Dec 292018
 
 December 29, 2018  Posted by at 11:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Sandro Botticelli Portrait of a Young Woman 1480 – 1485

 

Can an Inverted Yield Curve CAUSE a Recession? (St. Louis Fed)
The Malaysia Scandal Is Starting to Look Dire for Goldman Sachs (Taibbi)
How Crazy This Week Was For The Stock Market, In One Big Chart (MW)
Record-Bad Year-End For $1.3-Trillion “Leveraged Loan” Market (WS)
US Debt Soars $1.4 Trillion From Last Christmas, $44,000 Per Second (RT)
US Home Sales Decline To Steepen, No Respite In Sight. (WS)
Which Side Are You On? (Jim Kunstler)
Universal Basic Income Is Easier Than It Looks (Ellen Brown)
Guilty By Innuendo: The Guardian Campaign Against Julian Assange (Canary)

 

 

The St. Louis Fed says yes.

Can an Inverted Yield Curve CAUSE a Recession? (St. Louis Fed)

An inverted yield curve—or a situation in which market yields on shorter-term U.S. Treasury securities exceed those on longer-term securities—has been a remarkably consistent predictor of economic recessions. However, simply because inversions forecast recessions does not necessarily mean that inversions cause recessions. Why might a yield curve inversion cause economic activity to slow?

Recently, the Federal Reserve asked banks how their lending policies might change in response to a hypothetical moderate inversion of the yield curve.1 Many of those surveyed indicated that they would tighten lending standards or price terms on every major loan category. When asked why they would do so, several potential reasons were given: • An inversion could cause loans to be less profitable relative to the bank’s cost of funds. • An inversion would cause their banks to be less risk tolerant. • An inversion may signal a less favorable or more uncertain economic outlook. The figure below illustrates the tendency of banks to tighten lending terms when the yield curve inverts. It plots the yield on 10-year Treasury securities minus the yield on two-year securities.

Normally, the yield on 10-year securities exceeds the yield on two-year securities, reflecting the fact that the yield curve is usually upward sloping. The yield curve is downward sloping (or inverted) when the yields on shorter-term securities are higher than those on longer-term securities, as in 2000 and 2006. Both of those inversions were followed by the start of a recession within a few months. The Fed has surveyed banks on their lending terms continuously since 1990. The chart shows that the net percentage of banks tightening their lending standards on commercial and industrial loans began to rise around the time that the yield curve inverted in 2000 and 2006.

Why is this important? Researchers have found that the economy tends to slow after banks tighten their lending standards, suggesting that an inversion of the yield curve could cause economic activity to slow by leading banks to reduce the supply of loans. Thus, an inverted yield curve might do more than predict a recession: It might actually cause one.

Read more …

“..like a massage price that suggests you’re probably getting more than a massage.”

The Malaysia Scandal Is Starting to Look Dire for Goldman Sachs (Taibbi)

Goldman Sachs, which has survived and thrived despite countless scandals over the years, may have finally stepped in a pile of trouble too deep to escape. There’s even a Donald Trump angle to this latest great financial mess, but the outlines of that subplot – in a case that has countless – remains vague. The bank itself is in the most immediate danger. The company’s stock rallied Thursday to close at 165, stopping a five-day slide in which the firm lost almost 12 percent of its market value. The company is down 35 percent for the year, most of that coming in the past three months as Goldman has been battered by headlines about the infamous 1MDB scandal.

Just before Christmas, Malaysian authorities filed criminal charges against Goldman, seeking a stunning $7.5 billion in reparations for the bank’s role in the scandal. Singapore authorities also announced they were expanding their own 1MDB probe to include Goldman. In the 1MDB scheme, actors tied to former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak allegedly siphoned mountains of cash out of a state investment fund. The misrouted money went to lavish parties with celebrity guests like Alicia Keys, a $35 million jet, works by Monet and Van Gogh, property in New York, Los Angeles and London, and (ironically) the funding of the movie The Wolf of Wall Street.

The cash for this mother of all bacchanals originally came from bonds issued by Goldman, which earned a whopping $600 million from the Malaysians. The bank charged prices for its bond issuance that analysts believe were suspiciously high – like a massage price that suggests you’re probably getting more than a massage.

Read more …

Not crazy, but the new normal. Because no market.

How Crazy This Week Was For The Stock Market, In One Big Chart (MW)

This Christmas week really was one for the history books. Whiplash, anyone? On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all booked their ugliest-ever plunges in the shortened Christmas Eve trading session. All three indexes rebounded Wednesday, only to sink early Thursday and then turn around in dramatic fashion to finish the session higher. The week finished Friday with an indecisive whimper, as stocks flipped back and forth between gains and losses all day long. The week’s sharp moves were attributed mostly to light holiday trading volume and computer-driven trading. But the ups and downs during a usually calm period are no doubt stoking investor anxiety about what’s to come.

Read more …

“..loan funds [must] hold considerable amounts of cash so that they can meet redemptions.”

Leveraged loans and considerable amounts of cash. That don’t rhyme.

Record-Bad Year-End For $1.3-Trillion “Leveraged Loan” Market (WS)

Part of the $1.3 trillion in “leveraged loans” — loans issued by junk-rated overleveraged companies — end up in loan mutual funds and loan ETFs. These funds saw another record outflow in the week ended December 26: $3.53 billion, according to Lipper. It was the sixth outflow in a row, another record. Over the past nine weeks, $14.8 billion had been yanked out, another record. These outflows are, as LCD, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, put it, “punctuating a staggering turnaround for the asset class” that until October was red-hot. Despite $10 billion of net inflows during 2018 through early October, the record outflows at the end of the year caused a net outflow for the entire year of $3.1 billion. What a sudden turnaround!

It can take a long time to sell a leveraged loan. Each is a unique contract, and finding a buyer and agreeing on a price and completing the sale takes time. So loan funds hold considerable amounts of cash so that they can meet redemptions. But now, loan funds faced with this onslaught of redemptions have to dump loans in order to stay ahead of the redemptions and maintain a cash cushion. This forced selling by loan funds has caused prices to drop – which is further motivating investors to yank even more out of those loan funds. Since October 22, the S&P/LSTA US Leveraged Loan 100 Index, which tracks the prices of the largest leveraged loans, has dropped 4.8%. This price decline put the index back where it had been on October 5, 2017. But note, while there have been some defaults recently, the big wave of defaults that many expect in an environment where credit is tightening for risky corporate borrowers, hasn’t even started yet. These are still the good times:

Read more …

“..Christmas-to-Christmas growth in the federal debt equals approximately $4,178.10 per average US citizen..”

US Debt Soars $1.4 Trillion From Last Christmas, $44,000 Per Second (RT)

The year-on-year surge in US sovereign debt has totaled $1.37 trillion, the latest data released by the US Treasury Department shows. The national debt reportedly rose to $21,863,635,176,724.12 as of December 20 of the current year compared to $20,492,874,492,282.58 on December 25, 2017. The current US population stands at 328,082,386 according to the December statistics produced by the Census Bureau, a unit of the US Department of Commerce. Rough calculations show that Christmas-to-Christmas growth in the federal debt equals approximately $4,178.10 per average US citizen.

According to Census Bureau estimates, there were 127,586,000 households in the country in 2018, which means that an average American family owes some $10,743.82. Moreover, since the end of the last fiscal year through December 20, the federal government added some $340 billion to the country’s sovereign debt. That means the debt had been skyrocketing at around $3.8 billion per day, or nearly $44,000 per second. US debt is expected to hit $22 trillion in the near future and the ongoing government spending will drive the debt to $33 trillion within a decade.

Read more …

Remeber: this is what the economy runs on. This is how money enters that economy.

US Home Sales Decline To Steepen, No Respite In Sight. (WS)

Pending home sales is a forward-looking measure. It counts how many contracts were signed, rather than how many sales actually closed that month. There can be a lag of about a month or two between signing the contract and closing the sale. This morning, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released its Pending Home Sales Index for November, an indication of the direction of actual sales to be reported for December and January. This index for November fell to the lowest level since May 2014:

“There is no reason to be concerned,” the report said, reassuringly. And it predicted “solid growth potential for the long-term.” And the index plunged 7.7% compared to November last year, the biggest year-over-year percentage drop since June 2014. The drops in October and November are indicated in red:

All four regions got whacked by year-over-year declines: • Northeast : -3.5% • Midwest: -7.0% • South: -7.4% • West: -12.2%. The plunge in pending home sales in the West, a vast and diverse region, will prolong the plunge in closed sales for the region. Particularly on the West Coast, the largest and very expensive markets — Seattle metro, Portland metro, Bay Area, and Los Angeles area — have been experiencing sharp sales declines, a surge in inventory for sale, and starting this summer, declining prices. Today’s pending home sales data confirms that these trends are intact and will likely continue.

The NAR report blames the sales decline in the expensive markets in the West on “affordability challenges” – because prices “have risen too much, too fast,” it said. And this is a true and huge problem: Home prices have shot up for years, even while wages ticked up at much slower rates. At some point, the market is going to run out of people with median incomes who are willing to stretch to the limit to buy a starter shack; and the market is going to run out of people with high incomes who are willing to stretch to the limit to buy a median house.

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“..economies don’t de-grow, at least not in an orderly way.”

Which Side Are You On? (Jim Kunstler)

The true rebalancing of pension funds, and everything else in American life, will come with the recognition that we are tapped out and bumping up against actual limits. Alas, economies don’t de-grow, at least not in an orderly way. They reach a certain complete efflorescence and then they wilt, or collapse. Survival becomes a matter of how human beings adapt to new conditions. Attempts at mitigation — propping up the status quo — add up to a mug’s game, whether it’s stock markets, agri-biz, political parties, weather systems, or influence over people in distant lands.

