Oct 102019
 
 October 10, 2019  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Salvador Dali Grandmother Ana sewing 1920

 

Inside Hunter Biden’s Dealings With Shadowy Foreign Firms (ZH)
Joe Biden ‘Personally Paid $900,000 By Burisma’ – Ukrainian MP (ZH)
An Insult To Real Whistleblowers- Kiriakou (RCP)
Shell To Offset Carbon Emissions For British Fuel Buyers (R.)
Federal Reserve Policymakers Increasingly Divided On Way Ahead (R.)
US Tariffs On China Are Working – Wilbur Ross (R.)
Nearly All Goods Traded By US And China Will Have Tariffs By December 15 (R.)
Chinese Consumers Are On A Worrying Staycation (Lam)
California Set To End Private Prisons And Immigrant Detention Camps (R.)
Owner Of Spanish Security Company That Spied On Assange Arrested (El Pais)
PG&E Power Outage: Lines For Gas, Batteries, Groceries And Generators (LAT)
Seven Latam Nations Suggest Maduro Behind Unrest In Ecuador (R.)
For The First Time Ever, Greece Issues Negative Yielding Debt (ZH)

 

 

I’ve been in a Not The Onion mode all day. It started off with reading that Shell is paying to offset its UK customers’ carbon emissions. For blunt stupidity, that’s hard to beat. That Johnson and Johnson was “ordered to pay $8 billion (!!!) after drug causes man to grow breasts” already seemed more logical after that. That Joe Biden made even more money off Burisma than Hunter did, then seemed perfectly normal. It was all uphill from there.

Inside Hunter Biden’s Dealings With Shadowy Foreign Firms (ZH)

According to the FT, Biden’s business interests “often show up in unexpected places.” While Democrats obviously prefer to focus on their impeachment investigation, there’s no denying that Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, China and elsewhere clearly raise questions about potential conflicts that existed while his father was in office. Joe Biden has denied wrongdoing, but questions linger over his role in the ouster of a top Ukrainian prosecutor, which some have suggested was done to help protect Hunter. When Hunter joined the Navy Reserves in May 2013, he required several waivers (at 42, he was above the age of enlistment, and there was an unspecified ‘drug-related’ incident that also would have disqualified him).

Despite his apparent eagerness to join, Biden was discharged from the Navy the following year after testing positive for cocaine. Soon after, his more successful older brother, Beau, passed away, and his wife Kathleen filed for divorce, citing Hunter’s “spending extravagantly on his own interests including drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, strip clubs and gifts for women with whom he has sexual relations.” Next, he started dating his brother’s widow. But in between trips to rehab and legendary drug benders. In 2016, shortly after he started dating Hallie Biden, Beau’s widow, Hunter made plans to stay at a detox center in Arizona. But he somehow got sidetracked during a stopover in Los Angeles, and ended up missing the next wing of his flight. Instead, he traveled to Skid Row, where he was reportedly held up at gun point, but nevertheless apparently succeeded in buying and using crack, causing him to return several times over the following days.

Eventually, Hunter Biden took a Hertz rental car to his treatment center in Arizona, but workers at the Hertz office called the police after finding a crack pipe and baggie of crack, along with Biden’s license and a badge from Beau’s time as Delaware AG. Prosecutors declined to pursue the case, claiming a lack of evidence, but it definitely wasn’t a good look for Hunter. More recently, Hunter has been in the headlines for his whirlwind marriage to a South African Instagram model, and for a paternity suit brought by a woman claiming Hunter is the father of her newborn son. Of course, none of these transgressions have stopped Biden from earning millions of dollars off his family name and connections. In Wednesday’s issue, the FT published a breakdown of Biden’s foreign business interests.

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As I said, perfectly normal.

Joe Biden ‘Personally Paid $900,000 By Burisma’ – Ukrainian MP (ZH)

Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach revealed on Wednesday that former Vice President Joe Biden received $900,000 from Burisma Group for lobbying activities, citing materials related to an investigation. Via Interfax: “Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden received $900,000 for lobbying activities from Burisma Group, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada member Andriy Derkach said citing investigation materials. Derkach publicized documents which, as he said, “describe the mechanism of getting money by Biden Sr.” at a press conference at Interfax-Ukraine’s press center in Kyiv on Wednesday”. -Interfax. “This was the transfer of Burisma Group’s funds for lobbying activities, as investigators believe, personally to Joe Biden through a lobbying company.”


“Funds in the amount of $900,000 were transferred to the U.S.-based company Rosemont Seneca Partners, which according to open sources, in particular, the New York Times, is affiliated with Biden. The payment reference was payment for consultative services,” said Derkach. Derkach also puiblicized sums of money transferred to Burisma Group representatives – including Joe Biden’s son Hunter. “According to the documents, Burisma paid no less than $16.5 million to [former Polish President, who became an independent director at Burisma Holdings in 2014] Aleksander Kwasniewski, [chairman of the Burisma board of independent directors] Alan Apter, [Burisma independent director] Devon Archer and Hunter Biden [who joined the Burisma board of directors in 2014],” Derkach added.

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“If you are represented by Mark Zaid and you’re claiming to be a whistleblower, you are not…”

An Insult To Real Whistleblowers- Kiriakou (RCP)

Former CIA official and whistleblower John Kiriakou weighed in on Ukraine whistleblower being celebrated by the media. Kiriakou called the person a “so-called whistleblower” that is acting anonymously even though they have no undercover position at the CIA, likely an analyst. “I don’t think this is a whistleblower, not at all,” Kiriakou told FNC’s Tucker Carlson. “I think this is an anonymous source for the Democratic staff in the House of Representatives.” “You can’t hide this person’s identity just to save him from embarrassment or trouble of being recognized,” Kiriakou said. “It’s just not appropriate. If this is a whistleblower, he needs to come forward in public, testify in open session and blow that whistle.”


“Even his attorney, Mark Zaid, is one of these CIA insiders. He’s attached at the hip with the CIA. He’s represented dozens of CIA people. He has a CIA security clearance. If you are represented by Mark Zaid and you’re claiming to be a whistleblower, you are not,” Kiriakou said Wednesday.

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Yup, the British are funny.

Shell To Offset Carbon Emissions For British Fuel Buyers (R.)

Royal Dutch Shell said on Thursday it would offset the carbon dioxide emissions of around 1.5 million road users in Britain starting later this month under a loyalty scheme. Shell, like other oil companies, has come under pressure from shareholders to show how it plans to reduce its carbon footprint and help cut greenhouse gas emissions, a major cause of global warming. Britons are increasingly concerned about their environmental impact, with thousands of students striking earlier this year and green group Extinction Rebellion carrying out civil disobedience to push for more ambition on climate change.


Sinead Lynch, Shell UK country chair, said the best way for people to cut their road emissions was to use electric vehicles, supplied with renewable power. “But today the majority of people still use petrol and diesel. We can help them address the impact of their emissions by offsetting their fuel purchases,” she said in a statement. From Oct. 17, emissions relating to fuel purchased by customers with the Shell Go+ app or card will be offset for free until September 2020. Shell said about 20% of its customers were registered with the loyalty scheme. It expects the program to cost roughly 10 million pounds ($12.2 million) and offset emissions from around 1.5 million cars.

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It’s too late to repair their nonsense.

Federal Reserve Policymakers Increasingly Divided On Way Ahead (R.)

Most Federal Reserve policymakers supported the need for an interest rate cut in September, minutes of the central bank’s last policy meeting showed, but they remained divided on the path ahead for monetary policy. The readout of the meeting, released on Wednesday, also showed that the Fed agreed it would soon need to discuss increasing the size of its balance sheet following ructions in short-term money markets. Fed Chair Jerome Powell announced an imminent expansion of the central bank’s assets on Tuesday. Fed policymakers at the Sept. 17-18 meeting decided, in a 7-3 vote, to lower the benchmark overnight lending rate by a quarter percentage point to between 1.75% and 2%.


“Most participants believed that a reduction of 25 basis points in the target range for the federal funds rate would be appropriate,” the Fed said in the minutes. The U.S. central bank has lowered borrowing costs twice this year after having raised interest rates nine times since 2015. But what remains unclear from the minutes is how a softening in economic data since that meeting will affect viewpoints on the need for further rate cuts, if at all. In projections that accompanied the September statement, seven of the Fed’s 17 policymakers indicated they forecast one more rate cut this year. Five policymakers did not see any more cuts needed and the other five projected a rate rise by the end of 2019. Investors overwhelmingly expect another rate cut at the next meeting on Oct. 29-30.

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Working? You sure that’s the right term?

US Tariffs On China Are Working – Wilbur Ross (R.)

Tariffs are forcing China to pay attention to U.S. concerns, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in Sydney on Thursday. Ross said the United States would have preferred not to implement tariffs against Chinese goods more than a year ago, but added that it has forced Beijing into action. The trade war has weighed on global growth and roiled financial markets. “We do not love tariffs, in fact we would prefer not to use them, but after years of discussions and no action, tariffs are finally forcing China to pay attention to our concerns,” Ross told a business function held by the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia. “We could have had a deal two-and-a-half years ago without going through the whole tit-for-tat on tariffs that we have.”


Top U.S. and Chinese trade and economic officials will meet in Washington on Thursday and Friday to try to end the escalating dispute. Without a significant breakthrough, Washington is set to hike the tariff rate on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods to 30% from 25% next Tuesday. Negotiators had made no progress in deputy-level trade talks held on Monday and Tuesday in Washington, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) said, citing unidentified sources with knowledge of the meetings. The two sides have been at loggerheads over U.S. demands that China improve protections of American intellectual property, end cyber theft and the forced transfer of technology to Chinese firms, curb industrial subsidies and increase U.S. companies’ access to largely closed Chinese markets.

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Let’s call it a draw?

Nearly All Goods Traded By US And China Will Have Tariffs By December 15 (R.)

U.S. and Chinese negotiators meet in Washington on Thursday and Friday to try, once again, to defuse a trade war that has roiled markets and triggered tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of goods traded between the world’s largest economies. The meetings come days after the U.S. Department of Commerce blacklisted 28 Chinese companies, and China and the U.S. started reciprocal visa bans. Chinese officials say they have little expectation of significant progress. If negotiators cannot come to an agreement, a new set of punitive U.S. tariffs kicks in on Oct. 15 on about $250 billion of Chinese goods, and then both countries put tariffs on billions of dollars more of each others’ goods on Dec. 15. Here is what is set to take effect in the next few weeks:

U.S. OCT. 15 INCREASE A proposed Oct. 15 tariff rate boosts to 30% a duty of 25% already in place on at least $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. Set to take effect on Oct. 1, the higher tariff was delayed late in September by Trump “as a gesture of good will.” The 25% tariffs were adopted over nearly a year, from an initial tranche of largely non-consumer goods in July and August 2018, including machinery and electronic components such as semiconductors and printed circuit boards and many chemicals. Later the U.S. added consumer goods and building products, including furniture, vacuum cleaners, lighting fixtures, handbags and vinyl flooring.

U.S. DEC. 15 TARIFF INCREASE Two months later, the U.S. plans to target an additional tariff of 15% at about $300 billion in imports from China. These had already been hit with a tariff of 15% on Sept. 1, in a list mostly of consumer products, based on a Reuters analysis of 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data. It includes flat panel television sets, flash memory devices, power tools, cotton sweaters, bed linens, multifunction printers and some footwear. The largest category of targeted products covers smart watches, smart speakers, Bluetooth headphones and other internet-connected devices spared in a prior round of tariffs, with Chinese imports estimated at $17.9 billion annually by the Consumer Technology Association.

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The numbers are not that impressive, but the trends are clear.

Chinese Consumers Are On A Worrying Staycation (Lam)

China is shopping, just not quite enough. Official numbers after a week-long National Day break showed revenue from domestic tourism climbed 8.5% compared to 2018, the slowest pace in at least 17 years. Retail and dining numbers also failed to dazzle. Beijing wants consumers to help revive a flagging economy, but a weak yuan and the fading impact of tax cuts will keep purse strings tight. Golden Week, which began on Oct. 1, has long offered a snapshot of Chinese consumption. This year, the picture is less than shiny. Spending on retail and dining was up 8.5% compared to a 9.5% increase last year according to Citi, and well below double-digit increases a decade ago. Growth in domestic travel cooled too.

Some 7 million Chinese still ventured overseas, a measure of the country’s increasing wealth, but the number of outbound travellers in the first six days of October fell 15% compared to a year ago. In part that was due to China’s anniversary celebrations, and Hong Kong hardly helped: anti-government protests there have prompted numbers coming over the border to fall precipitously. But it measures wider household concerns. Instead, it was the small luxuries that did well, like trips to the movies. Patriotic flicks including ‘My People, My Country’ – stories inspired by China’s history – drew record box office revenue and over 100 million viewers during the holiday, according to Xinhua.

Beijing, which usually leans on infrastructure to stimulate the economy, has increasingly turned to consumers too. Stimulus measures, including a personal income tax unveiled late last year, did help lift disposable incomes by 8.8% in the first half. That would have been 7.2% without the boost, reckons analyst Ernan Cui of Gavekal Dragonomics. Unfortunately, that’s not feeding into shopping baskets fast enough, given it impacted wealthier households more.

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The very idea of “privately outsourced incarceration” is so insane we should never even consider it.

California Set To End Private Prisons And Immigrant Detention Camps (R.)

America’s largest state prison system is moving to quit the practice of farming out inmates to lockups run under contract by private companies, following a nationwide decline in the for-profit incarceration business. California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign legislation this week designed to effectively ban private, for-profit corporations from running prisons or immigration detention facilities. Sponsors of the measure say it will end a brief but hapless experiment in privately outsourced incarceration begun as a means to ease overcrowding – an endeavor Newsom branded an outrage when he took office in January.


Bill supporters say private prisons, driven to maximize shareholder profits, lack proper oversight or incentives to rehabilitate inmates, and have contributed to a culture of mass incarceration by making it cheaper to lock up people. They point to research cited in a 2016 U.S. Justice Department Office of Inspector General report that found private prisons spend less on personnel, and are less safe, than public institutions. “This is a total and complete failure, and it’s hurting and abusing Californians,” said state Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a chief author of the bill.

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Yeah, well, the horse and the barn.

Owner Of Spanish Security Company That Spied On Assange Arrested (El Pais)

David Morales, the owner of the Spanish security company that was in charge of protecting the Ecuadorian embassy in London while Julian Assange was living there, has been arrested and released on bail, judicial sources have told EL PAÍS. The director of UC Global S. L. is being investigated by Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, after allegedly ordering the private conversations of the WikiLeaks founder to be spied on, as well as supposedly passing the information collected to the United States’ intelligence services. Morales’ arrest took place on September 17 in the southern Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera, which is where the security firm is based. The information had not come to light until now given that the investigation is under seal.


Police officers searched the company’s offices and also seized hard disks and documents, all of which are now being analyzed by the judge in charge of the case, José de la Mata. According to judicial sources, two firearms with their serial numbers erased were found in Morales’ home, as well as €20,000 in cash. Morales was taken to Madrid were he was questioned at the High Court before being released on bail. His passport was taken from him and his bank accounts frozen. He currently has to check in at the High Court every two weeks. [..] After the revelations were published by EL PAÍS, Assange’s defense team filed a criminal complaint against Morales, in which he is accused of alleged privacy offenses as well as the violation of attorney-client privilege, misappropriation of funds, bribery and money laundering.

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A glimpse of your future.

PG&E Power Outage: Lines For Gas, Batteries, Groceries And Generators (LAT)

The massive blackouts imposed across Northern California on Wednesday led to a run on gasoline, portable generators and other supplies while retailers struggled to serve customers. Millions were expected to lose power as Pacific Gas & Electric shut down service in a bid to avoid wind-driven fires caused by downed power lines. Angie Sheets of El Dorado Hills outside Sacramento noticed that generators were flying off the shelves at the local Costco as she shopped for groceries earlier in the week. Considering the nearly $1,000 worth of food she planned to purchase and the imminent power outage, Sheets said she called her husband to talk about buying a generator for their home. “By the time I had done that, the last big generator was gone off the shelves,” she said. Her husband, a law enforcement officer, later found a generator at a Costco in Rancho Cordova.

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You sure it wasn’t Putin? How about Ukraine?

Seven Latam Nations Suggest Maduro Behind Unrest In Ecuador (R.)

Seven Latin American countries reject any attempt by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to destabilize democracies in the region and back Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno as he tries to calm unrest, Peru’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday, speaking on behalf of the group. A statement from the Peru’s foreign ministry said that it as well as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Paraguay all expressed their “firm backing for actions taken by President Lenin Moreno” and “reject any action aimed at destabilizing our democracies by the regime of Nicolas Maduro.”

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Still bankrupt though.

For The First Time Ever, Greece Issues Negative Yielding Debt (ZH)

As armies of fixed income strategists battle over whether US Treasuries are facing higher or lower yields, Greece has no such qualms and in a historic shift today, the former bond market pariah and Eurozone’s most indebted nation, joined the exclusive club of negative-yielding European nations when bond investors lined up to pay the nation that was at the heart of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. A sale of €487.5 million of 13-week bills on Wednesday drew Greece’s first-ever negative yield of minus 0.02% as investors now pay Athens for the privilege of lending it cash, as Bloomberg first reported. Greece joins the likes of Ireland, Italy and Spain – not to mention virtually all core Eurozone nations – which benefit from the ECB’s insane monetary policy and deepening fears of a global recession.


