Jun 192019
 


Pablo Picasso The circus 1933

 

The Fed Just Released a Damning Indictment of Capitalism (NYMag)
Russia to US: Drop Middle East Troop Plan And Stop Provoking Iran (R.)
Iran At The Center Of The Eurasian Riddle (Escobar)
The Sino-Russian Masterplan To End US Dominance In Middle East (Bodansky)
Russia, China, Block US Effort To Halt North Korea Fuel Deliveries (AFP)
US Lawmakers Call For Facebook To Pause Cryptocurrency Project (R.)
Japan Exports Slide For 6th Straight Month (R.)
Japanese Businesses See Economy Peaking Out, Want More Stimulus (R.)
The Truth vs Your Truth (Jim Kunstler)
Canada Approves Contentious Oil Pipeline Expansion (R.)
Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada (CP)
Canadian Permafrost Thaws 70 Years Early (R.)

 

 

“The fundamental challenge in combating inequality is that wealth begets more wealth.”

The Fed Just Released a Damning Indictment of Capitalism (NYMag)

In 2011, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University published a study on Americans’ views of how wealth was distributed in their society, and how they felt it should be distributed. They found that, in the average American’s ideal world, the richest 20 percent would own 32 percent of national wealth. In reality, the top quintile owned 84 percent as of 2011. And that share has grown in the intervening years. Today, the one percent alone commands roughly 40 percent of all America’s wealth. Given all this, any politician who insists that American capitalism is “already great” is clearly a far-right extremist whose indifference to inequality puts him or her wildly out of step with ordinary people. But is it the case that Warren and Sanders would take things too far in the other direction?

Not remotely. I do not have the relevant data or skills to project precisely how the full implementation of either candidate’s agenda would influence America’s wealth distribution. But neither candidate is calling for a series of reforms that would place the United States far outside the Western European norm. In fact, both Warren and Sanders have cribbed their signature policies from European nations. As the 2018 World Inequality Report demonstrated, policy choices do matter — and income inequality is much lower in Western Europe than it is in the U.S.

But even Scandinavia’s social democracies feature far more inequitable distributions of wealth than Americans think to be fair, according to Ariely and Norton’s survey. What’s more, it will take a lot of redistribution just to prevent America’s current wealth gap from growing even larger. The fundamental challenge in combating inequality is that wealth begets more wealth. Those who can afford to invest in bonds get to collect annual interest payments; those who invest in stocks or real estate typically see their capital assets annually appreciate. Thus, most years, our nation’s collective capital stock directs loads of passive income to America’s wealthiest citizens.

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Things are shifting. And not a little bit.

Russia to US: Drop Middle East Troop Plan And Stop Provoking Iran (R.)

Russia told the United States on Tuesday to drop what it called provocative plans to deploy more troops to the Middle East and to cease actions that looked like a conscious attempt to provoke war with Iran. The comments, from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to Russian news agencies, followed an announcement from Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan a day earlier who said Washington planned to send around 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for defensive purposes. President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Iran would not wage war against any nation and the Kremlin called for restraint from all sides.


Ryabkov told reporters that Moscow had repeatedly warned Washington and its regional allies about what he called the “unthinking and reckless pumping up of tensions in an explosive region.” “Now what we see are unending and sustained U.S. attempts to crank up political, psychological, economic and yes military pressure on Iran in quite a provocative way. They (these actions) cannot be assessed as anything but a conscious course to provoke war,” Ryabkov was cited as saying. If Washington did not want war it had to show it, he said. “If that’s really how it is then the U.S. should step back from reinforcing its military presence,” said Ryabkov.

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“Xi was adamant; Beijing will keep developing ties with Tehran “no matter how the situation changes”.

Iran At The Center Of The Eurasian Riddle (Escobar)

With the dogs of war on full alert, something extraordinary happened at the 19th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) late last week in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Virtually unknown across the West, the SCO is the foremost Eurasian political, economic and security alliance. It’s not a Eurasian NATO. It’s not planning any humanitarian imperialist adventures. A single picture in Bishkek tells a quite significant story, as we see China’s Xi, Russia’s Putin, India’s Modi and Pakistan’s Imran Khan aligned with the leaders of four Central Asian “stans”. These leaders represent the current eight members of the SCO. Then there are four observer states – Afghanistan, Belarus, Mongolia and, crucially, Iran – plus six dialogue partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and, crucially, Turkey.

