Mar 292020
 


Dorothea Lange Kern County, California 1938

 

Trump Backs Off Threat Of Coronavirus Quarantine For NYC Area (NYP)
Florida Coronavirus Cases Are Growing Fast. Here’s What That Means. (TBT)
Rhode Island Door Knocks in Search of Fleeing New Yorkers (AP)
700 N.J. Police Officers Have Tested Positive For Coronavirus (NJ.com)
More Than 500 Members Of The NYPD Have Coronavirus (NYP)
Italy PM Adopts New Measures To Help Coronavirus-Hit Economy (R.)
Home Confinement In France Extended To April 15 (SA)
UK Coronavirus Death Toll Under 20,000 Would Be ‘Good Result’ – Health Chief (R.)
UK To Turn Birmingham Airport Into Mortuary (BBC)
UK Broadband Providers To Lift Data Caps During COVID-19 Lockdown (G.)
“There’s No Gold” – COMEX Report (ZH)
Biden Consolidates Support, But Trails Badly In Enthusiasm (ABC)

 

 

Lost an hour overnight because Europe finally went to Daylight Saving Time. That one hour extra/less between the two sides of the ocean always throws me off-rhythm. The missing hour also shows up in the numbers, but we’ll make that up tomorrow.

Since the US is now the world no. 1, it’s inevitable that much of the news switches there as well. I AM unpleasantly surprised to see the numbers of police officers infected, and I would like to know how that happens. Trump’s notion of a NYC lockdown seemed to make sense, but “wiser” voices prevailed. As NYC has turned into not just the American, but the global center.

 

 

Cases 672,086 (+ 63,819 from yesterday’s 613,829)

Deaths 31,737 (+ 3,508 from yesterday’s 28,229)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)

 

 

From Worldometer -NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 18% –

 

 

From SCMP: (Note, SCMP numbers have done a little sprint, their US deaths are even higher than Worldometer now)

 

 

From COVID2019Live.info:

 

 

 

 

Did Trump get talked out of it by the likes of Cuomo? As NYC is turning into the global epicenter? Cuomo keeps calling for equipment, but refuses to ponder measures that could make that less important.

Trump Backs Off Threat Of Coronavirus Quarantine For NYC Area (NYP)

President Donald Trump on Saturday night backed off a daylong threat to lock down NYC and the tri-state area — a proposal that had thrown three governors for a loop. “A quarantine will not be necessary,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets Saturday night, reasoning that a travel advisory would suffice. “On the recommendation of the White House CoronaVirus Task Force, and upon consultation with the Governor’s (sic) of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, I have asked the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to issue a strong Travel Advisory, to be administered by the Governors, in consultation with the Federal Government,” Trump tweeted.


Trump had told reporters outside the White House earlier Saturday that he was considering a regional lockdown to stop the spread of the disease, to the dismay of the tri-state’s governors. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he and Trump spoke just a day before, on Friday, and the idea wasn’t brought up. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wouldn’t even know how such a lockdown would be instituted. “I don’t know how that could be legally enforceable and from a medical point of view don’t know what you would be accomplishing, but I can tell you I don’t even like the sound of it,” he told reporters Saturday.. He appeared on CNN later, where he likened the concept to starting a “Civil War,” and called it “preposterous.”

Read more …

Still photos of full beaches.

Florida Coronavirus Cases Are Growing Fast. Here’s What That Means. (TBT)

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida is doubling every three days, putting the state on a trajectory to see tens of thousands of infections in the coming weeks, a Tampa Bay Times analysis shows. No rigorous model has been calculated for Florida to predict the disease’s spread in detail. Those usually take months to create. But at this point, experts say the math is simple. The number of cases is already past the point of easy containment and infections are growing faster and faster, at what statisticians call an exponential rate. Without dramatic steps, they worry that the epidemic will balloon across Florida and place an unprecedented strain on hospitals and health clinics.


Thomas Hladish, a University of Florida research scientist who specializes in disease modeling and has been advising the state on the outbreak, said that while epidemiologists might disagree on the nuances of their projections, they all agree on the main point. “We do understand the math and the models well enough to say with great confidence that Florida is going to have a huge public health crisis,” Hladish said. “And we are just at the beginning of it right now.” By 11 a.m. Saturday, Florida had reported more than 3,700 cases — an increase of nearly 1,000 in 24 hours. Florida remains one of the few states with a large outbreak not to issue a statewide order to keep residents at home. Several counties across the state, including Hillsborough and Pinellas, issued “safer at home” orders in the last week.

Some public health experts say it will take the more extreme step of shutting down the state to halt the disease’s rapid spread in Florida. Nine hundred Florida healthcare workers had signed a petition by Friday asking for the same thing. The effects of the intervention wouldn’t be apparent right away. The same is true for the smaller steps that have already been taken in Florida, like social distancing or closing restaurants and fitness studios. “We are not going to see the benefits for a few weeks, which is frustrating to everyone,” said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at Florida International University.

Read more …

If not the craziest thing around, a solid contender.

Rhode Island Door Knocks in Search of Fleeing New Yorkers (AP)

The Rhode Island National Guard started going door to door on Saturday in coastal areas to inform any New Yorkers who may have come to the state that they must self-quarantine for 14 days while Gov. Gina Raimondo expanded the mandatory self-quarantine to anyone visiting the state. Raimondo also ordered residents to stay at home, with exceptions for getting food, medicines or going to the doctor, and ordered nonessential retail businesses to close Monday until April 13 to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. She also directed realtors and hotel operators to include new requirements that any out-of-state residents must quarantine for 14 days in their purchase agreements.

State Police set up a checkpoint on I-95 in Hope Valley on Friday where drivers with New York license plates must stop and provide contact information and were told to self-quarantine for two weeks, WPRI.com reported. If New Yorkers don’t comply, they face fines and jail time, Raimondo said, adding that that’s not the goal. “I want to be crystal clear about this: If you’re coming to Rhode Island from New York you are ordered into quarantine. The reason for that is because more than half of the cases of coronavirus in America are in New York,” Raimondo said, adding that it’s not meant to be discriminatory.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the order “reactionary” and unconstitutional, saying he’d sue Rhode Island if the policy isn’t rescinded but believed they could “work it out.” “I understand the goal … but there’s a point of absurdity, and I think what Rhode Island did is at that point of absurdity,” said Cuomo, a Democrat. “We have to keep the ideas and the policies we implement positive rather than reactionary and emotional.”

Read more …

Insane. How did this happen?

700 N.J. Police Officers Have Tested Positive For Coronavirus (NJ.com)

About 700 New Jersey police officers have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Saturday. “There’s more than 700 police officers quarantined at home, and there’s about the same … number that have tested positive from all 21 counties,” Col. Patrick Callahan, acting superintendent of the State Police, said in Trenton during the state’s daily coronavirus press briefing. that amount is far higher than previously known. Newark, Jersey City, NJ Transit, the Port Authority, Fanwood, Hazlet and the State Police have all reported cases. Two officers that were in “serious condition” are now stable, Callahan said. None have died. Testing sites in Bergen and Holmdel were only testing symptomatic first responders Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy previously said.


There are about 36,000 full-time officers in the state, according to recent State Police data, and experts said the public should not be concerned about a looming officer shortage. “If you have the right officers and you have the right supervisors … we are good,” said Maria Haberfeld, a police science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Crime has also dropped in the state, officials have said, which could help departments cope with any short-staffing, according to Jon Shane, a retired Newark police captain who teaches at John Jay. [..] New Jersey has at least 11,124 known cases of the virus overall, including at least 140 known deaths, officials announced Saturday.

Read more …

Seriously, how? Are they infecting each other? Like at the stations?

More Than 500 Members Of The NYPD Have Coronavirus (NYP)

Nearly 200 more NYPD cops tested positive for the coronavirus in less than a day — causing the number of infected department members to soar above 550, officials said Friday. According to a spokesman for the NYPD, 486 uniformed officers and 71 civilian employees have now contracted COVID-19. Late Thursday, 294 cops and 57 civilians were positive. Friday’s figures — the largest daily increase in confirmed cases on the force — come a day after the NYPD lost its first employee to the coronavirus, Dennis Dickson, 62, a civilian cleaner at police HQ, and Deputy Commissioner John Miller was hospitalized in critical condition with severe COVID-19 symptoms.


The potentially deadly virus has been sweeping through the department over the past week, leaving the NYPD without at least 11 percent of its patrol officers, who called out sick. About 375 more cops called out sick Friday. According to the NYPD, 4,111 officers were out ill — nearly four times the average number of cops out sick.

Read more …

Italy is finally free to do what it wants financially, the EU is silent.

Italy PM Adopts New Measures To Help Coronavirus-Hit Economy (R.)

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday he had approved a new package of measures to help those worst hit by the coronavirus emergency, including supplying shopping vouchers and food packages. Conte said in a news conference that €4.3 billion ($4.79 billion) would be made immediately available to mayors to deal with theirs citizens’ needs and another 400 million would be provided in a special fund for “people who don’t have the money to do their shopping.” Italy, the country that has suffered most deaths from the coronavirus epidemic, already approved a 25 billion euro stimulus package earlier this month and has promised another one of at least the same size in April.


Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri, speaking at the same news conference, criticized the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, for appearing to dismiss the need for issuance of common debt by European Union countries. “The commission president’s words were a mistake and I regret that she made them,” he said, adding that Europe would need “a great Marshall Plan” to relaunch its economy after the coronavirus emergency is over.

Read more …

What an unsympathetic term.

Home Confinement In France Extended To April 15 (SA)

The Covid-19 home confinement period will be extended for “at least two weeks” beyond the initial two-week period, the French prime minister has announced this afternoon. The obligation to stay at home, with limited exceptions, started at noon on Tuesday March 17 and was scheduled to last until Tuesday March 31 at least and until further notice. Now Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has confirmed it will definitely be extended and will not end before Wednesday April 15. “It is clear that we are only at the beginning of the wave of this epidemic,” he said specifying that the same rules, such as needing a form to go out of the house, will continue to apply.


He said the period could be extended further again if the health situation makes it necessary. On Tuesday, the official scientific committee advising the government said an extension to the confinement period was essential and pleaded for a period of six full weeks from its implementation i.e. until Tuesday April 28. A new extension could be decided “if and only if the health situation requires it,” said Mr Philippe. “Those who do not respect the rules of confinement are few in number and will be severely punished, because the health of everyone is at stake, especially the most fragile among us,” the prime minister added while praising citizens “for their civic-mindedness, patience and solidarity” during this period.

Read more …

Prepare to die. Just don’t dare blame Boris.

UK Coronavirus Death Toll Under 20,000 Would Be ‘Good Result’ – Health Chief (R.)

The United Kingdom will do well if it manages to keep the coronavirus death toll below 20,000, a senior health official said on Saturday after the deadliest day so far of the outbreak saw the number of fatalities rise to more than 1,000. Stephen Powis, the medical director of National Health Service England, warned the public against complacency and said everyone had to play their part in hindering the spread of the virus. The number of confirmed cases stood at 17,089 on Saturday morning. The death toll rose by 260 in a day to 1,019, the seventh highest toll in the world behind Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the United States.


When asked if Britain was on the same trajectory as Italy, where the death toll has passed 9,000, Powis said that if the public adhered to the nationwide lockdown the total toll could be kept below 20,000. “If it is less than 20,000… that would be a good result though every death is a tragedy, but we should not be complacent about that,” he said at a news conference in Downing Street. Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the first leader of a major power to announce a positive test result for coronavirus on Friday. He is self-isolating in Downing Street but still leading the UK response to the crisis.

Read more …

1,500 bodies? How small is that airport?

UK To Turn Birmingham Airport Into Mortuary (BBC)

Work to turn part of Birmingham Airport into a mortuary able to store at least 1,500 bodies has begun. Bosses previously said discussions were under way, but West Midlands Police confirmed the project had started. An airport spokesperson said it was working to provide land and a hangar for the temporary morgue. Police said there was “scope to expand” the starting capacity of 1,500, as the region prepared for a predicted rise in coronavirus deaths. The force said regional mortuaries may close as staff were transferred to the new facility, which could eventually accommodate all deaths across the West Midlands. This would include those unrelated to coronavirus, it said.


The force said it would do everything possible to accommodate religious requirements and that it was “vital” to give people “the utmost dignity and respect” at all times. Senior coroner for Birmingham, Louise Hunt, said: “We understand that it is a very difficult time for everyone and we will do all that we can to make sure bereaved families understand what is happening to their loved ones and to release them for funeral as soon as we can.” Assistant Chief Constable Vanessa Jardine said public sector agencies and their partners were working together “to better deal with this challenge… at a critical time of need”.

Read more …

It’s essential that Boris talk to you.

UK Broadband Providers To Lift Data Caps During COVID-19 Lockdown (G.)

All data allowance caps on current fixed broadband services will be removed in a deal struck by the government and telecommunications companies to help vulnerable people stay connected through the pandemic. It is among a range of immediately effective measures agreed by major internet service and mobile providers including BT/EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM. The companies have pledged that anyone who is struggling to pay their bill due to the pandemic will be treated fairly and appropriately supported, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said.

The firms have also agreed to offer generous new mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. These could put users in line for packages featuring data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile. Vulnerable customers or those who are self-isolating, who are faced with priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines which cannot be carried out, should be given alternative methods of communication wherever possible, the companies said.

The digital secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “It’s fantastic to see mobile and broadband providers pulling together to do their bit for the national effort by helping customers, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be struggling with bills at this difficult time. It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home.” Watchdog Ofcom’s chief executive, Melanie Dawes, said: “We recognise providers are dealing with unprecedented challenges at the moment. So we welcome them stepping up to protect vulnerable customers, at a time when keeping in touch with our friends and families has never been more important.”

Read more …

Tik tok.

“There’s No Gold” – COMEX Report (ZH)

While the demand for gold has been soaring as a safe haven asset amid the multiple global crises we are currently facing, forced paper gold liquidation (as leveraged funds scramble to cover margin calls) and unprecedented logistical disruptions created a frantic hunt for actual bars of gold. Specifically, as Bloomberg details, at the center of it all are a small band of traders who for years had cashed in on what had always been a sure-fire bet: shorting gold futures in New York against being long physical gold in London. Usually, they’d ride the trade out till the end of the contract when they’d have a couple of options to get out without marking much, if any, loss. The real price.. for real gold? Nearer $1,800. If you can get it.

“There’s no gold,” says Josh Strauss, partner at money manager Pekin Hardy Strauss in Chicago (and a bullion fan). “There’s no gold. There’s roughly a 10% premium to purchase physical gold for delivery. Usually it’s like 2%. I can buy a one ounce American Eagle for $1,800,” said Josh Strauss. “$1,800!” “The case for gold is simple,” says Strauss. “You want to own gold in times of financial dislocation and or inflation. And that’s been the case since time immemorial. And gold behaves well in those cases. In those cases stocks behave poorly. It’s a great portfolio hedge. Gold does poorly when you’ve got strong economic growth and low inflation. Tell me when that’s going to happen. Gold held its value during 2008 and after all that money printing it tripled over the next three years.”

And in case you doubted this, the cost of an American Eagle one ounce coin at the US Mint is now $2,175…

Read more …

Really bad theater.

Biden Consolidates Support, But Trails Badly In Enthusiasm (ABC)

Former Vice President Joe Biden has emerged as Democrats’ top choice for the presidential nomination in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, but with only bare majority support within his party and a massive enthusiasm gap in a November matchup against President Donald Trump. Indeed, strong enthusiasm for Biden among his supporters – at just 24% – is the lowest on record for a Democratic presidential candidate in 20 years of ABC/Post polls. More than twice as many of Trump’s supporters are highly enthusiastic about supporting him, 53%. Trump’s still-strong rating on the economy is another challenge for Biden. So is this: Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who prefer Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the nomination, 15% say they’d back Trump over Biden in the fall.

In the nomination contest, 51% of leaned Democrats now prefer Biden vs. 42% for Sanders. That’s a vast 34-point gain for Biden since mid-February, with other candidates having left the race and endorsed him. Sanders gained 10%age points. Yet even as he’s advanced in his party, Biden’s slipped against Trump in a November matchup. The two are locked into essentially a dead heat among registered voters, 49-47%, Biden-Trump, after a slight Biden lead, 52-45%, in February. Biden does better vs. Trump among all adults (Democrats are less apt to be registered), 50-44%. That’s a slight lead, but it was more solidly significant in February, 52-44%.


Perhaps the Democrats’ biggest risk is under the surface, in Trump’s big advantage in backers who are “very” enthusiastic about supporting him. Strong enthusiasm for a candidate can help boost turnout on Election Day, a must-have particularly for Democrats, who rely more on motivating less-frequent voters to come to the polls. While trailing Trump by 29 points in high-level enthusiasm, Biden makes up some of the difference with those who are “somewhat” enthusiastic. But he still trails Trump by 12 points in the combined measure, 74 vs. 86%.

Read more …

 

It must be possible to run a joint like the Automatic Earth on people’s kind donations. These are no longer the times when ads pay for all you read, your donations have become an integral part of it. It has become a two-way street; and isn’t that liberating, when you think about it?

Thanks everyone for your wonderful and generous donations over the past few days. The rest of you: don’t be strangers.

 

 

 

 


Jennifer Baer

 

 

Support us in virustime. Help the Automatic Earth survive. It’s good for you.

 

Mar 192020
 


DPC Cab stand at Madison Square, NY c1900

 

‘A Generation Has Died’ (G.)
Scientists Say Mass Tests In Italian Town Have Halted COVID-19 (G.)
Japanese Flu Drug ‘Clearly Effective’ Against Coronavirus, But.. (G.)
UK Failures Over COVID-19 Will Increase Death Toll, Says Leading Doctor (G.)
Asian Nations Face Second Wave Of Imported Cases (BBC)
Dollar Resumes Ascent As Investors Panic, Scramble For Cash (R.)
Cash Is King As Emergency Stimulus Fails To Stop Market Panic (R.)
Misunderestimate: Banks Are Going To Drown In An Ocean Of Defaults (Black)
Airline Industry Turmoil Deepens As Coronavirus Pain Spreads (R.)
The COVID-19 Crisis Is A Chance To Do Capitalism Differently (Mazzucato)
Russia Coronavirus Disinformation Designed To Sow Panic In West – EU (R.)
‘Putin’s Chef’ Threatens To Sue US Over Charges Of 2016 Election Meddling (G.)
Ghislaine Maxwell Sues Jeffrey Epstein’s Estate Over Legal Fees (BBC)

 

 

 

Cases 221,934 (+ 19,664 from yesterday’s 202,270)

Deaths 8,999 (+ 987 from yesterday’s 8,012)

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)

 

 

From Worldometer -NOTE: mortality rate briefly touched 10% –

 

 

From SCMP: (Note: the SCMP graph was useful when China was the focal point; they are falling behind now)

 

 

From COVID2019.app: (New format lacks new cases and deaths)

 

 

I wanted to show you how widespread the virus has become. Worldometer keeps a constantly updated record of new cases and deaths every day. Here is the harvest of just the past 10 hours; I left out the sources, go to their site for those.

• 1 new case in Sweden
• 5 new cases in Sri Lanka
309 new cases and 7 new deaths in Belgium
• 12 new cases in Bahrain
• 35 new cases in Norway
756 new cases and 3 new deaths in Germany
• 10 new cases in Tunisia
• 245 new cases and 2 new deaths in Spain
• 10 new cases in Peru
• 22 new cases in Pakistan
• 12 new cases in Armenia
• 104 new cases and 2 new deaths in Switzerland
• 2 new cases in Lithuania:
• 28 new cases in Finland
• 3 new cases in Tanzania
• 3 new cases in the State of Palestine
• 4 new cases in Bangladesh
• 4 new cases in Guam
• 5 new cases in Brunei Darussalam
• 1 new death in Greece
• 13 new cases and 1 new death in Croatia
• 4 new cases in Morocco
• 6 new cases in Bosnia and Herzegovina
• 15 new cases in the Philippines
• 7 new cases and 1 new death in Algeria
75 new cases and 2 new deaths in Denmark
• 2 new cases in Ghana
113 new cases in Australia (NSW), including a 6-year-old child
• 6 new cases in Slovakia
• 7 new cases in the DR Congo
• 6 new cases in Lebanon
96 new cases in Israel
• 132 new cases and 2 new deaths in Luxembourg

• 15 new cases in Latvia
• 50 new cases in Czechia
1st death in Russia
• 110 new cases in Malaysia

• 14 new cases in Faeroe Islands
• 6 new cases in Kuwait
• 1 new case in Cuba: a Canadian citizen
60 new cases in Thailand
• 82 new cases and 6 new deaths in Indonesia

• 18 new cases in Poland
• 8 new cases in Kazakhstan
1st death in Mexico
• 197 new cases and 1 new death in Austria

• 3 new cases in Bangladesh
• 8 new cases in Serbia
• 2 new cases in Sri Lanka
• 5 new cases in India
• 15 new cases in Hungary
• 2 new cases in Georgia
• 8 new cases in Taiwan
• 2 new cases and 1 new death in Bulgaria
• 5 new cases in Uzbekistan
• 5 new cases in Armenia
205 new cases and 5 new deaths in the United States
• 9 new cases and 3 new deaths in Japan
• 3 new cases in Honduras
• 2 new cases in Trinidad and Tobago
• 1 new case in French Polynesia
• 1 new death in Argentina
1st case in Nicaragua
• 1st case in El Salvador
• 1st case in Fiji

• 1 new death in Curaçao.
• 9 new cases in Colombia
152 new cases and 7 new deaths in South Korea
• 8 new cases in New Zealand
• 34 new cases, 8 new deaths (all in Hubei) in China

 

 

Time to wonder about mental health as well.

‘A Generation Has Died’ (G.)

Coffins awaiting burial are lining up in churches and the corpses of those who died at home are being kept in sealed-off rooms for days as funeral services struggle to cope in Bergamo, the Italian province hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had killed 2,978 across Italy, all buried or cremated without ceremony. Those who die in hospital do so alone, with their belongings left in bags beside coffins before being collected by funeral workers. In Bergamo, a province of 1.2 million people in the Lombardy region, where 1,640 of the total deaths in the country have taken place, 3,993 people had contracted the virus by Tuesday. The death toll across the province is unclear, but CFB, the area’s largest funeral director, has carried out almost 600 burials or cremations since 1 March.

