Giovanni Bellini Pietà 1505
There’s sweet poetic justice in the European elections playing a decisive role in what Brexit means.
Until recently, my view could have been summarised as follows: Brexit remains a lamentable event I will always oppose; but, in the absence of public permission to overturn it, a softer version would be less bad than a hard one, and could provide the fragile basis for an eventual form of reintegration with Europe down the line. At times in the past five months, ever since the UK and the EU struck the withdrawal agreement, a pragmatic compromise of this kind has seemed tantalisingly viable. Desperately though they tried through the winter, the hard Brexiteers failed to harden the original deal or take down May in the way they wanted. That left a space in the political centre.
So, when May finally made an opening to Labour in early April, there was a possibility that a Brexit compromise was on the cards – even at the eleventh hour and in spite of the immense party political difficulties it might entail for both. But it hasn’t happened. The talks between the government and Labour continue. But they are not going anywhere. This week both May and Jeremy Corbyn accused the other of dragging their feet. That could be a cunning joint deception, preparing their respective parties for a surprise deal. But it isn’t the case – believe me. There is an increasing air of unreality about the whole thing. On both sides of the table, the participants are looking over their shoulders at their own colleagues, not negotiating in earnest.
There are three big issues on the table in these talks. But there is no agreement on any of them. The first is over the terms of a future customs union and on single market alignment. The second, on which the two sides have had the biggest arguments, is on “future-proofing” any agreement against the next Conservative leader. The third is over the role, if any, of a confirmatory second vote. On each of these, May is unwilling to make concessions – or even to put options on the table – that would further divide the Tories, while Corbyn remains deeply reluctant to become co-owner of a joint agreement that might end in the overturning of Brexit.
Parliament’s too busy with Brexit.
Food bank use has soared to record levels, with the number of emergency supplies distributed across the UK having risen by nearly a fifth in one year, new figures show. Campaigners said it was “shameful” that a growing number of Britons were unable to feed themselves after data published by the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank provider, revealed 1,583,668 three-day emergency food supplies were distributed in the year to March 2019 – a 19 per cent rise on the previous year. More than half a million of these (577,618) went to children, fuelling concerns about rising child poverty, after government figures last month revealed that the number of youngsters living in absolute poverty had increased by 200,000 in a year – to a total of 3.7 million.
The figures have also prompted renewed criticism of the government’s flagship welfare reform, universal credit, as the Trussell Trust said issues with moving onto the new system were a “key driver” of increasing need, primarily due people having to wait five weeks for payment under the new system. Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood branded the sharp rise “shocking” and said the “need for emergency food parcels in one of the richest countries of the world” was “shameful”. “Nobody in our society should be forced to turn to food banks to survive. Despite ministers’ attempts to explain away food bank use, the Trussell Trust is very clear that cuts to social security and the five-week wait for universal credit payments are key reasons for the rise,” she added.
Free TV licenses? What century is this? But seriously, this is why I think a UBI is inevitable. Taking from the old to give to the young is not an answer.
Free TV licences for over-75s should be scrapped, the age threshold for free bus passes raised and the triple-lock on pensions abolished to close the widening gap between young and old in Britain, according to a Lords report. The House of Lords committee on intergenerational fairness and provision said it was time to rebalance government policy in favour of the young, to remove the risk of the social bonds between generations fraying further. For reasons of fairness and because many pensioner households across the UK have become better off on average than many working-age families, it called on ministers to curb several benefits targeted at older Britons.
The report said the triple-lock – which raises state pension payments in line with the highest of consumer price inflation, average earnings growth, or 2.5% – should be removed. The increase in annual pension payments should instead track average earnings, it said. Free TV licences based on age should be phased out but could be offered based on household income instead. The age when older people can apply for a free bus pass and receive winter fuel payments should also rise to at least five years after a person becomes eligible for the state pension, said the report. It added that this could be phased in to coincide with the state pension age rising to 67 from 2026.
And there we go again.
NB: Deutsche just announced the death of the merger with Commerzbank.
Deutsche Bank has begun to provide documents on financing for some of President Donald Trump’s projects to New York State authorities, a source familiar with the matter told AFP on Wednesday. In mid-March, New York Attorney General Letitia James subpoenaed the German bank, demanding records related to loans and lines of credit granted to the Trump Organization. The money was intended to finance projects such as Trump hotels in Washington, DC, Miami and Chicago, another source told AFP last month on the condition of anonymity. It was unclear whether Deutsche Bank had provided all the documents requested.
