Jul 072019
 


Johannes Vermeer The geographer 1668-69

 

July 7 2019, just another tequila Sunday. There are elections here in Greece, and the right wing will take over. Bad idea, because it will bring out the left wing resistance that have remained subdued while Syriza reneged on all their promises, but they were left wing, and how does left protesting left work exactly? They didn’t know. Better lay low. No more.

From now on in, it’s women and children first. And there are so many pent up grievances. Youth unemployment is still at 40%. While ever more Greeks are evicted from their homes through Airbnb alone. This ain’t gonna go well. That strong economy the right promises will be there exclusively for their own richer supporters, at the ever-increasing cost of the poor.

 

The US women’s soccer team just became World Champions again. That’s the last time in a very long time. Because traditional soccer countries now also have women’s teams. There’s a very peculiar division at the bottom of this. In Europe and South America and Africa, soccer is a men’s game.

In the US, baseball, hockey, basketball and American football have spent millions making sure soccer was turned into, and perceived as, a girly sport. Just so the best male athletes would not turn there. So the US, colleges, universities, have this decades-long tradition of women’s soccer. But they have no such tradition for men, while almost the entire rest of the world does.

That’s why the US women’s soccer team will never win again, and it’s also why the men’s team never will. No culture, no tradition, even as they easily could have them. This was very obvious to me in my Montreal days. In summer, in just about every city park, there were community and family gatherings of South- and Central Americans, and they were all playing soccer.

Still, Canada stinks at the game on an international level. Why? Because the hockey people don’t want the competition for male athletes. They cut it down wherever they can. All they would have to do is take the most promising 100 10-year old kids just playing in the parks in one city, and get them into a program. Within 10 years they’d have a national team that’s an international contender. Kids from Peru, Chili, Brazil, 100 different countries, and throw in the European kids that are there anyway. But no.

 

Still, I was going to talk about Trump again. Just to piss off the people some more who -stupidly- accuse me of supporting Trump. Though it is sort of the same thing: Greek PM Tsipras is set to lose (no results yet as I write this) because he never did what he promised. US soccer is set to lose because other domestic sports don’t want it to be successful. People are -mostly- blind.

First I saw this UK ambassador to Washington, one Sir Kim Darroch, has sent “secret” cables (memos) to his government about how Trump’s administration is supposedly “inept, insecure and incompetent”, as well as “uniquely dysfunctional” and “divided”. “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction-riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”

“Differences between the US and the UK on climate change, media freedoms and the death penalty might come to the fore as the countries seek to improve trading relations after Brexit, the memos said.” Oh, fcuking yeah, the UK is such a shining light on climate change and press freedom, right?! Who’s holding a certain journalist, one Julian Assange, in a maximum security prison again?

“Mr Trump’s publicly stated reason for calling off an airstrike against Tehran with 10 minutes to go – that it would cause 150 casualties – “doesn’t stand up”, Sir Kim said. Instead, he suggested the president was “never fully on board”. When I read that line, I thought Sir Kim was not-even-so secretly in favor of attacking Iran. Was that just me?

Oh, and earlier today I was wondering if they ever hand out these Sir and Dame titles to people who are poor or even destitute but who work 25 hours a day for the people around them, to make sure they can alleviate the suffering in their communities as much as they can. Or does that mummified “Queen” of theirs only bestow that “honor” on the upper classes? No, I do not care, I think I know the answer. Inglan is a bitch.

And if I’ve ever seen a dysfunctional, “inept, insecure and incompetent” government, it’s the one that these secret memos were sent to. From Cameron to May to soon Boris Johnson, let get real.

 

Then also today there were all these news reports about Jeffrey Epstein on how he’s finally being charged with abusing dozens of underage on his planes and his estates. This has been going on for decades (who was in charge during those years). What is the media focus? Trump, of course. But Epstein was thrown out of Mar-A-Lago I think 12 years ago for hitting on an underage girl. Does that mean we know for sure Trump was never involved? Nope.

But we do know that Bill Clinton flew 26 times in a few years on Epstein’s ‘Lolita Express’ bringing helpss girls so faraway places. So maybe he should be the main focus here, not Trump. Then again, it’s too late in the game now, isn’t it? US -and UK- media have bet all their money on the anti-Trump game. They have lost everything so far, and then they double down, everything on red style.

I’m thinking: guys, you lost, time to find a new game plan. But they don’t have the flexibility nor the intelligence required. Aaron Maté wrote another scathing -must read- essay on the Mueller Report , putting its credibiltiy at the same level as the Steele dossier, but one half of America doesn’t even want to see that. It only wants to see more damning reports, damn evidence, about their favorite orange piñata.

And no, talking about that does not make me a Trump supporter. Let’s say I’m looking at that like it were a game of soccer, and I point out to you that the other team has absolutely nothing while they’re already 10-0 down (that’s a very big score in soccer).

 

But a third thing i saw today really made me think Trump can’t lose in 2020. The Guardian of all places had a review of a book entitled American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War by Politico writer Tim Alberta, in which Trump effusively praises Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among other things by comparing her to Evita Peron.

“Trump says he first saw Ocasio-Cortez during her primary against Crowley, while watching TV with political advisers. “I see a young woman,” he says, “ranting and raving like a lunatic on a street corner, and I said: ‘That’s interesting, go back.’” Alberta then says Trump “became enamored” and “starstruck” by Ocasio-Cortez. “I called her Eva Perón,” Trump says. “I said, ‘That’s Eva Perón. That’s Evita.”


[..] Trump does row back on his praise, telling Alberta: “She’s got talent. Now, that’s the good news. The bad news: she doesn’t know anything. She’s got a good sense, an ‘it’ factor, which is pretty good, but she knows nothing. But with time, she has real potential.”

 

I still remain convinced that the one dimensional Trump haters, the same people who would accuse me of supporting him, don’t understand how or why that means he will win easily in 2020. Well, that, and they have nobody to put up against him. Joe Biden is not just a joke, he’s an old and stale joke. Kamala Harris is an attempt to cross Obama with Hillary. Bernie Sanders is a wonderful man, but he should be the campaign manager for a younger prospect, but who isn’t there.

And Tulsi Gabbard is being actively suppressed by the DNC, like Bernie Sanders four years ago. All the rest of the field are mere bystanders. It’s the exact same feeling of the GOP ‘contestants’ standing against Trump in 2016. They’re there to fill up space, and to create the illusion there’s an actual conversation or dialogue or contest happening.

 

Personally, I think it would be great if the Democrats have a valid candidate next year, at the level of Trump or better. The Donald should have stayed in real estate. But instead he’s the President, and now everybody has to deal with that. And you don’t do that by continuing to blame him for everything that happens under the sun. That ‘tactic’ has failed for three years.

Those past 3 years of media bias against him, plus the Mueller report debacle, should have made this clear. But what we see today is that neither the Democrats nor the press that supports them have anything to fight Trump with. While he compliments their main future asset for her talent, and for her likeness to a world-famous tragic actress-turned-politician and Broadway darling.

