Apr 132018
 
 April 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ezra Stoller Parking garage, New Haven, Connecticut 1963

 

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)
After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)
China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)
London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)
Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)
The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)
Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)
The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)
Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)
Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)
Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)
Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)
No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)
Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

 

 

Ponzi’s and zombies. Not Jesse Felder’s original title, but this one by DiMartino Booth is better.

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)

To begin to understand the current situation in Minsky terms we must first understand the hypothesis: “The first theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that the economy has financing regimes under which it is stable, and financing regimes in which it is unstable. The second theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that over periods of prolonged prosperity, the economy transits from financial relations that make for a stable system to financial relations that make for an unstable system. In particular, over a protracted period of good times, capitalist economies tend to move from a financial structure dominated by hedge finance units to a structure in which there is large weight to units engaged in speculative and Ponzi finance.”

Next we need to understand what these financing units are: “Hedge financing units are those which can fulfill all oftheir contractual payment obligations by their cash flows… Speculative finance units are units that can meet their payment commitments on “income account” on their liabilities, even as they cannot repay the principle out of income cash flows… For Ponzi units, the cash flows from operations are not sufficient to fulfill either the repayment of principle or the interest due on outstanding debts by their cash flows from operations.”

And this is what reminded me of Minsky when I read the recent article in Grant’s with the accompanying chart below. It shows the percent of companies in the S&P 500 that would fall into Minsky’s “Ponzi unit” category. Specifically, Bianco Research defines these “zombies” as companies whose interest expense is greater than their 3-year average EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes). Currently, we face the greatest percentage of “Ponzi units” in at least 20 years.

This should be worrisome to investors and even more so to those managing monetary policy because it suggests that financial instability within the economy may be greater than any other time over the past couple of decades. Minsky again: “It can be shown that if hedge financing dominates, then the economy may well be an equilibrium seeking and containing system. In contrast, the greater the weight of speculative and Ponzi finance, the greater the likelihood that the economy is a deviation amplifying system.” Those last three words are critical. “A deviation amplifying system,” simply means an economy built on a virtuous cycle that risks evolving into a vicious one.

So long as interest rates remain low and investor risk appetites remain strong zombies will thrive and the economy will, as well, relatively speaking of course. However, should interest rates rise and risk appetites reverse course the risk of a self-reinforcing downturn grows. Minsky explains: “In particular… if an economy with a sizeable body of speculative financial units is in an inflationary state, and the authorities attempt to exorcise inflation by monetary constraint, then speculative units will become Ponzi units and the net worth of previously Ponzi units will quickly evaporate. Consequently, units with cash flow shortfalls will be forced to try to make position by selling out position. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values.”

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It won’t be like any of those previous decades.

After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)

It’s a phrase that comes standard on Wall Street, but which may be taking on ominous undertones in the current market: Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. It should come as no surprise that U.S. equity-market investors have been handsomely rewarded thus far this decade, a period of time that roughly corresponds with the recovery from the financial crisis (the bottom came in March 2009, roughly 10 months before the start of the 2010s). The S&P 500 is up nearly 140% since the start of the decade, and more than 180% on a total-return basis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up more than 130% over the same period. Those are obviously strong gains, but even the biggest bulls on Wall Street may not appreciate just how strong this period has been relative to other decades.

“The 2010s have so far been one of the highest-returning and lowest-risk decades for U.S. stocks in the last 100 years,” wrote Howard Wang, co-founder of Convoy Investments. According to Convoy’s data, stocks averaged a total annualized return of 13.2% thus far this decade, comfortably above the long-term average of 9.6%. While this was below four other decades — the best decade was the 1950s, when the average was 18.8%, followed by the 18.6% gain in the 1990s — equities fared better in terms of their excess return above interest rates. By the excess-return measure, the 2010s have seen an average annual return of 12.7%, significantly above the 5.8% long-term average (going back to the 1920s).

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“Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter…”

China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)

China’s March exports unexpected fell 2.7% from a year earlier, the first drop since February last year, while imports grew 14.4%, more than expected, customs data showed on Friday. That left the country with a rare trade deficit of $4.98 billion for the month, also the first since last February. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected March shipments from the world’s largest exporter to have risen 10.0%, slowing sharply from a 44.5% spike in the previous month which was believed to be heavily distorted by seasonal factors. Import growth had been expected to pick up to 10.0%, after slowing sharply to 6.3% in February.

Analysts expected China would record a trade surplus of $27.21 billion for last month, from February’s surplus of $33.75 billion. For the first quarter, exports rose 14.1%, and imports rose 18.9% on-year. China’s trade performance has got off to a strong start this year, following through on a solid rebound in 2017, thanks to sustained demand at home and abroad. But the export outlook is being clouded by an escalating trade dispute with the United States, which could disrupt China’s shipments and its supply chains, while a cooling property market may curb China’s demand for imported raw materials such as iron ore. Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter.

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Ain’t seen nothing yet.

London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)

House prices in London are falling at the fastest rate in nine years, according to Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender. Prices in the capital were down 3.2% between January and March compared with the previous quarter, the sharpest decline since the depths of the financial crisis, according to regional data collated by IHS Markit and published by Halifax, part of Lloyds Banking Group. London also recorded the sharpest fall in annual house prices since the start of 2011. Property values fell 3.8% in the first quarter from a year ago, following a 0.7% annual drop in the fourth quarter. London prices have been falling on a quarterly and annual basis since the third quarter of 2017.

