Oct 022019
 


Salvador Dali Bather 1924

 

The US and UK are both at risk of severe legal challenges and hence “barrelling down towards great troubles” as I wrote yesterday in Twisted Pair 1 – US. The reasons are not exactly the same in both cases, but they’re close. It’s about who holds the ultimate power.

Before moving on to the UK’s specific issues, I want to share this from the BBC, one of many pieces yesterday that discuss President Trump talking to foreign leaders, and that all accuse him in one way or another of wanting to ‘dig up dirt’ about Joe Biden (something that could just as well be defined as trying to find out how Russiagate started).

This one is about Trump asking Australia for help because obviously there’s a strong connection to the country in the person of former Australia High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer, who claims Trump ‘aid’ George Papadopoulos told him in May 2016 that Moscow had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos has always denied saying it.

But it appears the world media have made it their task to vilify Trump’s efforts to investigate Russiagate, so expect much more of it. The article for instance also mentions Bill Barr talking to Italian and British intelligence. Yeah, they’re serious about wanting to find out what happened. I’d suggest you get used to that. But here’s what I want to share:

[..] while the Ukraine call is linked to the serious issue of potential influencing of an upcoming US election, the Australian one refers to events around a past election. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley suggested this was uncontroversial. “I’m old enough to remember when Democrats actually wanted to find out what happened in the 2016 election,” he said.

I thought that was pretty good. But on to Albion, where the legal mess is likely much bigger than in the States, because its laws are so opaque. Sure, NOW people are clamoring for a written constitution, but NOW is a tad late. I read the other day in a Dutch paper that Queen Elizabeth had asked her advisors if she could sack Boris Johnson, and couldn’t find coverage of it in any UK paper. Still can’t. Isn’t that curious? We’ll have to do with yesterday’s New York Post: “It was the first time in her 67-year reign that the Queen asked for clarification on how to dismiss a British prime minister, the report claimed.”

The Queen didn’t actually look to fire Johnson, she simply didn’t know the laws surrounding the topic, she wanted to know what her legal position is. And that seems to typify the entire situation unfolding in the country. Nobody has any idea who has the -ultimate- power to execute any far-reaching policies and decisions. That would appear to be a very dangerous conundrum, because it may allow the loudest, -physically- strongest and perhaps even most deceitful to prevail.

There was someone in a recent Automatic Earth comments section who listed all 11 UK Supreme Court judges and concluded they were all “Remainers”. That is a slippery slope too many. Because if you intend to disqualify the highest court in a country, you invite in anarchy. Now, you may favor “Leave”, but that kind of thing will surely come back to bite you in the face.

Besides, the Supreme Court decision to declare Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament unlawful was the only one a highest court could possibly have made. Because Britain, like so many other western nations, is a parliamentary democracy. The only thing I’ve seen that looks like a constitution there says in eight words that parliament is senior to the monarch. That means it is senior to the executive branch as well. It has to.

 

Whereas a Scottish court ruled a few weeks ago that the prorogation decision was justiciable, and declared it unlawful, a lower UK court said it was non-justiciable, that is was up to Parliament, and that Parliament could “sit” whenever it wanted. But Parliament hasd just been prorogued, and therefore could NOT sit whenever it wanted. That lower court even contradicted itself: “Parliament is the master of its own proceedings. It is for parliament to decide when it sits. Parliament can sit before and after prorogation..”

So they have to make up their minds. It would be demonstrably silly if the Queen could fire the Prime Minister. It would be much less silly if Parliament could do it, though. Which would also be less silly than the Prime Minister being allowed to shut down Parliament with impunity in a parliamentary democracy. You have to look at the legal implications.

Now, the world is increasingly divvied up in antagonistic (i.e. twisted) pairs. In the US, if you don’t hammer Trump ten times a day and twice on Sundays, you get accused of effectively supporting him. In the UK, if you question Boris Johnson’s quest towards Halloween Brexit, you’re against ‘the people’, and their will. And that’s why we have laws. It’s just that British laws are terribly vague, and that’s why the courts became involved (as I predicted they would for a long time).

Today, Boris Johnson is sending a ‘plan’ to Europe that he has labeled ‘take it or leave it’. Which leads many to question his desire to reach a deal at all. More importantly, the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act 2019, aka the Benn Act, was passed by parliament last month and requires the government to ask for an extension until 31 January 2020 if no deal is agreed.

Boris has suggested he will ignore it. But that would mean the executive branch is effectively senior to the legislative branch. It would also mean the end of the parliamentary democracy that Britain has been for what is it, 400 years?! I have no horse in this fight or dog in this race, but that to me looks extremely dangerous. Be careful what you wish for.

 

The UK Supreme Court is in for the by far busiest time of its existence. And by the way, you can criticize the court, but only really by criticizing the way the judges on it are appointed, and then take action to change that way. If you try to question its credibility, however, you destroy the credibility of the entire judicial system, all of it.

Again, be careful what you wish for. It’s not hard to understand why and how people point to the 2016 Brexit referendum to justify a Brexit strategy, but they too will still have to follow the rules and laws, or they will create mayhem. That goes for both sides, of course, but for Boris Johnson to try and take the UK out of the EU in violation of the Benn Act would unleash a lot of disorder that he and his people may not fully comprehend yet

And there’s something else going on in the UK that I wrote about recently in “The Will of the People”, but which still doesn’t generate much interest. That is, this whole issue is no longer about Leave vs Remain, there is a third group, Leave But With A Deal. Ironically, the Leave side seeks to group these people in with the Remainers, which is both not honest and may not serve their own interests.

That is because Leave But With A Deal may well be the largest group out there. There are Tories and Labour supporters in it, plus independents and some LibDems, and they’re there for the taking for Boris. Only, they insist on a deal with the EU being in place. If there’s no such deal on October 19, they automatically become Boris’s opponents. But why would he let them? Why not get a serious deal on the table?

Johnson will attempt to blame the failure of his latest proposal, plus all previous ones, on the EU. But has Brussels been all that unreasonable in the negotiations? I’m no EU fan, but it’s an honest question. They have one large issue: Ireland. The Good Friday agreement is sacred for them, because it is for Ireland. And Boris today allegedly proposing some kind of border infrastructure regardless will not fly.

 

A difficult topic, for sure, but then we’re 3,5 years on from the referendum, and what has the UK done since then? London gives the impression that peace in Ireland is less important for them than it is for Brussels, and that is not wise. As former Northern Ireland negotiator Jonathan Powell said in a video I posted earlier today, what will happen is easy to predict:

Even if you just put in a camera on the border, the dissident Republicans will shoot at it. Then you put in police to protect the camera, they’ll shoot at the police. Next up is the army to protect the police, and so on and so forth. Perhaps a unified Ireland is a solution, though that will take time, but a hard Brexit certainly is not. But Boris appears to play games with this, suggesting there will have to be customs facilities some way or another: “Each of the IRA campaigns started as a border campaign”, says Powell.

Summarized, we have this third group, not Leave or Remain but Leave But With A Deal, and they are being ignored and/or labeled Remain. Whereas they could be key to Johnson and his supporters’ desire to Leave. Look, Boris has no majority in Parliament anymore, not even if the DUP he apparently sucked up to vote with him. He needs something else but is running out of time.

Then again, Boris has pledged to Leave by Halloween. Now his personal credibility is at stake, and it’s become more important than the credibility of his party, of Parliament and even of the entire court system. Next up: the Queen. Who didn’t want to sack him but was royally miffed about him advising her to prorogate which put her in a very not amused position when her own Supreme Court declared her decision unlawful.

It would appear to be in Johnson’s own interest, if he wants to carry through Brexit, for him and his team to do a lot more homework. He’s already mightily miffed the Queen, the Supreme Court has accused him of attempting to push through an unlawful act, and he’s lost his party’s majority in Parliament.

Boris’s support may seem solid in his own party conference in Manchester today, but let’s hope he doesn’t get even more blinded by that than he already is, because the consequences could well be catastrophic. And of course I see, and understand, all the people who want the result of the referendum honored, but there’s a whole new ball game underway today, and it would be foolish to ignore that.

You can still go for Brexit, but Good Friday is a giant and unnecessary leap too far to achieve it. As is trying to make the executive branch claim seniority over the legislative one, or the Supreme Court, to achieve your goal. You can wish, but beware.

 

 

 

 

Aug 032019
 


Edward Hopper The long leg 1935

 

Last weekend, I noticed that two of the main newsmakers were both named Cummings, one in the US, the other in the UK. At first glance they don’t look like family, but I’ll readily admit I can’t be sure of that. What I do know is that both are symbolic of what’s wrong with the political systems they figure in.

Also last weekend, I saw a comment somewhere, think it was Twitter, that said something in the vein of: let’s hope the British don’t make the same mistake with Boris Johnson that the Americans made -and make- with Donald Trump, that is, labeling every single thing he does as “Bad”, because then they would lose all of their credibility, fast.

 

Elijah Cummings and Dominic Cummings. Not related.

 

And I thought: that could have been my comment, that’s how I look upon the whole political circus too. The entire blind demonization of Trump has only made him stronger, and the loss of credibility of the ‘accusers’ is a major factor in that. Not everything that goes wrong in America is Trump’s fault, it can’t be. But for large segments of the press, and their affiliated politicians, that has been the message for three years now.

And then you wake up one morning after -another- hearing, this time that of Robert Mueller, which you lost again, and you find that nobody believes you anymore, or cares, except for those who’d believe anything you say whatever it is anyway, and all of the time. But that also means you don’t reach anyone new, anyone not already in your echo chamber.

Right before the Mueller hearings, Jerry Nadler once again stated that Mueller had ‘very substantial evidence’ Trump is ‘guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors'”. But not one iota of any such ‘substantial evidence’ was addressed by Mueller in the hearings. And that hurts Nadler’s credibility to no end.

 

After three years, there’s no more time and space for empty allegations. Just watch Rachel Maddow’s plunging ratings. She lost some 25% of her viewers in the first half of this year. The Democrats would do well to take that into consideration before they speak out again. The latest episode a week ago started with Trump calling out Elijah Cummings (D-MD) on his comments about the border and telling him to take care of Baltimore first.

When Trump said Baltimore was rat infested, a million Democrats called him a racist for it, as in: he wasn’t talking about rats, he was really talking about black people. And subsequently we find out that Baltimore indeed has a substantial problem with rats, various other rodents, garbage, you name it. And one thinks: stop doing it, stop calling him names, stop calling every single thing he does “Bad”. Elijah Cummings has been one of many people doing just that.

Y’all need to stop it because you’re losing. You have been losing for those entire three years. You helped Maddow and the WaPo and NY Times make a fortune with their 24/7 empty allegations, but in the process you’ve been murdering your own party. If you want to fight Trump, you’ll have to do it with facts and evidence, mere innuendo no longer works, those days are gone. You need to change strategy, urgently, you have less than a year to do so.

And talking about the MSM, you also need to stop only watching and reading those sources. Because they don’t provide a wide enough picture, they put blinders on you. It’s what’s been so profitable for them. But not for your party, though it may seem to be.

But yeah, you look at the line-up of ‘candidates’, most of whom appear completely lost in the ‘field’, and you must wonder what 2020 will bring for your party. There’s Kamala and Biden on the right, and then there’s Bernie and Warren on the left. And you just know the DNC is going to pull another Bernie 2016 move. They don’t want the left, they don’t want the Squad, and they’re conspiring against Tulsi Gabbard too. It’s not the empire that’s coming for Tulsi, it’s the DNC.

 

If I were you, I’d first make sure the DNC gets no say in the choice of your candidate. I’d say disband the whole thing. They are responsible to a large extent for the losing pro-Hillary tactics that have made Trump that much stronger and got him elected. They are behind the whole Russiagate disaster, and the party must urgently distance itself from that. How you can do that without major internal cleansing, I don’t see.

If I were you, I would get rid of Nadler and Adam Schiff and Cummings and a whole lot more faces. Make a fresh start. As things are, the only people who will vote for you are those who would anyway, the echo chamber inhabitants. But the Democrats need additional voters too, swing voters, the already converted are simply not enough.

I see voices promoting an everything-on-red gamble for Michelle Obama, but that reeks far too much of desperation. Then again, betting on Biden or Kamala doesn’t look to be a winner either. The best person might well be Bernie, but the party made clear in 2016 they don’t want him. Personally, I would like to see a Bernie/Warren ticket, because it would give Americans a choice between truly different ideas and options.

Then again, Bernie keeps you far too close to being the War Party with his Russia comments. Americans deserve better. Embrace Tulsi Gabbard’s voice, even if you don’t want her as your candidate. The people love her, even if the DNC does not. She can get you votes you wouldn’t otherwise get. But overall, I don’t see much hope for you next year. Unless you manage to crash the economy before Christmas. Or Easter at the latest. How about Halloween?

 

If only because then there’s the other Cummings who made the news this week, Boris Johnson’s special adviser Dominic Cummings. I referenced the movie The Uncivil War a while back, and one thing I think I learned from it is that this Mr. Cummings doesn’t play second fiddles. He only agreed to run the VoteLeave campaign that in the end won the Brexit vote when he was given free rein. I think the same thing might have happened now.

He’s agreed to run Boris Johnson’s “Brexit by Halloween” program on the condition that nobody, very much including Boris himself, gets in his way. In 2016, Cummings pushed Boris forward because his polling data told him Nigel Farage was too unpopular and would cost too many votes (yes, the same Farage who has since pretended he was the big winner). But Cummings had no high opinion of Boris either, and still doesn’t.

What that adds up to is that the real boss in no. 10 is not even the PM nobody elected, it’s a guy who got handed the power by that unelected PM in a backroom meeting. And once Dominic Cummings has delivered Brexit, he’ll vanish into the shadows again, where he feels best. Given his past criticisms of Brexit, as well as the entire political system, it could all be more about the win, the kill, then about the value of what it will achieve. He’s not a politician anyway because he’s not a puppet. Cummings is a puppeteer. Boris, well, you get the picture.

 

Mind you, Brexit may well be a great idea. Just not this way, certainly not this way. The EU has turned into a very questionable club, no doubt. But does anyone at all have the idea that the UK will be well-prepared when they leave that club at Halloween? The thing I find problematic is that all UK laws, regulations, treaties over the past 40 years were agreed to in team efforts with Brussels. London signed them all.

That is a lot of laws and treaties and pieces of paper. Everything modern, everything that didn’t exist 40 years ago, think communications, internet etc. etc., will be part of that. Are they going to leave but still use all those thousands of pages of legislation anyway to regulate their “new” country? I don’t know how they see that, and frankly I don’t think they know either. They seem to just have been bickering amongst themselves for 3 years, and left preparation on the backburner.

Are their businesses prepared for reams upon reams of new paperwork, digital or not? I can’t be sure, but I don’t see it. And then there’s the Irish border, and the backstop. Westminster largely acts as if that’s a minor nuisance, and Paddy will fall into line, but today it’s not just a matter of talking to Dublin, but of talking to Brussels as well.

And you can despise the EU all you want, but they have no choice but to stand with Ireland. They can’t say: let’s ditch the backstop, that is not an option, Brexit would make the Irish border the border of the EU. And if Cummings and Boris want to head for a no-deal Brexit regardless, Good Friday will be as good as dead. Does Dominic Cummings really want to be held responsible for that? Hard to believe. Boris perhaps, but Cummings?

Boris and his people insist there won’t be new border crossings, that technology can save the day, and do the work away from the border. Haven’t seen them explain it though, and certainly not in any detail. But I did see a video the other day of someone involved in the Good Friday negotiations explaining what would happen.

He said, paraphrased: “you put cameras on -or near- that border, there’ll be militants shooting them down. Then you need police to protect the cameras, and they’ll shoot at the police. So you must bring in the army to protect the police, and you’re right back to the Troubles”. The Irish border is still a highly fragile combustible situation. And if Boris insists on not having a backstop, it’s hard to see how new Troubles can be avoided. The Good Friday Agreement came into effect less than 20 years ago, in December 1999.

The dysfunctional political systems Elijah Cummings and Dominic Cummings are part of may appear to be dysfunctional for different reasons. But the role of the media in both cases is very similar. The media wants to be -and define- the message, because that’s where the money is, and the power.

https://twitter.com/i/status/1156316342141759492

 

 

 

 

Aug 022019
 


Pablo Picasso Bathers with a toy boat 1937

 

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

 

 

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

The Giant Sucking Sound of Financial Repression (WS)

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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


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

Read more …

Did he do it to push Powell?

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

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


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

Read more …

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

Rate Cut Odds Surge After Tariff Announcement (ZH)

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

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

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

Read more …

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

US Tariffs Risk Reviving Chinese Zombies (R.)

