Feb 112020
 


Mathew Brady Grand Review of the Army. Units of XX Army Corps, Army of Georgia, Pennsylvania Ave. near the Treasury, Washington, DC. May 24 1865

 

3 Wuhan Officials Summoned To Explain Failings (SCMP)
China Gets Back To Work As Death Toll Reaches 1,018 (SCMP)
China Firms Cut Staff On Virus Outbreak As Xi Vows No Large-Scale Layoffs (R.)
Senior Chinese Officials ‘Removed’ As Death Toll Hits 1,000 (BBC)
Outspoken Academic Blames Xi Jinping For ‘Catastrophe’ Sweeping China (G.)
Expert Warns Infection Could Reach 60% Of World’s Population (G.)
China Delayed Reporting The Outbreak And The WHO Is Staying Mum (Vox)
Coronavirus Exposes Fundamental Flaws In China’s Economic Growth Model (SCMP)
Coronavirus Could Have Incubation Period Of 24 Days (Ind.)
Look How Low Oil Prices Have Fallen (F.)
Coronavirus Could Trim 1 Percentage Point From China GDP Growth – Gov’t. (R.)
China Q1 Smartphone Shipments To Fall More Than 30% (CNBC)
US Charges Four Chinese Military Officers Over Equifax Hack (BBC)
Aboriginal Australians Are Not ‘Aliens’, Cannot Be Deported – High Court (G.)
‘The World Is Looking At New Hampshire’ – Bernie Sanders (R.)

 

 

First, don’t forget to read my article earlier today, Corona Cartoon Numbers, because thay may teach you a thing or two about the “official” numbers.

Those numbers for Feb 11:

• Cases 43,112 vs 40,614 yesterday. That’s up 2498

• Deaths 1,108 vs 910 yesterday. Up 108.

• Hubei provincial health commission said the province had confirmed a total of 31,728 cases with 974 deaths by the end of Monday, a fatality rate of 3.07%. More than three-quarters of the deaths have been in the provincial capital Wuhan. The commission said there were still a total of 16,687 suspected but unconfirmed cases

Bizarre news item: In January, several individuals on a Paris takeoff flight bound for Shanghai were diagnosed with the #Coronavirus— in the opposite travel direction of the outbreak epicenter.

 

 

An update of a familiar BBC graph:

 

 

And this from the Yokohama cruise ship. 439 tested, 135 positive. 32.5%.

The Holland America cruise ship Westerdam, which had gotten permission to dock in Thailand after 9 days at sea and 3 countries refusing entry, has been denied entry by Thailand at the last minute as well. There are no known carriers aboard.

 

 

 

And this guy, bless his soul, has been disappeared.:

Lawyer and citizen journalist Chen Qiushi: “I’m not even afraid of death. You think I’m afraid of the Communist Party?”

 

 

Time flies when you’re having fun with viruses. It’s already been 9 days since I explained in The Party and the Virus: “Never a bad word should be uttered about the Party, and nothing said that could embarrass it.”

The Party blames individuals, so it can escape the blame. Problem with that is that is the Party is wrong, it won’t be corrected.

3 Wuhan Officials Summoned To Explain Failings (SCMP)

A special task force reviewing prevention efforts in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, has summoned three local officials for emergency meetings and detailed their failings in containing the outbreak. Wuhan deputy mayor Chen Xiexing and two district chiefs in the city, Lin Wenshu and Yu Song, were called in for meetings, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday. Officials found to have been negligent would be held accountable, the report said. Headed by Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan, the task force was set up by the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Mainland media reported on Friday that Chen Yixin, a protégé of President Xi Jinping, had been added to the team.


China has had nearly 1,000 cluster outbreaks of the coronavirus and found that 83 per cent occurred in families, with the rest arising in hospitals, schools and shopping malls, said Wu Zunyou, chief scientist of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, at a media briefing on Tuesday. Among the cluster cases, 86 per cent were first or second-generation transmissions – people who lived or travelled in Hubei, contracted the virus and passed it to people who were in close contact with them, such as family members or people who shared meals with them. “Occurrences of these cluster cases showed our control and treatment measures have been effective and it did not spread from small units to bigger areas of society,” Wu said.

Read more …

Let’s see your priorities. For now, “gets back to work” looks a bit much.

Do note: when Xi comes out of hiding to announce it will be a hard fight, expect trouble.

China Gets Back To Work As Death Toll Reaches 1,018 (SCMP)

Health authorities in China reported on Tuesday 108 new fatalities attributable to the novel coronavirus, bringing the national death toll to 1,018. This is the first time more than 100 people have died from the disease in a single day on the mainland. The National Health Commission also reported 2,478 new confirmed cases of the illness, bringing that total to 42,638 as of Monday. Of the new deaths, 103 were in Hubei province – the epicentre of the novel coronavirus epidemic – and five in other provinces. As millions of people in China prepare to return to work, Beijing has made clear that the reopening of businesses must not be hampered by “crude and oversimplified” restrictions.

As many as 160 million people are expected to be returning to their cities of employment over the following week, according to Xu Yahua, director of the transport services department at the Chinese ministry of transport. The coronavirus outbreak coincided with the Lunar New Year travel season, when millions of migrant workers traditionally travel to their homes to spend the holiday with their families. As part of China’s response to the outbreak, the holiday season was extended to February 18. Many local authorities – from megacities like Beijing and Shanghai to remote villages – have curbed public transport provision and restricted people from moving outside their communities during the outbreak.

Many local governments have also adopted a registration system and prior approval requirements for companies planning to resume production. Some business owners have been detained for resuming work in advance. But Beijing has now made clear these practices were not in line with the requirements and policies of the central authorities. “Such a tendency must be stopped,” said Ou Xiaoli, director of social development at the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planning agency. “We will strictly stop restricting the production resumption in an oversimplified and crude way,” he said, at the same press conference on Tuesday.

Read more …

Anything public has lost most of their income. Whaddaya mean no lay-offs?

China Firms Cut Staff On Virus Outbreak As Xi Vows No Large-Scale Layoffs (R.)

A Chinese media company said it will lay off 500 employees due to the coronavirus outbreak, the latest among a string of firms to do so in the past two weeks as the epidemic takes a toll on small-to-medium sized businesses. Xinchao Media, which places advertisements in elevators, will cut 10% of its workforce to “ensure survival”, the company said in a post on its official WeChat account on Monday, which carried the transcript of an internal speech by CEO Zhang Jixue. “To overcome the epidemic, you have to step on the brakes, jam the cash flow, reduce costs,” Zhang said, as he noted the company’s cash reserve of 1 billion yuan ($143 million) would likely be enough for only 6-7 months in the absence of income.

The job cuts come even as President Xi Jinping said the government would prevent large-scale layoffs caused by the virus outbreak – which has killed more than a 1,000 people in mainland China and infected over 40,000. Authorities said on Tuesday they will roll out measures to stabilize jobs. But many companies are hurting from disruptions felt since late-January after local governments extended Lunar New Year holidays and urged people to stay home. Beijing’s “Karaoke King” has said it wants to terminate contracts with all its 200 employees as it shut its outlets due to the outbreak, local media reports said. The karaoke chain did not immediately return calls made by Reuters on Tuesday.

Chinese restaurant chain Xibei, which has over 360 outlets, said it was worried about wages for its roughly 20,000 workers given how the epidemic had impacted its income. “We need 156 million yuan a month to pay our workers, and if the epidemic continues, and cash flow continues to be inadequate, we will not be able to hold up for much longer,” it said on its official Weibo account. In Beijing, only 11,500 restaurants were operational mid last week, or 13% of the total, the Beijing Municipal Market Supervision Bureau said.

Read more …

Cited this last week. Individuals get the blame, so the Party does not.

Senior Chinese Officials ‘Removed’ As Death Toll Hits 1,000 (BBC)

China has “removed” several senior officials over their handling of the coronavirus outbreak – as the death toll passed 1,000. The party secretary for the Hubei Health Commission, and the head of the commission, were among those who lost their jobs. They are the most senior officials to be demoted so far. The deputy director of the local Red Cross was also removed for “dereliction of duty” over “handling of donations”. The two Hubei party officials will be replaced by a national figure – the deputy director of China’s National Health Commission, Wang Hesheng. On Monday, some 103 died in Hubei province alone, a daily record, and the national death toll is now 1,016. But the number of new infections nationally was down almost 20% from the day before, from 3,062 to 2,478.

Hubei’s health commission confirmed 2,097 new cases in the province on Monday, down from 2,618 the previous day. According to state media, there have been hundreds of sackings, investigations and warnings across Hubei and other provinces during the outbreak. But removal from a certain role – while regarded as a censure – does not always mean the person will be sacked entirely, as it can also mean demotion. As well as being removed from their posts, officials can also be punished by the ruling Communist Party. For example, the deputy head of the Red Cross, Zhang Qin, was given “a serious intra-Party warning as well as a serious administrative demerit”, state media said. Earlier this month, the deputy head of the Wuhan bureau of statistics was removed, also with a “serious intra-party warning a well as a serious administrative demerit for violating relevant regulations to distribute face masks”.

The Hubei health commission said the province had a total of 31,728 cases with 974 deaths by the end of Monday – a fatality rate of 3%.

Read more …

“..a culture of suppression and “systemic impotence”..”

Outspoken Academic Blames Xi Jinping For ‘Catastrophe’ Sweeping China (G.)

A prominent Chinese intellectual has become the first high-profile public figure to lay the blame for the coronavirus crisis at the feet of the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, saying the spread of the deadly virus has “revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance”. As the crisis expands across the country, Xu Zhangrun, a law professor from one of the country’s top universities, lambasted the government under Xi in an essay titled: Viral Alarm, When Fury Overcomes Fear. In it, Xu laid the blame for the current national crisis at the feet of Xi and a culture of suppression and “systemic impotence” that he has created. The virus has now killed more than 1,000 people inside China.

“The cause of all of this lies with The Axelrod and the cabal that surrounds him,” Xu writes, referring to Xi, according to a translation of the article by historian Geremie Barmé published on Monday by the website ChinaFile. “It is a system that turns every natural disaster into an even greater man-made catastrophe. The coronavirus epidemic has revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance; the fragile and vacuous heart of the jittering edifice of state has thereby shown up as never before.” Xu describes the outbreak as a “national calamity” that involves politics, the economy and “nation’s ethical fabric” making it “more perilous than total war itself”.

After weeks of disappearing from public view, Xi on Monday visited a neighbourhood and hospital in Beijing where he held a video call with health workers in Wuhan. Coverage of his appearance filled the front page of the official People’s Daily on Tuesday. Xu’s essay captures growing public anger at the government, which has reached a new peak after the death of a doctor and whistleblower last week. Officials have tried to blame lower-level bureaucrats, but top bosses have not escaped. On Tuesday, the party secretary of health commission of Hubei province and the director of the Hubei provincial health commission were both fired.

Read more …

Professor Gabriel Leung, around whose January 31 report I based my Feb 5 article The Big Lockdown:

Expert Warns Infection Could Reach 60% Of World’s Population (G.)

The novel coronavirus epidemic could spread to around two-thirds of the world’s population if it cannot be controlled, according to Hong Kong’s leading public health epidemiologist. His warning came after the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said recent cases of coronavirus patients who have never visited China could be the “tip of the iceberg”. Professor Gabriel Leung, chair of Public Health Medicine at Hong Kong University, said the overriding question was to figure out the size and shape of the iceberg. Most experts thought that each person infected would go on to transmit the virus to around 2.5 other people. That gave an “attack rate” of 60-80%.

“Sixty per cent of the world’s population is an awfully big number,” Leung told the Guardian in London, en route to an expert meeting at the WHO in Geneva. Even if the general fatality rate is as low as 1%, which Leung thinks is possible once milder cases are taken into account, the death toll would be massive. He will tell the WHO expert meeting that the main issue is the scale of the growing worldwide epidemic and the second priority is to find out whether the drastic measures taken by China to prevent the spread have worked – because if so, other countries should think about adopting them. Leung – one of the world’s experts on coronavirus epidemics, who played a major role in the Sars outbreak in 2002-2003 – works closely with other leading scientists such as counterparts at Imperial College London and Oxford University.

At the end of January he warned in a paper in the Lancet that outbreaks were likely to be “growing exponentially” in cities in China, lagging just one to two weeks behind Wuhan. Elsewhere, “independent self-sustaining outbreaks in major cities globally could become inevitable” because of the substantial movement of people who were infected but had not yet developed symptoms, and the absence of public health measures to stop the spread. Epidemiologists and modellers were all trying to figure out what was likely to happen, said Leung. “Is 60 to 80% of the world’s population going to get infected? Maybe not. Maybe this will come in waves. Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well,” he said.

[..] In January Leung published two papers in the Lancet. The first examined the damage done by social unrest to the mental health of the Hong Kong population. The second was on the spread of coronavirus. “So the two have now come together. The first has made the second impossible to deal with – impossible. I mean, how do you bring your population along when there’s been this huge chasm in society?” he said.

Read more …

Western governments and media are as guilty here as China. No use singling out China. Everyone just wishes it would all go away. Everyone’s more afraid for the economy than of the virus. Until they can’t. Dumb piece. Find your own faults first, not those of the other. You really want people to believe western governments would react differently?

China Delayed Reporting The Outbreak And The WHO Is Staying Mum (Vox)

Nearly six weeks after China announced the coronavirus outbreak, there’s still a surprising amount we don’t know about this newly discovered disease. But one thing is becoming clear: China’s silence in the earliest days of the crisis may have made it worse. Chinese authorities delayed informing the world about the severity of a deadly disease spreading within the country’s borders — even trying to muzzle whistleblowers, like the late Dr. Li Wenliang. Now hailed as a national hero, Li was forced on January 3 by police to sign a letter saying he spread “untrue speech” for warning colleagues about the virus that eventually took his life. With more than 40,500 people infected and 910 deaths, China’s missteps early on seem increasingly fateful.

The fact that the international community has not acknowledged those missteps is also consequential. On Friday, President Trump applauded China. “They’re working really hard and I think they’re doing a very professional job,” Trump told ABC News. Meanwhile, the leading global health body, the World Health Organization, has stayed mum about China’s blunders — and is drawing criticism for failing to publicly criticize the country and creating “a false sense of security” about an emerging health crisis. But the reality is this: China’s mishandling and the ensuing silence from the international community is emblematic of how the global system governing the international response to pandemics fails to work, half a dozen global health experts told Vox.

Though we have global health laws — in particular, the International Health Regulations, or IHR — meant to guide countries dealing with outbreaks, they’re not actually enforceable. “You can’t penalize [countries that] don’t follow it,” said Devi Sridhar, the chair in global public health at the University of Edinburgh. Instead, the international community has to rely on “soft law and norms” — or “disease diplomacy.” This means that when a pandemic threat looms, the world has little recourse to punish those that fail to live up to the IHR for not detecting a public health problem, or hiding a crisis, even when that mishandling imperils the lives of billions. And with just about every outbreak, history repeats. “Our global outbreak response system depends on the full participation of all actors at all levels of government,” Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a professor of global health at York University, summed up. “But our system is only as strong as its weakest link.” Understanding the IHR, and how disease diplomacy is done today, helps explain why.

Read more …

Not just economic growth. Flaws in the Party system, which is incapable of adapting to being found out.

Coronavirus Exposes Fundamental Flaws In China’s Economic Growth Model (SCMP)

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has killed over 1,000 people and infected over 40,000, has exposed fundamental flaws in China’s governance system and its growth model – the excessive concentration of power, information and resources in the hands of a powerful state. But given the path of China’s political and economic evolution, it is difficult for China to loosen its grip on power as a response to so-called black swan events such as the coronavirus. The most likely outcome is that Beijing will continue to strengthen centralised control, which in turn is a greater threat to China’s prospects than the virus itself.

When it is done right, a centralised political system means the government can deliver positives such as rapid economic growth, but it also make it possible for the government to place emphasis on the wrong things, which has the potential to lead to uncertainty and even disaster for society. There is precedent that China tends to enhance centralisation as the solution to a problem that has stemmed from over control. The “new normal” concept, which was adopted by the state in 2014, dissociated the political legitimacy of the Chinese government from economic growth, therefore reducing the pressure on local Chinese authorities to deliver. And while the concept had the good intention of seeking high quality growth, it has, in reality, made the local authorities less friendly to the private sector.

To achieve high economic growth, local governments have had to free up market forces and allow the private sector to thrive, but without the pressure, they do not have the incentive to conduct the necessary political and economic liberalisations to entertain private investors. As a result, the central government is increasingly reliant on state-owned enterprises and state money to maintain social stability and to deliver environmental improvement, while the private economy is gradually marginalised and local autonomy is weakened.

Read more …

Co-author Dr Zhong Nanshan was very very wrong when he said late January that the epidemic would be over in 7-10 days. Talked about that. Just saying.

Coronavirus Could Have Incubation Period Of 24 Days (Ind.)

Medical researchers in China have found the incubation period for coronavirus ranges up to 24 days — 10 days longer than experts previously thought. The research was co-authored by Dr Zhong Nanshan, who discovered the SARS coronavirus in 2003 and has been appointed as a leading advisor in managing the current coronavirus crisis. Current advice from health organisations and ministries say the virus’ incubation period is as long as 14 days, based on the incubation period of previous MERS viruses. Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care has urged anyone travelling from specific countries, including China, to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days.