“In a normal month we would do about 120,” said Antonio Ricciardi, the president of CFB. “A generation has died in just over two weeks. We’ve never seen anything like this and it just makes you cry.” There are about 80 funeral companies across Bergamo, each receiving dozens of calls an hour. A shortage of coffins as providers struggle to keep up with demand and funeral workers becoming infected with the virus are also hampering preparations. Hospitals have adopted more stringent rules regarding the handling of the dead, who need to be placed in a coffin straight away without being clothed due to the risk of infection posed by their bodies. “Families can’t see their loved ones or give them a proper funeral, this is a big problem on a psychological level,” said Ricciardi. “But also because many of our staff are ill, we don’t have as many people to transport and prepare the bodies.”

For those who die at home, the bureaucratic process is lengthier as deaths need to be certified by two doctors. The second is a specialist who would ordinarily have to certify the death no later than 30 hours after a person has passed away. “So you have to wait for both doctors to come and at this time, many of them are also ill,” added Ricciardi. Stella, a teacher in Bergamo, shared the story of one of the deceased with the Guardian. “Yesterday, an 88-year-old man died,” she said. “He’d had a fever for a few days. There was no way to call an ambulance because the line was always busy. He died alone in his room. The ambulance arrived an hour later. Obviously, nothing could be done. And since no coffins were available in Bergamo, they left him on the bed and sealed his room to keep his relatives from entering until a coffin could be found.”

Adding to the torment is the fact that relatives cannot visit their loved ones in hospital, or give them proper funerals. “Usually you would be able to dress them and they would stay one night in the family home. None of this is happening,” said Alessandro, whose 74-year-old uncle died in Codogno, the Lombardy town where the outbreak began. “You can’t even see them to say goodbye, this is the most devastating part.” The harrowing impact of the virus on Bergamo can be gleaned from the obituary section of the local newspaper L’Eco di Bergamo. On Friday, reader Giovanni Locatelli shared online footage comparing the newspaper’s obituary section on 9 February, when listings took up just one page, to a copy dated 13 March, when 10 pages were needed to commemorate the dead.

Read more …

Test? Where do I get one?

Scientists Say Mass Tests In Italian Town Have Halted COVID-19 (G.)

The small town of Vò, in northern Italy, where the first coronavirus death occurred in the country, has become a case study that demonstrates how scientists might neutralise the spread of Covid-19. A scientific study, rolled out by the University of Padua, with the help of the Veneto Region and the Red Cross, consisted of testing all 3,300 inhabitants of the town, including asymptomatic people. The goal was to study the natural history of the virus, the transmission dynamics and the categories at risk. The researchers explained they had tested the inhabitants twice and that the study led to the discovery of the decisive role in the spread of the coronavirus epidemic of asymptomatic people.

When the study began, on 6 March, there were at least 90 infected in Vò. For days now, there have been no new cases. “We were able to contain the outbreak here, because we identified and eliminated the ‘submerged’ infections and isolated them,” Andrea Crisanti, an infections expert at Imperial College London, who took part in the Vò project, told the Financial Times. “That is what makes the difference.” The research allowed for the identification of at least six asymptomatic people who tested positive for Covid-19. ‘‘If these people had not been discovered,” said the researchers, they would probably have unknowingly infected other inhabitants.

“The percentage of infected people, even if asymptomatic, in the population is very high,” wrote Sergio Romagnani, professor of clinical immunology at the University of Florence, in a letter to the authorities. “The isolation of asymptomatics is essential to be able to control the spread of the virus and the severity of the disease.” [..] the problems of mass tests are not only of an economic nature (each swab costs about 15 euros) but also at a organisational level. [..] Massimo Galli, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Milan and director of infectious diseases at the Luigi Sacco hospital in Milan, warned carrying out mass tests on the asymptomatic population could however prove to be useless. “The contagions are unfortunately constantly evolving,” Galli told the Guardian. “A man who tests negative today could contract the disease tomorrow.”

Read more …

Every day brings new stories of miracles. And then you read them.

Japanese Flu Drug ‘Clearly Effective’ Against Coronavirus, But.. (G.)

Medical authorities in China have said a drug used in Japan to treat new strains of influenza appeared to be effective in coronavirus patients, Japanese media said on Wednesday. Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s science and technology ministry, said favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm, had produced encouraging outcomes in clinical trials in Wuhan and Shenzhen involving 340 patients. “It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment,” Zhang told reporters on Tuesday. Patients who were given the medicine in Shenzhen turned negative for the virus after a median of four days after becoming positive, compared with a median of 11 days for those who were not treated with the drug, public broadcaster NHK said.


In addition, X-rays confirmed improvements in lung condition in about 91% of the patients who were treated with favipiravir, compared to 62% or those without the drug. Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, which developed the drug – also known as Avigan – in 2014, has declined to comment on the claims. Shares in the firm surged on Wednesday following Zhang’s comments, closing the morning up 14.7% at 5,207 yen, having briefly hit their daily limit high of 5,238 yen. Doctors in Japan are using the same drug in clinical studies on coronavirus patients with mild to moderate symptoms, hoping it will prevent the virus from multiplying in patients. But a Japanese health ministry source suggested the drug was not as effective in people with more severe symptoms. “We’ve given Avigan to 70 to 80 people, but it doesn’t seem to work that well when the virus has already multiplied,” the source told the Mainichi Shimbun.

Read more …

Not the first time we mention Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet.

UK Failures Over COVID-19 Will Increase Death Toll, Says Leading Doctor (G.)

A “collective failure” to appreciate the enormity of the coronavirus pandemic and enact swift measures to protect the public will lead to unnecessary deaths, according to a leading doctor, who said the UK ignored clear warning signs from China. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet, rounded on politicians and their expert advisers for failing to act when Chinese researchers first warned about a devastating new virus that was killing people in Hubei eight weeks ago. The team from Wuhan and Beijing reported in January that “the number of deaths was rising quickly” as the virus spread in China. They urged the global community to launch “careful surveillance” in view of the pathogen’s “pandemic potential”.


But writing in the Guardian, Horton said the warning was met with complacency in Britain, where for unknown reasons, medical and scientific advisers watched and waited. At the time, scientists advising ministers appeared to believe it could be treated like influenza, and that a “controlled epidemic” would generate “herd immunity” that would help protect the most vulnerable against the infection. The scenario called for upwards of 60% of the population to contract the virus. The government’s strategy changed dramatically on Monday when the prime minister announced that new modelling from Imperial College London demonstrated that more draconian measures were needed to slash the estimated death toll from 260,000 to about 20,000. Without those measures, which have transformed society, the NHS would be overwhelmed, leading to a situation that has driven a brutal death toll in Italy.

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Excuse me, but why do they let it happen? Once you’ve been through Wave 1, shouldn’t you know better than to let people travel abroad and come back?

Asian Nations Face Second Wave Of Imported Cases (BBC)

South Korea, China and Singapore are among the Asian countries facing a second coronavirus wave, spurred by people importing it from outside. China, where the virus first emerged, reported no new domestic cases on Thursday for the first time since it started recording numbers in January. But it reported 34 new cases among people recently returned to China. South Korea saw a jump in new cases on Thursday with 152, though it is not clear how many were imported. A new cluster there is centred on a nursing home in Daegu, where 74 patients have tested positive. On Wednesday, Singapore reported 47 new infections – of which 33 were imported, including 30 residents who had been infected abroad and brought the infection back.


In China, there were eight more deaths, all in the central province of Hubei and most of them in Wuhan. All three countries had been showing success in controlling domestic cases, but there is concern that increases elsewhere could unravel their progress. Much of the focus has now shifted to Europe and the US, but the new numbers signal that the outbreak is far from over in Asia. Malaysia’s senior health office on Wednesday begged people to “stay at home and protect yourself and your family. Please”. The country has tallied 710 people with the virus, many of them linked to one religious event in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, in February. “We have a slim chance to break the chain of COVID-19 infections,” Noor Hisham Abdullah, director general of Health Malaysia, said on Facebook. “Failure is not an option here. If not, we may face a third wave of this virus, which would be greater than a tsunami, if we maintain a ‘so what’ attitude.”

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Far as I can see, the dollar sold of a lot recently. But now people need dollars to pay off their losses.

Dollar Resumes Ascent As Investors Panic, Scramble For Cash (R.)

The dollar resumed its relentless climb against major currencies on Thursday as wild financial market volatility and worries over tightening liquidity triggered by the coronavirus pandemic sparked an investor flight into cash. Sterling teetered near the lowest since at least 1985 against the greenback. The Australian dollar skidded to a 17-year low, while the New Zealand dollar crashed to an 11-year low as investors dumped riskier assets. The euro briefly rose against the dollar and the pound after the European Central Bank announced a €750 billion asset-purchase programme in response to the coronavirus outbreak, but even this effort was overwhelmed by a stampede into the dollar.


Investors are selling what they can to keep their money in dollars due to the unprecedented amount of uncertainty caused by the virus epidemic, which threatens to paralyse large swaths of the global economy. “This is similar to what happened during the global financial crisis in that investors are even selling what are normally considered safe-haven assets,” said Junichi Ishikawa, senior foreign exchange strategist at IG Securities in Tokyo. “The logic is the biggest hedge against risk is holding your money in cash, so the dollar is being bought. Investor uncertainty is about as high as it can get.” [..] In some cases investors are unloading Treasuries and gold in order to keep their money in dollars. This has confounded many analysts because investors normally buy government debt and precious metals during times of uncertainty.

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Same as above. “We’re in this phase where investors are just looking to liquidate their positions..” We’re in the phase where they have to pay their gambling debts. “Investor” just sounds better than “gamblig addict”.

Cash Is King As Emergency Stimulus Fails To Stop Market Panic (R.)

The dollar surged and everything else was blown away on Thursday as emergency central bank measures in Europe, the United States and Australia failed to halt a fresh wave of panic selling. “There’s no buyers, there’s not much liquidity and everyone is just getting out,” said Chris Weston, head of research at Melbourne brokerage Pepperstone. Stocks, bonds, gold and commodities fell as the world struggles to contain coronavirus and investors and businesses scramble for hard cash. U.S. stock futures were a hair’s breadth from hitting session down limits. The growth-sensitive Australian dollar was crushed 4% to a more than 17-year low. Nearly every stock market in Asia was down and circuit breakers were hit in Seoul, Jakarta and Manila.

Traders reported huge strains in bond markets as distressed funds sold any liquid asset to cover losses in stocks and redemptions from investors. Benchmark 10-year sovereign bond yields in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Korea and Singapore and Thailand surged as prices tumbled. Gold fell 1% and copper hit its downlimit in Shanghai. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 5% to a four-year low, with Korea and Hong Kong leading losses. The Nikkei fell nearly 1%, the ASX 200 nearly 3%, while the Kospi lost 8% and the Hang Seng 5%. “We’re in this phase where investors are just looking to liquidate their positions,” said Prashant Newnaha, senior interest rate strategist at TD Securities in Singapore.

[..] J.P. Morgan economists forecast the U.S. economy to shrink 14% in the next quarter, and the Chinese economy to drop more than 40% in the current one, one of the most dire calls yet as to the scale of the fallout. “There is no longer doubt that the longest global expansion on record will end this quarter,” they said in a note. “The key outlook issue now is gauging the depth and the duration of the 2020 recession.”

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We could all write this by now.

Misunderestimate: Banks Are Going To Drown In An Ocean Of Defaults (Black)

On November 6, 2000, then US presidential candidate George W. Bush told a crowd of cheering supporters, “they misunderestimated me.” [..] ‘Misunderestimate’ seems to be a conflation of the words ‘misunderstand’ and ‘underestimate’. And while that was utterly hysterical 20 years ago when Bush first said it, ‘misunderestimate’ may be the most appropriate word of today. The entire world has completely ‘misunderestimated’ the Corona Virus. Banks are about to drown in an ocean of defaults. I’ll talk about this a lot more in the coming days, but briefly:

• There’s $250 TRILLION in global debt right now– mortgages, credit card debt, business loans, government debt, etc.
• And banks own a large portion of that debt.
• This virus crisis is going to trigger a wave of defaults from consumers, businesses, and even governments.
• Think about it: tourism alone makes up 10% of global GDP. Revenue in that entire sector– hotels, airlines, cruise ships, etc. has collapsed, and many of those companies aren’t going to survive.
• The crash in oil prices is going to wipe out countless oil companies.
• Many large retail chains, which were already struggling in the age of e-commerce, will likely declare bankruptcy.
• Countless businesses around the world have ‘temporarily’ closed due to public health policies, and many of them will go out of business entirely.
• MOST of these businesses owe lots of money to the banks, whether it’s a small business working line, or the $34 billion in debt that American Airlines owes. So the defaults are going to be massive.
• On top of that, millions of people are going to lose their jobs and be unable to make payments on their credit card debt, auto loans, and even mortgages.
• Again, there’s $250 trillion in global debt right now. Total bank capital worldwide is less than $10 trillion.
• So if the coming defaults trigger a mere 4% loss in total debt, it will exceed the entirety of global bank capital.
• And this doesn’t even take into consideration the impact of the $1 QUADRILLION derivatives exposure.

Misunderestimate? Absolutely.

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Why save something so bloated?

Airline Industry Turmoil Deepens As Coronavirus Pain Spreads (R.)

Airline industry turmoil deepened on Thursday as Qantas told most of its 30,000 employees to take leave and India prepared a rescue package of up to $1.6 billion to aid carriers battered by coronavirus, government sources said. The U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization called on governments to ensure cargo operations were not disrupted to maintain the availability of critical medicine and equipment such as ventilators, masks, and other health and hygiene items that will help reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Passenger operations have collapsed at an unprecedented rate as the virus spreads around the world, with Delta Air parking more than 600 jets, cutting corporate pay by as much as 50%, and scaling back its flying by more than 70% until demand begins to recover.

Shares in U.S. airlines fell sharply on Wednesday after Washington proposed a rescue package of $50 billion in loans, but no grants as the industry had requested, to help address the financial impact from the deepening coronavirus crisis. The Trump administration’s lending proposal would require airlines to maintain a certain amount of service and limit increases in executive compensation until the loans are repaid. American Airlines in a memo to staff rebuffed criticism that it had rewarded its shareholders with too many dividends and stock buybacks in better times, leaving it with less cash to manage the crisis. “Unfortunately, this is no ordinary rainy day,” said Nate Gatten, American’s senior vice president global government affairs. “These are extraordinary circumstances, and additional support is necessary to protect jobs and ensure that the flying public can continue to rely on our industry after the crisis ends.”

[..] Air Canada said it was gradually suspending the majority of its international and U.S. transborder flights by March 31. India is poised to join a growing list of countries offering aid to its aviation industry. The Finance Ministry is considering a proposal worth up to $1.6 billion that includes temporary suspension of most taxes levied on the sector, according to two government sources who have direct knowledge of the matter. New Zealand on Thursday outlined the first tranche of a NZ$600 million ($344 million) aviation relief package, including financial support for airlines to pay government passenger charges and cover air traffic control fees.

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Mariana Mazzucato is professor of economics at University College London.

I understand the temptation to theorize and wax enthusiastically about underlying systems, but isn’t it more useful to talk about how we can have 1 million tests per day by tomorrow morning?

The COVID-19 Crisis Is A Chance To Do Capitalism Differently (Mazzucato)

Since the 1980s, governments have been told to take a back seat and let business steer and create wealth, intervening only for the purpose of fixing problems when they arise. The result is that governments are not always properly prepared and equipped to deal with crises such as Covid-19 or the climate emergency. By assuming that governments have to wait until the occurrence of a huge systemic shock before they resolve to take action, insufficient preparations are made along the way. In the process, critical institutions providing public services and public goods more widely – such as the NHS in the UK, where there have been cuts to public health totalling £1bn since 2015 – are left weakened.

The prominent role of business in public life has also led to a loss of confidence in what the government can achieve alone – leading in turn to the many problematic public-private partnerships, which prioritise the interests of business over the public good. For example, it has been well documented that public-private partnerships in research and development often favour “blockbusters” at the expense of less commercially appealing medicines that are hugely important to public health, including antibiotics and vaccines for a number of diseases with outbreak potential. On top of this, there is a lack of a safety net and protection for working people in societies with rising inequality, especially for those working in the gig economy with no social protection.

But we now have an opportunity to use this crisis as a way to understand how to do capitalism differently. This requires a rethink of what governments are for: rather than simply fixing market failures when they arise, they should move towards actively shaping and creating markets that deliver sustainable and inclusive growth. They should also ensure that partnerships with business involving government funds are driven by public interest, not profit. First of all, governments must invest in, and in some cases create, institutions that help to prevent crises, and make us more capable to handle them when they arise. The UK government’s emergency budget of £12bn for the NHS is a welcome move. But equally important is a focus on long-term investment to strengthen health systems, reversing the trends of recent years.

Second, governments need to better coordinate research and development activities, steering them towards public health goals. Discovery of vaccines will necessitate international coordination on a herculean scale, exemplified by the extraordinary work of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

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Unbelievable. More harmful than the virus. Or rather a virus in itself, one that kills slowly.

Russia Coronavirus Disinformation Designed To Sow Panic In West – EU (R.)

Russian media have deployed a “significant disinformation campaign” against the West to worsen the impact of the coronavirus, generate panic and sow distrust, according to a European Union document seen by Reuters. The Kremlin denied the allegations on Wednesday, saying they were unfounded and lacked common sense. The EU document said the Russian campaign, pushing fake news online in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French, uses contradictory, confusing and malicious reports to make it harder for the EU to communicate its response to the pandemic. “A significant disinformation campaign by Russian state media and pro-Kremlin outlets regarding COVID-19 is ongoing,” said the nine-page internal document, dated March 16…

“The overarching aim of Kremlin disinformation is to aggravate the public health crisis in Western countries…in line with the Kremlin’s broader strategy of attempting to subvert European societies,” the document produced by the EU’s foreign policy arm, the European External Action Service, said. An EU database has recorded almost 80 cases of disinformation about coronavirus since Jan. 22, it said, noting Russian efforts to amplify Iranian accusations online, cited without evidence, that coronavirus was a U.S. biological weapon. Most scientists believe the disease originated in bats in China before passing to humans. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed to what he said was the lack in the EU document of a specific example or link to a specific media outlet.

“We’re talking again about some unfounded allegations which in the current situation are probably the result of an anti-Russian obsession,” said Peskov. The EU document cited examples from Lithuania to Ukraine, including false claims that a U.S. soldier deployed to Lithuania was infected and hospitalized. It said that on social media, Russian state-funded, Spanish-language RT Spanish was the 12th most popular news source on coronavirus between January and mid-March, based on the amount of news shared on social media. The European Commission said it was in contact with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft. An EU spokesman accused Moscow of “playing with people’s lives” and appealed to EU citizens to “be very careful” and only use news sources they trust.

[..] Russian media in Europe have not been successful in reaching the broader public, but provide a platform for anti-EU populists and polarize debate, analysis by EU and non-governmental groups has shown. The EEAS report cited riots at the end of February in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic now seeking to join the EU and NATO, as an example of the consequences of such disinformation. It said a fake letter purporting to be from the Ukrainian health ministry falsely stated here were five coronavirus cases in the country. Ukrainian authorities say the letter was created outside Ukraine, the EU report said. “Pro-Kremlin disinformation messages advance a narrative that coronavirus is a human creation, weaponized by the West,” said the report, first cited by the Financial Times.

It quoted fake news created by Russia in Italy – which is suffering the world’s second most deadly outbreak of coronavirus – alleging that the 27-nation EU was unable to effectively deal with the pandemic, despite a series of collective measures taken by governments in recent days.

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$50 billion.

‘Putin’s Chef’ Threatens To Sue US Over Charges Of 2016 Election Meddling (G.)

A businessmen allied with Vladimir Putin has said he will sue the US for $50bn (£41bn) in damages after prosecutors dropped charges of meddling in the 2016 elections. Yevgeny Prigozhin, often dubbed “Putin’s chef,” claimed in a statement on Tuesday that he had been “wrongfully persecuted” by US prosecutors who said his company Concord had funded an internet troll factory that had promoted Donald Trump’s candidacy during the US elections. The charges, which were filed by special counsel Robert Mueller following his nearly two-year investigation into Russian meddling, were abruptly dropped on Monday, a month before trial. Prosecutors said the Russian company had “no exposure to meaningful punishment” and that the prosecution risked exposing investigative sources and methods.


A day later, Prigozhin went on the attack, saying the dropped charges showed that the US government “feared publicity and just court proceedings”. “This means that the allegations that ‘Prigozhin interfered in the US presidential election,’ ‘Concord interfered in the US presidential election,’ or ‘Russia interfered in the US presidential election’ are mendacious and false,” said Prigozhin, according to the statement released by his company. Prosecutors had previously complained that documents they had provided to the defence had ended up online, and had been hesitant to deliver more sensitive information to Concord’s defence team. It is not clear whether the plans to file a lawsuit are serious, where the lawsuit will be filed, and why Prigozhin values the damages against him at $50bn. The company’s press office declined to give any more information about Prigozhin’s plans on Tuesday.

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Threats on her life. But not from the FBI.

Ghislaine Maxwell Sues Jeffrey Epstein’s Estate Over Legal Fees (BBC)

Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein, is suing the late US financier’s estate seeking reimbursement for legal fees and security costs, court documents say. Ms Maxwell’s complaint states that she “had no involvement in or knowledge of Epstein’s alleged misconduct” and that he had promised to cover her costs. She also “receives regular threats to her life and safety”, it adds. [..] Ms Maxwell, a long-time friend of Epstein, has not been accused by the authorities of wrongdoing. Ms Maxwell’s lawsuit, which is dated 12 March but was made public on Wednesday, claims that “extensive global coverage” of the investigation resulted in her having to “hire personal security and find safe accommodation”. It adds that she “formed a legal and special relationship” with Epstein that obligated the estate to compensate her, and that “assurances” were made but later ignored after she filed a reimbursement claim in November.

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Jan 062020
 
 January 6, 2020  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Esther Bubley Soldiers with their girls at the Indianapolis bus station 1943

 

Gold, Oil Soar, Shares Slip As US And Iran Rattle Sabers (R.)
Iraqi PM Claims Soleimani Was On Peace Mission When Assassinated (GZ)
Iraqi Parliament Calls For Expulsion Of Foreign Troops (AlJ)
Boeing Reports “Previously Unreported Concerns” With Wiring In 737 MAX (CNN)
Why We’ll Never Get Rich By Putting Cash Away For A Rainy Day (Bell)
Fed Focuses On Repo Market Exit Strategy After Avoiding Year-End Crunch (R.)
PBOC Says Its Prudent Policies Will Continue (CD)
Trump Admin Pressed Dutch Hard To Cancel China Chip-Equipment Sale (R.)
Handwritten Note Found In Jeffrey Epstein’s Jail Cell (CBS)
Ghislaine Maxwell Under 24-Hour Guard By Former US Navy Seals (DM)
Victoria’s Secret Models Got Much Thinner Over Last 23 Years (WBUR)
Ricky Gervais Skewers Hollywood’s A-List (R.)

