Dec 102018
 


Jerry Bywaters Oil Field Girls 1940

 

Investors Managing $32 Trillion In Assets Call For Climate Change Action (R.)
BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil Face Shareholder Challenge Over Carbon Targets (G.)
Bear Market Is Here, Stocks To Plunge At Least 20% – Ned Davis Research (CNBC)
Everyone Is Bearish But No-One Is Short (ZH)
Senior Tory Vultures Circle With May On Brink (Ind.)
EU’s Top Court Says UK Can Unilaterally Stop Brexit (R.)
UK Government Funds Secret Anti-Corbyn, Labour Unit (DR)
Comey: FBI Never Verified Steele Dossier Used To Justify Special Counsel (ZH)
Russian Stealth Jets To Be Armed With New Hypersonic Missiles (ZH)
Medical Researchers Still Routinely Hiding Funding From Big Pharma (RT)
Italian Priests Vow To Open Church Doors To Evicted Immigrants (G.)
Why Greeks Traditionally Decorate a Boat Instead of a Christmas Tree (GR)
The Antidote To Civilisational Collapse (Adam Curtis)

 

 

Right. Questions: How much of the $32 trillion was made doing things that increased emissions? How much of it is presently invested in polluting companies? And how much are the investors prepared to lose in order to comply with whatever it takes to lower emissions?

To put it simply: these people are talking their books. They got rich by polluting. They intend to get even richer by going green.

If you’re serious about the topic, don’t join them.

Investors Managing $32 Trillion In Assets Call For Climate Change Action (R.)

Global investors managing $32 trillion in assets have called on governments to accelerate steps to combat climate change, as policymakers meet for talks at a United Nations conference in Poland. A total of 415 investors from across the world including UBS Asset Management and Aberdeen Standard Investments signed the 2018 Global Investor Statement to Governments on Climate Change demanding urgent action. “The global shift to clean energy is underway, but much more needs to be done by governments to accelerate the low carbon transition and to improve the resilience of our economy, society and the financial system to climate risks,” the statement said.

The intervention is the single largest on the topic to date, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change said, as talks continue in the Polish city of Katowice to agree how to slow global warming to below 2ºC. That goal was agreed at a 2015 meeting in Paris, but investors said national governments were being too slow in enacting the policies needed to help the world transition to a low-carbon economy. Failure to act could lead to permanent economic damage three or four times the scale of the impact of the financial crisis, British asset manager Schroders said.

As well as ramping up the involvement of the private sector, governments needed to commit to improving climate-related financial reporting, a move that would help investors better assess the risk and allocate capital to the right companies. “The reality is that the long-term nature of the challenge has, in our view, met a zombie-like response by many,” said Chris Newton, Executive Director Responsible Investment, IFM Investors. “This is a recipe for disaster as the impacts of climate change can be sudden, severe and catastrophic.”

Read more …

If these activist shareholders succeed, the value of their shares will plunge. That’s why in an earlier vote at Shell, 94% of shareholders votied against and 5% abstained. That reduces this to window dressing.

BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil Face Shareholder Challenge Over Carbon Targets (G.)

BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil face a shareholder challenge to set carbon targets in line with the Paris climate agreement, as a green group seeks to repeat its success in pressuring Shell to set environmental benchmarks. When Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, laid out an ambitious long-term carbon target last year, he acknowledged the role played by a resolution on carbon targets submitted by Dutch activist shareholders Follow This. Follow This is hoping to use investor power to push other major oil and gas firms into setting similar goals. The organisation has bought shares in several major fossil fuel groups and has submitted two resolutions to the European firms BP and Shell. It will file identical resolutions with the US companies Chevron and ExxonMobil later this week if other parties do not submit a similar demand.

Investors at the firms’ annual general meetings next year will be asked to vote in favour of them publishing climate change targets in alignment with the international goal of keeping the rise in global temperatures well below 2C. Mark van Baal, the founder of Follow This, said: “Targets should be on the agenda of every oil company, given that the oil industry can make or break the Paris climate agreement.” The group has little chance of winning by persuading a majority of the four companies’ shareholders to back the resolution but it believes the tactic can put public and investor pressure on firms. Although backed by the Church of England and major pension funds, the resolution filed for Shell’s AGM on carbon targets failed in 2017, with 94% of shareholders voting against and 5% abstaining.

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New Davis have no idea how big the fall will be, no more than you or I. And besides, they think that by spring, “the pain will be largely behind the Street”.

Bear Market Is Here, Stocks To Plunge At Least 20% – Ned Davis Research (CNBC)

The wild trading that’s gripped Wall Street may be no ordinary correction. According to Ned Davis Research’s Ed Clissold, a bear market is officially here. “If you take this as a typical bear market, not associated with a recession, it’s going to take you down around 20% — maybe a little bit more,” the firm’s chief U.S. market strategist told CNBC’s “Futures Now” last week. “That’s what we need to be thinking about over the next several months.” A bear market is defined as an environment when overwhelming pessimism sparks a 20% drop or more from recent highs. In this case, it would wipe out 588 points from the S&P 500’s all-time high of 2940.91 hit on Sept. 21. The index closed Friday in correction territory at 2,633.08. That’s down 10% from the high and 4.6% for the week.

Originally, Clissold called for a bear market to hit Wall Street in 2019, due to jitters over interest rate hike risks, U.S.-China trade tensions and slowing growth in earnings and the economy. However, he decided to move up his forecast due to “severe” technical damage from the October correction. Now, it appears the market may soon get hit with another batch of discouraging news. “Earnings growth is becoming a front-burner issue. Everybody expected it to slow down next year because we don’t have the benefit of tax cuts. But the slowdown is probably going to be more than expected,” said Clissold. [..] He may be predicting a deep pullback, but he does not see any signs of a recession. By spring, Clissold said, the pain will be largely behind the Street.

