Feb 292020
 


Harris&Ewing National Emergency War Garden Commission display, Wash. DC 1918

 

China Reports Catastrophic Data: PMIs Crash To Record Lows (ZH)
New York Scrambles To Replace US Government’s Faulty Coronavirus Test Kits (R.)
US Sanctions on Iran Helped Coronavirus Spread Undetected (NI)
Chinese Lab That First Shared Virus Genome Closed For ‘Rectification’ (SCMP)
Australia Defied WHO On Coronavirus (SMH)
Israeli Scientists Claim To Be Weeks Away From Coronavirus Vaccine (NYPost)
A Big Coronavirus Mystery: What About The Children? (Harvard)
China Will Meet US Trade Deal Ag Demands, But May Invoke Force Majeure (SCMP)
China’s Consumers Will Not Rescue Economy When Outbreak Is Over (SCMP)
Southeast Asian Supply Chains Feel The Squeeze From Covid-19 (SCMP)
No More Kid Gloves (K.)
Barr Is Wrong On FISA Reforms (Turley)
The Public Doesn’t Really Decide The Nominee (Turley)
The Only Questions That Should Matter In The Assange Extradition Battle (SMH)
Your Man in the Public Gallery – Assange Hearing Day Four (Craig Murray)

 

Numbers are rising very fast in South Korea, Iran and Italy. Total cases were up 841, 621, 901, 1,190, 1,314 in the past few days. Today: 1,950.

Major batch of new cases expected today from South Korea due to intensified testing.

 

Cases 85,683 (+ 1,950 from yesterday’s 83,733)

Deaths 2,933 (+ 73 from yesterday’s 2,860)

 

• South Korea 813 new cases, total 3.150, 16 deaths, one case of reinfection
• Italy 896 (yesterday 653) cases, 21 deaths
• Iran 593 (yesterday 245) cases, 26 deaths
• Japan 241 (+705 Diamond Princess)
• China 427 new cases and 47 new deaths, total 2,835
• UK 20 cases, first death is Diamond Princess’s 6th death
• Germany 60 cases
• US 66 cases
• France cases 57 from 38 yesterday
• First case: Israel (3 cases), Mexico, Iceland, Azerbaijan, Wales, Belarus, Estonia

 

Trump names Pence, Kudlow, Mnuchin, aka an economic team, to face the crisis. China tries something similar by talking about what happens when the outbreak is over.

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From Worldometer (Note: mortality rate down to 7%)

 

 

 

 

Xi’s biggest worry.

China Reports Catastrophic Data: PMIs Crash To Record Lows (ZH)

[..] it turns out that Nomura’s dire forecast was optimistic, because moments ago China’s National Statistics Bureau reported the latest, February PMIs and they were absolutely catastrophic: Manufacturing PMI crashed to 35.7 in Feb, far below the 45.0 consensus estimate, and sharply down from 50.0 in January. A record low. Non-Manufacturing PMI plummets to 28.9, also far below the 50.5 consensus, estimate, and down nearly 50% from the 54.1 in Jan. This too was a record low. Putting these numbers in context, they are far, far worse than the prints for both series reported during the financial crisis, when the mfg PMI dropped to “only” 38.8, while the non-manufacturing PMI never even contracted.

What is even more ominous is that while China’s non-mfg PMI has traditionally been stronger, in February not only did it collapse into deep contraction, but it plunged to 5 points below where the manufacturing sector currently finds itself, a catastrophic 20-handle. This means that China’s service industries, long seen as the guiding light to China’s successful transition away from a manufacturing-led economy, is now devastated. Commenting on the unprecedented number, Bloomberg’s China economist Tom Orlik said that “the first credible gauge of how China’s economy is fairing under virus lock down – the official PMI – is pointing to a brutal drop into contraction.” Well, no: anyone who read our recent series analyzing “high-frequency”, real-time Chinese data already was already aware of the catastrophic collapse in China’s economy.

Read more …

Because the testing issue was’t confusing enough yet.

New York Scrambles To Replace US Government’s Faulty Coronavirus Test Kits (R.)

New York health officials are trying to get their own coronavirus testing kits up and running after getting stuck with faulty tests from the federal government that they said left them unable to diagnose people quickly in the nation’s most populous city. New York state’s Department of Health filed an emergency application on Friday with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be allowed to use a testing kit for the new coronavirus it has developed in-state, according to an official involved in the process. “Upon FDA approval, which we believe is imminent, New York State’s public health laboratory, the Wadsworth Center, can immediately begin testing,” Jonah Bruno, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Health, wrote in an email.

Public health officials say the ability to test locally and get results within hours will be critical to a rapid response to the fast-spreading virus that originated in China, causing a sometimes fatal respiratory illness, and has spread to 46 countries. The weeks-long struggle to expand local testing has been criticized as an early misstep in the response by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to the outbreak. Three weeks ago, the FDA gave the green light for state and local labs to start using a testing kit developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But most labs that received the kits complained they had faulty components and produced inconclusive results, which the CDC later acknowledged.

[..] The CDC kits were meant to work by comparing a sample swabbed from a patient’s nose or mouth against three distinctive stretches of the virus’ genetic material, which are in small tubes labeled N1, N2 and N3. Most labs only had issues with the kit’s third component, N3. After reviewing their data, the FDA and CDC told labs this week that the tests would work fine if they only looked for the N1 and N2 bits of the virus, ignoring the faulty N3 component. But in New York, both the state lab and the New York City lab said that in their kits the N1 component was also flawed, and that the workaround proposed by the CDC and FDA was of no use.

Read more …

US sanctions kept Iran from buying the same faulty test kits that New York is using?!

US Sanctions on Iran Helped Coronavirus Spread Undetected (NI)

The Trump administration is partially reversing course on economic sanctions that have slowed down Iran from importing coronavirus test kits as the country faces down the most deadly COVID-19 outbreak outside of East Asia. Iranian authorities have confirmed 388 cases of the new coronavirus disease as of Friday afternoon. U.S. sanctions, the Iranian government’s record of dishonesty, and the elusive nature of the virus itself have made it difficult to understand the true extent of the epidemic. The U.S. Treasury announced on Thursday morning that it was lifting some terrorism-related sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, which re-opens a channel for humanitarian trade that had been closed since September 2019. The announcement does not lift the restrictions on humanitarian trade with other Iranian banks under terrorism-related sanctions.

Iran’s healthcare sector has blamed the banking sanctions for a lack of testing equipment to diagnose COVID-19. Thirty-four people have reportedly died from the virus in Iran, suggesting a large number of undiagnosed cases of COVID-19, which scientists believe has a two percent mortality rate. In fact, independent researchers estimate that eighteen thousand Iranians may have been infected already. “Several international companies are ready to ship the coronavirus diagnosis kit to Iran, but we cannot pay them,” said Ramin Fallah, vice president of the Iranian Union of Importers of Medical Equipment, in a Monday interview with Iranian media. “They also insist that the money should only be sent through banks. Although there are ways to get around [sanctions], it is time-consuming.”

[..] Iranian authorities have not inspired confidence in their current ability to deal with the outbreak transparently, either. [..] Officials have downplayed the extent of the outbreak even as the virus spreads within the government itself. Member of Parliament Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani claimed on Monday that fifty people had died in his home district of Qom alone, but Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi denied accusations of a coverup. On Tuesday, Harirchi announced that he had contracted COVID-19. Another lawmaker, Mahmoud Sadeghi, tested positive for the virus the same day. But President Hassan Rouhani continued to claim that the viral panic was worse than the virus itself, denouncing “foreign propaganda,” refusing to quarantine cities, and promising a return to normalcy.

By Wednesday, the tone in the Rouhani administration turned to panic as cabinet member Ma’soumeh Ebtekar was diagnosed with COVID-19 and retired Amb. Hadi Khosrowshahi suddenly died of the disease. The government proceeded to ban Chinese nationals from entering the country, canceled flights to India, halted religious pilgrimage groups, and canceled Friday prayers in major cities. Presidential advisor Hesameddin Ashena called for “taking the situation seriously” and “not politicizing the issue.”

Read more …

The Party was not amused.

Chinese Lab That First Shared Virus Genome Closed For ‘Rectification’ (SCMP)

The Shanghai laboratory where researchers published the world’s first genome sequence of the deadly coronavirus that causes Covid-19 has been shut down. The laboratory at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre was ordered to close for “rectification” on January 12, a day after Professor Zhang Yongzhen’s team published the genome sequence on open platforms. It closed temporarily the following day. The release of the data helped researchers develop test kits for the virus. “The centre was not given any specific reasons why the laboratory was closed for rectification. [We have submitted] four reports [asking for permission] to reopen but we have not received any replies,” a source with the centre said, requesting anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

“The closure has greatly affected the scientists and their research when they should be racing against the clock to find the means to help put the novel coronavirus outbreak under control,” the source said. The laboratory is a Level 3 biosafety facility, the second-highest level, and passed an annual inspection by the China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment on January 5. It also obtained the required credentials to conduct research on the coronavirus on January 24. It was not clear whether the closure was related to the publishing of the sequencing data before the authorities. China’s National Health Commission announced hours after the release by Zhang’s team that it would share the genome sequence with the World Health Organisation. It later emerged that the information had been sent through the officially designated Wuhan Institute of Virology.

[..] Zhang’s team isolated and finished the genome sequence of the then-unknown virus on January 5, two days before China’s official announcement that mysterious pneumonia cases in Wuhan were caused by a hitherto unknown coronavirus.
The Shanghai centre reported its discovery to the National Health Commission on the same day and recommended “relevant prevention and control measures” be taken in public places, because the patient from whom the sample was collected had suffered very severe symptoms and the virus resembled a group previously found in bats. The team made the finding public on January 11 after it saw that the authorities had taken no obvious action to warn the public about the coronavirus.

The findings by Zhang’s team were published in the scientific journal Nature on February 3. The research said the virus sample was collected from a patient who showed symptoms of fever, dizziness and coughing and was admitted to a Wuhan hospital on December 26. The Shanghai centre has a long-term cooperation relationship with Wuhan Central Hospital. The patient was identified as a 41-year-old male vendor who worked at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan, which was believed to be a key link of infections at the early stage of the outbreak. The lab’s closure not only affected Zhang’s research but also studies by other scientists since it is an open facility, according to another researcher with knowledge of the matter.

Read more …

“Australia’s group of state and federal medical officers, convening daily, usually by phone hook-up, is the peak point of the pure medical advice, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC). No politicians sit in on their meetings.

Australia Defied WHO On Coronavirus (SMH)

Countries have shut down some of the institutions they hold dearest. Japan has closed all schools. Saudi Arabia has halted pilgrimages to Mecca. And the Chinese government has postponed indefinitely its two big annual political assemblies. Australia’s group of state and federal medical officers, convening daily, usually by phone hook-up, is the peak point of the pure medical advice, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC). No politicians sit in on their meetings.

[..] The medical officers’ “pandemic” call was a big moment. For a start, they were way ahead of the UN body that is supposedly the lead global agency on international health emergencies, the Geneva-based World Health Organisation. Why were the Australians ahead of the world? For a very simple reason. They don’t trust the WHO. The information from multiple international sources is that the WHO is under intense pressure from the Chinese government, and succumbing to it. The Australian Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, told the NSC that it was medically inexplicable that the WHO hadn’t already declared a global pandemic. It’s politics, in other words.

That’s why Australia had earlier forged ahead of the WHO in declaring the China travel ban, on February 1. It was, again, on the unanimous advice of the AHPPC. The travel ban was decided immediately after the US made the same call. Beijing instantly lashed both the US and Australia on that occasion – the Chinese Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, People’s Daily, calling it “racist”. But, of course, that decision now looks very wise, more so with each passing day. The WHO followed suit 10 days later. When Morrison announced the China travel ban four weeks ago, there were about 7000 infections disclosed by Beijing. By Thursday this week that number had ballooned to 78,000. The number of countries announcing travel bans has grown proportionately, and mostly they have acted too late.

In any case, the political manipulation of the WHO is nothing novel. It was slow to declare HIV-AIDS to be a pandemic in the 1980s because of intense political pressure. Then it was pressure from the US. Now it’s from China. Either way, the politics trumps the medical advice. So this week the AHPPC didn’t hesitate to act ahead of the Geneva-based outfit. And when the medical officers’ advice went to federal health minister, Greg Hunt, and to Morrison, they didn’t hesitate, either. Morrison convened a three-hour meeting of the National Security Committee of cabinet on Thursday morning. They discussed the unfolding evidence, reviewed the state of medical preparations, and made three key decisions.

[..] The Australian system for dealing with communicable diseases is less prone to politics. Morrison hid from the bushfires; he had no such option on the coronavirus. The Chief Medical Officer, Murphy, does not need the government’s permission to invoke the Biosecurity Act. He informed Health Minister Greg Hunt on January 20 that he was triggering the act, automatically setting in train a pre-ordained process of monitoring and advice. Hunt encouraged Murphy and the AHPPC to give the government the full, frank and unvarnished medical advice without any view to politics. And so far, Morrison and his NSC have respected the medical advice.

Read more …

One of multiple “hopeful” vaccine stories yesterday.

I said yesterday: “Note: they’re ‘adapting’ a vaccine (against an avian virus), not developing a new one”, and “Note 3: I’m not sure it’s the antibodies that do the harm nor that it’s the virus that uses them. The problem I think is a “cytokine storm”, in which the immune system causes the overproduction of immune cells (and their activating compounds – called cytokines), which then attack the host body.”

Israeli Scientists Claim To Be Weeks Away From Coronavirus Vaccine (NYPost)

Israeli researchers scrambling to develop a coronavirus vaccine say it could be ready in just three weeks – and available for use within 90 days, according to reports. The scientists at the Galilee Research Institute, known as MIGAL, are adapting its vaccine against the avian coronavirus infectious bronchitis virus, or IBV, to work for the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, the Jerusalem Post reported. “Congratulations to MIGAL on this exciting breakthrough. I am confident that there will be further rapid progress, enabling us to provide a needed response to the grave global COVID-19 threat,” said Ofir Akunis, Israel’s minister of science and technology.

The independent research institute, which specializes in the fields of biotechnology, environmental sciences and agriculture, says on its website that its team “includes 80 PhDs and a total of 260 researchers distributed into 53 labs that are managed by seasoned senior group leaders.” Its vaccine for IBV, a bronchial illness that affects poultry, has already been proven in preclinical trials conducted at Israel’s Veterinary Institute, according to the news outlet. “Our basic concept was to develop the technology and not specifically a vaccine for this kind or that kind of virus,” said Dr. Chen Katz, MIGAL’s biotech group chief.

“The scientific framework for the vaccine is based on a new protein expression vector, which forms and secretes a chimeric soluble protein that delivers the viral antigen into mucosal tissues by self-activated endocytosis, causing the body to form antibodies against the virus,” he added.

Read more …

Children and caretakers.

A Big Coronavirus Mystery: What About The Children? (Harvard)

GAZETTE: You’ve been quoted you as saying you expect between 40 percent and 70 percent of humanity to be infected with this virus within a year. Is that still the case?

LIPSITCH: It is, but an important qualifier is that I expect 40 to 70 percent of adults to be infected. We just don’t understand whether children are getting infected at low rates or just not showing very strong symptoms. So I don’t want to make assumptions about children until we know more. That number also assumes that we don’t put in place effective, long-term countermeasures, like social distancing for months at a time which, I think, is a fair assumption. It may be that a few places like China can sustain it, but even China is beginning to let up.

GAZETTE: You mentioned children having been hit only lightly by this. What about other parts of the population? What do we know about the impact of this from a demographic standpoint?

LIPSITCH: It’s definitely the case that the older you are, the more at risk of getting infected you are and, if you get symptomatic infection, the more at risk of dying you are. Men also seem to be overrepresented among those getting severe illness. The reasons why are a really important research question. One thing that also needs to be looked at is the impact on health-care workers because they are at high risk of getting infected, and I would like to know whether they’re at higher risk of getting severe infection. Some of the anecdotal cases of young physicians dying make me wonder whether they’re exposed to a higher dose and that’s making them sicker.

[..] GAZETTE: What’s the most important unanswered question to your mind?

LIPSITCH: One of the most important unanswered questions is what role do children play in transmission? The go-to intervention in flu pandemic planning is closing schools, and that may be very effective or it may be totally ineffective. It’s a costly and disruptive thing to do, especially in the United States, because many people rely on school breakfast and lunch for nutrition. So we really need evidence that closing schools would help. We need detailed studies in households of children who are exposed to an infected person. We need to find out if the children get infected, if they shed virus, and if that virus is infectious.

Read more …

Michael Pettis tweets: “I understand that Chinese agriculture will be badly affected by Covid-19, and so I am not surprised that China will go ahead with planned agricultural imports. In fact I suspect they’ll actually increase them.”

China Will Meet US Trade Deal Ag Demands, But May Invoke Force Majeure (SCMP)

China will “definitely” honour its agricultural purchase commitments as part of its phase one trade deal signed with the United States in January, despite the coronavirus epidemic, a former senior Chinese government official said on Friday. Wei Jianguo, a former deputy minister responsible for foreign trade at the Ministry of Commerce, told a press conference organised by the government in Beijing that China was fully committed to the deal. However, the coronavirus outbreak that followed the signing of the deal in Washington may mean China has to invoke a force majeure clause in the trade deal with regard other planned purchases, “if some parts fail to happen”, Wei said, adding that Beijing will redouble its efforts to implement the deal “once the coronavirus epidemic is over”.


“China is fully able to complete the agreed amount of agricultural product imports [from the US],” Wei said, without mentioning purchases of non-agricultural products, such as manufactured goods and energy. Wei’s comments mark the first on-the-record confirmation from Beijing insiders that China has no plan to walk away from the trade deal because of the coronavirus epidemic, which has caused huge damage to its economy. It is also the latest suggestion, however, that China may look to a clause in the deal which states that both parties will enter consultations if “a natural disaster or other unforeseeable event outside the control of the parties delays a party from timely complying with its obligations”.

Read more …

How to sneakily invoke the idea that it’ll all soon be over.

China’s Consumers Will Not Rescue Economy When Outbreak Is Over (SCMP)

Around a third of Chinese consumers will not increase spending once the outbreak of coronavirus has been brought under control, a private survey has shown, challenging Beijing’s hope that consumer expenditure will quickly rebound to cover losses suffered amid the epidemic. China has repeatedly said that the impact of the coronavirus, which has infected over 78,000 people and killed over 2,700 in China alone, will be short-lived and that it is still on track to achieve its economic development goals in 2020. However, according to the online survey conducted by Rong360.com, a Beijing-based firm providing financial and credit information and products, 31.4 per cent of respondents said they would not increase consumer spending.


More importantly, nearly two thirds, or 64.4 per cent, said they would be more “restrained” in spending in the long term, while another 12.6 per cent said they would cut spending, with only 11 per cent saying they would increase expenditure. The remaining 12 per cent said they would keep their lifestyle unchanged. Spending on travel, pets, gifts and accessories would be among the first items to be cut, with around 30 per cent of the 1,000 respondents to the survey, which was conducted between February 11-17, saying they would reduce travel and entertainment. For short-term spending, 68.6 per cent of respondents said they would increase expenditure after the epidemic, especially on entertainment, cosmetics, catering, movies, massages, fitness and sportswear.

Read more …

And soon, so will Europe and America.

Southeast Asian Supply Chains Feel The Squeeze From Covid-19 (SCMP)

As countries brace themselves for the full economic impact of the virus, one country has its eye on the future. Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said the country had a two-pronged line of attack for dealing with the virus: a US$4.7 billion war chest to help companies and individuals through the economic storm, and a plan to ensure the city state would be first out of the gate towards full recovery. The plan involved having Singapore businesses re-examine their labour and material supply chains to “make sure that we’re never held to ransom by a single source or a single market”, Chan said at a meeting with business leaders on Wednesday. Singapore learned a similar lesson in 2007, when the construction sector – then reliant on Indonesia for 90 per cent of its sand – nearly came to a standstill after Indonesia banned sand exports to the republic.

With a new train line and the two integrated resorts in the works, the government released its national stockpile of sand to the market and bore 75 per cent of the price hike of sand for public projects. Since then, the government has made it mandatory for the sector to diversify its sources of sand. Chan said at the business meeting that the Singapore government wanted to delve deeper and examine where the suppliers of Singapore businesses got their raw material from. “We’re not just talking about the first layer of the supply chain, we’re even going into the second, third layer to look at where the components form that supply chain in order for us to have a really resilient supply chain for our respective businesses,” said Chan.

“If the supply chain breaks, even if it’s the smallest part, it disrupts the entire supply chain.” What is unclear is how much countries really can diversify their sourcing, given that China is the top supplier of intermediate goods for many countries. China’s size, broad-based supply chain, and infrastructure provisions made it an “unmissable market for most”, said Wiranto. Half of Vietnam’s imports come from China, Korea and Japan; almost half of Korea’s come from China, Japan and the United States; while over 20 per cent of Malaysia’s imports are from China. Raw materials aside, there is also a fear that the rapid spread of the coronavirus outside China will affect other supply chains. “Businesses might be looking at alternatives from Vietnam, but as the virus becomes more global over recent days, even supply chains which they thought are safe from interruptions could be disrupted,” said Song, the CIMB economist.

Read more …

Turkey’s actions threaten Greece. For now, neither NATO or the EU have taken Ankara’s side, but…

No More Kid Gloves (K.)

Facts on the ground change rapidly. Turkey’s President has been trapped in a huge quagmire exclusively of his own making. His embroiling Turkey in adventures abroad has turned into a boomerang. For the first time, his handling of the situation is openly questioned in Ankara itself. He seems to have no exit strategy. With his barefaced move to send crowds of migrants and refugees to the border with Greece, Erdogan has handed us a great diplomatic gift. Europeans finally understand that they have to deal with an unpredictable unreasonableness. But they are still groping for a response. Like the United States, they are afraid to “lose” Turkey, which, in turn, plays the usual haggling game with Moscow, Washington and Brussels, only this time with a strong dose of desperation.

How about Greece? The government is doing the right thing. It reminds Europe where its responsibilities lie and also shows that it will no longer be “business as usual.” National, and not political, reasons necessitate a different approach in dealing with the problem. When you face open blackmail and the open, undisguised use of the migration/refugee issue as a means to an end, you can no longer handle it with kid gloves. Some will take exception to this and recommend patience. The drama of the refugees is unspeakable, but no country should bear the burden alone. Especially a country bruised by a great crisis and which bears no responsibility for what has happened in Syria. Northern Europeans should grasp the gravity of the situation and stop facing the issue from the coziness of their sofas.

One last thing: this crisis is at its very beginning and could transmute into something else. Erdogan under pressure, including pressure from nationalists, can become even more unpredictable. A national consensus is imperative! It makes no sense to debate who is responsible for which things. The situation is critical.

Read more …

And Trump is right.

Barr Is Wrong On FISA Reforms (Turley)

Attorney General Bill Barr appears on a collision course with President Donald Trump over reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Civil libertarians like Sen Rand Paul (R., Tenn.) are pushing for reforms in light of the abuses uncovered from the Russian investigation. Despite my respect and friendship for Barr, he is wrong in my view and the President should push forward with the reforms. When President Trump declared “Now is our chance to fix it,” he is absolutely correct. Sen. Paul has indicated that the President is onboard with reforms, tweeing “Good talk with @realdonaldTrump yesterday and I’m pleased he is urging FISA reform NOW – and not a reauthorization of the current Patriot Act.”

I have long respected Sen. Paul’s fight for such reforms and I have been a long critic of FISA since I first went into that “court” as a young intern with the National Security Agency in the Reagan Administration. Such legislative reforms are even more pressing given the FISA court’s baffling decision to appoint a defender of the abusive use of the court as its “reformer.” Paul is pushing for limits on how the court can be used against Americans. They include modest limitations that would still allow robust surveillance, including mandatory and random audits of FISA applications by the Inspector General, ending the Call Detail Records program, mandatory disclosure of exculpatory evidence in FISA applications, and appointing amici in all “sensitive investigative matters” with access to all FISA court documents.

This includes dealing directly and honestly with the status of the controversial records program under Section 215, that gathers metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls. I am leery of efforts to again kick this can down the road with temporary extensions of existing authority. The FISA court was designed to circumvent the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of probable cause of a crime — using the term but making it little more than probable cause to suspect someone is working for a foreign power. That is why applications for surveillance are uniformly approved. The court has little real basis to deny such applications.

Read more …

Superdelegates revisited.

The Public Doesn’t Really Decide The Nominee (Turley)

As we have been discussing, establishment figures in the Democratic party and the media have been preparing to block any nomination of Bernie Sanders, including using the “superdelegates” to hand the nomination to another candidate. The New York Times reported Thursday that the Democratic establishment was preparing for open warfare over blocking Sanders, even if it shatters the unity of the party. If Sanders does not receive the necessary votes, they intend to take away the nomination even if he has the most votes in the first round. The key again are the superdelegates who are not elected in the primaries but given votes as elected officials. On MSNBC, former Obama adviser Anton J. Gunn was particularly blunt. He declared “The party decides its nominee. The public doesn’t really decide the nominee.”