 

 

With war cries rulling the waves, “investors” wonder where their money is safest: with a sweat-shop using company that buys back its shares all the time, or with gold. Given volumes, governments, central banks also appear involved.

Gold, Oil Soar, Shares Slip As US And Iran Rattle Sabers (R.)

Tensions in the Middle East after the killing of a top Iranian general by the United States pushed an index of Asian shares off an 18-month high on Monday as investors pushed safe-haven gold near a seven-year high, and oil jumped to four-month peaks. The United States detected a heightened state of alert by Iran’s missile forces, as President Donald Trump warned the United States would strike back, “perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” if Iran attacked any American person or target. Iraq’s parliament on Sunday recommended all foreign troops be ordered out of the country after the U.S. killing of a top Iranian military commander and an Iraqi militia leader in a drone strike on a convoy at Baghdad airport.


Spot gold gained 1.6% to $1,579.55 per ounce in jittery trade to reach its highest since April 2013. Oil prices extended gains on fears any Middle East conflict could disrupt global supplies. Brent crude futures rose $1.9 to $70.50 a barrel, while U.S. crude climbed $1.5 to $64.57. “The risk of further escalation has clearly gone up – given the direct attack on Iran, Iran’s threat of retaliation and Trump’s desire to look tough – posing the threat of higher oil prices,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital. “Historically though oil prices need to double to pose a severe threat to global growth and we are long way from that.”

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Max Blumenthal takes a bit much as gospel: “Iraqi PM Reveals…”

Iraqi PM Claims Soleimani Was On Peace Mission When Assassinated (GZ)

At a January 3 State Department briefing, where reporters finally got the chance to demand evidence for the claim of an “imminent” threat, one US official erupted in anger. “Jesus, do we have to explain why we do these things?” he barked at the press. Two days later, when Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi addressed his country’s parliament, Trump’s justification for killing Soleimani was exposed as a cynical lie. According to Abdul-Mahdi, he had planned to meet Soleimani on the morning the general was killed to discuss a diplomatic rapproachment that Iraq was brokering between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Abdul-Mahdi said that Trump personally thanked him for the efforts, even as he was planning the hit on Soleimani – thus creating the impression that the Iranian general was safe to travel to Baghdad.


Soleimani had arrived in Baghdad not to plan attacks on American targets, but to coordinate de-escalation with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, he was killed while on an actual peace mission that could have created political distance between the Gulf monarchy and members of the US-led anti-Iran axis like Israel. The catastrophic results of Soleimani’s killing recall the Obama administration’s 2016 assassination of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, a Taliban leader who was eager to negotiate a peaceful end to the US occupation of Afghanistan. Mansur’s death wound up empowering hardline figures in the Taliban who favored a total military victory over the US and triggered an uptick in violence across the country, dooming hopes for a negotiated exit.

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Again: who gets what they wanted?

Iraqi Parliament Calls For Expulsion Of Foreign Troops (AlJ)

Iraq’s parliament has passed a resolution calling on the government to expel foreign troops from the country as Iran-US tensions escalate following the killing of a top Iranian military commander and Iraqi armed group leader in a US strike in Baghdad. In an extraordinary parliamentary session on Sunday, parliament called on the government to end all foreign troop presence in Iraq and to cancel its request for assistance from the US-led coalition which had been working with Baghdad to fight ISIL. “The government commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting Islamic State due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory,” the resolution read.


“The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason.” Parliament resolutions, unlike laws, are non-binding and the move would require new legislation to cancel the existing agreement. Ahead of the vote, chants of “No, no, America…long live Iraq”, rang out inside the hall, before Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also called on parliament to end foreign troop presence. “Despite the internal and external difficulties that we might face, it remains best for Iraq on principle and practically,” said Abdul Mahdi in an address to parliament ahead of the vote.

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Latest proposal: mandatory simulator trainning for all pilots. That’s what started the whole charade, so a nice round circle.

Boeing Reports “Previously Unreported Concerns” With Wiring In 737 MAX (CNN)

[..] as part of a December audit of the plane’s safety ordered by the US Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing found “previously unreported concerns” with wiring in the 737 Max, according to a report earlier Sunday from the New York Times. The company informed the FAA last month that it is looking into whether two sections of wiring that control the tail of the plane are too close together and could cause a short circuit — and potentially a crash, if pilots did not react appropriately — the Times reported, citing a senior Boeing engineer and three people familiar with the matter. A Boeing spokesperson confirmed the report to CNN Business on Sunday, saying the issue was identified as part of a “rigorous process” to ensure the plane’s safety.


“Our highest priority is ensuring the 737 Max meets all safety and regulatory requirements before it returns to service,” the spokesperson said. “We are working closely with the FAA and other regulators on a robust and thorough certification process to ensure a safe and compliant design.” The spokesperson said it “would be premature to speculate” whether the discovery will lead to new design changes for the plane, or further extend the timeline for its recertification. It will be a challenge for Boeing’s new chief executive, David Calhoun, who officially takes over the job on January 13 after former CEO Dennis Muilenburg was ousted on December 23. “A change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers, and all other stakeholders,” the company in December.

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We would still do much better if central banks wouldn’t strangle interest rates.

Why We’ll Never Get Rich By Putting Cash Away For A Rainy Day (Bell)

Norway has a wealth tax. Now, I’m in favour of a greater role for wealth taxes but, whatever your view, there’s at least one benefit we should all appreciate: lots of data on who owns what. Recent research delves into this Norwegian data mine and helps us investigate the popular view that those with more wealth build it up by saving more. You might call this the “wealth as the reward for doing the right thing” view of the world. But the research finds it’s nonsense – Norwegians save around 7% of their income, however much they may own. Despite saving the same proportion as those with much less, those with lots accumulate more. Why? Because we can accumulate wealth by the rising value of assets, such as property and shares.


The wealthier have more assets and more capital gains. These are banked, not consumed, so the gap grows. This is a huge deal, explaining 80% of wealth growing faster than income in Norway. The UK has also seen a wealth boom from rising house prices. These unexpected windfalls – rather than active savings like paying off a mortgage – explain 82% of increased property wealth since the early 1990s. Yet we pretend that wealth comes from savings and we ignore these capital gains when considering who is doing well, and so we make a dog’s dinner out of taxing them. It’s time we woke up to where wealth has actually come from in modern Britain … and Norway.

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They can only exit repo if they support banks somewhere else.

Fed Focuses On Repo Market Exit Strategy After Avoiding Year-End Crunch (R.)

Wall Street’s worst fears of a year-end funding squeeze never materialized thanks in large part to the quarter-trillion dollars the Federal Reserve stuffed into the market to ensure nothing became gummed up. The question now, though, is what it will take for the U.S. central bank to withdraw from its daily liquidity operations in the $2.2 trillion market for repurchase agreements, or repos – after it became a dominant player in a short three months. “The repo operations are a band-aid, but the wound isn’t healed fully,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, an interest rate strategist at TD Securities. The New York Fed began injecting billions of dollars of liquidity into the repo market in mid-September, when a confluence of events sent the cost of overnight loans as high as 10%, more than four times the Fed’s rate at the time.

A month later, the Fed moved to expand its balance sheet – and boost the level of reserves – by snapping up $60 billion a month in U.S. Treasury bills. The Fed will continue pumping tens of billions a day into the repo market through at least the end of January. Its ability to exit from the repo market after that time will depend on how long it takes the central bank to make the balance sheet large enough so there are adequate reserves in the banking system – and the repo operations are no longer needed. “It seems implausible to me that the Fed will be able to stop their repo operations by the end of January,” said Mark Cabana, head of U.S. rates strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Minutes from the Fed’s December policy meeting released on Friday showed its staffers expected repo operations to be “gradually” reduced after mid-January. However, staff members also said the central bank may need to continue offering some repo operations until at least April, when tax payments could reduce the level of reserves. Another challenge for Fed officials: Deciding just how big the central bank’s balance sheet, which is currently about $4 trillion, should be.

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Michael Pettis on Twitter: “So far “prudent policies” has meant that for several years China has generated nearly five times as much debt per unit of GDP as the rest of the world — even more if you think GDP growth has been overstated on a comparable basis.”

PBOC Says Its Prudent Policies Will Continue (CD)

China will maintain a prudent monetary policy while keeping it flexible this year to ensure reasonably adequate liquidity, and it will strengthen adjustments to support economic growth, the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, said in a statement on Sunday. [..] The PBOC will promote credit financing for small and private companies, it said in its statement. Last year, it increased large commercial banks’ loans for small and micro companies by more than 30 percent, leading to a drop in lending costs of 1 percentage point. “These targets have been over-fulfilled,” it said.

The central bank is aiming this year to “win the battle of preventing and reducing large financial risks” and reiterated its role as “the lender of last resort”, which means the it will provide money to financial institutions that are experiencing financial difficulty to prevent their collapse. Last year, financial regulators took over Baoshang Bank in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and provided liquidity to prevent the spread of financial risks. To support liquidity and improve commercial bank’s asset quality, the PBOC will supplement commercial banks’ capital in 2020 through issuance of perpetual bonds — a credit instrument having no date to pay back.

Other risk-control measures will be taken for internet and real estate financing, and a macro-prudential regulatory system will be built to supervise cross-border capital flows, according to the central bank. Regulatory control over monetary policy operations is expected to continue to strengthen in China. “Monetary easing, if any, is expected to be limited and should not translate into relaxed regulatory control over the riskier types of leverage, which is positive to system stability,” said Rowena Chang, associate director of Non-Banks Asia Pacific at Fitch Ratings, an international rating agency.

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Military use is a deal killer.

Trump Admin Pressed Dutch Hard To Cancel China Chip-Equipment Sale (R.)

The Trump administration mounted an extensive campaign to block the sale of Dutch chip manufacturing technology to China, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lobbying the Netherlands government and White House officials sharing a classified intelligence report with the country’s Prime Minister, people familiar with the effort told Reuters. The high-level push, which has not previously been reported, demonstrates the importance the White House places on preventing China from getting hold of a machine required to make the world’s fastest microprocessors. It also shows the challenges facing the U.S. government’s largely unilateral efforts to stem the flow of advanced technology to China.

The U.S. campaign began in 2018, after the Dutch government gave semiconductor equipment company ASML, the global leader in a critical chip-making process known as lithography, a license to sell its most advanced machine to a Chinese customer, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Over the following months, U.S officials examined whether they could block the sale outright and held at least four rounds of talks with Dutch officials, three sources told Reuters. The effort culminated in the White House on July 18 when Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman raised the issue with Dutch officials during the visit of Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was given an intelligence report on the potential repercussions of China acquiring ASML’s technology, according to a former U.S. government official familiar with the matter.

The pressure appears to have worked. Shortly after the White House visit, the Dutch government decided not to renew ASML’s export license, and the $150 million machine has not been shipped. [..] The ASML machine uses extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light beams, generated by lasers and focused by giant mirrors, to lay out extraordinarily narrow circuits on slabs of silicon known as wafers. That in turn makes it possible to create faster and more powerful microprocessors, memory chips and other advanced components, which are critical for consumer electronics and military applications alike. Only a few companies, including America’s Intel, South Korea’s Samsung and Taiwan’s TSMC, are currently capable of manufacturing the most sophisticated chips.

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Curious: CBS puts a whole team on this for 5 months, and then writes about a note that says nothing, instead of photos that say a lot. Bloody neck, bloodless noose.

Handwritten Note Found In Jeffrey Epstein’s Jail Cell (CBS)

While Epstein surrounded himself with a collection of powerful and high profile figures, the wealthy financier lived a majority of his life in privacy, avoiding television appearances and media interviews almost entirely. And though the federal charges brought against Epstein in July served as a gateway into learning more about the secretive life the 66 year-old led, filled with a controversial plea deal, luxurious travels around the world and alleged sex abuse rings, public intrigue about Epstein, who neglected to give any public statements following his arrest, has heightened.


In the course of a five-month investigation, 60 Minutes obtained photos of Epstein’s cell after his apparent suicide. Also found was a note, giving the world a look into what Jeffrey Epstein may have been thinking in his final days. The note was written on yellow lined paper with a blue ballpoint pen and there were complaints about jail conditions. The note says that one guard “kept me in a locked shower stall for 1 hour.” “[Another prison guard] sent me burnt food.” “Giant bugs crawling over my hands. No fun!!” Epstein’s apparent discomfort about jail conditions comes as no surprise. According to Bruce Barket, Epstein’s former cellmate’s lawyer, Jeffrey Epstein and his legal team took up one of the two attorney visiting rooms “all day, every day.”

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No, I don’t know how credible the Daily Mail is here. But it’s good to keep the conversation going.

Ghislaine Maxwell Under 24-Hour Guard By Former US Navy Seals (DM)

Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend of convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is being guarded round the clock by former US Navy SEALs amid concern that her life is in danger, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. A source says ex-special forces are shuttling the 58-year-old friend of Prince Andrew from one safe house to another across the American Midwest following ‘credible death threats’. She is now the principal focus of an FBI investigation and is said to hold the key to the truth about the Duke of York’s relationship with the disgraced financier and whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl. The Duke has repeatedly denied these allegations and any suggestion of wrongdoing.


While Miss Maxwell has never been accused by the authorities of criminal wrongdoing, Epstein’s alleged victims have portrayed her as his ‘madam’ and ‘fixer’. A source said: ‘There has been so much rubbish written about Ghislaine. The reality is she receives multiple, credible death threats on a daily basis. The hate mail is sometimes 2ft high. ‘She is constantly moving. Her life is in danger. She is being guarded by the best of the very best and that includes former US Navy SEALs. She’s not under the protection of any government. She’s on her own.’ Asked about reports last week that Miss Maxwell was being sheltered in Israel and supported by wealthy friends, the source said: ‘I only wish. This is costing her a fortune. She moves constantly. The reports are just b*******.’

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The reason Victoria’s Secret had no 2019 show is Epstein. But interesting that as America gets fatter fast, models go the opposite way. Neither looks very healthy.

Victoria’s Secret Models Got Much Thinner Over Last 23 Years (WBUR)

Cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Neelam Vashi says she is fascinated by women’s waist-to-hip ratio, the hourglass curve from the narrowest point of the waist to the widest point of the hips. She was curious, she says, to see whether previous cross-cultural findings that men tend to prefer women with a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio would hold true across time in a group known for beauty — models in the famed Victoria’s Secret fashion show. So Vashi, an assistant professor of dermatology at Boston University and director of the Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center, and colleagues analyzed the measurements of models who walked the runway at the now-defunct fashion show over 23 years, from 1995 to 2018.

She found that the 0.7 ratio — roughly a 24-inch waist divided by 35-inch hips — did hold true for the models, a nice confirmation of her hypothesis. But the results from other measures the team examined were surprising — and, she says, concerning. “Overall, these models became slimmer and their dress size decreased,” says Vashi. “The ratio stayed the same, but each one of those measurements did decrease.” And as Victoria’s Secret models got thinner, the average American woman’s measurements grew — with the average woman now at least a size 16. Concern over that rising disparity comes across in the research paper’s title, which begins: “Unattainable Standards of Beauty.”

“These findings represent an ideal of beauty that continuously moves further away from the characteristics of the average American woman,” says a news release accompanying the study. In 2019, with ratings low, Victoria’s Secret canceled the fashion show, saying it needed to evolve and be rethought for a new media era. As a cosmetic dermatologist, Vashi focuses on enhancing people’s looks, she says, but she also hopes people recognize that Victoria’s Secret models, “have bodies that are just not attainable by an average person.” Though that hasn’t stopped some from trying. The study notes a dramatic recent rise in cosmetic surgery, “with buttock and lower body lift [procedures] increasing by 4295% and 256%, respectively, since 2000.”

[..] The study found that bust measurements dropped from 32.9 inches in the 1990s, to 32 inches 20 years later. Waist size dropped from 24.7 inches to 23.6 inches, and hips shrank from 34.9 inches to 34.4 inches. Average dress size dropped from 5.2 to 3.7. The research also found the models became more racially and ethnically diverse. “To decrease a dress size from 5.2 to 3.7, that’s a significant difference,” Vashi says. “To slim an inch off one’s waist — that’s very hard to do.”

Read more …

And then you realize you really couln’t get one single American to say it. Painful.

Ricky Gervais Skewers Hollywood’s A-List (R.)

British comedian and actor Ricky Gervais returned to host the Golden Globe awards on Sunday, cracking scathing jokes about Hollywood’s elite that got both laughs and disapproving looks from the A-list audience. Gervais last hosted the Globes four years ago, before the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite movements shined a spotlight on the underrepresentation of women and minorities in Hollywood. He said the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes, had planned to have a segment honoring celebrities who died in 2019, “but when I saw the list of people who died, it wasn’t diverse enough.”


Gervais also called out Hollywood actors as hypocrites for giving impassioned political speeches at awards shows while working in movies or television series produced by major tech and media corporations. “You say you’re woke, but the companies you work for – I mean, unbelievable – Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t ya?,” he asked. “So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You are in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. “So if you win, right? Come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God” and leave the stage, he concluded, using an expletive.

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Dec 022019
 
 December 2, 2019  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  23 Responses »


Russell Lee Migrant family in trailer home near Edinburg, Texas Feb 1939

 

White House Says It Will Not Participate In Wednesday Impeachment Hearing (R.)
Political Affiliation Bias: We’re Embracing It Fervently (RT)
Could America Survive a Truth Commission? (CHS)
Why a Second American Revolution Is Necessary for the Entire World (Zuesse)
US Digs Deeper Into Deutsche Role In Danske Money Laundering Scandal (R.)
Albert Edwards Is Watching To Decide When The US Becomes “Japanified” (ZH)
Prince Andrew ‘Has Kept In Constant Touch With Ghislaine Maxwell (DM)
Serbia, Slovakia Join Sudden Eastern European Gold Repatriation Push
Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? (Marçal)
What Is COP25 And Can It Save The World? (G.)

 

 

“We may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the administration the ability to do so meaningfully..”

White House Says It Will Not Participate In Wednesday Impeachment Hearing (R.)

The White House told Democratic lawmakers on Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump and his lawyers would not participate in a congressional impeachment hearing this week, citing a lack of “fundamental fairness.” Trump’s aides responded defiantly to the first of two crucial deadlines he faces in Congress this week as Democrats prepare to shift the focus of their impeachment inquiry from fact-finding to the consideration of possible charges of misconduct over his dealings with Ukraine. The Democratic-led House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, tasked with considering charges known as articles of impeachment, had given Trump until 6 p.m. on Sunday to say whether he would dispatch a lawyer to take part in the judiciary panel’s proceedings on Wednesday.

“We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the President a fair process through additional hearings,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, according to a copy of a letter seen by Reuters. Cipollone – while citing a “complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness afforded the president” in the impeachment process – did not rule out participation in further proceedings. But he signaled that Democrats would first have to make major procedural concessions.


[..] “We may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the administration the ability to do so meaningfully,” Cipollone wrote, laying out a list of demands, including allowing Trump’s Republicans to call additional witnesses. Cipollone also complained that Democrats had scheduled Wednesday’s hearing – “no doubt purposely” – to overlap with Trump’s absence from the United States to attend a NATO summit in London.

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Next year: can Republicans still marry Democrats?

Political Affiliation Bias: We’re Embracing It Fervently (RT)

In an ultra-PC society where even the suggestion of racial, ethnic or gender bias can get a person fired or ostracized, another type of discrimination – a political affiliation-based one – is thriving, according to a new study. Discrimination may have become taboo in US society, but it hasn’t gone away. A new study shows discriminatory behavior thrives in the one area where it remains socially acceptable to judge people based on shared attributes: political affiliation. Politics remains one of the few personal characteristics not protected by equal opportunity hiring laws, and if this study is any indication, lawmakers will want to get on top of that quickly.

Shared political ideology outweighs seemingly more important factors like professional qualifications in hiring decisions, researchers from Clemson University and the University of Kansas confirmed in a study published this month in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Unchecked, this kind of discrimination is liable to produce powerful echo chambers, in which groupthink eventually becomes a prerequisite for employment. Study participants readily picked a job candidate with whom they shared a political affiliation over a more qualified candidate without that affiliation when presented with Facebook profiles containing clear indicators of the prospective hire’s political alignment. These might include statements about leading a campus Democrat or Republican group, or party symbols like the Democratic donkey or GOP elephant.


The closer the participant, acting as a recruiter, identified with a party, the higher ratings they gave to candidates who touted their membership in that party – qualifications were nigh on irrelevant. The effect held true even when candidate profiles didn’t include explicit statements of political loyalty. Recruiter participants still picked candidates who agreed with them based on profiles sporting either a pro-choice or pro-life statement; pro-Second Amendment or pro-gun control material; or support of Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, a second experiment revealed.

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Maybe we should ask: Can Americans still recognize the truth?

Could America Survive a Truth Commission? (CHS)

You’ve probably heard of the Truth Commissions held in disastrously corrupt and oppressive regimes after the sociopath/kleptocrat Oligarchs are deposed. The goal is not revenge, as well-deserved as that might be; the goal is national reconciliation via the only possible path to healing: name names and tell the plain, unadorned truth, stripped of self-serving artifice, spin, propaganda and PR. Is such a stripped-of-spin truthful account of names and events even possible in the U.S.? Sadly, there is precious little evidence that a Truth Commission in the U.S. would be anything more than a travesty of a mockery of a sham, a parade of half-truths, misdirections, falsehoods and fabrications, all aimed at one goal: protecting the powerful from the consequences of their decisions and actions.

Sadly, we’ve lost the capacity to simply tell the truth: everything, and I mean everything, is crafted to protect the guilty, polish the putrid decay of legalized looting, defraud the unwary, ease the most venal, power-mad sociopaths into positions of unparalleled power, sell low-quality goods and services nobody needs or would even want if the marketing weren’t so Orwellian, persuade debt-serfs to borrow more and bamboozle voters into further enriching the few at the expense of the many. The truth is no match for greed is good and don’t be evil, unless it’s incredibly profitable, in which case, go for it but cover your tracks (here’s looking at you, Big Tech). Outrage is reserved for whistleblowers who name names and reveal the sordid truths that the status quo has expended the nation’s treasure to protect from the light of day.


This is the pathetic state of America: our outrage is reserved for those telling the truth, not for the legions who lie, cheat, steal and prevaricate to conceal the truth at all costs.