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Everyone still relies on central banks.

Everyone Is Bearish But No-One Is Short (ZH)

In the past two months we have written extensively on how most market participants got caught offside by the dramatic reversion in risk assets, and which after several attempts at bottom-fishing – attempts which have failed because as Morgan Stanley first noted two months ago the Buy The Dip trade no longer works…

… increasingly more traders have thrown in the towel, resulting in YTD returns which are truly “historic” with not one single asset generating positive returns for the first time since the Nixon presidency.

Well, that’s not exactly right: one asset is outperforming – the one which usually does best just as the economy slides into a recession or worse: cash. As Bank of America notes, the YTD score for the top global assets is the following: • equities -4.2%, • bonds -2.3%, • commodities -6.2%, • cash 1.7%, • US$ 4.9%.

Drilling down reveals an even uglier picture: the 2018 bear market has spared nobody with US Treasuries down -4.9%, the 5th largest loss since 1970, US IG bonds -3.3%, their 4th largest loss since 1970, meanwhile 1881 of 2767 global stocks are in a bear market, down more than 20%, 86 of 94 equity indices underwater, and the cherry on top – the FAANG bull market “leader” is down -26% from highs, which according to BofA’s Michael Hartnett is “a big nasty bear market.” The result, per Bank of America, is that “capitulation to lower credit & equity allocations begins but from high allocations to risk assets.” That’s the good news: the bad news is that even as investors are bailing out of risk assets, they are also dumping safe havens like treasuries, and in the last week we saw broad based risk-off flows, including $5.2BN outflow from equities, and $8.1BN outflow from bonds this week

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By the day, it becomes more like one of those Shakespeare plays with gossiping and backstabbing and all that. Love it.

Senior Tory Vultures Circle With May On Brink (Ind.)

Theresa May is set for the bleakest week of her time in power after leadership rivals publicly positioned themselves to grab the Tory crown if her Brexit plans collapse. Ex-cabinet ministers Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Esther McVey all signalled a willingness to bid for the leadership amid speculation that Ms May faces a heavy defeat in the crunch Commons vote on her proposed Brexit deal. More resignations were expected from the front bench in the run-up to the vote, with government insiders indicating it could still be delayed. If she survives the first half of the week, Ms May is expected to head to Brussels where she will implore the EU to offer a concession on the hated “Irish backstop” so that she can try to sell the deal to Tory rebels one last time.

The prime minister spoke to president of the European Council Donald Tusk on Sunday, who said afterwards that it would be “an important week for the fate of Brexit”. In London thousands of protestors waving union jacks joined a “Brexit betrayal” march sponsored by Ukip and addressed by far-right activist Tommy Robinson, while even more were said to have turned up to an anti-fascist counter-march. The febrile atmosphere as the week starts is only set to intensify as MPs return to Westminster on Monday, with talk of Conservative plots and leadership challenges filling the air. One Tory backbencher told The Independent: “No one knows if the prime minister is still going to be in Downing Street at the end of the week.

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Ha ha! Don’t forget to say thank you to the EU for your freedoms, Brits! Rumor has it May’s Plan B will include a second vote that does not have a Remain option.

EU’s Top Court Says UK Can Unilaterally Stop Brexit (R.)

The European Union’s top court ruled on Monday that the United Kingdom can unilaterally revoke its divorce notice, raising the hopes of pro-Europeans ahead of a crucial vote in the British parliament on Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal. Just 36 hours before British lawmakers vote on May’s deal, the Court of Justice said in an emergency judgement that London could revoke its Article 50 formal divorce notice with no penalty. May’s government says the ruling means nothing because it has no intention of reversing its decision to leave the EU on March 29. But critics of her deal say it provides options — either to delay Brexit and renegotiate terms of withdrawal, or cancel it altogether if British voters change their minds. “The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU,” the court said.

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Surprised? Don’t be.

UK Government Funds Secret Anti-Corbyn, Labour Unit (DR)

A secret UK Government-funded infowars unit based in Scotland sent out social media posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. On the surface, the cryptically named Institute for Statecraft is a small charity operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife. But explosive leaked documents passed to the Sunday Mail reveal the organisation’s Integrity Initiative is funded with £2million of Foreign Office cash and run by military intelligence specialists. The “think tank” is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming “clusters” of friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against disinformation.

But our investigation has found worrying evidence the shadowy programme’s official Twitter account has been used to attack Corbyn, the Labour Party and their officials. [..] David Miller, a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, added: “It’s extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which ends up attacking Her Majesty’s opposition and soft-pedalling far-right politicians in the Ukraine. “People have a right to know how the Government are spending their money, and the views being promoted in their name.”

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That’s not legal, is it?

Comey: FBI Never Verified Steele Dossier Used To Justify Special Counsel (ZH)

Former FBI Director James Comey didn’t know a lot during Friday’s congressional testimony – claiming hundreds of times (245 according to Trump) that he simply couldn’t remember various things. What Comey did remember, however, confirms that the FBI could not verify the dossier submitted by former UK spy Christopher Steele – which the agency used as the foundation of a spy warrant application to surveil the Trump campaign. While Comey said the dossier came from “a reliable source with a track record, and it’s an important thing when you’re seeking a PC warrant,” he also admitted that the FBI was unable to corroborate the document’s claims.

“But what I understand by verified is we then try to replicate the source information so that it becomes FBI investigation and our conclusions rather than a reliable source’s,” Comey said, adding “That’s what I understand it, the difference to be. And that work wasn’t completed by the time I left in May of 2017, to my knowledge.” The FBI is required to fully vet information they submit to FISA courts, which they of course did not do in their haste to deploy a counterintelligence dragnet on the Trump campaign during the final months of the 2016 US election. Steele, meanwhile, was fired by the FBI for leaking information to the press while the agency was using him as a source. To get around this, the FBI went through former #4 DOJ official Bruce Ohr – who was demoted twice for lying about his contacts with Steele.

Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for the embattled research firm Fusion GPS on the Trump dossier. Fusion GPS hired Steele as part of their ongoing effort to investigate the Trump campaign and any ties with Russia. It was discovered in 2017 that Fusion GPS was being paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the campaign’s law firm Perkins Coie to investigate any alleged ties between Trump and Russia. More importantly, the FBI used information from Steele, a foreign source who was openly antagonistic about Trump. In fact, Ohr told FBI officials that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” as stated in the House Intelligence Committee investigation memo. -Sara Carter

Comey’s confirmation echoes comments made in a string of emails quietly requested by House Republicans for declassification – as reported last week by The Hill’s John Solomon. The emails – kept from Congressional investigators for over two years, “included then-FBI Director James Comey, key FBI investigators in the Russia probe and lawyers in the DOJ’s national security division,” according to the report – and took place in early to mid-October of 2016, prior to the FBI successfully securing a FISA warrant to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

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In a worst case scenario, the US will use this as a reason to attack now, before Americans figure out they can’t win.

Russian Stealth Jets To Be Armed With New Hypersonic Missiles (ZH)

The advanced Sukhoi Su-57 multipurpose jet, Russia’s first domestically produced fifth-generation stealth fighter, will be armed with new hypersonic missiles, according to a Russian military source. “In accordance with Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027, Su-57 jet fighters will be equipped with hypersonic missiles,” a Russian defense industry source toldTASS news agency on December 06. “The jet fighters will receive missiles with characteristics similar to that of the Kinzhal missiles, but with inter-body placement and smaller size,” the source added. Moscow said the new Kinzhal (“Dagger”), a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile, can hit speeds of up to Mach 10 and can perform evasive maneuvers that can render NATO’s US-led missile defense system completely “useless.”

The missile can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads with a range of about 1,200 miles. The new hypersonic missile will be much smaller than the current Kinzhal; this is due to size constraints of fitting the weapon inside the stealth aircraft’s weapons bay. The alternative would be mounting the missile on the outside of the plane, but that would increase the jet’s radar signature. No details within the report explain about a timetable for the development or the planned specifications for the new missiles. The Defense Ministry would neither confirm nor deny the information. The Kinzhal missile is currently being tested in field training exercises.

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The US needs to clean up its pharma, along with the entire healthcare system.

Medical Researchers Still Routinely Hiding Funding From Big Pharma (RT)

A huge proportion of scientists and doctors publishing in major medical magazines continue to conceal ties to corporations relevant to their research, while punishment for not declaring interests remains weak, says a new report. “The system is broken,” Mehraneh Dorna Jafari, assistant professor of surgery at the University of California, Irvine, told the New York Times and ProPublica, an investigative journalism non-profit. Jafari was one of the authors of a landmark study published back in August that took the names of the 100 doctors receiving the most funding from medical equipment and drug manufacturers, and then studied whether they declared a potential conflict of interest in their published research. Only 37 did.

For example, Dr. Howard A. Burris III, has been elected as the president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) that includes 40,000 members, and can make influential recommendations on cancer drugs worth tens of billions of dollars. Companies where Burris is an employee have been paid $114,000 in speaking fees, and $8 million in research funding by private corporations. Yet in none of his last 50 articles did the man, whose bio boasts that he “was selected by his peers as a ‘Giant of Cancer Care’ for his achievements in drug development,” think it was necessary to declare any potential biases resulting from corporate involvement.

In the latest investigation, the Times and ProPublica revealed that Dr. Robert J. Alpern, the dean of the Yale School of Medicine, writing about an experimental kidney disease drug failed to state that he was on the board of the company producing it. When journalists approached the publisher of the article, the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, its editor discovered that all 12 authors of the article in question had interests they failed to declare.

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Really? Salvini is about to take on the Pope?

Italian Priests Vow To Open Church Doors To Evicted Immigrants (G.)

Italian priests have declared their willingness to “open the church doors of every single parish” to people expelled from reception centres as an anti-immigration law from Italy’s rightwing government threatens to make thousands homeless. The so-called “Salvini decree” – named after Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and leader of the far-right League – left hundreds in legal limbo when its removal of humanitarian protection for those not eligible for refugee status but otherwise unable to return home was applied by several Italian cities soon after its approval by parliament earlier this month. The Catholic church expressed its profound disapproval immediately after the vote.

The Vatican’s position is “very clear”, its secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said last week. “You don’t leave migrants in the street … A profound sense of solidarity must prevail. You cannot put people in this position. You must always focus on people and their rights.” According to Italy’s ministry of the interior, between 2016 and 2017 Italy provided humanitarian protection to 39,145 asylum seekers, who under the Salvini decree risk being made homeless within weeks. In early December, a letter announcing the expulsion of 50 people was sent to the reception centre in Mineo, Sicily: the largest in Europe after the Moria camp in Greece.

The bishop of Caltagirone, Monsignor Calogero Peri, said he was prepared to provide 40 beds in nearby facilities owned by the church to welcome people who risk expulsion. “And if there are not enough beds? I have already spoken with other bishops: we will open the church doors of every single parish under our control,” he said. “It’s not a question of politics. It’s a matter of protecting individuals. Imagine this: in Italy now it is a crime to abandon dogs, but it is not a crime to abandon people. Even worse, abandoning men, women and children is now the law.”

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A little nothing news. But cute.

