Carl Mydans Pearl Harbor 1940
Orson Welles strikes again.
• Hawaii Panics After False Alert Of Incoming Missile (AFP)
An alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile aimed at Hawaii was sent in error Saturday, sowing panic and confusion across the US state – which is already on edge over the risk of attack – before officials dubbed it a “false alarm.” Emergency management officials eventually determined the notification was sent just after 8:00 am during a shift change and a drill after “the wrong button was pushed” – a mistake that lit up phones across the archipelago with a disturbing alert urging people to “seek immediate shelter.” There were frenzied scenes of people rushing to safety – a bathtub, a basement, a manhole, cowering under mattresses. Adventurer Alison Teal called it “the worst moment of my life.”
The erroneous message came after months of soaring tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, with North Korea saying it has successfully tested ballistic missiles that could deliver atomic warheads to the United States, including the chain of volcanic islands. “I deeply apologize for the trouble and heartbreak that we caused today,” said Vern Miyagi, administrator of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency. “We’ve spent the last few months trying to get ahead of this whole threat, so that we could provide as much notification and preparation to the public. “We made a mistake,” he acknowledged in a press conference. “We’re going to take processes and study this so that this doesn’t happen again. “The governor has directed that we hold off any more tests until we get this squared away.”
And lead to recessions. Still lots of people out there saying price increases equal inflation. They don’t.
• Rising Rental Rates Suppress Consumer Demand (Roberts)
[..] the cost of Housing, Medical Care, and Transportation have all risen sharply over the past 5-months with those three components comprising 67% of the inflation calculation. Clearly, the surge in “health care” related costs, due to the surging premiums of insurance due to the “Un-affordable Care Act,” pushed both consumer-related spending measures and inflationary pressures higher. Unfortunately, higher health care premiums do not provide a boost to production but drain consumptive spending capabilities. Housing costs, a very large portion of overall CPI, is also boosting inflationary pressures. But like “health care” costs, rising housing costs and rental rates also suppress consumptive spending ability.
Importantly, while households may be receiving a modest “tax cut” over the coming year, given the rise in three of the biggest expenditures in most households, whatever increase in incomes maybe received has likely already been absorbed by higher costs and debt service payments. “For the middle-class and working poor, which is roughly 80% of households, rent, energy, medical and food comprise 80-90% of the aggregate consumption basket.” – Research Affiliates. The problem for the Fed is that by pushing interest rates higher, under the belief there is a broad increase in inflation, the suppression of demand will only be exacerbated as the costs of variable rate interest payments also rise. With households already ramping up debt just to make ends meet, another increased expense will only serve to further suppress “consumer demand.”
Brought to you as a success story.
• The Chinese Are Now Spending As Much As Americans (ZH)
In the US, the latest batch of data, released this week, showed retail sales climbed in December for the sixth straight month – though they missed expectations, with growth slowing to 0.3% MoM. With the personal savings rate at a 10 year low, the US consumer is now fully tapped out: This latest uptick in spending has presumably been fueled by debt, as credit-card borrowing has reached an all-time high. But another milestone in the history of global consumerism passed last month: As the Washington Post points out, China tied the US in 2018 in terms of domestic retail sales – according to data compiled by Mizuho. In some important categories, China has overtaken the US: With 17.6 million vehicles sold in the US in 2016, for example, but that was far below the 24 million passenger cars sold in China.
US automakers account for about one out of every five cars sold in China, even though the communist party placed a 10% tax on luxury cars and trucks imported from the United States. This economic heft has made the problem of confronting China intractable: China is now responsible for 20% of sales for some of the largest US corporations. This is making it difficult for Trump to confront Xi Jinping. Any restrictions on Chinese access to the US market would be met with barriers to American companies selling in China. One area where there’s a lot of agreement across the political spectrum is to go after China’s theft of US intellectual property. Over the summer, Trump ordered an investigation by the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to examine China’s IP policies.
Xi’s knee jerk is to increase central control. But the bubble couldn’t have happened without the shadow system, i.e. decentralization.
• China To Step Up Banking Oversight In ‘Arduous’ Fight On Financial Risks (R.)
China will step up oversight in the banking sector this year to reduce financial risks, the country’s banking regulator said, stressing that long-term efforts would be needed to control banking sector chaos. The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) said late on Saturday in a statement that its priorities included increasing supervision over shadow banking and interbank activities. “Banking shareholder management, corporate governance and risk control mechanisms are still relatively weak, and root causes creating market chaos have not fundamentally changed,” the CBRC said. “Bringing the banking sector under control will be long-term, arduous, and complex,” it said. The regulator said violations in corporate governance, property loans, and disposal of non-performing assets will be punished more strictly, and that it would strengthen risk control in interbank activities, financial products and off-balance sheet business.
China has repeatedly vowed to clean up disorder in its banking system. In recent months, regulators have introduced a series of new measures aimed at controlling risk and leverage in the financial system, with everything from lending practices to shadow banking under the microscope. Already in January, the CBRC has published regulations that put limits on the number of commercial banks that single investors can have major holdings in. President Xi Jinping has declared that financial security is vital to national security. The government is particularly concerned about the massive shadow banking industry, lending conducted outside of the regulated formal banking system. It fears that a big default or series of loan losses could cascade through the world’s second-biggest economy, leading to a sudden halt in bank lending.
