Feb 112019
 


Johannes Vermeer Woman holding a balance 1662-63

 

 

The problem is, of course, that not only is economics bankrupt but it has always been nothing more than politics in disguise.
-Hazel Henderson

It’s often hard to understand how people can be aware of something but then fail to link it to a perfectly logical next step, or even multiple steps, and see where it fits in a larger scheme. There really are people out there, believe it or not, who look at economic and political developments over the past decade in any particular western country and believe they are unique to that country.

In reality, while things may play out slightly differently from one place to the other, the core causes of what’s been unfolding are the exact same ones in every single location. The reactions of incumbent politicians and economics has been the same as well: massage the numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you and yours are on the ‘right side’ of the line.

In France, the main complaint that the Yellow Vests movement has now taken into its 13th consecutive weekend is crystal clear: people can’t pay their bills anymore. In the UK, austerity has demolished wages, social care, the NHS and much else. In the US, many millions of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency payment, have ever scarcer access to healthcare and live from paycheck to paycheck.

Rinse and repeat for every western nation. The storylines vary somewhat, but they all tell the same tale, they could be, they are, chapters in the same book. And it makes one think if people are not connecting them.

Renowned French philosopher Michel Onfray summarizes Emmanuel Macron’s ongoing Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) problem in these words: “Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.”

That is true in France, and it is also true in the UK, US and many other countries. People may not see liberalism as their problem, or even know, let alone understand the term, but what they do understand is they can’t pay their bills anymore. And Macron’s response, just like that of Washington and London, is more neoliberalism, or, again in Onfray’s words:

“This is an order that is strong against the week, as we can see on the streets, and weak against the strong”. [..] “The [liberal] Maastricht state is “cruel to those who carry the burdens of globalization” and “simply by declaring their poverty, these people have been ideologically criminalized.”

The sign in the picture below says: “We live in a world where those who make 100,000 a month convince those who make 1,800 that everything is going wrong because of those who live on 535 euro. And it works… (thanks to the media)” That’s what the Yellow Vests are about.

 


©Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

 

Again, it’s not about the term (neo-)liberalism, and it’s not some ideological question or fight, it’s about people not being able to pay their bills, and about politicians leaving them hanging all alone in a freezing wind. Nor is it a left against right issue. Western countries only have formerly left parties left; people who can’t pay their bills have been left to fend for themselves, no matter what they vote, and they finally understand that.

In Italy, traditional parties were all but wiped out to be replaced with the Lega and M5S. In France, ditto, but there Macron was the ‘new’ guy. In Germany, Merkel still holds the CDU/CSU ship somewhat steady, but she’s a goner and the right rises.

In Britain, there’s still only the two main parties, but they’re already history. It makes no difference what Jeremy Corbyn does or doesn’t do, he’ll be crushed by the betrayal Tony Blair inflicted on the nation in name of the same Labour Party now ‘led’ by Corbyn. While the Tories, like the Democrats in the US, rely on having taken over the media.

But it’s still a bit bewildering to see Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer’s “award-winning chief political commentator”, no less, write an entire article about what’s ailing British politics without linking this to the rest of the world, where the exact same issues play out. Of course it’s obvious that Brexit has become a divisive issue, not only in UK politics but also there, and not just between parties but also within them.

But if anything, Brexit is not a cause but a mere symptom of the British variety of the Great Discontent. The cause is that in Britain, too, people can’t pay their bills anymore. One country gets Trump, the next one Yellow Vests, and the third gets Brexit.

 

Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits

It is true that the big two can still gather up a lot of votes. After decades of decline in their combined vote share, it blipped up at the last election. But I don’t think that truly indicated renewed enthusiasm for either of them. It was a false positive induced by an electoral system that compels many voters to make a forced choice between the unappetising and the inedible.

It doesn’t mean that these nose-holding voters like what’s put before them. The current choice on offer is so disdained that, when pollsters ask who would make best prime minister, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are regularly beaten into second and third place by Neither.

More than half of the electorate say their views are not properly represented by the existing political parties. Many politicians can’t stand the parties they represent. Some actively and publicly rage about what has become of them. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime when so many MPs have expressed so much disgust and despair with the state of their own parties.

Mr. Rawnsley manages to avoid any mention of anything at all existing outside of the British borders in the entire article, other than chiding Corbyn for failing to condemn Maduro. And you’re right, if that is the extent of your media, or even that of the formerly left-leaning bit, you may need an extra decade or so to figure out what the rest of the world already knows.

 

In the US, Trump replaced and/or took over the Republican Party, while Ocasio-Sanchez -AOC- is the only strong voice for the Democrats. Sure, she’s 29 and can’t run for the White House, but given that the alternative is Pelosi/Schumer and much more of that exact same cabal, anyone with presidential dreams had better get her blessings.

And sure, her Green New Deal/Dream can easily be dismissed as crazy, but pray tell what the difference is between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve has financed its QE schemes. Perhaps the big difference is who profits; in one instance, the banks, in the other, society at large.

Or from a different perspective, there, too, AOC is like Trump: first, you start big and after, you see what can be done. Her version of the art of the deal. Besides, she has a plan, and nobody else has one. Except perhaps for Bernie, but his credibility was fatally wounded by letting the DNC waltz all over him in 2016.

And his age is not going to help: if you’re really fed up with what’s there because it’s disappointed you three ways to Sunday and now you can’t pay your bills, you’re not going to vote for grandpa, you’re going to go for someone young. Still, if Bernie hooks up with Ocasio, he may have a shot.

For all the others in the already crowded field, it’s what have you done for me lately, and they all either haven’t done dick all or they can’t string two words together without looking like someone wrote it all down for them. Look for a whole bunch from the Clinton/Wasserman mold (i.e. every candidate so far) to support the Green New Deal, but only to sabotage it, and Ocasio, at the first available opportunity.

 

If people already find the very large and very obvious political changes too much to comprehend, here’s some awkward news for you, and it’s not just that the media vs social media fight must inevitably lead to an ever stronger tsunami of ‘news’ overkill. Though that’s a big one: the media once upon a time reported the news, an outdated business model; today they don’t report the news, they manufacture it.

It’s more profitable because people are more gullible and/or they’re drowning in the giant overkill waves. I like that tsunami metaphor for news dissemination: people think social media will work to their advantage, like when the waters recede after a quake, that they have more control over their news. But then it all comes back in one big go and they’re completely lost.

The main upcoming event in media and politics won’t be the Great Political Discontent, it will be the economic one. Those who can’t pay their bills today will be the first victims of the massaged economic numbers finding themselves subject to gravity once again. Central banks won’t be able to prop up the zombies anymore, or the facade. The media will turn against the prevailing order when they deem it profitable. Or, rather, in a desperate attempt at survival.

What once was the middle class will join the various Yellow Vest groups around the world. So will whatever it is you call what took the place of the middle class. Certainly after their housing bubble mortgages become eligible for margin calls. Then all that’s left will be the very rich and the very poor. It’ll be back to the Middle Ages. Just with 20 times as many people. And with over half the wildlife gone, and the arable land, and 80% of insects gone since 1980 alone.

But yeah, we can also pretend that any problem we encounter can only possibly be a temporary blip, and there’s sunshine on the way around the corner, not pitchforks. Still, I’m pretty sure it’s precisely because we do nothing but pretend, that we gather all the problems in the first place that make one think of pitchforks, if even so briefly.

And I’m also pretty sure that we’re a lot less smart than we tell ourselves we are considering we kill off that without which we have zero chance of survival, and considering we let people starve in the richest human society the world has ever seen (make that: will ever see), but we still have trouble seeing our own noses, let alone following them.

We’re such blind masters of pretence that we hardly ever noticed the Great Discontent entering our nations, our communities and our homes. What then are the odds we will perceive the arrival of the Great Unraveling?

 

 

Dec 232018
 
 December 23, 2018  Posted by at 5:52 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Diego Velázquez The Spinners 1655-60

 

Dirk Kurbjuweit, deputy editor-in-chief of Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine for the past 4 years, unwittingly put his foot a mile deep in his mouth this week when he reacted to a letter written by US Ambassador to Berlin Richard Grenell. His reaction presents perhaps the most perfect example of the downfall of news, journalism, the media in general, that we’ve seen so far. Most perfect among very stiff competition.

After Der Spiegel itself this week ‘outed’ its award-winning star reporter, Claas Relotius, as someone who had made up many of his lauded articles from scratch, Grenell suggested the magazine, and especially its editorial staff, shouldn’t think they can get away with putting all the blame on just this one guy. He tweeted:

We value policy criticism. We love a free press. But @Spiegel literally fabricated stories saying people (Americans) were racist & xenophobic. They made up events, details, & lies – and no editor checked the stories. Every real journalist should be outraged by this.

And he wrote a letter to Der Spiegel, albeit addressed at the ‘wrong’ editor, Steffen Klussman, who won’t be in the post until after Jan. 1:

The recent revelations of completely fabricated stories, completely fictional people and fraudulent details in Spiegel over the last seven years are very troubling to the US Embassy. These fake news stories largely focused on US policies and certain segments of the American people. It is clear we were targeted by institutional bias and we are troubled by the atmosphere that encouraged this recklessness.

While Spiegel’s anti-American narratives have expanded over the last years, the anti-American bias at the magazine has exploded since the election of President Trump. We are concerned that these narratives are pushed by Spiegel’s senior leadership and reporters are responding to what the leadership wants.

This is where Dirk Kurbjuweit’s foot enters his mouth, stage left, and starts its long journey down:

It is true that one of our reporters in large part fabricated articles, including reports from the United States. We apologize to all American citizens who were insulted or denigrated by these articles. We are very sorry. This never should have happened. In this case, our safeguarding and verification processes failed. We are working hard to clarify these issues and improve our procedures and standards.

I would, however, like to counter you on one point. When we criticize the American president, this does not amount to anti-American bias – it is criticism of the policies of the man currently in office in the White House. Anti-Americanism is deeply alien to me and I am absolutely aware of what Germany has the U.S to thank for: a whole lot. DER SPIEGEL harbors no institutional bias against the United States.

Of course, first of all, Grenell is right, if you let someone write fake stories for 7 years and your editors, which included Kurbjuweit himself, don’t catch one single lie, it looks like you’re letting the fabrications ‘slip through’ on purpose. As Grenell implies, it looks like the entire magazine is/was trying to fabricate the news, not report on it.

But that’s not where Kurbjuweit’s foot is in his mouth. That comes in the second paragraph . Where he effectively says that criticizing America and Americans, including through fully fabricated stories, does not constitute an anti-American bias. Instead, he says, Der Spiegel simply suffers from Trump Derangement Syndrome. In other words, not an anti-American bias, but an anti-Trump bias.

And that, in his view, is apparently fine. And though it is of course not, certainly for an editor of a magazine that has (make that had) a reputation to uphold, who can really blame him? In the American press, all he sees is Trump Derangement Syndrome all the time, in at least 90% of the media. So how can anyone blame a German editor for doing what the New York Times and CNN do 24/7?

The problem with all of this obviously is that all these news outlets are supposed to report the news, and none of them do anymore. They ‘report’ the opinions of their editors and ‘journalists’, and if these people don’t like whoever it is the American people elect as their president, it’s open season.

American media has made it acceptable for foreign media to write fake articles about the US president, which means ridicule of the Office of the President is fine too, and thereby the process by which he was elected. Re-read Kurbjuweit’s statement, that is what he says.

This is a sort of new normal that may well be the main legacy of 2018. It’s where the surge of social media and the internet in general have led us. In the process, they’ve swallowed the truth whole, and we may never see it again.

The truth is not a winning proposition. Fabricating stories and narratives and using them to string readers and viewers along like a modern version of the Pied Piper is a much bigger winner than the truth, and they’re all waking up to this new reality.

 

Der Spiegel’s response to being exposed as liars is to pretend to be open about it, but only by blaming one individual, while sparing the editors who let him roam free for 7 years.

The Guardian, which ran a fabricated story about meetings between Paul Manafort and Julian Assange in London’s Ecuadorian embassy a few weeks ago and was also exposed, has chosen a different approach: they attempt to smother the truth in silence. Both the writers of the story and editor-in-chief Kathy Viner, responsible for publishing blatant lies and fabrications are still on the payroll, there’s been no retraction and no apologies.

But there’s a flipside to this kind of thing. If you try to get away with murdering the truth the way Der Spiegel and the Guardian have done in these two instances, who’s going to read you next time around if they want to know what really happens, and take your words as true? No-one in their sound mind. So it’s necessarily a short term strategy.

