Sep 282019
 
 September 28, 2019  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Paul Gauguin Harbour scene, Dieppe 1883

 

New Docs Contradict Biden Claim That Fired Ukrainian Prosecutor Was Corrupt (ZH)
Adam Schiff Epitomizes the Total Collapse of Democratic Party Integrity (PCR)
10 Reasons Democrats’ Impeachment Argument Is Falling Apart (Grabien)
Intel Community Secretly Nixed Whistleblower Demand of First-Hand Info (Fed.)
Pompeo Subpoenaed By House Democrats In Trump Impeachment Inquiry (BBC)
Everything the Press Gets Wrong about the Ukraine Call (Scott Adams)
A Dumpster Fire on a Garbage Barge (Kunstler)
Joseph Wilson, US Envoy Who Defied Bush Over Iraq, Dies Aged 69 (BBC)
White House Deliberates Block On All US Investments In China (CNBC)
Western Dominance Is On The Wane – Lavrov at UNGA (RT)
Establishment & Media Sympathize With Greta. So How Is That A Protest? (RT)
Assange Behind Bars (Felicity Ruby)

 

 

As I wrote yesterday: “John Solomon’s account is really important in the impeachment hearings.. And everything he says is documented.”

Solomon is the key figure here.

New Docs Contradict Biden Claim That Fired Ukrainian Prosecutor Was Corrupt (ZH)

Appearing on “Hannity” Thursday night, Solomon explained “These documents show, as I report tonight for the first time, that the very day that Joe Biden managed to get that Ukraine prosecutor fired, that very day his son’s company’s lawyers, the American company lawyers helping Burisma trying to fight this investigation were trying to urgently reach the new prosecutor, the replacement prosecutor.” “In that meeting, according to the official record from the prosecutor, the lawyers for Hunter Biden’s company stated to the replacement prosecutor, we know that the information calling Mr. Shokin was corrupt and was ‘False information distributed by U.S. Government officials and other figures. We would like to make this up to you by bringing you to Washington, you are not corrupt and you instigated numerous reforms.’ That is the official record of the meeting. Ukrainian prosecutors kept.” (via the Daily Caller). According to Solomon, the memos raise troubling questions (via The Hill):


1) If the Ukraine prosecutor’s firing involved only his alleged corruption and ineptitude, why did Burisma’s American legal team refer to those allegations as “false information?” 2) If the firing had nothing to do with the Burisma case, as Biden has adamantly claimed, why would Burisma’s American lawyers contact the replacement prosecutor within hours of the termination and urgently seek a meeting in Ukraine to discuss the case? What’s more, Ukrainian prosecutors attempted to get this information to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) since last summer – first unsuccessfully engaging a US attorney in New York who they say showed no interest, and then reaching out to Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s attorney.

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Schiff was a disgrace in the House- again.

Adam Schiff Epitomizes the Total Collapse of Democratic Party Integrity (PCR)

US Rep. Adam Schiff, Democrat from California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had no qualms about lying through his teeth in his opening statement prior to the testimony of Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Everyone present had read the transcript of the telephone conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, and everyone knew that what Schiff, who said he was reading from the transcript of the telephone call, was saying was not in the transcript. How can it be that the chairman of a House committee in a room full of newspersons and TV cameras has no qualms about intentionally misrepresenting the written record in order to make it conform to the lies the Democrats and their stable of corrupt presstitutes have spread about a telephone call revealed by an alleged whistleblower, a likely Democrat operative, who claimed to have heard it second hand.

When I was a member of the Congressional staff, any Representative who so dishonored a committee of the House and the House itself as Schiff has done would have been reprimanded, brought before the Ethics Committee, and forced to resign. But the Democrats have ground integrity under their heel in their fanatical determination to prevent Trump’s reelection. In his opening statement Adam Schiff further showed his total lack of integrity in his assault on the integrity and character of Joseph Maguire and made wild and irresponsible charges probably never witnessed previously in the halls of Congress.

The transcript of the telephone call shows that what the alleged whistleblower said is false. Yet in the face of the evidence Adam Schiff speaks as if the evidence does not exist and that the alleged whistleblower’s second hand statement is true. Once again we hear the Democratic Party say, “Evidence? We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence.” They don’t need evidence because the presstitutes support their lies and control the explanations given to Americans. The Democrats are betting their future on their lies being shielded by their media whores and that the insouciant American people will hear nothing but false allegations against Trump repeated endlessly, as was the case with Russiagate. If the people realize that the “impeachment investigation” is another hoax like Russiagate, Schiff will have destroyed the Democrats’ chances in the next election.

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Key feature: “..the Ukrainian delegation hadn’t even been made aware aid was held up until a month after the Trump call…”

10 Reasons Democrats’ Impeachment Argument Is Falling Apart (Grabien)

1. No quid pro quo. Despite Democrats’ initial claim, there was no quid pro quo. The call transcript shows the topic of aid only came up in reference to how well the U.S. treats Ukraine, particularly as compared to Euro nations, most specifically Germany. At no point does Trump threaten to withhold anything, as even some of Trump’s media critics conceded.

2. Ukrainians weren’t pressured. Democrats and the media have repeatedly insisted President Trump “acted like a mob boss” in applying pressure on President Volodymyr Zelensky. He, however, defended Trump, saying he felt no pressure. “ I think you read everything,” he told reporters in New York this week. “So I think you read text. I’m … I am sorry but I don’t want to be involved to democratic open, uh, hum… [..] .. elections of U.S.A. You’ve heard we had, um, I think good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things and I thought so. And I think and you read it that nobody push it, pushed me.”

3. Timeline. Politico’s Ken Vogel reported that the Ukrainian delegation hadn’t even been made aware aid was held up until a month after the Trump call. It’s hard to see they could feel they’re being “extorted,” as Democrats keep saying, if they weren’t even aware of the pressure supposedly being applied.

4. No Illicit Favors. When the White House released the call transcript, readers noticed that after some initial mutual flattery, Zeleznsky brings up buying more Javelin missiles; President Trump then asks for a favor and requests additional information into 2016 election meddling. Rep. Adam Schiff suggested Trump’s request for a “favor” actually referenced wanting dirt on Joe Biden, but Biden only comes up later in the conversation, and in a separate context. Nonetheless, the major media almost uniformly reported the “favor” line from Trump’s call in the same inaccurate fashion.

5. Whistleblower Complaint Lacks Credibility. This complaint, which Democrats for some reason insisted was more important than the call transcript itself, was basically a version of that original call that had been run through a game of telephone. The report had the basic story reasonably accurate, but then supplemented that synopsis with additional accumulated gossip. At least three key details in the complaint have since been shown to be false. As the document is itself a product of hearsay — the self-described whistleblower admits at the beginning of his report that he never witnessed anything — and the fact it contains demonstrable inaccuracies, its importance should certainly be subjugated to the call transcript itself. [..]

9. Rudy. It’s widely reported Rudy Giuliani was Trump’s go-to guy for actually carrying out this conspiracy. On his call, Trump told the Ukraine president to speak with Rudy (as well as AG Barr), about the investigation into an oil company on whose board sat Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son. But Giuliani first communicated with his Ukrainian counterparts more than a year before Biden entered the race. Yes, it’s possible they anticipated Biden eventually entering the race; but it’s also possible Trump actually thought there might be legitimate corruption worthy of investigating. Giuliani tries to prove this point by noting the State Dept. was helping coordinate his communications.

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This is too much.

Intel Community Secretly Nixed Whistleblower Demand of First-Hand Info (Fed.)

Between May 2018 and August 2019, the intelligence community secretly eliminated a requirement that whistleblowers provide direct, first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings. This raises questions about the intelligence community’s behavior regarding the August submission of a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump. The new complaint document no longer requires potential whistleblowers who wish to have their concerns expedited to Congress to have direct, first-hand knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing that they are reporting.

The brand new version of the whistleblower complaint form, which was not made public until after the transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and the complaint addressed to Congress were made public, eliminates the first-hand knowledge requirement and allows employees to file whistleblower complaints even if they have zero direct knowledge of underlying evidence and only “heard about [wrongdoing] from others.” The internal properties of the newly revised “Disclosure of Urgent Concern” form, which the intelligence community inspector general (ICIG) requires to be submitted under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA), show that the document was uploaded on September 24, 2019, at 4:25 p.m., just days before the anti-Trump complaint was declassified and released to the public.

The markings on the document state that it was revised in August 2019, but no specific date of revision is disclosed. The complaint alleges that President Donald Trump broke the law during a phone call with the Ukrainian president. In his complaint, which was dated August 12, 2019, the complainant acknowledged he was “not a direct witness” to the wrongdoing he claims Trump committed. A previous version of the whistleblower complaint document, which the ICIG and DNI until recently provided to potential whistleblowers, declared that any complaint must contain only first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoing and that complaints that provide only hearsay, rumor, or gossip would be rejected.

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You start to feel pity for them.

Pompeo Subpoenaed By House Democrats In Trump Impeachment Inquiry (BBC)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been ordered by Democrats to turn over documents relating to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine. In a letter, the heads of three House committees subpoenaed Mr Pompeo to produce the documents within a week. It is the latest move in rapidly escalating impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. He is being scrutinised for allegedly pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden. In a separate development on Friday, the US special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, resigned, US media reported.


Mr Trump has denied putting any pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call in July, when Mr Biden was leading polls to win the Democratic nomination for the White House race in 2020. Mr Trump has alleged that Mr Biden pressed for the sacking of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in 2016 to protect a business that employed his son, Hunter Biden. Mr Biden did call for the sacking of Mr Shokin, even threatening to withhold $1bn (£813m) in aid to Ukraine.

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Everyone understands why the US president needs the room to move, and they’ll grant it to every single one. Except for Trump.

Everything the Press Gets Wrong about the Ukraine Call (Scott Adams)

We give our presidents a lot of flexibility in dealing with foreign affairs because it works better to have one “boss” in these situations. Had Trump permanently withheld funds approved by Congress, that would be a system problem on our end. But temporarily putting a hold on those funds before speaking leader-to-leader is just smart presidenting. It creates the impression that the president is the only American the foreign leader needs to deal with. That’s “setting the table.” Does it matter exactly what Trump was going to discuss, negotiate, or request? Nope. If the only thing Trump did on the phone call was congratulate President Zelensky on his election victory, it would still be smart to hold the funds until then.

We want our president to go into every conversation with foreign leaders fully armed, persuasion-wise. When Trump brings the full weight of the office with him, it sets the table for the current conversations, and every one after that. When Trump withholds funds, pulls out of a deal, or otherwise transfers power from Congress to himself, it makes him a more effective negotiator. It puts him in charge. It is a strong psychological advantage. Compare that approach to sending a president out weak, dependent on Congress to wipe his nose. Those are not similar table settings. Trump knows the difference. So does everyone who read his book, The Art of the The Deal.

We’ve heard Trump say he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine, and that was why he put a hold on the funds. I’m sure that was at least a part of his concern. Probably every American has that same concern about foreign aid in general. But as I said, it doesn’t matter what reason he gives the American public. Regardless of corruption in Ukraine, it was still smart to withhold funds until after the leaders spoke, because it made Trump the only person Zelensky needs to satisfy. That’s what we want from our presidents. We want them going in strong, with the full weight of their office and influence, to every interaction with foreign leaders, every time.

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“Their ongoing campaign to undo the 2016 election is igniting a civil war.”

A Dumpster Fire on a Garbage Barge (Kunstler)

Others have pointed out that the whistleblower’s complaint was composed as a legal brief, leading to the inference that it was constructed by lawyers and perhaps a team of lawyers. The whistleblower’s lawyer is Andrew Bakaj, a former CIA employee who got his start interning for Senator Chuck Schumer and then Hillary Clinton. The Washingtonian said Bakaj “actually wrote the CIA’s internal rules on whistleblowing.” Is that so? Did he write Form 401 then? His client’s complaint states: “I was not a direct witness to most of the events described. However, I found my colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.” In other words, second-hand information. Dismissed.

Everyone and his uncle remembers the infamous threat issued to Mr. Trump by Senator Schumer during the transition period in January, 2017: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Perhaps Senator Schumer should have kept his pie-hole shut on that. He made it official that the Intel Community would act as an adversary and antagonist to the President, and that appears to be exactly what has happened. One suspects that this rogue agency has captured The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, and several TV cable news networks as well. And now they are metamorphosing into an enemy of the people.

The moment approaches when Mr. Trump will have to carry out a severe housecleaning of the CIA and perhaps many other agencies under the executive branch of the government. Their ongoing campaign to undo the 2016 election is igniting a civil war. Clearly a part of the whistleblower gambit was an attempt to discredit Attorney General William Barr and set up a device that would force him to recuse himself from any further inquiry into shenanigans carried out in and around Ukraine since 2014, when the CIA and the Obama State Department overthrew the government of Viktor Yanukovych. Mr. Barr is a sturdy fellow. He may have seven ways from Sunday for countering their seditious monkeyshines. Wait for it.

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Literally lives destroyed by the Deep State.

Joseph Wilson, US Envoy Who Defied Bush Over Iraq, Dies Aged 69 (BBC)

The US diplomat Joseph Wilson, who defied President George W Bush over the decision to go to war with Iraq, has died aged 69. In 2003, Mr Wilson disproved allegations used by the Bush administration as grounds for invasion that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had bought uranium in Niger. Days later, his then-wife Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA agent, in what some saw as an act of political revenge. He and Ms Plame divorced in 2017. Ms Plame told the Washington Post that er ex-husband had died of organ failure in a hospice in New Mexico, where they both lived. In a career spanning three decades, Mr Wilson held numerous postings, mainly in Africa. As acting ambassador to Iraq in the run-up to the First Gulf War in 1991, he was the last US diplomat to meet Saddam Hussein.


In 2002, by then a private citizen, Mr Wilson was sent by the CIA on a fact-finding mission to Niger to investigate reports that Iraq had bought a nuclear material – uranium yellowcake. Mr Wilson concluded that the reports were false, but 11 months later they reappeared in Mr Bush’s State of the Union address. They were used as evidence that Iraq was obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and justification for the 2003 war. In July of that year, the former diplomat wrote in the New York Times: “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”

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May not be all that practical. How about existing investments?

White House Deliberates Block On All US Investments In China (CNBC)

The White House is weighing some curbs on U.S. investments in China, a source familiar with the matter told CNBC. This discussion includes possibly blocking all U.S. financial investments in Chinese companies, the source said. It’s in the preliminary stages and nothing has been decided, the source said. There’s also no time frame for their implementation, the source added. Restricting financial investments in Chinese entities would be meant to protect U.S. investors from excessive risk due to lack of regulatory supervision, the source said. The deliberations come as the U.S. looks for additional levers of influence in trade talks, which resume on Oct. 10 in Washington.


Both countries slapped tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other’s goods. The discussions also come as the Chinese government is taking steps to increase foreign access to its markets. Bloomberg News first reported earlier on Friday that Trump administration officials are considering ways to limit U.S. investors’ portfolio flows into China, including delisting Chinese companies from American stock exchanges and preventing U.S. government pension funds from investing in the Chinese market. Shares of Alibaba, Baidu and other Chinese companies plunged following the news. China’s yuan weakened to 7.15 against the dollar on the report.

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‘We’re liberals hence anything is permitted to us’”

Western Dominance Is On The Wane – Lavrov at UNGA (RT)

The West ignores reality by trying to prevent the formation of a multi-polar world by imposing its narrow “liberal” rules on others, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has told the UN General Assembly. Lavrov’s speech on Friday at the UN headquarters in New York focused on global challenges but, unlike some of the speakers, he didn’t mince words, proceeding into a full-on rebuke of the Western ideal of world order. New centers of economic growth and political influence are emerging internationally, he said, but the US and its allies are trying to impede the rise of the multi-polar world. In order to achieve this, they “impose the standards of conduct based on narrow Western interpretation of liberalism on others. In short, ‘We’re liberals hence anything is permitted to us’” was how he characterized this attitude.

“It’s hard for the West to accept that its centuries-long domination is diminishing.” “The West has been increasingly forgetting about international law and more often dwell on rules-based order.”

As opposed to this counterproductive approach, lasting solutions to global challenges should be founded “on the basis of the UN Charter, through the balance of interests of all states,” the Russian FM recommended. The top Russian diplomat also expressed hope that Moscow and Washington would agree on an extension of the New Strategic Arms Treaty (New START), which is set to expire in February 2021. All the suggestions that Russia has made to establish additional communication channels to work on the issue are still “on the table,” Lavrov said, as is Moscow’s most recent proposal for NATO to impose a mutual moratorium on the deployment of short- and mid-range missiles in Europe.

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Oh, jeez…: “The Guardian comparing her speech on Monday to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for its historical significance, and New York Magazine calling her “the Joan of Arc of climate change.”

Establishment & Media Sympathize With Greta. So How Is That A Protest? (RT)

As hundreds of thousands of people – many of them schoolchildren – take to the streets in another demonstration over climate change, one must wonder: at what point does protest become the status quo? Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s solo school walkout last August was little more than a sideshow to newspaper editors and TV crews. But the teenage crusader’s ‘school strike’ snowballed, and the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement grew. Now, after an emotional speech by Thunberg at the UN Climate Action Summit on Monday, hundreds of thousands of climate strikers worldwide are packing the streets on Friday, demanding their governments declare a state of emergency, slash carbon emissions, penalize meat-eating and kill the car, to pick but a few of their proposals.

But these radicals – as they would have been called not so long ago – aren’t being met by the batons, tear gas and rubber bullets the state usually deploys to quash dissent (not that any peaceful demonstrations should be). Media outlets aren’t smearing those within their ranks as racists and downplaying attendance numbers, and the crowds occupying city streets aren’t risking injury and mutilation to do so. The very idea of ‘protest’ implies some resistance, some injustice of state to be overcome. Climate protesters would argue that not enough is being done to heal our heating earth – and that’s a debate beyond the scope of this article – but government, media, and the world’s power brokers have aided Thunberg and co’s protest movement at every step of the way.

France’s ‘Yellow Vests’ protests began in opposition to a fossil fuel tax hike, and were met with all of the violence described above on a weekly basis. Thunberg, in contrast, was invited to address the French parliament in July. Likewise with her appearances at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, her speeches before British parliament and the US Congress, and her most recent UN appearance. On every occasion, the world’s political leaders rolled out the red carpet and held the door open for her to lecture them. Media coverage of Thunberg and the climate protests has been overwhelmingly favorable – with The Guardian comparing her speech on Monday to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for its historical significance, and New York Magazine calling her “the Joan of Arc of climate change.” The Yellow Vests, to continue the comparison, were described as a rabble of anti-semites and “notorious Holocaust deniers,” based on the actions of a tiny minority of protesters.

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A visit to Belmarsh maximum-security prison. Hard to get through.

Assange Behind Bars (Felicity Ruby)

I have only ever known Julian Assange in detention. For nine years now, I have visited him in England bearing Australian news and solidarity. To Ellingham Hall I brought music and chocolate, to the Ecuadorian embassy I brought flannel shirts, Rake, Wizz Fizz and eucalyptus leaves, but to Belmarsh prison you can bring nothing—not a gift, not a book, not a piece of paper. Then I returned to Australia, a country so far away that has abandoned him in almost every respect.

Over the years I have learned to not ask, ‘How are you?’, because it’s bloody obvious how he is: detained, smeared, maligned, unfree, stuck—in ever-narrower, colder, darker and damper tunnels—pursued and punished for publishing. Over the years I’ve learned to not complain of the rain or remark on what a beautiful day it is, because he’s been inside for so long that a blizzard would be a blessing. I’ve also learned that it is not comforting but cruel to speak of sunsets, kookaburras, road trips; it’s not helpful to assure him that, like me and my dog, he will find animal tracks in the bush when he comes home, even though I think it almost every day.

It is the prolonged and intensifying nature of his confinement that hits me as I wait in the first line outside the front door of the brown-brick jail. At the visitor centre opposite I’ve been fingerprinted after showing two forms of proof of address and my passport. Sure to remove absolutely everything from my pockets, I’ve locked my bags, keeping only £20 to spend on chocolate and sandwiches. Despite the security theatre that follows, the money gets nicked at some point through no fewer than four passageways that are sealed from behind before the next door opens, a metal detector, being patted down and having my mouth and ears inspected. After putting our shoes back on, we visitors cross an outdoor area and are faced with the reality of the cage: grey steel-mesh fencing with razor wire that is about 4 metres high all around. I hurry into the next building before going into a room where thirty small tables are fixed to the floor, with one blue plastic chair facing three green plastic chairs at each.

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Sep 232019
 
 September 23, 2019  Posted by at 10:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Paul Gauguin The Seine at the Pont d’Iena 1875

 

Half of Americans Expect A Recession To Hit In The Next 12 Months (MW)
Negative Interest Rates Are The Price We Pay For De-Civilization (Deist)
British Travel Firm Thomas Cook Collapses, Stranding 600,000 Tourists (R.)
No-Deal Brexit Will Have ‘Seismic’ Impact – European Car Industry (G.)
Oil Set To Spike As Saudi Repairs At Abqaiq May Take “Up To Eight Months” (ZH)
Trump Doubles Down On Call To Investigate Biden (Hill)
Trump Hit By Election Dirt From Ukraine… Forget? (RT)
Ted Cruz Insists Iran Wants To Nuke American Cities (RT)
Facebook Declares It’s A ‘Publisher’, Walking Into Legal Trap (RT)
World at a Crossroads (Sergei Lavrov)

 

 

“..21% of Republicans said a recession will likely happen within a year, while 74% of Democrats said a recession is coming..”

Half of Americans Expect A Recession To Hit In The Next 12 Months (MW)

There are more Americans expecting an economic downturn now than there were just before the start of the Great Recession. A Gallup poll released Friday painted a gloomy picture: people are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the economy and bracing for a recession. • 49% of poll participants said a recession will likely arrive in the next 12 months. In October 2007 — two months before the Great Recession began — 40% of poll participants felt the same way. • For the third straight month, a growing share of Americans said the economy is deteriorating, going from 37% in July to 48% in September. At the same time, fewer people said it’s improving, slipping from 54% to 46%. • Republicans are rosy and Democrats are downbeat: 21% of Republicans said a recession will likely happen within a year, while 74% of Democrats said a recession is coming in that time. Independents were evenly split.


Gallup noted it conducted the poll from September 3 to 15, as the latest round of Chinese tariffs took effect, but before the latest interest rate cut. Consumer perceptions weren’t totally glum. Though 49% of people told Gallup a recession is either fairly likely or very likely, another 50% said a recession isn’t too likely, or not likely at all. After all, there’s still a record-breaking 10-year bull market and a 3.7% unemployment rate, which is around a 50-year low. Like consumers, market experts are also divided. Some brush off recession talk, but others say a downturn will happen by the end of 2020.

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“If in fact negative interest rates can occur naturally, without central bank or state interventions, then economics textbooks need to be revised on the quick.”