The findings, which have not yet been peer reviewed, were published on Sunday and titled ‘Clinical characteristics of 2019 novel coronavirus infection in China’. They found only 1.18 per cent of patients “had a direct contact with wildlife”. The majority of the patients had contracted the virus from being in contact with people from Wuhan, where the centre of the outbreak is. More than 80 percent of patients developed lymphopenia, which is a state where a specific white blood cell that is part of the body’s first-line defence against diseases is reduced.

Read more …

Wait till we see car sales in China.

Look How Low Oil Prices Have Fallen (F.)

West Texas Intermediate oil is trading just below $50 midday Monday. This is a very low price for the US benchmark, otherwise known as WTI. The lesson: don’t underestimate the impact of the Coronavirus on the oil market and the greater American economy. The price of WTI last fell below this level for a couple of weeks at the end of 2018 and start of 2019. Other than that moment, the price has not been this low since September of 2017. The concern is that the current low price is not a blip like last year but rather a sustained drop or maybe only the beginning of a situation that could get significantly worse. If the Coronavirus continues to interfere with the Chinese economy and international trade, oil prices are likely to fall further. After all, China is the world’s largest importer of oil by a wide margin, accepting 10.78 million barrels per day in December, 2019.

Here’s who really needs to keep an eye on these low oil prices.

  1. First is, of course, oil producers—from international oil companies like Exxon and Chevron to wildcatters in shale fields—need to beware.
  2. Next, we have the oil industry employees and supplemental industries like truck drivers, welders and restaurant workers near oil fields who could all be affected.
  3. Financiers and investors—hedge funds, private equity and retail investors alike—who fund oil operations are worried about failed projects if revenue drops.
  4. Airlines need to watch oil volatility, because they have an opportunity to buy jet fuel at low prices if it drops, which allows them to hedge for when higher prices eventually return.
  5. Certain state governments, such as Alaska, Wyoming, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Dakota and others that fund their budgets in part with taxes on oil production and sales have to beware, as they may be facing unexpected lean times.
  6. Last, businesses that contract for products to be trucked around the country should be looking for discounted pricing.

Despite all the talk about electric vehicles and alternative energy, oil is still the vital liquid that keeps much of our economy moving. We are reminded of that at times like these, when the oil market is anticipating volatility and change.

Read more …

Well, if the virus gives up later this very day, he might be right. But not a minute later.

Coronavirus Could Trim 1 Percentage Point From China GDP Growth – Gov’t. (R.)

Zeng Gang, vice chair of the National Institute for Finance and Development, compared the current crisis with the SARS epidemic of 2003, when China’s growth declined by about 2 percentage points in a single quarter. “The impact of this epidemic on the economy in the first quarter is expected to be comparable,” Zeng said in a commentary published in the 21st Century Business Herald newspaper. “At present, according to different scenario assumptions, researchers expect the negative impact of the epidemic on full-year GDP growth to be in the range of 0.2% to 1%.” If the official response to the epidemic is timely and effective at limiting its spread, long-term growth trends would not be significantly affected, Zeng said.

“But in the short term, the epidemic’s impact on economic activity cannot be ignored, especially with tertiary industries and small enterprises with tight cash flows facing greater pressures,” Zeng said. Zeng said difficulties for small companies could prompt a rise in bankruptcies and put upward pressure on the unemployment rate in the first quarter. “The employment situation is not optimistic. This will also pose a serious challenge to the macro policy goal of ‘employment first’,” he said. Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Monday that the government would prevent large-scale layoffs, Chinese state television reported.

China’s central bank has taken steps to support the economy, including reducing interest rates and flushing the market with liquidity. It has also said it will provide special funds for banks to lend to businesses. Analysts at Citi said they expect growth to slow significantly despite expectations of more proactive fiscal policy and more accommodative monetary policy. “Assuming the virus is contained by the end of March, we revise down our 20Q1 GDP growth forecast considerably to 3.6% and the annual growth modestly to 5.3%”, Citi analysts said in a note. Citi previously forecast first-quarter growth of 4.8% and full-year growth of 5.5%.

Read more …

But GDP growth only 0.2% lower?

China Q1 Smartphone Shipments To Fall More Than 30% (CNBC)

China’s smartphone shipments for the three months ending in March could decline by more than 30% from the same period a year ago, International Data Corporation said on Tuesday. The world’s largest smartphone market could experience a so-called “Black Swan effect” in the first half of the calendar year due to the new coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people on the mainland, according to the research firm. [..] “The coronavirus outbreak impacted the Lunar New Year’s shopping season in late January and is also expected to have adverse effects in the following months,” IDC said in a statement, adding that it expects “China’s smartphone shipments to drop more than 30% year-on-year in 2020Q1.”


The virus outbreak will also “create uncertainty in product launch plans, the supply chain, and distribution channels, in the mid and long term,” IDC said. Research firm Canalys earlier this month predicted China’s smartphone shipments could drop by as much as 50% between the last three months of 2019 and the first three months of 2020. “Technology vendors are likely to stall marketing activities as they are unlikely to divert attention to new product launches, such as 5G devices,” Canalys said in a Feb. 3 report. “It will take time for vendors to change their product launch roadmaps in China, which is likely to dampen 5G shipments in 2020.”

Read more …

Curious where this will go.

US Charges Four Chinese Military Officers Over Equifax Hack (BBC)

The US has charged four Chinese military officers over the huge cyber-attack on credit rating giant Equifax. More than 147 million Americans were affected in 2017 when hackers stole sensitive personal data including names and addresses. Some UK and Canadian customers were also affected. Announcing the indictments, Attorney General William Barr called the hack “one of the largest data breaches in history”. According to court documents, the four are allegedly members of the People’s Liberation Army’s 54th Research Institute, a component of the Chinese military.


They spent weeks in the company’s system, breaking into security networks and stealing personal data, the documents said. The nine-count indictment also accuses the group of stealing trade secrets including data compilation and database designs. The whereabouts of the suspects is unknown and it is highly unlikely that they will stand trial in the US. FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said: “We can’t take them into custody, try them in a court of law, and lock them up – not today, anyway.”

Read more …

The country that never tires of embarrassing itself.

Aboriginal Australians Are Not ‘Aliens’, Cannot Be Deported – High Court (G.)

The Australian government has released an Aboriginal man from immigration detention after a landmark high court case decided Aboriginal Australians are not aliens for the purpose of the constitution and cannot be deported. On Tuesday afternoon the acting immigration minister, Alan Tudge, said the government is still reviewing the decision but “in the light of the court’s ruling, Mr [Brendan] Thoms was this morning released from immigration detention”. The case was a major defeat for the deportation powers of Peter Dutton’s home affairs department and a significant development in the rights of Indigenous Australians. In a four-to-three split decision the high court ruled that Aboriginal people with sufficient connection to traditional societies cannot be aliens, giving them a special status in Australian constitutional law likely to have ramifications far beyond existing native title law.


The majority of the high court ruled that New Zealand-born Brendan Thoms was not an alien and the commonwealth therefore did not have power to order his deportation. The court was not able to decide if the second plaintiff, Daniel Love, was an Aboriginal Australian, requiring a further hearing to establish whether he is accepted as a member of the Kamilaroi tribe. Speaking outside the court earlier, the men’s lawyer, Claire Gibbs, called on the government to immediately release Thoms, who had been in immigration detention for 500 days. Love had previously been released in September 2018. Gibbs said she was “confident” Love will also be found not to be an alien and told reporters the pair will seek “significant” damages.

Read more …

Nobody’s looking at New Hampshire. It’s an illusion. Trump is only watching out of Schadenfreude. The only people who care about Democrats today are Democrats. And they have themselves to blame for that. The only thing is that Biden and Warren, on the brink of annihilation, might come with heavy and utterly ridiculous allegations vs ButtGeek and Bernie.

‘The World Is Looking At New Hampshire’ – Bernie Sanders (R.)

In Plymouth, Buttigieg tried to reach out to undecided voters, referring to “future former Republicans” who he said were more than welcome to back his campaign. “It’s decision time,” Buttigieg said. He took a shot at Sanders, saying that the self-described democratic socialist would have a hard time pulling in moderate voters. “Knowing how much depends on bringing Americans together, we cannot risk alienating Americans at this critical moment,” he said. “And that’s where I part ways with my friend Senator Sanders.” In a separate event, Sanders aimed his attacks at Trump. “I know not everybody agrees with everything I say, but I think what we can agree about is that we cannot continue having a president who is a pathological liar,” Sanders told a crowd at a sports club in Manchester.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Jan 092020
 
 January 9, 2020  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


John Vachon Five o’clock crowds, Chicago 1941

 

Pelosi Seeks To Limit Trump’s War Powers (USAT)
Pelosi Loses Senate Democrats On Trump Impeachment Delay (BBC)
McConnell Won’t Haggle With House Over Impeachment Trial Plan (R.)
Can You Locate Iran On A Map? Few Americans Can. (MC)
World Bank Trims 2020 Growth Forecast (R.)
Ghosn: Seeds of Renault-Nissan Crisis Were Sown By Macron (R.)
Carlos Ghosn And The Dark Corners Of Japanese Justice (G.)
Come Home, America: Stop Policing the Globe (Whitehead)
Juan Guaidó’s Surreal Regime Change Reality Show (GZ)
Hunter Biden ‘Biological And Legal Father’ Of Stripper’s Child – Judge (Fox)

 

 

“…citing ‘urgent’ concerns on Iran strategy…”

This of course cannot be about Trump alone. It has to concern an assessment of all past and future presidents too. Plus, you may be forced to change the Constitution. So future potential Democrat presidents will see their hands tied by Pelosi in 2020, and we’ll need an in-depth discussion about Obama and Hillary’s actions in Syria, Libya etc., because, again, it can’t be just about Trump. Is taking out Soleimani so much worse than raping Ghadaffi to death with a bayonet?

This is going to take a lot of time. More than the 10 months until the next election. In which Pelosi should ostensibly run if she wants to usurp the president’s powers.

 

Pelosi Seeks To Limit Trump’s War Powers (USAT)

The House will vote Thursday on a measure that would limit President Donald Trump’s ability to wage war with Iran, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced. The Democratic House speaker said Trump’s action last week – authorizing a drone strike that killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani – was “provocative and disproportionate” and done without consulting Congress. Thursday’s debate will shine a spotlight on the Soleimani killing and the possibility of further escalation between the U.S. and Iran. It will also air constitutional questions about the president’s ability to order military action without congressional authorization.

“Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward,” Pelosi said. “To honor our duty to keep the American people safe, the House will move forward with a War Powers Resolution to limit the President’s military actions regarding Iran.” But even if the measure passes the House, which is controlled by Democrats, it will face hurdles in the GOP-controlled Senate. And Trump can veto the measure, as he did last year when Congress tried to end the American military role in Yemen.

Pelosi’s decision to move forward with the war powers measure came after Iran retaliated on Tuesday for Soleiman’s killing by launching ballistic missiles at two Iraqi airbases that house U.S. and coalition forces. Trump said that incident did not cause any American casualties and resulted in only minimal damage, as he sought to lower tensions with Iran in an address to the nation Wednesday. But Pelosi and other Democrats said they remained alarmed at the possibility of further military confrontation. “The consequences of this strike already … have been cataclysmic,” said Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He and others said the situation could still easily spiral out of control.

Read more …

They get worried over their seats.

Pelosi Loses Senate Democrats On Trump Impeachment Delay (BBC)

The US Congress’ most powerful Democrat is losing support among Senate allies as she holds up President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has delayed sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate in a tussle over rules with Republicans. Senator Dianne Feinstein called on Mrs Pelosi, her fellow California Democrat and ex-neighbour, to “send it over”. The Senate’s Republican leader vowed there would be “no haggling”. Mitch McConnell said he can muster the majority of 51 votes needed among his fellow Republicans in the Senate to codify the proceedings without Democratic support. Senate Democrats said prolonging the standoff would be pointless.


“The longer it goes on the less urgent it becomes,” Senator Feinstein said on Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported. “So if it’s serious and urgent, send them over. If it isn’t, don’t send it over.” The political trial of Mr Trump cannot begin until the Democratic-controlled House sends its articles of impeachment, the charges against the president, to the Senate. Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, told Politico: “I respect the fact that [Pelosi] is concerned about the fact about whether or not there will be a fair trial, but I do think it is time to get on with it.” Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, said: “I don’t know what leverage we have. It looks like the cake is already baked.” Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, also said he believed it was time to start the Senate trial.

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“If Pelosi sought leverage over the Senate, McConnell said, “no such leverage exists … it will never exist.”

McConnell Won’t Haggle With House Over Impeachment Trial Plan (R.)

U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday the Senate would not haggle with the House of Representatives over procedures for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, adding that the Senate would make a decision on calling witnesses for the trial at the appropriate time. Speaking on the Senate floor, the Republican senator expressed exasperation that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a letter to her fellow Democrats on Tuesday night, had indicated she would continue holding back the House-passed articles of impeachment from the Senate until she knows more about Senate plans for the impeachment trial.

McConnell did not specifically answer Pelosi’s demand, but lambasted her actions as “game-playing” and said she could not dictate the Senate’s trial proceedings. “There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure. We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment,” McConnell said. If Pelosi sought leverage over the Senate, McConnell said, “no such leverage exists … it will never exist.” He accused Pelosi of wanting to keep Trump “in limbo” over the trial indefinitely. The House in December charged Trump with abusing his power for personal gain by asking Ukraine to announce a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in November’s presidential election.

It also charged the president with obstructing Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. Under the U.S. Constitution, the House brings impeachment charges, while impeachment trials are held by the Senate. But McConnell has said that Senate rules prevent the Senate from starting the trial until the House sends it the articles of impeachment, and the House has not done so.

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I like the ones who locate Iran inside the USA.

Can You Locate Iran On A Map? Few Americans Can. (MC)

As tensions between the United States and Iran rise in the aftermath of the American drone strike that killed the country’s most powerful commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a new Morning Consult/Politico survey finds fewer than 3 in 10 registered voters can identify the Islamic republic on an unlabeled map.

Twenty-eight percent of registered voters were able to accurately label Iran on a map of the Middle East region, according to new Morning Consult/Politico polling conducted Jan. 4-5, before the Iranian military fired missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. Twenty-three percent could identify the country on a larger, also unlabeled, global map. Eight percent of voters thought Iran was Iraq on the smaller map.


The polling experiment sheds light on voters’ geographical unfamiliarity with foreign countries, even those with which the United States has been engaged in sustained conflict. Some respondents fared better than others, however.

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When will the first people stand up and say we can’t afford to grow any longer?

World Bank Trims 2020 Growth Forecast (R.)

The World Bank on Wednesday trimmed its global growth forecasts slightly for 2019 and 2020 due to a slower-than-expected recovery in trade and investment despite cooler trade tensions between the United States and China. The multilateral development bank said 2019 marked the weakest economic expansion since the global financial crisis a decade ago, and 2020, while a slight improvement, remained vulnerable to uncertainties over trade and geopolitical tensions. In its latest Global Economic Prospects report, the World Bank shaved 0.2 percentage point off of growth for both years, with the 2019 global economic growth forecast at 2.4% and 2020 at 2.5%.

“This modest increase in global growth marks the end of the slowdown that started in 2018 and took a heavy toll on global activity, trade and investment, especially last year,” said Ayhan Kose, the World Bank’s lead economic forecaster. “We do expect an improvement, but overall, we also see a weaker growth outlook.”

The latest World Bank forecasts take into account the so-called Phase 1 trade deal announced by the United States and China, which suspended new U.S. tariffs on Chinese consumer goods scheduled for Dec. 15 and reduced the tariff rate on some other goods. While the tariff rate reduction will have a “rather small” effect on trade, the deal is expected to boost business confidence and investment prospects, contributing to a pickup in trade growth, Kose said. Global trade growth is expected to improve modestly in 2020 to 1.9% from 1.4% in 2019, which was the lowest since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the World Bank said. This remains well below the 5% average annual trade growth rate since 2010, according to World Bank data.

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Ghosn also has a French passport.

Ghosn: Seeds of Renault-Nissan Crisis Were Sown By Macron (R.)

Ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn said on Wednesday that a surprise corporate move, orchestrated five years ago by French President Emmanuel Macron who was then economy minister, soured relations between Renault and Nissan and contributed to his ouster. Ghosn, the former head of the car alliance, said Nissan executives and Japanese officials were shocked by a 2015 decision by the French government to increase its voting rights at Renault. “This left a big bitterness. Not only with the management of Nissan, but also the government of Japan,” Ghosn told reporters, although he did not name Macron. “And this is where the problem started.”


In April 2015, as a 37-year-old minister with then-unknown presidential ambitions, Macron ordered a rise in the state’s stake in Renault here designed to secure double voting rights. The overnight move gave the French state a blocking minority in Renault, which in turn controlled Nissan via its 43.4 percent stake in the Japanese firm. According to French and Japanese sources, that rattled the Japanese side of the Renault-Nissan alliance, which feared a national champion was falling under the control of the French government.

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Ghosn was citing a 99.4% conviction rate in Japanese cases. Why have a lawyer?

Carlos Ghosn And The Dark Corners Of Japanese Justice (G.)

Given his brash demeanour and immense wealth, Ghosn is not a sympathetic character. Indeed, he may well be guilty of financial misconduct. But he is right to shine a light into the dark corners of Japan’s justice system. Anyone familiar with the Japanese justice system would know that Ghosn’s allegations are not far-fetched. In Japan, laws are used as weapons against targeted people and not applied equally. One example of this is the “hostage justice” (hitojichi-shiho) system. Hostage justice boils down to the accused remaining in custody until they incriminate themselves by signing a confession. Often this is drawn up by prosecutors who browbeat the accused without defence counsel.