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


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

Read more …

Trump won’t like this.

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

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


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

Read more …

A European under Washington’s thumb.

EU Governments Seek Name For IMF Head (R.)

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


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

Read more …

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

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

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


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

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“Paddy should know his place..”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Crazy bag lady.

Rachel Maddow Ratings Tank After Collusion Narrative Implodes (Ryan)

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


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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 302019
 
 July 30, 2019  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Odilon Redon The winged man (The fallen angel) 1880

 

Pound Worth Just 85 Euro Cents At UK Airports (Ind.)
Boris Johnson Refuses To Meet EU Leaders Unless They Scrap Backstop (G.)
EU Rejects Dominic Raab’s ‘Easier’ No-Deal Brexit Claim (G.)
Boris Johnson’s New Brexit Chief Wants To Scrap Workers’ Rights (Ind.)
Things to Come (Kunstler)
Fake Cash, Fake Accounting: China Regulators Halt 46 IPOs, Bond Offerings (WS)
US Firms See Little Clarity On Huawei As US-China Talks Resume (R.)
Capital One: Information Of Over 100 Million People In US, Canada Hacked (R.)
The World is Not Enough (Statista)
Lost Cities and Climate Change (SciAm)

 

 

In currency markets, sterling is still worth 10% more than the euro, not 15% less. Three years ago it was worth 25% more. Scary to think what a no-deal Brexit could do. Well, unless you’re a short seller.

Pound Worth Just 85 Euro Cents At UK Airports (Ind.)

The pound has sunk well below €1 at Britain’s biggest airports – while the dollar is at parity. At the ICE desk at Heathrow airport on Tuesday morning, The Independent was quoted £117 for buying €100 – making each pound worth just 85 euro cents. At Gatwick airport on Monday night, the rate was £1 = €0.90. With commission added to a €100 transaction, the cost in sterling was £116. The interbank rate at 7am sank below £1 = €1.09, as the downward pressure on the pound continued. The currency market has marked down sterling as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit appears increasingly likely. At the peak of the holiday season, prices for British travellers will be at a two-year high.


The best rates for the euro found by The Independent were for “click and collect” transactions at London bureaux de change: €1.08 at branches of Thomas Exchange Global or ICE at Waterloo station. The interbank rate for dollars was £1 = $1.21, but Moneycorp at Gatwick airport was quoting parity: £1 = $1. Anyone changing £1,000 into the US currency and immediately back to sterling would lose over one-third of their money, receiving just £648.

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I don’t see how they could scrap the backstop, Brussels must stand up for its member state, Ireland. No choice. For Brussels, Ireland is a full-fledged nation. For London, it still doesn’t appear to be.

Boris Johnson Refuses To Meet EU Leaders Unless They Scrap Backstop (G.)

Boris Johnson is refusing to sit down for talks with EU leaders until they agree to ditch the Irish backstop from the Brexit withdrawal agreement, despite invitations to meetings from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron. His official spokeswoman said the prime minister had made clear that he wanted to strike a deal, but that there was no point in holding face-to-face talks unless the EU agreed to reopen the agreement. But on a visit to the Trident nuclear base at Faslane in Scotland on Monday, Johnson painted a more optimistic picture of the prospects for talks, telling reporters there was “ample scope” to achieve a new deal.

He said: “We are not aiming for a no-deal Brexit at all. What we want is to get a deal and I’ve had some interesting conversations with our European partners. I’ve talked to [the European commission president] Jean-Claude [Juncker] and Angela Merkel and we’re reaching out today to [the Irish prime minister] Leo Varadkar. The feeling is, yes there’s no change in their position, but it’s very, very positive.” But he added: “They all know where we are: we can’t accept the backstop, it was thrown out three times, the withdrawal agreement as it stands is dead and everybody gets that. But there is ample scope to do a new deal and a better deal.”

While Johnson has spoken to Merkel and Macron, there are no plans to accept their invitations to visit without a change in their position on the backstop. Irish officials are understood to view the delay in contacting Varadkar as indicative of an unwillingness to enter serious talks. Varadkar is adamant that the backstop must stay to prevent a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the integrity of the single market.

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Blame Games ‘R’ Us.

EU Rejects Dominic Raab’s ‘Easier’ No-Deal Brexit Claim (G.)

European Union officials have rejected Dominic Raab’s claim that negotiating a free-trade deal would be “much easier” after a no-deal Brexit. While the foreign secretary contends that leaving the EU without an agreement would ease the way to solving the disputed Irish border question, European sources fear a no-deal Brexit would trigger an acrimonious blame game. “It would mean the complete breakdown of political relations and I don’t think there would be much trust on the EU side with the Tories, or with the prime minister,” a senior diplomat said. “Eventually we would get around it because we are pragmatic, but this would be really, really bad, because of all the rhetoric around blaming.”


A second diplomat, speaking before Raab’s intervention, argued that all contact would cease after a no-deal Brexit. “Our phones will not be connected at that time … I don’t think they will be connected to someone who has reneged on their obligations,” they said. European officials agree that a precondition of talks would be a British pledge to honour the three core parts of the withdrawal agreement – citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the financial settlement. At the weekend, the EU budget commissioner, Günther Oettinger, told Der Tagesspiegel the UK’s credit rating would be hit if Boris Johnson carried out his threat not to honour payments promised to the EU. Tanja Fajon, the Social Democrat member of the European parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said: “To negotiate a free trade agreement usually takes years and I believe the UK doesn’t have that time after a no-deal Brexit.”

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The UK has been instrumental in defining EU law for 40 years. Now they want to cherry-pick? That would put any future trade deals at risk. Unfair competition.

Boris Johnson’s New Brexit Chief Wants To Scrap Workers’ Rights (Ind.)

Boris Johnson’s new Brexit chief wants to scrap Theresa May’s commitment to protect British workers’ rights, and has suggested Brexit is an opportunity to escape the EU’s “heavy labour market regulation”, The Independent can reveal. Just two months ago David Frost said he was opposed to the approach advocated “by the leaders of both major political parties”, and argued that EU rights should not automatically be written into law after Brexit. Mr Frost, former chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was appointed last week by Mr Johnson to replace Olly Robbins as Downing Street’s EU chief, a role that will see him leading any future talks with Brussels.

“Business organisations have often in the past criticised the EU’s drift towards heavy labour market regulation,” Mr Frost said in May 2019 in an article reproduced on the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry website. “So I will take some persuading it will be a good outcome if the EU is able to set new UK labour market rules without any UK say – as currently seems to be envisaged by the leaders of both major political parties.” Theresa May committed the government to maintaining the current level of European Union workers rights, and also went even further, legislating for parliament to automatically be given votes on staying aligned with the bloc’s rules when future legislation emerges.

The “dynamic alignment” plans were unveiled by the government in a failed bid to get Labour MPs to back the withdrawal agreement. Additionally, during the transition period included in the withdrawal agreement, the UK would have to accept rights with no say at all, as rejected by Mr Frost. Brussels has also suggested the UK would have to stay aligned with future EU workers’ rights, as well as environmental and social legislation, past the end of the transition period – if it wants a trade agreement. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the bloc would seek non-regression clauses to ensure Britain does not backslide on rules and try to undercut its neighbours.

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“Now, there is just suspicion that we’ve reached the limits of borrowing. Soon it will be a fact and that fact will upend everything we’ve been doing. ”

Things to Come (Kunstler)

The economic contraction ahead will put this borderline psychotic country through some interesting ch-ch-ch-changes. Mr. Trump now fully owns the Potemkin status quo of record stock markets poised against a withering rot of human capital at the core of an industrial society in sunset mode. Leadership at every corner of American life — politics, business, media — expects an ever-higher tech magical updraft of fortune from an increasingly holographic economy of mere fugitive appearances in which everybody can get more of something for nothing. The disappointment over how all this works out will be epic.

Globalism is wobbling badly. It was never what it was cracked up to be: a permanent new plateau of exquisitely-tuned international economic cooperation engineered to perfection. It was just a set of provisional relations based on transient advantage. As it turned out, every move that advantaged US-based corporations blew back ferociously on the American public and the long-term integrity of the social order. Sinister as it seems, the process was simply emergent: a self-organizing evolution of forces previously set in motion. And, like a lot of things in history, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Off-shoring” US industry jacked up corporate profits while it decimated working class livelihoods. In return, that large demographic got “bargain shopping” at Walmart, a life of ever-upward revolving debt, and dead downtowns. The country got gigantic trade deficits and government debt loads. In effect, globalism compelled America to borrow as much as possible from the future to keep running things the way they were set up to run. Now, there is just suspicion that we’ve reached the limits of borrowing. Soon it will be a fact and that fact will upend everything we’ve been doing.

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What is real in China?

Fake Cash, Fake Accounting: China Regulators Halt 46 IPOs, Bond Offerings (WS)

On Monday, Jinhe Biotechnology and Liande Automatic Equipment disclosed in filings that they had been ordered by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) to suspend their plans to sell bonds. On Sunday night, four companies — Hunan Baili Engineering Sci&Tech, Jiaao Enprotech Stock, MLS Co., and Woer Heat-Shrinkable Material Co. – disclosed in filings that they had been ordered by the CSRC to suspend their IPOs in Shanghai and Shenzhen. Regulators also stopped four IPOs on Shanghai’s Star Market, which itself debuted just last week with great fanfare. The 25 stocks listed on it gained 140% on the very first day, followed by steep declines the second day.


[..] On Sunday, two companies disclosed that their bond offerings were stopped by regulators, according to Yicai. On Friday, seven companies disclosed that their bond offerings have been halted. In total, regulators suspended 46 IPOs and bond offerings, based on filings made at the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges, including Shanghai’s Star Market, as of Monday, according to the South China Morning Post. The reason: these companies had chosen Ruihua Certified Public Accountants as their auditors. Ruihua, the second largest audit firm in China, has been embroiled in scandals involving large amounts of fake data, including fake cash, on its clients’ books. The fakeness of this cash became obvious when these companies defaulted on debt that they could have easily serviced with the cash they claimed to have on their books but didn’t. And Ruihua had just signed off on those fake books.

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“..the department has yet to respond to any of a total of around 50 license requests from about 35 companies..”

US Firms See Little Clarity On Huawei As US-China Talks Resume (R.)

A month after President Donald Trump said he would allow U.S. companies to resume selling to blacklisted Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei HWT.UL, his administration has done little to clarify what sales will be permitted. The lack of clarity on what U.S. firms can supply to the world’s top producer of telecommunications equipment as long as it’s on a so-called “entity list” is likely to cast a shadow over this week’s U.S.-China trade negotiations in Shanghai. Trump had pledged to allow the sales as a goodwill gesture to President Xi Jinping when the two met last month and agreed to restart talks to try to resolve their year-long trade war.


China, for its part, agreed to restart large-scale agricultural purchases. U.S. chipmakers cheered Trump’s announcement, which administration officials clarified afterwards meant the government would issue export licenses in cases where there is no national security risk and where the items are “non-sensitive” and readily replaced by rivals. But the department has yet to respond to any of a total of around 50 license requests from about 35 companies, sowing uncertainty in the industry and in Beijing. “At this stage, there is mass confusion,” said William Reinsch, a former Commerce official, adding that the plan for case-by-case decisions “maximizes the uncertainty.”

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No information is safe.

Capital One: Information Of Over 100 Million People In US, Canada Hacked (R.)

Capital One Financial Corp said on Monday that personal information including names and addresses of about 100 million individuals in the United States and 6 million people in Canada were obtained by a hacker who has been arrested. The suspect, a 33-year-old former Seattle technology company software engineer identified as Paige Thompson, made her initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. According to a complaint filed in the District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle, Thompson posted information from her hack, which occurred between March 12 and July 17, on coding platform GitHub. Another user saw the post and notified Capital One of the breach.


Law enforcement officials were able to track Thompson down as the page she posted on contained her full name as part of its digital address, the complaint said. Capital One said it identified the hack on July 19. A representative for the U.S. Attorney’s office said it was not immediately clear what the suspect’s motive was. The incident is expected to cost between $100 million and $150 million in 2019, mainly because of customer notifications, credit monitoring and legal support, Capital One said. The hacker did not gain access to credit card account numbers, but about 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 linked bank account numbers were compromised, Capital One said. Other personal information accessed included phone numbers and credit scores.

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Are we immune to this yet?

The World is Not Enough (Statista)

Earth Overshoot Day came on July 29 this year. This is the second time the day, which marks the time at which humanity has used up its allotment of natural planetary resources for the year, occurred in the month. It had occurred in August between 2010 and 2017. The day, whose existence is highlighted by the NGO Global Footprint Network, means that all humans on Earth for this year have already used up more natural resources than mother nature can reproduce annually. Emissions, but also of resources like wood or fish and the use of land for crops, are among the things counted in when calculating Earth Overshoot Day.


Industrialized nations have the biggest share in pushing its date forward, as seen in the organization’s country profiles. The U.S. is the biggest offender. If all nations lived like U.S. residents, the resources of five Earths would be needed each year in order for the natural environment to regenerate. The U.S. overshoot day is therefore on March 15. Australia, which had been ahead of the U.S. for some years, now had its overshoot day on March 31, with 4.1 “Earths” used annually. India was among the countries whose style of living would use up less than a whole Earth each year if practiced globally, which also has to do with poverty still being widespread in the country.

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“The scariest thing about climate change is what it will make us do to each other.”

Lost Cities and Climate Change (SciAm)

Not far from my grandmother’s house is a ghost city. At Angel Mounds on the Ohio river about eight miles west of Evansville, there are a few visible earthworks and a reconstructed wattle-and-daub barrier. There is almost nothing left of the people who build these mounds; in a final insulting erasure, the site is now named after the white settler family who most recently farmed the land. There are traces of other dead villages along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, mounds scattered from present-day Indiana to Arkansas and Alabama. In southern Illinois, a few miles from the Missouri border, hidden among empty corn and soy fields, is the center of that dead civilization’s gravity: the lost city of Cahokia.

Cahokia was larger than London, centrally planned, the Manhattan of its day. Most people there would have come from somewhere else. There were defensive foundations, playing fields, and a magnificent temple. There would have been sacred ceremonies and salacious gossip. It must have been a very exciting place to live. And then, relatively abruptly, it ceased to exist. We know of the city only because of the physical traces left behind. Few stories of Cahokia have survived; it disappeared from oral tradition, as if whatever happened to it is best forgotten. The archaeological record shows traces of the desperation and bloodshed that almost always accompany great upheavals: skeletons with bound hands, pits full of strangled young women.

The North American Drought Atlas, a historical record of climate conditions pieced together from the rings of old trees, provides a hint of what might have happened. The tenth century CE, when the Cahokia civilization would have developed, marked a distinct shift in the regional climate from persistent drought to rainier conditions more suitable for agriculture, centralization, and civilization. But the good times were not to last. In the middle of the fourteenth century, the climate swung back toward drought. This shift was likely associated with shifting temperature patterns in the ocean that affected the jet stream, pulling cool air down from the Arctic and displacing rainfall patterns.

These changes are attributable to some combination of natural internal climate variability and externally forced changes from solar activity and increased volcanic eruptions. Their effects were profound. In Europe around the same time, a confluence of natural factors perhaps related and perhaps separate from the forces drying out the Mississippi Valley caused it to rain heavily in the summer of 1314. The rains continued into the winter, and then into the next year, and then the next. Crops rotted in the fields, and the entire continent went hungry. Contemporaneous historical records complain of rain and famine, villages forced to eat dogs and cats, the dead, and even each other.

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May 102019
 


James McNeill Whistler Symphony in White, No. 3 1867

 

US Hikes Tariffs On Chinese Goods, China Says To Strike Back (R.)
Historic Lawsuit Could “Wreak Havoc” On The Leveraged Loan Market (ZH)
The Real Muellergate Scandal (Craig Murray)
From Russiagate to Gunboat Diplomacy (Jacobin)
FBI’s Steele Story Falls Apart (Solomon)
Roger Stone Wins Right To Receive Unredacted Parts of Mueller Report (SC)
Chelsea Manning Released After 2 Months, Might Be Back In Jail In 6 Days (RT)
The Law Being Used to Prosecute Julian Assange Is Broken (Ekeland)
Swedish Prosecutor To Give Decision On Assange Rape Inquiry (G.)
The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 2 (Vos)
Facebook Co-Founder Calls For Breakup Of The Company (ZH)
UK Tories Could Come Sixth In European Elections (G.)
America, You Are Fired! (Dmitry Orlov)
Chernobyl Has Become A Refuge For Wildlife 33 Years Later (Conv.)
Ireland Second Country To Declare Climate, Biodiversity Emergency (RTE)

 

 

Keep talking!