The argument will come down to the Mitigationists versus the Adapters. The problem for the Mitigators is that most of what they can do is based on pretending: e.g. that some energy miracle is at hand… that we’ll soon be mining asteroids… that we’ll build dikes around Miami Beach… that Modern Monetary Theory (the “science” of getting something for nothing) can negate the physical laws of the universe. The Mitigationists will be disappointed as they “consume” their last images of iPhone porn, waiting for Elon Musk to save the world.

The Adapters will be out there working with the changes that reality serves up, probably with hand tools. There may be a lot fewer of them, living in a more austere everyday economy, but they will remain onstage when the Mitigationists depart this earth in tears for a mysterious realm that turns out not to be a golf course subdivision on Mars with a Tesla in every driveway. Something’s coming and the wild algo instability in the markets is yet another sign that anybody can read. Even if it quiets down for a few weeks in early 2019, as I think it may, the fireworks are only beginning. Which side are you on?

Read more …

Maybe not in practice, though.

Universal Basic Income Is Easier Than It Looks (Ellen Brown)

Calls for a Universal Basic Income have been increasing, most recently as part of the Green New Deal introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and supported in the last month by at least 40 members of Congress. A Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a monthly payment to all adults with no strings attached, similar to Social Security. Critics say the Green New Deal asks too much of the rich and upper-middle-class taxpayers who will have to pay for it, but taxing the rich is not what the resolution proposes. It says funding would primarily come from the federal government, “using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks,” and other vehicles.

The Federal Reserve alone could do the job. It could buy “Green” federal bonds with money created on its balance sheet, just as the Fed funded the purchase of $3.7 trillion in bonds in its “quantitative easing” program to save the banks. The Treasury could also do it. The Treasury has the constitutional power to issue coins in any denomination, even trillion dollar coins. What prevents legislators from pursuing those options is the fear of hyperinflation from excess “demand” (spendable income) driving prices up. But in fact the consumer economy is chronically short of spendable income, due to the way money enters the consumer economy. We actually need regular injections of money to avoid a “balance sheet recession” and allow for growth, and a UBI is one way to do it.

The pros and cons of a UBI are hotly debated and have been discussed elsewhere. The point here is to show that it could actually be funded year after year without driving up taxes or prices. New money is continually being added to the money supply, but it is added as debt created privately by banks. (How banks rather than the government create most of the money supply today is explained on the Bank of England website) A UBI would replace money-created-as-debt with debt-free money – a “debt jubilee” for consumers – while leaving the money supply for the most part unchanged; and to the extent that new money was added, it could help create the demand needed to fill the gap between actual and potential productivity.

Read more …

This is a nice effort from Tom Coburg for the Canary, and very much in line with some of the things I’ve said. But he misses an enormous elephant, and it’s hard to see how. See, he cites a May 18 2018 article by Luke Harding, Dan Collyns and Stephanie Kirchgaessner as the instant when the Guardian campaign against Assange started. But just three days prior to that, on May 15, the same authors posted 3 articles about Assange and his relations with Ecuador that are pure smear and very much part of the campaign against Assange. I linked to these things in my May 16 article, “I Am Julian Assange”

Guilty By Innuendo: The Guardian Campaign Against Julian Assange (Canary)

An analysis of articles published by the Guardian over several months reveals what appears to be a campaign to link WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with Russia and the Kremlin. But the paper has provided little or no evidence to back up the assertions. And amid recent revelations that Guardian journalists have associated with the psychological operations experts at the Integrity Initiative, we should perhaps be more sceptical than ever before. This particular campaign by the Guardian appears to have begun with an article on 18 May 2018 from Luke Harding, Dan Collyns and Stephanie Kirchgaessner.

It stated that “Assange has a longstanding relationship with RT”, the Russian TV broadcaster; and the headline was Assange’s guest list: the RT reporters, hackers and film-makers who visited embassy. Assange has had hundreds of people visit him at the embassy, but the article was keen to focus on the “senior staff members from RT, the Moscow TV network described by US intelligence agencies as the Kremlin’s ‘principal international propaganda outlet’”. On the same day, the Guardian published another article, claiming that Assange had visits from “individuals linked to the Kremlin”, but which offered no evidence for this.

Read more …

Dec 252018
 


Rembrandt van Rijn The Adoration of the Magi 16xx

 

I still had some things I didn’t talk about in Sunday’s Trump Derangement International, about how the European press have found out that they, like the US MSM, can get lots of viewers and readers simply by publishing negative stories about Donald Trump. The US president is an attention magnet, as long as you only write things about him designed to make him look bad.

The Guardian is only too happy to comply. They ran a whole series of articles on Sunday to do juts that: try to make Trump look bad. Note that the Guardian editorial team that okayed the articles is the same as the one that allowed the fake Assange/Manafort one, so their credibility is already shot to pieces. It’s the magic triangle of today’s media profits: spout non-stop allegations against Russia, Trump and Julian Assange, and link them when and where you can. It doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not.

 

Anyway, all the following is from the Guardian, all on December 23. First off, Adam Gabbatt in New York, who has painstakingly researched how Trump’s businesses, like Trump Tower and the Trump store, don’t appear to have sufficiently (as per him) switched from Happy Holidays to Merry Christmas. Sherlock Holmes would have been proud. A smash hit there Adam, bring out the handcuffs.

 

Trump’s ‘Merry Christmas’ Pledge Fails To Manifest

During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign he talked often about his determination to win one particular war. A war that had been raging for years, he said. Specifically: the war on Christmas. But despite Trump’s repeated claims that “people are saying Merry Christmas again” instead of the more inclusive “happy holidays”, there are several places where the Christmas greeting is absent: Trump’s own businesses.

The Trump Store, for example. Instead of a Christmas gift guide – which surely would be more in keeping with the president’s stated desire for the phrase to be used – the store offers a holiday gift guide. “Shop our Holiday Gift Guide and find the perfect present for the enthusiast on your list,” the online store urges. “Carefully curated to celebrate the most wonderful time of year with truly unique gifts found only at Trump Store. Add a bow on top with our custom gift wrapping. Happy Holiday’s!”

The use of the phrase “Happy Holiday’s” [sic] in Trump marketing would seem particularly egregious. The long-standing “War-on-Christmas” complaint from the political right is that stores use the phrase “Happy Holidays”, rather than specifically mentioning the Christian celebration. It is offered as both an example of political correctness gone mad, and as an effort to erase Christianity from the US.

It’s just, I think that if Trump had personally interfered to make sure there were Merry Christmas messages all around, you would have remarked that as president, he’s not allowed to be personally involved in his businesses. But yeah, you know, just to keep the negativity going, it works, no matter how fluffy and hollow.

 

Second, still on December 23, is Tom McCarthy for the Guardian in New York. Who talks about Robert Mueller’s phenomenal successes. Mueller charged 34 people so far. In a case that involves “this complexity which has international implications, aspects relying on the intelligence community, complicated cyber components”. It really says that.

And yes, that’s how many people view this. What do they care that Mueller’s original mandate was to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and ‘Russians’, and that he has not proven any collusion at all so far, not even with 34 people charged? What do they care? It looks like Trump is guilty of something, anything, after all, and that’s all the circus wants.

 

Robert Mueller Has Enjoyed A Year Of Successes … 2019 Could Be Even Stronger

One measure of special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutorial success in 2018 is the list of former top Donald Trump aides brought to justice: Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, a jury convicted Paul Manafort, a judge berated Michael Flynn. Another measure is the tally of new defendants that Mueller’s team charged (34), the number of new guilty pleas he netted (five) and the amount of money he clawed back through tax fraud cases ($48m).

Yet another measure might judge Mueller’s pace compared with previous independent prosecutors. “I would refer to it as a lightning pace,” said Barb McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former US attorney. “In a case of this complexity which has international implications, aspects relying on the intelligence community, complicated cyber components – to indict that many people that quickly is really impressive work.”

But there’s perhaps a more powerful way to measure Mueller’s progress in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and links between Moscow and the Trump campaign; that’s by noticing how the targets of his investigation have changed their postures over the course of 2018, from defiance to docility – or in the case of Trump himself, from defiance to extreme, hyperventilating defiance.

In reality, you would be at least as correct if you would claim that Robert Mueller’s investigation has been an abject failure. Not one iota of collusion has been proven after 20 months and $20 million in funds have been used. And any serious investigation of Washington’s culture of fixers and lobbyists would land at least 34 people who have committed acts that border on or over illegality. And in a matter of weeks, for a few hundred bucks.

 

Third, still on December 23, is Julian Borger in Washington, who’s been elected to convey the image of chaos. Trump Unleashed, says our modern day Shakespeare. With Jim Mad Dog Mattis characterized as “.. the last independently minded, globally respected, major figure left in the administration”... Again, it really says that.

Because woe the man who tries to bring US troops home, or even promises to do so a few days before Christmas. For pulling out America’s finest, Donald Trump is being portrayed as something eerily close to the antichrist. That truly is the world on its head. Bringing troops home to their families equals chaos.

Look, guys, if Trump has been guilty of criminal behavior, the US justice system should be able to find that out and convict him for it. But that’s not what this is about anymore. A million articles have been written, like these ones in the Guardian, with the sole intention, evidence being scarce to non-existent, of smearing him to the extent that people see every subsequent article in the light of a man having previously been smeared.

 

Chaos At Home, Fear Abroad: Trump Unleashed Puts Western World On Edge

The US stumbled into the holiday season with a sense of unravelling, as a large chunk of the federal government ground to a halt, the stock market crashed and the last independently minded, globally respected, major figure left in the administration announced he could no longer work with the president. The defense secretary, James Mattis, handed in his resignation on Thursday, over Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull US troops out of Syria.

