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 5:52 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Diego Velázquez The Spinners 1655-60

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Dec 182018
 


Titian The rape of Europe 1560-62

 

It took me a while to decide which word(s) best define the past year and the next one, but I think this is pretty much it. 2018 was chaotic more than anything else, and that chaos will give rise to mayhem in 2019.

What I think is striking is that this is true across the board, in all walks of life so to speak. In finance, in politics, in energy markets, in ecological matters, and perhaps most of all in the ways all these topics are being covered by what once were trusted media.

I’m going to have to come back to all these topics separately, so it’s promising to be a very busy holiday season, but it’s also good to try and put them together in one place, if only to show how interconnected everything is. And how futile it is to look at the economy without seeing its connection to energy flows and ecosystems. And vice versa.

 

In finance and economics, we’ve seen an avalanche of falling numbers recently, in stock prices, bond prices, housing, across the globe, and obviously that evokes a lot of comments in the financial press. But that press, and bankers investors on their own, still talk about markets.

However, as I wrote in April 2018, if there is no price discovery, and there isn’t, there ARE NO markets, and it would be good and beneficial if many more people absorb that simple reality. Many more so-called traders and investors would be a start, but by no means enough. Lots more people who have nothing to do with the ‘markets’ should understand why there is no such thing anymore.

As long as you limit it to stock and bond markets, it may appear fine that people don’t understand. But as soon as you acknowledge there are no housing markets either for the exact same reasons, the story changes considerably. Because then it becomes clear that all -former- markets, bar none, have been eviscerated by central bank policies that sought to prop up banks, often highly successfully so, which they knew could only happen at the expense of communities and societies.

We’ve ended up with scores of mom and pop ‘investors’ who own hugely overpriced stocks and homes, while their pensions funds hold zillions ‘worth’ of bonds and also increasingly stocks. The link between pensions and AAA-rate assets was pulverized in the process. That looks set to continue, and worsen, in 2019. But that may be just the look of things. Because there really are no markets, there is no price discovery.

What is still there is a lot of talk about whether the Fed -and other central banks- will raise rates further or not, or will stop or continue their asset buying schemes. Central banks are the only game in town, there are no markets, nobody knows what anything is really worth because the Fed etc. took the discovery process beyond their reach.

And now all those financial ‘subjects’ are sitting on all this stuff that only appears to have value, and that value hinges exclusively on what Draghi, Kuroda, Yellen and now Jay Powell have decided things are worth. And yes, it does make matters appear okay, but because they can’t do QE forever, all of those values will need to be re-assessed by actual markets once Powell et al. are either thrown out or decide for themselves to leave the arena.

It won’t be pretty, it will be devastating. It’s impossible to say if it will come to a head in 2019, because the Fed can lower rates a bit again after its recent rate hikes and prop up the zombie for longer. Then again Draghi can’t do that anymore since he’s already in negative rate territory, and while the euro could fall to parity with the USD as a consequence, there’s a limit to that too.

Anyway, more on that later.

 

Energy and ecology seem to become more intertwined as we go along, though that may well be a trompe oeil, trick of the eye. Still, if you see and read what people have to say about things like the big COP24 event in Katowice last week, it’s obvious that the 2nd law of Thermodynamics is a hard one to internalize. Because that law seems to say that the use of energy, period, produces waste, while all these mostly well-meaning folk are merely focusing on shifting between energy sources.

There is surprisingly little attention for not using energy in the first place, which the 2nd Law appears to stipulate is the only way to stop the rot. And it’s entirely feasible to build homes that use 70-80% less power to heat and cool, or to design a transport system in a city that saves that much energy.

But the ‘leaders’, politicians and business people, prefer to address solar panels and wind turbines that allow for the amount of energy used to fall only moderately, which when combined with the economic growth that nobody questions, will lead to the use of ever more energy.

And I get that, you need to shrink your present economies, and the models they’re based on, in order to save the planet. I’m not so much talking about climate change, since the earth is a system so complex we should really be very cautious about deriving any conclusions about it from simplified models, but the species extinction reported in 2018 is another, and more immediately convincing, story.

Still, conferences like COP24, or its predecessor COP21 which I wrote about 3 years ago in CON21, are not just entirely useless, they move everything backward that all the worried boys and girls are so worried about.

The movers and shakers of the world all owe their positions to the economies, and therefore the levels of energy use, that the worried people now want to move away from. And then they turn to the same movers and shakers to make that happen. Sorry, no can do. All you’ll get is lip service from people looking for money and power, who are not interested in being proved wrong if they are.

Today’s climate discussion is a road to nowhere where down the line there’ll be nobody left to talk to and no birds singing. You yourself probably won’t be there either. There is not one politician who will volunteer to give up their power if that could save the world their children will have to live in. They’ll come up with a story where their position is save and so is that world, and they’re more than likely to believe it.

 

As for the media, the tale gets darker fast. It didn’t start in 2018, but it did become a lot more outspoken. As I’ve said before, there are three targets for the former trusted sources of impartial news, even as those sources rapidly become more partial as we move forward. And that of course has to do with their new business model I wrote about a lot: writing negative stories about Donald Trump became an obvious source of revenue well before he was president.

Once he was elected, the media doubled down. They wrote against Trump at first thinking he would be beaten in the GOP primaries, then some more when he faced Hillary, then because they didn’t like him in the White House, and finally because he turned out to be the business proposition that quite literally kept them alive. What was it, over 100,000 new subscribers for the NYT a MONTH at a certain point?! Would CNN and Rachel Maddow even exist anymore without the Donald?

But that also means that the MSM cannot report anything positive about the man, with the exception of a bombing campaign in a faraway sandbox, and that is pretty crazy. No matter where you stand politically, not even Trump can do everything wrong, but CNN, MSNBC, WaPo,NYT et al can’t say it out loud, because their new readers and viewers want negative stories.

I’m not at all a Trump fan, I find it insane that America can’t find a single person among its 320 million inhabitants who could better represent it, but I also saw well over two years ago that the reporting on Trump was so biased someone had to restore at least some balance. And if that was to be me, so be it.

It’s like the entire US -and UK- press has become the National Enquirer, where the questions of truth or accuracy have become, and/or always was, a complete afterthought, irrelevant to whatever is actually published. And the readers and viewers caught inside the echo chamber will never know any better than that that is what the world really looks like.

It’s the ‘old’ media’s response to the threat of social media, a fight they cannot possibly win in the end, but not one they will relinquish easily; it will be the end of them. So there’s Trump, and then there’s Russia and Julian Assange. And there’s a live shooting practice going on in which all three are fair game.

According to two reports published just yesterday in the NY Times and the BBC, African Americans and French Yellow Vests were targeted by Russian bots, trolls, give them a name. What these once trusted media no longer understand, or don’t care about, is that they are effectively saying that African Americans and Yellow Vests are all so stupid and so unconvinced and unconvincing in their political convictions that a bunch of poorly defined Russians made them throw their votes away from Hillary Clinton and towards Trump.

