Pablo Picasso Three apples 1924
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism said in its annual Digital News Report that most people would not pay for online news and that there had been only a small increase in the proportion of people willing to do so in the last six years. Even among those who do pay, there is “subscription fatigue” – many are tired of being asked to pay for so many different subscriptions. Many will opt for films or music rather than pay for news. So some media companies will fail. “There is no sign that the majority of people are about to pay for online news, although many recognize that information on the internet is often overwhelming and confusing,” said Nic Newman, a senior research associate at the Reuters Institute.
“Some of the biggest brands have already shown they are able to attract a large number of paying subscribers, but the road ahead will be more challenging for other publishers,” he added. While many news organizations add paywalls and some see increases in digital subscriptions, there has been little change in the proportion of people paying for online news, apart from the “Trump bump” rise in the United States in 2016/2017. In the United States, those paying for news online were likely to have a university degree and be wealthy: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post did well on digital. Still, almost 40 percent of new digital subscriptions at the New York Times are for crosswords and cooking, the Reuters Institute said, citing an article by Vox.
Excellent. Don’t miss.
One of the media and beltway orthodoxies we constantly hear is that just a few bad apples under James Comey at the FBI explain why so many FBI elites have been fired, resigned, reassigned, demoted, or retired — or just left for unexplained reasons. The list is long and includes director James Comey himself, deputy director Andrew McCabe, counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, attorney Lisa Page, chief of staff James Rybicki, general counsel James Baker, assistant director for public affairs Mike Kortan, Comey’s special assistant Josh Campbell, executive assistant director James Turgal, assistant director for office of congressional affairs Greg Bower, executive assistant director Michael Steinbach, and executive assistant director John Giacalone. In short, in about every growing scandal of the past two years — FISA, illegal leaking, spying on a presidential candidate, lying under oath, obstructing justice — someone in the FBI is involved.
We are told, however, that the FBI’s culture and institutions are exempt from the widespread wrongdoing at the top. Such caution is a fine and fitting thing, given the FBI’s more than a century of public service. Nonetheless, many of those caught up in the controversies over the Russian-collusion hoax were not recent career appointees. Rather, many came up through the ranks of the FBI. And that raises the question, for example, of where exactly Peter Strzok (22 years in the FBI) learned that he had a right to interfere in a U.S. election to damage a candidate that he opposed. And why would an Andrew McCabe (over 21 years in the FBI) think he had the duty to formulate an “insurance policy” to take out a presidential candidate? Or why would he even consider overseeing an FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s improper use of emails when his wife had been a recent recipient of Clinton-related PAC money?
And why would McCabe contemplate leaking confidential FBI information to the press or even dream of setting up some sort of operation to remove a sitting president under the 25th Amendment? And how did someone like the old FBI vet Peter Strozk ever end up at the center of the entire mess — opening up the snooping on the Trump campaign while hiding that fact and while briefing the candidate on Russian interference in the election, interviewing Michael Flynn, preening as a top FBI investigator for Robert Mueller’s dream team, right-hand man of “Andy” McCabe, convincing Comey to change the wording of his writ in the Clinton-email-scandal investigation, softball coddling of Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, instrumental in the Papadopoulos investigation con — all the while conducting an affair with fellow FBI investigator and attorney Lisa Page and bragging about his assurance that the supposedly odious Trump would be prevented from being elected.
[..] Think what Mueller’s precedent of not-not-guilty would do to the American criminal-justice system, as zealous prosecutors might fish for just enough dirt on a suspect to ruin his reputation, but not find enough for an indictment, thereby exonerating their own prosecutorial failure by defaming a “guilty until proven innocent” suspect.
“Then somebody splattered John F. Kennedy’s brains all over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and everything changed again.”
A February night in 1924, in a Manhattan concert hall owned by the Aeolian piano company… the wailing, warped, and flatted clarinet glissando that opens George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue announced the 20th century’s self-recognition that something new was up in the world, and especially in the USA. The composer tried to represent the stupendous energy of the maturing industrial culture in a symphonic cacophony with a core of the deepest tenderness — capturing all the wonder and grace of the moment. For America, everything was on the move. Love and power were in the air. The idea that this was the American century stuck. The 1920s were a kind of hormonal rush of wonders and amazements.
Radio, movies, airplanes, giant industries, electric power in farm houses, the dizzying rush of progress that welled up into a dangerous wave that broke over the world in economic depression, and then war in 1939 — by which time George Gershwin was gone at 38. America performed splendidly in World War Two, rescuing Europe and Asia from manifest evil. The nation found itself the fully mature leader of the free world, with daunting responsibilities in the Atomic Age, filled with confidence, but tinged with an understandable paranoia in the nervous peace of the 1950s. This was the time of my childhood, along with my fellow travelers, the Baby Boomers. What a time to come into this world!
