Pablo Picasso Portrait of Dora Maar 1937
The name Cummings dominates the news. In the US there’s Elijah Cummings, attacks on whom by Trump are making the word ‘racist’ popular again in the Dems camp suddenly. In the UK it’s Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s key adviser, who draws the ire of MPs.
As I wrote a few days ago, Boris bringing in Dominic Cummings can only mean elections. Because that’s what he’s good at, and he wouldn’t come in for other reasons. Another aspect is Cummings doesn’t play second fiddle. He’s got the key to no. 10 now. So not only does the UK have its second unelected PM in a row, the PM has handed power to someone in the shadows. To ensure Brexit.
The head of the civil service has been urged to block the appointment of Brexit mastermind Dominic Cummings to a senior Downing Street role. Boris Johnson’s decision to invite Mr Cummings to become a key No 10 adviser has sent shockwaves through Westminster, coming only months after he was found in contempt of parliament for refusing to give evidence to the Commons fake news inquiry. The move also sparked fears among Tory moderates about the new prime minister’s Brexit approach, as Mr Cummings was the architect of Vote Leave’s Take Back Control slogan and the pledge to claw back £350m a week from the EU for the NHS. The Liberal Democrats have written to Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK’s most senior mandarin, urging him to intervene as they warned the news should “send shivers down the spines” of the British public.
Layla Moran MP argued the Brexiteer’s conduct fell short of necessary Whitehall standards due to his admonishment for contempt and his involvement in Vote Leave’s “misleading” campaign about NHS funds. She also pointed to the decision by Mr Cummings to leak a confidential Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report, when he reportedly declared “f*** the charlatans embargo” before posting the document on his personal blog. Ms Moran told The Independent: “The appointment of Dominic Cummings should send shivers down the spines of UK citizens. This is a man who has peddled lies and flouted the truth for sheer, cynical political gain. “The dark arts that he proffers should have no place in government, and no place in Downing Street.
[..] Mr Cummings is respected among Brexiteers as being instrumental to the success of the 2016 referendum campaign, but his vocal criticism of MPs and civil servants has ruffled feathers. Since the referendum, Mr Cummings has described Brexit as a “train wreck”, and said triggering Article 50 too early was like “putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger”. He also branded David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, “thick as mince and lazy as a toad”, and described the Tory European Research Group as “useful idiots for Remain”.
Just as I said a few days ago: “In his new role at Downing Street Cummings appears to be getting Johnson on an election footing..”
Prominent MPs on the committee investigating fake news and disinformation want Boris Johnson’s aide Dominic Cummings, who has been found in contempt of parliament, to face sanctions in his new role at the heart of government. These could include docking his salary, denying him a security pass and putting pressure on the prime minister to force him to give evidence to parliament. Johnson’s decision to appoint Cummings as a key adviser outraged many MPs because it came less than four months after parliament unanimously passed a motion, tabled by the government, to censure him for failing to testify at the fake news inquiry. Some also have concerns about his role as mastermind of the Brexit campaign. The official Vote Leave group has been found to have broken electoral law and referred to the police.
“This is someone who campaigned to take back control for parliament, and yet has decided the only person who shouldn’t be accountable to parliament is him,” said MP Sarah Wollaston, who has left the Tory party and sits as an independent. “What does that say about the prime minister’s attitude to parliament? It’s a terrible error of judgment.” Wollaston admitted there was no mechanism to enforce motions holding individuals in contempt of parliament. But members of the committee that originally summoned Cummings to give evidence say they want to recall him again, and have suggested a range of sanctions. “We need to demand that he attends to give evidence and call on Boris Johnson [to ensure] that he does attend. We would expect the prime minister to fully support our call for evidence,” said Jo Stevens, one of the MPs on the committee.
She also suggested any decision to give him a security pass should be closely scrutinised. “Everyone who works in parliament has to go through a very stringent security procedure. How can someone who oversaw a campaign that is the subject of a serious criminal investigation pass that test? He will have access not just to parliament but to the inner sanctum of No 10. There are obvious and serious security implications to that.” [..] In his new role at Downing Street Cummings appears to be getting Johnson on an election footing; the Conservative party Facebook page has fielded hundreds of ads since his appointment. Although they are spending relatively small amounts, the range of ads allow them to test voters’ responses and gather data on those who do interact with the advertisements.