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“All of these invasions and coups are based on nothing but lies, and the media are a necessary part of that.”

Why a Second American Revolution Is Necessary for the Entire World (Zuesse)

On November 11th, the very disturbing but clearly true “Lessons To Learn From The Coup In Bolivia” was posted to the Web. That anonymous author (a German intelligence analyst) documented the evilness of the overthrow of Evo Morales in Bolivia, and the threat now clearly posed to the world by the US regime — a spreading cancer of expansionist fascism, led from Washington. But, even more than this, he indicated that unless the individuals who are responsible for the advancing fascism are executed, there won’t be any real hope for democracy anywhere in the world.

Either this impunity will stop, or else the spread of the US international dictatorship — not only by CIA coups such as this, but by illegal international invasions such as of Iraq 2003, Libya 2011, Syria 2012-, and Yemen 2015-, — will continue and will engulf in misery ultimately the entire world. He makes clear the complicity of US ‘news’-media in the lies that ‘justify’ this coup (and ‘justified’ those invasions). It’s, by now, clearly the way the US regime functions. Of course, none of those media will publish any such truth; they all cover-up constantly for the regime, because they actually are an essential part of it. (All of these invasions and coups are based on nothing but lies, and the media are a necessary part of that.) Censorship in America is thus actually extreme, and constant.


For example: how many US-and-allied media have even reported that fascists took over in Bolivia? Instead, we’ve got newspaper editorials such as the New York Times blaming the extraordinarily successful and popular democratically elected President of Bolivia for the coup which overthrew him and replaced him by fascists (and never using the word “coup,” except once derisively, by saying that “British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, cried ‘coup’” — as if it weren’t a coup — and making no mention whatsoever that it had been done by committed fascists).

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It’s been 5 years since the first whistleblower stepped forward. Who’s in jail?

US Digs Deeper Into Deutsche Role In Danske Money Laundering Scandal (R.)

The U.S. Department of Justice has in recent weeks stepped up its investigation into Deutsche Bank’s role in the 200 billion euro ($220 billion) Danske Bank money laundering scandal, four people familiar with the inquiry told Reuters. One source said the DoJ’s new line of inquiry is whether Deutsche helped move tainted money from Danske, Denmark’s largest lender, into the United States. If proven, that could lead to steep financial penalties. Officials from the DoJ, who have been working closely with Estonian prosecutors for around a year, have also begun cooperating with Frankfurt state prosecutors, the sources said. The Frankfurt prosecutors have been exploring Deutsche’s role in processing payments for the Danish bank.


The DoJ’s focus on Germany’s largest bank and its work with Frankfurt prosecutors have not previously been reported. A Danske spokesman said it continued to cooperate with the authorities in Estonia, Denmark, France and the United States. [..] Although the Justice Department requested information from Deutsche last year relating to Danske transactions, at the time its executives believed that the investigation was focused onDanske and that the German bank itself was not a target. However, Deutsche officials were made aware in recent months that the scope of the DoJ probe had broadened to the bank’s role in facilitating the Danske trades and its possible failure to report suspicious transactions quickly enough, one of the people said.

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No inflation.

Albert Edwards Is Watching To Decide When The US Becomes “Japanified” (ZH)

There is another reason why Edwards dismisses any incipient signs of inflation in the US: his latest piece is titled “Japanification of the US beckons”, in which he writes that despite the Fed’s recent announcement of a halt to further rate cuts, “GDP growth looks fragile and there is good evidence to suggest that core CPI inflation is set to collapse towards zero. In fact, a resumption of Fed easing on the back of recessionary data and sliding inflation is likely to accelerate the convergence of US yields towards negative eurozone and Japanese yields.” Hence, the Japanification of the US, and as he further notes, if the US economy slides into recession, it is clear that “inflation will likely fall ever closer toward Japanese-style deflation.

But a rapid decline in key inflation measures, like core CPI, may be beginning to unfold already, irrespective of whether a recession is about to start or not.” To make his point, Edwards points out the October CPI data which “shocked” him, but not for the surprisingly high 0.4% headline rise M/M, but because of a specific data set that he will now be watching very closely to determine if US inflation is indeed converging with that of Japan: shelter CPI. it was this key component of the CPI basket that last month collapsed to almost zero. And since shelter has a very heavy 33% weighting in the overall CPI and an overwhelmingly dominant 42% weighting in the closely watched core CPI (ie ex food and energy), it’s only a matter of time before the decline in shelter hits the broader inflation basket.

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Not what he said in the interview.

Prince Andrew ‘Has Kept In Constant Touch With Ghislaine Maxwell (DM)

Prince Andrew has kept in constant contact with billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, it has been claimed today. The Duke of York, 59, invited Maxwell, 57, to Buckingham Palace in June, just a month before Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges. But a source has now claimed the pair have been in touch by phone and email throughout the scandal over the prince’s links to the convicted sex offender. They claim there is an ‘unswerving loyalty’ between the pair, who both deny any wrongdoing despite their close relationships with Epstein. The source told the Sun: ‘They have remained constantly in touch by phone and email. The Duke has an unswerving loyalty to Ghislaine and she is also very loyal to him.


‘Ghislaine will do anything to protect the Duke and the feeling is mutual. They both share the same view they have done nothing wrong.’ There is no indication of how the source knows about Andrew and Maxwell’s communications. In his car crash Newsnight interview Andrew claimed he had not spoken about Epstein when he was last in contact with Maxwell because he ‘wasn’t in the news’. [..] Ms Guiffre Roberts will give a tell-all interview to BBC Panorama tomorrow night in a programme that will also probe Maxwell’s involvement in Epstein’s criminal activity.

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They don’t have very much, do they? But yeah, why keep your gold stored abroad?

Serbia, Slovakia Join Sudden Eastern European Gold Repatriation Push

Just a few short days after Poland’s government touted its economic might after completing the repatriation of 100 tons of the barbarous relic; and with Hungary’s anti-immigrant Prime Minister Viktor Orban also ramping up holdings of the safe-haven asset to boost the security of his reserves, more Eastern European nationalist leaders are demanding their country’s gold back on home soil. As Bloomberg reports, former Slovak Premier Robert Fico, whose odds of returning to power are rising quickly, urged parliament to compel the central bank into repatriating the nation’s gold stocks, which are currently stored in the U.K.. Perhaps most vocally reflecting what many other nations also believe – sometimes your international partners can betray you.

Citing a 1938 pact by France, Britain, Italy and Germany allowing Adolf Hitler to annex a chunk what was then Czechoslovakia, Fico told reporters: “You can hardly trust even the closest allies after the Munich Agreement. I guarantee that if something happens, we won’t see a single gram of this gold. Let’s do it as quickly as possible.” Additionally, Serbia’s strongman leader Aleksandar Vucic took note, ordering the central bank to boost reserves and prompting the purchase of nine tons in October. Vucic said last week that more should be bought because “we see in which direction the crisis in the world is moving.”


The various leaders have a recent example to prove their fears right as the Bank of England refused to return Venezuela’s gold stock over political differences. “Gold is a symbol,” said Vuk Vukovic, a political economist in Zagreb. “When states purchase it, people everywhere see it as a sign of economic sovereignty.” The gold rush mirrors steps by Russia and China to diversify reserves exceeding $3 trillion away from the dollar amid flaring geopolitical tensions with the U.S.

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Interesting topic, and women need more say, but still, in many societies, women do a lot of things besides cooking and cleaning. That’s more of a western thing, and not even a modern one.

Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? (Marçal)

Men have always been allowed to act out of self-interest – as in economics, so in sex. For women, this freedom has been taboo. If not flat-out forbidden. Woman has been assigned the task of caring for others, not of maximizing her own gain. Society has told her that she cannot be rational because childbirth and menstruation tie her to the body, and the body has been identified as the opposite of reason. In women, lust and greed has always been criticized more harshly than it has in men. It has been viewed as something threatening, destructive, dangerous and unnatural. ‘People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute,’ wrote Rebecca West. Women have never been allowed to be as selfish as men.

And if economics is the science of self-interest, how does woman fit in? The answer is that man has been allowed to stand for self- interest and woman has stood for the fragile love that must be conserved. By being excluded. Even though the word ‘economy’ comes from the Greek oikos, which means home, economists have long been uninterested in what exactly happens at home. Woman’s self-sacrificing nature was said to tie her to the private sphere, and thus she was not economically relevant. Activities like raising children, cleaning, washing or ironing for her family – these don’t create tangible goods that can be bought, traded or sold. So they also didn’t contribute to prosperity, thought economists in the 1800s.


Prosperity was everything that could be transported, that had a limited supply, and that either directly or indirectly gave pleasure or prevented pain. This definition meant that everything that women were expected to dedicate themselves to went unseen. The fruits of male labour could be stacked in piles and measured in money. The results of women’s work were intangible. Dust that is swept away collects again. Mouths that have been fed grow hungry. Children who sleep, wake. And after lunch it’s time to do the dishes. After the dishes comes dinner. And more dirty dishes.

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In December 2015, when COP21 was held in Paris, I wrote in CON 21:

“COP21 is not a major event, that’s only what politicians and media make of it. In reality, it’s a mere showcase in which the protesters have been co-opted. They’re not in the director’s chair, they’re not even actors, they’re just extras.”

4 years later, nothing has changed. It’s still just theater.

What Is COP25 And Can It Save The World? (G.)

[..] There are far bigger issues hanging over COP, but they will not be decided this year, just hinted at. The biggest alarm is that the aspiration set in Paris to constrain temperature rises will require unprecedented efforts to achieve. But individual country commitments to steer the world towards that best-case scenario were not part of the binding Paris deal, but contained in a non-binding addition. So emissions are increasing again, temperatures are higher than ever, countries are not mandated by law to act – and time is running out: the IPCC concluded that on current rates we have little over a decade to halt emissions growth and bring down carbon rapidly to keep warming within the 1.5C threshold.


Current commitments made by national governments under the Paris agreement fall far short of what is required – taken together, they would still condemn the world to an estimated temperature rise of more than 3C by the end of the century. According to the UN’s latest “emissions gap” report, published a few days before the start of this year’s talks, countries must reduce their greenhouse gases by about 7.6% a year for the next 10 years, to stay within the 1.5C limit. Closing that gap will be COP26’s biggest task.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Oct 142019
 
 October 14, 2019  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Martin Johnson Heade Thunderstorm on Narragansett Bay 1868

 

Syrian Army Deployed To Country’s Northeast To Counter ‘Turkish Aggression’ (RT)
Putin Says Trump Not To Blame For Lack Of Improvement In Russia-US Ties (R.)
“If The Entire System Collapses, Gold Will Be Needed To Start Over” (ZH)
Lisa Page’s ‘Quid Pro Quo’ With State Department Over Hillary Email (DM)
Johnson To Set Out Post-Brexit Law And Order Drive In Queen’s Speech (R.)
China 9-Month Exports To US Down 10.7%, Imports Fall 26.4% (R.)
Emirates President Does Not Expect To Take Any Boeing 777x In 2020 (R.)
Ecuador Repeals Law Ending Fuel Subsidies In Deal To Stop Protests (BBC)
Catalonia Leaders Jailed For Between 9 And 13 Years By Spanish Court (BBC)

 

 

Now we can wait for US media suggesting Trump left Syria so Putin could move in.

Syrian Army Deployed To Country’s Northeast To Counter ‘Turkish Aggression’ (RT)

Syrian government troops have reportedly entered Tell Tamer, a town in the middle of Kurdish-controlled part of the country, amid a continued Turkish offensive against Kurdish militias. Troops of the Syrian Arab Army have entered the town on Monday, according to the news agency SANA. Tell Tamer is a relatively small town, but it’s located on an intersection of several major roads and has strategic importance. Earlier the government troops were reported entering Al-Thawrah, a city in the Raqqa governorate located on the Euphrates River and famous for its proximity to a major dam. The relocation of Syrian troops comes as Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria face an incursion from neighboring Turkey.

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See? He’s Putin’s lapdog.

Putin Says Trump Not To Blame For Lack Of Improvement In Russia-US Ties (R.)

Moscow is not blaming U.S. President Donald Trump for failing to improve U.S.-Russian relations, a pledge he had made during his election campaign, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Arab broadcasters. “We know that, including during his previous election campaign, he spoke in favor of a normalization (of U.S.-Russia relations), but unfortunately it has not happened yet,” Putin told Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic. “But we have no claims because we see what’s going on in U.S. domestic politics,” he said, according to a transcript published on the Kremlin’s website on Sunday.


Putin said the “internal political agenda” was not allowing Trump to take steps aimed at a drastic improvement of bilateral relations, adding Moscow would in any case work with any U.S. administration to the extent that Washington itself wants. Putin also said Russia had weapons that neutralize any threat from NATO’s missile deployments in Poland and Romania. “This obviously poses a threat to us because it’s an attempt to level out our strategic nuclear potential. It’s bound to fail, this attempt, it’s already obvious,” he said.

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A: There’s only one central bank in Europe. B: A lot of Dutch gold is in London and the US.

“If The Entire System Collapses, Gold Will Be Needed To Start Over” (ZH)

An article published by the De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), or Dutch Central Bank, has shocked many with its claim that “if the system collapses, the gold stock can serve as a basis to build it up again. Gold bolsters confidence in the stability of the central bank’s balance sheet and creates a sense of security.” [..] The article, titled “DNB’s Gold Stock” states: “A bar of gold retains its value, even in times of crisis. This makes it the opposite of “shares, bonds and other securities” all of which have inherent risk and prices can go down. According to the IMF’s latest data, the DNB holds 615 tons (15,000 bars) of gold mainly in Amsterdam, with other stores in the U.K. and North America; the value of this gold reserve is over €6 billion ($6.62 billion).


Calling gold the “trust anchor,” the article details briefly why the hard asset is so important to wealth building and the global economy, claiming: “Gold is… the trust anchor for the financial system. If the whole system collapses, the gold stock provides a collateral to start over. Gold gives confidence in the power of the central bank’s balance sheet.” Why this sudden admission of what goldbugs have been saying for years? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that on October 7, the bank announced it would soon be moving a large part of its gold reserves to “the new DNB Cash Center at military premises in Zeist.” Almost as if the Netherlands is preparing for the grand reset, and is moving its most valuable asset to a “military” installation just for that purpose.

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These people really thought they were running the country.

Lisa Page’s ‘Quid Pro Quo’ With State Department Over Hillary Email (DM)

An FBI employee who texted with her in-house lover about blocking Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions wrote in 2016 of a ‘quid pro quo’ with the State Department to hide the fact that an email found on Hillary Clinton’s home-brew email server was considered classified. Lisa Page fretted in the closing days of the presidential campaign about a pending Freedom of Information Act disclosure of a discussion between top State and Justice Department officials about the potential trade. Under the arrangement, the State Department would have given the FBI more legal attachés for its overseas division in exchange for altering the basis for keeping one of the Clinton emails from the public.


At the time, the email in question was exempt from FOIA requests because it was classified – a fact that was ultimately made public. The FBI had asked the State Department to ‘change the basis of the FOIA withhold [decision] … from classified to something else.’ The plot was never consummated. But Page, an FBI lawyer, was worried enough about it at the time to alert her colleagues that other employees had told investigators about it. One of those colleagues was Peter Strzok, the married FBI agent she was having an affair with.

The email came to light on Monday as part of a raft of material released by Judicial Watch, a conservative government transparency group whose standard practice is to sue government agencies that slow-walk the disclosure of public records. Page and Strzok became poster children in 2017 for conservatives’ claims that the Burean was biased against Trump and took actions to tilt the election in Clinton’s favor despite the national security threats posed by classified material found on her unsecured private email server.

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“What we’ve got in effect is a party political broadcast from the steps of the throne.”

Johnson To Set Out Post-Brexit Law And Order Drive In Queen’s Speech (R.)

Queen Elizabeth will on Monday announce several new pieces of legislation to reform Britain’s justice system, in a ceremonial speech setting out Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit plans. The so-called Queen’s Speech is the highlight of a day of elaborate pageantry in Westminster and is used to detail all the bills the government wants to enact in the coming year. It is written for the 93-year old monarch by the government. But, with Brexit unresolved, and any plans beyond even the next seven days likely subject to an unpredictable election, rival parties said Johnson was misusing the politically-neutral Queen for political gain.

The speech will lay out 22 new bills – pieces of proposed legislation – including several covering tougher treatment for foreign criminals and sex offenders, and new protection for victims of domestic abuse. “Keeping people safe is the most important role of any government, and as the party of law and order it is the Conservatives who are cracking down on crime and better protecting society,” a statement from Johnson’s office setting out some details of the speech said. It will almost certainly include a section on a law to enact a Brexit deal. But, while any deal is still in the balance, new details are unlikely. The speech will also touch on election campaign issues like the health service and living standards.


“Having the Queen’s Speech and the State Opening of Parliament tomorrow is ludicrous, utterly ludicrous,” Corbyn said in a Sky News interview broadcast on Sunday. “What we’ve got in effect is a party political broadcast from the steps of the throne.”

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Think it’s all the trade war?

China 9-Month Exports To US Down 10.7%, Imports Fall 26.4% (R.)

China’s exports to the United States fell 10.7% from a year earlier in dollar terms in January-September, while U.S. imports dropped 26.4% during that period, a Chinese customs spokesman said on Monday. Trade frictions with the United States have led to some pressure on Chinese trade, although the latest Sino-U.S. trade talks have yielded favorable outcomes in some areas, customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters.

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Boeing has a lot of problems.

Emirates President Does Not Expect To Take Any Boeing 777x In 2020 (R.)

Emirates doubts it will receive any of the 115 Boeing 777-9s it has ordered next year, its president said on Monday, as the U.S. planemaker grapples with challenges in building the jet. Emirates, a launch customer of the world’s biggest twin engined jet, was to receive its first 777-9 in 2020 but the manufacturer has suspended load testing of the plane. “… By the end of next year we were to have eight of them. Now it doesn’t look like we will have any,” Tim Clark said at a conference in Dubai. Boeing suspended load testing of the new widebody in September when media reports said a cargo door failed a ground stress test.


There have also been issues with General Electric’s new GE9X turbine engine that will power the jet. Boeing has said it expects to hold the initial flight test in 2020 and is aiming for the 777X to enter commercial service in the same year. Clark said he had told Boeing he insists on a 13 to 16 month test period for the new jet. Emirates ordered 150 777X jets, including 777-8 variants, in 2013. It later placed a preliminary order for 40 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets in 2017, which Clark said he still saw a place for in the airline’s fleet plans. Boeing has also been unable to deliver any of its 737 MAX aircraft since the single-aisle plane was grounded worldwide in March…

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Are they going to let Moreno stay in power?

Ecuador Repeals Law Ending Fuel Subsidies In Deal To Stop Protests (BBC)

Ecuador’s government has agreed to restore fuel subsidies in a deal with indigenous leaders to end mass protests that have brought the capital, Quito, to a standstill, the UN says. It came after the two sides held talks brokered by the UN and the Roman Catholic Church. The talks, which were broadcast live on state television, came after nearly two weeks of violent demonstrations. President Lenín Moreno had imposed a curfew enforced by the military. The announcement after Sunday’s meeting sparked late night celebrations in Quito. Fireworks were set off and car drivers honked their horns. A joint statement said the government had withdrawn an order removing the fuel subsidies. “With this agreement, the mobilisations… across Ecuador are terminated and we commit ourselves to restoring peace in the country,” it said.

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Europe, 2019.

Catalonia Leaders Jailed For Between 9 And 13 Years By Spanish Court (BBC)

Spain’s Supreme Court has sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition over their role in an independence referendum in 2017. Three other defendants were found guilty of disobedience but will not serve prison sentences. The 12 politicians and activists had all denied the charges. Separatists in Catalonia were planning mass civil disobedience ahead of the verdict. The prosecution had sought up to 25 years in prison for Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-president of Catalonia and the highest-ranking pro-independence leader on trial.

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It’s time for much larger crowds.

 

 

 

 

Feb 022019
 


Pablo Picasso The bathers 1918

 

Russia Suspends INF Treaty In ‘Mirror Response’ To US – Putin (RT)
US Payrolls Surge By 304,000, Smashing Estimates Despite Shutdown (CNBC)
Big Trouble in Little China (Schmid)
How Fast Housing Markets in Sydney & Melbourne Are Coming Unglued (WS)
Venezuela To Sell Gold Reserves To UAE Without Russia’s Help (RT)
Italy Rejects Guaido, Says Venezuela is a Sovereign State (Telesur)
Whitehall Begins ‘Serious Work’ On Customs Union With EU (Ind.)
Judge Considers Gag Order On Roger Stone And Prosecution (BBC)
America’s Kurdish Allies Risk Being Wiped Out – By NATO (Graeber)
Rigging the Science of GMO Ecotoxicity (Latham)

 

 

US arms producers eye their ultimate bid for trillions in development fees. But Russia is not fazed at all.

“Let’s wait until our partners mature sufficiently to hold a level, meaningful conversation on this topic..”

Russia Suspends INF Treaty In ‘Mirror Response’ To US – Putin (RT)

President Vladimir Putin says Moscow is halting its participation in the Cold War-era INF nuclear agreement after Washington’s decision to suspend it. Russia will develop missiles previously forbidden under its terms. “Ours will be a mirror response. Our US partners say that they are ceasing their participation in the treaty, and we are doing the same,” the Russian president said in Moscow on Saturday in reference to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). “They say that they are doing research and testing [on new weapons] and we will do the same thing,” Putin said during a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.

The Russian leader emphasized that while Moscow’s offers on modernizing the 1987 treaty and making it more transparent “are still on the table,” no more talks should be initiated with the Americans to try and save it. “Let’s wait until our partners mature sufficiently to hold a level, meaningful conversation on this topic, which is extremely important for us, them, and the entire world,” Putin said. In December, the Trump administration threatened to quit the agreement, which limits nuclear and conventional land-launched missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500km within 60 days, unless Russia stopped allegedly violating it with its 9M729 missile, which Washington claims exceeds the permitted range.

Moscow denied that it had broken the treaty, and offered additional mutual inspections during failed talks in Geneva last month. On February 1, Washington officially confirmed that the bilateral agreement signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan will be suspended for 180 days. Washington also signaled intentions to entirely withdraw from it afterwards. During the meeting in front on the cameras on Saturday, Lavrov insisted that Moscow “attempted to do everything we could to rescue the treaty.” This included “unprecedented steps going far beyond our obligations,” he said, accusing Washington of systematically undermining the INF Treaty at least since the late 1990s.

