Apr 162020
 


Dorothea Lange Richmond, California 1942

 

Coronavirus Testing Hits Dramatic Slowdown In US (Pol.)
Antibody Tests For Coronavirus Can Miss The Mark (NPR)
The Coronavirus Is Particularly Unkind To Those Who Are Obese (LAT)
New York Taps Mckinsey To Develop ‘Trump-Proof’ Economic Reopening Plan (R.)
New Zealand PM: Many Restrictions To Be Kept In Place When Lockdown Ends (R.)
Investors Are Underestimating The Economic Shock The World Is Facing (AEP)
Trump Threatens To Adjourn Congress Over ‘Scam’ Preventing Appointments (R.)
US Coronavirus Small-Business Program Funding Nearly Spent (LAT)
Real Time US Labor Market Estimates During 2020 Coronavirus Outbreak (Bick)
Overcapacity/Oversupply Everywhere: Massive Deflation Ahead (CHS)
US Opposition Seen Stalling Major IMF Liquidity Boost (R.)
We Scientists Said Lock Down. But UK Politicians Refused To Listen (G.)
Inception (Ben Hunt)
The Golden Rule (Ben Hunt)
Major Blow To Keystone XL Pipeline As Judge Revokes Key Permit (G.)
FBI Repeatedly Warned Steele Dossier Fed By Russian Misinformation (Solomon)

 

 

We are facing prolonged discussions and chaos about testing. Everyone wants to reopen their economies, but that is not feasible if there is no testing. Nobody wants to go to a bar or an office or factory floor if they can catch a deadly virus there. Very few people will volunteer to sit on, or work on, a plane or train under such conditions, and few countries would welcome travelers anyway.

But from what I gather, testing facilities and capacities are few and far between, other than perhaps in Wuhan or maybe maybe Seoul. Testing 1% of people doesn’t get you anywhere, not with 15-50% of people being asymptomatic carriers infecting others around them.

Many countries claim they don’t need to do more testing, and most do that only because they can’t. And then you get into antibodies testing, and you find the mess and uncertainties are even bigger there. The entire situation screams for one thing: lockdown, minimize contact, but that’s what they all want to get away from.

 

• US records nearly 2,600 #coronavirus deaths in 24 hours – a new record and the heaviest daily toll of any country, Johns Hopkins University reports.

• The total number of US deaths is now 28,326 — higher than any other nation

 

 

Cases 2,094,884 (+ 80,884 from yesterday’s 2,014,000)

Deaths 135,569 (+ 7,977 from yesterday’s 127,592)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close- (Note: Brazil and Russia are climbing fast)

 

 

From Worldometer – NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases remains at 21% –

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

How accurate is it anyway?

Coronavirus Testing Hits Dramatic Slowdown In US (Pol.)

The number of coronavirus tests analyzed each day by commercial labs in the U.S. plummeted by more than 30 percent over the past week, even though new infections are still surging in many states and officials are desperately trying to ramp up testing so the country can reopen. One reason for the drop-off may be the narrow testing criteria that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last revised in March. The agency’s guidelines prioritize hospitalized patients, health care workers and those thought to be especially vulnerable to the disease, such as the elderly. Health providers have been turning away others in part due to shortages of the swabs used to collect samples.

It’s not clear whether demand has peaked among the groups on the CDC’s priority list. But after being overwhelmed for weeks, commercial labs say they are now sitting with unused testing capacity waiting for samples to arrive. The continued glitches in the U.S. testing system are threatening to impede attempts to reopen the economy and return to normal life. Expanding testing as much as possible is essential so officials have enough data to determine when it’s safe to lift social distancing measures and allow people to go back to work. Continued testing beyond that point will help officials detect — and stamp out — sparks that could set off new outbreaks. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told POLITICO on Tuesday the White House Coronavirus Task Force is continuing to discuss whether changes to the testing criteria are warranted.

“This is part of an ongoing discussion that we’re having,” he said. “People are working overtime on that one.” Hahn’s comments came as the American Clinical Laboratory Association reported that the number of samples commercial labs handle each day fell from 108,000 on April 5 to 75,000 by April 12. The group’s members, including commercial giants Quest and LabCorp, analyze about two-thirds of all coronavirus tests in the U.S. “ACLA members have now eliminated testing backlogs, and have considerable capacity that is not being used,” ACLA President Julie Khani told POLITICO. “We stand ready to perform more testing and are in close communication with public health partners about ways we can support additional needs.”

Read more …

You couldn’t create a bigger mess if you tried with all your might.

Antibody Tests For Coronavirus Can Miss The Mark (NPR)

Dozens of blood tests are rapidly coming on the market to identify people who have been exposed to the coronavirus by checking for antibodies against it. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t set standards for these kinds of tests, but even those that meet the government’s informal standard may produce many false answers and provide false assurances. The imperfect results could be a big disappointment to people who are looking toward these tests to help them return to something resembling a normal life. First of all, it’s not clear whether someone who has antibodies to the coronavirus in their blood is actually immune. Your body produces these antibodies within about a week of infection.

In many other diseases, people do have a period of immunity after they have been exposed to a microbe and recover from illness. But that has not been demonstrated yet with the coronavirus. Another problem is that test results are wrong much more frequently than you might expect. While tests may truthfully say they are more than 90% accurate, in practical use they can often perform far below that level. [..] Dr. Jeremy Gabrysch runs a mobile medical service in Austin, Texas. He got a supply of antibody tests made by a major Chinese manufacturer and says he has tested several hundred people in the last few days. “We offer the test for people who may have suspected they might have had coronavirus back in February or March when testing with the nasal swab [and PCR diagnostic test] was very limited,” he says. The charge: $49 a test.

Gabrysch says he only tests people when he has other evidence they might have been exposed. “If they had an illness that sounds like it could have been coronavirus and they had a positive antibody test, then it’s very likely that this is a true positive, that they indeed had COVID-19,” he says. The test he’s using, produced by Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech in China, boasts a specificity of 99%, which means it only falsely says a blood sample contains antibodies against the coronavirus 1% of the time. But despite that impressive statistic, a test like that is not 99% correct, and in fact in some circumstances could be much worse.

That’s because of this counterintuitive fact: The validity of a test depends not only on the technology, but how common the disease is in the population you’re sampling. “It is kind of a strange thing,” admits Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who studies issues surrounding tests and screening. “An antibody test is much more likely to be wrong in a population with very little COVID exposure.” This is a result of statistics, rather than the technology of any given test.

Read more …

But not those above 65. A very curious finding.

The Coronavirus Is Particularly Unkind To Those Who Are Obese (LAT)

America’s obesity epidemic appears to be making the coronavirus outbreak more dangerous — and potentially more deadly — in the United States, new research suggests. For younger and middle-aged adults in particular, carrying excess weight may significantly boost the likelihood of becoming severely ill with COVID-19. The evidence for this comes from thousands of COVID-19 patients who sought treatment in emergency departments in New York, and it’s prompting alarm among doctors and other health experts. In the U.S., 42.4% of adults have obesity, which means their body-mass index, or BMI, is 30 or more.

In one of two new studies released this week, COVID-19 patients who were younger than 60 and had a BMI between 30 and 34 were twice as likely as their non-obese peers to be admitted to the hospital for acute care instead of being sent home from the ER. They were also 1.8 times more likely to require critical care in a hospital’s intensive care unit. More severe obesity posed an even greater risk to COVID-19 patients in this under-60 age group. When these patients had a BMI of 35 or higher, they were 2.2 times more likely than their non-obese peers to need standard hospital care and 3.6 times more likely to end up in the ICU. “Obesity appears to be a previously unrecognized risk factor for hospital admission and need for critical care,” wrote the authors of the study published this month in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

But that only applies to relatively younger patients; among those ages 65 and older, there was no link between obesity status and hospital care. The authors, from New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, suggested that the country’s high prevalence of obesity might be nudging rates of severe illness and death higher in the U.S. than in South Korea, China and Italy, where obesity rates are lower. The results also give doctors a new way to predict which COVID-19 patients who are not yet senior citizens run a higher risk of hospitalization and critical illness. “Unfortunately, obesity in people <60 years is a newly identified epidemiologic risk factor,” wrote the researchers, who included 3,615 patients in their study.

Read more …

We need more Wall Street.

New York Taps Mckinsey To Develop ‘Trump-Proof’ Economic Reopening Plan (R.)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has hired high-powered consultants to develop a science-based plan for the safe economic reopening of the region that can thwart expected pressure from President Donald Trump to move more rapidly, state government sources told Reuters on Wednesday. Cuomo, along with many other U.S. governors, shut his state economy to limit the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus and has warned that he is are prepared to keep businesses shut – perhaps for several months more – unless he can assure public safety. Governors from seven East Coast states formed a coalition on Monday, led by New York, to develop a joint reopening plan. Three governors from the West Coast formed a similar plan. The 10 states, mostly led by Democrats, together make up 38% of the U.S. economy.


As part of Cuomo’s effort, McKinsey & Company is producing models on testing, infections and other key data points that will underpin decisions on how and when to reopen the region’s economy, the sources said. Cuomo has also recalled three former top aides: Bill Mulrow, a senior adviser at Blackstone Group; Steven Cohen, an executive vice president and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Inc; and Larry Schwartz, a deputy Westchester County executive. Deloitte is also involved in developing the regional plan, a source said. The goal is to “Trump-proof” the plan, said an adviser to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. “We think Trump ultimately will blink on this, but if not, we need to push back, and we are reaching out to top experts and other professionals to come up with a bullet-proof plan,” to open on the state’s terms, said a Cuomo adviser.

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Please don’t claim you’re about to eliminate the virus. Ramp up testing as of your life depended on it.

New Zealand PM: Many Restrictions To Be Kept In Place When Lockdown Ends (R.)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that significant restrictions would be kept in place even if the country eases the nationwide one-month lockdown enforced to beat the spread of the coronavirus. New Zealand introduced its highest, level 4 lockdown measures in March, under which offices, schools and all non-essential services like bars, restaurants, cafes and playgrounds were shut down. A decision on whether to lift the lockdown would be made on April 20. The measures were tougher than most other countries, including neighbouring Australia, where some businesses were allowed to operate.


Ardern said if New Zealand moves to the lower level 3 of restriction, it would permit aspects of the economy to reopen in a safe way but there will be no “rush to normality”. “We have an opportunity to do something no other country has achieved, eliminating the virus,” Ardern said at a news conference. New Zealand reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the total to 1,401 in a nation of about 5 million people. There have been nine deaths. Ardern said under level 3, some people could return to work and businesses reopen if they are able to provide contactless engagement with customers. Shops, malls, hardware stores and restaurants will remain shut but can permit online or phone purchases.

Read more …

It’s been a while since I saw a piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. Very much stuck in business-only mode.

Investors Are Underestimating The Economic Shock The World Is Facing (AEP)

Investors are repeating the mistake they made all through February and early March. They are again underestimating the immense economic shock of COVID-19. Can there be any parallel in market history to the surreal clash of narratives we saw this week? Global bourses soared even as the International Monetary Fund painted a series of scenarios ranging from dire – the most violent slump since the Great Depression – to catastrophic, with all the potential chain-reactions spelt out in its Global Financial Stability Report. Yet Goldman Sachs tells us that COVID-19 is under control and the worst is over. “The number of new active cases looks to be peaking globally, projections of cumulative fatalities and peak healthcare usage are coming down,” it says.

From this breathtaking premise, Wall Street’s fashion leader argues that we should “look through” the Great Lockdown to sunlit uplands ahead, anticipating a further 8% rise in the S&P 500 index by the end of the year. We can disregard normal bear market rules. This time we will avoid the textbook sequence of events in recessions: a swift crash followed by a torrid buy-the-dip rebound, and then a slow downward grind over months as reality hits home, ending only in capitulation at far lower levels. Authorities have spared us such a fate by rescuing everything immediately. “The Fed and Congress have precluded the prospect of a complete economic collapse,” it says.

I agree that $5 trillion of central bank QE, vast fiscal packages (10% of GDP in the US), and blanket guarantees, have averted disaster. They have – in a disjointed way – bought time and given us a chance of emerging from this global sudden stop without irreparable damage to the productive system. What is surely wrong is to imagine that this pandemic is a one-off shock lasting three months or so, followed by an early release from lockdowns and a swift return to near normality. The first glimpses of antibody data – such as Denmark’s test on blood donors – show that we are nowhere near the safe threshold of herd immunity.

They confirm fears that the mortality rate is at least 1% of infections and that therefore no democracies can let the virus run its course without overwhelming their health services and destroying their political legitimacy. The supposed trade-off between lives and the economy is an illusion. The most certain way to turn this crisis into a depression is to give up too soon, as Spain is already doing, and Donald Trump is itching to do. We would end up in the worst of all worlds, with multiple waves, and another forced closure of the economy to avert a winter tsunami, requiring trillions more in fiscal relief. [..] “We need a vaccine. Until we get one, the stock markets are in cloud-cuckoo land,” says professor Anthony Costello from University College London.

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That wouldn’t be wise.

Trump Threatens To Adjourn Congress Over ‘Scam’ Preventing Appointments (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Wednesday to shut down Congress so he could fill vacancies in his administration without Senate confirmation, saying he was frustrated lawmakers were not in Washington to vote on his nominees for federal judgeships and other government positions. “The current practice of leaving town, while conducting phony pro forma sessions, is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis,” an angry Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus crisis. “It is a scam that they do. It’s a scam and everyone knows it, and it’s been that way for a long time,” Trump said. No U.S. president has ever used the authority, included in the Constitution, to adjourn both chambers of Congress if they cannot agree on a date to adjourn.


It was not immediately clear if Congress’ current absence from Washington because of the global pandemic could be classified as being due to a failure to agree on an adjournment date. The Senate and House of Representatives have both announced plans to return to Washington on May 4, and had been scheduled to be out of Washington for two weeks in April for their annual Easter break even before the coronavirus crisis. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed nominations with Trump on Wednesday and promised to find ways to confirm those “considered mission-critical” to the pandemic, a McConnell spokesman said. “However, under Senate rules, that would take consent from Democratic leader Chuck Schumer,” the spokesman said.

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It was obvious before it started that it would be a mess.

US Coronavirus Small-Business Program Funding Nearly Spent (LAT)

Democrats and the Trump administration were at a stalemate Wednesday over how to resupply the popular Paycheck Protection Program, which helps small businesses cope during the coronavirus pandemic and is due to run out of money as soon as Wednesday night. The standoff came as Senate Democrats pushed the administration to lay the groundwork for how the nation may reemerge from social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Republicans and Democrats agree they need to provide more funding to the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans to help small businesses maintain their payrolls amid the deep economic fallout from the coronavirus. But the GOP balked at additional Democratic demands, such as tagging some of the funding for businesses that don’t have an existing relationship with a bank that supply the loans.

Participating banks have largely given preference to their current customers. As of 9 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, the Small Business Administration had approved 1.5 million applications totaling more than $324 billion of the $349 billion that Congress authorized in last month’s $2.2-trillion coronavirus relief package, according to the agency. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over small business, said that the program is expected to “grind to a halt” Wednesday evening as it hits its spending limit. “Now 700,000 small business applications are in limbo & no new loans will be made until the game of chicken in Congress ends,” Rubio said on Twitter. “Inexcusable.”

[..] The standoff over the funding program comes as Democrats on Wednesday released a national coronavirus testing strategy, arguing that they’re filling a void left by the Trump administration, which hasn’t released a plan to scale up COVID-19 testing to allow Americans to return to work and school. “The U.S. lags the world in testing and we lead the world in COVID-19 cases,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “We are raising the alarm bells.” [..] Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairmen of two Senate committees responsible for health policy and spending, have said they want to make COVID-19 antibody testing free to all Americans. They acknowledged the need for widespread testing before people will feel comfortable resuming normal activities outside their homes. But Alexander said the money Congress has already authorized should be used to ramp up testing — not new funding.

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It takes weeks for jobs numbers to come out. That is too long in virustime. These guys try to fill the gap.

Real Time US Labor Market Estimates During 2020 Coronavirus Outbreak (Bick)

Labor market statistics for the United States are collected once a month and published with a three week delay. In normal times, this procedure results in timely and useful statistics. But these are not normal times. Currently, the most recent statistics refer to the week of March 8- 14; new statistics will not be available until May 8. In the meantime, the Coronavirus outbreak has shut down a substantial portion of the U.S. economy. More timely and frequent data on the impact on the labor force would surely be useful for both policy makers and the broader public. Our core survey closely follows the CPS, which allows us to construct estimates consistent with theirs. The first wave of our survey covers the week of March 29-April 4. Our findings reveal unprecedented changes in the US labor market since the most recent CPS data were collected:

1. The employment rate decreased from 72.7% to 60.7%, implying 24 million jobs lost.
2. The unemployment rate increased from 4.5% to 20.2%.
3. Hours worked per working age adult declined 25% from the second week of March. Half of this decline is due to lower hours per employed as opposed to lower employment.
4. Over 60% of work hours were from home, compared with roughly 10% in 2017-2018.
5. Those who still have their jobs are working fewer hours; 21% report a decline in earnings.
6. Declines were most pronounced for workers who were female, older, and less educated.

Effective policies require timely and accurate data on the scale of the downturn, yet traditional data sources are only made available at a significant lag. For example, the March 2020 Employment Situation report by the the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only reflected labor market outcomes from the week ending Friday March 13, which precedes most major developments related to the outbreak. The April 2020 Employment Situation report will reflect labor market outcomes from the third week of April, but is not scheduled for release until May 8. The gap between the data needs of policymakers and the time lag of traditional data sources has left policymakers “flying blind” to a significant degree. The goal of this project is to help fill that void. [..]

Our major findings for the last week of March are as follows.
1. Dramatic reductions in employment. (a) We find an employment rate of 60.7% during the first week of April, compared with 72.7% in the second week of March, implying 24 million fewer workers. (b) We find an unemployment rate of 20.2% during the first week of April, compared with 4.5% in the second week of March. One positive note is that over half of the unemployed reported being temporarily laid off, suggesting that many could return to work quickly if conditions improve.

2. Even larger declines in aggregate labor supply than implied by employment alone. (a) Hours worked per working age adult declined 25% from March. In the first week of April, individuals worked 20.4 hours on average, compared with 27.5 weekly hours in the second week of March. (b) Hours worked per employed declined 12% from March. Even those who are still employed are working 4.5 fewer hours per week, a reduction of over half a day of work. This implies that just under half of the decline in hours per working age adult were due to reductions in hours worked per employed, and are therefore not reflected in changes to the employment rate.

3. Unprecedented increase of the share of hours worked from home. (a) We find that 63.8% of work hours were from home during the first week of April, compared with roughly 10% in the Spring of 2017 and 2018.

4. Lower earnings even for individuals still working the same job as in February. (a) We find that 21.9% of workers still working the same job as in February experienced a reduction in their earnings last week compared to February. About half of these reported that their reduction in earnings was 50% or larger. (b) At the same time, 11% of workers with the same job as in February report higher weekly earnings last week compared with February. 5. Disparities in labor market outcomes by sex, age, education, race, and hourly status. (a) Although negative effects are widespread, they are more pronounced among workers who are female, older, and less educated.

Read more …

Charles is right. Restart the whole circus now and there will be no buyers.

Overcapacity/Oversupply Everywhere: Massive Deflation Ahead (CHS)

Oil is the poster child of the forces driving massive deflation: overcapacity / oversupply and a collapse in demand. Overcapacity / oversupply and a collapse in demand are not limited to the crude oil market; rather, they are the dominant realities in the global economy. Yes, there are shortages in a few high-demand areas such as PPE (personal protective equipment), but across the entire spectrum of global supply and demand, there is nothing but a vast sea of overcapacity / oversupply and a systemic decline in demand as far as the eye can see. Here’s a partial list of commodities that are in Overcapacity / oversupply:

1. Overvalued assets 2. Overpriced income streams (as income craters, so will the asset generating the income) 3. Labor: low-skill everywhere, high-skill in sectors experiencing systemic collapse in demand 4. AirBnB and other vacation rental properties 5. Overpriced flats, condos and houses 6. Overpriced rental apartments 7. Overpriced commercial office space 8. Overpriced retail space 9. Overpriced used vehicles 10. Overpriced collectibles

I think you get the idea. Should China restart its export factories, then almost everything being manufactured will immediately be in oversupply, as the global export sector was plagued with mass overcapacity long before the Covid-19 pandemic crushed demand. Incomes will crater as revenues and profits crash, small businesses close their doors, never to re-open, local governments tighten spending, and whatever competition still exists will relentlessly push the price of labor, goods and services lower. Globalization has generated hyper-specialization in local and regional economies, stripping them of resilience. Fully exposed to the demand flows of a globalized class of consumers with surplus discretionary income, regions specialized in tourism, manufacturing, commodity mining, etc.

All these regions are now facing a structural collapse of global demand, and they have no diversified local economy to cushion the blow to jobs, incomes, profits and tax revenues. Thousands of small business that could barely squeak through a 20% decline in revenues are facing a 50% or more decline as far as the eye can see. With costs such as rent, labor, fees, taxes and healthcare at nosebleed levels, an enormously consequential number of small businesses globally cannot survive more than a modest, brief drop in revenues, as their costs remain high even as their sales plummet: costs are sticky, profits slide quickly to zero and beyond.

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No, I don’t like Soros being involved, and no, I don’t like the US squeezing Iran in virustime.

But most of all, all countries should think twice before letting the IMF have anything to do with their money supply. It doesn’t come free.

US Opposition Seen Stalling Major IMF Liquidity Boost (R.)

U.S. opposition is expected to prevent the International Monetary Fund this week from deploying one of its most powerful tools to help countries fight the coronavirus: creating a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights. The move, akin to a central bank “printing” new money, has been advocated by economists, finance ministers and non-profit groups to provide as much as $500 billion in urgently-needed liquidity for the IMF’s 189 member countries. SDRs, based on dollars, euro, yen, sterling and yuan, are the IMF’s official unit of exchange. Member countries hold them at the Fund in proportion to their shareholdings. The IMF last approved a $250-billion new allocation of SDRs in 2009, during the last financial crisis, boosting liquidity for cash-strapped countries. Doing so again now could provide more flexibility to the 100 countries that have already sought IMF emergency loans and grants, and allow new lending to countries with “unsustainable” debt burdens, such as Argentina.


An SDR expansion has attracted some celebrity advocates, such as investor George Soros and U2 lead singer Bono’s ONE anti-poverty organization, along with trade unions and faith-based groups. Finance officials will debate the issue during this week’s virtual IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings, but multiple sources familiar with the Fund’s deliberations say the United States, the IMF’s dominant shareholder, actively opposes such a move. The Trump administration opposes providing countries such as Iran and China with billions of dollars in new resources with no conditions, two of the sources said. [..] The U.S. Treasury Department would prefer to see the IMF focus on using its $1 trillion in existing resources, including $100 billion in emergency loans and grants, to aid countries’ health responses to the crisis, the sources said.

Read more …

You would think this should wake up Britain. But what are the odds?

We Scientists Said Lock Down. But UK Politicians Refused To Listen (G.)

In mid-February a colleague mentioned that for the first time in his life he was more concerned than his mother, who had been relatively blase about the risks of Covid-19. It felt odd for him to be telling her to take care. We are both professors in a department of infectious disease epidemiology, and we were worried. Two months on, that anxiety has not gone, although it’s also been joined by a sense of sadness. It’s now clear that so many people have died, and so many more are desperately ill, simply because our politicians refused to listen to and act on advice. Scientists like us said lock down earlier; we said test, trace, isolate. But they decided they knew better.

Am I being unfair? The government assures us that its decisions and timing are based on science, as if it is a neutral, value-free process resulting in a specific set of instructions. In reality, the science around coronavirus is in its infancy and developing daily, with researchers across the world trying to understand how the virus spreads, how the body responds – and how to treat it and control it. The speed at which our knowledge has increased is impressive, from the sequencing of the virus in January through to having candidate vaccines in early February.

Mathematical models are being refined to predict the extent and speed of spread and estimate the impact of control methods. My own group is studying the response of communities, showing how the epidemic is amplifying existing social inequalities. People with the lowest household income are far less likely, but no less willing, to be able to work from home or to self-isolate. But while scientists carry out observations and experiments, testing, iterating and discovering new knowledge, it is the role of policymakers to act on the best available evidence. In the context of a rapidly growing threat, that means listening to experts with experience of responding to previous epidemics.

