Mar 022021
 
 March 2, 2021  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  26 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Acrobat 1930

 

“Did You Agree To This? Everybody’s Locked Up” – Edward Snowden (ZH)
Coronavirus Crisis Unlikely To Be Over By The End Of The Year – WHO (G.)
WHO Panel: Hydroxychloroquine Should Not Be Used To Prevent COVID-19 (Hill)
Data On Long Covid In UK Children Is Cause For Concern, Scientists Say (G.)
A Return To Normalcy Seen In November (K.)
Party Like It’s 1984 (Jim Kunstler)
US, EU Set To Impose Sanctions On Russia (NBC)
Duckworth Calls For Russian Bounties Intelligence To Be Declassified (Hill)
Stefan Halper’s Role In Crossfire Hurricane Larger Than Previously Known (ET)
Halper Reports Reveal Wider-Ranging Operation To Spy On Trump Campaign (JTN)
Bernie Sanders Vows To Force Vote On $15 Minimum Wage (Hill)
Joe Biden Says His Hands Are Tied On $15 Minimum Wage. That’s Not True (Sirota)
Finance As Culture (Luttig)
Mob Justice May Be Poetic Justice, But Cuomo Deserves Due Process (Turley)
Cuomo Swears He Always Kept Mask On While Sexually Harassing Women (BBee)
Odyssey Banned for Violence, Sexism; Is this the End of World Classics? (GR)

 

 

Update: as you may notice, we’re experimenting with ads a bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Word!

“Did You Agree To This? Everybody’s Locked Up” – Edward Snowden (ZH)

A new video montage of recent interviews with former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden exposes how the global COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns – which have been particularly severe and far-reaching in Western countries like the UK, Canada, and in a number of major US cities – coupled with the already immense power of Silicon Valley and its allies in the national security state, has served to keep individuals and entire populations ‘gated off’ from one another. “This is just the beginning,” Snowden warns of these unprecedented times. “All of these things today have consequences which we are not informed about.” “I would say this is sort of unusual… we’re all spread all over the world in different rooms, everybody’s locked up… but for me this is how I’ve always lived.”

He narrates that so much of our life is “intermediated by the screens.” Increasingly our lives are “intermediated by these screens. We spend less time outside and more and more time staring into glass or through glass to connect with that larger world – something beyond ourselves.”Ultimately he poses the following questions as a warning in the video entitled, “Edward Snowden 2021: The Most VICIOUS HONEST 10 Minutes of your LIFE!”… “Increasingly it feels something distinct from us, something apart from us – something that we are witnessing rather than participating in. Ask yourself: Is this your will? Is this what you want? Did you agree to this? Is this consistent with the vision of the future you want to see?

Snowden continues, “The institutional powers of our day… which have assumed for themselves some mandate – whether to conduct business, whether its to govern the lives of others, whether it’s to make war, .. these institutional powers don’t seem to particularly care about your answer to that question: is this what you wanted? Is this OK? Did you agree to it?” The answer is frequently “you don’t have a choice” as to whether you agree or not… “because they have the gun, they have the baton. And Facebook would say ‘Click OK to continue’ – and if you don’t you can’t do anything…”

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the “virus is very much in control”…

Coronavirus Crisis Unlikely To Be Over By The End Of The Year – WHO (G.)

Despite the spread of Covid-19 being slowed in some countries due to lockdowns and vaccination programs, it is “premature” and “unrealistic” to the think the pandemic will be over by the end of the year, the World Health Organization’s executive director of emergency services has said. Speaking at a press briefing Geneva, Dr Michael Ryan said while vaccinating the most vulnerable people, including healthcare workers, would help remove the “tragedy and fear” from the situation, and would help to ease pressure on hospitals, the “virus is very much in control”. “It will be very premature, and I think unrealistic, to think that we’re going to finish with this virus by the end of the year,” Ryan said.


“If the vaccines begin to impact not only on death and not only on hospitalisation, but have a significant impact on transmission dynamics and transmission risk, then I believe we will accelerate toward controlling this pandemic.” The number of new global infections rose last week for the first time in almost two months. Reported cases increased in four of the WHO’s six regions: the Americas, Europe, south-east Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. “This is disappointing, but not surprising,” said the director general of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We’re working to better understand these increases in transmission. Some of it appears to be due to relaxing of public health measures, continued circulation of variants, and people letting down their guard.” He said while vaccines would help to save lives, “if countries rely solely on vaccines, they’re making a mistake”.

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Meawhile in Greece…

A Return To Normalcy Seen In November (K.)

Greek authorities’ main concern is now the timeline for a return to normalcy, after a year of the pandemic. The economy cannot withstand many more months of lockdowns and increasing coronavirus fatigue is gripping the population. Experts say the return to normalcy will happen when “herd immunity” is achieved. For that to happen, they say, 70% of the population must be vaccinated. Then, of course, there are questions of how long the immunity lasts, whether the disease will recur, and so on. According to a team of researchers at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki who have developed a Covid-19 risk evaluation model, the vaccination of 70% of the population, and thus herd immunity, will be achieved in November, provided there are 1 million vaccinations per month.


Under this caveat, the percentage of the vaccinated population, now standing at 9%, will reach 30% at the end of May, 38% in June, 46% in July, 54% in August and 62% in September. By the end of May, a “wall of immunity” for the most vulnerable groups – the elderly and those suffering from serious underlying diseases – will have been built, the researchers say. “[The wall] doesn’t mean complete freedom but at least means the likelihood of lockdown becomes remote,” says Dimosthenis Sarigiannis, professor of environmental engineering at Aristotle University.

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Ok, let’s see the trials.

WHO Panel: Hydroxychloroquine Should Not Be Used To Prevent COVID-19 (Hill)

The anti-inflammatory drug hydroxychloroquine should not be used to prevent COVID-19, according to a new recommendation from the World Health Organization. Multiple clinical trials of more than 6,000 people showed the drug had no meaningful effect on death or admissions to the hospital in people who had no prior exposure to COVID-19. The trials showed a “moderate certainty” that not only did hydroxychloroquine have no meaningful effect on laboratory confirmed COVID-19 infection, it also probably increased the risk of adverse effects.


The WHO’s recommendation was published in The BMJ, a medical journal. A WHO expert panel is studying different drugs that could be used to prevent COVID-19 infection, and the hydroxychloroquine recommendation is the first that the panel has published. “The panel considers that this drug is no longer a research priority and that resources should be used to evaluate other more promising drugs to prevent COVID-19,” the WHO said in a statement. The recommendations are meant “to provide trustworthy guidance on the management of COVID-19 and help doctors make better decisions with their patients,” the WHO said.

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No word on how many children are affected. If it’s just five, maybe they should tell us.

Data On Long Covid In UK Children Is Cause For Concern, Scientists Say (G.)

Scientists have warned that emerging data on long Covid in children should not be ignored given the lack of a vaccine for this age group, but cautioned that the evidence describing these enduring symptoms in the young is so far uncertain. Recently published data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has caused worry. The data suggest that 13% of under 11s and about 15% of 12- to 16-year-olds reported at least one symptom five weeks after a confirmed Covid-19 infection. ONS samples households randomly, therefore positive cases do not depend on having had symptoms and being tested.

With schools in England poised to reopen on Monday – Prof Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent Sage committee and director of clinical operational research at University College London – in a Twitter post suggested that although emerging data on long Covid in children was uncertain, it should not be ignored, particularly given there was no licensed vaccine for these age groups, and there probably won’t be until the end of this year or early next year. Although children are relatively less likely to become infected, transmit the virus and be hospitalised, the key question is whether even mild or asymptomatic infection can lead to long Covid in children, said Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London.

[..] Some children are initially asymptomatic or have mild symptoms but then it might be six or seven weeks before they start experiencing long Covid symptoms, which can range from standard post-viral fatigue and headaches to neuropsychiatric symptoms such as seizures, or even skin lesions. At the moment there is no consensus on the scale and impact of long Covid in adults, but emerging data is concerning. For children, the data is even more scarce. Recent reports from hospitals in Sweden and Italy have generated concern, but this data is not from national trials – they are single-centre studies – and include relatively small patient numbers, said Sir Terence Stephenson, a Nuffield professor of child health at University College London.

Stephenson was awarded £1.36m last month to lead a study investigating long Covid in 11- to 17-year-olds. “I don’t have a scientific view on what long Covid is in young people is – because frankly, we don’t know,” he said.

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Of course, steers and cows are easier to push around than bulls, and the technology for transforming bulls into steers — or men in to eunuchs — is not that complex or nuanced..

Party Like It’s 1984 (Jim Kunstler)

Chalk up a fatal blow to The Patriarchy. That avatar of toxic masculinity, Mr. Potato Head has been dumped into the same humid chamber of perdition where the ghosts of Nathan Bedford Forrest, Theodore Bilbo, and Phyllis Schlafly howl and squirm — liberating the billions of potatoes world-wide from the mental prison of binary sexuality. The move by Hasbro (bro? really??) may yet disappoint the legions in Wokesterdom as a-bridge-not-far-enough while they await the debut of Transitioning Potato Head, complete with play hormone syringe and play scalpel, so that the under-six crowd can begin to map out their own gender reassignments without the meddling of Adult 1 and Adult 2, formerly known as Mommy and Daddy.

Was it mere coincidence that the action in Toyland happened the same week that one Rachel Levine was grilled in hir Senate confirmation hearing for the post as Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Health and Human Services? The hearing tilted toward transphobia when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) asked zie, a little too aggressively, if they were in favor of pubescent children opting for sexual reassignment in opposition to xyr parents. The nominee, who hirself transitioned from “male” to “female” in 2011, answered that transgender medical issues are “complex and nuanced.” True (perhaps). And probably more than a Senator who transitioned from ophthalmologist to politician might appreciate.

Such are the great preoccupations of American leadership in these late days of empire. Are their any “historic firsts” left for Progressives to achieve in the march to a transhuman nirvana? An “undocumented” president? Animal representation in the House and Senate? A-I “entities” qualifying for public office — Governor Smartphone? Let’s face it, the pitiful old school humans in charge of things for so long are making a hash of our affairs. A cash register could probably do a better job as Chairman of the Federal Reserve than the always-waffley Jerome Powell. And a MacBook Pro might make a better president than Joe Biden in the brief daily operational hours before his managers a “call a lid.” We’d have to come up with some new personal pronouns for them, of course.

Pundits and observers-of-the-scene have warned us that all this artificially-generated turmoil over the sex-of-things is but one part of the prelude to a “Great Reset” in which people the world over are to be herded into corrals of ultra-regulated behavior. Of course, steers and cows are easier to push around than bulls, and the technology for transforming bulls into steers — or men in to eunuchs — is not that complex or nuanced. The question is: will enough American men submit to castration, either chemical, financial, political, or literal? Maybe not.

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Oh, cut it out already.

US, EU Set To Impose Sanctions On Russia (NBC)

The U.S. and the European Union are expected to impose coordinated sanctions on Russia as early as Tuesday for the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his arrest and detention that followed, three sources familiar with the planning said. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not otherwise authorized to speak to the media. The sanctions will be the first to target Moscow since Joe Biden became president and opened a comprehensive review of U.S.-Russia policy, including the Kremlin’s actions against Navalny, interference into the U.S. election, the Solar Winds hack and reported bounties offered to Taliban-linked groups to target U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Trump administration declined to take action against Russia for the attempted assassination of Navalny.

The U.S. is expected to use legal authorities to impose sanctions on Russia for its use of a chemical nerve agent against Navalny in August, said a senior administration official, a congressional aide and a Western diplomat. Toxicology tests conducted in Germany, France and Sweden and by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that Navalny was poisoned with a novel form of the Novichok nerve agent in violation of the international Chemical Weapons Convention. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the attack. Upon his return to Russia in January, Navalny was arrested and sentenced to more than two years in jail. He has been transferred to a penal colony. The E.U. has taken action against Russia for poisoning Navalny, restricting travel and freezing the assets of six Russians in October, but this week’s sanctions would be the first issued under the E.U.’s new human rights regime.

E.U. Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told the Atlantic Council last week that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had asked the E.U. to coordinate with the U.S. on the new sanctions. The E.U.’s procedural vote to formally adopt the sanctions will close at noon Tuesday Brussels time. “I wouldn’t want to speak to any measures that we may have coming, but suffice it to say that we have coordinated very closely,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday about the cooperation between the U.S and the E.U. Price did not elaborate on the timing of the sanctions but added, “We’ve been working on it as an urgent challenge.” An investigation by U.N. experts released Monday found that the attack against Navalny falls within a wider trend, observed over several decades, of arbitrary killings and attempted killings of Russian citizens and government critics, both within Russia and extraterritorially.

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I said cut it out!

Duckworth Calls For Russian Bounties Intelligence To Be Declassified (Hill)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) on Monday called for the Biden administration to declassify intelligence related to reports that the Kremlin offered bounties to Taliban forces for targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. “While any intelligence assessment on this matter is understandably sensitive, the American public, and Gold Star Families in particular, have a pressing need to know if there is any truth to these claims,” Duckworth wrote in a letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines first obtained by Politico. “I believe such a finding may be presented while protecting classified information.” The intelligence, first reported last year, was dismissed as a “hoax” by then-President Trump.

Last September, Gen. Frank McKenzie, who oversees U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said the military was still investigating, adding that the report “has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me.” Haines has been tasked with reviewing intelligence on recent Russian activity, including the alleged bounty initiative. In her letter, Duckworth asked for Haines to publish an unclassified report to “provide urgently needed transparency on this grave matter.” Duckworth, a veteran who lost both legs in Iraq, was one of the leading voices calling for action in response to the report last year. In July, she led a letter from Senate Democrats asking to see the then-president’s intelligence briefings relating to the alleged bounties.

“Despite my persistent attempts to bring transparency to these alarming reports, the Trump administration failed to provide an official response to basic questions: did the United States Government or our partners assess the likelihood of the existence of the GRU bounty payment activity, and did the United States Government find evidence indicating correlation or causation between GRU bounty payments and deadly attacks on U.S. troops by Taliban-linked militants?” Duckworth wrote in the letter on Monday, referring to Russia’s secretive military intelligence agency.

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Always thought his role was quite substantial.

Stefan Halper’s Role In Crossfire Hurricane Larger Than Previously Known (ET)

Newly released FBI documents shed light on two meetings between FBI Agent Stephen Somma and FBI source Stefan Halper, providing further insight into the wide scope of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump 2016 presidential campaign—and the active role played by Halper, who acted as a confidential human source (CHS) for the FBI. Although Halper was not considered an official CHS for the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation prior to these meetings, Somma had known Halper since 2011, according to the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report on FISA Abuse. Additionally, Somma had served as Halper’s handler from “2011 through 2016” as part of Somma’s “regular investigative activities.”

The FBI’s meetings with Halper on Aug. 11 and 12, 2016, were done at the proposal of Somma, who said he “lacked a basic understanding” of political campaigns. Somma said that he selected Halper because he knew that Halper had been “affiliated with national political campaigns since the early 1970s” and “might have information about, and potentially may have met, one or more of the Crossfire Hurricane subjects”—Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Somma said that he did not initially tell Halper that there was already an open FBI investigation or who the subjects were, nor, he told the IG, did he tell Halper of the conversation between Papadopoulos and Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, which was the FBI’s claimed reason for opening Crossfire Hurricane.

Somma was proven to be prophetic, as Halper already had direct knowledge of two of the three people considered subjects of Crossfire Hurricane. And Halper would later fashion a meeting in London with Papadopoulos, the one person he didn’t already know. Halper also managed a meeting with Sam Clovis from the Trump campaign. Additionally, based on the FBI documents obtained by Just The News, it appears that Halper was responsible for pushing Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as a “person of interest” to the FBI with what appears to have been a false story that the FBI failed to immediately verify—and then later failed to correct as the story gained traction in the media during a crucial period of the Trump presidency.

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Problem remains: who will investigate the investigators?

Halper Reports Reveal Wider-Ranging Operation To Spy On Trump Campaign (JTN)

Once-secret reports show the FBI effort to spy on the Trump campaign was far wider than previously disclosed, as agents directed an undercover informant to make secret recordings, pressed for intelligence on numerous GOP figures, and sought to find “anyone in the Trump campaign” with ties to Russia who could acquire dirt “damaging to Hillary Clinton.” The now-declassified operational handling reports for FBI confidential human source Stefan Halper — codenamed “Mitch” — provide an unprecedented window both into the tactics used by the bureau to probe the Trump campaign and the wide dragnet that was cast to target numerous high-level officials inside the GOP campaign just weeks before Americans chose their next president in the November 2016 election.

Among the revelations, the memos make clear that: Almost immediately after the FBI opened a Russia collusion probe on July 31, 2016 narrowly focused on the foreign lobbying of a single Trump campaign aide named George Papadopoulos, agents pressed Halper for information on more than a half dozen other figures, including future Attorney General Jeff Sessions, foreign policy adviser Sam Clovis, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, economic adviser Peter Navarro, future National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and campaign adviser Carter Page. Halper provided significant exculpatory evidence to the FBI — including transcripts of conversations he recorded of targeted Trump advisers providing statements of innocence — that was never disclosed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that approved a year of surveillance targeting the Trump campaign, and specifically Page.

While current FBI Director Chris Wray has insisted the bureau did not engage in spying on the Trump campaign, Halper’s taskings include many of the tradecraft tactics of espionage, including the creation of a fake cover story (he wanted a job at the Trump campaign), secret recordings, providing background on targets, suggested questions to ask and even contact information for potential targets. But the memos’ most explosive revelations are the sheer breadth of the FBI’s insufficiently predicated dragnet targeting the Trump campaign, and the agents’ clearly stated purpose of thwarting any Trump campaign effort to get dirt from Russia that could hurt his Democratic rival.

“The Crossfire Hurricane investigative team is attempting to determine if anyone in the Trump campaign is in a position to have received information either directly or indirectly from the Russian Federation regarding the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton,” one of the early FBI electronic communications (ECs) from Halper’s undercover work stated. Ordinarily, FBI counterintelligence investigations that target Americans legally must be predicated on specific allegations that narrowly focus the bureau’s spy powers on limited targets to avoid unnecessary infringement of privacy and civil liberties. But the Halper documents reveal a large, unfocused FBI search with little substantiation of alleged wrongdoing, and significant evidence that undermined the core allegations, experts told Just the News.

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Bernie vs Ol’ Joe.

Bernie Sanders Vows To Force Vote On $15 Minimum Wage (Hill)

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says Democrats should “ignore” the recent ruling of the Senate parliamentarian and is vowing to force the Senate to vote this week on an amendment to set the federal minimum wage at $15 an hour. Sanders on Monday declared he would not back down on his signature wage initiative after Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled last week that a provision setting the federal minimum wage at $15 an hour would not be eligible under special budget rules Democrats are using to avoid a filibuster while passing their coronavirus relief bill. “My personal view is that the idea that we have a Senate staffer, a high-ranking staffer, deciding whether 30 million Americans get a pay raise or not is nonsensical.


“We have got to make that decision, not a staffer who’s unelected, so my own view is that we should ignore the rulings, the decision of the parliamentarian,” Sanders told reporters. Sanders added, “Given the enormous crises facing this country and the desperation of working families, we have got to as soon as possible end the filibuster.” “We cannot have a minority of members define what the American people want,” he said. Sanders said he will force a vote on an amendment raising the federal minimum wage this week. “To the best of my knowledge, there will be a vote on the minimum wage, and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “I intend to offer the bill that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and we’ll see how the votes go.” “If we fail in this legislation, I will be back,” he warned. “We are going to keep going. “We are going to raise that minimum wage very shortly to $15 an hour,” he said.

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LBJ did it.

Joe Biden Says His Hands Are Tied On $15 Minimum Wage. That’s Not True (Sirota)

When a Republican is president, Democratic politicians, pundits and activists will tell you that the presidency is an all-powerful office that can do anything it wants. When a Democrat is president, these same politicians, pundits and activists will tell you that the presidency has no power to do anything. In fact, they will tell you a Democratic president cannot even use the bully pulpit and other forms of pressure to try to shift the votes of senators in his own party. A tale from history proves this latter myth is complete garbage – and that tale is newly relevant in today’s supercharged debate over a $15 minimum wage. In that debate so far, we have seen Democratic senators prepare to surrender the $15 minimum wage their party promised by insisting they are powerless in the face of a non-binding advisory opinion of a parliamentarian they can ignore or fire.

That explanation is patently ridiculous and factually false, so Democratic apologists are starting to further justify the surrender by suggesting that even if the party kept a $15 minimum wage in the Covid relief bill, conservative Democrats such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema would block it anyway. The White House itself is now falling back on the idea that it doesn’t have the votes to do much of anything, insinuating that Joe Biden – who occupies the world’s most powerful office – somehow has no power to try to change the legislative dynamic. And this spin is being predictably amplified across social media. [..] it is laughable and preposterous to argue that a newly elected president has zero power to even try to shift the dynamic.

And yet, whether you call this all deliberate deception or learned helplessness, this fantastical myth of the Powerless President will inevitably be used to shield Biden from criticism for abandoning his pledge to fight for a $15 minimum wage. The apologism is particularly absurd because unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who was a relative newcomer to politics, Biden’s major selling point was that he knows “how to make government work”. The guy explicitly pitched himself as the best Democratic presidential candidate by suggesting that in an era of gridlock, he knows how to make the Democratic agenda a reality and Get Things Done™, like master of the Senate Lyndon Baines Johnson. That’s where LBJ himself comes in to destroy the narrative that Democratic presidents in general – and Biden specifically – are inherently helpless.

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Memes “R” Us.

Finance As Culture (Luttig)

In practice, what does financialization look like? We’ve all heard the institutional narrative. The US stock market has nearly tripled in the past 10 years. The FIRE sector (finance, insurance, real estate) now accounts for 20% of US GDP, versus 10% in 1947. S&P buybacks nearly doubled in the 2010s. IPOs grew 2.5x in 2020. But financialization is no longer purely institutional; it has seeped into our culture. A combination of low interest rates, a historic tech bull run, and the resulting torrent of fomo has tethered us to our monitors to watch candlestick charts. The financialization of culture has manifested in two primary ways: lottery culture and equity culture. We’ve always had lottery culture, in which people trade assets hoping to make money without understanding or conviction of their fundamental value.

In the summer of 1929, for example, Joe Kennedy’s shoe shine boy gave him stock tips, signaling the market peak. But lottery culture has exploded in the past few years. Robinhood has achieved its vision of democratizing access to financial markets, boasting over ten million monthly active users and exponential growth. Retail investor trading as a percentage of stock market volume has more than doubled since 2010. When “stocks only go up”, people realize the stock market is a casino with much better payouts. Gamified trading has tethered us to our phones and bank accounts. Through GameStop, even protest became financialized. At the peak of the GameStop saga, millions of Americans owned GME, arming themselves against hedge funds.

This was part protest, part nihilistic hail mary to get rich. The number of subscribers to the wallstreetbets (WSB) subreddit certainly spiked in 2021, but the exponential compounding for years beforehand implies a degree of inevitability. Memes took lottery culture to new heights. Stocks popular among a retail audience, like Apple, have historically traded at higher multiples than others in their category. Tesla accelerated the divergence between retail excitement and fundamentals: TSLA revenue grew 50% over the past two years, but meme culture helped its market cap grow by 12x. GameStop completed the meme-fundamentals duality: investors don’t even pretend that the company’s fundamentals will ever substantiate its market cap.WSB revealed where Robinhood culture was headed all along: a nihilistic lottery. It was historically viewed as a disorganized and degenerate mob, but the mob has evolved into a laser-focused and motivated militia.

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So do the people who died in care homes.

Mob Justice May Be Poetic Justice, But Cuomo Deserves Due Process (Turley)

In 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before at Northwestern University Law School to announce President Obama’s “kill list” policy, under which he reserved the right to unilaterally order the death of any American deemed an imminent threat. After all, Holder explained, “the Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” The response was as chilling as the message: The audience of judges, lawyers and law students applauded an attorney general who just told them that any of them could be killed tomorrow on the president’s order. Some of us denounced the “kill list” policy, which foreshadowed what has become a campaign against due process. In our hair-triggered culture of Twitter attacks and “canceling” opponents, due process is treated as hopelessly arcane and inconvenient.

Our political discourse must now be tweet-worthy — less than 280 words — and delivered in a news cycle measured in minutes. Due process, like free speech, is rarely valued until its loss becomes personal. Take Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.). Cuomo advanced his political career by positioning himself at the front of every mob pursuing political rivals, as during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. Before hearing the defense of now-Justice Kavanaugh, Cuomo described the allegations against him by Christine Blasey Ford as presumptively true. He not only effectively called Kavanaugh a rapist, without any due process, but demanded that Kavanaugh take a polygraph as a condition to be believed. Cuomo was not alone. Many Democratic leaders insisted that “women must be believed” when raising sexual harassment allegations and declared Kavanaugh guilty before hearing any testimony.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) dismissed due process concerns for Kavanaugh, adding: “When we talk about … due process and justice, it must focus on the victim.” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said Kavanaugh was not entitled to a presumption of innocence and that men should “just shut up” and accept the allegations. Last year, when Lindsey Boylan’s allegations went public, I wrote a column asking if Cuomo would presume himself guilty, absent a polygraph. Now, after Boylan added details of Cuomo’s alleged kissing and propositioning her, many are struggling with his (and their) prior positions against due process. While CNN, MSNBC and other networks blacked-out the story or barely covered it, others — including many on the right — have declared Cuomo to be guilty and dangerous.

