Jan 062020
 
 January 6, 2020  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Esther Bubley Soldiers with their girls at the Indianapolis bus station 1943

 

Gold, Oil Soar, Shares Slip As US And Iran Rattle Sabers (R.)
Iraqi PM Claims Soleimani Was On Peace Mission When Assassinated (GZ)
Iraqi Parliament Calls For Expulsion Of Foreign Troops (AlJ)
Boeing Reports “Previously Unreported Concerns” With Wiring In 737 MAX (CNN)
Why We’ll Never Get Rich By Putting Cash Away For A Rainy Day (Bell)
Fed Focuses On Repo Market Exit Strategy After Avoiding Year-End Crunch (R.)
PBOC Says Its Prudent Policies Will Continue (CD)
Trump Admin Pressed Dutch Hard To Cancel China Chip-Equipment Sale (R.)
Handwritten Note Found In Jeffrey Epstein’s Jail Cell (CBS)
Ghislaine Maxwell Under 24-Hour Guard By Former US Navy Seals (DM)
Victoria’s Secret Models Got Much Thinner Over Last 23 Years (WBUR)
Ricky Gervais Skewers Hollywood’s A-List (R.)

 

 

With war cries rulling the waves, “investors” wonder where their money is safest: with a sweat-shop using company that buys back its shares all the time, or with gold. Given volumes, governments, central banks also appear involved.

Gold, Oil Soar, Shares Slip As US And Iran Rattle Sabers (R.)

Tensions in the Middle East after the killing of a top Iranian general by the United States pushed an index of Asian shares off an 18-month high on Monday as investors pushed safe-haven gold near a seven-year high, and oil jumped to four-month peaks. The United States detected a heightened state of alert by Iran’s missile forces, as President Donald Trump warned the United States would strike back, “perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” if Iran attacked any American person or target. Iraq’s parliament on Sunday recommended all foreign troops be ordered out of the country after the U.S. killing of a top Iranian military commander and an Iraqi militia leader in a drone strike on a convoy at Baghdad airport.


Spot gold gained 1.6% to $1,579.55 per ounce in jittery trade to reach its highest since April 2013. Oil prices extended gains on fears any Middle East conflict could disrupt global supplies. Brent crude futures rose $1.9 to $70.50 a barrel, while U.S. crude climbed $1.5 to $64.57. “The risk of further escalation has clearly gone up – given the direct attack on Iran, Iran’s threat of retaliation and Trump’s desire to look tough – posing the threat of higher oil prices,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital. “Historically though oil prices need to double to pose a severe threat to global growth and we are long way from that.”

Read more …

Max Blumenthal takes a bit much as gospel: “Iraqi PM Reveals…”

Iraqi PM Claims Soleimani Was On Peace Mission When Assassinated (GZ)

At a January 3 State Department briefing, where reporters finally got the chance to demand evidence for the claim of an “imminent” threat, one US official erupted in anger. “Jesus, do we have to explain why we do these things?” he barked at the press. Two days later, when Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi addressed his country’s parliament, Trump’s justification for killing Soleimani was exposed as a cynical lie. According to Abdul-Mahdi, he had planned to meet Soleimani on the morning the general was killed to discuss a diplomatic rapproachment that Iraq was brokering between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Abdul-Mahdi said that Trump personally thanked him for the efforts, even as he was planning the hit on Soleimani – thus creating the impression that the Iranian general was safe to travel to Baghdad.


Soleimani had arrived in Baghdad not to plan attacks on American targets, but to coordinate de-escalation with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, he was killed while on an actual peace mission that could have created political distance between the Gulf monarchy and members of the US-led anti-Iran axis like Israel. The catastrophic results of Soleimani’s killing recall the Obama administration’s 2016 assassination of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, a Taliban leader who was eager to negotiate a peaceful end to the US occupation of Afghanistan. Mansur’s death wound up empowering hardline figures in the Taliban who favored a total military victory over the US and triggered an uptick in violence across the country, dooming hopes for a negotiated exit.

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Again: who gets what they wanted?

Iraqi Parliament Calls For Expulsion Of Foreign Troops (AlJ)

Iraq’s parliament has passed a resolution calling on the government to expel foreign troops from the country as Iran-US tensions escalate following the killing of a top Iranian military commander and Iraqi armed group leader in a US strike in Baghdad. In an extraordinary parliamentary session on Sunday, parliament called on the government to end all foreign troop presence in Iraq and to cancel its request for assistance from the US-led coalition which had been working with Baghdad to fight ISIL. “The government commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting Islamic State due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory,” the resolution read.


“The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason.” Parliament resolutions, unlike laws, are non-binding and the move would require new legislation to cancel the existing agreement. Ahead of the vote, chants of “No, no, America…long live Iraq”, rang out inside the hall, before Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also called on parliament to end foreign troop presence. “Despite the internal and external difficulties that we might face, it remains best for Iraq on principle and practically,” said Abdul Mahdi in an address to parliament ahead of the vote.

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Latest proposal: mandatory simulator trainning for all pilots. That’s what started the whole charade, so a nice round circle.

Boeing Reports “Previously Unreported Concerns” With Wiring In 737 MAX (CNN)

[..] as part of a December audit of the plane’s safety ordered by the US Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing found “previously unreported concerns” with wiring in the 737 Max, according to a report earlier Sunday from the New York Times. The company informed the FAA last month that it is looking into whether two sections of wiring that control the tail of the plane are too close together and could cause a short circuit — and potentially a crash, if pilots did not react appropriately — the Times reported, citing a senior Boeing engineer and three people familiar with the matter. A Boeing spokesperson confirmed the report to CNN Business on Sunday, saying the issue was identified as part of a “rigorous process” to ensure the plane’s safety.


“Our highest priority is ensuring the 737 Max meets all safety and regulatory requirements before it returns to service,” the spokesperson said. “We are working closely with the FAA and other regulators on a robust and thorough certification process to ensure a safe and compliant design.” The spokesperson said it “would be premature to speculate” whether the discovery will lead to new design changes for the plane, or further extend the timeline for its recertification. It will be a challenge for Boeing’s new chief executive, David Calhoun, who officially takes over the job on January 13 after former CEO Dennis Muilenburg was ousted on December 23. “A change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers, and all other stakeholders,” the company in December.

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We would still do much better if central banks wouldn’t strangle interest rates.

Why We’ll Never Get Rich By Putting Cash Away For A Rainy Day (Bell)

Norway has a wealth tax. Now, I’m in favour of a greater role for wealth taxes but, whatever your view, there’s at least one benefit we should all appreciate: lots of data on who owns what. Recent research delves into this Norwegian data mine and helps us investigate the popular view that those with more wealth build it up by saving more. You might call this the “wealth as the reward for doing the right thing” view of the world. But the research finds it’s nonsense – Norwegians save around 7% of their income, however much they may own. Despite saving the same proportion as those with much less, those with lots accumulate more. Why? Because we can accumulate wealth by the rising value of assets, such as property and shares.


The wealthier have more assets and more capital gains. These are banked, not consumed, so the gap grows. This is a huge deal, explaining 80% of wealth growing faster than income in Norway. The UK has also seen a wealth boom from rising house prices. These unexpected windfalls – rather than active savings like paying off a mortgage – explain 82% of increased property wealth since the early 1990s. Yet we pretend that wealth comes from savings and we ignore these capital gains when considering who is doing well, and so we make a dog’s dinner out of taxing them. It’s time we woke up to where wealth has actually come from in modern Britain … and Norway.

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They can only exit repo if they support banks somewhere else.

Fed Focuses On Repo Market Exit Strategy After Avoiding Year-End Crunch (R.)

Wall Street’s worst fears of a year-end funding squeeze never materialized thanks in large part to the quarter-trillion dollars the Federal Reserve stuffed into the market to ensure nothing became gummed up. The question now, though, is what it will take for the U.S. central bank to withdraw from its daily liquidity operations in the $2.2 trillion market for repurchase agreements, or repos – after it became a dominant player in a short three months. “The repo operations are a band-aid, but the wound isn’t healed fully,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, an interest rate strategist at TD Securities. The New York Fed began injecting billions of dollars of liquidity into the repo market in mid-September, when a confluence of events sent the cost of overnight loans as high as 10%, more than four times the Fed’s rate at the time.

A month later, the Fed moved to expand its balance sheet – and boost the level of reserves – by snapping up $60 billion a month in U.S. Treasury bills. The Fed will continue pumping tens of billions a day into the repo market through at least the end of January. Its ability to exit from the repo market after that time will depend on how long it takes the central bank to make the balance sheet large enough so there are adequate reserves in the banking system – and the repo operations are no longer needed. “It seems implausible to me that the Fed will be able to stop their repo operations by the end of January,” said Mark Cabana, head of U.S. rates strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Minutes from the Fed’s December policy meeting released on Friday showed its staffers expected repo operations to be “gradually” reduced after mid-January. However, staff members also said the central bank may need to continue offering some repo operations until at least April, when tax payments could reduce the level of reserves. Another challenge for Fed officials: Deciding just how big the central bank’s balance sheet, which is currently about $4 trillion, should be.

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Michael Pettis on Twitter: “So far “prudent policies” has meant that for several years China has generated nearly five times as much debt per unit of GDP as the rest of the world — even more if you think GDP growth has been overstated on a comparable basis.”

PBOC Says Its Prudent Policies Will Continue (CD)

China will maintain a prudent monetary policy while keeping it flexible this year to ensure reasonably adequate liquidity, and it will strengthen adjustments to support economic growth, the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, said in a statement on Sunday. [..] The PBOC will promote credit financing for small and private companies, it said in its statement. Last year, it increased large commercial banks’ loans for small and micro companies by more than 30 percent, leading to a drop in lending costs of 1 percentage point. “These targets have been over-fulfilled,” it said.

The central bank is aiming this year to “win the battle of preventing and reducing large financial risks” and reiterated its role as “the lender of last resort”, which means the it will provide money to financial institutions that are experiencing financial difficulty to prevent their collapse. Last year, financial regulators took over Baoshang Bank in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and provided liquidity to prevent the spread of financial risks. To support liquidity and improve commercial bank’s asset quality, the PBOC will supplement commercial banks’ capital in 2020 through issuance of perpetual bonds — a credit instrument having no date to pay back.

Other risk-control measures will be taken for internet and real estate financing, and a macro-prudential regulatory system will be built to supervise cross-border capital flows, according to the central bank. Regulatory control over monetary policy operations is expected to continue to strengthen in China. “Monetary easing, if any, is expected to be limited and should not translate into relaxed regulatory control over the riskier types of leverage, which is positive to system stability,” said Rowena Chang, associate director of Non-Banks Asia Pacific at Fitch Ratings, an international rating agency.

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Military use is a deal killer.

Trump Admin Pressed Dutch Hard To Cancel China Chip-Equipment Sale (R.)

The Trump administration mounted an extensive campaign to block the sale of Dutch chip manufacturing technology to China, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lobbying the Netherlands government and White House officials sharing a classified intelligence report with the country’s Prime Minister, people familiar with the effort told Reuters. The high-level push, which has not previously been reported, demonstrates the importance the White House places on preventing China from getting hold of a machine required to make the world’s fastest microprocessors. It also shows the challenges facing the U.S. government’s largely unilateral efforts to stem the flow of advanced technology to China.

The U.S. campaign began in 2018, after the Dutch government gave semiconductor equipment company ASML, the global leader in a critical chip-making process known as lithography, a license to sell its most advanced machine to a Chinese customer, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Over the following months, U.S officials examined whether they could block the sale outright and held at least four rounds of talks with Dutch officials, three sources told Reuters. The effort culminated in the White House on July 18 when Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman raised the issue with Dutch officials during the visit of Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was given an intelligence report on the potential repercussions of China acquiring ASML’s technology, according to a former U.S. government official familiar with the matter.

The pressure appears to have worked. Shortly after the White House visit, the Dutch government decided not to renew ASML’s export license, and the $150 million machine has not been shipped. [..] The ASML machine uses extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light beams, generated by lasers and focused by giant mirrors, to lay out extraordinarily narrow circuits on slabs of silicon known as wafers. That in turn makes it possible to create faster and more powerful microprocessors, memory chips and other advanced components, which are critical for consumer electronics and military applications alike. Only a few companies, including America’s Intel, South Korea’s Samsung and Taiwan’s TSMC, are currently capable of manufacturing the most sophisticated chips.

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Curious: CBS puts a whole team on this for 5 months, and then writes about a note that says nothing, instead of photos that say a lot. Bloody neck, bloodless noose.

Handwritten Note Found In Jeffrey Epstein’s Jail Cell (CBS)

While Epstein surrounded himself with a collection of powerful and high profile figures, the wealthy financier lived a majority of his life in privacy, avoiding television appearances and media interviews almost entirely. And though the federal charges brought against Epstein in July served as a gateway into learning more about the secretive life the 66 year-old led, filled with a controversial plea deal, luxurious travels around the world and alleged sex abuse rings, public intrigue about Epstein, who neglected to give any public statements following his arrest, has heightened.


In the course of a five-month investigation, 60 Minutes obtained photos of Epstein’s cell after his apparent suicide. Also found was a note, giving the world a look into what Jeffrey Epstein may have been thinking in his final days. The note was written on yellow lined paper with a blue ballpoint pen and there were complaints about jail conditions. The note says that one guard “kept me in a locked shower stall for 1 hour.” “[Another prison guard] sent me burnt food.” “Giant bugs crawling over my hands. No fun!!” Epstein’s apparent discomfort about jail conditions comes as no surprise. According to Bruce Barket, Epstein’s former cellmate’s lawyer, Jeffrey Epstein and his legal team took up one of the two attorney visiting rooms “all day, every day.”

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No, I don’t know how credible the Daily Mail is here. But it’s good to keep the conversation going.

Ghislaine Maxwell Under 24-Hour Guard By Former US Navy Seals (DM)

Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend of convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is being guarded round the clock by former US Navy SEALs amid concern that her life is in danger, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. A source says ex-special forces are shuttling the 58-year-old friend of Prince Andrew from one safe house to another across the American Midwest following ‘credible death threats’. She is now the principal focus of an FBI investigation and is said to hold the key to the truth about the Duke of York’s relationship with the disgraced financier and whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl. The Duke has repeatedly denied these allegations and any suggestion of wrongdoing.


While Miss Maxwell has never been accused by the authorities of criminal wrongdoing, Epstein’s alleged victims have portrayed her as his ‘madam’ and ‘fixer’. A source said: ‘There has been so much rubbish written about Ghislaine. The reality is she receives multiple, credible death threats on a daily basis. The hate mail is sometimes 2ft high. ‘She is constantly moving. Her life is in danger. She is being guarded by the best of the very best and that includes former US Navy SEALs. She’s not under the protection of any government. She’s on her own.’ Asked about reports last week that Miss Maxwell was being sheltered in Israel and supported by wealthy friends, the source said: ‘I only wish. This is costing her a fortune. She moves constantly. The reports are just b*******.’

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The reason Victoria’s Secret had no 2019 show is Epstein. But interesting that as America gets fatter fast, models go the opposite way. Neither looks very healthy.

Victoria’s Secret Models Got Much Thinner Over Last 23 Years (WBUR)

Cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Neelam Vashi says she is fascinated by women’s waist-to-hip ratio, the hourglass curve from the narrowest point of the waist to the widest point of the hips. She was curious, she says, to see whether previous cross-cultural findings that men tend to prefer women with a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio would hold true across time in a group known for beauty — models in the famed Victoria’s Secret fashion show. So Vashi, an assistant professor of dermatology at Boston University and director of the Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center, and colleagues analyzed the measurements of models who walked the runway at the now-defunct fashion show over 23 years, from 1995 to 2018.

She found that the 0.7 ratio — roughly a 24-inch waist divided by 35-inch hips — did hold true for the models, a nice confirmation of her hypothesis. But the results from other measures the team examined were surprising — and, she says, concerning. “Overall, these models became slimmer and their dress size decreased,” says Vashi. “The ratio stayed the same, but each one of those measurements did decrease.” And as Victoria’s Secret models got thinner, the average American woman’s measurements grew — with the average woman now at least a size 16. Concern over that rising disparity comes across in the research paper’s title, which begins: “Unattainable Standards of Beauty.”

“These findings represent an ideal of beauty that continuously moves further away from the characteristics of the average American woman,” says a news release accompanying the study. In 2019, with ratings low, Victoria’s Secret canceled the fashion show, saying it needed to evolve and be rethought for a new media era. As a cosmetic dermatologist, Vashi focuses on enhancing people’s looks, she says, but she also hopes people recognize that Victoria’s Secret models, “have bodies that are just not attainable by an average person.” Though that hasn’t stopped some from trying. The study notes a dramatic recent rise in cosmetic surgery, “with buttock and lower body lift [procedures] increasing by 4295% and 256%, respectively, since 2000.”

[..] The study found that bust measurements dropped from 32.9 inches in the 1990s, to 32 inches 20 years later. Waist size dropped from 24.7 inches to 23.6 inches, and hips shrank from 34.9 inches to 34.4 inches. Average dress size dropped from 5.2 to 3.7. The research also found the models became more racially and ethnically diverse. “To decrease a dress size from 5.2 to 3.7, that’s a significant difference,” Vashi says. “To slim an inch off one’s waist — that’s very hard to do.”

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And then you realize you really couln’t get one single American to say it. Painful.

Ricky Gervais Skewers Hollywood’s A-List (R.)

British comedian and actor Ricky Gervais returned to host the Golden Globe awards on Sunday, cracking scathing jokes about Hollywood’s elite that got both laughs and disapproving looks from the A-list audience. Gervais last hosted the Globes four years ago, before the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite movements shined a spotlight on the underrepresentation of women and minorities in Hollywood. He said the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes, had planned to have a segment honoring celebrities who died in 2019, “but when I saw the list of people who died, it wasn’t diverse enough.”


Gervais also called out Hollywood actors as hypocrites for giving impassioned political speeches at awards shows while working in movies or television series produced by major tech and media corporations. “You say you’re woke, but the companies you work for – I mean, unbelievable – Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t ya?,” he asked. “So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You are in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. “So if you win, right? Come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God” and leave the stage, he concluded, using an expletive.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Jan 052020
 
 January 5, 2020  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  15 Responses »


Jack Delano Foggy night in New Bedford, Massachusetts 1941

 

Suleimani’s Death Huge Blow To Iran’s Plans For Regional Domination (Hassan)
Trump Could Start A War Via Twitter; The Social Network Is OK With That (Keys)
Sanders, Warren Want No War With Iran, Biden, Buttigieg Better-Run Wars (IC)
Lies, the Bethlehem Doctrine, and the Illegal Murder of Soleimani (Murray)
Doubling Down Into Yet Another ‘March of Folly,’ This Time on Iran (VIPS)
To Stop Trump’s War with Iran, We Must Also Confront the Democrats (ITT)
PBOC Says Will Keep Monetary Policy Prudent, Flexible And Appropriate (R.)
Bernanke: Fed Has Ample Clout To Fight Downturn If Toolkit Used Properly (R.)
How the Two-Party System Broke the Constitution (Atlantic)
Bushfire Turns Aussie Sky Into A Re-Creation Of The Aboriginal Flag (DMA)

 

 

It’s very hard not to wonder what everyone would have been writing and talking about in these first few days of 2020 if Australia weren’t burning and the US hadn’t killed Soleimani. Because this is all people are on about. Nobody talks about impeachment, for one thing.