The SCO is bound to significantly expand by 2020, with possible full membership for both Turkey and Iran. It will then feature all major players of Eurasia integration. Considering the current incandescence in the geopolitical chessboard, it’s hardly an accident a crucial protagonist in Bishkek was the ‘observer’ state Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani played his cards masterfully. Rouhani speaking directly to Putin, Xi, Modi and Imran, at the same table, is something to be taken very seriously. He blasted the US under Trump as “a serious risk to stability in the region and the world”. Then he diplomatically offered preferential treatment for all companies and entrepreneurs from SCO member nations committed to investing in the Iranian market.

[..] Xi was adamant; Beijing will keep developing ties with Tehran “no matter how the situation changes”. Iran is a key node of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It’s clear for the leadership in Tehran that the way forward is full integration into the vast, Eurasia-wide economic ecosystem. European nations that signed the nuclear deal with Tehran – France, Britain and Germany – can’t save Iran economically.

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“..advance negotiations with all key oil producers – including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran – on substituting the petrodollar with a basket of currencies where the yuan, the euro and the ruble dominate.”

The Sino-Russian Masterplan To End US Dominance In Middle East (Bodansky)

Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s early June 2019 summit in Moscow with People’s Republic of China (PRC) Pres. Xi Jinping seems likely to have a disproportionate influence on the next phases of the crises unfolding in the greater Middle East, and therefore on the future of the region. The escalating confrontation between Iran and the US is both influencing and influenced by the mega-trends set by Russia and the PRC. Although the key meetings took place on June 5, 2019, the seeds of the new joint strategy were already planted during the May 13, 2019, summit in Sochi between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. They went over all the key topics in preparation for the Putin-Xi summit.

On June 5, 2019, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in Moscow and decided to not only markedly upgrade the bilateral relations and alliance of their countries, but to use the new relations in order to shape the long-term posture of the entire Eastern Hemisphere in their favor. Emphasis was to be put on the Eurasian Sphere (the Kremlin’s high priority) and the New Silk Road (the Forbidden City’s high priority), as well as the Korean Peninsula which is most important for both. One of the first major confrontations with the US by Russia and the PRC was to be over the greater Middle East. The main reason was the advance negotiations with all key oil producers – including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran – on substituting the petrodollar with a basket of currencies where the yuan, the euro and the ruble dominate.

Using the currency basket would enable the sellers and buyers to go around the US-imposed sanctions and quotas. Indeed, Beijing and Moscow were now enticing the oil producers with huge, long-term export deals which were both financially lucrative and politically tempting by offering guarantees for the well-being of the participating governments. The crux of the proposal is regional and includes flagrant disregard of the US sanctions on Iran. However, the key to the extent of the commitment of both Beijing and Moscow lies in the growing importance and centrality of the New Silk Road via Central Asia. Persia had a crucial rôle in the ancient Silk Road, and both the PRC and Russia now expect Iran to have a comparable key rôle in the New Silk Road.

The growing dominance of heritage-based dynamics throughout the developing world, including the greater Central Asia and the greater Middle East, makes it imperative for the PRC to rely on historic Persia/Iran as a western pole of the New Silk Road. It is this realization which led both Beijing and Moscow to give Tehran, in mid-May 2019, the original guarantees that Washington would be prevented from conducting a “regime change”.

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Hands off Iran. Hands off Korea.

Russia, China, Block US Effort To Halt North Korea Fuel Deliveries (AFP)

Russia and China on Tuesday blocked an American initiative that aimed to halt fuel deliveries to North Korea, which Washington accuses of exceeding its annual ceiling for 2019, diplomatic sources said. Moscow and Beijing said more time was needed to study the US request, which was backed by 25 UN members including Japan, France and Germany, according to the sources. A week ago, the United States, in a report, accused North Korea of breaching the United Nations-imposed ceiling on fuel imports by carrying out dozens of ship-to-ship transfers this year.


The cap on fuel imports is among a series of tough sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests. The United States insists that “maximum pressure” from the sanctions must remain on North Korea until it agrees to dismantle its weapons program. Washington had asked that a United Nations sanctions committee rule that the annual cap of 500,000 barrels had been exceeded and order all countries to halt fuel deliveries. Countries on the sanctions committee, including Russia and China, had until Tuesday to raise objections to the request to cut off fuel shipments to North Korea.