That’s why he’ll win.

 

 

Jun 252019
 


Caravaggio Conversion on the way to Damascus 1600-01

 

Something’s been nagging me for the past few days, and I’m not sure I’ve figured out why yet. It started when Donald Trump first called off the alleged planned strikes on targets in Iran because they would have cost 150 lives, and then the next day said the US would do sanctions instead. As they did on Monday, even directly targeting Trump’s equal, the “Supreme Leader Khameini”.

When Trump announced the sanctions, I thought: wait a minute, by presenting this the way you did, you effectively turned economic sanctions into a military tool: we chose not to do bombs but sanctions. Sounds the same as not doing a naval invasion but going for air attacks instead. The kind of decisions that were made in Vietnam a thousand times.

However, Vietnam was all out war (well, invasion is a better term). Which shamed the US, killed and maimed the sweet Lord only knows how many promising young Americans as well as millions of Vietnamese, and ended in humiliating defeat. But the US is not in an all out war in Iran, at least not yet. And if they would ever try to be, the outcome would be Vietnam squared.

Still, that’s not really my point here. It’s simply about the use of having the world reserve currency as a military weapon instead of an economic one. And I think that is highly significant. As well as an enormous threat to the US. The issue at hand is overreach.

While you could still argue that economic sanctions on North Korea, Venezuela and Russia are just that, economic and/or political ones, the way Trump phrased it, comparing sanctions one on one with military strikes, no longer leaves that opening when it comes to Iran. The new Iran sanctions are a preliminary act of war. Simply because of how he presented them. He explicitly stated that he swapped one for the other.

 

There are quite a few people who have been harping on the demise of the USD as reserve currency for a long time, and I always think: look, nobody wants the yuan, let alone the ruble. There’s no trade being executed in these currencies. So taking over from the USD is a pipe dream.

But that may very well change, and perhaps very fast too, if the US uses the dollar not as an economic weapon (and there are plenty issues with that already), but as a military one. That would potentially hugely speed up any efforts to move away from the buck in international trade.

For the simple reason that it becomes unreliable. Traders hate that, they can’t have that. A reserve currency must be neutral -to a point-. The world of trade doesn’t want the yuan because Beijing controls it and can therefore change conditions and values overnight. But if and when the US uses the USD as a military tool, it essentially risks doing exactly the same: it deneutralizes the USD.

Using the USD as an economic weapon is ugly, but something global trade can deal with. A military weapon, though, is something else altogether. And I see no sign that Trump understands this. The thing is, using your currency, which also happens to be the world reserve currency, as a military tool, means you’ve become a threat to everyone, the entire globe, overnight.

And people don’t want to live that way. Not Iran, not Russia, not China, not Europe, no-one. It’s one thing to use the USD for sanctions. But it’s a real different thing to use it as just a military alternative to “bombing a country into obliteration”.

 

What Trump did comes awfully close to signing the death warrant for the USD as the global reserve currency. And it’s really only because he and his people weren’t paying attention. He could have phrased the entire thing differently, and it would have been business as usual, a business that Moscow and Beijing are actively trying to undermine, but they could have waited a bit longer reacting.

Now, however, their plans have to be sped up. They’re going to be buying a lot of gold, as they’ve already been doing, they’ll try to do their mutual business in their own currencies backed by this gold, and they’ll speed up alternatives-to-USD plans with other countries in their neighborhood. Because they have no choice anymore.

I see Tyler Durden reporting that the US threatens to throw a Chinese state-owned bank out of the SWIFT system, and I think: great idea. Why not force China to quit the reserve currency system, the petrodollar, outright?! Why not force it to hasten the Asian/Russian alternative trade model into existence? What a great and lovely idea.

The US should today make friends. It should preserve the reserve currency status of the USD for as long as it can, by convincing allies and foes alike that it will protect its neutrality in global trade. But Trump and his people are doing the exact opposite, they’re playing all-on-red.

The US no longer has the economic, political or military might to dictate to the entire world any terms it wants to. Those days are long gone. That ended in Vietnam. Trump’s living in the last century, while Bolton and Pompeo, they live in their own time and world.

 

But yeah, sure, perhaps this is what the dying days of an empire MUST look like. Maybe there’s a model to follow and there’s no escape, maybe it’s all written in the stars. Like Rome and Greece and Genghis Khan. Maybe things simply just have to play out. Still, looking at that Trump statement about the new Iran sanctions that started me off, it doesn’t feel all that smart.

 

 

 

 

Jun 242019
 


Pablo Picasso Sleeping girl 1935

 

Free Money Socialism (Henrich)
Iran Goes For “Maximum Counter-Pressure” (Escobar)
Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency ‘Poses Risks To Global Banking’ -BIS (G.)
Google’s Chrome Web Browser “Has Become Spy Software” (ZH)
Austerity, Inequality Fuelling Mental Illness – Top UN Envoy (G.)
Republicans Don’t Understand Democrats – and Vice Versa (Atl.)
400 Pilots Sue Boeing In Class Action Over 737 MAX Cover-Up (ABC.au)
How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean (BR)
Blow To Turkey’s Erdogan As Opposition Wins Big In Istanbul (R.)
Turkey Warns EU Not To Interfere On Cyprus EEZ Issue (K.)
Greek Armed Forces On Standby For Turkish Moves In East Med, Aegean (K.)

 

 

Very close to what I’ve been saying.

Free Money Socialism (Henrich)

According to Jay Powell the Fed’s primary mission is now to “sustain the economic expansion.” I’ve never used the term “manipulation” before, but let’s just be clear what “sustain the economic expansion” really means: To prevent natural market forces from taking hold. That’s manipulation. Business cycles are natural. They serve a purpose, they lay the foundation for new growth, they weed out the excess, they permit for a reset of an aging expansion, for a renewed flourishing of innovation, new solutions, creativity, and yes growth. Of course because of all this recessions bring about temporary pain, but nobody wants pain anymore, and hence central bankers with hero magazine covers have now taken on a new role, that of preventing a recession altogether.

No more cleansing, no more resets, but only ever more excess and propagating the notion that they alone can prevent the cleansing process from taking place with their favorite and only method: Free Money. Oh yes, the free money whores are here again. Hurry back into stocks: “Now, interest rates are coming down en masse. Investors who adjusted their portfolios for a high-rate environment must readjust. That means leaning into growth stocks again, scouring Asia for opportunities, and earning income from investments that won’t succumb to the low-rate trend and will also hold up in a shaky economy”. Barron’s calls the Fed flip flop “graceful”. I call it disgraceful.