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“December’s big initially reported gain of 312,000 was knocked all the way down to 222,000..”

US Payrolls Surge By 304,000, Smashing Estimates Despite Shutdown (CNBC)

Job growth in January shattered expectations, with nonfarm payrolls surging by 304,000 despite a partial government shutdown that was the longest in history, the Labor Department reported Friday. The unemployment rate ticked higher to 4 percent, a level where it had last been in June, a likely effect of the shutdown, according to the department. However, officials said federal workers generally were counted as employed during the period because they received pay during the survey week of Jan. 12. On balance, federal government employment actually rose by 1,000. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected payrolls to rise by 170,000 and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 3.9 percent.

In all, it was a powerful performance at a time when economists increasingly have said they expect growth to slow in 2019. January marked 100 months in a row of positive job creation, by far the longest streak on record. Stock futures and Treasury yields jumped in response to the better-than-expected report. The news was not all good, though, as data revisions pushed previous numbers lower. December’s big initially reported gain of 312,000 was knocked all the way down to 222,000, while November’s rose from 176,000 to 196,000. On net, that took the two months down by 70,000, bringing the three-month average to 241,000. That’s still well above the trend that would be common this far into an economic expansion dating back 9 1/2 years.

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“Real GDP fell by 1.7 percent and 0.6 percent in Q3 and Q4 respectively compared with the official figures showing growth of 6.4 percent and 6 percent..”

Big Trouble in Little China (Schmid)

There are those who think “China will take over the world” with its technocratic central planning. Then there are those who say its debt bubble is so gigantic, the economy will crash and burn. The truth, probably, lies somewhere in the middle. And it looks like we are getting closer to know the truth. Official GDP growth, is of course on track at 6.6 percent for the year 2018, stellar among industrial and even emerging economies. But nobody believes these figures, even though they are the worst since 1990. “Real GDP fell by 1.7 percent and 0.6 percent in Q3 and Q4 respectively compared with the official figures showing growth of 6.4 percent and 6 percent,” Enodo Economics chief economist Diana Choyleva wrote in a note to clients about the annualized growth during the past two quarters of 2018. According to Choyleva, China is experiencing an unofficial recession.

While this doesn’t mean the crash and burn scenario is unavoidable, the flurry of official and unofficial economic indicators flashing red make the “take over the world” scenario quite unbelievable for the intermediate future. No matter which official indicator you look at, the Chinese economy is in decline. Retail sales growth is barely above 5 percent, the lowest level since 2003 with automobile sales crashing 13 percent. Total imports in U.S. dollar terms are down 7.6 percent in December of 2018 as compared to the year before.

The main problem of the Chinese economy is debt and overcapacity. Debt has blown up to 300 percent of GDP through the state-controlled banking system. The financing went into building trains, roads, airports, apartments, shipyards, anything that can be built. And while some of the stuff is undoubtedly useful, a lot of it is not. If it’s not useful or sustainable, it won’t generate the returns necessary to service said debt. This problem could have been nipped in the bud, but Chinese central planners wanted ever more steel mills and high speed trains and push back the day of reckoning when most of the unprofitable companies would go bankrupt. So in order to keep the gravy train running, more debt had to be issued to build more stuff.

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TEXT

How Fast Housing Markets in Sydney & Melbourne Are Coming Unglued (WS)

“Can we still describe this as an orderly slowdown in housing conditions?” mused CoreLogic Asia Pacific’s head of research Tim Lawless about the Australian housing market today. Over the last three months, the index for Sydney dropped 4.5%, and the index for Melbourne 4.0%, the “largest rolling quarterly fall since at least the 80’s.” Across the metro area of Sydney, prices of all types of homes combined, according to CoreLogic’s Daily Home Value Index, fell 1.35% in January from December, the third month in a row with a monthly decline of over 1%. The 4.5% decline over the past three months pencils out to an annual rate of decline of 17%. The index is now down about 12% from its peak in July 2017. Note the accelerating decline over the past three months:

The 12% drop from the peak in July 2017 pushed the index back where it been in July 2016 – which shows how crazy and unsustainable the price boom had been on the way up. Now it is getting unwound at a slightly slower pace on the way down. Over the 12-month period through January, the index fell 9.7%, with house prices down 10.9% and condo prices down 6.9%. At the same time, the number of homes of all types listed for sale in the Sydney metro jumped by 24%. [..] In the Melbourne metro, the second largest market in Australia, the housing bust is also taking on momentum, instead of slowing down, but started about four months behind Sydney’s. According to the CoreLogic Daily Home Value Index, since the peak in November 2017, prices of all types of homes fell about 9%, which pushed prices back to January 2017 levels. Note the acceleration over the past three months:

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US sanctions deprive Maduro of food and medicine. Seen as a way to create a revolt.

Venezuela To Sell Gold Reserves To UAE Without Russia’s Help (RT)

Caracas plans to sell 29 tons of gold to the United Arab Emirates in return for euro in cash, Reuters cites a senior government official as saying. The money is needed to provide liquidity for imports of basic goods.
According to the official, the sale of the nation’s gold began with the shipment of 3 tons on January 26, following the export last year of $900 million in unrefined gold to Turkey. The source denied Moscow’s involvement in the operation after rumors circulated this week that mysterious Russian-operated airplanes arrived in the country and planned to leave with Venezuelan gold on board. That is incorrect, according to the official. Caracas reportedly needs cash for imports of basic products that it sells to the population at subsidized prices.

A possible explanation for the payment for the gold in euros is US sanctions, which restrict Venezuela’s use of the dollar. Venezuela’s central bank reportedly began to sell gold reserves to allied countries after supplies of unrefined gold from small mines began to run low. The bank held 150 tons of gold in January 2018. By the end of November holdings had fallen to 132 tons between the central bank’s vaults and the Bank of England, according to central bank data. The Bank of England has refused to return an estimated 31 tons of Venezuelan gold worth $1.2 billion. Bankers in Britain are allegedly concerned that Venezuelan officials would sell state-owned gold “for personal gain.”

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“..this same mistake was made in Libya, and everyone today recognizes it. We must prevent the same thing happening in Venezuela.”

Italy Rejects Guaido, Says Venezuela is a Sovereign State (Telesur)

On Thursday the Italian Government withdrew from the position assumed by the European Parliament and informed that it does not recognize Juan Guaido as “president in charge” of Venezuela. “Italy does not recognize the self-proclaimed President Juan Guaido,” Italy’s Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, Manlio Di Stefano, said. The senior official explained that Italy is “totally against” that a country or a group of countries “can determine the internal policies” of a sovereign State. “This is called the principle of non-intervention and is enshrined by the United Nations,” Di Stefano said. He also expressed the Italian Government’s concern to prevent a warlike confrontation in the South American nation and stressed that “this same mistake was made in Libya, and everyone today recognizes it. We must prevent the same thing happening in Venezuela.”

Last Wednesday the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, warned the international community that it is not “prudent” to support one of the opposing parties in Venezuela, since “an invasive attitude would generate more division in the world.” “We do not consider it opportune to rush to recognize investitures that have not gone through an electoral process,” said Conte. Nevertheless, violating international law, and adding to the U.S.-driven coup d’état, the European Parliament approved a resolution Thursday that recognizes Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president.”

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With just 56 days left, great moment to start.

Whitehall Begins ‘Serious Work’ On Customs Union With EU (Ind.)

Whitehall officials have begun “serious work” on the UK staying in a permanent EU customs union as a route to rescuing the Brexit deal, despite Theresa May ruling out the move, The Independent can reveal. Preparations are underway at a high level, amid a belief the beleaguered prime minister will be forced to offer the potentially crucial compromise to Labour. Ms May has repeatedly rejected a customs union – fearing a further revolt by anti-EU Tories – but some cabinet ministers are pushing her to accept that the red line will have to be dropped if her deal is to be rescued. They believe it could tempt scores of Labour MPs to back the deal when it returns to the Commons, even if Jeremy Corbyn himself still refuses to drop his opposition.

Now a well-placed Whitehall source has told The Independent: “There is serious work going on about a customs union. We need to be prepared, so we are ready if the politics moves in that direction.” Although the prime minister has not yet been won over, she will come under fierce pressure if, as expected, the EU rejects her plea to replace the backstop – before fresh Commons votes in just 12 days’ time. The concession of a customs union is unlikely to be enough to persuade Mr Corbyn to throw his weight what he is determined to brand “a Tory Brexit”, but many Labour MPs are expected to switch sides. Furthermore, despite inevitable Tory outrage, some Conservative MPs could be persuaded that a customs union would make it less likely the Irish backstop they oppose – designed to guarantee an open border – will ever be needed.

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“To storm my house with greater force than was used to take down (Osama) bin Laden or El Chapo or Pablo Escobar, to terrorise my wife and my dogs, is unconscionable..”

Judge Considers Gag Order On Roger Stone And Prosecution (BBC)

The judge overseeing the criminal case against ex-Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone says she is considering a gagging order on both him and the prosecution. Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the case was “a criminal proceeding and not a public relations campaign”. Mr Stone has been charged on seven counts by special counsel Robert Mueller, including witness tampering and lying to Congress. He denies any wrongdoing and has made frequent jibes against Mr Mueller. Mr Stone, 66, a longstanding ally of the president, has previously vowed to resist any gagging order, saying on Tuesday: “I will fight and the deep state is in panic mode.”

Mr Mueller is overseeing an investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow. President Trump denies collusion, calling the investigation “a witch hunt”, and the Kremlin denies any meddling. At a court hearing in Washington on Friday, Judge Jackson cited a number of “extrajudicial statements by the defendant”. She said that if a gagging order was imposed, Mr Stone would still be able to talk to the media about issues not connected to the case. She asked both sides to respond to the possible order by 8 February. The charges against Mr Stone are linked to an alleged Russian-led hack into the emails of Democratic Party officials. The information contained in the emails was released by Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign.

Since his arrest, Mr Stone has given a string of media interviews. He has been highly critical of his arrest, describing it as political theatrics. “To storm my house with greater force than was used to take down (Osama) bin Laden or El Chapo or Pablo Escobar, to terrorise my wife and my dogs, is unconscionable,” he told reporters. He has accused Mr Mueller of running a politically motivated “inquisition”. In an interview with Reuters, Mr Stone dismissed the charges as “process crimes” with no intentional lies. He said any failure to disclose emails or texts had been an “honest mistake”. In a phone interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his radio programme Infowars, Mr Stone said he intended to “fight for my life”.

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“This not only means they are supplied with state-of-the-art weaponry; it also means those weapons are being maintained by other Nato members. ”

America’s Kurdish Allies Risk Being Wiped Out – By NATO (Graeber)

Remember those plucky Kurdish forces who so heroically defended the Syrian city of Kobane from Isis? They risk being wiped out by Nato. The autonomous Kurdish region of Rojava in Northeast Syria, which includes Kobane, faces invasion. A Nato army is amassing on the border, marshaling all the overwhelming firepower and high-tech equipment that only the most advanced military forces can deploy. The commander in chief of those forces says he wants to return Rojava to its “rightful owners” who, he believes, are Arabs, not Kurds. Last spring, this leader made similar declarations about the westernmost Syrian Kurdish district of Afrin. Following that, the very same Nato army, using German tanks and British helicopter gunships, and backed by thousands of hardcore Islamist auxiliaries, overran the district.

According to Kurdish news agencies, the invasion led to over a 100,000 Kurdish civilians being driven out of Afrin entirely. They reportedly employed rape, torture and murder as systematic means of terror. That reign of terror continues to this day. And the commander and chief of this Nato army has suggested that he intends to do to the rest of North Syria what he did to Afrin. I am speaking, of course, of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is, increasingly, Turkey’s effective dictator. But it’s crucial to emphasize that these are Nato forces. This not only means they are supplied with state-of-the-art weaponry; it also means those weapons are being maintained by other Nato members. Fighter jets, helicopter gunships, even Turkey’s German-supplied Panzer forces – they all degrade extremely quickly under combat conditions.

The people who continually inspect, maintain, repair, replace, and provide them with spare parts tend to be contractors working for American, British, German or Italian firms. Their presence is critical because the Turkish military advantage over Northern Syria’s “People’s Defense Forces” (YPG) and “Women’s Defense Forces” (YPJ), those defenders of Kobane that Turkey has pledged to destroy, is entirely dependent on them. That’s because, aside from its technological advantage, the Turkish army is a mess. Most of its best officers and even pilots have been in prison since the failed coup attempt in 2016, and it’s now being run by commanders chosen by political loyalty instead of competence. Rojava’s defenders, in contrast, are seasoned veterans. In a fair fight, they would have no more problem fending off a Turkish incursion than they had driving back Turkish-backed Jihadis in the past.

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Precautionary principle. The only response.

Rigging the Science of GMO Ecotoxicity (Latham)

Researchers who work on GMO crops are developing special “artificial diet systems”. The stated purpose of these new diets is to standardise the testing of the Cry toxins, often used in GMO crops, for their effects on non-target species. But a paper published last month in the journal Toxins implies a very different interpretation of their purpose. The new diets contain hidden ingredients that can mask Cry toxicity and allow them to pass undetected through toxicity tests on beneficial species like lacewings (Hilbeck et al., 2018). Thus the new diets will benefit GMO crop developers by letting new ones come to market quicker and more reliably. Tests conducted with the new diets are even being used to cast doubt on previous findings of ecotoxicological harm.

The resulting crops are usually called Bt crops. Cry toxins kill insects that eat the GMO crop because the toxin punches a hole in the membranes of the insect gut when it is ingested, causing the insect to immediately stop feeding and eventually die of septicaemia. Cry toxins are controversial. Although the biotech industry claims they have narrow specificity, and are therefore safe for all organisms except so-called ‘target’ organisms, plenty of researchers disagree. They suspect that Cry toxins may affect many non-target species, even including mammals and humans (e.g. Dolezel et al., 2011; Latham et al., 2017; Zdziarski, et al., 2018).

The Cry toxin mode of action, we and others have noted, does not necessarily discriminate between species. Any organism with a membrane-lined gut is, in principle, vulnerable if it consumes the GMO Bt crop. In these Bt crops the leaves, straw, roots, nectar, and pollen, all typically contain Cry toxins. Therefore, most organisms in agricultural landscapes will at some point in their life-cycle be exposed to GMO plant material. As pollinator declines and a more generalised insect apocalypse have revealed, the question of the effects of such crops on biodiversity is far from trivial.

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GMO Cry toxins
Cry toxins are a family of highly active protein toxins originally isolated from the gut pathogenic bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Latham et al., 2017). They confer insect-resistance and up to six distinct ones are added to GMO corn, cotton, and other crops (Hilbeck and Otto, 2015).

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Feb 012019
 


Vincent van Gogh Outskirts of Paris: Road with Peasant Shouldering a Spade 1887

 

Death Of 95% Of Indigenous People In Colonization Of America Cooled Earth (RT)
Who Bought the Gigantic $1.5 Trillion of New 2018 US Government Debt? (WS)
Central Bank Gold Buying Hits Highest Level In Half A Century (CNBC)
Refusal To Return Venezuelan Gold Means End Of Britain As Financial Center (RT)
Brexit Could Be Delayed Because Government Is Not Ready (Ind.)
What Corbyn Must Do To Rescue Britain From Its Brexit Torture (Varoufakis)
UK Homeless Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Ind.)
US Home Sales to Get Even Uglier in Near Future (WS)
US New Home Prices Drop 12% as Supply Surges (WS)
Trump Says Border-Wall Talks ‘A Waste Of Money And Time’ (MW)
With World Bank and IMF In Crisis, Time To Push Radical New Vision (DiEM25)
Apple Punishes Facebook, Google Over App Rules (BBC)
Greece Raises Minimum Wage By 11% (K.)
25% of Greeks Cannot Afford To Heat Their Homes (K.)

 

 

The Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. 95% of them, 56 million, had died by 1600. But who knows this? The history we’ve been told about is white man’s history, almost exclusively. In his lovely books 1491 and 1493, Charles Mann describes this from a different view. First, he says as many people lived in North America as in Europe when Columbus came 500 years ago. Second, the image of roaming herds of buffalo was not accurate then: there was no place for them, the land was farmed. Only after the people had died did the buffalo take over and multiply.

Death Of 95% Of Indigenous People In Colonization Of America Cooled Earth (RT)

European colonization of the Americas contributed to the advent of the 17th century ‘Little Ice Age,’ a new study says. As some 55 million indigenous people were wiped out, their farmland turned into forest and sucked out CO2. Much of the continental US may feel like it is living through a ‘mini ice age’ due to the polar vortex weather pattern. But while this will come and go, there was a proper global drop in temperatures about four centuries ago, which is commonly called the ‘Little Ice Age.’ A team of scientists from University College London says that humans were partially to blame for it – particularly Europeans traveling to the New World for treasure and new life. While there were some natural reasons behind the oddball phenomenon, much of it remains veiled in mystery.

The British researchers argue that they have found a missing link – the “Great Dying” of indigenous people as result of the European conquest. The scientists found that some 56 million hectares of land were abandoned by the native population of the Americas as they fled or died due to epidemics, war, slavery and subsequent famine. Those lands were reclaimed by forests that, in turn, absorbed so much carbon dioxide that the process cooled Earth. “The resulting terrestrial carbon uptake had a detectable impact on both atmospheric CO2 and global surface air temperatures in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution,” according to the study, published in the Quaternary Science Reviews.

Using a combination of counting methods, the researchers found that prior to the arrival of Europeans in 1492, the Americans were inhabited by some 60.5 million people. About 95 percent of them, or 56 million, had died by 1600. Some 55.8 million hectares (138.3 million acres) of what was previously farmland was reclaimed by the forests and led to a 7.4 pentagram carbon uptake, according to the paper. One pentagram (Pg) of carbon is equivalent to a billion metric tons. “These changes show that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas is necessary for a parsimonious explanation of the anomalous decrease in atmospheric CO2,” the paper notes.

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Treasuries stay at home. Foreigners no longer want them. Japan, China, Russia are all selling.

Who Bought the Gigantic $1.5 Trillion of New 2018 US Government Debt? (WS)

Under the impact of a stupendous spending binge peppered with juicy tax cuts, the Treasury Department has had to issue a flood of Treasury securities to fund the cash outflow. So, over the past 12 months, the US gross national debt has ballooned by $1.5 trillion to $22 trillion as of January 30, according to Treasury Department data. And these are the good times when the economy is hopping. At the next recession, this is going to get cute. But who the heck is buying all this debt? That question will grow increasingly important and worrisome as we move forward with this gigantic ballooning debt, fueled by deficits that Fed chairman Jerome Powell calls “unsustainable” at every chance he gets:

So, who bought all this debt? US government debt, as expensive as it is in terms of interest payments for US taxpayers, is a mildly income-producing asset for the creditors of the US. Somebody has to buy it, every last dollar of it. The US relies on it. So, who bought this pile of debt that got issued in 12 months? China, Japan, other foreign investors? Nope. They’re gradually unloading this debt. All foreign investors combined slashed their holdings of marketable Treasury securities in November by $105 billion from November a year earlier, to $6.2 trillion, according to the Treasury Department’s TIC data released today.

The Treasury Department divides these foreign investors into two categories: “Foreign official” holders (foreign central banks and government entities) cut their holdings by $144 billion over the 12 months, to $3.9 trillion at the end of November. But private-sector investors (foreign hedge funds, banks, individuals, etc.) increased their holdings by $52 billion, to $2.3 trillion. The two largest foreign creditors of the US — China and Japan — have both been unloading their Treasury securities: • China’s holdings fell by $55 billion from a year earlier to $1.12 trillion. • Japan’s holdings fell by $47 billion from a year earlier to $1.04 trillion, having now reduced its stash by 16% since the peak at the end of 2014 ($1.24 trillion).

[..] American banks (very large holders), hedge funds, pension funds, mutual funds, and other institutions along with individual investors in their brokerage accounts or at their accounts with the US Treasury were huge net buyers, while nearly everyone else was selling, increasing their holdings by $1.36 trillion over the 12-month period. These American entities combined owned the remainder of the US gross national debt, $7.5 trillion, or 34.4% of the total!

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It’s mostly Russia really: The Russian central bank sold almost all of its U.S. Treasury stock to buy 274.3 tons of gold in 2018.

Central Bank Gold Buying Hits Highest Level In Half A Century (CNBC)

The amount of gold bought by central banks in 2018 reached the second highest annual total on record, according to the World Gold Council (WGC). Central banks bought the most gold by volume since 1967, according to the industry research firm, which also highlighted it was the largest amount since former U.S. President Nixon Richard’s decision to end the dollar’s peg to bullion in 1971. Central bank net purchases reached 651.5 metric tons in 2018, 74 percent higher than in the previous year when 375 tons were bought. The WGC has estimated that central banks now hold nearly 34,000 tons of gold. The Federal Reserve is reported to hold the most, amounting for almost three quarters of the nation’s foreign-exchange reserve pot.

Taking the current spot price of $1,321.15 per troy ounce, gold purchases by central banks in 2018 amounted to a $27.7 billion spending splurge on the precious metal. “Heightened geopolitical and economic uncertainty throughout the year increasingly drove central banks to diversify their reserves and re-focus their attention on the principal objective of investing in safe and liquid assets,” said the report released on Thursday. The WGC said the bulk of the buying was carried out by a handful of central banks with Russia leading the way as it looks to swap out dollars from its portfolio. The Russian central bank sold almost all of its U.S. Treasury stock to buy 274.3 tons of gold in 2018.

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Every country should hold its own gold. What’s the problem with that?

Refusal To Return Venezuelan Gold Means End Of Britain As Financial Center (RT)

The freezing of Venezuelan gold by the Bank of England is a signal to all countries out of step with US interests to withdraw their money, according to economist and co-founder of Democracy at Work, Professor Richard Wolff.
He told RT America that Britain and its central bank have shown themselves to be “under the thumb of the United States.” “That is a signal to every country that has or may have difficulties with the US, [that they had] better get their money out of England and out of London because it’s not the safe place as it once was,” he said. The Bank of England is currently withholding $1.2 billion in gold from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, but is being urged by Washington to release it to the chairman of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido.

Last week, the US backed Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, after he declared himself interim president. According to Professor Wolff, control of Venezuela’s oil has always been an urgent issue for Washington. He also said that the collapse of Britain as a global power, which was accelerated by Brexit, is now about to take another step. “One of the few things left for Britain is to be the financial center that London has been for so long. And one of the ways you stay a financial center is if you don’t play games with other people’s money,” he said.

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Pretty much a given now.

Brexit Could Be Delayed Because Government Is Not Ready (Ind.)