Still, while it lasts, it’s profitable. And it’s mighty contagious too. If and when the foreign press no longer feels any qualms about admitting they suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome, that is because US media have paved that road for them. Before the internet fueled its (dis-)information explosion, this would have been impossible.

It makes you wonder where this will go in 2019. What’s already evident is that you can’t believe your trusted news sources anymore. And it’s not a matter of some articles being true and some not; nothing published by Der Spiegel and the Guardian can be taken for granted as true from here on in, both are done as reliable news sources. Because they’ve been exposed as having lied on purpose, and only once is enough.

Same goes for many of the formerly trusted US MSM. And that should really, really make you wonder where this will take us in 2019. Truth is eroding faster than you can keep up with, and it’s your once trusted voices that lead the erosion. Where are you going to get your news? What and who can you trust?

Here’s a thought: follow the Automatic Earth. And good thing is, you don’t have to like Trump to not like where this is going. We don’t particularly like him either. We just dislike lies and fake news a whole lot more.

 

 

Oct 292018
 
 October 29, 2018  Posted by at 5:11 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Mestre da Família Artés The Last Judgment and the Mass of Saint Gregory 1500-1520

 

It’s been quite a while since I first wrote that I resented the MSM (New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC etc etc) for effectively monopolizing the entire discussion about Donald Trump. Don’t remember exactly when I wrote that, do remember Jim Kunstler sent a mail and thanked me for saying it. Because he felt- and feels- the same way.

The 24/7 daily Trump bashing machine that was unleashed in late 2015/early 2016 meant that people like us had a choice of criticizing Trump where he needed to be criticized, but that would put us in the MSM camp, where we don’t want to be. And we don’t want to not criticize him either, because there’s so much that needs scrutiny.

A third choice would be to not write at all, but hey, we’re writers. And so we’re either Trump-fans, something I’ve been accused of a lot, and I’m sure Jim has too, or we’re Trump haters, depending on what we publish. In reality, of course, we’re neither, but the way the conversation has been built, there’s no neutral ground. You’re either with us or with him.

Today, almost 3 years later, nothing much has changed about this. Other than, as I wrote at a later date, the mass media have become consciously aware that Trump is their money machine. Their financial people started pointing out that posting negative stuff about Trump all the time got them a lot of new readers and viewers and income streams. And so they continued doing it.

Their ‘news’ didn’t have to necessarily be true, or provable, it only had to look as if it could be true, until the next show or article, or the next day. That’s how we got the Russiagate story, which still lacks all evidence. Like a million other narratives, none of which have really gotten anywhere. It doesn’t matter. People who don’t like Trump eat it up. And there’s plenty of those, not in the least because of the picture the MSM has painted. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy thing.

 

And today, if you take a good look, you can see that the MSM are stuck. Their entire business model over the past 2.5 years has been built on bashing Trump, and now they have to stick with that. This is how they make their money. If their viewers and readers would understand this, then perhaps some of them would wonder: ‘What am I watching here really?’ But they don’t.

There are some who are simply gullible, there are those who fall victim to information overkill and can’t tell black from white anymore, and then there’s still quite a large group who will never like anything Trump does, no matter what. Because.

But that should never be enough for an organization that purports to report only the news, impartial and objective. You can’t publish stuff solely because you know it will be eaten up and make you money. That’s not the news business, that’s entertainment.

Now, I rarely watch TV. When I’m in Greece, where I’ve spent most of my time the past few years, I see none, other than the odd soccer game at a sports bar. But last weekend I flew to Holland, and there I got to see me some CNN. Oh boy. It was when the first dummy bomb package had been reported, and more of them started to spread.

Nobody knew anything about the ‘bombs’ themselves (we still don’t), about motive, about who sent them, none had gone off, they didn’t know if these things could have gone off, nothing at all. But nevertheless CNN labeled the event: ‘Mass Assassination Attempt’. And then, you know, they have all these time slots to fill, so they all yap and yap as if this is something real that they know something about.

 

And then at some point Trump called for civility in the nation. And CNN, sadly and predictably, reacted by agreeing with him. Only to follow that up with: “Trump has to become more civil”. Which may or may not be true, but that was not his point and neither is it mine today.

You see, CNN pulled a perfect bait and switch: While demanding that Trump tone it down in response to his own call for civility, they categorically and emphatically denied that their tone, their ‘news reporting’ must come down too. They didn’t just deny it, they entirely ignore the whole issue. Because according to them, all they do is report the news, you know, objective and neutral, no opinions involved.

After bashing Trump for two years+ they react to his call for a more civil tone by … bashing Trump and ignoring their own role completely. The exact opposite. And then they’re surprised that his reaction to being bashed one more time, again, is to point out that they do, in fact, play a role.

CNN et al paint themselves as victims, as the ones being targeted by Trump (and not even by whoever sent the bombs), completely omitting to what extent they themselves were the ones who targeted Trump. CNN is entirely blind to their own role. They proclaim, and really seem to believe, that they speak for the American people.

But if that were true, Trump would not be president. They may speak for part of the American people, but certainly not ‘the people’. And if they continue in their present ways, they never will. As long as the MSM puts all their chips on making money off of the segment of the American population who despise their president, they only sharpen the divide.

 

Another thing I’ve mentioned before is that with the midterms coming up in a few days, the MSM don’t actually want to impeach Trump, or get rid of him in any other way. They want to continue writing negative stuff about him forever. They want him to maybe lose the midterms, but then to win in 2020. Obama was killing them financially. Now they got their golden goose.

And it’s not Trump who profits from the nation being so divided, or at least not nearly as much as the media does. Trump would like to be appreciated for what he achieves, but when it comes to that, he can’t get a word in edgewise. They can’t risk writing positive stuff about him, it would risk their new business model.

Moreover, after that court ruling that said Trump can’t ban people on Twitter, everyone feels free to call Trump whatever they want, idiot, lunatic, you name it, I even saw Hitler pop up again, and he cannot ban them. Trump is America’s national piñata. While he’s also the President.

And the media say they’re just reporting the news. “Trump calls for civility, but continues his attacks on the media”. Well, the media continue their attacks on him, too. “Trump refuses to acknowledge his rhetoric makes this happen.” So does the MSM rhetoric. “Words Matter”. Indeed, they do. But not only Trump’s words. Everybody’s words.

The MSM have never managed – nor tried- to move beyond the notion that Trump supporters are deplorables. They’re stuck in a time warp. That is what divides the nation. Sarah Sanders was right: the first thing Trump did was to condemn the violence, the first thing CNN did was to blame Trump for it. CNN says that’s not true, they only reported the news. Yeah, 100% objectively.

 

Let’s do a test: when is the last time CNN, or the WaPo, have said anything truly positive about Trump? And I don’t mean three words strung together, but an actual report on for instance jobs and the state of the economy. When is the last time they complimented him, other than perhaps when American rockets landed in some remote and deserted Syrian sandbox?

So you don’t like Trump. And in the MSM you find voices that express your ideas. What you probably don’t realize is that they amplify those ideas as well, and that’s no coincidence. You’re being used by the MSM to prolong their newly-found very profitable anti-Trump rhetoric business model. You’re an easy victim. All they have to do is confirm your thoughts all the time, and tomorrow you’ll tune in for more, and so on.

Or how about this one: There’s so much to blame Trump for, there are so many negative sides to the man, and then the media focus for a long time on a made-up story about collusion with Russians, for which a special counsel with unlimited budget and resources hasn’t found any proof after two whole years. Doesn’t that make you think? Shouldn’t it?

The MSM’s interest is to divide the country, that’s how they make money. If they would write or broadcast positive stories about Trump, which must exist, they would threaten the dividing line that keeps people from talking to each other. Once they do start talking, Trump-bashing will become much less lucrative. They can’t have that.

You don’t need to be a Trump fan to see that, and I’m definitely not, you need to be blind NOT to see it. You’re being played. And what are you going to do when the GOP wins the midterms, despite what you’ve been told would happen, what if there is no blue wave? Are you going to start talking to the other half of the country then, or are you going to dig deeper into the trenches with the MSM? Honest question.

 

 

Oct 172018
 
 October 17, 2018  Posted by at 1:51 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Pandora’s box 1951

 

They can’t help themselves even as they hurt themselves. Look guys, chill! I saw someone imply on Twitter that Donald Trump is an accomplice in a murder cover-up. This person knows as well as all the ones who liked the tweet that they all just don’t know. They don’t know exactly what Trump knows about the chilling Khashoggi execution.

Just like they don’t know exactly what happened in the consulate. Information from anonymous Turkish sources is dripping through drop by drop, and it looks terrible -and terribly graphic-, but the conclusion that Trump wants to cover up a murder is multiple tokes over the line.

The Saudi attempt at labeling the execution a kidnapping gone wrong is out the window if only a tenth of the Turkish sources’ claims is true. What emerges is a picture of premeditated torture and murder. And one that was ordered by someone in the royal family. Which can really only be one of two people: the King or his son, MbS, and the latter seems more suspect. But what any of it has to do with Trump remains to be seen,

He’s not liking the whole thing one bit, that’s for sure. If only because whatever America does vis a vis the Saudi’s is now ultimately his call. While the strong link between the two countries was established decades ago, and would be very hard to untangle, if it comes to that. See, I can write Ban Saudi Oil, as I did last week, but I also realize how extensive the consequences for the US economy would be if such a thing were considered.

Not a decision you take lightly. Trump for instance knows full well what would happen to his standing and popularity if gas prices were to double or triple overnight. Is that a reason to let the Saudi’s get away with murder? No, but it is a reason to be circumspect, and to demand solid evidence. Doing that doesn’t make anyone an accomplice to a murder cover-up.

Moreover, the dependence on Saudi oil and the petrodollar arrangement is just one facet of what has driven US Middle East policy since WWII -and arguably before-, shaped by governments from both parties in Washington, and driven by very powerful intelligence agencies -both American and foreign- as well as the military-industrial complex.

You can’t blame that all on one man. Not Khashoggi, nor the ‘war’ in Yemen, or any of the bloodshed that has occurred before he became president. And you can’t expect him to end it all on a rainy afternoon either. If he would be inclined to do so. Since no president before him has been, you’d only be criticizing him for continuing established policy.

Every US president for many years has been an accomplice to murder, not just a cover-up, in Saudi Arabia, where women and gays and everyone else the House of Saud didn’t like end up without their heads attached to their torso. It’s how we get cheap oil, how we have built our societies and communities into what they are at present. Good design? Hell no. But it is what it is.

 

Still, allegations like the murder cover-up one keep coming. The reason is, as I’ve written many times now, that it makes the media money. Being anti-Trump sells. It has given us the Russiagate narrative, the Mueller investigation and tons of other stories that don’t go anywhere. Because it doesn’t matter if they are true, what counts is that they sell newspapers and TV commercials.

And there are some in the media, and certainly many in the anti-Trump echochamber, who still dream of impeaching him. But, as I said before, that doesn’t include the owners of papers and TV channels. They’ve never had a single person bring in sales like this, and it has saved many of their assets. All they need to do is twist everything that happens into something Trump can be blamed for.

That the Democratic Party is the main victim of this doesn’t seem to occur to anyone, really. Or maybe only Trump himself. Three weeks before the midterms, his detractors handed him another two main victories, free of charge. And one can’t help thinking: don’t you guys see what you’re doing?

A lawsuit filed by Michael Avenatti on behalf of Stormy Daniels, about a Trump tweet no less, was thrown out by a judge. The Senate a few weeks back refused to even talk to Avenatti’s other client, Julie Swetnick, in the Kavanaugh hearings, who had come up with a story about coordinated gang rape.

Avenatti has proven incredibly toxic to the Democrats, and they don’t appear to realize it. But he’s nothing compared to Elizabeth Warren, who all but folded her political career this week, after media -reluctantly- reported that the DNA test she wanted Trump to pay a million bucks over, showed she’s less Cherokee than 90-odd percent of white Americans. Liz, why, how, what were you thinking?

 

Guys, chill! You have elections coming up. Don’t hand it to the guy on a platter, let him at least exert some effort. The Democrats apparently still think they’re going to win the elections, that their echochamber tactics will turn people against Trump. In reality, they’re only talking, shouting, to themselves, and to people who already see things the same way they do anyway.

How many Democrats have you seen declaring that the US should stop selling weapons to the Saudi’s, should tell them to stop starving millions of Yemeni children, should cut off all communication until the truth about Khashoggi is revealed? Me neither. Their identity is no different from Trump, other than on minor issues, the only identity they have is they’re against him. And that’s the same as having none.

