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.
Rising trade tensions between the United States and the rest of the world could cost the global economy $430bn, with America “especially vulnerable” to an escalating tariff war, the International Monetary Fund has warned. Delivering a sharp rebuke for Donald Trump, the Washington-based organisation said the current threats made by the US and its trading partners risked lowering global growth by as much as 0.5% by 2020, or about $430bn in lost GDP worldwide. Although all economies would suffer from further escalation, the US would find itself “as the focus of global retaliation” with a relatively higher share of its exports taxed in global markets. “It is therefore especially vulnerable,” the fund said.
Trump raised the stakes in his mounting trade dispute with China last week by proposing 10% tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods entering the country, on top of $34bn of tariffs that were officially imposed on Beijing at the beginning of the month. The Chinese government, which hit back at the first wave of US tariffs with similar measures, was quick to warn of further retaliation on Monday.[..] Issuing its latest World Economic Outlook report on Monday amid the rising tensions, the IMF said there were greater risks emerging for the global economy since its last assessment in the spring. Although world growth remains strong, the expansion is “becoming less even, and risks to the outlook are mounting”, it said.
The entire “liberal” media and political establishment of the Western world reveals its militarist, authoritarian soul today with the screaming and hysterical attacks on the very prospect of detente with Russia. Peace apparently is a terrible thing; a renewed arms race, with quite literally trillions of dollars pumped into the military industrial complex and hundreds of thousands dying in proxy wars, is apparently the “liberal” stance. Political memories are short, but just 15 years after Iraq was destroyed and the chain reaction sent most of the Arab world back to the dark ages, it is now “treason” to question the word of the Western intelligence agencies, which deliberately and knowingly produced a fabric of lies on Iraqi WMD to justify that destruction.
It would be more rational for it to be treason for leaders to blindly accept the word of the intelligence services. This is especially true on “Russia hacking the election” when, after three years of crazed accusations and millions of man hours by lawyers and CIA and FBI investigators, they are yet to produce any substantive evidence of accusations which are plainly nuts in the first place. This ridiculous circus has found a few facebook ads and indicted one Russian for every 100,000 man hours worked, for unspecified or minor actions which had no possible bearing on the election result.
There are in fact genuine acts of election rigging to investigate. In particular, the multiple actions of the DNC and Democratic Party establishment to rig the Primary against Bernie Sanders do have some very real documentary evidence to substantiate them, and that evidence is even public. Yet those real acts of election rigging are ignored and instead the huge investigation is focused on catching those who revealed Hillary’s election rigging. This gets even more absurd – the investigation then quite deliberately does not focus on catching whoever leaked Hillary’s election rigging, but instead seeks to prove that the Russians hacked Hillary’s election-rigging, which I can assure you they did not. Meanwhile, those of us who might help them with the truth if they were actually interested, are not questioned at all.
Mueller’s indictment leaves us with the premise that a supposed GRU officer working in league with other GRU officers, acquiring Podesta’s attachments and, just three days after Julian Assange announces leaks are coming in relation to Hillary Clinton, releases deliberately tainted files that serve to pin the blame on Russians, that only really hurt Trump, that ultimately undermined leaks and that provided fabricated evidence. Evidence that, for whatever reason, supported several claims made by CrowdStrike executives published in a legacy media article the previous day.
Guccifer 2.0 repeatedly tried to associate his efforts with WikiLeaks (from the day he appeared) – an organization for whistleblowers to be able to leak files anonymously. Something a hacker willing to publish leaks on his own blog would have had no need for, especially not if he was connected to a site that published leaks already (that is, DCLeaks.com). What we know about Guccifer 2.0 and his multi-layered efforts to be seen as Russian destroy the notion that he was anyone operating on the side of the Russian state.
Ultimately, the indictment produces a lot of new claims, many in keeping with what we know or have heard, however, it presents no evidence to support what it has introduced and an indictment by itself is not evidence, points that have already been noted by Consortium News, Moon of Alabama, Mark McCarty and others. They have also picked up on the timing of the indictment, which seems to have become a theme for Mueller’s indictments in particular. This latest example comes immediately following Rosenstein and Strzok being grilled and receiving negative press as well as immediately before Trump’s summit with Putin. Exactly how much of the indictment is bogus, I can’t know for sure, but definitely, some of it is, especially those parts that relate to the Guccifer 2.0 persona “being on Russia’s side” in all of this.
AARON MATE: Right. So, then let me ask you, Michael, this question, this belief that Putin personally ordered this interference campaign against the U.S. The strongest evidence to bolster it that I’ve seen was this Washington Post report in June 2017, I believe, that said that the U.S. had a mole inside Putin’s inner circle who reported that he personally instructed this operation to happen. Doesn’t that strike you as odd, that, well A, that the U.S. could penetrate Putin’s inner circle at that high level, and B, if they did, that they’d be willing to disclose that in a media report, thereby potentially compromising this incredibly sensitive source of information?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Now, you read Russian Roulette and you read about the secret source they had inside the Kremlin in 2014, who was warning the U.S. government that this is exactly what Putin’s government was up to. And this is what they were planning. And I know exactly. I know, we know a lot more about that secret source than we put in the book. This was something that was vetted very carefully. But it is not at all unusual that American spy agencies would seek to cultivate and develop sources who can provide insight into what Putin’s up to, and in these cases they clearly did.
AARON MATE: Someone claims they did. I just find it shocking that they would publicly reveal that, something that high level.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, so what’s your suggestion? That they invented the source, or what’s your-?
AARON MATE: My suggestion is it’s quite possible that, given the legacy of U.S. intelligence officials inventing intelligence to fix, to comport with political imperatives whatever they are, whether it’s the Iraq War, whether it’s allegations against any number of official U.S. enemies, that that may have happened here. And I’m just urging skepticism in the absence of evidence that we obviously disagree on whether it has been presented yet.
Vladimir Putin has accused Britain of making baseless allegations against Russia over the former Soviet spy and three other people poisoned, one fatally, with the novichok nerve agent in Salisbury. Asked in a Fox News interview about the British government’s assertion that Moscow was behind the novichok attack on the former spy Sergei Skripal, Putin said London had not provided any evidence to back up the claim. “We would like to get documentary evidence but nobody gives it to us,” Putin, speaking through a translator, told the US network after a summit with Donald Trump in Finland.
“It’s the same thing with the accusations of meddling in the election process in America,” he added in reference to claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election which was won by Trump. Putin suggested the case could be driven by domestic issues in Britain, saying: “Nobody wants to look into these.” “We just see the ungrounded accusations – why is it done this way? Why should our relationship be made worse by this?” The former Russian double agent Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed in Salisbury on 4 March after being exposed to novichok. Both have since recovered. On 30 June Charlie Rowley and his partner Dawn Sturgess fell ill not far from the Skripal attack after being exposed to the same nerve agent. Sturgess died on 8 July.
Brexit campaign group Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 and referred to the police after an Electoral Commission probe said it broke electoral law. The investigation found “significant evidence of joint working” between the group and another organisation – BeLeave – leading to it exceeding its spending limit by almost £500,000. Vote Leave also returned an “incomplete and inaccurate spending report”, with almost £234,501 reported incorrectly, and invoices missing for £12,849.99 of spending, the watchdog said. BeLeave founder Darren Grimes has also been fined and referred to the police for breaking the group’s spending limit by more than £665,000 and wrongly reporting the spending as his own.
Veterans for Britain were also found to have inaccurately reported a donation it received from Vote Leave and has been fined £250. Bob Posner, from the Electoral Commission, said: “The Electoral Commission has followed the evidence and conducted a thorough investigation into spending and campaigning carried out by Vote Leave and BeLeave. “We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits. These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.”
He added: “Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation. It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence. “Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial, and can now be seen in our report.”
Theresa May has narrowly seen off a Commons rebellion from Conservative remainers unhappy that she had caved in to hardline Brexiters by accepting their amendments to the customs bill. The government majority was reduced to just three votes on the two most controversial amendments after leading Tory remainer Anna Soubry complained that the prime minister had lost control of events by making concessions to the rightwing European Research Group of MPs. The most important of the four amendments from the ERG, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had been designed to frustrate May’s compromise proposals over customs arrangements and had initially been opposed by the government, until Downing Street made a sudden U-turn in the afternoon.
No 10 then concluded that all four amendments were “consistent with the Brexit white paper”, a decision that so incensed Tory remainers they vowed to vote against the amendments in Monday night’s Commons debate. One junior minister, Guto Bebb, resigned rather than support the ERG customs union amendment, which narrowly passed by 305 to 302. A total of 14 Tory remainers voted against the government, while three Labour MPs and former Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins voted the other way. A second ERG amendment, preventing the UK joining in with the EU’s VAT regime post-Brexit, passed 303 to 300.
A frustrated Soubry had told the Commons: “The only reason that the government has accepted these amendments is because it is frightened of somewhere in the region of 40 members of parliament – the hard, no-deal Brexiteers, who should have been seen off a long time ago and should be seen off.”
About a year ago, I described the passage of Brexit through parliament as being like that regularly reappearing photograph of a Burmese python that tried to swallow a six-foot alligator whole and accidentally exploded. The alligator suffocated, the python’s head got blown off. That much is not contested. But apart from that, no one knows quite what happened in the hours before an amateur photographer chanced upon it. We must presume the alligator struggled til the last, and that is the stage of Brexit at which we have now arrived. Parliament embraced Brexit of its own free will, but now it cannot handle the monster coming down its oesophagus. And the monster itself does not want to die.
More than a year on from triggering Article 50, the point at which the teeth of the two beast’s teeth first touched, Theresa May had hoped she had found a way of easing its passage that might keep both alive. The so-called “Chequers deal”, which is not a deal at all but an agreed position among the cabinet, detonated the cabinet within moments of it being agreed to. None of which engages with the fact that the European Union was highly likely to reject the agreement anyway. David Davis has quit. Boris Johnson has quit. Justine Greening, the former education secretary who quit in January, has said the only way forward is a second referendum with three choices on the ballot paper (hard Brexit, no Brexit, or the least damaging Brexit the government can manage to get).
Theresa May has faced taunts that her Chequers deal is “dead in the water” after caving in to a series of changes to customs rules demanded by pro-hard Brexit Tories. Plans for the UK to collect duties for the EU – which lie at the heart of the prime minister’s hopes for a deal with Brussels – will only go forward if the EU in turn agrees to collect them for the UK. There appears to be no prospect of the EU bowing to such a request, apparently throwing the hard-fought Chequers proposals up in the air after just 10 days. In the Commons, Ms May was accused of “dancing to the tune of the European Research Group” – the 60-80 strong organisation of Brexiteer MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.
“By capitulating to their proposals on the Customs and [the] Trade Bill she is accepting that the Chequers deal is now dead in the water,” said Labour MP Stephen Kinnock. Ms May insisted he was “absolutely wrong”, telling MPs: “I would not have gone through all the work that I did to ensure that we reached that agreement only to see it changed in some way through these bills. They do not change that Chequers agreement.” Nevertheless, the Brexit white paper – published only four days ago – appeared to rule out a requirement for the EU to agree reciprocal arrangements. It said the two sides would have to “agree a mechanism for the remittance of relevant tariff revenue”, but added: “The UK is not proposing that the EU applies the UK’s tariffs and trade policy at its border for goods intended for the UK.”
About two and a half years ago, I told you about a particularly nasty piece of legislation that President Obama quietly signed into law towards the end of his administration. They called it the “FAST Act”, which stood for Fixing America’s Surface Transportation. Yet despite $300 billion earmarked for infrastructure repairs, they didn’t manage to fix very much of America’s surface transportation. The legislation did, however, have two major effects: 1) The FAST Act authorized the US government to plunder excess capital from the Federal Reserve… which is about as stupid as thing as anyone could possibly do. The Federal Reserve is America’s central bank; they control the value and fate of the US dollar… which is still the most dominant currency in the world.
You’d think that having some excess cash on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet would be viewed as wise and conservative. But not Congress. These guys are so broke, they’ll grab every penny they can get. Even from their own central bank. So they buried a provision into the FAST Act demanding that the Federal Reserve hand over any excess capital to the Treasury Department at the end of every calendar year. They started doing that almost immediately, in December 2015. And in 2016. And in 2017. This is one of the reasons why, to this day, the Federal Reserve is borderline insolvent… which hardly inspires confidence. Now, I could go on for quite some time about what an idiotic idea this was. But believe it or not, there was an even worse section of the FAST Act– one they only started implementing recently:
2) Section 32101 of the FAST Act required the US State Department to revoke or deny the passport of any taxpayer that the IRS deems to have “seriously delinquent tax debt.” They define seriously delinquent tax debt as owing $50,000 or more. Well, it took them a couple of years, but the IRS has finally started enforcing this law. Earlier this month the IRS acknowledged that they had sent at least 362,000 names to the State Department to start revoking or denying passports. And that’s just the beginning. The IRS is sending these names out ‘in batches’, so there will be many more to follow. They hope to be finished by the end of the year.
Mobile payments. Credit cards. Digital currencies. Going cashless seems to be a worldwide trend. In Belgium, it is illegal to buy real estate with cash. Some banks in Australia have eliminated cash from their branches. Sweden has seen its use of cash drop to less than 2% of all transactions, and the number could be heading even lower in the next few years. However, one city in the US is resisting that trend: Washington DC. In the nation’s capital cash is still king, and a new bill introduced this week wants to keep it that way. The Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2018 would make it illegal for restaurants and retailers not to accept cash or charge a different price to customers depending on the type of payment they use.
City councilmember David Grasso, and five other councilmembers who co-introduced the bill, are responding to the recent tide of retailers in their city and around the country – like the salad chain Sweetgreen – who are no longer accepting cash. These retailers, which mostly serve upscale customers, say that going cashless speeds up transactions, improves customer service and makes for more accurate accounting. They also argue that having less cash lying around also minimizes the risk of crime and contributes to a safer environment for both their customers and employees.
But to some, not accepting cash is discriminatory. A report last year by the Washington City Paper found that 27% of people in the US would have trouble using only a credit card to purchase products, and that the percentage in Washington DC is even higher. “I’m concerned with more and more restaurants, businesses and shops going cashless because you’re systematically excluding a group of people who are already disadvantaged and disenfranchised,” Linnea Lassiter, an analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, told the paper. “And now they can’t have access to this restaurant?”
Netflix posted weaker-than-expected second-quarter revenue and subscriber numbers Monday afternoon, sending its stock into a sharp dive during after-hours trading. Netflix shares fell about 14% in the extended session after the Los Gatos, Calif-based company announced it added 5.2 million streaming users in the second quarter, a substantial drop from the 6.2 million estimate the company provided in April. The company added 4.47 million international subscribers and 670,000 domestic subscribers, missing its April estimates of 5.9 million and 1.2 million.
The company reported a profit of $384 million, or 85 cents a share, topping the FactSet consensus of 79 cents a share and up from $66 million, or 15 cents a share, in the same quarter a year ago. Revenue rose to $3.91 billion from $2.79 billion the year before, just below the FactSet consensus of $3.94 billion. In a letter to shareholders, Netflix said the company had a “strong but not stellar” quarter, acknowledging the company had “over-forecasted” both domestic and global net subscriber additions and “acquisition growth was lower than we projected.”
Airbnb has been found in breach of EU law and given until the end of the summer to ditch a range of practices, including that of belatedly applying additional fees to the prices it promotes online. The accommodation service has been accused by the European commission and national regulators of failing its customers and making the mistake of many global digital firms of “forgetting its responsibilities”. Vera Jourova, the commissioner for justice and consumers, told reporters in Brussels that the company had until the end of August to show it was reforming its ways or it could expect national regulators across Europe to launch coordinated action.
The commissioner said the prices displayed to those using the Airbnb website fail to reflect the fees and charges later passed on to the consumer, including cleaning costs. The site did not clearly identify if the offer of accommodation was being made by amateur hosts or professionals. The issue is important because the level of consumer rights differ according to the status of the owner, as do the health and safety requirements. The commissioner said Airbnb’s terms and conditions were unclear. She also said the company should put an end to its policy of seeking to tackle legal complaints made by its clients in courts outside the country where the complainant resides.