Just stop. It’s 2019, wealth inequality is higher than ever, corporate debt is higher than ever, and growth is slowing. Innovation is hampered by a system that has benefitted the few which have grown into bloated monopolies, and the entire system itself remains held afloat by massive and ever more expending debt. After all there is zero intellectual integrity to anything that is being propagated. In recent times Fed chairs have bemoaned rising wealth inequality, oh how un-American it all is, and rising corporate debt being a threat to the economy, but then they proceed to again exacerbate both by promising more easy money, their default solution in the misguided attempt to bail investors out from all pain and any bad decisions.

Read more …

“The key in the analysis is what is called notional. They are so far out of the money that they are said to mean nothing. But in a crisis the notional can become real.”

Iran Goes For “Maximum Counter-Pressure” (Escobar)

The facts are stark. Tehran simply won’t accept all-out economic war lying down – prevented to export the oil that protects its economic survival. The Strait of Hormuz question has been officially addressed. Now it’s time for the derivatives. Presenting detailed derivatives analysis plus military analysis to global media would force the media pack, mostly Western, to go to Warren Buffett to see if it is true. And it is true. Soleimani, according to this scenario, should say as much and recommend that the media go talk to Warren Buffett. The extent of a possible derivatives crisis is an uber-taboo theme for the Washington consensus institutions. According to one of my American banking sources, the most accurate figure – $1.2 quadrillion – comes from a Swiss banker, off the record.

He should know; the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) – the central bank of central banks – is in Basle. The key point is it doesn’t matter how the Strait of Hormuz is blocked. It could be a false flag. Or it could be because the Iranian government feels it’s going to be attacked and then sinks a cargo ship or two. What matters is the final result; any blocking of the energy flow will lead the price of oil to reach $200 a barrel, $500 or even, according to some Goldman Sachs projections, $1,000. Another US banking source explains; “The key in the analysis is what is called notional. They are so far out of the money that they are said to mean nothing.

But in a crisis the notional can become real. For example, if I buy a call for a million barrels of oil at $300 a barrel, my cost will not be very great as it is thought to be inconceivable that the price will go that high. That is notional. But if the Strait is closed, that can become a stupendous figure.” BIS will only commit, officially, to indicate the total notional amount outstanding for contracts in derivatives markers is an estimated $542.4 trillion. But this is just an estimate. The banking source adds, “Even here it is the notional that has meaning. Huge amounts are interest rate derivatives. Most are notional but if oil goes to a thousand dollars a barrel, then this will affect interest rates if 45% of the world’s GDP is oil. This is what is called in business a contingent liability.”

Read more …

“If even modestly successful, Libra would hand over much of the control of monetary policy from central banks to these private companies.”

Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency ‘Poses Risks To Global Banking’ -BIS (G.)

Facebook’s plan to operate its own digital currency poses risks to the international banking system that should trigger a speedy response from global policymakers, according to the organisation that represents the world’s central banks. Although the move of big tech firms such as Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba into financial services could speed up transactions and cut costs, especially in developing world countries, it could also undermine the stability of a banking system that has only just recovered from the crash of 2008. Echoing warnings from many tech experts, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said that while there were potential benefits to be made, the adoption of digital currencies outside the current financial system could reduce competition and create data privacy issues.

“The aim should be to respond to big techs’ entry into financial services so as to benefit from the gains while limiting the risks,” said Hyun Song Shin, economic adviser and head of research at BIS. “Public policy needs to build on a more comprehensive approach that draws on financial regulation, competition policy and data privacy regulation.” The warning from the BIS on Sunday comes only days after Facebook announced it would launch its own digital currency, Libra, in 2020. It will allow its billions of users to make financial transactions across the globe in a move that could potentially shake up the world’s banking system.

Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, last week added his voice to concerns being expressed over big tech’s move into finance, warning that Libra could shift power into the wrong hands. Hughes, who is co-chair of the Economic Security Project, an anti-poverty campaign group, said: “If even modestly successful, Libra would hand over much of the control of monetary policy from central banks to these private companies. If global regulators don’t act now, it could very soon be too late.”

Read more …

Very easy for a government to counter. Should make one suspicious as to why they don’t.

Google’s Chrome Web Browser “Has Become Spy Software” (ZH)

Google’s Chrome is essentially spy software according to Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler, who spent a week analyzing the popular browser and concluded that it “looks a lot like surveillance software.” Fowler has since switched to Mozilla’s Firefox because of its default privacy settings, and says that it was easier than one might imagine.

“My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality. Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in pages.

And that’s not the half of it.= Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail. -Washington Post”

Read more …

Iceland?!

Austerity, Inequality Fuelling Mental Illness – Top UN Envoy (G.)

Austerity, inequality and job insecurity are bad for mental health and governments should counteract them if they want to face up to the rising prevalence of mental illness, the UN’s top health envoy has said. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian to coincide with a hard-hitting report to be delivered to the UN in Geneva on Monday, Dr Dainius Puras said measures to address inequality and discrimination would be far more effective in combatting mental illness than the emphasis over the past 30 years on medication and therapy. “This would be the best ‘vaccine’ against mental illness and would be much better than the excessive use of psychotropic medication which is happening,” said Puras, who as the UN’s special rapporteur on health reports back to the UN human rights council in Geneva.

He said that since the 2008 financial crisis, policies that accentuated division, inequality and social isolation have been bad for mental equilibrium. “Austerity measures did not contribute positively to good mental health,” he said. “People feel insecure, they feel anxious, they do not enjoy good emotional wellbeing because of this insecurity situation.” “The best way to invest in the mental health of individuals is to create a supportive environment in all settings, family, the workplace. Then of course [therapeutic] services are needed, but they should not be based on an excessive biomedical model.”

Puras said there had been an overemphasis on trying to cure mental illness like physical illness, through “good medicine”, without thinking about the social factors that cause or contribute to some mental disorders. The prescription of psychotropic drugs to deal with mental illness, particularly antidepressants, has soared across the developed world in the past 20 years.

Read more …

What do Americans understand these days?

Republicans Don’t Understand Democrats – and Vice Versa (Atl.)

Unfortunately, the “Perception Gap” study suggests that neither the media nor the universities are likely to remedy Americans’ inability to hear one another: It found that the best educated and most politically interested Americans are more likely to vilify their political adversaries than their less educated, less tuned-in peers. Americans who rarely or never follow the news are surprisingly good at estimating the views of people with whom they disagree. On average, they misjudge the preferences of political adversaries by less than 10 percent. Those who follow the news most of the time, by contrast, are terrible at understanding their adversaries. On average, they believe that the share of their political adversaries who endorse extreme views is about 30 percent higher than it is in reality.


Perhaps because institutions of higher learning tend to be dominated by liberals, Republicans who have gone to college are not more likely to caricature their ideological adversaries than those who dropped out of high school. But among Democrats, education seems to make the problem much worse. Democrats who have a high-school degree suffer from a greater perception gap than those who don’t. Democrats who went to college harbor greater misunderstandings than those who didn’t. And those with a postgrad degree have a way more skewed view of Republicans than anybody else. It is deeply worrying that Americans now have so little understanding of their political adversaries. It is downright disturbing that the very institutions that ought to help us become better informed may actually be deepening our mutual incomprehension.