While there are so many issues that people should really go after Trump for, all that we see are fake narratives about Russian collusion, which, as I’ve explained, we now know are false because Mueller hasn’t reported anything, and if he had any proof he would have to reveal it because he couldn’t sit on evidence about a president colluding with a foreign power for even one day.

Which is perhaps why, though the timing is strange with the midterms in less than three weeks, two of the strongest anti-Trump media, the Washington Post and the BBC, came out with pieces in the past 24 hours that hesitantly say a few positive things about Trump, albeit clad in inevitable smears and accusations.

The WaPo:

 

Trump Could Be The Most Honest President In Modern US History

Donald Trump may be remembered as the most honest president in modern American history. Don’t get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. He said that he “enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history” (actually they are the eighth largest) and that “our economy is the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country” (which may one day be true, but not yet).

In part, it’s a New York thing – everything is the biggest and the best. But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness – keeping his promises – Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would do.

 

And the BBC:

 

Is This The Most Successful Month Of The Trump Presidency?

These days there seems to be even more of a swagger as Donald Trump strides across the South Lawn to board his green-liveried helicopter, Marine One. Those campaign-style rallies, which have become such a marked feature of his presidency, have even more of a celebratory charge. The president seems more willing to answer reporters’ questions, partly because there is a better story to tell.

Last week he also sat for the first 60 Minutes interview of his presidency, which aired on Sunday night. The veteran CBS presenter Lesley Stahl, who conducted this cross-examination, was struck by his self-assurance. “Right now,” she said afterwards, “he’s so much more confident. He is truly president. And you felt it. I felt it in this interview.”

 

If you didn’t know better, you’d think they’re trying to boost the guy ahead of the elections. Me, I’m wondering why such media don’t harp every single day on the ongoing issue of family separation. And keep at it till every American -and Brit- talks about it. Instead, their biggest story this week has been that Pocahontas was of 1/1024th Native American descent. Or something in that vein.

As for Khashoggi, that story appears to have taken on a life of its own, drip-fed by Erdogan at first, but it seems to have reached a point where even if Erdogan gets what he wanted and cuts the drip, it won’t stop. It’s been a weird dynamic, how one man’s fate is more important than that of millions of others.

Where did that come from? Someone powerful seeing an opportunity to get rid of MbS? Still find it hard to gauge. It doesn’t look as if MbS can be maintained in his position by his father. Too much bad publicity, too much at risk financially. And it would be convenient if Trump and King Salman would agree to push him aside, put all the blame on him, and see if that satisfies the media and public.

But the King may still try and go for broke. And his son may also have usurped too much power for the dad to order him gone. But that would mean a major headache for Trump. How about if either the king or the prince decide to gamble and threaten to end the petrodollar? What would the echochamber suggest Trump does then?

 

 

Aug 172018
 
 August 17, 2018  Posted by at 1:34 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


William Hogarth Humours of an Election, Plate 2 1754

 

Two thirds of Americans want the Mueller investigation (inquisition, someone called it) over by the midterm elections. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said that if Mueller wants to interview Trump, he’ll have to do so before September 1, because the Trump camp doesn’t want to be the one to unduly influence the elections. Mueller himself appears to lean towards prolonging the case, and that may well be with an eye on doing exactly that.

And there’s something else as well: as soon as the investigation wraps up, Trump will demand a second special counsel, this time to scrutinize the role the ‘other side’ has played in the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath. He’s determined to get it, and he’ll fire both Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein if they try to stand in his way.

There have of course been tons of signs that it’s going to happen, but we got two significant ones just the past few days. The first is the termination of John Brennan’s security clearance. It looks impossible that no additional clearances will be revoked. There are more people who have them but would also be part of a second special counsel’s investigation. That doesn’t rhyme.

The second sign is Senator Rand Paul’s call for immunity for Julian Assange to come talk to the US senate about what he knows about Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Obviously, we know that he denies its very existence, and has offered to provide evidence to that end. But before he could do that, a potential deal with the DOJ to do so was torpedoed by then FBI chief James Comey and Senator Mark Warner.

Both will also be part of the second investigation. Rand Paul’s motivation is simple: Assange’s testimony could be a very significant part of the process of figuring out what actually happened. And that should be what everybody in Washington wants. Question is if they all really do. That’s -ostensibly- why there is the first, the Mueller Russian collusion, investigation. Truth finding.

But Mueller doesn’t appear to have found much of anything. At least, that we know of. He’s locked up Paul Manafort on charges unrelated to collusion, put him in isolation and dragged him before a jury. But don’t be surprised if Manafort is acquitted by that jury one of these days. The case against him seemed a lot more solid before than it does now. A jury that asks the judge to re-define ‘reasonable doubt’ already is in doubt, reasonable or not. And that is what reasonable doubt means.

 

But it wasn’t just Brennan and Comey and Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and all the rest of them in the intelligence community who played questionable roles around the election and the accusations of Russian meddling in it. The American media were also there, and very prominently. Which is why when 300 papers publish editorials pushing against Trump ‘attacking’ the media, you can’t help but -wryly- smile.

Why does Trump attack the press? Because they’ve been attacking him for two years, and they’re not letting go. So the press can attack the president, but he cannot fight back. That’s the rationale, but with the Mueller investigation not going anywhere it’s a hard one to keep alive.

There are three reasons for the behavior of the New York Times, WaPo, MSNBC, CNN et al. The first is political, they’re Democrat hornblowers. The second is their owners have a personal thing against Donald Trump. But these get trumped by the third reason: Trump is their golden goose. Their opposition makes them a fortune. All they need to do is publish articles 24/7 denouncing him. And they have for two years.

That puts the 300 papers’ editorials in a strange light. Many of them would have been fighting for their very lives if not for anti-Trump rhetoric. All 300 fit neatly and easily in one echo chamber. And, to put it mildly, inside that chamber, not everyone is always asking for evidence of everything that’s being said.

It’s not difficult to whoop up a storm there without crossing all your t’s. And after doing just that for 2 years and change, it seems perhaps a tad hypocritical to claim that you are honest journalists just trying to provide people with the news as it happened.

Because when you’ve published hundreds, thousands of articles about Russian meddling, and the special counsel that was named to a large degree because of those articles, fails to come up with any evidence of it, it will become obvious that you’ve not just, and honestly, been reporting the news ‘as it happened’. You have instead been making things up because you knew that would sell better.

And when the second special counsel starts, where will American media be? Sure, it may not happen before the midterms, and you may have hopes that the Democrats win those bigly, but even if that comes to pass (slim chance), Trump will still be president, and the hearings and interviews won’t be soft and mild. Also, there will be serious questions, under oath, about leaks to the press.

 

Still, whichever side of this particular fence you’re on, there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on. That is, when we get to count how many of the 300 editorials have actually mentioned, let alone defended, Julian Assange, and I’ll bet you that number is painfully close to zero, that is where we find out how honest this defense of the free press is.

If for you the free press means that you should be able to write and broadcast whatever you want, even if it’s lacking in evidence, as much of the Russiagate stuff obviously is, and you ‘forget’ to mention a man who has really been attacked and persecuted for years, for publishing files that are all about evidence, you are not honest, and therefore probably not worth saving.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the essence of the free press. A press that is neutral, objective, fearless and determined to get the truth out. The New York Times and CNN simply don’t fit that description -anymore-. So when their editors publish calls to protect free press, but they leave out the one person who really represents free press, and the one person who’s been tortured for exactly that, you have zero credibility.

Sure, you may appear to have credibility in your echo chamber, but that’s not where real life takes place, where evidence is available and where people can make up their own minds based on objective facts provided by real journalists.

You guys just blew this big time. You don’t care about free press, you care about your own asses. And the second special counsel is coming. Good luck. Oh, and we won’t forget your silencing of Assange, or your attacks on him. If you refuse to do it, WE will free the press.

 

 

Jun 192018
 
 June 19, 2018  Posted by at 12:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Why are you angry? 1896

 

Yes, you have every right to be outraged at the disgraceful treatment of children on America’s borders. But that does not give you the right to NOT be outraged by what America has done and is today still doing to children in, just to name a few places, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Be outraged, but don’t make it an echo chamber issue. Because if you do, you, too, are in a cage.

So if you see the wives of former presidents speak out about the child separation policies, ask yourself where they get the moral authority to speak out on such issues, after their husbands have bombed the crap out of many countries, killing many many children in the process. And don’t let’s get started about Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

Presently in Yemen, 20 million people depend on humanitarian aid, and the US are helping Saudi Arabia et al bomb the only port left through which that aid can reach them, to smithereens. 8.5 million Yemenis are already starving, and some 3 million of them are children. Where is your outrage over that?

Where is the outrage over the American and international treatment of Julian Assange, who has been in the Ecuador embassy in London for six years today? Where is it?

Don’t get coaxed into selective outrage by your news media, who like nothing better than to tell you what to be outraged by, and what not. If you allow that to happen, you have lost your freedom and your independence. Ask why they tell you a certain story at the moment they tell it. Ask why they tell it the way they do.

Yes, it has come to this. Every single story you read or hear needs to be scrutinized. Because there’s an agenda behind all of them, left, right or middle. And because the media have figured out that constantly driving you from one selective outrage to another is very profitable for them. Critical thought is not.

Yes, there are sociopaths in the Trump administration. But that’s nothing new. There have been sociopaths in every administration. It’s how our political systems work. Sh*t floats to the top.

Yes, US border policies have intensified. But whatever you think of that, migrants and refugees are not a new issue. Nor are the reasons why people flee their homes and communities. Whether it’s Africa or Central America, people flee because of what western governments, military and intelligence services have done to their homelands.

And until we stop doing that, they will keep coming. So much of our prosperity and power is derived directly from other people’s poverty and despair. So much of our wealth has been stolen from other people’s resources. If you want to be outraged at something or someone, start with yourself. Start thinking.

What is happening today is awful. But so many awful things happened in the past that you never showed outrage about. And yet these things are all inextricably linked. One leads to another.

America shouldn’t be outraged about Trump without being outraged about its entire political system, and all of its actors. Without that, outrage about Trump has no meaning, and will lead to nothing at all. Or rather, it will lead to a more divided country, full of people played for profit and political games.

The US invasion of Vietnam ended to a large extent because of protests in the streets. Perhaps that is what is needed once again. But the underlying issues, the ones that had led to the invasion in the first place, were not solved then. And that is what it is all about.

Nor is it an American problem per se. Europe is just as culpable. Children drowning, children in cages, what’s the difference, in the end it all comes from the same mindset. Which needs a radical reset. But what are the odds of that happening?

Our cultures are based on exploiting other peoples and nations, and then telling ourselves we deserve what we have. How are you going to change that? The only way to resolve the global refugee problem is to make sure people have a future where they are born. And the only thing we actually do is to make that impossible.

Yes, be outraged.

 

 

Mar 172018
 
 March 17, 2018  Posted by at 2:16 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jacobello Alberegno The Beast of the Apocalypse 1360-90

 

The Guardian ran an article yesterday by one of its editors, David Shariatmadari, that both proves and disproves its own theme at the same time: “An Information Apocalypse Is Coming”. Now, I don’t fancy the term apocalypse in a setting like this, it feels too much like going for a cheap thrill, but since he used it, why not.

My first reaction to the headline, and the article, is: what do you mean it’s ‘coming’? Don’t you think we have such an apocalypse already, that we’re living it, we’re smack in the middle of such a thing? If you don’t think so, would that have anything to do with you working at a major newspaper? Or with your views of the world, political and other, that shape how you experience ‘information’?

Shariatmadari starts out convincingly and honestly enough with a description of a speech that JFK was supposed to give in Dallas right after he was murdered, a speech that has been ‘resurrected’ using technology that enables one to make it seem like he did deliver it.

 

An Information Apocalypse Is Coming. How Can We Protect Ourselves?

“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason, or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality, and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

John F Kennedy’s last speech reads like a warning from history, as relevant today as it was when it was delivered in 1963 at the Dallas Trade Mart. His rich, Boston Brahmin accent reassures us even as he delivers the uncomfortable message. The contrast between his eloquence and the swagger of Donald Trump is almost painful to hear.

Yes, Kennedy’s words are lofty ones, and they do possess at least some predictive qualities. But history does play a part too. Would we have read the same in them that we do now, had Kennedy not been shot right before he could deliver them? Hard to tell.

What’s more, not long before JFK was elected president America had been in the tight and severe grip of J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign, in which lots of reality was replaced with rhetoric, something Kennedy undoubtedly had in mind while writing the speech. JFK was not just addressing future threats, he was talking about the past as well.