US Hikes Tariffs On Chinese Goods, China Says To Strike Back (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariff increase to 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods took effect on Friday, and Beijing said it would strike back, ratcheting up tensions as the two sides pursue last-ditch talks to try salvaging a trade deal. China’s Commerce Ministry said it “deeply regrets” the U.S. decision, adding that it would take necessary countermeasures, without elaborating. The hike comes in the midst of two days of talks between top U.S. and Chinese negotiators to try to rescue a faltering deal aimed at ending a 10-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talked for 90 minutes on Thursday and were expected to resume talks on Friday.


The Commerce Ministry said that negotiations were continuing, and that it “hopes the United States can meet China halfway, make joint efforts, and resolve the issue through cooperation and consultation”. With no action from the Trump administration to reverse the increase as negotiations moved into a second day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection imposed the new 25% duty on affected U.S.-bound cargoes leaving China after 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT) on Friday. Goods in the more than 5,700 affected product categories that left Chinese ports and airports before midnight will be subject to the original 10% duty rate, a CBP spokeswoman said.

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Don’t worry, Fed to the rescue.

Historic Lawsuit Could “Wreak Havoc” On The Leveraged Loan Market (ZH)

Ask any banker (or analyst) what the difference is between a junk bond and a loan, and you’ll most likely get a blank start in response: starting with the size of the loan market, which is now virtually identical to that of the high yield bond market, continuing through the standardization of loan terms, the growth of secondary trading, and all the way through to “protections” granted to loan investors, which in an age of exclusively covenant-lite issuance, no longer exist, and one can argue that at least superficially, a loan is effectively the same as a junk bond. And yet, there is one critical difference between the two: junk bonds are securities, while loans aren’t. That difference, however, may not be true for much longer.

As Bloomberg reports, a group suing JPMorgan Chase and other banks over a loan that went sour four years ago is alleging the underwriters engaged in securities fraud. If successful, the article contends correctly, the lawsuit will “radically transform the $1.2 trillion leveraged lending market” because should the plaintiff ultimately prevail in arguing that loans are de facto securities, it would dramatically alter how American companies raise debt, according to two industry groups that filed a brief supporting the defendants’ argument last week. “There are absolutely enormous market consequences if a court determines that leveraged loans are securities,” J. Paul Forrester, a partner at Mayer Brown told Bloomberg. “Leveraged loans and lenders would be potentially subject to the same offering and disclosure requirements as securities and would face the same regulatory oversight and enforcement consequences.”

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Well, whaddaya know, there are people who agree with me… The VIPS, Assange, it’s all I’ve been talking about. I said Mueller is a coward and a liar, Murray calls him deeply corrupt. Same difference.

The Real Muellergate Scandal (Craig Murray)

Robert Mueller is either a fool, or deeply corrupt. I do not think he is a fool. I did not comment instantly on the Mueller Report as I was so shocked by it, I have been waiting to see if any other facts come to light in justification. Nothing has. I limit myself here to that area of which I have personal knowledge – the leak of DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks. On the wider question of the corrupt Russian 1% having business dealings with the corrupt Western 1%, all I have to say is that if you believe that is limited in the USA by party political boundaries, you are a fool. On the DNC leak, Mueller started with the prejudice that it was “the Russians” and he deliberately and systematically excluded from evidence anything that contradicted that view.

Mueller, as a matter of determined policy, omitted key steps which any honest investigator would undertake. He did not commission any forensic examination of the DNC servers. He did not interview Bill Binney. He did not interview Julian Assange. His failure to do any of those obvious things renders his report worthless. There has never been, by any US law enforcement or security service body, a forensic examination of the DNC servers, despite the fact that the claim those servers were hacked is the very heart of the entire investigation. Instead, the security services simply accepted the “evidence” provided by the DNC’s own IT security consultants, Crowdstrike, a company which is politically aligned to the Clintons.

That is precisely the equivalent of the police receiving a phone call saying: “Hello? My husband has just been murdered. He had a knife in his back with the initials of the Russian man who lives next door engraved on it in Cyrillic script. I have employed a private detective who will send you photos of the body and the knife. No, you don’t need to see either of them.” There is no honest policeman in the world who would agree to that proposition, and neither would Mueller were he remotely an honest man.

[..] Mueller’s failure to examine the servers or take Binney’s evidence pales into insignificance compared to his attack on Julian Assange. Based on no conclusive evidence, Mueller accuses Assange of receiving the emails from Russia. Most crucially, he did not give Assange any opportunity to answer his accusations. For somebody with Mueller’s background in law enforcement, declaring somebody in effect guilty, without giving them any opportunity to tell their side of the story, is plain evidence of malice. Inexplicably, for example, the Mueller Report quotes a media report of Assange stating he had “physical proof” the material did not come from Russia, but Mueller simply dismisses this without having made any attempt at all to ask Assange himself.

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Where would US media be without Russia?

From Russiagate to Gunboat Diplomacy (Jacobin)

One of the things Russiagate skeptics found unsettling about the frenzy over supposed “collusion” was that it made war more likely. Not only did the now-debunked conspiracy theories and resulting political climate push officials into a more aggressive posture toward Russia, but once the Kremlin was returned to its status as the foreign policy elite’s Big Bad, it was easy to imagine a situation where the threat of a Russian bogeyman could be used to justify any number of unrelated foreign adventures. This appears to be exactly what’s happening with Venezuela right now. First there was Fareed Zakaria, who two months ago tried to goad Trump into attacking Venezuela by pointing to Russia’s support for Maduro.

“Putin’s efforts seem designed to taunt the United States,” he said (it might also have something to do with the billions of dollars Russia sank into the country), making reference to the Monroe Doctrine. He asked if Washington would “allow Moscow to make a mockery of another American red line,” warning that “if Washington does not back its words with deeds” the country could become another Syria. Zakaria concluded: “will Venezuela finally be the moment when Trump finally ends his appeasement?” More recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged that Russia had “invaded” Venezuela before claiming the Kremlin had dissuaded Maduro from fleeing the country at the last moment, something Pompeo has provided no evidence for but much of the media has treated as fact since.

National Security Advisor John Bolton has said that “this is our hemisphere” and “not where the Russians ought to be interfering.” Democratic Sen. Doug Jones echoed this sentiment on CNN, praising the Trump administration for saying “all options are on the table” to deal with Venezuela, something he suggested may have to be acted on “if there is some more intervention [by] Russia.” The national press, taking a break from warning about Trump being a dangerous authoritarian, has been demanding to know why he hasn’t been more aggressive toward the country over this. Particularly shameless was Florida Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, who went on Tucker Carlson’s show to peddle half-baked innuendo as brazen as anything claimed in the lead up to the Iraq War. If Maduro’s government survived, he claimed, it would be “a green light, an open door for the Russians and for the Chinese and for others to increase their activity against our national security interest right here in our hemisphere.”

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John Solomon digs on. “She quoted Steele as saying, “Payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami..” [..] “It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”

FBI’s Steele Story Falls Apart (Solomon)

The FBI’s sworn story to a federal court about its asset, Christopher Steele, is fraying faster than a $5 souvenir T-shirt bought at a tourist trap. Newly unearthed memos show a high-ranking government official who met with Steele in October 2016 determined some of the Donald Trump dirt that Steele was simultaneously digging up for the FBI and for Hillary Clinton’s campaign was inaccurate, and likely leaked to the media. The concerns were flagged in a typed memo and in handwritten notes taken by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec on Oct. 11, 2016. Her observations were recorded exactly 10 days before the FBI used Steele and his infamous dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the campaign’s contacts with Russia in search of a now debunked collusion theory.

It is important to note that the FBI swore on Oct. 21, 2016, to the FISA judges that Steele’s “reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings” and the FBI has determined him to be “reliable” and was “unaware of any derogatory information pertaining” to their informant, who simultaneously worked for Fusion GPS, the firm paid by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign to find Russian dirt on Trump. That’s a pretty remarkable declaration in Footnote 5 on Page 15 of the FISA application, since Kavalec apparently needed just a single encounter with Steele at State to find one of his key claims about Trump-Russia collusion was blatantly false.

In her typed summary, Kavalec wrote that Steele told her the Russians had constructed a “technical/human operation run out of Moscow targeting the election” that recruited emigres in the United States to “do hacking and recruiting.” She quoted Steele as saying, “Payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami,” according to a copy of her summary memo obtained under open records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. Kavalec bluntly debunked that assertion in a bracketed comment: “It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”

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What if the relevant sections did get redacted?

Roger Stone Wins Right To Receive Unredacted Parts of Mueller Report (SC)

A federal judge in Washington ordered the Department of Justice to turn over any unredacted sections of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian activities during the 2016 presidential campaign that relate to Roger Stone. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave the prosecutors until Monday to “submit unredacted versions of those portions of the report that relate to defendant Stone and/or ‘the dissemination of hacked materials.” Judge Jackson would review the material in private to see if it is relevant to the case and to decide whether Stone and his defense team will have access to the material.

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Is this a game?

Chelsea Manning Released After 2 Months, Might Be Back In Jail In 6 Days (RT)

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been released from a Virginia prison where she spent the last 62 days for refusing to testify on her 2010 leak of classified military files before a grand jury. Manning was released from William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia, on Thursday after the term of the grand jury before which she was supposed to testify expired, her legal team said in a statement reported by the Sparrow Project. However, the WikiLeaks whistleblower and activist might soon be locked up again and has already been served with another subpoena, requesting that she testifies before a different set of jurors. “Unfortunately, even prior to her release, Chelsea was served with another subpoena.


This means she is expected to appear before a different grand jury, on Thursday, May 16, 2019, just one week from her release today,” her lawyers said. Despite having spent over two months behind bars, Manning has no intention to cave in to the demand and make herself available to a secret grand jury’s questioning, according to the statement. “Chelsea will continue to refuse to answer questions, and will use every available legal defense to prove to District Judge Trenga that she has just cause for her refusal to give testimony.” Manning insists that she already gave an “exhaustive testimony” on all the matters concerning her disclosure of military documents at a 2013 court martial. In an 8-page declaration filed to the Virginia court on May 6, Manning accused the US government of using the “corrupt and abusive tool” of grand jury to “harass and disrupt political opponents and activists.”

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Taking us back to Aaron Schwartz.

The Law Being Used to Prosecute Julian Assange Is Broken (Ekeland)

[..] the UK courts will evaluate the US’s request to send Assange to Virginia to stand trial in federal court for a single felony charge of conspiracy to commit unauthorized access to a government computer, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). After Assange’s arrest, many reached out to ask me about the CFAA. For years, I’ve represented hackers in federal criminal cases nationally involving the CFAA, including Lauri Love, whom the US unsuccessfully tried to extradite from the UK. The US indicted Love in three separate federal courts in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia, for hacking of a number of government sites including NASA, the FBI, the United States Sentencing Commission, and the Bureau of Prisons.

This was part of #OpLastResort, in protest of the CFAA prosecution and death of computer science pioneer Aaron Swartz, whose suicide in 2013 was widely viewed as resulting from a draconian CFAA prosecution. Whether intended or not, the CFAA makes it easy for a prosecutor to bring felony computer crime charges even when there’s little or no harm. [..] The core problem with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is that it doesn’t clearly define one of the central things it prohibits: unauthorized access to a computer. The courts across the country aren’t any help on this front, issuing conflicting decisions both with other jurisdictions and often within their own. Under the CFAA, what is a felony in one jurisdiction is legal in another.

This lack of definitional clarity allows prosecutors to charge felonies even when the harms are minimal, questionable, or just political views that DOJ doesn’t like. This is a serious problem, given that much political speech and protest these days is done with computers. And DOJ has previously used the CFAA in a politically charged prosecution. In 2011, DOJ charged the politically outspoken Aaron Swartz under the CFAA for going into an open server closet at MIT, a mecca of modern American hacking, and downloading academic articles—many of which were publicly funded—for public distribution. Even though the extent of any harm was questionable—this was a mere copying of articles—DOJ charged him with felony unauthorized access to a computer, unauthorized damage to a protected computer, felony aiding and abetting of both, and wire fraud.

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All Swedes need to be deeply ashamed. Is it too much to ask of you to let your voices be heard? All I hear is silence.

Swedish Prosecutor To Give Decision On Assange Rape Inquiry (G.)

Sweden’s state prosecutor will announce on Monday whether she will reopen a preliminary investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder is in prison in Britain after he was arrested last month after seven years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The US wants to extradite him in a case relating to WikiLeaks’ massive release of sensitive military and diplomatic documents. Sweden’s legal tussle with the Australian Assange has dragged on for nearly a decade after he was accused by two Swedish women of sexual assault and rape in 2010.


The statute of limitations ran out on the sexual assault allegations in 2015 and the prosecutor dropped the investigation into the rape allegation in 2017 because Assange was in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had taken refuge to avoid extradition. The prosecutor said at the time the investigation could be reopened if the situation changed. After Assange’s arrest last month, the lawyer representing the woman who accused Assange of rape asked for the investigation to be reopened. “At [a] press conference, the prosecutor will announce her decision, which will formally be made immediately before the press conference,” the Swedish prosecution authority said in a statement.

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Elizabeth Lea Vos is compiling a history of all WikiLeaks files.

The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 2 (Vos)

Three months after it published the “Collateral Murder” video, WikiLeaks on July 25, 2010 released a cache of secret U.S. documents on the war in Afghanistan. It revealed the suppression of civilian casualty figures, the existence of an elite U.S.-led death squad and the covert role of Pakistan in the conflict, among other revelations. The publication of the Afghan War Diaries helped set the U.S. government on a collision course with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that ultimately led to his arrest last month. The war diaries were leaked by then-Army-intelligence-analyst Chelsea Manning, who had legal access to the logs via her Top Secret clearance.

Manning only approached WikiLeaks, after studying the organization, following unsuccessful attempts to leak the files to The New York Times and The Washington Post. A major controversy surrounding the Diaries’ release were allegations that operational details were made public to the Taliban’s battlefield advantage and that U.S. coalition informants’ lives were put at risk by publishing their names. Despite a widely-held belief that WikiLeaks carelessly publishes un-redacted documents, only 75,000 from a total of more than 92,201 internal U.S. military files related to the Afghan War (between 2004 and 2010) were ultimately published.

WikiLeaks explained that it held back so many documents because Manning had insisted on it: “We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from the total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source.” Manning testified at her 2013 court-martial that the files were not “very sensitive” and did not report active military operations.

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Facebook: We’re Not A Monopoly, We’re “A Successful American Company”

Chris Hughes, Zuck’s former roommate, said in a NYT op-ed that Facebook should be split up. The reaction: no, we’re just successful, but we do need new laws, and Zuck himself has some great ideas for that.

Facebook Co-Founder Calls For Breakup Of The Company (ZH)

[..] would-be rivals can’t raise the money to take on Facebook. Nobody would finance them knowing that if they get too powerful, Facebook will run them out of business. Hughes doesn’t blame Zuckerberg for this; after all, he’s simply demonstrating the “virtuous hustle of a talented entrepreneur.” But this is exactly why the government should feel obligated to step in and “break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.” Specifically, Hughes believes the FTC should work with the DoJ to undo the Instagram and Whatsapp acquisitions. There is some precedent for this, he says.

How would a breakup work? Facebook would have a brief period to spin off the Instagram and WhatsApp businesses, and the three would become distinct companies, most likely publicly traded. Facebook shareholders would initially hold stock in the new companies, although Mark and other executives would probably be required to divest their management shares. Until recently, WhatsApp and Instagram were administered as independent platforms inside the parent company, so that should make the process easier. But time is of the essence: Facebook is working quickly to integrate the three, which would make it harder for the F.T.C. to split them up. For what it’s worth, Hughes acknowledges his complicity in creating Facebook, and the fact that he didn’t speak out – or even question the company’s monopoly power – until after Cambridge Analytica.

But that’s the past: Already, support for breaking up big-tech monopolies is gaining traction among Democrats and Republicans alike. The fact that Hughes has decided to criticized his former co-founder (and one-time college buddy) in such a public forum might seem galling to some: After all, Hughes was transformed into a millionaire 500 times over largely because he had the good fortune of being assigned to the same dorm room as Zuckerberg at Harvard. But regardless, now that Hughes has broken the seal, will he inspire more of Facebook’s co-founders and former top employees speak out. It’s worth noting that in March, Chris Cox, one of Zuckerberg’s top deputies and a longtime FB executive, left the company. Cox’s decision to leave was reportedly due to ‘disagreement’s’ that were alluded to in a blog post.

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Torn between multiple lovers. The UK governed by a fringe party.

UK Tories Could Come Sixth In European Elections (G.)

