Mar 122019
 
 March 12, 2019  Posted by at 10:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Robert Rauschenberg Buffalo II 1964

 

Theresa May Claims ‘Legally Binding’ Changes To Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Legal Uncertainty Hangs Over Brexit Vote (EUO)
May Tries To Claim Victory – But The EU Has Conceded Next To Nothing (G.)
Britain Must Leave EU By May 23 Or Hold Own EU Vote (R.)
Former Australian PM Calls Brexit Trade Plan ‘Utter Bollocks’ (G.)
Mueller Probe Already Financed Through September: Officials (R.)
Marco Rubio Accuses CNN Of ‘Russian Collusion’ (RT)
Manafort To Jail – Not About Justice; Not About Russia (Ron Paul)
News Corp’s Australian Arm Calls For Google Breakup (R.)
Facebook Removes Warren Ads Calling For Facebook Breakup (Pol.)
Facebook Bans Zero Hedge (ZH)
Biden on the Relaunch Pad: He’s Worse Than You Thought (CP)
Ides and Tides (Jim Kunstler)
Synthetic Chemicals Use Doubled In 20 Years, Will Double Again In Next 10 (G.)

 

 

Trying to patch together an idea of what was decided. It all appears vacuous. May assures Britain that the EU can’t make the backstop permanent, but 1) it can, and 2) it never wanted to, provided Ireland is taken care of properly. I can’t get rid of the notion that the UK can’t get rid of the notion that Ireland is a second-class country.

Biggest ‘gain’ for May: the UK can unilaterally declare that it believes it can unilaterally halt the backstop.

Today will be all lawyers trying to translate the hollow terms into legalese, but I haven’t found anything that could convince anyone anything has changed since two days ago. Maybe she’ll swing a handful votes, but she lost by 203 last time around.

 

WSJ: “The EU offered a new legal instrument that would allow the U.K. to seek independent arbitration if it believed the EU was not negotiating a new trade agreement in good faith. If the U.K. claim were upheld and the EU continued to drag its feet, the U.K. could be freed from the customs arrangement. The EU also offered a legally binding pledge to work quickly on a future trade agreement to ensure that the backstop is temporary. The two sides also agreed that the U.K. would set out its own interpretation of the deal, which would state that the U.K. believes it has the option to bring the customs union arrangement to an end.”

Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter: “The Prime Minister’s negotiations have failed. Last night’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised Parliament, and whipped her MPs to vote for.”

Green Party’s Molly Scott Cato on Twitter: “I’ve never before seen a prime minister deliberately try to mislead her own Parliament. There have been no legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement. This is action worthy of an autocratic leader from a banana republic not the leader of a democratic country.”

Theresa May Claims ‘Legally Binding’ Changes To Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May claims to have secured significant changes to her Brexit deal in a last-minute dash to Europe just hours before she must put her plan to a critical vote in parliament. In a late night statement on Monday in Strasbourg she argued the new-look deal meant Britain could not be trapped in the “Irish backstop” so hated by Eurosceptic Tories and her DUP allies, but major doubts remain over whether it is enough to win their backing on Tuesday. The prime minister’s deputy David Lidington warned that if her deal is rejected for a second time by MPs it will “plunge the country into a political crisis”. European leaders warned there would be no “third chance”, but Conservative Brexiteers insisted there are still “very worrying features” to the agreement, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “MPs must reject this deal tomorrow”.

The announcement came after another dramatic day in Westminster on Monday, which began with talk of Ms May potentially delaying Tuesday’s vote on her deal after a seemingly fruitless weekend of talks. But speaking an hour before midnight, she said: “MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop. Today we have secured legal changes. “Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.” The backstop is an arrangement in the existing withdrawal agreement that comes into play if the EU and UK fail to agree future trading arrangements by the end of 2020, thus keeping the Irish border open, but also locking the UK into a customs union with the EU on a potentially indefinite basis.

[..] In a commons statement Mr Lidington revealed that the UK had secured two new documents, a “joint legally binding instrument on the withdrawal agreement” and a “joint statement to supplement the political declaration” on future relations. There is also a third element – a unilateral declaration from the UK setting out what actions it would take if it felt the backstop is being abused by the EU. Mr Lidington said the new legal “instrument” confirmed that the EU could not try to trap the UK in the backstop indefinitely, because commitments they had made to not do so were now legally binding.

Read more …

It often takes going through several articles to get a rounded picture.

Legal Uncertainty Hangs Over Brexit Vote (EUO)

Uncertainty continued to hang over Tuesday night’s (12 March) big vote on Brexit in the UK parliament, as British MPs tried to make sense of last-minute tweaks to the exit deal. The opposition Labour party indicated it would vote against the accord. “This evening’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes [British prime minister] Theresa May promised parliament and whipped her MPs to vote for,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday. “It sounds again that nothing has changed,” his shadow Brexit minister, Keir Starmer said. Two MPs from May’s ruling Conservative party said the same. “Seems UK is still permanently locked into the EU, but can ‘argue’ it can leave. The catch? EU decides if we can leave,” Adam Afriyie said.

“We’re being played,” Sam Gyimah, a former Tory minister said. Nigel Farage, the EU-phobic British MEP for the UK Independence Party, was the most outspoken. “Nothing has changed. Reject. Reject. Reject,” he said. Meanwhile, the so-called Independent Group of ex-Labour and ex-Tory MPs said Brexit ought to be delayed in order to hold a second referendum. Dominic Grieve, Britain’s former attorney general, echoed their position. “The proper thing to do is to put it back to the public in a people’s vote, in a second referendum,” he said on Monday. Afriyie’s comment on being “locked into the EU” referred to the so-called ‘backstop’ – the previous deal that the UK would remain in the EU customs union until it found a mutually acceptable way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The backstop prompted a historic majority of 230 MPs to reject the withdrawal deal in January, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March. But EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and British prime minister Theresa May agreed three new documents at a meeting in Strasbourg, France, late on Monday designed to assuage those fears. The first one said the UK could start a dispute in an arbitration court to quit the backstop if the EU did not want to let it out. The second one said the EU and UK would try to find alternative arrangements to the backstop by the end of 2020. The third one was a unilateral British declaration in which the UK said it could quit the backstop if the talks on alternative arrangements broke down.

Both May and Juncker were emphatic in saying that the tweaks gave the UK the “legally binding” guarantees it needed to avoid being locked in to EU customs rules. “It [the backstop] would never be a trap, if either side were to act in bad faith, there is a legal way for either side to exit,” Juncker said.

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Jonathan Freedland is a bit of a douche, I avoid him mostly. But he makes some points here.

May Tries To Claim Victory – But The EU Has Conceded Next To Nothing (G.)

Think of what the ERG and the Democratic Unionists object to about the key stumbling block: the Northern Irish backstop, the insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. They don’t like the fact that it has no time limit, that it could, theoretically, go on forever. And yet the best that May’s new motion laid before parliament could say is that the new legally binding joint instrument “reduces the risk that the UK could be held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely”. “Reduces the risk” is not the same as “eliminates the risk” – and it’s that that many of those Brexiters wanted to hear. (Put aside the fact that it was always an unrealistic demand: you could say the same about the entire case for Brexit.)

A second demand of the Brexiters, one bizarrely endorsed in January by May herself and a majority of the Commons, was that the backstop be replaced by “alternative arrangements.” Gamely, May tried to pretend that she’d won an EU concession on that too, and that those alternative arrangements will be in place by December 2020. As indeed they will – if they exist by then. But for now, the technological wizardry so great that it would render the backstop redundant does not exist. And so this was another hollow victory.

Finally, the Brexit crowd wanted the UK to have the unilateral right to exit the backstop whenever it liked. May did indeed get something unilateral – the right to issue her own unilateral declaration, in which she could freely state that “it is the position of the United Kingdom that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop.” This is rather like my son winning the right to declare that it is his position that he should get more pocket money. It doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to give him more pocket money. The clue is in the word “unilateral.” The EU is not bound by this UK declaration and has, in fact, conceded nothing.

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Anyone checked what the bookmakers say on the date? UK elections for the EU Parliament would be hilarious.

Britain Must Leave EU By May 23 Or Hold Own EU Vote (R.)

Britain must leave the European Union by the time EU voters elect a new European Parliament on May 23-26 or will have to elect its own EU lawmakers, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Monday. Writing to EU summit chair Donald Tusk after agreeing a deal to break Brexit deadlock with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Juncker wrote: “The United Kingdom’s withdrawal should be complete before the European elections that will take place between May 23-26 this year.” “If the United Kingdom has not left the European Union by then, it will be legally required to hold these elections.”

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Seems obvious.

Former Australian PM Calls Brexit Trade Plan ‘Utter Bollocks’ (G.)

The claims that British trade with the Commonwealth can make up for leaving the EU is “the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments” advanced by Brexit supporters and “utter bollocks”, the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has said. In a lacerating piece for the Guardian, Rudd dismissed the claims by some Brexit supporters that the UK could strike deals with his country, New Zealand, Canada and India to soften the blow and said the UK risked undermining western values by leaving the EU in a weaker position when it left.

“I’m struck, as the British parliament moves towards the endgame on Brexit, with the number of times Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India have been advanced by the Brexiteers in the public debate as magical alternatives to Britain’s current trade and investment relationship with the European Union,” he wrote. “This is the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments that have emerged from the Land of Hope and Glory set now masquerading as the authentic standard-bearers of British patriotism. It’s utter bollocks.” Of the prospect of a free trade deal with Delhi, he writes: “As for India, good luck!”

[..] he cast serious doubt on suggestions the UK could quickly come to a free trade agreement (FTA) with India, pointing out that talks he began with the nation on behalf of Australia a decade ago are still going on. “A substantive India-UK FTA is the ultimate mirage constructed by the Brexiteers. It’s as credible as the ad they plastered on the side of that big red bus about the £350m Britain was allegedly paying to Brussels each week. Not.”

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Have a nice summer.

Mueller Probe Already Financed Through September: Officials (R.)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the team he assembled to investigate U.S. President Donald Trump and his associates have been funded through the end of September 2019, three U.S. officials said on Monday, an indication that the probe has funding to keep it going for months if need be. The operations and funding of Mueller’s office were not addressed in the budget requests for the next government fiscal year issued by the White House and Justice Department on Monday because Mueller’s office is financed by the U.S. Treasury under special regulations issued by the Justice Department, the officials said. “The Special Counsel is funded by the Independent Counsel appropriation, a permanent indefinite appropriation established in the Department’s 1988 Appropriations Act,” a Justice Department spokesman said.

There has been increased speculation in recent weeks that Mueller’s team is close to winding up its work and is likely to deliver a report summarizing its findings to Attorney General William Barr any day or week now. Mueller’s office has not commented on the news reports suggesting an imminent release. Representatives of key congressional committees involved in Trump-related investigations say they have received no guidance from Mueller’s office regarding his investigation’s progress or future plans. The probe, which began in May 2017, is examining whether there were any links or coordination between the Russian government led by Vladimir Putin and the 2016 presidential campaign of Trump, according to an order signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

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Little Marco lost so bigly in 2016, why’s he still around? Court jester? Or is he going for McCain’s place as warmonger in chief?

Marco Rubio Accuses CNN Of ‘Russian Collusion’ (RT)

Senator Marco Rubio, the most outspoken cheerleader of US regime change in Venezuela, lashed out at several major outlets for not using his preferred terminology, going so far as to accuse CNN of ‘Russian collusion.’ “In order to undermine the constitutional basis for [Juan Guaido’s] interim Presidency [sic], Putin’s Russia repeatedly describes him as the ‘self-proclaimed’ president of Venezuela. And so does CNN,” Rubio (R-Florida) tweeted on Wednesday, adding, “Russian collusion?” It was the latest in a string of tweets by the senator whom President Donald Trump is, for some unknown reason, allowing to drive US foreign policy on Latin America.

On Tuesday, Rubio targeted the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal for their coverage of Guaido, this time objecting to their use of the term “opposition leader.” Rubio’s badgering of the media came shortly after State Department spokesman Robert Palladino tried to do the same thing with diplomatic correspondents in Foggy Bottom. Referring to Guaido as anything other than “interim president” was feeding “the narrative of a dictator who has usurped the position of the presidency and led Venezuela into the humanitarian, political, and economic crisis that exists today,” Palladino argued.

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CNN and Manafort, both. And neither.

Manafort To Jail – Not About Justice; Not About Russia (Ron Paul)

Former Trump campaign official Paul Manafort has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison for acting as an unregistered agent for Ukraine. But looking at the media coverage of the case one would never know that “taking down” Manafort was not all about Russia collusion. Reporting…or propaganda?

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Have they asked the CIA? Has Elizabeth Warren?

News Corp’s Australian Arm Calls For Google Breakup (R.)

The Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp called for an enforced break-up of Alphabet Inc’s Google, acknowledging the measure would involve global coordination but calling it necessary to preserve advertising and the news media. The demand, published on Tuesday as part of a government inquiry, goes beyond the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which crossed swords with Google by requesting a new regulatory body to oversee global tech operators. In an 80-page submission largely centered on Google, News Corp Australia said the U.S. company had created an “ecosystem” where it could control the results of people’s internet searches and then charge advertisers based on how many people viewed their advertisements.

Efforts to curtail Google’s market dominance around the world had failed because of the search engine operator’s record of “avoiding and undermining regulatory initiatives and ignoring private contractual arrangements”. When Google had agreed to change its methods in response to investigation or new regulations in other countries, it often soon replaced the conduct with new methods which had the same effect: directing traffic and sales to its own sites and hurting competition. Calling Google’s behavior “anti-competitive”, News Corp accused the Mountain View, California-based internet company of damaging publishers’ ability to generate revenue and ultimately the sustainability of the news industry.

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And restores them again. But what nincompoop did that? Does (s)he still have a job today?

Facebook Removes Warren Ads Calling For Facebook Breakup (Pol.)

Facebook removed several ads placed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign that called for the breakup of Facebook and other tech giants. But the social network later reversed course after POLITICO reported on the takedown, with the company saying it wanted to allow for “robust debate.” The ads, which had identical images and text, touted Warren’s recently announced plan to unwind “anti-competitive” tech mergers, including Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram. “Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy. Facebook, Amazon, and Google,” read the ads, which Warren’s campaign had placed Friday. “We all use them. But in their rise to power, they’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field in their favor.”

A message on the three ads said: “This ad was taken down because it goes against Facebook’s advertising policies.” A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the ads had been taken down but said the company is in the process of restoring them. “We removed the ads because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo,” the spokesperson said. “In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads.” Warren swiped at Facebook over the removal, citing it as evidence the company has grown too powerful. “Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power,” she tweeted. “Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor.”

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How long’s it been, 3-4 years?!, that Facebook blocked the Automatic Earth account? Still waiting for an explanation.

Facebook Bans Zero Hedge (ZH)

Over the weekend, we were surprised to learn that some readers were prevented by Facebook when attempting to share Zero Hedge articles. Subsequently it emerged that virtually every attempt to share or merely mention an article, including in private messages, would be actively blocked by the world’s largest social network, with the explanation that “the link you tried to visit goes against our community standards.” We were especially surprised by this action as neither prior to this seemingly arbitrary act of censorship, nor since, were we contacted by Facebook with an explanation of what “community standard” had been violated or what particular filter or article had triggered the blanket rejection of all Zero Hedge content.

To be sure, as a for-profit enterprise with its own unique set of corporate “ethics”, Facebook has every right to impose whatever filters it desires on the media shared on its platform. It is entirely possible that one or more posts was flagged by Facebook’s “triggered” readers who merely alerted a censorship algo which blocked all content. Alternatively, it is just as possible that Facebook simply decided to no longer allow its users to share our content in retaliation for our extensive coverage of what some have dubbed the platform’s “many problems”, including chronic privacy violations, mass abandonment by younger users, its gross and ongoing misrepresentation of fake users, ironically – in retrospect – its systematic censorship and back door government cooperation (those are just links from the past few weeks).

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The Democrats are killing their chances if they go with the old crowd. But then, they are controlled by that crowd.

Biden on the Relaunch Pad: He’s Worse Than You Thought (CP)

When the New York Times front-paged its latest anti-left polemic masquerading as a news article, the March 9 piece declared: “Should former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. enter the race, as his top advisers vow he soon will, he would have the best immediate shot at the moderate mantle.” On the verge of relaunching, Joe Biden is poised to come to the rescue of the corporate political establishment — at a time when, in the words of the Times, “the sharp left turn in the Democratic Party and the rise of progressive presidential candidates are unnerving moderate Democrats.” After 36 years in the Senate and eight as vice president, Biden is by far the most seasoned servant of corporate power with a prayer of becoming the next president.

When Biden read this paragraph in a recent Politico article, his ears must have been burning: “Early support from deep-pocketed financial executives could give Democrats seeking to break out of the pack an important fundraising boost. But any association with bankers also opens presidential hopefuls to sharp attacks from an ascendant left.” The direct prey of Biden’s five-decade “association with bankers” include millions of current and former college students now struggling under avalanches of debt; they can thank Biden for his prodigious services to the lending industry. Andrew Cockburn identifies an array of victims in his devastating profile of Biden in the March issue of Harper’s magazine. For instance:

• “Biden was long a willing foot soldier in the campaign to emasculate laws allowing debtors relief from loans they cannot repay. As far back as 1978, he helped negotiate a deal rolling back bankruptcy protections for graduates with federal student loans, and in 1984 worked to do the same for borrowers with loans for vocational schools.” • “Even when the ostensible objective lay elsewhere, such as drug-related crime, Biden did not forget his banker friends. Thus the 1990 Crime Control Act, with Biden as chief sponsor, further limited debtors’ ability to take advantage of bankruptcy protections.” • Biden worked diligently to strengthen the hand of credit-card firms against consumers. At the same time, “the credit card giant MBNA was Biden’s largest contributor for much of his Senate career, while also employing his son Hunter as an executive and, later, as a well-remunerated consultant.”

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“..you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse..”

Ides and Tides (Jim Kunstler)

What you really had to love was Mr. Powell’s explanation for the record number of car owners in default on their monthly payments: “…not everybody is sharing in this widespread prosperity we have.” Errrgghh Errrgghh Errrgghh. Sound of klaxon wailing. What he meant to say was, hedge-funders, private equity hustlers, and C-suite personnel are making out just fine as the asset-stripping of flyover America proceeds, and you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse (where, by the way, you are probably stealing half the oven-ready chicken nuggets in inventory).

Interlocutor Scott Pelley asked the oracle about “those half-a-million people who have given up looking for jobs.” Did he pull that number out of his shorts? The total number out of the workforce is more like 95 million, and when you subtract retirees, people still in school, and the disabled, the figure is more like 7.5 million. There was some blather over the “opioid epidemic,” the upshot of which was learn to code, young man. Personally, I was about as impressed as I was ten years ago when past oracle Ben Bernanke confidently explained to congress that the disturbances in Mortgage-land were “contained.”