But the writer slips into a much bigger faux pas right after: injecting Trump into the picture. It’s fine if someone doesn’t like Trump, but naming him there and then, in an article about ‘information apocalypse’, also means confusing objectivity with regards to your topic with subjectivity concerning your political ideas. While the Kennedy speech item relates to -advancing(?)- technology, a valid part of the apocalypse, mentioning Trump has nothing to do with that apocalypse, at least not objectively. Back to David Shariatmadari:

The problem is, Kennedy never spoke these words. He was killed before he made it to the Trade Mart. You can only hear them now thanks to audio technology developed by a British company, CereProc. Fragments of his voice have been taken from other speeches and public appearances, spliced and put back together, with neural networks employed to mimic his natural intonation. The result is pretty convincing, although there’s a machine-like ring to some of the syllables, a synthetic stutter. Enough to recognise, if you already know, that this is a feat of technology, not oratory.

We like to think of innovation as morally neutral. We empower scientists and engineers to range freely in the hope they might discover things that save labour and lives. The ends to which these are put aren’t the responsibility of the researchers. The agile robots produced by Boston Dynamics might look like they could cheerfully pin you up against a wall and snap your neck, but do we really want to close off this avenue of research? After all, they might equally be capable of performing life-saving surgery. The methods used to resurrect JFK can also help people with illnesses such as motor neurone disease – like the late Stephen Hawking – that affect their ability to speak.

It’s certainly true that we are so ‘geared’ towards progress, we ‘conveniently’ forget and ignore that every next step carries its own shadow side, every yin comes with its yang. ‘Progress’ and ‘innovation’ – and related terms- ring so positive in our eyes and ears it borders on -wilful- blindness. That blindness is set to play a major role in our future, and in our acceptance as gospel of a lot of ‘information’.

“Dual use” of technology is not a new problem. Nuclear physics gave us both energy and bombs. What is new is the democratisation of advanced IT, the fact that anyone with a computer can now engage in the weaponisation of information; 2016 was the year we woke up to the power of fake news, with internet conspiracy theories and lies used to bolster the case for both Brexit and Donald Trump.

Ouch! See, he does it again. This is not an objective discourse on ‘information disinformation’, but a way to make people think -through a method he’s supposed to be exposing- that ‘fake news’ led to Brexit and Trump. That’s a political view, not a neutral one. Yes, there are many voices out there who connect ‘fake news’ directly to things they don’t like, but that’s just a trap.

And as I said, it may have to do with the fact that the writer works for a major newspaper, which of course he wants to, and wishes to, see as some kind of beacon against fake news, but if he lets his own personal views slip into an objective treatment of a topic this easily, it automatically becomes self-defeating.

There is no proof that Trump and Brexit’s success are down to fake news more than their opposite sides, ‘fake news’ is everywhere, and that very much includes the Guardian. The coverage of the UK government accusations against Russia in the poisoning case proves that more than ever.

You can be anti-Trump, anti-Brexit and anti-Putin all you want, but they don’t define fake news or an information apocalypse, any more than ‘commies’ did in the days of Hoover and McCarthy.

We may, however, look back on it as a kind of phoney war, when photoshopping and video manipulation were still easily detectable. That window is closing fast. A program developed at Stanford University allows users to convincingly put words into politicians’ mouths. Celebrities can be inserted into porn videos. Quite soon it will be all but impossible for ordinary people to tell what’s real and what’s not.

That is am almost bewildering line. Does the writer really think ‘ordinary people’ can today tell apart what’s real and what’s not? If his paper had honestly covered his country’s, and his government’s, involvement in the wars all over the Middle East and North Africa over the past decades, would his readers still be supportive of the politicians that today inhabit Westminster?

Or does the paper prefer supporting the incumbents over Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, because it owes its reputation and position and revenues to supporting the likes of Theresa May and Tony Blair? Yeah, I know, with a critical view, yada yada, but when has the Guardian labeled any UK politician a war criminal? Much easier to go after Farage, isn’t it? The question is: what part of this is fake, and what is not?

What will the effects of this be? When a public figure claims the racist or sexist audio of them is simply fake, will we believe them? How will political campaigns work when millions of voters have the power to engage in dirty tricks? What about health messages on the dangers of diesel or the safety of vaccines? Will vested interests or conspiracy theorists attempt to manipulate them?

This appears to make sense, but it does not really. We are way past that. ‘Ordinary people’ have already lost their capacity to tell truth from fiction. Newspapers and TV stations have long disseminated the views of their owners, it’s just that they now have -newfound- competition from a million other sources: the blessings of social media.

The core issue here is that 1984 is not some point in the future, as we for some reason prefer to think. We are living 1984. Perhaps the fact that we are now 34 years past it should give us a clue about that? People tend to think that perhaps Orwell was right, but his predictions were way early. Were they, though?

Also: Orwell may not have foreseen the blessings and trappings of social media, but he did foresee how governments and their media sympathizers would react to them: with more disinformation.

Unable to trust what they see or hear, will people retreat into lives of non-engagement, ceding the public sphere to the already powerful or the unscrupulous? The potential for an “information apocalypse” is beginning to be taken seriously.

This is a full-blown time warp. If it is true that people only now take the potential for an “information apocalypse” seriously, they are so far behind the curve ball that one must question the role of the media in that. Why didn’t people know about that potential when it was an actual issue? Why did nobody tell them?

The problem is we have no idea what a world in which all words and images are suspect will look like, so it’s hard to come up with solutions.

Yes, we do have an idea about that, because we see it around us 24/7. Maybe not with images as fully fabricated as the JFK speech, but the essence is manipulation itself, not the means by which it’s delivered.

Perhaps not very much will change – perhaps we will develop a sixth sense for bullshit and propaganda, in the same way that it has become easy to distinguish sales calls from genuine inquiries, and scam emails with fake bank logos from the real thing.

David, we ARE all bullshitters, we all lie all the time, for a myriad of reasons, to look better, to feel better, to seem better, to get rich, to get laid. It’s who we are. We lie to ourselves most of all. A sixth sense against bullshit and propaganda is the very last thing we will ever develop, because it would force us to face our own bullshit.

But there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to defend ourselves from the onslaught, and society could start to change in unpredictable ways as a result. Like the generation JFK was addressing in his speech, we are on the cusp of a new and scary age. Rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, are becoming difficult to separate. We await a figure of Kennedy’s stature to help us find a way through. Until then, we must at the very least face up to the scale of the coming challenge.

We are not “on the cusp of a new and scary age”, we are in the smack middle of it. We haven’t been able to separate rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, for ages. What’s different from 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, is that now we are faced with an information overload so severe that this in itself makes us less capable of separating chaff from wheat.

So yes, that perhaps is new. But bullshit and propaganda are not. And labeling Trump and Brexit the main threats misses your own topic by miles. You could make an equally valid point that they are the results of many years of bullshit and propaganda by old-style politics and old-style media.

Maybe they’re what happens when ‘ordinary people’ switch off from an overload of bullshit and propaganda forced upon them by people and institutions they grew up to trust. And then feel they were betrayed by. A sixth sense after all.

 

 

Jan 152018
 
 January 15, 2018  Posted by at 10:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Jack Kerouac 1953

 

Nearly 40% May Default On Their Student Loans By 2023 (Brookings)
3 Years After Currency Shock, Swiss Central Bank Can’t Get Back To Normal (R.)
China Vows to Toughen Rules on $38 Trillion Banking Industry
Bitcoin Not Even In Top 10 Of Crypto World’s Best Performers (AFP)
UK’s Carillion Files for Liquidation After Failing to Get Bailout (BBG)
London Housing Woe Endures as Prices Drop to 2 1/2-Year Low (BBG)
Let’s Wrench Power Back From The Billionaires (Bernie Sanders)
Trust in News Media Takes a Hit During Trump Presidency (AP)
Outgoing EWG Chief Says Greece May Get Debt Relief With Conditions Attached (K.)
Berlin Worried EU Reform Will Boost Immigration Influx (DS)
A New Refugee Flow To Europe: Turkish Refugees (AM)
Why We’re Losing the War on Plastic (BBG)

 

 

The reality of -personal- debt.

Nearly 40% May Default On Their Student Loans By 2023 (Brookings)

The best prior estimates of overall default rates come from Looney and Yannelis (2015), who examine defaults up to five years after entering repayment, and Miller (2017), who uses the new BPS-04 data to examine default rates within 12 years of college entry. These two sources provide similar estimates: about 28 to 29% of all borrowers ultimately default. But even 12 years may not be long enough to get a complete picture of defaults. The new data also allow loan outcomes to be tracked for a full 20 years after initial college entry, though only for the 1996 entry cohort. Still, examining patterns of default over a longer period for the 1996 cohort can help us estimate what to expect in the coming years for the more recent cohort.

If we assume that the cumulative defaults grow at the same rate (in percentage terms) for the 2004 cohort as for the earlier cohort, we can project how defaults are likely to increase beyond year 12 for the 2004 cohort. To compute these projections, I first use the 1996 cohort to calculate the cumulative default rates in years 13-20 as a percentage of year 12 cumulative default rates. I then take this percentage for years 13-20 and apply it to the 12-year rate observed for the 2004 cohort. So, for example, since the 20-year rate was 41% higher than the 12-year rate for the 1996 cohort, I project the Year 20 cumulative default rate for the 2004 cohort is projected to be 41% higher than its 12-year rate.

Figure 1 plots the resulting cumulative rates of default relative to initial entry for borrowers in both cohorts, with the data points after year 12 for the 2003-04 cohort representing projections. Defaults increase by about 40% for the 1995-96 cohort between years 12 and 20 (rising from 18 to 26% of all borrowers). Even by year 20, the curve does not appear to have leveled off; it seems likely that if we could track outcomes even longer, the default rate would continue to rise. For the more recent cohort, default rates had already reached 27% of all borrowers by year 12. But based on the patterns observed for the earlier cohort, a simple projection indicates that about 38% of all borrowers from the 2003-04 cohort will have experienced a default by 2023.

Read more …

The reality of central banking.

3 Years After Currency Shock, Swiss Central Bank Can’t Get Back To Normal (R.)

Three years after the Swiss National Bank shocked currency markets by scrapping the franc’s peg to the euro, it faces the toughest task of any major central bank in normalising ultra-loose monetary policy. If it raises rates, the Swiss franc strengthens. If it sells off its massive balance sheet, the Swiss franc strengthens. If a global crisis hits, the Swiss franc strengthens. And the abrupt decision to scrap the currency peg on Jan. 15, 2015, means it still has credibility issues with financial markets. “The SNB will most probably be one of the last central banks to change course, and it will take years or even decades for monetary policy to return to ‘normal’,” said Daniel Rempfler, head of fixed income Switzerland at Swiss Life Asset Managers.

The Bank of Japan illustrated the problem of reducing expansive policy when a small cut to its regular bond purchases sent the yen and bond yields higher. The scrapping of the cap – which sought to keep the franc at 1.20 to the euro to protect exporters and ward off deflationary pressure – sent it soaring. On the day of the announcement it went to 0.86 francs buying a euro before easing in later days. Although it weakened last year, SNB Chairman Thomas Jordan said in December it was too early to talk about normalising policy. The SNB has to wait for the European Central Bank to start raising interest rates before it can start hiking its own policy rate from minus 0.75%.

If the SNB acted first, the spread between Swiss and European market rates would narrow, making Swiss investments more attractive and boosting the franc. The ECB has already scaled back its asset purchasing programme, which is expected to end this year, but more action may be someway off. Meanwhile, any attempt by the SNB to cut its balance sheet – which has ballooned to 837 billion francs ($861 billion) – will be hard because 94% of its investments are in foreign currencies, held via bonds and shares in companies such as Apple and Starbucks.

Read more …

The reality of Chinese borrowing.

China Vows to Toughen Rules on $38 Trillion Banking Industry

China’s banking regulator pledged to continue its crackdown on malpractice in the $38 trillion industry in 2018, vowing to tackle everything from poor corporate governance and violation of lending policies to cross-holdings of risky financial products. The China Banking Regulatory Commission unveiled its regulatory priorities for the year in a statement on Saturday. They include: • Inspecting the funding source of banks’ shareholders and ensuring they have obtained their stakes in a regular manner • Examining banks’ compliance with rules restricting loans to real estate developers, local governments, industries burdened by overcapacity, and some home buyers • Looking into banks’ interbank activities and wealth management businesses.

