Oct 122020
 


Edward Hopper The barber shop 1931

 

 

How their beloved neighbors see America, a comment by Automatic Earth commenter ByronBishop. I don’t think I need to add much. Took the title from a comment on the comment.

 

 

ByronBishop: I live in rural Canada and I do not have television, so my information on the American presidential election comes from newspapers and some online blogs. But what impresses me the most in this cycle is what good theatre it is!

It is my view that the choice for American voters is simply this: which collection of billionaires will run the country? The Democrats or Republicans? At root, their policies are not very different; their principal goal is to maintain and extend their privilege, and to continue to develop the legal and fiscal framework that supports their activities. This framework consists of, among other things, the following policies, and most crucially, broad public acceptance of the righteousness of these policies:

• To maintain very low taxes on income and capital gains, favourable treatment of dividend and interest income, and no inheritance tax

• In the financial manipulation field, improve public and regulatory acceptance of the attitude usefully articulated by JH Kuntsler as “nothing matters and anything goes”. This allows (among many other things) private equity firms to buy up useful and productive enterprises, strip out all the assets in fees and special dividends and through the sale of high-yield (and chancy) bonds, and to then release the debt-ridden hulk back into the marketplace to sink (mostly) or swim (rarely). Also supports share buybacks, collateralised debt instruments, relocation of factories to low-wage states and countries.

• Keep the American military actively working around the world, preferably using expensive armaments. Where possible avoid stationing troops in warzones as casualties provoke bad publicity. Promote demand for novel and very expensive war materiel. (Smart bombs and drones sell to government on a cost-plus basis.)

• Support the National Rifle Association, which is in fact an association of arms manufacturers and merchants with a noisy public relations arm consisting of private members defending their Second Amendment rights. Until forty years ago the Second Amendment right was the right to join a well-regulated militia, but now it is the right to have many expensive weapons in your house.

• Everyone must recognise that public healthcare is un-American. It is a moral issue: if you cannot afford healthcare you do not deserve it. Some of the highest paid executive teams in the US are in the healthcare field, while executive teams in Canadian and European countries are mostly paid on a civil service scale. Shareholders in American healthcare companies become very rich. Were healthcare to become nationalised like in Canada and most European nations, most of the private profit would be lost

• Large corporations must be permitted to manipulate share prices through buybacks and curious business practices (Boeing, the airlines), but must then be protected by bailouts if their business falters.

• The financialisation of the economy must be regulated as lightly as possible so that fees can continue to flow.

• Regulatory capture must be celebrated (under a different name). The two-way flow of personnel from regulated industries to regulatory government departments ensures that little impedes business development.

• To ensure that the courts at all levels are staffed with conservative, business-friendly judges.

• To ensure that environmental protection regulations do not unduly interfere with business operations

I do not for a moment think that the billionaires and multi-millionaires conspire to run the American system. They are not a cabal; they do not meet. Rather, theirs is an emergent system: many individuals working towards their own goals will thus help others pursuing their own goals. It is like a flock of shorebirds wheeling and swooping in perfect unison; they are not directed, but they are simply responding to the actions of their neighbouring birds.

The billionaires achieve this through owning mainstream media companies, funding think tanks and policy research institutes, and supporting lobbyist groups and public relations shills. And they have been astonished , I am sure, to discover how cheaply they can buy the support of members of Congress. Chump-change donations to campaign funding pays off in spades. Lobbyists have language ready to drop in to any bill, to achieve corporate aims. That’s how emergency support of American workers became bailouts for cruise companies, who are based offshore and pay few American taxes.

And then members of Congress have to be made part of the investing class. For example, a fabulous oil & gas play is spun off into a Special Purpose Vehicle whose success is assured, and select politicians are invited to invest in it. If they cannot afford to purchase shares a private loan is arranged and documented and subsequently repaid, all above board. The company is spectacularly successful and the “investors” score big-time and repay any loans. Didn’t George W Bush succeed in an investment in professional sports in Texas, in a similar way? And by the way, how did Senate Majority Leader McConnell amass a self-declared net worth of $10 million after a lifetime of working as a civil servant at $200k per year?

All of the rest is theatre. In this election cycle the hot-button issues are access to abortion (again), racism and social justice (again), overseas wars, China as an economic threat, Russia! Russia! Russia!, voting systems and practices, and the age and personalities of the presidential candidates. All theatre. The billionaires don’t care about any of these things, as almost none of these things personally affect them. Safe and discreet abortion is always available somewhere in the world where private jets fly. Billionaires do not ever see people of different colour or status or class unless they choose to, and then only in circumstances they control. Russia and China are opportunities, not threats. And the presidential candidates can be influenced very cheaply. A Nevada casino magnate had the American embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for only $25 million in campaign donations to a notoriously cheap candidate.

The one thing that most amazes me is how the billionaires can continue to convince people to vote against their own best interests, whether economic interest, social interest or even national interest. At one time they used “race” quite openly, appealing to feelings of racial superiority or to fears of being electorally overwhelmed by “those people”, whether black or brown or oriental or poor. When openly racist campaigning became no longer acceptable, some genius concluded that “abortion” would make an excellent substitute, as it can combine all of the race and class issues and can bring in all of the family values baggage as well. Few other issues can motivate such a wide cross-section of the American public, and it can motivate people on either side of the issue. With so much focus on abortion who has time to worry about the domination of government by corporate interests?

Many commentators focus on the gross inequality of incomes and wealth in the USA, and a recent report by the Rand Corporation brings this in to clear focus. They analysed the growth in incomes across the entire working population of the USA for the period from the end of World War II to the present, and they found that up until 1975 or so the increase in general prosperity in the nation was shared equally across all income groups. Starting in the mid-1970’s however, most of the increase in prosperity was arrogated by the top income earners, so that the rich got richer and no-one else shared in the good times. The astonishing figure that the Rand researchers came up with was that the top 1% has actually taken all of the $50 trillion dollars in new wealth from everyone else in the 45 year period to 2020. There is a reason why so many people feel that the American Dream has passed them by – it’s because it actually has.

The usual remedy for this sort of gross inequality of power and wealth in society is revolution. The French Revolution comes to mind, but also the Russian Revolution. I wonder what was the root cause of the great social and political upheavals in Europe in 1848? (I can’t remember.) A less frequent remedy is the rise of a genuine populist movement, one that can actually re-distribute power (and thus wealth and opportunity). As Gwnne Dyer usefully says: populism is not an ideology, it is a technique. In America, I suspect that a true populist leader could only arise at the state level, and then from outside the two main parties.

If the current polarisation in American politics continues, the states may become the primary protector of social values (progressive or conservative) and the regulations that flow from them (access to abortion, gun rights and restrictions, access to health care, role of religion in public life, etc), and it may be that a true populist, charismatic leader can emerge and accrue the political power and authenticity to restrict the ability of the elites to organise state society. And that might spread, state by state. We outsiders can only hope that our fellow citizens in the USA can get their sh!t together at some point. Watching civil unrest unfold is no fun – I have cousins in America.

 

 

 

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Sep 152020
 
 September 15, 2020  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »


Otto Dix The Triumph of Death 1934

 

Scientists Discover Antibody That ‘Neutralizes’ Coronavirus (Fox)
Research From 23andMe Strengthens Link Between Blood Types And COVID19 (STAT)
Vitamin D Supplements ‘Could Keep COVID19 Patients Out Of Intensive Care’ (DM)
Cuba Punches Above Weight With ‘White Coat Army’ During Pandemic (R.)
Convergence of Quandaries (Jim Kunstler)
Stop The Coup! (TAM)
Poll Claims Debunked Atlantic Story Changed Voters’ Minds About Trump (BPR)
Trump Connects The Generals And The Military-Industrial Complex (AC)
Inequality Robs $2.5 Trillion From U.S. Workers Each Year
Bezos Doubles Wealth as Amazon Essential Product Prices Rise 1000% (MPN)
Time Is Ripe For China To Free Up Controls On Yuan’s Convertibility (SCMP)
Merkel Calls For EU Support For Greece Over Moria (K.)
Germany Plans To Take In 1,500 Refugees From Greek Islands (R.)
Australia Politics, Media Silent On Sadistic British Assange Show-Trial (WSWS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do we turn this into the biggest possible profit?

Scientists Discover Antibody That ‘Neutralizes’ Coronavirus (Fox)

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have isolated “the smallest biological molecule” that “completely and specifically neutralizes” SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the novel coronavirus. The antibody component is 10 times smaller than a full-sized antibody, and has been used to create the drug Ab8, shared in the report published by the researchers in the journal Cell on Monday. The drug is seen as a potential preventative against SARS-CoV-2. According to the report, the drug has been “highly effective in preventing and treating” the SARS-CoV-2 infections in mice and hamsters during tests. The drug also reportedly does not bind to human cells, which suggests it will not have negative side-effects in people.


“Ab8 not only has potential as therapy for COVID-19, but it also could be used to keep people from getting SARS-CoV-2 infections,” said co-author John Mellors, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Pitt and UPMC. “Antibodies of larger size have worked against other infectious diseases and have been well tolerated, giving us hope that it could be an effective treatment for patients with COVID-19 and for protection of those who have never had the infection and are not immune.” [..] According to the report, the team at University of Texas Medical Branch Center for Biodefense and Emerging Diseases and Galveston National Laboratory tested Ab8 and found it blocked the virus from entering cells. In mice trials, those treated with Ab8 had 10-fold less of the amount of infectious virus compared to those that were untreated.

Read more …

“A little more than 11% of the people in 23andMe’s studies said they were Latino; less than 3% said they were Black.”

Research From 23andMe Strengthens Link Between Blood Types And COVID19 (STAT)

A forthcoming study from genetic testing giant 23andMe shows that a person’s genetic code could be connected to how likely they are to catch Covid-19 — and how severely they could experience the disease if they catch it. It’s an important confirmation of earlier work on the subject. People whose blood group is O seemed to test positive for Covid-19 less often than expected when compared to people with any other blood group, according to 23andMe’s data; people who tested positive and had a specific variant of another gene also seemed to be more likely to have serious respiratory symptoms. The study, which was released on a preprint server and which has not yet been peer-reviewed, could extend and confirm earlier work on the subject; 23andMe’s study relied on a larger dataset than earlier work and included a more diverse set of participants, the company said.

Experts who aren’t affiliated with 23andMe praised the study design and the work. “They clarify further what our data could only vaguely hint at,” said Tom Hemming Karlsen, a physician at Oslo University Hospital who published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine on genetic links with Covid-19 severity in June, and who was not associated with 23andMe’s work. But the outside experts also cautioned that the research won’t change treatment decisions. “It doesn’t have practical implications. There’s no treatment decisions that will be made from it — it’s just an interesting finding,” said Jennifer Lighter, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at NYU Langone who was not involved in the research. Unlike the study Karlsen and his colleagues ran, which only included people with severe Covid-19 symptoms, 23andMe included people who had both mild and severe cases — which allowed them to draw stronger conclusions, Karlsen said.

The company’s study participants are also more diverse than Karlsen’s, which only studied people in Spain and Italy. However, the 23andMe study’s demographics still don’t fully reflect the population of the United States. A little more than 11% of the people in 23andMe’s studies said they were Latino; less than 3% said they were Black. (Latinos represent about 16% of the U.S. population, while Black people account for about 13% of the population.) Both Karlsen and 23andMe’s team found that the genes that code for a person’s blood type seemed to be linked to whether a person would test positive for Covid-19; another section of chromosome 3 — referred to in both papers as chr3p21.31 — seemed to be linked to how severe a person’s response would be to a Covid-19 infection.

Read more …

Disregard the dissing of HCQ. Just take your Vit. D.

Vitamin D Supplements ‘Could Keep COVID19 Patients Out Of Intensive Care’ (DM)

Treating coronavirus patients with high doses of vitamin D supplements could help keep them out of intensive care, a study has suggested. Researchers gave high doses of calcifediol – a type of vitamin D supplement – to 50 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 in Spain. They were given 100 micrograms of the supplement over the course of a week, with 55mcg on the first day and then two booster doses of 27mcg on days three and seven. The dose was higher than the 70mcg weekly limit recommended by the NHS. Scientists compared the participants’ health with 26 volunteers in a control group who were not given the tablets, which are normally prescribed to patients with thyroid or kidney problems.

Just one patient given calcifediol fell ill enough to be admitted to intensive care, whereas half of the participants in the control group were taken to ICU and two died. There were no deaths among volunteers receiving the vitamin and all 50 patients were eventually discharged by the end of the study. Experts now believe Covid-19 causes a catastrophic build-up of a chemical called bradykinin, which makes blood vessels leaky and drives up the risk of inflammation. Calcifediol is one of the few hormones which regulates the bradykinin and it can also prevent the immune system from going into overdrive. Researchers have been divided over whether a vitamin D deficiency, which is vital to the immune system, can raise the risk of dying of Covid-19.

Some scientists suggested that it may be one of the reasons black people face a higher risk of dying from the illness, because they do not produce as much of the vitamin naturally. Taking too much vitamin D can cause bone and organ damage over time, however, and scientists discouraged people from trying to self-medicate. For the study, researchers from the University of Cordoba in Spain and research university KU Leuven in Belgium monitored 76 hospital patients with Covid-19. Fifty of the patients were randomly assigned to have calcifediol tablets, along with normal care. Twenty-six volunteers were put in a control group who only received standard care, to compare the treatment to. Because the study was conducted several months ago, the standard care for coronavirus in Spain was hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. These two drugs have since been proven ineffective at treating the virus.

Read more …

I think maybe this is exactly Cuba’s weight.

Cuba Punches Above Weight With ‘White Coat Army’ During Pandemic (R.)

At the start of Togo’s coronavirus outbreak, the small West African nation welcomed a team of 12 Cuban healthcare workers to tend to sufferers of the virus, boost its laboratory testing and help improve its hospital protocols. While the virus was overwhelming healthcare systems worldwide, the Communist-run Caribbean island boasted a rare resource: a surplus of doctors trained in deploying abroad and battling infectious disease. And it was willing to dispatch them all over the globe to nations requesting help. “As scientific and medical circles groped in the dark, Cuban medicine, strong from past experiences, brought appropriate answers,” said the head of cooperation at Togo’s foreign ministry, Charles Azilan.

Nearly 40 countries across five continents have received Cuban medics during the pandemic, as the island nation – home to just over 11 million inhabitants – has once more punched far above its weight in medical diplomacy. Since its 1959 leftist revolution, Cuba has dispatched its “army of white coats” to disaster sites and disease outbreaks around the world in the name of solidarity. In the last decade, they have fought cholera in Haiti and Ebola in West Africa. Not that its brigades are purely altruistic. Cuba has exported doctors on more routine missions in exchange for cash or goods in recent decades, making them its top source of hard currency. While some countries have received the medics for free during the pandemic, others are paying: a slight boon to Cuba’s economy struggling with the coronavirus-induced collapse in tourism.

[..] With financial aid from its former ally the Soviet Union, Cuba built up a healthcare system that was the envy of the developing world under the leadership of the late Fidel Castro. Some of those advances have been lost since the communist bloc collapsed. Many hospitals are run down, medicines are in short supply and Cubans complain about a decline in the quality of medical training. Still, Cuba has one of the highest ratios of physicians per capita in the world and even before pandemic struck, had some 28,000 medics deployed globally. It has since dispatched a further 4,000.

Read more …

“The country is now out of its mind… echoes of France, 1793… a rhyme, not a reprise.”

Convergence of Quandaries (Jim Kunstler)

The orgy of political hysteria, insane thinking, and violence is a psychotic reaction to the collapsing techno-industrial economy — a feature of it, actually. When all familiar social and economic arrangements are threatened, people go nuts. Interestingly, the craziness actually started in the colleges and universities where ideas (the products of thinking) are supposed to be the stock-in-trade. The more pressing the practical matters of daily life became, the less intellectuals wanted to face them. So, they desperately generated a force-field of crazy counter-ideas to repel the threat, a curriculum of wishful thinking, childish utopian nostrums, and exercises in boundary-smashing. As all this moved out of the campuses (the graduation function), it infected every other corner of American endeavor, institutions, business, news media, sports, Hollywood, etc. The country is now out of its mind… echoes of France, 1793… a rhyme, not a reprise.


The US economy began a slow and insidious collapse because its petroleum energy base became unaffordable. The reality of that was obscured by paradoxical appearances: the shale oil miracle goosed up US oil production from under five million barrels-a-day in 2007 to thirteen million barrels-a-day in 2019. Pretty awesome. Seemed like we were awash in oil. The problem was the companies producing shale oil couldn’t make money at it, and the loans that went into staging the shale oil “miracle” went bad… and then the companies couldn’t get new loans… and went bankrupt. So, the crash of US oil production is a self-reinforcing feedback loop that is sure to continue and will make things worse. Now, less than a year after reaching that majestic 13 million barrels-a-day, production has fallen to around 10 million a day — quite an impressive drop.

Further obscuring the actual dynamic in play, gasoline prices at the pump are quite low — under $2.50-a-gallon where I live, compared with $4-plus a couple of years ago — and most citizens consider the price of gasoline their sole index of how things are going in the oil industry. The Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated and accelerated the damage from that by shutting down much of small business across America since March. The businesses and people who owned them have suffered terribly. That and the public lockdowns have greatly depressed the demand for oil products, driving the price-per-barrel down and reducing the cash flow of the oil companies. That also aggravated worsening relations with our principal trading partner, China, the net effect of which threatens the supply chain for all sorts of critical parts and products needed to keep our complex systems running.

Read more …

“Oh, but one more thing: America needs to understand that while it might very well look like Trump won on election night, due to our new rules votes will be counted for weeks afterward and then our candidate will probably win.”

Stop The Coup! (TAM)

Michael Anton’s new article “The Coming Coup?” went viral almost as soon as we posted it a week ago today. This is not simply because figures like Lara Logan, Mollie Hemingway, Newt Gingrich, Dan Bongino, and the editors of the New York Post took note. It spread because concerned citizens began sharing it throughout the nation. We could tell it was especially effective because so many in the mainstream media maintained studious radio silence. But hyperventilating ruling-class supporters of the Biden/BLM/Antifa coalition did predictably lash out. The epitome of these reactions is an article in New York magazine’s Intelligencer, by political columnist Ed Kilgore, entitled “Trump Backers Make Case for Stealing Election, Before Biden Gets the Chance.”

The title itself reveals the stubborn simplicity of the Democratic Party’s coup narrative. Their elites have worked themselves and their base into a frothing lather of existential fright. In article after article, liberal intellectuals and activists have been talking for months about how Trump could steal the election or refuse to leave the White House even if he loses. But if the Right dares to point out that Democrats are actually changing the rules of the electoral process and actually speaking publicly about refusing to concede even if they lose, well, this only proves that the Right is going to steal the election and refuse to concede if they lose! In reality, of course, Anton and others are simply trying to shine a light on what Democrats are now openly declaring in public.

Kilgore frames Anton’s essay as part of an effort among conservatives to spread the craaaazy idea that Democrats’ obsessive focus on mail-in voting is part of a panicky effort to throw the election, not a good-faith scheme to protect people from coronavirus. Let’s leave aside the fact that no less an establishment authority than the Atlantic admits the voting booth is as safe as the grocery store. In fact, says Kilgore, echoing the new establishment narrative, so many legitimate Biden votes may come flooding in by mail after the in-person voting is through that the election will turn around all on its own. Every major media outlet is now full of supposed expert authorities – even Mark Zuckerberg recently got into the act – telling the American people that the rule changes Democrat apparatchiks are pushing throughout the nation are totally normal.

But as elections expert Hans Von Spakovsky pointed out in these pages, “what is clear from all of these lawsuits is that the Democrats and these organizations are trying to change the rules governing the administration of the November election” midstream while Republicans are trying to “preserve the status quo.” (If you want to understand what the Democrats are up to, give Spakovsky’s “Democrats Versus the Vote” a close read.) Kilgore likes to present himself as a reasonable man. But how are voters supposed to respond when the message from the Democrat Party is “our lawsuits to change the way we’ve always voted in the middle of a tumultuous election season are not part of a partisan cheat. Oh, but one more thing: America needs to understand that while it might very well look like Trump won on election night, due to our new rules votes will be counted for weeks afterward and then our candidate will probably win.”

Read more …

Can the media keep itself from making Biden look like he’s winning? Wouldn’t that make people less likely to vote?

Poll Claims Debunked Atlantic Story Changed Voters’ Minds About Trump (BPR)

A new poll from Left-wing Yahoo News and YouGov says that a discredited story by The Atlantic earlier this month claiming that President Donald Trump disparaged American war dead and “misled” about COVID-19 has changed peoples’ minds about supporting him in November. Now, allegedly because of the “bombshell” revelations in the story, some voters have shifted their support to Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden. “Donald Trump has fallen further behind Joe Biden following bombshell reports that the president knowingly misled Americans about the dangers of COVID-19 and privately disparaged dead U.S. soldiers as ‘suckers’ and ‘losers,’ according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll,” Yahoo News reported Friday. Subsequent reporting indicates that neither of those claims are true.

Several current and former White House officials who were with the president during a 2018 visit to France — when the reported disparaging of American World War I dead was alleged to have happened — disputed Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg’s story. Included on that list is former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is no fan of the president. As to the claims about coronavirus, while President Trump reportedly told Washington Post correspondent and author Bob Woodward he tried to downplay the severity of COVID-19 so as not to cause panic, he nevertheless warned Americans early on the disease was serious and took several measures — including shutting off most travel to and from China, where the virus originated — very early on.