David Leonhardt of The New York Times had a real howler in his Monday column on the state of the economy: “Americans are saving more and spending less partly because the rich now take home so much of the economy’s income — and the rich don’t spend as large a share of their income as the poor and middle class.” Suggestion to Mr. Leonhardt: Learn to code.

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Our chances of survival drop by the minute.

It’s Daly-Townsend’s take on the 2nd law of Thermodynamics: “No organism can survive in a medium of its own waste. “

The reason is that an organism’s waste is toxic to that organism.

If they don’t teach that in schools, why bother to attend?

Synthetic Chemicals Use Doubled In 20 Years, Will Double Again In Next 10 (G.)

Sales of synthetic chemicals will double over the next 12 years with alarming implications for health and the environment, according to a global study that highlights government failures to rein in the industry behind plastics, pesticides and cosmetics. The second Global Chemicals Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Monday, said the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020. In fact, the study by the United Nations Environment Programme found that the industry has never been more dominant nor has humanity’s dependence on chemicals ever been as great.

“When you consider existing pollution, plus the projected growth of the industry, the trends are a cause for significant concern,” said Achim Halpaap, who led the 400 scientists involved in the study. He said the fastest growth was in construction materials, electronics, textiles and lead batteries. More and more additives are also being used to make plastics smoother or more durable. Depending on the chemical and degree of exposure, the risks can include cancer, chronic kidney disease and congenital anomalies. The World Health Organization estimated that the burden of disease was 1.6 million lives in 2016. Halpaap said this was likely to be an underestimate.

In addition to the human health dangers, he said chemicals also affect pollinators and coral reefs. Global chemical production has almost doubled since 2000 and is now – if the pharmaceutical business is taken into account – the world’s second largest industry, the report noted. This is expected to continue for at least the next decade owing to massive increases in the expanding economies of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. By 2030, the industry is projected to almost double again from 2017 levels to hit $6.6tn (£5tn) in sales; China is forecast to account for 49.9% of the world market.

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Jan 122019
 
 January 12, 2019  Posted by at 10:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Landscape 1920

 

FBI Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working For Russia (NYT)
Democratic Elites Reunite With Neocons (Greenwald)
Exasperated Democrats Try To Rein In Ocasio-Cortez (Pol.)
Fed Paid Banks $38.5 Billion in Interest on “Reserves” in 2018 (WS)
Fed Balance Sheet and Currency In Circulation (WS)
Retailers Are Slashing iPhone Prices Across China (CNBC)
Apple Plans To Launch Three New iPhones This Year (CNBC)
Unclear How Deep, Lasting Germany’s Economic Problems Are: ECB’s Nowotny (R.)
France Vows Tough Response As New ‘Yellow Vest’ Demos Loom (AFP)
Google Sued For Covering Up $90m Payout To Ex-Exec Accused Of Sexcrimes (AFP)
My Walk To Work Shows Me How Homelessness Is Transforming Britain (G.)

 

 

Trump fired Comey, and Comey’s friends opened an inquiry.

Trump called Russiagate a made-up story, and that was reason for the FBI to open an inquiry into Russiagate.

Outlets like the NYTimes look increasingly like Faust, who sold his soul to the devil for short-term gains.

FBI Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working For Russia (NYT)

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation. The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice. Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.

[..] The second event that troubled investigators was an NBC News interview two days after Mr. Comey’s firing in which Mr. Trump appeared to say he had dismissed Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry. “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

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A remarkable turnaround. The peaceniks have turned into warmongers.

Democratic Elites Reunite With Neocons (Greenwald)

[..] what is remarkable about the new polling data on Syria is that the vast bulk of support for keeping troops there comes from Democratic Party voters, while Republicans and independents overwhelming favor their removal. The numbers are stark: Of people who voted for Clinton in 2016, only 26 percent support withdrawing troops from Syria, while 59 percent oppose it. Trump voters overwhelmingly support withdraw by 76 percent to 14 percent. A similar gap is seen among those who voted Democrat in the 2018 midterm elections (28 percent support withdrawal while 54 percent oppose it), as opposed to the widespread support for withdrawal among 2018 GOP voters: 74 percent to 18 percent.

Identical trends can be seen on the question of Trump’s announced intention to withdraw half of the U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, where Democrats are far more supportive of keeping troops there than Republicans and independents. This case is even more stark since Obama ran in 2008 on a pledge to end the war in Afghanistan and bring all troops home. Throughout the Obama years, polling data consistently showed that huge majorities of Democrats favored a withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.

With Trump rather than Obama now advocating troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, all of this has changed. The new polling data shows far more support for troop withdrawal among Republicans and independents, while Democrats are now split or even opposed. Among 2016 Trump voters, there is massive support for withdrawal: 81 percent to 11 percent; Clinton voters, however, oppose the removal of troops from Afghanistan by a margin of 37 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.

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They don’t understand AOC anymore then they understood Trump.

Exasperated Democrats Try To Rein In Ocasio-Cortez (Pol.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already making enemies in the House Democratic Caucus — and some of its members are mounting an operation to bring the anti-establishment, democratic socialist with 2.2 million Twitter followers into the fold. The effort, described by nearly 20 lawmakers and aides, is part carrot, part stick: Some lawmakers with ties to Ocasio-Cortez are hoping to coax her into using her star power to unite Democrats and turn her fire on Republicans. Others simultaneously warn Ocasio-Cortez is destined for a lonely, ineffectual career in Congress if she continues to treat her own party as the enemy.

“I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “We just don’t need sniping in our Democratic Caucus.” Incumbent Democrats are most annoyed by Ocasio-Cortez’s threat to back primary opponents against members of their ranks she deems too moderate. But their frustration goes beyond that: Democratic leaders are upset that she railed against their new set of House rules on Twitter the first week of the new Congress. Rank and file are peeved that there’s a grassroots movement to try to win her a top committee post they feel she doesn’t deserve.

Even some progressives who admire AOC, as she’s nicknamed, told POLITICO that they worry she’s not using her notoriety effectively. “She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?” said one House Democrat who’s in lockstep with Ocasio Cortez’s ideology. “There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress.” It’s an open question whether Ocasio-Cortez can be checked. She’s barely been in Congress a week and is better known than almost any other House member other than Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis. A media throng follows her every move, and she can command a national audience practically at will.

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Yes, we want fewer reserves, but don’t worry, we’ll just pay you more interest on what remains, so you’re fine.

Fed Paid Banks $38.5 Billion in Interest on “Reserves” in 2018 (WS)

The Fed reported its preliminary results this morning for the year 2018. The headline is that it sent $65.4 billion of its profits to the US Treasury Department in 2018, and that this amount had plunged by 18.5% from the remittances, as they’re called, in 2017, and by 44.1% from the peak of $117 billion in 2015. The Fed earns interest income on the huge pile of securities it holds. After covering operating expenses, interest expenses, and some other items, it is required to remit the rest to the Treasury Department – to the taxpayer. Therefore, the amounts in interest expense the Fed pays the banks on their “Excess Reserves” and “Required Reserves” comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket and its transferred to the banks to become bank profits, and thereby bank executive bonuses and stock holder dividends, funded by the dear taxpayers. And this amount was huge in 2018: $38.5 billion!

The $38.5 billion: This is what the Fed paid US banks and foreign banks in the US on their Excess Reserves and Required Reserves on deposit at the Fed. • Required Reserves are the amounts that banks have to keep on deposit at the Fed for liquidity purposes. This is relatively small, $192 billion at year-end, and was roughly flat in 2018. • Excess Reserves are the amounts that banks voluntarily deposit at the Fed to earn risk-free income. The amount peaked in September 2014 at $2.7 trillion and has since fallen to $1.5 trillion. Of that $1.2 trillion drop, $510 billion occurred in 2018.

The interest rate that the Fed paid on both types of reserves was 1.5% at the beginning of 2018, and was raised four times with each rate hike during the year, but less than the 1/4-point hikes of the Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate. At its December meeting, the Fed raised this rate to 2.4%. So the balances of Excess Reserves have plunged, and the interest rate the Fed pays on those reserve balances has jumped. Both factors combined caused the Fed to pay a record $38.5 billion to US banks and foreign banks in the US.

Here is the sordid history of this annual wealth transfer from taxpayers to the banks via the Fed:

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Wolf Richter has much more on this topic in the article, I just wanted to point out that, counterintuitively perhaps, the amount of US currency in circulation has surged. To the mattresses!

Fed Balance Sheet and Currency In Circulation (WS)

The Fed’s balance sheet would be “substantially smaller” after the Fed gets done with its QE unwind, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said on Thursday. [..] “Don’t know the exact level. That would depend really on the public’s appetite for our liabilities, specifically currency. To us, that’s a liability. And the public has a large appetite for currency….” “So it will be substantially smaller than it is now,” he said. “But nowhere near what it was before, and the reason is, currency was well less than $1 trillion before quantitative easing started and now is moving up toward $2 trillion.” The line item on the Fed’s balance sheet called “currency in circulation” is composed of Federal Reserve Notes – as it says on the wrinkled and thinning wad of twenties in my pocket — and coins. In other words, hard cash.

And as Powell pointed out, this is a liability on the Fed’s balance sheet, not an asset. The Treasury Department produces the bills and coins. But the Fed manages the amounts in circulation via the banking system. Currency in circulation grows when there is a lot of demand for paper-dollar cash. There must always be enough paper-dollars in the banking system to satisfy the demand by customers for the physical dollars. And as Powell pointed out, “the public has a large appetite for currency.” This demand for dollars is on a global basis. People globally are hoarding this stuff, and some countries use it as their primary currency, or as an alternate currency alongside their own trashed currency. When the Financial Crisis set in, folks started hoarding more of it, and demand increased at a steeper rate. This chart shows currency in circulation. The amount more than doubled from $830 billion in February 2008 to $1.72 trillion now:

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$2000 for a phone. Get real. It’s a dead business model.

Retailers Are Slashing iPhone Prices Across China (CNBC)

Apple’s latest iPhone models are facing huge discounts in China as retailers try to sell the struggling devices. That comes as the top-of-the-line Apple smartphones have posted poor China sales on what experts say are too-high prices for the world’s largest smartphone market and a lack of innovative features compared to local competitors like Huawei. The technology giant itself acknowledged earlier this month that unexpectedly low sales in the Chinese market would likely lead to worse-than-anticipated first quarter revenues. One of the most recent iPhone cost cuts in the country came from Suning, a large Chinese retailer, which changed the price of the 128GB version of the iPhone XR from 6,999 yuan ($1,036) to 5,799 yuan ($858) — a 1,200 yuan ($178) discount.

Other third-party sellers on the site had the devices for even cheaper, offering flash sales to try to unload iPhones.[..] Apple’s issues in China are down to two major factors, experts and local consumers say: It got its pricing wrong, and it has failed to introduce features to excite consumers in a forward-thinking technology market. Now, analysts said, competitors have taken market share in the premium smartphone space. In a public letter released on Jan. 2, Apple CEO Tim Cook blamed the slowing Chinese economy and rising trade tensions with the U.S. as one of the key reasons for lowering first quarter sales guidance. Experts, however, told CNBC that much of the iPhone’s China problem comes down to the company setting the wrong prices.

[..] “The trade war is background noise and more of a scapegoat excuse with the real issues being iPhone XR demand and a mispriced product in a competitive Chinese market,” Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities, told CNBC by email. “It’s time for Cook and Apple to look in the mirror, take their medicine around pricing and execution and move forward with the biggest installed base in the world to turn this ship around from this dark chapter in Cupertino,” he added.

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Of course, when your new phones don’t sell, you launch more new phones. Now with 3 cameras. Where’s Steve Jobs?

Apple Plans To Launch Three New iPhones This Year (CNBC)

Apple plans to unveil three new iPhone models this year, including a successor to the XR, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The tech giant’s new phones will include new camera features, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the situation. The higher-end model will be fitted with a triple rear camera, while the lower-end models will have a double rear camera, the report said. One will feature a liquid-crystal display, the display that Apple’s lower-end iPhone XR model comes with. The XR has reportedly struggled to win over Chinese consumers. Apple recently lowered its revenue guidance for the first quarter, alarming investors, and cited lower-than-expected iPhone revenue “primarily in Greater China” as one of the main reasons behind its warning.

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Yeah, they’re not selling enough cars, i.e. they don’t create enough pollution: “What I find particularly unsettling are psychological factors. The whole diesel discussion, combined with the problems in the auto industry, increases uncertainty..”

Unclear How Deep, Lasting Germany’s Economic Problems Are: ECB’s Nowotny (R.)

It is unclear if Germany’s recent economic setbacks are a one-off or a more lasting phenomenon caused by structural problems, particularly in its car industry, European Central Bank policymaker Ewald Nowotny said in remarks published on Saturday. Struggling to adjust to new emission testing standards, Germany’s car manufacturing contracted in the third quarter, dragging overall economic growth into negative territory and raising fears that Europe’s five-year-old growth run may be coming to a premature end. The Bundesbank said in a monthly economic report last month that Germany’s dominant car industry may take longer than previously thought to recover from a slump, weighing on growth in the euro zone’s biggest economy.

“The most important economic question for Europe is whether these are one-off slowdowns or whether structural factors are behind them,” ECB’s Governing Council member Nowotny said in an interview with Austrian newspaper Der Standard, discussing the prospect of a second quarter of negative growth in Germany. “The fear is that particularly in the auto industry we have lasting changes that affect Germany especially,” said Nowotny, who is also governor of the Austrian National Bank. The Bundesbank said in its report last month that while a quick rebound in the auto sector had been forecast, fresh data was disappointing those hopes.

It added that the slump was exacerbated by an overall deterioration in sentiment as well as uncertainty over the future of diesel cars as cities contemplate bans to reduce pollution. “What I find particularly unsettling are psychological factors. The whole diesel discussion, combined with the problems in the auto industry, increases uncertainty,” Nowotny said. “If people defer the purchase of a car by just half a year, that causes a vast fall in demand. There would be lasting and dramatic consequences if there were real structural collapses in the export- and machinery-oriented economy. Germany could become vulnerable,” he said.

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Macron et al are clueless. They keep trying to separate the protesters from the ‘real French’, but they’re the same people.

France Vows Tough Response As New ‘Yellow Vest’ Demos Loom (AFP)

France braced for a fresh round of “yellow vest” protests across the country on Saturday, with the authorities vowing zero tolerance for violence after weekly scenes of rioting and vandalism in Paris and other cities over the past two months. [..] “Those who are calling to demonstrate tomorrow know there will be violence, and therefore they are in part responsible,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a Facebook interview Friday with Brut, a digital news site favoured by many yellow vests. “Those who think that, a few thousand people, can make us question our institutions, are wrong,” Castaner added later Friday.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who has presented her party as the longstanding expression of many yellow vest demands, condemned the government’s reaction as “disturbing”. “To accuse all protesters of ‘complicity’ with the thugs: here is a new verbal provocation and legal ineptitude waiting to undermine our rule of law,” she wrote on Twitter. [..] Macron has called for a national debate on voters’ grievances, beginning next week, hoping to sate demands for more of a say in national law-making and tamp down the protesters’ anger. But the process risks being hobbled by record levels of distrust towards politicians and representatives of the state.

A poll by the respected Cevipof political sciences institute released Friday showed 77 percent of respondents thought politicians inspired “distrust”, “disgust” or “boredom”. And it’s uncertain if the public consultations will be enough, with many protesters calling for Macron’s resignation or an immediate referendum on his presidency. “I had some hope with this ‘great debate’, but it’s not looking good because they don’t want to talk about taxes, and they’re the ones who are deciding the subjects,” said Patrick Lerest, a 62-year-old protester in Nemours, southeast of Paris. “I want us to have a real debate,” he said.

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Damning no matter the outcome of the suit. Do no evil. Where is #MeToo?

Google Sued For Covering Up $90m Payout To Ex-Exec Accused Of Sexcrimes (AFP)

Google’s board of directors is being sued for approving a $90m (£70m) payout to a former executive and covering up allegations including that he forced a female employee to perform oral sex. The lawsuit, brought by shareholder James Martin, claims directors made the payment to stop details of the allegations becoming public. It also cites examples of alleged sexual misconduct by other former employees which Google directors kept private. Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin allowed Mr Rubin to “quietly resign” even after an internal investigation had found the allegations against him credible, the complaint filed in California alleges.

“The directors’ wrongful conduct allowed the illegal conduct to proliferate and continue,” the complaint states. “As such, members of Alphabet’s board were knowing and direct enablers of the sexual harassment and discrimination.” The lawsuit also cites allegations that while Mr Rubin was at Google he engaged in “human sex trafficking – paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to women to be, in Rubin’s own words, ‘owned’ by him”. Mr Page, Mr Brin and other top executives failed in their duty by allowing harassment to occur at their company, approving excessive severance payments and keeping details of the allegations private, the lawsuit alleges. David Drummond, the chief legal officer of Google’s parent company Alphabet, and investor Ram Shriram are named among others in the court filings.

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Why there’s Brexit.

My Walk To Work Shows Me How Homelessness Is Transforming Britain (G.)

Before Christmas, the housing secretary James Brokenshire insisted that the fact the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010 has nothing to do with Tory policies. Rather, he said, it was due to drug addiction, family breakdown and the number of foreigners. Brokenshire has since rowed back from this palpably ludicrous claim, admitting that Tories “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions”. Anyone who has seen this for themselves – which is to say, everyone who lives in a British city – could have told him that, because what has really changed is not just the number of homeless people, but who these homeless people are.

At Shelter from the Storm, my local shelter, the co-founder Sheila Scott told me last week that, when she started a decade ago, the people who stayed were “town-square drinkers” and foreign itinerants. Now, half the inhabitants have regular jobs and three-quarters are British. Some leave every night at 2am to work at Amazon factories; some are Uber drivers who took out too many loans to buy their car to do their job. Most have been driven out of their properties by private landlords – and you have only to look at Caledonian Road to see the damage such landlords can do. Many of the shopkeepers have been driven out by what one described to me as “deliberately high rents”, their stores turned into expensive flats.

One private landlord, Andrew Panayi, owns 200 properties in the area, and even though he has been fined for renting substandard properties (one tenant called them “worse than prison cells”), he still keeps a tight grip on the street. These landlords exploit the real problem, which is a lack of social housing and the decimation of social services. Scott says councils now send people directly to her, as they have nowhere else to put them. But they will soon have to send them to a new address: Shelter from the Storm is moving, because a property developer has bought the lot they currently stand on; like so many of the people the charity helps, it is being pushed out of the area.

