Dec 202020
 December 20, 2020  Posted by at 2:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  35 Responses »

Paulus Potter De stier 1625



Dr. D today from an entirely unexpected angle: cattle farming from a engineer’s point of view. His interest here stems from the increasing numbers of people wanting to move “back to the land” in COVID time, who have very little idea what that entails. Well, here it is, here’s your manual:



Dr. D: Since the idea of 1840 has come up, let’s do something useful and work out math on 1840’s factory-food system. That is to say, cows.

In 1840 the Victorian age had started, and the world was moving away from the post-medieval 18th century in important ways. Far from the millennia-long tradition of shepherds and commons punctuated by manor houses, life was moving towards distributed farmsteads integrated with modest small businesses in the nearest town. From centuries-old regional breeds, active breeding had developed powerful new plants and animals with new niche purposes overnight. And likewise, active management of pastures led to a revolution in hay and fodder unimagined a few years previously.

Although railroads and canals radically transformed nations overnight, permitting that specialization of labor and radically reduced costs that expertise and infrastructure bring – that is to say, “Capital” – nevertheless, life remained solidly local by our standards. A farm might have been cleared last year or 200 years previous. It might be attached to a railroad or be in the Alps. It might be under the eye of the Feudal Lord or might be a colony of Anabaptists. But the general structure was now one of single family ownership, large or small, with a central house and barn, with fields moving back from the house and road into ever-wilder, less human territory, eventually becoming impassible forest in the great beyond.

While there was a human transformation happening, daily items were more historic than we might credit: a farm might have few iron nails and hinges, few window panes, with turf cellars and wood box granaries that a Viking would recognize. Spinning and weaving existed on site or in the cots nearby. Although an explosion in factory goods was beginning, there was still little to buy, and few stores to buy things from. At the same time, the new availability of iron, of steel for blacksmiths, but also for saws and new wood mills made materials unimaginably cheap, as material science opened the world to new inventions. The revolution of Jethro Wood’s steel plow opened up soil to production unimaginable a few years before, and Jethro Tull’s grain drill was finally becoming common instead of simply tossing seeds by the handful for the birds on ox-harrowed ground.


American corn, maize, was transforming from Indian-flint grown in hills and hung on poles to endless fields of food, cattle feed even for cities and feedlots far away. And with it, the opening of the north, of feeding chickens, pigs, and horses in a newly-sawn Dutch barns all winter. And cows. Cows have a different place in human life. Unlike sheep, who need little and can stay faraway much of the year, or chickens which require daily tending, cows live in the middle place. They can stay in the field, but essentially must be fenced. They may not need humans, but when used for milk they require human attention twice daily all year.

They can be an expensive breakeven, but with the right support and infrastructure, they are highly profitable in diverse ways: Milk, butter, cheese, which may be too much for one farm without a nearby market. Meat, leather, bones, which again tie into the butchers, markets, prices, tanners and railroads. And oxen, the slow tractor of the small, as well as calves for sale, and the milk they cause, starting the year over again. So a cow is not a cow: it’s a system. The system has parts, and the parts are not only breeds, traditions, methods, but expensive standing infrastructure – barns, fences, wells, dairies, markets — Capital — or else they are put afield, Roman-style, and wild, near-subsistence living returns again.

Of course all methods, all areas, all answers are local, but let’s take your British/French/U.S. areas as an example. In these wet, temperate areas, land requirements are ~1 acre/cow. In addition, in the north, but also in the new scientific methods of Victorian Britain, they were no longer leaving cows to destroy winter pasture in the cold and rain, but haying and sheltering them in barns at the expense of a building, the fields…and the enormous time of mucking and haying. But still it was a well-paying improvement.


A 1,200lb cow eats 10,000lbs a year. At this time, the high-tech cow would be left to field 9 months of the year. So let’s say 3 months or 3,300lbs of hay per cow. You need more rare and expensive Capital of troughs, sheds, and stanchions to feed carefully at this time, so much is wasted. Estimate 5,000lbs dry hay per cow. Cows are not “cows”; they live in herds. To milk, you need calves. To calve you need bulls. Bulls are generally overhead as they are quickly too tough for the butcher, and too tough for the farmer without a very strong fence and strong britches.

You can’t have a herd of 500 cows either: they are too many and will trample the soil to powder anywhere within walk of the house and barn. So you’re set with 5, 10, 20 cows for a family stead, and not many more on a manor, when for the same reasons they will break off and sublet to a new barn and pasture. 10 cows x 5,000lbs = 50,000lbs of hay. 25 tons. They used the new haystacks, cranes, hay elevators, but let’s visualize in hay bales, a technology common 70 years later. At 50lbs/bale, it’s 1,000 bales. 10 high, 10 deep, 10 wide. That’s 30ft x 16 feet x 14 feet.

A modest 1-story house. Picture 2 semis packed tight, +4 semis loose hay. For only three months. Weather and yield vary wildly by area and year but let’s say hay fields produce 3 tons per acre, so10 acres guarded hay in addition to 10 acres fenced summer pasture. What do we get for it? Hard to figure exactly but +2 gal/day/cow for these hardier breeds which varies wildly with shelter, season, and diet. 2 gallons milk = 2 pounds of cheese. It takes 1 year to raise beef, so 7,500lbs of hay = 1,200lb cow = 750lb beef.

While you need 20 acres for the feed alone, you’ll also need crop rotation, a barn, a springhouse, a dairy, an implement shed, a repair garage, a human house and cellar, and because of humans on site to support the cows: a chicken coop, pigs to eat the leftover dairy, a smokehouse, a garden and orchard, as well as wood for heat. That’s 1 acre / face cord, so let’s say 20 acres for cows, 10 acres for crop rotation, 10 acres for wood, and 10 acres for the homestead, garden, and buildings. What is the common size of American farms from Cape Cod to Iowa? 50 acres. 20 hectares. How many people? 4-10/farm. 1-2 humans/acre.

Why do I bring this up? It gives you a rough sense of transforming a suburban housing development back into the farm it came from. First: there’s no longer any forest. That means no boards, no firewood. We have new materials and oil too, so let’s not dwell on this. There is an enormous surplus of existing buildings. How many acres per house? Presently, it’s 1/5 acre. How many people per house? There are unimaginable difficulties answering this, but let’s say 2 people/house. That’s 10 people per acre.