On Saturday another senior official joined the White House exodus. Brett McGurk, the special envoy for the global coalition to defeat Isis and the US official closest to America’s Kurdish allies in the region, was reported to have handed in his resignation on Friday. That night, senators flew back to Washington from as far away as Hawaii for emergency talks aimed at finding a compromise on Trump’s demand for nearly $6bn for a wall on the southern border, a campaign promise which has become an obsession.

Now look at the next headline, December 23, Graeme Wearden, Guardian, and ask yourself if it’s really Trump saying he doesn’t agree with the rate hikes that fuels the fears, or whether it’s the hikes themselves. And also ask yourself: when Trump and Mnuchin both deny reports of Trump firing Powell, why do journalists keep saying the opposite? Because they want to fuel some fears?

From where I’m sitting, it looks perfectly logical that Trump says he doesn’t think Powell’s decisions are good for the US economy. And it doesn’t matter which one of the two turns out to be right: Trump isn’t the only person who disagrees with the Fed hikes.

The main suspect for 2019 market turmoil is the inevitable fallout from the Fed’s QE under Bernanke and Yellen. And there is something to be said for Powell trying to normalize rates, but there’s no doubt that may hasten, if not cause, turmoil. Blaming it on Trump not agreeing with Jay Powell is pretty much as left field as it gets.

 

White House Attacks On Fed Chair Fuel Fears Of Market Turmoil In 2019

Over the weekend, a flurry of reports claimed Donald Trump had discussed the possibility of firing the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell. Such an unprecedented move would trigger further instability in the markets, which have already had their worst year since the 2008 crisis. US officials scrambled to deny Trump had suggested ousting Powell, who was appointed by the president barely a year ago.

The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, tweeted that he had spoken to the president, who insisted he “never suggested firing” Powell, and did not believe he had the right to do this. However, Trump also declared – via Mnuchin – that he “totally disagrees” with the Fed’s “absolutely terrible” policy of raising interest rates and unwinding its bond-buying stimulus programme, piling further pressure on the US’s independent central bank.

And now, in the only article in the Guardian series that’s December 24, not 23, by Victoria Bekiempis and agencies, the plunging numbers in the stock markets are Trump’s fault, too.

 

Trump ‘Plunging Us Into Chaos’, Democrats Say, As Markets Tank And Shutdown Persists

Top Democrats have accused Donald Trump of “plunging the country into chaos” as top officials met to discuss a growing rout in stock markets caused in part by the president’s persistent attacks on the Federal Reserve and a government shutdown. “It’s Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” the two top Democrats in Congress, House speaker nominee Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, wrote in a joint statement on Monday. “The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve – after he just fired the Secretary of Defense.”

Trump criticized the Federal Reserve on Monday, describing it as the “only problem” for the US economy, even as top officials convened the “plunge protection team” forged after the 1987 crash to discuss the growing rout in stock markets. The crisis call on Monday between US financial regulators and the US treasury department failed to assure markets, and stocks fell again amid concern about slowing economic growth, the continuing government shutdown, and reports that Trump had discussed firing Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell.

The last one is from one Jonathan Jones, again December 23, again for the Guardian. And it takes the top award in the narrative building contest.

Again, the Guardian editorial team that okayed this article is still the same as the one that allowed the fake Assange/Manafort one, an editorial team that sees no problem in making things up in order to smear people. To portray Trump, Assange and anyone who’s had the misfortune of being born in Russia as suspicious if not outright criminal.

But look at what Jones has to say, and what Guardian editor-in-chief Kathy Viner and her ilk allowed and pressured him to say. He wants to have a say in how Trump should dress (seasonal knitwear), he evokes the image of Nazi architect Albert Speer for no reason at all, and then it’s a matter of mere inches until you arrive at Trump as a king, an emperor, an inner tyrant.

“He’s in a tuxedo!”, Like that’s a bad thing for Christmas. “She’s in white!”. Oh dear, call the pope. If both Trumps would have put on Christmas sweaters in front of a fire, the writer would have found something negative in that.

 

Trump Portrait: You Couldn’t Create A Creepier Yuletide Scene If You Tried

The absence of intimacy in the Trumps’ official Christmas portrait freezes the heart. Can it be that hard to create a cosy image of the presidential couple, perhaps in front of a roaring hearth, maybe in seasonal knitwear? Or is this quasi-dictatorial image exactly what the president wants to project? Look on my Christmas trees, ye mighty, and despair! If so, it fuels suspicions that it is only the checks and balances of a 230-year-old constitution that are keeping America from the darkest of political fates. You couldn’t create a creepier Yuletide scene if you tried. Multiple Christmas trees are currently a status symbol for the wealthy, but this picture shows the risks.

Instead of a homely symbol of midwinter cheer, these disciplined arboreal ranks with their uniform decorations are arrayed like massed soldiers or colossal columns designed by Albert Speer. The setting is the Cross Hall in the White House and, while the incumbent president cannot be held responsible for its architecture, why heighten its severity with such rigid, heartless seasonal trappings? Everything here communicates cold, empty magnificence. Tree lights that are as frigid as icicles are mirrored in a cold polished floor. Equally frosty illuminations are projected on the ceiling. Instead of twinkling fairy magic, this lifeless lighting creates a sterile, inhuman atmosphere.

You can’t imagine kids playing among these trees or any conceivable fun being had by anyone. It suggests the micromanaged, corporate Christmas of a Citizen Kane who has long since lost touch with the ordinary, warm pleasures of real life. In the centre of this disturbing piece of conceptual art stand Donald and Melania Trump. He’s in a tuxedo, she’s wearing white – and not a woolly hat in sight. Their formal smartness adds to the emotional numbness of the scene. Trump’s shark-like grin has nothing generous or friendly about it. He seems to want to show off his beautiful wife and his fantastic home rather than any of the cuddly holiday spirit a conventional politician might strive to share at this time.

It begs a question: how can a man who so glaringly lacks anything like a common touch be such a successful “populist”? What can a midwestern voter find in this image to connect with? Perhaps that’s the point. After more than two centuries of democracy, Trump is offering the US people a king, or emperor. In this picture, he gives full vent to his inner tyrant. If this portrait contains any truth about the state of America and the world, may Santa help us all.

I realize that you may be tired of the whole story. I realize you may have been caught in the anti-Trump narrative. And I am by no means a Trump fan. But I will keep on dragging you back to this. Because the discussion should not be based on a handful of media moguls not liking Trump. It should not be based on innuendo and smear. If Trump is to be convicted, it must be on evidence.

And there is no such evidence. Robert Mueller has charged 34 people, but none with what his mandate was based on, none with Russia collusion. This means that the American political system, and democracy itself, is under severe threat by the very media that are supposed to be its gate keepers.

 

None of this is about Trump, or about whether you like him or not, or even if he’s a shady character or not. Instead, it’s about the influence the media have on how our opinions and ideas about people and events are being shaped on a daily basis.

And once you acknowledge that your opinions of Trump, Putin et al, even without any proof of a connection between them, are actively being molded by the press you expect to inform you about the truth behind what goes on, you will have to acknowledge, too, that you are a captive of forces that use your gullibility to make a profit off you.

If our media need to make up things all the time about who’s guilty of what, because our justice systems are incapable of that, then we have a problem so enormous we may not be able to overcome it in our present settings.

Alternatively, if we trust our justice systems to deliver true justice, we don’t need a hundred articles a day to tell us how Trump or Putin are such terrible threats to our world. Our judges will tell us, not our journalists or media who are only in it for a profit.

I can say: “let’s start off 2019 trying to leave prejudice behind”, and as much as that is needed and you may agree with me, it’s no use if you don’t realize to what extent your views of the world have been shaped by prejudice.

I see people reacting to the star writer at Der Spiegel who wrote a lot about Trump, being exposed as a fraud. I also see people trying to defend Julian Assange from the Guardian article about his alleged meetings with Paul Manafort, that was an obvious big fat lie (the truth is Manafort talked to Ecuador to help them ‘sell’ Assange to the US).

But reacting to the very obvious stuff is not enough. The echo chamber distorts the truth about Trump every single day, and at least six times on Sunday, as this essay of mine shows. It’s just that after two years of this going on 24/7, it is perceived as the normal.

Everyone makes money dumping on the Donald, it’s a proven success formula, so why would the Guardian and Der Spiegel stay behind? They’d only hurt their own bottom line.

It has nothing to do with journalism, though, or news. It’s smear and dirt, the business model of the National Enquirer. That’s how far our once truthful media have fallen.

 

 

Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 1:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher The Tower of Babel 1928

 

Two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media. Google and Facebook receive well over 70% of US digital advertising revenues. The average daily time spent on social media is 2 hours. Just a few factoids that have at least one thing in common: nothing like them was around 10 years ago, let alone 20. And they depict a change, or set of changes, in our world that will take a long time yet to understand and absorb. Some things just move too fast for us to keep track of, let alone process.

Those of us who were alive before the meteoric rise of the hardware and software of ‘social’ media may be able to relate a little more and better than those who were not, but even that is not a given. There are plenty people over 20, over 30, that make one think: what did you do before you had that magic machine? When you walk down the street talking to some friend, or looking at what your friends wrote on Facebook, do you ever think about what you did in such situations before the machine came into your life?

 


From 10% to 75% in 10 years

 

We’re not going to know what the hardware and software of ‘social’ media will have done to our lives, individually and socially, for a very long time. But in the meantime, their influence will continue to shape our lives. They change our societies, the way we interact with each other, in very profound ways; we just don’t know how profound, or how, period. There can be little question that they change us as individuals too; they change how we communicate, and in such a way that there is no way they don’t also change our very brain structures in the process.