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Dec 012018
 
 December 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers 1887

 

The Bush Dynasty – The Modern Kennedys (BBC)
America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)
Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace (G.)
US Judge Delays Ruling On Comey’s Request To Quash Republican Subpoena (R.)
Deep Quandaries of The Deep State (Kunstler)
US ‘Could Be Entering Cold War With China’ Over Trade – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
Trump-Xi Trade Talks Could Lead To ‘Explosion’ Higher Or A Bear Market (CNBC)
Powell Shouldn’t Follow Greenspan’s Example At Fed – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
Finally, Senate Might Force Trump’s Hand On Yemen (R.)
The Khashoggi Effect: Erdogan Inverts the Paradigm (Crooke)
Google Staff Mulled Burying Conservative Media Deep In ‘Legitimate News’ (RT)

 

 

There was just 7 years of age difference between both Jack Kennedy and George Bush. Not enough to be modern anything. Call them the lesser Kennedys. Over-ambitious sociopath dads. And two military careers.

The Bush Dynasty – The Modern Kennedys (BBC)

George Bush Snr’s death underlines that while the Kennedys still remain the premier US political dynasty, the Bush family can also stake a claim to be up there on the top table. With a grandfather who served in the US Senate, a father and son as former occupants of the White House, and a third member a former state governor, the Republicans have a family to match the Democratic Party. George Herbert Walker Bush was born into a wealthy family, the grandson of a steel industrialist, Samuel Prescott Bush, who was named to a national commission on the economy by President Herbert Hoover.

His father, Prescott Sheldon Bush, was a successful investment banker who became partner at his Wall Street firm, and became the first family member to enter politics. He was elected to the Senate in 1952, where he was a staunch supporter of President Dwight Eisenhower. Prescott’s connections and wealth helped his son, George H W Bush, make a fortune in the oil industry before he entered politics in the 1960s and eventually became the 41st president.

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Thought I’d include this to show you that the Guardian is not just after Assange, and it’s not just Luke Harding writing hit pieces. Here are the editors. They are sort of careful in that they say: what we say is probably not true, but imagine if it were! Wouldn’t that be terrible?!

America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)

Earlier this week Donald Trump stood on the south lawn of the White House and ridiculed Theresa May’s Brexit agreement as a “great deal for the EU”. He is likely to make the same contemptuous case during the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend, although pointedly there is no planned bilateral. Given the political stakes facing her back home, Mrs May must feel as if 14,000 miles is a long way to travel for the weekend merely to be trashed by supposedly her greatest ally. When this happens, though, who does Mrs May imagine is confronting her? Is it just Mr Trump himself, America First president, sworn enemy of the international order in general and the European Union in particular?

That’s a bad enough reality. But might her accuser also be, at some level, Vladimir Putin, a leader whose interest in weakening the EU and breaking Britain from it as damagingly as possible outdoes even that of Mr Trump? That prospect is even worse. Such speculation would normally seem, and still probably is, a step too far. The idea that a US president is in any way doing the Kremlin’s business as well as his own is the stuff of spy thrillers and of John le Carré TV adaptations. Yet the icy fact is that the conspiracy theory may now also contain an element of truth.

[..] Days before he took office in 2017, Mr Trump said that “the closest I came to Russia” was in selling a Florida property to a Russian oligarch in 2008. If Mr Cohen’s statement is true, Mr Trump was telling his country a lie. What is more, the Russians knew it. Potentially, that raises issues of US national security. If Mr Putin knew that Mr Trump was concealing information about his Russian business interests, this could give Moscow leverage over the US leader. Mr Trump might feel constrained to praise Mr Putin or to avoid conflicts with Russia over policy. All this may indeed be very far-fetched. Yet Russia’s activities in the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton and in favour of Mr Trump are not fiction.

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Ok, more Guardian. Note the headline. And realize there never was a deal. Which the article acknowledges of course. Just not in the headline.

Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace (G.)

Donald Trump, drawn deeper into an investigation into Russian meddling in US elections, has defended his pursuit of a business deal in Moscow at the same time he was running for president as “very legal & very cool”. Trump appeared rattled this week after Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, confessed that he lied to Congress about a Russian property contract he pursued on his boss’s behalf during the Republican primary campaign in 2016. The surprise admission cast the president himself as a pivotal figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion for the first time. In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump recalled “happily living my life” as a property developer before running for president after seeing the “Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)”.

Cohen told two congressional committees last year that the talks about the tower project ended in January 2016, a lie he said was an act of loyalty to Trump. In fact, the negotiations continued until June that year, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination, Cohen admitted. Cohen told Mueller’s prosecutors that he briefed Trump on the project more than three times. He also briefed members of Trump’s family, had direct contact with Kremlin representatives and considered traveling to Moscow to discuss it. Trump condemned Cohen after the plea deal was announced, calling him “a weak person” and a liar. As he departed for Buenos Aires, he acknowledged his business dealings with Russia, telling reporters: “It doesn’t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.”

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Comey hopes to make it to 2019 without having that hearing. As Jim Kunstler also figured out, in an open setting Comey could plead something about national security. In a closed setting he could not.

US Judge Delays Ruling On Comey’s Request To Quash Republican Subpoena (R.)

A federal judge on Friday delayed a decision on whether to block U.S. House Republicans from compelling former FBI Director James Comey to testify next week in secret about his actions on investigations leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. Judge Trevor McFadden, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Donald Trump, said he wanted to review the case over the weekend before making a ruling and scheduled a follow-up hearing for Monday at 10 a.m. He also told Comey’s attorney, David Kelley, to submit a follow-up brief to help inform his opinion by Sunday afternoon.

Friday’s hearing came about after Comey’s lawyers this week asked the court to quash a Nov. 21 congressional subpoena ordering him to appear before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee for a closed-door deposition and stay the congressional proceedings. Comey’s lawyer argued his client will only agree to appear if his testimony is public, and on Friday Kelley accused the committee of trying to keep the testimony secret so lawmakers could selectively leak it to peddle partisan narratives. “They want to have unfettered access in a closed session,” Kelley said Friday. “They don’t want all the other members asking questions. They want to zero in and gang up.” Republicans had initially ordered Comey to appear on Monday, but Thomas Hungar, a lawyer for the House, said Friday that Comey’s deposition is now being pushed back to Tuesday.

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“If he were questioned about classified matters in an open session, he would do exactly what he did before in open session: decline to answer about “sensitive” matters on the basis of national security.”

Deep Quandaries of The Deep State (Kunstler)

My guess is that this stuff amounts to a potent weapon against his adversaries and he will wait until Mr. Mueller releases a final report before declassifying it. Then, we’ll have a fine constitutional crisis as the two sides vie for some sort of adjudication. Who, for instance, will adjudicate the monkey business that is already on-the-record involving misdeeds in the Department of Justice itself? Will the DOJ split into two contesting camps, each charging the other? How might that work? Does the Acting Attorney General Mr. Whitaker seek indictments against figures such as Bruce Ohr, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, et al. Will he also rope in intel cowboys John Brennan and James Clapper?

Might Hillary find herself in jeopardy — all the while on the other side Mr. Mueller pursues his targets, characters like Mr. Manafort, Michael Cohen, and the hapless Carter Page? Or might Mr. Mueller, and others, possibly find themselves in trouble, as spearheads of a bad-faith campaign to weaponize government agencies against a sitting president? That might sound outlandish, but the evidence is adding up. In fact the evidence of a Deep State gone rogue is far more compelling than any charges Mr. Mueller has so far produced on Trump-Russia “collusion.” An example of bad faith is former FBI Director James Comey’s current campaign to avoid testifying in closed session before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees — he filed a motion just before Thanksgiving.

Mr. Comey is pretending that an open session would be “transparent.” His claim is mendacious. If he were questioned about classified matters in an open session, he would do exactly what he did before in open session: decline to answer about “sensitive” matters on the basis of national security. He could make no such claims in a closed session. The truth is, his attorneys are trying to run out the clock on the current composition of the house committees, which will come under a Democrat majority in January, so that Mr. Comey can avoid testifying altogether.

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This could last for years.

US ‘Could Be Entering Cold War With China’ Over Trade – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

The U.S. and China could be in the early stages of a Cold War, veteran economist Stephen Roach told CNBC Friday, warning the global trade dispute is likely last for a “long, long time.” His comments come ahead of a high-stakes meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese premier Xi Jinping this week, as world leaders gather at the G-20 summit in Argentina. Simmering trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies are expected to dominate the summit’s agenda, with financial markets closely monitoring the prospect of a potential breakthrough.

“I think the end game is that this is a clash between two systems. And the U.S. is objecting to a state-sponsored ‘market-based socialist system’ that uses the largess of the state to subsidize industrial policy,” Roach, senior fellow at Yale University and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, told CNBC Friday. “Even though, America has had industrial policy for decades but implements it through the military industrial complex orchestrated by the Pentagon. Japan does it, Germany does it, we are making it sound like China is the only one that does it,” he added. “What Mike Pence said is that these are going to be longstanding issues and that raises the possibility — echoed by a speech that (Former U.S. Treasury Secretary) Hank Paulson gave a couple of weeks ago — that we could be entering a Cold War with China that would last for a long, long time,” Roach said Friday.

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Covering all bases.

Trump-Xi Trade Talks Could Lead To ‘Explosion’ Higher Or A Bear Market (CNBC)

Wall Street is convinced a ‘deal’ of sorts will be announced after President Donald Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping Saturday night to discuss the trade war that is creating issues for both nations’ economies. But the potential outcome could be very different than the truce and ceasefire envisioned by many investors. A desirable deal for stocks would be one where all further tariffs are put on hold while the two sides negotiate an agreement. The best case would be if there is even a roll back of some existing tariffs. International stocks would get the biggest boost, especially those traded in China, the rest of Asia, Australia and Germany, where the DAX index is down almost 13 percent this year, said Peter Boockvar, the chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. Shares of product makers like Apple could also benefit.

“While the U.S. market hopefully will benefit, especially the industrial stocks, it’s goods producing stocks that should benefit the most. That would be Apple, specifically,” Boockvar said. “But I think there’s a potential for overseas markets to benefit most since their economies have softened with these tariffs.” Earlier Friday, there was more negative news for the economy in China, where Shanghai stocks are down about 22 percent year-to-date. China reported factory activity slowed in November to a two-year low. Manufacturing PMI was reported at 50, considered neutral, while a number below 50 shows contraction. Analysts see a range of outcomes this weekend — the trigger for either an “explosion to the upside” or a “bear market.” It could also determine whether the stock market ends the year higher or in the red.

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Too much attention for Powell, it’s what you get when you have no markets.

Powell Shouldn’t Follow Greenspan’s Example At Fed – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell would be wrong to copy the playbook of his predecessor Alan Greenspan, according to a Yale lecturer and former Morgan Stanley executive. Powell has been criticized by some market players, as well as by Donald Trump, who believe the central banker risks triggering a U.S. economic contraction by enforcing multiple rate rises next year. In the 1990s, then Fed-chair Greenspan took a watch-and-wait policy, keeping rates low to see if inflation would materialize in the face of a growing economy. At the Federal Reserve’s annual retreat to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August, Powell praised Greenspan’s do-nothing stance as sound risk management.

But Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, told CNBC on Friday that Powell would do well to learn from Greenspan’s mistakes. “The Greenspan ‘put’ supported markets a lot, but he also gave us lots of bubbles and crises that were spawned by those bubbles which I think history does not treat kindly at all,” he said. The veteran economist added that it was not “such a bad thing that Jay Powell is not a clone of Alan Greenspan.” Roach said the change in tone from the Fed chair was not an example of Powell bending to markets, or becoming more like Greenspan, but was more indicative that he was doing a real-time assessment of inflation risks. The economist added that should a trade war slow U.S. or global growth, he would expect the Fed to be far less aggressive on raising rates.

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Well, technically speaking, the Senate would force the Senate’s hand. They were there when Yeman started under Obama, Trump was not. And now they demand he clean up the mess they made?

Finally, Senate Might Force Trump’s Hand On Yemen (R.)

The U.S. Senate voted 63 to 37 on Wednesday to clear the way for a debate and final vote on a resolution to end American military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It’s the first time that an anti-war resolution has advanced in Congress since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen’s civil war in early 2015. The vote, with an unexpectedly wide margin in a Senate typically gridlocked along partisan lines, underscores growing anger over American involvement in a war that is currently the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But the vote, in which 14 Republicans joined all 49 Senate Democrats, was also a rebuke to President Donald Trump for doubling down on his support for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after Saudi agents murdered the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Despite the initial Senate vote, the resolution may not ultimately be approved in its current form. Senators could demand amendments or change their minds before a final vote, and Trump has threatened a veto. Saudi Arabia and its allies are also poised to lobby behind the scenes to curtail the measure. And even if the United States ultimately withdraws its support, the Saudi coalition could continue the war for some time. But the vote was a setback for both Trump and Saudi leaders, who are trying to contain the fallout from Khashoggi’s murder.

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Wonder if Erdogan has more drips up his sleeve.

The Khashoggi Effect: Erdogan Inverts the Paradigm (Crooke)

Yes, as Pepe Escobar, lately was being told in Istanbul: “The Erdogan machine has sensed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity [i.e. l’affaire Khashoggi], to simultaneously bury the House of Saud’s shaky Islamic credibility, while solidifying Turkish neo-Ottomanism, but with an Ikhwan [i.e. with a Muslim Brotherhood – style] framework”. This is heady stuff – maybe the Arab world is not so anxious to welcome back, with open arms, either the Ottomans or the Muslim Brotherhood. But nonetheless, with the Gulf so discredited in terms of its legitimacy, Erdogan is probably right to think that he is pushing at an ‘open door’.

And strategic interests are giving Erdogan a strong tail-wind in his bid. Erdogan has secured – as part of the package to try to get Turkey to ‘lay-off’ with its Khashoggi drip-drip leaks – an end to the Saudi siege on Qatar. It is possible too, as part of the deal, that the Qatari Emir (we are told) might visit Riyadh in the near future, and that some sort of cold – very frigid – reconciliation will be conducted with MbS. The point is that Qatar is greatly beholden to Erdogan for ending the siege (and for the earlier stationing of Turkish troops in the Emirate, to protect it, against any Saudi attack), and like Turkey, the Emir is a generous Muslim Brotherhood patron.

Turkey also enjoys a close strategic relationship with Iran (though they have their differences over Syria). The two states have a strong shared interest in seeing an end to American forces occupying parts of Syria, and putting a stop to the Israeli-sponsored Kurdish ‘project’ in the region. And again the Muslim Brotherhood enters into this equation — the latter’s flirtation with Saudi Arabia is finished, and parts of the movement (it is still fractured from the Gulf-led war against it) are returning to old comrades: Hizbullah and Iran (the Muslim Brotherhood never parted from Turkey). In short, the Muslim Brotherhood seem destined to become Turkey’s Arab foot-soldiers in the battle to take the mantle of Islamic leadership away from Saudi Arabia.

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Break ’em up. Ram through the FBI and CIA and save your democracy.

Google Staff Mulled Burying Conservative Media Deep In ‘Legitimate News’ (RT)

Several Google employees considered manipulating search results to muzzle right-wing voices, calling them a problem that “can and should be fixed,” according to internal conversations obtained by the Daily Caller. Googlers discussed how they could prevent a repeat of Trump’s 2016 victory in the future, weighing the risks and benefits of various forms of censorship. “Let’s make sure that we reverse things in four years – demographics will be on our side,” read one post by engineer Scott Byer. “How many times did you see the Election now card with items from opinion blogs (Breitbart, Daily Caller) elevated next to legitimate news organizations? That’s something that can and should be fixed.”

Google has tried to turn the embarrassing revelation to its benefit, claiming it only proves the company’s impartiality. “This post shows that far from suppressing Breitbart and Daily Caller, we surfaced these sites regularly in our products,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email, seemingly lacking any sense of irony. “Furthermore, it shows that we value providing people with the full view on stories from a variety of sources.” Indeed, not all Google employees were comfortable with outright manipulation of search results. Another engineer and self-proclaimed Clinton supporter, Uri Dekel, feared that “by ranking ‘legitimacy’ you’ll just introduce more conspiracy theories.”

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Nov 232018
 
 November 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Golconda 1953

 

438 Stocks on the NYSE Plunged 40%-94% from 52-Week Highs (WS)
Margin Debt Plunges, Next Up: Margin Calls (WS)
QE Created Dangerous Financial Dependence, Italy Hooked, Withdrawal Next (DQ)
Bitcoin Price Crash Causes Bankruptcy And Mass Mine Closures (Ind.)
UK’s Poorest Dying Nearly 10 Years Younger Than Rich (Ind.)
MPs Unite To Condemn May’s ‘Blindfold Brexit’ (Ind.)
Yanis Varoufakis: “The EU Declared War And Theresa May Played Along” (NS)
China Bans Millions From Flights As ‘Social Credit’ System Introduced (Ind.)
Google Wants To Data Mine Your Home And Kids’ Bedroom (ZH)
How Do You Give Thanks For Freedoms That Are Constantly Being Eroded? (RI)
CIA Holds ‘Smoking Gun Phone Call’ Of MbS On Khashoggi Murder (Hurriyet)
Comey, Loretta Lynch Subpoenaed To Testify Before Congress (AFP)
Hillary Clinton: Europe Must Curb Immigration To Stop Rightwing Populists (G.)
Clinton, Blair, Renzi: Why We Lost, And How To Fight Back (G.)
Elephant-Sized Mammal Cousin Lived Alongside Dinosaurs (R.)

 

 

“It’s barely a correction, technically speaking..”

438 Stocks on the NYSE Plunged 40%-94% from 52-Week Highs (WS)

It’s barely a correction, technically speaking, with the S&P 500 down 9.9% from its all-time closing high, the Dow down 9.2%, the Nasdaq down 14%, and the Russell 2000 small-caps index down 15%. But beneath the surface, there has been some serious bloodletting for many stocks. For example, 438 stocks among the 2,051 or so stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) have plunged between 40% and 94% from their 52-week highs. This does not include any stocks traded on the Nasdaq. They have their own blacklist.

Those 438 plungers on the NYSE include a bunch of foreign companies trading on the NYSE (some are trading as ADRs). They include lots of companies in the oil-and-gas sector, homebuilders, gold miners, retailers, aluminum and steel makers, a weed company (other NYSE-listed weed companies are only down 30% to 40% and didn’t make this blacklist), financial services firms and banks, including some of the biggest in the world. Here is a brief rundown. Below is the complete list. Note that some of these stocks – such as GE, which is also on this blacklist – have plunged far more from their all-time highs established in prior years.

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Tempting to bring up Lehman, but if anything it’s starting to feel like Lehman cubed.