That said, according to Yahoo News, support for Trump has allegedly tanked: “The survey, which was conducted from Sept. 9 to 11, shows Biden leading Trump by 10 percentage points among registered voters, 49 percent to 39 percent. The previous Yahoo News/YouGov poll found Biden ahead by just 6 points immediately after the Republican National Convention. The results suggest that a week of unrelenting and unflattering revelations about Trump — from the Atlantic report on his alleged contempt for Americans wounded or killed in war (which appeared on Sept. 3) to Bob Woodward’s recordings of Trump admitting he downplayed the deadliness of COVID-19 (released on Sept. 9) — has damaged the president’s standing with voters.”

The survey itself is suspect. For one, it polled “registered voters,” which are less accurate than “likely voters” and tend to skew towards Democrats, according to FiveThirtyEight. In fact, the Yahoo News/YouGov poll skewed heavily towards Democrats. On the issue of favorable views towards Biden and Trump, pollsters oversampled Democrats to Republicans, 366 to 220, respectively. The poll’s claims about which candidate has more respect for the military seems suspect as well. “Asked which candidate shows more respect for the military, 50 percent of registered voters name Biden, compared to 39 percent for Trump. By the same margin, voters say Biden would do a better job leading the military than the current commander in chief,” Yahoo News reported.

Biden runs for reelection

Read more …

Smedley Butler.

Trump Connects The Generals And The Military-Industrial Complex (AC)

Once again, the whispers of phantoms masquerading as administration officials have attempted to put Donald Trump on the defensive only two months before the fall election. And in typical fashion, the roused president has gone on an immediate rhetorical offensive. Trump has doubled down on his affirmations towards the U.S. military and the American soldier, while simultaneously confronting the class of generals who command them. “I’m not saying the military’s in love with me—the soldiers are,” Trump said at a Labor Day press conference. “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

This is a dramatic shift in perspective from the man who spent the first two years of his presidency surrounding himself with top brass like Michael Flynn, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, and James Mattis (along with almost being beguiled into nominating David Petraeus as Secretary of State). Perhaps Trump learned the hard way that the generals of the forever wars don’t measure up to the twentieth-century soldiers he adulated growing up. For instance, when George Marshall oversaw the deployment of 8.3 million GIs across four continents in World War II, he did so with the assistance of only three other four-star generals. In retirement, Marshall refused to sit on any corporate boards, and passed on multiple lucrative book deals, lest he give the impression that he was profiting from his military record. As he told one publisher, “he had not spent his life serving the government in order to sell his life story to the Saturday Evening Post.”

[..] General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, in between his forced retirement from the Marine Corps and appointment as Secretary of Defense, joined the board of General Dynamics where he was paid over a million dollars in salary and benefits. Returning to public life, Mattis then spent two years cajoling President Trump into keeping the U.S. military engaged in places as disparate as Afghanistan, Syria, and Africa. “Sir, we’re doing it to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square,” Mattis told his commander-in-chief. Left unsaid was that a strategic withdrawal would also lead to a precipitous decline in Mattis’ future stock options, which he regained after he rejoined General Dynamics following his December 2018 resignation.

That resignation might have been premature, however. It was only a matter of weeks before Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria, the impetus for Mattis’ departure, was reversed. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers continue to illegally occupy the north-east of the country. That’s in addition to the thousands of Americans still kicking dust in Iraq and Afghanistan, contrary to the president’s “America First” pledge. And Trump is as guilty as any of his subordinates when it comes to coddling the military-industrial complex, gushing over billion dollar arms deals and their manufactured jobs numbers. It remains to be seen whether his latest announcement of a partial withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the month will turn out as phony as the others.

Trump’s language more closely resembles that of Major General Smedley Butler, who at the time of his death was the most decorated marine in U.S. history. “The professional soldiers and sailors don’t want to disarm. No admiral wants to be without a ship. No general wants to be without a command. Both mean men without jobs. They are not for disarmament. They cannot be for limitations of arms,” Butler wrote in his 1935 book War is a Racket. To eliminate this corrupting influence, Butler advocated an egalitarian price control to prevent the arms industry—and their pet generals—from profiting off the blood of American boys. “Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our steel companies and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted—to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.”

How do you spin war?

Read more …

A study on inequality from the RAND Corporation. No irony at all.

Inequality Robs $2.5 Trillion From U.S. Workers Each Year

Every few months, some group of socially conscious number crunchers will remind Americans that a tiny elite is binge-eating the nation’s economic pie while the rest of us plebeians fight over table scraps. Journalists will then aggregate eye-popping statistics and edifying charts, progressives will share these over social media, adorned with red-faced (and/or guillotine) emoji — and the moral arc of history will carry on bending toward neofeudalism. So, in the present moment of booming stock markets and child hunger, you might be feeling too inured to America’s grotesque levels of inequality to summon much interest in yet another report testifying to the one percent’s total victory in the 50 Years Class War.


But a new study from the Rand Corporation, in partnership with the Fair Work Center, illustrates the impact of a half-century of upward redistribution in bracingly concrete terms: If income had been distributed as evenly over the past five decades as it was in 1975, the median full-time worker in the U.S. would enjoy annual earnings of roughly $92,000 a year. As is, that worker makes just $50,000. It’s no secret that wage and productivity growth began decoupling in the 1970s. Charts like this one from the Economic Policy Institute have been ubiquitous in progressive economic policy debates since the Great Recession:

But RAND’s innovative methodology — which involved constructing a new metric for inequality that compares income growth to GDP, and then using that metric to gauge changes in the income distribution across every U.S. business cycle since 1975 — allowed it to translate the abstractions of macro-level income shares into something much more tangible. Between the mid-1970s and 2018, per capita GDP growth in the U.S. increased by 118 percent. Had income growth on every rung of America’s class ladder kept pace with those gains, annual earnings at the bottom would be nearly twice as high as they are now. Meanwhile, the bottom 90 percent of U.S. earners would collectively take home $2.5 trillion more in income each year.

Read more …

“there is no place for price gouging on Amazon..”

Bezos Doubles Wealth as Amazon Essential Product Prices Rise 1000% (MPN)

A new report from advocacy group Public Citizen details how retail giant Amazon “misled the public, law enforcement, and policymakers about price increases during the pandemic,” raising their prices on essential products “to levels that would be considered violations of price gouging laws in many states.” The prices of many products in high demand during the pandemic jumped by over 1,000 percent when compared to this time last year. As accusations of price gouging began, Amazon blamed “bad actors,” declaring in an official statement that, “there is no place for price gouging on Amazon,” committing itself to “working vigorously” to ensure fair pricing, and “collaborating with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies” to “hold price gougers accountable” and to protect the interests of their customers. Yet Public Citizen’s report found that “Amazon is engaged in price gouging on products it sells directly” itself, through its Amazon Essentials line. Disposable face masks and corn starch were the most inflated prices, jumping elevenfold from earlier in the year.

Below is a list of ten Amazon Essential products tracked, including the percentage the items increased in cost. Similar price rises were tracked among third party sellers on the platform as well.
Disposable face masks — 1,000%
Hand sanitizer — 48%
Disinfectant spray — 87%
Antibacterial soap — 470%
Disposable nitrile gloves — 336%
Toilet paper — 528%
Paper towels — 303%
Flour — 425%
Sugar — 520%
Corn starch — 1,010%

While there is no federal law protecting the public from the practice, price gouging is illegal in 35 states, with some states deeming that increasing prices by just 10 percent constitutes breaking the law. Thanks in no small part to increased profits from sales, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his wealth almost double during the pandemic, from $113 billion in March to $206 billion today, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, who calculated that America’s billionaire class of 467 plutocrats have seen their wealth spike by nearly a trillion dollars since lockdown began on March 18. Much of this has been down to an enormous tax break for the ultra-wealthy that the Trump administration snuck into its first coronavirus relief bill. Bezos, who retook the title of the world’s richest individual from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates late last year, has said that he is so rich that he can only imagine spending his wealth by plowing it into space travel.

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I don’t believe it for a second.

Time Is Ripe For China To Free Up Controls On Yuan’s Convertibility (SCMP)

For the last five years, China’s central bank has been fighting to defend two key numbers: seven and three. Seven refers to the exchange rate between yuan and the US dollar – if the yuan weakens too much beyond seven to the US dollar, it would be regarded as a dangerous sign. Three refers to the level of China’s stockpile of foreign exchange reserves – if reserves dip below US$3 trillion, it would be seen as a sign of weakness. The context for the unannounced campaign to defend the two key figures is a deep concern over the rapid capital exodus that occurred after the sudden change in perceptions about China’s financial health and economic robustness following a devastating stock market rout in the summer of 2015, and Beijing’s subsequent clumsy steps to devalue the yuan by nearly 2 per cent.

As a result, Beijing changed its approach to outbound capital flows overnight – from a stance of tolerance and encouragement, to a ruthless crackdown. The restrictions on the ability of ordinary Chinese people to access foreign exchanges increased significantly, even though, on the surface, China maintains a policy that every citizen is entitled to buy up to US$50,000 worth of foreign currencies every year. With a lopsided foreign exchange policy of encouraging inflows and discouraging outflows, China has achieved its goal of avoiding a large yuan depreciation or an exodus of funds. But after five years of this defensive posture, there are signs that the tide could turn again. The dangers of capital outflow have eased as the Chinese economy has recovered rapidly from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

As many parts of the world are still struggling to rebound, China has become a favoured destination for both portfolio and long-term investment despite tensions with the United States. With the US Federal Reserve’s aggressive monetary easing policy leading to a weaker US dollar, the yuan has become a safe bet for value. The time is ripe for Beijing to free up controls on the yuan’s convertibility with other currencies.The Chinese government can never realise its ambition of making the yuan a global currency, or even a potential rival to the US dollar, if it maintains rigid control on its use. With the US threatening China with financial sanctions, Beijing has recognised that it needs to reduce reliance on the US dollar, and the best way to do that is to free up the yuan.

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Don’t call for it, do it.

Merkel Calls For EU Support For Greece Over Moria (K.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday support for Greece on migration in light of the destruction of the country’s largest migrant camp should be pan-European. “Greece has shouldered a lot of responsibility,” she said on Monday, adding that Athens has earned support. “We will make a substantive contribution,” she added, noting more migrants will be transferred to Germany. Bild newspaper reported on Monday that Berlin is considering taking in thousands of refugees from Moria as a one-off gesture and hopes the camp can be rebuilt and run by the European Union.

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Good, now the rest. It does give one the idea that setting the place on fire paid off.

Germany Plans To Take In 1,500 Refugees From Greek Islands (R.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer are planning to take in around 1,500 refugees from the Greek islands, German news agency dpa reported on Tuesday. Dpa cited politicians focussed on domestic policy as saying that these would be families with children. More than 12,000 people, mostly refugees from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria, were left without shelter, proper sanitation or access to food and water after a fire tore through the overcrowded Moria migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesvos last Wednesday.

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“..the WikiLeaks publisher is largely being treated as a “non-person” by the Australian political and media establishment..”

Australia Politics, Media Silent On Sadistic British Assange Show-Trial (WSWS)

From the editorial pages of the official media and the statements of leading politicians, the uninformed observer would have no idea that a world-famous Australian journalist is enduring extradition hearings that have been condemned as a legal travesty by rights’ organisations and United Nations representatives, or that he faces 175-years imprisonment for publishing evidence of war crimes. Because it is Britain that is staging the current show-trial of Julian Assange, and the US government that is seeking his destruction, the WikiLeaks publisher is largely being treated as a “non-person” by the Australian political and media establishment. Moreover, they, no less than their counterparts internationally, are committed to an agenda of militarism and escalating attacks on democratic rights, of which the persecution of Assange is a central component.

A week since British hearings for Assange’s extradition to the US resumed, his name does not appear to have passed the lips of a minister in the federal Liberal-National government or a prominent representative of the Labor Party opposition, publicly, at least. And nor does it seem that they have been asked by any members of the “fourth estate” about their silence. Not a single editorial in the establishment media has called for Assange to be defended. This includes outlets such as the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, and the state-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which regularly proclaim their commitment to “press freedom.” The disinterest is not because the British proceedings have been uneventful, or the attacks on Assange’s legal and democratic rights carefully concealed.

Last week’s hearings began with Assange emerging for the first time in months from Belmarsh Prison, a maximum-security facility, where he has been detained for the past year-and-a-half, even though he has not been convicted of a crime. There he has been imperiled by the coronavirus pandemic, with the authorities failing to provide him with such basic protection as a mask, as dozens of inmates and staff have contracted the potentially deadly-virus. Before the trial, Assange was “rearrested,” despite the fact that there had been no change to his incarceration. The reason was that, weeks out from the trial, a new “superseding” indictment was filed by US prosecutors. This was plainly aimed at overwhelming Assange’s lawyers with thousands of legal documents, after they had already finalised their defence case.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected a defence request that the additional material in the superseding indictment be excised. But she also dismissed a defence motion for a delay, to allow Assange’s lawyers to respond to the new allegations. Meanwhile, the US prosecutors have stated that the new material in the indictment, despite the fact that it does not contain additional charges, could itself be the basis for extradition. The US government is seeking to ensnare Assange in a Kafkaesque nightmare, where, even if extradition is blocked on the basis of the Espionage Act charges against him, he can still be dispatched to his American persecutors, based on the additional material in the new indictment, largely furnished by FBI informants, including a con-man previously convicted of impersonating Assange and stealing money from WikiLeaks.

Read more …

 

 

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– Nassim Nicholas Taleb

 

 

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Dec 212019
 
 December 21, 2019  Posted by at 10:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Unknown Butler’s dredge-boat, sunk by Confederate shell, James River, VA 1864

 

Assange Testifies In Trial Of Company That Spied On Him Inside Embassy (RT)
Former Intelligence Chiefs Fit Perfectly Into Media Advocacy Culture (Hanson)
Reindeer Games (Jim Kunstler)
It’s Time for J.J. Abrams To Be Impeached From Star Wars (Reason)
Americans Are Not ‘Free To Choose’ Anymore (Mauldin)
China’s $13 Trillion Problem Is Becoming Everyone’s (Pesek)
How Murder, Kidnappings And Miscalculation Set Off Hong Kong’s Revolt (R.)
Ryanair Will Not Refund Passengers Who Refuse To Fly On Boeing 737 Max (Ind.)
Boeing 737 MAX Production Shutdown Impacts Suppliers, Workers, Customers (F.)
Colombia Orders Uber To Cease Ride-Hailing (R.)
Now Fake Facebook Accounts Are Using Fake Faces (CNN)
How Ancient Mexican Metropolis Dodged Inequality Trap (R.)

 

 

The only coverage of Julian’s court appearance yesterday that I could find is from RT. ¿Perqué?

Assange Testifies In Trial Of Company That Spied On Him Inside Embassy (RT)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange briefly stepped out of maximum security prison in the UK to testify via video-link in a Spanish case against a company that spied on him inside the Ecuadorian embassy, allegedly on the US’ behalf. Assange, who is being held at Belmarsh prison in southern London pending his hearing on extradition to the US, was driven over to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday, where a video-link was set up for him to speak with a judge in Madrid. The proceedings were closed to the press on the grounds of “national security.” The High Court in Madrid is hearing Assange’s case against Undercover Global Ltd, a Spanish security company that allegedly bugged him during his stay at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.


Undercover Global was contracted to provide embassy security between 2015 and 2018, and in that capacity secretly recorded Assange’s every move via hidden cameras, microphones and electronic surveillance, the lawsuit says. Assange told the court “he was absolutely unaware that the cameras recorded audio, that hidden microphones had been introduced” into the fire extinguisher mounts inside the embassy, his attorney Aitor Martinez told reporters in Madrid after the testimony. Assange was “an absolutely passive subject of an illegitimate interference that would have been eventually coordinated by the United States,” Martinez added. If the illegal surveillance targeted Assange’s legal team and violated his attorney-client privilege, that has ramifications on the proceedings against him in both the UK and the US, his lawyers have argued.

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Rand Paul: “In the advocacy culture of our new media, ex-government officials such as Brennan, Clapper and McCabe can be paid to appear on news programs to analyze (or vindicate) their own unethical behavior.”

Former Intelligence Chiefs Fit Perfectly Into Media Advocacy Culture (Hanson)

Former FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have lots of things in common. One, they ran the nation’s key intelligence and investigatory agencies under former President Barack Obama. They were deeply involved in the “Russian collusion” hoax. And they participated in the surveillance of the Trump campaign and transition. Comey and McCabe both signed applications for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrants requesting surveillance on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. A report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz criticized Comey and McCabe’s FBI for falsehoods and misrepresentations during its investigation of the Donald Trump campaign.

Clapper, Brennan and the FBI helped to disseminate the fallacious Steele dossier to the press and among government agencies. Two, Comey, McCabe, Brennan and Clapper have all lied either under oath or in the public sphere. Horowitz has said that he referred Comey for criminal prosecution for leaking classified memos he wrote about his confidential conversations with the president, but the Justice Department did not pursue charges. Comey signed FISA warrant applications that the inspector general has determined were misleading at best and at worst simply flat-out wrong. In testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, there were 245 occasions on which Comey claimed he couldn’t remember details or couldn’t answer questions. Comey did not tell the truth when he said the Steele dossier was not the prime evidence that he submitted to the FISA court.

He also lied about when he was briefed on the dossier. McCabe was given a criminal referral for lying to federal investigators. His story about conspiring to catch Trump on tape in an effort to remove him under the 25th Amendment cannot be reconciled with the version of the account told by his apparent partner in that gambit, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Brennan has on two occasions lied under oath to Congress, first about collateral deaths caused by drone strikes abroad, then about CIA spying on Senate staffers’ computers. Clapper got caught lying about the surveillance of U.S. citizens and claimed he gave the “least untruthful” answer. Both have given accounts of their knowledge of the Steele dossier that are contradicted by a number of sources. Clapper falsely claimed of the dossier that “more and more of it has been corroborated.”

Three, all four of these former intelligence chiefs detest the president of the United States. Comey has compared Trump to a Mafia don and stated that he is morally unfit to be president. McCabe, who was likewise fired from the FBI, has called Trump’s behavior “disgusting.” Clapper said that Trump may be working with Putin as a Russian “asset.” Brennan called Trump a “disgraced demagogue” as well as venal, corrupt and amoral.

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“..when does this faction finally lose its appetite for self-degradation and dishonor?”

Reindeer Games (Jim Kunstler)

Mr. Trump appears eager and avid to go to trial, where his side could call witnesses to his heart’s delight while denying the opposition any witnesses, just as the Dems did in the house. His managers could call in the Bidens, Joe and Hunter, to explain their 2014 adventures in Ukraine, and the impressive payments tendered to them — for what? The defense could compel the testimony of the rogue CIA agent, Eric Ciaramella, to explain his pretensions of whistleblowing, and also his enabler, Intel IG Michael Atkinson, who left a procedural slime-trail in his handling of the “whistleblower” ruse. They could call in the fact-witness to all that, Rep. Adam Schiff, who would excite the wonder and loathing of the nation in being forced to reveal his part in that charade and to recount the myriad falsehoods he has spawned in three years of RussiaGate chicanery — which, in a truly just world, would prompt his expulsion from the house.

They could haul in Messrs Obama, Brennan, Clapper, Comey, Mueller, Weissman, Rosenstein, McCabe, Ohr, Lynch, Strzok, Ms. Page, Ms. Yates, Mrs. Lynch, Mr. Halper — though I suspect that bunch would be better left to the ministrations of John Durham, just as the Democratic primaries roll out. A trial like that would be a rich spectacle for sure after subjecting the nation to three years of malicious, perfidious sedition. But other gusts of rumor intimate that senators on the Republican side would prefer to not open any cans of Ukrainian worms in a trial, since money laundered through the Ukrainian oligarch mills may have found its way into their pockets as well. Who knows…?

The simplest explanation for this hot mess is that Mrs. Pelosi’s team wanted desperately to just distract the country’s attention from the Horowitz report — which it pretty much failed to do — and now that she’s shot her wad with that gambit, she’s left holding a bag of meritless impeachment bullshit that will disappoint and embarrass the Resistance just as much as the Mueller investigation managed to do. Which leads to the question: when does this faction finally lose its appetite for self-degradation and dishonor?

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There you go. Put Schiff in charge.

It’s Time for J.J. Abrams To Be Impeached From Star Wars (Reason)

For the last four years, we have been living a collective nightmare. Our shared values have been undermined. Our cherished culture has come under attack. At its least harmful, this nightmare has taken the form of empty nostalgia, in which the leaders who have been entrusted with ushering us into the next era have instead looked into the past, distracting us with symbolic gestures that serve no purpose except to cover up a lack of vision. At its worst, a combination of incompetence, erraticness, and sometimes sheer malice has squandered decades of progress. The ensuing conversation has been fruitless and ugly, and the experience has left many of us polarized, angry, and exhausted.


This week, it finally started to look as if that nightmare might end—but only in the weakest and most slapdash manner. This resolution, which is not really a resolution, is not only a disaster: It’s a disappointment, a pointless, abysmal letdown that is virtually certain to fully satisfy almost no one. The result is a rushed and poorly executed product of bad management, empty thinking, and shallow wish-fulfillment that will only further the public’s loss of faith in the entire enterprise. I speak, of course, of the Star Wars franchise, which in late 2015 returned to movie theaters under the managerial oversight of Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, with a strong creative influence from Hollywood’s reigning prince of blockbuster mediocrity, J.J. Abrams.

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Close to what I recently wrote on capitalism and free markets, but from a professional investor point of view. Problem is, what does John Mauldin mean when he says “socialism”? Everyone means something different. That also makes polls on socialism suspect.