The statement comes after China’s financial regulators started 2018 with a flurry of rules to plug loopholes uncovered in last year’s deleveraging campaign, showcasing their determination to limit broader risks to the financial system. Still, analysts have warned that the moves will make it more difficult for companies to obtain financing from loans, equities and bonds and could undermine economic growth. The “CBRC’s regulatory storm continues” with the weekend announcement covering almost all aspects of banks’ daily operations, Bocom International analysts Jaclyn Wang and Hannah Han wrote in a note. “We believe challenges for smaller banks in the current regulatory environment remain high,” they wrote, noting that curbs on off-balance-sheet lending and interbank activities may drag on profitability.

Read more …

There’s no such thing as the reality of crypto.

Bitcoin Not Even In Top 10 Of Crypto World’s Best Performers (AFP)

Bitcoin may be the most famous cryptocurrency but, despite a dizzying rise, it’s not the most lucrative one and far from alone in a universe that counts 1,400 rivals, and counting. Dozens of crypto units see the light of day every week, as baffled financial experts look on, and while none can match Bitcoin’s €200 billion ($242 bilion) market capitalisation, several have left the media darling’s profitability in the dust. In fact, bitcoin is not even in the top 10 of the crypto world’s best performers. Top of the heap is Ripple which posted a jaw-dropping 36,000% rise in 2017 and early this year broke through the €100 billion capitalisation mark, matching the value of blue-chip companies such as, say, global cosmetics giant L’Oreal.

“Its value shot up when a newspaper said that around 100 financial institutions were going to adopt their system,” said Alexandre Stachtchenko, co-founder of specialist consulting group Blockchain Partners. Using Ripple’s technology framework, however, is not the same as adopting the currency itself, and so the Ripple’s rise should be considered as “purely speculative”, according to Alexandre David, founder of sector specialist Eureka Certification. Others point out that Ripple’s market penetration is paper-thin as only 15 people hold between 60 and 80% of existing Ripples, among them co-founder Chris Larsen. But it still got him a moment of fame when, according to Forbes magazine, Larsen briefly stole Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s spot as the fifth-wealthiest person in the US at the start of the year.

Ether is another rising star, based on the Ethereum protocol created in 2009 by a 19-year old programmer and seen by some specialists as a promising approach. Around 40 virtual currencies have now gone past the billion-euro mark in terms of capitalisation, up from seven just six months ago. The Cardano cryptocurrency’s combined value even hit €15 billion only three months after its creation. In efforts to stand out from the crowd, virtual currency founders often concentrate on the security of their systems, such as Cardano, which has made a major selling point of its system’s safety features.

Read more …

After having been given numerous gov’t contracts just to stay alive. Biy, that country is sick.

UK’s Carillion Files for Liquidation After Failing to Get Bailout (BBG)

Carillion, a U.K. government contractor involved in everything from hospitals to the HS2 high-speed rail project, has filed for compulsory liquidation after a last-ditch effort to shore up finances and get a government bailout failed. The company, which employs 43,000 people worldwide – 20,000 of them in the U.K. – had held talks with the government Sunday to ask for the 300 million pounds ($412 million) it needed by the end of the month to stay afloat, the Mail on Sunday reported. On Monday morning, the board of Carillion said in a statement it had “concluded that it had no choice but to take steps to enter into compulsory liquidation with immediate effect,” adding that it has obtained court approval for the move.

The challenge for liquidators and the government is now to ensure that the company’s break-up is orderly, with contracts and staff moved to rivals. For Prime Minister Theresa May, the collapse comes as opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn questions the longstanding British policy of getting private sector contractors to deliver public sector projects. “This is very worrying for a lot of groups,” Labour’s business spokeswoman Rebecca Long-Bailey told the BBC. “We expect the government to step up now and take these contracts back into government control. Where it’s possible to take those back in-house it should do.” She also questioned why the company had been awarded further government contracts despite issuing profit warnings.

[..] Carillion’s struggles posed a conundrum for May over the political cost of using public money to assist a private company, or allowing it to fail, putting public services and infrastructure projects nationwide in danger. The company has contracts with many wings of government, including building roads, managing housing for the armed services, and running facilities for schools and hospitals.

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Timber!

London Housing Woe Endures as Prices Drop to 2 1/2-Year Low (BBG)

The new year brought little cheer for London’s housing market with asking prices dropping to the lowest since August 2015. New sellers cut prices 1.4% in January to an average of 600,926 pounds ($821,500), according to a report by Rightmove on Monday. In a further concerning sign for the market, the average number of days required to sell a house jumped to the longest since January 2012, reaching 78 from 71 a month earlier. The report suggests 2018 won’t be any brighter for the capital’s housing market, which was the worst performing in the U.K. in 2017. Asking prices are down 3.5% from a year ago, according to the report, with the slowdown due to factors including an inflation squeeze, Brexit uncertainty and tax changes affecting landlords and owners of second homes.

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Now find the language that the people respond to.

Let’s Wrench Power Back From The Billionaires (Bernie Sanders)

[..] all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.

In the United States, Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon, and currently the world’s wealthiest person – has a net worth of more than $100bn. He owns at least four mansions, together worth many tens of millions of dollars. As if that weren’t enough, he is spending $42m on the construction of a clock inside a mountain in Texas that will supposedly run for 10,000 years. But, in Amazon warehouses across the country, his employees often work long, gruelling hours and earn wages so low they rely on Medicaid, food stamps and public housing paid for by US taxpayers. Not only that, but at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, people all over the world are losing their faith in democracy – government by the people, for the people and of the people.

They increasingly recognise that the global economy has been rigged to reward those at the top at the expense of everyone else, and they are angry. Millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages than they did 40 years ago, in both the United States and many other countries. They look on, feeling helpless in the face of a powerful few who buy elections, and a political and economic elite that grows wealthier, even as their own children’s future grows dimmer. In the midst of all of this economic disparity, the world is witnessing an alarming rise in authoritarianism and rightwing extremism – which feeds off, exploits and amplifies the resentments of those left behind, and fans the flames of ethnic and racial hatred.

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Typical? Sign of the times? Laurie Kellman and Jonathan Drew for AP prove their own point by pretending to write about Americans from all stripes losing faith in news media, but then turn it into a one-sided Trump hit piece anyway.

Trust in News Media Takes a Hit During Trump Presidency (AP)

When truck driver Chris Gromek wants to know what’s really going on in Washington, he scans the internet and satellite radio. He no longer flips TV channels because networks such as Fox News and MSNBC deliver conflicting accounts tainted by politics, he says. “Where is the truth?” asks the 47-year-old North Carolina resident. Answering that question accurately is a cornerstone of any functioning democracy, according to none other than Thomas Jefferson. But a year into Donald Trump’s fact-bending, media-bashing presidency, Americans are increasingly confused about who can be trusted to tell them reliably what their government and their commander in chief are doing. Interviews across the polarized country as well as polling from Trump’s first year suggest people seek out various outlets of information, including Trump’s Twitter account, and trust none in particular.

Many say that practice is a new, Trump-era phenomenon in their lives as the president and the media he denigrates as “fake news” fight to be seen as the more credible source. “It has made me take every story with a large grain, a block of salt,” said Lori Viars, a Christian conservative activist in Lebanon, Ohio, who gets her news from Fox and CNN. “Not just from liberal sources. I’ve seen conservative ‘fake news.'” Democrat Kathy Tibbits of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, reads lots of news sources as she tries to assess the accuracy of what Trump is reported to have said. “I kind of think the whole frontier has changed,” said the 60-year-old lawyer and artist. “My degree is in political science, and they never gave us a class on such fiasco politics.”

Though Trump’s habit of warping facts has had an impact, it’s not just him. Widely shared falsehoods have snagged the attention of world leaders such as Pope Francis and former President Barack Obama. Last year, false conspiracy theories led a North Carolina man to bring a gun into a pizza parlor in the nation’s capital, convinced that the restaurant was concealing a child prostitution ring. Just last week, after the publication of an unflattering book about Trump’s presidency, a tweet claiming that he is addicted to a TV show about gorillas went viral and prompted its apparent author to clarify that it was a joke. Trump has done his part to blur the lines between real and not. During the campaign, he made a practice of singling out for ridicule reporters covering his raucous rallies.

As president, he regularly complains about his news coverage and has attacked news outlets and journalists as “failing” and “fake news.” He’s repeatedly called reporters “the enemy of the people” and recently renewed calls to make it easier to sue for defamation. About 2 in 3 American adults say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current affairs, according to a Pew Research Center report last month. The survey found that Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say that “fake news” leaves Americans deeply confused about current events. Despite the concern, more than 8 in 10 feel very or somewhat confident that they can recognize news that is fabricated, the survey found.

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Greece will be monitored till 2060. I’m going to bet that’s not going to happen.

Outgoing EWG Chief Says Greece May Get Debt Relief With Conditions Attached (K.)

Greece could receive debt relief but with terms attached when its bailout program is concluded in August, according to the outgoing chief of the Eurogroup Working Group (EWG), Thomas Wieser. In an interview in Sunday’s Greek edition of Kathimerini, Wieser said that despite there being no discussion about post-bailout arrangements, he expects that debt relief would be granted conditionally. “If there should be further debt relief after the end of the program then it’s only logical there will be some kind of additional agreements.” His comments imply there will be no clean exit from the bailout program as envisioned in the government’s narrative. Greece’s post-bailout status was raised at last week’s EWG meeting in Brussels where, according to sources, the taboo issue of Greece debt relief was raised.

It was noted in the meeting that if there is to be debt relief, then questions regarding Greece’s post-bailout framework have to be addressed. According to EU regulations, bailout countries including Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus – as well as Greece in the near future – will be monitored until 75% of their loans have been repaid. This means in Greece’s case that it will be monitored until 2060. Wieser added that one of Greece’s biggest problems, which remains unresolved despite eight years of fiscal adjustment programs, is that it doesn’t lure foreign investments like other countries. “I still have the feeling that foreign direct investment is not welcomed in Greece as it is in many other countries,” Wieser said.

While adding that he has the feeling that many domestic rules and regulations over the last eight years have indeed changed, he bemoaned the fact that investments have not picked up. “I think it’s only very recently that international and national investors trust that Greece is finally approaching the time where it can stand on its own feet again financially and that it is not a huge risk to invest in its economy,” he said, adding that one of the main reasons that investors have been reluctant to do business in Greece is its justice system.

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Unlimited?

Berlin Worried EU Reform Will Boost Immigration Influx (DS)

The European Parliament is planning to amend the Dublin Regulation, which requires asylum seekers to register in the first European Union member state they set foot on. That state would also be responsible for processing these requests. The proposed amendment, however, could possible shift that responsibility to wherever any asylum seeker claims to have family in the EU. Under such a change, “Germany would have to accommodate significantly more asylum seekers,” said an Interior Ministry memo, quoted by Der Spiegel. Furthermore, any and all caps on refugees and immigrant intakes would be nullified. This would effectively render Germany’s decision to cap immigrations influxes at around 180,000 to 220,000 as agreed upon by the working groups aiming to form a new German government.

Germany has been struggling to form a new government since the Sept. 24th elections; however, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), their sister party the CSU and Social Democrat Party leader Martin Schultz have agreed to go into official coalition talks, now made harder by the proposed EU bill. The proposed reform of the Dublin Agreement was put forth last November and now has to be approved by the European Council, which is composed of every single member states’ government leaders. Despite Germany’s worries, given the circumstances, the proposal is not expected to have much support. Between the nations of Eastern Europe, who never wanted any immigration at all, and the ever-more skeptical western nations, as well as the ones in Southern Europe, such as Greece, Italy and Spain that became the frontlines of the crisis, the proposed reform is not guaranteed to pass.

While the exact number of people that have entered Europe since 2015 is unknown, it is estimated that it is about 2 to 3 million, with the United Nations Human Rights Commission reporting that tens of millions more are on the move, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. While Germany was probably Europe’s biggest supporter of asylum seekers and chain-migration, it now worries that it in particular will be negatively affected by what it sees as immigration on “an entirely different scale.” The German Interior Ministry noted that it was particularly worried by a section of the proposal that stated: “The mere assertion of a family connection was enough.” “As a result, a member state hosting many so-called ‘anchor persons’ will take over responsibility for far-reaching family associations.”

“If every one of the more than 1.4 million people who have applied for asylum in Germany since 2015 becomes an anchor for newcomers arriving in the EU, then we’re dealing with [numbers] on an entirely different scale compared to family reunifications,” said Ole Schröder, a parliamentary state secretary in Germany’s Interior Ministry.

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It only gets messier.