Margin Debt Plunges, Next Up: Margin Calls (WS)

There are many ways to use leverage to fund stock holdings, including credit card loans, HELOCs, loans at the institutional level, loans by companies to its executives to buy the company’s shares, or the super-hot category of SBLs, where brokers lend to their clients. None of them are reported on an overall basis. The only form of stock market leverage that is reported monthly is “margin debt” – the amount individual and institutional investors borrow from their brokers against their portfolios. Margin debt is subject to well-rehearsed margin calls. And apparently, they have kicked off. In the ugliest stock-market October anyone can remember, margin debt plunged by $40.5 billion, FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) reported this morning – the biggest plunge since November 2008, weeks after Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy:

During the stock market boom since the Financial Crisis, this measure of margin debt has surged from high to high, reaching a peak in May 2018 of $669 billion, up 60% from the pre-Financial Crisis peak in July 2007, and up 117% since January 2012. Since the peak in May, margin debt has dropped by $62 billion (-9.2%). Note the $40.5-billion plunge in October:

In the two-decade scheme of things, the relationship between stock market surges and crashes and margin debt becomes obvious. Back during the dot-com bubble, dot-com stocks, traded mostly on the Nasdaq, included what today are booming survivors like Amazon, barely hangers-on like RealNetworks, or goners like eToys. At the time, these stocks soared by stunning amounts, and people, such as myself, used margin debt, to enhance their returns. When stocks plunged, the margin calls came, and these people had to sell their holdings into an illiquid and plunging market. They ended up selling their best and most liquid stuff first and watched their trash get trashed further. When it was over by October 2002, the Nasdaq had plunged 78%. Over the same period, margin debt plunged 54%.

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“..who will purchase the roughly €275 billion of government securities Italy is forecast to issue in 2019?”

QE Created Dangerous Financial Dependence, Italy Hooked, Withdrawal Next (DQ)

The Bank of Italy, on behalf of the ECB, has bought up more than €360 billion of multiyear treasury bonds (BTPs) since the QE program was first launched in March 2015. In fact, the ECB is now virtually the only significant net buyer of Italian bonds left standing. This raises a key question, Nowotny said: With the ECB scheduled to exit the bond market in roughly six weeks time, “who will purchase the roughly €275 billion of government securities Italy is forecast to issue in 2019?”

With foreigners shedding a net €69 billion of Italian government bonds since May, when the right-wing League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement took the reins of government, and Italian banks in no financial position to expand their already bloated holdings, it is indeed an important question (and one we’ve been asking for well over a year). According to former Irish central bank governor and ex-member of the ECB’s Governing Council Patrick Honohan, speaking at an event in London, when the ECB’s support is removed, “the yield on Italian government bonds will be much more vulnerable.”

[..] Perhaps the biggest risk the ECB runs in this latest escalation of tensions with Italy’s populist government is in reminding investors just how much governments in the Eurozone have come to depend on the ECB’s QE program. But it’s not just Italian bonds that are hooked on QE. In the past three years the ECB has spent €512 billion gobbling up German bonds (current 10-year yield: 0.35%); €416 billion on French bonds (10-year yield: 0.76%); €256 billion on Spanish bonds (1.62%); €114 billion on Dutch bonds (0.52%); €72 billion on Belgian bonds (0.83%); €57 billion on Austrian bonds (0.61%), and €36 billion on Portuguese bonds (1.98%).

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So far, crypto fails to replace whatever it is that is failing.

Bitcoin Price Crash Causes Bankruptcy And Mass Mine Closures (Ind.)

Bitcoin mining operations in the US and China are facing closures after the plummeting price of bitcoin means they may no longer be profitable. The world’s most valuable cryptocurrency is currently trading at around $4,500, having lost almost a third of its value in the space of a week. Bitcoin mining – the process of generating new units of the cryptocurrency by solving complex puzzles – requires vast amounts of electricity to power the computers performing the calculations. This means that the profitability of mining falls when bitcoin’s price drops, and if the price falls too far then operations may no longer be economically viable.

The biggest casualty so far may be the US-based mining firm Giga Watt, which was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week after it was unable to pay debts of around $7 million. “The corporation is insolvent and unable to pay its debts when due,” the filing stated, according to CoinDesk. The majority of bitcoin mining operations are based in China, where electricity costs are some of the lowest in the world. Yet despite the cheap electricity, images and videos of mining operations shutting down in the country have been spreading across social media. Hong Kong-based mining platform Suanlitou announced this week that it was unable to cover electricity fees for a 10-day period in November, according to the South China Morning Post.

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This is Theresa May’s prime achievement, and it’s hard to see why nobody calls her on it. The application of austerity and the Hostile Environment on Britain is her baby.

UK’s Poorest Dying Nearly 10 Years Younger Than Rich (Ind.)

The poorest groups in society are dying almost a decade earlier than the richest, new research shows, prompting concern that welfare cuts and a rising cost of living are leaving the most vulnerable “out of the collective gain”. The study by academics at Imperial College London revealed the life expectancy gap between the most affluent and most deprived sections of society increased from six years in 2001 to eight years in 2016 for women, and from nine to 10 years for men. Women in the most deprived communities in 2016 lived until an average 79 years old, compared with 87 years in the most affluent group, while for men, the life expectancy was 74 years among the poorest, compared with 84 years among the richest.

The findings, published in the journal Lancet Public Health, also reveals that the life expectancy of England’s poorest women has fallen in the last seven years – having dropped by three months since 2011. Child mortality rates were also considerably higher among deprived communities, with poorer children two-and-a-half times more likely to die before they reach adulthood than their peers from affluent families. The findings show that people in the poorest sectors died at a higher rate from all illnesses – but that a number of diseases showed a particularly stark difference between rich and poor, notably respiratory diseases, heart disease, lung and digestive cancers and dementias.

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One step up and two steps back every step of the way.

MPs Unite To Condemn May’s ‘Blindfold Brexit’ (Ind.)

MPs of all parties accused Theresa May of delivering a “blindfold Brexit” after she admitted her deal left the public in the dark on a range of vital questions about Britain’s future. Decisions about future trade, the Irish border backstop, fisheries and whether the UK will remain tied to EU rules until after the next general election have all been shelved, a 26-page “political declaration” struck with the EU revealed. The admission came as the deal still looked doomed to defeat in a landmark vote next month – as both pro- and anti-EU Tories attacked it during feisty Commons exchanges in which few supporters spoke up.

Significantly, two leading Brexiteers praised by Ms May for working with her on the document – Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson – said they could not back it unless the backstop was stripped out. More than 80 Tories have criticised the package, pointing to a heavy defeat and a constitutional crisis, unless most can be talked around in the next few weeks of frantic arm-twisting.

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Merkel is a disaster “..but we’re going to miss her because whatever comes next will be worse.“

Yanis Varoufakis: “The EU Declared War And Theresa May Played Along” (NS)

In 2016, shortly before the EU referendum, Yanis Varoufakis warned that the UK was destined for a “Hotel California Brexit”: it could check out but it could never leave. The former Greek finance minister spoke from experience. In 2015, his efforts to end austerity – “fiscal waterboarding” – were thwarted by the EU. Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal confirmed Varoufakis’s prophecy: the UK would be condemned to purgatory. With fortuitous timing, on the evening that May’s agreement was published, Varoufakis delivered an Oxford Union lecture on Europe’s future. The 57-year-old Marxist and game theorist wryly remarked that Conservative cabinet ministers praised his analysis in private.

“The UK should never have entered the negotiations,” he told me when we met afterwards. “You do not negotiate with the EU because the EU does not negotiate with you. It sends a bureaucrat, in this case it was Mr Barnier…they could have sent an android, or an algorithm.” May’s fatal error, Varoufakis said, was to accept a two-phase negotiation: a divorce agreement followed by a new trade deal. “This was a declaration of war because Barnier said: ‘You will give us everything we want: money, people, Ireland. And only then will we discuss what you want.’ Well, that isn’t a negotiation, that’s a travesty. And Theresa May agreed to play along.” But Varoufakis, who helped persuade Jeremy Corbyn to support Remain in 2016, has little sympathy for the “People’s Vote” movement.

“It’s offensive. What was the first vote? Wasn’t it a people’s vote? To call it a people’s vote is to try and delegitimise the original vote – to say it was dictatorial, it was rigged.” He added: “You have to explain two things: first, how are you going to get the referendum completed before the Article 50 period is over? Secondly, how can you have a binary choice between five or six options? Explain those things and I’m with you.” [..] I asked Varoufakis how he viewed the liberal adulation of [Angela Merkel]. “I’m a dialectician: she has been a disaster and we’re going to miss her. She is a disaster because she squandered immense political capital that could have been used to reshape Europe. But we’re going to miss her because whatever comes next will be worse.”

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“Punishments [..] are also believed to include slowing internet speeds, reducing access to good schools for individuals or their children, banning people from certain jobs, preventing booking at certain hotels and losing the right to own pets.

China Bans Millions From Flights As ‘Social Credit’ System Introduced (Ind.)

Millions of Chinese nationals have been blocked from booking flights or trains as Beijing seeks to implement its controversial “social credit” system, which allows the government to closely monitor and judge each of its 1.3 billion citizens based on their behaviour and activity. The system, to be rolled out by 2020, aims to make it “difficult to move” for those deemed “untrustworthy”, according to a detailed plan published by the government this week. It will be used to reward or punish people and organisations for “trustworthiness” across a range of measures. A key part of the plan not only involves blacklisting people with low social credibility scores, but also “publicly disclosing the records of enterprises and individuals’ untrustworthiness on a regular basis”.

The plan stated: “We will improve the credit blacklist system, publicly disclose the records of enterprises and individuals’ untrustworthiness on a regular basis, and form a pattern of distrust and punishment.” For those deemed untrustworthy, “everywhere is limited, and it is difficult to move, so that those who violate the law and lose the trust will pay a heavy price.” The credit system is already being rolled out in some areas and in recent months the Chinese state has blocked millions of people from booking flights and high-speed trains. According to the state-run news outlet Global Times, as of May this year, the government had blocked 11.14 million people from flights and 4.25 million from taking high-speed train trips.

[..] People are awarded credit points for activities such as undertaking volunteer work and giving blood donations while those who violate traffic laws and charge “under-the-table” fees are punished. Other infractions reportedly include smoking in non-smoking zones, buying too many video games and posting fake news online. Punishments are not clearly detailed in the government plan, but beyond making travel difficult, are also believed to include slowing internet speeds, reducing access to good schools for individuals or their children, banning people from certain jobs, preventing booking at certain hotels and losing the right to own pets.

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Admit it or not, but it’s a very small step from China to Google.

Google Wants To Data Mine Your Home And Kids’ Bedroom (ZH)

New patents show Google is quietly developing a smart-home automated system that will routinely eavesdrop on your daily life. The patents describe how cameras and sensors will be mounted in almost every room of the house, scanning and analyzing every movement a human makes. According to the patent description, the smart cameras could recognize Will Smith’s face on a T-shirt. After cross-referencing this data against the human’s browser history, the smart-home might announce or send them a message, “You seem to like Will Smith. His new movie is playing in a theater near you.”

By blending that with an in-depth analysis of other electronic devices in the home, and audio signatures to determine gender, Google will have enough data to create a corporate profile on the human and even their family. The system will then calculate “fashion tastes” by scanning the human’s outfit, and could even determine their income or social class based on any “expensive mechanical and/or electronic devices” it detects. Even creepier, the smart-home will track audio signatures too, could be used to identify users, but also determine gender and age. With a treasure trove of data mined from every room of the home, the smart-home will then tell the human what to watch, what to eat, where to go, and what to buy.

If this all seems invasive, it is essential to understand that tech companies are already data mining you, it just happens to be online: “Google and Facebook both record and analyze user behavior, use it to sort people into categories, and then target them with ads and other content. Facebook likely knows your race and religion, while Google uses your emails and search history to sort you into ad-ready brackets. Netflix infers all types of data on users based on what they watch, then serves back hyper-specific movie and TV categories. This patent simply expands the areas in which your behavior is already mined and recorded from your phone and laptop to your bedroom,” wrote The Atlantic.

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“Washington didn’t intend Thanksgiving to be a day for offering up glib platitudes that require no thought, no effort and no sacrifice.”

How Do You Give Thanks For Freedoms That Are Constantly Being Eroded? (RI)

Listen: I know it’s been a hard, heart-wrenching, stomach-churning kind of year. It’s been a year of hotheads and blowhards and killing sprees and bloodshed and takedowns. It’s been a year in which tyranny took a few more steps forward and freedom got knocked down a few more notches. It’s been a year with an abundance of bad news and a shortage of good news. It’s been a year of too much hate and too little kindness. It’s been a year in which politics and profit margins took precedence over decency, compassion and human-kindness. We’ve been operating in this soul-sucking, topsy-turvy, inside-out, upside-down state for so long that it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by all that is wrong in the world in order to reflect and give thanks for what is good.

And now we find ourselves at this present moment, more than 200 years after George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation as a time to give thanks for a government whose purpose was to ensure the safety and happiness of its people and for a Constitution designed to safeguard civil and religious liberty. But how do you give thanks for freedoms that are constantly being eroded? How do you express gratitude for one’s safety when the perils posed by the American police state grow more treacherous by the day? How do you come together as a nation in thanksgiving when the powers-that-be continue to polarize and divide us into warring factions?

Washington didn’t intend Thanksgiving to be a day for offering up glib platitudes that require no thought, no effort and no sacrifice. He wanted it to be a day of contemplation, in which we frankly assessed our shortcomings, acknowledged our wrongdoings, and resolved to be a better, more peaceable nation in the year to come.

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Nice new tidbits every single day. “CIA has more wiretapped phone calls at hand than the public knows about.”, “Khashoggi was barred from media appearances after criticizing Trump in late 2016..”

CIA Holds ‘Smoking Gun Phone Call’ Of MbS On Khashoggi Murder (Hurriyet)

The CIA is in possession of a phone call recording of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in which he is heard giving an instruction to “silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible,” Hürriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi wrote on Nov. 22. According to Selvi, CIA Director Gina Haspel “signalled” during her trip to Ankara last month the existence of the wiretapped phone call between Crown Prince Mohammed and his brother Khaled bin Salman, who is Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. Citing unidentified sources, the Turkish columnist wrote that the two Saudi officials are heard in the CIA recording discussing the “discomfort” created by Khashoggi’s public criticism of the kingdom’s administration.

[..] “It is said that the crown prince gave an instruction to silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible and this instruction was captured during the CIA wiretapping. The subsequent murder is the ultimate confirmation of this instruction,” Selvi added, stressing that an international investigation into the murder, if opened, “can reveal more jaw-dropping evidence, as CIA has more wiretapped phone calls at hand than the public knows about.” [..] Trump declared on Nov. 20 that he will not further punish Saudi Arabia for the murder, making clear in an exclamation-filled statement that the benefits of good relations with the kingdom outweigh the possibility its crown prince ordered the killing. Khashoggi was barred from media appearances after criticizing Trump in late 2016, according to the U.S. State Department.

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There may not be enough time before the new Congress is sworn in. It may become up to the Senate.

Comey, Loretta Lynch Subpoenaed To Testify Before Congress (AFP)

Former FBI director James Comey and former attorney general Loretta Lynch have been subpoenaed to testify before Congress next month before Republicans relinquish control of the House, documents showed Thursday. Comey confirmed he had received a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee but said he would resist if made to answer questions behind closed doors. “I’m still happy to sit in the light and answer all questions,” he said on his Twitter account. “But I will resist a ‘closed door’ thing because I’ve seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion. Let’s have a hearing and invite everyone to see.”

Lynch, who served under former president Barack Obama, did not immediately comment, but copies of the subpoenas made public Thursday show she was summoned to testify on December 4. Comey was ordered to appear before the committee on December 3. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused Comey and Lynch of covering for Hillary Clinton in an investigation into her use of a private server for emails while she was secretary of state. He has often leveled charges of bias in countering a probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into whether the Trump campaign colluded with a Russian effort to sway the 2016 elections in the Republican’s favor.

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This is not just revisionist hypocrisy, this is Orwell.

Hillary Clinton: Europe Must Curb Immigration To Stop Rightwing Populists (G.)

Europe must get a handle on immigration to combat a growing threat from rightwing populists, Hillary Clinton has said, calling on the continent’s leaders to send out a stronger signal showing they are “not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support”. In an interview with the Guardian, the former Democratic presidential candidate praised the generosity shown by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, but suggested immigration was inflaming voters and contributed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU. “I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, speaking as part of a series of interviews with senior centrist political figures about the rise of populists, particularly on the right, in Europe and the Americas.

“I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message – ‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ – because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.” [..] “The use of immigrants as a political device and as a symbol of government gone wrong, of attacks on one’s heritage, one’s identity, one’s national unity has been very much exploited by the current administration here,” she said.

“There are solutions to migration that do not require clamping down on the press, on your political opponents and trying to suborn the judiciary, or seeking financial and political help from Russia to support your political parties and movements.” Brexit, described by Clinton as the biggest act of national economic self-harm in modern history, “was largely about immigration”, she said.

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There are many more in this list, the former left sold out everywhere.

We came, we saw, we became irrelevant.

And Hillary is still entirely clueless about Trump’s appeal.

Clinton, Blair, Renzi: Why We Lost, And How To Fight Back (G.)

Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, Matteo Renzi: three of rightwing populism’s greatest scalps. Clinton admits she was left dumbfounded by her 2016 election defeat at the hands of Donald Trump. Renzi’s centre-left party was defeated this year after a surge in the anti-establishment vote in Italy, a country he calls “the incubator” of populism. Blair may not have lost at the ballot box, but his legacy, particularly on Europe, was upended in the Brexit referendum. All three are shunned by sections of their own party that accuse them of being responsible for the failure of the centre-left to offer a sufficiently radical alternative.

But all three are still thinking deeply about rightwing populism – its causes and the threat it poses – the mistakes of the centre left, including their own, and how modern politics appears to be mobilising resentment towards a perceived elite. [..] All three interviewees argue that one significant problem for mainstream politicians is that detailed, reasoned arguments stand little chance against the antics of the populist, whose simplified, amplified rhetoric is apt to drown out costed healthcare programmes or earnest paeans to liberal values. And politicians are no longer held to their promises. “The press does not know how to cover these candidates who are setting themselves on fire every day, who are masters of diversion and distraction,” Clinton said. “That is new.

“I always believed in the [2016 US presidential] campaign … the moderators would ask the hard questions, they would force us to respond and they would draw out the differences. That never happened. Because the guy I was running against is a master at just waving his hands and tweeting and insulting, and dominating the news cycles.”

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Mammals lost out for about 150 million years, came back only when the dinosaurs were wiped out. Mammals would need to rule for another 100 million years or so to match the dinosaur rule.

Elephant-Sized Mammal Cousin Lived Alongside Dinosaurs (R.)

