Mar 142019
 


Pablo Picasso Studio with plaster head 1925

 

Zugzwang Brexit : How the UK Can Escape The Checkmate/Stalemate (English)
May Issues Final Warning To Tory Rebels: Back Me Or Lose Brexit (G.)
EU On No-Deal Brexit Motion: ‘Like Titanic Voting For Iceberg To Move’ (G.)
‘No Delay From EU – Or We Elect 73 Nigel Farages Into European Parliament’ (RT)
US Grounds Boeing 737 Max Planes, Citing Links Between 2 Fatal Crashes (CNBC)
Battle Brews over Who Should Analyze Black Boxes from 737 Crash (Fort.)
US Lawmakers Emerge From Whitaker Meeting With Conflicting Accounts (R.)
Mueller’s Forensics-Free Findings (VIPS)
Paul Manafort Sentenced To 43 Additional Months (ZH)
Greek Financial Crisis Still Evokes Pain, Fear On The Streets Of Athens (CNBC)
Sharp Rise In Arctic Temperatures Now Inevitable – UN (G.)
Coca-Cola Produces 200,000 Plastic Bottles A Minute (G.)

 

 

Nice different view of things: in chess, you can be forced to make a move (Zugzwang), even if your position gets worse. Buit there is a way out: forfeit the game, stop playing.

Zugzwang Brexit : How the UK Can Escape The Checkmate/Stalemate (English)

The EU referendum has plunged the United Kingdom into a chaos so unprecedented, that only a fool would bet on the final outcome. What is clear is that each move to try to break the political deadlock has merely shoved the nation into further bedlam. With just two weeks to go before the March 29th deadline – the country is like that coach in the final scene of 1969 crime caper The Italian Job. Any move in any direction risks sending the whole thing tumbling down a cliff, while staying put is likewise not an option. In short, all attempts to resolve the crisis simply make matters worse. The Germans have a word for this. “Zugzwang” is a term used by chess masters to describe the situation where a participant is compelled to play, even when it is clearly not in their interests to do so.

“Zugzwang Brexit” is where we are now at. Consider May’s potential moves. The EU rightly insists it is up to the UK to find a solution – but with her deal voted down, no viable alternative on the table and the EU leaders unwilling to debate the matter further what alternatives does the PM have? It is far from certain that the EU 27 would grant the UK extra time. Even if they did, an extension of Article 50 would merely kick the can further down the road. A second referendum could go either way. If ‘Leave’ were to win again we would be back at square one. If Remain won but not by a considerable margin then the issue would not be satisfactorily resolved. A No Deal Brexit would heap ruin on the country and only serve as an ‘I told you so’ for Remainers as we disappeared down the plughole of global relevance.

If the polls are to be believed a General Election would be unlikely to deliver a result very different to that of 2017 and further uncertainty – possibly lasting years would ensue. Labour’s leadership anyway remain committed to Brexit. So What Can be Done? Well there is a way out of ‘Zugzwang Brexit’ – but it is the political equivalent of forfeiting the game. The UK could revoke Article 50 and simply accept that the country has failed to reach political accord. May has twice failed to get her deal through the House of Commons and it seems likely that any further version, negotiated by any of her successors would meet a similar fate.

By revoking the mechanism by which a member state leaves the EU – dignity and sanity could momentarily be restored and the country could dampen the fuse of the ticking time bomb which Theresa May so recklessly and foolishly lit. That would be in the public’s interest, in the nations’ interest, in the interest of jobs and industry and the UK economy. As such – it’s unlikely to happen.

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“Seething Brexiteer Tory MPs lining up on ERG’s WhatsApp group in their dozens to vote against Govt A50 motion tonight, and John McDonnell confirms to #r4Today Labour will amend it – leaving it no hope of passing. Then what?”

May Issues Final Warning To Tory Rebels: Back Me Or Lose Brexit (G.)

Theresa May will attempt one final desperate roll of the dice on her Brexit deal, issuing a stark warning to mutinous Brexiters that they must approve her offer by next week or face a long article 50 extension. The prime minister was humiliated yet again amid chaotic scenes on Wednesday night in parliament, as her cabinet ruptured three ways and MPs inflicted two more defeats on the government to demand no deal should be taken off the table permanently. In an unprecedented night of Tory splits, four cabinet ministers, Amber Rudd, David Mundell, David Gauke and Greg Clark, defied their party’s last-minute whip and refused to vote against the government’s own motion, after it was amended to rule out any prospect of no-deal Brexit.

Six other cabinet ministers also splintered to back a separate proposal for a “managed no deal”, despite the prime minister’s warning that the plan was doomed. After her defeat, May signalled she would gamble one last time on forcing through her Brexit deal, bringing forward a motion on Thursday on delaying Brexit which would “set out the fundamental choice facing this house”.= If MPs agreed a deal, she said, the government would request a “short, technical extension” to article 50, a hint that May plans a third meaningful vote next week. Without an agreed deal, she said, there would be a “much longer extension” that would require the UK to take part in European parliament elections. “I do not think that would be the right outcome,” May said.

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“..the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told EU ambassadors that she feared the Commons was “divorced from reality”..”

EU On No-Deal Brexit Motion: ‘Like Titanic Voting For Iceberg To Move’ (G.)

Brussels has said a vote by UK MPs to block a no-deal Brexit in any circumstances is a meaningless move, with one senior EU negotiator describing it as “the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way”. A European commission spokesman offered a withering assessment of the decision by MPs to ignore Theresa May’s assertion that no deal was the default position unless there was a deal in place by the time of the UK’s departure. “We take note of the votes in the House of Commons this evening,” the spokesman said. “There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal. The EU is prepared for both. To take no deal off the table, it is not enough to vote against no deal – you have to agree to a deal. We have agreed a deal with the prime minister, and the EU is ready to sign it.”

MPs voted by 312 to 308 to support a backbench amendment ruling out a no-deal Brexit and striking out a phrase in a government-backed motion noting that no deal remained the default position in UK and EU law if an agreement was not ratified. They then voted on the amended motion, which won by a majority of 43. On Thursday, MPs will vote on whether to request an extension of the article 50 negotiating period beyond 29 March until 30 June. But the commission is pushing member states to take an uncompromising position. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, speaking to the European parliament in Strasbourg earlier on Wednesday, questioned whether the EU should offer extra time for talks, leading officials to prepare for all options to be on the table at a leaders’ summit next week.

“Why would we extend these discussions?” Barnier asked. “The discussion on article 50 is done and dusted. We have the withdrawal agreement. It is there.” During a private meeting before his public comments, Barnier advised senior MEPs that at present there was no consensus among the EU’s member states over an extension, let alone on the conditions that would be attached. At the same time, the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told EU ambassadors that she feared the Commons was “divorced from reality”. Quoting private remarks by the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, Weyand concurred with his description of the decision to vote for no deal as “like the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way”.

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What powers would UK MEPs have in case a temporary extension comes into play? Interesting question.

‘No Delay From EU – Or We Elect 73 Nigel Farages Into European Parliament’ (RT)

The UK Parliament is set to seek postponement of Brexit, but Brussels may be reluctant to grant it. One argument against may be a potential poison pill in the form of Eurosceptic MEPs, voted in by offended Britons in May. The dramatic week of Brexit votes in the UK Parliament draws to a conclusion on Thursday. Earlier, MPs rejected both the deal negotiated with the EU by Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, and the option to leave the EU with no deal at all, which the government asked to leave on the table to keep pressure on Brussels. MPs are now set to vote on whether London should ask for a delay in exiting the union.

While a disorderly Brexit would hurt the EU, several top European officials warned that no delay would be granted unless Britain comes up with a clear and substantial plan, which it would try to achieve if given more time. But European bureaucrats may have more reasons not to tolerate Britain dragging its feet, MEP from Scotland David Coburn told RT. If we end up staying beyond a certain period, we have to take part in the European elections. Then what you are going to see is 73 Nigel Farages returned to the European Parliament. It would make the government of the EU impossible. They would probably want to throw us out, I should think.

The next European election is scheduled for the end of May. The UK’s share of the seats would be 73 if it remained part of the EU – with both Britain and the EU making contingencies for this scenario. Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, is still technically an independent MEP, as is David Coburn, even though they belong to the newly-formed Eurosceptic Brexit Party. [..] “People are becoming more and more angry about the European Union. And more and more people, who previously voted for ‘Remain’, are now supporting ‘Leave’,” he said. “I think people do not like the way that Britain has been treated by the EU.”

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Bopeing will be sued like nuts by airlines. They pay $121 million for the brand new thing and then can’t fly it. Orders are over 5000.

US Grounds Boeing 737 Max Planes, Citing Links Between 2 Fatal Crashes (CNBC)

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday grounded all Boeing 737 Max jets in the U.S., citing new evidence that showed similarities between two fatal crashes of the popular planes that have killed 346 people in less than five months. The move marks a stunning turnaround for the U.S., which has stood by the American-made aircraft as dozens of countries around the world grounded the planes. The crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on Sunday came less than five months after a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8 — the same type of plane — plunged into the Java Sea minutes into the flight from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board. Both planes were new, delivered from Boeing just months before their doomed flights.

The FAA said the grounding will remain in effect while it investigates the crash. “An FAA team is in Ethiopia assisting the NTSB as parties to the investigation of the Flight 302 accident,” it said in a statement. New satellite data shows the plane’s movement was similar to the October crash, the FAA’s acting administrator Daniel Elwell told reporters on a call Wednesday. The agency also took physical evidence into account, but Elwell declined to elaborate. “It became clear the track was very close and behaved similarly to the Lion Air flight,” Elwell told reporters on a call Wednesday. “My hope is the FAA, the carriers, the manufacturers and all parties will work very hard to make this grounding as short as possible so that these airplanes can get back up in the sky.”

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US standing in the world.

Battle Brews over Who Should Analyze Black Boxes from 737 Crash (Fort.)

Ethiopia’s aviation authority is unable to read the black box recorders from the Boeing 737 Max plane that crashed Sunday, but a row is brewing over just where the flight recorders will be sent for analysis. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is pushing to have its experts analyze the data and voice recorders, which were partly damaged, the Wall Street Journal reports, but Ethiopian authorities would prefer to work with the U.K.’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch to ensure that U.S. experts won’t have undue influence in the probe of the American-made plane. Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told WSJ that the U.K., France and Germany were being considered as destinations for the black boxes, as was the European Union Aviation Safety Agency based in Cologne.

He added that a decision would be made Wednesday. Aviation authorities worldwide are anxiously awaiting the data from the black box recorders, hoping it will give answers as to why Boeing’s (BA, +0.55%) best-selling model has been involved in two major crashes in the past six months. Ethiopian Airlines’ recently acquired Boeing 737 Max 8 was flying from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya, when it crashed six minutes into its flight, killing all 157 people on board. The Lion Air plane that crashed 12 minutes into its flight in Indonesia in October, killing 189 people, was the same model.

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Wow. 180º different accounts of one and the same meeting. A good journalist should be able to get a good story out of this.

US Lawmakers Emerge From Whitaker Meeting With Conflicting Accounts (R.)

U.S. lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee emerged from a closed-door meeting with former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Wednesday with conflicting accounts of their conversation with the controversial Trump ally. Whitaker was called to Capitol Hill to clarify his testimony at a combative Feb. 8 committee hearing, during which he denied speaking with President Donald Trump about a federal case involving Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who met for two hours with Whitaker and the panel’s top Republican, Representative Doug Collins, said Whitaker no longer denied speaking to Trump about Cohen or about the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.

“Unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the president called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District,” the New York Democrat told reporters. Nadler also said Whitaker told the lawmakers that he was involved in conversations about U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman’s recusal from the Cohen investigation in the Southern District of New York and about whether its campaign finance case involving hush money payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump had gone too far. Nadler’s committee is seeking evidence that Trump may have urged Whitaker to put the investigations under the supervision of Berman, a Trump donor and former law partner of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani who is recused.

But Collins, a Georgia Republican, contradicted much of Nadler’s account. “He (Whitaker) said that he had not talked with the president about Mr. Cohen at all,” Collins told reporters. Collins described Whitaker’s conversations about Berman and the campaign finance case as questions for his personal staff. “(Whitaker) had no conversations with the Southern District of New York,” he said. Collins also dismissed a Nadler statement that Whitaker was involved in conversations about firing one or more U.S. attorneys as “normal personnel issues.”

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US intelligence continues to ignore its own veterans. There’s a long list of them. But their message doesn’t rhyme with official standpoints. I’ve said it before, Mueller’s account relies on hacking Russians and Assange. And he’s a coward and a liar for doing that.

Mueller’s Forensics-Free Findings (VIPS)

MEMORANDUM FOR: The Attorney General Media reports are predicting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is about to give you the findings of his probe into any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump. If Mueller gives you his “completed” report anytime soon, it should be graded “incomplete.” Major deficiencies include depending on a DNC-hired cybersecurity company for forensics and failure to consult with those who have done original forensic work, including us and the independent forensic investigators with whom we have examined the data. We stand ready to help.

We veteran intelligence professionals (VIPS) have done enough detailed forensic work to prove the speciousness of the prevailing story that the DNC emails published by WikiLeaks came from Russian hacking. Given the paucity of evidence to support that story, we believe Mueller may choose to finesse this key issue and leave everyone hanging. That would help sustain the widespread belief that Trump owes his victory to President Vladimir Putin, and strengthen the hand of those who pay little heed to the unpredictable consequences of an increase in tensions with nuclear-armed Russia. There is an overabundance of “assessments” but a lack of hard evidence to support that prevailing narrative.

We believe that there are enough people of integrity in the Department of Justice to prevent the outright manufacture or distortion of “evidence,” particularly if they become aware that experienced scientists have completed independent forensic study that yield very different conclusions. We know only too well — and did our best to expose — how our former colleagues in the intelligence community manufactured fraudulent “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

We can prove that the conventional-wisdom story about Russian-hacking-DNC-emails-for-WikiLeaks is false. Drawing largely on the unique expertise of two VIPS scientists who worked for a combined total of 70 years at the National Security Agency and became Technical Directors there, we have regularly published our findings. But we have been deprived of a hearing in mainstream media — an experience painfully reminiscent of what we had to endure when we exposed the corruption of intelligence before the attack on Iraq 16 years ago.

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No love lost for Manafort. But sending him away for years while people like the Podestas walk free, doesn’t sound fair.

Paul Manafort Sentenced To 43 Additional Months (ZH)

Lobbyist and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was sentenced to more than six years in prison by a federal judge in the District of Columbia on two conspiracy counts. Manafort pleaded guilty last fall to the two charges which encompass a host of crimes – including money laundering and obstruction of justice. Manafort was sentenced to 60 months on count one, with 30 months of that overlapping a 47 month sentence handed down last week in a separate trial in Virginia – and 13 months on count two. In total, he will serve 90 months in prison, or 7.5 years.

Manafort asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson for leniency during Wednesday’s hearing, saying that the criminal charges against him have “taken everything from me already,” and asking that Berman Jackson not impose any additional prison time beyond the sentence handed down last week. Jackson agreed with Manafort that the original 19-24 year sentencing guideline “overstates the seriousness of this offense.” “I am sorry for what I have done and all the activities that have gotten us here today,” said Manafort in a calm and steady voice as he read from a prepared statement. “While I cannot undo the past, I will ensure that the future will be very different.”

[..] Before reading her decision, Berman Jackson reamed Manafort – saying that there was no good explanation for granting the leniency Manafort had requested.”What you were doing was lying to Congress and the American public,” said Berman Jackson, adding that Manafort had “contempt for” and “believed he had the right to manipulate these proceedings.” “Saying I’m sorry I got caught is not an inspiring plea for leniency,” the judge said, adding that Manafort’s defense that there was “no collusion” with Russia is not related to the case.

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A few days ago the IMF talked about how great Greece is doing. BS. 2% growth from nothing is still nothing.

Greek Financial Crisis Still Evokes Pain, Fear On The Streets Of Athens (CNBC)

Greece’s financial crisis is still hurting the hopes and dreams of the people that live in the Mediterranean nation. The country has been in economic turmoil for most of the last decade. Years of financial mismanagement alongside a culture of clientelistic politics, where goods and services were exchanged for political support, culminated in a long-term recession.= “I still think the crisis exists. It’s more than in one field now, (it’s) not only (a) financial crisis, but it’s a crisis of our values … I don’t think it’s better now … it is really a stressful period for Greece,” Stavros Dimopoulos, a 23-year-old university student told CNBC in Athens.