Conservative officials fear the party could come sixth in the European elections, with their support plummeting to single digits. Candidates running in the election said the party was “almost in denial” that the poll was happening and continued to insist they would not need to take up their seats in the European parliament, despite fading prospects for a cross-party deal with Labour that would enable Brexit to happen before 2 July. The fears of a dismal performance have been stoked by the fact that the party plans to spend no money on candidate campaigning, will not publish a manifesto and is refusing to hold a launch.


One MEP said candidates were funding their campaigns out of their own pockets, unlike previous years when there was a central pot of funding available. They have been told they are allowed to have their own regional manifestos, but many are not bothering, and there will be no central party manifesto. “The thinking is that if we make no effort then we will have an excuse for having done so badly. But it is seriously embarrassing,” said one MEP. Another Conservative source said internal data showed the party could do worse than the Brexit party, Labour, the Lib Dems, Change UK and even potentially the Greens, with support at less than 10%. That would translate to only a handful of seats, down from the current 22.

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Nuclear is set to make a come back, because it is the only option to maintain our complex societies. He may have a point there. The ultimate desperation.

America, You Are Fired! (Dmitry Orlov)

Some ironies are just too precious to pass by. The 2016 US presidential elections gave us Donald Trump, a reality TV star whose famous tag line from his show “The Apprentice” was “You are fired!” Focus on this tag line; it is all that is important to this story. Some Trump Derangement Disorder sufferers might disagree. This is because they are laboring under certain misapprehensions: that the US is a democracy; or that it matters who is president. It isn’t and it doesn’t. By this point, the choice of president matters as much as the choice of conductor for the band that plays aboard a ship as it vanishes beneath the waves. I have made these points continuously since before Trump got into office. Whether or not you think that Trump was actually elected, he did get in somehow, and there are reasons to believe that this had something to do with his wonderfully refreshing “You are fired!” tag line.

[..] Financially ruinous and generally nonsensical schemes such as tar sands, shale oil and industrial-scale photovoltaics, wind generation and electric cars will only accelerate the process of sorting nations into energy haves and energy have-nots, with the have-nots wiping themselves out sooner rather than later. Leaving aside various fictional and notional schemes (nuclear fusion, space mirrors, etc.) and focusing just on the technologies that already exist, there is only one way to maintain industrial civilization, and that is nuclear, based on Uranium 235 (which is scarce) and Plutonium 239 produced from Uranium 238 (of which there is enough to last for thousands of years) using fast neutron reactors. If you don’t like this choice, then your other choice is to go completely agrarian, with significantly reduced population densities and no urban centers of any size.

And if you do like this choice, then you have few alternatives other than to go with the world’s main purveyor of nuclear technology (VVER-series light water reactors, BN-series fast neutron breeder reactors and closed nuclear fuel cycle technology) which happens to be Russia’s state-owned conglomerate Rosatom. It owns over a third of the world nuclear energy market and has a portfolio of international projects stretching far into the future that includes as much as 80% of the reactors that are going to be built. The US hasn’t been able to complete a nuclear reactor in decades, the Europeans managed to get just one new reactor on line (in China) while Japan’s nuclear program has been in disarray ever since Fukushima and Toshiba’s financially disastrous acquisition of Westinghouse. The only other contenders are South Korea and China. Again, if you don’t like nuclear—for whatever reason—then you can always just buy yourself some pasture and some hayfields and start breeding donkeys.

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Nuclear anyone?

Chernobyl Has Become A Refuge For Wildlife 33 Years Later (Conv.)

About 30 researchers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Belgium, Norway, Spain and Ukraine presented the latest results of our work. These studies included work on big mammals, nesting birds, amphibians, fish, bumblebees, earthworms, bacteria and leaf litter decomposition. These studies showed that at present the area hosts great biodiversity. In addition, they confirmed the general lack of big negative effects of current radiation levels on the animal and plant populations living in Chernobyl. All the studied groups maintain stable and viable populations inside the exclusion zone. These studies showed that at present the area hosts great biodiversity.

In addition, they confirmed the general lack of big negative effects of current radiation levels on the animal and plant populations living in Chernobyl. All the studied groups maintain stable and viable populations inside the exclusion zone. A clear example of the diversity of wildlife in the area is given by the TREE project (TRansfer-Exposure-Effects, led by Nick Beresford of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). As part of this project, motion detection cameras were installed for several years in different areas of the exclusion zone. The photos recorded by these cameras reveal the presence of abundant fauna at all levels of radiation. These cameras recorded the first observation of brown bears and European bison inside the Ukrainian side of the zone, as well as the increase in the number of wolves and Przewalski horses.

Our own work with the amphibians of Chernobyl has also detected abundant populations across the exclusion zone, even on the more contaminated areas. Furthermore, we have also found signs that could represent adaptive responses to life with radiation. For instance, frogs within the exclusion zone are darker than frogs living outside it, which is a possible defence against radiation. Studies have also detected some negative effects of radiation at an individual level. For example, some insects seem to have a shorter lifespan and are more affected by parasites in areas of high radiation. Some birds also have higher levels of albinism, as well as physiological and genetic alterations when living in highly contaminated localities. But these effects don’t seem to affect the maintenance of wildlife population in the area.


European bison (Bison bonasus), boreal lynx (Lynx lynx), moose (Alces alces) and brown bear (Ursus arctos) in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine). Proyecto TREE/Sergey Gaschack

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Wondering what practical measures they have in mind. Renewables?

Ireland Second Country To Declare Climate, Biodiversity Emergency (RTE)

Ireland has become only the second country in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency. The development came after a Fianna Fáil amendment to the Oireachtas report on Climate Action was accepted by both the Government and Opposition parties without a vote. Chair of the Climate Action Committee, Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton, welcomed the outcome as “an important statement” but added “now we need action.” She said Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton would speedily return to the Dáil with new proposals, and she looked forward to working “with all parties and none” to scrutinise them.


Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also welcomed the development, but warned that “declaring an emergency means absolutely nothing unless there is action to back it up. That means the Government having to do things they don’t want to do”. Deputy Bríd Smith, of Solidarity/People Before Profit, said she was “delighted” with the declaration, but added it will be “interesting to see” if the Government will support her Climate Emergency Measures Bill next month, which seeks to to limit oil and gas exploration.

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Mar 112019
 
 March 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Jean Metzinger Soldier playing chess 1915

 

Brexit Talks ‘Deadlocked’, Says Downing Street (G.)
Brexit Fallout On UK Finance Intensifies (R.)
How Central Bankers Blew Up The Global Economy (ABC.au)
What Fed Chair Powell Said On 60 Minutes (ZH)
China’s GDP Growth Could Be Half Of Reported Number – Pettis (SCMP)
Brookings Says China Overstated Size Of Its Economy By 12% (ZH)
Deutsche Bank Begins Talks Over Merger With Rival Commerzbank (G.)
Leaked Documents Reveal DOJ Protected Steele After FBI Shunning (KK)
How US Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda (Greenwald)
US “Gets Its Ass Handed To It” In World War III Simulations (ZH)
Why The Shale Boom Left California Behind (Rapier)
Elderly Americans Are Dying Without Getting To Read Mueller’s Report (NW)

 

 

Crunch time starts tomorrow. The backstop is the big issue. EU cannot ‘budge’, because it would mean leaving Ireland out in the cold. It’s called the Irish backstop for a reason.

Brexit Talks ‘Deadlocked’, Says Downing Street (G.)

Downing Street has described the Brexit talks in Brussels as “deadlocked” after negotiations over the weekend failed to find a breakthrough on the Irish backstop. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, spoke on the telephone on Sunday evening, but plans for the prime minister to visit the Belgian capital to sign off on any compromise are on hold. The EU refuses to budge on the British proposal for what it believes is an attempt to build a unilateral exit mechanism into the Irish backstop, the arrangement that would keep the UK in a customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, is unlikely without such a concession to revise his legal opinion, given before the last vote on May’s deal, that the backstop could be in force “indefinitely”. The prime minister pledged in parliament to put her deal to the Commons on Tuesday but she is being urged by senior Conservative MPs to pull the vote if she fails to secure significant concessions from Brussels. Leading Tories have warned Downing Street it could face a second huge defeat similar to the historic 230-vote loss in January if the government goes ahead. They have advised May instead to replace the vote with a motion setting out the sort of Brexit deal that would be acceptable to Tory MPs, in the hope that this would trigger concessions from the EU.

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All they have left is finance. Austerity ate the rest.

Brexit Fallout On UK Finance Intensifies (R.)

More than 275 financial firms are moving a combined $1.2 trillion in assets and funds and thousands of staff from Britain to the European Union in readiness for Brexit at a cost of up to $4 billion, a report from a think tank said on Monday. UK lawmakers are due to vote on Tuesday on an EU divorce settlement. But with less than three weeks to go before Brexit day on March 29, it is still unclear whether the deal will be approved, whether departure from the EU will be delayed, or whether it will happen without agreement. The report by the New Financial think tank, one of the most detailed yet on the impact of Brexit on financial services, said Dublin alone accounted for 100 relocations, ahead of Luxembourg with 60, Paris 41, Frankfurt 40, and Amsterdam 32.

The independent think tank said half of the affected asset management firms, such as Goldman Sachs Investment Management, Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Vanguard, had chosen Dublin, with Luxembourg the next port of call, attracting firms like Schroders, JP Morgan Wealth Management and Aviva Investors. Nearly 90 percent of all firms moving to Frankfurt are banks, while two-thirds of those going to Amsterdam are trading platforms or brokers. Paris is carving out a niche for markets and trading operations of banks and attracting a broad spread of firms.

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This still needs to be explained, apparently.

How Central Bankers Blew Up The Global Economy (ABC.au)

We humans are a social lot. We just love being part of a pack, a member of a team. We crave acceptance, to the point where isolation or banishment ranks among the worst forms of punishment. Even when it comes to the dodgy art of forecasting, everyone seems to cluster around a central position, which kind of defeats the point of forecasting. And so, in July two years ago, when the groundswell of opinion began to shift — that the Reserve Bank would be raising interest rates — arguing otherwise was a fairly lonely position. As time went on, almost everyone shifted position as we dug in here, here and here.

To be fair, most of the highly paid, well-heeled professional market economists were being egged on by the authorities, and particularly the Reserve Bank, which was spinning the line that the next rate move was up. In the past fortnight, however, the pack suddenly has turned on its tail as fears about the global economy and a sudden slowdown in our own growth forced a rethink. The switch to a rate cut has turned into a stampede. Put aside all the complex formula. Forget the high-level macro-economic analysis. There’s a very simple reason the Reserve Bank couldn’t and can’t raise interest rates. There’s too much debt. Australian households are among the world’s most indebted when compared with their income.

And we’ve spent most of it on real estate. What these two graphs show is how the Reserve Bank, effectively, snookered itself. Back in 2012, when debt and housing prices already were elevated, it fired up the east coast housing market, and construction, to take up the employment slack as the mining boom unwound. But it created a monster. As housing went on a tear, the short-term sugar hit turned toxic. Employment took off. But housing became unaffordable to almost everyone under 35. And our household debt levels reached for the stars. The end result? It couldn’t cut rates if it needed. That would add heat to a dangerously inflated housing bubble. And it could never raise rates, because that would kill household spending.

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3 Stooges.

Nomi Prins: “Number of times the word “bubble” appeared in the 60 Minutes interview with Fed. Chair Jerome Powell. Zero.”

A central bank can have benefits, but not when it only serves the rich. If we don’t get rid of Fed and ECB, there’ll be very steep prices to pay.

Note: there’s a video at the link, but it started itself so I threw it out.

What Fed Chair Powell Said On 60 Minutes (ZH)

A decade after Ben Bernanke appeared on “60 Minutes”, vowing that the Fed could easily crush inflation, as it could “raise interest rates in 15 minutes”, of course with the occasional “pause” along the way should the S&P dip by 20% or so, current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will follow in his footsteps on Sunday night, when surrounded by former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen, he will try to reach beyond the Fed’s traditional audience of markets, journalists and lawmakers to counter the attacks from President Trump, even after the Fed’s paused on raising interest rates, said Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University, quoted by MarketWatch.

“He wants to counter the president’s message that policy is all wrong,” Binder said. Binder said she was struck by the still photo of the “60 Minutes” interview that shows Powell alongside his two predecessors Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke. “This puts a human face on the central bank. It says, ‘we’re the Fed and we’re here to help,’” Binder said. Bernanke also faced criticism when he went on “60 Minutes” in March 2009. The Fed was facing concerted attacks by lawmakers and populist “End the Fed” groups, who considering the record wealth divide in the US created by the central bank, were spot on.

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I’m going with Xiang Songzuo: “..China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative..”

China’s GDP Growth Could Be Half Of Reported Number – Pettis (SCMP)

If China’s bad debts were written down, its economic growth rate would be half the recorded number, a US economist at a prominent Chinese university has warned. In a speech in Shanghai this week, Michael Pettis, professor of finance at Peking University, warned that China’s debt is closely linked to the government’s perceived overstatement of its GDP. The government is accused of perpetuating the existence of “zombie companies”, by granting loss-making companies loans. Banks in turn treat these companies as creditworthy, whereas in reality they should be written off as bad debt, Pettis said. “If you believe there is bad debt that has not been sufficiently written down, you must believe that China’s GDP is overstated, relative to what it would be in any other country. That must be true,” Pettis said.

“If we are able to calculate GDP correctly, it would probably be half of the recorded number.” Pettis is not alone seeing troubles with China’s official growth number. In December, Xiang Songzuo, an outspoken professor from the Renmin University of China, who previously served as chief economist for Agricultural Bank of China, cited unidentified internal reports as saying that said China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative, a far cry from the official figures. Furthermore, a group of four economists published a paper this week arguing that China might have overstated its annual growth rate by 2 percentage points on average from 2008 to 2016. China’s official statistics agency said the country’s economic growth rate was 6.6 per cent in 2018.

The Chinese government said it would try to achieve an economic growth rate between 6.0 to 6.5 per cent in 2019, a moderate slowdown from previous years, but nevertheless a much faster rate compared with other major economies. Pettis is a renowned expert on China’s economy. For decades, he has been commenting on financial affairs in China and was among the early observers of the imbalances in the Chinese economy. He said in his speech on Wednesday that China’s growth will significantly decelerate as the country’s debt level rises.

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Brookings is many years late.

Brookings Says China Overstated Size Of Its Economy By 12% (ZH)

Since China managed to weather the fallout from the financial crisis without registering much of a slowdown in its “official” GDP figures, playing “guess the real growth rate” has become one of the most popular parlor games among the professional economist set. Whereas the stakes are much higher for academics on the mainland (one of whom was censored and threatened by government thugs after speculating that GDP growth on the mainland might be closer to 2%), researchers at American think tanks have freely offered estimates ranging from 2% to 4% (which, admittedly, would still put China well ahead of the US).

But as investors and economists once again cast a wary eye toward China as signs of flagging growth are once again threatening to sink the whole world into a recession, a team of researchers from the Brookings Institute has published a carefully researched paper detailing the exact mechanism by which authorities in Beijing inflate the country’s GDP figures, while estimating that China’s economy is roughly 12% smaller than the official figures would suggest. Brookings published the paper on Thursday, just two days after Party leaders at the annual National Party Congress lowered their economic growth forecast to between 6% and 6.5% of GDP.

Though the paper focused on the period between 2008 and 2016, it’s the latest evidence that China’s economic slowdown has been more severe than believed, and that the growth rate from last year – China’s worst since the early 1990s – might, in reality, be just under 6% (compared with 6.6%). According to Brookings, much of the manipulation in Chinese official government statistics takes place at the local level. In what the FT described as “a legacy of Maoist state planning”, authorities in Beijing hand down growth targets to local officials, who use it to goalseek the official statistics they hand back. “China’s national accounts are based on data collected by local governments. However, since local governments are rewarded for meeting growth and investment targets, they have an incentive to skew local statistics. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) adjusts the data provided by local governments to calculate GDP at the national level,” the study’s authors said.

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Two staggering drunks lean on each other so they can make it to the bar and continue drinking.

Deutsche Bank Begins Talks Over Merger With Rival Commerzbank (G.)

Deutsche Bank has begun tentative merger talks with rival Commerzbank, which would create Europe’s second biggest bank behind HSBC and fend off unwanted potential bidders such as French giant BNP Paribas. Reports in Germany’s Welt am Sonntag suggest that the banks have come under political pressure to consider a merger and avert a foreign takeover of Commerzbank, much the smaller partner in any deal. Deutsche is regarded as a bank of global importance, but has been plagued by three years of losses, boardroom battles, money laundering issues and its role as the biggest lender to the Trump business empire.

