Paul Klee Carnival in the snow 1923
Where do we start? Because they killed it beyond salvation? Because to save it they would have to retreat completely? Because they have no idea what’s going on since all they know is based on false assumptions? Take your pick.
• Why The Fed Won’t Save The Stock Market (MW)
Another brutal week left the stock market with its worst start to a December in 38 years, and a meeting of Federal Reserve policy makers might not offer the relief some investors are pining for when they conclude a two-day policy meeting on Wednesday, says one economist. How bad was it? Stocks ended a week of often whipsaw trading with a decided move to the downside Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 500 points, leaving it more than 10% below its early October all-time closing high, meeting a widely used definition of a market correction. It joined the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite which were already in correction mode. The S&P and Dow are negative for 2018, while the Nasdaq is clinging to a 0.1% year-to-date rise.
And it’s hardly an auspicious start to a month that’s historically a positive one for equities. Over the first nine trading days of the month, the Dow is down 5.6%, the S&P is off 5.8% and the Nasdaq is 5.7% in the red. That’s the worst start to a December for all three benchmarks since 1980, according to Dow Jones Market Data. That sounds bad, but it probably isn’t bad enough to convince the Fed to pause when it comes to interest-rate rises, said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, in a note. Remarks by Fed officials, including Jerome Powell, have led some investors to look for the central bank to potentially end the rate-hike cycle after delivering a December increase, but Porcelli argued that still strong economic data meant the debate should be more focused on the merits of policy makers’ expectations for three or more rises in 2019.
And while stock-market volatility has seen a significant uptick, “equities have not deteriorated enough to warrant a pause,” Porcelli said, noting that unlike, say, the emerging-market crisis of 1998 when stocks fell sharply, U.S. equities today are still basically flat year-to-date when it comes to total returns. “On that basis, it is also worth pointing out that you cannot make the case that there is a negative wealth effect at play that is feeding through to the macro backdrop,” he wrote.
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Everybody knows a solution must be found.
• Why The US-China Trade Talks Will Work: The Personal Touch (Kuhn)
The dinner meeting between the two presidents, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, lasted well longer than planned. Xi began with a well-prepared, detailed presentation that lasted 45 minutes and impressed even the US hardliners in attendance with its substance and resolve. Trump, as expected, extolled the meeting, but more meaningfully, I believe, China’s Ministry of Commerce immediately went on record to call the talks “very successful”. Other Chinese officials quickly affirmed that new measures would combat intellectual property theft. Even more significant, perhaps, rumours were afoot that major changes were in the works for “Made in China 2025,” including reductions in state subsidies for new technologies and a greater openness to participation by foreign companies.
The announcement that US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a China hawk, was placed in charge of negotiations was greeted positively by Chinese officials who have long requested clarity in a single US point person with whom to negotiate. It is a socio-political principle that nationalistic hawks can often achieve peace more easily than globalist doves because it is more difficult for domestic detractors to undercut them as being “soft”. Regarding the apparent 90-day “drop dead” date, Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said “If there’s good, solid movement and good action, he ‘[Trump] might be willing to extend.”
The arrest of Huawei’s CFO triggered accusations and counter accusations, but neither side, tellingly, called the trade talks into question. In fact, there were parallel affirmations the talks would continue. Peter Navarro, the White House adviser considered with good reason to be the most hawkish on China, said that stock markets should be “patient and optimistic”. Navarro, he of the “death by China” screed, said what? Optimistic! Moreover, when I speak to Chinese economists, I hear the conviction that many of the US demands – IPR protection, opening up markets, reductions in state subsidies – are precisely what China needs to do anyway.
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The swings forbid any notion of it being an investment.
• 12 Months Of Bitcoin Misery (MW)
Monday, Dec. 17, will mark one year since the price of bitcoin — the best-known cryptocurrency — hit an all-time high just shy of $20,000. For bulls who bought the hype, it’s been a long — and painful — ride down. At the time, the digital currency was up more than 1,000% for 2017, both the CME Group and Cboe had just launched bitcoin futures contracts, and everyone seemed to be making money as talk about the previously obscure crypto market made its way into the mainstream media. In retrospect, it appeared all too easy: Bitcoin rose 11 of the 12 weeks leading up to the Dec. 17 peak and logged gains in eight of the last nine months in 2017. Day traders were millionaires, analysts were predicting further drastic price increases and investors jumped on what looked like an endless gravy train.