Knowing that the playing field is tilted in favour of the prosecutors and that they could spend a very long time in jail even before going to court, many innocent defendants confess. Ghosn spent more than 120 days in detention. In the late 1980s, a once high-flying company president called Hiromasa Ezoe was accused of bribery. Despite extreme pressure to confess, Ezoe defied prosecuting authorities by pleading not guilty. Over a decade of judicial purgatory later, he was effectively exonerated by receiving a suspended three-year sentence in 2003. In 2010 he published a book, Where is the Justice?, a savage indictment of a system in which the presumption of innocence is abandoned and defendants are railroaded. Ghosn may well have wanted to avoid this fate.

In Japan, the accused can be held for 23 days without charge – this is almost indefinitely renewable as judges normally give prosecutors the benefit of the doubt. In April 2019, more than 1,000 lawyers and scholars submitted a petition to the justice ministry demanding an end to this antediluvian system. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has also long lobbied against it. The 2019 petition doesn’t mince its words, asserting that the “long-term detention in the Carlos Ghosn case has triggered surprise and criticism overseas, leading to doubts about Japan’s integrity as a democratic nation that guarantees human rights”.

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“Worldwide, the military runs more than 170 golf courses.”

Come Home, America: Stop Policing the Globe (Whitehead)

It’s time to bring our troops home. Bring them home from Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Bring them home from Germany, South Korea and Japan. Bring them home from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Oman. Bring them home from Niger, Chad and Mali. Bring them home from Turkey, the Philippines, and northern Australia. That’s not what’s going to happen, of course. The U.S. military reportedly has more than 1.3 million men and women on active duty, with more than 200,000 of them stationed overseas in nearly every country in the world. Those numbers are likely significantly higher in keeping with the Pentagon’s policy of not fully disclosing where and how many troops are deployed for the sake of “operational security and denying the enemy any advantage.”

As investigative journalist David Vine explains, “Although few Americans realize it, the United States likely has more bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation, or empire in history.” Don’t fall for the propaganda, though: America’s military forces aren’t being deployed abroad to protect our freedoms here at home. Rather, they’re being used to guard oil fields, build foreign infrastructure and protect the financial interests of the corporate elite. In fact, the United States military spends about $81 billion a year just to protect oil supplies around the world. The reach of America’s military empire includes close to 800 bases in as many as 160 countries, operated at a cost of more than $156 billion annually.

As Vine reports, “Even US military resorts and recreation areas in places like the Bavarian Alps and Seoul, South Korea, are bases of a kind. Worldwide, the military runs more than 170 golf courses.” This is how a military empire occupies the globe. Already, American military servicepeople are being deployed to far-flung places in the Middle East and elsewhere in anticipation of the war drums being sounded over Iran. This Iran crisis, salivated over by the neocons since prior to the Iraq War and manufactured by war hawks who want to jumpstart the next world war, has been a long time coming. Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton: they all have done their part to ensure that the military industrial complex can continue to get rich at taxpayer expense.

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The opposition will get rid of Guaidó, Maduro doesn’t have to do much.

Juan Guaidó’s Surreal Regime Change Reality Show (GZ)

Fistfights and screaming matches broke out at Venezuela’s National Assembly on January 5, when the legislative body was scheduled to elect its leader. But the melee was not what the corporate US media has portrayed it as. The fights weren’t between the Chavistas who support the Bolivarian Revolution and President Nicolás Maduro on one side and opposition members on the other, but rather between competing members of the opposition itself. The opposition imploded because Juan Guaidó, the former president of the National Assembly and self-declared “interim president” of the country, lost his campaign to be reelected as head of the legislature.

The Venezuelan opposition is in a state of disaster — as it has been since former President Hugo Chávez’s first election in 1998. It’s a loose and ever-changing coalition of around a dozen political parties, with differing ideologies, strategies, and constituencies. The far right, which is comprised mainly of the Voluntad Popular and Primero Justicia parties, is filled with people who have been receiving financial and logistical support from the United States for the past 20 years. In the 2002 coup against then President Chávez, the far right briefly took over, and excluded the more moderate opposition from positions of power. The moderates learned the wrong lesson: instead of challenging the US-backed right, it caved to them, acceding to their plans of regime change and undemocratic maneuvers.

But an important split occurred between the moderates and the extremists during the presidential elections in May 2018. The moderates ignored the far right’s calls for a boycott and won 3 million votes in the presidential elections, out of a voting electorate of around 15 million people (with approximately 20 million eligible voters). In September 2019, these moderate opposition figures sat down with the Maduro administration and came to a wide-ranging agreement that included a bipartisan rejection of US sanctions and the appointment of new members of the National Electoral Council.

Between them, the moderates and Chavistas now represent more than 9 million votes, accounting for a full 60 percent of likely voters and 45 percent of eligible voters. This dialogue between two important sectors of Venezuela electoral politics helps explain why September, October, and November were easily the most stable three months for Venezuela in the past year. The dialogue led directly to the events of January 5 in Caracas.

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Get out of the race, Joe, you’re muddying the field.

Hunter Biden ‘Biological And Legal Father’ Of Stripper’s Child – Judge (Fox)

Hunter Biden, the son of presidential candidate Joe Biden, is the “biological and legal father” of a child he fathered with an ex-stripper, an Arkansas judge ruled Tuesday, contradicting the younger Biden’s previous denials that he had any role in the pregnancy. In an order establishing paternity, Independence County, Ark., Circuit Judge Holly Meyer noted that the results of DNA tests indicated Biden was the father “with near scientific certainty,” and instructed the Arkansas Department of Health to issue a birth certificate listing Biden as the father of 29-year-old Lunden Alexis Roberts’ child.

Roberts, who The New York Post reported was a stripper at a Washington, D.C., club that Biden patronized, received “primary physical and legal custody” of the child. In previous filings, Roberts told the court that Hunter Biden “had no involvement in the child’s life since the child’s birth, never interacted with the child, never parented the child,” and “could not identify the child out of a photo lineup.”

Biden “shall have visitation with the child as agreed between the parties,” Judge Meyer ruled. The next hearing in the case is now set for Jan. 29 at 9:30 a.m. ET, to address “temporary child support for the minor child and other matters,” the judge wrote, adding that the parties have until Jan. 16 to comply with all “pending discovery” which is currently “past due.” Another hearing is set for the morning of March 13 to handle any remaining discovery issues, with a final hearing on May 13 to set “permanent child support for the minor child.”

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Include the Automatic Earth in your 2020 charity list. Support us on Paypal and Patreon.

 

Jun 032019
 


Paul Ranson Apple tree with red fruit 1902

 

Global Recession Fears Mount As Manufacturing Shrinks Across Asia (R.)
How Many People Will Be Retiring in the Years to Come? (St.L.Fed)
Economic Growth Is An Unnecessary Evil (TLE)
Mueller Must Testify Publicly To Answer Three Critical Questions (Turley)
Alan Dershowitz: US ‘Overplayed Its Hand’ on Assange (NM)
The Intelligence Community Needs A House-Cleaning (Matt Taibbi)
Juncker: Not Enough Work To Keep 28 EU Commissioners Busy (EuA)
US Regulators Say Some Boeing 737 MAX Planes May Have Faulty Parts (R>)
Science institute That Advised EU and UN ‘Actually Industry Lobby Group’ (G.)
EU Candidate To Run UN Food Body Will ‘Not Defend’ EU Stance On GMO (G.)
Helsinki’s Radical Solution To Homelessness (G.)

 

 

One tool left: lower interest rates.

Global Recession Fears Mount As Manufacturing Shrinks Across Asia (R.)

Factory activity contracted in most Asian countries last month as an escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing raised fears of a global economic downturn and heaped pressure on policymakers in the region and beyond to roll out more stimulus. Such growth indicators are likely to deteriorate further in coming months as higher trade tariffs take their toll on global commerce and further dent business and consumer sentiment leading to job losses and delays in investment decisions. Some economists predict a world recession and a renewed race to the bottom on interest rates if trade tensions fail to ease at a Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan at the end of June, when presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping could meet.


In China, Asia’s economic heartbeat, the Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) showed modest expansion at 50.2, offering investors some near-term relief after an official gauge on Friday showed contraction. The outlook, however, remained grim as output growth slipped, factory prices stalled and businesses were the least optimistic on production since the survey series began in April 2012. PMIs were below the 50-point mark separating contraction from expansion in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan, came below expectations in Vietnam and improved slightly in the Philippines. “The additional shock from the escalated trade tensions is not going to be good for global trade and if demand in the U.S., China and Europe continues to soften, which is very likely, it will bode ill for Asia as a whole,” said Aidan Yao, senior emerging markets economist at AXA Investment Managers.

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And because of those lower interest rates, very few Americans will be able to retire, let alone at 65. Which makes this St. Louis Fed article outright insane, insulting even.

How Many People Will Be Retiring in the Years to Come? (St.L.Fed)

In this post, I will describe a preliminary estimate of the number of people retiring each month over the next 20 years. I started with the population of workers between the ages of 40 and 65 in 2018 using data gathered by IPUMS-USA. I then used age- and gender-specific mortality rates from the Human Mortality Database to compute how many people are expected to still be alive the next year (at only one year older). I continued iterating this procedure for a few years, assuming that the age-specific mortality rates remain constant over the years I specify. Finally, I counted the number of people reaching age 65 each year, further breaking it down to the averages of those reaching 65 each day and each month. The figure below shows the result of this calculation.

Initially, it is evident that there will be around 10,000 people (taking the total of retiring males and females) turning 65 each day for the next two decades. The right axis indicates the number of people turning 65 each month, which is an easier number to compare with the BLS monthly report on the current employment situation in the U.S. Not surprisingly, the peak corresponds to the retiring of the baby boomers. From 2025 onward, the trend is declining, which is likely because of the baby bust that followed the baby boom.

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Don’t worry, growth will soon be a thing of the past.

Economic Growth Is An Unnecessary Evil (TLE)

In 2012, writing as a lone economics blogger, I put forward a case for why countries should ditch economic growth as a political priority. Long revered as a stalwart of a capitalist society the need to grow has come to overshadow everything else. We prioritise it over our personal health, we prioritise it over the health of the planet and we prioritise it over our happiness. But given that the function of any economy is to provide an environment of subsistence, that could be little short-sighted. Economist Kenneth Boulding once said that we eat in order to achieve the state of being well-fed, and moving our jaws is simply the ‘cost’ of getting there.

We would therefore be mistaken to focus our attention on the act of chewing as the desired end-state when it is simply the price we pay to become fed. But as long as growth is the target of our economic systems people will continue to focus on chewing, which is neither a sustainable nor desirable trait of an economy. Which is why I welcomed news that New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put out a national budget where spending is dictated by what best encourages the “well-being” of citizens, rather than focussing on traditional bottom-line measures like productivity and economic growth.

The government will put an emphasis on goals like community and cultural connection and equity in well-being across generations in what has been described as a “game-changing event” by LSE professor Richard Layard. As part of the framework Ardern has set aside more than $200 million to bolster services for victims of domestic and sexual violence and included a promise to provide housing for the homeless population. New guidance on policy suggests all new spending must advance one of five government priorities: improving mental health, reducing child poverty, addressing the inequalities faced by indigenous Maori and Pacific islands people, thriving in a digital age, and transitioning to a low-emission, sustainable economy.

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But he said he wouldn’t say another word…

Mueller Must Testify Publicly To Answer Three Critical Questions (Turley)

In that twinkling zone between man and myth, Robert Mueller transcends the mundane. Even in refusing to reach a conclusion on criminal conduct, he is excused. As Mueller himself declared, we are to ask him no questions or expect any answers beyond his report. But his motivations as special counsel can only be found within an approved range that starts at “selfless” and ends at “heroic.” Representative Mike Quigley defended Mueller’s refusal to reach a conclusion as simply “protecting” President Trump in a moment of “extreme fairness.” Yet, as I noted previously, Mueller’s position on the investigation has become increasingly conflicted and, at points, unintelligible.

As someone who defended Mueller’s motivations against the unrelenting attacks of Trump, I found his press conference to be baffling, and it raised serious concerns over whether some key decisions are easier to reconcile on a political rather than a legal basis. Three decisions stand out that are hard to square with Mueller’s image as an apolitical icon. If he ever deigns to answer questions, his legacy may depend on his explanations. One of the most surprising disclosures made by Attorney General William Barr was that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein expressly told Mueller to submit his report with grand jury material clearly marked to facilitate the release of a public version.

The Justice Department cannot release grand jury material without a court order. Mueller knew that. He also knew his people had to mark the material because they were in the grand jury proceedings. Thus, Barr and Rosenstein reportedly were dumbfounded to receive a report that did not contain these markings. It meant the public report would be delayed by weeks as the Justice Department waited for Mueller to perform this basic task. Mueller knew it would cause such a delay as many commentators were predicting Barr would postpone the release of the report or even bury it. It left Barr and the Justice Department in the worst possible position and created the false impression of a coverup.

Why would a special counsel directly disobey his superiors on such a demand? There is no legal or logical explanation. What is even more galling is that Mueller said in his press conference that he believed Barr acted in “good faith” in wanting to release the full report. Barr ultimately did so, releasing 98 percent of the report to select members of Congress and 92 percent to the public. However, then came the letter from Mueller.

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“..the Supreme Court. “I suspect that is where this case is headed as well..”

Alan Dershowitz: US ‘Overplayed Its Hand’ on Assange (NM)

Bringing charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act is one thing, but legal extradition is going to be far more difficult for merely publishing stolen material, not actually stealing it, according to legal expert Alan Dershowitz. “I think the Trump administration has overplayed its hand, so did the Justice Department,” Dershowitz told “The Cats Roundtable” on 970 AM-N.Y.. “They had a very strong case for extradition when they initially accused him of breaking into a password [-protected machine] to try to get classified material, that’s a crime. “But publishing materials? That’s very different. That’s The New York Times and The Washington Post, and I think Great Britain is going to have a lot of difficulty extraditing Assange to the U.S. to face trial for merely publishing material stolen not by him but by others.”


The case will not be one of espionage but a case of free speech and the First Amendment, according to Dershowitz. I think we’re in for a very interesting First Amendment case, probably the most interesting First Amendment case involving national security since Pentagon Papers.” Dershowitz was one of the lawyers of the Pentagon Papers case related to Watergate and the ultimate impeachment proceedings and resignation of former President Richard Nixon, taking the case to the Supreme Court. “I suspect that is where this case is headed as well,” Dershowitz told host John Catsimatidis.

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“Schiff was gung-ho to declassify “as much as possible about Russia hacking our elections” back in the summer of 2016, but now describes attempts to declassify information about the reasons for the probe as an attempt to “weaponize law enforcement.”

The Intelligence Community Needs A House-Cleaning (Matt Taibbi)

CIA director Gina Haspel crowed to the Washington Post a year ago that disclosing the name of informant Stefan Halper “could risk lives.” It turned out Halper had been outed as a spook in the pages of the New York Times back in 1983, and openly traded on his intelligence past as a professor in England. Where were lives at risk, in the Cambridge University Botanical Garden? We also saw reports that revealing the name of former British spy Christopher Steele would imperil his life. When the Wall Street Journal outed him in January of 2017, Steele responded by telling British media that he was “terrified for his safety.” He added he was going into hiding because he feared a “potentially dangerous backlash against him from Moscow.”

We later found out Steele had more media contacts than the Kardashian family, meeting with (at minimum) the Times, Post, Yahoo!, The New Yorker, CNN and Mother Jones in the space of about seven weeks in September-October 2016. In the years since his report became public, Steele fought through his terror to keep commiserating with the media. He invited a sprawling, laudatory 2018 profile in The New Yorker that described him answering “one of his two phones” in Farnham, a Surrey town with a “beautiful Georgian high street,” where he and his four children live on “nearly an acre of land.” He’s given depositions, negotiated to testify before congress, and been a primary source in several bestselling books. Thanks to such elaborate precautions, he’s managed somehow to avoid assassination since 2016.

[..] The release of the Page warrant turned out to not to compromise anything but the reputation of the FBI and other agencies. The major revelation was the FBI had indeed used Steele, a “compensated” FBI informant as well as a private oppo researcher, as a source despite having “suspended its relationship” with him in October 2016, ostensibly over failure to disclose media contacts. House Intel committee ranking member Adam Schiff knew this information when he conducted his “bombshell” hearing” on March 20, 2017. That was the one in which he and other members questioned not-yet-fired FBI chief James Comey and Rogers, and read out information from the Steele report as if it were factual, not giving any hint that there might be issues with it.

Schiff was gung-ho to declassify “as much as possible about Russia hacking our elections” back in the summer of 2016, but now describes attempts to declassify information about the reasons for the probe as an attempt to “weaponize law enforcement.” The hemming and hawing about “sources and methods” is really a pre-emptive ass-covering campaign. A bunch of these people are about to be highlighted in the upcoming review by Justice IG Michael Horowitz, as well as the larger probe led by former Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham. This is why we’ve seen stories that essentially show James Comey and Brennan pointing fingers and blaming the other for using the Steele material.

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“..a million euro per Commissioner, for relocation, staff and the lifelong pension which every Commissioner gets, no matter how long he or she has been in office..”