There was a small annual increase of 0.3% in prices in the south-east of England at the start of the year, and a rise of 1.9% in the south-west. Prices grew strongly elsewhere in the country. The east Midlands and East Anglia recorded the fastest rates of annual price inflation, at 7.3% and 7.2% respectively, followed by Scotland at 6.7% and Yorkshire and the Humber at 6.1%. The standardised price of a home in London was £430,749 in the first quarter, the lowest since the end of 2015. Figures are standardised in order to track the price of a “typical house” by giving values to certain attributes of the properties and using them to calculate the price.

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The only game in town.

Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)

Chinese entities – such as the conglomerates – were once the dominant buyer in US trophy office markets, such as Manhattan. It ended with a big bang in the second quarter of 2017 when Chinese entities accounted for half of the commercial real estate volume in Manhattan, including its sixth largest transaction ever, the $2.2 billion purchase of 245 Park Avenue by the conglomerate HNA Group. It paid $1,282 per square foot, as it was called, “among the highest price per pound for this type of asset.” It was the last big Chinese property purchase in Manhattan.

But Google blew that deal out of the water, with its $2.4 billion acquisition of the iconic eight-story Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Ave in Q1 this year. This was the second largest deal ever to close in Manhattan. And Google paid a breath-taking $2,181 per square foot. We will never again laugh about the inflated prices Chinese buyers were paying. [..] And here is what that Google deal did to the Manhattan office market: It more than doubled the total volume of sales! Without the Google deal, total transaction volume would have been $2.12 billion. With the Google deal, it jumped to $4.52 billion! [..] the dizzying price of $2,181 per square foot that Google forked over pushed the average price per square foot to a record $1,266, up 70% from Q1 last year:

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David is a great ranter.

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)

What is going on in the eastern Mediterranean and over the skies and on the ground in Syria is absolutely nuts; it’s also scary dangerous and utterly unnecessary, too. After all, the imminent Russian/American military clash is over the skeleton of an artificial backwater nation confected in 1916 by two swells in the British and French foreign offices. At length, what was never a nation anyway has finally been reduced to rubble, misery and sectarian fragments. So there is nothing to contest now, and, in fact, there never was. The sovereign government of Syria long ago invited the Russians in and Washington out. Period. Why, then, are commercial aircraft being warned to stay out of Syrian airspace, while the Russian fleet at Tartus scrambles into defensive redeployments?

Likewise, why is the Syrian air force being forced to hide its planes and helicopters in its own country, while Washington steams an armada of warships toward the Mediterranean that is larger and more lethal than the entire Navy of almost every other country in the world? The answer is simple and terrible: Washington has become the War Capital of the planet and now teems with a whole generation of war-obsessed bureaucrats, think-tankers, consultants, lobbyists, militarists, imperialists, neocon belligerents and the legions of military/industrial/spy complex racketeers who feed off a hideously bloated national security budget.

Of course, you also have thousands of politicians—both those now in office and those who hang-around afterwards and get prosperous by hanging-out a shingle to ply the business of operating Washington’s global empire. Among them are the brainwashed, the stupid, the larcenous, the sanctimonious, the venal, the flag-wavers, the sunshine patriots and the ideologues of American exceptionalism, responsibility-to-protect (R2P), democracy propagation and plain old imperial hegemony.

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Casino. Not for the faint of heart.

Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)

After a period of low volatility, cryptocurrencies have broken out of their recent ranges, surging to multiweek highs on Thursday. The No. 1 digital currency, bitcoin rose to a two-week peak, trading above $8,000 to an intraday high of $8,055.20, adding as much as 16%. A single coin last changed hands at $7,705.21, up 11%. The intraday move is the largest since Feb. 6 when bitcoin traded down to $5,947.40 before closing at $7,700.39, a 29.4% move. The move comes after bitcoin spent the best part of two weeks in the $6,500 to $7,500 range. The tight sideways action created a so-called wedge formation, which can often presage significant swings in either direction once breached, according to market technicians “We have seen consolidation in a very small range,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst with ThinkMarkets. “When the consolidation is in such a tight range the probability is that a move to the upside can be two to three times the size of the consolidation range.”

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Multipolar is the future.

The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)

As demonstrated by the recent meeting between the defense ministers of Russia and China, the multipolar strategy is now wide-ranging, relegating Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh to further digging themselves into the hole they have already dug themselves into (see recent events in Syria with Israel launching 8 missiles and Trump beating the drums of war). As General Wei Fenghe stated, “We came to Moscow to let the Americans know about the close military ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.” When these two military and economic powers unite their efforts, involving regional powers and mediating over various conflicts, it becomes clear that the challenge to Washington’s hegemony is progressively leading away from an international reality consisting of one superpower to one consisting of three to four powers that maintain an international balance via diplomatic, economic and military means.