It’s a shame that virtually all use the two events to reaffirm their prior positions, that they see to tweak events to reinforce their prior positions. It’s nigh impossible not to read that Trump will start a grand war, or the US will. This first article by Hassan Hassan is a rare exception.

Something else that crossed my mind: Soleimani’s death has -perhaps greatly- increased the chance that US troops will have to leave Iraq. Who would want that to happen?

Suleimani’s Death Huge Blow To Iran’s Plans For Regional Domination (Hassan)

The killing of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani could prove to be the most consequential US slaying of an enemy operative in recent memory. It will eclipse in its significance the killing of Osama bin Laden almost a decade ago or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October. Not because it might spark another Middle East war, as many have warned, or merely because Suleimani was irreplaceable. Rather, his killing came at a time when the project he had led – to create an Iranian hegemony in the region – is facing unprecedented challenges in Iraq and Lebanon, through cross-sectarian and grassroots protests, while in Syria the project is still in its infancy. One can add to this picture a more aggressive policy adopted by the US.

Indeed, Suleimani was killed while he was trying to deal with these very challenges. His successor is unlikely to be able to complete that mission and contain the spiral of events in countries where, only a year ago, Iran declared major victories – in Syria against the rebels, in Lebanon through a Hezbollah-friendly government and in Iraq and Syria against Isis. In the short term, doomsday scenarios seem far-fetched. Neither side is interested in an outright war, even if developments over the past few years indicate that both have been caught in an unpredictable cycle of escalation and mounting tension. Crucially, nearly all the most influential public figures in Iraq, so far the main battle-space for the two powers, have called for a restrained and clear-headed response to prevent the situation in their country from spinning out of control.

These calls reduced significantly the chances for the worst-case scenario – of Iraq’s public figures mobilising impulsively and collectively against the United States in a way that might spark attacks and retaliations. Such scenarios would have made the US presence in Iraq unsustainable, at best. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most revered cleric, condemned Washington for its “flagrant aggression” but, in the same breath, he also called for restraint. What’s more, he cited the Iran-linked attack on the US embassy in Baghdad as part of a dangerous whirlwind of events that could steer Iraq into renewed chaos.

Beyond the extreme scenarios, Iran’s options for retaliation seem limited to familiar patterns of proxy and asymmetric warfare. Even Iranian officials have suggested any response to Suleimani’s killing would have to come later; foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that Tehran would launch “legal measures” at international level to hold the US to account. While a future response is possible, alarmism about a spiral into confrontation between Iran and the US is misplaced.

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Hmmm. Yes, Trump was the first to use Twitter, social media the way he does. because they didn’t exist the way they do. Presidents, CIS etc., would use the NYT and WaPo to start wars, sell them to voters. Does any of this mean Twitter should censure Trump? Or that not doing it makes them warmongers?

Trump Could Start A War Via Twitter; The Social Network Is OK With That (Keys)

Lost in the back-and-forth over the legality of the assassination and whatever future consequences it may hold is that Trump may be the first president to stoke, and perhaps even declare, war through the Internet. [..] Since taking office, Trump has used Twitter to antagonize North Korea, start false rumors about Russia, intimidate witnesses, harass journalists, slander political rivals and — perhaps we should have seen it coming — threaten Iran. For its part, Twitter seems okay — maybe even pleased — that Trump has selected their platform to connect directly with the public. To date, no other social media platform has been able to boast that two sitting presidents have actively used their platform with the level of tenacity seen on Twitter.

That was likely the thought in mind when Twitter responded to criticism over its selective enforcement of its own terms of service — the kind that prohibit direct harassment against a person, incitement of violence, certain slurs and other acts of malfeasance — by saying it would give greater leniency to world leaders because what they have to tweet is important for people to read. “Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation,” a blog post published in January 2018 said. “Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society. Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate.”

Twitter goes on to argue that removing a world leader like Trump from the platform would not silence them as some would wish, but rather “hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.” “We review Tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly,” Twitter said. So far, that enforcement has amounted to a blank check for Trump to say whatever he want with impunity, with the social network apparently figuring that whatever Trump has to say — on his personal account that he used for several years before he became president — has roots in political discourse. And, hey, it’s not like anyone has died from a president’s tweet before.

But the assassination of Gen. Soleimali at Trump’s direction changes everything. Nowhere has Trump’s trademark approach to public discourse — filterless, unhinged, often ignorant and without regard to consequence — played out more than on Twitter. Now, people are paying closer attention to what Trump has to say, particularly on Iran, and a lot of the focus is on what Trump will tweet next. Certainly among those waiting with baited breath are world leaders — allies who are trying hard to prepare for what’s ahead with virtually little advance notice and foes who are looking for any excuse to attack.

As the crisis between the United States and Iran over the killing of Gen. Soleimali intensifies, it’s not unreasonable to assume Trump will, at some point, tweet something that instigates an attack or declaration of war. When that happens, Americans will die. By choosing not to enforce its terms equitably across users and show privilege and favor to world leaders, Twitter — as a platform and as a company — will play a role in whatever comes next.

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Trump alos said he wants no war with Iran. Biden and Mayor Pete are twisting like pretzels, Warren has a hard time keeping up with events.

Sanders, Warren Want No War With Iran, Biden, Buttigieg Better-Run Wars (IC)

Warren, who faced criticism from the left for initially prefacing her alarm at the threat of “another costly war” with the statement that Suleimani was “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans,” amplified Sanders’s anti-war message more clearly on Friday. “Donald Trump is dangerous and reckless,” she wrote. “He’s escalated crises and betrayed our partners. He’s undermined our diplomatic relationships for his own personal, political gain. We cannot allow him to drag us back into another war. We must speak out.”

Biden also criticized the killing of the general as needlessly provocative, but issued a statement that embraced the Trump administration’s argument that Suleimani, who orchestrated deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers during the post-war occupation of Iraq, “deserved to be brought to justice for his crimes against American troops.” The former vice president — who voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq when he was still in the Senate, and later authored a bizarre plan to partition the country along ethnic and sectarian lines — was critical mainly of what he called Trump’s failure to explain his “strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel” and Trump’s lack of a “long-term vision” for the U.S. military’s role in the region.

Warren, who faced criticism from the left for initially prefacing her alarm at the threat of “another costly war” with the statement that Suleimani was “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans,” amplified Sanders’s anti-war message more clearly on Friday. “Donald Trump is dangerous and reckless,” she wrote. “He’s escalated crises and betrayed our partners. He’s undermined our diplomatic relationships for his own personal, political gain. We cannot allow him to drag us back into another war. We must speak out.”

Biden also criticized the killing of the general as needlessly provocative, but issued a statement that embraced the Trump administration’s argument that Suleimani, who orchestrated deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers during the post-war occupation of Iraq, “deserved to be brought to justice for his crimes against American troops.” The former vice president — who voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq when he was still in the Senate, and later authored a bizarre plan to partition the country along ethnic and sectarian lines — was critical mainly of what he called Trump’s failure to explain his “strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel” and Trump’s lack of a “long-term vision” for the U.S. military’s role in the region.

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Propaganda is what it is.

Lies, the Bethlehem Doctrine, and the Illegal Murder of Soleimani (Murray)

In one of the series of blatant lies the USA has told to justify the assassination of Soleimani, Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani was killed because he was planning “Imminent attacks” on US citizens. It is a careful choice of word. Pompeo is specifically referring to the Bethlehem Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Self Defence. Developed by Daniel Bethlehem when Legal Adviser to first Netanyahu’s government and then Blair’s, the Bethlehem Doctrine is that states have a right of “pre-emptive self-defence” against “imminent” attack. That is something most people, and most international law experts and judges, would accept. Including me.

What very few people, and almost no international lawyers, accept is the key to the Bethlehem Doctrine – that here “Imminent” – the word used so carefully by Pompeo – does not need to have its normal meanings of either “soon” or “about to happen”. An attack may be deemed “imminent”, according to the Bethlehem Doctrine, even if you know no details of it or when it might occur. [..] The truth of the matter is that if you take every American killed including and since 9/11, in the resultant Middle East related wars, conflicts and terrorist acts, well over 90% of them have been killed by Sunni Muslims financed and supported out of Saudi Arabia and its gulf satellites, and less than 10% of those Americans have been killed by Shia Muslims tied to Iran.

This is a horribly inconvenient fact for US administrations which, regardless of party, are beholden to Saudi Arabia and its money. It is, the USA affirms, the Sunnis who are the allies and the Shias who are the enemy. Yet every journalist or aid worker hostage who has been horribly beheaded or otherwise executed has been murdered by a Sunni, every jihadist terrorist attack in the USA itself, including 9/11, has been exclusively Sunni, the Benghazi attack was by Sunnis, Isil are Sunni, Al Nusra are Sunni, the Taliban are Sunni and the vast majority of US troops killed in the region are killed by Sunnis.

Precisely which are these hundreds of deaths for which the Shia forces of Soleimani were responsible? Is there a list? It is of course a simple lie. Its tenuous connection with truth relates to the Pentagon’s estimate – suspiciously upped repeatedly since Iran became the designated enemy – that back during the invasion of Iraq itself, 83% of US troop deaths were at the hands of Sunni resistance and 17% of of US troop deaths were at the hands of Shia resistance, that is 603 troops. All the latter are now lain at the door of Soleimani, remarkably.

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“One short week ago, for example, Iran launched its first joint naval exercises with Russia and China in the Gulf of Oman, in an unprecedented challenge to the U.S. in the region.”

Doubling Down Into Yet Another ‘March of Folly,’ This Time on Iran (VIPS)

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) SUBJECT: Doubling Down Into Another “March of Folly”?

The drone assassination in Iraq of Iranian Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani evokes memory of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in June 1914, which led to World War I. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quick to warn of “severe revenge.” That Iran will retaliate at a time and place of its choosing is a near certainty. And escalation into World War III is no longer just a remote possibility, particularly given the multitude of vulnerable targets offered by our large military footprint in the region and in nearby waters. What your advisers may have avoided telling you is that Iran has not been isolated. Quite the contrary. One short week ago, for example, Iran launched its first joint naval exercises with Russia and China in the Gulf of Oman, in an unprecedented challenge to the U.S. in the region.

Cui Bono? It is time to call a spade a spade. The country expecting to benefit most from hostilities between Iran and the U.S. is Israel (with Saudi Arabia in second place). As you no doubt are aware, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life. He continues to await from you the kind of gift that keeps giving. Likewise, it appears that you, your son-in-law, and other myopic pro-Israel advisers are as susceptible to the influence of Israeli prime ministers as was former President George W. Bush. Some commentators are citing your taking personal responsibility for providing Iran with a casus belli as unfathomable. Looking back just a decade or so, we see a readily distinguishable pattern.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon payed a huge role in getting George W. Bush to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Usually taciturn, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, warned in August 2002 that “U.S. action against Iraq … could turn the whole region into a cauldron.” Bush paid no heed, prompting Scowcroft to explain in Oct. 2004 to The Financial Times that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had George W. Bush “mesmerized”; that Sharon has him “wrapped around his little finger.” (Scowcroft was promptly relieved of his duties as chair of the prestigious President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.)

In Sept. 2002, well before the attack on Iraq, Philip Zelikow, who was Executive Secretary of the 9/11 Commission, stated publicly in a moment of unusual candor, “The ‘real threat’ from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The unstated threat was the threat against Israel.” Zelikow did not explain how Iraq (or Iran), with zero nuclear weapons, would not be deterred from attacking Israel, which had a couple of hundred such weapons.

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Guess who the main Democratic donors are. Except for Bernie and Warren, but she’s already in funding trouble.

To Stop Trump’s War with Iran, We Must Also Confront the Democrats (ITT)

Since President Trump took office in 2017, the leadership of the Democratic Party has overwhelmingly supported the precursors to today’s dangerous U.S. escalation towards Iran: sanctions, proxy battles and a bloated military budget. Yet, now that we stand on the brink of a possible U.S. war of aggression, Democratic leaders are feigning concern that Trump is leading a march to war without congressional approval, and using a faulty strategy to do so. These objections, however, are grounded in process critiques, rather than moral opposition—and belie Democrats’ role in helping lay the groundwork for the growing confrontation.

The U.S. drone assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force and a ranking official of the Iranian government, takes confrontation with Iran to new heights, inching the U.S. closer to the war the Trump administration has been pushing for. While Trump deserves blame for driving this dangerous escalation, he did not do it on his own.

As recently as December 2019, the House overwhelmingly passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 with a vote of 377-48. Two amendments were stripped from that bill before it went to a vote: Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-Calif.) amendment to block funding for a war with Iran barring congressional approval and Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) amendment to repeal 2001’s “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists” (AUMF). That AUMF effectively allows the government to use “necessary and appropriate force” against anyone suspected of being connected to the 9/11 attacks, and has been interpreted broadly to justify U.S. aggression around the world. Officials from the Trump administration have suggested that the 2001 AUMF may give them authority to go to war with Iran.

Of the 377 Representatives who voted for the $738 billion defense bill, 188 were Democrats. Just 41 Democrats opposed the legislation. The bill cleared the Senate with a tally of 86-8, with just four Democrats voting against it. None of the Senators running for the 2020 Democratic nomination were present for the vote. Before the vote, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor to brag about the fact that “partisan demands” had effectively been removed from the bill and declared that “sanity and progress” had won out. “Reassuringly, the past few days have finally brought an end to bipartisan talks and produced a compromise NDAA,” said McConnell.

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Talk about propaganda. Hollow words.

PBOC Says Will Keep Monetary Policy Prudent, Flexible And Appropriate (R.)

China will keep monetary policy prudent, flexible and appropriate, and continue to deepen financial reforms, the central bank said on Sunday, reiterating previous policy statements. After a work meeting chaired by People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang, the central bank also vowed to prevent any financial crisis, and said it would continue to help small companies seeking financing, according to a statement posted on PBOC’s website. It also said it will continue to let market play a decisive role in the currency exchange rate, but would keep the yuan exchange rate stable within a reasonable range. China’s economic growth cooled to a near 30-year low of 6% in the third quarter, but is expected to meet the government’s full-year 2019 target of 6%-6.5%. The PBOC on Wednesday cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves for the eighth time in nearly two years…

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And there’s more where that came from. The rate cuts Bernanke once labeled “uncharted territory”, he now calls “conventional”.

Bernanke: Fed Has Ample Clout To Fight Downturn If Toolkit Used Properly (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve still has enough clout to fight a future downturn, but policymakers should state in advance the mix of policies and policy promises they plan to use to get the most bang for their buck, former Fed chief Ben Bernanke said on Saturday. In an address to the American Economics Association, Bernanke pushed back on the notion that central banks have lost influence over the economy, and laid out his thoughts about how the Fed in particular could change its monetary policy “framework” to be sure that is not the case. Citing new research of his own and others at the Fed and elsewhere, Bernanke said the bondbuying programs known as “quantitative easing” were effective in lowering long-term interest rates even after the Fed’s target policy rate had been cut to zero.


Several rounds of QE were rolled out in response to the deep 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession, and Bernanke said bondbuying should be made a permanent part of the U.S. central bank’s toolkit. Similarly, “forward guidance,” or promises about future policy, proved effective particularly as those pledges became more specific and tied to particular goals like reaching a certain level of unemployment. “Forward guidance in the next downturn will be more effective – better understood, better anticipated, and more credible – if it is part of a policy framework clearly articulated in advance,” Bernanke said. “Both QE and forward guidance should be part of the standard toolkit going forward.” “The room available for conventional rate cuts is much smaller than in the past,” Bernanke said, but “the new policy tools are effective.”

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You can talk about the Framers all you want, but the country has changed a lot since them.

How the Two-Party System Broke the Constitution (Atlantic)

From the mid-1960s through the mid-’90s, American politics had something more like a four-party system, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alongside liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Conservative Mississippi Democrats and liberal New York Democrats might have disagreed more than they agreed in Congress, but they could still get elected on local brands. You could have once said the same thing about liberal Vermont Republicans and conservative Kansas Republicans. Depending on the issue, different coalitions were possible, which allowed for the kind of fluid bargaining the constitutional system requires.

But that was before American politics became fully nationalized, a phenomenon that happened over several decades, powered in large part by a slow-moving post-civil-rights realignment of the two parties. National politics transformed from a compromise-oriented squabble over government spending into a zero-sum moral conflict over national culture and identity. As the conflict sharpened, the parties changed what they stood for. And as the parties changed, the conflict sharpened further. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats went extinct. The four-party system collapsed into just two parties.

The Democrats, the party of diversity and cosmopolitan values, came to dominate in cities but disappeared from the exurbs. And the Republicans, the party of traditional values and white, Christian identity, fled the cities and flourished in the exurbs. Partisan social bubbles began to grow, and congressional districts became more distinctly one party or the other. As a result, primaries, not general elections, determine the victor in many districts.

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Nice find, dark humor.

Bushfire Turns Aussie Sky Into A Re-Creation Of The Aboriginal Flag (DMA)

An amazing photo taken by a woman as fires raged nearby seemed to mimic the Aboriginal flag. South Australian woman Rose Fletcher took the photo at Victor Harbour as the sun rose on New Year’s Day when fires near her home were at their worst. ‘It was taken on New Year’s Day, just after sunrise, when the fires were arguably at their worst, and hearts were heavy and people were frightened – me included,’ Mrs Fletcher told Daily Mail Australia. ‘The rising sun was just a pale disc behind the layers of smoke over the Southern Ocean – and then, for just a few magic seconds, as it moved up through successively dense layers, it formed the Aboriginal flag.’


Towns on Australia’s east coast have been plunged into darkness in the middle of the day recently, while others have witnessed the sky turn apocolyptic red as the fire front approached. At least 24 people have died so far and dozens more are still missing so far this fire season. Authorities predict that number will rise. In addition to the death toll, more than 1,500 homes and four million hectares of land have been wiped out. More than 500 million animals are feared to have perished. Ms Fletcher said she recognised right away the power of the image and immediately went home to share it. ‘So I went home and put it up on Facebook, hoping that those moments would speak to other people as they spoke to me, and the rest is history,’ she said.

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

 

Jan 042020
 


Jack Delano Near Shawboro, North Carolina, Florida migrants on way to Cranberry, NJ 1940

 

The Dubious Official Story Behind the Soleimani Assassination (Whitney Webb)
Israel Had Advance Notice Of US Plan To Kill Iranian General Suleimani (LAT)
How Trump Decided To Kill Iran’s Soleimani (Pol.)
Inside The Plot By Iran’s Soleimani To Attack US Forces In Iraq (R.)
Iraqi PMF Militias Retract Claims Of Medics Targeted By US Airstrike (RT)
The Dogs of War (Kunstler)
Fed Policymakers Broadly See Eye To Eye On 2020 Outlook (R.)
Fed’s Mester Warned Of Inflation Risks, Says Current Policy ‘Well Calibrated’ (R.)
Australian Troops Called To Tackle Fires (BBC)
Slow Burn (John Quiggin)
Australia’s Bushfires Push Countless Species To Extinction (G.)
Mexico President Calls For Julian Assange To Be Released From UK Prison (R.)