Pablo Picasso Bull – Plate 4 1945


Starting to see the problem? At merely the cow-size, even ignoring the existing buildings, using McMansions for hay, ignoring firewood, even using solar or (insert fantasy here) you have to displace 20 acres, or 200 people. But you only have 10 cows feeding those 200 people, or 1/20th of 20 gallons = 1 gal, or 1 quart of milk + 12 oz of cheese per day. No grains, no veg. You could halve the population density and it’s not much better. This is your 1840s reality.

They might say this explains why we must have no cows and become vegetarians. But aside from land that cannot be gardened – the entire U.S. cattle plains, for instance, or the Swiss Alps – this is just more false science. Howso? There are 30 calories per cup of kale, 200 calories/pound. There are 1,500 calories per beef pound – 1,900cal/lb dry (jerky). So you need to eat 7x more kale than meat. All you’re doing is concentrating vegetables into meat with a small efficiency loss. So you can EAT more as a vegetarian, but you also HAVE to eat much more to break even. So when they say they can create more food by outlawing meat, be careful of what they’re saying. They’re not creating more calories, more life stuff. They will also calculate the maintenance of a cow from birth on corn feed, which is foolhardy. High-cost, high-input corn or grain feed is only used – or should be – in the last weeks if at all.

Comparing your 1840 yields (i.e. without petroleum fertilizer), that’s 800lbs field corn/acre – a very productive crop. But we just said we have 750lbs/acre in grass-fed beef. The calories are 1,600cal dry corn vs 1,900cal dry beef. Where’s the savings? Where’s the rennet, the suet, the soap, the fertilizer, the leather that could greatly increase the use, the “profit”, the value? Where’s the diversity? Where’s the life?


Here’s the engineering reality: only 442BTUs of sunlight fall per square foot. It may fall evenly or more in summer and less in winter. It may fall on trees, grass, or houses. You can eat it as beef, sugar or kale. You can burn it in the stove. But that’s the energy input of a non-carbon world. And since photovoltaic is at 12% efficiency, solar may be the single least efficient way to capture and store these BTUs – and that’s beyond the rare-earths, glass smelting, world-wide transportation, back-end space-age infrastructure, transmission loss, and replacement problems. Trees, grass, and cows may be the best way. It depends on your goal.

Now can I increase yields from 1840 levels? Yes. A lot. And they did too – I’m describing only one food stream of many overlapping. And although the soil is ruined and the present structures are practically useless in what Kunstler calls “the largest misallocation of resources in world history,” we can still leverage perfect roads, electric, ditches, water lines and structures. But to do so we would need to un-misallocate them, completely convert them out of centralization and suburbia, out of consumption and back into production, and all that takes time, energy, and materials.

And to think I started this discussion calculating how many people and how many scythes to take in those 10 acres of hay. 2 acres per man per day x 5 men, 2 pounds of steel per scythe per man. 10 pounds of finest steel per hay barn. 9 million barns, 90 million pounds of fine scythe steel for this one tool alone. 35 million blades, 1 blade smithed per man per day, 35 million days…on and on and on.

So if you plan to adjust to a new rural world, might want to start early and beat the rush.


Albert Cuyp Cows in a river 1650





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Feb 062019

Salvador Dali Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops Balanced on Her Shoulder 1933



Ilargi: It’s been quite a while since we last heard from Dr. D. He was probably busy growing stuff. But he’s back now, and with something dear to my heart: the craziness of our food production systems. Answers to which are not always what most people think, to put it mildly.



Dr. D:

Eat less meat to save the planet – report (1)
The new diet that could save the planet (2)
What to eat to save the planet: Report urges ‘radical changes’ to world’s diet – less meat, more veggies (3)


These headlines, likely sourced from a recent article from “The Lancet” (4) are a regular feature of our time, in diet, in environmentalism, and in global warming. They are well-researched, sourced by the world’s experts, and put forward with the highest intentions. However, they are also completely wrong – dangerously, ignorantly wrong.

Like most industries, agriculture and food production is a specialty, with its own language and details. I don’t attempt to tell the Lancet how to perform heart surgery, for to do so would be ridiculous, dangerous, outside of my expertise. I wouldn’t tell a geologist how to interpret the magnetic layers of rock, or how oceanographers should properly interpret sea water samples to guide us on fishing or pollution. Yet this is what they do for farmers.

The primary drive of most such articles is that, with so many people, and so much hunger, we find that it takes “2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef.” that “64% of US cropland produces livestock feed.” (5) That it takes “20 pounds corn [to make] 1 pound beef.” (6) Or that you can get 15lbs of beef per acre, but 263lbs of soybeans. (7) Also that cattle are the primary reason for deforestation, and a major cause of methane.

From these numbers, it’s simple to see that meat, particularly cattle, is anti-environmental, and even anti-human, and it would be the pinnacle of irresponsibility to encourage or even allow them to be eaten. It is a direct affront to the poor, the hungry, and even other citizens in developed countries like ourselves, even though we may be able to afford such things. Simple. A lock. Slam-dunk. No further research required.

Setting aside that we waste half our food, the food we do have is maldistributed, and that we haven’t tapped a fraction of the land we did in say, WWII Britain, setting aside that the water doesn’t vanish, but returns to the water table to be used again, setting aside that the methane released does not contribute to global warming since it is exclusively carbon captured by the grass earlier that year, setting aside that the argument is the same one Malthus had, 250 years wrong, or that removing cattle would amount to the permanent extinction of more than a thousand breeds of animals with a lineage thousands of years old … even all that aside, their argument shows they don’t know anything about land, food, or the process of creating it.

Some other major concerns of economists and environmentalists are 1) environmental destruction from drilling 2) peak oil, 3) production of toxic waste, 4) plastics packaging, 5) dependence on imported energy, 6) CO2 from cars and transportation, and 7) BTUs per calorie of food eaten, as popularized in Kunstler’s “3,000 mile Caesar salad” (8) and this is where our story starts.


Deck Family Farm


On a farm, one of the major input costs every year is fertilizer, nitrogen, and this is presently produced almost exclusively from a feedstock of natural gas. That is to say, food in the modern agricultural system is literally the eating of unsustainable oil wells. And it’s even worse than that: agriculture is so dependent on synthesized, centralized petroleum fertilizer that it’s no exaggeration to say that without massive, uninterrupted supplies of cheap oil and gas there would be no food. Yields could easily drop by 30%, causing an unprecedented human catastrophe.