The phase in which we currently live is turbulent and is essentially caused by a single factor that has two very strong thrusts. The acceleration of the dwindling of the unipolar phase is directly connected with the strategic and tactical errors of the American deep state and its main sponsors, like Israel and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the opposing push comes from the multipolar environment, which tends to consolidate its sphere of influence via diplomatic and military means. The goal for Moscow and Beijing is to present to the American and European elites a viable alternative that is shared among several actors. For the time being, the Euro-Atlantic establishment continues to consider itself capable of changing the course of events and preventing the drift towards multipolarity.

Whether the Western oligarchy is a victim to its own propaganda or whether it simply wishes to avoid facing reality and is using every means available to postpone an epochal change, is difficult to determine; and this makes the future uncertain, and is therefore highly dangerous.

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“The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one.”

Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)

The Australian economy may not be booming, but it looks to have performed “the miracle pivot”. This is what Ardea Investment Management portfolio manager Tamar Hamlyn calls the economy’s remarkably smooth transition away from a once-in-a-generation mining investment boom without falling into recession. A massive uplift in residential construction activity has carried us through. The “next dance” is infrastructure investment, Hamlyn says. Now we await what feels like another miracle: an RBA rate hike. The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one. We don’t have a solid pick-up in consumption and “we are never going to have that really solid GDP growth until we get that,” Hamlyn says.

But what we are is far from the recessionary fears that were the original rationale for rates at such low levels. It makes sense, then, to think that in the absence of a nasty shock, it seems perfectly reasonable to bet, as RBA governor Philip Lowe flagged again this week, that the next move in rates will be up and not down. But when will that first hike be? And how far will they eventually go? And how quickly will they get there? Accepting that borrowing costs are more likely to get more rather than less expensive is one thing. But anybody trying to assess the potential risks and rewards of taking on a large and long-dated loan obligation, whether it be a mortgage or a business loan, needs to think beyond the next hike. Let’s start with when the RBA will act. Unfortunately, the experts and the market are telling a different story.

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Central banks are still supposed to save us. Sure.

Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)

You can bet that deep within the halls of the Fed they are developing a game plan to keep the markets from crashing if trade wars escalate. This is another reason to believe that trade wars will be met with cheap money policy. You can look at this as a financial see-saw of sorts. Trade wars, or even media soundbites about them, will spark negative markets reactions. That is why the Fed and other central banks will combat this with cheap words and even cheaper money policies. If the U.S. does jump into a hot trade war it could find itself needing to make up for the costs. The logical place to turn is to the beacon of more money creation from the Fed or to issue more debt.

The Fed would be directly involved in order to keep the cost of debt from rising, again — which is why my analysis forecasts a return to Fed policies that keep rates low. Similarly, other major economies would also unleash their central bank money when needed. This type of tit-for-tat response is already playing out. Beijing has used its new wealth to attract friends, deter enemies, modernize its military, and aggressively assert its central bank into nearly any sector it believes requires assistance. This type of brinksmanship shows that it is only a matter of time before a trade war with China morphs into massive military build-up and competition.

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Oh yeah, sure, central bankers will save the planet.

Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)

Central bankers have been dubbed “masters of the universe” for the tools and powers they have acquired since the financial crisis. Some of them now want to play a more active role in the fight against climate change. Monetary authorities are right to be mindful of the way in which climate risk affects their mandate to ensure price stability and guard financial stability. But that is different from seeking to promote the shift to a “greener” economy, which is the role of government. Last week, central bank governors from the U.K., France and the Netherlands met in Amsterdam to discuss how to adapt regulation to the risks posed by climate change.

Together with five other institutions (from China, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and Sweden), these central banks have formed the “Network for Greening the Financial System” (NGFS). This group has two objectives: sharing and identifying best practices in the supervision of climate-related risks, and enhancing the role of the financial sector in mobilizing “green” financing. The first is entirely reasonable and consistent with the central banks’ traditional role. As Francois Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Bank of France, said in a speech at the conference, “Climate stability is one of the determinants of financial stability.” It is only right that financial supervisors take an interest in what is going on.

The clearest example concerns the regulation of insurers: Climate change has made extreme weather events such as hurricanes more frequent. Regulators must ensure that the industry updates its models and sets aside enough capital to deal with these growing climate-related risks. To do so, central bankers may need to extend the supervisory horizon beyond their usual time span. Climate change may only pose a threat for the balance sheet some years down the road, but these risks should be assessed now. Villeroy de Galhau argued in his speech that the financial sector should move towards “a compulsory transparency requirement,” so that companies are forced to provide a snapshot of their climate-related risks. It’s an idea supervisors around the world should embrace.

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As long as we keep putting species extinction in terms of trade and profit, we are doomed.

Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)

Businesses face a shortage of raw materials and a drop in the quality of crop as the number of bees decline worldwide, a new report warns. Approximately three quarters of crops around the world depend on pollination, all of which could soon be threatened as more than a third of wild bee and butterfly species face extinction, according to a joint study by the UN, the University of East Anglia and Cambridge University. Major businesses, including Asda, the Body Shop, Mars and Pepsico, say they are unable to take action largely because of uncertainty around which crops and regions are vulnerable to the decline in pollinators such as bees.

“The role pollinators play – be it tiny midges for cocoa or squirrels for coconut – is not well understood and can be taken for granted,” says Jos van Oostrum, director of sustainable solutions at chocolate and confectionary maker Mars. Cocoa, a vital ingredient in the production of chocolate, is at particular risk from a declining number of bees and other species that help spread pollen. The risks of a shortfall in raw materials not only prove a challenge for food production, but also the sourcing of ingredients for beauty products. “The importance of pollination for natural raw materials is increasingly a priority for us,” said the Body Shop’s sustainable sourcing manager Francesca Brkic.