Read more …

And that’s just in one airline.

400 Pilots Sue Boeing In Class Action Over 737 MAX Cover-Up (ABC.au)

More than 400 pilots have joined a class action against American plane manufacturer Boeing, seeking damages in the millions over what they allege was the company’s “unprecedented cover-up” of the “known design flaws” of the latest edition of its top-selling jet, the 737 MAX. Boeing’s 737 MAX series— first announced in 2011 and put to service in 2017 — is the fourth generation of its 737 aircraft, a widely popular narrow-body aircraft model that has been a mainstay of short-haul aircraft routes across the globe. By March 2019, the entire global fleet was suspended by a US presidential decree, following the second fatal crash involving a 737 MAX that killed 157 people in Ethiopia.

The first crash involving the 737 MAX jet happened off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018, killing 189 people. In the time since the two fatal crashes, some of the families of the 346 people killed have sought compensation, while aircraft carriers — such as Norwegian Air — have sought compensation from the American manufacturer for lost revenue as a result of the plane’s global ban. This latest lawsuit filed against Boeing marks the first class action lodged by pilots qualified to fly the 737 MAX series, who have alleged that Boeing’s decisions have caused them to suffer from monetary loss and mental distress since the jet’s suspension.

The originating plaintiff, known as Pilot X —who has chosen to remain anonymous for “fear of reprisal from Boeing and discrimination from Boeing customers” — lodged the statement of claim on Friday, which seeks damages for them and more than 400 colleagues who work for the same airline. In court documents seen by the ABC, the claim alleges that Boeing “engaged in an unprecedented cover-up of the known design flaws of the MAX, which predictably resulted in the crashes of two MAX aircraft and subsequent grounding of all MAX aircraft worldwide.” They argue that they “suffer and continue to suffer significant lost wages, among other economic and non-economic damages” since the fleet’s global grounding. The class action will be heard in a Chicago court, with a hearing date set for October 21, 2019.

Read more …

History lesson” “The Caribbean archipelago was ground zero for U.S. imperial banking.”

How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean (BR)

Scrubbed from the pages of glossy coffeetable books, the history of U.S. imperialism can be found in the archives of Wall Street’s oldest, largest, and most powerful institutions. A deep dive into the vaults and ledgers of banking houses such as Citigroup, Inc., and J. P. Morgan Chase and Co. reveals a story of capitalism and empire whose narrative is not of morally pure and inspiring economic growth, technological innovation, market expansion, and shareholder accumulation, but rather of blood and labor, stolen sovereignty and pilfered resources, military occupation and monetary control. Sugar comingles with blood, chain gangs cross spur lines, and the magical abstractions of finance are found vulgarized in the base manifestations of racial capitalism.

This history of bankers and empire is also a Caribbean history. The Caribbean archipelago was ground zero for U.S. imperial banking. Wall Street’s first experiments in internationalism occurred in Cuba, Haiti, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, often with disastrous results—for those countries and colonies, and often for the imperial banks themselves. Yet where there was expansion, there was also pushback. The internationalization of Wall Street was met with local resistance, refusal and revolt. And just as the history of imperialism has been excised from popular narratives, so too has this history of Caribbean anti-imperialism and autonomy. The history of imperial banking and racial capitalism begins at the end of the nineteenth century, at the historical horizon where the project of U.S. settler colonialism that spurred the financing of the West became the enterprise of U.S. territorial colonialism in the Caribbean and Asia.

Buoyed by unprecedented wealth and boosted by the expansionist jingoism following the victory over Spain in the Caribbean and the Pacific, New York City’s bankers and merchants believed that the organization of an imperial banking system—one that could compete with Europe’s long-established institutions—was critical to the global rise of the city and to the consolidation of Wall Street’s position in international finance, trade, and commerce. With these ambitions, bankers and business-people set their sights on asserting control over the trade and finance of the Americas. They sought to control local central banks, establish U.S. branch banks, take over commodity financing, reorganize monetary systems on a dollar basis, and refinance European-funded sovereign debt.

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He’s losing it. Beware. Next move will be to suggest Turkey’s under threat, call for patriotism.

Blow To Turkey’s Erdogan As Opposition Wins Big In Istanbul (R.)

Turkey’s opposition has dealt President Tayyip Erdogan a stinging blow by winning control of Istanbul in a re-run mayoral election, breaking his aura of invincibility and delivering a message from voters unhappy over his policies. Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) secured 54.21% of votes, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency – a far wider victory margin than his narrow win three months ago. The previous result was annulled after protests from Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, which said there had been widespread voting irregularities. The decision to re-run the vote was criticized by Western allies and caused uproar among domestic opponents who said Turkey’s democracy was under threat.


On Sunday, tens of thousands of Imamoglu supporters celebrated in the streets of Istanbul after the former businessman triumphed over Erdogan’s handpicked candidate by almost 800,000 votes. “In this city today, you have fixed democracy. Thank you Istanbul,” Imamoglu told supporters who made heart signs with their hands, in an expression of the inclusive election rhetoric that has been the hallmark of his campaigning. “We came to embrace everyone,” Imamoglu said. “We will build democracy in this city, we will build justice. In this beautiful city, I promise, we will build the future.”

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The EU has no choice anymore.

Turkey Warns EU Not To Interfere On Cyprus EEZ Issue (K.)

Turkey has warned the European Union that any intervention on their part on the issue of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) would negatively affect relations between Greece and Turkey, as well as any prospects for an end to the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus. The warning was made through a non-paper sent to 27 of the EU’s 28 member-states on June 16, Cyprus’ “Fileleftheros” newspaper reports. Turkey didn’t send the note to Cyprus, whose government it does not recognize. The non-paper says the EU would be wise not to act as a judge in the dispute on sea borders and that a similar stance would further discourage efforts to solve the “Cyprus problem” and would cause Greek-Turkish relations to deteriorate.


Turkey claims that the area where one of its drillships has begun exploring for oil and natural gas, soon to be joined by a second, is within Turkey’s continental shelf and that no islands, Cyprus included, can constitute a “full” EEZ. Turkey repeats its views on “equal rights” between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots, that-is, between the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied north of the island, which Turkey alone has recognized as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and says the best solution is the appointment of a mixed commission with representatives of both sides. Failing that, Turkey says, it is determined to protect the rights of the Turkish-Cypriot resources in the area. The non-paper ends with the hope that, in the decisions to be taken by the EU, “common sense” will prevail.

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Greece will not give in.

Greek Armed Forces On Standby For Turkish Moves In East Med, Aegean (K.)

As Turkey continues with its provocative behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean, despite European Union calls for it to desist from drilling for oil in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Greece’s armed forces are on standby to deal with a possible escalation of tensions in the East Med or the Aegean, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, the key question being pondered in Athens is how to react in the event that Turkey decides to conduct seismic research or drilling within Greece’s continental shelf or its EEZ. The biggest concern is about a potential Turkish intervention east of Rhodes and south of Kastellorizo.