Different governments in Greece borrowed above the country’s capacity and its public debt pile became so high that in 2010 investors were no longer willing to keep on financing the Greek government. The end result: George Papandreou, the prime minister at the time, saw no other way out but to ask for a bailout — without even consulting with other European leaders. Since August, the Greek government has tried to show that austerity is over, by providing additional funds to the lower and middle classes. But ordinary Greeks told CNBC they haven’t seen a massive difference in their lives. “We love our city, we love our weather, we love the Greek people, but we are scared and afraid in a way, because the situation is not that good,” Dimopoulos said about him and his friends.

“We have to try harder and harder to make our own money … Sometimes we are talking (about going) abroad: If it is going to be better for us to leave Greece or if it is going to be better to stay in Greece and try harder. It is in our minds.” [..] 2019 is expected to be the country’s third consecutive year of growth, at a pace of about 2.2 percent. Still, this growth doesn’t seem to be making ordinary Greeks happy about the economy. Nikolas complained there hasn’t been a significant improvement for people and there’s still way too many taxes. “Some people have good jobs if they are in the civil service, but the others are suffering, they are paying like 85 percent taxes, which is very hard to get by. You risk losing your house if you don’t have enough money to pay the taxes,” he said. “(the) long term is hard, we just have to smile, pretend.”

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Maybe it’s an idea to rethink the way the data are made public. It’s a litany of ever more of the same now.

Sharp Rise In Arctic Temperatures Now Inevitable – UN (G.)

Sharp and potentially devastating temperature rises of 3C to 5C in the Arctic are now inevitable even if the world succeeds in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement, research has found. Winter temperatures at the north pole are likely to rise by at least 3C above pre-industrial levels by mid-century, and there could be further rises to between 5C and 9C above the recent average for the region, according to the UN. Such changes would result in rapidly melting ice and permafrost, leading to sea level rises and potentially to even more destructive levels of warming. Scientists fear Arctic heating could trigger a climate “tipping point” as melting permafrost releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, which in turn could create a runaway warming effect.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Joyce Msuya, the acting executive director of UN Environment. “We have the science. Now more urgent climate action is needed to steer away from tipping points that could be even worse for our planet than we first thought.” The findings, presented at the UN Environment assembly in Nairobi on Wednesday, give a stark picture of one of the planet’s most sensitive regions and one that is key to the fate of the world’s climate. Last year’s stark warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, setting out the dramatic impacts of 1.5C of global warming, did not include the impacts of potential tipping points such as melting permafrost.

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Coca-Cola produces 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year.

Coca-Cola Produces 200,000 Plastic Bottles A Minute (G.)

Coca-Cola has revealed for the first time it produces 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year – equivalent to 200,000 bottles a minute – as a report calls on other global companies to end the secrecy over their plastic footprint. The data from the soft drinks manufacturer was provided to the campaigner Ellen MacArthur, who is pushing for major companies and governments to do more to tackle plastic pollution. The figures – which the company has refused in the past to disclose – reveal the amount of plastic packaging Coca-Cola produced in 2017. The company did not reveal the scale of its bottle production but when its packaging footprint is translated into 500ml PET plastic bottles, it amounts to about 108bn bottles a year, more than a fifth of the world’s PET bottle output of about 500bn bottles a year.

Coca-Cola is one of 31 companies – including Mars, Nestlé and Danone – that have revealed how much plastic packaging they create as part of a drive for transparency by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Combined, they produce 8m tonnes of plastic packaging a year. But the majority of the 150 companies who have signed up to MacArthur’s global commitment to reduce plastic pollution are still refusing to publicly disclose figures on their own plastic packaging production. These include Pepsi Co, H&M, L’Oréal, Walmart, Marks & Spencer and Burberry – which was heavily criticised last year when it was revealed that the company burned £28m of stock in a year to prevent counterfeiting.


Photograph: Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

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Feb 012019
 


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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pretty much a given now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Brexit?!

UK Homeless Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Ind.)

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

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

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Lawrence Yun still has a job. Amazing.

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

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

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

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Let’s see the Fed tackle this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple Punishes Facebook, Google Over App Rules (BBC)

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

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

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The Troika is not happy.

Greece Raises Minimum Wage By 11% (K.)

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan 222019
 


Pablo Picasso Female bust 1922

 

Pre-Davos Survey Shows Sixfold Rise In Global CEOs’ Gloom (G.)
In Versailles, Macron Vows To Reform To Avoid King’s Fate (R.)
The Garden Of Eden Is No More -David Attenborough (G.)
With Kamala Harris In The Race, Trump Stands No Chance Of Winning (Ind.)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Crusher of Sacred Cows (Matt Taibbi)
Theresa May: Second Referendum Would Threaten ‘Social Cohesion’ (G.)
Labour Calls For Vote On Holding Second Brexit Referendum (G.)
Xi Warns China Against ‘Black Swans’ Of Economic Volatility (G.)
US To Formally Seek Extradition Of Huawei Executive Meng Wanzhou (R.)
Greek Households Have Lost 28% Of Their Assets (K.)
Facebook And Twitter Can Work Out Who You Are Even If You Don’t Use Them (Ind.)
Greenland’s Ice Melting Four Times Faster Than In 2003 (Ind.)

 

 

And what are they gloomy about? Inequality? Species extinction? Warfare? Nope! They are gloomy about growth.

Pre-Davos Survey Shows Sixfold Rise In Global CEOs’ Gloom (G.)

Pessimism among chief executives has risen sharply in the past 12 months as the leaders of the world’s biggest companies have taken fright at rising protectionism and the deteriorating relationship between the US and China. The survey of chief executives conducted by the consultancy firm PwC to mark the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos showed a sixfold increase to 30% in the number of CEOs expecting global growth to slow during 2019. PwC said the rise in pessimism was unsurpassed in the 22 years it had been conducting the survey, with the downbeat mood a contrast to the bullishness of early 2018, when global growth was strong and stock markets were soaring.

The survey showed that the most pronounced shift was among CEOs in North America, where optimism about global growth dropped from 63% in 2018 to 37%. PwC said this was probably due to the fading impact of Donald Trump’s tax cuts and emerging trade tensions. “CEOs’ views of the global economy mirror the major economic outlooks, which are adjusting their forecasts downward in 2019,” PwC’s global chairman, Bob Moritz, said. “With the rise of trade tension and protectionism it stands to reason that confidence is waning.”

The unease about global economic growth had influenced CEOs’ confidence about their companies’ short-term prospects. Thirty-five percent of CEOs said they were very confident in their own organisation’s growth prospects over the next 12 months, down from 42% last year. While the US retained its position as the top international market for growth over the next year, many CEOs have been turning to other markets, PwC said.

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Macron does his own little Davos. And elects to huddle and hobnob with billionaires instead of talking to his people. Just like the King did 226 years ago.

Macron’s idea of reform is weakening labor laws, and more Europe. Precisely what the Yellow Vests don’t want.

In Versailles, Macron Vows To Reform To Avoid King’s Fate (R.)

President Emmanuel Macron told dozens of the world’s most powerful executives on Monday that he would not follow the path of guillotined French royals and would continue to reform the French economy despite a sometimes violent popular revolt. For the second year running, Macron hosted corporate A-listers like Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon at a pre-Davos dinner at Versailles. Exactly 226 years after the decapitation of Louis XVI, who failed to plug the crown’s dismal finances and quell popular discontent over a sclerotic feudal society, Macron started his speech by invoking the king and his wife Marie-Antoinette. “If they met such an end, it is because they had given up on reforming,” Macron told the guests, according to his office.

His office said earlier that foreign companies including medical products company Microport, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Cisco and others would announce investments in France totaling more than 600 million euros. The dinner was an opportunity to reassure investors of Macron’s resolve to reform the economy after images of protesters angry at his policies attacking public monuments, boutiques, banks and riot police were beamed around the world. “There are questions about the protests’ magnitude, about the violence, because these images are shocking for foreigners,” a source at Macron’s office said before the summit. “Last year, the summit was in a totally different dynamic, it was all about ‘France is back’. Here we’re in a tougher part of the mandate domestically and that requires more explanations,” the source added.

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Really, David, you couldn’t have picked a place with more deaf ears for your message than Davos. All those politicians and wealthy folk owe their positions to the very process that eradicated the Garden of Eden.

The Garden Of Eden Is No More -David Attenborough (G.)

Sir David Attenborough has warned that “the Garden of Eden is no more”, as he urged political and business leaders from around the world to make a renewed push to tackle climate change before the damage is irreparable. Speaking at the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, the 92-year-old naturalist and broadcaster warned that human activity has taken the world into a new era, threatening to undermine civilisation. “I am quite literally from another age,” Attenborough told an audience of business leaders, politicians and other delegates. “I was born during the Holocene – the 12,000 [year] period of climatic stability that allowed humans to settle, farm, and create civilisations.” That led to trade in ideas and goods, and made us the “globally connected species we are today”.

That stability allowed businesses to grow, nations to co-operate and people to share ideas, Attenborough explained, before warning sombrely: “In the space of my lifetime, all that has changed. “The Holocene has ended. The Garden of Eden is no more. We have changed the world so much that scientists say we are in a new geological age: the Anthropocene, the age of humans,” he declared. In a stark warning to the world leaders and business chiefs flocking to the WEF this week, Attenborough warned that the only conditions that humans have known are changing fast. “We need to move beyond guilt or blame, and get on with the practical tasks at hand.”

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This old-guard wishful thinking seems the point to the opposite of what the headline says. Or maybe it was meant as humor?!

With Kamala Harris In The Race, Trump Stands No Chance Of Winning (Ind.)

Kamala Harris just ruined Donald Trump’s day. With her much anticipated declaration today, she immediately installed herself as a front-runner in the race to be the Democrat intent on taking down the president in 2020. “Let’s do this together: For ourselves, for our children, for our country,” she said. And with those carefully chosen words, Trump’s chances of reelection entered a death spiral. She is everything he is not. In US elections the White House often swings to the opposite of what has gone before. And whether it is gender, race, age, or ideals, Harris represents the diametric opposite of the present incumbent. She is, in many ways, the “female Obama”.

The political symbolism of a woman of colour declaring her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr Day was lost on precisely no one. Certainly not on Trump, who will be feverishly trying to dream up a dismissive nickname for Harris. Such schoolyard tactics are unlikely to work. This daughter of a Jamaican-born father and Indian-born mother is a candidate of substance. She will spend the next year hammering Trump on his race relations record, specifically his comments after the neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville. And voters will soon come to know the story of how, as a toddler, Harris was taken to civil right marches by her parents and shouted “Fweedom!” from her stroller. Within her own party too Harris is breaking the mould. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are widely expected to enter the race in the coming weeks. But both are septuagenarian white men.

Beto O’Rourke, for all his progressive credentials, is a millionaire internet entrepreneur. None of that is representative of the Democratic Party today. It was notable in a recent analysis of social media interactions that Harris was an easy second to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young congresswoman, for the most engagement among Democrat politicians. She is connecting with the youth of the party. At 54 she is two decades younger than Biden and Sanders. Videos of her questioning of Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s controversial pick for the US Supreme Court, went viral, as have other episodes from her time on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And although she was only elected to the Senate in 2016, inexperience does not seem an argument that will fly for her opponents.

[..] When it came to announcing, Harris got one of the biggest platforms, a spot on Good Morning America, a sign the US TV networks know she is the real deal. It was a typically direct announcement, and Harris sought to address some of the concerns more national security-focused Democrat voters might have. She stressed her 20 years as a prosecutor in California, and her commitment to “keeping America safe”. Spelling out areas where she would take on Trump, she vowed to restore “America’s moral authority in the world”, working with allies he has snubbed. Most of all, she vowed to “stand up and fight”. And that is what the Democratic base most wants to hear.

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Forget Kamala. Chris Cillizza of all people gets it right: “..the social media profiles of both [AOC and Trump] allow them to “end-run the so-called ‘media filter’ and deliver their preferred message… directly to supporters.” Both expose the hollow sound of the system, each from their own side, but in the end it’s the same thing, because it’s the same system.

AOC is too young to be elected, but not to become very powerful inside the party. Incumbent heads will roll because of her, and whoever becomes the candidate can’t risk losing her support.

For me it’s nothing more to do with supporting AOC than it does with supporting Trump. It’s about exposing the rot in the system. Davos and all that.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Crusher of Sacred Cows (Matt Taibbi)

The Beltway press mostly can’t stand her. A common theme is that, as a self-proclaimed socialist, she should be roaming the halls of Rayburn and Cannon in rags or a barrel. Washington Examiner reporter Eddie Scarry tweeted a photo of her in a suit, saying she didn’t look like “a girl who struggles.” High priest of conventional wisdom Chris Cillizza, with breathtaking predictability, penned a column comparing her to Donald Trump. He noted the social media profiles of both allow them to “end-run the so-called ‘media filter’ and deliver their preferred message… directly to supporters.” The latter issue, of course, is the real problem most of Washington has with “AOC”: her self-generated popularity and large social media presence means she doesn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to say anything.

[..] I have no idea if Ocasio-Cortez will or will not end up being a great politician. But it’s abundantly clear that her mere presence is unmasking many, if not most, of the worst and most tired Shibboleths of the capital. Moreover, she’s laying bare the long-concealed fact that many of their core policies are wildly unpopular, and would be overturned in a heartbeat if we could somehow put them all to direct national referendum. Take the tax proposal offered by Ocasio-Cortez, which would ding the top bracket for 70 percent taxes on all income above $10 million. The idea inspired howls of outrage, with wrongest-human-in-history Alan Greenspan peeking out of his crypt to call it a “terrible idea,” Wisconsin’s ex-somebody Walker saying a 5th grader would know it was “unfair,” and human anti-weathervane Harry Reid saying “you have to be careful” because voters don’t want “radical change quickly.”

Except polls show the exact opposite. Almost everyone wants to soak the rich. A joint survey by The Hill and Harris X showed 71 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents, and even 45 percent of Republicans endorse the Ocasio-Cortez plan. Is it feasible? It turns out it might very well be, as even Paul Krugman, who admits AOC’s rise makes him “uneasy,” said in a recent column. He noted the head of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers estimated the top rate should be even higher, perhaps even 80 percent. We’ve been living for decades in a universe where the basic tenets of supply-side economics — that there’s a massive and obvious benefit for all in dumping piles of money in the hands of very rich people — have gone more or less unquestioned.

Now we see: once a popular, media-savvy politician who doesn’t owe rich donors starts asking such questions, the Potemkin justifications for these policies can tumble quickly. There is a whole range of popular policy ideas the Washington political consensus has been beating back for decades with smoke and mirrors, from universal health care to legalized weed to free tuition to expanded Social Security to those higher taxes on the rich. As we’ve seen over and over with these swipes on Ocasio-Cortez, the people defending those ideas don’t realize how powerful a stimulant for change is their own negative attention. If they were smart, they’d ignore her. Then again, if politicians were smart, they’d also already be representing people, not donors. And they wouldn’t have this problem.

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First one to jump party lines wins.

Theresa May: Second Referendum Would Threaten ‘Social Cohesion’ (G.)

Theresa May reiterated her opposition to a second Brexit referendum on Monday night, claiming it would threaten Britain’s “social cohesion” and insisting the centrepiece of her strategy remained negotiating changes to the Irish backstop. With just 67 days to go until Britain is due by law to leave the European Union, May exasperated MPs and business groups by offering scant evidence that she was willing to change course. Giving a statement in the House of Commons, the prime minister outlined three changes she claimed had emerged from discussions with colleagues in the six days since her Brexit deal was rejected by MPs with a crushing margin of 230:

• A more consultative approach to the next phase of negotiations, with MPs, business groups and unions more involved. • Stronger reassurances on workers’ rights and environmental standards, “with a guarantee that not only will we not erode protections for workers’ rights and the environment but we will ensure this country leads the way”. • Another attempt to address the concerns of Tory and Democratic Unionist party MPs about the Irish backstop – which she could then discuss with Brussels. May dismissed the idea of extending article 50 and stepped up warnings about the potential consequences of asking the public to vote again on Brexit. “There has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy,” she said.

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Corbyn doesn’t want a referendum. He dreams of elections, and even of winning those.

Labour Calls For Vote On Holding Second Brexit Referendum (G.)

Labour has said the Commons should be able to vote on whether to hold a second referendum in an amendment the party submitted on Monday night to Theresa May’s Brexit update. It is the first time the party has asked MPs to formally consider a second poll, although the carefully worded compromise amendment did not commit the party’s leadership to backing a referendum if such a vote were to take place. The wording called for May’s government to hold a vote on two options – its alternative Brexit plan and whether to legislate “to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition” that is supported by a majority in the Commons.