 

 

See far too many people pretending they’re far too sure about what’s going on. Mostly in line with their pre-conceived views, but others, too, appear to think there’s shame in not having a strong opinion on things they don’t know much about (there will be a war!). While Israel and Saudi are almost completely missing from those opinions and reports.

First victim of war is truth, guys, and that war for now only exists in opinions. And don’t believe everyone in Iran is in deep mourning now. There, too, in the upper echelons there’s a constant power battle, with lots of bloodshed and torture and renditioned people. Just like in America. Plenty Iranians will be happy to see Soleimani gone.

The Dubious Official Story Behind the Soleimani Assassination (Whitney Webb)

Much has been written by MintPress and other outlets about the long-standing efforts by prominent neoconservatives in the U.S. as well as the Israel lobby and Israeli government to prod the U.S. into a major war with Iran. Neoconservative efforts at regime change in Iran have been decades in the making and the current presidential administration has several notable Iran hawks in prominent positions. Furthermore, both President Trump and his foremost ally in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are facing domestic efforts aimed at removing them from office and are facing fresh elections, giving both leaders incentive to ratchet up tensions abroad to distract from their own domestic conflicts.

Yet, the current pressure facing both Trump and Netanyahu in their respective policies is only the latest factor that has pushed both administrations into a renewed and increasingly desperate push to satisfy the decades-old effort of Iran hawks in both countries to stoke war and “reshape” the Middle East in favor of the U.S.-Israel axis. Given the recent assassination of Soleimani, however, it is essential to point out that the U.S. airstrike targeting the Quds Force leader came just a few months after Israel tried but failed to assassinate the general. Indeed, the most recent of these failed attempts was slated to occur early last October and, per The Times of Israel:

“The assassins planned to dig under a religious site associated with Soleimani’s father and set off an explosion under the building when he was inside, and then try to deflect blame so that it ignited an interfaction[al] religious war. The assassins prepared some 500 kilograms to use for the bomb.” Israel’s government did not comment on the alleged plot, though it is notable that the plan to dig below a Muslim holy site and plant a bomb has been attempted by Israeli extremist groups in the past, groups which have a major foothold in Israel’s current government.


This alleged attempt by Israel to kill Soleimani came after claims that, in 2018, the Trump administration had given Israel a “green light” to assassinate the general. The report claimed that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region” and was published by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida, which is widely considered to be “an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East,” according to Israeli media.

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Geez, what a surprise.

Israel Had Advance Notice Of US Plan To Kill Iranian General Suleimani (LAT)

Israel had advance notice of the U.S. plan to kill Iranian military leader Gen. Qassem Suleimani, Israeli military and diplomatic analysts reported Friday night while refraining from providing further details due to heavy military censorship. “Our assessment is that the United States informed Israel about this operation in Iraq, apparently a few days ago,” Barak Ravid, a journalist and commentator with deep sources in the Israeli security establishment, said on Channel 13. An Israeli army officer with knowledge of Israeli military assessments, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to reporters, told the Los Angeles Times that the attack on Suleimani “did not come as a surprise.”

The reactions of Israel’s political leadership to Suleimani’s assassination were mostly positive, though deep concern was registered throughout the leadership. Iran and Israel maintained warm relations for almost four decades before the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the shah and imposed a theocratic Shiiite Muslim regime that for four decades now has called for “death to Israel” and is accused of backing and masterminding numerous terrorist attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets, including the 1992 and 1994 attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that left over 100 people dead. Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Iranian proxy militia, has in recent years been accused of perpetrating further attacks against Israeli targets in India, Thailand and Bulgaria.


[..] Due to the heightened alarm, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Greece, where he had signed an agreement for a regional gas pipeline. He made a statement on the tarmac ahead of boarding his flight back to Israel, saying that the United States had the right to defend itself. “Qassem Suleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks. President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively. Israel stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense.” The Israeli army officer described the situation as “definitely higher readiness than usual, but not DEFCON One. We want to err on the side of caution, but we know we are not the first target. We are the second.”

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Lots of stories of Trump spilling the beans before the attack to run of the mill Mar-a-Lago guests. While Howie Carr didn’t know anything until afterwards. Don’t let news outlets shape your opinions for you.

How Trump Decided To Kill Iran’s Soleimani (Pol.)

Hours before the U.S. military sent a Reaper drone to kill one of the most wanted men on the planet, President Donald Trump was relaxing at his palatial Florida properties. In the morning, he played 18 holes at Trump International, his West Palm Beach golf club. At around 3 p.m., he returned to Mar-a-Lago, the historic oceanfront estate he’s branded “the Winter White House,” and waited, donning a navy blue suit with a powder-blue tie and an American flag pinned to his lapel. He’d already made a risky—and potentially world-altering—decision to allow the U.S. military to kill Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite paramilitary forces.

Earlier this week, he’d been surrounded at Mar-a-Lago by top officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland. Throughout the entire week, Trump sought input from other advisers by phone. “He was calm, cool and collected,” said conservative radio host Howie Carr, who spoke with Trump on Thursday at Mar-a-Lago soon after the news first broke, as the president dined with GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy. “I had no idea there was anything out of the ordinary going on until I got home.”

As rocket attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq intensified over the last two months, the president had granted the Pentagon extraordinary latitude: The U.S. military had his permission to kill Soleimani the next time it had an opportunity to do so, according to a senior defense official who was not authorized to speak on the record. “We had authority before the strike to take that action,” said the official, who wouldn’t say how recently Trump gave the Pentagon that authorization—whether it was hours, weeks or even months earlier. As recently as New Year’s Eve, the president was telling reporters that he didn’t want war with Iran.


For a man U.S. officials have portrayed as a terrorist mastermind, an evil genius responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, Soleimani often flaunted his influence as he jetted between Tehran, Baghdad and Beirut for meetings with local potentates. “I don’t think it was so hard [to find him] because he was not below the radar in the last two or three years,” said a former senior Israeli government official, who noted that Soleimani had previously moved around under strict operational secrecy. “But the last two or three years, he worked in the open.”

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We simply don’t know what is fact and what fiction. And that’s okay.

Inside The Plot By Iran’s Soleimani To Attack US Forces In Iraq (R.)

In mid-October, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani met with his Iraqi Shi’ite militia allies at a villa on the banks of the Tigris River, looking across at the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad. The Revolutionary Guards commander instructed his top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other powerful militia leaders to step up attacks on U.S. targets in the country using sophisticated new weapons provided by Iran, two militia commanders and two security sources briefed on the gathering told Reuters. The strategy session, which has not been previously reported, came as mass protests against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq were gaining momentum, putting the Islamic Republic in an unwelcome spotlight.

Soleimani’s plans to attack U.S. forces aimed to provoke a military response that would redirect that rising anger toward the United States, according to the sources briefed on the gathering, Iraqi Shi’ite politicians and government officials close to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Soleimani’s efforts ended up provoking the U.S. attack on Friday that killed him and Muhandis, marking a major escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran. The two men died in air strikes on their convoy at a Baghdad airport as they headed to the capital, dealing a major blow to the Islamic Republic and the Iraqi paramilitary groups it supports. Interviews with the Iraqi security sources and Shi’ite militia commanders offer a rare glimpse of how Soleimani operated in Iraq, which he once told a Reuters reporter he knew like the back of his hand.


Two weeks before the October meeting, Soleimani ordered Iranian Revolutionary Guards to move more sophisticated weapons – such as Katyusha rockets and shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down helicopters – to Iraq through two border crossings, the militia commanders and Iraqi security sources told Reuters. At the Baghdad villa, Soleimani told the assembled commanders to form a new militia group of low-profile paramilitaries – unknown to the United States – who could carry out rocket attacks on Americans housed at Iraqi military bases. He ordered Kataib Hezbollah – a force founded by Muhandis and trained in Iran – to direct the new plan, said the militia sources briefed on the meetings. Soleimani told them such a group “would be difficult to detect by the Americans,” one of the militia sources told Reuters.

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That second strike everyone’s talking about? Did it even happen?

Iraqi PMF Militias Retract Claims Of Medics Targeted By US Airstrike (RT)

The Iranian-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have dropped their claims that a medical convoy was destroyed in a US air raid along Taji road, north of Baghdad. In a new press release cited by several news agencies, the PMF leadership retracted their statement in which the group said their medics were hit by a US airstrike. This happened after Reuters cited Iraqi Army sources who said that six people were killed in a raid near Taji. The Iraqi Army, however, later denied that an airstrike took place there. In a statement quoted by local media, the military urged everyone to be “careful” about spreading unverified information and “rumors” in the future. The US-led coalition in Iraq also said that no air raids have been conducted in that area in recent days.

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“..the little towns that dotted that landscape where all the carnage and horror played out. Not a strip-mall in the whole gorgeous panorama. The rolling fields neatly fenced in the stillness of a summer’s day. A peaceful tranquility we today cannot even imagine.”

The Dogs of War (Kunstler)

In that mercifully quiet week between Christmas and New Years, I re-watched Ken Burns’ documentary of the first Civil War, in contemplation of a possible second. What an almighty bloodbath that was. Thousands butchered in minutes in one battle after another, heads and limbs flying, men turned inside-out, and horses, too. The blue and the gray were hostage to their battlefield tactics and didn’t seem to learn from the insane extravagance of souls wasted in massed assaults against massed artillery again and again and again. The population of the whole nation (Confederacy included) was 31 million in 1860 and the war killed two percent of that, almost entirely young men.

Another impression left by that documentary was the startling beauty of the countryside in that day, and of the little towns that dotted that landscape where all the carnage and horror played out. Not a strip-mall in the whole gorgeous panorama. The rolling fields neatly fenced in the stillness of a summer’s day. A peaceful tranquility we today cannot even imagine. Everything human-scaled and so many buildings graced with beauty deliberately made: pediments, steeples, cupolas, columns, and swags. Walt Disney could not have imagined a more tender and appealing place. The lyrical names of those towns are linked to rivers of blood: Shiloh, Spotsylvania, Missionary Ridge, Cold Harbor….


And the last impression accumulated over each installment was that this we did it to ourselves, and couldn’t seem to stop, just as today various parties to current events can’t seem to stop their provocations to a new episode of national domestic violence. This time it is the very government at war with itself, and so far the war is merely legalistic, the battles of lawyers — of which, one senses, we have far too many for our own good. The Department of Justice in particular is at war with itself, one faction in it refusing to cooperate with the other, hiding documents, trafficking in political muck, kluging up the works with deceptions, and still at it in the yet-unresolved case of General Flynn, which should have been thrown out of court months ago based on obvious prosecutorial malice.

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These people think you are really really stupid…

Fed Policymakers Broadly See Eye To Eye On 2020 Outlook (R.)

Federal Reserve policymakers who last year were frequently at odds over where to set U.S. borrowing costs opened 2020 telegraphing confidence in the state of the economy and signaling broad agreement that monetary policy is right where it should be. In their first remarks in the new year, heads of several regional Fed banks noted a strong job market, robust consumer spending and a rising optimism for a resolution to the trade tensions that had nicked growth in the second half of 2019.


And after cutting interest rates three times last year to bring the Fed’s target to a range of 1.5% to 1.75% and ensure global headwinds didn’t short-circuit the longest U.S. economic expansion in history, “I think most of us think that we are well-calibrated now,” Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester said in an interview on the sidelines of an economics conference in San Diego. Based on forecasts of her fellow policymakers on the Fed’s rate-setting committee, she said, “the committee thinks a flat path (for interest rates)… is appropriate.” Mester had been among a handful of Fed policymakers who argued last year that the U.S. economy did not need lower rates to continue to grow.

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… so stupid, in fact, that they say whatever sounds good, truth be damned.

Fed’s Mester Warned Of Inflation Risks, Says Current Policy ‘Well Calibrated’ (R.)

Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester, among the Fed policymakers most concerned that easy monetary policy would risk excessive inflation, said on Friday she has put those fears to rest for now and is willing to leave rates at their current level absent some substantial change in the economy. Her comments in an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of the American Economic Association conference suggest how firmly the Fed is anchored to its current setting for overnight interest rates, fixed in a range of between 1.5% and 1.75% after three rate cuts last year. Advocates for even deeper rate reductions now agree the current setting is helping the economy enough that the Fed can stand pat while Mester and others who worried that lower rates might court faster inflation or risky lending have concluded that at this point there is little cause for concern.


I have been kind of forecasting inflation to go up to 2% for quite a while and we have been undershooting,” said Mester, who assumes a voting role this year on the Fed’s policy-setting committee. Mester, who was skeptical last year that rate cuts were needed, said, “I think we are really well calibrated now.” A rate increase would not be needed, “until I see either financial stability issues looming or some indication that inflation is going to pick up strongly. I don’t see that now and it is not in my forecast.” “You want to see that inflation really is at 2%. You want persistence. You want to be able to say that I am confident now that inflation is meeting our goal,” which was set at 2% in 2012 but never consistently achieved, she said.

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Finally, and even then it’s just reserve troops.

Australian Troops Called To Tackle Fires (BBC)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced 3,000 reserve troops will be deployed to help tackle raging bushfires across the country. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said this is the first time this has happened in Australia’s history. Temperatures have surpassed 40C (104F) in parts of south-east Australia. Officials had warned that Saturday was set to be a “dangerous day”. Since September, fires in Australia have killed at least 23 people. Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Mr Morrison told reporters: “We have seen this disaster escalate to an entirely new level.”


An emergency warning was issued for areas of eastern Victoria that told remaining residents it was now too late to leave. “The safest option is to plan how you will safely take shelter indoors as conditions worsen,” the warning said, adding: “Leaving now would be deadly.” Residents were instructed to attempt to take shelter indoors or in a large clearing or body of water. Dozens of people are missing and some 1,500 homes have already been lost this fire season. Mr Morrison also announced A$20m (£10m) has been allocated to lease four water bomber planes. Defence force bases would provide temporary accommodation, he said.

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Just think about all the plastics and paints etc. that are burning.

Slow Burn (John Quiggin)

At least eighteen people have already been killed by this season’s bushfires — and, with most of January and all of February still to come, that number is sure to rise. But these dramatic deaths are far outweighed by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, that will ultimately result from the toxic smoke blanketing Australian cities.

The most dangerous component of bushfire smoke are tiny particulates, no more than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5. Over the past twenty years, studies have shown that high levels of PM2.5 have contributed to millions of premature deaths in highly polluted cities like Beijing and Delhi. Sydney, Canberra and other Australian cities have recently joined this list. In 2016 alone, exposure to PM2.5 contributed to an estimated 4.1 million deaths worldwide from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infections.

Even before the current cataclysm, air pollution was a major health hazard. While Sydney’s prevailing average of 6 micrograms per cubic metre (6 μg/m3) is within international health standards, it is above the levels observed in most European and American cities. A study led by the Sydney Public Health Observatory’s Richard Broome estimated that particulates and associated forms of pollution already account for between 310 and 540 premature deaths annually.

As far as can be determined, the mortality and health risks of PM2.5 are a linear function of the level of exposure. Being exposed to 6 μg/m3 every day for a year, for example, amounts to 2190 “microgram days.” Broome and his colleagues’ work implies that each microgram day is associated with between 0.14 and 0.25 premature deaths. This figure is consistent with a range of international studies they cite.

The overall mortality effects are also a linear function of the number of people exposed. That’s why a city like Delhi, with thirty million people and an average PM2.5 of 150 μg/m3, suffers tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.

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Think anyone cares? Always had the impression white Australia only wants to sell off all resources as fast as they can, because they know they stole all of them to begin with. Before you get caught, make sure the money’s in your pocket.

Australia’s Bushfires Push Countless Species To Extinction (G.)

Close to the Western River on Kangaroo Island, Pat Hodgens had set up cameras to snap the island’s rare dunnart – a tiny mouse-like marsupial that exists nowhere else on the planet. Now, after two fires ripped through the site a few days ago, those cameras – and likely many of the Kangaroo Island dunnarts – are just charred hulks. “It’s gone right through the under storey and that’s where these species live,” said Hodgens, an ecologist at Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, a not-for-profit conservation group. “The habitat is decimated.” On Friday afternoon word came through that three other Land for Wildlife sites protecting dunnarts and other endangered species, including the southern brown bandicoot, had also been consumed by fire on the island off the South Australian coast.


Prof Sarah Legge, of the Australian National University, said the prognosis for the Kangaroo Island dunnart was “not good” and its plight was symbolic of what was happening all across the east coast of Australia. “Many dozens” of threatened species had been hit hard by the fires, she said. In some cases “almost their entire distribution has been burnt”. So far, the Australian bushfire season has burned through about 5.8m hectares of bush, known across the world for its unique flora and fauna. Ecologists say the months of intense and unprecedented fires will almost certainly push several species to extinction. The fires have pushed back conservation efforts by decades, they say, and, as climate heating grips, some species may never recover. Climate scientists have long warned that rising greenhouse gases will spark a wave of extinctions.

Read more …

AMLO doesn’t appear to be very effective so far, certainly not internationally. A socialist right on America’s doorstep. Can’t be easy.

Mexico President Calls For Julian Assange To Be Released From UK Prison (R.)

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday called for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to be released from prison in London, urging an end to what he described as his “torture” in detention. Assange, 48, is in a British jail for skipping bail when he sought asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he spent nearly seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape that were dropped in November. Assange is also battling U.S. attempts to extradite him over Wikileaks’ publication of vast caches of leaked military documents and diplomatic cables. He faces a lengthy prison term if extradited to the United States.


A U.N. human rights investigator last year said Assange has suffered psychological torture from a defamation campaign and should not be extradited to the United States where he would face a “politicized show trial.” Lopez Obrador, a leftist who has close ties with Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, expressed his solidarity with Assange and said he hoped the former hacker and activist is “forgiven and released” from prison. “I don’t know if he has recognized that he acted against rules and norms of a political system, but at the time these cables demonstrated how the world system functions in its authoritarian nature,” Lopez Obrador said in response to a question about Assange at a regular government news briefing. “Hopefully consideration will be given to this, and he’s released and won’t continue to be tortured.”

Read more …

 

 

 

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Jan 032020
 
 January 3, 2020  Posted by at 11:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »


Alfred Palmer New B-25 bomber at Kansas City plant of North American Aviation 1942

 

America Just Took Out The World’s No. 1 Bad Guy (CNBC)
US Strike That Killed Iranian Commander Starkly Divides US Lawmakers (CNN)
Erdogan Questions Europe As 250,000 Flee Idlib (ZH)
US Dollar as Global Reserve Currency vs Euro, Yen, Renminbi, & Others (WS)
China Cuts US Dollar Weighting In Key Index To Boost Fortunes Of Yuan (SCMP)
China’s Central Bank Frees Up $115 Billion To Support Growth (SCMP)
What the Fed Did to Calm Year-End Hissy-Fit of its Crybaby Cronies (WS)
Greece, Israel, Cyprus: Turkey’s Libya Troops Bill Dangerous Escalation (R.)
Leaders Of Greece, Israel, Cyprus Ink Deal For Pipeline (K.)
The Terrifying Rise of the Zombie State Narrative (Craig Murray)

 

 

Inevitably, the killing of Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad leads to the confirmation of US party lines’ divide. While the GOP stands behind the decision, the Dems have a hard time reconciling their own contradictions. They are a war party, if you look past Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders, but they can’t be seen to agree with Trump. So the likes of Schumer and Pelosi say that while Soleimani won’t be mourned by any American since he was a really terrible person, Trump should have asked for their permission.

