Jul 252019
 
 July 25, 2019  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Piet Mondriaan Trafalgar Square 1939-43

 

Trump Cheers As Michael Moore Blasts ‘Frail’ Mueller (AFP)
Donald Trump Vetoes Bills Prohibiting Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia (AP)
Nothing Matters: It’s Like the Whole Market Has Gone Nuts (WS)
Mnuchin Says Amazon ‘Destroyed’ US Retail Sector (R.)
Boeing Says It Could Halt Production Of 737 Max After Grounding (G.)
Jeffrey Epstein Found Injured In Jail Cell (R.)
Embattled Governor Of Puerto Rico Resigns After Protests (AFP)
With Finger On Trigger, ECB Aims At More Stimulus (R.)
Deutsche Bank Faces A -Much- Smaller, Poorer Future (Coppola)
California Condor Comes Back From The Dead (NPR)

 

 

There are still people calling for impeachment after Mueller’s horror show yesterday. Saw both AOC and Rob Reiner do just that. The somewhat more awake amongst us merely feel sorry for the old man, but that goes too far. He put himself in that position. He’s never delivered any proof of Russian meddling, but that doesn’t appear to bother many. He refused to talk to Assange just so that meddling narrative could be kept alive.

But the biggest takeaway from the hearing must be that Mueller didn’t write his own report, something that became glaringly obvious when he didn’t know what Fusion GPS was. Mueller has just been the face of an investigation that was conducted by others. He is the supposed hero who’s ideal as the front for such a thing. But the thing is hollow and empty.

There were far too many things Mueller said were not in his purview (he said that 16 times) of which at least some certainly were. Moreover, as several members of Congress pointed out, Mueller got far too close to ignoring the presumption of innocence. Trump does not have to prove he’s innocent, Mueller had to prove he’s guilty – and failed.

Trump Cheers As Michael Moore Blasts ‘Frail’ Mueller (AFP)

In a rare meeting of minds Wednesday between two opposing American political voices, Michael Moore earned plaudits from President Donald Trump when the liberal filmmaker blasted former special counsel Robert Mueller’s “stumbling” congressional testimony. Moore, a frequent Trump critic who has also warned of the Democratic Party’s failure to resonate with working-class America, let loose on Mueller as he testified in often halting fashion before Congress about Russian election interference and possible connections to Trump and his 2016 campaign. “A frail old man, unable to remember things, stumbling, refusing to answer basic questions,” Moore said in a scathing tweet after Mueller appeared uncertain and asked for several questions to be repeated during some of the most closely watched congressional hearings of the year.

“I said it in 2017 and Mueller confirmed it today — All you pundits and moderates and lame Dems who told the public to put their faith in the esteemed Robert Mueller — just STFU from now on,” he added, using a crass acronym that includes an expletive. Trump seized on the famed documentarian and Academy Award winner’s fury, retweeting the post and adding his observation that “Even Michael Moore agrees that the Dems and Mueller blew it!” Mueller, 74, appeared reluctant to take the gloves off as he sat for hours in hearings before two House panels, often sounding dispassionate and unsteady.

At times lawyerly and assured, he was also dull and sluggish, declining to stray beyond the confines of his report or to push back aggressively on his Republican questioners and light the fireworks that several Democrats no doubt had been looking for. “Trump must be gloating in ecstasy,” tweeted Moore, director of films like “Bowling for Columbine” and “Roger & Me.” “Not because of the failure that is Robert Mueller — his Report is still a damning document of crimes by Trump — but because Trump understands the power of the visual, and he understands that the Dems aren’t street fighters and that’s why he’ll win.”

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If the Dems wouldn’t waste so much time and credility with Russiagate, they could protest this. And sure, Pelosi tries, but they are not a believable anti-war party.

Donald Trump Vetoes Bills Prohibiting Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia (AP)

Donald Trump has vetoed a trio of congressional resolutions aimed at blocking his administration from selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, last month cited threats from Iran as a reason to approve the $8.1bn arms sale to the two US allies in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia is an enemy of Iran and tension has mounted between the UAE and Tehran over several issues, including the UAE’s coordination with US efforts to curb what it calls Iran’s malign activities in the region. But Trump’s decision in May to sell the weapons in a way that would have bypassed congressional review infuriated lawmakers. In a pushback to Trump’s foreign policy, Democrats and Republicans banded together to pass resolutions to block the weapons sale.


The White House had argued that stopping the sale would send a signal that the US did not stand by its partners and allies, particularly at a time when threats against them were increasing. The arms package included thousands of precision-guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition and aircraft maintenance support. Anger has been mounting in Congress over the Trump administration’s close ties to the Saudis, fuelled by the high civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen – a military campaign the US is assisting – and the killing of the US-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents. Trump’s decision in May to sell the weapons further inflamed the tensions. “The president’s shameful veto tramples over the will of the bipartisan, bicameral Congress and perpetuates his administration’s involvement in the horrific conflict in Yemen, which is a stain on the conscience of the world,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement.

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Let’s start a casino and call it a market.

Nothing Matters: It’s Like the Whole Market Has Gone Nuts (WS)

You see, Tesla is different. It just reported another doozie, a loss of $408 million in the second quarter, after its $702 million loss in the first quarter, for a total loss in the first half of $1.1 billion. In its 14-year history, it has never generated an annual profit. It has real and popular products and surging sales, but it subsidizes each of those sales with investor money. And here’s where it’s different this time: investors don’t care. They dig how the company has been consistently overpromising and underdelivering. They dig the chaos at the top. They dig everything that should scare them off.

Yeah, its shares plunged 11% afterhours today, but that takes those shares only down to where they’d been on May 1. Big deal. Shares are down 32% from the peak. But their peak should have been a small fraction of that. Even today, the company is still valued at over $40 billion. Tesla lacks a viable business model in the classic sense. Its business model is a new business model of just burning investor cash that it raises via debt and equity offerings on a near-annual basis because investors encourage it to do that, and love it for it, and eagerly hand it more money to burn, and they’re rewarding each other by keeping the share price high. It’s just a game, you see. And nothing else matters.

Then there is Boeing. It just reported the largest quarterly loss in its history of $2.9 billion due to a nearly $5-billion charge related to its newest bestselling all-important 737 Max, two of which crashed, killing 346 people, due to the way the plane is designed. The flight-control software that is supposed to mitigate this design issue is not working properly. And a software fix that is acceptable to regulators remains elusive. The plane has been grounded globally since March. No one, especially not the regulators, can afford a third crash. So today, Boeing announced that it may further cut production of the plane or suspend it altogether if the delays continue to drag out. This is big enough to start impacting US GDP.

[..] But here we go: From 2013 through Q1 2019, Boeing has blown a mind-boggling $43 billion on share buybacks (buyback data via YCharts): Blowing these $43 billion on share buybacks has caused Boeing to have a “total equity” of a negative $5 billion. In other words, it has $5 billion more in liabilities than in assets. This company is out of wriggle room. If it can’t borrow enough money to make payroll, it’s over.

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Shouldn’t he wait for the DOJ investigation?

Mnuchin Says Amazon ‘Destroyed’ US Retail Sector (R.)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that online giant Amazon.com Inc “destroyed the retail industry across the United States.” Mnuchin said he looked forward to hearing the results of a Justice Department probe, announced on Tuesday, into whether big U.S. technology firms engage in anticompetitive practices, the strongest sign yet that the Trump administration is stepping up its scrutiny of Big Tech. “If you look at Amazon, although they’re certain benefits to it, they’ve destroyed the retail industry across the United States,” Mnuchin told CNBC. “I don’t have an opinion other than I think it’s absolutely right the attorney general is looking into these issues and I look forward to listening to his recommendations to the president.”


Amazon defended itself, saying that 90% of all sales occur in brick-and-mortar stores. “Today, independent sellers make up more than 58% of physical gross merchandise sales on Amazon, and their sales have grown twice as fast as our own, totaling $160 billion in 2018,” a spokesman for Amazon said. A Justice Department spokesman declined to say on Tuesday which companies it would scrutinize under the antitrust probe, but said the review would consider concerns raised about “search, social media, and some retail services online” – an apparent reference to Google, Amazon, Facebook, and potentially Apple.

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No more parking spaces left.

Boeing Says It Could Halt Production Of 737 Max After Grounding (G.)

Boeing said it could halt production of the 737 Max jet on Wednesday as it reported the company’s largest ever quarterly loss following two fatal accidents involving the plane. The company lost $2.9bn in the three months to the end of June, compared to a profit of $2.2bn for the same period last year. Sales fell 35% to $15.8bn. Chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said production of the plane could be slowed or halted if regulators do not move to lift the ban on the plane. The 737 Max was Boeing’s best selling aircraft until the fleet was grounded worldwide in March following crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. In January Boeing’s executives said the Max was the fastest selling plane in its history and the company expected to deliver between 895 and 905 airplanes this year.


Now it has become the most costly plane in Boeing’s history. Boeing has predicted that the Max will be flying again by the end of the year, but this month the Wall Street Journal reported that government and industry officials believe a return date of January 2020 is more likely. On a call with analysts Muilenburg said the company may have to consider slowing or halting production if there are further delays in getting the plane back into the skies. Boeing is still producing 42 of its 737 jets a month and plans to boost that rate to 57 next year. But if there are further setbacks, Muilenberg said: “We might need to consider possible further rate reductions or other options including a temporary shutdown of the Max production.”

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It got him out of jail…

Jeffrey Epstein Found Injured In Jail Cell (R.)

Jeffrey Epstein, the financier facing charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls, was found unconscious in a Manhattan jail cell with injuries to his neck, media reported late on Wednesday, citing unidentified sources. Epstein was found by guards sprawled on the floor of cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Wednesday, media reported. Some media reported that his face appeared blue. The billionaire financier was taken to hospital, the New York Post reported, but it was unclear where he was taken or what his condition was. It was not clear how he suffered his injuries. Epstein was recently denied bail, a move his lawyers plan to appeal according to a court notice made public on Tuesday.


Epstein was expected to ask the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the judge’s July 18 rejection of his request to remain under house arrest in his $77 million mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the charges and the appeal for bail was expected. His lawyer Reid Weingarten did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan declined to comment. The charges, concerning alleged misconduct from at least 2002 to 2005, were announced more than a decade after Epstein pleaded guilty to state prostitution charges in Florida. In denying him bail, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan said the government had shown by clear and convincing evidence that Epstein would pose a danger to the community if released pending trial.

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Impressive.

Embattled Governor Of Puerto Rico Resigns After Protests (AFP)

Puerto Rico’s embattled governor Ricardo Rossello announced his resignation late Wednesday following two weeks of massive protests triggered by the release of a chat exchange in which he and others mocked gays, women and hurricane victims. “I announce that I will be resigning from the governor’s post effective Friday, August 2 at 5 pm,” Rossello said, in a video statement posted on the government’s Facebook page. As soon as the video ended, a joyous commotion and cries of “ole ole ole” were heard from protesters who had rallied since the afternoon at the gates of the governor’s mansion.


“I trust that Puerto Rico will continue united and move forward as it always has,” Rossello said. “And I hope that this decision will serve as a call for citizen reconciliation.” Rossello said that Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez would temporarily succeed him. Puerto Ricans had waited expectantly for the announcement throughout the day, as rumors of the governor’s forthcoming resignation swirled.

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Christine Lagarde is stuck even before she takes the job. There is no way out of ultra-low rates.

With Finger On Trigger, ECB Aims At More Stimulus (R.)

The European Central Bank is all but certain to ease policy further on Thursday, with the biggest question whether it staggers its moves over several months or opts for a big bang. With inflation stuck well below its target and the U.S. Federal Reserve already in easing mode, the ECB has flagged more stimulus, hoping to prop up confidence amid a steady flow of bad news that threatens to unravel years of unprecedented support. It could cut interest rates, perhaps while also helping banks offset the costs to them, restart a recently shuttered bond-buying program or raise the bar for any future tightening of monetary policy.


But with economic data relatively stable there is little urgency to deliver a comprehensive package this week, suggesting the ECB could take its time to prepare the measures and wait for the Fed to set its own course. This will be crucial for determining the euro’s exchange rate against the dollar, presently the single most-watched variable for ECB policymakers. Having stoked easing expectations already, ECB President Mario Draghi will have to deliver at least something on Thursday. If nothing else, he is likely to unveil revamped interest rate guidance that makes it clear a rate cut is coming and that rates will stay at record lows for much longer than the ECB had previously expected.

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As I said: all they can do is to prolong the agony.

Deutsche Bank Faces A -Much- Smaller, Poorer Future (Coppola)

Deutsche Bank has issued its results for the second quarter of 2019. They make grim reading. The bank reported a headline loss of €3.1bn ($3.44bn), which it said was due to “charges relating to strategic transformation” of €3.4bn ($3.78bn). But both net income of £231m ($256.67m) and underlying profits of €441m ($490m) were significantly down on the same quarter in 2018. The restructuring announced earlier this month has yet to impact fully. The “capital release unit” into which the bank plans to put €74bn ($82.22bn) of poorly-performing and non-strategic assets and business lines, including its entire equities trading division, is not yet up and running, and although headcount is about 4,500 lower than it was a year ago, the latest round of sackings doesn’t yet show up in the redundancy costs.


Restructuring costs themselves therefore only contribute €50m ($55.56m) to the headline loss. A further €350m ($388.89m) comes from junking software and service contracts that will no longer be needed because of the restructuring. But by far the largest part of the headline loss arises from impairment of goodwill to the tune of €1bn ($1.11bn) and a €2bn ($2.22bn) reduction in the value of the bank’s deferred tax asset. This may sound like accounting gobbledegook, but it sends a very important message. Deutsche Bank’s management has admitted the bank will never return to the profitability of the past. When the restructuring is complete, it will be a much smaller, poorer bank.

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Let’s end with something positive.

California Condor Comes Back From The Dead (NPR)

The California condor, North America’s largest bird, once ruled the American Southwest and California’s coastal mountains. The vulture-like bird was revered by Native Americans and was believed to contain spiritual powers. Hundreds of years later, its future seemed all but certain. Defying odds, conservation efforts brought the species back and prevented it from joining the dodo in extinction. Now, condor reintroduction celebrates a milestone: Chick No. 1,000 has hatched. In the 1980s, fewer than two dozen condors were left in the world. Conservationists rounded up the remaining condors and began breeding them in captivity.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the condor became critically endangered in the 20th century — one classification behind extinct in the wild. The decline came from poaching, habitat destruction and lead poisoning as condors scavenged for carrion containing lead shots. Today, more than 300 California condors exist in the wild. Including captivity breeding programs, there are more than 500 in the world, says Tim Hauck, the condor program manager at the Peregrine Fund.

The 1,000th successful birth signifies an optimistic future for the condor recovery mission. “We’re seeing more chicks born in the wild than we ever have before,” Hauck told NPR’s Scott Simon. “And that’s just a step towards success for the condor and achieving a sustainable population.” The hatchling is currently in Zion National Park — it emerged from its shell in May, but its survival was just confirmed in July. The chick, whose sex cannot be identified without a blood test, will be ready to fledge — or take flight — for the first time in November. If the chick successfully leaves the nest, it can expect to grow up to have a 10-foot wingspan. The bird’s average lifespan is 60 years, one of the world’s longest-living bird species.


Photo by National Park Service – AP

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May 072019
 


Robert Rauschenberg Collection 1954-55

 

Chelsea Manning Declares She will Never Cooperate with Grand Jury (SM)
Major Mueller Report Omissions Suggest Incompetence Or A Coverup (ZH)
Mnuchin Refuses To Release Trump’s Tax Returns To Congress (R.)
A Nuclear War? Over Venezuela? (Ron Paul)
Going South (Jim Kunstler)
Fed Flags High US Business Debt, Asset Prices In Financial Report (R.)
Vancouver Housing Bust Steepens, Bank of Canada Likes “Froth” Coming Off (WS)
Why Renewables Can’t Power Modern Civilization: They Were Never Meant To (F.)
Silent Spring’s Encore (CP)
Human Society Under Urgent Threat From Loss Of Earth’s Natural Life (G.)
Humanity Must Save Insects To Save Ourselves (G.)
Humans ‘Threaten 1 Million Species With Extinction’ (BBC)

 

 

Our best, bravest and brightest. Our conscience. Look what we do to them.

Chelsea Manning Declares She will Never Cooperate with Grand Jury (SM)

Today, attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen filed a Motion for Chelsea Manning to be released on the basis that, as she will never be convinced to cooperate with the grand jury, further confinement serves no lawful purpose and must be terminated. According to Moira Meltzer-Cohen, attorney to Chelsea Manning: “A witness who refuses to cooperate with a grand jury subpoena may be held in contempt of court, and fined or incarcerated. The only permissible purpose for confinement under the civil contempt statute is to attempt to coerce a witness to comply with the subpoena, or “purge” their contempt. If it is no longer possible to purge the contempt, either because the grand jury is no longer in existence, or because the witness is un-coercible, then confinement has been transformed from coercive into punitive, in violation of the law.

“The key issue before Judge Hilton is whether continued incarceration could persuade Chelsea to testify. Many judges have complained of the “perversity” of this law: that a witness may win their freedom by persisting in their contempt of court. However, should he agree that Chelsea will never agree to testify, he will be compelled by the law to order her release. “Since Ms. Manning is not going to agree to give testimony before the grand jury, she argues, her confinement has exceeded its permissible scope, and she must be released.

“Letters of support were submitted to the Court by Ms. Manning’s friends, family, and colleagues, including from representatives of civil liberties organizations including the ACLU, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Fight for the Future. These letters reiterate that Chelsea is a person of great moral courage, who will not be swayed into betraying her principles, even in the face of great hardship. “That her confinement has already been so arduous gives credence to her claim that she will endure great hardship rather than agree to cooperate.”

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There are more oversights than this article mentions.

Major Mueller Report Omissions Suggest Incompetence Or A Coverup (ZH)

First, according to The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland (a former law clerk of nearly 25 years and instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame) – the Mueller report fails to consider whether the dossier authored by former MI6 spy Christopher Steele was Russian disinformation, and Steele was not charged with lying to the FBI. The Steele dossier, which consisted of a series of memorandum authored by the former MI6 spy, detailed intel purportedly provided by a variety of Vladimir Putin-connected sources. For instance, Steele identified Source A as “a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure” who “confided that the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”

Other supposed sources identified in the dossier included: Source B, identified as “a former top-level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin”; Source C, a “Senior Russian Financial Officer”; and Source G, “a Senior Kremlin Official.” -The Federalist As Cleveland posits: “Given Mueller’s conclusion that no one connected to the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the election, one of those two scenarios must be true—either Russia fed Steele disinformation or Steele lied to the FBI about his Russian sources.”

Mueller’s second major oversight is the special counsel’s portrayal of Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud was a Russian agent – when available evidence suggests he may have been a Western agent. Weeks after returning from Moscow, Mifsud – a self-described Clinton Foundation member – ‘seeded’ the rumor that Russia had ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos on April 26, 2016, according to the Mueller report. As Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) noted on Fox News on Sunday, “how is it that we spend 30-plus-million dollars on this, as taxpayers and they can’t even tell us who Joseph Mifsud is?” “…this is important, because, in the Mueller dossier, they use a fake news story to describe Mifsud. In one of those stories, they cherry- pick it,” Nunes added.

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“.. it lacks “a legitimate legislative purpose.” I do wonder what the purpose is. If it has to do with Russia collusion, the ground is very slippery post-Mueller.

Mnuchin Refuses To Release Trump’s Tax Returns To Congress (R.)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday denied a leading House Democrat’s request for President Donald Trump’s tax returns, setting the stage for a lengthy court battle between lawmakers and the Trump administration. In a May 6 letter, Mnuchin told House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal that he would not comply with the Democrat’s April 3 request, saying it lacks “a legitimate legislative purpose.”

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Ron Paul has endorsed Tulsi Gabbard. Good.

A Nuclear War? Over Venezuela? (Ron Paul)

Is President Trump about to invade Venezuela? His advisors keep telling us in ever-stronger terms that “all options are on the table” and that US military intervention to restore Venezuela’s constitution “may be necessary.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on the Sunday news programs to claim that President Trump could launch a military attack against Venezuela without Congress’s approval. Pompeo said that, “[t]he president has his full range of Article II authorities and I’m very confident that any action we took in Venezuela would be lawful.” The man who bragged recently about his lying, cheating, and stealing, is giving plenty of evidence to back his claim.

The president has no Constitutional authority to start a war with Venezuela or any other country that has not attacked or credibly threatened the United States without Congressional approval. It is that simple. How ironic that Pompeo and the rest of the neocons in the Trump Administration are ready to attack Venezuela to “restore their constitution” but they could not care less about our own Constitution! While Washington has been paralyzed for two years over disproven claims that the Russians meddled in our elections to elect Trump, how hypocritical that Washington does not even hesitate to endorse the actual overturning of elections overseas!