The intervention came as the party’s leadership seeks to deal with divisions between Jeremy Corbyn and some of the leader’s closest allies who are sceptical about a second referendum and those who are more enthusiastic such as Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer. The party’s alternative Brexit plan, which would be the subject of a separate vote if the amendment were carried, proposes that the UK remain in a post-Brexit customs union with the European Union and have a strong relationship with the single market. Citizens’ rights and consumer standards would be harmonised with the EU’s. Corbyn said: “Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a no-deal. It is time for Labour’s alternative plan to take centre stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.”

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Xi gets nervous.

Xi Warns China Against ‘Black Swans’ Of Economic Volatility (G.)

Chinese president Xi Jinping has warned officials to be vigilant against any threats to the party’s “political security”, underlining uncertainty in Beijing as the economy falters. Xi spoke at a study session for top provincial leaders, ministers, and other party leaders on Monday, the same day official economic data showed the Chinese economy last year grew at its weakest pace in almost 30 years, pulled down by weakening spending, investment, and trade. Yet Xi’s remarks focused more on the “political” and “ideological security” as the country’s main priorities going forward. He stressed the campaign would be focused on training the next generation to uphold “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the Chinese Communist party’s adaptation of Marxism-Leninism.

“Now the main front of the ideological struggle is on the internet, and the main audience of the internet is young people. Many domestic and foreign forces are trying to develop supporters of their values and even to cultivate opponents of the government,” Xi said. A slowing Chinese economy risks rising rates of unemployment and financially squeezed households and businesses, threatening social stability. “There is no political security. There is only regime security,” said Li Datong, a former journalist and outspoken commentator. “They see the risks of rebellion. As the economy becomes worse, people from all walks of the society can become opponents.”

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Canada’s ambassador to the United States complains that Canadians pay the price for Justin bending over backwards for the US.

US To Formally Seek Extradition Of Huawei Executive Meng Wanzhou (R.)

The United States will proceed with the formal extradition from Canada of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, Canada’s ambassador to the United States told the Globe and Mail, in a move certain to ratchet up tensions with China. David MacNaughton, in an interview with the Canadian newspaper published on Monday, said the U.S. has told Canada it will request Meng’s extradition, but he did not say when the request will be made. The deadline for filing is Jan. 30, or 60 days after Meng was arrested on Dec. 1 in Vancouver. Meng, the daughter of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested at the request of the United States over alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

She was released on bail last month and is due in court in Vancouver on Feb. 6. Relations between China and Canada turned frosty after the arrest, with China detaining two Canadian citizens and sentencing to death a Canadian man previously found guilty of drug smuggling. [..] In an article published on Monday, a former Canadian spy chief said Canada should ban Huawei from supplying equipment for next-generation telecoms networks, while Canada’s government is studying any security implications. Some of Canada’s allies such as the United States and Australia have already imposed restrictions on using Huawei equipment, citing the risk of it being used for espionage. Huawei has repeatedly said such concerns are unfounded, while China’s ambassador to Canada last week said there would be repercussions if Ottawa blocked Huawei.

[..] In Monday’s interview, MacNaughton said he had complained to the United States that Canada was suffering from Chinese revenge for an arrest made at the U.S.’s request. “We don’t like that it is our citizens who are being punished,” the Globe and Mail cited MacNaughton as saying. “(The Americans) are the ones seeking to have the full force of American law brought against (Ms. Meng) and yet we are the ones who are paying the price. Our citizens are.”

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Strange headline. What they mean is value. And yeah, property prices are ‘recovering’, because foreigners are buying up the country. If you don’t think that’s a problem, imagine the same happening where you live.

Greek Households Have Lost 28% Of Their Assets (K.)

Greek households lost 27.9 percent of their assets in the decade from 2008 to 2018, Alpha Bank notes in its weekly financial bulletin. The lender’s analysts say that this drop was the biggest in the eurozone, followed by those recorded in Spain, Italy and Cyprus, while Germany recorded significant gains during the same period. Portugal also saw a rise, even though the country also went through an economic streamlining program, as it has benefited from the increase in property prices in recent years.

Households in Greece have recorded the biggest decline in the eurozone’s non-financial wealth after their counterparts in Spain, a development that mainly results from the slide in the Greek property market in previous years. Nevertheless, realty is currently showing signs of recovery in terms of both residential and commercial properties, with the house price index climbing 1.3 percent in January-September 2018 on an annual basis, while the price indexes for offices and retail spaces have climbed 7.4 percent and 3.1 percent respectively. The Alpha bulletin notes that household expectations regarding their spending capacity, employment conditions and the general economic situation are on the rise.

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For Facebook and Twitter, read CIA and MI6.

Facebook And Twitter Can Work Out Who You Are Even If You Don’t Use Them (Ind.)

Facebook and Twitter can be used to work out huge details of your personal life – even if you never actually use them, according to a new study. It is still possible to predict the kind of things you might say simply by looking at the sort of people you hang around with, a new study has found. The research undermines the idea that personal choice is the central part of privacy and that it is possible to opt out of tracking and data collection by social networks on your own, the researchers say. In the research, a team of scientists from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide took more than more than thirty million public posts on Twitter from 13,905 users.

They found it was possible to use the messages from eight or nine of a person’s contacts to predict what a person might post next – as accurately as if they were looking at a person’s own Twitter feed. Even if a person left the social network or never actually joined, researchers can guess a person’s future posting or activities with 95 per cent accuracy, the scientists write. It also means that signing up to a social network like Facebook really means you are handing over possible data on your friends, too, the researchers warn. “There’s no place to hide in a social network,” says Lewis Mitchell, a co-author on the new study.

The researchers actually showed that there is a mathematical upper limit on how much predictive information about a person can be held on a social network. But it doesn’t matter whether that information is being provided by the person being profiled or someone else entirely, they found. “You alone don’t control your privacy on social media platforms,” said UVM professor Jim Bagrow. “Your friends have a say too.”

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Oh well, talk to Davos and they’ll solve it all.

Greenland’s Ice Melting Four Times Faster Than In 2003 (Ind.)

Greenland‘s ice is melting far faster than initially thought and may have reached a “tipping point”, with the rate of ice loss now four times quicker than it was in 2003, a new study suggests. Scientists researching rises in global sea levels examined the country’s southeast and northwest regions and found that the largest amount of ice loss was sustained away from Greenland’s glaciers. “Whatever this was, it couldn’t be explained by glaciers, because there aren’t many there,” said Michael Bevis, the study’s lead author. “It had to be the surface mass – the ice was melting inland from the coastline. It’s because the atmosphere is, at its baseline, warmer,” Mr Bevis added. “What’s happening is sea surface temperature in the tropics is going up; shallow water gets warmer and the air gets warmer.”

The team’s study suggests that an increasing amount of water will flow from Greenland into the ocean during the summer months, further contributing to the rising sea levels. “We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers,” said Mr Bevis. “But now we recognise a second serious problem: increasingly, large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea.”

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Jan 212019
 


Martin Luther King, Jr. following his 1963 arrest in Birmingham

 

 

Rebranding MLK (Fikre)
A Call to Reinvestigate American Assassinations of the 1960s (CN)
The Number Of Births In China Hit Its Lowest Level Since 1961 (CNBC)
China Economic Growth Lowest In 28 Years (MW)
China Real Estate Sales Growth Slows Down (R.)
Theresa May ‘Considers Amending Good Friday Agreement’ To Break Deadlock (Ind.)
May Tries To Break Brexit Deadlock By Winning More EU Concessions (R.)
No Solutions To Irish Backstop In May’s Brexit Call With Cabinet (G.)
Bizarre Turn Of Events Could Push May’s Brexit Deal Through After All (Ind.)
Clashes in Athens Over Neighbour’s Name Change (BBC)
World’s 26 Richest People Own As Much As Poorest 3.8 Billion (G.)

 

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He’s been dead long enough that everyone feels safe, if not entitled to, appropriating his name and celebration. But who in America today truly lives up to his legacy and message? Not many. The screwed up scenes at a high school, and the way media and individuals react to it, make that abundantly clear. There are many voices calling for serious harm to, if not murder of, a group of schoolchildren, voices who will in their very next breath seek to take possession of Dr. King’s name.

It’s time for all Americans, and not just Americans either, to find a nice bright mirror and face the beams in their own eyes. All sides focus on promoting hate of the others, and really, that is the opposite of what Dr. King said. How could you forget? You don’t solve anything be demanding other people change, you solve things only by changing yourself. You have no more right to hate Trump and his supporters than they have of hating you, or anyone else.

MLK: “a slogan ‘Power for Poor People’ would be much more appropriate than the slogan ‘Black Power.’”

Rebranding MLK (Fikre)

Lost in the chorus of politicians, pundits and media personalities who are praising MLK is the core message that he was pushing before he was felled on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. King evolved in his thinking; instead of seeking Civil Rights for “African-Americans”, he made the fatal decision to fight for economic justice for all. King realized that the infringements against “black” folks in America were interconnected to the injustices felt by marginalized people throughout the world. That awakening is the reason he traveled to Memphis, by standing up for striking sanitation workers, he was hoping to form a bridge between poor folks irrespective of their skin color.

The establishment love people who lead sectional movements—those who seek exclusive justice are doing the work of the status quo—what they will not abide are those who try to unify the oppressed and inspire collective actions. King paid with his life for having the courage to pursue inclusive justice. After he was murdered, institutions of power—from government, academia to mainstream media and beyond—kicked in, stealthy erased King’s legacy and replaced it with disinformation. What has taken place over the past fifty years is a systematic and coordinated effort to blacken his narrative and dilute the power of his message. What MLK fought for, and ultimately died on behalf of, was for equality and fairness for all. By narrowing the scope of his cause and containing his sacrifice to only as a struggle for “black” people, opinion leaders successfully ghettoized him in an effort to lessen his appeal to a broader constituency.

[..] “One unfortunate thing about [the slogan] Black Power is that it gives priority to race precisely at a time when the impact of automation and other forces have made the economic question fundamental for blacks and whites alike. In this context a slogan ‘Power for Poor People’ would be much more appropriate than the slogan ‘Black Power.’” This was a quote from King in August of 1967, eight months before he was executed.

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All for it. But who’s impartial and strong enough to do it?

A Call to Reinvestigate American Assassinations of the 1960s (CN)

To mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day a group of academics, journalists, lawyers, Hollywood artists, activists, researchers and intellectuals, including two of Robert F. Kennedy’s children, are calling for new investigations into four assassinations of the 1960s. On the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a group of over 60 prominent American citizens is calling upon Congress to reopen the investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

* We call upon Congress to establish continuing oversight on the release of government documents related to the presidency and assassination of President John F. Kennedy, to ensure public transparency as mandated by the JFK Records Collection Act of 1992. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform should hold hearings on the Trump administration’s failure to enforce the JFK Records Act.

* We call for a major public inquest on the four major assassinations of the 1960s that together had a disastrous impact on the course of American history: the murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. This public tribunal, shining a light on this dark chapter of our history, will be modeled on the Truth and Reconciliation process in post-apartheid South Africa. The inquest — which will hear testimony from living witnesses, legal experts, investigative journalists, historians and family members of the victims — is intended to show the need for Congress or the Justice Department to reopen investigations into all four assassinations.

* On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we call for a full investigation of Reverend King’s assassination. The conviction of James Earl Ray for the crime has steadily lost credibility over the years, with a 1999 civil trial brought by Reverend King’s family placing blame on government agencies and organized crime elements. Following the verdict, Coretta Scott King, the slain leader’s widow, stated: “There is abundant evidence of a major, high-level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband.” The jury in the Memphis trial determined that various federal, state and local agencies “were deeply involved in the assassination … Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame.” Reverend King’s assassination was the culmination of years of mounting surveillance and harassment directed at the human rights leader by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and other agencies.

* We call for a full investigation of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination case, the prosecution of which was a mockery of a trial that has been demolished by numerous eyewitnesses, investigators and experts — including former Los Angeles County Coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who performed the official autopsy on Senator Kennedy. The forensic evidence alone establishes that the shots fired by Sirhan Sirhan from in front of Senator Kennedy did not kill him; the fatal shot that struck RFK in the head was fired at point–blank range from the rear. Consequently, the case should be reopened for a new comprehensive investigation while there are still living witnesses — as there are in all four assassination cases.

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I looked this one up: Chinese population in 1961 was about 670 million. Today it’s more than twice that. That would seem to say birth rates have halved.

The Number Of Births In China Hit Its Lowest Level Since 1961 (CNBC)

The number of babies born in China in 2018 was the lowest the country has seen in nearly 60 years, according to Chinese financial services firm Wind Information. China on Monday reported that there were 15.23 million births last year — the lowest since 1961 when 11.87 million births were reported, data on Wind showed. Last year’s birth figure was 11.6 percent lower than 17.23 million in 2017, according to Wind. The release of China’s latest birth data puts the country’s population at 1.395 billion in 2018, the Associated Press reported, citing data by the National Bureau of Statistics. That means the population grew 3.81 percent compared to a year earlier, according to the news wire. AP also reported that the Chinese government estimated that its population will peak in 2029 at 1.442 billion, and then start to decline in the year after that.

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And that’s just official numbers. Economics professor Xiang Songzuo put it as low as 1.67% in December.

China Economic Growth Lowest In 28 Years (MW)

China’s economic expansion languished to its slowest pace in nearly three decades last year, as a bruising trade fight with the U.S. exacerbated weakness in the world’s second-largest economy. The 6.6% growth rate for 2018 reported Monday is the slowest annual pace that China has recorded since 1990. The economic downturn, which has been sharper than Beijing expected, deepened in the final months of 2018, with fourth quarter growth rising 6.4% from a year earlier. Adding to the gloom was the trade conflict with Washington. The uncertain outlook for Chinese exporters caused companies to delay investing and hiring and in some cases even to resort to layoffs–a practice that is often discouraged by China’s stability-obsessed Communist Party rulers. The official jobless rate ticked up to 4.9% last month from 4.8% in November.

In the southern technology and export-manufacturing center of Shenzhen, for instance, many private makers of electronics, textiles and auto parts furloughed workers more than two months before the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins in February, according to business owners and local officials. The neighboring city of Guangzhou saw growth slump to 6.5% last year–well short of the 7.5% annual target set by the city government–as trade tensions hit the city’s manufacturing sector hard. Some economists and investors have said China’s economy is far more anemic than the government’s 6.6% rate of expansion for 2018. They note the government’s move on Friday, just ahead of Monday’s data release, to cut the 2017 growth rate to 6.8% from 6.9%, which they said provides a slightly lower base, giving a slight boost to the fresh 2018 data.

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Consumer spending in general is slowing in China. That’s the biggest danger for its economy.

China Real Estate Sales Growth Slows Down (R.)

Growth in property investment in China cooled to the second slowest pace in 2018 in December, adding to signs of a further slackening in the real estate market in a blow to a key driver economic growth. Real estate investment, which mainly focuses on the residential sector but includes commercial and office space, rose 8.2 percent in December from a year earlier, down from 9.3 percent in November, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday. That was just ahead of the slowest pace of growth last year at 7.7 percent recorded for October. For the full year, property investment increased 9.5 percent from the year-earlier period, down from 9.7 percent in January-November.

In December, property sales by floor area, a major indicator of demand, rose a touch by 0.9 percent from a year earlier, the first gain in four months and compared with November’s 5.1 percent drop. For 2018, property sales by area rose a modest 1.3 percent from a year earlier, official data showed. Analysts say a continued downturn in sales on the back of tight government controls to curb speculation could add to the growing pressure on the world’s second-largest economy. The real estate sector is a key pillar of the economy, so any further weakness in sales could influence the pace and scope of fresh stimulus measures expected from Beijing this year.

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It took decades to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, after 1000s of lives were lost. May should not be allowed to touch it.

Theresa May ‘Considers Amending Good Friday Agreement’ To Break Deadlock (Ind.)

Theresa May is considering an attempt to amend the Good Friday Agreement in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock and win support for a negotiated exit deal, it has been reported. Ministers believe the move could avoid the UK having to commit to a backstop as part of the prime minister’s “plan B”, The Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday. The EU has insisted on a backstop measure to ensure an open border remains between Northern Ireland and the Republic after the UK leaves the bloc. Ms May has been forced to find alternatives to her original Brexit deal after it was crushed in the Commons on Tuesday.

Under the PM’s plan, it is reported, London and Dublin would either agree a new set of principles or add words to the Good Friday Agreement in order to guarantee an open border. The 1998 peace deal effectively brought an end to the Troubles after years of failed talks, and established a power-sharing structure to accommodate unionist and nationalist politicians. It follows separate reports that Ms May planned to pitch to the Irish government a bilateral treaty that would remove the need for the backstop so hated by many Conservative MPs; the arrangement would see the UK enter into a temporary customs union with the EU, and Northern Ireland agree to abide by European rules on goods until a subsequent deal was reached.