In 2016, many of us objected to the concerted effect of the Democratic establishment and the Democratic National Committee to rig the primary for Hillary Clinton. Later it was revealed that the Clintons have largely taken over the DNC by taking over its debt and the DNC openly harassed and hampered Sanders at every stage. Despite this effort, Sanders came close to beating Clinton, who has never forgiven him for contesting a primary that she literally bought and paid for with the DNC. The simmering rage was still evident in Clinton’s attack on Sanders and suggestion that she might not support him if he were the nominee (a suggestion that she later took back). Well the supers are back and Sanders may again find that it is the party elite, not the voters, who determine who will be the next nominee.

The irony is that the elite hardly has an inspiring record. In 2016, every poll showed that voters did not want an establishment figure so the establishment rigged the process for the ultimate establishment figure. Clinton lost to the most unpopular Republican candidate in history. I remain convinced that Sanders could have won that election, a position recently suggested by Michael Bloomberg. Yet, the same people that gave us the Clinton nomination will be working their magic again at the Democratic Convention. What is fascinating is that the establishment would prefer to risk the election by alienating the huge young following of Sanders rather than allow Sanders to be the nominee. If they give the nomination to another establishment figures like Biden or a billionaire like Bloomberg, the establishment would enrage millions of Sanders followers who could well stay home in 2020.

Read more …

Two claims: A) that Assange’s work is not political, and B) that nothing in the law applies even if it were.

The Only Questions That Should Matter In The Assange Extradition Battle (SMH)

Murray’s account contains some astonishing observations. On day one, he says, the US prosecutor, James Lewis QC, explicitly addressed his opening remarks “not to the court but to the media”. This is unprecedented. In this address, says Murray, Lewis explicitly denied that the espionage charges against Assange also threatened mainstream media like The Guardian and The New York Times. Later under questioning from the magistrate, Murray says, Lewis changed his mind and admitted that yes, they would be affected, but this part of his remarks was not offered to the media (who might well find such assertions alarming).


On day two, Assange’s defence, Edward Fitzgerald QC, said the prosecution must prove three things: that Assange had helped Manning decode a hash key necessary to hack classified material, that Assange had solicited the material from Manning and that he had knowingly put lives at risk. There is, said Fitzgerald, no evidence on any of these counts, some of which were disproved in Manning’s court-martial. And the prosecution has admitted it cannot prove harm. But even that is not the point. No one should be arguing the substantive case here. For now, the questions are; is this a political crime? Should Assange receive a fair trial? Does anyone believe he’ll get one in Trump’s America? And do we really think, given his poor health, he would survive prison there? The answers have to be yes, yes, no and, resoundingly, no.

Read more …

The hearing resumes only in March?!

“During Lewis’s presentation, he was interrupted by Judge Baraitser precisely once. During Fitzgerald’s reply, Baraitser interjected seventeen times.”

Your Man in the Public Gallery – Assange Hearing Day Four (Craig Murray)

Yesterday the prosecution continued its argument that the provision in the 2007 UK/US Extradition Treaty that bars extradition for political offences is a dead letter, and that Julian Assange’s objectives are not political in any event. James Lewis QC for the prosecution spoke for about an hour, and Edward Fitzgerald QC replied for the defence for about the same time. During Lewis’s presentation, he was interrupted by Judge Baraitser precisely once. During Fitzgerald’s reply, Baraitser interjected seventeen times. In the transcript, those interruptions will not look unreasonable: “Could you clarify that for me Mr Fitzgerald…” “So how do you cope with Mr Lewis’s point that…” “But surely that’s a circular argument… “But it’s not incorporated, is it?…”


All these and the other dozen interruptions were designed to appear to show the judge attempting to clarify the defence’s argument in a spirit of intellectual testing. But if you heard the tone of Baraitser’s voice, saw her body language and facial expressions, it was anything but. The false picture a transcript might give is exacerbated by the courtly Fitzgerald’s continually replying to each obvious harassment with “Thank you Madam, that is very helpful”, which again if you were there, plainly meant the opposite. But what a transcript will helpfully nevertheless show was the bully pulpit of Baraitser’s tactic in interrupting Fitzgerald again and again and again, belittling his points and very deliberately indeed preventing him from getting into the flow of his argument. The contrast in every way with her treatment of Lewis could not be more pronounced.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Feb 262020
 


‘Daly’ Somewhere in the South, possibly Miami 1941

 

First US Soldier Stationed In South Korea Tests Positive For Coronavirus (CNN)
China Outbreak Could Cause Critical Shortages Of Medical Products In US (CNN)
Larry Kudlow: US Has Contained Coronavirus, Economy Holding Up Nicely (CNBC)
Coronavirus Wipes Out $1.7 Trillion In US Stock Market Value In 2 Days (CNBC)
US Could See A Similar Death Rate To China If The Virus Spreads – Fauci (CNN)
Japan Now Aims to Limit, Not Prevent Virus Deaths (ZH)
UK Schools Close Doors Over Coronavirus Threat As NHS Steps Up Testing (Ind.)
EU Keeps Borders Open As Virus Spreads Across Continent (RT)
How The British Invented The Syrian “Opposition” (MEE)
Assange Tried To Call White House, Hillary Over Data Dump – Lawyer (R.)
Julian Assange Handcuffed 11 Times And Stripped Naked After 1st Court Day (G.)
US Mulled ‘Kidnapping, Poisoning, Killing’ Assange – Lawyer (RT)
Acting DNI Chief Grenell ‘Was Taking Orders’ From Trump On Assange Arrest (RT)
Thread For Day 2 Of Julian Assange’s Week-Long Extradition Hearing (Gosztola)
Trump’s Betrayal of Julian Assange (Ron Paul)

 

 

Cases 81,229 (+ 901 from yesterday’s 80,328).

Deaths 2,769 (+ 62 from yesterday’s 2,707)

 

• China has fewer deaths today, but many more new cases, + 901 from yesterday’s +621

• Japan gives up on defeating virus., moves to mitigation, With “only” 171 cases and one death.
– That does not include the Diamond Princess’s 691 cases and four deaths.
– Tokyo Olympics still supposedly on

• First US soldier stationed In South Korea tests positive, 18 South Korean soldiers infected

• One week ago 51 people were reported infected in South Korea. Today, there are 1,146. 169 new cases today.

• Italy 322 cases, 11 deaths. The new infections include three in southern Sicily, 1,200km from Milan
– one of the victims is just 4 years old

• EU borders stay open despite Italy cluster(s)

• Spain has 7 confirmed cases

• Taiwan 32 cases

• Thailand 40 cases

• Neighboring countries try to close borders with Iran

• Brazil reports first case in South America

• Large international gatherings in Vatican for Ash Wednesday

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From Worldometer (Note: mortality rate is down to 8%)

 

 

 

 

This is the military. They live in barracks. All you need to know.18 South Korean soldiers infected

First US Soldier Stationed In South Korea Tests Positive For Coronavirus (CNN)

Public health officials warned Wednesday that the spread of the novel coronavirus is inching closer toward meeting the definition of a global pandemic, as the number of cases outside mainland China continues to grow, including in South Korea where a US soldier has tested positive for the virus. [..] a top official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the United States could see the virus spread within its borders. “Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

South Korean authorities are attempting to contain an outbreak that has gone from just 51 people infected last week to at least 1,146 as of Wednesday. The outbreak began in the southern city of Daegu and was centered around the Shincheonji religious group, but the virus appears to have spread now beyond practitioners. Eighteen South Korean soldiers have been confirmed infected, and the country’s defense ministry has placed significant restrictions on soldiers leaving their bases due to fears surrounding the virus. On Wednesday, it was announced that a US service member stationed in South Korea tested positive for the virus, according to US Forces Korea statement.

The soldier, who is stationed at Camp Carroll which is approximately 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from the city of Daegu, is the first US service member to test positive for the novel coronavirus. “The patient, a 23-year old male, is currently in self quarantine at his off-base residence. He visited Camp Walker on 24 February and Camp Carroll 21-25 February. KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the statement said. The virus’ spread also prompted South Korea and the United States to scale back joint military drills, according to three US officials.

The three officials said this would be the first major impact of coronavirus on US military readiness, according to the officials. Without the full exercise, the US could lose ground in being able to quickly conduct future operations in a coordinated and highly synchronized manner with South Korea against North Korea in the event of a crisis, one of the officials said.

Read more …

Pretty much a sure thing by now. Question is how bad it will get.

China Outbreak Could Cause Critical Shortages Of Medical Products In US (CNN)

No drug manufacturers have reported that they anticipate shortages of particular drugs due to the novel coronavirus, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, but the agency and experts in the pharmaceutical industry are paying close attention to the potential challenges the virus might pose. “FDA is keenly aware that the outbreak will likely affect the medical product supply chain, including potential disruptions to suppliers [and] shortages of critical medical products in the US,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told reporters Tuesday. The US relies heavily on Chinese-made medical devices, drug ingredients and drugs for humans and animals, and, with heavy Chinese investment in the industry in recent years, its share of the global market has steadily grown.


As of 2018, China ranked second among countries that exported drugs and biologics to the United States, and first for medical devices, according to the FDA. The FDA said Monday it has been in touch with 180 drug manufacturers to remind them of their regulatory obligation to notify the FDA if they do anticipate any disruption in drugs supplies. The agency asked companies to evaluate their supply chain in light of the coronavirus outbreak and what potential challenge the virus may pose to the global drug supply, the agency said. The FDA said it has identified about 20 drugs that either solely source their active pharmaceutical ingredients or produce finished drug products from or in China.

Read more …

Oh Larry, why say such things when you don’t have to?

Larry Kudlow: US Has Contained Coronavirus, Economy Holding Up Nicely (CNBC)

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow tried on Tuesday to assuage concerns over the cornavirus and its impact on the U.S. economy. “We have contained this. I won’t say [it’s] airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow told CNBC’s Kelly Evans on “The Exchange.” He added that, while the outbreak is a “human tragedy,” it will likely not be an “economic tragedy.” “There will be some stumbles. We’re looking at numbers; it’s a little iffy,” Kudlow said. “But at the moment … there’s no supply disruptions out there yet.” Kudlow’s comments came as the stock market tanked for a second straight day amid worries that the coronavirus outbreak would lead to a prolonged global economic slowdown.


The Dow Jones Industrial Average was more than 700 points lower Tuesday, down 2.7%. On Monday, the 30-stock average had its worst day in two years, dropping more than 1,000 points. Investors dumped equities in favor of U.S. Treasurys, which are traditionally seen as a safe haven during volatile stretches for the stock market. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield dropped to 1.32% to reach an all-time low. The 30-year also traded at a record low. Yields move inversely to prices. Still, Kudlow said the U.S. is “holding up nicely,” adding, “All I can do is look at the numbers.”

Read more …

European markets are falling again today. US futures down as well.

Coronavirus Wipes Out $1.7 Trillion In US Stock Market Value In 2 Days (CNBC)

The S&P 500 just wiped out about $1.737 trillion of its value during its two-day market sell-off, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. The equity benchmark lost $810 billion in value on Tuesday, adding to its $927 billion loss on Monday, according to the firm s Senior Index Analyst Howard Silverblatt. It s down $2.138 trillion since last Wednesday s high, according to S&P Dow Jones. Stocks cratered again on Tuesday as investors fled riskier assets amid intense fears about a slowdown in global growth caused by the deadly coronavirus. The S&P 5002 s two-day loss of 6.3% was the largest for the benchmark since August 2015, when the Chinese government devalued the yuan amid the U.S.-China trade war. Tuesday’s 900 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average added to Monday’s stunning 1,000 point plunge.


The Nasdaq Composite fell 2.8% on Tuesday and joined the S&P 500 and Dow in turning negative for the year. Bond yields also plunged as investor sought safer havens. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to a record low of 1.32%. The spreading deadly virus, that has infected more than 80,000 and killed more than 2,700, has sent shock waves through the markets. Companies like Apple, Nike, United Airlines and Mastercard have all raised flags about the coronavirus and its impact on their earnings. Chip stocks, which rely heavily on revenues from China, are being abandoned by Wall Street as it becomes more apparent supply chain disruption will persist until the epidemic is contained.

Read more …

Anthony Fauci is director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Wonder if he means the real or the “official” rate.

US Could See A Similar Death Rate To China If The Virus Spreads – Fauci (CNN)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN the US needed more resources to fight the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected 53 people in the US. “We’ve had a pandemic preparedness plan that we really developed in preparation for pandemic influenza, that we can extrapolate to this. We certainly need more resources, and that’s what you heard today with the supplemental request. Because we can only go a certain way with the resources we have,” Fauci said.


Death rate: Fauci added that the fatality rate of the outbreak could reach the same levels in the US as in China because there is no vaccine or cure available. “I mean, the people who are dying who require intensive care, for example in an intensive care unit – maybe even intubation for respiratory assistance in breathing – the Chinese have that. They have a pretty good system, and yet you’re still seeing the 2% mortality. So it isn’t a question of, ‘they don’t have as good care as we have.’ So if, in fact, we do get a pandemic that does impact us in this country, I think you’re going to see comparable types of morbidity and mortality,” he said.

Read more …

I think this is a milestone. Japan admits they can’t handle it. With just 171 cases and one death. That, admittedly, does not include the Diamond Princess’s 691 cases and four deaths.

Japan Now Aims to Limit, Not Prevent Virus Deaths (ZH)

Overwhelmed by a flurry of ‘unsolved’ cases (that is, cases with no obvious connection to the outbreak in China, or anywhere else), Japanese health authorities announced on Tuesday a new plan intended to focus the country’s precious medical resources on the most serious cases, while advising those with mild symptoms to treat themselves at home. The approach differs markedly from the heavy handed tactics employed by Beijing, which at its peak had 760 million – roughly half the country – under some form of lockdown restriction. According to the Washington Post, the “basic premise” of the Japanese plan is that the virus can’t be stopped. That’s right: The Japanese are essentially acknowledging that the thesis proposed by Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch – ie that 70% of the world’s population might someday contract the virus – has at least some legitimacy.


Japan has at least 160 confirmed cases of the virus outside the ~700 people who caught it aboard the ‘Diamond Princess’. Japanese health officials claim that a large-scale outbreak hasn’t taken hold; rather, small clusters of the disease have broken out around the country. One senior advisor who spoke with WaPo put it the starkest of terms: We can’t stop it, so the best we can do is keep the body count as low as possible. “We shouldn’t have illusions,” said Shigeru Omi, a senior government adviser. “We can’t stop this, but we can try to reduce the speed of expansion and reduce mortality.” In keeping with this maxim, hospital space will be reserved for patients with the most serious symptoms, while those with simple colds and fevers have been asked to rest at home. They’re only to contact health authorities if a fever persists for four days. Or two for the elderly, people with chronic diseases or pregnant women .

Read more …

In certain areas.

UK Schools Close Doors Over Coronavirus Threat As NHS Steps Up Testing (Ind.)

Schools across the UK have closed their doors to students at risk of coronavirus while all patients are to be routinely tested for the disease in a dramatic escalation of screening by health officials Cransley School in Cheshire and Trinity Catholic College in Teeside have both closed while Brine Leas School in Cheshire has shut its sixth form unit after pupils and staff returned from a ski trip in the Lombardy region of Italy, which has been badly hit by coronavirus. Elsewhere at least 10 schools in Cornwall, Yorkshire, Pembrokeshire, Guernsey, Co Antrim, Co Derry and Co Down have sent pupils home to self-quarantine after returning from similar trips.

It comes as England’s top doctor warned the UK could be forced to quarantine families and reduce transport if the virus becomes a global pandemic. NHS bosses have also expressed concerns about the impact any surge in cases could have on an already under pressure health system. Public Health England said flu patients in intensive care units and respiratory wards at eight NHS hospitals would be tested for coronavirus as well as at 100 primary care centre such as GP surgeries. Up to now tests have only been carried out on those suspected of being infected but this new regime is designed to identify whether the virus, which originated in China, is spreading throughout the country without being detected.

PHE said it did not believe this was currently happening but widening the testing would allow it to spot any circulation and act immediately to prevent it spreading further. Medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle said this was about taking a “belt-and-braces approach”, adding: “There is no change in risk for the public but taking this preparatory step now will enable us to better detect and contain the spread of the virus.”

Read more …

To keep the EU idea alive. And the economy.

EU Keeps Borders Open As Virus Spreads Across Continent (RT)

Italy’s health minister has said that neighboring countries will not close their borders, amid an outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus. It comes as Rome confirmed 11 people dead in the epidemic, with hundreds infected. “We agreed to keep borders open, closing borders would be a disproportionate and ineffective measure at this time,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters in Rome on Tuesday. Four more people infected with the deadly virus died in northern Italy on Tuesday, bringing the death toll in the Mediterranean country to 11. Three of the dead were in their eighties and came from Lombardy, the worst affected region of Italy, Civil Protection agency chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters. The fourth was from the Veneto region.

Alongside the three fatalities, Italian authorities confirmed more than 90 new cases of the illness on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in Italy to 322. Nearly a dozen towns have been quarantined across the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto, and supplies across the north have run low. Public events have been cancelled, and panicked shoppers have stripped supermarket shelves of provisions. Though Speranza insisted that Italy’s international borders will remain open, the disease has already begun to spread into mainland Europe. A hotel in Spain’s Canary Islands remains locked down after a guest and his wife were found to be infected, and mainland Spain reported its first case – an Italian woman living in Barcelona – on Tuesday.

Since then, another two people have been diagnosed with the virus in mainland Spain – a man from the city of Villarreal in the east of the country and a 24-year-old man in Madrid who travelled to Italy. This brings the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain to 7. Before that, a German tourist and a British man tested positive for the virus on the Canary Islands and in Mallorca, respectively, but both have since been discharged from hospital.

Read more …

What Putin is up against.

How The British Invented The Syrian “Opposition” (MEE)

The British government covertly established a network of citizen journalists across Syria during the early years of the country’s civil war in an attempt to shape perceptions of the conflict, frequently recruiting people who were unaware that they were being directed from London. A number of leaked documents seen by Middle East Eye show how the propaganda initiative began in 2012 and gathered pace the following year, shortly after the UK parliament refused to authorise British military action in Syria. Drawing upon British, American and Canadian funding, UK government contractors set up offices in Istanbul and Amman, where they hired members of the Syrian diaspora, who in turn recruited citizen journalists inside Syria.

These journalists, many of them young, were commissioned to produce TV footage, radio programmes, social media, posters, magazines and even children’s comics. While many Syrians turned spontaneously to media activism from the start of the war, the documents describe the way in which the British government sought to guide some of their output, seeing citizen journalism as a way of covertly influencing Syrian audiences. The papers also make clear that those people who were recruited were often unaware that they were part of a British propaganda initiative.

Read more …

The Guardian denies everything. It even claims: “The Guardian has made clear it is opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange.” The paper that published a fully fake piece on Manafort repeatedly visiting Assange, without ever retracting it. Their people knew exactly what they did, and forced Assange into late night redacting of names. Now HE stabns accused of what THEY did.

Assange Tried To Call White House, Hillary Over Data Dump – Lawyer (R.)

Julian Assange tried to contact Hillary Clinton and the White House when he realised that unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables given to WikiLeaks were about to be dumped on the internet, his lawyer told his London extradition hearing on Tuesday. On Monday, the lawyer representing the United States told the hearing that Assange, 48, was wanted for crimes that had endangered people in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan who had helped the West, some of whom later disappeared. U.S. authorities say his actions in recklessly publishing unredacted classified diplomatic cables put informants, dissidents, journalists and human rights activists at risk of torture, abuse or death.

Outlining part of his defence, Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers said allegations that he had helped Manning to break a government password, had encouraged the theft of secret data and knowingly put lives in danger were “lies, lies and more lies”. He told London’s Woolwich Crown Court that WikiLeaks had received documents from Manning in April 2010. He then made a deal with a number of newspapers, including the New York Times, Britain’s Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel, to begin releasing redacted parts of the 250,000 cables in November that year. A witness from Der Spiegel said the U.S. State Department had been involved in suggesting redactions in conference calls, Summers said.

However, a password that allowed access to the full unredacted material was published in a book by Guardian reporters about WikiLeaks in February 2011. In August, another German newspaper reported it had discovered the password and it had access to the archive. A spokesman for The Guardian said the authors were told the password was temporary and the book contained no details about the whereabouts of the files. Summers said Assange attempted to warn the U.S. government, calling the White House and attempting to speak to then- Secretary of State Clinton, saying “unless we do something, people’s lives are put at risk”. Summers said the State Department had responded by suggesting that Assange call back “in a couple of hours”.

Read more …

Beyond shame.

Julian Assange Handcuffed 11 Times And Stripped Naked After 1st Court Day (G.)

Julian Assange was handcuffed 11 times, stripped naked twice and had his case files confiscated after the first day of his extradition hearing, according to his lawyers, who complained of interference in his ability to take part. Their appeal to the judge overseeing the trial at Woolwich crown court in south-east London was also supported by legal counsel for the US government, who said it was essential the WikiLeaks founder be given a fair trial. Edward Fitzgerald QC, acting for Assange, said the case files, which the prisoner was reading in court on Monday, were confiscated by guards when he returned to prison later that night and that he was put in five cells.


The judge, Vanessa Baraitser, replied that she did not have the legal power to comment or rule on Assange’s conditions but encouraged the defence team to formally raise the matter with the prison. The details emerged on the second day of Assange’s extradition hearing, during which his legal team denied that he had “knowingly placed lives at risk” by publishing unredacted US government files. The court was told Wikileaks had entered into a collaboration with the Guardian, El País, the New York Times and other media outlets to make redactions to 250,000 leaked cables secret cables in 2010 and publish them. Mark Summers, QC, claimed the unredacted files had been published because a password to this material had appeared in a Guardian book on the affair. “The gates got opened not by Assange or WikiLeaks but by another member of tha partnership,” he said.

Read more …

Make it look like an accident.

US Mulled ‘Kidnapping, Poisoning, Killing’ Assange – Lawyer (RT)

The US government plotted to kidnap or kill Julian Assange while he was holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a UK court was told yesterday during the WikiLeaks publisher’s extradition hearing. Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald told Judge Vanessa Baraitser that the US wanted to make the WikiLeaks founder’s death look like an accident and that US intelligence agencies worked with Spanish company UC Global to extensively spy on Assange inside the embassy. Fitzgerald claimed that recordings were collected every 14 days and handed over to US intelligence services. The surveillance even included footage of Assange meeting with his legal team, breaching attorney-client privilege, he said.

“There were conversations about whether there should be more extreme measures contemplated, such as kidnapping or poisoning Assange in the embassy,” Fitzgerald told the court. Assange’s lawyers have long-warned that kidnapping or extraordinary rendition could be on the table for Washington if the US could not get to him any other way. The source of the claim heard in court on Monday is a whistleblower known only as ‘witness two’, responsible for exposing UC Global owner David Morales and his role in the surveillance operation for “the dark side” — meaning the US government. The witness described the Americans as “desperate.”

One suggestion was that the embassy door could be left open, which could make a kidnapping look like an “accident.” There wasn’t as much information given about the poisoning claim. This was not the first time claims had been made that the US considered such extreme measures for dealing with Assange. In a 2019 presentation on the technical aspects of the surveillance operation, German hacker Andy Muller-Maguhn, who had visited Assange inside the embassy, claimed that kidnapping and poisoning were options for the US government and that all doors and windows in the embassy were documented so various options could be explored. The surveillance was so intense that bugs were even implanted in a fire extinguisher and in a bathroom that Assange used, he said.

Read more …

Cassandra to the rescue.

Acting DNI Chief Grenell ‘Was Taking Orders’ From Trump On Assange Arrest (RT)

A GOP operative, known as the Trump family ‘fixer,’ appears to have admitted in a recorded call that the new US spy chief acted on the president’s orders when he allegedly secured the arrest of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. The contents of the call between GOP operative Arthur Schwartz and journalist Cassandra Fairbanks – which could turn Julian Assange’s UK extradition trial upside down – were reported on Tuesday by several US media outlets citing nonprofit transparency group Property of the People. The recording itself was later released by Fairbanks on Twitter. In the call, dated September 2019, Schwartz pleads with Fairbanks to delete a September 10 tweet in which she says that Richard Grenell, then a controversial US envoy to Germany, “was the one who worked out the deal for Julian Assange’s arrest.”