For a while, the USA luxuriated in power and stability. I sang the Davy Crockett theme song from the Disney TV show, and wore a coonskin hat, and lived in a home where dad left for work in a business suit, and all was well in the world. To me and my childhood friends, the mindboggling horrors of the recent war were reduced to comic books and plastic soldiers in the sandbox. Everything else in America seemed to work as advertised. We built a lot of stuff and saw the USA in our Chevrolet. President Ike bossed around Britain’s PM Anthony Eden. The Yankees bossed around the major leagues. Hardly anyone knew what the Federal Reserve did, or even what it was. Elvis was in the Army, babysitting the defeated Germans. Then somebody splattered John F. Kennedy’s brains all over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and everything changed again.
They just didn’t show up.
Jon Stewart, the popular former host of the late-night comedy program The Daily Show, criticized members of Congress for not attending a hearing on Tuesday on renewing funding for a program that provides health care to first responders who were sickened responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. “Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak and no one,” Stewart said, pointing to a mostly empty dais. “Shameful, it’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution. You should be ashamed of yourselves for those who aren’t here but you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”
Stewart was testifying before the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties about a renewal of the 9/11 first responders health care fund. Most of the panel’s 14 members were not in attendance. “Where are they? It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy was benign, but it’s not,” Stewart said. “Their indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity, time, one thing they’re running out of.” The fund, originally approved for five years in 2010, provides medical treatment for emergency responders sickened by toxic dust inhaled at the World Trade Center site in New York in the days following the attack.
China may be the worst, but Wolf Richter has a long list of graphs, and just about every country has a much worse corporate debt to GDP ratio than the US has.
US “nonfinancial” corporate debt – this excludes debt by banks and by businesses that are not incorporated – rose to a record $15.2 trillion in the fourth quarter, according to data released by the Bank for International Settlements last week. To show how much of a burden this debt is, how it compares to other countries, and to eliminate the effects of inflation, the BIS also expresses this debt as a percent of nominal GDP. Given the growth of GDP in Q4, the ratio of corporate debt to GDP, at 74.4%, was unchanged from the upwardly revised Q3, and was down a tad from the record in Q2 of 74.9%. The prior record of US corporate debt had been set in Q4 2008, at $10.7 trillion. Corporate debt is high enough to be featured in the Fed’s Financial Stability Report at the top of the list of factors that might trigger the next financial crisis.
To compare the burden of debt levels from country to country, the BIS uses a country’s corporate debt as percent of nominal local-currency GDP. By this measure, and compared to all the debt sinners out there, the US is nevertheless only in a lowly 24th place.[..] China, a smaller economy than the US economy, has by far more nonfinancial corporate debt: In US dollar terms, corporate debt in China hit a record of $21.1 trillion in Q1 2018, by far the most of any country. But since then, Chinese companies have been deleveraging under the orders from the central government. Deleveraging takes many forms in China, including defaults, state-mandated loan-to-equity swaps by Chinese state-owned banks, and bailouts by the central government, which includes the PBOC. In Q4, 2018, China’s nonfinancial corporate debt (red line) was $19.8 trillion, with efforts to deleverage in Q4 having taken a backseat to efforts to boost the economy:
Among the major economies, China’s corporate-debt-to-GDP ratio is in a realm of its own. But there are some small economies with special tax laws and corporate tax-haven status that US, European, or Chinese corporations find attractive – and they have even higher corporate-debt-to-GDP ratios than China (we’ll get to those in a moment). China’s efforts to deleverage its corporate sector, and the growth in its official GDP, have been reducing the corporate debt-to-GDP ratio from a peak of a blistering 162.6% in Q1 2016 to 151.6% in Q4 2018, still about twice the US ratio. In this chart and all charts below, the US debt-to-GDP ratio is added as a red line for comparative purposes:
Belt and Road. Exporting overcapacity and overindebtedness. See the graphs above.
China’s lending to other countries, often shrouded in secrecy, is thought to be higher than the amounts that are officially tracked, resulting in much “hidden debt.” That growing debt problem could spark a worse-than-expected slowdown, among other problems, experts warn. The lack of transparency would also affect investors who are considering bonds issued by those countries, or organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which are helping those countries with their debts, according to Carmen Reinhart, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Speaking at the Nomura Investment Forum in Singapore late last month, she said: “China’s rise as a global creditor has also meant that there are a lot of hidden debts. That is, countries that had borrowed from China but this borrowing is not reported by the IMF, by the World Bank. ” “So there is a tendency to think these countries had lower debt levels than what they actually have,” she concluded. That would hinder the IMF or the World Bank in doing their work on debt sustainability analysis, she said. That effort includes analyzing countries’ debt burdens, and coming up with recommendations for a borrowing strategy that limits the risk of debt distress.