Jeremy Hunt has said Brexit could be delayed as the government may need “extra time” to pass key legislation if Theresa May can agree a deal at the eleventh hour. The foreign secretary admitted that a technical delay to the Article 50 process could be necessary to prepare for Britain’s exit from the EU, which is legally due to take place on 29 March. MPs ordered the prime minister to go back to Brussels to renegotiate a key part of her Brexit deal after her plan was resoundingly defeated in the Commons earlier this month. But despite the Tory truce, Ms May faces an uphill battle to convince the EU to reopen talks on the withdrawal agreement, with European leaders lining up to rebuff her efforts.

Asked about Britain’s exit date, Mr Hunt told the Today programme: “I think that depends on how long this process takes. “I think it is true that if we ended up approving a deal in the days before 29 March then we might need some extra time to pass critical legislation. But if we are able to make progress sooner, then that might not be necessary. “We can’t know at this stage exactly which of those scenarios would happen.” There is growing concern among ministers that there is not enough time to pass the necessary legislation before exit day, amid reports that the February recess could be cancelled to give Ms May more time to win over the EU.

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Ironically, Varoufakis points out exactly why Corbyn is too late (all he’s done is wait):

“Irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, generally follow the neutral path, and are generally ruined” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

What Corbyn Must Do To Rescue Britain From Its Brexit Torture (Varoufakis)

Britain’s prime minister has been remarkable in resolutely following a ruinous path that she keeps insisting remains the least perilous road to Brexit. Theresa May’s first crime against logic was to trigger Article 50 without a plan of what to do on 29 March 2019 if no deal had been struck with Brussels. Her second was to forfeit any bargaining power she had by accepting Michel Barnier’s two-phase negotiation (first London delivers all that Brussels demands, then Brussels considers what London wants). May’s two colossal errors combined to allow a gloating European Commission to dictate to her a withdrawal agreement that, independently of whether one is pro-Leave or pro-Remain, resembles the kind of treaty imposed upon a nation defeated at war.

Unsurprisingly, Brexit has turned into a process tearing Britain apart while revealing its constitutional inadequacies. The next few weeks are depressingly predictable. The prime minister will continue to run down the clock putting all the pressure on Remainers, both Tory and Labour, to avert a no-deal Brexit by accepting hers. That was the point of backing the Brady amendment on Tuesday: to take Brexit revocation off the table, gain two weeks during which to pretend to negotiate with a European Commission that does not have the mandate to negotiate and then take a version of the same withdrawal agreement, possibly with some pointless addenda, to parliament. If her blackmail fails again, she will apply for an extension of Article 50 until 1 July to start the same war of attrition anew.

It is imperative that May is prevented from following this path. Those who can stop her and fail to do so will not be forgiven by at least one generation of Britons. Which brings me to my friend and comrade Jeremy Corbyn and his team. Labour’s leadership understands that, with weeks to go before the cliff’s edge, Niccolò Machiavelli’s counsel applies just as much to them too. “Irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, generally follow the neutral path, and are generally ruined” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Until now it was right and proper for Labour to avoid distracting a Tory government while it was making a mess of things. Jeremy Corbyn’s critics were wrong to chastise him for delaying to call a vote of no confidence or for not backing a second referendum. Labour just did not have the numbers to win such votes. However, the time has come for Jeremy Corbyn to give a speech of hope for Britain, one that contains a clear vision of a country that heals itself after two years of wanton destruction by a short-sighted, clueless prime minister thinking solely of the unity of her divided government and party.

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Why Brexit?!

UK Homeless Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Ind.)

Housing charities have criticised government claims of falling numbers of rough sleepers as homeless shelters across Britain report unprecedented demand. Communities secretary James Brokenshire said his department’s strategy was “starting to have an effect” as official figures showed that, on a “snapshot night in autumn”, the number of people sleeping on the street had dropped to 4,677 from 4,751 the year before. But Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of charity Crisis, said the count was widely believed to be an “unreliable” source which “significantly underestimated” the number of people experiencing the devastation of sleeping rough.

Shelters in England, Wales and Scotland contacted by The Independent all reported record levels of demand as temperatures in parts of the country dropped as low as -14C. On the snapshot count, Mr Sparkes said: “The problem is, these counts and estimates inevitably miss a significant number of people, including those not rough sleeping on that particular night, those hidden from view and who aren’t bedded down for the night.” Figures published by his organisation in December revealed levels of rough sleeping in the UK – including sleeping on public transport and in tents – had doubled in five years, rising by 20 per cent to 24,000 in just 12 months.

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Lawrence Yun still has a job. Amazing.

US Home Sales to Get Even Uglier in Near Future (WS)

What will home sales look like in January and February? Very, very lousy, according to pending home sales, a measure that counts how many contracts were signed. Contract signings run roughly one or two months ahead of when the sales close and are reported as sales. The measure of pending home sales for December projects actual home sales in January and February. To that tune, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said that its Pending Home Sales Index for December fell to the lowest level since April 2014. “It’s been dripping down, down, down,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in the interview.

“Frustrating that the housing market is not recovering.” Compared to December a year earlier, contract signings dropped 9.8%, the 12th month in a row of year-over-year declines, and the worst year-over-year decline since the days of housing and mortgage crisis. To show the acceleration of the declines of contract signings toward the end of the year, I marked October, November, and December in red. The NAR’s report blamed the stock market swoon that had sapped consumer confidence, unaffordable home prices – that, after years of price gains had far outgrown wage gains – and mortgage rates. The latter is an interesting theory because mortgage rates, after a peak in early November, were falling starting in mid-November and fell throughout December.

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Let’s see the Fed tackle this one.

US New Home Prices Drop 12% as Supply Surges (WS)

The Commerce Department has reopened for business, and the good folks there are now in hyperdrive to put together and release the data that was blocked during the partial government shutdown that had also shut down the Commerce Department. This morning, it released the sales data for new homes whose sales closed in November. This report had originally been scheduled for the end of December. In the near future, the Commerce Department will further catch up and release the new-home sales data for December, which had been scheduled for last week. So, time to catch up, and here we go. The median prices of new single-family houses that sold across the US in November 2018 fell 11.9% from November 2017 to $302,400, the lowest median price since October 2016, and in the same range as the median price in November and December 2014:

This new-home sales data – produced jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development – is very volatile, and subject to revisions in the following months. But after a while, and despite the jumpiness of the data, as the above chart shows, the trend becomes clear. The year-over-year decline of 11.9% was the third months in a row of year-over-year declines, and the largest year-over-year decline since Housing Bust 1. Note the many double-digit year-over-year price increases in prior years, which attest to the boom in prices that has now outrun what the market can bear:

Just how far prices have ballooned before they began to deflate becomes apparent in this long-term chart of the median price of new houses. At the price peak in December 2017 ($343,300), the median price was 31% above the crazy bubble peak in March 2007, before it all blew apart:

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Pelosi will have to come with something. Does she understand this?

Trump Says Border-Wall Talks ‘A Waste Of Money And Time’ (MW)

Negotiations with Congress are a waste of time if Democrats won’t discuss border-wall funding, President Donald Trump said Thursday, vowing to build a wall with or without congressional approval. In a wide-ranging Oval Office interview published Thursday night by the New York Times, Trump also said he’s done playing nice with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, expressed optimism over reaching a trade deal with China and issued numerous denials related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Pelosi has adamantly opposed any funding to build a wall along America’s southern border, and the specter of another government shutdown looms in two weeks, when a temporary funding deal expires.

“If she doesn’t approve the wall, the rest of it’s just a waste of money and time and energy.” A 17-member panel of lawmakers has been tasked with reaching a border-funding compromise. Trump suggested in the interview that an emergency order could be issued if Congress won’t allocate the $5.7 billion that he’s demanded for the wall. “I’ll continue to build the wall, and we’ll get the wall finished,” he told the Times. “Now whether or not I declare a national emergency — that you’ll see.” About Pelosi, Trump said: “I’ve actually always gotten along with her, but now I don’t think I will any more. . . . I think she’s doing a tremendous disservice to the country.”

When asked about a number of other subjects, Trump said he ”never did” speak to Roger Stone about WikiLeaks during his campaign; denied he was tampering with witnesses through his tweets; and said testimony by his intelligence chiefs earlier this week was mischaracterized by the media, despite the fact that video of the hearing was shown, along with a 42-page written transcript. He also called being president a “loser” job, financially. “I lost massive amounts of money doing this job,” he said. “This is not the money. This is one of the great losers of all time. You know, fortunately, I don’t need money.”

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Varoufakis and David Adler. Personally, when someone says we need $8 trillion a year for a Green New Deal, I think: forget it. People think in terms of keeping present energy use levels alive, just switching to different sources. But the No. 1 issue should be to use less energy.

With World Bank and IMF In Crisis, Time To Push Radical New Vision (DiEM25)

“Prosperity, like peace, is indivisible,” said the US treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, in his inaugural speech to the Bretton Woods conference, which gave birth to the World Bank (then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and to the IMF. “We cannot afford to have it scattered here or there among the fortunate or enjoy it at the expense of others.” The original Bretton Woods plan was for exchange rates to be fixed, with the IMF helping heavily indebted countries restructure their debt and a stabilization fund curbing capital flight. Meanwhile, the World Bank would offer development finance and an international commodity stabilization corporation would “bring about the orderly marketing of staple commodities at prices fair to the producer and consumer alike”.

Finally, the whole system would be dollar-denominated, with the greenback being the only currency exchangeable for gold at a fixed rate. John Maynard Keynes, the chief British negotiator at Bretton Woods, was worried that the new system could only rely on the dollar as long as America had a trade surplus. The moment the United States became a deficit country, the system would collapse. So, Keynes suggested that instead of building the new world order on the dollar, all major economies would subscribe to a multilateral International Clearing Union (ICU). While keeping their own currencies, and central banks, countries would agree to denominate all international payments in a common accounting unit, which Keynes named the bancor, and to clear all international payments through the ICU.

Once set up, the ICU would tax persistent surpluses and deficits symmetrically so as to balance out capital flows, volatility, global aggregate demand and productivity. Had it been instituted, the ICU would have worked alongside the World Bank to keep the global economy in balance and build shared prosperity worldwide. But Keynes’s ICU was rejected. The United States was unwilling to replace the dollar as the anchor of the new monetary system. And so the IMF was downgraded to a bailout fund, the World Bank was limited to lending from its own reserves (contributed by stressed member states) and, crucially, any possibility of the IMF leveraging the World Bank’s investments (like a central bank might have done) was jettisoned.

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They got young people ‘volunteering’ to be spied upon to an even higher degree than they already were.

Apple Punishes Facebook, Google Over App Rules (BBC)

Apple revoked Google’s ability to offer its employees internal-only iPhone apps, likely causing significant disruption to the search giant. Apple was punishing its rival for breaking its developers’ policy, a day after it took the same action against Facebook. The move came after both firms used special access for market research. Apple restored Google’s access to the software by the end of the working day on Thursday. After more than 24 hours of disruption, Facebook had its access restored earlier on Thursday. “We are in the process of getting our internal apps up and running” a spokeswoman told the BBC. “To be clear, this didn’t have an impact on our consumer-facing services.”

Apple allows companies the ability to exert special control over employee devices in order to add additional security and control. Many firms use this to distribute apps that might contain private information to employees but not the wider public. Some firms also distribute test or beta versions of apps the firm is working on such as, in Google’s case, Maps, Hangouts and Gmail. Both firms use internal iOS apps to help employees access services such as travel. However, Apple explicitly prohibits firms from using this access on regular consumers. On Monday it was revealed that Facebook had used its enterprise access to distribute a market research app to the public, including teenagers. On Tuesday it became known that Google was doing something similar with its own app, Screenwise.

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The Troika is not happy.

Greece Raises Minimum Wage By 11% (K.)

An 11 percent increase in Greece’s minimum wage and the abolition of the so-called subminimum wage paid to young employees which were announced by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a cabinet meeting early this week came into effect on Friday. “Today, a new era begins for the country’s young employees. An era with more rights, more dignity,” Labor Minister Effie Achtsioglou told state-run news agency ANA-MPA. “With the increase in the minimum wage and the abolition of the sub-minimum wage, we restore part of what austerity policies deprived employees of. And this is an act of justice.” The hike, the first such wage change in the country in almost a decade, raises the minimum wage from €586 to €650. The measure, however, has generated concern on the part of Greece’s creditors during their recent visit to the country to assess its post-bailout compliance.

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Why those minimum wage were raised. Imagine if Greece were further north.

25% of Greeks Cannot Afford To Heat Their Homes (K.)

Almost one in four Greeks cannot afford to heat their home sufficiently, according to Eurostat data collected as part of the annual EU survey on income and living conditions in the bloc. Based on the report, 25.7 percent of Greeks said they were not able to keep their home adequately warm due to their economic condition. Greeks buy heating oil at an average price of 1,025 euros per liter when the average price for the whole of the European Union is 0.794 euros per litre and 0.781 euros in the eurozone. The largest share of people who shared the same view was recorded in Bulgaria (37 pct), followed by Lithuania (29 pct), Greece, Cyprus (23 pct) and Portugal (20 pct).

In contrast, the lowest shares – close to 2 percent – were recorded in Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria. In 2017, eight percent of the EU population said in an EU-wide survey that they could not afford to heat their home sufficiently. This share peaked in 2012 with 11 percent, and has fallen continuously in subsequent years.

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Jan 292019
 


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Earth 1566

 

 

Over Two Thirds Of UK Public Don’t Feel Represented By Political Parties (Ind.)
Risk Of Accidental No-Deal Brexit ‘Very High’ – Key EU Negotiator (G.)
Will UK MPs Take Control Of Brexit? (RT)
Theresa May In Fresh Crisis After Anti-EU Tories Reject ‘Plan B’ (Ind.)
Bank Of England Urged To Give Juan Guaidó Venezuela’s Gold (G.)
US Announces Sanctions Against Venezuela State Oil Company (G.)
Why Did John Bolton’s Notepad Say “5,000 Troops To Colombia”? (ZH)
Stone Cold (Kunstler)
Mueller Investigation Close To Being Completed – Acting AG Whitaker (CNBC)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders To Media: You’re No Better Than WikiLeaks (VF)
Facebook To Create ‘War Room’ To Fight Fake News (G.)
Supermassive Black Holes Reveal Universe Expands Faster Than Thought (Ind.)
British Museum Chief: Taking The Parthenon Marbles Was ‘Creative’ (G.)

 

 

This is true all over the western world. But finding alternatives is daunting. And that’s how you get to pitchforks.

Over Two Thirds Of UK Public Don’t Feel Represented By Political Parties (Ind.)

More than two thirds of the British public feel they are not represented by the main political parties, according to a new report on the divisions caused by Brexit. Research by campaign group Hope Not Hate found that the disconnect had increased from 60% to 67% over the last six months as Theresa May negotiated the EU withdrawal agreement. The poll of nearly 33,000 people and results from focus groups also revealed that many felt they were being left in the dark or were “overwhelmingly bored” by the process. It has also seen an increase in the proportion of the public feeling pessimistic about the future – with very few believing that Brexit will address the frustrations and inequalities that lay behind the vote to leave the EU in 2016.

More people also believe that Brexit is feeding prejudice and division and taking the UK “backwards”, up from 57% in July 2018 to 62% last month. Just 20% of people said they could trust the government to deliver a “good Brexit”. Almost as many Leavers (66%) as Remainers (75%) said they do not trust the government to deliver a Brexit that works for them. None of the options being considered by parliament have consensus support across the UK, according to the report, and 42% of people think that it would be sensible to delay leaving the EU by a few months so we can agree a better deal with the EU or hold a Final Say vote.

Hope Not Hate suggested the deadlock could be broken by holding “citizens’ assemblies”, which have been used successfully in Ireland and Iceland. They are made up of a randomly chosen representative group of up to 1,500 people and hear evidence and argument on a subject before making recommendations to their political representatives. Citizens’ assemblies are “a less polarising choice” the report states, with 39% of people, including both Leave and Remain supporters, saying they would back this process given the political deadlock.

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“..we need to have a stable majority to ensure the ratification. That’s quite a big challenge. There’s no negotiation between the UK and EU – that’s finished.”

Risk Of Accidental No-Deal Brexit ‘Very High’ – Key EU Negotiator (G.)

The risk of accidentally crashing out of the EU without a deal has been described as “very high” by a key EU architect of the Brexit deal, with parliamentary backing for changes to the backstop likely to be met with a brick wall in Brussels. Senior Conservative MPs are seeking to form a majority in a Commons vote on Tuesday calling for Theresa May to demand an alternative plan to the Irish backstop for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. But on Monday, EU officials and diplomats said the amendment tabled by the Tory MP Graham Brady, and backed by Downing Street, failed to offer any clue as to what alternative arrangement parliament could support.

With the votes on Tuesday unlikely to offer any clarity on what MPs can unite behind, the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, offered a sober analysis of the chances of a deal being ratified in Westminster. She said: “We need to have a majority that doesn’t just get agreement over hurdle of a meaningful vote by a narrow majority but we need to have a stable majority to ensure the ratification. That’s quite a big challenge. There’s no negotiation between the UK and EU – that’s finished.

“There’s no point beating about the bush – the agreement was defeated with a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons. That’s a crushing defeat by any standards. It’s quite a challenge to see how you can construct out of the diversity of opposition a positive majority for a deal.” Weyand said of the two years of talks due to end on 29 March: “There’s a very high risk of a crash out not by design, but by accident. Perhaps by the design of article 50, but not by policymakers.” “We think we can handle it,” Weyand said. “I’m less sure about UK side. For us it’s about EU-UK trade relationship and disruption to supply chains. For the UK a no deal would mean that a part of the regulatory and supervisory structure of economy breaks away – a much bigger challenge.”

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British people must be so sick of this. More ‘key’ votes today, and no end in sight.

Will UK MPs Take Control Of Brexit? (RT)

Later on Tuesday, backbench MPs will try to seize control of Brexit as they vote on a set of amendments to alter – or even stop – the UK’s exit from the bloc after PM Theresa May failed to get her deal through parliament.
Speaker John Bercow reportedly received 14 amendments to May’s Brexit deal, with half a dozen of them expected to be put to a vote in order to achieve Brexit Plan B. Voting is scheduled to start at 7pm and may go on until around 8.30pm. By that time, it’ll likely become clear whether Brexit will be paused, possibly indefinitely, or whether the embattled prime minister will be sent back to Brussels for more talks with the EU.

Proposals to prevent a NO-DEAL Brexit One of the most important amendments comes from Labour’s Yvette Cooper, which requires May to delay Brexit and extend Article 50 if she’s unable get parliamentary support for her deal by February 26. Another notable one is much softer and non-binding in nature. Tory MP Caroline Spelman and her Labour counterpart, Jack Dromey, are pushing for the “no-deal” concept to be rejected in principle.

Anti-backstop amendments The two key proposals here are from Tory backbenchers, Andrew Murrison and Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 Committee, responsible for hiring and firing Conservative leaders. They call for the contentious Irish backstop to expire by December 2021 or be removed from the Brexit deal altogether. The backstop is a safety net to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if there’s no Brexit trade deal.

Indicative vote amendments These are focused on ensuring that MPs get more parliamentary time to discuss the kind of Brexit they want to see agreed. Labour MP Hilary Benn has one amendment explicitly demanding indicative votes on Brexit options, including Norway Plus, a Second referendum, a “managed” no-deal, or a Labour Brexit. Prominent Tory Remainer, Dominic Grieve, is also calling for six days in February and March to be set aside for debates on motions not selected by the government. May’s spokesman said on Monday that talks on changing the deal to make it satisfactory for the MPs were ongoing. The PM was also willing to give the parliament another opportunity to vote for the Brexit deal as soon as possible. He didn’t name the exact date, buy the Sky News sources claim it may happen on February 13.

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The people’s interest?!

Theresa May In Fresh Crisis After Anti-EU Tories Reject ‘Plan B’ (Ind.)

Theresa May has been plunged into a fresh Brexit crisis after anti-EU Tories rejected her ‘plan B’ attempt to rescue her deal and threatened to inflict another Commons defeat on Tuesday. The prime minister took the extraordinary step of urging her MPs to back an amendment that “requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced” – even though it effectively rips up her own agreement with the EU. However, just 30 minutes earlier – in a dramatic underlining of her weakness – the hardline 60-strong European Research Group (ERG) rejected the wording as too vague. Without ERG support, the amendment, tabled by Tory backbenchers’ leader Graham Brady, appeared doomed to fail – wrecking No 10 hopes that it would persuade the EU to give way.

Even before the setback, Brussels made clear it would, in any case, never accept a UK demand to replace the backstop, insisting the EU was “not going to reopen the agreement”. Heidi Allen, a leading pro-EU Tory, said the prime minister was “dreaming” if she believed her strategy could succeed, telling The Independent: “She is doing nothing other than pandering to the ERG again.” Despite the continuing stalemate, Ms May told the emergency meeting of Tory MPs that she wanted to stage a second “meaningful vote” on her deal by 13 February. No 10 saw it as a mechanism of sending a clear message about the concessions the EU needed to make if the thumping 230-vote defeat on the divorce deal, a fortnight ago, is to be overturned.

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The UK government, who obviously have nothing better to do, wants to confiscate Venezuela’s gold. Time for every country to repatriate their gold. Or it can and will be used against you.

Bank Of England Urged To Give Juan Guaidó Venezuela’s Gold (G.)

A UK foreign office minister has suggested that the Bank of England grant access to £1.2bn in Venezuelan gold reserves to the self-proclaimed interim leader Juan Guaidó rather than Nicolás Maduro. In a statement to British MPs, Sir Alan Duncan said the decision was a matter for the Bank and its governor, Mark Carney, and not the government. But he added: “It is they who have to make a decision on this, but no doubt when they do so they will take into account there are now a large number of countries across the world questioning the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro and recognising that of Juan Guaidó.” Guaidó has already written to Theresa May asking for the funds to be sent to him.

The former chair of the foreign affairs select committee Crispin Blunt said the current Venezuelan central bank president was not legitimate, since he had not been appointed by the country’s national assembly. Blunt has sent letters to the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and to the chancellor, Philip Hammond, urging a decision. Duncan said Hunt would be discussing the next steps in the European Union’s efforts to support Guaidó in Bucharest on Thursday. Key EU states including France, Germany, Spain and the UK on Saturday urged Maduro to call free and fair elections within eight days or else see Guaidó recognised as interim president by the international community. The EU stance was backed by the SNP and the Liberal Democrats in the Commons.