A stoutly built mammal cousin the size of an elephant that munched on plants with its horny beak roamed the European landscape alongside dinosaurs during the Triassic Period about 205 million to 210 million years ago, scientists said on Thursday. Scientists announced the surprising discovery in Poland of fossils of a four-legged beast called Lisowicia bojani that demonstrated that dinosaurs were not the only behemoths on Earth at that time and that the group of mammal-like reptiles to which Lisowicia belonged, called dicynodonts, did not die out as long ago as previously believed. “We think it’s one of the most unexpected fossil discoveries from the Triassic of Europe,” said paleontologist Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki of Uppsala University in Sweden.


A comparison of the Lisowicia bojani with a recent elephant. Tomasz Sulej and Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki/Handout via REUTERS

Lisowicia, the largest-known non-dinosaur land animal alive at its time, was about 15 feet (4.5 meters) long, 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) tall and weighed 9 tons. The only other giants around at the time were early members of the dinosaur group called sauropods that had four legs, long necks and long tails. “The Lisowicia skull and jaws were highly specialized: toothless and the mouth was equipped with a horny beak, as in turtles and horned dinosaurs,” Niedzwiedzki said, adding that it was unclear whether it had tusks as some of its relatives did. The Triassic was the opening chapter in the age of dinosaurs, followed by the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The first dinosaurs appeared roughly 230 million years ago. Many of the earliest dinosaurs were modest in size, overshadowed by big land reptiles including fearsome predators called rauisuchians and crocodile-like phytosaurs.

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Oct 212018
 


Pablo Picasso Harlequin and woman with necklace 1917

 

The Global Dollar Shortage is Here – And It’s Becoming A Big Problem (Palisade)
The Party’s Far From Over For The US Economy, As GDP Will Show (MW)
Trump, Europeans Call Saudi Account Of Khashoggi Death Inadequate (R.)
Trump Says US Will Pull Out Of Nuclear Arms Deal With Russia (AFP)
Social Security Does Not Add To The Federal Deficit (F.)
PM Tsipras Says EU Approved Greek Budget Without Pension Cuts (R.)
700,000 March To Demand A Final Say On Brexit (Ind.)
Series Of Small Earthquakes Detected Near UK Fracking Site (G.)
Facebook Shareholders Call For Zuckerberg To Be Kicked Out As Chairman (Ind.)
What Has Google Ever Done for Us? (Varoufakis)

 

 

More dollars borrowed globally than the Fed ever issued. And now it issues fewer.

The Global Dollar Shortage is Here – And It’s Becoming A Big Problem (Palisade)

The credit market – in my opinion – is indicating an inevitable ‘crunch’ coming up. And even worse – we’re seeing the global dollar shortage deepening. [..] Personally – I think this may be the trigger that kicks off a brutal, worldwide, financial crisis. . . For instance – just look at what’s happened with Emerging Markets because of a tightening Federal Reserve, a stronger dollar, and drying liquidity. Don’t forget – a dollar shortage is synonymous with disappearing liquidity. Which means we can expect more violent and sudden market crashes to occur – just like we saw over the last two weeks.

Stock markets (and bond markets) around the world took big losses. The only thing that really outperformed was gold. The fear of rising ‘real’ U.S. interest rates and slowing economic growth (especially from China) is making investors rethink their positions. Not to mention the cost of borrowing short-term dollars via LIBOR (aka London Interbank Offered Rate) is indicating aggressive financial tightening. Take a look at the 3-month U.S. dollar LIBOR rate – it just had its biggest one day jump since late May. And even more startling – it’s now at its highest level since 2008.

So what does this mean? Well – it’s indicating that the short-term borrowing of dollar denominated debt’s getting very expensive. And investors – especially overseas – are finding it harder and costlier to get their hands-on U.S. dollars. This isn’t a big surprise – but what’s making me worried is just how costly and scarce these dollars are becoming. . . Corporations worldwide borrowing dollars for business operations. And even ordinary citizens with mortgages and credit cards (which are mostly driven by LIBOR) will face higher interest payments.

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Ahead of the tariffs kicking in, imports and exports rose. There’s a time lag here.

The Party’s Far From Over For The US Economy, As GDP Will Show (MW)

The official scorecard for the economy, known as gross domestic product, will be released Friday. While economists polled by MarketWatch predict a 3% increase in third-quarter GDP, some estimates such as the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s “Nowcast” are closer to 4%. A few big wild cards are in play. The U.S. trade deficit shrank in the second quarter, for instance, but it looks set to expand in the third quarter. How come? Many American companies in the spring hastened to export soybeans and other goods to China and elsewhere before U.S. and retaliatory foreign tariffs kicked in. Exports have since declined.

At the same time, imports have risen to a record high. Americans are better off than they’ve been in years and they can afford to buy more imported goods. The strong dollar also makes foreign products cheaper. Businesses, for their part, ramped up production in the summer and restocked warehouse shelves. An increase in inventories boosts GDP, but it’s a herky-jerky statistic that’s always hard to predict. “Trade will be a significant drag [on GDP], but inventories will add to growth,” said Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial.

More importantly, though, Americans kept spending. They almost certainly didn’t spend as much as they did in the spring, but they still spent a lot. Consumer spending accounts for some 70% of U.S. economic activity. If GDP generates the biggest headlines, the real story of where the economy is headed can be seen through the monthly tally on new orders for long-lasting products. These “durable” goods include new cars, appliances, computers, furniture and such. In any case, the economy cannot grow rapidly in the long run and generate a higher standard of living absent strong investment.

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Trump takes a viewpoint. Then takes a step back, and then another one. Negotiating. It all looks completely different when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on than when your opinion is already made up.

Now people are saying Trump’s in Saudi pockets. The same people who said he’s in Putin’s pockets. So which is it? Both? And does everyone involved know this?

Trump’s been hammered on entirely false topics -Russiagate- for far too long for the hammerers to pull back now and move to the real ones. Dangerous.

Trump, Europeans Call Saudi Account Of Khashoggi Death Inadequate (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump joined European leaders on Saturday in pushing Saudi Arabia for more answers about Jamal Khashoggi after Riyadh changed its story and acknowledged that the journalist died more than two weeks ago at its consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia said early on Saturday that Khashoggi, a critic of the country’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had died in a fight inside the building. Germany called that explanation “inadequate” and questioned whether countries should sell arms to Saudi Arabia, while France and the European Union urged an in-depth investigation to find out what happened to the Washington Post columnist after he entered the consulate on Oct. 2 for documents for his marriage.

Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi, a Saudi national and U.S. resident, was killed inside the consulate by a team of Saudi agents and his body cut up. The Khashoggi case has caused international outrage and frayed political and business ties between Western powers and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, the world’s No.1 oil exporter. Asked during a trip to Nevada if he was satisfied that Saudi officials had been fired over Khashoggi’s death, Trump said: “No, I am not satisfied until we find the answer. But it was a big first step, it was a good first step. But I want to get to the answer.” In an interview with the Washington Post, Trump said that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies.”

Trump’s comments about the Khashoggi incident in recent days have ranged from threatening Saudi Arabia with “very severe” consequences and warning of economic sanctions, to more conciliatory remarks in which he has played up the country’s role as a U.S. ally against Iran and Islamist militants, as well as a major purchaser of U.S. arms.

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Bolton. Time for Trump and Putin to meet again.

Trump Says US Will Pull Out Of Nuclear Arms Deal With Russia (AFP)

President Donald Trump confirmed Saturday that the United States plans to leave a Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, which criticized the move as Washington’s latest effort to be the sole global superpower. Trump claims Russia has long violated the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF, was signed in 1987 by president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. But a foreign ministry source told the RIA Novosti state news agency that Washington’s “main motive is a dream of a unipolar world,” one that won’t be realized.

“We’re the ones who have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement, but Russia has not unfortunately honored the agreement, so we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” Trump told reporters in Elko, Nevada. “Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years. I don’t know why president (Barack) Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons (while) we’re not allowed to.”

Trump spoke as his National Security Advisor John Bolton was set to meet next week with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, ahead of what is expected to be a second summit between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin this year. Bolton was also set to meet with Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Putin aide Yuri Ushakov. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a “possible meeting” was being prepared between Putin and Bolton. The Trump administration has complained of Moscow’s deployment of 9M729 missiles, which Washington says can travel more than 310 miles (500 kilometers), and thus violate the INF treaty.

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So there. But in 15 years it’ll be broke.

Social Security Does Not Add To The Federal Deficit (F.)

This is not a political column, it’s a push back on the political distortion of legal and math facts about Social Security. Recently political leaders, such as the Senate leader Mitch McConnell, as Michael Hiltzik writes in the LA Times, are gunning to cut Social Security benefits to reduce the federal deficit. But Social Security can’t, by law, add to the federal deficit. Medicare and Medicaid can, but not Social Security. Social Security is self-funded. It is correct to say that Congress added to the deficit, not Social Security . The deficit rose substantially because of the 2017 tax cut, which reduced total revenue by 5% and revenue from corporate taxes by 35%.

And because it must balance its books Social Security is prudently funded. It collects revenue and saves for expected costs. Currently, Social Security has a $2.8 trillion trust fund built up by the boomer generation paying more in taxes than needed to pay current benefits. The trust fund is a vital way workers save for retirement. With tax revenues and earnings and principal from the trust fund Social Security is estimated to be solvent until 2034. After that, if it doesn’t get more revenue Social Security will only pay 77% of promised benefits. Social Security can’t add to the deficit because it pays for itself. If revenue falls short, benefits are cut.

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Why am I thinking someone will say not a chance?! Or is it ‘give the dog a bone’?

PM Tsipras Says EU Approved Greek Budget Without Pension Cuts (R.)

The European Union’s executive has approved Greece’s first post-bailout budget without requiring the implementation of legislated pension cuts, the country’s prime minister said on Saturday. “The European Commission approved the Greek budget without pension cuts after eight years of austerity,” Alexis Tsipras said, calling the development a “success”. The country’s third international bailout program ended in Augusts. The government aims to outperform on primary surplus targets for a fifth straight year to be in a position to avoid implementing painful austerity measures agreed with creditors.

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You’ll need more people, and do it every week, and then every day.

700,000 March To Demand A Final Say On Brexit (Ind.)

The crowds stretched so far back that plenty of people never even made it to the rally. Masses overflowed through the streets of London for more than a mile, from Hyde Park Corner to Parliament Square, as an estimated 670,000 protesters took their demand for a fresh Brexit referendum right to Theresa May’s doorstep. They came from every corner of the UK, in what is believed to be the largest demonstration since the Iraq War march in 2003, when more than a million people turned out in the capital to oppose the conflict.

Amid the swathes of EU flags and banners, there was also a growing sense that campaigners, MPs and activists were realising, perhaps for the first time, that this was a battle that could be won. “We were the few, and now we are the many,” Tory MP Anna Soubry told the crowds crammed into Parliament Square. “We are winning the argument and we are winning the argument most importantly against those who voted Leave.” She said: “We will not walk away. We will take responsibility and sort out this mess with a people’s vote.”

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After two days?! Promising!

Series Of Small Earthquakes Detected Near UK Fracking Site (G.)

A series of small earthquakes have been detected in Lancashire close to the site where fracking operations began this week. The British Geological Survey (BGS), which provides impartial advice on environmental processes, recorded four tremors in the vicinity of the energy firm Cuadrilla’s site on Preston New Road near Blackpool on Friday. Fracking was stopped in 2011 after two earthquakes, one reaching 2.3 on the Richter scale, were triggered in close proximity to the site of shale gas test drilling. A subsequent report found that it was highly probable that the fracking operation caused the tremors. On Monday Cuadrilla began drilling again after campaigners lost a high court legal challenge.

The BGS said: “Since hydraulic fracturing operations started at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, we have detected some small earthquakes close to the area of operations. “This is not unexpected since hydraulic fracturing is generally accompanied by micro-seismicity. The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has strict controls in place to ensure that operators manage the risk of induced seismicity. “All of the earthquakes detected at Preston New Road so far are below the threshold required to cease hydraulic fracturing.” One of Friday’s tremors measured 0.3, the level beyond which the BSG says hydraulic fracking should proceed with caution. Tremors above 0.5 would force operations to cease.

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Facebook has much bigger issues than who gets to play chairman.s

Facebook Shareholders Call For Zuckerberg To Be Kicked Out As Chairman (Ind.)

Mark Zuckerberg’s strong control over Facebook has come under question after several high-profile investors called for him to step down as chairman of the company. The shareholder proposal follows a series of controversies and scandals at the technology firm, including large-scale data breaches and accusations that the social network has become a platform for misinformation campaigns and political propaganda. State and city treasurers from Illinois, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania joined the New York City Pension Funds and Trillium Asset Management in requesting the Facebook board of directors to make the role of chairman an independent position. “Doing so is best governance practice that will be in the interest of shareholders, employees, users, and our democracy,” the filing states.

The proposal cites Facebook’s “mishandling” of “severe controversies,” including how the social network was used to manipulate the 2016 US presidential elections through Russian troll farms, and the sharing of data with Chinese device manufacturers like Huawei. According to the shareholders, Facebook’s governance structure puts investors at risk and should fall in line with other major tech firms like Google, Microsoft and Apple in having separate CEO and chairperson roles. “Facebook plays an outsized role in our society and our economy. They have a social and financial responsibility to be transparent – that’s why we’re demanding independence and accountability in the company’s boardroom,” said New York City Comnptroller Scott Stringer.

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A fresh take on something Varoufakis first mentioned a few years ago in the first -Greek- version of his book Talking to my Daughter About the Economy: make Big Tech partly public companies.

What Has Google Ever Done for Us? (Varoufakis)

When James Watt built one of his famed steam engines, it was his creation, his product. A buyer who put the engine to work in, say, a textile factory could think of his profit stream as a just reward for having taken the risk of purchasing the machine and for the innovation of coupling it to a spinning jenny or a mechanical loom. By contrast, Google cannot credibly argue that the capital generating its profit stream was produced entirely privately. Every time you use Google’s search engine to look up a phrase, concept, or product, or visit a place via Google Maps, you enrich Google’s capital. While the servers and software design, for example, have been produced capitalistically, a large part of Google’s capital is produced by almost everyone.

Every user, in principle, has a legitimate claim to being a de facto shareholder. Of course, while a substantial part of Big Tech’s capital is produced by the public, there is no sensible way to compute personal contributions, which makes it impossible to calculate what our individual shares ought to be. But this impossibility can be turned into a virtue, by creating a public trust fund to which companies like Google transfer a percentage – say, 10% – of their shares. Suddenly, every child has a trust fund, with the accumulating dividends providing a universal basic income (UBI) that grows in proportion to automation and in a manner that limits inequality and stabilizes the macro-economy.

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Oct 092018
 
 October 9, 2018  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ford Madox Brown Finding of Don Juan by Haidee 1873

 

 

World Leaders ‘Have Moral Obligation To Act’ After UN Climate Report (G.)
US Economists Win Nobel Memorial For Work On Climate And Growth (G.)
Nobel Prizes in Economics, Awarded and Withheld (NC)
The End Of The World Will Save Theresa May From Brexit (Ind.)
Stock Markets Stage Sharp Sell-Off Amid Fear Of Italy-EU Budget Fight (G.)
QE Party Is Drying Up, Even at the Bank of Japan (WS)
Higher Rates Will Hurt Stocks Far More Than You Think (SA)
Pakistan Seeks Bailout From IMF (WSJ)
IMF Not Concerned About China’s Ability To Defend The Yuan (R.)
Sharp Slowdown In Consumer Spending Cools UK Retail Sales (G.)
Google Drops Out Of Bidding For $10 Billion Pentagon Data Deal (R.)

 

 

Groundhog Day. They just want to get (re-)elected. Which won’t happen if they tell people to cut their driving and flying.

World Leaders ‘Have Moral Obligation To Act’ After UN Climate Report (G.)

World leaders have been told they have moral obligation to ramp up their action on the climate crisis in the wake of a new UN report that shows even half a degree of extra warming will affect hundreds of millions of people, decimate corals and intensify heat extremes. But the muted response by Britain, Australia and other governments highlights the immense political challenges facing adoption of pathways to the relatively safe limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures outlined on Monday by the IPCC. With the report set to be presented at a major climate summit in Poland in December, known as COP24, there is little time for squabbles. The report noted that emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030 in order to keep warming within 1.5C.

That means decisions have to be taken in the next two years to decommission coal power plants and replace them with renewables, because major investments usually have a lifecycle of at least a decade. Mary Robinson, a UN special envoy on climate, said Europe should set an example by adopting a target of zero-carbon emissions by 2050. “Before this, people talked vaguely about staying at or below 2C – we now know that 2C is dangerous,” she said. “So it is really important that governments take the responsibility, but we must all do what we can.” The UK, which has gone further than most nations by cutting its annual emissions by 40% since 1990, will need to step up if the more ambitious goal is to be reached.

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Both think adapting to climate change is easy.

US Economists Win Nobel Memorial For Work On Climate And Growth (G.)

Two American economists at the forefront of work on climate change and the role of governments in boosting growth have been jointly awarded the prestigious Nobel Memorial prize for economics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said William Nordhaus and Paul Romer were being honoured for their research into two of the most “basic and pressing” economic issues of the age. Nordhaus made his name by warning policymakers during the first stirrings of concern about climate change in the 1970s that their economic models were not properly taking account of the impact of global warming and he is seen as one of the pioneers of environmental economics.

The Yale economist was honoured a day after the latest UN warning on global warming said that urgent and unprecedented changes were needed to keep climate change to a maximum of 1.5C (2.7F). The co-winner – Romer – is seen as the prime mover behind the endogenous growth theory, the notion that countries can improve their underlying performance if they concentrate on supply-side measures such as research and development, innovation and skills. [..] Responding to news of his award, Romer said it was perfectly possible for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, in line with the latest recommendation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.

“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.” [..] Nordhaus has been a prominent advocate of the use of a uniformly applied carbon tax as the best way to put a true cost on the use of burning fossil fuels and so reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The committee that awarded the prize said he was the first person to design “simple but dynamic and quantitative models of the global economic-climate system, now called integrated assessment models (IAMs). “His tools allow us to simulate how the economy and climate would co-evolve in the future under alternative assumptions about the workings of nature and the market economy, including relevant policies.”

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This is useful h/t Yves. Peter Dorman on how Martin Weitzman, who has a far more aggressive take on economics and climate, was snubbed so Nordhaus’ light version would get the attention.