Americans Are Not ‘Free To Choose’ Anymore (Mauldin)

When you write for a wide audience, no matter what you say, or how carefully you say it, some people will misunderstand. Sometimes it’s amusing. Reading through my feedback (and I do read all of it), I get called both heartless capitalist and bleeding-heart socialist in reaction to the same article. In fact, I’m neither. I am a capitalist, and proudly so. I believe free markets are the best way to bring maximum prosperity and peace for everyone. But I’m not heartless, nor do I think markets are perfect. Even the best medicines can have serious side effects. That is doubly so when you aren’t taking the medicine correctly. I also don’t think the word capitalism means what we think it means, at least those of us of a certain age.

Take a look at the data from an interview Charles Payne did with David Bahnsen on Fox Business a few weeks ago. Asked if they favor capitalism or socialism, 49% of Millennials favored socialism. But if you ask if they favor big business or “free enterprise,” the numbers change significantly. In the future, I intend to substitute “free market” for capitalism where possible. Capitalism, at least the free market version, can’t work without competition. It motivates producers to offer the best products at the lowest prices, and lets consumers choose whatever best fits their needs. Yet instead of encouraging and protecting competition, the US government increasingly suppresses it. Last February I wrote about a then-new book, The Myth of Capitalism, by old friend Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearn. They aren’t leftists at all. They respect classical capitalism and want it to work better than it is.

Here’s a quick snippet from the book. “Free to Choose” sounds great. Yet Americans are not free to choose. In industry after industry, they can only purchase from local monopolies or oligopolies that can tacitly collude. The US now has many industries with only three or four competitors controlling entire markets. Since the early 1980s, market concentration has increased severely. We’ve already described the airline industry. Here are other examples: • Two corporations control 90 percent of the beer Americans drink. • Five banks control about half of the nation’s banking assets. ª Many states have health insurance markets where the top two insurers have an 80 percent to 90 percent market share. For example, in Alabama one company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, has an 84% market share and in Hawaii it has 65% market share.


Getty

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Just like America’s.

China’s $13 Trillion Problem Is Becoming Everyone’s (Pesek)

China’s Xi Jinping probably tops any list of people who can’t wait to see the back of 2019. These last 12 months produced the slowest mainland growth since the early 1990s, the biggest pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong’s history and mounting criticism of Beijing’s human rights record. By taking such an authoritarian stance, Taiwan has slipped further away from Beijing’s grip, while some political wags questioned whether Communist Party members were losing faith in President Xi’s governing style. But Xi has an even bigger challenge on his hands, and not just Donald Trump’s trade war antics. Make that 13 trillion challenges.

This figure refers to the size, in U.S. dollar terms, of China’s onshore bond market. And generally, its growth and development have long been touted as a vital rite of passage for the second-biggest economic power. The trouble with debt markets, though, is they tend to expose cracks in financial systems. Herein lies Xi’s biggest problem. Keeping growth north of 6% is reasonably easy for a command economy. Even amid the trade war, Xi’s party can order up giant infrastructure projects, slash taxes and cajole local governments to ramp up fiscal stimulus. It has its own ATM—the People’s Bank of China.

Trouble is, the more you borrow, the more investors can push back and the more even the most authoritarian of governments can lose control as punters vote with their feet. That risk is increasing along with a recent jump in private-sector debt defaults to a record high. According to Fitch, 4.9% of private companies missed bond payments from January to November, up from 4.2% for all of 2018. When you combine state and private companies, China Inc.’s onshore defaults risks are growing apace—from none a few years back to at least $18 billion so far this year. There’s an obvious caveat here. We can only discuss the default risks we know about—the ones regulators in Beijing cop to, not those that are being papered over with public assistance.

Signs of stress are also emerging in the offshore debt market. So are this year, there have been at least $75 billion defaults. With well over $200 billion of debt maturing over the next 24 months, Standard and Poor’s warns of increasing missed payments episodes. This trajectory collides with U.S. President Trump’s trade war. Ignore all that excitement over Trump’s “phase one” deal with Xi. It’s a polite ceasefire than won’t hold. With Trump getting zero from Xi in terms of re-ordering U.S.-China trade dynamics and facing the risk of removal from office, the odds of him lashing out anew at Asia are growing, not waning. It means that Xi’s annus horribilis won’t end even as calendars switch to 2020. The year ahead may very well be the one in which China’s debt troubles supersede all else.

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Very long, certainly for Reuters. But useful background.

How Murder, Kidnappings And Miscalculation Set Off Hong Kong’s Revolt (R.)

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the plan that ignited the revolt in her city was born of a straightforward quest for justice. While on a trip to Taiwan, a Hong Kong man strangled his Hong Kong girlfriend, then returned home and confessed. The city lacked an extradition pact with Taiwan, and Lam argued the only way to send him back for trial was new laws that also would enable sending criminal suspects to mainland China. She dismissed fears about the proposal – which would mean Hong Kong residents could face trial in China’s Communist Party-controlled courts – and pushed ahead. As protests raged this summer, even in private Lam kept to her story that she, not Beijing, was the prime mover, driven by “compassion” for the young victim’s devastated parents.

“This is not something instructed, coerced by the central government,” she told a room of Hong Kong businesspeople at a talk in August. A Reuters examination has found a far more complicated story. Officials in Beijing first began pushing for an extradition law two decades ago. This pressure to extend the arm of Chinese law into Hong Kong’s independent British-style legal system intensified in 2017, a year before the slaying and two years before Lam’s administration announced its extradition bill. The impetus came from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the Communist Party’s powerful internal anti-corruption body, which has been spearheading Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mass anti-graft campaign.

Xi’s crackdown spilled over dramatically into the streets of Hong Kong in the early hours of January 27, 2017. Among the targets of CCDI investigators at the time, two mainland Chinese officials with knowledge of the probe told Reuters, was a Chinese billionaire living in the city named Xiao Jianhua. A businessman with close ties to China’s political elite, Xiao was abducted that morning from his serviced apartment at the luxury Four Seasons Hotel. Unidentified captors whisked him out the entrance in a wheelchair with his head covered, a witness told Reuters.

The sensational kidnapping, widely reported at the time, was assumed by most people in this city of 7.5 million to have been the work of Chinese agents; Beijing has never commented publicly on the matter. Frustrated at the lack of legal means to get their hands on Xiao, the two Chinese officials told Reuters, the CCDI that same year began pressing mainland officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs about the urgent need for an extradition arrangement. The CCDI wanted a less politically damaging method than kidnapping for snaring fugitive mainlanders in Hong Kong, the officials said. The two sides failed to strike a deal, but the killing in Taiwan would provide a new opening.

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People book Ryanair 6-8 weeks before the flight, but planes are assigned less than 24 hours before.

Ryanair Will Not Refund Passengers Who Refuse To Fly On Boeing 737 Max (Ind.)

As Boeing winds down production of the 737 Max aircraft, the Ryanair boss has said passengers will “love them” when the planes are finally flying again. Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Europe’s biggest budget airline, has ordered 210 of a special version of the Max, seating eight extra passengers. None has so far been delivered, as the Boeing jet is grounded worldwide. The no-fly stipulation was declared worldwide after a second crash involving the Boeing 737 Max. [..] Boeing had initially predicted that software fixes would enable the 737 Max to be flying by the end of 2019. But as that hope faded, airlines have gradually removed it from the schedules in early 2020.


Michael O’Leary told The Independent: “As every day passes, it keeps moving backwards. “We originally hoped we’d get 30 aircraft for the summer, then it was 20, now it’s only 10. “If there really is more, another one month’s delay, it looks much more likely we will get zero aircraft in advance of the June-July-August summer peak.” But when the Boeing 737 Max is flying for Ryanair, anxious passengers who do not wish to travel on it will have no advance warning. “You won’t know, because on average you book seats on Ryanair six to eight weeks in advance of travel,” said Mr O’Leary. “We only do the aircraft allocations the night before, because we don’t know which aircraft is where. “During the first year, you’ll have a 10 per cent chance you’ll be on a Max aircraft. “Will anyone know or care? Frankly, I don’t think they will.”

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The airlines will demand compensation. But what about the crews, who work far fewer hours and lose wages?

Boeing 737 MAX Production Shutdown Impacts Suppliers, Workers, Customers (F.)

The effluence of Boeing’s long-avoided decision, announced Monday, to halt production of 737 MAX aircraft until the plane is recertified for service has begun rolling downhill, causing the biggest third-party supplier to the program to suspend production of MAX fuselages. Spirit AeroSystems, a former division of Boeing based in Wichita, Kansas, said today it will stop making MAX fuselages – effectively the body of the plane, excluding its small nose cone and large tail section – effective Jan. 1. That’s the same day Boeing will stop building MAX planes, about 400 of which currently are finished but undeliverable and parked on ramps, unused taxiways and even employees’ parking lots at Boeing facilities.

Meanwhile, United Airlines, which had to park 14 MAX planes and stop taking delivery of others nine months ago when the Federal Aviation Administration took away the MAX’s certification, said today that it has pushed back plans to bring the MAX back into its schedule all the way to June 4. Most recently it had been targeting an April restart of MAX flying. But continued delays in getting the plane recertified by the FAA (and ultimately by the aviation safety regulators of other nations) has made it very difficult for airlines to predict when they’ll be able to fly MAX planes once again. United has the smallest batch of MAX planes in its fleet of the three U.S. carriers that have bought the newest, and significantly re-designed version of the venerable 50-year-old 737 line.

Southwest had 34 copies of the MAX when the grounding took place, while American had 24. All three carriers also have large orders for more MAX planes and have been unable to add them to their fleets since March, reducing their ability to retire older planes or to grow their fleet size. That reduced growth opportunity has affected the airlines’ abilities to grow their revenue and profits as planned, and has increased their costs somewhat by forcing them to underuse the pilots, flight attendants and other employees who were expected to staff the now-grounded MAX planes.

[..] leaders of the Transport Worker Union unit that represents Southwest’s 17,00 flight attendants today released a letter they sent this week to Southwest president Gary Kelly and vice president of inflight operations Sonya Lacore. The union leaders asked for additional help in addressing the “financial toal” on flight attendants whose pay has been reduced significantly while the MAX planes have been idled. The MAX groundings have left Southwest with more flight attendants on the payroll that it need. But rather than lay off hundreds of them and incur huge costs for retraining and re-scheduling attendants who’d be displaced by the resulting wave of seniority displacements, Southwest has retained all those extra attendants. But that means many attendants now are being assigned fewer flight hours, which diminishes their earnings.

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Are Colombia’s laws that much different from other countries?

Colombia Orders Uber To Cease Ride-Hailing (R.)

Colombia on Friday ordered Uber to cease its ride-hailing operations in the Andean country, effective immediately, after a judge ruled the company violated competition rules. Following a lawsuit filed against Uber by COTECH SA, the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (SIC) said the U.S. company had breached market rules. Uber has more than 2.3 million active users in Colombia and around 88,000 driver partners. The app, however, has existed in a regulatory no-man’s land in Colombia. The Technology Ministry deems ride-hailing apps legal while transport authorities say they are against the law.


In a statement the SIC said Uber generated “a significant advantage in the market” by rendering transport services for individuals via its application. The SIC said that following analysis, it ordered Uber’s ride-hailing services “through the use of the Uber application to cease immediately.” The order applies to Uber, Uber X and Uber VAN. Uber said in a statement that it rejects the ruling and immediately appealed it. “This decision reflects an act of censorship and infringes on the Inter American Convention on Human Rights, which has already condemned attempts to block Uber for violating the neutrality of the web, liberty of expression and freedom of internet,” Uber said in a statement.

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Interesting, but since this is CNN, they blame Russia China, not America. A deepfake group that spends $10 million on Facebook ads sounds like a professional campaign.

Now Fake Facebook Accounts Are Using Fake Faces (CNN)

Artificially-generated faces of people who don’t exist are being used to front fake Facebook (FB) accounts in an attempt to trick users and game the company’s systems, the social media network said Friday. Experts who reviewed the accounts say it is the first time they have seen fake images like this being used at scale as part of a single social media campaign. The accounts, which were removed by Facebook on Friday, were part of a network that generally posted in support of President Trump and against the Chinese government, experts who reviewed the accounts said. Many of the accounts promoted links to a Facebook page and website called “The BL.” Facebook said the accounts were tied to the US-based Epoch Media Group, which owns The Epoch Times newspaper, a paper tied to the Falun Gong movement that is similarly pro-Trump.

The publisher of the Epoch Times denied that Epoch and The BL were linked in emails to the fact-checking organization Snopes earlier this year. The dystopian revelation of the use of artificially-generated images in this way points to an increasingly complicated online information landscape as America enters a presidential election year. Silicon Valley and the US intelligence community are still struggling with the fallout from widespread online interference in the 2016 presidential election. The Facebook accounts used profile pictures that appeared to show real people smiling and looking directly into a camera. But the people do not and have never existed, according to Facebook and other researchers. The images were created using artificial intelligence technology.

The same basic methods are used to produce deepfake videos — fake videos that the US intelligence community has warned could be used as part of a foreign disinformation campaign targeting Americans. [..] In all, Facebook said Friday, it had removed a network of 610 Facebook accounts, 89 pages, 90 groups, and 72 Instagram accounts. About 55 million accounts followed one or more of the pages, and the vast majority of followers were outside the United States, Facebook said. Facebook did not say if all of all these followers were real — some of them may themselves have been fake accounts. The network of pages removed on Friday had spent almost $10 million on Facebook ads, according to Facebook.

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It’s a question of organization.

How Ancient Mexican Metropolis Dodged Inequality Trap (R.)

Fragments of pre-Aztec murals recently unearthed on the outskirts of what was once the largest city of the Americas are adding to mounting evidence that even commoners there enjoyed the finer things in life. Each year, millions of tourists visit the towering pyramids and temples of the sprawling metropolis of Teotihuacan, far from the latest discoveries on the city’s southern edge. “We’re now finding that life on the periphery was pretty good,” said Boston University archeologist David Carballo, who discovered brightly-colored paintings over fine stucco on three buildings he began excavating there in July.

Decorated with flowers and birds that appear to be singing, the murals evoking a paradise found nearly three kilometers (2 miles) from Teotihuacan’s core came as a complete surprise, he said. Carballo and his team have also found other signs of wealth nearby, including jade, a finely carved stone mask, and shells from Mexico’s Pacific and Gulf coasts. The unpublished mural discoveries point to the radically different path charted by Teotihuacan, which thrived from about 100 B.C. to 550 A.D., compared to other ancient civilizations. At a time when daily life in the biggest contemporary Mayan cities, or ancient Rome and Egypt, was marked by a tiny elite lording over impoverished or enslaved masses, most of Teotihuacan’s estimated 100,000 inhabitants fared far better.

[..] In the city’s La Ventilla district, another aspect of Teotihuacan’s egalitarian character comes into view: stone, multi-family apartment compounds where over 90% of Teotihuacanos lived. Off limits to tourists despite extremely rare glyphs painted on a plaza, the narrow streets of La Ventilla’s residential compounds suggest a densely-packed urban existence. The compounds boast white lime-plaster floors, built-in drainage systems, open-air courtyards and murals. Lying 48 km northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacan has more than 2,000 such compounds, thanks to a century-long building boom that ended around 350 A.D.

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Sep 292019
 
 September 29, 2019  Posted by at 9:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  23 Responses »


Paul Gauguin Portrait of Ingeborg Thaulow 1877

 

Pelosi Says Public Opinion Shifting In Support Of Impeachment Inquiry (R.)
Pelosi’s House Rule Changes are Key Part of “Articles of Impeachment” (CTH)
Scott Adams Makes the Case for ‘President for Life’ Trump (Ricochet)
The Problem With Impeachment (Chris Hedges)
On The Motives Behind Whistleblower-gate (MoA)
The Latest Plot To Topple Trump: Politics According To -Groucho- Marx (SCF)
State Dept. Ramps Up Probe Into Clinton Email Server (Hill)
Has Australia Really Had a 28-Year Expansion? (St.Louis Fed)
U.S. Income Inequality Worsens, Widening To A New Gap (NPR)
Edward Snowden’s Julian Assange is an Unfamiliar Julian Assange (MPN)

 

 

She made that up.

Pelosi Says Public Opinion Shifting In Support Of Impeachment Inquiry (R.)

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday that public opinion is now on the side of an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump following the release of new information about his conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Pelosi this week announced her support for an investigation after the surfacing of a whistleblower complaint that said Trump appeared to solicit a political favor from Ukraine’s president aimed at helping him be re-elected next year. Pelosi for months took a cautious approach in weighing the calls of other Democratic House members to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump, which grew louder after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified on July 24 about his probe of Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“In the public, the tide has completely changed; it could change now – who knows – but right now after seeing the complaint and the IG (Inspector General) report and the cavalier attitude the administration had towards it, the American people are coming to a different decision,” Pelosi said at a journalism event hosted by the Texas Tribune news website. She added that her resistance to holding an impeachment inquiry quickly evolved from urging that fellow Democrats remain cautious of the political fallout ahead of next year’s elections to full steam ahead as details emerged of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine’s leader. “A president of the United States would withhold military assistance paid for by taxpayers to shake down the leader of another country unless he did him a political favor – that is so, so clear,” Pelosi said.

[..] Several Democratic presidential candidates attended the three-day event in Austin, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Representative Beto O’Rourke, Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, all of whom agreed with Pelosi that the campaign to push Trump from office must focus on policies and not impeachment. While some polls have shown Americans are split on supporting impeachment, Castro, who served under former President Barack Obama, said he thinks the public will increasingly back the inquiry. “Like in Watergate, after more evidence gets out there … you’ll see more people of different political stripes start to support it,” Castro said at the event, referring to moves in 1974 to impeach former President Richard Nixon.

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Pelosi called for impeachment without having seen the transcript or the complaint. That will forever be weird.

Pelosi’s House Rule Changes are Key Part of “Articles of Impeachment” (CTH)

Back in December 2018 CTH noted the significant House rule changes constructed by Nancy Pelosi for the 116th congress seemed specifically geared toward impeachment. {Go Deep} With the House going into a scheduled calendar recess, those rules are now being used to subvert historic processes and construct the articles of impeachment. A formal vote to initiate an “impeachment inquiry” is not technically required; however, there has always been a full house vote until now. The reason not to have a House vote is simple: if the formal process was followed the minority (republicans) would have enforceable rights within it. Without a vote to initiate, the articles of impeachment can be drawn up without any participation by the minority; and without any input from the executive. This was always the plan that was visible in Pelosi’s changed House rules.

Keep in mind Speaker Pelosi selected former insider DOJ official Douglas Letter to be the Chief Legal Counsel for the House. That becomes important when we get to the part about the official full house impeachment vote. The Lawfare group and DNC far-left activists were ecstatic at the selection. Doug Letter was a deep political operative within the institution of the DOJ who worked diligently to promote the weaponized political values of former democrat administrations. Speaker Pelosi has authorized the House committees to work together under the umbrella of an “official impeachment inquiry.” The House Intelligence (Schiff) and Judiciary Committees (Nadler) are currently working together leading this process.

From recent events we can see the framework of Schiff compiling Trump-Ukraine articles and Nadler compiling Trump-Russia articles. Trump-Ukraine via Schiff will likely focus on a corruption angle; Trump-Russia via Nadler will likely focus on an obstruction angle. How many articles of impeachment are finally assembled is unknown, but it is possible to see the background construct as described above. Unlike historic examples of committee impeachment assembly, and in combination with the lack of an initiation vote, Pelosi’s earlier House Rule changes now appear intentionally designed to block republicans during the article assembly process. The minority will have no voice. This is quite a design.

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Not really, but his arguments are interesting, and shared by many: how to put the CIA offside.

Scott Adams Makes the Case for ‘President for Life’ Trump (Ricochet)

No, Scott Adams is not suggesting that Trump be president for life. But Scott is making the case for Trump being the last legitimate president. Hence (my conclusion), if we want our president to be legitimate then we should want Trump to be president for life. And given his age that would not be an oppressively long time. So what is Scott talking about?! He referenced the other day a tweet from the person Scott thinks is the “smartest man he has ever met” — Naval Ravikant: Does it bother anyone else that our elected officials live in a panopticon run by our intelligence agencies? A panopticon is like a one-way mirror where a person can see everything without being seen.

In other words, if you assume that our intelligence service has technological access to conversations, emails, texts by accessing both public networks and “things” owned by elected officials that are connected to the internet, then our intelligence apparatus is in an enormously powerful position vis a vis elected officials. That is, bureaucrats have something on officials that can be used as leverage to override the desires and preferences of constituencies. This delegitimizes the elected politician as acting in the constituents’ interest rather than that of the intelligence community. Earlier Senator Schumer said much the same thing: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

Now, according to Scott, Trump is the only elected politician who can resist the threats of the intelligence agencies because his flaws are well-known and flagrant, thus he has the least risk of losing political power from anything the intelligence officials could leak and would be believed. (At this point most voters don’t think or will ever be made to think that Trump is a traitor, intentionally working against the interests of the United States. Nor do they think that he is engaged in any “abuse of power” that is over the line for a president.) This makes him more legitimate as a political leader — from a constituency standpoint — than anyone who could be elected. So why wouldn’t you want Trump to be president for life?

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Chris Hedges has the same reasoning as Scott Adams.

The Problem With Impeachment (Chris Hedges)

Impeaching Donald Trump would do nothing to halt the deep decay that has beset the American republic. It would not magically restore democratic institutions. It would not return us to the rule of law. It would not curb the predatory appetites of the big banks, the war industry and corporations. It would not get corporate money out of politics or end our system of legalized bribery. It would not halt the wholesale surveillance and monitoring of the public by the security services. It would not end the reigns of terror practiced by paramilitary police in impoverished neighborhoods or the mass incarceration of 2.3 million citizens. It would not impede ICE from hunting down the undocumented and ripping children from their arms to pen them in cages. It would not halt the extraction of fossil fuels and the looming ecocide. It would not give us a press freed from the corporate mandate to turn news into burlesque for profit. It would not end our endless and futile wars. It would not ameliorate the hatred between the nation’s warring tribes—indeed would only exacerbate these hatreds.