It’s been an unprecedented turnaround for twice bankrupt Eurozone member, whose bondholders suffered massive losses back in March 2012 when the country was forced to accept the biggest bond restructuring in history, bringing the Eurozone to the verge of collapse. Just a few years and several trillions in bond purchases by the ECB later, the region is grappling with an altogether different problem – the spread of negative yields, which reduces borrowing costs for governments in a form of soft default, one which is crushing savers, pension funds and insurers, and which has prompted some of the most respected names in finance to shriek in terror as the cost of money in even Europe’s most insolvent nations is now negative.

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May 012019
 


Gustave Courbet The desperate man (self portrait) 1852

 

Maduro Claims Victory Over ‘Deranged’ Coup Attempt (G.)
Zero Percent of Elite Commentators Oppose Regime Change in Venezuela (FAIR)
About That Letter That Mueller Wrote To Barr… (ZH)
The Real ‘Bombshells’ Are About to Hit Their Targets (Kelly)
Why Are Clapper and Brennan Not in Jail?
Wall Street Puts Nearly $2 Billion in American Politics in 2016-18 Cycle
iPhone Sales Fall 17% In First Quarter (G.)
Australia House Prices Continue To Fall, Clearing Way For Rate Cut (SMH)
Tesla Filing Shows Results Were Goosed By A Surge In Credits (LAT)
Julian Assange’s Confinement And Arrest Are A Scandal (Maurizi)
Extradition of Julian Assange Threatens Us All (VIPS)
Canadian Threat Level At America Raised From “Miffed” To “Peeved” (Exp.)
Climate Crisis Facing Australian Rainforests Likened To Coral Bleaching (SMH)

 

 

The things we do for oil.

“‘Maduro had a plane on the tarmac and was ready to leave this morning’, claims @SecPompeo without offering evidence. But as Pompeo admitted just last week, telling lies was (and some may say still is) one of his key job requirements”.

Maduro Claims Victory Over ‘Deranged’ Coup Attempt (G.)

Nicolás Maduro claimed his troops have thwarted a botched attempt to topple him masterminded by Venezuela’s “coup-mongering far right” and Donald Trump’s deranged imperialist “gang”. In an hour-long address to the nation on Tuesday night – his first since the pre-dawn uprising began – Maduro accused opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his political mentor Leopoldo López of seeking to spark an armed confrontation that might be used as a pretext for a foreign military intervention. However, “loyal and obedient” members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian armed forces had put down the mutiny within hours of it starting shortly after 4am, Maduro claimed, in direct contradiction to Guaidó’s earlier remark that the president no longer had military backing.

By noon there only remained a small group of plotters who had chosen “the path of betrayal … [and] handed their souls over to the coup-mongering far right”. “They failed in their plan. They failed in their call, because the people of Venezuela want peace,” Maduro said, surrounded by Venezuela’s military and political elite. “We will continue to emerge victorious … in the months and years ahead. I have no doubt about it.” Maduro said the plotters would “not go unpunished” and said they would face criminal prosecutions “for the serious crimes that have been committed against the constitution, the rule of law and the right to peace”.


[..] Maduro called Tuesday’s “coup-mongering adventure” part of a US-backed plot to destroy the Bolivarian revolution he inherited after Hugo Chávez’s death in 2013. “I truly believe … that the United States of America has never had a government as deranged as this one,” he said, calling Guaidó and his team “useful idiots” of the empire. He also scotched claims from the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, that he had been preparing to flee Venezuela for Cuba on Tuesday morning, until he was told to stay put by his Russian backers. “Señor Pompeo, please,” Maduro said.

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Propaganda works.

Zero Percent of Elite Commentators Oppose Regime Change in Venezuela (FAIR)

A FAIR survey of US opinion journalism on Venezuela found no voices in elite corporate media that opposed regime change in that country. Over a three-month period (1/15/19–4/15/19), zero opinion pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post took an anti–regime change or pro-Maduro/Chavista position. Not a single commentator on the big three Sunday morning talkshows or PBS NewsHour came out against President Nicolás Maduro stepping down from the Venezuelan government. Of the 76 total articles, opinion videos or TV commentator segments that centered on or gave more than passing attention to Venezuela, 54 (72 percent) expressed explicit support for the Maduro administration’s ouster.

Eleven (14 percent) were ambiguous, but were only classified as such for lack of explicit language. Reading between the lines, most of these were clearly also pro–regime change. Another 11 (14 percent) took no position, but many similarly offered ideological ammo for those in support. The Times published 22 pro–regime change commentaries, three ambiguous and five without a position. The Post also spared no space for the pro-Chavista camp: 22 of its articles expressed support for the end to Maduro’s administration, eight were ambiguous and four took no position. Of the 12 TV opinions surveyed, 10 were pro-regime change and two took no position.


[..] This comes despite the existence of millions of Venezuelans who support Maduro—who was democratically elected twice by the same electoral system that won Juan Guaidó his seat in the National Assembly—and oppose US/foreign intervention. FAIR (2/20/19) has pointed out corporate media’s willful erasure of vast improvements to Venezuelan life under Chavismo, particularly for the oppressed poor, black, indigenous and mestizo populations. FAIR has also noted the lack of discussion of US-imposed sanctions, which have killed at least 40,000 Venezuelans between 2017–18 alone, and continue to devastate the Venezuelan economy.

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Mueller worried about media coverage.

“House Democrats, who have expressed distrust in the attorney general, are set to vote on Wednesday to allow House Judiciary Committee lawyers to question Barr at Thursday’s hearing.”

About That Letter That Mueller Wrote To Barr… (ZH)

In what the WaPo breathlessly reports late on Tuesday was a rebuke and “complaint” to Attorney General William Barr, special counsel Robert Mueller sent a letter to the AG in late March, just days after Barr sent out his summary to Congress, in which Mueller stated that Barr’s 4-page summary to Congress on the sweeping Russia investigation failed to “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s work and conclusions, citing a copy of the letter it had obtained using its trusted deep intel sources. Pouring more fuel on the fire, the always pithy Axios adds that “this revelation about Mueller’s dissatisfaction with the characterization of his report will likely escalate the growing rift over Barr’s handling of the special counsel’s investigation.

[..] Or maybe not, and perhaps the WaPo/NYT report is not “so bad” if one actually reads it, because once the breathless WaPo finally does come up for air, we get to paragraph 13 – a point by which most readers have turned out – to read the following real punchline in the WaPo report: “When Barr pressed Mueller on whether he thought Barr’s memo to Congress was inaccurate, Mueller said he did not…” So, Mueller felt there was confusion… but he did not think the memo was inaccurate. Wait, what’s going on here and how is this even a story? Well, if we read the rest of the above sentence, we find the true object of Mueller’s “complaint”: “[Mueller] felt that the media coverage of it was misinterpreting the investigation, officials said.”

Which means that, as the WaPo itself reports, what Mueller was really angry with was the coverage of his report by media such as… the WaPo and the NYT?? The irony, it burns. [..] throughout a subsequent 15 minutes telephone conversation between the special counsel and the attorney general, Mueller’s main worry was “that the public was not getting an accurate understanding of the obstruction investigation.” This goes back to what Mueller’s letter requested: “that Barr release the 448-page report’s introductions and executive summaries, and made some initial suggested redactions for doing so, according to Justice Department officials,” the WaPo writes. What happened then? A few weeks later Barr did just that..

[..] tomorrow Barr is scheduled to testify on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the investigation, and the entire article is meant to focus on the headlines of the WaPo (and NYT) article, and certainly not on paragraph 13 which, not only refutes the prevailing tone that Barr did something wrong, but in fact exonerates him. But that won’t have any impact on tomorrow’s hearing which is now assured to be a complete kangaroo court.

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FISAgate. Get ready.

The Real ‘Bombshells’ Are About to Hit Their Targets (Kelly)

In the next several weeks, Inspector General Michael Horowitz is expected to issue his summation of the potential abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by top officials in the Obama Administration and holdovers in the early Trump Administration who were overseeing the investigation of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And the perpetrators of the so-called FISAgate scandal now are scrambling for cover as the bad news looms. Horowitz announced last March that his office would examine the Justice Department’s conduct “in applications filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) relating to a certain U.S. person.” That U.S. person is Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

In October 2016, just two weeks before the presidential election, the Justice Department submitted an application to the FISC seeking authorization to wiretap Page. The court filing accused Page, a Naval Academy graduate and unpaid campaign advisor, of being an agent of Russia. The application cited the infamous Steele dossier—unsubstantiated political propaganda that had been funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee—as its primary source of evidence. But the specific political origin of the dossier intentionally was omitted in the court filing. (Robert Mueller similarly tap danced around the role of Fusion GPS, the political consulting firm that hired Christopher Steele to create the dossier. Mueller never mentioned the name “Fusion GPS” in the 448-page document, referring to it only vaguely as “the firm that produced the Steele reporting.”)


Former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates signed the original FISA application. It was renewed three times; subsequent signers included former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. If there’s one document that represents the malevolence, chicanery and arrogance of the original Trump-Russia collusion fraudsters, it’s the Page FISA application. But—to borrow a favorite term of the collusion truthers—the “walls are closing in” on the FISA abusers.

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Senator Rand Paul: “Subpoena Clapper & Brennan! Demand they answer whether they leaked classified information to the Washington Post. Examine their call records and lock them up if evidence proves them to be the leakers.”

Why Are Clapper and Brennan Not in Jail?

The clearest of all the laws concerning U.S. intelligence is Section 798, 18 U.S. Code—widely known in the Intelligence Community as “the Comint Statute,” or “the 10 and 10.” Unlike other laws, this is a “simple liability” law. Motivation, context, identity, matter not at all. You violate it, you are guilty and are punished accordingly.

Here it is: (a) Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, . . . any classified information— (1) concerning the nature, preparation, or use of any code, cipher, or cryptographic system of the United States or any foreign government; or (2) concerning the design, construction, use, maintenance, or repair of any device, apparatus, or appliance used or prepared or planned for use by the United States …or (3) concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government; or (4) obtained by the processes of communication intelligence . . . Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.


On December 9 and 10, 2016, the New York Times and the Washington Post independently reported that anonymous senior intelligence officials had told them that, based on intercepted communications, the intelligence agencies agreed that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee to help Donald Trump win the election. Their evidence was the fact of their access to U.S communications intelligence. A flood of subsequent stories also cited allegations by “senior intelligence officials” that “intercepted communications” and “intercepted calls” showed that “members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.” Incontrovertibly, the officials who gave these stories to the Times and Post violated the Comint Statute, and are subject to the “10 and 10” for each count.

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$2.5 million every single day for two years. That’s $1.9 billion.

Wall Street Puts Nearly $2 Billion in American Politics in 2016-18 Cycle

Wall Street poured at least $1.9 billion into the political process, the largest-ever amount for a non-presidential year, according to a new report by Americans for Financial Reform. This sum outstrips the total of $1.4 billion, in the 2013-14 election cycle, by 36 percent. The figure, which includes contributions to campaign committees and leadership PACs ($922 million) and lobbying expenditures ($957 million), reflects a massive rush of pro-industry nominees and legislation over the last two years, at a time when the biggest banks made $100 billion in profits for the first time. Industry subsequently spent heavily to influence what became one of the hardest-fought mid-term campaigns in decades.


“The last election cycle demonstrated yet again that Wall Street political spending produces policies that will do lasting financial damage to most Americans, including massive tax cuts for big banks, fewer consumer and investor protections, and other policies that that drive inequality and economic vulnerability,” said Lisa Donner, executive director, Americans for Financial Reform. “Year after year, big money in politics helps Wall Street rig the system in its own favor, and against the rest of us, and insulate itself from accountability, even though voters across party lines oppose so many of the policies it seeks.”

The 63-page report, “Wall Street Money in Washington,” draws on a special data set compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics for AFR in order to provide a more precise look at financial services industry spending. The set excludes spending by health insurers, who work to influence a different group of issues than, for example, banks. As the data does not include “dark money” that goes mostly unreported, the actual sums of Wall Street spending are surely much higher.

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So Apple buys back another $75 billion and shares rise 5%. But of course.

iPhone Sales Fall 17% In First Quarter (G.)

Apple’s iPhone sales fell 17% in the first three months of the year as the company’s flagship product continued to struggle. The tech company reported revenues of $31.05bn in iPhone revenues for the quarter, the majority of the $58.bn in revenues Apple brought in over the three months. The news was less gloomy than expected and Apple’s shares spiked 5% in after hours trading as Apple announced it was buying back another $75bn of its shares. The company made a profit of $11.6bn – ahead of expectations. But this quarter marked another quarterly decline in profit and revenue as the company struggled to move beyond the iPhone. In January Apple reported its first decline in revenues and profits in over a decade as slowing sales of iPhones and an economic slowdown in China took their toll.


Those results came after chief executive Tim Cook shocked investors by issuing Apple’s first profits warning since 2002 citing “the magnitude of the economic deceleration, particularly in greater China.” The company has stopped reporting unit sales of iPhones – leaving analysts searching other sources of data for their estimates. Most don’t expect a recovery in sales until the next generation of phones, using the super-fast 5G network, are launched, likely to be in 2020. In the meantime Apple is repositioning itself as a services and software company as well as the manufacturer of hardware. “Investors are slowly shifting their focus away from the iPhone cycle and valuing the company more based on the ecosystem of hardware, software, and services, but it will take several years for this to become consensus,” Gene Munster, managing partner of Loup Ventures, wrote in a blog post this week.

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Why? Maybe prices are far too high. Why would you want to keep them that way?

Australia House Prices Continue To Fall, Clearing Way For Rate Cut (SMH)

The national property market is enduring its biggest fall in values since the global financial crisis, being led down by double-digit drops in Sydney and Melbourne. New analysis by CoreLogic shows house values in Sydney dropped 0.8 per cent in April to be down by 11.8 per cent over the past 12 months. The situation is worse in Melbourne where values fell by 0.7 per cent last month to be down 12.6 per cent over the past year. Overall dwelling values in Sydney dropped by 0.7 per cent to be 10.9 per cent lower over the year. Since their peak in September 2017, Sydney dwelling values have fallen by 14.5 per cent.


In Melbourne, dwelling values dropped by 2.6 per cent to be 10 per cent down over the past 12 months. They have fallen by 10.9 per cent since their peak. National dwelling values were down by 0.5 per cent in the month to be down by 7.2 per cent on an annual basis, the largest drop since the 12 months to February 2009. Every capital city except Canberra suffered a fall in house prices last month with Hobart, which had been the nation’s strongest market, seeing a 1.2 per cent drop in April. Canberra, where values lifted last month, and Hobart are the only two capitals where prices are still growing above the inflation rate on an annual basis.

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Subsidies “R” Us.

Tesla Filing Shows Results Were Goosed By A Surge In Credits (LAT)

Tesla’s financial results released last week didn’t mention that the automaker’s revenue included $200 million collected from regulatory credits. When Chief Executive Elon Musk answered questions from analysts, he didn’t point that out, either. The number was buried in the official government filing known as Form 10-Q that Tesla filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Without the revenue spike – which is unlikely to be repeated, analysts say – the company’s first-quarter loss would have been much deeper than the $702 million that Tesla reported. Gross margins on Tesla’s cars, a key measure of manufacturing profitability and efficiency, would have taken a significant hit. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi’s reaction? “Egad,” he said in a note to investors.


Tesla’s shares fell 1.2% to $238.69 on Tuesday. The $235.14 closing price Friday was its lowest in more than two years. The new data add to Tesla’s already bleak financial picture. The $702-million loss followed a $139-million profit in the previous quarter. Sales fell sharply. Automotive revenue plunged 41%, to $3.7 billion from $6.3 billion in the previous quarter, as vehicle deliveries dropped to 63,000 from 90,700 the previous quarter. Operating cash flow turned negative — a net $640 million going out the door over the three months compared to a positive $1.23 billion in the previous period. Cash on hand dropped from $3.69 billion at the end of last quarter to $2.2 billion, including $920 million to pay off convertible bonds.

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“.. they replied to me and my lawyers that they had destroyed the emails, even though the case is still ongoing, very high-profile and controversial.”

Julian Assange’s Confinement And Arrest Are A Scandal (Maurizi)

In the summer of 2015, when Julian Assange had already spent three years inside the embassy, I decided it was important to access the full documentation on his case to try to reconstruct it using factual information. It was at that point that I filed my comprehensive FOIA request on the Julian Assange and WikiLeaks case in four jurisdictions. I ran up against a real rubber wall, one so persistent that have been forced to sue the Swedish and British authorities. The documents I have managed to obtain after a lengthy FOIA litigation, which is still ongoing, provide indisputable evidence of the UK’s role in helping to create the legal and diplomatic quagmire which has kept Julian Assange arbitrarily detained since 2010, as established by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD.)

It was the UK Crown Prosecution Service which advised the Swedish prosecutors against the only judicial strategy that could have brought the Swedish rape investigation to a quick closure: questioning Assange in London, rather than trying to extradite him to Stockholm. It was the Crown Prosecution Service which tried to dissuade the Swedish prosecutors from dropping the case in 2013. Why did the Crown Prosecution Service act this way? And why did the Crown Prosecution Service write to their Swedish counterpart: “Please do not think that the case is being dealt with as just another extradition request”?