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Everytime I make a new friend I find out they’re about to die. It’s making me terribly sad.

No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)

The Australian government does not have a plan to save an endangered Australian turtle species that received global attention on Thursday for its green mohawk and its ability to breathe through its genitals. The Mary river turtle, found only in that one river in Queensland, attracted worldwide headlines as one of the standout species on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). But despite this listing it does not have a national recovery plan to protect it from extinction and it is unclear whether any federal government funds have been specifically allocated for its protection. The turtle is 29th on ZSL’s Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) list for reptiles, which highlights the conservation needs of some of the world’s unique reptiles.

The turtle is not the only reptile species found in Australia to appear on the list, with eight species making the top 100, and seven of those appearing in the top 40. Among them are the critically endangered western swamp tortoise, which is number seven on the Edge list, the pig-nosed turtle, number 19 on the list, and the Gulbaru Gecko, a critically endangered Queensland species that was only discovered in 2001 and appears at 40 on the list. Conservationists say the list highlights the lack of conservation attention many Australian reptiles receive compared to more charismatic and iconic mammal and bird species. The federal government’s threatened species strategy specifically targets 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants, but no reptiles.

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The climate on both sides of the Atlantic would change too much to imagine.

Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

New research provides strong evidence that one of the long-predicted worst-case impacts of climate change — a severe slow-down of the Gulf Stream system — has already started. The system, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), brings warmer water northward while pumping cooler water southward. “I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

The impacts of such a slowdown include much faster sea level rise — and much warmer sea surface temperatures — for much of the U.S. East Coast. Both of those effects are already being observed and together they make devastating storm surges of the kind we saw with Superstorm Sandy far more likely. The findings come in two new studies published this week. One study published in the journal Nature, titled “Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation,” was led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It finds that the AMOC has weakened “around 15 per cent” since the mid-twentieth century, bringing it to “a new record low.”

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Apr 122018
 


The marine and the kitten, Korean War, 1952

 

It’s Pure Math – We’re Headed for a Train Wreck (USAW)
Licence to Kill (Le Monde Diplomatique)
It’s No Longer Advertising – It’s Behaviour Modification (BBC)
Zuckerberg’s Answer To Facebook’s Problems: More Facebook (Ind.)
The Uncomfortable Question: Is Facebook A Monopoly? (MW)
UK Economic Growth Has Fallen By Half (G.)
More Than 100,000 British Households Set To Be Homeless By 2020 (Ind.)
US Interest Payments Will Outpace Military Spending by 2023 (BBG)
The Deep State Closes In On The Donald, Part 1 (Stockman)
James Comey Is About To ‘Shock The President And His Team’ (MW)
Warrant for Catalan Minister Details ‘Violent Revolt’ (BBC)
New Zealand Bans All New Offshore Oil Exploration (G.)
Climate Change Could Trigger Volcanic Eruptions Across The World (Ind.)
Cities Around The World Should Prepare For Running Out Of Water (CNBC)
Gulf Stream Current At Its Weakest In At Least 1,600 Years (G>)

 

 

”What happens when the world figures out that three billion ounces of physical silver cannot and will not be delivered to the buyers? ”

It’s Pure Math – We’re Headed for a Train Wreck (USAW)

Financial writer and gold expert Bill Holter says China has a lot of weapons to fight a trade war with the U.S. China could stop buying Treasury bonds (as it reportedly already has done). It could sell Treasury bonds. It could slash the value of the Yuan, or something much simpler could happen such as a failed delivery of physical precious metals. Holter says, “If what has happened so far in the first three months of the year were to continue for the full year, you would be over three billion ounces (of silver). That is not deliverable.”What happens when the world figures out that three billion ounces of physical silver cannot and will not be delivered to the buyers?

Holter explains, “That’s called an old fashion run on the banks. “It will be a run on the entire system. You would have a run on every metals exchange, and you would probably have runs on many physical commodities. Confidence throughout the whole system would break. You would basically show the western fractional reserve system is a fraud and has been for many, many years. . . . Can London deliver a billion ounces, or two billion ounces or three billion ounces of silver? The answer to that is no.” So, when does this all blow up? Holter says, “I think this whole thing has a very good chance of blowing this year.”

There are a variety of financial trip wires, according to Bill Holter, such as thousands of sealed criminal indictments that will be unsealed in 2018. Holter also points out the explosion of global debt. Holter charges, “It’s now $237 trillion. The amount of debt grew by $21 trillion globally over the last 12 months. That’s roughly 10 %. How much did global GDP grow? 2% or 3%, I mean that is totally unsustainable.” The biggest worry for Holter right now is escalating military action in Syria. Holter warns, “This is so, so dangerous. Obviously, you worry about a hot war because with the weapons you have today, you could have WWIII start in a heartbeat. But look at the market today. It’s up 400 or 500 points. You have talk of trade wars. You have talk of hot wars. It’s amazing the markets can hold together and ignore potential annihilation.”

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These people are all the same.