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Ben Hunt is angry enough to start a revolution. While he’s also running a program delivering masks and other PPE to medical workers.

Inception (Ben Hunt)

The past few months are not a litany of errors and honest mistakes by the institutions we have charged with protecting us from disease and ruin. They are a litany of betrayals, and their Answers – their False Stories – have been revealed as lies. First we’re going to vaccinate ourselves to their Answers, to their False Stories, so that we think for ourselves again. Without this, we will inevitably fall back into the patterns of crony capitalism and obscene financialization that got us here in the first place. It’s a vaccine that we don’t administer anymore … an intentional decision by the high-functioning sociopaths and political entrepreneurs who rule us, of course.

Like all effective vaccines, it mimics the virus itself in its ability to trigger a physiological response in us. They want to nudge you into allegiance to a policy or a vote or a party. We want to un-nudge you into independence of spirit and thought. They want to infect you with an Answer. We want to innoculate you with a Process. The Process is one of the Old Stories. It is, in fact, the Oldest Story of what makes for a good and just human society. It is a narrative that has directly motivated hundreds of millions of people to organize themselves in hundreds of thousands of beneficial social forms, large and small, for thousands of years. We’re going to use that incepted Process to burn down these systems of iniquity from within and below.

We’re going use that incepted Process to build something better together, as brothers and sisters exercising our birthright – our autonomy of mind. I’m going to tell you exactly how we’re going to develop millions and millions of doses of the Old Story vaccine, and I’m going to tell you exactly how we’re going to administer them and exactly how we are going to change the world from below and from within. And you won’t believe me.

I mean, this happens all the time. I will sit down with someone and walk them through the entire plan … how we’re developing the science of what Isaac Asimov called “psychohistory”, how that gives us the ability to not only measure the narratives of social control that oligarchic institutions broadcast but also to design effective jamming narratives of our own, how we create a decentralized epistemic community of distributed trust and mutual support that we call the Pack, how we burn down these oligarchic institutions from below by jamming their Answers and from within by replacing the current sociopathic leadership with members of the Pack … and it is literally as if a switch goes off in their head and their eyes go dim. But then I’ll say “yada-yada-Trump” or “yada-yada-Biden” or “yada-yada-the-Fed” or “yada-yada-Bitcoin” and they’ll perk right up again!

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I’m cheating a bit. This is part of the article above, Inception. But the article is long and this is a very good bit.

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn it.”

The Golden Rule (Ben Hunt)

It’s the Golden Rule. It’s the Oldest Story of fundamental human ethics. You can find it in ancient Egyptian stories, preserved in papyri from the Middle Kingdom. You can find it in the ancient Sanskrit epic “Mahabarata”, as the way in which dharma manifests itself in human affairs. You can find it in the ancient Greek writings of Thales and Pythagoras. You can find it in the ancient Persian texts of Zoroaster. But here’s my favorite: A gentile came before two teachers, Shammai the strict and Hillel the tolerant, and to each in turn said, “I will convert to Judaism if you can teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him away. But Hillel said to the gentile, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn it.” The rest is commentary.


The Golden Rule is all you need to know to organize a good and just society. Everything else, all of the rules and principles and books and words and laws that engulf us … ALL of it … is just commentary. The Golden Rule is the vaccine. The Golden Rule is the simplest and most powerful form of the idea of reciprocity, ready and primed for inception in every human dreamer. The Golden Rule is the formal description of empathy. The Golden Rule is the only law of the Pack. The Golden Rule IS the full hearts of Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose. The Golden Rule is the meme that we’re going to inject in a mass-customized way straight into everyone’s veins with the Narrative Machine. And then YOU are going to burn down the current system of oligarchic iniquity from below and within. And then YOU are going to change the world. All on your own. With no centralized organization and no Answer imposed from above.

Read more …

Note that this takes place as the world is fast running out of space to store oil reserves in. I’m waiting for numbers of fully loaded tankers floating off ports for weeks or months.

Major Blow To Keystone XL Pipeline As Judge Revokes Key Permit (G.)

The controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has been dealt a major setback, after a judge revoked a key permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers without properly assessing the impact on endangered species. In a legal challenge brought by a coalition of environmental groups, a federal judge in Montana ordered the Army Corps to suspend all filling and dredging activities until it conducts formal consultations compliant with the Endangered Species Act. The ruling revokes the water-crossing permit needed to complete construction of the pipeline, and is expected to cause major delays to the divisive project. Keystone XL is a 1,179-mile pipeline which would transport around 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, eventually heading to refineries on the Gulf Coast.


Campaigners welcomed Wednesday’s ruling as a victory for tribal rights and environmental protection. “The court has rightfully ruled against the Trump administration’s efforts to fast track this nasty pipeline at any cost. We won’t allow fossil fuel corporations and backdoor politicians to violate the laws that protect people and the planet,” said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin of environmental group 350.org Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizer Alliance, said: “The revoking of the permit is a victory for treaty rights and democracy. Tribal nations have a renewed opportunity to exercise our legal and inherent rights to protect the water of the Missouri river bioregion for all who live, farm and work on the land.”

Read more …

Prepare to hear much more about this from Horowitz. Someone will do a major write-up.

FBI Repeatedly Warned Steele Dossier Fed By Russian Misinformation (Solomon)

The FBI received repeated warnings dating to 2015 that Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy it used to build a case against President Trump, had concerning contacts with Russian oligarchs and intelligence figures that might call into question the credibility of his intelligence reporting, newly declassified documents showed Monday. The suspect sources included a person described as a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a Russian intelligence figure under separate counterintelligence investigation by the FBI, the memos show. And the red flags included a warning that Russian intelligence appeared to be aware as early as July 2016 that Steele was working on a U.S. election-related investigation, making him susceptible to misinformation.

The revelations are found in newly declassified footnotes from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December, 2019 report about failures in the Russia probe that included using false evidence to secure a FISA warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in October 2016. Some of those red flags were raised prior to the bureau’s decision to rely on Steele’s dossier as key evidence in seeking the FISA warrant targeting the Trump campaign in the final days of the 2016 election, and nearly all were raised before Special Counsel Robert Mueller opened his probe in spring 2017.

For instance, FBI officials urged in 2015 that Steele undergo a re-evaluation as an informant (a “validation review,” in spy parlance) after the bureau’s transnational organized crime office learned that he had received contact from five Russian oligarchs, all of whom wanted to have contact with the bureau. “The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity,” one footnote stated.

Read more …

 

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Mar 082020
 


Unknown Daniels-Wells Pontiac, 3055 Broadway, Oakland CA 1938

 

Strongest Evidence Yet That America Is Botching Coronavirus Testing (Atl.)
US Airport Screeners, Health Workers Plagued By Fear And Anger (R.)
One Tests Positive After Conference Also Attended By Trump, Pence, Pompeo (X.)
Nebraska Woman Rushed To Bio-Containment Unit In Specialized Isolation Pod (DM)
Italy To Quarantine Whole Of Lombardy Due To Coronavirus (O.)
Quarter Of Italy’s Population Put In Quarantine (O.)
Head Of Italy Players’ Union Calls For Soccer To Stop (R.)
Lebanon To Default On Foreign Debt Payments For First Time (BBC)
IMF Deal Would Spark ‘Popular Revolution’ In Lebanon – Hezbollah (R.)
US Blocks UN Statement Backing Syria Ceasefire (Ditz)
Top Saudi Royals ‘Arrested For Plotting With Americans Against King’ (RT)
Saudi Arabia Starts All-Out Oil War (ZH)

 

 

 

Cases 106,487 (+ 3,943 from yesterday’s 102,544)

Deaths 3,600 (+ 99 from yesterday’s 3,501)

 

Lovely. North America moves its clock 3 full weeks ahead of Europe. I lose an hour every morning.

Meanwhile, the virus continues its march unabated. In virus time.

 

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID2019.app:

 

 

 

 

South Korea has tested 200,000+ people, it says. The Atlantic could only confirm 1,895 tests in the US.

Strongest Evidence Yet That America Is Botching Coronavirus Testing (Atl.)

It’s one of the most urgent questions in the United States right now: How many people have actually been tested for the coronavirus? This number would give a sense of how widespread the disease is, and how forceful a response to it the United States is mustering. But for days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has refused to publish such a count, despite public anxiety and criticism from Congress. On Monday, Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, estimated that “by the end of this week, close to a million tests will be able to be performed” in the United States. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence promised that “roughly 1.5 million tests” would be available this week.

But the number of tests performed across the country has fallen far short of those projections, despite extraordinarily high demand, The Atlantic has found. “The CDC got this right with H1N1 and Zika, and produced huge quantities of test kits that went around the country,” Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC from 2009 to 2017, told us. “I don’t know what went wrong this time.” Through interviews with dozens of public-health officials and a survey of local data from across the country, The Atlantic could only verify that 1,895 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the United States, about 10 percent of whom have tested positive. And while the American capacity to test for the coronavirus has ramped up significantly over the past few days, local officials can still test only several thousand people a day, not the tens or hundreds of thousands indicated by the White House’s promises.


To arrive at our estimate, we contacted the public-health departments of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We gathered data on websites, and we corresponded with dozens of state officials. All 50 states and D.C. have made some information available, though the quality and timeliness of the data varied widely. Some states have only committed to releasing their numbers once or three times a week. Most are focused on the number of confirmed cases; only a few have publicized the number of people they are capable of testing. The Atlantic’s numbers reflect the best available portrait of the country’s testing capacity as of early this morning. These numbers provide an accurate baseline, but they are incomplete. Scattered on state websites, the data available are not useful to citizens or political leaders. State-based tallies lack the reliability of the CDC’s traditional—but now abandoned—method of reporting.

[..] Our reporting found that the capacity to test for the coronavirus varies dramatically—and sometimes dangerously—from state to state. California claims the highest testing capacity of any state, and has tested the most individuals so far. As of yesterday afternoon, it had tested 516 people, with 53 positive cases, a spokesperson for the Department of Health told us. The department now has the capacity to test 6,000 people every day, and it expects that capacity to expand to 7,400 people a day starting today, the spokesperson said. Washington State, the site of the country’s largest outbreak thus far, can test roughly 1,000 people a day. The state health department’s laboratory can test 100 people a day; the rest of the testing is being done at the University of Washington’s Virology Lab.


Officials have found 70 positive cases in Washington so far, though a genetic study has estimated that there may be hundreds of untested people who have COVID-19 in the greater Seattle area. Oregon, situated between the California and Washington hot spots, can test only about 40 people a day. Texas has 16 positive cases, according to media reports, but the health department’s website still lists only three cases. The Texas Tribune has reported that the state can test approximately 30 people a day.

Read more …

Everyone up and down the food chain of command should tell their superiors they’ll do it, but only if he/she will be standing there next to them doing the same job, with the same gear and the same protection.

US Airport Screeners, Health Workers Plagued By Fear And Anger (R.)

As coronavirus cases exploded across the world, federal medical workers tasked with screening incoming passengers at U.S. airports grew alarmed: Many were working without the most effective masks to protect them from getting sick themselves. Screeners with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked their supervisors this week to change official protocols and require stronger masks, according to an internal document reviewed by Reuters. On Friday evening, they learned their worst fears were realized: Two screeners, both working at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), had tested positive for the virus. “Sad news,” a senior quarantine official at the CDC wrote in an email Friday evening to colleagues about the two workers.

The email, reviewed by Reuters and not previously reported, said the two screeners will be quarantined until March 17. “Let us keep our colleagues at LAX in our thoughts.” The news was not surprising to some CDC screeners. “It was bound to happen,” said a veteran CDC medical official involved with screening who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They are assuring us we are safe. If we were safe, screeners would not be getting sick.” The struggles within the CDC, an agency that advises the country’s health systems about how to protect people against the virus, underscore the difficulties confronting health workers across the nation and illustrate a challenge for the Trump administration, which has faced criticism over its response to the outbreak.

[..] The CDC recommends that so-called “secondary” screeners, who meet with passengers who have traveled to certain countries, such as China, wear a surgical mask, gloves and eye protection, Nordlund said. Secondary screeners are advised to stand six feet away from passengers they observe and do not wear the sturdier N95 masks, also known as respirators, because they aren’t exposed to symptomatic travelers, she said. N95 masks are designed to protect screeners from the smaller pathogens such as coronavirus which can penetrate deeper into the lungs. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, surgical masks are not designed to block very small particles, such as those transmitted by coughs and sneezes, and do not provide complete protection because of the loose fit.


Nordlund said that CDC’s guidance calls for screeners who meet with people exhibiting obvious signs of illness to wear N95 respirators and other protective gear. But people infected with the coronavirus do not necessarily exhibit obvious signs of illness. “Surgical masks won’t protect us from getting the virus – they just protect us from infecting someone else,” the CDC medical official involved in screening said. “We want to know why we can’t wear N-95 masks. It’s crazy.” “You might as well have a tissue over your face for all the good it will do,” the official added.

Read more …

Getting close.

One Tests Positive After Conference Also Attended By Trump, Pence, Pompeo (X.)

An attendee at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which U.S. President Donald Trump also attended, has tested positive for COVID-19, the American Conservative Union (ACU) said on Saturday. The exposure occurred prior to the conference held in National Harbor, U.S. state of Maryland, just south of Washington D.C., said the ACU, a conservative grassroots organization, in a statement. A New Jersey hospital tested the person, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the positive result, said the statement. “The individual is under the care of medical professionals in the state of New Jersey, and has been quarantined,” it said. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the gathering, which took place from Feb. 26 to Feb. 29.


Also present at the event were a number of administration and cabinet officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and newly-appointed White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement Saturday that the White House is aware of the attendee testing positive for the virus. “At this time there is no indication that either President Trump or Vice President Pence met with or were in close proximity to the attendee,” Grisham said in a statement. “The president’s physician and United States Secret Service have been working closely with White House Staff and various agencies to ensure every precaution is taken to keep the First Family and the entire White House Complex safe and healthy.”

Read more …

Yeah, sure, going for the cheap effect. But this woman is just 36 years old, not 86. Maybe the photo can bring this home.

Nebraska Woman Rushed To Bio-Containment Unit In Specialized Isolation Pod (DM)

In Nebraska, there were dramatic scenes as a woman who tested positive for the virus was rushed from a community hospital to the nation’s leading biocontainment unit at he University of Nebraska Medical Center Omaha. The 36-year-old Nebraska resident was photographed being transported to the facility in a hi-tech isolation pod late Friday. The woman, who is the first person in Nebraska to test positive to coronavirus, is ‘very seriously ill’, according to doctors who spoke with Omaha.com Saturday. A chest CT scan conducted yesterday showed the coronavirus is evolving into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ADRS). The syndrome, which is characterized by a rapid onset of widespread inflammation in the lungs, is often fatal. People with ARDS suffer severe shortness of breath and often are unable to breathe on their own without support from a ventilator.


The woman reportedly traveled to England with her father February 18 to February 27. She began to feel ill on February 25, two days before she flew back to the United States. Doctors say they are still trying to piece together where she went and who she had contact with in the 10 days since she arrived back from overseas. According to doctors, her symptoms were quite mild until this Thursday, when she arrived at a local emergency room. As her condition took a turn for the worse Friday, a decision was made to move her from Omaha’s Methodist Hospital to the to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit. [..] the woman was place in an isolation pod, made of heavy duty plastic and complete with a dozen ports for ventilators and other tubes. Medics donned plastic face shields, rubber gloves and rain boots as they moved her from the ambulance in a stretcher.


A woman who tested positive with the coronavirus is brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center on Friday. She was transferred from Omaha’s Methodist Hospital in an isolation pod inside an ambulance ©AP

Read more …

Things move fast: mere hours after the closure of Lombardy is reported, a new report says a “Quarter Of Italy’s Population Put In Quarantine” in 11-14 provinces.

Italy To Quarantine Whole Of Lombardy Due To Coronavirus (O.)

The Italian government is to lockdown the northern region of Lombardy, as it battles to contain the spread of the coronavirus. A draft decree would extend the quarantined areas, so-called “red-zones”, ordering people not to enter or leave the region. The country is grappling to contain Europe’s worst outbreak of Covid-19, which has claimed 233 lives and infected a total of 5,883 people. Italian authorities announced that a new decree containing draconian measures would be approved later on Saturday. It will include the power to impose fines on anyone caught entering or leaving Lombardy, the worst-affected region, until 3 April. People may be allowed in and out for serious reasons. The decree provides for banning all public events, closing cinemas, theatres, gyms, discos and pubs. Religious ceremonies such as funerals and weddings will also be banned.


Rome is also considering prolonging the closure of schools across the country until 3 April, while major sporting events, such as Serie A football games, will be played behind closed doors. The number of coronavirus cases in Italy leapt by more than 1,200 in a 24-hour period, the civil protection agency said on Saturday. It is the biggest daily rise since the outbreak began two weeks ago. The number of cases in the country rose to 5,883 on Saturday from 4,636 announced on Friday, with the spread showing little sign of slowing. In total there are now 5,061 cases, not including those who have died or recovered. The northern regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto are the hardest hit, representing 85% of cases and 92% of recorded deaths. “We will win this battle if our citizens adopt a responsible attitude and change their way of living,” the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, told a press conference.

Read more …

Ben Hunt: “Italy is a time machine that shows us our future.”

Quarter Of Italy’s Population Put In Quarantine (O.)

Italy has formally locked down more than a quarter of its population in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the outbreak reached Washington DC and a political convention attended by Donald Trump and Mike Pence. More than 5,800 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Italy, after an alarming increase of more than 1,200 in a single 24-hour period. Two hundred and thirty-three people have died. Almost 100 countries are now responding to outbreaks. In the early hours of Sunday, Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree enacting forced quarantine for the region of Lombardy – home to more than 10 million people and the financial capital, Milan – and multiple other provinces, totalling around 16 million residents.

https://twitter.com/Dr_FarrisD/status/1236057723621568512

Affected provinces include Venice, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro and Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padua, and Treviso. The lockdown decree includes the power to impose fines on anyone caught entering or leaving Lombardy, the worst-affected region, until 3 April. It provides for the banning of all public events, closing cinemas, theatres, gyms, discos and pubs. Religious ceremonies such as funerals and weddings will also be prohibited, and leave for healthcare workers has been cancelled. Rome is also prolonging the closure of schools across the country until at least 3 April, while major sporting events, such as Serie A football games, will be played behind closed doors.

Read more …

And forget about soccer Eurocup, Olympics etc.

Head Of Italy Players’ Union Calls For Soccer To Stop (R.)

The President of Italy’s players’ union (AIC) has called for soccer to be stopped in the country amid reports that the entire region of Lombardy will be locked down as part of efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. The Italian government has ordered all sporting competitions to be played behind closed doors until April 3 in a bid to control the spread of the disease, which has killed around 200 people in the country. And tough new measures are expected to be approved on Saturday that will tell people not to enter or leave Lombardy, home to around 10 million people, as well as 11 provinces in four other regions.


Damiano Tommasi, head of the players’ union, responded to the news on Twitter by posting a link to the story and issuing a plea to stop games from going ahead. He wrote: “Let’s stop the league!! Do we need anything else? Stop football!!” Tommasi also issued a statement on the AIC website earlier in the day outlining his concerns for players’ welfare. “There is a risk for players and we must take all precautions for the security of those who play: on the pitch you certainly can’t stay at a distance of one meter away. “But every measure must be taken to guarantee the safety of everyone at the stadium, including staff and personnel, to reduce the risks.

Read more …

A long time coming.

Lebanon To Default On Foreign Debt Payments For First Time (BBC)

Lebanon is to default on a foreign debt payment for the first time in its history as the country struggles with a major financial crisis. Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Lebanon would not be making a bond payment of $1.2bn due on Monday. “The debt has become bigger than Lebanon can bear, and bigger than the ability of the Lebanese to meet interest payments,” Mr Diab said. Lebanon has been struggling since the value of its currency plummeted. The Lebanese pound has been losing value against the dollar for months, in part because the country’s banks have been reluctant to convert local pounds to dollars – leading to an increase in demand for the latter.


This issue with foreign exchange has led to importers having difficulty accessing goods, which have become more expensive. Those with savings have also been affected by the drop in value of the local currency. In a live televised address on Saturday, Mr Diab said that negotiations to restructure the country’s debt, which stands at more than $30bn, would continue “with all creditors… in a manner consistent with the national interest”. Mr Diab added that more than 40% of the population could soon be in poverty as Lebanon tackles its worst economic crisis in decades.

Read more …

From a few days ago, before the default was announced. France is heavily involved. And the IMF deal should be there any moment now.

IMF Deal Would Spark ‘Popular Revolution’ In Lebanon – Hezbollah (R.)

Hezbollah believes that terms required by any IMF bailout package for Lebanon would spark “a popular revolution”, a senior official said on Tuesday, rejecting such a step and calling instead for a “national solution” to a deep economic crisis. Lebanon is in the throes of an unprecedented economic crisis, the result of long-entrenched corruption and bad governance that have landed the state with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens. Hezbollah, a heavily armed Shi’ite group which is backed by Iran and designated a terrorist organization by Washington, is one of the main backers of a new government that has sought technical but not financial aid from the International Monetary Fund.


Long-standing financial backer France said last week it was looking at options to support Lebanon, including through an IMF program if Beirut sought one. Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters the group was against the type of terms typically imposed by the IMF as part of a bailout such as taxes, privatization, reducing the size of the public sector and halting subsidies. “The position is not toward the Fund as an international financial institution but on the terms offered to Lebanon, because they will lead to a popular revolution,” he said. “Our position is against this type of program and not against the Fund as an organization.”

Read more …

Most notable: Erdogan keeps the peace for now.

US Blocks UN Statement Backing Syria Ceasefire (Ditz)

The ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib Province took effect on Friday, and has been holding so far. With every other nation on board, the US blocked a joint UN statement backing the ceasefire, saying it was “premature” to do so. The ceasefire was brokered by Turkey and Russia, and that’s almost certainly the problem from the US perspective. The US broadly refuses to back any Syria agreements Russia is involved in. US officials had also been loudly backing Turkey’s military offensive in Idlib, and probably aren’t happy that Turkey has made a deal not to go to war. US officials weren’t super on board with directly participating in a Turkey-instigated war, but were only too happy to give lip-service to it. Having the UN back a ceasefire, even if it is one not expected to necessarily survive, is usually the norm, though the US may find, in seeking backing for its Afghan deal, they may face similar resistance.

Read more …

RT adds a “nice” twist. There are rumors that King Salman has either already died or is about to, and MbS is consolidating his power before his death leads to a revolt.

Top Saudi Royals ‘Arrested For Plotting With Americans Against King’ (RT)

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has had his relatives arrested for plotting a coup against him and King Salman with the help of “foreign powers, including the Americans,” Western media claim. RT asked Middle East analysts to weigh in. Three senior members of the Saudi Royal family were arrested on Friday, several Western media outlets have reported, citing sources. The list of detainees includes prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the younger brother of King Salman, Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew and former crown prince, and Nawaf bin Nayef, the younger half-brother of Prince Nayef, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has allegedly accused them of treason, namely “conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat” against King Salman and his son, Reuters, which has also picked up the news, added, citing own sources. While Western media is not above publishing unverified rumors about the ‘regimes’ they dislike, some of which have turned out to be utterly fake, there is no easy way to verify reports on the secretive world of Saudi court affairs. One has to bear in mind the possibility someone in Riyadh has purposefully fed the news to the media. While the reports of the high-profile arrests have yet to be confirmed by Saudi Arabia, they wouldn’t be unprecedented.


The allegations of foreign involvement may be meant for domestic consumption in Saudi Arabia and nothing to do with international politics, believes Sergey Balmasov from the Moscow-based Institute for the Near East. “What other foreign meddler could they have named? Accusing, for example Iran would have not been credible,” he explained. The US has great influence in the Saudi military and intelligence services, thanks to decades of training their members, Balmasov added. So if the US as a nation were actually determined to effect a regime change in Saudi Arabia, “a different person would have now been in the palace.” If the US really needed this, a bloodless coup would have happened already, and I’m sure many Americans wouldn’t have even noticed.

Read more …

Sorry, but no. Putin started this by refusing OPEC+ production cuts. Saudi merely reacted to that.

Saudi Arabia Starts All-Out Oil War (ZH)

With the commodity world still smarting from the Nov 2014 Saudi decision to (temporarily) break apart OPEC, and flood the market with oil in (failed) hopes of crushing US shale producers (who survived thanks to generous banks extending loan terms and even more generous buyers of junk bonds), which nonetheless resulted in a painful manufacturing recession as the price of Brent cratered as low as the mid-$20’s in late 2015/early 2016, on Saturday, Saudi Arabia launched its second scorched earth, or rather scorched oil campaign in 6 years. And this time there will be blood.