“We remain committed to cooperating with authorized investigations,” a bank spokesman told AFP, while declining to comment on a CNN report that the company was handing over the documents. James’ office also declined to comment on the status of the documents regarding financing for the Trump Organization, the holding company that has been run by Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr since he entered the White House. New York authorities also wanted records related to the Trump Organization’s failed attempt in 2014 to buy the Buffalo Bills football team, the source said on condition of anonymity.
On CNN, no less: “In essence, panels of people sitting around a table inhaling their own exhaust, and getting high on it.”
Retired US Attorney General Michael Mukasey slammed CNN on its own network for what he said was flawed coverage of the special counsel investigation into US President Donald Trump. Appearing for a one-on-one interview on Cuomo Prime Time on Tuesday, Mukasey said CNN was “misleading a lot of people” in its coverage of the investigation, which sought to determine whether then-candidate Trump conspired with Moscow to win the 2016 presidential election. “You have a big audience – getting smaller by the minute now,” he said to host Chris Cuomo, who laughed nervously. Mukasey served as attorney general from 2007 to 2009 under the George W. Bush administration.
While the special counsel’s final report did not find evidence of a criminal conspiracy with Russia, the report was for weeks the subject of intense speculation in the media. Mukasey was not impressed with CNN’s performance in the lead-up to the report’s publication, as the network insisted on the collusion narrative. “Your network was devoting days of people sitting around and talking about a report whose contents they didn’t know – that they hadn’t seen,” Mukasey said. “In essence, panels of people sitting around a table inhaling their own exhaust, and getting high on it.” He added that CNN helped to whip the country into “a state of absolute hysteria” over the investigation. “Consider this,” he said, “[Trump is] being investigated for a crime that didn’t happen, and that he certainly didn’t commit.”
Facebook = CIA.
Facebook announced Monday that Jennifer Newstead, a Trump appointee who served in the Department of Justice (DoJ) under President Bush, will join the social media company as General Counsel, supervising its global legal functions. Newstead replaces Colin Stretch, who announced in 3Q18 that he will exit. Stretch will remain with Facebook through the transition phase, expected to be completed in the coming months. “Jennifer is a seasoned leader whose global perspective and experience will help us fulfill our mission,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer. “We are also truly grateful to Colin for his dedicated leadership and wise counsel over the past nine years. He has played a crucial role in some of our most important projects and has created a strong foundation for Jennifer to build upon.”
Newstead brings a terrifying history of lobbying and legislating for an Orwellian style of mass electronic surveillance of Americans. The Hill explains she was credited with writing the controversial 2001 Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that stripped Americans of their First and Fourth Amendments in the name of fighting the War on Terror. In a 2002 statement, Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh described Newstead’s role in drafting the Patriot Act: “Her enhanced leadership duties and her excellent service on a range of issues — including helping craft the new U.S.A. Patriot Act to protect the United States against terror — have earned her this important distinction. She is first among equals.”
Congress enacted the Patriot Act in the wake of September 11, 2001 attacks, the Act expanded the scope of the government’s surveillance powers to investigate terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking. It allowed government investigators to use roving wiretaps and the ability to collect telephone records from US carriers.
That means Assange defense.
The Icelandic court has ordered Valitor, formerly VISA Iceland, to pay WikiLeaks $10 million in damages over the 2011 banking blockade. Valitor had been ordered to process card payments for WikiLeaks in 2013 by the same court, and was told they would face daily penalties if they refused to comply. By not reinstating services, the company was fined $204,900 per month or $2,494,604 per year for continuing the blockade. On Wednesday, Icelandic media reported that the company has now been ordered to pay up. Valitor has stated that they are likely to appeal, according to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks had launched a case against Valitor in Reykjavik back in June of 2012 over the unlawful suspension of financial services against Wikileaks.
Ten days after WikiLeaks published Cablegate, they were blockaded by Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union. The political effort to defund the organization lead to a wave of hacks and cyber attacks against the companies by transparency activists. “The blockade is outside of any accountable, public process. It is without democratic oversight or transparency. The US government itself found that there were no lawful grounds to add WikiLeaks to a US financial blockade. But the blockade of WikiLeaks by politicized US finance companies continues regardless,” WikiLeaks said in a statement at the time.