Like African Americans have no opinions and therefore in the end no functioning brains. Like their f*king robots, some inferior lifeform. Is there anything you can say that is more racist than that? I come up empty. And I understand Kanye.

And that the ‘Russians’ caused tens of thousands of Frenchmen and -women to put on a yellow vest and protest Macron’s dismantling of -very- long-standing labor rights and taxation ‘reforms’ that benefit the rich French elite. You cannot insult two such vast yet diverse groups of people, who seem to have little if anything in common, African Americans and Yellow Vests, you cannot insult them more or worse than such reports do.

And they simply don’t see it. In their view, and which they -rightly by now- trust their public will eat up like hot cakes, their 24/7 anti-Trump and anti-Russia campaigns have been so convincing that they can basically say anything at all by now. If Trump or the Russians deny, that’s just what they would do if they were guilty. Assange can’t deny anything at all, they’ve totally silenced him. They being the US deep state in liaison with the MSM.

 

That’s how we’re about to enter 2019, how we’re about to move from chaos to mayhem. It is scary not just because of what we see happening today, but even more because we’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Sure, US media, any country’s media, have always supported government strategic lies in times of warfare or other tensions.

But an overall campaign against a sitting president, comprised of dozens of articles a day consisting of mere allegations and rumors, let alone the same against a state nuclear power arguably mightier than the US itself, and a journalist who’s the only one in his profession who’s actually done what journalists should do, not the well-paid follow the party line thing going on at the MSM, all this is unprecedented.

And given what we’ve seen in 2018 in the realm of banned social media accounts, in a wider sense of the word, we can only wonder how much worse the censorship can get in the mayhem year of 2019.

Can the Automatic Earth, and for instance our friends at Zero Hedge, only continue to exist next year if we agree to increasingly become the poodles of the ruling political classes, intelligence services, and their press masters and lackeys?

It’s starting to look that way. So in closing, I want to call on you to support us by donating a Christmas gift, and preferably a recurring one all through the 2019 mayhem year, so we know we can continue to present you with an alternative to the ‘appropriate’ information you’re ‘supposed’ to be receiving.

It’s later than you think.

 

 

Nov 062018
 
 November 6, 2018  Posted by at 2:06 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elio Ciol Via Portica, Assisi 1958

 

Pollsters were so wrong in 2016 you’d think they would have changed jobs by now. Yeah, sure. We remember the 97% prediction for a Hillary win, right? And the 92% from the New York Times? Happy days. Now we have the same suspects plying their usual trade again. As if nothing has changed. And that’s a bit of an issue. It would be beneficial if pollsters asked themselves why they got 2016 so wrong, but since there’s been little to no consequence for their livelihoods, they haven’t.

Because of the frenzy whipped out over today’s midterms, with almost everyone declaring this the most important midterms, if not elections, of their lifetimes, more people have participated in early voting, and far more than usual have expressed their intention to go vote.

And so the pollsters look at that and apply their age-old models to it. More people voting is good for the Democrats, as is more early voting, according to them, and so is more young people voting. Ditto for black people, Hispanics. Because that’s how it’s always been. And it’s easier that way than to actually go talk to people about their votes, and the reasons behind these votes.

But it’s as if Trump never happened in 2016, when his performance made that entire polling industry look like useless fools. How about if Trump’s rallies and tweets are a major reason why more Americans, and more young Americans, will go and vote? Certainly doesn’t sound crazy.

Update: after I wrote the above last night, first thing in the morning came this graph from NBC. I feel at least partly vindicated.

 

 

The Democrats and their media allies have a bit of a Catch-22 going on. They want to sound enthusiastic and confident about the midterms, but not so much that it will make potential voters stay away. It doesn’t seem to work: they again sound like they got it in the bag.

Moreover, their entire schtick is based on one thing only: Trump. Not being Trump is supposed to be their ticket to ride. They don’t actually have programs or policies, at least not on a national level. They’re simply betting on being able to whip up enough hatred of the Donald.

In a nation as polarized as America is these days, that is both extremely easy and extremely hard. Easy, because the one half of Americans who already despise the man read and see that part of the media that cultivates that hatred from dusk till dawn every single day.

Hard, because there are very few people left who are either on the fence or don’t hate the man, whose opinions could be changed by more of the same kind of ‘reporting’. The chips are down, the lines have been drawn.

If only the MSM could report on terrible economic numbers on top of labeling Trump a racist, misogynist, aniti-Semite, fascist. But the economy -on the surface- is doing fine, and it’s that, stupid. For many Americans, including fence-sitters, that’s what it’s all about.

One of the first things I read yesterday was a headline that said Hillary is still the Democrats’ best bet for 2020. I’m going to have to doubt that there’s a better illustration of what’s ailing the Democrats.

Even as there’s the issue of Schumer, Pelosi, Feinstein, Wasserman-Schultz and Waters still leading that party, while their only challengers insist on calling themselves ‘socialists’, which is to one’s election chances in America what a wooden stake is to a vampire’s odds of survival.

 

And they would still win by a wide margin if not for Trump. Because the Republicans have the exact same issues. They too are ruled by a bunch of sociopath pensioners who can’t and won’t let go of the thrill of power and the millions slipped to them under the table by banks and insurers and gunmakers.

There’s only one way for the nation to prevent being run by the cast of Cocoon, and that is Trump, and he’s 72 himself. A president has two terms, even if he’s under 50 years old, but Senators can stay forever even if they live to be 100. And changes to that are subject to decisions by that very same crew. It’s a bankrupt system in which voters can and do go bankrupt and politicians are all millionaires.

And yet the systems rolls out all it’s got to protect itself. But it’s gone overboard with that. There has been so much in the way of smear and allegations against Trump that turned out not be based on anything, that the MSM has muzzled itself, prevented itself from reaching anyone other than those who are already in their camp.

That’s what you get for confusing news and opinion. Of course it’s tempting, because it attracted so many viewers and readers, and so much money, but in the end, the WaPo, NYT and CNN have voluntarily given up access to half of America, and with them the Democrats have too. Down the line, that will prove to be a very costly ‘business model’.

 

In 2015 I predicted Trump would win the presidential elections. not based on his qualities so much, but the lack of qualities on Hillary’s side. This time I don’t want to predict the outcome of the midterms, but I just can’t see the Democrats win, let alone bigly, because they have nothing to offer other than not being the man responsible for more jobs and -so far- slightly, slowly higher wages.

If the Democrats do take the House, they can be expected to go after Trump and his administration, with more investigations in the vein of the Mueller one, endlessly protracted innuendo that doesn’t go anywhere. The polarization might well make America a de facto ungovernable country. If they take the Senate as well, Trump may be a lame duck, and impeachment talk will rear its ugly head again.

If the Republicans maintain control of both House and Senate, they will demand thorough investigations of the Mueller files and much more, like the Kavanaugh accusations. Not a highly desirable thing either, because it will lead to even more polarization. But how much deeper can they dig themselves into their trenches?

Both the Democrats and the MSM have painted themselves into a tight corner. They should engage in a dialogue with Trump, but how do you do that after publicly bashing someone 24/7 for 2 years and change?