Juncker: Not Enough Work To Keep 28 EU Commissioners Busy (EuA)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has urged member states not to name short-term replacements for the Commissioners that have been elected as MEPs, insisting there is not enough work for 28 Commissioners anyway. Five of Juncker’s Commissioners have been elected as MEPs: First Vice President Frans Timmermans, vice-presidents Andrus Ansip and Valdis Dombrovskis, and Commissioners Corina Cretu and Mariya Gabriel. In an interview with BILD am Sontag yesterday (2 June), Juncker made a strong appeal that the member states should not replace them until the end of the mandate in November.


The elected MEPs must decide whether to take their seats before 1 July. If some of the elected Commissioners take their MEP seats, their countries will be without a Commissioner for four months. “Each member state has the right to appoint a new Commissioner for the remaining four months,” Juncker said, adding that “this would cost the European taxpayer a million euro per Commissioner, for relocation, staff and the lifelong pension which every Commissioner gets, no matter how long he or she has been in office, because the member states have decided that this is so. I’m trying to stop this.”

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“If it is in the air by Christmas (Dec. 25) I’ll be surprised – my own view..”

US Regulators Say Some Boeing 737 MAX Planes May Have Faulty Parts (R>)

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday disclosed a new problem involving Boeing Co’s grounded 737 MAX, saying that more than 300 of that troubled plane and the prior generation 737 may contain improperly manufactured parts and that the agency will require these parts to be quickly replaced. The FAA said up to 148 of the part known as a leading-edge slat track that were manufactured by a Boeing supplier are affected, covering 179 MAX and 133 NG aircraft worldwide. Slats are movable panels that extend along the wing’s front during takeoffs and landings to provide additional lift. The tracks guide the slats and are built into the wing.

[..] In a statement issued after the FAA announcement, Boeing said it has not been informed of any in-service issues related to this batch of slat tracks. Boeing, the world’s largest plane maker, said it has identified 20 737 MAX airplanes most likely to have the faulty parts and that airlines will check an additional 159 MAXs for these parts. Boeing said it has identified 21 737 NGs most likely to have the suspect parts and is advising airlines to check an additional 112 NGs. The NG is the third-generation 737 that the company began building in 1997. The affected parts “may be susceptible to premature failure or cracks resulting from the improper manufacturing process,” the FAA said.

[..] Boeing in April said the two fatal crashes had cost it at least $1 billion as it abandoned its 2019 financial outlook, halted share buybacks and lowered production. The company’s shares have fallen by nearly 20 percent since the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March. Some international carriers are skeptical the plane will resume flying by August as some U.S. airlines have suggested. Tim Clark, president of Emirates, told reporters in Seoul that it could take six months to restore operations as other regulators re-examine the U.S. delegation practices. “If it is in the air by Christmas (Dec. 25) I’ll be surprised – my own view,” he said.

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And there’s Monsanto again.

Science Institute That Advised EU and UN ‘Actually Industry Lobby Group’ (G.)

An institute whose experts have occupied key positions on EU and UN regulatory panels is, in reality, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity, according to a peer-reviewed study. The Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) describes its mission as “pursuing objectivity, clarity and reproducibility” to “benefit the public good”. But researchers from the University of Cambridge, Bocconi University in Milan, and the US Right to Know campaign assessed over 17,000 pages of documents under US freedom of information laws to present evidence of influence-peddling.

The paper’s lead author, Dr Sarah Steele, a Cambridge university senior research associate, said: “Our findings add to the evidence that this nonprofit organisation has been used by its corporate backers for years to counter public health policies. ILSI should be regarded as an industry group – a private body – and regulated as such, not as a body acting for the greater good.” In a 2015 email copied to ILSI’s then director, Suzanne Harris, and executives from firms such as Coca-Cola and Monsanto, ILSI’s founder Alex Malaspina, a former Coca-Cola vice-president, complained bitterly about new US dietary guidelines for reducing sugar intake.

“These guidelines are a real disaster!” he wrote. “They could eventually affect us significantly in many ways; Soft drink taxations, modified school luncheon programs, a strong educational effort to educate children and adults to significanty [sic] limit their sugar intake,, curtail advertising of sugary foods and beverages and eventually a great pressure from CDC [the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention] and other agencies to force industry to start deducing [sic] drastically the sugar we add to processed foods and beverages.”

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And more Monsanto. Europe is losing.

EU Candidate To Run UN Food Body Will ‘Not Defend’ EU Stance On GMO (G.)

Europe’s candidate to run the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which guides policymakers around the world, has promised the US she will “not defend the EU position” in resisting the global spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In a bid for US support, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle told senior US officials at a meeting in Washington on 15 May that under her leadership the FAO would be more open to American interests and accepting of GMOs and gene editing, according to a US official record of the meeting seen by the Guardian. The issue has been a longstanding point of conflict in trade talks with the EU, which has adopted a far more cautious approach to biotechnology in food and agriculture.

All GMO imports are subject to strict safety assessments imposed on a case-by-case basis. Plants and animals whose genome has been manipulated through gene editing are deemed to be GMOs and are subject to similar restrictions. The US portrays such restrictions as trade barriers and has demanded they be dropped. In the meeting with officials from the US agriculture and state departments, Geslain-Lanéelle, a former director general of the French agriculture and food ministry who also ran the European Food Safety Authority, signalled she would veer to the US side if she ran the FAO. “She is proud to be European, who she is, and where she comes from; however, she will promote FAO from a global perspective rather than with European Union or French views,” said a US government internal memo.

“She will not defend the EU position on biotechnology and genetically modified organisms. This is not what agriculture needs. She will defend a global project that includes US interests.”

Read more …

“..you don’t need to solve your problems before you get a home. Instead, a home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.”

Helsinki’s Radical Solution To Homelessness (G.)

As in many countries, homelessness in Finland had long been tackled using a staircase model: you were supposed to move through different stages of temporary accommodation as you got your life back on track, with an apartment as the ultimate reward. “We decided to make the housing unconditional,” says Kaakinen. “To say, look, you don’t need to solve your problems before you get a home. Instead, a home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.” With state, municipal and NGO backing, flats were bought, new blocks built and old shelters converted into permanent, comfortable homes – among them the Rukkila homeless hostel in the Helsinki suburb of Malminkartano where Ainesmaa now lives.

Housing First’s early goal was to create 2,500 new homes. It has created 3,500. Since its launch in 2008, the number of long-term homeless people in Finland has fallen by more than 35%. Rough sleeping has been all but eradicated in Helsinki, where only one 50-bed night shelter remains, and where winter temperatures can plunge to -20C. The city’s deputy mayor Sanna Vesikansa says that in her childhood, “hundreds in the whole country slept in the parks and forests. We hardly have that any more. Street sleeping is very rare now.” In England, meanwhile, government figures show the number of rough sleepers – a small fraction of the total homeless population – climbed from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,677 last year (and since the official count is based on a single evening, charities say the real figure is far higher).

But Housing First is not just about housing. “Services have been crucial,” says Helsinki’s mayor, Jan Vapaavuori, who was housing minister when the original scheme was launched. “Many long-term homeless people have addictions, mental health issues, medical conditions that need ongoing care. The support has to be there.”

Read more …

 

It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.
– Noel Coward

 

 

 

 

Mar 072019
 


Wassily Kandinsky Succession 1935

 

 

While we’re on the issue of the Green New Deal, here’s an article by Dr. D. with an intro by Dr. D., one he sent me in the mail that contained the actual article, and that I think shouldn’t go to waste. I hope he agrees.

Waste being the key term here, because he arrives at the same conclusion I’ve often remarked upon: that our societies and economies exist to maximize waste production. Make them more efficient and they collapse.

Ergo: no Green New Deal is any use if you don’t radically change the economic models. Let’s see AOC et al address that, and then we can talk. It’s not as if a shift towards wind and solar will decrease the economic need for waste production (though it may change the waste composition), and thus efficiency is merely a double-edged sword at the very best.

Here’s Dr. D. First intro, then article:

 

 

Dr. D: [..] of course there are a thousand things I can say, but I wanted to make just this one point:  that the economy as we know it is prohibited from contracting by its own system structure.  One thing I couldn’t expand on is that I believe it is almost entirely unconscious.  People like AOC, the Aspen Ecological Center, these people have in the back of their minds “What is possible” and “how things are done” and “can I sell this or will people turn away.” 
 
As I say, the idea of saying, “Everything will be perfect, just live like a Zen Monk” is a non-starter.  Why, I don’t know, as it’s very pleasant and quite provable. WHY that is in the back of OUR minds (and only ours, they often say “humans” are violent, mean or exploitative, but Algonquins or Kalahari Bushmen might show otherwise), is another whole question, however, it is the root of our, and only OUR, western culture: limitless growth and progress. A religion of Progress that replaces God himself, as the Archdruid would say.
 
However, here we are. And our system parameters, of our western system do NOT permit ANY contraction of growth or progress. At this point, the entire economic and financial system would collapse, and as we no longer have any religion, community, or moral framework, or possibly even reason, our whole society would collapse with it. 
 
That’s a lot to take on, so let’s just simply ask in public why we are calling for 20 years of furious concrete/CO2-producing growth must occur to rebuild those windmills and 4,000 buildings a day, or whether we should just take the Yankee mantra (and no doubt a Norwegian one too) to “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” There is so much wasted you could dumpster dive and Craigslist the first 10 years, giving us enormous resources to apply to raw energy use. But we won’t, and no one will even say it, although everyone knows it, has done it, and CLAIMS there’s an urgent crisis. 
 
So let’s start here and ask why we’re not doing the most stupid, basic, cheap, things, like turning down the thermostat and walking to the store AT ALL, instead of (sorry to pick on this) saving the bats in Mauritania, or the whales in Japan. Why?  Because then SOMEBODY ELSE has to take a boot to the teeth, not me in Brooklyn or London. And we will MAKE THEM take in the teeth for me, so I DON’T HAVE TO. We were already down this road in 1970 as the Archdruid has said, we already made this decision not to wear sweaters way back. Instead, I can claim rights to $100 Trillion in wealth and dole it out like the queen, making friends and fame without limit. 
 
But it won’t work, and we need to get on it right away. I believe the leaders already know we’re going to hit the wall and are purposefully trying to hit the accelerator as with outlawing seeds, meat, poisoning soil and water, outlawing gardens, controlling travel – these are all the foundations of Stalin about to approach Ukraine. I can see that in 20 approaches they’re pushing, but I don’t expect them to be very successful.  Such as, WE are going to have to do it, not the other guy. And I in fact do, but I’m pretty busy, so this is the best I can do right now. 
 
And perhaps you too.

 

 

The Real New Deal

 

Dr. D: The Green New Deal has taken front page headlines lately, and the discussion on how to green the economy and become more ecological is real. Certainly all sides have wide agreement, where while the Left may call for salvation from Global Warming, yet the Right will call for efficient resource use, preserved farmland and better hunting camps. Everyone loves National Parks, being one of the largest tourist draws in our nation and also for our fellow nations worldwide, nobody likes to see animals run down or the environment destroyed.

With so much agreement, so widespread, it’s difficult to see why a consensus cannot be agreed on. Even if the means are different – statist control vs volunteer capitalism – surely the goals would be reached in any case. Perhaps with two methods, approaches, and visions, attaining our common goals could be far easier. If so, then why does there seem to be such obstacles and reluctance in our joint moment into a greener, better future? The Left says it’s because of the Right, and the Right because of the Left. Yet I can tell you it’s neither: it’s simply math and physics.

An “Economy” is the “the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.” That is to say they are the static things, like land, rivers, and copper mines, as well as the specific ways in which those blank resources are put to use: the transportation of them to factories, their manufacture, sale, and disposal. This encompasses things not on-ledger, like where environmental and social costs are offloaded, and who is enjoying the benefit of a resource that will run out for our children. This is also the things that are on-ledger, such as who benefits from profits or productivity, and which sectors are subsidized and which are starved. The Financial System rides atop of the Economic System, simply accounting it, keeping track of it, and sending the messages to it about where the needs are and which products should go where.

But neither exist in a vacuum. Although we generally overlook it, the Economic and Financial Systems are an expression of our personal beliefs and values, and those of our nation and national culture or personality. So in the U.S., we have chosen to measure our national prosperity using headline metrics such as the S&P and the GDP. These change character from time to time, as we used to measure the GNP, and now follow the NASDAQ. And the way we characterize them is also relevant: in the U.S., for instance, we measure all government spending in GDP as if it were private spending; that is, as if it were a profit, not an expense.

Nor is this financial arcana: although when this choice was made to make it seem the economy was stronger during the Great Depression, “you optimize what you measure”, and now the government itself has become the economy, with $22T in debts owed, and is directing most resources, but at a LOSS, not a profit. We then record that loss as prosperity. Nor is that different for the S&P or NASDAQ: if the popular financial numbers decline, the Fed will openly take money from the people and push the numbers back up again to indicate “success” and “prosperity” as we measure it. Yet the money borrowed from the taxpayers, the currency holders, makes them poorer, not richer.

 


World energy consumption per capita based on 2003 data from the International Energy Agency

 

What does this have to do with the Green New Deal and our joint goal of a cleaner, greener world? Well, the Green New Deal proposes to spend vast sums of money to transfer energy use to renewables and carbon-free sources, and there are unimaginable profits to be made should anyone do this. Unfortunately, the fact this hasn’t occurred is strong proof that it’s not possible. Not that green energy can’t be made or doesn’t exist, but that it’s not PROFITABLE to do so – that’s why the government, or rather the taxpayers, are asked to pay for it. But profit is only money, as the MMT-believers will avow.

What really matters is that thermodynamically, the EROEI, the “energy returned on energy invested” is too low. That is to say, you put in 90 calories and get out only 91. Or worse, put in 101 calories and get out only 90. This is easily shown in a wide variety of green projects, from solar – it’s estimated the electric produced over 20 years is equal to the glass-and-silicon manufacture – to ethanol, where despite enormous carbon, petrol, and water use in the cement, steel, shipping, and manufacturing of the distilling plant, the corn may only produce 10 units gain per 90 invested, or possibly none at all.

This is likely true for windmills, which if needing repair will add costs, while requiring a full-scale standing grid behind them at all times, as well as electric cars, which not only require a grid, but also may use more energy and cause more pollution in mining and smelting the batteries than the vehicle saves over a lifetime. Nor was this a surprise: again, as bad a system as financial accounting is in a system riddled with stock frauds and subsidies, nevertheless, if any of these saved energy, the huge drop in input costs – no gas used – would immediately render all these projects profitable, and not in need of a subsidy.

This is how coal replaced wood, and tractors replaced horses – sometimes in as little as 10 years. This is how LEDs instantly replaced incandescents, or the Prius replaced the K-car –lower costs, better products. And is how the U.S. has had one of the largest drops in CO2 emissions despite shutting down green subsidies and pulling out of the Paris Accord – organically, by market forces. Because despite our terrible, corrupt, interventionist system screwing up all the incentives, everybody loves a deal, and those arbitrages, those improvements still stand out.

 

Since we’re already using our technical limit, there is another way we can join together, reduce energy use, reduce waste and green the planet: lower demand.

The U.S. uses about half our energy for transportation, and if you’ve been to America, you know that most of that transportation is unnecessary: people live on average +20 minutes from work, and our oversized, centralized schools mean they are nearly as far. It’s not uncommon for every child to have a 40-minute bus ride each morning and night to and from school, and although more efficient than cars, there’s little need, only habit. We concentrated millions of small schools into a few huge ones from 1950 to 2000, just as we concentrated millions of small towns and shops into a few mega-centers. The remaining small businesses – dentists, phone stores, pizza shops – are randomly distributed, without any location in neighborhoods nor any access to public transit, and this would take decades to transform.

Nor is this a thing the people prefer. Commuting is one of the least-liked aspects of modern life as well as the most energy-intensive one. So instead of following massive hundred-trillion debt expenditures that show no promise of returning value, shouldn’t we grasp the low hanging fruit of efficiency? In fact, thermodynamically, efficiency is the only game in town, a 100 or 1,000:1 EROEI instead of 1.2:1. We have even done this from time to time during wars when massive campaigns led to massive efficiency, massive production, massive savings, ration books, and near-total recycling.

But nobody wants that. And that’s why the Green New Deal is structured exclusively as a SPENDING program, and not a SAVING one, because we don’t want to save, we want to SPEND. Part of this of course is that it’s more fun to spend than to save, but more importantly, it’s what we do, it’s what we measure. If you were to have a Green New Deal that is easy to implement and proven to work like the WWII model, GDP and profits would fall sharply. Although much, perhaps most, energy is wasted on unimportant things, the higher efficiencies would mean lower sales, lower production, and lower throughput EVEN IF IT MEANT A HIGHER QUALITY OF LIFE. This is easily seen in the U.S. vs Japan or Europe comparisons:

 


World energy consumption per capita based on 2013 data from the World Bank

 

The U.S. uses 10,000kg oil while Japan uses 5,000 and Portugal uses 2,500, and while there are important differences between nations, we don’t think of Japan or Portugal as sacrificing quality of life. This is strictly a choice, a design built up over lifetimes of effort. So if we could become as efficient as Japan and live far better too, why don’t we? This is a no-argument left-right win that can be implemented in hours, why isn’t capturing this easy gain the real target of the GND?