Without Congressional authority, US military action of any kind against Venezuela would be an illegal and likely an impeachable offense. Of course those Democrats who talk endlessly of impeaching Trump would never dream of impeaching of him over starting an illegal war. Democrats and Republicans both love illegal US wars.

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” The outcome of that was two Americas: the hipsterocracy of the coastal elites and the suicidal deplorables of Flyoverland. ”

Going South (Jim Kunstler)

Buying all those cheap toaster-ovens, patio loungers, sneakers, sheet-rock screws, alarm clocks, croquet mallets… well, you name it, naturally made it uneconomical for America to make the same stuff, with all our silly-ass sentimental attachment to union wages, eight-hour workdays, and pollution regs, so we just steadily let the lights go out and the roofs fall in, and ramped up the “financialized” economy, with Wall Street parlaying Federal Reserve largess into an alternative universe of Three-Card-Monte scams using multilayered derivatives of promises to repay loans (that have poor prospects of ever being paid back). The outcome of that was two Americas: the hipsterocracy of the coastal elites and the suicidal deplorables of Flyoverland.

The hipsterocracy sustains itself on the manufactured hallucinations of the holographic economy — that is, on the production of images, TV psychodramas, news media narratives, status competitions, public relations campaigns, law firm machinations, awards ceremonies, and other signaling systems to maintain the illusion that the financialized economy has everything under control as we transform into a nirvana of ultra high tech pleasure-seeking and endless leisure. Meanwhile, out in Flyoverland, the holograms aren’t selling so well anymore. Nobody has the scratch to pay for them, not even those indentured to the neo-feudal empires of WalMart and Amazon. The children keep coming, though it’s nearly impossible for a man to support them, and increasingly the fathers just take themselves out of the picture.

The women ferment in single-parent hopelessness. The children turn more feral by each generation. All remaining economic opportunity is diverted back into the leveraged buy-out mills of the Coastal Elsewhere. Even growing food out of the land was long ago converted into an Agri-Biz hustle based on practices with no future. And now the spring weather is drowning out that hustle and driving the corporatized farms into bankruptcy. The two Americas have turned a formerly workable political system into a divorce court and for the past three years nothing of value has come out of that negotiation except more mutual grievance and animus.

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First create them, than issue a warning. End the Fed.

Fed Flags High US Business Debt, Asset Prices In Financial Report (R.)

U.S. stock prices are “elevated” and business debt is at historic levels, but the financial system overall “appears resilient” with low levels of leverage and less of a destabilizing run in key markets, the Federal Reserve said in its latest report on financial stability. “Investor appetite for risk appears elevated by several measures, and the debt loads of businesses are historically high,” the Fed said on Monday in a report that noted the 20 percent growth in leveraged loans between the start of last year and this year, and other aspects of corporate debt.

The ratio of debt to assets among publicly traded, nonfinancial firms is near a 20-year high, the Fed noted, and the share of new loans going to the most indebted companies is near peaks reached in 2014 and just before the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis. While the Fed sees the system overall as healthy, the levels of corporate debt stand out, said Fed Governor Lael Brainard. “With financial volatility easing since the end of last year, the Federal Reserve Board’s Financial Stability Report suggests stretched asset valuations and risky corporate debt merit continued vigilance against a backdrop of low-to- moderate vulnerabilities in the household and banking sectors,” Brainard said in an emailed statement.

[..] As in the last edition of its now twice-yearly report on the financial sector, the Fed cited the rapid growth of business debt and leveraged lending to corporations as a source of possible concern, noting that it could leave weaker companies stressed if the economy softens. Business debt has grown faster than the overall economy for a decade, the Fed noted, and “the elevated level of debt could leave the business sector vulnerable to a downturn in economic activity or a tightening in financial conditions.”

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Wait till that “froth” turns out to be 30-40-50%.

Vancouver Housing Bust Steepens, Bank of Canada Likes “Froth” Coming Off (WS)

Across Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, sales of all types of homes so far this year through April plunged to 6,212 homes, the lowest count since 1986, as the market is freezing up. In the city of Vancouver, condo sales – the largest segment of the market – plunged 30% in April from April last year, to merely 348 condos, the lowest since 2001, even as inventory for sale jumped by 75% to 2,191 condos. At the current rate of sales, supply soared by 168% year-over-year to 6.4 months. And prices are descending at speeding-ticket velocities: • Average price: -19% year-over-year to C$786,981 • Median price: -17% year-over-year to C$651,000 • Average price per square foot: -14% yoy to $940.


“Buyers have become increasingly hesitant, particularly for unbuilt product such as pre-sale condo assignments and new unfinished development in general, says Steve Saretsky, a Vancouver Realtor and author behind Vancity Condo Guide, in his April report. “This is prompting condo developers to increase bonuses and incentives as unsold inventory begins to pile up at presale centers across the lower mainland.” The average price per square foot – historically “a very consistent and reliable price metric with much less volatility,” Saretsky says – has now dropped 16% from the peak in January 2018:

Sales of detached houses in the city of Vancouver dropped to 130 houses, the worst April in decades, down 69% from 2015. The chart below shows the number of sales for each April going back to the 1990s – a sign the market has frozen up, that buyers are unwilling to get anywhere near sellers’ aspirational asking prices, and deals are not happening:

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See my article yesterday.

Why Renewables Can’t Power Modern Civilization: They Were Never Meant To (F.)

Now comes a major article in the country’s largest newsweekly magazine, Der Spiegel, titled, “A Botched Job in Germany” (“Murks in Germany”). The magazine’s cover shows broken wind turbines and incomplete electrical transmission towers against a dark silhouette of Berlin. “The Energiewende — the biggest political project since reunification — threatens to fail,” write Der Spiegel’s Frank Dohmen, Alexander Jung, Stefan Schultz, Gerald Traufetter in their a 5,700-word investigative story (the article can be read in English here). Over the past five years alone, the Energiewende has cost Germany €32 billion ($36 billion) annually, and opposition to renewables is growing in the German countryside.

“The politicians fear citizen resistance” Der Spiegel reports. “There is hardly a wind energy project that is not fought.” In response, politicians sometimes order “electrical lines be buried underground but that is many times more expensive and takes years longer.” As a result, the deployment of renewables and related transmission lines is slowing rapidly. Less than half as many wind turbines (743) were installed in 2018 as were installed in 2017, and just 30 kilometers of new transmission were added in 2017. Solar and wind advocates say cheaper solar panels and wind turbines will make the future growth in renewables cheaper than past growth but there are reasons to believe the opposite will be the case.

Der Spiegel cites a recent estimate that it would cost Germany “€3.4 trillion ($3.8 trillion),” or seven times more than it spent from 2000 to 2025, to increase solar and wind three to five-hold by 2050. Between 2000 and 2018, Germany grew renewables from 7% to 39% of its electricity. And as much of Germany’s renewable electricity comes from biomass, which scientists view as polluting and environmentally degrading, as from solar. Of the 7,700 new kilometers of transmission lines needed, only 8% has been built, while large-scale electricity storage remains inefficient and expensive. “A large part of the energy used is lost,” the reporters note of a much-hyped hydrogen gas project, “and the efficiency is below 40%… No viable business model can be developed from this.”

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Almost 60 years ago. We’re blind deaf and dumb.

Silent Spring’s Encore (CP)

Rachel Carson’s famous and brilliant book Silent Spring (1962), which single-handedly ignited the environmental movement, has never been more relevant than it is today. A mimeo of Silent Spring is scheduled for publication by the UN, as the most comprehensive study of life on the planet ever undertaken, an 1,800-page study by the world’s leading scientists that spells out in detail the results of a massive study of the world’s ecosystems. The conclusion: Nature is in “steep decline.” According to Mike Barrett, WWF’s executive director of conservation and science: “All of our ecosystems are in trouble. This is the most comprehensive report on the state of the environment. It irrefutably confirms that nature is in steep decline.”


Interestingly enough, in days of yore, Silent Spring’s opening chapter, “A Fable for Tomorrow,” described a fictional flourishing town in the heartland of America with its splendid natural beauty; however, within only a few pages, that alluring picturesque community degenerates: “A grim specter has crept upon us almost unnoticed….” Thereafter, Silent Spring turns non-fictional as it informs its reading public, i.e., the radicalized Sixties, that 500 new chemicals “… annually find their way into actual use in the U.S. alone to which the bodies of men and animals are required somehow to adapt each year, chemicals totally outside the limits of biologic experience.”

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A few pieces on the UN report.

“The biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82%, natural ecosystems have lost about half their area and a million species are at risk of extinction..”

Human Society Under Urgent Threat From Loss Of Earth’s Natural Life (G.)

Human society is in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems, the world’s leading scientists have warned, as they announced the results of the most thorough planetary health check ever undertaken. From coral reefs flickering out beneath the oceans to rainforests desiccating into savannahs, nature is being destroyed at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10m years, according to the UN global assessment report. The biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82%, natural ecosystems have lost about half their area and a million species are at risk of extinction – all largely as a result of human actions, said the study, compiled over three years by more than 450 scientists and diplomats.

Two in five amphibian species are at risk of extinction, as are one-third of reef-forming corals, and close to one-third of other marine species. The picture for insects – which are crucial to plant pollination – is less clear, but conservative estimates suggest at least one in 10 are threatened with extinction and, in some regions, populations have crashed. In economic terms, the losses are jaw-dropping. Pollinator loss has put up to $577bn (£440bn) of crop output at risk, while land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of global land. The knock-on impacts on humankind, including freshwater shortages and climate instability, are already “ominous” and will worsen without drastic remedial action, the authors said.

“The health of the ecosystems on which we and other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” said Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Ibpes). “We have lost time. We must act now.”

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Save insects? You want to have Monsanto lose its business?

“While we humans have doubled our population in the past 40 years, the number of insects has been reduced by almost half..”

“The rate of insect extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. ”

Humanity Must Save Insects To Save Ourselves (G.)

Humanity must save insects, if not for their sake, then for ourselves, a leading entomologist has warned. “Insects are the glue in nature and there is no doubt that both the [numbers] and diversity of insects are declining,” said Prof Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. “At some stage the whole fabric unravels and then we will really see the consequences.” On Monday, the largest ever assessment of the health of nature was published and warned starkly that the annihilation of wildlife is eroding the foundations of human civilisation. The IPBES report said: “Insect abundance has declined very rapidly in some places … but the global extent of such declines is not known.”


A Notch-horned Cleg, a type of horsefly. Photograph: Rebecca Cole/Alamy

It said the available evidence supports a “tentative” estimate that 10% of the 5.5m species of insect thought to exist are threatened with extinction. The food and water humanity relies upon are underpinned by insects but Sverdrup-Thygeson’s new book, Extraordinary Insects, spends many of its pages on how wonderful and weird insects are. “The first stage is to get people to appreciate these little creatures,” said Sverdrup-Thygeson. Many appear to defy the normal rules of life. Some fruit flies can be beheaded and live normally for several days more, thanks to mini-brains in each joint. Then there are the carpet beetles that can effectively reverse time, by reverting to younger stages of development when food is scarce.


Others are bizarrely constructed. Some butterflies have ears in their mouths, one has an eye on its penis, while houseflies taste with their feet. Insect reproduction is also exotic. The southern green shield bug can maintain sex for 10 days, while another type of fruit fly produces sperm that are 20 times longer than its own body.

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Lip service will be paid.

Humans ‘Threaten 1 Million Species With Extinction’ (BBC)

Three years in the making, this global assessment of nature draws on 15,000 reference materials, and has been compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It runs to 1,800 pages. The brief, 40-page “summary for policymakers”, published today at a meeting in Paris, is perhaps the most powerful indictment of how humans have treated their only home. It says that while the Earth has always suffered from the actions of humans through history, over the past 50 years, these scratches have become deep scars. The world’s population has doubled since 1970, the global economy has grown four-fold, while international trade has increased 10 times over.


Getty Images

To feed, clothe and give energy to this burgeoning world, forests have been cleared at astonishing rates, especially in tropical areas. Between 1980 and 2000, 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost, mainly from cattle ranching in South America and palm oil plantations in South East Asia. Faring worse than forests are wetlands, with only 13% of those present in 1700 still in existence in the year 2000. Our cities have expanded rapidly, with urban areas doubling since 1992. All this human activity is killing species in greater numbers than ever before. According to the global assessment, an average of around 25% of animals and plants are now threatened. Global trends in insect populations are not known but rapid declines in some locations have also been well documented.


All this suggests around a million species now face extinction within decades, a rate of destruction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years. “When we laid it all out together I was just shocked to see how extreme the declines are in terms of species and in terms of the contributions that nature is providing to people.” The assessment also finds that soils are being degraded as never before. This has reduced the productivity of 23% of the land surface of the Earth. Our insatiable appetites are producing a mountain of waste. Plastic pollution has increased ten-fold since 1980. Every year we dump 300-400 million tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes into the waters of the world.

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Money doesn’t talk, it swears
– Bob Dylan

 

 

 

 

Dec 262018
 
 December 26, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Caravaggio Burial of St. Lucy 1608

 

US Prepares To Hit The Wall As Reckless Trump Undoes Years Of Hard Work (G.)
Trump Urges Americans To Buy The Dip; Voices Confidence In Mnuchin, Powell (ZH)
Trump’s Frustration With Mnuchin Rising – Source (CNN)
BOJ’s Kuroda Further Waters Down Pledge To Hit Inflation Target Quickly (R.)
Japan To Resume Commercial Whaling (AFP)
Asian Stocks Slip On US Shutdown Worries, Trump’s Fresh Criticism Of Fed (MW)
Asian Stocks Retreat As US Political Tumult Adds To Growth Worry (R.)
‘We’re Not Far From Zuckerberg Getting Subpoenaed’ (Ind.)
How Can We Break The Brexit Deadlock? Ask Ancient Athens (Bridle)
Brexit Made The UK A Global Joke. Can We Rebuild Our Reputation? (Kampfner)
Arab League Set To Readmit Syria Eight Years After Expulsion (G.)
More Than 50 Australian Plant Species Face Extinction Within Decade (G.)

 

 

Can’t make it up (fast enough): I used 6 anti-Trump Guardian articles from December 23 in my article yesterday, Dumping on the Donald. But guess what: I still missed one from that day. The contents are completely empty, but they really wanted to get the headline in.

US Prepares To Hit The Wall As Reckless Trump Undoes Years Of Hard Work (G.)

The accomplishments of a US president’s first year in office can be credited to his predecessor, at least where the economy is concerned. And Donald Trump was handed the best performing economy on the planet. All the tough decisions – to refinance the banks, rescue the car companies and deflate the real-estate bubble – had been made. The stock market was tearing along, setting records almost every week. Trump gave this rising balloon extra air with $1tn of tax cuts. It was borrowed money, but no matter. The economy sailed along for another year and the stock market carried on rising. His plan was to win the midterm congressional elections and then persuade the Republican party to give him another $1tn, or as near to it as possible.

In other words, he would use another pile of borrowed cash to pump up the economy again, hoping against hope that it would not blow up before his re-election. Without control of the House of Representatives, his plans are in ruins. And that was obvious to stock and bond traders, who followed the vote in November by putting a sell sign over their maps of America. December has proved to be the worst month for shares in many decades. Oil prices have slumped and the market is expecting worse to come in the new year. The reasons for pessimism are piling up. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, US home sales are struggling, with agents reporting that there are not enough buyers and asking prices are not being met.

[..] And in recent days Trump has given markets something else to worry about – building the wall. His threat to shut down the government if Congress refuses to provide him with the money for a pan-American border fence with Mexico has spooked traders. This reckless threat was preceded by the surprise decision to pull US troops out of Syria. If Trump could make such a move without consulting important allies, then perhaps he was capable of the “long shutdown” he has promised in his tweets. With ever fewer calming voices in the White House to rein in the president’s wilder excesses, it’s understandable that the finance industry is jittery about the prospects for 2019.

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Trump likes Mnuchin. Who’s been around from the get-go. And of course both know there are hard times ahead.

Trump Urges Americans To Buy The Dip; Voices Confidence In Mnuchin, Powell (ZH)

“We have companies, the greatest in the world, and they’re doing really well,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Christmas Day. “They have record kinds of numbers. So I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to buy. Really a great opportunity to buy.” Trump’s invocation to BTFD came one day after the most violent Christmas Eve selloff on record, and the day when the S&P fell not only to its lowest level in 20 months, but also slumped into a bear market. For Trump, the stock market has served as a barometer on his administration, and while he was pointing out virtually every major uptick for the past two years, the recent plunge has infuriated him, leaving him mute on any market-related topic.

But a more important catalyst for a potential Wednesday rally came when Trump appeared to back off on his demands that the Fed stop hiking, which culminated with Trump reportedly seeking to fire Fed Chair Powell and speculation that if the market does not stop falling, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin may also be on the chopping block. Alongside urging Americans to BTFD, Trump expressed confidence in the Treasury secretary and the Federal Reserve, in an attempt to calm financial markets further roiled after a recent Bloomberg report that the president had discussed firing the central bank’s chairman over raising interest rates.

Asked about Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, Trump said the central bank is “raising interest rates too fast” but he has “confidence” that the Fed will “get it pretty soon.” Trump was also asked if he has confidence in Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who sparked a market panic on Monday with his late Sunday statement in which he said he had called the CEOs of the top 6 banks to make sure bank liquidity levels are fine (prompting a frenzy of question what he knows that the rest of the market does not) and followed it up with a call with the Plunge Protection Team on Monday, which however failed to prevent one of the worst one-day routs in history . Trump’s response: “yes I do, very talented guy, very smart person.”

While answering questions from reporters at the White House after addressing U.S. armed forces members on a Christmas Day video conference call, Trump also said the Fed is hiking borrowing costs because the “economy is doing so well” – which is accurate, however it is the market that is spooked by the aggressive tightening – adding that U.S. companies are having “record kinds of numbers” and it’s a “tremendous opportunity to buy.” The remarks represented Trump’s first expression of public support for Mnuchin and Powell since Bloomberg reported last week that the president has discussed dismissing Powell who was recommended by Mnuchin. Overnight, Bloomberg also reported that the president also weighed dismissing Mnuchin, while another said that Mnuchin’s tenure may depend in part on how much markets continue to drop.

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But CNN has found an anonymous source who claims Mnuchin is on his way out. Bloomberg claimed something similar.

Is it getting through to people that nothing CNN has to say about Trump has any news value?

Trump’s Frustration With Mnuchin Rising – Source (CNN)

President Donald Trump’s frustration with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is ratcheting up further after markets suffered their worst Christmas Eve drop ever despite Mnuchin’s attempts to calm Wall Street, according to a source close to the White House. The source told CNN that Mnuchin could be in “serious jeopardy” with Trump, who regularly rages at Cabinet members he feels have made mistakes, before he cools off. Trump nevertheless vouched for Mnuchin publicly, shifting blame for the market volatility to the Federal Reserve instead. “Yes, I do,” Trump said Tuesday when asked whether he had confidence in Mnuchin. “Very talented, very smart person.”

But the source painted a different picture of Mnuchin’s standing behind the scenes. “Mnuchin is under the gun,” the source said. The Treasury secretary left Washington for a Christmas holiday in Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas as the federal government shut down over the weekend, while Trump canceled his own planned trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and remained cooped up in the White House over the holiday, absorbing a flood of negative news about the markets. Mnuchin aides have been scrambling to find economic data to help their boss calm Trump down, but Trump was said to be unhappy with what Mnuchin was telling him, this source said. An administration source dismissed the latest round of rumors that the secretary’s continued tenure was on the line. “This is nonsense,” they said.

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Abenomics bleeds to death very slowly and even more expensively.

BOJ’s Kuroda Further Waters Down Pledge To Hit Inflation Target Quickly (R.)

Conceding it was taking longer than expected to achieve 2 percent inflation, Kuroda said global risks have “come to warrant further attention” as China’s growth slows and trade frictions hurt business sentiment. He also said the BOJ must be mindful of the rising costs of prolonged monetary easing, such as the chance years of near-zero rates could hurt financial institutions’ profits and discourage them from boosting lending. “The BOJ will proceed step by step toward achieving its price target, while taking into account in a balance manner not only the benefits of monetary easing but also its costs,” Kuroda told an annual meeting of business lobby Keidanren on Wednesday. Up till now, Kuroda has repeatedly said the BOJ will seek to achieve 2 percent inflation “at the earliest date possible.”

[..] The BOJ is caught in a bind. With inflation distant from its target, it is forced to maintain a massive stimulus despite the negative spillovers. Its dwindling policy ammunition limits the ability to ramp up stimulus to prevent another recession. The dilemma has created a rift within the BOJ with its board members disagreeing on ways to address the dangers of prolonged easing, minutes of the October rate review showed. Kuroda said the situation has changed from when the BOJ deployed a massive asset-buying program in 2013, when such a drastic action was critical to pull Japan out of stagnation. Now, the economy is in good shape but inflation remains weak and closer attention is needed to overseas risks, he said. “In complex times like now, what’s required is to persistently continue with the current powerful easing while weighing the benefits and costs of our policy in a balanced manner,” Kuroda said.

