Feb 282019
 


René Magritte The endearing truth 1966

 

Trump Says Deal With Kim Thwarted By North Korea’s Sanction Demands (R.)
Michael Cohen Predicts Revolution If Trump Loses In 2020 (RT)
Michael Cohen’s Explosive Allegations Spell Danger For Trump On Two Fronts (G.)
Why Trump Will Likely Be Reelected, And What It Means For Global Security (F.)
Regime Change is Urgently Needed…in Washington (OffG)
Venezuela Set For More False Flags (Cunningham)
Disintegration Of Global Capitalism Could Unleash WWIII (Nafeez Ahmed)
China Factory Activity At 3-Year Low, Export Orders Worst In A Decade (CNBC)
Denmark Government Wants Stores To Stop Accepting Cash (RT)
Chinese Dam Project In Guinea Could Kill Up To 1,500 Chimpanzees (G.)
Kenya Announces Death Penalty for Poachers (SAI)
The Endless Sunshine of Planetary Death (HmmD)
World’s Deepest Waters Becoming ‘Ultimate Sink’ For Plastic Waste (G.)
How To Live Happily With The 5,000 Other Species In Your House (G.)

 

 

No, not even that headline is true. Trump wants full denuclearization, and Kim wants full lifting of sanctions. That is complex, that takes trust, that will take a lot more talk. And that’s fine, as Trump recognizes. These meetings should become so common they don’t make the news anymore.

Trump Says Deal With Kim Thwarted By North Korea’s Sanction Demands (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had walked away from a nuclear deal at his summit with Kim Jong Un because of unacceptable demands from the North Korean leader to lift punishing U.S.-led sanctions. Trump said two days of talks in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi had made good progress in building relations and on the key issue of denuclearization, but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. “It was all about the sanctions,” Trump said at a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.” The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state undertook a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources hard cash.

Both Trump and Kim left the venue of their talks, the French-colonial-era Metropole hotel, without attending a planned lunch together. “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” Trump said, adding “it was a friendly walk”. Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office. Trump said Cohen “lied a lot” during Congressional testimony in Washington on Wednesday, though he had told the truth when he said there had been “no collusion” with Russia.

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I watched quite a bit of the ‘testimony’ yesterday, increasingly wondering: what are we watching here? Why is this show put on? It was clear from the ‘leaked’ files that Cohen had nothing, as I said yesterday morning. In the Q&A session he had way less than nothing. So yeah, let’s go with the most absurd headline of the bunch.

Michael Cohen Predicts Revolution If Trump Loses In 2020 (RT)

Trump consigliere turned federal informant Michael Cohen shared his fear that there will “never be a peaceful transition of power” if his former boss loses the 2020 election during a congressional hearing some called a ‘circus.’ “You don’t know him! I do!” Cohen insisted plaintively during his testimony before the Oversight Committee of the House of Representatives, before predicting Trump would refuse to step down even if he was defeated in 2020. “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat,” declared Cohen, who pleaded guilty to charges he lied to Congress regarding the special counsel’s ongoing ‘Russiagate’ probe in November, months after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and tax fraud. He has been busily feeding information to the various Trump probes ever since.

Despite promising big things – proof that Trump had instructed him to commit crimes, evidence of Trump’s racism, even the holy grail of Russian collusion – Cohen failed to deliver anything tangible to the salivating Democrats on the committee, admitting he had no “real examples” of collusion and instead filling his time on the stand with public displays of repentance over his ten years of service to Trump. “Everybody’s job at the Trump organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something. And that became the norm, and that’s what’s happening right now in this country,” Cohen intoned. “This destruction of our civility to one another is just out of control.” Republicans, meanwhile, repeatedly reminded the committee that Cohen had already been convicted for perjury. Rep. Carol Miller (R-West Virginia) denounced the entire affair as a “circus.”

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Things don’t magically become ‘explosive’ or ‘bombshell’ just because opinionated reporters say so. And these lines from Cohen don’t exactly save the narrative:

“Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion..”

“There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction..”

Michael Cohen’s Explosive Allegations Spell Danger For Trump On Two Fronts (G.)

Michael Cohen on Wednesday delivered a sharp warning to Donald Trump and the Republican party that the president faces legal and political peril on at least two fronts. First, the Trump-Russia investigation. Cohen became the first Trump associate to allege that, in 2016, Trump knew in advance that his eldest son, Donald Jr, was meeting Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton – and that WikiLeaks would be releasing emails stolen from Democrats by Russian operatives. Moreover, Cohen hinted that Robert Mueller, the special counsel currently wrapping up a two-year inquiry into whether Trump’s team coordinated with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, may have proof.

Cohen was asked by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat forced to resign as party chairwoman over the WikiLeaks disclosures, how they could corroborate his explosive allegations, which are based on remarks he says he overheard in Trump’s office. “I suspect that the special counsel’s office and other government agencies have the information you’re seeking,” Cohen said. Trump denied both allegations in his written answers to questions from Mueller. Cohen also reiterated that Trump lied repeatedly to the American public during the 2016 campaign by saying he had no dealings with Russia. In fact, Cohen has told prosecutors, Trump was keenly pursuing a lucrative tower in Moscow until June 2016.

Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion” with Moscow that the president vehemently denies. Still there was, Cohen said, “something odd” about the affectionate back-and-forth Trump had with Vladimir Putin in public remarks over the years. “There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction,” he said.

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The Democrats may be intent -again- on swamping the field with candidates, only to end up with the establishment candidate. That would mean they haven’t learned a thing in 4 years. Unless Ocasio rises to the occasion (get it? Ocasio->Occasion). But that’s doubtful, 1 year is short. So maybe they should chew on this a little:

Why Trump Will Likely Be Reelected, And What It Means For Global Security (F.)

Donald Trump’s presidency has been so widely derided in the national media that a casual observer might easily conclude his prospects for reelection are dim. However, that is not what the odds makers are saying. They give Trump a solid edge over any Democratic candidate in 2020. The odds makers are right. Trump will probably be reelected if he chooses to run. What follows is an explanation of why the odds favor Trump, and what eight years of his leadership would mean for global security. Let’s start with the factors favoring a second term. First of all, candidates who get elected to the presidency once tend to get reelected if they run. Only two chief executives seeking reelection over the last 50 years—Carter and Bush 41—failed in their bid for a second term.

Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama all won reelection, even though at least two of them were highly controversial. In fact, the most controversial presidents tend to roll up the biggest reelection victories. Second, Trump has presided over the strongest economy in living memory. Unemployment is at record lows, inflation is nearly non-existent, and new jobs are being created at a startling pace. Anyone who studies presidential politics knows that strong economies are the most important factor driving support for the incumbent. While growth may moderate between now and election day, few economists expect a recession anytime soon. Third, the nation is at peace. Trump has avoided involvement in new overseas adventures, and is pressing to scale back what is left of the operations he inherited from his predecessor.

Critics complain he is too eager to get out of places like Afghanistan and Syria, however the record shows that voters have little patience for foreign military intervention. Unpopular wars are the one issue that can eclipse a good economy in the minds of voters, but at the moment Trump seems to be delivering both peace and prosperity. Fourth, Democrats are busy reminding voters in the middle of the political spectrum why they voted for Trump in 2016. Ever since the Democrats drifted away from their blue-collar base in the 1970s, winning the party’s presidential nomination has required appeals to the Left. While many voters may resent the rich and want more government benefits, those sentiments become muted when the economy is strong.

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What if the entire third world unites against the west?

Regime Change is Urgently Needed…in Washington (OffG)

I am surprised that no one else is saying it, writing it, shouting it at each and every corner: It is not Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran that are in dire and crucial need of ‘regime change’. It is the United States of America, it is the entire European Union; in fact, the entire West. And the situation is urgent. The West has gone mad; it has gone so to speak, bananas; mental. And people there are too scared to even say it, to write about it. One country after another is falling, being destroyed, antagonized, humiliated, impoverished. Entire continents are treated as if they were inhabited by irresponsible toddlers, who are being chased and disciplined by sadistic adults, with rulers and belts in their hands yelling with maniacal expressions on their faces: “Behave, do as we say, or else!”

It all would be truly comical, if it weren’t so depressing. But… nobody is laughing. People are shaking, sweating, crying, begging, puking, but they are not chuckling. I see it everywhere where I work: in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. But why? It is because North American and European countries are actually seriously delivering their ultimatum: you either obey us, and prostrate yourself in front of us, or we will break you, violate you, and if everything else fails, we will kill your leaders and all of those who are standing in our way. This is not really funny, is it? Especially considering that it is being done to almost all the countries in what is called Latin America, to many African and Middle Eastern nations, and to various states on the Asian continent.

And it is all done ‘professionally’, with great sadistic craftsmanship and rituals. No one has yet withstood ‘regime change’ tactics, not even the once mighty Soviet Union, nor tremendous China, or proud and determined Afghanistan. Cuba, Venezuela, DPRK and Syria may be the only countries that are still standing. They resisted and mobilized all their resources in order to survive; and they have survived, but at a tremendous price.

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What a failure this has become in a few short weeks.

Venezuela Set For More False Flags (Cunningham)

It seems obvious the whole scenario of delivering US aid into Venezuela from neighboring countries was really intended as a pretext for military intervention by Washington. The government in Caracas had warned of such a contingency in advance, as had Russia, which is allied to President Maduro’s administration. Moscow’s experience in Syria has no doubt given a lot of valuable insights into the American playbook of using false flags for justifying military aggression. The timing of the Lima Group summit – 12 Latin American states along with the US and Canada – was meant to capitalize on the false-flag incident over aid, as well as other deadly clashes at the weekend that resulted in dozens of casualties.