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They simply don’t understand.

US Lawmakers Call For Facebook To Pause Cryptocurrency Project (R.)

Maxine Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said Facebook should halt development of the product, dubbed Libra, until Congress and regulators can review the issue, and called on company executives to testify before Congress. “Facebook has data on billions of people and has repeatedly shown a disregard for the protection and careful use of this data,” she said in a statement. “With the announcement that it plans to create a cryptocurrency, Facebook is continuing its unchecked expansion and extending its reach into the lives of its users.” Her comments came after Representative Patrick McHenry, the senior Republican on her panel, also sought a hearing on Facebook’s new initiative. A Facebook representative said the company looked forward to answering lawmakers’ questions.


Facebook’s announcement was met with immediate backlash from U.S. lawmakers and regulators across the globe, who are concerned that Facebook is already too massive and careless with users’ privacy. “Facebook is already too big and too powerful, and it has used that power to exploit users’ data without protecting their privacy. We cannot allow Facebook to run a risky new cryptocurrency out of a Swiss bank account without oversight,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, in a statement. [..] French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for more regulation of tech companies. “This instrument for transactions will allow Facebook to collect millions and millions of data, which strengthens my conviction that there is a need to regulate the digital giants,” he said in an interview on Europe 1 radio.

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Meanwhile, Japan is sinking.

Japan Exports Slide For 6th Straight Month (R.)

Japan’s exports fell for a sixth straight month in May as China-bound shipments of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and car parts weakened, in a sign of a deteriorating outlook for growth as the trade-reliant economy faces persistent pressure from slowing external demand. Sluggish exports have been a source of concern among Japanese policymakers, especially as a bruising U.S.-China tariff war has upended supply chains and hit global growth, trade and investment.


“The business sentiment of Japanese firms, and in particular exporters, is falling depending on the extent of U.S.-China trade tensions, and that will suppress exporters’ capital expenditure,” said Hiroshi Miyazaki, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “I think that will be a negative for Japan’s economy.” Ministry of Finance (MOF) data showed on Wednesday that exports declined 7.8% in May from a year earlier, down for the sixth straight month. The fall in shipments compared with a 7.7% annual decrease expected by economists in a Reuters poll, and followed a 2.4% year-on-year fall in April.

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But the BOJ already owns half the country…

Japanese Businesses See Economy Peaking Out, Want More Stimulus (R.)

Japan’s economy is likely to stop expanding this year and into next with the Sino-U.S. trade war and a planned sales tax hike expected to crimp activity, a Reuters poll of Japanese companies found, with most calling for fresh stimulus to prop up growth. The gloomy outlook suggests that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reflationary policy mix, known as “Abenomics”, is sputtering. “A combination of the U.S.-China trade friction and the tax hike in October will almost certainly tip Japan into recession,” an electric machinery maker wrote in the monthly survey.The Corporate Survey found 42% of respondents see the economy contracting into next year, while 52% believe growth will remain stagnant.


Just 5% foresee it expanding, the June 4-13 poll showed. China and United States, the world’s two largest economies, have been locked in a tit-for-tat tariff war for nearly a year, which has curbed global trade and upended supply chains, pressuring Japan’s exports and factory output. Some 55% of Japanese firms said harsher U.S. punitive tariffs against China were affecting their business profits, with much higher proportions of transport machinery firms and chemicals makers taking a hit, the Reuters Corporate Survey showed. [..] To keep the economy from faltering, nearly two-thirds of companies called for fresh stimulus, with a quarter of respondents wanting an individual income tax cut and nearly as many demanding the government postpone the sales tax hike.

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“..America is too far gone intellectually to sort all this out.”

The Truth vs Your Truth (Jim Kunstler)

America’s relationship with authority is in grievous disrepair with Robert Mueller as exhibit-A — a would-be Moses-like figure, only with feet of clay and a head rotting like the proverbial fish of institutional corruption. He announced in his May 29th “news conference” — in which he refused to entertain questions — that he preferred not to testify in any further inquiries about his Special Counsel investigation. What a cheeky fellow! It was, perhaps, a message to Reps. Nadler, Schiff, and comrades on the various congressional committees to (hint hint) not even bother calling him. But Mr. Mueller was, after all, a mere employee of the US Department of Justice, not a herald of God Almighty.