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Nobody wants whale hunts. They’re arcane and stupid. So stop buying Japanese cars and electronics. Get organized. Either boycott them completely or hold your tongue.

Japan To Resume Commercial Whaling (AFP)

Japan said Wednesday it is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission and will resume commercial whaling next year, sparking criticism from activists and anti-whaling countries including Australia. The announcement comes after Japan failed earlier this year to convince the IWC to allow it to resume commercial whaling. Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the commercial hunts would be limited to Japan’s territorial waters. “We will not hunt in the Antarctic waters or in the southern hemisphere,” he added. Tokyo has repeatedly threatened to pull out of the IWC, and has been regularly criticised for catching hundreds of whales a year for “scientific research” despite being a signatory to a moratorium on hunting the animals.

Suga said Japan would officially inform the IWC of its decision by the end of the year, which will mean the withdrawal comes into effect by June 30. Leaving the IWC means Japanese whalers will be able to resume hunting in Japanese coastal waters of minke and other whales currently protected by the IWC. But Japan will not be able to continue the so-called scientific research hunts in the Antarctic and elsewhere that it has been exceptionally allowed as an IWC member. Japan joins Iceland and Norway in openly defying the IWC’s ban on commercial whale hunting, and its decision sparked international criticism.

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I think they slip because their economies are in trouble.

Asian Stocks Slip On US Shutdown Worries, Trump’s Fresh Criticism Of Fed (MW)

Asian markets were mostly lower on Wednesday after President Donald Trump said that there was “nothing new” in efforts to end the partial government shutdown over a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Traders had no fresh leads from Wall Street, which was closed on Christmas. U.S. stocks are headed for their worst December since the Great Depression in 1931. South Korea’s Kospi, 1.3% to 2,028.01 and the Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.3% to 2,498.29. Japan’s Nikkei, which plunged 5% on Tuesday, picked up 0.9 percent to 19,327.06. Shares fell Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia. Markets in Hong Kong and Australia were closed.

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government that started Saturday shows no signs of abating. “Nothing new. Nothing new on the shutdown. Nothing new. Except we need border security,” Trump told reporters. The White House said Trump will reject any deal that does not include any funding for a wall or a fence. The Democrats have opposed this and are offering $1.3 billion for security. The routines of 800,000 federal employees are expected to be disrupted by the shutdown, but essential services will keep running. Trump’s criticism of the U.S. central bank triggered a drop in Asian equities on Tuesday. “The only problem our economy has is the Fed,” the president said on Twitter.

“They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders.” Trump has since said since that interest rate hikes were a “form of safety” for an economy that was doing well, while stressing that the Fed was raising rates too quickly. “The outsized moves are not reflective of the current U.S. economic landscape, but that seems to matter little so far as fear mongering continues to permeate every pocket of global capital markets,” Stephen Innes of OANDA said in a market commentary.

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Trump brings down Asian stocks. Didn’t win your Christmas lottery? You know who to blame.

Asian Stocks Retreat As US Political Tumult Adds To Growth Worry (R.)

Asian stock markets retreated again on Wednesday, extending a rout that began last week as U.S. political uncertainty exacerbated worries over slowing global economic growth. Investors were unnerved by the U.S. federal government partial shutdown and President Donald Trump’s hostile stance toward the Federal Reserve chairman. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had also raised market concerns by convening a crisis group amid the pullback in stocks. S&P 500 emini futures were last down 0.6 percent, pointing toward a lower start for Wall Street when the U.S. market reopens after Christmas Day, when many of the world’s financial markets were shut.

Markets in Britain, Germany and France will remain closed on Wednesday. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.5 percent, brushing a two-month low. The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.4 percent while South Korea’s KOSPI shed 1.6 percent. Japan’s Nikkei, which slumped 5 percent the previous day, had a volatile session. It swerved in and out of the red, falling more than 1 percent to a 20-month-low at one stage, before ending the day with a gain of 0.9 percent. “In addition to concerns toward the U.S. economy, the markets are now having to grapple with growing turmoil in the White House which has raised political risk ahead of the year-end,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

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The CIA and MI6 are watching.

‘We’re Not Far From Zuckerberg Getting Subpoenaed’ (Ind.)

David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, said this week may finally have dealt Facebook its “knockout” blow. As an outspoken critic of the way Facebook uses people’s data, Prof Carroll is currently suing Cambridge Analytica under the Data Protection Act following the UK firm’s role in mining data from 87 million Facebook users for the purpose of political profiling during the 2016 US presidential elections. But the latest revelations that other tech firms were given access to people’s private messages was beyond even what he thought Facebook was capable of. “Even as someone who is deeply sceptical of Facebook, I was surprised by the latest revelations,” he told The Independent.

“I didn’t know it could be that bad in terms of scope and scale. But it all seems to fit with Zuckerberg’s master plan for global domination.” The first lawsuit against Facebook regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which affected more than 87 million users, comes courtesy of the attorney general of the District of Columbia. It is unlikely to be the last, given Facebook is also currently facing probes by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice – and that’s just in the US. A relatively insignificant fine of £500,000 that was handed to Facebook in the UK may be dwarfed following investigations by the Irish data protection regulator, which are being seen as the first serious test of Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation.

But with more than 2 billion users worldwide and an annual revenue of more than $40 billion in 2017, it will take more than a fine to have any significant impact on Facebook. Prof Carroll has called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other senior executives to be subpoenaed and thinks it might not be long before that becomes a reality. “We need to get them under oath and ask them questions they cannot dodge. It will depend on the Mueller investigation. It’s imaginable additional facts come to our knowledge to justify Zuckerberg’s subpoena and we find out how much he knew and when. We need more to justify it but we’re not that far from getting there.”

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Elect your decision makers at random. That way they can’t be bought by special interests. And that’s just one of many advantages.

James Bridle is the author of New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future.

How Can We Break The Brexit Deadlock? Ask Ancient Athens (Bridle)

In the central marketplace of ancient Athens, around 350BC, there stood a machine called the kleroterion. This was a six-foot-high slab of stone that had a series of slots on the front, and a long tube bored down from the top to the base. Those up for selection for the various offices of state would insert metal ID tags, called pinakia, into the slots, and a functionary would pour a bucket of coloured balls, suitably shaken, into the top of the tube. The order in which the balls emerged would determine who took which role, some for the day, some for a year.

Today the kleroterion survives, in fragments, in Athens’ Museum of the Ancient Agora, alongside other pieces of democratic technology such as the clepsydra, a water clock used to time orators’ speeches and the fragments of pottery, called ostraka, on which they scratched the names of the too-powerful politicans they wished to see banished from the city, and from which we derive the modern word “ostracism”. The method of governance embodied in the kleroterion, which dates back to the very establishment of democracy, is called sortition, meaning selection by lot, as opposed to election by vote. The Athenians believed that the principle of sortition was critical to democracy. Aristotle declared that: “It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.”

But along the way, sortition – and the even more exciting possibility of actual banishment – has fallen out of most democracies’ toolkits. Sortition in ancient Athens had a number of important qualities. First, those eligible for selection included the entire suffrage (which, it must be noted, was at the time limited to adult male citizens). Second, it applied to much more than jury selection, which is the only form in which sortition survives in most places today, and included magistrates, legislators and the main governing councils of the city – all the important posts, in fact, bar the military. And third, and perhaps most significantly, it both embodied and enabled transparent and participatory governance: that is, anybody could come down to the agora and not merely see but understand how the machine worked – and anyone could be selected by it.

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No, your reputation’s pretty much shot.

Brexit Made The UK A Global Joke. Can We Rebuild Our Reputation? (Kampfner)

Britain is now the butt of global mirth and cringe-making sympathy. I spent most of this autumn on trips trying to link our creative industries with those of other countries. From Mexico City to Montreal, Amsterdam to Tallinn, the welcome starts with the avuncular hand on the shoulder, a sigh and a reference to “our British friends”, followed by “I hope you’re all right”. Consternation over the original referendum decision long ago gave way to bafflement over the chaos. “What on earth is Mrs May doing playing pantomime host in the House of Commons at a time like this?” someone asked me last week. “We used to think that you were serious, reliable people.” Americans and Europeans used to tune in to our parliamentary antics to wonder at the jousting.

Now they are baffled that we continue to play games at a time like this. I am constantly asked why we hark on about the second world war, as if we are stuck in time and are not proud of our achievements since. The gulf between those trying to sell the UK’s skills and modernity and the poor calibre of our political culture is hitting hard. Business groups, which had been surprisingly cowed, are now waking up to the dangers of the brain drain. It is not just young, ambitious Europeans who are moving home, apparently to our prime minister’s delight. The movement of talented Britons to other countries is steady and will grow, as the reality of Brexit sinks in. Why work in a country that regards economic self-harm as just one of those things you have to get through? Why work in a country that permits people to come rather than welcomes them?

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Putin moves silently.

Arab League Set To Readmit Syria Eight Years After Expulsion (G.)

Gulf nations are moving to readmit Syria into the Arab League, eight years after Damascus was expelled from the regional bloc over its brutal repression of peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad. At some point in the next year it is likely Assad will be welcomed on to a stage to once again take his place among the Arab world’s leaders, sources say. Shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and Egypt’s latest autocrat, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the moment will mark the definitive death of the Arab spring, the hopes of the region’s popular revolutions crushed by the newest generation of Middle Eastern strongmen.

Syria was thrown out of the Arab League in 2011 over its violent response to opposition dissent, a move that failed to stem the bloodshed that spiralled into civil war. Now though, a regional thaw is already under way. This week, the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, became the first Arab League leader to visit Syria in eight years, a visit widely interpreted as a gesture of friendship on behalf of Saudi Arabia, which has shored up ties with Khartoum in recent years. Pro-government media outlets posted pictures of the two leaders shaking hands and grasping each other’s arms on a red carpet leading from the Russian jet that ferried Bashir to Damascus along with the hashtag “More are yet to come”.

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50 plant species? Who’s that going to impress?

More Than 50 Australian Plant Species Face Extinction Within Decade (G.)

More than 50 Australian plant species are under threat of extinction within the next decade, according to a major study of the country’s threatened flora. Just 12 of the most at-risk species were found to be listed as critically endangered under national environment laws – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – and 13 had no national threatened listing at all. The scientists behind the research, published in the Australian Journal of Botany this month, say the results point to a need for re-evaluation of Australia’s national lists for threatened plants. It is the first major assessment of the status of Australia’s threatened flora in more than two decades. Plants account for about 70% of Australia’s national threatened species list, with 1,318 varieties listed as either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.

The research team assessed species that met criteria for either a critical or endangered listing at national or state levels to track their rate of decline. They did this by reviewing all available literature on the plants – including recovery plans, conservation advice and peer-reviewed research – and conducting interviews with 125 botanists, ecologists and land managers with expertise on particular geographic regions or species. The study examined 1,135 species, including 81 that were unearthed through the interview process as being eligible for a critically endangered or endangered listing but did not have one. It found 418 plants had continued declines in their population and a further 265 species had insufficient monitoring information available to determine their status.

The scientists concluded that 55 species were at high risk of extinction within the next 10 years, with fewer than 250 individual plants or only a single population remaining. They found just 12 of the most imperilled species were listed under the EPBC Act as critically endangered and 13 had no listing at all. They said there were also 56 species of plants currently on the critically endangered list that they assessed as having no documented declines or that were stable or even increasing.

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Dec 252018
 


Rembrandt van Rijn The Adoration of the Magi 16xx

 

I still had some things I didn’t talk about in Sunday’s Trump Derangement International, about how the European press have found out that they, like the US MSM, can get lots of viewers and readers simply by publishing negative stories about Donald Trump. The US president is an attention magnet, as long as you only write things about him designed to make him look bad.

The Guardian is only too happy to comply. They ran a whole series of articles on Sunday to do juts that: try to make Trump look bad. Note that the Guardian editorial team that okayed the articles is the same as the one that allowed the fake Assange/Manafort one, so their credibility is already shot to pieces. It’s the magic triangle of today’s media profits: spout non-stop allegations against Russia, Trump and Julian Assange, and link them when and where you can. It doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not.

 

Anyway, all the following is from the Guardian, all on December 23. First off, Adam Gabbatt in New York, who has painstakingly researched how Trump’s businesses, like Trump Tower and the Trump store, don’t appear to have sufficiently (as per him) switched from Happy Holidays to Merry Christmas. Sherlock Holmes would have been proud. A smash hit there Adam, bring out the handcuffs.

 

Trump’s ‘Merry Christmas’ Pledge Fails To Manifest

During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign he talked often about his determination to win one particular war. A war that had been raging for years, he said. Specifically: the war on Christmas. But despite Trump’s repeated claims that “people are saying Merry Christmas again” instead of the more inclusive “happy holidays”, there are several places where the Christmas greeting is absent: Trump’s own businesses.

The Trump Store, for example. Instead of a Christmas gift guide – which surely would be more in keeping with the president’s stated desire for the phrase to be used – the store offers a holiday gift guide. “Shop our Holiday Gift Guide and find the perfect present for the enthusiast on your list,” the online store urges. “Carefully curated to celebrate the most wonderful time of year with truly unique gifts found only at Trump Store. Add a bow on top with our custom gift wrapping. Happy Holiday’s!”

The use of the phrase “Happy Holiday’s” [sic] in Trump marketing would seem particularly egregious. The long-standing “War-on-Christmas” complaint from the political right is that stores use the phrase “Happy Holidays”, rather than specifically mentioning the Christian celebration. It is offered as both an example of political correctness gone mad, and as an effort to erase Christianity from the US.

It’s just, I think that if Trump had personally interfered to make sure there were Merry Christmas messages all around, you would have remarked that as president, he’s not allowed to be personally involved in his businesses. But yeah, you know, just to keep the negativity going, it works, no matter how fluffy and hollow.

 

Second, still on December 23, is Tom McCarthy for the Guardian in New York. Who talks about Robert Mueller’s phenomenal successes. Mueller charged 34 people so far. In a case that involves “this complexity which has international implications, aspects relying on the intelligence community, complicated cyber components”. It really says that.

And yes, that’s how many people view this. What do they care that Mueller’s original mandate was to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and ‘Russians’, and that he has not proven any collusion at all so far, not even with 34 people charged? What do they care? It looks like Trump is guilty of something, anything, after all, and that’s all the circus wants.

 

Robert Mueller Has Enjoyed A Year Of Successes … 2019 Could Be Even Stronger

One measure of special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutorial success in 2018 is the list of former top Donald Trump aides brought to justice: Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, a jury convicted Paul Manafort, a judge berated Michael Flynn. Another measure is the tally of new defendants that Mueller’s team charged (34), the number of new guilty pleas he netted (five) and the amount of money he clawed back through tax fraud cases ($48m).

Yet another measure might judge Mueller’s pace compared with previous independent prosecutors. “I would refer to it as a lightning pace,” said Barb McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former US attorney. “In a case of this complexity which has international implications, aspects relying on the intelligence community, complicated cyber components – to indict that many people that quickly is really impressive work.”

But there’s perhaps a more powerful way to measure Mueller’s progress in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and links between Moscow and the Trump campaign; that’s by noticing how the targets of his investigation have changed their postures over the course of 2018, from defiance to docility – or in the case of Trump himself, from defiance to extreme, hyperventilating defiance.

In reality, you would be at least as correct if you would claim that Robert Mueller’s investigation has been an abject failure. Not one iota of collusion has been proven after 20 months and $20 million in funds have been used. And any serious investigation of Washington’s culture of fixers and lobbyists would land at least 34 people who have committed acts that border on or over illegality. And in a matter of weeks, for a few hundred bucks.

 

Third, still on December 23, is Julian Borger in Washington, who’s been elected to convey the image of chaos. Trump Unleashed, says our modern day Shakespeare. With Jim Mad Dog Mattis characterized as “.. the last independently minded, globally respected, major figure left in the administration”... Again, it really says that.

Because woe the man who tries to bring US troops home, or even promises to do so a few days before Christmas. For pulling out America’s finest, Donald Trump is being portrayed as something eerily close to the antichrist. That truly is the world on its head. Bringing troops home to their families equals chaos.

Look, guys, if Trump has been guilty of criminal behavior, the US justice system should be able to find that out and convict him for it. But that’s not what this is about anymore. A million articles have been written, like these ones in the Guardian, with the sole intention, evidence being scarce to non-existent, of smearing him to the extent that people see every subsequent article in the light of a man having previously been smeared.

 

Chaos At Home, Fear Abroad: Trump Unleashed Puts Western World On Edge

The US stumbled into the holiday season with a sense of unravelling, as a large chunk of the federal government ground to a halt, the stock market crashed and the last independently minded, globally respected, major figure left in the administration announced he could no longer work with the president. The defense secretary, James Mattis, handed in his resignation on Thursday, over Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull US troops out of Syria.

On Saturday another senior official joined the White House exodus. Brett McGurk, the special envoy for the global coalition to defeat Isis and the US official closest to America’s Kurdish allies in the region, was reported to have handed in his resignation on Friday. That night, senators flew back to Washington from as far away as Hawaii for emergency talks aimed at finding a compromise on Trump’s demand for nearly $6bn for a wall on the southern border, a campaign promise which has become an obsession.

Now look at the next headline, December 23, Graeme Wearden, Guardian, and ask yourself if it’s really Trump saying he doesn’t agree with the rate hikes that fuels the fears, or whether it’s the hikes themselves. And also ask yourself: when Trump and Mnuchin both deny reports of Trump firing Powell, why do journalists keep saying the opposite? Because they want to fuel some fears?

From where I’m sitting, it looks perfectly logical that Trump says he doesn’t think Powell’s decisions are good for the US economy. And it doesn’t matter which one of the two turns out to be right: Trump isn’t the only person who disagrees with the Fed hikes.

The main suspect for 2019 market turmoil is the inevitable fallout from the Fed’s QE under Bernanke and Yellen. And there is something to be said for Powell trying to normalize rates, but there’s no doubt that may hasten, if not cause, turmoil. Blaming it on Trump not agreeing with Jay Powell is pretty much as left field as it gets.

 

White House Attacks On Fed Chair Fuel Fears Of Market Turmoil In 2019

Over the weekend, a flurry of reports claimed Donald Trump had discussed the possibility of firing the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell. Such an unprecedented move would trigger further instability in the markets, which have already had their worst year since the 2008 crisis. US officials scrambled to deny Trump had suggested ousting Powell, who was appointed by the president barely a year ago.

The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, tweeted that he had spoken to the president, who insisted he “never suggested firing” Powell, and did not believe he had the right to do this. However, Trump also declared – via Mnuchin – that he “totally disagrees” with the Fed’s “absolutely terrible” policy of raising interest rates and unwinding its bond-buying stimulus programme, piling further pressure on the US’s independent central bank.

And now, in the only article in the Guardian series that’s December 24, not 23, by Victoria Bekiempis and agencies, the plunging numbers in the stock markets are Trump’s fault, too.

 

Trump ‘Plunging Us Into Chaos’, Democrats Say, As Markets Tank And Shutdown Persists

Top Democrats have accused Donald Trump of “plunging the country into chaos” as top officials met to discuss a growing rout in stock markets caused in part by the president’s persistent attacks on the Federal Reserve and a government shutdown. “It’s Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” the two top Democrats in Congress, House speaker nominee Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, wrote in a joint statement on Monday. “The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve – after he just fired the Secretary of Defense.”

Trump criticized the Federal Reserve on Monday, describing it as the “only problem” for the US economy, even as top officials convened the “plunge protection team” forged after the 1987 crash to discuss the growing rout in stock markets. The crisis call on Monday between US financial regulators and the US treasury department failed to assure markets, and stocks fell again amid concern about slowing economic growth, the continuing government shutdown, and reports that Trump had discussed firing Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell.

The last one is from one Jonathan Jones, again December 23, again for the Guardian. And it takes the top award in the narrative building contest.

Again, the Guardian editorial team that okayed this article is still the same as the one that allowed the fake Assange/Manafort one, an editorial team that sees no problem in making things up in order to smear people. To portray Trump, Assange and anyone who’s had the misfortune of being born in Russia as suspicious if not outright criminal.

But look at what Jones has to say, and what Guardian editor-in-chief Kathy Viner and her ilk allowed and pressured him to say. He wants to have a say in how Trump should dress (seasonal knitwear), he evokes the image of Nazi architect Albert Speer for no reason at all, and then it’s a matter of mere inches until you arrive at Trump as a king, an emperor, an inner tyrant.

“He’s in a tuxedo!”, Like that’s a bad thing for Christmas. “She’s in white!”. Oh dear, call the pope. If both Trumps would have put on Christmas sweaters in front of a fire, the writer would have found something negative in that.