Impeachment is about cosmetics. It is about replacing the public face of empire with a political mandarin such as Joe Biden, himself steeped in corruption and obsequious service to the rich and corporate power, who will carry out the same suicidal policies with appropriate regal decorum. The ruling elites have had enough of Trump’s vulgarity, stupidity and staggering ineptitude. They turned on him not over an egregious impeachable offense—there have been numerous impeachable offenses including the use of the presidency for personal enrichment, inciting violence and racism, passing on classified intelligence to foreign officials, obstruction of justice and a pathological inability to tell the truth—but because he made the fatal mistake of trying to take down a fellow member of the ruling elite.

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Decent overview of what’s going on.

On The Motives Behind Whistleblower-gate (MoA)

The whistleblower statute says that the matter in question must be an “urgent concern” that is defined as: “… a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or Executive order, or deficiency relating to the funding, administration, or operations of an intelligence activity involving classified information, but does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters”. At the core of the complaint in question is a claim that Trump used a phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of the Ukraine to press Zelensky to investigate two issues. The call memorandum was declassified and published. During the phone call Zelensky had two requests. He wanted U.S. anti-tank weapons and he wanted an invitation to the White House. (He got both.)

Trump also had a request. He asked that Ukrainian authorities investigate two issues of U.S. public interest. The first is the reported interferences by Ukrainian government officials in favor of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign. This also involved the notorious security company CrowdStrike which made some false claims about Russian hacking in the Ukraine. The second one is the also well-know intervention by then Vice-President Joe Biden against a Ukrainian Attorney General who had an open investigation against a company that was sponsoring his son Hunter Biden. The U.S. and the Ukraine have a treaty that requires them to cooperate on law enforcement matters. That Trump wanted the Ukrainian authorities to investigated these issues was well known.

His personal lawyer Rudi Giuliani had said for several months that he was looking into these questions. The issues pointed out in the complaint are clearly beyond the scope of the whistleblower statute. Trump’s actions with regard to the Ukraine, especially the phone call, were neither outside of any law nor do they involve any intelligence activity. What Trump did during the call was not nefarious. The issue is clearly a question of “differences in opinion concerning public policy matters”. A whistleblower complaint must be send to the relevant agency’s inspector general. If he finds it credible it goes to the head of the agency who decides if it is within the statute and, if it is, sends the complaint to Congress.

The agency’s inspector general Michael Atkinson found the complaint ‘credible’ but, after seeking legal advice, the acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire did not forward it to Congress. It was the right thing to do as the content of the complaint is neither ‘whistleblowing’ nor within the relevant statute. What happened next is curious: “The agency’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, notified Congress that the complaint existed but says he and Maguire have reached an “impasse” over whether to turn it over.” I have found no legal analysis if this was a required move or outside of the usual process. After that step was taken details of the complaint leaked to the press as they were supposed to do.

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I increasingly suspect Hillary will emerge.

The Latest Plot To Topple Trump: Politics According To -Groucho- Marx (SCF)

Right after being falsely accused of conspiring with Russia for the past two and a half years, Trump is suddenly accused of the opposite – of conspiring with Ukraine instead! This Reversal of Fortune – and of accusations – demands that the American public be as stupid and brainwashed as the oppressed population of Oceania in George Orwell’s dark and prophetic classic dystopia “1984.” “We are at War with Eurasia! We have always been at War with Eurasia!” “No! We LOVE Eurasia! We are at War with EASTAsia! We have always been at war with Eastasia!” Clearly, the readers and viewers of the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN and all the rest of America’s media “Powers That Be” have already been well trained in Orwellian Doublethink and witless stupidity.

Suddenly, President Vladimir Putin of Russia is no longer the Evil Bad Guy plotting with Trump. Now it is new President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, himself a former professional comic actor on television. The Marx Brothers would have loved to co-star with him. Perhaps after being forced out of the presidency Trump, himself a former hit TV star across America, could hire Zelenskyy as his sidekick in a revival of his famous reality television show “The Apprentice.” As the late great British satirist Michael Wharton, who wrote under the nom de plume Peter Simple liked to say – the wilder the fantasy, the more rapidly it was bound to ‘collapse” into the realm which we naively and inaccurately describe as “reality.”

And what is the latest terrible crime that the President of the United States is now –suddenly and without warning – accused of? He dared to investigate whether Hunter Biden, the son of another eminent politician, former vice president Joe Biden was guilty of corruption. Just think of the consequences if Trump and his officials were allowed to continue their investigation unhindered: They might – shockingly! – put some other corrupt former US politicians out of business. Obviously, that would be the most terrible threat imaginable to the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free.

No wonder the US Deep State hates Donald Trump! But there is another goal for this concocted scandal. It’s a twofer – a two for one scandal – intended to topple Trump and remove Biden from serious consideration at the same time, clearing the way for the Deep State’s True Candidate – Senator Elizabeth Warren. The shamelessness of this latest concocted scandal would leave Josef Goebbels green with envy and laughing uncontrollably. Unfortunately, it isn’t a joke.

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Hilarious: “It is such an obscene abuse of power and time involving so many people for so many years,” they said. “This has just sucked up people’s lives for years and years.”

I could have sworn they were talking about the Mueller investigation.

State Dept. Ramps Up Probe Into Clinton Email Server (Hill)

The State Department reportedly intensified a probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, contacting dozens of former aides involved in email exchanges that passed through Clinton’s server. The Washington Post reported Saturday that as many as 130 former Clinton aides have been contacted by State Department investigators in recent weeks, with many being informed that they have been found “culpable” for transmitting information that should have been classified at a higher level than it was originally sent. Former Obama administration officials describe the probe to the Post as an extraordinary investigation fueled by political animosity.

But current officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told the newspaper that the probe was structured to avoid the appearance of political bias. The probe, which reportedly reached the stage where former officials began being contacted shortly after Trump’s inauguration, was described by one senior agency official to the Post as having nothing to do with President Trump’s vows to investigate Clinton if elected during the 2016 election. “This has nothing to do with who is in the White House,” the official said. “This is about the time it took to go through millions of emails, which is about three and a half years.” “The process is set up in a manner to completely avoid any appearance of political bias,” another official told the Post.

Former officials involved in the probe described it as a political vendetta, with one telling the Post it was an “abuse of power” by the Trump administration. “It is such an obscene abuse of power and time involving so many people for so many years,” they said. “This has just sucked up people’s lives for years and years.”

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No.

Has Australia Really Had a 28-Year Expansion? (St.Louis Fed)

In July, the U.S. officially entered its longest expansion on record. Naturally, many are wondering if the expansion is sustainable. When asking this question, many turn to the Australian case, as it has been argued that Australia hasn’t had a recession in 28 years. But is this really the case? The figure below shows the growth rate of Australia’s GDP, with recessions shaded gray. (Recessions are defined here as two or more consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.)

According to this, Australia has not had a recession since 1991 and has been growing since. However, when we look at real per capita GDP growth, the story changes. The figure below shows Australia’s per capita GDP growth rate. Again, recessions are shaded gray and defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth.

As shown in the figure, Australia has had three recessions since 1991 when looking at GDP per capita, the most recent one being from the second quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019. This discrepancy between the growth rate of per capita GDP and the growth rate of GDP implies that population growth has been a key factor for Australia’s economic expansion. A rising population increases the size of the economy, and therefore total output increases, which is reflected in the level of GDP. However, the fact that we do see economic downturns in per capita terms means that population is growing faster than GDP. For nearly 40 years, Australia has had a higher population growth rate than other industrialized economies, as seen in the figure below.

In particular, it had a surge in population around 2008—during the height of the global financial crisis—due to migration. This population growth translated to overall positive GDP growth, but its effect on GDP growth hasn’t been enough to prevent recessions in per capita terms. Per capita recessions are not unique to Australia. In the table below, we compare the number of observed recessions when using GDP growth versus per capita GDP growth for several OECD countries. Again, a recession is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth.

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On a societal level (in)equality is strongly linked to prosperity.

U.S. Income Inequality Worsens, Widening To A New Gap (NPR)

The gap between the richest and the poorest U.S. households is now the largest it’s been in the past 50 years — despite the median U.S. income hitting a new record in 2018, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. U.S. income inequality was “significantly higher” in 2018 than in 2017, the federal agency says in its latest American Community Survey report. The last time a change in the metric was deemed statistically significant was when it grew from 2012-2013. While many states didn’t see a change in income inequality last year, the income gap grew wider in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia.

The disparity grew despite a surging national economy that has seen low unemployment and more than 10 years of consecutive GDP growth. The most troubling thing about the new report, says William M. Rodgers III, a professor of public policy and chief economist at the Heldrich Center at Rutgers University, is that it “clearly illustrates the inability of the current economic expansion, the longest on record, to lessen inequality.” When asked why the rising economic tide has raised some boats more than others, Rodgers lists several factors, including the decline of organized labor and competition for jobs from abroad. He also cites tax policies that favor businesses and higher-income families.

Income inequality is measured through the Gini index, which measures how far apart incomes are from each other. To do that, the index assigns a hypothetical score of 0.0 to a population in which incomes are distributed perfectly evenly and a score of 1.0 to a population where only one household gets all of the income. In the U.S., the Gini index figure had been holding steady for the past several years. But it moved from 0.482 in 2017 to 0.485 in 2018. While that change may seem small, it’s statistically significant, the Census Bureau says. The agency notes that back in 2006, the figure stood at 0.464.

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I haven’t read the book, but this is a little alarming.

Edward Snowden’s Julian Assange is an Unfamiliar Julian Assange (MPN)

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks’ former editor Julian Assange have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, they share important similarities: both are perceived as dangerous enemies by the United States government, and both have been documentary subjects of filmmaker Laura Poitras. On the other hand, they clearly disagree when it comes to the means of achieving government transparency and accountability. After all, if Snowden had agreed with Assange about publishing practices, it is likely that he would have followed Chelsea Manning’s example and sent the NSA documents he collected and disclosed in 2013 to WikiLeaks.

The recent publication of Permanent Record, Snowden’s 336-page memoir, takes the Snowden-Assange dynamic to new—and problematic—heights. When Assange was forcibly dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in early 2019, Snowden was among the leading voices condemning the arrest of the WikiLeaks founder, calling it a dangerous assault on journalism. But in his memoir, Snowden uses rhetorical tricks to present Assange and WikiLeaks as his deceitful and irresponsible foils in a blatant and seemingly self-serving effort to highlight his own trustworthiness and accountability. Indeed, reviewers at the Washington Post and New Yorker have already seized upon Snowden’s anti-Assange rhetoric to serve their own anti-Assange agendas.

Proponents of press freedom have become accustomed to Pentagon and national security state attacks on Assange, but Snowden’s puzzling claims about the white-haired Australian and his transparency organization are exceptionally dangerous because they come from an otherwise highly respectable and trustworthy source, and at a time when there is otherwise a virtual media blackout on WikiLeaks. To be sure, Snowden deserves recognition as a courageous whistleblower and as a global champion of privacy rights, but in Permanent Record, Snowden appears willing to use a political prisoner for personal gain, deliberately distorting the truth and perpetuating the imperialistic propaganda that threatens not only Assange’s health but also his very life—just like the corporate media and national security state he exposed in 2013.

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Trans I Re by Fredrik Raddum

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 022019
 


Strongest storm ever to threaten Florida east coast

 

 

‘Get Ready for Brexit’: Government Launches Information Blitz (G.)
Johnson’s Brexit Gambit Puts Queen in a Tight Spot (Spiegel)
Leaked No-Deal Report Says Lorries Could Face 48-Hour Delays At Dover (PA)
Irish Border After Brexit – All Ideas Beset By Issues Says Secret Paper (G.)
Many US Firms Already Have Ditched China, More On The Way (CNBC)
Hong Kong Students Boycott Classes As Chinese Media Warns ‘End Is Coming’ (G.)
Why Has The U.S. CEO-To-Worker Pay Ratio Increased So Much? (Colombo)
In The Era Of Neurocapitalism, Your Brain Needs New Rights (Vox)
Hollywood Reboots Russophobia For The New Cold War (Parry)
A Black Hole So Big It Shouldn’t Even Exist Is Baffling Scientists (RT)

 

 

After carefully making sure there were no needy people left in the country, and no children were going hungry, the new UK gov decided to spend £100+ million on an advertising campaign. They’re going to absolutely bombard, if not strangle, you with this stuff. You won’t be able to escape it.

‘Get Ready for Brexit’: Government Launches Information Blitz (G.)

The billboards have been unveiled, the branded mugs have been ordered and the adverts will soon start following you around the internet after the government launched what it claimed to be the largest ever public information campaign in an effort to prepare the British public for leaving the EU. The Get Ready for Brexit campaign went live on Sunday, stating that the UK would be leaving the EU on 31 October and urging the public to visit a new website to check what they needed to do to prepare for a no-deal exit. The slogan appeared for the first time on a giant advertising screen next to a John Lewis store at the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London, looming over visitors.

Downing Street has previously briefed that the taxpayer-funded advertising campaign will cost up to £100m, although doubts have been raised over whether the government will realistically be able to spend that much on a campaign lasting just two months. One leading advertising industry source pointed out that this figure was substantially higher than the amount spent on traditional advertising in the UK by major consumer brands such as Amazon, Tesco and Asda in the whole of 2018. This suggests that either the government is overstating the amount it intends to spend in an attempt to draw extra attention or that Downing Street really is launching an advertising campaign that will be unequalled in its ubiquity.


Michael Gove, the cabinet minister in charge of no-deal planning, said: “Ensuring an orderly Brexit is not only a matter of national importance, but a shared responsibility” as he launched the adverts by referring to government polling that showed only 50% of the population thought it was likely the UK would leave the EU on 31 October. The same research found that 42% of small- to medium-sized businesses were still unsure of how they could prepare for Brexit and just a third of the British public have looked for information on what they will need to do, suggesting large-scale ignorance of what Brexit will involve with less than two months to go until the expected departure date.=

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View from Germany: “..the last intact pillar of the United Kingdom: its queen…”

Johnson’s Brexit Gambit Puts Queen in a Tight Spot (Spiegel)

[..] the anger of the masses isn’t being directed solely at the man in Downing Street. One of the last taboos for many Brits has also been broken: blatant criticism of the queen. “The. Queen. Did. Not. Save. Us,” tweeted Labour Party politician Kate Osamor, and hinted at the abolition of the monarchy. Her party leader Jeremy Corbyn asked the queen in writing for a personal meeting to protest against Johnson’s coup. Jo Swinson, the head of the EU-friendly Liberal Democrats, also wrote to the queen asking for an “urgent meeting.” After three years of the country beating itself up in the Brexit debate, Johnson is now leading Britain into the last round of the ordeal – an unprecedented showdown between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, which, incidentally, threatens to damage the last intact pillar of the United Kingdom: its queen.


It’s impossible to predict what will ensue in the coming weeks – aside from chaos. But there is much to suggest Johnson wants precisely that, and at any cost, in order to deliver the main promise he made to become British prime minister – to lead his country out of the EU on Oct. 31, with or without an agreement. After the G-7 summit in Biarritz, Johnson may have praised the EU’s willingness to compromise, he may have put the chances of no deal at “one in a million,” and the majority of Brits and their elected representatives may be against leaving the EU without a deal, but no one in the betting crazy UK is now likely to bet on there being any agreement between London and Brussels in the end.

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Blame France.

Leaked No-Deal Report Says Lorries Could Face 48-Hour Delays At Dover (PA)

Leaked government documents which reportedly say there could be 48-hour delays at Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit have moved hauliers to warn of the “clear and present danger” to the UK supply chain. Sky News said it had seen documents which suggest vehicles could face a two-day delay at the Kent port in a no-deal scenario, and the revelation has led to industry insiders saying the government has “failed to deliver”. Rod McKenzie, the managing director of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said it came as absolutely no surprise to him that such a document existed, adding that there was still no sign of a new customs process with just weeks left before the UK is expected to leave the EU.

He had not seen the Department for Transport documents (DfT), but said he understood they were more recent than the leaked Operation Yellowhammer files which contained predictions of a three-month “meltdown” at ports in the event of no deal. “The Road Haulage Association has been saying this for quite literally years now that if there is a no-deal Brexit, there will be very substantial queues at the border,” McKenzie said. “We have got a very, very serious problem with the UK supply chain if there is a no-deal Brexit on 31 October from where we are now. “This is a clear and present danger to the supply chain on which we all depend, and we are calling on the government in the clearest terms to make it clear what traders have to do to trade with the continent. This they have failed to do so far.”


Sky News said on Sunday night that analysis commissioned by the DfT suggested that on the first day of a no-deal Brexit, the worst-case scenario would be a two-day maximum delay for freight and vehicles at Dover, and an average wait of a day-and-a-half. McKenzie said any delay at the ports would cause a “very, very substantial traffic jam”, adding: “What we are saying is that we urgently need clarity from this government, having not had it from the previous government, we urgently need clarity from this government of what traders have to do to get ready for a no-deal Brexit.”

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Troubles.

Irish Border After Brexit – All Ideas Beset By Issues Says Secret Paper (G.)

All potential solutions to the post-Brexit Irish border are fraught with difficulty and would leave smaller businesses struggling to cope, experts have said, as leaked government papers outline major concerns just two months before Britain is due to leave the EU. A report summarising the findings of the government’s official “alternative arrangements” working groups concluded that there are issues with all the scenarios put forward to try to replace the backstop arrangement. There are also specific concerns over whether any technological solution could be delivered to monitor cross-border trade. Critics said the paper, seen by the Guardian, should “ring alarm bells” across government over how likely it is that alternative arrangements to the backstop will be found.

The dossier marked “official-sensitive” prepared for the EU Exit Negotiations Board is dated 28 August. It details how the findings of all advisory groups informing the government on the Northern Irish border are being kept deliberately under wraps to try to avoid hampering Britain’s intended renegotiation of the backstop agreed to by Theresa May. Alternative systems to avoid a hard Northern Irish border after Brexit have become the central tenet of Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy. He sees this as a way of unlocking a new deal with Europe and has claimed that there are “abundant solutions”.


However, the damning report shows there is no single deliverable solution at present, despite the fact Johnson is almost a third of the way through the “30 days” target that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, gave him to come up with a fresh border proposal. The report said: “It is evident that every facilitation has concerns and issues related to them. The complexity of combining them into something more systemic and as part of one package is a key missing factor at present.”

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This will take a long time.

Many US Firms Already Have Ditched China, More On The Way (CNBC)

President Trump rattled Wall Street when he demanded U.S. firms move production out of China. But many have already taken steps to do so, and, in earnings calls just over the past month, dozens of chief executives have signaled plans to further diversify their supply chains amid the intensifying trade war. On Aug. 23, Trump took to Twitter, ordering American companies to “immediately start looking for an alternative to China” and urging them instead to start making their products in the U.S. In doing so, he cited the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) — passed in 1977 to deal with an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.” [..]

Trump doubled down on Friday, attacking General Motors for its significant presence in China and questioning whether the automaker should move the operations to the U.S. “Sometimes you’ve got to take stern measures,” White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the sidelines of the G-7 meeting in France. Kudlow added that American companies should heed the president’s call to leave China. No U.S. president has invoked the law as leverage in a commercial dispute, let alone to sever commercial ties with one of its largest trading partners. Indeed, over the past century, U.S. administrations have mainly deployed the IEEPA to prosecute drug trafficking or financial terrorism through sanctions or other economic penalties.


[..] in an annual survey conducted in June by the U.S.-China Business Council, nearly 30% of the 220 respondents said they have already delayed or cancelled investments in China or the U.S. due to mounting trade uncertainty. Though just 13% said they had plans to specifically move operations out of China, that’s steadily increased from 10% in 2018 and 8% in 2017.

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Peace please.

Hong Kong Students Boycott Classes As Chinese Media Warns ‘End Is Coming’ (G.)

For the last 13 weeks, protesters have come to the streets to demand the formal withdrawal of a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China, which critics fear will be used by Beijing to target those who criticise the ruling Chinese communist party. As the protests have dragged on, they have taken on new forms and other demands including instituting democratic reforms and conducting an independent investigation into police behaviour. On Sunday, demonstrators attempted to lay siege to the airport, prompting a swift response from riot police. On Saturday, riot police stormed a metro station, attacking trapped protesters with batons. Monday’s class boycott was accompanied by a call for a general strike. It followed two days of mass protests where demonstrators paralysed links to airport, and clashed with police outside government buildings and in MTR stations.


Several editorials in Chinese state media on Monday condemned the protesters as “crazy and vicious” for bringing “catastrophe” upon the Hong Kong economy. An editorial on the website of the state-run news agency Xinhua warned “the end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong”. The shift of the protests to school campuses is comes after Chinese officials have blamed the protests on the city’s liberal education curriculum. In recent weeks, Beijing has criticised teachers and parents for not instilling patriotic values in students and called for an overhaul of Hong Kong’s education system, which includes topics like the Chinese military’s violent crack down on democracy demonstrators on 4 June, 1989.

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Is capitalism itself at fault or just the excesses it allows for?

Why Has The U.S. CEO-To-Worker Pay Ratio Increased So Much? (Colombo)

MarketWatch recently published a piece about the soaring U.S. CEO-to-worker pay ratio, which hit 278-to-1 in 2018 (up from just 58-to-1 in 1989 and 20-to-1 in 1965) –

“CEO pay has increased 1,008% between 1978 and 2018, while typical worker pay has edged up 12%. [..] In 2018, CEOs in the country’s top 350 businesses were paid $17.2 million on average. Employees working in those industries — ranging from retail to technology and manufacturing — typically earned $64,500, researchers said. Overall, there’s a 278-to-1 pay ratio between workers and CEOs. In 1989, the compensation ratio was 58-to-1 and in 1965, it was 20-to-1. Stock awards and cashed-in stock options averaged $7.5 million of CEO pay in 2017 and 2018, the study added. Incorporating stock in pay arrangements is one way to incentivize CEO, and rising salaries illustrate the market for talent in the C-suite, some observers say.”