Following Friday’s shocking collapse of OPEC+, when Russia and Riyadh were unable to reach an agreement during the OPEC+ summit in Vienna which was seeking up to 1.5 million b/d in further oil production cuts, on Saturday Saudi Arabia kick started what Bloomberg called an all-out oil war, slashing official pricing for its crude and making the deepest cuts in at least 20 years on its main grades, in an effort to push as many barrels into the market as possible. In the first major marketing decision since the meeting, the Saudi state producer Aramco, which successfully IPOed just before the price of oil cratered launched unprecedented discounts and cut its April pricing for crude sales to Asia by $4-$6 a barrel and to the U.S. by a whopping $7 a barrel in attempts to steal market share from 3rd party sources, according to a copy of the announcement seen by Bloomberg.


In the most significant move, Aramco widened the discount for its flagship Arab Light crude to refiners in north-west Europe by a hefty $8 a barrel, offering it at $10.25 a barrel under the Brent benchmark. In contrast, Urals, the Russian flagship crude blend, trades at a discount of about $2 a barrel under Brent. Traders said the Saudi move was a direct attack at the ability of Russian companies to sell crude in Europe. Confirming the obvious, Iman Nasseri, managing director for the Middle East at oil consultant FGE said “Saudi Arabia is now really going into a full price war.”

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

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Feb 092020
 


Dorothea Lange Play street for children. Sixth Street and Avenue C, NYC June 1936

 

Authorities Order Foxconn To Keep Chinese Facilities Closed (AI)
China To Stagger Back To Work As Coronavirus Deaths Surpass SARS (R.)
In-Hospital Infection Blamed In Wuhan Hospital (NHK)
Coronavirus Outbreak Has Affected 4 Different Cruise Ships (H.)
Still No Port For Cruise Ship Westerdam (NHK)
Five Britons Contract Coronavirus In French Ski Resort (R.)
Coronavirus Brings China’s Surveillance State Out Of The Shadows (R.)
Coronavirus Threatens The Chinese Communist Party’s Grip On Power (SCMP)
Yesterday’s Gone: Iowa Was Waterloo for Democrats (Taibbi)
The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President (Atl.)
A Stock Market Boom Is Not The Basis Of Shared Prosperity (Palley)
Argentina Won’t Repay IMF Debt Till Recession Over – VP Kirchner (R.)

 

 

Late last night in my present timezone, CET, initial new coronavirus numbers came out and everyone said they meant the virus has now killed more people (805-806) than SARS. Everyone except for SCMP which cited a WHO number of 813 SARS deaths (they still haven’t figured that out after 17 years). And then, wouldn’t you know, when I got up in the morning, SCMP had revised their new deaths number to … exactly 813. If I weren’t born so wonderfully gullible I would ask myself something.

Global death toll for new coronavirus hits 805, exceeding that of SARS

The global death toll from the new coronavirus is now at 805, higher than that of SARS. Hubei province reported Sunday morning that there were 81 additional deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities in the mainland to 803 so far. The global death toll for the new coronavirus currently stands at 805, including one death in the Philippines and another in Hong Kong. That compares to the SARS outbreak which killed at least 774 people and infected 8,096 people worldwide in 2002 and 2003, according to data from the World Health Organization.

NOTE: SARS deaths took 9 months. This epidemic is just 1-2 months old.

China’s Hubei reports 81 deaths, global total just short of WHO’s SARS figure

China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus epidemic, reported 81 new deaths from the disease on Saturday, bringing the province’s total fatalities from the outbreak to 780. Total deaths globally stood at 805, just short of the 813 total fatalities attributed to the deadly Sars epidemic of 2002-2003 by the World Health Organisation. The provincial health authorities also reported 2,147 newly confirmed cases of the disease in the past 24 hours. This brings the total cases in Hubei to 27,100. These figures compared to the reported deaths and newly confirmed cases of 81 and 2,841, respectively, on Friday.

 

 

• 813 deaths, up from 724 yesterday. 89 new deaths is a new record again.

• Confirmed new cases rose to 37,198, an increase of 2,652 overnight

• 3,916 suspected new cases, bringing the total to 28,942 suspected cases.

 

And this little map looks promising, but I do have questions about it:

 

 

Questions like: what are the effects of the ever wider and ever more stringent lockdowns on this? Do fewer people get infected if they’re all locked up in their homes? Or are infected people also harder to find when they’re behind closed doors? Would families volunteer to deliver potentially infected family members to authorities, or would they wait until they’re as good as dead?

I found this interesting as well: “Wuhan has 49 crematoriums, which can each burn 5 bodies every two hours. They’ve been working 24 hours a day for 17 days now. 49 x 17 x 24 x 5/2 = 49,980 bodies.”

 

Still, as I said yesterday, it’s really all about Monday morning, when the economy is supposed to start “working” again. On Friday, Tesla said its Shanghai plant would re-open tomorrow morning. But then today, the government ordered Foxconn’s Shenzhen factories to remain closed. Will Tesla really open?

As I also said somewhere yesterday, “restarting” the economy where 100s of millions are under some form of lockdown now, means shoving all those millions into planes, trains and subways to bring them to plants where they spend 8-10-12 hours in close proximity to potential virus carriers. Thousands more petri dishes.

I’ll believe it when I see it.

 

 

Well, that’s my question: “No-one wants to bear the responsibility for restarting work at this critical moment.”

Authorities Order Foxconn To Keep Chinese Facilities Closed (AI)

As authorities attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus in China, Foxconn did its part to help on Friday by telling staff not to return to work on February 10, following the Lunar New Year. Rather than resuming operations on the originally anticipated return date, the assembly partner told its tens of thousands of employees to stay away from the Shenzhen plant. A report by Nikkei claims the calling off of production has been further halted by the Chinese authorities, who have told Foxconn not to reopen. People familiar with the matter advised the factory was subject to on-site inspections by public health officials, which found there were “high risks of coronavirus infection” if it did reopen.

One internal memo about the inspection and government-ordered closure mentioned “Violation of epidemic prevention and control could potentially face the death penalty.” Part of the problem is the production facilities use central air condition and have a high density of workers, conditions ripe for viral transference. “The local governments do not want to risk the potential virus spreading in such a labor-intensive working environment,” a source told the report. “No-one wants to bear the responsibility for restarting work at this critical moment.” On Friday, Foxconn took the extra step of canceling flight bookings for employees from Taiwan returning from their home country to China between February 7 and February 14.


The measure was allegedly announced by Chairman Young Liu in a video conference that morning, who also confirmed the company’s Zhengzhou complex would need to be evaluated by the local government before it could be reopened. Foxconn has previously confirmed the coronavirus will affect production, and it is allegedly affecting Apple’s AirPods along with other products it makes, such as iPhones.

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What will stocks do?

China To Stagger Back To Work As Coronavirus Deaths Surpass SARS (R.)

China raised the death toll from the coronavirus epidemic to 811 on Sunday, passing the number killed globally by the SARS epidemic in 2002/2003 and raising anxiety among people preparing to return to work after an extended Lunar New Year break. Struggling to contain the spread of the disease, authorities had told businesses to tack up to 10 extra days onto holidays that had been due to finish at the end of January as the rising numbers of dead and infected cast a pall over the country. Many of China’s usually teeming cities have almost become ghost towns during the past two weeks, as the Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, cancelled flights, closed factories and kept schools shut.


The sight of an economy regarded as a workshop to the world laid so low has also taken a toll on international financial markets, as shares slumped and investors switched into safe-havens like gold, bonds and the Japanese yen. Even on Monday, a large number of workplaces will remain closed and many white-collar workers will continue to work from home. The new deaths on Saturday reached another daily record at 89, data from the National Health Commission showed, pushing the total well over the 774 who died from SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

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“..around 40 percent of the patients with the new coronavirus they have treated may have contracted the illness at their hospital.”

In-Hospital Infection Blamed In Wuhan Hospital (NHK)

A team of medical professionals at a hospital in Wuhan says that around 40 percent of the patients with the new coronavirus they have treated may have contracted the illness at their hospital. The team works at a Wuhan University hospital in the Chinese city at the heart of the outbreak. They published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Friday. The study says 138 cases were confirmed at the hospital between January 1 and 28. Of those, 41 percent, or 57 people, were medical staff or patients who were initially hospitalized for other reasons.


The study found that one patient in the surgical department may have infected more than 10 members of hospital staff. It says that while patients had symptoms such as high fever and sense of fatigue, researchers revealed that 10 percent either had atypical symptoms such as diarrhea, or complained of nausea. It concludes that it was difficult to screen patients with symptoms not previously associated with the virus. The team says that an important feature of the new coronavirus is the rapid human-to-human transmission among people in close contact.

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I think the ship off Hong Kong was freed today. The Yokohama one with 61 infected won’t be so lucky.

Coronavirus Outbreak Has Affected 4 Different Cruise Ships (H.)

Cruises are, for the most part, meant to elicit feelings of relaxation—literally floating away from your landlocked responsibilities for a few days. But, for thousands of passengers aboard at least four different cruise ships, their vacations quickly turned into nightmare scenarios. As of Friday, four major vessels—the Diamond Princess, Westerdam, World Dream, and Royal Caribbean’s The Anthem of the Seas cruise ships—have been impacted by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), aka the Wuhan coronavirus. Most affected by the outbreak is the Diamond Princess cruise ship, currently quarantined off the coast of Yokohama, near Tokyo.

The ship was docked Tuesday after a former passenger tested positive for the coronavirus. Since then, 61 passengers of the 3,700 people on board have tested positive for the virus, reports CNN. The ship’s quarantine is expected to last until at least February 19. The two other ships—the Westerdam, currently in search of a port in the East China Sea; and the World Dream, docked in Hong Kong—have also come to a halt due to fears of coronavirus, per CNN. No current or former passengers on the Westerdam have been reported as having the coronavirus, nor have any current passengers on the World Dream, though eight former passengers of the cruise ship have been confirmed as having the illness.


And most recently, on Friday, the Royal Caribbean’s The Anthem of the Seas was docked near New York City, at a port in Bayonne, New Jersey, where 27 passengers were screened for the coronavirus, according to CNN. Four of those passengers were sent to the hospital for further investigation, while the other 23 were cleared. In a statement, per CNN, Royal Caribbean confirmed that, like airlines, they too are working to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. “We continue to work in close consultation with the CDC, the WHO, and local health authorities to align with their guidance and ensure the health and wellbeing of our guests and crew.”

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Sailed on Feb 1. Now it’s like the original Flying Dutchman ship.

Still No Port For Cruise Ship Westerdam (NHK)

The operator of the cruise ship Westerdam is searching for a port to call at after being rejected by destinations including Japan amid fears of the spreading coronavirus. The US-based Holland America Line said in a statement on Friday that the ship is “currently sailing on a southwesterly course off the coast of Taiwan.” The firm says it is positioning the ship “for access to potential port locations.” The Westerdam departed Hong Kong on February 1 with more than 2,200 passengers and crew onboard. Taiwan denied it permission to call, citing a suspicion of coronavirus infection among the passengers. Japanese authorities followed suit, preventing it from entering a port in the southwestern prefecture of Okinawa. Holland America Line said in the statement that “The ship is not in quarantine” and there is “no reason to believe there are any cases of coronavirus on board.” It added the ship has sufficient fuel and food, and passengers are provided with free internet and phone access.

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Is this the first cluster than doesn’t involve Chinese people? Note that the original infection came from Singapore, not China.

Five Britons Contract Coronavirus In French Ski Resort (R.)

Five British nationals including a child have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus at a French mountain village, and health officials said they were checking who else might have been exposed, including at local schools. In total, 11 people, including the five who tested positive, have been hospitalized in southeastern France and were being examined, the French health ministry said on Saturday, adding that none were in serious condition. The group of Britons included holidaymakers and a family currently residing in the Alpine village and ski resort, Les Contamines-Montjoie. They shared neighboring apartments in a chalet and temporarily hosted a British man believed to have contracted the virus at a business congress in Singapore before his short visit to France in late January, the ministry added.


Two schools would be shut next week for checks, regional health official Jean-Yves Grall said, after it emerged that the nine-year-old who tested positive had attended lessons and French classes in different establishments. Two other children were also part of the group of 11 now in hospital in the cities of Lyon, Saint-Etienne and Grenoble, and they had been schooled in the area too, according to Etienne Jacquet, mayor of Les Contamines-Montjoie. Some parents in the village, nestled in the mountains close to the Mont Blanc peak and the Swiss city of Geneva, said on Saturday they had received little information so far and were being cautious.

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Thermal cameras, cameras that see through face-masks, a good crisis to step up state control.

Coronavirus Brings China’s Surveillance State Out Of The Shadows (R.)

When the man from Hangzhou returned home from a business trip, the local police got in touch. They had tracked his car by his license plate in nearby Wenzhou, which has had a spate of coronavirus cases despite being far from the epicenter of the outbreak. Stay indoors for two weeks, they requested. After around 12 days, he was bored and went out early. This time, not only did the police contact him, so did his boss. He had been spotted near Hangzhou’s West Lake by a camera with facial recognition technology, and the authorities had alerted his company as a warning.

“I was a bit shocked by the ability and efficiency of the mass surveillance network. They can basically trace our movements with the AI technology and big data at any time and any place,” said the man, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions. Chinese have long been aware that they are tracked by the world’s most sophisticated system of electronic surveillance. The coronavirus emergency has brought some of that technology out of the shadows, providing the authorities with a justification for sweeping methods of high tech social control. Artificial intelligence and security camera companies boast that their systems can scan the streets for people with even low-grade fevers, recognize their faces even if they are wearing masks and report them to the authorities.

If a coronavirus patient boards a train, the railway’s “real name” system can provide a list of people sitting nearby. Mobile phone apps can tell users if they have been on a flight or a train with a known coronavirus carrier, and maps can show them locations of buildings where infected patients live. Although there has been some anonymous grumbling on social media, for now Chinese citizens seem to be accepting the extra intrusion, or even embracing it, as a means to combat the health emergency. “In the circumstances, individuals are likely to consider this to be reasonable even if they are not specifically informed about it,” said Carolyn Bigg, partner at law firm DLA Piper in Hong Kong.

[..] Facial recognition firm Megvii said on Tuesday it had developed a new way to spot and identify people with fevers, with support from the industry and science ministries. Its new “AI temperature measurement system”, which detects temperature with thermal cameras and uses body and facial data to identify individuals, is already being tested in a Beijing district. SenseTime, another leading AI firm, said it has built a similar system to be used at building entrances, which can identify people wearing masks, overcoming a weakness of earlier technology. Surveillance camera firm Zhejiang Dahua says it can detect fevers with infrared cameras to an accuracy within 0.3ºC.

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Wishful thinking?

Coronavirus Threatens The Chinese Communist Party’s Grip On Power (SCMP)

China missed the best opportunity to contain the spread of the virus because officials at first delayed – or possibly covered up – the release of information and were slow in taking precautionary actions. The first patient who experienced symptoms was found on December 1, 2019, suggesting the origin of the disease was even earlier. And there has been some evidence of human-to-human transmissions since late December, with more emerging in early January when several medical workers were infected. These vital bits of information were not released to the public in time. Nor was any decisive action taken between early December and January 23, the day Beijing told the world about the severity of the epidemic and declared war on it just two days before the Lunar New Year on January 25.

Lives continued as normal in Wuhan in the week before then. On January 18, the Wuhan government hosted a banquet attended by more than 40,000 families in a bid to set a Guinness world record. On January 20, the municipal government said it was distributing 200,000 free tickets to residents for festive new year activities. Videos show few people wearing face masks in Wuhan before mid-January. Compare that to Hong Kong, where since early January the government has been updating people on the situation daily and holding frequent news briefings.


In terms of human-to-human transmissions, the alarm wasn’t raised until the prominent epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan spoke out on January 20 – nearly 50 days after the first patient was found and three weeks after it was established that human-to-human infections were taking place. Instead of acting against the virus, the government focused on controlling the information. In an effort to underscore the CCP’s determination to crack down on unsanctioned information, the broadcaster CCTV reported on January 2 that Wuhan police had interrogated and warned eight whistle-blowers, frontline doctors, for “rumourmongering” about the epidemic. It seemed all too familiar to 2003, when military doctor Jiang Yanyong defied government rules and risked his own life to break the news about the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) to the international media.

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“Perhaps all the Democrats need to win the presidency is a Rust Belt millennial who’s gay and speaks Norwegian.”

Yesterday’s Gone: Iowa Was Waterloo for Democrats (Taibbi)

Democratic campaign events have long been more pep rally than discussion, more about the terribleness of Republicans than substance. “They’re so used to events where everyone is rooting for them,” says Redd. “It’s like, ‘No, we’re actually here to challenge you on issues that matter.’” Biden performed surprisingly well all year in polls, but he headed into Iowa like a passenger jet trying to land with one burning engine, hitting trees, cows, cars, sides of mountains, everything. The poking incidents were bad, but then one of his chief surrogates, John Kerry, was overheard by NBC talking about the possibility of jumping in to keep Bernie from “taking down” the party.

“Maybe I’m fucking deluding myself here,” Kerry reportedly said — mainstream Democrats may not have changed their policies or strategies much since Trump, but they sure are swearing more — then noted he would have to raise a “couple of million” from people like venture capitalist Doug Hickey. Kerry later said he was enumerating the reasons he wouldn’t run, though those notably did not include humility about his own reputation as a comical national electoral failure, or because there’s already a candidate in the race (Biden) he’d been crisscrossing Iowa urging people to vote for, but instead because he’d have to step down from the board of Bank of America and give up paid speeches. French aristocrats who shouted “Vive le Roi!” on the way to the razor did a better job advertising themselves.

With days, hours left before the caucuses, there were signs everywhere that the party establishment was scrambling to find someone among the remaining cast members to stop what Kerry called the “reality of Bernie.” But who? Yang said smart things about inequality, so he was out. Tulsi Gabbard was Russian Bernie spawn. Tom Steyer was Dennis Kucinich with money. Voters had already rejected potential Trump WWE opponents like the “progressive prosecutor” (Kamala Harris), the “pragmatic progressive” (John Delaney), “the next Bobby Kennedy” (Beto O’Rourke), “Courageous Empathy” (Cory Booker), Medicare for All can bite me (John Hickenlooper), and over a dozen others.

Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg seemed perfect, a man who defended the principle of wine-based fundraisers with military effrontery. New York magazine made his case in a cover story the magazine’s Twitter account summarized as: “Perhaps all the Democrats need to win the presidency is a Rust Belt millennial who’s gay and speaks Norwegian.”

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The Trump people meddle in conspiracy theories. The “others” don’t. This is how and why you will lose the election.

The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President (Atl.)

One day last fall, I sat down to create a new Facebook account. I picked a forgettable name, snapped a profile pic with my face obscured, and clicked “Like” on the official pages of Donald Trump and his reelection campaign. Facebook’s algorithm prodded me to follow Ann Coulter, Fox Business, and a variety of fan pages with names like “In Trump We Trust.” I complied. I also gave my cellphone number to the Trump campaign, and joined a handful of private Facebook groups for MAGA diehards, one of which required an application that seemed designed to screen out interlopers. The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings.

Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside. The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting. There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?

[..] Every presidential campaign sees its share of spin and misdirection, but this year’s contest promises to be different. In conversations with political strategists and other experts, a dystopian picture of the general election comes into view—one shaped by coordinated bot attacks, Potemkin local-news sites, micro-targeted fearmongering, and anonymous mass texting. Both parties will have these tools at their disposal. But in the hands of a president who lies constantly, who traffics in conspiracy theories, and who readily manipulates the levers of government for his own gain, their potential to wreak havoc is enormous.

The Trump campaign is planning to spend more than $1 billion, and it will be aided by a vast coalition of partisan media, outside political groups, and enterprising freelance operatives. These pro-Trump forces are poised to wage what could be the most extensive disinformation campaign in U.S. history. Whether or not it succeeds in reelecting the president, the wreckage it leaves behind could be irreparable.

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How you tie your impression of Trump as a con-man in with the topic is unclear. Today’s bubbles started with Greenspan and Bill Clinton, not Trump.

A Stock Market Boom Is Not The Basis Of Shared Prosperity (Palley)

The United States is currently enjoying another stock market boom. If history is any guide, it may well end in a bust. In the meantime, the boom is having a politically toxic effect. Donald Trump uses it to make the case for his reelection in the fall. But his argument, at a minimum, requires a big leap of faith. Trump’s assertion — that a stock market boom is the basis for shared prosperity — is just that, an assertion. It certainly hasn’t led to any broad-based prosperity. The beneficiaries are the happy few at the top of the U.S. economic pyramid. Anyone who ever read John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929, his 1954 classic, has run across Galbraith’s idea of the “bezzle.” In addition to Ponzi schemes, Galbraith’s bezzle also captures the dynamic of speculative bubbles.

Those bubbles are a form of fraud we collectively inflict on ourselves. Investors buy in believing they will be able to sell at a higher price, and their purchases drive up prices and attract new investors who hope to jump on the price appreciation band wagon. The bubble continues until belief in ever higher prices is punctured, whereupon buyers evaporate and the bubble implodes. Once again, all feel richer along the way. Today’s stock market increasingly has the smell and feel of another bezzle. That smell is metaphorically rather perfectly reflected in President Trump who has all the integrity of a con man. Better yet, Trump’s business history, in addition to reliance on funding from suspect sources, is marked by serial bankruptcies.


Trump has also managed to use the presidential bully pulpit to cajole the U.S. Federal Reserve into further inflating asset prices by enjoining it to lower interest rates. In addition to directly impacting asset pricing, the Federal Reserve has given a green flag for speculative buying. In that process, it has strengthened beliefs that it stands ready to guarantee stock prices, via the so-called “Powell put.” That put is an amplification of the prior “Bernanke put,” which was in turn an amplification of the “Greenspan put” which launched the Federal Reserve’s commitment to stock prices. To be honest, it did not take much cajoling from Trump as the Federal Reserve has evidently learned little from the past 35 years of serial asset price bubbles.

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A lesson for Greece.

Argentina Won’t Repay IMF Debt Till Recession Over – VP Kirchner (R.)

Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said on Saturday that the government will not pay “even half a cent” of its debt back to the International Monetary Fund before the country has exited recession. “The first thing we have to do in order to be able to pay is to exit the recession,” Fernandez de Kirchner said at a presentation of her book “Sinceramente” (Sincerely) at Havana’s international book fair. “If there is a recession no-one will pay even half a cent and the way you exit recession is through a lot of state investment.” Argentina needs to restructure $100 billion in sovereign debt with creditors, including part of a $57 billion credit facility that the IMF extended the country in 2018.


Dealings with the IMF are key as Argentina hopes to avoid a default amid a currency crash, steep inflation and a contracting economy. An IMF technical mission is expected in Buenos Aires next week to discuss obligations owed to the fund. Fernandez de Kirchner said Argentina should get a “substantial haircut” on its IMF debt. A leftist and militant Peronist, she has traveled frequently to Communist-run Cuba over the past year to visit her daughter Florencia Kirchner who is undergoing medical treatment there.

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Just one of those timelines where Dean Koontz wrote a book about a Chinese super virus called Wuhan that escaped a secret lab.

 

 

 

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Jan 182020
 
 January 18, 2020  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Esther Bubley Watching parade to recruit civilian defense volunteers, Washington DC 1943

 

Sanders Campaign Looks At Warren For Vice President AND Treasury Secretary (IC)
US Seeks To Determine If Yovanovitch Was Under Threat – Pompeo (R.)
Grave Tendings (Kunstler)
A Malicious Indictment (Buchanan)
New IMF Boss Says Global Economy Risks Return Of Great Depression (G.)
Battle of the Ages To Stop Eurasian Integration (Pepe Escobar)
China’s Growing Economic Collapse (WRB)
UK Cops Block Bid To Trace Prince Andrew’s Location 19 Years Ago (NYP)
Rich People Are Staying Healthy For Almost A Decade Longer Than Poor People (CNN)
Children, Young Adults Can’t Sue US Government Over Climate Change – Court (R.)

 

 

The fight didn’t poll well, methinks.