 

Trump Portrait: You Couldn’t Create A Creepier Yuletide Scene If You Tried

The absence of intimacy in the Trumps’ official Christmas portrait freezes the heart. Can it be that hard to create a cosy image of the presidential couple, perhaps in front of a roaring hearth, maybe in seasonal knitwear? Or is this quasi-dictatorial image exactly what the president wants to project? Look on my Christmas trees, ye mighty, and despair! If so, it fuels suspicions that it is only the checks and balances of a 230-year-old constitution that are keeping America from the darkest of political fates. You couldn’t create a creepier Yuletide scene if you tried. Multiple Christmas trees are currently a status symbol for the wealthy, but this picture shows the risks.

Instead of a homely symbol of midwinter cheer, these disciplined arboreal ranks with their uniform decorations are arrayed like massed soldiers or colossal columns designed by Albert Speer. The setting is the Cross Hall in the White House and, while the incumbent president cannot be held responsible for its architecture, why heighten its severity with such rigid, heartless seasonal trappings? Everything here communicates cold, empty magnificence. Tree lights that are as frigid as icicles are mirrored in a cold polished floor. Equally frosty illuminations are projected on the ceiling. Instead of twinkling fairy magic, this lifeless lighting creates a sterile, inhuman atmosphere.

You can’t imagine kids playing among these trees or any conceivable fun being had by anyone. It suggests the micromanaged, corporate Christmas of a Citizen Kane who has long since lost touch with the ordinary, warm pleasures of real life. In the centre of this disturbing piece of conceptual art stand Donald and Melania Trump. He’s in a tuxedo, she’s wearing white – and not a woolly hat in sight. Their formal smartness adds to the emotional numbness of the scene. Trump’s shark-like grin has nothing generous or friendly about it. He seems to want to show off his beautiful wife and his fantastic home rather than any of the cuddly holiday spirit a conventional politician might strive to share at this time.

It begs a question: how can a man who so glaringly lacks anything like a common touch be such a successful “populist”? What can a midwestern voter find in this image to connect with? Perhaps that’s the point. After more than two centuries of democracy, Trump is offering the US people a king, or emperor. In this picture, he gives full vent to his inner tyrant. If this portrait contains any truth about the state of America and the world, may Santa help us all.

I realize that you may be tired of the whole story. I realize you may have been caught in the anti-Trump narrative. And I am by no means a Trump fan. But I will keep on dragging you back to this. Because the discussion should not be based on a handful of media moguls not liking Trump. It should not be based on innuendo and smear. If Trump is to be convicted, it must be on evidence.

And there is no such evidence. Robert Mueller has charged 34 people, but none with what his mandate was based on, none with Russia collusion. This means that the American political system, and democracy itself, is under severe threat by the very media that are supposed to be its gate keepers.

 

None of this is about Trump, or about whether you like him or not, or even if he’s a shady character or not. Instead, it’s about the influence the media have on how our opinions and ideas about people and events are being shaped on a daily basis.

And once you acknowledge that your opinions of Trump, Putin et al, even without any proof of a connection between them, are actively being molded by the press you expect to inform you about the truth behind what goes on, you will have to acknowledge, too, that you are a captive of forces that use your gullibility to make a profit off you.

If our media need to make up things all the time about who’s guilty of what, because our justice systems are incapable of that, then we have a problem so enormous we may not be able to overcome it in our present settings.

Alternatively, if we trust our justice systems to deliver true justice, we don’t need a hundred articles a day to tell us how Trump or Putin are such terrible threats to our world. Our judges will tell us, not our journalists or media who are only in it for a profit.

I can say: “let’s start off 2019 trying to leave prejudice behind”, and as much as that is needed and you may agree with me, it’s no use if you don’t realize to what extent your views of the world have been shaped by prejudice.

I see people reacting to the star writer at Der Spiegel who wrote a lot about Trump, being exposed as a fraud. I also see people trying to defend Julian Assange from the Guardian article about his alleged meetings with Paul Manafort, that was an obvious big fat lie (the truth is Manafort talked to Ecuador to help them ‘sell’ Assange to the US).

But reacting to the very obvious stuff is not enough. The echo chamber distorts the truth about Trump every single day, and at least six times on Sunday, as this essay of mine shows. It’s just that after two years of this going on 24/7, it is perceived as the normal.

Everyone makes money dumping on the Donald, it’s a proven success formula, so why would the Guardian and Der Spiegel stay behind? They’d only hurt their own bottom line.

It has nothing to do with journalism, though, or news. It’s smear and dirt, the business model of the National Enquirer. That’s how far our once truthful media have fallen.

 

 

Dec 232018
 
 December 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Caravaggio Adoration of the Shepherds 1609

 

Krakatau-Triggered Tsunami Kills At Least 168 In Indonesia (R.)
David Collum’s 2018 Year In Review: “The Year Everything Changed”
Corbyn Faces Furious Labour Backlash Over Backing Brexit (G.)
UK To Tackle Loneliness Crisis With £11.5m Cash Injection (G.)
If Truth Cannot Prevail Over Material Agendas We Are Doomed (PCR)
Mnuchin Refutes Report That Trump Wants Powell Fired (MW)
Trump’s Political Viagra (Jatras)
We Know How Trump’s War Game Ends (Taibbi)
Send the Mad Dog to the Corporate Kennel (McGovern)
Is China Getting Too Close To Israel? (ATimes)

 

 

Krakatau in 1883 is the stuff of legend. It affected climate all over the world.

“When the Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia erupted in 1883, the resulting debris caused vibrant red sunsets around the world for up to three years afterward.”

It also killed 30,000+. But it was still much weaker than Tambora in 1811, also Indonesia, which killed over 70,000.

Krakatau-Triggered Tsunami Kills At Least 168 In Indonesia (R.)

A tsunami killed at least 168 people and injured hundreds on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra following an underwater landslide believed caused by the erupting Anak Krakatau volcano, officials and media said on Sunday. Hundreds of homes and other buildings were “heavily damaged” when the tsunami struck along the rim of the Sunda Strait late on Saturday, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency, said. Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate to higher ground. There was no estimate on the number of missing. TV images showed the seconds when the tsunami hit the beach and residential areas in Pandeglang on Java island, dragging with it victims, debris, and large chunks of wood and metal.

The eruption of Krakatau in 1883 killed more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area once occupied by Krakatau, which was destroyed in 1883. It first appeared in 1927 and has been growing ever since. Saturday’s tsunami was the latest in a series of tragedies that have struck Indonesia, a vast archipelago, this year. Successive earthquakes flattened parts of the tourist island of Lombok, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed thousands on Sulawesi island. Nearly 200 people died when a Lion Air passenger plane crashed into the Java Sea in October.

Authorities warned residents and tourists in coastal areas around the Sunda Strait to stay away from beaches and a high-tide warning remained in place through till Dec. 25. “Those who have evacuated, please do not return yet,” said Rahmat Triyono, an official at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, said on Twitter that he had “ordered all relevant government agencies to immediately take emergency response steps, find victims and care for the injured”.

Read more …

Dave Collum still produces his endless end of the year reviews, and he’s still a good friend and avid reader of the Automatic Earth. Even though Twitter sort of shadow banned him from my feed.

David Collum’s 2018 Year In Review: “The Year Everything Changed”

Sources I sit in front of a computer 16 hours a day gerrymandering my brain, at least three of which are dedicated to non-chemistry pursuits. I’m a huge fan of Adam Taggart and Chris Martenson (Peak Prosperity), Tony Greer (TG Macro), Doug Noland (Credit Bubble Bulletin), The Automatic Earth, Grant Williams (Real Vision and Things That Make You Go Hmmm), Raoul Pal (Real Vision), Bill Fleckenstein (Fleckenstein Capital), Mike Krieger (Liberty Blitzkrieg), Demetri Kofinas (Hidden Forces), James Grant (Grant’s Interest Rate Observer), Campus Reform, and any nonsense spewed by Twitter legend @RudyHavenstein.

There are so many others, many of whom I consider friends that I am simply waiting to meet. ZeroHedge is by far my preferred consolidator of news; it’s an acquired taste and requires a filter, but I think those rogues are great. Twitter is a window to the world if managed correctly—especially for a chemist attempting to connect with the finance world. Warning: the Holy Grail of maximizing follower counts is an illusion; it produces a counterproductive hyperconnectivity that makes extracting signal from noise difficult. So much flow, so little time.

Read more …

The half of British who don’t want Brexit have no-one to speak for them. That is a volatile situation. And potentially explosive.

Corbyn Faces Furious Labour Backlash Over Backing Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn is facing a storm of criticism from Labour activists and MPs after suggesting he would press ahead with Brexit if the party won a snap general election. In a sign that he is losing backing among overwhelmingly pro-Remain Labour supporters, Corbyn was also accused of betraying the party membership by appearing reluctant to back the idea of supporting Remain in a second referendum. The first signs of a serious internal revolt from party members on the left, who helped propel him to the leadership, came after Corbyn gave an interview to the Guardian in which he suggested he thought Brexit should go ahead and said EU state-aid rules would prevent a Labour government intervening to support UK industries.

His anti-EU tone drew immediate criticism from party supporters and members who had successfully persuaded the leadership to back the possibility of a second referendum at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool in September. Richard Brooks, a Labour member, activist and co-founder of For our Future’s Sake (FFS), a pro-Remain youth and student-led organisation, said Corbyn risked losing the backing of young people as well as the mass Labour membership he had promised to empower. “Jeremy Corbyn is in danger of betraying and losing the support of millions of young people and students who very nearly propelled him to Downing Street last year, and whose support he needs if he is to ever to become prime minister.

“Students and young people will not forget or forgive politicians who sell them down the river by backing a Brexit that limits our life opportunities and makes us poorer,” he said.

Read more …

Because there’s nothing that cannot be bought.

UK To Tackle Loneliness Crisis With £11.5m Cash Injection (G.)

A coffee caravan in rural Suffolk, furniture restoration projects for men and organised rambles for the recently bereaved are among more than a hundred initiatives being backed with a £11.5m fund to tackle Britain’s epidemic of loneliness. One hundred and twenty-six projects have been chosen to receive up to £100,000 each in the first ever government-backed fund to tackle a problem that the prime minister, Theresa May, described as “incredibly damaging to our humanity” when she launched a national loneliness strategy in October. The projects will target a wide range of groups from isolated Pakistani women in Bradford to young LGBTQ+ in Bristol and lonely elderly men in Cornwall.

The government believes the health impact of loneliness is on a par with obesity and smoking. It says loneliness is associated with a greater risk of smoking, coronary heart disease and stroke as well as an increased risk of depression, low self-esteem, sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease. Mims Davies, the minister for loneliness, said: “I am committed to encouraging open conversations around this sensitive topic to reduce the stigma and create an environment where everyone is better connected.”

Rural Coffee Caravan in Suffolk will buy a new camper van that will travel to quiet villages in the East Anglian countryside and set up temporary cafes. It is also using the money to extend an initiative that involves pubs giving out free coffee on Monday mornings. “Loneliness is just so damaging,” said Ann Osborn, its director. “Lonely people are more likely to have problems with obesity, have heart disease and suffer from depression. But also they cut themselves off and so the community suffers.

Read more …

Well, truth is gone from the media already…

If Truth Cannot Prevail Over Material Agendas We Are Doomed (PCR)

Throughout the long Cold War Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University was a voice of reason. He refused to allow his patriotism to blind him to Washington’s contribution to the confict and to criticize only the Soviet contribution. Cohen’s interest was not to blame the enemy but to work toward a mutual understanding that would remove the threat of nuclear war. Although a Democrat and left-leaning, Cohen would have been at home in the Reagan administration, as Reagan’s first priority was to end the Cold War. I know this because I was part of the effort. Pat Buchanan will tell you the same thing.

[..] Today Cohen is stressed that it is the United States that thinks it can win a nuclear war. Washington speaks openly of using “low yield” nuclear weapons, and intentionally forecloses any peace negotiations with Russia with a propaganda campaign against Russia of demonization, villification, and transparant lies, while installing missile bases on Russia’s borders and while talking of incorporating former parts of Russia into NATO. In his just published book, War With Russia?, which I highly recommend, Cohen makes a convincing case that Washington is asking for war.

I agree with Cohen that if Russia is a threat it is only because the US is threatening Russia. The stupidity of the policy toward Russia is creating a Russian threat. Putin keeps emphasizing this. To paraphrase Putin: “You are making Russia a threat by declaring us to be one, by discarding facts and substituting orchestrated opinions that your propagandistic media establish as fact via endless repetition.” Cohen is correct that during the Cold War every US president worked to defuse tensions, especially Republican ones. Since the Clinton regime every US president has worked to create tensions. What explains this dangerous change in approach?

Read more …

One little rumor can last an entire Christmas season.

Mnuchin Refutes Report That Trump Wants Powell Fired (MW)

President Donald Trump, reportedly angry over the U.S. central bank’s decision to raise interest rates last week, has talked about ousting Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, according to Bloomberg News. The report, based on “four people familiar with the matter,” said they were not convinced Trump would move against Powell, but that the president’s ire remained elevated over rising interest rates. Rates are climbing at the same time that the stock market has wiped out 2018 gains. In a Saturday evening tweet, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he has spoken with the president and Trump said, “I totally disagree with Fed policy. I think the increasing of interest rates and the shrinking of the Fed portfolio is an absolute terrible thing to do at this time especially in light of my major trade negotiations which are ongoing, but I never suggested firing Chairman Jay Powell, nor do I believe I have the right to do so.”

On Friday, Trump’s economic team split publicly over the Fed. Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro told a Japanese newspaper that “we” — presumably meaning the White House — didn’t want to see any more interest-rate hikes from the central bank. The Fed has penciled in two rate hikes for 2019. Navarro said that would be “two too many.” “We don’t understand why the Fed is acting so contractionary at a time when there’s no inflation to worry about,” he said. White House chief economist Kevin Hassett said he disagreed with Navarro. “That’s Peter speaking for himself,” Hassett insisted. “I think the appropriate position for an economist in the White House is to respect the independence of the Fed and not comment on their policies,” Hassett said.

Read more …

Is Trump finally getting the chutzpah to implement his promises?

Trump’s Political Viagra (Jatras)

After two years of getting rolled by the Washington establishment, it seems that President Donald Trump woke up and suddenly realized, “Hey – I’m the president! I have the legal authority to do stuff!” • He has announced his order to withdraw US troops from Syria. • His Defense Secretary James Mattis has resigned. There are rumors National Security Adviser John Bolton may go too. (Please take Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with you!) • He announced a start to withdrawing from Afghanistan. • He now says he will veto a government funding bill unless he gets $5 billion for his Wall, and as of 12:01 AM Washington time December 22 the federal government is officially under partial shutdown.

All of this should be taken with a big grain of salt. While this week’s assertiveness perhaps provides further proof that Trump’s impulses are right, it doesn’t mean he can implement them. The Syria withdrawal will be difficult. The entire establishment, including the otherwise pro-Trump talking heads on Fox News, are dead set against him – except for Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Senator Lindsey Graham is demanding hearings on how to block the Syria pullout. Congress hardly ever quibbles with a president’s putting troops into a country, where the Legislative Branch has legitimate Constitutional power. But if a president under his absolute command authority wants to pull them out – even someplace where they’re deployed illegally, as in Syria – well hold on just a minute!

We are being told our getting out of Syria and Afghanistan will be a huge “gift” to Russia and Iran. Worse, it is being compared to Barack Obama’s “premature” withdrawal from Iraq (falsely pointed to as the cause of the rise of ISIS) and will set the stage for “chaos.” By that standard, we can never leave anywhere. This will be a critical time for the Trump presidency. (And if God is really on his side, he soon might get another Supreme Court pick.) If he can get the machinery of the Executive Branch to implement his decision to withdraw from Syria, and if he can pick a replacement to General Mattis who actually agrees with Trump’s views, we might start getting the America First policy Trump ran on in 2016.

Read more …

Wait, we do? Matt sounds a bit confused here.

We Know How Trump’s War Game Ends (Taibbi)

So we’re withdrawing troops from the Middle East. GOOD! What’s the War on Terror death count by now, a half-million? How much have we spent, $5 trillion? Five-and-a-half? For that cost, we’ve destabilized the region to the point of abject chaos, inspired millions of Muslims to hate us, and torn up the Geneva Convention and half the Constitution in pursuit of policies like torture, kidnapping, assassination-by-robot and warrantless detention. It will be difficult for each of us to even begin to part with our share of honor in those achievements. This must be why all those talking heads on TV are going crazy.

Unless Donald Trump decides to reverse his decision to begin withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, cable news for the next few weeks is going to be one long Scanners marathon of exploding heads. “Today’s decision would cheer Moscow, ISIS, and Iran!” yelped Nicole Wallace, former George W. Bush communications director. “Maybe Trump will bring Republicans and Democrats together,” said Bill Kristol, on MSNBC, that “liberal” channel that somehow seems to be populated round the clock by ex-neocons and Pentagon dropouts. Kristol, who has rarely ever been in the ballpark of right about anything — he once told us Iraq was going to be a “two month war” — might actually be correct.

Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan will lay bare the real distinctions in American politics. Political power in this country is not divided between right and left, and not even between rich and poor. The real line is between a war party, and everyone else. This is why Kristol is probably right. The Democrats’ plan until now was probably to impeach Trump in the House using at minimum some material from the Michael Cohen case involving campaign-finance violations.

Read more …

“Like all members of the military profession I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation..”

Send the Mad Dog to the Corporate Kennel (McGovern)

Outgoing Defense Secretary Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis was famous for quipping, “It’s fun to shoot some people.” It remains a supreme irony that Mattis was widely considered the only “adult in the room” in the Trump administration. Compared to whom? John Bolton, the rabid neocon serving as national security adviser? That would be the epitome of “condemning with faint praise.” [..] Mattis was simply incapable of acknowledging the self-destructive, mindless nature of U.S. “endless war” in the Middle East, which candidate-Trump had correctly called “stupid.” In his resignation letter, Mattis also peddled the usual cant about the indispensable nation’s aggression being good for the world.

Mattis was an obstacle to Trump’s desire to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan (and remains in position to spike Trump’s orders). Granted, the abrupt way Trump announced his apparently one-man decision was equally stupid. But withdrawal of ground troops is supremely sane, and Mattis was and is a large problem. And, for good or ill, Trump — not Mattis — was elected president. Historically, Marines are the last place to turn for sound advice. Marine Gen. Smedley Butler (1881-1940), twice winner of the Medal of Honor, was brutally candid about this, after he paused long enough to realize, and write, “War is a Racket”: “I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all members of the military profession I never had an original thought until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher- ups. …”

Read more …

Next up are ports in Chesapeake Bay?

Is China Getting Too Close To Israel? (ATimes)

China is constructing seaports at two sites where the US 6th Fleet deploys, in Haifa next to Israel’s main naval base and Ashdod near Tel Aviv, prompting concerns about China’s military potential in the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East. “The civilian [Chinese] port in Haifa abuts the exit route from the adjacent [Israeli] navy base, where the Israeli submarine fleet is stationed and which, according to foreign media reports, maintains a second-strike capability to launch nuclear missiles,” Israel’s Haaretz media reported. “No one in Israel thought about the strategic ramifications,” Haaretz said in September. The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke visited Haifa on October 25 in support of the 6th Fleet which is headquartered in Naples, Italy.

Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) signed the Haifa contract in 2015, began construction in June, and is to operate the Bayport Terminal for 25 years starting from 2021. SIPG signed memorandums of understanding with U.S. ports in Seattle, Washington in 2006 and Georgia Ports Authority in 2004, plus Barcelona, Spain, in 2006. SIPG also works with European ports in Rotterdam, Hamburg and London, and two ports in Japan, its website said. China Harbor Engineering, one of China’s biggest government-owned enterprises, is meanwhile constructing a port at Ashdod, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv.

“At $3 billion, this is one of the biggest overseas investment projects in Israel, ever, and also one of the biggest for the Chinese company, China Harbor Engineering,” wrote Arthur Herman, senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute think tank in November. “Ashdod on the Mediterranean coast is the destination of fully 90 percent of Israel’s international maritime traffic,” Herman said.

Read more …

Nov 242018
 
 November 24, 2018  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Joseph Mallord William Turner The Sun Rising over Water 1825-30

 

Britain’s Opposition Labour Party Plots Overthrow Of Capitalism (R.)
This Sell-Off is Just One Step in Methodical Unwind of Stock Prices (WS)
Oil Plunges More Than 6% Despite Potential OPEC Cut (R.)
Bitcoin Loses 25% Of Its Remaining Value During Thanksgiving Week (CNBC)
Trump Dismisses Report He Is Unhappy With Treasury’s Mnuchin (R.)
Holiday Doings and Undoings (Kunstler)
Rising Fuel Price Protests Should Serve As A Red Alert For Macron (I.ie)
Gibraltar Rocks Final Stages Of Brexit Negotiation (AFP)
Ecuador Ousts Its London Ambassador, ‘Last Diplomat Assange Knew’ (RT)
Prosecution of Julian Assange, America’s Betrayal of Its Own Ideals (CD)
Why You Should Care About the Julian Assange Case (Taibbi)
Anonymous Blows Lid Off Huge Psyop In Europe Funded By UK & US (RT)

 

 

You really think you can win an election saying this?