I rather imagine that the Attorney General, Mr. Barr, has a few additional questions he would like to ask his “old friend.” Will Mr. Mueller, this Greta Garbo of jurisprudence, coyly demur? And on what basis, exactly? I don’t think he can get away with it. The complexities of RussiaGate make all previous government scandals look as simple as Pin the Tail on the Donkey. The Internet will prove to be both its doing and its undoing. The much abused and perverted official “truths” of the matter were amplified by the Internet. And, of course, these “truths” were enlisted in service of Mrs. Clinton and the rogue bureaucracy looking to defend her (and themselves) at all costs. The cost turns out to be the dismemberment of thinking itself in America.

It is now taken for granted that anyone who persists in thinking for him/her/zheself will be tossed out of the Internet’s large “social media” arenas in Mark Zuckerberg’s and Jack Dorsey’s quest to purify history. They will not succeed. But they have certainly succeeded in needlessly antagonizing Russia, shoving foreign policy debate into sequestered game rooms that are at once halls-of-mirrors and echo chambers, and making the world a much more dangerous place. There is also a pretty fair percentage chance that America is too far gone intellectually to sort all this out.

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Justin trying to lose the next election.

Canada Approves Contentious Oil Pipeline Expansion (R.)

Canada on Tuesday approved as expected a hotly contested proposal to expand the western Canadian crude oil pipeline it bought last year, providing hope for a depressed energy industry but angering environmental groups. Construction on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is scheduled to resume this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference. A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said earlier that Ottawa expected legal challenges to the approval. The project would triple Trans Mountain’s capacity to carry 890,000 barrels per day from Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia’s Pacific coast, alleviate congestion on existing pipelines and diversify exports away from the United States.


Trudeau, who faces a tough fight in a national election scheduled for October, has been under pressure both from western Canadian politicians who accuse him of doing too little for the oil industry, and from environmental groups, which see the oil sands as a highly polluting source of crude production. “This isn’t an either/or proposition. It is in Canada’s national interest to protect our environment and invest in tomorrow, while making sure people can feed their families today,” he said, adding he knew some people would be disappointed.

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Make Canada a colony again.

Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada (CP)

As we know, big lies can run free across borders with few joining the dots. For example, no media reports that China’s growing dispute with Canada is based on Canada’s enforcement of the Trump administration’s unilateral and illegal embargo against oil-competitor Iran. A cynical reply is that this is predictable. Canada attacks any designated US Enemy in junior partnership with global corporate command. But this time there is a new twist. Canada is attacking itself without knowing it. A US Big-Oil backed juggernaut of Conservative provincial governments and the federal Opposition are well advanced in a Canada campaign to reverse longstanding parliamentary decisions, environmental laws, climate action initiatives, Supreme Court directions, first-nations negotiations, and bring down the government of Canada.

Yet no-one in public or media circles has joined the dots. Canada’s vast tar-sands deposits are world famous as surpassing Saudi Arabia oil-field capacities in total barrels of potential yield. Great Canada! Yet few notice that over two-thirds of the entire tar-sands operations are owned by foreign entities sending their profits out of Canada, and almost all its raw product is controlled for refining and sale in the US. What is especially kept out of the daily news is the incendiary fact that the infamous, election-interfering and oft-EPA-convicted Koch brothers have a dominant stake in the toxic crude of the Alberta tar-sands seeking a massive BC-pipeline out to their US refineries.

Koch-owned industries have already extracted countless billions of their near $100-billion fortune from the tar-sands and deployed their well-known voter-manipulations to change the balance of power in Canada as they have done in the US. The objective is the same in both cases – ever more tax-free, publicly subsidized and state-enforced control by US Big Oil of Alberta’s massive oil resources with no government regulations or interferences in the way.

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Methane. Running around my brain.

Canadian Permafrost Thaws 70 Years Early (R.)

Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared. A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia. “What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters by telephone. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.” With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on June 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency.

The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analyzing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 300 km from the nearest human settlement. Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier. The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks – waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.

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God in his wisdom made the fly.
And then forgot to tell us why.

