Pablo Picasso Portrait of Dora Maar 1942
But services don’t make stuff.
Service-producing industries dominate the US economy, accounting for over 70% of GDP. And this sector is hopping. Revenues in the major services categories rose 5.3% in the second quarter of 2019, compared to the same quarter a year earlier, to $4.05 trillion, not seasonally adjusted, according to the Commerce Department’s Quarterly Selected Services Estimates released today. For the first two quarters of 2019, service revenues rose 5.5% to $8.0 trillion. The pace of growth so far this year is slightly lower than the hot 6.0% growth for the year 2018.
Four biggies dominate the service sector, and the US economy overall. They accounted for $2.92 trillion in revenues in Q1, or about 72% of total service revenues, with the biggest of them all, finance and insurance, accounting for 32%, up from 31% at the end of last year. It is also the fastest-growing segment, even faster than healthcare, as the US economy is getting more and more financialized. The share of each of the big four of overall service revenues: • Finance and insurance: 32% • Healthcare: 17% • Professional, scientific, and technical services: 12% • “Information” services, such as telecommunications, software, and data processing: 11%.
Only one act is appropriate: go home. Did you know Jay Powell is worth some $100 million? Do you think he’s concerned about Americans living paycheck to paycheck?
The U.S. Federal Reserve will continue to act “as appropriate” to sustain the economic expansion in the world’s biggest economy, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said Friday in Zurich, sticking to a phrase that financial markets have read as signaling further interest-rate reductions ahead. “Our obligation is to use our tools to support the economy, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Powell said at the University of Zurich. Still, he said, “We are clearly at a time where there is a range of views” among Fed policymakers meeting Sept. 17-18 to decide on rates.
Powell’s careful wording reflects a split within the U.S. central bank about how best to respond to an economy where the job market and consumer spending are strong but rising trade tensions between Beijing and Washington, Britain’s possibly messy exit from the European Union, and a broad global slowdown pose risks. Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren for instance has made the case for leaving rates where they are until those risks are more tangible in the economic data. Others including St. Louis Fed President James Bullard have called for a half-a-percentage point interest-rate cut to get ahead of the trade war risks and bring the Fed’s policy rate more in line with market expectations. Meanwhile, financial markets are betting Fed policymakers will agree to split the difference and follow their quarter-point rate cut in July with another one later this month.
It’s not the new round of tariffs that went into effect; we’ve been playing the tit-for-tat tariff war for more than a year. It’s not the economic reports; they’ve been a little too mixed lately to force any dramatic moves. It’s not even the decision by Hong Kong administrator Carrie Lam to fully withdraw the controversial mainland extradition bill; it’s still not clear that the Hong Kong unrest would be affected in any way by a trade deal. Given the timing of the change in tone, it seems more likely that what’s making the difference is a realization on both sides that there’s another way this trade war could end – and that possible ending is one the U.S. is very unlikely to lose.
That alternate ending is summed up in one word: decoupling. The decoupling push is quite different than any U.S. efforts to get China to open up more of its economy to American companies. Instead, it focuses on reducing America’s extremely heavy reliance on China for so much of its manufacturing needs. Even if China’s economy weren’t so closed off to so many American goods and services, a strong argument has long been made that the U.S. needs to diversify its sources for imports. While finding those new sources wouldn’t necessarily do anything to dent America’s trade imbalances, it would reduce the risks of a major disruption to the U.S. economy based on disputes or other problems connected to a single foreign country.
As I wrote yesterday, he has little to lose by resigning.
Boris Johnson wrote to all Tory members last night to indicate that he would rather defy the law than beg Brussels for a delay in bringing Britain out of the EU. The Prime Minister said he was only bound ‘in theory’ by a law which is expected to receive Royal Assent on Monday, taking a No Deal Brexit off the table. In his letter, he reiterated his determination to stand firm against Remainers, saying: ‘They just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do.’ Earlier on Friday he told reporters he would not entertain seeking another deadline extension from Brussels, as the incoming law compels him to do if no agreement is in place by October 19.
He was urged last night by Tory grandee Iain Duncan Smith to hold his nerve, saying he would be ‘martyred’ if he chose to break the law and risk a possible prison sentence for contempt of Parliament. Mr Duncan Smith told The Telegraph: ‘This is about Parliament versus the people. Boris Johnson is on the side of the people, who voted to leave the EU. ‘The people are sovereign because they elect Parliament. But Parliament wants to stop the will of the people.’ If Mr Johnson fails to carry out the will of Parliament, he risks being taken to court and, if a judge ordered him to obey Parliament, he could be held in contempt and even jailed for refusing.
Mr Johnson’s latest plans for a snap election appeared to have been scuppered yet again last night by a ’stitch-up’ between Jeremy Corbyn and Remain parties. Labour, the Lib Dems and Scots and Welsh nationalists agreed to block the public going to the polls before October 31. It leaves the Prime Minister in limbo, forced to choose between resigning or defying a law passed by MPs ruling out a No Deal Brexit.