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Bolton: “Now is the time to stand for democracy and prosperity in Venezuela..” Straight faced.

US Announces Sanctions Against Venezuela State Oil Company (G.)

The Trump administration has tightened the screws on Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, announcing sanctions against the country’s state-owned oil giant PDVSA in what the US national security adviser admitted was partly an attempt to counter strategic threats from Cuba and Iran. At a briefing in the White House, the US treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, told reporters the sanctions would help punish “those responsible for Venezuela’s tragic decline” and boost Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who last week declared himself Venezuela’s rightful interim president and was recognized by the United States. “It is a complete tragedy to have a humanitarian crisis in a country that has very rich resources,” Mnuchin said.

The sanctions – which represent the US’s toughest economic move against Maduro to date – come five days after Guaidó’s dramatic declaration sparked Venezuela’s latest political crisis. The national security adviser, John Bolton, said $7bn of PDVSA assets would be immediately blocked as a result of the sanctions while the company would also lose an estimated $11bn in export proceeds over the coming year. Bolton said the sanctions were an attempt to alleviate “the poverty and the starvation and the humanitarian crisis” currently gripping the South American nation and stop “Maduro and his cronies” looting the assets of the Venezuelan people. “Now is the time to stand for democracy and prosperity in Venezuela,” he said, calling on “all responsible nations” to back Guaidó.

However, he also conceded US strategic interests were in play, including concerns about the presence and activities of US foes in the region. “We think stability and democracy in Venezuela are in the direct national interests of the United States right now,” Bolton told reporters. “The authoritarian regime of Chávez and Maduro has allowed the penetration by adversaries of the United States, not least of which is Cuba.” He added: “Some call the country ‘Cubazuela’, reflecting the grip that Cuba’s military and security forces have on the Maduro regime. We think that is a strategic significant threat to the United States and there are others as well, including Iran’s interest in Venezuela’s uranium deposits.”

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Wonder what Putin and Xi are thinking. And doing.

Why Did John Bolton’s Notepad Say “5,000 Troops To Colombia”? (ZH)

During a Monday White House press briefing national security adviser John Bolton was photographed carrying a notepad — presumably as he was fresh out of a national security meeting — and one of the things which appears to be handwritten on the pad is “5,000 troops to Colombia”. The contents of the notepad were spotted almost immediately by multiple journalists online after an NBC news release featuring the AP photo was published. More precisely the full contents appear to read: “Afghanistan -> Welcome the Talks. 5,000 troops to Colombia.” And a closer look, per one of the first journalists to examine the photograph and writing, who noted that “if confirmed this would be a pretty terrible OPSEC [operations security] breach”.

Bolton during the White House presser revealed that President Trump is “leaving open the possibility of a U.S. military intervention to protect opposition leader Juan Guaidó, members of the nation’s assembly and American diplomatic personnel,” according to NBC. “The president has made it clear that all options are on the table,” Bolton told reporters while holding the yellow notepad. “We also today call on the Venezuelan military and security forces to accept the peaceful, democratic and constitutional transfer of power,” Bolton said. But could, as the notepad suggests, this involve plans to send 5,000 American troops to neighboring Colombia, a close US ally in Latin America?

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“.. in reopening it for three weeks, does this allow for the confirmation of William Barr as Attorney General?”

Stone Cold (Kunstler)

As I often point out here, history is a trickster, too. Things fly out of left field from it all the time. Pink elephants, black swans, honeybadgers, World Wars, flash crashes, and Roger Stone. I have a theory that Mr. Stone, in his twisted way, will turn out to be a sort of unlikely hero in this subplot of the Mueller inquisition. How might that work? Despite the attempt to squeeze him on charges that will bankrupt him and send him off to die in the federal cooler, Mr. Stone will do what he said on the courthouse steps: he won’t bear false witness against Mr. Trump. What that really means is something else: he is willing to step into a court-of-law and face down Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors.

Mr. Mueller does not want this case to be tried in court, I assure you. In the event, an awful lot of dark evidence will emerge from the defense side of the room about the criminal malfeasance among the Mueller Team, and their reliance on the Clinton network of fixers, grifters, and rogues who cooked up the years-long Russian Meddling-and-Collusion flimflam in the FBI going way back to the spring of 2016. Mr. Stone’s case is not unlike the case against General Mike Flynn, who was sent to the doghouse for three months in December by Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan to reconsider his guilty plea. Judge Sullivan may know that the charges against Gen. Flynn amount to prosecutorial misconduct by Mueller, and Sullivan is interested in trying the case to see what might come out. It will be March before anyone knows whether Gen Flynn got his mind right in the matter.

[..]I’m wondering about something else. Of course, Mr. Trump eventually caught hell on the government shutdown. But in reopening it for three weeks, does this allow for the confirmation of William Barr as Attorney General? And when that happens, might it change the flow of events in the RussiaGate show?

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If Stone’s indictment is any clue, there will be zero collusion reported. Well, at least not with any sort of proof.

Mueller Investigation Close To Being Completed – Acting AG Whitaker (CNBC)

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “close to being completed,” acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Monday. “I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible,” Whitaker said during a Department of Justice news conference announcing indictments against Huawei officials. While there were reports that the special counsel probe was wrapping up, Whitaker’s remark is the first indication from a Justice Department official suggesting that Mueller could deliver his report soon. Mueller’s team of investigators is examining Russian interference in the 2016 election. The special counsel is also probing for possible collusion by Donald Trump’s campaign and whether or not the president obstructed justice.

The acting attorney general’s comment comes after Roger Stone, a longtime political advisor to President Donald Trump, was arrested in Florida on Friday. Stone faces seven counts, including allegations of witness tampering, obstruction of justice and making false statements to Congress. Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general sparked concern that he might try to stifle Mueller’s investigation. Before joining the Justice Department, Whitaker was critical of the special counsel probe. In a 2017 op-ed, Whitaker argued that if Mueller examined the Trump family finances “without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt.”

Whitaker addressed his critics during the Monday news conference, saying he has now been “fully briefed” on the investigation and is looking forward to Mueller’s report. “I really am not going to talk about an open and ongoing investigation otherwise, but you know, sort of the statements that I made were as a private citizen only with publicly available information,” Whitaker said.

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“When asked whether working with WikiLeaks should be considered a crime..”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders To Media: You’re No Better Than WikiLeaks (VF)

Last week, Roger Stone, one of Donald Trump’s longest and most loyal advisers, was indicted on several counts of lying to investigators regarding his interactions with WikiLeaks, the quasi-journalistic organization accused by U.S. intelligence of being in cahoots with the Russian government. Perhaps most dangerous for the president, the indictment against Stone alleged that a senior campaign official “was directed” by an unknown someone to ask Stone about “additional releases” from WikiLeaks, which had already dumped stolen D.N.C. e-mails all over the Internet. After Stone was arrested by the F.B.I., White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was quick out of the gate with the standard statement: “This has nothing to do with the president, and certainly nothing to do with the White House,” she said.

“This is something that has to do solely with that individual, not something that affects us in this building.” But on Monday, as she presided over the first official White House press briefing in 41 days, she was pressed to provide a more detailed response. She denied that the White House and Trump had any contact with WikiLeaks, and brushed off the possibility that Trump would issue Stone a pardon. When asked whether working with WikiLeaks should be considered a crime, however, she went a step further. “I think every single outlet that you all represent looked for and searched for information that WikiLeaks was providing,” she said. “Most of you reported on that information. I think you’re just as accountable as anybody else in that process.” In other words, if seeking information from WikiLeaks is a crime, the media is full of criminals.

In fact, by the end of 2016, certain media outlets engaged in some earnest hand-wringing over whether the extent of their reporting on the leaked WikiLeaks documents, including the e-mails of Democratic officials like John Podesta and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had thrown the election in Trump’s (and Russia’s) favor. Stone’s connections to the Julian Assange-run organization, however, are of a different nature entirely. Stone, a one-man political goon squad, had long publicly flaunted his connections with WikiLeaks, selling himself to the Trump campaign as someone with inside knowledge of the organization.

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This is your future. A bunch of call-center type ops in cheap labor nations will decide, using handbooks, what you are allowed to see.

Facebook To Create ‘War Room’ To Fight Fake News (G.)

Facebook will tackle political misinformation in the run-up to the EU elections this May with a new “war room” based in Dublin, the company’s incoming communications chief, Nick Clegg, has announced. In his first speech as Facebook’s top public face, Clegg said the company would be setting up an “operations centre focused on elections integrity, based in Dublin, this spring”. The centre will build on the company’s previous experience running an “elections war room” in its US office, where it coordinated efforts to police the platform during the US midterm and Brazilian presidential elections. “This approach will help boost our rapid response efforts to fight misinformation, bringing together dozens of experts from across the company – including from our threat intelligence, data science, engineering, research, community operations and legal teams,” Clegg said.

“They will work closely with the lawmakers, election commissions, other tech companies, academics and civil society groups to continue the fight against fake news, prevent the spread of voter suppression efforts and further integrate the large number of teams working on these important issues across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.” In his speech, made to an audience of European policymakers in Brussels and livestreamed on Facebook, Clegg accepted that the company had erred in the past, but said it was on a path of improvement. “What I have seen in my short time at Facebook is a young company – only 15 years old next month – which has grown at a startling pace, has undoubtedly made mistakes and is now entering a new phase of reform, responsibility and change.”

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Why? “Dark energy is evolving – with a density that increases as time passes.”

Supermassive Black Holes Reveal Universe Expands Faster Than Thought (Ind.)

Supermassive black holes in the depths of space have been used for the first time to measure the universe growing, yielding intriguing results. Astronomers found the universe appears to be expanding faster than previously thought, a discovery that suggests a whole new set of rules is required to understand the cosmos. The rate of universe expansion is known as the Hubble constant, named after the American astronomer who also gave his name to the famous space telescope. It has proved a tricky value to pin down, because while the cosmos has been getting bigger since the Big Bang, the rate seems to vary depending on where astronomers look and how they measure it.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists used black holes sitting at the core of distant galaxies as reference points by which to measure the speed of growth. These bodies constantly spew out radiation, placing them among the brightest points in the universe. “Black holes are the most luminous persistent sources of the universe and allow us to measure its expansion rate at very early times,” explained Dr Elisabeta Lusso from Durham University. Using data collected from 1,600 supermassive black holes as the universe expands and they move away from each other, the scientists were able to record the rate of this expansion.

Previous efforts had used the light produced by exploding supernovae to measure the growth of the universe, but such measurements could only go back so far in time. The luminous black holes allowed Dr Lusso and her colleague Dr Guido Risaliti to peer back further, providing a clearer picture of early universe expansion. The discrepancy they recorded matched the contradictory results previously obtained by the European Space Agency and Nasa. These results suggest the early expansion of the universe is different from that predicted by the standard model of cosmology, which describes the age, history and contents of the universe. [..] Dr Risaliti, of the Università degli Studi di Firenze, said if this dark energy is evolving – with a density that increases as time passes – this could provide an explanation for their results.

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A land of ordinary thieves.

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defac’d, thy mouldering shrines remov’d
By British hands
– Lord Byron

British Museum Chief: Taking The Parthenon Marbles Was ‘Creative’ (G.)

The director of the British Museum has provoked anger by suggesting the removal of the Parthenon marbles from Greece in the 19th century could be seen as “a creative act”. Hartwig Fischer gave an interview to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea in which he ruled out returning the 2,500-year-old sculptures, which many people in Greece and elsewhere regard as stolen. Greece desperately wants the sculptures, popularly known as the Elgin marbles, back but has been rebuffed repeatedly by the British Museum. Asked about the argument that it should be seen more as a rejoining of the sculptures than a return, Fischer said the British Museum offered a different way of interacting with the marbles, “posing different questions because the objects are placed in a new context”.

He added: “We should appreciate this opportunity. You could, of course, be saddened by the fact that the original environment has disappeared. When you move a cultural heritage to a museum, you move it outside. However, this shifting is also a creative act.” The same could be said for the Acropolis Museum created in Athens, said Fischer. “Nothing that we admire at the Acropolis Museum was created for the Acropolis Museum. They are close to the original environment, but they have again moved away from it and have been transformed through this act.”

There are many who will not see the early 19th-century removal from Greece of the marbles by agents of the 7th Earl of Elgin as “creative”. Lord Byron likened it to vandalism, lamenting in verse in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: “Dull is the eye that will not weep to see / Thy walls defac’d, thy mouldering shrines remov’d / By British hands.” George Vardas, the secretary of the International Association for Reunification of Parthenon Sculptures, tweeted: “Seriously. What was so creative in the destruction of the temple and looting and pillage of a nation’s keys to its ancient history?” He called it “astonishing historical revisionism and arrogance”, and added: “The imperial condescension of the British Museum knows no bounds.”


Photograph: Matthew Fearn/PA

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Jan 282019
 


Pablo Picasso Bust of woman with arms raised 1922

 

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)
PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)
China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)
Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)
UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)
May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson (R.)
Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)
UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)
Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)
In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

 

 

Picked up these numbers last week on Twitter. Chavez announced cancer in late 2012, died early 2013. Oil prices only explain a smal part of it. Economic warfare does the rest.

@spectatorindex – Venezuela GDP growth.
2012: 5.6%
2013: 1.3%
2014: -3.9%
2015: -6.2%
2016: -17%
2017: -15%
2018: -16%

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)

The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans. The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him. European leaders are calling for “free and fair” elections. Russia and Turkey remain Nicolas Maduro’s key supporters.

Mr De Zayas, a former secretary of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and an expert in international law, spoke to The Independent following the presentation of his Venezuela report to the HRC in September. He said that since its presentation the report has been ignored by the UN and has not sparked the public debate he believes it deserves. “Sanctions kill,” he told The Independent, adding that they fall most heavily on the poorest people in society, demonstrably cause death through food and medicine shortages, lead to violations of human rights and are aimed at coercing economic change in a “sister democracy”. On his fact-finding mission to the country in late 2017, he found internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, but said “economic warfare” practised by the US, EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.

In the report, Mr de Zayas recommended, among other actions, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. The US sanctions are illegal under international law because they were not endorsed by the UN Security Council, Mr de Zayas, an expert on international law and a former senior lawyer with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns. “Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees,” Mr de Zayas said in his report.

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Xi remains nervous.

PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)

PBOC fixed the yuan dramatically stronger against the dollar overnight, sending offshore yuan surging to its strongest against the dollar in six months. While the Chinese currency is reportedly strengthening on the heels of trade talks optimism (which is entirely the opposite of the rhetoric coming out of Washington), we note that this was the biggest positive shift in the yuan fix in 19 months…

Notably, the yuan is strengthening considerably more against the dollar than it is against the broad basket of trade partner currencies…Shanghai Accord 2.0? And coincidentally, the surge in yuan comes the day after gold prices broke out higher… Perhaps the PBOC’s aggressive action was prompted to manage the Yuan peg against gold back into balance?

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If you look closer, nothing seems very dramatic. But real estate has become such a huge part of the economy that Beijing must weigh curbing risks vs continued growth.

It’s also the speed with which this has happened. 10 years ago Chinese didn’t borrow for homes. It’s literally been used to mitigate the financial crisis.

China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)

Loans to China’s property sector grew at a slower pace in 2018 as Beijing tightened home-purchase rules to curb bubble risk, but lending to property developers expanded slightly faster than the year before, central bank data showed on Friday. Outstanding yuan property loans grew 20% from a year earlier to 38.7 trillion yuan ($5.72 trillion) by end-December, compared with 20.9% growth in 2017, the PBOC said in a quarterly financial report. Outstanding mortgage lending climbed 17.8% year-on-year to 25.75 trillion yuan by the end of 2018, below a 22.2% rise in 2017, central bank data showed.

Policymakers have vowed to ensure “stable and healthy” development of the property market, repeatedly emphasizing that homes are for living in, not speculative investment. The government’s sustained drive to reduce debt risks in the economy has cooled the property market but a continued downturn in credit growth in the sector could add to growing pressures on the world’s second-largest economy. The real estate sector is a key driver of economic growth, so any further weakness could influence the pace and scope of fresh stimulus steps expected from Beijing this year.

Property investment is also looking wobbly, with analysts waiting to see if the government will risk loosening restrictions on home buyers that have kept speculation in check. Real estate investment in December rose 8.2% from a year earlier, down from 9.3% in November, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by the National Bureau of Statistics. That was just ahead of the slowest pace of growth last year at 7.7% recorded for October. Developers raised their borrowings last year though, with loans extended for property development up 22.6% in 2018 versus growth of 21.7% in 2017, the report showed. The central bank also said outstanding household loans jumped 18.2% to 47.9 trillion yuan by end-2018.

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How much can Brexit hurt the British? A lot, we must assume. Then again, if you fall for this stuff at this moment in time, maybe you deserve what’s coming. How about a crisis worse than the 1930s?

Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)

Britain’s biggest lender is to offer 100% mortgages to first-time buyers in a return to lending last seen before the financial crash – but only if the buyer has family that can stand behind the loan. Under the new Lloyds Bank “Lend A Hand” deal, a first-time buyer will be able to borrow up to £500,000 for a new home, without putting down a penny of deposit. The Lloyds move marks a major expansion into the first-time buyer market, as most other mainstream lenders demand a minimum deposit worth 5% of the property purchase price, although Barclays has offered a similar “family springboard” deal. Lloyds has priced the mortgages to undercut the Barclays offer.

The deal – part of what Lloyds said is a £30bn commitment to help first-time buyers – will reopen concern about a two-tier market where buyers with well-off families can elbow aside those without. Saving for a deposit is usually cited by first-time buyers as the biggest hurdle to home ownership. Lloyds said the average deposit put down by first-time buyers has climbed to £33,211, and a staggering £110,182 in London. The Lloyds deal requires that a member of the family – such as parent, grandparent or close relative – helps out. The bank will only grant the 100% mortgage if the family member puts a sum equal to 10% of the value of the property into a Lloyds savings account.

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“The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.”

UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)

The UK will be unable to have frictionless, tariff-free trade under World Trade Organization rules for up to seven years in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to two leading European Union law specialists. The ensuing chaos could double food prices and plunge Britain into a recession that could last up to 30 years, claim the lawyers who acted for Gina Miller in the historic case that forced the government to seek parliament’s approval to leave the EU. It has been claimed that the UK could simply move to WTO terms if there is no deal with the EU. But Anneli Howard, a specialist in EU and competition law at Monckton Chambers and a member of the bar’s Brexit working group, believes this isn’t true. “No deal means leaving with nothing,” she said. “The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.

It is impossible to say how long it would go on for. Some economists say 10 years, others say the effects could be felt for 20 or even 30 years: even ardent Brexiters agree it could be decades.” The government’s own statistics have estimated that under the worst case no-deal scenario, GDP would be 10.7% lower than if the UK stays in the EU, in 15 years. There are two apparently insurmountable hurdles to the UK trading on current WTO tariffs in the event of Britain crashing out in March, said Howard. Firstly, the UK must produce its own schedule covering both services and each of the 5,000-plus product lines covered in the WTO agreement and get it agreed by all the 163 WTO states in the 32 remaining parliamentary sitting days until 29 March 2019. A number of states have already raised objections to the UK’s draft schedule: 20 over goods and three over services.

To make it more complicated, there are no “default terms” Britain can crash out on, Howard said, while at the same time, the UK has been blocked by WTO members from simply relying on the EU’s “schedule” – its existing tariffs and tariff-free trade quotas. The second hurdle is the sheer volume of domestic legislation that would need to be passed before being able to trade under WTO rules: there are nine statutes and 600 statutory instruments that would need to be adopted. The government cannot simply cut and paste the 120,000 EU statutes into UK law and then make changes to them gradually, Howard said. “The UK will need to set up new enforcement bodies and transfer new powers to regulators to create our own domestic regimes,” she said.

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Fast and loose with Good Friday.

May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Theresa May will seek legally binding changes to the Irish backstop from the European Union in an attempt to break the deadlock over Brexit, lawmaker Boris Johnson wrote in The Telegraph on Sunday, citing senior government sources. The PM is looking to change the text of the agreement to insert either a sunset clause or a mechanism for the UK to escape without reference to the EU, Boris Johnson said in The Telegraph. The contentious backstop arrangement is designed to prevent a hard border between Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland by requiring Britain to keep some EU rules if it was unable to agree a trade deal with the bloc. Ireland said earlier on Sunday it would not accept any changes to the backstop agreement.

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The backstop will be May’s major point of contention this week. Stop her! There’s already talk of reinserting issues in the deal that have already been thrown out.

Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)

Ireland has launched a last-minute effort to warn Theresa May off any attempt to unravel the backstop, two days before a crucial Commons debate that may decide the next move for the UK’s rudderless Brexit policy. Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister and deputy prime minister, insisted the backstop – the mechanism to ensure there will be no hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland if Britain and the EU fail to strike a free trade deal – was “part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change”. In a forceful interview, he insisted it was only part of the withdrawal agreement because of the UK’s red lines.

On Tuesday Tory Brexiters may get the chance to vote for amendments that would signal their willingness to back May’s Brexit deal subject to the backstop’s either being removed or time-limited. Ministers have not formally backed any of the anti-backstop amendments, which are incompatible with the deal that May agreed with UK leaders, but if one were to pass by a majority, she would be able to present the EU with a firm idea of what changes might get her deal through parliament – something that as yet remains unclear to Brussels. In an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Coveney said he did not see the need for further compromise because “the backstop is already a compromise”.

Although originally Northern Ireland-specific, it was made UK-wide at the request of May, he said. “And the very need for the backstop in the first place was because of British red lines that they wanted to leave the customs union and single market,” he said.

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Many Brits are so poor they can’t even think of stockpiling.

UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)

Britain has begun stockpiling food, fuel, spare parts and ammunition at military bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus and the Falklands in case of a no-deal Brexit, Sky News has learnt. Extra supplies are also being built up at bases in the UK to reduce the risk of the armed forces running short and being unable to operate if it suddenly becomes much harder to import and export day-to-day goods after 29 March. Military chiefs have spent at least £23m on what is being described as “forward-purchased” goods, Sky News understands. The move is part of contingency planning by the government – codenamed Operation Yellowhammer – to reduce disruption if Britain departs from the European Union without an agreement, according to three defence sources.

“An army marches on its stomach. If supply lines breakdown they struggle,” one source said. Any blockage in the flow of food and other vital items to Britain’s military bases overseas could impact on operations and affect thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen. There is a concern that supplies delivered to British troops in the rest of Europe – the UK has a permanent presence in Cyprus and a base on the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, which shares a border with Spain – could be impacted, according to the sources.