Negative Interest Rates Are The Price We Pay For De-Civilization (Deist)

“Calculation Error,” which Bloomberg terminals sometimes display, is an apt metaphor for the current state of central bank policy. Both Europe and Asia are now awash in $17 trillion worth of negative-yielding sovereign and corporate bonds, and Alan Greenspan suggests negative interest rates soon will arrive in the US. Despite claims by both Mr. Trump and Fed Chair Jerome Powell concerning the health of the American economy, the Fed’s Open Market Committee moved closer to negative territory today — with another quarter-point cut in the Fed Funds rate, below even a measly 2%.

Negative interest rates are just the latest front in the post-2008 era of “extraordinary” monetary policy. They represent a Hail Mary pass from central bankers to stimulate more borrowing and more debt, though there is far more global debt today than in 2007. Stimulus is the assumed goal of all economic policy, both fiscal and monetary. Demand-side stimulus is the mania bequeathed to us by Keynes, or more accurately by his followers. It is the absurd idea, that an economy prospers by consuming and borrowing instead of producing and saving. Negative interest rates turn everything we know about economics upside down.

Under what scenario would anyone lend $1,000 to receive $900 in return at some point in the future? Only when the alternative is to receive $800 back instead, due to the predicted interventions of central banks and governments. Only then would locking in a set rate of capital loss make sense. By “capital loss” I mean just that; when there is no positive interest paid, the principal itself must be consumed. There is no “market” for negative rates. The future is uncertain, and there is always counterparty risk. The borrower might abscond, or default, or declare bankruptcy. Market conditions might change during the course of the loan, driving interest rates higher to the lender’s detriment. Inflation could rise higher and faster than the agreed-upon nominal interest rate. The lender might even die prior to repayment.

Positive interest rates compensate lenders for all of this risk and uncertainty. Interest, like all economics, ultimately can be explained by human nature and human action. If in fact negative interest rates can occur naturally, without central bank or state interventions, then economics textbooks need to be revised on the quick. Every theory of interest contemplates positive interest paid on borrowed capital. Classical economists and their “Real” theory say interest represents a “return” on capital, not a penalty. Capital available for lending, like any other good, is subject to real forces of supply and demand. But nobody would “sell” their capital by giving the buyer interest payments as well, they would simply hold onto it and avoid the risk of lending.

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150,000 Brits stranded, as are 140,000 Germans. 50,000 stranded in Greece alone.

British Travel Firm Thomas Cook Collapses, Stranding 600,000 Tourists (R.)

Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel firm, collapsed on Monday, stranding hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers around the globe and sparking the largest peacetime repatriation effort in British history. Chief Executive Peter Fankhauser said it was a matter of profound regret that the company had gone out of business after it failed to secure a rescue package from its lenders. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said Thomas Cook had now ceased trading and the regulator and government would work together to bring the more than 150,000 British customers home over the next two weeks. “I would like to apologise to our millions of customers, and thousands of employees, suppliers and partners who have supported us for many years,” Fankhauser said in a statement released in the early hours of Monday morning.


“It is a matter of profound regret to me and the rest of the board that we were not successful.” The government and aviation regulator said that due to the scale of the situation some disruption was inevitable. “Thomas Cook has ceased trading so all Thomas Cook flights are now cancelled,” the CAA said. The demise of Thomas Cook marks the end of one of Britain’s oldest companies that started life in 1841 running local rail excursions before it survived two world wars to pioneer package holidays first in Europe and then further afield. The firm now runs hotels, resorts and airlines for 19 million people a year in 16 countries. It currently has 600,000 people abroad, forcing governments and insurance companies to coordinate a huge rescue operation.

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Who are UK firms/factories going to sell their cars to?

No-Deal Brexit Will Have ‘Seismic’ Impact – European Car Industry (G.)

The European car industry has warned of catastrophic effects of a no-deal Brexit, saying it would have a “seismic” impact on making cars in Europe. In a rare joint statement, chiefs from 23 automotive business associations across Europe joined forces to caution against a brutal exit from the bloc by Britain, where auto giants BMW, Peugeot PSA and Japan’s Nissan have factories. “Brexit is not just a British problem, we are all concerned in the European automotive industry, and even further,” said Christian Peugeot, head of French automotive industry association CCFA in the statement.

Reaping the benefits of the EU’s single market, carmakers have supply chains that criss-cross the English Channel and Britain is the destination of around 10% of vehicles assembled on the continent, according to industry data. British prime minister, Boris Johnson, has rattled nerves with his vow to leave the European Union on 31 October come what may – with or without a trade deal with Brussels. “The UK’s departure from the EU without a deal would trigger a seismic shift in trading conditions, with billions of euros of tariffs threatening to impact consumer choice and affordability on both sides of the Channel,” the joint statement said.

A chaotic Brexit would land a “severe” blow against the industry’s just-in-time supply chains that stretch across international borders and depend on zero administrative hassle, the associations warned. “The EU and UK automotive industries need frictionless trade and would be harmed significantly by additional duties and administrative burden on automotive parts and vehicles,” said Bernhard Mattes, the head of Germany’s auto lobby VDA.

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Catch 22: tell the world everything will be fine in no time, but without causing prices to plummet.

Oil Set To Spike As Saudi Repairs At Abqaiq May Take “Up To Eight Months” (ZH)

[..] the WSJ reported that it may take “up to eight month”, rather than 10 weeks company executives had previously promised, to fully restore operations at Aramco damaged Abqaiq facility, suggesting the crude oil shortfall will last far longer than originally expected. The official reason for the delay: the supply-chain is unable to respond to the Saudi needs. Specifically, Aramco is” in emergency talks with equipment makers and service providers, offering to pay premium rates for parts and repair work as it attempts a speedy recovery from missile attacks on its largest oil-processing facilities.” Following a devastating attack on its largest oil-processing facility more than a week ago, Aramco is asking contractors to name their price for patch-ups and restorations.

In recent days, company executives have bombarded contractors, including General Electric , with phone calls, faxes and emails seeking emergency assistance, according to Saudi officials and oil-services suppliers in the kingdom. “One Saudi official said costs could run in the hundreds of millions of dollars”, the WSJ reported. The unofficial, and more likely, version: Aramco is unhappy with how quickly oil prices dropped after the “Iranian attack”, and since its objective from the very beginning – especially with its IPO looming – was to get oil prices higher, and with its reputation to prevent “outside shocks” in tatters, it is now creating its own bottlenecks in restoring output.

Hinting at the second explanation is the fact that until now, Saudi officials and Aramco executives had been consistent in communicating statements aimed at reassuring oil markets that the state-owned company will recover quickly while continuing to supply customers as usual. Just yesterday, Aramco’s CEO Amin Nasser reiterated production would be back to its precrisis level by the end of the month. “Not a single shipment to our international customers has been missed or canceled as a result of the attacks,” he said.

Read more …

Rightly so. Same goes for Trump, of course.

Trump Doubles Down On Call To Investigate Biden (Hill)

President Trump on Sunday doubled down on his call for former Vice President Joe Biden’s dealings with Ukraine to be investigated amid reports of a whistleblower who is said to have raised concerns about the president’s interaction with a foreign leader who may have been Ukraine’s president. “Now the Fake News Media says I ‘pressured the Ukrainian President at least 8 times during my telephone call with him.’ This supposedly comes from a so-called ‘whistleblower’ who they say doesn’t even have a first hand account of what was said,” the president tweeted Sunday evening.

“Breaking News: The Ukrainian Government just said they weren’t pressured at all during the ‘nice’ call. Sleepy Joe Biden, on the other hand, forced a tough prosecutor out from investigating his son’s company by threat of not giving big dollars to Ukraine. That’s the real story!” he added. On Friday, multiple outlets reported that Trump had pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden’s son Hunter Biden during a July call. Trump has not denied that he urged Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. Earlier Sunday, speaking to reporters outside the White House, Trump insisted there was no quid pro quo involved in the talks with the Ukrainian president, calling it a “perfect conversation.”

Instead, Trump has questioned why the media is not paying more attention to the Democratic front-runner’s actions. He also criticized the whistleblower, saying the official had caused a “false alarm.”

Read more …

No, I do remember.

Trump Hit By Election Dirt From Ukraine… Forget? (RT)

Scroll back to August 2016. The Trump versus Clinton campaigns are in full swing, polls give the Democrat a win, but the Republican is not far behind. So, a pair of Ukrainian officials – a US-linked MP and the head of a freshly created anti-corruption bureau – conspire to illegally leak to the US media material about an ongoing probe into ousted President Viktor Yanukovich and his party. At least that’s how a Ukrainian court in October 2018 described what they had done. In particular, the two leaked photos of a handwritten ledger allegedly showing cash payouts by Yanukovich’s party with the name of Paul Manafort on it.


The same Manafort who was Trump’s campaign manager at the time and was later tried and sentenced for tax evasion and bank fraud as part of the Robert Mueller investigation. There are serious questions about how reliable this leaked ledger was in the first place and how extensive the conspiracy was. The two Ukrainian officials may have acted alone, or on behalf of senior figures in their government wishing to score some points with the perceived future leader in Washington. There are claims of some coordination with people in DC, or rather, the DNC. Whichever the case, one thing is clear: what the Kiev court described was a case of foreign interference in the American election.

Read more …

Ted smokes the good stuff.

Ted Cruz Insists Iran Wants To Nuke American Cities (RT)

Ted Cruz insists Tehran’s grand dream is to nuke American cities and that Iran nuclear deal is to blame for the attack on Saudi oil facilities. The argument was mocked for making no sense, but the hawkish US senator doubles down. The Texas legislator and one of the most vocal cheerleaders of Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran went to the pages of New York Post on Friday to warn the public of an imminent danger. More international sanctions against Iran may soon be dropped under the 2015 nuclear deal, which means Tehran is drawing closer to obtaining nuclear weapons that “could incinerate American cities with a single flash of light.”


America must act now and invoke the so-called snapback mechanism outlined the nuclear deal to keep the sanctions in place and also cut Iran entirely from the global financial system, Cruz said. If you are somewhat puzzled by this line of argument, you are not alone. After all, how can Trump use the nuclear deal, from which he withdrew in the first place, to cudgel Iran more? And what Tehran may hope to win by killing millions of American civilians even if it had the capability to do it?

Read more …

Just became an interesting court case.

Facebook Declares It’s A ‘Publisher’, Walking Into Legal Trap (RT)

Facebook has invoked its free speech right as a publisher, insisting its ability to smear users as extremists is protected, but its legal immunity thus far has rested on a law which protects platforms, not publishers. Which is it? Facebook has declared it has the right, as a publisher, to exercise its own free speech and bar conservative political performance artist Laura Loomer from its platform. Even calling her a dangerous extremist is allowed under the First Amendment, because it’s merely an opinion, Facebook claims in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Loomer. But Facebook has always defined itself as a tech company providing a platform for users’ speech in the past, a definition that has come to appear increasingly ridiculous in the era of widespread politically-motivated censorship.


Now, the not-so-neutral content platform has redefined itself as a publisher equipped with a whole new set of rights, but bereft of the protections that have kept it safe from legal repercussions in the past. “Under well-established law, neither Facebook nor any other publisher can be liable for failing to publish someone else’s message,” Facebook’s motion to dismiss Loomer’s defamation suit reads, justifying its decision to ban her from the platform. It also points out that terms like “dangerous” or “promoting hate” cannot be factually verified and are thus constitutionally protected opinions for a publisher, while also claiming it never applied either term to Loomer, despite banning her from its platform under its “dangerous individuals” policy.

Read more …

Lavrov’s long speech at UN this week, via Dmitry Orlov.

“Sergei Lavrov is a world-class diplomatic heavyweight and Russia’s foreign minister. As the saying goes, if you don’t deal with Lavrov, you’ll end up dealing with Sergei Shoigu, defense minister.”

World at a Crossroads (Sergei Lavrov)

The defeat of fascism in 1945 had fundamentally affected the further course of world history and created conditions for establishing a post-war world order. The UN Charter became its bearing frame and a key source of international law to this day. The UN-centric system still preserves its sustainability and has a great degree of resilience. It actually is kind of a safety net that ensures peaceful development of mankind amid largely natural divergence of interests and rivalries among leading powers. The War-time experience of ideology-free cooperation of states with different socioeconomic and political systems is still highly relevant. It is regrettable that these obvious truths are being deliberately silenced or ignored by certain influential forces in the West.

Moreover, some have intensified attempts at privatizing the Victory, expunging from memory the Soviet Union’s role in the defeat of Nazism, condemning to oblivion the Red Army’s feat of sacrifice and liberation, forgetting the many millions of Soviet citizens who perished during the War, wiping out from history the consequences of the ruinous policy of appeasement. From this perspective, it is easy to grasp the essence of the concept of expounding the equality of the totalitarian regimes. Its purpose is not just to belittle the Soviet contribution to the Victory, but also to retrospectively strip our country of its historic role as an architect and guarantor of the post-war world order, and label it a “revisionist power” that is posing a threat to the well-being of the so-called free world.

Interpreting the past in such a manner also means that some of our partners see the establishment of a transatlantic link and the permanent implanting of the US military presence in Europe as a major achievement of the post-war system of international relations. This is definitely not the scenario the Allies had in mind while creating the United Nations.

Read more …

 

Bruce Springsteen turns 70 today.

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 242019
 


René Magritte The black flag 1937

 

One thing I am not is an expert on Venezuela. What I know is the country has the world’s largest oil reserves, mainly in the Orinoco Belt, but they come in a form of tar sands that while they are not as hard to exploit as Canada’s (viscosity), they’re far from easy, and buried deep. And I know Venezuela had Hugo Chávez as its president, who, for a socialist, was quite successful at what he did (depending who you ask).

And I know of course that the US yesterday recognized an opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the ‘real’ president of Venezuela, instead of the elected Nicolas Maduro, whom Chávez picked as his successor. Soon as I read that, I thought: CIA. If Chávez, and Maduro, are hated in one place in the world, look no further than Langley, Virginia.

So I looked up a few articles I though would be interesting to read. The first comes from a site called Venezuela Analysis, an entity recommended for Venezuela news. They had the article below, but also this enlightening picture:

Note: in 2002, coincident with the attempted coup against Chávez, half the employees at state oil company PDVSA went on strike. They must have felt like clowns, too, 48 hours later.

The article explains what happened in terms you can find everywhere (but are perhaps good to note), except for the last bit:

 

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido Declares Himself President, Recognized by US and Allies

Opposition leader Juan Guaido swore himself in as “interim president” of Venezuela on Wednesday, a move which was immediately recognized by the United States and regional allies. “As president of the National Assembly, before God and Venezuela, I swear to formally assume the competencies of the national executive as interim president of Venezuela,” he declared before an opposition rally in eastern Caracas.

Guaido had already proclaimed on several occasions that he was “ready” to assume the responsibilities of the executive branch, as the US was reportedly considering recognizing him as “interim president.” US authorities reacted swiftly, with President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio immediately voicing their recognition of Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.

“I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy,” Trump said in a statement. Washington’s regional allies, including Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and other members of the so-called Lima Group, were quick to follow suit, giving their backing to the 35-year-old opposition politician.

The Lima Group had set the tone in early January with a statement refusing to recognize Maduro’s second term. Meanwhile, Cuba and Bolivia expressed their support for Maduro, while Uruguay and the new Lopez Obrador government in Mexico refused to recognize Guaido as president and called for dialogue to “avoid an escalation of violence.” Russia and Turkey likewise indicated that their relations with Maduro administration were unchanged.

This last paragraph may be the most important and revealing bit of news we see today:

[..] Torino Capital Chief Economist Francisco Rodriguez, who advised defeated opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcon last year, wrote on Twitter that the recognition from the Trump administration makes it possible for Guaido, or a presumed transition government, to take charge of Venezuelan assets on US soil, such as state oil company PDVSA’s largest subsidiary, CITGO. It could also prevent the Venezuelan government from invoicing payments for oil shipments.

Without CITGO life becomes hard for Maduro, very hard. The company has extensive refining and chemicals capacity in the Houston area, but the US hasn’t been able to touch it until now. If they get enough allies to recognize their CIA puppet as president, they can close it down, sell it off to Exxon, anything they want. But we’re not there yet.

Russia has been very outspoken in its opinions about what’s going on. Its Rosneft oil company has large assets in Venezuela. Just like China has huge loans outstanding in the country. And though it’s hard to gauge how strong the people’s support is for Maduro (don’t believe everything you read), there’s no doubt where the army stands. The whole top brass was on TV today pledging loyalty to the government.

Turkey also came out strong in favor of Maduro. A Turkish site named Yeni Safak talks about social media as an intelligence tool:

 

CIA Launches Media Campaign To Ignite Protests Against Venezuela’s Maduro

The CIA is backing Washington’s decision to recognize Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as president by manipulating the public opinion against democratically-elected President Nicolas Maduro and the legitimate government over social media platforms. [..] Millions of posts designed to instigate Venezuelans against the country’s legitimate president, Nicolas Maduro, were shared in a very short time to kindle a social unrest against Maduro.

Assoc. Prof. Dr Levent Eraslan unveiled the striking details of the U.S’s perception and deception strategies [..] Stressing the U.S. national intelligence’s strategy report in 2019 that consists Pentagon’s intervention in Venezuelan politics, Eraslan said, “The role of ‘machine learning’ and providing data to decision makers by determining political instabilities through social media were emphasized in the report.”

Noting that thousands of tweets that have been shared from different accounts in the last two days, “People are being called to take streets to overthrow the elected president. The efforts to trigger rebellion and push this process into a bloody situation through social media networks such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook can be observed,” he concluded.

This is from Volkan at DutchTurks; nothing is new (except Facebook as a regime change instrument):

 

 

Hugo Chávez was president of Venezuela from 1999 to his death of cancer in 2013. Whatever you may think of the man, and you don’t have to think hard to know what the CIA thought of him, have you ever wondered why the rampant runaway inflation the country has suffered lately, and which has been blamed by many on ‘socialism’, was not happening while socialist Chávez was alive? This from a site named War Is Boring provides at least some ideas as to why.

 

To Understand Venezuela’s Crisis, Look to the Past … and the CIA

Chavez died of cancer in 2013, and now five years later it seems that his socialist dream, like Allende’s, has failed. Under his successor Pres. Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has descended into economic and political chaos. Hyperinflation has beset the country, with prices rising at an annualized rate of 1,000,000 percent.

Shortages of basic necessities such as toilet paper and bread have caused mass unrest, culminating in violent protests. Now there is open talk about the need to overthrow Maduro or remove him from power, perhaps through U.S. military intervention.

[..] In Venezuela the figure of Chavez precluded an overthrow of the government there. We know this for a fact because a coup against him in 2002 lasted a matter of hours before mass uprisings and a lack of support from the military forced the plotters to surrender. Chavez was a controversial figure, hated by significant elements of Venezuelan society, but beloved by a majority of the largely poor country and respected by the military.

Chavez announced the return of his cancer in the fall of 2012 and died in March 2013. The current economic crisis kicked into high gear in the late summer of 2012, with inflation — typically high, but manageable — suddenly growing at an exponential rate. The cause typically cited by Western media — a precipitous fall in oil prices — occurred a full two years after the crisis began.

 

[..] Since 2012 Venezuela has faced a twin plague of shortages and rampant inflation. Venezuelan economist Pasqualina Curcio makes the case in her 2016 book The Visible Hand of the Market: Economic Warfare in Venezuela that both phenomena cannot be explained through normal economics, but rather by political causes.

Shortages have been a feature of Venezuelan life since Chavez came to power in 1999, with their magnitude growing over time. Yet over the course of years when Venezuela saw steadily and then sharply increasing shortages both imports and domestic production were also rising. If more products are being brought into the country, and more are being produced, but consumers are experiencing shortages, it begs the question of where the stuff went.

[..] As for inflation, the factors typically involved with currency devaluation–a shortage of foreign reserves or increased liquidity–have not coincided with inflation spikes. Nor has the state hoarded foreign currency as many claim. Curcio shows that 94 percent of foreign reserves were distributed to the private sector, and these distributions have grown over time.

It appears that manipulation of currency black markets — a phenomenon that happened in Chile under Allende as well — and then adoption of this inflated exchange rate by importers to spike the costs of necessary goods, services, and industrial inputs neatly produces the sort of induced inflation plaguing Venezuela today.

Russian foreign minister Lavrov put it nice and succinctly:

The US, which is paranoid about somebody interfering in their elections, even though they have no proof of that, themselves are trying to rule the fates of other peoples. What they actually do is interfere in their internal affairs. There is no need for [US special counsel Robert] Mueller to determine that.

American regime change in other countries is something that perhaps the rest of the world is getting tired of. America instigating chaos in its own southern backyard, like it has for years in the Middle East and North Africa, is getting old in the eyes of many. And the CIA can get Trump to support their puppet, but Trump knows nothing about Venezuela, other than that there’s lots of oil there, and that makes him a CIA puppet too.

Not a good idea.

A lot of what has led up to the present coup has been the US flexing its financial muscle. But the American economy isn’t doing all that great, so it’s not just flexing that muscle, it’s also stretching it. And yeah, there’s an old set of Venezuelan domestic interests that has been faithful, just like there was one in Cuba, but that’s all in the past. That was way back when the US could get away with bullying the whole neighborhood.

And it shouldn’t want to do that anymore. Neither the bullying nor the living in the past.

Not good ideas either.

 

 

Nov 252018
 


Floris van Schooten Still-Life with Glass, Cheese, Butter and Cake 1st half 17th century

 

Assange Lawyers Barred From Visiting Client Ahead Of US Court Hearing (ZH)
‘He Has Moved Incredibly Quickly’: Mueller Nears Trump Endgame (G.)
One Of The Most Spectacularly Misleading Uses Of Statistics Ever (Porter)
Russia A Greater Threat Than ISIS or Al-Queda – New British Army Chief (PA)
European Security Held Hostage By Washington’s Geopolitical Games – Lavrov (RT)
Why Theresa May’s Brexit Deal Is Terrible For The UK (Coppola)
UK Food Banks Fear Winter Crisis (G.)
UK Parliament Seizes Cache Of Facebook Internal Papers (O.)
Trump Says Asylum Seekers To Wait In Mexico, Incoming Government Denies (R.)
Amazon To Contribute Over Half Of Q4 Earnings Growth For S&P 500 Retail (MW)
JPMorgan Spots The Next Big Problem: A Plunge In Global Bond Demand (ZH)
Bear Necessities: The Charts That Predict Market Downturns (MW)
EU Unhappy With China Penetrating Greek Energy Market (K.)
Climate Change Will Wreck Economic Growth – US Government Report (MW)

 

 

These are dark days.

Assange Lawyers Barred From Visiting Client Ahead Of US Court Hearing (ZH)

After being cooped up for six years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the Department of Justice is finally closing in on Julian Assange, and the government of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno is doing everything in its power to evict its most infamous tenant. To wit, lawyers for Assange have been refused entry to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, WikiLeaks announced in a tweet, which has only helped to spur fears that Assange will soon be evicted. And what’s worse, he’s being denied access to legal counsel at a time of desperate need. WikiLeaks said the Ecuadorian government refused to allow Assange’s lawyers, Aitor Martinez and Jen Robinson, to meet with their client this week, which is a huge problem for the whistleblower, because Assange is facing a US court hearing Tuesday, and needs to meet with his legal team to prepare.