– Ogden Nash

 

 

 

 

Apr 022018
 


John La Farge Girls Carrying a Canoe, Vaiala in Samoa 1891

 

China Announces New Tariffs On 128 US Products (CNBC)
The Real Bubble (ZH)
Cryptocurrencies: Nothing Goes To Heck In A Straight Line (WS)
Easter Shoppers Desert UK High Streets, Spreading Retail Gloom (G.)
Trouble For Big Tech As Consumers Sour On Amazon, Facebook And Co (G.)
Google, Facebook Too Big To Be Governed, Could Be Dismantled – Macron (Ind.)
The Middle East Is Doomed (Ehsani)
This Is How We End Up With John Bolton (CJ)
Two Degrees No Longer Seen As Global Warming Guardrail (AFP)

 

 

Feels like China’s just going through the motions.

China Announces New Tariffs On 128 US Products (CNBC)

China is implementing new tariffs on meat, fruit and other products from the U.S. as retaliation for American duties, heightening fears of a potential trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Beijing’s latest move, announced by its finance ministry in a statement dated April 1, is direct retaliation against taxes approved by President Donald Trump on imported steel and aluminum. Chinese officials had been warning over the last few weeks that their country would take action against the U.S. The tariffs begin on Monday, the finance ministry statement said. China’s Customs Tariff Commission is increasing the tariff rate on pork products and aluminum scrap by 25 percent. It’s also imposing a new 15 percent tariff on 120 other imported U.S. commodities, from almonds to apples and berries.

All told, the extra tariffs will hit 128 kinds of U.S. products, multiple outlets reported. The list of new duties matches the proposed list released by the government on March 23, according to Reuters. At that time, China said the affected U.S. goods had an import value of $3 billion in 2017 and included wine, fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts, steel pipes, modified ethanol and ginseng. The decision to target $3 billion in U.S. imports is significant, but it’s widely seen as a drop in the ocean given the size of the bilateral trading relationship. U.S. goods exported to China in 2016 totaled $115.6 billion, according to official data. China’s retaliation is “a statement of intent … but it’s not an escalation in our opinion,” Steve Brice, chief investment strategist at Standard Chartered Private Bank, told CNBC on Monday.

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One of many, really.

The Real Bubble (ZH)

After a seemingly unstoppable surge higher for years, March was a tough one for tech stocks, as the curtain was lifted exposing Oz-like machinations behind the scenes that spooked investors enough to pop the bubble of delusion so many were living in. After a magnificent 2017, Cryptocurrencies also started 2018 off poorly as yet another ‘bubble’ popped. However, there was one ‘asset’ that had a tremendous 2017, and has gone on to greater and bubblier things in 2018. Spot the real bubble in financial markets… Bitcoin has bust, FANG stocks are FUBAR, but The SNB is accelerating.

As we noted previously, The SNB made 32 times more than 85 Swiss private banks… and owns a record $100 billion-plus of American stocks… $11,589.01. – That’s the US dollar amount of American stocks the Swiss National Bank owns on behalf of every man, woman and child in Switzerland. Let that sink in. A Central Bank has taken on itself to expand its balance sheet and invest in the proceeds, not in gold, nor sovereign debt – heck not even in corporate bonds. Nope, the SNB has taken it upon itself to “invest” that money in another country’s most risky part of the capital structure – equity. And don’t think it’s a small number. It’s almost $100 billion US dollars.

In a strange twist of fate, the Swiss National Bank is not only Switzerland’s Central Bank, but also a publicly traded security. And that ‘security’ has had a great year so far – up a stunning 93%…

However, as Holger Zschaepitz notes, the market cap of the Swiss National Bank remains below CHF1bn amidst a profit of CHF54.4bn. But that didn’t stop investors piling in to The SNB in March as a ‘safe haven’ as the rest of the world collapsed… As Macro Tourist’s Kevin Muir concluded previously, I worry that right now, Central Banks are being rewarded for keeping their balance sheets as big and risky as they can stomach. It appears to be a trade with no cost, and in fact, helps out by both keeping their currency weak, and in the meantime, making some money. It encourages them to be extremely slow easing off the accelerator. The idiocy of Central Banks taking this sort of risk is beyond description, but no sense arguing about it – it is what it is.

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65%.