Initially, Fairbanks refused to budge, arguing that her tweet was based on an ABC News report from last April alleging that Grenell was instrumental in persuading Ecuador to let British police into its London embassy, where Assange spent some seven years under political asylum. The report suggested that Grenell promised Quito that the US would not pursue the death penalty for the self-exiled publisher if it gave the go-ahead for the raid. Schwartz, however, insisted that Fairbanks must scrub the tweet, accusing her of publishing “classified information.” Schwartz, however, insisted that Fairbanks must scrub the tweet, accusing her of publishing “classified information.” Sounding increasingly frustrated with Fairbank’s unwillingness to pull the post, the Trump fixer says he could go to jail over the information he had apparently shared with her.

“Rick’s role is classified… You can’t do that… you are posting things that are classified, that no one knows, that has not been reported… I know what’s been reported, I see what you’re tweeting, what you’re tweeting is not what was reported. Someone’s going to go to jail. You need to stop this.” Fairbanks then reminded him that it is Assange who was imprisoned due to his work to expose US war crimes, but Schwartz only doubled down on his request. At the same time, Schwartz appears to confirm that Trump himself had pulled strings behind the covert diplomatic op to nab Assange, reportedly orchestrated by Grenell. “Please. I’m begging you… They look at you, they see that we speak, that’s bad. He’s [Grenell] is taking orders from the president. OK? So you’re going to punish me because he took orders from the president? I’m begging you, I’m begging you, please.”

https://twitter.com/CassandraRules/status/1232466714098466816

A source privy to the Assange defense team’s strategy told Politico the call would be only “one piece of the argument,” part of a larger trove of evidence to be unveiled in court on Wednesday. The materials are intended to prove that the request for the publisher’s extradition was based on a desire for vengeance, rather than on any legal basis. Schwartz himself attempted to dismiss the bombshell as a nothingburger, telling the outlet that he “highly doubts” he would have told the journalist anything of substance, describing her as “not someone that I trust.”

Read more …

Thread of Kevin Gosztola tweets from the courtroom.

Thread For Day 2 Of Julian Assange’s Week-Long Extradition Hearing (Gosztola)

Defense raises issue of alleged mistreatment of Assange. He was handcuffed 11 times, strip searched multiple times, and moved between cells yesterday. Judge is, once again, insisting no authority to do anything about it. “Powers are very limited in this respect.” Prosecutor won’t speak into the microphone. Keeps it off to the side, and we in the press annex cannot hear a word. #Assange Defense is going over what they claim are examples of Zakrzewski abuse, which means offenses in extradition request are false or outlined inaccurately as proffered by the prosecution #Assange Defense: “False allegation” “Provably wrong.”


That Assange enabled Manning to log on to secret network with databases of information known as SIPRnet Defense also says it is “provably false” that “Assange knowingly put people’s lives at risk.” He mentions this is what US argues to get around First Amendment issues implicated in “pure publication counts.” Defense: “The case has lies, lies, and more lies.” #Assange Defense refers to Chelsea Manning’s plea statement. This is the key statement she made about her disclosures, which prosecutors desperately want to undermine. This is part of why she was subpoenaed to appear before grand jury and is still in jail. #Assange

Read more …

No kidding: “The deep state Trump is serving by persecuting Assange is the same deep state that continues to plot Trump’s own ouster.”

Trump’s Betrayal of Julian Assange (Ron Paul)

Donald Trump upset the Washington apple cart as presidential candidate and in so doing he set elements of the deep state in motion against him. One of the things candidate Donald Trump did to paint a deep state target on his back was his repeated praise of Wikileaks, the pro-transparency media organization headed up by Australian journalist Julian Assange. More than 100 times candidate Trump said “I love Wikileaks” on the campaign trail. Trump loved it when Wikileaks exposed the criminality of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, as it cheated to deprive Bernie Sanders of the Democratic Party nomination. Wikileaks’ release of the DNC emails exposed the deep corruption at the heart of US politics, and as a candidate Trump loved the transparency. Then Trump got elected.

The real tragedy of the Trump presidency is nowhere better demonstrated than in Trump’s 180 degree turn away from Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. “I know nothing about Wikileaks,” he said as president. “It’s really not my thing.” US pressure and bribes to the Ecuadorian government ended Assange’s asylum and his seven years in a room at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. After his dramatic arrest by London’s Metropolitan Police last April, he has been effectively tortured in British jails at the behest of the US deep state. Today, Monday the 24th of February, Assange faces an extradition hearing in a UK courthouse. The Trump Administration – led by a man who praised Assange’s work – seeks a show trial of Assange worthy of the worst of the Soviet era. The US is seeking a 175 year prison sentence.

The Trump Administration argues that the Australian Assange should be tried and convicted of espionage against a country of which he is not a citizen. At the same time the Trump Administration argues that the First Amendment does not apply to Assange because he is not an American citizen! So Assange is subject to US law when it comes to publishing information embarrassing to the US deep state but he is not subject to the law of the land – the US Constitution – which protects all journalists and is the backbone of our system of government. It is ironic that a President Trump who has been victim of so much deep state meddling has done the deep state’s bidding when it comes to Assange and Wikileaks.

President Trump should preempt the inevitable US show trial of Assange by granting the journalist blanket pardon under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The deep state Trump is serving by persecuting Assange is the same deep state that continues to plot Trump’s own ouster. Free Assange!

Read more …

 

20 years of Pluto:

 

 

 

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Feb 232020
 


Jack Delano Spectators at annual barrel rolling contest in Presque Isle, Maine 1940

 

COVID19 Cases Outside China Go Exponential (ZH)
Millions Of Chinese Ordered Back To Work (Obs.)
China’s 92% Car Sales Collapse Sign Of Sharp Trade Decline To Come (SCMP)
Trump Furious Americans Infected With Coronavirus Flown Back To US (Fox)
18 Koreans Test Positive For COVID-19 After Israel Pilgrimage (KH)
US Says Russia Behind Coronavirus Disinformation Campaign (G.)
Roger Stone Deserves A New Trial (Turley)
Julian Assange, Lawyers Were Secretly Recorded In Ecuador Embassy (ABC.au)
Subprime Credit Card Delinquencies Spike to Record High, Past Financial-Crisis Peak (WS)
Trump Reportedly Calls John Bolton A ‘Traitor’ And Wants To Block His Book (G.)
Trump: ‘Congrats Bernie…Don’t Let Them Take It Away From You!’ (SAC)

 

 

Cases 78,866 (+ 938 from yesterday’s 77,928).

Deaths 2,464 (+ 102 from yesterday)

 

• Italy: Thursday 3 cases, Sunday 115 cases, 89 in Lombardy, declares “national emergency”;
second death reported, first case in Milan city; much of Northern Italy put on lockdown. Top-level soccer games cancelled.

• South Korea: total 556 cases (10x increase in 5 days), 123 new cases, 1 new death

• Iran: 29 cases 6 deaths

• US: 35 cases, 200 under observation in San Diego

• Japan: 750 cases, 634 from Diamond Princess, Others triple in a week to 121

• Cases outside China go exponential

• WHO team visits Wuhan; will give Monday press conference

• 18 Koreans test positive after Israel pilgrimage. Israel Ministry of Health expects to close borders for non-residents soon

• Worldometer mortality rate for closed cases (recovered/discharged or dead) is 10%

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From Worldometer (note: mortality rate for closed cases is still 10%!)

 

 

 

 

Big week to come. Given all the new clusters forming, outside of China, things don’t look particularly good. Inside China there are efforts to start moving people around again, to work. Very risky. Many of the clusters and cases outside of Hubei are relatively new, so infection hasn’t worked its worst there.

COVID19 Cases Outside China Go Exponential (ZH)

South Korea reported 229 new confirmed cases on Saturday, as the number of infections more than doubled in a day to 433, an eightfold jump in just four days. [..] the number of new cases in South Korea has now doubled each day for the past 4 days, a true exponential increase. South Korea’s fourth-largest city, is where the initial cluster of cases of emerged; it has since been designated a “special management zone.” The central government is channeling medical support to the zone with more staff, hospital beds and equipment. In Daegu, more than half of South Korea’s cases have been among members of a secretive religious sect who often crowd together in worship, and their relatives or contacts.

Another 111 are patients or staff members at the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, where the two South Koreans who have died of the virus had been admitted. It gets worse: more than 1,250 members of the sect, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, have reported potential symptoms, and officials are still trying to locate 700 members so they can be screened. “In accordance with law and principles, the government will sternly deal with acts that interfere with quarantine efforts, illegal hoarding of medical goods and acts that spark uneasiness through massive rallies,” Chung said, pointing out just how convenient the coronavirus will be when government seek to squash all future protests.

It gets even worse: Samsung, the world’s biggest smartphone maker, shut down a factory after a worker tested positive. The factory, located in the city of Gumi, about an hour north of Cheongdo, is expected to resume operations on Monday morning, Samsung said. But the floor of the factory where the patient has worked will be closed until Tuesday morning, it said. We wonder how long until it truly reopens. But the scariest development in the past 24 hours is that almost all patients at a psychiatric ward of a South Korean hospital tested positive for the coronavirus, with local reports saying members of the abovementioned Shincheonji Church of Jesus sect which has rapidly emerged as the single biggest cluster of new S. Korean cases, had attended a funeral in the same complex.

South Korea’s two confirmed deaths from the virus were also from the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo hospital’s mental health division, Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday. Both patients had been moved out of the psychiatric ward for medical treatment before their deaths, Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip said at a briefing. In other words, of the total 443 confirmed cases, more than half, or 231 were linked to Daegu, sect, while at least 111 – including four nurses – were from the psychiatric ward of the hospital in Cheongdo County. The two clusters account for almost 80% of the confirmed cases.

Read more …

Dumb understatement: “An influential Chinese economist has already warned that the coronavirus crisis could slice a full percentage point off growth this year”

Millions Of Chinese Ordered Back To Work (Obs.)

The Chinese authorities are trying to usher the country back to work, a month after announcing the unprecedented quarantine of millions of people. But they face a difficult balancing act between containing the virus and supporting a faltering economy. Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak, have been the focus of disease prevention efforts. over the last four weeks. As the death toll climbed to more than 2,000 worldwide, and infections to over 75,000, the vast majority of cases were still inside that quarantined zone. But the disease had spread far across the country before Hubei was sealed off, and some of the worst-affected places are the manufacturing and economic centres that power China’s economy.

Southern Guangdong province, just across from Hong Kong and home to international giants such as Apple supplier Foxconn, is the second-worst affected province after Hubei, with 1,339 cases of the coronavirus confirmed and five deaths. Eastern Zhejiang, near Shanghai, is the fourth most seriously hit, with 1,205 cases by , although only one death. It is also the base for companies including the hugely influential Alibaba, China’s answer to Amazon and eBay. Those total numbers of infections are far above the 639 cases registered across all of China on 23 January, when Hubei was put on sudden lockdown. The situations are not directly comparable; coronavirus had been spreading almost unchecked in Wuhan for weeks before the quarantine, and overwhelmed hospitals appear to have sent patients home, only to spread the disease.

Authorities in other areas started tracking cases much earlier and have better resources to isolate and treat those who fall sick, something reflected in a much lower death rate. The speed of the disease’s spread is perhaps not surprising given Wuhan’s position as a regional economic hub, with links to other key centres, and the fact that the coronavirus has proved contagious in the early days of infection when patients have few symptoms, making it hard to identify carriers as clusters spread. Yet China cannot afford for its factories to sit idle, or its restaurants and shops to stay empty indefinitely. Authorities were already worried about faltering growth after last year saw the slowest rate of expansion in almost three decades; GDP growth had not slid so low since 1990, when China was isolated in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

An influential Chinese economist has already warned that the coronavirus crisis could slice a full percentage point off growth this year. So authorities are trying to balance two unfathomable risks – of either fuelling the coronavirus by pushing too much for normal routines, or paving the way for the collapse of their local economy by keeping everything on lockdown. Many small and medium companies in particular are already hovering on the brink, and a wave of bankruptcies is expected. Retail and hospitality companies expected bumper sales over the lunar new year, and even factories that closed for the holiday expected to reopen in early February.

[..] In Shenzhen, the border city that has come to rival Hong Kong, businesses have been told they can resume work immediately if they have virus control measures that include disinfecting, giving employees at least two masks a day, making temperature checks, and having their plans approved by local officials. There is already a gap between regulation and reality, however. “We started today, but the boss only gave us one mask when we all know he’s supposed to give out two,” said one 52-year-old woman employed at a Shenzhen factory making plastic items such as skateboard wheels, cups and toy parts. “My husband, who works at a restaurant near here, is also only getting one mask per day,” she added, giving only her last name, Xiao, over fears of being fired or getting her boss into trouble.

Read more …

Why would anyone expect sales to pick up anytime soon?

China’s 92% Car Sales Collapse Sign Of Sharp Trade Decline To Come (SCMP)

A 92 per cent drop in car sales in China in the first half of February provided the first real indicator of the economic impact of the coronavirus epidemic, with officials also warning of a sharp decline in Chinese exports and imports for the first two months of the year. The China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) on Friday said that sales dropped to just 4,909 units in the first 16 days of the month, down from 59,930 vehicles in the same period a year earlier. “Very few dealerships opened in the first weeks of February and they have had very little customer traffic,” said the CPCA. China’s car market is likely to see sales slide more than 10 per cent in the first half of the year due to the outbreak, and around 5 per cent for the whole year, provided the virus is effectively contained before April, the country’s top industry body, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), said last week.

The sector was already under pressure from the cooling economy, with car sales falling 3 per cent in 2018 in the first sales contraction since the 1990s, and 8.2 per cent in 2019, CAAM said. “We must firmly believe that China’s auto market still has great development space and potential, and the automobile consumption demand is still strong,” Wang Bin, vice-director of the commerce market operation department at the commerce ministry, said on Thursday. To stabilise the market, in which more than 25 million vehicles were sold last year, China’s commerce ministry said it will introduce more measures to boost consumption.


Li Xingqian, head of foreign trade at the Ministry of Commerce, said the growth rate for China’s exports and imports would decline sharply in the January-February period due to a collapse in logistics and the delayed start of work following the extended Lunar New Year holiday, which was aimed at controlling the coronavirus outbreak.

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Simply not their call to make.

Trump Furious Americans Infected With Coronavirus Flown Back To US (Fox)

President Trump was furious that 14 Americans infected with the coronavirus returned to the United States without his permission rather than remain in quarantine overseas, according to a new report. Trump had been briefed that the healthy U.S. passengers who spent weeks quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan would be allowed to fly home on two chartered planes – while those who were sick or infected would stay in Japan to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. The president became “furious” with senior advisers after learning the 14 Americans who tested positive had been put on a plane with healthy passengers, according to The Washington Post.


One official told the paper that the failure to inform Trump of the decision in advance of the plane’s departure was a “big operational mistake.” Trump complained that bringing home the infected Americans could damage the adminstratration’s response to the global health outbreak. While the Americans evacuated from the ship were on buses on the tarmac in Tokyo, U.S. officials got the results back that 14 had tested positive for COVID-19 but had not yet shown symptoms. Officials made the decision to have them fly home anyway, but “isolated” from the other passengers on the plane.

Read more …

“The South Korean government lodged a complaint with Israel over its abrupt entry ban against South Koreans over concerns about the new coronavirus: “demand that such an incident not occur again”

18 Koreans Test Positive For COVID-19 After Israel Pilgrimage (KH)

Of 76 Koreans who traveled to Israel for religious pilgrimages in February, 18 tested positive for the deadly coronavirus upon returning home, local health authorities said Sunday. Two groups of Roman Catholic travelers stayed in Israel for about a week each for religious tourism earlier this month, visiting packed religious sites. Among 39 Koreans from North Gyeongsang Province who visited Israel from Feb. 8-16, 18 have been confirmed positive, including a tour guide residing in Seoul. A 59-year-old woman who lives in Yecheon County, North Gyeongsang Province, was the first confirmed patient. She was unable to go to work upon arrival due to a high fever and respiratory problems.


Local health authorities are scrambling to narrow down the exact times when the patients could have been infected, leaving open the possibility that a group member may have caught the virus prior to departure or somewhere along the travel route either in Israel or Korea. Another group of 37 people from Jeju Island traveled to Israel from Feb. 11-21, and one person with a cough was waiting for their test results as of Sunday afternoon. The presence of COVID-19 in these Korean tourists, as well as the skyrocketing number of confirmed cases here, prompted Israel to bar travelers from Korea from entering the country, the Israeli government said. As a result, some 130 Koreans who landed in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, local time, were sent back to Korea after being denied entry.

Read more …

Using the same accounts they use for Syria, Yellow Vests etc. Just to make it easier for those smart Americans to figure out it’s them. That’s also why they [..] “carry messages similar to Russian-backed outlets such as RT..” You know, just so Americans don’t get all confused and stuff.

US Says Russia Behind Coronavirus Disinformation Campaign (G.)

Thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to spread misinformation and alarm about coronavirus, disrupting global efforts to fight the epidemic, US officials have said. The disinformation campaign promotes unfounded conspiracy theories that the US is behind the new coronavirus outbreak, in an apparent bid to damage America’s image around the world. State department officials tasked with combatting Russian disinformation told the AFP false personas were being used on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to advance Russian talking points in multiple languages.

“Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns,” said Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. “By spreading disinformation about coronavirus, Russian malign actors are once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting from the global health response,” he said. Some accounts have falsely claimed the US is waging “economic war on China” and that the virus is a biological weapon manufactured by the CIA.


[..] Several thousand online accounts – previously identified for airing Russian-backed messages on major events such as the war in Syria, the Yellow Vest protests in France and Chile’s mass demonstrations – are posting “near identical” messages about the coronavirus, according to a report prepared for the state department’s Global Engagement Center and seen by the AFP. The accounts are run by humans, not bots, and post at similar times in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French. They can be linked back to Russian proxies, or carry messages similar to Russian-backed outlets such as RT and Sputnik, the report said.

Read more …

Turley doesn’t acknowledge why Stone was dragged in front of Congress. Which was on a completely fabricated charge. That Stone himself did some of the fabricating seems a bit beside the point. I would be interested in Turley’s view on that, rather thann the obvious bias involved.

Roger Stone Deserves A New Trial (Turley)

With his sentencing this week, “agent provocateur” Roger Stone finally provoked himself into prison. However, his latest “performance art” may be nowhere near its conclusion. That is not because he has a “very good chance of exoneration,” as President Trump himself predicted. Stone has about the same chance of exoneration as he does of canonization. Rather, it is not clear that Stone received a fair trial due to alleged juror bias or, even if his trial is now finished, whether it will become undone by a presidential pardon. If nothing else, one thing should be clear. Stone holds a far greater claim to a new trial than to a presidential pardon. The decision of Judge Amy Berman Jackson to move forward with his sentencing was a surprise to many of us, following disturbing reports of potential juror bias by the trial foreperson.

It was a curious twist on the position of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, who declared, “Sentence first! Verdict afterwards.” In this case, the court decided to resolve the sentence before resolving if there was a valid verdict. I have previously discussed the statements made by Tomeka Hart before she became the jury foreperson. She exhibited intense hostility against Trump and his associates and protested against the administration. She also expressed support for investigations of the administration and even discussed this case. Worse yet, the transcript of the voir dire hearing did not suggest that the defense counsel was aware of this history. Either she disclosed the information and defense counsel was less than effective, or Hart had withheld the information and was less than transparent.


Jackson may have two equally unappealing choices. First, the court could order a new trial, making this sentencing drama a meaningless exercise. Second, she could dismiss any concerns as speculative and refuse to take any action. Such a decision would make a mockery of the jury selection process. What is the value of voir dire if a juror with such alleged bias can find her way not just onto the jury but into the position as foreperson?

Read more …

Roger Waters: “We will speak so loudly even the deaf will hear. We will write so clearly even the blind will read. You write injustice on the earth. We will write revolution in the sky.”

Julian Assange, Lawyers Were Secretly Recorded In Ecuador Embassy (ABC.au)

The case is being investigated by Spain’s federal court, the Audencia Nacional, which is examining whether Morales and UC Global are guilty of breaching both Assange’s privacy and lawyer-client privilege, as well as crimes relating to misappropriation of funds, bribery, and money laundering. “From 2015 to mid-2018, when UC Global lost the embassy’s security contract, a battery of illegal espionage measures was deployed, with massive interference in the privacy of [Assange], in his communications with his [legal] team, in meetings with his doctors, and in general against everyone close to him,” a criminal complaint filed by Assange’s Spanish lawyers stated.

“In those years the defendants created a sort of ‘Big Brother’ in which all the movements of Mr Assange and the people close to him were monitored.” The case commenced after a group of Spanish citizens contacted senior WikiLeaks employees and demanded a significant sum of money in return for what they said was voluminous proof of the espionage. A former UC Global employee — who cannot be identified for legal reasons — also separately approached WikiLeaks, wanting to reveal what they saw as the illegal behaviour of their former company. WikiLeaks referred the case to Spanish courts, who launched an investigation and arrested Morales. He was later released on bail. “This spying did not only affect Mr Assange’s lawyers, it also affected all of his visitors, including journalists,” Martinez said.

“It got to the point where, during a visit to Mr Assange, the head of Ecuador’s intelligence service [Rommy Vallejo, on December 21, 2017] was also spied on,” Martinez added. “In the meeting between Mr Vallejo and Mr Assange the possible release [from the embassy] of Mr Assange in a few days later was discussed.” Within hours of that secret meeting, which was known to only a few people, the US Ambassador to Ecuador complained to Ecuadorian authorities, and the next day the US issued an international arrest warrant for Assange, Martinez said. “That leads us to believe that the conversation was urgently sent to the US authorities and that they urgently issued the international arrest warrant the next day,” he said.

Martinez was himself spied on while having legal meetings with Assange at the embassy. “Mr Assange began to suspect that he was being spied upon … so he asked us to hold the most sensitive meetings in the women’s toilet at the back of the building,” Martinez recalled. “We honestly thought it was an exaggerated step to hold our legal meetings in the women’s toilet, where he would even open the water tap to avoid anyone listening. “It was interesting to find out that Mr Assange was, in fact, correct: the material before the court proves that UC Global knew the meetings were held inside the women’s toilet, as they proceeded to install an additional microphone [there].”

Read more …

Meanwhile in the not-yet-infected part of the world:

Subprime Credit Card Delinquencies Spike to Record High, Past Financial-Crisis Peak (WS)

The rate of credit card balances that are 30 days or more delinquent at the 4,500 or so commercial banks that are smaller than the top 100 banks spiked to 7.05% in the fourth quarter, the highest delinquency rate in the data going back to the 1980s (red line). But at the largest 100 banks, the credit-card delinquency rate was 2.48%, which kept the overall credit-card delinquency rate at all commercial banks at 2.7% (blue line), though it was the highest since 2012, according to the Federal Reserve. What’s going on here, with this bifurcation of the delinquency rates and what does that tell us about consumers?

Clearly, those consumers that have obtained credit cards at the smaller banks are in a heap of trouble and are falling behind at a historically high rate. But consumers that got their credit cards at the big banks – lured by 2% cash-back offers and other benefits that are being heavily promoted to consumers with top credit scores – do not feel the pain. A similarly disturbing trend is going on with auto loans. Seriously delinquent auto loans jumped to 4.94% of total auto loans and leases outstanding. This is higher than the delinquency rate in Q3 2010 amid the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. On closer inspection, there was that bifurcation again; prime-rated loans had historically low delinquency rates; but a shocking 23% of all subprime loans were 90+ days delinquent.

Read more …

“I give the guy a break,” he added. “I give him a job. And then he turns on me. He’s just making things up.”

Trump Reportedly Calls John Bolton A ‘Traitor’ And Wants To Block His Book (G.)

John Bolton is “a traitor” and his book should not be published before the election in November, Donald Trump reportedly told aides and media figures. The president’s views on news of a book deal for Marie Yovanovitch, another key figure in the Ukraine scandal which led to Trump’s impeachment, were not immediately clear. Bolton, a former ambassador to the UN, was Trump’s third national security adviser until he was fired in September last year. He refused to testify in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s attempts to have Ukraine investigate his political rivals, which resulted in two articles of impeachment, concerning abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

He offered to testify in the Senate but Republicans voted not to call witnesses during a trial which duly ended in Trump’s acquittal, despite leaks from Bolton’s book manuscript seeming to show he possessed key knowledge about the affair. The Room Where It Happened was slated for publication in March but it has been held up, the national security council telling Bolton’s lawyer it would “move forward as expeditiously as possible” with determining what could be published. On Friday night, the Washington Post cited two anonymous sources as saying Trump had told his own lawyers the book should not come out before the election.


Trump has attacked Bolton publicly on Twitter but the Post also reported notes of an off-the-record briefing of TV anchors on 4 February. “We’re going to try and block the publication of the book,” Trump reportedly said. “After I leave office, he can do this. But not in the White House. “I give the guy a break,” he added. “I give him a job. And then he turns on me. He’s just making things up.”

Read more …

CNN’s desperate attempt to attract a handful viewers still bores me to tears. Andrew Yang and Donald Trump know what’s wrong.