Thousands of properties are coming into the state’s possession not because they’re bogged down in debt, but simply because the people who inherit them are opting to give up the titles. According to real estate experts, more than 135,000 inheritances were disclaimed in 2017, because the beneficiaries were unable to pay the inheritance tax or they found the future financial demands of the property unbearable. The slump in the real estate market, in combination with the fact that many properties are suffering from neglect, meanwhile, are making it even harder for those who may be hoping to find a buyer before accepting their inheritance.
“Property has become a burden,” says Babis Haralambopoulos, a certified valuer, scientific consultant to Solum Property Solutions and former president of the Hellenic Valuation Institute. “Since the start of the crisis, residential properties have shed an average of 45 percent of their value, while there’s a trend toward stabilization right now.” Meanwhile, recent data from Eurostat showed that Greece had the highest housing costs as a percentage of disposable income among the European Union’s member-states. In 2016, the proportion of Greek households that spent more than 40 percent of their disposable income on housing costs came to 40.5 percent, which is almost four times the EU average of 11.1 percent.
The indictment by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose task it is to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and ‘Russians’, that was released yesterday by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, raises so many questions one has to be picky.
Many people have already stated that the report contains no proof of anything it claims, and that Mueller doesn’t have to prove a thing, because the 12 Russians he accuses will never show up in a US court. Many of course also have at least questioned the timing of the release, 3 days before the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki, of information Mueller and Rosenstein have allegedly been sitting on for months.
The idea that the event was not coordinated to inflict maximum damage to the summit seems indeed far-fetched. But something else struck me in the report: the role of WikiLeaks (labeled “Organization 1”). Mueller very much focuses on both Julian Assange -though he doesn’t get named and is not indicted- and his presumed links to the indicted Russians, who -allegedly- posed as Guccifer 2.0:
Use of Organization 1
47. In order to expand their interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Conspirators transferred many of the documents they stole from the DNC and the chairman of the Clinton Campaign to Organization 1. The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, discussed the release of the stolen documents and the timing of those releases with Organization 1 to heighten their impact on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
a. On or about June 22, 2016, Organization 1 sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded, “ok . . . i see.” Organization 1 explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”
b. After failed attempts to transfer the stolen documents starting in late June 2016, on or about July 14, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent Organization 1 an email with an attachment titled “wk dnc link1.txt.gpg.” The Conspirators explained to Organization 1 that the encrypted file contained instructions on how to access an online archive of stolen DNC documents. On or about July 18, 2016, Organization 1 confirmed it had “the 1Gb or so archive” and would make a release of the stolen documents “this week.”
48. On or about July 22, 2016, Organization 1 released over 20,000 emails and other documents stolen from the DNC network by the Conspirators. This release occurred approximately three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention. Organization 1 did not disclose Guccifer 2.0’s role in providing them. The latest-in-time email released through Organization 1 was dated on or about May 25, 2016, approximately the same day the Conspirators hacked the DNC Microsoft Exchange Server.
49. On or about October 7, 2016, Organization 1 released the first set of emails from the chairman of the Clinton Campaign that had been stolen by LUKASHEV and his co-conspirators. Between on or about October 7, 2016 and November 7, 2016, Organization 1 released approximately thirty-three tranches of documents that had been stolen from the chairman of the Clinton Campaign. In total, over 50,000 stolen documents were released.
This means Mueller et al claim that WikiLeaks received the DNC files from Russian parties which had hacked into DNC(-related) servers. Something Julian Assange has always denied. Now, remember that the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), a group of former US intelligence professionals, as well as others, have said that the speed with which the files were downloaded from the server(s) indicates that they were not hacked, but put onto a hard drive.
The person who is supposed to have done that is Seth Rich. Who was murdered on July 10 2016. Kim Dotcom has long claimed to have evidence that Seth Rich was indeed the person who provided the files to Assange. Today he said on Twitter that his lawyers warned him about exposing that evidence, citing his safety and that of his family.
Half a year after Rich’s -never solved- murder, in the first months of 2017, the US Department of Defense was involved in negotiations with Assange in which the latter was offered -temporary- ‘safe passage’ from the Ecuador Embassy in London where he is holed up, in exchange for Assange ‘redacting’ a batch of files on the CIA known as Vault 7.
These negotiations were suddenly halted in April 2017 through the interference of James Comey -then FBI chief- and Mark Warner, a US Senator (D-VA). In the talks, Assange had offered to prove that no Russians were involved in the process that led to WikiLeaks receiving the files.
Today, of course, Assange is completely incommunicado in the Ecuador embassy, so he cannot defend himself against the Mueller accusations. Mueller really doesn’t have to prove anything: he can say what he wants. Comey and Warner prevented Assange from providing evidence exonerating ‘the Russians’, and Assange has been shut down.
Let me reapeat once again: Assange is fully aware that the smallest bit of non-truth or half-lie would mean the end of WikiLeaks. It is based on ultimate trust. Nobody would ever offer a single file again if they wouldn’t have full confidence that Wikileaks would treat it -and them- with the utmost respect. So the American approach is to smear Assange in any way possible, rape allegations, collusion with Russian agents, anything goes.
And ‘the Russians’ can be ‘freely’ accused in a 29-page indictment released on the eve of the first summit President Trump is supposed to have with his Russian counterpart a year and a half into his presidency, where his predecessors all had such meetings much earlier into their presidencies. With many lawmakers calling on him to cancel it.
Do we all still remember the true meaning of ‘collusion’?
NAB’s survey results have highlighted to a trend decline in foreign buying activity in recent quarters resulting from policy changes in China on foreign investment outflows and tighter restrictions on foreign property buyers in Australia. In Q2 2018, there were fewer foreign buyers in the market for Australian property, with their market share dipping to 9.6% (10.9% in Q1 2018) in new housing markets and to 4.8% in established housing markets (5.7% in Q1 2018 and their lowest share since Q1 2012).
In established housing markets, the share of sales to foreign buyers fell in all states. They continued to be most active in VIC but their market share of total sales fell to a 4-year low of 6.2% (8.2% in Q1 2018). The decline was even more pronounced in NSW, where their market share fell to 4.8% (5.4% in Q1 2018) – the lowest level in over 6 years. In QLD, foreign buyers accounted for 5.4% of total sales (5.6% in Q1 2018), while in WA their share fell to 2.2% (4.7% in Q1 2018).
In new property markets, the share of sales to foreign buyers fell in all states except QLD where their share jumped to 22.8% (11.5% in Q1 2018). This may have reflected anecdotal reports of increased Chinese property investment associated with record numbers of Chinese student enrolments in the state. In contrast, the share of foreign buyers fell to 11.7% in VIC (down from an average of 14.4% since the survey started), 7.4% in NSW (from an average of 10.2%) and 4.6% in WA from an average of 6.8%.
Australia’s housing market is getting rattled. The mortgage industry is in turmoil. Banks are battered by incessant revelations of misconduct. Home prices in the Sydney and Melbourne metros, after surging to an astounding degree, are deflating. And the once splendid and vast game of real-estate speculation just isn’t fun anymore. Lindsay David, of LF Economics in Sydney — who has long played a role in exposing misconduct in Australia’s banking system including, in early 2016, by calling for a Royal Commission investigation into the mortgage sector — put some findings of his boots-on-the-ground analysis into a note to clients. Here are some of them:
1. Drop-off in Speculative Demand: “We spent countless hours” in recent months “observing buyer turnouts to scheduled property inspections of houses for sale,” he writes. “While there may still be a small sum of properties on market that continue to see very large turnouts, there was a clear visual drop-off of engaged interest from buyers and indeed ‘property snoops’ across the majority of properties for sale that we had observed.” “On many occasions, we observed either no interested parties, or less than 4 parties inspecting a property across a very decent chunk of offerings on the market,” he writes. “This lower rate of turnouts was something we simply had not observed over the years at such a dramatic scale.”
2. Sharper drop in selling prices than shown in official data: According to CoreLogic (the official data), home prices in Sydney fell 4.6% in June compared to a year ago, with house prices down 6.2%, and prices of condos down 0.7%. In the most expensive quartile, prices fell 7.3%. But Lindsay David writes: “It is our view based on all the resources made available that house prices in the Sydney area have broadly fallen somewhere between 11% and 15% over the comparison period.”
The Special counsel Robert Mueller issued an indictment against 12 Russian people alleged to be officers or personal of the Russian Military Intelligence Service GRU. The people, claims the indictment, work for an operational (26165) and a technical (74455) subunit of the GRU. A Grand Jury in Washington DC issued 11 charges which are described and annotated below. A short assessment follows. The first charge is for a “Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States” by stealing emails and leaking them. The indictment claims that the GRU units sent spearfishing emails to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party organizations DNC and DCCC. They used these to get access to email boxes of John Podesta and other people.
They are also accused of installing spyware (X-agent) on DNC computers and of exfiltrating emails and other data from them. The emails were distributed and published by the online personas DCLeaks, Guccifer II and later through Wikileaks. The indictment claims that DCLeaks and Guccifer II were impersonations by the GRU. Wikileaks, “organization 1” in the indictment, is implicated but so far not accused. Note: There is a different Grand Jury for the long brewing case against Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Assange has denied that the emails he published came from a Russian source. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador, said that he received the emails on a trip to Washington DC and transported them to Wikileaks.
The indictment describes in some detail how various rented computers and several domain names were used to access the DNC and DCCC computers. The description is broadly plausible but there is little if any supporting evidence.
Lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to cancel a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin after special counsel Robert Mueller charged against 12 Russians for interfering in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election Friday. Democratic leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives, alongside a growing list of other Democratic lawmakers, called on the president to abandon the meeting, which is scheduled to take place Monday in Helsinki, Finland. In their statements, many Democrats said they did not trust Trump, who has often expressed a desire to improve U.S.-Russia relations, to confront Putin about Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
They were joined by at least one high-profile member of the opposing party: Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic and a Russia hawk, called on the president to cancel the summit if he is “not prepared to hold Putin accountable.” But the Trump administration appears unlikely to do so. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told NBC News on Friday afternoon that the summit is “still on.” The White House downplayed the significance of the indictment, noting there were no allegations against members of Trump’s campaign team. The president’s lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said the charges were “good news for all Americans” and called on the special counsel to end his investigation and declare the president innocent.
Does Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for allegedly hacking Hillary’s emails and interfering in the US election have any purpose other than to throw a monkey wrench in President Trump’s upcoming summit with Putin? Don’t forget that Rosenstein is implicated in the orchestration of Russiagate as a weapon against Trump, a weapon that serves the interests of the Democratic Party and the military/security complex about which President Eisenhower warned us 56 years ago to no avail. Rosenstein’s indictment of 12 Russians for allegedly hacking computers is a political indictment aimed at President Trump. The indictment is otherwise pointless as the Russian government will certainly not turn over its military personnel to a Washington kangeroo court.
The indictment serves no purpose except to poison the atmosphere of the summit. If you read the indictment, you will see that it consists of nothing but improbable accusations. There is no way on earth that the US Justice (sic) Department would be able to acquire the information in this fictional story that Rosenstein has presented. Moreover, there is no sign whatsoever of any evidence in the indictment. Rosenstein knows that he needs no evidence, because the accused will never be brought to trial.
Rosenstein has thrown red meat to the presstitutes, who are assets of the military/security compex and Democratic Party, and the presstitutes will pressure the Republicans to get behind Rosenstein’s call for a united front against Russian interference. You can imagine what would happen if Trump and Putin were to have a successful summit and normalize the relations that Washington ruined between the two countries.
As a rule, American presidents have departed for summits with bipartisan support and well-wishes. Trump’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Putin, in Helsinki on July 16, is profoundly different in two respects. US-Russian relations have rarely, if ever, been more dangerous. And never before has a president’s departure—in Trump’s case, first for a NATO summit and then the one with Putin—been accompanied by allegations that he is disloyal to the United States and thus cannot be trusted, defamations once issued only by extremist fringe elements in American politics. Now, however, we are told this daily by mainstream publications, broadcasts, and “think tanks.”
According to a representative of the Clintons’ Center for American Progress, “Trump is going to sell out America and its allies.” The New York Times and The Washington Post also feature “experts”—they are chosen accordingly—who “worry” and “fear” that Trump and Putin “will get along.” The Times of London, a bastion of Russophobic Cold War advocacy, captures the mainstream perspective in a single headline: “Fears Grow Over Prospect of Trump ‘Peace Deal’ with Putin.”
An anti-“peace” Washington establishment is, of course, what still-unproven Russiagate allegations have wrought, as summed up by a New York magazine writer who advises us that the Trump-Putin summit may well be “less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.” The charge is hardly original, having been made for months at MSNBC by the questionably credentialed “intelligence expert” Malcolm Nance and the, it seems, selectively informed Rachel Maddow, among many other “experts.” Considering today’s perilous geopolitical situation, it is hard not to conclude that much of the American political establishment, particularly the Democratic Party, would prefer trying to impeach Trump to averting war with Russia, the other nuclear superpower. For this too, there is no precedent in American history.
Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. The following so stretches credulity that sources will have to be cited and an exact quotations given to be believed. A case in point is the following title: “Fears growing over the prospect of Trump ‘peace deal’ with Putin”. The Times does not here fear a military escalation in Ukraine, an armed clash in Syria, a false-flag poisoning in England, or a new Cold War. The Times does not fear a nuclear apocalypse, the end of humanity, the suffering of hundreds of millions of people. No, one of the most authoritative and respected broadsheets in the world is fearful of the prospect of peace! The Times is afraid that the heads of two nuclear-armed superpowers are able to talk to each other.
The Times fears that Putin and Trump will be able to come to some kind of agreement that can help avert the danger of a global catastrophe. These are the times in which we live. And this is the type of media we deal with. The problem with The Times is that it forms public opinion in the worst possible way, confusing, deceiving, and disorienting its readers. It is not by accident the world in which we live is increasingly divorced from logic and rationality. Even if the outcome of this meeting does not see any substantial progress, the most important thing to be achieved will be the dialogue between the two leaders and the opening of negotiation channels for both sides. In The Times article, it is assumed that Trump and Putin want to reach an agreement regarding Europe.
The insinuation is that Putin is manipulating Trump in order to destabilize Europe. For years now we have been inundated with such fabrications by the media on behalf of their editors and shareholders, all part of the deep state conglomerate. Facts have in fact proven that Putin has always desired a strong and united Europe, looking to integrate Europe into the Eurasian dream. Putin and Xi Jinping would like to see a European Union more resistant to American pressure and able to gain greater independence. The combination of mass migration and sanctions against Russia and Iran, which end up hurting Europeans, opens the way for alternative parties that are not necessarily willing to Washington’s marching orders.
Donald Trump’s outburst may have done Theresa May a fleeting favour. Had the grand Shrek not delivered every imaginable insult (short of impugning St Gareth of Southgate) to his host country yesterday, the story in the spotlight this weekend would have been on the growing disquiet around May’s handling of the Chequers agreement on Brexit, and the darkening mood that has descended on her own benches. As it turned out, May rode out the turbulence. But with the awkward visitor gone, the stony road to Brexit – “a tough deal”, as the US president observed – resumes. What started a mere week ago as applause for the prime minister in facing down her most troublesome ministerial insurgents has slipped into acute agitation.
It turns in part on the convoluted deal itself – but also on a fresh bout of panic about her ability to lead when the pressure is on. The departures of Boris Johnson and David Davis disconcerted Brexiteers – but did not unleash rebellion. Thursday’s white paper was another matter. Its use of the term “association agreement” (not used previously) was a red rag to many bulls. Given that the last one the European Union signed was with Ukraine, it hardly takes a marketing genius to see the problem. In this endgame of competing impossibilisms – hard Brexit versus a byzantine arrangement of near-customs-union “associations”, segmented agreements on goods and services, and somewhat indeterminate reassurance for the City on how its practices will be affected – the prime minister’s nightmare is that both enemy camps conclude they don’t want whatever she is offering.