Sanders Campaign Looks At Warren For Vice President AND Treasury Secretary (IC)

The presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders has researched the question of whether the same person can serve as both vice president and treasury secretary, according to three sources on the campaign. The person the Sanders campaign had in mind with the inquiry was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, his rival for the nomination and the bane of Wall Street over the last decade. The answer the lawyers came back with was yes: There is nothing in the Constitution that bars the vice president from also serving as treasury secretary. Sanders has made no final decisions on a potential running mate or cabinet officers, considering such questions premature and presumptuous, but the research into the question of Warren’s dual eligibility reflects the political affinity that has long existed between the two — an affinity that was dealt a setback over the past week, as the pair clashed over the contents of a year-old private conversation.


Warren and Sanders have been allies since at least 2008, before she came to Washington to chair a panel with oversight of the Wall Street bailout. An author of books on the struggles of the middle class and an expert on bankruptcy law, she was invited by Sanders to a Vermont town hall, where the two talked about their shared agenda. Sanders was a strong supporter of her effort to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the financial crisis and privately lobbied President Barack Obama to name her the head of the new agency. Ideologically, Sanders and Warren are largely aligned when it comes to Wall Street, though Warren has concentrated more attention on bankers, meaning the two different skill sets could complement each other in the same administration.

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Still no idea how Parnas went from very major Dem enemy to posing with Maddow in no time. Everyone just stopped thinking?

US Seeks To Determine If Yovanovitch Was Under Threat – Pompeo (R.)

The U.S. State Department will do everything necessary to determine whether former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was under threat in Ukraine, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday. Documents released this week indicated Lev Parnas, a Ukraine-born U.S. citizen, helped U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani investigate U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. They also showed Parnas was involved in monitoring Yovanovitch’s movements before Trump removed her in May. Yovanovitch, a respected career diplomat, was a key witness in the U.S. House of Representatives’ investigation of Trump before he was impeached in December.

Late on Friday, a Democratic aide said House Democrats will be sending additional text messages, photographs and other documents provided by Parnas for the Senate impeachment trial that gets underway in earnest next week. Some of the documents appeared to show communications between Parnas and an aide to Representative Devin Nunes, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. In his first comments on the issue since the documents were released on Tuesday evening, Pompeo said he had never met nor communicated with Parnas, adding that he thought much of what had been reported on the issue would be proven wrong.

“We will do everything we need to do to evaluate whether there was something that took place there,” he told conservative radio host Tony Katz in an interview. “I suspect that much of what’s been reported will ultimately prove wrong, but our obligation, my obligation as secretary of state, is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate. Any time there is someone who posits that there may have been a risk to one of our officers, we’ll obviously do that,” he said. Yovanovitch testified she had received a late night call from Washington warning her that she needed to return to the United States urgently and that there were concerns about her safety.

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Jim is hurting some of his earlier fans.

Grave Tendings (Kunstler)

Wouldn’t you like to hear from the legendary “whistleblower,” since his actions provoked this chapter of the three-year orchestrated coup to oust Mr. Trump? If it’s a basic tenet of law that a defendant has a right to face his accuser, can there be any further excuse for concealing this person’s identity — whose supposed right to anonymity, by the way, has been one of the signal frauds of the whole episode. Would it not be instructive to seat his mentor and former boss, John Brennan, in the witness chair and give him another opportunity to perjure himself? We must also hear from Michael Atkinson, the “whistleblower’s” enabler and Lawfare warrior Mary McCord, Atkinson’s former boss at the DOJ national security desk, who apparently stage-managed the “whistleblower’s” doings through Adam Schiff’s House intel Committee. Mr. Schiff would be the ripest witness of all, of course, since he has left a trail of falsehoods and fabrications longer than the Pacific Trail — but it’s unclear just now whether the Senate rules will allow a manager to be called to testify.

There is also much to be unraveled about the American mischief in Ukraine — which includes, but goes far beyond — the arrant grift of Hunter Biden. For example, the relationships between between the George Soros-backed NGO Atlantic Council and Burisma, the NatGas company that put Hunter B on its board, and Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, board member of the Atlantic Council (and $25-million contributor to the Clinton Foundation), and Dmitri Alperovitch (also Atlantic Council) co-founder of Crowdstrike, the company that “examined” the supposedly “hacked” DNC servers, and Hillary Clinton herself, the self-dealing Secretary of State behind the international pay-for-play charity fraud she operated while in office. Also bring back former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch to ‘splain the actions she took to conceal all these machinations, as well as her role in operating the 2016 Kiev Hillary campaign office.

What would soon be obvious is that the precipitating “whistleblower” caper was an effort to divert attention from a network of Americans that used a politically captive Ukraine — following the Maidan Revolution of 2014 — to protect an enormous racketeering operation threatened by the candidacy, and then the election, of Mr. Trump. Naturally, they are desperate to get him out of the way. So many of the facts are already publicly known and documented about these matters that the legal machinery has yet to catch up with it all. And when it does, the Democratic Party will have driven a wooden stake through its own depraved heart.

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Pat Buchanan doesn’t let up either.

A Malicious Indictment (Buchanan)

Assume Zelenskiy, without prodding, sent to the U.S., as a friendly act to ingratiate himself with Trump, the Burisma file on Hunter Biden. Would that have been a crime? Why is it then a crime if Trump asked for the file? The military aid Trump held up for 10 weeks — lethal aid Barack Obama denied to Kyiv — was sent. And Zelenskiy never held the press conference requested, never investigated Burisma, never sent the Biden file. There is a reason why no crime was charged in the impeachment of Donald Trump. There was no crime committed. Not political, said Pelosi. Why then did she hold up sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate for a month, after she said it was so urgent that Trump be impeached that Schiff and Nadler could not wait for their subpoenas to be ruled upon by the Supreme Court?

Pelosi is demanding that the Senate get the documents, subpoena and hear the witnesses, and do the investigative work Schiff and Nadler failed to do. Does that not constitute an admission that a convincing case was not made? Are not the articles voted by the House inherently deficient if the Senate has to have more evidence than the House prosecutors could produce to convict the president of “abuse of power”? Can we really have a fair trial in the Senate, when half of the jury, the Democratic caucus, is as reliably expected to vote to remove the president as Republicans are to acquit him? What kind of fair trial is it when we can predict the final vote before the court hears the evidence?

It is ridiculous to deny that this impeachment is partisan, political and personal. It reeks of politics, partisanship and Trump-hatred. As for patriotic, that depends on where you stand — or sit. But the forum to be entrusted with the decision of “should Trump go?” is not a deeply polarized Senate, but with those the Founding Fathers entrusted with such decisions — the American people.

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But the IMF will save us, I’m sure.

New IMF Boss Says Global Economy Risks Return Of Great Depression (G.)

The head of the International Monetary Fund has warned that the global economy risks a return of the Great Depression, driven by inequality and financial sector instability. Speaking at the Peterson Institute of International Economics in Washington, Kristalina Georgieva said new IMF research, which compares the current economy to the “roaring 1920s” that culminated in the great market crash of 1929, revealed that a similar trend was already under way. While the inequality gap between countries had closed in the last two decades, it had increased within countries, she said, singling out the UK for particular criticism.


“In the UK, for example, the top 10% now control nearly as much wealth as the bottom 50%. This situation is mirrored across much of the OECD, where income and wealth inequality have reached, or are near, record highs.” She added: “In some ways, this troubling trend is reminiscent of the early part of the 20th century – when the twin forces of technology and integration led to the first gilded age, the roaring 20s, and, ultimately, financial disaster.” She warned that fresh issues such as the climate emergency and increased trade protectionism meant the next 10 years were likely to be characterised by social unrest and financial market volatility. “If I had to identify a theme at the outset of the new decade, it would be increasing uncertainty,” she said.

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Pepe’s starting to sound a bit like a broken record. We already know what he thinks about this. he should try a different angle.

Battle of the Ages To Stop Eurasian Integration (Pepe Escobar)

The Deep State and crucial sectors of the US ruling class are absolutely terrified that China is already outpacing the “indispensable nation” economically and that Russia has outpaced it militarily. The Pentagon officially designates the three Eurasian nodes as “threats.” Hybrid War techniques – carrying inbuilt 24/7 demonization – will proliferate with the aim of containing China’s “threat,” Russian “aggression” and Iran’s “sponsorship of terrorism.” The myth of the “free market” will continue to drown under the imposition of a barrage of illegal sanctions, euphemistically defined as new trade “rules.” Yet that will be hardly enough to derail the Russia-China strategic partnership. To unlock the deeper meaning of this partnership, we need to understand that Beijing defines it as rolling towards a “new era.”

That implies strategic long-term planning – with the key date being 2049, the centennial of New China. The horizon for the multiple projects of the Belt and Road Initiative – as in the China-driven New Silk Roads – is indeed the 2040s, when Beijing expects to have fully woven a new, multipolar paradigm of sovereign nations/partners across Eurasia and beyond, all connected by an interlocking maze of belts and roads. The Russian project – Greater Eurasia – somewhat mirrors Belt & Road and will be integrated with it. Belt & Road, the Eurasia Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank are all converging towards the same vision.

So this “new era”, as defined by the Chinese, relies heavily on close Russia-China coordination, in every sector. Made in China 2025 is encompassing a series of techno/scientific breakthroughs. At the same time, Russia has established itself as an unparalleled technological resource for weapons and systems that the Chinese still cannot match. At the latest BRICS summit in Brasilia, President Xi Jinping told Vladimir Putin that “the current international situation with rising instability and uncertainty urge China and Russia to establish closer strategic coordination.” Putin’s response: “Under the current situation, the two sides should continue to maintain close strategic communication.”

Russia is showing China how the West respects realpolitik power in any form, and Beijing is finally starting to use theirs. The result is that after five centuries of Western domination – which, incidentally, led to the decline of the Ancient Silk Roads – the Heartland is back, with a bang, asserting its preeminence. On a personal note, my travels these past two years, from West Asia to Central Asia, and my conversations these past two months with analysts in Nur-Sultan, Moscow and Italy, have allowed me to get deeper into the intricacies of what sharp minds define as the Double Helix. We are all aware of the immense challenges ahead – while barely managing to track the stunning re-emergence of the Heartland in real-time.

Read more …

This would be a good angle for Pepe. How do countries integrate that are in serious trouble?

China’s Growing Economic Collapse (WRB)

China’s $40 Trillion banking system dwarfs the American system at double the size, with over 4,000 small, medium and massive, state-owned banks. The world’s four largest banks, including behemoth ICBC ($4TN), are all Chinese. The failure of just three banks was important enough that Chinese regulators submitted Chinese banks to a stress test and the results were shocking. China’s central bank admitted that China’s banking sector is “showing signs of strain.” The stress tests had revealed that over 13% of China’s 4,379 lenders were designated “high risk” by the central bank’s report. With this amounting to over 570 banks, and thus multiplied by the three existing examples of bank bail-out funding, with the Chinese economy following the world into recession, the financial numbers and likelihood of any future series of bail-outs are truly biblical. If not, fiscally impossible.


Separately, the PBOC also stress-tested 30 medium- and large-sized banks in the first half of 2019. In the base-case scenario, assuming GDP growth dropped to 5.3% – or well above where China’s real GDP is now – nine out of 30 major banks failed and saw their capital adequacy ratio drop to 13.47% from 14.43%. In the worst-case scenario, assuming GDP growth of 4.15%, or just 2% below the latest official Chinese GDP report, seventeen out of the thirty of these major banks failed the test. Separately, a liquidity stress test at 1,171 banks, representing nearly three-quarters of China’s banking sector by total assets, showed that ninety failed in the base-case and 159 in the worst-case scenario. The metrics of any collective bail-out indicates that China has upwards of an insurmountable $20 trillion problem rapidly approaching.

Read more …

I kid you not: for “national security” reasons. All they talk about is Big Ben bongs and blaming Meghan for being chased out of town by the paparazzi.

UK Cops Block Bid To Trace Prince Andrew’s Location 19 Years Ago (NYP)

British police have blocked a legal bid to trace Prince Andrew’s bodyguards’ movements on the night he allegedly first had sex with a Jeffrey Epstein accuser. The disgraced royal claims that he could not have had sex with Virginia Roberts Giuffre in London in March 2001 — because he was grabbing pizza with his daughter at a chain restaurant in the small town of Woking. With no witnesses of the prince’s pie date, the Mirror Online submitted a Freedom of Information Act request hoping that his royal protection officers’ movements would help prove his whereabouts that day. But London’s Met police rejected the request, citing national security concerns — and sparking an immediate backlash, the UK news site said.


Graham Smith, of anti-monarchy group Republic, slammed the decision. “Revealing locations from 19 years ago cannot possibly reveal personal data, either directly or indirectly,” Smith told Mirror Online. “The police are tasked with protecting the royals from physical harm, not from legitimate inquiry, criminal investigation or embarrassment.” Giuffre — who claims to have had sex with Andrew three times after being trafficked by late pedophile Epstein — attacked the “lies after lies” that she claims protect the prince. “There could only be one reason the prince’s bodyguards would not to expose where the prince had been on March 10th 2001- the night in question, bc he wasn’t at Woking Pizza with his daughter B,” she tweeted, referring to Princess Beatrice.

Read more …

Health care, education etc. must be universal. Or you can aim for the majority to be sick and stupid.

Rich People Are Staying Healthy For Almost A Decade Longer Than Poor People (CNN)

Rich people live healthy, disability-free lives an average of nine years longer than less wealthy people, according to a major study that lays bare the troubling economic inequalities behind lifespans in the US and UK. Researchers analyzed data on more than 25,000 adults over 50, looking for factors that could predict how long they lived before they started suffering from age-related disabilities, like being unable to get out of bed or cook for themselves. The biggest socioeconomic factor in predicting when those problems began was wealth, the team discovered, with richer people enjoying almost an extra decade before experiencing difficulties.

From the age of 50, the wealthiest men analyzed could expect another 31 healthy years of life — compared with the least well-off, who could only expect another 22 to 23 healthy years. For women, the wealthiest were projected to enjoy 33 more years of good health, compared with 24 for the poorest. “While life expectancy is a useful indicator of health, the quality of life as we get older is also crucial,” lead author Paola Zaninotto, a public health specialist at University College London, said in a statement. “By measuring healthy life expectancy we can get an estimate of the number of years of life spent in favorable states of health or without disability.”

The study — the work of researchers from a team of universities in Europe and the US — is far from the first to pinpoint the importance wealth plays in how long people live, though most have focused on life expectancy rather than quality of life. Research in 2016 found that men in the top financial 1% in the US can expect to live until the age of 87.3, nearly 15 years longer than those in the bottom 1%. The gap for women was 10 years. And in the UK, a study in 2018 found that poor people die around a decade earlier than those who are better off. [..] In general, the global life expectancy at birth in 2016 — the latest year for which data is available — was 72 years, according to the World Health Organization. The global average life expectancy rose by 5.5 years between 2000 and 2016, the fastest increase since the 1960s, WHO said.

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They probably need to be much more specific. How do they intend to achieve their goal? And don’t say electric cars.

Children, Young Adults Can’t Sue US Government Over Climate Change – Court (R.)

A U.S. federal appeals court on Friday threw out a lawsuit by children and young adults who claimed they had a constitutional right to be protected from climate change, in a major setback to efforts to spur the U.S. government to address the issue. In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs, who were between the ages of 8 and 19 when the lawsuit began in 2015, lacked legal standing to sue the United States. Circuit Judge Andrew Hurwitz said the majority reached its conclusion “reluctantly,” given “compelling” evidence the government had long promoted fossil fuels despite knowing they could cause catastrophic climate change, and that failing to change policies could hasten an “environmental apocalypse.”

Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based non-profit behind the lawsuit, said in a statement that it would seek an 11-judge panel of the court to review the decision. The ruling had “catastrophic implications,” said Julia Olson, the group’s executive director. A Department of Justice spokesman said the government was pleased with the outcome. The 21 children and young adults had accused federal officials and oil industry executives of violating their due process right to a “climate system capable of sustaining human life,” by knowing for decades that carbon pollution poisons the environment but doing nothing about it. The government argued that neither U.S. law or history supported the young people’s claim of a fundamental right to a “livable climate.”

It also called the lawsuit an unconstitutional attempt to control the entire country’s climate and energy policy through a single court. Hurwitz said the case left “little basis for denying that climate change is occurring at an increasingly rapid pace,” but that addressing it required “complex policy decisions entrusted, for better or worse, to the wisdom and discretion” of the White House and Congress. “That the other branches may have abdicated their responsibility to remediate the problem does not confer on Article III courts, no matter how well-intentioned, the ability to step into their shoes,” he wrote.

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Ali would have turned 78 yesterday

 

 

 

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

 

Oct 242019
 
 October 24, 2019  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Rembrandt van Rijn Self portrait with Saskia 1636

 

UK Blocks Spanish Judge From Questioning Julian Assange (El Pais)
Former House Lawyer Says Pelosi’s Impeachment Inquiry ‘Is Illegal’ (WT)
Democrats Set December Impeachment Target, But Obstacles Abound (R.)
Republicans Storm Closed-Door Hearing To Protest Impeachment Inquiry (Hill)
Benghazi Coverup Discussed on Emails to Clinton’s Unsecured Server (ET)
Steele, State and the Alfa Bank Conspiracy Theory Exposed (Solomon)
Oprah Has ‘Begged’ Disney CEO Bob Iger To Run For President (Week)
Biden Allies Push For Super PAC After Lackluster Fundraising Quarter (CNN)
Burn, Neoliberalism, Burn (Escobar)
Kremlin Says US Betrayed Kurds In Syria (R.)
Amazon Rainforest ‘Close To Irreversible Tipping Point’ (G.)

 

 

“It is an automatic procedure, and requests can only be rejected in exceptional cases.”

The lawless are trying to run out the clock on the Spanish probe, because it’s bound to find the CIA’s involvement, and because if Julian, his lawyers and doctors were spied upon, the entire extradition thing may be null and void.

UK Blocks Spanish Judge From Questioning Julian Assange (El Pais)

The British justice system is blocking a Spanish judge’s request to question Julian Assange in London as a witness in a case exploring allegations that the Spanish security firm Undercover Global S.L. spied on the WikiLeaks founder while he was living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The British position, unprecedented in these types of requests for judicial collaboration, is being viewed by Spanish judicial bodies as a show of resistance against the consequences that the case could have on the process to extradite the Australian cyberactivist to the United States.

On September 25, Judge José de la Mata sent British authorities an European Investigation Order (EIO) requesting permission to question Assange by videoconference as a witness in the case opened by Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, against the owner of UC Global S. L., David Morales, for alleged offenses involving violations of privacy and client-attorney privileges, as well as misappropriation, bribery, money laundering and criminal possession of weapons. Morales was arrested in September and released on bail. Documents and video footage revealed by EL PAÍS show that UC Global S. L. spied on Assange’s meetings with his lawyers, where his legal defense strategy was discussed. Morales allegedly offered recordings of these and other conversations to US intelligence services.

The EIO is a new tool that speeds up cooperation between judges in the EU and circumvents laborious rogatory letters based on instruments of international law. The mechanism came into effect in Spain in 2018. With an EIO, a legal authority from an EU member state can ask a legal authority from another EU country for assistance in obtaining evidence or means of evidence (witness statements, telephone taps, DNA tests and so on). It is an automatic procedure, and requests can only be rejected in exceptional cases.

[..] On October 14, De la Mata sent the British agency a written reply that EL PAÍS has had access to. In the document, the judge expressed his surprise and referred to the “previous cases” in which the UKCA accepted requests for interviews via videoconference. De la Mata also quoted international cooperation treaties that say that the only obstacle in these cases would be if the person being questioned was the accused. “In this case, Julian Assange is a witness, not an accused party,” wrote De la Mata.

In the document, De la Mata also denied that his initial request was unclear: “We have provided a clear context for our case, describing all the events and crimes under investigation.” On the issue of jurisdiction, he replied: “The Spanish judicial system has jurisdiction and is able to hear cases of crimes committed by Spanish citizens outside of the country as long as the event is a crime in the place where it was committed, the victim or the public prosecutor present a criminal complaint, and the suspect has not been sentenced or acquitted in another country.” De la Mata added that the suspect (David Morales) is Spanish, the victim (Assange) has filed a complaint, and the crimes (unlawful disclosure of secrets and bribery) are crimes in the UK.

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“Nancy Pelosi Democrats Produce More Subpoenas Than Laws…”

Former House Lawyer Says Pelosi’s Impeachment Inquiry ‘Is Illegal’ (WT)

Thanks to a flurry of Ukraine activity, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic majority have approved more subpoenas to investigate President Trump than they have written laws. The subpoena issued Tuesday morning to former Ambassador William Taylor marked the 56th that has been publicly acknowledged and aimed at Mr. Trump and his team. That is 10 more than the 46 House bills that have become law this year. It’s far from a subpoena record, but it is complicating Mrs. Pelosi’s attempt to portray her troops as focused on their agenda. Perhaps more worrying to Mrs. Pelosi’s cause is the conclusion of a former senior oversight attorney for the House, who said the spate of subpoenas issued this month as part of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is illegal.

Samuel Dewey, a lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery who used to lead investigations for the House Financial Services Committee, said the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, is not authorized under the rules to lead an impeachment probe. “Unless there’s a bunch of stuff that’s not public, which would in itself be extraordinary, there is no way he has jurisdiction to conduct an impeachment inquiry. I think his proceeding is illegal,” Mr. Dewey said. Mr. Schiff’s impeachment inquiry subpoenas have all centered around Mr. Trump’s attempts to rope Ukraine into investigating a potential political opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden. The Washington Times counts 15 publicly acknowledged subpoenas issued on the Ukraine matter so far, including the one Tuesday to Mr. Taylor.

The House also has approved 22 subpoenas related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and Trump campaign behavior in 2016, seven subpoenas dealing with the president’s finances, three concerning White House matters such as security clearances or the activities of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, five subpoenas over immigration policy, three over Mr. Trump’s now-abandoned attempt to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, and one subpoena to the State Department over U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

[..] Mr. Dewey said Democrats could face a legal challenge over any impeachment-related subpoenas because the House has yet to vote to authorize an inquiry. Mrs. Pelosi created an inquiry by proclamation, turning the reins over to Mr. Schiff. Mr. Nadler, meanwhile, has argued to the courts that he has been in the midst of an inquiry for months. Mr. Dewey said those arguments aren’t frivolous, but “I think they’re wrong.” “I do not think as a matter of law that the Judiciary Committee can exercise the impeachment power without a vote of the full House,” he said. “And I think independently of that, I do not think any other committee can exercise the impeachment power.”

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Two big problems:

1) Pelosi needs to solve the legitimacy issue.
2) Democrats are selectively leaking to the press they like, creating a picture that may not be realistic at all

Democrats Set December Impeachment Target, But Obstacles Abound (R.)

Democratic lawmakers hope to complete their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump by year’s end and are coalescing around two articles of impeachment – abuse of power and obstruction, lawmakers and aides told Reuters. But some Democrats fear that a costly distraction may be the looming battle between the Republican Trump and Congress over funding the government when money runs out for many federal operations on Nov. 21, Democratic aides said. Some Democratic lawmakers said they believed they already had gathered enough evidence from the testimony of current and former U.S. officials to impeach Trump for asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.


Other Democrats were more cautious and said more information was needed to solidify the case for impeachment and make it an easier sell to a deeply polarized American public. Only two U.S. presidents have been formally impeached by the House of Representatives, and both were later acquitted by the Senate. Val Demings, a Democratic lawmaker who sits on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, said congressional investigators should be able to wrap up their inquiry by December. “We need to be thorough, we need to be methodical, but we need to be timely,” she told Reuters. Three Democratic congressional sources said there had been talk among some Democrats about trying to wrap up hearings and hold an impeachment vote by the Nov. 28 Thanksgiving holiday, but this appeared highly unlikely as of Wednesday.

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Why turn the House into a circus?

Republicans Storm Closed-Door Hearing To Protest Impeachment Inquiry (Hill)

House Republicans stormed a closed-door hearing Wednesday to protest Democrats’ impeachment inquiry process, breaking up the deposition of a top Defense Department official who was testifying about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. “They crashed the party,” said Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, one of three House panels leading the impeachment probe. Dozens of Republicans, including some members of leadership like House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), barged into the secure hearing room in the Capitol basement where Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, was set to provide private testimony.