Trump: ‘Congrats Bernie…Don’t Let Them Take It Away From You!’ (SAC)

President Trump congratulated Bernie Sanders in his projected win in democratic primary in Nevada. As of Saturday evening, Sanders is leading with 53.84 percent of the vote in the Nevada caucuses. “Congratulations Bernie, & don’t let them take it away from you!” he added in a tweet. “Looks like Crazy Bernie is doing well in the Great State of Nevada,” Trump wrote. “Biden & the rest look weak, & no way Mini Mike can restart his campaign after the worst debate performance in the history of Presidential Debates.” Trump followed with another tweet, quoting Jon Scott of Fox News, on a report that showed Sanders having strong support from within the Kremlin. “The Kremlin is reportedly backing Bernie Sanders bid to win the White House.” Jon Scott @FoxNews,” the president wrote. “Why didn’t somebody tell me this?”

Read more …

 

 

 

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Feb 202020
 


Saul Leiter Man with flowers, NY 1950s

 

A few days ago, I was thinking of writing another corona article, focusing on two things: 1) the ease and speed with which the virus spreads -because I think that is hugely underestimated-, and 2) testing. But then the situation with the two cruise ships started going berserk.

I had intended to use the Diamond Princess as a case for the ease and speed of infection, but it became clear quite rapidly that you can’t use the ship to prove any case, other than that people are completely nuts. But we already knew that. And while Dostoyevsky wrote some great books on the topic, it’s not a great framework for a piece on a virus. Unless perhaps if it infects the brain.

Not that I don’t think the ship is still a good example to make the point, but too much plain bonkers stuff has been going on with and around it. The quarantine, the evacuations, the infection numbers, you name it. I’ll get to the testing later, that was/is a whole other chapter.

A problem, if you’re me, with letting an essay simmer for a bit, is that ever more sources start accumulating, until there’s too many to either comprehend or use in an effective way. First thing to do is not to wait another day. Let’s start with 1) The ease and speed with which the virus spreads, aka transmissibility,, and see where we land.

 

1) The ease and speed with which the virus spreads

People continue to have this idea that COVID19 isn’t all that bad, yada yada, an “analysis” crowned by the comparisons to seasonal flu. Which make no more sense then to compare it to bovine flatulence. Stop it.

The way and extent the virus was spreading aboard the Diamond Princess became clear before the evacuation efforts. The US government, and others, were watching it happen, and pulled the plug. What the Japanese were doing and thinking is less clear. It’s sort of fun to see Washington refrain from calling Tokyo on it, best allies and all, but it makes you think at the same time.

So if using the Diamond Princess is not a good example, we need to look elsewhere. This Feb 16 Zero Hedge graph of infections outside China might be a good start. Whether it represents an exponential or a quadratic function is sort of an inside joke by now, but it’s clear enough in either case.

 

 

Even more obvious perhaps is this from the South China Morning Post (SCMP):

Coronavirus Up To 20 Times More Likely Than Sars To Bind To Human Cells

The deadly new coronavirus is up to 20 times more likely to bind to human cell receptors and cause infection than severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), a new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin has found. The novel coronavirus and Sars share the same functional host-cell receptor, called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).

The report, published on the website bioRxiv on Saturday, said the new coronavirus had around 10 to 20-fold higher affinity – the degree to which a substance tends to combine with another – for human ACE2 compared with Sars. But the researchers added that further studies were needed to explore the human host-cell receptor’s role in helping the new virus to spread from person to person.

“Compared with SARS-CoV, 2019-nCoV appears to be more readily transmitted from human to human,” the report of the study said. “The high affinity of 2019-nCoV S for human ACE2 may contribute to the apparent ease with which 2019-nCoV can spread from human to human.”

The ACE2 receptor has already been reported as being much more prevalent among Asian people, but please don’t presume the buck stops there. Non-Asians have them as well, and we’re not even sure what role they play, or if fewer of them would protect you from being infected. Allegedly, smokers have more ACE2 enzymes as well. As do older people.

Another transmissibility example is the death of an entire family in Wuhan:

Virus Kills Chinese Film Director and Family in Wuhan

A Chinese film director and his entire family have died from the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Chang Kai, a film director and an external communications officer at a Hubei Film Studio subsidiary, died in hospital on Feb. 14 from the virus now called COVID-19, according to a statement from the studio. He was 55.


But Chang’s death was not the first in his family—the Chinese media reported that Chang’s father and mother were infected and died one after the other. Chang and his sister, who looked after their parents at home, were both infected with the virus as a result. His sister died just hours later. Chang’s wife is also infected, still alive, and is still battling the virus in an intensive care unit.

But everything above loses most of its meaning compared to the following, also from the South China Morning Post. You might want to sit down for this one.

Until now, ‘accepted knowledge” is that the first death from COVID19 was registered on January 9 2020, a 61-year old man in Wuhan. And that the incubation time for the virus was maximum 14 days – hence the 2-week quarantines everywhere. No more.

The government of Xinxian county, in the city of Xinyang, on Sunday reported that one of its new cases had been confirmed 34 days after the patient returned from a mid-January visit to Wuhan.

He had been sent to hospital with suspected symptoms on January 28, but twice tested negative before testing positive on February 16. A further two people who attended family gatherings with the man in Xinxian were reported as infected, while three were suspected cases or under hospital quarantine.

The county government announced it would extend the home quarantine period from 14 to 21 days for residents who had been to Hubei or had contact with people who had been there.

It also reported a case that was confirmed 94 days after the patient’s contact with a relative from Hubei. The patient had taken care of his father-in-law, who arrived from Wuhan on November 13 and died days later.

The son-in-law continued to stay in the father-in-law’s house until January 31. However, the government statement said the origin of the son-in-law’s infection had yet to be identified. Zhuhai, in the southern Guangdong province, last week reported two cases with incubation periods longer than 14 days. Similar cases have also been reported in Anhui and Shandong provinces.

This potentially pushes back the first known case to November 13 2019 and the first known death to November 13 and change. “Died days later”. Shall we say 4-5 days? That means the first fatality was November 17-18. While incubation time may have been pushed forward to 94 days.

 

 

 

 

2) Testing

The most important term coming out of the coronavirus news, going forward, will be “false negative”. Closely followed by “asymptomatic”. There are tons of stories about people testing negative 2-3-4- times before testing positive. And also tons of stories about people with no symptoms infecting others. It’s all about the things you don’t see.

The Chinese had it about as wrong as can be early on, and knee-jerked into the Party deny and hide mode. They have it right now, though: the only way to keep the virus from spreading is to limit contact between people, even if that may seem to reach extreme proportions. If there is no vaccine, there is no other way. But if it’s just the Chinese that do isolation, that solves nothing.

When I first read that the passengers of the Holland-America Line cruise ship Westerdam had been allowed to leave the ship when it landed in Cambodia a week ago after, I think, 9 days of floating around aimlessly, I thought this was a “Go Forth and Multiply” message for the virus. Second thought was: who’s in charge here? Still wondering about that one.

The Westerdam had 2,257 people on board, 1,455 passengers and 802 crew. They were not allowed to dock anywhere after a man who had gone off board in Hong Kong tested positive. As we speak, some 255 passengers and 747 crew members are still being held on the ship while further testing was conducted. That means 1,200 passengers and 55 crew have left the ship. Cambodia let lots of them fly to Malaysia, and they flew all over from there.

And only then did they discover an 83-year old American woman who had already flown to Malaysia had tested positive. The ship had a lot of Americans (400?) , Canadians and Dutch people on board. Where did they go? Mostly home, of course. And now all those countries are scrambling to locate these people. Even if they do, who have they infected in the meantime? They’ve been in close proximity to others, like on planes.

And, again, who’s in charge? Did the Holland-America people, and the Cambodian government, keep in constant touch with the WHO and the Chinese? Would it have made any difference if they did? Or is it as bad as it seems, a Wild East sort of set-up with everyone fending for themselves?

What are the odds that someone in the Cambodian government now has a new offshore bank account with $10 million in it, in a deal made before the 83-year old American woman tested positive, in exchange for letting the ship dock and making sure the passengers would leave ASAP?

 

Hard as it may seem to imagine, the Diamond Princess may be, and have been, even more of a mess than the Westerdam. Someone said: “it was a mess on board, and the mess is now moving off board”. And now we have the first 2 fatalities from the ship.

Diamond Princess: everyone confined to their cabins, little interaction, but still in the past week numbers of new infections have exploded, with many dozens of new cases every day. So now we have a total of what, 500-600 new infections ever since the US said: enough!

Why were they, why were larger numbers, not discovered earlier? Well… There were 3,711 people on board. 5-6 days ago, 10-12 days after the first positive test, 1,219 had been tested. Which means that after 10+ days of quarantine, less than a third had actually been tested. As of Monday, 2,404 passengers and crew, out of the 3,711, had been tested. That still left 1,300. Many of whom are now gone.

The remaining 61 American passengers on the Diamond Princess who opted not to join the evacuation will not be allowed to return to the US until March 4, according to the American embassy in Tokyo.

Undoubtedly some logic behind the lack of testing until recently will be offered by Tokyo, but you must wonder how many of the 542 new cases of the last four days had been tested at all, and how long some of them had been infected, probably without showing any signs. For instance, the 14 cases on the flights to the US this week were all asymptomatic virus carriers. All of them, according to official channels.

And now we read that Japan has no intentions of quarantining its citizens who were on board the Diamond Princess:

Earlier in the week, the United States evacuated more than 300 nationals on two chartered flights. A State Department official said there were still about 45 US citizens on board the cruise ship as of Thursday. Americans flown back will have to complete another 14 days quarantine, as will returning Hong Kong residents. Disembarked Japanese passengers, however, face no such restrictions, a decision that has sparked concern.

One more thing, then I’ll stop. Zero Hedge a few days ago quoted a Taiwan Times article saying people can be infected multiple times. And be worse off for it. A first infection leaves your immune system ravaged, and combined with the damage caused by the medication taken, can make you helpless against a second attack.

Chinese Doctors Say Wuhan Coronavirus Reinfection Even Deadlier

Doctors working on the front lines of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak have told the Taiwan Times that it’s possible to become reinfected by the virus, leading to death from sudden heart failure in some cases. “It’s highly possible to get infected a second time. A few people recovered from the first time by their own immune system, but the meds they use are damaging their heart tissue, and when they get it the second time, the antibody doesn’t help but makes it worse, and they die a sudden death from heart failure.. ”


“The source also said the virus has “outsmarted all of us..” [..] “It can fool the test kit – there were cases that they found, the CT scan shows both lungs are fully infected but the test came back negative four times. The fifth test came back positive.” -Taiwan Times

We will now start to see the economic effects (you haven’t seen anything yet in that regard). More on that later. Rule of thumb: companies have 1-2 weeks of supplies in stock. Just-in-Time. Then they need more delivered. But the Chinese economy is on its last legs. Please don’t think it’s about Apple or some other major company. This is about a million smaller companies and (chain) stores in the west. What was it, 80% of US drugs come from China? Or was that just antibiotics?

There are ways to minimize the damage a virus can do. Mankind as a whole, in the places where the proverbial chain literally is as strong as the weakest link, has not minimized it. Instead it has told the virus: “Go Forth and Multiply”. Prepare accordingly. If we’re lucky, this will die down and pass. But that’s the problem: it’ll happen only if we’re lucky, not because we’ve done all we know we could.

 

 

Feb 172020
 


Jack Delano Discarded oil cans at truck service station on U.S. 1, New York Avenue, Washington, DC 1940

 

Japan Braces For Hundreds More Cases Onboard Cruise Ship (G.)
Taiwan Confirms First Coronavirus Death On Island, Cases At 20 (R.)
Pay Attention To Shanghai, Beijing, Japan Infection Rates (F.)
Japan’s Economy Shrinks At Fastest Rate Since 2014 (BBC)
Coronavirus Cases Rise Again In China, Recession Looms In Japan, Singapore (R.)
Americans Disembark From Virus-Hit Cruise; China Says New Cases Slow (R.)
Scramble To Track Cambodia Cruise Ship Passengers After Virus Case Found (R.)
‘Animals Live For Man’: China’s Appetite For Wildlife To Survive Virus (R.)
Armed Robbers Steal Hundreds Of Toilet Rolls In Hong Kong (BBC)
Devin Nunes Says Trump ‘Has To Tweet’ To Combat ‘Hard Left’ Media (Fox)
1,100 Former DOJ Employees Call On Barr To Resign (NPR)
German Court Halts Work On New Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ (BBC)
Australia Broadcaster Loses Newsroom Raid Case (BBC)
Breakdown or Breakthrough? Degrowth and the Great Transition (NC)
US Peach Grower Awarded $265 Million From Bayer, BASF In Weedkiller Suit (R.)

 

 

Well, we do have some numbers:

 

• Cases 71,330, up 2,076 from yesterday

• Deaths 1,775, up 106 from yesterday

• 760 million Chinese under quarantine

 

We also have plenty confusion. For instance, Reuters has two headlines that say Coronavirus Cases Rise Again In China and China Says New Cases Slow. That clears things up.

But the most dramatic event over the weekend must be the repatration of various nationalities to their homelands. About 400 Americans were evacuated from the Diamond Princess, with Australian Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers set to follow soon. 44 of these Americans are infected with the virus, and they won’t be going home. The rest will, though.

This is happening while “Japan is bracing for the possibility of hundreds of additional cases of the coronavirus onboard the stricken Princess Diamond”, says the Guardian. So the Americans that are flown home go into quarantine, right? Well… Some Diamond Princess passengers face another two weeks in isolation if they have shared a cabin with someone who tests positive.”

Remember, as of the start of the evacuation, there were 3,711 people on board. 1,219 had been tested of which 355 have been confirmed positive for the virus (among them the 44 Americans). Ergo, 2,492 people were not tested, among them the remaining 356 Americans. Who will only go into isolation if they shared a cabin with a positive case. The rest can do what they want.

We see the issue here, don’t we? How many of those 356 Americans may be infected? How many of the other nationalities which will fly home? There have been suggestions that the onboard air circulation system on the ship may have played a role in spreading the virus. If so, it could be everywhere. And yes, there could be “hundreds of additional cases”.

Then there’s the Werkendam cruise ship, from which hundreds were allowed to spread all over the world, taking off from Cambodia and/or Malaysia, before a positive case was found. Now it’s a “Scramble To Track Cambodia Cruise Ship Passengers”. Sort of like a modern version of the biblical “Go Forth and Multiply”. Where were these decisions made? Anyone ask the WHO, or China?

 

Meanwhile, China keeps trying. In Hubei province, Xiaogan city – with a population of nearly 5 million people, 3,279 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the second highest number in China, and 70 deaths, “all vehicles including motorcycles, electric bikes, bicycles and tricycles are prohibited from driving on the road”. Try that in NYC, LA, Paris, Moscow, name a major city.

And the economic effects get increased attention as well. “Barclays analysts estimate that real [Japan] GDP contracted 3.2% on a quarterly basis, a little better than market consensus of -3.8%. This is all pre-coronavirus…] Take it from there. At this point hearing from economists, bankers, investors is pretty useless, because they have little idea what goes on, and, like politicians, they won’t consider really bad scenarios until it’s too late.

But it’ll come trickling through. Served in a sauce of “we’ll be fine”.

UPDATE: 99 additional people tested positive aboard the Diamond Princess. 14 American evacuees who tested positive made the flight anyway, in a separate compartment

 

 

 

 

“Xiaogan, 70km from the city of Wuhan, has 3,279 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and has recorded 70 deaths.”

Japan Braces For Hundreds More Cases Onboard Cruise Ship (G.)

Japan is bracing for the possibility of hundreds of additional cases of the coronavirus onboard the stricken Princess Diamond, as experts warned the country was still in the “early stages” of the outbreak. The passengers evacuated from the ship face further uncertainty too, with the US and Australian citizens set for a further two weeks of quarantine after arriving homeHundreds of American passengers have flown back to the US and Australia said it would follow suit on Wednesday. Onboard the Diamond Princess, 355 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 out of an original total of about 3,600 passengers and crew, and after testing 1,219. Forty American passengers who were diagnosed with the virus have been transferred to hospitals in Japan.

Some Diamond Princess passengers face another two weeks in isolation if they have shared a cabin with someone who tests positive. The total number of people infected around the world climbed to more than 71,000 on Monday, including a further 2,048 confirmed cases in China, where the total number of deaths stands at 1,770. Five people have died outside China. Of the 105 deaths reported in China on Monday, 100 were in Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak. Cities in Hubei have stepped up measures to stop the virus’s spread.


Xiaogan city – which has a population of nearly 5 million people and the second highest number of confirmed cases in China – ordered residents to stay in their homes or face detention of up to 10 days. State media reported that “all vehicles including motorcycles, electric bikes, bicycles and tricycles are prohibited from driving on the road”. Xiaogan, 70km from the city of Wuhan, has 3,279 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and has recorded 70 deaths.

Read more …

Fifth location outside China.

Taiwan Confirms First Coronavirus Death On Island, Cases At 20 (R.)

A taxi driver has died from the coronavirus in Taiwan, marking the first such death on the island and the fifth fatality outside mainland China from an epidemic that has curbed travel and disrupted global supply chains. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said during a news conference on Sunday that the deceased person was a 61-year-old man who had diabetes and hepatitis B. Taiwan has to date accumulated 20 confirmed cases. The deceased person had not traveled abroad recently and was a taxi driver whose clients were mainly from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, the minister said. One of his family members was also confirmed to have the virus.

The pair constituted Taiwan’s first local transmission cases, the minister said, adding that authorities were trying to find out as soon as possible the source of contraction. “So far, we are not able to gather his contact history, so we are actively making investigations, hoping to find out the source of the contraction,” Chen said. The island will on Monday start testing all patients who show symptoms associated with coronavirus and had traveled abroad recently, the health ministry said.


The coronavirus, thought to have emerged at a wildlife market in the central Chinese province of Hubei, has killed 1,665 people in China with latest figures showing 68,500 cases of the illness. Taiwan has banned entry to Chinese visitors and foreigners with a recent history of travel to China and suspended most flights to its giant neighbor. Many schools have also extended their Lunar New Year holiday to late February to curb the spread of the virus. In a response to panic buying of masks on the island, the government scrambled to build several mask production lines and Premier Su Tseng-chang has vowed to more than double its daily mask production to 10 million by early March.

Read more …

Economic consequences. Japan was doing awful under Abenomics already.

Pay Attention To Shanghai, Beijing, Japan Infection Rates (F.)

Beijing and Shanghai have under 1,000 reported cases and only four deaths, based on data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Their data is sourced from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the European Center for Disease Control and two China health agencies. China is the main source of the numbers. There are many people outside of China who doubt Beijing and Shanghai’s low case load. Watch for those numbers to rise in the weeks ahead. [..]

Covid-19 remains a mystery pathogen. It can be deadly. It’s like a bad pneumonia. Scientists believe it came from a species of bat. There is also concern that it escaped a virology research lab in Wuhan. There is no vaccine for Covid-19 yet, so those who have it are being treated with a variety of anti-viral medications and have to wait for the virus to work its way out of the body. Markets are repricing everything China related. Barclays Capital analysts released a 20-page report on the coronavirus on Friday where they said they were pushing out the recovery period, and think Japan heads into a technical recession because of it. Japan will release its fourth quarter GDP numbers on Monday.

Barclays analysts led by Tetsufumi Yamakawa in Tokyo estimate that real GDP contracted 3.2% on a quarterly basis, a little better than market consensus of -3.8%. This is all pre-coronavirus and mostly due to domestic tax matters. Yamakawa does see an increasing risk in first quarter weakness due to the Covid-19 impacts, and if that leads to negative growth, and it could, Japan hits a technical recession with back to back contraction. Weaker China tourism and a decrease in trade with China is a huge headwind for Japan. For Barclays, the probability of a recession there has surged to 69%.


Barclays’ China view is basically Wall Street consensus: so long as the virus stays concentrated in Hubei, they are going to trust China keeps it that way. [..] Xi Jinping last week called for even tighter restrictions on Hubei, and put two new Party bosses in charge to make sure the clampdown is enforced. “We think these efforts showed the urgency and determination of the government to stabilize the epicenter as soon as possible,” says Eric Zhu, an economist with Barclays in Hong Kong. “We expect incremental improvements,” he says.

Read more …

How is Abe still the PM there?

Japan’s Economy Shrinks At Fastest Rate Since 2014 (BBC)

Japan’s economy shrank at the fastest rate in five years at the end of 2019 as it was hit by a sales tax rise, a major typhoon and weak global demand. Annualised GDP fell by a much steeper than expected 6.3% in October-December. There are also concerns the coronavirus outbreak will mean the slump continues this quarter. That has raised fears that the world’s third-biggest economy may fall into recession. During the period Japanese consumer spending fell 2.9% after the country’s sales tax was raised in October to 10% from 8%. In the same month Typhoon Hagibis hit large parts of the country.


Last quarter, capital spending dropped by 3.7% and exports slipped 0.1% amid the ongoing US-China trade war. Investors are now watching to see whether the economy will rebound after the coronavirus forced China to shut down factories and led to a big drop in Chinese tourists visiting Japan. In response to today’s data economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the Japanese government was ready to take all necessary steps to deal with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy and tourism.

Read more …

Recession looms everywhere by now. We just don’t want to know it.

Coronavirus Cases Rise Again In China, Recession Looms In Japan, Singapore (R.)

Japan and Singapore appeared to be on the brink of recession on Monday as the coronavirus epidemic disrupted tourism and supply chains around the world, and as China imposed tougher restrictions to try and stop the virus spreading further. The number of reported new cases of coronavirus in China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic, rose on Monday by more than 1,933, after two days of falls, and there were 100 deaths reported since Sunday. Across mainland China, officials said the total number of cases rose by 2,048 to 70,548, with 1,770 deaths. Nearly 90% of new cases were in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people where the virus is believed to have originated at a market illegally trading wildlife late last year.

The virus, which is believed to have a 14-day incubation period, has forced thousands of people to be quarantined around the world. In Cambodia, authorities were scrambling to track down hundreds of passengers who disembarked from the Holland America Line cruise ship Westerdam after an American woman left the ship and was tested positive for coronavirus in Malaysia. More than 100 have already left the country, while some 300 are reportedly still in Cambodia. “I believe there’s 300 Americans here at this hotel plus a few hundred from other countries. We will all be tested for the coronavirus today and tomorrow by the Cambodian Ministry of Health,” said passenger Holley Rauen, a public health nurse and midwife from Fort Myers, Florida.


“We have no idea when we get to get home…” American passengers were taken off another cruise liner on Sunday to fly home after being quarantined for two weeks off Japan. Seventy new coronavirus cases were confirmed on board the Carnival Corp. Diamond Princess in Yokohama. The 3,700 passengers and crew have been held since Feb. 3. Some 355 people on board have tested positive for the disease, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China. Those with the disease have been taken to hospital in Japan and no one from the ship has died. Around half of the guests onboard are from Japan.

Read more …

It’s just a matter of waiting for new clusters to pop up now.

Americans Disembark From Virus-Hit Cruise; China Says New Cases Slow (R.)

American passengers were taken off a cruise liner on Sunday to fly home after being quarantined for two weeks off Japan, while China said the rate of new coronavirus cases had slowed, calling that proof its steps to fight the outbreak were working. An announcement aboard the Diamond Princess, where 3,700 passengers and crew have been held since Feb. 3, told Americans to get ready to disembark on Sunday evening for charter flights home. Passengers wearing masks could later be seen waving through the windows of buses parked near the ship. Of the roughly 400 Americans on the cruise, more than 40 are infected with the virus and will stay in Japan for treatment, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

“They are not going to go anywhere. They’re going to be in hospitals in Japan,” Fauci told the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” “People who have symptoms will not be able to get on the evacuation plane. Others are going to be evacuated starting imminently to air force bases in the United States.” Kyodo News Agency said the flights carrying U.S. passengers left Haneda Airport at around 1700 ET (2200 GMT). Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers were expected to follow soon, after their governments also announced plans to repatriate passengers. “Leaving in a few hours. No details. Might be going to Texas or Nebraska,” U.S. passenger Gay Courter told Reuters.


Seventy new coronavirus cases were confirmed on board, bringing the total on the ship to 355, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China. Fauci told the Washington Post there were 44 infected Americans. Within China, authorities reported 2,009 new cases on Sunday, noting that this was down from more than 2,600 the previous day. They said this showed their efforts to halt the spread of the virus were bearing fruit.

Read more …

Is anyone criminally responsible?

Scramble To Track Cambodia Cruise Ship Passengers After Virus Case Found (R.)

Holland America Line said it is working with governments and health experts to track passengers who disembarked from its Westerdam cruise ship docked in Cambodia after an American woman tested positive for coronavirus in Malaysia. The cruise line, which is owned by cruise giant Carnival Corp, said none of the other 1,454 passengers and 802 crew have reported any symptoms. “Guests who have already returned home will be contacted by their local health department and be provided further information,” a statement from the company said. Passengers had been cleared to travel by Cambodian authorities after health checks when the cruise ship docked on Thursday. It had spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand.