This is the Zero Dark Thirty moment at which a serious move to oust May becomes probable – unless she can take back control of her disputatious party. May is not quite at that point – but perilously close. As one recently departed senior figure put it, there is no such thing as summer relief “because Graham Brady’s letter box is open over the recess”. Brady is the chair of the backbench MPs’ committee to which no-confidence votes would be submitted.
Amazon is a Goliath in very different sectors. One is the internet cloud, a booming business. Amazon Web Services has evolved into the single largest player offering cloud computing services to companies, governments, and individuals. In the first quarter, AWS owns 33% share of the cloud infrastructure market, ahead of Microsoft with a 13% share, and Google with a 6% share. Being the biggest kid on the block, it has become the shoo-in for a multi-year $10-billion Pentagon contract. That business is highly profitable.
Less profitable are Amazon’s e-commerce operations. But in terms of magnitude, Amazon totally rules. According to a report from eMarkter, cited by CNBC, Amazon’s online sales in the US are expected to surge 30% in 2018 compared to a year earlier, to $258 billion. This would boost Amazon’s share of US e-commerce sales of 49.1%! The other combatants are fighting over the crumbs in terms of market share. The next nine largest e-commerce operations combined grab about 22% of the market: eBay (EBAY): 6.6% Apple (AAPL): 3.9% Walmart (WMT): 3.7% Home Depot (HD): 1.5% Best Buy (BBY) 1.3% QVC Group (QVCA): 1.2% Macy’s (M): 1.2% Costco (COST): 1.2% Wayfair (W): 1.1%
That leaves 29% of e-commerce for all the other retailers with online operations, from Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) to the tiniest home-office operations, millions of them. Amazon online sales fall into two categories: its “direct sales” and the sales from other sellers that use Amazon’s platform and execution (“Marketplace sales”). Both are growing in leaps and bounds, but Marketplace sales are growing the fastest. In 2018, Marketplace sales are expected to account for 68% of Amazon’s e-commerce sales, and direct sales for 32%, according to eMarketer estimates. Overall, e-commerce sales in the US have soared 16% in the first quarter from a year ago and are on track to exceed $500 billion this year.
A U.S. judge in California on Friday ordered President Donald Trump’s administration to pay the costs of reuniting immigrant parents with children separated from them by officials at the U.S.-Mexican border, rather than forcing the parents to pay. The U.S. government is working to reunite around 2,000 children with their parents, who were detained and separated as part of Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach to deter illegal immigration. “It doesn’t make any sense for any of the parents who have been separated to pay for anything,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who last month ordered that the children be reunited with their parents by July 26, said at a hearing in San Diego.
The government missed a deadline this week for getting the youngest of the children back with their parents. Trump has made his hardline immigration policies a central part of his presidency. His administration adopted the family separation policy as part of its effort to discourage illegal immigration, but Trump bowed to intense political pressure and abandoned the policy on June 20. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the administration over the family separations, said at the hearing that immigrant parents had been told by immigration officials they had to pay for their travel. One parent was initially asked to pay $1,900 to be reunited with a child, according to ACLU court papers.
Trump administration lawyer Sarah Fabian called the judge’s order on paying for the reunifications “a huge ask on HHS,” referring to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fabian said those decisions were handled at the field level, adding that HHS, which houses the detained children, had limited resources. “The government will make it happen,” Sabraw responded. The judge also agreed to impose timelines on the government for reporting details about its reunification efforts.
It seems unfair that the earnest polymath Elon Musk should go broke in the electric car business while Kylie Jenner becomes a billionaire at age 20 hawking lip gloss on Snapchat, but that’s how the American Dream rolls these late days of empire. Perhaps the lesson here, for all you MBA wannabes, is that Mr. Musk could switch his production facilities from cars to lip gloss. Of course, to successfully market his new line of cosmetics on social media, Elon might have to consider sexual “reassignment” surgery — unless he could persuade American men via Facebook and Twitter, that lip enhancement boosts male self-esteem almost as much as the purchase of a Ford F-450 pickup truck at a laughable fraction of the cost.
Which raises an interesting question: if President Donald Trump’s most winning personal feature is that magnificent golden hair-do, why doesn’t he (or his family) get out of the pain-in-the-ass hotel business, with all its construction and maintenance issues and dirty sheets, and just put out shampoo? He is obviously adept at Twitter marketing and surely scores high in global brand recognition. Which raises any number of other major questions about the proper functioning of the US economy. For instance, millions of Americans, especially of Kylie J’s gen, are wasting their lives working dead-end minimum wage jobs manning (personing?) the nation’s fry-o-lator stations when they could start billion dollar cosmetic companies.
After all, if you really want to be successful in this land of success stories, don’t you have to first look and feel successful? Perhaps that’s all you really need… forget all those pain-in-the-ass products with their vexing assembly-line, packing, and shipping problems. Just get America feeling great about itself, starting with the most important person in the room: YOU! Only two things stand in the way: tattoos and blubber. At the rate our fellow citizens are adorning themselves with inky autobiographies, ever fewer will want to cover up their personal messaging with icky makeup. And the remorseless increase in body size implies a concomitant increase in available epidermal sites for said personal messaging — so maybe the tattoo industry ought to be the basis of the next American economy, not electric cars and journeys to Mars, or even lip gloss. Just think of all those empty brick-and-mortar retail spaces out there begging to become Ink Spots! I may be wrong about this, but I haven’t heard of any tattoo billionaires…yet. Who will dare to be first? (Yet another Kardashian?)
David Davis has quit his cabinet job following a major row with Theresa May over her plans for post-Brexit relations with the EU. His resignation as Brexit secretary deals a heavy blow to the stability of the prime minister’s administration, with two other ministers almost immediately following suit. The departure of Mr Davis, Steve Baker and Suella Braverman, who had also served in the Department for Exiting the EU, could now embolden other senior figures to quit.
Ms May had been hoping to win over Brexiteers to her proposals agreed by the cabinet, including Mr Davis, on Friday – but since then Leave-backing Tory MPs have called for a change in leadership.
The move comes on the eve of a major test for the prime minister as she faces the house of commons on Monday, to explain her proposals, and then a stormy meeting of Conservative MPs. In his resignation letter, Mr Davis wrote: “As you know there have been a significant number of occasions in the last year or so on which I have disagreed with the Number 10 policy line, ranging from accepting the [European] Commission’s sequencing of negotiations, through to the language on Northern Ireland in the December Joint Report. “At each stage I have accepted collective responsibility because it is part of my task to find workable compromises, and because I considered it was still possible to deliver on the mandate of the referendum, and on our manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.
World trade has decelerated sharply. This ill omen portends severe risks in the months to come. The greatest risks are in the eurozone – where Italy is the fault line along which the most acute vulnerabilities lie. In the three months ending in April, the annual pace of world trade growth dipped slightly below 4 percent, a sharp decline from 5.5 percent rate in the second half of 2017. Trade growth in 2017 was both a barometer and cause of rare “synchronized” GDP growth with nearly every country experiencing buoyant conditions. That sweet spot is fading because the Chinese economy is slowing down. With its huge size and extensive global trade relationships, changes in Chinese domestic economic priorities have a huge impact on trade and the world economic outlook.
A blistering pace of Chinese imports propped world trade growth until January this year, and a slowdown since then in Chinese imports has dampened world trade. The shift is a consequence of the attempt by Chinese leadership to diffuse a grossly oversized credit bubble. But reduced credit has squeezed investment in infrastructure projects and, hence, in the imports of goods and materials to support those projects. Recently, retail sales have also slowed. China’s credit bubble may yet burst, causing global economic and financial mayhem. Even if the Chinese economy merely slows down, which it seems almost certain to, global trade deceleration will continue. If, in addition, the global trade war escalates, global economic conditions could deteriorate rapidly.
Growth deceleration is already evident in the eurozone. German growth relies to an extraordinary degree on exports to China and, not surprisingly, German industrial production has been in the doldrums in the past few months. Moreover, when German exporters face weaker growth prospects, they buy less from their largely European suppliers, which significantly dampens economic growth in Europe. Italy will face the ill-effects of a global slowdown most acutely. After abysmal performance through much of the last decade, Italian GDP growth had picked up to annual rate of 1.8 percent in the second half of 2017. But that did not last. Already, Italian GDP growth is slowing and forecasts for the 2018 have are down to just above a 1 percent annual growth rate.
It’s already been a harsh year for Chinese funds, hit by new rules aimed at reining in debt in the country’s financial system. Now, the sell-off in China stocks induced by trade war anxiety further threatens their health and for some, their survival. Case in point: private fund house Nanjing Hu Yang Investment Co has seen its assets under management halve to 50 million yuan ($7.5 million) over the past year on redemptions and investment losses. Its chairman, Zhang Kaihua, said he is putting his funds, which bet on consumer stocks, into “a state of dormancy”. He’s also stopped publishing fund performances and shelved capital raising plans. “Our only hope is that our existing clients can stick with us so that we can survive,” he said, adding that he has seen many of his peers drop out of the market.
In the past when market turmoil has hit China’s fund industry, such as in 2015, it has managed to bounce back on loose monetary policies and relaxations in rules for the sector. But this time, asset managers face a double whammy of fleeing investors and a central bank keen to see a mopping up of excessive liquidity in the financial system – pointing to prolonged pain for the industry. And as the U.S.-China trade war heats up – the two slapped tariffs on $34 billion worth of each other’s goods on Friday – the worry is that further declines in Chinese shares, which have fallen 10 percent since late June to two year-lows, could be the last straw for some funds.
According to Morningstar, fewer than 10 of the 800-plus Chinese equity mutual funds it tracks have made a positive return this year. Even before trade war fears ramped up last month, changes to asset management rules first outlined in 2017 and aimed at encouraging banks to reel in their investments in stocks and bonds had taken their toll. Equity fundraising dwindled to minimal levels, while redemptions and liquidations spiked.
America’s foreign trade deficits on goods transactions are getting worse. After an increase of 7.7 percent in 2017, those deficits were growing in the first five months of this year at an almost identical annual rate. Particularly disappointing is the fact that there is no progress at all in bringing trade deficits down with the European Union and China. The deficit with those two large economic systems came in at $218 billion during the January-May period, accounting for nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of America’s total trade gap. That deficit was 11.3 percent more than recorded over the same interval of last year, and, at an annual rate, it comes close to half-a-trillion dollars.
Looking at the detail of these numbers, one can clearly see that trade deficits with the EU and China, growing at respective annual rates of 15 percent and 10 percent, are driven by a strong and unrelenting import penetration of American markets by European and Chinese companies. On current evidence, the short-term outlook for American foreign trade is not good for reasons of (a) different growth dynamics, (b) confrontational trade policies and (c) the political and security fallout exacerbated by intensifying trade disputes. Barring an inflation-induced recession, of which more later, the U.S. aggregate demand components — household consumption, residential investments and business capital outlays — are underpinned by high employment, increasing inflation-adjusted after tax incomes, low credit costs and targeted fiscal incentives.
An anticipated economic growth in the area of 2.5 to 3.0 percent for the rest of this year would still be more than an entire percentage point above the estimated non-inflationary potential of the U.S. economy. That strong demand pressure will continue to spill over into the rest of the world, and will support America’s vigorous imports of foreign goods and services. That’s music to European and Chinese ears.
Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has warned Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, that the White House is close to refusing to grant an interview with the president. Giuliani took the increasingly belligerent tone of the White House up a notch on Sunday when he called the Russian investigation the “most corrupt I’ve ever seen”. Speaking on This Week on ABC News, he accused the special counsel of assembling a team of investigators around him that included “very, very severe partisans working on an investigation that should have been done by people who are politically neutral”.
Asked whether they had made a decision on whether or not Trump should participate in an interview with the inquiry, he replied: “We have not determined he will not sit down with Mueller, but we are close to that.” Giuliani’s round of the Sunday TV political talkshows is the latest sign that the core Trump team has decided to abandon its earlier approach of being seen to cooperate with the Russia investigation, and move towards an antagonistic position. On Friday, Giuliani told the New York Times that Mueller would get his interview with the president only if he could satisfy the White House that he had evidence that Trump had committed a crime.
The attorney and former mayor of New York, who is a long-standing friend of Trump’s, walked back that suggestion a little on Sunday. He said the White House did not require evidence of a criminal deed but at least some factual basis supporting suspicion of a crime. Giuliani revealed to CNN’s State of the Union that the White House legal team had debriefed all the witnesses to the Mueller investigation, and reviewed 1.4m pages of documents handed over to the special counsel. As a result, he claimed, he could confidently say that Trump had nothing to answer. “I have a pretty good idea because I’ve seen all the documents they have, we’ve debriefed all their witnesses. They have nothing. They would not be pressing for this interview if they had anything.”
Our “corporate coup d’état in slow motion,” as the writer John Ralston Saul calls it, has opened a Pandora’s box of evils that is transforming America into a failed state. The “unholy trinity of corruption, impunity and violence,” he said, can no longer be checked. The ruling elites abjectly serve corporate power to exploit and impoverish the citizenry. Democratic institutions, including the courts, are mechanisms of corporate repression. Financial fraud and corporate crime are carried out with impunity. The decay is exacerbated by the state’s indiscriminate use of violence abroad and at home, where rogue law enforcement agencies harass and arrest citizens and the undocumented and often kill the unarmed.
A depressed and enraged population, trapped by chronic unemployment and underemployment, is overdosing on opioids and beset by rising suicide rates. It engages in acts of nihilistic violence, including mass shootings. Hate groups proliferate. The savagery, mayhem and grotesque distortions familiar to those on the outer reaches of empire increasingly characterize American existence. And presiding over it all is the American version of Ubu Roi, playwright Alfred Jarry’s gluttonous, idiotic, vulgar, narcissistic and infantile king, who turned politics into burlesque.
“Congress works through corruption,” Saul [..] said when we spoke in Toronto. “I look at Congress and I see the British Parliament in the late 18th century, the rotten boroughs. Did they have elections? Yes. Were the elections exciting? Yes. They were extremely exciting.” Rotten boroughs were the 19th-century version of gerrymandering. The British oligarchs created electoral maps through which depopulated boroughs—50 of them had fewer than 50 voters—were easily dominated by the rich to maintain control of the House of Commons.
In the United States, our ruling class has done much the same, creating districts where incumbents, who often run unchallenged, return to Congress election after election. Only about 40 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are actually contested. And given the composition of the Supreme Court, especially with Donald Trump poised to install another justice, it will get worse. The corruption of the British system was amended in what Saul called “a wave upwards.” The 1832 Reform Act abolished a practice in which oligarchs, such as Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, controlled the election results in 11 boroughs. The opening up of the British parliamentary system took nearly a century. In the United States, Saul said, the destruction of democracy is part of “a wave downwards.”
Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda on Monday stressed that the central bank would maintain its ultra-loose monetary policy until inflation hits its 2 percent target. He also reiterated that Japan’s economy would see inflation accelerate towards the BOJ’s target as the output gap improved and medium- to long-term inflation expectations heightened. “Japan’s economy is expected to continue expanding moderately,” Kuroda said in a speech at a quarterly meeting of the central bank’s regional branch managers. Under a yield curve control policy adopted in 2016, the BOJ pledges to guide short-term interest rates at minus 0.1 percent and the 10-year government bond yield around zero percent.
In Joseph Stiglitz’s recent article for the POLITICO Global Policy Lab (“How to Exit the Eurozone,” June 29, 2018), the Nobel-prize wining economist proposes that Italy issue a parallel currency as a way to retake control of its monetary policy. It’s an insightful idea, and one worth exploring. However, Stiglitz is wrong when he suggests that “introducing a parallel currency, even informally, would almost certainly violate the eurozone’s rules and certainly be against its spirit.” Our organization — the Group of Fiscal Money — has been very active in developing and promoting such a dual-currency scheme. We call it “Fiscal Money” and believe it could be used to avoid the uncertainties of exiting the euro while allowing Italy to recover economically without breaking any EU rule.
