Jan 272019
 


René Magritte L’éternité 1935

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But you’re our colony!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trying to be funny?!

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s a surprise any would want to stay.

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

Airbnb Contributes To Poor Housing Markets (Ind.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late-Night With The Democrats (G.)

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Jan 142019
 
 January 14, 2019  Posted by at 7:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Johannes Vermeer The soldier and the laughing girl 1657

 

There will be elections for the European Parliament on May 23-26 2019. They will likely change the face of Europe more than anything has done since the EU was founded. That is not some wild prediction. Many European countries have held elections since the last European elections in 2014, and just about all had outcomes that shook up domestic political ratios.

In most cases, countries went from traditional parties to newly founded ones. France erased the Socialists and center-right in 2017, and the final round of the presidential elections was between Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Emmanuel Macron’s brand-new En Marche. Macron won sort of by default, because France as a country would never have voted for Le Pen.

In Italy, M5S and Lega have taken over. In Germany, Merkel’s CDU/CSU coalition lost bigly though it remained the biggest party, but Angela lost her ‘socialist’ SPD partner which gave up so much it didn’t want to be in government anymore. In Spain, Mariano Rajoy’s center right lost enough to cede power to the Socialists who came up tops because they played a smart game, not because the Spanish wanted it to rule.

We don’t have to go through all 27/28 different countries to establish that there are almost tectonic shifts happening all over, away from traditional parties and towards whoever showed up without insanely extreme views. And if you think this move is now completed, you may want to think again.

It’s amusing to realize that the country with the biggest political shift, the UK, is the only one that still hangs on to its traditional parties, and seeks its protest voice in a different way, namely through Brexit. That is, Britain shows it can get no satisfaction from the EU, whereas in the other major EU nations the dissatisfaction is projected onto domestic parties.

The underlying thought is the same: people are fed up with incumbent politicians and their affiliation with the European project. And nobody in Brussels really appears to be willing to realize this: the only thing they talk about is more Europe. But all these changes will now be reflected in the power politics of the European parliament.

And they do know that. They just hope they can limit the damage through the model in which power is divided in Europe. And to get any of that power, national parties need to find partners from other countries to form European parties (blocks) with. You need parties from at least 7 other nations to run for the European Parliament.

 

There are really only two parties in that parliament that really matter: the center right European People’s Party (EPP) which has 217 MEPs (members of European Parliament), and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D) which has 190 MEPs. Then there are the European Conservatives and Reformists – 74 MEPs, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) – 70 MEPs, the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE) – 52 MEPs, and the European Greens/European Free Alliance – 50 MEPs.

These numbers, like the national ones, are set to change, a lot. How exactly is hard to predict, because it’s not clear which block which -relatively- new party will be part of. But it’s not a wild guess to think that at the end of May the division of powers will not be left vs right (both of which are pretty much fake anyway), but pro-EU and anti-EU. Or rather, More Europe vs Less Europe.

Germany’s up-and-coming real right-wing AfD at their conference this weekend voted in a resolution that calls for getting rid of the European Parliament itself, calling it undemocratic, and claiming the “competence to make laws is exclusively for nation states.” Similar sentiments play out in Italy, Poland, Hungary and many other member states.

Given the changes in vote ratios mentioned before, it’s hard to see the More Europe model survive the elections. But that of course doesn’t keep the main parties (blocks) from running outspoken pro-Europe candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as head chief after the elections. The EPP has German Europe stalwart Manfred Weber as ‘Spitzenkandidat’, the so-called Socialists/Democrats have Dutch Frans Timmermans, Juncker’s right-hand man.

They think they will be able to continue business as usual, and accumulate more power and sovereignty in the process, while support for the EU crumbles more by the day. But that’s all in the far far future, that is a whole 4 months away. And who knows what Europe will look like by then? Brussels sure doesn’t seem to know, or want to.

 

In Germany, the entire political system will have to reinvent itself after Merkel. And as said before, with an entire new look as far as vote numbers go. Far right and the Greens are on their way to becoming new power blocks, the Christian center right CDU/CSU and the formerly left SPD are on their way to much less support.

This is a pattern that plays out all over Europe, but what happens in Germany is, because of the way the EU is set up, crucial for all EU member states. Nothing happens in Europe without approval from Berlin. And what will the other 26 remaining members do when that level of power moves towards the AfD?

Of even more immediate concern may be Germany’s economic performance. Because the latest signs are not encouraging. Germany and Holland have done very well, but that is because they have all the others as their ‘domestic’ market. And now not even that turns out to be enough. Germany’s numbers are going down fast:

 

 

Then again, for now, worries about Germany will be trumped by those about France and Britain. The numbers of Yellow Vests in the streets of France was much larger again the past weekend than the last few ones. Macron keeps on making ever bigger mistakes. This Saturday, his riot police was filmed carrying semi-automatic weapons with live ammo. As he claimed that many of his people want to get things without making any effort.

Macron all along has tried to drive a wedge between the protesters and the people. But a large majority of the people support the protests, even if they don’t don a yellow vest. Still, Paris claims that the protesters are not the Republic, and they’re trying to overthrow democracy. When the Yellow vests approached government buildings last weekend, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux fled, saying: “It wasn’t me who was attacked, it was the Republic.” Ergo: Not the people are the Republic, the government is. That should sell well.

For a very large number of French this sounds like they are not actually considered French by their own government. And now Macron insists on holding a national debate, in which everyone can have their say, but at the same time he insists he will not change his policies, which are what the Yellow Vests are protesting in the first place.

What they see is that Little Napoleon hasn’t hardly appeared in public for a very long time (big no-no!), but he does try to dictate to them what democracy is, and then in the same breath that they only have the choices he gives them. Protests are only allowed if the government gives permission, Paris proclaims.

Macron has cancelled his spot in the upcoming Davos spectacle for the wealthy and powerful, and I bet you the thought has crossed his mind that if he went he wouldn’t be allowed back in to his country. Not decisive, but that thought surely counts. He’s seen the whole Let Them Eat Cake scenario play out in his mind’s eye. Before putting his hand over his heart while looking in the mirror.

Macron does everything wrong than he can. And in that France has a lot in common with our for now last topic, subject, victim, take your pick, the UK.

 

Tomorrow Theresa May is going to lose another vote, and even if she doesn’t, chaos is still guaranteed. Both the Leave and the Remain camps, opposites as they are, are divided into countless other camps, and there is no way there will ever be an agreement. You’d have a hard time finding even just two people who think Brexit means the same, let alone millions.

I wrote earlier today I wondered how come Britain is so quiet in the face of that, with the Yellow Vests example just a few miles away. And I really don’t know. Maybe we’ll find out tomorrow. The EU has hinted Brexit may not happen until the summer, not on March 29. But that’s the EU, and that’s what the Brexit vote was meant to move away from, not let them dictate even more.

Theresa May basically sat on her hands for two years, and wanted to do the work in 6 months, but that was always going to be a pipedream. The UK, in 40-odd years of EU membership, signed up to thousands of pieces of legislation, which contain hundreds of thousands of pages of legalese. All that must be checked, if need be changed, negotiated about, voted on, etc.

Not something anyone can do in half a year, and that has nothing to do with liking the EU or not. May has held her country hostage for the entire time she’s been PM, and she does that even more now, as she’s saying it’s either her deal or no Brexit at all. She’s decided No Deal is not an option. Which may be wise in view of all those documents, but who is she to decide eth entire nation future for decades to come? She wasn’t even elected as PM.

We’ll know more tomorrow after that Parliament vote, which May will lose. Or will we? If Brussels accepts a major delay in Brexit, chances are May will stay in office, and we’ll have 4-5-6 more months of the same road to nowhere. Second referendum, general election? Poisoned chalices all of them.

Even if May wins the vote Tuesday, because she’s scared a sufficient number of MPs into a catatonic state, nothing will change either. All possible outcomes are guaranteed to have a large group of people standing against them. All options will create the appearance of a small group of people dictating life-changing events for everyone else.

Where are the British Yellow Vests? The mayor of Poland’s second-biggest city, Gdansk, was stabbed to death in public on a stage where he held a speech, Is that where we’re going?

And lest we forget, what happens in Europe is not very different from what happens in the US; things merely play out slightly differently in different locations. In the US, as in the UK, there are no whole new parties taking over, no AfD and Macron and Yellow Vests and Salvini, but there is Trump and Brexit.

The common denominator is people’s anger with the economic models that leave them scrambling to make do, all the while seeing their lives being taken away from them bit by bit while whoever’s in power keeps bankers and other rich folk contented.

It’s not much use seeing all this as separate incidents or developments. It’s a big wave that will reshape the world as we know it. Let Them Eat Cake has gone global, and there’s not nearly enough cake to go round.

 

 

Jan 012019
 
 January 1, 2019  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Sisley Snow at Louveciennes 1878

 

Looking Forward To Dow 11,000 (Bear’s Lair)
US Stocks Post Worst Year In A Decade, S&P Falls More Than 6% In 2018 (CNBC)
European Stocks End 2018 With Deep Losses; Worst Year In A Decade (CNBC)
FTSE 100 Tumbles By 12.5% In 2018 – Its Biggest Fall In A Decade (G.)
Chinese Markets’ 2018 Performance Was Their Worst In A Decade (CNBC)
China December Manufacturing Activity Contracts Even More Than Expected (CNBC)
Lessons From Two Decades Of The Euro (Ind.)
The Delusional Leaders of the Eurozone (Steve Keen)
‘Nostradamus’ Macron Mercilessly Mocked On Twitter (RT)
France Starts Taxing Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (RT)
Russia’s $75 Trillion In Resources Is Why Sanctions Are Impossible (RT)
“I See No Way Out”: Countless Americans Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)
Putin Says Still ‘Open To Dialogue’ With US (AFP)
Giuliani Says Assange Should Not Be Prosecuted (Lauria)

 

 

Happy New Year, everyone!

Be sure to stay with the Automatic Earth in 2019 to keep up with the biggest possible picture. And do consider sponsoring us.

Here’s a good way to start the new year. Martin Hutchison explains the many advantages of a 50% drop in the Dow. A functioning economy for one.

The Dow’s at 23,000 right now.

Looking Forward To Dow 11,000 (Bear’s Lair)

[..] owing to decades of funny money the market has got far ahead of its equilibrium value, which is now around 11,000 on the Dow, half the present level. It is worth examining what a world with Dow 11,000 will look like. Dow 11,000 isn’t just a random number. The Fed changed monetary policy definitively at its meeting in February 1995, and on the same day, the Dow Jones Industrial Index broke through 4,000 for the first time — with the Fed changing its policy decisively to an easier trend, it was natural for the market to rise. Since stock prices should rise approximately in line with the economy’s expansion, that Dow 4,000 is equivalent to Dow 11,000 today, taking account the rise of around 175% in nominal GDP between the first quarter of 1995 and today.

So, if the Dow were around 11,000 today, it would be at the same relative valuation as it was in February 1995. That was not an ultra-low level; the Dow was almost 50% above its peak of October 1987 and after all, that day in February 1995 was the first time the Dow had ever reached the exalted level of 4,000. The world of Dow 11,000, after the next bear market and perhaps partial recovery, will have quite a lot of our current economic landscape missing. Far too many Fortune 500 companies have overindulged in stock buybacks, leaving them in some cases with no equity at all. As the stock market decline continues, many of those companies will be forced to recapitalize themselves, generally at share prices far below where they bought back shares.

For some of them, this emergency recapitalization will prove to be insufficient, and a second recapitalization will prove unavailable in the market. At that point, those companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy. The chances are, the victims will include some very large names indeed. [..] in our Dow 11,000 world it would no longer be attractive for companies to repurchase their shares in large volumes – the cost of debt and equity capital would be too great to be balanced by the modest short-term earnings boost from doing so. [..] A further consequence of our new Dow 11,000 world will be a re-balancing of the wealth distribution. Asset prices would be much lower, capital scarcer and borrowing more expensive, so there will be far fewer billionaires and the explosion in earnings of the Top 0.01% will reverse.

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A series of headlines depicts how many stats are at their owrst in 10 years.

US Stocks Post Worst Year In A Decade, S&P Falls More Than 6% In 2018 (CNBC)

Wall Street concluded a tumultuous 2018 on Monday as the major stock indexes posted their worst yearly performances since the financial crisis. After solid gains on Monday, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 6.2% and 5.6%, respectively, for 2018. Both indexes logged in their biggest annual losses since 2008, when they plunged 38.5% and 33.8%, respectively. The Nasdaq Composite lost 3.9% in 2018, its worst year in a decade, when it dropped 40%. The S&P 500 and Dow fell for the first time in three years, while the Nasdaq snapped a six-year winning streak. 2018 was a year fraught with volatility, characterized by record highs and sharp reversals.

This year also marks the first time ever the S&P 500 posts a decline after rising in the first three quarters. For the quarter, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq plunged 13.97% and 17.5%, respectively, their worst quarterly performances since the fourth quarter of 2008. The Dow notched its worst period since the first quarter of 2009, falling nearly 12%. A sizable chunk of this quarter’s losses came during a violent December. The indexes all dropped at least 8.7% for the month. The Dow and S&P 500 also recorded their worst December performance since 1931 and their biggest monthly loss since February 2009.

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US, EU, where did all that virtual wealth vanish into?

European Stocks End 2018 With Deep Losses; Worst Year In A Decade (CNBC)

European stocks closed higher on the final day of 2018 but marked the year as its worst in a decade. The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed 0.38% higher. The FTSE 100 closed trading on the final day of the year, down 0.2%. The French CAC, meanwhile, closed more than 1% higher. U.K.’s FTSE index is down more than 12% since the start of the year and has suffered its biggest one-year fall since the financial crisis in 2008 as investors digest uncertainty surrounding the country’s exit from the European Union. The pan-European Stoxx 600 has ended the year down 13% – its worst since the financial crisis. The DAX, has followed a similar trajectory, down more than 18% since the start of the year.

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Not much of the FTSE losses can be Brexit-related, it’s very much in line with everyone else.

FTSE 100 Tumbles By 12.5% In 2018 – Its Biggest Fall In A Decade (G.)

Britain’s leading stock market index has suffered its worst year in a decade as economic worries, Brexit uncertainty and the trade war between the US and China all spooked investors. The FTSE 100 tumbled by 12.5% during 2018, its biggest annual decline since 2008, wiping out more than £240bn of shareholder value. The blue-chip index of top UK shares ended the year at 6,728 points, down from 7,687 on the last trading day of 2017. The sell-off has inflicted significant losses on pension funds, major fund managers and small investors alike.

[..] Some investors are deeply concerned that the US economy could be slowing, even as the country’s central bank raises interest rates despite protests from Donald Trump. “Markets are torn between recession fears and the hope that it is just another false alarm,” said Holger Schmieding of the German bank Berenberg. “As the saying goes, financial markets tend to predict nine out of five recessions. For economists, it is probably the other way around, though. Economic fundamentals remain mostly positive. What we may have to fear for 2019 is fear itself and the risk of extraordinary political stupidity well beyond the usual mishaps of life.”

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China’s numbers are even worse than the rest.

Chinese Markets’ 2018 Performance Was Their Worst In A Decade (CNBC)

This year has not been a great one for Chinese stocks. In fact, it’s been the worst in a decade. The Shanghai composite, the mainland’s major share average, ended the trading year at 2,493.90 — that was approximately 24.6% lower than its final close of 2017. All 10 sectors of the index were down significantly in the year, with information technology being the worst performer as it fell 34%, according to Chinese financial services firm Wind Information. Even the best performing sector, utilities, dropped 11%. That puts the Shanghai composite’s performance at its worst since 2008, the year of the global financial crisis, when it plunged more than 65%.

Those dramatic losses were also seen elsewhere in China, with the Shenzhen composite plummeting about 33.25% and the Shenzhen component plunging around 34.44% in 2018 as compared to their last close of 2017. The Shenzhen component’s performance was also its worst since 2008, when it dove 63%, according to Wind Information. As shares on the mainland were pummeled, Hong Kong stocks performed a bit better. The Hang Seng index notched a decline of only 13.61% for 2018.

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The question becomes whether China can lead everybody down.

China December Manufacturing Activity Contracts Even More Than Expected (CNBC)

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector contracted for the first time in more than two years in the month of December amid a domestic economic slowdown and Beijing’s ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. The Chinese National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was 49.4 — lower than the 49.9 analysts expected in a Reuters poll. The December reading was the weakest since February 2016, according to Reuters’ record. That was worse than November’s official manufacturing PMI, which was 50.0. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below that signals contraction. In particular, new export orders contracted for a seventh straight month, with that measure falling to 46.6 from 47.0 in the previous month.