Despite Germany’s industrial dominance in Europe, it has only one bank in the continent’s top 20, and Berlin is understood to be keen to create a larger national champion. The combination of the two banks mean that Deutsche, currently fifth biggest, and Commerzbank, currently 23rd, will become Europe’s second biggest bank and only marginally behind HSBC. Deutsche Bank’s chief executive Christian Sewing was seen to be the main opponent of a merger, but investor pressure – Deutsche’ shares are trading at around €7.68 compared with €32 five years ago – is understood to have forced his hand. The talks are believed to be at a very early stage – “unofficial contacts in a very small group” according to Welt am Sonntag – but are likely to be welcomed by major shareholders.

Read more …

This is getting too stupid. But who’s going to investigate the DOJ and FBI?

Leaked Documents Reveal DOJ Protected Steele After FBI Shunning (KK)

Steele was cut off by the FBI for revealing his relationship with the Bureau to the media – but Ohr continued to pass information from Steele to his colleagues, regularly spoke to him via email and phone, and met up with him face-to-face on several occasions. Information watchdog Judicial Watch has released 339-pages of US Department of Justice records, revealing former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr remained in regular contact with ex-MI6 operative Christopher Steele after Steele’s status as a paid confidential informant was terminated by the FBI in November 2016.

“These smoking gun documents show Christopher Steele, a Hillary Clinton operative and anti-Trump foreign national, secretly worked hand-in-glove with the Justice Department on its illicit targeting of President Trump. These documents leave no doubt that for more than a year after the FBI fired Christopher Steele for leaking, and for some 10 months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Bruce Ohr continued to act as a go-between for Steele with the FBI and Justice Department. The anti-Trump Russia investigation, now run by Robert Mueller, has been thoroughly compromised by this insider corruption,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

Whether an accurate appraisal or not, it’s clear from the assorted communications Ohr was determined to ensure Steele retained access to the Bureau, and this contact remained hidden from public view – for instance, when acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Trump January 2017, Steele feared Ohr would be fired too, and texted him to express his “sympathy and support”. “If you end up out, I really need another contact point/number who is briefed. We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position right now looks stable. A million thanks,” Steele wrote. In response, Ohr assured the Orbis chief he could “certainly” give him an FBI contact “if it becomes necessary”.

On 6 March that year, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to then-FBI Director James Comey, seeking clarity on the nature of Steele’s relationship with the FBI. The next day, Steele texted Ohr to say he was “very concerned” by the letter, and its “possible implications for our operations and sources…We need some reassurance…Really fundamental issues at stake here”. Days later, with Comey scheduled to testify before Congress, Steele told Ohr he was “a bit apprehensive” and hoped “important firewalls will hold”. On 24 March, Ohr and Steele discussed their “response” to the testimony, as he understood “an approach from the Senate Intelligence Committee” to Orbis was imminent.

On 26 October, Steele said he’s “very concerned” about documents the FBI intended to turn over to Congress about his work and “relationship with them”. “Can we have a word tomorrow please? Just seen a story in the media about the Bureau handing over docs to Congress…Peoples live may be engangered [sic],” he despaired.

Read more …

Same as it ever was.

How US Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda (Greenwald)

[..] on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces. [..] on Saturday night, the New York Times published a detailed video and accompanying article proving that this entire story was a lie.

The humanitarian trucks were not set on fire by Maduro’s forces. They were set on fire by anti-Maduro protesters who threw a molotov cocktail that hit one of the trucks. And the NYT’s video traces how the lie spread: from U.S. officials who baselessly announced that Maduro burned them to media outlets that mindlessly repeated the lie. [..] While the NYT’s article and video are perfectly good and necessary journalism, the credit they are implicitly claiming for themselves for exposing this lie is totally undeserved. That’s because independent journalists – the kind who question rather than mindlessly repeat government claims and are therefore mocked and marginalized and kept off mainstream television – used exactly this same evidence on the day of the incident to debunk the lies being told by Rubio, Pompeo, Bolton and CNN.

On February 24, the day the lie spread, Max Blumenthal wrote from Venezuela, on the independent reporting Grayzone site, that “the claim was absurd on its face,” noting that he “personally witnessed tear gas canisters hit every kind of vehicle imaginable in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, and I have never seen a fire like the one that erupted on the Santander bridge.” He compiled substantial evidence strongly suggesting that the trucks were set ablaze by anti-Maduro protesters, including Bloomberg video showing them using Molotov cocktails, to express serious doubts about the mainstream narrative. On Twitter, in response to Marco Rubio’s lie, he wrote: “I did not see any Venezuelan government forces set fire to US aid trucks on the Colombian side of the border. And neither did you. Actually, the evidence so far is pointing in the other direction.”

Read more …

Is this going to have the neocons clamor for war today, before everyone understands it?

US “Gets Its Ass Handed To It” In World War III Simulations (ZH)

In simulated World War III scenarios, the U.S. continues to lose against Russia and China, two top war planners warned last week. “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, blue gets its ass handed to it” RAND analyst David Ochmanek said Thursday. RAND’s wargames show how US Armed Forces – colored blue on wargame maps – experience the most substantial losses in one scenario after another and still can’t thwart Russia or China – which predictably is red – from accomplishing their objectives: annihilating Western forces. “We lose a lot of people. We lose a lot of equipment. We usually fail to achieve our objective of preventing aggression by the adversary,” he warned.

In the next military conflict, which some believe may come as soon as the mid-2020s, all five battlefield domains: land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, will be heavily contested, suggesting the U.S. could have a difficult time in achieving superiority as it has in prior conflicts. The simulated war games showed, the “red” aggressor force often destroys U.S. F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters on the runway, sends several Naval fleets to the depths, destroys US military bases, and through electronic warfare, takes control of critical military communication systems. In short, a gruesome, if simulated, annihilation of some of the most modern of US forces. “In every case I know of,” said Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense with years of wargaming experience, “the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

So, as Russia and China develop fifth-generation fighters and hypersonic missiles, “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructures like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said. “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.” “That’s why the 2020 budget coming out next week retires the carrier USS Truman decades early and cuts two amphibious landing ships, as we’ve reported. It’s also why the Marine Corps is buying the jump-jet version of the F-35, which can take off and land from tiny, ad hoc airstrips, but how well they can maintain a high-tech aircraft in low-tech surroundings is an open question,” said Breaking Defense.

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Love Robert, but talking about shale is interesting only when you include industry debt.

Why The Shale Boom Left California Behind (Rapier)

Many people are unaware about California’s importance in the U.S. oil industry. In fact, 100 years ago California was the top oil producer in the U.S., responsible at one point for nearly 40% of U.S. oil production. California oil production rose throughout most of the 20th century, briefly eclipsing one million barrels per day in the early 1980s. Oil production began to decline there after peaking in 1985. The same pattern took place in many other states, and in fact was the case for the entire U.S., where oil production peaked in 1970, and then declined over the next 35 years. But the shale boom changed the trajectory of U.S. oil production.

Oil production that had fallen for decades reversed direction and began to surge about a decade ago. Almost every state with shale oil resources saw a similar surge in production. Since 2010, U.S. oil production has increased by 131%, with huge gains in oil production in the following states (among others): • North Dakota – up 634% • Colorado – up 508% • New Mexico – up 377% •Texas – up 330% • Oklahoma – up 238%. In fact, only three major oil-producing states have seen a decline in oil production since 2010: California, Louisiana, and Alaska. One of the graphics I created for my presentation shows the stark contrast between oil production in Texas and California as the shale boom unfolded.

During the 1980s and 1990s, oil production in Texas was declining faster than it was in California. Had that trajectory been maintained, Texas oil production may have fallen below California’s in about 2010. Instead, the shale boom has added nearly four million BPD of oil production in Texas. Millions of barrels were added in other states as well, and California began to slide down the ranks of leading oil producers. Just a few years ago California was still in 2nd place, but now it has slipped to 6th, behind Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Alaska.

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“.. And They’re Hot Happy About It”. Not the Onion, but Newsweek.

Elderly Americans Are Dying Without Getting To Read Mueller’s Report (NW)

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is reportedly coming to an end, elderly and sick Americans are trying to hold on to their lives so they can read the highly-anticipated report that has been nearly two years in the making. World War II veteran Mitchell Tendler—a man who survived numerous historic milestones, including the Korean War, Vietnam, Watergate and President BIll Clinton’s impeachment—fell sick on Dec. 29, at 93 years old, reported NPR. “I got a call at 11 o’clock. My mom said, ‘Well, Dad’s not feeling well—he really can’t stand,'” Tendler’s son, Walter, recalled. “Within a couple of hours they called 911 and got him into the ER because it wasn’t getting any better.”

Tendler survived two implantable defibrillators throughout his life. But while on his third, he started to fade. After he was provided painkillers by doctors, Tendler voiced his final thoughts. “It just was quiet for a little while,” Walter Tendler told the news outlet, “and then he just sits up in bed halfway and looks at me and he goes, ‘S***, I’m not going to see the Mueller report, am I?’ And that was really the last coherent thing that he said.” Richard Armstrong, a 94-year-old currently in hospice care in New Jersey, related to Tendler’s sentiments. “I know exactly how he feels. I feel the same way. I’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Armstrong told NPR.

“I was hoping to live to see the outcome of what I think it should be—justice. I’ll be surprised and disappointed if it isn’t.” After seeing Tendler’s words—shared on Twitter by Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution—Kristina Makansi, who lives in Arizona, thought about her mother who passed away at the age of 94 in January. “When I saw that tweet about the Mueller report and the old man on his deathbed, I thought, Oh my gosh, that’s the kind of thing that my mother would say,” she said. “I think she really wanted to see that justice was done… and that the investigation was allowed to proceed without any shenanigans and obstruction.”

Read more …

Mar 012019
 


Marcel Duchamp Sad young man on a train – Nude study 1911-12

 

 

Longtime Automatic Earth friend Alexander Aston talks about finding himself at Oxford at a point in time when the British themselves appear overcome by a combo of utter confusion and deadly lethargy, and one can only imagine what it must be like for ‘foreigners’ residing in Albion, who face large potential changes to their lives and know there’s not a thing they can do about it, not even vote.

I like the observation that the entire British political system, the place where decisions are made, is the size of a small village. That’s a visual we can all relate to. It’s a physical limit as well as a mental one. I’m all for sovereignty and self-determination, but how’s that going to work if you can’t even see the boundaries of your own territory?

 

Guys, it’s 4 weeks to D-Day today. How about we call off the landing, get a few pints instead, and talk? First round’s on me.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Alexander Aston: I arrived in the UK in 2015 to undertake interdisciplinary research at the University of Oxford. I am a child of the Empire, a cultural product of Britannia’s oldest colonies in the British Isles, her most important colony now turned empire as well as one of her youngest, Zimbabwe. The UK is both an intimately familiar society and yet one that is also strangely alien for me, like a wealthy, often charming and deeply abusive parent that sparks both self-recognition and rejection.

The ‘leave’ referendum occurred close to a year after I arrived in the UK and is one of the few political events over the past few years that surprised me. I suppose that I assumed, given the power and wealth afforded to UK elites by the EU, that those who benefited so greatly from the status quo would do anything to manipulate or fudge the results. Nonetheless, history decided to swerve, and over the past four years, I have watched the inhabitants of this island stumble into an profound identity crisis. Having spent a good portion of my life in Greece, I do not have particularly warm and cuddly feelings toward the European Union and was never a natural ‘remainer’.

The single markets and the long peace are significant achievements, and the ability for Europeans to move freely and form new discourses, relationships and endeavours has value that is impossible to quantify. The EU is technocratic, unaccountable and enthralled to a neoliberal ideology that knows only how to extract wealth from the most vulnerable and concentrate it in the hands of the most powerful. I have lived in Athens, I have family in Greece, I have seen well enough the true costs of EU membership.

What strikes me most in my experiences of the United Kingdom are the incredible levels of cognitive dissonance demanded by its media, politics and economics in order for the society to function. I live in one of the most expensive and unequal cities in the entire country. I am surrounded by the grandeur of powerful and wealthy institutions that are older than the Aztec empire and filled with some of the most powerful and elite humans on the planet and their heirs in waiting. Every time that I enter a building, go to a lecture, meet with a colleague, or sit for some grand meal in one of the colleges I must walk past dozens of human beings that are cold, hungry and occasionally dying on the streets.

 

This is in a country that provides social housing and millions in basic income to a single family, where it is accepted that the most vulnerable people are relentlessly bullied into poverty through cuts, inspections and ever increasing demands of performance. In a country where the Beatles and J.K. Rowling all started their careers on the dole. I don’t know the answers to our predicaments, but the conversation is extremely lopsided and blind to the real misery it is creating. Every time I walk through Oxford, I am filled with a profound sense of guilt and remorse, I marvel and benefit from the treasures surrounding me and I wonder… is this the best we can do? Are these the limits of our social imagination and creativity?

Shortly after I arrived, Jeremy Corbyn was elected to the leadership of the labour party. It was an early prefiguration of the political disruptions that were about to sweep the world. The neoliberal managerialism of New Labour had lost control, and its partisans wage an increasingly desperate guerrilla war with no small amount of aid from the establishment media.

Long before Brexit was a reality I became aware of the repetitious delirium of innuendo, slander and fear-mongering through which the media managed the perspective and narrative in the country, much like the American system but with its own uniquely British aesthetics and sense of authority. This somnambulant fever has only grown as the country has tripped and stumbled through the unexpected circumstances and self-engineered traps of austerity, political deadlock, and delusions of grandeur.

 

 

Day in and day out we are subjected to a litany of failure by one of the most incompetent governments in history while the media clucks, puffs and turns a path of ruin into mere spectacle. Yet, day after day we find ourselves in a state of inertia, nothing seems to change as the country hurtles towards historical rupture. The dissonance created between a seizing political system, PR firms masquerading as journalists and a dysfunctional economy requires that the people of the United Kingdom smooth over, ignore or forget the increasing contradictions of their lived experience.

Anthropologically speaking, the nuance of British culture that has perhaps had the most profound impact upon me is the detail to which the English are able to infer region, class and schooling through the voices of their fellow citizens. The subtle encoding of social hierarchies into the dialects and accents of the United Kingdom to degrees that I have never experienced in the rest of the Anglophone world. Despite my ignorance about many intricacies of British linguistics, one thing I do feel relatively confident about is that even though the English have the vast majority of the wealth and power in the United Kingdom, the Celts have received the warmer sense of humour.

For me, one of the few truly positive possible outcomes of Brexit is the potential for Irish reunification and even the chance of an emerging “Celtic sphere” to provide a new counterbalance in the British Isles. The partition of Ireland stems from one of the deepest and oldest wounds inflicted by the British Empire. It is an ironic twist of fate that the Tories now find themselves dependent upon the Unionist partisans and descendants that they so eagerly fostered to maintain dominance over Ireland. The United Kingdom’s mythology of itself has run headlong into the contradictions at the heart of its empire. The country that is partitioning itself from Europe finds its politics paralysed by an older act of partition.

The contradictions of Brexit have riven the political parties and the governing process has ground to a halt. It is an intractable predicament, the interests of the Unionists, Capitalist Utopianists, Neoliberal reactionaries, Political Elites, Nationalists, Independents and Socialists are all pulling in different directions. Consensus is only achieved in moments of near universal rejection, yet with no ability to pass any meaningful legislation the Tories only coalesce in obstinate refusal to change the situation.

 

Meanwhile the ship of state drifts towards a political, economic and moral abyss. What I can say from my time at Oxford is that the political masters of this country are indoctrinated with an imperial hubris in a political system that operates like a small village. The institutions of power here produce all too many children with no experience of the daily struggles of common people, that are all together convinced as to their entitlement to rule over millions with a PPE degree in hand.

The country is in an intractable prisoners dilemma, the logic of which makes a no-deal outcome highly possible. My fear with a no deal is that this would result in a bond shock, and with economic disruptions in Ireland, the Benelux, a France mired in a political crisis and the financial precarity of Italy all create excellent conditions for an absolutely roaring debt calamity. Yet, the UK blithely dithers on as Theresa May puts on her best performance of Neville Chamberlain and tries, tries again. The fact is that the government has lost all political legitimacy and Parliament is an omnishambles.

Those that lead us are so committed to their own narratives, so convinced of their acumen and power, so insulated by their privilege that they will sacrifice the health and prosperity of this nation in the absolute conviction that they are right and that all their problems are the fault of stupid people that don’t listen and do what they are told. The folks in the ERG think they only need sit on their hands and they can, they will, find themselves in a libertarian Aristocracy sea steading off the shores of Europe.