However, the provocation did not go to plan, despite Pence and Guaido’s grandstanding assertions. The other downside for the US regime-change objective in Venezuela is that the Lima Group has for the moment broken ranks over the military option. Pence and Guaido stepped up the rhetoric calling for “all options” on the table – meaning military intervention. But the Lima Group, including US allies Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, issued a statement after the summit Monday rejecting any military action. They are still functioning as lackeys by calling for a “peaceful transition to democracy” and are in favor of the dubious US-anointed opposition figure Guaido, recognizing him as the “interim president” of Venezuela, in accordance with Washington’s desires.

Nevertheless, repudiation of the military option by Washington’s regional allies will be seen as a damper to the momentum for using American force to overthrow the Maduro government. Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourão repeatedly said in interviews that his government would not allow a US military incursion into Venezuela from its territory. The European Union also said it was opposed to any military force being used by the US against Venezuela. The emerging situation therefore puts the regime-change planners in Washington in a quandary. Their sanctions pressure for blackmailing defections in the Venezuelan political and military leadership has failed. So too has the much-vaunted spectacle of delivering US aid.

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So why is capitalism disintegrating? Maybe you should answer that first. Being deeply embedded in academia doesn’t impress me one bit. That same academia has helped lead us to this mess.

Disintegration Of Global Capitalism Could Unleash WWIII (Nafeez Ahmed)

A senior European Commission economist has warned that a Third World War is an extremely “high probability” in coming years due to the disintegration of global capitalism. In a working paper published last month, Professor Gerhard Hanappi argued that since the 2008 financial crash, the global economy has moved away from “integrated” capitalism into a “disintegrating” shift marked by the same sorts of trends which preceded previous world wars. Professor Hanappi is Jean Monnet Chair for Political Economy of European Integration -an European Commission appointment- at the Institute for Mathematical Models in Economics at the Vienna University of Technology. He also sits on the management committee of the Systemic Risks expert group in the EU-funded European Cooperation in Science and Technology research network.

In his new paper, Hanappi concludes that global conditions bear unnerving parallels with trends before the outbreak of the first and second world wars. Key red flags that the world is on a slippery slope to a global war, he finds, include: • the inexorable growth of military spending; • democracies transitioning into increasingly authoritarian police states; • heightening geopolitical tensions between great powers; • the resurgence of populism across the left and right; • the breakdown and weakening of established global institutions that govern transnational capitalism; • and the relentless widening of global inequalities. These trends, some of which were visible before the previous world wars, are reappearing in new forms. Hanappi argues that the defining feature of the current period is a transition from an older form of “integrating capitalism” to a new form of “disintegrating capitalism”, whose features most clearly emerged after the 2008 financial crisis.

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All the way back to 2008. Have we passed China’s peak already?

China Factory Activity At 3-Year Low, Export Orders Worst In A Decade (CNBC)

Factory activity in China contracted to a three-year low in February as export orders fell at the fastest pace since the global financial crisis, highlighting deepening cracks in an economy facing weak demand at home and abroad. The gloomy findings are likely to reinforce views that the world’s second-largest economy is still losing steam, after growth last year cooled to a near 30-year low. Even with increasing government stimulus to spur activity, concerns are growing that China may be at risk of a sharper slowdown if current Sino-U.S. trade talks fail to relieve some of the pressure. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell for the third straight month, dropping to 49.2 in February from 49.5 in January, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Thursday.

The 50-mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast the gauge would stay unchanged from January’s 49.5. “Unless the trade war truly turns into an extended truce, the weakening trend may not end quickly,” Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING, said in a note. “As such we expect March’s PMI to fall, too.” Manufacturing output contracted in February for the first time since January 2009, during the depths of the global crisis. Manufacturers also continued to cut jobs, a trend Beijing is closely watching as its weighs more support measures. New export orders shrank for a ninth straight month, and at a sharper rate, amid faltering global demand.

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Exactly what even the central bank in Holland has started warning against.

Denmark Government Wants Stores To Stop Accepting Cash (RT)

The Danish government is considering changing current laws which make it compulsory for the vast majority of stores to accept cash payments. The measure is part of Copenhagen’s push for a completely cashless society by 2030. The law change would allow petrol stations, convenience stores and clothing shops to choose to only accept card and online forms of payment. The anti-crime measure would provide additional security for stores, according to Denmark’s Business Minister Rasmus Jarlov. “Fewer people use cash today, so we think there should be a balance between the difficulty and security risks placed on business owners and the benefits of accepting cash,” Jarlov told the DR broadcaster.

A 2017 law enabled certain types of stores to apply for a dispensation to be cash-free between 10pm and 6am. The minister said that, “If you still want to use cash, I would advise saying so to the stores where you shop. I expect businesses to listen to their customers.” “We are not forcing anyone to stop using cash,” he added. Certain services, including supermarkets, postal services, doctors, pharmacies and other stores with “central societal functions,” will still be required to accept cash. Denmark’s endeavor to move towards a completely cash-free economy has been the subject of heated debate lately; with opponents saying the measure is aimed at placing citizens exclusively under state control. The government has “set a 2030 deadline to completely do away with paper money.”

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OK, this is easy. We get together, UN or something, to make sure such projects don’t happen anymore. We’ll make sure people get electricity from other sources, but we’re done destroying nature for it.

Chinese Dam Project In Guinea Could Kill Up To 1,500 Chimpanzees (G.)

Up to 1,500 chimpanzees could be killed by a new Chinese dam that will swamp a crucial sanctuary for the endangered primate in Guinea, experts have warned. The 294MW Koukoutamba dam will be built by Sinohydro, the world’s biggest hydroelectric power plant construction company, in the middle of a newly declared protected area called the Moyen-Bafing National park. The Chinese company is already facing similar criticism for building a dam in Indonesia that threatens the only known habitat of a newly discovered species of orangutan. Its executives signed a contract this week with local representatives eager to secure a power project that will bring energy and funds to one of Africa’s poorest countries. The flooding of swathes of the park is expected to force the displacement of 8,700 people.

It will also increase the pressure on western chimpanzees, which have declined by 80% in the past 20 years, and are now considered critically endangered – the highest level of risk – by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The highlands of Guinea are home to Africa’s healthiest remaining population of about 16,500 western chimpanzees. In most other countries, this subspecies is either extinct or perilously threatened in populations of less than 100 individuals. The Moyen-Bafing reserve was established in 2016 as a “chimpanzee offset” and funded by two mining companies – Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée and Guinea Alumina Corporation – in return for permission to open mineral excavation sites inside other territories of the primate.

Rebecca Kormos, a primatologist who has been researching the animal for decades, has warned that a dam inside the park would have the biggest impact a development project has ever had on chimpanzees. “I hope Sinohydro will reconsider engaging in a project that could drive the western chimpanzee into extinction. Once a species goes, it’s gone forever,” she said. She estimates 800 to 1,500 chimpanzees will die as a result of the project, either by having their habitats flooded or as a result of territorial conflicts if they try to move.

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Article’s a bit confused about timing, but the idea is one I’ve mentioned before. Stop trading with any country that trades in these materials, and shoot poachers on site.

Kenya Announces Death Penalty for Poachers (SAI)

Najib Balala, the tourism and wildlife minister of Kenya, recently announcedthat those who take the lives of innocent animals through poaching will soon face the death penalty in the African country. While this proposal hasn’t been officially enacted into law yet, Balala told China’s Xinhua news agency that wildlife poaching is on a fast track to becoming a capital offense. Sudan, Kenya’s last Rhino who was 45, lived at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya died last year. The species is now extinct due the Chinese demand for Rhino horn. While this measure may seem extreme, it is a last resort attempt to deter people from slaughtering Kenya’s rapidly decreasing wildlife population. Balala reportedly said:

“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of U.S. $200,000. However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.” As compared to recent years, poaching in Kenya is actually on the decline in the present day. According to the country’s tourism ministers, this decrease can largely be attributed to more serious wildlife law enforcement efforts and increased investment in conservation. “These efforts led to an 85 percent reduction in rhino poaching and a 78 percent reduction in elephant poaching, respectively, in 2017 compared to when poaching was at its peak in 2013 and 2012 respectively,” reported the ministry.

However, as Balala pointed out, wildlife poaching has not yet been completely eradicated in Kenya. The Independent reported, “Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 — and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed.” Furthermore, a poacher killed two black rhinos and a calf earlier this month in Kenya’s Meru National Park.


An ‘ordinary’ ivory shop in Hong Kong

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No more clouds.

The Endless Sunshine of Planetary Death (HmmD)

We’re on course to destroy the clouds, they said now. Not just the coral, not just the insects, not just all the wild vertebrates living on land. The clouds. Quanta Magazine, writing about a new Nature Geoscience study on warming and clouds, described the temperature spike known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when a sharp increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide led to an even sharper increase in temperature—along with “mass extinctions” of ocean life, immense dislocations of land animals, and “flash floods and protracted droughts.” How did the temperature jump out of normal boundaries into a lethal range? Clouds currently cover about two-thirds of the planet at any moment. But computer simulations of clouds have begun to suggest that as the Earth warms, clouds become scarcer.