According to Crypto Fund Research, 85 crypto-related funds launched in the first three months of 2018, and at Jan. 1 2018, there was $5.8 billion of assets under management in the crypto hedge fund industry, compared with $675 million a year earlier. But, in the blink of an eye, the tide turned: A January correction soon turned into a collapse and then turned into what was dubbed a prolonged crypto winter — a season that has yet to end. From their peaks, most major coins lost more than 80%. Bitcoin has shed as much as 85%. Ether, the popular currency that runs on the ethereum blockchain, fell as much as 95%, losing its title of the second-largest digital currency.
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Britain’s been too slow to ditch its old parties. Same as US. All over continental Europe, the process has started already.
• Failed By Both Major Parties, Betrayed Britain Lurches Towards The Abyss (G.)
The seesaw is smashed. The pendulum is stuck. The tides are frozen. All the trusty images that used to help explain British politics have been scrambled by Brexit. Back in simpler times, a bad week for one politician or party translated into a good one for a rival. Seesaws went up and down. Pendulums swung. Tides flowed in and out. It is one of the unique characteristics of the Brexit crisis that it makes winners of none and losers of all. The past seven days have demonstrated that this is a wind so ill that it blows no one any good. The most deserved losers are the Brexit ultras. They finally launched their leadership coup and failed miserably. Without a plausible plan or a credible leader, these are the men who put the ass into assassin.
After all their prating about “taking back control”, they couldn’t even organise the removal of a mortally wounded prime minister. The Brexit fanatics have always been a minority of a minority and now no one can be in any doubt about that. And this same gang claim they could negotiate a superior agreement with the EU or handle a no-deal Brexit in 100 days that are left? Oh, please. Yet there was no humility in defeat from the ultras. It was with a poisonous lack of grace that they continued to demand Mrs May’s resignation even after she had prevailed in the confidence vote that they forced upon their party. You are entitled to belly laugh the next time that anyone tries to commend Jacob Rees-Mogg as a courteous gentleman.
The mask of phoney civility slipped when this serpent in a double-breasted suit continued to hiss for Mrs May’s head after his coup had failed. Alas for her, the defeat of her tormentors did not amount to a victory for the prime minister. To keep her job for now, she had to pledge to give it up before the next election. Mrs May purchased her survival in the currency of humiliation. [..] Mrs May remains imprisoned by the parliamentary maths, her past mistakes and her lack of dexterity. After all the to and fro between Westminster and European capitals, pinging from one side of the Channel to the other like a battered shuttlecock, there is no better prospect of her deal passing the Commons than there was on Monday when she swerved the vote.
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Now the Tories want a second vote?!
• British Minister Warns Brexit Is Stuck As No-Deal Or Referendum Loom (R.)
Britain’s exit from the European Union was heading for an impasse, one senior minister said on Saturday, after a week in which Prime Minister Theresa May failed to win EU assurances on her deal and pulled a vote because UK lawmakers would defeat it. With just over 100 days until Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, Brexit remains up in the air with growing calls for a no-deal exit, a potentially disorderly divorce that business fears would be highly damaging, or for a second referendum. May pulled a vote on her deal on Monday after acknowledging it would be heavily defeated over concerns about the “backstop”, an insurance policy designed to avoid any hard land border for Ireland but which critics say could bind Britain to EU rules indefinitely.
Two days later, she survived a plot to oust her from those in her own party who support a hardline Brexit, showing the level of opposition she faced. May herself has acknowledged that Britain’s parliament appears deadlocked with no clear support for any option, with the small Northern Irish party that props up her government leading the criticism of her deal. “Brexit is in danger of getting stuck – and that is something that should worry us all,” pensions minister Amber Rudd wrote in Saturday’s Daily Mail newspaper. “If MPs (lawmakers) dig in against the prime minister’s deal and then hunker down in their different corners, none with a majority, the country will face serious trouble.”
[..] Rudd – one of five ministers who, according to newspapers, are leaning toward having a second referendum – said a no-deal scenario “mustn’t be allowed to happen” and urged lawmakers from all parties come together to stop it. “We need to try something different. Something that people do in the real world all the time, but which seems so alien in our political culture – to engage with others,” she said. “We need to acknowledge the risk that parliament could spend the next precious few months debating about preferred solutions and end up with no compromise, no agreement and no deal.”