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Parliament demanded a Plan B today. May has none. She speaks 1530 GMT.

May Tries To Break Brexit Deadlock By Winning More EU Concessions (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday will try to crack the deadlock over Brexit by setting out proposals in parliament that are expected to focus on winning more concessions from the European Union. With just over two months left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on March 29 there is no agreement in London on how and even whether it should leave the world’s biggest trading bloc. After her Brexit divorce deal was rejected by 402 lawmakers in the 650-seat parliament last week, May has been searching for a way to get a deal through parliament.

Attempts to forge a consensus with the opposition Labour Party failed so May is expected to focus on winning over 118 rebels in her own party and the small Northern Irish party which props up her government with concessions from the EU. In a sign of just how grave the political crisis in London has become, the Daily Telegraph reported that May was even considering amending the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. The Daily Telegraph said EU sources cast May’s plan a non-starter as a renegotiation of such a significant international treaty would require the consent of all the parties involved in Northern Ireland. May told British ministers she would focus on securing changes from Brussels designed to win over rebel Conservatives and the Northern Irish DUP, The Times said.

May will make a statement in parliament at about 1530 GMT and put forward a motion in parliament on her proposed next steps on Brexit, though some lawmakers are planning to wrest control of Britain’s exit from the government. After May’s motion is published, lawmakers will be able to propose amendments to it, setting out alternatives to the prime minister’s deal.

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Time to send her away. She’s a dead end.

No Solutions To Irish Backstop In May’s Brexit Call With Cabinet (G.)

Theresa May is expected to reject calls to forge a cross-party consensus on Brexit when she lays out her plan B to parliament on Monday, choosing instead to back new diplomatic efforts in Brussels to renegotiate the Irish backstop. The prime minister held a conference call with her bitterly divided cabinet from the country retreat of Chequers on Sunday evening. Cabinet sources said the consensus on the 90-minute call was to renew efforts to find acceptable changes to the backstop arrangement but that the conversation was light on specifics. One said there were “no actual solutions” proposed during the call. “It is difficult to know – as ever – what she will do,” another said. “But the broad agreement is on the need to bring DUP and Tory rebels on board.”

Despite her claim in the wake of last week’s significant defeat in parliament that she would speak to “senior parliamentarians” from all parties to seek a compromise, government sources insisted her overriding priority was to prevent a historic split in the Tory party. Several senior Conservative MPs have suggested they could form a breakaway party if May opted to support a customs union – one of Labour’s central demands, which is also backed by Tory supporters of a Norway-style soft Brexit. Whitehall sources said the prime minister’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, had counselled her to consider a customs union after last week’s catastrophic defeat, when her deal was rejected by an overwhelming majority of 230 votes. But when the government tables a formal statement on Monday, setting out its next steps, it is instead expected to focus on seeking changes to the Irish backstop in order to win over Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group and the DUP.

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Party before country.

Bizarre Turn Of Events Could Push May’s Brexit Deal Through After All (Ind.)

Yvette Cooper is in many ways the alternative leader of the opposition. The Labour MP who chairs the home affairs select committee will table a bill in the House of Commons on Monday, under the catchy title of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 3) Bill, which could be decisive in breaking the Brexit deadlock. It could lead to parliament being forced to make a straight choice between Theresa May’s deal and postponing Brexit in order to hold a new referendum. If that is what happens, I think there would be a small majority for the prime minister’s deal. The importance of Cooper’s bill is that it changes the default setting in law. At the moment, if parliament fails to act, the UK will leave the EU on 29 March.

Cooper’s bill says that, if a deal has not been approved by 7 March, the government would be required to seek an extension of the Article 50 deadline. That would mean asking the EU to postpone the UK’s departure until the end of this year – and EU leaders have said they would agree to an extension if it were to hold another referendum. This would transform the situation in the House of Commons. Jacob Rees-Mogg and the rest of the cohort of Conservative MPs who want to leave without a deal would have to think again. At the moment they are happy to vote everything down, knowing that this gets them what they want. But Cooper’s bill would take what they want off the table. They would then have to choose between the prime minister’s deal and putting off Brexit for at least nine months.

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They would still get to call themselves Macedonians. Insult and injury. Tsipras should be very careful.

Clashes in Athens Over Neighbour’s Name Change (BBC)

Protesters have clashed with police in the Greek capital Athens at a big rally to oppose the government’s deal with Macedonia on changing its name. Police fired tear gas at some of those attending a protest which attracted tens of thousands to the city. The deal, which is yet to be approved, designates Greece’s northern neighbour as Republic of North Macedonia. The name Macedonia is sensitive for many Greeks who say it implies a claim on the Greek province of the same name. Years of wrangling finally brought an agreement last June between Greece’s left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart. A vote on the deal, which aims to end a 28-year row between the nations, is set to take place in the Greek parliament this week.

The dispute dates back to 1991 and the break-up of Yugoslavia. Macedonia was a Yugoslav republic and adopted the name Macedonia when it became an independent nation. Greece has long argued the use of the name implied a territorial claim and cultural appropriation. At the UN the country was formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom). [..] Greek nationalists argue that the name Macedonia can only refer to the Greek province of the same name. The dispute has led to Greece to blocking Macedonia’s hopes of joining Nato and the EU. Under the deal, the country’s language would be Macedonian and its people known as Macedonians (citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia). The move has met with sharp resistance in both countries because nationalists believe it erodes their identity.


EPA

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They’re not going to solve the issue by themselves, they can’t help it.

World’s 26 Richest People Own As Much As Poorest 3.8 Billion (G.)

The growing concentration of the world’s wealth has been highlighted by a report showing that the 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population. In an annual wealth check released to mark the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the development charity Oxfam said 2018 had been a year in which the rich had grown richer and the poor poorer. It said the widening gap was hindering the fight against poverty, adding that a 1% wealth tax would raise an estimated $418bn (£325bn) a year – enough to educate every child not in school and provide healthcare that would prevent 3 million deaths. Oxfam said the wealth of more than 2,200 billionaires across the globe had increased by $900bn in 2018 – or $2.5bn a day.

The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population. As a result, the report concluded, the number of billionaires owning as much wealth as half the world’s population fell from 43 in 2017 to 26 last year. In 2016 the number was 61. Among the findings of the report were: • In the 10 years since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled. • Between 2017 and 2018 a new billionaire was created every two days. • The world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, saw his fortune increase to $112bn. Just 1% of his fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people. • The poorest 10% of Britons are paying a higher effective tax rate than the richest 10% (49% compared with 34%) once taxes on consumption such as VAT are taken into account.

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Dec 072018
 


Paul Almasy Paris 1950

 

The concept of the EU might have worked, but still only might have, if a neverending economic boom could have been manufactured to guide it on its way. But there was never going to be such a boom. Or perhaps if the spoils that were available in boom times and bust had been spread out among nations rich and poor and citizens rich and poor a little more equally, that concept might still have carried the days.

Then again, its demise was obvious from well before the Union was ever signed into existence, in the philosophies, deliberations and meetings that paved its way in the era after a second world war in two score years fought largely on the European continent.

In hindsight, it is hard to comprehend how it’s possible that those who met and deliberated to found the Union, in and of itself a beneficial task at least on the surface in the wake of the blood of so many millions shed, were not wiser, smarter, less greedy, less driven by sociopath design and methods. It was never the goal that missed its own target or went awry, it was the execution.

Still, no matter how much we may dream, how much some of the well-meaning ‘founding fathers’ of the Union may have dreamt, without that everlasting economic boom it never stood a chance. The Union was only ever going to be tolerated, accepted, embraced by its citizens if they could feel and see tangible benefits in their daily lives of surrendering parts of their own decision making powers, and the sovereignty of their nations.

There are 28 countries in the Union at this point, and one of them is already preparing to leave. There are 28 different cultures too, and almost as many languages. It was always going to be an uphill struggle, a hill far too steep for mere greed to master and conquer. History soaked Europe in far too much diversity through the ages for that. To unify all the thousands of years of beauty and darkness, of creativity and annihilation, of love and hatred, passed on through the generations, a lot more than a naked and bland lust for wealth, power and shiny objects was needed.

And sure, maybe it just happened on the way, in the moments when everyone was making new friends and not watching their backs for a moment. But they all still should have seen it coming, because of those same thousands of years that culminated in where they found themselves. The European Union is like a wedding and marriage without a prenup, where partners are too afraid to offend each other to do what would make them not regret the ceremony later.

 

Today, there are far too few of the 28 EU countries that have been lifted out of their poverty and other conditions that made them want to join the Union. And within many of the countries, there are way too many people who are, and feel, left behind. While Brussels has become a bastion of power that none of the disadvantaged feel they can properly address with their grievances.

The main fault of the EU is that the biggest party at the table always in the end, when things get serious, gets its way. The 80 million or so people of Germany de facto rule the 500 million of the Union, or you know, the three handfuls that rule Germany. No important decision can or will ever be taken that Berlin does not agree with. Angela Merkel has been the CEO of Europe Inc. since November 22 2005, gathering more power as time went by. That was never going to work unless she made everyone richer. Ask the Greeks about that one.

Merkel was the leader of both Germany and of Europe, and when things got precarious, she chose to let German interests prevail above Italian or Greek ones. That’s the fundamental flaw and failure of the Union in a nutshell. All other things, the Greek crisis, Salvini, Macron, Brexit, are mere consequences of that flaw. In absence of a forever economic boom, there is nothing left to fall back on.

 

Traditional right/left parties have been destroyed all across Europe in recent national elections. And it’s those traditional parties that still largely hold power in Brussels. As much as anyone except Germany and perhaps the European Commission hold any power at all. The shifts that happened in the political spectrum of many countries is not yet reflected in the European Parliament. But there are European elections in less than 6 months, May 23-26 2019.

About a quarter of the votes in the last such election, in 2014, went to euroskeptic parties. It’s not a terrible stretch of the imagination to presume that they’ll get half of the votes this time. Then we’ll have half or more of representatives speaking for people who don’t have faith in what they represent.

And on the other hand you have the Brussels elite, who continue to propagate the notion that Europe’s problems can best, nay only, be solved with more Europe. Of that elite Emmanuel Macron is the most recent, and arguable most enthusiastic from the get-go, high priest. Which can’t be seen apart from his domestic nose-diving approval rating, and most certainly not from the yellow vest protests and riots.

Macron won his presidency last year solely because he ran against Marine Le Pen in the second round of the elections, and a vast majority on the French will never vote for her; they’ll literally vote for anyone else instead. In the first round, when it wasn’t one on one, Macron got less than 25% of the votes. And now France wants him to leave. That is the essence of the protests. His presidency appears already over.

 

Among the 28 EU countries, the UK is a very clear euroskeptic example. It’s supposed to leave on March 2019, but that’s by no means a given. Then there’s Italy, where the last election put a strongly euroskeptic government in charge. There are the four Visegrad countries, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. No love lost for Brussels there. In Belgium yesterday, PM Michel’s government ally New Flemish Alliance voted against the UN Global Compact on Migration.

Spain’s Mariana Rajoy was supported by the EU against Catalonia, and subsequently voted out. The next government is left-wing and pro EU, but given the recent right wing victory in Andalusia it’s clear there’s nothing stable there. Austria has a rightwing anti-immigration PM. Germany’s CDU party today elected a successor for Merkel (in the first such vote since 1971!), but they’ve lost bigly in last year’s elections, and their CSU partner has too, pushing both towards the right wing anti-immigrant AfD.

And with Macron gone or going, France can’t be counted on to support Brussels either. So what is left, quo vadis Europa? Well, there’s the European elections. In which national parties, often as members of a ‘voting alliance’, pick their prospective candidates for the European Parliament, then become part of a larger European alliance, and finally often of an even larger alliance. You guessed right, turnout numbers for European elections are very very low.

 

Of course Brussels is deaf to all the issues besieging it. The largest alliances of parties, the EPP (people’s party) and the “socialists”, have chosen their crown prince ‘spitzenkandidat’ to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission, and they expect for things to continue more or less as usual. The two main contenders are Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans, convinced eurocrats. How that will work out with 50% or more of parliamentarians being euroskeptic, you tell me. How about they form their own alliance?

The Union appears fatally wounded, and that’s even before the next financial crisis has materialized. Speaking of which, the Fed has been hiking rates and can lower them again a little if it wants, but much of Europe ‘works’ on negative rates already. That next crisis could be a doozy.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First thing on the menu is Macron tomorrow, and the yellow vests in the streets of Paris and many other French cities -and rural areas. He has called for 90,000 policemen on the streets, but they’ll come face to face with their peers who are firemen, ambulance personnel, you name it, lots of folks who also work for the government. Will they open fire?

Can Macron allow for French people to be killed in the streets? Almost certainly not. There’ll be pitchforks and guillotines. The only way out for him, the only way to calm things down, may be to announce his resignation. The French don’t fool around when they protest. And who’s going to be left to drive the reform of Europe then? Not Merkel, she’s gone, even if she wants to be German Chancellor for three more years. But then who? I’m trying to think of someone, honest, but I can’t.

It’ll be quite the day Saturday in Paris.

 

 

Dec 022018
 
 December 2, 2018  Posted by at 10:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Claude Monet Camille Sitting on the Beach at Trouville 1870-71

 

US Markets To Close On Wednesday In Honor Of George H.W. Bush
US, China Agree To Trade War Ceasefire, More Talks (AFP)
Putin Refuses To Release Ukrainian Sailors And Ships (G.)
Putin Briefs Trump Over Ukraine As EU Leaders Up Pressure (AFP)
Mattis Says Russia Tried To ‘Muck Around’ US Vote, Again (AFP)
Mueller’s RussiaGate Probe: Conflicts and Special Interests (Adam Carter)
Trump To Notify Congress In ‘Near Future’ He Will Terminate NAFTA (R.)
Property Investors Can’t Expand As Lending Rules Toughen Up (NewsCorp)
France Is Deeply Fractured. Gilets Jaunes Are Just A Symptom (Guilluy)
Theresa May Faces Fresh Battle Over Publishing Brexit Legal Advice (BBC)
How Greece’s Financial Crisis Led To A Baby Bust (WaPo)

 

 

No, no, no, what a missed opportunity! They should have shut down the military instead for a day, or the CIA. And preferably longer than one day. But Bush had nothing to do with the markets.

US Markets To Close On Wednesday In Honor Of George H.W. Bush

Major U.S. markets will be closed on Wednesday in honor of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush. The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq will both close on Wednesday in observance of the National Day of Mourning after Bush’s death Saturday at the age of 94. Both the NYSE and Nasdaq will also observe a moment of silence at 9:20 a.m. ET on Monday. U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday ordered the federal government to close on Wednesday out of respect for Bush. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is scheduled to testify on Wednesday on the economic outlook before the congressional Joint Economic Committee. A spokesman for the committee did not immediately respond to questions on Saturday about whether the hearing would be rescheduled.

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How predictable would you like it?

US, China Agree To Trade War Ceasefire, More Talks (AFP)

US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping agreed Saturday to suspend any new tariffs in the escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies, even if huge existing duties will remain in place. Following more than two hours of dinner talks between the two leaders, the White House said an increase of tariffs from 10 to 25 percent due to kick in on January 1 would now be put on hold, providing room for intense negotiations. The agreement, hashed out over steak in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, lowers the temperature in a conflict that has spooked world markets. The two leaders, who were in Buenos Aires for a summit of the G20 countries, called it “a highly successful meeting,” the White House said.

“The principal agreement has effectively prevented further expansion of economic friction between the two countries and has opened up new space for win-win cooperation,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Under the agreement, Trump is shelving a plan to raise existing tariffs of 10 percent to 25 percent from the start of next year. However, the truce is only partial. Some $50 billion worth of Chinese imports already face 25 percent tariffs while the 10 percent tariffs, which target a massive $200 billion in goods, will also remain in effect. Meanwhile, China has targeted $110 billion worth of US imports for tariffs. If there is any further retaliation, Trump has warned, he will slap punitive duties on the remaining $267 billion in Chinese goods coming to the United States.

And Saturday’s truce also contained an ultimatum. The White House made clear that the 10 percent tariffs would still leap up to 25 percent if China doesn’t meet US demands in 90 days. These include China stopping a host of trade barriers, intellectual property theft and other actions that Washington say make fair trade impossible. Tough negotiations lie ahead, but Trump was upbeat. “This was an amazing and productive meeting with unlimited possibilities for both the United States and China. It is my great honor to be working with President Xi,” he said in a statement.

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From Twitter: “Martial Law prohibits the diffusion of military movements in #Ukraine therefore won’t post the Armed Forces movements but I can safely say that #Odessa is being heavily prepared for war.”

Look, “sailors and ships?” They were armed navy vessels with soldiers, not fishing boats with civilians.