Nobel Prizes in Economics, Awarded and Withheld (NC)

Nordhaus was widely expected to be a winner for his work on the economics of climate change. For decades he has assembled and tweaked a model called DICE (Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy), that melds computable general equilibrium theory from economics and equations from the various strands of climate science. His goal has been to estimate the “optimal” amount of climate change, where the marginal cost of abating it equals the marginal cost of undergoing it. From this comes an optimal carbon price, the “social cost of carbon”, which should be implemented now and allowed to rise over time at the rate of interest. In his first published work using DICE, from the early 1990s, he recommended a carbon tax of $5 a tonne of CO2, inching slowly upward until peaking at $20 in 2085. His “optimal” policy was expected to result in an atmospheric concentration of CO2 of over 1400 ppm (parts per million) at the end of this planning horizon, yielding global warming in excess of 3º C. (Nordhaus, 1992)

Over time Nordhaus has become slightly more concerned with the potential economic costs of climate change but also more sanguine about the prospects for decarbonized economic growth, even in the absence of policy. In his latest work he advocates a carbon tax of $31 per tonne in 2015, increasing at 3% per year over the following century. This too would result in more than 3º warming. To give a sense of how modest his suggestion is, consider that, in the same paper, Nordhaus calculates that the most efficient carbon tax to limit warming to 2.5º is between $107-184 per tonne depending on assumptions. The target of the Paris Accord is 2º, and most scientists consider this an upper bound for the amount of warming we should permit.

What do these “optimal” tax numbers mean? Based on the carbon content of gas, each $1 carbon tax translates into a one cent tax on a gallon of gas at the pump. If we adopted Nordhaus’ suggestion for carbon pricing, the result would be minuscule compared to the year-to-year fluctuations in energy prices due to other causes. In other words, while his prize is being trumpeted as a statement from the Swedish bankers on the importance of climate change, in fact he is a key spokesman for the position, rejected by nearly all climate scientists, that the problem is modest and can be solved by easy-to-digest, nearly imperceptible adjustments to energy prices. If we go down his road we face a significant risk of a climate apocalypse.

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The benefits of climate change.

The End Of The World Will Save Theresa May From Brexit (Ind.)

Brexit has been in its “something will turn up phase” for some time now and possibly, at last, something has. This is meant to be Theresa May’s “Hell Week”, with important post-Brexit proposals to be published in both Brussels and the UK, both of which will of course necessitate demented rows within her own party (current “strategies” include threatening to vote down the Budget), but Hell Week could hardly have got off to a better start. The most sensible reading of Hell Week is that it looks likely to end with May agreeing to keep the UK in the EU’s customs union until 2022. In the circumstances, the prime minister will not have failed to notice that, according to this morning’s report from the UN’s IPCC, that is a mere eight years before all of the planet’s inbuilt life preserving systems are currently scheduled to turn against humanity in act of vengeance that will be swift and total.

To borrow briefly from the probability-based lexicon of the climate science community, let’s take a look at the likelihood of Brexit being concluded by then in any meaningful way. Even in the unlikely event of Britain voting to leave the European Union, right up until around 8am on 24 June 2016, the latest point at which it was all meant to have been sorted out was 24 June 2018. But when David Cameron decided not to trigger the two-year Article 50 process “straight away” as he had consistently claimed he would, but resigned instead, that date was eventually pushed back by May to 29 March 2019, expanding Brexit by 37.5 per cent.

Then, in March 2018, the Brexit “transition period” was agreed to last until until 31 December 2020, and now, just seven months later, that deadline has been extended until the next general election in 2022, a further eighteen months. At the most conservative estimate, that gives Brexit a rate of expansion of around two hundred per cent, or four years for every two. If the depth to which it can be kicked into the long grass can be maintained on this exponential gradient, May has every reason to be optimistic that tornadoes of sulphuric gas will be moving freely over the Irish border long before she has to deliver any acceptable proposals for how to avoid the reintroduction of customs infrastructure across it.

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Not the only issue.

Stock Markets Stage Sharp Sell-Off Amid Fear Of Italy-EU Budget Fight (G.)

Global stock markets staged a sharp sell-off on Monday amid growing concerns over a budget showdown between Italy and the EU and the prospect of weaker growth in the Chinese economy. Italian borrowing costs jumped and the euro dropped on foreign exchanges as the war of words between Rome and Brussels escalated, while shares on Wall Street and other major international markets declined amid growing concerns over the US-China trade war. Italian bond yields jumped by as much as 30 basis points to the highest levels since early 2014 after the Italian deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, attacked the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the economics commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, as enemies of Europe.

Speaking at a news conference with the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, he said the country would not cave to pressure from the financial markets or retreat from its plan for government spending. “We are against the enemies of Europe — Juncker and Moscovici — shut away in the Brussels bunker,” he said. Brussels has told Italy it is concerned over the plan because it would mean the nation running a larger budget deficit – the gap between income from taxes and government spending – than previously planned for the next three years. Rome is to submit its draft budget to the commission, the EU’s executive arm, which will check whether it is in line with EU rules by 15 October.

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When the easy money goes, how do we keep the bubbles inflated?

QE Party Is Drying Up, Even at the Bank of Japan (WS)

As of September 30, total assets on the Bank of Japan’s elephantine balance sheet dropped by ¥5.4 trillion ($33 billion) from a month earlier, to ¥537 trillion ($4.87 trillion). It was the fourth month-over-month decline in a series that started in December. This chart shows the month-to-month changes of the balance sheet. Despite all the volatility, the trend since mid-2016 is becoming clear: Abenomics became the economic religion of Japan in later 2012, and “QQE” (Qualitative and Quantitative Easing) was an integral part of it. So has the “QQE Unwind” commenced? Are central bankers, even at the Bank of Japan, getting cold feet about the consequences?

At BOJ policy meetings, concerns have been voiced over the “sustainability” of the stimulus program, according to the minutes of the July meeting, released on September 25. So the BOJ staff “proposed measures to enhance the sustainability of the current monetary easing while taking into consideration, for example, their effects on financial markets.” And “flexibility” has been proposed as solution to those concerns. The minutes reiterated that the BOJ would continue to buy Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) in “a flexible manner” so that its holdings would increase by about ¥80 trillion a year. But this is precisely what has not been happening, in line with this “flexibility.”

Over the past 12 months, the BOJ’s holdings of JGBs rose by “only” ¥26.2 trillion – not ¥80 trillion. And they declined in September from the prior month (more in a moment). Shortly after the minutes had been released, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, once the most reckless among the money printers, changed his tune and said in a speech that, “in continuing with powerful monetary easing, we now need to consider both its positive effects and side-effects in a balanced manner.” The Fed has already whittled down its balance sheet by $285 billion since it started its QE unwind last October. The ECB has tapered its QE from a peak of buying €85 billion a month to buying €15 billion currently and will end it altogether in December. The discussion has switched to raising rates and unwinding QE.

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Like the graph.

Higher Rates Will Hurt Stocks Far More Than You Think (SA)

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell thinks the economy is awesome. And he has no problem telling us so. What Powell will never discuss, however, is the “way-too-low-for-way-too-long” stimulus that the central bank engaged in to get here. In particular, the Fed has kept the neutral rate of interest far beneath the rate of inflation (CPI) for an entire decade. Consumers, corporations and Uncle Sam predictably borrowed as if there’d never be consequences. What consequences? Asset bubbles. Stocks, bonds, real estate, collectibles, cryptos, alternatives, everything. Straight across the Ouija board.

Perhaps ironically, we have seen this streaming video before. “Too-low-for-to-long” rate policy in the previous economic expansion (11/01-12/07) created an environment whereby the quality and the quantity of household mortgage debt became toxic. Granted, mortgage debt is less of an issue in the current credit cycle. Nevertheless, total household debt levels may not be sustainable at higher average interest costs. Meanwhile, the federal government is making households look downright responsible.

Long after the Great Recession ended, the country averaged $1.07 trillion in deficits (2010-2017). We’ve now hit $21.5 trillion in our national debt. Uncle Sammy’s bar tab won’t be getting smaller anytime soon. The new tax law, which has provided a near-term kick start for economic growth (GDP), will keep the trillion-dollar deficit train running for years to come. None of this would be so ominous were it not for the rapid-fire advance of interest expense. Interest expense alone accounts for 11% of the federal budget. Just interest. No debt repayment. Tack on higher interest rates to new borrowing needs? Pretty soon interest expense will surpass the money that goes to the Department of Defense (13.6%).

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Belt and Road. Silk Road.

Pakistan Seeks Bailout From IMF (WSJ)

Pakistan, the flagship country for China’s global infrastructure building initiative, said Monday that it needed a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, amid growing concerns that Beijing’s program is pushing recipient countries into financial crisis. The fiscal constraints of an IMF program would also undercut the promises made by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s new government, which include millions of new jobs and the establishment of a welfare state.

But a ballooning trade deficit and fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves left the Pakistani government no other choice, officials said, after markets were spooked by the government’s recent suggestions that it might try to make do without the fund. “Uncertainty was growing and the stock market was falling,” said Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the Information Minister. “We decided to end the uncertainty.” The Pakistani request for an IMF loan could further test already-strained U.S.-China relations. In July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that the U.S. didn’t want to see any IMF lending to Pakistan “go to bail out Chinese bondholders or—or China itself.”

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Growing at 6.9%(?) and still in need of pretty extreme support. I’d be concerned.

IMF Not Concerned About China’s Ability To Defend The Yuan (R.)

IMF Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld said on Tuesday that he was not concerned about the Chinese government’s ability to defend its currency despite the recent depreciation of the yuan. “No, I don’t think it’s a problem,” Obstfeld said when asked about the issue on the sidelines of a news conference at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Bali. But Obstfeld also told the news conference that Beijing would face a “balancing act” between actions to shore up growth and ensure financial stability. China’s yuan currency has faced strong selling pressure this year, losing over 8% between March and August at the height of market worries, though it has since pared losses as authorities stepped up support.

On Tuesday, China’s central bank fixed the yuan’s official mid-point for trading at 6.9019 per dollar, edging close to the psychologically important 7.0 barrier and helping to send Asian stocks to a 17-month low. A U.S. Treasury official on Monday repeated that the Trump administration was concerned about the yuan’s recent weakening as the department prepares a semi-annual report on currency manipulation due out next week. Obstfeld said financial markets have overly emphasized short-term movements in China’s currency, adding that the yuan has often quickly recovered from periods of volatility in recent years.

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Reading this, I kept thinking: what sharp slowdown? Where is it? Not in the numbers…

Sharp Slowdown In Consumer Spending Cools UK Retail Sales (G.)

Britain’s retailers experienced a sharp slowdown in consumer spending last month, bringing to a close the World Cup-inspired summer spree on the high street. According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the accountancy firm KPMG, growth in total sales dropped to the weakest level in almost a year. Total sales grew at an annual rate of 0.7% in September, compared with 2.3% growth during the same month a year ago. The BRC said this was the lowest growth rate since October 2017. Excluding new store openings, like-for-like sales dropped by 0.2% in the year to September, compared with a 19.9% increase for the same period a year ago.

The latest snapshot for the retail sector comes before the important autumn and winter shopping periods, vital for industry profits, when sales of gifts and electrical goods are lifted by the Black Friday sales event in November and shoppers buying Christmas presents. Retailers have been hit hard by a combination of problems that have led to job cuts and store closures across Britain. The ongoing shift to online shopping has increased competition, while sluggish wage growth and high levels of inflation have damaged the spending power of British households. Sales of stationery, footwear and clothing fell last month, while retailers sold more computers, jewellery, furniture, home accessories and food.

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If this doesn’t scare you…

Google Drops Out Of Bidding For $10 Billion Pentagon Data Deal (R.)

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Monday it was no longer vying for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the U.S. Defense Department, in part because the company’s new ethical guidelines do not align with the project, without elaborating. Google said in a statement “we couldn’t be assured that [the JEDI deal] would align with our AI Principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.” The principles bar use of Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) software in weapons as well as services that violate international norms for surveillance and human rights.

Google was provisionally certified in March to handle U.S. government data with “moderate” security, but Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp have higher clearances. Amazon was widely viewed among Pentagon officials and technology vendors as the front-runner for the contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud, or JEDI. Google had been angling for the deal, hoping that the $10 billion annual contract could provide a giant boost to its nascent cloud business and catch up with Amazon and fellow JEDI competitor Microsoft. That the Pentagon could trust housing its digital data with Google would have been helpful to its marketing efforts with large companies. But thousands of Google employees this year protested use of Google’s technology in warfare or in ways that could lead to human rights violations.

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Sep 222018
 
 September 22, 2018  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Memory of a voyage 1955

 

Rosenstein Proposed Secretly Recording Trump, Invoking 25th Amendment (ZH)
NY Times, McCabe Give Trump Perfect Cover To Fire Rosenstein, Sessions (Hill)
Grassley Extends Deadline On Kavanaugh Accuser’s Decision To Testify (Pol.)
Ding Dong…. (Jim Kunstler)
Theresa May Demands European Leaders Show UK Respect (Ind.)
Legal Action To Revoke Article 50 Referred To European Court Of Justice (G.)
UK PM May Facing Ministerial Resignations Over Brexit Plan (R.)
Russia, Turkey Agree Borders Of Syria Demilitarised Zone (AFP)
Google Suppresses Memo Revealing Plans To Track Search Users In China (IC)
French Court Orders Psychiatric Assessment of Marine Le Pen (Sp.)
Russia’s Secret Plan To Help Julian Assange Escape From UK (G.)
Ecuador Pledged to Not Kick Out Assange – Lawyer (RT)
Ecuador Reportedly Mulled Sending Assange As A Diplomat To Russia (RT)

 

 

The New York Times now helps Trump, or do they think this hurts him?

Rosenstein Proposed Secretly Recording Trump, Invoking 25th Amendment (ZH)

[..] the NYT recounted on Friday an aborted mutiny attempt organized by Rosenstein, who allegedly tried to organize members of Trump’s cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to oust Trump from office. In an attempt to persuade the clearly reluctant members of Trump’s cabinet, Rosenstein suggested that he or other officials should secretly tape Trump “to expose the chaos” he said was engulfing the West Wing. According to NYT, the sources were either briefed on Rosenstein’s plans, or learned about it from the files of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired after being disgraced by an inspector general investigation. ABC News, which also reported the story, cited sources familiar with McCabe’s files. A grand jury is also weighing whether to press charges against McCabe for allegedly misleading the inspector general.

“Mr. Rosenstein made the remarks about secretly recording Mr. Trump and about the 25th Amendment in meetings and conversations with other Justice Department and F.B.I. officials. Several people described the episodes, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments. None of Mr. Rosenstein’s proposals apparently came to fruition. It is not clear how determined he was about seeing them through, though he did tell Mr. McCabe that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security and now the White House chief of staff, to mount an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment.”

[..] Mr. Rosenstein disputed this account. “The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he said in a statement. “I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”

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Yeah, strange things are happening…

NY Times, McCabe Give Trump Perfect Cover To Fire Rosenstein, Sessions (Hill)

It has been a year of ironies: President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, once said he would take a bullet for Trump and now seeks to destroy him (and to do so pro bono). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) once denounced Trump for suggesting Cruz’s father was a presidential assassin but now politically relies on and praises the man who called him “Lying Ted.” The greatest irony of all, however, could be how the newspaper that Trump loves to call “the failing New York Times” succeeded in delivering to him what he has long wanted: a clean shot at firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and then installing a new AG to oversee special counsel Robert Mueller.

To make this more bizarre, Trump could rely for all this on the man he publicly called on to be fired and possibly prosecuted — former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe. The Times dropped a bombshell story late Friday that Rosenstein discussed secretly recording Trump and seeking cabinet support to force him out of office as being incapacitated under the 25h Amendment. Rosenstein denies the story as “inaccurate and factually incorrect,” insisting “there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.” However, McCabe reportedly wrote memos stating that Rosenstein did discuss the possibility of taping and entrapping the president. Trump has previously referred to McCabe’s memos as “fake.”

At least one source has said the comments about secret taping were made in jest. Of course, joking about secretly taping your boss or forcing him from office is not a huge improvement, particularly when you are technically controlling a special counsel’s investigation of the president. Even in jest, it fulfills Trump’s long narrative of a Justice Department set against him from the outset. So how could the Times clear the way for Trump to clean house at Justice and end up with Mueller directly controlled by an attorney general of his choosing? Simple.

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The Kavanaugh story tries hard to be even more absurd than the Rosenstein one.

Grassley Extends Deadline On Kavanaugh Accuser’s Decision To Testify (Pol.)

[..] late Friday, Grassley tweeted: “Five times now we hv granted extension for Dr Ford to decide if she wants to proceed w her desire stated one wk ago that she wants to tell senate her story Dr Ford if u changed ur mind say so so we can move on I want to hear ur testimony. Come to us or we to u.” Minutes later, he added: “Judge Kavanaugh I just granted another extension to Dr Ford to decide if she wants to proceed w the statement she made last week to testify to the senate She shld decide so we can move on I want to hear her. I hope u understand. It’s not my normal approach to b indecisive.”

Grassley followed with a candid lament that he was being outmaneuvered by Democrats: “With all the extensions we give Dr Ford to decide if she still wants to testify to the Senate I feel like I’m playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer is the conductor.” Grassley and other Republicans want Ford to appear on Wednesday, though Ford has requested a Thursday appearance. They accepted some of Ford’s requests after holding a conference call on Friday morning such as allowing one camera in the room, making sure Kavanaugh and Ford aren’t in the same hearing room at the same time and giving Ford breaks during testimony as well as security from the U.S. Capitol Police.

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“Fourth Turning horror show with whipped cream and a cherry on top…”

Ding Dong…. (Jim Kunstler)

This might come as a shock to readers, but the time is not far off when the remaining not-insane cohort of adult Americans gets good and goddamn sick of political sex bombing. Especially given this case of shuck-and-jive. Consider that the same CNN this week produced an entire segment about the shape and size of the President’s generative organ (as reported by an expert in these matters, the porn star and prostitute known as Stormy Daniels). It must be a subject of extraordinary interest to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. On the other flank of the news this week is the much more perilous showdown between the Department of Justice (and the FBI), and Mr. Trump, the cis-hetero-white Golem who happens to be president.

He has ordered these agencies to produce a set of un-redacted documents pertaining to the long-running Russia investigation, set into motion by personnel at these very places. It’s his prerogative under the constitution to do that. In turn, these agencies are being egged on by possibly culpable characters in this melodrama, such as former CIA Director John Brennan and Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Cal), to stonewall the Golem. If I were president — and I may get there yet — I’d send federal marshals into Rod Rosenstein’s office to seize these documents before they are mysteriously “lost.” A tremendous tension hangs over this transaction. Imagine the awful possibility that Mr. Trump may have to declare some kind of martial law to roust out these seditious rascals and clean up their departments. There’s your Fourth Turning horror show with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

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There are plenty other plans. She just doesn’t like them.

Theresa May Demands European Leaders Show UK Respect (Ind.)