That all said, it’s obvious that it truly will be an important day today. The only good outcome, regardless of the vote, would be for everyone to sit down and talk to each other. But what are the odds of that?

 

 

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Oct 012018
 
 October 1, 2018  Posted by at 1:16 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan Election night 1907 1907

 

Remember Stormy Daniels? Bet you do. And lucky you, you’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more about her -again- as her already classic tome “Full Disclosure” is due out tomorrow -wouldn’t Full Frontal have been a better title?-.

Poor Stormy though has to compete with 2 other anti-Trump books coming out om the same day, “The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis, which could actually be good, and “The Apprentice” by Greg Miller, who’s a journo at the WaPo, so that will definitely not be any good. Hope for Miller that he’s got some sex in his book.

That all these books come out now is no coincidence; it’s because Trump sells better than sex in America these days, and the combination of the two is a can’t miss. AFP writes about the books about Trump, of which “Fire and Fury,” “A Higher Loyalty” “and “Fear” have already sold over a million copies each.

The article quotes a certain David Corn, co-author of “Russian Roulette,” a book about Russian interference in the American presidential campaign (YAWN, not enough sex!), as saying: “There is deep desire on the part of many Americans for an understanding of what happened in this country” during the 2016 presidential campaign”, and also of “what’s going on now within the Trump White House.”

C’mon, no, Americans simply have grown addicted to reading stories bashing Trump every single day, and as behooves addicts, they want more every day. The coverage of the Kavanaugh hearings has only enhanced their lust for dirt, sex and sensationalism. And the media stand ready to give them more.

Corn again: “One potential problem is that people get too accustomed to the outrages of the Trump administration, and therefore become less interested in books like these. “But I don’t see that happening any time soon.” He’s right on that last bit. But forgets to mention -or simply doesn’t understand- that the ‘outrages’ are largely made up by the media who ‘report’ on them.

 

Why do they do this? Because it sells. No mystery there. Anything Trump sells. The Donald is the Golden Eggs Goose. That is the no. 1 business model for not just the US media, but for its entire society. Everything Trump touches turns into gold for someone. The media are making a killing, and they’re going to keep doing the same 24/7 scandal stories.

Yes, Brett Kavanaugh is undoubtedly a prick. So first thought: he’ll fit right in. But his accusers so far have not been very convincing. Nice performance from Blasey Ford, but the memory loss is weak. Still, it doesn’t matter, the story sells. It has Trump, it has sex, it has drama, abuse, the promise of more to come. Ideal set-up for the media.

Still, somewhere along the line one issue emerges: for many people in the anti-Trump crowd, this whole campaign is supposed to be based on working towards the impeachment of Donald Trump. The ultimate prize. But does anyone think that the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC really would want to see him impeached right now?

Think again. Where and how would they make money? Why would they kill the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs? It makes no sense at all from a business point of view. The ideal world for the MSM is to let things continue just the way they have: bash Trump and anyone associated with him, but never run the risk that anyone would actually think of getting rid of him.

What would they do, the journalists, the TV presenters, the book writers, if Trump would leave, and Mike Pence were to live in the White House? They would all be back to grave financial problems. In a heartbeat, because digital media are inexorably taking over from them, even if Trump temporarily saved them. They need Trump much more than he needs them.

All this puts the old media in an interesting -potential?- conflict with the party they’re so enthusiastically supporting, the Democrats. And it’s good to ponder, too, that the MSM didn’t see this coming, at all. They were just going after Trump with all they got and then some because their owners and sponsors wanted Hillary and certainly not him.

 

When Trump raised their reader and viewer numbers through the roof because of all the Russia and corruption and, yes, sex, stories, they were taken by surprise, but they adapted fast, egged on forcefully by their financial departments: Look at the numbers, keep this up no matter what you do!

It works for them for now, and they don’t look much further; they can’t afford to. But the next problem is already on their horizons. That is, their editorial policies have alienated them from half the entire American population: Trump voters. And they will have a hard time ever getting any of those back, if ever.

There’ll be a time when the Donald is no longer the president and the attention magnet he is today. That will make much less people want to read and view the MSM. It’s all about entertainment, after all, and they can’t make up the kind of entertainment Trump provides. They can distort and exaggerate what he gives him, but they can’t invent him.

Like it or not, like him or not, Trump is a unique phenomenon not only in America, but globally. Perhaps most interesting is that he was never all that special, just a business guy surrounded by -too- many questions, and a reality TV person, who got some attention but in a limited way.

Once he entered politics that all changed. And it did through a very particular kind of cross-breeding. The media all lined up against him, and he fed off that, and then they fed off of that. It’s quite the symbiosis. The one big difference is that he never needed them as much as they did him, he built his victory, found his voters, on new -social?- media.

 

The MSM tried to destroy him and instead they built him up. And perhaps that’s not so surprising if your worldview and business model is based on polarization and antagonism, on excluding entire segments of a population and fulminate against them 24/7. But then again, if you’re a business and you’re making big profits, it’s easy to lose sight of longer term issues.

From my point of view, I’d say America needs to come together a lot more than it is right now; the present chasm is extremely volatile and can lead to really bad outcomes. But how can you do this if your media depend on keeping that chasm alive, and widening it, to make money?

Kavanaugh is an ordinary prick who’d fit right in in DC and so shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near it. . Blasey Ford is a sympathetic person who forgot more than she should have if she wants to accuse anyone of anything 35 years later. In a normal world many people would agree with both statements. But today it’s “I believe her no matter what” or “confirm him tomorrow”.

Today the media realize if they don’t antagonize and set people up against each other, they’re done. Maybe it was inevitable that Trump would bring that out, that he would reveal what was waiting under the surface all along. No matter how you see this, it’s obvious that it’s poison for the nation. It’s toxic and dangerous.

However, isn’t all of America by now based on profit first and nothing second? And isn’t some form of civil war then the only possible outcome?

 

 

Sep 252018
 
 September 25, 2018  Posted by at 12:55 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Galatea of the Spheres 1952

 

Axios reporter Jonathan Swan “broke” the story yesterday morning that Rod Rosenstein was going to resign before he would be fired, and he was on his way to the White House for that. Just about every would-be journalist in the US followed suit with speculation and ‘updates’ by anonymous sources either close to the White House or to Rosenstein.

Through the day it became clear that Swan’s entire story was pure speculation (though he just published an alleged resignation letter), and at the end of the day Rosenstein is still the Deputy AG, scheduled for a talk with Trump on the entire matter on Thursday. In short, Jonathan Swan dented Axios’ credibility by more than he will admit. So who has any credibility left by now? It’s not a long list anymore. Where can you get your news? Not where you used to.

Several voices volunteered that the White House had pumped the Rosenstein story in order to deflect attention from the Kavanaugh narrative. That made little sense: why would they do that? There may be some who think that Kavanaugh means a whole lot of trouble from Trump, but are they really paying attention, or merely thinking wishfully?