The logic being that this could lead to WWIII, a theme that’s all over the internet, so much it makes one think independent thought is under threat. Be that as it may, the president needs permission to declare war, not to hit an individual. Moreover, since they agree killing the man might have been a good idea, they surely realize that he was in a spot where they could get at him, for a limited amount of time, so asking for permission would heve risked losing the opportunity. Weak.

The following two tweets are worth citing:

Nicole Alexander Fisher: “Pelosi voted for Trump’s NDAA which stripped a provison that would have prevented unauthorized war with Iran. She sided with Trump and warhawks on this, as did 188 other Democrats. 41 Dems like AOC, Ilhan Omar, Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, and Joe Kennedy voted no.”

Soleimani fought ISIS, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda etc., along with the US.

Sara Abdallah: “The “no. 1 bad guy” who led the counter-terrorism campaigns that defeated ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon; the “no. 1 bad guy” who prevented a jihadist takeover of the Middle East.”

I’m still wondering how CNBC became the no. 1 warmonger for the MSM. This is some headline. As for the Dems and GOP, one would be inclined to say: pick your side. But if you look just a little bit closer, you see there is only one side.

 

America Just Took Out The World’s No. 1 Bad Guy (CNBC)

So, just who is this top Iranian general the U.S. just eliminated? For many of us who watch and analyze news out of the Middle East daily, he was the world’s number one bad guy. Qassim Soleimani has been in control of Iran’s Quds Force for more than 20 years. His current greatest hits include helping Bashar al Assad slaughter hundreds of thousands of his own people in the Syrian civil war, stoking the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war, and overseeing the killing of hundreds of Iraqi protesters recently demonstrating against Iranian influence in their country. But most importantly for Americans, Soleimani was behind the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers during the Iraq War. Last year, the U.S. State Department put the number of Americans killed by Iranian proxies in Iraq at 608 since 2003.


The killing of Soleimani doesn’t have the emotional power of the takedown of Osama bin Laden, and he wasn’t even as well-known to Americans as ISIS founder Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. But in many ways, taking him out means much more in terms of saving current lives. Remember that bin Laden and al Baghdadi were mostly out of business and in hiding at the time of their deaths. Solemani was busier than ever, directing mayhem all over the Middle East and beyond. For example, these last few days have made it clear to the whole world just how much Iran controlled just about all of Iraq and Iraq’s Shia population. It appears Solemeini not only felt justified in being the likely mastermind behind Tuesday’s attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, he also was comfortable enough to travel to Iraq personally to oversee it. But this time, he got too comfortable.

Read more …

No, it doesn’t.

US Strike That Killed Iranian Commander Starkly Divides US Lawmakers (CNN)

The US airstrike that killed Iran Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani generated starkly different reactions along party lines Thursday night, with Republicans heaping praise on President Donald Trump and Democrats expressing concerns about the legality and consequences of the attack. The Pentagon confirmed in a statement that Trump had ordered the strike, saying Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

[..] Some key members of Congress — such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who is a member of the congressional Gang of Eight leaders, who are briefed on classified matters — had not been made aware of the attack ahead of time. It’s not clear how many other lawmakers had advance notice of the strike. The Pentagon added that “this strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans” and the US “will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”

[..] Democrats pushed back on Republican sentiments about the attack, stressing the potential consequences and lambasting the decision to carry out the strike without congressional authorization. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut emphasized that Soleimani “was an enemy of the United States” in a tweet before stating, “The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?” In a more explicit statement, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico said, “President Trump is bringing our nation to the brink of an illegal war with Iran without any congressional approval as required under the Constitution of the United States.”

[..] On the campaign trail, Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden said “no American will mourn” Soleimani but that the strike that killed him is a “hugely escalatory move.” “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond,” Biden said in a statement. “I’m not privy to the intelligence and much remains unknown, but Iran will surely respond. We could be on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East. I hope the Administration has thought through the second- and third-order consequences of the path they have chosen.”

Read more …

This situation is not likely to improve after the assassination:

Erdogan Questions Europe As 250,000 Flee Idlib (ZH)

As Russian and Syrian jets have dramatically stepped up their bombardment of jihadist-held Idlib over the past three weeks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again warned a massive wave of refugees is headed into Turkey, but that his country is without help and thus is seeking to prevent the new influx. “Right now, 200,000 to 250,000 migrants are moving toward our borders,” Erdogan said while addressing a conference in Ankara. “We are trying to prevent them with some measures, but it’s not easy. It’s difficult, they are humans too.” This after the UN on Monday said that of Idlib province’s some 3 million civilian population, up to 284,000 are currently on the move.


International reports commonly put the current numbers of Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey at about 3.7 million, which Erdogan has of late constantly reminded Europe of as he seeks support for foreign military intervention in places like northeast Syria and now even Libya. During his latest comments, Erdogan actually put the number of refugees across all provinces of Turkey at a whopping 5 million — which would be larger than many small countries. Crucially, during his speech on Thursday, he alluded to his prior threats to “open the gates” and allow refugees to flood into Europe, starting with Greece and other Mediterranean nations:

“Although they [the West] have more resources than we do, why don’t they accept them, why don’t they open the gates?” Erdogan asked. While also slamming Arab League member states for not acting, he answered his own question with, “We are Turkey. Alone this gives us a power and superiority that nobody has.” In late December, Erdogan reiterated prior provocative threats underscoring that “Turkey cannot handle a fresh wave of migrants from Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, warning that European countries will feel the impact of such an influx if violence in Syria’s northwest is not stopped,” as Reuters summarized of the statement.

Read more …

Remarkably stable, really.

US Dollar as Global Reserve Currency vs Euro, Yen, Renminbi, & Others (WS)

The US economy and financial system – including being able to maintain and fund the gargantuan trade deficits and fiscal deficits – has become reliant on the dollar being the dominant global reserve currency. And the IMF just released its next installment on how this status has been changing. Total foreign exchange reserves in all currencies combined declined 0.6% in the third quarter from the second quarter to $11.66 trillion, according to the IMF’s quarterly COFER data. US-dollar-denominated exchange reserves – such as Treasury securities, US corporate bonds, etc. held by foreign central banks – ticked down 0.4% to $6.51 trillion. But holdings denominated in other currencies fell faster, and the share of dollar-denominated reserves edged up to 61.8% of total exchange reserves.


The US dollar’s share of total global reserve currencies declines when central banks other than the Fed proportionately reduce their dollar-denominated assets and add assets denominated in other foreign currencies. Over the long term, the recent moves in the dollar’s share are relatively small. There have been huge moves from 1977 through 1991, when the dollar’s share plunged from 85% to 46%, and then huge moves as the share rose again to 70% by 2000:

In October 2016, the IMF included the Chinese renminbi in the currency basket of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), and the renminbi became officially a global reserve currency. But since then, progress of the currency has been exceedingly slow, and there are no signs the RMB would dethrone the US dollar anytime soon.The creation of the euro came with a lot of hopeful rhetoric that it would reach parity with the US dollar in every way, including as global trade currency, global financing currency, and global reserve currency. [..] During the initial phase of the conversion of European currencies to the euro, the euro’s share of global reserve currencies rose and the dollar’s share fell from 71.5% in 2001 to 66.5% in 2002.

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Wait, so China is desperate for dollars, and then decides dollars are becoming less important? Yeah, we’ll all believe it.

China Cuts US Dollar Weighting In Key Index To Boost Fortunes Of Yuan (SCMP)

China’s decision to cut the weighting of the US dollar in a basket of foreign currencies used to determine the strength of the yuan will help Beijing’s long-term efforts to weaken the international dominance of the American currency, economists said. The China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS), a unit of the Chinese central bank, trimmed the weighting of the US dollar on Wednesday to 21.59 per cent from 22.40 per cent in a key yuan exchange index to make it “more representative” of current trade conditions. The new version of the index will be based on 2018 trade data, rather than data from 2015, when the CFETS was first established. The move, which comes amid heightened trade tensions between China and the United States, will help Beijing’s long-term efforts to create an alternative international payments system, economists said.


“The yuan hopes to become a reserve currency, to prevent the situation where the US dollar dominates the global financial system – or the so-called hegemony of the US dollar. This is a longer-term goal … and an inevitable trend,” said Shen Jianguan, vice-president and chief economist at JD Digits, although he added that the adjustment also reflected changes to China’s trading environment. His remarks were echoed by Lu Zhengwei, chief economist at China Industrial Bank, who said the cut would give the yuan marginally more independence against the US dollar. “The yuan should live its own way – now there is too much shadow from other [currencies] hanging over it,” he said.

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The amount is symbolic.

China’s Central Bank Frees Up $115 Billion To Support Growth (SCMP)

China’s central bank has announced a move to unleash 800 billion yuan (US$115 billion) from the banking system to support the economy, sending a pro-growth message on the first day of 2020. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) will reduce the deposit reserve ratio in financial institutions by 0.5 percentage points from January 6, mainly to offer sufficient funding to the real economy, according to a notice published on the bank’s website. The announcement on Wednesday came after growth continued to weaken while China and the United States prepared to sign an interim trade deal in mid-January. The central bank said this round of funding was partially to offset cash withdrawals before the Lunar New Year, and would not change its stance on monetary policy.


From Monday, the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for big banks will be lowered to 12.5 per cent, while the ratio for medium and small banks will be reduced to 10.5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. In 2019, the central bank cut the RRR rate three times. “The RRR cut will help boost investor confidence and support the economy, which is gradually steadying,” said Wen Bin, an economist at Minsheng Bank in Beijing, who also expects another cut in China’s new loan prime rate this month. After 18 months of the trade war between China and the United States, the Chinese economy, the world’s second largest, is facing external and domestic headwinds, with growth slowing to 6 per cent in the third quarter, the lowest since 1992. By value of goods, China’s export growth fell 0.3 per cent between January and November 2019, while import growth was down 4.5 per cent for the same period.

Read more …

End the Fed. They lost control a decade ago.

What the Fed Did to Calm Year-End Hissy-Fit of its Crybaby Cronies (WS)

The big fear was that the repo market would blow out again at the end of 2019, as banks would be window-dressing their balance sheets by building up reserves to certain levels. In the process, they would refuse to lend to the repo market. And borrowing pressure on the other side – such as hedge funds or mortgage REITs that borrow cheaply in the repo market to fund long-term bets – would drive up repo rates. At the end of 2018, repo rates blew out, but quickly settled down without the Fed’s involvement. In September 2019, repo rates blew out again. At this point, the rattled Fed started dousing the market with hundreds of billions of dollars to calm the repo market and prevent another year-end blowout.


To do this, the Fed engaged in repo operations and also began purchasing short-term Treasury bills. This calmed the repo market, and at the end of December, repo rates didn’t blow out. But on January 1, the Fed did a huge $64 billion reverse repo, the opposite of a repo, thus draining overnight $64 billion in liquidity from the market. This astounding spike in reverse repo balances showed up on its balance sheet for the week ended January 1, released today:

In a reverse repo, the Fed sells securities and takes in cash, under an agreement to buy back those securities at a fixed price on a set date. A reverse repo drains liquidity from the market. When the reverse repo unwinds on the maturity date, as the Fed buys back those securities, it adds liquidity to the market. Reverse repos are liabilities on the Fed balance sheet. In a normal repo, the Fed buys Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, under agreements to repurchase them at a fixed price on a specific date, such as the next day or in a longer period. This adds liquidity to the market for the duration of the repo.


When the repo matures and unwinds, the liquidity gets drained. But a new repo can roll this over. Repos are assets on the Fed’s balance sheet. Total repos on the Fed’s balance sheet on January 1 rose to $256 billion, up $48 billion from a month earlier (as of Dec 4 balance sheet):

Read more …

Erdogan is not sitting pretty.

Greece, Israel, Cyprus: Turkey’s Libya Troops Bill Dangerous Escalation (R.)

Turkey’s bill allowing troop deployment in Libya marks a dangerous escalation in the North African country’s civil war and severely threatens stability in the region, a joint statement by Greece, Israel and Cyprus said late on Thursday. “This decision constitutes a gross violation of the UNSC resolution…imposing an arms embargo in Libya and seriously undermines the international community’s efforts to find a peaceful, political solution to the Libyan conflict,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said in the statement.


Turkish parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill that allows troops to be deployed in Libya, in a move that paves the way for further military cooperation between Ankara and Tripoli but is unlikely to put boots on the ground immediately. Turkey’s move comes after Ankara and the internationally recognized government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj signed two separate agreements in November: one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, infuriating Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus.

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The exact same countries want to cut a pipeline straight through an area claimed by Turkey. Think there’s a connection?

Leaders Of Greece, Israel, Cyprus Ink Deal For Pipeline (K.)

The intergovernmental agreement signed on Thursday by Greece, Israel and Cyprus for the construction of the EastMed pipeline sent out multiple diplomatic messages. The first of these relates to the endurance of the trilateral cooperation itself. In the 10 years since its inception, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and the prime ministers of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, confirmed that the relationship between the three countries is not circumstantial. Skepticism concerning the situation in Jerusalem after three consecutive national elections which will have been held by March is reasonable. However, it will be very difficult for any Israeli government to roll back years of planning.

The second message concerns Turkey, as the pipeline will link Israel’s reserves with Cyprus, then Crete and mainland Greece through an area that Ankara says belongs to Turkey, according to the pact it signed with Libya’s Tripoli-based government. The EastMed agreement is essentially a legal act stemming from international law as it expresses the will of three sovereign and elected governments (in contrast to that in Tripoli) to deepen their cooperation. At the same time it is a message of cooperation which leaves the door open for Ankara to take part if it decides so. However, signs Thursday were not encouraging as a pair of Turkish F-16s fighter jets made six overflights over Oinousses and the nearby island of Panagia, while the presence of the Turkish fleet around Cyprus remains emphatic.

Moreover, the Turkish Parliament decided on Thursday to approve the deployment of troops to Libya, if deemed necessary. A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said any project that ignores the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the region will fail, while Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said the pipeline is an obstacle to efforts for a solution to the Cyprus problem. The third message is to countries such as Italy and Egypt. With the signing of the deal, Athens, Nicosia and Jerusalem showed they were not willing to wait for the perfect conditions to prevail before moving ahead.

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“..the western powers are now busily attacking the Iraqi Shia majority government they themselves installed, for the crime of being a Shia majority government.”

The Terrifying Rise of the Zombie State Narrative (Craig Murray)

The ruling Establishment has learnt a profound lesson from the debacle over Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. The lesson they have learnt is not that it is wrong to attack and destroy an entire country on the basis of lies. They have not learnt that lesson despite the fact the western powers are now busily attacking the Iraqi Shia majority government they themselves installed, for the crime of being a Shia majority government. No, the lesson they have learnt is never to admit they lied, never to admit they were wrong. They see the ghost-like waxen visage of Tony Blair wandering around, stinking rich but less popular than an Epstein birthday party, and realise that being widely recognised as a lying mass murderer is not a good career choice.

[..] The security services outlet Bellingcat would publish some photos of big missiles planted in the sand. The Washington Post, Guardian, New York Times, BBC and CNN would republish and amplify these pictures and copy and paste the official statements from government spokesmen. Robert Fisk would get to the scene and interview a few eye witnesses who saw the missiles being planted, and he would be derided as a senile old has-been. Seymour Hersh and Peter Hitchens would interview whistleblowers and be shunned by their colleagues and left off the airwaves. Bloggers like myself would be derided as mad conspiracy theorists or paid Russian agents if we cast any doubt on the Bellingcat “evidence”.

Wikipedia would ruthlessly expunge any alternative narrative as being from unreliable sources. The Integrity Initiative, 77th Brigade, GCHQ and their US equivalents would be pumping out the “Iraqi WMD found” narrative all over social media. Mad Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council would be banning dissenting accounts all over the place in his role as Facebook Witchfinder-General.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Dec 302019
 
 December 30, 2019  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Dorothea Lange Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Unemployed young men 1939

 

Firms Must Justify Investment In Fossil Fuels, Warns Mark Carney (G.)
Bank of England Chief Mark Carney Issues Climate Change Warning (BBC)
Security Experts Rip Into OPCW’s ‘Douma Chemical Attack’ Probe (RT)
Pension Funds With $680 Billion Finally Find Their Missing Link (BBG)
Bank of America: Trend For 2020s Will be the “End of Globalization” (PJW)
Britons Paying 40% More For Energy Than In 2015 (G.)
Spain Pulled Into Diplomatic Spat Between Bolivia, Mexico (AP)
Schiff Goes for Total Coup, Now Targeting Pence (WJ)
Russiagate Investigation Now Endangers Obama (Zuesse)
Vladimir Putin Thanks Donald Trump For Tip That Foiled Terror Plot (G.)
After US Strike On Iraqi Forces Its Troops Will -Again- Have To Leave (MoA)

 

 

I must have missed that Carney was named UN special envoy for climate change and finance. Hilarious. Just over 3 years ago, I wrote about his delusional ideas in Heal the Planet for Profit , after Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg published How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change.

Billionaires and their lackeys will not solve climate change. Which is why Carney should not have a UN role, just like Great Thunberg should never have gone to Davos, or get involved with COP25. It’s simply not where things happen. By falling into these traps, she’s failing her own ideals, and those of her followers.

Firms Must Justify Investment In Fossil Fuels, Warns Mark Carney (G.)

The outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said all companies and financial institutions must justify their continued investment in fossil fuels, and warned that assets in the sector could end up “worthless”. In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme being broadcast on Monday, Carney said that although the financial sector was starting to cut back on investment in oil and gas companies, the process was not moving quickly enough. Carney, who will focus on his new role as UN special envoy for climate change and finance after he steps down from the governorship in the new year, agreed to appear on the programme for an edition edited by the climate crisis campaigner Greta Thunberg, one of several guest editors on Today over the holiday period.

Carney has been one of the most vocal central bank governors on the need for the financial sector to do more to transition towards a zero-carbon economy. He told the programme that the climate crisis was a “tragedy on the horizon” and that more extreme weather events were inevitable. “By the time that the extreme events become so prevalent and so obvious, it will be too late to do anything about it,” he said. Political leaders had to “start addressing future problems today” On the issue of whether investors should be divesting from companies in the fossil fuel sector, Carney said fund managers would “have to make the judgment and justify to the people whose money it ultimately is”.

When pressed on whether pension funds should divest from oil and gas companies even if the returns were attractive, he replied: “Well that hasn’t been the case but they could make that argument. They need to make the argument, to be clear about why is that going to be the case if a substantial proportion of those assets are going to be worthless.” He warned: “If we were to burn all those oil and gases, there’s no way we would meet carbon budgets. Up to 80% of coal assets will be stranded, [and] up to half of developed oil reserves. A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer: what’s your plan?