And not its own.
• EU Set To Target UK’s Overseas Tax Havens (Ind.)
Demands to open up Britain’s shady network of overseas tax havens are set to be used by the EU as leverage to force concessions during Brexit trade talks, The Independent understands. The European Commission will soon review whether British territories previously left off a Brussels tax haven blacklist should now be added – just as negotiations move on to the all-important future trade deal. Publicly EU officials say the blacklisting process has nothing to do with Brexit, but separate sources in Brussels told The Independent British territories where billions of pounds are stashed will come into play. One official made clear the EU would “go after” them, while another said the UK Government must ask itself if it wants to fly in the face of British public opinion on tax avoidance.
EU commissioners in December produced a blacklist of uncooperative tax jurisdictions, in a bid to clamp down on evasion and avoidance, tackle “threats” to members states’ tax bases and take on “third countries that consistently refuse to play fair”. But the 17 jurisdictions listed included no British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies, despite them being named in earlier EU lists and some being implicated in the Paradise Papers scandal. The EU had agreed the blacklisting screening process would be put on hold for territories caught in Hurricane Irma, meanwhile the UK is said to have pushed back against tougher sanctions for blacklisted territories. But officials confirmed that the screening process will now restart in “early spring” for British territories including Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Other British territories – Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey – promised to try and address EU concerns to stay off the list, which will now be reviewed annually.
Covering his tracks?
• Historic Brexit Vote Could Be Reversed, Admits Nigel Farage (O.)
Nigel Farage today makes a dramatic admission that the vote for Brexit could be overturned because Remainers have seized control of the argument over Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The former Ukip leader told the Observer that he was becoming increasingly worried that the Leave camp had stopped fighting their corner, leaving a well-funded and organised Remain operation free to influence the political and public debate without challenge. “The Remain side are making all the running,” said Farage. “They have a majority in parliament, and unless we get ourselves organised we could lose the historic victory that was Brexit.” On Thursday Farage angered many Brexiters, and many in Ukip, when he said he was coming round to the view that the country might need to hold a second referendum in order to close down the EU argument for good.
He said then that he believed such a vote would see the Brexit side win with a bigger majority than the one it achieved on 23 June 2016, when it triumphed by 52% to 48%. But, speaking on Friday, Farage appeared to change his tune, making clear that he was seriously worried that Brexit could be undone and reversed. The case for a complete break from the EU was no longer being made, even by pro-Brexit MPs in parliament, he said. Instead, the Remain camp was relentlessly putting out its message that a hard Brexit would be ruinous to the British economy and bad for the country, without people hearing the counter-argument that had secured Brexiters victory in the 2016 referendum campaign.
His latest intervention comes ahead of another vital week for the Brexit process in the House of Commons and as peers in the overwhelmingly pro-Remain House of Lords prepare to argue for retaining the closest possible links with the EU – and in some cases for a second referendum – when legislation reaches peers at the end of this month. Farage said he now had a similar feeling to the one he had 20 years ago when Tony Blair appeared to be preparing the country for an eventual entry into the euro. “I think the Leave side is in danger of not even making the argument,” he said. “The Leave groups need to regather and regroup, because Remain is making all the arguments. After we won the referendum, we closed the doors and stopped making the argument.”
Last Monday Farage held a meeting in Brussels with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, which, he said, left him convinced that the UK would not be offered the kind of deal that would be easy to sell as beneficial to the UK economy unless Leavers upped their game. “We no longer have a majority in parliament. I think we would lose the vote in parliament,” Farage said.
• Globalization Is Stuck In A Trap. What When It Breaks Free? (Varoufakis)
Humanity has been globalizing since our ancestors left Africa, the earliest economic migrants on record. Moreover, capitalism has been operating for two centuries like “heavy artillery,” in Marx and Engels’ words, using the “cheap prices of commodities” to batter “down all Chinese walls,” “constantly expanding market for its products” and replacing “the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency” with “intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.” It wasn’t until the 1990s, when we noticed the unleashing of momentous forces, that we required a new term to describe the emancipation of capital from all fetters, which led to a global economy whose growth and equilibrium relied on increasingly unbalanced trade and money movements. It is this relatively recent phenomenon – globalization, we called it – that is now in crisis and in retreat.
Only an ambitious new internationalism can help reinvigorate the spirit of humanism on a planetary scale. But before arguing in favour of that antidote, it is worthwhile recounting globalization’s origins and internal contradictions. In 1944, the New Deal administration in Washington understood that the only way to avoid the Great Depression’s return at war’s end was to transfer America’s surpluses to Europe (the Marshall Plan was but one example of this) and Japan, effectively recycling them to generate foreign demand for all the gleaming new products – washing machines, cars, television sets, passenger jets – that American industry would switch to from military hardware. Thus began the project of dollarizing Europe, founding the EU as a cartel of heavy industry, and building up Japan within the context of a global currency union based on the U.S. dollar.