“This desire for godlike powers of total creation is precisely why free market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters.”
Trump’s otherworldly vice president, Mike Pence, has just said more in one short sentence to unravel the complexities of the Brexit crisis that continues to bedevil the UK, than the ocean of column inches that have been devoted to the subject since the referendum was held in 2016. Speaking at a black tie event in London on Thursday night, attended by an array of business executives, Pence proclaimed, “The minute the UK is out, America is in.” Pence, a man who stands as living proof that human evolution is not wedded to an ever upwards path, delivered these words with the bombast of a Roman proconsul addressing the notables of a soon-to-be client state.
Thus let there be no doubt that the hard no-deal Brexit advocated by the UK’s newly installed Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his supporters is to all intents a Trump Brexit – one that will see the UK economy opened up to the tender mercies of U.S. corporations on terms set not by London but Washington. In other words, we’re talking disaster capitalism on steroids, bringing with it the likely prospect of the decimation of what’s left of the UK’s welfare state, including that most revered totem to social solidarity, the National Health Service (NHS), which since the end of WWII, when it was established, has provided generations of British citizens with free healthcare at the point of need, funded out of general taxation, regardless of social class or personal wealth.
The NHS is therefore a socialist institution in all but name, which Johnson and his privileged right wing establishment acolytes in the hard Brexit camp would sooner see broken up and sold off to U.S. insurance companies in sacrifice to their god, the market. This is regardless of any and all assurances given to the contrary. In her classic work, Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein writes: “Believers in the shock doctrine [of disaster capitalism] are convinced that only a great rupture – a flood, a war, a terrorist attack – can generate the kind of vast, clean canvases they crave,” while earlier in the same passage, warning that “This desire for godlike powers of total creation is precisely why free market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters.”
What’s at stake behind all the pushing-and-shoving is the question of national sovereignty. Does it matter anymore? I suspect it will matter increasingly for everyone in many nations, and at a smaller and smaller scale of political divisions so that, for instance, Great Britain itself will be faced with surrendering its dominion over Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is churning in the zeitgeist now, actually has been for some time since the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia cracked up. Even the United States finds itself increasingly disunited and it’s not inconceivable that before the century ends some regions may go their own way. Texans have been talking it up for years, and California is already acting like she’s started divorce proceedings.
China, meanwhile, is whipping its quasi-vassal Hong Kong like a dog because Xi Jinping is not in a position to bust Donald Trump upside the head and Xi’s got to take it out on somebody. Everything was looking so rosy for China as it burst out of its medieval cocoon into industrial adulthood, and now Mr. Trump is ruining the global arrangements that turned the sclerotic old outfit into a global super-dragon. They’ve had a blast driving down the capitalist road — even if they’re actually ruled by communists — but a storm of bad debt is coming up on them from behind, and if it catches up, the joyride is over and some kind of dreadful crackup happens.
All the abiding normality of the past seventy years is slipping away into flux. Modernity is finally yielding – to what? Nobody knows. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of money and economy. Beyond all the other quarrels of modern times — democracy versus communism, Islam versus the West, the wealthy north versus the poor south — one thing remained pretty steady: the flow of oil into the engines of economy. Turned out, the world didn’t have to run out of oil for that normality to fray badly; the oil just had to become marginally unaffordable, and voila! It’s hard for people to grok, especially here in the USA with oil production so far above the old 1970 prior peak that the proposition seems absurd.
Whitney’s latest. Obvious must read.
Prior to the public scrutiny of Barak’s relationship to Jeffrey Epstein, following the latter’s arrest this past July and subsequent death, Barak had come under fire for his ties to disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Indeed, it was Ehud Barak who put Weinstein in contact with the Israeli private intelligence outfit Black Cube, which employs former Mossad agents and Israeli military intelligence operatives, as Weinstein sought to intimidate the women who had accused him of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Former Mossad director Meir Dagan led Black Cube’s board until his death in 2016 and Carbyne co-founder Lital Leshem is Black Cube’s former director of marketing.
After Barak put him in contact with Black Cube’s leadership, Weinstein, according to The New Yorker, used the private spy firm to “‘target,’ or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focused on their personal or sexual histories.” In addition, The New Yorker noted that “Weinstein monitored the progress of the investigations personally” and “also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating.”
Yet, more recently, it has been Barak’s close relationship to Epstein that has raised eyebrows and opened him up to political attacks from his rivals. Epstein and Barak were first introduced by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 2002, a time when Epstein’s pedophile blackmail and sex trafficking operation was in full swing.
Pecunia non olet.