Read more …

Carney’s next move will be a $50 trillion fund paid for by taxpayers that will buy turbines and solar from trillion-dollar multinationals.

Bank of England Chief Mark Carney Issues Climate Change Warning (BBC)

The world will face irreversible heating unless firms shift their priorities soon, the outgoing head of the Bank of England has told the BBC. Mark Carney said the financial sector had begun to curb investment in fossil fuels – but far too slowly. He said leading pension fund analysis “is that if you add up the policies of all of companies out there, they are consistent with warming of 3.7-3.8C”. Mr Carney made the comments in a pre-recorded BBC Radio 4 Today interview. He added that the rise of almost 4C was “far above the 1.5 degrees that the people say they want and governments are demanding”. Scientists say the risks associated with an increase of 4C include a nine metre rise in sea levels – affecting up to 760 million people – searing heatwaves and droughts, and serious food supply problems.

Mr Carney, who will next year start his new role as United Nations special envoy for climate action and finance, continued: “The concern is whether we will spend another decade doing worthy things but not enough… and we will blow through the 1.5C mark very quickly. As a consequence, the climate will stabilise at the much higher level.” Speaking to the Today programme, he re-iterated his warning that unless firms woke up to what he called the climate crisis, many of their assets would become worthless. “If we were to burn all those oil and gas [reserves], there’s no way we would meet carbon budget,” he said. “Up to 80% of coal assets will be stranded, [and] up to half of developed oil reserves.

[..] Climate campaigners Extinction Rebellion question whether the capitalist system can halt climate change. Mr Carney said capitalism had a vital role in raising funding for clean technologies. But he added that it had to be tempered by government-imposed incentives, rules and prohibitions of the most damaging activities. Climate change was what he called a “tragedy of the horizon”, because the decision-making time horizon of investment managers is between two and 10 years. “In those horizons there will be more extreme weather events, but by the time that the extreme events become so prevalent and so obvious it’s too late to do anything about it,” he said.

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How far we’ve fallen: OPCW, White Helmets and Bellingcat have all been fully discredited by now (Douma, Skripal, MH17), but the former “all the news that’s fit to print” media completely ignore this. And so we’ll keep hearing more from them.

Security Experts Rip Into OPCW’s ‘Douma Chemical Attack’ Probe (RT)

Documents published by WikiLeaks that suggest a cover-up of inconvenient facts about the Douma, Syria chemical attack investigation raise serious questions about the OPCW, security experts, scholars and diplomats tell RT. The US, UK and France launched missile strikes against Syria in April 2018, after ‘White Helmets’ and jihadist rebels accused the government of a chemical attack in the town of Douma. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons eventually published a report saying its investigators may have found traces of chlorine, which was trumpeted as proof of the accusations in mainstream Western media. Emails published by WikiLeaks on Friday, however, show that a senior OPCW official ordered to “remove all traces” of the engineering assessment questioning the report’s conclusions.

Moreover, the observations by toxicologists who ruled out exposure to chlorine or any other chemical weapon could have caused the symptoms shown on White Helmets videos were likewise buried. “It’s difficult to look at that email exchange without thinking at least there’s a whiff of a coverup,” security analyst Charles Shoebridge told RT, adding that the documents show the OPCW has been “subverted and led astray.” While the experts seem to have done their job honorably and properly, it looks like the OPCW officials twisted and manipulated their work to fit the pre-ordained narrative, on behalf of the countries that carried out the strikes, and have been backing the militants in Syria against the government in Damascus.

The OPCW “right now looks awful,” Max Abrahms, a scholar at the Quincy Institute, told RT. “They have a lot of explaining to do.” US officials seem to have pressured the OPCW to find the Syrian military responsible for the alleged chemical attack “regardless of what the actual scientists on the ground discovered,” according to Abrahms. It is notable that the US, UK and France launched their missile strikes before the OPCW investigators even reached Douma. The final report, published in March 2019, provided an after-the-fact rationalization for the attack. The bigger problem, Machon points out, is that the OPCW suppressing evidence means that the chemical weapons watchdog is no longer credible. If they can’t be trusted about Douma, why should they be trusted about, say, the use of “novichok” in Salisbury just weeks before that incident?

Read more …

Oh sure, pension funds will be rescued by a 30-year bond. Everybody rich!

Pension Funds With $680 Billion Finally Find Their Missing Link (BBG)

In Denmark, where institutional investors have been living with negative interest rates longer than anyone else, the authorities just took a big step. Danish pension funds, the world’s best managed along with their Dutch peers, will finally get a 30-year government bond. When it starts trading next year, funds managing a total of $680 billion in assets will get the missing link they’ve long needed: a long-term, AAA-rated asset at a positive yield. That’s quite a novelty these days. The new bond will give the industry a “crucial point on the curve,” said Christian Lage, chief executive officer of PFA Asset Management, which is a unit inside Denmark’s biggest commercial pension fund in Copenhagen. “We’re following it closely,” he said in an interview.

“Not only with regards to what extent we want to invest in it, but also how it’s being priced. It has an impact on a lot of different things when we price long-term exposures.” Denmark’s central bank first cut its benchmark rate below zero in mid-2012. Almost eight years later, the county has had negative rates longer than any other place on Earth. The distortions wrought by a policy intended to keep the krone fixed to the euro are particularly pronounced in the pension industry. The art of generating long-term, stable returns so Danes can retire comfortably has become increasingly difficult. Pretty much everything safe generates a negative yield. Assets that generate positive yields tend to come with a good deal more risk.

The Danish debt office, which is a unit inside the central bank, hasn’t issued a 30-year bond since 2008. That’s forced pension funds to extrapolate a key anchor point in the interest rate curve that helps them determine the value of both assets and liabilities. Not having a real number at the 30-year point was problematic. The calculations used could muddy price-setting, particularly given the uncertainty of how and when central banks might extricate themselves from negative rates. Lage says that “what is a bit hard for the industry is that, if the interest rate curve – the govvie curve – ends at a 20-year point, what is the fair price for a 30-year asset?”

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There’s a lot more profit in selling arms to dozens of different countries than there is in selling them to alliances.

Bank of America: Trend For 2020s Will be the “End of Globalization” (PJW)

Bank of America says that one of the dominant trends for the 2020s will be the “end of globalization” as countries increasingly realize that the phenomenon has brought unsustainable “social disruption.” In a report mapping out what to expect over the next decade, BofA analysts said that largely unchecked globalization, which ran roughly from 1981-2016, “is coming to an end.” This change will take place due to “the widespread recognition that while globalization has meant lower consumer prices, it has also meant slower growth, precarious employment and social disruption.” This massive shift will make commodities like precious metals and real estate safer investment because governments will move to impose protectionist economic policies.


“Countries will develop explicit national industrial policies and boost spending on R&D to foster local innovation, protect nascent industries, and shield national champions from hostile foreign takeovers,” the analysts said. The transhumanist pursuit of “immortality” will also come to the fore in the next decade, as will a new tech arms race between the U.S. and China, dubbed the “Splinternet.” China will eventually win the race, allowing Beijing “to reach national superiority in technology over the long term vis-a-vis Quantum Computing, Big Data, 5G, Artificial Intelligence, Electric Vehicles, Robotics, and Cybersecurity.” “Ubiquitous connectivity” will also change the fabric of society, according to the report, with the ‘Internet of things’ embedded into virtually every new physical product, a development that critics argue will create an omnipresent Minority Report-style mass surveillance grid.

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And then voted for the people who made it possible.

Britons Paying 40% More For Energy Than In 2015 (G.)

Energy bills have risen by 40% in five years, taking average UK household costs up to a record of £2,707 a year, research has revealed. Comparethemarket’s study examined the costs of energy, home and motor insurance since 2015, and found that gas and electricity price increases were largely responsible for this year’s changes. The analysis says financial pressures have worsened despite the energy price cap introduced at the beginning of 2019. Dual fuel bills now cost an average of £1,813 a year, a 40% hike from £1,289 in 2015. The cap has led to many providers, particularly the big six – British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, npower, Scottish Power and SSE – raising their prices.


The annual report did not examine the costs of broadband, mobile or TV services, which also involve heavy outlays. Simon McCulloch of comparethemarket.com said: “A lot of attention during the general election was devoted to financial difficulties that many people face around the UK. “These statistics are a stark reminder of not only the high cost of essential services, but of the huge increases that have been seen in the past few years. The average cost of energy, motor and home insurance is now £675 higher than 2015 – far above the rate of inflation.”

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Bolivia shares quite a few similarities with Ukraine.

Spain Pulled Into Diplomatic Spat Between Bolivia, Mexico (AP)

A tense diplomatic feud between Bolivia’s conservative interim government and Mexico expanded to include Spain on Friday when a confrontation broke out as Spanish diplomats visited the Mexican ambassador’s residence in La Paz, where members of the ousted leftist government have taken refuge. Bolivian Foreign Minister Karen Longaric complained that Spanish diplomats were accompanied by masked and armed men on a visit to the residence, calling that an abuse of Bolivia’s sovereignty. She said a protest would be lodged with the EU, UN and Organization of American States. Television stations broadcast images of a masked person getting out of a Spanish diplomatic vehicle and exchanging words with local police.

Civilians then approached and began attacking the car, shouting that there could be an attempt to free nine officials sheltered inside. The interim government already has been feuding with Mexico, which not only gave refuge to the nine, but also sheltered ousted leader Evo Morales when he resigned the presidency on Nov. 10 after losing the support of the military and police following days of turbulent protests over alleged fraud in his reelection bid. Bolivian officials accuse several of those inside the embassy of electoral fraud as well as sedition and terrorism for their alleged role in protests that followed Morales’ ouster.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said the incident came as police intercepted Spanish embassy vehicles that were returning to the Mexican mission to pick up the ranking Spanish diplomat, who had made a “courtesy visit” to the Mexican ambassador. It said a Mexican diplomat in the car was also briefly detained but was allowed to pass after showing identification. Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said later it would investigate the incident. Spanish diplomats in their own country are sometime accompanied by bodyguards wearing masks to protect their identities as a security measure, though it wasn’t immediately clear if that was the case here.

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They guy’s a broken record: “..overwhelming and damning evidence..”

Schiff Goes for Total Coup, Now Targeting Pence (WJ)

It’s beginning to look like Rep. Adam Schiff isn’t content with simply ousting the president, instead hinting that he’s going for a total sweep of the White House by involving the vice president as well. The move would seemingly put his ally and fellow California Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in charge of the United States. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee hinted at the bombshell turn in a Dec. 18 talk with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Maddow asked Schiff about his continuing role in the impeachment of President Donald Trump. “You seem to still be pulling on some threads here, including some potentially provocative and consequential ones,” she said. “I’m thinking specifically about a letter that you sent to the vice president’s office this week in which you raise questions as to what the vice president knew about the president’s behavior, the president’s scheme in Ukraine, and thereby essentially his potential involvement in any coverup of that behavior by the president.


“Are you actively looking at Vice President Mike Pence and his role in this scandal, and should we expect further revelations either related to the vice president or related to the other core parts of these allegations that have resulted in this impeachment tonight?” Schiff, in his usual habit of claiming to have overwhelming and damning evidence against his political enemies, said he now has something on Vice President Mike Pence. “We have acquired a piece of evidence,” he said, “a classified submission by [Pence aide] Jennifer Williams, something that she alluded to in her open testimony that, in going back and looking through her records, she found other information that was pertinent to that phone call that we had asked her about and made that submission. … “That submission does shed light on the vice president’s knowledge.”

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A DNC investigation would seem timely.

Russiagate Investigation Now Endangers Obama (Zuesse)

Comey would be expected to have been highly motivated to oppose Mr. Trump, because Trump publicly questioned whether NATO (the main international selling-arm for America’s ‘defense’-contractors) should continue to exist, and also because Comey’s entire career had been in the service of America’s Military-Industrial Complex, which is the reason why Comey’s main lifetime income has been the tens of millions of dollars he has received via the revolving door between his serving the federal Government and his serving firms such as Lockheed Martin. For these people, restoring, and intensifying, and keeping up, the Cold War, is a very profitable business. It’s called by some “the Military-Industrial Complex,” and by others “the Deep State,” but by any name it is simply agents of the billionaires who own and control US-based international corporations, such as General Dynamics and Chevron.

As a governmental official, making decisions that are in the long-term interests of those investors is the likeliest way to become wealthy. Consequently, Comey would have been benefitting himself, and other high officials of the Obama Administration, by sabotaging Trump’s campaign, and by weakening Trump’s Presidency in the event that he would become elected. Plus, of course, Comey would have been benefitting Obama himself. Not only was Trump constantly condemning Obama, but Obama had appointed to lead the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 Presidential primaries, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who as early as 20 February 2007 had endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in the Democratic Party primaries, so that Shultz was one of the earliest supporters of Clinton against even Obama himself.

In other words, Obama had appointed Shultz in order to increase the odds that Clinton — not Sanders— would become the nominee in 2016 to continue on and protect his own Presidential legacy. Furthermore, on 28 July 2016, Schultz became forced to resign from her leadership of the DNC after WikiLeaks released emails indicating that Schultz and other members of the DNC staff had exercised bias against Bernie Sanders and in favor of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic primaries — which favoritism had been the reason why Obama had appointed Shultz to that post to begin with.

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Five Alarm! He’s talking to his puppet master! Also, what are the odds the CIA has supported these planned terror attacks?

Vladimir Putin Thanks Donald Trump For Tip That Foiled Terror Plot (G.)

Russia said it had thwarted terror attacks reportedly planned in St Petersburg as the result of a tip from Washington, as President Vladimir Putin personally thanked his US counterpart Donald Trump. Russian news agencies cited the Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying that as a result of the information, two Russians had been detained on 27 December on suspicion of plotting attacks during new year festivities in St Petersburg. The Kremlin said Putin passed on his gratitude to Trump for the tip from US special services during a phone call on Sunday. It gave no further details.


Diplomatic ties between Washington and Moscow are fraught over disagreements concerning Ukraine and Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the US presidential election, but Trump and Putin have kept personal lines of communication open. Two years ago, the Russian leader phoned Trump to thank him for a tip that Russia said had helped prevent a bomb attack on a cathedral in St Petersburg. Russia has repeatedly been the target of attacks by militant groups including Isis. The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin and Trump had agreed to continue bilateral cooperation to tackle terrorism.

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How Washington celebrates New Year’s.

After US Strike On Iraqi Forces Its Troops Will -Again- Have To Leave (MoA)

Within Syria @WithinSyriaBlog – 17:43 UTC · Dec 29, 2019: “Trump just made the mistake of his presidency.” That may be true or may be not true. Here is what happened. On Friday a volley of some 30 107mm Katyusha rockets hit the K1 base which houses Iraqi and U.S. troops near Kirkuk, Iraq. One U.S. mercenary/contractor died, two Iraqi and four U.S. soldiers were wounded. Instead of finding the real culprits – ISIS remnants, disgruntled locals, Kurds who want to regain control over Kirkuk – the U.S. decided that Kata’ib Hizbullah was the group guilty of the attack.

Kata’ib Hizbullah is a mostly Shia group with some relations to Iran. It is part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) which were founded and trained by Iran to stop and defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) when it occupied nearly a third of Iraq and Syria. KH is like all PMU units now under command and control of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. To take revenge for the death of one of its mercenaries the U.S. air force attacked five camps where Kata’ib Hizbullah and other Iraqi forces were stationed:

“In response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces, U.S. forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria that will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces. The five targets include three KH locations in Iraq and two in Syria. These locations included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations that KH uses to plan and execute attacks on OIR coalition forces.” All of the KH positions that were hit were in the western Anbar desert on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border where KH is engaged in fighting the still active ISIS. The results of the air strikes were devastating:

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai – 6:20 UTC · Dec 30, 2019: “32 killed and 45 wounded the count of #US violent aggression on #Iraq security forces brigades 45 and 46 last night on a military position established to counter-attack and raid #ISIS remnant at al-Qaem, the borders between Iraq and Syria.” The al-Qaem border station is the only open one between Iraq and Syria which is not under U.S. control. The U.S. was furious when the Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi allowed it to be established. It was previously attacked by Israel which had launched its assault from a U.S. air force base in east Syria.

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Branch manager and assistant branch manager

 

 

 

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Dec 272018
 


Giovanni Bellini The Feast of the Gods c1514 (completed by his disciple, Titian, 1529)

 

Trump Declares End To US ‘Policeman’ Role In Surprise Iraq Visit (AFP)
Dow Rallies 1,000 Points, Biggest Single-Day Point Gain Ever (CNBC)
Why Stocks Soared: US Pension Funds Rebalance With $64 Billion Buy Order (ZH)
Plunge Protection And/Or Deeply Underwater Public Sector Pension Funds (CI)
Pretty Much All Of Wall Street Thinks The Market Will Rally In 2019 (CNBC)
The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in America Decline (WS)
Kremlin Considers Changing Constitution To Extend Putin Presidency (ZH)
US Population Growth Hits 80-Year Low (ZH)
Japan Shrinks As Birthrate Falls To Lowest Level In History (G.)
Falling Total Fertility Rate Should Be Welcomed, Population Expert (G.)

 

 

Strangest thing was the level of secrecy, blinded windows the whole flight, no phones; Trump felt really under threat.

Trump Declares End To US ‘Policeman’ Role In Surprise Iraq Visit (AFP)

President Donald Trump used a lightning visit to Iraq — his first with US troops in a conflict zone since being elected — to defend the withdrawal from Syria and to declare an end to America’s role as the global “policeman.” Trump landed at 7:16 pm local time at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq, accompanied by his wife Melania, following what he described as a stressful, secrecy shrouded flight on a “pitch black” Air Force One. The president spoke to a group of about 100 mostly special forces personnel and separately with military leaders before leaving a few hours later. A planned meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi was scrapped and replaced by a phone call, the premier’s office said.

White House video showed a smiling Trump shaking hands with camouflage-clad personnel, signing autographs and posing for photos at the base in Iraq. Morale-boosting presidential visits to US troops in war zones have been a longstanding tradition in the years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Trump has taken considerable criticism for declining to visit in the first two years of his presidency. But speculation had been mounting that he would finally make the gesture following his controversial plan to slash troop levels in Afghanistan and his order to withdraw entirely from Syria. At the Iraqi military base, Trump sought to defend his “America First” policy of pulling back from multinational alliances, including what to many Americans seem like the endless wars of the Middle East.

“It’s not fair when the burden is all on us,” he said. “We don’t want to be taken advantage of any more by countries that use us and use our incredible military to protect them. They don’t pay for it and they’re going to have to.” “We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven’t even heard about. Frankly, it’s ridiculous,” he added. Trump told reporters he had overruled generals asking to extend the Syria deployment, where about 2,000 US forces, joined by other foreign troops, assist local fighters battling the Islamic State jihadist group. “You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time,” he said he told the top brass.

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Precisely what you’d expect in a non-functional market, or a non-market, whatever the immeditate trigger.