Meanwhile, China’s official non-manufacturing PMI came in at 53.8, which was higher than the reading of 53.4 in November. The services sector accounts for more than half of the Chinese economy and the “bright spot” of the improved on-month expansion in December points to a rebalancing of the Chinese economy toward more consumption, Nomura economists wrote in a note on Monday. [..] Even before the escalation in trade tensions with the U.S. this year, Beijing was already trying to manage a slowdown in its economy after three decades of breakneck growth. China’s worse-than-expected PMI reading on the last day of 2018 suggests a challenging start to 2019, said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian Economics Research at HSBC.

“China is a good gauge in terms of temperature about what’s going on in the global industrial cycle,” Neumann told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The “PMI numbers out today suggest the economy is still decelerating. That’s going to weigh down not just Chinese GDP growth but really global trade,” Neumann said. In fact, Nomura economists warned that “the worst is yet to come,” for China. “Looking ahead, we see more headwinds to growth from weakening domestic demand, the ongoing credit downcycle, a cooling property sector and lingering China-U.S. trade tensions,” the economists wrote.

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Watch the European elections in May. They will be like an earthquake.

Lessons From Two Decades Of The Euro (Ind.)

Twenty years ago an “accounting currency” was born. This was the single currency of what became known as the “eurozone”: the euro. Now this wasn’t the notes and coins that most of us associate with the euro. Those were only introduced three years later in January 2002. That was the moment when the single currency became tangible in the lives of hundreds of millions of people across Europe, and the old deutschmarks, guilders, francs, lira, pesetas and all the ancient constituents of the European monetary mosaic were consigned to history. What happened on 1 January 1999 was the creation of a rigidly fixed exchange rate and interest rate regime for all those national currencies, so they could all be valued in a common unit.

The euro was not yet tangible, but it existed in the ether and in the foreign exchange markets. It has been a turbulent two decades for the single currency since that launch. [..] many economists would snort at the very idea of the euro being a success. Since 2000 eurozone GDP growth per capita measured (at purchasing power parity) has underperformed that of the US and the UK, growing by 15% versus 19% and 20% respectively. Yet that’s less important than the fact that the single currency was in the throes of existential crisis between 2010 and 2015, when it looked like the eurozone was about to disintegrate as nations such as Greece, Italy, Ireland and Portugal came under unbearable pressure in the bond markets.

[Some] argue that the single currency has been unjustly scapegoated for failures of national governments, especially Italy, to reform their labour markets and wider domestic economies. This, they contend, is the reason, not the euro, that such a gulf has opened up between the economic performance of the strong economies such as Germany and the Netherlands and those such as Greece and Italy. Unemployment rates in the former countries are at record lows, while in the latter group they have still not recovered their pre-recession rates. But pessimists say that this ignores the extent to which the structure of the single currency facilitated destabilising investment booms in the peripheral states before the 2008 financial crisis and then prevented an appropriate monetary adjustment in its wake. Their view is that such are the structural contradictions within the single currency that the existential crisis is destined to re-emerge at some point – and it may not take 20 years.

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The Yellow Vests may well be the no. 1 political force across Europe for the May European elections.

The Delusional Leaders of the Eurozone (Steve Keen)

I had forgotten that this was the 20th anniversary of the start of the Euro. But the Eurocrats in Brussels hadn’t. Some hours before the New Year commenced, Juncker and friends put out a press release extoling the virtues of the Euro. Virtues such as “unity, sovereignty, and stability … prosperity”. Well so much for New Year cheer. With this one tweet, the EU put 2019 on track to be even worse than 2018. Using any of those words to describe the Euro—apart perhaps from “unity”, since the same currency is used across most of continental Europe now—is a travesty of fact that even Donald Trump might baulk at.

Sovereignty? Tell that to the Greeks, Italians or French, who have had their national economic policies overridden by Brussels. Stability? Economic growth has been far more unstable under the Euro than before it, and Europe today is riven with political instability which can be directly traced to the straitjacket the Euro and the Maastricht Treaty imposed. Prosperity? Let’s bring some facts into Juncker’s fact-free guff. I’ll start with Phil’s point about Greece. Greece’s GDP has fallen at Great Depression rates since the Eurozone imposed its austerity policies on it, and nominal GDP today is more than 25% below its peak.

Now of course that could be blamed on the Greeks themselves, so let’s look compare economic growth in the entire Eurozone to the USA (minus Ireland and Luxembourg, since in the former case their data is massively distorted by data revisions, and the latter has highly volatile data as well, and is so small—under 600,000 people—that it can safely be ignored).


Figure 2: Real economic growth rates

[ ..] the real comparison is with growth since the crisis. The USA’s average post-crisis growth rate has been anaemic at 1.4%, but this is positively dynamic in comparison to the entire Eurozone’s average post-crisis growth rate of 0.2%. Europe has basically been stagnant for a decade, thanks to the Euro and the austerity policies that are inseparable from it, courtesy of the Maastricht Treaty that Juncker is so proud to have signed. In reality, the Euro has brought low growth, economic instability, and political discord to Europe. Yet Europe’s unaccountable leaders spin it as an unbridled positive, at a time when ordinary citizens of Europe are donning Yellow Vests and bemoaning their plight.

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18% support. 82% not support.

‘Nostradamus’ Macron Mercilessly Mocked On Twitter (RT)

Looking back at 2018 and the French president’s vows to unite the nation, disappointed twitteratti noted the situation in the country, divided by the Benalla affair and the Yellow Vests riots, is not so rainbow-bright after all. “In my view, 2018 will be the year of national cohesion,” the centrist Macron ambitiously wrote in his New Year’s Eve message a year ago. That prediction hasn’t aged well, and Twitter noticed. We saw that [cohesion] with the Benalla affair and Yellow Vests,” one user noted, adding that “words are no longer enough to conceal poor management of the country and decisions that go against the interests of [French] people.” “What clairvoyance”,”#nostradamus”, the sarcastic comments went on.

And, if 2018 was thought to be the year of unity, many people got worried about imminent 2019. “And after the cohesion of the nation, what would you call Year 2019?” Others said that Macron was right, and there was “cohesion” in the country – against his government, that is. France has never been as fractured as it was in 2018, one more person noted, adding that the president probably divided the nation “to better reign” over it.

“King for the Rich,” “King of bling-bling”, “President of the Wealthy”, “Jupiter” – these are a few nicknames given to Macron both by fellow politicians and by ordinary folk online. Even his New Year’s trip to the posh resort of Saint-Tropez on the eve of planned Yellow Vests rallies came in for harsh criticism. “Saint-Tropez is the bling-bling symbol of France, it [embodies] success, the absence of problems,” Benjamin Cauchy, one of the Yellow Vests’ leaders, said, pointing out that it’s not as sunny in the rest of the protest-plagued country as in the French Riviera.

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Wonder how they arrive at their rates. And to what extent they’re bound to them if the EU decides to raise higher ones.

France Starts Taxing Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (RT)

Tech giants will now pay more tax in France, after the country decided not to wait for the rest of the EU to introduce the measure. The so-called GAFA tax targeting major digital firms comes into force on January 1. The French government hopes to raise €500 million ($572 million) with levies specifically aimed at multinational tech firms, including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, announcing the move in December. He stressed that “the tax will be introduced whatever happens.” Paris has been pushing for what it sees as fairer taxation of the big-tech firms in the European Union. Progress on the issue has stalled in Brussels, as the 28-member bloc is divided on imposing the levies on Silicon Valley giants.

Any changes must receive unanimous approval by member states. Critics say that the big-tech firms are making money from European countries’ economies, but use their complex structure to route some of their profits to low-tax member states. The opposing block is led by Ireland, which has become a sort of Mecca for US tech companies, and hosts many of their headquarters. Estonia and Sweden are also among those who do not favor France’s bid, fearing that the taxes could trigger US retaliation. The EU has been discussing plans for a three-percent tax on the revenues of large internet companies that make money from user data or digital advertising. However, the last round of talks on the matter in November resulted in no significant progress, apparently pushing France to move forward with it alone.

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Always interesting numbers, but says not a word about why sanctions are impossible.

Russia’s $75 Trillion In Resources Is Why Sanctions Are Impossible (RT)

The country with the largest mineral reserves in the world, Russia, is the second top exporter of rare earth minerals. Its natural resources are estimated at tens of trillions of dollars. It has abundant supplies of oil, natural gas, timber and valuable minerals, such as copper, diamonds, lead, zinc, bauxite, nickel, tin, mercury, gold and silver. Most of those resources are located in Siberia and the Far East. Russia’s mining industry, which is the country’s second largest after oil and gas, accounts for a significant share of its GDP and exports. The country is among the top three producers of mineral commodities such as platinum, gold and iron ore. It is also the world’s largest producer of diamonds and palladium.

The Ural Mountains have vast amounts of minerals while most deposits of coal, oil, gas and timber are located in Siberia. Russia is the world’s fifth largest producer of coal, with reserves of about 175 billion tons. Most of those mines are in Siberia and the Urals. The timber industry, which is worth about $20 billion annually, is also a significant economic contributor to the Russian economy. The country’s fishing industry is the fourth largest in the world. The value of Russia’s resources is huge and, according to statistics, is estimated at $75 trillion. In comparison, the US natural resources are worth approximately $45 trillion while China’s stand at $23 trillion.

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The entire political system guarantees this will get worse in 2019.

“I See No Way Out”: Countless Americans Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)

A recent Philly.com article noted that, despite the supposed economic “boom”, professionals like real estate agents, farmers, business executives and even computer programmers are all still living paycheck to paycheck. Responding to a Washington Post inquiry on Twitter, millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers that work in a range of geographic areas claim that they have simply been unable to save as rent, childcare and student loans have all gotten in the way. Americans living paycheck to paycheck were highlighted in a recent report from the Federal Reserve that showed four in ten adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without going into debt or selling something. And now a partial government shutdown that is seeing nearly 800,000 federal workers not getting paid has fueled the discussion on Twitter about how brief income lapses can be disastrous for some households.

Another Twitter user wrote: “Broke my lease to accept new fed job for which I have to attend 7 months of training in another state. Training canceled with shutdown. Homeless. Can’t afford short(?)-term housing/have to work full-time for no pay/returning Christmas presents.” Those involved in the conversation on Twitter have been using the hashtag #ShutdownStories in response to Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who asked reporters last week: “Who’s living that they’re not going to make it to the next paycheck?” Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor, has the answer: “It’s astronomical what people need just to make it month to month. Given the high cost of transportation, housing, health care. … There is often no wriggle room.”

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Always.

Putin Says Still ‘Open To Dialogue’ With US (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reassured his US counterpart Donald Trump that Moscow remains “open to dialogue” despite the year ending without the hoped-for warming of relations, the Kremlin said on Sunday. “Russian-US relations remain an important factor in order to guarantee strategic stability and international security,” the presidency said in a New Year statement. Putin “has confirmed that Russia is open to dialogue with the United States on the maximum number of subjects,” the statement added. In December 2017, Putin said he hoped to “normalise” relations with Donald Trump but the chances of that evaporated with multiple investigations of Moscow’s alleged meddling in US politics.

Washington this year dramatically announced its intention to pull out of a key Cold War-era nuclear weapons deal – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty – to which Putin responded that Moscow would develop new missiles. Putin also sent messages to other heads of state including Britain’s Theresa May and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In his message to May, Putin wished the British people “wellbeing and prosperity” in 2019.

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Now let’s hear Trump say it.

Giuliani Says Assange Should Not Be Prosecuted (Lauria)

Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, said Monday that WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had done “nothing wrong” and should not go to jail for disseminating stolen information just as major media does. “Let’s take the Pentagon Papers,” Giuliani told Fox News. “The Pentagon Papers were stolen property, weren’t they? It was in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Nobody went to jail at The New York Times and The Washington Post.” Giuliani said there were “revelations during the Bush administration” such as Abu Ghraib. “All of that is stolen property taken from the government, it’s against the law. But once it gets to a media publication, they can publish it,” Giuliani said, “for the purpose of informing people.”

“You can’t put Assange in a different position,” he said. “He was a guy who communicated.” The U.S. government has admitted that it has indicted Assange for publishing classified information, but it is battling in court to keep the details of the indictment secret. As a lawyer and close advisor to Trump, Giuliani could have influence on the president’s and the Justice Department’s thinking on Assange. Giuliani said, “We may not like what [Assange] communicates, but he was a media facility. He was putting that information out,” he said. “Every newspaper and station grabbed it, and published it.” Giuliani also said there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. “I was with Donald Trump day in and day out during the last four months of the campaign,” he said.

“He was as surprised as I was about the WikiLeaks disclosures. Sometimes surprised to the extent of ‘Oh my god, did they really say that?’ We were wondering if it was true. They [the Clinton campaign] never denied it.” Giuliani said: “The thing that really got Hillary is not so much that it was revealed, but they were true. They actually had people as bad as that and she really was cheating on the debates. She really was getting from Donna Brazile the questions before hand. She really did completely screw Bernie Sanders.” “Every bit of that was true,” he went on. “Just like the Pentagon Papers put a different view on Vietnam, this put a different view on Hillary Clinton.”

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Dec 302018
 
 December 30, 2018  Posted by at 10:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giovanni Bellini St. Francis in ecstasy 1480

 

Deflation Risk Rises as China’s Economy Keeps Faltering (ET)
Juncker: The EU Isn’t Trying To Keep Britain In The Union (R.)
UK Trade Minister Says ’50-50′ Chance Brexit May Be Stopped (R.)
Cross-Party Move Aims To Delay Hard Brexit (G.)
Brexit Is Full Of Hysterical Self-Pity – Fintan O’Toole (G.)
Italian Parliament Passes Budget After EU Standoff (BBC)
Yellow Vests Target French Media Companies And Set Cars Alight (Ind.)
Cyber Attack Disrupts Printing Of Major US Newspapers (R.)
Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record (Porter)
Firm That Warned US Of Russian Bots Ran An Army Of Fake Russian Bots (RT)
EU’s Palm Oil Policy Triggers Condemnation From Producing Countries (CNBC)
People-Smugglers Use Social Media To Lure Migrants To Their Deaths – UN (Ind.)

 

 

“China is an aging, leveraged country, with excess industrial capacity.”

Will China be 2019’s big story? Is the PBOC even more powerless than the Fed?

Deflation Risk Rises as China’s Economy Keeps Faltering (ET)

Just about every economic measure is trending down in China, and not surprisingly, deflation fears are mounting. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released Dec. 27, reported that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring all fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. A much-weaker 2019 appears to be in the offing for China, but it’s not solely due to trade tensions with the United States. The domestic economy was already on weak footing and the CBB argues that government support is unlikely. The CBB is a research service that speaks to thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter. It contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation.

“Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” said Shehzad Qazi, CBB managing director, in an interview. While lower prices look good for consumers, policy-makers don’t like deflation for a number of reasons. With prices falling, companies produce less, often lay off workers, and reduce investment, leading to a vicious circle of sorts. While the trade war hurts export-sensitive regions, local orders have now weakened for two straight quarters. Hiring fell for the first time since early 2016. Worse still, the fall was concentrated in services and retail, two sectors being counted upon to pick up the slack left by manufacturing’s woes.

Also, debt—of which China has plenty—becomes more problematic under deflation, as its value adjusted for inflation rises. And it’s an issue for central bankers, who typically target 2 percent inflation for price stability. Rate cuts to spur the economy and inflation are less effective, since the real interest rates are higher when accounting for deflation. “China is an aging, leveraged country, with excess industrial capacity. Appearances by inflation should be cheered,” according to the CBB Q4 preview. “They are also rare.”

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No effort needed.

Juncker: The EU Isn’t Trying To Keep Britain In The Union (R.)

The European Union is not trying to keep Britain in and wants to start discussing future ties the moment the U.K. parliament approves Brexit, partly to focus on its own unity ahead of May elections, the head of the bloc’s executive said. “It is being insinuated that our aim is to keep the United Kingdom in the EU by all possible means. That is not our intention. All we want is clarity about our future relations. And we respect the result of the referendum.” Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag in an interview. Juncker said the EU was ready to start negotiating a new deal with Britain right after the British parliament approves the divorce deal. A vote is now due in the week starting Jan. 14.

He also said Britain should get its act together. “And then tell us what it is you want,” he said. “I am working on the assumption that it will leave, because that is what the people of the United Kingdom have decided,” he added, refusing to be drawn into whether Britain would hold a second Brexit vote. “That is for the British to decide.” [..] He said he felt EU citizens were increasingly growing apart, another problem to tackle ahead of Europe-wide parliamentary elections in May. “We have to ensure that these rifts do not become too deep,” Juncker said. “We must not imply that the populists are right … they are just loud and do not have any specific proposals to offer on solving the challenges of our time.”