Cuomo deserves due process, despite loudly denying it for others. Simply because Boylan made the allegations is not proof of guilt. Both sides have a right to be heard — not a right to be believed solely on their word. Due process allows us to determine who is a victim — not, as AOC suggested, to vindicate one party as the declared victim. [..] Of course, as Gov. Cuomo has learned, one can lead a mob one day only to be pursued by the mob on the next. It would be easy to leave him to the mob and call it poetic justice, but that is not justice of any kind. Cuomo should receive all of the due process he denied to others — not because he deserves it, but because he embodies the costs of ignoring it.

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He’ll be arrested any day now.

Cuomo Swears He Always Kept Mask On While Sexually Harassing Women (BBee)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo apologized this weekend for his long-standing habit of sexually abusing young women he holds power over. And while that all sounds quite bad, Governor Cuomo did make it clear to the public that he always wore a mask and socially distanced during these interactions– a fact that has some folks saying he should get off free. “I have the greatest respect for my employees,” Cuomo explained during a press conference. “Especially the girls—we’ve got a lot of young girls on staff who do a really good job.” Cuomo paused for a moment and seemed to wink at someone offscreen.


“And I can guarantee you right now, sure I might be a sexual predator, but not once did I remove my mask, never once broke the six-foot rule during conversations with my girls– at least in 2020. Isn’t that right, Kelly?” Cuomo went on to explain how some of his sexual jokes may not have landed with the women since they couldn’t see his facial expressions. He also claimed that the women may have misheard him since his words were muffled by his mask and they were standing so far apart. “Do I regret making those comments?” Cuomo asked as he stood up to leave the press conference. “No. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some strip poker, er– I mean poker, to play.”

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Ban the Bible!

Odyssey Banned for Violence, Sexism; Is this the End of World Classics? (GR)

Odyssey, Homer’s classic of world literature written in the time of Ancient Greece, was recently banned in Lawrence, Massachusetts for portraying ideas that do not conform to modern norms of behavior. The move, reported recently by the Wall Street Journal, appears to stem from a “social justice” movement, created by Twitter users, called #DisruptTexts. Its proponents believe that any world literature that does not portray the norms that they hold today in terms of gender roles, violence and racial equality must be banned in the interest of shaping a new generation that will not be allowed to come into contact with concepts that they consider repugnant — or even just outdated.

Penelope, sitting at her loom patiently for twenty years while hubby Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War, is not the model of female behavior that teachers who espouse this new type of book banning want their students to emulate. But not only do they not want their students to emulate these behaviors — they want to ban books that contain they want to ban books that portray violence, traditional gender roles and racism, making sure that future generations will never learn about the many adventures of Odysseus and his companions as they made their way across the sea, fought against Troy and wended their way back home after twenty years away.

Books such as this, which provide a treasury of historical references and form the basis of educated peoples’ understanding of the Classical world, naturally contain violent images of battle and strife and portray the social milieu of the day. Until recently, however, teachers would focus on the tremendous literary and historical merit of the world of Homer and other ancient writers, leaving their students to come to their own conclusions as to whether or not they would like to wage warfare or alternatively sit at home weaving while the husband is away at battle.

[..] But the politically-correct rush to judgment, which began in recent years with the banning of American classics such as Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and even more recent works such as How to Kill a Mockingbird — for the use of the n-word — has come back to bite society now that the floodgates have been opened. Originally, the pendulum swung the other way, and it was conservative Americans who were originally guilty of banning books — despite the freedom of speech and expression explicitly enshrined in the Constitution. The first book to be officially banned in America was Thomas Morton’s “New English Canaan,” published in 1637.

A massive, three-volume work, it contained not only Morton’s insightful observations about Native Americans, but also — raising the ire of those who had settled Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Company — a biting satire of the Puritans. As the centuries went on, it wasn’t just political positions that drew the ire of book banners, it was more often portrayals of sex that attracted the eye of censors and caused works of literature to come under scrutiny. And the list of banned books in America is shamefully long, including Peyton Place,The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Beloved, and The Lord of the Flies.

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Feb 262021
 


Jean-Francois Millet The flight into Egypt 1864

 

Ivermectin Could Cut Covid Deaths By Up To 75% (DM)
CDC Reports Shocking Data About Asymptomatic Spread (Fed.)
Report Says Spirulina Algae Could Reduce Covid Mortality Rate (JPost)
Latin American Govts ‘Held To Ransom’ By Pfizer During Vaccine Talks (RT)
US Bombs Facilities In Syria Used By Iran-Backed Militia (AP)
Russia Is ‘Existential Threat’ To West That NATO Must Neutralize (RT)
Senate Parliamentarian: Minimum Wage Can’t Be In Covid Relief Bill (CNN)
Secret Memo Shows How Harris Must Now Advance Minimum Wage Hike (DP)
In Final Days, Trump Gave Up on Forcing Release of Russiagate Files |(Maté)
The Great Reset Is Here (Rickards)
Boeing 777 Makes Emergency Landing In Moscow Due To Engine Trouble (ZH)
700+ Children In Detention at US Border, Spike In Unaccompanied Crossings (RT)
Atlantic Ocean Circulation At Weakest In A Millennium (G.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

We need more testing! Only 100s of millions of people have taken it! Who knows if it’s safe?

Ivermectin Could Cut Covid Deaths By Up To 75% (DM)

A cheap and safe drug widely used against parasites cuts Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths by about 75 per cent, a study shows. More than 30 trials across the world found that ivermectin causes ‘repeated, consistent, large magnitude improvements in clinical outcomes’ at all stages of the disease. The peer-reviewed study, to be published in the US journal Frontiers of Pharmacology, says the evidence is so strong that the drug – used to treat head lice and scabies – should become a standard therapy everywhere, so hastening the global recovery.

Study co-author Professor Paul Marik, director of emergency and pulmonary care at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in the US, said: ‘The data is overwhelming – we are in a pandemic, and this is an incredibly effective way to combat it. If we use ivermectin widely, our societies can open up.’ Other medications have been touted as effective treatments for combating coronavirus, only for trials to dash hopes – notably with hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug. An earlier study by Professor Andrew Hill of Liverpool University also concluded that ivermectin cuts death rates by around three-quarters. He recommended there should be larger trials before it was approved by UK regulators. A new trial of ivermectin as a Covid treatment is due to start shortly at Oxford University.

Dr Tess Lawrie, director of the Evidence-Based Medicine Consultancy in Bath, convened an online summit of international experts last weekend to discuss the new data. It included evidence that widespread use of ivermectin in parts of India and South America has led to a big reduction in infections and deaths. Yesterday Dr Lawrie submitted a 97-page report to the World Health Organisation, urging it immediately to recommend ivermectin to treat Covid. The drug, taken in tablet form or as drops, is licensed in Britain only as a treatment for parasitic worms, head lice and scabies. It has been used by hundreds of millions of patients over the past 30 years, mainly in developing countries, and at around £50 per patient – less in some countries – is far cheaper than other new Covid treatments, such as the rheumatism drug tocilizumab, which costs £1,000 per patient.

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”If the contagiousness of people without symptoms is not what drives the spread of SARS-COV-2, then no COVID restriction on public life besides staying home when you are clearly sick could be justified..”

CDC Reports Shocking Data About Asymptomatic Spread (Fed.)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control slipped in a shocking piece of evidence in a recent report on low in-school COVID-19 transmission that severely undercuts the rationale for most COVID restrictions, including lockdowns. The Jan. 29 report’s conclusion seems to fit the pro-mask narrative, of course: “Schools might be able to safely open with appropriate mitigation efforts [such as masking and not allowing student cohorts to mix] in place.” In the 17 rural Wisconsin schools surveyed, only seven cases were linked to in-school transmission out of 4,876 pupils, and no staff members were infected at school during the study period.

While the report spends ample time explaining the mitigation strategies employed in the schools and the high reported mask compliance (92%) among students, the authors later discuss something you probably have not seen in any of the mainstream media’s coverage of this report . “Children might be more likely to be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 than are adults…This apparent lack of transmission [in schools] is consistent with recent research (5), which found an asymptomatic attack rate of only 0.7% within households and a lower rate of transmission from children than from adults. However, this study was unable to rule out asymptomatic transmission within the school setting because surveillance testing was not conducted”

The “recent research” the study authors cite is a meta-analysis of 54 household COVID-19 transmission studies that observed 77,758 participants, which was posted as a pre-print this summer and published in December. The text of the analysis is even more consequential than the CDC’s reference makes it seem: “Estimated mean household secondary attack rate from symptomatic index cases (18.0%; 95% CI, 14.2%-22.1%) was significantly higher than from asymptomatic or presymptomatic index cases (0.7%; 95% CI, 0%-4.9%; P<.001), although there were few studies in the latter group. These findings are consistent with other household studies, reporting asymptomatic index cases as having limited role in household transmission”.

The 0.7 percent figure includes not just people who never show symptoms of COVID-19, but people who haven’t yet shown symptoms—two groups that have been alleged to be major factors driving the spread of the virus. This is a major data point often underplayed or even challenged in much media coverage of the virus. The key, if not central, rationale for non-pharmaceutical interventions such as masking, distancing, and staying at home is allegedly significant transmission from people who don’t show symptoms. If the contagiousness of people without symptoms is not what drives the spread of SARS-COV-2, then no COVID restriction on public life besides staying home when you are clearly sick could be justified, considering the obvious negative consequences of these restrictions.

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Anti-inflammatory.

Report Says Spirulina Algae Could Reduce Covid Mortality Rate (JPost)

A team of scientists from Israel and Iceland have published research showing that an extract of spirulina algae has the potential to reduce the chances of COVID-19 patients developing a serious case of the disease. The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Marine Biotechnology, found that an extract of photosynthetically manipulated Spirulina is 70% effective in inhibiting the release of the cytokine TNF-a, a small signaling protein used by the immune system. The research was conducted in a MIGAL laboratory in northern Israel with algae grown and cultivated by the Israeli company VAXA, which is located in Iceland. VAXA received funding from the European Union to explore and develop natural treatments for coronavirus. Iceland’s MATIS Research Institute also participated in the study.


In a small percentage of patients, infection with the coronavirus causes the immune system to release an excessive number of TNF-a cytokines, resulting in what is known as a cytokine storm. The storm causes acute respiratory distress syndrome and damage to other organs, the leading cause of death in COVID-19 patients. “If you control or are able to mitigate the excessive release of TNF-a, you can eventually reduce mortality,” said Asaf Tzachor, a researcher from the IDC Herzliya School of Sustainability and the lead author of the study. During cultivation, growth conditions were adjusted to control the algae’s metabolomic profile and bioactive molecules. The result is what Tzachor refers to as “enhanced” algae.

Read more …

Anyone surprised?

Latin American Govts ‘Held To Ransom’ By Pfizer During Vaccine Talks (RT)

A number of Latin American countries have reportedly experienced extremely aggressive negotiating tactics by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which has demanded full immunity from any civil claims and state assets as a guarantee. The questionable negotiating tactics by the pharmaceutical giant have been highlighted in a fresh report by the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ). Officials from Argentina, as well as from another unspecified Latin American country, talked to the outlet, describing Pfizer’s approach to negotiations as “high-level bullying” that made the governments feel like they were being “held to ransom.” Argentina was among the first countries to begin negotiations with the company.

The talks started last June, yet ultimately flopped as Pfizer’s demands became less and less reasonable, an official told the BIJ. The pharmaceutical giant assertively demanded additional clauses that would make it immune against any civil claims citizens might file over side effects from receiving the Pfizer jab. While a new bill regulating the vaccination process was adopted in October, the company was still unhappy with its wording, as it did not grant full immunity to pharmaceutical companies but rather allowed a change of jurisdiction established in advance in the contract. Pfizer ultimately requested a “new law” from the government, then-Health Minister Gonzalez Garcia said in December, describing the demands as “somewhat unacceptable.”

“Argentina could compensate for the vaccine’s adverse effects, but not if Pfizer makes a mistake,” the official, cited by BIJ, said. “For example, what would happen if Pfizer unintentionally interrupted the vaccine’s cold … and a citizen wants to sue them? It would not be fair for Argentina to pay for a Pfizer error.” The company then urged Argentina to take out international insurance to pay for potential future cases against the manufacturer, and ultimately demanded that it put up unspecified sovereign assets as collateral in December. “We offered to pay for millions of doses in advance, we accepted this international insurance, but the last request was unusual: Pfizer demanded that the sovereign assets of Argentina also be part of the legal support,” the official said.

Read more …

Who are in reality Iraqi troops fighting ISIS?

US Bombs Facilities In Syria Used By Iran-Backed Militia (AP)

The United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting facilities used by Iranian-backed militia groups. The Pentagon said the strikes were in retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops. The airstrike was the first known military action undertaken by the Biden administration, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist. “This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures , including consultation with coalition partners,” the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, John Kirby, said in announcing the strikes.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.” Biden administration officials condemned the Feb. 15 rocket attack near the city of Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region, but as recently as this week officials indicated they had not determined for certain who carried it out. Officials have noted that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks that targeted U.S. personnel or facilities in Iraq. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, had said Tuesday that Iraq is in charge of investigating the Feb. 15 attack.

“Right now, we’re not able to give you a certain attribution as to who was behind these attacks, what groups, and I’m not going to get into the tactical details of every bit of weaponry used here,” Kirby said. “Let’s let the investigations complete and conclude, and then when we have more to say, we will.”

Read more …

Syria, Iran, Russia.

Russia Is ‘Existential Threat’ To West That NATO Must Neutralize (RT)

The Cold War ended decades ago, but Moscow is still working to maintain its Soviet-era influence over Eastern Europe, one of Washington’s top generals has claimed, warning that the US must take on Russia to deliver world peace. In a speech published by the Pentagon’s press service on Wednesday, the head of the country’s European Command, Air Force General Tod D. Wolters, claimed that, when it comes to projecting American force abroad, “everything we do is about generating peace.” However, he caveated, “we compete to win … and if deterrence fails, we’re prepared to respond to aggression, primarily through NATO.”

Wolters is also the US-led bloc’s supreme allied commander on the continent, and recent weeks have seen its members stage drills and engage in a series of stand-offs with Russian sailors in the Black Sea. “Beyond exercises,” he added, “we conduct operations and other activities to compete, deter and prepare to respond to aggression,” including maintaining a presence in the disputed region. The general insisted that the West is locked in a struggle for dominance with Moscow, and it has to come out on top. “We’re in an era of global power competition. Winning in this era is ensuring that global power competition does not become a global power war,” he argued. “Despite widespread international condemnation and continued economic sanctions, Russia engages in destabilizing and malign activities across the globe, with many of those activities happening close to home,” he said.

The US Department of Defense has since added a caveat to the transcript to make it clear he meant to refer to shadowy Russian schemes in Europe, rather than, say, an American presidential election. In that context, Wolters claimed, “Russia remains an enduring existential threat to the United States and our European allies,” he said. “Russia… and China – having declared itself a near-Arctic power – continued to militarize the region and seek to establish economic footholds to gain influence over regional governance,” he suggested. This, Wolters said, underlined the need to “maintain a credible Arctic deterrence and ensure vital sea lines of communication remain open by securing the Greenland, Iceland and United Kingdom gap.”

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They’re hiding behind a guy who only gives advice?

Senate Parliamentarian: Minimum Wage Can’t Be In Covid Relief Bill (CNN)

The Senate parliamentarian has ruled against including the increase in the minimum wage in the Covid relief bill. While Democrats had pushed for the increase to be included — and leadership expressed its disappointment in the ruling Thursday evening — its removal may actually make it easier to pass the bill, senior Democratic sources believe, because it’ll avoid a messy fight over whether to strip it out of the bill and whether to compromise. “President Biden is disappointed in this outcome, as he proposed having the $15 minimum wage as part of the American Rescue Plan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “He respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process.”


For now, far from being a defeat, the ruling is viewed as clearing the way for the bill’s passage in the Senate, a Biden administration official told CNN. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday evening the provision will remain in the House bill on which the chamber is voting Friday. However, the parliamentarian ruled that the increase to $15 per hour did not meet a strict set of guidelines needed to move forward in the Senate’s reconciliation process. That means that the House will pass its bill, the Senate will have to strip the minimum wage provision out, and then eventually the House will have to pass that bill again at the end of the process.

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Well, they can’t. Kamala can do it. And she won’t.

Secret Memo Shows How Harris Must Now Advance Minimum Wage Hike (DP)

On Thursday, a key Senate official advised Democratic lawmakers that the chamber’s rules do not allow them to include a minimum wage increase in President Joe Biden’s first COVID-19 relief legislation. The ruling from the parliamentarian means that Vice President Kamala Harris could decide the fate of one of the Democratic Party’s most significant campaign promises — but it remains unclear what she will end up doing. As the presiding officer of the Senate, Harris — who has long touted her support for a $15 minimum wage — can now use the power her predecessors have used to ignore the advisory opinion and fulfill Biden’s campaign promise to boost the wage. A confidential memo obtained by The Daily Poster now circulating on Capitol Hill spells out exactly how that could be accomplished.

However, White House chief of staff Ron Klain this week declared that Harris will refuse to use that power — a decision that would effectively put the Biden-Harris administration in the position of potentially killing the prospect of minimum wage legislation for the foreseeable future. Immediately after the parliamentarian’s ruling, the White House issued a statement reiterating Klain’s comment, declaring that “Biden respects the parliamentarian’s decision.” Some congressional Democrats have already been arguing that the Biden administration’s refusal to overrule the parliamentarian would be immoral and a political disaster for their party. “It’s been 12 years since we’ve raised the minimum wage, and if we’re going to make those promises, we have to be able to deliver on them,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal said Wednesday on MSNBC.

“Because, I’ll tell you what, in two years… when people vote in the midterms, you’re not gonna be able to say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, we couldn’t raise the minimum wage because the parliamentarian ruled that we couldn’t do it.’ That’s not gonna fly.” The maddening process conversation surrounding a $15 minimum wage increase is the result of Democrats refusing to eliminate the legislative filibuster, which means Republicans can block most legislation unless Democrats find 60 votes. As such, Democrats are working to pass the COVID bill using the convoluted budget reconciliation process. The process will allow for a simple majority vote on the final legislation, but it also allows Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough to recommend tossing certain provisions if she decides they violate the so-called Byrd Rule, which is designed to prohibit extraneous matters outside of federal spending issues to be added to budget legislation.

The minimum wage, however, has budget implications, according to the Congressional Budget Office — which is why proponents had hoped MacDonough would advise that it is in order, especially since the nonpartisan parliamentarian has previously ruled that other less significant budget-related issues were in order. MacDonough, however, refused to do so on Thursday evening. The development is not catastrophic for the $15 minimum wage provision — if Harris simply uses her power to ignore the opinion and clear the path for the measure she has long insisted she supports. The problem is that the White House is signaling she will do the opposite.

Read more …

We will never know.

In Final Days, Trump Gave Up on Forcing Release of Russiagate Files |(Maté)

After four years of railing against “deep state” actors who, he said, tried to undermine his presidency, Donald Trump relented to U.S. intelligence leaders in his final days in office, allowing them to block the release of critical material in the Russia investigation, according to a former senior congressional investigator who later joined the Trump administration. Kash Patel, whose work on the House Intelligence Committee helped unearth U.S. intelligence malpractice during the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe, said he does not know why Trump did not force the release of documents that would expose further wrongdoing. But he said senior intelligence officials “continuously impeded” their release – usually by slow-walking their reviews of the material. Patel said Trump’s CIA Director, Gina Haspel, was instrumental in blocking one of the most critical documents, he said.

Patel, who has seen the Russia probe’s underlying intelligence and co-wrote critical reports that have yet to be declassified, said new disclosures would expose additional misconduct and evidentiary holes in the CIA and FBI’s work. “I think there were people within the IC [Intelligence Community], at the heads of certain intelligence agencies, who did not want their tradecraft called out, even though it was during a former administration, because it doesn’t look good on the agency itself,” Patel [said]. Although a Department of Justice inspector general’s report in December 2019 exposed significant intelligence failings and malpractice, Patel said more damning information is still being kept under wraps. And despite an ongoing investigation by Special Counsel John Durham into the conduct of the officials who carried out the Trump-Russia inquiry, it is unclear if key documents will ever see the light of day.

Patel did not suggest that a game-changing smoking gun is being kept from the public. Core intelligence failures have been exposed – especially regarding the FBI’s reliance on Christopher Steele’s now debunked dossier to secure FISA warrants used to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. But he said the withheld material would reveal more misconduct as well as major problems with the CIA’s assessment that Russia, on Vladimir Putin’s orders, ordered a sweeping and systematic interference 2016 campaign to elect Trump. Patel was cautious about going into detail on any sensitive information that has not yet been declassified.

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“Once the cattle (that’s us) have been herded into the digital slaughterhouse, we will be told to “use it or lose it” when it comes to our own money. In other words, either we spend the money, or the government will take it away.”

The Great Reset Is Here (Rickards)

In 1999, the euro replaced the individual currencies of Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy and other major economies in Europe. Today, the number of countries that have joined the euro is up to 19, and more countries are awaiting admission. The euro is the second largest reserve currency asset after the U.S. dollar. The creation of the euro can be thought of as a stepping stone from national currencies to a single world currency. Now, the euro (along with the Chinese yuan) is moving quickly to become a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). A CBDC combines a traditional currency with the blockchain technology of a cryptocurrency. It’s an important move in the direction of eliminating cash and forcing users into a 100% digital system using credit cards, debit cards, and smartphone apps.

Why are China and Europe so focused on eliminating cash? I’ve said all along that you cannot put negative interest rates on consumers until you eliminate cash. Otherwise, savers would just withdraw cash from the banks and stuff it in mattresses to avoid the negative rates. Implicitly, the European Central Bank (ECB) seems to agree. One of the ECB Board members says that negative rates (really confiscation) will be applied as a “penalty” against “hoarding” cash. In plain English, that means they will create digital money, force you to spend it, and if you don’t spend it, they will take it away as a “negative rate.” Now all of the pieces of the global elite plan are converging. The IMF SDR issuance will reliquify global central banks that cannot print dollars. Then CBDCs will be used to eliminate cash.

Once the cattle (that’s us) have been herded into the digital slaughterhouse, we will be told to “use it or lose it” when it comes to our own money. In other words, either we spend the money, or the government will take it away. Of course, the spending can be channeled into politically correct causes by excluding unpopular vendors such as gun dealers or conservative social media platforms from the payment system. This represents total domination of human behavior through world money + digital currencies + confiscation. This is not speculation anymore; it’s happening in front of our eyes. The Great Reset is coming fast. The future is here.

Read more …

“designed by clowns…supervised by monkeys”

Boeing 777 Makes Emergency Landing In Moscow Due To Engine Trouble (ZH)

It really has not been a good year for Boeing. Or a good decade for that matter. Just days after a Boeing-777 became the latest symbol of all that is wrong with the once almighty aircraft maker, when the plane’s right engine exploded (with debris striking houses below it in a scene right out of Breaking Bad) and only a miracle prevented a tragedy, moments ago another Boeing-777 made an emergency landing in Russia’s Sheremetyevo airport outside of Moscow, Interfax reports, adding that the plane crew requested the landing after one of left engine control channels failed The news service doesn’t name the airline operator; but said that the plane was flying from Hong Kong to Madrid. Luckily, no injuries were reported.

The latest mishap followed even more bad news for the aerospace giant, which earlier on Thursday agreed to pay $6.6 million to U.S. regulators as part of a settlement with the Federal Aviation Administration over the planemaker’s failure to comply with a 2015 safety agreement including quality and safety-oversight lapses going back years, a setback that comes as Boeing wrestles with repairs to flawed 787 Dreamliner jets that could dwarf the cost of the federal penalty. As Reuters reported, Boeing is beginning painstaking repairs and forensic inspections to fix structural integrity flaws embedded deep inside at least 88 parked 787s built over the last year or so. The inspections and retrofits could take up to a month per plane and are likely to cost hundreds of millions – if not billions – of dollars, though it depends on the number of planes and defects involved.

The penalties include $5.4 million for not complying with the agreement in which Boeing pledged to change its internal processes to improve and prioritize regulatory compliance and $1.21 million to settle two pending FAA enforcement cases. “The FAA is holding Boeing accountable by imposing additional penalties,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. But the biggest challenge facing Boeing is whether or not it can find passengers for its 737 MAX now that the infamous deadly airplane which was reportedly “designed by clowns…supervised by monkeys” is set to fly again. While the plane may indeed have gotten a green light from the FAA, a far bigger question is whether Boeing has by now lost the trust of the public for good.

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The “left wing” press will bury it.

700+ Children In Detention at US Border, Spike In Unaccompanied Crossings (RT)

Hundreds of unaccompanied minors have been held at the US border waiting to be processed, Axios reported. Almost a third of them have been lingering in detention for more than two days, as the backlog piles up. Around 700 minors who crossed into the US on their own were kept in Border Patrol Custody as of Sunday, Axios reported on Wednesday, citing an internal Customs and Border Protection document. By that time, around 200 children had already been held up for over 48 hours, and in the case of nine child migrants, for over 72 hours, which exceeds the maximum limit under the Flores Settlement Agreement, which stipulates that CBP cannot hold children for more than three days. Per the same agreement, asylum-seeking children transferred to ICE detention centers cannot spend more than 20 days there, after which they must be released.


The processing system is under increasing strain due to an influx of child migrants. In January, CBP encountered 5,707 child migrants at the southwest border, almost a thousand more than in December (4,855). President Biden, who was promising a U-turn from the Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy, has recently come under fire for reopening a child detention facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas. The Biden administration was quick to defend the move as a temporary fix in the times of pandemic, arguing that the infamous Trump facility was reopened since the Office of Refugee Resettlement cannot house as many asylum seekers as before due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

Read more …

If you say things like “..could reduce by about 34% to 45% by the end of this century..”, people will think: I won’t be alive by then, so would should I care?