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We haven’t seen any of it yet.

Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)

Britons have become angrier since the referendum to leave the EU, according to a survey which suggests there is widespread unhappiness about the direction in which the country is heading. 69 per cent of respondents said they felt their fellow citizens had become “angrier about politics and society” since the Brexit vote in 2016, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a long-established, annual survey of trust carried out across the globe. 40 per cent of people think others are now more likely to take part in violent protests, the UK results from the survey show, even though violent political protest in Britain is rare.

One person in six said they had fallen out with friends or relatives over the vote to leave the bloc, the survey found. Edelman, which said the findings exposed a “disUnited Kingdom”, found widespread concern about where the government was heading, particularly among those who voted remain, and those who backed Labour. Overall, about 65% of Britons think the country is “on the wrong track”, the survey suggests. Amongst remain voters the figure is 82%, but even among leave voters the figure is 43%. Some 60% of people who identify with the Conservatives think the country is heading in the right direction, but among Labour identifiers, the figure is just 20%.

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The coal phase-out is part of a 500 billion-euro switch away from fossil fuels and toward renewables..

Compensating coal-mining regions & consumers for higher electricity prices expected to cost German taxpayer up to €78bn.

But across the border lies Italy, and next to it Greece. How are they going to pay for such a switch? And if they don’t, what’s the use of Germany doing it?

In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

A proposal to stop Germany from using coal for power generation within two decades may leave an unexpected beneficiary: The company that burns the most of the fuel. While RWE AG was quick to say it’s “too soon” to shed all fossil fuel plants by 2038, the recommendations outlined this weekend by a panel advising Chancellor Angela Merkel called for compensation for the utilities and 40 billion euros ($45.6 billion) for regions coping with the transition. Together, the measures would significantly soften the blow on industry from Merkel’s vow to scale back greenhouse gases. They show how far the government has moved away from a quick clampdown on the most polluting fossil fuel and give more certainty for the future of some of RWE’s most valuable assets.

And while the proposals could yet be watered down by politicians, they signal a longer life for many of the utility’s plants than environmentalists had hoped for. “We believe that clarity, compensation payments, and a relatively long phase-out period should trigger a re-rating for the company’s conventional power generation,” said Guido Hoymann, an analyst at the private bank B. Metzler Seel. Sohn & Co. KGaA who added RWE to a list of top 10 German stocks.

Germany’s 120 or so remaining coal and lignite plants have a combined capacity of about 45 gigawatts. That’s enough to feed 40 percent of the nation’s power demand or about 32 million homes. Germany is already falling short on its targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions and sees closing coal plants as one of the most important ways to make the reductions needed. The coal commission includes members from the main political parties, environmental groups and industry charged with developing a consensus that Germany can live with for years to come.

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Jan 192019
 


Pablo Picasso Guitar on a table 1922

 

Mueller Shoots Down Buzzfeed’s Latest Russiagate Scoop With Rare Dismissal (RT)
US Asked Ecuadorean Officials About Alleged Assange-Manafort Meeting (R.)
56% Majority Of Britons Now Want To Remain In The EU – Poll (DM)
Extending The Brexit Deadline Could Clash With Coming EU Elections (CNBC)
EU Loves British Money More Than It Loves Democracy (Clark)
UK Patients Stockpile Drugs In Fear Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)
UK Shoppers Rein In Spending As Fears Grow Over Economy (G.)
Rising Credit-Card Use Shows US Consumers Are Strapped (DDMB)
Tesla Cuts 7% Of Workforce, Musk Sees ‘Very Difficult’ Road Ahead (CNBC)
Tesla Has $920 Million In Debt Coming Due, A Third Of Company’s Cash (CNBC)
Russia Outshines China To Become World’s 5th Biggest Holder Of Gold (RT)
French Court Cites Precautionary Principle To Cancel Monsanto Permit (R.)

 

 

Is this the worst day for fake news to date? It’s hard to keep track. It’s just that this one was taken up by so many hoping for -finally!- impeachment. Please Lord make it stop.

Two reasons why Mueller issued his statement: 1) the credibility of the Special Counsel itself (since every outlet ran with the -false- BuzzFeed story), 2) members of Congress were calling for investigations based on the story (would have been even more embarrassing than making the statement).

One Shimon Prokupecz on Twitter: “We cannot underestimate the statement disputing Buzzfeed’s story from the special counsel. I’m sure it pained them to do this. I’m sure this went through many levels at the DOJ and FBI. They don’t talk. This is massive.”

Trump on Twitter: “Remember it was Buzzfeed that released the totally discredited “Dossier,” paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats (as opposition research), on which the entire Russian probe is based! A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!”

Mueller Shoots Down Buzzfeed’s Latest Russiagate Scoop With Rare Dismissal (RT)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has poured cold water on BuzzFeed’s latest Russiagate “bombshell” with a rare public statement calling the article, which claims Trump told his ex-lawyer Cohen to lie to Congress, “not accurate.” BuzzFeed reported that President Donald Trump directly instructed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about his plans to build a Trump Tower property in Moscow, citing two anonymous “federal law enforcement officials” as sources that the president had suborned perjury – which, being an actual crime, triggered talk of impeachment “walls closing in” among the anti-Trump “Resistance.”

While half of Congress took to Twitter to wave the story as the long-awaited proof of Collusion, the BuzzFeed reporters could not seem to agree on their own sourcing. Anthony Cormier admitted to CNN he hadn’t seen the proof directly but had two “law enforcement” sources claiming they had seen it, while Jason Leopold told MSNBC they had in fact seen the documents themselves. The smoking gun du jour collapsed further when word came down from Mueller himself – via spokesman Peter Carr – that Buzzfeed’s “description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony” were “not accurate.”

Mueller has been extremely tight-lipped about the numerous previous “Russiagate” scoops, and considering the time and effort involved in his own ongoing crusade to take Trump down, his dismissal of BuzzFeed’s would-be bombshell knocked the legs out from under a story whose vague sourcing had already raised questions.

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And this fits in seamlessly with the Mueller/BuzzFeed thing: The Guardian story has been thoroughly discredited, but 2 months later, US officials are still chasing it. What’s new to me is that it’s the first time I see a Guardian response: “The Guardian has defended the article and said it “relied on a number of sources.” Lame poppycock. And the same thing Buzzfeed says.

US Asked Ecuadorean Officials About Alleged Assange-Manafort Meeting (R.)

U.S. officials spoke with officials from Ecuador’s British embassy on Friday about an alleged meeting there between President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, an Ecuadorean government source said. The Guardian newspaper reported the meeting in November, alleging the two met at least three times, including in 2016, just before WikiLeaks released damaging emails about Trump’s rival in the 2016 presidential elections, Hillary Clinton. Manafort and Assange have both previously denied meeting each other at the embassy.

WikiLeaks, in a statement on Friday entitled the “U.S. interrogation of Ecuadorian diplomats,” accused Ecuador’s government of assisting the United States in prosecuting Assange, who first sought asylum in the embassy in 2012. The source said the embassy officials, at the request of the U.S. Justice Department, provided testimony in Quito at facilities provided by Ecuadorean authorities. [..] Part of Mueller’s probe has involved looking into whether Trump associates may have had advance notice before WikiLeaks published emails stolen by Russian hackers from Democratic computer networks to damage Clinton. WikiLeaks called the Guardian’s story “indisputably fabricated” and said it was being used as a pretext for the United States to prosecute Assange. The Guardian has defended the article and said it “relied on a number of sources.”

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But neither one of the two main parties do. How screwed up is that? Nobody represents the majority.

56% Majority Of Britons Now Want To Remain In The EU – Poll (DM)

A majority of Britons now say they want to stay in the EU after Theresa May’s Brexit plan suffered a massive defeat, a new poll published today has found. A YouGov survey asked 1,070 voters how they would vote in a second Brexit referendum if it were held today – and found Remain has stretched out a 12-point lead over Leave, with 56% saying they would vote to stay in the EU versus 44% in favour of leaving. The voters were questioned the day after the PM’s Brexit plan suffered a crushing defeat – leaving the machinery of government deadlocked and with the bitter divisions among MPs offering no clear way ahead.

Ministers are now at war over Brexit, openly clashing over whether Britain should be willing to crash out without a deal on March 29, or back a softer Brexit or second referendum. The Prime Minister must make a statement on Monday where she will lay out her ‘next steps’ on a Brexit ‘plan B’ before a week of debate on the various options. The following week, MPs will vote on their preferred course of action, putting huge pressure on the Prime Minister to adopt it. With Westminster gripped by chaos, the new poll suggests voters are losing faith in Brexit with growing numbers now backing Remain. The survey for The Times found that 56% of those polled would now back staying in the EU, while the same proportion back a second referendum. And voters were even more likely to want to stay in the bloc if the only other option was the PM’s Brexit deal, with Remain leading by 65% to 35%.

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If Article 50 were extended, which looks pretty sure, Britain will have to vote in European elections. But their seats have already been given out to others.

Extending The Brexit Deadline Could Clash With Coming EU Elections (CNBC)

Extending the official Brexit deadline for the U.K. could bring a wave of extra logistical and political problems for the EU. The ongoing deadlock has sparked a debate on the potential extension of Article 50 — the legal means by which the U.K. leaves the EU. However, there is strong opposition from some European lawmakers over giving more time to the U.K. to sort out its domestic politics. The U.K. is set to leave the EU on March 29 — but this could change if the U.K. asks for an extension and the other 27 member nations accept the request. Extending the departure beyond the agreed date would likely clash with European parliamentary elections that are set to take place between May 23 and 26. The chamber is made of lawmakers from all 28 European member countries, including the U.K., and is responsible for approving European policies, such as the Union’s total budget.

“What we will not let happen, deal or no deal, is that the mess in British politics is again imported into European politics. While we understand the U.K. could need more time, for us it is unthinkable that Article 50 is prolonged beyond the European Elections,” Guy Verhofstadt, a member of the European Parliament and its representative in Brexit negotiations, said on Twitter on Wednesday. [..] Seb Dance, member of the European Parliament for the U.K. Labour party, said the prospect of having Brexit and the European elections clashing “is a logistical headache.” “The impact of delaying Brexit on the EU elections is certainly troublesome logistically speaking,” he said, “but politically speaking it shouldn’t make a difference as it is entirely possible that elections take place in the other member states without needing to take place in Britain.”

[..] According to a Brussels-based European official, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity surrounding the Brexit talks, an extension would likely mean that the U.K. would have to participate in the vote. This is because it would still technically be a member of the European Union. Zsolt Darvas, senior fellow at Bruegel, reiterated this point in an email to CNBC Friday. “If the extension goes beyond the elections, the U.K. would have to elect members of the European Parliament. Not expecting this, the European Parliament has already agreed on how to allocate the U.K. seats after Brexit. That agreement will have to be revised, or perhaps its implementation be postponed after the actual, delayed Brexit date.”

“From the U.K. side, it might look awkward to elect members of the European Parliament when people expect that the U.K. will leave the EU not much after the European elections; plus the U.K. would need to act quickly to make the European Parliament election possible, which would also involve some costs.”

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“..the Common Fisheries Quota has for the past 34 years given 84% of the cod in the English Channel to France and just 9% to the UK..”

EU Loves British Money More Than It Loves Democracy (Clark)

The European establishment is desperate for Britain to reconsider Brexit. Internationalist ideals about ‘preserving European unity’, don’t come in to it, this is all about protecting income streams. Consider a few facts. If Britain does leave without a deal, then the EU as an institution would be considerably worse off. The UK has consistently been one of the top three countries that puts most into the EU budget (after Germany and France). It is one of ten countries that puts more into the EU than it gets out. In 2017, the UK’s net contribution was £9bn. If Britain leaves, the EU faces a financial shortfall. In 2016, 16 countries were net receivers, including Donald Tusk’s Poland. Little wonder that he regards Britain staying as “the only positive solution”.

The very generous financial remuneration packages of EU officials might also be threatened by British withdrawal. In December, it was reported that the EU’s top civil servants would be paid over €20,000 a month for the first time, and that Tusk and Juncker would see their packages rise to €32,700 a month. Austerity? Not in Brussels, mon ami! The EU is a fabulous gravy train once you are on board. But the gravy train relies on its richest members not leaving, otherwise who’s going to foot the bill? If Britain leaves with ‘No Deal’, it’s not just the EU budget which will take a hit. In 2017, EU countries sold around £67 billion more in goods and services to the UK, than the UK sold to them. Europe needs full and unfettered access to British markets, much more than Britain needs full and unfettered access to European markets.

[..] The country that would lose out the most with Brexit is Germany. Britain’s trade deficit with Germany is higher than with any other country, even higher than China, whose products are everywhere in our shops! In 2016, the year of the EU referendum, Britain imported around £26 billion more from Germany than it exported. [..] We also have to discuss fishing. The other EU countries do extremely well out of the Common Fisheries Policy, which provides them with access to UK waters. Belgian fleets get around half their catch from British waters! As reported in the Independent, the Common Fisheries Quota has for the past 34 years given 84% of the cod in the English Channel to France and just 9% to the UK. Overall, EU vessels take out around four times as much fish out of UK waters as British vessels take out of EU waters.

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Is it Brexit or just the overall state of affairs as the Tories dismantle the NHS?

UK Patients Stockpile Drugs In Fear Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Ministers have been urged by top doctors to reveal the extent of national drug stocks, amid growing evidence patients are stockpiling medication in preparation for a no-deal Brexit. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP), which represents tens of thousands of doctors, urged the government to be more “transparent about national stockpiles, particularly for things that are already in short supply or need refrigeration, such as insulin”. Prof Andrew Goddard, the RCP president, said: “Faith in the system will be created by openness and regular updates to trusts and clinicians; this will allow clinicians to reassure patients.” The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has warned medical shortages have increased in recent months.

Generic drugs are usually bought through nationally set tariff prices. However, pharmacies can apply for price concessions under which the NHS will temporarily pay more when the drugs are in short supply. The number of concessions the PSNC applied for went up from 45 in October, to 72 in November and 87 in December. The Guardian has also found evidence some patients are stockpiling drugs, against official guidance. They said they were doing so by ordering drugs from abroad, and by asking their GPs for emergency prescriptions. One diabetic patient has been stockpiling insulin for four months, ordering twice the amount he needs for each of his drugs from the pharmacist.

Robin Hewings, the head of policy at Diabetes UK, backed calls for more transparency from the government about current stock levels to reassure patients. “There is a level of concern that has risen quite a lot [in the last few months] and people with diabetes are talking about stockpiling. The government needs to be more transparent about insulin supplies.”

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Only, not really: “..sales grew by 2.7% last year, compared with a growth rate of 2% in 2017.”

UK Shoppers Rein In Spending As Fears Grow Over Economy (G.)

British consumers reined in their spending in December after splashing out during November on Black Friday promotions, according to official figures that confirmed the tough festive shopping period on the high street. The Office for National Statistics said the quantity of goods bought last month fell by 0.9% compared to November, when Black Friday deals encouraged shoppers to bring forward some of their Christmas spending. All sectors except food and petrol declined on the month, the figures showed, coming after the British Retail Consortium said the key Christmas shopping period had been the worst for retailers since the financial crisis a decade ago.

James Smith, an economist at the City bank ING, said: “After another bumpy week for Brexit, today’s UK retail sales data is a timely reminder that all is not particularly well in the UK economy.” Figures for the three months to December, highlighting the wider trend for consumer spending, showed that the quantity of goods bought dropped by 0.2%. [..] Despite the downturn last month, the latest snapshot showed that retail sales growth for 2018 as a whole was above the level recorded a year earlier. Although significantly below the peak growth rate of 4.7% seen before the Brexit vote in 2016, sales grew by 2.7% last year, compared with a growth rate of 2% in 2017.

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Or does it show that they are more confident? Always a nice puzzle. A popular industry POV: people get deeper in debt because they feel so great.

Rising Credit-Card Use Shows US Consumers Are Strapped (DDMB)

Even though evidence is mounting that the U.S. economy may be soon heading into a recession, there are plenty of analysts who say that the surge in credit card borrowing is a sign of strong confidence among households. That’s hardly the case. In fact, households’ confidence in the future growth of their incomes has been cooling since late last summer, which means borrowers will only reach for what’s in their wallet to compensate for what their paychecks will not cover. Many working adults have no recollection of credit card borrowing not being a mainstay among their financing options. But then, few would be able to identify a Diners Club card, which was a popular brand during the 1980s “yuppie” era when Americans first began to embrace credit card spending in earnest.

These days, consumers are not keen to lean on credit cards, partly due to a cultural and financial shift in the industry. The financial crisis arguably altered households’ views on charging beyond their means. It didn’t hurt that the availability of subprime credit all but disappeared for a few years or that the interest rate on credit cards remained in double-digit territory despite the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy. That said, the idea of frugality re-entered many households’ thinking in the wake of the severe hardship the foreclosure crisis brought to bear on millions of working Americans. Debit cards became the predominant form of plastic used at the checkout.

And yet, consumer credit likely rounded out 2019 at a new $4 trillion milestone as runaway higher educationand car-price inflation coupled with ridiculously looser lending standards pushed households to take on record levels of student loan and auto debt. At roughly $1 trillion, credit cards are but a co-star in a star-studded, full-length feature film. A long history of credit card borrowing suggests that we would have multiples of today’s $1.04 billion in outstanding balances had the growth rate of spending on plastic maintained the headier double-digit paces clocked in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Shares down 13%.

Tesla Cuts 7% Of Workforce, Musk Sees ‘Very Difficult’ Road Ahead (CNBC)

Tesla is cutting its full-time staff headcount by about 7 percent, as it ramps up production of its Model 3 sedans, CEO Elon Musk said Friday. The announcement follows recent cost-cutting measures the company has made in a bid to reduce the price of its products and boost margins. Tesla shares fell 13 percent by the end of trading Friday. In an email to employees, Musk said the company faces a “very difficult” road ahead in its long-term goal to sell affordable renewable energy products, noting the company is younger than other players in the industry. “Tesla will need to make these cuts while increasing the Model 3 production rate and making many manufacturing engineering improvements in the coming months,” Musk said.

“Attempting to build affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity, but succeeding in our mission is essential to ensure that the future is good, so we must do everything we can to advance the cause.” The exact number of employees who will be laid off has not been disclosed. However in an October tweet, Musk said Tesla had a staff count of 45,000. If still true today, that would mean 3,150 layoffs. Musk said Friday that Tesla faces “an extremely difficult challenge” in making its electric vehicles and solar products a competitive alternative to traditional vehicles and energy products that rely on fossil fuels.

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Plunging share prices are the last thing Tesla needs.

Tesla Has $920 Million In Debt Coming Due, A Third Of Company’s Cash (CNBC)

Tesla has a billion dollar debt coming due, and it could wipe out nearly a third of the company’s cash if the stock price doesn’t improve. About $920 million in convertible senior notes expires on March 1 at a conversion price of $359.87 per share. But Tesla’s stock hasn’t traded above $359 for weeks. If the shares are about $359.87, then Tesla’s debt converts into Tesla shares. If not, Tesla will have to pay the debt in cash. Tesla reported cash and cash equivalents of $3.37 billion at the end of its September quarter. The company continues to reveal pressure to maintain profitability, and announced Friday it would cut 7 percent of its full-time workforce. Shares fell more than 10 percent Friday following the announcement to trade around $310 per share.

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If only because of the sanctions.

Russia Outshines China To Become World’s 5th Biggest Holder Of Gold (RT)

The Central Bank of Russia reported purchasing 8.5 million troy ounces of gold in January-November 2018. With its 67.6 million ounces of gold Russia is now the world’s fifth largest holder behind the US, Germany, France and Italy. China dropped to sixth place as it reported an increase in gold reserves just once in more than two years – to 59.6 million ounces in December 2018 from 59.2 million ounces in October 2016. Industry sources told Reuters that Western sanctions against Russia lifted the country’s gold buying to record highs in 2018. One of the reasons Russia’s Central Bank was betting on the yellow metal was because it could not be frozen or blacklisted, sources explained.

“It seems that there is an aim to diversify from American assets,” said a source in one of Russia’s gold producers, referring to the Central Bank’s holdings. While purchases of the precious metal by Russia jumped last year the country continued getting rid of US Treasury securities. Earlier this month, Russia’s Central Bank reported that it cut the share of the US dollar in the country’s foreign reserves to a historic low, transferring nearly $100 billion into the euro, the Japanese yen and the Chinese yuan. The step came as a part of a broader state policy on eliminating reliance on the greenback. According to sources, the Central Bank has been purchasing a significant portion of Russia’s domestic gold production, which is also rising.

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As the EU promotes Roundup, this court has the only right attitude, referring to “a precautionary principle in French law.” All GMO crops should be banned because of that principle. The risks are too great, and there’s likely no way back. You can’t put the onus of proof on society at large, Monsanto will have to prove there is no risk or damage at all, not the other way around. Nassim Taleb is the only person I’ve seen who also says this as the most important thing concerning GMO.

French Court Cites Precautionary Principle To Cancel Monsanto Permit (R.)

A French court canceled the license for one of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers on Tuesday over safety concerns, placing an immediate ban on Roundup Pro 360 in the latest legal blow to the Bayer-owned business. Germany’s Bayer, which bought Monsanto for $63 billion last year, faces thousands of U.S. lawsuits by people who say its Roundup and Ranger Pro products caused their cancer. A court in Lyon in southeast France ruled that the approval granted by French environment agency ANSES in 2017 for Roundup Pro 360 had failed to take into account potential health risks. Bayer, which said it disagreed with the decision and was considering its legal options, has cited regulatory rulings as well as scientific studies that found glyphosate to be safe.

The firm is appealing a first U.S. court ruling that awarded $78 million in damages to a school groundskeeper from California. “Bayer disagrees with the decision taken by the Administrative Court of Lyon to cancel the marketing authorization for RoundUp Pro 360,” it said in a statement. “This product formulation, like all crop protection products, has been subject to a strict evaluation by the French authorities (ANSES), an independent body and guarantor of the public health security.” The French court said ANSES had not respected a precautionary principle in French law, notably by not conducting a specific evaluation of health risks for Roundup Pro 360.

“Despite the European Union’s approval of the active substance (glyphosate), the court considered that scientific studies and animal experiments showed Roundup Pro 360 … is a potentially carcinogenic product for humans, suspected of being toxic for human reproduction and for aquatic organisms,” the court said in a summary of its ruling. ANSES said it was still examining the court ruling, but that the decision was effective immediately. “As a consequence, the sale, distribution and use of RoundUp Pro 360 are banned as of today,” the agency said in an email.

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