Appears to be a real low amount. They lose a billion a month from not building 52 but 42 planes.
The global grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max jets will cost the company more than $1bn, the company said on Wednesday. In its first quarterly earnings report since the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters, Boeing announced it had abandoned its 2019 financial outlook and halted share buy-backs in mid-March as it deals with the crisis. Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s chairman and chief executive officer, said: “We have great sorrow for the families affected. This weighs heavily on us.” He said the company’s first priority was to get the 737 Max back in the air and that the company was working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators to end the aircraft grounding.
The announcement was a sharp reversal from Boeing’s last earnings report in January, when executives unveiled plans to deliver more than 900 jetliners this year alongside higher sales and profits. The world’s largest plane-maker reported first-quarter revenue and cashflow below sharply lowered Wall Street estimates, largely due to stopping deliveries of the 737 Max jets, which were grounded in March after the two crashes. [..] Boeing cut production of the jets following the crashes to 42 aircraft per month, down from 52, and its operating cash flow in the first quarter was about $350m lower than a year earlier.
Musk’s business models are all based on subsidies.
It would be a joke for a small niche automaker, specialized in luxury cars, with a global market share of less than 1% to get this kind of global attention. But Tesla is unique because of its extraordinarily ludicrous stock price. Though that price has come down by about 32% from its peak in June 2017, it’s still ludicrously high. More on that in a moment. We’re going to skip over all the glossy stuff and go straight to the financial statement, more specifically to the bottom line of the income statement, where Tesla reported a zinger of a net loss of $702 million, its third-worst quarterly net loss ever. We note here that part of Tesla’s business model is to sell taxpayer-funded pollution credits to other companies, but they’re not fully disclosed until Tesla files its 10-Q at a later date:
These pollution credits are pure profit. For Q1, Tesla disclosed only $15 million of these credits. For the full disclosure we have to wait until Tesla files its 10-Q report for Q1 at a later date, when no one pays attention. For example, in the miraculous third quarter last year, Tesla reported a profit of $311 million on October 24, and all the world was left speculating and digging into how it accomplished this. At the time, it disclosed $52 million in “regulatory credits,” as it calls them. But then on November 2, Tesla filed its 10-Q for that quarter, disclosing that $189.5 million of its $311 million in profits had come from the sale of those “regulatory credits,” a much larger amount than typical.
[..] at the price of $258.66 a share at the close today, Tesla has a market capitalization of $44.7 billion. By comparison, GM – and I’m no fan of GM at this price – which made $48 billion in net income over the past four years and whose revenues of $147 billion in 2018 were seven times the size of Tesla’s, has a market cap of $56.6 billion. And at peak Tesla nuttiness, there were long periods when the market cap of Tesla exceeded that of GM. So to have some fun, I created this chart to show the difference in market cap (GM minus Tesla) in billion dollars.
“debt trap diplomacy”
As China fetes its Belt and Road initiative at a summit this week, Chinese officials will be working hard to defend the flagship project from growing international criticism. The three-day forum starting on Thursday is meant to promote Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s “project of the century”, a foreign policy initiative launched in 2013 to revive ancient trading routes between Asia and Europe, as well as build new links in the Middle East, Africa, and South America. But in contrast to its first summit two years ago, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) takes place in a much less welcoming environment. Critics say the initiative is an effort to cement Chinese influence around the world by financially binding countries to Beijing by way of “debt trap diplomacy”.
“The ‘Belt and Road initiative’ (BRI) is not a geopolitical tool but a platform for cooperation,” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said last week, ahead of the forum “We welcome all parties to take part in it.” This week’s event is especially important for Beijing, which uses the forum as a way to convince the international community, as well as its own citizens, of the success of the project. Beijing is likely to laud the memoranda of understanding signed at the event, which will conclude with a joint communique. [..] The event is to be attended by 37 leaders, including Russian president Vladimir Putin, Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, UK chancellor Philip Hammond, Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan and the heads of state of the 10 Asean (Association of South-east Asian Nation) states.
“In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with China expert Anne Stevenson-Yang about the imminent dangers facing global financial markets in the event of a break in the renminbi-dollar peg.”