The London centric remainers think that they can paper over the past four years with a second referendum and that all can go back to normal and Brexit can be safely tucked away as a terrifying aberration. I am reminded of the H.L. Mencken quote that “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

 

The only pathway I can see to restoring political legitimacy at this point is a general election. Only after an extension of article 50 and a new government has negotiated an alternative deal is it really feasible to begin speaking about holding further referendums that won’t cause great harm to democratic society. Citizen assemblies would need to be formed and plans for three referenda drawn up, a choice between Mays and the Alternative deal followed by a decision between the winning deal and a no-deal option which would culminate in a final choice between a popularly demanded type of Brexit and remaining within the European Union.

I, as the rest of us, have no idea where our current moment in history will lead. However, there are a few things that I feel confident are occurring. The long twentieth century that began in 1914 is at the end of its cycle. Whatever comes next will be something new, a difficult and demanding opportunity for profound creativity and the chance to step out of the long shadow of our past. In all ecosystems, diversity generates resilience. It is the reason and the strength of building consensus. Yet we cannot build consensus if we refuse, alienate and straw man the voices of others and refuse to examine and discuss the contradictory predicaments in which we find ourselves.

Those that lead us are blind, they are blind because they are true believers and they lack either the wit or compassion to imagine something different beyond more wealth extraction and violence. We have seen Neoliberalism’s Capitalist Utopia and it has failed. Only open and honest discourse coupled with pragmatic action will allow us to navigate to a new shore. I feel strongly about these things, that and that no matter what ones political persuasion, voting for the Tories should be beneath anyone’s dignity at this point.

To be awake from this collective dissonance we must approach our predicament with humility and honesty. Without a democratic commitment to an open and honest discussion, pragmatic decision making processes and a functioning political system capable of mitigating the worst damage, this country will become a mere serfdom ruled by Lilliputian lords.

 

 

“For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

 

 

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Feb 062019
 


Pablo Picasso Portrait de femme au col d’hermine (Olga) 1923

 

Trump Calls For End To ‘Politics Of Revenge,’ Touts ‘Hottest Economy’ (AP)
Trump, Kim To Hold Second Summit In Vietnam At End Of February (AP)
Too Fast, Too Furious (Roberts)
Elizabeth Warren Apologizes For Identifying As Native American (MW)
May Rules Out Brexit Delay And Hard Border With Ireland (G.)
Ireland And EU Discuss Emergency Funding For No-Deal Brexit (G.)
China: Expansion, Stagnation and Decline (CHSmith)
French Lawmakers Approve Controversial ‘Anti-Riot’ Bill (F24)
Judge Pauses Lawsuits Against Cryptocurrency Company Quadriga (R.)
5G Wireless: A “Massive Health Experiment” (SHTF)
18% Of Young People In UK Do Not Think Life Is Worth Living (G.)
50,000 Elderly In UK -77 Per Day- Die Waiting For Social Care (G.)

 

 

At least they all agree on Venezuela.

Trump Calls For End To ‘Politics Of Revenge,’ Touts ‘Hottest Economy’ (AP)

Facing a divided Congress for the first time, President Donald Trump on Tuesday called on Washington to reject “the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution.” He warned emboldened Democrats that “ridiculous partisan investigations” into his administration and businesses could hamper a surging American economy. Trump’s appeals for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address clashed with the rancorous atmosphere he has helped cultivate in the nation’s capital — as well as the desire of most Democrats to block his agenda during his next two years in office. Their opposition was on vivid display as Democratic congresswomen in the audience formed a sea of white in a nod to early 20th-century suffragettes.

Trump spoke at a critical moment in his presidency, staring down a two-year stretch that will determine whether he is re-elected or leaves office in defeat. His speech sought to shore up Republican support that had eroded slightly during the recent government shutdown and previewed a fresh defense against Democrats as they ready a round of investigations into every aspect of his administration. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he declared. Lawmakers in the cavernous House chamber sat largely silent.

[..] One bright spot for the president has been the economy, which has added jobs for 100 straight months. He said the U.S. has “the hottest economy anywhere in the world.” He said, “The only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations” an apparent swipe at the special counsel investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign, as well as the upcoming congressional investigations. The diverse Democratic caucus, which includes a bevy of women, sat silently for much of Trump’s speech. But they leapt to their feet when he noted there are “more women in the workforce than ever before.”

Read more …

Haven’t heard Moon for a while. There’s talk of a NoKor industrial area reopening.

Trump, Kim To Hold Second Summit In Vietnam At End Of February (AP)

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he will hold a two-day summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam to continue his efforts to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear weapons. Trump has said his outreach to Kim and their first meeting last June in Singapore opened a path to peace. But there is not yet a concrete plan for how denuclearization could be implemented. Denuclearizing North Korea is something that has eluded the U.S. for more than two decades, since it was first learned that North Korea was close to acquiring the means for nuclear weapons. “As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Trump said in his State of the Union address.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress last week that U.S. intelligence officials do not believe Kim will eliminate his nuclear weapons or the capacity to build more because he believes they are key to the survival of the regime. [..] At the second Trump-Kim summit, some experts say North Korea is likely to seek to trade the destruction of its main Yongbyon nuclear complex for a U.S. promise to formally declare the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, open a liaison office in Pyongyang and allow the North to resume some lucrative economic projects with South Korea. “Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months,” Trump said. “If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.

Read more …

Interesting, good graph. It’s just that referring to ‘markets’ means you’re guaranteed to get so many things wrong. There are no markets when the Fed decides prices insead of allowing markets to do so.

Too Fast, Too Furious (Roberts)

As noted by Deutsche Bank’s Parag Thatte noted recently: “While the S&P 500 rallied +15% since late December, equity funds have continued to see large outflows. As Thatte elaborates, “US equity funds in particular have continued to see large outflows (-$40bn) since then, following massive outflows (-$77bn) through the sell-off from October to December.” This confirms our concern the recent rally has primarily been a function of short-covering and repositioning in the markets rather than an “all-out” buying spree based on a “conviction” the “bull market” remains intact.

David Rosenberg recently confirmed the same: “Let’s go back to December for a minute. This was the worst December since 1931, mind you, followed by the best January since 1987. This is nothing more than market that has gone completely manic. To suggest that there is anything fundamental about this dead-cat bounce in equities is laughable. This is an economy, and a market, that couldn’t even sustain a 3% yield on the 10-year T-note. It sputtered at the thought of the Fed taking the funds rate marginally above zero on a ‘real’ basis, even as it feasted on unprecedented stimulus for a such a late-cycle economy. Yes, Powell et al. helped trigger this latest up-leg, not just at last week’s meeting, but in the lead-up to the confab as well. The Fed has been crying uncle for weeks now.”

Read more …

Too many attempts at covering lies with other ones. What was she thinking?

Elizabeth Warren Apologizes For Identifying As Native American (MW)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren apologized Tuesday for previously identifying herself as a Native American. In an interview with the Washington Post, the Massachusetts Democrat expanded on an apology issued last week to the Cherokee Nation. “I can’t go back,” she told the Post. “But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.” As a presidential candidate, Warren has been trying to fight accusations that she identified as Native American to advance her career as a professor at Harvard and Penn law schools. In the same report, the Post published Warren’s previously undisclosed 1986 registration card to the State Bar of Texas, in which she handwrote her ethnicity as “American Indian.”

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Thought she might flee into an Article 50 extension. But it wouldn’t bring anything. She’s close to checkmate.

May Rules Out Brexit Delay And Hard Border With Ireland (G.)

Theresa May fired a warning shot at Brexit supporters on Tuesday, insisting there was “no suggestion” Britain would leave the EU without an insurance provision to protect against a hard border in Northern Ireland. At a speech in Belfast, May would only accept that technology could “play a part” in any alternative arrangements and that she would not countenance anything that would disrupt the lives of border communities. Brexit supporters immediately expressed their alarm at some of May’s language, which they fear could be read as a step back from previous assurances. “She knows what she promised us,” one ERG source said. “Even if she didn’t mean what she said, we do.”

The comments came as May prepared to meet EU leaders in Brussels for the first time since the historic defeat of her Brexit deal, where she is expected to formally request the reopening of the withdrawal agreement in order to address concerns about the backstop. The prime minister will travel to the Belgian capital on Thursday, meeting the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU parliament president Antonio Tajani, and the European council president. Donald Tusk. Both Tusk and Juncker have been adamant that the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened.

Number 10 sources suggested they did not expect a warm reception, but that it would signal the start of a new diplomatic process, involving proposals on the backstop worked on by MPs and ministers. Earlier on Tuesday, May told her cabinet she would not countenance any delay to the UK’s exit on 29 March, a message to ministers such as Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid who have suggested at least some delay might now be inevitable. Ministers who are more pessimistic about the prospects of the UK leaving on time with a deal held their tongues in the meeting after May’s warning. “She was pretty clear she had no time for anyone calling for it to be extended,” one cabinet source said.

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“He has previously said Ireland would seek “mega-money” from the EU.”

Ireland And EU Discuss Emergency Funding For No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Ireland is in talks with the EU over a substantial Brexit emergency fund to offset the damage caused to the country’s €4.5bn (£3.96bn) food exports to Britain if the UK crashes out of the bloc with no deal next month. As Theresa May prepares for a crunch meeting in Brussels on Thursday, officials at the European commission are already looking at continuous compensatory measures for Ireland as part of an ongoing arrangement that could last years. Contingency funds to compensate farmers have already been discussed at the highest levels and are expected to arise in talks with the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, during a round of meetings in Brussels on Wednesday.

Sources say Ireland will be looking for a “long-term fix” in EU budget talks in April rather than a lump sum Brexit bailout. Politicians have cited the ongoing assistance given to the Baltic states after Russia banned certain food exports from the EU as an example of financial solidarity it hopes to win in a no-deal Brexit. Ireland exports €4.5bn worth of food and drink a year to the UK, ranging from beef to cheddar cheese. Calculations by the Department of Agriculture put the cost of tariffs under World Trade Organization rules at €1.7bn. Michael Creed, Ireland’s minister for agriculture, food and the marine, has said this would be an “existential challenge” for the food and drink sector. He has previously said Ireland would seek “mega-money” from the EU.

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“China entered 2008 with $8 billion in officially counted debt; 10 years later that debt is $40 trillion..”

China: Expansion, Stagnation and Decline (CHSmith)

China entered 2008 with $8 billion in officially counted debt; 10 years later that debt is $40 trillion, plus unknown trillions more in the shadow banking system which expanded the options for risky speculation and massive expansions of credit. Like all the other stagnating economies, China’s “solution” to stagnation was to expand debt-funded speculation and “investments” with little to no actual return. The high water mark of China’s financialization orgy was 2018. From now on, adding debt simply adds more drag on the underlying economy, as income is diverted to service speculative debt and defaults start hollowing out both the official banking system and the shadow banking system.

All the policies that worked in the Boost Phase no longer work. the policy tool chest is empty, and so China’s leadership is doing more of what’s failed: burying bad debt off the visible balance sheets, re-issuing new loans to pay off defaulted debt, and all the usual tricks of a failed banking/credit system. Japan has papered over its systemic rot and decline for 30 years by using a financial Perpetual Motion Machine: the state borrows and spends trillions by selling bonds to the central bank, which in effect prints “free money” for the state to burn propping up a sclerotic, corrupt, failed status quo.

If that’s policy makers’ idea of success, they are delusional. Credit/asset bubbles all deflate, and central bank buying of assets only gives the lie to the illusion of stability and market liquidity. Simply put, there is no indication China’s leadership has any plan to manage the inevitable stagnation and decline of China’s economy that is now painfully obvious to anyone with the slightest willingness to look beneath the flimsy propaganda of official statistics. They are not alone, of course; every other major economy is equally bereft of policies and equally dependent on bogus statistics and debt to paper over the decline.

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Macron support slips further. “50 MPs from Macron’s own party abstained from voting”.. but “The main thing is that there were no votes against..”, says the party.

French Lawmakers Approve Controversial ‘Anti-Riot’ Bill (F24)

French MPs on Tuesday approved an anti-rioting bill giving security forces the power to ban suspected hooligans from demonstrating, in a controversial bid to crack down on violence that has marred Yellow Vest protests over the last three months. Opponents say the bill, approved by the lower house of parliament by 387 votes to 92, contravenes the constitutional right to demonstrate. Under its most contentious provision, government officials would be able to ban people suspected of being hooligans from taking part in demonstrations – without oversight from a judge. Inspired by legislation used to crack down on football hooligans, the new law calls for a six-month prison sentence and a €7,500 ($8,500) fine for violators.

The legislation, if passed by the upper house and approved by the constitutional council, would also allow fines of €15,000 ($17,000) and a one-year prison term for demonstrators covering or masking their faces to escape identification. It would also hand French police greater powers to search would-be demonstrators for weapons. [..] Unusually, some 50 MPs from Macron’s own party, the Republic on the Move (LREM), abstained from voting in favour of the legislation on Tuesday in a sign of divisions within the group. [..] “The main thing is that there were no votes against,” Gilles Le Gendre, who heads LREM’s parliamentary group, told reporters after the vote on Tuesday.

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A very curious case. We’ll hear much more of it.

Judge Pauses Lawsuits Against Cryptocurrency Company Quadriga (R.)

A cryptocurrency platform that lost access to millions of dollars when its founder died with sole knowledge of company passwords has been granted a temporary reprieve from creditor lawsuits. Halifax judge Michael Wood on Tuesday ordered a 30-day stay that precludes filing of claims against Quadriga, a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange that has left thousands of investors without their money after the death of founder Gerald Cotten. Customers have threatened lawsuits. Ernst & Young has been appointed the company’s third-party monitor, to help manage Quadriga’s finances during the process.

Cotten, who died in December of complications from Crohn’s disease while in India, was the only person who had passwords to digital wallets containing C$180 million ($137.13 million) in cryptocurrencies, according to court filings. He was 30 years old. “Despite repeated and diligent searches, I have not been able to find (the passwords) written down anywhere,” his widow Jennifer Robertson said in an affidavit. A court file indicates Quadriga owes 115,000 users the equivalent of C$250 million ($190.46 million). The document showed Quadriga has $30 million in bank drafts, many of which it has had trouble depositing. Lawyer Maurice Chiasson told the court the company wants time to find the C$250 million it owes users. According to court filings the company is considering selling its platforms to cover its debts.

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The riches of smartphones.

5G Wireless: A “Massive Health Experiment” (SHTF)

Experts are warning that superfast broadband known as 5G could cause cancer in humans, and the usage of 5G is nothing more than a “massive health experiment.” 5G could very well be a global catastrophe that kills wildlife, gives people terminal diseases, and causes the Earth’s magnetic field to change, according to shocking claims by a technology expert. Arthur Robert Firstenberg is an American author and an activist for electromagnetic radiation and health. In his 1997 book Microwaving Our Planet: The Environmental Impact of the Wireless Revolution, he claimed: “The telecommunications industry has suppressed damaging evidence about its technology since at least 1927.”

Firstenberg has also founded the independent campaign group the Celluar Phone Task Force and since 1996 he has argued in numerous publications that wireless technology is dangerous. According to a report by the Daily Star, Firstenberg has also recently started an online petition calling on world organizations, such as the United Nations, World Health Organisation (WHO), and European Union to “urgently halt the development of 5G,” which is due to be rolled out this year. In fact, Verizon has activated the world’s first 5G networks in four cities in the United States: Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. According to the Firstenberg, wireless networks are “harmful for humans” and the development of the next generation is “defined as a crime” under international law, as he states it in the online petition.

When speaking to The Daily Star Online, Firstenberg said this 5G rollout is deadly. “There is about to be as many as 20,000 satellites in the atmosphere. The FCC approved Elon Musk’s project for 12,000 satellites on November 15th and he’s going to launch his in mid-2019. I’m getting reports from various parts of the world that 5G antennas are being erected all over and people are already getting sick from what’s there now and the insect population is getting affected,” Firstenberg stated.

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More riches of smartphones. Someone soon will propose a better term than ‘smart’-phones.

18% Of Young People In UK Do Not Think Life Is Worth Living (G.)

The number of young people in the UK who say they do not believe that life is worth living has doubled in the last decade, amid a sense of overwhelming pressure from social media which is driving feelings of inadequacy, new research suggests. In 2009, only 9% of 16-25-year-olds disagreed with the statement that “life is really worth living”, but that has now risen to 18%. More than a quarter also disagree that that their life has a sense of purpose, according to a YouGov survey of 2,162 people for the Prince’s Trust, a charity that helps 11 to 30-year-olds into education, training and work. Youth happiness levels have fallen most sharply over the last decade in respect of relationships with friends and emotional health, the survey found, while satisfaction with issues like money and accommodation have remained steady.