With fewer white surfaces reflecting sunlight back to space, the Earth gets even warmer, leading to more cloud loss. This feedback loop causes warming to spiral out of control. In computer simulations, researchers found that at 1,200 parts per million of carbon dioxide, the level at which temperatures would be expected to be 4º C above the historical baseline, the atmosphere would become too warm and too turbulent to allow sheets of stratocumulus clouds to form. If the clouds fell apart, the extra sunlight could bring on an extra 8 degrees of warming—for a total increase of 12º C, or more than 21º F. Like the methane-spilling permafrost or the fracturing Antarctic ice sheet, the clouds can’t come back if they’re broken; the runaway heating effect would linger even after carbon dioxide levels dropped. We would have irrevocably ruined the sky.

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“If you contaminate a river, it can be flushed clean. If you contaminate a coastline, it can be diluted by the tides. But, in the deepest point of the oceans, it just sits there.”

World’s Deepest Waters Becoming ‘Ultimate Sink’ For Plastic Waste (G.)

The world’s deepest ocean trenches are becoming “the ultimate sink” for plastic waste, according to a study that reveals contamination of animals even in these dark, remote regions of the planet. For the first time, scientists found microplastic ingestion by organisms in the Mariana trench and five other areas with a depth of more than 6,000 metres, prompting them to conclude “it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by plastic pollution”. The paper, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, highlights the threat posed by non-biodegradable substances in clothes, containers and packaging, which make their way from household bins via dump sites and rivers to the oceans, where they break up and sink to the floor.

The impact of plastic in shallower waters – where it chokes dolphins, whales and seabirds – is already well documented in academic journals and by TV programmes such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. But the study shows this problem is far more profound than previously realised. Researchers baited, caught and examined subsea creatures from six of the deepest places in the world – the Peru-Chile trench in the south-east Pacific, the New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches in the south-west Pacific, and the Japan trench, Izu-Bonin trench and Mariana trench in the north-west Pacific. In all six areas, they found ingestion of microparticles by amphipods – a shrimp-like crustacean that scavenges on the seabed. The deeper the region, the higher the rate of consumption. In the Mariana trench – which goes down to the lowest point on earth of 10,890 metres below sea level – 100% of samples contained at least one microparticle.

The materials included polyester-reinforced cotton and fibres made of lyocell, rayon, ramie, polyvinyl and polyethylene. The breadth of substances and broad range of geographic sites prompted the authors to observe that increasing volumes of global plastic waste will find their way from surface gyres into these trenches. “It is intuitive that the ultimate sink for this debris, in whatever size, is the deep sea,” they noted. Once the materials reach these areas the waste has nowhere else to go, said Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University, the lead author of the paper. “If you contaminate a river, it can be flushed clean. If you contaminate a coastline, it can be diluted by the tides. But, in the deepest point of the oceans, it just sits there. It can’t flush and there are no animals going in and out of those trenches.”

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The other side of the spectrum: celebrate and understand what life is. Should have mentioned EO Wilson, though, I think.

“..we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”

How To Live Happily With The 5,000 Other Species In Your House (G.)

The good news is that I will never be home alone again. The bad news – well, it’s not in fact bad news, but it is slightly unsettling – is that I share my home with at least 5,000 other species: wasps, flies, spiders, silverfish and an exotic bunch of wild bacteria. All that information is apparently contained in a patch of grey dust I have just swabbed with my right index finger from a door frame in my living room. It’s like a DNA test of my house, says Rob Dunn, a 43-year-old American biologist who has come to my house in Copenhagen to hunt microbial life. He carries no lab gear and his blue crewneck jumper and striped Oxford shirt are hardly the combat suit of an exterminator. But with every discovery we make, with every spider we find lurking in the corner or each swab of dust, he displays an almost childlike sense of excitement.

He swears and smiles, even whoops with delight: “This dust sample contains bacteria, your body microbes, your wife’s body microbes, your child’s body microbes. If you smoke weed we would find marijuana DNA in there. Everything is visible, but it’s also present in every breath. Every time you inhale, you inhale that story of your home.” [..] When he began working as a biologist he went to the jungle to study wild beasts, but now his research is dedicated to species much closer to home: to the flies, spiders and bacteria hidden in every nook and cranny of our kitchens, bathrooms and basements. To the “jungle of everyday life”, as he describes it in his new book.

Never Home Alone tracks how we have been disconnected from the ecosystems of our homes. It’s a book of hard truths – I now know that I shed 50m flakes of skin every day, providing food for thousands of bacteria, and that cockroaches are basically our perfect interspecies Tinder-match. It also confronts our irrational relationship with cleanliness. Our modern instinct might be to swat a spider on the kitchen worktop or blitz creepy crawlies into oblivion with antimicrobial sprays, but we could be killing useful allies, according to Dunn: “The key thing is that your life is going to be full of life. And your only choice is which life. Our default is that we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”

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Celebrate life:

Aug 052018
 
 August 5, 2018  Posted by at 1:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Spain 1936-38 (Spanish civil war)

 

Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-semite. Julian Assange is a rapist, a Russian agent and a terrorist. Donald Trump is an anti-semite, a rapist AND a Russian agent. Vladimir Putin wants to invade and enslave the entire western world and to that end employs Assange, Trump, maybe also Corbyn(?), as well as thousands upon thousands of hackers and murderers who make people vote for whoever Putin chooses, and poison former Russian agents on western soil.

These allegations, and there’s many more of them, have a number of things in common. Most importantly, they serve to change your mind. They serve to change your perception of reality. They seek to whip up your support for the very people and forces that launch them into the media.

Something else they have in common is that none of them has ever been proven, even though some of them are getting on in years. But they were never meant to be proven, simply because they don’t have to be. If your mind is a fertile breeding ground for such allegations, all that needs to be done is plant a seed, and plant another, and then water them day after day by repeating the allegations and make them ‘yummier’, until they sprout a plant or a tree ‘spontaneously’.

A third feature the allegations have in common is that as they change your perception of reality, you will be -more- inclined to support those who invented them for that exact purpose, so you will not oppose their -further- grab for power and wealth.

That Jeremy Corbyn would hate Jews goes against the man’s entire life history. But he’s been exceedingly weak in defending himself, and his Labour Party, against the accusations of anti-semitism, so the label sticks and has been very successful. Instead of explaining his position in the face of the unfolding and increasingly disastrous Brexit proceedings, all Corbyn gets to do is utter some feeble defence about his history with Jewish people. On Brexit, he’s been all but silenced. Even his own party merrily goes along with the smear.

 

The accusations concerning Assange in the Swedish rape ‘case’ are, if possible, even more preposterous, even if they have also ostensibly been even more successful. The Swedes, British and Americans involved in the narrative knew beforehand that all they needed was to plant a fragile seed. Julian had historically enjoyed a lot of support from women, and that was over in a heartbeat.

Sweden’s female(!) prosecutor, Marianne Ny, refused for 4 years to talk to Assange one on one and when she finally did, dropped the case right after. But that’s 4 years of allegations hanging over him, easily enough to serve the purpose of those allegations: plant a seed of doubt. By then, another -hollow- tree had sprouted: Assange was accused of working directly with the Kremlin.

He always denied this, but after negotiations with the US Justice Department in early 2017 were abruptly halted by then FBI-head James Comey and US Senator Mark Warner (D.-VA) as Assange offered to prove that it wasn’t Russians who provided him with files from the DNC server(s), Robert Mueller felt free to accuse him of working with Russia once again in his indictment of 12 Russians last month. Not only could Assange not defend himself by then, since he had been totally silenced, but Mueller didn’t even attempt to provide evidence.

And I’ve said this numerous times before, but I still think it bears repeating: WikiLeaks is based on one underlying principle above and beyond anything else: trust; which means uncompromising honesty. WIthout that, no-one would ever again offer them any files. WikiLeaks doesn’t reveal sources, and it doesn’t redact things out of files other than to protect people’s lives.

In that sense it’s interesting that even with the Vault7 CIA files, after Comey had betrayed Assange, the latter still held back from publishing certain pages, just so CIA operatives wouldn’t be exposed. If Assange is caught in just one lie, be it about rape or about Russia, WikiLeaks is done, and so is he and his life’s work. So what do you do about someone who doesn’t lie? You spread lies about him.

But, again, that’s not what people see, because that’s not what their media report. Papers like the New York Times and the Guardian, who were more than happy to share, and profit from, WikiLeaks files before, have turned on Assange with a vengeance. Journalists are more than willing to throw a fellow journalist under the bus and then turn around and accuse Donald Trump of endangering journalists when he says they spread fake news. Well, they do, that’s what Assange’s case proves without a doubt.

 

That brings us to Trump, a ‘case’ that has much in common with Assange -even if the men themselves don’t-, but is also very different. Trump doesn’t seem to shy away from the odd white lie or embellishment. And sure, that may be putting it mildly. But both journalists and their viewers and readers need to keep one thing in mind: their work does not consist of spouting allegations. They need to provide proof.

And in the 18 -or 24- months since Trump prominently rose upon the Washington scene, precious little has been proven. Robert Mueller has alleged plenty, but proven next to nothing. It’s fair to say after all that time that he’s fishing. Sure, Paul Manafort will likely go to jail, but his case has nothing to do with Russia collusion, at least not in any way that Mueller has evidence for (we would have known if he did).