Left-leaning economists, politicians, and other commentators frequently use the soaring CEO-to-worker pay ratio as an example of why capitalism is inherently flawed and always leads to the rich getting richer, but my research has found that it is a byproduct of central banking and fiat (i.e., “paper”) currency rather than capitalism. To make a long story short, the Federal Reserve has excessively inflated the financial markets in its attempt to create an economic recovery from the Great Recession. This excessive asset price inflation has pushed U.S. household wealth far out of line with its historic relationship to the GDP, as the chart below shows. The wealthy have been the greatest beneficiaries of this asset price inflation because they own a disproportionate share of the assets that have been inflated by the Fed, which are stocks, bonds, and high-end real estate.

The Fed’s inflation of the U.S. stock market is the primary reason why the CEO-to-worker pay ratio has increased so much. The CEOs of public corporations usually receive stock options as part of their compensation packages, which means that they can benefit greatly when their stock prices rise. As the chart below shows, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio surges during asset bubbles, but falls back down when the bubbles burst (it correlates with the chart above). The current asset bubble is no different and the excesses will be corrected in the form of a strong bear market, just like they always are.

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Elon Muck can’t even produce a decent electric car. How big a threat is he?

In The Era Of Neurocapitalism, Your Brain Needs New Rights (Vox)

“Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” That’s from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, published in 1949. The comment is meant to highlight what a repressive surveillance state the characters live in, but looked at another way, it shows how lucky they are: At least their brains are still private. Over the past few weeks, Facebook and Elon Musk’s Neuralink have announced that they’re building tech to read your mind — literally. Mark Zuckerberg’s company is funding research on brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that can pick up thoughts directly from your neurons and translate them into words. The researchers say they’ve already built an algorithm that can decode words from brain activity in real time.

And Musk’s company has created flexible “threads” that can be implanted into a brain and could one day allow you to control your smartphone or computer with just your thoughts. Musk wants to start testing in humans by the end of next year. Other companies such as Kernel, Emotiv, and Neurosky are also working on brain tech. They say they’re building it for ethical purposes, like helping people with paralysis control their devices. This might sound like science fiction, but it’s already begun to change people’s lives. Over the past dozen years, a number of paralyzed patients have received brain implants that allow them to move a computer cursor or control robotic arms. Implants that can read thoughts are still years away from commercial availability, but research in the field is moving faster than most people realize.


Your brain, the final privacy frontier, may not be private much longer. Some neuroethicists argue that the potential for misuse of these technologies is so great that we need revamped human rights laws — a new “jurisprudence of the mind” — to protect us. The technologies have the potential to interfere with rights that are so basic that we may not even think of them as rights, like our ability to determine where our selves end and machines begin. Our current laws are not equipped to address this.

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Russiagate, the sequel.

Hollywood Reboots Russophobia For The New Cold War (Parry)

In the Cold War, Tinseltown played an important role in the cultural battlefield against the USSR and anti-Soviet paranoia was an ever-present theme in American cinema for decades, from the McCarthy era until the Berlin Wall fell. Contemporaneously, a revival of geopolitical tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation — which many have dubbed a second Cold War — has seen the return of such tropes on the silver screen. Most recently, it has resurfaced in popular web television shows such as the third season of Netflix’s retro science fiction/horror series Stranger Things, as well as HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, which dramatizes the 1986 nuclear accident in Soviet Ukraine.

It was a famous cinematic work that many believe ominously foreshadowed Chernobyl in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 science fiction film, Stalker, less than a decade prior to the calamity. It is unlikely that HBO would have been as interested in green-lighting a five-part program on the disaster without the current hysteria surrounding the unproven allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and ‘collusion’ between Moscow and the Trump campaign. ‘Russiagate’ has become a national obsession and suddenly the very idea of corruption and intrigue has been made synonymous with the Kremlin. Hollywood liberal figures have been some of the hoax’s biggest proponents, including the show’s writer, Craig Mazin.


It is equally as hard to imagine Americans themselves being as captivated by a re-enactment of the nuclear accident without the current political climate of fear-mongering bombarding them every day in corporate media. From the perspective of the U.S. political establishment, what better way to deflect attention away from its own sins than onto a manufactured adversary?

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The black hole’s mass is 100 times greater than that of the sun.

M87* is an example of a black hole that is 6.5 billion times as massive as the Sun.

A Black Hole So Big It Shouldn’t Even Exist Is Baffling Scientists (RT)

Scientists may have spotted a black hole that is so enormous, it shouldn’t even exist, although they aren’t quite sure if it even does. The black hole’s mass is 100 times greater than that of the sun. The potential black hole, which is twice as large as what physicists had believed was possible, was detected by the LIGO and Virgo gravitational-wave detectors at the European Gravitational Observatory. A black hole is usually formed when a star collapses after it runs out of fuel, but this only happens when the star’s core is less than 50 times the mass of the Sun, Quanta Magazine explains. Stars with larger masses, between 50-130 times the mass of the Sun, either shed matter until they are small enough, or destroy themselves in a powerful explosion, meaning this new potential black hole defies what scientists understand to be possible.


Black holes that are larger than 130 solar masses can also form when their core’s collapse is too strong to stop. M87* is an example of a black hole that is 6.5 billion times as massive as the Sun. Scientists are scratching their heads trying to figure out how this newly spotted potential large black hole came into being. According to Qanta, they suspect that the black hole could be the result of smaller black holes colliding and merging into one gigantic one. They think it is possible that somewhere in a dense area of the universe, a 30 and 50 solar mass black hole could have merged and that the new black hole then combined with another one, which could explain the signals they detected.

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Jul 232019
 


Odilon Redon Sunset n.d.

 

US Justice Department Tells Mueller To Limit Congressional Testimony (R.)
What Goes Around (Kunstler)
A Non-Hack That Raised Hillary’s Hackles (Ray McGovern)/span>
Inequality is Destroying Democratic Capitalism (Deaton)
Who Was Jeffrey Epstein Calling? (NYMag)
Chelsea Clinton Denies Ties To Jeffrey Epstein’s Alleged ‘Madam’ (MN)
UK’s May Takes Parting Shot at Putin in Desperate Diversion From Failure (SCF)
Iran Warns West Against Starting Conflict (R.)
France To Shut Down Nuclear Plants Due To Heatwave (Montel)
Huge Swathes Of The Arctic On Fire, Satellite Images Show (Ind.)

 

 

He might as well stay home. Can’t talk about Concord, can’t talk about anything not in the report.

US Justice Department Tells Mueller To Limit Congressional Testimony (R.)

The U.S. Justice Department told former Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Monday he should limit his testimony before Congress this week to discussing his public report on the Russia probe. In a letter to Mueller, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer said his testimony set for Wednesday “must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege.” The letter said “these privileges would include discussion about investigative steps or decisions made during your investigation not otherwise described in the public version of your report.”

Mueller completed in March his nearly two-year-long probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. The Justice Department released a redacted copy of his 448-page report in April. A spokesman for Mueller, Jim Popkin, said no one at the Justice Department, Congress or the White House would review Mueller’s statement before he delivers it on Wednesday. In back-to-back hearings before the House of Representatives Judiciary and Intelligence committees, Democrats are expected to try to get Mueller to focus his testimony on specific examples of Trump’s misconduct.

[..] Mueller has been using offices at his former law firm WilmerHale and working with a small team from the special counsel’s office to prepare for Wednesday’s hearings, Popkin said. “He will come well prepared,” Popkin said. “His team has been working on this for a while and they will be ready for whatever comes their way.”

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“is it possible that he’s just not very bright?”

What Goes Around (Kunstler)

The entrapment operation that was the Special Counsel’s covert mission has turned out to be Mr. Mueller own personal booby-trap, prompting the question: is it possible that he’s just not very bright? Though Mr. Mueller’s final report asserted that the Russian government interfered in “a sweeping and systemic fashion” to influence the 2016 election, the 450-page great tome contains zero evidence to support that claim, and the discrepancy was actually noticed by federal judge Dabney Friedrich who is presiding over the case against the alleged Russian Facebook trolls that was one of the two tent-poles in the RussiaGate fantasy. The case is now blowing up in Robert Mueller’s face.

In early 2018, Mr. Mueller sold a DC grand jury on producing indictments against a Russian outfit called the Internet Research Agency and its parent company Concord Management, owned by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin for the so-called election meddling. The indictment was celebrated as a huge coup at the time by the likes of CNN and The New York Times, styled as a silver bullet in the heart of the Trump presidency. But the indicted parties were all in Russia, and could not be extradited, and there was zero expectation that any actual trial would ever take place — leaving Mueller & Co. off-the-hook for proving their allegations.

To the great surprise of Mr. Mueller and his “team,” Mr. Prigozhin hired some American lawyers to defend his company in court. Smooth move. It automatically triggered the discovery process, by which the accused is entitled to see the evidence that prosecutors hold. It turned out that Mr. Mueller’s team had no evidence that the Russian government was involved with the Facebook pranks. This annoyed Judge Friedrich, who ordered Mr. Mueller and his lawyers to desist making public statements about Concord and IRA’s alleged “sweeping and systemic” collusion with Russia, and threatened legal sanctions if they did.

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Three years ago. That went by fast.

A Non-Hack That Raised Hillary’s Hackles (Ray McGovern)/span>

Three years ago Monday WikiLeaks published a trove of highly embarrassing emails that had been leaked from inside the Democratic National Committee. As has been the case with every leak revealed by WikiLeaks, the emails were authentic. These particular ones, however, could not have come at a worse time for top Democratic Party officials. The emails made it unmistakably clear that the DNC had tipped the scales sharply against Democratic insurgent Bernie Sanders, giving him a snowball’s chance in hell for the nomination. [..] A mere four days after the WikiLeaks release, a well orchestrated Democratic Convention nominated Clinton, while many Sanders supporters loudly objected.

Thus, she began her campaign under a cloud, and as more and more Americans learned of the fraud that oozed through the DNC email correspondence — including the rigging of the Democratic primaries — the cloud grew larger and darker. On June 12, 2016, six weeks before the convention, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had announced in an interview on British TV, “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton … We have emails pending publication.” Independent forensic investigations demonstrated two years ago that the DNC emails were not hacked over the Internet, but had been copied onto an external storage device — probably a thumb drive. Additional work over recent months has yielded more evidence that the intrusion into the DNC computers was a copy, not a hack, and that it took place on May 23 and 25, 2016.

No one knew how soon WikiLeaks would publish the emails, but the DNC offense/defense would surely have to be put in place before the convention scheduled to begin on July 25. That meant there were, at most, six weeks to react. But it only took two days. As early as July 24, about 48 hours after the leaks were published, and a day before the convention, the DNC first blamed Russia for hacking their emails and giving them to WikiLeaks to sabotage Clinton. Granted, it was a stretch — and the DNC would have to hire a pliable cybersecurity firm to back up their claim. But they had good reason to believe that CrowdStrike would perform that service. It was the best Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook and associates could apparently come up with.

If they hurried, there would be just enough time to prepare a PR campaign before the convention and, best of all, there was little doubt that the media could be counted on to support the effort full bore. [..] It pretty much worked like a charm. The late Senator John McCain and others were quick to call the Russian “hack” an “an act of war.” Evidence? None. For icing on the cake, then-FBI Director James Comey decided not to seize and inspect the DNC computers. Nor, as we now know, did Comey even require a final report from CrowdStrike.

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Not sure having it discussed by well-paid economists is all that useful.

Inequality is Destroying Democratic Capitalism (Deaton)

At the risk of grandiosity, I think that today’s inequalities are signs that democratic capitalism is under threat, not only in the US, where the storm clouds are darkest, but in much of the rich world, where one or more of politics, economics, and health are changing in worrisome ways. I do not believe that democratic capitalism is beyond repair nor that it should be replaced; I am a great believer in what capitalism has done, not only to the oft-cited billions who have been pulled out of poverty in the last half-century, but to all the rest of us who have also escaped poverty and deprivation over the last two and a half centuries. It also provides our jobs and the cornucopia of goods and services that we take for granted.

And Milton Friedman, whose starry-eyed view of capitalism has much to answer for, was not entirely wrong when he extolled the freedom that free markets can bring. Though history has not been kind to his view that equality would be guaranteed by using markets to pursue freedom. But we need to think about repairs for democratic capitalism, either by fixing what is broken, or by making changes to head off the threats; indeed, I believe that those of us who believe in social democratic capitalism should be leading the charge to make repairs.

As it is, capitalism is not delivering to large fractions of the population; in the US, where the inequalities are clearest, real wages for men without a four-year college degree have fallen for half a century, even at a time when per capita GDP has robustly risen. Mortality rates are rising for the less-educated group at ages 25 through 64, and by enough that life expectancy for the entire population has fallen for three years in a row, the first time such a reversal has happened since the end of the first world war and the great influenza epidemic. Less educated Americans are dying by their own hands, from suicide, from alcoholic liver disease, and from overdoses of drugs. Morbidity is rising too, and they are also suffering from an epidemic of chronic pain that, for many, makes a misery of daily life.

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“If you watch Fox News, you will believe Bill Clinton was Epstein’s No. 1 pal and enabler. If you watch MSNBC, this scandal is usually all about Donald Trump. ”

Who Was Jeffrey Epstein Calling? (NYMag)

Perhaps, at long last, a serial rapist and pedophile may be brought to justice, more than a dozen years after he was first charged with crimes that have brutalized countless girls and women. But what won’t change is this: the cesspool of elites, many of them in New York, who allowed Jeffrey Epstein to flourish with impunity. For decades, important, influential, “serious” people attended Epstein’s dinner parties, rode his private jet, and furthered the fiction that he was some kind of genius hedge-fund billionaire. How do we explain why they looked the other way, or flattered Epstein, even as they must have noticed he was often in the company of a young harem?

Easy: They got something in exchange from him, whether it was a free ride on that airborne “Lolita Express,” some other form of monetary largesse, entrée into the extravagant celebrity soirées he hosted at his townhouse, or, possibly and harrowingly, a pound or two of female flesh. If you watch Fox News, you will believe Bill Clinton was Epstein’s No. 1 pal and enabler. If you watch MSNBC, this scandal is usually all about Donald Trump. In fact, both presidents are guilty (at the very least) of giving Epstein cover and credibility.

There are so many unanswered questions about Epstein, but one that looms over all of them is whether the bipartisan crowd who cleared a path for him will cover its tracks before we can get answers — not just Clinton and Trump and all those who drank at Epstein’s trough but also (among others) institutions like Harvard, Dalton, and the Council on Foreign Relations, or lawyers like the New York prosecutor Cy Vance Jr., whose office tried to downgrade Epstein’s sex-offender status; Kenneth Starr, who tried to pressure Republican Justice Department officials to keep the Epstein case from ever being prosecuted; and Alan Dershowitz, who tried to pressure the Pulitzer Prizes to shut out the Miami Herald for its epic investigative reporting that cracked open the case anew.

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People are going to start talking soon, if only to protect themselves. But why hasn’t Maxwell been arrested yet?

Chelsea Clinton Denies Ties To Jeffrey Epstein’s Alleged ‘Madam’ (MN)

Since Jeffrey Epstein’s latest arrest on sex trafficking charges, a who’s who of the rich and powerful — notably Donald Trump, Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton — have rushed to downplay their associations with the financier who is accused of abusing underaged girls. Now Chelsea Clinton has joined her ex-president father on this who’s who list. Her representative issued a statement to Politico over the weekend denying reports that the former First Daughter was close friends with Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s ex-girlfriend and the alleged “madam” who has been accused of helping him procure underaged girls for sex.

Politico’s report on Maxwell, 57, focuses on how the daughter of the late British publishing mogul Robert Maxwell helped Epstein, the Brooklyn-born son of a New York City parks groundskeeper, gain access to social circles that allowed him to become friendly with two U.S. presidents, billionaire business moguls, America’s media elite and at least one member of the British royal family. Maxwell has not been criminally charged, but has settled two lawsuits filed by women who say she participated in Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking, the New York Times reported last week. She has denied any wrongdoing. Politico said Maxwell first grew close to the Clinton family after former president Bill Clinton left office, and eventually became friends with Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation.

According to the news outlet, the two women vacationed together on a yacht in 2009, and Maxwell attended Chelsea’s wedding to Marc Mezvinsky in 2010, Politico reported. A photo of Maxwell at the wedding has circulated online. Maxwell also participated in the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative as recently as 2013, through The TerraMar Project, an oceanic non-profit she founded, according to the Initiative’s website. The contacts between Chelsea Clinton and Maxwell appear to have occurred after Maxwell’s name first emerged in accounts of Epstein’s alleged sexual abuse. “Ghislaine was the contact between Epstein and Clinton,” a person familiar with the relationship told Politico. “She ended up being close to the family because she and Chelsea ended up becoming close.”

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May goes away in July. Bye.

UK’s May Takes Parting Shot at Putin in Desperate Diversion From Failure (SCF)

In what was billed as her last major speech before quitting Downing Street, Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May focused her concerns on Russian President Vladimir Putin, lashing out at his “cynical falsehoods” and admonishing her successor “to stand up to” the Russian leader. Given her ignominious failure as premier over the Brexit fiasco, it seemed a strange choice of topic as she addressed the Chatham House think tank in London this past week. Her speech dealt with the wider theme of rising “populist politics” in the US and Europe. And she sought to portray Putin as an archetypal sinister figure fomenting populist threat to the “liberal” democratic order.

At one point, May claimed: “No one comparing the quality of life or economic success of liberal democracies like the UK, France and Germany to the Russian Federation would conclude that our system is obsolete.” This was supposed to be a riposte to an interview given by Putin to the Financial Times last month ahead of the G20 summit in Japan. During a lengthy interview on a wide range of issues, the Russian president was quoted as saying: “The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.”

Putin was apparently explaining a fairly straightforward and, to many observers, valid assessment of international politics. Namely, that Western establishments and institutions, including the mainstream media, are experiencing a crisis in authority. That crisis has arisen over several years due to popular perception that the governance of the political class is not delivering on democratic demands of accountability and economic progress. That in turn has led people to seek alternatives from the established parties, a movement in the US and Europe which is denigrated by the establishment as “populist” or rabble rousing.

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Boris is capable of doing very stupid things.

Iran Warns West Against Starting Conflict (R.)

Iran’s foreign minister warned the West on Monday against “starting a conflict,” saying it was not seeking confrontation after its military seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz last week. London described the seizure of the Stena Impero as “state piracy” and on Monday called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz. Speaking in Nicaragua, Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif said Iran had taken measures against the ship to implement international law, not in retaliation for the British capture of an Iranian tanker two weeks earlier in Gibraltar.


“Starting a conflict is easy, ending it would be impossible,” Zarif told reporters after meeting his Nicaraguan counterpart. “It’s important for everybody to realize, it’s important for Boris Johnson to understand, that Iran does not seek confrontation,” he said, referring to the front-runner to become Britain’s new prime minister. “Iran wants to have normal relations based on mutual respect,” he added. Zarif said Iran acted when it observed that the UK ship did not follow regulations. “The UK ship had turned down its signal for more time than it was allowed to (and) was passing through the wrong channel, endangering the safety and security of shipping and navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, for which we are responsible,” Zarif said.

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France imports UK wind energy.

France To Shut Down Nuclear Plants Due To Heatwave (Montel)

French weather service Meteo France issued a 40C heatwave warning on Monday for 21 regions across France, while utility EDF will shut down nearly 3 GW of nuclear capacity this week amid cooling water issues. Golfech 2 (1.3 GW) on the Garonne river would be stopped from Tuesday at 23:00 until 29 July at 23:59, while Golfech 1 (1.3 GW) would be halted from Wednesday at 02:00 until 29 July at 23:59. Low river flows and high water temperatures can force operators to cut output if it breaches environmental limits. Flows on key French rivers had “significantly” weakened over the last two weeks amid persistent hot and dry weather, the ministry of energy told Montel recently.


The St Alban 1 and 2 (2.6 GW) reactors, meanwhile, saw their output cut over the weekend, and though both reactors are now back online, EDF warned last week it could curb output at its nuclear plants located along the river Rhone – which also included Bugey (3.7 GW) – due to declining flows amid the hot weather. The temperature of the Rhone around St Alban and Tricast in was currently 26C, while it was 23.4C at Bugey, estimates from Montel’s Energy Quantified showed, with 28C deemed unsafe. French TSO RTE expected power demand to peak at 59.4 GW on Thursday and 58.6 GW on Friday, with a surge expected due to an increase in need for cooling.

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Ugly. Peat fires are impossible to control.

Huge Swathes Of The Arctic On Fire, Satellite Images Show (Ind.)

Vast swathes of the Arctic are suffering from “unprecedented” wildfires, new satellite images have revealed. North of the Arctic circle, the high temperatures are facilitating enormous wildfires which are wreaking ecological destruction on a colossal scale. It comes after the world’s hottest June on record which has been followed by a devastating heatwave in the US, with Europe forecast for the same treatment later this week. Satellite images reveal fires across Greenland, Siberia and Alaska, with warm dry conditions following ice melt on the enormous Greenland icesheet commencing a month earlier than average.