Why Greeks Traditionally Decorate a Boat Instead of a Christmas Tree (GR)

The most traditional symbol you will find in Greece during the holidays is a small boat decorated with lights, usually placed in the main square of a town and close to the more international Christmas tree. To karavaki, or small boat is rooted in the traditions of a country with a symbiotic relationship with the sea. In fact on the many Greek islands the Christmas boats remain the most popular ornament of the holiday season. Different legends explain the tradition of the Christmas Greek boat. One of them is related to Saint Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos), the Patron Saint of Sailors. This saint is celebrated on December 6, the day when many households start decorating their houses for Christmas. Some agree that this is why boats are decorated, in order to honor the saint.

It’s also true that Greece is proud of the large amount of sailors, fishermen and intrepid captains the country has, which makes them as a symbol of local identity. Men would often be away for months at a time, and those back home would be anxiously waiting for their return. On the islands, the wives, mothers, and daughters of seaman used to spend the cold and dark winter months with their heart and mind at sea. There, their men were battling the stormy seas during the holiday season. These were months of expectation, hope, and prayer for their safe return. The joy of seeing the boats coming back, approaching the shores, made the women celebrate in relief. The boat is a symbol to honor those brave men coming back home.

The tradition wanted the small wooden boats placed inside close to the fireplace and pointing towards the center of the house, never towards the door. They were also lovingly decorated to give a warm welcome to the men of the household. Even kids prepared their own boats with paper and chips of wood, and on Christmas Eve, they used these little boats to collect the treats they had received when singing the carols (kalanda) from house to house.

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Don’t miss the fantastic Adam Curtis. He knows more about what makes our world go round than just about anyone. Watch his docs, all of them.

The Antidote To Civilisational Collapse (Adam Curtis)

Adam Curtis: “HyperNormalisation” is a word that was coined by a brilliant Russian historian who was writing about what it was like to live in the last years of the Soviet Union. What he said, which I thought was absolutely fascinating, was that in the 80s everyone from the top to the bottom of Soviet society knew that it wasn’t working, knew that it was corrupt, knew that the bosses were looting the system, knew that the politicians had no alternative vision. And they knew that the bosses knew they knew that. Everyone knew it was fake, but because no one had any alternative vision for a different kind of society, they just accepted this sense of total fakeness as normal. And this historian, Alexei Yurchak, coined the phrase “HyperNormalisation” to describe that feeling.

I thought “that’s a brilliant title” because, although we are not in any way really like the Soviet Union, there is a similar feeling in our present day. Everyone in my country and in America and throughout Europe knows that the system that they are living under isn’t working as it is supposed to; that there is a lot of corruption at the top. But whenever the journalists point it out, everyone goes “Wow that’s terrible!” and then nothing happens and the system remains the same. There is a sense of everything being slightly unreal; that you fight a war that seems to cost you nothing and it has no consequences at home; that money seems to grow on trees; that goods come from China and don’t seem to cost you anything; that phones make you feel liberated but that maybe they’re manipulating you but you’re not quite sure. It’s all slightly odd and slightly corrupt.

[..] No one is really sure what Trump represents. My working theory is that he’s part of the pantomime-isation of politics. Every morning Donald Trump wakes up in the White House, he tweets something absolutely outrageous which he knows the liberals will get upset by, the liberals read his tweets and go “This is terrible, this is outrageous,” and then tell each other via social media how terrible it all is. It becomes a feedback loop in which they are locked together. In my mind, it’s like they’re together in a theatre watching a pantomime villain. The pantomime villain comes forward into the light, looks at them and says something terrible, and they go “Boo!!”. Meanwhile, outside the theatre, real power is carrying on but no one is really analysing it.

This is the problem with a lot of journalism, especially liberal journalism at the moment. It’s locked together with those people in the theatre. If you look at the New York Times, for example, it’s continually about that feedback loop between what Trump has said and the reaction of liberal elements in the society. It’s led to a great narrowing of journalism. So in a way, he is part of the hypernormal situation because it’s a politics of pantomime locked together with its critics. [..] ..It’s not a conspiracy. It’s a distraction from what’s really happening in the world. I would argue that there is a sense—in a lot of liberal journalism—of unreality. They’re locked into describing the pantomime politics and they’re not looking to what Mr Michael Pence is really up to, and what’s really happening outside the theatre.

Read more …

May 232018
 


Brassaï Couple on a bench, Paris 1932

 

The End Is Nigh For The Biggest Tech Bubble Ever (CNBC)
ECB’s Negative Interest Rate Policy The Funniest Monetary Joke Ever (WS)
The Italian Crisis Is Far From Over (ZH)
Turkish Lira Hits Record Low, Down 20% Against Dollar This Year (R.)
American Women’s $1 Trillion Burden (MW)
22% Of Americans Can’t Pay Bills; 41% Have Less Than $400 In Cash (ZH)
French Unemployment Rises To 9.2% In First Quarter (MW)
EU Rejects May’s Plan For Northern Ireland Border (Ind.)
Nationwide’s UK Mortgage Lending Slumps By A Third (G.)
House Votes To Ease Bank Rules And Send Bill To Trump’s Desk (CNBC)
How Russia and China Gained a Strategic Advantage in Hypersonic Technology
Former Trump Adviser Makes Claim About A Second Informant (DC)
Illegal Online Sales Of Endangered Wildlife Rife In Europe (G.)
Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Roundup Cancer Danger For Decades (G.)

 

 

Unicorns as defined by venture capitalist Aileen Lee back in 2013: Privately-held startups valued at $1 billion or more.

The End Is Nigh For The Biggest Tech Bubble Ever (CNBC)

In case you missed it, the peak in the tech unicorn bubble already has been reached. And it’s going to be all downhill from here. Massive losses are coming in venture capital-funded start-ups that are, in some cases, as much as 50% overvalued. The age of the unicorn likely peaked a few years ago. In 2014 there were 42 new unicorns in the United States; in 2015 there were 43. The unicorn market hasn’t reached that number again. In 2017, 33 new U.S. companies achieved unicorn status from a total of 53 globally. This year there have been 11 new unicorns, according to PitchBook data as of May 15, but these numbers tend to move around, and I believe the 279 unicorns recorded globally in late February by TechCrunch was the peak, where the start-up bubble was stretched to its limit.