And you know, if you spend so much time, and resources, trying to find something, trying to find proof, and you have failed to find it, you have to acknowledge just that. Maybe not halt the investigation entirely, but go public and state that you haven’t been able to find what you thought you would or could. The country deserves that, The American people deserve it, and yes, Donald Trump does, too.

But the whole country now lives on a narrative. Media left and right profit from it, each to feed their audience the ‘latest’ 24/7. And there’s nothing really, so they have to make it up in order to continue profiting from the whipped-up attention. One side tells you how evil Trump is, the other how great he’s doing. The truth is always in the middle, but America has no middle left.

 

I said before that Donald Trump is portrayed as an anti-semite, a rapist AND a Russian agent. As for the first bit, I covered that a few days ago in “Globalist”. Does Trump hate Jews? Even if he does, he hides it pretty well. He’s always done business with Jewish people (hey, this is New York!), there are plenty Jews in his government, and in his own family. Calling someone an anti-Semite is a very serious thing, not a detail to be thrown around at will. Prove it or hold your tongue.

Is Trump a rapist, like what Assange is accused of? You can certainly find no shortage of people willing to state that in both cases. But again, no evidence. And with the fame and glory awaiting anyone who does prove it in either case, you would think by now someone would have found something. Again, prove it or hold your tongue.

Thirdly: is Trump a Russian agent? Look, if Robert Mueller hasn’t been able to prove that he is after two years and tens of millions spent, at least get off your high horse and focus on something else for a bit, if you want to be taken serious as a journalist. Russia, and Putin, are America’s favorite bogeyman today, and about the only thing that still unites the country.

So find something instead that unites you that is not your enemy. Find common cause. Find what makes you proud to be America. Are you all going to be proud if Assange is dragged into some place like Gitmo? Then you have completely lost what it is that should make you proud citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Because no matter how you may twist it, Julian Assange is braver than any of you, and braver than all of you put together too. But no, he’s not free. He gave up his freedom so you would know what it means to be free. Free from manipulation, free from people making up your minds for you, free from indoctrination, free from the forces that take more of your freedom away every day.

You see, Julian Assange is not free. But neither are you. He’s a prisoner of the very people who are taking your freedom away, day by day, step by step. That’s why you should stand up for him. And of course, it’s not just your freedom that’s at stake, it’s your humanity, it’s the very essence of what makes you human, the difference between a life worth living and a life wasted by complacency and cowardice.

Anything else is just narrative. It’s not life.

 

 

And yes, the title is from Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.

 

 

 

 

Feb 262015
 
 February 26, 2015  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Meyer School victory garden on First Avenue New York 1944

Oil Headed For $20-$30 As US Runs Out Of Storage Capacity (CNBC)
Yellen Fights Back as Lawmakers Intensify Push to Rein in Fed (Bloomberg)
Greece vs. Europe: Who Won? (Bloomberg)
Varoufakis Says Funding Problem Lies Ahead (Kathimerini)
Varoufakis Counts On ECB to Avoid Greek Default in March (Bloomberg)
European Banks vs. Greek Labour: Michael Hudson (TRNN)
Former Greek Finance Minister In Court For Tampering With Lagarde List (Guardian)
Greek Revenue Shortfall Came To €1 Billion In January (Kathimerini)
Noonan Says Greece Should Seek Irish-Style Solution to Debt Woe (Bloomberg)
Greek Energy Minister Opposes Privatization (NY Times)
Tsipras In Marathon Talks With SYRIZA MPs (Kathimerini)
Kiev Decision to Cut Gas to Donetsk ‘Bears Hallmarks of Genocide’ (Sputnik)
Ukraine Risks Losing IMF Support for Aid If War Escalates (Bloomberg)
China Drops Cisco, Apple And Others For State Purchases (Reuters)
China Central Bank Newspaper Warns Of Rising Deflation Risk (Reuters)
Naomi Klein: ‘The Economic System We Have Created Global Warming’ (Spiegel)
Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet? (Spiegel)
Nestle Pays $2.25 to Bottle and Sell a Million Litres of BC Water (Tyee)
Stock-Market Crash Of 2016: The Countdown Begins (Paul B. Farrell)
Together We Can Stop The Big Tax Evaders (Hervé Falciani via Beppe Grillo.it)
Keynes And The Puzzle Of Falling Prices (Skidelsky)
We’re Living Longer, Yes, But Why Not Healthier? (MarketWatch)
New Theory Could Prove How Life Began – And Has God ‘On The Ropes’ (Ind.)

“If you run out of space, prices tend to react a lot more violently to adjust that supply and demand imbalance and that’s what we expect over the next few weeks..”

Oil Headed For $20-$30 As US Runs Out Of Storage Capacity (CNBC)

Oil supply running ahead of demand hasn’t just pressured prices, it’s also filling up storage space, potentially pushing crude toward another leg down. “We’re going to see pretty fast inventory builds over the next few weeks,” Francisco Blanch, head of commodity research at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, told CNBC Wednesday, noting that global supply is running around 1.4 million barrels a day above demand. “If you run out of space, prices tend to react a lot more violently to adjust that supply and demand imbalance and that’s what we expect over the next few weeks,” he said, forecasting both WTI and Brent will fall toward $30 a barrel. Prices settled at $50.99 and $61.97, respectively, on Wednesday.

He cited fresh American Petroleum Institute (API) data which showed U.S. crude inventories climbed by a larger-than-expected 8.9 million barrels in the week ended Feb. 20, for a total of around 437 million barrels squirreled away. Around 50 million to 100 million barrels of crude oil may be gathering dust in floating storage by the end of the second quarter, compared with around 110 million barrels in April 2009, during the global financial crisis, he estimated. The supply build isn’t helped by an oil market that’s in contango, or when the “spot” price is lower than the price of the future contract. That makes it more profitable for traders to stick their oil in storage to sell at a higher price later. As much as 80% of the commercially available storage in the U.S. may already be utilized, Premasish Das, downstream analyst at IHS Energy Insight, told CNBC last week.

“As the oversupply increases again in the second quarter, the contango structure will widen. This will further incentivize crude storage,” Das said. Others are also concerned about how quickly space could run out. “Within around two months, [onshore storage will] be completely exhausted,” Ivan Szapakowski, a commodity strategist at Citigroup, told CNBC last week. “The only remaining storage globally will then be floating storage, tankers.” Citigroup is forecasting oil prices to fall toward $20 a barrel before recovering.

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The real problem is not the Fed’s independence from political parties, but its independence from Wall Street institutions.

Yellen Fights Back as Lawmakers Intensify Push to Rein in Fed (Bloomberg)

Janet Yellen sparred with Republican lawmakers in the most heated exchange in her yearlong tenure as Federal Reserve chair, highlighting the central bank’s exposure to growing demands for greater oversight from Congress. In testimony on Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee, Yellen forcefully rejected accusations from Republicans that she’s unaccountable to Capitol Hill and too closely aligned with the White House and Democrats. “The Fed already has been completely immersed and guided by partisan politics,” said Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican who has introduced one of the bills this year to give Congress more control over the Fed and curb its powers. Yellen called that a “complete mis-characterization.”

Republicans want to rein in the Fed’s expanded oversight of the financial industry while limiting its aggressive monetary policy. Yellen’s challenge is to push back against proposals that include Senator Rand Paul’s “Audit the Fed” bill, while trying to avoid damaging political fights. The confrontational hearing “is not business as usual,” said Allen Sinai, CEO of Decision Economics Inc. in New York. Yellen’s propensity “is to answer questions directly and clearly and not to mince words. That can get the chairperson in trouble in a hot political world.” Tension between the Fed and Congress is not new. Yellen’s predecessor, Ben S. Bernanke, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, endured bruising encounters with lawmakers during the financial crisis when the Fed became a lightning rod for public anger over Wall Street bailouts.

Yet Wednesday’s hearing was particularly combative. In Garrett’s exchange with Yellen, he accused the Fed of partisanship because she met with President Barack Obama at the White House a day before last November’s midterm congressional election and held a separate meeting later that month with labor and community organizers. “The more pressure there is to legislate, even if they don’t do so, the more the Fed has to open its ears and figure out how to be more responsive to these pressures,” said Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “This was a real partisan broadside.”

Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who has proposed requiring the Fed to follow a rule in setting interest rates, questioned Yellen’s regular meetings with Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. “The Federal Reserve is independent,” Yellen countered, saying she doesn’t discuss future monetary policy actions with the secretary or with the White House. Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who last year led a series of hearings scrutinizing the Fed, set the tone for the three-hour hearing by telling Yellen he plans to “listen very carefully” to suggestions to overhaul the Fed. “Fed reforms are needed, and I, for one, believe Fed reforms are coming,” Hensarling said.

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Good comment by Clive Crook: “There was no need to let it happen. Greece could and should have been calmly granted a financial breathing space to negotiate a successor program weeks ago. It’s mismanagement on a remarkable scale. I admit I was wrong. I just hadn’t understood what Europe’s leaders were capable of.”

Greece vs. Europe: Who Won? (Bloomberg)

Some readers have reminded me about my recent post, “Why Europe Will Cave to Greece.” Europe didn’t cave, they smile – Greece caved to Europe. Well, it’s true, things haven’t gone as I expected when I wrote that post at the end of January. You can count on dysfunction in the European Union, but rarely to this degree. Still, it’s too early to say who caved to whom. The most one can say at the moment is that this is no way to run a monetary union. The outcome of the negotiations was prefigured at the end of last week by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who said he was asking Europe to meet him “not half-way but one-fifth of the way.” That’s about what happened – though in judging who gave way and how far, a lot depends on what was really at stake.