Britain’s Opposition Labour Party Plots Overthrow Of Capitalism (R.)

The British Labour Party’s would-be finance minister, John McDonnell, has a message for the world: he is deadly serious about overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist society. McDonnell, 67, who describes Karl Marx as one of his main influences, has been at the vanguard of a left-wing revival in Britain’s main opposition party under fellow socialist Jeremy Corbyn. He has promised sweeping nationalization, higher public spending and an overhaul of the banking system. Asked about his entry in the Who’s Who directory of influential people which lists his passion for “generally fermenting the overthrow of capitalism”, McDonnell said it was a joke about beer-making, but he agrees with the principle.

“I believe it. I am serious in my intent. I want to transform this economy,” McDonnell told Reuters in an interview. “That means evolving into a system which can achieve that equality, that democracy, that fairness, and tackles the major challenges that we are facing.” With PM Theresa May’s grip on power looking ever more vulnerable as she faces the most perilous crisis of her premiership struggling to win backing for her Brexit deal, Labour are increasingly confident that they will be the next guardians of the world’s fifth-largest economy. McDonnell’s gambit is that the social discontent in Britain which fueled the shock 2016 Brexit vote runs much deeper, and that voters who feel left behind by decades of unchecked capitalism and wounded by years of public spending cuts will rally to his call.

“(It was) like everyone’s grievance went into one vote,” McDonnell said. The polls show that is only part of the picture: voters are tired of economic austerity and unhappy with May’s Brexit negotiations, but Labour are only marginally ahead of the ruling Conservative Party. Some commentators have suggested they should be polling better against a government in disarray. Nevertheless, the combination of an unsated appetite for change and a Brexit-inspired political crisis which has trashed the centrist orthodoxy of British politics, has left Labour confident they will soon win power. McDonnell said his ambition is create the most radical government in modern British history even as the country is grappling with its exit from the EU, the most complex negotiations in Europe since the end of World War Two.

[..] McDonnell has outlined a program of nationalizing the railways, energy and water companies and the postal service, raising taxes on businesses and the wealthy. This would be combined with increased spending on education, skills training, and health care, and harnessing the financial sector to help fund a huge infrastructure investment. At his party’s annual conference two months ago, McDonnell did little to conceal the scale of his ambition. Businesses were stunned by his plan to force all large companies to hand over a tenth of their equity to their workforce.

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Possible.

This Sell-Off is Just One Step in Methodical Unwind of Stock Prices (WS)

It was an ugly Monday and Tuesday followed by a Wednesday that at first look like a real bounce but ended with the indices giving up their gains. This was followed, mercifully, by Thursday when markets were closed, which was followed unmercifully by Friday, during which the whole schmear came unglued again. The S&P 500 index dropped 0.7% on Friday to 2,632 and 3.8% for Thanksgiving week, though this week is usually – by calendar black-magic – a good week, according to the Wall Street Journal: During Thanksgiving weeks going back a decade, the S&P 500 rose on average 1.3%. This leaves the S&P 500 index 1.5% in the hole year-to-date. It’s now back where it had first been on November 30, 2017:

Clearly, when seen over the longer term, the sell-off for now still belongs to the small-fry among sell-offs, with S&P 500 down just 10.5% from its peak:

The Dow dropped 0.7% on Friday and 4.4% during Thanksgiving week, to 24,286. It’s 1.75% in the hole for the year. Technically speaking, it’s not even in a correction, being down only 9.9% from its peak. And the Nasdaq, dropped 0.5% on Friday and 4.3% during Thanksgiving week. According to the Wall Street Journal, during Thanksgiving week over the past 20 years, the Nasdaq rose on average 1.3%. So this is no good for calendar-black-magic aficionados. Where’s the free-wheeling holiday spirit? The Nasdaq is now down 14.7% from its peak at the end of August but remains up 0.5% year-to-date. The Russell 2000 small-caps index edged down today and is down 14.5% from its peak on August 31. It’s 3% in the hole year-to-date and right back where it had first been on September 27, 2017:

The seven FANGMAN stocks – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google’s parent Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple, and NVIDIA – fell 1.3% on Friday in combined market cap. Over Thanksgiving week, they have now plunged 6.7%, or by $259 billion. Those are real dollars gone in four trading days with just seven stocks. Since their combined market-cap peak of $4.63 trillion at the end of August, nearly $1 trillion — $994 billion to be precise – has dissolved into ambient air, as their combined market cap has plunged 21.5% in ca. 12 weeks. But if you look at them as individual stocks, it’s even worse. The saving grace for the group as a whole was Microsoft, the second largest stock by market cap, which is threatening to become the largest stock shortly if Apple continues to fall at this pace. Three of the seven have already plunged by 38% to nearly 50%. Two more have plunged by 26% to 27%.

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What is it, 34% since the high this year?

Oil Plunges More Than 6% Despite Potential OPEC Cut (R.)

Oil prices slumped more than 6 percent on Friday, with Brent set for a 12-percent plunge this week, as fears that supply would overpower demand intensified, even as major producers considered cutting output. Oil supply, led by U.S. producers, is growing faster than demand and to prevent a build-up of unused fuel such as the one that emerged in 2015, OPEC is expected to start trimming output after a meeting on Dec. 6. But this has done little so far to prop up prices, which have dropped more than 20 percent so far in November, in a seven-week streak of losses. Deep trade disputes between the world’s two biggest economies and oil consumers, the United States and China, have weighed upon the market.

“The market is pricing in an economic slowdown – they are anticipating that the Chinese trade talks are not going to go well,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “The market doesn’t believe that OPEC is going to be able to act swiftly enough to offset the coming slowdown in demand.” [..] Market fears over weak demand intensified after China reported its lowest gasoline exports in more than a year amid a glut of the fuel in Asia and globally. Stockpiles of gasoline have surged across Asia, with inventories in Singapore, the regional refining hub, rising to a three-month high while Japanese stockpiles also climbed last week. Inventories in the United States are about 7 percent higher than a year ago.

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Starting to feel serious.

Bitcoin Loses 25% Of Its Remaining Value During Thanksgiving Week (CNBC)

Bitcoin continued its move lower Friday, struggling to find footing after a week of pain for the world’s largest cryptocurrency. The digital asset hit a low of $4,119 Friday, according to data from CoinDesk, bringing its seven-day losses to more than 25 percent. In dollar terms, bitcoin’s value dropped by about $1,400 over that time frame. Other cryptocurrencies didn’t hold up this week either. Not a single one in the top 28 by market capitalization was trading in the green Friday, according to CoinMarketCap.com. XRP, the second-largest by market capitalization, fell 6 percent Friday, bringing its one-week losses to 10 percent. Ether was down 7 percent in 24 hours and lost roughly 30 percent for the week.

The total market capitalization for cryptocurrencies fell to $138.6 billion Friday, according to CoinMarketCap data, its lowest level since September 2017. Since its peak, the market has lost about $700 billion in value, according to the data. The tumble for bitcoin started abruptly last week when it fell below $6,000 and hit a new low for the year. The plunge followed what had been a surprisingly calm few months for bitcoin and a break from the rest of its volatile trading year. Since then, prices have hit new 13-month lows and struggled to move out of the $4,300 range. The price dips are a stark contrast from last Thanksgiving when the cryptocurrency was entering a hot streak thanks to a wave of new retail investors. Since that holiday week last year, prices are down by more than 55 percent.

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“They never like to ask me for a quote b/c it would kill their story..”

Trump Dismisses Report He Is Unhappy With Treasury’s Mnuchin (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Friday that he was quite happy with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s performance, after The Wall Street Journal reported that the president was dissatisfied with Mnuchin. “I am extremely happy and proud of the job being done by @USTreasury Secretary @stevenmnuchin1,” Trump said in a tweet. The Journal reported that Trump blames Mnuchin for the appointment of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has been steadily raising U.S. interest rates. Trump is concerned that higher rates could undercut economic gains ahead of his 2020 reelection bid, the newspaper reported.

Quoting unnamed sources, the Journal said Trump has also expressed displeasure with Mnuchin over stock market turbulence and the Treasury secretary’s skepticism about the White House trade actions against China. “The FAKE NEWS likes to write stories to the contrary, quoting phony sources or jealous people, but they aren’t true. They never like to ask me for a quote b/c it would kill their story,” Trump said on Twitter. Trump has repeatedly criticized the Fed’s rate increases under Powell. In October, he called the Fed “crazy,” “ridiculous” and “my biggest threat.”

A year ago when Trump picked Powell to head the Federal Reserve, Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, was a strong advocate of his nomination. The Wall Street Journal, citing a person familiar with the matter, said Trump, in a conversation with someone who praised Mnuchin’s performance, mentioned stock market volatility and said: “If he’s so good, why is this happening?”

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“..Somehow I doubt that this Christmas will win the Bing Crosby star of approval.”

Holiday Doings and Undoings (Kunstler)

Somehow I doubt that this Christmas will win the Bing Crosby star of approval. Rather, we see the financial markets breaking under the strain of sustained institutionalized fraud, and the social fabric tearing from persistent systemic political dishonesty. It adds up to a nation that can’t navigate through reality, a nation too dependent on sure things, safe spaces, and happy outcomes. Every few decades a message comes from the Universe that faking it is not good enough. The main message from the financials is that the global debt barge has run aground, and with it, the global economy. That mighty engine has been chugging along on promises-to-pay and now the faith that sustained those promises is dissolving.

China, Euroland, and the USA can’t possibly meet their tangled obligations, and are running out of tricks for rigging, gaming, and jacking the bond markets, where all those promises are vested. It boils down to a whole lot of people not getting paid, one way or the other — and it’s really bad for business. Our President has taken full credit for the bubblicious markets, of course, and will be Hooverized as they gurgle around the drain. Given his chimerical personality, he may try to put on an FDR mask — perhaps even sit in a wheelchair — and try a few grand-scale policy tricks to escape the vortex. But the net effect will surely be to make matters worse — for instance, if he can hector the Federal Reserve to buy every bond that isn’t nailed to some deadly derivative booby-trap.

But then he’ll only succeed in crashing the dollar. Remember, there are two main ways you can go broke: You can run out of money; or you can have plenty of worthless money.

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Urban vs rural. Just like in America.

Rising Fuel Price Protests Should Serve As A Red Alert For Macron (I.ie)

Within the space of a week, the gilets jaunes have managed to tap into wider discontent with Macron’s presidency and policies, gaining opposition support and momentum as a result. These are not the usual protests or strikes co-ordinated by political parties or unions in France. With no official organisation, no identified leader and no political affiliation, the gilets jaunes phenomenon has been almost completely co-ordinated on social media where it declares “[This] comes about only from the French people”. [..] one thing is certain: their actions have chimed with the public. This despite chaos across France last weekend with roads blocked by protesters at some 2,000 locations. Two people were killed – one when a driver panicked and accidentally accelerated their car into the crowd – in the protests and hundreds reported injured.

Nevertheless, a number of polls have shown that almost three-quarters of French voters approve of the demonstrations, one survey found that more than half of those who voted for Macron support them. The planned tax increases – the price of diesel is due to go up another 6.5 cents per litre and petrol by 2.9 cents – are to come into force in January. They follow a 23pc rise in the cost of diesel and 15pc in petrol in the past year. Internationally, Macron has made much of his commitment to battling climate change and these hikes are part of his domestic policies on that front. His ministers have also argued that the higher price of crude globally also necessitates a rise but protesters complain that fuel taxes have been increasing steadily over the past four years.

One survey this week found that 82pc believe Macron should drop the plans. It also showed that particular demographics – the self-employed and business leaders, plus pensioners and low-income households – were most supportive of the gilets jaunes. The episode also highlights the rift between France’s urban elite and those in its poor rural peripheries. Workers who rely on their cars to get to their jobs in the countryside are particularly aggrieved by the planned tax increases.

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One more topic they try to push into the limitless future.

Gibraltar Rocks Final Stages Of Brexit Negotiation (AFP)

Preparations for a summit to endorse Britain’s deal to quit the European Union risked running aground on the rock of Gibraltar Friday, as Spain defended its veto over the fate of the tiny territory. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and leaders of the other 27 EU member states are to meet Sunday to approve their divorce agreement and set a course for negotiating their future post-Brexit relationship. But Spanish officials emerged from talks Friday warning that Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez might not attend unless it is guaranteed that no future accord on EU relations involving Gibraltar will be signed without Madrid’s specific assent.

Visiting Cuba, Sanchez said that if the Gibraltar row is not resolved, he might not go to Brussels on Sunday, warning: “If there’s no agreement, it’s very clear hat will happen, there very probably won’t be a European Council.” In Brussels, Luis Marco Aguiriano Nalda, Spain’s secretary of state for European affairs, said Madrid wanted London to put in writing that it shared Madrid’s interpretation of the negotiated Brexit deal regarding Gibraltar. “We have demanded that it be published by the British authorities before the European Council on Sunday,” he said. In London, however, a Downing Street source said he did not know what document Aguiriano could be referring to and added: “We have negotiated on behalf of the whole of the UK family. That includes Gibraltar and the overseas territories.”

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The torture never stops.

Ecuador Ousts Its London Ambassador, ‘Last Diplomat Assange Knew’ (RT)

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno has terminated the credentials of his UK ambassador, who has been at the center of negotiating the fate of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, as concerns mount over the whistleblower’s safety. The decree, with which Moreno effectively sacked Ecuador’s London ambassador Abad Ortiz, was published by WikiLeaks on Wednesday. The document does not offer any explanation as to why Ortiz, who had been his country’s ambassador to the UK since 2015, is now being permanently recalled. Nor does it name a successor for the outgoing diplomat. The decree is effective immediately.

WikiLeaks tweeted that Abad, appointed to the office under President Rafael Correa, was the last diplomat the long-term self-exiled editor knew in the embassy. “All diplomats known to Assange have now been transferred away from the embassy,” the whistleblowing site claimed. This new and sudden twist in the Assange saga has been met with concern by his supporters, with some suggesting that Moreno is doing Washington’s bidding by removing people who might have stood by Assange and opposed his potential handover to the British police – which is expected to bring about a swift extradition to the US. The dismissal has been called “a silent pro-US coup.”

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Best piece on Assange in a while, from Nozomi Hayase.

Prosecution of Julian Assange, America’s Betrayal of Its Own Ideals (CD)

Just as the Founding Fathers of the United States, by revolting against the autocratic rule of King George were regarded as traitors, by aiding ordinary people expose and defy unjust secret law, WikiLeaks too has been branded as an enemy of the state. Trump’s Secretary of State and the former CIA director, Mike Pompeo calls WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency, claiming that the organization threatens American values and needs to be shut down. Members of the US Congress urged the Ecuadorian President to persecute Assange, calling him a “dangerous criminal” and a “threat to global security”. While all these vicious verbal attacks are thrown at him, Assange remains in confinement, over the past months, being completely shut out from the outside, being continually deprived of fresh air, access to medical care and sunlight by the UK government in violation of UN rulings.

All wars start and are fueled by lies and propaganda. Once it was the Vietnam War, where under the command of the US President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Gulf of Tonkin lies unleashed military forces into Southeast Asia. Then came the invasion of Iraq with the former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech at the UN, falsely claiming Iraq had ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. This battle against free speech is another secret war of this empire. It now has become a fog of war, where with the hype of Russia Gate that was created out of thin air, the public was prevented from seeing who the real enemies are.

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Taibbi’s piece is okay, and he says some good things, but he doesn’t appear to like Assange, and fails to hide that.

Valid point he makes: The -secret- charges vs Assange have nothing to do with Trump, they pre-date his presidency by years.

Why You Should Care About the Julian Assange Case (Taibbi)

It always seemed that Assange viewed his primary role as being a pain in the ass to this increasingly illegitimate system of secrets, a pure iconoclast who took satisfaction in sticking it to the very powerful. I didn’t always agree with its decisions, but Wikileaks was an understandable human response to an increasingly arbitrary, intractable, bureaucratic political system. That it even had to exist spoke to a fundamental flaw in modern Western democracies — i.e. that our world is now so complex and choked with secrets that even releasing hundreds of thousands of documents at a time, we can never be truly informed about the nature of our own societies. Moreover, as the Snowden episode showed, it isn’t clear that knowing unpleasant secrets is the same as being able to change them.

In any case, the institutions Wikileaks perhaps naively took on once upon a time are getting ready to hit back. Frankly it’s surprising it’s taken this long. I’m surprised Assange is still alive, to be honest. If Assange ends up on trial, he’ll be villainized by most of the press, which stopped seeing the “lulz” in his behavior for good once Donald Trump was elected. The perception that Assange worked with Vladimir Putin to achieve his ends has further hardened responses among his former media allies. As to the latter, Assange denies cooperating with the Russians, insisting his source for the DNC leak was not a “state actor.” It doesn’t matter. That PR battle has already been decided.

Courts have held reporters cannot be held liable for illegal behavior of sources. [..] It’s always been the source’s responsibility to deal with that civil or criminal risk. The press traditionally had to decide whether or not leaked material was newsworthy, and make sure it was true. The government has been searching for a way to change that equation. The Holy Grail would be a precedent that forces reporters to share risk of jail with sources. Separate from Assange, prosecutions of leakers have sharply escalated in the last decade. The government has steadily tiptoed toward describing publishers as criminal conspirators.

It’s impossible to know exactly what recent news about an indictment means until we see it (the Reporters’ Committee for the Freedom of the Press has already filed a motion to unseal the charges). If there is a case, it could be anything in the federal criminal code, perhaps even unrelated to leaks. Who knows? But the more likely eventuality is a prosecution that uses the unpopularity of Assange to shut one of the last loopholes in our expanding secrecy bureaucracy. Americans seem not to grasp what might be at stake. Wikileaks briefly opened a window into the uglier side of our society, and if publication of such leaks is criminalized, it probably won’t open again.

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Europe needs an enemy. Or rather, NATO does.

Anonymous Blows Lid Off Huge Psyop In Europe Funded By UK & US (RT)

Anonymous has published documents which it claims have unearthed a massive UK-led psyop to create a “large-scale information secret service” in Europe – all under the guise of countering “Russian propaganda.” In a document dump on November 5, the group exposed the UK-based ‘Integrity Initiative’, said to have been established by the ominously titled Institute for Statecraft in 2015. The main objective is “to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.” The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ program, so objectivity is, of course, at the forefront of their work.

Operating on a budget of £1.9 million (US$2.4 million), the secretive Integrity Initiative consists of “clusters” of local politicians, journalists, military personnel, scientists and academics. The team is dedicated to searching for and publishing “evidence” of Russian interference in European affairs, while themselves influencing leadership behind the scenes, the documents claim. The UK establishment appears to be conducting the very activities of which it and its allies have long-accused the Kremlin, with little or no corroborating evidence. The program also aims to “change attitudes in Russia itself” as well as influencing Russian speakers in the EU and North America, one of the leaked documents states.

At present, the vast network allegedly has clusters for Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Norway, Serbia, and Montenegro… but there’s more! According to the Anonymous leak, major plans to expand the sphere of influence throughout eastern Europe, the US, and Canada, as well as the MENA region, are allegedly underway. The clusters’ work is apparently done under absolute secrecy via concealed contacts embedded throughout British embassies, the leak claims, some of which are listed as part of the documentation.

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Jun 032018
 
 June 3, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Andrew Wyeth Christina’s world 1948

 

Why Italy Had To Say Goodbye To The Dolce Vita (David McWilliams)
An Italian Exit May Be Rome’s Best Option – JPMorgan (ZH)
Angela Merkel Rules Out Debt Relief For Italy (CNBC)
New Italy PM Starts Off In Shadow Of His Powerful Deputies (AFP)
Juncker: EU Won’t ‘Meddle’ In Italy’s Affairs (O.)
Political Bruiser Sánchez Stuns Spain To Become PM (Spain Report)
Europe: Confront Trump or Avoid a Costly Trade War (NYT)
US Wants Structural Changes To China’s Economy: Mnuchin
Uber’s ‘Business Is Finished’ In Turkey, Erdogan Says (R.)
Britain’s Low-Paid Face Decade Of Wage Squeeze (O.)
UK Universal Credit Change To Bar 2.6m Children From Free School Meals (Ind.)
Whale Dies From Eating More Than 80 Plastic Bags (AFP)

 

 

Excellent from David McWilliams on what the euro has done to Italy.

Why Italy Had To Say Goodbye To The Dolce Vita (David McWilliams)

Sometimes it is not appreciated quite how industrial Italy is. It has long been Europe’s second-biggest manufacturing power, beaten only by Germany. Italy is far more industrial than France or the UK. In some areas of design and high-quality manufacturing, Italy is still without peer. However, since it gave up the lira and adopted the euro – in effect Germany’s currency – things have gone pear-shaped. This economic calamity is driving Italian politics, leading many to question the euro and Italy’s membership of it. From 1945 to 1995 there was an understanding that Italy would devalue the lira. This is what Italy did. Traditionally, it devalued the lira every few years. This kept Italian industry competitive.