What’s more, another of the environmentalists’ grave concerns, topsoil loss and soil depletion would immediately come to the fore, as the only thing keeping today’s depleted fields in production are the artificial inputs directly from oil fields, mostly imported. –And that’s ABOVE the oil needed for the tractors, for the harvesters, for the delivery, for the centralized plant, for the parts, the buildings, food wrapping, for the creation of pesticides, herbicides, the centralized seed production, centralized grain mills…no. For the purposes of this article, we are only talking about cows.

Of course, mankind didn’t start this way, unable to eat a lettuce leaf without a 10,000-mile chain of energy use from foreign, occupied nations and the unwavering support of the worldwide industrial society that supports it. Originally the cows stood on the very grass they ate, eating contentedly, and were butchered and sent to market locally, using not a drop of oil. They did not disturb the fields but indeed enriched them with their foot-traffic and manure. So how did we go from a 0 mile, 0 grain, 0 cost, 0 oil food source to a food that reportedly starves continents and will destroy the world? That is, if cows were good and worked before, maybe the problem lies not with the meat or the cow, but with rabid industrialism?

If petroleum-based fertilizer is our major weakness, the single import that can be shut off to kill billions, surely it’s our duty — a national security emergency even — to close this weakness and find ecological alternatives. And for fertilizer, we have two: one, you can rotate crops to keep fields fallow in rotation, or two, you can replace synthetic fertilizer with animal manure. In fact, synthetic fertilizer is but a poor, harmful replacement for the manure farmers have used for 5,000 years – it has only nitrogen, potassium and potash, and nothing of the thousand other nutrients required of healthy soil.


It has no biosphere, no heat, no water, and no organic matter. The resulting soil depletion is a prime cause of desertification and topsoil loss, to say nothing of constantly lower yields. Its very use destroys the soil in the way steroids destroy health while giving the illusion of strength. They should probably be banned not for environmental reasons, but for long-term efficiency and national security. And there is only one replacement for this toxic, destructive, unreliable, expensive input: animal manure.

Worse, this cannot be chicken, sheep, or pig, adequate as they are. Pig and chicken are too concentrated and toxic and require other petroleum processes to dilute and deliver. Sheep is too mild and not in quantity, for sheep do not favor containment. Home composting could never produce a fraction of the volume needed for the world’s fields without the same massive petroleum inputs in tractors, trucks, chippers, conveyors, and all the factories, railways, and steel mills that create them. That leaves largely one source: cattle.

So in this new ecological world we imagine, we would have to grow cattle simply for the required fertilizer. And these cattle cannot be far! Unlike synthetic fertilizer, manure is wet, heavy, and dilute. It cannot be centralized into today’s poisonous sewage ponds, nor shipped coast to coast: it must be created near the fields that require it. As the world is enormously varied, you must also have breeds attuned to each locality’s weather and needs, perhaps creating a thousand unique varieties.

Tiny Kerry cattle for the bogs of Ireland, bony Longhorns for the deserts of Texas, Alpine Braunvieh for the steep mountains of Switzerland, or a hearty Fjäll for the frozen lands of Sweden. Nor can the farms be concentrated or specialized: without mass inputs of machinery or petroleum, and lacking harmful dry fertilizer, the farms must be small, dispersed, and varied, local in scope, diverse in production, specializing in their region and feeding only people nearby. Once you can’t ship mass quantities virtually for free, from reliable, nearly free energy, there is no other way.


Earth Repair Corps


Now you can’t get that fertilizer for nothing, and we don’t get it for nothing now. You have to have input costs for our fertilizer factory. And for cattle that input is grass; fields and fields of it, probably near 1-2 acres per cow. Is that bad? Irresponsible? How does that compare to drilling in ANWAR, and delivering via the Exxon Valdez? How is the sourcing from Iraq, transported via Syria, or the digging of tar with a payloader in the freshwater swamps of Alberta?

Now you can get 1, 2, even 3 cuttings a year of hay in temperate climates, and the cow is happily producing this valuable fertilizer all the time, without embargoes, financial disruptions, or delivery costs. But nevertheless, 25% of your fields will be put out of service in order to environmentally, sustainably source this necessary input for next year’s grain.

But not to fear! You know what? You can EAT the components of this essential, life sustaining fertilizer production factory! Yes, you can! Even better, you can eat butter, cheese, yogurt and yes, even ice cream! These very things you would NOT have without running this fertilizer mill that you would be forced to run even if they did nothing at all. Even more, you can down-stream the whey from your milk-preservative process to feed pigs! I’m not making this up!

Yes, by the very fact of creating fertilizer you had to produce in any case, you can also eat bacon! And you essentially have to, because otherwise this valuable milk-byproduct will go to waste. Nor can the pigs be far. You must have farms that are small in scale, varied in production, and local to the community. This will, of course, make them especially resilient to every challenge: financial, ecological, or human, be it from global warming or global warring.

The diverse, smaller-scale of these farms unfortunately require smaller business units to run them, such as the millions of local families presently unemployed, and sadly force cattle and other animals to free-range on the fields in the sunshine, as their ancestors did. But we all make sacrifices.


More, this small, diverse, decentralized food production system cannot aggregate mass quantities for mass market. Cows are not all the same, arriving by tens of thousands in the same 100-acre slaughterhouse, but because dissimilarity hampers assembly-line processes, the food would be produced in smaller batches, closer to home, more directly, without the wasting fuel and CO2 to ship them worldwide, and without the 31 flavors of plastics packaging which don’t make economic sense at this scale. –The French market model, as it were, local in the streets of your own town, fresh and unique.

You see, what they didn’t ask and forgot to research is that in order to grow those 263lbs of soybeans, you have no alternative but to have 1:4 of your fields fallow, resting, doing nothing. That’s now 197lbs per acre. Neither can you do that every year without input, so using another field to add this fertilizer, you have 131lbs/acre, really. The fallow land required of a world without oil inputs means 1/2 of the world’s production is offline at any given time, starving people.

What a drag! But you COULD, if you’re very clever, plant a wild, nitrogen-fixing plant on that fallow ground, creating both green manure for next year’s soybeans, AND running your cattle-driven fertilizer factory at no additional cost! Not only do you get the ONE field green-manured, and ANOTHER field cow-manured, but you could, if you’re very smart, get that otherwise useless, fallow field to grow ANOTHER crop of milk and beef, and downstream, chickens and pigs, absolutely FREE! THREE fields for the price of one.

What would you expect to pay for this richness, this agricultural, ecological magic trick? $1 trillion? $5 trillion for our green-energy, planet-saving, CO2-reducing “Green New Deal”? One that’s proven and can actually work because it follows the laws of thermodynamics? Surely it’s worth any cost if it saves the planet and takes a huge chunk off oil drilling, oil wars, and global warming.