“You get what you incentivize.” If efficiency were the Real Green Deal, money would NOT be spent in Congress, Companies would NOT be paid, and lobbyists go home empty and poor. People would NOT be employed for the new projects and they would NOT vote for the new Congressmen. Government spending falls, even private-sector GDP would decline, and falling with it would be protected sectors of the economy like oil and utilities. How do you sell “Let’s cancel the party and stay home with the lights out”?

But it’s far worse than that in ways we don’t see. We think about New Deal SPENDING because spending has been exclusively incentivized for 100 years. The economy, the society, the financial system have all been built around GROWTH, not efficiency; MORE, not less, until the systems themselves can no longer function with anything less than unceasing expansion, ever-increasing, forever.

If GDP drops for any reason, even for efficiency and an easy increase in the quality of life – even to save all life on earth – consumption drops. A simpler life with fewer miles driven means less gas wasted and fewer cars sold. Fewer cars means fewer meals out. Sales drop. Employment drops. Stock markets drop. The lower valuation of companies means bond quality drops. Lower sales and lower activity mean tax revenue drops. Government programs drop. Treasury bonds drop and with it, military power drops. As stocks, bonds, and T-bill drop, pensions drop. Insurance drops. In short, the entire economy drops, contracts, goes into a sharp deflation and depression with world-wide unemployment and mass bankruptcies.

But worse than that. Economies come and go, wax and wane and adjust to the new realities. However, unlike previous eras, under a debt-based fiat-money system, one thing does NOT drop: debt. As the value of all things declines, the debt owed only increases. By companies. By citizens. By whole governments. And so soon as the numbers in a debt-based system stop increasing, that debt defaults.

 

Now in previous times, the relative values of debts, assets, and money would simply re-adjust. Bonds would fall, gold (cash) would rise. Bad companies and inefficiencies would be driven out, and the system would recover without the dead weight and bad ideas at a more accurate pricing. But that won’t happen this time. Because everything is so highly leveraged and centralized, and the financial system is our primary means of directing the economy, that system under a debt-based fiat system would almost entirely collapse, and the disruptions of reforming and restarting it would almost certainly take years, during which the economy itself, the production of wheat bread and toothpaste, heating oil and electric lights, would come to a virtual halt, threatening the lives of millions, hundred millions, even billions worldwide.

Wars would start. Nations would fall. So while we don’t think of these things, the reality is, if one were to have a major contraction, much less plan a voluntary, intentional one, the pressure to stop it would be overwhelming and from every side: retail, political, financial, human, ecological, economic, military; there is no way such a plan could be seriously considered, much less implemented. WE ARE NEVER MOVING TO EFFICIENCY UNDER A DEBT-BASED MONETARY SYSTEM. End of story. To the contrary: such a system incentivizes and even DEMANDS new waste and expensive, ruinous ideas like the Green New Deal. And even if they fail, they must ever-increase.

So why are we not having a Green New Deal of easy efficiency, one that we know works, but instead spending ever-more on ever more massive expenditures that are ever-less fruitful? Because this is what the system is designed to do. It’s what it depends on. And as you get what you incentivize, every body, everywhere in the system, will be incentivized to do this or die trying. And this will continue until we change the base assumptions, what we measure, what we capture and profit by. Left or Right, big or small, town or country, public or private, nothing can change in our system until we change it, until we change our beliefs about who we are, what we want, and what we are doing.

For me, I prefer easy, provable gains and a higher, easier quality of life, and I’m not afraid to make those changes that improve us without being at the expense of others. And we will need to face where we are and the challenges of the steps before us. Because essentially we all agree. We not only need a New Green Deal, we need a New Deal altogether. A better one, a fairer one. A possible one. One with a future. So let’s start acting like it and begin.

 

 

Jan 092019
 
 January 9, 2019  Posted by at 7:27 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Massacre in Korea 1951

 

In the New Year, after a close to the old one that was sort of terrible for our zombie markets, do prepare for a whole lot of stories about China (on top of Brexit and Yellow Vests and many more windmills fighting the Donald). And don’t count on too many positive ones that don’t originate in the country itself. Beijing will especially be full of feel-good tales about a month from now, around Chinese New Year 2019, which is February 5.

And we won’t get an easy and coherent true story, it’ll be bits and pieces stitched together. What will remain is that China did the same we did, just on steroids. It took us 100 years to build our manufacturing capacity, they did it in under 20 (and made ours obsolete). It took us 100 years to borrow enough to get a debt-to-GDP ratio of 300%, they did it in 10.

In the process they also accumulated 10 times more non-productive assets than us, idle factories, bridges to nowhere and empty cities, but they thought that would be alright, that demand would catch up with supply. And if you look at how much unproductive stuff we ourselves have gathered around us, who can blame them for thinking that? Perhaps their biggest mistake has been misreading our actual wealth situation; they didn’t see how poorly off we really are.

 

Xiang Songzuo, “a relatively obscure economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing”, expressed some dire warnings about the Chinese economy in a December 15 speech. He didn’t get much attention, not even in the West. Not overly surprising, since both Beijing and Wall Street have a vested interest in the continuing China growth story.

But with the arrival of 2019, that attention started slowly seeping through. Former associate professor of business and economics at the Peking University HSBC Business School in Shenzhen, Christopher Balding, left China 6 months ago after losing his job. At the time, he wrote: “China has reached a point where I do not feel safe being a professor and discussing even the economy, business and financial markets..”. And, noting a change that very much seems related to what is coming down the road:

”One of my biggest fears living in China has always been that I would be detained. Though I happily pointed out the absurdity of the rapidly encroaching authoritarianism, a fact which continues to elude so many experts not living in China, I tried to make sure I knew where the line was and did not cross it. There is a profound sense of relief to be leaving safely knowing others, Chinese or foreigners, who have had significantly greater difficulties than myself. There are many cases which resulted in significantly more problems for them. I know I am blessed to make it out.”

A few days ago, Balding wrote this on Twitter:

“Most experts dismissed the speech by Xiang Songzuo (claiming Chinese GDP growth could be as low as 1.67%) as implausible…”. No, we didn’t. The GS PE guy and the PKU dean have every reason to deny it. Car and mobile phone shipment down 2% and 16% are not a 6.5% growth economy.”

That certainly sets the tone of the discussion. GDP growth of 1.67% vs the official 6.5%; smartphone shipments down 16%, car sales slumping. Not the kind of numbers you’ll hear from Beijing. And Balding does know China, whether they like it or not. On Monday, Bloomberg, where he was/is a regular contributor, published this from his hand:

 

China Has a Dangerous Dollar Debt Addiction

Officially, China lists its outstanding external debt at $1.9 trillion . For a $13 trillion economy, that’s not a major amount. But focusing on the headline number significantly understates the underlying risks. Short-term debt accounted for 62% of the total as of September, according to official data, meaning that $1.2 trillion will have to be rolled over this year .

Just as worrying is the speed of increase: Total external debt has increased 14% in the past year and 35% since the beginning of 2017 . External debt is no longer a trivial slice of China’s foreign-exchange reserves, which stood at just over $3 trillion at the end of November, little changed from two years earlier. Short-term foreign debt increased to 39% of reserves in September, from 26% in March 2016.

 

The true picture may be more precarious. China’s external debt was estimated at between $3 trillion and $3.5 trillion by Daiwa Capital Markets in an August report. In other words, total foreign liabilities could be understated by as much as $1.5 trillion after accounting for borrowing in financial centers such as Hong Kong, New York and the Caribbean islands that isn’t included in the official tally. Circumstances aren’t moving in China’s favor.

The nation’s companies rushed to borrow in dollars when there was a 3% to 5% spread between Chinese and U.S. interest rates and the yuan was expected to strengthen. Borrowing offshore was cheaper and offered the additional bonus of likely currency gains. Now, the spread in official short-term yields has shrunk to near zero and the yuan has been depreciating for most of the past year. Refinancing debt in dollars has become harder, and more risky.

 

Beijing’s policies have exacerbated the buildup of foreign debt. To promote Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the president’s landmark foreign policy endeavor, China has been borrowing dollars on international markets and lending around the world for everything from Kenyan railways to Pakistani business parks. With this year and 2020 being the peak years for repayments, China faces dollar funding pressure.

To repay their dollar debts, Chinese firms will either have to draw from the central bank’s foreign-exchange reserves (a prospect Beijing is unlikely to allow) or buy dollars on international markets. This creates a new set of problems. There are only 617 billion yuan ($90 billion) of offshore renminbi deposits in Hong Kong available to buy dollars . If China was to push firms to bring debt back onshore, this would necessitate significant outflows that would push down the yuan’s value against the dollar.

 

The Xiang Songzuo speech was also noted by the Financial Times this week. Their conclusions are not much rosier. Recent US imports from China look good only because both buyers and sellers try to stay ahead of tariffs. And whole some truce or another there may smoothen things a little, China must launch a massive stimulus against the background of twice as much investment being needed for a unit of GDP growth.

 

Nervous Markets: How Vulnerable Is China’s Economy?

A relatively obscure economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing sparked a minor furore last month when he claimed a secret government research group had estimated China’s growth in GDP could be as low as 1.67% in 2018 — far below the officially published rate of 6.7% for the year up to September. 

Most experts dismissed the speech by Xiang Songzuo as implausible, despite longstanding doubts about the reliability of China’s official GDP data. Yet although discussion of his claims was quickly scrubbed from the Chinese internet, the presentation has been viewed more than 1.2m times on YouTube — an indication of the raw nerve Mr Xiang touched with his doom-laden warnings.

[..] the question that is hanging over global markets is just how vulnerable is China to a much sharper slowdown? Ominously, the recent downturn has occurred even though the expected hit to Chinese exports from the trade war has not yet materialised. In fact, analysts say exports probably received a one-off boost in recent months as traders front-loaded shipments to beat the expected tariff rise from 10% to 25% that US president Donald Trump threatened would take effect in January. That rise is now on hold due to the 90-day truce that Mr Trump agreed with Chinese president Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting in Argentina last month.

[..] The amount of new capital investment required to generate a given unit of GDP growth has more than doubled since 2007 , according to Moody’s Analytics. In other words, investment stimulus produces little bang for Beijing’s buck, even as it adds to the debt levels.

[..] “They [Beijing] will soon have no choice but to launch massive stimulus,” says Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong. “They do not want to give away their credibility because they said they wouldn’t do it, but there is no time to be cautious any more. Not having growth is ultimately the worst outcome of all.”

 

Christopher Whalen picks up on Xiang Songzuo’s speech as well, and quotes him saying that “Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash”. Whereas the China Beige Book states that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. Which leads to the conclusion that deflation is, or should be, Beijing’s main worry.

Oh, and Chinese consumer demand has weakened, something we’ve seen more off recently. Reuters headlines “China To Introduce Policies To Strengthen Domestic Consumption” today, but that headline could have come from any of the past 5 years or so. Domestic consumption is precisely China’s problem, and they can’t achieve nearly enough growth there.

 

China’s Stability Is at Risk

Foreign investors have convinced themselves that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is superior in terms of economic management, this despite ample evidence to the contrary, thus accepting the official view is easy but also increasingly risky. In a December 15 speech , Renmin University’s Xiang Songzuo warned that Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash. He also suggested that the Chinese economy is actually shrinking.

China growth, Tesla profitability, or the mystical blockchain all require more credulity than ever before. For example, in the first half of 2016 global capital markets stopped due to fear of a Chinese recession. Credit spreads soared and deal flows disappeared. But was this really a surprise? In fact, the Chinese government had accelerated official stimulus in 2015 and 2016 to counter a possible slowdown and, particularly, ensure a quiet domestic scene as paramount leader Xi Jinping was enshrined into the Chinese constitution.

Today western audiences are again said to be concerned about China’s economy and this concern is justified, but perhaps not for the reasons touted in the financial media. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released December 27, reports that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. CBB is a research service that surveys thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter.

Contrary to the positive foreign narrative about “growth” in China, CBB contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation. “Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” CBB Managing Director Shehzad Qazi said in an interview.

 

So, China phone shipments are down 16%, as per Balding. But Tim Cook says Apple’s never done better. Still, if that 16% number is correct, either Apple or its Chinese suppliers are doing worse, not better. And 16% is a lot.

 

Despite Recent Battering, Tim Cook Says Apple’s ‘Ecosystem Has Never Been Stronger’

Apple Inc. stock has taken a beating in recent months, but Chief Executive Tim Cook defended his company Tuesday, and expressed optimism that trade tensions with China would soon ease. Apple shares have fallen by more than one-third since their peak on Oct. 3, and tumbled further last week after the tech giant warned of disappointing iPhone sales in its holiday quarter. But in an interview Tuesday with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Cook said the company was still going strong, and its naysayers were full of “bologna.” “Here’s the truth, what the facts are,” Cook said about reports of slow iPhone XR sales, according to a CNBC transcript.

“Since we began shipping the iPhone XR, it has been the most popular iPhone every day, every single day, from when we started shipping, until now. . . . I mean, do I want to sell more? Of course I do. Of course I’d like to sell more. And we’re working on that.” Slower sales in China also contributed to Apple’s lowered forecast, and Cook said Tuesday he believes that situation to be “temporary.”

“We believe, based on what we saw and the timing of it, that the tension, the trade-war tension with the U.S. created this more-sharp downturn,” he said. Cook said he’s “very optimistic” a trade deal between the U.S. and China will be reached . “I think a deal is very possible. And I’ve heard some very encouraging words,” he said.

 

16% fewer phones, that gets you the second production cut at Apple and its ‘magnificent ecosystem’ in short order. Now sure, Cook can try and blame the tariffs. but Samsung’s Q4 2018 sales fell 11%, and its operating profit fell by 29%. It’s a bigger and wider issue, and China is at the heart of it.

 

Apple Cuts Q1 Production Plan For New iPhones By 10%

Apple, which slashed its quarterly sales forecast last week, has reduced planned production for its three new iPhone models by about 10% for the January-March quarter, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on Wednesday. That rare forecast cut exposed weakening iPhone demand in China, the world’s biggest smartphone market, where a slowing economy has also been buffeted by a trade war with the United States.

Many analysts and consumers have said the new iPhones are overpriced. Apple asked its suppliers late last month to produce fewer-than-planned units of its XS, XS Max and XR models, the Nikkei reported, citing sources with knowledge of the request. The request was made before Apple announced its forecast cut, the Nikkei said.

 

And very much not least there was this graph of Chinese investments in Africa. What are the conditions? At what point will they call back the loans? And when countries can’t pay back, what’s the penalty? How much of this has been provided by Beijing in US dollars it doesn’t have nearly enough of?

 

 

It’s like the much heralded Belt and Road project, or Silk Road 2.0, isn’t it, where the first batch of participating nations have started sounding the alarm over loan conditions. Yes, it sounds great, I admit, but I have long said that in reality Belt&Road is China’s ingenious scheme to export its industrial overcapacity and force other countries to pay for it. It’s like the model Rome had, and the US still do, just all in one single project. And this one has a name, and it can be expanded to Africa.

But no, I don’t see it. I think China’s debt, combined with the vast distance it still has from owning a global reserve currency, will call the shots, not Xi Jinping.

China won’t be taking over. At least, not anytime soon.

 

 

Oct 192018
 
 October 19, 2018  Posted by at 1:04 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


M. C. Escher Meeting (Encounter) 1940

 

It’s no surprise that China has its own plunge protection team -but why were they so late?-, nor that Beijing blames its problems on Trump’s tariffs. GDP growth was disappointing at 6.5%, but who’s ever believed those almost always dead on numbers? It would be way more interesting to know what part of that growth has been based on debt and leverage. But that we don’t get to see.

So we turn elsewhere. How about the Shanghai Composite Index? It may not be a perfect reflection of the Chinese economy, no more than the S&P 500 is for the US, but it does raise some valid and curious questions.

Borrowing from Wolf Richter, here are some stats and a graph::
• Lowest since November 27, 2014, nearly four years ago
• Down 30% from its recent peak on January 24, 2018, (3,559.47)
• Down 52% from its last bubble peak on June 12, 2015 (5,166)
• Down 59% from its all-time bubble peak on October 16, 2007 (6,092)
• And back where it had first been on December 27, 2006, nearly 12 years ago.

 

 

The first thing I thought when I saw that was: how on earth is it possible that in an economy that’s supposedly been growing 6%+ for a decade, stocks have gone nowhere at all? And obviously the role of the Shanghai index is different from that of the S&P, the DAX or the FTSE, but at the alleged Chinese growth rate, the economy would have almost doubled in size in 10 years. And none of that is reflected in stocks?

 

 

And if you think Shenzhen is a better barometer of ‘real’ China, Tyler Durden had this graph yesterday. Not the same as Shanghai, but similar for sure.

 

 

But other aspects of the Chinese economy are perhaps more interesting, I think. China’s mom and pop are not typically in stocks. In the Zero Hedge article I took that graph from, there is also this:

“There’s a liquidity crisis in the stock market, and pledged shares are again starting to sound the alarm,” said Yang Hai, analyst at Kaiyuan Securities. [..] The fear is that if Beijing does nothing, the self-reinforcing liquidation is only set to get worse: with $603 billion of shares pledged as collateral for loans – or 11% of China’s market capitalization, – traders are increasingly concerned that forced sellers will tip the market into a downward spiral.

[..] China in June told brokerages to seek approval before selling large chunks of stock that have been pledged as collateral for loans, while the top financial regulator in August warned the industry that it’s closely watching corporate stock pledges. Neither of those warnings appears to have generated the desired outcome, and the result is that two-thirds of Shenzhen Composite stocks are now at 52-week lows or worse.