This would equilibrate a global system featuring fixed exchange rates, almost-constant interest rates and boring banks (operating under severe capital controls). This dazzling design, also known as the Bretton Woods system, brought us a golden age of low unemployment and inflation, high growth and impressively diminished inequality. Alas, by the late 1960s, it was dead in the water. Why? Because the United States lost its surpluses and slipped into a burgeoning twin deficit (trade and federal budget), rendering it no longer able to stabilize the global system. Never too slow to confront reality, Washington killed off its finest creation: On Aug. 15, 1971, then-president Richard Nixon announced the ejection of Europe and Japan from the dollar zone. Unnoticed by almost everyone, globalization was born on that summer day.
The Wal Street Journal doesn’t mince its words.
• The Trump-Russia Dossier Rehab Campaign (WSJ)
There’s no such thing as a coincidence in Washington, so why the sudden, furious effort by Democrats and the media to give cover to the Steele dossier? As in, the sudden, furious effort that happens to coincide with congressional investigators’ finally being given access to FBI records about the Trump-Russia probe. This scandal’s pivotal day was Jan. 3. That’s the deadline House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation to turn over documents it had been holding for months. Speaker Paul Ryan backed Mr. Nunes’s threat to cite officials for contempt of Congress. Everyone who played a part in encouraging the FBI’s colonoscopy of the Trump campaign – congressional Democrats, FBI and Justice Department senior career staff, the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama political mobs, dossier commissioner Fusion GPS, the press corps – knew about the deadline and clearly had been tipped to the likelihood that the FBI would have to comply.
Thus the dossier rehabilitation campaign. Weeks before, the same crew had taken a desperate shot at running away from the dossier, with a New York Times special that attempted to play down its significance in the FBI probe. You can see why. In the year since BuzzFeed published the salacious dossier, we’ve discovered it was a work product of the Clinton campaign, commissioned by an oppo-research firm (Fusion), compiled by a British ex-spook on the basis of anonymous sources, and rolled out to the media in the runup to the election. Oh, and it appears to continue to be almost entirely false. When the best you’ve got is that a campaign orbiter made a public trip to Russia, you haven’t got much. But with Congress about to obtain documents that show the dossier did matter, it was time for a new line.
And so the day before the Nunes deadline, Fusion co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch broke their public silence to explain in a New York Times op-ed that what really matters was their noble intention – to highlight Donald Trump’s misdeeds. The duo took credit for alerting the “national security community” to a Russian “attack.” Meanwhile, Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, decided it was suddenly a matter of urgency that the nation see Mr. Simpson’s testimony, which he gave back in August. That move provided the cable news channels with more than 300 pages of self-serving material. Mr. Simpson extols his journalistic chops, praises the integrity of dossier author Christopher Steele (a “Boy Scout”), professes his love of country and his distaste for Russians (other than those paying him), and ladles on more disinformation about Mr. Trump.
Democrats and the media have spun this into a new contention: What mattered were the motives and credentials of the dossier’s creators, which were sufficient to give the FBI good cause to run with the document. Which you have to admit sounds a lot better than “Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Conjured Up an Opposition-Research Document That Was Fed to the Obama FBI, Which Then Used It to Spy on the Trump Campaign.” Even if that’s a more accurate headline.
Very smart, brave and strong.
• Chelsea Manning Seeks US Senate Seat (AFP)
Whistleblower Chelsea Manning, jailed for leaking classified information, is seeking election in the US state of Maryland, a document seen on Saturday says. The Federal Election Commission document, filed Thursday, lists Chelsea Elizabeth Manning of North Bethesda, Maryland, as a Democratic candidate for the United States senate. Manning, now 30, was an army intelligence analyst sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013 for leaking more than 700,000 classified documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The revelations by Manning, who is transgender and was then known as Bradley Manning, exposed covered-up misdeeds and possible crimes by US troops and allies.
Her actions made Manning a hero to anti-war and anti-secrecy activists but US establishment figures branded her a traitor. Then-president Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, leading to her release in May. During her incarceration, Manning battled for, and won, the right to start hormone treatment. On Twitter, she identifies herself as a “trans woman,” and carries the slogan: “Make powerful people angry.”
A great health care sytem has fallen victim to Brussels. Unforgiveable.
• Greeks Avoid Seeing A Doctor When Ill Due To Cost (K.)
30% of people who fell ill in Greece in 2016 did not see a doctor, according to a new survey which found that 35.8% of those people who did not seek treatment did so due to the financial cost. The nationwide survey, based on a sample of 2,000 adults, was carried out in January 2017 by the National School of Public Health in Athens. The results, which highlight the impact of the financial crisis on access to medical care, were made available only recently. The study showed that the main reason Greeks consulted a health professional in 2016 was because they were experiencing a symptom or pain, with 47.4% giving that as a reason. In 2006 only 21% gave that as a main reason as most people visited doctors to receive medical prescriptions or routine checkups. Meanwhile, 26.4% of Greeks who needed healthcare in 2016 received it for free, compared to 52.6% in 2006.