When I tried to dig into these facts, I discovered crucial gaps in the Crown Prosecution Service’s documents and asked the Service to provide an explanation for them. Their answer was rather incredible: they replied to me and my lawyers that they had destroyed the emails, even though the case is still ongoing, very high-profile and controversial. The Crown Prosecution Service which destroyed the records is the very same agency in charge of handling the extradition request from the United States, as well as from Sweden, if the Swedish prosecutors reopen the case before the statute of limitations on the rape allegations expires. Will anyone demand transparency and accountability from the Crown Prosecution Service in their handling of the Assange case from the very beginning?

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“It takes two to speak the truth–one to speak and one to hear.”

Extradition of Julian Assange Threatens Us All (VIPS)

Retaliation against Julian Assange over the past decade plus replicates a pattern of ruthless political retaliationagainst whistleblowers, in particular those who reveal truths hidden by illegal secrecy. U.S. law prohibits classifying information “in order to conceal inefficiency, violations of law, or administrative error; to prevent embarrassmentto a person, organization, or agency.” Whether U.S. authorities successfully prosecute Assange, accept a desperate plea deal or keep him tied up with endless litigation, they will succeed in sending the same chilling message to all journalists that they send to potential whistleblowers: Do not embarrass us or we’ll punish you—somehow, someday, however long it takes.

In that respect, one could say damage to journalism already has been done but the battle is not over. This extension of a whistleblower reprisal regime onto a publisher of disclosures poses an existential threat to all journalists and to the right of all people to speak and hear important truths. The U.S. indictment of Julian Assange tests our ability to perceive a direct threat to free speech, and tests our will to oppose that threat.Without freedom of press and the right and willingness to publish, whistleblowers even disclosing issues of grave, life and death public safety, will be like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear.


The great American writer Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It takes two to speak the truth–one to speak and one to hear.” Today, it takes three to speak the truth–one to speak, one to hear, and one to defend the first two in court. If the U.S. Government has its way, there will be no defense, no truth.

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Real title: “Canada FURY after The Simpsons MOCKS Justin Trudeau amid scandal – ‘COMPLETE disrespect’”

I don’t know what to think of this. You decide. Onion? It’s actually the Express in the UK.

Canadian Threat Level At America Raised From “Miffed” To “Peeved” (Exp.)

Viewers were left disgusted after the word “Newfie” was used in the episode titled ‘D’Oh Canada’. The term is decades old and is considered an offensive, derogatory term for people in Newfoundland and Labrador. According to CTV News, it is commonly used to imply someone is stupid or foolish. The country’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also appeared in the episode. During the episode, which aired on Sunday night, the Simpsons family travel to Niagara Falls. Somehow Lisa Simpson ends up falling over the famous waterfall, which separates the US and Canada. In the controversial scene, Lisa stands next to some Canadian youngsters and says: “I’m sure you treat all people equally.”


One says: “Except the Québécois,” before others add, “and the Newfies. “Stupid Newfies.” The scene then cuts to Springfield youngster Ralph Wiggum who says “I’m a Newfie” before clubbing the head of a stuffed baby seal. Twitter erupted with fury following the show’s airing. One said: “I can take a joke. “When, however, it is complete disrespect disguised as a joke, I take exception.” Some also criticised the show for targeting seal hunters. The Simpsons has a long and often contentious past. Most recently the show was condemned for its portrayal of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who many now see as racist stereotyping.

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On and on we go.

Climate Crisis Facing Australian Rainforests Likened To Coral Bleaching (SMH)

Animals in Australia’s globally renowned wet tropics are on the brink of extinction after the hottest summer on record, according to official advice that equates the scale of the crisis to coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. The extraordinary warning relates to the lush green coastal fringe spanning Townsville, Cairns and Cooktown in Queensland’s north – the Earth’s oldest rainforest and a World Heritage-listed tourist drawcard. A statement from the board of the Wet Tropics Management Authority on Tuesday said more than half of animal species endemic to the area may be extinct within decades. It called for strong global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the ancient area for future generations.


The climate change policies of the major parties are under the microscope during the federal election campaign, as Labor and the Coalition pledge starkly different action to address the crisis. The Queensland government authority says “concerning new evidence has shown an accelerating decline” in the wet tropics’ unique rainforest animals. “Following the hottest summer ever recorded, some of the key species for which the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area was listed are at imminent risk of extinction,” the statement said. [..] Modelling has previously predicted that more than half of the area’s endemic species may be extinct by the end of this century. However the latest findings by James Cook University biodiversity professor Steve Williams suggested “these extinctions are happening even sooner”, the statement said.

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Feb 142019
 


Pablo Picasso Guitar 1925

 

Australia’s $7 Trillion Question: How Low Will House Prices Go (SMH)
US Mortgage Applications Drop Despite Lower Rates: Industry is Baffled (WS)
Surge In Delinquencies Threatens US Auto Loan Bubble (Colombo)
$1 Trillion Amazon Pays $0 In Income Taxes, Gets $129 Million Rebate (RT)
EU Officials: UK Only ‘Pretending To Negotiate’ Over Brexit (G.)
UK Has Rolled Over Just £16bn Out Of £117bn Trade Deals (G.)
Labour MPs Warn Corbyn: Back A Second Referendum Or We Quit (G.)
Hardline Brexiters Threaten To Vote Down Theresa May’s Motion (G.)
Maduro Claims Foes ‘Totally Failed’ To Topple Him As Efforts Falter (G.)
Venezuela Envoy Elliott Abrams Loses His Cool In Congress (ZH)
Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and Washington over Nordstream 2 (SCF)
Bikes Put Spanner In Works Of Dutch Driverless Car Schemes (G.)
Exposure To Glyphosate Increases Risk Of Cancer By 41% – Study (G.)

 

 

As I said yesterday, after 27 years without a recession, the no. 1 instrument to battle complacency, excesses and zombies, Australia is a fire hazard. At the same time, of course, after 27 years so many people have never seen a recession that nobody expects one anymore.

Australia’s $7 Trillion Question: How Low Will House Prices Go (SMH)

Industry experts say property prices in Sydney and Melbourne, which have led a slump in Australia’s $7 trillion residential property market, are likely headed lower before they hit rock bottom. The Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures this week showing new lending to owner occupiers fell 6.4% during December last year, outpacing the fall in lending to property investors, which dropped by 4.6%. The total value of new lending to households has now dropped 19.8% in the past year — the biggest annual fall in home loans since the height of the global financial crisis. “The lending numbers are atrocious; it tells us that property markets in Sydney and Melbourne are in a tailspin,” says Louis Christopher, managing director of property researcher SQM Research.

The issue is mostly access to credit and, for at least for past six months, banks have been scrutinising the spending of borrowers more closely when assessing their loans, Christopher says. Doron Peleg, chief executive of RiskWise Property Research, says the weak lending figures also show how those who would normally be entering the property market are now shying away in anticipation of lower prices. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index out this week showed consumers in Sydney and Melbourne have poor property price expectations. “Buyer sentiment has been hit as residential property, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, is seen as a depreciating asset,” Peleg says.

[..] Many property experts are expecting a peak-to-trough drop in property prices of between 15% and 20%. “Without an interest-rate cut or regulatory changes there will be tough times ahead for the property market,” RiskWise’s Peleg says. [..] Tim Lawless, the head of research at property researcher CoreLogic, is expecting a peak-to-trough fall of up to 20% for both Sydney and Melbourne before prices start to level out in 2020. However, Lawless says the price declines should be kept in perspective. Sydney house and apartment prices have risen by more than 70% in the past decade, while Melbourne prices have gained even more, he says. This is despite recent price falls of more than 12% from their peak in Sydney in mid-2017 and 8% in Melbourne from a top in late 2017, he says.

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The Omen.

US Mortgage Applications Drop Despite Lower Rates: Industry is Baffled (WS)

A month ago, mortgages reappeared in the housing-hype circus, when it was widely reported that mortgage applications “soared” and “jumped.” Both types of mortgage applications did so: those used to purchase a home (purchase mortgages) and those used to refinance an existing mortgage (refinance mortgages). The jump in mortgage applications was ascribed to “plunging” mortgage interest rates. It was seen as a big sign that the weakening housing market was about to turn around. But that hope has gotten unwound.

Today, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported that its purchase mortgage index – which tracks applications (not approvals) for conventional and government mortgages to purchase a single-family house – fell 6% from the prior week and was down 5% from the same week last year – despite falling mortgage rates, which should have cranked up home buying and mortgage activity. It was the fourth week in a row of drops:

The Purchase Mortgage Index is considered a reliable indicator of impending home sales, and so this decline, given the lower mortgage rates, mystifies the industry.“Application activity fell last week – even with rates decreasing – as renewed uncertainty about the domestic and global economy likely held potential homebuyers off the market,” said MBA Associate VP of Industry Surveys and Forecasts, Joel Kan, in the report. “The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to its lowest level since last March, and was 52 basis points lower than its recent high last November,” he said.

You can practically hear between the lines, so to speak, the bafflement in his voice about this decline in purchase mortgage applications in light of the decline in mortgage rates. The MBA also reported today that the average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances inched down to 4.65%, back where it had been last April (chart via Investing.com):

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AKA the Thelma and Louise economy.

Surge In Delinquencies Threatens US Auto Loan Bubble (Colombo)

My concerns about the U.S. automobile bubble are being confirmed. As Bloomberg reports: “More Americans than ever are at least three months behind on their auto loans, a sign that the U.S. economy may have little growth left in the tank. The number of loans at least 90 days late exceeded 7 million at the end of last year, the highest total in the two decades the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has kept track. Expressed as a percentage of total debt, the delinquency rate is the highest since 2012, as overall borrowing has also increased.

The data show not all Americans are benefiting from the strong labor market, New York Fed economists say. Consumers with the weakest credit have driven deteriorating performance of auto debt: The share of subprime borrowers who fell well behind on car payments the last three months of the year was the highest since the second quarter of 2010.

As I’ve been warning for the past couple years, the U.S. automobile sales boom is a byproduct of a bubble in auto loans:

The auto sales and auto loan bubble is a byproduct of ultra-cheap credit conditions in the past decade since the Great Recession. Interest rates are now rising, which threatens the auto bubble: It’s only a matter of time before the U.S. auto sales and loan bubble experiences a serious bust. Rising delinquencies are just the start, I’m afraid. Booms fueled by cheap credit always end the same way – in a terrible bust. Ignore the voices that say “this time will be different!”

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And the people who lost their retail jobs don’t pay income taxes either anymore.

$1 Trillion Amazon Pays $0 In Income Taxes, Gets $129 Million Rebate (RT)

Trillion-dollar-company Amazon skated through 2018’s tax filings without paying a cent for the second year in a row. The e-commerce behemoth, which made $11 billion last year, will pay no taxes at all, thanks to 2017’s tax reform. Rather than pay the standard 21% corporate income tax rate, Amazon is actually claiming a tax rebate of $129 million, which works out to a logic-defying rate of -1%. Aside from the nebulous “tax credits,” which the company does not have to spell out in its public filings, Amazon is also claiming a tax break for executive stock options, according to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy – a longstanding loophole that permits profitable corporations to dodge federal and state income taxes on almost half their profits.

While President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax reform legislation lowered corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%, it was sold as an incentive for companies to keep their money in the US, instead of stashing it overseas where the IRS couldn’t touch it. Now that Amazon and Netflix have both made headlines for using the new regulations to avoid paying anything at all, it remains to be seen whether the legislation’s failure to close corporate loopholes will leave the US holding the bag for fiscal year 2018 as the country’s national debt inches past $22 trillion – a record high.

Amazon’s tax windfall doesn’t even take into account the billions in tax breaks the state governments of Virginia and New York offered the company to open a second (and third) headquarters in their states, though there are rumors that New York is getting cold feet about the unprecedented corporate giveaway. Amazon didn’t pay any taxes in 2017 either, though it raked in a comparatively paltry $5.6 billion in profits and extracted a slightly larger $137 million refund.

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“Verhofstadt asked Lidington four times what the British proposal was and “four times didn’t get an answer”, according to the EU official, who described the encounter as “very surreal”.”

EU Officials: UK Only ‘Pretending To Negotiate’ Over Brexit (G.)

The British government is “pretending to negotiate” with the European Union and has not presented any new proposals to break the Brexit deadlock, according to EU officials. Theresa May’s de-facto deputy, David Lidington, and the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, met senior EU officials and MEPs in Brussels and Strasbourg this week, but the talks yielded no obvious results. The British side thinks a crucial process has begun and hopes progress will have been made by 27 February when MPs are expected to have another crunch Brexit vote. However, on Wednesday night European council president Donald Tusk said the EU27 was still waiting for proposals. “No news is not always good news,” he tweeted, after meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

“EU27 still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London on how to break Brexit impasse,” Tusk said. Barnier, has said current talks with the UK do not even qualify as negotiations. In a call on Tuesday morning with Guy Verhofstadt, chief Brexit representative for the European parliament, Barnier said there were “no negotiations” with the British. “These are courtesy calls at best and we have nothing new to say,” Barnier was reported to have said, by a source familiar with the conversation. Verhofstadt had asked the EU negotiator for an update, following Barnier’s meeting with Barclay over dinner at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels, where they dined on North Sea sole, roast duck and British cheese, washed down with sancerre and saint-émilion wines.

“They are pretending to negotiate while they still don’t know what they want and how they want it,” the source said, who described this week’s meetings as “kicking up dust” and a series of “photo opportunities and pictures”. “We are willing to negotiate, but there is nothing on the table from the British side.” Verhofstadt asked Lidington four times what the British proposal was and “four times didn’t get an answer”, according to the EU official, who described the encounter as “very surreal”.

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Don’t be so negative: they got a hard-fought deal with the Seychelles!

UK Has Rolled Over Just £16bn Out Of £117bn Trade Deals (G.)

The government’s push to roll over EU trade deals from which the UK currently benefits has yielded agreements covering only £16bn of the near-£117bn of British trade with the countries involved. Despite frenetic efforts by ministers to ensure the continuity of international trade after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March, the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, has so far only managed to secure deals with seven of the 69 countries that the UK currently trades with under preferential EU free trade agreements, which will end after Brexit.

Fox’s department has yet to sign agreements with several major UK trading partners – including Canada, Japan, South Korea and Turkey – while sources have said that sufficient progress is unlikely to be made before the Brexit deadline in less than 50 days’ time. Canada, Japan, South Korea and Turkey alone accounted for goods exports worth £25bn in 2017 and imports of merchandise worth £28.6bn, with the UK currently able to access these markets on preferential terms as part of membership of the EU. Fox sought to downplay the significance of the deals in parliament on Wednesday, saying all of the countries involved only accounted for about 11% of total UK trade in 2018, with the smallest 20 nations worth less than 0.8%.

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I’ve been wondering why any politician in Britain is still in their jobs.

Labour MPs Warn Corbyn: Back A Second Referendum Or We Quit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn faces up to 10 resignations from the Labour frontbench if he fails to throw his party’s weight behind a fresh attempt to force Theresa May to submit her Brexit deal to a referendum in a fortnight’s time, frustrated MPs are warning. With tension mounting among anti-Brexit Labour MPs and grassroots members, several junior shadow ministers have told the Guardian they are prepared to resign their posts if Corbyn doesn’t whip his MPs to vote for a pro-referendum amendment at the end of the month. Corbyn has been struggling to balance the conflicting forces in his party over Brexit, as the clock ticks down towards exit day on 29 March..

Many party members and MPs would like him to take a lead in seeking to block Brexit before time runs out – but some frontbenchers are equally adamant they could never support a referendum. Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the Unite union and a close ally of Corbyn, risked stoking the conflict in the party on Wednesday when he argued that stopping Brexit was “not the best option for our nation”. “My view is that, having had a 2016 referendum where the people have voted to come out of the EU, to try and deflect away from that threatens the whole democratic fabric on which we operate,” he told Peston on ITV. “I’m saying that in reality it is not the best option for our nation.”

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43 days. Both extremities, hard brexit and 2nd referendum, think they have a chance of winning it all.

Hardline Brexiters Threaten To Vote Down Theresa May’s Motion (G.)

Hardline Brexit supporters are threatening to inflict yet another Commons defeat on Theresa May because they fear the government is effectively ruling out leaving the EU with no deal. Members of the Tory European Research Group are unhappy with the wording of a No 10 motion because it endorses parliament’s vote against any Brexit without a withdrawal agreement. The motion for debate on Thursday simply affirms “the approach to leaving the EU” backed by the Commons on 29 January, when an amendment was passed in favour of an attempt to replace the Northern Ireland backstop with “alternative arrangements”.

The motion was thought to be fairly uncontroversial until pro-Brexit supporters realised it also encompassed a second amendment passed on that day, which ruled out a no-deal Brexit. The amendment, tabled by Dame Caroline Spelman, “rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship”. The ERG group, led by arch-Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg, is planning either to vote against or abstain on Thursday’s government motion, potentially causing another embarrassing parliamentary loss for the prime minister. However, talks with government whips will continue on Thursday in an attempt to find a compromise.

An ERG MP said many of its members were “not minded to support such a clumsily worded motion” that effectively ruled out a no-deal Brexit. Another said the group would not trust verbal assurances from No 10 that no deal was still on the table as such promises from the dispatch box had not been honoured many times in the past.

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How far away is a false flag?

Maduro Claims Foes ‘Totally Failed’ To Topple Him As Efforts Falter (G.)

Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro, has claimed he has seen off a dramatic opposition challenge to his rule, as those efforts appeared to falter and the United States conceded it was “impossible to predict” how long he might remain in power. In an interview with Euronews, Maduro boasted that his political foes had “failed totally” in their quest to topple him. Opponents “could march every single day of their lives” and achieve nothing, Maduro said. Venezuela’s newly emboldened opposition continues to insist Maduro’s days are numbered, with about 50 governments now recognizing its leader, Juan Guaidó, as the country’s legitimate president.

Tens of thousands of supporters poured back on to the streets of Caracas and other major cities on Tuesday to demand the resignation of a politician they accuse of leading their oil-rich country into economic ruin. But three weeks after Guaidó electrified the previously rudderless opposition movement by declaring himself interim leader, there are signs his campaign risks losing steam. An anticipated mass defection of military chiefs – which opposition leaders admit is a prerequisite to Maduro’s departure – has not materialized, and Maduro’s inner-circle has begun claiming it has weathered the political storm. “In the end, nothing will come of [this challenge]. We will prevail,” Maduro’s second-in-command, Diosdado Cabello, tweeted on Wednesday.

[..] Opposition leaders have spent recent days trying to dampen expectations that Maduro’s exit is imminent. Juan Andrés Mejía, an opposition leader and Guaidó ally, admitted that goal “could take some time”. “We want it to end very soon because we know that every day that passes by people are suffering. But Maduro still has control of the military and basically that is the reason we haven’t been able to move things forward,” he told the Guardian.

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Shaking up US politics since 2016. And c’mon, Abrams is a war criminal, he should be facing a court, not Congress.

Venezuela Envoy Elliott Abrams Loses His Cool In Congress (ZH)

Rep. Ilhan Omar clashed with newly minted Venezuela Envoy Elliott Abrams during a Wednesday hearing in front of the House Foreign Relations Committee discussing the role of the US military in Central America. “Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by president George H.W. Bush,” began Omar. “I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.” “If I could respond to that…” interjected Abrams. “It was not a question,” shot back Omar.

After a brief exchange in which Abrams protested “It was not right!” Omar cut Abrams off, saying “Thank you for your participation.” Omar: “On February 8, 1982, you testified before the Senate foreign relations committee about US policy in El Salvador. In that hearing you dismissed as communist propaganda, a report about the massacre of El Mozote in which more than 800 civilians – including children as young as two-years old – were brutally murdered by US-trained troops. During that massacre, some of those troops bragged about raping 12-year-old girls before they killed them. You later said that the US policy in El Salvador was a “fabulous achievement.” “Yes or no – do you still think so?” asked Omar.

Abrams replied: “From, the day that Duarte was elected in a free election, to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy. That’s a fabulous achievement.” Omar shot back: “Yes or no, do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?” Abrams protested: “That is a ridiculous question- to which Omar shot back, “Yes or no,” cutting him off. “Yes or no, would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, if you believe they were serving US interests as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua?” “I am not going to respond to that question, I’m sorry. I don’t think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions, and so I will not reply.” said Abrams.

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US accuses Russia of energy blackmail, tries to blackmail Germany. Germans will never accept not being independent when it comes to energy. Moreover, their economy is teetering.

Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and Washington over Nordstream 2 (SCF)

It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia. Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris. Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia. The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year.

Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses. Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

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Why on earth is that government pushing driverless cars?

Bikes Put Spanner In Works Of Dutch Driverless Car Schemes (G.)

The Dutch government is working with Germany and Belgium on establishing “truck platooning” – where one human-driven vehicle leads a convoy of autonomous ones — on major roads. Under the plans, about 100 driverless trucks would drive the “Tulip corridors” at night – from Amsterdam to Antwerp, and from Rotterdam to the Ruhr valley – fully maximising the routes through which the Netherlands distributes its goods using 5G technology and 1,200 smart traffic lights. The Dutch infrastructure minister, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, has announced a “driving licence” for self-driving cars, through which it would certify new autonomous models, and a framework of legislation – known as the Experimenteerwet zelfrijdende auto’s – is being prepared.

But a report by the professional service company KPMG highlights a major problem for Dutch ministers in introducing the technology to urban centres, where the bicycle is increasingly king. Driverless cars detect other road users using a variety of cameras or laser-sensing systems to ensure that they stop if an object is detected in their path. But the varying sizes and agility of cyclists, with their sudden changes in speed and loose adherence to the rules of the road, present a major challenge to the existing technology. That challenge is particularly stark in the Netherlands, where 17 million people own 22.5m bicycles. More than a quarter of all trips made by Dutch residents are by bike. Of all trips of a distance of up to five miles, a third are made by bicycle, with the rate only dropping to 15% for trips up to 10 miles in length.

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Is it that hard to understand that pesticides and herbicides are the worst idea ever? Poison kills, cut it out.

Exposure To Glyphosate Increases Risk Of Cancer By 41% – Study (G.)

A broad new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, the most widely used weed killing products in the world, has found that people with high exposures to the popular pesticides have a 41% increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The evidence “supports a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the authors concluded, though they said the specific numerical risk estimates should be interpreted with caution. The findings by five US scientists contradict the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assurances of safety over the weed killer and come as regulators in several countries consider limiting the use of glyphosate-based products in farming.

Monsanto and its German owner Bayer face more than 9,000 lawsuits in the US brought by people suffering from NHL who blame Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides for their diseases. The first plaintiff to go to trial won a unanimous jury verdict against Monsanto in August, a verdict the company is appealing. The next trial, involving a separate plaintiff, is set to begin on 25 February , and several more trials are set for this year and into 2020. Monsanto maintains there is no legitimate scientific research showing a definitive association between glyphosate and NHL or any type of cancer. Company officials say the EPA’s finding that glyphosate is “not likely” to cause cancer is backed by hundreds of studies finding no such connection.

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Feb 042019
 


René Magritte Morning star 1938

 

Maduro Warns White House Will Be ‘Stained With Blood’ If Trump Invades (G.)
Regional Bloc Plans Pressure Campaign Against Venezuela’s Maduro (R.)
Austerity And Welfare Cuts Main Driver Behind Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Hard Brexiters Say Only Acceptable Way Forward Is To Remove Backstop (G.)
Theresa May Launches Committee To Find Irish Backstop Alternatives (Ind.)
UK Home Secretary Dismisses Speculation Of Snap General Election In June (G.)
Macron Blames Social Media & Russia For Yellow Vests (RT)
NBC News Claims Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard (Greenwald)
D-Day For Australian Banks As Bombshell Inquiry Report Set For Release (R.)
MAGA Misses the Eurasia Train (Escobar)
The Chinese Were White – Until White Men Called Them Yellow (SCMP)
Animals And Birds Under Increasing Threat From Plastic Waste (G.)
Bacteria Glues Plastic Together Posing Even Deadlier Threat To Sea Life (Ind.)

 

 

Maduro has been practicing the Trump style.

Maduro Warns White House Will Be ‘Stained With Blood’ If Trump Invades (G.)

Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro, has warned Donald Trump he will leave the White House “stained with blood” if he insists on pursuing what he called a “dirty” imperialist conspiracy to overthrow him. “Stop. Stop, Trump! Hold it right there! You are making mistakes that will leave your hands covered in blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood,” Maduro warned during a combative interview with the Spanish journalist Jordi Évole. “Why would you want a repeat of Vietnam?” He also rejected European calls for elections, saying: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone. I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024. We don’t care what Europe says.” He added: “You can’t base international politics on ultimatums. That’s the stuff of the empire, of colonial times.”

Tens of thousands of Venezuelan protesters streamed through the capital, Caracas, on Saturday to demand the exit of a president who has led the oil-rich South American nation into economic collapse and humanitarian crisis. [..] in his television interview Maduro – who came to power after the 2013 death of his political mentor, Hugo Chávez – signalled that he had no plans to go anywhere. “If the north American empire attacks us, we will have to defend ourselves … We aren’t going to hand Venezuela over,” Maduro said. The UN estimates that more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled overseas in recent years to escape hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine and healthcare and chronic insecurity. That number is expected to rise to more than 5 million this year.

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Trump and Trudeau, a happy couple. And of course Canada belongs in a regional bloc with Venezuela, it’s right next door.

Regional Bloc Plans Pressure Campaign Against Venezuela’s Maduro (R.)

A major bloc of Latin American nations and Canada will discuss on Monday how to maintain pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to hold new elections as he faces widespread calls to resign after last year’s disputed presidential vote. Sources briefed on the matter said that the 14-nation Lima Group looked set, though, to hold off imposing further sanctions on the Maduro government when it meets in Ottawa. Most group members say Maduro should quit in favour of opposition leader Juan Guaido – who declared himself interim president last month – and are calling for a new presidential election in the troubled OPEC nation.

The United States, which is not a member of the group, also wants Maduro gone. “How can we continue to support the opposition to keep the pressure up on the regime and push for new elections? Certainly that’s something we’ll be looking at,” said a Canadian government official. Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, said in an interview that aired on Spanish television channel Antena 3 on Sunday: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone,” adding: “I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024.” [..] Trudeau spoke on Sunday to Guaido and the two “discussed the importance of the international community sending a clear message regarding the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime,” Trudeau’s office said.

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How the Tories got their Brexit.

Austerity And Welfare Cuts Main Driver Behind Brexit Vote (Ind.)

Welfare cuts and other austerity measures implemented under the Conservatives pushed vital swing voters to back Brexit and won the EU referendum for the Leave campaign, according to a new report. Research published by the Social Market Foundation suggests the best indicator of a person’s referendum vote was not age or education, but happiness or sadness about their personal finances – with unhappy people tending to vote Leave and contented ones preferring Remain. The report, which analysed the level of cuts in each area of the UK alongside each area’s growth in support for Ukip, argues that had it not been for austerity, the referendum would not have turned out the way it did.

It found that in districts that received the average austerity shock, Ukip vote shares were on average 11.62 percentage points higher in the most recent local elections prior to the referendum than in districts with little exposure to austerity. As well as area-level analysis, the report looked at individual-level data and found that some people directly affected by welfare cuts shifted their political support to Ukip and rejected the political establishment. “Households exposed to the bedroom tax increasingly shifted to support Ukip and experienced economic grievances as they fell behind with their rent payments due to the cuts,” the paper stated.

As much as 9 percentage points of the 52 per cent support for Leave – around 3 million votes – was decided by concern about austerity and related issues, the researchers estimated. It suggests that without the effect of the “austerity shock” on welfare and public services, the Leave share of the referendum vote could have been as low as 43 per cent, delivering a comfortable win for Remain.

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Ruled out by EU.

Hard Brexiters Say Only Acceptable Way Forward Is To Remove Backstop (G.)

Hard Brexiters have warned Theresa May that the only proposal they are likely to support to break the Brexit impasse is a version of the “Malthouse compromise”, which envisages removing the backstop from the draft European Union exit treaty. Steve Baker, vice chair of the European Research Group, said that he and other Conservative Eurosceptics could not support the alternative they believed Theresa May favoured – an addendum to the existing EU withdrawal agreement. Baker is one of five backbench MPs who will meet Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, on Monday, in the first meeting of a new working group aimed at examining whether technological solutions could eliminate the backstop.

The “Malthouse compromise” – named after the junior minister, Kit Malthouse, who brokered it – is a proposal to replace the unpopular backstop with alternative technological arrangements to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland. It is supported by Baker, other Eurosceptics and the pro-remain former ministers Nicky Morgan and Damian Green, both of whom will attend further meetings with Barclay on Tuesday and Wednesday. “As far as I’m concerned the Malthouse compromise is the only game in town if we’re going to reach an agreement in Brussels,” Baker said, indicating that only rewriting the draft withdrawal agreement to remove the backstop would satisfy Tory Brexiters.

Last week MPs voted in favour of an amendment in the name of Sir Graham Brady, a senior Conservative, to examine the possibility of new customs arrangements but it is unclear that the necessary technology exists. May also instructed Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, to examine two other proposals that could be taken to Brussels – whether it would be possible to time-limit the backstop or to introduce a unilateral exit mechanism for the UK.

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53 days to go: plenty time to waste.

Theresa May Launches Committee To Find Irish Backstop Alternatives (Ind.)

Theresa May has been accused of “wasting valuable time” in the countdown to Britain’s exit from the EU as she announced plans to establish a Commons group probing alternative plans for the Irish border post-Brexit. Despite the prime minister’s hopes of reopening the withdrawal agreement already being dashed by EU leaders with just 53 days to go until Brexit, the new committee made up of senior Tory MPs will meet for the first time on Monday. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay is expected to attend the sessions, alongside support from officials at HM Revenue and Customs, the Cabinet Office, and No 10. The group will aim to provide “alternative arrangements” to the backstop – the EU’s insurance policy in the withdrawal agreement that aims to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

[..] But the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, has already dismissed using existing technology as an alternative solution to the question of the Irish border. “We looked at every border on this Earth, every border the EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls,” she said last week. Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney also rubbished the idea of “alternative arrangements”, adding in The Sunday Times: “This is not a new concept. The EU is committed to trying to agree alternative arrangements to replace the backstop. We want a comprehensive future relationship in place by the end of 2020 so the backstop is never used.

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So they leave on March 29 and hold elections 2-3 months later?

UK Home Secretary Dismisses Speculation Of Snap General Election In June (G.)

Sajid Javid has said “the last thing we want is a general election”, emphasising that the government is still hoping to secure a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism for the Irish border backstop. The home secretary dismissed newspaper reports that Downing Street strategists were considering holding a snap general election on 6 June, if Theresa May cannot get her Brexit deal through parliament before the 29 March deadline. “The last thing we want is a general election, the people will never forgive us for it,” Javid told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show. “They want politicians to get on with the job. They have been given a very clear mandate, now it’s our job to get on with it.”

There are signs that the Conservatives have started to gear up for a possible snap election, with the party’s chief executive, Sir Mick Davis, placing the Tories on a “war footing” last week and increased fundraising activities under the cover of the local elections in May. A poll by Opinium for the Observer showed the Conservatives seven points ahead of Labour on 41%, but few people believe the party would risk going to the country under May’s leadership after the disaster of 2017, when its overall majority was lost. “I know that Conservative party headquarters is planning on only one set of elections, which is the local government elections. The last thing this country wants is an election; they want parliament to deliver Brexit in an orderly way,” Javid said.

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“[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.”

Macron Blames Social Media & Russia For Yellow Vests (RT)

Who is at fault for Yellow Vest protests raging in France since November? For President Emmanuel Macron it’s not actual economic problems or his own decisions, but the right, the left, social media and, of course, “Russes.” Macron blasted the nation’s mainstream media for failing to control the narrative and argued that social networks and “the Russians” are driving all content instead, with traditional outlets falling into line. The president’s calculated outburst was published by the weekly Le Point on Friday, just before the Yellow Vests officially marked the 12th consecutive week of staging large-scale protests against the government.

The president dismissed Eric Drouet, the 33-year-old trucker who emerged as a prominent figure in the protests, as “a media product, a product of social networks,” and claimed that the demonstrators are being “advised from outside,” without elaborating. He argued that 90 percent of the chatter online about the Yellow Vests comes from the “[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.” Yet, 18 months after bending the French party system to his will and his triumphant win against bien-pensant pariah Marine Le Pen, Macron’s excuses for disappointing expectations are running thin. His first cannonade in what was intended to be a sweeping march of modernity, was a labor reform that he claimed would help small businesses. It was met with protests from unions, public sector workers who said it made firing easier, and those fearing loss of benefits.

In a preview of what has now become the norm, Macron dismissed the opponents of his policies as “slackers.” [..] The government has already suspended the fuel tax hike that caused the traffic law-mandated vests to be put on in the first place, while the president has promised to raise the minimum wage. But for many demonstrators these actions are belated, and do not address underlying issues. “It’s not enough. We still have to fight the current taxes, the ones that have been in place for years. We should have woken up years ago, and now we have to make up for the years we missed,” one of the original and most popular Yellow Vests, Ghislain Coutard, told Deutsche Welle, adding that Macron should “come out of his hole and face” the people.

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It’s a model that works inside the echo chamber.

NBC News Claims Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard (Greenwald)

NBC News published a predictably viral story Friday, claiming that “experts who track websites and social media linked to Russia have seen stirrings of a possible campaign of support for Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.” But the whole story was a sham: the only “experts” cited by NBC in support of its key claim was the firm, New Knowledge, that just got caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election. To justify its claim that Tulsi Gabbard is the Kremlin’s candidate, NBC stated: “analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted ‘chatter’ related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns.”

What NBC – amazingly – concealed is a fact that reveals its article to be a journalistic fraud: that same firm, New Knowledge, was caught just six weeks ago engaging in a massive scam to create fictitious Russian troll accounts on Facebook and Twitter in order to claim that the Kremlin was working to defeat Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones in Alabama. The New York Times, when exposing the scam, quoted a New Knowledge report that boasted of its fabrications: “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the [Roy] Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.’”

[..] In any event, NBC News, to smear Gabbard as a Kremlin favorite, relied on a group that it heralded as “experts” without telling its audience about the major fraud which this firm just got caught perpetrating in order – on behalf of the Democratic Party – to fabricate claims of Kremlin interference in the Alabama Senate race. That’s because the playbook used by the axis of the Democratic Party, NBC/MSNBC, neocons and the intelligence community has been, is and will continue to be a very simple one: to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party – whether on the left or the right – as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin (a key target will undoubtedly be, indeed already is, Bernie Sanders).

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They’ll just paper it all over.

D-Day For Australian Banks As Bombshell Inquiry Report Set For Release (R.)