“I really have never seen a listed company in China that did not have material and significant fraud.” – Anne Stevenson-Yang”
The problem is that China generated a tremendous amount of money and credit since the GFC, in particular, and therefore risks a major devaluation in the value of the RMB should the country no longer be able to get the foreign exchange reserves it needs through a sustainable current account surplus. They are, at the moment, running a negative current account, a negative fiscal balance (of roughly 9% of GDP), their foreign exchange reserves are declining for the first time ever, while the country’s external debt has doubled in the last five years, increasing by an average of $70 billion per quarter since the beginning of 2017. More than half of this debt is short-term, which means it needs to be constantly rolled over.
Up until the Fed paused it’s tightening cycle, the rising interest rates coupled with new tariffs on Chinese goods were creating a pincer-like effect on China’s economy and on its ability to maintain its peg, forcing it to fund more of its dollar needs through borrowing at ever higher interest rates. China cannot maintain a credible peg between the RMB and the USD when its money supply is growing, by some calculations at more than 10x that of the United States over the last 10 years. This is a fundamental problem of accounting. If China were completely self-sufficient – if it had access to sufficient energy, food, base metals, etc. within its own borders – then its inability to obtain dollars would not be an issue. The problem is that it is desperately short these commodities as inputs for its manufacturing and domestic consumption.
Not a Monbiot fan, but surely a discussion point. Unlike him, do come with an alternative.
Thunberg: ‘That future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. It was stolen from us every time you said that the sky was the limit, and that you only live once.’
Capitalism’s failures arise from two of its defining elements. The first is perpetual growth. Economic growth is the aggregate effect of the quest to accumulate capital and extract profit. Capitalism collapses without growth, yet perpetual growth on a finite planet leads inexorably to environmental calamity. Those who defend capitalism argue that, as consumption switches from goods to services, economic growth can be decoupled from the use of material resources. Last week a paper in the journal New Political Economy, by Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis, examined this premise. They found that while some relative decoupling took place in the 20th century (material resource consumption grew, but not as quickly as economic growth), in the 21st century there has been a recoupling: rising resource consumption has so far matched or exceeded the rate of economic growth.
The absolute decoupling needed to avert environmental catastrophe (a reduction in material resource use) has never been achieved, and appears impossible while economic growth continues. Green growth is an illusion. A system based on perpetual growth cannot function without peripheries and externalities. There must always be an extraction zone – from which materials are taken without full payment – and a disposal zone, where costs are dumped in the form of waste and pollution. As the scale of economic activity increases until capitalism affects everything, from the atmosphere to the deep ocean floor, the entire planet becomes a sacrifice zone: we all inhabit the periphery of the profit-making machine.
[..] The second defining element is the bizarre assumption that a person is entitled to as great a share of the world’s natural wealth as their money can buy. This seizure of common goods causes three further dislocations. First, the scramble for exclusive control of non-reproducible assets, which implies either violence or legislative truncations of other people’s rights. Second, the immiseration of other people by an economy based on looting across both space and time. Third, the translation of economic power into political power, as control over essential resources leads to control over the social relations that surround them.
The only thing we’re acutally good at is destruction.
Millions of hectares of pristine tropical rainforest were destroyed in 2018, according to satellite analysis, with beef, chocolate and palm oil among the main causes. The forests store huge amounts of carbon and are teeming with wildlife, making their protection critical to stopping runaway climate change and halting a sixth mass extinction. But deforestation is still on an upward trend, the researchers said. Although 2018 losses were lower than in 2016 and 2017, when dry conditions led to large fires, last year was the next worst since 2002, when such records began. Clearcutting of primary forest by loggers and cattle ranchers in Brazil dominated the destruction, including invasions into indigenous lands where uncontacted tribes live.
Losses were also high in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Indonesia. Indonesia is the only major country where government protections appear to be significantly reducing the losses. Ghana and Ivory Coast recorded the biggest percentage rises in rainforest destruction, driven by gold mining and cocoa farming. “We are nowhere near winning this battle,” said Frances Seymour from the World Resources Institute, part of the Global Forest Watch (GFW) network, which produced the analysis. “It is really tempting to celebrate a second year of decline since peak tree cover loss in 2016 but, if you look back over the last 18 years, it is clear that the overall trend is still upwards.”
“The world’s forests are now in the emergency room – it is death by a thousand cuts,” she said. “Band-Aid responses are not enough. For every hectare lost, we are one step closer to the scary scenario of runaway climate change.” There are many government and corporate efforts to combat deforestation, but they are not proving to be enough, Seymour said.