Theresa May has demanded EU leaders show Britain respect, branding their public rejection of her Brexit proposals “not acceptable”. In a statement at Downing Street, the prime minister hit out at the way European Council President Donald Tusk discarded her plans without giving a detailed explanation or offering alternatives. Ms May said neither of the options previously offered by the EU were acceptable, stated that talks are now at an “impasse” and underlined her willingness to walk away if needs be – finishing with the words “we stand ready”. But the prime minister also made a new pledge to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Her intervention won approval from cabinet Brexiteers and to an extent from MPs on Conservative benches, steadying a volatile political situation which hours earlier had seen critics predicting the collapse of her strategy. Mr Tusk had surprised British officials by making an unexpectedly strong statement at the end of a summit in Salzburg this week, saying Ms May’s proposals for Brexit “will not work” and following it up with a social media post mocking her negotiating strategy. With pressure mounting, Ms May acknowledged from inside No.10 that Mr Tusk said the UK proposals would undermine the single market, but added: “He didn’t explain how in any detail or make any counter-proposal. So we are at an impasse.”

She said: “Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect. The UK expects the same. A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it. “At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals. “So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.”

Read more …

Someone in Scotland’s been digging into the law.

Legal Action To Revoke Article 50 Referred To European Court Of Justice (G.)

A legal action to establish whether the UK can unilaterally stop Brexit has been referred to the European court of justice by the court of session in Edinburgh. The case was brought by a cross-party group of six Scottish MPs, MEPs and MSPs, who want the ECJ to offer a definitive ruling on whether the UK can halt the article 50 process without needing the approval of all other 27 EU member states. Rejecting the argument put forward by lawyers for the UK government, that ministers have repeatedly made it clear they have no intention of stopping the Brexit process, even if there were no deal with the EU, Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, said: “It seems neither academic nor premature to ask whether it is legally competent to revoke the notification and thus to remain in the EU.”

Carloway, one of three judges to consider the case on appeal after it was initially rejected in June as “academic and hypothetical”, noted that the Commons would be required to vote on whether to ratify any Brexit deal before 29 March 2019, “a date which is looming up”, and that a judgment from the ECJ would “have the effect of clarifying the options open to MPs in the lead-up to what is now an inevitable vote”. Lord Menzies said: “There will have to be a vote, and it appears to me to be legitimate for those who are involved in that vote to know, by means of a judicial ruling, the proper legal meaning of article 50, and in particular whether a member state which has given notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU may revoke that notification of intention unilaterally before the expiry of two years after the notification.”

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Monday could be good. New plans are demanded, but there’s no time for them.

UK PM May Facing Ministerial Resignations Over Brexit Plan (R.)

Some of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ministers will demand a “Plan B” on her Brexit proposal next week and could quit if she does not change course, the Telegraph newspaper reported late on Friday, citing unnamed sources. Ministers will demand an alternative plan to her “Chequers” proposal at a Cabinet meeting on Monday, the Telegraph said. That plan had already been savaged by European Union leaders in Salzburg earlier in the week, prompting May to defiantly challenge leaders of the bloc to come up with its own plans. Pro-Brexit members of May’s party on Friday had welcomed her defiant tone, but her Chequers proposal has many domestic critics, too.

The Telegraph said there was “speculation” that work and pensions minister Esther McVey might walk out of Monday’s meeting if no new proposal was presented, while international development minister Penny Mordaunt was also tipped as a possible resignation candidate, though the newspaper said friends denied she would resign. Earlier on Friday, Mordaunt said that the EU’s attitude was increasing support within Britain for an exit from the bloc, even if it meant leaving without a deal. .

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Let’s hope Russia got this one right.

Russia, Turkey Agree Borders Of Syria Demilitarised Zone (AFP)

Russia and Turkey have agreed on borders of a demilitarised zone in northern Syria, Russia’s top diplomat said Friday, part of a deal that could check an assault on the last rebel enclave in Idlib. “Just yesterday or the day before, the militaries of Russia and Turkey agreed the concrete frontiers of the demilitarised zone,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his Bosnian counterpart Igor Crnadak. Moscow says the demilitarised zone would help stop attacks from Idlib on Syrian army positions and Russia’s military bases in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed the establishment of the 15 to 20 kilometre (9.3-12 miles) buffer zone on Monday after talks that lasted more than four hours.

Security in the zone, which includes parts of Idlib and neighbouring provinces including the city of Aleppo, will be overseen by Turkish contingents and Russian military police. The agreement will prevent military action against the city of Idlib, Russia’s defence minister said. “It’s an intermediate step… but a necessary step,” Lavrov said of the zone. “By mid-October, all (fighters of the Al-Nusra Front) must leave this demilitarised zone, and all heavy military equipment must be pulled out of there,” he said.

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Practising for the west?

Google Suppresses Memo Revealing Plans To Track Search Users In China (IC)

Google bosses have forced employees to delete a confidential memo circulating inside the company that revealed explosive details about a plan to launch a censored search engine in China, The Intercept has learned. The memo, authored by a Google engineer who was asked to work on the project, disclosed that the search system, codenamed Dragonfly, would require users to log in to perform searches, track their location — and share the resulting history with a Chinese partner who would have “unilateral access” to the data. The memo was shared earlier this month among a group of Google employees who have been organizing internal protests over the censored search system, which has been designed to remove content that China’s authoritarian Communist Party regime views as sensitive, such as information about democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

According to three sources familiar with the incident, Google leadership discovered the memo and were furious that secret details about the China censorship were being passed between employees who were not supposed to have any knowledge about it. Subsequently, Google human resources personnel emailed employees who were believed to have accessed or saved copies of the memo and ordered them to immediately delete it from their computers. Emails demanding deletion of the memo contained “pixel trackers” that notified human resource managers when their messages had been read, recipients determined.

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For posting ISIS execution pictures.

French Court Orders Psychiatric Assessment of Marine Le Pen (Sp.)

The request is connected with a series of images she posted on Twitter showing Daesh* executions. France’s National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen took to Twitter to express her anger with the court order. “I thought I had been through it all: well, no! For denouncing the horrors of Daesh (Isis) with tweets, the “justice system” has referred me for a psychiatric assessment. How far will they go?!” she said. “This regime is really starting to be frightening,” Le Pen added. Le Pen noted that, contrary to French media reports, the procedure was not customary. According to a decision made on September 11, which Le Pen posted on Twitter, the purpose of the psychiatric assessment was to answer the question: “Can she [Le Pen] understand the statements and answer the questions.”

In the list of questions given to the experts, there were eight points, among which were: “whether she acted under the influence of forces or circumstances of force majeure” as well as “is she in a dangerous state from the standpoint of psychiatry or forensic science, and what is the forecast,” among others. The National Assembly (lower house of parliament) of France in November 2017, at the request of the Nanteré Prosecutor’s Office, deprived Le Pen of parliamentary immunity in connection with the publication on Twitter. If the French court finds her guilty, the leader of the party may face up to three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros.

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More Guardian smear, sources that are known have long been discredited, Mueller’s allegations have been keelhauled, anonymous sources are suspect.

Russia’s Secret Plan To Help Julian Assange Escape From UK (G.)

Russian diplomats held secret talks in London last year with people close to Julian Assange to assess whether they could help him flee the UK, the Guardian has learned. A tentative plan was devised that would have seen the WikiLeaks founder smuggled out of Ecuador’s London embassy in a diplomatic vehicle and transported to another country. One ultimate destination, multiple sources have said, was Russia, where Assange would not be at risk of extradition to the US. The plan was abandoned after it was deemed too risky. The operation to extract Assange was provisionally scheduled for Christmas Eve in 2017, one source claimed, and was linked to an unsuccessful attempt by Ecuador to give Assange formal diplomatic status.

The involvement of Russian officials in hatching what was described as a “basic” plan raises new questions about Assange’s ties to the Kremlin. The WikiLeaks editor is a key figure in the ongoing US criminal investigation into Russia’s attempts to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Robert Mueller, the special counsel conducting the investigation, filed criminal charges in July against a dozen Russian GRU military intelligence officers who allegedly hacked Democratic party servers during the presidential campaign. The indictment claims the hackers sent emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton to WikiLeaks. The circumstances of the handover are still under investigation. According to Mueller, WikiLeaks published “over 50,000 documents” stolen by Russian spies. The first tranche arrived on 14 July 2016 as an encrypted attachment. Assange has denied receiving the stolen emails from Russia.

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Very promising.

Ecuador Pledged to Not Kick Out Assange – Lawyer (RT)

Despite widespread speculation a few months ago that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may be kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the country’s new leadership, his asylum seems to be safe for now, his lawyer told RT. In July, there were numerous reports that Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, may revoke the political asylum given to Assange by his predecessor, Rafael Correa, as part of an effort to establish closer ties with the US. The threat never materialized, but his long-time lawyer said “anything could happen at any time.” “Ecuador has made it clear in the past few months – after this wide-spread speculation that he would be forced to leave – that they will respect the asylum,” she said.

Assange remains cut off from all communications and kept in what is effectively solitary confinement with no access to outdoor areas. His health is deteriorating, and the UK authorities have made sure that he won’t get treatment without leaving the embassy, she said. Assange was granted asylum in August 2012, skipping bail in the UK justice system. At that time, he was fighting extradition to Sweden, where he faced prosecution over a now-closed case over alleged sex offenses. He said he had to seek Ecuador’s protection because if forced to go to Sweden, he could be extradited to the US and face serious charges over his actions as WikiLeaks founder.

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Would have been a good solution.

Ecuador Reportedly Mulled Sending Assange As A Diplomat To Russia (RT)

London refused to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange diplomatic immunity so he could escape the confinement of the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK and relocate to Russia, Reuters reports, citing government communications. The persona of Julian Assange has become a thorn in Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno’s side and, ever since assuming office in May of last year, Moreno has made every effort to make sure the Australian’s stay at Ecuador’s embassy in London comes to an end as soon as possible. To shift the responsibility for Assange’s protection against US persecution, Ecuador allegedly mulled offering the WikiLeaks founder a diplomatic post in Russia, which the country hoped would enable him –protected by diplomatic immunity– to finally leave the embassy after six years of arbitrary detention.

London, however, refused to honor Moreno’s move to authorize “special designation” for 47-year-old to carry out diplomatic functions in Moscow, and declined to grant the whistleblower a free passage out of the country, Reuters reports, citing a letter by Ecuador’s foreign ministry to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla. According to the letter, Quito abandoned its idea to relocate the whistleblower to Moscow after the UK Foreign Office refused to recognize Assange’s special status, or any privileges and immunities awarded under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The “special designation” status awarded by the Ecuadorian president would allow Assange to hold diplomatic posts abroad even if the whistleblower is not career diplomat. However, under English law, the 47 year-old can only enjoy diplomatic privileges, such as immunity, only if his credentials are accepted by the Foreign Office.

[..] Citing at least four, traditionally anonymous, sources, the Guardian wrote that Moscow was plotting to smuggle Assange out of London on Christmas eve last year, but dropped the plan because it was “deemed too risky.” The paper, claimed that Ecuador’s former London consul, Fidel Narvaez, was in talks with Russian diplomats and in constant contact with a ‘Russian businessman’ who coordinated the proposed operation with the Kremlin. It took the newspaper a mere five paragraphs of its 1,000-word report to bring up “questions about Assange’s ties to the Kremlin” in the context of the notorious Mueller probe and alleged ‘Russian hacking’ of the US elections.

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Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 1:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher The Tower of Babel 1928

 

Two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media. Google and Facebook receive well over 70% of US digital advertising revenues. The average daily time spent on social media is 2 hours. Just a few factoids that have at least one thing in common: nothing like them was around 10 years ago, let alone 20. And they depict a change, or set of changes, in our world that will take a long time yet to understand and absorb. Some things just move too fast for us to keep track of, let alone process.

Those of us who were alive before the meteoric rise of the hardware and software of ‘social’ media may be able to relate a little more and better than those who were not, but even that is not a given. There are plenty people over 20, over 30, that make one think: what did you do before you had that magic machine? When you walk down the street talking to some friend, or looking at what your friends wrote on Facebook, do you ever think about what you did in such situations before the machine came into your life?

 


From 10% to 75% in 10 years

 

We’re not going to know what the hardware and software of ‘social’ media will have done to our lives, individually and socially, for a very long time. But in the meantime, their influence will continue to shape our lives. They change our societies, the way we interact with each other, in very profound ways; we just don’t know how profound, or how, period. There can be little question that they change us as individuals too; they change how we communicate, and in such a way that there is no way they don’t also change our very brain structures in the process.

Someone who walks down a street talking to someone else 10, 100, 1000 miles away, or sees messages from such a person come in in virtual real time, experiences things that were not available ever in human history. Our brains must adapt to these changes, or we will be left behind. And while for the over-20, over-30 crowd this takes actual adaptation, for those younger than that it comes quasi pre-cooked: they’ve never known anything else. Still, their brains were formed in completely different times too. Think hunter-gatherers. And that’s just the human part of the brain.

There are too many aspects to this development to cover here. One day someone will write a book, or rather, many someones will write many books, and they will all be different. Some will focus on people’s lives being saved because their smartphones allow them to either receive or send out distress signals. Others will tell stories of teenagers committing suicide after being heckled on ‘social’ media. With yin comes yang. Millions feel better with new-found ‘friends’, and millions suffer from abuse even if they don’t kill themselves.

 

With new media, especially when it goes from 1 to 100 in no time flat, it should be no surprise that the news it delivers changes too. We went from a few dozen TV- and radio stations and newspapers to a few hundred million potential opinions in the US alone. The media are no longer a one-way street. The first effect that has had is that the chasm between news and opinion has narrowed spectacularly. If their readers post their views of what they read and see, journalists feel they have the right to vent their opinions too.

And then these opinions increasingly replace the news itself. The medium is again the message, in a way, a novel kind of way. A hundred million people write things without being restricted by due diligence or other journalistic standards, and we see journalists do that too. They will come up with lies, half-truths, innuendo, false accusations, and moreover will not retract or correct them, except when really hard-pressed. After all, who has the time when you post a hundred+ tweets a day and need to update your Facebook pages too?

Obviously, Donald Trump is an excellent example of the changing media environment. His use of Twitter was a major factor in his election victory. And then his detractors took to Twitter to launch a huge campaign accusing him of collusion with Russia to achieve that victory. They did this moving in lockstep with Bob Mueller’s investigation of that collusion accusation. But almost two years after the election, neither Mueller not the media have provided any evidence of collusion.

That, ironically, is the only thing that is actually true about the entire narrative at this point. Sure, Mueller may still have something left in his back pocket, but if he had solid proof he would have been obliged to present it. Collusion with a foreign government is too serious not to reveal evidence of. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that in September 2018, Mueller has no such evidence. But what about the thousands of printed articles and the millions of Tweets and Facebook posts claiming collusion that were presented as true?

Funny you asked. What they prove is not collusion, but the changing media landscape. The anti-Trump echo-chamber that I’ve written about many times has been going strong for two years and shows no signs of abating. There are still lots of people posting a hundred (re-)tweets etc. daily who are being read by many others, all of them confirming their biases in a never fulfilled feeding frenzy.

This is not about Trump. And I’m not a Trump supporter. This is instead about the media, and the humongous difference interactivity has made. And about the fact that it hasn’t just added a hundred million voices, it has also altered the way traditional media report the news, in an effort to keep up with those hundred million.

 

The thing here that is about Trump, is that he’s everybody’s favorite meal ticket. He confirms everyone’s opinion, whether for or against him, by the way he uses media. And most importantly, they all make a lot of money off of him. The New York Times and WaPo and MSNBC would be in deep financial trouble without Trump. Like they were before he came along. Polarization of opinions saved them. Well, not the WaPo, Jeff Bezos can afford to run 1000 papers like that and lose money hand over fist. But for the NYT and many others a Trump impeachment would be disastrous. Funny, right?

Another thing that is obvious is that one thing still sells above all others: sex. The smear campaign against Julian Assange has been successful in one way only, and it’s been a smash hit: the rape allegations. Completely false, entirely made up, dragged out as long as possible, and turning millions, especially women, against him.

The accusations against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh haven’t been around long enough to be discredited. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. But read through newspaper articles, watch TV shows, follow Twitter, and you see countless voices already convinced ‘he did it’. And that ‘it’ is often labeled ‘rape’, though that’s not the accusation.

But it’s part of the Anti-Trump train, and the echo-chamber has gone into overdrive once again. Even if everyone understands that a 36-year old accusation must be handled with care. The accusing woman’s lawyer says the FBI must investigate, and everyone says: FBI! FBI!. Conveniently forgetting that the FBI has been far from impartial with regards to Trump, and the White House is not exactly waiting for another FBI role.

What’s wrong with waiting till you know the facts? Why judge a situation you know nothing about other than a woman accuses a man of assault 36 years ago, and doesn’t remember time, location etc.?

 

And that’s the thing all along, isn’t it? That people, both readers and journalists, all 200 million Americans of them, think they have acquired the right to judge any person, any situation they read a few lines about, just because they have purchased a smartphone. A faulty notion fed on a daily basis by the fact there are millions who think just like them.

We may want to rethink the terms ‘social’ media and ‘smart’ phone. They sound good, but they don’t cover the true nature of either. It’s hard to say where all this is going, but the sharply increasing polarization of society is certainly not a good sign. People feeling they have the right to accuse others without knowing facts, people building a Russiagate narrative without evidence, these are not things a society should welcome, whether they’re profitable or not.

Meanwhile, there are two people (there are many more, of course) who were banned from the platforms so many others use to draw baseless conclusions and spout empty accusations. And we miss them both, or we should: Alex Jones and Julian Assange. Have they really used ‘social’ media in worse ways than those 200 million Americans? Or were they banned because millions of Americans were following and reading their non-mainstream views?

We better get a grip on this, and on ourselves, or we won’t get another chance. What we have seen so far is that it’s not that hard to shape people’s opinions in a world with information overload. And that process is about to get a whole lot more intense. Until all you’re left with is the illusion that your opinion is actually your own.

 

 

Sep 132018
 
 September 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Landscape with a bench 1918

 

This Will Be The Mother Of All Minsky Moments (Mauldin)
Leaderless World Is Sleepwalking Into A Financial Crisis – Gordon Brown (G.)
UK PM May Calls Special Meeting To Discuss ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (CNBC)
EU Can ‘Certainly Not’ Accept Theresa May’s Single Market Plan – Juncker (Ind.)
Juncker Calls On EU To Seize Chance To Become Major Sovereign Power (G.)
Poland Says It Will Block Any EU Sanctions Against Hungary (R.)
Leaked Video Shows Distraught Google Execs Grappling With Hillary’s Loss (ZH)
John Kerry Accused Of Violating Logan Act In Secret Iran Talks (ZH)
US Destroyer Arrives In Mediterranean As Syria Tensions Rise (RT)
No NGO Rescue Boats Currently In Central Mediterranean (G.)
Two More Potential ‘Garbage Patch’ Zones In World’s Oceans Identified (Ind.)
Florence To Slow Down, Hammer Carolinas and Appalachia for Days (Weather.com)

 

 

The mother of all debt loads.