Answer is: nothing. What I’ve just described is western agriculture, as developed since the 1500s. Anyone who’s ever looked at a farm, read a wikipedia entry, or took a history class knows this. Every medieval peasant knows this. Every hillbilly farmer from Iowa knows this. Except for all the modern journalists and The Lancet, all of whom all eat these very foods every day without the slightest spark of where they come from.


Night Owl Farm


You see, it doesn’t matter if cows are less efficient than soybeans, they exist in a SYSTEM, and that system has many inputs and many parameters. Reading a statistic doesn’t grow a plant to market any more than my reading about scalpels makes me a surgeon. There are many other possibilities, requirements, inputs: they speak of overgrazing, such as dry lands in Africa, when in fact, rotational OVERgrazing replenishes the soil and INCREASES the yields.

What’s more, a very great deal of the reported “arable” land on earth is not productive. It is too dry, such as Texas; too steep, such as Colorado; too variable cold, like Montana; or too far from market, like Afghanistan. You can’t grow soybeans or corn there even if you wanted, and you couldn’t ship kale from Kabul to London at cost, so their “statistics” about arable land and production mean nothing. …Worse than nothing, as they are so misleading as to be completely wrong.

Wrong in the way that enormous, world-changing decisions, subsidies, and wars are made, wrong in the way Stalin thought to modernize and mechanize agriculture in the Ukraine to get it out of the 1500s, and killed 7 million people in a single year. Wrong because not every square mile of land is equivalent, and only the crop that grows and has enough value to ship can be produced there. That’s why they make whiskey in the Appalachians and cheese in the Alps: the value to market has to be so much higher, high enough to transport, or no food will be produced at all.


That’s why they grow wild pigs in the Dehesa of Spain: because otherwise those forests would feed no one. But scientists and journalists don’t know this, even though it’s on the Food Channel each night.

What’s more, their scientific white-room system is orders of magnitude less efficient than the medieval method. Hundreds of random foods are wasted on the farm. Should they be dropped, as the labor cost/hour is too high to economically recover them? Should we waste the time and petrol to compost them into biogas? No. Farm waste, and waste through every warehouse, rail car, grocer, and restaurant can be eaten by chickens. Then not only do you get the compost anyway, in manure, not only do you also get a lifetime of eggs, for free, YOU GET A CHICKEN. All from the grass, the seeds, the bugs…and the food waste they already abandon.

But this doesn’t come without a cost. Brace yourself for this, people, because in order to achieve this level of bounty and efficiency, you will have to EAT these animals rather than let them die of old age and disease and be eaten by dogs and beetles. You, yes you, if you want an ecological, happy-animal, local-economy, sustainable, anti-CO2, food-producing world, not only CAN eat meat, but you are REQUIRED to. …As did a thousand generations of your ancestors, back to the very first day of man, slashing and clearing a field so the deer would come.

So try to be at least as smart as an illiterate medieval peasant and grow your food the natural way: locally, seasonally, independently, with happy animals in a rich green world of fields, trees and farms enriched with thousands of subvarieties of biodiversity in hedgerows so rich they have yet to be fully cataloged. A far cry from the hardened, drilled, paved, expensive, destructive, unsustainable, dangerous, lethal, impoverished way promoted by the scientific experts and the journalists who cover them.



Sep 162018
 September 16, 2018  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »

Pablo Picasso Tête de femme 1926


Typhoon Mangkhut Heads Towards China As Dozens Killed In Philippines (G.)
Florence Dumps ‘Epic’ Amounts Of Rain On Carolinas (BBC)
‘We’re Using the Future for a Fiscal Dumping Ground’ (Barron’s)
The Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy (ET)
Give Britain A New Referendum On Brexit – London Mayor (G.)
Italy Faults France for Gaddafi’s Downfall and Migrant Crisis (Sp.)
Trump ‘Likely’ To Announce New China Tariffs As Early As Monday (R.)
Europe’s Meat And Dairy Production Must Halve By 2050 (G.)



Mangkhut is twize the size of Florence and a lot stronger. Tons of scary videos from Hong Kong.

Typhoon Mangkhut Heads Towards China As Dozens Killed In Philippines (G.)

Typhoon Mangkhut killed at least 30 people in the Philippines as it obliterated homes and crops and caused massive flooding, and is now on course to plough into China’s southern coast. Presidential adviser Francis Tolentino said the heaviest casualty was recorded in the mountainous Cordillera region in northern Luzon, where heavy rains caused landslides that left 24 people dead and 13 more missing. Four others – including two children – were buried in a landslide in Nueva Ecija, another in Kalinga, and one person was killed by a falling tree in Ilocos Sur, Tolentino said.

The storm, which was the strongest the region has seen this year, was not as ferocious as feared, though due to the remote areas where the typhoon hit, the full death toll and extent of the destruction is still unknown. By Sunday morning, it was hurtling towards China’s heavily populated southern coast with winds of 177km/h (110mph). In Hong Kong, where the huge storm is expected to skirt just 100km (62 miles) south of the city, officials raised the storm alert to a T10, its highest level. Businesses have been boarded up and most flights cancelled.

Read more …

The water has nowhere to go.

Florence Dumps ‘Epic’ Amounts Of Rain On Carolinas (BBC)

US east coast communities face “epic amounts of rainfall” from tropical storm Florence, which has been linked to at least 12 deaths. It has caused catastrophic flooding since arriving as a category one hurricane on Friday. Some towns have already seen 2ft (60cm) of rain in two days, with totals forecast to top 3.5ft (1m) in places. It is feared that more communities could become deluged as the storm crawls west at only 2mph (3km/h). “This system is unloading epic amounts of rainfall, in some places measured in feet and not inches,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Saturday. He urged against residents attempting to return home, warning that “all roads in the state are at risk of floods”.

Read more …

“There’s no snooze button on the national debt clock..”

‘We’re Using the Future for a Fiscal Dumping Ground’ (Barron’s)

There’s no snooze button on the national debt clock, though you wouldn’t know it by the way public alarm has quieted as the situation grows worse. October begins a new fiscal year for the U.S. government—and a faster ballooning of how much it owes. Barring a behavioral miracle in Congress, trillion dollar yearly budget shortfalls will return, perhaps as soon as the coming year. And unlike the ones brought by the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2007-09, these will start during a period of relative plenty, and won’t end. Debt held by the public, a conservative tally of what America owes, will swell from $15.7 trillion at the end of September, or 78% of GDP to $28.7 trillion in a decade, or 96% of GDP.