Don’t think one billion will do much. Especially if it’s spent on PR campaigns.
New British finance minister Sajid Javid plans to announce spending of around 1 billion pounds to make sure the country is properly prepared for a possible no-deal Brexit in October, a newspaper reported. Javid told the Sunday Telegraph he would overhaul the British Treasury’s approach to Brexit, starting with “significant extra funding” announcements in the coming days to get Britain fully ready to leave the European Union on Oct. 31, with or without a deal. The extra spending would include financing a major public information campaign for individuals and businesses.
The Sunday Telegraph also quoted Javid as saying he had plans for 500 new Border Force officers and possible new infrastructure around the country’s ports. Javid’s predecessor Philip Hammond, who opposed leaving the EU without a transition deal, was accused by Brexit supporters of failing to spend enough money to get Britain ready for a no-deal Brexit, undermining its negotiating position with Brussels.
BIG fight coming up.
The former Tory chancellor Philip Hammond held private talks with Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer shortly before Boris Johnson entered Downing Street last Wednesday, to plot cross-party moves aimed at preventing the new prime minister agreeing to a no-deal Brexit. The meeting in the House of Commons – which took place shortly after Hammond had resigned from the government – is evidence of the fierce backlash Johnson faces from MPs of all parties if he tries to defy parliament and take the UK out of the EU without an agreement on 31 October.
It is understood that the former political opponents Hammond and Starmer agreed to work together through the summer recess with other leading parliamentarians who oppose no deal, including former Tory ministers Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve, to thrash out how best to use parliamentary votes to torpedo no deal. On Saturday night Starmer confirmed that Johnson’s arrival in No 10 had spurred more cross-party discussions at high levels involving senior Tories sacked by Johnson, or who chose to resign, as opponents of no deal prepared a cross-party counter-offensive against his new hard-Brexit cabinet and government.
“The political direction of travel under Boris Johnson is clear,” said Starmer, “and so it is more important than ever that we build a strong cross-party alliance to stop a no-deal Brexit. “That work will intensify over the summer, before parliament resumes in September.” The plans being hatched include amending Brexit-related legislation that has to pass through parliament before the UK can leave the EU in a way that would force the Johnson to ask for a further extension to the UK’s membership if no Brexit agreement has been reached by early October. A “last resort” option is for Hammond and other Tory Remainers to vote for a no-confidence motion in their own government if no deal still appears on the cards.
Written a lot about this. China doesn’t have the foreign reserves to let its people spend freely across the world. That was true even before the trade war. When are the Chinese tourists going to disappear from western streets?
China has retreated globally – not from its artificial islands in the South China Sea but economically and financially. It seems just yesterday that the Middle Kingdom, as China calls itself, resembled an unstoppable juggernaut, cutting constructions contracts and buying properties all over the world. That is no longer the case. Trade war with the United States bears much of the blame (or gets the credit, depending on one’s perspective), but even if Washington and Beijing were to sign a deal tomorrow, China would not regain its old momentum. Official Ministry of Finance (MOF) figures, not surprisingly, offer a soothing picture of moderate decline, but private sources tell a much more dramatic story.
According to the American Enterprise Institute’s well-regarded China Global Investment Tracker (CGIT), Chinese overseas investments of all kinds in the first half of this year averaged only $27.5 billion, half the rate averaged during the same time in 2018 and barely a quarter the rate of 2017’s first half. This year’s figures are lower than any time since 2008. Construction contracts, largely in the third world as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, have fallen off, too, but less dramatically. China clearly has become much less engaged with the world than it was. Two things have caused this retreat. One is a growing hostility among host countries toward Chinese investment. Especially developed countries, the US in particular, have balked over the Chinese practice of extracting technology.
Suspicions along these lines have held up approvals for Chinese purchases and other direct flows of funds. Some familiar with Chinese practice have gone a step further. The European Chamber of Commerce has warned against developing a dependence on China and Chinese funds. This combination of concerns and suspicions have centered primarily on China’s huge state owned enterprises and less on private Chinese investment. But if private investment has fallen off less dramatically, this growing reluctance in the West has had its effect there, too. More significant is China’s relative shortage of hard currency. Despite Beijing’s efforts to make the yuan a global currency, it is little used in currency transactions – no more than 2% of the total in fact – and so is of little use in overseas purchases.