A New Refugee Flow To Europe: Turkish Refugees (AM)

This past November, three bodies were found washed ashore the Greek island of Lesbos. They were later identified as a Turkish husband and wife, Huseyin and Nur Maden, and one of their three children. The Madens were teachers in Turkey, but they were among the 150,000 civil servants dismissed from their jobs after the failed coup in July 2016. Some of those dismissed tried to flee to Greece to avoid arrest or find work. More than 12,000 Turks applied for asylum in Europe for the first time in 2017, according to Eurostat. This figure is triple what it was the year preceding the failed coup and is the highest it has been in the past decade. Since July 2016, Turkish authorities have arrested over 50,000 people, including journalists and intellectuals.

Around 150,000 Turks have both had their passports revoked and lost their jobs as police officers, soldiers, teachers and public servants. For some, the solution was to leave Turkey and find work in another country, where they could have a better life and avoid prosecution. With their passports revoked by the Turkish government, Turks prefer to go to Greece as opposed to other European countries since they can arrange transport by boat via smugglers. The journey from the Turkish coast to certain Greek islands can be short, distance-wise. “Turkish refugees [in Athens] are the most educated and intellectual segment of Turkish society,” said Murat, who fled Turkey for Greece after July 2016. “We can learn a new language or adapt to the culture in Europe really fast.”

Murat has been a member of the Gulen movement since 1994. He worked alongside his wife as a teacher in the Gulen schools in southeastern Turkey, but they were both dismissed from their jobs after the 2016 coup attempt, which the government claims was planned by the Gulen movement. Their children’s school was shut down after the coup attempt, and they were denied registration at a new school in their hometown due to their parent’s affiliation with the Gulen movement. “We tried to start over, but we were already marginalized in the community as ‘putschists,’” said Murat. “Our children were not accepted to schools, and finally, when 50 police arrived at our parent’s village to detain my wife, by chance we were not there. I sold my car within a week and with that money, we came to Greece.”

The Gulenists are not the only ones who have had to leave Turkey following the coup attempt. There are others, like Merve, 21, and her uncle Hasan. Merve was only 19 when she was arrested after the coup attempt and put in jail for a year. “I was studying philosophy in Tunceli and was part of a left-wing student organization at my university,” she said. “Now there are only two possibilities left for us Kurds in Turkey. If you don’t want to be jailed, you should either join the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] fighters or flee into exile.”

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Nope, there is no war on plastic. So we can’t be losing it either.

Why We’re Losing the War on Plastic (BBG)

T.V. naturalist Sir David Attenborough made his viewers weep last month with an exposé on how plastics are polluting the oceans, harming marine animals and fish. Last week, British prime minister Theresa May announced a slew of new measures to discourage plastics use, including plastic-free supermarket aisles and an expanded levy on plastic bags. A ban on microbeads in cosmetics came into force this year. Not to be outdone, the EU is mulling plastics taxes to cut pollution and packaging waste. Is this industry the new tobacco?It’s no wonder politicians feel compelled to act. About 60% of all the plastics produced either went to landfill or have been dumped in the natural environment. At current rates there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 by weight, much of it in the form of small particles, ingestible by wildlife and very difficult to remove.

Public awareness has increased in recent years, yet that hasn’t led to falling consumption. More than half of the total plastics production has occurred since the turn of the millennium. Producers such as DowDuPont, Exxon Mobil, LyondellBasell and Ineos, as well as packaging manufacturers like Amcor, Berry Global and RPC have been happy to meet that demand. They don’t plan on it ending suddenly. Plastic packaging is an almost $290 billion-a-year business and sales are forecast to expand by almost 4 percent a year until 2022, according to research firm Smithers Pira. Demand for polyethylene, the most used plastic, is set to rise at a similar rate, meaning total consumption will rise to 118 million metric tons in 2022, according to IHS Markit. In the U.S., the shale gas boom has encouraged the construction of new ethylene plants. Oil companies are counting too on rising plastics consumption to offset the spread of electric vehicles, as my colleague Julian Lee has explained.

The reasons for the bullishness are obvious. Growing populations, rising living standards and the march of e-commerce mean more demand. In developed countries, per capita polyethylene use is as much as 40 kg per person, whereas in poorer countries like India the figure is just one tenth of that, according to IHS Markit. Plastics are displacing materials like glass and paper because they tend to be cheap, lightweight and sturdy. That plastics don’t easily decompose is an asset – it prevents food going bad – as well as a liability for the natural environment. Cutting consumption will be difficult. While bioplastics are an alternative, they make up only about 1 percent of global plastics demand. Quality and cost issues have prevented wider adoption. “A lot of these materials aren’t really competitive in a world of low to mid oil prices,” says Sebastian Bray, analyst at Berenberg.

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Jul 222017
 
 July 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle July 22 2017


Jackson Pollock Pasiphae 1943

 

House of Cards (Paul Craig Roberts)
Deeply Flawed Western Economic Models Undermine Worst Recovery In History (CNBC)
Short Sellers Give Up as Stocks Run to New Records (WSJ)
Greed Is No Longer Good – Bond Boom Comes To An End (G.)
The Media’s War On Trump Is Destined To Fail. Why Can’t It See That? (Frank)
Goldman Sachs Boss Urges Long Brexit Transition. Is Anyone Listening? (Ind.)
US To Drop Criminal Charges In ‘London Whale’ Case (R.)
A Third Of Greeks At Risk Of Poverty As Athens Wants Return To Bond Market
No Surprises From IMF Report On Greek Debt (K.)
The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All (Robert Fisk)
EPA Will Allow Fracking Waste Dumping in the Gulf of Mexico (TO)
German Carmakers Colluded On Diesel Emissions For Decades (Qz)
Number Of Homeless Children In Temporary Accommodation in UK Rises 37% (G.)
Sicilian Mayor Moves To Block Far-Right Plan To Disrupt Migrant Rescues (G.)
All Hell Breaks Loose As The Tundra Thaws (G.)

 

 

PCR short and to the point. And don’t you ever forget it.

House of Cards (Paul Craig Roberts)

Despite unrealistic plots and weak characterization (except for Francis Urquhart), Michael Dobbs’ books, House of Cards, Play the King, and The Final Cut were best sellers that provided the basis for a long-running TV series. I haven’t seen the films, but I have read the books. I conclude that plot and characters are mere props for the didactic lesson of the novels: Democratic politics is concerned only with power and sex. Nothing else is in the picture. There is no such thing as a politician concerned with the people’s well being or capable of marital fidelity.

The media are as bad as the politicians. Female journalists use their bodies for access to power and become accomplices in political intrigues. Idealism is merely another vehicle used in the competition for power. I suspect the novels and TV series were popular because they expose politics for what it is. Politics serves only personal ambition. This is a lesson that liberals and progressives, who present government as a public-spirited alternative to private greed, need to learn. In showing politics in service to personal ambition, Dobbs is a master of truth despite his shortcoming as a novelist.

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Yeah, the future of the world depends on the definition of “tight”. Do you buy it?

Deeply Flawed Western Economic Models Undermine Worst Recovery In History (CNBC)

The Western economic system is deeply flawed with countries such as the U.S. and Britain contributing to the lowest quality economic recovery the world has ever seen, Chris Watling, chief executive of Longview Economics, told CNBC on Friday. “The economic model is deeply flawed and the system in the west is deeply flawed, particularly in the English speaking part of the world and it needs to change,” Watling said. “I think this is undoubtedly the lowest quality economic recovery we have seen globally… full stop,” he added. The Longview Economics CEO explained that a debt-laden global economy could be vulnerable to looming interest rate hikes. The Federal Reserve is on a course to gradually increase interest rates, with financial markets expecting it to approve one more rate hike this year.

In addition, other central banks are pulling the reins on bond-buying and other liquidity programs aimed at injecting cash into their respective economies. “This is a world that is more indebted than it was before the global financial crisis in 2007, there’s no productivity growth, asset prices are very elevated, a lot of debt that corporates have built up has gone to share buy backs (and) the number of ‘zombie companies’ has doubled since 2007,” Longview Economics’ CEO explained. In the U.S. alone, households have $14.9 trillion in debt while businesses owe $13.7 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.

Bond guru Bill Gross also warned that the course of global central banks toward tightening policy could be detrimental for the economic recovery. He argued that raising interest rates would increase the cost of short-term debt that corporations and individuals currently hold. When asked whether an imperfect system constituted a clear and present danger for the financial markets, Watling replied, “Whatever you want to call it doesn’t really matter but these sorts of things always unwind when you tighten money. The problem is judging what is tight? And that is sort of the million dollar question.”

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What are shorts worth in a world without price discovery? Shorts are there to chase off zombies. But central banks keep them alive.

Short Sellers Give Up as Stocks Run to New Records (WSJ)

Times are tough for skeptics of the bull market. Flummoxed by the endurance of a 2017 rally that produced its 27th S&P 500 record this week, investors are backing off bets that major indexes are headed downward. Bets against the SPDR S&P 500 exchange-traded fund, the largest ETF tracking the broad index, fell to $38.9 billion last week, the lowest level of short interest since May 2013, and remained near those levels this week, according to financial-analytics firm S3 Partners. Short sellers borrow shares and sell them, expecting to repurchase them at lower prices and collect the difference as profit. Bearish investors say they are scaling back on these bets not because their view of the market has fundamentally changed, but because it is difficult to stick to a money-losing strategy when it seems stocks can only go up.

They believe the market moves are at odds with an economy that remains lukewarm as it enters its ninth year of growth, stock valuations that are historically high and a delay of business-friendly policies in Washington like tax cuts and infrastructure spending. “There seems to be an overall view that people are invincible, that things will always go up, that there are no risks and no matter what goes on, no matter what foolishness is in play, people don’t care,” said Marc Cohodes, whose hedge fund focused on shorting stocks closed in 2008. Mr. Cohodes is now a chicken farmer based in California who is looking to get into goat herding in Canada. He shorts a handful of individual stocks personally, but isn’t focused on the broader market.

[..] The practice of shorting companies is also going by the wayside as stocks continue to notch records. Short-biased hedge funds had $4.3 billion in assets at the end of March, down from $7.1 billion at the end of 2013, according to HFR Inc. The difficulty for stock-market bears stems from a Goldilocks-like market environment, in which the economy is expanding fast enough to support corporate earnings, but slow enough for the Federal Reserve to keep rates relatively low. Years of low rates and easy-money policies have boosted stocks, defying forecasts for a steep, prolonged downturn. “The shorts have been frustrated now for quite a while,” said Scott Minerd, global chief investment officer at Guggenheim Partners, which has $260 billion in assets under management. The scenarios that might lead to a payout for market bears—an economic recession or a sharp rise in interest rates—don’t seem imminent, either, Mr. Minerd added.

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Sure, I believe you.

Greed Is No Longer Good – Bond Boom Comes To An End (G.)

City bond traders have put the champagne on ice. They had a good run. For some it lasted almost a year. But it’s over now and the “new normal” of low trading volumes and weak profits is reasserting itself. On Wall Street, Goldman Sachs took the biggest hit. This week the firm reported profits had plunged 40% in the second quarter on its bond, currency and commodities trading desks. All the other big names in the US investment banking world saw bond trading profits dive in the three months to the end of June, save for age-old Goldman rival Morgan Stanley, which restricted the loss to 4%. Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman boss who rose through the ranks of bond traders to the top job, was unlikely to be sanguine about the turn of events amid concerns that his bank suffered more than most for relying on out-of-favour hedge funds as clients.

Back in October 2016 the story was very different. Barclays was on a high after what it said was a summer bonanza for its bond traders, pushing quarterly profits to a two-year high. Likewise Goldman, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and JPMorgan were raking in the trades. Much of the reason for their optimism was a change of stance at the Federal Reserve. The US central bank signalled in late 2015 that the post-crash era of low inflation and low interest rates was coming to an end. To combat the threat of inflation, it would start to raise rates consistently through 2016 and 2017. This move put two trends in motion that spelled a big payday for the banks. First, the price of bonds started to fall, making them more attractive to buy. Second, not long afterwards, it became clear the other central banks were not going to follow suit in raising rates.

That broke seven years of agreement among the major central banks to hold interest rates at near zero as a way to boost economic activity. The Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan were still on board, but Janet Yellen at the Fed had broken away. Without a consistent story, investors in fixed-income securities, the jargon name for bonds, found themselves needing to back several horses. And investors demanded the banks buy and sell their securities more frequently as uncertainty translated into an ever-changing mood in the market. The main measure of volatility – the Vix index – was still well below the 2009 peak, but it was elevated in 2016. And traders make money in periods when uncertainty and confusion raise levels of volatility.