Those estimates, provided by the Congressional Budget Office, are based on reasonable assumptions about economic growth, inflation, employment, and interest rates, but they leave out some important things. They assume that the nation’s need for increased infrastructure investment, estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers at $1.4 trillion through 2025, goes unmet. They don’t account for the possibility of another financial crisis, or war, or a rise in the frequency or severity of natural disasters, and they assume that some Trump tax cuts will expire in 2025.

There is no clear milestone that marks the moment a country loses control of its finances, but consider how the bar has already been lowered for what seems possible in Congress. Even debt scolds no longer talk seriously about America paying down what it owes, or holding the dollar amount steady. The new path of fiscal prudence involves containing debt at some manageable percentage of GDP, and the opportunity for that is slipping.

Read more …

“If I have to blame anybody, I will blame Bernanke..”

The Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy (ET)

Sept. 15 marks the 10th anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which had unprecedented ramifications worldwide. Painful lessons have been learned, but the debate continues among economists about whether the crisis could have been handled better. Lehman was the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank before it filed for bankruptcy. With $639 billion in assets, it was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. It was also the largest victim of the subprime mortgage crisis that swept through global financial markets. And its collapse intensified the market shock, which wiped out nearly $10 trillion from global equity markets in October 2008, the largest monthly decline on record. The policymakers who handled Lehman’s bankruptcy in 2008 argue they did all they could.

However, economist Steve Keen, author of “Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis?”, believes policymakers had a great deal of responsibility for causing the crisis. Keen is a harsh critic of mainstream economists who ignored mounting private debt in their forecasts and policy recommendations. “They could have prevented the bubble burst in the first place,” he said. He thinks the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, was one of those who failed to recognize the risk created by the private debt explosion. “All these regulators were collecting data on global private debt and not worrying about it because economic theory said it did not matter,” he said. “If I have to blame anybody, I will blame Bernanke,” he said, adding that Bernanke “was the main academic economist saying ‘Don’t worry about the level of private debt.’”

Read more …

But when? It’ll take a long time still before it becomes an option, and by then Brexit will be much closer.

Give Britain A New Referendum On Brexit – London Mayor (G.)

The mayor of London has issued a dramatic call for another referendum on EU membership, insisting that the people must be given the chance to reject a Brexit deal that will be bad for the economy, jobs and the NHS. Writing in the Observer, Sadiq Khan says that, with so little time left to negotiate, there are now only two possible outcomes: a bad deal for the UK or “no deal” at all, which will be even worse. “They are both incredibly risky and I don’t believe Theresa May has the mandate to gamble so flagrantly with the British economy and people’s livelihoods,” he writes. Khan says that backing a second referendum was never something he expected to have to do.

But so abject has been the government’s performance, and so great is the threat to living standards and jobs, he says, that he sees no alternative than to give people a chance to stay in the EU. “This means a public vote on any Brexit deal obtained by the government, or a vote on a ‘no-deal’ Brexit if one is not secured, alongside the option of staying in the EU,” he writes. “People didn’t vote to leave the EU to make themselves poorer, to watch their businesses suffer, to have NHS wards understaffed, to see the police preparing for civil unrest or for our national security to be put at risk if our cooperation with the EU in the fight against terrorism is weakened.” The intervention from one of Labour’s most powerful politicians will put yet more pressure on the party leader Jeremy Corbyn to throw his support behind another referendum at Labour’s annual conference, which opens in Liverpool next weekend.

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Italy had signed -oil- deals with Gaddafi.

Italy Faults France for Gaddafi’s Downfall and Migrant Crisis (Sp.)

In Rome, the responsibility for the influx of migrants is laid on France, which persuaded NATO countries to get rid of Gaddafi. As a result, Libya is now torn apart by rival factions and an ongoing conflict between its two governments. “It is clearly now undeniable that this country (Libya) finds itself in this situation because someone, in 2011, put their own interests ahead of those of the Libyan people and of Europe itself,” Italian Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta wrote on Facebook. “France, from this point of view, is partly to blame,” she added. Italian parliamentary speaker Roberto Fico was even more explicit, pointing to “a serious problem that has come from France.”

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini also chimed in, blaming former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for unleashing the war in Libya and the present government for adding fuel to the flames of the Libyan conflict. Italians are filled with nostalgia each time they recall the time when Rome and Tripoli signed an agreement to allow Italian companies to extract oil in Libya. The Gaddafi government was holding back the flow of migrants to Europe and the country’s GDP was the second biggest in Africa and the first among the Arabic-speaking states of the Maghreb. In Rome, the emphasis is that the decision to overthrow Gaddafi was made without taking into account the views of Italy.

Seven years on, the French look equally unenthusiastic about the so-called “Libyan Revolution,” with President Emmanuel Macron admitting that the intervention was a mistake. “I remember how some people decided to get rid of the Libyan leader without having any action plan for the future. We plunged Libya into a situation of lawlessness without having a chance to rectify the situation,” Macron said when speaking in the Tunisian parliament earlier this year.

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Don’t stop talking.

Trump ‘Likely’ To Announce New China Tariffs As Early As Monday (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to announce new tariffs on about $200 billion on Chinese imports as early as Monday, a senior administration official told Reuters on Saturday. The tariff level will probably be about 10 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported, quoting people familiar with the matter. This is below the 25 percent the administration said it was considering for this possible round of tariffs. The upcoming tariffs will be on a list of items that included $200 billion worth of internet technology products and other electronics, printed circuit boards and consumer goods including Chinese seafood, furniture and lighting products, tires, chemicals, plastics, bicycles and car seats for babies.

It was unclear if the administration will exempt any of the products that were on the list, which was announced in July. On Friday, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Trump “has been clear that he and his administration will continue to take action to address China’s unfair trade practices. We encourage China to address the long-standing concerns raised by the Unites States.” Trump had already directed aides to proceed with tariffs, despite Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s attempts to restart trade talks with China.

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Do you see it happening?

Europe’s Meat And Dairy Production Must Halve By 2050 (G.)

Europe’s animal farming sector has exceeded safe bounds for greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient flows and biodiversity loss, and urgently needs to be scaled back, according to a major report. Pressure on livestock farmers is set to intensify this century as global population and income growth raises demand for meat-based products beyond the planet’s capacity to supply it. The paper’s co-author, Professor Allan Buckwell, endorses a Greenpeace call for halving meat and dairy production by 2050, and his report’s broadside is squarely aimed at the heart of the EU’s policy establishment.