Our proposal is for government to issue transferable and negotiable bonds, which bearers can use for tax rebates two years after issuance. Such bonds would carry immediate value, since they would incorporate sure claims to future fiscal savings. They could be immediately exchanged against euros in the financial market or used (in parallel to the euro) to purchase goods and services. Fiscal Money would be allocated, free of charge, to supplement employees’ income, to fund public investments and social spending programs, and to reduce enterprises’ tax on labor. These allocations would increase domestic demand and (by mimicking an exchange-rate devaluation) improve enterprise competitiveness through a reduction in the cost of labor.
As a result, Italy’s output gap — that is, the difference between potential and actual GDP — would close without affecting the country’s external balance. Note that under Eurostat rules, Fiscal Money bonds would not constitute debt, since the issuer would be under no obligation to reimburse them in cash. Also, as non-payable tax assets (of which many examples already exist), they would not be recorded in the budget until used for tax rebates — that is, two years after issuance when output and fiscal revenue have recovered.
Even as Germany’s interior minister Horst Seehofer threatens the launch of mass returns of migrants if bilateral agreements are not achieved, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen has suggested that such an accord with Greece may be signed by the end of the month. In comments to Der Spiegel, Seehofer said the absence of bilateral deals was “not a good strategy” and that Germany will start returning migrants reaching its border if that situation is not rectified. For his part, Alexander Dobrindt of the Christian Social Union said he believed German plans to return asylum seekers to European Union countries of first entry would not necessarily be met by cooperation.
“Whoever is not in a position to honor fundamental European regulations cannot expect cooperation in other areas,” he said. Von der Leyen, for her part, expressed her conviction that a bilateral agreement with Greece was a matter of time. “We want an agreement with Greece by the end of the month,” she told the Funke publishing group, adding that such an accord could be an example for other countries. “The Italians want us to help them in exchange,” she said. “Solidarity is significant, for everyone, irrespective of who is in government in Rome,” she said.
Italy and Libya have agreed to reactivate a friendship treaty signed a decade ago that allowed migrants to be returned to Libyan territory. “We agreed to reactivate the 2008 Italian-Libyan friendship treaty,” said Libya’s foreign minister Mohamad Siala in a joint press conference in Tripoli with Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero Milanesi. He hailed the agreement reached during his first visit to Tripoli as “significant and promising”. The original treaty was signed by former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and Italy’s then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, as they sought to turn a page on 40 years of stormy relations between the North African country and its former coloniser.
But the deal was suspended in February 2011, after the start of the uprising that saw Gadhafi forced from power and killed. The original treaty envisaged unlocking 4.2 billion euros of Italian investment in Libya as compensation for colonisation by Rome. In exchange, Libya would work to stop illegal migrants embarking from its shores — and receive those sent back to it. In Tripoli on Saturday the two ministers did not say if the text of the reactivated treaty had been amended. The agreement means “all the conditions are in place to work hand in hand to support stabilisation … (of) Libya’s security and unity”, Milanesi said. Libya “shares with the European Union the responsibility and the duty to deal with migrants”, he added.
The new anti-immigrant government in Rome has vowed to turn away all migrants who make it across the Mediterranean and into Italy. In recent days the UN has urged Rome to change its policy and re-allow charity rescue ships to operate in its waters and dock at its ports. It states that, whilst the amount of migrant attempting the crossing has gone down, the number of drownings has gone up.
It’s a nasty day to be long Wall Street’s “synchronized global recovery.” Chinese stocks are down -20% from their January highs. Emerging Market equities, like Argentina and the Philippines, have been rocked by the one-two punch of a stronger dollar and slowing growth. Italian equities are down -12% since early May. Our read on global stagflation remains firmly intact. In other words, it’s not the threat of President Trump’s trade wars that continue to weigh on global equity markets, it’s slowing economic data. We don’t expect these trends to reverse anytime soon. The evidence of global growth slowing is everywhere.
The latest news out of China is that the PBoC lowered the reserve requirements for some Chinese banks, thereby releasing $108 billion in liquidity. The media quickly blamed President Trump’s “trade wars” for the move. However, the economic tea leaves suggest China’s ongoing growth slowdown is the culprit. The ripple effects of #ChinaSlowing are already being felt in Emerging Asia, like Philippine equities. (China is one of the Philippines’ primary trading partners. #ChinaSlowing = Not good.) We continue to forecast #EuropeSlowing, despite ECB head Mario Draghi’s claim that European “growth momentum” is alive and well. If the data is so good, why did Eurozone Industrial Production get more-or-less cut in half in April (1.7% YoY i! from 3.2%)?
The Federal Reserve’s effort earlier this month to tamp down the rise of its benchmark interest rate already isn’t running as smoothly as officials might have anticipated. At its June 12-13 meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee hiked its target overnight funds rate 0.25 points to a range of 1.75 percent to 2 percent. At the same time, it raised the interest on excess reserves 0.2 points to 1.95 percent. The move was meant to contain the rise of the funds rate, which historically trails the IOER. In the weeks running up to the meeting, the funds rate closed within 5 basis points, or 0.05 percent, of the IOER, instead of staying within the midpoint of the target range as it has done since the Fed began hiking the funds rate in December 2015.
However, in the days since, the funds rate has moved even closer to the IOER. As of Friday trading, the funds rate has edged up to 1.92 percent — now just 3 basis points away from the IOER, though still 8 points away from the top of the trading range set at this month’s meeting. For the Fed, it’s a potential headache as the central bank sees to unwind the programs it initiated the pull the economy out of the financial crisis. The Fed kept interest rates at historically low levels and bought up nearly $4 trillion worth of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities in an effort to keep rates anchored and maintain liquidity flow through the financial system. For investors, it means that continued upward pressure on the funds rate as the Fed unwinds the bonds on its balance sheet could keep the FOMC at bay in its stated intention to continue hiking interest rates.
“Here we are, and I think they will be lucky to get one more done this year, because whenever the curve flattens the market’s going to look at the Fed and say, ‘Really?’ and the Fed will have to blink,” said Christopher Whalen, head of Whalen Global Advisors, an investment bank consultancy. “They’re telling everyone there’s going to be a couple more rate increases, and that’s fanciful.”
Egon von Greyerz: “While the US government worries about the military threat of Russia, and the trade deficit with China, they show no concern for the real problems. To understand what is really happening, all we need to do is to ‘Follow the Money.’ The flows of real money reveal where global economic power is moving. “The US has not had a real budget surplus for almost 60 years and has run balance of payment deficits every year since 1975. A country that lives above its means for over half a century is technically and economically bankrupt. Its debt should have zero value and so should its currency. But the US has skillfully avoided bankruptcy, so far, by having the reserve currency of the world and being the biggest military power.
Both Russia and China can see the writing on the wall. They understand that the world’s most indebted country cannot solve its debt problem by issuing more debt. That is why Russia and China, together with India, are buying most of the global gold production every year. In May Russia added another 600,000 oz or almost 20 tonnes to its gold reserves. Since January 2018, when Trump became president, US debt has increased by 6% or $1.1 trillion to $21.1 trillion, while Russia has added another 9 million oz of gold, and are now holding $80 billion of gold reserves. So while the US economy is taking the road to perdition, Russia knows that the only money that will survive is gold — just like it always has! For years the world has financed the US debt by buying US treasuries. But we are now seeing a marked change.
Many countries are currently liquidating US Treasuries. They know what will happen to US debt and are trying to get rid of their holdings in an orderly manner in order to avoid US Treasuries crashing together with the dollar. This is what will happen at some point in the next 1-3 years. Global investors will panic out of dollar denominated bonds, leading to a crash of both the US currency and dollar debt. The Chinese know this but their US Treasury holdings are so large that they need to sell slowly in order not to shoot themselves in the foot. In the end, China is likely to take a major loss on its dollar Treasury holdings but that is the price they have been willing to pay in order to build up their economy and manufacturing sector through financing US deficit spending.
From global manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson to small tech startups, companies are scrambling to rework supply chains built for an era of stable, open trade policy that is now under threat. As U.S. President Donald Trump pushes to upend the status quo of global trade, companies that initially took a wait-and-see stance are starting to take action to shield their businesses from shifting trade policy. On Monday, U.S. motorcycle maker Harley warned of higher costs because of retaliatory EU tariffs, and said it would shift production of bikes destined for the European Union out of the United States to factories it has built in India, Brazil and Thailand.
The decision of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company, which Trump vowed to make great again when he took office, came less than a week after Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler cut its 2018 profit forecast, citing growing trade tensions. Its German rival BMW said it was considering “possible strategic options” in view of the rising trade tensions between China and the United States. Harley is the latest example of how companies are finding themselves in the crosshairs following “tit-for-tat” retaliations over Trump’s bid to rewrite global trade rules as part of his “America First” agenda. Office furniture maker Steelcase last week reported a 230 basis-point fall in the gross margins of its American business in the first quarter due to higher raw materials costs following Trump’s metal import tariffs.
Conflicting signals from the Trump administration over proposed restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. technology companies, along with news that recently imposed import tariffs are starting to disrupt supply chains, sent global stock markets tumbling on Monday. Proposed restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. technology would not just be confined to China, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The forthcoming restrictions would apply “to all countries that are trying to steal our technology,” he said. The U.S. Treasury is due to issue its recommendations on Chinese investment restrictions on Friday.
Late Monday White House trade and manufacturing adviser Peter Navarro sought to downplay Mnuchin’s remarks, telling CNBC television that the restrictions on investments in U.S. technology companies would just target China. Benchmark Wall Street stock indexes suffered their worst losses in two months on Monday, while safe haven Treasury debt yields fell. U.S. technology stocks were worst hit. Alphabet, the parent of Google, fell 2.6 percent, Apple lost 2.75 percent, and Amazon dropped 3.0 percent. The recent imposition of import tariffs by the U.S., and counter-measures by other countries, are also starting to affect global production and supply chains. Some U.S. steel and aluminium tariffs went into effect in April and additional tariffs begin in July.
Trump, Escobar explains, wasn’t born into the Manhattan aristocracy. And though the “Masters of the Universe” – a group that includes the country’s top bankers along with the leaders of the military and intelligence communities – were initially reluctant to embrace him (as were many factions within the Republican Party), they eventually changed their minds once they understood that he would advocate for their interests. “He’s not born in lower Manhattan…and he’s not part of the New York aristocracy, the establishment that’s been there for some 150 to 200 years…he’s still regarded in New York as a wealthy outsider. But in the end, he was accepted by some sectors of the Republican Party – even though they initially didn’t want to accept him – Washington, some sectors of the Republican Party.”
He was the candidate of the establishment from the beginning, or he was a genuine candidate whose regime has now been disturbed by the Deep State. He was vetoed by the establishment – this is something that people who know how the Deep State works in DC they will tell you always the same thing: You don’t become a candidate for a President of the United States if you are not vetted…by the people who actually run the US.” Trump was vulnerable to this manipulation because he doesn’t have a nuanced enough understanding of geopolitics…which has forced him to rely on advisors whispering in his ear…advisors whose intentions aren’t always working in the best interest of the president, or the American people, for that matter.
One example is Trump’s insistence on instigating a trade war between China and the US. While China has many ways to retaliate against the US, as least when it comes to finding markets for their goods, US companies have more options than their Chinese peers. “Trump still doesn’t understand that the retaliation is going to be really huge from the Chinese and they have ways of hurting badly – they even have ways of ratcheting up taxes on products made in the Midwest. But they’re going to lose much more than we do. We have other markets. We export more to Asia, we export more to South America and we export more to Europe.”
Melvyn Bragg has said Britain is becoming a stupid country, in part because its university system is being destroyed. The broadcaster and Labour peer criticised the state of British higher education in an interview with the magazine Radio Times. “We have, per capita, the best university system in the world, but it’s being – carelessly and utterly stupidly – destroyed very slowly,” he said. “We used to be the clever country and now we’re clearly the stupid country. Except for certain highlights.”
The car industry has warned Theresa May there is “no Brexit dividend” for the business, with 860,000 jobs being put at risk unless the government “rethinks” its red lines in negotiations. In the starkest warning yet from a single business sector, the car lobby has told the government that it needs “as a minimum” to remain in the customs union and a deal that delivers “single market benefits”. “There is no Brexit dividend for our industry,” Michael Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said. It said Brexit uncertainty was thwarting investment and repeated calls for the UK to stay in the customs partnership until the government came up with a “credible plan B”.
With investment slowing and time running out, negotiators must get on with the job of agreeing a deal that will put an end to uncertainty and prioritise the needs of the automotive sector, the SMMT said. The sector had grown for the eighth successive year with turnover at a record £82bn in 2017. However it said 2018 has showed a slowdown in output with investment earmarked for new models, equipments and facilities in the UK halving to around £347m. [..] “With decisions on new vehicle models in the UK due soon, government must take steps to boost investor confidence and safeguard the thousands of jobs that depend on the sector,” it said ahead of a key conference for the automotive industry.
The government had “no credible Plan B” for customs arrangements post-Brexit, it said, that would keep the Port of Dover flowing freely. Car manufacturers rely on what is known as “just in time” production whereby components, mostly from the EU, cross the channel just hours before they are needed on the assembly line. More than 1,000 trucks a day cross the channel with these components.
Bears and bulls alike following Tesla’s gripping nailbiter of a story – the company has until the end of the month to pumpt out 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week – both agree on one thing: the output of the company’s new “tent” structure which Musk erected recently to produce Model 3 vehicles is going to decide whether or not the company hits its production goal that it has touted over the last couple of months. The tent was erected in just a matter of weeks, and came online in early June, to help the company produce more vehicles at a time when they are under the microscope. Until recently, we didn’t know the details as to when it was erected, what the timing looked like and what it is expected to produce.
However, a Bloomberg article out today helped shed some light on the details of what is arguably the most important – if archaic – structure that Tesla has built yet. Not surprisingly, opinions extend the whole gamut, with some manufacturing experts claiming the tent is “basically nuts”: “Elon Musk has six days to make good on his pledge that Tesla will be pumping out 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of the month. If he succeeds, it may be thanks to the curious structure outside the company’s factory. It’s a tent the size of two football fields that Musk calls “pretty sweet” and that manufacturing experts deride as, basically, nuts. [..] Inside the tent in Fremont, California, is an assembly line Musk hastily pulled together for the Model 3. That’s the electric car that is supposed to vault Tesla from niche player for the wealthy to high-volume automaker, bringing a more affordable electric vehicle to the masses.”
Analysts at Bernstein are equally unimpressed. Here is a quote from Max Warburton who benchmarked auto assembly plants before his job as a financial analyst: “Words fail me. It’s insanity,” said Max Warburton, who benchmarked auto-assembly plants around the world before becoming a financial analyst. [..] What gives manufacturing experts pause about Tesla’s tent is that it was pitched to shelter an assembly line cobbled together with scraps lying around the brick-and-mortar plant. It smacks of a Hail Mary move after months of stopping and starting production to make on-the-fly fixes to automated equipment, which Musk himself has said was a mistake. “The existing line isn’t functional, it can’t build cars as planned and there isn’t room to get people into work stations to replace the non-functioning robots,” Warburton said. “So here we have it—build cars manually in the parking lot.”
A Russian company accused of helping fund a propaganda operation to sway the 2016 presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor asked a federal judge on Monday to dismiss charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, saying Mueller was unlawfully appointed and lacks prosecutorial authority. Concord Management and Consulting LLC, a firm that prosecutors say is controlled by a businessman dubbed by Russian media as “Putin’s cook,” argued in a filing in U.S. district court in Washington that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein violated the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution when he hired Mueller in May 2017.