Atlantic Ocean Circulation At Weakest In A Millennium (G.)

The Atlantic Ocean circulation that underpins the Gulf Stream, the weather system that brings warm and mild weather to Europe, is at its weakest in more than a millennium, and climate breakdown is the probable cause, according to new data. Further weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) could result in more storms battering the UK, more intense winters and an increase in damaging heatwaves and droughts across Europe. Scientists predict that the AMOC will weaken further if global heating continues, and could reduce by about 34% to 45% by the end of this century, which could bring us close to a “tipping point” at which the system could become irrevocably unstable. A weakened Gulf Stream would also raise sea levels on the Atlantic coast of the US, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who co-authored the study published on Thursday in Nature Geoscience, told the Guardian that a weakening AMOC would increase the number and severity of storms hitting Britain, and bring more heatwaves to Europe. He said the circulation had already slowed by about 15%, and the impacts were being seen. “In 20 to 30 years it is likely to weaken further, and that will inevitably influence our weather, so we would see an increase in storms and heatwaves in Europe, and sea level rises on the east coast of the US,” he said. Rahmstorf and scientists from Maynooth University in Ireland and University College London in the UK concluded that the current weakening had not been seen over at least the last 1,000 years, after studying sediments, Greenland ice cores and other proxy data that revealed past weather patterns over that time.

The AMOC has only been measured directly since 2004. The AMOC is one of the world’s biggest ocean circulation systems, carrying warm surface water from the Gulf of Mexico towards the north Atlantic, where it cools and becomes saltier until it sinks north of Iceland, which in turn pulls more warm water from the Caribbean. This circulation is accompanied by winds that also help to bring mild and wet weather to Ireland, the UK and other parts of western Europe. Scientists have long predicted a weakening of the AMOC as a result of global heating, and have raised concerns that it could collapse altogether. The new study found that any such point was likely to be decades away, but that continued high greenhouse gas emissions would bring it closer.

Read more …

 

 

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Feb 192021
 
 February 19, 2021  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  53 Responses »


Ito Shinsui Snowy night 1923

 

Mutations Made Coronavirus 8 Times More Infectious Than Original (RT)
Pfizer, Moderna Vaccines Make 3x Less Antibodies vs South African Strain (RT)
130 Countries Have Not Received A Single Covid Vaccine Dose (G.)
Florida Ranks 11th Lowest In Covid Deaths Per Capita Among Seniors (Blaze)
FBI, US Attorney In Brooklyn Probing Cuomo Admin On Nursing Homes (TU)
The Myth of Andrew Cuomo the Competent, Steady Statesman (Jac.)
De Blasio Says Threatening Phone Call To Lawmaker Is ‘Classic Andrew Cuomo’ (F.)
Texas Was “Seconds And Minutes” From Complete Disaster (ZH)
The Failure Of The Texas Power Grid Is Worse Than You Think (Fed.)
Beleaguered Texas Hospitals With No Water Evacuate Patients (Fox4)
The Slippery Slope from Censoring ‘Disinformation’ to Silencing Truth (RI)
Trump’s Former Fixer Cohen Interviewed By Manhattan DA’s Office (R.)
Biden Privately Tells Governors: Minimum Wage Hike Likely Isn’t Happening (Pol.)
Greece in Talks with the UK to Create Tourism Corridor (GR)
Why Vitamin D Probably Still Can’t Cure Covid-19 (Gideon)

 

 

 

 

Our daily good news segment.

Mutations Made Coronavirus 8 Times More Infectious Than Original (RT)

New research has found that a mutation in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, present in variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, can make the virus up to eight times more infectious than the original. The new research into the D614G mutation on the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2, present in all the latest variants currently plaguing healthcare systems the world over, was led by researchers at New York University, the New York Genome Center, and Mount Sinai. “Confirming that the mutation leads to more transmissibility may help explain, in part, why the virus has spread so rapidly over the past year,” said Neville Sanjana, assistant professor of biology at NYU, who added that the mutation has reached “near universal prevalence” among the coronavirus variants spreading across the globe.

The Mount Sinai researchers injected a virus with the D614G mutation into human lung, liver, and colon cells and compared it against cells from the original strain detected in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic. They found a whopping eight-fold increase in transmissibility between the two strains, with the mutated spike protein making the virus more resilient to being split by other proteins in the human immune system, highlighting the importance of continued vaccine research and development to combat this hardier version. “…[O]ur experimental data was pretty unambiguous – the D614G variant infects human cells much more efficiently than the wild type,” said Zharko Daniloski, a postdoctoral fellow in Sanjana’s lab at NYU and the study’s co-first author.

Thankfully, however, the mutation has not yet been linked to more intense progression of Covid-19 leading to more severe forms of the disease or an increase in hospitalization. On the other hand, this does pose another issue: the current generation of vaccines were developed based on the original Wuhan-variant spike protein structure, highlighting the need for booster vaccines or even annual vaccination programs to halt the spread of the coronavirus for good.

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More good news.

Pfizer, Moderna Vaccines Make 3x Less Antibodies vs South African Strain (RT)

Vaccines developed by US companies Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are producing fewer antibodies against the coronavirus mutation that has emerged in South Africa, according to studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. A lab study jointly conducted by Pfizer/BioNTech and researchers at the University of Texas in Galveston showed that the neutralization of the South African strain “was weaker by approximately two thirds,” but concluded that it was “unclear what effect” that would have on protection the vaccine provided from the disease. This is according to the letter by the researchers published on Wednesday in NEJM, the oldest US medical journal.

Another study conducted by Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – whose head, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is the Biden administration’s “coronavirus czar” at the moment – showed “reductions by a factor of 2.7” in the titers of neutralizing antibodies against the variant known as the B.1.351 – and by a factor of 6.4 when pitted against the full range of South African mutations. “Protection against the B.1.351 variant conferred by the mRNA-1273 vaccine remains to be determined,” says the letter from the Moderna/NIAID researchers, also published by NEJM on Wednesday. Moderna said it is working on booster shots if needed. Pfizer and BioNTech are also preparing to develop an update or a booster shot if needed, according to a statement cited by Bloomberg.

In a statement released in January, ahead of the study’s review, they said the performance of their vaccine was “slightly lower” against the South African strain when compared to other mutations, but that “small differences in viral neutralization observed in these studies are unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine.” South Africa has halted the vaccination with Astra Zeneca’s formula after a study showed it didn’t work as well in preventing Covid-19 caused by the mutant strain. President Cyril Ramaphosa took the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Wednesday.

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We’re on a roll.

130 Countries Have Not Received A Single Covid Vaccine Dose (G.)

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has sharply criticised the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of Covid vaccines, saying 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations and demanding a global effort to get all people in every country vaccinated as soon as possible. The UN chief told a high-level meeting of the UN security council on Wednesday that 130 countries had not yet received a single dose of vaccine. “At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community,” said. Guterres called for an urgent global vaccination plan to bring together those with the power to ensure equitable vaccine distribution – scientists, vaccine producers and those who can fund the effort.

He called on the world’s major economic powers in the Group of 20 to establish an emergency taskforce to establish a plan and coordinate its implementation and financing. He said the taskforce should have the capacity “to mobilise the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors”. Guterres said Friday’s meeting of the Group of Seven major industrialised nations – the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, France, Canada and Italy – “can create the momentum to mobilise the necessary financial resources”. Thirteen ministers addressed the virtual council meeting organised by Britain on improving access to Covid vaccinations, including in conflict areas.

[..] China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, criticised the growing “immunity divide” and called on the world to “come together to reject ‘vaccine nationalism,’ promote fair and equitable distribution of vaccines, and, in particular, make them accessible and affordable for developing countries, including those in conflict”. At the WHO’s request, he said, China will contribute 10m doses of vaccines to Covax “preliminarily”. China has donated vaccines to 53 developing countries including Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan and Palestine, which is a UN observer state. It has also exported vaccines to 22 countries, he said, adding that Beijing has launched research and development cooperation on Covid with more than 10 countries.

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Schools open. No mask mandate. Make of it what you will.

Florida Ranks 11th Lowest In Covid Deaths Per Capita Among Seniors (Blaze)

There’s a reason why the Biden regime is trying to attack Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and create an illusion of a disproportionate viral crisis in the state. With no declared emergency restrictions in place at the state level since last September, the fact that Florida is doing better than the national average completely exposes the lie of lockdown and masks having any effect whatsoever on the fixed natural progression of the virus. Dr. Fauci is suggesting a novel scientific principle – that schools can’t reopen until Congress passes yet another “stimulus” bill. Yet in Florida, schools have been open all year, and the state’s excess deaths for 2020 rank the 16th lowest in the nation, according to a new analysis. What’s more, the Sunshine State, which is regarded as God’s waiting room for seniors, experienced the 11th lowest per capita rate of COVID deaths for seniors in 2020.

A new analysis conducted by RationalGround.com and exclusively obtained by TheBlaze collated CDC excess death data for 49 states (excluding North Carolina, which has incomplete data) and ranked the states from smallest to largest increase in excess deaths from 2019 to 2020. As we have seen in study after study, there is absolutely zero correlation between non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as business and school closures or mask mandates, and a lower rate of excess deaths. According to the CDC’s excess death table, there was a 16.9% national average increase in all-cause mortality in 2020 over 2019.


Given the loose way we count COVID deaths, it will take quite some time to sort out how many of those deaths are due to COVID and how many are due to the panic, anxiety, lockdowns, and missed care, but what is clear is that there is no correlation between the political measures taken by a state and fewer all-cause deaths. Florida, which is the third largest state, has the 16th lowest increase in all-cause deaths, and all of the states that had fewer excess deaths than Florida are much smaller and are mostly states with lower population density. California, on the other hand, ranked No. 40.

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I have no high hopes.

Did CNN just ban one Cuomo from interviewing the other?

FBI, US Attorney In Brooklyn Probing Cuomo Admin On Nursing Homes (TU)

The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn have launched an investigation that is examining, at least in part, the actions of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s coronavirus task force in its handling of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities during the pandemic, the Times Union has learned. The probe by the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York is apparently in its early stages and is focusing on the work of some of the senior members of the governor’s task force, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter who is not authorized to comment publicly. Last March, as the virus began spreading in New York, Cuomo issued a news release listing the 13 initial members of his coronavirus task force, which has been headed by Linda Lacewell, an attorney and former chief of staff for Cuomo.

Lacewell is the superintendent of the state Department of Financial Services. Other task force members include state health Commissioner Howard Zucker, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa and Beth Garvey, counsel to the governor. “As we publicly said, DOJ (Department of Justice) has been looking into this for months,” said Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor. “We have been cooperating with them and we will continue to.” Azzopardi did not disclose whether any members of the administration have been interviewed or if they have been served with any subpoenas. John Marzulli, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, on Wednesday afternoon said he could not “confirm or deny” whether the office has initiated an investigation.

Nearly three weeks after the governor’s task force was announced last year, the state health department issued an order directing nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that they must accept residents who were being discharged from hospitals even if they were still testing positive for the infectious disease, as long as they were able to care for them properly. That directive, which was rescinded less than two months later, has been the focus of a firestorm of criticism directed at Cuomo’s administration, including allegations that the order — which the governor said was based on federal guidance — had contributed to the high number of fatalities of nursing home residents in New York. That assertion was largely dismissed in a report by the Department of Health that was released in July.

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“Even if Cuomo never sinks low enough to lose reelection next year — given his enormous war chest and New York’s horrific campaign finance laws, it’s still an unlikely scenario..”

The Myth of Andrew Cuomo the Competent, Steady Statesman (Jac.)

Even if Cuomo never sinks low enough to lose reelection next year — given his enormous war chest and New York’s horrific campaign finance laws, it’s still an unlikely scenario — he will never again be the governor feted by Ellen and celebrated by self-described “Cuomosexuals.” He’s not getting another Emmy. His moment is over. What happened? In some sense, this has been slow-building. For months, more and more people have been waking up to the fact that the popular, media-created conception of Cuomo was nonsensical. More than 45,000 people have died of COVID-19 in New York State, the second highest absolute death toll in America, just trailing California. (California is more than twice as large, so New York maintains a far higher rate of death.)

Cuomo, like Trump, downplayed the pandemic in its earliest days and issued a shutdown order for New York far too late, defying the opinions of experts and other elected officials. It was the nursing home issue, however, and the subsequently botched vaccine rollout that began to trigger a much-deserved reevaluation of his legacy, which is one of arrogance, secrecy, and failure. Last March, Cuomo ordered nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients who had been discharged from hospitals instead of directing them to large temporary facilities that had a surplus of beds. This decision likely contributed to outbreaks in nursing homes, which the state oversees.

Unlike most other states in America, if not all of them, Cuomo’s New York decided to keep a highly skewed count of nursing home deaths, only tallying those who died while physically in facilities. If you were a nursing home resident who got infected in a home, became sick there, and were transferred to a hospital dying, you were not a part of the official Department of Health tally. Confirming the suspicions of health care experts and many journalists, the state attorney general revealed in a January report that the Department of Health had undercounted nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent. Shortly after, Cuomo was forced to revise the tally far higher, increasing it by more than 60 percent.

Last week, it was revealed that the Cuomo administration had purposefully withheld nursing home data from lawmakers for months out of fear the Department of Justice, under Donald Trump, would investigate. Several legislators have contemplated calling for Cuomo’s impeachment. In a rage, Cuomo called up a leftist assembly member from Queens, Ron Kim, and threatened to “destroy” his career. This is just the news that has grabbed the most headlines. Cuomo is a Clintonian Democrat with a lust for austerity, and he has been quietly slashing and burning New York’s social safety net since the pandemic arrived last year. The City University of New York, which educates a largely working-class and nonwhite student body, has faced severe budget cuts, as have local public schools and social services.

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The more I read about Cuomo, the more he resembles a character in a Scorsese movie.

De Blasio Says Threatening Phone Call To Lawmaker Is ‘Classic Andrew Cuomo’ (F.)

Compounding a month of bad press for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday morning that he believes the state lawmakers who claimed Cuomo threatened to “destroy” his career after he publicly criticized his administration’s handling of Covid-19 in nursing homes. De Blasio—who has had a publicly contentious relationship with the governor since the start of the coronavirus pandemic—painted Cuomo as a bully during a Thursday interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The mayor said he believes New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim’s account of the phone call because “a lot of people in New York State have received those phone calls.”

“It’s a sad thing to say … but that’s classic Andrew Cuomo,” said de Blasio, explaining he’s heard complaints like Kim’s “many, many times.” Representatives for Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes, though the governor’s Senior Advisor Richard Azzopardi released a statement accusing Kim of “lying about his conversation with Governor Cuomo.” “At no time did anyone threaten to ‘destroy’ anyone with their ‘wrath’ nor engage in a ‘coverup,’” said Azzopardi, describing a “long, hostile” relationship between the two men. The comments come a day after revelations that Cuomo’s handling of nursing home death data is now under federal investigation.

“The bullying is nothing new,” said de Blasio. “I believe Ron Kim and it’s very, very sad. No public servant, no person who is telling the truth should be treated that way. But, the threats, the belittling, the demand that someone change their statement right that moment … Many, many times I’ve heard that.” Kim said he received an angry phone call from the governor last week after he publicly accused Cuomo of obstructing justice by withholding data on nursing home deaths. According to Kim, Cuomo threatened that he could “destroy” him if he did not help “cover up” comments made by Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, who stirred controversy earlier this month by suggesting the state had purposefully delayed releasing the full Covid-19 death toll in long-term care facilities because of concerns about a potential federal investigation.

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Something tells me you should go talk to the old time engineers who’ve worked on the grid all their lives. That’s where the stories are, not in politics.

Texas Was “Seconds And Minutes” From Complete Disaster (ZH)

As natural gas fired plants, utility scale wind power and coal plants tripped offline due to the extreme cold brought by the winter storm, the amount of power supplied to the grid to be distributed across the state fell rapidly. At the same time, demand was increasing as consumers and businesses turned up the heat and stayed inside to avoid the weather. “It needed to be addressed immediately,” said Bill Magness, president of ERCOT. “It was seconds and minutes [from possible failure] given the amount of generation that was coming off the system.” With energy prices exploding to record highs, and with demand soaring, grid operators had to “act quickly” to cut the amount of power distributed, Magness said, because if they had waited, “then what happens in that next minute might be that three more [power generation] units come offline, and then you’re sunk.”

Magness said on Wednesday that if operators had not acted in that moment, the state could have suffered blackouts that “could have occurred for months,” and left Texas in an “indeterminately long” crisis. In other words, the millions of households left without power – in some cases for days – were sacrificing for the greater good. So by manually shutting down entire parts of the grid, ERCOT avoided the worst case scenario: one where demand for power overwhelms the supply of power generation available on the grid, causing equipment to catch fire, substations to blow and power lines to go down.

If the grid had gone totally offline, the physical damage to power infrastructure from overwhelming the grid would take months to repair, said Bernadette Johnson, senior vice president of power and renewables at Enverus, an oil and gas software and information company headquartered in Austin. “As chaotic as it was, the whole grid could’ve been in blackout,” she said. “ERCOT is getting a lot of heat, but the fact that it wasn’t worse is because of those grid operators.” If that had occurred, even as power generators recovered from the cold, ERCOT would have been unable to quickly reconnect them back to the grid, Johnson said.

And since nobody can disprove a negative, one just has to take them at their word that dozens of people died so that millions more could live… or something. Grid operators would have needed to slowly and carefully bring generators and customers back online, all the while taking care to not to cause more damage to the grid. It’s a delicate process, Johnson explained, because each part of the puzzle — the generators producing power, the transmission lines that move the power and the customers that use it — must be carefully managed. “It has to balance constantly,” she said. “Once a grid goes down, it’s hard to bring it back online. If you bring on too many customers, then you have another outage.”

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A disaster long in the making.

The Failure Of The Texas Power Grid Is Worse Than You Think (Fed.)

[..] Yes, some coal plants closed because of freezing temperatures and some natural gas pipelines froze. But as Jason Isaac of the Texas Public Policy Foundation explains in our pages today, the main problem with the Texas power grid isn’t that renewables failed or that fossil fuels failed. It’s that the grid itself has been made unstable by state and federal subsidies that distort the energy market and prevent the buildup of reliable power generation. Subsidies for renewables and fossil fuels have been around for a long time in Texas, supported by both Democrats and Republicans. For as much as Texas has a reputation as a deep-red oil and gas state, it was under Republican Gov. Rick Perry that billions were spent on wind turbines and transmission lines in West Texas, spurred on by massive tax credits for wind producers.

The same thing happened at the federal level when George W. Bush was governor of the state. In the months to come, there will be lengthy and bitter debates about who was responsible for this fiasco. The obvious partisan arguments are already out in the open. If any actual reforms come out of these debates, they will have to begin with an acknowledgment that the way things have been done for decades in Texas has not worked. That much, at least, is now painfully undeniable. For example, goosing the wind and solar industries with billions in tax credits in a state that produces almost a third of America’s fossil fuel energy was perhaps unwise and imprudent.

In hindsight, it looks like cronyism. So do the subsidies for fossil fuels, even if they are not as extravagant as subsidies for renewables. Maybe all of that was a bad idea from the beginning, and maybe it’s time to cut it out. Hardship like what Texas is going through right now can bring clarity. And in the teeth of this winter storm, the entire energy industry, with its high-powered lobbyists and its billions in taxpayer subsidies, is beginning to look like every other elite institution in America: a corrupt and parasitic enterprise whose failures come at the expense of ordinary Americans—in this case, people who are now trying to stay alive in their own homes.

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“Emergency rooms were crowded “due to patients being unable to meet their medical needs at home without electricity..”

Beleaguered Texas Hospitals With No Water Evacuate Patients (Fox4)

After a deadly blast of winter weather overwhelmed the electrical grid and left millions of Texans without power, hospitals in the state are also facing the additional stress of water shortages, crowded emergency rooms and even being forced to evacuate patients. Record-low temperatures damaged infrastructure and pipes, seriously jeopardizing drinking water systems in the Lone Star state. Authorities in Texas ordered 7 million people — a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking it. Some hospitals, already contending with COVID-19 patients and vaccine distribution, were also impacted by the winter storm’s havoc on state power grids and utilities. In Austin, hospitals dealt with a loss in water pressure and heat.

St. David’s South Austin Medical Center said Wednesday night that it had lost water pressure from the City of Austin. Since water feeds the facility’s boiler, the hospital was also losing heat. Hospital officials were working to evacuate some patients to other area facilities and said they were distributing bottles and jugs of water to patients and employees. Officials added that they were working with the city to secure portable toilets. “Because this is a statewide emergency situation that is also impacting other hospitals within the Austin area, no one hospital currently has the capacity to accept transport of a large number of patients,” said David Huffstutler, CEO of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.

In southwest Austin, officials with Ascension Seton Southwest Hospital said they too were facing intermittent issues with water pressure, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The hospital was rescheduling elective surgeries to preserve bed capacity and personnel as a result. At Houston Methodist, two of its community hospitals did not have running water but still treated patients, with most non-emergency surgeries and procedures canceled for Thursday and possibly Friday, spokeswoman Gale Smith told the Associated Press. Emergency rooms were crowded “due to patients being unable to meet their medical needs at home without electricity,” Smith said. She added that pipes had burst in Methodist’s hospitals but were being repaired as they happened.

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“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The Slippery Slope from Censoring ‘Disinformation’ to Silencing Truth (RI)

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell. This is the slippery slope that leads to the end of free speech as we once knew it. In a world increasingly automated and filtered through the lens of artificial intelligence, we are finding ourselves at the mercy of inflexible algorithms that dictate the boundaries of our liberties. Once artificial intelligence becomes a fully integrated part of the government bureaucracy, there will be little recourse: we will be subject to the intransigent judgments of techno-rulers. This is how it starts. Martin Niemöller’s warning about the widening net that ensnares us all still applies.

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” In our case, however, it started with the censors who went after extremists spouting so-called “hate speech,” and few spoke out—because they were not extremists and didn’t want to be shamed for being perceived as politically incorrect.

Then the internet censors got involved and went after extremists spouting “disinformation” about stolen elections, the Holocaust, and Hunter Biden, and few spoke out—because they were not extremists and didn’t want to be shunned for appearing to disagree with the majority. By the time the techno-censors went after extremists spouting “misinformation” about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines, the censors had developed a system and strategy for silencing the nonconformists. Still, few spoke out. Eventually, “we the people” will be the ones in the crosshairs.At some point or another, depending on how the government and its corporate allies define what constitutes “extremism, “we the people” might all be considered guilty of some thought crime or other. When that time comes, there may be no one left to speak out or speak up in our defense.

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The MSM will be pushing this for all they’re worth.

Trump’s Former Fixer Cohen Interviewed By Manhattan DA’s Office (R.)

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and a newly hired high-profile litigator interviewed Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, on Thursday, as part of a criminal probe of the former president’s business dealings, said two people familiar with the investigation. The interview came after Mark Pomerantz, who has extensive experience in white-collar and organized crime cases, joined District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s team investigating the Trump family business. Pomerantz started on Feb. 2 as special assistant district attorney, said Danny Frost, a spokesman for Vance. Pomerantz’s hiring is part of a flurry of recent activity in Vance’s investigation, including the issuance in recent days of roughly a dozen new subpoenas, according to the sources.

One of those went to Ladder Capital Finance LLC, a major creditor used by Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, to finance the former president’s commercial real estate holdings, the sources said. Vance’s office has also conducted interviews with Ladder’s staff, one source familiar with the matter said. The district attorney’s office has said little publicly about the probe, but noted in court filings that it was focused on “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct” at the Trump Organization, including alleged falsification of records, and insurance and tax fraud. It is the only known criminal inquiry into Trump’s business practices.

Separately, New York state Attorney General Letitia James is leading a civil probe into whether Trump’s company falsely reported property values to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits. Ladder issued the loans on several of Trump’s big commercial holdings, including a $160 million mortgage on the Trump Building, a skyscraper in Manhattan’s financial district.

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He knew this a long time ago. But dangling the sausage gets votes.

Biden Privately Tells Governors: Minimum Wage Hike Likely Isn’t Happening (Pol.)

When Joe Biden met with a group of mayors and governors last week he bluntly told them to get ready for a legislative defeat: his proposed minimum wage hike was unlikely to happen, he said, at least in the near term. “I really want this in there but it just doesn’t look like we can do it because of reconciliation,” Biden told the group, according to a person in the room. “I’m not going to give up. But right now, we have to prepare for this not making it.” The comments, which were confirmed by two other people familiar with the conversation, were the furthest Biden has gone in conceding the coming axing of the $15-an-hour minimum wage provision from his first major legislative package.


And they suggest that the president is more inclined to manage the fallout of it not being included than to pursue long-shot, political-capital consuming efforts to fight for its insertion. Sitting in the Oval Office with Republican and Democratic elected officials last Friday to advocate for his $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, he didn’t hide his skepticism. “Doesn’t look like we can do it,” he said of the minimum wage hike. For weeks now, the White House has been trying to manage expectations on the feasibility of advancing a $15-an-hour minimum wage provision through a broader “rescue” package. Biden first suggested it might not make it into the final Covid relief bill in an interview with CBS prior to the Super Bowl, noting his belief that the Senate parliamentarian would determine it did not jibe with budgetary rules that allow a bill to pass with just 51 votes in the Senate.