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They want more delays.

UK Trade Minister Says ’50-50′ Chance Brexit May Be Stopped (R.)

Britain’s trade minister Liam Fox said there is a “50-50” chance that Brexit may be stopped if parliament rejects the government’s divorce deal with the European Union next month. “If we were not to vote for that, I’m not sure I would give it (Brexit) much more than 50-50,” Fox, a leading supporter of leaving the EU, told the Sunday Times newspaper. With three months left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, May’s Brexit deal is floundering, opening up a range of possibilities from a Brexit without a trade deal to calling Brexit off. Earlier this month, May pulled a planned vote on her deal after admitting parliament would reject it. Lawmakers are set to vote on the deal in the week starting Jan. 14.

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But a delay of a few months?! What good will that do?

Cross-Party Move Aims To Delay Hard Brexit (G.)

Senior Tory and Labour MPs are planning to force the government to delay Brexit by several months to avoid a no-deal outcome if Theresa May fails to get her deal through parliament in January, the Observer has been told. Cross-party talks have been under way for several weeks to ensure the 29 March date is put back – probably until July at the latest – if the government does not push for a delay itself. It is also understood that cabinet ministers have discussed the option of a delay with senior backbench MPs in both the main parties and that Downing Street is considering scenarios in which a delay might have to be requested from Brussels.

One senior Tory backbencher said: “I have had these discussions with ministers. They will not say so in public but of course the option of a delay has to be looked at in detail now. If we are determined to avoid a no deal, and the prime minister’s deal fails, we will have to ask to stop the clock, and that will give time for us to decide to go whatever way we decide thereafter.” The Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve said he believed that even if May got her deal through, there would probably be insufficient time to push all the necessary legislation through parliament to allow Brexit to happen smoothly and that a delay might well be necessary. But if her deal were voted down, the need to take up the option of a delay would become a “certainty”.

He said: “I think that if she does not get her deal passed, a delay would be inevitable to give more time to avoid a no deal, and also there is the possibility that there would be a referendum, so this would allow for that.” Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said that parliament would need to discuss all options, including a possible delay, if and when May failed to get her blueprint through the Commons. “If the prime minister’s deal is voted down in early January, then we will be just nine weeks away from the date we are due to leave the EU,” Starmer said. “If the deal is rejected, parliament will need to have a very serious debate about how to protect the economy from a no-deal scenario and at this stage nothing should be ruled out.”


Brexit options. Click to enlarge

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“..if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they’re all about defeats or retreats or disasters…”

Brexit Is Full Of Hysterical Self-Pity – Fintan O’Toole (G.)

In your book, you criticise the way parallels have been made between Brexit and the 100 years war. What is the main problem? A single word: vassalage. What on earth is this word doing in political discourse in the 21st century? I was struck by its re-emergence. It comes originally from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, this mad idea that somehow the 100 years war shows the English capacity to throw off feudal vassalage. It’s a ludicrous misunderstanding of history. The war was more like Charles Taylor in Sierre Leone – a hideous crime against humanity. To go back to that as the only thing you have to express what English freedom might mean in the 21st century shows how demented it is.

You also write about the long English tradition of clinging romantically to heroic defeat. What do you ascribe this to? George Orwell wrote about this in the early 1940s. He said that it was extraordinary that if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they’re all about defeats or retreats or disasters. It’s Scott of the Antarctic, it’s the Charge of the Light Brigade, it’s Gordon of Khartoum. That tradition of heroic failure was great when you were ruling the world as it was a way of saying we’re not really a nasty imperial power. But in a post-imperial age you get a farcical version. Because originally the thing that characterised heroic failure in the English imagination was not self-pity, but Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity.

You describe a false caricature of Germany, put about by Brexiters, of an expansionist nation. You also say that the EU, and especially Germany, had a need to severely punish debtor countries. Is Germany the glue that holds the EU together or a controlling villain? There’s no doubt that Germany is the major power in Europe, and that’s one of the things going on with Brexit. It’s this idea that this country we defeated twice in the 20th century is now seen as the dominant power. That leads to fantasies that Britain really lost the war and we’re being taken over insidiously by the Germans. The real problem with the Germans isn’t that they’re trying to take over Europe. It’s that they’ve promulgated a very heavy austerity that is deeply ingrained in the German mentality. The irony is, it’s exactly the policy that the Tory Brexiters themselves were pursuing.

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Not quite UBI.

Italian Parliament Passes Budget After EU Standoff (BBC)

Italy’s parliament has approved a revised budget for 2019, amid opposition complaints that it was dictated by the EU. The country’s populist government had originally vowed to push through costly campaign promises including a universal basic income. But in October, the European Commission raised concerns about the impact of such spending on Italy’s debt levels. Rome was told to revise its budget, or face fines and disciplinary action. Under a deal struck with the Commission last week, Italy lowered its planned budget deficit from 2.4% of GDP to 2.04% – less of a reduction than European officials had hoped for. The value of its concessions is understood to be a little more than €10bn. The deadline for passing the budget was 31 December, after which the government would have been forced to continue with the 2018 budget on a monthly basis.

[..] Italy’s coalition government, made up of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing League, has pledged the following:
• A new income support scheme known as the “citizens’ wage” will pay €780 a month to 1.7 million of Italy’s poorest families. The measure is forecast to cost €7.1bn.
• The retirement age will be cut from the current 67 to 62, for workers who have paid into the pension system for 38 years.
• More than a million self-employed workers earning under €65,000 a year will see their taxes cut to 15%.

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Watch for New Year’s Eve.

Yellow Vests Target French Media Companies And Set Cars Alight (Ind.)

Protesters in France have marched on the headquarters of various French media organisations, with groups taking to the streets in small groups in Paris and across the country. Now in its seventh week, the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests have shrunk somewhat but hundreds of demonstrators, some chanting “fake news” and “journalists – collaborationists”, and others hurling stones, descended on the offices of TV network BFM and the state-run France Televisions. Police in riot gear intervened, leading to skirmishes, with officers eventually using tear gas to disperse those on the streets and making a number of arrests. Despite a lower turnout than at previous protests demonstrators still caused havoc, with some setting fire to a number of cars in central Paris leaving streets choked by fumes.

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Damn foreigners!

Cyber Attack Disrupts Printing Of Major US Newspapers (R.)

A cyber-attack has caused printing and delivery disruptions to major US newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun. The attack on Saturday appeared to originate outside the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported. It led to distribution delays in the Saturday edition of the Times, the Tribune, the Sun and other newspapers that share a production platform in Los Angeles. Tribune Publishing, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Sun, as well as the New York Daily News and Orlando Sentinel, said it first detected the malware on Friday.

The west coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times were also hit, as they are printed on the shared production platform, the Los Angeles Times said. A Tribune Publishing spokeswoman, Marisa Kollias, said the virus affected back-office systems used to publish and produce “newspapers across our properties”. “There is no evidence that customer credit card information or personally identifiable information has been compromised,” Kollias said. Most San Diego Union-Tribune subscribers were without a newspaper on Saturday as the virus infected the company’s business systems and hobbled its ability to publish, the paper’s editor and publisher, Jeff Light, wrote on its website.

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“..when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.”

Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record (Porter)

The relationship between Trump and his national security team has been tense since the beginning of his administration. By mid-summer 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford had become so alarmed at Trump’s negative responses to their briefings justifying global U.S. military deployments that they decided to do a formal briefing in “the tank,” used by the Joint Chiefs for meetings at the Pentagon. But when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.

By the end of that year, however, Mattis, Dunford, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believed they’d succeeded in getting Trump to use U.S. troops not only to defeat Islamic State but to “stabilize” the entire northeast sector of Syria and balance Russian and Iranian-sponsored forces. Yet they ignored warning signs of Trump’s continuing displeasure with their vision of a more or less permanent American military presence in Syria. In a March rally in Ohio ostensibly about health care reform, Trump suddenly blurted out, “We’re coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon—very soon we’re coming out.”

Then in early April 2018, Trump’s impatience with his advisors on Syria boiled over into a major confrontation at a National Security Council meeting, where he ordered them unequivocally to accept a fundamentally different Syria deployment policy. Trump opened the meeting with his public stance that the United States must end its intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly. He argued repeatedly that the U.S. had gotten “nothing” for its efforts, according to an account published by the Associated Press based on interviews with administration officials who had been briefed on the meeting. When Dunford asked him to state exactly what he wanted, Trump answered that he favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces and an end to the “stabilization” program in Syria.

Mattis responded that an immediate withdrawal from Syria was impossible to carry out responsibly, would risk the return of Islamic State, and would play into the hands of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, whose interests ran counter to those of the United States. Trump reportedly then relented and said they have could five or six months to destroy the Islamic State. But he also made it clear that he did not want them to come back to him in October and say that they had been unable to defeat ISIS and had to remain in Syria. When his advisors reiterated that they didn’t think America could withdraw responsibly, Trump told them to “just get it done.”

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New Knowledge. Defenders of freedom. Geez…

Firm That Warned US Of Russian Bots Ran An Army Of Fake Russian Bots (RT)

The co-founders of cybersecurity firm New Knowledge warned Americans in November to “remain vigilant” in the face of “Russian efforts” to meddle in US elections. This month, they have been exposed for doing just that themselves. Ryan Fox and Jonathan Morgan, who run the New Knowledge cybersecurity company which claims to “monitor disinformation” online, penned a foreboding op-ed in the New York Times on November 6, about “the Russians” and their nefarious efforts to influence American elections. At the time, it struck me that Fox and Morgan’s reasoning seemed a little far-fetched. For example, one of the pieces of evidence presented to prove that Russia had targeted American elections was that lots of people had posted links to RT’s content online.

Hardly a smoking gun worthy of a Times oped. Morgan and Fox, intrepid cyber sleuths that they are, claimed in the article they had detected more “overall activity” from ongoing Russian influence campaigns than social media companies like Facebook and Twitter had yet revealed — or that other researchers had been able to identify. The New Knowledge guys even authored a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russia’s alleged efforts to mess with American democracy. They called it a “propaganda war against American citizens.” Impressive stuff. They must be really good at their job, right? This week, however, we learned that New Knowledge was running its own disinformation campaign (or “propaganda war against Americans,” you could say), complete with fake Russian bots designed to discredit Republican candidate Roy Moore as a Russia-preferred candidate when he was running for the US senate in Alabama in 2017.

The scheme was exposed by the New York Times — the paper that just over a month earlier published that aforementioned oped, in which Fox and Morgan pontificated about Russian interference online. New Knowledge created a mini-army of fake Russian bots and fake Facebook groups. The accounts, which had Russian names, were made to follow Moore. An internal company memo boasted that New Knowledge had “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”

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How popular do you think it would be if we pay people to not kill off orangutans? Lions, hippos?

EU’s Palm Oil Policy Triggers Condemnation From Producing Countries (CNBC)

The European Union is phasing out the use of palm oil in transport fuel, triggering criticism of trade protectionism and threats of retaliation from major producersIndonesia and Malaysia. The European move comes after years of activist campaigns about the vegetable oil associated with rampant deforestation and labor abuses, highlighting how consumer concerns about sustainability are increasingly influencing businesses. According to Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of environmental non-governmental organizations co-founded by the World Wildlife Fund, the large Indonesian island of Sumatra lost 56 percent of its 25 million hectares (250,000 square kilometers, or bigger than the size of the U.K.) of natural forests over 31 years.

The palm oil industry, with its national epicenter on that island, is thought to be one of the biggest drivers of that loss, the coalition said. France and Norway have become the first few countries to start curbing use of palm oil in the last month, driving fears in major Southeast Asian producing countries, where the cash crop has powered economic growth. Indonesia and Malaysia together produce over 80 percent of the world’s palm oil. More broadly, the EU agreed in June to phase out the use of palm oil in transport fuel from 2030 as part of a broader plan to increase the share of renewables in the bloc’s energy production. The EU is one of the world’s top consumers of palm oil, which is used in a wide range of products from baked goods to detergents.

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All of a sudden the UK creates a frenzy over refugees in the Channel.

People-Smugglers Use Social Media To Lure Migrants To Their Deaths – UN (Ind.)

Tech companies are failing to crack down on people-smugglers using their platforms to lure migrants “to their deaths” with promise of safe passage to Europe, the UN has warned. Companies such as Facebook and WhatsApp are “enabling criminal activity” by traffickers who entrap victims who are unaware of the dangers they face, according to the UN’s migration agency. The warning comes amid a surge in migrants attempting to reach the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats, with almost 100 people intercepted by both British and French authorities while attempting to reach the UK from France since Christmas Day. [..]

Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said migrants were being “lured to Calais” over the internet as smugglers operate via social networks “without any real oversight” from the companies controlling them. He said that while tech firms had taken measures to curb other exploitative activities such as child pornography, efforts to prevent people-smuggling has been “microscopic” compared with the damage it causes. [..] Charities on the ground in northern France meanwhile cautioned that irregular migration was not the result of social media but of the persecution faced by migrants in their home countries. But they said failure by European governments to inform refugees of their right to seek asylum and how to do so had enabled criminal gangs to “fill the void”, often through online social networks.

Mr Doyle told The Independent: “People like to point fingers over the migration crisis, but a big part of it must be that the guy or the girl in the village with nothing but a cracked smartphone can actually meet a smuggler in a heartbeat. “This person will often have no prior knowledge, no sense that this is a trap, no sense that this is going to end up in their prostitution, their slavery, their murder, their drowning. “But the tech companies that have done so much to bring technology to its current place are not investing in civic communication to help counter-balance the nonsense people get from social media.

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Oct 062018
 
 October 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Day and Night 1938

 

Collins, Manchin Vote “Yes”, Ensuring Kavanaugh Confirmation (ZH)
US Unemployment Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since 1969 (G.)
Mueller Moves For Forfeiture Order To Seize Manafort Assets (Hill)
Storm Clouds on Robert Mueller’s Horizon (LaRouche)
May Secretly Woos Labour MP’s To Back Her Brexit Deal (G.)
Juncker: Brexit Deal Could Be Reached Within Weeks (Sky)
UK House Prices Fall Sharply In September (G.)
Fishtailing into the Future (Jim Kunstler)
Russia Announces Plan To Disentangle Its Economy From US Dollar (RT)
Banksy Artwork Shreds Itself After £1m Sale At Sotheby’s (BBC)

 

 

This ain’t over.

Collins, Manchin Vote “Yes”, Ensuring Kavanaugh Confirmation (ZH)

Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh now has the 50 votes required to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, after both GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that they would be voting yes. GOP holdout Jeff Flake of Arizona also said that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh “unless something big changed.” Earlier in the day, the Senate completed a cloture vote to advance Kavanaugh to final confirmation, which Manchin broke ranks and voted in favor of.

“Most senators sat at their desk as the dramatic roll call unfolded, with major suspense over where Murkowski, Manchin and Flake would land. Collins was the first swing vote to support Kavanaugh on the procedural roll call, quickly followed by Flake. Murkowski then inaudibly voted no, a jarring defection that left Republicans with no room for error. After it was clear that Kavanaugh had the 50 votes needed to advance, Manchin became Kavanaugh’s only Democratic supporter. Manchin, who left the chamber when the clerk called his name, came back into the chamber and voted in favor of Kavanaugh. His phone could be seen ringing and Manchin stared at it as the vote continued.” -Politico

“This is a difficult decision for everybody,” Flake said to reporters, who added that he thinks Kavanaugh will be confirmed on Saturday. Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) is set to fly to Montana to attend his daughter’s Saturday wedding. If the vote is too close without Daines, he will be forced to fly back to Washington D.C. to cast the deciding vote. “We’ll wait and see how this all unfolds,” Daines said. “We have transportation arranged and we’ll wait and see what happens.” He added that Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) offered him the use of his private plane. President Trump has taken a largely hands-off approach to Kavanaugh’s confirmation – instead communicating in private with his political allies, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), according to Politico, which adds that the White House is “cautiously opimistic” that Kavanaugh will be confirmed.

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How many Americans have multiple jobs?

US Unemployment Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since 1969 (G.)

US figures have shown the lowest jobless rate since the year of the first moon landings, keeping the world’s largest economy on course for further interest rate rises. Eagerly awaited figures for jobs and wages showed less inflationary pressure in the world’s biggest economy than had been feared, but still pointed to more hikes by the Federal Reserve. Financial markets had been braced for a sharp sell off had the latest monthly payroll numbers indicated faster employment growth and pay increases in September, which could have paved the way for faster-than-expected monetary tightening by the US central bank. As a result of the figures undershooting the most optimistic expectations, losses were smaller than feared in early trading in New York but all the major US markets ended down with the biggest losses on the tech heavy Nasdaq exchange.