Launching the report, the EU’s former environment commissioner Janez Potocnik said: “Unless policymakers face up to this now, livestock farmers will pay the price of their inactivity. ‘Protecting the status quo’ is providing a disservice to the sector.” The study calls for the European commission to urgently set up a formal inquiry mandated to propose measures – including taxes and subsidies – that “discourage livestock products harmful to health, climate or the environment”. Livestock has the world’s largest land footprint and is growing fast, with close to 80% of the planet’s agricultural land now used for grazing and animal feed production, even though meat delivers just 18% of our calories.

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Dec 252017
 December 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:04 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Allegory of the Planets and Continents 1752


Christmas Sounds A Clanging Chime Of Doom (Stewart Lee)
Cryptocurrencies Resume Selloff as Recovery Fizzles (BBG)
Once The Cryptocurrency Bubble Bursts, There May Be Real Innovation (CNBC)
China Needs Detroit-Style Bankruptcy – Central Bank Official (R.)
China Tightens Overseas Investment To Reduce Risks (F.)
China Likely To Set M2 Money Growth Target At Record Low Next Year (R.)
New York’s Vanishing Shops And Storefronts: ‘It’s Not Amazon, It’s Rent’ (G.)
The Meaty Side of Climate Change (PS)
Pope Compares Plight Of Migrants To Christmas Story (G.)
Greece Seeks To Tweak Refugee Deal As Island Tension, Criticism Grow



Who ever called these things smart?

Christmas Sounds A Clanging Chime Of Doom (Stewart Lee)

There is much we can learn from the ancient traditions of Winterval, each culture’s festive myths and rituals being equally valid, and equally instructive, irrespective of their veracity or worth. Upon the solstice night in Latveria, for example, Pappy Puffklap leaves a dried clump of donkey excrement on the breakfast table of each home. Is this so very different from the wise kings bringing the infant Christ sealed flagons of foul-smelling gas, the divine in harmony with the physical at its most pungent? There is only really one story this Christmas. The snow that decorates your cards will soon be a half-remembered folk myth. The arctic ice sheet is melting from underneath as well as above now. Did you notice, or were you grime-dancing to Man’s Not Hot at an office Christmas party, the annual arse-photocopier roped off with “police line do not cross” tape, management confused by the exact nature of their legal responsibilities to staff buttocks in the current social recalibrations?

My own Christmas sounds a note of doom. So far, I have escaped ownership of a smartphone or a tablet. With a deserved sense of superiority, I have watched the rest of you degenerate into being no-attention-span zombie scum, fixated on trivial fruit-based games and the capture of invisible Japanese imps, entirely unaware of the geography of your own surroundings, info-pigs gobbling bites of fake news headfirst from shiny troughs 24 hours a day, while our decaying planet performs its last few million fatal, and yet still beautiful, rotations before you. The screens of the iPhones of proud parents, their heads respectfully bowed, displayed pages from Facebook and Twitter. But now I must become one of you. Having abandoned paper letters, and now declaring even email obsolete, my nine-year-old daughter’s school has told me I need an iPhone to receive any administrative communication.

And so, with a heavy heart, I have asked for one for Christmas, a shire horse begging for harness, a hamster requesting its own torturous wheel, Robert Lindsay asking for another series of My Family. But perhaps, like Jesus renouncing his divinity to become a mortal, finally owning an iPhone will help me to understand Observer readers, and the trivial concerns and inundations of ignorance that drive you in your futile lives. Beneath a powerful enough microscope, even a cluster of wriggling threadworm can be beautiful. I accepted my iPhone destiny on the morning of last Wednesday, but by the afternoon I wanted to renounce it. I attended the carol service of my niece’s nursery school. Upon each carved pew, the screens of the iPhones of proud parents, their heads respectfully bowed, displayed pages from Facebook and Twitter, and twinkled throughout the ancient religious ritual like the stars that led the wise men to the very cradle of Christ.

As the lights dimmed and the candles flared up for a beautiful choral arrangement of the Coventry Carol, the assembled infant singers could look up and see that many of the grownups in the room, their lowered faces lit beatifically from below by the Caravaggio glow of their iPhone screens, were not the slightest fucking bit interested in them or their stupid fucking song.

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Losses persist.

Cryptocurrencies Resume Selloff as Recovery Fizzles (BBG)

The biggest cryptocurrencies resumed their decline on Sunday, failing to reverse a selloff that began when bitcoin’s unprecedented rally fell short of breaking above $20,000. A rebound on Saturday fizzled in the afternoon and traders turned pessimistic again, driving bitcoin down 13% in the past 24 hours. The drop among the 10 largest digital coins, ranging as much as 17% for iota, brings more end-of-year weakness to a market that just had its worst four-day tumble since 2015. “The West is what’s causing this selloff,” said Mati Greenspan, senior market analyst at Tel Aviv-based online broker eToro, pointing to increased trading in dollars and less in yen. The recent cryptocurrency rally was so steep that investors were prone to take money off the table going into the Christmas holiday season, he said.

The retrenchment isn’t typical for cryptos, which often snap back after a few losing sessions. The last time bitcoin dropped for five successive weekdays was September and, before that, July. While the market has been volatile for most of this year, the rapid run-up has made the recent selloff sting more for digital coin enthusiasts. Traders have knocked about $160 billion in market value off the biggest cryptocurrencies in about three days, according to CoinMarketCap data. The tumble coincided with several warnings in the past week from financial authorities about elevated risk in holding digital coins. “The crypto market went to astronomical highs, so it’s got to come back to reality,” Greenspan said. “Something that goes up 150% in less than a month is probably going to have double-digit retracement.”

Bitcoin was at $13,367 as of 5 p.m. New York time. That’s almost one-third off its record high of $19,511, based on prices compiled by Bloomberg. Ethereum, the No. 2 cryptocurrency by market value, dropped about 12% in the past 24 hours, to $663.77, CoinMarketCap data show. While “nascent blockchain-based cryptocurrencies are rapidly entering mainstream finance,” some of the second-generation digital coins have a better outlook than bitcoin, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mike McGlone wrote in comments published Sunday. The whole group is akin to internet-based companies a few decades ago and exchange-traded funds more recently, he said. “Bitcoin is the crypto benchmark, but not the best representation of the technology,” McGlone wrote. Altcoins “should continue to gain on bitcoin, which has flaws and where futures can be shorted,” he said.

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it’s always possible to imagine things getting better.