On the political level, Athens has done what it can, underlining the potential repercussions of Turkey’s provocative behavior on stability in the broader region. The statement by the EU last week, though vague, was welcomed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as “the first clear and decisive” condemnation of Turkey by the bloc “after decades of violations of international law.” On the operational level, however, it is less clear what Greece’s response should be. The country’s armed forces will be on high alert over the summer as defense officials prepare a series of plans to deal with a possible Turkish intervention. The plans are primarily based on Hellenic Navy maneuvers, as Turkey is currently using research ships and drilling vessels to entrench its presence in the region.

However, the Hellenic Air Force would likely play a supportive role in any response. Asked last week whether Greece can count on military support from the EU or the United States in the event of an incident, Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis told reporters that Greece will have to plan to deal with such a scenario independently. “There is no such promise, nor any such issue at the moment, but as I’ve said before, when we need to do something we expect that we will basically be alone.” Athens also holds little faith in promises by French President Emmanuel Macron to send French Navy ships to the Aegean if necessary, as such pledges have been made in the past.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

May 182019
 


Edouard Manet Gypsy with a cigarette 1862

 

Half Of Americans Are Just One Paycheck Away From ‘Financial Disaster’ (MW)
Record-Setting Art Sales Confirm Global Liquidity Bubble (Colombo)
A Greek Canary in a Global Goldmine (Varoufakis)
US Media No Longer Reports Facts, But Appeals To Emotions (SHTF)
OPCW Expert Contradicts Official Douma Attack Analysis (CJ)
Free For All (Jim Kunstler)
May And Corbyn Blame Each Other As Brexit Talks Collapse (G.)
Tory Brexiteers Tell May: You Must Quit Now (Ind.)
A Brief History Of Doom: The New Kindleberger And Mackay (Steve Keen)
Cristiano Ronaldo Donates $1.5 million to Palestine for Ramadan (21Wire)
Air Pollution May Be Damaging ‘Every Organ In The Body’ (G.)

 

 

Many such surveys these days.

Half Of Americans Are Just One Paycheck Away From ‘Financial Disaster’ (MW)

Missing more than one paycheck is a one-way ticket to financial hardship for nearly half of the country’s workforce. A new study from NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent social research institution, found that 51% of working adults in the United States would need to access savings to cover necessities if they missed more than one paycheck. [Research from the Federal Reserve found that 4 in 10 Americans couldn’t afford a $400 emergency, and 22% say they expect to forgo payments on some of their bills.]


Certain communities were more prone to economic hardship in the event of missing a paycheck. Roughly two-thirds of households earning less than $30,000 annually and Hispanic households would be unable to cover basic living expenses after missing more than one paycheck, the researchers found. “Even so, notable differences remain across race, ethnicity, education groups, and locations and many individuals still struggle to repay college loans, handle small emergency expenses, and manage retirement savings,” it added. The findings were based on a survey of more than 1,000 adults. The researchers interviewed a nationally representative panel designed to be indicative of the U.S. population.

Read more …

Record numbers of dirt poor Americans while the rich don’t know what to do with their money. Not a recipe for anything long lasting.

Record-Setting Art Sales Confirm Global Liquidity Bubble (Colombo)

Art and collectibles prices have exploded in the past decade as a result of the extremely frothy conditions created by central banks. Hardly a week goes by without news headlines being made about ugly, tacky, or just plain bizarre works of art fetching tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars at auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s (often sold to rich buyers in China or Hong Kong). Make no mistake: we’re currently experiencing a massive art bubble of the likes not seen since the Japan-driven art bubble of the late-1980s that ended disastrously. Two art market records were made in the past week: the $91.1 million “Rabbit” sculpture by Jeff Koons, which set the record for the highest amount paid for a piece of art by a living artist, and the sale of Monet’s ‘Meules’ painting for $110.7 million, which set a record for an Impressionist work.


[..] In order to understand today’s art bubble, it is helpful to learn about the art bubble of the late-1980s that ultimately crashed and burned. Throughout the 1980s, Japan had a bubble economy that was driven by debt and bubbles in property and stocks. Japan’s economy was seemingly unstoppable – almost everyone in the West was terrified that Japan’s economy and corporations would trounce ours while destroying our standard of living in the process. Of course, few people knew how unsustainable Japan’s economy was at that time.

As a result of hubris and the enormous amount of liquidity that was flowing throughout Japan’s economy in the late-1980s, Japanese businesspeople and corporations started to speculate in art, often bidding previously unheard of sums that Western art collectors would never have dreamed of paying. For example, Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance paid a record $39.9 million for Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” at a London auction in 1987. Ryoei “wild fellow” Saito, Chairman of the Daishowa Paper Manufacturing empire, paid $160 million for the world’s two most expensive paintings – a Van Gogh and a Renoir. At the peak of the art market in 1990, Japan imported more than $4 billion worth of art, including nearly half of all Impressionist art that was on the market. Of course, the art market plunged along with Japan’s bubble economy in the early-1990s.

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“When vultures grow fat on a corpse, they do not revive it.”

A Greek Canary in a Global Goldmine (Varoufakis)

The eurozone country that has become synonymous with insolvency is today proving to be a treasure-trove for some. Traders who bought Greek assets a few years ago have good reason to celebrate, having banked returns that no other market could have provided. But, as is often the case, an opportunity that seems too good to be true probably is. And this one could portend the next phase of our global crisis. An investor who bought German government bonds in 2013 has, by now, gained a 7% return, whereas a buyer of a Greek government bond issued at the height of the country’s debt crisis in 2012 would have earned a colossal 231% return. Two months ago, the price of the first ten-year bond issued since Greece’s bailout in 2010 surged for seven consecutive days, rising by 2.8% in a week – a better performance than any other government bond issue worldwide.

That bond rally created a psychological slipstream, which, in recent months, pulled the Athens Stock Exchange 26% higher, against the background of a European asset market inexorably bleeding capital. On the strength of these impressive numbers, it is as tempting as it would be false to herald the end of Greece’s crisis. The Greek bond and equity rally is obscuring a growing chasm between a gloomy economic reality and an unsustainably buoyant financial climate. Rather than reflecting Greece’s recovery, the traders’ high profit margins mirror continued deflationary pressures and fragmentation in Europe within a global environment of decreasing debt sustainability. The numbers from Greece, so exciting to investors far and wide, may well prove a harbinger of fresh troubles for Europe’s economy, and perhaps for the world.

Given the gaping gap between Greece’s nominal national income and its public debt, how is it possible that Greek bonds are soaring? Why is the Athens Stock Exchange rising while business remains hampered by punitive taxation, banks labor under a mountain of non-performing loans, declining unemployment reflects only emigration and some precarious jobs, net public investment is negative, and private investment in production of high value-added tradable goods is absent?