Data from the Bureau for Labour Statistics (BLS) reported an increase in non-farm payrolls of 134,000 in September, well below the 180,000 predicted by Wall Street analysts. A 0.3% in pay left annual earnings 2.8% higher than a year earlier, a slightly weaker rate of increase than the 2.9% posted the previous month. Most economists said the jobs market remained strong, pointing to the drop in unemployment from 3.9% to 3.7% – its lowest since 1969 – and upward revisions to employment in July and August. Last month, the Fed raised short-term interest rates for the eighth time since 2015, to a range of 2%-2.25%, and indicated that there would be further increases “consistent with sustained expansion of economic activity”.

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Don’t have a collusion to investigate?

Mueller Moves For Forfeiture Order To Seize Manafort Assets (Hill)

Attorneys for special counsel Robert Mueller moved on Friday for an order to seize assets that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort purchased with funds he hid from U.S. authorities in foreign bank accounts. Mueller’s attorneys submitted a court document as part of Manafort’s plea agreement asking Judge Amy Berman Jackson to grant a request to seize five properties in New York owned by Manafort as well as a life insurance policy and three bank accounts. Forfeiture of the assets identified as part of Manafort’s scheme to hide millions of dollars made lobbying for pro-Russia parties in Ukraine was agreed upon in a plea agreement Manafort signed with Mueller’s team last month.

Manafort signed the deal and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team to avoid a second trial in Washington, D.C., after a jury found him guilty on eight counts in a separate trial in northern Virginia in August. “[T]he defendant admitted to the forfeiture allegations in the Information and agreed that the following property constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense alleged in Count One,” the court document states, while noting that two of the New York properties were substitutes for assets unable to be seized by the government.

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“..the entire Russiagate investigation was a ginned up operation research/information warfare campaign..”

Storm Clouds on Robert Mueller’s Horizon (LaRouche)

On October 3rd, the House Committees investigating the Department of Justice Russiagate insurrection against Donald Trump took testimony from behind closed doors from former FBI General Counsel James Baker, a close confidant of fired FBI Director James Comey. According to widespread leaks Thursday, October 4th, Baker’s testimony included the fact that he, Baker, met directly with Perkins, Coie, the lawyers for the DNC and Hillary Clinton, receiving directly materials which went into the FBI’s FISA warrant against Carter Page and characterized this process has “highly abnormal.” The Perkins, Coie, lawyer involved, Michael Sussman, is also the guy who orchestrated the fake information warfare story that the Russians hacked the DNC on behalf of Donald Trump.

Coming out of the testimony, one of the sources for the story spoke plainly: Baker’s testimony shows that the entire Russiagate investigation was a ginned up operation research/information warfare campaign, involving the FBI and Hillary’s Clinton’s campaign rather than any “conspiracy” involving the Trump Campaign and Russia. October 4th was the deadline for Andrew McCabe’s memos about meetings occurring in the wake of James Comey’s firing May, 2017, in which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and others discussed wearing wires and recording the President and also invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the President.

In a discussion with Hill TV on Wednesday, Congressman Mark Meadows, who is leading this investigation, said that he has seen evidence that “confidential human sources” used by the FBI “actually taped members within the Trump campaign.” “There is strong suggestions in that some of the text messages, emails, and so forth who was involved, that extraordinary measures were used to surveil,” Meadows said. There is now a major national outcry for the President to declassify all of the relevant documents concerning Russiagate. Speculation on his failure, thus far, to do so, centers on both the Kavanaugh nomination fight and forcing his hand on Rosenstein before the Midterm elections.

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Looking for Blairite traitors.

May Secretly Woos Labour MP’s To Back Her Brexit Deal (G.)

Theresa May has drawn up plans for a secret charm offensive aimed at persuading dozens of Labour MPs to back her Brexit deal even if it costs Jeremy Corbyn the chance to be prime minister, the Guardian has learned. Senior Conservatives say they have already been in private contact with a number of Labour MPs over a period of several months, making the case that the national interest in avoiding a no-deal outcome is more important than forcing a general election by defeating the government on May’s Brexit deal. Now, with talks in Brussels entering their frantic final phase, the prime minister and her party whips are stepping up efforts to win backing for a compromise deal that one minister described as a “British blancmange”.

They are convinced they will need Labour votes to win, after a fractious Tory conference in Birmingham, at which determined opponents of the prime minister’s approach, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, won plaudits for saying they would vote against it. One Tory source compared the challenge of striking a deal with the EU27 that would satisfy both sides of his own party to “landing a jumbo jet on the penalty spot”. Labour MPs will thus be the focus of intense lobbying, in the period between May returning from Brussels with a Brexit deal and the meaningful vote, which is expected to come about a fortnight later.

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If May gives enough, yes…

Juncker: Brexit Deal Could Be Reached Within Weeks (Sky)

The president of the European Commission has said he is sure a Brexit agreement could be reached in November, if not sooner. Jean-Claude Juncker told three Austrian newspapers that Brexit without a deal “would not be good for the UK, as it is for the rest of the union”. He added: “I assume that we will reach agreement on the terms of the withdrawal agreement. “We also need to agree on a political statement that accompanies this withdrawal agreement – we are not that far yet.” He said: “I have reason to think that the rapprochement potential between both sides has increased in recent days, but it can not be foreseen whether we will finish in October. “If not, we’ll do it in November.”

Britain and the EU are trying to agree a divorce deal as well as one for a post-Brexit relationship in time for leaders’ summits scheduled for 17-18 October and 17-18 November. Mr Juncker insisted that the EU’s “will is unbroken to reach agreement” with Britain but spoke of his regret that the European Commission had not been involved in the 2016 referendum campaign. He said that the then-government of David Cameron had asked him “not to interfere”. “If the commission intervened, perhaps the right questions would have entered the debate,” he added. “Now you discover new problems almost daily, on both sides. “At that time it was already clear to us to what trials and tribulations this pitiful vote of the British would lead.”

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They’re bloated.

UK House Prices Fall Sharply In September (G.)

UK house prices unexpectedly dropped at the fastest pace for almost six months in September, according to Halifax, as the number of homes for sale in 2018 fell to a decade low. Britain’s biggest mortgage lender said the average price of a home in Britain dropped to £225,995 last month, down 1.4% from the level recorded in August. The price of a home remained 2.5% higher than a year ago. City economists had forecast month-on-month growth of 0.2% in September. The latest snapshot of the housing market a little more than six months before Britain leaves the EU suggests sluggish levels of demand for home buying amid the political uncertainty of Brexit.

Economists said the national picture painted by Halifax obscured some regional differences. London house prices are falling for the first time since 2009, yet prices elsewhere are rising. They also cautioned that the Halifax house price index can be more changeable than other industry barometers of residential property because it is on a monthly basis. Earlier this week Theresa May announced the government would lift a cap on the amount councils can borrow to build housing, potentially helping to increase the number of homes built by local authorities.

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“..I’ve never seen a political fiasco as demented as the Kavanaugh confirmation process..”

Fishtailing into the Future (Jim Kunstler)

[..] at the macro level, this system and its subsystems are out-of-control and shaking themselves loose. Government has attempted to prop them up by schemes that amount to racketeering of one kind or another — the dishonest manipulation and representation of money — and now money itself is in revolt, as can be seen in the sudden rise of interest rates, especially the ten-year US Treasury Bond above 3.2 percent just before today’s market open

The US government can’t handle interest rates at this level, after decades of debt accumulation. Other nations can’t pay back their dollar-denominated loans either, and that has produced havoc at the so-called margins of the global economy — as currencies crash, and companies go under, and sovereign debt instruments melt down. You can be sure that this disorder will eventually spread from the margins to the center, which is the USA. It’s already up-and-running in our politics, which might be considered the early warning system of the larger picture. In my long life of three-score and ten, I’ve never seen a political fiasco as demented as the Kavanaugh confirmation process, with its harking back to Medieval social hysterias and stunning exercises in bad faith.

This riveting horror show has also distracted the nation — and a media fully invested in compounding the psychodrama — from the momentous tectonic movements in the world’s money system, now shaking apart. Among other things, it will blow up the fantasy that Mr. Trump has magically orchestrated a new miracle economy. But it will also bring to an abrupt close the pornographic machinations of his adversaries in Swamptown. And then we will get on in earnest with the true business of the long emergency — making new arrangements, however difficult — to escape the deadly clutter of our own constructed hyper-complex hyper-reality.

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The US will fight back.

Russia Announces Plan To Disentangle Its Economy From US Dollar (RT)

The Russian Finance Ministry has announced a plan to wean the country of dollar dependence. It is expected to be a long and painful process. RT has asked analysts to explain how this could be done. According to the plan published this week, Russia seeks to de-dollarize the economy by 2024. The program is long and complicated, but its key point is that Russian exporters who use rubles instead of dollars would get huge taxation benefits including quicker VAT returns and other stimulus to ditch the greenback. But there are also other ways to strengthen the role of the ruble in Russia.

“It is necessary to gradually switch to such a system of international payments, which implies payment in rubles for Russia’s best and most popular goods on the world market like oil, gas and arms exclusively,” Andrey Perekalsky, analyst at insurance brokerage FinIst, told RT. Russia should also unite with China and the European Union in creating a payment channel that can’t be controlled by the United States. The alternative to the SWIFT interbank settlement network that could bypass Iranian sanctions could be seen as a first step in that direction, the analyst notes. Petr Pushkarev, chief analyst at TeleTrade, says that Russia with its almost $500 billion in foreign reserves, could keep the ruble stable despite US sanctions pressure. The current period of high oil prices could also help.

However, Russia should diversify not only into rubles, but also use the Chinese yuan, Vietnamese dong, Indian rupee, and even the euro, the analyst says. “The euro shouldn’t be feared. The dollar is pretty much overvalued against the euro; the IMF forecasts a gradual devaluation of the dollar by 10-15 percent,” Pushkarev said. “American policy is disliked not only in Russia. EU officials have already openly announced that they are starting to create their own system of settlements with Iran, in which transactions will not be transparent to the US authorities and therefore will not be subject to sanctions,” he added.

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Funny.

Banksy Artwork Shreds Itself After £1m Sale At Sotheby’s (BBC)

A stencil spray painting by elusive artist Banksy shredded itself after it was sold for more than £1m. Girl With Balloon, one of Banksy’s most widely recognised works, was auctioned by Sotheby’s in London. The framed piece shows a girl reaching towards a heart-shaped balloon and was the final work sold at the auction. However, in a twist to be expected from street art’s most subversive character, the canvas suddenly passed through a shredder installed in the frame. Posting a picture of the moment on Instagram, Banksy wrote: “Going, going, gone…”

The 2006 piece was shown dangling in pieces from the bottom of the frame, after it sold for £1.042m on Friday night. “It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” said Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s senior director and head of contemporary art in Europe. Banksy is a Bristol-born artist whose true identity – despite rampant speculation – has never been officially revealed. He came to prominence through a series of graffiti pieces that appeared on buildings across the country, marked by deeply satirical undertones. Friday’s self-destruction was the latest in a long history of anti-establishment statements by the street artist.

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Sep 132018
 
 September 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Landscape with a bench 1918

 

This Will Be The Mother Of All Minsky Moments (Mauldin)
Leaderless World Is Sleepwalking Into A Financial Crisis – Gordon Brown (G.)
UK PM May Calls Special Meeting To Discuss ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (CNBC)
EU Can ‘Certainly Not’ Accept Theresa May’s Single Market Plan – Juncker (Ind.)
Juncker Calls On EU To Seize Chance To Become Major Sovereign Power (G.)
Poland Says It Will Block Any EU Sanctions Against Hungary (R.)
Leaked Video Shows Distraught Google Execs Grappling With Hillary’s Loss (ZH)
John Kerry Accused Of Violating Logan Act In Secret Iran Talks (ZH)
US Destroyer Arrives In Mediterranean As Syria Tensions Rise (RT)
No NGO Rescue Boats Currently In Central Mediterranean (G.)
Two More Potential ‘Garbage Patch’ Zones In World’s Oceans Identified (Ind.)
Florence To Slow Down, Hammer Carolinas and Appalachia for Days (Weather.com)

 

 

The mother of all debt loads.

This Will Be The Mother Of All Minsky Moments (Mauldin)

Dr. Hyman Minsky points out that stability leads to instability. The more comfortable we get with a given condition or trend, the longer it will persist. And then when the trend fails, the more dramatic the correction. Long-term stability produces unstable financial arrangements. If we believe that tomorrow will be the same as last week, we are more willing to add debt or postpone savings in favor of current consumption. Thus, says Minsky, the longer the period of stability, the higher the potential risk for even greater instability when market participants must change their behavior.

[..] I think the mother of all Minsky moments is building. It will not be an instant sandpile collapse, but instead take years because we have $500 trillion of debt to work through. Remember, that debt just can’t be pooped away. It is both money somebody owes and an asset on somebody else’s balance sheet. We can’t just take that away without huge consequences to culture and society.

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All these people responsible for the last crisis are now advising on what to do with the next one.

Leaderless World Is Sleepwalking Into A Financial Crisis – Gordon Brown (G.)

“It is very difficult to say what will trigger it [the next crisis] but we are at the latter end of the economic cycle where people take greater risks. There are problems in emerging markets.” Brown said one area of concern should be heavy commercial and industrial lending by lightly or unregulated shadow banks at a time when US interest rates are rising. “It could arise in Asia because of the amount of lending through the shadow banking system.” He added: “In an interconnected world there is an escalation of risks. We have had a decade of stagnation and we are now about to have a decade of vulnerability.”

Recalling the freezing up of the financial markets a decade ago, Brown said governments had sought to compensate for the lack of trust between banks by cooperating more closely. “In the next crisis a breakdown of trust in the financial sector would be mirrored by breakdown in trust between governments. There wouldn’t be the same willingness to cooperate but rather a tendency to blame each other for what’s gone wrong.

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Waking up at last?

UK PM May Calls Special Meeting To Discuss ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (CNBC)

The U.K. government is set to meet Thursday morning for three-hours to discuss the eventuality of a “no-deal” Brexit. The meeting takes place at a time when the government is also releasing more than 20 documents, outlining some more preparations in case the U.K. leaves the European Union in March 2019 without a deal. This is not the first set of papers outlining what will happen in case the U.K. and the EU do not reach a deal. In late August, the U.K. government said that businesses should prepare for higher barriers to trade, more red tape and potentially higher costs too, if Brexit talks collapse.

All these steps are part of a wider attempt to step up works for the worst-case scenario. The EU has also strengthened its preparations in case the U.K. leaves the bloc abruptly. The U.K.’s Brexit chief, Dominic Raab, warned on Wednesday that the U.K. will not pay the so-called divorce bill, if there is no final deal over Brexit. Raab wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the £39 billion ($50.82 billion) the U.K. owes to the EU, due to previous policy agreements, will not be repaid if there is no deal.

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We know.

EU Can ‘Certainly Not’ Accept Theresa May’s Single Market Plan – Juncker (Ind.)

Jean-Claude Juncker has given his clearest signal yet that the EU will not accept Theresa May’s plan to keep Britain in the single market for goods after Brexit. In his annual state of the union address in Strasbourg, the European Commission president said parts of the single market could “certainly not” be jettisoned for countries outside the bloc. But he said the Chequers proposals could be a “starting point” for the future relationship and that Britain would “never be an ordinary” country for the EU. “We respect the British decision to leave our union, even though we continue to regret it deeply,” he told MEPs. “But we also ask the British government to understand that someone who leaves the union cannot be in the same privileged position as a member state.

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Bigger is better?!

Juncker Calls On EU To Seize Chance To Become Major Sovereign Power (G.)

In his state of the union speech, titled The Hour of European Sovereignty, the European commission president appealed to MEPs and heads of government to give the EU the powers and characteristics traditionally restricted to states. Explaining his expansive vision, Juncker said the EU should aim to surpass the dominance of the dollar in the world economy and challenge China in its attempts to become the ascendant influence in Africa. The EU should be “a global player” as well as a “global payer”, Juncker said, with foreign policy decisions made on the basis of a qualified majority vote in which the will of 55% of member states would win the day.

Through trade deals, the EU’s standards and labour conditions were being exported across the world, he said, and it was time for the continent to further use its “clout” to mould the future. “The geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come,” Juncker told the European parliament in Strasbourg. “It is time Europe took its destiny into its own hands. It is time Europe developed what I coined Weltpolitikfähigkeit – the capacity to play a role, as a union, in shaping global affairs. Europe has to become a more sovereign actor in international relations.”

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A crumbling fortress.

Poland Says It Will Block Any EU Sanctions Against Hungary (R.)