Pierre Markuse, a satellite photography expert, posted images showing smoke billowing across massive areas of uninhabited and wild land. The pictures show forest fires and burning peat. They also reveal the extent of the damage the fires leave behind. In Alaska wildfires have already burned more than 1.6 million acres of land. Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast, said the amount of CO2 emitted by Arctic wildfires between 1 June and 21 July 2019 is around 100 megatonnes and is approaching the entire 2017 fossil fuel CO2 emissions of Belgium.


Satellite image processed by Pierre Markuse showing numerous wildfires burning in Russia just south of the Arctic Circle (Pierre Markuse/Creative Commons)

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Feb 132019
 


Edouard Manet Osny, The road-menders, Rue de Berne 1878

 

America’s 1% Hasn’t Had This Much Wealth In 100 Years (MW)
Senate Has Found No Direct Evidence of Trump-Russia Conspiracy (NBC)
NBC Has A Hard Time Accepting There’s No Collusion (ZH)
Mitch McConnell To Force Senate Vote On Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (CNBC)
For The Stock Market, A Trade-War Win May Be A Hollow Victory (MW)
Labour To Set Out Plans To Decarbonise UK, Fulfil Green Jobs Pledge (G.)
Mark Carney: Brexit Is The First Test Of A New Global Order (G.)
EU’s Verhofstadt Suggests Brexiteers Could ‘End Up On The Guillotine’ (Ind.)
Theresa May’s Brexit Tactic: My Way Or A Long Delay (G.)
Dark Money Is Pushing For A No-Deal Brexit. Who Is Behind It? (Monbiot)
Spanish PM May Call Snap Election If Budget Rejected (G.)
Australia Rate Cut Calls As Home Loans Fall At Fastest Rate Since GFC (SMH)
Chinese Banks Resist Maxing Out Credit Cards (R.)
China’s Private Firms Hit By Default Contagion (R.)
Russia Takes Steps To Survive Global Internet Shutdown With Its Own Web (RT)

 

 

My friend Jesse Colombo is right to point out the impact of imploding asset bubbles is the main takeaway. But I think even more than that, it’s who will be the main victims of that: those who have no assets. The losses will land on their shoulders.

America’s 1% Hasn’t Had This Much Wealth In 100 Years (MW)

It’s not fashionable to wear flapper dresses and do the Charleston, but 1920s-style wealth inequality is definitely back in style. New research says America’s ultra-rich haven’t held as much of the country’s wealth since the Jazz Age, those freewheeling times before the country’s finances shattered. “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,” wrote Gabriel Zucman, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Zucman said all the research on the issue also points to large wealth concentrations in China and Russia in recent decades. The same thing is happening in France and the U.K., but at a “more moderate rise,” the paper said.

In 1929 — before Wall Street’s crash unleashed the Great Depression — the top 0.1% richest adults’ share of total household wealth was close to 25%, according to Zucman’s paper, which was distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Those rates plunged in the early 1930s and continued dropping to below 10% in the late 1970s, findings show. Rates have been on the rebound since the early 1980s, and are currently close to 20%. It’s become especially hard to measure the full extent of riches these days. “Since the 1980s, a large offshore wealth management industry has developed which makes some forms wealth (namely, financial portfolios) harder to capture,” the paper added.


MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto, Everett Collection

[..] Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck; the recent federal government’s partial government shutdown forced some federal workers to food pantries, and cast a harsh light on Americans’ lack of savings. Jesse Colombo says people should be more worried about issues other than the current gap between the rich and poor. “America’s wealth inequality is not a permanent situation, but a temporary one because the asset bubbles behind the wealth bubble are going to burst and cause a severe economic crisis,” he added. “My argument is that our society should be worrying more about these asset bubbles than the temporary inequality.” “What is the common denominator between U.S. wealth inequality during the Roaring Twenties and now?” he said. “A massive stock market bubble.”

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The inevitable fall-out of a press that no longer reports the news, but manufactures it.

Senate Has Found No Direct Evidence of Trump-Russia Conspiracy (NBC)

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the 2016 election has uncovered no direct evidence of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia, Democrats and Republicans on the committee told NBC News. But different parties’ investigators in the probe, which is winding down, disagree over the implications of a pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians. Last week, Sen. Richard Burr, the panel’s Republican chairman, told CBS News that, while more facts may be uncovered, “If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia.” Democratic Senate investigators told NBC News on condition of anonymity that Burr’s characterizations, while accurate, lacked context. One aide said, “We were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude.'”

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For MS(NBC), Russigate has been a major investment. And they’re still trying to squeak past it by saying an official report will take many more months etc., but it’s done as far as the Senate is concerned. And Mueller has given zero indication of having anything collusion-related.

NBC Has A Hard Time Accepting There’s No Collusion (ZH)

We knew this day was coming, but watching an MSNBC anchor and guest pundits squirm during a live Tuesday morning update in which NBC News intelligence and national security correspondent, Ken Dilanian, read aloud that the Senate Intelligence Committee admits it has found “no direct evidence” of collusion between President Trump and Russia, is a segment that itself perhaps belongs to the history books. Mediaite described of the “stunned” MSNBC host’s demeanor: “The report met surprise first, then skepticism, with Jackson and her guests.” They awkwardly and visibly try to make sense of hard and unambiguous reporting that runs contrary to everything being parroted in the MSNBC echo chamber over the past 2 years.

To drive home the explosive significance of the findings, Dilanian noted just how long the ‘collusion’ incessant drumbeat has lasted: “After two years and interviewing more than 200 witnesses, the Senate intelligence Committee has not uncovered any direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” said Dilanian. “That’s according to sources on both the Republican and the Democratic side of the aisle.” And in a prior NBC News article Tuesday morning, Dilanian spelled out: “After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.”

MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson and her guest panelists’ faces looked visibly confused and uncomfortable as they learned the Senate report is going in the opposite direction of everything MSNBC and other mainstream outlets have been breathlessly reporting on a near 24/7 basis. More importantly, if this is a precursor of what the Mueller report concludes in a few weeks/months, the TV station that built its current reputation on the premise of Russian collusion, may have no option but to go on indefinite hiatus. Watch the segment above, with host Hallie Jackson appearing to grow exasperated by the 2:20 mark:“If and when the president, as he may inevitably do, points to these conclusions and says look, the Senate intelligence committee found I am not guilty of conspiracy… he would be correct in saying that?”

Dilanian noted that while the Republican chair of the committee made what he characterized as “partisan” comments the week prior, it turned out be unanimous fact. “What I found,” he said, “is that Democrats don’t dispute that characterization.” [..] Dilanian also noted the Senate intel committee has access to classified material, which means “if there was an intercept between officers suggesting they were conspiring with the Trump campaign, [the committee] would see that. And that has not emerged.” “So that evidence does not exist, and Trump will claim vindication,” he repeated.

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McConnell thinks it’s best to be fast in voting it down, before there’s more detailed discussion, for instance about which parts could work and which don’t. He’s probably right.

Mitch McConnell To Force Senate Vote On Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (CNBC)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate would vote on the Green New Deal introduced last week by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “I’ve noted with great interest the Green New Deal, and we’re going to be voting on that in the Senate to give everybody an opportunity to go on record,” McConnell told reporters. The bill, which is not expected to pass the Republican-dominated upper chamber, could force some Democrats to make a politically awkward calculation. Democratic liberals, including all of the senators currently running for president, have come out in support of the legislation, which calls for generating 100% of the nation’s power from renewable sources within 10 years. Scientists have said that dramatic, immediate action is necessary to stem the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Democratic moderates have been less than enthusiastic about the proposal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi derisively referred to the House version of the bill as a “green dream,” while only 11 of the 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats have signed on to sponsor the bill. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is widely expected to enter into the 2020 race, has declined to say whether he supports the proposal. “I’m not going to take position on every bill that’s coming out,” he said Tuesday, according to Politico. “I support a Green New Deal. I think we need to aggressively support climate change [legislation]. That’s my answer.” Republicans control the Senate, with 53 members of the 100-seat chamber. Democrats control the House of Representatives, but it is not clear if the House will vote on the measure under Pelosi’s leadership.

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Stocks are up when the deficit is up.

For The Stock Market, A Trade-War Win May Be A Hollow Victory (MW)

Sometimes losing can pay dividends in unexpected ways, and that seems particularly true in the case of stocks and trade. For the past five decades, the U.S. stock market has comparatively outperformed when the trade deficit widened and vice versa, suggesting that even if the U.S. emerges victorious from its trade war with China, investors may have few reasons to rejoice. At face value, it may seem counterintuitive, but for the U.S., which relies on trade to fuel its economic juggernaut, a deficit can actually be a sign that all is well. “Since at least 1970, U.S. stocks have done best when its trade deficit worsens,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group, who explained that if imports rise, it indicates that domestic consumption is healthy.

“And if exports go up, it means foreign demand is strong. So when we have a trade deficit, it means the U.S. is doing better,” he said. A trade balance is the difference between how much a country sells and buys from abroad, and a deficit is often viewed as a negative, chiefly as it means a country is spending more than it is making. But as the chart below demonstrates, U.S. stocks vis-a-vis foreign equities have done quite well notwithstanding all the depressing headlines over the years about how the rest of the world is taking advantage of the U.S.

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And Labour wants part of the Green New Deal fame too. But what do any of these people really know about physics, about energy? It all still looks like a typical dumb politics approach: we’ll get rich while going green, promise!

Labour To Set Out Plans To Decarbonise UK, Fulfil Green Jobs Pledge (G.)

Labour is to set out how the UK can move swiftly to a decarbonised future to tackle the unfolding climate crisis and put “meat on the bones” of its promise to create hundreds of thousands of high-skilled, unionised green jobs. Trade unionists and industry leaders will come together with academics, engineers and public institutions to build detailed regional plans setting out the challenges and opportunities ahead. The proposal, due to be outlined on Wednesday by Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, will involve a national call for evidence and a series of regional events to build “a detailed action plan” to maximise the benefits of moving to a zero-carbon future.

“A decade of austerity and decades of neoliberalism have left many in our country asking: what is Britain for?” Long-Bailey told the Guardian. “This has been brought into focus by the government’s handling of Brexit, which is at its core deeply pessimistic, with nothing to say about the future.” She said a future Labour government would oversee an economic revolution to tackle the climate crisis, using the full power of the state to decarbonise the economy and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in struggling towns and cities across the UK. “We believe that together, we can transform the UK through a green jobs revolution, tackling the environmental crisis in a way that brings hope and prosperity back to parts of the UK that have been held back for too long.”

[..] Long-Bailey said Labour was determined to move beyond rhetoric about a green revolution and work out exactly how that could be achieved, and how it could translate to new well-paid, unionised jobs across the UK. “We’re launching an unprecedented call for evidence about what this means for your town, your city, your region,” she said. “We want to bring unions, industry, universities, the public sector and others together to build this vision out into a practical reality.” Labour says a key plank of its plan will be to ensure a “just transition” to high quality green jobs for those currently working in carbon-emitting industries. To do that it will have to persuade its trade union backers, who represent people in high-carbon industries, that there is a viable economic alternative.

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More liberalism! No matter that it played a big role in Britons voting for Brexit. These people are one-dimensional.

Mark Carney: Brexit Is The First Test Of A New Global Order (G.)

Brexit is an acid test of whether it is possible to reshape globalisation in a way that offers the benefits of trade while allaying public fears about the erosion of democracy, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said. Speaking in London, Carney said the ramifications of the UK’s departure from the EU would be felt around the world and would determine whether it was possible to shrug off rising protectionism in favour of a new era of international cooperation. The governor cited trade tensions and the result of the 2016 referendum as examples of fundamental pressures to reorder globalisation. “It is possible that new rules of the road will be developed for a more inclusive and resilient global economy. At the same time, there is a risk that countries turn inwards, undercutting growth and prosperity for all.”

Carney’s recent comments about Brexit have highlighted the short-term risks to the economy of leaving the EU next month without an agreement in place, but he used his speech on the state of the global economy to provide a more upbeat assessment. “In many respects, Brexit is the first test of a new global order and could prove the acid test of whether a way can be found to broaden the benefits of openness while enhancing democratic accountability,” he said, speaking at a Financial Times event in London. “Brexit can lead to a new form of international cooperation and cross-border commerce built on a better balance of local and supranational authorities. In these respects, Brexit could affect both the short and long-term global outlooks.”

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Just trying to make friends, I guess. Best of all, he has no idea it could just as well be him on that guillotine.

EU’s Verhofstadt Suggests Brexiteers Could ‘End Up On The Guillotine’ (Ind.)

The politicians pushing Brexit should be careful not follow in the footsteps of revolutionary leaders who “ended up on the guillotine”, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief has said. At a press conference in Strasbourg Guy Verhofstadt compared Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre – leading figures in the French revolution who were ultimately executed by their former comrades. He said it was “important to remind” the senior Conservatives that their historical counterparts had ended up losing their heads.

“I know that within the Tory party the hard Brexiteers are compared to the leaders of the French revolution. I think Gove is Brissot, and Boris Johnson is Danton, and Rees-Mogg is compared to Robespierre,” Mr Verhofstadt said. “We should not forget that the efforts of these men were not appreciated by the common man they claimed to represent – because they all ended up on the guillotine. So that’s important to remind [them].” His comments come a week after European Council president Donald Tusk caused a story in the UK by saying there was a “special place in hell” for Brexiteers who had advocated leaving the EU without a serious plan of how to do it.

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44 days.

Theresa May’s Brexit Tactic: My Way Or A Long Delay (G.)

Theresa May’s high-stakes Brexit strategy may have been accidentally revealed after her chief negotiator Olly Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar saying MPs will be given a last-minute choice between her deal and a lengthy delay. The prime minister has repeatedly insisted that the government intends to leave the EU as planned on 29 March, and urged MPs to “hold our nerve”, while she tries to renegotiate changes to the Irish backstop. “So our work continues,” she told MPs on Tuesday. “Having secured an agreement with the European Union for further talks, we now need some time to complete that process. The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this house requires and deliver Brexit on time.”

But Robbins, the most senior civil servant involved in the Brexit process, was overheard by a reporter from ITV, holding a late-night conversation in which he appeared to suggest she would wait until March – and then give MPs the choice between backing her, or accepting a long extension to article 50. According to the broadcaster, Robbins said the government had “got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March … extension is possible, but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one.” The tactic appears to be aimed squarely at members of the backbench Tory European Research Group (ERG), who may fear Brexit could ultimately be cancelled altogether, if MPs accept a delay.

“The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension,” Robbins was overheard saying. “In the end they will probably just give us an extension.” On the backstop, Robbins appeared to confirm that the government’s initial plan was for the backstop, which effectively keeps the UK in a customs union, to form a temporary “bridge” to the long-term trading relationship. “The big clash all along is the ‘safety net’,” Robbins said. “We agreed a bridge but it came out as a ‘safety net’.”

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I don’t think Monbiot should be writing about this, not his field. But nobody else does, either, and the issue will re-appear very very bigly if Brexit becomes reality.

Dark Money Is Pushing For A No-Deal Brexit. Who Is Behind It? (Monbiot)

In Britain, for example, we now know that the EU referendum was won with the help of widespread cheating. We still don’t know the origins of much of the money spent by the leave campaigns. For example, we have no idea who provided the £435,000 channelled through Scotland, into Northern Ireland, through the coffers of the Democratic Unionist party and back into Scotland and England, to pay for pro-Brexit ads. Nor do we know the original source of the £8m that Arron Banks delivered to the Leave.EU campaign. We do know that both of the main leave campaigns have been fined for illegal activities, and that the conduct of the referendum has damaged many people’s faith in the political system.

But, astonishingly, the government has so far failed to introduce a single new law in response to these events. And now it’s happening again. Since mid-January an organisation called Britain’s Future has spent £125,000 on Facebook ads demanding a hard or no-deal Brexit. Most of them target particular constituencies. Where an MP is deemed sympathetic to the organisation’s aims, the voters who receive these ads are urged to tell him or her to “remove the backstop, rule out a customs union, deliver Brexit without delay”. Where the MP is deemed unsympathetic, the message is: “Don’t let them steal Brexit; Don’t let them ignore your vote.”

So who or what is Britain’s Future? Sorry, I have no idea. As openDemocracy points out, it has no published address and releases no information about who founded it, who controls it and who has been paying for these advertisements. The only person publicly associated with it is a journalist called Tim Dawson, who edits its website. Dawson has not yet replied to the questions I have sent him. It is, in other words, highly opaque. The anti-Brexit campaigns are not much better. People’s Vote and Best for Britain have also been spending heavily on Facebook ads, though not as much in recent weeks as Britain’s Future.

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He has 84 of the 350 seats in congress… And is propped up by the Catalans.

Spanish PM May Call Snap Election If Budget Rejected (G.)

Spain’s socialist government could be forced to call a snap general election if rightwing parties and Catalan secessionists make good on their threats to reject the national budget in a key vote on Wednesday. The prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, faces an uphill battle to secure approval for the budget in the face of opposition from critics of his minority government. Sánchez’s PSOE, which holds 84 of the 350 seats in congress, relied on the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties to seize power from the conservative People’s party in a confidence vote last year. If, as seems likely, the budget is rejected by rightwing parties as well as the Catalan Republican Left and the Catalan European Democratic party, Sánchez is expected to call a snap general election in April or May.

The next general election is due to be held next year. The prime minister had been banking on the fact that the prospect of an early election – and a possible win for rightwing parties that fiercely oppose Catalan secession – would make the two big Catalan pro-independence parties swing behind the budget. But, speaking to the Guardian and other European media, the Catalan leader, Quim Torra, said the secessionist groupings would not be forced into supporting Sánchez’s budget plans. “Are we meant to approve the budget because we’re afraid of the Spanish right?” said Torra. “Mr Sánchez can obviously decide to call elections whenever he wants – he’s the prime minister. But why would he make dialogue conditional on approving the budget?

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I wouldn’t be surprised if Australia were the first to fall into crisis. It hasn’t had a recession in I think 27 years, and that is like saying a homeowner hasn’t done a proper spring cleaning in decades.

Australia Rate Cut Calls As Home Loans Fall At Fastest Rate Since GFC (SMH)

The sharpest fall in home loans since the depths of the global financial crisis has prompted calls for the Reserve Bank to slice interest rates and cast doubt over the state of the budget leading into the federal election. As the NAB said the Reserve may have to cut rates within months, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed first time buyers and investors deserting the property market in a sign house prices may fall even further. Home loans in December fell by 5.9%. It was the second largest monthly fall since 2008-09 while the annual fall of 19.8% was the worst since the global financial crisis.

Investor loans have tumbled 28% over the past year while those for owner-occupiers have slumped by 16%. Since their peak in mid-2015, investor lending has dropped by almost 48%. First home buyers have been a key part of the market over the past year as they have taken advantage of falling prices but even they are now resisting the chance to enter the market. The number of loans to first time buyers fell 8% in the month to be 12% lower over the past year. NSW and Victoria are leading down the national market with sharp falls in total loan numbers through 2018. It’s not just housing. Business loans dropped by 9.7% in December to be 6.2% lower over the year.

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China and borrowing, not a happy marriage: “recovery rates, sometimes estimated at below 16% ..”

Chinese Banks Resist Maxing Out Credit Cards (R.)

Chinese banks are wise to resist maxing out their credit cards. Lenders have issued hundreds of millions of them to local consumers, facilitating debt-fuelled shopping sprees. It’s a lucrative but risky supplement to other types of loans, and some now appear to be pulling back. Banks in the People’s Republic issued more than 650 million credit cards as of the third quarter of 2018, up from less than 450 million three years earlier, official data show. Balances payable on cards reached 6.6 trillion yuan ($980 billion), an increase of more than 120% over the same period. Lenders are keen on the business. There’s a big opportunity for growth given relatively low penetration: the average Chinese individual has only half of a credit card, whereas the average American has three.

Plastic can be profitable, too, yielding higher interest rates and fees than typical corporate loans. That boosts net interest margins. Yet a reassessment may be underway, according to analysts at Citi Research. At Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, for instance, credit card lending made up 35% of total new loans in 2017. In the first half of 2018, that figure collapsed to negative 5%. It’s a similar story at China Merchants Bank and other lenders covered by the analysts – although some are still aiming at rapid growth, including Ping An Bank and Postal Savings Bank of China. Household credit stood at around half of GDP by the middle of last year, up from 18% a decade earlier, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Fitch Ratings projects household debt might reach 100% of disposable income by 2020, just below the 105% ratio in the US.

The current economic slowdown could make bankers’ affection for plastic look rash. Individuals tend to default on card debt first, and chasing after them in court is time-consuming, while recovery rates, sometimes estimated at below 16%, compare poorly with between 50% to 60% for corporate borrowers.

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Firms guaranteeing each other’s debt. Never seen a bigger Ponzi. Click the pic for a much larger version. It’s brilliant insanity very strongly bordering on fraud.

China’s Private Firms Hit By Default Contagion (R.)

The collapse in China of a complex web of debt guarantees involving several private firms highlights risks in its financial system and opens up a potentially hazardous front for an economy in the grip of its slowest growth in nearly three decades. It is the last thing Beijing needs as it tries to fight off intensifying pressure on growth from a months-long trade dispute with the United States. Yet, as the government steps up economic support measures and moves to loosen gummed-up funding, it might be inadvertently inflaming financial risks with its call on state banks to sharply boost lending to the private sector.

The warning bells are already sounding in the once-prosperous eastern city of Dongying, a hub for oil refining and heavy industry in Shandong province. Here, at least 28 private companies are seeking to restructure their debts and avoid bankruptcy, mainly due to souring loans that they guaranteed for other firms, court rulings seen by Reuters show. Among the 28 firms are Shandong Dahai Group and Shandong Jinmao Textile Chemical Group, which were on the 2018 top 500 best-run private enterprises in China. For a private firm to get bank loans in China, especially those in traditional, capital-intensive industries, it often needs substantial collateral or the guarantee of another company. The guarantor itself is very likely to have taken on loans guaranteed by other firms.