Kavanaugh himself didn’t look all that destroyed in his interview last night. And he made a very bold move: he said he was a virgin until well past high school. All it would take to break down that claim is one woman to step forward and say she had sex with him. And if he did have consensual sex even just once, nothing to do with assault, he’d still be exposed as a liar, so why make such a claim unless it’s true?

All this puts the allegations made against him in an eery light. Christine Blasey Ford’s story looked shaky from the start, because of all the things she said she couldn’t remember, but many people were granting her the benefit of the doubt. Then Deborah Ramirez added an allegation that if anything looked even less coherent. Even the New York Times could find no-one to corroborate her story, and she herself couldn’t, either.

Now, for all we know Kavanaugh may have been an adolescent monster, but we would still need proof of that before we nail him to a cross, or, worse still, keep him off the Supreme Court. Which is, obviously, what got the whole circus started.

 

Thursday will be yet another eventful day in the guaranteed to be always entertaining presidency of Donald Trump, and we wonder in eager anticipation how Axios and all the other news outlets will cover the events. Their Kavanaugh narrative looks shot right now, but we’d expect another woman, or two, or ten, to pop up with inflammatory tales.

Look for the one about consensual sex, that would seem to have a better chance than another assault with a penis chapter, and he set it up himself last night by his virgin declaration. Also, look for desperate attempts to smear the judge. There are still many people in Washington and beyond who really really don’t want him confirmed.

But then, everything they tried so far has backfired, even if that’s not what they see. That same thing may well happen in the Rosenstein saga. It’s no secret, never has been, that Trump has different opinions than Rosenstein, or for that matter Jeff Sessions, have on several matters. But they’re both still in their jobs.

Trump appointed Rosenstein, and he appointed Sessions, who turned around and recused himself from the Russian collusion case, putting Rosenstein in charge of that. Rosenstein appointed former FBI chief Robert Mueller as Special Counsel, though it was obvious from miles away that the FBI was heavily involved in the case.

Now, after all the Strzok/Page mails and the Andrew McCabe bumbling, we know that Robert Mueller, after almost two years, still hasn’t found any proof of collusion. We know this because he hasn’t presented any, which he would have been obliged to do if he had any, simply because the allegation of working with a foreign government to undermine the US is so serious; you can’t hold back that sort of information.

 

That all said, is it so strange that Trump has perhaps had enough of this? That he might like an actual Attorney General who actually takes charge of the case, and a Deputy AG who has some distance from Mueller and asks him to finish up the investigation which hasn’t produced anything but tax evasion charges for Manafort and 14 days in jail for Papadopoulos, who presumably pled guilty because, like Michael Flynn, he couldn’t afford to defend himself?

There are times one gets the impression the whole thing only continues because newspapers and TV channels make so much money off of painting Trump as the modern Antichrist. And while the man undoubtedly is full of flaws, that’s not what they’re all aiming for. They go for Russiagate, because it sells to have an archenemy to talk about, and they go for Stormy Daniels and Kavanaugh’s penis, because sex sells more than anything.

Along with all the anti-Trump rhetoric, there is a running story about a Blue Wave that will hand the Democrats back control over the House and perhaps the Senate. But while I think it might be good to restore some balance in Washington, if only so people must actually talk, I also think that Blue Wave thing is perhaps the biggest mistake America’s formerly left can make.

Because the Democrats, no matter how they see themselves, have no identity. Other than they’re not Trump and they hate the man. We saw that loud and clear the other day when they helped the GOP push a record military budget through the House. They’re merely a flipside of a coin. They have nothing of their own.

Yes, there’s Ocasio-Cortez and a handful others who try to define something different, but surely they must know that when you call yourself Socialist in America you’re tying an arm and a leg behind your back. Kudos for trying, but that’s not going to work. Bernie Sanders is done after allowing Hillary’s DNC to push him aside; people remember such things.

That leaves the usual suspects, Schumer, Pelosi, Feinstein, calcifying in their seats, with Hillary in the wings for a glorious return to viability in 2020. And they think that combo will make them win elections, and win them big, just because voters are so sick of Trump? Methinks perhaps they have started to believe their own stories, while neglecting those of their one-time voters.

 

But sure, let’s see what happens on Thursday, and before, with Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies, and with Rosenstein’s friendly chat with the President. I’m thinking there’s nothing so bizarre I would count it out, but I may have to rethink that. Maybe Robert Mueller will resign tomorrow before Rosenstein can be fired -assuming Trump would want to-, maybe Kavanaugh had sex with an entire boys’ choir twice a week, leaving him technically still a virgin.

Our fantasy is just about endless. But that’s the exact biggest problem with everything about this: there’s far too much fantasy involved, far too many allegations that remain unproven but leave traces left and right, far too many accusations that nobody is made to own up to.

One last thing: if it turns out Christine Blasey Ford can prove none of her accusations vs Kavanaugh, and he’s been telling the truth all along, what does that mean for all the women who’ve told their stories of rape and assault under the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag? How betrayed will they feel, how tricked? Or will they continue to insist that he must be guilty even if there is zero proof?

And no, it’s not Just the Democrats, it’s Washington as a whole, egged on by despairing media who see their revenues and credibility plunge and resort to cheap tricks. The Republicans with their inane plans to re-open the hunt on grizzlies are just as bad. Want to Make America Great Again? Start with protecting the grizzlies and manatees and moose and eagles. They are what makes the country rich. There won’t be anything great about a barren desert land devoid of life.

But the urgent question in Washington right at this moment is, in light of Rosenstein and Kavanaugh: how deeply can you divide a country, for political ends, before it bursts? And what will it take, what can still be done today, to pull it away from the looming abyss?

 

 

Jul 172018
 
 July 17, 2018  Posted by at 12:50 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Aivazovsky Among the waves 1898

 

Yeah, just keep ’em coming, right, so that when the last one falls flat on its face people will have already forgotten about it and instead focus on the new one. It’s been the modus operandi of the US MSM ever since Donald Trump emerged as an actual presidential candidate, and they haven’t let go.

They realize by now that it divides the nation, it costs them a large chunk of their potential readers and viewers, and creates chaos all around, but the bottom line is it makes them money. Because those people who fall into the echo chamber trap, tumble into it fast and furious, and will gladly pay to read yet another installment of how bad the man really is.

But it is getting out of hand, guys and gals, it is becoming a real and present danger to the -formerly- United States. The anti-Russia propaganda machine far predates Trump, but manufacturing an ever closer link between the two has proven to be a masterstroke of media genius.

That Vladimir Putin is an existential threat to the US and indeed the entire western world is a narrative taken straight out of Edward Bernays’ playbook. And it works like a charm. The problem is, it is also the biggest threat to peace anywhere on the globe that we have ever seen since WWII.

Putin is a patriot who came to the fore in mostly unexplained ways, named by American puppet Boris Yeltsin as his successor, only to save his country from US-induced plundering and restore Russia as a functioning country. Far from perfect, but functioning. Don’t forget that Russian life-expectancy fell by many years in the post-Gorbachev era. And then look now.

Yes, Putin uses some hard-handed tactics from time to time. He has no choice: the US threat to Russia is an ongoing one. There’s still a huge economic threat, of which US sanctions are but a minor part, there’s an intelligence threat, there’s NATO encroaching upon Russia’s borders.