Poland, the biggest former communist country in the European Union, said it will oppose any sanctions imposed by the bloc on fellow member Hungary, accused of floating EU rules on democracy. “Every country has its sovereign right to make internal reforms it deems appropriate,” Poland’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday. “Actions aimed against member states serve only deepening divides in the EU, increasing citizens’ current lack of confidence to European institutions.” The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to sanction Hungary for neglecting norms on democracy, civil rights and corruption in a first bid to launch the punitive process of the EU treaty’s Article 7.

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AI to save their day?

Leaked Video Shows Distraught Google Execs Grappling With Hillary’s Loss (ZH)

Days after Google was exposed trying to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election, a leaked “internal only” video published by Breitbart Senior Tech correspondent Allum Bokhari reveals a panel of Google executives who are absolutely beside themselves following Hillary Clinton’s historic loss. The video is a full recording of Google’s first all-hands meeting following the 2016 election (these weekly meetings are known inside the company as “TGIF” or “Thank God It’s Friday” meetings). Sent to Breitbart News by an anonymous source, it features co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, VPs Kent Walker and Eileen Naughton, CFO Ruth Porat, and CEO Sundar Pichai. -Breitbart

In the video, Brin can be heard comparing Trump supporters to fascists and extremists – arguing that like other extremists, Trump voters suffered from “boredom” which has, he claims, historically led to fascism and communism. He then asks his company what they can do to ensure a “better quality of governance and decision-making.” And according to Kent Walker, VP for Global Affairs, those who support populist causes like the MAGA movement are motivated by “fear, xenophobia, hatred and a desire for answers that may or may not be there.” He later says that Google needs to fight to ensure that populist movements around the world are merely a “blip” and a “hiccup” in the arc of history that “bends towards progress.”

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A dark-grey area at best.

John Kerry Accused Of Violating Logan Act In Secret Iran Talks (ZH)

Though he previously denied it when allegations first surfaced last Spring, former Secretary of State John Kerry has now disclosed he’s personally had semi-frequent face to face contact with top Iranian officials to discuss US-Iran relations since Trump entered office. Kerry confirmed and explained in detail his recent meetings with Iranian Former Minister Javad Zarif in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt to promote his new memoir, Every Day Is Extra.

During the interview Kerry disclosed that he met with Zarif “three or four times” and discussed political issues and challenges between the United States and Iran in what could constitute a significant and clear violation of the Logan Act. Though it’s almost never been enforced, the 1799 Logan Act states that unauthorized diplomacy with foreign powers by private American citizens is a crime. Notably, two Trump-connected individuals that prominent Liberals and editorials demanded be prosecuted under the Logan Act include former national security advisor Michael Flynn and Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

When asked point blank during the radio show about his rumored meetings with top Iran officials, Kerry admitted, “I think I’ve seen him three or four times,” but attempted to claim he was not trying to “coach” Iran on how to navigate President Trump’s pullout of the Iran nuclear deal. Kerry is of course now a private citizen out of government but holds significant clout and influence with the Iran FM as the two hammered out the details of the JCPOA brokered under President Obama in the first place.

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I wouldn’t be too sure Russia will back down again.

US Destroyer Arrives In Mediterranean As Syria Tensions Rise (RT)

With the arrival of another guided missile destroyer to the Mediterranean, the US may have 200 ‘Tomahawks’ ready for a strike on Syria, as Russia warns that jihadist groups in Idlib are planning a fake chemical attack. The USS Bulkeley (DDG-84), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, entered the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar on Wednesday, the Russian news agency Interfax reported citing international maritime monitoring data. A Gibraltar-watcher confirmed the destroyer’s transit on September 12.

With the arrival of the Bulkeley, the US forces in the region have up to 200 ‘Tomahawk’ cruise missiles available to strike targets in Syria if ordered to do so, Interfax reported. Last week, the attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) arrived in the Mediterranean as well. Last week, Russia conducted massive naval maneuvers off the Syrian coast, culminating in marine landing drills and missile launches. The presence of Russian ships in the area was seen as a possible deterrent to further US military action against Syria.

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If a tree falls in a forest…

No NGO Rescue Boats Currently In Central Mediterranean (G.)

Thousands of migrants risk dying at sea because of a clampdown on NGO rescue ships, aid agencies have warned, in what has been their longest period of absence from the central Mediterranean since they began operating in late 2015. Since 26 August, no NGO rescue vessel has operated on the main migration routes between north Africa and southern Europe. Anti-immigration policies by the Maltese and Italian governments, which have closed their ports to the vessels, have driven the sharp decrease in rescue missions. People seeking asylum are still attempting the risky crossing – but without the boats, shipwrecks are likely to rise dramatically.

The last time the Mediterranean was without NGO rescue boats was from 28 June to 8 July 2018, and in those days more than 300 migrants died at sea. The death toll has fallen in the past year, but the number of those drowning as a proportion of arrivals in Italy has risen sharply in the past few months, with the possibility of dying during the crossing now three times higher.

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When we create truly lasting legacies.

Two More Potential ‘Garbage Patch’ Zones In World’s Oceans Identified (Ind.)

Much attention has focus on the plastic floating on the surface, but this accounts for less than 1 per cent of the total plastic thought to be in ocean. To trace the likely fate of the remaining 99 per cent, scientists at Newcastle University used computer models and identified two likely locations for accumulation zones that had previously slipped under the radar. The Gulf of Guinea region and the East Siberian Sea may be hosting large quantities of plastic that cannot be easily viewed from the water surface, as up to 70 per cent of plastic debris is thought to sink and remain on the sea floor.

“There’s a need to find the unaccounted for plastic in the ocean mainly because if we don’t know the extent of the problem, then there’s no way of knowing the potential implications it has,” explained Alethea Mountford, a PhD Student at Newcastle University who led the study. “Once the plastics reach the water column, the greatest impact would be on marine organisms through ingestion and entanglement,” she said.

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A lot of storms. Mangkhut is about to hit the Philippines.

Florence To Slow Down, Hammer Carolinas and Appalachia for Days (Weather.com)

Hurricane Florence continues to expand in size. Hurricane-force winds now extend outward up to 80 miles the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles from the center. This expansion in size only increases the hurricane’s energy and potential for significant storm surge. The National Hurricane Center noted Wednesday evening that while Florence has weakened some, “the wind field of the hurricane continues to grow in size. This evolution will produce storm surges similar to that of a more intense, but smaller, hurricane, and thus the storm surge values seen in the previous advisory are still valid.” Previous large Category 2 hurricanes have done enormous amounts of damage along the U.S. coast.

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Sarah Kendzior tweets:

The best workaround I’ve found to Twitter’s horrible new algorithm is putting this in the search bar:

filter:follows -filter:replies include:nativeretweets

You will get your old chronological timeline back with no “likes” and with retweets from people you actually follow.

Jul 262018
 
 July 26, 2018  Posted by at 7:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roy Lichtenstein Forget it! Forget me! 1962

 

Trump Says Agreed With EU To Work To Lower Trade Barriers (R.)
Republicans Begin Impeachment Proceedings Against Rosenstein (ZH)
The Gray Lady Thinks Twice About Assange’s Prosecution (McGovern)
Facebook Stock Drops 24%, $132 Billion In Lost Market Value (MW)
China Pulls Approval For Facebook’s Planned Venture (R.)
This Stock Market Isn’t As Strong As You Think – Rosenberg (CNBC)
US Household Wealth Is In A Bubble – Part 2 (Colombo)
Prepare for a Chinese Maxi-Devaluation (Rickards)
A Weak US Dollar Will Not Make America Great (Lacalle)
Britain Is Hoarding Food, Medicines And Blood In Case Of No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)
There Is No Majority In UK Parliament For Any Brexit Deal (Ind.)
US Lawmaker Pranked By Sacha Baron Cohen To Resign (AFP)
Gene-Edited Plants And Animals Are GMO Foods – EU Top Court (G.)

 

 

What a good glass of wine can accomplish.

Trump Says Agreed With EU To Work To Lower Trade Barriers (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States and the European Union were kicking off talks aimed at lowering trade barriers as officials looked to head off a brewing trade war. “This was a very big day for free and fair trade, a very big day indeed,” Trump told reporters at the White House after meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. “We are starting the negotiation right now but we know very much where it’s going,” Trump said. Speaking with Juncker at his side, Trump said they had agreed in talks to “work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods.”

“We will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans; soybeans is a big deal,” he said, adding that Europe would also step up purchases of liquefied natural gas from the United States. “They are going to be a massive buyer of LNG,” Trump said. Trump said the talks would “resolve” both the hefty tariffs the United States had placed on imports of steel and aluminum from the EU and the tariffs Europe had slapped on U.S. goods in response. It was not clear whether the two sides made any progress on the contentious issue of possible U.S. tariffs on imports of automobiles from Europe. But Juncker said they had agreed not to impose any new tariffs while talks were taking place.

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More to fight over.

Republicans Begin Impeachment Proceedings Against Rosenstein (ZH)

House GOP members led by Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (NC) have filed formal articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to a late Wednesday announcement by Meadows over Twitter. News of the resolution comes after weeks of frustration by Congressional investigators, who have repeatedly accused Rosenstein and the DOJ of “slow walking” documents related to their investigations. Lawmakers say they’ve been given the runaround – while Rosenstein and the rest of the DOJ have maintained that handing over vital documents would compromise ongoing investigations. Not even last week’s heavily redacted release of the FBI’s FISA surveillance application on former Trump campaign Carter Page was enough to dissuade the GOP lawmakers from their efforts to impeach Rosenstein.

In fact, its release may have sealed Rosenstein’s fate after it was revealed that the FISA application and subsequent renewals – at least one of which Rosenstein signed off on, relied heavily on the salacious and largely unproven Steele dossier. In late June, Rosenstein along with FBI Director Christopher Wray clashed with House Republicans during a fiery hearing over an internal DOJ report criticizing the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation by special agents who harbored extreme animus towards Donald Trump while expressing support for Clinton. Republicans on the panel grilled a defiant Rosenstein on the Trump-Russia investigation which has yet to prove any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. “This country is being hurt by it. We are being divided,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said of Mueller’s investigation. “Whatever you got,” Gowdy added, “Finish it the hell up because this country is being torn apart.”

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Waking up?

The Gray Lady Thinks Twice About Assange’s Prosecution (McGovern)

Well, lordy be. A lawyer for The New York Times has figured out that prosecuting WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange might gore the ox of The Gray Lady herself. The Times’s deputy general counsel, David McCraw, told a group of judges on the West Coast on Tuesday that such prosecution would be a gut punch to free speech, according to Maria Dinzeo, writing for the Courthouse News Service. Curiously, as of this writing, McCraw’s words have found no mention in the Times itself. In recent years, the newspaper has shown a marked proclivity to avoid printing anything that might risk its front row seat at the government trough.

Stating the obvious, McCraw noted that the “prosecution of him [Assange] would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers … he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.” That’s because, for one thing, the Times itself published many stories based on classified information revealed by WikiLeaks and other sources. The paper decisively turned against Assange once WikiLeaks published the DNC and Podesta emails. More broadly, no journalist in America since John Peter Zenger in Colonial days has been indicted or imprisoned for their work.

Unless American prosecutors could prove that Assange personally took part in the theft of classified material or someone’s emails, rather than just receiving and publishing them, prosecuting him merely for his publications would be a first since the British Governor General of New York, William Cosby, imprisoned Zenger in 1734 for ten months for printing articles critical of Cosby. Zenger was acquitted by a jury because what he had printed was proven to be factual—a claim WikiLeaks can also make. McCraw went on to emphasize that, “Assange should be afforded the same protections as a traditional journalist.”

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Talk about waking up.

Facebook Stock Drops 24%, $132 Billion In Lost Market Value (MW)

Facebook Inc. is evidently not bulletproof. The social-media behemoth’s stock lost roughly one-fifth of its value in the extended session Wednesday after its earnings report missed expectations on revenue and showed slowing user growth. Weak guidance also rattled investors. Facebook stock dropped about 7% immediately after the earnings report was released, then plummeted to a loss of more than 20% as a conference call with analysts progressed. Close to 34 million shares changed hands in the extended session, well above the average volume of 17 million shares for a regular trading session over the past month. Should the losses hold into Thursday’s regular session, Facebook would lose more than $100 billion in market capitalization and lose the stock’s gains for the year thus far.

As the after-hours session wrapped up, Facebook was trading at $173.50, down 20%. Facebook stock had recovered from a decline earlier this year in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, one of several controversies and warning signs that the company had managed to weather with little damage to its stock. But declining revenue and user growth, topped by a warning from executives that it will continue, seemed to end that run. “The guidance, it’s nightmare guidance,” GBH Insights head of technology research Daniel Ives said. “If you look at their forecast for the second half of the year in terms of user growth, and the expense profile, it refuels the fundamental worries about Facebook post-Cambridge Analytica.”

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Why would Facebook want to be in China? To help Beijing spy?

China Pulls Approval For Facebook’s Planned Venture (R.)

China has withdrawn its approval for Facebook Inc’s plan to open a new venture in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing a person familiar with the matter. A Chinese government database showed that Facebook had gained approval to open a subsidiary, but the registration has since disappeared, according to checks made by Reuters. The move is a setback for Facebook, which has been struggling to gain a foothold in China, the most populous country in the world, where its website and messaging app Whatsapp remain blocked.

The incident also illustrates how difficult it can be for a U.S. company to navigate the government bureaucracy in a country where so many technology firms have tried and failed. “Terms like ‘The Great Firewall’” often gives outsiders the impression that the Chinese government is totally united on technology policy,” said Matt Sheehan, an expert on China-California relations and fellow at The Paulson Institute think tank. “In reality, within that Firewall are lots of competing fiefdoms and ongoing turf wars.” China’s decision comes amid escalating tensions with the United States after the world’s two largest economies imposed tariffs on each other’s imports.

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It’s just 6 stocks.

This Stock Market Isn’t As Strong As You Think – Rosenberg (CNBC)

Don’t be fooled. This market is weaker than it seems, according to David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff. The S&P 500 is up more than 5% in 2018, recovering from a correction earlier in the year. The broad index was also just 1.9% removed from an all-time high reached in late January as of Tuesday’s close. However, Rosenberg notes that while momentum stocks are lifting the market, “many subsectors are well off their highs: Homebuilders. Autos. Banks. Insurance. Consumer products. Telecom. Media. Transports. Utilities. Pharma. And many more.” The S&P automobiles and components industry group is nearly 20% below its 52-week high, while insurance stocks are down 10.8% from their one-year high. The Dow transports index, meanwhile, is 6.5% below its one-year high.

“What has kept the market near record terrain are a mere six stocks — Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and Facebook,” Rosenberg said in a note to clients Wednesday. “Strip out these six flashy stocks, and the overall market has done practically nothing year-to-date.” Through mid-July, Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and Facebook had contributed nearly 80% to the S&P 500’s gains. These six names have been on fire this year. Netflix and Amazon are up 86% and 57% in 2018, respectively. Microsoft and Facebook have both risen more than 20% while Alphabet and Apple have jumped 19.8% and 14%, respectively. Rosenberg said such concentration in the stock market has not been seen since the late 1990s, just before the dot-com bubble burst. “We know from history how these cycles typically end.”

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Jesse! So many graphs!

US Household Wealth Is In A Bubble – Part 2 (Colombo)

While above-average corporate profitability may sound like a good thing when taken at face value, I view it as another worrisome sign because it’s further evidence of an economy and financial markets that are being juiced by cheap credit and financial engineering. Ultra-low interest rates help to boost corporate profitability by reducing borrowing costs. Cheap credit also gives consumer spending a strong boost, which has a significant effect on our economy that is heavily driven by consumer spending. Low interest rate environments allow the government (federal, state, and local) to borrow more cheaply in the bond market and use it to boost spending, which gives the overall economy a shot in the arm. In addition, artificially-inflated financial markets boost the profitability of the financial sector.

A major risk for the stock market is the mean reversion of corporate profitability, which is a nightmarish prospect when considering how overpriced stocks currently are relative to earnings. This mean reversion is likely to occur as the result of the ending of ultra-cheap credit conditions (when corporate bonds fall back to earth) and through increased competition, which is what Milton Friedman warned about. (Note: critics may try to rebut my assertions by claiming that U.S. corporate profitability is unusually high due to corporations earning a higher percentage of earnings overseas. I’ve accounted for this by using gross national product as the denominator instead of the more commonly used GDP.)