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These conferences are simply the wrong way to treat the issue. Incumbent governments and industries owe their powers to what they must now change radically. That threatens those powers, so they’ll delay where they can.
• UN Climate Change Talks Avoid Contentious Issues In Draft Agreement (O.)
The UN met on Saturday in Poland to discuss a draft agreement on climate change, which sources said was likely to pass, as exhausted delegates made compromises on some key issues but left other contentious problems to be resolved next year. The result will not be the breakthrough campaigners and some countries were hoping for, but will keep discussions alive on formulating key aspects of the implementation rules for the 2015 Paris accord. Delegates have been thrashing out a text on the complex mechanisms required to put the Paris goals into effect for the past two weeks, and appeared partly successful as the talks overran their Friday deadline and looked likely to continue into late afternoon on Saturday at least.
The text will give countries clarity on key points such as accounting for their greenhouse gas emissions and recording their carbon reductions. They will also go some way to encourage the stepping up of each country’s climate change efforts. Among the issues holding up progress is the highly technical question of what should happen to the market for carbon credits, held by some countries in recognition of their emissions-cutting efforts and their carbon sinks, such as forests. These credits count toward countries’ emissions-cutting targets. Brazil introduced wording that would benefit the country for its huge rainforest cover, but critics said contained loopholes that allowed for double counting of carbon credits would severely undermine the integrity of the system.
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Not to say what happens today is not bad, but that it’s happened for many years. it’s America, not Trump.
• Deportations Under Trump Are On The Rise But Still Lower Than Obama’s (WaPo)
Amid President Trump’s push for tighter immigration policies, the United States deported more than 256,000 people in 2018 — the highest number since the Obama administration, new data shows. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Ronald D. Vitiello announced Friday that in the past fiscal year, which ended in September, ICE has detained “a record number” of people in the country illegally and that the number of those deported has risen about 13 percent since 2017. The data, which comes from a new agency report, shows that 145,262 of those deported were convicted criminals and that 22,796 had criminal charges pending against them. In addition, 5,872 were reported as known or suspected gang members, and 42 were believed to be terrorists, according to the report.
The number of families and unaccompanied children who were deported also increased. ICE said that 2,711 who were traveling in families and 5,571 unaccompanied children were removed from U.S. soil. “We’ve continued to achieve gains in all meaningful enforcement measurements,” Vitiello said, despite significant underfunding. The strain on resources is a consequence of current border crisis, he said. “With the continued surge and without congressional action to fund the agency at adequate levels, ICE may be forced to make difficult choices that could hamper our ability to fulfill our public safety or national security mission,” he added, noting that the agency does not want to release detainees as a result of budgetary constraints because it would create a public safety risk.
[..] Mary Bauer, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it is “appalling and morally unconscionable that this is the place where we find ourselves” — deporting people “without a sense of priorities.” “It used to be that there was a sense that they were looking for people who had committed serious crimes,” she said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. In fact, U.S. deportation numbers were higher during the Obama administration, reaching 409,849 in 2012, according to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations reports. Data shows that in 2015 and 2016, however, the number of those deported dropped to 235,413 and 240,255, respectively.
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They’re all ruled by their intelligence services.
• How The ‘Five Eyes’ Cooked Up The Campaign To Kill Huawei (SMH)
The man who runs an agency that unlocks electronic secrets had a poacher’s view of the threat: “Offence informs defence and defence informs offence. Or to put it another way, to catch a thief, you will need to think like one (or perhaps, be one).” Since then he has given a TV interview and opened a Twitter account with a lively first post; “Hi internet, ASD here. Long time listener, first time caller.” Burgess has even dabbled in some light trolling of Huawei. On November 21 when a Huawei executive boasted of successfully separating the core and access parts of a 5G network in New Zealand he tagged the ASD boss on his post. To the surprise of most Burgess replied; “Thanks for sharing. In my business I’ve never seen anything “fully isolated…”.
Seven days later New Zealand banned Huawei from supplying 5G equipment to mobile phone company Spark. Then on December 6, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, David Vigneault, who had hosted the annual Five Eyes gathering, used his first ever public speech to warn of an emerging threat. “CSIS has seen a trend of state-sponsored espionage in fields that are crucial to Canada’s ability to build and sustain a prosperous, knowledge-based economy,” he said. “I’m talking about areas such as AI [artificial intelligence], quantum technology, 5G, biopharma and clean tech. In other words, the foundation of Canada’s future growth.”