Thus far, Putin has been able to counter them all. And his popularity among Russia’s population is far higher than that of any western politician. His people understand and recognize what he’s done and why he’s done it. He refuses for his country to be overrun and sold off to the highest bidders.

 

Just a few of the points of contention: Crimea – The US tried to take away Russia’s only warm water port. Putin countered with what through non-western eyes was tactical masterpiece; no violence, no shots fired, an election that saw an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to (re-)join Russia.

Connected to Crimea is Ukraine. Putin had -and has- to protect Russian-speaking people in the region. Who were going to be under threat from the very dubious, neo-nazi linked government installed by the US after the coup. All Putin has been able to achieve so far is a very brittle stand still. But ‘his’ people in Eastern Ukraine have strong links to the Russian area just across the border. He’s not going to sell them out.

Connected to Ukraine is MH17. The Netherlands commemorates the victims of the shooting down again today. Several years of investigating have come up with no conclusive proof, even if they say it has. The problem is that the investigation was -is- led by The Netherlands itself. You don’t let the biggest victim conduct an investigation.

What’s worse: the Ukraine was actively involved in the investigation, even when it was a potential culprit. Try to write that scenario into the plot of one of your favorite TV crime series. Won’t fly.

 

Then the novichok ‘events’ in the UK. Again, no evidence, but tons of allegations. And if Russia says it’s not guilty, everyone says and writes: of course they would say that. They get accused anyway. Still, no evidence is no evidence. the time that intelligence agencies were believed on their word is over. And they did it to themselves.

In the regard, it’s useful to see that Robert Mueller was one of the people who ‘swore’ that the Weapons of Mass Destruction ‘evidence’ against Saddam Hussein was real. We now know it was complete and utter fiction. Intelligence has overplayed its hand, and they won’t get it back for a long time.

People now realize they cannot be trusted. Well, not those who read and view the MSM, but then that’s sort of the entire point, isn’t it? That’s where the dividing line is being drawn. The CIA, FBI et al present a view of the world in concoction with the media that they think a sufficient number of people will swallow, and that’s really all they care for.

And boy, it is successful. The vitriol spewed over the Helsinki summit is something to behold. #TreasonSummit was a trending hashtag. For a meeting that was long overdue and aimed at calming down tensions. The by now very poorly named ‘social’ media play an ever bigger role in these things.

People can say whatever they want on them, without feeling they’ll ever actually be tested on their claims. One after the other, and each one trying to outdo the last. It all leads up to one particular worldview at the exclusion of all others. And again, that is very dangerous.

 

Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russians, which just happened to coincide with the first meeting of American and Russian presidents in an exceptionally long time, has been shot full of holes by many commentators, see for instance Adam Carter and Aaron Mate, but those views won’t make it to CNN or the NYT.

But despite the fact that the indictment is hollow and riddled with holes, it’s been a large part of why people call Trump a traitor for meeting with Putin. It ties together their opinions, carefully built along Bernays principles over the past two years. It’s a Matrix, it’s a trap. But then they throw in another story, of a 29 year-old Russian(!) girl arrested for allegedly setting up links between Russia and the NRA when she was 24 or so, and that replaces the Mueller indictment in most attention spans. And so the carrousel goes on. The torture never stops.

See, the idea is that you get yourself informed and then form your own opinion. Not that you let others pre-cook and pre-chew your opinions for you. Still, once you’re inside the deafening echo chamber, that’s what inevitably happens. Because there’s so much one-sided innuendo in there, your head aches and you just give up all resistance. Just to have a quiet moment.

And so very many Americans end up believing that indeed their president is guilty of treason. Because so many pundits claim that he is. But how many of them understand what treason really is, how serious an allegation it is? Is doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? Because all those others say he is, and they can’t all be wrong. And the echo chamber gives you a headache.

This is where I should say that somebody better do something about this, but it’s hard to see what. The divide has grown into a chasm. And that both sides are equally to blame for that doesn’t excuse either side’s wilful blindness. But yes, I hear you, it makes them money.

Still, if a US president can no longer talk to another president without being accused of treason, you’re in a scary predicament.

At some point you’re going to need real proof. And Bob Mueller is not going to get it for you. That’s what his indictment of the 12 Russians, as well as the moment he released it, makes abundantly clear. Mueller is -forever- going to hide behind the ‘Trust me, I’m the FBI’ line. Well, he betrayed you before. Wisen up. Demand evidence.

We know Mueller betrayed America when he made false claims over WMD. We have no evidence that Trump betrayed his country, we have only allegations. He may be a poor choice for president, but that’s not the same thing.

 

 

Jun 152018
 
 June 15, 2018  Posted by at 12:42 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward John Poynter Erato, Muse of Poetry 1870

 

This is something I’ve commented on many times. Like two months ago, when I wrote:

“As for Donald Trump, as much as we would like to engage in constructive criticism of the man and his government, we find we no longer can. The anti-Trump echo-chamber has turned so deafening that any intelligent debate about his policies is being drowned out amid the never ending flow of fake news and half truths and innuendo and empty smears that US media continue to spout. With a brief lull when the bombs fell on Syria.

Thank you, New York Times, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC. Thank you for killing the entire discussion, thank you for killing off journalism. There is a lot to say about Trump, much of it critical, but we can no longer open our mouths. Because we don’t want to be in the same camp as you. Life in the echo chamber has given us vertigo. We had to get out.”

Jim Kunstler thanked me for saying that. He very much feels the same way. Nothing has changed. They’re still at it, and we still can’t get a word in edgewise. I was thinking earlier today that the best the MSM can do to promote its own case is to praise Trump from time to time. Because that is the only way they could attract some ears and eyes from outside their echo chamber.

They won’t do it. Being negative about the US president makes them too much money. It leaves us with a situation in which the one half of America that reads and hears New York Times, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC has become fully isolated from the other half. Yes, this is risky. But this, too, will be blamed on Trump.

Meanwhile, border policies where children are forcefully separated form their parents need criticism and condemnation from all of the nation. But there is nobody left who can reach the entire nation. A year and a half of 24/7 unproven allegations about collusion with Russia has seen to that.

Therefore, when the Intercept wrote about a Human Rights Watch report last month in Obama’s Deportation Policy Was Even Worse Than We Thought , the MSM don’t cover it, because it doesn’t fit the narrative. But when Trump uses the same ICE machinery to scare potential immigrants away, it’s suddenly considered newsworthy.

Oh, and France uses the exact same scare tactics, going as far as ripping children’s soles from their shoes. We should all condemn these atrocities, and make them stop. But it’s not going to happen if you guys insist on making it an anti-Trump thing, because half the country won’t listen to any more of that.

Journalism and news media must be a force to unite a nation, not one that divides it simply because there’s -more- profit in that.

The neverending Trump innuendo reached another new high in the North Korea meeting, with the ‘media’ competing with each other to find yet another terrible mistake or intentional screw-up by the man who is President of all Americans (like it or not). A feeding frenzy on nothingburgers.