A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that, on average, unicorns are roughly 50% overvalued. The research, conducted by Will Gornall at the University of British Columbia and Ilya Strebulaev of Stanford, examined 135 unicorns. Of those 135, the researchers estimate that nearly half, or 65, should be more fairly valued at less than $1 billion. In 1999 the average life of a tech company before it went public was four years. Today it is 11 years. The new dynamic is the increased amount of private capital available to unicorns. Investors new to the VC game, including hedge funds and mutual funds, came in when the Jobs Act started to get rid of investor protections in 2012, because there were fewer IPOs occurring.

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The US Treasury two-year yield is 2.57% over 10 times higher than the Italian. Go Draghi!

ECB’s Negative Interest Rate Policy The Funniest Monetary Joke Ever (WS)

The distortions in the European bond markets are actually quite hilarious, when you think about them, and it’s hard to keep a straight face. “Italian assets were pummeled again on mounting concern over the populist coalition’s fiscal plans, with the moves rippling across European debt markets,” Bloomberg wrote this morning, also trying hard to keep a straight face. As Italian bonds took a hit, “bond yields climbed to the highest levels in almost three years, while the premium to cover a default in the nation’s debt was the stiffest since October,” it said. “Investors fret the anti-establishment parties’ proposal to issue short-term credit notes – so-called ‘mini-BOTs’ – will lead to increased borrowing in what is already one of Europe’s most indebted economies.”

This comes on top of a proposal by the new coalition last week that the ECB should forgive and forget €250 billion in Italian bonds that it had foolishly bought. The proposals by a government for a debt write-off, and the issuance of short-term credit notes as a sort of alternate currency are hallmarks of a looming default and should cause Italian yields to spike into the stratosphere, or at least into the double digits. And so Italian government bonds fell, and the yield spiked today, adding to the prior four days of spiking. But wait…Five trading days ago, the Italian two-year yield was still negative -0.12%. In other words, investors were still paying the Italian government – whose new players are contemplating a form of default – for the privilege of lending it money.

And now, the two-year yield has spiked to a positive but still minuscule 0.247% at the moment. By comparison, the US Treasury two-year yield is 2.57% over 10 times higher! [..] This is an over-indebted government that doesn’t control its own currency and cannot print itself out of trouble and whose new leadership – made up of the coalition of the Five Star Movement on the left and the League on the right – is proposing a haircut for its creditors to make the debt burden easier, and is also proposing the issuance of an alternate currency to give it more money to spend, even as it also promises to crank up government deficit spending and cut taxes too.

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“As parallel currencies and debt-cancellation become serious discussion points for an Italian government, so European break-up risk is resurging.”

The Italian Crisis Is Far From Over (ZH)

The Italian crisis is far from over and the concept of their ‘mini-BoT’ parallel currency is throwing up some very red flags about the future of the European Union… You just have to know where to look. As Bloomberg’s Tasos Vossos notes, a gauge of euro re-denomination risk (based on the so-called ‘ISDA Basis’ in Italy’s credit default swaps) blew out. What’s more, redenomination risks are spreading as the measure widened in Portugal, Spain, and in France to a lesser extent, according to CMAN data. As parallel currencies and debt-cancellation become serious discussion points for an Italian government, so European break-up risk is resurging.

Simply put, the higher this chart goes, the lower the market ‘values’ an Italian Euro relative to say a German Euro… and thus it is measuring the risk that the European Union – so long defended by Draghi et al. as indestructible – will break up. As Marcello Minenna, head of Quantitative Analysis and Financial Innovation at Consob – the Italian securities regulator, previously noted, “markets do not lie… Italy must avoid remaining with short end of the stick. I wonder if our leadership will rise to the challenge.”

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Erdogan wants lower rates, but if this goes on, he’ll end up with the opposite.

Turkish Lira Hits Record Low, Down 20% Against Dollar This Year (R.)

The Turkish lira weakened sharply against the dollar on Wednesday, bringing its losses to some 20% this year, as investors pushed it to fresh record lows on growing concern about President Tayyip Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy. At 0724 GMT, the lira stood at 4.7642 against the U.S. currency, paring its losses after touching an all-time low of 4.8450 in Asian trade overnight. It has lost as much as 21% of its value since the start of the year. The lira also fell sharply against the Japanese yen, amid talk of Japanese retail investors selling the lira as stop-loss levels were hit.

“The lira fall is now on the agenda of world markets and some are saying there is an increased risk of contagion in other emerging markets from the Turkey risk,” said GCM Securities analyst Enver Erkan. “The necessity of the Turkish central bank taking a significant step is increasing,” he said. A self-described “enemy of interest rates”, Erdogan wants borrowing costs lowered to spur credit growth and construction and said last week he would seek greater control over monetary policy after elections set for June 24.

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Almost twice as much as men. And then they get paid less at the jobs they find.

American Women’s $1 Trillion Burden (MW)

Student debt is on its way to becoming a universally American problem, but there’s more evidence to indicate that it’s a particularly acute challenge for women. The gap between the amount of debt shouldered by male and female graduates has nearly doubled in the past four years, according to a report released Monday by the American Association for University Women. On average, female bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with $2,700 more in debt in 2016 than their male counterparts. That’s up from about a $1,400 gap in 2012. If trends continue on their current trajectory, Kevin Miller, a senior researcher at AAUW and the author of the report, estimates that the outstanding student debt held by women alone could reach $1 trillion over the next year.