The Australian government is due to release on Monday the final recommendations of the independent inquiry that exposed systemic wrongdoing in Australia’s financial sector last year, likely leading to sweeping changes to the country’s banking industry. The big banks, insurers, pension funds and regulators who oversee the financial industry are bracing for a brutal summary of their misdeeds and weaknesses, and a list of tough recommendations including possible criminal charges. The Royal Commission was a quasi-judicial independent body led by a former high court judge that was tasked by the government, reluctantly at first, with investigating financial sector misconduct following a string of banking scandals.

For 11 months its public hearings shocked the country and wiped more than A$60 billion ($43.4 billion) from top financial stocks as investors factored in the prospect of tougher regulation, higher compliance costs and thinner margins. Regulators were also grilled by the commission’s barristers about why they seemed reluctant to crack down on wrongdoing, sometimes penalizing firms with little more than a mildly worded press release. “There will be nothing positive in the recommendations because the banks have clearly breached various obligations in the laws, and obligations to good customer service,” said Matthew Wilson, a banking analyst at Deutsche Bank.

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Pepe appears blind to China’s multiple bubbles. I could see them halt any expansion and close their borders first to sort out the financial mess.

MAGA Misses the Eurasia Train (Escobar)

We should know by now that the heart of the 21st Century Great Game is the myriad layers of the battle between the United States and the partnership of Russia and China. Even the U.S. National Defense Strategy says so: “The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by … revisionist powers.” The recently published assessment on U.S. defense implications of China’s global expansion says so too. The clash will frame the emergence of a possibly new, post-ideological, strategic world order amidst an extremely volatile unpredictability in which peace is war and an accident may spark a nuclear confrontation.

The U.S. vs. Russia and China will keep challenging the West’s obsession in deriding “illiberalism,” a fearful, rhetorical exercise that equates Russian democracy with China’s one party rule, Iran’s demo-theocracy and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman revival. It’s immaterial that Russia’s economy is one-tenth of China’s. From boosting trade that bypasses the U.S. dollar, to increasing joint military exercises, the Russia-China symbiosis is poised to advance beyond political and ideological affinities. China badly needs Russian know-how in its military industry. Beijing will turn this knowledge into plenty of dual use, civilian-military innovations.

The long game indicates Russia and China will break down language and cultural barriers to lead Eurasian integration against American economic hegemony backed by military might. One could say the Eurasian century is already upon us. The era of the West shaping the world at will (a mere blip of history) is already over. This is despite Western elite denials and fulminations against the so-called “morally reprehensible,” “forces of instability” and “existential threats.” Standard Chartered, the British financial services company, using a mix of purchasing power exchange rates and GDP growth, has projected that the top five economies in 2030 will be China, the U.S., India, Japan and Russia. These will be followed by Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and the UK. Asia will extend its middle class as they are slowly killed off across the West.

[..] Beijing is realizing it can’t meet its geo-economic goals on energy, security, and trade without bypassing the U.S. dollar. According to the IMF, 62 percent of global central bank reserves were still held in U.S. dollars by the second quarter of 2018. Around 43 per cent of international transactions on SWIFT are still in U.S. dollars. Even as China, in 2018, was the single largest contributor to global GDP growth, at 27.2 percent, the yuan still only accounts for 1 percent of international payments, and 1.8 per cent of all reserve assets held by central banks.

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Our history. A proud story. We bring democracy and freedom and prosperity.

The Chinese Were White – Until White Men Called Them Yellow (SCMP)

How did East Asians come to be referred to as yellow-skinned? It was the result of a series of racial mappings of the world and had nothing to do with the actual colour of people’s skin. In fact, when complexion was mentioned by an early Western traveller or missionary or ambassador (and it very often wasn’t, because skin colour as a racial marker was not fully in place until the 19th century), East Asians were almost always called white, particularly during the period of first modern contact in the 16th century. And on a number of occasions, even more revealingly, the people were termed “as white as we are”. The term yellow occasionally began to appear towards the end of the 18th century and then really took hold of the Western imagination in the 19th.

But by the 17th century, the Chinese and Japanese were “darkening” in published texts, gradually losing their erstwhile whiteness when it became clear they would remain unwilling to participate in European systems of trade, religion, and international relations. Calling them white, in other words, was not based on simple perception either and had less to do with pigmentation than their presumed levels of civilisation, culture, literacy, and obedience (particularly if they should become Christianised). Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus decided that varieties of homo sapiens could be similarly separated into four continental types, one of which was called homo asiaticus. The colour of that group, he said, was fuscus, which can be best translated as “dark”. This was in 1735.

Evidently there was some difficulty deciding on a precise colour for Asian Man, since the other three types, European, African, and American, could be “unproblematically” identified according to already accepted stereotypes of white, black, and red. In the tenth edition of Linnaeus’ taxonomy, however, published in 1758, fuscus was silently changed to luridus, meaning “lurid”, “sallow”, or “pale yellow”. The reasons for this alteration were never explained, although luridus also appeared in several of Linnaeus’ botanical publications to characterise unhealthy and toxic plants. Was Asian Man also to be viewed as sickly or dangerous?

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Animals and birds? You sure about that?

Animals And Birds Under Increasing Threat From Plastic Waste (G.)

Wildlife and pets are under increasing threat from plastic waste and litter, according to new data from the RSPCA, which shows the number of incidents of animals hurt by plastic litter has risen sharply on previous years. Plastic litter led to 579 cases of damage to wildlife or pets that were reported to the animal charity in England and Wales in 2018, up from 473 in 2015. That rise came against a background of falling damage to animals from other forms of litter, down from 4,968 reported incidents in 2015 to 4,579 last year. Water birds and marine animals were particularly at risk, with 28 incidents involving seals hurt by plastic litter in 2018, compared with five in 2015. Among birds, swans were among the worst affected, followed by geese and gulls.

Plastic has become an increasing focus of concern, as it does not break down in the natural environment and can continue to cause problems in waterways for years. The government has increased charges on disposable plastic bags to discourage their overuse, and businesses from supermarkets to consumer goods companies are changing their practices to use less plastic packaging in response to public concerns. But the biggest source of damage to wildlife from litter comes from angling, according to the RSPCA’s findings, with discarded equipment such as lines, nets and hooks causing more than 3,200 of last year’s reports.

“[Fishing] lines can wrap around necks, causing deep wounds in flesh and cutting off the blood supply,” said a spokeswoman for the charity. “Hooks can pierce beaks or feet, become embedded in skin or get caught in the bird’s throat, and weights can be swallowed causing internal injuries and blockages.”

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It just got a whole lot scarier. Has plastic been banned where you live yet?

Bacteria Glues Plastic Together Posing Even Deadlier Threat To Sea Life (Ind.)

Plastic in the oceans is being turned into an even greater threat to small sea creatures than previously thought because bacteria are sticking particles of it together, scientists have discovered. Glue-like substances secreted by bacteria are sticking tiny bits of plastic to form larger clusters that marine animals could mistake for food, experts fear. They also worry that the clumping could divert the natural flow of food from the ocean surface to the seafloor, leading to deep sea creatures being starved. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh staged experiments with seawater, adding plastics in conditions simulating the ocean surface. Within minutes, the minuscule pieces of plastic grouped together with bacteria, algae and other organic particles to form larger clumps.

The scientists are said to have been surprised to discover that large masses of biopolymers – molecules made by organisms – formed the bulk of the plastic clusters. About eight million tonnes of plastic are thrown into the ocean each year, research shows. Team member Stephen Summers said: “This is a first step towards understanding how nanoplastics interact with natural biopolymers throughout the world’s oceans. “This is very important, as it is at this small scale that much of the world’s biogeochemistry occurs.” The clumps became visible to the naked eye. “The fact that these agglomerates become large enough to see raises concern, as they are likely to be seen as a food source by small marine animals,” he said.

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Jan 252019
 
 January 25, 2019  Posted by at 10:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Fire 1566

 

Trump, Pence, Pompeo Star In The Pirates Of The Caribbean (Galloway)
US Pulls Out Venezuela Staff, Urges Americans to Leave (G.)
Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó Offers Nicolás Maduro Amnesty If He Goes Quietly (G.)
US Seeks To Divert Crucial Oil Revenue From Maduro (Ind.)
Don’t Criticize Trump — We Need Him, Dutch Prime Minister Says (CNBC)
UK Firms Ramp Up Stockpiling Due To Brexit Disruption Fears (Ind.)
UK MPs Drop Plan To Table Cross-Party ‘People’s Vote’ Amendment (G.)
The Financial Secret Behind Germany’s Green Energy Revolution (Ellen Brown)
Davos Elites Fear They’re On A Toboggan Ride To Hell (Pol.eu)
CO2 Levels Expected To Rise Rapidly In 2019 (Ind.)

 

 

Yes, Jimmy Carter once called Venezuela’s election process “the best in the world” when he was there as an observer. But in March 2018, the opposition called on the UN not to send any observers as that would only legitimize the process. So now the US picks an unelected puppet.

Trump, Pence, Pompeo Star In The Pirates Of The Caribbean (Galloway)

Even though Chavez was one of the most electorally successful politicians on the planet in a democratic process described by former US president Jimmy Carter as “the best in the world,” US presidents Bush, Obama and Trump routinely called him a dictator. Before they drop the bombs, they drop the narrative, of course. And the disinformation bombardment in Venezuela has been one of the longest bombing runs in history. Massive sums of US money have been spent on media distortion, subversion, sabotage, military coups, and threats of invasion throughout the Chavez-Maduro era. The gold-toothed Venezuelan emigres who fled to Miami with their ill-gotten gains have long been effectively a coup in the making.

The recruitment of neighboring Colombia into “associate membership” of NATO, the propeling of Brazil’s Bolsonaro (another NATO applicant) to power, and plans for US military bases there have all been in preparation for this day. Although many such crimes have been committed across all continents for centuries by the US, none have constituted such comic-opera gangsterism as this latest – more ‘Bugsy Malone’ than ‘The Godfather.’ An almost random figure whose name was largely unknown until this week has disdained to put himself up for election as president of the republic, instead pronouncing himself to actually be the president, and has even sworn himself in! All the “experts” on Syria, Ukraine and Russia are scrambling to studios, practicing in the taxi how to say his name.

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Most Americans would be working in the oil industry. Sure, let them leave. And then watch prices at the pump.

US Pulls Out Venezuela Staff, Urges Americans to Leave (G.)

The US state department has urged its citizens to “strongly consider” leaving Venezuela and ordered out non-emergency government staff as the head of the country’s armed forces warned of a civil war sparked by a US-backed “criminal plan” to unseat Nicolás Maduro. In a live address to the nation on Thursday, the defence minister, Vladimir Padrino, accused the Venezuelan opposition led by Juan Guaidó, the United States and regional allies such as Brazil of launching an attempted coup against Maduro that risked bringing “chaos and anarchy” to the country. “We are here to avoid, at all costs … a conflict between Venezuelans. It is not civil war, a war between brothers that will solve the problems of Venezuela. It is dialogue,” said Padrino.

In a significant blow to Venezuela’s newly energized opposition, the defence minister declared unwavering support for “our commander-in-chief, the citizen Nicolás Maduro”. “We members of the armed forces know well the consequences [of war], just from looking at the history of humanity, of the last century, when millions and millions of human beings lost their lives,” Padrino added, flanked by the top brass of Venezuela’s armed forces. Further bolstering Maduro’s position, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, spoke to the Venezuelan leader by telephone and issued his first comments on the crisis, which he insisted was “provoked from abroad”, according to a Kremlin statement.

On Thursday night, Guaidó used his first TV interview since the crisis to offer Maduro and his inner circle amnesty if they agreed to a peaceful transition. The 35-year-old said he was determined to bring Maduro’s “dictatorship” to an end, stabilise his economically devastated nation and organise free elections “as soon as possible”.

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He went into hiding before making his offer. C’mon, let’s get serious. A mini-coup failed miserably, the army stands pat, time for a fresh story to fill the papers.

Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó Offers Nicolás Maduro Amnesty If He Goes Quietly (G.)

Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, and his inner circle could be granted an amnesty if he agrees to relinquish power and submit to a peaceful political transition, his opposition challenger Juan Guaidó has said. In a high-stakes political gamble, Guaidó on Wednesday declared himself Venezuela’s legitimate interim president and was quickly recognised as such by powers including the United States, Brazil, Canada and Colombia. On Thursday British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said his government believed Guaidó was “the right person to take Venezuela forward” but China, Russia and Turkey all backed Maduro, who claims he is the victim of a coup attempt masterminded by the US. The US state department has now urged US citizens to “strongly consider” leaving Venezuela and ordered out non-emergency government staff.

[Guaidó] indicated Maduro – who was sworn in for his second six-year term on 10 January despite a storm of international condemnation – could himself be offered an amnesty if he agreed to step aside. “This amnesty, these guarantees are on the table for everyone who is prepared to put themselves on the side of the constitution in order to recover the democratic order,” he said. “In periods of transition similar things have happened [before],” Guaidó told the broadcaster Univisión, pointing to previous pardons in Chile and Venezuela in the 1970s and 1950s. “We cannot discount any element,” he added, insisting that such a move would not represent either impunity or forgetting.

Maduro – who has vowed to resist what he calls a “gringo” plot to unseat him – has given little public hint he will accept such an offer although addressing the supreme court in Caracas on Thursday he insisted: “I’m ready for dialogue, for understanding, for negotation, for agreement.” However, in the same speech Maduro also attacked Guaidó, accusing him of being a pawn in a US-backed plot to destroy the leftist Bolivarian revolution he inherited after Hugo Chávez’s death in 2013. “Will we legitimise a puppet government imposed from abroad? We will allow our constitution to be violated … ? No!” said Maduro, blaming what he branded an attempted coup on Donald Trump’s “madness”.

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See what I said on CITGO yesterday.

US Seeks To Divert Crucial Oil Revenue From Maduro (Ind.)

Mr Trump’s national security adviser, the hawkish John Bolton, revealed the US was seeking to ensure Venezuelan oil revenue goes to Mr Guaido, and not Mr Maduro, who was sworn in for a second term just two weeks ago following an election most of the opposition boycotted. If the US were able to enact such a move it would add further pressure to the embattled Venezuelan leader, whose country’s already ailing economy heavily depends on its oil revenues. “What we’re focusing on today is disconnecting the illegitimate Maduro regime from the sources of his revenues,” Mr Bolton told reporters at the White House, according to Reuters. “We think [it is] consistent with our recognition of Juan Guaido as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela that those revenues should go to the legitimate government.”

Of potentially vital importance, earlier on Thursday, the nation’s military leadership declared its support for Mr Maduro and told the US not to interfere. In a televised speech on Thursday, defence minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said Mr Maduro was the country’s “legitimate president” and that the opposition was seeking to carry out a “coup”. “I warn the people that there is a coup underway against our democracy and our president Nicolas Maduro,” Mr Padrino said, according to Telesur. “As soldiers, we work for peace and not for war.” He added: “Those of us who lived through the coup of 2002 have it etched into our minds, we never thought we’d see that again, but we saw it yesterday.

Read more …

Rutte’s been in office for so long he gets to have an own view.

Don’t Criticize Trump — We Need Him, Dutch Prime Minister Says (CNBC)

President Donald Trump has found support from an unlikely source in Europe — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte — who told CNBC that the president could be a catalyst for much-needed reforms. “The U.S. has voted and Trump is the president and maybe he will be re-elected … So we have to work with him, and I think he is an opportunity,” Rutte told CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “He is an opportunity to make changes to some of those multilateral institutions that we hold dearly, like the World Trade Organization (WTO) which is not functioning very well. Or take the United Nations or European Union — there are many issues to solve,” he added.

“So my point would be instead of thinking ‘oh we would have liked Hillary Clinton to win,’ or ‘I wish (former President Barack) Obama was still there,’ but guys Trump is president, make use of his presidency and his critique of those international institutions is sometimes very valid.” Trump has made himself unpopular in most European circles for his criticism of hallowed, well-established institutions such as the NATO and the WTO (Trump threatened to pull the U.S. out of both) and the European Union (which Trump said was formed in order to take advantage of the U.S. in terms of trade). He has also threatened to impose tariffs on European goods and cars; hardly the policies that would make most liberal politicians, like Mark Rutte, warm to Trump. “In this world, international structures are absolutely necessary, but sometimes it vexes me when I hear the white wine-sipping elite in Amsterdam saying ‘Trump is very wrong,'” Rutte said

Read more …

Sounds very late. 9 weeks left?!

UK Firms Ramp Up Stockpiling Due To Brexit Disruption Fears (Ind.)

UK companies have ramped up stockpiling ahead of Brexit as export opportunities for manufacturers weakens, according to new research from Lloyds Bank. The lender’s international trade index shows that export growth fell to its weakest level in almost three years in the fourth quarter of 2018. Exports of consumer goods held up well, Lloyds said, but the transport sector was hit by changing emissions regulations and new rules about diesel vehicles. Exports in the service sector fell in the last three months of 2018, bringing to an end three four years of growth.

Political uncertainty at home and abroad, along with weakening economic growth in key markets, were cited as the drivers for the export downturn. Meanwhile, the data showed that UK manufacturers had increased stockpiling efforts over recent months due to the threat of shortages and disruption posed by Brexit. The UK Manufacturing PMI Index for purchases of stocks jumped up to 53.7 for the month of December, from 51.1 in the previous month. Gwynne Master, managing director and global head of trade for Lloyds Bank Global Transaction Banking, said: “We should be mindful of the impact of fluctuating trading conditions and global and domestic political uncertainty on the UK’s exporters.