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Thomas Frank (re-)writes my article from a few weeks ago, Feeding Frenzy in the Echo Chamber.

The Media’s War On Trump Is Destined To Fail. Why Can’t It See That? (Frank)

These are the worst of times for the American news media, but they are also the best. The newspaper industry as a whole has been dying slowly for years, as the pathetic tale of the once-mighty Chicago Tribune reminds us. But for the handful of well funded journalistic enterprises that survive, the Trump era is turning out to be a “golden age” – a time of high purpose and moral vindication. The people of the respectable east coast press loathe the president with an amazing unanimity. They are obsessed with documenting his bad taste, with finding faults in his stupid tweets, with nailing him and his associates for this Russian scandal and that one. They outwit the simple-minded billionaire. They find the devastating scoops. The op-ed pages come to resemble Democratic fundraising pitches. The news sections are all Trump all the time. They have gone ballistic so many times the public now yawns when it sees their rockets lifting off.

A recent Alternet article I read was composed of nothing but mean quotes about Trump, some of them literary and high-flown, some of them low-down and cruel, most of them drawn from the mainstream media and all of them hilarious. As I write this, four of the five most-read stories on the Washington Post website are about Trump; indeed (if memory serves), he has dominated this particular metric for at least a year. And why not? Trump certainly has it coming. He is obviously incompetent, innocent of the most basic knowledge about how government functions. His views are repugnant. His advisers are fools. He appears to be dallying with obviously dangerous forces. And thanks to the wipeout of the Democratic party, there is no really powerful institutional check on the president’s power, which means that the press must step up.

But there’s something wrong with it all. The news media’s alarms about Trump have been shrieking at high C for more than a year. It was in January of 2016 that the Huffington Post began appending a denunciation of Trump as a “serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, birther and bully” to every single story about the man. It was last August that the New York Times published an essay approving of the profession’s collective understanding of Trump as a political mutation – an unacceptable deviation from the two-party norm – that journalists must cleanse from the political mainstream. It hasn’t worked. They correct and denounce; they cluck and deride and Trump seems to bask in it. He reflects this incredible outpouring of disapprobation right back at the press itself.

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Contemplating the horrors of bankers leaving your society.

Goldman Sachs Boss Urges Long Brexit Transition. Is Anyone Listening? (Ind.)

I’ve no fondness for wealthy bankers, but that doesn’t mean to say they aren’t sometimes right. An example of that is Goldman Sachs International chief executive Richard Gnodde, who has just entered the Brexit debate to urge a “significant” transition period. Mr Gnodde is currently pouring money down a bottomless pit labelled “Brexit Contingency Plans”. There aren’t many Britons who will feel all that much sympathy for him over that. That money pit will mean less is available for the bonuses he and his colleagues are so fond of. So tough luck. Trouble is, his masters in New York won’t see it that way. They will eventually say that’s enough of that, start moving your people over to Frankfurt. Actually, the process has already begun. Some jobs are moving over to Germany.

Still more are simply staying in New York, which, for all the scrambling being done by Frankfurt, and Paris, and Dublin, has quietly become the biggest winner from this whole sorry affair. There are many who would shrug some more. What do we lose by inconveniencing a few thousand wealthy bankers anyway. They don’t exactly contribute much to society. Well, they pay a lot of tax for starters. It’s also true that they should pay more. But that’s just another debate. Despite that, I have for years argued that London’s financial centre has played too central a role in the nation’s economy, and that it would be a good idea for the Government to pursue a more balanced economic approach rather than coddling it (as it did until recently).

The trouble is it is now happening at a dangerously fast pace and it is impossible to see, as things stand, quite what is going to replace those tax revenues, which contribute to things like the NHS, schools, roads without potholes, and any number of other things. There are also a lot of support staff who work for banks like Goldman in the City. They’re not rich, by any means, and they’re unlikely to be able to move like the bankers so they’ll just lose their jobs. If it’s unpalatable hearing about this from Mr Gnodde – as it will be to an awful lot of people – consider also that the CBI has said much the same thing as have most sensible, and even semi-sensible, businesses both in the square mile of the City of London and beyond.

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Everyone walks. Yawn.

US To Drop Criminal Charges In ‘London Whale’ Case (R.)

U.S. prosecutors have decided to drop criminal charges against two former JPMorgan Chase derivatives traders implicated in the “London Whale” trading scandal that caused $6.2 billion of losses in 2012. In seeking the dismissal of charges against Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout, the Department of Justice said it “no longer believes that it can rely on the testimony” of Bruno Iksil, a cooperating witness who had been dubbed the London Whale, based on recent statements he made that hurt the case. Prosecutors also said efforts to extradite Martin-Artajo and Grout, respectively citizens of Spain and France, to face the charges have been “unsuccessful or deemed futile.” Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan asked a federal judge for permission to drop charges that included securities fraud, wire fraud and falsifying records. Martin-Artajo and Grout were indicted in September 2013.

“After four long years of protracted litigation, we are very pleased that the government has decided to do the right thing, and dismiss the criminal case,” Grout’s lawyer, Edward Little, said. The dismissal request marks a fresh setback in U.S. efforts to prosecute individuals for financial crimes. This has included the undoing of several insider trading convictions and pleas that had been won by Kim’s predecessor Preet Bharara. It has also included this week’s overturning of the convictions of two former Rabobank NA traders for rigging the Libor interest rate benchmark. Martin-Artajo and Grout were accused of hiding hundreds of millions of dollars of losses within JPMorgan’s chief investment office (CIO) in London by marking positions in a credit derivatives portfolio at inflated prices.

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At risk of, you said? Weird that if you let investors and analysts discuss this, turns out they have no idea what’s really going on. But doesn’t that cluelessness hurt their investments. their clients?

A Third Of Greeks At Risk Of Poverty As Athens Wants Return To Bond Market

The Greek government might be preparing to return to the bond market but there are many structural problems that have yet to be resolved to make the economy more sustainable, an analyst told CNBC on Friday. Greece is currently on a third financial program since 2010, due to expire next year. According to James Athey, fixed income investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, despite the reforms implemented until now, “it still doesn’t seem we are particularly far down the road in solving the structural issues of Greece.” “Until the Greek economy has got a business model which works and it’s productive and it’s creating stable, secure growth that it’s not reliant on debt relief, external support and constantly bailouts from the Europeans, then it’s difficult to believe that the path is towards something more healthy rather than something less healthy,” Athey told CNBC on Friday.

The IMF agreed Thursday to make a loan of $1.8 billion to Greece as part of its current bailout program, but warned that the country will have to continue reforming in order to receive that money. Greece has to continue focusing on reducing the level of bad loans in its financial sector and extend labour market reform to liberalize Sunday trade and allow for collective dismissals, the fund said. However, with the bailout program due to end in 2018, Greece wants to come back to bond markets to show the rescue has been successful and the economy is able to fund itself. The government is studying when and how such a comeback will be more appropriate. Though Athens refuses to comment on this issue, it is widely expected that Greece will issue bonds next week.

The move is somewhat confusing given that Greek government bonds do not qualify for the ECB’s asset purchase program. They are considered junk by credit rating agencies, and thus cannot feature on the central bank’s balance sheet. When asked how Greece would convince investors to buy bonds if the ECB isn’t buying these assets, Athey said: “I don’t know.” “I guess from a Greek perspective it seems to be a window of opportunity, we’ve seen Greek yields have fallen fairly consistently throughout the year…the fact that Greece might come to market at what optically looks like an attractive yield for a Greek issuer must be tempting to them, especially considering that we are expecting the QE program to ultimately come to a conclusion over the next 6 to 12 months, they certainly would not want to wait until then,” he suggested.

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Absolute fantasy predictions. That’s the only way left to sell their stories. They all want Greece back in ‘markets’ before the next bailout expires next year.

No Surprises From IMF Report On Greek Debt (K.)

Bond markets responded calmly on Friday to the debt sustainability analysis (DSA) of the IMF, which found Greece’s debt exceptionally unsustainable, while deciding to participate in the Greek bailout program with 1.6 billion euros. The markets’ reaction allows for the government to issue the five-year bond as early as on Monday. The DSA reiterates that the eurozone’s commitments to secure the sustainability of the Greek debt are not sufficient. The IMF estimates the debt will slide to 160% of GDP in 2020 and to 150% in 230, before soaring to 190% in 2060. Servicing the debt will exceed 15% of GDP in 2028, reaching as high as 45% in 2060.

The Fund argues that the estimates of Athens and the eurozone on growth rates, primary surpluses and other parameters affecting the debt are optimistic and insists its own views are realistic, saying that Greece has historically been weak in implementing reforms and cannot support high primary surpluses for many years. It goes on to say that revenues from privatizations will not exceed €2 billion by 2030 and believes that the state will not collect any substantial funds from the sale of the bank shares it acquired in the last few share capital increases. It therefore calls on the eurozone to reach an agreement on a realistic strategy for easing Greece’s debt.

The IMF’s proposal for a new stress test on Greek banks and a fresh asset quality review were met with a clear dismissal on Friday by a ECB spokesman, who pointed to Frankfurt being the sole monitoring authority that decides on such issues. The strong ECB response was also addressed at the IMF’s estimate that Greek lenders will require fresh recapitalization to the tune of €10 billion. On Friday Standard & Poor’s stopped short of raising the country’s credit rating, affirming it at ‘B-,’ but pointed to an upcoming upgrade switching Greece’s outlook from stable into positive.

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How much longer? We know there are reports.

The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All (Robert Fisk)

Theresa May has oddly declined to comment on the reported arrest of the mini-skirted lass who was videotaped cavorting through an ancient Najd village this week, provoking unexpected roars of animalistic male fury in a kingdom known for its judicial leniency, political moderation, gender equality and fraternal love for its Muslim neighbours. May should, surely, have drawn the attention of the rulers of this normally magnanimous state to the extraordinarily uncharacteristic behaviour of the so-called religious police – hitherto regarded as extras in the very same kingdom’s growing tourism industry which is supported by its newly appointed peace-loving and forward-thinking young Crown Prince.

But of course, since May cannot possibly believe that a single person in this particular national entity would give even a riyal or a halfpenny to “terrorists” – of the kind who have been tearing young British lives apart in Manchester and London – she’s hardly likely to endanger the “national security” of said state by condemning the arrest of the aforementioned young lady. In any event, a woman so proper that she would not risk soiling her hands by greeting the distraught survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire has no business shedding even a “little tear” for middle class girls who upset what we must now call The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All. Or at least, we do not dare to speak its name.

It’s now a week since this extraordinary woman – our beloved May, not the cutie of Najd – declined to publish perhaps the most important, revelatory document in the history of modern “terrorism” on the grounds that to identify the men who are funding the killers running Isis, al-Qaeda, al-Nusrah and sundry other chaps, would endanger “national security”. Note that Amber Rudd, May’s amanuensis, intriguingly declined to specify whose “national security” was at risk. Ours? Or that of The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All – henceforth, for brevity’s sake, the KSA – which must surely be well aware which of its illustrious citizens (peace-loving, moderate, gender-equalised, etc) have been sending their lolly to the Isis lads.

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If you read carefully, you see that it’s all been a mess for many years. The only difference is Trump doesn’t try to hide that.

EPA Will Allow Fracking Waste Dumping in the Gulf of Mexico (TO)

As the Trump administration moves to gut Obama-era clean water protections nationwide, an environmental group is warning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its draft pollution discharge permit for offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico violates clean water laws because it allows operators to dump fracking chemicals and large volumes of drilling wastewater directly into the Gulf. In a recent letter to the agency, the Center for Biological Diversity told the EPA that the dumping of drilling wastewater – which can contain fracking chemicals, drilling fluids and pollutants, such as heavy metals – directly into Gulf waters is unacceptable and prohibited under the Clean Water Act.

Under current rules established by the Obama administration, offshore oil and gas platforms can discharge well-treatment chemicals and unlimited amounts of “produced waters” from undersea wells directly into the Gulf as long as operators perform toxicity tests a few times a year and monitor for “sheens” on the water’s surface. About 75 billion gallons of produced water were dumped in the Gulf in 2014 alone, according to EPA records. Offshore fracking, which typically involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into undersea wells to improve the flow of oil and gas, has rapidly expanded in the Gulf of Mexico over the past decade.

The latest draft of the pollution discharge permit, which was largely prepared under the Obama administration, would require drillers to collect information on the fracking chemicals they dump overboard. Regulators want to know what these chemicals are; their catalogue of offshore fracking chemicals has not been updated since 2001, despite advancements in technology.