If the ratio of debt owed by women versus men stays the same, then men hold about $550 billion at that time. “We’ll be keeping a watch on it,” he said. The data adds to the growing body of evidence — much of which has been published by AAUW — that student debt is a women’s issue. Although they make up just 56% of American college students, women hold nearly two-thirds of America’s outstanding student debt, or about $890 billion, and take longer to pay it off. There are a variety of reasons why this is the case, according to Miller.

For one, women typically have to rely more on loans to finance college because they earn less from their work before they enter college (if they have a job before they start) and while they’re in school. And once women graduate college, the gender pay gap continues to play a role. Women working full-time with college degrees earn 26% less than their male colleagues, according to AAUW, delaying their efforts to repay their loans.

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Small part of a large survey.

22% Of Americans Can’t Pay Bills; 41% Have Less Than $400 In Cash (ZH)

Almost nine years into an economic recovery, 41% of adults in 2017 are unable to afford an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing money or selling something, down from 44% last year. When faced with a hypothetical expense of only $400, 59% of adults in 2017 say they could easily cover it, using entirely cash, savings, or a credit card paid off at the next statement (referred to, altogether, as “cash or its equivalent”). Even without an unexpected expense, the report reveals, 22% of adults expected to forgo payment on some of their bills in the month of the survey. “One-third of those who are not able to pay all their bills say that their rent, mortgage, or utility bills will be left at least partially unpaid.” Altogether, one-third of adults are either unable to pay their bills or are one modest financial setback away from financial hardship, slightly less than in 2016 (35%).

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Protests against Macron are becoming massive.

French Unemployment Rises To 9.2% In First Quarter (MW)

French unemployment rose in the first quarter of the year, the latest indication that the surging eurozone recovery of 2017 is losing momentum in 2018. The unemployment rate in France–the eurozone’s second-largest economy–rose to 9.2% in the first quarter from 9% at the end of 2017, national statistics agency Insee said Wednesday. The deterioration in French unemployment comes as economic growth slowed abruptly in the first quarter of the year after a sharp acceleration at the end of 2017.

The soft economic data and lower business confidence are adding to uncertainty over whether the eurozone is on the cusp of a broad slowdown or just catching its breath before resuming stronger growth. The French government has said unemployment remains in a downward trend despite fluctuations from one quarter to another. In the first quarter of 2017, unemployment stood at 9.6%. France’s statistics agency said Wednesday that increases in unemployment were particularly strong at the start of 2018 and youth unemployment remained above 20%. Long-term unemployment was unchanged in the first quarter from the end of 2017.

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Everybody knew this would happen. But May has nothing else.

EU Rejects May’s Plan For Northern Ireland Border (Ind.)

Brussels has rejected Theresa May’s new customs proposal less than 24 hours after the prime minister set it out in a bid to placate Brexiteers in her cabinet. European Commission officials told The Independent Ms May’s plan would be unacceptable and would go back on previous commitments made by British negotiators. A day earlier the prime minister had said the “backstop” plan to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland – which keeps Britain in alignment with the single market and customs union if no other agreement is reached – would be time limited. The move was an attempt to assuage Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, who fear that it would become a backdoor way to keep Britain tied indefinitely to the EU through the customs union and single market.

The controversial fallback arrangements look increasingly likely to come into play, with no other plan for the Northern Ireland border in sight and Ms May’s cabinet deadlocked on what Britain’s future customs relationship with the EU should be. European Commission officials close to the talks told The Independent that British negotiators had already made written commitments for the backstop to apply “unless and until” another solution was found in Northern Ireland, and that there was no way it could be time limited. Facing a backlash over the plan from her pro-Brexit ministers, the prime minister sought to calm their fears, telling reporters on Monday: “If it is necessary, it will be in a very limited set of circumstances for a limited time.”

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They blame it on competition.

Nationwide’s UK Mortgage Lending Slumps By A Third (G.)

Nationwide has reported declining profits for the second year in a row, as net mortgage lending slumped by a third amid intense competition. The UK’s largest building society reported a 7.3% drop in statutory profits to £977m for the year to 4 April, down from £1.05bn the previous year. Profits include the £116m cost of buying back debt. Net mortgage lending fell from £8.8bn to £5.8bn, and Nationwide’s share of the market nearly halved, from 25.4% to 13.0%. Even so, it said it remained the UK’s second-biggest mortgage lender, behind Halifax. The Swindon-based mutual blamed fierce competition that forced it to lower mortgage rates, hurting profit margins, and said there was no sign of a let-up.

Mark Rennison, the Nationwide chief financial officer, said: “Our view is price competition will continue, which is good news for customers.” Nationwide has been hit by the end of the Bank of England’s term funding scheme, which was launched after the Brexit vote to provide cheap finance to enable banks to lend at lower interest rates. Rennison said competition had increased because the big five banks had returned to the market after ringfencing their high street banking operations from the riskier parts of their businesses.

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Two words: Glass-Steagall.

House Votes To Ease Bank Rules And Send Bill To Trump’s Desk (CNBC)

The House voted Tuesday to pass the biggest rollback of financial regulations since the global financial crisis. The margin was 258-159, with 33 Democrats supporting the legislation. The bill will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk. He is expected to sign it into law. The Senate already passed the legislation with bipartisan support. The bill makes good on Republican promises to cut red tape they say hurts businesses, but does not go nearly as far as some GOP lawmakers had hoped. It also appeases some Democrats who argue financial rules passed following the financial meltdown unnecessarily hamstrung small and mid-sized lenders.

The measure eases restrictions on all but the largest banks. It raises the threshold to $250 billion from $50 billion under which banks are deemed too important to the financial system to fail. Those institutions also would not have to undergo stress tests or submit so-called living wills, both safety valves designed to plan for financial disaster. It eases mortgage loan data reporting requirements for the overwhelming majority of banks. It would add some safeguards for student loan borrowers and also require credit reporting companies to provide free credit monitoring services.