Trump was accused of hob-nobbing with dictators. Excuse me, but all US presidents have done that. He wasn’t being tough enough, he was giving far too much away with nothing in return. Well, that’s not how South Koreans see it, and this concerns them a whole lot more than a bunch of ‘reporters’ covering the beltway.

Truth is, Trump did a good job, everything went well, he put Kim Jong-un in a position where the latter will have to deliver on denuclearization, or face the -international- consequences. It is quite the achievement, but if you wake up every single morning looking for more bad things to say about someone, yes, chances are you miss the good things.

You’re also probably missing the Saudi, US-supported, attacks on Hodeidah, the port city that is Yemen’s last lifeline to the world, and the only chance millions of people have of escaping a famine not seen since the Middle Ages.

That is the kind of thing that should be on your front pages, and opening your news shows, not that North Korea happens to have a border with Russia nudge nudge wink wink, and Trump saluted some Korean general.

America needs real news and real journalism, and it needs it badly. Instead it has an increasingly divisive set of well-paid propagandists who break the country ever further apart. The OIG report that came out yesterday confirms this more and better than anything.

When the country’s own ‘intelligence’ conspires to influence the political process, while the media report on outside influence only, then yes, you have a problem. As I was writing earlier today, you have to wonder how many people will still be working at the FBI by the end of the year.

Something else I’ve said before: the only hope of survival the MSM have in the age of the interwebs is to be brutally honest and open. Real news and real journalism. Because simply spouting opinions is something they will be trumped on by the many many millions of people with social media accounts who already do that every day, anonymously, and for free.

The old media don’t stand a chance against that army. The only thing that can save them is the truth.

 

 

Apr 232018
 
 April 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Highway tavern. Crystal City, Texas 1939

 

A Google Breakup Would Fit the EU’s Logic (BBG)
Customs Union U-Turn By May Could Inspire Brexiter Cabinet Revolt (G.)
The Windrush Story Was Not A Rosy One Even Before The Ship Arrived (G.)
Britain, Headquarters Of Fraud (G.)
China Q1 Imports From North Korea Fall 87% Year-On-Year (R.)
How China Is Buying Its Way Into Europe (BBG)
China Factory Crackdown Masks Sweeping Takeover By The State (BBG)
Canadians Just Set A New Record For Borrowing Against Their Homes (BD)
MSM Is Frantically Attacking Dissenting Syria Narratives (CJ)
WikiLeaks To Countersue Democrats; “Discovery Is Going To Be Amazing Fun” (ZH)
One In Eight Bird Species Is Threatened With Extinction (G.)

 

 

Does Google think it can win this?

A Google Breakup Would Fit the EU’s Logic (BBG)

On Thursday, the European Parliament backed the idea of breaking up Google. It doesn’t have the power to do it, but the legislators’ decision is a notable part of a backlash against the remedial action Google took after the European Commission fined it 2.4 billion euros ($2.95 billion) for abusing its dominant position in shopping search. That backlash can lead to dire consequences for the search giant. The commission found last June that by giving its own product comparison service, Google Shopping, prime “real estate” at the top search result pages, Google was hampering competition for independent shopping comparison websites. The company’s remedy is to hold auctions for spaces in the special box in which comparison results appear if a user searches for a product to buy.

Google Shopping bids in these auctions on the same terms as its rivals, and Google has promised to keep the service profitable so it can’t outbid the competition every time with the company’s vastly superior resources. Yet, months after the remedy was applied, it’s next to impossible to run into a non-Google offer in that box. The original complainants, notably the U.K. firm Foundem, have been campaigning to have Google declared non-compliant. Foundem’s argument is laid out in an interactive presentation released on April 18. The British company argues that even though Google claims to run Google Shopping at arm’s length, it’s merely an obfuscation, a meaningless accounting arrangement. In reality, Google as a whole still harvests 100% of the profit from the ads in runs after winning auctions – plus 80% of the profits from competing services’ ads in the form of their winning bids.

“While Google’s promise to run Google Shopping at a notional ‘profit’ may allow rival services to bid their way into ‘the box,’ it does nothing to address the seismic inequality between bids that cost you nothing and bids that cost you most of your incentive and ability to innovate and grow,” Foundem wrote in the presentation. The annual report on competition policy from the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, which the legislature approved on Thursday, shows that at least some in the “Brussels bubble” that rules the EU are receptive to Foundem’s argument. “Without a full-blown structural separation between the company’s general and specialised search services, an auction-based approach might not deliver equal treatment,” the report says.

[..] If Google is declared non-compliant, its parent company, Alphabet Inc., can be forced to pay up to 5 percent of its daily turnover for every day that it has violated the commission’s ruling, meaning, theoretically, since last September. Taking Alphabet’s average daily revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017 as a base, that’s about $17.6 million a day for seven months and counting. This could end up being worse than the original fine, which Google is appealing. Even a breakup could be preferable to paying this sort of penalty for a protracted period.

Read more …

The mess spreads.

Customs Union U-Turn By May Could Inspire Brexiter Cabinet Revolt (G.)

Theresa May could face a cabinet revolt on a customs union as peers prepare to inflict more defeats on the government over the EU withdrawal bill in a key week for the future of the UK’s relations with Europe. Amid Brexiter threats of a leadership challenge, the former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury committee, said party rebels should be careful what they wished for. “This sabre-rattling is not coming from the section of the party that I represent. It is coming from the pro-Brexit section of the party and is deeply unhelpful,” she said. Government hopes of avoiding a hard border in Ireland either through technological innovation or regulatory alignment have been set back after they were rejected during preliminary negotiations in Brussels.

That has led to speculation that May is preparing to concede on a customs union, which has been a red line since the prime minister’s conference speech in October 2016. Reports over the weekend suggested a “wargaming” exercise into the consequences of a concession showed that not even leading Brexiters such as Michael Gove, the environment secretary, or Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, would resign. But a source close to Gove reiterated his opposition: “Michael believes respecting the referendum result means taking back control of trade policy. He fully supports the prime minister’s position that this means leaving the customs union.” Although the loss of other pledges in negotiations have been reluctantly accepted, such as the promise to reclaim control over fishing quotas from March 2019, accepting continued membership of a customs union would be of a different and much larger scale.

Read more …

Superiority complex writ large

The Windrush Story Was Not A Rosy One Even Before The Ship Arrived (G.)

This is a year so overflowing with anniversaries that it was perhaps always going to draw our attention to the histories of race and migration in Britain. June marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, carrying 492 West Indians who were looking to rewrite their fortunes in a Britain desperate for labour. The Windrush is now so much part of British history that almost instantly it became the shorthand used to describe the generation of black Britons whose plight has so shocked the country.

Friday 20 April was an anniversary of a darker kind, 50 years since Enoch Powell delivered his “rivers of blood” speech. That toxic diatribe, with its unsubtle references to “piccaninnies” and the “whip hand”, remains politically radioactive half a century later, as Radio 4 discovered last weekend when it broadcast the speech in an anniversary documentary. Today is the sombre anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, 25 years ago.