The hearing is being called to remove the secrecy order on the charges against Assange (which were only publicly revealed because of a copy and paste error). “The hearing is on Tuesday in the national security court complex at Alexandria, Virginia,” WikiLeaks tweeted, adding it is to “remove the secrecy order on the US charges against him.” Visitors to Assange were only recently readmitted after being cut off by the Ecuadorian government. The government also restored Assange’s communications in October. But this was accompanied by restrictions on Assange’s communications. In another sign that Moreno is preparing to oust Assange, the Ecuadorian government recently terminated the credentials of Ecuador’s London ambassador Abad Ortiz without explanation. As Wikileaks explained: “Now all diplomats known to Assange have now been transferred away from the embassy.”

Read more …

The Guardian has a guy named David Taylor in new York doing a series, in which yesterday he called Robert Mueller: ‘America’s straightest arrow’. Yeah, that’s the same Mueller who lied through his teeth about WMD in Iraq as FBI chief. Taylor lists ‘four distinct parts’ of Mueller investigation, and is fully oblivious to the fact that all four have been thoroughly dismantled long ago. Taylor and the Guardian count on you not reading anything but them.

In a few words:
1• Manafort is not linked to Trump-Russia collusion, not even Mueller suggests that
2• See article below
3• There was no hacking that we know of, and certainly not in connection with WikiLeaks and/or Democratic party
4• Papadopoulos was set up, and only a bit player

‘He Has Moved Incredibly Quickly’: Mueller Nears Trump Endgame (G.)

The investigation, which cost more than $16.6m in its first 11 months, can be broken down into four distinct parts which have all led to indictments:

1• Manafort and his business connections to Russia following years of work in support of the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

2• Russian use of fake social media accounts to influence the 2016 election.

3• Russian hacking of the Democratic party and the Clinton aide John Podesta – and the subsequent leak of thousands of emails by WikiLeaks.

4• Trump campaign connections to Russia – including the Trump Tower meeting and the adviser George Papadopoulos’s involvement with a professor who told him the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton including “thousands of emails”.

Anne Milgram, a law professor at New York University and a former prosecutor and attorney general of New Jersey, said Mueller and his 17 lawyers had done “a terrific job”. “Months have gone by – people think it’s a long time – it is not in criminal justice,” she said. “He has moved incredibly quickly, got a lot of co-operation agreements, charges, done an extraordinary job of running down Russian hacking of the election.”

Read more …

As per the second point in the article above, here’s Gareth Porter ripping that to shreds.

One Of The Most Spectacularly Misleading Uses Of Statistics Ever (Porter)

What Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 31, 2017 is a far cry from what the Times claims. “Our best estimate is that approximately 126,000 million people may have been served one of these [private Russian company, Internet Research Agency, ‘IRA’-generated] stories at some time during the two year period,” Stretch said. Stretch was expressing a theoretical possibility rather than an established fact. He said an estimated 126 million Facebook members might have gotten at least one story from the IRA –- not over the ten week election period, but over 194 weeks during the two years 2015 through 2017—including a full year after the election.

That means only an estimated 29 million FB users may have gotten at least one story in their feed in two years. The 126 million figure is based only on an assumption that they shared it with others, according to Stretch. Facebook didn’t even claim most of those 80,000 IRA posts were election–related. It offered no data on what proportion of the feeds to those 29 million people were. In addition, Facebook’s Vice President for News Feed, Adam Moseri, acknowledged in 2016 that FB subscribers actually read only about 10 percent of the stories Facebook puts in their News Feed every day. The means that very few of the IRA stories that actually make it into a subscriber’s news feed on any given day are actually read.

And now, according to the further research, the odds that Americans saw any of these IRA ads—let alone were influenced by them—are even more astronomical. In his Oct. 2017 testimony, Stretch said that from 2015 to 2017, “Americans using Facebook were exposed to, or ‘served,’ a total of over 33 trillion stories in their News Feeds.” To put the 33 trillion figure over two years in perspective, the 80,000 Russian-origin Facebook posts represented just .0000000024 of total Facebook content in that time.

Shane and Mazzetti did not report the 33 trillion number even though The New York Times’ own coverage of that 2017 Stretch testimony explicitly stated, “Facebook cautioned that the Russia-linked posts represented a minuscule amount of content compared with the billions of posts that flow through users’ News Feeds everyday.” The Times‘ touting of the bogus 126 million out 137 million voters, while not reporting the 33 trillion figure, should vie in the annals of journalism as one of the most spectacularly misleading uses of statistics of all time.

Read more …

The new army chief himself is the greatest threat.

Russia A Greater Threat Than ISIS or Al-Queda – New British Army Chief (PA)

Russia “indisputably” poses a far greater threat to national security than Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and Isis, the new head of the British army has warned. General Mark Carleton-Smith said the UK cannot be complacent about the threat Russia poses “or leave it uncontested”. The former SAS commander said Russia had made plain its preparedness to use force to expand its interests, while it had also been “systematic” in its efforts to exploit cyber space and undersea military arenas. “The Russians seek to exploit vulnerability and weakness wherever they detect it,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“Russia today indisputably represents a far greater threat to our national security than Islamic extremist threats such as al-Qaida and Isil,” he said, using another name for Isis. Carleton-Smith, who graduated from Sandhurst in the final years of the Cold War, took over as chief of the general staff in June. He led the hunt for Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 terror attacks and later spearheaded Britain’s role in the campaign to defeat Isis. Now, with the threat from Islamist groups in the Middle East reduced by years of concerted international military action, the focus needs to shift to Russia, he said. “We cannot be complacent about the threat Russia poses or leave it uncontested,” Carleton-Smith warned.

Read more …

The European arms industry holds the entire continent hostage.

European Security Held Hostage By Washington’s Geopolitical Games – Lavrov (RT)

The blindness of the EU bureaucrats allows the US to instigate dangerous military activity near Russian borders, jeopardizing the security of the whole European continent, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, said. The Ukrainian crisis, which was used as a justification for sanctions against Moscow, is “a result of geopolitical games, played by the US and their allies in several countries, as well as the blindness of the bureaucrats in Brussels,” Lavrov, who was visiting Portugal on Saturday, said in an interview with local Publico paper. The EU leadership “not only sacrificed its principles and values by turning a blind eye to the armed coup in Kiev, in which a democratically elected president was deposed, but followed Washington’s lead and joined the anti-Russian sanctions,” he added.

In February 2014, Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovich, was removed from power as a result of a violent uprising, in which a key role was played by the radical nationalist groups. A few months later, the new government in Kiev launched the so-called “anti-terrorist operation” in the south-east of the country after the local population refused to recognize the results of the coup. The conflict in Donbas, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives, is still ongoing as the Ukrainian authorities don’t seem willing to commit to the truce earlier reached with the Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.

“And what have we now?” Lavrov wondered. “The architecture of dialogue between Russia and the EU is seriously damaged; the European producers suffer multi-billion losses [due to sanctions and countermeasures by Moscow]; there’s a new conflict in Europe.” Meanwhile, the Americans, who are directly responsible for the “unhealthy situation” in Europe, “suffer no losses,” he said.

Read more …

Good explanation by Frances Coppola of why the Irish border is such a hot iron in the Brexit talks.

Why Theresa May’s Brexit Deal Is Terrible For The UK (Coppola)

After Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will become an international border, rather than an intra-EU border as at present. In the absence of a trade agreement, both the EU and the U.K. would be obliged to apply the WTO’s “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) rules on that border. This would mean tariffs and regulatory checks on a border which is politically highly sensitive, because of its long history of conflict, and economically extremely important to the economies of Northern Ireland and its southern neighbour. Neither the U.K. nor the EU wants there to be a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit. But preventing one is proving difficult.

The U.K. Government proposed technological solutions that it said would eliminate the need for actual checks at the border, but the EU doesn’t believe that the technology exists. The EU proposed a temporary arrangement which would keep Northern Ireland in the Customs Union and Single Market until a free trade agreement could be negotiated, but the U.K. objected on the grounds that customs checks on goods in transit between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. would undermine the U.K.’s own internal market.

The Withdrawal Agreement breaks this deadlock by providing for the U.K. to remain in the EU’s Customs Union, and Northern Ireland in the Single Market, not merely until the end of the transitional period scheduled to end in December 2020, but until a replacement trade agreement can be negotiated, or (potentially) indefinitely if none can be agreed. This is by any measure unsatisfactory. Everyone hates “frozen Brexit.” But the backstop is not the only problem with this deal. Buried in the accompanying Political Declaration, which establishes the framework for future trade negotiations, is this conundrum:

“The future relationship will be based on a balance of rights and obligations, taking into account the principles of each Party. This balance must ensure the autonomy of the Union’s decision making and be consistent with the Union’s principles, in particular with respect to the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union and the indivisibility of the four freedoms. It must also ensure the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and the protection of its internal market, while respecting the result of the 2016 referendum including with regard to the development of its independent trade policy and the ending of free movement of people between the Union and the United Kingdom.” When combined with the backstop, this conundrum makes Mrs. May’s deal terrible for the U.K.

Read more …

Hostile environment. Signed, Theresa May.

UK Food Banks Fear Winter Crisis (G.)

Food banks in some of the poorest areas are preparing for a big rise in demand when universal credit is rolled out by calling for more donations and volunteers, and stockpiling essential supplies. Volunteers have told the Observer they are concerned about how their communities will cope this winter. In areas where the new benefit has been in place for months, the pressure on food banks has increased. Under the new system, people are made to wait for over a month to receive the benefit. When universal credit is paid out, it is often given as a lump sum, which many find difficult to budget. The Trussell Trust, which operates 428 food banks, reported in April that its facilities were four times busier in areas where the new credit had been in place for 12 months or more compared with those where it had been introduced more recently.

Blackpool, the Isle of Anglesey, Milton Keynes and parts of Liverpool and Glasgow will become some of the last places to introduce universal credit in the coming weeks. Roy Fyles, who supervises the Anglesey food bank, said he was not looking forward to its arrival on 5 December. “Even if there are only a few new claimants between now and Christmas, they will not get any money, unless they request an advance, until the new year,” he said. “We’re talking five weeks.” In nearby Flintshire, the credit piled a lot of pressure on food banks when it was brought in 20 months ago. “We are hoping that, because we’re only a small island, we’ll have fewer problems,” Fyles said. Already, the number of packages his food bank delivers has gone up by a third in the past few months. “We’re preparing by trying to get more volunteers and collecting food for Christmas hampers.”

Read more …

Nice twist.

UK Parliament Seizes Cache Of Facebook Internal Papers (O.)

Parliament has used its legal powers to seize internal Facebook documents in an extraordinary attempt to hold the US social media giant to account after chief executive Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly refused to answer MPs’ questions. The cache of documents is alleged to contain significant revelations about Facebook decisions on data and privacy controls that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It is claimed they include confidential emails between senior executives, and correspondence with Zuckerberg. Damian Collins, the chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to compel the founder of a US software company, Six4Three, to hand over the documents during a business trip to London.

In another exceptional move, parliament sent a serjeant at arms to his hotel with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with its order. When the software firm founder failed to do so, it’s understood he was escorted to parliament. He was told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn’t hand over the documents. “We are in uncharted territory,” said Collins, who also chairs an inquiry into fake news. “This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation. We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.” [..] MPs leading the inquiry into fake news have repeatedly tried to summon Zuckerberg to explain the company’s actions. He has repeatedly refused.

Collins said this reluctance to testify, plus misleading testimony from an executive at a hearing in February, had forced MPs to explore other options for gathering information about Facebook operations. [..] The documents seized were obtained during a legal discovery process by Six4Three. It took action against the social media giant after investing $250,000 in an app. Six4Three alleges the cache shows Facebook was not only aware of the implications of its privacy policy, but actively exploited them, intentionally creating andeffectively flagging up the loophole that Cambridge Analytica used to collect data. That raised the interest of Collins and his committee.

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Negotiating.

Trump Says Asylum Seekers To Wait In Mexico, Incoming Government Denies (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border would stay in Mexico until their asylum claims were individually approved in U.S. courts, but Mexico’s incoming government denied they had struck any deal. Mexico’s incoming interior minister said there was “no agreement of any type between the future government of Mexico and the United States.” Olga Sanchez Cordero, also the top domestic policy official for president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who takes office on Dec. 1, told Reuters that the incoming government was in talks with the United States but emphasized that they could not make any agreement since they were not yet in government.

Sanchez ruled out that Mexico would be declared a “safe third country” for asylum claimants, following a Washington Post report of a deal with the Trump administration known as “Remain in Mexico,” which quoted her calling it a “short-term solution.” The plan, according to the newspaper, foresees migrants staying in Mexico while their asylum claims in the United States are being processed, potentially ending a system Trump decries as “catch and release” that has until now often allowed those seeking refuge to wait on safer U.S. soil.

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At what point will we call it a monopoly? Apparently not at 50%. How about 75%?

Amazon To Contribute Over Half Of Q4 Earnings Growth For S&P 500 Retail (MW)

Amazon.com’s fourth quarter earnings are expected to account for more than half of earnings growth among S&P 500 retailers, according to a report from FactSet. FactSet expects Amazon to report earnings per share of $5.51, more than double the $2.16 the e-commerce giant reported last year. Amazon beat FactSet earnings expectations the last five quarters. “Amazon.com is expected to report the highest earnings growth and is expected to be the largest contributor to earnings growth for the Retailing Industry Group and Food & Staples Retailing Industry Group combined,” wrote John Butters at FactSet. “If Amazon were excluded, the estimated earnings growth for Q4 for these two retail industry groups would fall to 6.8% from 15%.”

Ten of the 13 retail sub-industries, including internet and direct marketing retail (projected for 69.4% growth), automotive retail (expected to be up 22.4%) and home improvement retail (forecast for 20.1% growth) are expected to report higher fourth-quarter earnings. Other categories projected for double-digit growth include general merchandise stores (up 12.3%) and food distributors (up 11.1%). Drug retail, department stores and specialty stores are forecast to grow 6.9%, 6.8% and 6.4% respectively. “Amazon alone accounts for more than half of the projected earnings growth for all S&P 500 retailers for the fourth quarter,” Butters wrote.

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As supply skyrockets, central banks stop buying. A recipe for fun, we’re sure.

JPMorgan Spots The Next Big Problem: A Plunge In Global Bond Demand (ZH)

[..] with traders – across all asset classes, including equity, credit and rates, all focusing on what happens to US Treasury yields next, the JPMorgan strategist revisits his previous analysis on global bond demand and supply, incorporating updated supply forecasts both for the balance of 2018 as well as for 2019. “Given this year has seen the largest increase in excess supply of bonds since 2010, which as we noted last week has together with continued Fed hikes contributed to a tightening in financial conditions that has been reverberating across markets, there has been considerable interest in how next year is shaping up.”

Attention on 2019 is especially acute as the Fed’s balance sheet normalization process is set to accelerate given that it is only in 4Q18 that the monthly cap for the quantity of maturing bonds that are allowed to roll off has reached its steady state of $50Bn/month, which unlike 2018 when QT was just starting, will induce a further increase in net supply that needs to be absorbed by the market of more than $100bn. It’s not just the Fed: with the ECB set to end its QE purchases in December this year and we see the BoJ continuing its gradual slowdown in bond purchases to ¥30tr in 2019 compared to around ¥40tr this year, JPMorgan notes that this collective shrinkage of the G-4 balance sheet means that the market needs to absorb a further decrease in price-insensitive QE demand of more than $400bn next year.

Here’s the bad news: adding together both the supply and demand side impact, the G4 central bank flow looks set to decline a further $550bn next year. Which begs the question: will there be an incremental increase in demand to offset this dramatic net increase in supply in the coming year? JPMorgan’s answer is hardly what bond bulls are looking for…

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Entertainment.

Bear Necessities: The Charts That Predict Market Downturns (MW)

Is a bear market on the horizon? WSJ markets reporter Riva Gold analyzes the trends that came before the dot-com bubble burst and the financial crisis hit.

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Yes, that’s right, lignite. But that’s not what bothers the EU.

EU Unhappy With China Penetrating Greek Energy Market (K.)

Brussels is raising obstacles to Chinese plans to enter Greece’s energy market, reversing the situation in the tender for the privatization of Public Private Corporation’s lignite-fired plants where CHN Energy had appeared to be the favorite. Days before bid submissions for the four plants at Meliti and Megalopoli, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy sent a letter to Greece’s Regulatory Authority for Energy, seen by Kathimerini, raising the issue of European law violation and asking for the review of ADMIE’s certification after China State Grid purchased 24 percent of the grid operator.

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People may feel vindicated in some way because of this, especially because of Trump. But really, expressing environmental damage in dollars is a road to nowhere at all. If economic growth is your main worry, you’re not too smart.

Climate Change Will Wreck Economic Growth – US Government Report (MW)

Climate change is a threat to Americans’ health and the country’s economic well-being, a major report issued Friday by 13 federal agencies said. “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century,” wrote the authors of the Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II. The report, authored by more than 300 experts, spells out a litany of impacts linked to climate change, including problems with human health, water quality, agriculture, tourism, and infrastructure.

Flooding will decrease crop yields, warming oceans will slow the shellfish industry, and heat stress will cause a drop in dairy production, the authors wrote, describing just a few of the economic effects. If people don’t take action to lessen its effects, climate change is expected to affect import and export prices and U.S. businesses with overseas operations and supply chains, the report notes. “With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current GDP of many U.S. states,” the authors wrote.

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Aug 212018
 
 August 21, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Henri Matisse The painter and his model 1916-17

 

China’s Biggest Risk May Be Its Property Market – Not The Trade War (CNBC)
Why Do American CEOs Get Paid So Much? (Galbraith)
Trump Says It Is ‘Dangerous’ For Twitter, Facebook To Ban Accounts (R.)
Trump Worries That Mueller Interview Could Be A ‘Perjury Trap’ (R.)
Trump Demands Fed Help On Economy, Complains About Interest Rate Rises (R.)
UK’s Hunt To Call On Trump To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia (G.)
‘Secret Directive’ Bans UN Agencies From Helping Rebuild Syria – Lavrov (RT)
UK Household Debt Balloons To £19bn As Bailiff Problems Multiply (Ind.)
NHS Leak Warns Of Brexit Drug Shortages And Disease Risk (G.)
Jacinda Ardern Freezes New Zealand MPs’ Pay To Tackle Rich-Poor Divide (G.)
Salvini Refuses To Let In Refugees After Coastguard Ship Docks (G.)
What Being Back in the Markets Actually Means for Greece (TPP)
The Winners Will Lose and the Losers Will Win (Kunstler)
The Inescapable Weight Of My $100,000 Student Debt (G.)

 

 

“Real estate investment accounts for about two-thirds of Chinese household assets..”

China’s Biggest Risk May Be Its Property Market – Not The Trade War (CNBC)

China’s hot real estate market remains a challenge for authorities trying to maintain stable economic growth in the face of trade tensions with the U.S. In fact, property is the country’s biggest risk in the next 12 months, much greater than the trade war, according to Larry Hu, head of greater China economics at Macquarie. He said he is especially watching whether the real estate market in lower-tier, or smaller, cities will see a downturn in prices or housing starts after recent sharp increases. Real estate investment accounts for about two-thirds of Chinese household assets, according to wealth manager Noah Holdings. The property market also plays a significant role in local government revenues, bank loans and corporate investment.

As a result, a sharp slowdown in the real estate market’s growth and drop in prices would have a negative affect on overall economic growth. So far, the market has been hot: The average selling price for newly built non-governmental housing in 60 tier-three and tier-four cities tracked by Tospur Real Estate Consulting rose 28.1 percent from January 2016 to May 2018. [..] Last week, Nanjing, a tier-two city, announced a ban on corporate purchases of residential properties, following similar moves to limit speculation by Shanghai and some other cities. That’s a good move for controlling risk, according to Joe Zhou, real estate and investment management firm JLL’s regional director for China capital markets. He said the government is not likely to loosen its policy soon and that prices could decline on average.

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“The reliance of tech firms on venture capital and bubble psychology, rather than cash flow..”

Why Do American CEOs Get Paid So Much? (Galbraith)

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute calls attention to the hardy perennial of how much America’s corporate titans make: bosses of the top 350 firms made an average of $18.9m in 2017. That’s a ratio of 312-1 over the median worker in their industries. Big bucks to be sure. And a big change since 1965, when the ratio was just 20-1. But what does it mean? And if there’s a problem, what is it, exactly? What it means, as the EPI economists carefully document, is that the top US corporate chiefs are paid overwhelmingly with stock options, and their income fluctuates with the market. About 80% of the pay packet is in stocks, and the rise of 17% in 2017 after two flat years surely suggests that the top CEOs (not unreasonably) sensed the market peaked last year.

So they cashed in. On the other 20% of the pay packets, no gains occurred. The US numbers have shock value. But bear in mind that they reflect not only the way companies are run, but also changes over decades in the structure of the US economy and tax law, specifically the rise of market valuations in technology and finance at the expense of the major industrial corporations, and a corresponding decline in unions, which held down the ratios in the sectors the industrial firms dominated a half century back. Plus, there is the radical decline in top marginal tax rates on income and capital gains, beginning in 1978, which gave executives strong reasons to restructure their pay away from inside-the-corporation perks (the penthouses and country clubs of yore) and toward cash and capital assets.

The reliance of tech firms on venture capital and bubble psychology, rather than cash flow, deepened this trend. Note also that there is something a bit artificial about the resulting “wealth.” Jeff Bezos may have a net worth of over $150bn, mostly in Amazon stock, but he couldn’t convert it into cash if he wanted to, neither by selling nor by borrowing. Any effort to sell would demolish Amazon’s valuation and hence his own fortune. The rich aren’t like us – they have more money, true, but some of it isn’t really money and it can disappear, by the billions, pretty fast.

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As I wrote yesterday, this will have to change.

Trump Says It Is ‘Dangerous’ For Twitter, Facebook To Ban Accounts (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that it is “very dangerous” for social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to silence voices on their services. Trump’s comments in an interview with Reuters come as the social media industry faces mounting scrutiny from Congress to police foreign propaganda. Trump has made his Twitter account – with more than 53 million followers – an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. Trump previously criticized the social media industry on Aug. 18, claiming without evidence in a series of tweets that unnamed companies were “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.”

In the same post, Trump said “too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad.” Those tweets followed actions taken by Apple, Alphabet, YouTube and Facebook to remove some content posted by Infowars, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones’ own Twitter account was temporarily suspended on Aug. 15. “I won’t mention names but when they take certain people off of Twitter or Facebook and they’re making that decision, that is really a dangerous thing because that could be you tomorrow,” said Trump.

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Also mentioned yesterday. Chances of a sitdown in the next 10 days don’t look good.