The Prince’s Trust has been gauging youth opinion for 10 years and found that just under half of young people who use social media now feel more anxious about their future when they compare themselves to others on sites and apps such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. A similar amount agree that social media makes them feel “inadequate”. More than half (57%) think social media creates “overwhelming pressure” to succeed. The gloomy view on life being taken by a growing minority of young people comes amid reports of an increased rate of teenage suicide. It was reported on Sunday that official statistics due later this year will show that suicides now occur at more than five in 100,000 teenagers in England. That contrasts with a figure of just over three in 100,000 in 2010.

“Social media has become omnipresent in the lives of young people and this research suggests it is exacerbating what is already an uncertain and emotionally turbulent time,” said Nick Stace, UK chief executive of The Prince’s Trust. “Young people are critical to the future success of this country, but they’ll only realise their full potential if they believe in themselves and define success in their own terms. It is therefore a moral and economic imperative that employers, government, charities and wider communities put the needs of young people centre stage.”

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Britain gets rid of its old and its young. And presumably other ‘weaker’ groups.

50,000 Elderly In UK -77 Per Day- Die Waiting For Social Care (G.)

More than 50,000 people have died waiting for care while ministers dither over long-awaited plans to overhaul the funding of social care, a charity has claimed. Age UK estimated that 54,000 people – or 77 a day – have died while waiting for a care package in the 700 days since the government first said in March 2017 it would publish its social care green paper, which has since been delayed several times. The claim came as a cross-party group of MPs warned that the government was “in denial” about the perilous state of English local authority finances – a crisis driven by a growing demand for the care of vulnerable adults and children.

The Commons public accounts committee (PAC) said that after eight years in which central government funding had halved, councils were under “enormous pressure” just to maintain essential services. MPs accused ministers of having no meaningful plan to ensure local authority finances were sustainable in the future. Overall spending by local authorities on services fell by 19.2% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2016-17, according to the report. Meg Hillier, the committee chair said: “Government needs to get real, listen fully to the concerns of local government and take a hard look at the real impact funding reductions have on local services.”

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced a funding boost for councils at last autumn’s budget, amounting to £1.4 bn in 2018-19 and 2019-20. But the PAC said such short-term fixes failed to deal with the underlying challenges facing councils. It urged the government to focus on assuring the long-term sustainability of local authority finances, and be more ambitious than simply allowing them to “cope”.

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Jan 282019
 


Pablo Picasso Bust of woman with arms raised 1922

 

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)
PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)
China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)
Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)
UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)
May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson (R.)
Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)
UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)
Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)
In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

 

 

Picked up these numbers last week on Twitter. Chavez announced cancer in late 2012, died early 2013. Oil prices only explain a smal part of it. Economic warfare does the rest.

@spectatorindex – Venezuela GDP growth.
2012: 5.6%
2013: 1.3%
2014: -3.9%
2015: -6.2%
2016: -17%
2017: -15%
2018: -16%

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)

The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans. The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him. European leaders are calling for “free and fair” elections. Russia and Turkey remain Nicolas Maduro’s key supporters.

Mr De Zayas, a former secretary of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and an expert in international law, spoke to The Independent following the presentation of his Venezuela report to the HRC in September. He said that since its presentation the report has been ignored by the UN and has not sparked the public debate he believes it deserves. “Sanctions kill,” he told The Independent, adding that they fall most heavily on the poorest people in society, demonstrably cause death through food and medicine shortages, lead to violations of human rights and are aimed at coercing economic change in a “sister democracy”. On his fact-finding mission to the country in late 2017, he found internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, but said “economic warfare” practised by the US, EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.

In the report, Mr de Zayas recommended, among other actions, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. The US sanctions are illegal under international law because they were not endorsed by the UN Security Council, Mr de Zayas, an expert on international law and a former senior lawyer with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns. “Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees,” Mr de Zayas said in his report.

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Xi remains nervous.

PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)

PBOC fixed the yuan dramatically stronger against the dollar overnight, sending offshore yuan surging to its strongest against the dollar in six months. While the Chinese currency is reportedly strengthening on the heels of trade talks optimism (which is entirely the opposite of the rhetoric coming out of Washington), we note that this was the biggest positive shift in the yuan fix in 19 months…

Notably, the yuan is strengthening considerably more against the dollar than it is against the broad basket of trade partner currencies…Shanghai Accord 2.0? And coincidentally, the surge in yuan comes the day after gold prices broke out higher… Perhaps the PBOC’s aggressive action was prompted to manage the Yuan peg against gold back into balance?

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If you look closer, nothing seems very dramatic. But real estate has become such a huge part of the economy that Beijing must weigh curbing risks vs continued growth.

It’s also the speed with which this has happened. 10 years ago Chinese didn’t borrow for homes. It’s literally been used to mitigate the financial crisis.

China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)

Loans to China’s property sector grew at a slower pace in 2018 as Beijing tightened home-purchase rules to curb bubble risk, but lending to property developers expanded slightly faster than the year before, central bank data showed on Friday. Outstanding yuan property loans grew 20% from a year earlier to 38.7 trillion yuan ($5.72 trillion) by end-December, compared with 20.9% growth in 2017, the PBOC said in a quarterly financial report. Outstanding mortgage lending climbed 17.8% year-on-year to 25.75 trillion yuan by the end of 2018, below a 22.2% rise in 2017, central bank data showed.

Policymakers have vowed to ensure “stable and healthy” development of the property market, repeatedly emphasizing that homes are for living in, not speculative investment. The government’s sustained drive to reduce debt risks in the economy has cooled the property market but a continued downturn in credit growth in the sector could add to growing pressures on the world’s second-largest economy. The real estate sector is a key driver of economic growth, so any further weakness could influence the pace and scope of fresh stimulus steps expected from Beijing this year.

Property investment is also looking wobbly, with analysts waiting to see if the government will risk loosening restrictions on home buyers that have kept speculation in check. Real estate investment in December rose 8.2% from a year earlier, down from 9.3% in November, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by the National Bureau of Statistics. That was just ahead of the slowest pace of growth last year at 7.7% recorded for October. Developers raised their borrowings last year though, with loans extended for property development up 22.6% in 2018 versus growth of 21.7% in 2017, the report showed. The central bank also said outstanding household loans jumped 18.2% to 47.9 trillion yuan by end-2018.

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How much can Brexit hurt the British? A lot, we must assume. Then again, if you fall for this stuff at this moment in time, maybe you deserve what’s coming. How about a crisis worse than the 1930s?

Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)

Britain’s biggest lender is to offer 100% mortgages to first-time buyers in a return to lending last seen before the financial crash – but only if the buyer has family that can stand behind the loan. Under the new Lloyds Bank “Lend A Hand” deal, a first-time buyer will be able to borrow up to £500,000 for a new home, without putting down a penny of deposit. The Lloyds move marks a major expansion into the first-time buyer market, as most other mainstream lenders demand a minimum deposit worth 5% of the property purchase price, although Barclays has offered a similar “family springboard” deal. Lloyds has priced the mortgages to undercut the Barclays offer.

The deal – part of what Lloyds said is a £30bn commitment to help first-time buyers – will reopen concern about a two-tier market where buyers with well-off families can elbow aside those without. Saving for a deposit is usually cited by first-time buyers as the biggest hurdle to home ownership. Lloyds said the average deposit put down by first-time buyers has climbed to £33,211, and a staggering £110,182 in London. The Lloyds deal requires that a member of the family – such as parent, grandparent or close relative – helps out. The bank will only grant the 100% mortgage if the family member puts a sum equal to 10% of the value of the property into a Lloyds savings account.

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“The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.”

UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)

The UK will be unable to have frictionless, tariff-free trade under World Trade Organization rules for up to seven years in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to two leading European Union law specialists. The ensuing chaos could double food prices and plunge Britain into a recession that could last up to 30 years, claim the lawyers who acted for Gina Miller in the historic case that forced the government to seek parliament’s approval to leave the EU. It has been claimed that the UK could simply move to WTO terms if there is no deal with the EU. But Anneli Howard, a specialist in EU and competition law at Monckton Chambers and a member of the bar’s Brexit working group, believes this isn’t true. “No deal means leaving with nothing,” she said. “The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.

It is impossible to say how long it would go on for. Some economists say 10 years, others say the effects could be felt for 20 or even 30 years: even ardent Brexiters agree it could be decades.” The government’s own statistics have estimated that under the worst case no-deal scenario, GDP would be 10.7% lower than if the UK stays in the EU, in 15 years. There are two apparently insurmountable hurdles to the UK trading on current WTO tariffs in the event of Britain crashing out in March, said Howard. Firstly, the UK must produce its own schedule covering both services and each of the 5,000-plus product lines covered in the WTO agreement and get it agreed by all the 163 WTO states in the 32 remaining parliamentary sitting days until 29 March 2019. A number of states have already raised objections to the UK’s draft schedule: 20 over goods and three over services.

To make it more complicated, there are no “default terms” Britain can crash out on, Howard said, while at the same time, the UK has been blocked by WTO members from simply relying on the EU’s “schedule” – its existing tariffs and tariff-free trade quotas. The second hurdle is the sheer volume of domestic legislation that would need to be passed before being able to trade under WTO rules: there are nine statutes and 600 statutory instruments that would need to be adopted. The government cannot simply cut and paste the 120,000 EU statutes into UK law and then make changes to them gradually, Howard said. “The UK will need to set up new enforcement bodies and transfer new powers to regulators to create our own domestic regimes,” she said.

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Fast and loose with Good Friday.

May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Theresa May will seek legally binding changes to the Irish backstop from the European Union in an attempt to break the deadlock over Brexit, lawmaker Boris Johnson wrote in The Telegraph on Sunday, citing senior government sources. The PM is looking to change the text of the agreement to insert either a sunset clause or a mechanism for the UK to escape without reference to the EU, Boris Johnson said in The Telegraph. The contentious backstop arrangement is designed to prevent a hard border between Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland by requiring Britain to keep some EU rules if it was unable to agree a trade deal with the bloc. Ireland said earlier on Sunday it would not accept any changes to the backstop agreement.

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The backstop will be May’s major point of contention this week. Stop her! There’s already talk of reinserting issues in the deal that have already been thrown out.

Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)

Ireland has launched a last-minute effort to warn Theresa May off any attempt to unravel the backstop, two days before a crucial Commons debate that may decide the next move for the UK’s rudderless Brexit policy. Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister and deputy prime minister, insisted the backstop – the mechanism to ensure there will be no hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland if Britain and the EU fail to strike a free trade deal – was “part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change”. In a forceful interview, he insisted it was only part of the withdrawal agreement because of the UK’s red lines.

On Tuesday Tory Brexiters may get the chance to vote for amendments that would signal their willingness to back May’s Brexit deal subject to the backstop’s either being removed or time-limited. Ministers have not formally backed any of the anti-backstop amendments, which are incompatible with the deal that May agreed with UK leaders, but if one were to pass by a majority, she would be able to present the EU with a firm idea of what changes might get her deal through parliament – something that as yet remains unclear to Brussels. In an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Coveney said he did not see the need for further compromise because “the backstop is already a compromise”.

Although originally Northern Ireland-specific, it was made UK-wide at the request of May, he said. “And the very need for the backstop in the first place was because of British red lines that they wanted to leave the customs union and single market,” he said.

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Many Brits are so poor they can’t even think of stockpiling.

UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)

Britain has begun stockpiling food, fuel, spare parts and ammunition at military bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus and the Falklands in case of a no-deal Brexit, Sky News has learnt. Extra supplies are also being built up at bases in the UK to reduce the risk of the armed forces running short and being unable to operate if it suddenly becomes much harder to import and export day-to-day goods after 29 March. Military chiefs have spent at least £23m on what is being described as “forward-purchased” goods, Sky News understands. The move is part of contingency planning by the government – codenamed Operation Yellowhammer – to reduce disruption if Britain departs from the European Union without an agreement, according to three defence sources.

“An army marches on its stomach. If supply lines breakdown they struggle,” one source said. Any blockage in the flow of food and other vital items to Britain’s military bases overseas could impact on operations and affect thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen. There is a concern that supplies delivered to British troops in the rest of Europe – the UK has a permanent presence in Cyprus and a base on the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, which shares a border with Spain – could be impacted, according to the sources.

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We haven’t seen any of it yet.

Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)

Britons have become angrier since the referendum to leave the EU, according to a survey which suggests there is widespread unhappiness about the direction in which the country is heading. 69 per cent of respondents said they felt their fellow citizens had become “angrier about politics and society” since the Brexit vote in 2016, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a long-established, annual survey of trust carried out across the globe. 40 per cent of people think others are now more likely to take part in violent protests, the UK results from the survey show, even though violent political protest in Britain is rare.

One person in six said they had fallen out with friends or relatives over the vote to leave the bloc, the survey found. Edelman, which said the findings exposed a “disUnited Kingdom”, found widespread concern about where the government was heading, particularly among those who voted remain, and those who backed Labour. Overall, about 65% of Britons think the country is “on the wrong track”, the survey suggests. Amongst remain voters the figure is 82%, but even among leave voters the figure is 43%. Some 60% of people who identify with the Conservatives think the country is heading in the right direction, but among Labour identifiers, the figure is just 20%.

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The coal phase-out is part of a 500 billion-euro switch away from fossil fuels and toward renewables..

Compensating coal-mining regions & consumers for higher electricity prices expected to cost German taxpayer up to €78bn.

But across the border lies Italy, and next to it Greece. How are they going to pay for such a switch? And if they don’t, what’s the use of Germany doing it?

In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

A proposal to stop Germany from using coal for power generation within two decades may leave an unexpected beneficiary: The company that burns the most of the fuel. While RWE AG was quick to say it’s “too soon” to shed all fossil fuel plants by 2038, the recommendations outlined this weekend by a panel advising Chancellor Angela Merkel called for compensation for the utilities and 40 billion euros ($45.6 billion) for regions coping with the transition. Together, the measures would significantly soften the blow on industry from Merkel’s vow to scale back greenhouse gases. They show how far the government has moved away from a quick clampdown on the most polluting fossil fuel and give more certainty for the future of some of RWE’s most valuable assets.

And while the proposals could yet be watered down by politicians, they signal a longer life for many of the utility’s plants than environmentalists had hoped for. “We believe that clarity, compensation payments, and a relatively long phase-out period should trigger a re-rating for the company’s conventional power generation,” said Guido Hoymann, an analyst at the private bank B. Metzler Seel. Sohn & Co. KGaA who added RWE to a list of top 10 German stocks.

Germany’s 120 or so remaining coal and lignite plants have a combined capacity of about 45 gigawatts. That’s enough to feed 40 percent of the nation’s power demand or about 32 million homes. Germany is already falling short on its targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions and sees closing coal plants as one of the most important ways to make the reductions needed. The coal commission includes members from the main political parties, environmental groups and industry charged with developing a consensus that Germany can live with for years to come.

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Jan 272019
 


René Magritte L’éternité 1935

 

Mueller Hunt For Russia Collusion Turns Into Circus Show With Stone (Turley)
Disgraced Wasserman-Schultz Now ‘Fixing’ Democracy In Venezuela (RT)
Non-Yellow-Vest Protests Are Good? Macron Hails Venezuela Coup Attempt (RT)
Ireland Dismisses Suggestion It Should Quit EU And Join UK (G.)
Only Two Votes Really Matter Now On Brexit (Ind.)
Juncker Warns May: Permanent Customs Union Is Price For Revisiting Backstop (G.)
UK Firms Plan Mass Exodus If May Allows No-Deal Brexit (O.)
Airbnb Contributes To Poor Housing Markets (Ind.)
British Museum ‘Rules Out’ Returning Parthenon Marbles To Greece (Ind.)
Late-Night With The Democrats (G.)

 

 

“.. if a deer could run over itself, then Stone is the ultimate roadkill defendant.”

Mueller Hunt For Russia Collusion Turns Into Circus Show With Stone (Turley)

This is not the big game that Robert Mueller was hunting when he began his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Despite the breathless news coverage, the indictment is underwhelming and far from what many predicted. As for the media, it seems to be only counting heads of Trump associates indicted, as opposed to what they were actually charged with. The media has long described Stone as the possible Trump campaign conduit to WikiLeaks and the Russians, citing his presumed communications with Julian Assange and his advance knowledge of the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign email hacks.

Yet, none of that was confirmed or even suggested in the indictment. There was no charge of collusion. No hint of meetings or arrangements with Assange. Not even a charge as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russians. Just collateral crimes with nary a mention of collusion and a defendant who alternatively presents himself as the tragically comic and the comically tragic figure mired in the special counsel investigation.