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I still wonder what the legal status is of requiring people be vaccinated with a vaccine whose producer says it doesn’t prevent the spread of the virus. And then on the basis of that, allowing them into your country without testing etc., where they can spread the virus.

If you would let people fly in to an island, and they would stay there, that’s one thing. You could monitor them, trace them. But Greek tourism is based on people traveling a lot, island-hopping etc.

Greece in Talks with the UK to Create Tourism Corridor (GR)

Soon, vaccinated British citizens may be able to travel to Greece without any restrictions whatsoever, according to Greek Minister of Tourism Haris Theoharis. Greece has entered into preliminary discussions with the UK regarding tourism, Theoharis stated, and may allow vaccinated travelers from the UK into the country this summer without being tested for the coronavirus first. Inoculated tourists may also be able to avoid Greece’s mandatory seven-day quarantine once they arrive in the country. Those who have been vaccinated and hope to enter Greece may have to present a vaccine certificate, or vaccine passport, in order to skip the strict anti-virus measures currently in place in the country.

Currently, all those entering Greece must present a negative PCR test for the coronavirus, within 72 hours of their flight, before entry is allowed. In addition to the PCR test, visitors from the UK must also now take a rapid test upon arrival to Greece. Employing nearly one in five Greeks, tourism is one of the most important sectors of the country’s economy. Greece welcomes around 4 million visitors from the UK each year. The Mediterranean country hopes that opening up a tourist corridor with the UK for the summer will bring a much-needed boost to Greece’s economy, which has suffered a great deal due to travel restrictions and strict anti-virus measures. Greek tourism took a giant plunge in the third quarter of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).

In total, in the first nine months of last year, the accommodation sector had revenues of only 1.89 billion euros, when last year in the corresponding period revenues were 6.15 billion euros — representing a staggering loss of 4.26 billion euros. When discussing the outlook for Greece’s tourism sector in the summer of 2021, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated to Reuters: “I am a realist, but I am also cautiously optimistic that we will do much better than last year.” The potential deal with the UK may well add to Mitsotakis’ optimism for a successful tourist season this year. The country has already struck a deal with Israel, which will allow vaccinated travelers from the Mediterranean country to enter Greece without coronavirus restrictions.

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Saved this for last because I would like some comments. Did anyone ever state vit. D was a cure for Covid? We sure did not. This epidemiologist appears to take studies on giving people already in hospital large doses of vit. D, to claim it’s useless. This is exactly how HCQ was discredited. But do chime in.

Why Vitamin D Probably Still Can’t Cure Covid-19 (Gideon)

There are many scientific questions that have come up during the pandemic. We’ve investigated the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, looked into school closures, and even checked to see whether spectacles could protect you from getting Covid-19 (the jury is still out on that one). But perhaps the most consistent question that has been asked, over and over again, is whether vitamin D supplements can treat coronavirus effectively. The allure is understandable — vitamin D is cheap, relatively safe, and there’s some evidence that it can help with the common cold, which is often caused by coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2. If it worked, it could make an enormous difference in the lives of people with Covid-19 and at a very low cost.

Sadly, this has inspired endless shoddy studies that have meant that the question of whether vitamin D works for Covid-19 wasn’t answered very well (or at all) the last time I wrote about it in October 2020. This makes the recent headlines all the more understandable. A study was put up on SSRN — a preprint server run by The Lancet — a few weeks ago that purported to show a 60% decrease in mortality for people with Covid-19 who were given calcifediol (a metabolite of vitamin D) compared to a control group given treatment as usual. With such impressive-sounding results, the study soon went viral on Twitter and has been reported in news outlets around the world. If supplements really could prevent 60% of Covid-19 deaths, it would be a research finding that could literally change the course of the pandemic.

Unfortunately, as with most of the previous research, the evidence is much shakier than you might expect given the glowing headlines. Even more than a year into all of this, we still don’t really know if vitamin D does anything for Covid-19 at all.

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#Perseverance has captured the first images of life on Mars.

 

 

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Feb 062021
 


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Allegory of the Planets and Continents 1752

 

New Covid Strains ‘May Even Escape The Immune Response’ – Biden Advisor (CNBC)
Domestic Violence Is a Pandemic Within the COVID-19 Pandemic (Time)
YouTube Censors Senate Testimony From Doctor On Possible Covid Drug (Turley)
Biden Revokes Terrorist Designation For Yemen’s Houthis (Fox)
Biden: Trump Should No Longer Receive Classified Intelligence Briefings (CNN)
Trump’s Decision Not To Testify Is Not Evidence Of His Guilt (Turley)
The Fire This Time (Kunstler)
Sanders Says He Never Intended To Raise Minimum Wage To $15 During Pandemic (JTN)
EU Parliament Snubs Anti-Corruption Researchers (EUO)
Ecuador Gov’t Scrambles to Privatize the Central Bank Before Elections (MPN)
Nevada Bill Would Allow Tech Companies To Create Governments (AP)
The WEF’s Simulation of a Coming “Cyber Pandemic” (Webb/Vedmore)

 

 

 

 

Not sure what to make of this. Is she just selling vaccines?

New Covid Strains ‘May Even Escape The Immune Response’ – Biden Advisor (CNBC)

A member of the Biden-Harris Transition Covid Advisory Board warned about the highly transmissible new Covid variants and vaccine resistance during a Thursday evening interview on CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith.” “They’re more virulent, can cause more death, and some of them may even escape the immune response, whether it’s natural or from the vaccine,” said Dr. Celine Gounder. “So it’s really important right now that we do everything possible to preserve the vaccines to make sure they keep working and that means preventing the spread of these new variants.” Three highly contagious mutations of Covid have been detected in at least 33 states across the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers say these highly transmissible variants could prolong the pandemic and potentially create another surge. Projections out of the CDC even predict the U.K. variant to be the dominant variant in the U.S. by March. Gounder, an epidemiologist at NYU, told host Shepard Smith that she’s “concerned” that people will let their guards down in March and that it could potentially lead to another surge. “That’s a time when you might have some families taking spring break, so you would have the additive effect of, again, a holiday where people might be socializing, not taking all the safety measures, on top of this far more contagious variant,” warned Gounder.

Johnson & Johnson announced that it filed emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its coronavirus vaccine. Last week it released data showing it was about 66% effective in protecting against the virus. If J&J’s application is approved, it would be the third vaccine in the arsenal authorized for emergency use in the U.S. behind vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Unlike the other two shots, however, the J&J vaccine only requires one shot and requires basic refrigeration for storage.

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“The abuser says, ‘You can’t go out; you’re not going anywhere,’ and the government also is saying, ‘You have to stay in.’”

Domestic Violence Is a Pandemic Within the COVID-19 Pandemic (Time)

Growing evidence shows the pandemic has made intimate partner violence more common—and often more severe. “COVID doesn’t make an abuser,” says Jacky Mulveen, project manager of Women’s Empowerment and Recovery Educators (WE:ARE), an advocacy and support group in Birmingham, England. “But COVID exacerbates it. It gives them more tools, more chances to control you. The abuser says, ‘You can’t go out; you’re not going anywhere,’ and the government also is saying, ‘You have to stay in.’” That was Sheila’s experience. “The abuse was going to happen anyway,” she says. “Having the excuse of there’s nowhere to go, there’s nothing to do, didn’t help.”

Surveys around the world have shown domestic abuse spiking since January of 2020—jumping markedly year over year compared to the same period in 2019. According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine and the United Nations group U.N. Women, when the pandemic began, incidents of domestic violence increased 300% in Hubei, China; 25% in Argentina, 30% in Cyprus, 33% in Singapore and 50% in Brazil. The U.K., where calls to domestic violence hotlines have soared since the pandemic hit, was particularly shaken in June by the death of Amy-Leanne Stringfellow, 26, a mother of one and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, allegedly at the hands of her 45-year-old boyfriend.

In the U.S., the situation is equally troubling, with police departments reporting increases in cities around the country: for example, 18% in San Antonio, 22% in Portland, Ore.; and 10% in New York City, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. One study in the journal Radiology reports that at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, radiology scans and superficial wounds consistent with domestic abuse from March 11 to May 3 of this year exceeded the totals for the same period in 2018 and 2019 combined. And as the pandemic has dragged on, so too has the abuse. Just as the disease continues to claim more lives, quarantine-linked domestic violence is claiming more victims—and not just women in heterosexual relationships. Intimate partner violence occurs in same-sex couples at rates equal to or even higher than the rates in opposite sex partners.

What’s more, the economic challenges of the pandemic have hit same-sex couples especially hard, with members of the LGBTQ community likelier to be employed in highly affected industries like education, restaurants, hospitals and retail, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. That means higher stress and, concomitantly, the higher risk that that stress will explode into violence. As with so many things, communities of color are affected more severely as well, with systemic inequities often meaning lower income and less access to social and private services. “While one in three white women report having experienced domestic violence [during the pandemic], the rates of abuse increased dramatically to about 50% and higher for those marginalized by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, and cognitive physical ability,” says Erika Sussman, executive director of the Center for Survivor Advocacy and Justice (CSAJ), a support and research organization.

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Turley noticed what happened right after I posted the Pierre Kory video -again- in last week’s Criminal COVID Negligence. A few hours later it was gone. I replaced it with a Kory video from Vimeo. Easy. Still, censoring Senate hearings should be out of the question for Big Tech.

YouTube Censors Senate Testimony From Doctor On Possible Covid Drug (Turley)

We have have been discussing how writers, editors, commentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisers. The erosion of free speech has been radically accelerated by the Big Tech and social media companies, including YouTube. Now YouTube has censored actual testimony given to the United States Senate by Dr. Pierre Kory, who was testifying on different drug treatment. So now these companies are going to censor what was told to the government and decide what viewers will be allowed to consider from the public debate. It is a continuation of the movement to prevent people from hearing opposing views and to control what is shared or discussed in a growing attack on free speech.

YouTube removed two videos from a December 8th hearing before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. It featured Kory who discussed the use of Ivermectin as a potential treatment for Covid-19, particularly in the early stages. It is a drug that treats tropical diseases caused by parasites. Kory was calling for a review by National Institutes of Health on trials for the drug. Ultimately, it does appear that the NIH did change the status of the drug. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has said that the videos were blocked on his account, including Kory’s testimony. The Federalist maintained that YouTube removed the videos to the platform’s COVID-19 Medical Misinformation Policy. That policy stipulates that anything which goes against “local health authorities’ or the WHO medical information about COVID-19” will be removed.

I can hardly shed light on the merits of the medical debate but this is the censoring of an actual Senate hearing that is so disturbing. YouTube is preventing citizens from watching testimony on an issue of national importance. It is an example of the slippery slope of censorship and how such speech regulation becomes an insatiable appetite for many. [..] There is ample ability of people to challenge such testimony. However, many do not want to engage in a debate. They want to silence others and control what fellow citizens are allowed to consider. In the meantime, hosts on CNN are assuring people that they do not have to call such acts censorship but “harm reduction.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal recently calling for “robust content modification” on the Internet. Those voices of censorship are only growing stronger in the United States.

Indeed, in the wake of the Capitol riot, Democratic members and others are calling for a crackdown on free speech and punitive actions for those viewed as complicit with Trump. What is striking is how censorship, blacklists, and speech controls are being repackaged as righteous and virtuous. Indeed, the failure to sign such anti-free speech screeds is a precarious choice for many as writers and publishers call for blacklists. We are watching the most successful campaign against free speech in the history of the United States. It is being supported by many in the media and academia. If we allow companies like YouTube to succeed in such speech controls, true free speech could become a quaint historical relic in the United States.

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Sounds okay, but this whole thing started when he was VP. And he can still bomb the crap out of them.

Biden Revokes Terrorist Designation For Yemen’s Houthis (Fox)

President Joe Biden’s administration is moving to revoke the designation of Yemen’s Houthis as a terrorist group, citing the need to mitigate one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. President Donald Trump’s administration had branded the Iranian-backed Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, a move that limited the provision of aid to the beleaguered Yemeni people, who have suffered under a yearslong civil war and famine. A senior State Department official confirmed the move Friday after members of Congress were notified of the administration’s plans. The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the removal changed nothing about the Biden administration’s views of the Houthis, who have targeted civilians and kidnapped Americans.


“Our action is due entirely to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the prior administration, which the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have since made clear would accelerate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” the official said. The move comes a day after Biden announced an end to offensive support to Saudi Arabia’s campaign against the Houthis. The Obama administration in 2015 gave its approval to Saudi Arabia leading a cross-border air campaign targeting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who were seizing ever more territory, including Sanaa. The Houthis have launched multiple drone and missile strikes deep into Saudi Arabia. The U.S. says the Saudi-led campaign has entrenched Iran’s role in the conflict, on the side of the Houthis.

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Obama kept getting the intelligence briefings while he was colluding with intelligence against Trump.

Biden: Trump Should No Longer Receive Classified Intelligence Briefings (CNN)

President Joe Biden doesn’t believe former President Donald Trump should receive classified intelligence briefings, as is tradition for past presidents, citing Trump’s “erratic behavior unrelated to the insurrection.” When asked in an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell if he thought Trump should receive an intelligence briefing if he requested one, Biden said, “I think not.” “I’d rather not speculate out loud,” Biden said when asked what he fears could happen if Trump continued to receive the briefings. “I just think that there is no need for him to have the — the intelligence briefings. What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?”


Former presidents traditionally have been allowed to request and receive intelligence briefings. A senior administration official previously told CNN that Trump has not submitted any requests at this point. There are many ways intelligence can be presented, the official said, something the intelligence community would formulate should any request come in. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN on Thursday that “the intelligence community supports requests for intelligence briefings by former presidents and will review any incoming requests, as they always have.” Trump was not known to fully or regularly read the President’s Daily Brief, the highly classified summary of the nation’s secrets, when he was in office. He was instead orally briefed two or three times a week by his intelligence officials, CNN has reported.

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“As the Supreme Court declared in 1964, it is the embodiment of “many of our fundamental values and most noble aspirations.”

Trump’s Decision Not To Testify Is Not Evidence Of His Guilt (Turley)

[..] the statement of House manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., this week was breathtaking. A former law professor, Raskin declared that the decision of Trump not to testify in the Senate could be cited or used by House managers as an inference of his guilt — a statement that contradicts not just our constitutional principles but centuries of legal writing. Presidents have historically not testified at impeachment trials. One reason is that, until now, only sitting presidents have been impeached and presidents balked at the prospect of being examined as head of the Executive Branch by the Legislative Branch. Moreover, it was likely viewed as undignified and frankly too risky. Indeed, most defense attorneys routinely discourage their clients from testifying in actual criminal cases because the risks outweigh any benefits.

Despite the historical precedent for presidents not testifying, Raskin made an extraordinary and chilling declaration on behalf of the House of Representatives. He wrote in a letter to Trump that “If you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021.” Raskin justified his position by noting that Trump “denied many factual allegations set forth in the article of impeachment.” Thus, he insisted Trump needed to testify or his silence is evidence of guilt. Under this theory, any response other than conceding the allegations would trigger this response and allow the House to use the silence of the accused as an inference of guilt. This is the nature of “the cruel trilemma of self-accusation, perjury or contempt.” Murphy v. Waterfront Commission, 378 U.S. 52, 55 (1964)

The statement was a conflict with one of the most precious and revered principles in American law that such a refusal to testify cannot be used against an accused party. The statement also highlighted the fact that the House has done nothing to lock in testimony of those who could shed light on Trump’s intent. After using a “snap impeachment,” the House let weeks pass without any effort to call any of the roughly dozen witnesses who could testify on Trump’s statements and conduct in the White House. Many of those witnesses have already given public interviews. Of course, the relative passivity of the House simply shows a lack of effort to actually win this case. The Raskin statement is far more disturbing. The Fifth Amendment embodies this touchstone of American law in declaring that “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” It was a rejection of the type of abuses associated with the infamous Star Chamber in Great Britain. As the Supreme Court declared in 1964, it is the embodiment of “many of our fundamental values and most noble aspirations.”

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“It sure won’t be like 1957 again, but it would give an awful lot of idle people more to do when they get up in the morning.”

The Fire This Time (Kunstler)

The economy won’t be fixed by policy because the things that have to happen to fix it will be resisted to the death by the parasitical entities feeding on what little remains. For instance, Walmart. Do you think it’s unhealthy that all the profit in American commerce is funneled into Bentonville, Arkansas? It used to be distributed in hundreds of thousands of small businesses in tens of thousands of US towns and cities. What do you think will die first: Walmart or the organism its feeding on? Since the dynamic at work is emergent and non-linear, other forces can come between these relationships and change things. We are already in conflict with China, the land that supplies most of the merchandise in Walmart.

The conflict right now is mostly playing out in the capture of US corporate and cultural enterprise, and in cyberwarfare, and it’s liable to hotten up around the continued sovereignty of Taiwan (America’s China). It’s difficult to assign intentions to another country but it appears that China’s China wishes to cancel the USA as the fading hegemon on the world stage, at least neutralize us, and perhaps dominate us. Mr. Trump is no longer in place to resist that, and the country might be forced to consider all those deals that our new president, “China Joe” enjoyed from the Biden family’s business ventures there over the years. Emergently, then, the Big Box business model could fail, and in fairly short order, which would at least give Americans a chance to self-reorganize the production and distribution of goods in our own country.

It sure won’t be like 1957 again, but it would give an awful lot of idle people more to do when they get up in the morning. Wait for it, and plan accordingly. In the meantime, we are treated to the sordid spectacle of Democratic Wokesters endeavoring to destroy what remains of American cultural life. It’s an incomparably stupid and malign distraction from the imperatives of this historical moment. They will not succeed in cancelling those who object to the systematic disassembly of our national language, myth, and meaning, even if we have to go back to the mimeograph machine to keep these things alive. They will not turn a republic into a psychopathic despotism. Politics, they say, is downstream from culture. Truth is the antidote to a culture of lies. The upcoming impeachment trial of former president Trump will be a showcase for that, and it may prove to be a hoax too far.

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Everyone just walks back what they’ve said like it never meant a thing.

“On Biden’s Inauguration Day, Sanders vowed to use budget reconciliation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour..”

Sanders Says He Never Intended To Raise Minimum Wage To $15 During Pandemic (JTN)

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders overnight Thursday helped nix Democrats’ effort to include a hike in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, as part of their $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, despite having championed such an increase. However, Sanders made clear that he supported the GOP-backed amendment to keep an immediate wage hike out of the relief measure became he wants a gradual increase. “It was never my intention to increase the minimum wage to $15 immediately and during the pandemic,” Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said on the Senate floor late Thursday night. “My legislation gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a five-year period and that is what I believe we have got to do.”

The vote took place during a “vote-a-rama” session in which senators voted on amendments to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which fellow Democrats are seeking to pass through “budget reconciliation” without GOP votes. Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, proposed the amendment that would prohibit an increase of the federal minimum wage during the global COVID-19 pandemic. “A $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time when they can least afford it,” she said. After Sanders spoke up, the measure to keep the hike out of the COVID relief package was then approved through a voice vote, helping avoid a partisan showdown on the issue.

However, Democrats and Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, are expected to reinsert the wage hike into the package as a gradual increase. On Biden’s Inauguration Day, Sanders vowed to use budget reconciliation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour if the GOP does not support the move.

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“The parliament did the same in 2014, when the NGO launched a similar probe. A letter sent by the parliament’s president at that time claimed itself to be “extremely transparent” and so saw no need to cooperate. It has now sent the very same letter to its most recent study.”

EU Parliament Snubs Anti-Corruption Researchers (EUO)

The European Parliament refused to cooperate with an EU institutional-wide study on integrity and ethics by Transparency International, one of the world’s most prestigious anti-corruption NGOs. “The European Parliament, despite its publicly-stated support for greater transparency was, in fact, the only institution that refused to cooperate,” said Michiel van Hulten, who heads Transparency International’s EU office in Brussels. The parliament did the same in 2014, when the NGO launched a similar probe. A letter sent by the parliament’s president at that time claimed itself to be “extremely transparent” and so saw no need to cooperate. It has now sent the very same letter to its most recent study.


“They unfortunately did not go through the trouble of writing a new letter,” noted the lead author of the reports, Transparency International’s Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm. He ascribed the parliament’s decision as an overall lack of accountability within its administrative leadership. This includes the ‘Bureau’, composed of the secretary general and the vice presidents. “Honestly we are not sure what ultimately the reason is,” he said, noting that the initial response had been positive. But the final study, also published on Thursday, noted almost zero penalties whenever an MEP breaks internal house conduct rules.

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Lenin Moreno is outta here.

Ecuador Gov’t Scrambles to Privatize the Central Bank Before Elections (MPN)

With just days until Ecuador’s February 7 presidential election and four months remaining on President Lenin Moreno’s mandate, the Ecuadorian government and right-wing elites are still scrambling to privatize the country’s central bank. The process involves fast-tracking an emergency law dubbed the Humanitarian Support Organic Law, which will “lockdown” the central bank, siphon it from the public sector, and place Ecuador’s financial sovereignty at the whims of private interests. According to right-wing figures and the country’s mainstream media apparatus that protects and serves its interest, the unconstitutional move is being touted as a necessity. Both parties have claimed that the measure would “safeguard” the country’s dollarization.

In 2000, the U.S. dollar was implemented as part of the country’s national monetary system during the neoliberal administration of Jamil Mahuad. Sixteen financial institutions were bailed out by his government at a whopping cost of $2.6 billion. Ecuador’s dollarization occurred just months after the infamous “bank holiday,” in which 70% of all banking institutions declared bankruptcy, hurling the Andean Republic into its worst economic crisis in a century. Millions of people lost their life savings during the chaos and the former national currency, the sucre, plummeted in value by 195%. A migrant crisis accompanied the economic downturn. More than 267,000 Ecuadorians fled the country during a two year period (1999 and 2000), eventually leading to a total of 2.2 million Ecuadorians migrating, a figure that at the time represented nearly 20% of the country’s population.

Even more lost their life savings. The middle class was obliterated and inequality worsened. The current claim that the country’s dollarization needs to be “safeguarded,” a claim repeated by the political and economic elites, local media, and the bulk-some of the 15 presidential hopefuls, is rooted in the work of the leading presidential candidate, Andrés Arauz. Since the end of Rafael Correa’s term in office, Arauz has been in charge of the Dollarization Observatory. This organization informs the public on economic matters, often focusing on the ways in which neoliberal interests threaten Ecuador’s economy. The myth claiming that Arauz wants to forcibly remove the dollar as the national currency comes from an article he wrote last April in which he gave examples of “good and bad” de-dollarization processes.

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Mussolini smiles.

Nevada Bill Would Allow Tech Companies To Create Governments (AP)

Planned legislation to establish new business areas in Nevada would allow technology companies to effectively form separate local governments. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak announced a plan to launch so-called Innovation Zones in Nevada to jumpstart the state’s economy by attracting technology firms, Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Wednesday. The zones would permit companies with large areas of land to form governments carrying the same authority as counties, including the ability to impose taxes, form school districts and courts and provide government services. The measure to further economic development with the “alternative form of local government” has not yet been introduced in the Legislature.

Sisolak pitched the concept in his State of the State address delivered Jan. 19. The plan would bring in new businesses at the forefront of “groundbreaking technologies” without the use of tax abatements or other publicly funded incentive packages that previously helped Nevada attract companies like Tesla Inc. Sisolak named Blockchains, LLC as a company that had committed to developing a “smart city” in an area east of Reno after the legislation has passed. The draft proposal said the traditional local government model is “inadequate alone” to provide the resources to make Nevada a leader in attracting and retaining businesses and fostering economic development in emerging technologies and industries.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development would oversee applications for the zones, which would be limited to companies working in specific business areas including blockchain, autonomous technology, the Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence, wireless, biometrics and renewable resource technology.

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“The forum’s current agenda and its past track record of hosting prophetic simulations demands that the exercise be scrutinized.”

The WEF’s Simulation of a Coming “Cyber Pandemic” (Webb/Vedmore)

On Wednesday, the World Economic Forum (WEF), along with Russia’s Sberbank and its cybersecurity subsidiary BI.ZONE announced that a new global cyberattack simulation would take place this coming July to instruct participants in “developing secure ecosystems” by simulating a supply-chain cyberattack similar to the recent SolarWinds hack that would “assess the cyber resilience” of the exercise’s participants. On the newly updated event website, the simulation, called Cyber Polygon 2021, ominously warns that, given the digitalization trends largely spurred by the COVID-19 crisis, “a single vulnerable link is enough to bring down the entire system, just like the domino effect,” adding that “a secure approach to digital development today will determine the future of humanity for decades to come.”

The exercise comes several months after the WEF, the “international organization for public-private cooperation” that counts the world’s richest elite among its members, formally announced its movement for a Great Reset, which would involve the coordinated transition to a Fourth Industrial Revolution global economy in which human workers become increasingly irrelevant. This revolution, including its biggest proponent, WEF founder Klaus Schwab, has previously presented a major problem for WEF members and member organizations in terms of what will happen to the masses of people left unemployed by the increasing automation and digitalization in the workplace.

New economic systems that are digitally based and either partnered with or run by central banks are a key part of the WEF’s Great Reset, and such systems would be part of the answer to controlling the masses of the recently unemployed. As others have noted, these digital monopolies, not just financial services, would allow those who control them to “turn off” a person’s money and access to services if that individual does not comply with certain laws, mandates and regulations. The WEF has been actively promoting and creating such systems and has most recently taken to calling its preferred model “stakeholder capitalism.” Though advertised as a more “inclusive” form of capitalism, stakeholder capitalism would essentially fuse the public and private sectors, creating a system much more like Mussolini’s corporatist style of fascism than anything else.