“From the vantage point of surveillance, this means that the IMF, if they’re doing debt sustainability for example for Pakistan, unless they know how much Pakistan owes China, they are doing that sustainability exercise blindfolded, ” Reinhart said. For investors, the limited information they have hinders them in making investment decisions about bonds issued by those countries if they don’t know how much is actually owed to China already, she added. That could lead to them underestimating the risk of lending money to those countries through bonds.
[..] China has been criticized for saddling many countries with debt through its Belt and Road Initiative — a mammoth infrastructure investment plan to build rail, road, sea and other routes stretching from China to Central Asia, Africa and Europe. Chinese financial institutions have provided more than $440 billion in funding for Belt and Road projects, People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang said during a talk at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing early last month.
Going for the financial district.
Tens of thousands of protesters paralysed central Hong Kong on Wednesday, blocking major roads in a defiant show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. Black-clad demonstrators, most of them young people and students, surrounded government offices, bringing traffic to a standstill as they called on authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed plan. Rows of riot police were far outnumbered by protesters — many of whom wore face masks, helmets or goggles — just hours ahead of a scheduled debate in the city’s legislature. By late morning, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council (Legco) said they would delay the second reading of the bill “to a later date”.
In scenes echoing the Occupy movement in 2014 that shut down swathes of the city for months, people flooded major roads and junctions in the heart of the city, dragging barricades onto highways and tying them together. Others plucked loose bricks from pavements. Some protesters deliberately stopped their cars in the middle of one key artery and jumped out, blocking the road, RTHK reported. Police used water cannons and pepper spray on protesters outside the Legco building and held up signs warning demonstrators they were prepared to use force.
Organisers of a gigantic march on Sunday said more than a million people turned out to voice their objections to the proposed law, which would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world — including China. But the record numbers have failed to sway pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw the bill. Many opponents are fearful the law would entangle people in the mainland’s opaque courts, leaving them vulnerable to a justice system seen as acting at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party. More than 100 Hong Kong businesses said they would close Wednesday in a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and the city’s major student unions announced they would boycott classes to attend the rallies.
“Backers say the proposed extradition law is needed to stop Hong Kong from becoming a haven for fugitives….”
Hong Kong’s legislature put off a debate on a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China after thousands of demonstrators dressed in black swarmed the area surrounding the central government complex on Wednesday. As demonstrators used police barriers, street signs and trash barrels to block off Harcourt Road, the government said that the session would be “changed to a later time to be determined” by the head of the Legislative Council, which is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority. The rally came three days after as many as 1 million people took to the streets.
Protesters had mixed reactions to news of the postponement, but remained steadfast to their cause standing under umbrellas and continuing to block potential traffic. “I would describe it as a small victory,” said Ramon Yuen, a member of a local district council representing the Democratic Party. “There are many possibilities … but we want the government to withdraw the amendment,” Yuen said. “No decision has been made to do that, and we do not see any good gestures that they will listen to Hong Kong people’s voices.” Cyrus Lee, 28, who was taking part in the demonstrations, echoed Yuen’s sentiment, telling NBC News he “can’t tell if it is a good sign or not because you don’t know what they will do next.”
“The EU provides up to 80% of the UK’s environmental laws..”
The BIG Brexit issue: the country is completely unprepared to stand on its own.
The UK has been accused of “silently eroding” key environmental and human health protections in the Brexit-inspired rush to convert thousands of pages of European Union pesticide policy into British law. Despite government claims the process would be little more than a technical exercise, analysis by the University of Sussex’s UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) has uncovered significant departures from EU regulations, including the removal of a blanket ban on hormone-disrupting chemicals, which are known to cause adverse health effects such as cancer, birth defects and immune disorders. The UK legislation removes the EU system of checks and balances to give a handful of ministers the power to create, amend and revoke pesticide legislation.
It also appears to weaken the existing “precautionary principle” approach, which requires scientific evidence from an independent body that a pesticide is safe to use. Instead, UK ministers are given the option to obtain and consider such evidence at their own discretion. The changes could lead to the widespread use in the UK of harmful and carcinogenic pesticides, the researchers warn. But because the laws are being drawn up so quickly and at such a high volume, there has been little scrutiny of the process, said Emily Lydgate, a UKTPO fellow and senior lecturer at the university. “The creation of over 10,000 pages of new legislation, which effectively convert EU law into UK rulebooks, is one of the most intensive and significant efforts that the government has made to prepare for Brexit,” she said.