Republicans have argued the post-crisis regulations held down lending and economic growth. On Tuesday ahead of the vote, House Speaker Paul Ryan promoted the bill as a boon for community banks — though it boosts medium-sized and regional institutions, as well. “This is a bill for the small banks that are the financial anchors of our communities. … It addresses some of Dodd Frank’s biggest burdens to ease the regulatory costs on these small banks — costs which are ultimately transferred on to consumers,” the Wisconsin Republican said.

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It makes wars useless.

How Russia and China Gained a Strategic Advantage in Hypersonic Technology

The development of hypersonic weapons has been part of the military doctrine that China and Russia have been developing for quite some time, driven by various motivations. For one thing, it is a means of achieving strategic parity with the United States without having to match Washington’s unparallelled spending power. The amount of military hardware possessed by the United States cannot be matched by any other armed force, an obvious result of decades of military expenditure estimated to be in the range of five to 15 times that of its nearest competitors. For these reasons, the US Navy is able to deploy ten carrier groups, hundreds of aircraft, and engage in thousands of weapon-development programs.

Over a number of decades, the US war machine has seen its direct adversaries literally vanish, firstly following the Second World War, and then following the collapse of the Soviet Union. This led in the 1990s to shift in focus from one opposing peer competitors to one dealing with smaller and less sophisticated opponents (Yugoslavia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, international terrorism). Accordingly, less funds were devoted to research in cutting-edge technology for new weapons systems in light of these changed circumstances. This strategic decision obliged the US military-industrial complex to slow down advanced research and to concentrate more on large-scale sales of new versions of aircraft, tanks, submarines and ships.

With exorbitant costs and projects lasting up to two decades, this led to systems that were already outdated by the time they rolled off the production lines. All these problems had little visibility until 2014, when the concept of great-power competition returned with a vengeance, and with it the need for the US to compare its level of firepower with that of its peer competitors. Forced by circumstances to pursue a different path, China and Russia begun a rationalization of their armed forces from the end of the 1990s, focusing on those areas that would best allow them the ability to defend against the United States’ overwhelming military power.

[..] After sealing the skies and achieving a robust nuclear-strategic parity with the United States, Moscow and Beijing begun to focus their attention on the US anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) systems placed along their borders, which also consist of the AEGIS system operated by US naval ships. As Putin warned, this posed an existential threat that compromised Russia and China’s second-strike capability in response to any American nuclear first strike, thereby disrupting the strategic balance inherent in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD).

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This story will be getting bigger fast.

Former Trump Adviser Makes Claim About A Second Informant (DC)

Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo had much to tell on Monday night when he claimed on Fox News he was approached by a second government informant during his stint on President Donald Trump’s team. “Let me tell you something that I know for a fact,” Caputo said on “The Ingraham Angle” with host Laura Ingraham. “This informant, this person [who] they tried to plant into the campaign … he’s not the only person who came at the campaign. And the FBI is not the only Obama agency who came at the campaign.” “I know because they came at me. And I’m looking for clearance from my attorney to reveal this to the public. This is just the beginning.”

Stefan Halper, a Cambridge professor, has been identified as one FBI informant who approached campaign advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Sam Clovis. Halper, a veteran of three Republican administrations, approached Page in July 2016 and maintained a relationship through September 2017. Halper approached Papadopoulos on Sept. 2, 2016, with an offer to fly him to London and pay $3,000 for a policy paper on energy issues. Papadopoulos accepted the offer and met Halper several times in London. Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he knew about Russian hacks of Democrats’ emails.

Caputo did not say why he believes he was contacted by a second government informant; he declined to offer additional details, saying he needed clearance from his attorney. He did say the encounter occurred prior to Halper’s outreach to Page. “When we finally find out the truth about this, Director Clapper and the rest of them will be wearing some orange suits,” Caputo said on, referring to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

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The horror. The horror.

Illegal Online Sales Of Endangered Wildlife Rife In Europe (G.)

The online sale of endangered and threatened wildlife is rife across Europe, a new investigation has revealed, ranging from live cheetahs, orangutans and bears to ivory, polar bear skins and many live reptiles and birds. Researchers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) spent six weeks tracking adverts on 100 online marketplaces in four countries, the UK, Germany, France and Russia. They found more than 5,000 adverts offering to sell almost 12,000 items, worth $4m (£3m) in total. All the specimens were species in which trade is restricted or banned by the global Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Wildlife groups have worked with online marketplaces including eBay, Gumtree and Preloved to cut the trade and the results of the survey are an improvement compared to a previous Ifaw report in 2014. In March, 21 technology giants including Google, eBay, Etsy, Facebook and Instagram became part of the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, and committed to bring the online illegal trade in threatened species down by 80% by 2020. “It is great to see we are making really significant inroads into disrupting and dismantling the trade,” said Tania McCrea-Steele at Ifaw. “But the scale of the trade is still enormous.”

Almost 20% of the adverts were for ivory and while the number had dropped significantly in the UK and France, a surge was seen in Germany, where traders developed new code words to mask their sales. “It is a war of attrition and we can never let our guard down,” said McCrea-Steele. The UK is implementing a stricter ban on ivory sales and the EU is under pressure from African nations to follow suit.

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Internal Monsanto communications indicate they knew all along.

Landmark Lawsuit Claims Monsanto Hid Roundup Cancer Danger For Decades (G.)

At the age of 46, DeWayne Johnson is not ready to die. But with cancer spread through most of his body, doctors say he probably has just months to live. Now Johnson, a husband and father of three in California, hopes to survive long enough to make Monsanto take the blame for his fate. On 18 June, Johnson will become the first person to take the globa; seed and chemical company to trial on allegations that it has spent decades hiding the cancer-causing dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide products – and his case has just received a major boost.