Yet, to usher in this new and radically different system, the current corrupt system must somehow collapse in its entirety, and its replacement must be successfully marketed to the masses as somehow better than its predecessor. When the world’s most powerful people, such as members of the WEF, desire to make radical changes, crises conveniently emerge—whether a war, a plague, or economic collapse—that enable a “reset” of the system, which is frequently accompanied by a massive upward transfer of wealth.

In recent decades, such events have often been preceded by simulations that come thick and fast before the very event they were meant to “prevent” takes place. Recent examples include the 2020 US election and COVID-19. One of these, Event 201, was cohosted by the World Economic Forum in October 2019 and simulated a novel coronavirus pandemic that spreads around the world and causes major disruptions to the global economy—just a few weeks before the first case of COVID-19 appeared. Cyber Polygon 2021 is merely the latest such simulation, cosponsored by the World Economic Forum. The forum’s current agenda and its past track record of hosting prophetic simulations demands that the exercise be scrutinized.

Read more …

 

 

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Apr 222018
 


Vincent van Gogh Green Wheat Field With Cypress 1889

 

US Hints at China Truce as World Warns of Trade-War Threat (BBG)
US Banks Push Mortgage Apps As Home Lending Slows (R.)
Chinese Gangs Are Laundering Drug Money Through Vancouver Real Estate (GN)
New Zealand’s Ban On Home Sales To Foreigners Is “Discriminatory” – IMF (BBG)
Whirling Whirling (Jim Kunstler)
Home Office Under Theresa May Was Urged in 2014 To Act On Windrush (Ind.)
Tory Ministers Milking The System Are The Real Shirkers (G.)
Theresa May’s Hateful ‘Hostile Environment’ Immigration Policy (O.)
Europe’s Depopulation Time Bomb Is Ticking in the Baltics (BBG)
Members of European Parliament Call For Boycott of FIFA World Cup in Russia (UAW)
World Bank Recommends That Countries Eliminate Minimum Wage (BB)
Hopes For Greek Debt Deal Low Amid EU-IMF Discord (K.)
Turkish Justice Minister: Greece ‘A Gathering Place For Criminals’ (K.)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb Has Never Borrowed a Cent in His Life (Esq.)

 

 

At least in words, China has caved.

US Hints at China Truce as World Warns of Trade-War Threat (BBG)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s considering a trip to China amid a trade dispute with Beijing that finance chiefs warn could derail the global economic upswing. Mnuchin said he’s “cautiously optimistic” of reaching an agreement with China that bridges their differences over trade. “A trip is under consideration,” Mnuchin told reporters on Saturday in Washington at the IMF’s spring meetings. “I’m not going to make a comment on timing, nor do I have anything confirmed.” China’s Ministry of Commerce said Sunday it is aware that the U.S. is considering a visit to Beijing to negotiate economic and trade issues and welcomes such a move.

A visit by the U.S. Treasury secretary to China could signal a breakthrough in the spat between the world’s two-biggest economies, whose threats to slap tariffs on each other have rattled markets and raised fears of a trade war. It would come at a sensitive time for the region’s geopolitics, with negotiations under way on a planned meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Mnuchin’s remarks came as finance ministers and central bankers at the IMF meetings gave their latest economic assessments, often citing trade as a threat looming over the strongest upswing in seven years.

[..] Mnuchin said he met with Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, at the IMF gathering this week. The discussions focused on issues related to the Chinese central bank, not trade, said the secretary. Mnuchin said they also discussed China’s planned further opening of some markets, a move that U.S. has encouraged and “appreciated.” “China will vigorously push forward the reform and opening-up of the financial sector, significantly relax market access restrictions, create a more attractive investment environment, strengthen the protection of intellectual properties and actively expand imports,” Yi said in a statement on Saturday. China has announced plans to gradually remove foreign ownership caps for limits for car-, ship- and aircraft-makers.

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“Buying a house is supposed to be a joyful thing..”

US Banks Push Mortgage Apps As Home Lending Slows (R.)

Big U.S. banks are racing to launch websites and mobile apps to make getting a mortgage faster and easier, investments that may have modest near-term payoffs as home lending activity slows. Lenders have been spending on digital tools to cut costs, eliminate error-prone paperwork and appeal to younger home buyers. However, they are chasing a shrinking pool of refinancing business and new home loan volumes are still below pre-crisis levels. Bank of America has spent $1 billion on its digital banking services in the last six years and launched its lineup of techy mortgage products last week. Wells Fargo rolled out its website and app service during the first quarter, and JPMorgan Chase, which is investing $1.4 billion in technology in 2018, plans to launch its offering later this year.

Bank of America’s app automatically fills in a customer’s address, employment history and other information that the bank already has, cutting out hundreds of boxes customers would otherwise have to fill. JPMorgan’s lets customers e-sign important documents. Quicken Loans was the first to gain traction with digital home loans following its 2016 Rocket Mortgage launch. The app is now key to its mortgage sales with more than 98 percent of the $20 billion in first-quarter lending volume accessing Rocket Mortgage at some point in the mortgage process, Quicken spokeswoman Brianna Blust said.

Quicken was the biggest home lender by volume in the fourth quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018, Blust said. It was the second-largest U.S. mortgage lender for the full year 2017, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance Publications. “Buying a house is supposed to be a joyful thing,” said Steve Boland, Bank of America’s head of consumer lending. “Filling out 330 fields is not, I think, something that brings you joy.” Refinancing volumes have plunged as interest rates have risen, meaning lenders must compete for a much smaller revenue pie in fresh home purchases.

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Bit over the top?

Chinese Gangs Are Laundering Drug Money Through Vancouver Real Estate (GN)

Criminal syndicates that control chemical factories in China’s booming Guangdong province are shipping narcotics, including fentanyl, to Vancouver, washing the drug sales in British Columbia’s casinos and high-priced real estate, and transferring laundered funds back to Chinese factories to repeat this deadly trade cycle, a Global News investigation shows. The flow of narcotics and chemical precursors — and a rising death count in western Canada caused by synthetic opioids — is driven by sophisticated organized crime groups known as Triads. The Triads have infiltrated Canada’s economy so deeply that Australia’s intelligence community has coined a new term for innovative methods of drug trafficking and money laundering now occurring in B.C.

It is called the “Vancouver Model” of transnational crime. Details of the Vancouver Model are outlined in a November 2017 report obtained by Global News from B.C.’s provincial government, in a freedom of information request. The report, by John Langdale of the department of security studies and criminology at Macquarie University, was presented to Australian intelligence officers and Austrac, the country’s anti-money laundering agency. B.C. Attorney General David Eby has reviewed the report, and recently travelled to Ottawa to inform a federal committee of his concerns. His message was blunt. Eby testified that Canada’s anti-money laundering system has completely failed. He told the committee that gangsters have been openly carrying hockey bags stuffed with hundreds of thousands in drug cash into B.C. casinos, and there has not been a single prosecution.

In an interview with Global, Eby said the Australian report shows “that Vancouver is now recognized internationally as a hub of transnational money laundering.”

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Is this also about Chinese gangs?

New Zealand’s Ban On Home Sales To Foreigners Is “Discriminatory” – IMF (BBG)

The IMF has criticized New Zealand’s “discriminatory” ban on home sales to foreigners, saying it’s unlikely to improve housing affordability. “Foreign buyers seem to have played a minor role in New Zealand’s residential real estate market recently,” the IMF said in a statement Tuesday, after concluding its annual Article IV mission to New Zealand. If the government’s broader housing policy agenda is fully implemented, that “would address most of the potential problems associated with foreign buyers on a less discriminatory basis,” it said. The new Labour-led government has pledged to fix the nation’s housing crisis with a raft of measures, including a ban on foreign speculators buying residential property, removal of tax distortions and an ambitious building program.

House prices have surged more than 60% in the past decade amid record immigration and a construction shortfall, shutting many out of the housing market. [..] Proposed changes to the Overseas Investment Act, which the government says will bring New Zealand into line with neighboring Australia, will classify residential land as “sensitive,” meaning non-residents or non-citizens can’t purchase existing dwellings without the consent of the Overseas Investment Office. While non-resident foreigners will be allowed to invest in new construction, they will be forced to sell once the homes are built.

Read more …

“Their parting shot to an unjust world was voting for Donald Trump. Next time, they won’t even be around.”

Whirling Whirling (Jim Kunstler)

It begins to look like The USA will litigate itself into Civil War Two with the first battle being half the lawyers in the Department of Justice prosecuting the other half until Anthropogenic Global Warming puts the DC Swamp completely underwater and all parties concerned scuttle off into the deep blue sea. It was rather a shock to see the photo lineup of all those familiar faces — Comey, Hillary, McCabe, Loretta Lynch et. al. — in the criminal referral “matters” sent over to the DOJ by congress on Wednesday, as if they were some mob of goombahs caught running a waste management kickback racket in the Hackensack mud-flats.

But the evidence trail has been in plain sight for more than a year that Justice Department officials of various ranks and stripes colluded to bring off a legalistic coup d’etat against the loathed and despised winner of the 2016 election — with a little help from (of all things and personae) Russia, as in that political smallpox blanket known as the Steele Dossier. Mixed metaphors aside, it looks like all the clones of Ricky Ricardo and Lucy engineered in some CIA black lab will never satisfy the amount of ’splainin’ that needs to be done, and that the ensuing trials may last longer than the lifetimes of millennials still struggling on campus with their gender presentation. There may be even more line-ups to come.

I’m thinking players like Susan Rice, the Podesta brothers, Huma Abedin, John Brennan, James Clapper, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and perhaps the gentleman who preceded the Golden Golem of Greatness in the oval office. This melodrama will make The Lord of the Rings look like a knock-knock joke. Meanwhile, the Republic actually whirls around the drain, both as a legitimate polity between Montauk Point and the Farallon Islands, and as an actor on the world stage. The Washington bureaucracy is not the only swamp that needs to be drained. There’s also the reeking Okeefenokee wasteland known as the US economy, led by its financial avatars on Wall Street who engineered the orgy of asset-stripping that chewed through the industrial states like some flesh-eating bacteria.

There is nothing left in Flyover-land. I drove through part of it yesterday on a book-reporting chore: the “quiet corner” of northeastern Connecticut south of Worcester, Mass, a valley of decrepitating mill towns and opiate addiction, like some place out of H.P. Lovecraft’s demon-haunted imagination, where the sun comes up twenty minutes later than anywhere else, and a dwindling population of malevolent diseased imbeciles shriek their lonesome agonies of failure and destitution to a God that never returned from lunchbreak one day in 1985. Their parting shot to an unjust world was voting for Donald Trump. Next time, they won’t even be around.

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No accident.

Home Office Under Theresa May Was Urged in 2014 To Act On Windrush (Ind.)

Home Office officials were urged four years ago to act on the growing problems facing the Windrush generation, it has emerged, including recommendations to create a specialist taskforce which was only set up this week. It follows intense pressure on the government department and Theresa May over their handling of the Windrush scandal that has highlighted the plight of members of a generation of immigrants who arrived as British citizens in the mid-twentieth century. This week both Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and the prime minister have personally apologised for the debacle, promising compensation for those affected and setting up a new dedicated team in the Home Office tasked with helping members of the Windrush generation prove their right to British citizenship.

But the government now faces renewed criticism after it emerged that a similar recommendation – the creation of specialist Home Office unit – was made in October 2014 while Ms May was in charge of the department as home secretary. In a detailed report, published in October 2014 by the Legal Action Group, it was also warned that thousands of migrants who have been in Britain legally for decades were falling victim to the “hostile immigration” policies aimed at illegal immigrants in the UK. The recommendations of the Chasing Status report also included maintaining applicants’ ability to work and claim benefits while their status is resolved.

[..]The Labour MP David Lammy, who has been a leading campaigner for those members of the Windrush generation experiencing difficulties, told The Independent: “It is utterly extraordinary that the Home Office was clearly aware of the impact that their pernicious policies would have, yet ignored all the warnings and impact assessments. “The apologies made by the home secretary and prime minister are merely crocodile tears given that they were fully aware of the human cost that their policies would have. It’s time for a proper and independent review of our immigration policy and the hostile environment.”

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“Lose one form, and you lose cancer treatment and your liberty – lose a generation’s forms, and you’re the effing PM..”

Tory Ministers Milking The System Are The Real Shirkers (G.)

If I were editing a tabloid newspaper this week – and I’m always open to guest stints – I would have had advertising vans out since Monday. They would have been crawling v-e-r-y slowly back and forth past the houses of Theresa May, Amber Rudd, Nick Timothy and David Cameron – and those just for starters. Instead of the repulsive GO HOME message that adorned the infamous vans May’s Home Office sent out, which resulted in the eventual deportation of precisely 11 migrants, I would have something along the lines of STAY HOME. Stay home, permanently. Whether they would get the message is uncertain. Collectively, Britain did its very best to provide a hostile environment for May with the election result. The message was very clear: take a hike. Not a hiking holiday, but the full hike.

Yet the import does not seem to have got through to the prime minister, or the various arse-coverers around her. It’s fair to say we are dealing with a very specific class of unworthy here. There are few groups who take less responsibility for their actions, as this week in the Windrush scandal has laid starkly bare. Some of the most senior political figures in the land are – in the purest sense of one of their favourite terms – shirkers. They are feckless. They act like these things are happening to them, as opposed to because of them. Given the judgments they like to visit on the weaker members of society for comparatively minuscule transgressions, this makes them the most raging hypocrites too.

[..] And on they all go. If the government is in any doubt as to why so many millions think it’s one rule for them and another for the little people, then this week couldn’t be a better primer. You lose one form and you lose your job, your cancer treatment, your benefits, your liberty; you lose a generation’s forms and you’re the effing prime minister. Those condemned to battle the systems that ministers design know what happens if they make tiny errors. Furthermore, they know that if they messed up a tenth as badly in their jobs, they’d be sacked. But in the arse-over-tit world of government, you’re safe because your sacking would make the big boss – May – look weak. Just like your HR department, right? Except on crystal meth.

I don’t want to fall back on a series of politicians’ best-loved cliches, but this level of irresponsibility is just scrounging with a red box. They play for high stakes – but never their own. It’s the sort of system-milking demonised in a benefits office in Grimsby but regarded as career progression in Westminster. It makes it appear there’s no glass ceiling in modern political life, just a reinforced lead floor. Once you’re in, you basically have to die to stop earning rewards.

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“Children as young as 10 who were born in the UK are subjected to a “good character” test when they apply for citizenship..”

Theresa May’s Hateful ‘Hostile Environment’ Immigration Policy (O.)

History will judge Theresa May harshly. In recent weeks, the appalling stories about the impact of the government’s “hostile environment” policy reported by our sister paper, the Guardian, have continued to grow in number. They paint a shocking picture of a Kafkaesque state that has denied people who came to the UK from the Commonwealth as children their rightful entitlement to work, to housing and to healthcare. May has maintained these are people who have been wrongly caught up in her 2013 decision as home secretary to create a “really hostile environment” for people living in Britain illegally. But their tragic stories are the direct consequence of a policy so punitive that it would inevitably make life intolerable for legal British residents.

People without a passport are now being required to provide an absurd level of proof – four pieces of documentary evidence for each year of residence – of their legal status. Without this, they can no longer work, rent a home, open a bank account or access NHS care and may be detained and threatened with deportation. Doctors, bank clerks and landlords have become obliged to snoop on their fellow citizens by checking up on their immigration status.

[..] Those who become caught up in this are confronted with a cruel Home Office bureaucracy that operates outside the principles of natural justice. Officials are incentivised to reject applications for the tiniest of technical errors; immigration application fees are so high they are generating profits of up to 800% for the state, and there is no longer any right of appeal or legal aid available in most types of immigration cases. Children as young as 10 who were born in the UK are subjected to a “good character” test when they apply for citizenship; if they have been cautioned, their application can be refused.

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The EU fails everywhere, and spectacularly. It sucks the periphery dry. Just like Rome did.

Europe’s Depopulation Time Bomb Is Ticking in the Baltics (BBG)

With much of Eastern Europe already in the European Union or looking to join, living standards have been rising in the cities that dot these former Soviet satellites. More storefronts beckon to western tourists, who have grown more eager to wander among the cobblestones of historic capitals that were once less than hospitable. But a closer look outside the central squares reveals a different reality. According to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, nine of the world’s countries most at risk of losing citizens over the next few decades are former East bloc nations. Porous borders and greater opportunity in the west have lured people away. Meanwhile, the populist wave sweeping the continent has made it next-to-impossible for African or Middle Eastern refugees to take their place.

Former Latvian economic minister Vjaceslavs Dombrovskis, now head of the Certus think tank, compared the westward migration of young eastern Europeans to the industrial revolution, when peasants rushed to large urban centers. He said these countries risk turning into what ancestral villages are for city dwellers: “a lovely place where you might spend an odd weekend with your folks.” The trend is hitting especially hard in the Baltics. Latvia, with a current population of 1.96 million, has lost about 25% of its residents since throwing off Soviet control in 1991. The UN predicts that by 2050, it will have lost an additional 22% of its current population—second only to Bulgaria—and by 2100, 41%.

In Estonia, with a population of 1.32 million, the UN foresees a 13% decline by 2050, growing to 32% by 2100. And in Lithuania, the current population of 2.87 million is expected to drop by 17% in 2050. By 2100, it will have lost 34%. As bad as those numbers look, the trend looks even worse for Ukraine and Moldova. The UN predicts 36% and 51% declines in those nations by the end of the century, respectively. Russia, meanwhile, is expected to lose 13% by 2100. Several factors are contributing to the depopulation of Eastern Europe, and Latvia has all of them: low income, compared with more developed EU nations; insufficient growth; and strong anti-immigrant sentiment. The average annual take-home pay among all EU nations was 24,183 euros ($29,834) in 2015, according to Eurostat, while in Latvia it was only 6,814 euros ($8,406).

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There are 751 members. 60 support this.

Members of European Parliament Call For Boycott of FIFA World Cup in Russia (UAW)

60 members of the European Parliament called on EU member states to boycott the FIFA World Cup in Russia, DW reports. The initiator of this appeal is a representative of the Green Party, Rebecca Harms. She believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot be a host of the World Cup while the war continues in Syria and Ukraine. She also pointed out that Russia supports right-wing extremist and anti-democratic parties in the EU and has been trying to influence elections. Overall, the statement was signed by representatives of 5 factions of the European Parliament from 16 countries. The authors of the document indicate that Russia itself is pushing Europe towards such steps.

A group of deputies reminded others about the poisoning of former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which they called a mockery of European values. MEPs believe that EU member states should take the UK and Iceland as good examples of the countries which counter the “strengthening of the authoritarian and anti-Western course of the Russian president.” The authors also draw attention to the unsatisfactory situation with human rights and freedoms in Russia, especially the violation of freedom of speech. Earlier, a White House representative urged British and American fans to think twice before going to the World Cup in Russia.

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Let’s shut down the World Bank. It’s been rotting for too long.

World Bank Recommends That Countries Eliminate Minimum Wage (BB)

A draft of the World Bank’s annual flagship World Development Report says that its creditor-states (the poorest countries in the world) should eliminate their minimum wage rules, allow employers to fire workers without cause, and repeal laws limiting abusive employment contract terms. The bank argues that this is necessary to stop employers from simply investing in automation and eliminating workers altogether. The report does not contemplate the possibility that the world’s governments would just raise taxes on corporations and their investors to provide for all their citizens.

Poor countries – especially decolonized countries – are often in debt to organizations like the World Bank and IMF, sometimes because they were forced to literally buy their freedom (like Haiti, whose slave-descended population had to remit a sizable portion of its annual GDP to the descendants of French slavers until 1947), sometimes because their wealth was looted by colonists during and after the colonial period, and sometimes because rich creditor nations were complicit in the exfiltration of the nation’s treasure by gangster-politicians, a practice that continues to this day.

Countries generally carry more debt than they can hope to repay, and teeter on the brink of continuous default, putting them at the mercy of creditor-organizations, who can order changes to national laws, sell-offs of public industries and assets, and other measures that further reduce debtor-states’ ability to prosper, creating more debt and deeper concessions. The World Bank’s recommendations feel like the beginning of the end-game of late-stage capitalism, a recognition that the post-war era in which cruel exploitation of workers was considered a bug rather than a feature is drawing to a close, and a return to a kind of market feudalism, where property rights – no matter how corrupt their origins – always trump human rights.

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Divide and rule.

Hopes For Greek Debt Deal Low Amid EU-IMF Discord (K.)

Hopes for a breakthrough on the issue of Greek debt relief at a summit of eurozone finance ministers in Sofia on Friday are muted following a lack of progress in talks between European officials and representatives of the IMF in Washington over the weekend. Talks involved all of the key players in the debate on Greece’s debt, including IMF chief Christine Lagarde, European Monetary and Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovci, and the finance ministers of Germany, Italy, Spain and France. But a long-standing rift between EU and IMF officials over how a debt relief mechanism should operate continued, with the Fund representatives insisting that it should be automatic and the Europeans saying it should be tied to conditions.

In view of the resistance put up chiefly by Germany, the EU’s largest economy, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos expressed his concern that the debt relief being considered for Greece would be inadequate. Another worry is over creditors’ objections to a growth plan proposed by Greece. European officials responded with a 30-page memo to Greece’s 85-page proposal, requesting more detail and a stricter time frame. The growth plan was one of the issues discussed by leftist SYRIZA’s political secretariat during a session chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday.

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What you say about a neighbor you want good relations with.

Turkish Justice Minister: Greece ‘A Gathering Place For Criminals’ (K.)

Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul has written to his Greek counterpart Stavros Kontonis saying “Greece is becoming a gathering place for criminals” following a court ruling releasing one of eight Turkish servicemen seeking asylum in Greece, Anadolu reported on Saturday. Gul’s letter came a day after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim slammed the Council of State ruling, saying Greece was becoming a “safe haven” for Turkey’s enemies. The ruling issued on Thursday by Greece’s highest administrative court relates to Süleyman Özkaynakçı, who piloted the helicopter in which he and seven other Turkish servicemen fled to Greece in July 2016 following Turkey’s failed coup.

However it is expected to apply to all eight servicemen. In his comments on Friday, Yildirim said it was “unacceptable” for people who took part in the coup attempt in the summer of 2016 to be protected by Greece. “Unfortunately, recently, criminals of the FETO organization have started seeing Greece as a safe haven,” he said, referring to what Ankara describes as a terrorist group led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. “I hope they will extradite the members of this organization,” he said, adding that Turkish authorities “do not desire a negative impact on Greek-Turkish relations because of members of the FETO organization.”

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“We have to worry about the 2 percent—the intellectuals and politicians making the big decisions who don’t have skin in the game and are messing the whole thing up for everybody else.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Has Never Borrowed a Cent in His Life (Esq.)

People ask me my forecast for the economy when they should be asking me what I have in my portfolio. Don’t make pronouncements on what could happen in the future if you’re immune from the consequences. In French, they use the same word for wallet and portfolio. I have never, ever borrowed a penny. So I have zero credit record. No loans, no mortgage, nothing. Ever. When I had no money, I rented. I have an allergy to borrowing and a scorn for people who are in debt, and I don’t hide it. I follow the Romans’ attitude that debtors are not free people. I carry euros, dollars, and British pounds. What I do with my money is personal. People who say they give it to charity, that’s a no-no in my book. Nobody should ever talk about a charitable act in public.

Better to miss a zillion opportunities than blow up once. I learned this at my first job, from the veteran traders at a New York bank that no longer exists. Most people don’t understand how to handle uncertainty. They shy away from small risks, and without realizing it, they embrace the big, big risk. Businessmen who are consistently successful have the exact opposite attitude: Make all the mistakes you want, just make sure you’re going to be there tomorrow. Don’t invest any energy in bargaining except when the zeros become large. Lose the small games and save your efforts for the big ones. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, so long as you pay the price. A used-car salesman speaks well, they’re convincing, but ultimately, they are benefiting even if someone else is harmed by their advice.

A bullshitter is not someone who’s wrong, it’s someone who’s insulated from their mistakes. There is less “skin in the game” today than there was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. More people determine the fates of others without having to pay the consequences. Skin in the game means you own your own risk. It means people who make decisions in any walk of life should never be insulated from the consequences of those decisions, period. If you’re a helicopter repairman, you should be a helicopter rider. If you decide to invade Iraq, the people who vote for it should have children in the military. And if you’re making economic decisions, you should bear the cost if you’re wrong.

Ninety-eight percent of Americans—plumbers, dentists, bus drivers—have skin in the game. We have to worry about the 2 percent—the intellectuals and politicians making the big decisions who don’t have skin in the game and are messing the whole thing up for everybody else. Thirty years ago, the French National Assembly was composed of shop owners, farmers, doctors, veterinarians, and small-town lawyers—people involved in daily activities. Today, it’s entirely composed of professional politicians—people who are just divorced from real life. America is a little better, but we’re heading that way.

Read more …

Feb 102018
 


Frank Larson Times Square, New York 1950s

 

Worst Week in 2 Years for Stocks Ends on High Note (BBG)
By Betting On Calm, Did Investors Worsen The Stock Market Fall? (G.)
The Scariest Chart For The Market (ZH)
‘Bond Vigilantes’ Are Saddled Up And Ready To Push Rates Higher (CNBC)
The Worst Of The Bond Rout Is Yet To Come, Says Piper Jaffray (CNBC)
US GDP Growth Is Not As Rosy As It Seems (Lebowitz)
2018 Won’t Kill The Speculators. But It Will Teach Them A Lesson Or Two (Xie)
Minimum Wage Awkward Pillar Of Emerging Social Europe (AFP)
Relations Between Britain And The EU Sink To A New Low (Ind.)
UK Has More Than 750,000 Property Millionaires (G.)
Brexit Plan To Keep Northern Ireland In Customs Union Triggers Row (G.)
Greek PM Steps In To Police Exploding Novartis Bribery Investigation (FPh)
EU’s Moscovici Says Greece Will Be ‘Sovereign Country’ After Bailout (K.)