Putin Refuses To Release Ukrainian Sailors And Ships (G.)

Vladimir Putin has said it is “too early” to return Ukrainian sailors and naval vessels seized by Russia in the Sea of Azov, accusing the Ukrainian government of provoking an incident as a distraction from domestic problems. Putin was speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, where Donald Trump cancelled a meeting with the Russian leader because of Moscow’s refusal to release the 24 Ukrainians. The Russian president said it was necessary to detain the captives while a legal case was put together to demonstrate that the three Ukrainian naval vessels violated Russia’s territorial waters. He said the ships’ logs would show that their attempt to cross the Kerch strait from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov – enclosed by Russia, the Crimean peninsula and mainland Ukraine – was a deliberate provocation.

Asked if he might consider exchanging the captive sailors for Russians in Ukrainian detention, Putin said: “We are not considering a swap and Ukraine did not raise this issue, and it’s too early to talk about that. They are still being investigated. “We need to establish the fact that this was a provocation by the Ukrainian government and we need to put all these things on paper,” he added, arguing that the incident was part of a wider pattern of Ukrainian provocation. “The current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this at all,” Putin said. “As long as they stay in power, war will continue. Why? Because when you have provocations, such hostilities like what just happened in the Black Sea … you can always use war to justify your economic failures.”

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Putin has finally put his foot down. Has he taken too long? if he’d done it earlier, would Ukraine try such stunts?

Putin Briefs Trump Over Ukraine As EU Leaders Up Pressure (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday he briefed his US counterpart Donald Trump on the Ukraine crisis as he came under pressure over Moscow’s robust foreign policy at the G20 summit in Argentina. Putin said he explained Moscow’s position to Trump when the leaders met briefly at a summit dinner Friday. “We spoke standing up. I replied to his questions about the incident in the Black Sea,” Putin told reporters at the end of the summit. Putin strode into the summit under a cloud, having drawn outrage from Europe over last week’s incident in which his navy detained three Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors – causing Trump to abruptly cancel their scheduled meeting. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko kept up the pressure from Kiev, saying Putin had refused to take his calls since the crisis started.

[..] Away from the summit, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Moscow had shown “brazen contempt” for a deal “that allowed both Russian and Ukrainian ships free passage.” Putin – who has praised his navy for defending Russian territory – “provided exhaustive explanations on this incident in the Black Sea, explaining everything in detail, in exactly the same manner as yesterday during his meeting with the French president,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax. Far from offering comforting words, Putin said at a post-summit press conference he saw no end in sight to the four-year conflict in eastern Ukraine “as long as the current Ukrainian authorities remain in power.” “The current Ukrainian authorities have no interest in resolving the conflict, especially by peaceful means,” he said.

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Oh, let’s see the evidence or shut up. And stop mucking around in Russia and Ukraine while you’re at it.

Mattis Says Russia Tried To ‘Muck Around’ US Vote, Again (AFP)

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday that Russia tried to meddle in the US midterm elections last month – just as it did in the 2016 vote that brought President Donald Trump to power. The already strained ties between Washington and Moscow have “no doubt” worsened over Russian’s continued attempts to interfere in the US voting process, Mattis said at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California. Russian President Vladimir Putin “tried again to muck around in our elections this last month, and we are seeing a continued effort along those lines,” the Pentagon chief said. Putin has “continued efforts to try to subvert democratic processes that must be defended,” Mattis said, stressing he was unsure whether there were growing threats from Russia.

“We’ll do whatever is necessary to defend them.” Mattis spoke as President Donald Trump suddenly scrapped a planned meeting with Putin at the G20 summit of world leaders in Buenos Aires, Argentina, citing a Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Ahead of last month’s vote, Twitter and Facebook shut down thousands of Russian-controlled accounts, while 14 people from Russia’s notorious troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, were indicted. And US law enforcement agencies warned that “Americans should be aware that foreign actors – and Russia in particular – continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord.”

Read more …

Robert Mueller comes with a long history. That’s why he was picked.

Mueller’s RussiaGate Probe: Conflicts and Special Interests (Adam Carter)

Robert Mueller was the director of the FBI between 2001 and 2013, spanning both Bush and Obama administrations. He was appointed as special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 United States general election on May 17, 2017. Since his appointment, Mueller has been promoted as a champion of justice and a pursuer of truth by the mainstream press. He has been hailed as incorruptible by some and “America’s straightest arrow” by others. However, history shows us that Mueller investigating anything may, inherently, come with disadvantages when it comes to the pursuit of truth. According to whistleblowers, under Mueller’s leadership, crimes and scandals involving both government officials and the private-sector were ignored or covered-up by the FBI, and there are questions about further cover-ups before he became the agency director.

In July 2017, FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley wrote an article titled “No, Robert Mueller And James Comey Aren’t Heroes” in which the author details the not-so-perfect history of both Mueller and Comey, suggesting that those lionizing the pair may be suffering from amnesia. Rowley explains that Mueller and Comey presided over post-9/11 cover-ups, secret abuses against the Constitution, enabled Bush/Cheney fabrications used as the pretext for waging war and demonstrated incompetence. The article also references Mueller’s attempts to mislead everyone following 9/11 and Rowley’s efforts to challenge Mueller on his silence about what he knew.

Going further, Rowley covers Mueller’s bungled Amerithrax investigation that targeted an innocent man, violations of privacy, infiltration of non-violent anti-war groups and also references Mueller’s history before being director of the FBI: “Long before he became FBI Director, serious questions existed about Mueller’s role as Acting U.S. Attorney in Boston in effectively enabling decades of corruption and covering up of the FBI’s illicit deals with mobster Whitey Bulger and other “top echelon” informants who committed numerous murders and crimes. When the truth was finally uncovered through intrepid investigative reporting and persistent, honest judges, U.S. taxpayers footed a $100 million court award to the four men framed for murders committed by (the FBI operated) Bulger gang.”

Earlier this year, Republican congressman Louie Gohmert also highlighted various issues in a report titled “Robert Mueller Unmasked” that opened with a bold assertion: “Robert Mueller has a long and sordid history of illicitly targeting innocent people that is a stain upon the legacy of American jurisprudence. He lacks the judgment and credibility to lead the prosecution of anyone.”

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This will easily lead into January and the Democratic Congress. Let the courts decide.

Trump To Notify Congress In ‘Near Future’ He Will Terminate NAFTA (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday he will give formal notice to the U.S. Congress in the near future to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), giving six months for lawmakers to approve a new trade deal signed on Friday. “I will be formally terminating NAFTA shortly,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on his way home from Argentina. “Just so you understand, when I do that – if for any reason we’re unable to make a deal because of Congress then Congress will have a choice” of the new deal or returning to trade rules from before 1994 when NAFTA took effect, he said. Trump told reporters the trade rules before NAFTA “work very well.” NAFTA allows any country to formally withdraw with six months notice.

Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto signed a new trade agreement on Friday known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Trump’s decision to set in motion a possible end to largely free trade in North America comes amid some skepticism from Democrats about the new trade deal. The U.S. landscape will shift significantly in January when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, after winning mid-term elections in November. Presumptive incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi described the deal as a “work in progress” that lacks worker and environment protections.

“This is not something where we have a piece of paper we can say yes or no to,” she said at a news conference on Friday, noting that Mexico had yet to pass a law on wages and working conditions. Other Democrats, backed by unions that oppose the pact, have called for stronger enforcement provisions for new labor and environmental standards, arguing that USMCA’s state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism is too weak. A 2016 congressional research report said there is a debate over whether a president can withdraw from a trade deal without the consent of Congress, and there is no historical precedent for the unilateral withdrawal from an free trade deal by a president that had been approved by Congress. The issue could ultimately be decided by the U.S. courts.

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From Australia, for the entire western world.

Property Investors Can’t Expand As Lending Rules Toughen Up (NewsCorp)

Property investors wanting to expand their holdings are finding doors slamming in their faces as new lending restrictions bite hard. Harsher income tests, tighter rules for interest-only loans, tax changes and tougher assessments of rents and repayments have put the brakes on, and lending specialists believe more squeezing is likely. Almost one-third of the nation’s 2.1 million residential real estate investors own more than one property, according to Australian Taxation Office data, and many see it as their ticket to retirement wealth instead of the struggling share market. However, expanding beyond one investment property has become much tougher this year amid factors including:

• Investors’ ability to repay is now being based on interest rates between 7.25 and 8 per cent, rather than the 4 per cent many are currently charged. • Lenders only count 70 per cent of a property’s rental income. • Interest-only loans, popular among investors, are harder to come by and harder to continue, resulting is higher repayments when they switch to principal-and-interest. The result is that potential investment loans are assessed as unaffordable even if the investor has no problems paying it back.

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Yet another analysis of how the left abandoned its voters. Meanwhile, gilets jaunes are now active in Belgium and Holland. If they can organize well enough, they’re here to stay for a while.

France Is Deeply Fractured. Gilets Jaunes Are Just A Symptom (Guilluy)

From the 1980s onwards, it was clear there was a price to be paid for western societies adapting to a new economic model and that price was sacrificing the European and American working class. No one thought the fallout would hit the bedrock of the lower-middle class, too. It’s obvious now, however, that the new model not only weakened the fringes of the proletariat but society as a whole. The paradox is this is not a result of the failure of the globalised economic model but of its success. In recent decades, the French economy, like the European and US economies, has continued to create wealth. We are thus, on average, richer. The problem is at the same time unemployment, insecurity and poverty have also increased.

The central question, therefore, is not whether a globalised economy is efficient, but what to do with this model when it fails to create and nurture a coherent society? In France, as in all western countries, we have gone in a few decades from a system that economically, politically and culturally integrates the majority into an unequal society that, by creating ever more wealth, benefits only the already wealthy. The change is not down to a conspiracy, a wish to cast aside the poor, but to a model where employment is increasingly polarised. This comes with a new social geography: employment and wealth have become more and more concentrated in the big cities. The deindustrialised regions, rural areas, small and medium-size towns are less and less dynamic.

But it is in these places – in “peripheral France” (one could also talk of peripheral America or peripheral Britain) – that many working-class people live. Thus, for the first time, “workers” no longer live in areas where employment is created, giving rise to a social and cultural shock. It is in this France périphérique that the gilets jaunes movement was born. It is also in these peripheral regions that the western populist wave has its source. Peripheral America brought Trump to the White House. Peripheral Italy – mezzogiorno, rural areas and small northern industrial towns – is the source of its populist wave. This protest is carried out by the classes who, in days gone by, were once the key reference point for a political and intellectual world that has forgotten them.

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May digging her hole ever deeper. As if people have no right to know what’s coming.

Theresa May Faces Fresh Battle Over Publishing Brexit Legal Advice (BBC)

Opposition parties plan to join forces in a bid to force the government to publish the full legal advice it received ahead of the Brexit agreement. “All parties” would press for contempt of Parliament proceedings if MPs are not shown the advice, Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer has said. Theresa May has promised MPs only a summary of the legal position. Some MPs believe the advice given suggests the Northern Ireland “backstop” would continue indefinitely. [..] on Monday Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who wrote the advice, will offer only a limited summary of the legal advice given to government, during a statement to Parliament.

Ministers insist it is a long-standing convention that legal advice to the cabinet is kept confidential, and that government would otherwise be unable to function. The prime minister’s refusal to release the full advice prompted Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which has propped up Mrs May’s government since the general election in 2017 – to accuse her of having “something to hide”. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: “If the full legal advice is not forthcoming, we will have no alternative but to start proceedings for contempt of Parliament – and we will work with all parties to take this forward. “The full legal implications of this deal clearly need to be known and debated in full by our Parliament.”

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Austerity truly is death by a thousand cuts.

How Greece’s Financial Crisis Led To A Baby Bust (WaPo)

During the country’s deep and prolonged crash, which began in late 2009 and worsened in 2011 and beyond, an already-low birthrate ticked down further, as happened throughout the troubled economies of Southern Europe. Greece was also hit by a second factor, with half a million people fleeing the country, many of them young potential parents. Although Greece has been on the front lines of the migrant wave from the Middle East and North Africa, the majority of new arrivals have moved on to other parts of Europe, and the newcomers don’t make up for the losses. As a result, the country’s recession has helped produce postwar Greece’s smallest generation — a group of young children who are now reaching elementary age, some arriving at schools wearing secondhand shoes and backpacks, and who are only at the earliest stages of grasping the daunting era they’ve been born into.

“The kids don’t know we used to be better off,” said Sotiria Papigioti, the mother of a first- and a second-grader at Kalpaki. “But when they ask for things, I tell them, ‘We’re not in the position to afford this.’ ” Greece’s fertility rate, of about 1.35 births per woman, is among the lowest in Europe, and well below the rate of 2.1 needed for a stable population, not accounting for immigration. The fertility rate in Greece had been on the upswing before the crisis, hitting 1.5 births per woman in 2008. That progress has since been erased, and the birthrate has plummeted back toward the depths seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Some countries, in the aftermath of economic crises, have seen a quick recovery in their fertility rates. But that is unlikely to happen in Greece, said Byron Kotzamanis, a demographer at the University of Thessaly, because even before the crisis the average woman in Greece wasn’t having children until age 31. Some women who postponed pregnancy during the recession have lost out on their chance entirely. As a result, Kotzamanis said, the recession has permanently reduced the size of the newest Greek generation — and has reduced the pool of parents in years to come. “We’ll have fewer and fewer births in Greece over the next decades,” Kotzamanis said.

Read more …

Oct 292018
 
 October 29, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Roofs of Paris 1886

 

Volcker Rebukes Bernanke and Yellen Feds (Whalen)
China Takes Delivery Of Massive Amount Of Gold From London, New York (Greyerz)
Getting Out: A Godfather Story (Ben Hunt)
Why Do Investors Hate Everything? Maybe Paranoia (BBG)
Desperate IBM Buys Red Hat For $34 Billion In Largest Ever Acquisition (ZH)
The IMF Has Learned Nothing From The Greek Crisis (Coppola)
Greece Reiterates €288 Billion Claim For Damages Under Nazi Occupation (G.)
There Aren’t Enough Lifeboats For Everyone (CHS)
Thousands Of Ships Could Dump Pollutants At Sea To Avoid Dirty Fuel Ban (G.)
Big Food’s Poisonous Propaganda (Lustig)
EU Air Pollution Improves, Causes Only 500,000 Early Deaths A Year (AFP)
Race Doesn’t Come Into It (LRB)

 

 

There goes Yellen’s reputation.

“By pulling tomorrow’s home sales and other economic activity forward via various policy manipulations, tomorrow is now light in terms of growth..”

Volcker Rebukes Bernanke and Yellen Feds (Whalen)

Yellen worries that the rhetorical attacks on the central bank by President Donald Trump is “whittling away the legitimacy and stature of institutions the public has traditionally had some confidence in. I feel it ultimately undermines social and economic stability.” She then goes on to say that “Trump has the potential to undermine confidence in the Fed.” Former Chairman Alan Greenspan, the most politically astute Fed chief in half a century, puts such worries in perspective: “I don’t know a single President, and I worked for a lot of them, who don’t want lower interest rates. Now, obviously that’s not possible. You keep lowering them down to zero, where do you go from there?”

Like Yellen, many observers worry that criticism of the Fed will make it difficult for the central bank to act when necessary. The dual, conflicted political mandate of full employment and price stability created by the Humphrey Hawkins law is not possible to achieve in practice, thus the FOMC lurches from one extreme to the other, causing enormous collateral damage. Consider the effects of QE and Operation Twist on housing. Think about the thousands of people in the mortgage industry, for example, that have lost their livelihoods because the boom and bust policies followed by the Fed since 2008 and even before. Think about the millions of American families today that cannot afford to buy a home because asset prices have skyrocketed over the past five years.

By pulling tomorrow’s home sales and other economic activity forward via various policy manipulations, tomorrow is now light in terms of growth. Tomorrow also carries hidden market and credit risks caused by the Fed’s past actions. As we watch mortgage lending and home building volumes fall next year and thereafter thanks to the property price inflation created by the FOMC under Bernanke and Yellen, remember that Fed policy was explicitly meant to “help” the housing sector.

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“..in normal times, the gold used to stay in London and New York. Now that gold is going via Switzerland to China and India and it will never come back.”

China Takes Delivery Of Massive Amount Of Gold From London, New York (Greyerz)

“They’re all into gold. Absolutely. Yes, virtually all of them own gold. That’s what’s so interesting. The Chinese buying is continuously going up and up and up without stopping. The Chinese know what is happening. They know it and they will continue to buy gold. And one day that’s going to have a major influence on the gold price. And when the paper market breaks, and China dominates the gold market, it’s going to be very interesting because I really look forward to the West failing in their manipulation of the gold price through the various paper markets and through the interbank market. Again last month we saw imports of gold into Switzerland and then exports to Asia and India. Last month, over 70% of the gold import figures (into Switzerland) came from London and the United States.