But there is another 2018 anniversary that, until last week, might well had passed by quietly, hardly noticed. This year marks 70 years since the passing of the 1948 British Nationality Act, which was being debated while the Windrush was crossing the Atlantic; gaining royal ascent in July 1948, as the Windrush pioneers were settling into their new jobs. Although now obscure, it was a law that Powell once referred to as “that most evil statute”. Much of what has happened over the past week can be traced back to that forgotten but critical piece of legislation. The act was intended to reaffirm what many in the late 1940s regarded as a “time-honoured principle”, the doctrine that all British subjects should have the automatic right to travel to and settle in the United Kingdom.

[..] Even before the Windrush had left Jamaica, the prime minister, Clement Attlee, had examined the possibility of preventing its embarkation or diverting the ship and the migrants on board to East Africa. After the vessel had arrived at Tilbury, the colonial secretary, Arthur Creech Jones, is said to have reassured his cabinet colleagues that, although “these people have British passports and must be allowed to land there’s nothing to worry about because they won’t last one winter in England” (detailed in Randall Hansen’s book Citizenship and Immigration in Post-War Britain). When that prediction was proved false, ministers began to consider how they might revoke the commitments enshrined in the 1948 act.

What followed was a two decade-long political struggle to change Britain’s immigration law and reduce the flow of immigrants from the so-called New Commonwealth. This is the other side of the Windrush story. In 1971, a new immigration act finally achieved that aim and stemmed the flow of migrants from the New Commonwealth. The same law granted those who had already arrived indefinite leave to remain. That would have been the end of the story, had not, in 2013, those thousands been pushed into Theresa May’s “hostile environment”. The current crisis is a relic left by the political struggle to row back from the commitments made in the 1948 act.

Read more …

Competition for the title is stiff.

Britain, Headquarters Of Fraud (G.)

Officials get fed up with accusations that Britain is a cesspool of dirty money; that they do too little to check the wealth hidden behind shell corporations. They grouse among themselves that their critics overlook the work they’re doing to expose the money flows and to drive out the corrupt. When they do get a win, therefore, they trumpet it. Last month, Companies House successfully prosecuted someone who had lied in setting up a company, the kind of white-collar crime committed by the sophisticated fraudsters who fleece ordinary Brits every day, and the government went large. “This prosecution – the first of its kind in the UK – shows the government will come down hard on people who knowingly break the law and file false information on the company register,” crowed business minister, Andrew Griffiths, in a press release.

A Warwickshire businessman called Kevin Brewer had pleaded guilty, paid a fine and the government’s costs: a total of more than £12,000. His crime had been to falsely claim that two companies he created belonged, in one case, to the MP Vince Cable, and, in the other, to the MP James Cleverly, Lady Neville-Rolfe and an imaginary Israeli. At first, the public response to the news was everything the press release’s authors could have hoped for. The Times splashed with the details of the crime – the government was tough on fraud, tough on the causes of fraud. But the victory was short-lived.

Within a month of the triumphant press release, Tory MP John Penrose, the government’s anti-corruption champion, was slamming the prosecution as “a bone-headed exercise in shooting the messenger”. Brewer may have been, by his own admission, naive, but he was trying to expose a flaw in British regulations that enables frauds totalling hundreds of billions of pounds. His reward was years of being ignored and, finally, a criminal record. “That has to be wrong,” said Penrose.

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Can we check this?

China Q1 Imports From North Korea Fall 87% Year-On-Year (R.)

China’s imports from North Korea fell 87% in the first quarter from a year earlier to 448.8 million yuan ($71.31 million), customs data showed on Monday, while exports to North Korea were down 46.1% to 2.68 billion yuan. For March, China’s exports to North Korea were 907.54 million yuan while imports from North Korea were 78.5 million yuan. China’s March total trade with North Korea was 986.07 million yuan, customs data showed.

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Cue protectionism.

How China Is Buying Its Way Into Europe (BBG)

For more than a decade, Chinese political and corporate leaders have been scouring the globe with seemingly bottomless wallets in hand. From Asia to Africa, the U.S. and Latin America, the results are hard to ignore as China has asserted itself as an emerging world power. Less well known is China’s diffuse but expanding footprint in Europe. Bloomberg has crunched the numbers to compile the most comprehensive audit to date of China’s presence in Europe. It shows that China has bought or invested in assets amounting to at least $318 billion over the past 10 years. The continent saw roughly 45% more China-related activity than the U.S. during this period, in dollar terms, according to available data.

The volume and nature of some of these investments, from critical infrastructure in eastern and southern Europe to high-tech companies in the west, have raised a red flag at the EU level. Leaders that include Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are pressing for a common strategy to handle China’s relentless advance into Europe, with some opposition from the EU’s periphery. We analyzed data for 678 completed or pending deals in 30 countries since 2008 for which financial terms were released, and found that Chinese state-backed and private companies have been involved in deals worth at least $255 billion across the European continent. Approximately 360 companies have been taken over, from Italian tire maker Pirelli to Irish aircraft leasing company Avolon, while Chinese entities also partially or wholly own at least four airports, six seaports, wind farms in at least nine countries and 13 professional soccer teams.

Importantly, the available figures underestimate the true size and scope of China’s ambitions in Europe. They notably exclude 355 mergers, investments and joint ventures—the primary types of deals examined here—for which terms were not disclosed. Bloomberg estimates or reporting on a dozen of the higher-profile deals among this group suggest an additional total value of $13.3 billion. Also not included: greenfield developments or stock-market operations totaling at least $40 billion, as compiled by researchers at the American Enterprise Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations, plus a $9 billion stake in Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG by Zhejiang Geely chairman Li Shufu reported by Bloomberg.

Read more …

Anbang was just the start.

China Factory Crackdown Masks Sweeping Takeover By The State (BBG)

President Xi Jinping’s big push to curb pollution and excess capacity in steel and other industries is also consolidating his government’s control over them. Just last year, the state’s share of steel capacity increased to 67% from 60% while aluminum smelting saw about an equal increase, J Capital Research estimates. In coal, which began consolidating years earlier, the government now controls 80% of capacity compared with about 45% in 2010, according to the Hong Kong-based firm. Xi’s campaign has boosted corporate profits, ended years of deflation, and stabilized debt growth to help underpin the first full-year economic acceleration last year since 2010.

But his aim for a “bigger, better and stronger” state role also means those bloated companies risk stifling private ones, as the Communist Party strengthens its grip on the economy. Call it “de facto nationalization,” says Jude Blanchette, China practice lead at Crumpton Group in Arlington, Virginia, and a former Conference Board researcher in Beijing. “We’re clearly seeing the re-strengthening of state-owned enterprises, oftentimes at the zero-sum expense of private players. Private folks are exiting the market either because they’re pushed out or they can’t survive.” State gains in heavy industry follow a broad SOE comeback since Xi took power in 2013. Their share of fixed-asset investment stopped falling in 2014 and rebounded over the next three years, says Andrew Batson at Gavekal Dragonomics.