But on Saturday, Malaysia said an American woman who arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Friday on a chartered flight had tested positive for the new coronavirus that has killed more than 1,700 people, the vast majority in China. The woman’s husband tested negative for the coronavirus. About 137 of the 145 passengers on the chartered flight had already left for other countries as of Sunday after showing no signs of illness, Malaysian authorities said. Dozens more of the Westerdam passengers had flown through Thailand and onward to other countries, Thai officials said. At least 236 passengers and 747 crew remain aboard the vessel off the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville, Holland America said. Others were in hotels in Phnom Penh, the capital.

Read more …

Did you know the Chinese see the world the same way Christian religions do? G-d appointed man the master of the world! Must be the dumbest facet of religion: man declares himself G-d.

‘Animals Live For Man’: China’s Appetite For Wildlife To Survive Virus (R.)

For the past two weeks China’s police have been raiding houses, restaurants and makeshift markets across the country, arresting nearly 700 people for breaking the temporary ban on catching, selling or eating wild animals. The scale of the crackdown, which has netted almost 40,000 animals including squirrels, weasels and boars, suggests that China’s taste for eating wildlife and using animal parts for medicinal purposes is not likely to disappear overnight, despite potential links to the new coronavirus. Traders legally selling donkey, dog, deer, crocodile and other meat told Reuters they plan to get back to business as soon as the markets reopen. “I’d like to sell once the ban is lifted,” said Gong Jian, who runs a wildlife store online and operates shops in China’s autonomous Inner Mongolia region.

“People like buying wildlife. They buy for themselves to eat or give as presents because it is very presentable and gives you face.” Gong said he was storing crocodile and deer meat in large freezers but would have to kill all the quails he had been breeding as supermarkets were no longer buying his eggs and they cannot be eaten after freezing. Scientists suspect, but have not proven, that the new coronavirus passed to humans from bats via pangolins, a small ant-eating mammal whose scales are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine. [..] “In many people’s eyes, animals are living for man, not sharing the earth with man,” said Wang Song, a retired researcher of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


[..] Much of the farming and sale of wildlife takes place in rural or poorer regions under the blessing of local authorities who see trading as a boost for the local economy. State-backed television programs regularly show people farming animals, including rats, for commercial sale and their own consumption. However, activists pushing for a ban describe the licensed farms as a cover for illegal wildlife trafficking, where animals are specifically bred to be consumed as food or medicine rather than released into the wild.

Read more …

Brace for much more of this.

Armed Robbers Steal Hundreds Of Toilet Rolls In Hong Kong (BBC)

Armed robbers in Hong Kong made off with hundreds of toilet rolls worth more than HKD1,000 ($130). Toilet rolls are currently in short supply in Hong Kong due to shortages caused by panic-buying during the coronavirus outbreak. Knife wielding men robbed a delivery man outside a supermarket in the Mong Kok district, police said. Police have arrested two men and recovered some of the stolen loo rolls, local media reports said. The armed robbery took place in Mong Kok, a district of Hong Kong with a history of “triad” crime gangs, early on Monday.


According to local reports, the robbers had threatened a delivery worker who had unloaded rolls of toilet paper outside Wellcome Supermarket. An Apple Daily report said that 600 toilet paper rolls, valued at around HKD1,695 ($218), had been stolen. Stores across the city have seen supplies massively depleted with long queues when new stock arrives. Despite government assurances that supplies remain unaffected by the virus outbreak, residents have been stocking up on toilet paper. Other household products have also seen panic-buying including rice, pasta and cleaning items.

Read more …

“What’s happening here with Barr, I think people need to understand that he’s cleaning up the mess from not only the Obama administration, but also the mess that was left with the whole Russia-gate fiasco…”

Devin Nunes Says Trump ‘Has To Tweet’ To Combat ‘Hard Left’ Media (Fox)

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., fired back at Democrats who criticized Attorney General William Barr for his role in former Trump associate Roger Stone’s sentencing and defended the president’s use of Twitter after he used the platform to comment about the ongoing criminal case. “What’s happening here with Barr, I think people need to understand that he’s cleaning up the mess from not only the Obama administration, but also the mess that was left with the whole Russia-gate fiasco,” Nunes told “Fox & Friends Weekend,” saying taxpayers paid tens of millions of dollars to fund then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team “that went chasing and trying to put us into a status of a permanent coup against the president of the United States.”

Nunes’ comments came days after Barr himself publicly swiped at Trump, declaring Thursday that the president’s tweets about Justice Department prosecutors and open cases “make it impossible for me to do my job.” [..] “I think what the attorney general said was very clear, that the president should be careful making comments about criminal investigations. One should not see that as anything other than but what it is,” Nunez said, adding that Barr “didn’t say to stop tweeting, because the fact of the matter is, with 90 percent of the media being hard left and really just working for the Democratic Party, the president has to be able to tweet.”


Earlier in the week, Trump applauded Barr on Twitter for the decision to reverse the sentencing recommendation, writing: “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.” “He’s built a powerful tool reaching millions of Americans, millions of people around the globe,” Nunes added, “so the president has to tweet. At the same time, the attorney general has to be able to do his job.” He also said, “It’s understandable that the president can be frustrated,” and called Stone’s dramatic early-morning arrest by federal agents in January 2019 “ridiculous.”

Read more …

It’s ilke the interagency debate in the House testimonies. The civil servants think they have the right to set policy. And don’t you dare question that. But wasn’t it perhaps high time someone did?

1,100 Former DOJ Employees Call On Barr To Resign (NPR)

More than 1,100 former Department of Justice officials are calling on Attorney General William Barr to resign after his department lowered the prison sentence recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Trump, in a move that’s led to accusations of political interference. In a letter released Sunday, the former DOJ officials, who have worked across Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote that Barr’s intervention in the Stone case has tarnished the department’s reputation. “Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice,” the former officials wrote.

“In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.” On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington had recommended a prison sentence of up to nine years for Stone’s 2019 conviction on charges including making false statements to Congress and witness tampering. On Twitter, Trump said the sentencing recommendation amounted to “a horrible and very unfair situation.” But then on Tuesday, the Justice Department intervened, ordering a new sentencing memo and calling for lighter punishment. A senior DOJ official told NPR that officials were “shocked” at the original recommendation.


[..] To Julie Zebrak, who’s among the former DOJ officials who signed the letter, Barr’s behavior shatters a cardinal norm that has been in place for decades: that the Justice Department’s prosecutorial decisions should not be influenced by the White House. Zebrak told NPR that Barr’s move “sent shockwaves through the former DOJ alumni.” She added: “We are all watching in a really rapid and terrifying way the undermining of the department and the diminishment of the rule of law. We have to sort of speak up and speak out when we can.”

Read more …

“Clean cars” require cutting forests. This is where the environmental movement meets its Armageddon; there’s just not enough knowledge, they’ll believe anything that sounds good.

German Court Halts Work On New Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ (BBC)

Tesla has been ordered to temporarily halt preparations for a car factory in Germany after environmentalists won a court injunction on Sunday. The electric carmaker had been clearing forest land near the capital, Berlin, ahead of building its first European car and battery plant. The court emphasised the injunction was temporary and subject to further hearings, probably this week. Protesters say the factory is a threat to local wildlife and water supplies. To much fanfare, Tesla’s boss Elon Musk announced plans last November to build a European facility known as a “gigafactory” in Grünheide, in the eastern state of Brandenburg.


But the factory has become a flashpoint between environmentalists and Germany’s pro-business Christian Democrat and Free Democrat parties, who fear the issue could damage the country’s image as a place to do business. The dispute highlights the risks for the US carmaker, which has not been officially granted permission to build the factory. Tesla was, however, granted permission by Germany’s environment ministry to begin site preparations “at its own risk”. This has involved clearing about 91 hectares (225 acres) of forest and the felling of thousands of trees – something that outraged an alliance of environmentalists called the Green League. In a statement on Sunday, the court representing the Berlin and Brandenburg region cautioned: “It should not be assumed that the motion seeking legal protection brought by the Green League lacks any chance of succeeding.”

Read more …

If the goverment can let its journalists rot in Belmarsh, this shouldn’t be a surprise. How loud has ABC been in its defense of Assannge?

Australia Broadcaster Loses Newsroom Raid Case (BBC)

Australia’s national broadcaster has lost its legal challenge to controversial police raids on its Sydney newsroom last year. In June, police searched the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a newspaper journalist over articles which relied on leaks from government whistleblowers. The raids sparked public outrage and protests across the nation’s media. However, the Federal Court of Australia has ruled the searches were legal. ABC’s managing director David Anderson said the decision was “disappointing”. He said the raids had been a high-profile “attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their job”. Australian Federal Police alleged the stories and reporters at the centre of its searches had breached national security laws.


In the raid last year, they seized thousands of documents over a 2017 ABC investigation which alleged Australian armed forces had committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Police also raided the home of News Corp reporter Annika Smethurst. In 2018, she had reported an alleged attempt by a government agency to spy on Australian citizens. Australia’s conservative government tightened its security laws in 2018 to make it a criminal offence for journalists to receive classified information from military or intelligence sources. Canberra has previously said it backs press freedom but that “no one was above the law”.

Read more …

Never voluntarily.

Breakdown or Breakthrough? Degrowth and the Great Transition (NC)

When mainstream approaches to sustainability fail to challenge economic growth they provide limited, sometimes even false solutions to today’s crises. Technological and political interventions that reduce environmental impacts and enhance overall efficiency – though contributing to sustainability in a narrow sense – end up adding to global inequality and ecological overshoot, insofar as they accelerate growth. Growth is one of the chief drivers of social inequality and environmental degradation; it is also what sustains the global capitalist economy. Sustainability solutions that promote growth under the banner of “green growth” are the easiest to accept and implement, but they are the least able to address the roots of today’s crises.

Proponents of green growth believe that growth can be decoupled from environmental impacts, yet there is no empirical evidence that this is possible. Meanwhile, acting on such an unproven assumption obscures the real harm being done by sustaining extractive and exploitative capitalism. We have already surpassed the known limits to growth, so degrowth is our only option. Sustainability is an outcome of healthy metabolic relationships between an organism and its environment. When consumption depletes resources faster than their rate of regeneration – which is what we are currently doing – it is by definition unsustainable.

Although essential, today’s most progressive reforms, including the Green New Deal and the circular economy, will only be effective when combined with a more equitable distribution of resources and decreasing per capita consumption in advanced economies. For sustainability efforts to be effective, they must be part of a comprehensive degrowth agenda focused on systems change. Contrary to common misunderstandings, degrowth does not mean negative growth or imply sacrifices to one’s quality of life. Rather, it is focused on reducing a society’s material and energy throughput while actually enhancing quality of life. [..]


The next 30 years constitute what systems theorists call a ‘decision window.’ How societies decide to respond to mounting social and ecological pressures will determine whether the system evolves or collapses. Once the decision window ends and the global system passes the chaos point, the system irreversibly changes, and there are only two futures left – breakthrough or breakdown. There is no chance that a wildly optimistic techno-future can sustain growth beyond social and planetary boundaries. Civilization will either collapse or it will follow a path of managed descent and sustainable reorganization. The only breakthroughs remaining follow paths of degrowth.

Read more …

They’ll appeal. Check back in a decade.

US Peach Grower Awarded $265 Million From Bayer, BASF In Weedkiller Suit (R.)

A Missouri jury’s $265 million award to peach grower Bill Bader in his lawsuit against herbicide providers Bayer and BASF has raised the stakes for the two companies as at least 140 similar cases head to U.S. courts later this year. A jury in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, handed Bader, the state’s largest peach farmer, $15 million in actual and $250 million in punitive damages. He sued the companies saying his 1,000-acre orchard was irreparably harmed by herbicide that they produce, which drifted onto its trees from nearby farms. The three-week trial was the first case in the United States to rule on the use of dicamba-based herbicides alleged to have damaged tens of thousands of acres of U.S. cropland.

The herbicide can become a vapor and drift for miles when used in certain weather, farmers have claimed. Bayer said it was “disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” and plans to appeal. BASF also said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision and plans to appeal. Both companies said their dicamba-based herbicides are safe when used as directed. Bayer faces separate multi-billion-dollar litigation over the Roundup weedkiller made by Monsanto, the U.S. firm it took over for $63 billion in 2018. Monsanto made Roundup and dicamba, and Bayer is being sued over both products.


[..] Bayer and BASF face other dicamba lawsuits that could begin late his year before the same judge in Missouri, said attorney Billy Randles, whose firm represented Bader and also represents dozens of others with similar claims. “These are all the same” allegations, said Randles. “They claim negligent design, failure to warn and all allege a joint venture” between Bayer and BASF. The jury found the two equally liable for the damages.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Jul 222019
 


Claude Monet Impression, sunrise 1872

 

Nadler: Mueller Has Evidence Of Trump High Crimes And Misdemeanours (G.)
Trump Has Nothing To Fear From Mueller (Hill)
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Plans Under Threat From Ministers’ Resignations (G.)
Incoming Prime Minister Poses A Brexit Puzzle For Brussels (G.)
From Hammond on to Johnson – Where Next For Fiscal Policy? (PE)
Abe Fails To Get Enough Votes To Change Japan’s Pacifist Constitution (AT)
Armed Mob Violence On Protesters Leaves Hong Kong In Shock (BBC)
Puerto Rico’s Week Of Massive Protests, Explained (Vox)
The Secret Sources of Populism (Bruno Maçães)
Latest Secret Government File Reveals UK Middle East Policy (TP)
Kicked Off the Land (New Yorker)
Losing My Religion For Equality (Jimmy Carter)

 

 

Curious to see what that evidence is, and curious to know why iot has remained hidden to date.

Nadler: Mueller Has Evidence Of Trump High Crimes And Misdemeanours (G.)

The eyes of America will be trained on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, as Robert Mueller testifies before two House committees about his report on Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice by the president. On Sunday, the chairman of the judiciary committee indicated the stakes when he said the 448-page report contained “very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours” – the benchmark for impeachment. “It’s important that we not have a lawless administration and a lawless president,” the New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler told Fox News Sunday.


“And it’s important that people see what we’re doing and what we’re dealing with.” Nadler’s committee would initiate impeachment proceedings. Mueller, a former director of the FBI, will also appear before the intelligence panel. “The report presents very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours,” he said, “and we have to present, or let Mueller present those facts to the American people and then see where we go from there because the administration must be held accountable and no president can be above the law.”

Read more …

Surprise: not everyone agrees with Nadler. Is everybody citing from the same report? Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004.

Trump Has Nothing To Fear From Mueller (Hill)

The president has nothing to fear from the testimony from Robert Mueller because nothing Mueller could possibly say will change the result of the report he delivered. He conclusively found that there was no collusion with the Russians by the Trump 2016 campaign, and he did not bring any indictments for obstruction of justice against the President or even a referral. What Mueller left open with regard to obstruction — if at all — was conclusively dealt with by the Justice Department through the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General who found that there was no probable cause to bring criminal charges against the president.


Congress is not bound by the Mueller investigation or its findings. Congress on its own could bring on impeachment proceedings in the House based on the report — if there was evidence contained therein to warrant such actions. Mueller’s testimony will add nothing other than to further politicize an investigation that was supposed to be apolitical. Mueller reminds me of the patient who decides not to be resuscitated only to find that doctors did so against his wishes. At best, Mueller is a reluctant witness and at worst — for Democrats — a hostile witness. He made it clear in his press conference months ago that he would like the report to speak for itself and that he would not go beyond his own reporting. Congress now runs the risk of further being seen as conducting a witch-hunt against the president by calling a witness who clearly has nothing further to add.

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Quite a few could walk, starting today, but most on Wednesday, when he takes over.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit Plans Under Threat From Ministers’ Resignations (G.)

Boris Johnson’s hoped-for triumphant march into Downing Street this week is set to be dampened by a carefully timed series of resignations by senior ministers, who will retreat to the backbenches with a vow to thwart any moves towards a no-deal Brexit. The announcements by Philip Hammond and David Gauke that they will step down on Wednesday, immediately before Johnson is likely to head to Buckingham Palace, highlight the perilous political climate for Theresa May’s expected successor. It comes amid predictions that the Conservatives’ already wafer-thin working Commons majority of three could entirely disappear by the time MPs return from their summer recess, with mooted defections to the Lib Dems coming on top of a predicted byelection defeat.


Barring a hugely unexpected twist, Johnson is expected to be announced on Tuesday as the victor over Jeremy Hunt in the vote of Conservative members, formally taking over the next day, after May holds a valedictory prime minister’s questions. However, some of the gloss will be removed with the promised resignations of Hammond, the chancellor, and Gauke, the justice secretary, with predictions that other ministers and junior ministers opposed to no deal, such as the international development secretary, Rory Stewart, could follow.

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Headline is just wrong. The EU has seen Boris coming from miles away. They know he will put the blame with Brussels. They know he wants to ditch the backstop, and they won’t let him. Then Boris will be known as the man who broke the Good Friday Agreement.

Incoming Prime Minister Poses A Brexit Puzzle For Brussels (G.)

While Westminster has been gripped by the Conservative leadership race, Brussels has been on a Brexit break. That respite will soon be over. And despite rumours of Brussels compromises in the works, the EU has no off-the-shelf Brexit plan for the new prime minister, who is expected to be announced on Tuesday. “It wouldn’t make any sense to start working on this now,” one senior EU source said. “Because we really need to know [what he wants]. The only thing we have seen are his public statements.” EU negotiators have had no contact with the teams of Boris Johnson – the widely presumed winner – or his rival, Jeremy Hunt. Danuta Hübner, a Polish centre-right member of the European parliament’s Brexit steering group, said there was a “worrying” lack of time to find a compromise before Britain’s departure day on 31 October.


She could not imagine the EU putting anything new on the table, but said it remained open to renegotiating the political declaration on future relations. “We cannot change the major red lines on our side, that there is no possibility of renegotiating the agreement, including the backstop.” Johnson and Hunt have vowed to tear up the backstop, the fallback plan to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, which both men have voted for at least once. Recent reports have suggested the EU is ready to offer a five-year transition to break the deadlock over the backstop. But three EU sources said this was a rehash of debates from the negotiation period, rather than fresh ideas. “It’s all quite ancient” and “not something that we are considering at all”, an official said.

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Ann Pettifor: “Hammond has quietly overseen the dismantling through austerity of a decent society…..”

From Hammond on to Johnson – Where Next For Fiscal Policy? (PE)

As Mr Johnson takes over as Leader of the Conservative Hard Brexit Cult, and by virtue thereof as Prime Minister, it is timely to take a quick look at what his economic and fiscal policy options are – at least in the lead up to DD-Day (Do or Die) on 31st October. It’s equally important to take stock of Mr Hammond’s record as he quietly fades away after three years as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Johnson proposes tax cuts for corporates (reduction in corporate tax rate, already one of the lowest of major economies), and praises President Trump’s example: “He has been very clever in allowing businesses to offset capital investment in tax, with capital allowances. I think we should think about that sort of thing for start-ups, in addition to cutting corporation tax, which would also be effective.” (Via Tom Newton Dunn, The Sun)


Johnson also promises significant tax cuts for the rich and well-to-do, notably by a big rise in the 40% income tax threshhold to £80,000 and by raising the starting-level of earnings for national insurance contribution (NIC) purposes. On the higher tax threshold, Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says this “costs about £9 billion and benefits the 4 million or so income taxpayers with the highest incomes. Most of the gain goes to those in the top 10% of the income distribution would gain an average of nearly £2,500 a year.” On the NIC issue, he calculates this costs £3 billion for every £1,000 the starting level is raised. All these measures will reduce the immediate tax take for government, probably by £20 to 30 billion per year initially, which is 1-1.5% of GDP.


Messrs Johnson & Hammond, circa 1910

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“The provisions, imposed by the United States after World War II, are popular with the public at large, but reviled by nationalists like Abe..”

Abe Fails To Get Enough Votes To Change Japan’s Pacifist Constitution (AT)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed victory Sunday for his ruling coalition in the upper house election, but appeared to fail to secure a “super majority” in the chamber in support of his dream to amend the nation’s pacifist constitution. With the results, the 64-year-old Abe, who is on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, aims to shore up his mandate ahead of a crucial consumption tax hike later this year, along with trade negotiations with Washington. “The ruling parties were given a majority … as people decided to urge us to firmly push for policies under the stable political base,” Abe told public broadcaster NHK.

“I want to meet their expectations soundly,” he said at the headquarters of his Liberal Democratic Party. Abe’s LDP and its coalition partner Komeito are forecast to take at least 69 of the 124 seats – about half the chamber – up for election on Sunday, with six seats still undecided, according to NHK. The two parties control 70 seats in the half of the 245-seat chamber that is not being contested, putting them on track to maintain their overall majority. [..] Local media did predict that forces in favor of revising the constitution, led by Abe’s LDP, were certain to fail to reach 85 of the seats up for grabs, which would have given them a two-thirds “super majority” in the chamber.

Following the vote, however, Abe said he would continue trying to expand support for the revision even if the pro-revision group eventually misses the target, necessary for proposing a constitutional amendment. Abe has pledged to “clearly stipulate the role of the Self-Defence Forces in the constitution,” which prohibits Japan from waging war and maintaining a military. The provisions, imposed by the United States after World War II, are popular with the public at large, but reviled by nationalists like Abe, who see them as outdated and punitive.

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Crazy. But Chinese.

Armed Mob Violence On Protesters Leaves Hong Kong In Shock (BBC)

Hong Kong has been left in shock after a night of violence on Sunday which saw dozens of masked men storm a train station. The men – dressed in white shirts and suspected to be triad gangsters – assaulted pro-democracy protesters and passers-by in the Yuen Long area. This is the first time this kind of violence has been seen in the ongoing anti-extradition demonstrations. Several lawmakers questioned why police were slow to arrive at the scene. Footage posted on social media showed dozens of men attacking people with batons inside the station. Forty-five people were injured, with one person in critical condition.


Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said police had taken more than an hour to arrive. “Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest cop to population ratio,” said another pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan in a tweet. “Where were [they?]” Police on Monday said they had not made any arrests but were still carrying out investigations. The mob attack followed a pro-democracy rally on Sunday in the centre of Hong Kong, where riot police had fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. The masked men stormed Yuen Long MTR station at about 22:30 local time (14:30 GMT), attacking passengers and people making their way back from the protest.

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“Protesters gave an ultimatum to the Governor after his address. “You have until 11:59pm to leave. If you refuse, we will make this country unmanageable“

Puerto Rico’s Week Of Massive Protests, Explained (Vox)

Thousands of protesters demonstrated in the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico Saturday, marking the eighth straight day of rallies calling for the resignation of the island’s governor. The crowds show no sign of ebbing, and analysts say that the protests are quickly becoming the biggest political demonstration in the US territory’s modern history. The protests arose in response to the leak of Telegram app messages in which Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his inner circle make light of the casualties caused by Hurricane Maria and disparage political opponents using vulgar, homophobic, and sexist language.

The text message leak came days after another scandal: The FBI arrested two former top officials in Rosselló’s government as part of a corruption probe over their handling of $15.5 million in contracts. The officials, former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and Ángela Ávila-Marrero (former chief of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration), are accused of funneling the contracts to businesses they had personal ties to, regardless of those companies’ relevant experience or ability. The incidents have galvanized a public that feels neglected and exploited by political and economic elites, and one that has endured great suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and a seemingly unresolvable debt crisis.

Calls for Rosselló’s resignation were growing following the corruption scandal; they exploded after the group chat scandal. Two cabinet officials have resigned in the wake of the scandals, but so far Rosselló has said that he plans to stay in office. Pressure on the governor is rising, however. The protests have garnered international attention, and a number of Puerto Rican celebrities like singer Ricky Martin (who was mocked in the leaked texts), Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and reggaeton star Bad Bunny have backed the demonstrations. “They mocked our dead, they mocked women, they mocked the LGBT community, they made fun of people with physical and mental disabilities, they made fun of obesity. It’s enough. This cannot be,” Martin said in a video on Twitter.

Many politicians from the US mainland have started to weigh in on the issue as well. President Donald Trump — who has called Puerto Rican officials “incompetent or corrupt” and who has opposed increased Hurricane Maria aid to the territory — was critical of Rosselló on Twitter. “The Governor is under siege, the Mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance, and the United States Congress foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief, much of which was squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again,” Trump tweeted on Thursday.

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Populism as a result of decaying power.