Trump Worries That Mueller Interview Could Be A ‘Perjury Trap’ (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he was worried that any statements under oath he provides to Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be used to bring perjury charges against him as part of the probe into Russia’s electoral interference. In an interview with Reuters, Trump echoed the concerns of his top lawyer in the probe, Rudy Giuliani, who has warned that any sit-down with Mueller could be a “perjury trap.” The president expressed fears that investigators could compare his statements with that of others who have testified in the probe, such as former FBI Director James Comey, and that any discrepancies could be used against him.

“So if I say something and he (Comey) says something, and it’s my word against his, and he’s best friends with Mueller, so Mueller might say: ‘Well, I believe Comey,’ and even if I’m telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That’s no good.” Despite his concerns, Trump did not comment on whether he would ultimately agree to an interview with Mueller, who is, among other things, investigating whether Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians during the 2016 election and whether Trump has obstructed justice in the probe. Trump also declined to say whether he might strip Mueller of his security clearance, as he did last week to former CIA Director John Brennan, who had repeatedly criticized Trump’s handling of foreign policy and national security issues.

“I haven’t given it a lot of thought,” he said. [..] Trump asserted that he retained the power to intervene in the probe, but that he had chosen not to do so for the moment. His administration, Trump said, was “a smooth-running machine, except in that world. And I’ve decided to stay out. Now I don’t have to stay out. “I can go in, and I could do whatever — I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out,” he said. “I’m totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven’t chosen to be involved. I’ll stay out.”

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Whatever the predictable comments on this, what he really does is confirm the Fed’s independence.

Trump Demands Fed Help On Economy, Complains About Interest Rate Rises (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he was “not thrilled” with the Federal Reserve under his own appointee, Chairman Jerome Powell, for raising interest rates and said the U.S. central bank should do more to help him to boost the economy. In the middle of international trade disputes, Trump in an interview with Reuters also accused China and Europe of manipulating their respective currencies. American presidents have rarely criticized the Fed in recent decades because its independence has been seen as important for economic stability.

Trump has departed from this past practice and said he would not shy from future criticism should the Fed keep lifting rates. The president spooked investors in July when he criticized the U.S. central bank’s over tightening monetary policy. On Monday he said the Fed should be more accommodating on interest rates. “I’m not thrilled with his raising of interest rates, no. I’m not thrilled,” Trump said, referring to Powell.

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Nobody Hunt goes to Washington with veiled criticism of Trump. Good luck with that.

UK’s Hunt To Call On Trump To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia (G.)

The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is to urge Donald Trump to face down Moscow’s threat to western values by imposing wider economic sanctions against Russia and agreeing new rules to protect the legitimacy of democratic elections. In a speech in Washington on Tuesday during his first visit since taking over from Boris Johnson as the UK’s most senior diplomat, Hunt will specifically call for tighter regulation of online political advertising and new measures to prevent cyber attacks on electoral machinery. Hunt will also throw out a challenge to Trump’s protectionist policies by warning a weakening of free trade will only damage western economies, and ultimately western political power.

He will say the emergence of an international order based on the application of law rather than might had led to an exponential growth in trade, leading to extraordinary advances in economic and social prosperity across the globe. He will also call for Nato to set clearer red lines about Russia’s use of chemical weapons and incursions into foreign territory such as the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Without directly challenging the legitimacy of Trump’s election as president in 2016, he will point to the drawbacks in many recent democratic outcomes, saying: “The heart of any democracy is freedom of expression, which allows citizens to access independent information to help decide who to vote for. But the ubiquity of fake news, social media targeting and foreign attempts to manipulate elections have undermined confidence that this can actually happen.”

Any tarnishing of Trump’s electoral mandate is highly perilous territory for a foreign politician, and Hunt will temper his criticism by saying western leaders should not deceive themselves that populism is merely a byproduct of social media spreading fake news.

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Rebuilding Syria can solve a large part of Europe’s refugee problem, and US and UN are holding it back?

‘Secret Directive’ Bans UN Agencies From Helping Rebuild Syria – Lavrov (RT)

Washington’s “absolutely deconstructive” stance is hampering the rebuilding of Syria and constricts the UN in aiding the country until a so called ‘political transition’ takes place, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, said.
“We addressed UNESCO on how they plan to implement the longtime talks, the longtime understanding on attracting the potential of this organization to rebuilding Palmyra,” an ancient city, regarded by the agency as a World Heritage Site, Lavrov said. “From the explanations of why UNESCO has still been unable to get involved in this process actively, we took that there was some kind of a directive from the United Nations headquarters in New York.”

He said that the UN Secretariat, which is the organizations’ executive arms, has “actually issued and distributed a secret directive throughout the UN system in October last year that prohibited the agencies included in this system from participating in any kind of projects aimed at restoring the Syrian economy.” Only humanitarian aid and nothing more” was allowed, the minister told the journalists after talks with Lebanese counterpart, Gebran Bassil, in Moscow. “A term was put forward that restoration of Syria would only be on the agenda after a certain progress is made in the so-called political transition” in the country, he added. The Russian Foreign Ministry also said that due to the “absolutely deconstructive” stance of the US one also shouldn’t expect any positive decisions on rebuilding Syria and return of refugees to the country from the UN Security Council.

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“People can face having their essential services cut off, be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax..”

A country moving backwards.

UK Household Debt Balloons To £19bn As Bailiff Problems Multiply (Ind.)

UK households have fallen behind on essential bills such as council tax and electricity by as much as £18.9bn, according to Citizens Advice, which says it helps someone with bailiff-related problems every three minutes. The total outstanding debt includes almost £7.5bn in tax credit overpayments, £2.84bn owed in council tax and £2.2bn owed to water companies. Household debt has now overtaken consumer credit as the main money problem people contact Citizens Advice about, and the charity said that falling behind on household bills “has more severe consequences than missing consumer credit repayments”, such as overdrafts and personal loans.

“People can face having their essential services cut off, be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax,” Citizens Advice warned. The charity said it had seen a 24 per cent increase in bailiff problems since the government introduced reforms in 2014 that were meant to protect people from unfair bailiff practices. Under the reforms, bailiffs are no longer allowed to make late-night visits to collect debts, and are prevented from using force against people who owe money, amongst other rules.

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Since there is no progress on many essential Brexit elements, this is not some doom fantasy.

NHS Leak Warns Of Brexit Drug Shortages And Disease Risk (G.)

Hospitals face running out of drugs in a chaotic no-deal Brexit, the group that represents NHS hospital and ambulance service has privately warned. Poor co-ordination by ministers and health service bosses means there has been a failure to prepare for the UK to be left without a Brexit deal, a leaked letter from NHS Providers said. “Public health and disease control co-ordination could suffer,” said NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, setting out how a hard Brexit or no deal could negatively effect “the entire supply chain of pharmaceuticals” and “jeopardise” the EU citizens making up the “workforce on which the NHS relies”. Hopson’s letter, sent to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and NHS Improvement chief Ian Dalton on Friday, was leaked to the Times.

Hopson said the possibility of a no-deal or hard Brexit “with minimal regulatory alignment appears to be growing … For as long as that risk remains it is important that detailed operation planning is undertaken across the NHS. “Yet trusts tell us that their work in this area is being hampered by the lack of visible and appropriate communication. “Our members have begun planning … but they have hit a problem, in that some activities are clearly best done at a national level and, in the view of trusts, are best co-ordinated by NHS England and NHS Improvement. “However there has been no formal communication to trusts from either of your organisations on this issue.”

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Always risky to cut your immediate colleagues, but makes a ton of sense.

Jacinda Ardern Freezes New Zealand MPs’ Pay To Tackle Rich-Poor Divide (G.)

Jacinda Ardern has frozen the salaries of New Zealand’s MPs, saying the pay rises were out of step with the wider workforce and were adding to the rich-poor divide. The radical move has cross-party support from Ardern’s coalition partners, as well as the opposition National party. MPs’ salaries and allowances would be frozen till July 2019, Ardern said, while “a fairer formula for future pay increases” is developed for those in politics, who earn between NZ$163,000 ($108,000) to more than NZ$450,000 ($300,000). Ardern said the freeze was “the right thing to do” and was not about cost-cutting, but making New Zealand a more equitable nation.

The PM was prompted to take action after the Remuneration Authority recommended MPs receive a 3% pay rise, in a year that is seeing widespread strike action by teachers, nurses and other workers across New Zealand. Ardern earns more than NZ$450,000 a year, making her the fifth-highest paid leader in the OECD, and better paid than Canada’s Justin Trudeau and the UK’s Theresa May. According to a survey by Stuff, 62% of New Zealanders think the country’s prime ministers are paid too much. Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull earns the largest salary of any leader in the OECD. “It’s about whether or not it’s right that we receive a 3% pay increase that continues to extend that gap between those on the highest incomes and those on lower and more modest incomes,” Ardern told Radio NZ today.

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The EU MUST come up with a plan.

Salvini Refuses To Let In Refugees After Coastguard Ship Docks (G.)

An Italian coastguard ship with 177 people on board has docked in the Sicilian seaport of Catania, but Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has not given authorisation for the refugees and migrants to disembark. The passengers, who have been stuck on the coastguard boat Ubaldo Diciotti for five days will not be allowed on land until “Europe steps in to help’’, Salvini said. The Diciotti picked up 190 refugees and migrants last Wednesday from an overcrowded boat about 17 sea miles from the island of Lampedusa. Thirteen of them were evacuated for emergency medical treatment. Since then, Rome has insisted that Malta should take the group because their boat first passed through its search-and-rescue area.

But Malta has refused, claiming that the migrants wanted to reach Italy. Questioned by the Italian authorities, the 13 evacuated migrants claimed that the Maltese had escorted them outside its search-and-rescue zone. On Monday afternoon, after three days of negotiations, Italy’s transport minister Danilo Toninelli announced finally on Twitter that “The Diciotti ship will dock in Catania.” But shortly afterwards, sources close to Salvini said he had not given the authorisation to disembark, suggesting the boat was granted permission to dock but the migrants will have to remain on board. Salvini said on Italian TV: “The ship may land in Italy, as long as the 177 migrants are distributed, in a spirit of solidarity by the EU.”

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What does it mean? More debt.

What Being Back in the Markets Actually Means for Greece (TPP)

The devil, as they say in English, lies in the details. Being ‘back in the markets’, ‘turning a page,’ even declaring ‘the end of the Greek Crisis’ have all become commonplace expressions over the past few weeks. But what does this substantively mean? It means that an economy that has shrunk by around 25% saw, due to that shrinkage, its debts go up by about the same amount, despite near 100 billion Euro in debt being wiped off in 2012. Current outstanding Greek debt stands at 343 billion Euro. It now needs to pay a large chunk of that back to get back to where it was in 2008, with 109% debt to GDP.

The years of the Greek crisis (2010-2018) were the years that former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis famously described as the years of ‘extend and pretend.’ The EU would extend more credit (debt) to Greece that Greece would pretend to pay back. While most of the bailout cash prior to 2013 went through Greece back to Northern Banks, after 2013 most of the Debt was held by an opaqueprivate financial institution housed in Luxemburg called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). It’s the debts held by the ESM, and the loans disbursed by the ESM, that have been the focus of the new game of extend and pretend that is called variously ‘debt-relief’ and Greece ‘being back in the markets.’

Consider the following. The ESM lent 86 Billion Euro to Greece between August 2015 and July 2018. The final tranche of these loans will not be paid back until 2060, with payments beginning in 2034. This ten year deferral of payments along with an interest rate reduction to an average of 1.62% across issues is the much heralded debt relief agreement of June 21st 2018. All things considered, and given real ‘go to the market’ alternatives if you have Greece’s bond rating, this is not a bad deal – on paper. These measures, plus the final bailout cash being added to cash reserves, means that Greece will actually not have to return to the markets for funding for almost two years. Given this, the ‘return to the markets’ comes with some pretty large airbags, all of which makes buying Greek debt more attractive, hence recent bond rating upgrades. So, we are extending, but what are we still pretending?

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“..Pabst Blue Ribbon by the case!”

The Winners Will Lose and the Losers Will Win (Kunstler)

What a revoltin’ development, as Chester A. Riley used to say on “The Life of Riley” TV show back in 1955, when America was great (at least that’s the theory). Riley was an original deplorable before the concept even emerged from the murk of early pop culture. He worked in an aircraft factory somewhere in southern California, which only a few decades prior was the mecca of an earlier generations of losers: the Oakies and other Dust Bowl refugees who went west to pick fruit or get into the movies. Chester A. Riley supported a family on that job as a wing-riveter. All the male characters in the series had been through the Second World War, but were so far removed from the horror that the audience never heard about it.

That was the point: to forget all that gore and get down with the new crazes for backyard barbeque, seeing the USA in your Chevrolet, enjoying that healthful pack of Lucky Strikes in the valley of the Jolly Green Giant… double your pleasure, double your fun… and away go troubles down the drain…. As Tom Wolfe pointed out eons ago, the most overlooked feature of post-war American life was the way that the old US peasantry found themselves living higher on the hog than Louis the XVI and his court at Versailles. Hot and cold running water, all the deliciously engineered Betty Crocker cake you could eat, painless dentistry, and Yankees away games on Channel 11, with Pabst Blue Ribbon by the case! By 1960 or so, along came color TV and air-conditioning, and in places like Atlanta, St. Louis, and Little Rock, you barely had to go outside anymore, thank God! No more heat stroke, hookworm, or chiggers.

It was a helluva lot better than earlier peasant classes had it, for sure, but let’s face it: it was kind of a low-grade nirvana. And a couple of generations beyond “The Life of Riley” the whole thing has fallen apart. There are few hands-on jobs that allow a man to support a family. And what would we even mean by that? Stick the women back in kitchen and the laundry room? What a waste of human capital (even for socialists who oppose capital). The odd thing is that there is increasingly little for this class of people to do besides stand near the door of the WalMart, and if the vaunted tech entrepreneurs of this land have their way with robotics, you can be sure there would be less than nothing for them to do… except crawl off and die quietly, without leaving an odoriferous mess.

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Long read. Steve Keen comments: This will doom the USA to stagnation: a generation with too much debt and no prospect of using credit like the previous generation.

The Inescapable Weight Of My $100,000 Student Debt (G.)

On Halloween in 2008, about six weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, my mother called me from Michigan to tell me that my father had lost his job in the sales department of Visteon, an auto parts supplier for Ford. Two months later, my mother lost her job working for the city of Troy, a suburb about half an hour from Detroit. From there our lives seemed to accelerate, the terrible events compounding fast enough to elude immediate understanding. By June, my parents, unable to find any work in the state where they spent their entire lives, moved to New York, where my sister and I were both in school. A month later, the mortgage on my childhood home went into default.

After several months of unemployment, my mother got a job in New York City, fundraising for a children’s choir. In the summer of 2010, I completed my studies at New York University, where I received a BA and an MA in English literature, with more than $100,000 of debt, for which my father was a guarantor. My father was still unemployed and my mother had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She continued working, though her employer was clearly perturbed that she would have to take off every Friday for chemotherapy. To compensate for the lost time, on Mondays she rode early buses into the city from the Bronx, where, after months of harrowing uncertainty, my parents had settled. She wanted to be in the office first thing.

In January 2011, Chase Bank took full possession of the house in Michigan. Our last ties were severed by an email my father received from the realtor, who had tried and failed to sell the property, telling him he could now cancel the utilities. In May, I got a freelance contract with a newspaper that within a year would hire me full-time – paying me, after taxes, roughly $900 every two weeks. In September 2011, my parents were approved for bankruptcy, and in October, due to a paperwork error, their car was repossessed in the middle of the night by creditors. Meanwhile, the payments for my debt – which had been borrowed from a variety of federal and private lenders, most prominently Citibank – totalled about $1,100 a month.

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Apr 152018
 
 April 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  19 Responses »


 

Russia Claims OPCW Manipulated Skripal Findings (AFP)
To Opt Out Of Facebook’s Tracking, I’m Going To Have To Join Facebook (Wired)
Tesla Is The Worst Car Manufacturer In The Developed World (F.)
New Lawsuit Alleges Musk Knowingly Lied About Model 3 Production (ZH)
Subprime Stages Comeback As ‘Non-Prime’ (CNBC)
247,977 Stories In The Vacant City (NYDN)
Judge Rules Exxon Can’t Stop Probe Into Whether They Lied For Decades (Ind.)
World May Hit 2ºC Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking (NC)
‘There Is No Such Thing As Past Or Future’ (G.)
Time is Elastic (Rovelli)

 

 

Curiouser. You’d think Russia doesn’t just make up an entire Swiss lab.

Russia Claims OPCW Manipulated Skripal Findings (AFP)

Moscow on Saturday accused the chemical weapons watchdog of manipulating the results of its investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian spy, saying his samples had traces of a nerve agent used by the west. Britain says former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were last month targeted with a nerve agent of the novichok family, which was developed in the Soviet Union. The attack shredded ties between Russia and Britain and led to a crisis in relations between Moscow and the west including a huge wave of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said it confirmed “the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical” without naming the substance involved.

On Saturday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, claimed the UN-linked Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had sent the Skripals’ biomedical samples to Swiss experts who found they contained traces of the nerve agent BZ, used by the west. “According to the results of the examination, the samples had traces of toxic chemical BZ and its precursors,” Lavrov said, citing what he said was “confidential information”. “Russia and the USSR never developed such chemical substances,” he said. “In this regard we are asking the OPCW why the information which reflected the conclusions of specialists from the Spiez laboratory was completely omitted from the final document.”

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Not a discussion we should leave up to Facebook. Or Congress.

To Opt Out Of Facebook’s Tracking, I’m Going To Have To Join Facebook (Wired)

Now I know what you’re thinking. What kind of person has never been on Facebook? I’d like to tell you it was all about privacy, but the truth is, I just had a bad feeling about it. You see, I went to Cambridge, so I was one of the first to get the chance to join what you insist on calling your “community.” And almost instantly, it was clear that it turned people into wankers. (Bigger wankers. This was Cambridge, after all.) If I remember correctly, in the early days everyone was desperate to have a higher friend count. Then it was obsessive tagging in photos. Yes, even in its earliest days, your system brought out the worst in people.

It’s not easy, not being on Facebook. At first, it was the parties. At a certain point, people stopped sending email invites. They just assumed you were on Facebook – and, if you weren’t, you didn’t find out. I’m 35 now, so I don’t get invited to parties, unless they’re for small children. Instead, I miss out on work, because I can’t contact people or share my articles. When you finally make journalism pivot to Facebook Groups, I’ll be completely screwed. I considered joining many times. But every time I aired the thought, I got the same reaction: “Don’t! It’s the worst!” I wasn’t sure if I remembered this correctly, so I called a few people to check. All agreed: they hate your service, but they have to use it, because everyone else does. (One person objected. She works in your London office.)

Every other social network, even Twitter, has a core of fans that genuinely wish it well. You’re the sole exception. Then I got into tech, and privacy, and data protection, and I learned that you were throttling internet freedoms in developing countries, and letting random strangers see your users’ most intimate details, so I started becoming one of those paranoid people who uses a VPN all the time, and puts a scrap of torn-off Post-It note on their laptop camera. Just like you! But you probably knew all this about me anyway. Which brings me back to my question. In your testimony to Congress, you said: “Anyone can turn off or opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not.”

But, as you should know, while that’s possible for someone on Facebook, for me, a non-Facebook user, it’s not. Your illegal trackers follow me across 30 per cent of the internet, building a “shadow profile” you store in a nonanonymised format in your “Hive” analysis database. You claim to do it “for security purposes” (let me tell you, if Facebook’s security requires you to surveil the world’s population, then you have made a desert and called it peace). But reporters – and people who used to work in your advertising team – say the information is collected to improve the friend suggestions you’ll give me in case I do ever sign up. It’s one more growth hack on a whole site of them.

What can I do to stop you? I’ve installed tracker blockers on my browser, but, since you killed the media business, a lot of my favourite sites make me disable them. And your trackers work in the apps on my phone. Unless I go full tin-foil hat (and it’s tempting), you’ve basically left me with one option. To opt out of Facebook’s tracking, I’m going to have to join Facebook. So yeah: fuck you. Because, of course, this is exactly your plan. Forcing people onto Facebook is what you’re all about.

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“..that is a terrible way to produce a consumer product, and a terrible way to generate returns for shareholders.”

Tesla Is The Worst Car Manufacturer In The Developed World (F.)

I visited my first auto plant in 1992, and have been fortunate enough to visit plants in most countries where cars are made. I have seen workers sleeping under half-finished bodies in Brazil, seen employees trying to make doors fit by using rubber hammers at a now-closed Ford facility in New Jersey and, noted, that, yes, they do have beer in the vending machines at many German auto factories. To see a rack of die castings sitting outside exposed to the weather at a facility that is, according to Google Maps, 10.7 miles away from the actual Tesla assembly facility in Fremont is just mind-boggling. Tesla is the worst car manufacturer in the developed world. Bar none. Note that I didn’t write “designer” or “marketer,” but manufacturer.

Musk had zero auto industry experience when founding Tesla and CTO J.T. Straubel—who according to Tesla’s 10-K filing personally holds Tesla’s important patents—developed a love for electric vehicles by rebuilding golf carts. It’s just astounding to me that the markets are affording a $50 billion valuation to a company that can’t perform the most basic task for which it was incorporated. Famed VW purchasing chief José Ignacio López de Arriortúa famously walked into a plant and repeatedly pointed at boxes of yet-to-be-used parts and yelled the word “capital.” When capital is tied up in byzantine manufacturing processes that stunts the development of cash flow. It’s all connected. This is why Tesla has such dire cash flow problems.

This is why I believe—sorry, Elon—Tesla is going to have to issue equity this year. My favorite automotive mantra is “quality is designed in.” That’s the most damning piece of information in the CNBC article, actually, more damning than the pictures of parts racks. Here is the quote: “Current and former employees from the company’s Fremont, Calif. and Sparks, Nevada factories blame Tesla for spending less time to vet suppliers than is typical in auto manufacturing. These people said the company failed to comprehensively test “variance specs” with some vendors before embarking on Model 3 production.”

Tesla has cut corners in building up to current production, and published reports this week indicated Tesla was alerting suppliers of an incredibly fast 19-month design-to-job one timetable on the upcoming Model Y crossover. So, it would seem corner-cutting is continuing, and that is a terrible way to produce a consumer product, and a terrible way to generate returns for shareholders.

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He better hope he wins this one.

New Lawsuit Alleges Musk Knowingly Lied About Model 3 Production (ZH)

A new securities class action lawsuit filed in late March 2018, which names Elon Musk as a defendant, alleges that the Tesla CEO knew that the Model 3 was not going to be able to be produced as the rates he claimed – and that the company was not going to be able to meet production goals due to – get this – the production lines not even being assembled. The lawsuit alleges that this didn’t prevent Elon Musk from going out and telling the investing public otherwise, hence the allegation of securities fraud. First, the allegation that Musk was told by his own employees that the Model 3 couldn’t be mass produced by the end of 2017, which was the company’s stated goal.