For example, when Italy joined the European Monetary System, in 1979, the exchange rate was 443 lire per Deutschmark. By 1990, the year of German reunification, the rate was 750 lire to the Deutschmark. By 1995 it was 1,000 lire to the Deutschmark. In the 1992 currency crisis the lira fell to a low of 1,250 against the Deutschmark before recovering a bit. The gradual fall in the value of the lira was a price that the Italians were prepared to pay for industrial success. Contrary to the dogma spouted by Europe’s central bankers, Italian devaluations worked particularly well. From 1979 to 1998, Italian industrial production outpaced that of Germany by more than 10%. Italian equities outperformed German equivalents by 16% – after having taken into account the devaluations.

So not only was Italian industry growing faster than German industry, aided by lira devaluations, but also the return on capital in Italy was higher than in Germany. This is because if the stock market of a country is outperforming another country’s, it implies that the capital that is deployed in the faster-growing country is being deployed more efficiently. Therefore, not only was Italy growing more quickly than Germany, but it was more efficient too. Then came the euro. Since Italy joined the single currency, almost to the day, its industry has gone backwards. Having outperformed German stocks during the period of the lira, Italian stocks have underperformed German stocks by a whopping, bankruptcy-inducing 65%.

During the half-century when Fellini was writing the story of postwar Italian success, the Italian stock market almost always returned more than the German stock market. Once Italy joined the euro that stopped almost overnight. Deep in the economy, the strictures imposed by the euro have destroyed much of Italian industry. For example, having outgrown Germany’s industrial output in the 1980s and 1990s by 10%, Italian factory output since Italy joined the euro has lagged Germany’s by 40%.

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Hard to summarize this long Zero Hedge piece. Depending on where you look, Italy may not be all that weak.

“If you owe the ECB €10 billion, you have no leverage. If you owe the ECB €426 billion, you have all the leverage.”

An Italian Exit May Be Rome’s Best Option – JPMorgan (ZH)

[..] with €426BN, Italy has the highest Target2 deficit with the Eurosystem (Spain is a close second with €377BN) any discussion about an Italian euro exit raises concerns about costs. [..] due to QE induced cross border flows since 2015, Target2 balances have exploded since the launch of the ECB’s QE (and third Greek bailout in 2015), and surpassed the previous extremes from the depths of the euro debt crisis in the summer of 2012.

[..] a euro exit by a debtor country would represent more of a cost to creditor countries such as Germany rather than to the exiting country itself. And, as shown in the chart above, Germany sure has a lot of implicit accumulated costs, roughly €1 trillion to be precise, as a result of preserving a currency union that allowed German exporters to benefit from a euro dragged lower by the periphery, relative to where the Deutsche Mark would be trading today. But here the analysis gets slightly more complex, as Target2 does not provide the full picture of potential costs (or benefits, assuming a scorched earth approach). As JPMorgan writes, the Target2 liabilities of a debtor country give only a partial picture of the cost to creditor nations from that debtor country exiting.

This is because Target2 balances represent only one component of the Net International Investment Position of a country, i.e. the difference between a country’s total external financial assets vs. liabilities. The broader metric that one must use, is of the Net International Investment Position for euro area countries and is shown in the chart below. It shows that contrary to the Target2 imbalance, Italy leaving the euro would inflict a lot less damage to creditor nations than Spain leaving the euro. This is because Spain’s net international investment liabilities stood at close to €1tr as of the end of last year, almost three times as large as its Target2 liabilities. In contrast Italy’s net international investment liabilities were much smaller and stood at only €115bn at the end of last year, around a quarter of its €426bn Target2 liabilities. This, as JPM explains, is because Italy has accumulated over the years more external assets than Spain and should thus be overall more able to repay its external liabilities.

[..] Ironically, the surprisingly low net international investment liabilities of Italy are the result of the persistent current account surpluses the country has been running since the euro debt crisis of 2012, and smaller current account deficits compared to Spain before the crisis. The flipside is that the current account surplus – in theory – also makes it easier for a country like Italy to exit the euro relative to a current account deficit country. This is because the higher the current account deficit of a debtor country, the higher the cost of an exit for this country as the current account deficit would have to be closed abruptly following an exit. Most importantly, this means that as a result of Italy’s decent current account surplus, from a narrow current account adjustment point of view, its own cost of a euro exit should be relatively small.

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Merkel has weakened a lot. Italy knows it.

Angela Merkel Rules Out Debt Relief For Italy (CNBC)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared on Saturday to rule out debt relief for Italy, saying in a newspaper interview that the principle of solidarity among members of the euro zone should not turn the single currency bloc into a debt-sharing union. “I will approach the new Italian government openly and work with it instead of speculating about it intentions,” Merkel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview to be published on Sunday.

On Friday, Italy swore a populist coalition into power, ending months of political uncertainty that hit global markets in the last week. Newly designated Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will lead Western Europe’s first anti-establishment government with the aim of cutting taxes, boosting spending on welfare and overhauling EU rules on budgets and immigration. Italy accounts for 23.4 percent of the euro zone’s public debt and 15.4 percent of the bloc’s GDP, according to Eurostat.

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Conte has a full agenda.

New Italy PM Starts Off In Shadow Of His Powerful Deputies (AFP)

Italy’s new prime minister Giuseppe Conte mostly kept quiet on his full first day in office Saturday, while his two powerful deputies took centre stage in setting the tone of the populist government’s policy. Conte, a political novice, was finally sworn in on Friday as the head of a government of ministers from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League, ending months of uncertainty since elections in March. But Conte was a compromise candidate between Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio and the League’s Matteo Salvini – both of whom are now his deputy prime ministers – and he will have to walk a delicate line to push through the anti-austerity and pro-security promises their populist parties campaigned on.

The 53-year-old academic also inherited a daunting list of issues from his predecessor Paolo Gentiloni, including the financial travails of companies such as Ilva and Alitalia, a Group of Seven summit in Canada and a key EU summit at the end of the month, as well as the thorny question of immigration. Immigration is the bugbear of Conte’s interior minister, Salvini, the 45-year-old leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam League. Salvini announced Friday that he would visit Sicily to see the situation for himself at one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East. “The good times for illegals is over – get ready to pack your bags,” Salvini said at a rally in Italy’s north on Saturday, adding however that he wants to economically assist migrants’ countries of origin.

His comments come after more than 150 migrants, including nine children, disembarked from a rescue ship late Friday in Sicily. Conte attended a military parade alongside President Sergio Mattarella on Saturday, marking Republic Day for the foundation of the Italian Republic in 1946. However the new prime minister has issued few public statements since being appointed. On Saturday he did post on Facebook that he had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron and would meet the two leaders at the G7 summit, where he will be a “spokesman for the interests of Italian citizens”. Conte has also opted to keep the country’s intelligence services under his personal control.

Deputy premier Di Maio, who is serving as economic development minister, also took to Facebook, calling for “entrepreneurs to be left alone”. “Employers and employees in Italy must not be enemies,” he said, promising “I will not disappoint you”. On Saturday evening Five Star held a rally in the centre of Rome with thousands of supporters and all its ministers to celebrate “the government of change”. Di Maio told the crowd that “from today, the state is us”. Five Star’s founder, former comic Beppe Grillo, rang a bell in front of the crowd, saying the sound “marks the fracture between a world that is going away and a new one that is arriving”.

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Right. Sure.

Juncker: EU Won’t ‘Meddle’ In Italy’s Affairs (O.)

Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, has a public debt second only to Greece’s and there was a negative reaction from the financial markets to the League-M5S coalition, which plans to significantly raise public spending. Juncker offered a more placatory tone, suggesting that Brussels and Berlin had learned the lessons of the Greek crisis. He also denied that the eurozone was set on a course for another economic downturn: “The Italians cannot really complain about austerity measures from Brussels. However, I do not now want to lecture Rome. We must treat Italy with respect. Too many lectures were given to Greece in the past, in particular from German-speaking countries. This dealt a blow to the dignity of the Greek people. The same thing must not be allowed to happen to Italy.”

Juncker said that the financial markets’ reaction was “irrational”: “People should not draw political conclusions from every fluctuation in the stock market. Investors have been wrong on so many occasions.” Neither of the coalition parties in the new Italian government campaigned on leaving the euro or the EU, but both have backed such calls in the past and are scathing about the rules that underpin the eurozone. Mujtaba Rahman, a former European commission and UK Treasury official who now works for consultancy the Eurasia Group, warned that as the cornerstone of the coalition government’s platform was fiscal expansion, it was liable to clash with the commission this autumn.

“Though no official estimates have been produced, independent estimates suggest the proposed measures would cost, combined, upwards of €100bn per annum, around 6% of GDP.“If the government were to propose a very expansionary budget, the commission – which provides its opinions and recommendations on member states’ draft budgetary plans – would have to reject it in September. This would be a first, and would set the stage for a real confrontation with Rome,” he said. “A significant deviation from EU-mandated fiscal targets may prompt the commission to open a new Excessive Deficit Procedure, a process designed to give the EU more power to enforce austerity on Rome. Yet the symbolism of this move would only strengthen the Italian government’s domestic standing.”

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Poker player?!

Political Bruiser Sánchez Stuns Spain To Become PM (Spain Report)

Forget about what the new socialist government’s policies are going to be, because no one really knows yet. Forget about who the new ministers are going to be, because no one really knows yet. And forget about how long this government is going to last. No one has a clue right now. What is worthy of note is how Pedro Sánchez has just crushed all of his political opponents in a week. Last Friday, the PSOE had slowly slumped to less than 20% in the polls and he was being written off by columnists and commentators. This Saturday, he will be driven to Zarzuela Palace to be sworn in as the new socialist Prime Minister of Spain [..]

Mr. Rajoy is likely not the only political leader who needs a stiff drink this weekend. Pedro Sánchez has just left Pablo Iglesias—who nine days ago thought his biggest problem was an absurd internal ballot about his new luxury home—sitting in the dust in the fight for the Spanish left. Two years ago, with the sudden appearance and meteoric rise of Podemos, Mr. Iglesias’s stated strategic goal was not to win the election but to dominate the Spanish left. He just lost that race. Pedro Sánchez has just left Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera rabbiting on incessantly about wanting a new general election instead of the socialists “unfairly” grabbing power, because Mr. Rivera is—or was—doing rather better in the polls than the rest.

But rabbit on is all he can do for now because, just like nine days ago, in the real world Ciudadanos still only has 32 seats in Congress. And Pedro Sánchez has just left the powerful leader of the Socialist Party in Andalusia, Susana Diaz, well, in Andalusia. This might be the sweetest victory of all for the new Prime Minister, because it was she who wielded her considerable internal and establishment influence in October 2016 to oust Mr. Sánchez as leader of the PSOE, allowing Mariano Rajoy to be reappointed Prime Minister after a year of national stalemate unbroken by two general elections.

Again: Pedro Sánchez, written off by some as being too handsome to have any interesting ideas, has, somewhere along the way, learnt to execute political hit jobs that have left all of his major political opponents staggering, and sent what was a confident conservative party that had only just passed a new budget—two days previously—scurrying into opposition, wounded. In a week. Whatever happens next in Spanish politics, do not underestimate Pedro Sánchez.

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More division.

Europe: Confront Trump or Avoid a Costly Trade War (NYT)

Despite its name, the European Union is not generally a model of unity. If Mr. Trump was banking on internal division stymieing the European response, he picked an opportune moment. Britain is consumed with domestic sniping over its pending departure from the European Union, making it a bit player in these proceedings. Italy has been immersed in the operatic political drama at which it excels, only Friday swearing in a new government after inconclusive elections in March. The incoming government presents a coalition of two populist parties that have expressed disdain for the European Union and the shared euro currency, stoking fears that the bloc will be presented with a new challenge to its cohesion.

Spain just swapped governments. Germany is headed by a chastened chancellor Angela Merkel following her own lengthy struggles to form a government after elections last fall. The French president has been frustrated in his attempts to forge greater political unity within the bloc. “Europe is in disarray,” said Nicola Borri, a finance professor at Luiss, a university in Rome. “It’s even difficult to understand who is in power in Europe.” In deliberating how to respond to Mr. Trump’s tariffs, the key schism appears to run between Germany and the rest of the bloc. “I don’t think there is a unified consensus for how to deal with the Americans,” said Meredith Crowley, an expert on international trade at the University of Cambridge in England. “The Germans benefit from open markets globally, so they don’t want to throw up more barriers to free trade.”

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That’s quite the statement. What if Beijing said the same about the US?

US Wants Structural Changes To China’s Economy: Mnuchin

The United States wants trade talks in Beijing this weekend to result in structural changes to China’s economy, in addition to increased Chinese purchases of American goods, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrived in Beijing on Saturday with an interagency team of U.S. officials for talks on long-term purchases of U.S. farm and energy commodities, just days after Washington renewed its threats to impose tariffs on Chinese goods.

The purchases are partly aimed at shrinking the $375 billion U.S. goods trade deficit with China. Mnuchin, speaking at a G7 finance leaders meeting in Canada where he was the target of U.S. allies’ anger over steel and aluminum tariffs, said the China talks would cover other issues, including the Trump administration’s desire to eliminate Chinese joint venture requirements and other policies that effectively force technology transfers.

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It’s election time.

Uber’s ‘Business Is Finished’ In Turkey, Erdogan Says (R.)

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has said ride hailing app Uber is finished in Turkey, following pressure from Istanbul taxi drivers who said it was providing an illegal service and called for it to be banned. About 17,400 taxis operate in Istanbul, home to about a fifth of Turkey’s population of 81 million people, and since Uber entered the country in 2014 tensions have risen sharply. Erdogan’s statement came after new regulations were announced in recent weeks tightening transport licensing requirements, making it more difficult for drivers to register with Uber and threatening a two-year ban for violations.

“This thing called Uber emerged. That business is finished. That does not exist anymore,” he said in a speech in Istanbul late on Friday. “We have our taxi system. Where does this (Uber) come from? It is used in Europe, I do not care about that. We will decide by ourselves,” added Erdogan, who is running for re-election in three weeks. [..] Uber said that about 2,000 yellow cab drivers use its app to find customers, while another 5,000 work for UberXL, using large vans to transport groups to parties, or take people with bulky luggage to Istanbul’s airports.

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The Tories can’t wait to return to Dickens.

Britain’s Low-Paid Face Decade Of Wage Squeeze (O.)

The wages of 10 million low-paid workers have stalled for two decades and face pressure for a decade to come, according to a bleak assessment of Britain’s future jobs market. Global economic competition, automation, the shift to the gig economy and a widening regional divide will see further pressure placed on the incomes of those earning between £10,000 and £15,000, it warns. The analysis by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) thinktank, which is on the political right and chaired by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, also blamed a chronic national failure to boost skills and education. It will be seen as another warning to Theresa May from Conservative figures to kickstart her domestic agenda.

There have been concerns within the party that the focus on Brexit has led to inaction in other crucial areas that could hold Britain back after its exit from the European Union. The analysis, co-written by Boris Johnson’s former economic adviser and Brexit supporter Gerard Lyons, concludes that wages of those on the lowest salaries stalled long before the 2008 financial crash. It warns that the current evidence shows that most never escape a life on low pay. The centre’s support for action on low pay shows that it is now an issue of concern across the political spectrum, with automation expected to place further pressure on jobs in some low-paid sectors unless new skills and opportunities are developed.

The CSJ report states that 20% of Britain’s 33 million workers earn £15,000 a year or less, and that 50% earn no more than £23,200. Only 10% of employees, or about 3 million people, earn above £53,000 a year. Britain does not compare well with other developed nations when it comes to low pay, it states. Taking data from manufacturing, and giving the US a score of 100, Switzerland topped the table with a pay rate of 155, followed by Norway on 126, Germany on 111 and France on 97. However, the UK was much further behind, on 73.

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These people would be better off moving to Poland.

UK Universal Credit Change To Bar 2.6m Children From Free School Meals (Ind.)

Up to 2.6 million children whose parents are on benefits could be missing out on free school meals by 2022, the shadow education minister will warn. Angela Rayner will tell a GMB union conference on Sunday that the Government’s claims on school meals are “falling apart” after changes to eligibility under Universal Credit (UC). When the system was first introduced in 2013, all children of recipients – who were all unemployed – were eligible for free school meals (FSM), as they would have been under the old system. But in April the criteria was tightened based on income. In England, the net earnings threshold will be £7,400 whereas in Northern Ireland it will be £14,000.

A government technical note published in May said that if the change had not been made, “around half of all (state school) children would become eligible for FSM and the meals would no longer be targeted at those who need them the most”. It said that in 2017 around 1.1 million disadvantaged children were eligible and received a free school meal, some 14 per cent of all state-school pupils. But if the change had not been made the number of additional children who would have been eligible was between 2,300,000 and 2,600,000 by 2022.

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And that’s just one animal that we could see.

Whale Dies From Eating More Than 80 Plastic Bags (AFP)

A whale has died in southern Thailand after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags, with rescuers failing to nurse the mammal back to health. The small male pilot whale was found barely alive in a canal near the border with Malaysia, the country’s department of marine and coastal resources said. A veterinary team tried “to help stabilise its illness but finally the whale died” on Friday afternoon. An autopsy revealed 80 plastic bags weighing up to 8kg (18lb) in the creature’s stomach, the department added. People used buoys to keep the whale afloat after it was first spotted on Monday and an umbrella to shield it from the sun. The whale vomited up five bags during the rescue attempt.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist and lecturer at Kasetsart University, said the bags had made it impossible for the whale to eat any nutritional food. “If you have 80 plastic bags in your stomach, you die,” he said. Thailand is one of the world’s largest users of plastic bags. Thon said at least 300 marine animals including pilot whales, sea turtles and dolphins, perished each year in Thai waters after ingesting plastic. “It’s a huge problem,” he said. “We use a lot of plastic.” The pilot whale’s plight generated sympathy and anger among Thai netizens. “I feel sorry for the animal that didn’t do anything wrong, but has to bear the brunt of human actions,” wrote one Twitter user.

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Apr 222018
 
 April 22, 2018  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


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.

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“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.

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Jan 262018
 
 January 26, 2018  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Horacio Coppola Avenida Díaz Vélez al 4800, Buenos Aires 1952

 

Mario Draghi Slaps Down Steve Mnuchin Over Dollar Comments (Ind.)
Mueller Almost Done With Obstruction Part of Trump Probe (BBG)
Trump Denies Trying To Fire Mueller (BBC)
Flying Blind, Part 2: The Destruction Of Honest Price Discovery (Stockman)
China Chills (Mauldin)
Dear Elon: Tesla’s Base Is Not the Model S Coalition (Klippenstein)
Tory Civil War Erupts Over Brexit (Ind.)
Seven in 10 UK Workers Are ‘Chronically Broke’ (G.)
Rough Sleeping Is Now A Routine Sight In UK (G.)
Assange to Ask UK Court to Lift Arrest Warrant (BBG)
Turkish PM Disputes Greek Sovereignty, Tsipras Cites ‘Aggressive Neighbor’ (K.)
Majority Of Refugees Stranded On Aegean Islands To Stay In Greece (K.)
1.7 Billion-Year-Old Chunk Of Canada Found Stuck To Australia (Ind.)
Human Ancestors Left Africa Far Earlier Than Previously Thought (G.)
A Third Of Coral Reefs ‘Entangled With Plastic’ (BBC)

 

 

One Goldman alumni to another. And Trump repaired it somewhat, and then this morning the dollar falls again. Trump may address this in his speech today in Davos. Mnuchin never talked about anything but short term. Storm, teacup.

Mario Draghi Slaps Down Steve Mnuchin Over Dollar Comments (Ind.)

The President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has taken a sideswipe at the US Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, for endorsing a weaker dollar, emphasising deep concerns among central bankers over the economically destabilising impact of exchange rate swings. At the ECB’s regular conference Mr Draghi referred indirectly to the surprising comments at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday by Mr Mnuchin, who said “a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities.” These comments sent the dollar, which has been trending lower since early 2017, down still further. The dollar index, which measures the traded value of the greenback against a basket of other currencies, including sterling and the euro, hit a three-year low of 88.5.

Mr Draghi complained to reporters in Frankfurt that although exchange rate movements were “a fact of nature” reflecting economic fundamentals some recent volatility was caused by “someone else” – a clear reference to Mr Mnuchin – whose “use of language…doesn’t reflect the terms of reference that have been agreed.” Mr Draghi cited an IMF communique from last year, signed by the US, which said: “We will refrain from competitive devaluations, and will not target our exchange rates for competitive purposes”. Asked directly by journalists whether the ECB Council had been concerned by the Treasury Secretary’s comments Mr Draghi answered in the affirmative. “Several members of the Council expressed concern, and this concern was also in a sense was broader than simply the exchange rate, it was about the overall status of international relations right now,” he said.

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Objection, your honor. Leading.