[..] what are investors to do in this time of panicked selling? Why demand more bailouts of course, like begging the National Team to step in and rescue them (just like in the housing market): “If there are no real policies to cure the array of problems and ailments in our market, no one will be willing to take the risk,” said Hai. “Authorities keep saying that there is room for more polices, but where are they?”

“It’s high time the state stepped in,” said Dong Baozhen, a fund manager at Beijing Tonglingshengtai Asset Management. “The national funds cannot just sit on the sidelines and watch this atmosphere of extreme pessimism.”

It’s this clamoring for the state to come to the rescue of people who are losing money that would appear to define China today, where there is a stock market and housing market, and many ‘investors’ making lots of money, but where the mentality still seems to lurk back to days of old whenever things don’t only go up in a straight line.

There was another report recently of people demonstrating outside a property developer’s office because the firm had lowered purchase prices by 30%. Those that had paid full price now stood to lose that 30%. This happens frequently, and it can get violent. Mom and pop are not in stocks, they are in real estate:

Property accounts for roughly 70 per cent of urban Chinese families’ total assets – a home is both wealth and status. People don’t want prices to increase too fast, but they don’t want them to fall too quickly either,” said Shao Yu, chief economist at Oriental Securities.

The Chinese are thinking about leaders from Deng Xiao Ping to Xi Jinping that it’s great if they steer the country in a direction where everyone can get rich, but when things go awry, it’s still Beijing’s task to solve the problems if and when they occur. I would expect the same kind of thing in many western countries where people have borrowed heavily into housing bubbles, I don’t see mass foreclosures in Sweden, Denmark, Holland, but bailouts of people who grossly overpaid.

But the Chinese go a step further in their demands from central government. And that is an enormous problem for Xi going forward. One crucial facet of all this is psychological: when people count on being bailed out by their government, they will take much more risk, borrow more, with higher leverage etc. If you allow people things like pledging shares to buy more shares, or homes, and shares fall, you have an issue.

China’s well-known for companies buying each other’s shares to appear viable. It’s also known for local governments borrowing heavily from shadow banks in order for party officials to look as if they’re performing real well.

Now of course, if Beijing keeps on presenting all those growth numbers that look so solid, it’s asking for it. Moreover, the Party has lost control over the shadow banks, and it couldn’t act to regain that control if it wanted. It could initiate a program to forgive debt owed to national banks, but what’s owed to the shadows will have to be paid. We’re talking many trillions.

The Party has let the shadows in, because it made its own debt numbers look so much better. But when this whole debt balloon, on which so much of the GDP growth has rested, and the roads to nowhere and empty apartment blocks and cities, starts to pop, who are the Chinese going to turn to? For that matter, who is Xi going to turn to?

Yes, much of the western wealth has turned into a mirage, but in that respect, too, China has done what we did in a fraction of the time. Trump’s tariffs may play a role in a slowdown, but wait until the western economies deflate their debt bubbles and stop buying much of China’s products.

Bubbles vs balloons, that seems a proper way to phrase this. And for better or for worse, Jerome Powell is hiking interest rates. There’s your Needles and Pins.

 

 

Oct 152018
 
 October 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Paul Gauguin Haymaking in Brittany 1889

 

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)
Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)
How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)
Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)
Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)
Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)
The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)
Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)
‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)
The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)
Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)
Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

 

 

The essential discussion of our times.

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)

The late Prof Mick Moran, who taught politics and government at Manchester University for most of his professional life, had, according to his colleagues, once had “a certain residual respect for our governing elites”. That all changed during the 2008 financial crisis, after which he experienced an epiphany “because it convinced him that the officer class in business and in politics did not know what it was doing”. After his epiphany, Moran formed a collective of academics dedicated to exposing the complacency of finance-worship and to replacing it with an idea of running modern economies focused on maximising social good. They called themselves the Foundational Economy Collective, based on the idea that it’s in the everyday economy where there is most potential for true social regeneration: not top-down cash-splashing, but renewal and replenishment from the ground upwards.

Foundational activities are the materials and services without which we cannot live a civilised life: clean, unrationed water; affordable electricity and gas without cuts to supply; collective transport on smooth roads and rails; quality health and social care provided free at the point of use; and reliable, sustainable food supply. Then there’s the “overlooked economy” – everyday services such as hairdressing, veterinary care, catering and hospitality and small-scale manufacturing – which employ far more people, across a wider geographical range, than the “high-skill, hi-tech” economy with which recent governments have been obsessed.

For the Foundational Economy authors, focusing on the fundamental value of invisible and unglamorous jobs “restores the importance of unappreciated and unacknowledged tacit skills of many citizens”. It’s a way of looking at economics from the point of view of people rather than figures, and doing something revolutionary (yet so blindingly obvious) in the process. What is the point of “growth” if the basic elements of a decent life are denied to a large and growing number?

Read more …

A license to kill, then?!

Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)

“The Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusation,” a government source reportedly told the official Saudi Press Agency. “The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.” Hence, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel’s general manager Turki Aldakhil, in our call of the day, warned we could see an explosive move in oil prices. “If U.S. sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world,” he wrote in an op-ed.

“If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure.” This mess could ultimately throw the entire Muslim world “into the arms of Iran, which will become closer to Riyadh than Washington,” Aldakhil said. “The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh.”

Read more …

Or the end of OPEC?

How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)

Saudi Arabia enjoys a privileged position both in geopolitical and economic terms. It will have a powerful hand to play if tensions with the US and the west escalate and it follows through with Sunday’s warning of retaliation. Its vast oil reserves – it claims to have about 260bn barrels still to extract – afford the most obvious advantage. The kingdom is the world’s largest oil exporter, pumping or shipping about 7m barrels a day, and giving Riyadh huge clout in the global economy because it wields power to push up prices. An editorial in Arab News by Turki Aldhakhil, the general manager of the official Saudi news channel, Al Arabiya, offers a hint of what could be in the offing.

He said Riyadh was weighing up 30 measures designed to put pressure on the US if it were to impose sanctions over the disappearance and presumed murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the country’s Istanbul consulate. These would include an oil production cut that could drive prices from around $80 (£60) a barrel to more than $400, more than double the all-time high of $147.27 reached in 2008. This would have profound consequences globally, not just because motorists would pay more at the petrol pump, but because it would force up the cost of all goods that travel by road.

Read more …

Wonder why the UN has acted now. And did it do so after consulting with the US?

Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)

The Ecuadorian government has decided to partly restore communications for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. They were cut in March, denying the Australian access to the internet or phones and limiting visitors to members of his legal team. He has been living inside Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than six years. The Ecuadorian government said in March it had acted because Assange had breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”.

WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Ecuador has told WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that it will remove the isolation regime imposed on him following meetings between two senior UN officials and Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno on Friday.” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, added: “It is positive that through UN intervention Ecuador has partly ended the isolation of Mr Assange although it is of grave concern that his freedom to express his opinions is still limited. “The UN has already declared Mr Assange a victim of arbitrary detention. This unacceptable situation must end. “The UK government must abide by the UN’s ruling and guarantee that he can leave the Ecuadorian embassy without the threat of extradition to the United States.”

Read more …

Thought PropOrNot was done, but the Atlantic Council did not.

Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)

Media outlets removed by Facebook on Thursday, in a massive purge of 800 accounts and pages, had previously been targeted in a blacklist of oppositional sites promoted by the Washington Post in November 2016. The organizations censored by Facebook include The Anti-Media, with 2.1 million followers, The Free Thought Project, with 3.1 million followers, and Counter Current News, with 500,000 followers. All three of these groups had been on the blacklist. In November 2016, the Washington Post published a puff-piece on a shadowy and up to then largely unknown organization called PropOrNot, which had compiled a list of organizations it claimed were part of a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign.”

The Post said the report “identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans.” The publication of the blacklist drew widespread media condemnation, including from journalists Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, forcing the Post to publish a partial retraction. The newspaper declared that it “does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet.” While the individuals behind PropOrNot have not identified themselves, the Washington Post said the group was a “collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

Read more …

Long expected.

Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)

After years of Sears Holdings staying afloat through financial maneuvering and relying on billions of CEO Eddie Lampert’s own money, the 125-year-old retailer filed for bankruptcy. The filing comes more than a decade after Lampert merged Sears and Kmart, hoping that forging together the two struggling discounters would create a more formidable competitor. It comes after Lampert shed assets and spun out real estate, all to pay down the debt the retailer accumulated when that plan went askew. The company still has roughly 700 stores, which have at times been barren, unstocked by vendors who have lost their trust.

Many of the stores have never been visited by a generation of shoppers that can barely recall it was once the the country’s biggest retailer. Lampert, who has a controlling ownership stake in Sears, personally holds some 31 percent of the retailer’s shares outstanding, according to FactSet. His hedge fund ESL Investments owns about 19 percent. Ultimately, it was a $134 million payment that did the company in. The company had a payment due Monday it had not the money to pay.

Read more …

Why does this still need to be explained?

The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)

With great flourish, Theresa May last week announced that she was lifting the borrowing cap which constrains local councils’ ability to finance new housebuilding. “We will only fix this broken market by building more homes,” the prime minister said. “Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it. So today I can announce that we are scrapping that cap.” Nope. In reality, councils – or anyone else for that matter – building more homes will do very little to address the fundamental problem in the housing market, and if you want to understand why, there’s a new book which explains it.

‘Why Can’t You Afford To Buy A Home?’ by Josh Ryan-Collins – a researcher at University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose – is about the phenomenon which he dubs ‘residential capitalism’. It follows on from his less snappily-titled volume ‘Rethinking The Economics of Land and Housing’, which was written jointly with fellow economist Laurie Macfarlane and policy wonk Toby Lloyd and published last year. Both books address the question of why a growing number of people are being priced out of the property market, with rising house prices accelerating away from household incomes. The answer is financialisation – and it is not an aberration, according to Ryan-Collins.

The ‘housing crisis’ needs to be understood primarily as a product of the banking system. For starters it’s not just a British problem; this is a trend which has gripped developed economies across the world over the past three decades. “Two of the key ingredients of contemporary capitalist societies, private home ownership and a lightly regulated commercial banking system, are not mutually compatible,” he writes. Instead they “create a self-reinforcing feedback cycle”. [..] In the early 1980s, business lending equated to around 40 per cent of GDP on average in advanced economies, while mortgage lending was around 25 per cent. By the time of the financial crisis, mortgage lending had grown to 75 per cent of GDP while business lending had only grown slightly, to 45 per cent.

Read more …

The Chinese will hold Beijing responsible when their housing bubble bursts.

Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)

Last March, we discussed why few things are as important for China’s wealth effect and economy, as its housing bubble market. Specifically, as Deutsche Bank calculated at the time, “in 2016 the rise of property prices boosted household wealth in 37 tier 1 and tier 2 cities by RMB24 trillion, almost twice their total disposable income of RMB12.9 trillion.” The German lender added that this (rather fleeting) wealth effect “may be helping to sustain consumption in China despite slowing income growth” warning that “a decline of property price would obviously have a large negative impact.” Naturally, as long as the housing bubble keeps inflating and prices keep rising, there is nothing to worry about as the population will keep spending money buoyed by illusory wealth appreciation.

It is when housing starts to drop that Beijing begins to panic. Fast forward to today, when Beijing may be starting to sweat because whereas Chinese property developers usually count on September and October to be their “gold and silver” months for sales, this year has turned out to be different. As the SCMP reports, not only were sales figures grim for September, but the seven-day national holiday last week also brought at least two “fangnao” incidents – when angry, and often violent, homeowners protest against price cuts offered by developers to new buyers.

These protests are often directed at sales offices, with varying levels of intensity – from throwing rocks to holding banners and putting up funeral wreaths. The risk, of course, is that as what has gone up (wealth effect) will come down, and as home ownership has remained the most important channel of investment for urban households in China in the past decade, price cuts have become increasingly unacceptable and a cause for social unrest. Just last week, angry homeowners who paid full price for units at the Xinzhou Mansion residential project in Shangrao attacked the Country Garden sales office in eastern Jiangxi province last week, after finding out it had offered discounts to new buyers of up to 30%.

Read more …

There is no solution that everyone can accept.

‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)

The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator says urgent talks with Britain’s point person did not result in their reaching agreement on outstanding issues. EU negotiator Michel Barnier said: “Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open” in the divorce talks between the European Union and Britain. Barnier and his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, met in Brussels for surprise talks on Sunday. The discussion prompted rumors that a full agreement might be imminent, but Barnier says the future of the border on the island of Ireland remain a serious obstacle. He says the need “to avoid a hard border” between Ireland and the U.K’s Northern Ireland is among the unsettled issues. An EU official says no further negotiations are planned before an EU leaders summit on Wednesday.

The “Irish backstop” is the main hurdle to a deal that spells out the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU and future relationship with the bloc. After Brexit, the currently invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be the U.K.’s only land border with an EU nation. Britain and the EU agree there must be no customs checks or other infrastructure on the border, but do not agree on how that can be accomplished. The EU’s “backstop” solution — to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the bloc — has been rejected by Britain because it would require checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

Read more …

Budget was accepted by almost two thirds in Senate and Parliament.

The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)

Over the last three years, net exports shaved 0.5 percent off Italy’s quasi stagnant 1.1 percent GDP growth. And while exports in the first seven months of this year increased 4 percent from the year earlier, that did absolutely nothing to revive the country’s manufacturing output. The industrial production during the January-to-July period dropped at an annual rate of 0.5 percent. That, of course, bodes ill for business investments because the weakness in the manufacturing sector indicates plenty of spare production capacity. In other words, Italian businesses need no new machines and bigger factory floors; they already have what they need to meet the current and expected sales demand.

So, what’s left to support Italy’s jobs and incomes? Nothing — emphatically nothing — keeps screaming the German-run EU: Italy has no independent monetary policy, and, according to the EU Commission, the fiscal stance should remain frozen in a restrictive mode of indefinite duration. Italy knows what that means. Before the onset of the last decade’s financial crisis, and the German-imposed fiscal austerity, Italy’s budget deficit in 2007 was whittled down to 1.5 percent of GDP (compared to nearly 3 percent of GDP in France), the primary budget surplus (budget before interest charges on public debt) was driven up to 1.7 percent of GDP, helping to bring down the public debt to 112 percent of GDP from an annual average of 117 percent in the previous six years.

But then all hell broke loose once the Germans — defiantly rejecting Washington’s call to reason — set out to teach a lesson to “fiscal miscreants” by imposing austerity policies on the euro area’s sinking economies. Italy should never allow that to happen again. What, then, should Italy do? The answer is simple: Exactly what it says it wants to do in the 2019 budget passed last Thursday by an overwhelming majority in the Senate (61 percent of the votes) and in the Parliament’s Lower House (63.4 percent of the votes).

Read more …

Not just conservatives, the SPD is going going gone as well.

Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)

Angela Merkel’s conservative partners in Bavaria have had their worst election performance for more than six decades, in a humiliating state poll result that is likely to further weaken Germany’s embattled coalition government. The Christian Social Union secured 37.3% of the vote, preliminary results showed, losing the absolute majority in the prosperous southern state it had had almost consistently since the second world war. The party’s support fell below 40% for the first time since 1954. Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, called it a “difficult day” for the CSU, but said his party had a clear mandate to form a government.

Among the main victors was the environmental, pro-immigration Green party, which as predicted almost doubled its voter share to 17.8% at the expense of the Social Democratic party (SPD), which lost its position as the second-biggest party, with support halving to 9.5%. Annalena Baerbock, the co-leader of the Greens, said: “Today Bavaria voted to uphold human rights and humanity.” Andrea Nahles, the leader of the SPD, delivered the briefest of reactions at her party’s headquarters in Berlin, calling the results “bitter” and blaming them on the poor performance of the grand coalition in Berlin.

Read more …

But this suggests that gene editing would be very expensive.

Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has caused controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their and their children’s DNA. Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who died in March, made the predictions in a collection of articles and essays. The scientist presented the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday. “I am sure that during this century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” he wrote.

“Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life.” In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking’s final thoughts on the universe, the physicist suggested wealthy people would soon be able to choose to edit genetic makeup to create superhumans with enhanced memory, disease resistance, intelligence and longevity. Hawking raised the prospect that breakthroughs in genetics will make it attractive for people to try to improve themselves, with implications for “unimproved humans”. “Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.”

Read more …

Oct 112018
 
 October 11, 2018  Posted by at 1:22 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Triumph of Death 1562

 

Finally financial ‘markets’ go through a substantial dip, which Steve Mnuchin claims is just temporary and Donald Trump says is caused by the fact that the Fed is ‘loco’. Mnuchin may well be right, but it won’t be because he knows something you don’t.

And Trump is certainly right, but in reality the Fed has been loco for many years, so why be surprised if it acts crazy now? The reason Mnuchin and a million other ‘experts’ may be right without realizing it is that the Fed has been crazy enough to kill the financial markets.

Or at least killed what made the markets functional, and beneficial to society. And that may well be exactly what Jay Powell is trying to repair, but he may well not be aware of that either. Looked at from a ‘benign’ angle, Powell is perhaps raising rates so people can regain insight into what they’re buying.

The pre-Powell Fed pushed up asset prices (don’t let’s say ‘values’) to such heights nobody has any insight anymore into what anything is truly worth. And in what was formerly known as the financial markets that was not important, because what were formerly known as investors were making heaps of money regardless.

Surely they must all have known that this wouldn’t continue?! That it’s just a matter of timing, of knowing when it would end? Oh, but that’s not really possible, is it, without the very price discovery process the Fed successfully strangulated?