Licence to Kill (Le Monde Diplomatique)

British police say their investigation into the poisoning of former Russian army colonel Sergei Skripal in Salisbury may take many months, yet prime minister Theresa May has already identified the guilty party, claiming the order came from the Kremlin. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, sees the incident as ‘part of a pattern of reckless behaviour by President Vladimir Putin,’ which is the ‘common thread that joins [the poisoning] with [Russia’s] annexation of Crimea, the cyberattacks in Ukraine, the hacking of Germany’s parliament … interference in foreign elections’ and ‘indulgence of Assad’s atrocities in Syria’. The reasoning goes: if Putin is capable of doing it, then he must be guilty.

From Leon Trotsky, killed with an ice pick in Mexico, to Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium in London, Russia’s security services have undoubtedly liquidated many opponents of the Kremlin living abroad. Other countries have resorted to such measures without triggering the same diplomatic uproar. France, Germany and the US have been involved in the kind of state-sponsored assassination that has so offended Johnson, yet this has not stopped them joining him and May in railing against Russia. Israel has taken great care to avoid commenting, perhaps because it is one of the countries that most frequently ‘carry out this kind of operation, known as an “extraterritorial elimination”’.

The list of Palestinians, including official representatives, killed by Israel’s secret service abroad makes the Russians look like amateurs: at least half a dozen in Paris alone, without serious consequences. Moroccan opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka also disappeared in Paris; the African National Congress’s chief representative in France, Dulcie September, and more recently three Kurdish activists, were assassinated there. Across the Atlantic, Orlando Letelier, a minister under former Chilean president Salvador Allende, was killed in Washington DC by agents of Augusto Pinochet, which did not stop Ronald Reagan from feting Pinochet; and Margaret Thatcher was happy to drink tea (without polonium) with the dictator and present him with a silver dish.

‘Extraterritorial elimination’ is also a fitting term for the US practice of killing presumed terrorists abroad with drones. Barack Obama officially authorised more than 2,300 such killings during his presidency. For his part, François Hollande has admitted to ordering extrajudicial killings of ‘enemies of the state’ when he was president (an average of one a month during his term), though none of his political allies reproached him for it during the Socialist Party primaries in January 2017. François de Rugy, who has since become president of France’s National Assembly, even said at the time: ‘Yes, it is sometimes necessary.’

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Core: “..it can no longer be called advertising any more – it has turned into behaviour modification.”

It’s a moot discussion anyway. People pay for their phone + subscription. Why wouldn’t they pay for social media too? Few bucks a month?!

Point is, Facebook make their money off of ads AND added benefits (sell data). They don’t want to be an ad-less platform. That would take away the benefits.

It’s No Longer Advertising – It’s Behaviour Modification (BBC)

An influential tech evangelist has called at the TED 2018 conference for an overhaul of Facebook and Google’s business models. Jaron Lanier, who is often referred to as a “father of virtual reality”, told the Vancouver event that the two firms should let users pay for their services as an alternative to relying on ads. “These companies need to change,” he said. But on Tuesday, Facebook’s chief suggested this would not be popular. “A number of people suggest that we should offer a version where people can not have ads if they pay a monthly subscription, and certainly we consider ideas like that,” Mark Zuckerberg told a panel of senators in Washington.

“But overall, I think that the ads experience is going to be the best one. “I think in general, people like not having to pay for a service. A lot of people can’t afford to pay for a service around the world,” Mr Zuckerberg added. Mr Lanier was a frequent TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) speaker during the 1980s. But, he said, even then he had realised that “the technology we needed and loved could also be our undoing”. “We made a very particular mistake in the 90s when early digital culture had this lefty, socialist mission, which meant that everything on the internet must be available for free,” he added. That decision led directly to the advertising model that allows Google and Facebook to flourish, he explained.

“In the beginning it was cute but as computers became more efficient and algorithms got better, it can no longer be called advertising any more – it has turned into behaviour modification.” It was, he said, a “tragic mistake” rather than a “wave of evil”, pointing out that he knew and loved many people working at the two tech empires. But, he explained, the advertising model had led to addictive social media platforms that rewarded people for sharing their information with “likes”. He also claimed that Google and Facebook had become as “hooked and trapped” on the advertising model as their users. “It is time to turn back the clock and remake that decision. Many people would pay for search and social networks,” Mr Lanier said.

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“..using data to target and shape behaviours is an integral part of social media.”

Zuckerberg’s Answer To Facebook’s Problems: More Facebook (Ind.)

As this hearing made painfully clear, using data to target and shape behaviours is an integral part of social media. It is the potential use of our data that is of real value. Data informed targeting is woven into Facebook’s DNA; the only way to change that is to change its structure and purpose. Under questioning Zuckerberg suggested that Facebook is going through a “broader philosophical shift”, taking them from simply producing tools for “empowering” people to the need now to take a “more proactive role” in “policing the ecosystem”. This implies that they seek an even more powerful position – both as producers and regulators – and a larger roll-out of their particular ideals and philosophies.

The answer to the problems of Facebook, it seemed to be suggested, is more Facebook and more of its current business model. The account was of a purer Facebook that gives you connectivity, voice and control of your information, untainted by any issues, missteps or unwanted players. An enhanced version of what we already have is what was being proposed as the solution. Putting the obvious problems to one side for the moment, the other question is whether we really share the ideals of Facebook.