No one was in any doubt he was talking about China. A formal ban on Huawei and ZTE from Ottawa is expected within weeks. A day after the Canadian spy boss spoke, the head of MI6 was on his feet at his old Scottish university, St Andrews. In a speech described as “rare” he warned that “much of the evolving state threat is about our opponents’ increasingly innovative exploitation of modern technology”.
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Weakish piece, but the point must be made.
• The Russia Investigations: A Case Still Unproven (NPR)
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to make it clear that it is analysis and that the allegations of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians remain unproven.
Political and legal danger for President Trump may be sharpening by the day, but the case that his campaign might have conspired with the Russian attack on the 2016 election is still unproven despite two years of investigations, court filings and even numerous convictions and guilty pleas. Trump has been implicated in ordering a scheme to silence two women ahead of Election Day in 2016 about the alleged sexual relationships they had with him years before. That is a serious matter, or it might have been in other times, but this scheme is decidedly not a global conspiracy with a foreign power to steal the election.
More broadly, the president and his supporters say, the payments to the women in 2016 are penny ante stuff: Breaking campaign finance law, if that did take place, isn’t like committing murder, said one lawyer for the president. The “biased” Justice Department is just grasping at straws to use something against Trump because it hasn’t been able to locate a “smocking gun,” as Trump wrote this week, that would tie his campaign in with Russia’s active measures in 2016.
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What does the BBC want? For Russia to stop laughing? Look through your own coverage and see where Russia was accused of god knows what without proper evidence. If that happened to you, you’d be laughing too. There’s nothing else left. it’s not as if Russia is allowed to defend itself.
• How Putin’s Russia Turned Humour Into A Weapon (BBC)
In the dying days of the Soviet Union, Russians used humour to escape the bleak reality of economic stagnation, food shortages and long queues. Political satire flourished on TV in the form of latex puppets during the 1990s, but it was quickly slapped down when Vladimir Putin came to power. In today’s Russia, where the media is largely controlled by the Kremlin and its allies, there is little room for genuine political humour unless it is used to deflect the blame from the government. Humour and ridicule were a key part of Moscow’s response when the UK said it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury.
Russian officials and media figures have since tried to turn the English phrase “highly likely” into a mocking catchphrase that implies Russia is being blamed for everything with the flimsiest of evidence. They have enlisted a range of popular figures from English literature, such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, to ridicule British allegations of Russian involvement in the poisoning which they denounce as unfounded. [..] One spoof job advert joked that the GRU was “looking for employees for its cyber-attack department, chemical weapons department and election-meddling unit. There is no need to apply – we will find you ourselves”. Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as “disinformation for the information age”.
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Late night talk shows are dead. Smothered in the echo chamber.
• Late Night Swapped Laughs For Lusting After Mueller (S.us)
If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy. One feature of the Mueller saga is the enormous amount of energy that has been expended on venerating and defending him; energies which, at least theoretically, could have been directed toward doing something useful. The trend seems to reflect the total political enervation of this class of people – elite liberal culture-producers and consumers – who are still whipsawing between two-bit schemes to topple Trump, while in the process glossing over (or ignoring, or ridiculing) the structural forces which gave rise to Trump in the first place.
Their expressions of comedic angst actually render them more and more politically impotent. Democrats’ success in the midterms may have given the false assurance that a critical mass of the country actually respects this drivel. To understand how late night comedy got so uniquely tedious, it’s instructive to consider Colbert in particular. He first emerged as a protegée of Jon Stewart, whose Daily Show received such adulation in the early-and-mid 2000s because Stewart appeared to be doing something different and, yes, subversive – castigating the media for its illogical deference to power, a sorely needed antidote in the years of George W. Bush. (Whether this schtick was truly subversive is another question, but it did at least seem that way for a time.)
The popular TV comedians of today, conversely, are the polar opposite of subversive. Nothing about their daily pillorying of Trump challenges conventional wisdom, because unrestrained personal animus for Trump is the defining characteristic of conventional wisdom. When Bush was waging the Iraq War, he did so bolstered by a media consensus that cast him and his cause in an honorable light, and depicted his critics as screeching anti-war freaks. Even before he was inaugurated, Trump has been heaped with a level of scorn so ferocious that it would have made Dick Cheney blush.
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