Before arriving at the recent impasse, Greece had already abandoned its demands for outright debt write-downs, deliverance from the “troika”], and a clean exit from its bailout program. That was capitulation of a sort, but not so consequential, because it was more about abandoning political postures than making real concessions. Substantively, less ground was yielded than you might think. Outright debt forgiveness? It would be better if the creditors granted this and, in the end, they probably will. But in the meantime there are other ways to provide relief (extended maturities, lower interest rates, yields linked to growth in gross domestic product, and so forth). These alternatives are still on the table. No more troika? Monday night’s proposals were indeed submitted to “the institutions,” but even here, notice that Monday’s letter from Varoufakis talks about doing things in agreement with the institutions, not about accepting their instructions. [..]

Here’s the main thing: This was a crisis, still unresolved, that was willed in the first place by the euro zone’s leaders. There was no need to let it happen. Greece could and should have been calmly granted a financial breathing space to negotiate a successor program weeks ago. It’s mismanagement on a remarkable scale. I admit I was wrong. I just hadn’t understood what Europe’s leaders were capable of.

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“Varoufakis suggested that the ECB could return profits of €1.9 billion it made from purchasing Greek bonds on the secondary market..” “The ECB recognizes that this is money we are owed. This is not borrowed money, it’s an overpayment to the ECB.”

Varoufakis Says Funding Problem Lies Ahead (Kathimerini)

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis admitted on Wednesday that Greece may face difficulties in finding the money to pay its obligations to the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank over the next few months. Greece has to repay €1.6 billion to the IMF next month and €6.7 billion to the ECB in the summer and Varoufakis said in an interview with Alpha Radio that making these payments would be a problem. “We are starting to negotiate this issue with our partners from today,” added the Greek finance minister. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Varoufakis suggested that the ECB could return profits of €1.9 billion it made from purchasing Greek bonds on the secondary market to help Athens pay its IMF loan next month.

“The ECB could simply hand over this money to the IMF as partial repayment,” he said. “The ECB recognizes that this is money we are owed. This is not borrowed money, it’s an overpayment to the ECB.” In another interview with CNBC, Varoufakis assured markets that Greece would overcome its short-term funding challenges. “They understand that when there is a cash flow problem, which is effectively a spike for a short space of time, but the long term seems quite good,” he said. “They can be confident that Europe is going to find a way of dealing with the cash flow problem. Can you imagine allowing the eurozone to fragment over a few billion euros?”

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“I find it very hard to imagine that Europe and the IMF will allow us to trip over what is a relatively small cash problem.” “In the elections of Jan. 25, he got more votes than any other candidate for the Greek parliament in any Greek district..”

Varoufakis Counts On ECB to Avoid Greek Default in March (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he’s counting on the ECB to help the country avert default when it runs out of money next month, while bank deposits are also starting to flow back. The ECB owes Greece almost €2 billion euros from the return of profits from its program of buying euro-region bonds to support the market, Varoufakis said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Athens. The government must make a payment to the IMF in March. “So it could hand over this money to the IMF as partial repayment,” he said on Wednesday. “I’m giving you examples, nothing has been decided. This is money we are owed. This is our money, an overpayment to the ECB.”

Euro-region finance ministers approved a package of Greek reforms, which include improved tax collection and tackling corruption, on Tuesday following a recommendation from creditor institutions. On the same day, about 700 million euros returned to Greek bank accounts, Varoufakis said. There were more than €20 billion of withdrawals since early December, according to estimates. “Yesterday, there was a deposit flight back into the Greek banking sector,” said Varoufakis, 53. “It’s a question of direction. Once you turn the tide, you hope.” ECB President Mario Draghi told the European Parliament earlier on Wednesday it was a popular misconception that it was up to the central bank to return any profit from buying bonds through the Securities and Markets Program.

“The profits are ready to be distributed if Greece obliges with the program,” Draghi said. “It’s a commitment by the member states, not by the ECB.” Creditor institutions – the European Commission, ECB and IMF – warned that the package of reforms were just the start of Greece needs to stick with its commitments. The measures, which also include maintaining state-asset sales, are a condition for extending the availability of bailout funds for another four months based on an initial agreement on Feb. 20. The current program, which has been keeping Europe’s most indebted state afloat since 2010, was scheduled to expire at the end of this month.

The next hurdle will come in April when the institutions and finance ministers review progress. That will come after the government has to service about €2.2 billion of debt, including repaying loans to the IMF. The figure doesn’t include rolling over Treasury bills. “I’m pretty confident we won’t have a cash-flow problem, because we all struggled very hard through long hours of discussions with our partners with institutions to come to this stage,” Varoufakis said. “I find it very hard to imagine that Europe and the IMF will allow us to trip over what is a relatively small cash problem. Varoufakis, an economics professor at the University of Athens, spoke from his office on the sixth floor in the finance ministry, which lies opposite the Greek Parliament in Syntagma square, scene of demonstrations during the economic crisis. In the elections of Jan. 25, he got more votes than any other candidate for the Greek parliament in any Greek district.

Read more …

“It’s not so much Germany versus Greece, as the papers say. It’s really the war of the banks against labor.”

European Banks vs. Greek Labour: Michael Hudson (TRNN)

Now joining us to discuss the tabled plan is Michael Hudson. He is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. So, Michael, these international banks represented by the finance ministers now in Brussels, when they were in crisis and we the public treasury bailed them out, they had no problem with that. Why are they now refusing to assist Greece at a time of need when in fact some politicians and even the troika is being more receptive to what Greece is saying?

HUDSON: Because what’s at issue really is a class war. It’s not so much Germany versus Greece, as the papers say. It’s really the war of the banks against labor. And it’s a continuation of Thatcherism and neoliberalism. The problem isn’t simply that the troika wants Greece to balance the budget; it wanted Greece to balance the budget by lowering wages and by imposing austerity on the labor force. But instead, the terms in which Varoufakis has suggested balancing the budget are to impose austerity on the financial class, on the tycoons, on the tax dodgers. And he said, okay, instead of lowering pensions to the workers, instead of shrinking the domestic market, instead of pursuing a self-defeating austerity, we’re going to raise two and a half billion from the powerful Greek tycoons. We’re going to collect the back taxes that they have. We’re going to crack down on illegal smuggling of oil and the other networks and on the real estate owners that have been avoiding taxes, because the Greek upper classes have become notorious for tax dodging.

Well, this has infuriated the banks, because it turns out the finance ministers of Europe are not all in favor of balancing the budget if it has to be balanced by taxing the rich, because the banks know that whatever taxes the rich are able to avoid ends up being paid to the banks. So now the gloves are off and the class war is sort of back. Originally, Varoufakis thought he was negotiating with the troika, that is, with the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the Euro Council. But instead they said, no, no, you’re negotiating with the finance ministers. And the finance ministers in Europe are very much like Tim Geithner in the United States. They’re lobbyists for the big banks. And the finance minister said, how can we screw up this and make sure that we treat Greece as an object lesson, pretty much like America treated Cuba in 1960?

PERIES: Hold on, hold on for one second, Michael. Let’s explain that, because Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister of Greece, is very well-briefed and very well-positioned to negotiate all of this. Now, why did he think he was negotiating with the troika when in fact he was negotiating with [crosstalk]

HUDSON: Because officially that’s who he’s negotiating with. He went and he took them at their word. And then he found out–and yesterday, Jamie Galbraith, who went with him to Europe, published in Fortune a description saying, wait a minute, the finance ministers are fighting with the troika. The troika don’t have their story straight. The troika and the finance ministers are all fighting among themselves over what exactly is to be done. And to really throw a monkey wrench in, the German finance minister, Schäuble, said, wait a minute, we’ve got to bring in the Spanish government and the Portuguese government and the Finnish government, and they’ve got to agree.

Well, all of a sudden the position of Spain, for instance, is, wait a minute, we’re in power, we’re a Thatcherite neoliberal party. If Greece ends up not going along with austerity and saving its workers, then Podemos Party in Spain, is going to win the next election and we’ll be out of power. We have to make sure that Varoufakis and the SYRIZA Party is a failure, so that we ourselves can tell the working class, you see what happened to Greece? It got smashed, and we’re going to smash you if you try to do what they do; if you try to tax the rich, if you try to take over the banks and prevent the kleptocracy, there’s going to be a disaster.

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Let them eat brioche?

Former Greek Finance Minister In Court For Tampering With Lagarde List (Guardian)

A new front in Greece’s unfolding economic drama has opened in Athens as the former finance minister George Papaconstantinou, was brought before a special tribunal accused of tampering with a public list of tax evaders and attempted breach of faith. Facing a panel of judges convened for the hearing, the man most associated with Greece’s first international bailout cut a lonely figure as he pleaded not guilty. “I am innocent, your honour,” he said addressing the presiding court judge seated on the uppermost bench of an antechamber of court officials. “I deny all the charges.” Greece had been waiting for this moment. Papaconstantinou, 53, stands accused of removing the names of three of his relatives from a catalogue of some 2,062 suspected tax evaders handed to him by Christine Lagarde, his French counterpart at the time.