Meanwhile the trade war with the United States has already begun to cut into Beijing’s supplies of foreign exchange. Beijing actually anticipated the problem and in 2017 and began to ration foreign exchange even before the White House added any tariffs. The first major investment declines occurred in late 2018, when the While House first imposed 10% tariffs on a range of Chinese products. The next drop coincided with this past spring’s increased tensions. To be sure, Beijing’s foreign exchange hoard remains huge, but officials are wary of how rapidly it has shrunk, falling some 25% from almost $4 trillion at its peak in 2014 to barely over $3 trillion during the first half of this year. Beijing’s rationing of these financial resources has affected the state-owned sector in particular. Private companies have a greater willingness and ability to borrow hard currencies abroad.
China haters have been waiting for a financial crisis out of China since at least the early 2000s. Each and every time, the People’s Bank of China’s plunge protection team or the central planners in Beijing would throw buckets of ice water on their heads. This time might be different. This time they are dealing with a trade war. Most investment banks have some proprietary model that gives their fund managers a gauge on crises. For Nomura Securities, no country is flashing red more than China. “China has the second-highest number of flashing early warning indicators after Hong Kong,” says Rob Subbaraman, an Asia economist for Nomura in Singapore.
Months of protests against an stalled prisoner extradition bill with China have turned into protests against the Hong Kong government, with the very real possibility of the U.S. doing away with its special trade relationship with Hong Kong. If that ever happened, the Hong Kong dollar would no longer be a de facto source of U.S. dollars for mainland China, assuming Washington included Hong Kong in its mainland China tariff regime. Chinese policymakers need to guard against a renewed build-up of financial stability risks, Subbaraman says. Out of 60 early warning indicators flashing on Nomura’s Cassandra risk assessment program, Hong Kong has 49 covered. China has 25. The U.S. has precisely zero.
Cassandra has reliably signaled around two thirds of the past 50 financial crises in a sample of 30 emerging market and advanced countries, including the U.S., since the early 1990s, Nomura says. Casandra looks at five early warning indicators, including debt-service ratio gap (DSR) with a particular country’s historic average; joint credit and real property price gaps with the average; joint credit and real effective exchange rate (REER) gaps; joint DSR and REER gaps; and finally, a combination of all three credit indicators above. The predefined thresholds of pain-points for a country are set in a way that the early warning indicators flash when one of those thresholds is breached. That means a crisis is likely to hit within three years.
No surprise there. But that model is over.
Thanks to a ‘broken regulatory process,’ the Federal Aviation Administration has been passing off routine oversight tasks to manufacturers for years. In the case of the beleagured 737 Max, however, the plane was so advanced that the regulator “handed nearly complete control to Boeing,” which was able to sign off on its own safety certificates, according to the New York Times. The lack of regulatory oversight meant that the FAA had no clue how Boeing’s automated anti-stall system, known as MCAS, worked. In fact, “regulators had never independently assessed the risks of the dangerous software” when they issued a 2017 approval for the plane.
“The company performed its own assessments of the system, which were not stress-tested by the regulator. Turnover at the agency left two relatively inexperienced engineers overseeing Boeing’s early work on the system. The F.A.A. eventually handed over responsibility for approval of MCAS to the manufacturer. After that, Boeing didn’t have to share the details of the system with the two agency engineers. They weren’t aware of its intricacies, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.” -New York Times.
During the late stages of the Max’s development, Boeing engineers decided to increase the plane’s reliance on MCAS to fly smoothly. Unfortunately, a new version of the system relied on a single sensor which could malfunction and push the plane into a nosedive. Boeing never submitted a formal assessment of the MCAS system following its upgrade – which wasn’t required by FAA rules. An agency official claims that an engineering test pilot was familiar with the changes, however his job was to evaluate its effect on how the plane flew – not on its safety. The jet was eventually certified as safe to fly, and the FAA required very little pilot training until the second Max crashed less than five months after the first.
There are very clear laws that forbid seizure of tankers. Give them all back.
