way that Greece wants to affect its relationship with the US, with which it has a close cooperation,” he added.
Varvitsiotis said the US had been in contact with authorities in Athens, pressing them not to aid the vessel. He added that the Iranian government had not sent any request for the vessel to dock in Greece, noting that the port of Kalamata has been mentioned only in shipping tracking data. Late on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US will take every action it can to prevent the tanker from delivering oil to Syria in contravention of US sanctions. “We have made clear that anyone who touches it, anyone who supports it, anyone who allows a ship to dock is at risk of receiving sanctions from the United States,” Pompeo said. He added that if the tanker’s oil was sold, the revenue would be used by elite units of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which the US has designated a terrorist organization.
Pecunia non olet.
The head of a research center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has said he will quit in protest after the revelation of financial ties between the institution and disgraced hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein. Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab, said he would leave at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year after finding out that lab director Joi Ito took money from Epstein, who committed suicide in prison on August 10 as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges. “My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view,” Zuckerman wrote in a message posted on the Medium forum Tuesday and added to Wednesday.
“It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship.” Zuckerman said he had apologized to the three recipients of the Media Lab’s 2018 “Disobedience Prize” who were recognized for their fight against sexual harassment in the science world. “For me, the deep involvement of Epstein in the life of the Media Lab is something that makes my work impossible to carry forward there,” Zuckerman said.
The Amazon is burning.