One reason is the proverbial dead-cat-bounce. Given how thin Greece’s equity market is – total capitalization is €52 billion ($58 billion) – the modest influx of capital that came in the wake of the bond rally was enough to drive the 26% rise in its index. But, despite this surge, the Greek market remains 81% below its 2009 level. As for the bond rally itself, the paradox quickly disappears once we recall how the first two bailouts shifted Greek public debt from the private sector to the shoulders of Europe’s taxpayers.

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I’m very happy I’m not the only one having signaled this for 2+ years. It’s almost worth being called a Trump supporter for. Though that is still an utterly ridiculous allegation in my case. But this is the most dangerous tendency in American society today, not Trump.

US Media No Longer Reports Facts, But Appeals To Emotions (SHTF)

The mainstream media in the United States has made a shift in the past few decades. Now, they appeal to emotions as opposed to reporting the facts. This “cultural schizophrenia” is tearing the U.S. apart at the seams. Based on the conclusions to a RAND Corporation study, the mainstream media is actively sowing discord in American society, award-winning journalist Chris Hedges tells RT. The media is focusing on making two sides hate each other instead of reporting on the facts, and the majority of the public is unaware and doesn’t care that their minds are being manipulated by their own emotional responses.

The study, which was released by RAND earlier this week, states that between 1987 and 2017, news content has shifted from event- and context-based reporting to coverage that is “more subjective, relies more heavily on argumentation and advocacy, and includes more emotional appeals.” According to RT, prime-time cable news shows and online journalism lead the way in this shift to emotional and hate-based rhetoric. It has been noticed in print journalism as well, the government-funded think tank concluded. This is contributing to what RAND termed “Truth Decay.” This is described as a shift away from facts and analysis in public discourse.

Hedges claims that the deterioration of the mainstream media is “far worse” than the RAND report suggests. And he isn’t alone in that assessment. [American journalist Matt]Taibbi says that the result of this journalistic decay and emotional fear mongering is a public addicted to hating each other. Americans have become addicted to the news that agrees with their bias, and it was set up that way on purpose. The only thing anyone will hear when they turn on the news are stories specifically crafted to manufacture outrage, make you hate the other side, and fuel the addiction to anger. –SHTFPlan

[..] It is becoming difficult to tell apart facts and opinion now, and people believe whatever they want to believe, Hedges explained. “We spent years watching CNN and MSNBC promoting this conspiracy theory that Trump was a Kremlin agent… It was all garbage but it attracted viewers,” Hedges added as an example. And, if you don’t mind your IQ dropping, turn on MSNBC for just a few minutes. It’s likely you’ll still hear something about Russiagate to keep the public pissed off beyond comprehension.

Read more …

OPCW gone. White Helmets gone. Skripal narrative gone. This is why Assange is so needed. Because we wouldn’t know these things if not for leaks. Assange built the infrastructure for them.

Note: some publications say this concerns an OPCW article. It is not, they tried to hide it.

OPCW Expert Contradicts Official Douma Attack Analysis (CJ)

[..] a few days ago the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) published a document signed by a man named Ian Henderson, whose name is seen listed in expert leadership positions on OPCW documents from as far back as 1998 and as recently as 2018. It’s unknown who leaked the document and what other media organizations they may have tried to send it to. The report picks apart the extremely shaky physics and narratives of the official OPCW analysis on the gas cylinders allegedly dropped from Syrian government aircraft in the Douma attack, and concludes that “The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders, and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder being delivered from an aircraft,” saying instead that manual placement of the cylinders in the locations investigators found them in is “the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.”

[..] the kindest possible interpretation of these revelations is that an expert who has worked with the OPCW for decades gave an engineering assessment which directly contradicted the official findings of the OPCW on Douma, but OPCW officials didn’t find his assessment convincing for whatever reason and hid every trace of it from public view. That’s the least sinister possibility: that a sharp dissent from a distinguished expert within the OPCW’s own investigation was completely hidden from the public because the people calling the shots at the OPCW didn’t want to confuse us with a perspective they didn’t find credible.

This most charitable interpretation possible is damningly unacceptable by itself, because the public should obviously be kept informed of any possible evidence which may contradict the reasons they were fed to justify an act of war by powerful governments. And there are many far less charitable interpretations. It is not in the slightest bit unreasonable to speculate that the ostensibly independent OPCW in fact serves the interests of the US-centralized power alliance, and that it suppressed the Henderson report because it pokes holes in the narratives that are used to demonize a longtime target for imperialist regime change. That is a perfectly reasonable possibility for us to wonder about, and the onus is now on the OPCW to prove to us that it is not the case.

Either way, the fact that the OPCW kept Henderson’s findings from receiving not a whisper of attention severely undermines the organization’s credibility, not just with regard to Douma but with regard to everything, including the establishment Syria narrative as a whole and the Skripal case in the UK. Everything the OPCW has ever concluded about alleged chemical usage around the world is now subject to very legitimate skepticism. “The leaked OPCW engineers’ assessment is confirmed as genuine, which means the final report actively concealed evidence that the Douma chemical attack was staged by jihadists and the White Helmets,” tweeted British journalist Jonathan Cook. “The OPCW’s other Syria reports must now be treated as worthless too.”

Read more …

“Both countries have borrowed themselves into a Twilight Zone of unpayable debt. Both countries are sunk in untenable economic and banking rackets to cover up their insolvency.”

Free For All (Jim Kunstler)

Here’s what will actually happen. These House majority committee chiefs are going to quit their blustering over the next week or so as they discover there is no political value — and plenty of political hazard — in extending the RussiaGate circus. In the meantime, a titanic juridical machine, already a’grinding, will discredit the whole sordid affair and send a number of hapless participants to the federal ping-pong academies. And by then, the long-suffering citizenry will barely give a shit because we will have entered the climactic phase of the Fourth Turning (or Long Emergency, take your pick), in which the operations of everyday business and governance in this country seriously crumble. The Golden Golem of Greatness will be blamed for most of that.


The internal contradictions of Globalism were already blowing up trade and financial relations between the US and China. The Trump tariffs just amount to a clumsy recognition of the fatal imbalances long at work there. As a 25 percent tax on countless Chinese products, the tariffs will punish American shoppers as much as the Chinese manufacturers. Trade wars have a way of escalating into more kinetic conflicts. The sad truth is that both China and the US are beset by dangerous fragilities. Both countries have borrowed themselves into a Twilight Zone of unpayable debt. Both countries are sunk in untenable economic and banking rackets to cover up their insolvency. China’s fate hangs on distant energy supply lines that run through bottlenecks like the Straits of Hormuz and the Straits of Molucca.

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They just wasted another 6 weeks, that’s all there is to say.

May And Corbyn Blame Each Other As Brexit Talks Collapse (G.)