Mueller Almost Done With Obstruction Part of Trump Probe (BBG)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is moving at a far faster pace than previously known and appears to be wrapping up at least one key part of his investigation – whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice, according to current and former U.S. officials. Mueller has quietly moved closer to those around Trump by interviewing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey in recent weeks, officials said. His team has also interviewed CIA Director Mike Pompeo, NBC News reported. Those high-level officials all have some degree of knowledge about events surrounding Trump’s decisions to fire Comey and Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser.

“Clearly the names that are coming out now indicate that we’re into the obstruction of justice side of it,” said Stanley Twardy, a former U.S. attorney for Connecticut who’s now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer. “He’s now getting people who are closest to the president, closest to the issues.” Next, Mueller is expected to schedule an interview with Trump in coming weeks to discuss those events, according to a person familiar with the matter. “I’m looking forward to it,” Trump said of a meeting with Mueller, which he suggested may happen in about two to three weeks. He told reporters at the White House Wednesday that “I would love to do it” and “I would do it under oath” even though his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton wasn’t sworn in when she was interviewed in 2016 over her use of private emails as secretary of state.

Even if Mueller wraps up the obstruction probe, other elements of his investigation – such as whether Trump or anyone close to him helped Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential election or broke any other laws — are likely to continue for months more, said two officials who asked to remain anonymous speaking about the probe.

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New York Times based on anonymous sources as usual.

Trump Denies Trying To Fire Mueller (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has described as “fake news” a report that he ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but backed down when his own lawyer threatened to resign. White House counsel Donald McGahn said the sacking would have a “catastrophic effect” on the presidency, the New York Times reported. Mr Mueller is leading an inquiry into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia to influence the US election. Both Moscow and Mr Trump deny this. “Fake News. Typical New York Times. Fake Stories,” Mr Trump said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos, where he is due to give a speech later.

He has also been speaking about other issues: • Russian news agency Tass quoted Mr Trump as saying he “hoped” for more dialogue between the US and Russia • White House officials said Mr Trump was open to rejoining the Paris climate change agreement, if better terms for the US could be agreed • Mr Trump will say in his speech that he is in favour of “fair and reciprocal” free trade but will not tolerate trade abuses and intellectual property theft, according to US officials
Mr Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed special counsel last May to look into the collusion allegations.

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Nobody acknowledges the importance of price discovery anymore. Without which there are no functioning markets. How fast people forget.

Flying Blind, Part 2: The Destruction Of Honest Price Discovery (Stockman)

[..] the real economic iniquity of central bank driven Bubble Finance is that it destroys all the pricing signals that are essential to financial discipline on both ends of the Acela Corridor. And as quaint at it may sound, discipline is the sine qua non of long-term stability and sustainable gains in productivity, living standards and real wealth. The pols of the Imperial City should be petrified, therefore, by the prospect of borrowing $1.2 trillion during the upcoming fiscal year (FY 2019) at a rate of 6.0% of GDP during month #111 through month #123 of the business expansion; and doing so at the very time the central bank is pivoting to an unprecedented spell of QT (quantitative tightening), involving the disgorgement of up to $2 trillion of its elephantine balance sheet back into the bond market.

Even as a matter of economics 101, the forthcoming $1.8 trillion of combined bond supply from the sales of the US Treasury ($1.2 trillion) and the QT-disgorgement of the Fed ($600 billion) is self-evidently enough to monkey-hammer the existing supply/demand balances, and thereby send yields soaring. But that’s barely the half of it. All the laws of economics, which are now being insouciantly ignored by the stock market revilers, are also time and place bound. That is to say, deficit finance in a muscle-bound Welfare State/Warfare State democracy like the US is always a questionable idea. After all, it is virtually guaranteed based on the budgetary doomsday forces now at work that by 2030 the public debt will approach $40 trillion compared to the $930 billion level where it stood when the Gipper took office in January 1981. In a half century, therefore, the GDP – swollen by inflation notwithstanding – will have grown by 8.5X versus a 43X eruption of the debt.

[..] At the present time, the S&P 500 is trading at the absurd multiple of 26.3X what are estimated to be reported profits for 2017. Yet the sell-side stock peddlers say not to worry because the one-year forward multiple on ex-items earnings is still only in the high teens. So what! The business cycle has not been outlawed and this one has at best a few quarters or even a year or two to go. So forward earnings are irrelevant nonsense. They are an interim place holder before the 30% to 50% hit to profits happens when the US economy finally experiences its next rendezvous with recession. The very idea that you would value the market based on a timeless forward PE multiple is complete baloney, of course. Yet that’s exactly where the Fed’s drastic financial repression and destruction of honest price discovery has led.

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That is one graph.

China Chills (Mauldin)

People have been predicting Chinese real estate crashes for years. Eventually they will be right. Is that time approaching? Here’s the lead from a January 16 Wall Street Journal story, “China’s Hot Housing Market Begins to Cool.” “BEIJING—China’s housing market has defied gravity and government restraints for two years, floating on a tide of bank loans and speculation. Until now. In Beijing and Shanghai – two of the country’s largest markets – and other megacities, sales have stalled and prices have dropped, falling slightly in some pockets and dramatically in others. Demand has dried up in these areas as a result of government measures including higher mortgage rates, higher down-payment requirements and limits on buying a second or third home. Would-be sellers are increasingly putting plans on hold in hope that prices will rebound.” That doesn’t sound good at all. WSJ backs up the gloomy language with data, though:

Some of this shake-out is happening by design as the government tries to manage growth on a sustainable path. The picture also varies greatly by city and region. Beijing and Shanghai are China’s equivalents of Washington and New York – except that they are much, much larger. What happens to them affects the whole country to some degree – and other countries, too. By some estimates, China’s property market accounts for a third of GDP growth. Falling construction activity will mean less need to import construction materials from Australia – and maybe fewer Chinese buyers in Canada. Falling demand won’t be good for housing prices in either of those places.

Then there are wild cards. President Trump has so far held back on promises to crack down on trade with China, in part because he wants Beijing’s help managing the North Korea issue. I doubt he will wait forever. He has a lot of latitude to impose tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions on China. Ironically, a peaceful resolution on the Korean Peninsula might be economically negative if it removes a barrier to trade war.

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Bunch of hipsters.

Dear Elon: Tesla’s Base Is Not the Model S Coalition (Klippenstein)

Losing the Obama coalition cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency in 2016; her base wasn’t big enough to bring success. Losing the Model S coalition could cost Elon Musk his own dreams, because his base isn’t big enough on its own, either. The Model S coalition of technophiles (techies) and progressives gave Tesla a strong tailwind when the vehicle launched. Techies formed the base, while progressives were the balance of the coalition. But while they came together for the Model S to strike a blow against Big Oil, these two groups aren’t natural allies.

We can see the rift growing in real time: while techies continue to celebrate Amazon, Uber, and Silicon Valley in general, there’s an escalating progressive backlash against labor conditions at warehouse distribution centres, more and more and more and more evidence of Uber’s culture of toxic lawlessness, and the obscene excesses of startup culture (which include a Dickensian digital class divide, possibly-endemic sexism, predatory sex parties and entitlement complexes worthy of the sons of Trump — and that’s only the stuff we know about so far).

The difference between the groups is aptly captured in the 2015 Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle study conducted by Simon Fraser University in Canada (webpage here, full report here, executive summary here).

Figure 23 from the SFU Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study 2015

The chart above shows the results of a study of Volt, Leaf, and Model S early adopters who were asked what images would be attributed to their vehicles. This tells us something about the buyers, because consumers purchase products whose so-called “symbolic benefits” (the brand, basically) match their own self-image, values, interests, and aspirations.

Volt and Leaf owners (yellow and green bars, respectively) are pretty similar, except when it comes to thinking their vehicle is attractive or sporty — the styling of the Leaf 1.0 is, shall we say, an acquired taste! Joking aside, this tells us that first-generation Leaf 1.0 buyers, like first-generation Prius buyers before them, really didn’t care about style. These people, and others of like mind, form the progressive coalition. The Tesla early adopters are different in two categories, and extremely different in four, suggesting that Tesla buyers have different motivations than Volt and Leaf owners. Tesla’s “tribe” wants status goods – which for automobiles means something sporty, exotic, powerful, and successful. They’re Tesla’s techie base.

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As if that is the most important thing as the ship sinks.

Tory Civil War Erupts Over Brexit (Ind.)

A fresh outbreak of Tory infighting is threatening Theresa May’s leadership after Philip Hammond vowed to keep Britain interlocked with the EU – while hard Brexit supporters staged an open revolt. The Prime Minister was accused of “losing control of the Brexit process” as the two wings of her party fought over her withdrawal policy, which Eurosceptics increasingly see as a sellout. In Davos, the Chancellor inflamed tensions with a dramatic call for only “very modest” changes to the UK’s trading rules with the EU, setting out the risks of trying to break free. He went out of his way to praise the plea by the CBI employers’ organisation for the “closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK post-Brexit” – days after it called for permanent membership of the customs union.

Britain must not agree to anything that “throws away all the benefits we have of the complete alignment of our regulatory systems, the complete integration of our economies”, Mr Hammond said. He later sought to clarify his remarks by saying “for anyone concerned” that the UK would be outside the customs union and single market “which clearly represents change”. But, in a major speech, Jacob Rees-Mogg put himself at the head of a growing Brexiteer revolt. The Government was accused of planning to leave the UK “shackled to the EU” and of putting the free-trade benefits of Brexit “at risk”. “The British people did not vote for that. They did not vote for the management of decline,” Mr Rees-Mogg told an audience in Hampshire. “They voted for hope and opportunity and politicians must now deliver it.

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Uk and US have much in common.

Seven in 10 UK Workers Are ‘Chronically Broke’ (G.)

Economic insecurity has become the “new normal” in the UK with at least 70% of the UK’s working population “chronically broke”, according to a study by the thinktank the Royal Society of Arts. Thriving, striving or just about surviving, the RSA/Populus survey of more than 2,000 workers, found that while about 30% of respondents said they lived comfortably, 40% said their finances were permanently precarious. The remaining 30% said they were not managing to get by. “Economic insecurity now stretches right throughout our labour market, including within jobs that appear safe on the surface,” said Brhmie Balaram, the author of the report and a senior researcher at the RSA.

According to the report, 32% of the UK’s workers have less than £500 in savings and 41% have less than £1,000. Almost 30% are concerned about their level of debt while 43% of workers do not have anyone in their household they could depend on to support them financially in the event of hardship. Fewer than half of employees (44%) feel they have progressed in their careers over the last five years; only 40% feel they have good opportunities to progress in future. “From retail workers to warehouse operatives, and from care workers to cleaners, we are beginning to uncover the hidden millions who are chronically broke year in, year out,” said Balaram. “The real danger for this group of workers is a childcare bill unpaid and yet another rent rise around the corner.”

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Anyone want to argue the UK is NOT a class society?

Rough Sleeping Is Now A Routine Sight In UK (G.)

Rough sleeping in the north London borough of Camden has increased by 647%, according to government figures released on Thursday. The huge rise is accounted for in part by an official underestimate of the problem last year, but no one who lives here will be surprised to see it confirmed that there has been a sharp jump in the numbers of people sleeping on the streets. Camden reported the largest increase in rough sleeping of any area in England, from 17 rough sleepers in 2016 (an optimistic estimate) to 127 counted this year. Ten years ago there were almost no rough sleepers in Camden. So what’s gone wrong? The Labour-run council says it’s clear that cuts are to blame. Councillor Nadia Shah said: “Rough sleeping in Camden is now at unprecedented levels. This is an appalling situation made worse by the politics of austerity that have led to cuts in services across the country.”

Nationally, welfare reform and cuts to benefits have increased financial insecurity, while soaring rents and reductions in the permitted housing benefit payments have left many people with an impossible gap between rent owing and income. On top of this, changes to the way housing benefit is paid have increasingly meant money no longer goes straight to the landlord but to the tenant, which has led to a sharp rise in arrears and evictions. Huge pressure on mental health services means vulnerable people are not getting the support they need. Drug and alcohol addiction services are struggling financially. Reductions to local authority budgets mean Camden’s funding from central government will have fallen by half between 2010 and 2020. In 2019-20 the council is forecast to receive £106m, down from the £241m received in 2010-11.

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How political is the British court system?

Assange to Ask UK Court to Lift Arrest Warrant (BBG)

After more than five years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange will ask a U.K. court to lift his arrest warrant. A one-day hearing will take place at Westminster Magistrates court and a ruling is scheduled to be issued Friday, according to a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service. Assange, 46, has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since evading deportation in a Swedish sexual assault probe. It’s “theoretically possible” that Assange could be released Friday, the CPS spokesman said. Assange and WikiLeaks have become famous over the past decade for disclosing confidential documents about the U.S. government and politics. In 2016, WikiLeaks injected itself into the middle of the U.S. presidential race by publishing hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Assange is asking the court to lift the warrant about eight months after Swedish prosecutors dropped the underlying rape probe, saying that his steps to evade questioning made it impossible to pursue the case. Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012, after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avoid extradition over the allegations stemming from a 2010 trip to Sweden. He refused to return to the Scandinavian country, citing risks he would be extradited to the U.S. London police say that warrant is still in force unless lifted by court. “Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court” in 2012, the police said in an emailed statement. “The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy.”

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Last time they were on the brink of war was 1996. Never far away.

Turkish PM Disputes Greek Sovereignty, Tsipras Cites ‘Aggressive Neighbor’ (K.)

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has again disputed Greece’s sovereignty over parts of the Aegean Sea, while accusing Athens of building up bilateral tension while Ankara is busy fighting what he described as “terrorism” in its wider region. In comments made to local media on Wednesday, Yildirim accused Athens of pursuing a repeat of the 1996 Imia crisis, when the two countries came to the brink of war over ownership of the uninhabited Aegean islets, adding that such an attempt “will not go down well” in Ankara. “In case something similar occurs, there are always means at Turkey’s disposal to defend itself. Let there be no qualms about that,” he said. Turkey disputes Greece’s territorial sovereignty over the rocky formations, known in Turkish as Kardak, on the basis of its “gray zones” theory.

Last week, a Turkish patrol boat conducting a dangerous maneuver bumped into a Hellenic Navy gunboat near Imia. No damage was reported from the contact. Meanwhile, notwithstanding Turkey’s ongoing air and ground operation in the Afrin region of northern Syria aimed at fighting Syrian Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants, violations of Greek air space by Turkish fighter jets continue, if at a lower rate. A mock dogfight between Greek and Turkish F-16s took place northwest of Lesvos island on Wednesday at 2.35 p.m. The issue of Turkey’s provocations was raised on Wednesday by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, described Turkey as an “aggressive neighbor, sometimes unpredictable with an aggressive military activity in the Aegean.” “For somebody, it is very easy to be also aggressive if they are living in Luxembourg or Netherlands, because their neighbors are Belgium and Luxembourg, and not Turkey. But it’s not so easy for us,” he said in English.

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In a bankrupt country. Greece should demand hundreds of billions from the EU to handle this.

Majority Of Refugees Stranded On Aegean Islands To Stay In Greece (K.)

The majority of migrants and refugees who have landed on the Aegean islands since the March 2016 deal signed between the European Union and Ankara will remain in Greece as conditions for their return to Turkey are considered “not safe,” according to data from the country’s Asylum Service. According to the data, authorities have processed 25,814 applications for asylum submitted by individuals stuck at island screening centers, or hotspots. Authorities have rejected 5,437 of those claims and, under the terms of the deal, the applicants should be returned to Turkey. However, only around 1,400 of that number have been returned so far. Meanwhile, 20,337 people have received permission to move to the Greek mainland. They will move to the next stage of their asylum process, provided that they are not enlisted in a European relocation schemes. A total of 21,726 mostly Syrian refugees were relocated from Greece to other EU member-states under a program which was completed in 2017.

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Sometimes a headline is enough.

1.7 Billion-Year-Old Chunk Of Canada Found Stuck To Australia (Ind.)

A chunk of what is now Canada broke away from the rest of North America and collided with Australia around 1.7 billion years ago, according to a new study. A team of geologists examining rocks found in northern Queensland concluded some of them did not appear to have originated in Australia, and had characteristics more common among those found in Canada. They say the discovery indicates the region surrounding present-day Georgetown in northern Queensland broke apart from the continent of North America during its early formation and smashed into what is now known as Australia. “Our research shows that about 1.7 billion years ago, Georgetown rocks were deposited into a shallow sea when the region was part of North America,” said Adam Nordsvan, a PhD student at Curtin University, who led the study published in the journal Geology.

“Georgetown then broke away from North America and collided with the Mount Isa region of northern Australia around 100 million years later.” The discovery provides scientists with new evidence about the formation of the ancient supercontinent, Nuna – a land mass made up of many of the continents we know today. Over millennia, the Earth’s continents have slowly moved around, reorganising themselves into different combinations, and Mr Nordsvan and his collaborators are trying to understand some of these ancient movements. “This was a critical part of global continental reorganisation when almost all continents on Earth assembled to form the supercontinent called Nuna,” said Mr Nordsvan. Nuna existed long before the more well-known supercontinent of Pangaea, which was formed around 335 million years ago.

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We have no idea of our own history.

Human Ancestors Left Africa Far Earlier Than Previously Thought (G.)

A prehistoric jawbone discovered in a cave in Israel has prompted scientists to rethink theories of how the earliest human pioneers came to populate the planet, suggesting that our ancestors left Africa far earlier than previously thought. The fossil, dated to nearly 200,000 years ago, is almost twice as old as any previous Homo sapiens remains discovered outside Africa, where our species is thought to have originated. Until recently, several converging lines of evidence – from fossils, genetics and archaeology – suggested that modern humans first dispersed from Africa into Eurasia about 60,000 years ago, quickly supplanting other early human species, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, that they may have encountered along the way. However, a series of recent discoveries, including a trove of 100,000 year-old human teeth found in a cave in China, have clouded this straightforward narrative.

And the latest find, at the Misliya cave site in northern Israel, has added a new and unexpected twist. “What Misliya tells us is that modern humans left Africa not 100,000 years ago, but 200,000 years ago,” said Prof Israel Hershkovitz, who led the work at Tel Aviv University. “This is a revolution in the way we understand the evolution of our own species.” The find suggests that there were multiple waves of migration across Europe and Asia and could also mean that modern humans in the Middle East were mingling, and possibly mating, with other human species for tens of thousands of years. “Misliya breaks the mould of existing scenarios for the timing of the first known Homo sapiens in these regions,” said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. “It’s important in removing a long-lasting constraint on our thinking.”

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Plastic carrying disease.

A Third Of Coral Reefs ‘Entangled With Plastic’ (BBC)

Plastic is one of the biggest threats to the future of coral reefs after ocean warming, say scientists. More than 11 billion items of plastic were found on a third of coral reefs surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region. This figure is predicted to increase to more than 15 billion by 2025. Plastic raises by 20-fold the risk of disease outbreaks on coral reefs, according to research. Plastic bags, bottles and rice sacks were among the items found. “Plastic is one of the biggest threats in the ocean at the moment, I would say, apart from climate change,” said Dr Joleah Lamb of Cornell University in Ithaca, US. “It’s sad how many pieces of plastic there are in the coral reefs …if we can start targeting those big polluters of plastic, hopefully we can start reducing the amount that is going on to these reefs.”

More than 275 million people rely on coral reefs for food, coastal protection, tourism income, and cultural importance. It’s thought that plastic allows diseases that prey on the marine invertebrates that make-up coral reefs to flourish. Branching or finger-like forms of corals are most likely to get entangled in plastic debris. These are important habitats for fish and fisheries, the scientists say. “A lot of times we come across big rice sacks or draping plastic bags,” said Dr Lamb, who led the study. “What we do find is these corals with a lot of complexity like branches and finger-like corals will become eight times more likely to be entangled in these types of plastics.” In the study, published in the journal Science, international researchers surveyed more than 150 reefs from four countries in the Asia-Pacific region between 2011 and 2014.

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Jan 252018
 
 January 25, 2018  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Grete Stern Sueño No. 27: No destiñe con el agua 1951

 

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)
A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)
Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)
Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)
IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)
Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)
Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)
Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)
Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)
How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)
Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)
We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)
Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)
Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)
Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)
Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

 

 

Winning bigly. Triumphant talk of the town in Davos. Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein are on board. “They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.” How long will it last?

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)

President Donald Trump has a familiar message for the global elites populating the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: You were wrong. A year ago, some Davos participants predicted Trump’s protectionist rhetoric would lead to sluggish economic growth and lackluster stock market gains. It didn’t. And the president isn’t about to let that go unnoticed. Trump will arrive at the conference Thursday, joining a large delegation of U.S. officials already there, where he’s expected to boast about U.S. economic performance during his first year in office – unemployment down, the stock market up, robust growth. He’ll also seek to persuade the Davos audience in a major speech on Friday that his populist, “America First” policies can co-exist with globalism.