Once The Cryptocurrency Bubble Bursts, There May Be Real Innovation (CNBC)

The world of cryptocurrencies is one of the most divisive topics in finance right now. On the one hand, figures like J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon have called it a “fraud” and dubbed those trading it “stupid.” On the other hand, there are those who see cryptocurrencies as one of the most revolutionary forces in finance. But amid the debate, there are a lot of people asking how to value this stuff and why bitcoin has traded nearly as high as $20,000. The answer right now is simple: There are no fundamentals. Even Robert Shiller, who won the Nobel Prize in 2013 for assessing asset prices, recently remarked that the value of bitcoin is “exceptionally ambiguous.” There’s no doubt that there is immense amount of speculation in the cryptocurrency market.

But when the bubble bursts and the hype dies down, that is where we may find value and it all comes down to the use cases for the different coins on the market. When bitcoin was created in 2009, the aim was to be an electronic cross-border payments system. The problem now is that bitcoin transactions are at record highs with faster traditional payment systems actually proving a better means. It’s hard to say bitcoin has an inherent value beyond the belief of the people trading it. But as many have said, it could become “digital gold,” in which case the price is likely to go higher. But looking forward, it’s highly likely that other digital tokens could surpass bitcoin because of their utility. Take a look at Ethereum. The company bills itself as a blockchain platform for others to build apps on.

Blockchain is the underlying technology behind bitcoin and acts as a decentralized ledger of transactions. But its uses span far beyond bitcoin. Ethereum has its own blockchain which companies like Microsoft and J.P. Morgan are experimenting with. Ethereum is specifically designed for so-called “smart contracts” which are pieces of software that execute a contract once certain conditions are met by all parties involved. This removes the need for complex paperwork and errors. Ripple is another blockchain company that is working on cross-border payments across different currencies in seconds. The digital coin created by the company called XRP, acts as a bridging currency to help facilitate transactions. Both Ethereum and Ripple have seen stunning rallies this year, but both are in the early stages of their experiments. But in the future, valuing them could be easier. For example, if Ripple began to process a fraction of the trillions of dollars that is transacted across borders, we could start to put a price on one XRP.

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Let smaller units fail. That’s a nice idea, but how does it square with central control?

China Needs Detroit-Style Bankruptcy – Central Bank Official (R.)

China needs to let local governments take responsibility for their finances, including allowing bankruptcies, as part of an effort to defuse their debt risks, a central bank official wrote on Monday. Central government control of the scale of local government bonds should be eliminated, while responsibility to issue and repay bonds should be held by the city or county that will actually use the funds, Xu Zhong, head of the People’s Bank of China’s research bureau, wrote in a an editorial on the financial news website Yicai. “Eliminate central government control on the scale of local government bond issues, expand the scale of local government debt issues,” Xu wrote. “Whether (bonds) can be issued, and at what price, must be examined and screened by the financial markets. There does not need to be worry about local governments chaotically issuing debt.”

China’s top leadership decided at a meeting this week to take concrete measures to strengthen the regulation of local government debt next year as policymakers look to rein in a massive debt pile and reduce financial risks facing the economy. The government needs to clarify responsibility as it explores a bankruptcy system for local governments, Xu wrote, as there is still an expectation that the central government will bail out those that run into fiscal problems. “China must have an example like the bankruptcy in Detroit. Only if we allow local state-owned firms and governments to go bankrupt will investors believe the central government will break the implicit guarantee,” Xu wrote, adding that social services should be maintained.

The United States city of Detroit filed the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy in July 2013, with $18 billion of debt. Xu also said that China should dismantle the hukou system of internal migration control, as free movement of people promoted equal access to public services and helped resolve imbalances in finances. In a report published on Saturday, China’s National Audit Office said China should dispel the “illusion” that the central government will pick up the bill for local government debt. But China should also increase the limit for local government debt as general government debt is primarily used for poverty relief spending, while also controlling spending on new projects.

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Xi still has a huge reserves problem. The US tax bill and the Fed keep on making it bigger.

China Tightens Overseas Investment To Reduce Risks (F.)

China has followed up earlier restrictions on outbound investment with new regulations on foreign investment by private firms. The 36-point code of conduct for private firms seeks to ensure that overseas deals are rational and legal. This is part of an effort to regulate outbound investment, which had been strongly encouraged between 2012 and 2016, in order to reduce risks. The National Development and Reform Commission, along with four other agencies, released rules that require private enterprises to invest in overseas deals that are genuine and not meant to be used for transferring assets abroad or for money laundering. Private firms are now required to report investment plans to the government, and to seek approval if the investments involve sensitive countries or industries.

Investment in projects that fit within the scope of the One Belt One Road endeavor is strongly encouraged. Outbound investment reached $170 billion in 2016, but was curtailed at the end of 2016 as yuan depreciation pressures mounted. At that time, authorities cracked down upon companies with fraudulent or “irrational” foreign investment. In addition, this past August, specific categories were created to specify banned, restricted, and encouraged overseas investment industries for mergers and acquisitions. As a result, this year saw a decline in the value of outbound direct investment, dropping 42% year-on-year in the first three quarters of this year. The new measures imposed on private firms will further reduce capital outflows and debt used to finance overseas deals.

A code of conduct for state owned enterprises investing abroad will soon be published, as China’s government attempts to make sure that capital leaving the country is being invested in sound assets. These regulations have become necessary due to China’s struggle to reduce its debt load and due to the threat of currency depreciation. While the former represents a clear and present threat to financial stability, the latter has largely disappeared from the picture but apparently remains on the radar of government officials. Debt-fueled overseas acquisitions impose a drag on the economy, which contains high levels of corporate debt already. Acquisitions that are funded by debt must ensure that overseas investments are productive, so that firms can repay the debt in a timely manner.

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How much does such a target really matter?

China Likely To Set M2 Money Growth Target At Record Low Next Year (R.)

China is likely to set its 2018 money growth target at an all-time low of around 9% to curb debt risks and contain asset bubbles, the official China Daily reported on Monday, citing economists involved in high-level policy discussions. Financial risks have become the biggest threat to the country’s economic stability in the medium and long term, the China Daily said. In the past year, deleveraging efforts in the financial system have pushed broad M2 money supply growth to its lowest since records began in 1996. In November, M2 expanded 9.1% from a year earlier, below the government’s full-year target of around 12%. The central bank has said slowing M2 growth could be a “new normal” as the government cracks down on riskier banking activities. In the past decade, the government has set its annual M2 targets between 12% and 17%.