Last week Judge Curtis Karnow issued an order clearing the way for jurors to consider not just scientific evidence related to what caused Johnson’s cancer, but allegations that Monsanto suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products. Karnow ruled that the trial will proceed and a jury would be allowed to consider possible punitive damages. “The internal correspondence noted by Johnson could support a jury finding that Monsanto has long been aware of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicides are carcinogenic … but has continuously sought to influence the scientific literature to prevent its internal concerns from reaching the public sphere and to bolster its defenses in products liability actions,” Karnow wrote.

“Thus there are triable issues of material fact.” Johnson’s case, filed in San Francisco county superior court in California, is at the forefront of a legal fight against Monsanto. Some 4,000 plaintiffs have sued Monsanto alleging exposure to Roundup caused them, or their loved ones, to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another case is scheduled for trial in October, in Monsanto’s home town of St Louis, Missouri.

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May 142018
 


Brassaï Cat 1945

 

What’s happening to John McCain is tragic. It’s not something one should ever wish upon another human being. Nor is it decent, let alone useful, to wish that he would die. Wishing bad things upon someone because they did bad things is too close for comfort to what he himself did. But it’s good to remember that his brain tumor is not the most tragic part of McCain’s life on earth. And no, neither is his time as prisoner of war in Vietnam.

McCain’s main tragedy is that he didn’t learn the one lesson he should have learned about his time in Vietnam, and didn’t turn his back on warfare. Instead, he turned into the biggest and loudest pro-war campaigner in Washington for decades. Talk about a missed opportunity, a life wasted. If there was one person who was presented with the first-hand experience needed to turn against bloodshed, it was John McCain.

What’s more, during his time in the House and later the Senate, McCain completely missed out on a development that might yet have changed his mind. That is, wars became unwinnable. Something even that the US losing their war in Vietnam might have taught him. It entirely passed him by. McCain still never saw an opportunity to wage battle somewhere, anywhere on the planet, that he didn’t like.

That makes him a dinosaur and a fossil who should never have been allowed to remain in the Senate for as long as he did. At the age of 81, and after ‘serving’ for 35 years in Washington, it apparently becomes too difficult to see how the world outside changes, let alone to adapt to those changes. If you limit the time a president can serve, why not do the same for senators? Is it because those same senators would have to vote on that?

Moreover, if wars are unwinnable, but you incessantly call for new wars anyway, then regardless of moral issues about going to war in the first place, you have de facto become a threat to your own people and your own country that you purport to serve. Especially, and first of all, to the American soldiers you desire to send out there to fight those wars. But also a threat to the image of America around the globe.

 

When wars are unwinnable, there is no reason to fight them. Again, even apart from morals and ethics. You will have to find other ways to deal with ‘elements’ that feel and act less than friendly towards you. To find out what, it helps to realize that they understand it’s just as futile for them to attack you militarily as it is for you to attack them. It also helps to figure out why they are unfriendly.

What doesn’t help is to take yet another stab at Putin and say “Vladimir Putin is an evil man, and he is intent on evil deeds”, as McCain does in a forthcoming book. If that’s the best you can do, your best-by date has long since passed. That’s language fit for a 4-year old. And George W.

McCain’s father and grandfather were both 4-star US Navy admirals. Perhaps that partly explains his blindness to the evils of war, and the role the US has played in many conflicts, including -but certainly not limited to- Vietnam. It’s hard to imagine Apocalypse Now, Platoon or Full Metal Jacket being McCain’s favorite Hollywood classics.

And that is a bigger problem than it may seem. Because America has indeed been able to paint a vivid portrait for itself of why Vietnam was such an insane venture that should never have happened, and certainly not repeated. If your culture has the ability to put that in words and images, and as a nation you still don’t learn the lesson embedded in them, you’re pretty much lost.

Oh, and besides, you lost too, remember? You lost the war and the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of young Americans and over a million Vietnamese. To have been part of that and then turn around and strive to be Washington’s premier warmonger, that’s just totally bonkers. Or worse. Has McCain been promoting war all this time because he subconsciously wanted to redo Vietnam but this time not lose?

 

Unwinnable wars are bad news for the weapons industry. They will deny the existence of even such a concept as long and as strongly as they can. Because if you can’t win a war, why wage them? There will continue to be technological developments, but there’s no “throughput”. You can fire some missiles into some desert somewhere from time to time, and that’s it.

The military-industrial complex is happy only -because most profitable- if and when guns and missiles and jets constantly need to be replaced because they’ve been lost in a theater of war, along with young Americans. McCain knows this better than most. And he knows the captains of this complex, both the military side and the weapons producers. Far too well.

Being as beholden as it is to the arms makers and dealers, has made America lose whatever edge it once had militarily. In the US weapons are developed and sold to generate the largest profits possible; in Russia, they are developed to protect the country. This is largely why the American defense budget is 10 times larger than its Russian counterpart. All this happened on John McCain’s watch.

The entire narrative of “protecting and sharing our values” has become hollow propaganda. Because the US has engaged its military in more theaters of war and invasion than we can even keep track of anymore. The US armed forces don’t protect democracy or human rights around the world, they protect the financial interests of America’s elites, including the military-industrial complex. Does anyone believe John McCain doesn’t know this?

 

Unbeknownst to John McCain, the world has entered a whole new era. And this didn’t happen yesterday. Russia and China may have only recently announced new hypersonic missile technology, but it didn’t fall out of the sky. It does profoundly change things though. It ends all notions and dreams of American exceptionalism and unilateralism.

And America needs to learn that lesson. It will have to do it without John McCain. And it might as well, because McCain was incapable of changing, and of seeing the changes around him. But the American view of the world will have to change, because the world itself has.

Still, you’re right: the real tragedy is not that John McCain wasted his own life. It’s that he helped destroy so many others.