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Wonder how many other countries are protecting themselves this way.

Russia Takes Steps To Survive Global Internet Shutdown With Its Own Web (RT)

Russia is preparing itself to be disconnected from the World Wide Web. The Lower House of Parliament passed in the first reading a law ensuring the security of the Russian part of the internet. The bill envisions the ‘Runet’ – the Russian segment of the internet – being able to operate independently from the rest of the world in case of global malfunctions or deliberate internet disconnection. The measures to ensure internet stability include the creation of a national DNS system that stores all of the domain names and corresponding IP numbers. The new legislation was drafted in response to the new US cyber strategy that accuses Russia, along with China, Iran, and North Korea, of using cyber tools to “undermine” its economy and democracy.

It also threatens dire consequences for anyone conducting cyber activity against the US. The autonomous system would ensure that Russia doesn’t face a total internet shutdown if relations with the West completely collapse and the US goes as far as cutting off Russian IP addresses from the World Wide Web. Back in 2012, then-US President Barack Obama signed an executive order allowing him to take control of all communications on American soil, including those crucial for the normal operation of the internet. The US National Security Agency actually caused a three-day internet blackout in Syria in November 2012, whistleblower Edward Snowden told Wired magazine. NSA hackers accidently ‘bricked’ one of the core routers while trying to install spyware on it.

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Jan 212019
 


Martin Luther King, Jr. following his 1963 arrest in Birmingham

 

 

Rebranding MLK (Fikre)
A Call to Reinvestigate American Assassinations of the 1960s (CN)
The Number Of Births In China Hit Its Lowest Level Since 1961 (CNBC)
China Economic Growth Lowest In 28 Years (MW)
China Real Estate Sales Growth Slows Down (R.)
Theresa May ‘Considers Amending Good Friday Agreement’ To Break Deadlock (Ind.)
May Tries To Break Brexit Deadlock By Winning More EU Concessions (R.)
No Solutions To Irish Backstop In May’s Brexit Call With Cabinet (G.)
Bizarre Turn Of Events Could Push May’s Brexit Deal Through After All (Ind.)
Clashes in Athens Over Neighbour’s Name Change (BBC)
World’s 26 Richest People Own As Much As Poorest 3.8 Billion (G.)

 

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He’s been dead long enough that everyone feels safe, if not entitled to, appropriating his name and celebration. But who in America today truly lives up to his legacy and message? Not many. The screwed up scenes at a high school, and the way media and individuals react to it, make that abundantly clear. There are many voices calling for serious harm to, if not murder of, a group of schoolchildren, voices who will in their very next breath seek to take possession of Dr. King’s name.

It’s time for all Americans, and not just Americans either, to find a nice bright mirror and face the beams in their own eyes. All sides focus on promoting hate of the others, and really, that is the opposite of what Dr. King said. How could you forget? You don’t solve anything be demanding other people change, you solve things only by changing yourself. You have no more right to hate Trump and his supporters than they have of hating you, or anyone else.

MLK: “a slogan ‘Power for Poor People’ would be much more appropriate than the slogan ‘Black Power.’”

Rebranding MLK (Fikre)

Lost in the chorus of politicians, pundits and media personalities who are praising MLK is the core message that he was pushing before he was felled on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. King evolved in his thinking; instead of seeking Civil Rights for “African-Americans”, he made the fatal decision to fight for economic justice for all. King realized that the infringements against “black” folks in America were interconnected to the injustices felt by marginalized people throughout the world. That awakening is the reason he traveled to Memphis, by standing up for striking sanitation workers, he was hoping to form a bridge between poor folks irrespective of their skin color.

The establishment love people who lead sectional movements—those who seek exclusive justice are doing the work of the status quo—what they will not abide are those who try to unify the oppressed and inspire collective actions. King paid with his life for having the courage to pursue inclusive justice. After he was murdered, institutions of power—from government, academia to mainstream media and beyond—kicked in, stealthy erased King’s legacy and replaced it with disinformation. What has taken place over the past fifty years is a systematic and coordinated effort to blacken his narrative and dilute the power of his message. What MLK fought for, and ultimately died on behalf of, was for equality and fairness for all. By narrowing the scope of his cause and containing his sacrifice to only as a struggle for “black” people, opinion leaders successfully ghettoized him in an effort to lessen his appeal to a broader constituency.

[..] “One unfortunate thing about [the slogan] Black Power is that it gives priority to race precisely at a time when the impact of automation and other forces have made the economic question fundamental for blacks and whites alike. In this context a slogan ‘Power for Poor People’ would be much more appropriate than the slogan ‘Black Power.’” This was a quote from King in August of 1967, eight months before he was executed.

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All for it. But who’s impartial and strong enough to do it?

A Call to Reinvestigate American Assassinations of the 1960s (CN)

To mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day a group of academics, journalists, lawyers, Hollywood artists, activists, researchers and intellectuals, including two of Robert F. Kennedy’s children, are calling for new investigations into four assassinations of the 1960s. On the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a group of over 60 prominent American citizens is calling upon Congress to reopen the investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

* We call upon Congress to establish continuing oversight on the release of government documents related to the presidency and assassination of President John F. Kennedy, to ensure public transparency as mandated by the JFK Records Collection Act of 1992. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform should hold hearings on the Trump administration’s failure to enforce the JFK Records Act.

* We call for a major public inquest on the four major assassinations of the 1960s that together had a disastrous impact on the course of American history: the murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. This public tribunal, shining a light on this dark chapter of our history, will be modeled on the Truth and Reconciliation process in post-apartheid South Africa. The inquest — which will hear testimony from living witnesses, legal experts, investigative journalists, historians and family members of the victims — is intended to show the need for Congress or the Justice Department to reopen investigations into all four assassinations.

* On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we call for a full investigation of Reverend King’s assassination. The conviction of James Earl Ray for the crime has steadily lost credibility over the years, with a 1999 civil trial brought by Reverend King’s family placing blame on government agencies and organized crime elements. Following the verdict, Coretta Scott King, the slain leader’s widow, stated: “There is abundant evidence of a major, high-level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband.” The jury in the Memphis trial determined that various federal, state and local agencies “were deeply involved in the assassination … Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame.” Reverend King’s assassination was the culmination of years of mounting surveillance and harassment directed at the human rights leader by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and other agencies.

* We call for a full investigation of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination case, the prosecution of which was a mockery of a trial that has been demolished by numerous eyewitnesses, investigators and experts — including former Los Angeles County Coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who performed the official autopsy on Senator Kennedy. The forensic evidence alone establishes that the shots fired by Sirhan Sirhan from in front of Senator Kennedy did not kill him; the fatal shot that struck RFK in the head was fired at point–blank range from the rear. Consequently, the case should be reopened for a new comprehensive investigation while there are still living witnesses — as there are in all four assassination cases.

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I looked this one up: Chinese population in 1961 was about 670 million. Today it’s more than twice that. That would seem to say birth rates have halved.

The Number Of Births In China Hit Its Lowest Level Since 1961 (CNBC)

The number of babies born in China in 2018 was the lowest the country has seen in nearly 60 years, according to Chinese financial services firm Wind Information. China on Monday reported that there were 15.23 million births last year — the lowest since 1961 when 11.87 million births were reported, data on Wind showed. Last year’s birth figure was 11.6 percent lower than 17.23 million in 2017, according to Wind. The release of China’s latest birth data puts the country’s population at 1.395 billion in 2018, the Associated Press reported, citing data by the National Bureau of Statistics. That means the population grew 3.81 percent compared to a year earlier, according to the news wire. AP also reported that the Chinese government estimated that its population will peak in 2029 at 1.442 billion, and then start to decline in the year after that.

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And that’s just official numbers. Economics professor Xiang Songzuo put it as low as 1.67% in December.

China Economic Growth Lowest In 28 Years (MW)

China’s economic expansion languished to its slowest pace in nearly three decades last year, as a bruising trade fight with the U.S. exacerbated weakness in the world’s second-largest economy. The 6.6% growth rate for 2018 reported Monday is the slowest annual pace that China has recorded since 1990. The economic downturn, which has been sharper than Beijing expected, deepened in the final months of 2018, with fourth quarter growth rising 6.4% from a year earlier. Adding to the gloom was the trade conflict with Washington. The uncertain outlook for Chinese exporters caused companies to delay investing and hiring and in some cases even to resort to layoffs–a practice that is often discouraged by China’s stability-obsessed Communist Party rulers. The official jobless rate ticked up to 4.9% last month from 4.8% in November.

In the southern technology and export-manufacturing center of Shenzhen, for instance, many private makers of electronics, textiles and auto parts furloughed workers more than two months before the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins in February, according to business owners and local officials. The neighboring city of Guangzhou saw growth slump to 6.5% last year–well short of the 7.5% annual target set by the city government–as trade tensions hit the city’s manufacturing sector hard. Some economists and investors have said China’s economy is far more anemic than the government’s 6.6% rate of expansion for 2018. They note the government’s move on Friday, just ahead of Monday’s data release, to cut the 2017 growth rate to 6.8% from 6.9%, which they said provides a slightly lower base, giving a slight boost to the fresh 2018 data.

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Consumer spending in general is slowing in China. That’s the biggest danger for its economy.

China Real Estate Sales Growth Slows Down (R.)

Growth in property investment in China cooled to the second slowest pace in 2018 in December, adding to signs of a further slackening in the real estate market in a blow to a key driver economic growth. Real estate investment, which mainly focuses on the residential sector but includes commercial and office space, rose 8.2 percent in December from a year earlier, down from 9.3 percent in November, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday. That was just ahead of the slowest pace of growth last year at 7.7 percent recorded for October. For the full year, property investment increased 9.5 percent from the year-earlier period, down from 9.7 percent in January-November.

In December, property sales by floor area, a major indicator of demand, rose a touch by 0.9 percent from a year earlier, the first gain in four months and compared with November’s 5.1 percent drop. For 2018, property sales by area rose a modest 1.3 percent from a year earlier, official data showed. Analysts say a continued downturn in sales on the back of tight government controls to curb speculation could add to the growing pressure on the world’s second-largest economy. The real estate sector is a key pillar of the economy, so any further weakness in sales could influence the pace and scope of fresh stimulus measures expected from Beijing this year.

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It took decades to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, after 1000s of lives were lost. May should not be allowed to touch it.

Theresa May ‘Considers Amending Good Friday Agreement’ To Break Deadlock (Ind.)

Theresa May is considering an attempt to amend the Good Friday Agreement in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock and win support for a negotiated exit deal, it has been reported. Ministers believe the move could avoid the UK having to commit to a backstop as part of the prime minister’s “plan B”, The Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday. The EU has insisted on a backstop measure to ensure an open border remains between Northern Ireland and the Republic after the UK leaves the bloc. Ms May has been forced to find alternatives to her original Brexit deal after it was crushed in the Commons on Tuesday.

Under the PM’s plan, it is reported, London and Dublin would either agree a new set of principles or add words to the Good Friday Agreement in order to guarantee an open border. The 1998 peace deal effectively brought an end to the Troubles after years of failed talks, and established a power-sharing structure to accommodate unionist and nationalist politicians. It follows separate reports that Ms May planned to pitch to the Irish government a bilateral treaty that would remove the need for the backstop so hated by many Conservative MPs; the arrangement would see the UK enter into a temporary customs union with the EU, and Northern Ireland agree to abide by European rules on goods until a subsequent deal was reached.

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Parliament demanded a Plan B today. May has none. She speaks 1530 GMT.

May Tries To Break Brexit Deadlock By Winning More EU Concessions (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday will try to crack the deadlock over Brexit by setting out proposals in parliament that are expected to focus on winning more concessions from the European Union. With just over two months left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on March 29 there is no agreement in London on how and even whether it should leave the world’s biggest trading bloc. After her Brexit divorce deal was rejected by 402 lawmakers in the 650-seat parliament last week, May has been searching for a way to get a deal through parliament.

Attempts to forge a consensus with the opposition Labour Party failed so May is expected to focus on winning over 118 rebels in her own party and the small Northern Irish party which props up her government with concessions from the EU. In a sign of just how grave the political crisis in London has become, the Daily Telegraph reported that May was even considering amending the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. The Daily Telegraph said EU sources cast May’s plan a non-starter as a renegotiation of such a significant international treaty would require the consent of all the parties involved in Northern Ireland. May told British ministers she would focus on securing changes from Brussels designed to win over rebel Conservatives and the Northern Irish DUP, The Times said.

May will make a statement in parliament at about 1530 GMT and put forward a motion in parliament on her proposed next steps on Brexit, though some lawmakers are planning to wrest control of Britain’s exit from the government. After May’s motion is published, lawmakers will be able to propose amendments to it, setting out alternatives to the prime minister’s deal.

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Time to send her away. She’s a dead end.

No Solutions To Irish Backstop In May’s Brexit Call With Cabinet (G.)

Theresa May is expected to reject calls to forge a cross-party consensus on Brexit when she lays out her plan B to parliament on Monday, choosing instead to back new diplomatic efforts in Brussels to renegotiate the Irish backstop. The prime minister held a conference call with her bitterly divided cabinet from the country retreat of Chequers on Sunday evening. Cabinet sources said the consensus on the 90-minute call was to renew efforts to find acceptable changes to the backstop arrangement but that the conversation was light on specifics. One said there were “no actual solutions” proposed during the call. “It is difficult to know – as ever – what she will do,” another said. “But the broad agreement is on the need to bring DUP and Tory rebels on board.”

Despite her claim in the wake of last week’s significant defeat in parliament that she would speak to “senior parliamentarians” from all parties to seek a compromise, government sources insisted her overriding priority was to prevent a historic split in the Tory party. Several senior Conservative MPs have suggested they could form a breakaway party if May opted to support a customs union – one of Labour’s central demands, which is also backed by Tory supporters of a Norway-style soft Brexit. Whitehall sources said the prime minister’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, had counselled her to consider a customs union after last week’s catastrophic defeat, when her deal was rejected by an overwhelming majority of 230 votes. But when the government tables a formal statement on Monday, setting out its next steps, it is instead expected to focus on seeking changes to the Irish backstop in order to win over Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group and the DUP.

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Party before country.

Bizarre Turn Of Events Could Push May’s Brexit Deal Through After All (Ind.)

Yvette Cooper is in many ways the alternative leader of the opposition. The Labour MP who chairs the home affairs select committee will table a bill in the House of Commons on Monday, under the catchy title of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 3) Bill, which could be decisive in breaking the Brexit deadlock. It could lead to parliament being forced to make a straight choice between Theresa May’s deal and postponing Brexit in order to hold a new referendum. If that is what happens, I think there would be a small majority for the prime minister’s deal. The importance of Cooper’s bill is that it changes the default setting in law. At the moment, if parliament fails to act, the UK will leave the EU on 29 March.

Cooper’s bill says that, if a deal has not been approved by 7 March, the government would be required to seek an extension of the Article 50 deadline. That would mean asking the EU to postpone the UK’s departure until the end of this year – and EU leaders have said they would agree to an extension if it were to hold another referendum. This would transform the situation in the House of Commons. Jacob Rees-Mogg and the rest of the cohort of Conservative MPs who want to leave without a deal would have to think again. At the moment they are happy to vote everything down, knowing that this gets them what they want. But Cooper’s bill would take what they want off the table. They would then have to choose between the prime minister’s deal and putting off Brexit for at least nine months.

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They would still get to call themselves Macedonians. Insult and injury. Tsipras should be very careful.

Clashes in Athens Over Neighbour’s Name Change (BBC)

Protesters have clashed with police in the Greek capital Athens at a big rally to oppose the government’s deal with Macedonia on changing its name. Police fired tear gas at some of those attending a protest which attracted tens of thousands to the city. The deal, which is yet to be approved, designates Greece’s northern neighbour as Republic of North Macedonia. The name Macedonia is sensitive for many Greeks who say it implies a claim on the Greek province of the same name. Years of wrangling finally brought an agreement last June between Greece’s left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart. A vote on the deal, which aims to end a 28-year row between the nations, is set to take place in the Greek parliament this week.

The dispute dates back to 1991 and the break-up of Yugoslavia. Macedonia was a Yugoslav republic and adopted the name Macedonia when it became an independent nation. Greece has long argued the use of the name implied a territorial claim and cultural appropriation. At the UN the country was formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom). [..] Greek nationalists argue that the name Macedonia can only refer to the Greek province of the same name. The dispute has led to Greece to blocking Macedonia’s hopes of joining Nato and the EU. Under the deal, the country’s language would be Macedonian and its people known as Macedonians (citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia). The move has met with sharp resistance in both countries because nationalists believe it erodes their identity.


EPA

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They’re not going to solve the issue by themselves, they can’t help it.

World’s 26 Richest People Own As Much As Poorest 3.8 Billion (G.)

The growing concentration of the world’s wealth has been highlighted by a report showing that the 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population. In an annual wealth check released to mark the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the development charity Oxfam said 2018 had been a year in which the rich had grown richer and the poor poorer. It said the widening gap was hindering the fight against poverty, adding that a 1% wealth tax would raise an estimated $418bn (£325bn) a year – enough to educate every child not in school and provide healthcare that would prevent 3 million deaths. Oxfam said the wealth of more than 2,200 billionaires across the globe had increased by $900bn in 2018 – or $2.5bn a day.

The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population. As a result, the report concluded, the number of billionaires owning as much wealth as half the world’s population fell from 43 in 2017 to 26 last year. In 2016 the number was 61. Among the findings of the report were: • In the 10 years since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled. • Between 2017 and 2018 a new billionaire was created every two days. • The world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, saw his fortune increase to $112bn. Just 1% of his fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people. • The poorest 10% of Britons are paying a higher effective tax rate than the richest 10% (49% compared with 34%) once taxes on consumption such as VAT are taken into account.

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Oct 112018
 
 October 11, 2018  Posted by at 1:22 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Triumph of Death 1562

 

Finally financial ‘markets’ go through a substantial dip, which Steve Mnuchin claims is just temporary and Donald Trump says is caused by the fact that the Fed is ‘loco’. Mnuchin may well be right, but it won’t be because he knows something you don’t.

And Trump is certainly right, but in reality the Fed has been loco for many years, so why be surprised if it acts crazy now? The reason Mnuchin and a million other ‘experts’ may be right without realizing it is that the Fed has been crazy enough to kill the financial markets.

Or at least killed what made the markets functional, and beneficial to society. And that may well be exactly what Jay Powell is trying to repair, but he may well not be aware of that either. Looked at from a ‘benign’ angle, Powell is perhaps raising rates so people can regain insight into what they’re buying.

The pre-Powell Fed pushed up asset prices (don’t let’s say ‘values’) to such heights nobody has any insight anymore into what anything is truly worth. And in what was formerly known as the financial markets that was not important, because what were formerly known as investors were making heaps of money regardless.

Surely they must all have known that this wouldn’t continue?! That it’s just a matter of timing, of knowing when it would end? Oh, but that’s not really possible, is it, without the very price discovery process the Fed successfully strangulated?

Still, there must also be tons of people left thinking the Fed can kick that can six times to the moon and back, or sixty. If only because they’ve never bothered to think about price discovery, and what role it plays in the very ‘markets’ they volunteer to spend their money in.

And along those same lines, many acknowledge housing bubbles in Sydney and Vancouver but think the US has learned its lesson a decade ago. And the loco Fed plays its role there too: mortgage rates have been ultra-low, enticing the last left batch of greater fools not mortally wounded by the last fire to jump in this time. Wolf Richter’s Case-Shiller graph says plenty in that regard:

 

 

But of course things tend back to normalcy, and it doesn’t take all the overleveraged stock- and home buyers longing for price discovery; it takes just a few to get the engine started. And then everyone will be along for the ride. So from that angle Jay Powell looks anything but crazy raising rates, we just can’t be sure if he knows what the consequences will be.

Not that it matters all that much what he does or does not know. What was formerly the market is like a pendulum swung so far out of balance that it costs ever more effort and money to keep it from moving towards equilibrium, and that process has only one possible outcome.

For mortgage rates, it looks something like this, and to make anyone able to buy any home at all higher rates will of necessity mean lower prices. You can’t, nobody can, not the Fed or the government can, keep that pendulum away from its tendency towards equilibrium forever.

 

 

For stocks it looks much the same. So why try, you’d think?! To prevent incumbents and ruling classes from being exposed as swimming naked, that’s why. They invented a way to make the entire nation swim naked, thinking they’d never be found out because the water levels were so high.

Whether yesterday’s 831-point Dow dip is temporary or not is of little interest. Much more important is that the entire asset prices situation is temporary. It doesn’t matter if the Fed pumps $1, $10, or $100 trillion into what once were markets, in the end it all comes down to how many people can pay how much money for the assets.

And since there is never an unending supply of greater fools, we know where this is going. The easy money and low rates and asset purchases at central banks and stock buybacks by companies can and will result only in more profits and more wealth for a few, and sheer endlessly less for the many.

Inequality in the US has now reached such extremities that the country’s AAA rating threatens to be taken away –as Moody’s indicated-; the government has so many people it must support financially (or let perish) that its financial position comes under pressure. Which is, again, negative for the many, for the few; they don’t care about that rating.

Yes, too many people are on some form of welfare in America. And Washington would love to throw many of them off of it. The many have no representation on Capitol Hill anymore. Just about any senator and congress(wo)man is a millionaire or certainly well-off.

 

How can the country get its rating back, or at least not lose it due to its increasing inequality? There seem to be two ways: let the 80 million now on welfare die by the side of the road, or provide them with jobs that allow them a fruitful life. That may sound like socialism or something, but it’s really the exact opposite.