Then again, Trump DID say to buy the dip. Made a lot of people a lot of money.

Dow Rallies 1,000 Points, Biggest Single-Day Point Gain Ever (CNBC)

Stocks posted their best day in nearly a decade on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average notching its largest one-day point gain in history. Rallies in retail and energy shares led the gains, as Wall Street recovered the steep losses suffered in the previous session. The 30-stock Dow closed 1,086.25 points higher, or 4.98 percent, at 22,878.45. Wednesday’s gain also marked the biggest upside move on a percentage basis since March 23, 2009, when it rose 5.8 percentage points. The S&P 500 also catapulted 4.96 percent — its best day since March 2009 — to 2,467.70 as the consumer discretionary, energy and tech sectors all climbed more than 6 percent. The Nasdaq Composite also had its best day since March 23, 2009, surging 5.84 percent to 6,554.36. Wednesday also marked the biggest post-Christmas rally for U.S. stocks ever.

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Losses on bonds are so big they have to move into the stocks that lost 20% or so lately?!

Why Stocks Soared: US Pension Funds Rebalance With $64 Billion Buy Order (ZH)

Last Friday, when stocks were tumbling, we reported “some good news for the bulls” which was lost in the overall chaos over the latest mutual fund liquidation discussed earlier. And no, we did not anticipate that President Trump would activate the Plunge Protection Team over the weekend: the good news in question was that as Wells Fargo calculated U.S. defined-benefit pensions fund would need to implement a “giant rebalancing out of bonds and into stocks” – in fact the biggest in history – with the bank estimating roughly $64 billion in equity purchases in the last trading days of the quarter and year, prompting the banks to ask if traders are about to make pension rebalancing “great” again.

Judging by today’s market action, the answer is a resounding yes, even though as Wells warned investors and traders looking for a desperately needed respite from market gyrations “may have to deal with yet one more seismic bout of volatility before Dec 31 finally pops up on their calendar dials.” For those who missed our Friday post on the topic, Wells explained where this massive rebalancing comes from: the huge, end-of-quarter buy order was precipitated by the jarring divergence between equity and bond performances both in Q4 and the month of December. The stocks in the bank’s pro forma pension asset blend had suffered a 14% loss this quarter, including about an 8.5% drop in December. Contrast this with a roughly +1.6% quarterly total return for the domestic aggregate bond index.

The gap between equity and bond performance in pension portfolios would have been even larger had IG credit OAS not widened nearly 40 bps in Q4. As a result of this need for massive quarter-end rebalancing, corporate pensions would need to boost their equity portfolios by as much as $64 billion into year-end. Getting a bit more granular, Wells analyst Boris Rjavinski wrote that domestic stocks – both large cap and small cap – may need disproportionately large boosts of $35 billion and $21 billion, respectively, compared to “only” $9 billion for global developed equities. This is driven by large performance gaps within equity markets: U.S. stocks have trailed global and EM equities in Q4 and December after outperforming the ROW for quarters on end.

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A bit of both.

Plunge Protection And/Or Deeply Underwater Public Sector Pension Funds (CI)

The Dow rose over 1,000 points (almost 5%) after President Trump’s adviser Kevin Hassett assured skittish markets that Fed Chair Jerome Powell is 100% safe. Talk about plunge protection. After numerous jawboning by Fed board members, the Trump administration did its own plunge protection. Of course, an alternative explanation is a rotational shift of public sector pension funds from fixed-income in equities. OR did we just experience the first leg down in the eventual deflation of the massive asset bubble with the bubble deflation taking months … or years. Welcome to the financial circus!

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That means they expect Jay Powell to reverse course.

Pretty Much All Of Wall Street Thinks The Market Will Rally In 2019 (CNBC)

Wells Fargo strategist Christopher Harvey sharply reduced his expectations for the stock market in 2019, making him easily the least optimistic forecaster on Wall Street. Even with the sharp cut, though, pretty much every major house on the Street sees the market higher in the year ahead, despite the brutal correction and potential bear market that looms over investors as 2018 comes to a tumultuous close. Before the new year even begins, Harvey cut his price target for the S&P 500 from an original outlook of 3,079 to a much more muted 2,665. That’s a 13.4 percent reduction that the bank’s head of equity strategy attributed largely to fears of an over-aggressive Federal Reserve, which hiked its benchmark interest rate four times this year, most recently on Dec. 19.

The move “is due to our more comprehensive understanding of the Fed’s near-term philosophy and the belief that it will cause the growth deceleration to intensify,” Harvey said in a note to clients. Still, the new target represents a virtually exact 13.4 percent upside from Monday’s close. Harvey’s peers all agree that stocks are heading higher, from Morgan Stanley’s 2,750 price target all the way up to Deutsche Bank’s robust 3,250 for the large-cap index.

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By far the biggest bubble. The economy runs on this bubble.

The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in America Decline (WS)

Seattle house prices drop 4.4% in four months, biggest drop since Housing Bust 1; Prices deflate in San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Denver, and Portland. Some of the markets in this select group of the most spending housing bubbles in America have turned the corner, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index, released this morning for October, confirming other more immediate data. This includes the Seattle metro, the five-county San Francisco Bay Area, the San Diego metro, the Denver metro, and the Portland metro. In these metros, house prices have skidded the fastest, and in some cases for the first time, since the Housing Bust. In other markets, house prices have been flat for months. And in a few markets on this list, prices rose.

On a national basis, these dynamics get washed out. Single-family house prices in the US, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, ticked up a smidgen on a month-to-month basis in October, and rose 5.5% compared to a year ago (not seasonally-adjusted). This year-over-year growth rate has been slowing from the 6%-plus range that reigned from September last year to July this year. The index is now 11.6% above the July 2006 peak of “Housing Bubble 1” (the first housing bubble in this millennium), which came to be called “bubble” and “unsustainable” only after it had begun to implode during “Housing Bust 1”:

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“What am I going to do, stay until I’m 100 years old? No.”

Kremlin Considers Changing Constitution To Extend Putin Presidency (ZH)

After last March’s not so shocking vote by China’s National People’s Congress to overwhelmingly pass a constitutional amendment to eliminate China’s presidential term limits, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power after his second term ends in 2023, it appears Russia is now inching toward the same scenario at a moment when, as one Moscow-based analyst put it, “The general sense is that there’s no one to replace Putin as the guarantor of the system.” Just prior to Russian President Vladimir Putin getting elected to his final possible term allowed under the constitution last March, Newsweek announced The End of The Putin Era is in Sight — looking ahead to the end of his term in 2024 — but even this could be in doubt, perhaps predictably, as this week Russian parliament raised the possibility of altering the constitution as rumors continue to circulate that the Kremlin is seeking ways to keep the popular 66-year old multi-term leader in power.

Currently the Russian constitution prohibits a president from being elected for more than two consecutive terms, but on Tuesday during a scripted meeting with Putin the speaker of Russia’s parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, broached the issue, saying according to Bloomberg: “There are questions in society, esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich,” Volodin said, addressing Putin in the respectful form, according to a Kremlin transcript. “This is the time when we could answer these questions, without in any way threatening the fundamental provisions” of the constitution, he added. “The law, even one like the Basic Law, isn’t dogma.”

Noting that the current constitution was drafted a quarter-century ago, Volodin continued, “That was a very difficult time. A time when the state stood on the edge of collapse, when social obligations weren’t fulfilled, when our citizens lost faith in the authorities.” [..] Perhaps the best quote on the issue came last Spring, however, when Putin was presented with a question of his prospects after 2024 just after his reelection to a second consecutive term. He said, “At present I don’t plan any constitutional reforms.” And when asked about seeking office in 2030, as allowed by current law, he quipped, “What am I going to do, stay until I’m 100 years old? No.”

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And the US is nowhere near as extreme as Europe, Japan, China. Because: immigration.

US Population Growth Hits 80-Year Low (ZH)

Last week, the Brookings Institution published a new report regarding population data from the US Census Bureau. The data showed population change estimates for the year ending in July 2018. Brookings said the national rate of population growth collapsed to its lowest level since 1937, “a result of declines in the number of births, gains in the number of deaths, and that the nation’s under age 18 population has declined since the 2010 census.” This new report comes after recent government data showed geographic mobility within the US is at historic lows. Some states —particularly in the Mountain West—are expanding at a quick rate, but approximately 20% of all states showed evidence of population losses over the last two years. The aging American population (i.e., those pesky baby boomers) is the broader cause for the downward shift in demographic trends that could cripple the nation in the years and decades ahead.

The population growth rate of 0.62% for 2017-2018 is the lowest registered since the end of the Great Depression. While the nation’s growth rate has fluctuated through wars, economic upheavals, baby booms, and baby busts, the current rate reflects a further fall that has also registered below the Great Recession low in 2007-2009. “These downward growth trends initially reflected declines in immigration as well as lower natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) because the economy was down. But over the past few years, as immigration gained slight momentum, reduced natural increase was more responsible for the overall decline in population growth—as it dropped from 1.6 million in 2000-2001 to just above 1 million in 2017-2018. There were fewer births than in recent decades and more deaths than in earlier years,” said Brookings.

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A development that’s clearest perhaps in Japan, but will spread all over.

Japan Shrinks As Birthrate Falls To Lowest Level In History (G.)

Japan suffered its biggest population decline on record this year, according to new figures that underline the country’s losing battle to raise its birth rate. The number of births fell to its lowest since records began more than a century ago, the health and welfare ministry said, soon after parliament approved an immigration bill that will pave the way for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers to address the worst labour shortage in decades. The ministry estimated 921,000 babies will have been born by the end of 2018 – 25,000 fewer than last year and the lowest number since comparable records began in 1899. It is also the third year in a row the number of births has been below one million.

Combined with the estimated number of deaths this year – a postwar high of 1.37 million – the natural decline of Japan’s population by 448,000 is the biggest ever. The data suggests the government will struggle to reach its goal of raising the birth rate – the average number of children a woman has during her lifetime – to 1.8 by April 2026. The current birth rate stands at 1.43, well below the 2.07 required to keep the population stable. The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has described Japan’s demographics as a national crisis and promised to increase childcare places and introduce other measures to encourage couples to have more children.

But the number of children on waiting lists for state-funded daycare increased for the third year in a row last year, raising doubts over his plans to provide a place for every child by April 2020. Japanese people have an impressive life expectancy – 87.2 years for women and 81.01 years for men – which experts attribute to regular medical examinations, universal healthcare coverage and, among older generations, a preference for Japan’s traditional low-fat diet. But the growing population of older people is expected to place unprecedented strain on health and welfare services in the decades to come.

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Look, you can be an expert on population change, if you want, but that doesn’t make you an expert on the influence of artificial intelligence on populations, or on population decline and economies. Those are completely different topics.

Falling Total Fertility Rate Should Be Welcomed, Population Expert (G.)

Declining fertility rates around the world should be cause for celebration, not alarm, a leading expert has said, warning that the focus on boosting populations was outdated and potentially bad for women. Recent figures revealed that, globally, women now have on average 2.4 children in their lifetime a measure known as total fertility rate (TFR). But while in some countries that figure is far higher – in Niger it is more than seven – in almost half of countries, including the UK, Russia and Japan, it has fallen to below two. Such declines have been met with alarm, with some warning that the “baby bust” puts countries at risk of a depopulation disaster.

But Sarah Harper, former director of the Royal Institution and an expert on population change, working at the University of Oxford, said that far from igniting alarm and panic falling total fertility rates were to be embraced, and countries should not worry if their population is not growing. Harper pointed out that artificial intelligence, migration, and a healthier old age, meant countries no longer needed booming populations to hold their own. “This idea that you need lots and lots of people to defend your country and to grow your country economically, that is really old thinking,” she said.

Having fewer children is also undoubtedly positive from an environmental point of view; recent research has found that having one fewer child reduces a parent’s carbon footprint by 58 tonnes of CO2 a year. Capping our consumption, said Harper, was crucial, not least because countries in Africa and Asia, where the fastest population rises were occurring, would need a bigger share of resources if global inequality were to be curbed. “What we should be saying is no, [a declining total fertility rate] is actually really good because we were terrified 25 years ago that maximum world population was going to be 24bn,” said Harper, who has three children herself.

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Mar 212018
 
 March 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Dirk de Herder Amstel Bridge, Amsterdam1946

 

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)
EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)
UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)
Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)
The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)
Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)
German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)
Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)
Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)
France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

 

 

Net worth my ass.

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)

Nine years into the second-longest bull market run in history, the level of total net worth compared with income has reached a record, according to Joe LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis, citing Federal Reserve data. Since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, the disparity between net worth and income has soared, attributable in large part to the growth in financial assets, which have increased by $33.9 trillion, compared with $10.4 trillion in nonfinancial assets. Essentially, that means that American wallets have grown fatter from the accumulation of financial assets like stocks and mutual fund holdings than they have from gains in their homes and other physical assets like autos.

In all, total net worth of $98.75 trillion is now 6.79 times the $14.55 trillion in disposable income for households as of the fourth quarter, according to Fed financial accounts figures. That’s up from 6.71 times in the third quarter. The previous tops came in the first quarter of 2006, with 6.51, and the first quarter of 2000, at 6.12. Those two levels cast ominous signals over the U.S. economy. “A recession started four quarters from the peak of the former and eight quarters from the zenith in the latter,” LaVorgna said Tuesday in a note to clients. As a practical matter, the level should serve as a yellow flag for Fed officials, who are on a course of hiking rates gradually but steadily.

[..] The Fed is an important part of the equation in that it helped boost financial assets through historically low interest rates and an aggressive policy of monthly bond buying called quantitative easing. This is the first meeting for new Chairman Jerome Powell, who must navigate the Fed through rate increases aimed at controlling but not stopping growth. After years of mostly steady gains since the bull market run began in 2009, volatility has crept in 2018 and raised the specter that forward gains will be tougher to achieve. “Powell needs to be mindful of the current backdrop and not signal aggressive rate hikes to come,” LaVorgna said. “Otherwise, stock prices and the economy are in trouble.”

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Brussels and Facebook: they’re going to come for part of the loot of selling your data.

EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)

The EU will unveil proposals for a digital tax on US tech giants on Wednesday, bringing yet more turmoil to Facebook after revelations over misused data of 50 million users shocked the world. The special tax is the latest measure by the 28-nation European Union to rein in Silicon Valley giants and could further embitter the bad-tempered trade row pitting the EU against US President Donald Trump. EU Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici will present proposals aimed at recovering billions of euros from mainly US multinationals that shift earnings around Europe to pay lower tax rates.

The transatlantic blow has been championed by French President Emmanuel Macron and will be discussed over dinner at an EU leaders summit on Thursday. “This will be given top priority as tax file. There is a lot of political momentum on this issue,” an EU official said ahead of the announcement. The unprecedented tech tax follows major anti-trust decisions by the EU that have cost Apple and Google billions and also caught out Amazon. The commission’s tax, expected to be about 3% of sales, would affect revenue from digital advertising, paid subscriptions and the selling of personal data.

The EU tax plan will target mainly US companies with worldwide annual turnover above 750 million euros ($924 million), such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Uber. Spared are smaller European start-ups that struggle to compete with them. Companies like Netflix, which depend on subscriptions, will also avoid the chop. Brussels is seeking to choke tax-avoidance strategies used by the tech giants that, although legal, deprive EU governments of billions of euros in revenue.

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Got to admit, hard to say who I’d trust least with this, Facebook or the UK deep state.

UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)

The U.K.’s data protection watchdog ordered Facebook’s auditors to back down from a probe into a political analytics company accused of wrongly harvesting the data of millions of its users. The tech giant was planning to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s servers and systems, but the Information Commissioner’s Office told Facebook on Monday that it should withdraw from the research firm’s London premises. The ICO said it would seek to gain its own warrant to access the company’s computers and servers.

Facebook had said Monday that it was pursuing a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica and had hired digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to determine whether the data analytics company still possessed Facebook user data. But in an updated statement later that day, Facebook said: “Independent forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg were on site at Cambridge Analytica’s London office this evening. At the request of the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down.”

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Sold his shares first?!

Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton left Facebook last year. Now he’s saying others should do the same. In a tweet Tuesday, Action said: “It is time. #deletefacebook,” referencing the online movement that is gaining steam in the wake of revelations that the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was used without their permission by political data company Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential campaign. He did not immediately expand on his comment. While his Facebook profile was still active for hours after his tweet, it appeared deactivated later Tuesday night.

Acton and fellow co-founder Jan Koum sold the messaging service WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion. Acton received about $3 billion in the deal, and has a net worth of about $5.5 billion, according to Forbes. After staying on for three years, Acton quit Facebook in September, and is now a major backer of rival messaging service Signal, which boasts encryption to make its messages resistent to government surveillance. In February, he joined the newly launched nonprofit Signal Foundation as executive chairman, and invested $50 million into the app.

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Now connect this to the Facebook stories.

The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)

Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents. Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, “Bitcoin is #1 priority,” a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated.

The documents indicate that “tracking down” bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers. The NSA collected some bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”

The agency appears to have wanted even more data: The March 29 memo raised the question of whether the data source validated its users, and suggested that the agency retained bitcoin information in a file named “Provider user full.csv.” It also suggested powerful search capabilities against bitcoin targets, hinting that the NSA may have been using its XKeyScore searching system, where the bitcoin information and wide range of other NSA data was cataloged, to enhance its information on bitcoin users. An NSA reference document indicated that the data source provided “user data such as billing information and Internet Protocol addresses.” With this sort of information in hand, putting a name to a given bitcoin user would be easy.

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One took 519 days, the other 35 days. That’s an actual compariosn?

Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)

Bitcoin has long been compared to the dot-com bubble. Morgan Stanley says its recent moves are similar to the tech boom and bust, but on steroids. Bitcoin’s recent moves almost mirror that of the Nasdaq Composite Index in the lead-up to and aftermath of 2000, but at 15 times the speed, Morgan Stanley said. The Nasdaq climbed 278% in 519 days in the rally leading up to its high in March 2000, while Bitcoin soared 248% in 35 days in the last leg of the rally to its $19,511 high in December, according to the report. There have been three waves of weakness since Bitcoin peaked in December, with prices falling between 45% and 50% each time, before rebounding.

The Nasdaq’s bear market from 2000 had five price declines, averaging a similar 44%. The bear market also looks similar on the way up. There have been two Bitcoin bear market rallies of 43% on average, while the Nasdaq bear market rallies averaged 40%. Bear markets are nothing new for the first decentralized digital currency. Since the coin’s creation in 2009 there have been four bear markets with price declines ranging from 28% to 92%. From the December peak to the most recent low on February, Bitcoin’s price fell by 70%, “nothing out of the ordinary,” Morgan Stanley said.

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C’mon, close them down already. This movie’s getting boring.