Then, after claiming in May 2017 that the company was “on track” to meet its mass production goal, it’s alleged the company hadn’t even finished building its production lines, clearly meaning it wasn’t “on track”. The lawsuit alleges that Musk knew the line was “way behind”. The suit alleges that the company was building Model 3’s by hand at a “pilot shop” at the same time Tesla claimed to be on track for “mass production”; it also claims that it was “evident to anyone who visited the facility” – including Elon Musk – that the line wasn’t built and that “construction workers were spending most of their shifts sitting around with nothing to do”. We also read in the lawsuit that Tesla’s Gigafactory, at the time in question, was allegedly capable of producing only one battery pack per day – and that the production of one battery pack took “two shifts” to complete.

The suit alleges that the company’s former CFO, Jason Wheeler – who is one of more than 50 key executives and VPs to have left the company over the last half decade or so – told Elon Musk personally that they wouldn’t be able to mass produce by the end of 2017. The entire lawsuit is available at this link and some of the most interesting content was first shared by critics of the company on Twitter. The drumbeat of accountability for Elon Musk continues to pound louder and louder as each day progresses, with some analysts calling for the SEC to investigate him if the company doesn’t meet its stated cash flow positive and “no capital raise” guidance for the back end of 2018.

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Got to find the last sucker.

Subprime Stages Comeback As ‘Non-Prime’ (CNBC)

They were blamed for the biggest financial disaster in a century. Subprime mortgages – home loans to borrowers with sketchy credit who put little to no skin in the game. Following the epic housing crash, they disappeared, due to strong, new regulation, and zero demand from investors who were badly burned. Barely a decade later, they’re coming back with a new name — nonprime — and, so far, some new standards. California-based Carrington Mortgage Services, a midsized lender, just announced an expansion into the space, offering loans to borrowers, “with less-than-perfect credit.” Carrington will originate and service the loans, but it will also securitize them for sale to investors.

“We believe there is actually a market today in the secondary market for people who want to buy nonprime loans that have been properly underwritten,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings. “We’re not going back to the bad old days of ninja lending, when people with no jobs, no income, and no assets were getting loans.” Sharga said Carrington will manually underwrite each loan, assessing the individual risks. But it will allow its borrowers to have FICO credit scores as low as 500. The current average for agency-backed mortgages is in the mid-700s. Borrowers can take out loans of up to $1.5 million on single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums.

They can also do cash-out refinances, where borrowers tap extra equity in their homes, up to $500,000. Recent credit events, like a foreclosure, bankruptcy or a history of late payments are acceptable. All loans, however, will not be the same for all borrowers. If a borrower is higher risk, a higher down payment will be required, and the interest rate will likely be higher. “What we’re talking about is underwriting that goes back to common sense sort of practices. If you have risk, you offset risk somewhere else,” added Sharga, while touting, “We probably are going to have the widest range of products for people with challenging credit in the marketplace.”

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It’s not about people, it’s about money. Fundamental flaw.

247,977 Stories In The Vacant City (NYDN)

There’s a hidden city in the five boroughs. Though its permanent population is zero, it is growing faster than any other neighborhood. Early numbers from the Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy Survey show the unoccupied city has ballooned by 65,406 apartments since 2014, an astonishing 35% jump in size in the three years since the last survey. Today, 247,977 units — equivalent to more than 11% of all rental apartments in New York City — sit either empty or scarcely occupied, even as many New Yorkers struggle to find an apartment they can afford. The Vacant City — let’s call it that, with a tip of the hat to the 1948 movie and old TV series “Naked City” — has tripled in 30 years.

A generation ago, there were just 72,051 apartments in the Vacant City. Back in 1987, when rents were cheap by today’s standards at a median $395 a month, the Vacant City made up less than 4% of rental apartments. Today, the median rent is $1,450, having risen twice as fast as inflation, even while the Vacant City tripled in size. The numbers just don’t add up the way conventional wisdom said they should. For years, development officials, the real estate industry and think tanks have told us that artificially low rents are holding the city back. Higher rents, the argument went, would free landlords to make a reasonable amount of money and serve as an incentive to increase the housing supply.

The new Census gleanings finally put the lie to that reasoning. We have higher prices for sure — but the only part of the city’s residential real estate that has grown is the Vacant City. More apartments are being held off the market than ever. Some remain vacant for legitimate reasons. Almost 28,000 of those unused units have been rented or sold but not yet occupied, or are awaiting a sale. Almost 80,000 are getting renovated, 9,600 tied up in court, and 12,700 vacant because the owner is ill or elderly or simply can’t be bothered. But that still leaves more than 100,000 units — 74,945 occupied temporarily or seasonally, and 27,009 held off the market for unexplained reasons.

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Shell, Exxon, they’ve all known all along. But they have lots of power.

Judge Rules Exxon Can’t Stop Probe Into Whether They Lied For Decades (Ind.)

A Massachusetts judge has ruled that ExxonMobil cannot stop a probe into whether the oil giant misled shareholders for decades about the dangers of climate change and its impact on their business. The judge, in a Friday ruling, found that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has grounds to pursue its civil investigation into the matter even though Exxon is not technically an in-resident corporation. The judgement follows after a federal judge in New York dismissed a similar lawsuit aimed at ending the climate change probe late last month. In that lawsuit, Exxon argued that Ms Healey and her New York counterpart, Eric Schneiderman, were pursuing their climate probes in bad faith. The judge dismissed the argument as “implausible”.

“For the second time this month, Exxon’s scorched earth campaign to block our investigation has been entirely rejected by the courts. In its decision today, our state’s highest court affirmed that Exxon is subject to our laws, and that our office has authority to investigate,” Ms Healey said in a statement following the decision. “Now Exxon must come forward with the truth, what it knew about climate change, when, and what it told the world. The people of Massachusetts — and people everywhere — deserve answers.” New York and Massachusetts first began their climate change probes after news reports in 2015 found that Exxon had known for years that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to combat climate change impacts, but did not reveal those concerns to shareholders or the public.

Exxon has denied that their public policies were in any way inconsistent with what their scientists’ findings that climate change poses a serious risk to its business and to the environment.

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It’s used to be 2100. Now it’s 2030.

World May Hit 2ºC Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking (NC)

In 2011, a Cornell University research team first made the groundbreaking discovery that leaking methane from the shale gas fracking boom could make burning fracked gas worse for the climate than coal. In a sobering lecture released this month, a member of that team, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University, outlined more precisely the role U.S. fracking is playing in changing the world’s climate. The most recent climate data suggests that the world is on track to cross the two degrees of warming threshold set in the Paris accord in just 10 to 15 years, says Ingraffea in a 13-minute lecture titled “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken,” which was posted online on April 4.

That’s if American energy policy follows the track predicted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which expects 1 million natural gas wells will be producing gas in the U.S. in 2050, up from roughly 100,000 today. An average global temperature increase of 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) will bring catastrophic changes — even as compared against a change of 1.5° C (2.7° F). “Heat waves would last around a third longer, rain storms would be about a third more intense, the increase in sea level would be approximately that much higher and the percentage of tropical coral reefs at risk of severe degradation would be roughly that much greater,” with just that half-degree difference, NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained in a 2016 post about climate change.

A draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was leaked this January, concludes that it’s “extremely unlikely” that the world will keep to a 1.5° change, estimating that the world will cross that threshold in roughly 20 years, somewhat slower than Ingraffea’s presentation concludes.

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Hawking’s successor.

‘There Is No Such Thing As Past Or Future’ (G.)

Rovelli’s work as a physicist, in crude terms, occupies the large space left by Einstein on the one hand, and the development of quantum theory on the other. If the theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous, quantum theory describes a world in which discrete quantities of energy interact. In Rovelli’s words, “quantum mechanics cannot deal with the curvature of spacetime, and general relativity cannot account for quanta”. Both theories are successful; but their apparent incompatibility is an open problem, and one of the current tasks of theoretical physics is to attempt to construct a conceptual framework in which they both work.

Rovelli’s field of loop theory, or loop quantum gravity, offers a possible answer to the problem, in which spacetime itself is understood to be granular, a fine structure woven from loops. String theory offers another, different route towards solving the problem. When I ask him what he thinks about the possibility that his loop quantum gravity work may be wrong, he gently explains that being wrong isn’t the point; being part of the conversation is the point. And anyway, “If you ask who had the longest and most striking list of results it’s Einstein without any doubt. But if you ask who is the scientist who made most mistakes, it’s still Einstein.”

How does time fit in to his work? Time, Einstein long ago showed, is relative – time passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object, for example. In this relative world, an absolute “now” is more or less meaningless. Time, then, is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us. Time is, in Rovelli’s words, “part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space”. For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorising, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. His theories ask us to accept the notion that time is merely a function of our “blurred” human perception.

We see the world only through a glass, darkly; we are watching Plato’s shadow-play in the cave. According to Rovelli, our undeniable experience of time is inextricably linked to the way heat behaves. In The Order of Time, he asks why can we know only the past, and not the future? The key, he suggests, is the one-directional flow of heat from warmer objects to colder ones. An ice cube dropped into a hot cup of coffee cools the coffee. But the process is not reversible: it is a one-way street, as demonstrated by the second law of thermodynamics. Time is also, as we experience it, a one-way street. He explains it in relation to the concept of entropy – the measure of the disordering of things.

Entropy was lower in the past. Entropy is higher in the future – there is more disorder, there are more possibilities. The pack of cards of the future is shuffled and uncertain, unlike the ordered and neatly arranged pack of cards of the past. But entropy, heat, past and future are qualities that belong not to the fundamental grammar of the world but to our superficial observation of it. “If I observe the microscopic state of things,” writes Rovelli, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’.”

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Extract from Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time.

Why do things fall? Because “..the movement of things inclines naturally towards where time passes more slowly..”

Time is Elastic (Rovelli)

Reality is often very different from what it seems. The Earth appears to be flat but is in fact spherical. The sun seems to revolve in the sky when it is really we who are spinning. Neither is time what it seems to be. Let’s begin with a simple fact: time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. The difference is small but can be measured with precision timepieces that can be bought today for a few thousand pounds. This slowing down can be detected between levels just a few centimetres apart: a clock placed on the floor runs a little more slowly than one on a table. It is not just the clocks that slow down: lower down, all processes are slower. Two friends separate, with one of them living in the plains and the other going to live in the mountains.

They meet up again years later: the one who has stayed down has lived less, aged less, the mechanism of his cuckoo clock has oscillated fewer times. He has had less time to do things, his plants have grown less, his thoughts have had less time to unfold … Lower down, there is simply less time than at altitude. Einstein understood this slowing down of time a century before we had clocks precise enough to measure it. He imagined that the sun and the Earth each modified the space and time that surrounded them, just as a body immersed in water displaces the water around it. This modification of the structure of time influences in turn the movement of bodies, causing them to “fall” towards each other.

What does it mean, this “modification of the structure of time”? It means precisely the slowing down of time described above: a mass slows down time around itself. The Earth is a large mass and slows down time in its vicinity. It does so more in the plains and less in the mountains, because the plains are closer to it. This is why the friend who stays at sea level ages more slowly. If things fall, it is due to this slowing down of time. Where time passes uniformly, in interplanetary space, things do not fall. They float. Here on the surface of our planet, on the other hand, the movement of things inclines naturally towards where time passes more slowly, as when we run down the beach into the sea and the resistance of the water on our legs makes us fall headfirst into the waves. Things fall downwards because, down there, time is slowed by the Earth.

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Feb 182018
 


Jerome Liebling Butterfly Boy, Harlem, New York City 1949

 

US Tax Cuts, Repatriated Cash Used For Record Stock Buybacks (ZH)
VIX Products Were Extremely Ill-Designed (Eric Peters)
Until There Are Facts On Election Meddling, It’s All Just Blather – Lavrov (RT)
Apocalypse Now For Britain’s Retailers As Low Wages And The Web Cause Ruin (G.)
UK Will Need ‘Thousands’ More Customs Officers After Brexit (R.)
The Big PFI Heist: How Big Banks Launched The Takeover Of UK Plc (Ind.)
Software Helped Daimler Pass US Emissions Tests (R.)
Global Sea Ice Hits New Record Low For January (Ind.)
Should We Give Up Half Of The Earth To Wildlife? (O.)

 

 

The last few drops squeezed from a stone-dry stone. Buybacks kill economies.

US Tax Cuts, Repatriated Cash Used For Record Stock Buybacks (ZH)

While there is still some fringe debate what companies will do with the hundreds of billions in offshore funds repatriated to the US as part of the recently passed Trump tax reform, the discussion is largely over, especially after last week’s Cisco results. The company, which has $68 billion of overseas cash, third after AAPL and MSFT, announced that it would raise its buyback authorization by $25 billion, and revealed plans to repurchase its entire authorization of $31 billion during the next 6-8 quarters, equal to roughly 15% of its current market cap. Call it a partial LBO, courtesy of Donald Trump.

[..] Here’s what Goldman’s David Kostin said in his latest Weekly Kickstart report: “Since December, S&P 500 firms have announced buybacks totaling $171 bn. YTD announcements of $67 bn represent a 22% increase versus the same period in 2017. The buyback window has re-opened and firms are taking advantage of the recent correction; the GS Buyback Desk reported that last week was the most active week in its history.” The $171 billion in YTD stock buyback announcements is the most ever for this early in the year. In fact, it is more than double the prior 10 year average of $77 billion in YTD buyback announcements.

[..] in addition to what we first pointed out over two years ago, namely that all net debt issuance in the 21st century has been used to pay for stock buybacks… here is what John Hussman commented on this record last hurrah in stock buybacks: “Though buybacks are primarily debt-financed, they are also highest at market peaks, and contract sharply at major market troughs. Corporations are still borrowing to buy the dip at peak valuations, within a few percent of extremes associated with prospective 10-12yr market losses.”

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There was no need for better design, the Fed has traders’ backs regardless.

VIX Products Were Extremely Ill-Designed (Eric Peters)

There’s no question that, in an economy and in a financial system where there’s the level of debt that we have and the sensitivity to interest rates, rising rates are kind of a pre-condition to equity market disruptions and selloffs. I think that the level of volatility selling and its integration into risk models across virtually every type of investment strategy are contributors. And, having gone through such a long period with very, very little movement, I’d say that many people’s trading books were robust for relatively small moves. But once you’ve passed a certain move – and I think in this case it was probably the S&P down 3-ish% that triggered a whole series of different adjustments that people needed to make to their books and their option books – that then amplified the move in volatility and led to this blowup in the VIX product.

But you have to remember that these VIX products were extremely ill-designed. And they were very vulnerable to this. They’re a rare thing that you see in our industry, which is they had a predefined stop loss. And markets are pretty good at finding stop losses and triggering them. I started my career in the commodity pits, and I witnessed firsthand how the commodity pit is built around finding stop losses on the top side of the bottom side of markets. So I think the market did a great job of finding the stops – and in this case finding the weakest ones, which were in the VIX complex – and hitting them. But I don’t think that that really explains why this move happened. Why did we get the first leg down, and why are markets starting to move with very little news flow? And, again, that’s something that’s difficult to explain for a lot of people that are trying to do it.

[..] The biggest problem in the investment industry today, the portfolio construct that investors have come to rely on, which is a brilliant construct really pioneered by Ray Dalio – he naturally has done incredibly well from this, and it’s been a fantastic strategy – this risk parity strategy. And, while there’s certainly more complexity to it that just being long equities and leveraged funds, let’s just view it as that strategy for a moment. It’s essentially what the dominant portfolio has become at all the major investors, pensions, endowments, etc. in the industry. And the beauty of that portfolio has been that you’ve been able to own risk assets and then you’ve been able to own a hedge, which is a leveraged bond portfolio, and that hedge has actually paid you a positive return.

The problem is when equity valuations become very high and interest rates get very low it’s difficult for that strategy to continue to perform very well. All else being equal. Now, however, if you add modest inflation into the formula, that portfolio actually becomes pretty toxic. That’s the environment I think we’re entering into. And that’s why, ultimately, I see some of these shocks like this most recent market shock as just being trail markers on this path to a much more difficult investment environment.

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Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein: “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Virginia State Senator Richard Black: “When you become a special counsel, you have an open checkbook for the US Treasury and you are guaranteed to become a mega-millionaire if you simply can drag out the proceedings,”

Until There Are Facts On Election Meddling, It’s All Just Blather – Lavrov (RT)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has again dismissed claims of Russian meddling in the US election, saying that until facts are presented by Washington, they are nothing but “blather.” Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday, he said that “Until we see facts, everything else will be just blather.” When asked to comment on the indictment of Russian nationals and companies in the US over alleged meddling in the 2016 US election, the foreign minister answered:“You know, I have no reaction at all because one can publish anything he wants. We see how accusations, statements, statements are multiplying.”

On Friday, a US federal grand jury indicted 13 Russian nationals and three entities accused of interfering in the 2016 election and political processes. According to the indictment, those people were “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump… and disparaging Hillary Clinton” as they staged political rallies and bought political advertising, while posing as grassroots entities.

[..] Even US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had to admit that there were “no allegations” that this “information warfare” yielded any results and affected the outcome of the presidential election. The underwhelming indictment was also slammed in the US. Virginia State Senator Richard Black accused FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller of deliberately dragging out the Russian meddling probe for his own gain. “To a certain extent, I think, Robert Muller is struggling to keep alive his position of a special counsel. The special counsel has already earned seven million dollars. When you become a special counsel, you have an open checkbook for the US Treasury and you are guaranteed to become a mega-millionaire if you simply can drag out the proceedings,” Black told RT.

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Maxed out. Forget the web. Think savings, pensions.

Apocalypse Now For Britain’s Retailers As Low Wages And The Web Cause Ruin (G.)

“Who’d be a retailer now?” That was the comment from City economist Jeremy Cook when the latest set of grim retail sales data was released by the Office for National Statistics last Friday. “The average Brit,” he added, “has spent the past few years living by the mantra ‘When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.’” After a grim December, many had been hoping for a bounceback, but the figures showed that consumers were not as hardy as they once were, said Cook, and the retail sector was facing a long-term, continuing slowdown. Shoppers are being hit by declining real wages, record levels of consumer debt and the prospect of higher borrowing costs. But the wider problem is a structural shift in the way consumers spend their money.

This is threatening famous retailers and forcing a rethink about how high streets will look in years to come, and what might be done with retail parks and malls when retailers shut up shop. It is not just about shoppers preferring to buy online – although 20% of fashion sales, where the pressures are perhaps worst, have now moved to the internet. There’s been a seismic shift in the way we spend our time and money. Social media, leisure, travel, eating out, eating in – using takeaways and delivery services – and technology are all taking time and cash that would once have gone straight to shops. In food, increasing numbers of people now prefer to buy local and often. Fewer big weekly shops mean out-of-town superstores are under pressure and the big supermarkets are trying to lure in other retailers to take space they no longer need.

This rapid change in shopping habits is boosting sales at the likes of Amazon, Asos and Boohoo, but forcing radical change on British towns and cities as physical retail space becomes redundant. The past few months have seen a stream of collapses – from fashion store East to shoe chain Shoon and bed specialists Warren Evans and Feather & Black. Toys R Us is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, while House of Fraser, Debenhams and New Look are all struggling, with all three considering large-scale closures of stores or space.

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Almost funny.

UK Will Need ‘Thousands’ More Customs Officers After Brexit (R.)

The Dutch government plans to hire at least 750 new customs agents in preparation for Britain’s exit from the European Union. The Dutch parliament’s Brexit rapporteur, Pieter Omtzigt, who had recommended the move, said both sides of the English Channel had been slow to wake up to the reality that Britain was on course to leave the EU in 14 months’ time. “If we need hundreds of new customs and agricultural inspectors, the British are going to need thousands,” he said. Omtzigt warned that “for a trading nation like the Netherlands, you just cannot afford for customs not to work, it would be a disaster”.

In a letter to parliament on Friday, the deputy finance minister, Menno Snel, said the cabinet had “decided that the Customs and Food and Wares agencies should immediately begin recruiting and training more workers”. He said the government was working on the basis of two scenarios: that Britain leaves the EU with no deal in place, or that it leaves on similar terms to those of the EU’s recent trade deal with Canada. “The results are that … around 930 or 750 full-time employees are needed,” Snel said. “It speaks for itself that the cabinet is following the negotiations closely in order to be able to react appropriately.”

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“The real story of how Britain’s economy has been left high and dry by a doomed economic philosophy..”

The Big PFI Heist: How Big Banks Launched The Takeover Of UK Plc (Ind.)

Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), recently made an astonishing admission on BBC1’s Question Time when he stated that private finance initiatives (PFI) had been a “fraud on the people”. Beyond seemingly populist rhetoric, the real story of PFI reveals that RBS alongside other global banks, notably HSBC, were instrumental in what Sir Howard has effectively labelled a great heist. The past month has seen the demise of construction giant Carillion followed by the collapse of Capita’s market value: both firms having built huge empires by providing outsourced services to public authorities. These initial tremors might be the canary in the coal mine. Profit warnings have been issued for other government contractors, such as Interserve. The domino effect has shades of the 2007-08 financial crisis even though it is clearly not of the same magnitude.

All this has thrown up searching questions, not least around staff redundancies and pensions, bailouts, inflated dividends and executive remuneration. Yet even in the throes of this PFI and outsourcing crisis, public-private Partnerships (PPP) are far from dead and buried. On the contrary, the Naylor Review – a report recommending the disposal of NHS land and assets to generate investment – is rehabilitating PPP. Furthermore, the Government is pushing through Accountable Care Organisations (ACO), a form of PPP based on an American model of healthcare. The Government cites too the model of Alzira in Spain where a consortium of private companies not only financed and built facilities but also delivered health services.

Of course, PFI was not always a toxic brand. In 1997 it appeared to be New Labour’s magical solution to chronic underinvestment in public services in the wake of Thatcherism. As Alan Milburn – the former Labour Health Secretary described by Private Eye as an “almost maniacal convert to PFI” – put it: “It’s PFI or bust.” The argument went that Labour had inherited public services in such a diabolical state of neglect that there was no alternative to the private financing of whole swathes of infrastructure. It was a persuasive argument which seduced many. The Blairite Third Way would somehow square the circle by delivering new schools, hospitals, roads, railways and prisons without the debt or inefficiency of the public sector. It seemed too good to be true yet those who dared to question the orthodoxy du jour were swatted away.

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“..including one which switched off emissions cleaning after 26 km of driving..”

Software Helped Daimler Pass US Emissions Tests (R.)

U.S. investigators probing Mercedes maker Daimler have found that its cars were equipped with software which may have help them to pass diesel emissions tests, a German newspaper reported on Sunday, citing confidential documents. There has been growing scrutiny of diesel vehicles since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing secret software on 580,000 U.S. vehicles that allowed them to emit up to 40 times legally allowable emissions while meeting standards when tested by regulators. Daimler, which faces ongoing investigations by U.S. and German authorities into excess diesel emissions, has said investigations could lead to significant penalties and recalls.

The Bild am Sonntag newspaper said that the documents showed that U.S. investigators had found several software functions that helped Daimler cars pass emissions tests, including one which switched off emissions cleaning after 26 km of driving. Another function under scrutiny allowed the emissions cleaning system to recognize whether the car was being tested based on speed or acceleration patterns. Bild am Sonntag also cited emails from Daimler engineers questioning whether these software functions were legal.