“As European affairs minister in Portugal, I had quickly become used to thinking of Poland as the EU’s fourth power, ahead of Spain and Italy”

The Secret Sources of Populism (Bruno Maçães)

Populism is a direct result of significant shifts in the global distribution of power. Namely, it is a reaction to the loss of power by a formerly hegemonic West. The populist parties competing for power in many European countries are reminiscent of the nationalist movements of the 1800s and 1900s in developing countries, which won support from people tired of feeling dependent on Europe and the United States. In particular, they sensed that their ancient civilizations had come to abandon their way of life for Western ideas. They lamented that their countries had been so deeply Westernized that only the sense of emptiness remained. “Our country resembles a hospital,” the Turkish writer Kazim Nami wrote in Turkish Country, a journal published between 1911 and 1931, “deprived of medicine, doctors and care.”

In Russia, a Europeanized aristocracy existed in an entirely different world from the peasantry. They spoke French, listened to different music and songs, ate different food, and had a radically different view of religion and the ends of life. It was as two countries rather than as two classes that they looked at each other, plotting a final and decisive struggle over Russia’s soul. Even in France, England, Germany, and the United States, a creeping sense of alienation was slowly developing between the classes, but it was of a different sort. Because these were the world’s ruling nations, elites assumed the responsibility of managing the affairs of foreign countries. Their outlook was more universal in character, although rooted in colonialism, and that created an inevitable distance with their compatriots.

Of course, as long as Western hegemony persisted, the spoils of empire flowed to the lower classes and reconciled them with those in power. But as the balance of power shifted, cosmopolitan elites appeared in a different light. It was implausible for them to dictate to the rest of the world from a position of growing weakness, and some had learned too well to incorporate the interests of the rest of humanity when formulating their positions. Today, many voters in Europe and the United States are starting to regard the elites as profoundly disconnected from what they see as the national interest. Distrust and alienation will keep growing.

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Divide and rule. Long read. Here’s one of its stories.

Latest Secret Government File Reveals UK Middle East Policy (TP)

In April 1941, nationalist army officers known as the Golden Square staged a coup in Iraq, overthrowing the pro-British regime, and signalled they were prepared to work with German and Italian intelligence. In response, the British embarked on a military campaign and eventually crushed the coup leaders two months later. But Suarez discovered in the files that the British were already wanting such a “military occupation of Iraq” by November 1940 – well before the Golden Square coup gave them a pretext for doing so. The reason was that Britain wanted to end “the mufti’s intrigues with the Italians”. One file notes: “We may be able to clip the mufti’s wings when we can get a new government in Iraq. FO [Foreign Office] are working on this.”

Suarez notes that a prominent thread in the British archive is: “How to effect a British coup without further alienating ‘the Arab world’ in the midst of the war, beyond what the empowering of Zionism had already done.” As British troops closed in on Baghdad, a violent anti-Jewish pogrom rocked the city, killing more than 180 Jewish Iraqis and destroying the homes of hundreds of members of the Jewish community who had lived in Iraq for centuries. The Farhud (violent dispossession) has been described as the Iraqi Jews’ Kristallnacht, the brutal pogrom against Jews carried out in Nazi Germany three years earlier.

There have long been claims that these riots were condoned or even orchestrated by the British to blacken the nationalist regime and justify Britain’s return to power in Baghdad and ongoing military occupation of Iraq. Historian Tony Rocca noted: “To Britain’s shame, the army was stood down. Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain’s ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct insubordination to express orders from Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety. Instead, Sir Kinahan went back to his residence, had a candlelight dinner and played a game of bridge.” Could this be the reason that UK government censors want the file to remain secret after all these years? It would neither be the first, nor the last time that British planners used or created pretexts to justify their military interventions.

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“Between 1910 and 1997, African-Americans lost about ninety per cent of their farmland. This problem is a major contributor to America’s racial wealth gap; the median wealth among black families is about a tenth that of white families.”

Kicked Off the Land (New Yorker)

In the spring of 2011, the brothers Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels were the talk of Carteret County, on the central coast of North Carolina. Some people said that the brothers were righteous; others thought that they had lost their minds. That March, Melvin and Licurtis stood in court and refused to leave the land that they had lived on all their lives, a portion of which had, without their knowledge or consent, been sold to developers years before. The brothers were among dozens of Reels family members who considered the land theirs, but Melvin and Licurtis had a particular stake in it. Melvin, who was sixty-four, with loose black curls combed into a ponytail, ran a club there and lived in an apartment above it. He’d established a career shrimping in the river that bordered the land, and his sense of self was tied to the water. Licurtis, who was fifty-three, had spent years building a house near the river’s edge, just steps from his mother’s.

Their great-grandfather had bought the land a hundred years earlier, when he was a generation removed from slavery. The property—sixty-five marshy acres that ran along Silver Dollar Road, from the woods to the river’s sandy shore—was racked by storms. Some called it the bottom, or the end of the world. Melvin and Licurtis’s grandfather Mitchell Reels was a deacon; he farmed watermelons, beets, and peas, and raised chickens and hogs. Churches held tent revivals on the waterfront, and kids played in the river, a prime spot for catching red-tailed shrimp and crabs bigger than shoes. During the later years of racial-segregation laws, the land was home to the only beach in the county that welcomed black families. “It’s our own little black country club,” Melvin and Licurtis’s sister Mamie liked to say.

In 1970, when Mitchell died, he had one final wish. “Whatever you do,” he told his family on the night that he passed away, “don’t let the white man have the land.” Mitchell didn’t trust the courts, so he didn’t leave a will. Instead, he let the land become heirs’ property, a form of ownership in which descendants inherit an interest, like holding stock in a company. The practice began during Reconstruction, when many African-Americans didn’t have access to the legal system, and it continued through the Jim Crow era, when black communities were suspicious of white Southern courts. In the United States today, seventy-six per cent of African-Americans do not have a will, more than twice the percentage of white Americans.

Many assume that not having a will keeps land in the family. In reality, it jeopardizes ownership. David Dietrich, a former co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Property Preservation Task Force, has called heirs’ property “the worst problem you never heard of.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized it as “the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.” Heirs’ property is estimated to make up more than a third of Southern black-owned land—3.5 million acres, worth more than twenty-eight billion dollars. These landowners are vulnerable to laws and loopholes that allow speculators and developers to acquire their property. Black families watch as their land is auctioned on courthouse steps or forced into a sale against their will.

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Carter leaves the Southern Baptist Convention after 60 years.

Losing My Religion For Equality (Jimmy Carter)

I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries. At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

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Jun 172019
 


Pablo Picasso The sculptor and his statue 1933

 

The Bleak Mood Of Pre-Brexit UK (O.)
Boeing May Never Recover From 737 Debacle (Auerback)
Huawei Prepares For 40%-60% Fall In International Smartphone Shipments (R.)
Huawei Moves To Russia-China Operating System (Escobar)
Deutsche Bank To Set Up €50 Billion Bad Bank (R.)
How Wall Street Got Rich Off The Fresh Market Deal (Cohan)
Japan Demands More Proof From US That Iran Attacked Tankers (JT)
The S-400 Is a Formidable Threat to US Arms Industry (Pieraccini)
While Lam Relents, Hong Kong Calls Massively For Her Ouster (AT)
Chinese Activists Seek UN Investigation Into Tiananmen Crackdown (R.)

 

 

Broken. Completely.

The Bleak Mood Of Pre-Brexit UK (O.)

The survey by BritainThinks reveals an astonishing lack of faith in the political system among the British people, with less than 6% believing their politicians understand them. Some 75% say that UK politics is not fit for purpose. As the Conservative party focuses on who its new leader should be, and the Brexit impasse continues with no solution in sight, 86% think the UK needs a strong leader more than ever – but only 21% think the next prime minister, whoever it may be, will be up to the job. Some 52% believe the country is heading for a Boris Johnson premiership.

Pollster Deborah Mattinson said she was shocked by the findings. “I have been listening to people in focus groups since the late 1980s and I cannot recall a time when the national mood was more despairing. ‘Broken’, ‘sad’, ‘worried’, ‘angry’– the negatives tumble out, as does the long list of grievances. I’m hearing anxieties voiced in a way that I haven’t heard since the 1990s: a rundown NHS, job insecurity, teacher shortages.” BritainThinks polled more than 2,000 people and hosted several focus groups in London and Leicester to gauge the national mood.

Almost three-quarters of the British public believe the divisions on Brexit between Leavers and Remainers will deepen and get worse within the next year. Two-thirds feel depressed by rising poverty and homelessness. While people say Brexit has made them more politically engaged – 40% are paying more attention since the 2016 referendum, rising to 50% in those aged between 18 and 24 – the polling suggests the bitter political debate over leaving the EU has shattered public trust in the way the nation is governed. Some 83% feel let down by the political establishment and almost three-quarters (73%) believe the country has become an international laughing stock and that British values are in decline.

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Ralph Nader says the 737 MAX should never fly again.

Boeing May Never Recover From 737 Debacle (Auerback)

Many of us are familiar with the acronym “FUBAR.” A recent New York Times article on the Boeing 737 fiasco provides a perfect illustration of the concept. We’re now learning that the company “built deadly assumptions” into its newly designed 737 Max aircraft and, specifically, its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Even worse, the Times account concludes that the recent air crashes that have resulted in a worldwide grounding of the Boeing Max plane “might have been avoided, if employees and regulators had a better understanding of MCAS” and if the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) itself was not operating with outdated data on the software changes (which Boeing failed to provide).

The analysis is excellent as far as it goes. But the most damning fact only briefly hinted at in the article is that the problems were evident as early as 2012, some five years before the newest 737 version was marketed and sold across the globe. “At its core, this was a hardware problem, not a software issue. Even when Boeing was using a relatively “safer” version of the early MCAS software (that was later changed to a more dangerous version), the new 737 still had an engine too large to be accommodated in its traditional spot on the plane, which ultimately distorted “the relationship between the engine’s ‘thrust’ and its center of gravity,” as I’ve written before. The resultant aerodynamic problems could not be solved with a software “solution,” no matter how “safe” the original MCAS version (that was ultimately changed to an even more dangerous version) was purported to be.”

Just don’t expect any blowback from Washington. The whole episode provides yet another sick illustration of how the entire system of governance in the US has degenerated into a fully fledged “predator state.” About the only good thing that might emerge from this whole fiasco is that Boeing will provide future Master of Business Administration students with a textbook example of how not to manage a crisis. Likewise, future historians and political scientists will marvel in incredulity at the magnitude of corruption that enveloped the US during this very dark time in the life of the republic. Assuming, of course, that there still anything left worth studying by that point.

[..] Recall that the genesis of this disaster was a problem of hardware, not just MCAS. The extra lift of the far larger-diameter engines of the 737 Max (placed on a different position on the wing) caused the plane to pitch up whenever it approached stall angles of attack at both high and low speeds. This is a problem that should have become glaringly obvious to the greenest of aerodynamics personnel at Boeing the moment the first wind-tunnel model was tested at angles of attack higher than stall (it may have even been obvious on even earlier fluid-dynamics computer-simulation results).

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“.. In order to offset overseas decline, Huawei is aiming to grab up to half of China’s smartphone market in 2019..”

Huawei Prepares For 40%-60% Fall In International Smartphone Shipments (R.)

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is preparing for a 40% to 60% decline in international smartphone shipments, Bloomberg reported on Sunday. The Chinese technology company is looking at options that include pulling the latest model of its marquee overseas smartphone, the Honor 20, according to the article, which cited people familiar with the matter. The device will begin selling in parts of Europe, including Britain and France, on June 21, the report said. Executives will be monitoring the launch and may cut off shipments if the sales are poor, it said. Marketing and sales managers at the tech giant are internally expecting a drop in volumes of anywhere between 40 million to 60 million smartphones this year, the report said. In order to offset overseas decline, Huawei is aiming to grab up to half of China’s smartphone market in 2019, Bloomberg said.

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Be careful what you wish for. Sanctions made Russia stronger too.

Huawei Moves To Russia-China Operating System (Escobar)

Google cuts Huawei off Android; so Huawei may migrate to Aurora. Call it mobile Eurasia integration; the evolving Russia-China strategic partnership may be on the verge of spawning its own operating system – and that is not a metaphor. Aurora is a mobile operating system currently developed by Russian Open Mobile Platform, based in Moscow. It is based on the Sailfish operating system, designed by Finnish technology company Jolla, which featured a batch of Russians in the development team. Quite a few top coders at Google and Apple also come from the former USSR – exponents of a brilliant scientific academy tradition.

In 2014, Russian entrepreneur Grigory Berezkin started co-owning Jolla, and from 2016 his Mobile Platform company started developing a Russian version of the operating system. In 2018, Rostelecom, a state company, bought a 75% share in Open Mobile Platform. Ahead of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum last week, Huawei chairman Guo Ping discussed the possibility of adopting Aurora with Russian minister of digital development and communications, Konstantin Noskov. According to Guo, “China is already testing devices with the Aurora pre-installed.” In Moscow, before moving to St Petersburg, Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping discussed multiple possible deals; and these include Huawei-Aurora, as well as where to locate some of Huawei’s production lines in Russia.

Aurora could be regarded as part of Huawei’s fast-evolving Plan B. Huawei is now turbo-charging the development and implementation of its own operating system, HongMeng, a process that started no less than seven years ago. Most of the work on an operating system is writing drivers and APIs (application programming interfaces). Huawei would be able to integrate their code to the Russian system in no time. HongMeng, for its part, is a key project of Huawei 2012 Laboratories, the innovation, research and technological development arm of the Shenzhen colossus. No Google? Who cares? Tencent, Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo are already testing the HongMeng operating system, as part of a batch of one million devices already distributed.

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Mutti is not happy.

Deutsche Bank To Set Up €50 Billion Bad Bank (R.)

Deutsche Bank is planning to overhaul its trading operations by creating a “bad bank” to hold tens of billions of euros of assets and shrinking or shutting its U.S. equity and trading businesses, the Financial Times reported on Sunday. The bad bank would house or sell assets valued at up to 50 billion euros ($56.06 billion)- after adjusting for risk – and comprise mainly long-dated derivatives, the FT reported, citing four people briefed on the plan. With the creation of the bad bank, Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing is shifting the German lender away from investment banking and focusing on transaction banking and private wealth management, the newspaper said.


As part of the restructuring, the lender’s equity and rates trading units outside continental Europe will be shrunk or closed entirely, the report said. The bank is planning cuts at its U.S. equities business, including prime brokerage and equity derivatives, to win over shareholders unhappy about its performance, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters in May. “As we said at the AGM on May 23, Deutsche Bank is working on measures to accelerate its transformation so as to improve its sustainable profitability. We will update all stakeholders if and when required,” Deutsche Bank said in an emailed statement on Sunday in response to the FT report.

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Grand theft auto made legal.

How Wall Street Got Rich Off The Fresh Market Deal (Cohan)

Take the case of the March 2016, $1.36 billion cash buyout of a supermarket chain, Fresh Market, by Apollo Global Management, the firm started by Leon Black nearly 30 years ago that now manages more than $300 billion. In that deal Apollo teamed up with Ray Berry, the company’s founder, and his son, Brett, to buy out the company’s public stockholders. Before the buyout the Berrys owned about 10% of the public Fresh Market. They agreed to roll over that stake into the newly private Fresh Market, giving them about the same ownership in the private company—worth somewhere between $136 million and $930 million, if the alchemy of leveraged buyouts worked out. Apollo would own the remaining 90% of the equity of the private company.

Because the deal was, in effect, a management buyout of the company, Fresh Market set up a special three-member committee of independent directors to evaluate the Apollo proposal, as well as any others that might come in over the transom after the company decided to put itself up for sale shortly after September 1, 2015. As professional referees, the special committee hired JPMorgan Chase as its financial adviser, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore as one of its legal advisers. Their job was to evaluate the various proposals to buy Fresh Market, a collection of 186 stores in 27 states as of March 2016, and to make sure that the one chosen was, in the parlance of Wall Street, “fair” to the public shareholders of the company “from a financial point of view.”

That’s when things got interesting, especially since Apollo was the only final bid the company received. According to a class action shareholder lawsuit that is still wending its way through the Delaware Court of Chancery, Apollo used its long-standing financial ties to JPMorgan Chase and Cravath to co-opt the process for the benefit of itself and the Berrys, allowing them to buy the company on the cheap. In effect, the lawsuit alleges, by teaming up with the Berrys on an exclusive basis, Apollo was able to buy Fresh Market knowing that its competition for the company would be at a severe disadvantage, without being able to count on the Berrys support, and that JPMorgan Chase would likely bless the fairness of the deal.

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Japan, Germany, Corbyn…

Japan Demands More Proof From US That Iran Attacked Tankers (JT)

The Japanese government has been requesting the United States for concrete evidence to back its assertion that Iran is to blame for the attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, government sources said Sunday. The request came after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a statement hours after the attacks blaming Iran but without offering proof. The Department of Defense later released a video allegedly showing an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded mine attached to the side of the Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous. But Japanese government officials remain unconvinced, the sources said. “The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” said one senior government official.


Japan has been seeking more concrete evidence through various channels, including Foreign Minister Taro Kono who is likely to have made the request during a call with his counterpart on Friday, the sources said. Pompeo said in a press conference Thursday that the United States’ assessment was based on their “intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.” A source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “These are not definite proof that it’s Iran.” “Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it,” he said.

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AI at its best.

The S-400 Is a Formidable Threat to US Arms Industry (Pieraccini)

The US finds itself faced with a situation it has not found itself in over the last 50 years, namely, an environment where it does not expect to automatically enjoy air superiority. Whatever semblance of an air defense that may have hitherto been able to pose any conceivable threat to Uncle Sam’s war machine was rudely dismissed by a wave of cruise missiles. To give two prime examples that occurred in Syria in 2018, latest-generation missiles were intercepted and shot down by decades-old Russian and Syrian systems. While the S-400 system has never been employed in Syria, it is noteworthy that the Serbian S-125 systems succeeded in identifying and shooting down an American F-117 stealth aircraft during the war in the Balkans.

There is a more secret aspect of the S-400 that is little disclosed, either within Russia itself or without. It concerns the S-400’s ability to collect data through its radar systems. It is worth noting Department of Defense spokesman Eric Pahon’s alarm over Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400: “We have been clear that purchasing the S-400 would create an unacceptable risk because its radar system could provide the Russian military sensitive information on the F-35. Those concerns cannot be mitigated. The S-400 is a system built in Russia to try to shoot down aircraft like the F-35, and it is inconceivable to imagine.

Certainly, in the event of an armed conflict, the S-400’s ability to shoot down fifth-generation aircraft is a huge concern for the United States and her allies who have invested so heavily in such aircraft. Similarly, a NATO country preferring Russian to American systems is cause for alarm. This is leaving aside the fact that the S-400 is spreading around the world, from China to Belarus, with dozens of countries waiting in line for the ability to seal their skies from the benevolent bombs of freedom. It is an excellent stick with which to keep a prowling Washington at bay.

[..] The ability of the S-400 to collect data on both the F-35 and F-22 – the crown jewels of the US military-industrial complex – is a cause for sleepless nights for US military planners. What in particular causes them nightmares is that, for the S-400 to function in Turkey, it will have to be integrated into Turkey’s current “identification friend or foe” (IFF) systems, which in turn are part of NATO’s military tactical data-link network, known as Link 16.

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2 million. Beijing has said it stands behind her.

While Lam Relents, Hong Kong Calls Massively For Her Ouster (AT)

Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam issued a public apology Sunday evening (June 16) as hundreds of thousands of protestors dressed in black clogged the city’s streets in another massive protest demanding her resignation and the scrapping of a contentious bill that would allow for the extradition of suspects to mainland China. A day after Lam announced a surprise decision to indefinitely postpone the bill in a press conference on Saturday, the city’s leader vowed to “sincerely and humbly accept all criticism and to improve and serve the public” in a statement released at 8:30 pm as chanting crowds stood outside the gates of her office calling for her to step down.


“Carrie Lam’s press conference yesterday just made Hong Kong people angrier. We don’t think she will step down, but we must force her out,” said 27-year-old Chiew minutes before demonstrators began marching from Victoria Park in the scorching afternoon heat with the aim of forcing the government to rescind, rather than postpone, the controversial bill. Gripped by a surge of mass dissent, the Asian financial hub has been thrust into political crisis amid the largest political demonstrations and some of the worst scenes of violence since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. Organizers from the Civil Human Rights Front said almost two million people took part in Sunday’s march.


Protest organizers said almost two million people took part in a mammoth June 16 protest march. Photo: Nile Bowie

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Yeah, that’s going to happen.

Chinese Activists Seek UN Investigation Into Tiananmen Crackdown (R.)

More than 20 Chinese activists who took part in the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement called on Monday on the United Nations’ top human rights body to investigate Beijing’s deadly crackdown 30 years ago. Wang Dan and 21 others, backed by the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said they had submitted the complaint to the U.N. Human Rights Council, a Geneva forum which opens a three-week session on June 24. “We request the HRC investigate the gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms committed by the Chinese government during its military assault on peaceful protests,” they said in statement.


They also sought action over “the consistent pattern of human rights violations in persecuting Chinese citizens during the past three decades who broke the silence” about the events of June 3-4, 1989. The anniversary remains taboo in China. Beijing has not held a public inquiry nor permitted an independent investigation, the statement said. Beijing enjoys strong support among developing countries at the Human Rights Council, a 47-member state forum that has never adopted a resolution on China since being set up in 2006.

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Jun 152019
 


Arnold Böcklin Mermaids at play 1886

 

Freeing Julian Assange: Part Two (Suzie Dawson)
Well Guess What? He Was Right Again! Free Julian Assange (CJ)
DOJ Bloodhounds on the Scent of John Brennan (Ray McGovern)
System To Circumvent US Sanctions On Iran Ready Soon: German FM (AlJ)
Jeremy Corbyn Challenges UK Government’s Iran Tanker Accusations (BBC)
Brexit Britain Wallows In Dangerous Talk Of National Humiliation (O’Toole)
All Eyes On Fed As Stock Market Pines For Rate Cut (R.)
US Commercial Real Estate Is Another Dangerous Bubble In The Making (Colombo)
The “Deficits Don’t Matter” Folly (Stockman)
Beijing Yields To Hong Kong’s Financial Clout (R.)
Meanwhile, over on Planet Japan (Simon Black)

 

 

Trump was merely added years after the Russia-WikiLeaks slander had started.

Freeing Julian Assange: Part Two (Suzie Dawson)

The public has been led to believe that the 2016 election and the resulting Mueller Report is the definitive evidence that WikiLeaks was somehow in cahoots with Russia, reinforcing the premise that they were in a political alliance with, or favoured, Donald Trump and his Presidential election campaign. Prominent Russiagate-skeptics have long pointed out the multitude of gaping holes inherent in those theories, including the advocacy group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) who have produced credible forensic work analysing the 2016 WikiLeaks releases, that resoundingly debunks officials claims.


In the course of researching this article, I stumbled across a major discovery that augments that: the false notion of WikiLeaks being a front for Russian intelligence isn’t new – it has been pushed by media since 2009. It turns out the circulation of the WikiLeaks-Russia myth was a tried and true diversionary, smear tactic that was simply regurgitated in 2016. Julian Assange believed that UK intelligence agencies were behind the pushing of that narrative, and he was publicly stating so at the end of last decade. He wouldn’t make such claims lightly, and other emerging facts support his suspicion.

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“Otherwise you are just the establishment’s PR firm.”

Well Guess What? He Was Right Again! Free Julian Assange (CJ)

“Today’s the day that journalism gets put on trial,” Dimmack said. “And it’s interesting that behind me there are this many cameras. There haven’t been this many cameras for quite a while. It’s interesting that when Julian was dragged out and kidnapped from within that Ecuadorian embassy, all of you guys had actually gone home, and it was a Russian TV station that actually caught it, Ruptly. It’s almost as if you don’t care.”

“For seven years you have smeared and slandered that man who is going to appear on video in that court in about fifteen minutes,” Dimmack told the mainstream press, right to their fucking faces. “You are all responsible for what has happened today! All of you in the media! Every one of you. You have got blood on your hands. When he released those documents that Chelsea Manning gave him, all he did was the job of a publisher. That’s it. Right now Julian Assange is going to court and put on trial for exposing war criminals as war criminals. And all of you for seven years have smeared and slandered him. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

“You have all got a chance right now to actually do a U-turn and repair some of the damage that you have done over the last seven years,” Dimmack roared. “The Fourth Estate is extremely important. You know this. This is why journalism is such a noble profession; you are meant to hold power accountable, not to suck up to it sycophantically and just repeat propaganda. Otherwise you are just the establishment’s PR firm.” “Stand up for Julian Assange and tell the truth,” he continued. “Ask yourselves why is it for seven years you have printed lie after lie after lie about him? Why is it for seven years you have said that he went to the Ecuadorian embassy to escape a rape charge? No he didn’t! How many times have I said it? He went in there to escape extradition to the United States.” “Well guess what?” Dimmack concluded, gesturing to the courthouse. “He was right again! Free Julian Assange.”

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More Russiagate.