Someone who walks down a street talking to someone else 10, 100, 1000 miles away, or sees messages from such a person come in in virtual real time, experiences things that were not available ever in human history. Our brains must adapt to these changes, or we will be left behind. And while for the over-20, over-30 crowd this takes actual adaptation, for those younger than that it comes quasi pre-cooked: they’ve never known anything else. Still, their brains were formed in completely different times too. Think hunter-gatherers. And that’s just the human part of the brain.

There are too many aspects to this development to cover here. One day someone will write a book, or rather, many someones will write many books, and they will all be different. Some will focus on people’s lives being saved because their smartphones allow them to either receive or send out distress signals. Others will tell stories of teenagers committing suicide after being heckled on ‘social’ media. With yin comes yang. Millions feel better with new-found ‘friends’, and millions suffer from abuse even if they don’t kill themselves.

 

With new media, especially when it goes from 1 to 100 in no time flat, it should be no surprise that the news it delivers changes too. We went from a few dozen TV- and radio stations and newspapers to a few hundred million potential opinions in the US alone. The media are no longer a one-way street. The first effect that has had is that the chasm between news and opinion has narrowed spectacularly. If their readers post their views of what they read and see, journalists feel they have the right to vent their opinions too.

And then these opinions increasingly replace the news itself. The medium is again the message, in a way, a novel kind of way. A hundred million people write things without being restricted by due diligence or other journalistic standards, and we see journalists do that too. They will come up with lies, half-truths, innuendo, false accusations, and moreover will not retract or correct them, except when really hard-pressed. After all, who has the time when you post a hundred+ tweets a day and need to update your Facebook pages too?

Obviously, Donald Trump is an excellent example of the changing media environment. His use of Twitter was a major factor in his election victory. And then his detractors took to Twitter to launch a huge campaign accusing him of collusion with Russia to achieve that victory. They did this moving in lockstep with Bob Mueller’s investigation of that collusion accusation. But almost two years after the election, neither Mueller not the media have provided any evidence of collusion.

That, ironically, is the only thing that is actually true about the entire narrative at this point. Sure, Mueller may still have something left in his back pocket, but if he had solid proof he would have been obliged to present it. Collusion with a foreign government is too serious not to reveal evidence of. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that in September 2018, Mueller has no such evidence. But what about the thousands of printed articles and the millions of Tweets and Facebook posts claiming collusion that were presented as true?

Funny you asked. What they prove is not collusion, but the changing media landscape. The anti-Trump echo-chamber that I’ve written about many times has been going strong for two years and shows no signs of abating. There are still lots of people posting a hundred (re-)tweets etc. daily who are being read by many others, all of them confirming their biases in a never fulfilled feeding frenzy.

This is not about Trump. And I’m not a Trump supporter. This is instead about the media, and the humongous difference interactivity has made. And about the fact that it hasn’t just added a hundred million voices, it has also altered the way traditional media report the news, in an effort to keep up with those hundred million.

 

The thing here that is about Trump, is that he’s everybody’s favorite meal ticket. He confirms everyone’s opinion, whether for or against him, by the way he uses media. And most importantly, they all make a lot of money off of him. The New York Times and WaPo and MSNBC would be in deep financial trouble without Trump. Like they were before he came along. Polarization of opinions saved them. Well, not the WaPo, Jeff Bezos can afford to run 1000 papers like that and lose money hand over fist. But for the NYT and many others a Trump impeachment would be disastrous. Funny, right?

Another thing that is obvious is that one thing still sells above all others: sex. The smear campaign against Julian Assange has been successful in one way only, and it’s been a smash hit: the rape allegations. Completely false, entirely made up, dragged out as long as possible, and turning millions, especially women, against him.

The accusations against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh haven’t been around long enough to be discredited. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. But read through newspaper articles, watch TV shows, follow Twitter, and you see countless voices already convinced ‘he did it’. And that ‘it’ is often labeled ‘rape’, though that’s not the accusation.

But it’s part of the Anti-Trump train, and the echo-chamber has gone into overdrive once again. Even if everyone understands that a 36-year old accusation must be handled with care. The accusing woman’s lawyer says the FBI must investigate, and everyone says: FBI! FBI!. Conveniently forgetting that the FBI has been far from impartial with regards to Trump, and the White House is not exactly waiting for another FBI role.

What’s wrong with waiting till you know the facts? Why judge a situation you know nothing about other than a woman accuses a man of assault 36 years ago, and doesn’t remember time, location etc.?

 

And that’s the thing all along, isn’t it? That people, both readers and journalists, all 200 million Americans of them, think they have acquired the right to judge any person, any situation they read a few lines about, just because they have purchased a smartphone. A faulty notion fed on a daily basis by the fact there are millions who think just like them.

We may want to rethink the terms ‘social’ media and ‘smart’ phone. They sound good, but they don’t cover the true nature of either. It’s hard to say where all this is going, but the sharply increasing polarization of society is certainly not a good sign. People feeling they have the right to accuse others without knowing facts, people building a Russiagate narrative without evidence, these are not things a society should welcome, whether they’re profitable or not.

Meanwhile, there are two people (there are many more, of course) who were banned from the platforms so many others use to draw baseless conclusions and spout empty accusations. And we miss them both, or we should: Alex Jones and Julian Assange. Have they really used ‘social’ media in worse ways than those 200 million Americans? Or were they banned because millions of Americans were following and reading their non-mainstream views?

We better get a grip on this, and on ourselves, or we won’t get another chance. What we have seen so far is that it’s not that hard to shape people’s opinions in a world with information overload. And that process is about to get a whole lot more intense. Until all you’re left with is the illusion that your opinion is actually your own.

 

 

Jul 172018
 
 July 17, 2018  Posted by at 12:50 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Aivazovsky Among the waves 1898

 

Yeah, just keep ’em coming, right, so that when the last one falls flat on its face people will have already forgotten about it and instead focus on the new one. It’s been the modus operandi of the US MSM ever since Donald Trump emerged as an actual presidential candidate, and they haven’t let go.

They realize by now that it divides the nation, it costs them a large chunk of their potential readers and viewers, and creates chaos all around, but the bottom line is it makes them money. Because those people who fall into the echo chamber trap, tumble into it fast and furious, and will gladly pay to read yet another installment of how bad the man really is.

But it is getting out of hand, guys and gals, it is becoming a real and present danger to the -formerly- United States. The anti-Russia propaganda machine far predates Trump, but manufacturing an ever closer link between the two has proven to be a masterstroke of media genius.

That Vladimir Putin is an existential threat to the US and indeed the entire western world is a narrative taken straight out of Edward Bernays’ playbook. And it works like a charm. The problem is, it is also the biggest threat to peace anywhere on the globe that we have ever seen since WWII.

Putin is a patriot who came to the fore in mostly unexplained ways, named by American puppet Boris Yeltsin as his successor, only to save his country from US-induced plundering and restore Russia as a functioning country. Far from perfect, but functioning. Don’t forget that Russian life-expectancy fell by many years in the post-Gorbachev era. And then look now.

Yes, Putin uses some hard-handed tactics from time to time. He has no choice: the US threat to Russia is an ongoing one. There’s still a huge economic threat, of which US sanctions are but a minor part, there’s an intelligence threat, there’s NATO encroaching upon Russia’s borders.

Thus far, Putin has been able to counter them all. And his popularity among Russia’s population is far higher than that of any western politician. His people understand and recognize what he’s done and why he’s done it. He refuses for his country to be overrun and sold off to the highest bidders.

 

Just a few of the points of contention: Crimea – The US tried to take away Russia’s only warm water port. Putin countered with what through non-western eyes was tactical masterpiece; no violence, no shots fired, an election that saw an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to (re-)join Russia.

Connected to Crimea is Ukraine. Putin had -and has- to protect Russian-speaking people in the region. Who were going to be under threat from the very dubious, neo-nazi linked government installed by the US after the coup. All Putin has been able to achieve so far is a very brittle stand still. But ‘his’ people in Eastern Ukraine have strong links to the Russian area just across the border. He’s not going to sell them out.

Connected to Ukraine is MH17. The Netherlands commemorates the victims of the shooting down again today. Several years of investigating have come up with no conclusive proof, even if they say it has. The problem is that the investigation was -is- led by The Netherlands itself. You don’t let the biggest victim conduct an investigation.

What’s worse: the Ukraine was actively involved in the investigation, even when it was a potential culprit. Try to write that scenario into the plot of one of your favorite TV crime series. Won’t fly.

 

Then the novichok ‘events’ in the UK. Again, no evidence, but tons of allegations. And if Russia says it’s not guilty, everyone says and writes: of course they would say that. They get accused anyway. Still, no evidence is no evidence. the time that intelligence agencies were believed on their word is over. And they did it to themselves.

In the regard, it’s useful to see that Robert Mueller was one of the people who ‘swore’ that the Weapons of Mass Destruction ‘evidence’ against Saddam Hussein was real. We now know it was complete and utter fiction. Intelligence has overplayed its hand, and they won’t get it back for a long time.

People now realize they cannot be trusted. Well, not those who read and view the MSM, but then that’s sort of the entire point, isn’t it? That’s where the dividing line is being drawn. The CIA, FBI et al present a view of the world in concoction with the media that they think a sufficient number of people will swallow, and that’s really all they care for.

And boy, it is successful. The vitriol spewed over the Helsinki summit is something to behold. #TreasonSummit was a trending hashtag. For a meeting that was long overdue and aimed at calming down tensions. The by now very poorly named ‘social’ media play an ever bigger role in these things.

People can say whatever they want on them, without feeling they’ll ever actually be tested on their claims. One after the other, and each one trying to outdo the last. It all leads up to one particular worldview at the exclusion of all others. And again, that is very dangerous.