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We don’t we just shoot the remaining polar bears right now, and move on?!

Global Sea Ice Hits New Record Low For January (Ind.)

The world’s sea ice shrank to a record January low last month as the annual polar melting period expanded, experts say. The 5.04 million square miles of ice in the Arctic was 525,000 square miles below the 1981-to-2010 ice cover average, making it the lowest January total in satellite records, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Combined with low levels in the Antarctic, global sea ice amounted to a record low for any first month of the year, the organisation concluded. The news comes just days after researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder said the rate at which sea levels are rising was increasing every year, driven mostly by accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

The NSIDC, a respected authority on the Earth’s frozen regions, which researches and analyses snow, glaciers and ice sheets among other features, said that ice in the Arctic Ocean hit “a new record low” at both the start and end of last month. In an online post, the group said: “January of 2018 began and ended with satellite-era record lows in Arctic sea ice extent, resulting in a new record low for the month. Combined with low ice extent in the Antarctic, global sea ice extent is also at a record low.” It said the Arctic experienced a week of record low daily ice totals at the start of the month, with the January average beating 2017 for a new record low. “Ice grew through the month at near-average rates, and in the middle of the month daily extents were higher than for 2017,” the report went on. “However, by the end of January, extent was again tracking below 2017.”

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• Yes, we should. Even if 50% ia an arbitrary number.

• No, we won’t.

Should We Give Up Half Of The Earth To Wildlife? (O.)

The orangutan is one of our planet’s most distinctive and intelligent creatures. It has been observed using primitive tools, such as the branch of a tree, to hunt food, and is capable of complex social behaviour. Orangutans also played a special role in humanity’s own intellectual history when, in the 19th century, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, co-developers of the theory of natural selection, used observations of them to hone their ideas about evolution. But humanity has not repaid orangutans with kindness. The numbers of these distinctive, red-maned primates are now plummeting thanks to our destruction of their habitats and illegal hunting of the species. Last week, an international study revealed that its population in Borneo, the animal’s last main stronghold, now stands at between 70,000 and 100,000, less than half of what it was in 1995.

“I expected to see a fairly steep decline, but I did not anticipate it would be this large,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University. For good measure, conservationists say numbers are likely to fall by at least another 45,000 by 2050, thanks to the expansion of palm oil plantations, which are replacing their forest homes. One of Earth’s most spectacular creatures is heading towards oblivion, along with the vaquita dolphin, the Javan rhinoceros, the western lowland gorilla, the Amur leopard and many other species whose numbers are today declining dramatically. All of these are threatened with the fate that has already befallen the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the baiji dolphin – victims of humanity’s urge to kill, exploit and cultivate.

As a result, scientists warn that humanity could soon be left increasingly isolated on a planet bereft of wildlife and inhabited only by ourselves plus domesticated animals and their parasites. This grim scenario will form the background to a key conference – Safeguarding Space for Nature and Securing Our Future – to be held in London on 27-28 February. The aim of the symposium is straightforward: to highlight ways of establishing sufficient reserves and protected areas to halt or seriously limit the major extinction event that humanity now faces. According to one recent report, the number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and pollute or destroy habitats, and worse probably lies ahead.

[..] The current focus on protecting what humans are willing to spare for conservation is unscientific, they say. Instead, conservation targets should be determined by what is necessary to protect nature. This point is stressed by Harvey Locke, whose organisation, Nature Needs Half, takes a far bolder approach and campaigns for the preservation of fully 50% of our planet for wildlife by 2050. “That may seem a lot – if you think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit,” Locke told the Observer. “But if you recognise the world as one that we share with wildlife, letting it have half of the Earth does not seem that much.” The idea is supported by E O Wilson, the distinguished Harvard biologist, in his most recent book, Half Earth. “We thrash about, appallingly led, with no particular goal other than economic growth and unfettered consumption,” he writes. “As a result, we’re extinguishing Earth’s biodiversity as though the species of the natural world are no better than weeds and kitchen vermin.”

The solution, he says, is to fill half the planet with conservation zones – though just how this division is to be decided is not made clear in his book. In any case, Hoffman points out, simply setting aside huge chunks of land or marine areas will not, on its own, save the day. “We could earmark the whole of northern Canada as a wildlife reserve but, given the paucity of animals who live in these frozen regions, that would not have a significant effect on a great many species who live elsewhere,” he said.

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Aug 122017
 
 August 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Giorgio de Chirico The Enigma of the Hour 1910

 

The Logic of War (Jim Rickards)
Russia Says Bellicose Rhetoric On North Korea Is ‘Over The Top’ (R.)
US ‘Volatility Index’ Spikes To Highest Level Since Election (G.)
Chinese Foreign Real-Estate Spending Plunges 82% (ZH)
Battle of the Behemoths (Jim Kunstler)
US Poised To Become World’s Largest Public-Private Partnership Market (IBT)
The Fed Has 6,200 Tons of Gold in a Manhattan Basement—Or Does It? (WSJ)
UK Risks International Court Case Over Theresa May’s Brexit Plans (Ind.)
Greenspan’s Legacy Explains Current Conundrums (DDMB)
Social Security Requires Bailout 60x Greater Than 2008 Bank Bailout (Black)
All Is Not As It Seems In Venezuela (Ren.)
Asylum Seekers At Canada Border Tents Unfazed By Delays, Uncertainty (R.)
People Smugglers Pushing Refugees To Their Deaths At Sea Off Yemen (Ind.)

 

 

There are different kinds of logic. I hope for once Rickards is wrong.

The Logic of War (Jim Rickards)

This was the week that the logic of war collided with the illogic of bubbles. So far, the bubble is winning, but that’s about to change. The “logic of war” is an English translation of a French phrase, la logique de la guerre, which refers to the dynamic of how wars begin despite the fact that the war itself will be horrendous, counterproductive, and possibly end in complete defeat. [..] Given these outcomes, “logic” says that war should be prevented. This would not be difficult to do. If North Korea verifiably stopped its weapons testing and engaged in some dialogue, the U.S. would meet the regime more than halfway with sanctions relief and some expanded trade and investment opportunities.

The problem is that the logic of war proceeds differently than the logic of optimization. It relies on imperfect assessments of the intentions and capabilities of an adversary in an existential situation that offers little time to react. North Korea believes that the U.S. is bluffing based in part on the prior failures of the U.S. to back up “red line” declarations in Syria, and based on the horrendous damage that would be inflicted upon America’s key ally, South Korea. North Korea also looks at regimes like Libya and Iraq that gave up nuclear weapons programs and were overthrown. It looks at regimes like Iran that did not give up nuclear weapons programs and were not overthrown.

It concludes that in dealing with the U.S., the best path is not to give up your nuclear weapons programs. That’s not entirely irrational given the history of U.S. foreign policy over the past thirty years. But, the U.S. is not bluffing. Trump is not Obama, he does not use rhetoric for show, he means what he says. Trump’s cabinet officials, generals and admirals also mean what they say. No flag officer wants to lose an American city like Los Angeles on his or her watch. They won’t take even a small chance of letting that happen. The Trump administration will end the North Korean threat now before the stakes are raised to the nuclear level. Despite the logic of diplomacy and negotiation, the war with North Korea is coming. That’s the logic of war.

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It is crucial that Trump communicate with Putin and Lavrov. And Washington does all it can to prevent it. Let’s hope they’ve found a back channel.

Russia Says Bellicose Rhetoric On North Korea Is ‘Over The Top’ (R.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday the risks of a military conflict over North Korea’s nuclear program are very high, and Moscow is deeply worried by the mutual threats being traded by Washington and Pyongyang. “Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is now starting to go over the top,” Lavrov said. “We still hope and believe that common sense will prevail.” Asked at a forum for Russian students about the risks of the stand-off escalating into armed conflict, he said: “The risks are very high, especially taking into account the rhetoric.” “Direct threats of using force are heard… The talk (in Washington) is that there must be a preventive strike made on North Korea, while Pyongyang is threatening to carry out a missile strike on the U.S. base in Guam. These (threats) continue non-stop, and they worry us a lot.”

“I won’t get into guessing what happens ‘if’. We will do whatever we can to prevent this ‘if’.” “My personal opinion is that when you get close to the point of a fight breaking out, the side that is stronger and cleverer should take the first step away from the threshold of danger,” said Lavrov, in remarks broadcast on state television. He encouraged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a joint Russian-Chinese plan, under which North Korea would freeze its missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. “If this double freezing finally takes place, then we can sit down and start from the very beginning – to sign a paper which will stress respect for the sovereignty of all those parties involved, including North Korea,” Lavrov said.

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And that’s a good thing. Ultra low VIX means no price discovery.

US ‘Volatility Index’ Spikes To Highest Level Since Election (G.)

A US stock market gauge known as the “fear index” has spiked to its highest level since Donald Trump was elected president in a sign that his brinkmanship with North Korea is starting to unnerve investors. The Vix index has been at record lows in recent weeks but has been rattled by the remarks Trump has been making about North Korea. A breakthrough in Pyongyang’s weapons programme prompted Trump to warn on Tuesday that he would unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea if the regime continued to threaten the US. On Friday the US president tweeted that US military options were “locked and loaded” for use if Pyongyang “acted unwisely”. The Vix index measures expectations of volatility on the S&P 500 index of the US’s largest publicly quoted companies.

Its rise in the early hours of Friday prompted Neil Wilson, a senior market analyst at financial firm ETX Capital, to comment: “Volatility is back.” “The Vix just popped to its highest since the election of Donald Trump as jitters about North Korea roil risk sentiment. It’s about time the market woke up – nothing like the prospect of a nuclear standoff to sharpen mind of investors who had become a tad complacent,” said Wilson. oshua Mahony, a market analyst at IG, said: “For a week that has been largely devoid of major economic releases, Donald Trump’s confrontational stance with North Korea has raised volatility across the board, pushing the Vix from a rock-bottom reading on Tuesday, to the highest level in almost a year. “This has been a week of two halves, with complaints over a lack of volatility giving way to complaints over unpredictable volatility,” he added.

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Does that cover all housing bubbles? Well, not Holland and Scandinavia, probably.

Chinese Foreign Real-Estate Spending Plunges 82% (ZH)

Earlier this month, Morgan Stanley warned that commercial real estate prices in New York City, Sydney and London would likely take a hit over the next two years as Chinese investors pull out of foreign property markets. The pullback, they said, would be driven by China’s latest crackdown on capital outflows and corporate leverage, which they argued would lead to an 84% drop in overseas property investment by Chinese corporations during 2017, and another 18% in 2018. Sure enough, official data released by China’s Ministry of Commerce have proven the first part of Morgan Stanley’s thesis correct. Data showed that outbound investment in real estate was particularly hard hit during the first half of the year, plunging 82%. “According to official data, outbound investment by China’s real estate sector fell 82% year-on-year in the first half, to comprise just 2% of all outbound investment for the period.”

Overall, outbound direct investment to 145 countries declined to $48.19 billion, an annualized drop of 45.8%, according to China Banking News. The decline is a result of a crackdown by Chinese authorities after corporations went on a foreign-acquisition spree that saw them spend nearly $300 billion buying foreign companies and assets, with China’s four most acquisitive firms accounting for $55 billion, or 18%, of the country’s total. The acquisitions aggravated capital outflows, creating a mountain of debt and making regulators uneasy. Late last month, Chinese authorities ordered Anbang Insurance Group to liquidate its overseas holdings. In June, authorities asked local banks to evaluate whether Anbang and three of its peers posed a “systemic risk” to the country’s financial system. As Morgan Stanley noted, these firms were responsible for billions of dollars of commercial real-estate investments in the US, UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

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“..a great deal of American suburbia will have to be abandoned..”

Battle of the Behemoths (Jim Kunstler)

This has been a sensational year for retail failure so far with a record number of brick-and-mortar store closings. But it is hardly due solely to Internet shopping. The nation was vastly over-stored by big chain operations. Their replication was based on a suicidal business model that demanded constant expansion, and was nourished by a regime of ultra-low interest rates promulgated by the Federal Reserve (and its cheerleaders in the academic econ departments). The goal of the business model was to enrich the executives and shareholders as rapidly as possible, not to build sustainable enterprise. As the companies march off the cliff of bankruptcy, these individuals will be left with enormous fortunes — and the American landscape will be left with empty, flat-roofed, throwaway buildings unsuited to adaptive re-use. Eventually, the empty Walmarts will be among them.

Just about everybody yakking in the public arena assumes that commerce will just migrate to the web. Think again. What you’re seeing now is a very short term aberration, the terminal expression of the cheap oil economy that is fumbling to a close. Apart from Amazon’s failure so far to ever show a corporate profit, Internet shopping requires every purchase to make a journey in a truck to the customer. In theory, it might not seem all that different from the Monkey Ward model of a hundred years ago. But things have changed in this land. We made the unfortunate decision to suburbanize the nation, and now we’re stuck with the results: a living arrangement that can’t be serviced or maintained going forward, a living arrangement with no future. This includes the home delivery of every product under sun to every farflung housing subdivision from Rancho Cucamonga to Hackensack.

Of course, the Big Box model, like Walmart, has also recruited every householder in his or her SUV into the company’s distribution network, and that’s going to become a big problem, too, as the beleaguered middle-class finds itself incrementally foreclosed from Happy Motoring and sinking into conditions of overt peonage. The actual destination of retail in America is to be severely downscaled and reorganized locally. Main Street will be the new mall, and it will be a whole lot less glitzy than the failed gallerias of yore, but it will represent a range of activities that will put a lot of people back to work at the community level. It will necessarily entail the rebuilding of local and regional wholesale networks and means of distribution that don’t require trucking.

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But then combine Jim Kunstler’s piece with this:

US Poised To Become World’s Largest Public-Private Partnership Market (IBT)

As the debate over infrastructure policy intensifies, there is no dispute that the Trump administration’s initiative could open up a huge new market for financial firms on Wall Street. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that there are $4.6 trillion worth of needed investments to maintain and upgrade infrastructure throughout the U.S. In light of that, recent reports from Moody’s and AIG project a financial jackpot for private investors, with the latter predicting that America “is poised to become the largest public-private partnership market in the world for infrastructure projects.” That market appears to be a ripe profit opportunity for politically connected firms. On top of Pence’s overtures to investors in Australia, a country that has aggressively embraced privatization, Trump recently secured a pledge from Saudi Arabia’s government to invest billions in American infrastructure.

The Saudi money is slated to flow through the private equity firm Blackstone, which has been eyeing opportunities to profit from American infrastructure privatization since its CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, was named by Trump to run a White House economic advisory panel shaping federal infrastructure policy. At the same time, Cohn’s former employer, Goldman Sachs, has said in its financial filings that it too has plans to expand investment in privatized infrastructure. (Neither Schwarzman or Cohn have recused themselves from working on White House infrastructure policy that could benefit the firms, even though both own stakes in the companies.)

In the United States, the recent enthusiasm for public-private partnerships has stemmed from the visible success of several late-1990s toll road projects such as California’s State Route 91, the first fully-automated toll road with electronic transponders in the U.S., and Virginia’s Dulles Greenway, according to Robert Poole, the director of transportation policy at the libertarian Reason Foundation. More recently, he noted, states like Florida have enacted laws streamlining the legislative approval process for public-private partnership transportation projects. Both the GOP and Democratic Party listed infrastructure spending as objectives in their 2016 platforms. The Republican platform explicitly embraced public-private partnerships and “outside investment.” Prominent Democrats from former President Barack Obama to Bill and Hillary Clinton have also warmed to the idea of public-private partnerships — and the party’s officials have led some of America’s earliest precedent-setting privatization projects.

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Do we send in Dan Brown and Tom Hanks?

The Fed Has 6,200 Tons of Gold in a Manhattan Basement—Or Does It? (WSJ)

Eighty feet below the streets of lower Manhattan, a Federal Reserve vault protected by armed guards contains about 6,200 tons of gold. Or doesn’t. The Fed tells visitors its basement vault holds the world’s biggest official gold stash and values it at $240 billion to $260 billion. But “no one at all can be sure the gold is really there except Fed employees with access,” said Ronan Manly, a precious-metals analyst at gold dealer BullionStar in Singapore. If it is all there, he said, the central bank has “never in its history provided any proof.” Mr. Manly is among gold aficionados who wonder if the bank is hiding something about what it’s hiding. Other theorists suspect the gold beneath the New York Fed’s headquarters at 33 Liberty St. may be gold-plated fakes. Some conspiracy-minded investors think the Fed has been secretly leasing out the gold to manipulate prices.

“There has to have been a central bank spewing their gold into the market,” said John Embry, an investment strategist for Sprott Asset Management in Toronto until 2014 who once managed its gold fund. “The gold price didn’t act right” during the time he was watching it and the likely explanation for the movement was Fed action, said Mr. Embry. Fed officials have heard theories about their gold holdings for many years and don’t think much of them. After this article was published, a Fed spokeswoman said the Fed doesn’t own any of the gold housed at the New York Fed, which “does not use it in any way for any purposes including loaning or leasing it out.” The Fed has been selective in giving details about the contents of the vault and in the past has said it can’t comment on individual customer accounts due to confidentiality agreements.

[..] The Fed gives some information about the vault on a website and offers tours. A guide on one tour gave some details: Inside is enough oxygen for a person to survive 72 hours, should someone get trapped; custodians wear magnesium shoe covers to help prevent injuries, should they drop 27-pound bars; the Fed charges $1.75 a bar to move gold but nothing to store it; most of the gold is owned by foreign governments. [..] Visitors on vault tours see only a display sample and can’t verify bars up close. “All you see is the front row of gold bars,” said James Turk, co-founder of Goldmoney, a gold custodian. “There’s no way of knowing how deep the chamber is or how many rows there are.” Mr. Turk, based in London, believes much of the gold has been “hypothecated,” or lent out to other parties, and then rehypothecated, or lent to multiple parties at once. In doing so, he says, “central banks actually own less gold than people believe.”

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A phenomenal mess lies in your future. Wait till various courts get involved, representing entirely different jurisdictions, different laws.

UK Risks International Court Case Over Theresa May’s Brexit Plans (Ind.)

Britain risks a new Brexit fight in international courts if it tries to quit the EU’s single market without giving other countries official notice, The Independent can reveal. Legal experts, including one who advised the Treasury, agree Theresa May will leave the UK open to legal action in The Hague if she pulls out of the European Economic Area (EEA) without formally telling its other members 12 months in advance, to avoid disrupting their trade. The notice is demanded by an international agreement, but ministers do not intend to follow the process because, insiders believe, they want to avoid a Commons vote on staying in the EEA – and, therefore, the single market – that they might lose. As well as the a court battle, experts warn the stigma from breaking the agreement could also make it harder for Britain to secure the trade deals it desperately needs to secure the economy after Brexit.

Pro-EU MPs hope the legal opinion will help persuade the Commons to force and win the vote on staying in the EEA planned for the autumn. The Government has insisted EEA membership will end automatically with EU withdrawal but former Treasury legal adviser Charles Marquand, said: “A failure by the UK to give notice of its intention to leave would, I think, be a breach of the EEA Agreement, which is an international treaty.” The barrister said it was difficult to predict how another EEA states might seek to take action, if it believed its single market rights had been removed wrongly. But he added: “I believe there is a potential for international proceedings. One possibility is the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.”

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Are we going to lock him up?

Greenspan’s Legacy Explains Current Conundrums (DDMB)

On Aug. 11, 1987, the U.S. Senate confirmed Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Thirty years later, the fallout from that occasion is still being felt around the world as the central bank’s focus shifted under Greenspan from economics and the banking system to the financial industry. Greenspan’s first speech as Fed chairman took place less than a month into his tenure when he dedicated the Jacksonville, Florida, branch of the Atlanta Fed. Some 73 miles north of where he stood was Jekyll Island, Georgia, where the foundations of the Fed were first laid in November 1910. Rather than look back at the Fed’s roots, however, Greenspan peered into its future: “We have entered the age of the truly global marketplace. Today the monetary policy decisions of our nation reverberate around the globe.”

Those words resonate today as policy makers worldwide struggle to extricate themselves from extraordinary levels of market intervention. How did we get to the point where central bankers endeavor to resolve structural issues with the power of the printing press? Greenspan’s legacy provides the answers. It is notable that in the days before the Senate vote, President Ronald Reagan cited the “banking system” as one of the Fed’s primary responsibilities. While Greenspan included banking system stability as one of the “instrumentalities” of the government’s designs of the Fed, he emphasized that the Fed was “NOT just another federal agency.” The Fed was also a leader “within the financial industry.” It wouldn’t take long for the financial system to stress test Greenspan’s resolve. On Oct. 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22.6% in what remains the steepest one-day loss on record. From his first day in office to that October closing low, the Dow was down by 35%.

Few recall that Greenspan was in the air on his way to Dallas during the worst of Black Monday’s selloff, where he was scheduled to address the American Bankers Association convention the next morning. It wasn’t until he landed that he learned of the day’s events. Against his wishes, Greenspan never made it to the podium; he thought the better way to communicate calm was by maintaining his scheduled appearance. Compelled back to Washington due to the gravity of the situation, Greenspan issued the following statement in his name at 8:41 a.m. that Tuesday, less than an hour before stocks opened for trading: “The Federal Reserve, consistent with its responsibilities as the Nation’s central bank, affirmed today its readiness to serve as a source of liquidity to support the economic and financial system.”

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Best reason ever for a Universal Basic Income.

Social Security Requires Bailout 60x Greater Than 2008 Bank Bailout (Black)

A few weeks ago the Board of Trustees of Social Security sent a formal letter to the United States Senate and House of Representatives to issue a dire warning: Social Security is running out of money. Given that tens of millions of Americans depend on this public pension program as their sole source of retirement income, you’d think this would have been front page news… and that every newspaper in the country would have reprinted this ominous projection out of a basic journalistic duty to keep the public informed about an issue that will affect nearly everyone. But that didn’t happen. The story was hardly picked up. It’s astonishing how little attention this issue receives considering it will end up being one of the biggest financial crises in US history. That’s not hyperbole either– the numbers are very clear.

The US government itself calculates that the long-term Social Security shortfall exceeds $46 TRILLION. In other words, in order to be able to pay the benefits they’ve promised, Social Security needs a $46 trillion bailout. Fat chance. That amount is over TWICE the national debt, and nearly THREE times the size of the entire US economy. Moreover, it’s nearly SIXTY times the size of the bailout that the banking system received back in 2008. So this is a pretty big deal. More importantly, even though the Social Security Trustees acknowledge that the fund is running out of money, their projections are still wildly optimistic. In order to build their long-term financial models, Social Security’s administrators have to make certain assumptions about the future. What will interest rates be in the future? What will the population growth rate be? How high (or low) will inflation be?

These variables can dramatically impact the outcome for Social Security. For example, Social Security assumes that productivity growth in the US economy will average between 1.7% and 2% per year. This is an important assumption: the higher US productivity growth, the faster the economy will grow. And this ultimately means more tax revenue (and more income) for the program. But -actual- US productivity growth is WAY below their assumption. Over the past ten years productivity growth has been about 25% below their expectations. And in 2016 US productivity growth was actually NEGATIVE.