German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)

German prosecutors said on Tuesday they had searched Volkswagen’s headquarters as part of a new investigation into whether the carmaker had overstated the fuel efficiency of more vehicles than previously disclosed. The news is the latest setback in the German company’s efforts to move on from a 2015 scandal in which it admitted to cheating U.S. emissions tests on diesel engines. Prosecutors from the city of Braunschweig searched 13 offices at Volkswagen’s (VW) headquarters in nearby Wolfsburg at the start of March, seizing documents and computer files that will now be reviewed, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said, confirming a report by German magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

They were checking a statement issued by VW on Dec. 9, 2015—about three months after its “dieselgate” scandal broke in the United States—over suspicions its contents were incorrect In that statement, VW said its own investigations found it had understated fuel consumption, and hence carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, on no more than 36,000 vehicles. That was much lower than its preliminary estimate of around 800,000 diesel and gasoline vehicles produced five weeks earlier, which caused VW to warn it could face a 2 billion euro ($2.5 billion) hit to profits from the disclosure. VW also said in its December 2015 statement that it had found no evidence of unlawful alterations to CO2 emissions data.

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We might as well keep thinking as long as we still can.

Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)

So our taxes don’t pay for spending, so what? So the government can’t run out of money. Big deal. Does that change anything? ‘We can’t afford it’ has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days. Perhaps even earlier. And while it might make you feel good to believe that, it is simply untrue. This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment if it keeps export prices low. Or the currency competitive. Or their bottom line stable. Ultimately, this comes down to what government is for, and what role markets should play in our lives. People are divided on this. And that is ok. Civil disagreements are a hallmark of a civilised society.

Economies and markets are complex beasts, that perform differently in different environments, under different conditions. Arguably across the duration of time, a range of potential solutions could apply at any given scenario. And the best solution is to pick and choose from a range of different economic schools of thought, and use them in combination. Unfortunately, across the world, the economists and historians that are seeking to gain greater clarity of how to do just that, by understanding the true function of economies and markets are being pushed out of universities and barred from institutions and organisations that would allow their research to come to fruition. This is not a mark of a civilised society, but corporate fascism that is actively suppressing research that threatens the dominance of late-stage capitalism.

If you feel comfortable convincing yourself that unemployment and homelessness is acceptable, if you think the fact that wages have not only stagnated but are in many countries actually going backwards somehow doesn’t affect you, that what most people earn in a lifetime will be insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement should not concern you, that addressing any one of these things would be a detriment not only to your bottom line but to the economy itself, if you can justify that position without relying on arguments over deficits and balanced budgets, well, more power to you, I guess. But we should be honest about our disagreements. And our opinions should be informed by an as accurate understanding of how wealth is created as possible.

For many people, whether or not government can afford to address unemployment and social spending isn’t the issue, the question is whether it should. The argument over budgets, debt ceilings and deficits have been used as a national pacifier that would have us believe that the health of the economy and our ability to earn a living relies on a degree of human suffering. We have been convinced that the balancing of federal budgets somehow relates to our ability to put food on the table, when in fact the opposite is true. These lies have made us paranoid and competitive, where the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. It’s a pretty genius strategy, really.

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On the 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

“Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”

Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)

Seven years ago today, NATO began its “humanitarian bombing” of Libya. While “humanitarian bombing” is an oxymoron, many believe that a country is not truly advancing human rights if it’s not bombing another back to the Stone Age. As an initial matter, it must be said that while the UN had authorized a NATO fly-zone over Libya to protect civilians – all civilians, by the way – there was never authorization for the full-scale invasion which was carried out and which quickly became aimed at regime change. Therefore, the NATO operation which actually took place was illegal.

[..] the intervention was spearheaded by Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice – three self-described warriors for human and women’s rights. Instead, they became three ushers of the Apocalypse. In addition, Italy and France, which also helped lead the charge for invasion, had their own reasons for intervening in Libya. For his part, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be singularly focused on killing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who allegedly gave him €50 million for his presidential campaign – a claim which was just coming to light and to which Gaddafi was the chief witness.

[..] Gaddafi had taken Libya from being the least prosperous country in Africa to the being the most prosperous by the time of the NATO operation. Thus, as one commentator explains, before the intervention, “Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.” Moreover, one of the main reasons, we were told, that NATO needed to intervene in 2011 was to save Benghazi from imminent harm from the government forces of Gaddafi.

However, Hillary Clinton’s own internal emails show that her team recognized that any humanitarian problems confronting Benghazi had passed by the time of the NATO bombing. For example, Clinton’s assistant, Huma Abedin, in an email dated February 21, 2011 – that is, just a mere four days after the initial anti-government protests broke out in Libya – explains that the Gaddafi forces no longer controlled Benghazi and that the mood in the city was indeed “celebratory” by that time. Then, on March 2, just over two weeks before the bombing began, Harriet Spanos of USAID sent an email describing “[s]ecurity reports” which “confirm that Benghazi has been calm over the past couple of days.”

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Rhinos, insects, birds. You are next.

Bird populations in France have fallen by 33% in just 15 years.

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

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Sep 242017
 
 September 24, 2017  Posted by at 6:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Robert Frank London 1952-53

 

‘Tis the jolly time of elections, referendums, flags and other democracy-related issues. They are all linked in some way or another, even if that’s not always obvious. Elections, in New Zealand and Germany this weekend, referendums in Catalonia and Kurdistan the coming week, a looming Party Congress in China, quarrels about a flag in the US and then there’s always Brexit.

About China: the Congress is only in October, Xi Jinping looks sure to broaden his powers even more, and it ain’t all that democratic, but we should still follow it, if only because party officials will be either demoted or promoted, and some of them govern more people than most kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but in China everything really is. Including debt.

New Zealand: the election very early this morning didn’t bring a much hoped for win for Labour, or any clear winner at all, so don’t expect any grand changes in policy. New Zealand won’t wake up till its economy dives and the housing bubble pops.

Germany: Angela Merkel has set up today’s election so that she has no competition. Though she will see the ultra-right AfD enter parliament. Still, her main ‘rival’, alleged left wing Martin Schulz, is a carbon copy of Merkel when it comes to the main issues, i.e. immigration and the EU. An election that is as dull as Angela herself, even though she’ll lose 10% or so. The next one won’t be, guaranteed.

As for the US, no elections there, but another round of big words about nationalism, patriotism and the flag. Donald Trump is well aware that 75% or so of Americans say the flag must be respected, so criticizing people for kneeling instead of standing when the anthem gets played is an easy win for him. No amount of famous athletes is going to change that.

It all doesn’t seem very smart or sophisticated. But then, the US is the only western country I know of that plays the anthem at domestic sports games and has children vow a Pledge of Allegiance to it every single day. Other countries can’t even imagine doing that. They keep their anthems for special occasions. And even then only a few people stand up when it’s played. For most, it’s much ado about nothing but a strip of cotton.

What is perhaps interesting is that a whole list of NFL team owners donated a million dollars to Trump, and now speak out against him and ‘side with their players’, even though not one of them has offered Colin Kaepernick a job since he got fired for going down on one knee. Should I add ‘allegedly’? The only right way to handle the issue would seem to be to talk about why Kaepernick and others do what they do, not that they do it. There’s more than enough division in the country to warrant such talks.

Let Trump invite Kaepernick and Stephen Curry, maybe even Lebron and Stevie Wonder, to the White House with the very intention to talk about that. In the current hostile climate that is not going to happen though, even if Da Donald might want to. There’s a group of people who after 30 years of a deteriorating economy said ‘this is not my country anymore’, and voted for the only -apparent- alternative available, Trump, and another group who then said ‘this is not my president’.

And never the twain shall have a conversation. Somebody better find a way to get them to talk about it, or worse is to come. Far too many Americans identify themselves solely as not being someone else. Yeah, Trump too, but he’s been under constant siege from all sides, and of course he’ll fight back. No, that does not make me a Trump cheerleader, as some have suggested, but what’s happening today threatens to blow up the entire nation, after first having eroded the whole political system. This is a serious risk.

Now spymaster James Clapper is saying again that the whole Russia thing, for which there still is zero proof, could make the election invalid. Well, not without proof, Jimbo. And until you do have that proof, shut up, it’s poisonous (he knows). Instead, go help the 3.5 million literally powerless Americans in Puerto Rico. There are plenty issues to deal with that don’t involve bashing your president. Keep that for later.

 

(Proposed) referendums (referenda?) in Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ raise interesting questions about sovereignty and self determination. We’ll see a lot more of that going forward. I’ve repeatedly mentioned the issue of sovereignty when it comes to Greece, which cannot really be called sovereign anymore because others, foreigners, make all main decisions about its economy.

There may be plenty different definitions of sovereignty, but there can be no doubt it means that a domestic authority has control over a country. That also means that possible changes to that authority can only be made domestically. To come back to Greece briefly, I’m surprised that no constitutional lawyers or scholars have questioned respective governments handing de facto control to ‘outsiders’.

But that can be both deepened and broadened to the decision to join both first the EU, and later the euro. Have all 27 EU countries run these decisions by their constitutional lawyers and highest courts? I’ve never seen an opinion like that from any country. Does a country’s ruling authority have the power to sign away its sovereignty? I would bet in most cases it does not, or the constitution involved was/is either shoddily written or not worth much to begin with.

That any elected US president -or Congress, Senate- would have the power to sell the country to the highest bidder -or any part of it- sounds preposterous, even if I’m no constitutional lawyer or scholar. What countries CAN do, of course, is sign treaties and other agreements concerning defence or trade, among others. But any possible sovereignty violations would always need to be scrutinized at the highest domestically available level of judicial power.

Moreover, I would argue that sovereignty is not something that can be divided, split up or broken into separate parts. You’re either sovereign or you’re not. One country, indivisible, as the US Pledge of Allegiance states (but that doesn’t mean a group of people inside a country can’t seek its own sovereignty).

 

The ‘composition’ of the EU raises a lot of questions. Many countries have given up their rights to control over their currencies, and therefore their entire economic policies, and though the euro is undoubtedly beneficial in some areas, it has turned out to be a straight-jacket in others, when less sunny economic times arrived.

So what happens if those less sunny times are here to stay? Will countries like Greece continue to bend over for Germany, and for the ECB it controls, or will some of these countries (re-)examine their rights to sovereignty? How is this defined in the EU charter anyway? It has to be there, or many constitutions were violated to begin with when countries signed up. Sovereignty that is not properly defined is meaningless.

Another, non-economic, example concerns the Visegrad countries, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. It’s wonderfully ironic that Wikipedia says the Visegrad alliance (est. in 1991) was formed “for the purposes of furthering their European integration”, ironic because one might be tempted to think it does the opposite. The Visegrad countries refuse to be part of the EU’s scheme to resettle refugees.

And Brussels tries to force them to comply with that scheme, with threat after threat. But that too, no matter how one views the issue or where one’s sympathies lie, is in the end a sovereignty issue. And what use is it to force refugees upon a country that doesn’t want them? The bigger question is of course: why were they ever invited into the EU when they think that way, and that way is fundamentally different from that prevalent in Brussels and other member countries?

Or perhaps the even bigger question should be: how do you combine a country’s sovereignty with a political and economic union of nations that must sign away parts of their sovereignty -and therefore all of it, as argued before-. If you ask me, it’s not nearly as easy -let alone legal- as they try to make it look.

 

Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ are good examples – albeit from a different angle- of that same conundrum. A topic closely linked to sovereignty is self-determination. Wikipedia:

The right of people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law (commonly regarded as a jus cogens rule), binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the {UN] Charter’s norms. It states that a people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.

[..] on 11 February 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson stated: “National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.

‘Self determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.

The Kurds have been denied that right for a very long time. For reasons related to divide and rule policies in a whole slew of different global powers both in the region and outside of it, and reasons related to oil. After being a major force in the fight against ISIS, and after seeing Turkey get ever more agressive against them -again-, the Kurds have -not for the first time- planned a referendum for a sovereign state. As the UN charter unequivocally says is their right.

The problem is, they want to establish their state on land that other countries claim is theirs. Even if the Kurds have lived there for a long time. And that’s a common theme in most of these ‘events’. Catalunya, Palestina, ‘Kurdistan’, they’re told they can perhaps have independence and sovereignty, but not on land where their people have lived for 1000s of years, because that land ‘belongs to us’.

And holding a referendum is therefore unconstitutional, says Spain, or whatever legal term is thrown out. But if the UN charter makes the international community’s position as clear as it does, how can it contradict a member nation’s constitution? Was that member not paying attention when it signed up to the Charter, or did the UN itself let that one slip?

 

 

Catalunya (Catalonia) is the northeast tip of Spain. Its people have long wanted independence and never gotten it. When present day Spain was formed, it was made part of Spain. And now the people want their own nation. It is not hard. But then again it is. We are now one week before October 1, the date the referendum was planned, and the Spanish government has done everything it could and then some to frustrate the referendum, and therefore the will of the people of Catalunya.

As the politicians who inhabit the EU and UN sit by idly, scared silly of burning their fingers. After arresting Catalan politicians and confiscating anything that could be used to hold the referendum, Spain has sent cruise ships full of police to Catalan harbors, and tried to take over control of the Catalan police force. But Catalan politicians and harbor crew have refused to let the ships dock, and Catalan police won’t obey Spanish orders.

It’s starting to look like Spain PM Rajoy wants to provoke a violent Catalan reaction, so he can send in his army and blame Barcelona and environs. What he doesn’t want to understand is that this will be the end of his government, his career, and of any chance Catalunya will remain part of Spain other than in the short term. It feels like Franco’s military, who, don’t forget, only relinquished control some 40 years ago, are still there in spirit if not physically.

For everybody’s sake, we can only hope someone does something to stop Rajoy and whoever’s behind his decisions, because if anyone ever wondered why the Catalans wanted to be independent, after those decisions there can be no question anymore. If he sends in the army, Spain as a whole will be something of the past. But first the referendum result, which was very doubtful all along, has now been settled: nearly all Catalans stand united against Rajoy today.

And Catalans are a mixed people. Many do not have their roots there, or even speak the language. But they will not turn on their friends and neighbors.

 

Kurdistan’s situation is even a lot more convoluted than Catalunya’s. Borders in the Middle East were drawn more or less at random by the French and British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly 100 years ago. And the Kurds never got their independence, or their country. But now they want it. However, they live spread over 4 different countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. And some of the land they live on has oil. Lots of it. And the cradle of civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

 

 

Just about everyone, including the US, all countries in the region, and the old colonial powers, have declared their resistance to the Kurdish referendum. Getting back to the UN charter et al, isn’t that a curious position? Politicians sign lofty declarations, but when their successors are called upon to uphold them, nobody’s home. And it’s not as if self-determination is such a difficult topic to understand.

The referendum will be held on September 25 in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, so not in other Kurdish regions. Therefore only 900,000 people, out of some 35 million Kurds, get to vote. But the question on the ballot will be:

“Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?”

And that of course means something much more, and much bigger. There’s a ‘Kurdistan’ in Iran, Syria and Turkey as well. Kurds there don’t get to vote, though.

Quoting Bloomberg: “The vote will be held in the three governorates officially ruled by the KRG, as well as in disputed areas currently controlled by Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga. The Kurds expanded their domain in 2014 when, faced with Islamic State attacks, the Iraqi army deserted the oil-rich city Kirkuk.”

Here’s where the Kurds were living according to the 2014 CIA World Factbook:

 

 

As is the case in Catalunya, Iraq’s parliament and top court have declared the vote unconstitutional. That again raises the question: how can a vote violate a country’s constitution if and when that country has signed the UN charter which explicitly defines every people’s right to self-determination? Who’s been asleep when both documents were signed?

How could the UN let countries sign its charter whose constitutions violated that same charter? Have we all just been playing fast and loose all along? Or, more interestingly, what are we all going to do now that we know about this? Are we going to take self-determination away from people, and sign that into a whole new UN charter? Or are we going to make sure the charter is upheld and make countries change their constitutions to comply with it?

 

There is a third option (very much in favor): to not do anything. But that gets more dangerous all the time. The days that people could just be ignored are gone. Social media have probably played a large role in that. And so have changing power relationships.

The EU is blowing itself up through increasing calls for more Europe just as people want less. I’ve said it often before: centralization stops when and where economic growth does. And despite all the creative accounting we see, economic growth is definitely gone in Europe. Just ask Greece, Spain. Ask the people, not the politicians. People will only accept their decisions being made by far away ‘leaders’ if they perceive them as beneficial to their lives, the lives of their children.

Those days are gone, no matter the propaganda. That’s true all over Europe, and it’s true all across the US. The refusal by incumbent powers to recognize this, admit to it, is what gives us the likes of Trump and Brexit and countless other challengers. That Marine Le Pen and others have failed to date doesn’t mean the status quo wins; others will follow. In that vein I was surprised to see Yanis Varoufakis, whom I hold in very great esteem, declare in name of his DiEM 25 movement that:

“I am not taking sides on whether Catalonia should be independent or not” and “What we’re promoting in DiEM25 would solve the problem. We want a real European Union that becomes a single jurisdiction, a country if you want to call it that. In that scenario, it doesn’t matter if Catalonia is part of Spain!”

Europe will not be one country. Nor should it want to be. Europe has 1000 different ways to work together, and the EU has been an utter failure at that. While it has done a ton of good, it is being -predictably- destroyed by the power politics at its top levels. Nobody ever told Europeans that they would wind up living as German provinces. But that is what they are.

As Varoufakis himself makes abundantly clear is his book Adults in the Room. That’s why Germans have no real choice in today’s election: they have such utter control of the EU they would be crazy to vote against it. But at the same time, the rest of the ‘Union’ would be crazy to let them hold that power.

And I know that DiEM25 wants to change and reform the EU, but how will they do that knowing they need Germany, more than all other countries, to accomplish it, as Germany is sitting so pretty? Calls for a one-country Europe seem at the very least irresponsibly premature. That’s very far from reality. First things first. No cheating. You can’t say it doesn’t matter what happen to the Catalans today because ‘we’ have bigger plans for tomorrow. That means abandoning them. That’s not a new Europe: that’s what they already have today.

 

As for ‘Kurdistan’, what can we do but hope and pray? Hope that the old European colonial powers, as well as Turkey, Iraq and Iran, plus Russia and China, live up to the UN Charter they signed, and let the Kurds show they can be a force for peace in the region, which needs one so badly?! They have shown in no uncertain terms they can defend themselves, and their land, against anyone who threatens them. The Kurdish women army, YPJ, is all you need to know when it comes to that. They are the bravest amongst us.

If they had their own country, they would continue to do just that, and better. Which just goes to show that nationalism and patriotism are not of necessity negative emotions. It gives people an identity. Which is exactly why brighter heads than the present ones put the right to self-determination in the UN Charter, at a time, 1945, when the world had seen indescribable destruction.

There’s a lesson there. That we seem to have forgotten already. And now have to learn all over again. Through Colin Kaepernick, through the unbelievable Kurdish women’s YPG army, though the streets of Barcelona. Our world is screwed up, and we need to unscrew it.

 

 

Jul 312016
 
 July 31, 2016  Posted by at 10:13 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Branches Of An Almond Tree In Blossom in Red 1890

Think about it for a second: If America -and UK, France- were to announce today that they would immediately cease bombing Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, would the US be any less safe? Would Europe?

How about if we’d promise to spend all the billions saved by not throwing bombs on them, to help rebuild these countries? Would that make us less safe, from terrorists, from anyone at all? Do you think ‘they’ would ‘hate’ us for that?

It becomes a pretty stupid non-discussion pretty fast, doesn’t it?