The government and Labour have sought to blame each other after cross-party talks to find a compromise Brexit plan collapsed, leaving any remaining hopes of an imminent solution to the impasse in tatters. While both sides insisted the discussions had taken place in good faith, Theresa May said a sticking point had been Labour splits over a second referendum. Labour in turn said the government had been unwilling to compromise and that May’s imminent departure from Downing Street meant there was no guarantee any promises would be kept by a successor such as Boris Johnson. Nick Boles, the former Conservative MP who helped spearhead efforts to prevent a no-deal Brexit in March, said he now feared such a departure was almost inevitable when the EU27’s latest deadline of 31 October is reached.


“It’s game over,” he said. “We only won by one, and it’s very unclear that we would have the same level of Tory support, and for that matter Labour support. We are absolutely convinced that parliament will not find a way to stop no-deal Brexit.” The conclusion to six weeks of intermittent talks, which had angered many Conservative and Labour MPs who feared the nature of the compromise that might result, came with the release of a letter from Jeremy Corbyn to May on Friday. Despite praising the talks as constructive, the Labour leader wrote: “It has become clear that, while there are some areas where compromise has been possible, we have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us. “Even more crucially, the increasing weakness and instability of your government means there cannot be confidence in securing whatever might be agreed between us.”

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We’re going to have Boris Johnson next. That will not end well.

Tory Brexiteers Tell May: You Must Quit Now (Ind.)

Theresa May is facing growing clamour from within her own party to quit immediately as prime minister, after the collapse of Brexit talks with Labour sounded the death knell for her EU withdrawal plans. With Tories trailing in fifth place on a humiliating 9 per cent in one poll for next week’s European parliament elections, furious backbenchers predicted certain defeat when the Withdrawal Agreement Bill comes before the Commons in June. Brexiteers said there was no prospect of Ms May averting a “significant” rebellion by tacking towards them on totemic issues like the Irish backstop and free trade. “There’s nothing she can say,” said one former minister. “No one trusts her any more.”


[..] senior Leave-supporting backbenchers said she should scrap the legislation and hand over immediately to a new leader.Nigel Evans urged her to announce she was not waiting three weeks to discuss the timetable for her departure, as agreed with the chair of the influential 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady, but would go “forthwith”. Asked if the declaration should come within days, the committee’s joint secretary replied: “I would like her to do it now … It’s only right that the new leadership has the opportunity to become established and form a new cabinet prior to us going into the summer recess.” Former minister David Jones said the PM should recognise that “now is the time that she should stand down”. “On the Conservative benches, most people now want the PM to step down as quickly as possible,” he told The Independent. “Prolonging this is just wasting time at a time when we don’t have much time to waste.”

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A must read, I gather.

A Brief History Of Doom: The New Kindleberger And Mackay (Steve Keen)

“If readers take one lesson from this book, I hope it is this: when it comes to financial crises, we’re not in the grip of unseen and hopelessly complex forces. Such crises are neither inevitable nor unpredictable. Runaway private debt and the resulting overcapacity does a better job than any other variable in explaining and predicting financial crises. It is our job to heed those danger signs.” (Vague 2019, p. ix)


This brief book (196 pages, excluding endnotes) on the history and causes of financial crises usurps Kindleberger’s Manias, Panics, and Crashes (Kindleberger 1978) and Mackay’s Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Mackay 1852) as the definitive work on this vital topic. It surpasses both these works for several reasons, not the least of which is the career and experience of the author. Mackay was a journalist and gifted writer; Kindleberger, an economist with an impressive record in both public service and academia. Both of them observed financial manias and crashes from their respective professional perches, outside the financial system itself.

Vague is an ex-banker, whose fortune was carved in the financial crisis emanating from the bursting of the 1979 oil shock bubble, whose hands-on management established two of America’s biggest consumer credit card companies (First USA, which he sold Bank One in 1997, and Juniper Financial, which he sold to Barclays PLC in 2004), and whose professional access to the voluminous data he saw on the explosion in mortgage debt – from $6 trillion in 2002 to $9 trillion in 2005 – led him to anticipate the Subprime Crisis and exit banking altogether. Vague has seen financial crises from the inside – and not merely survived but prospered.


In the hands of most Americans, this experience would lead to a “How to Get Rich” book. Vague’s ambition with this book is very different: to make society richer by understanding what causes financial crises, and thereby preventing them in the first place. Vague’s banker’s perspective gives him an incomparable advantage over not only MacKay and Kindleberger, but over me as well: having seen the booms and busts of banking from the inside, he knew where to look, and what to look for. For example, I dismissed the possibility of a real-estate bubble as a catalyst to the Great Depression, because Robert Shiller’s data (Figure 1) seemed to show that house prices were flat during the 1920s, and if anything, declining. That was as far as my investigations went.

Read more …

He must be on some hit lists.

Cristiano Ronaldo Donates $1.5 million to Palestine for Ramadan (21Wire)

Portuguese footballer and Juventus striker , Cristiano Ronaldo, has donated US $1.5 million to people of Palestine during the holy month of Ramadan. Regarded as one of the world’s greatest-ever professional football players, Ronaldo is said to have made his generous donation in solidarity with the Palestinian people suffering en mass, and in particular the millions who are currently suffering under the brutal punitive ‘air, land and sea’ economic and humanitarian blockade in Gaza – where Israeli forces have been conducting regular bombing raids which have killed thousands of innocent civilians in recent years. Although sports media rarely highlights this facet of the soccer star, Ronaldo has always been close to the Palestinian cause, publicly rejecting the illegal and genocidal incursions of the Israeli regime on several occasions.


In November 2012, while Gaza was being blanketed with bombs by Israel in their Operation Pillar of Defense, Ronaldo auctioned off his Golden Boot, the prestigious award given to the best European strikers of the season, to raise funds that were later donated to the Palestinian children. The following year, in March 2013, at the end of the match between Portugal and Israel for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, he refused to exchange his shirt with an Israeli player. Although he shook hands, he excused himself by explaining that he could not wear a shirt with that country’s flag, as reported in the press.

Read more …

Keep driving.

Air Pollution May Be Damaging ‘Every Organ In The Body’ (G.)

Air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive new global review. The research shows head-to-toe harm, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia, and from liver problems and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin. Fertility, foetuses and children are also affected by toxic air, the review found. The systemic damage is the result of pollutants causing inflammation that then floods through the body and ultrafine particles being carried around the body by the bloodstream. Air pollution is a “public health emergency”, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 90% of the global population enduring toxic outdoor air. New analysis indicates 8.8m early deaths each year – double earlier estimates – making air pollution a bigger killer than tobacco smoking.


But the impact of different pollutants on many ailments remains to be established, suggesting well-known heart and lung damage is only “the tip of the iceberg”. “Air pollution can harm acutely, as well as chronically, potentially affecting every organ in the body,” conclude the scientists from the Forum of International Respiratory Societies in the two review papers, published in the journal Chest. “Ultrafine particles pass through the [lungs], are readily picked up by cells, and carried via the bloodstream to expose virtually all cells in the body.” Prof Dean Schraufnagel, at the University of Illinois at Chicago and who led the reviews, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if almost every organ was affected. If something is missing [from the review] it is probably because there was no research yet.”