What is particularly alarming about the current U.S. stock market bubble is the fact that it’s driven by a very narrow group of stocks, which means that there isn’t a healthy breadth, or broad strength, behind the bull market. In general, tech stocks have been leading the way – in particular, a group of stocks known as FAANG, which is an acronym for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. The chart below compares the performance of the FAANG stocks to the S&P 500 during the bull market that began in March 2009. While the S&P 500 is up approximately 300%, the FAANGs are up significantly more, with Apple rising by over 1,000%, Amazon rising more than 2,000%, and Netflix surging by over 6,000%.

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Xi is cornered.

Prepare for a Chinese Maxi-Devaluation (Rickards)

If Trump imposes 25% tariffs on Chinese goods, China could simply devalue their currency by 25%. That would make Chinese goods cheaper for U.S. buyers by the same amount as the tariff. The net effect on price would be unchanged and Americans could keep buying Chinese goods at the same price in dollars. The impact of such a massive devaluation would not be limited to the trade war. A cheaper yuan exports deflation from China to the U.S. and makes it harder for the Fed to meet its inflation target. Also, the last two times China tried to devalue its currency, August 2015 and December 2015, U.S. stock markets crashed by over 11% in a matter of a few weeks.

So, if the trade war escalates as I expect, don’t worry about China dumping Treasuries or imposing tariffs. Watch the currency. That’s where China will strike back. When they do, U.S. stock markets will be the first victims. Maybe you think that’s unlikely because it would be such an extreme reaction by China. But you have to put yourself in the shoes of China’s leadership. These aren’t academic issues to China’s leaders. They go to the heart of the government’s very legitimacy. China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services. It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces an existential crisis if it fails to deliver. The overriding imperative of the Chinese leadership is to avoid societal unrest.

If China encounters a financial crisis, Xi could quickly lose what the Chinese call, “The Mandate of Heaven.” That’s a term that describes the intangible goodwill and popular support needed by emperors to rule China for the past 3,000 years. If The Mandate of Heaven is lost, a ruler can fall quickly. Up to half of China’s investment is a complete waste. It does produce jobs and utilize inputs like cement, steel, copper and glass. But the finished product, whether a city, train station or sports arena, is often a white elephant that will remain unused. Chinese growth has been reported in recent years as 6.5–10% but is actually closer to 5% or lower once an adjustment is made for the waste.

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The US is not export-driven.

A Weak US Dollar Will Not Make America Great (Lacalle)

The US dollar has become the safest asset in the face of mounting evidence that the “beggar thy neighbor” policy and drowning structural problems in liquidity is coming to a close. The reality is that the US dollar is strengthening because of the evidence of a deeper slowdown in China and the massive imbalances built by some emerging economies in the past -large fiscal and trade deficits financed with the cheap inflow of dollars-. As the US economy improves and others face the saturation of past stimuli, it is only logical that the United States sees a high inflow of funds from abroad. And that is good. Keeps US treasury yields low, a high demand for bonds and equities, and a steady increase in capital investment into the US economy.

There are many who think that the US economy will not accept a strong dollar. Allow me to doubt it. The US only exports around 10% of GDP and less than 30% of the profits of the S & P 500 come from exports. In the past nine years, devaluing and lowering rates has hurt the middle class, savers, workers, and high productivity companies. Those that voted for the current administration to make a drastic change on the past mistakes. A devaluation policy hurts more Americans than it helps. Devaluation is simply stealing from your citizens’ savings and disposable income. A strong US dollar reduces inflationary pressures and keeps interest rates low. Both effects are positive for savers, workers, and families as the economy strengthens and wages improve.

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Keep calm and….

Britain Is Hoarding Food, Medicines And Blood In Case Of No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)

Theresa May has urged voters not to worry about Brexit, despite her government setting out plans to stockpile food, blood and medicine in case it goes badly. She said people should take “reassurance and comfort” from news of the plans, to be implemented if the UK crashes out of the EU without an agreement in March next year. The scenario is looking increasingly likely given deep divisions in the Conservatives over Ms May’s approach, her wafer thin commons majority and the EU’s on-going resistance to what the prime minister is proposing. It comes as The Independent launched a campaign to give the British people a Final Say in a referendum on whatever is proposed at the end of Brexit negotiations, with thousands flocking to sign a petition supporting the cause.

Ireland’s deputy prime minister accused the PM of “bravado” in talking up the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, while Tory insiders claim the PM is doing so to warn her rebellious MPs of the consequence of failing to back her unpopular Brexit plans. Ms May confirmed in a TV interview that plans for stocking up on essential goods are underway, in case imports from the EU are cut off by clogged ports or regulatory disputes. But, asked if it was “alarming” for people, the prime minister told Channel 5: “Far from being worried about preparations that we are making, I would say that people should take reassurance and comfort from the fact that the government is saying we are in a negotiation, we are working for a good deal. “I believe we can get a good deal, but, it’s right that we say – because we don’t know what the outcome is going to be – let’s prepare for every eventuality.”

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Inevitable: a general election, a leadership challenge or a people’s vote.

There Is No Majority In UK Parliament For Any Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Imagine you’re back at school and you can’t be bothered to do any work for the most important exams of your entire academic career. Alarmed by your indifference, your parents ask what you propose to do. Imagine how they would react if you told them you were thinking of having an extended summer holiday, to put off the moment of reckoning for as long as possible. Quite frankly, this is where our government now is in the Brexit negotiations. A longer than usual summer recess seems to be the best these great minds can come up with. The problem is we are not in school, Brexit is not homework and the bullies will do more than give us a bloody nose.

The EU is like the strict exam board of governors and appears to have no time for excuses or interest in making Theresa May’s sloppy government look good. It is a measure of May’s desperation that she said in Belfast last week that the EU was trying to achieve an “economic and constitutional dislocation” of our country. That kind of talk may play well with the hard-right Brexiteers who are too painfully holding her and her government hostage, but it doesn’t impress Brussels. May needs to realise that we can all see she is now merely playing for time and there are only a finite number of options open to her: a general election, a leadership challenge or a people’s vote.

[..] The plain truth is that there is no majority in parliament for any deal. The EU thinks the prime minister’s Chequers plan is too favourable to the UK, and the Brexiteers think it’s too favourable to Brussels. A Norway deal would mean accepting free movement and paying large amounts to Brussels; a Canada-style deal means the prospect of a hard border returning to the line on the map that separates Eire and Northern Ireland. Viewed through the lens of May’s parliamentary party, there is no consensus, no coming together on any of these options. Brexit is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.

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“he exposed himself and shouted racial slurs..”

US Lawmaker Pranked By Sacha Baron Cohen To Resign (AFP)

A US state lawmaker is resigning after a humiliating appearance on comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s television show during which he exposed himself and shouted racial slurs. Jason Spencer, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, had been under pressure from his own party to step down following the embarrassing appearance on Cohen’s series “Who Is America?” Spencer, 43, finally announced on Wednesday that he planned to resign on July 31. He had already lost a primary in May but he could have remained in office until November. Spencer was one of several Republican figures pranked by Cohen on the Showtime series.

Others included former vice president Dick Cheney, who signed a “waterboarding kit” and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. In the episode of “Who Is America” with Spencer, Cohen pretends to be an Israeli anti-terrorism expert, Colonel Erran Morad, offering self-defense training. At one point, Spencer is persuaded to expose his buttocks and chase Cohen while yelling “USA” and racial slurs. Spencer, in a statement this week to The Washington Post, said Cohen “took advantage of my paralyzing fear that my family would be attacked.” Spencer told the Post he had received death threats after introducing a bill that would ban Muslim women from publicly wearing burqas. Palin, the former governor of Alaska, denounced the show as “evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor.'”

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This has been a 10-year debate.

Gene-Edited Plants And Animals Are GMO Foods – EU Top Court (G.)

Plants and animals created by innovative gene-editing technology have been genetically modified and should be regulated as such, the EU’s top court has ruled. The landmark decision ends 10 years of debate in Europe about what is – and is not – a GM food, with a victory for environmentalists, and a bitter blow to Europe’s biotech industry. It also marks a setback for UK scientists who took advantage of a legal grey area to of gene edited camelina crops, augmented with Omega-3 fish oils. Greenpeace said that the ruling meant the British government – along with Belgium, Sweden and Finland – was now obliged to “revoke” the green light for the trials until appropriate precautions had been taken.

In their ruling, the EU judges said: “Organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs [genetically modified organisms] … It follows that those organisms come, in principle, within the scope of the GMO directive and are subject to the obligations laid down [therein].” The court sided with the French agricultural trades union, Confédération Paysanne, which brought the case, arguing that new and unconventional in vitro mutagenesis techniques were likely to be used to produce herbicide-resistant plants, with potential health risks. A study published in the journal Nature last week found that the gene-editing technology Crispr-Cas9 can cause significantly greater genetic distortions than expected, with potential “pathogenic consequences”. Gene editing alters the genomes of a living species by slicing genome strands in a bid to remove undesirable traits, without inserting foreign DNA.

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Jul 252018
 
 July 25, 2018  Posted by at 12:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Empire of light 1950

 

There’s not a shade of a doubt that I’m not an expert on tariffs, trade barriers and subsidies, and I’d be the last to suggest any such thing. But I can read. Still, do correct me if I’m wrong anywhere. The whole field is so complicated -no doubt often on purpose- that there’s always the possibility that there are side issues involved for which one would need to actually be an expert.

But still. Now that EU chief Jean-Claude -‘When it becomes serious, you have to lie’- Juncker is due to arrive at the White House soon, I looked at some of the items involved. Last night Trump said that all tariffs, barriers and subsidies should be dropped between the EU and US. Why the TTiP doesn’t come anywhere close to that is anyone’s guess. Too complicated for the boys and girls?

In at least some major fields, Trump does seem to have a point or two. The US has a 2.5% tariff on European cars, while the EU slaps a 10% tariff on American cars. That’s 4x as much, or a 300% difference. Whoever said yes to that? Sure, the US has a 25% tariff on EU pickups, but nobody in Europe drives pickups, hence they don’t produce them, so that’s not consequential.

So what had Trump done? He’s threatened a 20% tariff on Beemers and Mercs, and added -for entertainment value only- that he doesn’t want to see any of them in on Fifth Avenue anymore. Cue EU carmakers warning about the cost to American customers.

That’s all fine and well, but those tariffs on personal cars are still 300% higher. So push your European government to make them equal. Easy as -American- pie. How about zero? I can see where Trump’s coming from. Issuing warnings to the American public about BMW’s getting more expensive doesn’t look entirely on the up and up.

 

Also, I was looking at agriculture. Now, I grew up in Europe, and I do have an idea about EU farm subsidies (they’re notorious even inside the EU, going all the way back to the 1950s-60s). There was a point where they were over 70% of the total EU budget. They’re 30% or even somewhat below that now, but that’s not because subsidies have gone down, it’s because the EU budget has grown exponentially.

US farm subsidies were some $23 billion last year, and a year ago the Trump administration proposed a $4.8 billion cut to that. Now that Trump has initiated a one-time $12 billion for farmers to make up for the effects of his tariff proposals, one half of America -Conservatives- cry foul because: “that’s Soviet-style politics”, and no doubt the EU will cry right with them.

But look: under the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), EU farm subsidies for the 2021-2027 period will fall a whole 5% to ‘only’ $420 billion. And that’s just a proposal, and already France, the main beneficiary of the subsidies, has declared that such a cut is unacceptable. Soviet style?

The meeting of tee-totaller Trump and wine-totaller Juncker is interesting enough in and of itself, and you bet the Donald knows what and who Juncker is, but unless Jean-Claude comes with something very substantial, the numbers I cited above would seem to be very clear. And that’s without steel, aluminum etc etc.

If your side gives its farmers almost 20 times as much as the other side, what are you going to say? You may ask for some time to adapt, but that would seem to be it. However, Juncker could never sell egalization of subsidies ‘at home’. France and others would shave his head and ass and apply tar and feathers. And Macron would fear the same fate if he gives in. As Merkel would on the car issue.

Juncker has no room to wiggle on the whole shebang. All he can do is damage control and a good glass of wine (wonder if Trump instructed his staff not to give him any, or merely cut him off after the first bottle). It’s just that Trump has noticed the policy damage, and doesn‘t like it. And you have to wonder, who ever accepted those terms, and signed treaties like that TTiP that they are engraved in?

 

If you ask me, communities and countries should always make sure they remain in control of all their basic necessities. And food is certainly one of them. Also. if any politician near you ever proposes selling the rights to your drinking water to some foreign party, tar and feathers is your reply. Let Americans make their own cars, And German and French theirs. It’s not of the same importance as food, water, shelter and clothing, but you get the drift.

Schlepping food halfway across the planet is a dangerous thing once you become dependent on it to feed your children and your community (schlepping it halfway through Europe is as well). Selling your local water rights is even worse. That’s downright insane.

But if you’re going to trade, and once you’ve excluded basic necessities, zero tariffs or at least equal tariffs seems the way to go. Just wait till Trump starts that discussion with China for real. That conversation is largely about barriers, it’s different from Europe, though -hidden- subsidies feature ‘bigly’ as well.

 

Still, summarized, though I’m far from a Trumponado, I can see his point(s). I find it much harder to see what earlier US administrations were thinking when they agreed to all this stuff. And sure, his approach is brusque and perhaps brutal, but the country he’s, for better or for worse, president of, does seem to have gotten the short end of an very extensive array of sticks.

But by all means, don’t listen to me, listen to the experts. Then again, also look at the numbers.

 

 

Jun 032018
 
 June 3, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Andrew Wyeth Christina’s world 1948

 

Why Italy Had To Say Goodbye To The Dolce Vita (David McWilliams)
An Italian Exit May Be Rome’s Best Option – JPMorgan (ZH)
Angela Merkel Rules Out Debt Relief For Italy (CNBC)
New Italy PM Starts Off In Shadow Of His Powerful Deputies (AFP)
Juncker: EU Won’t ‘Meddle’ In Italy’s Affairs (O.)
Political Bruiser Sánchez Stuns Spain To Become PM (Spain Report)
Europe: Confront Trump or Avoid a Costly Trade War (NYT)
US Wants Structural Changes To China’s Economy: Mnuchin
Uber’s ‘Business Is Finished’ In Turkey, Erdogan Says (R.)
Britain’s Low-Paid Face Decade Of Wage Squeeze (O.)
UK Universal Credit Change To Bar 2.6m Children From Free School Meals (Ind.)
Whale Dies From Eating More Than 80 Plastic Bags (AFP)

 

 

Excellent from David McWilliams on what the euro has done to Italy.

Why Italy Had To Say Goodbye To The Dolce Vita (David McWilliams)

Sometimes it is not appreciated quite how industrial Italy is. It has long been Europe’s second-biggest manufacturing power, beaten only by Germany. Italy is far more industrial than France or the UK. In some areas of design and high-quality manufacturing, Italy is still without peer. However, since it gave up the lira and adopted the euro – in effect Germany’s currency – things have gone pear-shaped. This economic calamity is driving Italian politics, leading many to question the euro and Italy’s membership of it. From 1945 to 1995 there was an understanding that Italy would devalue the lira. This is what Italy did. Traditionally, it devalued the lira every few years. This kept Italian industry competitive.

For example, when Italy joined the European Monetary System, in 1979, the exchange rate was 443 lire per Deutschmark. By 1990, the year of German reunification, the rate was 750 lire to the Deutschmark. By 1995 it was 1,000 lire to the Deutschmark. In the 1992 currency crisis the lira fell to a low of 1,250 against the Deutschmark before recovering a bit. The gradual fall in the value of the lira was a price that the Italians were prepared to pay for industrial success. Contrary to the dogma spouted by Europe’s central bankers, Italian devaluations worked particularly well. From 1979 to 1998, Italian industrial production outpaced that of Germany by more than 10%. Italian equities outperformed German equivalents by 16% – after having taken into account the devaluations.

So not only was Italian industry growing faster than German industry, aided by lira devaluations, but also the return on capital in Italy was higher than in Germany. This is because if the stock market of a country is outperforming another country’s, it implies that the capital that is deployed in the faster-growing country is being deployed more efficiently. Therefore, not only was Italy growing more quickly than Germany, but it was more efficient too. Then came the euro. Since Italy joined the single currency, almost to the day, its industry has gone backwards. Having outperformed German stocks during the period of the lira, Italian stocks have underperformed German stocks by a whopping, bankruptcy-inducing 65%.

During the half-century when Fellini was writing the story of postwar Italian success, the Italian stock market almost always returned more than the German stock market. Once Italy joined the euro that stopped almost overnight. Deep in the economy, the strictures imposed by the euro have destroyed much of Italian industry. For example, having outgrown Germany’s industrial output in the 1980s and 1990s by 10%, Italian factory output since Italy joined the euro has lagged Germany’s by 40%.