The M.I.T. Media Lab, which has been embroiled in a scandal over accepting donations from the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, had a deeper fund-raising relationship with Epstein than it has previously acknowledged, and it attempted to conceal the extent of its contacts with him. Dozens of pages of e-mails and other documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal that, although Epstein was listed as “disqualified” in M.I.T.’s official donor database, the Media Lab continued to accept gifts from him, consulted him about the use of the funds, and, by marking his contributions as anonymous, avoided disclosing their full extent, both publicly and within the university.
Perhaps most notably, Epstein appeared to serve as an intermediary between the lab and other wealthy donors, soliciting millions of dollars in donations from individuals and organizations, including the technologist and philanthropist Bill Gates and the investor Leon Black. According to the records obtained by The New Yorker and accounts from current and former faculty and staff of the media lab, Epstein was credited with securing at least $7.5 million in donations for the lab, including two million dollars from Gates and $5.5 million from Black, gifts the e-mails describe as “directed” by Epstein or made at his behest. The effort to conceal the lab’s contact with Epstein was so widely known that some staff in the office of the lab’s director, Joi Ito, referred to Epstein as Voldemort or “he who must not be named.”
By refusing to send documents.
A former Boeing official who played a key role in the development of the 737 MAX has refused to provide documents sought by federal prosecutors investigating two fatal crashes of the jetliner, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mark Forkner, Boeing’s chief technical pilot on the MAX project, invoked the privilege in response to a grand jury subpoena issued by U.S. Justice Department prosecutors looking into the design and certification of the plane, the person said.
Invoking the Fifth to avoid testifying, while a legal right, is sometimes interpreted as an admission of guilt. Its use to resist a subpoena for documents is less common and may only imply a dance between prosecutors and defense attorneys, legal experts say. Forkner, now a first officer for Southwest Airlines, referred questions to his attorney when reached by phone. His attorney, David Gerger, of Houston, did not respond to inquiries.
Forkner, who worked at Boeing from 2011 to 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile, was frequently anxious about the deadlines and pressures faced in the MAX program, going to some of his peers in the piloting world for help, a person who worked on the project previously told The Seattle Times, speaking on condition of anonymity. The MCAS system, designed to move a powerful control surface at the tail to push the airplane’s nose down in certain rare situations, played a critical role in the crashes when the planes nose-dived out of the sky. During the certification process, Forkner suggested to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that MCAS not be included in the pilot manual, according to previous Seattle Times reporting.
The anti-Corbyn campaign fallout.
I am 58 years old, and for the first time in my life, I am frightened to be Jewish. We live in a time when racism is being normalized, when Nazis parade in the streets in Europe and America; Jew baiters like Hungary’s Orban are treated as respectable players on the international scene, “white nationalist” propagandist Steve Bannon can openly coordinate scare-mongering tactics with Boris Johnson in London at the same time as in Pittsburg, murderers deluded by white nationalist propaganda are literally mowing Jews down with automatic weapons. How is it, then, that our political class has come to a consensus that the greatest threat to Britain’s Jewish community is a lifelong anti-racist accused of not being assiduous enough in disciplining party members who make offensive comments on the internet?
For almost all my Jewish friends, this is what is currently creating the greatest and most immediate sense of trepidation, even more than the actual Nazis: the apparently endless campaign by politicians like Margaret Hodge, Wes Streeting, and Tom Watson to weaponize antisemitism accusations against the current leadership of the Labour party. It is a campaign – which however it started, has been sustained primarily by people who are not themselves Jewish – so cynical and irresponsible that I genuinely believe it to be a form of antisemitism in itself. And it is a clear and present danger to Jewish people. To any of these politicians who may be reading this, I am begging you: if you really do care about Jews, please, stop this.
Justin better act.
After he revealed the National Security Agency’s illegal mass surveillance programmes in 2013, Edward Snowden received help from some unlikely accomplices. Four refugees and their lawyer allowed the whistleblower to escape and stay under the radar, at a time when he was the world’s most wanted man. For 13 days, they sheltered him in their tiny apartments located in the poorest area of Hong Kong, home to the marginalised community of asylum seekers. The mastermind behind the idea of hiding the American fugitive in plain sight was Robert Tibbo, a Canadian human rights lawyer, well known for defending asylum seekers in the region.
Snowden told FRANCE 24 he believes he owes his life to these unexpected allies, who could have turned him in at any time: “They could have written an email to the CIA and they could have gotten a big cheque or they could have finally gotten asylum in exchange. But they would have had to do it by selling someone into a grave. And for that, I’ll never be able to repay them.”
But since their identity was revealed, especially with the release of the Oliver Stone film “Snowden” in 2016, these refugees are being persecuted by Hong Kong authorities. Arrested on several occasions, they have been questioned about their ties with Snowden. The little welfare they received from the government has been cut. Today, they all live in constant fear in Hong Kong. If deported to their home country of Sri Lanka, they could face imprisonment, torture and even death. All of them have applied for asylum in Canada.