 

Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russians, which just happened to coincide with the first meeting of American and Russian presidents in an exceptionally long time, has been shot full of holes by many commentators, see for instance Adam Carter and Aaron Mate, but those views won’t make it to CNN or the NYT.

But despite the fact that the indictment is hollow and riddled with holes, it’s been a large part of why people call Trump a traitor for meeting with Putin. It ties together their opinions, carefully built along Bernays principles over the past two years. It’s a Matrix, it’s a trap. But then they throw in another story, of a 29 year-old Russian(!) girl arrested for allegedly setting up links between Russia and the NRA when she was 24 or so, and that replaces the Mueller indictment in most attention spans. And so the carrousel goes on. The torture never stops.

See, the idea is that you get yourself informed and then form your own opinion. Not that you let others pre-cook and pre-chew your opinions for you. Still, once you’re inside the deafening echo chamber, that’s what inevitably happens. Because there’s so much one-sided innuendo in there, your head aches and you just give up all resistance. Just to have a quiet moment.

And so very many Americans end up believing that indeed their president is guilty of treason. Because so many pundits claim that he is. But how many of them understand what treason really is, how serious an allegation it is? Is doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? Because all those others say he is, and they can’t all be wrong. And the echo chamber gives you a headache.

This is where I should say that somebody better do something about this, but it’s hard to see what. The divide has grown into a chasm. And that both sides are equally to blame for that doesn’t excuse either side’s wilful blindness. But yes, I hear you, it makes them money.

Still, if a US president can no longer talk to another president without being accused of treason, you’re in a scary predicament.

At some point you’re going to need real proof. And Bob Mueller is not going to get it for you. That’s what his indictment of the 12 Russians, as well as the moment he released it, makes abundantly clear. Mueller is -forever- going to hide behind the ‘Trust me, I’m the FBI’ line. Well, he betrayed you before. Wisen up. Demand evidence.

We know Mueller betrayed America when he made false claims over WMD. We have no evidence that Trump betrayed his country, we have only allegations. He may be a poor choice for president, but that’s not the same thing.

 

 

Jun 152018
 
 June 15, 2018  Posted by at 12:42 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward John Poynter Erato, Muse of Poetry 1870

 

This is something I’ve commented on many times. Like two months ago, when I wrote:

“As for Donald Trump, as much as we would like to engage in constructive criticism of the man and his government, we find we no longer can. The anti-Trump echo-chamber has turned so deafening that any intelligent debate about his policies is being drowned out amid the never ending flow of fake news and half truths and innuendo and empty smears that US media continue to spout. With a brief lull when the bombs fell on Syria.

Thank you, New York Times, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC. Thank you for killing the entire discussion, thank you for killing off journalism. There is a lot to say about Trump, much of it critical, but we can no longer open our mouths. Because we don’t want to be in the same camp as you. Life in the echo chamber has given us vertigo. We had to get out.”

Jim Kunstler thanked me for saying that. He very much feels the same way. Nothing has changed. They’re still at it, and we still can’t get a word in edgewise. I was thinking earlier today that the best the MSM can do to promote its own case is to praise Trump from time to time. Because that is the only way they could attract some ears and eyes from outside their echo chamber.

They won’t do it. Being negative about the US president makes them too much money. It leaves us with a situation in which the one half of America that reads and hears New York Times, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC has become fully isolated from the other half. Yes, this is risky. But this, too, will be blamed on Trump.

Meanwhile, border policies where children are forcefully separated form their parents need criticism and condemnation from all of the nation. But there is nobody left who can reach the entire nation. A year and a half of 24/7 unproven allegations about collusion with Russia has seen to that.

Therefore, when the Intercept wrote about a Human Rights Watch report last month in Obama’s Deportation Policy Was Even Worse Than We Thought , the MSM don’t cover it, because it doesn’t fit the narrative. But when Trump uses the same ICE machinery to scare potential immigrants away, it’s suddenly considered newsworthy.

Oh, and France uses the exact same scare tactics, going as far as ripping children’s soles from their shoes. We should all condemn these atrocities, and make them stop. But it’s not going to happen if you guys insist on making it an anti-Trump thing, because half the country won’t listen to any more of that.

Journalism and news media must be a force to unite a nation, not one that divides it simply because there’s -more- profit in that.

The neverending Trump innuendo reached another new high in the North Korea meeting, with the ‘media’ competing with each other to find yet another terrible mistake or intentional screw-up by the man who is President of all Americans (like it or not). A feeding frenzy on nothingburgers.

Trump was accused of hob-nobbing with dictators. Excuse me, but all US presidents have done that. He wasn’t being tough enough, he was giving far too much away with nothing in return. Well, that’s not how South Koreans see it, and this concerns them a whole lot more than a bunch of ‘reporters’ covering the beltway.

Truth is, Trump did a good job, everything went well, he put Kim Jong-un in a position where the latter will have to deliver on denuclearization, or face the -international- consequences. It is quite the achievement, but if you wake up every single morning looking for more bad things to say about someone, yes, chances are you miss the good things.

You’re also probably missing the Saudi, US-supported, attacks on Hodeidah, the port city that is Yemen’s last lifeline to the world, and the only chance millions of people have of escaping a famine not seen since the Middle Ages.

That is the kind of thing that should be on your front pages, and opening your news shows, not that North Korea happens to have a border with Russia nudge nudge wink wink, and Trump saluted some Korean general.

America needs real news and real journalism, and it needs it badly. Instead it has an increasingly divisive set of well-paid propagandists who break the country ever further apart. The OIG report that came out yesterday confirms this more and better than anything.

When the country’s own ‘intelligence’ conspires to influence the political process, while the media report on outside influence only, then yes, you have a problem. As I was writing earlier today, you have to wonder how many people will still be working at the FBI by the end of the year.

Something else I’ve said before: the only hope of survival the MSM have in the age of the interwebs is to be brutally honest and open. Real news and real journalism. Because simply spouting opinions is something they will be trumped on by the many many millions of people with social media accounts who already do that every day, anonymously, and for free.

The old media don’t stand a chance against that army. The only thing that can save them is the truth.

 

 

May 182018
 
 May 18, 2018  Posted by at 1:50 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Leonard Misonne Waterloo Place, London 1899

 

Let me start by saying I have nothing against the English newspaper The Guardian. They publish some good things, on a wide range of topics. But they also produce some real stinkers. And lately they seem to publish quite a few of those. On Wednesday there was an entire series of hit pieces on Julian Assange, which I wrote about in I Am Julian Assange.

And apparently they’re not done. As I said on Wednesday, the relationship between Assange and the paper has cooled considerably, after The Guardian’s initial cooperation with Wikileaks on files Assange had shared with them. But does that excuse hit pieces, personal attacks, innuendo, suggestive and tendentious writing, in bulk?

There was one more article in the hit pieces series on Wednesday:

Assange ‘Split’ Ecuador And Spain Over Catalan Independence

Julian Assange’s intervention on Catalan independence created a rift between the WikiLeaks founder and the Ecuadorian government, which has hosted Assange for nearly six years in its London embassy, the Guardian has learned. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said Assange’s support for the separatists, including a meeting in November, led to a backlash from Spain, which in turn caused deep concern within Ecuador’s government. While Assange’s role in the US presidential election has been an intense focus of US prosecutors, his involvement in Spanish politics appears to have caused Ecuador the most pain.

The Ecuadorians cut Assange’s internet connection and ended his access to visitors on 28 March, saying he had breached an agreement at the end of last year not to issue messages that might interfere with other states. Quito has been looking to find a solution to what it increasingly sees as an untenable situation: hosting one of the world’s most wanted men.

In November 2017, Assange hosted two supporters of the Catalan independence movement, whose push for secession from Spain had plunged the country into its worst political crisis since returning to democracy. Assange has said he supported the right to “self-determination” and argued against “repression” from Madrid.

He was visited by Oriol Soler, a Catalan businessman and publisher, and Arnau Grinyó, an expert in online communications campaigns. Their meeting, which was reported by the Spanish press, took place a little over a month after the unilateral Catalan independence referendum, and 13 days after the Spanish government responded to the unilateral declaration of independence by sacking the administration of the then Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and assuming direct control of the region.

I think that’s we call ‘leading’. Terminology like “..Assange’s role in the US presidential election..”, “..one of the world’s most wanted men..”, “..unilateral referendum..”, “..unilateral declaration of independence..”, are suggestive, they are meant to paint a picture in the reader’s head. What’s missing is any and all mention of the brutal violence in Catalunya on referendum day. That, too, has a purpose.

Assange has been a vocal critic of Madrid’s handling of the Catalan crisis and described the independence movement as “the redefinition of the relationship between people and state”, and “the most disciplined Gandhian project since Gandhi”. A Spanish diplomat told the Guardian that Spain “conveyed a message” to Ecuadorian authorities that Assange was using social media to support the secessionist movement and sending out messages “that are at odds with reality”.

A billion people have been critics of what happened around the referendum. So why not Assange? For what reason did he need to be shut up? Everyone can speak their mind, but not him? We no longer have freedom of speech? Isn’t that something a newspaper, most of all, first of all, should stand up for? An embassy of a democratic nation? No, not a word.

[..] “Spain has, on a number of occasions, informed the Ecuadorian authorities of its concerns over the activities that Julian Assange has engaged in while in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.” [..]In December, Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, reminded Assange that he should refrain from trying to intervene in Ecuadorian politics.

US intelligence agencies and Spanish authorities have separately claimed that Russia has had a hand in their domestic affairs. US agencies have accused WikiLeaks of working with Russian intelligence to try to disrupt the US election by releasing hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and Spanish officials have suggested that much of the messaging on social media about the Catalan crisis originated in Russia.