Concord is one of three entities, along with 13 Russian individuals, indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office in February in an alleged criminal and espionage conspiracy to tamper with the U.S. race, boost Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The indictment said Concord is controlled by Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, who U.S. officials have said has extensive ties to Russia’s military and political establishment. In it, Concord is alleged to have controlled funding, recommended personnel and overseen the activities of the propaganda campaign. Concord is the only one of the defendants in the case to have formally responded to the charges in federal court. Earlier this year, it hired American lawyers to fight the indictment.
Under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, principal officers such as cabinet secretaries are appointed by the president and confirmed by the United States Senate while “inferior officers” may be appointed by courts or department heads if permitted by Congress. Concord’s lawyers say that Mueller qualifies as an “officer” under the clause and not a routine federal employee under the law because of his vast prosecutorial authority. They say that no matter whether Mueller is deemed an “inferior” or “principal” officer, his appointment still violates the Constitution. As a principal officer, they say, he should have been appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
One of the more devastating intelligence leaks in American history — the unmasking of the CIA’s arsenal of cyber warfare weapons last year — has an untold prelude worthy of a spy novel. Some of the characters are household names, thanks to the Russia scandal: James Comey, fired FBI director. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr. Julian Assange, grand master of WikiLeaks. And American attorney Adam Waldman, who has a Forrest Gump-like penchant for showing up in major cases of intrigue. Each played a role in the early days of the Trump administration to try to get Assange to agree to “risk mitigation” — essentially, limiting some classified CIA information he might release in the future.
The effort resulted in the drafting of a limited immunity deal that might have temporarily freed the WikiLeaks founder from a London embassy where he has been exiled for years, according to interviews and a trove of internal DOJ documents turned over to Senate investigators. But an unexpected intervention by Comey — relayed through Warner — soured the negotiations, multiple sources tell me. Assange eventually unleashed a series of leaks that U.S. officials say damaged their cyber warfare capabilities for a long time to come. This yarn begins in January 2017 when Assange’s legal team approached Waldman — known for his government connections — to see if the new Trump administration would negotiate with the WikiLeaks founder, holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy.
[..] Ohr consulted his chain of command and the intelligence community about what appeared to be an extraordinary overture that raised hopes the government could negotiate what Assange would release and what he might redact, to protect the names of exposed U.S. officials. Assange made clear through the lawyer that he would never compromise his sources, or stop publishing information, but was willing to consider concessions like redactions. Although the intelligence community reviled Assange for the damage his past releases caused, officials “understood any visibility into his thinking, any opportunity to negotiate any redactions, was in the national security interest and worth taking,” says a senior official involved at the time.
Assamaka, Niger — From this isolated frontier post deep in the sands of the Sahara, the expelled migrants can be seen coming over the horizon by the hundreds. They look like specks in the distance, trudging miserably across some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain in the blistering sun. They are the ones who made it out alive. Here in the desert, Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in the past 14 months, including pregnant women and children, stranding them without food or water and forcing them to walk, sometimes at gunpoint, under temperatures of up to 48ºC (118ºF). In Niger, where the majority head, the lucky ones limp across a desolate 15-kilometer (9-mile) no man’s land to Assamaka, less a town than a collection of unsteady buildings sinking into drifts of sand.
Others, disoriented and dehydrated, wander for days before a U.N. rescue squad can find them. Untold numbers perish along the way; nearly all the more than two dozen survivors interviewed by The Associated Press told of people in their groups who simply could not go on and vanished into the Sahara. [..] Algeria’s mass expulsions have picked up since October 2017, as the European Union renewed pressure on North African countries to head off migrants going north to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea or the barrier fences with Spain. These migrants from across sub-Saharan Africa — Mali, the Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger and more — are part of the mass migration toward Europe, some fleeing violence, others just hoping to make a living.
A European Union spokesperson said the EU was aware of what Algeria was doing, but that “sovereign countries” can expel migrants as long as they comply with international law. Unlike Niger, Algeria takes none of the EU money intended to help with the migration crisis, although it did receive $111.3 million in aid from Europe between 2014 and 2017. Algeria provides no figures for the expulsions. But the number of people crossing on foot to Niger has been rising steadily since the International Organization for Migration started counting in May 2017, when 135 people were dropped at the crossing, to as high as 2,888 in April 2018. In all, according to the IOM, a total of 11,276 men, women and children survived the march.
A Brazilian Congress commission has approved a controversial bill to lift restrictions on pesticides despite fierce opposition from environmentalists, prosecutors, health and environment ministry bodies, and even United Nations special rapporteurs. Driven by a powerful agribusiness lobby, the bill now needs to be voted on in both houses of Congress and sanctioned by President Michel Temer before becoming law. Its proponents say it will free up bureaucracy and modernise dated legislation. But the bill has generated fierce opposition in Brazil, one of the world’s biggest food producers and biggest consumers of pesticides, even those banned in other countries.
Opponents dubbed it the “poison package” and said it would lead to the indiscriminate use of dangerous pesticides, while 250,000 signed an online petition against it. “The law will make us more permissive than we already are,” said Larissa Bombardi, a professor of geography and pesticides specialist at the University of São Paulo. “The economic interest will prevail over human and environmental health.” Of 121 pesticides permitted in Brazil for coffee production, 30 are already banned in the European Union, including the toxic herbicide paraquat, Bombardi reported in an extensive 2017 study. The bill overhauls existing legislation, allowing for pesticides to be given temporary register if the approval process has taken over two years and three countries in the OECD have already approved it.
[..] Under Brazil’s current legislation, pesticides with elements considered teratogenic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, endocrine disruptive, or posing risks to the reproductive system can’t be registered, they said. But under the bill, hazardous pesticides will only be prohibited when there is a “scientifically established unacceptable risk” – a definition too vague to be effective. Greenpeace attacked lawmakers for approving the bill in the face of such wide opposition. “They want a toxic product to look less threatening,” said Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator. “The toxic garbage being banned in the rest of the planet will be sold here.”
David Lynch on Trump: “He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.” While Trump may not be doing a good job himself, Lynch thinks, he is opening up a space where other outsiders might. “Our so-called leaders can’t take the country forward, can’t get anything done. Like children, they are. Trump has shown all this.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation may face a serious legal obstacle: It is tainted by antecedent political bias. The June 14 report from Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, unearthed a pattern of anti-Trump bias by high-ranking officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Some of their communications, the report says, were “not only indicative of a biased state of mind but imply a willingness to take action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” Although Mr. Horowitz could not definitively ascertain whether this bias “directly affected” specific FBI actions in the Hillary Clinton email investigation, it nonetheless affects the legality of the Trump-Russia collusion inquiry, code-named Crossfire Hurricane.
Crossfire was launched only months before the 2016 election. Its FBI progenitors—the same ones who had investigated Mrs. Clinton—deployed at least one informant to probe Trump campaign advisers, obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court wiretap warrants, issued national security letters to gather records, and unmasked the identities of campaign officials who were surveilled. They also repeatedly leaked investigative information.
Mr. Horowitz is separately scrutinizing Crossfire and isn’t expected to finish for months. But the current report reveals that FBI officials displayed not merely an appearance of bias against Donald Trump, but animus bordering on hatred. Peter Strzok, who led both the Clinton and Trump investigations, confidently assuaged a colleague’s fear that Mr. Trump would become president: “No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” An unnamed FBI lawyer assigned to Crossfire told a colleague he was “devastated” and “numb” after Mr. Trump won, while declaring to another FBI attorney: “Viva le resistance.”
[..] The totality of the circumstances creates the appearance that Crossfire was politically motivated. Since an attempt by federal law enforcement to influence a presidential election “shocks the conscience,” any prosecutorial effort derived from such an outrageous abuse of power must be suppressed. The public will learn more once the inspector general finishes his investigation into Crossfire’s genesis. But given what is now known, due process demands, at a minimum, that the special counsel’s activity be paused. Those affected by Mr. Mueller’s investigation could litigate such an argument in court. One would hope, however, that given the facts either Mr. Mueller himself or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would do it first.
If all the world’s refugees came together as a single nation they would collectively create one of the largest countries on Earth. According to the UNHCR, there are now almost 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, around 1% of the world’s population – the highest number in modern history. The number of refugees has steadily increased since 1951 but has jumped dramatically in the last 10 years. That’s mostly because of the Syrian civil war which began in 2011 and has since forced millions to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries and in Europe. The most recent Global Peace Index, an annual report produced by Australian think tank the Institute for Economics and Peace, has found that for the fourth year in a row, overall levels of peace around the world have deteriorated.
92 countries have seen declining peace, while 71 countries have improved. Increased terrorist activity, conflicts in the Middle East and rising tensions in Eastern Europe and north-east Asia have all contributed to declining levels of peace. Even the most peaceful regions in the world according to the index – Europe, North America, Asia-Pacific, and South America – have all recorded declines. The rising number of refugees and heightened political tensions in Europe and the US have meant that even stable countries have seen their scores lowered. For instance, 23 out of 36 countries in Europe deteriorated last year. Now in its seventh year of civil war, Syria is the least peaceful country in the world, along with Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq and Somalia.
“Desperate times at our southern border call for desperate measures on the other side:” That was the very loud message from right-wing leaders in the United States and Europe this week. Their desperate measures shocked the world. The Trump administration’s policy requiring thousands of infants and children to be seized from their parents and held in detention left leaders and citizens aghast (and its most inhumane elements remain in place). On the other side of the Atlantic, we watched the new Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini order boatloads of migrant families turned back into the sea, following his call last year to deal with immigration with a “mass cleansing, street by street, quarter by quarter.”
Most reasonable people agree that these are not humane ways to deal with what these politicians call a “migration emergency.” But too many people take their word that there actually is some sort of a migration emergency. To be clear: There is no immigration crisis in 2018. Not in the United States, not in Europe, not in Canada. “It is not a migration emergency – it’s a political emergency,” William Lacy Swing, the American director-general of the International Organization for Migration, said this week. The IOM’s 8,400 staff monitor the movement of people around the world, and while they’ve identified plenty of challenges, there aren’t any overwhelming or unmanageable movements of people this year. “The overwhelming majority of migration is taking place in a regular, safe and orderly fashion,” he said.
“There is a very serious problem of communication, but what we’re seeing is that the numbers are pretty modest,” said Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD, which advises 34 countries (including the United States and Canada) on immigration policy, this week released its annual report on migration levels in OECD countries. It showed a fall in numbers to ordinary, non-crisis levels. The United States has always had movement, some of it undocumented, across its southern border. The 2018 numbers are somewhat higher than the 2017 numbers – but they’re a small fraction, less than a third, of the rate experienced in the 2000s under George W. Bush, or in the 1990s under Bill Clinton, or in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. Since 2008, illegal crossings have fallen to lows not seen since the early 1970s.
What has risen, since 2014, has been the far smaller fraction of people on the Mexican border who are refugee claimants from Guatemala, Honduras and especially El Salvador. Those countries are experiencing crises of political and civic violence, and those fleeing have legitimate claims for asylum under the Refugee Convention, to which Washington subscribes. They are not illegal and they’re certainly not dangerous.
European Union leaders gather in Brussels on Sunday in an attempt to bridge their deep divisions over migration, an issue that has been splitting them for years and now poses a fresh threat to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Though arrivals across the Mediterranean are only a fraction of what they were in 2015, when more than a million people reached Europe, a recent opinion poll showed migration was the top concern for the EU’s 500 million citizens. Under heavy pressure from voters at home, EU leaders have been fighting bitter battles over how to share out asylum seekers in the bloc. Unable to agree, they have become more restrictive on asylum and tightened their external borders to let fewer people in.
They have given money and aid to countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East to keep people from heading for Europe. Only 41,000 refugees and migrants have made it to the EU across the sea so far this year, U.N. figures show. But the issue has in the meantime won and lost elections for politicians across the bloc from Italy to Hungary, with voters favoring those advocating a tougher stance on migration. On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron said France favored financial sanctions for EU countries that refuse migrants with proven asylum status. Merkel is under pressure because her longtime conservative allies, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), have threatened to start turning away at the German border all asylum seekers already registered elsewhere in the EU unless the bloc reaches an agreement on distributing them more evenly.
Italy on Saturday said “arrogant” France risked becoming its “No.1 enemy” on migration issues, a day before European leaders convene in Brussels for a hastily arranged meeting on the divisive topic. In answer to comments by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said migration flows toward Europe had reduced compared with a few years ago, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said Macron’s words showed he was out of touch. “Italy indeed faces a migration emergency and it’s partly because France keeps pushing back people at the border. Macron risks making his country Italy’s No.1 enemy on this emergency,” Di Maio wrote on his Facebook page.
Macron said European cooperation had managed to cut migration flows by close to 80 percent and problems stemmed from “secondary” movements of migrants within Europe. “The reality is that Europe is not experiencing a migration crisis of the same magnitude as the one it experienced in 2015,” the French president said. “A country like Italy has not at all the same migratory pressure as last year. … The crisis we are experiencing today in Europe is a political crisis.” But Italy’s Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said his country had faced 650,000 arrivals by sea over the past four years, 430,000 asylum requests and the hosting of 170,000 “alleged refugees” for an overall cost of more than 5 billion euros ($5.8 billion).
“If for the arrogant President Macron this is not a problem, we invite him to stop insulting and to show instead some concrete generosity by opening up France’s many ports and letting children, men and women through at Ventimiglia,” he said in a statement, referring to the northwestern Italian town at the border with France.
China must lead the way in reforming global governance, the foreign ministry on Saturday cited President Xi Jinping as saying, as Beijing looks to increase its world influence. China has sought a greater say in global organizations such as the World Bank, the IMF and UN, in line with its growing economic and diplomatic clout. Since taking office in late 2012, Xi has taken a more muscular approach, setting up China’s own global bodies like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and launching his landmark Belt and Road project to build a new Silk Road. Beijing has cast itself a responsible member of the international community, especially as President Donald Trump withdraws the United States from agreements on climate change and Iran, and as Europe wrestles with Brexit and other issues.
China must “uphold the protection of the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests, proactively participate in and show the way in reform of the global governance system, creating an even better web of global partnership relationships”, Xi said in comments reported at the end of a two-day high-level Communist Party meeting. This would help create conditions for building a modern, strong socialist country, the ministry cited him as saying at the meeting attended by officials from the foreign and commerce ministries, the military, the propaganda department and the Chinese embassy in the United States.
Turks began voting Sunday in dual parliamentary and presidential polls seen as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s toughest election test, with the opposition revitalised and his popularity at risk from growing economic troubles. Erdogan has overseen historic change in Turkey since his Islamic-rooted ruling party first came to power in 2002 after years of secular domination. But critics accuse the Turkish strongman, 64, of trampling on civil liberties and displaying autocratic behaviour. Polling stations opened at 0500 GMT and were due to close at 1400 GMT, with the first results expected late in the evening.
Over 56 million eligible voters can for the first time cast ballots simultaneously in the parliamentary and presidential elections, with Erdogan looking for a first round knockout and an overall majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). But both these goals are in doubt in the face of an energetic campaign by his rival from the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), Muharrem Ince, who has mobilised hundreds of thousands in mega rallies, and a strong opposition alliance in the legislative polls. Erdogan remains the favourite to hold on to the presidency – even if he needs a second round on July 8 – but the outcome is likely to be much tighter than he expected when calling the snap polls one-and-a-half years ahead of schedule.
At least 100,000 people took to the streets yesterday as part of the largest ever demonstration of support for a new referendum over Britain’s final Brexit deal. With more businesses poised to issue dire Brexit warnings this week and senior Tories already drawing up plans to soften Theresa May’s exit proposals, organisers of the march on Sunday said it showed Britain’s departure from the European Union was not a “done deal”. A former aide to Margaret Thatcher, several Labour MPs and pro-EU campaigners from across Britain took part in the demonstration, marking two years since the Brexit vote. Organisers said that people from every region and walk of life were among those who took part in the march down Whitehall.