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The only thing that really made sense. Because it breaks party lines. Gone.

UK MPs Drop Plan To Table Cross-Party ‘People’s Vote’ Amendment (G.)

A cross-party amendment to push for a second EU referendum will not be tabled in the Commons as it would have little chance of being passed without formal support from Labour, the MPs organising it have announced. Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP who has led efforts on a so-called “people’s vote” amendment, said that without the backing of Jeremy Corbyn, “at the moment we would not have the numbers”. However, the Liberal Democrats have tabled a similar amendment and have called for Labour to back the idea. Speaking outside parliament alongside the Labour MPs Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, Wollaston urged Corbyn to think again. “We would like to appeal again to him to give his unequivocal backing to a people’s vote, in which case we could make progress,” she said.

Labour has not ruled out supporting a second referendum and the party is keeping its options open. There is disquiet among some of its MPs and shadow ministers that backing such an option could anger leave-backing Labour voters. Wollaston argued that a second referendum was still the best option to end the Brexit deadlock. “People have a right to change their minds, and the mandate from the first referendum – over two years ago and based on entirely unrealistic promises and outright lies – has expired.” But without Labour backing, she said, “that amendment could not pass, and so with great regret we will not be laying that amendment”.

Berger said that with 30 scheduled Commons sittings left before the current Brexit date, there was “an urgent need for leadership”. “Regrettably, the Labour leadership won’t commit to an achievable policy,” she said. “And yet we know that the majority of Labour voters, supporters and members want a final say on any Brexit deal. At a time when Labour should be championing a people’s vote, the leadership avoids answering that call.”

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That revolution is overhyped, but the US and German public bank story is good.

The Financial Secret Behind Germany’s Green Energy Revolution (Ellen Brown)

KfW’s role in implementing government policy parallels that of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) in funding the New Deal in the 1930s. At that time, U.S. banks were bankrupt and incapable of financing the country’s recovery. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to set up a system of 12 public “industrial banks” through the Federal Reserve, but the measure failed. Roosevelt then made an end run around his opponents by using the RFC that had been set up earlier by President Herbert Hoover, expanding it to address the nation’s financing needs.

The RFC Act of 1932 provided the RFC with capital stock of $500 million and the authority to extend credit up to $1.5 billion (subsequently increased several times). With those resources, from 1932 to 1957 the RFC loaned or invested more than $40 billion. As with KfW’s loans, its funding source was the sale of bonds, mostly to the Treasury itself. Proceeds from the loans repaid the bonds, leaving the RFC with a net profit. The RFC financed roads, bridges, dams, post offices, universities, electrical power, mortgages, farms and much more; it funded all of this while generating income for the government.

The RFC was so successful that it became America’s largest corporation and the world’s largest banking organization. Its success, however, may have been its nemesis. Without the emergencies of depression and war, it was a too-powerful competitor of the private banking establishment; and in 1957, it was disbanded under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. That’s how the United States was left without a development bank at the same time Germany and other countries were hitting the ground running with theirs.

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Just ignore these people. They have nothing. They’re the past.

Davos Elites Fear They’re On A Toboggan Ride To Hell (Pol.eu)

Populists movements around the world, left and right, disagree in detail but are united around one big idea: The political and economic elites running modern societies are very powerful people who know what they are doing. What they are doing is often bad — greedy, exploitative, short-sighted — but they are doing it with purpose and confident control. A different possibility, however, hung in the alpine air this week at the annual convening of elites here at the World Economic Forum: These alleged masters of the universe came off nearly as perplexed and anxious about the future as the populist forces inveighing against them.

They have money. They have entourages. They have commanding views, both literal (from mountain chalets here) and metaphorical (from government offices and CEO suites back home). That doesn’t mean they have a clue. Foreboding about the future was a prevailing theme at this year’s Davos, sometimes even with dash of dystopian prophecy. This brooding was accompanied often, in speeches and interviews, by a rueful acknowledgment that government leaders are desperately improvising — often with bleak results — to meet the political crises of the moment, much less the long-term technological and climatological challenges of the age. In key Western capitals, governance is failing. China is exploiting. Global temperatures are rising.

Tech titans are groveling. Prospects for economic downturn are rumbling. Little wonder that, instead of triumphant optimism about the forces of globalization sometimes associated with Davos, some voices here made it sound like modern life is on a toboggan ride to hell. “Everybody agrees that there are dark clouds on the horizon, and there are risks,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, in an address here Thursday.

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Due to the 1,500 private jets in Davos.

CO2 Levels Expected To Rise Rapidly In 2019 (Ind.)

This year will see one of the biggest CO2 surges in more than six decades of measurements, according to the Met Office. Rising emissions due to the world’s continued appetite for fossil fuels will combine with reduced absorption of greenhouse gas by withering grasslands and forests. Describing the prediction as “worrying and compelling”, scientists said it was an urgent reminder that the time to cut out carbon is now. CO2 levels will be at a record high once again after emissions reached unprecedented levels last year, dashing hopes the world had finally hit “peak carbon”. Besides fossil fuels pumping out the harmful gas, natural weather fluctuations will exacerbate the problem as they hamper the ability of carbon sinks to store it. In 2019 an upward swing in tropical Pacific Ocean temperature will make many regions warmer and drier.

As drought sets in and plants dry out, they will be less capable of sucking CO2 from the atmosphere, and massive deforestation in places like the Amazon is making this problem even worse. The new predictions were based on monitoring at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, which has registered a 30 per cent increase in the concentration of CO2 since 1958. “Carbon sinks have saved us from what has already happened – the future rise would have been about double if it wasn’t for the sinks. So we are lucky they exist, to be honest,” Professor Richard Betts of the Met Office Hadley Centre told The Independent. “But the sinks themselves are affected by the climate, and that’s an important thing because it shows that as climate change continues in the future it may affect their strength.”


Forecast CO2 concentrations at the Mauna Loa station for 2019 (orange), along with previous forecast concentrations and the real observed data (Met Office)

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Jan 242019
 


René Magritte The black flag 1937

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Russian foreign minister Lavrov put it nice and succinctly:

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

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

Not a good idea.

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

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

Not good ideas either.

 

 

Nov 042017
 
 November 4, 2017  Posted by at 9:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Henri Cartier Bresson Shanghai 1947

 

Funny Facts Friday (David Stockman)
October Payrolls, Average Hourly Earnings Miss Big (ZH)
Record 95.4 Million Americans Not in Labor Force, 968,000 Exit In 1 Month (ZH)
Manafort Money Laundering Charge In Russia Probe May Face Challenges (R.)
Swamp-O-Rama (Jim Kunstler)
How Democrats Can Beat The Republican Tax Cut (Bartlett)
European Arrest Warrant Issued For Catalan Leader Carles Puigdemont (G.)
America’s Opioid Crisis Is About To Get Worse (ZH)
‘No Deal’ Brexit To Add £930 A Year To UK Shopping Bills (G.)
Stalked By Default Fears, Venezuela Calls Creditor Meeting (AFP)
The Greek Island Camp Where Only The Sick Or Pregnant Can Leave (G.)

 

 

“there has been no gain in employed prime age male workers during the entirety of this century!”

Funny Facts Friday (David Stockman)

The funny numbers came in a veritable torrent today. For instance, the so-called U-3 unemployment rate dropped to a 17-year low of 4.1% for October. Yet the same BLS household survey which posted the lowest unemployment rate since early 2000 showed that the number of employed Americans actually sank by 484,000 last month. How’s that? Well, easy as pie according to the data mavens at the BLS. It seems that the number of persons not in the labor force soared by 969,000 in October. So, yes, with a smaller numerator and an even smaller denominator they came up with a better – nay, awesome – unemployment rate. Then again, none of the talking heads on bubblevision even mentioned the staggering loss of 484,000 jobs during the month because they ignore the household survey’s job count entirely in favor of the establishment survey number (up 261,000) – even though the former drives the unemployment rate, which they crow about endlessly.

This cherry-picking of the data is quite understandable, however, when you consider what is really buried in the household survey and is completely ignored by the stock peddlers. To wit, not so awesome at all is the fact that during October there was an all-time record of 95.4 million persons not in the labor force and another 6.5 million that were jobless – meaning 102 million Americans (16 and older) don’t have jobs. That compares to 42 million retired workers on social security. Consequently, there are 60 million adult Americans who are housewives, students, disabled, food stamp and welfare recipients, social security dependents, dwellers in mom’s basement or denizens of the illegal drug, gambling or sex trades.

To be sure, we don’t have any special opinion on the merits of these pursuits, but we do have a point of view on the societal and fiscal math. Namely, the diminishing relative ranks of workers and tax mules in American society are going to buckle under the weight of baby boom retirements and soaring welfare and public sector health care costs in the years just ahead. In that context, one of the most striking numbers in today’s report is that 53.0 million prime age men 25 to 54 years old were employed in October, 2017. As is evident in the chart below, that is down by 1.5 million jobholders since the pre-crisis peak in May 2007 and virtually identical to the number in January 2001. Stated differently, there has been no gain in employed prime age male workers during the entirety of this century!

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“..on a monthly basis, there was no wage increase at all..”

October Payrolls, Average Hourly Earnings Miss Big (ZH)

Well, with virtually everyone expecting a 300K+ payrolls number after last month’s negative hurricane-distorted print, and with whispers of a 400K print floating around, it only made sense that not only would payrolls disppoint, printing at 261K, one standard deviation below the 310K consensus estimate (and that even with a whopping 89,000 waiters and bartenders added) .. but also that the far more important average hourly earnings number, which was expected to rise at a 2.7% rate Y/Y, also missed, printing at 2.4% instead with September revised lower to 2.8%. Worse, on a monthly basis, there was no wage increase at all, printing at 0.0% (technically it was a 1 cent decline), below the 0.2% expected, and the lowest since June 2015.

Average weekly earnings also disappointed, declining by 35 cents to $912.63, the first decline since May. It is also notable that after the September surge, the number of employed Americans per the Household Survey tumbled by 484K in October, to 153.961 million. That said, the real action this time was found in previous months, where September was revised higher from -33.000 to +18,000 while August was revised up from +169,000 to +208,000, for a total two month revision of +90,000. Additionally, the unemployment rate dropped to a new cycle low, declining from 4.2% to 4.1%, below the 4.2% expected, while the underemployment rate declined to 7.9%, the lowest since the start of the century.

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“..the civilian labor force shrunk by whopping 765,000 in one month.”

Record 95.4 Million Americans Not in Labor Force, 968,000 Exit In 1 Month (ZH)

In what was otherwise a mediocre jobs report, in which the establishment survey reported that a lower than expected 261K jobs were added to the post-Hurricane economy, the biggest surprise was not in the Establishment survey, but the household, where the unemployment rate tumbled once more, sliding to a new cycle low of 4.1%, for all the wrong reasons, because a quick look at the participation rate metrics showed that in October there was a sharp decline, with the labor force part. rate sliding from 63.1% to 62.7%, back to 4 decade lows…… driven by one disturbing metric: the number of people who exited the labor force soared by a near record 968,000 in October – the third highest on record – pushing the total number of people not in the labor force to a record 95.385 million, as the civilian labor force shrunk by whopping 765,000 in one month.

This took place as the number of employed Americans declined by 484,000, however since the unemployment rate denominator dropped more, it translated into an actual decline in the unemployment rate! So much for economist hopes that potential workers from the fringes are coming back to the labor force. Of course, the implication is even worse: with more slack being created in the form of workers who are leaving, not entering, the labor force, this creates a buffer for wage growth, and suggests that any hope for rapidly rising wages has once again been derailed.

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Not clear what they will be left with. FARA seems hard to prosecute.

Manafort Money Laundering Charge In Russia Probe May Face Challenges (R.)

When the lawyer for the former campaign manager of President Donald Trump attacked the money laundering charge brought against his client as flimsy, some legal experts say he may have pinpointed a potential weakness in the indictment by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller. Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates both pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that they failed to disclose they were lobbying for pro-Russia former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich between 2006 and 2015 and laundered tens of millions of dollars by funneling the money through dozens of companies, partnerships and bank accounts.

In a court filing on Thursday, Manafort defense lawyer Kevin Downing said the money laundering count, the most serious facing his client with a 20-year maximum sentence, was based on a “tenuous legal theory” tying it to his failure to register as a foreign agent of the former Ukrainian leader. [..] The language of the filing and defiant statements Downing made outside the courthouse following Manafort’s arraignment on Monday suggest the lawyer is planning an aggressive defense of the charges, the first to be made public from Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The Kremlin has denied meddling and Trump has said there was no collusion. Neither Trump nor his campaign was mentioned in the indictments issued on Monday.

Downing will also be seeking to suppress evidence he said was improperly obtained by search warrant, according to an additional filing on Friday. Manafort’s Virginia home was raided by FBI agents over the summer. The money laundering statute targets financial transactions involving the proceeds of “specified unlawful activity.” According to the Manafort indictment, the unlawful activity was his violation of the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). Though the money laundering statute includes FARA violations, Seattle tax lawyer John Colvin said the charge against Manafort was not as straightforward as most other cases. “It doesn’t fit the normal paradigm” of money-laundering cases involving criminal activity like drug trafficking, Colvin said. “It seems like a stretch to me.”

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“Are there any like me out there who would like to see both parties tossed onto the garbage barge of history?”

Swamp-O-Rama (Jim Kunstler)

Now comes the news from Donna Brazille, on-again-off-again Democrat Party chair, that the primary elections were elaborately rigged by HRC functionaries to buy control of her nomination. Let’s not even go into the bidding for the Christopher Steele “dossier” alleging kinky sexual romps in Moscow by Donald Trump, or the activities in Ukraine of Tony Podesta’s DC lobbying company — that’s Tony, brother of John Podesta, Clinton campaign chief, whose emails remain a truffle cache for the rooting dogs of the DOJ, if they were actually on-the-task. I write this as a still-registered Democrat myself — though I consider myself their enemy now, yet hardly a Trump partisan. Are there any like me out there who would like to see both parties tossed onto the garbage barge of history?

Of course, to say that also means throwing out a cargo of terrible ideas and beliefs, not just two clown cars of personalities. Identity politics, zero interest rate policy, American Exceptionalism, endless debt, nation-building in foreign lands, FASB-157, sanctuary cities, Title IX coercion, racketeering in health care and higher ed, market interventions, ambiguous borders… is just some of the cargo that needs to be dumped overboard with both parties. Watergate begins to look as quaint and simple as a game of Chutes and Ladders compared to RussiaGate. Not only are both parties implicated one way or another in multiple nefarious schemes, plots, and intrigues, but the Department of Justice and its subsidiary, the FBI, look culpable in a range of cover-ups and mis-directions. If the DOJ becomes disabled, how does any of this get resolved?

The whole extravaganza is heading toward a constitutional crisis that might clean out the system like a Death Wish coffee enema. Sentiment may arise for Mr. Mueller to step aside, if President Trump doesn’t make the rash decision to simply fire him. The latter would certainly foment a constitutional crisis that could include an effort to run Trump over with the 25th amendment. In the event, we’ll be in a new kind of civil war.

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New deal.

How Democrats Can Beat The Republican Tax Cut (Bartlett)

To get back on offense, I think Democrats should stop trying to compete with Republicans on more distributionally fair tax cuts. When you can’t win, don’t play the game. Instead, they should say, if Republicans are willing to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion, let’s use that money for something the country really needs that will create a vastly greater number of jobs. That is a giant infrastructure program. There is no need to detail the myriad of ways that the money could be spent without coming close to exhausting the available projects. Roads, bridges, schools, hurricane repair projects, sea walls and such to protect against future climate catastrophes, the power grid and many, many more. Civil engineers periodically publish long lists of urgent infrastructure needs.

Not only would a big infrastructure program be capital that will pay off for decades, just as Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s national highway program did, but it will create vastly more jobs than any kind of tax cut, especially the one Republicans are proposing that would largely benefit the wealthy while providing no incentives for job creation or investment. The Congressional Budget Office has long provided estimates to Congress showing that direct spending by government on infrastructure has a much more powerful effect on economic growth than any type of tax cut. A February 2015 report showed that purchases of goods and services by the federal government would raise GDP by as much as $2.50 for every $1 spent. Grants to state and local government for infrastructure could create as much as $2.20 for every $1 spent.

By contrast, according to the same report, a temporary tax cut for the wealthy, such as Republicans propose today, would create at most 60 cents of GDP for every $1 of foregone revenue. A tax cut for the middle class is much better, creating as much as $1.50 of GDP for every $1 of revenue loss. Corporate tax cuts are the worst, creating at most 40 cents of GDP for every $1 of revenue loss. Some may say that these estimates are high, given that we are close to full employment, according to many economists. But the additional stimulus would draw many discouraged workers back into the labor force, especially if it created upward pressure on wages, which workers desperately need. Higher wages will raise consumer spending that will further increase growth.

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This is going spectacularly off the rails. Brussels can no longer insist it’s a domestic Spanish issue. Because Puidgemont is in …. Brussels.

European Arrest Warrant Issued For Catalan Leader Carles Puigdemont (G.)

A Spanish judge has issued an international arrest warrant for Catalonia’s ousted president a day after she jailed eight members of the region’s separatist government pending possible charges over last week’s declaration of independence. In the latest twist in Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades, a national court judge on Friday issued a European arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont in response to a request from state prosecutors. Puigdemont flew to Brussels earlier this week with a handful of his deposed ministers after Spanish authorities removed him and his cabinet from office for pushing ahead with the declaration despite repeated warnings that it was illegal. Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer has already said his client will fight extradition without seeking political asylum.