DOJ Bloodhounds on the Scent of John Brennan (Ray McGovern)

The New York Times Thursday morning has bad news for one of its favorite anonymous sources, former CIA Director John Brennan. The Times reports that the Justice Department plans to interview senior CIA officers to focus on the allegation that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian intelligence to intervene in the 2016 election to help Donald J. Trump. DOJ investigators will be looking for evidence to support that remarkable claim that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report failed to establish. Despite the collusion conspiracy theory having been put to rest, many Americans, including members of Congress, right and left, continue to accept the evidence-impoverished, media-cum-“former-intelligence-officer” meme that the Kremlin interfered massively in the 2016 presidential election.

One cannot escape the analogy with the fraudulent evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As in 2002 and 2003, when the mania for the invasion of Iraq mounted, Establishment media have simply regurgitated what intelligence sources like Brennan told them about Russia-gate. No one batted an eye when Brennan told a House committee in May 2017, “I don’t do evidence.” As we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity have warned numerous times over the past two plus years, there is no reliable forensic evidence to support the story that Russia hacked into the DNC. Moreover, in a piece I wrote in May, “Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russia-gate,” I again noted that accumulating forensic evidence from metadata clearly points to an inside DNC job — a leak, not a hack, by Russia or anyone else.

So Brennan and his partners, FBI Director James Comey and National Intelligence Director James Clapper were making stuff up and feeding thin but explosive gruel to the hungry stenographers that pass today for Russiagate obsessed journalists. With Justice Department investigators’ noses to the ground, it should be just a matter of time before they identify Brennan conclusively as fabricator-in-chief of the Russiagate story. Evidence, real evidence in this case, abounds, since the Brennan-Comey-Clapper gang of three were sure Hillary Clinton would become president. Consequently, they did not perform due diligence to hide their tracks.

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From Monday. A few days later, the tankers were attacked. And not with mines either.

System To Circumvent US Sanctions On Iran Ready Soon: German FM (AlJ)

A European payment system designed to circumvent US sanctions on Iran will be ready soon, Germany announced on Monday. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran as part of European efforts to salvage the historic JCPOA nuclear pact and defuse rising US-Iranian tension. Iran and Germany held “frank and serious” talks on saving the 2015 deal with world powers, Zarif told a joint press conference. “Tehran will cooperate with EU signatories of the deal to save it,” Zarif said. Maas said earlier the payment system, known as INSTEX, (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) will soon be ready to go after months of work.


“This is an instrument of a new kind so it’s not straightforward to operationalise it,” he said, pointing to the complexity of trying to install a totally new payment system. “But all the formal requirements are in place now, and so I’m assuming we’ll be ready to use it in the foreseeable future,” added Maas about the system for barter-based trade with Iran. A cautious thaw in relations between Tehran and Washington began in 2015 when the deal was struck between six world powers and Iran, limiting its nuclear activity. But tensions with the US have mounted since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions. Iran has criticised the European signatories of the JCPOA for failing to salvage the pact after Trump pulled the US out. “There is a serious situation in the region. An escalation of tension is becoming uncontrollable and military action wouldn’t be in line with the interests of any party,” Maas said.

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From Skripal to Iran.

Jeremy Corbyn Challenges UK Government’s Iran Tanker Accusations (BBC)

Jeremy Corbyn has questioned whether the government has “credible evidence” to show Iran is behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said responsibility for Thursday’s attack in the Gulf of Oman “almost certainly” lies with the Iranian regime. But the Labour leader tweeted that there was no evidence for this. Mr Hunt responded that Mr Corbyn’s comments were “pathetic” and said he should back British intelligence. It is the second time in the past few weeks that tankers appear to have been attacked in the region and comes amid escalating tension between Iran and the United States.


The US military released video footage which it said proved Iran was behind Thursday’s attacks on the Norwegian and Japanese tankers – something Iran has categorically denied. The UK Foreign Office said it was “almost certain” that a branch of the Iranian military – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – attacked the two tankers on 13 June, adding that “no other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible”. “These latest attacks build on a pattern of destabilising Iranian behaviour and pose a serious danger to the region,” Mr Hunt said. However, in a tweet Mr Corbyn questioned that assessment and said the UK should ease tensions in the region, not fuel a military escalation.

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And it works!

Brexit Britain Wallows In Dangerous Talk Of National Humiliation (O’Toole)

Launching his bid for the Tory leadership this week, Dominic Raab announced, histrionically: “We’ve been humiliated as a country.” For those of us who do not live on planet Brexit, this might have been mistaken for a belated reaction to the genuinely demeaning spectacle of Donald Trump’s state visit a week earlier. But, of course, like almost all of his fellow contenders to be the next prime minister, Raab was playing his part in a strange performance in which the national honour has been so horribly besmirched by the European Union that it can be salved only by taking the pain of a no-deal Brexit.

Perhaps if you keep acting out phoney feelings, you end up not being able to recognise the real thing. Brexit Britain has been wallowing in a hyped-up psychodrama of national humiliation. It is, indeed, one of the very few things that remainers and leavers still share, even if they feel mortified for very different reasons. In relation to the EU, this sense of humiliation is wildly overplayed. But when Trump comes to town and really does degrade Britain, the sense of wounded dignity that ought to be felt seems curiously absent.

[..] how come the idea of national humiliation has loomed so large in Brexit? Shortly before the missed departure date of 29 March, a Sky Data poll asked: “Is the way Britain is dealing with Brexit a national humiliation?” Ninety per cent of respondents said yes. This idea of collective abasement is everywhere in the Brexit narrative. A random sample of headlines from across the spectrum tells the story: “Brexit and the prospect of national humiliation” (Financial Times); “Voice of the Mirror: Theresa May’s Brexit is a national humiliation”; “A national humiliation: Never was so much embarrassment caused to so many by so few” (Telegraph); “‘Humiliating to have to beg’ for EU exit, says Arlene Foster” (Irish Times). And so, endlessly, on.

There is something hysterical in this constant evocation of humiliation. It is a cry of outraged self-regard: how dare they treat us like this? Yes, of course, the Brexit debacle has reduced Britain’s prestige around the world. And the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May is indeed a miserable thing when compared with the glorious visions that preceded it. But Britain has not been humiliated by the EU – the deal was shaped by May’s (and Arlene Foster’s) red lines. Britain did not get what the Brexiters fantasised about, but it did get what it actually asked for. That’s not humiliation.

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Markets my ass. The only thing that’s left is the Fed. Markets are dead.

All Eyes On Fed As Stock Market Pines For Rate Cut (R.)

The Federal Open Market Committee meeting next week is shaping up as a pivotal one for Wall Street, with stocks primed for a selloff should the Fed fail to take an even more dovish tilt after policymakers raised expectations for a rate cut in recent weeks. The benchmark S&P 500 has rallied more than 5% this month as softening economic data coupled with comments by Fed officials heightened expectations the Fed will cut rates by the end of the year and, at the very least, telegraph it is leaning toward a later rate cut at its June 18-19 meeting. Those gains came on the heels of a selloff in May of nearly 7% in the S&P, largely fueled by investor concerns that trade wars were escalating, slowing the economy and putting it at risk of falling into a recession.


Bets for a rate cut were amplified by comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on June 4, who said the central bank will respond “as appropriate” to the risks from a global trade war and other developments, and after a weak May payrolls report on June 7. Bank of America Merrill Lynch Chief Economist Michelle Meyer expects the Fed’s “dot plots” projection of interest rates, which represents the anonymous, individual rate projections of Fed policymakers for the next few years, to shift lower as officials start to factor in cuts. However, “the median dot will signal a Fed on hold,” Meyer said in a note. “The market has somehow convinced themselves that we are in an easing cycle. I am not sure how we got so far ahead of ourselves,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.

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Virtual wealth in a virtual reality.

US Commercial Real Estate Is Another Dangerous Bubble In The Making (Colombo)

As a result of the Fed’s ZIRP and QE programs in the past decade, virtually all types of assets soared in value: stocks, bonds, art, classic cars, farmland, residential real estate, and commercial real estate. On average, U.S. commercial real estate prices have surged by 111%, or more than double, since their 2009 low. Interestingly, most people don’t realize that U.S. commercial real estate also experienced a bubble from 2004 to 2008 at the same time as the U.S. housing bubble. This early bubble inflated for many of the same reasons as the housing bubble, which were ultra-low borrowing costs and loose lending standards. From 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate prices rose 66%, but crashed by nearly 40% during the 2008 financial crisis. Commercial real estate prices have increased even more in the current bubble (111% vs. 66%), which means that the coming commercial real estate bust is likely to be even worse than the 2008 bust.

As discussed earlier, low interest rate environments often cause dangerous bubbles to develop by encouraging borrowing booms. Like the U.S. commercial real estate bubble of 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate lending has flourished during the current bubble. Since 2012, total commercial real estate loans at U.S. banks have increased by an alarming $700 billion or 50%.

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“There haven’t been any cataclysmic consequences, so why worry about it?”

The “Deficits Don’t Matter” Folly (Stockman)

Well, that was timely. The US Treasury just posted a record $207 billion deficit for May and record monthly spending of $440 billion. That brought the rolling 12 month deficit to just shy of the trillion dollar mark at $986 billion. The timely part is two-fold. First, it just so happens that May marked month #119 of the current expansion, making it tied for the duration record with the 1990s cycle. But even JM Keynes himself would be rolling in his grave in light of the chart below. To wit, even by the lights of hardcore Keynesians of yore, fiscal deficits were supposed to be falling sharply at the end of a business cycle or even moving into surplus as they did in 1999-2000, not erupting toward 5% of GDP as has now happened.

The second timely note, of sorts, is that the Wall Street Journal was Johnny on the Spot this AM with a front page story entitled, “How Washington Learned to Love Debt and Deficits”. The story’s quote from the current Dem Chairman of the House Budget Committee, John Yarmouth, says it all. There simply has never been such bipartisan complacency about the nation’s public finances in all of modern history – including during the biggest borrow and spend days of FDR, LBJ and every president since Gerald Ford: “Rep. John Yarmuth (D., Ky.), House Budget Committee chairman, says he rarely hears from constituents concerned about rising deficits and debt. Many voters’ attitudes, he says: “There haven’t been any cataclysmic consequences, so why worry about it?”

The WSJ story is a dog’s breakfast of rationalizations, non sequitirs, political double-talk and Keynesian tommyrot. What is the most telling, however, is that it was co-authored by Jon Hilsenrath, who was the paper’s long-time Fed reporter. Yet it contains not a single word about the role of central banks in fostering the utter collapse of fiscal responsibility described by his lengthy report. So for want of doubt, here is the culprit. The central banks of the world have expanded their balance sheets by upwards of $22 trillion since the turn of the century, thereby massively monetizing the erupting public debt of the US and most of the world via fiat credit snatched from thin air.

So did that massive $22 trillion “buy” order from the central banks weigh heavily on the supply of funds side of the scales in the fixed income market, thereby driving bond prices skyward and yields ever lower? Why, goodness gracious, yes it did!

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Really?

Beijing Yields To Hong Kong’s Financial Clout (R.)

Beijing has yielded to Hong Kong’s unique economic status. Carrie Lam, chief executive of the special administrative region, on Saturday indefinitely suspended a bill that would have allowed extradition to the mainland, responding to mass rallies and violent street protests that rocked the city. It’s a defeat for her, and leaves the central government embarrassed. But for the Chinese Communist Party, preserving Hong Kong’s financial role still trumps the desire for more political control. Lam took office in 2017, and is considered a reliable Beijing loyalist. Pushing through the extradition bill, however, came from her, she said. Either way, the central government endorsed it enthusiastically as well. Yet the strength and breadth of the protests caught both Lam and Beijing off guard.


The backlash was not confined to democracy advocates, much less to a radical minority that began calling for independence after the Occupy movement in 2014. It extended to anyone who distrusted the Chinese legal system. In the end, that seemed to be almost everyone. Some tycoons began moving funds out of Hong Kong to Singapore in advance of the bill’s passage, Reuters reported, a hint of the outflows before the 1997 handover from Britain. And not only did the pro-Beijing camp fail to mobilise against the demonstrations in force – as it did in 2014 – the conservative business community began expressing public doubts about the agenda almost immediately. Financial markets wobbled. Worse still, U.S. politicians threatened to re-evaluate Hong Kong’s unique status, which could affect everything from visas to trade.

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We’re all on planet Japan. Pension systems everywhere are imploding.

Meanwhile, over on Planet Japan (Simon Black)

It was only a few days ago that the Japanese government’s Financial Services Agency published its oddly-titled “Annual Report on Ageing Society”. (Like everything in Japan, English translations often hilariously miss the mark…) This is a report that the Ministry of Finance puts out every year. And as the name implies, the report discusses the state of Japan’s pension fund, and its future prospects for taking care of its senior citizens. Bear in mind that Japan has the oldest population in the world; Japan ranks #2 in the world for average age (46.9, just behind Monaco), #1 in the world for the greatest percentage of citizens over the age of 70, and #1 in the world for life expectancy. In a nutshell, this means that Planet Japan has more people collecting pension benefits, for more years, than anywhere else.

Yet at the same time, Japan’s pension fund is completely insolvent. There simply aren’t enough people paying into the system to make good on the promises that have been made. At present there are only 2 workers paying into the pension program for every 1 retiree receiving benefits in Japan. The math simply doesn’t add up, and it’s only getting worse. Planet Japan’s birth rate is infamously low, and the population here is actually DECLINING. So, fast forward another 10-15 years, and there will be even MORE people collecting pension benefits, and even FEWER people paying into the system. This year’s ‘Annual Report on Ageing Society’ plainly stated this reality; it was a brutally honest assessment of Japan’s underfunded pension program.

The report went on to tell people that they needed to save their own money for retirement because the pension fund wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. This terrified a lot of Japanese workers and pensioners. So the government stepped in to quickly solve the problem… by making the report disappear. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for the report, calling it “inaccurate and misleading.” And Finance Minister Taro Aso– himself a pensioner at age 78 (though in typical Japanese form he looks like he’s 45)– simply un-published the report.

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Jun 142019
 


Henri Matisse Woman with a hat 1905

 

US Consults Allies On How To Protect Shipping In Wake Of Tanker Attacks (R.)
Julian Assange Is Not On Trial, British Justice Is (Wight)
The Hitlerization of Jeremy Corbyn – Among Others (Hopkins)
US Retirement Savings Gap Grows By $3 Trillion Each Year (MW)
The Fed Is Pushing On A String
The State of the Canadian Debt Slaves (WS)
Canada Rejects Idea Of Halting Extradition Of Top Huawei Executive To US (R.)
Elizabeth Warren To Propose Cancelling Up To $50,000 In Student Debt (MW)
UK Government Blew Billions on “Help to Buy” Scheme (DQ)
Varoufakis, Kotzias And The Dwindling ‘Progressive Army’ (K.)
School’s Purpose is Indoctrination (Carbone)
Carnival Cruise Ships Pollute 10 Times More Than All Cars in Europe (D.)

 

 

There are Japanese ships in the Persian Gulf literally every moment of every day. But Iran only decides to attack them when the first Japanese PM ever(?!) visits the country. Bolton is dementing.

US Consults Allies On How To Protect Shipping In Wake Of Tanker Attacks (R.)

The United States is discussing with its allies a variety of options on how to protect international shipping in the Gulf of Oman in the wake of tanker attacks that Washington has blamed on Iran, senior Trump administration officials said on Thursday. Two officials, speaking to a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States wants to ensure the freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz and make sure international commerce is not disrupted. Two oil tankers were attacked on Thursday and left adrift in the Gulf of Oman. “We don’t think this is over,” one official said of the possibility of more such attacks. The official said options are being reviewed.


“We’re discussing and will be discussing with our partners and allies suggestions on how we collectively can take steps to ensure, one, that we maintain freedom of navigation and international commerce is not disrupted and, second, that we protect our forces’ interests and our commercial assets and those of our partners and allies,” the official said. The official said the attacks appeared “designed to have a political outcome” and suggested it could have been an attempt to disrupt a visit to Tehran by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “We are going to obviously evaluate our presence in the region and the growing threat and make subsequent decisions,” the official said. “We have to look at the threat, as we always do, to our personnel and our forces but the threat to a strategic chokepoint. There’s a significant amount of trade that transits the Strait of Hormuz every day.”

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Another hearing today.

Julian Assange Is Not On Trial, British Justice Is (Wight)

The most honest man in Britain today is Julian Assange, while the most dishonest are those who are engaged in his ongoing persecution. The latest instalment in that persecution is a court hearing in London on June 14, where details of the request for his extradition to the US, it is expected, will be revealed for the first time. The formal request for the extradition of the founder of WikiLeaks was made to the UK by US authorities earlier in the week – and with British Home Secretary Sajid Javid signing the relevant papers sanctioning it, the final decision on whether Julian Assange’s extradition to the US goes ahead now rests with the courts.

[..] In revealing to the world the beast of US hegemony that resides behind the velvet curtains of democracy and human rights, Julian Assange exposed the lie upon which this American Empire (and make no mistake, it is an empire) depends. It depends on it in order to persuade its supposed beneficiaries – i.e. people living in the West – to continue to suspend disbelief as to the reality of a system they’ve been conditioned to believe is rooted in values that emanate from the human heart rather than from the heart of the machine. The end result is that in exposing this lie, Assange and WikiLeaks became a bigger threat to the ability of US hegemony to function normally than a million bayonets. As such, it became imperative that he, as the founder and face of WikiLeaks, be destroyed.

Britain’s role in this process couldn’t be any more sordid or shameful. Its legal system and judiciary has effectively been turned into a subsidiary of its US counterpart; its function not to dispense justice but to deliver a man into the arms of injustice. The fate to befall Assange proves that there’s a world of difference between believing that you live in a free society and behaving as if you do. He is the canary down the coalmine of Western democracy, signalling the warning that its foundations are rotten to the core.

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“..American Hitler (i.e., Donald Trump) will “push back” (i.e., intervene) against British Hitler (i.e., Jeremy Corbyn)..”

The Hitlerization of Jeremy Corbyn – Among Others (Hopkins)

Apparently, American Hitler and his cronies are conspiring with some secret group of “Jewish leaders” to stop British Hitler from becoming prime minister and wiping out all the Jews in Great Britain. Weird, right? But that’s not the weird part, because maybe American Hitler wants to wipe out all the Jews in Great Britain himself, rather than leaving it to British Hitler … Hitlers being notoriously jealous regarding their genocidal accomplishments. No, the weird part is that everyone knows that American Hitler does not make a move without the approval of Russian Hitler, who is also obsessed with wiping out the Jews, and with destroying the fabric of Western democracy. So why would Russian Hitler want to let American Hitler and his goons thwart the ascendancy of British Hitler, who, in addition to wanting to wipe out all the Jews, also wants to destroy democracy by fascistically refunding the NHS, renationalizing the rail system, and so on?

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? In any event, here’s the official story. In “a recording leaked to The Washington Post,” and then flogged by the rest of the corporate media, Reichsminister des Auswärtigen, Mike Pompeo, told a group of unnamed “Jewish leaders” that American Hitler (i.e., Donald Trump) will “push back” (i.e., intervene) against British Hitler (i.e., Jeremy Corbyn) to protect the lives of Jews in Great Britain if British Hitler becomes prime minister (and is possibly already doing so now). The identities of these “Jewish leaders” have not been disclosed by the corporate media, presumably in order to protect them from being murdered by Corbyn’s Nazi hit squad.

Whoever they were, they wanted to know whether American Hitler and his fascist cabinet were “willing to work with [them] to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews” after Jeremy Corbyn seizes power, declares himself Führer of Communist Britannia, and orders the immediate invasion of France. To anyone who has been closely following the corporate media’s relentless coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s Nazi Death Cult (i.e., the UK Labour Party) and the global Anti-Semitism Pandemic, it comes as no real surprise that this group of “Jewish leaders” (whoever they are) would want to stop him from becoming prime minister. I doubt that their motives have much to do with fighting anti-Semitism, or anything else specifically “Jewish,” but … well, I’m kind of old-fashioned that way. I still believe there’s a fundamental difference between “the Jews” and the global capitalist ruling classes.

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Thanks to the Fed.

US Retirement Savings Gap Grows By $3 Trillion Each Year (MW)

Many Americans haven’t saved as much money as they need for retirement — and the gap is expected to widen dramatically in the next 30 years. The retirement savings gap — between what people have and should have — was $28 trillion in the U.S. in 2015, but by 2050, it’s expected to swell to $137 trillion, according to the World Economic Forum, a Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland-based nonprofit that researched international financial affairs. The disparity grows $3 trillion every year in the U.S.

The organization calculated this gap assuming most individuals’ retirement income sources would include a combination of government-provided pensions (such as Social Security), employer pensions in the public or private workforce and individual savings. They also analyzed the level of savings across expectations of income needs and life expectancies, assuming individuals would retire between 60 and 70 years old, for countries including China, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom. The gap is most pronounced in the U.S., followed by China and Japan tied for $11 trillion in 2015. China is also expected to see a significantly wider discrepancy in 2050, at $119 trillion, followed by India, with an $85 trillion gap. Overall, the eight countries the WEF analyzed will see a $400 trillion disparity.

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Velocity of money and inflation.

The Fed Is Pushing On A String (Roberts)

Historically, the reason the Fed cuts rates, and interest are falling, is because the Fed has acted in response to a crisis, recession, or both. [..] Secondly, after a decade of QE and zero interest rates inflation, outside of asset prices, (as measured by CPI), remains muted at best. The reason that QE does not cause “inflationary” pressures is that it is an “asset swap” and doesn’t affect the money supply or the velocity of money. QE remains confined to the financial markets which lifts asset prices, but it does not impact the broader economy.

Unfortunately, the Fed is still misdiagnosing what ails the economy, and monetary policy is unlikely to change the outcome in the U.S., just as it failed in Japan. The reason is simple. You can’t cure a debt problem with more debt. Therefore, monetary interventions, and government spending, don’t create organic, sustainable, economic growth. Simply pulling forward future consumption through monetary policy continues to leave an ever growing void in the future that must be filled. Eventually, the void will be too great to fill.

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Time to start defaulting?

The State of the Canadian Debt Slaves (WS)

Canadian households are known around the world for their uncanny ability to pile on debt. And American debt slaves, who’d gotten trampled during the Great Recession, turn out to be lackadaisical these days in comparison. The share of disposable income (total incomes from all sources minus taxes) that Canadian households spent on making principal and interest payments on their ballooning mortgage debts and non-mortgage debts reached a new record of 14.9% in the first quarter, despite still ultra-low interest rates and despite the highest disposable income ever, according to data released today by Statistics Canada:

[..] So how do Canadian debt slaves stack up against American debt slaves? Statistics Canada released a report on just this topic at the end of March perhaps because authorities in Canada should get a tad nervous. [..] The annualized data it provided included the household debt-to-disposable income ratios for Canada and for the US through 2018. The ratio shows how large debt is relative to disposable income. For Canada, this ratio was 175% annualized in 2018, one of the highest in the world, and rising. For the US, it was 103%, and declining:

Canada’s household debts have continued to surge since the year 2000 except for a brief dip during the Financial Crisis. But US household debts plunged during years of deleveraging after the Financial Crisis, in part by consumers defaulting on their mortgages and credit cards. Household debts didn’t start growing again until 2013. And it took until 2017 before they surpassed the pre-Financial Crisis peak. But over the decade since the Financial Crisis, the US population has grown, and the number of working people has grown, and the national disposable income has increased, and so the ratio of household debt to disposable income has continued to drop.

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“..could make Canadians around the world less safe..”

Canada Rejects Idea Of Halting Extradition Of Top Huawei Executive To US (R.)

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Thursday dismissed a suggestion that Ottawa block the extradition of a top executive from China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to the United States, saying it would set a dangerous precedent. Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested on U.S. fraud charges in Vancouver last December, will challenge Washington’s extradition request at hearings that are set to begin next January. China angrily demanded Canada release Meng and detained two Canadians on spying charges. It has also blocked imports of Canadian canola seed and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he fears further retaliation.


The Globe and Mail newspaper on Thursday said former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien had floated the idea of the government intervening to stop the extradition case and thereby improve ties with Beijing. “When it comes to Ms Meng there has been no political interference … and that is the right way for extradition requests to proceed,” Freeland told a televised news conference in Washington. “It would be a very dangerous precedent indeed for Canada to alter its behavior when it comes to honoring an extradition treaty in response to external pressure,” she added, saying to do so could make Canadians around the world less safe.

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And what about all the others?

Elizabeth Warren To Propose Cancelling Up To $50,000 In Student Debt (MW)

Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to cancel student debt will soon be one step closer to reality — even if she doesn’t become president. The Democratic Senator of Massachusetts plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that mirrors her presidential campaign proposal to cancel at least a portion of the student debt held by many of the nation’s 44 million borrowers, her Senate office announced Thursday. Rep. James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and the house majority whip, will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Warren’s office hasn’t yet released a draft of the legislative text, but the bill is slated to propose cancelling up to $50,000 in student debt for the bulk of student loan borrowers, her office said.