Conservative supporters marched alongside Labour voters and Liberal Democrats during the protest, which saw angry denunciations of the chaos that has ensued inside government since the Brexit vote. Labour’s leadership also came under pressure at the march for refusing to back a second public vote. There were chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn” from the crowd. The Labour leader was on a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp. Anger on the streets at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations is being accompanied by a renewed push from industry to ensure that trade with Europe is not disrupted as a result of leaving. More prominent manufacturing firms are set to issue warnings about Britain’s Brexit negotiations within days, after Airbus and BMW broke cover to say they could reconsider their UK investment plans unless a Brexit deal was reached keeping Britain closely aligned with Europe.
“The dawning of reality,” is how Tom Williams, the chief operating officer of Airbus, described it, after warning that Airbus is seriously considering pulling out of the UK in the event of a no deal Brexit. It’s worth taking a moment to consider what that would mean. The firm employs 14,000 people directly in this country. It has provided 4,000 high quality apprentices over the last decade, thus supporting a flagship policy of the Government. It contributed £1.7bn to the UK exchequer in tax last year, before you consider the economic contributions of its employees, who are in well paid, unionised jobs. It is estimated that Airbus supports another 86,000 people through its supply chain, bringing the total number of jobs at risk to 100,000.
The companies in that supply chain, and their employees, further add to the tax take, and contribute to the economy. If, when, Airbus does go, if it seeks alternatives when it comes to the production of its wings, those jobs will not be replaced. Once they are gone, they are gone. Perhaps the Brextremists expect the people who held them to pick the fruit that the soft fruit industry has been warning about rotting in the fields for months? It once again puts the shockingly mendacious talk by ministers of a “Brexit dividend” to fund the NHS – even Chancellor Philip Hammond has now descended into that pit – into context. The economic damage if Airbus goes, and if other companies; car makers, and their suppliers, for example, do the same, no one will be talking about dividends. Quite the reverse.
Bitcoin dropped to $5,860 at the moment, below $6,000 for the first time since October 29, 2017. It has plummeted 70% in six months from the peak of $19,982 on December 17. There have been many ups on the way down, repeatedly dishing out fakes hopes, based on the ancient theory that nothing goes to hell in a straight line (chart via CoinMarketCap): If you’re a True Believer and you just know that bitcoin will go to $1 million by the end of 2020, as promised by a whole slew of gurus, including John McAfee – “I will still eat my dick if wrong,” he offered helpfully on November 29 – well you probably don’t need this sort of punishment. You’re suffering enough already. And I apologize. I feel your pain.
I was a true believer too a few times, and every single time it was a huge amount of fun, and I felt invincible and indestructible until I got run over by events. With 17.11 million bitcoins circulating today, if bitcoin were at $1 million today, it would amount to a market cap of $17 trillion. But new bitcoins are constantly being created out of nothing (“mined”) by computers that suck up enormous amounts of electricity. And by the end of 2020, there will be many more bitcoins, and if the price were $1 million each, the total would amount to about the size of US GDP. This doesn’t even count all the other cryptos that would presumably boom in a similar manner, amounting perhaps to half of global GDP, or something.
People who promote this brainless crap are either totally nuts or the worst scam artists. But I feel sorry for the True Believers whose fiat money got transferred and will continue to get transferred from them to others. So OK, there’s still some time left. It’s not the end of 2020 yet. And True Believers still have room for the fake hope of a $1-million bitcoin. But at the moment, bitcoin is even worse – incredibly – than one of the worst fiat currencies in the world, the Argentine peso, which has plunged “only” 35% over the period during which bitcoin plunged 70%. That takes some doing!
The return to economic growth in the eurozone has produced a dangerous sense of complacency on the Old Continent, especially in the richer countries of the north. But Italy’s flirtation with an exit from the euro under a populist government is a stark reminder that, if left unaddressed, the deep structural weaknesses that plague the single currency could trigger an existential crisis across the EU. It would be a mistake, therefore, to believe we can drive along in business-as-usual mode, or just take a few small steps toward more European integration. This week’s Meseberg Declaration signed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, although a step in the right direction, is part of a collective denial about what needs to be done.
You don’t need to be a populist to recognize that Europe’s monetary union is dysfunctional and in dire need of more substantial reforms than those proposed by Germany and France. To keep the single currency alive, it needs two major structural improvements. First, it needs to reduce the fragmentation in Europe’s banking system that has caused the Continent to experience more severe crises than other parts of the world — most notably in comparison to the U.S. Second, it has to develop a streamlined and legitimate decision-making process to respond quickly and boldly to the next major recession.
The fact that during the 10 years he was in office, the US president, Barack Obama, prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the presidents in US history combined is an indication of the increasing threat to journalism. In 2017 the head of the CIA questioned the first amendment rights which protect free speech, and the US attorney-general threatened that the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, would be prosecuted (for what he was not clear). Both are acts of intimidation designed to silence. It has been argued that governments are not that concerned about most of the work that journalists do so, for most, concerns about surveillance are unnecessary. But the problem there is that, generally speaking, if governments are not worried about what journalists are doing, the journalists are not doing their jobs.
Reporting local news may be a useful social function, but the issues that arise where nations go to war, or where countries are involved in breaking the law, or plundering the treasure of other nations, are of great importance and need investigating. It is in these significant areas that journalists must be protected from the vested interests of the executive state; where the very people who make the decisions, as in the Iraq war, need to be exposed and held to account before the event, not after it. What is so disturbing is that the media has often aided and abetted governments and the intelligence agencies – who always want more access to information – as they invoked the fear of terrorism as grounds for introducing tougher surveillance laws.
Today the Argentina peso plunged another 5.5% against the US dollar. It now takes ARS 27.7 to buy $1. Over the past 16 years, the peso has gone through waves of collapses. This collapse began on April 20. The central bank of Argentina (BCRA) countered it by selling $1 billion per day of scarce foreign exchange reserves and buying pesos. The peso fell more quickly. The BCRA responded with three rate hikes, to finally 40%! On May 8, the government asked the IMF for a bailout. On May 16, after a chaotic plunge of the peso, the BCRA was able to refinance about $26 billion in maturing peso-denominated short-term debt (Lebacs) at an annual interest of 40%, and the peso bounced. It was a dead-cat bounce, however, and the peso plunged another 13% against the dollar through today.
Since April 20, the peso has plunged 27.5%. The annotated chart shows the daily moves of the collapse, and the various failed gyrations to halt it (the chart depicts the value of 1 ARS in USD). The collapse of the peso comes despite an endless series of measures to halt it. Just this week so far: On Tuesday, the BCRA decided to keep its key interest rate at 40%; and on Wednesday, the Ministry of Finance announced it would hold daily auctions to sell $7.5 billion in foreign exchange reserves and buy pesos, to prop up the peso. But it was apparently the only one buying pesos. With inflation at 25.5% and heading to 27% by year-end, according to government estimates, with a rising budget deficit, a surging current account deficit, soaring borrowing costs, and burned investors, what else is there to do?
The European Central Bank has shrugged off evidence of a slowdown in the eurozone and announced that it will phase out the stimulus provided by its massive three-year bond-buying programme to the eurozone economy by the end of the year. Despite warning that the single currency area was going through a soft patch at a time when protectionist risks were rising, the ECB said it would wind down its bond purchases over the next six months. The ECB is currently boosting the eurozone money supply by buying €30bn of assets each month, but this will be reduced to €15bn a month after September and ended completely at the end of 2018.
The move follows strong pressure from some eurozone countries, led by Germany, that were uncomfortable about the more than €2.4tn of assets accumulated by the ECB since it launched its quantitative easing programme at the start of 2015. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said at the end of a meeting of the bank’s governing council in Latvia that the QE programme had succeeded in its aim of putting inflation on course to meet its target of being below but close to 2%. Eurozone activity has accelerated markedly over the past three years, with some estimates suggesting that QE contributed 0.75percentage points a year to the average 2.25% annual growth rate.
The ECB’s statement reflected the battle between hawks and doves on the bank’s council, with the decision on QE matched by a softening of its approach to interest rates. Draghi said there would be no prospect of an increase in the ECB’s key lending rate – currently 0.0% – until next summer at the earliest. “We decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged and we expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure that the evolution of inflation remains aligned with our current expectations of a sustained adjustment path,” Draghi said.
The Bank of Japan maintained its ultra-loose monetary policy on Friday and downgraded its view on inflation in a fresh blow to its long-held 2% price goal, further complicating the central bank’s path to rolling back its crisis-era stimulus. Markets are on the lookout for clues from BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s post-meeting briefing on how long the central bank could hold off on whittling down stimulus given recent disappointingly weak price growth. As widely expected, the Bank of Japan kept its short-term interest rate target at minus 0.1% and a pledge to guide 10-year government bond yields around zero%.
The move contrasts with the European Central Bank’s decision to end its asset-purchase program this year and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s steady rate increases, which signaled a break from policies deployed to battle the 2007-2009 financial crisis. “Consumer price growth is in a range of 0.5 to 1%,” the BOJ said in a statement accompanying the decision. That was a slightly bleaker view than in the previous meeting in April, when the bank said inflation was moving around 1%. The BOJ stuck to its view the economy was expanding moderately, unfazed by a first-quarter contraction that many analysts blame on temporary factors like bad weather.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has taken the first steps in remaking the central bank in his “plain-English” image, which can only be a good thing for financial markets. Earlier this week, news leaked that the central bank was considering holding a press conference following each Federal Open Market Committee meeting instead of after every other one like it does now. The reports set off a mini-storm. Speculation rose the Fed would implement this new policy immediately, which could mean the central bank was considering accelerating the pace of interest-rate increases as soon as August. After all, investors had become accustomed to the Fed only making a major policy move at meetings followed by a press conference. Now, every meeting would be “live.”
But in a masterful move, Chairman Jerome Powell managed to confirm the policy while also putting financial markets at ease. Rather than announcing the change in the official statement outlining the Fed’s plan to raise its target for the federal funds rate for the seventh time since December 2015, Powell waited until the start of his press conference to drop the bomb, noting that the policy wouldn’t start until January. Here’s Powell’s reasoning: “My colleagues and I meet eight times a year and take a fresh look each time at what is happening in the economy and consider whether our policy needs adjusting. We don’t put our interest rate decisions on auto-pilot because the economy can always evolve in unexpected ways.
History has shown that moving interest rates either too quickly or too slowly can lead to bad economic outcomes. We think the outcomes are likely to be better overall if we are as clear as possible about what we are likely to do and why. To that end, we try to give a sense of our expectations for how the economy will evolve and how our policy stance may change. As Chairman, I hope to foster a public conversation about what the Fed is doing to support a strong and resilient economy. And one practical step in doing so is to have a press conference like this after every one of our scheduled FOMC meetings. We’re going to do that beginning in January. That will give us more opportunities to explain our actions and to answer your questions.
Since Hayek’s time, monetary policy, particularly in America, has evolved away from targeting production and discouraging savings by suppressing interest rates, towards encouraging consumption through expanding consumer finance. American consumers are living beyond their means and have commonly depleted all their liquid savings. But given the variations in the cost of consumer finance (between 0% car loans and 20% credit card and overdraft rates), consumers are generally insensitive to changes in interest rates. Therefore, despite the rise of consumer finance, we can still regard Hayek’s triangle as illustrating the driving force behind the credit cycle, and the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates as the reason monetary policy always leads to an economic crisis.
The chart below shows we could be living dangerously close to another tipping point, whereby the rises in the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) might be about to trigger a new credit and economic crisis. Previous peaks in the FFR coincided with the onset of economic downturns, because they exposed unsustainable business models. On the basis of simple extrapolation, the area between the two dotted lines, which roughly join these peaks, is where the current FFR cycle can be expected to peak. It is currently standing at about 2% after yesterday’s increase, and the Fed expects the FFR to average 3.1% in 2019. The chart tells us the Fed is already living dangerously with yesterday’s hike, and further rises will all but guarantee a credit crisis.
Some statesmen by their sheer force of personality and unorthodox ways of politicking arouse disdain among onlookers. US President Donald is perhaps the most famous figure of that kind in world politics today. No matter what he does, Trump attracts criticism. He evokes strong feelings of antipathy among a large and voluble swathe of opinion within half of America. The making of history in a virtual solo act on his part, which is the rarest of efforts, on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday and which the world watched with awe and disbelief, will be instinctively stonewalled. Half of America simply refuses to accept the positive tidings about him coming from Singapore.
The skeptics are all over social media pouring scorn, voicing skepticism, unable to accept that if the man has done something sensible and good for his country and for world peace, it deserves at the very least patient, courteous attention. The problem is about Trump – not so much the imperative need of North Korea’s denuclearization. But western detractors – ostensibly rooting for the “liberal international order” – will eventually lapse into silence because what emerges is that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has enough to “bite” here in the deal that Trump is offering – broadly, a security guarantee from the US and the offer of a full-bodied relationship with an incremental end to sanctions plus a peace treaty.
Succinctly put, Trump has offered a deal that Kim simply cannot afford to reject. The ending of the US-ROK military exercises forthwith; Trump’s agenda of eventual withdrawal of troops from ROK; the lure of possible withdrawal of sanctions once 20% of the denuclearization process gets underway, or once the process becomes irreversible; Trump’s hint that he has sought assurances from Japan and the ROK that they will be “generous” in offering economic assistance to the reconstruction of North Korea; China’s involvement in the crucial process – these are tangibles.
The absence of any reference to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear program in the joint statement reached at US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s June 12 summit in Singapore is being seen by some as a “negotiation failure” on the US’s part. But an analysis of Trump’s subsequent remarks – and a reading between the lines of the Pyongyang’s official announcement – suggests the US achieved practical gains in terms of a commitment from the North in exchange for the face-saving measure of avoiding use of the “CVID” term due to possible North Korean objections to it.
To begin with, the Singapore joint statement’s language marks a step forward from the Panmunjeom Declaration of Apr. 27 in terms of the final goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The latest statement refers to Kim having “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” While the Panmunjeom Declaration referred to “realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” the new statement includes the additional reference to a “firm and unwavering commitment.”
From the reference to Kim’s “firm and unwavering” commitment to denuclearization, some experts are suggesting North Korea may have agreed to verification in addition to denuclearization – in other words, that the language may be a substitute for the “verifiable” part of the CVID approach demanded by Washington. “You could see them as having used the term out of awareness of North Korea’s discomfort with the word ‘verification,’” Handong Global University professor Kim Joon-hyung said after a Korea Press Foundation debate at Singapore’s Swissotel on June 13. “It may be fair to say North Korea made a definite commitment on the implementation and verification issues,” Kim argued.
“..while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter. ”
Off the top of my head I have a hard time thinking of anything sleazier than smearing peace talks in order to gain partisan political points, but that has indeed been the theme of the last few days when it comes to the Singapore summit. Liberal pundits everywhere have been busily circulating the narrative that Kim Jong-Un “played” Trump by getting him to temporarily halt military drills in exchange for suspended nuclear testing. It was the most fundamental beginning of peace negotiations and a slight deescalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but the way they talk about it you’d think Kim had taken off from Singapore in Air Force One with the keys to Fort Knox and Melania on his lap.
I’m not sure how far up the military-industrial complex’s ass one’s head needs to be to think that one single step toward peace is a gigantic take-all-the-chips win for the impoverished North Korea, but many of Trump’s political enemies are taking it even further. Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to make it more difficult for Trump to withdraw US troops from South Korea, because while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter.
Surprising no one, MSNBC’s cartoon children’s program The Rachel Maddow Show took home the trophy for jaw-dropping, shark-jumping ridiculousness with an eighteen-minute Alex Jones impression claiming that the chief architect of the Korean negotiations was none other than (and if you can’t guess whose name I’m going to write once we get out of these parentheses I deeply envy your ignorance on this matter) Vladimir Putin. [..] This president is facilitating acts of military violence and dangerous escalations around the world; anyone who isn’t relieved by the possibility of one powder keg being defused in that rampage actually has a lot more faith in Trump’s competence than they’re pretending to.