The deposition got underway after a five-hour delay. Several lawmakers said that, in response to the Republican protest on Wednesday morning, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) left the room with Cooper and postponed her interview. “The fact that Adam Schiff won’t even let the press in — you can’t even go in and see what’s going on in that room,” Scalise told reporters outside the hearing room. “Voting members of Congress are being denied access from being able to see what’s happening behind these closed doors, where they’re trying to impeach the president of the United States with a one-sided set of rules, they call the witnesses.”

[..] Some Democrats were outraged by GOP lawmakers bringing cellphones and cameras into a secure room. “In short, they have compromised the security of the room. And they not only brought in their unauthorized devices, they may have brought in the Russian and Chinese with electronics in a secure space,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told reporters. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a member of the Oversight Committee and a key Trump supporter, suggested the concerns over the cellphones were overblown. “There’s no cameras or phones in the SCIF, so I think that those phones actually went in, just because everybody went in,” Meadows told reporters. “I can tell you I actually collected phones and brought them back out. You certainly want a secure environment but at the same time I think everybody wants to hear exactly what’s going on.”

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“one of the gravest modern offenses against government transparency.”

Benghazi Coverup Discussed on Emails to Clinton’s Unsecured Server (ET)

Judicial Watch made public on Oct. 21 a 2012 email chain showing multiple senior U.S. State Department executives used then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unsecured private email to discuss the most sensitive details of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, died in the assault, which within hours was attributed by the Obama White House to an internet video that critically portrayed Islam and its founder, Mohammed. While Judicial Watch first sought the emails released on Oct. 21 in a 2014 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, they weren’t released to the nonprofit government watchdog until earlier in October by a federal court and only after the group threatened to expand its litigation in the case against the State Department.


It was this FOIA litigation that led to the public disclosure of Clinton’s use of the private email system, according to Judicial Watch. Hundreds of other State Department and White House documents sought in the 2014 suit were previously released, but only after years of litigation and discovery, which continues and may soon include deposing Clinton and Cheryl Mills, her former chief of staff. U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who has heard much of the Judicial Watch litigation seeking the documents, has called Clinton’s private email system “one of the gravest modern offenses against government transparency.”

Read more …

Another ghost story.

Steele, State and the Alfa Bank Conspiracy Theory Exposed (Solomon)

When Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller finally testified this summer, one of the few substantive revelations he made about something not specifically addressed in his final report involved a long-pedaled allegation that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had a secret communications network through a computer server at Russia’s Alfa Bank. “I believe it’s not true,” Mueller testified when questioned by Republican Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, confirming in public what FBI officials had privately told me and other reporters going back to late 2016.


We now have strong evidence that one of the events that gave life to that conspiracy theory was an Oct. 11, 2016 visit by the British intelligence operative Christopher Steele to the State Department, where the author of the now infamous anti-Trump dossier met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec. Just a few days after the visit, Kavalec forwarded a document to FBI official Stephen Laycock on Oct. 13, 2016 as a followup to her contact with Steele that offered significant detail about the Alfa Bank theory based on unexplained pings between a server at the bank and one used by the Trump organization on the East Coast.

Read more …

Would she settle for Hillary? Why doesn’t Oprah herself run?

Oprah Has ‘Begged’ Disney CEO Bob Iger To Run For President (Week)

The Democratic field isn’t sitting well with Oprah. Despite being enthralled with former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg early in the 2020 race, Oprah Winfrey is now reportedly dissatisfied with who’s running. And she’s not the only one — Hillary Clinton is still thinking about jumping into the race, The Washington Post reports. Oprah has made her presidential ambitions for Disney CEO Bob Iger well known, and has reportedly “repeatedly begged” him to run. She said in September she hoped to be “knocking on doors in Des Moines, wearing an ‘Iger 2020’ T-shirt.”


“Bob Iger’s guidance and decency is exactly what the country needs right now,” she continued. Clinton similarly “has not ruled out jumping in herself,” suggesting she’s also seeing “dissatisfaction” with the race’s current frontrunners, two people tell the Post. Party leaders have said they’re worried about former Vice President Joe Biden’s involvement in President Trump’s impeachment, and that the other top-tier candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), are “too liberal” to beat Trump.

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They might as well heat their villas with the money.

Biden Allies Push For Super PAC After Lackluster Fundraising Quarter (CNN)

A coalition of top Democratic strategists and donors are intensifying conversations about setting up an outside group to bolster Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy, people familiar with the matter tell CNN, aiming to create a super PAC designed to fight back against a barrage of well-funded attacks from President Donald Trump’s campaign. The idea of building an outside organization has been the subject of discussion for weeks by Biden allies, but the conversations intensified in the wake of a cash crunch for the former vice president’s campaign. He reported last week having less than $9 million in the bank, significantly less than his leading rivals.

Although he sits atop or near the top of recent polls, Biden’s lackluster financial performance has set off rounds of public hand-wringing among Democratic establishment figures about his ability to competitively fund his campaign through the battery of state primaries early next year. While Biden has previously spoken out against the creation of a super PAC, which would operate entirely separately from his campaign, several longtime allies say it’s clear that his presidential bid needs help. No final decision has been made about launching the outside group, but allies have started contacting potential vendors and lining up possible donors to fuel a super PAC, sources familiar with the efforts tell CNN. “They know they can use all the help they can get,” one Biden ally told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the group. “Trump is crushing him with spending.”

[..] Biden’s fundraising haul last quarter totaled nearly $15.7 million, but the candidate spent more than he raised, ending the quarter with $8.98 million cash on hand. Biden is outmatched in cash reserves by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has amassed a stockpile of $33.7 million. Biden’s allies are most concerned about combating the attacks coming from Trump. His reelection campaign, joint fundraising committees and the Republican National Committee ended the quarter with a combined $158 million cash on hand.

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Keyword: IMF.

Burn, Neoliberalism, Burn (Escobar)

Neoliberalism is – literally – burning. And from Ecuador to Chile, South America, once again, is showing the way. Against the vicious, one-size-fits-all IMF austerity prescription, which deploys weapons of mass economic destruction to smash national sovereignty and foster social inequality, South America finally seems poised to reclaim the power to forge its own history. Three presidential elections are in play. Bolivia’s seem to have been settled this past Sunday – even as the usual suspects are yelling “Fraud!” Argentina and Uruguay are on next Sunday. Blowback against what David Harvey has splendidly conceptualized as accumulation by dispossession is, and will continue to be, a bitch. It will eventually reach Brazil – which as it stands continues to be torn to pieces by Pinochetist ghosts.

Brazil, eventually, after immense pain, will rise up again. After all, the excluded and humiliated all across South America are finally discovering they carry a Joker inside themselves. The question posed by the Chilean street is stark: “What’s worse, to evade taxes or to invade the subway?” It’s all a matter of doing the class struggle math. Chile’s GDP grew 1,1% last year while the profits of the largest corporations grew ten times more. It’s not hard to find from where the huge gap was extracted. The Chilean street stresses how water, electricity, gas, health, medicine, transportation, education, the salar (salt flats) in Atacama, even the glaciers were privatized. That’s classic accumulation by dispossession, as the cost of living has become unbearable for the overwhelming majority of 19 million Chileans, whose average monthly income does not exceed $500.

[..] Evo Morales represents a project of sustainable, inclusive development, and crucially, autonomous from international finance. No wonder the whole Washington Consensus apparatus hates his guts. Economy Minister Luis Arce Catacora cut to the chase: “When Evo Morales won his first election in 2005, 65% of the population was low income, now 62% of the population has access to a medium income.” The opposition, without any project except wild privatizations, and no concern whatsoever for social policies, is left to yell “Fraud!”, but this could take a very nasty turn in the next few days. In the tony suburbs of southern La Paz, class hate against Evo Morales is the favorite sport: the President is referred to as “indio”, a “tyrant” and “ignorant”. Cholos of the Altiplano are routinely defined by white landowning elites in the plains as an “evil race”.

Read more …

Russia in control.

Kremlin Says US Betrayed Kurds In Syria (R.)

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the United States had betrayed and abandoned the Syrian Kurds and advised the Kurds to withdraw from the Syrian border as per a deal between Moscow and Ankara or be mauled by the Turkish army. The comments by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to Russian news agencies followed a deal agreed on Tuesday between Russia and Turkey that will see Syrian and Russian forces deploy to northeast Syria to remove Kurdish YPG fighters and their weapons from the border with Turkey.


Peskov, who was reported to be reacting to comments by U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey, complained that it appeared that the United States was encouraging the Kurds to stay close to the Syrian border and fight the Turkish army. “The United States has been the Kurds’ closest ally in recent years. (But) in the end, it abandoned the Kurds and, in essence, betrayed them,” Peskov was cited as saying. “Now they (the Americans) prefer to leave the Kurds at the border (with Turkey) and almost force them to fight the Turks.” If the Kurds did not withdraw as per the deal between Moscow and Ankara, Peskov said that Syrian borders guards and Russian military police would have to withdraw, leaving the Kurds to be dealt with by the Turkish army.

Read more …

WHen you read the article, it appears perhaps not the best way to report this.

Amazon Rainforest ‘Close To Irreversible Tipping Point’ (G.)

Soaring deforestation coupled with the destructive policies of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, could push the Amazon rainforest dangerously to an irreversible “tipping point” within two years, a prominent economist has said. After this point the rainforest would stop producing enough rain to sustain itself and start slowly degrading into a drier savannah, releasing billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, which would exacerbate global heating and disrupt weather across South America. The warning came in a policy brief published this week by Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC.

The report sparked controversy among climate scientists. Some believe the tipping point is still 15 to 20 years away, while others say the warning accurately reflects the danger that Bolsonaro and global heating pose to the Amazon’s survival. “It’s a stock, so like any stock you run it down, run it down – then suddenly you don’t have any more of it,” said de Bolle, whose brief also recommended solutions to the current crisis. Bolsonaro has vowed to develop the Amazon, and his government plans to allow mining on protected indigenous reserves. Amazon farmers support his attacks on environmental protection agencies. His business-friendly environment minister, Ricardo Salles, has met loggers and wildcat miners, while deforestation and Amazon fires have soared since he assumed office in January.

The policy brief noted that Brazil’s space research institute, INPE, reported that deforestation in August was 222% higher than in August 2018. Maintaining the current rate of increase INPE reported between January and August this year would bring the Amazon “dangerously close to the estimated tipping point as soon as 2021 … beyond which the rainforest can no longer generate enough rain to sustain itself”, de Bolle wrote.

Read more …

 

 

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”


William Shakespeare

 

 

 

 

Oct 192019
 


Paul Gauguin Schooner and three masters 1886

 

Twitter War Breaks Out Between Tulsi Gabbard And Hillary Clinton (ZH)
Green Party Torches Hillary Clinton For Claiming Jill Stein Is ‘Totally’ a Russian Asset
Quid Pro Nothing: Trump Accusers Don’t Care About The Facts (NYPost Ed.)
The Fatal Loop of Recursivity (Kunstler)
US Energy Secretary Will Not Comply With Democrats’ Impeachment Probe (R.)
Brexit Vote Could Be Delayed After Move By MPs To Prevent No-Deal (Ind.)
Mnuchin Backs Proposal To Double IMF’s Crisis Fund (R.)
Spain Calls In Civil Guard To Outskirts Of Barcelona (R.)
Syria Tells Russia It Will Force Both Turkey And US Out ‘By All Means’ (NW)
Boeing Employees Misled FAA About Key 737 MAX Safety System – Report (CNBC)
Boeing Pilots Detected 737 MAX Glitch 2 Years Before 1st Crash (NPR)
‘Just Don’t Waste’: David Attenborough’s Message To Next Generation (G.)

 

 

Zero Hedge on Twitter: Putin’s diabolical plan to run the same democrat who lost against trump in 2016 is nearly complete.

Tulsi is brilliant here. Her tweets garnered 30k retweets and 100k likes in under two hours and she gained, more than 40,000 Twitter followers more than she gains in an average month.

Still, during and after every single debate, Tulsi was the most searched candidate on Google (even the debate she was banned from). Now with Hillary gifting her this much attention, will she still poll 2% or less? Then you would know what rigging means.

Tulsi is the first female combat veteran in history to run for President, and is still a Major in the Hawaii National Guard. And Hillary accuses her of being a Russian asset, i.e. treason. Real treason.

Michael Tracey: “If Tulsi is being controlled by Russia that’s a National Security Threat because she’s active military. Let’s have Hillary follow through on her batshit rhetoric. Is she alleging that a Major in the National Guard is secretly doing the bidding of Russia?”

Will Tulsi sue Hillary for defamation?

 

Twitter War Breaks Out Between Tulsi Gabbard And Hillary Clinton (ZH)

Democratic presidential candidate and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard – who like Trump was quickly put in the crosshairs of the military industrial complex, the deep state and the pro-war Atlantic Council for her de-interventionist foreign policy – fired back at Hillary Clinton, accusing her of being behind a “concerted campaign” to destroy her reputation and challenged her to stop hiding and enter the 2020 presidential race. Earlier in the day, Hillary Clinton floated a conspiracy theory that the Russians are “grooming” the Hawaii congresswoman to be a third-party candidate in 2020, while claiming 2016 Green Party nominee Jill Stein is “also” a Russian asset.

“Great! Thank you Hillary Clinton,” Gabbard tweeted late on Friday afternoon. “You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain.” “From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose.” Gabbard added. “Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly,” Gabbard called out Clinton, who has dropped hints that she might run again in 2020 as a rematch for her 2016 humiliation.

During this week’s Democratic debate, Gabbard blasted debate co-sponsors CNN and the New York Times for “smearing” her along similar lines. CNN commentator Bakari Sellers called her a “puppet” for the Russian government and the Times reported on her “frequent” mentions in Russian state news media. “Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears,” Gabbard said. “This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia — completely despicable.”

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Green Party isn’t nearly as efficient as Tulsi is.

Green Party Torches Hillary Clinton For Claiming Jill Stein Is ‘Totally’ a Russian Asset

“Brazen Orwellian doublespeak” — that’s what the Green Party is saying in response to Hillary Clinton’s accusation that their 2016 candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, is “totally” a “Russian asset.” “Clinton has spent her entire career as an asset of Wall Street, the police state and war — the real dangers to everyday people in the United States and around the world,” Green Party communications manager Michael O’Neil said in a statement to Rolling Stone on Friday. Clinton, the erstwhile Democratic nominee in 2016, sat down for an interview with former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe earlier this week. Over the course of an hour-long discussion, the former Secretary of State speculated that American antagonists would attempt to influence the 2020 election, as they did in 2016.


She suggested the Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard might be the recipient — witting or not — of help from the Kremlin this time around. (At the Democratic debate on Tuesday, Gabbard called allegations that her candidacy is being boosted by the Russian government “completely despicable.”) Clinton said she wouldn’t be surprised if Gabbard, failing to secure the Democratic nomination, mounted a third party challenge in 2020. [..] “While Clinton would love to intimidate Green Party candidates and voters with baseless smears, her salty neo-McCarthyism will prove to be rocket fuel for the motivation of Greens everywhere in 2020 and beyond,” O’Neil said. Clinton’s spokesman, meanwhile, doubled down on the characterization to CNN on Friday. “If the nesting doll fits, ” Nick Merrill said. “This is not some outlandish claim. This is reality.”

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New York Post editorial. A counterweight to the 1001 pieces that all interpret Mulvaney the same way.

Quid Pro Nothing: Trump Accusers Don’t Care About The Facts (NYPost Ed.)

Everyone who already thought the case for President Trump’s impeachment was a slam-dunk went berserk Thursday, claiming that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had just admitted to a quid pro quo with Ukraine. Except that what Mulvaney “admitted” is that the administration was doing what it should — pushing a foreign government to cooperate in getting to the bottom of foreign interference in the 2016 campaign. Virtually every media outlet in America — certainly all those that jumped on Mulvaney’s remarks — has spent most of the last three years painting such foreign interference as the blackest possible crime.


In fact, all Mulvaney did was repeat yet again that Trump “was worried about corruption with that nation” — and specifically say those worries extended to cooperation in “the look-back to what happened in 2016.” Asked if Ukraine’s uncertainty about probing those matters was linked to the US holdup of military aid, he said “yes” — clarifying hours later that it wasn’t a quid pro quo. Which it couldn’t be: Ukraine didn’t know about the holdup until weeks after President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call with Trump. Critics complain that one specific issue Trump pushed is a “debunked conspiracy theory.” So what? The Obama administration and several Democratic senators at various times pushed Ukraine to cooperate in probes of possible Trump 2016 wrongdoing that eventually turned out not to exist.

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“..the final act in the collapse of the USA will be the government choking itself to death on replayed narratives from its own server farms.”

The Fatal Loop of Recursivity (Kunstler)

The stupendous failure of the Mueller Investigation only revealed what can happen when extraordinary bad faith, dishonesty, and incompetence are brought to this project of reinventing “truth” — of who did what and why — while it provoked a counter-industry of detecting its gross falsifications. This dynamic has long been systematically studied and applied by institutions like the so-called “intelligence community,” and has gotten so out-of-hand that its main mission these days appears to be the maximum gaslighting of the nation — for the purpose of its own desperate self-defense.

The “Whistleblower” episode is the latest turn in dishonestly manipulated records, but the most interesting feature of it is that the release of the actual transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call did not affect the “narrative” precooked between the CIA and Adam Schiff’s House Intel Committee. They just blundered on with the story and when major parts of the replay didn’t add up, they retreated to secret sessions in the basement of the US capitol. Perhaps you can see why unleashing the CIA, NSA, and the FBI on political enemies by Mr. Obama and his cohorts has become such a disaster. When that scheme blew up, the intel community went to the mattresses, as the saying goes in Mafia legend and lore.

The “company” found itself at existential risk. Of course, the CIA has long been accused of following an agenda of its own simply because it had the means to do it. It had the manpower, the money, and the equipment to run whatever operations it felt like running, and a history of going its own way out of sheer institutional arrogance, of knowing better than the crackers and clowns elected by the hoi-polloi. The secrecy inherent in its charter was a green light for limitless mischief and some of the agency’s directors showed open contempt for the occupants of the White House. Think: Allen Dulles and William Casey. And lately, Mr. Brennan.

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Pelosi needs to hold that vote. But she won’t. She’d rather go to the Senate based on secret info.

US Energy Secretary Will Not Comply With Democrats’ Impeachment Probe (R.)

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will not turn over documents to congressional Democrats who had subpoenaed them over his role in Ukraine as part of their impeachment probe into President Donald Trump, a department official said in a letter on Friday. Three U.S. House of Representatives committees subpoenaed Perry on Oct. 10 for any role he played in Trump’s push to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate his political rival, former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and his son. In a letter to the three committees, Melissa Burnison, an assistant energy secretary, wrote that the impeachment inquiry had not been properly authorized.


“Even if the inquiry was validly authorized, much of the information sought in the subpoena appears to consist of confidential Executive Branch communications that are potentially protected by executive privilege,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters. “However, the Department remains committed to working with Congress on matters of mutual importance conducted in accordance with proper authorizations and procedures,” it said. The energy department’s response follows the lead of the White House, which has said it would refuse to cooperate with an “illegitimate, unconstitutional” congressional impeachment inquiry.

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Big day, but very unclear what the result will be.

Brexit Vote Could Be Delayed After Move By MPs To Prevent No-Deal (Ind.)

Boris Johnson’s hopes of finally obtaining parliament’s consent on Saturday for a historic deal to take the UK out of the European Union look set to be thwarted by an extraordinary bid by MPs to delay the crucial “meaningful vote”. Ahead of the highly unusual weekend sitting of the Commons, the prime minister was pulling out all the stops to secure the 320 votes he needs to claim victory in what was expected to be a razor-edge ballot, with the balance held by wavering Labour MPs, hardline ERG “Spartans” and expelled Tory rebels. But an amendment to his motion tabled by exiled Conservative Oliver Letwin threatens to withhold MPs’ approval until the full legislation to implement the deal is put into law.

With Labour expected to back the amendment, it seems almost certain to pass if selected for debate by Commons speaker John Bercow. The move – designed to avoid no-deal Brexit if the legislation is amended by Brexiteers or fails to complete its passage through parliament by Halloween – would force Mr Johnson to request an extension from Brussels beyond 31 October and could delay the meaningful vote for weeks. Although Downing Street indicated it would still push Mr Johnson’s motion to a vote in the hope of a symbolic win, success for the Letwin amendment would deny him the chance to claim he has parliament’s support for the last-minute deal struck with EU leaders on Thursday.

And if the motion fails, he could then face a non-binding vote on a second referendum put forward by Labour backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson with the aim of demonstrating that a majority in the Commons back a public ballot on any future change to the relationship between the UK and EU.

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The IMF is running out of money.

Mnuchin Backs Proposal To Double IMF’s Crisis Fund (R.)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday said he welcomes a proposal to double the size of the International Monetary Fund’s $250 billion crisis lending fund as part of a deal to maintain overall IMF resources. Mnuchin, in a statement to the IMF’s steering committee, said he backed the funding increase to ensure the global lender remained adequately resourced to respond to potential crises over the medium term. He also called for various reforms to streamline the fund’s costs, modernize salaries and benefits, and adopt a more independent, centralized risk management system.

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Large scale often violent demos taking place today that I’ve indentified, not including the climate ones because they’re not big enough except incidentally (I did include London because they banned protests):

Chili, Ecuador, Lebanon, Barcelona, France, London, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong.

I must have missed some. Do add. There appears to be a trend here.

Spain Calls In Civil Guard To Outskirts Of Barcelona (R.)

The Spanish Interior Ministry said on Friday it had given the go ahead for civil guard police reinforcements to be sent to the outskirts of Barcelona following five days of sometimes violent protests over the jailing of pro-separatist leaders. No further details were immediately available. Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told reporters on Thursday he planned to send security reinforcements to Barcelona to help maintain order in the city and also to let police already there get some rest.

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How far ahead has Putin planned?

Syria Tells Russia It Will Force Both Turkey And US Out ‘By All Means’ (NW)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has informed a visiting Russian delegation that his country was prepared to force out any uninvited guests, especially the armed forces of Turkey and the United States, which themselves recently fell on opposing ends of an eight-year civil war. Assad met Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin and other visiting officials from Moscow to discuss “the situation in Syria, especially the Jazeera region”—referring to the country’s northeast, across the Euphrates river—”and the Turkish aggression against it,” according to the Syrian leader’s office.


Last week, Turkey mobilized Syrian rebels to storm the region and defeat Kurdish forces that participated in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) but were viewed as terrorists by Ankara. “The current and future stage must be focused on stopping the aggression, and the withdrawal of all Turkish, American and other illegal forces from all Syrian territories, considering them occupation forces according to international law and conventions,” Assad said. “The Syrian people have the right to resist them by all means available.”

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Two Boeing reports that appear to lay the blame with employees and pilots.

Boeing Employees Misled FAA About Key 737 MAX Safety System – Report (CNBC)

Boeing shares slipped Friday after a Reuters report said instant messages from 2016 suggest that employees misled the Federal Aviation Administration about a key safety system on the 737 Max, the plane that has been grounded since mid-March after two fatal crashes. The FAA turned over the instant messages to U.S. lawmakers and the Department of Transportation Inspector General, the FAA said in a statement. The FAA says Boeing discovered the messages “some months ago” and the flight regulatory agency finds the document “concerning.” “The FAA is also disappointed that Boeing did not bring this document to our attention immediately upon its discovery,” the agency said. “The FAA is reviewing this information to determine what action is appropriate.”


The document was shared with lawmakers investigating the plane’s certification, the FAA added. Boeing shares were down more than 4% in midday trading, shaving 107 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average. FAA’s statement that Boeing knew about the document earlier, comes amid mounting pressure on Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg. The company’s board removed Muilenburg as chairman last week, saying the division of the two roles will help him focus on bringing the plane back to service.

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But in the end it’s all about huge cost-saving operations in the face of Airbus competition. Not employees and pilots, but upper echelons.

Boeing Pilots Detected 737 MAX Glitch 2 Years Before 1st Crash (NPR)

New evidence indicates that Boeing pilots knew about “egregious” problems with the 737 Max airplane three years ago, but federal regulators were not told about them. Investigators say the plane’s new flight control system, called MCAS, is at least partially to blame for 737 Max crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia this year that killed 346 people. Acting on data from a single, faulty angle-of-attack sensor, MCAS repeatedly forced both planes into nosedives as the pilots struggled, but failed to regain control. The pilots in the Lion Air plane that crashed in Indonesia last October did not know MCAS existed, as Boeing did not disclose any information about it in pilot manuals or in training material.