The tone of this hearing was apologetic, but it leaves us to question if change is actually possible. We might trust Zuckerberg to be responsible, this doesn’t mean that we need to accept the ideals that are wrapped up in these media and the type of world that is being imagined. The problems clearly need attention, but we might also wonder about the ideals that will play such a powerful part in our collective future. The ideals and models of Facebook will continue to expand unless we think a little more about the future that we want to bring into existence.

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How is that a question?

The Uncomfortable Question: Is Facebook A Monopoly? (MW)

Asked by Graham if he felt Facebook had a monopoly, Zuckerberg replied, “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.” Senator Kamala Harris, the only Democrat to mention monopoly power during the hearing, noted later that Zuckerberg never really answered Graham’s question. “Every monopolist tries to enlarge the market definition such that his own share of it is insignificant,” said Marshall Steinbaum, the research director at the Roosevelt Institute, the nonprofit partner to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. “But the fact that he couldn’t name his competitors spoke volumes: Facebook controls the network over which information is proliferated, and it decides who sees what–always to its own benefit. That is a textbook monopolist and it is a company that in its current form cannot be allowed to exist.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, noted that Zuckerberg told Graham that he didn’t think Facebook was a monopoly. “You’re obviously a big player in the space. That might be an area for competition, correct, if somebody else wants to create a social platform that allows a user to monetize their own data?” Johnson asked. Yes, says Zuckerberg. Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, asked Zuckerberg if Facebook was too powerful. “All — really all over the world, the Facebook — 2 billion users, over 200 million Americans, 40 billion in revenue. I believe you and Google have almost 75% of the digital advertising in the U.S. Is — one of the key issues here, is Facebook too powerful? Are you too powerful? And do you think you’re too powerful?” asks Sullivan.

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Gee, what a surprise.

UK Economic Growth Has Fallen By Half (G.)

Economic growth in the UK is expected to have fallen by half in the opening months of the year, one of Britain’s leading forecasting bodies has said, amid renewed concerns for the health of the economy. The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said growth was set to fall to 0.2% in the first quarter of 2018 from 0.4% in the final three months of last year, when the economy enjoyed a mini-recovery despite an overall slowdown in 2017 triggered by the Brexit vote. Amit Kara, head of UK macroeconomic forecasting at the thinktank, said the main reason for the weakness was severe weather in March, dubbed the “beast from the east” in the media, which was likely to have disrupted activity in all major sectors of the economy.

The estimate, which comes ahead of official figures from the Office for National Statistics later this month, followed news that Britain’s factories recorded a surprise fall in production in February, in the first drop in activity in the sector for almost a year. Confirming fears of a slowdown in the UK economy so far this year, figures from the ONS showed manufacturing output declined by 0.2% in February, falling well behind economists’ expectations for growth of 0.2%. There was also a sharp drop in construction output, suggesting continued pain for the industry amid the fallout from the collapse of Carillion. Monthly output unexpectedly fell by 1.6% in February, as builders were hit by the snow at the end of the month.

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One might think May et al have bigger things on their minds than going to war.

More Than 100,000 British Households Set To Be Homeless By 2020 (Ind.)

Tens of thousands more families will be trapped in temporary accommodation across England over the next two years if current homelessness trends continue, a report has warned. More than 100,000 households will be living in B&Bs, hostels and other forms of temporary housing by 2020, as rising housing costs and insecure work continue to “lock” people into poverty, according to research commissioned by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). The annual Homelessness Monitor shows that 70% of local authorities in England are struggling to find any stable housing for homeless people in their area, while a striking 89% reported difficulties in finding private rented accommodation.

As a result, many councils have found themselves forced to place ever more homeless people in emergency housing, including B&Bs and hostels, leading to urgent calls for more permanent and genuinely affordable homes to be built. Government figures published last month revealed almost 79,000 families were staying in temporary housing in the last three months of last year because they didn’t have a permanent home, compared with 48,010 in the same period eight years before. There had been a significant reduction in families living in such conditions before the coalition government came into power, with the number having fallen by 52% between 2004 and 2010 under the Labour government.

But the figure has crept up in each of the past seven years, from 69,140 in the last quarter of 2015, to 75,740 in the same period in 2016 and 78,930 at the end of last year. The new report warns that if current trends continue, with housing supply “dwindling” and rents outstripping wages and benefits, more than 100,000 such households will fall into this trap by 2020.

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Unless they go to war.

US Interest Payments Will Outpace Military Spending by 2023 (BBG)

The head of the Congressional Budget Office warned lawmakers that the U.S. government is on track to pay more to its creditors than on its own military, as interest rates and debt levels continue to climb. CBO chief Keith Hall told the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday that America’s net interest payments will triple over the coming decade, outpacing military expenditures. He called the data point “one of my favorite figures” used to highlight the challenges posed by the country’s ballooning debt. His office’s budget and economic forecasts, published Monday, show net interest payments first outstripping defense outlays in fiscal 2023 and reaching $915 billion five years later.

The increase will come as debt held by the public almost doubles to $28.7 trillion in fiscal 2028 from this year, according to the CBO, a non-partisan arm of Congress. “My point is that the interest cost is just starting to swamp things like defense spending,” Hall said. “Whatever the fix is going to be, it needs to be something that’s pretty big.”