Lagarde, now head of the IMF, had passed on the list of names – all account holders at the Geneva branch of HSBC – with the express purpose that the prospective offenders be pursued. At more than €20bn a year, tax avoidance is by far the biggest single drain on the country’s debt-stricken economy with Athens’ new leftist-led government vowing to crack down on it as never before. Papaconstantinou, who was finance minister between October 2009 and June 2011 under the socialist premier, George Papandreou, faces a life sentence if convicted. The alleged offences include the aggravating factor of being seen as crimes against the state. Dressed in a dark suit and flanked by lawyers on either side, the former politician – once regarded as the face of hope and reform in Greece – sat motionless as the court proceedings got under way.

He is the first politician to be tried before a special criminal court in over two decades. It was in the same wood-pannelled room in March 1991 that the then socialist premier Andreas Papandreou was also put on trial. Papaconstantinou, an urbane economist who spent more than half of his life abroad before returning to Greece to become involved in politics, claims he has been “framed” by an establishment desperate to be seen meting out punishment to politicians perceived to have brought the nation to the brink of economic collapse. During his 20 months in office, he says, he introduced some of the country’s most draconian tax legislation. But Athens also stands alone in failing to act on the so–called Lagarde list – initially stolen by a renegade bank clerk at HSBC before being seized by French police.

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The bottom?

Greek Revenue Shortfall Came To €1 Billion In January (Kathimerini)

The Finance Ministry is attempting to resuscitate state revenues after their major shortfall in January and the estimate by a top government official that the fiscal gap of the 2015-16 period will amount to between €5 and €7 billion. According to the definitive data on the execution of the state budget published on Wednesday, revenues both from income tax and value-added tax posted a major decline due to the political uncertainty and the inactivity of monitoring mechanisms. The revenue shortfall of more than €1 billion has taken the primary surplus to €443 million euros, against a target for €1.366 billion – i.e. €923 million below target.

Net revenues reached 3.49 billion, missing their target by 23.1% or €1.05 billion. Income tax revenues were off 49% while indirect tax revenues missed their target by 13.8%. VAT takings produced a 20.4% shortfall. Expenditure was €16 million within target, at €3.3 billion. The slump in public revenues is the reason why Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani wants to see the new payment schemes for expired debts to the state implemented. The bill containing this provision will be presented to the country’s creditors next week so that it can be tabled in Parliament as soon as possible.

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But Greece doesn’t have the same situation?! No domestic banks that went nuts… So to what extent does the comparison hold?

Noonan Says Greece Should Seek Irish-Style Solution to Debt Woe (Bloomberg)

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Greece should seek to reduce interest rates on its debts and push for later repayment dates rather than the “nuclear” options of leaving the euro area and writing off loans. “There’s a middle road and it’s along the lines of what we did in Ireland,” Noonan said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “You negotiate to make your debt more sustainable, even without getting debt write-offs.” Noonan and other euro-region finance ministers agreed on Tuesday to extend Greece’s bailout program for another four months after signing off on a reform plan proposed by the government in Athens. The Syriza party was elected to power last month on a platform that included writing off some debts and ending austerity.

Ireland, which sought a €67.5 billion international rescue in 2010 amid the worst property crash in western Europe, has emerged from an era of austerity, Noonan wrote in a column for the Irish Independent newspaper published Wednesday. The country has cut interest repayments by more than 10 billion euros through negotiations and reduced the amount it will have to borrow over the next decade by €20 billion by extending the maturities on some loans, he wrote. “There’s a number of moving parts,” Noonan said in the interview. “It’s a question of agreeing on the parts that move to make the debt more sustainable and it’s in that space the negotiations can take place.”

Based on the provisional agreement between Greece and its official creditors on Feb. 20, the approval of the list was a condition for extending the availability of bailout funds for another four months. The current program, which has been keeping Europe’s most indebted state afloat since 2010, was scheduled to expire at the end of this month. Approval of the Greek plans offered a short reprieve for the country, which risked defaulting on some of its liabilities as early as next month without further financing from the creditor institutions. Greece has until April to refine the details. Negotiations on Tuesday weren’t “heated,” Noonan said. Ireland and other nations that took international assistance in the wake of the financial crisis, including Portugal and Spain, would prefer Greece to solve its problems using similar measures, Noonan said.

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Good for him. No country should sell off their assets to anonymous dickheads.

Greek Energy Minister Opposes Privatization (NY Times)

Greece’s new plan to revamp its economy to satisfy eurozone creditors hit its first political snag on Wednesday, when the country’s energy minister publicly opposed efforts to sell off state assets as part of that program. “There will be no privatization in energy,” the minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads a radical-left bloc in Syriza, the party of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said in comments to the center-left Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea. Although Mr. Lafazanis would presumably not have the final say, his opposition could disrupt plans to sell stakes in the public gas corporation, the state-controlled electric company and Greece’s largest oil refiner. Bids were solicited for the gas company, DEPA, under the previous government, which had also promised to partly sell off the other two.

Mr. Lafazanis also opposed plans to privatize the power grid operator, in comments to another newspaper, Ethnos, claiming that the bids made to date “are not binding.” The Greek economic plan approved by eurozone finance ministers on Tuesday promised not to roll back any privatization projects already in the works. Moreover, Greece needs the few billion euros that those sales might raise. By late Wednesday, there had been no public response to Mr. Lafazanis from the government, but Mr. Tsipras might be hesitant to confront the energy minister because of his influence in the party. In a speech to Syriza lawmakers on Wednesday, Mr. Tsipras called for support of the government’s economic program but skirted the issue of privatizations. The government must move quickly to “detail” its overhauls and “build credibility” with its creditors, he said.

In comments to reporters afterward, the economy and infrastructure minister, Giorgos Stathakis, who is closer to the prime minister than Mr. Lafazanis is, said that no completed sell-offs would be reversed but that the terms of all privatization projects currently underway would be “reviewed.” Talks between Greece and its lenders have shifted to covering Greece’s financing needs as its cash reserves dwindle. But the release of a pending loan disbursement of €7.2 billion, will depend on Greece’s keeping its promises. In an interview with Greek radio on Wednesday, the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said Greece had no immediate threat to government liquidity but “will definitely have a problem” meeting its obligation to make a debt payment of about €1.5 billion next month to the IMF and around €7 billion in July and August to the ECB. Greece has proposed issuing Treasury bills to raise some of the money but would need the approval of the ECB to do so.

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Democrats.

Tsipras In Marathon Talks With SYRIZA MPs (Kathimerini)

SYRIZA MPs spent more than 10 hours behind closed doors Wednesday discussing the government’s agreement with its creditors after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras assured them that it was the best deal Greece could get at the moment. Tsipras briefed the party’s parliamentary group on the course of negotiations over the last few weeks as well as the implications of the agreement, which was clinched on Tuesday after Greece sent a list of reform proposals that was provisionally accepted by its creditors. Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis also spoke to the leftist MPs. “We secured a bridging agreement that managed to help us spoil the plan to choke the government in fiscal, funding and financial terms,” Tsipras told SYRIZA lawmakers, according to sources.

The prime minister indicated that the previous government had been hoping that the challenges facing its successor would be so great that they would lead to it not being able to last for long, the so-called “left parenthesis.” Tsipras urged his MPs to raise any questions they had but to also make it clear if they are going to vote for the four-month extension when it is submitted to Parliament. “I want to know whether you agree or disagree with the deal,” he said, according to sources. “If there is someone who will vote against it, I want them to say so now.” Production Reconstruction, Energy and Environment Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis was one of the most critical of the agreement with Greece’s lenders.

“There are parts of the letter [with reform proposals] that are reminiscent of the lenders’ language, not ours,” the leader of SYRIZA’s left-wing faction, the Left Platform, is reported to have said. In a newspaper interview earlier, Lafazanis said the government would not proceed with energy privatizations even though Greece has committed to seeing existing sell-off projects through. He said that since binding offers had not been received for the Public Power Corporation and other assets, the government could cancel the projects. However, Lafazanis also indicated that he will stick to his position to cancel the privatization of the former airport site at Elliniko, even though the deal went through last year. In contrast, Economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis said that the government would stick with the Elliniko agreement and the recent concession deal for 14 regional airports but would seek changes to the agreements.

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It does.

Kiev Decision to Cut Gas to Donetsk ‘Bears Hallmarks of Genocide’ (Sputnik)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to halt gas supplies to Donetsk amid the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe “bear hallmarks of genocide”. “As if hunger [in Donetsk and Luhansk] was not enough – the OSCE has already stated that the region is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe – they had their gas supplies cut off. What would you call it? I would say this bears the hallmarks of genocide,” he said during a meeting with President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades. “Apparently, some responsible leaders of the modern-day Ukraine are unable to understand the importance of humanitarian issues. It seems that the very notion of humanism has been forgotten,” he added.

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Ukrainian officials will have to explain to the IMF why the central bank tightened capital controls, as well as how the government plans to revive the economy in general..

Ukraine Risks Losing IMF Support for Aid If War Escalates (Bloomberg)

Ukraine risks losing support from IMF member countries for a proposed $17.5 billion bailout if the conflict in the former Soviet republic continues to escalate, according to two people familiar with the matter. The new four-year loan program is awaiting approval by the International Monetary Fund’s executive board, which represents the lender’s 188 member nations. Getting the panel’s consent will become more challenging if pro-Russia rebels continue their advance and seize territory such as the strategic port city of Mariupol, one of the people said. A second person said that while a worsening conflict would complicate approval, IMF country representatives are likely to maintain their support unless an open conflict with Russia breaks out affecting the majority of Ukraine. Both people asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

Any doubts over the IMF funds would increase pressure on Ukrainian allies including the U.S. and European Union to step up their own funding to prevent the country from becoming more vulnerable to Russian economic pressure and wider incursion by pro-Russia rebels. A worsening conflict would make it tougher for Ukraine to maintain economic commitments to the IMF and repay the money while deepening the fund’s involvement in the worst standoff in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Plugging Ukraine’s financing needs and stabilizing its economy amid an armed conflict will be an “enormous challenge,” said William Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009 who is now acting executive vice president at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “If they’re going to exist as a nation, they’re going to have to be able to defend themselves.”