Newly revealed instant messages sent between Boeing’s then-chief technical pilot for the 737, Mark Forkner, and another technical pilot, Patrik Gustavsson, in November 2016 indicate that Forkner experienced similar problems with MCAS during a test session in a flight simulator. In a transcript obtained by NPR, Forkner writes that “there are still some real fundamental issues” with the system that he says Boeing engineers and test pilots “claim that they are aware of.” As the two pilots banter back and forth in the messages, Forkner says the system is “running rampant in the sim on me,” then adding, “I’m leveling off at like 4000 ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like crazy.”

Forkner calls the problem “egregious” and writes that he had “basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)” before experiencing the glitch, when he had told the FAA that MCAS was safe and did not need to be included in pilot manuals. Later emails, also newly disclosed, show Forkner still telling the FAA that MCAS didn’t need to be covered in the manuals. “If you read the whole chat, it is obvious that there was no ‘lie,’ ” Forkner’s lawyer, David Gerger, told news services by email on Friday. “The simulator was not reading right and had to be fixed to fly like the real plane. Mark’s career — at Air Force, at FAA, and at Boeing — was about safety. And based on everything he knew, he absolutely thought this plane was safe.”

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How are the kids going to ‘not waste’? The societies they grow up in are geared towards maximizing waste. They have to be completely retrofitted. But I don’t see you mentioning that. What I see is “don’t waste paper”.

‘Just Don’t Waste’: David Attenborough’s Message To Next Generation (G.)

David Attenborough has delivered a heartfelt message to children around the world on how they can help save the planet: “Live the way you want to live but just don’t waste.” At the first screening of the BBC’s forthcoming blockbuster nature series, Seven Worlds, One Planet, the 93-year-old offered his advice to a five-year-old in the London audience. The boy was overwhelmed by nerves when handed the microphone, so his father asked his question on his behalf: “What can he do to save the planet?” “You can do more and more and more the longer you live, but the best motto to think about is not waste things,” Attenborough replied. “Don’t waste electricity, don’t waste paper, don’t waste food. Live the way you want to live but just don’t waste. Look after the natural world, and the animals in it, and the plants in it too. This is their planet as well as ours. Don’t waste them.”


A rapt audience of children in India and South Africa joined the event by videolink and lined up to ask Attenborough questions and wave posters. At Mumbai’s packed Royal Opera House, placards read “Sir David please come to India please” and “Sir David can I please come on a shoot with you?” One asked Attenborough which animal he had found most difficult to document during his 70-year career. “I nominate going to look for mountain gorillas for the first time,” he said. “That was an unforgettable time and more successful than we could possibly have hoped … but it was a long time ago.”

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Aug 022019
 


Pablo Picasso Bathers with a toy boat 1937

 

The Giant Sucking Sound of Financial Repression (WS)
Dutch Bank ING Warns Against Further ECB Money Printing (R.)
Trump’s $300 Billion China Tariff Threat Sends Markets Into Tailspin (G.)
Rate Cut Odds Surge After Tariff Announcement (ZH)
US Tariffs Risk Reviving Chinese Zombies (R.)
The EU Has New People In Charge. It’s Not Good News For US Tech Firms (CNBC)
EU Governments Seek Name For IMF Head (R.)
Boris Johnson’s Commons Working Majority Cut To One (BBC)
Expecting Ireland To Be Servile Is Part Of A Long British Tradition (G.)
Irish Peace Is Too Precious To Be Squandered By The Brexit Ultras (G.)
Boeing To Change 737 MAX Flight-Control Software To Address Flaw (R.)
Rachel Maddow Ratings Tank After Collusion Narrative Implodes (Ryan)

 

 

The war on savings and pensions continues unabated. Central banks are in so deep there’s no way out anymore. But what happens when you want to, or have to, retire?

The Giant Sucking Sound of Financial Repression (WS)

It’s called interest-rate repression. Or more poetically, financial repression. It’s where central banks manipulate interest rates down to where investments with little credit risk, such as Treasury securities, FDIC-insured savings accounts and CDs, pay little or no interest, or pay less interest than the rate of inflation. People such as savers and retirees, and institutions such as pension funds, that depend on this cash flow have lost their income stream. In addition, the purchasing power of their principal is getting gradually wiped out by inflation. How much money are we talking about? In the US alone, this interest rate repression impacts nearly $40 trillion. This includes savings products, Treasury securities, municipal bonds, and high-grade corporate debt.

$40 Trillion with a T. A 2% reduction across the board cuts this income by $800 billion a year. And this has had an impact. Central banks have accomplished this interest-rate repression by pushing short-term rates to zero or below zero, and by buying bonds and other assets to push long-term rates down too. These were emergency measures during the Financial Crisis that have become the “new normal,” as it has been called. This new normal has been going on for over a decade now. Other central banks, including the ECB and the Bank of Japan, pushed their policy rates below zero. This, in addition to vast asset buying binges by those central banks, produced $13 trillion in negative yielding bonds. But that’s a different universe of idiocy that we’re not going to get into today. We’re going to stick to US conditions.

To the Fed’s credit, it is the only major central bank that has raised its policy-rate target a bit, from near-zero to a range between 2.25% and 2.5%, which are still historically low rates. But it is under immense pressure by Wall Street and by the White House to cut rates again. So now we have this situation where short-term Treasury yields are low, and long-dated Treasury yields are even lower. How much money are we talking about here? Let’s see. There are $22 trillion in Treasury securities. They’re held by individuals and institutions, including insurance companies, pension funds, and the Social Security Trust Fund. Then there is high-grade corporate debt. The category of triple-A to single-A-rated debt is about $3.3 trillion. These yields have been pushed down too.

Then there are $3.8 trillion in municipal bonds outstanding. Many of them trade below US Treasury yields. For example, the GO bonds of California, which is not exactly a paragon of fiscal rectitude. During trading last Thursday, the California 10-year yield was 1.76%. This was about one-third of a percentage point below the US Treasury 10-year yield of 2.08% on the same day. Then there are $9.4 trillion in savings products, mostly savings accounts and CDs at banks. There are also about $3 trillion in checking accounts, payroll accounts, etc., but they’re not included here. These are just savings products. So let’s add these categories up: They amount to $39 trillion.

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“There is no shortage of money in the market.”

Dutch Bank ING Warns Against Further ECB Money Printing (R.)

Ralph Hamers made his plea as central banks redouble efforts to keep the cost of borrowing at historic lows to buoy the economy, a policy that weighs on bank profits and makes it costly to hold deposits. “I don’t think QE is a recipe to support an uncertain environment,” Hamers told journalists, referring to so-called quantitative easing to print fresh money. “There is no shortage of money in the market.” Although bankers have previously made similar complaints, Hamers’ blunt comments carry weight because his bank is one of Europe’s largest, with 38 million customers. ING, the largest Dutch bank, cautioned on Thursday that rock-bottom interest rates would pressure future earnings, as it announced a 1.4 billion euro net profit in the second quarter of the year.


“Looking ahead, we expect that persistently low interest rates will put pressure on net interest income,” Hamers said, referring to the bank’s chief earnings pillar from activities such as lending. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has all but pledged to loosen monetary policy further amid a continued economic deterioration of Europe’s euro currency bloc, still grappling with the aftermath of a debt crisis. Officials recently told Reuters that an interest rate cut in September appeared certain, while government bond buys were also likely. Draghi recently said the outlook looked bleak as a global trade war hit Europe’s manufacturers.

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Did he do it to push Powell?

Trump’s $300 Billion China Tariff Threat Sends Markets Into Tailspin (G.)

Donald Trump’s surprise decision to escalate the trade war with tariffs on another $300bn of Chinese goods has sent global financial markets into a tailspin. After sharp falls on Wall Street in the wake of the US president’s announcement on Twitter on Thursday, Asian share prices plummeted on Friday morning as growing hopes that the world’s two economic superpowers would be able to reach a deal were dashed. In Tokyo the Nikkei was down 2.3%, with a similar fall in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The Kospi was down 0.8% in Seoul while in Sydney the benchmark ASX200, which passed its pre-global financial crisis all-time high on Tuesday, fell 0.3%. On the commodities markets the price of Brent crude oil plunged 7%, its biggest fall for four years, although it recovered 2.5% on Friday to $62.01.


Trump’s decision was also likely to increase the chances of another cut in US interest rates with the prospect of worsening trade with China forcing the Federal Reserve to loosen monetary policy again in September. It follows Wednesday’s 0.25% reduction, which was widely seen as not being enough to please the president who has been very vocal in calling for lower rates to boost the economy. As a signal of lower rates to come, the 10-year US bond yield fell almost 12 basis points on Thursday to 1.902%, hitting the lowest level since Trump won the presidential election in November 2016. The US dollar also fell and stockmarkets in Europe and the US were braced for a turbulent last day’s trading of the week. The FTSE100 is set to drop 1% at the opening and the Dow 0.3%.

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“It’s very logical to conclude that if trade tensions increase, given what Powell said, that would be something he would look at to evaluate a further cut.”

Rate Cut Odds Surge After Tariff Announcement (ZH)

Earlier today, we wrote a post titled “What Would It Take For The Fed To Not Cut Again?”, with Goldman providing a stylized answer, although in retrospect, the post should have been titled “What Would It Take For The Fed To Cut Again”, as that is what the market was far more concerned about after yesterday’s hawkish Powell press conference. In any case, Goldman hinted at the one specific catalyst that could force the Fed to cut more: “We also see risks in the other direction, especially on a significant escalation of tariffs against China.” To this, we said that “if an acceleration in the trade war with China is what the Fed will need to cut more, it’s pretty clear what that means for the chances of any trade deal between Washington and Beijing, since even Trump now understands that if he keeps escalating trade war with China, Powell will have no choice but to eventually cut to 0% (and lower).”

Just a few hours later, we were proven right in suggesting that an escalation in the trade war is inevitable and imminent when Trump tweeted that he would hike tariffs on $300BN in Chinese imports to 10% starting September 1, ending the tentative ceasefire with Beijing with a bang, and sending risk prices sharply lower. And yes, while Trump did suffer a modest drop in his favorite polling indicator – i.e., the stock market – which “cratered” as much as 1.5% below its all time high – far more importantly Trump also called Powell’s bluff, and effectively forced the Fed to prepare for more rate cuts as the trade war with China – which Powell explicitly highlighted as a condition that would result in more easing – is set to escalate further.

Late today, Bloomberg confirmed as much noting that traders “fixated on a timeline in which Powell seems to suggest cooling trade tensions reduced the need for future rate reductions — and a day later Trump revs the tensions back up”, just as we said he would. “It fits the pattern of a president bent on getting the central bank to submit, many thought”, the Bloomberg authors concluded. “Powell was very careful to say that he was looking at three things, one of which was global growth and the extent to which that is risked by trade tensions,” said Ellen Hazen, senior vice president and portfolio manager for F.L. Putnam, which has $2.2 billion under management. “It’s very logical to conclude that if trade tensions increase, given what Powell said, that would be something he would look at to evaluate a further cut.” Precisely, hence our prediction first thing this morning.

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Really? Xi is going to build more bridges to nowhere?

US Tariffs Risk Reviving Chinese Zombies (R.)

President Donald Trump is threatening new levies on $300 billion of Chinese goods entering the United States, after Shanghai talks proved inconclusive this week. That might not prod Chinese officials into striking a deal, but it is likely to raise some unwelcome zombies. Trump is among those who claim the Chinese economy is on the brink of the abyss. And it’s true that as a truce in trade negotiations gets more elusive the country’s business community is being forced to price in a new status quo. Their country has stumbled into a cold war with the world’s largest economy, a nuclear-armed military colossus that controls the world’s foremost trading currency. But a $13 trillion economy growing at 6.2% is hardly imploding, and a country where private consumption makes up roughly two-fifths of nominal GDP has padding against a downturn in trade.


Tensions exacerbate economic problems of China’s own making, though. There is a massive stack of non-performing debt incurred by government banks that mis-allocated capital after the global financial crisis. And there are still plenty of inefficient state-backed companies that compete with China’s private sector, driving down profitability across the board. If the new 10% tariffs kick in on Sept. 1 as Trump threatened on Thursday, President Xi Jinping may re-open a playbook that reformist officials have been trying to close. The central government has already pushed localities to ramp up infrastructure spending, and there may be more to come. Construction investment creates jobs immediately, and the government can order banks to lend, and order state firms to build.

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Trump won’t like this.

The EU Has New People In Charge. It’s Not Good News For US Tech Firms (CNBC)

New officials at the heart of the EU will likely keep America’s big tech firms under close scrutiny, experts have told CNBC. The European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — has fined companies such as Google for disrespecting its competition rules, it’s asked Ireland to collect unpaid taxes from Apple and is currently investigating Amazon. It has also proposed different laws that seek to limit online content and there’s little evidence that anything will change under the EU’s new leadership. Dexter Thillien, a senior industry analyst at Fitch Solutions, told CNBC via telephone Wednesday that Europe is keen to continue to be seen as the global leading force in tech regulation. Thillien explained that Europe saw a loophole in global tech regulation and felt the need to act.


“Europeans have all the negatives but none of the positives,” he said, referring to the fact that Europe has not created any large tech firms but has had to deal with the presence of Silicon Valley behemoths. “The European Commission has become more assertive making big tech companies pay their fair share of taxes. If anything, the incoming Commission looks even more determined to do so,” Florian Hense, an economist at Berenberg, told CNBC via email. Ursula von der Leyen, the president-elect of the Commission, said during a speech earlier this month that “if (tech companies) are making these profits by benefiting from our education system, our skilled workers, our infrastructure and our social security, if this is so, it is not acceptable that they make profits, but they are barely paying any taxes because they play our tax system.”

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A European under Washington’s thumb.

EU Governments Seek Name For IMF Head (R.)

European Union finance ministers are set on Friday to choose the bloc’s candidate to lead the International Monetary Fund from a list of four names, a spokeswoman for the French government said. The list includes Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch former head of euro zone finance ministers; Nadia Calvino, the Spanish economy minister; Olli Rehn, the Finnish central bank governor; and Bulgaria’s World Bank chief executive Kristalina Georgieva. Mario Centeno, the Portuguese chairman of euro zone finance ministers, said on Thursday he was pulling out of the race “in this stage of the process”, adding that he would be available if needed for a compromise solution.


Britain did not field a candidate because it could not come up with a name on time, a European official said. It had been expected to name a candidate and the deadline was extended by a few hours on Thursday to allow it to do so. France is leading the process to select a European candidate. The top job at the Washington-based global lender has historically been filled by a European. Outgoing IMF head Christine Lagarde is taking over from Mario Draghi as European Central Bank president.

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is that enough to push through a no-deal Brexit?

Boris Johnson’s Commons Working Majority Cut To One (BBC)

The Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, leaving new PM Boris Johnson with a Commons working majority of just one. Jane Dodds overturned an 8,038 majority to beat incumbent Conservative Chris Davies by 1,425 votes. Mr Davies stood again after being unseated by a petition following his conviction for a false expenses claim. It was the first electoral test for Mr Johnson just eight days after becoming prime minister. It is the quickest by-election defeat for any new prime minister since World War Two.


Now, with the thinnest possible working majority, he will have to rely heavily on the support of his own MPs and his confidence-and-supply partners the DUP to get any legislation passed in key votes. It was also a bad night for Labour, whose vote share dropped by 12.4% as it was beaten into fourth place by the Brexit Party. The result means the Lib Dems now have 13 MPs. Ms Dodds, who is the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, said: “My very first act as your new MP when I get to Westminster will be to find Mr Boris Johnson, wherever he’s hiding, and tell him to stop playing with the future of our community and rule out a no-deal Brexit.”

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“Paddy should know his place..”

Expecting Ireland To Be Servile Is Part Of A Long British Tradition (G.)

Boris Johnson’s approach to Ireland is part of an ignoble tradition in British politics. At its heart is the false assumption that superiority in resources and military prowess equates to a superiority in intellectual power and moral rectitude. In short, the idea that might is right and that, ultimately, Paddy should know his place. This assumption shaped and even, at times, dominated, policy on Ireland for centuries before independence. It runs through 19th-century British depictions of the Irish as incapable of self-government, unreliable, lazy and inferior. For Benjamin Disraeli, a British prime minister who shares some personal characteristics with the current incumbent, the Irish were “wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious”.

Most obviously, this sense of superiority and a refined “moral” stance was clearly manifest in government policy during the Great Famine of 1845-49, which caused the deaths of more than one million people on the island of Ireland. This consistently damaging strain of thought continued into the 20th century, with British military and economic power often used crudely to address deep-rooted political conflicts in Ireland, which refused, and continue to refuse, to allow for simple solutions. Ireland, the thinking went, should be the handmaiden for glorious Britannia – and this servile position is for Ireland’s own benefit and ultimately serves Irish interests.

Of course, within this particular strain of British political thought, the history of violence and tragedy in Ireland is sometimes portrayed as a product of Irish recalcitrance – a tendency towards disorder and conflict that fails to recognise the beneficence of British policy on the island. Britain, it is often suggested, is a guarantor of Irish stability, addressing and suppressing the inherent conflicts in Irish society, rather than a highly disruptive force that has often recklessly pursued its own interests at a serious cost to its nearest neighbour.

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“Tories of influence” told him privately that Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach “isn’t bright” and “the Irish will blink”.

Irish Peace Is Too Precious To Be Squandered By The Brexit Ultras (G.)

In The Ultras, the brutal, brilliant novel by Eoin McNamee set during the Troubles, the protagonist (based on the real-life undercover British intelligence officer Robert Nairac) finds himself in the company of dangerous men like himself. The Ultras plot terrible events and create dark polities while forcing everyone else to live with their consequences. “Ultra meaning beyond,” wrote McNamee. “Ultra meaning extreme.” The so-called war cabinet formed by the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and whose course the maverick arch-Brexiteer Dominic Cummings now charts, of course bears no resemblance to the characters in the war of the Ultras imagined by McNamee.

But the sheer velocity and ferocity of their opening salvoes about crashing out of the EU with no deal on October 31 unless the backstop – the insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland – is abolished, raise the kind of alarm that we in Ireland have not felt since the dark years of the Troubles. The political fear is that this new breed of “Brexit Ultras” (Johnson’s cabinet with Nigel Farage’s Brexit party snapping at its heels) could deliberately pursue a no-deal EU exit at the expense of a volatile Irish peace. The sabre-rattling and pre-emptive blame-shifting of course is intended to shore up political support in the UK ahead of a possible general election, but also to intimidate Ireland into abandoning the backstop while shaking the unity of the EU27.

Europe, with its own demons to face, has its red lines too and will not sacrifice the single market or its external borders, or jeopardise the wider integrity of the European project. Ireland, and the fragile peace process that has been built over the past 20 years, falls between these two positions. And while it is still early days for the Johnson premiership, we have a deteriorated state of Anglo-Irish relations following his ascent to power. How real is the damaging rhetoric emanating from London and the anti-Irish tropes spewing from much of the British media? David Yelland, the former editor of the Sun, revealed that he had been shocked when “Tories of influence” told him privately that Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach “isn’t bright” and “the Irish will blink”. “It seems, amazingly, that this is the actual policy of HMG under Johnson,” tweeted Yelland. “They are anti-Irish, arrogant, dangerous and wrong.”

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Well, actually, they’re going to change hardware: a second flight control computer and a second angle-of-attack sensor. Both of which are altready on board, but not used.

Boeing To Change 737 MAX Flight-Control Software To Address Flaw (R.)

Boeing Co plans further changes to the software architecture of the 737 MAX flight-control system to address a flaw discovered after a test in June, two people briefed on the matter said late on Thursday. The redesign, first reported by the Seattle Times, involves using and receiving input from both flight control computers rather than one. The move comes in response to an effort to address a problem discovered in June during a Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) simulator test. This is on top of earlier announced changes to take input from both angle-of-attack sensors in the MCAS anti-stall system linked to two deadly crashes that led to a global grounding of the plane.


Boeing still hopes to complete the software redesign by the end of September to submit to the FAA for approval, the sources said. For decades, 737 models have used only one of the flight control computers for each flight, with the system switching to the other computer on the following flight, according to people familiar with the plane’s design. The FAA said in June that it had identified a new risk that would need to be addressed before the plane could be ungrounded. Under a scenario where a specific fault in a microprocessor caused an uncommanded movement of the plane’s horizontal tail, it took pilots too long to recognize a loss of control known as runaway stabilizer, a Boeing official said at the time.

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Crazy bag lady.

Rachel Maddow Ratings Tank After Collusion Narrative Implodes (Ryan)

Once a shining beacon of hope for Russiagate true believers, it looks like Rachel Maddow has left her best days behind her; MSNBC’s conspiracy queen has seen her show plummet to fifth place in cable news ratings. What happened? You rise fast and fall hard in the fickle world of television. Just last April, Maddow overtook Fox News’ Sean Hannity to claim the title of most-watched host across cable news. She had become a reliable source for Russigate aficionados to get their daily dose of crazy. Sadly for Maddow, the latest data released by Nielsen shows her show in fifth place with a total audience of 2.4877 million viewers for July – behind Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and The Five (all Fox News shows).


For context, in January this year, Maddow still boasted an audience of nearly 3.3 million, which means she shed around 800,000 viewers in just six months. Maddow was also in fifth place among viewers in the 25-54 age range – the group most-favored by advertisers. Ouch. Once dubbed “the smartest person on TV” by Forbes (really), this is certainly not the big payoff Maddow was expecting, having dedicated three years of her career to breathlessly covering every twist and turn in the anticlimactic Trump-Russia “collusion” drama.

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Ship with dolphins.Wall painting from Akrotiri, Thera island (Santorini), Greece.17th century BC.

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 092019
 
 June 9, 2019  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Georges Seurat A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte 1884

 

Angst and Madness at the End of Empire (Orphan)
Theresa May: The Total Decay Of Political Integrity And Vision (Ind.)
Boris Johnson Threatens To Withhold $50 Billion Brexit Payment (R.)
US Auto Loans Hit Record (CNBC)
Used-Car Wholesale Prices Surge (WS)
ECB Policymakers Open To Cut Rates If Growth Weakens (R.)
China Banking Regulator Says Small Bank Risks Manageable (R.)
IMF Warns Of Giant Tech Firms’ Dominance (BBC)
Amazon Gets Booted by FedEx (WS)
The End Of The Arctic As We Know It (G.)

 

 

“..those expensive bases of aggression around the world will begin to cost more than they bring in profit.”

Angst and Madness at the End of Empire (Orphan)

[..] the angst of the American bourgeoisie is demonstrated more by what it doesn’t speak about than what it does. It is a disquiet which is at once terrified of the collapse that looms ahead and horrified at the idea of losing the status quo arrangement, even though that status quo is benefiting fewer and fewer people. It stands simultaneously aghast and paralyzed before the obvious madness of its rulers, and yet continually grasps at failed “lesser evilism” as a solution. And it largely still buys into the noxious mythology of it being the “greatest country on earth.” The corporate elite, having stripped down civic education over decades, robbed them of their political agency and resistance and replaced it with a sanitized history and demoralizing optimism, or “positive thinking,” which places all blame for their collective state and its inadequacies on the individual.

That it has been so lauded by Wall Street should cause anyone to wonder why it has been so internalized by the disenfranchised masses. To be sure, this arrangement is rapidly meeting its end. Banking and corporate corruption, never really having been dealt with in the last “Great Recession” or its notorious state funded “bailout,” has only become more blind and reckless. The membrane of the bubble created after that fiasco, born in avarice, is thinning in plain sight. It is about to burst again, and this time it will be far more catastrophic. The endless imperialistic wars that the US has engaged in for the last decades are also creating a financial strain.

Coupled with climate breakdown those expensive bases of aggression around the world will begin to cost more than they bring in profit. In the US itself biblical floods are wiping clean the soil graded for agriculture throughout the Midwest and causing tremendous economic hardship for scores of rural and commercial farmers. Droughts offer a grim alternative to this increasingly chaotic climate pattern. Food prices will undoubtedly rise in the future thanks to a capitalist system which creates artificial shortages and surpluses.

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“..our so called leaders are devoid of principle, immune to responsibility and seem only to prioritise their own interests, power and most importantly private profit above all. Theresa May is exhibit one. ”

Theresa May: The Total Decay Of Political Integrity And Vision (Ind.)