This Will Be The Mother Of All Minsky Moments (Mauldin)

Dr. Hyman Minsky points out that stability leads to instability. The more comfortable we get with a given condition or trend, the longer it will persist. And then when the trend fails, the more dramatic the correction. Long-term stability produces unstable financial arrangements. If we believe that tomorrow will be the same as last week, we are more willing to add debt or postpone savings in favor of current consumption. Thus, says Minsky, the longer the period of stability, the higher the potential risk for even greater instability when market participants must change their behavior.

[..] I think the mother of all Minsky moments is building. It will not be an instant sandpile collapse, but instead take years because we have $500 trillion of debt to work through. Remember, that debt just can’t be pooped away. It is both money somebody owes and an asset on somebody else’s balance sheet. We can’t just take that away without huge consequences to culture and society.

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All these people responsible for the last crisis are now advising on what to do with the next one.

Leaderless World Is Sleepwalking Into A Financial Crisis – Gordon Brown (G.)

“It is very difficult to say what will trigger it [the next crisis] but we are at the latter end of the economic cycle where people take greater risks. There are problems in emerging markets.” Brown said one area of concern should be heavy commercial and industrial lending by lightly or unregulated shadow banks at a time when US interest rates are rising. “It could arise in Asia because of the amount of lending through the shadow banking system.” He added: “In an interconnected world there is an escalation of risks. We have had a decade of stagnation and we are now about to have a decade of vulnerability.”

Recalling the freezing up of the financial markets a decade ago, Brown said governments had sought to compensate for the lack of trust between banks by cooperating more closely. “In the next crisis a breakdown of trust in the financial sector would be mirrored by breakdown in trust between governments. There wouldn’t be the same willingness to cooperate but rather a tendency to blame each other for what’s gone wrong.

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Waking up at last?

UK PM May Calls Special Meeting To Discuss ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (CNBC)

The U.K. government is set to meet Thursday morning for three-hours to discuss the eventuality of a “no-deal” Brexit. The meeting takes place at a time when the government is also releasing more than 20 documents, outlining some more preparations in case the U.K. leaves the European Union in March 2019 without a deal. This is not the first set of papers outlining what will happen in case the U.K. and the EU do not reach a deal. In late August, the U.K. government said that businesses should prepare for higher barriers to trade, more red tape and potentially higher costs too, if Brexit talks collapse.

All these steps are part of a wider attempt to step up works for the worst-case scenario. The EU has also strengthened its preparations in case the U.K. leaves the bloc abruptly. The U.K.’s Brexit chief, Dominic Raab, warned on Wednesday that the U.K. will not pay the so-called divorce bill, if there is no final deal over Brexit. Raab wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the £39 billion ($50.82 billion) the U.K. owes to the EU, due to previous policy agreements, will not be repaid if there is no deal.

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We know.

EU Can ‘Certainly Not’ Accept Theresa May’s Single Market Plan – Juncker (Ind.)

Jean-Claude Juncker has given his clearest signal yet that the EU will not accept Theresa May’s plan to keep Britain in the single market for goods after Brexit. In his annual state of the union address in Strasbourg, the European Commission president said parts of the single market could “certainly not” be jettisoned for countries outside the bloc. But he said the Chequers proposals could be a “starting point” for the future relationship and that Britain would “never be an ordinary” country for the EU. “We respect the British decision to leave our union, even though we continue to regret it deeply,” he told MEPs. “But we also ask the British government to understand that someone who leaves the union cannot be in the same privileged position as a member state.

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Bigger is better?!

Juncker Calls On EU To Seize Chance To Become Major Sovereign Power (G.)

In his state of the union speech, titled The Hour of European Sovereignty, the European commission president appealed to MEPs and heads of government to give the EU the powers and characteristics traditionally restricted to states. Explaining his expansive vision, Juncker said the EU should aim to surpass the dominance of the dollar in the world economy and challenge China in its attempts to become the ascendant influence in Africa. The EU should be “a global player” as well as a “global payer”, Juncker said, with foreign policy decisions made on the basis of a qualified majority vote in which the will of 55% of member states would win the day.

Through trade deals, the EU’s standards and labour conditions were being exported across the world, he said, and it was time for the continent to further use its “clout” to mould the future. “The geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come,” Juncker told the European parliament in Strasbourg. “It is time Europe took its destiny into its own hands. It is time Europe developed what I coined Weltpolitikfähigkeit – the capacity to play a role, as a union, in shaping global affairs. Europe has to become a more sovereign actor in international relations.”

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A crumbling fortress.

Poland Says It Will Block Any EU Sanctions Against Hungary (R.)

Poland, the biggest former communist country in the European Union, said it will oppose any sanctions imposed by the bloc on fellow member Hungary, accused of floating EU rules on democracy. “Every country has its sovereign right to make internal reforms it deems appropriate,” Poland’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday. “Actions aimed against member states serve only deepening divides in the EU, increasing citizens’ current lack of confidence to European institutions.” The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to sanction Hungary for neglecting norms on democracy, civil rights and corruption in a first bid to launch the punitive process of the EU treaty’s Article 7.

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AI to save their day?

Leaked Video Shows Distraught Google Execs Grappling With Hillary’s Loss (ZH)

Days after Google was exposed trying to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election, a leaked “internal only” video published by Breitbart Senior Tech correspondent Allum Bokhari reveals a panel of Google executives who are absolutely beside themselves following Hillary Clinton’s historic loss. The video is a full recording of Google’s first all-hands meeting following the 2016 election (these weekly meetings are known inside the company as “TGIF” or “Thank God It’s Friday” meetings). Sent to Breitbart News by an anonymous source, it features co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, VPs Kent Walker and Eileen Naughton, CFO Ruth Porat, and CEO Sundar Pichai. -Breitbart

In the video, Brin can be heard comparing Trump supporters to fascists and extremists – arguing that like other extremists, Trump voters suffered from “boredom” which has, he claims, historically led to fascism and communism. He then asks his company what they can do to ensure a “better quality of governance and decision-making.” And according to Kent Walker, VP for Global Affairs, those who support populist causes like the MAGA movement are motivated by “fear, xenophobia, hatred and a desire for answers that may or may not be there.” He later says that Google needs to fight to ensure that populist movements around the world are merely a “blip” and a “hiccup” in the arc of history that “bends towards progress.”

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A dark-grey area at best.

John Kerry Accused Of Violating Logan Act In Secret Iran Talks (ZH)

Though he previously denied it when allegations first surfaced last Spring, former Secretary of State John Kerry has now disclosed he’s personally had semi-frequent face to face contact with top Iranian officials to discuss US-Iran relations since Trump entered office. Kerry confirmed and explained in detail his recent meetings with Iranian Former Minister Javad Zarif in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt to promote his new memoir, Every Day Is Extra.

During the interview Kerry disclosed that he met with Zarif “three or four times” and discussed political issues and challenges between the United States and Iran in what could constitute a significant and clear violation of the Logan Act. Though it’s almost never been enforced, the 1799 Logan Act states that unauthorized diplomacy with foreign powers by private American citizens is a crime. Notably, two Trump-connected individuals that prominent Liberals and editorials demanded be prosecuted under the Logan Act include former national security advisor Michael Flynn and Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

When asked point blank during the radio show about his rumored meetings with top Iran officials, Kerry admitted, “I think I’ve seen him three or four times,” but attempted to claim he was not trying to “coach” Iran on how to navigate President Trump’s pullout of the Iran nuclear deal. Kerry is of course now a private citizen out of government but holds significant clout and influence with the Iran FM as the two hammered out the details of the JCPOA brokered under President Obama in the first place.

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I wouldn’t be too sure Russia will back down again.

US Destroyer Arrives In Mediterranean As Syria Tensions Rise (RT)

With the arrival of another guided missile destroyer to the Mediterranean, the US may have 200 ‘Tomahawks’ ready for a strike on Syria, as Russia warns that jihadist groups in Idlib are planning a fake chemical attack. The USS Bulkeley (DDG-84), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, entered the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar on Wednesday, the Russian news agency Interfax reported citing international maritime monitoring data. A Gibraltar-watcher confirmed the destroyer’s transit on September 12.

With the arrival of the Bulkeley, the US forces in the region have up to 200 ‘Tomahawk’ cruise missiles available to strike targets in Syria if ordered to do so, Interfax reported. Last week, the attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) arrived in the Mediterranean as well. Last week, Russia conducted massive naval maneuvers off the Syrian coast, culminating in marine landing drills and missile launches. The presence of Russian ships in the area was seen as a possible deterrent to further US military action against Syria.

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If a tree falls in a forest…

No NGO Rescue Boats Currently In Central Mediterranean (G.)

Thousands of migrants risk dying at sea because of a clampdown on NGO rescue ships, aid agencies have warned, in what has been their longest period of absence from the central Mediterranean since they began operating in late 2015. Since 26 August, no NGO rescue vessel has operated on the main migration routes between north Africa and southern Europe. Anti-immigration policies by the Maltese and Italian governments, which have closed their ports to the vessels, have driven the sharp decrease in rescue missions. People seeking asylum are still attempting the risky crossing – but without the boats, shipwrecks are likely to rise dramatically.

The last time the Mediterranean was without NGO rescue boats was from 28 June to 8 July 2018, and in those days more than 300 migrants died at sea. The death toll has fallen in the past year, but the number of those drowning as a proportion of arrivals in Italy has risen sharply in the past few months, with the possibility of dying during the crossing now three times higher.

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When we create truly lasting legacies.

Two More Potential ‘Garbage Patch’ Zones In World’s Oceans Identified (Ind.)

Much attention has focus on the plastic floating on the surface, but this accounts for less than 1 per cent of the total plastic thought to be in ocean. To trace the likely fate of the remaining 99 per cent, scientists at Newcastle University used computer models and identified two likely locations for accumulation zones that had previously slipped under the radar. The Gulf of Guinea region and the East Siberian Sea may be hosting large quantities of plastic that cannot be easily viewed from the water surface, as up to 70 per cent of plastic debris is thought to sink and remain on the sea floor.

“There’s a need to find the unaccounted for plastic in the ocean mainly because if we don’t know the extent of the problem, then there’s no way of knowing the potential implications it has,” explained Alethea Mountford, a PhD Student at Newcastle University who led the study. “Once the plastics reach the water column, the greatest impact would be on marine organisms through ingestion and entanglement,” she said.

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A lot of storms. Mangkhut is about to hit the Philippines.

Florence To Slow Down, Hammer Carolinas and Appalachia for Days (Weather.com)

Hurricane Florence continues to expand in size. Hurricane-force winds now extend outward up to 80 miles the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles from the center. This expansion in size only increases the hurricane’s energy and potential for significant storm surge. The National Hurricane Center noted Wednesday evening that while Florence has weakened some, “the wind field of the hurricane continues to grow in size. This evolution will produce storm surges similar to that of a more intense, but smaller, hurricane, and thus the storm surge values seen in the previous advisory are still valid.” Previous large Category 2 hurricanes have done enormous amounts of damage along the U.S. coast.

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Sarah Kendzior tweets:

The best workaround I’ve found to Twitter’s horrible new algorithm is putting this in the search bar:

filter:follows -filter:replies include:nativeretweets

You will get your old chronological timeline back with no “likes” and with retweets from people you actually follow.

Sep 122018
 
 September 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Winslow Homer Salt Kettle, Bermuda 1899

 

In the wake of a number of the Lehman and 9/11 commemorations in America, and as a monster storm is once again threatening to cause outsize damage, we find ourselves at a pivotal point in time, which will decide how the country interacts with its own laws, its legal system, its Constitution, its freedom of speech, and indeed if it has sufficient willpower left to adhere to the Constitution as its no. 1 guiding principle.

The main problem is that it all seems to slip slide straight by the people, who are -kept- busy with completely different issues. That is convenient for those who would like less focus on the Constitution, but it’s also very dangerous for everyone else. Americans should today stand up for freedom of speech, or it will be gone, likely forever.

The way it works is that president Trump is portrayed as the major threat to ‘the rule of law’, which allows other people, as well as companies and organizations, to drop below the radar and devise and work on plans and schemes that threaten the country itself, and its future as a nation ruled by its laws.

Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House” and the anonymous op-ed published in the NYT a day later serve as a good reminder of these dynamics. If you succeed in confirming people’s idea that Trump is such an unhinged idiot that an unelected cabal inside the White House is needed to save the nation from the president it elected, you’re well on your way.

Well on your way to separate the country from its own laws, that is. Not on your way to saving it. You can’t save America by suspending its Constitution just because that suits your particular political goals or points of view.

 

Late last night, Michael Tracey wrote on Twitter: “Trump’s preference to pull out of Afghanistan is depicted in the Woodward book as yet another crazy impulse that the “adults in the room” successfully rein in.” “We’re going to save you from yourselves, thank us later!” Nobody voted for those adults in the room anymore than anyone voted for the Afghanistan ‘war’ to enter year 17.

Meanwhile Infowars said: “Several people within Trump’s inner circle know the threat to the mid-terms and his re-election chances that social media censorship poses, including Donald Trump Jr. and Brad Parscale, his 2020 campaign manager. However, older members of the administration are completely unaware of the fact that banning prominent online voices and manipulating algorithms can shift millions of votes and are oblivious to the danger. This ignorance has placed a temporary block on Trump taking action, despite the president repeatedly referring to Big Tech censorship in tweets and speeches over the last few weeks.”

Yes, Infowars, I know, everybody loves to hate Alex Jones. And perhaps for good reasons, at least at times. But does that mean he can be banned from a whole slew of internet platforms without this having been run by and through the US court system? Without even one judge having examined the ‘evidence’, if it even existed, that leads to such banning, blocking and shadowbanning?

Alex Jones is an ‘easy example’ because he’s so popular. Which is also, undoubtedly, why all the social media platforms ban him so easily, and all at the same time. ‘He’s a terrible person’, say so many of their readers. But that’s not good enough, far from it. Twitter and Facebook should never be allowed to ban anyone, using opaque ‘Community Standards’ or ‘Terms and Conditions’ interpreted by kids fresh out of high school.

These platforms have important societal functions. They are for instance the new conduits governments, police, armies use to warn people in case of emergencies and disasters. You can’t ban people from those conduits just because a bunch of geeks don’t like what they say. If you can at all, it will have to be done through the legal system.

That this is not done at present poses an immense threat to that legal system, and to the Constitution itself. But Americans, and indeed Congressmen and Senators, have been trained in a Pavlovian way to believe that it’s not Google and Facebook who threaten the Constitution, but that it’s Trump and his crew.

 

Meanwhile, Trump is being put through Bob Mueller’s Special Counsel legal wringer 24/7, while Alphabet, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg escape any such scrutiny at all. That discrepancy, too, is eating away at the foundations of American law.

And like it or not, Trump had it right when he said “You look at Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants and I made it clear that we as a country cannot tolerate political censorship, blacklisting and rigged search results..”

America as a country cannot tolerate a few rich companies deciding whose voice can be heard, and whose will be silenced. It is entirely unacceptable. That goes for voices Trump doesn’t want to hear as much as it does for whoever Silicon Valley doesn’t. That’s why neither should be in charge of making such decisions. It kills the Constitution.

None of the above means that everyone should be free to post terrorist sympathies or hate speech on social media platforms. But it does mean that legislative and judicial systems must define what these things mean, that this not be left up to arbitrary ‘Community Standards’ interpreted by legally inept Silicon Valley interns, nor should it be left to secret algorithms to decide what news you see and what not.

America itself hangs in the balance, and so do many other western countries. What exactly is the difference between China’s overt internet censorship and America’s hidden one? That is what needs to be defined, and that can only be done by the legal system, by Congress, by the courts, by judges and juries.

And it’s not something that has to be invented from scratch, it can and must be tested against the Constitution. That is the only way forward. That social media have taken over the country by storm, and nary a soul has any idea what that means, can never be an excuse to leave banning and silencing voices over to private parties, whoever they are.

 

It’s not a unique American problem. In Europe there are all sorts of attempts to ban ‘hate speech’, but there are very few proposals concerning who will define what that is. And since Europe has no Constitution, but instead has 27 different versions of one, it will be harder there. Then again, it will also be easier to get away with all sorts of arbitrary bannings etc.

Hungary will be inclined to ban totally different voices than for instance Denmark and so on. And nobody over there has given any sign of understanding how dangerous that is. Banning ‘hate speech’ doesn’t mean anything if the term hasn’t been properly defined. But that also allows for banning voices someone simply doesn’t like. To prevent that from happening, we have legal systems.

It’s essential, it’s elementary, Watson. But it’s slipping through our fingers because our politicians are either incapable of, or unwilling to, comprehending the consequences. Why stick out your neck when nobody else does? It’s like the anti-thesis of what politics means: stay safe.

So the social media’s industry’s own lobbying has a good shot at getting its way: they tell Washington to let them regulate themselves, and everything will be spic and dandy. That would be the final nail in the Constitution’s coffin, and it’s much closer than you think. Do be wary of that.

 

In the end it comes down to two things i’ve said before. First, there is no-one who’s been as ferociously banned and worse the way Julian Assange has. His ban goes way beyond Silicon Valley, but it does paint a shrill portrait of how far the US, CIA, FBI, is willing to go, and to step beyond the Constitution, to get to someone they really don’t like.

But has Assange ever violated and US law, let alone its Constitution? Not that we know of. Mike Pompeo has called WikiLeaks a ‘hostile intelligence service’, and the DOJ has said the 1st Amendment, and thereby of necessity the entire US Constitution, doesn’t apply to Assange because he’s not an American, but both those things are devoid of any meaning, at least in a court of law.

Bob Woodward has an idea of what Assange faces, and he’d do much better to focus on helping him than trying to put Trump down through anonymous sources. And that also leads me to why I, personally, have at least some sympathy for Alex Jones, other than because he’s being attacked unconstitutionally: Jones ran/runs a petition for Trump to free Julian Assange.

Come to think of it: it’s when that petition started taking off that Jones’s ‘real trouble’ started. Given how closely interwoven Silicon Valley and the FBI and CIA have already become, I’m not going to feign any surprise at that.

And before you feel any wishes and desires coming up to impeach Trump, do realize that he may be the only person standing between you and a complete takeover of America by the FBI/NSA/CIA/DNC and Google/Facebook/Twitter, which will be accompanied by the ritual burial of the Constitution.

Think Trump is scary? Take a step back and survey the territory.