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Here’s real collusion for you: “special committees of up to 200 employees”. It wasn’t just software, they also agreed to use too small versions of the ‘tanks’ that clean emissions. Now VW is talking, trying to get its own fines diminished.

Oh, and you think nobody in government ever knew about this? Prediction: Merkel will push EU into lower fines. Prediction 2: they will comply.

German Carmakers Colluded On Diesel Emissions For Decades (Qz)

German magazine Der Spiegel reports that the country’s powerful automakers have been meeting in secret since the 1990s—and their joint decisions on dealing with diesel emissions may have laid the groundwork for Volkswagen’s massive emissions-cheating scandal. According to Der Spiegel, VW admitted to German authorities that it may have engaged in “anti-competitive behavior” with rivals BMW and Daimler via special committees of up to 200 employees that set prices, agreed on suppliers, and engaged in other forms of coordination. One major topic of the meetings was how to manage emissions from diesel engines. The result, as we now know in Volkswagen’s case, was the installation of emissions-cheating software, which was uncovered by American regulators in 2015 and has cost the automaker dearly since.

Daimler tried to get ahead of things this week by recalling 3 million diesel vehicles in Europe for a free emissions-system alteration. Audi followed suit today, with a similar offer to “improve emissions behavior” for 850,000 cars. Spiegel says that German regulators discovered signs of an illegal agreement between the automakers this summer, when they were investigating Volkswagen on suspicion that carmakers were fixing the price of steel. Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW declined to comment on the Spiegel report, with the latter two calling it “speculation.” Germany’s automakers are anxious as a backlash against diesel motors gathers pace. Several European cities—including Stuttgart, the home of Porsche—have called for a ban on diesel cars, which accounted for around 47% of cars sold in Europe’s five biggest markets in the second quarter of this year.

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Nice society you got there. Britain’s way overdue for a complete make-over.

Number Of Homeless Children In Temporary Accommodation in UK Rises 37% (G.)

Councils across England are housing the equivalent of an extra secondary school of pupils per month as the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation soars, according to local government leaders. The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils are providing temporary housing for around 120,540 children with their families – a net increase of 32,650 or 37% since the second quarter of 2014. It said the increase equates to an average of 906 extra children every month. The LGA said placements in temporary accommodation can present serious challenges for families, from parents’ employment and health to children’s ability to focus on school studies and form friendships. The LGA, which represents 350 councils across England, said the extra demand is increasing the pressure on local government.

It said councils need to be able to build more “genuinely affordable” homes and provide the support that reduces the risk of homelessness. This means councils being able to borrow to build and to keep 100% of the receipts of any home they sell to reinvest in new and existing housing, the LGA said. Council leaders are also calling for access to funding to provide settled accommodation for families that become homeless. Martin Tett, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said: “When councils are having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of pupils every month, and the net cost for councils of funding for temporary accommodation has tripled in the last three years, it’s clear the current situation is unsustainable for councils, and disruptive for families.

“Councils are working hard to tackle homelessness, with some truly innovative work around the country – and we now need the Government to support this local effort by allowing councils to invest in building genuinely affordable homes, and taking steps to adapt welfare reforms to ensure housing remains affordable for low-income families.”

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EU policies bring the vermin our of the woodwork.

Sicilian Mayor Moves To Block Far-Right Plan To Disrupt Migrant Rescues (G.)

A Sicilian mayor is seeking to block a ship chartered by a group of far-right activists attempting to disrupt migrant rescues in the Mediterranean. Enzo Bianco, the mayor of Catania, has urged authorities in the port city on the island’s east coast to deny docking rights to C-Star, a 40-metre vessel hired by Generation Identity, a movement made up of young, anti-Islam and anti-immigration activists from across Europe, for its sea mission to stop migrants entering Europe from Libya. The ship is expected to arrive on Saturday, and the group intends to launch its mission next week. “I’ve told [the relevant] authorities that allowing the ship to dock in our port would be very dangerous for public order,” Bianco said in a statement to the Guardian.

“I also consider it to be a provocation by those involved, with their sole purpose being to fuel conflict by pouring fuel on the fire.” Under a vigilante scheme called “Defend Europe”, the activists crowdfunded more than €75,000 (£67,000) to hire the boat. In a “trial run” two months ago, the ship successfully intercepted a charity rescue ship off Sicily. The activists’ aim is to expose what they claim to be wrongdoing by “criminal” NGO search and rescue vessels, which they accuse of working with people smugglers to transport illegal immigrants to Europe. They also plan to disrupt the work of the crews by calling the Libyan coastguard and asking them to take migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean back to war-torn Libya.

Anti-racism groups across Sicily have also urged authorities to take action against the group, to prevent them interfering in the life-saving missions. “Sicily is a place where every family has an emigration story,” Bianco said. “In recent years we have welcomed thousands of people fleeing from war and hunger, people who were saved from dying in the Mediterranean by European vessels, and those who have lost one or more family members crossing the sea. Talking about ‘defending Europe’ is not just demagogic, it’s unworthy.”

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“Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people.”

All Hell Breaks Loose As The Tundra Thaws (G.)

Strange things have been happening in the frozen tundra of northern Siberia. Last August a boy died of anthrax in the remote Yamal Peninsula, and 20 other infected people were treated and survived. Anthrax hadn’t been seen in the region for 75 years, and it’s thought the recent outbreak followed an intense heatwave in Siberia, temperatures reaching over 30C that melted the frozen permafrost. Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people. More recently, a huge explosion was heard in June in the Yamal Peninsula. Reindeer herders camped nearby saw flames shooting up with pillars of smoke and found a large crater left in the ground.

Melting permafrost was again suspected, thawing out dead vegetation and erupting in a blowout of highly flammable methane gas. Over the past three years, 14 other giant craters have been found in the region, some of them truly massive – the first one discovered was around 50m (160ft) wide and about 70m (230ft) deep, with steep sides and debris spread all around. There have also been cases of the ground trembling in Siberia as bubbles of methane trapped below the surface set the ground wobbling like an airbed. Even more dramatic, setting fire to methane released from frozen lakes in both Siberia and Alaska causes some impressive flames to erupt. Methane is of huge concern. It is more than 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and a massive release of methane in the Arctic could pose a significant threat to the global climate, driving worldwide temperatures even higher.

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May 102017
 
 May 10, 2017  Posted by at 3:32 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Ray K. Metzker Philadelphia 1962

 

You might have thought, and hoped, that recent events, such as the election of Trump as president of the US, or Brexit, or the rise of Marine Le Pen and other non-establishment forces in Europe, would, as a matter of -natural- course, have led to increased conversation and discussion between parties, entities, whose divisions were material in sparking these events.

But the opposite has happened, and continues to happen at an ever faster and fiercer pace. Various sides of various divides become ever more deaf to what other sides have to say. What still poses as conversation turns into blame games and shouting matches replete with innuendo, fake news and insinuations.

The mainstream media even find they are to an extent redeemed by this -at least financially-. Formerly last-gasp ‘news sources’, suffering from the advent of the interwebs, like the New York Times, CNN, HuffPo and WaPo, as well as Fox, Breitbart on the other side, and many others, have seen their reader- and viewerships expand over the past year as they turned into increasingly impenetrable echo chambers.

They may be losing a lot of potential attention -and revenues- from one side of the -former- debate, but that is more than made up for by rising attention from their faithful flocks. The public feel they need to have an opinion on political matters, and the media are more than willing to define, construct and phrase that opinion for them, to first confirm what people already think, and then raise it a notch or two, or three, or ten.

It works like a charm, and their finance people are looking at the numbers saying: whatever it is you guys do, keep on doing it and add some more, because we’re selling like hotcakes. Still, at least some of the writers must be wondering what exactly it is they’re doing, wondering how to define ‘journalism’ in this day and age.

All this represents a giant loss, one that not a single democracy can arguably tolerate for long, even if few of us seem to care. In democracies, it’s essential that people who do not agree, talk to each other, and do so all the time. The end of that conversation spells the end of democracy.

 

If anything in the future is revealed about a possible -political- connection between Trump and Russia, it will be gravely tainted by the fact that so much opinion posing as news, and so much news that was not real news, has been published about that possible connection already over the past year and change, without any evidence. The WaPo’s and HuffPo’s of the world will not even be vindicated by such a potential revelation anymore, because they lowered their journalistic levels to match those of the National Enquirer.

But even writing down something as neutral as that last paragraph is prone to lead to demonization from all kinds of ‘sources’. The Russian hack story has embedded itself so profoundly in certain corners of American and European society that it can no longer be denied or even questioned without being interpreted as suspect, if not an outright admission of guilt. All you need to know is there once was PropOrNot and its list of alleged 200 Russian propaganda sites.

It doesn’t matter how often Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov and spokeswoman Maria Zakharova ask for proof of the accusations, because for a large and influential segment of western mainstream media that is a phase that has long since been passed. There is such an all-encompassing conviction that Russia hacked and otherwise influenced western elections that no proof is deemed necessary.

Or rather, the idea has taken on such a life of its own that things are taken to have been proven that never were. “News’, just like advertizing, has to a large extent become based on the concept of relentless repetition. Say something often enough and people will believe it, certainly when it confirms what they were looking to have confirmed to begin with. If the echo chambers fit enough lost souls, before you know it nobody asks for proof anymore.

 

It’s not about whether Trump is or has ever been guilty of anything he’s accused of, it’s that the insinuating narratives about that have long been written and repeated ad nauseam. It’s about whether the witch hunt exemplified by PropOrNot makes objective news gathering impossible. And the only possible response to that question must be affirmative. If only because you can’t tell one type of ‘news’ from the other anymore.

The MSM have focused on getting Hillary elected, and they failed miserably. So did she, of course, it wasn’t just them. A failure they attempt to hide from view behind a veil of never-ending anti-Russian stories that even now they still can’t prove. Which is where the FBI comes in. Sure, some of it may yet prove to be true, but even if that is so, that’s in the future, not today.

Does Trump deserve being resisted? It certainly looks that way much of the time. But he should be resisted with facts, not innuendo of yellow paper quality. That destroys the media, and the media are needed to maintain a democracy. That is both their task and their responsibility. They exist to inform people, but have instead turned into opinion-fabricating machines. Both because that expresses the opinions of their ownership, and because it’s commercially more attractive.

Take a step back and oversee the picture, and you’ll find that Trump is not the biggest threat to American democracy, the media are. They have a job but they stopped doing it. They have turned to smearing, something neither the NYT nor the WaPo should ever have stooped to, but did.

 

Democracy is not primarily under threat from what one party does, or the other, or a third one, it is under threat because parties have withdrawn themselves into their respective echo chambers from which no dialogue with other parties is possible, or even tolerated.

None of this is to say that there will be no revelations about some ties between some Russian entities or persons and some Trump-related ones. Such ties are entirely possible, and certainly on the business front. Whether that has had any influence on the American presidential election is a whole other story though. And jumping to conclusions because it serves your political purposes is, to put it mildly, not helping.

The problem is that so much has been said and printed on the topic that was unsubstantiated, that if actual ties are proven, that news will be blurred by what was insinuated before. You made your bed, guys.

A lot of sources today talk about how Trump was reportedly frustrated with the constant focus on the alleged Russia ties, but assuming those allegations are not true, and remember nothing has been proven after a year of echo-chambering, isn’t it at least a little understandable that he would be?

Comey was already compromised from 10 different angles, and many wanted him gone, though not necessarily at the same time . The same Democrats, and their media, who now scream murder because he was fired, fell over themselves clamoring for his resignation for months. That does not constitute an opinion, it’s the opposite of one: you can’t change your view of someone as important as the FBI director every day and twice on Sundays without losing credibility.

And yes, many Republicans played similar games. It’s the kind of game that has become acceptable in the Washington swamp and the media that report on it. And many of them also protest yesterday’s decision. Ostensibly, it all has to do not with the fact that Comey was fired, but with the timing. Which in turn would be linked to the fact that the FBI is investigating Trump.

But what’s the logic there? That firing Comey would halt that investigation? Why would that be true? Why would a replacement director do that? Don’t FBI agents count for anything? And isn’t the present investigation itself supposed to be proof that there is proof and/or strong suspicion of that alleged link between Russia and the Trump election victory? Wouldn’t those agents revolt if a new director threw that away with the bathwater?

Since we still run on ‘innocent until proven guilty’, perhaps it’s a thought to hold back a little, but given what we’ve seen since, say, early 2016, that doesn’t look like an option anymore. The trenches have been dug.

These are troubled times, but the trouble is not necessarily where you might think it is. America has an undeniable political crisis, and a severe one, but that’s not the only crisis.