As an NHS doctor, making a diagnosis is quite an important part of my job. Central to it in fact. One has to process and put together information while providing care to your patients. Attention to detail is critical. For many of us working within the NHS therefore, it has been abundantly clear that the diagnosis for Theresa May has been terminal for some time. But where did it all go wrong? Was it always destined to end like this? What could have been done? Watching her face crumple and tears fall as she defended her claim to have “tackled Britain’s burning injustices”, as well as saying she had proudly served the country she loved, surely only the coldest of hearts could not have pity for a woman who had done her very best at the worst of times?

Well let me answer in the only way I know how: honestly, Theresa May is a mere symptom of the problem. The diagnosis is much greater and much more devastating than this one tragic figure. What we appear to be all bearing witness to is the total decay of political integrity and vision. We now live in a world where our so called leaders are devoid of principle, immune to responsibility and seem only to prioritise their own interests, power and most importantly private profit above all. Theresa May is exhibit one.

The woman who has supposedly tackled “burning injustices” has consciously implemented measures to ensure inequality has soared, overseen childhood and old-age poverty skyrocket, had life expectancy fall under her watch, ordered the Home Office to send out racist, xenophobic anti-immigration “Go Home” vans, and who oversaw a “hostile environment” policy that led to the deportation of many of the Windrush generation.

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Hollowness echoes with the people.

Boris Johnson Threatens To Withhold $50 Billion Brexit Payment (R.)

Boris Johnson, the leading candidate to succeed Theresa May as Britain’s next prime minister, said he would withhold a previously agreed 39 billion pound ($50 billion) Brexit payment until the European Union gives Britain better exit terms. The EU has repeatedly said it will not reopen discussion of the Brexit transition deal it reached with May last year, which British lawmakers have rejected three times, prompting May to announce her resignation earlier this month. May stepped down as leader of the governing Conservatives on Friday. Johnson, a former foreign secretary in May’s cabinet, is popular with ordinary Conservative Party members, who will decide between the two candidates who come top in a series of votes by Conservative lawmakers over the coming weeks.


“I always thought it was extraordinary that we should agree to write that entire cheque before having a final deal. In getting a good deal, money is a great solvent and a great lubricant,” Johnson told the Sunday Times. Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31. If Parliament does not approve a deal – and the government does not ask the EU for another delay – there risks being major economic disruption from a disorderly departure. The 39 billion pounds represents outstanding British liabilities to the EU, which would be paid over a number of years according to the withdrawal agreement negotiated by May. Johnson also said border arrangements with Ireland should be settled only as part of a long-term agreement, rejecting a “backstop” which would avoid checks on Northern Ireland’s border but which Conservative lawmakers fear is a backdoor way of requiring Britain to continue to follow EU rules after Brexit.

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Record loans for clunkers.

US Auto Loans Hit Record (CNBC)

People buying a new vehicle are borrowing more and paying more each month for their auto loan. Experian, which tracks millions of auto loans each month, said the average amount borrowed to buy a new vehicle hit a record $32,187 in the first quarter. The average used-vehicle loan also hit a record, $20,137. “We have not seen a slowdown in loan demand. In fact, volume for new and used loans is up from previous years,” said Melinda Zabritski, senior director of automotive financial solutions for Experian. With sales of new vehicles moderating slightly after the four best years the industry has ever seen in the U.S., dealers and auto executives are watching whether consumers will be more resistant to the steady increase in new car prices.


That is not happening. In fact, the average amount borrowed topped $32,000 for the first time ever. As a result, the average monthly payment for a new vehicle continued to climb to a new high of $554 and to a record $391 for used vehicles, according to Experian. While new car sales and loans are still strong, people with the best credit scores are increasingly buying a used model instead of new. Experian says 61.8% of those with a prime credit rating and 44.7% of those with a super prime credit rating took out loans to buy a used vehicle in the first quarter. Those are the highest percentages Experian has ever recorded for prime and super prime used vehicle borrowing.

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There’s something very ironic hidden in here.

Used-Car Wholesale Prices Surge (WS)

Prices of used vehicle that were sold in May at wholesale auctions rose 4.0% compared to May last year, according to Manheim, the largest auto-auction house in the US, running about 8 million vehicles through its venues a year. The chart of the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index, which is adjusted for mix, mileage, and seasonality, shows the two price surges from end of March 2017 and March 2018 that were subsequently only partially unwound. And the 2019 selling season is beginning likewise. The last time there was such an extended period of year-over-year price gains was from the trough of the Financial Crisis. After prices had collapsed in 2008, they started bouncing off sharply in January 2009.

By the time the “Cash for Clunkers” program started officially on July 1, 2009, used vehicle prices had already recovered to their prior pre-crisis levels (see chart below). But “cash for clunkers” boosted prices further. Congress had appropriated $1 billion that was supposed to last through November. But by July 30, it was gone. Congress appropriated another $2 billion, which was soon gone too. Car buyers were handed this $3 billion to trade in their “clunkers” and buy a new vehicle. Cash for clunkers was designed to boost new-vehicle sales. The engines of these trade-ins under the program were destroyed and the vehicle was then towed to the salvage yard for parts.


As a side effect, the program destroyed a portion of the most affordable vehicles – another devastating blow to lower-income car buyers in subsequent years. Not only were the most affordable vehicles gone; but by removing this supply from the market, Cash for Clunkers caused the prices up the entire scale of used cars to surge. This included my three-year-old car. Its book value rose month after month, even as the car got older and accumulated miles, something I’d never seen before, and I’d spent many years in the car business.

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So Europeans can buy clunkers too?!

ECB Policymakers Open To Cut Rates If Growth Weakens (R.)

European Central Bank policymakers are open to cutting the ECB’s policy rate again if economic growth weakens in the remainder of the year and a strong euro hurts a bloc already bearing the brunt of a global trade war, two sources said. The ECB said on Thursday that its interest rates would stay “at their present levels” until mid-2020 but President Mario Draghi added rate setters had started a discussion about a possible cut or fresh bond purchases to stimulate inflation. The apparently mixed message failed to convince some investors, who saw it as too tenuous a commitment to more stimulus. This sent the euro rallying to a 2-1/2 month high of $1.1347 against the U.S. dollar.


But two sources familiar to the ECB’s policy discussions said a rate cut was firmly in play if the bloc’s economy was to stagnate again after expanding by 0.4% in the first quarter of the year. “If inflation and growth slow, then a rate cut is warranted,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity because the ECB’s deliberations are confidential. The ECB’s deposit rate is already 40 basis points below zero and the bloc’s top-rated governments, such as Germany’s, can borrow at negative rates for up to a decade. In this context, countering the euro’s strength, rather than lowering already rock-bottom borrowing costs, would be the main reason for a further cut to that deposit rate, one of the sources said.

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What else are they going to say?

China Banking Regulator Says Small Bank Risks Manageable (R.)

China’s banking regulator says risks at small and mid-sized banks are manageable, a central bank publication reported on Sunday, in the latest move to soothe investors’ concerns after the government took over a troubled regional lender last month. The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) took control of Inner Mongolia’s Baoshang Bank due to “serious” credit risks on May 24, rattling Chinese markets and prompting the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) to inject cash into the banking system. While authorities said it was a standalone case, the seizure comes as Beijing is urging banks to boost lending to help cushion an economic slowdown, fuelling concerns about rising debt and more bad loans.


“At present, small and mid-sized banks are operating smoothly, liquidity is relatively ample, and overall risks are fully manageable,” the CBIRC said in a Q&A interview with the Financial News. The regulator also said big banks are willing to continue interbank business with small banks to safeguard the stability of financial markets. Some small banks rely heavily on short-term borrowing from the interbank market, leaving other banks at risk if they run into trouble. A Reuters analysis showed at least 18 smaller institutions have not published up-to-date financial reports, and in some of those cases senior regulatory officials have been appointed for bank management oversight.

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Can I add a warning about IMF dominance?

IMF Warns Of Giant Tech Firms’ Dominance (BBC)

Giant technology companies might cause significant disruption to the world’s financial system, the head of the International Monetary Fund has warned. Christine Lagarde said just a few firms with big data access and artificial intelligence could run the global payment and settlement arrangements. Her warning came as the G20 finance ministers met in Japan. The summit is also discussing the need to close tax loopholes for internet giants like Facebook and Google. One of the options being considered is to tax such companies where they make their profits – rather than where they base their headquarters.


“A significant disruption to the financial landscape is likely to come from the big tech firms,” Ms Lagarde said in Japan’s south-western city of Fukuoka. She said such firms “will use their enormous customer bases and deep pockets to offer financial products based on big data and artificial intelligence”.”This presents a unique systemic challenge to financial stability and efficiency,” she added. She cited China as a most recent example. “Over the last five years, technology growth in China has been extremely successful and allowed millions of new entrants to benefit from access to financial products and the creation of high-quality jobs,” Ms Lagarde said. “But it has also led to two firms controlling more than 90% of the mobile payments market.”

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Can Bezos buy FedEx?

Amazon Gets Booted by FedEx (WS)

Amazon is aggressively butting in on freight carriers with its own planes, trucks, and delivery infrastructure, and is at the same time aggressively pushing for faster and cheaper service from freight carriers such as FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service. And FedEx has had it with Amazon, announcing today that it was dumping Amazon as customer of its FedEx Express division. “FedEx has made the strategic decision to not renew the FedEx Express U.S. domestic contract with Amazon.com, Inc. as we focus on serving the broader e-commerce market,” it said in a surprise statement. The current contract ends June 30.


Its other units that do business with Amazon and its international services with Amazon are not impacted by this decision, FedEx said. FedEx is not overly dependent on Amazon – unlike some other freight companies that now have come to grief under Amazon’s boots, including New England Motor Freight, a less-than-truckload carrier that “stunned” the transportation world when it filed for bankruptcy in February. Interestingly, FedEx chose to address this point explicitly in the statement: “Amazon.com is not FedEx’s largest customer. The percentage of total FedEx revenue attributable to Amazon.com represented less than 1.3 percent of total FedEx revenue for the 12-month period ended December 31, 2018.”

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“It will go when stratification breaks down completely and the Atlantic takes over the whole region.”

The End Of The Arctic As We Know It (G.)

If the Arctic were a patient, doctors would be alarmed by its vital signs. As well as hot flushes, asthma and contamination (the researchers are following up on studies that suggest the Fram strait has one of the highest levels of microplastics in the world), the ocean has also been diagnosed with a weakening of its immune system. For centuries, the Arctic’s distinctive character has been shaped by a layer of cold, relatively fresh water just below the surface, produced by melting ice and glaciers. This has insulated the sea ice from the warmer, denser, saltier waters of the Atlantic currents that flow in the depth. But this stratification is collapsing as temperatures rise.

The oceanic shift was outlined in a landmark study published last year in Science, which found that the water density and temperature of the Fram strait and Barents Sea were increasingly like those of the Atlantic, while further east, Russia’s Laptev sea was starting to resemble what the Barents used to be. “The polar front is shifting,” the lead author, Dr Sigrid Lind, of the Institute of Marine Science and the University of Bergen, told the Guardian this year. “The Arctic as we know it is about to become history. It will go when stratification breaks down completely and the Atlantic takes over the whole region.”


This has not happened for more than 12,000 years, but the shift is well under way. First to succumb, according to Lind, will be the Barents Sea, which will have no fresh water by 2040, then the Kara sea. The consequences will be far-reaching. The food chain is already affected. Atlantic species of cod, herring and mackerel are moving northwards. For the next 20 to 30 years this could boost fishing catches, but forecasts by Norway suggest boom will turn to bust later as the waters grow too warm for fish larvae.


Photograph: Denis Sinyakov/Greenpeace

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Apr 042019
 
 April 4, 2019  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Nude on a beach 1929

 

Lack Of Redundancies On Boeing 737 MAX Baffles Its Developers (ST)
Trolling the Mueller Report (WSJ Op-ed)
Mueller Investigators Say Findings More Damaging To Trump Than Barr Has Let On
Comey Says He Fears Possible Counterinvestigation After Mueller Report (Pol.)
US Senators Want Stiff Sanctions To Deter Russia Election Meddling (R.)
Maybe Politics Matters After All (John Rubino)
Economist: Brexit Will Happen And Trump Fans Are ‘Economically Illiterate’ (FN)
UK MPs Back Brexit Delay Bill By One Vote (BBC)
No Deal Brexit Measures Needed To Keep Planes In Air And Troops On Ground (G.)
Top Labour Figures Demand Corbyn Secure Referendum (Ind.)
IMF Warns That Tech Giants Stifle Innovation And Threaten Stability (G.)
Next Phase in Trucking Boom-Bust Cycle Has Started (WS)
‘Excluding Everything That Makes China What It Is’ (Crooke)

 

 

Let’s start with the Seattle Times, because this article strongly hints that Boeing’s problems cannot possibly be solved with a software tweak. It’s a hardware issue as much as anything else. Cutting corners until there’s no corner left. And well over 300 people lost their lives due to this.

“Normal” planes have 3×3 sensors. The 737MAX effectively has one. And it was known to fail.

Lack Of Redundancies On Boeing 737 MAX Baffles Its Developers (ST)

Boeing has long embraced the power of redundancy to protect its jets and their passengers from a range of potential disruptions, from electrical faults to lightning strikes. The company typically uses two or even three separate components as fail-safes for crucial tasks to reduce the possibility of a disastrous failure. Its most advanced planes, for instance, have three flight computers that function independently, with each computer containing three different processors manufactured by different companies. So even some of the people who have worked on Boeing’s new 737 MAX airplane were baffled to learn that the company had designed an automated safety system that abandoned the principles of component redundancy, ultimately entrusting the automated decision-making to just one sensor — a type of sensor that was known to fail.

Boeing’s rival, Airbus, has typically depended on three such sensors. “A single point of failure is an absolute no-no,” said one former Boeing engineer who worked on the MAX, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the program in an interview with The Seattle Times. “That is just a huge system engineering oversight. To just have missed it, I can’t imagine how.” Boeing’s design made the flight crew the fail-safe backup to the safety system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

A faulty reading from an angle-of-attack sensor (AOA) — used to assess whether the plane is angled up so much that it is at risk of stalling — is now suspected in the October crash of a 737 MAX in Indonesia, with data suggesting that MCAS pushed the aircraft’s nose toward Earth to avoid a stall that wasn’t happening. Investigators have said another crash in Ethiopia this month has parallels to the first. [..] one problem with two-point redundancies is that if one sensor goes haywire, the plane may not be able to automatically determine which of the two readings is correct, so Boeing has indicated that the MCAS safety system will not function when the sensors record substantial disagreement.

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The Wall Street Journal counterbalances the NYT and WaPo.

Trolling the Mueller Report (WSJ Op-ed)

Democrats are still reeling from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russians in 2016. But they’ve now hit upon a political comeback strategy: Accuse Attorney General William Barr of a coverup. That’s the context for Wednesday’s decision by House Democrats to authorize subpoenas, on a partisan vote, demanding that Mr. Barr immediately hand over the entire Mueller report and its supporting evidence. This is intended to give the impression, abetted by a press corps that was fully invested in the collusion story, that Mr. Barr is somehow lying about Mr. Mueller’s real conclusions. That’s preposterous, since Mr. Barr’s four-page letter quotes directly from Mr. Mueller’s report.

The AG surely understood on releasing the summary of conclusions last week that he would be open to contradiction by Mr. Mueller if he took such liberties. Mr. Barr also knew he’d be called to testify before Congress once the rest of the report is released. Mr. Barr has committed to releasing as much of the report as possible subject to Justice Department rules. He’s working with the special counsel’s office to make redactions required by grand-jury rules of secrecy, intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and “the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.” Under Justice rules relating to special counsels, Mr. Barr has no obligation to provide anything beyond notifying Congress when an investigation has started or concluded, and whether the AG overruled a special counsel’s decisions.

Mr. Barr’s notice to Congress that Mr. Mueller had completed his investigation said Mr. Mueller was not overruled. Congress has no automatic right to more. The final subparagraph of DOJ’s rule governing special counsels reads: “The regulations in this part are not intended to, do not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity, by any person or entity, in any matter, civil, criminal or administrative.” Mr. Barr has made clear that he appreciates the public interest in seeing as much of Mr. Mueller’s report as possible. Yet his categories of information for review aren’t frivolous or political inventions. The law protecting grand-jury secrecy is especially strict, as even Democrats admit.

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Glenn Greenwald tweets about this:

Trump/Russia conspiracists are like zombies: the dream can’t die. Their new hope is a) anonymously sourced, b) bereft of even one specific, c) irrelevant to *conspiracy* as opposed to obstruction & d) unrelated to the fact that Mueller indicted *zero* Americans for conspiracy

[..] Mueller could have concluded he thinks Trump was guilty of obstruction, but chose not to. He could have alleged a Trump/Russia conspiracy, or could have charged Trump officials & family members with conspiring with Russia, but didn’t. These last-gasp efforts don’t change that.

[..] Anyway, we’ve had 3 years of anonymously-sourced “bombshells” journalists spend 16-24 hours tiring themselves out celebrating on Twitter, only for it to fizzle into nothing (ie: no indictments from Mueller for conspiring with Russia). Why not have one more? An addict’s last fix.:

Mueller Investigators Say Findings More Damaging To Trump Than Barr Has Let On

The conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation are more damaging to President Donald Trump than Attorney General William Barr has revealed, the New York Times reported late Wednesday. The Times said some investigators who were part of the probe are frustrated that Barr has undersold the findings, which may be creating a misleading narrative that could be hard to overcome if and when the full report is released. The sources did not specify how they believe the report is more damaging to Trump. The investigators told the Times that they had written numerous summaries of their main conclusions, which were not included in Barr’s summary of the report. Barr said the report found no collusion between Trump and Russia, but did not exonerate Trump on the issue of obstruction of justice. House Democrats have pressed Barr to release the full report, but Barr claims parts of it needs to be redacted first for security reasons.

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It would be crazy if there isn’t one.

Comey Says He Fears Possible Counterinvestigation After Mueller Report (Pol.)

Former FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday condemned President Donald Trump’s calls for a possible investigation into how special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry started, adding that it creates a troubling precedent. During an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Comey was asked about whether he feared possible counterinvestigations. “I don’t fear it personally. I fear it as a citizen,” he said. “Right? Investigate what? Investigate that investigations were conducted? What would be the crime you’d be investigating? So it’s a terrible cycle to start.” Several days after Attorney General William Barr released his summary of Mueller’s report, Trump and his team have called for investigations into how the probe began.


“Hopefully, somebody is going to look at the other side,” Trump told reporters late last month. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has also made similar statements. On Tuesday, Trump continued to advocate for an examination of how the FBI and Mueller investigations began. “I hope they now go and take a look at the origins of the investigation, the beginnings of the investigation,” the president told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “You look at the origin of the investigation, where it started, how it started, who started it.” “Whether it‘s [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe or Comey or a lot of them, where does it go? How high up in the White House did it go?“ Trump continued, calling on reporters to investigate the origins of Mueller‘s probe, even dangling the prospect of a Pulitzer Prize to journalists in the room.

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Whatever powers these people have should be taken away from them. Both sides of the aisle want war with Russia.

US Senators Want Stiff Sanctions To Deter Russia Election Meddling (R.)

U.S. Republican and Democratic senators introduced legislation on Wednesday seeking to deter Russia from meddling in U.S. elections by threatening stiff sanctions on its banking, energy and defense industries and sovereign debt. The “Deter Act” is the latest effort by U.S. lawmakers to increase pressure on Moscow over what they see as a range of bad behavior, from its aggression in Ukraine and involvement in Syria’s civil war to attempts to influence U.S. elections. The measure was introduced by Senators Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican. They offered a similar measure last year, when it also had bipartisan support but was never brought up for a vote by the Senate’s Republican leaders, who have close ties to President Donald Trump.

Trump has gone along with some previous congressional efforts to increase sanctions on Russia, although sometimes reluctantly. Backers of stronger action against Russia believe such measures will have better prospects in 2019, given control of the House of Representatives by Democrats, who are less reluctant than Trump’s fellow Republicans to push back against the White House. According to details of the legislation, first reported by Reuters, it would require the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine, within 30 days of any federal election, whether Russia or other foreign government or anyone acting as an agent of that government, had engaged in election interference.

If the DNI found such interference occurred, the act would require, among other things, that mandatory sanctions be imposed within 10 days on, among others, Russian banks and energy companies. The act would mandate that sanctions be imposed on two or more of the following Russian banks: Sberbank, VTB Bank, Gazprombank, Vnesheconombank and Rosselkhozbank. It also would order the prohibition of all transactions subject to U.S. jurisdiction in Russian sovereign debt, Russian government bonds and the debt of any entity owned or controlled by Russia’s government.

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Very-long-time Automatic Earth friend John Rubino has a series of reasons why politics matter.

Maybe Politics Matters After All (John Rubino)

Looking strictly at the numbers it’s hard to work up much interest in whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge after 2020. Either way, trillion-dollar deficits and extremely easy money are guaranteed, which means the US – along with most of the rest of the world – will fall off a financial cliff shortly. After that, the only non-financial issue that will matter is war – and both parties seem about equally bloodthirsty these days. However, after the November congressional elections — in which Democrats with, ahem, assertive ideas and attitudes did extremely well — proposing big, potentially transformative change now looks like the best way to cut through the media clutter and gain a following.

So the Democrat base has lost its fear of the “S” word and is now embracing a list of policies that are designed to lock in their dominance for a generation, but which carry myriad unintended consequences. If the Dems were in charge today, there’s a good chance that they would: Make Washington D.C. a state This is a no-brainer for Democrats. Since DC voters skew liberal (no surprise for people who by and large work for the government), making it a state adds two guaranteed votes in the Senate and several solid votes in the House. That alone might be enough to tip the balance on many votes.

[..] The math of elector apportionment gives more per-capita clout to small states as a way of protecting them from the whims of the large. Without this advantage, according to fans of the Electoral College, candidates would ignore Wyoming and Rhode Island and spend all their time in population centers like Los Angeles and Dallas. Subsequent governments would favor big states over small; good luck to Nevada if it has a water dispute with California. In short, without the Electoral College, flyover country is toast. But with the Electoral College it’s possible to win the most votes and still lose the election, as has happened a couple of times recently to the Dems. As the following chart shows, a majority of Democrats would abolish the College while Republicans would keep it.

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The City sees itself as immune.

Economist: Brexit Will Happen And Trump Fans Are ‘Economically Illiterate’ (FN)

The received wisdom within the City is that Brexit will cause widespread disruption to the Square Mile. But according to Dr Savvas Savouri, chief economist at Toscafund Asset Management, the $4bn London-based investment firm, so great is the extent of foreign investment in UK companies that leaving the EU carries no risk for the City at all. In an interview with Financial News at Toscafund’s Covent Garden office, when asked what is the biggest risk posed by Brexit to London’s finance industry, the abrasive and outspoken economist replied: “Nothing. The whole point about Brexit is there’s too much insurable interest in the UK across Europe for it to fail [for the UK and the EU not to form an agreement]. Ireland would go into immediate deep recession, so would Spain, Malta, Greece and Cyprus.”


An IMF study in August estimated that a scenario where the UK leaves the customs union and single market, and trades with the EU on WTO terms — an orderly version of a no-deal Brexit — would impose long-term costs on Ireland of 4% of output, and between 0.2% and 0.5% on countries such as Spain and Greece. Economists have warned that a disorderly Brexit would likely hit such countries even harder. “They know a bad Brexit would undermine the pound, a currency in which they have large holdings,” Savouri said. Warming to his theme, he added that the lack of short interest in European stocks exposed to the UK suggests investors are not particularly worried about a crash-out Brexit. “The people in finance who tell you they’re worrying about Brexit are not putting their money where their mouth is.”

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The most dangerous majority on earth.

UK MPs Back Brexit Delay Bill By One Vote (BBC)

MPs have voted by a majority of one to force the prime minister to ask for an extension to the Brexit process, in a bid to avoid any no-deal scenario. Labour’s Yvette Cooper led the move, which the Commons passed in one day. The bill will need Lords approval to become law, while it is the EU who decides whether to grant an extension. It comes as talks between Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to end the Brexit deadlock are set to continue. Discussions between the two leaders on Wednesday were described as “constructive”, but were criticised by MPs in both parties.


Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond has suggested that he expects Brussels to insist on a lengthy delay to Brexit and described a public vote to approve any final deal as “a perfectly credible proposition”. Ms Cooper’s attempts to prevent a no-deal departure from the EU passed by 313 votes to 312. The draft legislation by the former Labour minister would force the prime minister to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process beyond 12 April and would give Parliament the power to decide the length of this delay.