It’s not the government’s role to give people jobs, but it is its role to make sure conditions are in place for the private sector to provide them. Trump’s ‘trade wars’ look crazy to many, but the intent is to get jobs back to the US. But there is much more.

America was once prosperous. What changed?

Here’s one thing: In what was -arguably?- America’s wealthiest time as a nation, the post-World War II period, income taxes for the richest were as high as 90% (1952: 92%); they were slowly brought down towards 70%. Only when Ronald Reagan took over in 1980 did they really fall (1982: 50%). This was ‘justified’ by lowering the highest income bracket (1982: $85,600, it had been between $200,000 and $400,000 for years).

In 1988, the top rate plunged to 28%, and the highest bracket to $29,750. Today, the top rate is 39.6% and the high bracket $400,000. In a graph, the consequences look like this:

 

 

The corporate tax rate, meanwhile, pulled this one, and don’t get started on tax havens etc.:

 

 

And that situation has led to a huge financial crisis, to the Fed going crazy and handing out trillions to the exact wrong part of society, those who already have a lot of money, and the result has been an absolute disaster, at least for the country; not so much for its elites.

But as even Moody’s now recognizes, you can’t run an AAA-rated country on elites alone. Despite the crazy Fed trillions, the US has achieved negative growth (imagine where it would be without):

 

 

Something must be done. Problem is, with only those millionaires in charge in the House and Senate, the likelihood of boosting income tax levels up to where they were when America was most prosperous is extremely low. And Trump’s tariffs are not on their own going to bring back the jobs; they can’t rebuild the lost infrastructure, for one thing.

Something must be done, and it’s entirely unclear what, or rather, who’s going to do it. The Democrats have nothing, or nothing but frustrated millionaires and Bernie Sanders. The GOP has only Trump. None of these people are going to vote to double their income taxes.

Much of what needs to be done will be classified as socialism, ridiculed and thrown out the window, even if the country was anything but socialist under Eisenhower and Kennedy, during its -at least economic- Golden Age.

It’s a nice puzzle, isn’t it? Well, maybe not so nice after all.

 

 

Oct 112018
 


Pablo Picasso Bather 1908

 

Dow Tumbles 830 Points In One Day, Trump Says The Fed Has ‘Gone Crazy’ (MW)
World Stock Markets Dive As Trump Attacks ‘Crazy’ US Rate Hikes (G.)
Tech Stocks Have Their Worst Day Since August 2011 (CNBC)
“Rising Inequality” Could Impact America’s AAA Credit Rating (SH)
How Will 6% Mortgage Rates Deal with Housing Bubble 2? (WS)
Brexit Deal Within Reach If May Agrees On Customs Union, Says Barnier (G.)
Hysteria Over the Italian Budget Is Wrong-Headed (Costantini)
Trump Campaign Claims Wikileaks Not Liable For Releasing Hacked Emails (G.)
Acropolis To Close In One-Day Strike Over Privatisation Fears (G.)
Trump Will Be The Last ‘Pure Human’ Leader – Scott Adams (Y!)
Judge Moves To Allow Monsanto New Trial After $289m Cancer Verdict (G.)
HSBC Issues Dire Warning On Antibiotics Resistance (BI)
Historic Climate Litigation Result Stands After Dutch Court Victory (CE)

 

 

Low volatility anyone?

Dow Tumbles 830 Points In One Day, Trump Says The Fed Has ‘Gone Crazy’ (MW)

‘I think the Fed is making a mistake. It’s so tight, I think the Fed has gone crazy’. That is the view that President Donald Trump shared of the Federal Reserve on Wednesday in the wake of a virtual bloodbath on Wall Street that resulted in the worst daily decline for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 since both U.S. equity benchmarks tumbled into correction territory back in early February. The Nasdaq, meanwhile, suffered its ugliest day since U.K. voters coalesced around a market-disrupting plan to exit from the European Union’s trade bloc back in June 2016.

In all, it was a withering session for an administration that has closely watched stock-market performance and views it, at least partly, as a gauge of the success of its economic policies, including corporate tax cuts and deregulation. However, those efforts, Trump says, are imperiled by the policies of the Fed, which has raised interest rates three times this year and has signaled its intention to do so a fourth time before year-end. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde dismissed Trump’s comments Thursday. “I would not associate Jay Powell with craziness,” she told CNBC at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Bali, Indonesia.

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Everything’s going down. ‘Investors’ are jittery.

World Stock Markets Dive As Trump Attacks ‘Crazy’ US Rate Hikes (G.)

A jittery, volatile week on global financial markets has burst into a frenzy of selling, triggered by heavy losses on Wall Street and comments by Donald Trump describing US interest rate hikes as “crazy”. The Nikkei index in Tokyo was down by 4.25% on Thursday afternoon, while in Hong Kong the index was down 3.9% and Shanghai was at its lowest mark for four years after a plunge of 4.15%. In Sydney the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed down 2.74%, slipping below the 6,000-point mark for the first time since early June. European markets were braced for more losses with the FTSE100 in London poised to fall almost 2% and close to dropping down below 7,000 points for the first time since March.

The rout was triggered by a fall of more than 800 points in the Dow Jones industrial average on Wall Street on Wednesday. It was the worst drop in eight months and was led by sharp declines in technology stocks. Despite a booming US economy, low inflation and low unemployment, investors are concerned about rising bond yields that have been drawing money out of the stock market, and rising US interest rates. “It’s a bit of a bloodbath,” said Ed Campbell, senior portfolio manager at QMA, the asset management branch of Prudential Financial in New York. “It’s primarily the cumulative effect of interest rate moves over the past five days and news reports about trade impacting companies.”

[..] The Chinese yuan slipped against the dollar again on Thursday as Beijing tries to mitigate the impact of US tariffs. But it was the only currency across the region that was feeling the pressure from higher bond yields as the Australian dollar slipped under US71c. “The yuan has already weakened significantly, to offset the tariffs announced so far,” said Alan Ruskin, Deutsche’s global head of G10 FX strategy in Sydney. “Further weakness could exacerbate concerns of a self-fulfilling flight of capital, and a loss of control.”

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Most overvalued sinks fastest.

Tech Stocks Have Their Worst Day Since August 2011 (CNBC)

Technology stocks got clobbered on Wednesday, suffering their worst day in more than seven years, as concerns over rising interest rates punished the overall market, particularly shares of companies that have been the best performers. The S&P 500 Information Technology Index closed at $1,220.62, down 4.8 percent, marking the biggest decline since August 18, 2011, when the index dropped 5.3 percent. All 65 members of the index fell. The broader S&P 500 dropped by 3.3 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 3.2 percent. The tech sector includes the largest companies by market cap in the U.S. and those that have been the biggest contributors to the extended rally. Shares of Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are up sharply for the year as investors bet they will continue to deliver strong earnings growth and take market share.

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“The wider the income gap becomes, the more the government will have to spend in order to support lower-income households.”

“Rising Inequality” Could Impact America’s AAA Credit Rating (SH)

“Since 1995, the top 10% of US income earners have experienced an overall median net worth increase of close to 200%, while the bottom 40% of income earners have seen a decline. There has been a particularly sharp increase in wealth and income inequality ratios since the global financial crisis,” Moody’s noted in a report released on Monday. “The global financial crisis exacerbated the effects of these trends by disproportionately affecting poorer overleveraged households and by reducing the mobility of households with negative home equity and, oftentimes, negative net wealth as a result,” says Moody’s Vice President William Foster. “Wealthier households with a higher concentration of equity market holdings in retirement savings plans and personal portfolio investments have disproportionately benefited from the significant gains in the US and global stock markets since the global financial crisis.”

In turn, that rising inequality “will exacerbate already material fiscal challenges on the horizon,” Moody’s continued. “Should inequality go unaddressed, social tensions will continue to rise, leading to a more fractious political landscape that increases political risk, and with it a less predictable policy environment.” But it’s not just about taxes, either. Everything from globalization, automation, technological advancements requiring advanced job skills, elevated premium on education and the increasing costs associated with education have played a role in widening inequality. So what does it mean for the U.S.’ AAA rating? According to Moody’s Vice President William Foster, the widening gap between rich and poor is a threat, but the U.S. government, of course, has other aspects supporting the rating—at least in the medium term (2-5 years). Chief among them is the debt denominated in dollars.

Still, Moody’s cites rising inequality as the U.S.’ weakest rating factor. Why? It’s simple math: The wider the income gap becomes, the more the government will have to spend in order to support lower-income households. These costs, Moody’s notes, “are unlikely to be offset by revenue raising measures following recent tax cuts”. At the end of the day, even though the economy is chugging along nicely—nicely enough, in fact, for everyone to ignore rising inequality that will contribute to widening fiscal deficits and a growing debt burden.

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Timebomb.

How Will 6% Mortgage Rates Deal with Housing Bubble 2? (WS)

What many in 2016 thought would never happen again is now reality. It finally happened – a line in the sand has been breached. The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) and a 20% down-payment did what people had thought in 2016 we’d never see again: It breached 5%. It hit 5.05%, to be precise, for the week ending October 5, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) this morning. This is the highest average rate since January 5, 2010 (chart via Investing.com):

This is likely not the pain-threshold for the housing market, though it is already putting pressure on it at the margin, with some potential buyers being scared off and other potential buyers finding the inflated home prices of today with the current mortgage rates outside their range of affordability. As interest rates have risen, some potential buyers have fallen by the wayside – though not a huge number just yet. But 6% will likely be the pain threshold, in my estimates. It will block a considerable number of potential buyers from buying at current prices. Home prices would have to fall first.

If the maximum a household can afford is a mortgage payment of $1,720 a month, they can finance $320,000 over 30 years with a 5% fixed rate mortgage. But if the mortgage rate rises to 6%, they’re maxed out at $287,000. In other words, the price they can afford would drop by about 10% if the rate rises by 1 percentage point. This principle goes for all budget-constrained buyers. And 6% has moved into view. This is still historically low. It would take rates back to December 2008, when the Fed was kicking off its first round of QE to repress long-term rates and inflate asset prices. Beyond that are the now unimaginably high rates of 7% and 8%:

Mortgage rates move more or less in tandem with the 10-year Treasury yield, but are higher. The spread between the MBA’s average 30-year fixed mortgage rate and the 10-year yield runs around 1.5 to 2.0 percentage points over time. With today’s 10-year yield at 3.22%, the spread is 1.83 percentage points.

[..] This new mortgage rate environment is meeting home prices across the US that have surged over the past years. Affordability issues, already tough to deal with at 4% and 4.5% and even tougher to deal with at 5%, are going to be much tougher at 6%.

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Barnier knows that the DUP and hardliners won’t accept.

Brexit Deal Within Reach If May Agrees On Customs Union, Says Barnier (G.)

Michel Barnier has claimed a Brexit deal could be within reach by next Wednesday but warned the prime minister that only by abandoning a key red line and agreeing to a customs union can impediments on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK be avoided. The British government would have to give up on its plans for free-trade deals with China and the US under such an agreement, the EU’s chief negotiator insisted, but otherwise a customs and regulatory border within the territory of the UK will have to be erected.

The EU’s contentious proposal for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit is for Northern Ireland to, in effect, stay in the customs union and remain under single market regulations, while the rest of the UK withdraws. In a speech in Brussels, Barnier reiterated his rejection of the counter-proposals hammered out by the cabinet at Chequers, which Theresa May insists is the only deal that respects both the referendum result and the constitutional integrity of the UK by ensuring “frictionless” trade and no hard border.

The prime minister’s plan for a common rulebook on goods and a customs arrangement that meant the UK could avoid border checks, while allowing the country to sign its own bespoke trade deals, would give British companies “a huge competitive edge” and be “counter to our very foundations”, Barnier said. He instead encouraged Britain to make a final push in the talks, offering to launch “around 10 negotiations running in parallel” from April 2019 on an EU-UK trade deal, if agreement can be found now on the Irish border issue and the principles of a Canada-style free trade deal.

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Why the EU-Italy feud will be fierce.

Hysteria Over the Italian Budget Is Wrong-Headed (Costantini)

Even the moderate face of the coalition, the Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, stepped up to question the priorities of the European Commission, the Bank of Italy, and the IMF: He assured that his government remains committed to containing the public debt and maintaining fiscal stability, but claimed that goal is impossible to achieve without economic development. The minister for European affairs, economist Paolo Savona, said that, in fact, a higher deficit-to-GDP ratio than 2.4% would be helpful. The heated reactions to the new fiscal plan are unjustified. In fact, the estimated targets that the new fiscal plan would (minimally) breach are unreliable and based on wrong macroeconomic principles.

Moreover, despite accusations of profligacy, Italy has in fact been running large primary surpluses (the budget balance minus interest payments), and will keep doing so even if the government confirms its plans. If anything should be of “serious concern,” it is the fact that the country continues down the road of austerity, which has proven to be contractionary; it has locked the country into stagnation and exposed its banking system to still more stress. With public investments at historically low levels, unemployment still above the 2008 rate in all regions, and a youth unemployment rate above 30%, it is hard not to see a strong case for fiscal stimulus.

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It’s all about Russiagate and Mueller’s indictment of ‘Russian hackers’. All nonsense. Free Assange and let him provide the evidence.

Trump Campaign Claims Wikileaks Not Liable For Releasing Hacked Emails (G.)

The Trump campaign argued in a legal filing that Wikileaks could not be held liable for publishing emails that were stolen by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 US election because the website was simply serving as a passive publishing platform on behalf of a third party, in the same way as Google or Facebook. Questions about Wikileaks’ publication of thousands of hacked emails, which it allegedly obtained following a plot by Russian military intelligence to steal the emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic party, are at the heart of Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The campaign also said in a legal filing that any alleged agreement between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks to publish the emails could not have been a “conspiracy” because Wikileaks’ decision to release the stolen emails was not an illegal act. The court filing was written in response to a civil lawsuit brought against the Trump campaign by two of Hillary Clinton’s donors and a former employee of the Democratic party. The Trump campaign’s surprising defence of Wikileaks marks a stark departure from official US policy, which has condemned the website for frequently targeting the US government and for publishing thousands of classified documents about covert policies.

[..] Analysts say the legal filing is also significant because it hints at how officials in the Trump White House or individuals who served on the campaign may eventually seek to defend themselves against any criminal charges alleging that they conspired with Wikileaks to release the emails. The legal arguments suggest the Trump White House would argue Wikileaks was not criminally liable for the release of the emails and that it therefore would not be a criminal conspiracy to work with the website on their release. The filing also makes the case that, under the campaign’s first amendment right to free speech, it had the right to publish information – even if it was stolen – as long as it did not participate in the theft of the emails. The hacked materials were a matter of “significant public concern”, the filing said.

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They need to move well beyond one day to get attention. And whoever signed those secret deals (Tsipras, Troika!) needs their day in court.

Acropolis To Close In One-Day Strike Over Privatisation Fears (G.)

Striking trade unionists in Greece are forcing the shutdown of the country’s prime ancient sites, including the Acropolis, in a one-day protest over privatisation fears. The 24-hour walkout on Thursday is expected to close the majority of Greece’s 275 archaeological sites, monuments and museums, which generate about €100m in revenue, mostly from ticket sales, every year. “We are doing this to protest the prospect of any of these sites being exploited by foreign funds,” said Grigoris Vafiadis, the head of the association of culture ministry employees. “Every day we are discovering that monuments have been transferred to the privatisation fund set up at the request of [bailout] lenders. No country in the world, for whatever reason, has mortgaged its cultural heritage.”

The sites, which protestors say include Knossos on Crete, are believed to have been placed on a list of properties overseen by a superfund established in 2016 with the express purpose of managing state assets for the next 99 years. The body, which also handles state asset sales, was part of the price the debt-burdened country had to pay to keep default at bay and remain in the eurozone. Vafiadis, whose union represents more than 3,000 cultural ministry officials, mostly in the Greater Attica region surrounding Athens and central Greece, said sites were listed in the superfund by code. “It’s a long process to work out what the codes refer to on the land registry. For all we know, they might even include the Acropolis which is not just Greek but a world heritage site and should never be put in the hands of any foreign fund,” he said.

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Interesting assessment.

Trump Will Be The Last ‘Pure Human’ Leader – Scott Adams (Y!)

Scott Adams, the creator of the office-themed comic strip “Dilbert,” isn’t laughing about the future of American democracy. Having expressed his admiration for Donald Trump over the past few years, Adams believes the tech industry poses a threat to the president as well as to the country as a whole. “I think President Trump will be the last pure human leader,” Adams told Grant Burningham, host of the Yahoo News podcast “Bots & Ballots.” “Everything after this will be a human and he will be elected, he or she, but the decisions will really come from the algorithm after that.”

The algorithm, Adams said, was the one unleashed on the world by Silicon Valley tech companies that has the power to shape popular opinion that, in turn, will determine how politicians express themselves. “There are people making decisions at the tech companies — the Googles and Twitters and Facebooks. Those decisions get turned into algorithms, and once they’re turned into algorithms, the humans no longer really understand them,” Adams said. Adams has likened Trump’s off-the-cuff communications approach in the 2016 presidential election to a form of hypnosis that helped insulate him from the powers of the algorithm.

“President Trump is unique in that his persuasion skills are greater than the tech companies’. It’s probably the only reason he got elected,” Adams said. “I can imagine no one else who would have beat Hillary Clinton. So, after him, I think if you get in an ordinary politician, and it doesn’t matter which party they’re in, the algorithm will push the voters and the voters will push the politicians and everybody will think they have free will, they will think they made up their own minds. They will think they did their own research, they came up with independent decisions, but we’re no longer in that world.”

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Monsanto will appeal until the next century.

Judge Moves To Allow Monsanto New Trial After $289m Cancer Verdict (G.)

A California judge has moved to grant the agrochemical company Monsanto a new trial after a landmark jury verdict found its herbicide had caused a man’s terminal cancer. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, won a $289m award in August in a trial alleging that the popular Roundup weedkiller had made him sick and that Monsanto had failed to warn him of the risks. Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company, immediately appealed the verdict, which included punitive damages and economic losses and also found that Monsanto had “acted with malice or oppression”.

The San Francisco superior court judge Suzanne Bolanos cited the “insufficiency of the evidence to justify the award for punitive damages” in a tentative written ruling issued before a hearing on Wednesday. She is expected to make a final decision after attorneys submit additional arguments. Monsanto sought to overturn the verdict and has continued to argue that it is safe to use glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate-based products, including the Roundup and Ranger Pro brands, are now worth billions of dollars in revenues, approved for use on more than 100 crops, and registered in 130 countries. Timothy Litzenburg, one of the attorneys who represented Johnson in the trial, told the Guardian that regardless of the outcome, the original ruling would still have a long-term impact: “There’s been a loud and clear message.”

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Precautionary principle? Not for Monsanto, not for Big Pharma.

HSBC Issues Dire Warning On Antibiotics Resistance (BI)

According to the global research team at HSBC, the use of antibiotics in meat production could have “devastating” consequences for humanity. When farmers feed antibiotics to their animals, they create antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can lead to antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” in humans. Over time, this could make it difficult to treat even common infections like strep throat. The report’s authors liken the impact of antibiotic resistance to climate change: The causation may not be immediately clear, but the evidence suggests a catastrophic future. Scientific experts now predict that antibiotic resistance could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, exceeding cancer as one of the most common forms of death worldwide.

While some of this is related to the overprescribing of antibiotics by doctors, it also has to do with the antibiotics that are fed to key sources of produce, such as chickens, cows, and pigs. According to the report, more than half of global antibiotics are used in agriculture rather than medicine. Although China accounts for 60% of the world’s agricultural antibiotics, the US also uses antibiotics in around 70% of its agricultural products. Most of these antibiotics are used in meat production, which has risen by 90% per capita globally since the 1960s. In June, an analysis of more than 47,000 US government lab tests found an increase in the number of pork chops and ground beef that were contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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Court decides because of “a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights”. If that is true in Holland, it will also be in 26 other countries. Moreover, as Elliot Sherber said in his article in yesterday’s Debt Rattle:

“According to the legal maxim that “the health of the people should be the supreme law” (another type of emergency brake – one cited by jurists, and those contesting coercive power, since antiquity), there is a legal duty to pursue this as well (for, among other things, human health is contingent on the health of its general environment – and freedom from oppression). Indeed, if we are to take this maxim seriously, we must recognize that it implies that conditions that are inimical to health (harmful to the health of the people) must be corrected in order to comply with the “supreme law.”

Historic Climate Litigation Result Stands After Dutch Court Victory (CE)

Climate litigators are celebrating after a second landmark court victory that will hold the Netherlands government to account for greater action on climate change. The Hague Court of Appeal has upheld a historic win for the Urgenda Foundation on behalf of 886 Dutch citizens in their climate case, rejecting the Dutch government’s arguments. A day after the UN IPCC report outlined the urgent climate action needed to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees, the Dutch court today affirmed that any less than a 25% reduction in carbon emissions by the Netherlands government before 2020 would be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Dutch emissions are currently only 13% lower compared to 1990 levels and have stagnated during the last six years.

The original legal victory by Urgenda inspired a wave of climate lawsuits worldwide, brought by people determined to hold their governments accountable for a lack of climate action. ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “Today’s news shows just what a powerful tool climate litigation has become in holding decision-makers to account for their climate inaction. “For a second time now, a Dutch court has ruled that the country’s government has a constitutional duty to protect its citizens from the impacts of climate change and that anything less is a violation of their human rights. “This second victory shows that Dutch judges have been clear about what the government must do now: accept both decisions and refocus its efforts on reducing its carbon emissions by 25% by 2020.

“This is the climate case that started it all, inspiring similar lawsuits worldwide. It has completely changed the debate on climate policy and will inspire people everywhere to use the power of the courts to hold their leaders to account for greater action on climate change.”

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