Private equity firm Blackstone, the undisputed king of property funds, continues to bet big on global real estate. In the last week it raised $9.4 billion for Asian real estate. It was also given the green light to acquire Spain’s biggest real estate investment fund (REIT), Hispania, for €1.9 billion. The move, after its prior acquisitions, will cement its position as Spain’s biggest hotel owner and fully private landlord. Hispania’s 46 hotels, added to Blackstone’s other hotels, will turn the PE firm into Spain’s largest hotelier with almost 17,000 rooms, far ahead of Meliá (almost 11,000), H10 (more than 10,000) and Hoteles Globales (just over 9,000).
It took Blackstone just three moves to become market leader. First, it acquired the hotel group HI Partners from struggling Spanish lender Banco Sabadell for €630 million in October 2017. Then, a month ago, it bought 29.5% of the hotel chain NH Hoteles, which is currently in the hands of the Chinese conglomerate HNA. Now, by raising its stake in Hispania from 16.75% to 100%, it will take up a dominant position in one of the world’s biggest tourist markets. With this deal, it will also expand its residential property empire in Spain. Blackstone has over 100,000 real estate assets controlled via dozens of companies. Those assets include a huge portfolio of impaired real estate assets, including defaulted mortgages and real estate-owned assets (REOs).
Blackstone also owns 1,800 social housing units, which it acquired from Madrid City Hall in a controversial deal brokered by the son of former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar and former Madrid mayor Ana Botella. Blackstone paid €202 million for the apartments in 2013; they are now estimated to be worth €660 million — a 227% return in just five year! Since its purchase of the properties, Blackstone has hiked rents on the flats by 49%. Those who can’t pay have been evicted. Blackstone also played a starring role in one of the world’s biggest real estate operations of 2017, in which it payed €5.1 billion for the defaulted loans Banco Santander inherited from its shotgun-acquisition of Banco Popular.
It has become a familiar scene: tourists in rented kimonos posing for photographs in front of a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. They and other visitors have brought valuable tourist dollars to the city and other locations across Japan. But now the country’s former capital is on the frontline of a battle against “tourism pollution” that has already turned locals against visitors in cities across the world such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam. The increasingly fraught relationship between tourists and their Japanese hosts has spread to the short-stay rental market. On Friday a new law comes into effect that requires property owners to register with the government before they can legally make their homes available through Airbnb and other websites.
The restriction has caused the number of available properties to plummet and has cost the US-based company millions of dollars. Thanks to government campaigns, the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has soared since the end of a flat period caused by a strong yen and radiation fears in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. A record 28.7 million people visited last year, an increase of 250% since 2012. Almost seven million were from China, with visitors from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong Thailand and the US taking the next five spots. By 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games, the government hopes the number will have risen to 40 million.
[..] Under the new private lodging law, which was supposed to address a legal grey area surrounding short-term rentals – known as minpaku – properties can be rented out for a maximum of 180 days a year, and local authorities are permitted to impose additional restrictions. The result has been a dramatic drop in the number of Japanese properties available via Airbnb, from more than 60,000 this spring to just 1,000 on the eve of the law’s introduction. The legislation has forced the firm to cancel reservations for guests planning to stay in unregistered homes after Friday and to compensate clients to the tune of about $10m.
A sign in Kyoto cautions against touching geishas, taking selfies, littering, sitting on fences and eating and smoking on the street. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian
Greece is the least satisfied nation in the European Union, according to a Eurobarometer survey published Thursday. More specifically, the survey, conducted between March 17 and 28, showed that just 52% of Greeks said they were satisfied with their lives, compared to a 83% average for the 28-member bloc. Only 35% of Greeks surveyed said they were satisfied with the financial situation of their households, compared to 71% across the EU. A staggering 98% said the state of the country’s economy is bad while one in two Greeks said the country’s financial crisis is not over yet and that it will deteriorate even further. As for the country’s general situation, 94% said it is negative. Just 6% said the general situation was positive compared to the 51% average for EU member-states.
With Greece featuring prominently in Turkey’s election campaigning, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu raised the tension a notch again Thursday, warning that not even a bird will fly over the Aegean without Ankara’s permission. Responding to criticism by Turkish ultra-nationalists that 18 islands have been “lost” to Greece in recent years, Cavusoglu said that since the crisis over the Imia islets in 1996 there have been no changes in the legal status of the Aegean. “Not only during our own rule, but before that there has been no change in the status of the Aegean. We will not allow this. Even in the case of research we will not give permission, not even to a bird in the Aegean,” he said during an interview with a Turkish radio station.
He went on to say that Turkey will make no concessions in the Aegean and Cyprus, and that Ankara will also begin gas exploration “around” the Eastern Mediterranean island. “We also have a drill,” he said. Turkey has vowed to stop Cyprus from drilling for gas and oil in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), insisting there can be no development of the island’s natural resources without the participation of the Turkish Cypriots in the island’s Turkish-occupied north. “In the last few months we have prevented drilling and we drove the Italians away. We will not allow anyone to take away the rights of Turkish Cypriots,” he said. Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said that Nicosia will not be dragged into the “climate of tension” that Turkey is cultivating. He cited international law and said that Cyprus has an established EEZ. Moreover, he said the US, Russia and the European Union have all backed Cyprus’s rights.
James Comey once described his position in the Clinton investigation as being the victim of a “500-year flood.” The point of the analogy was that he was unwittingly carried away by events rather than directly causing much of the damage to the FBI. His “500-year flood” just collided with the 500-page report of the Justice Department inspector general (IG) Michael Horowitz. The IG sinks Comey’s narrative with a finding that he “deviated” from Justice Department rules and acted in open insubordination. Rather than portraying Comey as carried away by his biblical flood, the report finds that he was the destructive force behind the controversy. The import of the report can be summed up in Comeyesque terms as the distinction between flotsam and jetsam.
Comey portrayed the broken rules as mere flotsam, or debris that floats away after a shipwreck. The IG report suggests that this was really a case of jetsam, or rules intentionally tossed over the side by Comey to lighten his load. Comey’s jetsam included rules protecting the integrity and professionalism of his agency, as represented by his public comments on the Clinton investigation. The IG report concludes, “While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”
The report will leave many unsatisfied and undeterred. Comey went from a persona non grata to a patron saint for many Clinton supporters. Comey, who has made millions of dollars with a tell-all book portraying himself as the paragon of “ethical leadership,” continues to maintain that he would take precisely the same actions again. Ironically, Comey, fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and others, by their actions, just made it more difficult for special counsel Robert Mueller to prosecute Trump for obstruction. There is now a comprehensive conclusion by career investigators that Comey violated core agency rules and undermined the integrity of the FBI. In other words, there was ample reason to fire James Comey.
As we digest and unpack the DOJ Inspector General’s 500-page report on the FBI’s conduct during the Hillary Clinton email investigation “matter,” damning quotes from the OIG’s findings have begun to circulate, leaving many to wonder exactly how Inspector General Michael Horowitz was able to conclude: “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed” We’re sorry, that just doesn’t comport with reality whatsoever. And it really feels like the OIG report may have had a different conclusion at some point.
Just read IG Horowitz’s own assessment that “These texts are “Indicative of a biased state of mind but even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the Presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” Of course, today’s crown jewel is a previously undisclosed exchange between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in which Page asks “(Trump’s) not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” to which Strzok replies “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Nevermind the fact that the FBI Director, who used personal emails for work purposes, tasked Strzok, who used personal emails for work purposes, to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of personal emails for work purposes. Of course, we know it goes far deeper than that…
The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel also had plenty to say in a Twitter thread:
1) Don’t believe anyone who claims Horowitz didn’t find bias. He very carefully says that he found no “documentary” evidence that bias produced “specific investigatory decisions.” That’s different
2) It means he didn’t catch anyone doing anything so dumb as writing down that they took a specific step to aid a candidate. You know, like: “Let’s give out this Combetta immunity deal so nothing comes out that will derail Hillary for President.”
3) But he in fact finds bias everywhere. The examples are shocking and concerning, and he devotes entire sections to them. And he very specifically says in the summary that they “cast a cloud” on the entire “investigation’s credibility.” That’s pretty damning.
4) Meanwhile this same cast of characters who the IG has now found to have made a hash of the Clinton investigation and who demonstrate such bias, seamlessly moved to the Trump investigation. And we’re supposed to think they got that one right?
5) Also don’t believe anyone who says this is just about Comey and his instances of insubordination. (Though they are bad enough.) This is an indictment broadly of an FBI culture that believes itself above the rules it imposes on others.
6) People failing to adhere to their recusals (Kadzik/McCabe). Lynch hanging with Bill. Staff helping Comey conceal details of presser from DOJ bosses. Use of personal email and laptops. Leaks. Accepting gifts from media. Agent affairs/relationships.
7)It also contains stunning examples of incompetence. Comey explains that he wasn’t aware the Weiner laptop was big deal because he didn’t know Weiner was married to Abedin? Then they sit on it a month, either cuz it fell through cracks (wow) or were more obsessed w/Trump
8) And I can still hear the echo of the howls from when Trump fired Comey. Still waiting to hear the apologies now that this report has backstopped the Rosenstein memo and the obvious grounds for dismissal.
For almost a decade, it’s been extremely difficult to lose money in the U.S. stock market. Over the next decade, it could be hard to do anything but, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley. The outlook for market returns has precipitously worsened in recent months, with analysts and investors growing increasingly confident that the lengthy bull market that began in the wake of the financial crisis could be, if not coming to a close, petering out. More market participants view the economy as being in the late stage of its cycle, and a recession is widely expected in the next few years. All of that could result in an equity-market environment that’s a mirror image of recent years, where gains were pretty much uninterrupted, and volatility was subdued.
“2018 is seeing multiple tailwinds of the last nine years abate,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a report to clients that was entitled “The End of Easy,” in reference to the investing environment. “Decelerating growth, rising inflation and tightening policy leave us with below-consensus 12-month return forecasts for most risk assets. After nine years of markets outperforming the real economy, we think the opposite now applies as policy tightens.” As part of its call, Morgan Stanley reduced its view on global equities to equal weight, saying they were “in a range-trading regime with limited 12-month upside.” It raised its exposure to cash, following Goldman Sachs, which last week upgraded its view on the asset class on a short-term basis.
U.S. GDP grew at an annualized 2.3% in the first quarter, below the 3% average of the previous three quarters, as consumer spending hit its weakest level in five years. While slowing growth isn’t the same as a contraction, the data added to concerns that a period of synchronized global growth was coming to a close. According to a BofA Merrill Lynch Global survey of fund managers in April, just 5% of respondents expect faster global growth over the coming 12 months, compared with the roughly 40% that did at the start of the year.
[..] Howard Wang, the co-founder of Convoy Investments, called the Fed’s ballooning balance sheet “the fundamental driver of asset prices over the last decade.” He provided the chart below, which compares the growth in the U.S. money supply against the long-term return of all assets, including global equities, bond categories, real estate, and gold. “I believe the trend of shrinking money supply in the system will continue for some time to come,” Wang wrote. “This adjustment is a painful but necessary process for healthier markets and economies.”
On October 22, 1981, the national debt in the United States crossed the $1 trillion threshold for the first time in history. It took nearly two centuries to reach that unfortunate milestone. And over that time the country had been through a revolution, civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression, the nuclear arms race… plus dozens of other wars, financial panics, and economic crises. Today, the national debt stands at more than $21 trillion– a milestone hit roughly two months ago. This means that the government added $20 trillion to the national debt in the 37 years between October 22, 1981 and March 15, 2018.
That’s an average of nearly $1.5 BILLION added to the national debt every single day… $62 million per hour… $1 million per minute… and more than $17,000 per SECOND. But the problem for the US government is that this trend has grown worse over the years. It took only 214 days for the government to go from $20 trillion in debt to $21 trillion in debt– less than eight months to add a trillion dollars to the national debt. That’s an average of almost $52,000 per second. Think about that: on average, the US national debt increases by more in a split second than the typical American worker earns in an entire year. And there is no end in sight.
At 105% of GDP, America’s national debt is already larger than the size of the entire US economy. (By comparison the national debt was just 31% of GDP in 1981.) Plus, the government’s own projections show a steep increase to the debt in the coming years and decades. The Treasury Department has already estimated that it will borrow $1 trillion this fiscal year, $1 trillion next year, and another trillion dollars the year after that. They’re also forecasting the national debt to exceed $30 trillion by 2025.
1. I hate writing about Israel. The accusations of anti-semitism which necessarily go along with literally any criticism of that nation are gross enough, but even worse are the assholes who take my criticisms of the Israeli government as an invitation to actually be anti-semitic. They really do hate Jews, they really do think that every problem in the world is because of Jews and they post Jewish caricature memes and calls for genocide in the comments section on social media and it’s incredibly gross and I hate it. It feels exactly as intrusive, jarring and violating as receiving an unsolicited dick pic. But the Israeli government keeps committing war provocations and massacring Palestinians, so it’s something I’ve got to talk about.
2. Anti-semitism (or whatever word you prefer to use for the pernicious mind virus which makes people think it’s okay to promote hatred against Jewish people) is a very real thing that does exist, and I denounce it to the furthest possible extent. Anti-semitism is also a label that is used to bully the world into accepting war crimes, apartheid, oppression, and mass murder. Both of those things are true.
3. There were dozens of Palestinians killed and well above a thousand injured in the Gaza protests over the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem yesterday. I haven’t found any report of so much as a single Israeli injury. The only way to spin this as the fault of the Palestinians is to dehumanize them, to attribute behaviors and motives to them that we all know are contrary to human nature. To paint them as subhuman orc-like creatures who are so crazy and evil that they will keep throwing themselves at a hail of bullets risking life and limb just to have some extremely remote chance of harming a Jewish person for no reason. This is clearly absurd. A little clear thinking and empathy goes a long way.
6. Any position on Israel that is determined by words made up by dead men thousands of years ago is intrinsically invalid. Saying the Jewish people are more entitled to Israel than those who were living there seven decades ago because of some superstitious voodoo written in obsolete religious texts is not an argument. Religious freedom is important, and it’s important to be able to believe whatever you like, but your beliefs do not legitimize your actions upon other people. If you murder someone in the name of Allah, you have murdered someone. If you kill 58 people because you feel some ancient scripture entitles you to a particular section of dirt, you have killed 58 people. Your internal beliefs do not give you a free pass for your egregious actions upon others.
Google is under investigation in Australia following claims that it collects data from millions of Android smartphones users, who unwittingly pay their telecom service providers for gigabytes consumed during the harvesting, regulators said on Tuesday. Responding to the latest privacy concerns surrounding Google, a spokesman for the U.S. based search engine operator said the company has users’ permission to collect data. The Australian investigations stem from allegations made by Oracle Corp in a report provided as part of an Australian review into the impact that Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, and Facebook have on the advertising market. Both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the country’s Privacy Commissioner said they were reviewing the report’s findings.
“The ACCC met with Oracle and is considering information it has provided about Google services,” said Geesche Jacobsen, a spokeswoman for the competition regulator. “We are exploring how much consumers know about the use of location data and are working closely with the Privacy Commissioner.” Oracle, according to The Australian newspaper, said Alphabet receives detailed information about people’s internet searches and user locations if they have a phone that carries Android – the mobile operating system developed by Google. Transferring that information to Google means using up gigabytes of data that consumers have paid for under data packages purchased from local telecom service providers, according to the Oracle report.
China’s “debtbook diplomacy” uses strategic debts to gain political leverage with economically vulnerable countries across the Asia-Pacific region, the US state department has been warned in an independent report. The academic report, from graduate students of the Harvard Kennedy school of policy analysis, was independently prepared for the state department to view and assessed the impact of China’s strategy on the influence of the US in the region. The paper identifies 16 “targets” of China’s tactic of extending hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to countries that can’t afford to pay them, and then strategically leveraging the debt.