The state is also extending control over the private sector away from heavy industry as it cracks down on debt. Once-acquisitive insurer Anbang Insurance was seized by the government, and regulators have curtailed the activities of conglomerates including Dalian Wanda and HNA. Such consolidation may spur blowback from the U.S. and other countries. President Donald Trump already brands China a strategic rival, slapping tariffs on its goods and criticizing industrial policy for subsidizing state enterprises in a push to dominate tech sectors.

“The idea, promoted during the Zhu Rongji era, that state enterprises should be independent, profit-seeking companies that just happen to be owned by the state has essentially been abandoned,” said Batson, referring to the former premier. “The government thinks that SOEs are there to serve its overall strategic goals.”

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Words fail.

Canadians Just Set A New Record For Borrowing Against Their Homes (BD)

Canadian real estate related debt tapering? That would be ridiculous! Filings obtained from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) show, after a brief decline in January, the balance of loans secured by residential real estate hit a new high in February. More interesting is the segment of loans being used for personal consumption, is growing at the fastest pace in years. Loans secured by residential real estate are exactly what they sound like. They’re loans that you pledge your home equity in order to secure. The most common example would be a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). You know, the same type of loan the Canadian government is discretely paying to teach you how to borrow. There’s also more productive uses, like when you start a new business and need to use your home as security – just in case you aren’t able to pay your loan shark bank back.

Either way, debt is debt. The big difference to note is a loan secured for personal reasons, is considered non-productive. The borrower isn’t expected to take a calculated risk, in order to earn more money. A business loan is considered productive, since it might generate more money. This isn’t just our opinion, banks actually classify these loans separately in their filings. Today we’ll go through the aggregate of these numbers, then break them down segment by segment. Loans secured by real estate hit a new all-time high in February. The total balance of loans secured with real estate racked up to $283.65 billion, up 0.77% from the month before. This represents a 7.79% increase compared to the same month last year. It almost looked like Canadians were reeling that debt in January, with a tiny decline. Instead it made a monster move, more than making up the ground lost the month before.

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A media war.

MSM Is Frantically Attacking Dissenting Syria Narratives (CJ)

It’s getting too blatantly obvious, like a stranger coming up to you and talking about climate change while openly masturbating; what he is doing would eclipse interest in whatever he is saying. The frenetic publication of hit pieces against anyone who fails to fall in line with the establishment Syria narrative is fast becoming the real story here. Many of these recent hit pieces are coming out of the UK, which is interesting given the way a BBC reporter recently admonished her interviewee for questioning the official story about the alleged Douma chemical attacks because his words could hurt the “information war” effort against Russia.

If this view is widespread among British journalists (and recent headlines by the Times, the Independent and the Telegraph suggest that it may be), this means we’re looking at an environment wherein reporters aren’t even pretending it’s their job to be truthful, tell all sides of a story and hold power to account, but rather to manufacture support for escalations against Russia and undermine anyone who resists. Today yet another mainstream smear piece has been published about Vanessa Beeley, an investigative journalist who has done extensive work on the ground in Syria, which the UK’s Huffington Post branch hilariously titled “How An Obscure British Blogger Became Russia’s Key Witness Against The White Helmets”.

Its author, senior Huffpo editor Chris York, doesn’t explain how we’re meant to see an investigative journalist practicing the definition of investigative journalism on the ground in a war-torn nation as “an obscure blogger”, but he has said that he has two more such articles on the way. Who do these people think they’re kidding? Are we truly meant to believe that people expressing skepticism about the authenticity of a “civil defense group” in a distant Middle Eastern country is suddenly the most dangerous thing in the world?

Are we really meant to think it’s normal for all these mass media corporations to suddenly start ferociously attacking anyone who expresses skepticism about the military agendas of western forces that have an extensive and well-documented history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military agendas? Are we really meant to believe that Syria, a nation for which the US and UK have been plotting regime change for many years, is just now in sore need of humanitarian regime change? And that anyone who says otherwise just loves Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin and dead babies?

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I asked before: did the DNC think this through?

WikiLeaks To Countersue Democrats; “Discovery Is Going To Be Amazing Fun” (ZH)

WikiLeaks has hit back against a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), announcing over Twitter that they are seeking donations for a counter-suit, noting “We’ve never lost a publishing case and discovery is going to be amazing fun,” along with a link which people can use to donate to the organization. Discovery is a pre-trial process by which one party can obtain evidence from the opposing party relevant to the case. The Trump campaign, which is also named in the DNC filing, says the lawsuit will provide an opportunity to “explore the DNC’s now-secret records.”

Hours after the Washington Post broke the news of the lawsuit, President Trump tweeted “Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC server that they refused to give to the FBI,” referring to the DNC email breach. Trump also mentioned “the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails.” In a statement which goes into the various items they’ll be pursuing in court, the Trump campaign said the following: “While this lawsuit is frivolous and will be dismissed, if the case goes forward, the DNC has created an opportunity for us to take aggressive discovery into their claims of ‘damages’ and uncover their acts of corruption for the American people..”

If this lawsuit proceeds, the Trump Campaign will be prepared to leverage the discovery process and explore the DNC’s now-secret records about the actual corruption they perpetrated to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Everything will be on the table, including: • How the DNC contributed to the fake dossier, using Fusion GPS along with the Clinton Campaign as the basis for the launch of a phony investigation. • Why the FBI was never allowed access to the DNC servers in the course of their investigation into the Clinton e-mail scandal. • How the DNC conspired to hand Hillary Clinton the nomination over Bernie Sanders. • How officials at the highest levels of the DNC colluded with the news media to influence the outcome of the DNC nomination. • Management decisions by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, Tom Perez, and John Podesta; their e-mails, personnel decisions, budgets, opposition research, and more.

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It’s much worse than the title suggests.

One In Eight Bird Species Is Threatened With Extinction (G.)

One in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction, and once widespread creatures such as the puffin, snowy owl and turtle dove are plummeting towards oblivion, according to the definitive study of global bird populations. The State of the World’s Birds, a five-year compendium of population data from the best-studied group of animals on the planet, reveals a biodiversity crisis driven by the expansion and intensification of agriculture. In all, 74% of 1,469 globally threatened birds are affected primarily by farming. Logging, invasive species and hunting are the other main threats.

“Each time we undertake this assessment we see slightly more species at risk of extinction – the situation is deteriorating and the trends are intensifying,” said Tris Allinson, senior global science officer for BirdLife International, which produced the report. “The species at risk of extinction were once on mountaintops or remote islands, such as the pink pigeon in Mauritius. Now we’re seeing once widespread and familiar species – European turtle doves, Atlantic puffins and kittiwakes – under threat of global extinction.” According to the report, at least 40% of bird species worldwide are in decline, with researchers blaming human activity for the losses.

After farming, logging is a key factor in declines of 50% of the most globally endangered species, followed by invasive species (39%), hunting and trapping (35%), climate change (33%) and residential and commercial development (28%). The illegal killing of birds – usually because of traditional hunting – results in an estimated 12 to 38 million individual birds dying or being taken each year in the Mediterranean region alone

Read more …