Cryptocurrencies: Nothing Goes To Heck In A Straight Line (WS)

I don’t think there has ever been an entire sector that skyrocketed as much and collapsed as quickly as the cryptocurrency space. The skyrocketing phase culminated at the turn of the year. Then the collapse phase set in, with different cryptos choosing different points in time. It doesn’t help that regulators around the world have caught on to these schemes called initial coin offerings (ICOs), where anyone, even the government of Venezuela, can try to sell homemade digital tokens to the gullible and take their “fiat” money from them and run away with it. There are now 1,596 cryptocurrencies and tokens out there, up from a handful a few years ago. And the gullible are getting cleaned out.

And it doesn’t help that the ways to promote these schemes are being closed off, one after the other. At the end of January, Facebook announced that, suddenly, “misleading or deceptive ads have no place on Facebook,” and it prohibited ads about ICOs and cryptos. On March 14, Google announced that it will block ads with “cryptocurrencies and related content,” including ICOs, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice. Its crackdown begins in June. On March 26, Twitter announced that it would ban ads of ICOs, cryptocurrency exchanges, and cryptocurrency wallet services, unless they are by public companies traded on major stock markets. It will roll out its policy over the next 30 days.

On March 29, MailChimp, a major email mass-distribution service, announced that it will block email promos from businesses that are “involved in any aspect of the sale, transaction, exchange, storage, marketing or production of cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies, and any digital assets related to an Initial Coin Offering.” This broadened and tightened its policy announced in February that promised to shut down any account related to promos of ICOs or blockchain activity. The overall cryptocurrency space, in terms of market capitalization, peaked on January 4, when market cap reached $707 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. Less than three months later, market cap has now plunged by 65% to $245 billion. $462 billion went up in smoke.

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It’s hard to accept that your entire country is pushing up daisies. But you got to sell your paper. So you get a real heavy headline, and then quote someone saying: “..the numbers were “generally pretty good news for retailers”..

Easter Shoppers Desert UK High Streets, Spreading Retail Gloom (G.)

The gloom on Britain’s high streets deepened over the Easter bank holiday weekend as heavy rain in many areas drove people to seek the shelter of shopping centres or simply stay at home. The number of shoppers on UK high streets on Easter Sunday morning slumped by over 12% compared with 2017, according to retail intelligence firm Springboard. That followed a disappointing Good Friday, when high street footfall fell by 9.6%. Saturday was little better, with footfall down 6.9% year-on-year. This weekend had been billed as the most anticipated weekend for retail since Christmas, but Springboard said bad weather in some parts of the country had “definitely hit high streets”, and pulled the overall result for all UK shopping destinations down into minus figures.

A week ago Springboard predicted that this Easter weekend’s UK retail footfall could end up 2.4% higher than last year’s, though it had said this assumed “normal weather”. It added that if freezing conditions similar to those caused by the “beast from the east” returned, all bets were off. In the event wet weather sent a chill through the high streets, meaning footfall across all shopping destinations was down 2.4% on Good Friday and 3% lower on Saturday. However, retail parks and shopping centres typically enjoyed better fortunes than they did last year. Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, said the rain kept many people away from their local high street shops. But “at the same time, people did go shopping” rather than staying at home and browsing the web.

She said the numbers were “generally pretty good news for retailers”, many of whom would be quite heartened by the numbers of shoppers out on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. With predictions of snow in some parts of the country for Easter Monday, many retailers will be crossing their fingers and hoping that conditions are not too challenging. Last week it emerged that high street sales had slumped at the fastest rate for early spring in at least five years, as cold and snowy weather kept people away from the shops. Wehrle said of Easter Monday: “If it starts off dry in the morning, that will shape the day. If people wake up and it’s snowing, that will be it.”

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“..for shareholders and pension plans, the tarnishing of tech could have serious consequences.”

Trouble For Big Tech As Consumers Sour On Amazon, Facebook And Co (G.)

Trump is going after Amazon; Congress is after Facebook; Google is too big, and Apple is short of new products. Is it any surprise that sentiment toward the tech industry giants is turning sour? The consequences of such a readjustment, however, may be dire. The past two weeks have been difficult for the tech sector by every measure. Tech stocks have largely driven the year’s stock market decline, the largest quarterly drop since 2015. Facebook saw more than $50bn shaved off its value after the Observer revealed that had harvested millions of people’s user data for political profiling. Now users are deleting accounts, and regulators may seek to limit how the company monetizes data, threatening Facebook’s business model.