Puigdemont was summoned to appear at Spain’s national court on Thursday to give evidence relating to possible charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, but failed to appear. He has said he would only return to Spain if he were offered guarantees that the judicial process he would face were fair. Late on Friday, Puigdemont told the Belgian public TV channel RTBF that he would put his faith in the Belgian courts. He said: “I will not flee from justice. I will go towards justice, but real justice. I’ve told my lawyers to tell the Belgian justice system that I’m completely available to cooperate. “It’s obvious it’s politicised. The guarantees are not there for a fair, independent trial.”

It was Puigdemont first interview since arriving in Brussels on Monday and it he claimed there was “enormous influence of politics over the judiciary in Spain”. He said: “It’s not normal that we risk 30 years in prison, it’s extremely barbaric, we can not talk about democracy.” Puigdemont said he was ready to stand in the election, adding: “It’s possible to run a campaign from anywhere. We consider ourselves a legitimate government. “There must be a continuity to tell the world what’s going on in Spain … It’s not with a government in jail that the elections will be neutral, independent, normal.”

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Better make it a national emergency right now.

America’s Opioid Crisis Is About To Get Worse (ZH)

The simple chart below from the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime beautifully illustrates the next leg up in America’s opioid crisis. If you thought today’s situation was bad – think again. Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium just logged a record crop harvest this year doubling last year’s production. Some how – some way, Afghanistan’s opium will find its way into a neighborhood near you. According to VOANEWS, Last year, poppies were cultivated on 201,000 hectares, yielding 4,700 tons of opium, up 46% from 2015. Sources told VOA’s Pashto service more than 10,000 tons of opium were produced this year. Opium then can be refined into heroin. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that opium accounted for some 16% of the country’s GDP last year, including more than two-thirds of the entire agricultural sector. In addition to fueling insecurity, violence and insurgency, the drug production is discouraging private and public investment, a UNODC report said.

This is a bad sign for President Trump who opted to call the opioid crisis a ‘public emergency’ rather than a full-blown ‘national emergency’. Highlights from Trump’s opioid crisis speech: In 2016, more than two million Americans had an addiction to prescription or illicit opioids. Since 2000, over 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury death in the United States, outnumbering both traffic crashes and gun-related deaths. In 2015, there were 52,404 drug overdose deaths — 33,091 of those deaths, almost two-thirds, involved the use of opioids. The situation has only gotten worse, with drug overdose deaths in 2016 expected to exceed 64,000. This represents a rate of 175 deaths a day.

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What happens when you transfer your food production abroad. Look, Cuba and Russia used it to their advantage.

‘No Deal’ Brexit To Add £930 A Year To UK Shopping Bills (G.)

Households face increases of up to £930 in their annual shopping bills if Britain walks away from Brexit talks without a trade deal, according to new research that reveals a disproportionate impact on poorer families and the unemployed. Meat, vegetables, dairy products, clothing and footwear would be subject to the largest consumer price rises under a “no-deal” scenario, according to a study published in the authoritative National Institute Economic Review, adding to inflationary pressures that have already forced the first interest rate rise in a decade this week. Stalled negotiations resume next week in Brussels, but the government is also about to publish a trade bill that would result in Britain being required to apply swingeing new tariffs on European imports if it falls back on World Trade Organisation rules.

Since WTO tariffs are highest for fresh food – reaching 45% for dairy products and 37% for meat – and much of this is currently imported from Europe, the team of economists predict an inflationary surge that could match that already inflicted by the falling pound. This would impact most on those least able to afford it, as poorer households typically spend a much higher proportion of their income on food and other essentials. For the 2m worst-affected households, the study predicts their weekly expenditure will rise by 2-4.7%, equivalent to £400-930 extra a year. “The overall increase in price in the affected goods is estimated to be 2.7% and this translates into an increase in the overall cost of living of 0.8-1.1% for a typical family, with the unemployed and families, those with children and pensioners hit hardest,” conclude the economists from the University of Sussex and Resolution Foundation.

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America takes revenge on Chavez.

Stalked By Default Fears, Venezuela Calls Creditor Meeting (AFP)

Venezuela on Friday called foreign creditors to a November 13 meeting in Caracas aiming to restructure its estimated $150 billion debt, as credit-rating agencies dealt the crisis-stricken country another blow with double downgrades. Standard & Poor’s cut the nation’s long-term foreign currency rating to “CC” from “CCC-” over growing concerns of the risk of a debt default in the oil-producing country, while fellow agency Fitch cut the long-term debt rating to “C” from “CC.” The increasingly dire warnings followed President Nicolas Maduro’s calls to “investors across the whole world and to holders of Venezuelan debt” to attend a Caracas meeting November 13 “to start a process to refinance and renegotiate the external debt.”

His vice president, Tareck El Aissami, who is leading a commission tasked with the restructuring, said the government is seeking “sovereign commitments” for a debt renegotiation. Flanked by the ministers in charge of the economy, finance and energy, El Aissami confirmed the country had on Friday started to pay out $1.2 billion due to service the debt of state oil company PDVSA. Maduro announced Thursday that Venezuela would begin talks to refinance the debt immediately after that payment was made. El Aissami, one of the Venezuelan officials sanctioned by the United States due to alleged ties to drug trafficking, said the talks with creditors will “establish the groundwork to renegotiate the terms of the foreign debt of the Republic and of PDVSA.”

“We will begin a sovereign renegotiation of our debt and we will continue to comply fully, transparently, as our government has done historically,” he said in a televised statement. He noted that since 2014 Venezuela, which has the largest proven crude oil reserves in the world, has paid nearly $72 billion in principal and interest payments on the debt. Maduro has repeatedly blamed the United States for the country’s woes, saying Washington is trying to strangle Venezuela with sanctions. US sanctions imposed on Venezuela in August ban US trade in any new bonds issued by the Venezuelan government or PDVSA — a needed step in any restructuring. El Aissami denounced the “continued aggression, permanent sabotage, blockade and financial persecution” he said US President Donald Trump has imposed on the people of Venezuela.

But he said the sanctions really hurt bondholders and financial institutions. Much of Venezuela’s debt is held by China and Russia, to be paid off in oil – the resource that underpins the Venezuelan economy. The country has less than $10 billion in foreign currency reserves. Analysts were pessimistic about Venezuela’s chances of successfully restructuring its debt. “Venezuela’s options to keep up with its payments are shrinking rapidly, mainly because any restructuring needs to be matched with clear and credible economic reforms capable of winning the trust and support of bond-holders,” said Diego Moya-Ocampos, an analyst at London-based IHS Markit.

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People will make themselves sick, self harm, just to get off the islands.

The Greek Island Camp Where Only The Sick Or Pregnant Can Leave (G.)

Eida was two months pregnant when she suffered a miscarriage. A month later, the 18-year-old Syrian refugee still feels angry and despondent. Not just that she lost a child. But that being pregnant was her ticket off the Greek island of Samos – and out of a squalid, barren, barb-wired camp. The young woman is one of around 3,000 refugees in Samos, one of the five Greek “hotspot” islands in the eastern Aegean Sea, designated by the EU to act as a barricade against massive irregular migrant arrivals from Turkey. Since March 2016, when Brussels concluded a controversial agreement with Ankara to curb migrant flows, only vulnerable cases are transferred from the hotspots to the Greek mainland. Eida had hoped to become one of those cases.

The rest are left with two options: languish under deplorable conditions in the camps until their asylum claims are examined, or pay local smuggling networks €1,000 or more to get ferried to the mainland. Anastasia Theodoridou, head of social services at Samos state hospital, says she routinely deals with cases like Eida’s. “Dozens of women come to the hospital desperate to find out they are pregnant. Other refugees are eager for a diagnosis of any serious condition. And if there is nothing wrong with them, they bring their spouses and children. Maybe one of them might have a chance of a diagnosis.” According to internal documents, the Samos hospital has handled 7,857 visits by refugees since the start of the year.

The grotesque paradox of refugees hoping to be ill to get favourable treatment casts a shadow on the EU’s narrative about the success of its response to the refugee crisis.The rosy outlook from Brussels is often based on statistics that show a sharp reduction in irregular daily crossings and deaths in the Aegean. This in turn has resulted in a broad desertion of the tragedy by the international community: journalists have long since gone home, NGOs are packing up, volunteers are few and far between and official funding has been reduced. But despite substantial EU support to Athens – €430m has been contracted according to the European commission – conditions at the Greek hotspots remain appalling. With the focus now shifting to refugees crossing the sea from Libya, Tunisia or Algeria, the situation here is still no less dramatic than a year ago. It is still a massive crisis, albeit a somewhat forgotten one.

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May 202017
 
 May 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Minor White Windowsill Daydreaming Rochester NY 1958

 

The Housing Moment Investors Dread Is Here (DDMB)
Home Ownership Among Young UK Families Halves In 20 Years (TiM)
A Monster Eating the Nation (Jim Kunstler)
Democrats Are Falling For Fake News About Russia (Vox)
Harvard Study Reveals Extent of Anti-Trump Media Bias (HeatSt.)
Comey’s 2007 Brush With Scandal: Jim’s Loyalty Was More To Chuck Schumer (SD)
Constitutional Crisis In Washington? More Like Attempted Coup (David Goldman)
Brazil Plea-Bargain Testimony Says President Took $4.6 Million In Bribes (R.)
Maduro to Trump: ‘Get Your Dirty Hands Off Venezuela!’ (R.)
Theresa May To Create New, Government Controlled Internet in UK (Ind.)
Arctic Stronghold of World’s Seeds Flooded After Permafrost Melts (G.)
Varoufakis Claims Tsipras Pressured Him To Accept Creditors’ Demands (K.)
‘They Stole My Money’: Greek Dreams Of Retirement Turn Sour (AP)
Teen Refugees Trapped In Greece Turn To Prostitution (Spiegel)

 

 

Cracks in the mirage.

The Housing Moment Investors Dread Is Here (DDMB)

Amid the carnage in the auto sector, economists have sought solace in the comforts of home, sweet home. A recent Census release suggests that Millennials, long sidelined, have finally started to tiptoe into the home-buying market. The reception to the data was so effusive that other reports, suggesting housing has reached a much different sort of turning point, were lost in the fray. The good news is that the trend is unequivocal, based purely on supply and demand. The bad news is in the actual message. The May University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey showed a six-year low among those who think it’s a good time to buy a house and a 12-year high among those who say it’s a good time to sell. Disparities of this breadth tend to coincide with break points and that’s just where we’ve landed in the cycle.

The beginning of May officially marked the advent of a buyers’ market, defined simply as sellers outnumbering buyers by a wide enough margin to trigger falling prices. Yes, it’s the moment buyers have been waiting for. It is also the moment private equity investors, those who’ve crowded out natural buyers, have been dreading. Three factors determine home sales: interest rates, unemployment and prices. The recent decline in interest rates has provided some semblance of relief; purchase applications have bounced off April’s levels, when they were down four% over last year. April and May are obviously critical to the spring sales season. The low unemployment rate would seem to be a huge plus if it wasn’t for the stress building around thousands of layoff announcements across the retail and auto sectors that won’t find their way into this most lagging of economic indicators for months.

That is not to say those getting pink slips don’t know their fate, which should influence home sales going forward. Price is the one bright spot, with one glaring caveat: Falling home prices tend to be associated with a negative macroeconomic backdrop, which does not bode well for any buyer of, well, anything. Dig into the Federal Reserve’s recently released first quarter Senior Loan Officer Survey and you will see nothing of note on the residential mortgage side – banks reported that both loan demand and lending standards remained unchanged in the first three months of the year. But that is the here and now. Demand and supply in the auto sector, where pricing has been under pressure for some time, looked quite similar to that for houses several months back.

According to the Fed survey, at minus 13.3%, demand for auto loans flat-lined in deeply negative territory, as was the case in last year’s fourth quarter, the worst levels of the current expansion. This data point corroborated the Michigan survey, which showed that those who said it was a good time to buy a car fell to the lowest level since August 2014. Meanwhile, demand for credit card loans slid to minus 10.2% from minus 8.3% in the last three months of last year. In the event you’re detecting a trend, households are sending out distress signals that have just begun to be picked up in housing, even as household debt levels recapture their pre-crisis highs.

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A radical change to an entire society, and one that will take decades to absorb.

Home Ownership Among Young UK Families Halves In 20 Years (TiM)

The number of young family owning their own homes has halved across large parts of the country in the space of a generation, and the struggle to get on the housing ladder is not restricted to the South East. Research by The Resolution Foundation found that 31% of 25 to 34-year-olds surveyed were home owners in 2016, compared to 58% in 1994. Regionally, 30% of those surveyed in West Yorkshire owned homes last year, compared to 61% in 1994. Similarly, in Greater Manchester, home ownership levels fell to 29% from 59% over the same 22-year period. The South West also suffered a decline, to 36% last year from 62% in 1994, while East Anglia fell to 34% from 61% in the same period. The decrease was most pronounced in outer London, where home ownership dropped to 20% in 2016 from 55% in 1994.

Big falls were also recorded in other areas of the South East including Brighton, Southampton, Reading and Milton Keynes, with home ownership in the younger age group bracket declined from to 34% last year from 64% in 1994. The Resolution Foundation argued that such a ‘seismic shift’ in home ownership puts the younger generation in a very different position from that of the older, baby boomer generation, leaving many more young families living in the private rented sector. Lindsay Judge, a senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: ‘London house prices always dominate the headlines, but with all eyes on the capital we’re missing the bigger picture. ‘From Bristol to East Anglia and up to West Yorkshire, large swathes of young families across the country simply cannot afford to buy their own home.’This has implications for their living standards in the here and now, but also in the future when their children grow up and they approach retirement without this key asset to draw upon in old age.

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“Why do you suppose nations employ foreign ministers and ambassadors, if not to conduct conversations at the highest level with other national leaders? And might these conversations include matters of great sensitivity, that is, classified information?”

A Monster Eating the Nation (Jim Kunstler)

Is there any question now that the Deep State is preparing to expel President Donald Trump from the body politic like a necrotic organ? The Golden Golem of Greatness has floundered pretty badly on the job, it’s true, but his mighty adversaries in the highly politicized federal agencies want him to fail spectacularly, and fast, and they have a lot of help from the NY Times / WashPo / CNN axis of hysteria, as well as such slippery swamp creatures as Lindsey Graham. There are more problematic layers in this matter than in a Moldavian wedding cake. America has been functionally ungovernable for quite a while, well before Trump arrived on the scene. His predecessor managed to misdirect the nation’s attention from the cumulative dysfunction with sheer charm and supernatural placidity — NoDrama Obama.

But there were a few important things he could have accomplished as chief exec, such as directing his attorney general to prosecute Wall Street crime (or fire the attorney general and replace him with someone willing to do the job). He could have broken up the giant TBTF banks. He could have aggressively sponsored legislation to overcome the Citizens United SOTUS decision (unlimited corporate money in politics) by redefining corporate “citizenship.” Stuff like that. But he let it slide, and the nation slid with him down a greasy chute of political collapse. Which we find embodied in Trump, a sort of tragicomic figure who manages to compound all of his other weaknesses of character with a childish impulsiveness that scares folks. It is debatable whether he has simply been rendered incompetent by the afflictions heaped on by his adversaries, or if he is just plain incompetent in, say, the 25th Amendment way.

I think we’ll find out soon enough, because impeachment is a very long and arduous path out of this dark place. The most curious feature of the current crisis, of course, is the idiotic Russia story that has been the fulcrum for levering Trump out of the White House. This was especially funny the past week with the episode involving Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak conferring with Trump in the White House about aviation security around the Middle East. The media and the Lindsey Graham wing of the Deep State acted as if Trump had entertained Focalor and Vepar, the Dukes of Hell, in the oval office. Why do you suppose nations employ foreign ministers and ambassadors, if not to conduct conversations at the highest level with other national leaders? And might these conversations include matters of great sensitivity, that is, classified information? If you doubt that then you have no understanding of geopolitics or history.

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The writer starts off quite right, but then veers off into this incomprehensible stuff: “There are even legitimate reasons to believe that Trump’s campaign worked with Russian hackers to undermine Hillary Clinton. That may or may not turn out to be true, but it is least plausible and somewhat supported by the available evidence.”

Legitimate reasons that may not be true? “Somewhat” supported by evidence? That’s where I stop reading.

Democrats Are Falling For Fake News About Russia (Vox)

President Donald Trump is about to resign as a result of the Russia scandal. Bernie Sanders and Sean Hannity are Russian agents. The Russians have paid off House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz to the tune of $10 million, using Trump as a go-between. Paul Ryan is a traitor for refusing to investigate Trump’s Russia ties. Libertarian heroine Ayn Rand was a secret Russian agent charged with discrediting the American conservative movement. These are all claims you can find made on a new and growing sector of the internet that functions as a fake news bubble for liberals, something I’ve dubbed the Russiasphere. The mirror image of Breitbart and InfoWars on the right, it focuses nearly exclusively on real and imagined connections between Trump and Russia. The tone is breathless: full of unnamed intelligence sources, certainty that Trump will soon be imprisoned, and fever dream factual assertions that no reputable media outlet has managed to confirm.