Obviously, Assange has never interfered in Ecuadorian politics. That’s just utter nonsense. But that last bit takes the cherry. There is no proven link between Assange and Russia. There is no proven link between Russia and US elections. There is no proven link between Russia and hacked emails. There is no proof the emails were hacked. And as for Russia interfering in the Catalan referendum: oh, please.

Is this just very very bad journalism, or is it something more? You be the judge. But beware that almost all of this stuff consists of insinuations. It’s an affront to journalism.

Glenn Greenwald interviewed Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa after the Guardian pieces came out:

Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture”

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being. Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.”

Correa also responded to a widely discussed Guardian article yesterday, which claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy.” The former president mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” accusing The Guardian of seeking to depict routine and modest embassy security measures as something scandalous or unusual.

[..] Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.

But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.

Maybe we should suggest that somebody may have interfered in Ecuador’s presidential elections?! You know, to get to Assange?!

Then today we read in the Guardian that in the aftermath of its hit series, Ecuador has dismissed security for Assange. Is this when MI6 and the CIA get to move in?

Ecuador To Remove Julian Assange’s Extra Security From London Embassy

The president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, has ordered the withdrawal of additional security assigned to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has remained for almost six years. The move was announced a day after an investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador revealed the country had bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Assange, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police.

Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected him while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin.

[..] Ecuador suspended Assange’s communication systems in March after his pointed political comments on Twitter. Assange had tweeted messages challenging Britain’s accusation that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter in Salisbury.

What? Ecuador muted Assange because he challenged Britain’s accusation -unfounded as far as we can tell- that Russia poisoned the Skripals? But wait. I thought they cut him off because of Spain? Or the US? Now it’s Britain? Everyone and their pet hamster is suspicious of that Skripal story. But again, Assange is not allowed to be?

Oh, and all the terrible, and terribly suspicious, people that came to see him. “Nationalists” and “individuals linked to the Kremlin.” Leading, suggestive, truly repugnant “journalism”.

But then, also today, that same Guardian gives the floor to Melinda Taylor, one of Assange’s lawyers. Do they think that giving her a voice makes up for all the damage they’ve done to Assange, to themselves, to freedom of speech and to journalism? One might be tempted to think so.

Julian Assange Is Suffering Needlessly. Why Not Report That?

Breaking news: a series of articles has been published by the Guardian concerning Julian Assange, splashed over the front pages. The big reveal? That after the UK threatened to invade the Ecuadorean embassy, Ecuador beefed up its security and surveillance at said embassy. And that this costs money. And there is pressure to find a solution to a situation that has been described by the United Nations as illegal and arbitrary detention.

Lost in the lede was this: that Ecuador appears to be hoping “that Assange’s already uncomfortable confinement will become intolerable”. The Oxford dictionary defines “intolerable” as “unbearable, insufferable, unsupportable, insupportable, unendurable, beyond endurance, unacceptable, impossible, more than flesh and blood can stand, too much to bear, past bearing, not to be borne, overpowering (…)”.

Isn’t the headline story that the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks remains detained without access to fundamental healthcare? And since March this year, has been cut off from the outside world, bar meetings with his lawyers, which have apparently been surveilled?

Assange has won numerous awards for publishing information that has exposed egregious violations of human rights and abuses of state power. He has also won the more dubious prize of being placed in the crosshairs of US government attempts to silence free speech by silencing the publications and publishers that dare to speak freely.

 

And if only the ongoing Julian Assange tragedy was the only affront to news gathering. But no, there’s still always the Skripals. It looks like the gag order has been lifted. Yesterday, the Sun, which at least doesn’t pretend to be a quality paper, ran this:

Sergei Skripal Still Being Questioned Over Salisbury Nerve Agent Attack

Detectives are still questioning poisoned spy Sergei Skripal as he recovers in hospital, nearly 10 weeks after being attacked with a nerve agent, Sky News has learned. They are trying to piece together the Russian former double agent’s life in retirement in Britain, as more details emerged of his recent activities. They want to know more about his regular train journeys to London, his trips abroad, and his monthly meetings with his alleged former MI6 handler in a Salisbury restaurant. It was reported this week that the 66-year-old had been briefing intelligence agencies in the Czech Republic and Estonia on Russian spies and their methods, giving one lecture as recently as 2016.

Would that activity, years after arriving in Britain in a spy swap with Moscow, have been motive enough for the murder attempt on him and his daughter Yulia? The government insists the Kremlin was responsible for the attack, in which the deadly nerve agent novichok was smeared on the front door handle of Mr Skripal’s Salisbury home. But former KGB officer and espionage historian Alexander Vassiliev said it was more likely the work of the Russian mafia, out to embarrass Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Mr Vassiliev said: “It wasn’t the reason to kill him. I’m sure when Putin released him, and pardoned him, he knew Skripal would be co-operating with British secret services and other European espionage agencies. “All defectors are doing it, they work as consultants, they give lectures, they write books – it’s a normal thing. He had to earn his living somehow – he wouldn’t have been a taxi driver. “Skripal was arrested in 2004 – that was a long time ago and he didn’t know specific details about current objectives or operatives. The Russian government had no reason to kill Skripal – he was nobody and he wasn’t a danger.

Now, that’s funny. He’s been briefing Czech intelligence. The Czech Republic, we learned recently, is one of a group of countries that have the formula for novichok AND have produced small quantities of it. The “it could only have been Russia” narrative is, based on what we know, dead as a door handle.

That was yesterday. And lo and behold, this morning the Guardian writes that Skripal has been discharged from hospital. They got all the info they wanted out of him?

Sergei Skripal Discharged From Salisbury Hospital

The Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, who was exposed to a nerve agent, has been discharged from Salisbury district hospital, health officials have said. Skripal’s release follows that of his daughter, Yulia, and DS Nick Bailey, who were also exposed to novichok in March. The hospital said: “While these patients have now been discharged, their right to patient confidentiality remains and limits us from giving detailed accounts of the treatment these individuals received. “However, treating people who are so acutely unwell, having been poisoned by nerve agents, requires stabilising them, keeping them alive until their bodies could produce more enzymes to replace those that had been poisoned.”

Yup, we’re sticking with the ‘novichok from Russia’ story. We’re not going to provide any proof, you will have to believe us. I think that’s the frame we must see this last article in, easily one of the weirdest things I’ve read in a while. And again it’s from the Guardian. “As if” to emphasize the dark and massive threat that is hanging over Britain. Create an atmosphere, paint a picture. Julian Assange and the Russians (and Trump!) against Spain, the US and Britain, those staunch defenders of human rights and ‘our values’.

Almost 100 Police Have Received Psychological Help After Salisbury Attack

Almost 100 Wiltshire police officers and staff have sought psychological support after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, the Guardian can reveal. Among those who have asked for help were officers who initially responded to the collapse of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, and those who were at or close to the various investigation sites in subsequent days and weeks. Some reported feeling disorientated and anxious while others were concerned about the possible long-term health effects on the public.

Wiltshire’s chief constable, Kier Pritchard, told the Guardian that officers – including himself and other police personnel continued to receive help more than two months after the attack. Pritchard took up the role of head of the force on the day of the attempted murders and said he had personally received the “best support” as he worked through the implications for him and his family of being a high-profile figure in the response to a state-sponsored attack.

One police officer, DS Nick Bailey, spent more than two weeks in hospital after being exposed to the novichok nerve agent and when he was discharged said life would never be the same again.

 

You know who might have helped us try to find out what really happened to the Skripals? Julian Assange. But he’s been silenced. Where do we turn now? How do we find the truth anymore? Have we effectively all been silenced?

 

 

Jun 282017
 
 June 28, 2017  Posted by at 6:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Willem de Kooning Police Gazette 1955

 

The best comment on the June 13 Jeff Sessions Senate testimony, and I’m sorry I forgot who made it, was that it looked like an episode of Seinfeld. A show about nothing. Still, an awful lot of voices tried to make it look like it was something life- and game-changing. It was not. Not anymore than Comey’s testimony was, at least not in the sense that those eager to have these testimonies take place would have liked it to be.

Comey shone more of an awkward light on himself rather than on Donald Trump, by admitting that he had leaked info on a private conversation with the president he served at the time. Not quite nothing, but very little to satisfy the anti-Trump crowd. It’s just that there’s so many in that crowd, and most in denial, that you wouldn’t know it unless you paid attention.

To cut to the chase of the issue, it’s no longer possible -or at least increasingly difficult- to find coverage in the US -and European- press of anything related to either Trump or Russia that doesn’t come solidly baked in a partisan opinionated sauce.

For instance, I have a Google News page, somewhat personalized, and I haven’t been able to open it for quite some time without the top news articles focusing on Trump and/or Russia, and all the ones at the very top are invariably from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, The Hill, Politico et al.

But I am not interested in those articles. These ‘news’ outlets -and you really must ask whether using the word ‘news’ is appropriate here- dislike anything Trump and Putin so much, for some reason, that all they do is write ‘stuff’ in a 24/7 staccato beat based on innuendo and allegations, quoted from anonymous sources that may or may not actually exist.

In the case of Russia, this attitude is many years old; in the case of Trump, it dates back to him announcing his candidacy. And that’s funny, because when you think back to who else was a GOP candidate, how can you not wonder if Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush would really have been better presidents than Trump? The Trump presidency is not an indictment of the man himself, but of the entire US political system.

You only need to think back of the Republican hopefuls who got beaten in the primaries, or the Democratic candidates on the other side of the isle. There are 320 million Americans, and that was the cream of the crop? What does that say about the state of the union? That’s very much true about Trump as well: is that the best you can do?

It’s the story behind the multiple veils, the -political- policy choices of the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post, that is perhaps the most interesting part of this. Their anti-Trump stories are certainly not. They’re utterly boring repetitive propaganda material. Still, there are also reasons behind this that have little to do with politics.