Still, there must also be tons of people left thinking the Fed can kick that can six times to the moon and back, or sixty. If only because they’ve never bothered to think about price discovery, and what role it plays in the very ‘markets’ they volunteer to spend their money in.

And along those same lines, many acknowledge housing bubbles in Sydney and Vancouver but think the US has learned its lesson a decade ago. And the loco Fed plays its role there too: mortgage rates have been ultra-low, enticing the last left batch of greater fools not mortally wounded by the last fire to jump in this time. Wolf Richter’s Case-Shiller graph says plenty in that regard:

 

 

But of course things tend back to normalcy, and it doesn’t take all the overleveraged stock- and home buyers longing for price discovery; it takes just a few to get the engine started. And then everyone will be along for the ride. So from that angle Jay Powell looks anything but crazy raising rates, we just can’t be sure if he knows what the consequences will be.

Not that it matters all that much what he does or does not know. What was formerly the market is like a pendulum swung so far out of balance that it costs ever more effort and money to keep it from moving towards equilibrium, and that process has only one possible outcome.

For mortgage rates, it looks something like this, and to make anyone able to buy any home at all higher rates will of necessity mean lower prices. You can’t, nobody can, not the Fed or the government can, keep that pendulum away from its tendency towards equilibrium forever.

 

 

For stocks it looks much the same. So why try, you’d think?! To prevent incumbents and ruling classes from being exposed as swimming naked, that’s why. They invented a way to make the entire nation swim naked, thinking they’d never be found out because the water levels were so high.

Whether yesterday’s 831-point Dow dip is temporary or not is of little interest. Much more important is that the entire asset prices situation is temporary. It doesn’t matter if the Fed pumps $1, $10, or $100 trillion into what once were markets, in the end it all comes down to how many people can pay how much money for the assets.

And since there is never an unending supply of greater fools, we know where this is going. The easy money and low rates and asset purchases at central banks and stock buybacks by companies can and will result only in more profits and more wealth for a few, and sheer endlessly less for the many.

Inequality in the US has now reached such extremities that the country’s AAA rating threatens to be taken away –as Moody’s indicated-; the government has so many people it must support financially (or let perish) that its financial position comes under pressure. Which is, again, negative for the many, for the few; they don’t care about that rating.

Yes, too many people are on some form of welfare in America. And Washington would love to throw many of them off of it. The many have no representation on Capitol Hill anymore. Just about any senator and congress(wo)man is a millionaire or certainly well-off.

 

How can the country get its rating back, or at least not lose it due to its increasing inequality? There seem to be two ways: let the 80 million now on welfare die by the side of the road, or provide them with jobs that allow them a fruitful life. That may sound like socialism or something, but it’s really the exact opposite.

It’s not the government’s role to give people jobs, but it is its role to make sure conditions are in place for the private sector to provide them. Trump’s ‘trade wars’ look crazy to many, but the intent is to get jobs back to the US. But there is much more.

America was once prosperous. What changed?

Here’s one thing: In what was -arguably?- America’s wealthiest time as a nation, the post-World War II period, income taxes for the richest were as high as 90% (1952: 92%); they were slowly brought down towards 70%. Only when Ronald Reagan took over in 1980 did they really fall (1982: 50%). This was ‘justified’ by lowering the highest income bracket (1982: $85,600, it had been between $200,000 and $400,000 for years).

In 1988, the top rate plunged to 28%, and the highest bracket to $29,750. Today, the top rate is 39.6% and the high bracket $400,000. In a graph, the consequences look like this:

 

 

The corporate tax rate, meanwhile, pulled this one, and don’t get started on tax havens etc.:

 

 

And that situation has led to a huge financial crisis, to the Fed going crazy and handing out trillions to the exact wrong part of society, those who already have a lot of money, and the result has been an absolute disaster, at least for the country; not so much for its elites.

But as even Moody’s now recognizes, you can’t run an AAA-rated country on elites alone. Despite the crazy Fed trillions, the US has achieved negative growth (imagine where it would be without):

 

 

Something must be done. Problem is, with only those millionaires in charge in the House and Senate, the likelihood of boosting income tax levels up to where they were when America was most prosperous is extremely low. And Trump’s tariffs are not on their own going to bring back the jobs; they can’t rebuild the lost infrastructure, for one thing.

Something must be done, and it’s entirely unclear what, or rather, who’s going to do it. The Democrats have nothing, or nothing but frustrated millionaires and Bernie Sanders. The GOP has only Trump. None of these people are going to vote to double their income taxes.

Much of what needs to be done will be classified as socialism, ridiculed and thrown out the window, even if the country was anything but socialist under Eisenhower and Kennedy, during its -at least economic- Golden Age.

It’s a nice puzzle, isn’t it? Well, maybe not so nice after all.

 

 

Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Green field 1888

 

Global Economic Growth Has Peaked, Warns OECD (G.)
Why Trump’s Stock Market Cheering Is Dangerous (Colombo)
Post Crisis Measures Have Failed To Tame Derivatives Risks (Yves Smith)
Woodward: “No Evidence Of Trump-Russia Collusion, I Looked Hard” (DV)
Brexit: It’s A Border In The Irish Sea Or The Customs Union (G.)
Emmanuel Macron Calls Brexit Campaign Leaders ‘Liars’ (Ind.)
‘Not Enough Time’ To Hold Referendum On Final Deal Before Brexit Day (G.)
Historical Monuments and Museums Moved to Greece’s Privatization Fund (KTG)
Propping Up Glaciers To Avoid Cataclysmic Sea Level Rise (AFP)
558 Million-Year-Old Fossils Identified As Oldest Known Animal (G.)
Assange’s Last Interview Before Blackout (RT)

 

 

Presented as a surprise.

Global Economic Growth Has Peaked, Warns OECD (G.)

The west’s leading economic thinktank has warned that the expansion in the global economy may have peaked after cutting its growth forecasts for an array of rich and developing countries. In its latest update on the health of the world economy, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said the outlook for both 2018 and 2019 was less good than it had predicted in May. The Paris-based OECD called for immediate action to halt the “slide towards protectionism”, noting that trade tensions were already having an impact on confidence and investment. “The expansion may now have peaked,” the OECD said in its interim economic outlook. “Global growth is projected to settle at 3.7% in 2018 and 2019, marginally below pre-crisis norms, with downside risks intensifying.”

The OECD said it was cutting its 2018 forecast by 0.1 percentage points and its 2019 forecast by 0.3 points. Britain has had its growth forecast shaved by 0.1 points in both years to 1.3% and 1.2%, respectively – with the OECD saying the squeeze on living standards was affecting consumer spending and uncertainty about Brexit leading to soft investment. [..] The US is expected to be the fastest growing of the G7 group of industrialised countries in both 2018 and 2019, and the OECD said that in contrast to the broad-based expansion in late 2017 there were widening differences in growth performance between countries.

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You break it, you own it.

Why Trump’s Stock Market Cheering Is Dangerous (Colombo)

The S&P 500 hit another all-time high today and president Donald Trump tweeted, in his usual fashion, “S&P 500 HITS ALL-TIME HIGH Congratulations USA!” Though I am a conservative myself, president Trump’s stock market cheerleading angers me because he’s fanning the flames of a dangerous asset bubble, which is extremely irresponsible. I believe that the current stock market bubble will cause severe damage to the economy and our society when it ultimately pops. Imagine if George W. Bush constantly touted how surging U.S. housing prices were making Americans rich in the mid-2000s? We all know how that ended. Well, that’s what president Trump is doing with his stock market cheerleading – history will not look kindly upon it.

To make matters worse, Donald Trump knew that we were in a dangerous stock market bubble back in 2016 before he became president – he even called it a “big, fat, ugly bubble.” Now, the S&P 500 is 35% higher (and even more overvalued), but Trump is acting as if it’s an organic, sustainable boom rather than the debt-driven bubble that it really is. This is disingenuous behavior, plain and simple. The S&P 500 has surged over 300% since March 2009 due to the Federal Reserve’s pro-asset inflation policies:

[..] According to the U.S. stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio (also known as Warren Buffett’s “favorite indicator”), the market is more overpriced and inflated than it was during even the dot-com bubble:

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“..the crisis was a derivatives crisis, and not a housing crisis, as it is too commonly depicted.”

Post Crisis Measures Have Failed To Tame Derivatives Risks (Yves Smith)

One of the frustrating aspects of the orgy of “ten years after Lehman” stories is that writers and pundits, many of whom are old enough to have missed the credit excesses that were evident in 2006 and 2007, are now screeching “A crisis is nigh” without necessarily focusing on likely triggers. As an aside, we are already in the midst of emerging market crises. The IMF agreed to give yet another monster bailout to Argentina. Pakistan is seeking an IMF rescue (or more accurately, trying to get shored up by any one other than the IMF but keeping the agency on the front burner in case other options fail). Turkey is still on the ropes. So calling a crisis is trivial because they are on now.

However, many of these writers are presumably anticipating something more like the global financial crisis, and too often are looking in the wrong places. There is a difference between market crashes that don’t impair the financial system, like the dot-com bust, because the assets that fell in price weren’t highly leveraged. You get real economy damage but not a financial crisis. You can also have lots of loans go bad and not impair the banking system because the credit risk was either well distributed among banks and/or significantly shifted onto investors who losses aren’t leveraged back to the financial system. However, one of the sources of systemic risk being overlooked is derivatives. That is particularly worrisome since the crisis was a derivatives crisis, and not a housing crisis, as it is too commonly depicted.

Even though the US and other housing markets were certain to suffer a nasty bust, a housing crisis alone would have resulted in something like a bigger, badder saving and loan crisis, not the financial coronary of September and October 2008. Derivatives allowed speculators to create synthetic exposures to the riskiest subprime housing debt that were 4-6 times its real economy value. Those bets wound up heavily at systemically important, highly leveraged financial institutions like Citigroup, AIG, the monolines, and Eurobanks.

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“’I did not, and of course, I looked for it, looked for it hard..’

Woodward: “No Evidence Of Trump-Russia Collusion, I Looked Hard” (DV)

After two years of exhaustive research for his book, Woodward says that he has found no evidence of collusion between Putin’s government and Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. Zilch, nada, zero. And Woodward strained very hard looking for it. This largely ignored blockbuster admission came in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt reported by Real Clear Politics [..] “In an interview with Hugh Hewitt on Friday, Bob Woodward said that in his two years of investigating for his new book, ‘Fear,’ he found no evidence of collusion or espionage between Trump and Russia. Woodward said he looked for it ‘hard’ and yet turned up nothing.

“’Did you, Bob Woodward, hear anything in your research in your interviews that sounded like espionage or collusion?’ Hugh Hewitt asked Woodward. “’I did not, and of course, I looked for it, looked for it hard,’ Woodward answered. ‘And so you know, there we are. …..’ “’But you’ve seen no collusion?’ Hewitt asked again to confirm. “’I have not,’ Woodward affirmed. “Hewitt would once again ask Woodward about collusion at the conclusion of the interview. “’Very last question, Bob Woodward, I just want to confirm, at the end of two years of writing this book, this intensive effort, you saw no effort, you, personally, had no evidence of collusion or espionage by the president presented to you?’ Hewitt asked. “’That is correct,’ Woodward said.”

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“The most important lesson of the Brexit negotiation is that it is not a negotiation..”

“..no amount of diplomatic politesse can conceal Brexit’s reality: one part of the UK will be economically split from another.”

Brexit: It’s A Border In The Irish Sea Or The Customs Union (G.)

Donald Tusk’s clear rejection of Theresa May’s Chequers plan at the Salzburg summit yesterday should not come as a surprise. The most important lesson of the Brexit negotiation is that it is not a negotiation, and never has been. Blessed with superior size, wealth and power, the EU has been able to dictate the framework and substance of the talks, and has refused any deviation from its red lines. The second most important lesson of the Brexit negotiation is that the EU will prioritise its economic and political cohesion above all else. That cohesion rests on two key outcomes: an undivided single market and an open border on the island of Ireland. It is these principles that have led us to Salzburg. The EU will not accept the Chequers plan, which proposes a single market in goods but not in services, capital or people.

It will also not accept any possibility of border infrastructure in Ireland, which is anathema to Dublin and, according to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, presents a credible risk of sectarian violence. That has duly paved the way for the Brexit endgame, which EU negotiator Michel Barnier has now confirmed: there will be a border for goods in the Irish Sea. The EU does not, however, want to antagonise or humiliate the UK, and has scrambled to defuse the drama of this development. Barnier stresses that most checks between Britain and Northern Ireland will take place in offices and warehouses, and only live animals and food products will need to be examined at ports themselves. But no amount of diplomatic politesse can conceal Brexit’s reality: one part of the UK will be economically split from another.

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“..they left the day after so as not to have to deal with it.”

Emmanuel Macron Calls Brexit Campaign Leaders ‘Liars’ (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has branded the leaders of the campaign for Brexit “liars”, in an extraordinary attack at the close of the Salzburg summit. The Leave victory was “pushed by those who predicted easy solutions”, the French president said, adding: “Those people are liars. They left the next day so they didn’t have to manage it.” At the press conference, Mr Macron also made clear he would not accept a “blind deal” – which would leave the nature of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU to be decided after departure day. The stance is another blow to Theresa May, given that the EU’s rejection of her Chequers plan has increasingly left a “blind Brexit” as the only possible agreement.

Mr Macron did not name the “liars” behind Brexit, but he targeted those who had promised that leaving the EU would “bring a lot of money home”. The Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, infamously pledged it would deliver an extra £350m a week for the NHS – a claim now widely discredited. “Those who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be alright, and that it’s going to bring a lot of money home, are liars,” Mr Macron added. “It’s even more true since they left the day after so as not to have to deal with it.” Mr Macron made clear the prime minister would need to come up with fresh proposals by the next summit in October. “We all agreed on this today, the proposals in their current state are not acceptable, especially on the economic side of it. The Chequers plan cannot be take it or leave it.”

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Someone’s going to take this to court.

‘Not Enough Time’ To Hold Referendum On Final Deal Before Brexit Day (G.)

A referendum on the Brexit deal would take at least six months to organise legally, making it very difficult to have a second vote before the UK is scheduled to exit the EU on 29 March next year, constitutional experts have said. As EU leaders including the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis called on Theresa May to change firm government policy and put a vote to the people, academics said there was not enough time if article 50 is enacted as scheduled. There are indications that a delay to the enactment of article 50 could be acceptable to the EU, but without this agreement time stands in the way of a second referendum, experts believe.

“It is just possible to hold one within six months, but the shorter the timescale, the higher the chance of the question or other aspects of the referendum being challenged over their legitimacy,” said Prof Robert Hazell of the constitution unit at the department of political science, University College London. Fresh legislation, testing of the question by the Electoral Commission and a 10-week regulated period for a campaign are all required before a referendum can take place, he pointed out. David Cameron’s Brexit referendum took just over a year to get to the ballot box.

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Liquidation. But: “Monuments are protected by the Constitution, they cannot be transferred or be sold..”

Historical Monuments and Museums Moved to Greece’s Privatization Fund (KTG)

Archaeologists and sites Guards are up in arms after the Greek Finance Ministry issued a decision ordering the trasnfer several historical sites and buildings, museums, monuments and historical buildings to the Super Privatization Fund. “They belong de facto to the state and are off any trade,” the Greek Archaeologists Association said in a statement with the title “No to sale of the country’s monuments” issued on Wednesday. According to the archaeologists a total of 10,119 archaeological sites, museums and historical buildings have been transferred to the Privatization Fund, many of them from the area in and around Chania on the island of Crete.

“Monuments are protected by the Constitution, they cannot be transferred or be sold,” the Association said, adding that this unprecedented transfer became known when the catalogue of the monuments in and around Chania became public. Among those monuments and museums in Chania are the new Archaeological Museum, the archaeological museum located inside the St Francis Church, the National Museum Eleftherios Venizelos, the Historical Archive of Crete, several Venetian and Byzantine moats, fortifications and bastions as well as properties where important Minoan architectural remains have been discovered. “Is Acropolis next?” the Association of Guards at archaeological sites said in an equally angry statement on Thursday adding that also land plot where excavations take place have been transferred. They threaten with strikes.

“Our response will be very tough. Our cultural heritage belongs to all Greeks, no government has the right to negotiate about it or transfer ownership,” they said in their statement.

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Yeah, smart species.

Propping Up Glaciers To Avoid Cataclysmic Sea Level Rise (AFP)

As global warming outpaces efforts to tame it, scientists have proposed building massive underwater structures to prevent an Antarctic glacier the size of Britain from sliding into the sea and lifting the world’s oceans by several metres. The more modest of two engineering schemes — which is still on the scale of a Panama or Suez Canal — to shore up Thwaites Glacier would require the construction of Eiffel Tower-sized columns resting on the seabed to support the glacier’s ocean-facing edge, or ice shelf. Option Two is a 100-metre tall underwater wall, or berm, running 80-100 kilometres (55-60 miles) beneath the ice shelf to block bottom-flowing warm water that erodes the glacier’s underbelly, rendering it unstable.

The ambitious projects, detailed Thursday in the European Geophysical Union journal The Cryosphere, reflect a gathering awareness that slashing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions — while essential — may not happen quickly enough to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts. “Thwaites could easily trigger a runaway ice sheet collapse that would ultimately raise global sea levels by about three metres,” said lead author Michael Wolovick, a researcher at Princeton University’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. Nor will reducing carbon pollution be enough: any credible pathway to a world in which global warming is capped below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (3.6º Celsius) — the target enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate treaty — depends on sucking large quantities of CO2 out of the air.