 

 

The one thing that really matters now is volatility, and all the outstanding bets for or against it.

Worst Week in 2 Years for Stocks Ends on High Note (BBG)

U.S. equities ended their worst week in two years on a positive note, but rate-hike fears that pushed markets into a correction remain as investors await American inflation figures on Feb. 14. The S&P 500 tumbled 5.2% in the week, its steepest slide since January 2016, jolting equity markets from an unprecedented stretch of calm. At one point, stocks fell 12% from the latest highs, before a furious rally Friday left the equity benchmark 1.5% higher on the day. Still, the selloff has wiped out gains for the year. Signs mounted that jitters spread to other assets, with measures of market unrest pushing higher in junk bonds, emerging-market equities and Treasuries. The Cboe Volatility Index ended at 29, almost three times higher than its level Jan. 26.

The VIX’s bond-market cousin reached its highest since April during the week, and a measure of currency volatility spiked to levels last seen almost a year ago. Pressure on equities came from the Treasury market, where yields spiked to a four-year high, raising concern the Federal Reserve would accelerate its rate-hike schedule. Yields ended the week at 2.85%, near where they started, as Treasuries moved higher when equity selling reached its most frantic levels. Commodities including oil, gold and industrial metals moved lower Friday. The dollar, euro and sterling all declined. “Sometimes making a bottom can take time,” Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust Co., said by phone. “Investors should be at least aware, cognizant, and expect a little more volatility after we go through this period of more cathartic volatility.”

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In more detail: volatility. Or in other words: how the Fed killed the market.

By Betting On Calm, Did Investors Worsen The Stock Market Fall? (G.)

Back in 2008, the non-financial world had to digest a lot of jargon in a hurry – collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), asset-backed securities (ABSs) and the rest of the alphabet soup of derivative products that contributed to the great banking crash. This week’s diet has felt similar. As the Dow Jones industrial average twice fell 1,000 points in a day, we have had to swallow tales about the VIX, the inverse VIX, the XIV, and ETPs. Did this overdose of three-letter acronyms really cause the stock markets to swoon? Have those geniuses in the back offices of investment banks really baffled themselves – and a lot of investors – with complexity again? The short answer to the second question is: yes. The chart shows one of the most spectacular blow-ups you could hope to see.

This is the XIV – it is actually the snappier name for the Credit Suisse VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short Term exchange traded note – since the start of 2016. It was a beautiful investment until, suddenly, it was a disaster. What is the XIV? It was a way to bet that the S&P 500, the main US stock index, would be tranquil – in other words suffer few outbreaks of volatility. The measure of volatility is called the VIX and it is compiled and published by the Chicago Board Options Exchange by noting the prices of various option contracts in the market and then applying a mathematical formula. The VIX is more famously known as the “fear index”. In itself, the VIX is just a number – its long-term average is about 20, more than 30 is a worry, and more than 40 could herald a crisis.

For much of last year it was between 10 and 12 but on Tuesday it hit 50, before recoiling back to around 30 currently. The fun starts when products are invented to trade and speculate on how the VIX will perform. Conventional futures contracts came first. Then ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, a low-cost product that has taken the financial world by storm in the last couple of decades, followed. The XIV is slightly different (it’s a note, rather than a fund) but it comes from the same school. By trading S&P 500 options, or contracts to buy and sell the S&P at points in the future, it was structured to do the exact opposite of the VIX. If volatility in the stock market was low – as it was throughout 2016 and 2017 – owners of the XIV would do well. In the jargon, they were “short vol”. But, if volatility exploded, then the XIV would fall.

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Posted a different version of this chart (from Arbeter) yesterday, coming from Market Watch.

The Scariest Chart For The Market (ZH)

Interest-rates going up “for the right reason” is bullish, right? Each time interest rates have surged up to their long-term trendline, a ‘crisis’ has occurred…

But this time is different right? Because rates are “going up for the right reason.” Hhmm, the reaction in markets each time the yield on the 10-Year Treasury yield reaches its trendline is ominous…

So the question is – have interest rates ‘ever’ gone up for the right reason? Or is this narrative just one more bullshit line from a desperate industry of asset-gatherers and commission-takers? It does make one wonder what the relationship between US government ‘interest costs’ and global money flow really is. Does an engineered equity tumble spark safe-haven-buying and ease the pain as deficits and debt loads soar. It would certainly help as $300bn additional budget deals are passed, The Fed has left the game, and China is threatening to be a seller not a buyer…

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If everyone’s on the same side of the boat, somebody must be on the other.

‘Bond Vigilantes’ Are Saddled Up And Ready To Push Rates Higher (CNBC)

There’s reason to be concerned about bond vigilantes, who are no longer under “lock and key” and are free to push yields higher, Wall Street veteran Ed Yardeni told CNBC on Friday. Yardeni, a market historian, coined the term bond vigilantes in the 1980s to refer to investors who sell their holdings in an effort to enforce fiscal discipline. Having fewer buyers drives prices down — and drives yields up — in the fixed-income market. That, in turn, makes it more expensive for the government to borrow and spend. “They had been sort of put under lock and key by the central banks. The Fed had lowered interest rates down to zero in terms of short-term rates and that pushed bond yields down. And then they bought up a lot of these bond yields,” said Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research.

Now the Fed is slowly raising interest rates and starting to unwind its balance sheet. On top of that, new tax cuts were passed and a massive spending deal was just signed into law. “Now people are looking more at the domestic situation and saying, ‘You know what, maybe we need a higher bond yield,'” Yardeni said in an interview with “Power Lunch.” “They’ve saddled up, and they’re riding high. The posse is getting ready. They’re getting the message out.” Bond vigilantes last made their mark during the Clinton administration, when a bond market sell-off forced President Bill Clinton to tone down his spending agenda. Yardeni said while Clinton got the message back then, he doesn’t think the Trump administration has this time around.

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Sub: Rising rates slam stocks as market volatility rages on.

The Worst Of The Bond Rout Is Yet To Come, Says Piper Jaffray (CNBC)

It all started with bond yields. Spiking yields spilled over onto the stock market in the past week, first triggering a nearly 666-point drop on the Dow last Friday and then sparking two declines of more than 1,000 points within just 4 days. The bond rout will continue with yields on the 10-year possibly reaching 3% in the near term, according to Craig Johnson, senior technical strategist at Piper Jaffray. That is a level it has not reached since January 2014. “This is a 36-year reversal in rates,” Johnson told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Thursday. Bond yields, which move inversely to prices, have generally been in decline over the past 3 decades, indicating a long-term bull market for bond prices.

“When you reverse that downtrend from down to up you typically get a momentum response and a quick move up. That’s exactly what you’re seeing in the bond market right now,” added Johnson. “You’ve got to be careful in here right now.” The yield on 10-year Treasurys has risen at a fast clip since the U.S. election in November 2016. Bond yields held at around 1.8% prior to the election and have since moved up 100 basis points to hit a 4-year high of 2.86% this week. The uncertainty of a Trump presidency initially sent bond prices lower and yields higher at the end of 2016. Now, worries over the effect an accelerating economy and rising inflation might have on Federal Reserve policy this year have taken over. Historically, bond prices fall when interest rates rise.

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No savings and huge debt means less consumer spending. Which is what 70% of US GDP is made of.

US GDP Growth Is Not As Rosy As It Seems (Lebowitz)

Last Friday, GDP for the fourth quarter of 2017 was released. Despite being 0.3% short of expectations at 2.6% annual growth, it nonetheless produced enthusiasm as witnessed by the S&P 500 which jumped 25 points. One of the reasons for the optimism following the release was a strong showing of the consumer which notched 2.80% growth in real personal consumption. The consumer, representing about 70% of GDP, is the single most important factor driving economic growth and therefore we owe it to ourselves to better understand what drove that growth. This knowledge, in turn, allows us to better assess its durability. There are three core means which govern the ability of individuals to spend. The most obvious is income and wages earned.

To help gauge the effect of changes in income we rely on disposable income, or the amount of money left to spend after accounting for required expenses. Real disposable personal income in the fourth quarter, the same quarter for which GDP growth data was released, grew at a 1.80% year over year rate. While other indicators of wage growth are slightly higher, we must consider that payroll gains are not evenly distributed throughout the economy. In fact as shown below 80% of workers continue to see flat to declining growth in their wages. While this may have accounted for some of the growth in consumption we need to consider the two other means of spending over which consumers have control, savings and credit card debt.

Savings: Last month the savings rate in the United States registered one of the lowest levels ever recorded in the past 70 years. In fact, the only time it was lower was in a brief period occurring right before the 2008/09 recession. At a rate of 2.6%, consumers are spending 97.4% of disposable income. The graph below shows how this compares historically. [..] the savings rate is less than half of that which occurred since the 2008/09 recession and well below prior periods.

Credit Card Debt: In addition to reducing savings to meet basic needs or even splurge for extra goods, one can also use credit card debt. Confirming our suspicion about savings, a recent sharp increase in revolving credit (credit card debt) is likely another sign consumers are having trouble maintaining their standard of living. Over the last four quarters revolving credit growth has increased at just under 6% annually which is almost twice as fast as disposable income. Further, the 6% credit card growth rate is about three times faster than that of the years following the recession of 2008/09.

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The liquidity super machine is stalling.

2018 Won’t Kill The Speculators. But It Will Teach Them A Lesson Or Two (Xie)

A decade of massive, synchronised monetary and fiscal stimulus has led to the greatest asset bubble in history, to the tune of about $100 trillion, nearly 1.5 times the world’s GDP. Compared to 2-3% of GDP growth in the global economy, we should be mindful of the potential and huge cost associated with it. Even though the US stock market is more expensive than in 1929 or 2000, and China’s property valuation is higher than Japan’s a quarter-of-a-century ago, fear-driven selloffs have been rare and brief, leading to the belief that high asset prices are the new normal. Massive amounts of financial and business activities, especially in technology, are predicated on high asset prices going higher. The unusual longevity and resilience of high asset prices are largely because government actions — not herd behaviour in the market — are force-feeding the bubble.

Government actions will lose their grip only when growth expectations crash or inflation flares up. Neither is a major risk for 2018. Hence, 2018 won’t kill the speculators of the world. But 2018 will teach them a lesson or two. High-risk assets such as internet stocks and high-end properties will struggle like never before in the past decade. US interest rates will rise above inflation for the first time in a decade. And China is tightening, especially in the property sector, out of fear of a life-threatening financial crisis. China accounts for about half of global credit growth. The interaction between the US Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing and China’s credit targeting has been the liquidity super machine. It is stalling in 2018. The asset bubble demands that the excess liquidity-money supply rises faster than GDP to sustain it.

This year may see global money supply line up with GDP. The Fed is likely to raise interest rates from the current 1-1.25% and take the level to 2.5%. This is still low compared with the 4.5-5% nominal GDP growth rate. But the US stock market is more expensive than it was in 1929 or 2000. When the interest rate surpasses inflation, it will become wobbly. Policymakers are caught between a rock and a hard place. The structural problems that led to the 2008 crisis are still here. The global economy grows ever more dependent on asset bubbles. If the global asset bubble bursts, the economy will slide into recession. Hence, when a market wobbles — as it probably will in 2018 — policymakers will come out to soothe market sentiment and may even temporarily reverse the tightening.

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The EU is a feudal neo-liberal machine. There is no such thing as Soical Europe anywhere but in words. It’s about keeping the poor down, and dependent on your money.

Minimum Wage Awkward Pillar Of Emerging Social Europe (AFP)

Twenty-two out of 28 EU states have introduced a minimum wage, trumpeted as a key pillar in the construction of a social Europe. But huge disparities from one country to the next are fuelling resistance from opponents who see the policy as dragging down competitiveness, sovereignty as well as levelling down salaries. Brexit, as an expression of eurosceptic populism, has jolted the European Commission into going on the offensive as it looks to show the European Union is not just a common market but a bloc with a social dimension. A November 17 Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth last year set the ball rolling as all 28 EU members signed up to a Europe-wide charter on social rights, laying down 20 basic principles including statutory minimum wages as a mainstay of a policy framework to boost convergence.

“Adequate minimum wages shall be ensured, in a way that provide for the satisfaction of the needs of the worker and his/her family in the light of national economic and social conditions, whilst safeguarding access to employment and incentives to seek work,” according to the guidelines. But the non-binding declaration is, as such, merely symbolic, not least because “European treaties stipulate clearly that salaries come under the national purview,” notes Claire Dheret, head of employment and social Europe at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC). To date, the Gothenburg charter is being respected only partially, even if all but six EU states have a legal minimum wage, as witnessed by Eurostat data highlighting starkly varying levels from Bulgaria’s 460 leva (€235; $270) a month gross to €1,999 in Luxembourg, that is, nine times as much.

Even so, the discrepancy does shrink to around a factor of three when the cost of living in each state is taken into account. But the Eurostat data shows up major discrepancies between eastern and western states. Ten of the former pay a minimum of less than €500, whereas seven western EU members have set rates surpassing €1,300 euros. Five southern states pay between €650 and €850. The six without an official minimum, which have their own arrangements to cover the basic needs of low earners are Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden.

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We can repeat this every day: the mess gets messier.

Relations Between Britain And The EU Sink To A New Low (Ind.)

David Davis has been dragged into renewed war of words with Brussels over the Brexit transition period, accusing the EU of having a “fundamental contradiction” in its approach and wanting to “have it both ways” after a week of fruitless talks. Relations between Britain and the European Commission sank to a new low on Friday after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, casually claimed at a press conference the UK had cancelled an important meeting due to a “diary clash”. UK officials behind the scenes took offence to the claim and said the meeting had not been cancelled at all and instead took place in the afternoon. Mr Barnier sealed the state of mutual incomprehension, telling reporters in Brussels that he had “problems understanding the UK’s position” on the transition period.

In a statement issued on Friday afternoon after Mr Barnier’s press conference – a solo affair in contrast to previous joint outings – Mr Davis said the EU could not “have it both ways” on the transition period. “Given the intense work that has taken place this week it is surprising to hear that Michel Barnier is unclear on the UK’s position in relation to the implementation period,” he said. “As I set out in a speech two weeks ago, we are seeking a time-limited period that maintains access to each other’s markets on existing terms. “However for any such period to work both sides will need a way to resolve disputes in the unlikely event that they occur.

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And collapsing social services, health care etc. It’s a choice, not a flaw.

UK Has More Than 750,000 Property Millionaires (G.)

There are now more than 750,000 property millionaires in Britain, and in some towns in the south of England half of all homes cost more than £1m, according to analysis by website Zoopla. Despite a slowing property market, Zoopla estimated that the number of property millionaires has climbed to 768,553, a rise of 23% since August 2016. The figures underscore the hugely lopsided nature of the UK property market. Yorkshire and Humberside has 4,103 property millionaires, and Wales 2,223, while in London the figure is 430,720. The figures suggest that while one in 20 people in the capital are paper property millionaires, the same can be said for only one in every 1,400 people in Wales. Zoopla did not take into account the mortgage debt attaching to properties, just the number of properties valued at over £1m.

Outside London, Guildford in Surrey is the town with the most property millionaires, estimated at 5,889, followed by Cambridge and Reading. But Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire emerges as having the greatest concentration of property wealth in just one town. Zoopla found that 49% of all the houses in the town of 12,000 people nestled below the Chiltern Hills are valued at more than £1m. Agents in the town – dubbed Mayfair in the Chilterns – are currently marketing an opulent six-bed home in Beaconsfield’s “golden triangle” for £6m, boasting a cinema, wine-tasting room and its own six-person smoke-mirrored passenger lift opening on to a galleried balcony with a “Sexy Crystals” chandelier. There is a separate annexe for staff.

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The EU plays the ultimate card: Scotland. The UK has no rebuttal. None. Nada.

Brexit Plan To Keep Northern Ireland In Customs Union Triggers Row (G.)

Officials from the UK and EU are drawing up a plan to in effect keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and the single market after Brexit in order to avoid a hard border. The opening of technical talks followed a warning from Brussels that keeping the region under EU laws was currently the only viable option for inclusion in its draft withdrawal agreement. The development, first reported by the Guardian on Friday and later confirmed by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, triggered an immediate row. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted: “If NI stays in single market, the case for Scotland also doing so is not just an academic ‘us too’ argument – it becomes a practical necessity. Otherwise we will be at a massive relative disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs and investment.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a Tory MP and officer in the European Research Group of Brexit-supporting Conservatives, accused Barnier of “playing hardball”. “I am surprised that the media are reporting his comments as if they are the only voice and hard fact,” she said. “Perhaps Mr Barnier could remember that the UK is in negotiations, which is a two-way discussion.” “It is important to tell the truth,” Barnier said. “The UK decision to leave the single market and to leave the customs unions would make border checks unavoidable. Second, the UK has committed to proposing specific solutions to the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. And we are waiting for such solutions. “The third option is to maintain full regulatory alignment with those rules of the single market and the customs union, current or future, that support north-south cooperation, the all-island economy and the Good Friday agreement. “It is our responsibility to include the third option in the text of the withdrawal agreement to guarantee there will be no hard border whatever the circumstances.”

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The present European commissioner for migration and home affairs is reported to have taken €40 million in bribes. He should lose his job, today.

Greek PM Steps In To Police Exploding Novartis Bribery Investigation (FPh)

Just days after 10 former ministers in Greece were implicated in bribery allegations against Novartis, the country’s prime minister is calling for a special parliamentary committee to investigate the charges, which have been pegged as slanderous by some politicians pulled into the widening scandal. Meanwhile, three former Novartis executives believed to have provided the meat of the allegations have come under fire, even as their lawyer fights to shield their identities. The investigation targeting Novartis’s Greece offices has been going on since last January, but it blew up earlier this week when news emerged that the case would be submitted to the Greek parliament, which would then decide whether to prosecute the 10 politicians. Novartis is the target of allegations that it bribed doctors and government officials to help boost sales of its drugs.

Now Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wants the special committee to look into allegations that the 10 politicians received millions of euros in exchange for fixing drug prices and granting other favors to Novartis, according to local press reports. A spokesman for Novartis told FiercePharma that the company continues “to cooperate with requests from local and foreign authorities.” Novartis has not received an indictment related to the investigation in Greece, he added. According to press accounts of the prosecutors’ report, the allegations of bribery stemmed from testimony from three witnesses who worked for Novartis. The witnesses spoke to the FBI, which joined in the investigation in Greece. The employees reported that Greece’s health minister from 2006 to 2009 took €40 million ($49 million) in exchange for ordering “a huge amount” of Novartis products, according to The Greek Reporter.

The health minister working between 2009 and 2010 allegedly accepted €120,000 ($147,000) from the company and laundered it through a computer hardware firm, the news organization added. At least one of the politicians named in the report wants the identities of the three Novartis witnesses to be revealed. Dimitris Avramopoulos, who was the health minister from 2006 to 2009 and now serves as European commissioner for migration and home affairs, held a press conference Friday during which he said he will file a lawsuit demanding the names of the witnesses be made public, according to Politico.

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How dare he use the word sovereign in this context? Greece, like all other EU nations, was and is always sovereign. Demand his resignation.

EU’s Moscovici Says Greece Will Be ‘Sovereign Country’ After Bailout (K.)

On exiting its third international bailout in August, Greece will be an “absolutely sovereign country,” European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told a conference on Friday organized by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur and Kathimerini in Athens. “There should be no precautionary credit line,” Moscovici said. “There should be an end to the programs.” The commissioner said that Greece “did what it had to do” but that economic and structural reforms must continue. He also drew attention to an “issue of administrative competence,” without elaborating. In addition, Moscovici expressed his confidence in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who he described as “smart and flexible,” adding that their relationship was “perfect.” Tsipras and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos decided to “play ball,” Moscovici said. He further said Tsakalotos’s predecessor Yanis Varoufakis wreaked major political and financial damage on Greece.

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Mar 272016
 
 March 27, 2016  Posted by at 11:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


NPC Pittsburg Water Heater Co., Washington DC 1920

Hugh Hendry: “If China Devalues By 20% The World Is Over” (ZH)
The Great Deflation: Stocks To Plunge 80-90% – Harry Dent (Maloney)
You Are -Still- Here (ZH)
US Banks Ramp Up Push for Home-Equity Lines (WSJ)
China Warns Officials: No Unrest, Or Lose Your Job (WSJ)
China Coal Use Slides Further On Weakening Industrial Demand (BBG)
Guessing The Future Without Say’s Law (Macleod)
Seven Ugly Latina Sisters In Deep Political Trouble (Bawerk)
California Lawmakers, Unions Reach Deal for $15 an Hour Minimum Wage
The Church of Economism and Its Discontents (EI)
The State Has Lost Control: Tech Firms Now Run Western Politics (Morozov)
Trump Questions US Position On OPEC Allies, NATO, China (NY Times)
Greece Removes Migrants From FYROM Border Camp (AFP)
The Bar at the End of the Road (WSJ)

Hendry finds trouble sticking to his bull position.

Hugh Hendry: “If China Devalues By 20% The World Is Over” (ZH)

For now, as we showed just ten days ago, those short the Yuan have swung to wildly profitable to losing money as both the USD has slid and the Yuan has spiked, although both of these trades appear to be reversing now. Needless to say, Hendry disagrees with the China contrarians and believes that the way to fix the Chinese economy is through a stronger currency, even if there is no logical way how that could possibly work when China’s debt load is 350% of GDP while its NPLs are over 10% and rising.

So, borrowing form a favorite Keynesian trope, one where when the countrfactual to his prevailling – if incorrect – view of the world finally emerges, Hendry is convinced that a 20% devaluation would lead to global devastation; the same way if Paulson did not get Congress to sign off on his three page term sheet that would lead to the “apocalypse.” Only unlike Paulson who only hinted at a Mad Max world, for Hendry the alternative to him being right is a very explicit doomsday scenario, as he explains in the following excerpt from his RealVision interview:

Tomorrow we wake up and China has devalued 20%, the world is over. The world is over. Euro breaks up. The world is over. The euro breaks up. Everything hits a wall. There’s no euro in that scenario. The US economy, I mean everything hits a wall! Everything hits a wall!

The dollar strength that you imagined is devastation because you just eliminated dollars. They’re a scarce commodity. You’ve wiped them out. And China is a pariah state.

It’s a ‘Mad Max’ movie, right. OK, China gets to be the king in ‘Mad Max’ world. How appealing is that? There is no world after the tomorrow where China devalues by 20%. There is no world. Yeah, it’s looney tunes to believe that, people say, ‘oh wow, they needed to catch a break.’

Their share of world trade has never been higher. They’re facing no pressure, immense terms of trade improvement, and you would destroy world trade. World trade is down 25%. You would probably have passport restrictions, the world is over.

And while it is clear on which side of the Yuan Hugh is currently positioned (Hendry’s Eclectica is down 2.1% through March 18 and -5.9% YTD) either directly or synthetically, we can’t wait to see who is right in the end: China and its central bank (as well as Hugh Hendry) or reason and common sense (as well as some of the smartest hedge funds in the world).

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Mike Maloney’s a TAE fan.

The Great Deflation: Stocks To Plunge 80-90% – Harry Dent (Maloney)

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Look out below.

You Are -Still- Here (ZH)

Buybacks blacked out, option expiration ramp over, and real investors fleeingwhat happens next?

Dip, Jawbone, Rip… Repeat…

 

And close-up…


 

But this time it’s different, 150 days of almost perfect correlation and co-movement means nothing – right?

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Insane that this is possible.

US Banks Ramp Up Push for Home-Equity Lines (WSJ)

At hardware stores along the U.S. East Coast in recent weeks, TD Bank has been trying to persuade shoppers to think bigger than paint and plumbing supplies: The bank wants them to start taking cash out of their homes again. The TD Bank tour bus, equipped with a galley kitchen and iPads where homeowners can start the application process, is part of a marketing push unusual for the mortgage industry since the housing bust. As the broader mortgage market remains in the doldrums, banks are again touting home-equity lines of credit, which allow homeowners to draw down the equity in their home as they need the cash, as well as cash-out refinances, which involve taking cash out of a home while refinancing and ending up with a larger mortgage balance.

The effort is gaining steam as banks try to offset faltering mortgage originations and a refinancing wave that is fizzling out. Lenders are betting that offers for home-equity lines of credit, or helocs, will resonate with many borrowers whose home values are higher than they were just a couple of years ago and who need cash for renovations or other expenses after holding on to their homes for longer than expected. Lenders extended just over $156 billion in home-equity lines of credit last year, the largest dollar amount since 2007, the beginning of the housing bust, according to new figures from mortgage-data firm CoreLogic. That marks a 24% increase from 2014 and a 138% spike from 2010 when new approvals hit a low point. The average line amount extended to homeowners last year reached a record $119,790, according to the firm, which tracks the data back to 2002.

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No. 1 worry.

China Warns Officials: No Unrest, Or Lose Your Job (WSJ)

In China, the timing of an announcement is sometimes more significant than the announcement itself. The Communist Party’s Central Committee and the State Council, China’s cabinet, this week warned party and state officials that they will lose their jobs if they fail to control public unrest. That’s not altogether surprising: on one level,it’s just a restatement of longstanding practice. “For more than 10 years, one of the assessment criteria for promotion of regional officials is the extent to which they can minimize protests,” said Willy Lam, a China politics analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “So most local officials pull out all stops to prevent petitioners going to Beijing.” But this week’s announcement marks the first time authorities have come up with a definitive public statement explicitly warning party and state officials “at all levels” that their jobs are on the line, state media said.