Twitter is the Russiasphere’s native habitat. Louise Mensch, a former right-wing British parliamentarian and romance novelist, spreads the newest, punchiest, and often most unfounded Russia gossip to her 283,000 followers on Twitter. Mensch is backed up by a handful of allies, including former NSA spook John Schindler (226,000 followers) and DC-area photographer Claude Taylor (159,000 followers). There’s also a handful of websites, like Palmer Report, that seem devoted nearly exclusively to spreading bizarre assertions like the theory that Ryan and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell funneled Russian money to Trump — a story that spread widely among the site’s 70,000 Facebook fans. Beyond the numbers, the unfounded left-wing claims, like those on the right, are already seeping into the mainstream discourse.

In March, the New York Times published an op-ed by Mensch instructing members of Congress as to how they should proceed with the Russia investigation (“I have some relevant experience,” she wrote). Two months prior to that, Mensch had penned a lengthy letter to Vladimir Putin titled “Dear Mr. Putin, Let’s Play Chess” — in which she claims to have discovered that Edward Snowden was part of a years-in-the-making Russian plot to discredit Hillary Clinton. Last Thursday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) was forced to apologize for spreading a false claim that a New York grand jury was investigating Trump and Russia. His sources, according to the Guardian’s Jon Swaine, were Mensch and Palmer:

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First, media exposure was a main factor in winning Trump the election. Now, not so much.

Harvard Study Reveals Extent of Anti-Trump Media Bias (HeatSt.)

A major new study out of Harvard University has revealed the true extent of the mainstream media’s bias against Donald Trump. Academics at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzed coverage from Trump’s first 100 days in office across 10 major TV and print outlets. They found that the tone of some outlets was negative in as many as 98% of reports, significantly more hostile than the first 100 days of the three previous administrations:

The academics based their study on seven US outlets and three European ones. In America they analyzed CNN, NBC, CBS, Fox News, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. They also took into account the BBC, the UK’s Financial Times and the German public broadcaster ARD. Every outlet was negative more often than positive. Only Fox News, which features some of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters and is often given special access to the President, even came close to positivity. Fox was ranked 52% negative and 48% positive. The study also divided news items across topics. On immigration, healthcare, and Russia, more than 85% of reports were negative. On the economy, the proportion was more balanced – 54% negative to 46% positive:

The study highlighted one exception: Trump got overwhelmingly positive coverage for launching a cruise missile attack on Syria. Around 80% of all reports were positive about that.

The picture was very different for other recent administrations. The study found that President Obama’s first 100 days got a good write-up overall – with 59% of reports positive. Bill Clinton and George W Bush got overall negative coverage, it found, but to a much lesser extent than Trump. Clinton’s first 100 days got 40% positivity, while Bush’s got 43%. Trump has repeatedly claimed that his treatment by the media is unprecedented in its hostility. This study suggests that, at least when it comes to recent history, he’s right.

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Comey has a past.

Comey’s 2007 Brush With Scandal: Jim’s Loyalty Was More To Chuck Schumer (SD)

[..] the current episode is not the first time Comey and his associates plotted to oust a sitting Republican official through highly orchestrated political theater and carefully crafted narratives in which Comey is the courageous hero bravely fighting to preserve the rule of law. To understand how Comey came to be FBI director in the first place, and how he operates in the political arena, it is important to review the last scandal in which Comey had a front-row seat: the 2007 U.S. attorney firings and the fight over the 2004 reauthorization of Stellar Wind, a mass National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program designed to mitigate terrorist threats in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The pivotal scene in the Comey-crafted narrative, a drama that made Comey famous and likely paved the road to his 2013 appointment by President Barack Obama to run the FBI, occurred in a Beltway hospital room in early 2004.

In Comey’s view, Comey was the last honest man in Washington, the only person standing between a White House that rejected any restraints on its power, and the rule of law protecting Americans from illegal mass surveillance. A former White House counsel and attorney general with extensive first-hand experience dealing with Comey, however, paints a very different picture of what happened in that hospital room, and disputes numerous key details. In this account, Comey’s actions showcase a duplicitous, secretive schemer whose true loyalties were not to the officials to whom he reported, but to partisan Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). To fully understand and appreciate Jim Comey’s approach to politics, the writings and testimony of Alberto Gonzales, who served as both White House counsel and attorney general during the events in question and is intimately aware of Comey’s history of political maneuvering, is absolutely essential.

Gonzales’s descriptions of his interactions with Comey, included in his 2016 book “True Faith And Allegiance,” are detailed and extensive. While his tone is measured, the language he uses to describe Comey’s actions in 2004 and 2007 leaves little doubt about the former top Bush official’s views on Comey’s character. Gonzales’s opinion is clearly colored by the fact that Comey cravenly used him to jumpstart his own political career by going public with surprise (and questionable) testimony that Gonzales had attempted to take advantage of a deathly ill man in order to ram through authorization of an illegal surveillance program. Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft had taken ill and was in the hospital at a pivotal time. The legal authorization of a surveillance program meant to find and root out terrorist threats was days from expiring.

What happened in Ashcroft’s hospital room in March of 2004 later became political fodder for a hearing in which Senate Democrats used Comey to dredge up the 2004 hospital meeting to tar Gonzales’ credibility and suggest he was unfit to continue serving as attorney general. As the 2004 and 2007 sagas show, Comey is clearly no stranger to using the unarguably legal dismissal of government employees as the backdrop for casting himself as the story’s protaganist standing up to the forces of corruption. “[I] told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly to the hospital,” Comey testified. “I got out of the car and ran up — literally ran up the stairs with my security detail.” “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey said.

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It’s a politics and media crisis.

Constitutional Crisis In Washington? More Like Attempted Coup (David Goldman)

This is NOT a Constitutional crisis, contrary to press hype, but an attempted coup, as a senior Republican statesman told a private briefing this week. As Prof. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University wrote yesterday at TheHill.Com, the much-ballyhooed Comey memo is “pretty thin soup” as far as obstruction of justice is concerned. “Encouraging leniency or advocating for an associate may be improper,” Prof. Turley added, but it doesn’t come close to the legal threshold for impeachment, especially because no criminal proceedings were underway or even contemplated against Gen. Flynn. What exactly is going on? The Democrats never accepted the Trump election victory, and neither did the McCain wing of the Republican Party, which was humiliated and sidelined by Trump. The Wall Street Journal editorial page published a signed op-ed yesterday claiming that Trump’s alleged leak of covert intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov showed his unfitness for office.

Presidents and Cabinet members leak secret intelligence frequently, but whether they are held to account for it is a political matter. Obama and his then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta leaked the fact that Seal Team 6 had killed Osama bin Laden as well as the fact that a Pakistani physician had tipped the US off to his whereabouts, life-threatening leaks for which Obama was given a free pass. The object of all of this, said the Republican statesman, is to persuade a sufficient number of Republican congressman and senators to abandon Trump and declare him “unfit” for office. Nothing quite like this ever has happened in American politics. Trump will NOT be caught in an impeachable offense, but his detractors will NOT give up–so a prolonged “cold civil war” (Prof. Angelo Codevilla’s phrase) is likely to paralyze policy-making in Washington for some time. That can’t be good for the stock market.

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He shouldn’t last the weekend.

Brazil Plea-Bargain Testimony Says President Took $4.6 Million In Bribes (R.)

Brazil’s top court released plea-bargain testimony on Friday accusing President Michel Temer and his two predecessors of receiving millions of dollars in bribes, the most damaging development yet in a historic political corruption probe. The testimony made public by the Supreme Court is from executives of the world’s largest meatpacking company, and raises serious doubts about whether Temer can maintain his grip on the presidency. The scandals that have engulfed Brazil’s political class and many business elites reduce the chances that Temer, a conservative who took office after leftist former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached last year, can push through economic reforms crucial for Latin America’s biggest country to recover from its worst recession on record.

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it approved an investigation of Temer for corruption and obstruction of justice. Calls for his resignation intensified, including an editorial in the O Globo newspaper, which is normally criticized by leftists for backing conservative politicians. “This is easily the worst moment in Brazil since we returned to democracy,” said Claudio Couto, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a top university, calling the claims “the mother of all plea bargains.” “This testimony is hitting everyone, all the major political players and, most importantly, a sitting president,” he added.

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How is it possible that in no western media reports on Venezuela the CIA is ever mentioned? Think they left when Chavez died? Think the country implodes like this all by itself?

Maduro to Trump: ‘Get Your Dirty Hands Off Venezuela!’ (R.)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blasted Donald Trump on Friday after a fresh round of U.S. sanctions and strong condemnation of his socialist government from the U.S. leader. “Enough meddling … Go home, Donald Trump. Get out of Venezuela,” Maduro thundered in a speech carried on live TV. “Get your dirty hands out of here.” The Trump administration imposed sanctions on the chief judge and seven other members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Thursday as punishment for annulling the opposition-led Congress in a series of rulings this year. The new sanctions package was aimed at stepping up pressure on Maduro and his loyalists following a crackdown on street protests and efforts to consolidate his rule of the South American oil-producing country. At the White House on Thursday, Trump expressed dismay at how once-booming Venezuela was now mired in poverty, saying “it’s been unbelievably poorly run” and calling the humanitarian situation “a disgrace to humanity.”

Maduro had initially urged the world to give Trump a chance after he was elected in November but his government unleashed its strongest condemnation to date of the Republican president. “President Trump’s aggressions against the Venezuelan people, its government and its institutions have surpassed all limits,” said a government statement that accused Washington of seeking to destabilize Venezuela and foment foreign intervention. The statement also accused Washington of financing the Venezuelan opposition while ignoring problems at home like income inequality and rights violations. “The extreme positions of a government just starting off only confirmed the discriminatory, racist, xenophobic, and genocidal nature of U.S. elites against humanity and its own people, which has now been heightened by this new administration which asserts white Anglo-Saxon supremacy,” the statement said.

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Classic. Using fear, of terrorism, of pornography, etc., to clamp down on everyone’s freedom, according to a certain party’s views. No privacy for you, guys. Use your votes wisely.

Theresa May To Create New, Government Controlled Internet in UK (Ind.)

Theresa May is planning to introduce huge regulations on the way the internet works, allowing the government to decide what is said online. Particular focus has been drawn to the end of the manifesto, which makes clear that the Tories want to introduce huge changes to the way the internet works. “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet,” it states. “We disagree.” Senior Tories confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the phrasing indicates that the government intends to introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online. The plans will allow Britain to become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet”, the manifesto claims.

It comes just soon after the Investigatory Powers Act came into law. That legislation allowed the government to force internet companies to keep records on their customers’ browsing histories, as well as giving ministers the power to break apps like WhatsApp so that messages can be read. The manifesto makes reference to those increased powers, saying that the government will work even harder to ensure there is no “safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online”. That is apparently a reference in part to its work to encourage technology companies to build backdoors into their encrypted messaging services – which gives the government the ability to read terrorists’ messages, but also weakens the security of everyone else’s messages, technology companies have warned.

The government now appears to be launching a similarly radical change in the way that social networks and internet companies work. While much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn’t published, the manifesto suggests.

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They never thought about this?

Arctic Stronghold of World’s Seeds Flooded After Permafrost Melts (G.)

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel. The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”. But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling.

“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault. “A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C. But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.”

The vault’s managers are now waiting to see if the extreme heat of this winter was a one-off or will be repeated or even exceeded as climate change heats the planet. The end of 2016 saw average temperatures over 7C above normal on Spitsbergen, pushing the permafrost above melting point. “The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?” said Aschim. The Svalbard archipelago, of which Spitsbergen is part, has warmed rapidly in recent decades, according to Ketil Isaksen, from Norway’s Meteorological Institute. “The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world. The climate is changing dramatically and we are all amazed at how quickly it is going,” Isaksen told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

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I don’t know if they still talk.

Varoufakis Claims Tsipras Pressured Him To Accept Creditors’ Demands (K.)

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on Friday hit out at Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, claiming that the premier had tried to scare him into yielding to creditors’ demands. “In the summer of 2015 Alexis Tsipras told me that I should fear a new Goudi,” Varoufakis told VICE magazine, referring to a military coup that took place in Greece in 1909 amid simmering social tensions. The former minister, who has launched his own party, DiEM25, said the alleged statement struck him as a threat aimed at forcing him to agree with Tsipras’s decision to give in to creditors. In a Skai TV interview last week, Varoufakis said Greece “will become Kosovo, a protectorate run by an employee of the European Union.”

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Greece’s problem is public debt, not private debt. The people did not cause the crisis, they only pay for it.

‘They Stole My Money’: Greek Dreams Of Retirement Turn Sour (AP)

It was supposed to be a time to look forward to. After decades of work, retirement was for many meant to provide a chance to slow down and enjoy life. A holiday, an evening out with old friends, the odd fishing trip. Instead, many Greek pensioners say they are struggling to get by. The government has repeatedly cuts old age benefits as part of the country’s three international bailouts and many retirees now say they are at breaking point financially. Some have unemployed children they try to help on shrinking pensions, others are seeing rising taxes eat into lifetime savings. A new austerity bill approved in parliament early Friday cuts their pensions even further, putting their plight in focus.

Greece once had a generous pension system – too generous to be sustainable, especially with an aging population. Retirement was possible from as early as the age of 55 after 30 years of work. Many had extra perks: public sector employees could retire as early as 52. Some women with young children could retire with a reduced pension at 50. But the financial crisis left Greece reliant on international creditors, who pushed for economic change – not least to pensions. The standard retirement age is now 67. Many early retirement provisions have been abolished. Including pensions, incomes have dropped 40% over the last seven years of crisis. Here is a look at the problem through the stories of four pensioners.

Mina Griva, 78, widow and former factory worker Griva’s husband, who worked in a steel plant in Greece, died eight years ago. Her initial widow’s pension of €998 ($1,110) and a €300 supplementary pension have been cut to €560 and €150 respectively. “They’ve destroyed us,” said Griva, who now helps out daily at a municipal care center for the elderly. “Pensioners are crying.” A mother of five, she uses her pension to help her son, who’s been unemployed for five years. She moved out of her small Athens apartment to give it to him, and lives in a single room on the last floor of the building. Now, she avidly watches political talk shows on TV to figure out how much further her pension will drop.

Griva left Greece in 1964 and worked for 15 years in Germany, initially as a cleaner in a cheese factory and later working an ironing press in a clothing factory. Times were tough in Greece then, and she worked double eight-hour shifts to send money home to her family. She saved, and eventually had enough to secure homes for her children, and a small apartment for herself. She thought she was securing her family’s future. “We left here to build something,” said Griva. Instead, the austerity measures ate into their lives, with new property taxes, layoffs and income cuts. “Now you can’t even buy a bread ring for your grandchildren,” she said. “I don’t know where this will go. Things are very, very hard.”

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Damn you, Brussels. Damn you, Merkel, Rutte, Hollande, Cameron, Renzi. You created this.

Teen Refugees Trapped In Greece Turn To Prostitution (Spiegel)

Mohammed is approached by a middle-aged man wearing greasy beige pants, a blue shirt and a blue baseball cap. Although the man speaks Greek, the 17-year-old boy from Afghanistan knows exactly what he wants. “No,” Mohammad repeatedly says in English, his voice cracking and his eyes filling with tears. But the man keeps pushing. “Come with me. I will give you food, pay you.” The man only stops when he realizes he is being watched. He then grudgingly walks away and sits down on a nearby bench. From there, he starts scouring the field again, searching for another boy. It was broad daylight on a sunny Tuesday morning on Victoria Square in the heart of Athens. The square has been a meeting place and a makeshift home for thousands of migrants since the refugee crisis hit Greece two years ago – and now it is increasingly becoming a prostitution hub for underage refugees.

Mohammad hasn’t gone that far yet, but he says it is only a matter of time until he goes home with a man. He has just 30 euros left in his pocket, and he is quickly losing hope. “When this money runs out, I fear I will have no other choice but do what the others are doing. Have sex with these older men. What should I do? I have no place to stay, nothing to eat. Should I just die in the park?” he says, finally bursting into tears. Mohammed says he lost his parents in an attack in Afghanistan. He has been in Athens for a month, he says, after fleeing his home alone and reaching the Greek island of Lesbos last February, where he registered as a minor. He then claimed to be an adult to escape the violence in the island’s notorious Moria camp. Since then, despite looking very much like a teenager, with pimples, a small stature and thin voice, he has been turned away from shelters for minors.

When night comes, Mohammad rolls himself up in a blanket on a corner of the square. His only possession is a yellow envelope that he guards closely. Inside, he keeps his refugee registration papers and a single-page CV. According to Mohammad’s papers, he applied for asylum in Lesbos in November 2016. The date set for his interview is January 4, 2018. It is mostly boys from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria – who either came alone or were separated from their families along their perilous journey to Europe – who are now waiting for their refugee claims to be processed in Greece. In the meantime, the authorities are supposed to look after them, but there are only 53 shelters with 1,272 spots. Of the approximately 2,000 registered minors, about 800 are housed in large camps, are in police custody or are homeless.

[..] Everyone – the authorities, the NGO workers, the police – know what is going on. But nobody seems willing or able to do anything about it. And this despite the fact that the adult clients are breaking the law, despite the fact that various institutions have devoted themselves to protecting young refugees. But prostitution is booming because the system is failing. Because Greece doesn’t have the resources to take care of underage refugees. Because the processing of asylum applications is chaotic and authorities from one agency don’t know what authorities from other agencies are doing. And because the boys need to file criminal complaints before their clients can be prosecuted.

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