Read more …

Hard to summarize this long Zero Hedge piece. Depending on where you look, Italy may not be all that weak.

“If you owe the ECB €10 billion, you have no leverage. If you owe the ECB €426 billion, you have all the leverage.”

An Italian Exit May Be Rome’s Best Option – JPMorgan (ZH)

[..] with €426BN, Italy has the highest Target2 deficit with the Eurosystem (Spain is a close second with €377BN) any discussion about an Italian euro exit raises concerns about costs. [..] due to QE induced cross border flows since 2015, Target2 balances have exploded since the launch of the ECB’s QE (and third Greek bailout in 2015), and surpassed the previous extremes from the depths of the euro debt crisis in the summer of 2012.

[..] a euro exit by a debtor country would represent more of a cost to creditor countries such as Germany rather than to the exiting country itself. And, as shown in the chart above, Germany sure has a lot of implicit accumulated costs, roughly €1 trillion to be precise, as a result of preserving a currency union that allowed German exporters to benefit from a euro dragged lower by the periphery, relative to where the Deutsche Mark would be trading today. But here the analysis gets slightly more complex, as Target2 does not provide the full picture of potential costs (or benefits, assuming a scorched earth approach). As JPMorgan writes, the Target2 liabilities of a debtor country give only a partial picture of the cost to creditor nations from that debtor country exiting.

This is because Target2 balances represent only one component of the Net International Investment Position of a country, i.e. the difference between a country’s total external financial assets vs. liabilities. The broader metric that one must use, is of the Net International Investment Position for euro area countries and is shown in the chart below. It shows that contrary to the Target2 imbalance, Italy leaving the euro would inflict a lot less damage to creditor nations than Spain leaving the euro. This is because Spain’s net international investment liabilities stood at close to €1tr as of the end of last year, almost three times as large as its Target2 liabilities. In contrast Italy’s net international investment liabilities were much smaller and stood at only €115bn at the end of last year, around a quarter of its €426bn Target2 liabilities. This, as JPM explains, is because Italy has accumulated over the years more external assets than Spain and should thus be overall more able to repay its external liabilities.

[..] Ironically, the surprisingly low net international investment liabilities of Italy are the result of the persistent current account surpluses the country has been running since the euro debt crisis of 2012, and smaller current account deficits compared to Spain before the crisis. The flipside is that the current account surplus – in theory – also makes it easier for a country like Italy to exit the euro relative to a current account deficit country. This is because the higher the current account deficit of a debtor country, the higher the cost of an exit for this country as the current account deficit would have to be closed abruptly following an exit. Most importantly, this means that as a result of Italy’s decent current account surplus, from a narrow current account adjustment point of view, its own cost of a euro exit should be relatively small.

Read more …

Merkel has weakened a lot. Italy knows it.

Angela Merkel Rules Out Debt Relief For Italy (CNBC)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared on Saturday to rule out debt relief for Italy, saying in a newspaper interview that the principle of solidarity among members of the euro zone should not turn the single currency bloc into a debt-sharing union. “I will approach the new Italian government openly and work with it instead of speculating about it intentions,” Merkel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview to be published on Sunday.

On Friday, Italy swore a populist coalition into power, ending months of political uncertainty that hit global markets in the last week. Newly designated Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will lead Western Europe’s first anti-establishment government with the aim of cutting taxes, boosting spending on welfare and overhauling EU rules on budgets and immigration. Italy accounts for 23.4 percent of the euro zone’s public debt and 15.4 percent of the bloc’s GDP, according to Eurostat.

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Conte has a full agenda.

New Italy PM Starts Off In Shadow Of His Powerful Deputies (AFP)

Italy’s new prime minister Giuseppe Conte mostly kept quiet on his full first day in office Saturday, while his two powerful deputies took centre stage in setting the tone of the populist government’s policy. Conte, a political novice, was finally sworn in on Friday as the head of a government of ministers from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League, ending months of uncertainty since elections in March. But Conte was a compromise candidate between Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio and the League’s Matteo Salvini – both of whom are now his deputy prime ministers – and he will have to walk a delicate line to push through the anti-austerity and pro-security promises their populist parties campaigned on.

The 53-year-old academic also inherited a daunting list of issues from his predecessor Paolo Gentiloni, including the financial travails of companies such as Ilva and Alitalia, a Group of Seven summit in Canada and a key EU summit at the end of the month, as well as the thorny question of immigration. Immigration is the bugbear of Conte’s interior minister, Salvini, the 45-year-old leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam League. Salvini announced Friday that he would visit Sicily to see the situation for himself at one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East. “The good times for illegals is over – get ready to pack your bags,” Salvini said at a rally in Italy’s north on Saturday, adding however that he wants to economically assist migrants’ countries of origin.

His comments come after more than 150 migrants, including nine children, disembarked from a rescue ship late Friday in Sicily. Conte attended a military parade alongside President Sergio Mattarella on Saturday, marking Republic Day for the foundation of the Italian Republic in 1946. However the new prime minister has issued few public statements since being appointed. On Saturday he did post on Facebook that he had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron and would meet the two leaders at the G7 summit, where he will be a “spokesman for the interests of Italian citizens”. Conte has also opted to keep the country’s intelligence services under his personal control.

Deputy premier Di Maio, who is serving as economic development minister, also took to Facebook, calling for “entrepreneurs to be left alone”. “Employers and employees in Italy must not be enemies,” he said, promising “I will not disappoint you”. On Saturday evening Five Star held a rally in the centre of Rome with thousands of supporters and all its ministers to celebrate “the government of change”. Di Maio told the crowd that “from today, the state is us”. Five Star’s founder, former comic Beppe Grillo, rang a bell in front of the crowd, saying the sound “marks the fracture between a world that is going away and a new one that is arriving”.

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Right. Sure.

Juncker: EU Won’t ‘Meddle’ In Italy’s Affairs (O.)

Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, has a public debt second only to Greece’s and there was a negative reaction from the financial markets to the League-M5S coalition, which plans to significantly raise public spending. Juncker offered a more placatory tone, suggesting that Brussels and Berlin had learned the lessons of the Greek crisis. He also denied that the eurozone was set on a course for another economic downturn: “The Italians cannot really complain about austerity measures from Brussels. However, I do not now want to lecture Rome. We must treat Italy with respect. Too many lectures were given to Greece in the past, in particular from German-speaking countries. This dealt a blow to the dignity of the Greek people. The same thing must not be allowed to happen to Italy.”

Juncker said that the financial markets’ reaction was “irrational”: “People should not draw political conclusions from every fluctuation in the stock market. Investors have been wrong on so many occasions.” Neither of the coalition parties in the new Italian government campaigned on leaving the euro or the EU, but both have backed such calls in the past and are scathing about the rules that underpin the eurozone. Mujtaba Rahman, a former European commission and UK Treasury official who now works for consultancy the Eurasia Group, warned that as the cornerstone of the coalition government’s platform was fiscal expansion, it was liable to clash with the commission this autumn.

“Though no official estimates have been produced, independent estimates suggest the proposed measures would cost, combined, upwards of €100bn per annum, around 6% of GDP.“If the government were to propose a very expansionary budget, the commission – which provides its opinions and recommendations on member states’ draft budgetary plans – would have to reject it in September. This would be a first, and would set the stage for a real confrontation with Rome,” he said. “A significant deviation from EU-mandated fiscal targets may prompt the commission to open a new Excessive Deficit Procedure, a process designed to give the EU more power to enforce austerity on Rome. Yet the symbolism of this move would only strengthen the Italian government’s domestic standing.”

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Poker player?!

Political Bruiser Sánchez Stuns Spain To Become PM (Spain Report)

Forget about what the new socialist government’s policies are going to be, because no one really knows yet. Forget about who the new ministers are going to be, because no one really knows yet. And forget about how long this government is going to last. No one has a clue right now. What is worthy of note is how Pedro Sánchez has just crushed all of his political opponents in a week. Last Friday, the PSOE had slowly slumped to less than 20% in the polls and he was being written off by columnists and commentators. This Saturday, he will be driven to Zarzuela Palace to be sworn in as the new socialist Prime Minister of Spain [..]

Mr. Rajoy is likely not the only political leader who needs a stiff drink this weekend. Pedro Sánchez has just left Pablo Iglesias—who nine days ago thought his biggest problem was an absurd internal ballot about his new luxury home—sitting in the dust in the fight for the Spanish left. Two years ago, with the sudden appearance and meteoric rise of Podemos, Mr. Iglesias’s stated strategic goal was not to win the election but to dominate the Spanish left. He just lost that race. Pedro Sánchez has just left Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera rabbiting on incessantly about wanting a new general election instead of the socialists “unfairly” grabbing power, because Mr. Rivera is—or was—doing rather better in the polls than the rest.

But rabbit on is all he can do for now because, just like nine days ago, in the real world Ciudadanos still only has 32 seats in Congress. And Pedro Sánchez has just left the powerful leader of the Socialist Party in Andalusia, Susana Diaz, well, in Andalusia. This might be the sweetest victory of all for the new Prime Minister, because it was she who wielded her considerable internal and establishment influence in October 2016 to oust Mr. Sánchez as leader of the PSOE, allowing Mariano Rajoy to be reappointed Prime Minister after a year of national stalemate unbroken by two general elections.

Again: Pedro Sánchez, written off by some as being too handsome to have any interesting ideas, has, somewhere along the way, learnt to execute political hit jobs that have left all of his major political opponents staggering, and sent what was a confident conservative party that had only just passed a new budget—two days previously—scurrying into opposition, wounded. In a week. Whatever happens next in Spanish politics, do not underestimate Pedro Sánchez.

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More division.

Europe: Confront Trump or Avoid a Costly Trade War (NYT)

Despite its name, the European Union is not generally a model of unity. If Mr. Trump was banking on internal division stymieing the European response, he picked an opportune moment. Britain is consumed with domestic sniping over its pending departure from the European Union, making it a bit player in these proceedings. Italy has been immersed in the operatic political drama at which it excels, only Friday swearing in a new government after inconclusive elections in March. The incoming government presents a coalition of two populist parties that have expressed disdain for the European Union and the shared euro currency, stoking fears that the bloc will be presented with a new challenge to its cohesion.

Spain just swapped governments. Germany is headed by a chastened chancellor Angela Merkel following her own lengthy struggles to form a government after elections last fall. The French president has been frustrated in his attempts to forge greater political unity within the bloc. “Europe is in disarray,” said Nicola Borri, a finance professor at Luiss, a university in Rome. “It’s even difficult to understand who is in power in Europe.” In deliberating how to respond to Mr. Trump’s tariffs, the key schism appears to run between Germany and the rest of the bloc. “I don’t think there is a unified consensus for how to deal with the Americans,” said Meredith Crowley, an expert on international trade at the University of Cambridge in England. “The Germans benefit from open markets globally, so they don’t want to throw up more barriers to free trade.”

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That’s quite the statement. What if Beijing said the same about the US?

US Wants Structural Changes To China’s Economy: Mnuchin

The United States wants trade talks in Beijing this weekend to result in structural changes to China’s economy, in addition to increased Chinese purchases of American goods, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrived in Beijing on Saturday with an interagency team of U.S. officials for talks on long-term purchases of U.S. farm and energy commodities, just days after Washington renewed its threats to impose tariffs on Chinese goods.

The purchases are partly aimed at shrinking the $375 billion U.S. goods trade deficit with China. Mnuchin, speaking at a G7 finance leaders meeting in Canada where he was the target of U.S. allies’ anger over steel and aluminum tariffs, said the China talks would cover other issues, including the Trump administration’s desire to eliminate Chinese joint venture requirements and other policies that effectively force technology transfers.

Read more …

It’s election time.

Uber’s ‘Business Is Finished’ In Turkey, Erdogan Says (R.)

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has said ride hailing app Uber is finished in Turkey, following pressure from Istanbul taxi drivers who said it was providing an illegal service and called for it to be banned. About 17,400 taxis operate in Istanbul, home to about a fifth of Turkey’s population of 81 million people, and since Uber entered the country in 2014 tensions have risen sharply. Erdogan’s statement came after new regulations were announced in recent weeks tightening transport licensing requirements, making it more difficult for drivers to register with Uber and threatening a two-year ban for violations.

“This thing called Uber emerged. That business is finished. That does not exist anymore,” he said in a speech in Istanbul late on Friday. “We have our taxi system. Where does this (Uber) come from? It is used in Europe, I do not care about that. We will decide by ourselves,” added Erdogan, who is running for re-election in three weeks. [..] Uber said that about 2,000 yellow cab drivers use its app to find customers, while another 5,000 work for UberXL, using large vans to transport groups to parties, or take people with bulky luggage to Istanbul’s airports.

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The Tories can’t wait to return to Dickens.

Britain’s Low-Paid Face Decade Of Wage Squeeze (O.)

The wages of 10 million low-paid workers have stalled for two decades and face pressure for a decade to come, according to a bleak assessment of Britain’s future jobs market. Global economic competition, automation, the shift to the gig economy and a widening regional divide will see further pressure placed on the incomes of those earning between £10,000 and £15,000, it warns. The analysis by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) thinktank, which is on the political right and chaired by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, also blamed a chronic national failure to boost skills and education. It will be seen as another warning to Theresa May from Conservative figures to kickstart her domestic agenda.

There have been concerns within the party that the focus on Brexit has led to inaction in other crucial areas that could hold Britain back after its exit from the European Union. The analysis, co-written by Boris Johnson’s former economic adviser and Brexit supporter Gerard Lyons, concludes that wages of those on the lowest salaries stalled long before the 2008 financial crash. It warns that the current evidence shows that most never escape a life on low pay. The centre’s support for action on low pay shows that it is now an issue of concern across the political spectrum, with automation expected to place further pressure on jobs in some low-paid sectors unless new skills and opportunities are developed.

The CSJ report states that 20% of Britain’s 33 million workers earn £15,000 a year or less, and that 50% earn no more than £23,200. Only 10% of employees, or about 3 million people, earn above £53,000 a year. Britain does not compare well with other developed nations when it comes to low pay, it states. Taking data from manufacturing, and giving the US a score of 100, Switzerland topped the table with a pay rate of 155, followed by Norway on 126, Germany on 111 and France on 97. However, the UK was much further behind, on 73.

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These people would be better off moving to Poland.

UK Universal Credit Change To Bar 2.6m Children From Free School Meals (Ind.)

Up to 2.6 million children whose parents are on benefits could be missing out on free school meals by 2022, the shadow education minister will warn. Angela Rayner will tell a GMB union conference on Sunday that the Government’s claims on school meals are “falling apart” after changes to eligibility under Universal Credit (UC). When the system was first introduced in 2013, all children of recipients – who were all unemployed – were eligible for free school meals (FSM), as they would have been under the old system. But in April the criteria was tightened based on income. In England, the net earnings threshold will be £7,400 whereas in Northern Ireland it will be £14,000.

A government technical note published in May said that if the change had not been made, “around half of all (state school) children would become eligible for FSM and the meals would no longer be targeted at those who need them the most”. It said that in 2017 around 1.1 million disadvantaged children were eligible and received a free school meal, some 14 per cent of all state-school pupils. But if the change had not been made the number of additional children who would have been eligible was between 2,300,000 and 2,600,000 by 2022.

Read more …

And that’s just one animal that we could see.

Whale Dies From Eating More Than 80 Plastic Bags (AFP)

A whale has died in southern Thailand after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags, with rescuers failing to nurse the mammal back to health. The small male pilot whale was found barely alive in a canal near the border with Malaysia, the country’s department of marine and coastal resources said. A veterinary team tried “to help stabilise its illness but finally the whale died” on Friday afternoon. An autopsy revealed 80 plastic bags weighing up to 8kg (18lb) in the creature’s stomach, the department added. People used buoys to keep the whale afloat after it was first spotted on Monday and an umbrella to shield it from the sun. The whale vomited up five bags during the rescue attempt.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist and lecturer at Kasetsart University, said the bags had made it impossible for the whale to eat any nutritional food. “If you have 80 plastic bags in your stomach, you die,” he said. Thailand is one of the world’s largest users of plastic bags. Thon said at least 300 marine animals including pilot whales, sea turtles and dolphins, perished each year in Thai waters after ingesting plastic. “It’s a huge problem,” he said. “We use a lot of plastic.” The pilot whale’s plight generated sympathy and anger among Thai netizens. “I feel sorry for the animal that didn’t do anything wrong, but has to bear the brunt of human actions,” wrote one Twitter user.