Last year’s $17 billion, two-year bailout for Ukraine by the IMF had broad support from the fund’s board, overcoming concerns at the time about the security risks in the country, one of the people said. There have been many violations of the cease-fire agreed on in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on Feb. 12, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday. Ukraine and its allies in the EU and the U.S. accuse Russia of backing the militants in the conflict that has killed more than 5,600 people, according to United Nations estimates. Russia denies military involvement. Ukraine’s decision this week to tighten capital controls may also complicate the IMF plans. IMF staff members are revising their economic projections in light of the restrictions, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.

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Most expensive trade miss ever?

China Drops Cisco, Apple And Others For State Purchases (Reuters)

China has dropped some of the world’s leading technology brands from its approved state purchase lists, while approving thousands more locally made products, in what some say is a response to revelations of widespread Western cybersurveillance. Others put the shift down to a protectionist impulse to shield China’s domestic technology industry from competition. Chief casualty is U.S. network equipment maker Cisco , which in 2012 counted 60 products on the Central Government Procurement Center’s (CGPC) list, but by late 2014 had none, a Reuters analysis of official data shows. Smartphone and PC maker Apple as also been dropped over the period, along with Intel’s security software firm McAfee and network and server software firm Citrix.

The number of products on the list, which covers regular spending by central ministries, jumped by more than 2,000 in two years to just under 5,000, but the increase is almost entirely due to local makers. The number of approved foreign tech brands fell by a third, while less than half of those with security-related products survived the cull. An official at the procurement agency said there were many reasons why local makers might be preferred, including sheer weight of numbers and the fact that domestic security technology firms offered more product guarantees than overseas rivals.

China’s change of tack coincided with leaks by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden in mid-2013 that exposed several global surveillance program, many of them run by the NSA with the cooperation of telecom companies and European governments. “The Snowden incident, it’s become a real concern, especially for top leaders,” said Tu Xinquan, Associate Director of the China Institute of WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. “In some sense the American government has some responsibility for that; (China’s) concerns have some legitimacy.”

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But they still pretend they have it under control..

China Central Bank Newspaper Warns Of Rising Deflation Risk (Reuters)

China is dangerously close to slipping into deflation, the central bank’s newspaper warned on Wednesday, highlighting increasing nervousness in policymaking circles as a sputtering economy struggles to pick up speed despite a raft of stimulus steps. The article, published in Finance News, quoted the secretary general of the China Urban Finance Society Chan Xiangyang as saying that risk of deflation is greater than many appreciate. The Society is a national academic group not directly affiliated with the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), but in many cases the publication of such pieces in the central bank’s newspaper indicates tacit approval of the message. As a slowdown in China’s economy over the past year was accompanied by a chill in global demand, Beijing has stepped up measures to prevent the Asian economic powerhouse from stumbling.

In November last year, the PBOC startled markets with an unexpected interest rate cut – the first since 2012 – and then followed up with a cut to banks’ required reserve ratio in early February. Analysts have speculated that the central bank will be forced to take more aggressive easing measures in the coming months if price and credit data continues to drift lower. Chan said the deteriorating macroeconomic environment, combined with enduring industrial overcapacity, widespread speculative and inefficient investment, and slowing foreign capital inflows are all weighing heavily on prices. That risks setting off a debilitating deflationary cycle in the world’s second-largest economy, similar to the “lost decades” experienced by Japan under similar – but not identical – circumstances that began in the 1990s, in which inexorable price declines discouraged investment.

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“We have systematically given away the tools. Regulations of any kind are now scorned. Governments no longer create tough rules that limit oil companies and other corporations. This crisis fell into our laps in a disastrous way at the worst possible moment.”

Naomi Klein: ‘The Economic System We Have Created Global Warming’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, why aren’t people able to stop climate change?
Klein: Bad luck. Bad timing. Many unfortunate coincidences.

SPIEGEL: The wrong catastrophe at the wrong moment?
Klein: The worst possible moment. The connection between greenhouse gases and global warming has been a mainstream political issue for humanity since 1988. It was precisely the time that the Berlin Wall fell and Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History,” the victory of Western capitalism. Canada and the US signed the first free-trade agreement, which became the prototype for the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: So you’re saying that a new era of consumption and energy use began precisely at the moment when sustainability and restraint would have been more appropriate?
Klein: Exactly. And it was at precisely this moment that we were also being told that there was no longer any such thing as social responsibility and collective action, that we should leave everything to the market. We privatized our railways and the energy grid, the WTO and the IMF locked in an unregulated capitalism. Unfortunately, this led to an explosion in emissions.

SPIEGEL: You’re an activist, and you’ve blamed capitalism for all kinds of things over the years. Now you’re blaming it for climate change too?
Klein: That’s no reason for irony. The numbers tell the story. During the 1990s, emissions went up by 1 percent per year. Starting in 2000, they started to go up by an average of 3.4 percent. The American Dream was exported globally and consumer goods that we thought of as essential to meet our needs expanded rapidly. We started seeing ourselves exclusively as consumers. When shopping as a way of life is exported to every corner of the globe, that requires energy. A lot of energy.

SPIEGEL: Let’s go back to our first question: Why have people been unable to stop this development?
Klein: We have systematically given away the tools. Regulations of any kind are now scorned. Governments no longer create tough rules that limit oil companies and other corporations. This crisis fell into our laps in a disastrous way at the worst possible moment. Now we’re out of time. Where we are right now is a do-or-die moment. If we don’t act as a species, our future is in peril. We need to cut emissions radically.

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In what way is that a question? How is it possible it is still asked?

Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet? (Spiegel)

Humans are full of contradictions, including the urge to destroy things they love. Like our planet. Take Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Like everyone living Down Under, he’s extremely proud of his country’s wonder of the world, the Great Barrier Reef. At the same time, though, Abbott believes that burning coal is “good for humanity,” even though it produces greenhouse gases that ultimately make our world’s oceans warmer, stormier and more acidic. In recent years, Australia has exported more coal than any other country in the world. And the reef, the largest living organism on the planet, is dying. Half of the corals that make up the reef are, in fact, already dead.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also wants the best for his country and is loathe to see it damaged by droughts, cyclones and storm surges. Nevertheless, he is planning on doubling India’s coal production by 2019 in addition to importing more coal from Australia. It is necessary to do so, he says, to help his country’s poor. India is already the third largest producer of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States. But climate change is altering the monsoon season, with both flooding and drought becoming more common.
And who would accuse the majority of US Senators of being insensitive to the extreme shortage of water afflicting California? Yet the law-making body recently brushed aside everything science has learned about global warming and voted down two measures that attributed the phenomenon to human activity.

For Americans and foreign tourists alike, California is a magical place, famous for Yosemite National Park, its Pacific coastline, its golden light. The state also grows around a third of all US produce. For now. An historic drought that has been ongoing for over three years has forced farmers to abandon their fields and to slaughter their animals. Since 1880, when global temperatures began to be systematically collected, no year has been warmer than 2014. The 15 warmest years, with one single exception, have come during the first 15 years of the new millennium. Indeed, it has become an open question as to whether global warming can be stopped anymore – or at least limited as policymakers have called for. Is capitalism ultimately responsible for the problem, or could it actually help to solve it?

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Crazy tale.

Nestle Pays $2.25 to Bottle and Sell a Million Litres of BC Water (Tyee)

Have you ever paid $2.25 for a bottle of water? Of course, and you can pay a lot more than that if you go to a Vancouver Canucks game, a concert, movie theatre or restaurant. So what if you could pay $2.25 not for a 500-millilitre bottle, not for a big office cooler full, but for 1 million litres of water? Sounds ridiculous given the retail price, but that’s the unbelievably low rate the BC Liberal government has given to giant multinational firm Nestle and others to extract fresh, clean groundwater to bottle and sell for exorbitant profits. The price is so outrageous I have to repeat it. Nestle Waters Canada pays the province just $2.25 for every million litres of water. The total estimated price of all the water Nestle will bottle in B.C. over an entire year is – wait for it – $562 a year!

That’s an improvement, if you can believe it, because until recently they got it all for free. It must be nice to have an endless supply of potable water, where you can take as much as you like, sell it for an enormous profit, and pay a pittance for its use. Unfortunately, I must confess a terrible sin: I drink bottled water regularly, and mostly Nestle products. I pay about 50 cents a bottle. I know I should be drinking tap water in the metal refillable container that is currently gathering dust on a shelf in my house, but it’s so darn convenient to throw multiple bottles of Nestle water in my office and home fridges and pop them in my car when I head out.

Don’t bother lecturing me – at least I’m drinking healthy water and hydrating myself – but this farce makes me rethink my willingness to line their pockets. I feel apologetic, but Nestle doesn’t. “We’re investing millions of dollars in that plant. We employ 75 people [and] we pay millions of dollars in taxes,” said Nestle spokesman John Challinor in 2013. Cry me a river. And at $2.25 per million litres, they can bloody well afford it.