Why the urgency? The policy announcement comes two weeks after hundreds of unpaid coal workers took to the streets in the gritty northeastern city of Shuangyashan, after their provincial governor claimed a troubled coal company there did not owe its miners any wages. The governor, Lu Hao, later said he misspoke. Mr. Lu remains in office. It’s quite likely the Shuangyashan incident was pivotal in galvanizing the State Council and the party’s Central Committee, Mr. Lam and others say. The incident, widely publicized in the media, came in the thick of China’s annual meeting of its top legislature in Beijing, where Mr. Lu made his comments. At the meeting, known as the lianghui or “two sessions,” a battery of top officials including Premier Li Keqiang repeatedly vowed that they would be able to navigate a sharp slowdown in the economy without seriously affecting workers caught in the transition.

Mr. Li’s public positioning percolates through to a wide swathe of policy in the immediate wake of the congress. “In China, the political calendar doesn’t start in January – it starts with the lianghui in March,” human rights activist Hu Jia said. Government officials are likely worried that the Shuangyashan incident and others could inflict a political cost on the leadership by highlighting issues such as the deficit of labor rights in China, Mr. Hu said. Party chiefs face a difficult task. Over the next five years, they need to shut down millions of tons of industrial capacity that’s making China’s economy inefficient. This means downsizing scores of steel, coal and other large industries that currently employ hundreds of thousands of workers. They have promised to do this without large-scale layoffs. Those displaced, Mr. Li said, would be given new jobs or government assistance.

These promises now hang in the balance. The Shuangyashan incident came amid a surge in other forms of public unrest. Data from labor rights watchdog China Labour Bulletin show a 200% increase in the number of strikes, industrial action and other protests occurring in China from July last year to January this year. Disparate groups of Chinese, from jobless migrant workers to angry taxi drivers have taken to the streets to protest a new era of economic dislocation. The slowing economy has wiped out at least 156 billion yuan ($24 billion) worth of investments in wealth management products across the country, mostly involving small investors. Many of these failures have sparked public protests. Dogged by the prospect of more layoffs and deepening economic woes, the question looms: How many officials will China axe?

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Not because it wants to come clean.

China Coal Use Slides Further On Weakening Industrial Demand (BBG)

China’s coal use is forecast to fall a third year as industrial output slows, adding force to President Xi Jinping’s drive to cut overcapacity and dimming the hopes of global miners for an uptick in demand by the world’s biggest consumer. Demand will slide 2% this year and prices will remain at a low level, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, citing Xu Liang, deputy secretary general of the China Coal Industry Association. Output by the world’s largest producer will also fall by 2%. Consumption has weakened amid a push to use cleaner fuels and shift a slowing economy away from heavy industry. Demand for coal, which accounted for 64% of the country’s total energy use last year, contracted 3.7% last year, following a 2.9% decline in 2014, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

“This year’s coal situation is equally bleak,” Xinhua quoted Xu as saying. China’s easing coal appetite has helped push prices in Asia to their lowest since 2006, punishing mining companies and prompting the government to propose capacity cuts that threaten the jobs of 1.3 million coal miners. By cutting capacity in the next two to three years, production could fall to about 3.5 billion to 3.6 billion tons, balancing supply and demand, Xu said. The country aims to eliminate as much as 500 million metric tons of coal capacity by 2020, almost 9% of its total. Coal output dropped 3.3% to 3.75 billion metric tons last year, while consumption slipped to 3.965 billion tons, both sliding from record highs in 2013, according to Xu. Use of the fuel in power generation dropped 6.2% last year, while demand from industries including steel, cement and glass making declined.

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“..when an economist talks of economic growth being above or below trend, he is talking about a measure that has no place in sound economic reasoning, and that is gross domestic product.

Guessing The Future Without Say’s Law (Macleod)

With Japanese and Eurozone interest rates becoming increasingly negative, and the Fed backing off from at least some of the planned increases in the Fed funds rate this year, economists are reassessing the interest rate outlook. Economists lack consensus, with some expecting yet more easing, based on the apparent collapse in cross-border trade last year. The fact that the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank see fit to pursue increasingly aggressive monetary reflation is taken as evidence of underlying difficulties faced in these key economies. And lingering doubts about the sustainability of China’s credit bubble point to a high risk of a credit-induced slump in the world’s growth engine.

Other economists, citing official US data and relying on the Fed’s statements, point out that unemployment levels have more than satisfied the Fed’s target, and that core inflation has picked up to the point where the Fed would be fully justified to increase interest rates over the course of this year, or risk overheating in 2017. These two opposite camps conflict in their forecasts, but where they fundamentally differ is in expectations of future economic growth. Far from displaying the highest levels of macroeconomic discipline, their diversity of opinion should alert us that their forecasts may lack sound theoretical foundation. The purpose of reasoned theory is to reduce uncertainty, not promote it. And the explanation for most of the failures behind modern macroeconomic thinking is the substitution of market-based economics by economic planning.

The fact that today’s macroeconomics dismisses the laws of the markets, commonly referred to by economists as Say’s law, explains all. Subsequent errors confirm. The many errors are a vast subject, but they boil down to that one fateful step, and that is denying the universal truth of Say’s law. Say’s law is about the division of labour. People earn money and make profits from deploying their individual skills in the production of goods and services for the benefit of others. Despite the best attempts of Marxism and Keynesianism along with all the other isms, attempts to override this reality have always failed. The failure is not adequately reflected in government statistics, which have evolved to the point where they actually conceal it. So when an economist talks of economic growth being above or below trend, he is talking about a measure that has no place in sound economic reasoning, and that is gross domestic product.

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The CIA still has a lot of power to the south.

Seven Ugly Latina Sisters In Deep Political Trouble (Bawerk)

Get beyond endless Latin American headlines burning column inches and you come to far broader strategic conclusion: The seven ‘ugly Latino sisters’, namely Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico and Argentina are all deep political trouble from collapsed benchmark prices. It’s merely a case of who’s in more advanced states of political decay where left leaning governments’ can’t hang on much longer vs. those trying to buy a bit of time with more ‘centrist’ positions. In either case, it’s going to be a classic example of too little too late where the seven ugly sisters have committed at least seven deadly sins when it comes to resource mismanagement over the past decade. This isn’t about whether crisis can be avoided, but how bad the impacts will be. Another ‘lost Latino decade’ beckons. The ugliest twins are obviously Brazil and Venezuela right now.

We firmly expect Rousseff to be impeached next month on the back of endless corruption scandals, and the drastically ill-judged return of Lula that poured far more oil on corruption cover up flames. Watch for Michel Temer to take over the reins of a coalition PMDB government, busily negotiating posts behind closed doors with other players to tee up a formal Worker’s Party split to form a caretaker government through to 2018. How much Temer can get done depends on how far the outstanding ‘car wash’ scandal still rubs off on PMDB factions for major economic reforms, where the rot still runs pretty deep. Initial rhetoric (and inevitable market lifts) on supposed ‘structural reforms’ and far broader liberalisation measures remain unlikely to play through. Although it’s possible Petrobras might push through 2017 licencing rounds purely for political appearances, it’s not going to deliver tangible results in current price environments.

Dig just ‘under the salt’, and Petrobras leverage will remain high; local content even higher. Until Brazil can properly clear its electoral decks in 2018 Mr. Temer is going to have a very limited mandate. If anything, his core challenge is trying to make sure his caretaker outfit doesn’t end up ‘washed out’ day one, given Temer is by no means beyond political reproach, with the PMDB basically as corrupt as the ruling PT. The smart move for Brazil would actually be calling fresh elections with the TSE (electoral authority) invalidating the entire Rousseff-Temer 2014 ticket to put a line under what currently shapes up to be the worst commodity driven economic crash Brazil has ever experienced. Regrettably, Brazilian politics has nothing to do with national interests at this stage, and everything to do with narrow self-preservation societies.

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“..most proposals have the wage increasing about a dollar a year until it reaches $15 an hour”

California Lawmakers, Unions Reach Deal for $15 an Hour Minimum Wage

California legislators and labor unions on Saturday reached an agreement aims to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 from $10 an hour, a state senator said, a move that would make for the highest statewide minimum in the nation. Sen. Mark Leno (D., San Francisco) said the proposal would go before the Legislature as part of his minimum-wage bill that stalled last year. Mr. Leno didn’t confirm specifics of the agreement, but most proposals have the wage increasing about a dollar a year until it reaches $15 an hour. The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the deal, said the wage would rise to $10.50 in 2017, with subsequent increases to take it to $15 by 2022. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have an extra year to comply.

At $10 an hour, California already has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation along with Massachusetts. Only Washington, D.C., at $10.50 an hour is higher. The hike to $15 would make it the highest statewide wage in the nation by far, though raises are in the works in other states. The deal means the issue won’t have to go to the ballot, Mr. Leno said. One union-backed initiative has already qualified for the ballot, and a second, competing measure is also trying to qualify. Union leaders, however, said they wouldn’t immediately dispense with planned ballot measures. Sean Wherley, a spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, confirmed that his group was involved in the negotiations. But he said the group would continue pushing ahead with its initiative on the ballot. “Ours is on the ballot. We want to be certain of what all this is,” Mr. Wherley said.

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The Econocene.

The Church of Economism and Its Discontents (EI)

The global human population increased from approximately 1 billion in the year 1800 to 7 billion in 2011. Over this period, the field of economics emerged, transforming political discourse. The institutional conditions for market expansion were put in place, and the success of markets suppressed myriad other ways societies have organized themselves. Economic activity per capita increased somewhere between 10 and 30-fold, resulting in a 70 to 210-fold increase in total economic activity.1 Population growth has slowed significantly in recent decades, but both economic growth through market expansion and its attendant environmental destruction have only continued.

Econocene is a fitting term for this new era because it makes us think about the expanding market economy, the ideological system that supports it, and its impact on society and the environment. Reflecting on environmental boundaries led ecological economist Herman Daly to propose limits on material throughput. Environmental economists propose taxes on greenhouse gas emissions and the creation of markets to resolve environmental conflicts. While acknowledging the importance of making markets work within the limits of nature and for the common good, I will explore how this new dominance of economic thinking, which I will call economism, has reshaped the diverse cultures of the world and come to function as a modern secular religion.

An advantage of the term Econocene is that it evokes the everyday cosmos of modern people. Artifacts of the economy—towering buildings, sprawling shopping malls, and swirling freeways—surround the 50% of the globe’s population who live in cities. A combination of smog and bright lights now obliterates the starry heavens so important to humanity’s historic consciousness and so humbling to our species’s historic sense of importance, focusing our attention on the economic constructs all around us. The cosmos reflected in the term Econocene includes not only the material artifacts of the economy, but also the market relations that bind us and define our place in the system. Urban dwellers are now fully dependent on markets for material sustenance.

They awake to radio announcers discussing supposedly significant changes in exchange rates, stock markets, and the proportion of people looking for work. The dominance of the market is not just an urban phenomenon: its “invisible hand” guides rural life as well. The crops planted reflect expected future prices, and soils reflect their history of economic use. Farmers have become so specialized that they, too, buy most of their food in supermarkets. In order to grapple with the challenges of this new era, we need to give it a name that resonates with people’s lived experiences.

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The role of Google and Facebook clearly warrants more scrutiny.

The State Has Lost Control: Tech Firms Now Run Western Politics (Morozov)

[..] The grim reality of contemporary politics is not that it’s impossible to imagine how capitalism will end – as the Marxist critic Fredric Jameson once famously put it – but that it’s becoming equally impossible to imagine how it could possibly continue, at least, not in its ideal form, tied, however weakly, to the democratic “polis”. The only solution that seems plausible is by having our political leaders transfer even more responsibility for problem-solving, from matters of welfare to matters of warfare, to Silicon Valley. This might produce immense gains in efficiency but would this also not aggravate the democratic deficit that already plagues our public institutions? Sure, it would – but the crisis of democratic capitalism seems so acute that it has dropped any pretension to being democratic; hence the proliferation of euphemisms to describe the new normal (with Angela Merkel’s “market-conformed democracy” probably being the most popular one).

Besides, the slogans of the 1970s that were meant to bolster the democratic pillar of the compromise between capital and labour, from economic and industrial democracy to codetermination, look quaint in an era where workers of the “gig economy” cannot even unionise, let along participate in some broader management of the enterprise. There’s something even more sinister afoot though. “Buying time” no longer seems like an adequate description of what is happening, if only because technology companies, even more so than the banks, are not only too big too fail but also impossible to undo – let alone replicate – even if a new government is elected. Many of them have already taken on the de facto responsibilities of the state; any close analysis of what’s happening with “smart cities” – whereby technology firms become key gateways to essential services of our cities – easily confirms that.

In fact, technology firms are rapidly becoming the default background condition in which our politics itself is conducted. Once Google and Facebook take over the management of essential services, Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum that “there is no alternative” would no longer be a mere slogan but an accurate description of reality. The worst is that today’s legitimation crisis could be our last. Any discussion of legitimacy presupposes not just the ability to sense injustice but also to imagine and implement a political alternative. Imagination would never be in short supply but the ability to implement things on a large scale is increasingly limited to technology giants. Once this transfer of power is complete, there won’t be a need to buy time any more – the democratic alternative will simply no longer be a feasible option.

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Some questions must be asked. If nobody else does that, you get Trump.

Trump Questions US Position On OPEC Allies, NATO, China (NY Times)

Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, said that if elected, he might halt purchases of oil from Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies unless they commit ground troops to the fight against the Islamic State or “substantially reimburse” the United States for combating the militant group, which threatens their stability. “If Saudi Arabia was without the cloak of American protection,” Mr. Trump said during a 100-minute interview on foreign policy, spread over two phone calls on Friday, “I don’t think it would be around.” He also said he would be open to allowing Japan and South Korea to build their own nuclear arsenals rather than depend on the American nuclear umbrella for their protection against North Korea and China. If the United States “keeps on its path, its current path of weakness, they’re going to want to have that anyway, with or without me discussing it,” Mr. Trump said.

And he said he would be willing to withdraw United States forces from both Japan and South Korea if they did not substantially increase their contributions to the costs of housing and feeding those troops. “Not happily, but the answer is yes,” he said. Mr. Trump also said he would seek to renegotiate many fundamental treaties with American allies, possibly including a 56-year-old security pact with Japan, which he described as one-sided. In Mr. Trump’s worldview, the United States has become a diluted power, and the main mechanism by which he would re-establish its central role in the world is economic bargaining. He approached almost every current international conflict through the prism of a negotiation, even when he was imprecise about the strategic goals he sought.

He again faulted the Obama administration’s handling of the negotiations with Iran last year — “It would have been so much better if they had walked away a few times,” he said — but offered only one new idea about how he would change its content: Ban Iran’s trade with North Korea. Mr. Trump struck similar themes when he discussed the future of NATO, which he called “unfair, economically, to us,” and said he was open to an alternative organization focused on counterterrorism. He argued that the best way to halt China’s placement of military airfields and antiaircraft batteries on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea was to threaten its access to American markets. “We have tremendous economic power over China,” he argued. “And that’s the power of trade.” He did not mention Beijing’s ability for economic retaliation.

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Keep it peaceful.

Greece Removes Migrants From FYROM Border Camp (AFP)

Greece has begun evacuating refugees from the main Idomeni camp on the Macedonia border, while the flow of refugees arriving on the Aegean islands has slowed to a trickle, officials said on Saturday. Eight buses transported around 400 refugees from Idomeni to nearby refugee camps on Friday, police sources said. A dozen more buses were waiting for migrants reluctant to leave the border, which has been shut down since earlier this month. “People who have no hope or have no money, maybe they will go. But I have hope, maybe something better will happen tomorrow, maybe today,” said 40-year-old Fatema Ahmed from Iraq, who has a 13-year-old son in Germany and three daughters with her in the camp. She said she would consider leaving the squalid Idomeni camp – where people are sheltering even on railway tracks – if the Greek government decides to give every migrant family “a simple house”.

Those persuaded to board the first buses were mainly parents with children who can no longer tolerate the difficult conditions. Janger Hassan, 29, from Iraqi Kurdistan, who has been at the Idomeni camp for a month with his wife and two young children, thinks he will probably leave. “There’s nothing to do here. “The children are getting sick. It’s a bad situation the last two days: it’s windy, sometimes it’s raining here,” he said. “We don’t have a choice. We have to move,” he said. Desperation was evident in the camp. One tent bore the slogan: “Help us open the border”. A total of 11,603 people remained at the sprawling border camp on Saturday, according to the latest official count. Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman of the SOMP agency, which is coordinating Athens’s response to the refugee crisis, said the operation to evacuate Idomeni will intensify from Monday.

“More than 2,000 places can be found immediately for the refugees that are at the Idomeni camp and from Monday on, this number can double,” Kyritsis added, pledging to create 30,000 more places in the next three weeks in new shelters. Meanwhile, the flow of refugees arriving in Greece is slowing. Athens on Thursday said no migrants had arrived on its Aegean islands in the previous 24 hours, for the first time since the controversial EU-Turkey deal to halt the massive influx came into force at the weekend. The agreement, under which all migrants landing on the Greek islands face being sent back to Turkey, went into effect last Sunday. Despite the deal, 1,662 people arrived on Monday, but this fell to 600 on Tuesday and 260 on Wednesday.

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“Today we had little people, but if we have all the people then we will succeed.”

The Bar at the End of the Road (WSJ)

A tiny bar in a rundown train station in a remote Greek town has become the center of the universe for the migrants stuck at the border of Macedonia. When Macedonia shut its border to Greece in early March, the Greek border town of Idomeni, once a quick stopover for migrants on route to Europe became the end of the line for many. At least for now. But that isn’t stopping many migrants from trying to make their way across the border and beyond. On a recent cold and wet few days at the camp, migrants hang out in the bar for the warmth it provides and the food and friendship it offers. People talk over chips, pizza and beer, but mostly take solace in having a temporary escape from the misery of the camp. Out of their cold, muddy tents and playing games like checkers and backgammon, or connecting with distant relatives on their phones.

Groups are usually separated by nationality, but talking about how to get out of Greece and farther into Europe is a topic everyone discusses. One morning, someone had a plan to cross a fast-flowing, ice-cold river to the border, despite the fence and increased police presence. It was a dangerous plan, but any escape would do. Someone had a printout of a map showing the route across the river all the way to the border. People study it and take photos of it. Zakaria, a migrant from Aleppo, Syria, says, “I want to continue my studies. I don’t care which country. It can be Germany or another country so long as I can continue my studies. I will wait here until I cross somehow. I would go back home to Syria if I could. Believe me I don’t want to be here, I want to be home, but I don’t even have a home there. No country and no home.”

By noon that day, hundreds of people amassed at the meeting point on the map. Following the trail through forests and fields, this group of men and women, young and old carry their belongings and eventually come to the river. The water is freezing. People are yelling and crying. Children are terrified. But they made it across. They were lucky. Earlier that morning, a separate group attempted to cross and three people reportedly died attempting the cross. After resting, they continue to the border, but are turned back by the Macedonian army. Back at the camp, they are exhausted and downtrodden, but they have the bar, and talk soon turns to finding another way to escape. Sarwar, a migrant from Lahore, Pakistan, who has been in Idomeni for 16 days and just returned from trying to cross the border says, “They stop us today but we will try again. We are many, many people and more come now. Soon we can run through the fence. Today we had little people, but if we have all the people then we will succeed.”

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Jan 022016
 
 January 2, 2016  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Earl Theisen Walt Disney oiling scale model locomotive at home in LA 1951

After a Tumultuous 2015, Investors Have Low Expectations for Markets (WSJ)
Will Corporate Investment and Profits Rebound This Year? (WSJ)
A Year of Sovereign Defaults? (Carmen Reinhart)
The Next Big Short: Amazon (Stockman)
The Real Financial Risks of 2016 (Taleb)
High-Yield Bonds: Worthy of the Name Again (WSJ)
Slowdown In Chinese Manufacturing Deepens Fears For Economy (Guardian)
Opinion Divided On State Of Chinese Economy, But Not Its Importance (Guardian)
‘Indigestion’ Hits Diamond Companies: Too Much Supply, Too Little Demand (FT)
Iraq Says It Exported More Than 1 Billion Barrels of Oil in 2015 (BBG)
The Federal Reserve’s Brave New Interest Rate World (Coppola)
Economic Sweet Spot Of 2016 Before The Reflation Storm (AEP)
New Year Brings Minimum Wage Hikes For Americans In 14 States (Reuters)
Swiss Bank Admits Cash and Gold Withdrawals Cheated IRS (BBG)
Edward Hugh, Economist Who Foresaw Eurozone’s Struggles, Dies At 67 (NY Times)
As 2016 Dawns, Europe Braces For More Waves Of Refugees (AP)

Watch out below.

After a Tumultuous 2015, Investors Have Low Expectations for Markets (WSJ)

After a year of disappointment in everything from U.S. stocks to emerging markets and junk bonds, investors are approaching 2016 with low expectations. Some see the past year as a bad omen. Two major stock indexes posted their first annual decline since the financial crisis, while energy prices fell even further. Emerging markets and junk bonds also struggled. Others view the pullback as a sensible breather for some markets after years of strong gains. While large gains were common as markets recovered in the years after the 2008 financial crisis, many investors say such returns are growing harder to come by, and expect slim gains at best this year.

“You have to be very muted in your expectations,” said Margie Patel, senior portfolio manager at Wells Fargo Funds who said she expects mid-single percentage-point gains in major U.S. stock indexes this year. “It’s pretty hard to point to a sector or an industry where you could say, well, that’s going to grow very, very rapidly,” she said, adding that there are “not a lot of things to get enthusiastic about, and a long list of things to be worried about.” As the year neared an end, a fierce selloff hit junk bonds in December, while U.S. government bond yields rose only modestly despite the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise its benchmark interest rate in December, showing investors weren’t ready to retreat from relatively safe government bonds.

For the U.S., 2015’s rough results stood in contrast to three stellar years. After rising 46% from 2012 through 2014, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.2% last year. The S&P 500 fell 0.7%. While most Wall Street equity strategists still expect gains for U.S. stocks this year, they also once again expect higher levels of volatility than in years past. Of 16 investment banks that issued forecasts for this year, two-thirds expect the S&P 500 to finish 2016 at a level less than 10% above last year’s close, according to stock-market research firm Birinyi Associates. Some investors say a pause for stocks is normal for a bull market of this length, which has been the longest since the 1990s. Including dividends, the S&P 500 has returned 249% since its crisis-era low of 2009.

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How could they? On what? “This recovery still stinks.”

Will Corporate Investment and Profits Rebound This Year? (WSJ)

In 2015, the American corporate landscape was dominated by activist investors, buybacks, currencies and deals. This year, the question is whether U.S. businesses will shake off the weight of a strong dollar and lower commodity prices to expand profit growth, end their dependence on boosting returns with buybacks, and turn to investing in their operations. The Federal Reserve had enough confidence in the economic recovery to raise interest rates in December, but it remains unclear whether global growth will be buoyant enough reverse weak business investment. Many big companies are reining in spending. 3M, with thousands of products from Scotch tape to smartphone materials, forecasts capital spending roughly unchanged from 2015.

Telecom companies AT&T and Verizon both plan to hold capital spending generally level in the coming year. Meanwhile, industrial giants like General Electric and United Technologies are aggressively cutting costs and seeking to squeeze more savings from suppliers. Capital expenditures by members of the S&P 500 index fell in the second and third quarters of 2015 from a year earlier, the first time since 2010 that the measure has fallen for two consecutive quarters, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices. Another measure of business spending on new equipment—orders for nondefense capital goods, excluding aircraft—was down 3.6% from a year earlier in the first 11 months of 2015, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

More broadly, only 25% of small companies plan capital outlays in the next three to six months, according to a November survey of about 600 firms by the National Federation of Independent Business. That compares with an average of 29% and a high of 41% since the surveys began in 1974. “Our guys are in maintenance mode,” said William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the trade group. “This recovery still stinks.” Profit growth for the constituents of the S&P 500 index stalled in 2015 thanks to a combination of a strong dollar and falling prices for steel, crude oil and other commodities. Deutsche Bank estimates total net income for companies in the index fell 3% in 2015, while sales declined 4%. For 2016, Deutsche Bank forecasts net income growth of 4.3% and a 4% increase in revenue.

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Given the reliance on dollar-denominated low interest loans, it seems all but certain.

A Year of Sovereign Defaults? (Carmen Reinhart)

When it comes to sovereign debt, the term “default” is often misunderstood. It almost never entails the complete and permanent repudiation of the entire stock of debt; indeed, even some Czarist-era Russian bonds were eventually (if only partly) repaid after the 1917 revolution. Rather, non-payment – a “default,” according to credit-rating agencies, when it involves private creditors – typically spurs a conversation about debt restructuring, which can involve maturity extensions, coupon-payment cuts, grace periods, or face-value reductions (so-called “haircuts”). If history is a guide, such conversations may be happening a lot in 2016. Like so many other features of the global economy, debt accumulation and default tends to occur in cycles.

Since 1800, the global economy has endured several such cycles, with the share of independent countries undergoing restructuring during any given year oscillating between zero and 50% (see figure). Whereas one- and two-decade lulls in defaults are not uncommon, each quiet spell has invariably been followed by a new wave of defaults. The most recent default cycle includes the emerging-market debt crises of the 1980s and 1990s. Most countries resolved their external-debt problems by the mid-1990s, but a substantial share of countries in the lowest-income group remain in chronic arrears with their official creditors. Like outright default or the restructuring of debts to official creditors, such arrears are often swept under the rug, possibly because they tend to involve low-income debtors and relatively small dollar amounts.