Read more …

Jun 022018
 


Edward S. Curtis Crow Scout in Winter 1908

 

The US Economy Suddenly Looks Like It’s Unstoppable (CNBC)
Record 95.9 Million Americans Are No Longer In The Labor Force (ZH)
The Pause That Refreshes (Roberts)
EU Joins Global Battle Against Trump Tariff Onslaught (AFP)
Eurozone Not Facing New Debt Crisis – Juncker (R.)
Three Critical Lessons From Europe’s Recent Mini-Meltdown (Black)
EU Lawmakers From Italy’s Coalition Parties Seek Funds To Quit Euro (R.)
Canada Auditor General To Public Service: Stop Ignoring My Reports (CBC)
Greece’s Busiest Port Reveals the Perils of Privatization (Nation)
EU Scraps Plans To Tackle Antibiotics Abuse (G.)

 

 

And I have a bridge in Brooklyn.

The US Economy Suddenly Looks Like It’s Unstoppable (CNBC)

In the face of persistent fears that the world could be facing a trade war and a synchronized slowdown, the U.S. economy enters June with a good deal of momentum. Friday’s data provided convincing evidence that domestic growth remains intact even if other developed economies are slowing. A better-than-expected nonfarm payrolls report coupled with a convincing uptick in manufacturing and construction activity showed that the second half approaches with a tail wind blowing. “The fundamentals all look very solid right now,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC. “You’ve got job growth and wage gains that are supporting consumer spending, and tax cuts as well. There’s a little bit of a drag from higher energy prices, but the positives far outweigh that. Business incentives are in good shape.”

The day started off with the payrolls report showing a gain of 223,000 in May, well above market expectations of 188,000, and the unemployment rate hitting an 18-year low of 3.8%. Then, the ISM manufacturing index registered a 58.7 reading — representing the%age of businesses that report expanding conditions — that also topped Wall Street estimates. Finally, the construction spending report showed a monthly gain of 1.8%, a full point higher than expectations. Put together, the data helped fuel expectations that first-quarter growth of 2.2% will be the low-water point of 2018. “May’s rebound in jobs together with yesterday’s report of solid income growth and the rise in consumer confidence points to the economy functioning very well,” the National Retail Federation’s chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz, said in a statement.

“Solid fundamentals in the job market are encouraging for retail spending, as employment gains generate additional income for consumers and consequently increase spending.” The most recent slate of widely followed barometers could see economists ratchet up growth expectations. Already, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow tracker sees the second quarter rising by 4.8%. While the measure also was strongly optimistic on the first quarter as well, at one point estimating 5.4% growth, other gauges are positive as well. CNBC’s Rapid Update, for instance, puts the April-to-June period at 3.6%.

Read more …

The unemployment rate is meaningless. Is that why it keeps being reported?

Record 95.9 Million Americans Are No Longer In The Labor Force (ZH)

In what was otherwise a solid jobs report – one which Donald Trump may or may not have leaked in advance – in which the establishment survey reported that a higher than expected 223K jobs were added at a time when numbers below 200K are expected for an economy that is allegedly without slack, the biggest surprise was not in the Establishment survey, but the household, where the unemployment rate tumbled once more, sliding to a new 18 year low of 3.8%, even as the participation rate declined once again, as a result of a stagnant labor force, which was virtually unchanged (161.527MM in April to 161.539MM in May, even as the total civilian non-inst population rose by 182K to 257.454LMM).

What was perhaps more interesting, however, is that for all the talk that the slack in the labor force is set to decline, precisely the opposite is taking place, because in May, the number of people not in the labor force increased by another 170K, rising to 95.915 million, a new all time high. Adding to this the 6.1 million currently unemployed Americans, there are 102 million Americans who are either unemployed or out of the labor force (and it is also worth noting that of those employed 26.9 million are part-time workers). In other words, contrary to prevailing economist groupthink, there is a lot of slack in the economy, and if as the latest Beige Book revealed, employers are now hiring drug addicts and felons to make up for the shortage of qualified candidates, a long time will pass before wages see significant gains.

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Deutsche is dangerous.

The Pause That Refreshes (Roberts)

As long as interest rates remain low and negative in some cases, debt can continue to be accumulated even with weaker rates of economic growth. More importantly, as long as rates remain low, the banking system can continue to play the “hide-the-debt game” through derivatives, swaps and a variety of other means. But rates are rising, and sharply, on the shorter-end of the curve. Historically, sharply rising rates have been a catalyst for a debt related crisis. As long as everything remains within the expected ranges, the complicated “math” behind trillions of dollars worth of financial instruments function properly. It is when those boundaries are broken that things “go wrong” and quickly so.

People have forgotten that in 2008 a major U.S. financial firm crashed as its derivative based exposure “blew up.” No, I am not talking about Lehman Brothers, the poster-child of the financial crisis, I am talking about Bear Stearns. In just 365-days, Bear Stearns stock went from $159 to $2, with about half of the loss occurring within a few weeks. Bear Stearns was the warning shot for the financial markets in early 2008 that no one heeded. Within a couple of months, the markets dismissed Bear Stearns as a “non-event” and rallied to a higher level than prior to the event, and almost back to highs for the year. Remember, there was “nothing to worry about” at the time, even though the Fed was increasing interest rates, as the “Goldilocks economy” could handle tighter monetary policy.

Sure, housing had been slowing down, mortgage delinquencies were rising, along with credit card defaults, but there wasn’t much concern. Today, we are seeing similar signs.Interest rates are rising, along with delinquencies, defaults, and a slowing housing market. But no one is concerned as the “Goldilocks economy” can clearly offset these mild risks. And no one is paying attention to, what I believe to be, one of the biggest risks to the global financial markets – Deutsche Bank.

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Globalization in reverse.

EU Joins Global Battle Against Trump Tariff Onslaught (AFP)

The EU on Friday launched its first counteroffensive against Washington’s punishing steel and aluminum tariffs while the US began meetings in Canada with outraged finance ministers from its top trading partners. Meanwhile in Washington, US President Donald Trump floated the possibility of scrapping the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement in favor of separate bilateral deals with Canada and Mexico. And in another leg of Trump’s multi-front trade offensive, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrived in Beijing to continue fraught talks with Chinese officials. Trump has vowed to press ahead with tariffs on as much as $50 billion in imports from China.

Brussels and Ottawa on Friday filed legal challenges at the World Trade Organization against Washington’s decision. The EU, Canada and Mexico also threatened stiff retaliatory tariffs as they pushed back against Trump’s moves. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he was dumbfounded by Washington’s national security basis for the tariffs, given that US and Canadian troops had fought together in World War II, Afghanistan and elsewhere. “This is insulting to them,” he told NBC News. British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply disappointed” and reiterated a call for Britain and the EU to be “permanently exempted” from the “unjustified” metals tariffs.

At the Group of Seven ministerial meeting in Canada, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin faced stern reactions from his counterparts, who accused Trump of jeopardizing the world economy with steps that would prove job killers for all concerned. “The French, British and Germans held firm,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters. “Everyone expressed their complete incomprehension of the American decisions and everyone said it was up to the Americans to take the next step since they were the ones who imposed the tariffs.”

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This is like the owner of a sports team publicly declaring the coach has their full support. Bad sign.

Eurozone Not Facing New Debt Crisis – Juncker (R.)

There is no threat of a new sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone despite an anti-establishment coalition government taking power in Italy, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in remarks published on Saturday. Asked by the RND network of German newspapers if the single currency bloc faced a new crisis, Juncker said: “No. The reactions of the financial markets are irrational. People should not draw political conclusions from every fluctuation in the stock market. Investors have been wrong on so many occasions before.” A governing coalition comprising two parties hostile to the euro was installed in Italy on Friday, calming markets spooked by the possibility of a new election that might have become a referendum on quitting the single currency. “I am certain the Italians have a keen sense of what is good for their country,” Juncker said. “They will sort it out.”

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It will just take one little spark.

Three Critical Lessons From Europe’s Recent Mini-Meltdown (Black)

1) On the day that the finance minster was rejected, financial markets worldwide tanked. Italy’s stock market plunged 5%, which is considered a major drop. But curiously, the stock market in the US fell as well, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average shedding 400 points. Even markets in China and Japan had significant drops as a result of the Italy turmoil. Now, it’s easy to see why Italy’s markets fell. And even the rest of Europe. But the entire world? Granted, a lot of people made a really big deal out of this event, concluding that it signals the end of the euro.. or Europe itself… or some other such drama. Sure, maybe. But it’s almost impossible to foretell a trend as significant as ‘the end of the euro’ based on a single event.

At face value, the rejection of a cabinet minister in Italy should have almost -zero- relevance on economies as large and diversified as the US, China, and Japan. To me, this is another sign that we’re near the peak of the bubble… and possibly already past it. Markets are so stretched, and investors are on such pins and needles, that even a minor, insignificant event induces panic. And it makes me wonder: if financial markets are so tightly wound that something so irrelevant can cause such an enormous impact, how big will the plunge be when something serious happens?

2) It wasn’t just stocks either. Bond markets were also keenly impacted. Bear in mind that stocks are volatile by nature; prices move much more wildly than other asset classes. But bonds, on the other hand, are supposed to be safe, stable, boring assets. Especially government bonds in highly developed nations. In Italy the carnage was obviously the worst. Investors dumped the 2-year Italian government bond, and yields (which move opposite to prices) surged from 0.9% to 2.4% in a matter of hours. Simply put, that’s not supposed to happen. And it hadn’t happened in at least three decades. Again, though, even in the United States, yields on the US 10-year note dropped 16 basis points overnight, from 2.93% to 2.77% (which means US bond prices increased).

That’s considered MAJOR volatility for US government bonds. To put it in context, the only day over the past few YEARS that saw 10-year yields move more than that was the day after Donald Trump won the US Presidential Election in 2016. So it was a pretty big deal. Again, this leads me to wonder: if safe, stable assets like government bonds can react so violently from such an insignificant event, how volatile will riskier assets be when there’s an actual crisis? Just imagine what’s going to happen to all the garbage assets out there (like unprofitable, heavily indebted businesses) when a real downturn kicks in.

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No, they supported setting up a fund for countries in trouble.

EU Lawmakers From Italy’s Coalition Parties Seek Funds To Quit Euro (R.)

European Union lawmakers from the two parties forming Italy’s new government coalition backed this week a rejected proposal to set up EU funds to help countries quit the euro, a sign of the Italian leadership’s ambivalent position on the common currency. Their vote came as the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and far-right League were finalising a deal to form an executive in Rome, under pledges that leaving the euro was not in their government programme. The government was sworn in on Friday. An earlier attempt to form a government foundered after the parties proposed as economy minister an economist who had devised a plan for Italy’s departure from the euro zone, prompting his rejection by the head of state.

Despite the declared intentions to stay in the euro, all six EU lawmakers from the League and all but one of the 14 5-Star Members of the European Parliament voted on Wednesday for a document that called for the establishment of programmes of financial support “for member states that plan to negotiate their exit from the euro.” The document voted on by their EU lawmakers called for compensation for “the social and economic damages caused by the euro zone membership.” The document was an amendment to a European Parliament resolution on the EU budget for the 2021-2027 period. The proposal, advanced by three leftist MEPs, was backed by 90 lawmakers but was rejected by a majority of the 750 MEPs.

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Sure this is very recognizable across the globe.

Canada Auditor General To Public Service: Stop Ignoring My Reports (CBC)

Canada’s auditor general says he’s getting tired of filing annual reports recommending reforms to the way the government does business — only to see those recommendations disappear down the memory hole afterward. Michael Ferguson released his spring audits on Tuesday. They included scathing criticisms of the government’s performance on the Phoenix pay system, Indigenous services and military justice. Many of these problems have been highlighted in Ferguson’s reports in the past. And that, he told CBC News, is the problem. “We always get the department agreeing to our recommendation but then somehow we come back five years later, 10 years later and we find the same problems,” he told host Chris Hall on CBC Radio’s The House on Wednesday.

“It almost is like the departments are trying to make our recommendations and our reports go away by saying they agree with our recommendations.” His work has made one thing clear, he said: the federal government has a culture problem that makes meaningful change difficult. “They need to do things to make the results better.” Part of the problem stems from political pressure on the public service, said Ferguson. Politicians tend to think from election to election, he said, which can undermine public servants’ efforts to bring in a longer-term plan. “It seems like the political side of things ends up having more weight in the conversation.” In Parliament, he said — and particularly with respect to Indigenous Services — progress tends to be measured on the basis of how much money the government spends on a particular policy file, and not on measurable outcomes.

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“.. it is clear there were strong interests to see Greece’s public wealth turned over into other peoples’ hands..”

Greece’s Busiest Port Reveals the Perils of Privatization (Nation)

In 2015, as a condition of the $100 billion European Union bailout that followed the 2008 financial crisis, the Greek government agreed to privatize a number of state-held assets including the Piraeus Port Authority, which manages the port’s container and passenger terminals. The Greek state sold a majority stake for $330 million to COSCO. For the Chinese company, the purchase had a clear financial logic. About 80 percent of China’s imports and exports to and from Europe are transported by sea, and by avoiding the need to sail to busy Northern European ports like Rotterdam or Hamburg, COSCO could offload containers in Piraeus, reducing the time it takes cargo to get to Europe by nearly a week. Plus, by owning the port authority, COSCO could help determine how much its own ships would have to pay itself in port fees.

As part of the deal, COSCO pledged to participate in financing $410 million worth of investment in the port, including a repair of port equipment and the dredging of Piraeus’s central port. Supporters of privatization argue these improvements signal a coming maritime renaissance at Piraeus—already the busiest port in the eastern Mediterranean. Nektarios Demenopolous, the deputy manager for investor relations at Piraeus Port Authority, told me, “There are 300 million euros [$350 million] of investment to come in the next five years, followed by another 50 million. Privatization has made the port much more dynamic and will reboot activities at the port like ship repair that have been in recession. It will be remembered as a success story.”

But a “success story” for whom? The dockworkers of Piraeus say they and their families have seen little of the alleged gains brought by COSCO. As Piraeus Port Authority boasts of widening profit margins and increasing maritime traffic, wages for dockworkers haven’t budged since they were slashed from 1500 euros ($1,750) per month to 600 euros after the financial crisis. Beyond that, COSCO now hires few dockworkers as full-time employees, and tends to enlist unskilled laborers for complex container unloading. COSCO also primarily remunerates people on an ad hoc basis as subcontractors, leaving dockworkers and their families entirely dependent on the ebb and flow of traffic into Piraeus. It also means their traditional retirement benefits have disappeared.

The long list of Greek public assets in the privatization pipeline includes Athens International Airport, the oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum, and the electric-grid operator. To date, some roughly $5 billion in Greek state assets, including the Port of Piraeus and Greece’s regional airport network, have been sold, and it is expected that the Greek government will sell nearly $55 billion worth of state assets within the next decade. There is no conclusive evidence that privatized state assets are more efficiently managed than their state-owned predecessors, but privatization is undoubtedly an effective means for a cash-strapped government to raise funds when its creditors are getting impatient. “Piraeus was always a profitable port. However, it is clear there were strong interests to see Greece’s public wealth turned over into other peoples’ hands,” said Giorgos Gogos, head of the Piraeus dockworkers’ union.

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How corrupt is Juncker?

EU Scraps Plans To Tackle Antibiotics Abuse (G.)

The EU has scrapped plans for a clampdown on pharmaceutical pollution that contributes to the spread of deadly superbugs. Plans to monitor farm and pharmaceutical companies, to add environmental standards to EU medical product rules and to oblige environmental risk assessments for drugs used by humans have all been discarded, leaked documents seen by the Guardian reveal. An estimated 700,000 people die every year from antimicrobial resistance, partly due to drug-resistant bacteria created by the overuse, misuse and dumping of antibiotics. The UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has warned that failing to act could lead to a post-antibiotic apocalypse, spelling “the end of modern medicine” as routine infections defy effective treatment.

Some studies predict that antimicrobial resistance could cost $100tn (£75tn) between now and 2050, with the annual death toll reaching 10 million over that period. An EU strategy for pharmaceuticals in the environment was supposed to propose ways to avert the threat, but leaked material shows that a raft of ideas contained in an early draft have since been diluted or deleted. Proposals that have fallen by the wayside include an EU push to have environmental criteria for antibiotic use included in international agreements as “good manufacturing practice requirements”. This would have allowed EU inspectors to visit factories in Asia or Africa, sanctioning them were evidence of pharmaceutical pollution found.

[..] The pharmaceutical industry spent nearly €40m on lobbying EU institutions in 2015, according to voluntary declarations, and enjoys infamously easy access to officials. Public records show that the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations had more than 50 meetings with the Juncker commission in its first four and a half months of office. In the same period, GlaxoSmithKline had 15 meetings with the commission, Novartis had eight engagements, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson had six sessions apiece, while Pfizer and Eli Lilly both met with EU officials five times each.

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