With the advent of the interwebs, the MSM were always going to have a challenging time. As time passed, it became clear they were going to have to compete with 100 million other voices. And while the established media have clear advantages, it was never going to be an easy task. For one thing because unlike most of these 100 million voices, the traditional media have a lot of overhead, fixed costs etc.

They can establish their own web presence, but not much about that is obvious. Some have moved behind a paywall to manage costs, others focus on ads. But none of that really works well. Ad revenue is not enough to keep the vast machinery going, and a paywall limits readership.

Ergo, the MSM has to focus on both 1) what makes it strong, and on 2) what sets it apart from the ‘new competition’. That does seem evident, and it’s therefore surprising that they have elected to do the opposite. A choice that will inevitably hasten their demise.

I’ve long thought that the only way the MSM can survive in the age of the interwebs, for as long as they can indeed survive, is to be uncompromisingly objective, perhaps even to stay away from opinionating, period. Because all other areas, everything that is subjective, will be taken over, and often already is, by the millions who write and post their own opinions on social media.

And no-one will be able to make up their mind any longer about what’s real or not if they can’t figure out from reading between all these lines what is true or not. That is a battle the media establishment cannot win. So it’s more than a bit surprising that it is exactly that which they have elected to pin their futures on.

Media organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post have over a long time built the contacts, the revenue (for now) and the resources to do what newer media can not: that is for instance, to assign a team of good and smart researchers and/or writers to difficult topics that may take months to cover satisfactorily. It just so happens that is what their entire business model was always based on.

But they’ve thrown it away. They’ve chosen to compete with the entire world, who can all write and all have opinions, in the shadowy realm of fake news, anonymity and mud-slinging. But the opinion of a Washington Post writer, or even its editorial staff, is just another opinion. That’s not where they can stand out. That they can only do in truth-finding. And then they choose not to.

Mainstream media are not short on content, but they ARE short on news. What they do is opinion, propaganda, and that’s not what they’re there for. Both they themselves and their readers should be very worried about that. Because news gathering and dissemination is a vital function in any democratic nation. Taking it away leaves a big hole.

And they’re pouring out so much of the same stuff that even if inside the echo chamber the audience just can’t get enough of it, those on the outside get pushed ever further away. The distance between these groups of people keeps growing, and that’s not what media should be doing, let alone aim for.

There comes a point when people will say: we get it, you don’t like Trump, but we don’t need to see that repeated 100 times a day, and certainly not if you don’t provide facts to base your preferences on. Outside the echo chamber that has already happened. I haven’t read anything in the New York Times or Washington Post forever. If I can’t trust them to write facts on Trump, I can’t trust them, period.

They already have so much going against them. Sales of paper copies are under relentless pressure, because they’re a day old when they’re published, and nobody needs to wait for their news that long anymore. Another kind of pressure comes from the fact that a huge part of their subscribers are older, and the younger stay away from print.

The Hill, a smaller member of the MSM, ran a story over the weekend which said CNN, one of its “brethren in crime”, is clamping down on stories about Russia. All stories have to go through the senior editors now. CNN the next day fired 3 people over one of the many stories. How about the rest? Did they all meet those ‘rigorous editorial standards?

With that Hill piece, you think: someone’s trying to save face… But The Hill would have to come clean about its own coverage of the topic to regain any credibility. As for CNN, have you watched those guys on TV lately? They’re like a firing-squad. Henchmen don’t ask questions either.

Before I forget: Does anyone think there would have been a Special Counsel appointed if the anti-Trump echo chamber press had not incessantly came up, and still does, with new narratives about President Trump, his campaign, his advisers, his staff, and all of the above’s links to Russia? For which to this day no proof has been revealed?!

I find it hard to fathom. I even think it is possible that the feeding frenzy will cost Trump his presidency, not because of evidence but because of neverending innuendo. The frenzy has shown no signs of letting up, and it can continue because it feeds on itself.

While it’s strange that the MSM should risk their own credibility and even survival to be competing, as I said, with a 100 million other ‘sources’, a fight that it can never win, in the short term they have established a loyal echo chamber following that has even ‘miraculously’ increased their subscription numbers.

The flipside of that is they have lost half of their potential readers, but they got so many more from inside the chamber in return that the bottom line looked good. But at some point you will have to prove something, if you want to live. And very little of the ‘material’ on both Trump and Russia has turned out to actually be wearing clothes.

Then again, once you’re inside the chamber, it’s hard to leave. Which is a disgrace for America in all its facets, but there’s not easy way back out. There’s only one, and it’s more out of reach than perhaps ever before: that of the truth, which only the MSM have the resources to provide on a consistent and wide-ranging basis. But they’ve rejected the truth.

They will find out soon enough that the echo chambers are all booked full, with nutjobs and snake oil salesmen. Why they would want to be thrown in with that crowd, who knows? Sure, a quick profit can work miracles. But then you die.

The entire drama has caused an enormous impoverishment of the American media landscape. And it never had much, if anything, to do with news.

The best way to illustrate what’s really going on is probably in these graphs. The negative ‘reporting’ about Trump is off the scale (don’t miss German TV network ARD’s 98% score):

 

 

But when it comes to bombing the Middle East, all the ducks get in line. As ducks do. As behooves ducks. Even when it comes to Trump, they can’t hide their true nature.

We’re done here.

 

 

 

 

May 102017
 
 May 10, 2017  Posted by at 3:32 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Ray K. Metzker Philadelphia 1962

 

You might have thought, and hoped, that recent events, such as the election of Trump as president of the US, or Brexit, or the rise of Marine Le Pen and other non-establishment forces in Europe, would, as a matter of -natural- course, have led to increased conversation and discussion between parties, entities, whose divisions were material in sparking these events.

But the opposite has happened, and continues to happen at an ever faster and fiercer pace. Various sides of various divides become ever more deaf to what other sides have to say. What still poses as conversation turns into blame games and shouting matches replete with innuendo, fake news and insinuations.

The mainstream media even find they are to an extent redeemed by this -at least financially-. Formerly last-gasp ‘news sources’, suffering from the advent of the interwebs, like the New York Times, CNN, HuffPo and WaPo, as well as Fox, Breitbart on the other side, and many others, have seen their reader- and viewerships expand over the past year as they turned into increasingly impenetrable echo chambers.

They may be losing a lot of potential attention -and revenues- from one side of the -former- debate, but that is more than made up for by rising attention from their faithful flocks. The public feel they need to have an opinion on political matters, and the media are more than willing to define, construct and phrase that opinion for them, to first confirm what people already think, and then raise it a notch or two, or three, or ten.

It works like a charm, and their finance people are looking at the numbers saying: whatever it is you guys do, keep on doing it and add some more, because we’re selling like hotcakes. Still, at least some of the writers must be wondering what exactly it is they’re doing, wondering how to define ‘journalism’ in this day and age.

All this represents a giant loss, one that not a single democracy can arguably tolerate for long, even if few of us seem to care. In democracies, it’s essential that people who do not agree, talk to each other, and do so all the time. The end of that conversation spells the end of democracy.

 

If anything in the future is revealed about a possible -political- connection between Trump and Russia, it will be gravely tainted by the fact that so much opinion posing as news, and so much news that was not real news, has been published about that possible connection already over the past year and change, without any evidence. The WaPo’s and HuffPo’s of the world will not even be vindicated by such a potential revelation anymore, because they lowered their journalistic levels to match those of the National Enquirer.

But even writing down something as neutral as that last paragraph is prone to lead to demonization from all kinds of ‘sources’. The Russian hack story has embedded itself so profoundly in certain corners of American and European society that it can no longer be denied or even questioned without being interpreted as suspect, if not an outright admission of guilt. All you need to know is there once was PropOrNot and its list of alleged 200 Russian propaganda sites.

It doesn’t matter how often Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov and spokeswoman Maria Zakharova ask for proof of the accusations, because for a large and influential segment of western mainstream media that is a phase that has long since been passed. There is such an all-encompassing conviction that Russia hacked and otherwise influenced western elections that no proof is deemed necessary.

Or rather, the idea has taken on such a life of its own that things are taken to have been proven that never were. “News’, just like advertizing, has to a large extent become based on the concept of relentless repetition. Say something often enough and people will believe it, certainly when it confirms what they were looking to have confirmed to begin with. If the echo chambers fit enough lost souls, before you know it nobody asks for proof anymore.

 

It’s not about whether Trump is or has ever been guilty of anything he’s accused of, it’s that the insinuating narratives about that have long been written and repeated ad nauseam. It’s about whether the witch hunt exemplified by PropOrNot makes objective news gathering impossible. And the only possible response to that question must be affirmative. If only because you can’t tell one type of ‘news’ from the other anymore.

The MSM have focused on getting Hillary elected, and they failed miserably. So did she, of course, it wasn’t just them. A failure they attempt to hide from view behind a veil of never-ending anti-Russian stories that even now they still can’t prove. Which is where the FBI comes in. Sure, some of it may yet prove to be true, but even if that is so, that’s in the future, not today.

Does Trump deserve being resisted? It certainly looks that way much of the time. But he should be resisted with facts, not innuendo of yellow paper quality. That destroys the media, and the media are needed to maintain a democracy. That is both their task and their responsibility. They exist to inform people, but have instead turned into opinion-fabricating machines. Both because that expresses the opinions of their ownership, and because it’s commercially more attractive.

Take a step back and oversee the picture, and you’ll find that Trump is not the biggest threat to American democracy, the media are. They have a job but they stopped doing it. They have turned to smearing, something neither the NYT nor the WaPo should ever have stooped to, but did.

 

Democracy is not primarily under threat from what one party does, or the other, or a third one, it is under threat because parties have withdrawn themselves into their respective echo chambers from which no dialogue with other parties is possible, or even tolerated.