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“..when you consider the broader context and what the Russian side is now saying, it is just plain idiotic to own the S&P 500 at 24X.”

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald, Part 1 (Stockman)

Perhaps we have missed something: Like the possibility that the canyons of Wall Street are actually located on another planet several light years from earth! Otherwise, how can you explain the equipoise of a stock market sitting at the tippy-top of a nine-year bubble expansion and confronted with the potential outbreak of World War Three? Folks, like some alien abductors, the Deep State has taken the Donald hostage, and with ball-and-chain finality. Whatever pre-election predilection he had to challenge the Warfare State has apparently been completely liquidated. Trump’s early AM tweet today, in fact, embodies the words of a man who had more than a few screws loose when he took the oath, but under the relentless pounding of the Imperial City’s investigators, partisans, apparatchiks and lynch-mob media has now gone stark raving mad. To wit:

“….Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it! Yes, maybe Wall Street has figured out that the Donald is more bluster than bite. Yet when you consider the broader context and what the Russian side is now saying, it is just plain idiotic to own the S&P 500 at 24X. After all, earnings that have been going nowhere for the past three years (earnings per share have inched-up from $106 in September 2014 to $109 in December 2017), and now could be ambushed by a hot war accident in Syria that would rapidly escalate. Indeed, did the robo-machines and boys and girls down in the casino not ponder the meaning of this message from the Kremlin? It does not leave much to the imagination:

#Russian ambassador in beirut : “If there is a strike by the Americans on #Syria , then… the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic. Sure, the odds are quite high that the clever folks in the Pentagon will figure out how to keep the pending attack reasonably antiseptic. That is, they will bomb a whole bunch of places in Syria where the Russians and Iranians are not (after being warned); and also deploy stand-off submarine platforms to launch cruise missiles and high-flying stealth aircraft to drop smart bombs, thereby keeping American pilots and ships out of harm’s way. Then, after unleashing the Donald’s version of “shock and awe” they will claim that Assad has just received the spanking of his life and that the Russians and Iranians have been messaged with malice aforethought.

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How to sell a book.

James Comey Is About To ‘Shock The President And His Team’ (MW)

‘How strange is it for you to sit here and compare the president to a mob boss?’ That’s the question ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked James Comey in a teaser for an interview set to air Sunday night at 10 p.m. as a “20/20” special. A source told Axios that what the former FBI director had to say during that interview is “going to shock the president and his team” and “certainly add more meat to the charges swirling around Trump.” The source added that the interview included information that’s never been divulged before and left people in the room “stunned.” Comey apparently answered every question. The five-hour interview was taped Monday at his Washington-area home ahead of the release of his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” which comes out Tuesday.

Comey is about to go on a promotional media blitz, according to Politico, including a live interview with CNN on April 19, a visit to MSNBC the same day, an interview on Fox News on April 26 and one with PBS NewsHour on April 30. The book, already topping Amazon’s best-seller list, is expected to reveal details about Trump pressuring Comey to shut down at least part of the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election and other related issues. Separately, Dana Boente, the FBI’s general counsel who had led the Russia investigation in the early days of the Trump administration, has been asked to testify by Mueller, according to a letter obtained by MSNBC.

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A sick joke.

Warrant for Catalan Minister Details ‘Violent Revolt’ (BBC)

A former Catalan minister fighting extradition from Scotland to Spain faces charges of causing widespread violence against police. BBC Scotland has obtained a copy of the European arrest warrant for former education minister Clara Ponsatí. The St Andrews University professor is wanted in Spain on charges of rebellion and misappropriation of public funds. Ms Ponsati’s lawyer Aamer Anwar said: “My client Clara Ponsati utterly refutes the charges.” He added: “Clara is an esteemed University professor who has never committed a criminal act in her life.

As an education minister for just over two months along with her government she promoted a peaceful referendum, yet if extradited and convicted could face a sentence of up to 33 years, thus facing the real prospect of spending the rest of her natural life in prison. “We are instructed to submit that this warrant is a desperate and politically motivated prosecution by the Spanish authorities. Across Europe lawyers have already successfully challenged the credibility of the charges of violent rebellion. “Now in Scotland Clara is accused of orchestrating violence, yet the warrant fails in over 19 pages to ever specify a single act of violence or incitement attributable to her.” The warrant includes lengthy details of violent confrontations at polling stations across the region.

Prof Ponsatí is being pursued by the Spanish government over her involvement in last year’s Catalan independence referendum, which was ruled illegal by Spanish courts. She handed herself in to police in Edinburgh in March, and was subsequently released on bail following a preliminary hearing. The case is due to call in the Scottish courts again on Thursday. The arrest warrant says that the more serious crime of rebellion applies to those “who revolt violently and publicly” for purposes including “declaring the independence of a part of the national territory.”

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“Half the world’s whale and dolphin species visit or live in New Zealand waters..”

New Zealand Bans All New Offshore Oil Exploration (G.)