We again see that Switzerland is buying the 400 ounce bars from the UK and US bullion banks and converting them into 1 kilo bars and then shipping them on to Asia. Last month there was hardly any buying from the mines. It all came out of London and New York. And that proves again, Eric, that central banks are either leasing their physical gold into the market or selling it covertly. And that gold that’s coming into the market in London and New York, before it used to stay in London and stay in New York and it would be traded between the various banks, these banks now get the gold from the central banks and then they give the central bank an IOU. Again, in normal times, the gold used to stay in London and New York. Now that gold is going via Switzerland to China and India and it will never come back. China is never going to send it back, nor is India.

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One of my fave themes: of all the people who say they made so much money over the past 10 years, the very vast majority will be too late to get out.

Getting Out: A Godfather Story (Ben Hunt)

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” It’s one of the most famous quotes in movies, as Michael Corleone rages in Godfather III over the assassination he narrowly avoided and his inability to steer the family into legit businesses. Michael is what I like to call a coyote, someone who is VERY smart and VERY strategic. Actually, too smart and too strategic for his own good, what a Brit would call too clever by half. That’s in sharp contrast to his father, Vito Corleone, who is no less smart and no less strategic, but is somehow far less conniving and far more beloved. You see this difference in character most clearly in the deaths of Vito and Michael. How does Vito Corleone die? Playing in his vegetable garden with his grandson. At home. Surrounded by life and laughter and plenty of bottles of Chianti.

Vito got out. How does Michael Corleone die? Sitting in a stony Sicilian courtyard as two skinny dogs scurry around. Struggling to peel an orange. All dressed up and no place to go. Alone. Utterly alone. For all his smarts and strategy and cleverness, Michael NEVER got out. How did Vito get out, while Michael failed? I think it’s the whole too-clever-by-half coyote thing. Michael never trusted ANYONE in the way that Vito did. Michael was obsessed with finding the Answer, an impossibility in the game of organized crime. Or the game of markets. Michael was a maximizer. Which is another way of saying that, like most coyotes, he wasn’t very good at the metagame. Do you want OUT from the game of markets? I do.

Am I good at the game? Yeah. Do I enjoy it? Not really. I used to. But ever since Lehman it’s been mostly a drag. And that’s okay! The game of markets is a means to an end. It’s a really big, important game, but it’s only one of several big important games within the larger metagame of life and doing. My goal in doing is to have a happy ending. I want the Vito ending, not the Michael ending. How do we get there? We keep our eye on the prize – the happy ending – and we work backwards. We maintain our vision on the metagame and its outcome even while we play the immediate game. My goal as an investor is NOT to maximize my investment returns or to maximize my personal wealth. That’s myopic thinking. That’s coyote thinking. That’s the sort of thinking that ruined Michael.

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Remember: we don’t have functioning markets.

Why Do Investors Hate Everything? Maybe Paranoia (BBG)

Only during the 1970s stagflation period and the global financial crisis have so many asset classes had negative returns in a year. The latter may have a lot to do with why it’s happening again. Investors now overreact to even modest changes late in cycles after not foreseeing the financial crisis, JPMorgan Chase & Co. strategists led by John Normand wrote in a note Friday. Other plausible explanations could be that the global economy and earnings have reached a turning point, or that the Federal Reserve is committing a policy error, they added. “The percentage of asset classes that has generated positive returns this year is only 20 percent, a share that has never been so low outside of 1970s stagflation episodes and the Global Financial Crisis,” the strategists wrote.

“Every market but the Nasdaq, Commodities and U.S. Leveraged Loans has underperformed USD cash in 2018.” The strategists have “no argument with the obvious statement” that markets are tumbling because global growth and U.S. earnings are peaking. However, they said slower growth on those fronts, at least if it remains around long-term-average levels, usually hasn’t been a sufficient condition for investors to turn defensive. “We had expected outperformance for another two to three quarters given near-neutral Fed policy, record share buybacks and significant deleveraging” by some equity investors before earnings season began, the strategists wrote. “This month markets clearly don’t share our time-limited optimism, perhaps given growing fear that the Fed is committing a policy mistake by tightening to restrictive levels eventually.”

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When dinosaurs invest.

Desperate IBM Buys Red Hat For $34 Billion In Largest Ever Acquisition (ZH)

The bad news is that in its desperation for growth at what amounts to be any price, IBM is almost certainly overpaying for Red Hat. This was confirmed by Rometty’s preemptive defense, telling Bloomberg that IBM “paid a very fair price. This is a premium company. If you look underneath, this is strong revenue growth, strong profit strong free cash flow” she said, adding that IBM will not cut jobs as a result of the deal: “this is an acquisition for revenue growth, this is not for cost synergies.” Perhaps, but the bigger question is what the deal means for IBM’s balance sheet. In the press release, IBM said that “the company has ample cash, credit and bridge lines to secure the transaction financing. The company intends to close the transaction through a combination of cash and debt.” In other words, no IBM stock, which is already at the lowest level this decade.

So let’s do the math: IBM ended Q3 with cash of $14.7 billion, and a record $46.9 billion in debt. Which means that IBM will likely incur at least $20 billion in additional debt, and as a result IBM’s already shaky A+/A1 rating could soon be downgraded to BBB. So what is IBM buying for this $34 billion and $20 billion in debt? According to its LTM financials, Red Hat has $3.2BN in revenue and $603MM in EBITDA. These numbers are expected to grow to $3.9BN by 2020, when EBITDA will hit $1 billion. In other words, on an EV basis, IBM is paying roughly 31x (net of $2.2BN in cash) Red Hat’s 2020 forward EBITDA.

Of course, if one assumes continued EBITDA growth for the foreseeable future, this acquisition could make sense. The problem is that between the threat of a recession in the next few years, and aggressive competition from Amazon, Microsoft and others for cloud market share, this is a very aggressive assumption. Meanwhile, in exchange for this $1 billion in EBITDA, IBM’s net debt will grow from $32.5 billion currently to $52 billion, almost doubling IBM’s net leverage from 1.7x level to a whopping 3.2x, and well on its way to a BBB rating if not worse. Which is why IBM promise that it will “target a leverage profile consistent with a mid to high single A credit rating” is, with all due respect, laughable.

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“Harsh adjustment programs do not make unsustainable debt sustainable. They just create misery for the population while making the debt burden even worse.”

The IMF Has Learned Nothing From The Greek Crisis (Coppola)

The IMF has just published a new review of Argentina’s economy. It is grim reading. Argentina is in trouble: economic conditions have worsened considerably since the last IMF review, back in June 2018. But the review also reveals that the IMF could be in even bigger trouble. It is repeating the same mistakes it made in the Greek crisis – but with a much larger amount of money at stake. Argentina has been struggling all year. A drought has severely curtailed agricultural production, widening the current account deficit and triggering a mild recession. Concurrently, Fed interest rate rises and a booming U.S. economy have driven up the U.S. dollar, making it ever more expensive for Argentina to obtain the dollars needed to pay interest on its massive dollar-denominated debt pile.

The central bank has been printing money to finance the government’s growing deficit, but this has helped to fuel inflation that now runs at over 40%. In June, the IMF agreed a standby credit arrangement of $50 billion with Argentina, the largest in the Fund’s history. $15 billion would be drawn immediately and the remainder would be made available as needed over the next three years. Half of the $15 billion would be used for government budget support. But it quickly became apparent that, enormous though this financing agreement was, it would be nowhere near enough. In September, as the peso crashed and Argentina stared default in the face, the IMF hastily agreed to front-load the credit arrangement, so that the Argentine government could immediately draw an additional $13.4 billion (making a total of $28.4 billion).

A further $22.8 billion would be drawn in 2019 and $5.9 billion in 2020-21. This is no longer a “standby” arrangement. It is a full financing agreement. Argentina has now become dependent on IMF funding – and the IMF has committed to lend by far the largest amount of money in its history. [..] The fundamental problem that the IMF made in Greece was lending to an insolvent country. Harsh adjustment programs do not make unsustainable debt sustainable. They simply create misery for the population while making the debt burden even worse. The IMF should not have lent to Greece at all. It should have faced down Greece’s creditors and insisted on orderly debt restructuring right from the start.

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Greece wants over 1000 times what Germany has paid.

Greece Reiterates €288 Billion Claim For Damages Under Nazi Occupation (G.)

Greece says it will pursue its quest for second world war damages and repayment of a loan forcibly extracted during Nazi occupation with renewed zest, despite Germany openly rejecting the claims. Less than two weeks after German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, used a state visit to apologise for atrocities committed by his forefathers, Athens vowed to relaunch the campaign while hailing the onset of a new era in bilateral ties. “This is an issue that psychologically still rankles, and as a government we are absolutely determined to raise it,” said Costas Douzinas, who heads the Greek parliament’s defence and foreign relations committee.

“Obviously Greece couldn’t do that when it was in a [bailout] programme receiving loans from the EU and Berlin. It would have been totally contradictory.” The leftist-led government is expected to press ahead with the claims after MPs debate what has been described as the first all-inclusive parliamentary inquiry into the damage wrought under Nazi occupation. The report, compiled by a cross-party committee over several years, estimates that compensation of €288bn (£256bn) remains outstanding for the destruction Greece sustained between 1941 and 1944, the years the country was subject to Third Reich rule. It also calculates that a further €11bn is owed for a 476m Reichsmark loan Hitler’s forces seized from the Greek central bank in 1943.

[..] Greeks put up heroic resistance to their German occupiers, but the price was heavy. Tens of thousands were killed in reprisals for a guerrilla campaign against the Wehrmacht, and at least 300,000 died of famine. About 40,000 people are thought to have starved to death in the first year of occupation alone, and Greece’s Jewish community was almost entirely wiped out. “Germany has never properly assumed its historical responsibility for the wholesale destruction of the country,” said Stelios Koulouglou, who represents Greece’s governing Syriza party in the European parliament. “It was a catastrophe that was so complete it played a major part in delaying our country’s development as a modern European state.”

[..] The German government strenuously rejects charges that it owes anything to Greece, or Poland which also suffered greatly, for the wartime horrors. It says the chapter was closed in 1960 when it paid Athens 115m deutschmarks, roughly equivalent to £205m today.

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Ain’t that the truth.

There Aren’t Enough Lifeboats For Everyone (CHS)

[..] the status quo is fragile, and everyone’s grip on the crumbling cliff-edge of “prosperity” is precarious–and we all sense it. The security we all took for granted is turning to sand as the system breaks down. Job security–you’re joking, right? Pension security–you take us for chumps? Sure, your bank account is guaranteed by the FDIC, but nobody’s guaranteeing your income, your purchasing power or the security of your grasp on the good life. Everyone knows the markets are as precarious as the rest of the status quo, and the rational response is to limit exposure to risk by selling at the first signs that the herd is nervous.

Switching metaphors, we all know the global economy scraped alongside an iceberg in 2008, and those who look beneath the reassuring rah-rah know that the hull of the global economy was sliced open just like the Titanic’s. Central banks have created the illusion that the damage was limited by printing money and using the freshly created currency to buy bonds and stocks to prop up the markets.

But even the passengers who accept the authorities’ reassurances sense something is wrong with the ship. The bow is slowly sinking, the engines are straining to power the pumps, the First Class passengers are either already in lifeboats or huddling nervously by the davits, and the ship’s officers are openly wielding pistols to control panic. Nobody dares discuss it openly for fear of triggering a panic, but there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone. A great many passengers are going to find themselves in the icy waters when the great global economic ship finally founders, and humanity’s finely tuned instinct is alerting us to the restless nervousness of the herd.

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A fully adequate picture of my faith in mankind. It costs $2-4 million per ship to cheat the system, and it’s worth it.

Thousands Of Ships Could Dump Pollutants At Sea To Avoid Dirty Fuel Ban (G.)

Thousands of ships are set to install “emissions cheat” systems that pump pollutants into the ocean to beat new international rules banning dirty fuel. The global shipping fleet is rushing to meet a 2020 deadline imposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to reduce air pollution by forcing vessels to use cleaner fuel with a lower sulphur content of 0.5%, compared with 3.5% as currently used. The move comes after growing concerns about the health impacts of shipping emissions. A report in Nature this year said 400,000 premature deaths a year are caused by emissions from dirty shipping fuel, which also account for 14 million childhood asthma cases per year. But the move to cleaner fuel could see harmful pollutants increasingly dumped at sea.

According to industry analysis seen by the Guardian, between 2,300 and 4,500 ships are likely to install an exhaust gas cleaning system known as a scrubber to meet the regulations on low-sulphur fuel instead of buying the more expensive clean fuel. The scrubbers allow ship owners to continue buying cheaper high-sulphur fuel, which is washed onboard in the scrubber. In the case of the most used system, known as open loop, the waste water is discharged into the ocean. Although expensive at around $2-4m per ship fitting, the cost of buying and fitting a scrubber would be recovered in the first year, the industry analysis says. Cleaner low-sulphur fuel is likely to cost between $300 and $500 more a tonne, according to analysts.

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Sugar addiction.

Big Food’s Poisonous Propaganda (Lustig)

Human brain scans demonstrate that glucose activates the cerebral cortex (the “cognitive” part of our brains), while fructose suppresses that signal and instead lights up the limbic system (your “lizard” brain). Moreover, while sugar does not exhibit classic withdrawal symptoms, it does lead to tolerance and dependence that can cause bingeing, craving, and cross-sensitization to narcotics. These are some of the reasons why the World Health Organization and the US Department of Agriculture recommend that people reduce the amount of sugar in their diets. The addictive qualities of sugar are embedded in its economics. Like coffee, sugar is price-inelastic, meaning that when costs increase, consumption remains relatively constant.

Purchases of soft drinks and other sweetened foods are not dramatically affected by taxes or fluctuating prices. Not everyone who is exposed to sugar becomes addicted; but, as with alcohol, many do. While refined sugar is the same compound found in fruit, it lacks fiber and has been crystallized for purity. It is this process that turns sugar from a “food” into a “drug,” allowing the food industry to “hook” unsuspecting consumers. The evidence is visible in every aisle of every grocery store, where a staggering 74% of all food items are spiked with added sugar. In fact, sugar’s allure is a big reason why the processed food industry’s current profit margin is 5% (up from 1%), and why so many of us are sick, fat, stupid, broke, depressed, and just plain miserable.

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One queston: why?

EU Air Pollution Improves, Causes Only 500,000 Early Deaths A Year (AFP)

Air pollution is slowly easing in EU countries but still causes nearly half a million early deaths each year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said in its annual report published Monday. Although pollution levels dropped slightly in 2015, they remain far higher than standards set by both the EU and the World Health Organization, the report said. The findings come just weeks after an EU watchdog said most member states fail to meet the bloc’s air quality targets, warning that the toll on health in eastern European countries was even worse than in China and India. The EEA said on Monday that exposure to fine pollution particles known as PM2.5 was responsible for around 391,000 premature deaths in the 28-nation bloc in 2015.

The report also found that 76,000 early deaths were linked to nitrogen dioxide and some 16,400 to ground-level ozone in EU countries in the same year. Fine pollution particles have been linked to respiratory illnesses and heart problems, with PM2.5, the smallest, posing the greatest health risks as they can penetrate deep into the lungs. The EEA said a wider assessment included in the report found that early deaths each yer due to PM 2.5 have been cut “by about half a million” since 1990.

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Book review. How much do you know about genes?

Race Doesn’t Come Into It (LRB)

Before I got pregnant, I thought I understood how DNA works: parents pass on some combination of their DNA, which codes for various heritable traits, to their children, who pass on some combination to their children, and so on down the neat branching lines of the genealogical tree. What I didn’t know was that women can also receive DNA from their children. During pregnancy, foetal cells get into the mother’s bloodstream, mixing freely with her own cells and resulting in what scientists call a ‘microchimera, a single organism harbouring a small number of cells from another individual. Microchimerism is the reason doctors can use my blood to do genetic testing that looks for markers of disease in the DNA of the growing foetus.

And while the number of foetal cells in my bloodstream will drop after birth, some could stay there for decades, even for the rest of my life. These foetal cells may even sense the tissues around them and develop into the same types of cell, becoming an integral part of my body, which may have both positive and negative effects on my health – a sort of backwards inheritance. Foetal cells have been shown to regenerate a mother’s diseased thyroid gland and to help her body fight breast cancer. If a virus enters her body, even years after pregnancy, cells from the foetus may be among the first to attack it. But they may also make her more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and scleroderma.