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Venezuela is dead simple. It has the largest oil reserves on the planet. Chavez kept Exxon and CIA out. Now they’re moving back in.

All Is Not As It Seems In Venezuela (Ren.)

An opposition backed by Exxon Mobil, a failed military coup that killed 40 people, staged photo-propaganda designed to create the perception of a failed state: Foreign powers have conspired to create the perfect conditions for yet another western ‘humanitarian’ intervention, this time in Venezuela. Former US Army solider turned documentary-maker, Mike Prysner, says the reality of Venezuela is very different from what we are being fed by the western press. [..] When I heard that Jeremy Corbyn had condemned violence on both sides in Venezuela, I was angry at first – because 80% or more of the violence is being committed by anti-government protesters. Their violence has far surpassed anything committed against them – and what has been done to them has been deliberately provoked. But then I began to recognise the skill in his statement – forcing everyone to confront the reality of what’s happening on the ground there. The reality bears little resemblance to what’s being presented to people.

The BBC is responsible for some of the most disingenuous portrayals. They’re showing violent protesters as if they’re some kind of defenders of peaceful protesters against a repressive police force, but in reality peaceful protests have been untouched by police. What happens is that the Guarimbas (violent, armed opposition groups) follow the peaceful protests and when they come near police, they insert themselves in between the two. They then push and push and push until there’s a reaction – and they have cameras and journalists on hand to record the reaction, so it looks like the police are being aggressive. We were once filming a protest and a group of Guarimbas challenged us. If we’d said we were with teleSur, at the very least they’d have beaten us and taken our equipment. But we told them we were American freelance journalists – they need Americans to film them and publicise them, so we were accepted.

The battles with police are actually quite small, but they’re planned, co-ordinated to disrupt different area each day to maximise their impact – but in most places life is pretty normal. It’s all about the portrayal. The US media mobilise everything for Guarimbas – there will be maybe 150 people but it’s made to look bigger and tactics are 100% violent – trying to provoke a response. And the level of police restraint is remarkable – the government knows the world is watching. One evening protesters were burning buildings for around two hours, with no intervention by the police. They only react when the protesters start throwing petrol bombs at the police or military, or their bases – but as soon as they do react, the Guarimbas film as if they’re victims of an unprovoked attack.

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Over 200 a day into Québec alone.

Asylum Seekers At Canada Border Tents Unfazed By Delays, Uncertainty (R.)

Asylum seekers, mainly from Haiti, clambering over a gully from upstate New York into Canada on Friday were undeterred by the prospect of days in border tents, months of uncertainty and signs of a right-wing backlash in Quebec. More than 200 people a day are illegally walking across the U.S. border into Quebec to seek asylum, government officials said. Army tents have been erected near the border to house up to 500 people as they undergo security screenings. Over 4,000 asylum seekers have walked into Canada in the first half of this year, with some citing U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stance on immigration. The cars carrying the latest asylum seekers begin arriving at dawn in Champlain, New York, across from the Canadian border.

On Friday, the first groups included two young Haitian men, a family of five from Yemen and a Haitian family with young twins. “We have no house. We have no family. If we return we have nowhere to sleep, no money to eat,” said a Haitian mother of a 2-year-old boy, who declined to give her name. Each family pauses a moment when a Royal Canadian Mounted police officer warns them they will be arrested if they cross the border illegally, before walking a well-trodden path across the narrow gully into Canada. Asylum seekers are crossing the border illegally because a loophole in a U.S. pact allows anyone who manages to enter Canada to file an asylum claim and stay in Canada while they await their application outcome.

Because the pact requires refugees to claim asylum in whatever country they first arrive, they would be turned back to the United States at legal border crossings. They Haitian family is arrested immediately and bussed to the makeshift camp. Border agents led a line of about two dozen asylum seekers on Friday into a government building at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle to be processed. The Red Cross is providing food, hygiene items and telephone access, spokesman Carl Boisvert said. He estimated the fenced-off camp, which has been separated into sections for families and single migrants, is about half full. Border staff and settlement agencies are straining to accommodate the influx, which has been partly spurred by false rumors of guaranteed residency permits.

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The values of our own lives are set by how we value other people’s lives.

People Smugglers Pushing Refugees To Their Deaths At Sea Off Yemen (Ind.)

At least 19 migrants are presumed to have drowned after 160 people were forced from a boat into rough seas off the coast of Yemen by smugglers in what may be a worrying new trend, the UN migration agency has said. The report from the International Organisation for Migration came less than a day after it said up to 50 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia were “deliberately drowned” by smugglers who pushed them from a separate boat off the coast of Shabwa province in southern Yemen. “We’re wondering if this is a new trend,” Olivia Headon, an IOM spokesperson, told The Independent. “The smugglers are well aware of what’s happening in Yemen, so it may just be they’re trying to protect their own neck while putting other people’s lives at risk.” Six bodies were found on the beach, while 13 remain missing, presumed dead, Ms Headon said.

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Jul 122017
 
 July 12, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Paul Cézanne The Card Players 1895

 

The Media’s Mass Hysteria Over ‘Collusion’ Is Out Of Control (WaPo)
Donald Trump’s Very Own Big, Fat, Ugly Bubble (Stockman)
Canada’s Housing Boom Expected to Spark Rate Rise (WSJ)
The Return Of The “Minsky Moment” (Rosso)
Martin Luther King’s Economic Dream Changed The Federal Reserve Forever (BI)
Russia Will Retaliate If US Does Not Release Property – Lavrov (R.)
Qatar’s First Shipment of Air-Lifted Cows Lands in Doha (BBG)
Greece’s Market Return May Be Imminent (R.)
NGOs Fearful Of Handing Island Refugee Camps To Greek State (K.)
EU Migrant Rescue Mission ‘Led To Increase In Deaths’ (Ind.)

 

 

The echo chamber smells trouble and starts eating its own tail. The WaPo turns on its co-conspirators.

The Media’s Mass Hysteria Over ‘Collusion’ Is Out Of Control (WaPo)

Hysteria among the media and Trump opponents over the prospect of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin may have hit its crescendo this week. That’s right: The wailing from the media and their allies about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with some “Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer” (whatever that means) may be the last gasp of this faux scandal. Good riddance. Predictably, the New York Times started the ball rolling with front-page coverage, going so far as to argue, “The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.” As if this were some breakthrough moment. The Times followed up with a headline yesterday that the meeting request and subject matter discussed in the prior story were transmitted to Trump Jr. via an email.

Holy cow. The Times is so desperate to move the story that the meeting’s arrangement over email is being made into Page 1 news. You would have thought it had come through a dead drop under a bridge somewhere. And, of course, CNN has been apoplectic in its breathless coverage, running one story after another about this “development” on the air and online. But Politico takes the prize for the most over-the-top, made-up news, claiming that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting could amount to a crime. As I have written before, there are always people hovering around campaigns trying to peddle information and traffic in supposed silver bullets. There should be nothing to report on when a private citizen who works at a campaign takes a meeting with a friend of a friend offering information about an opponent. And yet, the media wants to make it a smoking gun.

[..] Regarding the delusion that a crime actually occurred in any of this, my favorite allegation is that by having this meeting and listening to what was said, Donald Trump Jr. somehow could have violated the law. According to Politico, Trump Jr.’s “statements put him potentially in legal cross hairs for violating federal criminal statutes prohibiting solicitation or acceptance of anything of value from a foreign national, as well as a conspiracy to defraud the United States.” I’m just barely a lawyer, but I know over-lawyering when I see it. I mean, by that standard, what if someone walked into a campaign and suggested an idea that led to that candidate’s victory? Would it have been a crime to accept “a thing of value” in the form of an idea? Of course not. This whole thing is getting weird.

For many in the media and elsewhere, the collective grievances that they have against Trump personally, the White House as a whole and Trump’s policies somehow justify their zealous promotion of the “collusion scandal.” But not because the story is valid. Rather, the media know that they are not getting to Trump with anything else. Today, much of the “news coverage” of Trump and Co. is about payback. The media thinks they aren’t getting the truth and so they don’t have to deliver it either. It is a bad cycle that is not working for the White House or the media. With this much intensity, it is hard to see how this ends well..

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Rumor has it Gary Cohn will take over from Yellen.

Donald Trump’s Very Own Big, Fat, Ugly Bubble (Stockman)

The overwhelming source of what ails America economically is found in the Eccles Building. During the past three decades the Federal Reserve has fostered destructive financial mutations on Wall Street and Main Street. Bubble Finance policies have fueled an egregious financial engineering by the C-suites of corporate America. This bubble has skyrocketed to the tune of $15 trillion of stock buybacks, debt-fueled mergers deals and buyouts of the last decade. The Fed fostered a borrowing binge in the household sector after the 1980s. It eventually resulted in Peak Debt and $15 trillion in debilitating debts on the homes, cars, incomes and futures of what used to be middle class America. It also led politicians down the path of free lunch fiscal policy.

By monetizing $4.2 trillion of Treasury and GSE debt during the last three decades, the Fed numbed the US economy from effects of crowding out and rising interest rates that would have come from soaring government deficits. This left the public sector impaled on Peak Debt. Ever since Alan Greenspan launched Bubble Finance in the fall of 1987, public debt outstanding has increased by nearly 9 times. Measured against national output, the Federal debt ratio has risen from 47% to 106% of GDP. These actions have stripped-mined balance sheets and cash flow from main street businesses. The Fed has stifled economic growth while delivering multi-trillion windfalls into the hands of a few thousand speculators on Wall Street.

These rippling waves of financial mutation are why the US economy is visibly failing and why vast numbers of citizens in Flyover America voted for Donald Trump for president. Ironically, even as he stumbled to his victory on November 8, Trump barely recognized that the force behind all the economic failure that he railed against was the nation’s rogue central bank. Only when it occurred to him that Janet Yellen was doing everything possible to insure Clinton’s victory did he let loose an attack on the Fed. In his famous warning, he leveled that America was threatened by a big, fat, ugly bubble. [..] When Wall Street launched a phony Trump Reflation trade during the wee hours of election night, the Donald forgot all about the great bubble. In fact, he quickly embraced it as a sign that investors were enthusiastically embracing Trump-O-Nomics.

No new arrival in the Oval Office was ever more mistaken.

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Create the bubble with ZIRP, milk it for all you can, then walk out and leave millions with grossly overvalued assets as the economy sinks.

Canada’s Housing Boom Expected to Spark Rate Rise (WSJ)

The Bank of Canada is widely expected on Wednesday to raise its benchmark policy rate for the first time in seven years, signaling the Canadian economy is on the path to recovery after years of tepid growth following the global slump in commodities. Canada’s central bank, led by Gov. Stephen Poloz, is joining peers at the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank as they dial back on the extraordinary run of ultralow interest rates aimed at jump-starting the global economy in the aftermath of the recession of 2008-09. In Canada, which was hit with an income shock after the downturn in prices of oil and other commodities, low rates have resulted in an extended period of loose money that has fueled a housing boom in pockets of the country.

Some analysts say soaring real-estate prices, which have stretched affordability and forced official measures to curb investing, could be a factor driving Wednesday’s expected increase. Canadian housing starts rose 9.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 212,695 units in June, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said on Tuesday. Amid recent growth in gross domestic product and robust job creation, Mr. Poloz has signaled he will remove stimulus this week, monetary-policy analysts said. That is even though inflation—at an annualized 1.3% rate in May—remains well below the central bank’s 2% target, and wage growth remains stubbornly low.

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See, I don’t know who Rosso means when he talks about people having forgotten Minsky. Are those the people whose investments he advises on?

The Return Of The “Minsky Moment” (Rosso)

As he was a proponent of a pliable system of reform which could be altered based on the innovative risk humans create, Minsky would have been disappointed to know that the interconnected global shadow banking web continues to expand, Federal Reserve policies have created a great misallocation of financial resources, price discovery of risk assets is basically non-existent and the segment of the population or Main Street that was a concern for him, suffers great wealth inequality and wage disparity. Several catalysts exist today that may remind investors of Minsky. Readers should remain vigilant and keep the following concerns in mind as they invest and manage their personal wealth. The Federal Reserve has appeared to gravitate from data dependent to data ignorant.

Economic data remains sub-par. Inflation has fallen below the Fed’s target of two percent, yet they appear in their statements, determined to continue hiking short-term rates. In theory, a rate-tightening cycle is designed to take the edge off, tap the brake on accelerating economic growth. So, with GDP running below the long-term average of three percent and the personal consumption expenditures or PCE Index, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation slipping to 1.4% year-over-year in May, the lowest in six months, a question begs asking. Yellen, what are you putting a brake on? Based on the analysis below, the Fed has no reason to continue rate hikes this year. However, they seem hell-bent to ignore the data. Why?

The Fed may be on an unofficial mission to curb stock market speculation. Several Fed officials including Vice-Chairman Stanley Fischer and San Francisco Fed President John Williams have voiced their concerns over lofty stock market valuations. Regardless, of the Fed’s agenda to forge ahead with rate hikes, it’s crucial to remember that low interest rates have been the primary accelerant for stock market appreciation, not earnings growth; rising rates along the yield curve eventually puts a damper on the economy and sets up a prime catalyst for market correction. If the Fed moves too quickly or inflation heats up to warrant swifter action, then a Minsky Moment may be closer than pundits believe.

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Undoubtedly well meant, but it turned the Fed into a political instrument. Not a good thing.

Martin Luther King’s Economic Dream Changed The Federal Reserve Forever (BI)

Most Americans have watched or heard Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963. Few know his rousing call for racial equality was the culmination of an event called the March for Jobs and Freedom. This is crucial because it reveals the central, and largely unrecognized, role of the American civil rights movement of the 1960s on the US approach to economic policy. That included a more prominent role for government in economic stimulus policies and, importantly, a broader, jobs-focused mandate for the Federal Reserve. That role is the focus of a new report by a group of Fed policy activists known as Fed Up, a coalition of community and pro-poor groups that have been pushing the Fed to adopt a more consciously pro-full employment stance.

“From the 1930’s and through the rise of the civil rights movement, racial justice activists including Coretta Scott King, called for a coordinated federal effort to attain full employment,” says the report, published in conjunction with the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, referring to Martin Luther King’s wife, who continued his fight after his assassination in 1968. “They envisioned an economy where every person who seeks employment can secure a job. King joined Congressional leaders Augustus Hawkins and Hubert Humphrey in eventually passing the landmark 1978 Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act (Humphrey-Hawkins) which legally required the Fed to pursue maximum employment.” Before the act, the mandate had been limited to low, stable inflation. To this day, Fed Chair Yellen’s semi-annual address to Congress on monetary policy, which is taking place on Wednesday, is known as the Humphrey-Hawkins testimony.

Fed Up and CEPR argue that the employment mandate, while not fully realized, has already generated millions of additional jobs over time, particularly in poor communities, which are most affected by steep levels of persistent unemployment. “There can be no question that the Fed would never have allowed the late 1990s boom and the consequential sharp reduction in the unemployment rate if it did not have a full employment mandate,” the study argues after reviewing data from that period and the rationale used by then-chairman Alan Greenspan for keeping interest rates low despite falling unemployment. The debate remains highly relevant today given that some Fed officials, despite their duty to maintain maximum employment, have recently expressed curious worries about the unemployment rate falling too quickly.

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Expectation is Russia will expel 30 US diplomats.

Russia Will Retaliate If US Does Not Release Property – Lavrov (R.)

Russia will retaliate in a reciprocal manner if the United States does not heed its demands for a return of diplomatic assets, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday. “We hope that the United States, as a country which promotes the rule of law, will respect its international obligations,” Lavrov told reporters after a meeting in Brussels with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. “If this does not happen, if we see that this step is not seen as essential in Washington, then of course we will take retaliatory measures. This is the law of diplomacy, the law of international affairs, that reciprocity is the basis of all relations.” He declined to answer when asked if that meant that Russia would expel U.S. diplomats and seize diplomatic property.

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Qatar flying in cows from Australia and fruit from Peru says a lot about what’s wrong with the world.

Qatar’s First Shipment of Air-Lifted Cows Lands in Doha (BBG)

The first batch of an anticipated 4,000 dairy cows was flown into Qatar Tuesday, five weeks after the start of a Saudi Arabia-led boycott of the Gulf country. A shipment of 165 cows, sourced from Germany and flying via Budapest, are ready to produce milk immediately and the product should reach local markets this week, according to a spokesman for Power International Holding, which is importing the animals. Other shipments will include cows from Australia and the U.S., and should arrive every three days, the company spokesman said Tuesday. In total, the bovine airlift is expected to bring in the 4,000 cows within about a month. Led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar has been accused of supporting Islamic militants, charges the sheikdom has repeatedly denied.

The boycott that started on June 5 has disrupted trade, split families and threatened to alter long-standing geopolitical alliances. The showdown has forced the world’s richest country per capita to open new trade routes to bring in food, building materials and equipment for its natural gas industry. As part of its response, Qatar has imported Turkish dairy goods along with Peruvian and Moroccan fruit. Until last month, most of the fresh milk and dairy products for Qatar’s population of 2.7 million was imported from Saudi Arabia. When all the cows purchased by Power International Chairman Moutaz Al Khayyat are flown in, his brand of milk will supply about 30 percent of the country’s needs

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What’s Schäuble up to now?

Greece’s Market Return May Be Imminent (R.)

Greece could return to financial markets in the next few weeks, investors and bankers close to the discussions told Reuters, raising private cash that would mark an important step towards ending its dependence on official funding next year. Athens’ largest creditor, the European Stability Mechanism, said on Monday that Greece should develop a strategy to end a three-year exile from markets before its current bailout program expires in mid-2018. Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos met with investors in London last month and one of those funds, BlueBay Asset Management, said the volume of calls they are receiving from bankers about a potential deal suggest it’s very close. “Over the last few months we would get one call on this every couple of weeks (from bankers), but over the last 10 days it seems to be every day I’m getting a call asking about this particular topic,” BlueBay’s Mark Dowding told Reuters.

“One senses we are getting to a point where this feels more imminent. We could well expect to see a deal in the next couple of weeks before investors depart for their summer holidays.” Dowding said BlueBay holds Greek bonds and would buy a new bond issue if the price was attractive. Tsakalotos also met investors including the world’s biggest bond fund PIMCO and US-based asset manager Standish, sources close to those meetings told Reuters. [..] A senior Greek government official told Reuters last week that no decision had yet been made on the timing of a deal. A banker advising Greece on its market return told Reuters on condition of anonymity: “They (Greece) are monitoring the market and they are trying to do something right now, so I wouldn’t rule out a deal within the next week or two.”

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FIghts in the Lesbos Moria camp yesterday.

NGOs Fearful Of Handing Island Refugee Camps To Greek State (K.)

Seven top NGOs aiding refugees in Greece have issued a joint statement expressing their concerns over the handover of responsibilities at migrant camps on the Greek islands to the government as of August 1. The NGOs say the Greek government has released few details about how it plans to continue providing existing assistance to residents at the camps. A deterioration of living conditions and diminished access to essential services are the main concerns cited if the Greek government does not communicate a plan to the NGOs before the handover. Since the start of the year, more than 9,500 refugees and migrants have arrived on the Greek islands, where nearly 14,000 are currently stranded. “Without a transitional plan, vulnerable men, women and children will be put at greater risk,” the statement said.

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The EU: where people go to drown.

EU Migrant Rescue Mission ‘Led To Increase In Deaths’ (Ind.)

A major naval mission spearheaded by the EU has failed to tackle people smuggling in the Mediterranean and may even be leading to higher death tolls, a new report has found. Operation Sophia, launched in 2015, has had little effect in deterring migration and its mandate should not be renewed, according to findings by the House of Lords EU External Affairs Sub-Committee. But the report concludes that the operation’s search and rescue work which has saved the lives of many people should continue. The initiative, involving 25 EU member states including the UK, was set up in the wake of disasters in which hundreds of migrants drowned attempting to reach Europe.

Yet detection of irregular migrants on the central Mediterranean route was at its highest level in 2016, when 181,436 people arrived in Europe by this route — an increase of 18 per cent on 2015, when the figure was 153,842. A naval mission is the “wrong tool” to tackle irregular migration, which begins onshore, the assessment found. It claimed an unintended consequence of Operation Sophia’s destruction of vessels had been that the smugglers have managed to adapt, sending migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels. This led to a tragic increase in deaths, with 2,150 in 2017 to date, the report added. But it also noted that Operation Sophia vessels have rescued more than 33,000 people since the start of the mission.

The report comes just days after Amnesty International said “reckless” EU operations were destroying smugglers’ safest boats in the Mediterranean and causing more refugee deaths. It claimed the EU had “turned its back” on the search and rescue strategy. A report by the human rights group argued that the search-and-rescue measures implemented in 2015 dramatically decreased the numbers of deaths at sea, but that EU governments had now shifted their focus to disrupting smugglers and preventing boats departing from Libya. It said the EU strategy was “exposing refugees and migrants to even greater risks at sea”, destroying so many of the wooden boats used by smugglers that huge numbers of people had now started making the crossing on less safe rubber dinghies.

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May 112017
 
 May 11, 2017  Posted by at 8:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Paul Almasy Les Halles, Paris 1950

 

Trump and Lavrov Meeting Round-Up (TASS)
$9 Trillion Question: What Happens When Central Banks Stop Buying Bonds? (WSJ)
Draghi Stays Calm on Stimulus as Dutch MPs Warn of Risks With Tulip (BBG)
It’s Not Just The VIX – Low Volatility Is Everywhere (R.)
Six Canadian Banks Cut by Moody’s on Consumers’ Debt Burden (BBG)
China Holds Giant Meeting On Spending Billions To Reshape The World (CNBC)
‘Stagnant’ Buyer Demand Puts The Brakes On UK Housing Market (G.)
UK Labour Party’s Plan To Nationalise Rail, Mail And Energy Firms (G.)
Panic! Like It’s 1837 (DB)
Italy Financial Regulator Threatens EU with Return to “National Currency” (DQ)
Greek Capital Controls To Stay Till At Least End Of 2018 (K.)
Greek PM Tsipras Heralds ‘Landmark’ Plan For Healthcare (K.)
Turkish Coast Guard Publishes Maps Claiming Half Of The Aegean Sea (KTG)
Libya Intercepts Almost 500 Migrants After Sea Duel (AFP)
Where Have All The Insects Gone? (Sciencemag )

 

 

The presence of a TASS reporter when Lavrov visited the White House was critized in the US media. Here’s what he wrote.

Trump and Lavrov Meeting Round-Up (TASS)

Before meeting with Donald Trump, Sergey Lavrov held talks with the US top diplomat Rex Tillerson. Lavrov’s talks with the US president lasted for about 40 minutes behind closed doors. Moscow and Washington can and should solve global issues together, Lavrov said following his meetings with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US President Donald Trump. “I had a bilateral meeting with Rex Tillerson, then the two of us were received by President Trump,” the Russian top diplomat said. “We discussed, first and foremost, our cooperation on the international stage.” “At present, our dialogue is not as politicized as it used to be during Obama’s presidency. The Trump administration, including the president himself and the secretary of state, are people of action who are willing to negotiate,” the Russian top diplomat pointed out.