The New Zealand government will grant no new offshore oil exploration permits in a move that is being hailed by conservation and environmental groups as a historic victory in the battle against climate change. The ban will apply to new permits and won’t affect the existing 22, some of which have decades left on their exploration rights and cover an area of 100,000 sq km. The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said her government “has a plan to transition towards a carbon-neutral future, one that looks 30 years in advance”. “Transitions have to start somewhere and unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country.”

The Labour coalition government was elected last year and made tackling climate change one of the cornerstones of its policies, committing to transition to 100% of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2035 and making the economy carbon neutral by 2050. Greenpeace New Zealand said the government’s announcement was a “historic moment” for the country and “a huge win for our climate and people power”. Last month Ardern accepted a 50,000-strong Greenpeace petition calling for an end to offshore oil and gas exploration. “The tide has turned irreversibly against big oil in New Zealand,” said the Greenpeace New Zealand executive director, Russel Norman.

[..] the Forest & Bird conservation group said the ban was a “huge step forward” for the country and sent a message to the oil and gas industry that New Zealand waters were no longer “their playground”. “Half the world’s whale and dolphin species visit or live in New Zealand waters, from the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin to giant blue whales,” said the group’s chief executive, Kevin Hague.

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Instability.

Climate Change Could Trigger Volcanic Eruptions Across The World (Ind.)

Besides having a disastrous impact on sea levels and weather, a warming climate could also trigger catastrophic volcanic eruptions across the planet Volcanic eruptions alter the climate by spewing smoke and ash into the atmosphere, but scientists now also think the opposite might be true – changes in climate could actually cause volcanic eruptions. According to Gioachino Roberti, a PhD student at the University of Clermont Auvergne, glaciers can suppress volcanic eruptions by providing mountains with structural stability. As the climate becomes warmer, ice melting from these mountains removes support from their slopes, potentially leading to landslides and collapse.

“Imagine the ice like some sort of protective layer – when the ice melts away, the mountain is free to collapse,” said Mr Roberti. “If your mountain is a volcano you have another problem. “Volcanoes are a pressurised system and if you remove pressure by ice melting and landslide, you have a problem.” Presenting his work at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly, Mr Roberti explained a case study he and his collaborators had investigated in Canada. Though not famous for its volcanic activity, Canada is home to hundreds of potentially active volcanoes. The scientists chose to focus on Mount Meager, a glaciated volcano north of Vancouver.

Mount Meager’s last eruption was over 2000 years ago, but Mr Roberti chose to focus on Mount Meager for a more recent natural disaster that took place there. In summer 2010, the largest landslide in Canadian history occurred on the southern part of the volcano. “The glacier base of the slope retreated and during the hottest part of the summer, the slope catastrophically failed – the whole mountain started to move at a very high velocity,” said Mr Roberti. This was followed in 2016 by the formation of ice caves in the glacier as hot volcanic gases seeped out of the volcano. “This is the first time this has happened there – so the equilibrium of the mountain is changing,” said Mr Roberti.

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They won’t until it’s too late.

Cities Around The World Should Prepare For Running Out Of Water (CNBC)

It’s called “Day Zero”: when Cape Town, South Africa’s bustling port city, sees its water taps run dry, and its population thrust into a perilous situation. Originally projected for this year, the impending crisis has been delayed in part by severe measures — the city instituted restrictions that amount to less than one sixth of an average American’s water consumption. Yet despite that effort, “Day Zero” is still projected to arrive next year. And when it comes, the crisis will see the government switching off all the taps and rationing the resource through collection points. That future isn’t just Cape Town’s. It’s a scenario cities around the globe may face, experts say.

It may be hard to fathom just how cities could be at risk of a water scarcity crisis when approximately 70% of the world is made up of the resource. The stark reality, however, is that the percentage of fresh water probably only amounts to about 2.5 percent, according to often-cited assessments. Even then, a significant supply is locked up in ice and snow, which means just 1 percent of all fresh water is easily accessible to the global population. Inequality in access to water is also quickly becoming a problem. While the affluent can find ways to get access to water— through deliveries or in-built tanks — poorer populations are left to their own devices. That situation oftentimes leads to water theft — for profit, for survival, or for both.

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A longtime fear. Slowing of the thermohaline circulation will turn Western Europe into a very cold place.

Gulf Stream Current At Its Weakest In At Least 1,600 Years (G>)

The warm Atlantic current linked to severe and abrupt changes in the climate in the past is now at its weakest in at least 1,600 years, new research shows. The findings, based on multiple lines of scientific evidence, throw into question previous predictions that a catastrophic collapse of the Gulf Stream would take centuries to occur. Such a collapse would see western Europe suffer far more extreme winters, sea levels rise fast on the eastern seaboard of the US and would disrupt vital tropical rains. The new research shows the current is now 15% weaker than around 400AD, an exceptionally large deviation, and that human-caused global warming is responsible for at least a significant part of the weakening.

The current, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), carries warm water northwards towards the north pole. There it cools, becomes denser and sinks, and then flows back southwards. But global warming hampers the cooling of the water, while melting ice in the Arctic, particularly from Greenland, floods the area with less dense freshwater, weakening the Amoc current. Scientists know that Amoc has slowed since 2004, when instruments were deployed at sea to measure it. But now two new studies have provided comprehensive ocean-based evidence that the weakening is unprecedented in at least 1,600 years, which is as far back as the new research stretches.

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