Indeed, if a deer could run over itself, then Stone is the ultimate roadkill defendant. Mueller has relentlessly pursued him for almost two years, and Stone has equally relentlessly taunted him and his team. Various grand jury witnesses recounted being questioned about Stone and theories of collusion for months. Mueller worked every evident angle before bringing down this indictment in what could be the final charging stage of his investigation. It was only last month that Mueller asked for the transcript of the testimony of Stone before Congress. Largely based on alleged false statements, the entirety of the indictment comes out of that transcript.

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The Democrats have dozens if not hundreds of people they must urgently get rid of, or they’ll never win another election. Wasserman-Schultz was thrown out for treachery vs Bernie. And now she’s back?

Disgraced Wasserman-Schultz Now ‘Fixing’ Democracy In Venezuela (RT)

Regime change and foreign interventions are things that the two US ruling parties agree on regardless of how much they exchange blows at home. Venezuela is the latest place where Republicans and Democrats have found common ground. If you watch the US media, you know what is happening in Venezuela: Dictator Nicolas Maduro is brutally suppressing the people he has been robbing for years, and now they have revolted and elected a true representative of their interest, the one true legitimate acting president Juan Guaido. And now it’s up to America to ‘fix’ democracy by whatever means necessary.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has even offered a simple explanation on how a ‘dream team’ of Democrats have prepared a package of laws, which will ensure Venezuela’s transition into a better future. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will be bringing humanitarian aid, Donna Shalala will stop the arming of Maduro’s thugs with batons and tear gas, while Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets arguably the hardest task of them all – taking on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. You know, the one who – according to the current dogma of the American left establishment – already denied the Democrats the presidency in 2016 and whose puppet Donald Trump is currently trying to topple the Venezuelan government for some reason that only a 5-dimensional-chess master can understand.

Wasserman Schultz may hold a personal grudge against Putin. She had to resign as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee after leaked documents revealed how it was playing on the side of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders in 2016. The leak is widely attributed to Russia by American politicians and media. The irony of Wasserman Schultz now being on the frontline of bringing democracy to Venezuela didn’t go unnoticed by Jill Stein, the head of the Green Party. But who cares? Americans were told already that Stein is just a Putin tool stealing votes from Clinton and working for RT. Those were smears, but ‘alternative facts’ are not an invention of the Trump administration. Opposing Washington’s regime change is a dangerous cause. Say a word of doubt, and you’ll find yourself in a virtual concentration camp for Putin puppets, Assad apologists and Maduro mouthpieces.

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Coverage of the Gilets Jaunes’ Acte XI is sparse. Given the extreme level of police violence, that is a bit weird. There are tons of videos, like of people losing eyes to police rubber bullets. Macron is damning his own presidency.

Non-Yellow-Vest Protests Are Good? Macron Hails Venezuela Coup Attempt (RT)

Emmanuel Macron has praised the “courage” of Venezuelan protesters but fell short of recognizing self-declared “acting president” Juan Guaido. His desire to exert influence on Latin America could back him into a corner in Paris. “After the illegal election of Nicolas Maduro in 2018, Europe supports the restoration of democracy. I salute the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marching for their freedom,” Emmanuel Macron tweeted in French on his official account. The French leader went beyond the official statement from the EU, which has called for “an immediate political process leading to free and credible elections, in conformity with the constitutional order” although President Maduro’s second term officially runs to 2024.

Macron might be backing himself into a corner with his desire to exert influence on the situation in Venezuela and elevate his status on the international arena against a backdrop of a quite precarious situation at home, Chris Reynolds, an Associate Professor in Contemporary French and European Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, believes. “We can see a direct contradiction here between the domestic situation and Macron’s [statement] on this emerging situation in Venezuela,” Reynolds told RT, adding that the president’s response to the domestic Yellow Vests protests was “quite strong.” France has been gripped by massive weekly protests since November. United under the umbrella movement known as the Yellow Vests, the demonstrators, who first turned to the streets to protest fuel price hikes, are now expressing their discontent over Macron’s broader reform agenda.

Protests have often been marred by violence and were met with heavy police response as well as condemned by the president. With his sudden support for the Venezuelan street protests, Macron “opens himself up to criticism,” the professor said. “Those people, who would seek to criticize Macron will see a contradiction between his ambiguous support for the Venezuelan street protests [and his reaction to domestic protests] and therefore will have material to criticize him.” The fact that Macron stopped short of backing Guiado directly, and opted for a more vague statement instead, shows that he is well aware of this contradiction. “Macron finds himself in a situation, in which he cannot overtly express support to the Venezuelan opposition political leader, who has been brought to the fore on the back of the street protests,” Reynolds said.

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But you’re our colony!

Ireland Dismisses Suggestion It Should Quit EU And Join UK (G.)

Ireland has dismissed the suggestion that the best solution to the Brexit impasse might be for the country to quit the EU and join the UK. Questioned about the possibility by the BBC Today presenter John Humphrys, Ireland’s Europe minister, Helen McEntee, said it was not contemplating quitting the EU, that polls showed 92% of the population wanted to remain in the bloc, and “Irexit” was not plausible. She told the Radio 4 programme on Saturday that, in the event of no deal, Ireland was “not planning for the reintroduction of a border”, and urged the UK to honour its commitment to ensure the border remained invisible, as it had since the Good Friday peace deal was signed nearly 21 years ago.

Humphrys said: “There has to be an argument, doesn’t there, that says instead of Dublin telling this country that we have to stay in the single market etc within the customs union, why doesn’t Dublin, why doesn’t the Republic of Ireland, leave the EU and throw in their lot with this country?” McEntee replied: “To suggest that we should leave? Ninety-two per cent of Irish people last year said they wanted Ireland to remain part of the European Union and in fact since Brexit that figure has gotten only bigger.” The interview came hours before hundreds of people gathered on the border to protest against Brexit.

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Big one coming up on Tuesday. Could take May’s powers away. But you’re right: they have far too many votes.

Only Two Votes Really Matter Now On Brexit (Ind.)

Tuesday will be a big day in the Brexit story. We have had historic votes and critical moments before, but this is up another notch. The vote on the amendment jointly proposed by Yvette Cooper, Labour MP, and Nick Boles, Conservative MP, will be both historic and critical. It will be historic because it is the first time since the 17th century that the House of Commons has tried to take control of the nation’s affairs from the government. And it will be critical because no one knows which way the vote will go. The Cooper-Boles plan is to take no-deal Brexit “off the table” by requiring Theresa May to seek to postpone our departure from the EU if a deal has not been approved in time. The vote will be no mere expression of opinion.

If the amendment is passed, it will change the rules of the Commons to allow a bill drafted by Cooper and Boles to be rushed into law on 5 February. There is some talk of this bill being blocked by Eurosceptic peers in the House of Lords, which would have to whizz it through on the same day. Unlike the Commons, the Lords doesn’t have rules for timetabling debates, which means a small group of peers could keep talking to prevent votes. But Labour and Liberal Democrat peers insist that the huge majority opposed to a no-deal Brexit in the House of Lords would invent new rules, if needed, to get the bill through.

[..] Most attention is focused on an amendment which supports the withdrawal agreement, but only if the Ireland backstop is “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. This wouldn’t be binding, and won’t pass unless the government or the official opposition support it, but its significance will be as a show of strength on the Tory back benches. Clever people think that if this amendment attracts a lot of votes it will strengthen the prime minister’s hand in going back to Brussels to ask for changes. Olly Robbins, May’s chief negotiator, is said to have drafted nine options for trying to make the backstop more palatable to Tory MPs who find it so objectionable they would rather leave without a deal.

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Trying to be funny?!

“Critics of May’s deal believe that the backstop [..] could trap the UK in an indefinite customs union.”

And then Juncker says renegotiating the backstop does just that. That logic says whatever you do, you’re stuck with the customs union.

Juncker Warns May: Permanent Customs Union Is Price For Revisiting Backstop (G.)

Jean-Claude Juncker has told Theresa May in a private phone call that shifting her red lines in favour of a permanent customs union is the price she will need to pay for the EU revising the Irish backstop. Without a major shift in the prime minister’s position, the European commission president told May that the current terms of the withdrawal agreement were non-negotiable. Details of the call, contained in a leaked diplomatic note, emerged as Juncker’s deputy, Frans Timmermans, said there had been no weakening of the resolve in Brussels in support of Ireland, and accused the Tory Brexiters of a “cavalier” approach to peace. “Let me be extremely clear: there is no way I could live in a situation where we throw Ireland under the bus,” Timmermans said.

“As far as the European commission is concerned, the backstop is an essential element for showing to Ireland and to the rest of Europe that we are in this together.” On Tuesday, the Commons will vote on a series of amendments that might variously force the prime minister to delay Brexit or go back to Brussels to demand the ditching of the Irish backstop or a time limit on its enforcement. Critics of May’s deal believe that the backstop, an “all-weather” solution for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, could trap the UK in an indefinite customs union, limiting the country’s ability to pursue an independent trade policy. May’s deal was rejected this month by a historic 230 votes.

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It’s a surprise any would want to stay.

UK Firms Plan Mass Exodus If May Allows No-Deal Brexit (O.)

Thousands of British companies have already triggered emergency plans to cope with a no-deal Brexit, with many gearing up to move operations abroad if the UK crashes out of the EU, according to the British Chambers of Commerce. Before a crucial week in parliament, in which MPs will try to wrest control from Theresa May’s government in order to delay Brexit and avoid a no-deal outcome, the BCC said it believed companies that had already gone ahead with their plans represented the “tip of the iceberg” and that many of its 75,000 members were already spending vital funds to prepare for a disorderly exit. It said that in recent days alone, it had been told that 35 firms had activated plans to move operations out of the UK, or were stockpiling goods to combat the worst effects of Brexit.

Matt Griffith, director of policy at the BCC’s west of England branch, said that many more companies had acted to protect themselves since May’s Brexit deal was decisively rejected by MPs in the Commons earlier this month. He said: “Since the defeat for the prime minister’s deal, we have seen a sharp increase in companies taking actions to try and protect themselves from the worst effects of a no-deal Brexit. No deal has gone from being one of several possible scenarios to a firm date in the diary.” Labour MP Yvette Cooper has revealed to the Observer that two major employers in her West Yorkshire constituency – luxury goods manufacturer Burberry and confectioner Haribo – had both written to her, warning of the damaging effects of no deal on their UK operations.

[..] Last week some of the UK’s largest employers – including Airbus, Europe’s largest aerospace manufacturer, which employs 14,000 people in the UK and supports another 110,000 through supply chains – warned of potentially disastrous effects of no deal on its UK activities. Tom Enders, the boss of Airbus, said: “Please don’t listen to the Brexiters’ madness, which asserts that because we have huge plants here we will not move and we will always be here. They are wrong.”

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Houses are places where people live. Any other use is detrimental.

Airbnb Contributes To Poor Housing Markets (Ind.)

A recent report by a Toronto public interest group, Fairbnb, has added a local voice to the growing international chorus of concern about the impact of Airbnb on housing. It is now clear that a single American company has upended local markets, pushed rental prices skyward and could be contributing to poverty, especially in cities popular with tourists. Toronto City Council was slow to recognize the dangers posed by Airbnb, not only to unionized hotel workers but also to the million-plus tenants who need stable and affordable accommodation. Late in 2017, regulations were put in place making it difficult for deep-pocketed investors to buy multiple condos for the purpose of listing them on Airbnb.

But Airbnb hosts appealed against the legislation to Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. Six commercial operators added their voice. The hearings on the new bylaw are set for August 2019. In the meantime, there are no rules. Limiting Airbnb to some version of its initial ideal of “home sharing” is crucial. In 2018, 16 per cent of Toronto Airbnb hosts controlled 38 per cent of the listings, and the problem is worsening, with some downtown condos having hundreds of units listed on Airbnb, according to the Fairbnb report. The study concludes that Airbnb is responsible for countless illegal “ghost hotels”. What’s more, the report notes that if Toronto’s new rules were to come into force, more than 8,200 listings would have to be removed, and up to 6,500 whole homes would be available to boost the supply of long-term family rental housing.

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Imperial powers still rule. So stand up to them. Tell the Brits they’re not welcome until they give back what they stole. Not a single one of them. Let them fix their issues at home first.

British Museum ‘Rules Out’ Returning Parthenon Marbles To Greece (Ind.)

The director of the British Museum has appeared to rule out returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece after its government demanded Britain open negotiations over their return last year. The 2,500-year-old marble sculptures were removed from the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis in Athens by the Ottoman ambassador Lord Elgin in the early 1800s. Lord Elgin sold the marbles to the British government, who passed them on to the British Museum in 1817 where they remain one of its most prized exhibits. Debate over where the sculptures should be located has raged for more than 200 years, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledging to return them to Greece if he becomes prime minister.

In August, Greek culture minister Lydia Koniordou invited UK officials to meetings in Greece to discuss the statues’ return in the midst of Brexit talks as Britain sought allies around Europe. In an interview with Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper, British Museum director Hartwig Fischer said: “The Trustees of the British Museum feel the obligation to preserve the collection in its entirety, so that things that are part of this collection remain part of this collection.” Asked if he thinks the Greek people are right to want the Parthenon sculptures back, he told the newspaper: “I can certainly understand that the Greeks have a special and passionate relationship with this part of their cultural heritage. “Yes, I understand that there is a desire to see all of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens.”

The other half of the Parthenon Sculptures are currently in the Acropolis Museum in Greece. For several decades, Greece has called for the reunification of the statues and has sent several formal requests, threatened legal action and proposed solutions such as mediation by Unesco. Supporters of the Greek position say although Lord Elgin said he had the permission of officials of the ruling Ottoman Empire to take the sculptures, the empire was a foreign force and had no right to let the artefacts go. When Mr Fischer was asked about Mr Corbyn’s pledge to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece if he became prime minister, he said: “I think that this is Mr Corbyn’s personal view on the question, that you take note of. “Obviously, that is not the stance and the view of the Trustees of the Museum.”

Asked by Ta Nea if he would accept that Greece is the legal owner of the Parthenon Sculptures, he replied: “No, I would not. The objects that are part of the collection of the British Museum are in the fiduciary ownership of the Trustees of the Museum.”

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I’m guessing this divides America in two along a very sharp dividing line. What I see of it (not much) is Trevor Noah being an embarrassment to Jon Stewart, and Colbert having completely lost his mojo after he shed his right-wing persona. They do what the media do: play safe, keep feeding your followers what you know they want. Anti-Trumpism.

But if there’s one thing humor needs to thrive, it’s surprise. And none of this pretend humor has any of that. It’s all just devolved into a painfully predictabe word-play game. Letterman wouldn’t have gone there, Jon Stewart wouldn’t. Humor can’t just confirm people’s fixed opinions, there’s nothing funny about that.

Late-Night With The Democrats (G.)

Diners and town halls. Iowa and New Hampshire. The Rachel Maddow Show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. While some campaign stops for Democrats running for president are very familiar, others reflect how the rise of liberal media hosts, late night comedians and “going viral” online could make all the difference in a tight race. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has appeared twice in three months on Colbert’s programme on the CBS TV network, first to promote her book, then for the big reveal about 2020. Colbert asked: “Do you have anything you would like to announce?” She replied: “I’m filing an exploratory committee for president of the United States, tonight!”

Other guests on The Late Show, filmed before an audience at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York and broadcast at 11.35pm, have included Eric Holder, Cory Booker, John Kerry, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro (who appeared with twin brother Joaquin) and Kamala Harris, all of whom have declared their candidacy or are said to be considering it. A recent CNN article was headlined: “Welcome to the Stephen Colbert primary.” Colbert, 54, who cut his teeth in improvisational comedy, has earned it. Future historians could do worse than watch the bitingly satirical take-downs of Donald Trump in his opening monologues. His edgy political wit has catapulted him past Jimmy Fallon in the late night ratings and drawn interviewees including Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi.

“Any Democratic candidate who thinks they can ignore Stephen Colbert might as well not run for president,” said Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “Colbert once joked that the road to the White House runs through his show but it’s no joke; it is exactly so.”

[..] Maddow scooped the first interview with Warren after the Massachusetts senator announced she was formally exploring a run for the White House. She asked Gillibrand pointed questions about her shifting policy positions. Last week she questioned Harris and Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, another possible candidate. All seemingly regard Maddow’s show as a hotline to the anti-Trump resistance. Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist who was an adviser to the Al Gore and John Kerry presidential campaigns, said: “I think she’s terrific. She’s incisive, she’s smart, she has her own views on things and, by the way, she doesn’t disguise them: they’re right out in the open.”

Robert Lichter, professor of communication at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said: “With the Democratic party moving to the left, she’s positioned to become a kingmaker. She’s a highly respected liberal and can make or break a candidacy early on by exposing someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Candidates will try to aim through Colbert’s jokes and Maddow’s seriousness.”

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