Under the proposal Warren released as part of her presidential campaign in April, borrowers with a household income of less than $100,000 would have $50,000 of their student debt cancelled and borrowers with an income between $100,000 and $250,000 would be eligible for some student debt cancellation — though not the full $50,000. Borrowers earning $250,000 or more would receive no debt cancellation. Her campaign estimated the plan would cost $640 billion, which would be paid through a tax on the ultra-wealthy. The idea of student debt cancellation has been popular in some circles for years, but Warren’s campaign proposal nudged it into the mainstream. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent seeking the Democratic nomination, has vowed to cancel “massive amounts of student debt,” though hasn’t offered specifics.

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All governments blow housing bubbles.

UK Government Blew Billions on “Help to Buy” Scheme (DQ)

Here’s how the scheme works: First-time property buyers get to put down a deposit of as little as 5% on a new-build home worth as much as £600,000 ($761,000) and receive an “equity loan” from the government. The size of the loan varies depending on where borrowers live. In London, where the price of property is an order of magnitude higher than in most other places, buyers can receive as much as 40% of the property price. Across the rest of the country the upper limit is 20%. The rest of the financing is covered by a traditional mortgage. While Help to Buy may have had a limited effect in terms of making housing affordable for first time buyers who are genuinely priced out of the market, it has proven to be effective at sustaining the UK’s all-important housing bubble by jacking up the prices of new-build houses, resulting in even less affordable housing.


Since Help to Buy was first launched in 2013, average UK house prices have increased by 35%, from £167,000 to £226,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. Through the scheme, the government has so far issued around 211,000 loans worth £11.7 billion ($14.8 billion) to home buyers. According to the NAO, this has helped increase sales of new-build properties from 61,357 a year in 2013-14 to 104,245 a year in 2017-18. That, in turn, has helped fuel a spike in profits for the UK’s biggest home builders. The nine largest builders dished out £2.3 billion in dividends in their most recent financial year, 39 times greater than the £53 million they paid out in 2012, a year before the scheme was introduced.

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Greeks have had enough of ‘left’; look what it brought them.

Varoufakis, Kotzias And The Dwindling ‘Progressive Army’ (K.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been blindsided and thrown completely off his game plan. His narrative of a “progressive army” and a fresh rally of forces for elections “that will determine the future” is coming under constant attack. The Progressive Alliance was intended to move SYRIZA closer to the center so that it could resonate more strongly with the broader “progressive” section of voters – though what constitutes progressive and conservative in today’s world is a matter of debate – and to more fully acquire the characteristics of one of the two pillars of the two-party system, pushing center-left Movement for Change to the sidelines.

Tsipras’ plan, however, has been scuppered by two developments in the broader area of the Left, which are of significant symbolic importance and may affect the balance of power. What he hopes to achieve in the next few weeks is to convince many of the voters who chose not to vote in the European elections and who are mainly former supporters of SYRIZA to return to the fold and put their weight behind the big battle against the “socially insensitive, neoliberal” Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the opposition New Democracy party. His path in this ambitious plan, however, is littered with obstacles. The first was the surprisingly strong performance of Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 party in the European elections, which shook things up.

There is now a party to the left of SYRIZA that is pro-European and has a leader with what a leftist voter might see as a convincing position. Moreover, he is neither Zoe Constantopoulou nor Panagiotis Lafazanis. He is a TV star who is in a position to boost his popularity thanks to his strong social media presence. It is also quite likely, if not certain, that he will make it into Parliament next month, and not just by scraping by with 3 percent. You can say a lot about Varoufakis, but what is certain is that he represents the thinking of a significant portion of the people who voted for SYRIZA in January 2015. He exercises charm over this portion of voters, and this is something that will be evident at the polls.

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Has been true for a very long time. Still poorly written though.

School’s Purpose is Indoctrination (Carbone)

The near sole purpose of present-day academia is indoctrination. This is a fairly bold thesis, but the evidence is in its favor. The increasingly progressive leftist agenda is sweeping through academia and conservatives are passively watching it happen. The main indoctrination stories you hear are those of radical professors on college campuses, outlandish majors created to forward social justice movements, and, on occasion, a political outburst by a high school teacher. Although these issues need addressing, by far the biggest – and the one that should scare everyone the most – is the silent indoctrination.


Indoctrination is no longer dependent upon the political beliefs of teachers. We are now past that. Course material is blatant political propaganda. Not just the course material for gender studies and similar. The core curricula of grade school through college. Sciences, economics, literature – any core course you can think of is politically influenced. The only course that may still be an exception is mathematics. Unless you account for the left-wing system of common core – which is a complete disaster. If you don’t believe this, sit through a grade school math class or open up your child’s text book. Disaster.

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But who ever measures sulfur oxides?

Carnival Cruise Ships Pollute 10 Times More Than All Cars in Europe (D.)

Commercial cruise lines are some of the world’s worst polluters, and Carnival is near the top of that list according to a study of European cruise line operators. Research found that Carnival alone is responsible for almost 10 times as much sulfur dioxide release as all 260 million of Europe’s cars combined. The study from Transport & Environment says that the 203 cruise ships that operated in European waters in 2017 emitted a combined total of 62 kilotons of sulfur oxides (SOx), which form airborne gases known to cause lung cancer and acid rain. During the same period, Europe’s 260 million known registered vehicles let out just 3.2 kilotons, the study found.

Of these 62 kilotons of SOx, more than half allegedly were the product of the 47 ships operated by Carnival Cruise Lines or its subsidiaries. Of the 20 worst offenders, seven are Carnival properties, which together made up half of the industry’s SOx emissions in Europe. Carnival denied any wrongdoing when asked for comment by Fast Company, pointed the finger at the rest of the maritime transportation industry, and insinuated that the study’s methodology was unscientific. [..] This statement arrived days after Carnival agreed to a $20 million fine and undergo increased scrutiny of its plastic and sewage disposal practices, which included dumping both directly into the ocean in large quantities. Carnival allegedly tried to hide these activities from regulators by falsifying records or pressuring the United States Coast Guard to relax the terms of its environmental compliance agreement.

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Dec 132018
 
 December 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


René Magritte After the water, the clouds 1926

 

‘Her Goose Is Cooked’ (G.)
Tory Resentment Of Irish Power Within EU (BBC)
Cohen Gets 3 Years, Says He Will Reveal All He Knows About Trump (Ind.)
Yellen, Fed Fear Corporate Debt Bubble, Investors Don’t (CNBC)
US Bank Stocks Spiral Down (WS)
ECB Worries Multiply Even As Money-Printing Presses Stop (R.)
ECB Caught Between Economic Risks And QE Exit (CNBC)
French Government To Face A No-Confidence Vote (CNBC)
Japan Picks The Character For ‘Disaster’ To Define 2018 (Tel.)
Wikileaks’ Assange Undergoes Medical Tests At Ecuador’s Urging (R.)
Assange Complains Of ‘More Subtle’ Silencing Than Khashoggi (RT)
Fentanyl Surpasses Heroin As Deadliest Drug In US (AFP)
Time Magazine Says The US ‘Remains A Free And Fair Press’ (CNBC)

 

 

Might as well do it this way. May survives confidence vote and can now prepare to defend the deal whose certain defeat made her delay Tuesday’s Parliament vote, a delay which led to the confidence vote in the first place. She still can’t win that one. It’s not so much May who is cooked, it’s the country.

‘Her Goose Is Cooked’ (G.)

No 10 will not be happy with today’s front pages, which are all about Theresa May’s survival in the no-confidence vote, but paint the win as less of a triumph for May than a pyrrhic victory. Let’s start with the good news for the prime minister. Two papers have come out in support of the her, with the Express featuring a picture of a smiling May and the headline: “Now just let her get on with it”.


Neil Henderson
(@hendopolis)

EXPRESS: Now just let her get on with it #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/jBhPRSqbAc

The Mail is similarly supportive: “Now let her get on with the job!”, saying that “despite two months of sabre-rattling by her hardline opponents, and deadlock over Brexit, almost two-thirds of Tory MPs backed her”.


Neil Henderson
(@hendopolis)

DAILY MAIL: Now let her get on with the job! #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/oaEihTtsOv

Others were less sympathetic. “Time to call it a May”, says the Sun, never one to miss the chance of putting a pun in a headline. The Sun says the prime minister was “left wounded last night after a battering by Tory Brexit rebels”.

The Sun
(@TheSun)

Tomorrow’s front page: Theresa May was left wounded after a battering by Tory Brexit rebels in a make-or-break confidence vote https://t.co/SZTSNZoCZq pic.twitter.com/3OO11Qrm85

The Mirror has: “It’s lame duck for Christmas”, saying May’s “goose is cooked”. The paper describes her as “wounded” and “battered” and says she only managed to survive the no-confidence vote “by promising not to fight the next election”.


Daily Mirror
(@DailyMirror)

Tomorrow’s front page: It’s lame duck for Christmas#tomorrowspaperstoday https://t.co/fFIeHwiekz pic.twitter.com/xL0ijW0Qzv

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Britain’s -Tory- elites still see Ireland as some backward place way beneath them. “The Irish really should know their place.”

Tory Resentment Of Irish Power Within EU (BBC)

A Tory grandee recently sidled up to me to express grave reservations about the Brexit process. “We simply cannot allow the Irish to treat us like this,” the former minister said about the negotiating tactics of the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. The Conservative MP was exasperated that the Republic of Ireland (population: 4.8m) has been able to shape the EU negotiating stance that has put such pressure on the UK (population: 66m). “This simply cannot stand,” the one-time moderniser told me. “The Irish really should know their place.” The remarks explained why Conservatives from both sides of the Brexit divide are so troubled by the negotiations. They also explain why Theresa May might find that any concessions from the EU over the Northern Ireland backstop may fall short of the demands of Tory MPs.

Over the last few months Tory MPs have asked in private how the Irish Republic can believe its relationship with the EU trumps its relationship with the UK. They cite economic reasons (the Irish Republic’s strong trading links with the UK) and the historical relationship. The MPs do of course acknowledge that left a troubled legacy. One minister familiar with Anglo-Irish relations points out that these Tories should bear in mind one date and one word to explain both the Irish and the EU’s approach. The date is 1973: when the Irish Republic joined the EEC at the same time as the UK and Denmark. That was the moment when Ireland took a giant political leap at the same time as the UK.

But it turned out to be arguably the biggest unilateral strategic move since Partition in the 1920s – a move that defined the modern Irish Republic as an independent state within Europe, with a wholly different approach to its larger neighbour.

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I’m afraid I missed something along the way. If you run for office in the US and someone tries to blackmail you, you can’t get rid of them, you need to have lawsuits, court cases etc., interfere with your campaign. Not doing so is illegal. But, as Candace Owens said today,

“Congress has a slush fund, made up of tax dollars, that is used to pay off & silence their alleged sexual assaults and affairs. To date, over 200 million dollars in 200 settlements have been paid since 1998. But tell us more about Trump’s possible campaign finance violations…”

Moreover, a US judge just sentenced Stormy Daniels to paying Trump’s legal costs. But he was still in the wrong? How is that possible?

Cohen Gets 3 Years, Says He Will Reveal All He Knows About Trump (Ind.)

Michael Cohen has warned that he has more to say about what he called the ”dirty deeds” of Donald Trump as the president’s former lawyer and fixer was sentenced to three years in prison for facilitating payments to two women who have had alleged affairs with Mr Trump. Cohen was sentenced to 36 months for tax fraud and for his role in the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and the former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both say they had affairs with Mr Trump before the 2016 presidential election. The judge in a district court in New York also handed Cohen an extra two months for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.

The payments have implicated Mr Trump directly in criminal conduct according to a court filing from prosecutors last week, which said that Cohen was working in coordination with the president. Cohen’s adviser Lanny Davis, who was his attorney for the case, said after the sentencing that Cohen will disclose more information concerning Mr Trump, once Robert Mueller wraps up his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion with Trump campaign officials. “At the appropriate time, after Mr Mueller completes his investigation and issues his final report, I look forward to assisting Michael to state publicly all he knows about Mr Trump – and that includes any appropriate congressional committee interested in the search for truth and the difference between facts and lies,” Mr Davis said in a statement.

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Why is anyone still listening to Yellen?

Yellen, Fed Fear Corporate Debt Bubble, Investors Don’t (CNBC)

The corporate debt scaring policy experts like former Fed Chair Janet Yellen isn’t throwing too much of a fright into market participants. In fact, some of them are continuing to load up on lower-grade corporate debt because it’s managed to be a better performer than some of the investments considered to be safer. “Offense is the best defense,” Hans Mikkelsen, credit strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told clients in a note pointing out that BBB-rated companies are outperforming their A-rated counterparts. BBB is the last rung before junk, and the increasing level of company bonds going to that level is causing concern.

Some investors worry that the companies whose debt is in danger of slipping into high-yield territory will have trouble meeting their obligations during the next economic downturn. But Mikkelsen thinks those concerns are misplaced. The S&P 500 Triple-B investment-grade corporate bond index is down 2.9 percent year to date, which is not good. However, the group is outperforming the broader S&P 500/MarketAxess Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index, which is off 3.5 percent in 2018. The outperformance grows when isolating for risk-adjusted excess returns and runs counter to history when credit spreads are widening. Higher-quality bonds usually outperform in those cases, Mikkelsen noted.

“This outperformance of BBBs is noteworthy as one of [the] key investor concerns this year remains the possibility that large BBB-rated capital structures get downgraded to high yield during the next downturn,” Mikkelsen wrote. “We think this outperformance reflects in part a low recession probability being priced into credit spreads, as well as the fact that most large BBBs are unlikely to get downgraded to [high-yield] anytime soon as they tend to have stable cash flows and significant financial flexibility.”

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When do we start talking bailouts?

US Bank Stocks Spiral Down (WS)

On Tuesday, the US KBW Bank index, which tracks the largest 24 US banks and serves as a benchmark for the banking sector, dropped 1.2%, the fifth day in a row of declines, to the lowest close since September 7, 2017. The index is now back where it had been on December 1, 2016. Two years of big gains gone up in smoke. [..] But no, the index doesn’t include Goldman Sachs – which is big in other ways but not as a bank, and which has skidded 35% from its all-time peak in February. The index has now dropped 22.5% since the post-financial crisis peak on January 26:

So far in Q4, the index has dropped 14%. Unless a miraculous banking-Santa-Claus rally pulls banks out of their dive by the end of the quarter, a 14% decline would make it the worst quarterly decline since Q3 2011. If tax selling kicks in, given the losses bank-stock investors have taken so far this year, it could get worse in the coming days. Not even in Q3 2015, during the oil bust, when investors were fearing that banks would take steep losses on their loans to the oil industry, did shares drop this much.

The index is now back where it had first been a couple of years before its crazy peak in February 2007. Said peak occurred about a year before Bear Stearns toppled. During the subsequent collapse of banks stocks, it looked like the index would hit zero. After the bottom in March 2009, the Fed’s strategies to benefit the banks and those that owned them took hold, at the expense of depositors and other classes of US stake holders, such as renters or future home buyers. And it worked. But that era is now over. And the tax cut too has been baked in, and banks are left to fend for themselves:

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Those negative rates will come back to haunt Draghi. But when their damage becomes obvious, he’ll be living quietly in some splendid villa on Lake Como.

ECB Worries Multiply Even As Money-Printing Presses Stop (R.)

The European Central Bank is all but certain to formally end its lavish bond purchase scheme on Thursday but will take an increasingly dim view on growth, raising the odds that its next step in removing stimulus will be delayed. The long-flagged end of bond buys must be irreversible for the sake of credibility, but with France and Italy in political turmoil, a global trade war still looming large and growth slowing, ECB chief Mario Draghi will be keen to emphasize that other forms of support will remain. This leaves Draghi with yet another delicate balancing act: appear confident enough to justify the end of the 2.6 trillion euro ($2.95 trillion), four-year-long bond buying program, but also sound sufficiently concerned to keep investors expectations about further policy tightening relatively cool.

“Ending quantitative easing now looks more like the ammunition is running out rather than (being) based on a convincing economic outlook,” Societe Generale economist Anatoli Annenkov said. The ECB’s problem is that growth is weaker than policymakers thought even just weeks ago while the predicted rise in underlying inflation has failed to materialize, putting in doubt some of the bank’s assumptions about the broader economy. Overall inflation, the ECB’s primary objective, may be near the target now but falling oil prices suggest a dip in the months ahead and a solid rise in wages is not feeding through to prices, leaving the bank with an unexplained disconnect.

Highlighting this complication, the ECB is likely to cut growth and underlying inflation projections and may take a dimmer view on risks, all while Draghi argues that growth is merely falling back to normal after a recent run.

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What a failure Draghi has been. Same goes for all central bank heads in the past decades. They make sure banks are fine at the expense of citizens.

ECB Caught Between Economic Risks And QE Exit (CNBC)

ECB President Mario Draghi has to tread a fine line once again as he gives his latest update on euro area monetary policy on Thursday. While steering the bank out of its QE program and stressing interest rates and reinvestments going forward, Draghi is faced with an economy that may be slowing and a dreary inflation outlook. “We expect the ECB to announce at its meeting next Thursday an end to net-purchases under the APP programme,” said Natixis’ Dirk Schumacher in a note. “While there has been a clear weakening in the economic environment, the ECB will argue that the reinvestment of the stock of bond holdings will ensure a continuing accommodative policy stance justifying an end of the program,” he added.

On Thursday, the ECB also will publish its newest staff projections for economic growth and inflation for the next three years. While it is expected that the central bank will lower its outlook for growth for the next two years, the numbers are also expected to remain just punchy enough to underline the case to exit their purchase program. Another big topic for Thursday will be the design of the ECB’s reinvestments. “The ECB will likely maintain its guidance that it will fully reinvest the proceeds and thus keep its bond holdings constant ‘for an extended period of time’ and ‘for as long as necessary’ to put inflation on track towards its target,” said Florian Hense, Economist with Berenberg.

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Might work if Le Pen joins the left.

French Government To Face A No-Confidence Vote (CNBC)

Left-of-center lawmakers in France have tabled a motion of no confidence in the French government following repeated protests and scenes of violence. The “gilets jaunes” (“yellow vests”) crisis started as a demonstration against a carbon tax policy and planned fuel tax increases, but have morphed into wider discontent at the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron. Now representatives from the French Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the far-left populist movement France Unbowed (La France Insoumise) have come together to table the motion against Macron’s government.

The government of Georges Pompidou in 1962 was successfully toppled by such a motion but few believe this one will pass as Macron’s centrist La République En Marche! party enjoys a strong majority in the 577-seat house. “The French political system makes it extremely difficult to remove a President from office,” said the Deputy Director of Research at Teneo Intelligence in a note Wednesday. “The only political tool available to the opposition to expel Macron is the constitution’s impeachment procedure, which no one is currently considering,” he added.

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Seems appropriate, but what symbols are left for the much worse years to come?

Japan Picks The Character For ‘Disaster’ To Define 2018 (Tel.)

Japan has chosen the character for ‘disaster’ to symbolise 2018. The public chose the symbol following a series of natural disasters. In July, 200 people died in floods and millions were evacuated from their homes, and mere days later 65 people died in a heatwave that hospitalised more than 20,000 people. The country was also hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 and was rocked by its strongest typhoon for 25 years. These numerous natural disasters have had an adverse effect on the Japanese economy, and the country’s GDP has gradually shrunk over the last three months, by 1.2 per cent.

The country also experienced societal problems this year, as stories of sexual harassment in the workplace and suicide rates came to light. The master of the ancient temple in Kyoto, Seihan Mori, wrote the symbol for ‘disaster’ in dark ink on traditional white washi paper to mark the vote. The competition has been run by the Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation since 1995. In the annual poll, 21,000 of the 190,000 people who voted picked the character to summarise the years events, but the symbol for peace was a close runner-up.

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What kind of headline is this, Reuters? The UK has refused Assange medical care for years, and now you make it look like Ecuador, not Assange himself. makes it happen?

Wikileaks’ Assange Undergoes Medical Tests At Ecuador’s Urging (R.)

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange received a series of medical exams, Ecuador’s top attorney said on Wednesday, in line with a new set of rules for his asylum at the Andean country’s London embassy that prompted him to sue the government. Assange first took asylum in the embassy in 2012, but his relationship with Ecuador has grown increasingly tense, with President Lenin Moreno saying he does not like his presence in the embassy. The government in October imposed new rules requiring him to receive routine medical exams, following concerns he was not getting the medical attention he needed. The rules also ordered Assange to pay his medical and phone bills and clean up after his pet cat.

Inigo Salvador told reporters Ecuador did not have access to results of the tests, which were conducted by doctors Assange trusted, out of respect for his privacy. But he said Assange, who has sued Ecuador arguing that the new rules violate his rights, appeared coherent and lucid to him. On Wednesday, Assange appeared via videoconference in an Ecuadorean court to appeal a previous ruling that had upheld the new rules. Assange is concerned that Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and extradite him to the United States, but Ecuador has said the United Kingdom told it he would not be extradited.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that federal prosecutors have been conducting a lengthy criminal probe into Assange and Wikileaks. Wikileaks published U.S. diplomatic and military secrets when Assange ran the operation. A lawyer for Assange said he did not know the results of the medical tests, and called on Ecuador to produce documentation proving that the UK would not extradite him to any country where his life was at risk.

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“..accused his Ecuadorean hosts of spying and feeding information to US authorities..”

Assange Complains Of ‘More Subtle’ Silencing Than Khashoggi (RT)

Julian Assange has accused his Ecuadorean hosts of spying and feeding information to US authorities, and slammed attempts to block his journalistic work as a more subtle way of silencing than the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Suggesting there were “facts of espionage” inside the embassy, the WikiLeaks co-founder expressed concern during a hearing in Quito on Wednesday that Ecuadorean intelligence is not only spying on him, but sharing the data it has harvested with the FBI. Ecuadorean intelligence clearly spent a sizable amount of money equipping the embassy for surveillance, Assange added.

He accused Ecuadorean authorities of “comments of a threatening nature” relating to his journalistic work and compared attempts to silence him to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was tortured and cut up in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October, but “more subtle.” The comparison elicited a harsh reaction from Ecuadorean Prosecutor General Inigo Salvador, who accused Assange of biting the hand that feeds him. Assange told the Ecuadorean court that the living conditions in the embassy were so detrimental to his health that they may put him in the hospital – and suggested that may be the point, because once he leaves the building, he’s fair game for UK and US authorities.

[..] Assange was in court appealing a strict set of rules handed down in October governing his conduct, which he has called a violation of human rights. He submitted 15 “facts of evidence” along with letters from individuals and groups barred from visiting him at the embassy. An earlier attempt to sue his hosts over the restrictive measures was ultimately dismissed by a judge last month, while Assange rejected E

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That stuff is very bad news.

Fentanyl Surpasses Heroin As Deadliest Drug In US (AFP)

The synthetic drug, fentanyl, has surpassed heroin as the deadliest drug in the United States, taking more than 18,000 lives in 2016, federal health officials said Wednesday. In 2016, the latest year for which full data is available, “29 percent of all drug overdose deaths mentioned involvement of fentanyl,” said the report from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic narcotic that has been blamed for the deaths of rock stars including Prince and Tom Petty. It works on the brain like morphine or heroin, but is 50 to 100 times more potent, and can easily lead to overdose.

The rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States has tripled from 1999 through 2016, as the nation grapples with a persistent opioid epidemic. Fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths have doubled each year from 2013 through 2016, “from 0.6 per 100,000 in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014, 2.6 in 2015, and 5.9 in 2016,” said the report. Meanwhile, deaths from heroin and methamphetamine more than tripled from 2011 to 2016. Heroin was the top cause of drug overdose death from 2012 to 2015, said the report. The prescription painkiller Oxycodone ranked highest in 2011.

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Every word of this is broken. Time defends the MSM against Trump, but he didn’t create fake news. I like the term ‘abuse of truth’, that verges on doublespeak, as does ‘..the willingness to dismiss anything including credible news reporting as fake news”. And c’mon, free and fair press? Who believes that?

Time Magazine Says The US ‘Remains A Free And Fair Press’ (CNBC)

Despite the White House ramping up its rhetoric, the United States remains a free and fair press, Ben Goldberger the assistant managing editor of Time magazine told CNBC on Wednesday. The year 2018 has been marked by manipulation, abuse of truth, along with efforts by governments to instigate mistrust of the facts, the magazine said in an essay when it named killed and imprisoned journalists as Person of the Year for 2018 on Tuesday. “There’s no doubt that the rhetoric from the White House about the demonization of the media as ‘the enemy of the people,’ or the willingness to dismiss anything including credible news reporting as fake news, is incredibly worrisome and chilling,” Goldberger said. “But that said, I return to what I said about the United States — this remains a free and fair press.” “Journalists here enjoy legal protections that are the envy of those in virtually every other country,” he added.

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