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Farrell’s in a league of his own. I’m pretty sure he’s also the guy in UP.

Stock-Market Crash Of 2016: The Countdown Begins (Paul B. Farrell)

It’s time to start the countdown to the crash of 2016. No, this is not a prediction of a minor correction. Plan on a 50% crash. Most investors don’t want to hear the countdown, will tune out. Basic psychology. They’ll keep charging ahead with a bullish battle cry, about how the Nasdaq will keep climbing relentlessly to a new record above 5,048 … smiling as they remember reading that a whopping 73 companies are now in the Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Start-up Club, with Uber ($41 billion), SpaceX ($12 billion) and Snapchat ($10 billion). Hearts race even faster reading in Bloomberg BusinessWeek that “China’s IPO Boom Mints Billionaires” and Jack Ma’s Alibaba fortune is now valued at $35.1 billion. Yes, technology IPOs are in the lead, and with all that good news, it’s easy to understand why investors tune out, don’t want to hear the warnings, no countdown to the 2016 crash.

But the crash of 2016 really is coming. Dead ahead. Maybe not till we get a bit closer to the presidential election cycle of 2016. But a crash is a sure bet, it’s guaranteed certain: Complete with echoes of the 2008 crash, which impacted on the GOP election results, triggering a $10 trillion loss of market cap … like the 1999 dot-com collapse, it’s post-millennium loss of $8 trillion market cap, plus a 30-month recession … moreover a lot like the 1929 crash and the long depression that followed. Plus cycles theorists warn that we dodged a crash in 2012-2013, thanks to the Fed’s stimulus and cheap-money polities. Or rather delayed it, which adds more power to the next one. Why not sooner, you ask? Why not in 2015? Yes, Mark Hulbert’s already warned that the “stock market risk is higher today than it was in the dot-com era.” Yes, a dip is possible. MarketWatch’s Sue Chang writes of a 10%-20% stock-market correction by July.

But we also know markets are typically up the third year of a presidency. So if no crash is in the cards this year, then why bother with warnings and a countdown? Why bother building up the 2016 elections with lots of dark early warning signs, and doom-and-gloom warnings for the next 18 months? Why? Simple, behavioral economists have long been telling us that investors will either choose to stay in denial till it’s too late, never having learned the lessons of history when the market collapsed in 2008, 2000 or 1929, when they collectively lost trillions. Or we know some investors really do want to heed the warnings, so they can plan ahead, avoid big losses, and take advantage of opportunities later, at the bottom.

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Falciani deserves far more attention than he gets. Far more.

Together We Can Stop The Big Tax Evaders (Hervè Falciani via Beppe Grillo.it)

Blog: What are the Falciani lists?”
Hervè Falciani: Above all they are clues gathered over many years that enable us to check up on the HSBC Bank: a prime example of an International offshore bank, one of the largest in the world, and that explains the workings of this network of banks that currently operate in the shadows and are hiding half of the world’s debt. That’s a fact. Half of the interest we are paying goes into the coffers of these banks.

Blog: After the scandal you have raised, what’s next?
Hervè Falciani: There are many little things to be done that will have a huge effect. For example, how the banks are controlled. The current controls are ineffective because the very people who are paid to do the controlling are controlling those that pay them. To avoid this we have to add something more to the control systems of the firms that do the controlling, namely members of the public. This will change everything! We will be able to put the fear of God into those that organise these tax evasion schemes within the banks and furthermore we will also be able to get our hands on information that is hidden.

The biggest problem we have is with politics that are unhelpful and often there are major conflicts of interest. The Directors are the very same businessmen that don’t pay their taxes. We have seen many examples of this. These days, when we talk about an archive dedicated to politicians, journalists, magistrates and even members of the public, it means that this archive will store traces of who does something and who doesn’t. That’s exactly what we are doing with this HSBC case and all the other cases too. The history of these traces will enable the public to use it whenever in order to change things since it is based on fact in a scientific manner.

Blog: Is there someone who has helped you in the past and is still helping you at the moment?
Hervè Falciani: There are various fields. For a number of years we have been working with the 5-Star Movement to explain things and point out where action must be taken. The 5-Star Movement’s programme is going in the very direction that is needed, in other words, how to implement these basic principles. That’s why I have always insisted, and continue to insist on the little things that will have a major effect. For example, the banks’ hearings on the control of citizens is something that is already included in the 5SM’s programme. As a matter of fact, we have already had the pleasure of starting to work with a number of 5-Star Movement’s deputies to do just that! To ensure implementation with little effort and thereby achieve huge results.

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The confusion inherent in both use of terminology and in pre-conceived notions is deafening. You reach the point where nothing means anything anymore.

Keynes And The Puzzle Of Falling Prices (Skidelsky)

In 1923, John Maynard Keynes addressed a fundamental economic question that remains valid today. “[I]nflation is unjust and deflation is inexpedient,” he wrote. “Of the two perhaps deflation is … the worse; because it is worse…to provoke unemployment than to disappoint the rentier. But it is not necessary that we should weigh one evil against the other.” The logic of the argument seems irrefutable. Because many contracts are “sticky” (that is, not easily revised) in monetary terms, inflation and deflation would both inflict damage on the economy. Rising prices reduce the value of savings and pensions, while falling prices reduce profit expectations, encourage hoarding, and increase the real burden of debt.

Keynes’s dictum has become the ruling wisdom of monetary policy (one of his few to survive). Governments, according to the conventional wisdom, should aim for stable prices, with a slight bias toward inflation to stimulate the “animal spirits” of businessmen and shoppers. In the 10 years prior to the 2008 financial crisis, independent central banks set an inflation target of about 2%, in order to provide economies with a price-stability “anchor”. There should be no expectation that prices would be allowed to deviate, except temporarily, from the target. Uncertainty relating to the future course of prices would be eliminated from business calculations.

Since 2008, the Federal Reserve Board and the European Central Bank have failed to meet the 2% inflation target in any year; the Bank of England (BoE) has been on target in only one year out of seven. Moreover, in 2015, prices in the United States, the eurozone, and the United Kingdom are set to fall. So what is left of the inflation anchor? And what do falling prices mean for economic recovery? The first thing to bear in mind is that the “anchor” was always as flimsy as the monetary theory on which it was based. The price level at any time is the result of many factors, of which monetary policy is perhaps the least important. Today, the collapse in the price of crude oil is probably the most significant factor driving inflation below target, just as in 2011 it was the rise in oil prices that drove it above target.

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Beacuse our societies have long preferred quantity over quality in a trillion ways (pun intended).

We’re Living Longer, Yes, But Why Not Healthier? (MarketWatch)

I often say that Americans are getting healthier and living longer. The living-longer part I am sure about. Life expectancy for men at 65 increased from 15.9 years to 18.3 years between the 2000 and 2014 reports issued by the Social Security Trustees. It’s true that virtually all the gains in life expectancy accrued to the better-educated, better-paid portion of the population, but the bottom line is that—on average—we are living longer. All the demographers agree this trend will continue; the only question is how fast life expectancy will continue to increase.

Given the improvement in life expectancy, I thought that people would report that they felt healthier. That does not appear to be the case. Since the early 1970s, the National Health Interview Survey has asked the question: “Would you say your health in general is excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?” A response of fair or poor is an indication of serious problems and is correlated with subsequent mortality. Pooling data for four time periods (1974-76, 1994-96, 2004-06, and 2011-13) shows a big decline in the percentage of respondents with fair or poor health between 1974-76 and 1994-96, then very little improvement thereafter (as the graph at the top of the column shows). Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which includes an identical question, shows a clustering of responses from the mid-1990s through today.

Moreover, the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the gold standard for anyone examining the behavior of older Americans, presents a similar picture. The HRS follows people 50 and older, interviewing them every two years. The first group was interviewed in 1992, and additional cohorts have been added over time. Participants in the HRS are also asked to classify their health as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor. As the graph below indicates, the percentage of men between the ages of 55 and 65 classifying their health as fair or poor has remained virtually unchanged between 1994-1996 and 2010-12. Several other indicators, such as incidence of various diseases, also suggest little improvement in health. Interestingly, in contrast to the NHIS and the CPS, the percentage of HRS respondents reporting fair or poor health does not increase with age.

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Wow: “..when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy.”

New Theory Could Prove How Life Began – And Has God ‘On The Ropes’ (Ind.)

A new theory could answer the question of how life began – and throw out the need for God. A writer on the website of Richard Dawkins’ foundation says that the theory has put God “on the ropes” and has “terrified” Christians. It proposes that life did not emerge by accident or luck from a primordial soup and a bolt of lightning. Instead, life itself came about by necessity – it follows from the laws of nature and is as inevitable as rocks rolling downhill. The problem for scientists attempting to understand how life began is understanding how living beings – which tend to be far better at taking energy from the environment and dissipating it as heat – could come about from non-living ones. But a new theory, proposed by a researcher at MIT and first reported in Quanta Magazine, proposes that when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy.

The emergence of life might not be the luck of atoms arranging themselves in the right way, it says, but an inevitable event if the conditions are correct. “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said. Paul Rosenberg, writing this week on Richard Dawkins’ site, said that the theory could make things “a whole lot worse for creationists”. As Rosenberg notes, the idea that life could have evolved from non-living things is one that has been held for some time, and was described by the pre-Socratic philosophers. But England’s theory marks the first time that has been convincingly proposed since Darwin, and is backed by mathematical research and a proposal that can be put to the test.

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