And this DNA transfer works both ways: a pregnant woman’s cells – with her complete set of DNA – can enter the foetus, eventually becoming part of her child’s body and living on long after her own death. With a second pregnancy, foetal cells from the first could colonise the new foetus, turning the second infant who emerges blinking into the sharp light of a new day into a microchimera of mother, father and sibling. So much for the neat branching lines of vertical heredity.

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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 022018
 
 October 2, 2018  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Pieter Bruegel the Elder Children’s games 1560

 

US Gross National Debt Hits $21.5 Trillion in Fiscal 2018 (WS)
Average Stock Is Overvalued Somewhere Between Tremendously And Enormously (MW)
A Three-Way Train Wreck Is About to Derail the Markets (Rickards)
China Says Its Economy Is Slowing. PBOC May Be Preparing To Intervene (CNBC)
China Blocks Bad Economic News As Economy Slumps (ZH)
Real Estate Rage Signals Turn in Chinese Housing Market (IICS)
Di Maio Accuses EU Of Market ‘Terrorism’ Over Italy Budget (R.)
Greece Tests Creditors And The Markets With Its 2019 Spending Plans (CNBC)
Iran “Finalizing” Mechanism To Bypass SWIFT In Trade With Europe (ZH)
Alex Jones Sues Paypal For Infowars Ban (ZH)
The Woman Who Accuses Ronaldo of Rape (Spiegel)

 

 

They are only boom times BECAUSE the debt rises so fast.

US Gross National Debt Hits $21.5 Trillion in Fiscal 2018 (WS)

But wait — these are the Boom Times!

The US gross national debt jumped by $84 billion on September 28, the last business day of fiscal year 2018, the Treasury Department reported Monday afternoon. During the entire fiscal year 2018, the gross national debt ballooned by $1.271 trillion to a breath-taking height of $21.52 trillion. Just six months ago, on March 16, it had pierced the $21-trillion mark. At the end of September 2017, it was still $20.2 trillion. The flat spots in the chart below, followed by the vertical spikes, are the results of the debt-ceiling grandstanding in Congress: These trillions are whizzing by so fast they’re hard to see. What was that, we asked? Where did that go?

Over the fiscal year, the gross national debt increased by 6.3% and now amounts to 105.4% of current-dollar GDP. But this isn’t the Great Recession when tax revenues collapsed because millions of people lost their jobs and because companies lost money or went bankrupt as their sales collapsed and credit froze up; and when government expenditures soared because support payments such as unemployment compensation and food stamps soared, and because there was some stimulus spending too. But no – these are the good times.

Over the last 12-month period through Q2, the economy, as measured by nominal GDP grew 5.4%. “Nominal” GDP rather than inflation-adjusted (“real”) GDP because the debt isn’t adjusted for inflation either, and we want an apples-to-apples comparison. The increases in the gross national debt have been a fiasco for many years. Even after the Great Recession was declared over and done with, the gross national debt increased on average by $954 billion per fiscal year from 2011 through 2017.

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Katsenelson.

Average Stock Is Overvalued Somewhere Between Tremendously And Enormously (MW)

Here’s another, called the “Buffett Indicator.” Apparently, Warren Buffett likes to use it to take the temperature of market valuations. Think of this chart as a price-to-sales ratio for the entire U.S. economy, that is, the market value of all equities divided by GDP. The higher the price-to-sales ratio, the more expensive stocks are.

This chart tells a similar story to the first one. Though I was not around in 1929, we can imagine there were a lot of bulls celebrating and cheerleading every day as the market marched higher in 1927, 1928, and the first 10 months of 1929. The cheerleaders probably made a lot of intelligent, well-reasoned arguments, which could be put into two buckets: First: “This time is different” (it never is). Second: “Yes, stocks are overvalued, but we are still in the bull market.” (They were right about this until they lost their shirts.)

I was investing during the 1999 bubble. I vividly remember the “This time is different” argument of 1999. It was the New Economy vs. the old, and the New was supposed to change or at least modify the rules of economic gravity. The economy was now supposed to grow at a much faster rate. But economic growth over the past 20 years has not been any different than in the previous 20. Actually, I take that back — it’s been lower. From 1980 to 2000 the U.S. economy’s real growth was about 3% a year, while from 2000 to now it has been about 2% a year.

Finally, let’s look at a Tobin’s Q Ratio chart. This chart simply shows the market value of equities in relation to their replacement cost. If you are a dentist, and dental practices are sold for a million dollars while the cost of opening a new practice (phone system, chairs, drills, x-ray equipment, etc.) is $500,000, then Tobin’s Q Ratio is 2.0. The higher the ratio the more expensive stocks are. Again, this one tells the same story as the other two charts: U.S. stocks are extremely expensive — and were more expensive only twice in the past hundred-plus years.

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China foreign reserves under threat.

A Three-Way Train Wreck Is About to Derail the Markets (Rickards)

The U.S. trade war with China and China’s daunting debt problems are well understood by most investors. Coming U.S. sanctions on Iran and Iran’s internal economic problems are also well understood. What is not understood is how these two bilateral confrontations are intimately linked in a three-way tangle that could throw the global economy into complete turmoil and possibly escalate into war. Untangling and understanding these connections is one of the most important tasks for investors today. Let’s begin with the China debt bomb. As is apparent from the chart below, China has the largest volume of dollar-denominated debt coming due in the next 15 months.

The chart shows China with almost $100 billion of external dollar-denominated liabilities maturing before the end of 2019. But this debt wall is just the tip of the iceberg. This chart does not include amounts owed by financial institutions nor does it include intercompany payables and receivables. China’s total dollar debt burden is over $200 billion and towers over other emerging-market economy debt burdens. This wall of maturing debt might not matter if China had easy access to new finance with which to pay the debt and if its economy were growing at a healthy clip. Neither condition is true.

China has entered a trade war with the U.S., which will reduce the prospects of many Chinese companies and hurt their ability to refinance dollar debt. At the same time, China is trying to get its debt problems under control by restricting credit and tightening lending standards. But this monetary tightening also hurts growth. Selective defaults have already emerged among some large Chinese companies and certain regional governments. The overall effect is tighter monetary conditions, reduced access to foreign markets and slower growth all coming at the worst possible time.

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Yeah, sure, the PBOC may cut reserve requirement ratios, but there’s a reason for those requirements: shaky banks.

China Says Its Economy Is Slowing. PBOC May Be Preparing To Intervene (CNBC)

Beijing will likely take steps to mitigate the impact of the trade war with the U.S. as recent economic indicators from China point to a slowdown, an economist said on Monday. “We were calling for some slowdown, but the degree is much more than what we expected,” said Jeff Ng, chief economist for Asia at Continuum Economics, a research firm. Over the weekend, a private survey showed growth in China’s factory sector stalled after 15 months of expansion, with export orders falling the fastest in over two years, while an official survey confirmed a further manufacturing weakening. The official manufacturing index fell to a seven-month low of 50.8 in September, from 51.3 in August and below a Reuters poll forecast of 51.2.

That index has stayed above the 50-point mark for 26 straight months. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below that signals contraction. But the Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell more than expected to 50.0 in September, from 50.6 in the previous month. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 50.5 on average. “I think we are expecting some more triple-R cuts by the end of the year … I think one more triple-R cut by end of the year,” Ng said, referring to possibility that the People’s Bank of China may cut reserve requirement ratios for banks in order to boost liquidity and growth.

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That should help.

China Blocks Bad Economic News As Economy Slumps (ZH)

China’s Shadow-banking system is collapsing (and with its China’s economic-fuel – the credit impulse), it’s equity market has become a slow-motion train-wreck, its economic data has been serially disappointing for two years, and its bond market is starting to show signs of serious systemic risk as corporate defaults in 2018 hit a record high. But, if you were to read the Chinese press, none of that would be evident, as The New York Times reports a government directive sent to journalists in China on Friday named six economic topics to be “managed,” as the long hand of China’s ‘Ministry of Truth’ have now reached the business media in an effort to censor negative news about the economy.

The New York Times lists the topics that are to be “managed” as: • Worse-than-expected data that could show the economy is slowing. • Local government debt risks. • The impact of the trade war with the United States. • Signs of declining consumer confidence • The risks of stagflation, or rising prices coupled with slowing economic growth • “Hot-button issues to show the difficulties of people’s lives.”

The government’s new directive betrays a mounting anxiety among Chinese leaders that the country could be heading into a growing economic slump. Even before the trade war between the United States and China, residents of the world’s second-largest economy were showing signs of keeping a tight grip on their wallets. Industrial profit growth has slowed for four consecutive months, and China’s stock market is near its lowest level in four years. “It’s possible that the situation is more serious than previously thought or that they want to prevent a panic,” said Zhang Ming, a retired political science professor from Renmin University in Beijing. Mr. Zhang said the effect of the expanded censorship strategy could more readily cause people to believe rumors about the economy. “They are worried about chaos,” he added. “But in barring the media from reporting, things may get more chaotic.”

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The Chinese think their property should hold value or gain. And of not, Beijing should make it.

Real Estate Rage Signals Turn in Chinese Housing Market (IICS)

Chinese homebuyers have demanded to return their housing in 2008, 2011 and 2014: each time the market price declined, but real estate rage first appeared in 2011. There was a report of real estate rage in Shanghai. The developer had slashed prices by one-third and homebuyers who purchased days or weeks responded by smashing up the sales office. “My house’s value has dropped by as much as one-third, and we have lost some 10,000yuan,” a homeowner surnamed Yang told Shanghai Daily. Real estate rage returned in early 2014. Angry homeowners in Hangzhou were upset for the same reason as those in Shanghai: the developer slashed prices. They flooded the developer’s office, but police were quickly on the scene.

“In 2008, 2011, 2014, there were three rounds of very obvious check-outs in the country. As long as the house price fell, the pre-purchasers began to reduce their prices.” Chongyuan Real Estate pointed out that the phenomenon of price reduction “rights” It has appeared from time to time, with 2011 being the most typical. According to public information, since September 2011, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Ningbo and other places have continued to reduce prices and defend their rights. The sales offices of various projects such as Vanke, Longhu and Hesheng have been destroyed, and some project owners have also physical conflict with security guards.

In September, there were several reports of “real estate rage” across the country. Instead of smashing offices, homeowners are protesting outside to “protect their rights” but the cause of their anger is the same: developers slashing prices to move inventory. While this evidence is anecdotal, there have been many reports about developers moving inventory to recoup cash. More importantly, both the 2011 and 2014 “real estate rage” incidents were coincident indicators of a housing market top.

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He’s at least partly right.

Di Maio Accuses EU Of Market ‘Terrorism’ Over Italy Budget (R.)

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio on Monday accused European Union officials of deliberately upsetting financial markets by making negative comments about Italy’s budget plans. “Some European institutions are playing … at creating terrorism on the markets,” said Di Maio, who is the head of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. He specifically took aim at European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, saying he had deliberately “upset the markets” with earlier comments on Italy.

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Pension cuts may not be needed, but the IMF demands them regardless.

Greece Tests Creditors And The Markets With Its 2019 Spending Plans (CNBC)

Greece could be about to start another fight with its creditors and the financial markets. The government unveiled last evening the first draft of its 2019 budget plan in which two scenarios were put forward for its spending plans and economic targets for the coming year. One of them included planned and pre-legislated pension cuts, in line with its creditors’ expectations. The other spending plan does not include pension cuts, however, indicating that the Greek government is willing to make changes to reforms that it had previously agreed with its creditors.

The pension cuts were due to start in January and were one of the most difficult reforms to come to an agreement. Potential changes to pensions, or to other reforms, could spark confrontations with European institutions and the IMF. The IMF said last month that the 2019 pension cuts are part of the reforms that the Greek government agreed to, and that Greece needs to show it is investor-friendly. The 2019 budget is the first in nearly a decade without Greece being subject to a bailout program. Nonetheless, Athens promised on Monday to stick to fiscal targets that had agreed with its creditors. In fact, Greece has said it will over-deliver when it comes to its primary budget surplus.

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Iran gets desperate. But this may still work.

Iran “Finalizing” Mechanism To Bypass SWIFT In Trade With Europe (ZH)

Just days after Europe unveiled a “special purpose vehicle” meant to circumvent SWIFT and US monopoly on global dollar-denominated monetary transfers – and potentially jeopardizing the reserve status of the dollar – Iran said it was finalizing mechanisms for the oil trade to bypass US sanctions against the country, said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. According to RT, Araghchi said that Tehran is not ruling out the possibility of setting up an alternative to the international payments provider SWIFT to circumvent sanctions imposed by Washington. “As we know, Europeans are also trying to see how SWIFT can continue working with Iran, or if a parallel [financial] messaging system is necessary… This is something that we are still working on,” Araghchi said.

According to the Iranian diplomat, the independent equivalent of the SWIFT system that was earlier suggested by the EU to protect European firms working in Iran from US sanctions will be available for third countries. “This is the important element in SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) that it is not only for Europeans but other countries can also use this. We hope that before the re-imposition of the second part of the US sanctions [from November 4], these mechanisms can be in place and be functional,” said the official. One can see why: the Iranian economy has been hit hard in recent days, and the Rial has plunged to all time lows, amid fears that the sanctions will cripple Iran’s most valuable export resulting in a shortage of hard currency, eventually leading to a replica of Venezuela’s economic collapse.

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Points also to Paypal’s de facto monopoly.

Alex Jones Sues Paypal For Infowars Ban (ZH)

Alex Jones’s company, Free Speech Systems, LLC, has sued PayPal for the its ban of Infowars because the controversial website “promoted hate and discriminatory intolerance against certain communities and religions.” In the complaint filed by Jones’s lawyers, Marc Randazza Legal group, they accuse PayPal of banning Infowars “for no other reason than a disagreement with the message plaintiff conveys” and call ban “unconscionable” because PayPal has never advised users that “it might ban users for off-platform activity.”

“It is at this point well known that large tech companies, located primarily in Silicon Valley, are discriminating against politically conservative entities and individuals, including banning them from social media platforms such as Twitter, based solely on their political and ideological viewpoints,” Jones’ lawyers claim in the 15-page complaint. Jones claims PayPal’s decision was based purely on “viewpoint discrimination.” He also says the decision was made based on conduct that “had nothing to do with” the PayPal platform, which purportedly violates Infowars’ contract with the payment-processing giant. If PayPal’s decision were allowed to stand, it would set “a dangerous precedent for any person or entity with controversial views,” the lawsuit alleges.

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A few days old, and an odd one out for a Debt Rattle, I know. But Las Vegas police have yesterday involved re-opened the file. This comes after Ronaldo called the Spiegel article fake news, and one of the journalists posted 24 tweets detailing their investigation, saying they worked on it with 20 people for a long time, and have a strong legal team. Spiegel first opened the case in 2009, but the woman didn’t want to talk. She refused to name Ronaldo to police at the time as well.

The Woman Who Accuses Ronaldo of Rape (Spiegel)

She was supposed to be invisible, damned to silence. Forever. Nobody was to ever learn about that night in Las Vegas back in 2009, especially not her version of events. She even signed a settlement deal and received a payoff ensuring that she would never give voice to the accusations. She signed, she says, out of fear for herself and her family. And out of impotence, the inability to stand up to him. And out of the hope that she could finally put the incident behind her. But, says Kathryn Mayorga, she was never able to close that chapter. The American is a slender 34-year-old with long, dark hair and green eyes. Until recently, she worked at an elementary school. But she quit, she says, “because I need all my strength now.”

She needs the strength to stand up to the man who she accuses of having raped her nine years ago — accusations that he denies. The man isn’t just anybody. It is Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best soccer player in the world, with vast amounts of success, money and adoration from the fans. An anonymous woman versus Ronaldo — the discrepancy could hardly be greater. They met on June 12, 2009 in a Las Vegas nightclub. Ronaldo was there on vacation with his brother-in-law and cousin. It was the summer when the star, then 24, would transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid for a then-record sum of 94 million euros.

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Sep 272018
 
 September 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


M. C. Escher Symmetry Drawing 1948

 

Kavanaugh Mayhem (ZH)
Argentina Gets Biggest Loan In IMF’s History At $57 Billion (G.)
The Next Financial Crisis Will Hit In 12-24 Months – Griffin (ZH)
Macron Rejects Trade Deals With Countries Outside Paris Climate Accord (Ind.)
For The First Time Ever, Jeremy Corbyn Looked Like A Prime Minister (Ind.)
UK Appoints Food Supplies Minister Amid Fears Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)
No-Deal Brexit ‘Would Stop British Farming Exports For Six Months’ (G.)
UK Could Use Brexit To Avoid EU Ban On Antibiotics Overuse In Farming (G.)
How UN Scientists Are Preparing For The End Of Capitalism (Nafeez Ahmed)
How Economics Became A Cult (Steve Keen)
1% Of Greeks Owe 90% Of Tax Arrears To State (K.)
World’s Wetlands Disappearing Three Times Faster Than Forests (AFP)

 

 

Well, it’s Kavanaugh day, and yesterday both sides did what was expected: double down. New allegations, denials, talk of restraining orders, gang rapes that went unreported, it was a circus. No telling what will happen today.