[The] UN Convention which is one of the base blocks of international law [..] does not state that the right to transit through straits can be subject to any sanctions regime which the coastal state chooses to impose; indeed it is clearly worded to preclude such coastal state activity. Nor can it be overridden by any regional grouping of which the coastal state is a member. Jeremy Hunt’s statement to parliament that the Iranian tanker had “freely navigated into UK territorial waters” was irrelevant in law and he must have known that. The whole point of passage through straits is that it is by definition through territorial waters, but the coastal state is not permitted to interfere with navigation.
It is therefore irrelevant whether, as claimed by the government of the UK and their puppets in Gibraltar, the tanker was intending to breach EU sanctions by delivering oil to Syria. There is a very strong argument that the EU sanctions are being wilfully misinterpreted by the UK, but ultimately that makes no difference. Even if the EU does have sanctions seeking to preclude an Iranian ship from delivering Venezuelan oil to Syria, the EU or its member states have absolutely no right to impede the passage of an Iranian ship through the Strait of Gibraltar in enforcement of those sanctions. Anymore than Iran could declare sanctions against Saudi oil being delivered to Europe and close the Straits of Hormuz to such shipping, or Indonesia could declare sanctions on EU goods going to Australia and close the Malacca Strait, or Russia could declare sanctions on goods going to Ukraine and close the Strait of Kerch.
[..] I was for three years the Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I was Alternate Head of the UK Delegation to the UN Preparatory Commission on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. I both negotiated, and drafted parts of, the Protocol that enabled the Convention to come into force. I was the Head of the FCO Section of the Embargo Surveillance Centre and responsible for giving real time political and legal clearance, 24 hours a day, for naval boarding operations in the Gulf to enforce a UN mandated embargo. There are very few people alive who combine both my practical experience and theoretical knowledge of precisely the subject here discussed.
“..leaving pools of blood in the same concourse where the suspected triads had attacked the previous weekend.”
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters defied a police ban and began marching through Hong Kong on Sunday, a day after riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in the latest violent confrontation to plunge the financial hub deeper into crisis. Huge crowds gathered in the heart of the city’s commercial district on Sunday afternoon, after police gave permission for a static protest in a park but banned a proposed march through the city. Yet protesters soon spilled into the streets outside the park and began marching in spite of the ban, ratcheting up the likelihood of renewed clashes. “I feel so conflicted, seeing young people sacrifice their future for Hong Kong,” a 22-year-old student protester called Marcus told AFP, breaking into tears.
The latest march comes a day after a town near the border with mainland China descended into chaos, as police battled protesters holding another banned rally against suspected pro-government triad gangs who beat up democracy demonstrators there last weekend. Riot police used tear gas throughout the afternoon and evening in Yuen Long after tense standoffs with protesters, some of whom were throwing projectiles and had surrounded a police van. Rubber bullets were fired later in the clashes which ended when officers baton-charged the last remaining demonstrators inside the town’s metro station, leaving pools of blood in the same concourse where the suspected triads had attacked the previous weekend.
There’s a pattern.
A new way of measuring how some glaciers melt below the surface of the water has uncovered a surprising realization: Some glaciers are melting a hundred times faster than scientists thought they were. In a new study published today in Science, a team of oceanographers and glaciologists unpeeled a new layer of understanding of tidewater glaciers—glaciers that end in the ocean—and their dynamic processes. “They’ve really discovered that the melt that’s happening is fairly dramatically different from some of the assumptions we’ve had,” says Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder who was uninvolved with the study. Some of this calving and glacial melt is a normal process that glaciers undergo during seasonal transitions from winter to summer, and even through the summer.
But a warming climate accelerates glacier melting across the globe, potentially through melting across the surface of the glacier, but also through underwater melting. Glaciers can extend hundreds of feet below the surface, explained Ellyn Enderlin, a glaciologist at Boise State University who was not involved with the study. Finding higher rates of submarine melting tells us that “glaciers are a lot more sensitive to ocean change than we’ve even thought.” Understanding the melting processes and calculating the amount of melt accurately is essential for planning for sea level rise. “We are just super jazzed that we can even do this,” says lead author David Sutherland, an oceanographer at the University of Oregon. “We weren’t 100 percent sure it was going to work.”
The Saffron Goddess (1600 B.C.) is a detail from a Minoan fresco depicting a saffron harvest, Akrotiri, Santorini island, Greece.