Lavrov said agreement reached with Tillerson to continue using diplomatic channel to discuss Russian-US relations. According to Lavrov, the current state of bilateral relations is no cause for joy. “The reason why our relations deteriorated to this state is no secret,” the Russian top diplomat added. “Unfortunately, the previous (US) administration did everything possible to undermine the basis of our relations so now we have to start from a very low level.” “President Trump has clarified his interest in building mutually beneficial and practical relations, as well as in solving issues,” Lavrov pointed out. “This is very important,” he said. Lavrov believes Syria has areas where US might contribute to operation of de-escalation zones. “We are ready for this cooperation and today have discussed in detail the steps and mechanisms which we can manage together,” Lavrov said.

“We have confirmed our interest in the US’ most active role in those issues,” Lavrov said. “I imagine the Americans are interested in this too.” “We proceed from the fact they will take up the initiative,” he added. “We have thoroughly discussed the Syrian issue, particularly the ideas related to setting up de-escalation zones,” the Russian top diplomat said. “We share an understanding that this should become a common step aimed at putting an end to violence across Syria,” he added.

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One word: mayhem.

$9 Trillion Question: What Happens When Central Banks Stop Buying Bonds? (WSJ)

Central banks have been the world’s biggest buyers of government bonds, but may soon stop—a tidal shift for global markets. Yet investors can’t agree on what that shift will mean. Part of the problem is that there is little agreement about how the massive stimulus policies, known as quantitative easing or QE, affected bonds in the first place. That makes it especially hard to assess what happens when the tide changes. Many expect bond yields could rise and shares fall, some see little effect at all, while others suggest it is riskier investments, such as corporate bonds or Italian government debt, that will bear the brunt. But recently, yields on European high-yield corporate bonds hit their lowest since before the financial crisis, in one potential sign that the threat of tapering has yet to affect markets.

When the unwinding begins money managers may not be positioned for it, and markets could move swiftly. In the summer of 2013, investors suddenly got spooked about the Federal Reserve withdrawing stimulus, leading to a swift bond sell off that sent yields on the 10-year Treasury up by more than 1%age point. By buying bonds after the 2008 financial crisis, central banks across the developed world sought to push yields lower and drive money into riskier assets, reducing borrowing costs for businesses. “If it’s unclear what benefits we’ve had in the buying, it’s unclear what will happen in the selling,” said Tim Courtney, chief investment officer at Exencial Wealth Advisors.

Recent data showed that the ECBholds total assets of $4.5 trillion, more than any other central bank ever. The Fed and the Bank of Japan each have $4.4 trillion, although the BOJ isn’t expected to wind down QE soon. With the world economy finally recovering, investors believe that holdings at the Fed and ECB have peaked. U.S. officials are discussing how to wind down their portfolio, which they have kept constant since 2014. The ECB’s purchases of government and corporate debt are now more likely to be tapered later in the year, analysts say, after pro-business candidate Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election Sunday.

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Dutch politicians either don’t care about their European Union peer Greece, or they don’t know about it. Neither is a good option. They are doing so well over the backs of the Greeks they want Draghi to enact policies that will make them even richer, and the Greeks even more miserable. Oh, and of course “The euro is irrevocable” only until it isn’t.

Draghi Stays Calm on Stimulus as Dutch MPs Warn of Risks With Tulip (BBG)

Mario Draghi kept his cool in the Netherlands – at least on monetary policy. Repeatedly pressed by Dutch lawmakers to say when he’ll start winding down euro-area monetary stimulus, the Ecb president replied that it’s still too soon to consider, despite a “firming, broad-based upswing” in the economy. “Is it time to exit? Or is it time to start thinking about exit or not? The assessment of the Governing council is that this time hasn’t come yet.” His reward was a gift of a plastic tulip in a reminder of a past European financial crisis. Draghi’s voluntary appearance at the hearing on Wednesday put him front and center in one of the nations most critical of the ECB’s ultra-loose policies, which are seen by opponents as overstepping the institution’s mandate, burdening savers and pension providers, and stoking asset bubbles.

Legislators did appear occasionally to get under his skin. The tension rose when he was quizzed multiple times him on the possibility that a government will one day have to restructure its debt, while on the topic of a nation leaving the currency bloc – as Greece came close to doing in 2015 – Draghi’s response was blunt. “The euro is irrevocable. This is the Treaty. I will not speculate on something that has no basis.” The intense questioning underscored the gap between relatively rosy economic data and the discontent among individuals who can’t see the fruits of the ECB’s €2.3 trillion bond-buying program and minus 0.4% deposit rate. It’s a challenge for Draghi, who reiterated his concern that underlying inflation remains feeble and falling unemployment has yet to boost wage growth. The region is far from healing the scars of a double-dip recession that wiped out 9 million jobs and helped the rise of anti-euro populists such as Marine Le Pen, who lost this month’s French presidential election but still managed to pick up more than a third of the vote.

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The silence before.

It’s Not Just The VIX – Low Volatility Is Everywhere (R.)

The current slump in expectations of market volatility is not just a stock market phenomenon – it is the lowest it’s been for years across fixed income, currency and commodity markets around the world. It shows little sign of reversing, which means market players are essentially not expecting much in the way of shocks or sharp movements any time soon. It’s an environment in which asset prices can continue rising and bond spreads narrow further. The improving global economy, robust corporate profitability, ample central bank stimulus even as U.S. interest rates are rising, and some fading political risk from elections have all contributed to create a backdrop of relative calm.

There is little evidence of investors hedging – or seeking to protect themselves – from adverse conditions. It is most notably seen in the VIX index of implied volatility on the U.S. S&P 500 stock index, the so-called “fear index”. But implied volatility across the G10 major currencies is its lowest in three years, and U.S. Treasury market volatility its lowest in 18 months and close to record lows. The VIX, meanwhile, has dipped to lows not seen since December 2006, is posting its lowest closing levels since 1993, and is on a record run of closes below 11. By comparison, it was at almost 90 at the height of the financial crisis. Not much current “fear”, then.

Implied volatility is an options market measure of investors’ expectation of how much a certain asset or market will rise or fall over a given period of time in the future. It and actual volatility can quickly become entwined in a spiral lower because investors are less inclined to pay up for “put” options – effectively a bet on prices falling – when the market is rising. If a shock does come the cost of these “puts” would shoot higher as investors scramble to buy them. Surging volatility is invariably associated with steep market drawdowns. According to Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Slok, an investor betting a year ago that the VIX would fall – shorting the index – would have gained around 160% today. Conversely, an investor buying the VIX a year ago assuming it would rise would have lost 75%.

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What’s that rumbling sound in the distance?

Six Canadian Banks Cut by Moody’s on Consumers’ Debt Burden (BBG)

Six of Canada’s largest banks had credit ratings downgraded by Moody’s Investors Service on concern that over-indebted consumers and high housing prices have left lenders vulnerable to potential losses on assets. Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, National Bank of Canada and Royal Bank of Canada had their long-term debt and deposit ratings lowered one level, Moody’s said Wednesday in a statement. It also cut its counterparty risk assessment for the firms, excluding Toronto-Dominion. “Expanding levels of private-sector debt could weaken asset quality in the future,” David Beattie, a Moody’s senior vice president, said in the statement.

“Continued growth in Canadian consumer debt and elevated housing prices leaves consumers, and Canadian banks, more vulnerable to downside risks facing the Canadian economy than in the past.” A run on deposits at alternative mortgage lender Home Capital has sparked concern over a broader slowdown in the nation’s real estate market, at a time when Canadians are taking on higher levels of household debt. The firm’s struggles have taken a toll on Canada’s biggest financial institutions, which have seen stocks slide on concern about contagion. In its statement, Moody’s pointed to ballooning private-sector debt that amounted to 185% of Canada’s GDP at the end of last year. House prices have climbed despite efforts by policy makers, it said. And business credit has grown as well.

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Straight from the Monopoly printing press.

China Holds Giant Meeting On Spending Billions To Reshape The World (CNBC)

[..] the most populous nation on the planet wants to increase its influence by digging further into its pockets — flush with cash after decades of rapid growth — to splash out with its “One Belt, One Road” policy. President Xi Jinping first announced the policy in 2013; it was later named one of China’s three major national strategies, and morphed into an entire chapter in the current five-year plan, to run through 2020. [..] The plan aims to connect Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa with a vast logistics and transport network, using roads, ports, railway tracks, pipelines, airports, transnational electric grids and even fiber optic lines. The scheme involves 65 countries, which together account for one-third of global GDP and 60% of the world’s population, or 4.5 billion people, according to Oxford Economics.

This is part of China’s push to increase global clout — building modern infrastructure can attract more investment and trade along the “One Belt, One Road” route. It could be beneficial for western China, which is less developed, as it links up with neighboring countries. And in the long run, it will help China shore up access to energy resources. The policy could boost the domestic economy with demand abroad, and might also soak up some of the overcapacity in China’s heavy industry, but analysts say these are fringe benefits. Experts say China has an opportunity to step into a global leadership role, one that the U.S. previously filled and may now be abandoning, especially after President Donald Trump pulled out of a major trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It’s clear China wants to wield greater influence — Xi’s speech in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos touted the benefits of globalization, and called for international cooperation. And an article by Premier Li Keqiang published shortly after also called for economic openness. But despite all the talk of global connectivity, skeptics highlight that China still restricts foreign investment, censorship continues to be an issue and concerns remain over human rights. [..] In 2015, the China Development Bank said it had reserved $890 billion for more than 900 projects. The Export-Import Bank of China announced early last year that it had started financing over 1,000 projects. The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is also providing financing.

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The British should be happy for housing prices returning to more normal levels.

‘Stagnant’ Buyer Demand Puts The Brakes On UK Housing Market (G.)

The UK housing market is continuing to slow down, with falling property sales, “stagnant” buyer demand and general election uncertainty all adding up to one of the most downbeat reports issued by surveyors since the financial crash. In its latest monthly snapshot of the market, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said momentum was “continuing to ebb,” with no sign of change in the near future. Its report is the latest in a series of recent surveys suggesting that the slowdown is getting worse as household budgets continue to be squeezed and affordability pressures bite. It comes days after the Halifax said house prices fell by 0.1% in April, which meant they were nearly £3,000 below their December 2016 peak. Nationwide reported a bigger decline in April – it said prices fell by 0.4%, following a 0.3% drop in March.

Some parts of London appear to have been hit particularly hard, with estate agents and developers resorting to offering free cars and other incentives to try to tempt buyers. Rics said its members had reported that sales were slipping slightly following months of flat transactions. A lack of choice for would-be buyers across the UK appears to be one of the major factors putting a dampener on sales: the latest report said there was “an acute shortage of stock,” with the typical number of properties on estate agents’ books hovering close to record lows. New instructions continue to drop, which could make the situation worse: the flow of fresh listings to agents remained negative for the 14th month in a row at a national level, said Rics, though it added that the situation had apparently improved slightly in London.

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How dead is the left? Nice contest.

UK Labour Party’s Plan To Nationalise Rail, Mail And Energy Firms (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will lay out plans to take parts of Britain’s energy industry back into public ownership alongside the railways and the Royal Mail in a radical manifesto that promises an annual injection of £6bn for the NHS and £1.6bn for social care. A draft version of the document, drawn up by the leadership team and seen by the Guardian, pledges the phased abolition of tuition fees, a dramatic boost in finance for childcare, a review of sweeping cuts to universal credit and a promise to scrap the bedroom tax. Party sources said Corbyn wants to promise a “transformational programme” with a package covering the NHS, education, housing and jobs as well as industrial intervention and sweeping nationalisation. But critics said the policies represented a shift back to the 1970s with the Conservatives describing it as a “total shambles” and a plan to “unleash chaos on Britain”.

Corbyn’s leaked blueprint, which is likely to trigger a fierce debate of Labour’s national executive committee and shadow cabinet at the so-called Clause V meeting at noon on Thursday, also includes:
• Ordering councils to build 100,000 new council homes a year under a new Department for Housing.
• An immediate “emergency price cap” on energy bills to ensure that the average duel fuel household energy bill remains below £1,000 a year.
• Stopping planned increases to the pension age beyond 66.
• “Fair rules and reasonable management” on immigration with 1,000 extra border guards, alongside a promise not to “fan the flames of fear” but to recognise the benefits that migrants bring.

On the question of foreign policy, an area on which Corbyn has campaigned for decades, the draft document said it will be “guided by the values of peace, universal rights and international law”. However, Labour, which is facing Tory pressure over the question of national security, does include a commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. The draft manifesto, which will only be finalised after it is agreed on Thursday, also makes clear that the party supports the renewal of Trident, despite Corbyn’s longstanding opposition to nuclear weapons.

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Cycles.

Panic! Like It’s 1837 (DB)

180 years ago today, everyone panicked. On May 10, 1837, New York banks finally realized that the easy money they were lending was unsustainable, and demanded payment in “specie,” or hard money like gold and silver coin. They had previously been accepting paper currency that for every $5 was backed by only $1 in silver or gold. Things culminated to that point after years of borrowing the paper currency to expand west, buy land, and build infrastructure. As silver came in from Mexico, banks lent out five times the amount of their deposits–fractional reserve banking. At the same time, the value of silver was falling because its supply was increasing in America. Great Britain, which had been lending much of the money, was less interested in silver because they could pay for trade with China in opium.

So even though Britain had a year earlier begun demanding payment in specie, the abundant silver in America did not hold the same weight, so to speak, it had previously. Now, reflect on this for a second. The USA was depending on loans from a country that they had successfully revolted and seceded from fewer than 50 years earlier. Britain had also provoked The War of 1812 just 25 years earlier when they wouldn’t stop attacking American ships. But somehow it still seemed like a good idea to depend on British banks to form the foundation of American development. So at the same time when American banks had to backstep their risky practices, Britain also just so happened to need 25% less cotton, which was the foundation of the American economy. This only exacerbated the trade deficit.

But still, despite whether or not Britain’s actions were nefarious, the whole situation would have been remarkably cushioned if fractional reserve banking had not been used. Because of this “easy money,” land was bought at enormous rates on credit, but credit that was not backed by actual value–only 1/5 of the actual value existed of what was being lent! President Andrew Jackson was not entirely without blame either. When he deconstructed the federal bank, he deposited the money into state banks, and encouraged them to go ahead and lend, lend, lend! Of course, when the time came for the banks to return the deposits, the money was gone. So when this massive real estate bubble burst in 1837, it caused a panic and ensuing recession that lasted until 1844. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

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The moment the ECB is allowed to buy Greek bonds again is also the moment it decides to quit its bond-buying program.

Italy Financial Regulator Threatens EU with Return to “National Currency” (DQ)

Despite trillions of euros worth of QE, Italy has continued to suffer a 30% loss in competitiveness compared to Germany during the last two decades. And now Italy must begin to prepare itself for the biggest nightmare of all: the gradual tightening of the ECB’s monetary policy. “Inflation is gradually returning to the area of the 2% target, while in the United States a monetary tightening is taking place,” Vegas said. The German government is exerting mounting pressure on the ECB to begin tapering QE before elections in September. So, too, is the Netherlands whose parliament today treated ECB President Mario Draghi to a rare grilling. The MPs ended the session by presenting Draghi with a departing gift of a solar-powered tulip, to remind him of the country’s infamous mid-17th century asset price bubble and financial crisis.

For the moment Draghi and his ECB cohorts refuse to yield, but with the ECB’s balance sheet just hitting 38.7% of Eurozone GDP, 15 %age points higher than the Fed’s, they may ultimately have little choice in the matter. As Vegas points out, for Italy (and countries like it), that will mean having to face a whole new situation, “in which it will no longer be possible to count on the external support of monetary leverage.” This is likely to be a major problem for a country that has grown so dependent on that external support. According to the Bank for International Settlements, in 2016, international banks in particular those in Germany reduced their exposure to Italy by 15%, or over $100 billion, half of it in the last quarter of the year. ECB intervention helped plug the shortfall, at least for a while.

But the ECB has already reduced its monthly purchases of European sovereign debt instruments, from €80 billion to just over €60 billion. As the appetite for Italian government debt falls, the yields on Italian bonds will rise. The only market participants seemingly still willing and able (for now) to increase their purchase of Italian debt are Italian banks. In his address, Vegas proposed introducing a safeguard threshold of €100,000 for the banks’ bondholders, many of whom are ordinary Italian citizens, with combined holdings worth some €200 billion, who were told by the banks that their bonds were a secure investment. Not any more. “The management of crises may require timely intervention that is not compatible with the mechanisms in Frankfurt and Brussels,” Vegas added.

To get his point across, he issued a barely veiled threat in Frankfurt and Brussels’ direction — that of Italy’s exit from the Eurozone, a prospect that should not be altogether discounted given the recent growth of anti-euro sentiment and rising political instability in Italy. So he threatened: “Merely the announcement of a return to a national currency would provoke an immediate outflow of capital that would seriously jeopardize Italy’s ability to refinance the world’s third biggest public debt.”

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In other words: any positive numbers you may read about Greek GDP are false.

Greek Capital Controls To Stay Till At Least End Of 2018 (K.)

Greece will spend at least three-and-a-half years under the restrictions of capital controls as their abolition is not expected to come any earlier than the end of 2018, according to a competent credit sector source. The next step in terms of their easing will come after the completion of the bailout review and the disbursement of the funding tranche, provided banks see some recovery in deposits. Sources say that the planning provides primarily for helping enterprises by increasing the limit on international transactions concerning product imports or the acquisition of raw materials. Almost two years after the capital controls were imposed, by next Tuesday, according to the agreement with the creditors, the Bank of Greece and the Finance Ministry have to present a road map for the easing of restrictions.

The road map is already being prepared and according to sources it will not contain any dates for the easing of controls but rather will record the conditions necessary for each step to come. Kathimerini understands that the conditions will be the following: the return of deposits, the reduction of nonperforming loans, the state’s access to money markets, the country’s inclusion in the ECB’s QE program, and the settlement of the national debt. “Ideally, by end-2018 we will be able to speak of an end to the controls. In any case, the restrictions on deposits will be the last to be lifted,” notes a senior banking source, referring to the cash withdrawal limit that currently stands at €840 per 14 days. The Hellenic Bank Association’s Executive Committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss proposals for the gradual easing of restrictions.

The bankers’ proposals will constitute an updated version of those tabled in November 2016; they will likely include the introduction of a monthly limit of 2,000 euros for cash withdrawals and an increase in the withdrawal limit for funds originating from abroad from 30% to 60%. The drop in deposits over the first quarter of the year will make it harder for such proposals to be implemented for the time being.

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Saving the healthcare system from Troika-induced collapse is a good idea. Not sure this is the way.

Greek PM Tsipras Heralds ‘Landmark’ Plan For Healthcare (K.)

Speaking of an “institutional intervention of landmark significance,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras heralded on Wednesday the creation of a new primary healthcare system to be based on local health centers staffed with general practitioners. The aim is to set up 239 such centers by the end of the year, employing 3,000 family doctors and nursing staff, Tsipras said in a speech at a health center in Thessaloniki. The first 60 of those centers are to start operating by the summer, the premier said, noting that poorer areas will be prioritized. “If you were to ask me what I want to be left behind after the years of governance by SYRIZA and ANEL,” he said, referring to junior coalition partner Independent Greeks, “I would say a very essential landmark health sector reform with the creation of primary healthcare.”

Tsipras also took the opportunity to lash out at the political opposition, accusing previous governments of having a plan for “the passive privatization of the health sector.” As for the national federation of Greek hospital workers (POEDIN), which has railed against the current government for cutbacks in the health sector, Tsipras hit back, calling it “a trade union that has secured privileges.” The prime minister added that his government remained determined to fight corruption in the health sector, referring to alleged scandals embroiling the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO) and the Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Novartis. “Everything will come to light,” he said.

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Erdogan’s at the White House today, or is that tomorrow?!

Turkish Coast Guard Publishes Maps Claiming Half Of The Aegean Sea (KTG)

The Turkish Coast Guard published alleged official maps and documents claiming half of the Aegean Sea belong to Turkey. In this sense, Ankara claims to won dozens of Greek islands, the entire eastern Aegean from the island of Samothraki in the North to Kastelorizo in the South. The maps and claims have been uploaded on the website of the Turkish Coast Guard in the context of a 60-page report about the activities of the TCG in 2016. On page 7 and 13 of the report, the maps allegedly show Turkey’s Search And Rescue responsibility area. The maps show half of the Aegean Sea and also a very good part of the Black Sea, where Turkey’s SAR area coincides with the Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Turkey did not signed the convention in order to not be obliged to recognize the Greek EEZ.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which took place between 1973 and 1982. The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. The most significant issues covered were setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes. Turkey started to claim areas in the Aegean Sea after 1997 when a Turkish ship sank near the Greek islet of Imia and Ankara sent SAR vessels.

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Sea Watch seems to go a bit far.

Libya Intercepts Almost 500 Migrants After Sea Duel (AFP)

Libya’s coastguard on Wednesday intercepted a wooden boat packed with almost 500 migrants after duelling with a German rescue ship and coming under fire from traffickers, the navy said. The migrants, who were bound for Italy, were picked up off the western city of Sabratha, said navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem. The German non-governmental organisation “Sea-Watch tried to disrupt the coastguard operation… inside Libyan waters and wanted to take the migrants, on the pretext that Libya wasn’t safe,” Qassem told AFP. Sea-Watch posted a video on Twitter of what it said was a Libyan coastguard vessel narrowly cutting across the bow of its ship.

“This EU-funded Libyan patrol vessel almost crashed (into) our civil rescue ship,” read the caption. Qassem also said the coastguard had come under fire from people traffickers, without reporting any casualties. The 493 migrants included 277 from Morocco and many from Bangladesh, said Qassem, and 20 women and a child were aboard the boat. All were taken to a naval base in Tripoli. There were also migrants from Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Chad, Mali and Nigeria, he added. According to international organisations, between 800,000 and one million people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, are currently in Libya hoping to make the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Europe.

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No insects, no bats, no birds, etc etc.

Where Have All The Insects Gone? (Sciencemag )

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. “If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen,” says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. “I’m a very data-driven person,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don’t see that mess anymore.” Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. “I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects.”

Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: “I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean.” Though observations about splattered bugs aren’t scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. “We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species,” which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Of the scant records that do exist, many come from amateur naturalists, whether butterfly collectors or bird watchers.

Now, a new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s. Over that time the group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the yearly insect catches fluctuate, as expected. But in 2013 they spotted something alarming. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. Perhaps it was a particularly bad year, they thought, so they set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group—which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades—found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites.

Such losses reverberate up the food chain. “If you’re an insect-eating bird living in that area, four-fifths of your food is gone in the last quarter-century, which is staggering,” says Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, who is working with the Krefeld group to analyze and publish some of the data. “One almost hopes that it’s not representative—that it’s some strange artifact.”

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