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In the beginning there was nothing.

558 Million-Year-Old Fossils Identified As Oldest Known Animal (G.)

A fossilised lifeform that existed 558m years ago has been identified as the oldest known animal, according to new research. The findings confirm that animals existed at least 20m years before the so-called Cambrian explosion of animal life, which took place about 540m years ago and saw the emergence of modern-looking animals such as snails, bivalves and arthropods. The new fossils, of the genus Dickinsonia, are the remains of an oval-shaped lifeform and part of an ancient and enigmatic group of organisms called Ediacarans. These creatures are some of the earliest complex organisms on Earth, but their place within the evolutionary tree has long puzzled scientists. Suggestions as to what they were have ranged from lichens to failed evolutionary experiments to bacterial colonies.

Now, by identifying the remains of organic matter on newly discovered Ediacaran fossils as ancient cholesterol, the scientists have been able to confirm Dickinsonia was an animal, which makes it the oldest known animal. “It is the exact type and composition of that fat that was the giveaway that Dickinsonia was in fact an animal”, said Jochen Brocks of the Australian National University, one of the authors on the study. He added that the study solves “a decades-old mystery that has been the holy grail of palaeontology”. The fossils were discovered on two surfaces on a cliffside in the remote wilderness of north-west Russia by PhD student Ilya Bobrovskiy, who is lead author on the paper, published in the journal Science.


Dickinsonia fossils found in north-west Russia. Composite: Ilya Bobrovskiy/Ilya Bobrovskiy/ANU

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“This generation being born now… is the last free generation..”

Assange’s Last Interview Before Blackout (RT)

Before his links to the world was cut by his Ecuadorian hosts, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gave an interview on how technological advances are changing humankind. He said global surveillance will soon be totally unavoidable The interview was provided to RT by organizers of the World Ethical Data Forum in Barcelona. Assange, who is currently stranded in the Ecuadorean embassy in London with no outside communication except with his legal team, has a pretty grim outlook on where humanity is going. He says it will soon be impossible for any human being to not be included into global databases collected by governments and state-like entities.

This generation being born now… is the last free generation. You are born and either immediately or within say a year you are known globally. Your identity in one form or another –coming as a result of your idiotic parents plastering your name and photos all over Facebook or as a result of insurance applications or passport applications– is known to all major world powers. “A small child now in some sense has to negotiate its relationship with all the major world powers… It puts us in a very different position. Very few technically capable people are able to live apart, to choose to live apart, to choose to go their own way,” he added. “It smells a bit like totalitarianism – in some way.”

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Sep 172018
 


René Magritte Companions of fear 1942

 

Repo 105 (Ben Hunt)
The Everything Bubble” Threatens $400 Trillion In Assets (ZH)
What Can Cause the Next Mortgage Crisis in the US? (WS)
Dollar Dominant & Dangerous, System Not Stable – Catherine Austin Fitts (USAW)
Shell Faces One Of The Biggest Corruption Cases In Corporate History (Ind.)
Only Alternative To Chequers Is No Brexit Deal, Says Theresa May (G.)
Brussels Nearing Impasse With May Over Irish Border Proposal (G.)
Four In 10 Think British Culture Is Undermined By Multiculturalism (G.)
Musk Says Tesla Now In ‘Delivery Logistics Hell’ (R.)
The EU Needs A Stability And Wellbeing Pact, Not More Growth (G.)
7 Endangered Species That Could (Almost) Fit In A Single Train Carriage (G.)

 

 

Lehman sold bad loans to banks for a fee so it could look better, only to buy them back days later. It was very basic fraud. And Dick Fuld walked away.

Repo 105 (Ben Hunt)

Every time Dick Fuld’s publicists succeed in getting a “redemption story” published in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, I’m going to write an Epsilon Theory brief about Repo 105, the fraudulent scheme that Lehman Brothers ran for years to hide its deteriorating financial condition from investors and regulators alike.

[..] Repo 105 was a multiyear scheme by Lehman to defraud the government and its own investors by falsifying the actual amount of loans it had on the books, making Lehman look safer than it actually was. It worked like this. A few days before the end of the calendar quarter, Lehman would “sell” billions of dollars worth of loans to another bank. I put “sell” in quotation marks, because Lehman ALSO had an agreement with these other banks to buy the loans back a few days after the quarter ended for the same price as they were sold, plus enough money to cover whatever the going interest rate was on that cash for the few days it was in Lehman’s hands. This is what’s called a repurchase agreement, or repo, hence the name Repo 105 (the 105 refers to the 5% overcollateralization that counterparty banks required to lend the cash to Lehman even for a few days – THEY knew Lehman was in trouble).

Since financial reporting happens at the end of the quarter, Lehman’s books would look like they had more cash and fewer loans than they actually did. Surely, you say, no law firm would bless this blatant attempt to cook the books? And I say, don’t call me Shirley. I say, well … no US law firm would bless this, so naturally Lehman found a UK firm, Linklaters, to say that this was, in fact, technically a “true sale”. Even then, to pull this off Lehman had to run Repo 105 through their offshore subsidiaries, not through their US-chartered entities. It was really expensive for Lehman to run Repo 105. But also entirely necessary, or else the entire house of cards that WAS Lehman would have collapsed well before September, 2008.

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Risk. It’s back.

The Everything Bubble” Threatens $400 Trillion In Assets (ZH)

By now, it’s a very familiar question: how high can the Fed hike rates before it causes a major market “event.” Two weeks ago, Stifel analyst Barry Banister became the latest to issue a timeline on how many more rate hikes the Fed can push through before the market is finally impacted. According to his calculations, just two more rate hikes would put the central bank above the neutral rate – the interest rate that neither stimulates nor holds back the economy. The Fed’s long-term projection of its policy rate has risen from 2.8% at the end of 2017 to 2.9% in June. As the following chart, every time this has happened, a bear market has inevitably followed.

A similar argument was made recently by both Deutsche Bank and Bank of America, which in two parallel analyses observed last year that every Fed tightening cycle tends to end in a crisis. In a report issued on Friday, BCA’s strategists make the key point that the performance of bonds – and stocks – in an inflation scare would depend on the relative size of the inflationary impulse compared with the disinflationary impulse that resulted from sharply lower risk-asset prices. They make the point that if central banks were more concerned about the inflationary impulse, which at least for Fed chair Powell appears to be the case for now – Janet Yellen’s “lower for longer revised forward guidance” notwithstanding – they would have to keep tightening – in which case, bond yields would be liberated to reach elevated territory.

Conversely, if the bigger worry was the disinflationary impulse, which arguably is the case from a legacy standpoint, central banks would quickly reverse course, and bond yields would return to the lowlands. Thus, the disinflationary impulse from lower risk-asset prices would end up as the bigger issue. [..] BCA estimates that the total value of global risk-assets is $400 trillion, equal to about five times the size of the global economy. The takeaway is that any inflationary impulse would – through higher bond yields – undermine the valuation support of global risk-assets that are worth several times the size of the global economy.

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“In a rising housing market, delinquencies will always be low but are not an indicator of future default risks. But home prices are an indicator of default risk.”

What Can Cause the Next Mortgage Crisis in the US? (WS)

Mortgage delinquencies at all commercial banks in the US inched down to 3.14% in the second quarter, the lowest since Q2 2007, according to the Federal Reserve. But after those soothingly low delinquency rates in 2007, something happened. By Q3 2008, the delinquency rate hit 5.2%, and in Q4 2009, it went over 10%, and stayed in the double-digits until Q1 2013. This was the mortgage crisis. And we’re a million miles away from it, thank God. Or are we? This chart compares home prices in the US (green, left scale) to delinquency rates (red, right scale). Delinquency rates started surging after home prices started falling. The inflection point is marked by the vertical purple line, labeled “it starts”:

Home prices began falling in 2006. By 2008, some homeowners were seriously “underwater” – they owed more on their house than the house was worth. When they ran into financial trouble because they were in over their heads, or because one of the breadwinners in the household lost their jobs, or because they’d lied on their mortgage application and never had enough income to begin with, or because they were investors who couldn’t make the math work out anymore, or whatever, they were stuck. In a rising housing market, they would just sell the home and pay off the mortgage. But they couldn’t sell their home because it was worth less than the mortgage, and default was the only option. The chart above shows the relationship between home prices and delinquencies. In a rising housing market, delinquencies will always be low but are not an indicator of future default risks. But home prices are an indicator of default risk.

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“The U.S. government is “missing” $21 trillion between the DOD and HUD.”

Dollar Dominant & Dangerous, System Not Stable – Catherine Austin Fitts (USAW)

Investment advisor and former Assistant Secretary of Housing, Catherine Austin Fitts, predicts the global financial system “will take some big hits before the end of the year.” Fitts explains, “Right now, economists say the dollar is ‘dangerous and dominant.’ It’s still, if you look at the market shares around the world, it’s still very, very significant portion of total reserves. So, it’s still very important. At the same time, the U.S. dollar hegemony is probably not going to last forever . . . So, I think the long term dollar looks very weak. Short term, it doesn’t look like it’s coming apart anytime soon, as far as I can see. What that means is when you have something that is dangerous and dominant, you have the possibility of extreme volatility events.

That’s the new code word for the ‘you know what’ hits the, you know what. Whether it’s different countries exploding economically, or we whether are pressuring people that makes them very uncomfortable, these kinds of fights over shrinking pies are very dangerous because they mean covert wars. They mean overt wars, and the more we steal pies from each other instead of make new pies, the worse the situation gets. That’s what you are seeing. The system is not stable.” [..] There is good reason people are going to real assets. The U.S. government is “missing” $21 trillion between the DOD and HUD. This fact was uncovered by Fitts and economist Dr. Mark Skidmore last year.

What was the government’s answer to this gigantic accounting fraud that is the size of the federal deficit? Give the government’s budgets basically classified national security status. Fitts says, “Apparently, the people leading the audit have come to them and said if we do this audit, we will disclose classified projects. So, the board (Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board – FASAB) came out with a new policy. I say it is illegal. You cannot do it under the financial management laws, and you certainly cannot do it under the Constitution, and it said you can keep classified off the books, which means you can cook the books and you can basically do whatever you want.

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What was that about reality and fiction?

Shell Faces One Of The Biggest Corruption Cases In Corporate History (Ind.)

Giant oil companies, offshore accounts, ex-MI6 agents, champagne lunches, a former Nigerian president and allegations of one of the biggest bribes ever paid – the corruption case against Shell and Italy’s Eni filed by prosecutors in Milan over a shady $1.3bn deal for a vast African oil field has all the elements of an espionage thriller. The latest twists thicken the plot further with a cache of documents seized in a raid on a Swiss financier’s apartment that could be crucial to the case, leaving prosecutors in a race against time to get them to Milan as trial hearings get underway this week. The Geneva raid uncovered a briefcase belonging to Emeka Obi, a middleman who received millions of dollars from the deal and is in the dock along with several senior Shell and Eni executives.

Inside the briefcase, Swiss prosecutors found a laptop, two Nigerian passports, five sim cards and a hard drive containing 41,000 documents that prosecutors believe could be crucial to the trial playing out on the other side of the Alps. The stakes are high. Italian prosecutors allege that, of the total $1.3bn fee paid by Shell and Eni for the oil field, $1.1bn went not into the coffers of the Nigerian state but the accounts of former oil minister Dan Etete who then distributed hundreds of millions to well-connected individuals, including former president Goodluck Jonathan. The amount distributed as bribes is more than the entire Nigerian healthcare budget for 2018, in a country where 87 million people live in extreme poverty – more than any other country on earth.

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She’s stuck. Dangerous position.

Only Alternative To Chequers Is No Brexit Deal, Says Theresa May (G.)

May said: “I believe we will get a good deal. We will bring that back from the EU negotiations and put that to parliament. I think that the alternative to that will be not having a deal.” The Chequers plan prompted the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson. May tried again to remake the case for it by claiming the other options put forward by the EU were unacceptable. “The European Union had basically put two offers on the table. Either the UK stays in the single market and the customs union – effectively in the EU – that would have betrayed the vote of the British people,” she said.

“Or, on the other side, a basic free trade agreement but carving Northern Ireland out and effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the European Union and Great Britain out. That would have broken up the United Kingdom, or could have broken up the United Kingdom. Both of those were unacceptable to the UK. “We said ‘no’ … we’re going to put our own proposal forward and that’s what Chequers is about … It unblocked the negotiations.”

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Preparing to blame the EU for failing.

Brussels Nearing Impasse With May Over Irish Border Proposal (G.)

The EU is proving unable to convince Theresa May that by using “trusted trader schemes” and technology its proposal to in effect keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market will not draw a border in the Irish sea. The Brexit negotiations have reached an impasse over the failure to find an acceptable solution to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. The solution proposed by Brussels in which Northern Ireland has a different status from the rest of the UK has been rejected by the prime minister as involving the economic and constitutional “dislocation” of the country. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has nevertheless repeatedly insisted that the issue can be “de-dramatised”.

Barnier has sought to show that the level of trade between Belfast and the rest of the UK is minimal, and that the checks that would be required do not pose a constitutional threat to the British government. But according to what is described as a diplomatic note seen by the Times, the EU is struggling to convince the UK that it is significant that checks at a border could be avoided entirely for many companies through trusted trade schemes. The diplomatic note, said to have been drafted following a meeting of EU ambassadors last Wednesday with Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand, reports that the UK has not been “helpful” over the issue. The note says: “The biggest unsolved problem is Northern Ireland. There is a political mobilisation in the UK in this regard. Therefore, we are trying to clarify the EU position. The controls or checks only have to be organised in a way that would not endanger the EU single market.”

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How about you start by picking your own strawberries?

Four In 10 Think British Culture Is Undermined By Multiculturalism (G.)

A large minority of people in the UK believe multiculturalism has undermined British culture and that migrants do not properly integrate, according to some of the broadest research into the population’s attitudes to immigration. The study, conducted over the last two years, also reflects widespread frustration at the government’s handling of immigration, with only 15% of respondents feeling ministers have managed it competently and fairly. On balance, the UK population appears to be slightly more positive than negative about the impact of immigration; however, 40% of respondents agreed that having a wide variety of backgrounds has undermined British culture. More than a quarter of people believe MPs never tell the truth about immigration and half the population wants to see a reduction in the numbers of low-skilled workers coming into Britain from the EU.

The study was based on a survey of 3,667 adults carried out in June by ICM, as well as 60 citizens’ panels carried out on behalf of the thinktank British Future and the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate. “The lack of trust we found in the government to manage immigration is quite shocking,” said Jill Rutter, the director of strategy for British Future. “People want to have their voices heard on the choices we make, and to hold their leaders to account on their promises. While people do want the UK government to have more control over who can come to the UK, most of them are ‘balancers’ – they recognise the benefits of migration to Britain, both economically and culturally, but also voice concerns about pressures on public services and housing.”

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“Should be solved shortly..”

Musk Says Tesla Now In ‘Delivery Logistics Hell’ (R.)

Tesla Inc’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk on Sunday acknowledged that the electric carmaker’s problems have now shifted to delivery logistics from production delays, the latest speed bump in its efforts to achieve profitability. “Sorry, we’ve gone from production hell to delivery logistics hell, but this problem is far more tractable. We’re making rapid progress. Should be solved shortly,” Musk said in a tweet here in response to a customer complaint on delivery delay. The 47-year-old billionaire who earlier this month faced investor ire over smoking marijuana on a live web show, has indicated in the past that Tesla’s customers may face a longer response time because of a significant increase in vehicle delivery volume in North America.

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238 academics signed. But it’s not the conversation we’ll have.

The EU Needs A Stability And Wellbeing Pact, Not More Growth (G.)

This week, scientists, politicians, and policymakers are gathering in Brussels for a landmark conference. The aim of this event, organised by members of the European parliament from five different political groups, alongside trade unions and NGOs, is to explore possibilities for a “post-growth economy” in Europe. For the past seven decades, GDP growth has stood as the primary economic objective of European nations. But as our economies have grown, so has our negative impact on the environment. We are now exceeding the safe operating space for humanity on this planet, and there is no sign that economic activity is being decoupled from resource use or pollution at anything like the scale required. Today, solving social problems within European nations does not require more growth. It requires a fairer distribution of the income and wealth that we already have.

Growth is also becoming harder to achieve due to declining productivity gains, market saturation, and ecological degradation. If current trends continue, there may be no growth at all in Europe within a decade. Right now the response is to try to fuel growth by issuing more debt, shredding environmental regulations, extending working hours, and cutting social protections. This aggressive pursuit of growth at all costs divides society, creates economic instability, and undermines democracy. Those in power have not been willing to engage with these issues, at least not until now. The European commission’s Beyond GDP project became GDP and Beyond. The official mantra remains growth — redressed as “sustainable”, “green”, or “inclusive” – but first and foremost, growth. Even the new UN sustainable development goals include the pursuit of economic growth as a policy goal for all countries, despite the fundamental contradiction between growth and sustainability.

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Another way to put it. You could easily do this for 70 species, or 700, 7000.

7 Endangered Species That Could (Almost) Fit In A Single Train Carriage (G.)

Some species are so close to extinction, that every remaining member can fit on a New York subway carriage (if they squeeze). All estimates come from the IUCN Red List, 2018.

 

 

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