 

 

Jul 102016
 
 July 10, 2016  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


G.G. Bain Political museums, Union Square, New York 1909

Bank Earnings Loom Large As Stocks Near Record on Wall Street (R.)
The Epic Collapse Of The World’s Most Systemically Dangerous Bank (ZH/VC)
Bank of England Considers Curbs On Property Funds (R.)
China June Inflation Eases Further, More Policy Stimulus Anticipated (R.)
China Healthcare Costs Forcing Patients Into Crippling Debt (R.)
Gorbachev: ‘The Next War Will Be the Last’ (Sputnik)
Blair’s Deputy PM Says Iraq Invasion Broke International Law (BBC)
Families Of Soldiers Killed In Iraq Vow To Sue Blair For ‘Every Penny’ (Tel.)
Australia’s Other Great Reef Is Also Screwed (Atlantic)
10,000 Hectares Of Mangroves Die Across Northern Australia (ABC.au)
Global Insect Populations Fall 45% In Past 40 Years (e360)

 

 

Markets are now completely divorced from reality.

Bank Earnings Loom Large As Stocks Near Record on Wall Street (R.)

The focus on Wall Street will shift to corporate earnings next week after a strong June jobs report on Friday gave investors confidence that the U.S. economy was on stable footing and left the S&P 500 within a whisper of a new closing record high. Earnings next week are expected from big banks JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo as well as other financial companies such as BlackRock and PNC Financial Services. Earnings for the sector are expected to decline 5.4%. If bank earnings come in better than expected, the S&P 500 is likely to push through its record highs set in May 2015 after several failed attempts, as Friday’s jobs number helped push the benchmark index to less than one point from its closing record high of 2,130.82.

“Banks are definitely in the spotlight,” said Tim Ghriskey, CIO of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York. “There is some trepidation in the market going into this earnings season, the quarter economically was not particularly strong.” Financials have been the worst performing of the 10 major S&P sector groups this year, down nearly 6%, as they were hit by reduced expectations for a U.S. interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve and uncertainty in the wake of “Brexit.” Second-quarter earnings overall are expected to decline 4.7%, according to Thomson Reuters data, the fourth straight quarter of negative earnings, but up slightly from the 5% decline in the first quarter.

Investors will be looking for confirmation this quarter that earnings are starting to turn, with analysts anticipating a return to growth in the back half of the year, starting with expectations for a 1.8% increase in the third quarter.

Read more …

Two things still stuck in German media (Google translate for them is awful) as I write this: the chief economist for Deutsche Bank calls for a €150 billion bailout for European banks, and German top-economist Hans-Werner Sinn says Finland will be next to leave EU and first to leave eurozone.

The Epic Collapse Of The World’s Most Systemically Dangerous Bank (ZH/VC)

It’s been almost 10 years in the making, but the fate of one of Europe’s most important financial institutions appears to be sealed. After a hard-hitting sequence of scandals, poor decisions, and unfortunate events,Visual Capitalist’s Jeff Desjardins notes that Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank shares are now down -48% on the year to $12.60, which is a record-setting low. Even more stunning is the long-term view of the German institution’s downward spiral. With a modest $15.8 billion in market capitalization, shares of the 147-year-old company now trade for a paltry 8% of its peak price in May 2007.

If the deaths of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were quick and painless, the coming demise of Deutsche Bank has been long, drawn out, and painful. In recent times, Deutsche Bank’s investment banking division has been among the largest in the world, comparable in size to Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Citigroup. However, unlike those other names, Deutsche Bank has been walking wounded since the Financial Crisis, and the German bank has never been able to fully recover. It’s ironic, because in 2009, the company’s CEO Josef Ackermann boldly proclaimed that Deutsche Bank had plenty of capital, and that it was weathering the crisis better than its competitors.

It turned out, however, that the bank was actually hiding $12 billion in losses to avoid a government bailout. Meanwhile, much of the money the bank did make during this turbulent time in the markets stemmed from the manipulation of Libor rates. Those “wins” were short-lived, since the eventual fine to end the Libor probe would be a record-setting $2.5 billion. The bank finally had to admit that it actually needed more capital. In 2013, it raised €3 billion with a rights issue, claiming that no additional funds would be needed. Then in 2014 the bank head-scratchingly proceeded to raise €1.5 billion, and after that, another €8 billion. In recent years, Deutsche Bank has desperately been trying to reinvent itself.

Having gone through multiple CEOs since the Financial Crisis, the latest attempt at reinvention involves a massive overhaul of operations and staff announced by co-CEO John Cryan in October 2015. The bank is now in the process of cutting 9,000 employees and ceasing operations in 10 countries. This is where our timeline of Deutsche Bank’s most recent woes begins – and the last six months, in particular, have been fast and furious. Deutsche Bank started the year by announcing a record-setting loss in 2015 of €6.8 billion. Cryan went on an immediate PR binge, proclaiming that the bank was “rock solid”. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble even went out of his way to say he had “no concerns” about Deutsche Bank. Translation: things are in full-on crisis mode.

Read more …

Just in time delivery?!

Bank of England Considers Curbs On Property Funds (R.)

The Bank of England is considering curbs on withdrawals from property investment funds after Britain’s vote to leave the EU roiled the sector, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper said late on Saturday. The paper said it understood that the BoE was considering “enforced notice periods before redemptions, slashing the price for investors who rush to the door, or additional liquidity requirements for funds”. Andrew Bailey, the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, told a BoE news conference on Tuesday that the structure of open-ended real estate funds needed to be reviewed, as investors rushed to cash in their investments.

The BoE – where Bailey was deputy governor until he moved to the FCA this month – last year expressed concern about funds that invest in assets which can become illiquid in a crisis, but allow investors to withdraw funds without notice. On Friday the FCA issued guidance to property funds to avoid disadvantaging investors who had not sought to redeem funds. The Telegraph said regulators were considering requiring funds to ask investors to give a notice period of 30 days to six months for redemptions, or to hold more liquid assets to meet withdrawals, such as cash or shares and bonds in property-related companies. More than six British property funds suspended withdrawals last week to tackle a tide of redemptions after the June 23 vote to leave the EU unnerved investors who are worried that the uncertainty will hit demand to rent and buy commercial property.

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As I said, China’s entered deflation.

China June Inflation Eases Further, More Policy Stimulus Anticipated (R.)

China’s June consumer inflation grew at its slowest pace since January as increases in food prices eased, while producer prices extended their decline, reinforcing economists’ views that more government stimulus steps will be needed to support the economy. The consumer price index (CPI) rose 1.9% in June from a year earlier, compared with a 2.0% increase in May, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Sunday. Analysts had expected a 1.8% gain, a Reuters poll showed. Consumer inflation has remained low compared with the official target of around 3% for this year, indicating persistently weak demand in the world’s second-largest economy. Food prices were up 4.6% in June, compared with a 5.9% gain in the previous month.

Prices of China’s staple meat pork rose 30.1%, compared with a 33.6% increase in May. But recent flooding in China “is likely to push vegetable and fruit prices higher in the coming months,” ANZ economists Raymond Yeung and Louis Lam wrote in a research note. Non-food prices inched up 1.2% in June versus May’s 1.1% gain. “In our view, while China reiterates the importance of supply-side reform due to debt and overcapacity concerns, the authorities still need to stimulate demand in order to achieve its growth target,” Zhou Hao, senior Asia emerging market economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, said in a note. The People’s Bank of China last cut interest rates on Oct. 23, the seventh time since late 2014, as the government took steps to counter slowing economic growth.

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Hmmm. Which other country does this remind you of? Official data show up to 44% of families pushed into poverty were impoverished by illness. Does that sound like communism to you?

China Healthcare Costs Forcing Patients Into Crippling Debt (R.)

As China’s medical bills rise steeply, outpacing government insurance provision, patients and their families are increasingly turning to loans to pay for healthcare, adding to the country’s growing burden of consumer debt. While public health insurance reaches nearly all of China’s 1.4 billion people, its coverage is basic, leaving patients liable for about half of total healthcare spending, with the proportion rising further for serious or chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. That is likely to get significantly worse as the personal healthcare bill soars almost fourfold to 12.7 trillion yuan ($1.9 trillion) by 2025, according to Boston Consulting Group estimates. For many, like Li Xinjin, a construction materials trader whose son was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009, that means taking on crippling debt.

Li, from Cangzhou in Hebei province, scoured local papers and websites for small lenders to finance his son’s costly treatment at a specialist hospital in Beijing, running up debts of more than 1.7 million yuan, about 10 times his typical annual income. “At that time, borrowing money and having to make repayments, I was very stressed. Every day I worried about this,” said Li, 47, adding that he and his wife had at times slept rough on the streets near the hospital. “But I couldn’t let my son down. I had to try to save him,” he said. Li’s boy died last year. The debts will weigh him down for a few more years yet. Medical loans are just part of China’s debt mountain – consumer borrowing has tripled since 2010 to nearly 21 trillion yuan, and in eight years household debt relative to the economy has doubled to nearly 40% – but they are growing.

That is luring big companies like Ping An Insurance, as well as small loan firms and P2P platforms, as China’s traditional savings culture proves inadequate to the challenge of such heavy costs. The stress is particularly apparent in lower-tier cities and rural areas where insurance has failed to keep pace with rising costs, said Andrew Chen, Shanghai-based healthcare head for consultancy Parthenon-EY. “It’s a storm waiting to happen where patients from rural areas will have huge financial burdens they didn’t have to face before,” he said, adding people would often take second mortgages on their homes or turn to community finance schemes.

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“..In the current situation…all political, economic, diplomatic and cultural forces should be engaged to pacify the world..”

Gorbachev: ‘The Next War Will Be the Last’ (Sputnik)

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev declared in an interview with radio station Echo Moskvy that if the crisis escalates to another war, this war will be the last. NATO leaders agreed on Friday to deploy military forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland while increasing air and sea patrols to demonstrate readiness to defend eastern members against the alleged ‘Russian aggression.’ Mikhail Gorbachev reportedly said after the summit that the decisions made at NATO summit in Warsaw should be regarded as a preparation for a hot war with Russia. On Saturday, Gorbachev told Echo Moskvy in an interview that he sticks to what he had said earlier and that he considers NATO decisions short-sighted and dangerous.

“Such steps lead to tension and disruption. Europe is splitting, the world is splitting. This is a wrong path for the global community” He said. “There are too many global and individual crises to abandon cooperation. It is essential to revive the dialogue.” According to the ex Soviet President, by irresponsibly deploying four multinational battalions to Russian borders, “within shooting distance”, the alliance draws closer another Cold War and another Arms Race. “There are still ways to…avoid military action.” Gorbachev stressed. “I would say that UN should be called upon on that matter.” He also called on Moscow not to respond to provocations but to come to the negotiating table. “In the current situation…all political, economic, diplomatic and cultural forces should be engaged to pacify the world. Mind you, the next war will be the last.”

Read more …

Closing the net on Tony.

Blair’s Deputy PM Says Iraq Invasion Broke International Law (BBC)

John Prescott, who was deputy prime minister when Britain went to war with Iraq in 2003, says the invasion by UK and US forces was “illegal”. Writing in the Sunday Mirror, he said he would live with the “catastrophic decision” for the rest of his life. Lord Prescott said he now agreed “with great sadness and anger” with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan that the war was illegal. He also praised Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn for apologising on the party’s behalf. Lord Prescott also said Prime Minister Tony Blair’s statement that “I am with you, whatever” in a message to US President George W Bush before the invasion in March 2003, was “devastating”.

“A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of the decision we made to go to war. Of the British troops who gave their lives or suffered injuries for their country. Of the 175,000 civilians who died from the Pandora’s Box we opened by removing Saddam Hussein,” he went on. Lord Prescott said he was “pleased Jeremy Corbyn has apologised on behalf of the Labour Party to the relatives of those who died and suffered injury”. He also expressed his own “fullest apology”, especially to the families of British personnel who died. The former deputy PM said the Chilcot report had gone into great detail about what went wrong, but he wanted to identify “certain lessons we must learn”.

“My first concern was the way Tony Blair ran Cabinet. We were given too little paper documentation to make decisions,” he wrote. No documentation was provided to justify Attorney-general Lord Goldsmith’s opinion that action against Iraq was legal, he added.

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…and taking all his money too…

Families Of Soldiers Killed In Iraq Vow To Sue Blair For ‘Every Penny’ (Tel.)

Tony Blair will be pursued through the courts for “every penny” of the fortune he has earned since leaving Downing Street, the families of soldiers killed in Iraq vowed. Mr Blair faces a civil law suit over allegations he abused his power as prime minister to wage war in Iraq. The damages, according to legal sources close to the case, are unlimited. A well-placed source told The Telegraph that the Chilcot report appeared to provide grounds for the launch of a lawsuit. “It gives us a lot of threads to pursue and those threads make a powerful rope to catch him,” said the source. So far 29 families of dead soldiers have asked the law firm McCue & Partners to pursue a claim against Mr Blair. Others are expected to come on board.

The firm is looking at bringing a civil case of misfeasance in public office, which would see Mr Blair dragged through the courts for the first time over his decision to take the UK to war. Legal sources say for any case to be successful, lawyers would have to show that Mr Blair “had acted in excess of his powers” and that in doing so “harm has been caused and that the harm could have been predicted”. Sir John Chilcot, in his findings published on Wednesday, said Mr Blair should have seen the problems that resulted from the invasion in 2003 and came as he could to suggesting the military action was illegal.

Mr Blair has earned a fortune estimated at as much as £60 million since resigning as prime minister in 2007, largely through a complex network of companies that offers investment and strategic advice to private companies and international governments. Reg Keys, whose son Tom was one of six Royal Military Police killed at Majar al-Kabir in 2003, said: “Tony Blair has made a lot of money from public office which I believe he misused. He misused the powers of that office and has gone on to make a lot of money after leaving that office, a lot of it from the contacts he made while in Downing Street.”[..] “I would like to see him stripped of every penny he has got. I would like to see him dragged through the civil courts.”

Read more …

Runs along the entire south coast of the continent.

Australia’s Other Great Reef Is Also Screwed (Atlantic)

Imagine arriving at a region famed for its forests—the Pyrenees or the Rockies, perhaps—and discovering that all the trees had vanished. Where just a few years ago there were trunks and leaves, now there is only moss. That’s how Thomas Wernberg and Scott Bennett felt in 2013, when they dropped into the waters of Kalbarri, halfway up the western coast of Australia.

They last dived the area in 2010. Then, as in the previous decade, they had swum among vast forests of kelp—a tagliatelle-like seaweed whose meter-tall fronds shelter lush communities of marine life. But just three years later, the kelps had disappeared. The duo searched for days and found no traces of them. They only saw other kinds of seaweed, growing in thin, patchy, and low-lying lawns. “We thought we were in the wrong spot,” says Bennett. “It was like someone had bulldozed the reef. It was like a moonscape underwater—scungy, brown, and empty.”

The culprit—surprise, surprise—is climate change. The waters near western Australia were already among the fastest-warming regions in the oceans before being pummeled by a recent series of extreme heat waves. In the summer of 2011, temperatures rose to highs not seen in 215 years of records, highs far beyond what kelps, which prefer milder conditions, can tolerate. As a result, the kelp forests were destroyed. Before the heat wave, the kelps stretched over 800 kilometers of Australia’s western flank and cover 2,200 square kilometers. After the heat wave, Wernberg and Bennett found that 43% of these forests disappeared, including almost all the kelps from the most northerly 100 kilometers of the range. “It was just heartbreaking,” says Bennett.

“It really brought home to me the impact that climate change can have on these ecosystems, right under our noses.” “They have provided alarming and detailed evidence for one of the most dramatic climate-driven ecosystem shifts ever recorded,” adds Adriana Verges from the University of New South Wales.

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Soon, Australia will have only barren coasts left.

10,000 Hectares Of Mangroves Die Across Northern Australia (ABC.au)

Close to 10,000 hectares of mangroves have died across a stretch of coastline reaching from Queensland to the Northern Territory. International mangroves expert Dr Norm Duke said he had no doubt the “dieback” was related to climate change. “It’s a world-first in terms of the scale of mangrove that have died,” he told the ABC. Dr Duke flew 200 kilometres between the mouths of the Roper and McArthur Rivers in the Northern Territory last month to survey the extent of the dieback. He described the scene as the most “dramatic, pronounced extreme level of dieback that I’ve ever observed”.

Dr Duke is a world expert in mangrove classification and ecosystems, based at James Cook University, and in May received photographs showing vast areas of dead mangroves in the Northern Territory section of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Until that time he and other scientists had been focused on mangrove dieback around Karmuba, Queensland, at the opposite end of the Gulf. “The images were compelling. They were really dramatic, showing severe dieback of mangrove shoreline fringing — areas just extending off into infinity,” Dr Duke said. “Certainly nothing in my experience had prepared me to see images like that.”

Dr Duke said he wanted to discover if the dieback in the two states was related. “We’re talking about 700 kilometres of distance between incidences at that early time,” he said. The area the Northern Territory photos were taken in was so remote the only way to confirm the extent and timing of the mangrove dieback was with specialist satellite imagery. With careful analysis the imagery confirmed the mangrove dieback in both states had happened in the space of a month late last year, coincident with coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. “We’re talking about 10,000 hectares of mangroves were lost across this whole 700 kilometre span,” Dr Duke said.

Read more …

It doesn’t get much scarier than this, without insects mankind doesn’t stand a chance: ”..out of 3,623 terrestrial invertebrate species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] Red List, 42% are classified as threatened with extinction.”

Global Insect Populations Fall 45% In Past 40 Years (e360)

Every spring since 1989, entomologists have set up tents in the meadows and woodlands of the Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve and 87 other areas in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The tents act as insect traps and enable the scientists to calculate how many bugs live in an area over a full summer period. Recently, researchers presented the results of their work to parliamentarians from the German Bundestag, and the findings were alarming: The average biomass of insects caught between May and October has steadily decreased from 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds) per trap in 1989 to just 300 grams (10.6 ounces) in 2014.


According to global monitoring data for 452 species, there has been a 45% decline in invertebrate populations over the past 40 years.

“The decline is dramatic and depressing and it affects all kinds of insects, including butterflies, wild bees, and hoverflies,” says Martin Sorg, an entomologist from the Krefeld Entomological Association involved in running the monitoring project. Another recent study has added to this concern. Scientists from the Technical University of Munich and the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt have determined that in a nature reserve near the Bavarian city of Regensburg, the number of recorded butterfly and Burnet moth species has declined from 117 in 1840 to 71 in 2013. “Our study reveals, through one detailed example, that even official protection status can’t really prevent dramatic species loss,” says Thomas Schmitt, director of the Senckenberg Entomological Institute.

Declines in insect populations are hardly limited to Germany. A 2014 study in Science documented a steep drop in insect and invertebrate populations worldwide. By combining data from the few comprehensive studies that exist, lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, an ecologist at Stanford University, developed a global index for invertebrate abundance that showed a 45% decline over the last four decades. Dirzo points out that out of 3,623 terrestrial invertebrate species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] Red List, 42% are classified as threatened with extinction.

Read more …