But that does not negate their eventual capacity to help spur a new round of crises, when sovereigns who never quite got a handle on their debts are, say, met with unfavorable global conditions. And, indeed, global economic conditions – such as commodity-price fluctuations and changes in interest rates by major economic powers such as the United States or China – play a major role in precipitating sovereign-debt crises. As my recent work with Vincent Reinhart and Christoph Trebesch reveals, peaks and troughs in the international capital-flow cycle are especially dangerous, with defaults proliferating at the end of a capital-inflow bonanza.

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Big call from Dave.

The Next Big Short: Amazon (Stockman)

If you have forgotten your Gulliver’s Travels, recall that Jonathan Swift described the people of Brobdingnag as being as tall as church steeples and having a ten foot stride. Everything else was in proportion – with rats the size of mastiffs and the latter the size of four elephants, while flies were “as big as a Dunstable lark” and wasps were the size of partridges. Hence the word for this fictional land has come to mean colossal, enormous, gigantic, huge, immense or, as the urban dictionary puts it, “really f*cking big”. That would also describe the $325 billion bubble which comprises Amazon’s market cap. It is at once brobdangnagian and preposterous – a trick on the casino signifying that the crowd has once again gone stark raving mad.

When you have arrived at a condition of extreme “irrational exuberance” there is probably no insult to ordinary valuation metrics that can shock. But for want of doubt consider that AMZN earned the grand sum of $79 million last quarter and $328 million for the LTM period ending in September. That’s right. Its conventional PE multiple is 985X! And, no, its not a biotech start-up in phase 3 FDA trials with a sure fire cancer cure set to be approved any day; its actually been around more than a quarter century, putting it in the oldest quartile of businesses in the US. But according to the loony posse of sell-side apologists who cover the company – there are 15 buy recommendations – Amazon is still furiously investing in “growth” after all of these years.

So never mind the PE multiple; earnings are being temporarily sacrificed for growth. Well, yes. On its approximate $100 billion in LTM sales Amazon did generate $32.6 billion of gross profit. But the great builder behind the curtain in Seattle choose to “reinvest” $5 billion in sales and marketing, $14 billion in general and administrative expense and $11.6 billion in R&D. So there wasn’t much left for the bottom line, and not surprisingly. Amazon’s huge R&D expense alone was actually nearly three times higher than that of pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. But apparently that’s why Bezos boldly bags the big valuation multiples.

Not so fast, we think. Is there any evidence that all this madcap “investment” in the upper lines of the P&L for all these years is showing signs of momentum in cash generation? After all, sooner or later valuation has to be about free cash flow, even if you set aside GAAP accounting income. In fact, AMZN generated $9.8 billion in operating cash flow during its most recent LTM period and spent $7.0 billion on CapEx and other investments. So its modest $2.8 billion of free cash flow implies a multiple of 117X.

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“Zero interest rates turn monetary policy into a massive weapon that has no ammunition.”

The Real Financial Risks of 2016 (Taleb)

How should we think about financial risks in 2016? First, worry less about the banking system. Financial institutions today are less fragile than they were a few years ago. This isn’t because they got better at understanding risk (they didn’t) but because, since 2009, banks have been shedding their exposures to extreme events. Hedge funds, which are much more adept at risk-taking, now function as reinsurers of sorts. Because hedge-fund owners have skin in the game, they are less prone to hiding risks than are bankers. This isn’t to say that the financial system has healed: Monetary policy made itself ineffective with low interest rates, which were seen as a cure rather than a transitory painkiller. Zero interest rates turn monetary policy into a massive weapon that has no ammunition.

There’s no evidence that “zero” interest rates are better than, say, 2% or 3%, as the Federal Reserve may be realizing. I worry about asset values that have swelled in response to easy money. Low interest rates invite speculation in assets such as junk bonds, real estate and emerging market securities. The effect of tightening in 1994 was disproportionately felt with Italian, Mexican and Thai securities. The rule is: Investments with micro-Ponzi attributes (i.e., a need to borrow to repay) will be hit. Though “another Lehman Brothers” isn’t likely to happen with banks, it is very likely to happen with commodity firms and countries that depend directly or indirectly on commodity prices.

Dubai is more threatened by oil prices than Islamic State. Commodity people have been shouting, “We’ve hit bottom,” which leads me to believe that they still have inventory to liquidate. Long-term agricultural commodity prices might be threatened by improvement in the storage of solar energy, which could prompt some governments to cancel ethanol programs as a mandatory use of land for “clean” energy.

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Yield rises with risk. Risk leads to losses.

High-Yield Bonds: Worthy of the Name Again (WSJ)

By mid-2014, some were starting to wonder whether the high-yield bond market needed to find a new name for itself. U.S. yields fell below 5%, while European yields dipped beneath 4%, according to Barclays indexes. But at the end of 2015, the market once again has an appropriate moniker. U.S. yields are ending the year at 8.8%, the Barclays index shows, returning to levels last seen in 2011. They have risen by about 2.3 percentage points this year. European yields stand at 5% — not huge in absolute terms, but high relative to ultralow European government bond yields. Of course, for existing investors that has been bad news. The ride—including the high-profile meltdown of Third Avenue Management’s Focused Credit Fund, which shook the market in December—has been rough.

It has taken its toll on borrowers too. The U.S. high-yield bond market has recorded the slowest pace of fourth-quarter issuance since 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers essentially shut the market down, according to data firm Dealogic. Global issuance has fallen 23% this year to $366.5 billion, the lowest level since 2011. The market is likely to face further tests in 2016. Defaults are set to rise, and companies may find it tougher to get financing. But at least investors will now get chunkier rewards for taking risk. Arguably, high-yield investors should always be focused on absolute rather than relative yields, given the need to compensate for defaults. From that point of view, 2015 was the year high-yield bonds got their mojo back.

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China will find it much harder to keep up appearances in 2016.

Slowdown In Chinese Manufacturing Deepens Fears For Economy (Guardian)

A further slowdown in China’s vast manufacturing sector has intensified worries about the year ahead for the world’s second largest economy. The latest in a string of downbeat reports from showed that activity at China’s factories cooled in December for the fifth month running, as overseas demand for Chinese goods continued to fall. Against the backdrop of a faltering global economy, turmoil in the country’s stock markets and overcapacity in factories, Chinese economic growth has slowed markedly. The country’s central bank expects growth in 2015 to be the slowest for a quarter of a century. After growing 7.3% in 2014, the economy is thought to have expanded by 6.9% in 2015 and the central bank has forecast that it may slow further in 2016 to 6.8%.

A series of interventions by policymakers, including interest rate cuts, have done little to revive growth and in some cases served only to heighten concern about China’s challenges. Friday’s figures showed that the manufacturing sector limped to the end of 2015. The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) of manufacturing activity edged up to 49.7 in December from 49.6 in November. The December reading matched the forecast in a Reuters poll of economists and marked the fifth consecutive month that the index was below 50, the point that separates expansion from contraction. “Although the PMI slightly rebounded this month, it still lies below the critical point and is lower than historic levels over the same period,” Zhao Qinghe, a senior statistician at the national bureau of statistics, said.

Analysts said the latest manufacturing PMI pointed to falling activity, but that some hope could be taken from the improvement on November’s three-year low. The small rise “suggests that growth momentum is stabilising somewhat … however, the sector is still facing strong headwinds,” said Zhou Hao at Commerzbank. “In order to facilitate the destocking and deleveraging process, monetary policy will remain accommodative and the fiscal policy will be more proactive.”

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Can China let go of the peg and let the yaun plunge, while it’s in the IMF basket?

Opinion Divided On State Of Chinese Economy, But Not Its Importance (Guardian)

It was perhaps fitting that China’s latest lacklustre industrial survey was the first fragment of financial data to greet the new year. Economists are divided about the risks facing the vast Chinese economy, but agree that how they play out will have profound consequences for the rest of the world in 2016. The optimists point to China’s large and growing middle class, the vast foreign currency reserves that give Beijing ample ammunition to respond to any crisis that emerges, and the authoritarian regime that allows its policymakers to force through economic change. And official figures do suggest that economic growth may have stabilised at about 6.5% – considerably weaker than the double-digit pace that was the norm before the financial crisis, but not the feared “hard landing”.

Yet pessimists argue that the official figures radically overestimate the true pace of growth: using alternative indicators such as freight volumes and electricity usage, City analysts Fathom calculate that growth could be below 3%. And last summer’s share price crash, and the chaos that surrounded Beijing’s decision to devalue the yuan, suggested there is no reason to think Chinese policymakers are any more in control of the forces of capitalism than their western counterparts were in the run-up to the financial crisis. China’s latest five-year plan involves a conscious attempt to switch growth away from the export-led model that has driven its rise to the economic premier league, and towards more sustainable, domestic consumption-led growth.

But with many of the country’s powerful state-owned enterprises loaded up with debt, property bubbles deflating and the knock-on effects of the share price crash still being felt, domestic demand has so far failed to pick up the slack. The challenge of maintaining politically acceptable rates of economic growth may become tougher in 2016, particularly if the US Federal Reserve presses ahead with its bid to return interest rates to somewhere near normal. The value of the Chinese yuan is not allowed to move too far out of line with the dollar, under a “crawling peg” – effectively a semi-fixed exchange rate.

But as the greenback moves upwards to reflect the strengthening US economy and rising rates, it is taking the yuan with it, and making it harder for Chinese exporters to compete. As the dollar continues to appreciate, it may become increasingly tempting for policymakers to abandon the peg and let the currency plunge, returning to the familiar export-led pattern of growth. And if Beijing does devalue sharply, it would damage China’s exporting rivals, and send deflation rippling out through the global economy, increasing the risk of a lengthy period of economic weakness. China’s true fragility is impossible to gauge; but it matters.

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Not a good sign for gold.

‘Indigestion’ Hits Diamond Companies: Too Much Supply, Too Little Demand (FT)

De Beers was hoping its “Live your love today” campaign would entice Chinese consumers to buy diamond jewellery this holiday season. It is unlikely to be enough to turn round the miner’s fortunes. While auction prices set records for some big gems in 2015 — Lucara Diamond found one of the largest stones to date — the sector has had its toughest year since the global financial crisis as it struggles with too much supply and too little demand. Miners including De Beers, which is owned by Anglo American, and Canada’s Dominion Diamond have acknowledged falling revenues and lower prices for rough diamonds. In China, the big jewellers are suffering. Chow Tai Fook, the largest by market value, reported a 42% fall in net profits in interim results.

But the pain has been most acute for the trade’s “midstream”, the hundreds of cutters and polishers, mostly in India, which buy rough stones from miners and supply retailers. “The raw [rough] diamond price is still high but the polishers [like us] have to sell cheaper because of the drop in demand,” said Chirag Kakadia of Sheetal, an Indian diamond polisher, speaking at a Hong Kong trade show. “We are forced to purchase higher but sell lower. Our production has dropped 40% from 2014 but our sales are 50% less.” Companies such as Sheetal have been hit by a bout of what Johan Dippenaar, chief executive of Petra Diamonds, has described as industry “indigestion”, stemming from an over-optimistic assessment of demand from China.

Retailers that had geared up for years of growth were caught out by a slowing economy and an anti-corruption drive, with officials banned from receiving gifts. A person in the industry who asked not to be named said demand in Hong Kong and Macau had been “absolutely mullered” by the corruption crackdown. The lack of interest from consumers has left cutters and polishers holding too much stock. In turn, their need to buy from miners has declined, forcing down rough prices. Analysts said that, even if midstream groups wanted to restock, many would find it hard to do so. Much of the credit in the sector has been withdrawn as banks have grown wary of lending to businesses that are family-owned and tend to be opaque. The question is whether the market will bounce back or be altered for good.

De Beers, which has lost much of its power as a supplier but remains a dominant participant, says the industry does not face a long-term bust and once the temporary oversupply is dealt with equilibrium will be restored. Philippe Mellier, chief executive, told industry analysts in December: “This is a stock crisis, not a demand crisis.” De Beers has allowed midstream companies to put regular purchases on hold. “We just want our customers to buy what they need and not increase the stock problem,” said Mr Mellier. The miner has also cut production and closed two diamond mines. Consultants at Bain say the diamond pipeline should return to normal functioning once midmarket businesses and retailers clear excess inventories, provided that miners and polishers manage supplies adroitly.

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And now Iran will follow.

Iraq Says It Exported More Than 1 Billion Barrels of Oil in 2015 (BBG)

Iraq said it exported 1.097 billion barrels of oil in 2015, generating $49.079 billion from sales, according to the oil ministry. It sold 99.7 million barrels of oil in December, generating $2.973 billion, after selling a record 100.9 million barrels in November, said oil ministry spokesman Asim Jihad. The country sold at an average price of $44.74 a barrel in 2015, Jihad said. Iraq, with the world’s fifth-biggest oil reserves, needs to keep increasing crude output because lower oil prices have curbed government revenue. Oil prices have slumped in the past year as OPEC defended market share against production in the U.S. OPEC’s second-largest crude producer is facing a slowdown in investment due to lower oil prices while fighting a costly war on Islamist militants who seized a swath of the country’s northwest. The nation’s output will start to decline in 2018, Morgan Stanley said in a Sept. 2 report, reversing its forecast for higher production every year to 2020.

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The real rate rise is still substantially lower than 0.25%, though.

The Federal Reserve’s Brave New Interest Rate World (Coppola)

On December 17th, 2015, the FOMC raised interest rates for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis. To be sure, it had little choice. The Fed had been signalling an interest rate rise persistently for months, and had already disappointed markets twice by delaying rate rises in September and October. It had painted itself into the same corner as the ECB did over QE earlier in the year. The ECB signalled for months that it was going to start QE, and backed off several times, to the disappointment of market participants. Eventually, ECB was forced to start QE for the simple reason that NOT doing so threatened financial stability, because markets had already priced it in. So with the FOMC. Encouraged by broadly good economic data, and by the Fed’s approving noises, markets priced in a 25bps interest rate rise.

The FOMC was all but obliged to act, simply to avoid sparking a market rout. It was yet another fine example of markets being willing to let the Fed guide them along the road that they were already travelling. Since that small but oh-so-significant rate rise, the Fed Funds rate has obediently remained firmly within its new 25 to 50 bps corridor. Indeed, it has hovered persistently around the midpoint of the range. Given that the system is still awash with excess reserves and the Fed Funds rate therefore has little effect on bank lending, it is remarkable that the rate has stayed both elevated and stable. How has this been achieved? Yesterday, the FT reported that the Fed absorbed $475bn of excess reserves through overnight reverse repo operations in its last monetary operation of 2015, a record amount.

Overnight reverse repos allow certain non-bank financial institutions to place funds at the Fed overnight in return for USTs (yes, the ones bought in the Fed’s QE programs) and 25bps interest. The interest rate is no accident: it is the floor of the target Fed Funds rate range. These reverse repos provide competition for banks in the funding markets, forcing banks to offer higher interest rates on funds they lend to non-banks. The Fed said in December that it would make $2tn worth of USTs available as collateral for reverse repo transactions: it is actually needing to use considerably less to maintain the Fed Funds rate well above its floor. But reverse repos are only half the story. The Fed also set the interest rate it pays on excess reserves (IOER) to the top of the Fed Funds target range. This pulls the funding rate upwards, since banks will not lend reserves to each other at less than the IOER rate.

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Ambroze has been smoking. A lot. The sudden surge in China M1 in the graph looks like panic to me, and moreover, it hasn’t done any good either.

Economic Sweet Spot Of 2016 Before The Reflation Storm (AEP)

Sunlit uplands beckon. Almost $2 trillion of annual stimulus from cheap oil has been accumulating for months, pent up and waiting to be spent. It will soon come flooding through in a burst, catching the world by surprise. But beware: the more beguiling it is over coming months, the more traumatic it will be later as the reflation scare comes alive. Since the rite of New Year predictions is to stick one’s neck out, let me hazard hopefully that this treacherous moment can be deferred until 2017. The positive oil shock will hit just as austerity ends in the US, and big-spending states and cities ice the cake with a fiscal boost worth 0.5pc of GDP. Americans broke records with the purchase 1.7m new cars and trucks in December, a foretaste of blistering sales to come. There is a ‘deficit’ of 20m cars left from the Long Slump yet to be plugged.

The eurozone is nearing the sweet spot, a fleeting nirvana of 2pc growth, conjured by the trifecta of a cheap euro, budgetary break-out, and the end of bank deleveraging. Mario Draghi’s printing presses are firing on all cylinders. The ‘broad’ M3 money supply is growing at turbo-charged rates of 5pc in real terms. This is a 12-month leading indicator for the economy, so enjoy the ride, at least until the demonic Fiscal Compact returns at the dead of night to smother Europe once again. In China, the dogs bark, the caravan moves on. There will be no devaluation of the yuan this year, because there is no urgent need for it. Premier Li Keqiang has vowed to keep the new exchange basket stable. Armed with a current account surplus of $600bn, $3.5 trillion of reserves, and capitol controls, that is exactly what he will do.

The lingering hangover from the Great Chinese Recession of early 2015 has faded. The PMI services gauge has just jumped to a 15-month high of 54.4, and this is now the relevant index since the Communist Party is systematically winding down chunks of the steel, shipbuilding, and chemical industries. China’s money supply is also catching fire. Growth of ‘real true M1’ has spiked to 10pc, a giddy shot of caffeine not seen since the post-Lehman spree. Combined credit and local government bond issuance is surging at a rate of 14pc. The Communist Party cranked up fiscal spending by 18.9pc in November. Whether or not you think this recidivist stimulus is wise – given that the law of diminishing returns set in long ago for debt-driven growth – it will paper over a lot of cracks for the time being.

One thing that will not happen is a housing revival in the mid-sized T3 and T4 cities of the hinterland. It will be a long time before the latest reform of the medieval Hukou system unleashes enough rural migrants to fill the ghost towns. The stock of 4.5m unsold homes on the books of developers is frightening to behold. The epic dollar rally has come and gone. The world’s currency will drift down over coming months, and that will be a reprieve for the likes of Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia, and Colombia. Those at the wrong end of $9 trillion of off-shore debt in US dollars may breath easier: they will not escape. The MSCI index of emerging market stocks will return from the dead, clawing back most of the 28pc in losses since last April, but only to lurch into a greater storm.

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Barely a start. But a strong sign of how much less ‘new’ jobs pay.

New Year Brings Minimum Wage Hikes For Americans In 14 States (Reuters)

As the United States marks more than six years without an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, 14 states and several cities are moving forward with their own increases, with most set to start taking effect on Friday. California and Massachusetts are highest among the states, both increasing from $9 to $10 an hour, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. At the low end is Arkansas, where the minimum wage is increasing from $7.50 to $8. The smallest increase, a nickel, comes in South Dakota, where the hourly minimum is now $8.55.

The increases come in the wake of a series of “living wage” protests across the country, including a November campaign in which thousands of protesters in 270 cities marched in support of a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights for fast food workers. Food service workers make up the largest group of minimum-wage earners, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Friday’s increases, the new average minimum wage across the 14 affected states rises from $8.50 an hour to just over $9. Several cities are going even higher. Seattle is setting a sliding hourly minimum between $10.50 and $13 on Jan. 1, and Los Angeles and San Francisco are enacting similar increases in July, en route to $15 an hour phased in over six years.

Backers say a higher minimum wage helps combat poverty, but opponents worry about the potential impact on employment and company profits. In 2014, a Democratic-backed congressional proposal to increase the federal minimum wage for the first time since 2009 to $10.10 stalled, as have subsequent efforts by President Barack Obama. More recent proposals by some lawmakers call for a federal minimum wage of up to $15 an hour. Alan Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton University and former chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, said a federal minimum wage of up to $12 an hour, phased in over five years or so, “would not have a noticeable effect on employment.”

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Many such banks did the same.

Swiss Bank Admits Cash and Gold Withdrawals Cheated IRS (BBG)

Large cash and gold withdrawals were one way Bank Lombard Odier & Co allowed U.S. clients to sever a paper trail on their assets and cheat the Internal Revenue Service, the Swiss lender admitted, agreeing to pay $99.8 million to avoid prosecution. That penalty is the second-largest paid under a program to help the U.S. clamp down on tax evasion through Swiss banks. Total penalties have reached more than $1.1 billion as banks have revealed how they helped clients hide money and where the assets went. DZ Privatbank (Schweiz) AG will also pay almost $7.5 million under accords released Thursday. The U.S. has struck 75 such non-prosecution agreements this year, with the tempo and dollar amount increasing in recent weeks as it rushes to finish. Geneva-based Lombard Odier, founded in 1796, had 1,121 U.S. accounts with $4.45 billion in assets from 2008 through 2014, according to the agreement, announced Thursday.

The bank adopted a policy in 2008 to force U.S. clients to disclose undeclared assets to the IRS or face account closures. However, the policy authorized large cash or gold withdrawals, donations to U.S. relatives or charitable institutions, resulting in further wrongdoing, according to the statement. In 2009 alone, the bank processed 14 cash withdrawals of more than $1 million each for clients closing 11 accounts, according to the non-prosecution agreement. One client closed an account by withdrawing more than $3 million in gold, the bank admitted. “These withdrawals of cash and precious metals enabled U.S. persons to sever the paper trail for their assets and further conceal their income and assets from U.S. authorities,” according to the agreement. The bank also closed at least 12 U.S. accounts worth $15.7 million with “fictitious donations” to other accounts at the bank, Lombard Odier admitted.

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“..Mr. Hugh insisted time and again that economists and policy makers were glossing over the extent to which swift austerity measures in countries like Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal would result in devastating recessions..”

Edward Hugh, Economist Who Foresaw Eurozone’s Struggles, Dies At 67 (NY Times)

Edward Hugh, a freethinking and wide-ranging British economist who gave early warnings about the European debt crisis from his adopted home in Barcelona, died on Tuesday, his birthday, in Girona, Spain. He was 67. The cause was cancer of the gallbladder and liver, his son, Morgan Jones, said. Mr. Hugh drew attention in 2009 and 2010 for his blog posts pointing out flaws at the root of Europe’s ambition to bind together disparate cultures and economies with a single currency, the euro. In clear, concise essays, adorned with philosophical musings and colorful graphics, Mr. Hugh insisted time and again that economists and policy makers were glossing over the extent to which swift austerity measures in countries like Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal would result in devastating recessions.

Mr. Hugh’s insights soon attracted a wide and influential following, including hedge funds, economists, finance ministers and analysts at the IMF. “For those of us pessimists who believed that the eurozone structure was leading to an unsustainable bubble in the periphery countries, Edward Hugh was a must-read,” said Albert Edwards, a strategist based in London for the French bank Société Générale. “His prescience in explaining the mechanics of the crisis went almost unnoticed until it actually hit.” As the eurozone’s economic problems grew, so did Mr. Hugh’s popularity, and by 2011 he had moved the base of his operations to Facebook. There he attracted many thousands of additional followers from all over the world.

If Santa Claus and John Maynard Keynes could combine as one, he might well be Edward Hugh. He was roly-poly and merry, and he always had a twinkle in his eye, not least when he came across a data point or the hint of an economic or social trend that would support one of his many theories. His intellect was too restless to be pigeonholed, but when pressed he would say that he saw himself as a Keynesian in spirit, but not letter. And in tune with his view that economists in general had become too wedded to static economic models and failed their obligation to predict and explain, he frequently cited this quotation from Keynes: “Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past, the ocean is flat again.”

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3 million forecast for 2016.

As 2016 Dawns, Europe Braces For More Waves Of Refugees (AP)

Bitter cold, biting winds and rough winter seas have done little to stem the seemingly endless flow of desperate people fleeing war or poverty for what they hope will be a brighter, safer future in Europe. As 2016 dawns, boatloads continue to reach Greek shores and thousands trudge across Balkan fields and country roads heading north. More than a million people reached Europe in 2015 in the continent’s largest refugee influx since the end of World War II – a crisis that has tested European unity and threatened the vision of a borderless continent. Nearly 3,800 people are estimated to have drowned in the Mediterranean last year, making the journey to Greece or Italy in unseaworthy vessels packed far beyond capacity.

The EU has pledged to bolster patrols on its external borders and quickly deport economic migrants, while Turkey has agreed to crack down on smugglers operating from its coastline. But those on the front lines of the crisis say the coming year promises to be difficult unless there is a dramatic change. Greece has borne the brunt of the exodus, with more than 850,000 people reaching the country’s shores, nearly all arriving on Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast. “The (migrant) flows continue unabated. And on good days, on days when the weather isn’t bad, they are increased,” Ioannis Mouzalas, Greeces minister responsible for migration issues, told AP. “This is a problem and shows that Turkey wasn’t able – I’m not saying that they didn’t want – to respond to the duty and obligation it had undertaken to control the flows and the smugglers from its shores.”

Europe’s response to the crisis has been fractured, with individual countries, concerned about the sheer scale of the influx, introducing new border controls aimed at limiting the flow. The problem is compounded by the reluctance of many migrants’ countries of origin, such as Pakistan, to accept forcible returns. “If measures are not taken to stop the flows from Turkey and if Europe doesn’t solve the problems of the returns as a whole, it will be a very difficult year,” Mouzalas warned. “It’s a bad sign, this unabated flow that continues,” Mouzalas said. “It creates difficulties for us, as the borders have closed for particular categories of people and there is a danger they will be trapped here.”

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