On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed it was investigating the company’s data practices. Additionally, Facebook said it would to London to appear in front of UK lawmakers, but it would not send the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, who is increasingly seen as isolated and aloof. Shares of Facebook have declined more than 17% from the close on Friday 16 March to the close on Thursday before the Easter break. Amazon, meanwhile, long the target of President Trump’s ire, saw more than $30bn, or 5%, shaved off its $693bn market capitalization after it was reported that the president was “obsessed” with the company and that he “wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law”.

Shares of Apple, and Google’s parent company Alphabet, are also down, dropping on concerns that tech firms now face tighter regulation across the board. For Apple, there’s an additional concern that following poor sales of its $1,000 iPhone X. For Google, there’s the prospect not only of tighter regulation on how it sells user date to advertisers, but also the fear of losing an important Android software patent case with Oracle. Big tech’s critics may be forgiven a moment of schadenfreude. But for shareholders and pension plans, the tarnishing of tech could have serious consequences.

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More on the article in yesterday’s Debt Rattle.

Google, Facebook Too Big To Be Governed, Could Be Dismantled – Macron (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has warned that Google and Facebook are becoming too big to be governed and could face being dismantled. Internet giants could be forced to pay for the disruption they cause in society and submit to French or European privacy regulations, he suggested. In an interview with the magazine Wired, the president warned that artificial intelligence (AI) would challenge democracy and open a Pandora’s box of privacy issues. He was speaking after announcing a €1.5bn (£1.32bn) investment in artificial intelligence research to accelerate innovation and catch up with China and the US.

Mr Macron said companies such as Google and Facebook were welcome in France, brought jobs and were “part of our ecosystem”. But he warned: “They have a very classical issue in a monopoly situation; they are huge players. At a point of time – but I think it will be a US problem, not a European problem – at a point of time, your government, your people, may say, ‘Wake up. They are too big.’ “Not just too big to fail, but too big to be governed. Which is brand new. “So at this point, you may choose to dismantle. That’s what happened at the very beginning of the oil sector when you had these big giants. That’s a competition issue.”

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We don’t know nearly enough on ME economies. So this is a real good find.

The Middle East Is Doomed (Ehsani)

Authored by “Ehsani” – a Middle East expert, Syrian-American banker and financial analyst who visits the region frequently and writes for the influential geopolitical analysis blog, Syria Comment.

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The Mideast is doomed. Egypt alone needs to create 700,000 jobs every single year to absorb the new job seekers out its 98 million population. A third of this population already live below the poverty line (482 Egyptian Pounds a month, which is less than $1 a day). The seeds of the vicious circle that the Mideast region finds itself in today were planted at least 5 decades ago. Excessive public spending without matching revenues were the catalyst to a faulty and dangerous incentive system that helped to balloon populations beyond control. A governance system that was ostensibly put in place to help the poor ended up being a built-in factory for poverty generation. Excessive subsidies helped misallocate resources and mask the true cost of living for households. Correlation between family size and income was lost.

Successive Mideast leaders are often referred to as evil dictators. I see them more as lousy economists and poor users of simple arithmetic and excel spreadsheets that can help demonstrate the simple, yet devastating power of compounding. Unless you are a Gulf-based monarchy enjoying the revenue stream from oil and gas that can postpone your day of reckoning, the numbers in nearly every single Arab country don’t add up. t is important to note that excessive population growth is not fundamental the issue here. Japan and many parts of Europe are suffering from too little population growth. The problem in Arab societies is lack of productivity stemming from weak private sector and overburdened bankrupt public sector. As students of Economics know, “Potential” Economic Growth of a country is derived by adding the growth rate of its labor force to the growth rate of the economy’s productivity.

High labor force growth therefore ought to be a plus for the “Potential Growth”. The Arab World’s problem is that it suffers from shockingly low levels of “productivity”. This may seem like a fancy word but the concept encapsulates everything that Arab economies and societies suffer from. Why does the Arab world have such low productivity? The answer lies in everything from excessive size of public sector, subsidies and overbearing regulatory system leading to corruption. As public sector liabilities grow, education, healthcare & infrastructure funding suffers. Why is the size of the public sector coupled with excessive subsidies the problem? Because what starts as the noble cause of helping the poor ends up masking the true costs of raising family size. Governments soon go broke. Services suffer. Anger rises. We know the drill now.