None of this is to say that there will be no revelations about some ties between some Russian entities or persons and some Trump-related ones. Such ties are entirely possible, and certainly on the business front. Whether that has had any influence on the American presidential election is a whole other story though. And jumping to conclusions because it serves your political purposes is, to put it mildly, not helping.

The problem is that so much has been said and printed on the topic that was unsubstantiated, that if actual ties are proven, that news will be blurred by what was insinuated before. You made your bed, guys.

A lot of sources today talk about how Trump was reportedly frustrated with the constant focus on the alleged Russia ties, but assuming those allegations are not true, and remember nothing has been proven after a year of echo-chambering, isn’t it at least a little understandable that he would be?

Comey was already compromised from 10 different angles, and many wanted him gone, though not necessarily at the same time . The same Democrats, and their media, who now scream murder because he was fired, fell over themselves clamoring for his resignation for months. That does not constitute an opinion, it’s the opposite of one: you can’t change your view of someone as important as the FBI director every day and twice on Sundays without losing credibility.

And yes, many Republicans played similar games. It’s the kind of game that has become acceptable in the Washington swamp and the media that report on it. And many of them also protest yesterday’s decision. Ostensibly, it all has to do not with the fact that Comey was fired, but with the timing. Which in turn would be linked to the fact that the FBI is investigating Trump.

But what’s the logic there? That firing Comey would halt that investigation? Why would that be true? Why would a replacement director do that? Don’t FBI agents count for anything? And isn’t the present investigation itself supposed to be proof that there is proof and/or strong suspicion of that alleged link between Russia and the Trump election victory? Wouldn’t those agents revolt if a new director threw that away with the bathwater?

Since we still run on ‘innocent until proven guilty’, perhaps it’s a thought to hold back a little, but given what we’ve seen since, say, early 2016, that doesn’t look like an option anymore. The trenches have been dug.

These are troubled times, but the trouble is not necessarily where you might think it is. America has an undeniable political crisis, and a severe one, but that’s not the only crisis.

 

 

Jan 192017
 
 January 19, 2017  Posted by at 7:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Marlon Brando screentest 1951

I’m trying, I swear, to get into the fold, but I just can’t NOT find this hilarious. On the eve of his presidency, Donald Trump tells European leaders, by not telling them diddly-squat, that he doesn’t think they matter all that much. It’s not just that his vision of the EU, and its importance, is very different from theirs, he also remembers very well what many of them have said about him in the run-up to his election for the presidency.

Europe’s leaders, with the exception of Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, have been ridiculing and outright demonizing Trump ever since he declared his candidacy. They’ve said similar things about him that they say about Vladimir Putin, and in the 2016 fake news avalanche they’ve thrown the two together in various ways and for reasons they claim are obvious, with quite a few Hitler quips thrown in for good measure.

Now, for some reason they all seem to think it’s important to meet with Trump before he meets with Putin, as if his view of the world, and that of his entire government, is so unbalanced it could be decided at the toss of a coin. Trump is having none of it. After having been compared to anything that’s considered worst under the sun, who’s going to blame him?

Donald Trump feels, and largely rightly so, that the principle of innocence before being proven guilty was abandoned with much fervor by many, and certainly across the EU. The result is that now he’s simply not that into them. He’s been shown no respect at all, and he has not forgotten that. And it leads to a situation that’s brilliantly entertaining.

The EU, like the Obama/Clinton cabal, have dug in their heels and then dug some more when it comes to Putin, and by -their, not his- association also to Trump. They never thought he’d be elected, and now that he has been they don’t know what to do with themselves (how about an apology for starters?).

AP reports, even if once again you have to read between all the innuendo and opinionated humbug (grow up, AP!):

Anxious European Leaders Seek An Early Audience With Trump

European leaders, anxious over Donald Trump’s unpredictability and kind words for the Kremlin, are scrambling to get face time with the new American president before he can meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose provocations have set the continent on edge. One leader has raised with Trump the prospect of a U.S.-EU summit early this year, and the head of NATO — the powerful military alliance Trump has deemed “obsolete” — is angling for an in-person meeting ahead of Putin as well. British Prime Minister Theresa May is working to arrange a meeting in Washington soon after Friday’s inauguration.

For European leaders, a meeting with a new American president is always a sought-after — and usually easy-to-obtain — invitation. But Trump has repeatedly defied precedent, making them deeply uncertain about their standing once he takes office. Throughout his campaign and in recent interviews, Trump has challenged the viability of the EU and NATO, while praising Putin and staking out positions more in line with Moscow than Brussels. “There are efforts on the side of the Europeans to arrange a meeting with Trump as quickly as possible,” Norbert Roettgen, the head of the German Parliament’s foreign committee and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, told AP.

In fact, eager to stage an early show of Trans-Atlantic solidarity, Donald Tusk — the former Polish prime minister who heads the EU’s Council of member state governments— invited Trump to meet with the EU early in his administration, according to a European Union official. But a senior Trump adviser essentially rebuffed the offer, telling the AP this week that such a gathering would not be a priority for the incoming president, who wants to focus on meetings with individual countries, not the 28-nation bloc.

Trump backs Britain’s exit from the European Union, casting the populist, anti-establishment movement as a precursor to his own victory. In a recent joint interview with two European newspapers, Trump said of the EU, “I don’t think it matters much for the United States.”

So far so good, but then the rhetoric starts again. Only, it does so by calling Trump’s words ‘rhetoric’:

Such rhetoric alone was enough to set off alarm bells in Europe. And Trump’s praise for Putin and promise of closer ties to Moscow have deepened the uncertainty. Trump has raised the prospect of dropping U.S. sanctions on Moscow and has appeared indifferent to Russia’s annexation of territory from Ukraine. The hacking of his opponents during the U.S. election, and Trump’s dismissal of the CIA’s warnings about Russia’s involvement, added a dose of spy drama.

Trump’s sentiments mark a dramatic shift in Republican views of Europe, just a generation after George H.W. Bush famously greeted the collapse of the Iron Curtain by calling for a “Europe whole and free.” Trump’s top national security adviser has been in close contact with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., conversations that have involved setting up a phone call between the Putin and the president-elect, transition officials have said. But Trump currently has no plans to meet with Putin, according to the senior adviser, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the transition team’s internal planning.

Why on earth would Trump NOT meet with Putin? Because of all the unsubstantiated blubber his opponents have showered over him in their attempts to derail his campaign? If anything, that would probably make him all the more determined to set up such a meeting. Moreover, there’s a lot of damage that needs to be repaired in US-Russia relations, damage done by the former administration and the press it has a love relationship with.

[..] Aides have signaled that one of Trump’s first foreign leader meetings at the White House will be with May, who became prime minister following Britain’s vote to leave the EU. The president-elect’s team is also working on early invitations to Washington for the leaders of Mexico and Canada, according to the Trump adviser. Barring other arrangements, Trump and Putin’s first meeting of the year might not come until July when the Group of 20 leaders gather in Hamburg, Germany — though Trump has yet to say whether he plans to attend international summits.

If he does, some European leaders could get an audience with him in May at a planned NATO summit and a gathering of the more elite Group of Seven in Italy. Russia had been a member of that group, but the U.S. and Europe ousted Putin after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. One of the first tests of Trump’s loyalties may well be whether he seeks to bring Russia back into that fold.

“If we start to equate democracies and non-democracies, allies and adversaries, this is setting a very dangerous precedent,” said Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said that if Trump were to reach out to Putin ahead of the Europeans upon taking office, “it would be a real cautionary note” for long-standing U.S. allies.

Guys! You lost! You lost big. Get a grip. It’s a different world out there. Adapt accordingly or fade away. Something tells us the adaptation process will prove too much for most of Europe’s current leaders. That will necessarily mean that most won’t be leaders for long.

Europe will have to move closer to Putin as Trump does so. The war mongering posture of the past decade or so will have to go. This will be very hard to do for those leaders who have called both men everything awful in the world. Those who can’t will have to leave. Like Juncker:

Hands off EU, Trump; We Don’t Back Ohio Secession: Juncker

Donald Trump should lay off talking about the break-up of the European Union, the bloc’s chief executive said on Wednesday, pointing out that Europeans do not push for Ohio to secede from the United States. In pointed remarks on the eve of Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president, Jean-Claude Juncker said the new administration would realize it should not damage transatlantic relations but added it remained unclear what policies Trump would now pursue.

Juncker told Germany’s BR television, according to a transcript from the Munich station, that he was sure no EU state wanted to follow Britain’s example and leave the bloc, despite Trump’s forecast this week that others would quit: “Mr. Trump should also not be indirectly encouraging them to do that,” Juncker said. “We don’t go around calling on Ohio to pull out of the United States.”

Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said he had yet to speak to Trump – contrary to what the President-elect said earlier this week. Juncker said Trump had confused him with European Council President Donald Tusk. “Trump spoke to Mr. Tusk and mixed us up,” said Juncker, taking a jab at the American billionaire’s grasp of his new role. “That’s the thing about international politics,” he said. “It’s all in the detail.”

It’s clear that in many countries, growing segments of both the population and the political sphere are thinking and talking about following Britain’s example. Juncker had better address their concerns than trying to ignore and deny them, or he will guarantee to achieve the opposite of what he wants.

That Donald Trump was elected in the first place is a surefire sign that many things were going very wrong in the world. Brexit is a sign of the exact same thing. Elections and other votes coming up in Europe will be the next in line, and it doesn’t even matter who wins them; many will be far too close for comfort for the existing order.

Meanwhile, watching the spectacle unfold from a distance, we find it impossible not to be highly amused by the former world order seeing their own words and actions backfire on them. And that has nothing to do with being pro-Trump or pro-Le Pen.