Read more …

 

Australia has elections this weekend

https://twitter.com/i/status/1129530852000403457

 

 

 

 

May 032019
 
 May 3, 2019  Posted by at 1:49 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Founding father of the EU, French economist and financier, Jean Monnet

 

 

Though I was doing other stuff and wanted to leave the whole Brexit issue alone for a while anyway (boring!), the outcome of yesterday’s local elections, which saw both the Tories and Labor lose bigly while the only real anti-Brexit party, the LibDems, gained a lot, made Theresa May declare that “the British people made clear they want Brexit delivered”. And peace is war too.

So I thought I’d re-run this piece which I wrote the day before the Brexit vote, June 22 2016, as “The European Union: Government by Deception”. I still think Brexit could be a feasible and even good thing, but not the way it’s been executed this time. I would be very careful with the next steps, whichever they are. What an incredible mess. They couldn’t have done worse if they tried.

 

 

I stumbled upon an article by Day of the Jackal author Frederick Forsyth, published last week in the Daily Express, that I think every Briton and European and everyone else should read. Forsyth doesn’t delve into the American pressure to form a European Union as a counterweight to the Soviet Union, he sticks with ‘founding father’ Jean Monnet and his reasoning behind the particular shape the Union took. And that is bad enough.

All Forsyth has to do is to quote from Monnet’s work, and I have to admit that while reading it I increasingly got the feeling that it’s quite remarkable that no-one, especially no journalist, does this. It’s there for everyone to see, but that means little if and when no-one actually sees it.

I have repeatedly talked about how the very structure of the EU self-selects for sociopaths and/or worse, but perhaps not enough about how that was deliberately built into the design. A feature not a flaw.

And I don’t think Monnet ever thought about how structures like that develop over time, in which the flaws in that design become ever more pronounced and the more severe cases of sociopathy increasingly take over the more powerful positions. A development that is well visible in present day Brussels.

For me, as I’ve written before, being here in Athens these days is plenty testimony to what the EU truly represents. Not only do we need to help feed many tens of thousands on a daily basis, depression levels are up 80% or so and life expectancy is plunging because proper health care is ever further away for ever more people in a country that not long ago had a health care system anyone would have been proud of.

That is the EU. And, yeah, Britons, do reflect on the NHS. Sure, you can argue it’s not the EU but Cameron and his people that are breaking it down, but it’s also Cameron who is pleading with you to vote to stay in the union.

If it can do this today to one of its member states, it will do it tomorrow to others, and more, if it sees fit. The benefits of the union flow to a select few countries, and to a select few within those countries. And ever fewer are selected as economic policies continue to fail.

It is frankly beyond me to see why anyone would want to be part of that. It’s not about Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage or George Osborne, that is just more deception. It’s about being ruled by midgets, as Forsyth puts it.

Here are some snippets from Frederick Forsyth’s article:

Birth of superstate: Frederick Forsyth on how UNELECTED Brussels bureaucrats SEIZED power

There was nothing base or inhumane about Jean Monnet, the French intellectual now seen as the founding father of the dream, nor those who joined him: De Gasperi the Italian, Hallstein the German, Spaak the Belgian and Schumann the Frenchman. In 1945 they were all traumatised men. Each had seen the utter devastation of their native continent by war and after the second they swore to try for the rest of their lives to ensure nothing like it ever happened again. No one can fault that ambition.

First Monnet analysed what had gone wrong and became obsessed by one single fact. The German people had actually voted the Austrian demagogue into the office of chancellor. What could he, Monnet, learn from this? What he learned stayed with him for the rest of his life and stays with us today in the EU.

The continent of Europe, from western Ireland to the Russian border, from Norway’s North Cape to Malta’s Valletta harbour, must be unified into one huge superstate. Politically, socially, economically, militarily and constitutionally.

There could be no war between provinces so war would be banished. (For a man who had witnessed the Spanish Civil War that was an odd conclusion but he came to it. And there was more).

As coal, iron and steel were the indispensable sinews of war machinery, these industries should be unified under central control. Thus would also be prevented any single state secretly rearming. That at least had the benefit of logic and the Coal and Steel Community was his first success.

But the big question remained: how should this Europe-wide single state be governed? Then he came to the conclusion that still prevails today. In the 1930s democracy had failed. In Germany, Italy and elsewhere desperate people had flocked to the demagogues who promised full bellies and a job in exchange for marching, chanting columns.

So democracy must go. It could not be the governmental system of the new Utopia. It was not fit to be. (He was already president of the Action Committee for the Superstate, his official title. There is nothing new about the word superstate).

Instead there would be a new system: government by an enlightened elite of bureaucrats . The hoi polloi (you and me) were simply too dim, too emotional, too uneducated to be safely allowed to choose their governments.

It never occurred to him to devise a way to strengthen and fortify democracy to ensure that what happened in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s could not happen again. No, democracy was unsafe and had to be replaced. (This is not propaganda, he wrote it all down).

He faced one last stigma as he sought the support of the six who would become the kernel of his dream: Germany (still ruined by war), France (fighting dismal colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria), Italy in her usual chaos, Holland, Belgium and tiny Luxembourg. How could the various peoples ever be persuaded to hand over their countries from democracy to oligarchy, the government of the elite? Let me quote from what he wrote:

“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the Super-state without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.”

In other words he could not force them (he had no tanks). He could not bribe them (he had no money). He could not persuade them (his arguments were offensive). Hence the deliberate recourse to government by deception. Both nostrums continue to this day. Study the Remain campaign and the people behind it.

Almost without exception they are pillars of the establishment, London-based, accustomed to lavish salaries, administrative power and enormous privilege. None of this applies to 95% of the population. Hence the need for deception.

At every stage the Remain campaign has stressed the issue is about economics: trade, profits, mortgages, share prices, house values – anything to scare John Citizen into frightened submission. The gravy train of the few must not be derailed. Some of them are already sticking pins into a wax figurine of David Cameron for being soft enough to offer the proles a chance to recover their parliamentary democracy and thus their sovereignty.

Forsyth then continues with a bunch of typically British issues, and ends with:

[..] You have repeatedly been told this issue is all about economics. That is the conman’s traditional distraction. This issue is about our governmental system, parliamentary. Democracy versus non-elective bureaucracy utterly dedicated to the eventual Superstate.

Our democracy was not presented last week on a plate. It took centuries of struggle to create and from 1940 to 1945 terrible sacrifices to defend and preserve.


It was bequeathed to us by giants, it has been signed away by midgets.

Now we have a chance, one last, foolishly offered chance to tell those fat cats who so look down upon the rest of us: yes, there will be some costs – but we want it back.

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.