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Dead on, Caitlin.

This Is How We End Up With John Bolton (CJ)

A GoFundMe for former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired two weeks ago by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has raised over $400,000 in less than a day. Another way to say that would be that a former officer from the US intelligence community, who is married to a successful physician and will surely receive a book deal worth millions of dollars, just had a charity drive which in less than a day raised an amount of money it would take the average American years to earn. Meanwhile, an impoverished American recently died because his GoFundMe failed to raise enough money for his insulin and an FBI whistleblower was just arrested for trying to bring transparency to the Bureau’s secret domestic surveillance practices while banks receive massive bailouts, global fossil fuel subsidies total trillions of dollars, and Amazon paid zero federal taxes last year despite earning billions.

Even leaving aside the reasons for McCabe’s firing and the shady dealings he was accused of, this is a very solid illustration of everything that is sick about the United States of America. In America you have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. You have government secrecy for the powerful and surveillance for the powerless. You have charity for wealthy establishment lackeys and rugged individualism for ordinary human beings. Those at the top are uplifted even further, while those on the bottom are stomped through the floor.

Julian Assange is currently under siege in the Ecuadorian embassy, deprived of mobility, sunlight and healthcare, and now internet, phone calls and visitors, all because he dared to bring some transparency to the powerful. Meanwhile the intelligence and defense agencies who serve as the armed goon squad of the wealthy and the powerful are able to kill, destroy and pillage from behind the opaque walls of near-total government secrecy in the name of “national security”. And instead of defending the single defenseless man who speaks truth to power, mainstream media reporters around the world are spitting on him in near-unanimity because he hurts power’s feelings.

This is how we end up with John Bolton, people. This is the “kiss-up, kick-down” pathway to success that elevates bloodthirsty psychopaths like John Bolton, the worst of the worst, the ones willing to do the most killing on behalf of the powerful and the most stomping on the powerless to get to the top. This has become the unquestioned pathway in every sphere of public life. We have a situation now where the highest echelons of power are not the wisest among us, but the wiliest. The fourth estate is full of everyday people who at one point presumably believed they were there to bring truth to power, stomping on the silvery head of one who does, while sucking up to the very power that he regularly embarrasses with his leak drops.

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All the stuff we should do but don’t. Should we instead ask why we don’t? All the ‘it’s not too late’ talk certainly doesn’t help.

Two Degrees No Longer Seen As Global Warming Guardrail (AFP)

Limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius will not prevent destructive and deadly climate impacts, as once hoped, dozens of experts concluded in a score of scientific studies released Monday. A world that heats up by 2C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – long regarded as the temperature ceiling for a climate-safe planet – could see mass displacement due to rising seas, a drop in per capita income, regional shortages of food and fresh water, and the loss of animal and plant species at an accelerated speed. Poor and emerging countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America will get hit hardest, according to the studies in the British Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions A.

“We are detecting large changes in climate impacts for a 2C world, and so should take steps to avoid this,” said lead editor Dann Mitchell, an assistant professor at the University of Bristol. The 197-nation Paris climate treaty, inked in 2015, vows to halt warming at “well under” 2C compared to mid-19th century levels, and “pursue efforts” to cap the rise at 1.5C. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday said climate change was “the most systemic threat to humankind”. With only one degree of warming so far, Earth has seen a crescendo of droughts, heatwaves, and storms ramped up by rising seas. Voluntary national pledges made under the Paris pact to cut CO2 emissions, if fulfilled, would yield a 3C world at best.

The treaty also requires that – by the end of the century – humanity stop adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than oceans and forests can absorb, a threshold known as “net zero emissions”. “How fast we get to a 2C world” is critical, Mitchell told AFP. “If it only takes a couple of decades, we will be in trouble because we won’t have time to adapt to the climate.” [..] Researchers led by Felix Pretis, an economist at the University of Oxford, predict that two degrees of global warming will see GDP per person drop, on average, 13% by 2100, once costly climate change impacts are factored in. A 2ºC world will also “show significant negative impact on the rates of economic growth,” Pretis told AFP.

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