The president said on Twitter that he plans “to tell the world how great America is” and that “our economy is now booming and with all I am doing, will only get better.” “He wants to shatter the myth that he is only an ‘America First’ president,” said Anthony Scaramucci, the financier who was briefly Trump’s communications director and still informally advises the president. “That’s not the case. He is a globalist. He has a duality to his personality. He’s here to disrupt things, which he does a reasonably good to great job of.” The Swiss mountainside gathering of bankers, corporate chiefs and academics isn’t exactly Trump’s scene, and his administration deliberately spurned the conference prior to his inauguration last year. But now, chief executives are warming up to the president after a year in which his administration began a major deregulation effort and won passage of a law that slashes the U.S. corporate tax rate.

“What I’m bulled up about is that policy makers are making good policy decisions in the U.S. about taxes, about proper regulatory reform,” JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in Davos. “I like a lot more stuff than I don’t like,” Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in an interview with CNBC. [..] Trump will host European executives on Thursday night to argue that the U.S. is a better place for businesses as a result of the tax overhaul and deregulation, his National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn, said Tuesday at a briefing. [..] Trump told reporters late Wednesday that he decided to go to Davos “to get them to bring back a lot of money. They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.”

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When does Beijing start to talk about currency manipulation.

A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. is open for business and welcomed a weaker dollar, saying that it would benefit the country. Speaking at a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday, he made a bid for investment into the U.S., saying the government was committed to growth of 3% or higher. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos, according to Bloomberg, adding that the currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

On the eve President Donald Trump’s arrival at the event, he said that the U.S. delegation to Davos was its largest ever. “(The) size of the delegation to Davos this year is testament to the scale of Trump’s work over the past year,” Mnuchin said. “What’s happening in the U.S. (is a) reflection of programs being put in place. As we look at U.S. growth, it continues to look quite good and is a very attractive place to invest,” he added. The dollar dipped slightly after his comments and hit a session low, with the dollar index slipping 0.47% for the day. The British pound climbed to a post-Brexit vote high shortly after 8:30 a.m. London time. Mnuchin iterated that his country is “absolutely” committed to free and fair trade, according to the Associated Press. He added that strong U.S. growth was good for the economy and that there was no inconsistency with Trump’s “America First” agenda, according to the news agency.

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Calculation: others lose more than the US does short term.

Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)

Speaking one’s mind can be dangerous, especially for the U.S. Treasury secretary. Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that a weaker dollar was good for his country. Textbook theory certainly supports his view that a depreciating currency is good for exporters. But the remarks are a break with what his predecessors have publicly asserted since 1995. If the greenback became a trade weapon it would be to the detriment of foreign holders of U.S. debt. Treasury secretaries since Robert Rubin have repeated the mantra that a strong dollar is in U.S. interests. That meant something when Rubin articulated it in 1995 with the aim of shoring up a weak dollar. But it has been used ad nauseam since then, both when the U.S. authorities were intervening in the currency markets to buy their currency and when they were selling it.

What qualified as strong is up for grabs. Since 1995, an index of the dollar’s value against a basket of other major currencies has risen as high as 121 and then fallen more than 40% without the wording being questioned or amended. The maxim has served its purpose, though, by reassuring investors and other countries that the United States would not try to talk its currency down to win a trade advantage. Little wonder then that the dollar index, which has been on a losing streak since the year started, hit a three-year low after Mnuchin’s comments. He probably had no intention of weakening the dollar and there is no evidence that President Donald Trump’s administration is about to embark on such a policy. The remarks do, however, reveal how focused U.S. policymakers are on domestic interests. From there, actually egging on such moves is only a small step.

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There’s no way to keep the reserve currency down, and there’s no alternative either, but they’ll take what they can get today.

Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)

U.S. presidents and Treasury secretaries have a long tradition of declaring their allegiance to a strong dollar policy in public remarks, even if privately many welcomed a softer dollar to boost U.S. exports and reduce trade deficits. If the U.S. is publicly supporting a weak dollar while also imposing tariffs on foreign imports — as the Trump administration did this week — it could invite retaliation from other countries, potentially sparking both currency and trade wars, economists say. “It’s remarkable, really, this kind of bomb-throwing from Mnuchin on the dollar the same week they slap on tariffs,” said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics, referring to action this week by the Trump White House to impose tariffs on some imported solar panels and washing machines. “The problem with this is it just invites retaliation. This is not a friendly action.”

A weaker U.S. dollar, while potentially a boost for exports, makes many foreign consumer goods more expensive for Americans to buy. That could hit lower-income consumers the hardest, including less well-off voters in Trump’s political base. Retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports could also hurt domestic manufacturers. The concept of a public strong-dollar policy dates back at least three administrations to when Lloyd Bentsen and Robert Rubin served as Treasury secretaries under President Bill Clinton. The general approach reflects the belief that a stronger dollar improves the value of U.S. Treasury bonds, equities and other dollar-denominated assets and gives Americans more purchasing power. It also generally reflects an improving U.S. economy.

“I have been consistent in saying, as my predecessors have said, that a strong dollar is good for the United States. If you look at the U.S. economy right now, the truth is our economy is performing quite well,” then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in January 2015, echoing the regular public refrain of U.S. officials. Mnuchin did nod to this tradition in his Davos comments after remarking on the benefits of a weaker dollar. “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

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She must appear impartial. But this of course is utter crap: “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets..”. There are no markets. There’s only central banks.

IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde suggested that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin may wish to explain his comments in which he appeared to back a weak dollar, adding that U.S. tax cuts will probably cause the world’s reserve currency to rally. “I really hope that Secretary Mnuchin has a chance to clarify exactly what he said,” Lagarde said in Bloomberg TV interview with Francine Lacqua and Tom Keene in Davos, Switzerland. “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets and geared by the fundamentals of U.S. policy.” The dollar slid to the lowest since December 2014 on Thursday, a day after Mnuchin’s endorsement of a weaker greenback at the WEF. The euro also climbed to its strongest against the dollar since 2014. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos.

The currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” Losses for the greenback have mounted since U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration a year ago, with the currency weakening against every Group-of-10 peer. Lagarde reiterated the IMF’s view, presented in its World Economic Outlook this week, that the U.S. tax reform is likely to lead to dollar’s strengthening in the medium term. For many market analysts, Mnuchin’s comments represent a stark break from previous U.S. administrations and could provoke pushback from other regions before too long. “This is a further break away from the ‘strong USD’ mantra launched in the mid-1990s by Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Rubin and adhered to by subsequent Treasury leaders,” wrote Credit Agricole CIB strategists led by Valentin Marinov in a note to clients. “Inevitably, the Administration’s vocal preference for a weak dollar is likely to raise the risk of global currency wars.”

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A carrot for the Democrats. They’ll take it.

Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)

Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would support a plan that offered a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, as part of a broader immigration package that the White House is expected to unveil next week. Trump made the comments to a group of reporters assembled for a briefing on the president’s immigration plan before he departs to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. According to the Associated Press, Trump said he would be open to allowing certain immigrants to become citizens after “10 or 12 years”. Trump told reporters he would allow the Dreamers to “morph into” citizens over a period of time.

“Whatever they’re doing, if they do a great job, I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive, of after a period of years, being able to become a citizen.” Lindsey Graham, one of the Republican Senators deeply involved in the negotiations over immigration, called Trump’s statement “a major breakthrough”. “I truly appreciate President Trump making it clear that he supports a path to citizenship for Daca recipients,” he said. “This will greatly help the Senate efforts to craft a proposal which President Trump can sign into law.” Trump had previously rejected the idea of citizenship for the young immigrants as “amnesty”. According to the AP, a senior White House official immediately clarified the remarks, telling reporters that a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers was only a “discussion point” in the plan that the White House would preview to Congress on Monday.

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He’s not bluffing.

Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)

Donald Trump said late Wednesday that he would be willing to speak to the special counsel office’s under oath, adding that he was “looking forward” to talking with Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, including alleged contacts with the Trump campaign. Speaking with reporters at the White House before he set out for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked about a potential interview with Mueller. “I’m looking forward to it,” he answered. “I would love to do it.” He added that the interview could occur in “two or three weeks”. Trump’s statement would seem to end months of speculation about whether the special counsel would interview the president, though he also said he would testify under oath last year. The president’s attorneys have met with their counterparts in the special counsel’s office.

Mueller’s team is tasked with investigating Russian meddling in the election, including hacks of Democratic party emails and contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and Russians. The special counsel’s office has charged Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort with money laundering and conspiracy, and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and one of his former foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, have each pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians. The special counsel’s office is also investigating potential obstruction of justice, and has questioned the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in part to discuss the president’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director. Also on Wednesday, Trump rejected criticism of his attacks on the Russia inquiry. “You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction,” Trump said. He added: “We’re going to find out” if he gets a fair shake from Robert Mueller. “There’s been no collusion whatsoever,” Trump said. “There’s no obstruction whatsoever.”

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For what it’s worth.

Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)

Weiss Ratings, which claims to offer the first “ratings” on cryptocurrencies, has judged ethereum to be better than bitcoin. The securities ratings agency announced Wednesday that it gave ethereum a B rating because it “benefits from more readily upgradable technology and better speed, despite some bottlenecks.” Bitcoin received a “fair” C+ rating because the digital currency is “encountering major network bottlenecks, causing delays and high transactions costs,” according to a release. “Despite intense ongoing efforts that are achieving some initial success, Bitcoin has no immediate mechanism for promptly upgrading its software code.” None of the 74 cryptocurrencies the agency covers received an “excellent” A rating. B-rated ethereum and digital currency EOS have the highest ratings.

That tough take is apparently a trademark of the 47-year-old independent financial ratings agency. Reports from Barron’s and The New York Times from 2002 and 1992, respectively, note Weiss’ lack of A ratings in coverage of insurance stocks, mutual funds and other securities. The Florida-based company usually flies under the radar in comparison to better-known agencies such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. Weiss says it does not accept compensation from the companies it rates for issuing the rating. Foreign cryptocurrency investors were apparently very worried that Weiss would issue negative ratings on digital currencies. The agency said in a release Wednesday that “staff was up all night last night fending off denial of service attacks from Korea” and cited Korean social media posts calling others to bring down the ratings agency’s website. The hackers then broke into the website, took information from it and are distorting it on social media, the company said.

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No, Beppe is not ‘gaffe-prone’. He built a formidable force, and he’s the first to recognize he’s too old to take the next step. M5S was always going to be movement by and for the young. Because they’re not yet corrupt.

Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)

Beppe Grillo, the bombastic comedian who co-founded Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has stepped aside in what some speculate could be a move to bolster the party’s chances before the general election on 4 March. Grillo, who has been instrumental in turning the movement into Italy’s most popular party, roared on to the political scene in 2009 after joining forces with the late web strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio to launch a blog that railed against political corruption. The blog struck a chord among an electorate weighed down by the economic crisis and fed up with the traditional political class, and became the driving force behind the movement’s phenomenal success in the 2013 elections, when it snatched the second-largest share of the votes.

But the blog has now removed most references to the party. The 69-year-old has started a new blog, which he said will focus on technology and visions for the future as part of an “extraordinary liberating adventure”. He added that while he “likes to have points of view” he is “fed up with opinions”. Quite what that means has left commentators guessing, but Grillo has been distancing himself from the party for some time. In 2015, just a year after the party made gains in the European elections, he announced that he was leaving politics and returning to comedy. As he toured comedy clubs, the gaffe-prone Grillo was thrust back into the spotlight a year later after taking a swipe at Sadiq Khan, saying the Muslim mayor of London would “blow himself up in front of Westminster”.

After that Grillo took more of a back seat, gradually grooming 31-year-old Luigi di Maio for the party’s leadership. Di Maio, who was elected leader in September and is the party’s candidate for prime minister, said on Tuesday night that the split did not mean “patricide” or “reneging on the past”. “The party is now moving forward on its own legs and getting stronger,” he said. The Five Star Movement is leading in opinion polls, ahead of the centre-left Democratic party, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League. Roberto d’Alimonte, a political science professor at Rome’s Luiss University, said: “Maybe [Grillo] wants to guarantee its survival and see how it will fly in his absence.”

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“..we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work.”

How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)

What’s in the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership deal for Australia? There’s no way to tell until we’ve seen the text, and we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work. After that, there’s still time to back out if we don’t want to ratify it, and there’s a precedent. All 12 would-be members signed up to the original Trans-Pacific Partnership in February 2016. Barack Obama found himself unable to get it through Congress and Donald Trump didn’t try. As best as we can tell, the new deal, TPP-11, is the old one with fewer bad bits. Twenty of the most contentious provisions included at the insistence of the US have been “suspended” until the US decides to join. They include enforced protections for the owners of pharmaceutical patents and extensions to copyright law.

There’s no guarantee they would come back if the US did decide to join. Each of the 11 other members would have to agree. Still in the agreement, although somewhat weakened, are the investor-state dispute settlement provisions insisted on by the US and Korea. They will allow private companies to sue national governments in extraterritorial tribunals, as Philip Morris did over Australia’s tobacco plain-packaging laws using the terms of an obscure Hong Kong investment agreement. John Howard successfully resisted having them in the US-Australia agreement and the Abbott government managed to avoid them in the Australia-Japan agreement, but we have apparently agreed to them now, for Japan, Korea and eight other nations. The upside is that our companies will also be able to sue governments.

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It’s time for Putin to tell Erdogan to back off.

Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation. Turkey’s air and ground operation in Syria’s Afrin region, now in its fifth day, targets U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara sees as allies of Kurdish insurgents who have fought in southeastern Turkey for decades. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would extend the operation to Manbij, a separate Kurdish-held enclave some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, possibly putting U.S. forces there at risk and threatening U.S. plans to stabilize a swath of Syria.

Speaking with Erdogan by telephone, Trump became the latest U.S. official to try to rein in the offensive and to pointedly flag the risk of the two allies’ forces coming into conflict. “He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.” The United States has around 2,000 troops in Syria. However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call. “President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.

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Get him out of there, to a safe place. Get him treatment. A society that persecutes its smartest and bravest cannot succeed.

We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has not stepped outside the heavily surveilled confines of the Ecuadorian embassy in London since he entered the building almost six years ago. Naturally, much of the media attention has focused on his international legal drama and threats to his safety, including arrest and possible extradition to the US. In contrast, ongoing violations of his human rights, including his fundamental right to healthcare in the context of his unusual confinement, have received less coverage. As clinicians with a combined experience of four decades caring for and about refugees and other traumatised populations, we recently spent 20 hours, over three days, performing a comprehensive physical and psychological evaluation of Mr Assange.

While the results of the evaluation are protected by doctor-patient confidentiality, it is our professional opinion that his continued confinement is dangerous physically and mentally to him, and a clear infringement of his human right to healthcare. Packing a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, and after being conspicuously photographed entering the embassy, we performed our examinations in a poorly ventilated conference room. The reason for examining Mr Assange in these conditions is that he has no access to proper medical facilities. Although it is possible for clinicians to visit him in the embassy, most doctors are reluctant to do so. Even for those who will see him, their capacity to provide care is limited. At the embassy, there are none of the diagnostic tests, treatments and procedures that we have concluded he needs urgently.

As clinicians, it is our ethical duty to advocate for the health and human rights of all people as promised under international law, and to call on our colleagues to hold our professional societies, institutions and governments accountable. In 2012, Ecuador, in accordance with its right as a sovereign state, formally determined that Mr Assange meets the requirements enshrined by the 1951 convention and 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. Regardless of the allegations against Mr Assange, he remains a citizen of Australia and a refugee, and, as the Guardian reported last week, he is now also a citizen of Ecuador.

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Trump should support Assange vs their common enemy.

Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)

At this juncture, it bears reminding that Jeff Bezos, the current owner of the Washington Post, has a $600 million contract with the CIA in relation to his monolithic company Amazon. The Nation wrote in 2013: “Amazon, under the Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, recently secured a $600 million contract from the CIA. That’s at least twice what Bezos paid for the Post this year. Bezos recently disclosed that the company’s Web-services business is building a “private cloud” for the CIA to use for its data needs. Critics charge that, at a minimum, the Post needs to disclose its CIA link whenever it reports on the agency. Over 15,000 have signed the petition this week hosted by RootsAction.” The Nation’s coverage of the CIA’s contract with Amazon has since been removed from their web page for unknown reasons, but is available through archive services.

When discussing The Washington Post’s exercise in gaslighting, it is important to keep the outlet’s well-documented financial connection with the CIA through Bezos in mind. In so doing, it is also pertinent to note that the CIA has made its hatred for Assange very clear, especially over the course of the last year. CIA Director Mike Pompeo put the agency’s hatred for Wikileaks were on full display as recently as yesterday, when the CIA Director lambasted the journalistic organization as a threat on par with Al Qaeda. Pompeo said of Al Qaeda and Wikileaks: “They don’t have a flag at the UN, but they represent real threats to the United States of America.” That a group who publishes information that is inconvenient for the CIA would be likened to a terrorist network speaks to the threat which Wikileaks represents not to the safety of the American public, but to the plutocratic class and the American deep state.

Pompeo is well known for his previous reference to Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” The Hill wrote of the incident: “In his first major public appearance since taking the top intelligence post in the Trump administration, Pompeo took aim at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden…” The Hill also cited Pompeo’s characterization of Assange as a: “fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen.” Pompeo’s vitriolic characterization of Wikileaks is helpful, because it demonstrates that the CIA’s response to Wikileaks is on par with the force with which terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda are pursued. In that light, the magnitude of the threat faced by Assange and Wikileaks associates cannot be over-estimated. Pompeo’s words are not only absurd in light of Wikileaks being an extremely accurate journalistic organization, but also depict the real impetus behind Assange having been trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy for years.

The CIA Director’s statements, even taken at face value, completely undercut the manipulative coverage of Wikileaks and Assange by outlets like the Washington Post. That providing evidence of corruption is considered an existential threat by the establishment is indicative of the value of Wikileaks to the public. The publisher is only a threat to those whose lies are exposed by their publications. The same plutocracy that has aggressively targeted Assange and Wikileaks has progressively strangled free press and freedom of thought in the United States and the world for decades.

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The zenith of EU cruelty: starve a gutted economy of investment. It’s how you guarantee it can’t ever recover.

Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)

Greece ended 2017 with a revenue shortfall of 719 million euros that was covered by the failure to implement budgeted investments of 1.57 billion euros, leading to a primary surplus of 1.94 billion euros. At the same time Greek taxpayers piled up more arrears to the state, with December witnessing an increase in the creation of new debts. The definitive data of the budget’s execution last year, issued on Wednesday by the Finance Ministry, showed that the primary surplus was far above the target, exceeding it by some 877 million euros. Public Investments Program spending was 800 million euros below target, depriving the economy of much-needed cash just as it is trying to recover.

The shortfall was particularly evident on the program’s EU co-funded side, which missed the target by 1.127 billion euros, while the national part of the program showed a 327-million-euro increase in investment. It is therefore no surprise that the economy is now seen to have grown by an even smaller rate than the revised estimate included in the 2018 budget. The 1.941-billion-euro primary surplus, if confirmed by Eurostat in April, will be added to the so-called cash buffer to be created ahead of the conclusion of the bailout program. The non-execution of public investments co-funded by the EU also had an impact on budget revenues, as inflows from Brussels were 1.213 billion euros short of the target.

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Those that have jobs, that is.

Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)

Greeks work the longest hours in Europe, while Germans clock the least hours, new data by the OECD reveal. The OECD includes 35 developed countries and some developing nations. The data were presented during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mexicans are shown to be the hardest workers in the world, as the average Mexican spends 2,255 hours working per year, the equivalent of around 43 hours per week. In Europe, Greeks work the longest hours, averaging 2,035 hours per year. Germans, on the other hand, work the least in Europe and the world, averaging only 1,363 hours per year. The differences between countries has to do with differences in work cultures, the OECD says.

For instance, Mexicans work the most hours because they have a fear of unemployment, while lax labor rules allow employers to break a 48-hour-week law. However, although South Koreans come third in hours worked per year, employees there aim to boost economic growth. The Japanese, who are stereotyped as working very long hours, in fact put in only 1,713 hours per year, below the OECD average. An important factor regarding hours of work is the level of productivity. According to the study, Germans work the least hours but manage to maintain high productivity levels. The average German worker is reported to be 27% more productive than their British counterparts who work 1,676 hours per year. The Dutch, French and Danes also work fewer than 1,500 hours per year on average, while Americans average 1,783 work hours per year.

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The easiest problem to solve, isn’t. So what hope is there then? If you must have plastic, and you rarely do really, make it compostable, edible. By next year, not 20-30 years from now.

Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

Plastic packaging waste is a huge problem around the world. Despite efforts in some European countries such as plastic bottle deposit schemes or having to pay for plastic bags in the supermarket, Statista’s Martin Armstrong notes that the average EU citizen creates 31kg of plastic waste per year. Eurostat figures show that the UK lies above this average, with its citizens responsible for 35kg of waste. The worst country by a long way though is Ireland. 61kg of packaging is thrown away by the average Irish person, 9kg more than the second most prolific country, Luxembourg. The least is created in Bulgaria where a more acceptable 14kg is disposed of over the year.

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