You can read the Senate Judiciary Committe interview with Kavanaugh here.

Let’s get this over with.

Kavanaugh Mayhem (ZH)

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday night released a time of their efforts to responded to various accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – including two men who say they they were the basis for the “groping” allegation. The claims also include a new allegation from a San Diego woman who alleges that Kavanaugh and others raped her in the backseat of a car, though it does not specify the place, date or identities of the alleged accomplices. [..] earlier Wednesday, another Kavanaugh accuser – Julie Swetnick, had an ominous cloud of doubt cast over her allegation that the Supreme Court nominee and a friend were operating a date-rape “gang bang” operation at 10 high school parties she attended as a legal adult three years older than Kavanaugh (yet didn’t report once).

Politico reports that Swetnick’s ex-boyfriend, Richard Vinneccy – a registered Democrat, took out a restraining order against her, and says he has evidence that she’s lying. “Right after I broke up with her, she was threatening my family, threatening my wife and threatening to do harm to my baby at that time,” Vinneccy said in a telephone interview with POLITICO. “I know a lot about her.” -Politico. “I have a lot of facts, evidence, that what she’s saying is not true at all,” he said. “I would rather speak to my attorney first before saying more.” Avenatti called the claims “outrageous” and hilariously accused the press of “digging into the past” of a woman levying a claim against Kavanaugh from over 35 years ago. Meanwhile, Swetnick has now been linked to Blasey Ford – as she utilized the law firm run by Ford to sue her previous employer, New York Life Insurance Co. for sexual harassment.

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Rudy Havenstein on Twitter: All Argentina got from Paulie was protection from other guys looking to rip them off. That’s what it’s all about. What Paulie and the IMF offer is protection for the kinds of guys who can’t go to the cops. They’re like the police department for wiseguys.

Argentina Gets Biggest Loan In IMF’s History At $57 Billion (G.)

Argentina has received the biggest loan package ever from the IMF, aimed at shoring up the country’s ailing finances: a whopping $57.1bn that will be disbursed over the next three years. “This is the biggest loan in the history of the IMF,” said the fund’s director, Christine Lagarde, on Wednesday as the final loan agreement was announced in New York. The loan – $15bn of which has already been received by Argentina – comes with stringent conditions, including a commitment to a zero deficit for 2019. Argentina had initially secured $50bn in a deal worked out in June after the South American country was battered by a currency crisis, a run on the peso and double-digit inflation. The economy minister, Nicolás Dujovne, said that at the last minute the IMF agreed to increase the lending package by $7.1bn.

Lagarde said that as part of the deal, Argentina’s central bank had agreed to intervene in currency markets only in case of extreme circumstances and that the new amount would help Argentina’s government face its challenges. The agreement will only allow Argentina’s central bank to intervene to stabilize its currency if the peso depreciates below 44 pesos to the dollar. It is currently at 39 pesos to the dollar after losing 50% of its value since the start of the year. The deal was announced just a day after the president of Argentina’s central bank, Nicolás Caputo, resigned unexpectedly, reportedly after disagreements with the IMF’s guideline limiting the bank’s future intervention to rescue the peso. Thousands of Argentinians joined in a nationwide strike on Tuesday to protest against economic turmoil and Mauricio Macri’s austerity measures.

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EU countries are vulnerable in the next crisis; they don’t control their currencies.

The Next Financial Crisis Will Hit In 12-24 Months – Griffin (ZH)

With Ray Dalio predicting that the US has about 2 years until the next recession, earlier today the head of hedge fund Citadel, Ken Griffin, echoed the Bridgewater founder and predicted that there are “at least 18-to-24 months left in the market rally”, thanks to the “giant adrenaline shot” of the U.S. tax overhaul. Speaking at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York Wednesday, Griffin said that “we are in this debt-fueled buying binge.” He said that the U.S. economy is “running hot now” thanks to President Trump’s actions: “The Trump policies, whether deregulation or tax reform, are certainly pushing corporate America to go, go, go,” he said, citing low unemployment and meaningful wage growth.

That’s the “good” news. The bad new: the artificial “binge” that will extend what is already the longest bull market of all time is “laying the seeds of the next financial crisis”, said Griffin. And what may come as a surprise to many, Griffin admitted that that he’s already managing his fund for the next economic downturn. “My position today is very much focused on managing the tail risks for that… we are late in the cycle, the animal spirits have been unleashed and when these correction occur they happen with very little notice”, he said.

In terms of specific crisis catalysts, the hedge fund manager said his biggest worry is the European Union, where individual nations like Italy and Spain can’t print euros to rescue their own economies. “Every crisis in the West for the last 50 years has been ultimately solved by intervention of governments,” he said. “There has been a huge sea change that has taken place, which is in the EU, the individual governments can no longer issue debt in their own currency.” And thanks to Brussels’ monetary strait-jacket, the ability of “those countries as sovereigns to rescue their financial system in the next crisis is greatly diminished or not even there,” he said.

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Seems fair, even if Paris is a dud.

Macron Rejects Trade Deals With Countries Outside Paris Climate Accord (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has announced France will no longer accept “commercial agreements” with countries that do not “respect” the Paris Climate Accord during a fiery speech at the United Nations General Assembly. The French president called for the upholding of trade rules that “guarantee fair competition on equal footing” during his Tuesday speech, following a Monday afternoon meeting with Donald Trump and the US president’s speech on Monday morning. Mr Macron appeared defiant towards Mr Trump, suggesting he’d no longer negotiate trade deals with the US after its withdrawal from the climate agreement last year.

“We will no longer sign commercial agreements with powers that do not respect the Paris accord,” Mr Macron said without directly referencing Mr Trump or the US. The high-profile speech arrived a day after Mr Macron met with Mr Trump for a discussion involving trade. Officials from both sides described the meeting as “constructive”. The US is now reportedly the only nation in the world which remains opposed to the Paris Agreement, after Mr Trump decided to pull out of the accord in 2017.

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I’ll just leave this here: ..the Liverpool People’s Choir singing “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.

For The First Time Ever, Jeremy Corbyn Looked Like A Prime Minister (Ind.)

The Labour leader offers no solution to the problems of Brexit, but that doesn’t matter. He knows all he has to do is look the part, sound the part and wait for the desire for change to come to him

It may well be that claims the Labour Party has been turned into a personality cult are not completely fair, and never before has Jeremy Corbyn worked harder to counteract this unjust narrative than when he, Corbyn, stood on stage before his leader’s speech, joining in with the crowds as they chanted “Oooaaah Jeremy Corrrr-byn”. They held aloft scarves reading “Oh Jeremy Corrr-byn”. They sang the words “Oaaaah Jeremy Corr-byn,” and there, both on the stage and towering above on gigantic television screens, Corbyn mouthed along to the song, of which 66 per cent of the lyrics are his own name. To Corbyn’s credit, it certainly placed on proceedings a Waco siege-style edge he would not otherwise have engendered through the power of oratory alone.

As he descended into a spiral of circular arguments on the “mainstream media”, furtive glances were made at the door, wondering when special forces might finally storm the place and liberate the captives. There was no clearer evidence of the civil war that still hides in plain sight in the party than the fact that its deputy leader, the now seven stone lighter Tom Watson, did not address the conference from its main stage. But it would be nice to think his contribution to the party did not go entirely unacknowledged as he led the shadow cabinet on to the stage to the sound of the Liverpool People’s Choir singing “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.

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There’s something dawning.

UK Appoints Food Supplies Minister Amid Fears Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)

The government has appointed a minister to oversee the protection of food supplies through the Brexit process amid rising concerns about the effect of a no-deal departure from the European Union. The MP David Rutley, a former Asda and PepsiCo executive, was handed the brief at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier this month. Defra said that Rutley, who once ran home shopping and e-commerce businesses at Asda, was merely taking on responsibilities already held by other ministers. He said: “It is an honour to join the Defra ministerial team at such an important time. I am determined to ensure that we fully realise the opportunities of leaving the EU.” Food industry insiders welcomed his appointment after warnings that delays of only half an hour at UK ports and the Irish border would risk one in 10 British firms going bankrupt.

One food industry business leader said: “The issue at the ports is a big threat. The UK always has been a net importer of food. If the ports don’t work then exporters will be struggling and importers will have a challenge too.” The executive said that while some food manufacturers were already setting aside additional supplies, stockpiling was not possible for products with a short shelf life, such as milk or vegetables. Another industry insider said the appointment of Rutley was “totally welcome”. They added: “There has been a level of naivety that people can stockpile food which is completely impossible and shows a misunderstanding of how the supply chain works. We would welcome someone genuinely informed and engaged.”

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Not an exaggeration.

No-Deal Brexit ‘Would Stop British Farming Exports For Six Months’ (G.)

The National Farmers Union has warned of “catastrophic” consequences for the industry if there is no Brexit deal, after being warned by the EU that the UK faces a six-month wait to be certified as an approved third-country supplier. This would be a major setback to the food and drink sector, where exports to the EU are worth £13.2bn a year. The NFU says it has been told informally that although Britain is in complete regulatory alignment with the EU, if there is no deal, the same health checks countries such as China and the US undergo will apply to UK suppliers. “What we are talking about in effect is a six-month trade embargo until such time we can get the product in, from that point we will face the European’s external tariff wall meaning we will be priced out of the market,” said the NFU’s director general, Terry Jones.

It has been told that 6,000 meat processing plants that export to the EU will have to undergo individual audits by British authorities. These will then be checked by EU officials and then put to a standing veterinary committee for approval, a process that the NFU has calculated will take six months “at a conservative reading”. These checks will also be conducted on any other companies supplying food and drink to the EU, including those exporting bottled water, honey, jam, dairy and other fresh foods. “‘No deal is unpalatable and catastrophic for the industry and the more we hear, the more certain we are that our lines all along are right,” said NFU president, Minette Batters.

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Lovely.

UK Could Use Brexit To Avoid EU Ban On Antibiotics Overuse In Farming (G.)

UK farmers could be allowed to use powerful antibiotics in ways soon to be banned by the European Union, after the government was accused of using Brexit to avoid implementing tougher rules on animal health. New rules aimed at curbing overuse of the drugs are being brought in by the European commission, but they will not come into effect before the Brexit cut-off date in March. The Guardian understands that government animal health experts have been advising vets and farmers they will therefore not have to implement the change. A divergence from EU rules could allow farmers and vets in the UK to dose healthy animals through their feed, as well as those diagnosed with illnesses – while EU farmers will be prevented from doing so.

Campaigners say this is irresponsible misuse of antibiotics that can lead to resistance and should be stopped in line with European rules. At an event this summer held by the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), which regulates farm antibiotics, the VMD’s director of operations, Paul Green, said the UK would implement the new EU regulations “as fully as we see fit … there may be some clauses we wish to omit [or] alter”. According to a person present at the event, Green then went on to say the government would allow farmers in some circumstances to continue to mix antibiotics in feed and drinking water to groups of animals for disease prevention.

Antibiotic use in farming is controversial; livestock account for the majority of antibiotics consumed, and overuse on herds and flocks can build up resistant bacteria that can spread to humans. Rules on the medicines have been toughened by the EU over the past decade. Under the EU’s planned improvements, it would no longer be possible for vets and farmers to mix antibiotics with feed to be given to large numbers of animals at a time, except under exceptional circumstances. This is seen as essential to cutting the overuse of antibiotics, as currently whole herds or flocks can be treated at once because of one sick animal.

The government is coming under pressure from potential trade partners not to adhere to stringent EU animal welfare standards after Britain leaves the EU, in order to open up the UK market to imports from countries with weaker regulations. The US Department of Agriculture, which has a strong influence on trade deals, has been working on plans that would allow groups of healthy animals to be dosed with antibiotics, against World Health Organization guidelines. These plans could play a key part in future trade with the US.

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In the end, it’s all about energy and thermodynamics.

How UN Scientists Are Preparing For The End Of Capitalism (Nafeez Ahmed)

Capitalism as we know it is over. So suggests a new report commissioned by a group of scientists appointed by the UN secretary general. The main reason? We’re transitioning rapidly to a radically different global economy, due to our increasingly unsustainable exploitation of the planet’s environmental resources and the shift to less efficient energy sources. Climate change and species extinctions are accelerating even as societies are experiencing rising inequality, unemployment, slow economic growth, rising debt levels, and impotent governments. Contrary to the way policymakers usually think about these problems these are not really separate crises at all. These crises are part of the same fundamental transition. The new era is characterised by inefficient fossil fuel production and escalating costs of climate change.

Conventional capitalist economic thinking can no longer explain, predict or solve the workings of the global economy in this new age. Those are the implications of a new background paper prepared by a team of Finnish biophysicists who were asked to provide research that would feed into the drafting of the UN Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR), which will be released in 2019. For the “first time in human history”, the paper says, capitalist economies are “shifting to energy sources that are less energy efficient.” Producing usable energy (“exergy”) to keep powering “both basic and non-basic human activities” in industrial civilisation “will require more, not less, effort”.

At the same time, our hunger for energy is driving what the paper refers to as “sink costs.” The greater our energy and material use, the more waste we generate, and so the greater the environmental costs. Though they can be ignored for a while, eventually those environmental costs translate directly into economic costs as it becomes more and more difficult to ignore their impacts on our societies. And the biggest “sink cost”, of course, is climate change: “Sink costs are also rising; economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle the waste generated by energy and material use. Climate change is the most pronounced sink cost.”

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“What an education in economics does is make you into a zealot”.

How Economics Became A Cult (Steve Keen)

Watch Steve Keen discuss how mainstream economics acts more like a cult than a science, how mathematics has been misused by the economic discipline, and how with the right tools a grad student can make a better economic model than a central bank.

[..] present day #economics is based on mythomatics, not #mathematics! Economists belong to a cult that make fantastical assumptions and live in a dream world disconnected from real life.

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Tax arrears as high as the entire GDP.

1% Of Greeks Owe 90% Of Tax Arrears To State (K.)

The vast majority of state debtors (93.3 percent) owe amounts of up to 10,000 euros each, while just 1 percent are behind 90 percent of total debts to the state. This is according to data processed by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue that was published in Parliament following a question put to the finance minister. In total, about 3.8 million taxpayers and enterprises have arrears to the Greek state that add up to 101.5 billion euros, most of which have been run up since Greece resorted to the bailout mechanisms.

Data indicate that some 3.6 million Greeks owe up to 10,000 euros each, totaling 3.7 billion euros. About another 240,000 people owe 10,000-100,000 euros, totaling 6.6 billion euros, while major debtors number 41,232 but owe a total of 91.2 billion euros to the state. Notably, about a third of the debtors’ arrears to the state, some 33 billion euros, concerns fines concerning corporate taxation, that have a low collection rate. One of the reasons for this low rate is the particularly heavy fines imposed in the past, which have led to the closure of several enterprises.

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“35% of wetlands across the globe were lost between 1970 and 2015.”

World’s Wetlands Disappearing Three Times Faster Than Forests (AFP)

Wetlands, among the world’s most valuable and biodiverse ecosystems, are disappearing at alarming speed amid urbanisation and agriculture shifts, conservationists said Thursday, calling for urgent action to halt the erosion. “We are in a crisis,” Martha Rojas Urrego, head of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, told reporters in Geneva, warning of the potential devastating impact of wetland loss, including on climate change. The convention, adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar nearly a half-century ago, on Thursday issued its first-ever global report on the state of the world’s wetlands.

The 88-page report found that around 35 percent of wetlands — which include lakes, rivers, marshes and peatlands, as well as coastal and marine areas like lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs — were lost between 1970 and 2015. Today, wetlands cover more than 12 million square kilometres (4.6 million square miles), the report said, warning that the annual rates of loss had accelerated since 2000. “We are losing wetlands three times faster than forests,” Rojas Urrego said, describing the Global Wetland Outlook report as a “red flag”. While the world has been increasingly focused on global warming and its impact on oceans and forests, the Ramsar Convention said wetlands remain “dangerously undervalued”.

Directly or indirectly, they provide almost all of the world’s consumption of freshwater and more than 40 percent of all species live and breed in wetlands. Animals and plants who call wetlands home are particularly vulnerable, with a quarter at risk of extinction, the report said. Wetlands also provide a livelihood for more than one billion people, while mitigating floods and protecting coastlines. They are also a vital source of food, raw materials and genetic resources for medicines.

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