The EU provides up to 80% of the UK’s environmental laws, which include regulations on pesticides, landfills, recycling and climate heating. Under the new regulations, however, power to make, amend and revoke pesticide legislation will be devolved to each of the national territories and consolidated to a secretary of state in England, relevant ministers in Scotland and Wales, and the competent authority in Northern Ireland.
Any -positive- reputation the UK still had is gone.
The outgoing British high commissioner to Singapore has warned that the Asian city-state’s leaders are “baffled by the U.K.’s chaotic politics” and that Brexit is doing lasting damage to the U.K.’s reputation. In a devastating assessment of the damage Brexit is doing to the U.K.’s global reputation, Scott Wightman, one of the country’s most senior diplomats, said major investors told him the balance of future investment in Europe “will inevitably be weighted more towards Germany and France,” with post-referendum political risk now their “principle consideration.” His comments also cast doubt on the U.K.’s Global Britain strategy aimed at averting the economic damage of Brexit by using the country’s network of influence and trade links around the world.
In a confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomatic telegram, seen by POLITICO, Wightman, who has been in the job since 2015 but posted his last tweet as British high commissioner on Tuesday, said the Singapore-U.K. Partnership for the Future, an initiative to improve ties that was launched by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in January, was being used in the “classic manner of the illusionist.” “Like posts across the network and departments in the U.K., we’re performing minor miracles for U.K. interests faced with the utter political shambles of Brexit,” he said. Singaporean ministers are “mystified as to how our political leaders allowed things to get to this pass,” he added.
[..] Wightman also likened the damage to Britain’s reputation in the last three years to the battle known as the Fall of Singapore in 1942. He said the battle showed the “complacency and arrogance of colonial leadership.” “It transformed their view of British imperialism,” he added. “Things were never the same again. The last three years have done the same for Singaporeans’ view of contemporary Britain. The nation they admired for stability, common sense, tolerance and realism grounded in fact, they see beset by division, obsessed with ideology, careless of the truth, its leaders apparently determined to keep on digging. “I fear many around the world share their view,” he said.
Luke Harding’s BS.
Russia is seeking to bolster its presence in at least 13 countries across Africa by building relations with existing rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of “leaders” and undercover “agents”, leaked documents reveal. The mission to increase Russian influence on the continent is being led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman based in St Petersburg who is a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. One aim is to “strong-arm” the US and the former colonial powers the UK and France out of the region. Another is to see off “pro-western” uprisings, the documents say.
In 2018 the US special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts. According to Mueller, his troll factory ran an extensive social media campaign in 2016 to help elect Donald Trump. The Wagner group – a private military contractor linked to Prigozhin – has supplied mercenaries to fight in Ukraine and Syria. The documents show the scale of Prigozhin-linked recent operations in Africa, and Moscow’s ambition to turn the region into a strategic hub. Multiple firms linked to the oligarch, including Wagner, are known by employees as the “Company”. Its activities are coordinated with senior officials inside Russia’s foreign and defence ministries, the documents suggest. Putin showed little interest in Africa in the 2000s.
But western sanctions imposed in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea have driven Moscow to seek new geopolitical friends and business opportunities. Russia has a military presence and peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic. CAR is described as “strategically important” and a “buffer zone between the Muslim north and Christian south”. It allows Moscow to expand “across the continent”, and Russian companies to strike lucrative mineral deals, the documents say.
How stupid can one get?
“Former soldier and explorer Levison Wood runs through how to endure or avoid confrontation with some of nature’s most dangerous animals.”
I’ll make sure to avoid Levison Wood.
When Andi Bauer, a German student hiking in Romania, was attacked by a bear, his girlfriend Lara Booth yelled “punch it in the eye!” (Lara is British, obviously). He did, the bear stopped attacking and Andi was helicoptered to hospital where rods were screwed into his broken leg. He survived, but was punching back the right thing to do? “If you’re being mauled by a bear, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, to escape and survive,” says Levison Wood. A former soldier, explorer and writer (his book for kids, Incredible Journeys, is published this week), Wood once had an encounter in a car park in Yosemite when a bear smashed into the adjacent empty car to get food. “We woke up and made a lot of noise, as bears do try to avoid humans. But each animal is different; you’ve got to know your stuff.” Here’s his guide to fighting off some of nature’s most-feared beasts.
[..] Wood knows some stuff about crocodiles, having avoided them while walking the length of the Nile. And that is his advice: avoid them. [..] When Wood was chased by a hippo, he scrambled up a hill. “They’re not good with hills, thankfully.” [..] “Most of the animals we’ve spoken about are critically endangered. While the fear is bred into us, remember that they’re the ones that are endangered, we generally come off better than they do.” Yes, Bauer is OK. But what about the poor bear wandering the Carpathian mountains with a sore head?