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Yup. They voted down No Deal again, and the press keeps talking about what happens under a No Deal.

No Deal Brexit Measures Needed To Keep Planes In Air And Troops On Ground (G.)

Cabinet ministers were told they must agree emergency contingency plans to keep planes flying to North America and Australia, as well as keeping British troops legally in Bosnia, in case the EU forces a no-deal exit. Before their marathon cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, briefed ministers that major security and commercial decisions would need to be completed if Brussels rejected Theresa May’s plan to ask for a short extension to article 50. A cabinet source said the decisions were likely to result in large costs to the taxpayer and that decisions would also need to be taken on direct rule in Northern Ireland and payment of the UK’s £39bn divorce bill to the EU.

Among the decisions outlined in a 14-page document handed to ministers in Downing Street were: • New agreements would be required for air services with Canada, the US and Australia. • British troops in Bosnia currently serving as part of an EU force would need to be placed under Nato command. • Negotiations would need to be urgently completed on a future fisheries agreement so that EU fishing boats could be expelled from British waters. Sedwill, the UK’s highest-ranking civil servant, is said to have warned cabinet ministers that some of the biggest decisions were likely to be very difficult to reverse, because they involved international agreements.

The warnings from Sedwill, who is also May’s national security adviser, follow an earlier letter he wrote to ministers warning that no deal would lead to food price rises and a reduction in security capacity. The 14-page leaked letter, obtained on Monday by the Daily Mail, said no deal would result in the reintroduction of direct rule in Northern Ireland. Sedwill also warned that the UK would face a recession “more harmful” than the 2008 financial crisis and that food prices could increase by up to 10%. He wrote that it was possible that the government would come under pressure to bail out companies facing collapse due to the barriers to trade with the EU and that security services and police would face a reduction in their capabilities.

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May would be done if she’d give in.

Top Labour Figures Demand Corbyn Secure Referendum (Ind.)

Labour is on the brink of a major bust-up if Jeremy Corbyn fails to demand a second referendum as the price for any Brexit deal struck with Theresa May. A string of senior figures – including shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry – believe securing a public vote is an absolute must, while 11 MPs, including four frontbenchers, have written an open letter to Mr Corbyn in The Independent saying “it would be untenable for Labour not to insist” on one. As Mr Corbyn was in the prime minister’s office holding the talks, one of his party’s biggest trade union backers also endorsed a motion calling for a confirmatory referendum on any deal.


But key individuals on the Labour side of the talks indicated a new vote may not be one of his asks, with one shadow cabinet member attending having stated hours earlier that a deal endorsed by the party would not need a referendum. It comes despite Labour, and indeed Mr Corbyn himself, backing a motion in the House of Commons days ago which called for a referendum on any Brexit plan passed by parliament.

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Yeah, we really trust the IMF in everything they say.

IMF Warns That Tech Giants Stifle Innovation And Threaten Stability (G.)

The International Monetary Fund has warned that the market power exercised by a small number of global companies threatens to stifle innovation and make it harder for central banks to deal with recessions. Adding its contribution to the growing public debate about the corporate power exercised by the US tech giants such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, the IMF said it would be concerned if there was any further increase in the clout of already dominant firms. The IMF said there was a need for stronger competition policy to ensure that established firms did not block the entry of potential rivals and called for excess profits to be targeted by a tougher international tax regime.

Although the study contained in the IMF’s forthcoming World Economic Outlook (WEO) did not mention any company by name, it said the past two decades had seen the concentration of market power among a small number of productive and innovative firms. Market concentrations tended to be higher in the US than in Europe, the IMF said, and in part reflected the growth of firms that exploited intangible assets. “Over the past two decades, a generally moderate but broad-based rise in corporate market power has been observed across advanced economies, driven primarily by a small fraction of firms.”

The chapter from the WEO noted that the big-picture economic implications of the trend had so far been “rather modest” and that the impact of rising market power on innovation had so far been positive. But the IMF said impact would become “increasingly negative if the market power of high mark-up firms, in particular, were to continue to rise in the future.”

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Just a cycle?!

Next Phase in Trucking Boom-Bust Cycle Has Started (WS)

This is one of the most cyclical industries, with legendary boom-and-bust cycles: Orders for Class-8 trucks plunged 67% in March compared to March last year, to 15,200 orders, the lowest March for orders since 2010, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence. These are the heavy trucks that haul consumer goods, equipment, commodities, and supplies across the US. This plunge comes after orders had already plunged 58% year-over-year in February and January and 43% in December. The chart shows the percent change of Class-8 truck orders for each month compared to the same month a year earlier. The year-over-year collapse in orders over the past four months are of the same or greater magnitude as those during the last transportation recession in 2015 and 2016:

The recipients of these orders are the truck manufacturers Peterbuilt and Kenworth (divisions of Paccar); Navistar International; Freightliner and Western Star (divisions of Daimler); and Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks (divisions of Volvo Group). The industry is notorious for over-ordering, which then, once these trucks are built, leads to overcapacity, at which point freight rates take a hit. Trucking companies see this coming and slash their orders in advance. Hence the bust that inevitably follows the boom. The last transportation recession in 2015 and 2016 led to waves of layoffs at truck and engine manufacturers. But at the moment, truck manufacturers are sitting on what was a historic backlog of orders dating from the phenomenal boom that peaked last August at 52,400 orders, as this chart of total monthly class-8 truck orders shows (data via FTR):

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Alastair’s starting to feel goal-seeked. Like many Belt&Road views.

‘Excluding Everything That Makes China What It Is’ (Crooke)

In the past few weeks, we have witnessed a mini ‘Belt & Road’ unfolding across the northern Middle East – linking Iran to Iraq, to Syria, and to Lebanon – a ‘Belt and Road’ that, it is envisaged, ultimately will be assimilated into China’s greater BRI project. And – as telling – Lebanon, the eternal weathervane for the Middle East wind direction, seems to be cutting a 500-year-old umbilical linking it to Rome and Europe, to look rather to Moscow (to protect the regions’ Christians, to get its Syrian refugees home to Syria, and to move under President Putin’s protective ‘wing’ in preventing Bolton and Netanyahu from detonating chaos on their patch) – and to China.

More recently, the New Silk Road infrastructure initiative landed squarely in Italy, potentially giving some real substance (i.e. infrastructure) – especially in the case of Sicily – to the notion of a Mediterranean commonality. Both these events are linked by a single motive: How to return autonomy to these states; how to recover at least a modicum of decision-making – and to break free from the strait-jacket of economic stagnation, and the deadweight of stale political shackles. As Christina Lin has noted: “China for one takes the view that security follows economic development, and has made it clear that reconstruction comes before political settlement. It is adopting a regional approach to the Levant and now views Lebanon as a platform for reconstruction in Syria and Iraq”.

[..] Both Italy and the Levant are ‘civilisation-states’ in their own right. They do not need the EU ‘brand’ to reassure them of their status as ‘civilisation-states’. As Lebanon’s former Minister of Economy noted last year, China doesn’t “look at Lebanon as a small country of 4 million citizens, but as a country with huge potential given its geographical location”. The point here is precisely that ‘the West’ is no longer the West. There is the belligerent ‘West’ of Trump, Pence, Bolton and Pompeo – and this is the ‘West’ that is incrementally losing traction across the Middle East, and beyond.

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Feb 092019
 
 February 9, 2019  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Le pigeon aux petits pois (Pigeon with Peas) – stolen May 20 2010 1911

 

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)
Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)
UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)
Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)
US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)
The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)
Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)
Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)
Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)
US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)
Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)
Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)
Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

 

 

Almost off the news radar, Germany’s problems get serious, and drag Europe down with it.

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)

“Unexpectedly,” German industrial production fell 3.9% in December 2018 compared to December 2017, after having fallen by a revised 4.0% in November, according to German statistics agency Destatis Thursday morning. These two drops were steepest year-over-year drops since 2009. Even during the European Debt Crisis in 2011 and 2012 – it hit Germany’s industry hard as many European countries weaved in and out of a recession, with some countries sinking into a depression — German industrial production never fell as fast on a year-over-year basis as in November and December:

The declines on a year-over-year basis were broad: Without construction, industrial production fell 3.9% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.5% in November. And just manufacturing production, which includes mining and quarrying, fell 4.0% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.6% in November. On a longer-term scale, the industrial production index peaked in May 2018 and has since fallen 4.6%. It is now back where it had first been in February 2017:

And industrial production is not getting a whole lot better any time soon as new orders for the manufacturing sector have plunged – according to data released by Destatis on Wednesday. New orders dropped 7.0% year-over-year in December (adjusted for calendar differences), after having fallen 3.4% in November and 3.0% in October. In fact, orders have fallen seven months in a row on a year-over year basis in ever larger drops. The chart below shows the decline in each month compared to the same month a year earlier — with a sharp deterioration at the end of the year:

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As I’ve said before, tweaking rates is sort of an instant measure, but re-purchasing $434 billion in assets takes much longer. If only because the Fed will cause a panic if they try.

Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)

The Fed shed $32 billion in assets in January, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended February 6, released this afternoon. This reduced the assets on its balance sheet to $4,026 billion, the lowest since January 2014. Since the beginning of this “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $434 billion.

[..] the questions going forward are these: One, will the Fed continue to trim its balance sheet on “autopilot,” or will it deviate from plan and slow or stop the balance sheet reductions; Or two, will the Fed reverse course and restart QE all over again at any moment now, as the biggest Wall Street hype-mongers have prophesied; Or three, will the Fed tweak the roll-off – as a slew of Fed governors have suggested – to where it would get rid of its MBS more quickly by outright selling them; and by replacing some of them with short-term Treasury bills to lower the balance sheet’s average maturity, which currently is over eight years.

Over the next few months, the Fed will likely announce some tantalizing tidbits about how it might tweak the balance-sheet reduction. One of those tidbits will likely relate to how it will shed MBS faster and replace those additional reductions of MBS with short-term Treasury bills. The effects of this may not be what the markets had hoped for in their wildest dreams. And the Fed will likely dole out more clues about how much further it wants to cut its balance sheet. But all this will take months, and until those tweaks are nailed down and announced, the balance sheet normalization will proceed on autopilot at its by now customary glacial pace.

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Dreams of empire. France does the exact same thing.

UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)

Some of the world’s poorest countries are being forced to agree potentially damaging trade deals with the UK by government “threats” in the rush to Brexit, campaigners say. Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, is accused of piling pressure on developing nations to “sign up blind” – without knowing the value of the deals – with a warning they will otherwise be lost. Just three of the 40 agreements the UK enjoys through EU membership, covering 71 countries, have been successfully “rolled over” – as the government promised – with Brexit day just seven weeks away. Now the Department for International Trade is under fire for telling the countries concerned they risk punishing tariffs on crucial exports to the UK, unless they re-sign the deals in time.

Among them are Ghana, which relies on banana sales, Mauritius (tuna), Kenya (flowers), Cote d’Ivoire (cocoa), Namibia (grapes and beef), Swaziland (sugar), and scores of other developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. And, says the fair trade charity Traidcraft Exchange, they risk a legal challenge at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) under an extraordinary plan to treat EU parts as originating from the UK. “The continuity agreements are being rushed because of the threat of no deal. Countries are being asked to sign up blind,” said Liz May, the charity’s head of policy.

“Without the full picture of how the EU and UK will trade in the future, it is impossible for countries to judge what these deals are really worth, how they will work in practice or even how some elements will be enforced. “Instead of acknowledging this difficulty, the government is relying on developing countries being compelled to sign up at the last minute, rather than risk high tariffs being slapped on their key exports. “This type of bad-faith negotiating – using implicit threats to get countries ‘over the line’ – is not a great way to start the UK’s independent trade policy.”

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“I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show..”

The Senate will vote on Barr next week anyway, so why the showboating carnival?

Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)

The acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, said on Friday that he has “not interfered in any way” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation as he faced a contentious congressional hearing in his waning days on the job. The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist, and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. Democrats confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings, and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

“We’re all trying to figure out: who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice,” said congressman Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted: “Mr Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference.” Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller invesetigation as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated – he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up – Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there’d been no change in its “overall management”.

“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T,” Whitaker said. “There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.” Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding, especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left in the job, and some respected his wishes by asking questions about topics other than Mueller’s inquiry into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general. “I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show,” said the Republican congressman Doug Collins ,of Georgia, who accused his Democratic colleagues of “character assassination”.

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The US food crisis is exclusively caused by Big Ag and Monsanto. Farmers depending on China is not in their interest.

US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)

American farmers are battling several issues when it comes to producing our food. Regulated low prices, tariffs, and the inability to export have all cut into the salaries of farmers. They are officially in crisis mode, just like the United States’ food supply. “The farm economy’s in pretty tough shape,” said John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “When you look out on the horizon of things to come, you start to see some cracks.” Average farm income has fallen to near 15-year lows under president Donald Trump’s policies, and in some areas of the country, farm bankruptcies are soaring. And with slightly higher interest rates, many don’t see borrowing more money as an option.

“A lot of farmers are going to give the president the benefit of the doubt, and have to date. But the longer the trade war goes on, the more that dynamic changes,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, according to Politico. With no end to the disastrous trade war in sight, many farmers have traveled to Washington to share their plights with the president himself hoping that he’ll end the trade war that’s exacerbating an already precarious food crisis. Farmers make up a fairly large chunk of president Trump’s base, and an unwillingness to put food production in the United States first could be detrimental for Trump reelection chances in 2020. It could also be the beginning of a catastrophic food shortage.

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“It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy.”

The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy. And consumers are doing it, but in a somewhat lackadaisical manner when it comes to spending money they don’t have. Consumer debt – more enticingly, “consumer credit” similar to “extra credit” – rose 4.7% in the fourth quarter 2018 compared to the fourth quarter last year. In the year 2018, Americans added $179 billion to their balances on their credit cards, auto loans, and student loans. Every dime was spent and added to GDP. It amounted to nearly 1% of GDP. If GDP grew 3.1% in 2018, just under one third of the growth was generated by that additional consumer debt.

Without this additional consumer borrowing, if consumers had just maintained their debt levels, GDP growth might only have been 2.2% in 2018, instead of 3.1%. So, a huge round of applause is due our debt slaves that now owe over $4 trillion for the first time ever, according to the Federal Reserve Thursday afternoon. Consumer debt includes auto loans, student loans, credit-card debt, and personal loans, but it excludes housing related debt, such as mortgages and HELOCs. The $4.01 trillion in consumer debt is up 52% from the peak early in the Financial Crisis in Q3 2008. This is not adjusted for inflation. Over the same period, the Consumer Price Index rose 16% and nominal GDP rose 39%. Thus, Americans are sticking to their time-honored plan of out-borrowing both inflation (by a big margin) and economic growth.

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Summary: Trump accused of using the same FBI that spies on him, to spy on Bezos, who’s in bed with the FBI.

I may have temporarily lost the thread, and the logic.

Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)

On Thursday, Bezos published emails in which the Enquirer’s parent company explicitly threatened to publish intimate photographs of Bezos and his mistress, which were apparently exchanged between the two through their iPhones, unless Bezos agreed to a series of demands involving silence about the company’s conduct. [..] Despite a lack of evidence, MSNBC is already doing what it exists to do – implying with no evidence that Trump is to blame (in this case, by abusing the powers of the NSA or FBI to spy on Bezos). But, under the circumstances, those are legitimate questions to be probing (though responsible news agencies would wait for evidence before airing innuendo of that sort).

If Bezos were the political victim of surveillance state abuses, it would be scandalous and dangerous. It would also be deeply ironic. That’s because Amazon, the company that has made Bezos the planet’s richest human being, is a critical partner for the U.S. Government in building an ever-more invasive, militarized and sprawling surveillance state. Indeed, one of the largest components of Amazon’s business, and thus one of the most important sources of Bezos’ vast wealth and power, is working with the Pentagon and the NSA to empower the U.S. Government with more potent and more sophisticated weapons, including surveillance weapons.

In December, 2017, Amazon boasted that it had perfected new face-recognition software for crowds, which it called Rekognition. It explained that the product is intended, in large part, for use by governments and police forces around the world. The ACLU quickly warned that the product is “dangerous” and that Amazon “is actively helping governments deploy it.” “Powered by artificial intelligence,” wrote the ACLU, “Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces.” “Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.”

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The core of the Venezuela crisis: “Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South..”

Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)

In a leaked military manual on “unconventional warfare” recently highlighted by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Army states that major global financial institutions — such as the World Bank, IMF, and the OECD — are used as unconventional, financial “weapons in times of conflict up to and including large-scale general war,” as well as in leveraging “the policies and cooperation of state governments.” The document, officially titled “Field Manual (FM) 3-05.130, Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare” and originally written in September 2008, was recently highlighted by WikiLeaks on Twitter in light of recent events in Venezuela as well as the years-long, U.S.-led economic siege of that country through sanctions and other means of economic warfare. Though the document has generated new interest in recent days, it had originally been released by WikiLeaks in December 2008 and has been described as the military’s “regime change handbook.”

WikiLeaks’ recent tweets on the subject drew attention to a single section of the 248-page-long document, titled “Financial Instrument of U.S. National Power and Unconventional Warfare.” This section in particular notes that the U.S. government applies “unilateral and indirect financial power through persuasive influence to international and domestic financial institutions regarding availability and terms of loans, grants, or other financial assistance to foreign state and nonstate actors,” and specifically names the World Bank, IMF and the OECD, as well as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), as “U.S. diplomatic-financial venues to accomplish” such goals.

[..] Given the close relationship between the U.S. government and these international financial institutions, it should come as little surprise that – in Venezuela – the U.S.-backed “interim president” Juan Guaidó – has already requested IMF funds, and thus IMF-controlled debt, to fund his parallel government. This is highly significant because it shows that top among Guaidó’s objectives, in addition to privatizing Venezuela’s massive oil reserves, is to again shackle the country to the U.S.-controlled debt machine. As the Grayzone Project recently noted: Venezuela’s previous elected socialist president, Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South, as a counterbalance to the IMF and World Bank.”

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So many millions of victims nobody tries to count anymore.

Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)

In his masterpiece, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II, William Blum, who died in December 2018, wrote chapter-length accounts of 55 US regime change operations against countries around the world, from China (1945-1960s) to Haiti (1986-1994). Noam Chomsky’s blurb on the back of the latest edition says simply, “Far and away the best book on the topic.” We agree. If you have not read it, please do. It will give you a clearer context for what is happening in Venezuela today, and a better understanding of the world you are living in. Since Killing Hope was published in 1995, the US has conducted at least 13 more regime change operations, several of which are still active: Yugoslavia; Afghanistan; Iraq; the 3rd US invasion of Haiti since WWII; Somalia; Honduras; Libya; Syria; Ukraine; Yemen; Iran; Nicaragua; and now Venezuela.

William Blum noted that the US generally prefers what its planners call “low intensity conflict” over full-scale wars. Only in periods of supreme overconfidence has it launched its most devastating and disastrous wars, from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. After its war of mass destruction in Iraq, the US reverted to “low intensity conflict” under Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war. Obama conducted even heavier bombing than Bush II, and deployed US special operations forces to 150 countries all over the world, but he made sure that nearly all the bleeding and dying was done by Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Libyans, Ukrainians, Yemenis and others, not by Americans. What US planners mean by “low intensity conflict” is that it is less intense for Americans.

[..] While Venezuelans face poverty, preventable diseases, malnutrition and open threats of war by US officials, those same US officials and their corporate sponsors are looking at an almost irresistible gold mine if they can bring Venezuela to its knees: a fire sale of its oil industry to foreign oil companies and the privatization of many other sectors of its economy, from hydroelectric power plants to iron, aluminum and, yes, actual gold mines. This is not speculation. It is what the US’s new puppet, Juan Guaido, has reportedly promised his American backers if they can overthrow Venezuela’s elected government and install him in the presidential palace.

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“..a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks..”

US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)

The US is holding direct communications with members of Venezuela’s military urging them to abandon President Nicolas Maduro and is also preparing new sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on him, a senior White House official said. The Trump administration expects further military defections from Maduro’s side, the official told Reuters, despite only a few senior officers having done so since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, earning the recognition of the United States and dozens of other countries. “We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill,” the official said this week, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited.”

With the Venezuelan military still apparently loyal to Maduro, a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks where many officers are suspected of benefiting from corruption and drug trafficking. Members of the South American country’s security forces fear they or their families could be targeted by Maduro if they defect, so the U.S. would need to offer them something that could outweigh those concerns, said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank in Washington. “It depends on what they’re offering,” Farnsworth said. “Are there incentives built into these contacts that will at least cause people to question their loyalty to the regime?”

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A horse felled Troy.

Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)

Venezuela’s government on Friday said the United States should distribute humanitarian aid in Colombia where it is being stockpiled, while the opposition warned that blocking much-needed food and medicine could constitute crimes against humanity. A day after the aid convoy arrived in the border city of Cucuta, President Nicolas Maduro ridiculed the United States for offering small amounts of assistance while maintaining sanctions that block some $10 billion of offshore assets and revenue. Rival Juan Guaido, who is recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, warned military officers against blocking the arrival of aid amid spiraling disease and malnutrition brought on by a hyperinflationary collapse.

“Take all that humanitarian aid and give it to the people of Cucuta, where there is a lot of need,” Maduro said in a news conference. “This is a macabre game, you see? They squeeze us by the neck and then make us beg for crumbs.” “They offer us toilet paper, like (U.S. President) Donald Trump threw at the people of Puerto Rico,” he said at the conference, which experienced technical difficulties including a blackout and a microphone failure. He was referring to Trump’s improvised 2018 aid distribution in the U.S. territory following a hurricane, during which he threw rolls of paper towels.

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“Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes.”

Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)

America has been blowing green smoke up its own ass for years, promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter. We’re just running too much stuff at too great a scale for too many people. We’ve blown through the capital already and replaced it with IOUs that will never be honored, and we’re caught in an entropy trap of diminishing returns from all the work-arounds we’re desperately trying. For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.

• Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
• Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
• Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.
• Break up the oversized banks that are “too big to fail.” And while you’re at it, resume enforcement of the anti-trust laws.
• Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks. Duh….

There are two kinds of deadly narcissism at work in American culture these days: techno-narcissism — the belief that magical rescue remedies can save the status quo of comforts and conveniences — and organizational narcissism — the belief that any number of committees can lead a march of humanity into a future of rainbows and unicorns. Both of these ideas are artifacts of a fossil fuel turbo-charged economy that is coming to an end. Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes. Circumstances in the world change and sometimes, when the changes are profound enough, they provoke episodes of flux and disorder. A better index for our journey into the unknown frontier beyond modernity will not be what is “green” and “smart” but perhaps what is “sane” and “insane.”

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100 million sharks are killed globally each year.

We need to protect, and love, life in all its glory and beauty, because we are life. But we don’t see what connects us to all that we kill, we think we’re some separate entity.

There is no more flagrant failure in our education systems than this: they don’t teach us who we are.

Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

Sharks could soon become more numerous in Hawaii waters – and advocates say that’s a good thing. Lawmakers in Honolulu advanced a proposed ban on killing sharks in state waters on Wednesday, after receiving hundreds of calls and letters of support from around the country. The law, which would provide sweeping protection for any shark, rather than select species, could be the first of its kind in the United States. “These amazing animals are getting wiped out before our eyes, and people don’t even realize what they’re missing out on,” said Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, researcher and tour operator who has been instrumental in lobbying for the bill. Last month, a photo of Ramsey swimming with a 6-metre (20ft) great white shark off the coast of Oahu went viral.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

Along with killing the animals, capturing or harming them would also incur fines and count as a misdemeanor offense. Sharks, Ramsey said, are deeply misunderstood. Their presence in the ocean is unlike any other animal’s, she noted. “Everything else in the ocean swims away from you, but you can have these incredible interactions with sharks because they’re apex predators and they’re not afraid of you.” The threats to Hawaii’s sharks are numerous, proponents of the bill argue. [..] shark fins can sometimes sell for as much as $500 a pound. Shark fin soup, a delicacy once favored by Chinese emperors, has become widely popular as a status symbol in modern China. As a result, nearly 100 million sharks are killed globally each year, and species are disappearing.

[..] Sharks are crucial to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem, and oceans worldwide. “They’re the ocean’s immune system,” Ramsey said. Multiple studies have linked shark populations to overall ocean health. They serve a critical purpose by picking off sick and injured marine animals and keeping smaller fish populations under control. When the shark population declines, large predatory fish can overproduce and decimate the populations of small plant-eating fish, which are crucial to keeping algae down and supporting reef systems.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

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