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Homes are no longer places to line in, and stores are not building blocks of a society anymore. Everything is captive to speculation.

New York’s Vanishing Shops And Storefronts: ‘It’s Not Amazon, It’s Rent’ (G.)

Walk down almost any major New York street – say Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower, or Madison Avenue from midtown to the Upper East Side. Perhaps venture down Canal Street, or into the West Village around Bleecker, and some of the most expensive retail areas in the world are blitzed with vacant storefronts. The famed Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on the Upper West Side announced earlier this week that it is closing next month. A blow to the city’s cinephiles, certainly, but also a sign of the effects that rapid gentrification, coupled with technological innovation, are having on the city. Over the past several years, thousands of small retailers have closed, replaced by national chains. When they, too, fail, the stores lie vacant, and landlords, often institutional investors, are unwilling to drop rents.

A recent survey by New York councilmember Helen Rosenthal found 12% of stores on one stretch of the Upper West Side is unoccupied and ‘for lease’. The picture is repeated nationally. In October, the US surpassed the previous record for store closings, set after the 2008 financial crisis. The common refrain is that the devastation is the product of a profound shift in consumption to online, with Amazon frequently identified as the leading culprit. But this is maybe an over-simplification. “It’s not Amazon, it’s rent,” says Jeremiah Moss, author of the website and book Vanishing New York. “Over the decades, small businesses weathered the New York of the 70s with it near-bankruptcy and high crime. Businesses could survive the internet, but they need a reasonable rent to do that.”

Part of the problem is the changing make-up of New York landlords. Many are no longer mom-and-pop operations, but institutional investors and hedge funds that are unwilling to drop rents to match retail conditions. “They are running small businesses out of the city and replacing them with chain stores and temporary luxury businesses,” says Moss. In addition, he says, banks will devalue a property if it’s occupied by a small business, and increase it for a chain store. “There’s benefit to waiting for chain stores. If you are a hedge fund manager running a portfolio you leave it empty and take a write-off.” New York is famously a city of what author EB White called “tiny neighborhood units” is his classic 1949 essay Here is New York. White observed “that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village”.

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And they have the most powerful lobbyists. Case closed.

The Meaty Side of Climate Change (PS)

Last year, three of the world’s largest meat companies – JBS, Cargill, and Tyson Foods – emitted more greenhouse gases than France, and nearly as much as some big oil companies. And yet, while energy giants like Exxon and Shell have drawn fire for their role in fueling climate change, the corporate meat and dairy industries have largely avoided scrutiny. If we are to avert environmental disaster, this double standard must change. To bring attention to this issue, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, GRAIN, and Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation recently teamed up to study the “supersized climate footprint” of the global livestock trade. What we found was shocking. In 2016, the world’s 20 largest meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases than Germany. If these companies were a country, they would be the world’s seventh-largest emitter.

Obviously, mitigating climate change will require tackling emissions from the meat and dairy industries. The question is how. Around the world, meat and dairy companies have become politically powerful entities. The recent corruption-related arrests of two JBS executives, the brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, pulled back the curtain on corruption in the industry. JBS is the largest meat processor in the world, earning nearly $20 billion more in 2016 than its closest rival, Tyson Foods. But JBS achieved its position with assistance from the Brazilian Development Bank, and apparently, by bribing more than 1,800 politicians. It is no wonder, then, that greenhouse-gas emissions are low on the company’s list of priorities. In 2016, JBS, Tyson and Cargill emitted 484 million tons of climate-changing gases, 46 million tons more than BP, the British energy giant.

Meat and dairy industry insiders push hard for pro-production policies, often at the expense of environmental and public health. From seeking to block reductions in nitrous oxide and methane emissions, to circumventing obligations to reduce air, water, and soil pollution, they have managed to increase profits while dumping pollution costs on the public. One consequence, among many, is that livestock production now accounts for nearly 15% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. That is a bigger share than the world’s entire transportation sector. Moreover, much of the growth in meat and dairy production in the coming decades is expected to come from the industrial model. If this growth conforms to the pace projected by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, our ability to keep temperatures from rising to apocalyptic levels will be severely undermined.

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Wait a minute, that’s what I said.

Pope Compares Plight Of Migrants To Christmas Story (G.)

Pope Francis has likened the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to the migrations of millions of people today who are forced to leave homelands for a better life, or just for survival, and he expressed hope that no one will feel “there is no room for them on this Earth”. Francis celebrated Christmas vigil mass on Sunday in the splendour of St Peter’s Basilica, telling the faithful that the “simple story” of Jesus’ birth in a manger changed “our history forever. Everything that night became a source of hope.” Noting that Mary and Joseph arrived in a land “where there was no place for them”, Francis drew parallels with today. “So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” he said in his homily.

“We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.” Francis has made concern for economic migrants, war refugees and others on society’s margins a central plank of his papacy. He said God is present in “the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognisable, who walks through our cities and our neighbourhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our door”. That perception of God should develop into “new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this Earth”, he said.

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Tsipras has lost control of the issue.

Greece Seeks To Tweak Refugee Deal As Island Tension, Criticism Grow

Pressure on the leftist-led government from the migration crisis is growing as it is faced with mounting tension at island hot spots, criticism from inside the ruling SYRIZA party, and uncertainty over calls to readjust the EU deal with Turkey. Under the deal signed by the EU and Ankara in March 2016, all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to Greek islands are supposed to be returned to Turkey. However, during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov earlier in December, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras requested that Turkey also accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to ease overcrowding at camps.

Sources said Merkel avoided endorsing the Greek proposal which essentially violates the core of the EU-Turkey deal. Rather, the same sources said, Merkel stressed the need to bolster the presence of EU border agency Frontex along the Greek-Bulgarian border to safeguard the so-called Balkan route. Although officials in Athens have suggested that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acceded to the request during his recent visit to Greece, the issue has been deferred to ministerial-level deliberations. Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Ankara on Thursday for talks, as Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias appeared skeptical whether Erdogan had the political will to go the extra mile.

Meanwhile, as island reception centers are bursting at the seams and pressure from SYRIZA officials is intensifying, the government has already green-lighted transfers of asylum seekers who it claims are minors or disabled. Speaking to party officials, Tsipras vowed that asylum seekers past the first stage of their application process would be relocated to the mainland. Government officials, on the other hand, offered reassurances over a recent proposal by European Council President Donald Tusk for the abolition of mandatory quotas on relocating refugees across the EU. The proposal is set to be discussed at an EU summit in June but administration officials say too many states are opposed to it.

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