It said while Chinese infrastructure investment in developing countries wasn’t “inherently” against US or global interests, it became problematic when China’s use of its leverage ran counter to US interests, or if the US had strategic interests in a country which had its domestic stability undermined by unsustainable debt. The academics identified the most concerning countries, naming Pakistan and Sri Lanka as states where the process was “advanced”, with deepening debt and where the government had already ceded a key port or military base, as well places including Papua New Guinea and Thailand, where China had not yet used its amassed debt leverage.
Papua New Guinea, which “has historically been in Australia’s orbit”, was also accepting unaffordable Chinese loans. While this wasn’t a significant concern yet, the report said, the country offered a “strategic location” for China, as well as large resource deposits. While there was a lack of “individual diplomatic clout” in Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines, Chinese debt could give China a “proxy veto” in Asean, the academics said.
[..] China’s methods were “remarkably consistent”, the report said, beginning with infrastructure investments under its $1tn belt and road initiative, and offering longer term loans with extended grace periods, which was appealing to countries with weaker economies and governance. Construction projects, which the report said had a reputation for running over budget and yielding underwhelming returns, make debt repayments for the host nations more difficult. “The final phase is debt collection,” it said. “When countries prove unable to pay back their debts, China has already and is likely to continue to offer debt-forgiveness in exchange for both political influence and strategic equities.”
Millions of Americans who lost manufacturing jobs during the 2000s have long ”known” China was to blame, not robots. And many helped elect Donald Trump as president because of his insistence that China was at fault. Evidently many academics who’ve studied the issue are finally drawing the same conclusion. For years economists have viewed the increased role of automation in the computer age as the chief culprit for some 6 million lost jobs from 1999 to 2010 — one-third of all U.S. manufacturing employment. Firms adopted new technologies to boost production, the thinking goes, and put workers out of the job in the process. Plants could make more stuff with fewer people.
In the past several years fresh thinking by economists such as David Autor of MIT has challenged that view. The latest research to poke holes in the theory of automation-is-to-blame is from Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute. Academic research tends to be dry and complicated, but Houseman’s findings boil down to this: The government for decades has vastly overestimated the growth of productivity in the American manufacturing sector. It’s been growing no faster, really, than the rest of the economy. What that means is, the adoption of technology is not the chief reason why millions of working-class Americans lost their jobs in a vast region stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi river to the shores of the Great Lakes. Nor was it inevitable.
Autor and now Houseman contend the introduction of China into the global trading system is root cause of the job losses. Put another way, President Bill Clinton and political leaders who succeeded him accepted the risk that the U.S. would suffer short-term economic harm from opening the U.S. to Chinese exports in hopes of long-run gains of a more stable China. No longer needing to worry about U.S. tariffs, the Chinese took full advantage. Low Chinese wages and a cheap Chinese currency — at a time when the dollar was strong — gave China several huge advantages. Companies shuttered operations in the U.S., moved to China and eventually set up research hubs overseas in another blow to the America’s economic leadership. The cost to the U.S. is still being tallied up.
EU27 ministers met on Monday with the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels to discuss the state of talks so far. “Mr Barnier informed us that since 23 March no significant progress has been made on the three pillars that we work on: withdrawal, future framework, and Ireland,” Ekaterina Zakharieva, the Bulgarian foreign minister chairing the council, told journalists at an official press conference following the meeting. The renewed deadlock in Brussels comes as Theresa May’s cabinet repeatedly fails to agree with itself on what customs arrangement it wants with the EU after Brexit, despite publishing two options in August of last year. Both those options were dismissed as “magical thinking” by the EU at the time.
Speaking at a separate event in Brussels on Monday evening, Mr Barnier himself said that full talks on the future relationship had not even started in earnest despite getting the green light at a summit in March. “There is still a lot of uncertainty. Negotiations on the future with the UK have not started yet. We have had first exploratory discussions,” he said. Ms Zakharieva said the EU27 countries wanted more “intensive engagement by the UK government in the coming weeks”, warning that the October deadline was “only five months from now”. Ms May will next meet EU leaders in Brussels at the end of June for a meeting of the European Council.
A Russian company accused by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of funding a propaganda operation to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is asking a federal judge for access to secret information reviewed by a grand jury before it indicted the firm. In a court filing on Monday, lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting LLC said Mueller had wrongfully accused the company of a “make-believe crime,” in a political effort by the special counsel to “justify his own existence” by indicting “a Russian-any Russian.” They asked the judge for approval to review the instructions provided to the grand jury, saying they believed the case was deficient because Mueller lacked requisite evidence to show the company knowingly and “willfully” violated American laws.
Concord is one of three entities and 13 Russian individuals charged earlier this year by Mueller’s office, in an alleged criminal and espionage conspiracy to meddle in the U.S. race, boost then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. The indictment said Concord was controlled by Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, who U.S. officials have said has extensive ties to Russia’s military and political establishment. Prigozhin, also personally charged by Mueller, has been dubbed “Putin’s cook” by Russian media because his catering business has organized banquets for Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior political figures. He has been hit with sanctions by the U.S. government. Concord is facing charges of conspiring to defraud the United States, and is accused of controlling funding, recommending personnel and overseeing the activities of the propaganda campaign.
The bridge across the Kerch Strait, which will connect the Crimean Peninsula and Krasnodar Region is set to open on Tuesday. Construction of the bridge, the longest in Russia with a span of 19 kilometers, has been carried out since February 2016, and it is opening for cars more than half a year ahead of schedule. The bridge capacity is 40,000 cars and 47 pairs of trains per day, 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo per year. The railway section is scheduled to open in early 2019, the bridge will be opened for trucks starting from October of this year.
The link became vital after Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in 2014, as the peninsula’s only land border is with Ukraine. Before the opening, regular passenger and cargo deliveries were organized by direct flights and ferries from ports in southern Russia. Each pillar of the bridge needs about 400 tons of metal structures, which means that all pillars need as much iron as 32 Eiffel towers. The bridge’s piles are installed at least 90 meters under water.
Trans fats used in snack foods, baked foods and fried foods are responsible for half a million deaths worldwide each year and must be eliminated from the global food supply, the World Health Organization says today. Most of western Europe has already acted to reduce industrially made trans fats from factory-made foods. Denmark, like New York, which followed its lead, has an outright ban. Big food companies elsewhere have been under intense pressure to use substitutes. In the UK, the latest national diet and nutrition survey shows average intake of trans fats is well below the recommended upper limit of 2% of food energy, at 0.5-0.7%. Although companies manufacturing processed food in the UK do not use trans fats any more, the fats are in some cheap foods imported from other countries.
The WHO is calling on all governments to take action, including passing laws or regulations to rid their food supply of industrial trans fats. Director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said eliminating trans fats would “represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease”. The WHO is targeting industrially made trans fats, but trans fats are also contained in milk, butter and cheese derived from ruminants, mainly cows and sheep. Dr Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the WHO, said the amounts we eat in dairy products are unlikely to breach the health guidelines. “We are saying that trans fats contained in those products have the same effect as industrial trans fats – we are not able to tell the difference,” he said. “But the amount contained in dairy products is much less.”
The Bank of England should print money for the government to invest in the low-carbon economy to combat climate change, according to a new report. The BoE must also offload fossil fuel assets and use its existing powers more effectively to promote green projects, the campaign and research group Positive Money says. The report argues that the bank’s mandate to secure financial stability “looks incoherent over time unless it considers the long-term viability of the economy”. That viability will be undermined unless the threat of climate change is tackled soon, the researchers say. “The nature of climate change is such that either physical damage from weather or radical changes in technology and policy will occur in some combination, so action is needed now,” the report says.
It challenges the bank’s record on climate change and says its programme of, in effect, printing billions of pounds to prop up the economy has disproportionately helped carbon-intensive companies that are choking the planet. Under quantitative easing (QE), the bank has bought billions of pounds of debt from companies and the government. This is supposed to increase demand for debt, which in turn lowers interest rates. Cheaper borrowing means more borrowing which is supposed to be used to fund economic activity. But the researchers argue that QE has been actively harmful to efforts to combat climate change because the bank’s own criteria have been skewed towards buying debt from high-carbon sectors like manufacturing and utilities.
Wildlife poachers in Kenya will face the death penalty, the country’s tourism and wildlife minister has reportedly announced. Najib Balala warned the tough new measure would be fast-tracked into law. Existing deterrents against killing wild animals in the east African nation are insufficient, Mr Balala said, according to China’s Xinhua news agency. So in an effort to conserve Kenya’s wildlife populations, poachers will reportedly face capital punishment once the new law is passed. Kenya is home to a wide variety of treasured species in national parks and reserves, including lions, black rhinos, ostriches, hippos, buffalos, giraffe and zebra.
Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 – and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed. “We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of US$200,000,” Mr Balala reportedly said. “However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.”
Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia. Brazil in a bit. The list will grow. As the dollar rises, emerging countries need more dollars to pay their debt, pushing the dollar up even more. And investors pull their money out of these countries. Vicious circles everywhere.
Argentina even issued a one-hundred-year bond at a spectacularly low rate (8.25%) with a very high demand, more than 3.5 times bid-to-cover. That $ 2.5 billion issuance seemed crazy. A one-hundred-year bond from a nation that has defaulted at least six times in the previous hundred years! Worse of all, those funds were used to finance current expenditure in local currency. The extraordinary demand for bonds and other assets in Argentina or Turkey was justified by expectations of reforms and a change that, as time passed, simply did not happen. Countries failed to control inflation, deliver lower than expected growth and imbalances soared just as the U.S. started to see some inflation, rates started to rise.
Suddenly, the yield spread between the U.S. 10-year bond and emerging markets debt was unattractive, and liquidity dried up faster than the speed of light even with a modest decrease of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. Liquidity disappears because of extremely leveraged bets on one single trade – a weaker dollar, higher global growth- unwind. However, another problem exacerbates the reaction. An aggressive increase in the monetary base by the Argentine central bank made inflation rise above 23%. With an increase in the monetary base of 28% per year, and seeking to finance excess spending by printing money and raising debt to “buy time”, the seeds of the disaster were planted. Excess liquidity and the US dollar weakness stopped. Local currencies and external funding face risk of collapse.
The Sudden Stop. When most of the emerging economies entered into twin deficits -trade and fiscal deficits- and consensus praised “synchronized growth”, they were sealing their destiny: When the US dollar regains some strength, US rates rise due to an increase in inflation, the flow of cheap money to emerging markets is reversed. Synchronized indebted growth created the risk of synchronized collapse.
A resurgent dollar and higher borrowing costs are smashing through Argentina and Turkey’s currencies like a wrecking ball and raising the likelihood more broadly that emerging markets’ three-year long interest rate cutting cycle is at an end. Emerging markets came into the year flying, riding on the back of a healthy global economy and rising commodity prices alongside tame inflation and a weak dollar. It looked more than likely that a wave of rate cuts would keep rolling, allowing a bond rally to continue. From Brazil and Russia to Armenia and Zambia, developing countries, big and small, have been on a rate cutting spree. With hundreds of rate cuts since Jan. 2015, the average emerging market borrowing cost fell under 6% earlier this year from over 7% at the time.
Fund managers’ profits too have soared in this time, with emerging local currency debt among the best performing asset classes, with dollar-based returns of 14% last year. Even in the first quarter of 2018, returns were a buoyant 4.3% Now though, almost exactly five years since the so-called taper tantrum shook an emerging market rally, these gains appear to be on the cusp of reversal. Argentina has jacked up its interest rates to 40% in response to a rout in its peso currency, while Turkey was also forced into a rate rise as its lira hit record lows against the dollar. Indonesia, after heavy interventions to stem rupiah bleeding, has also said it could resort to policy tightening.
If you’re watching Argentina’s economy, it hasn’t been a banner week. This week, Argentina had to raise its key interest rate three times to keep the Argentine peso from losing even more value against the dollar. Three interest rate hikes in one week is a lot – it implies the first two didn’t work, and the Central Bank is not in control. The interest rate currently sits at 40%. That means the Central Bank pays 40% per year on peso-denominated debt, which can imply that they expect the value of the peso to fall somewhere in the ballpark of 40% over a one year period. A year ago in April, the rate was closer to 26%. Yikes. And the exchange rate kicked off the week at around 20.5 ARS/USD. It jumped almost to 23 ARS/USD, and is currently hovering around 21.8 ARS/USD.
[..] When the US dollar increases in value, emerging market currencies decrease, meaning in Argentina’s case it will take increasingly more pesos to buy dollars. This then amplifies the risk that emerging markets will be unable to make payments on dollar denominated debt, causing investors to sell their emerging market investments, further amplifying the currency stress. The timing specifically in the case of Argentina is uncannily bad. Until this week, non-residents investing in Argentina were exempt from paying the equivalent of capital gains taxes across the board, including local-currency peso-denominated central bank notes, or LEBACs. This Tuesday, this exemption on LEBACs officially no longer applied, meaning foreign holders of these notes now incur a tax equal to 5% on profits.
Remedies the Trump administration is prescribing for U.S. trade problems won’t work, and forays in trade disputes with China will harm the United States, a veteran China expert with decades of experience in bilateral relations said [in Silicon Valley] on Saturday. “I believe that Washington has misdiagnosed our trade problems, that its remedies for them won’t work, and that what it is doing will harm the United States and other countries as much or more than it does China,” said Chas Freeman, senior fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute, when addressing the annual conference of a prominent Chinese American group, the Committee of 100 (C100).
“The United States and China are each too globalized and dynamic to contain, too big and influential to ignore, and too successful and entangled with each other to divorce without bankrupting ourselves and all associated with us,” Freeman, also former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, said in an opening keynote speech. Pointing out that there are many reasons for the United States to seek cooperative relations with a rising China, Freeman added that the Trump administration has decided “to pick a fight — to confront China both militarily and economically.” “The fact that we Americans consume more than we save means that we import more than we produce. That creates an overall trade deficit. Ironically, the Trump administration has just taken steps guaranteed to increase this deficit,” he said.
“It has reduced tax revenues and boosted deficit spending, mostly on military research, development, and procurement. These actions take the national savings rate even lower while inflating domestic demand for goods and services. They cause imports to surge,” he added. “Increased American consumption born of an overstimulated economy explains why China’s trade surplus with the United States is again rising even as its surplus with the rest of the world falls,” he said. “Unless Americans boost our national savings rate by hiking taxes or cut our consumption by falling into recession, our overall trade deficit is sure to bloat,” he said.
Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with two-time, best-selling author Nomi Prins, who just released “Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged The World.” Will the next crash be worse than the last one? Prins says, “Yes, it will because we will be falling from a higher height. The idea here is you are sinking on the Titanic as opposed to sinking on a canoe somewhere. All of this artificial conjured money is puffing up the system, along with money that is borrowed cheaply is also puffing up the system and creating asset bubbles everywhere. So, when things pop, there is more leakage to happen. The air in all these bubbles has created larger bubbles than we have had before.”
How does the common man protect himself? Prins says, “They have to own things, and by that I mean real assets, hard assets like silver and gold. That’s not as liquid, so taking cash out of banks and sort of keeping it in real things and keeping it on site . . . keeping cash physically. You need to extract it from the system because the reality is when a financial crisis happens, banks close their doors to depositors. . . . Also, basically try to decrease your debt.”
A funny thing happened on the way to impeaching Donald Trump. After two-years of investigations by a highly politicized FBI and a Special Counsel stacked with Clinton supporters, Robert Mueller’s probe has resulted in the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the arrests of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and the indictment of 13 Russian nationals on allegations of hacking the 2016 election – along with the raid of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
The nation has been on the edge of insanity waiting for that much-promised and long awaited link tying President Trump to Vladimir Putin we were all promised, only to find out that there is no link, the deck appears to have been heavily stacked against Donald Trump by bad actors operating at the highest levels of the FBI, DOJ, Obama admin and Clinton camp, and the real Russian conspiracy in the 2016 election was the participation of high level Kremlin sources used in the anti-Trump dossier that Hillary Clinton paid for. Now, as the out-of-control investigation moves from the headlines and into court, the all-encompassing “witch hunt,” as Trump calls it, may be in serious jeopardy.
As of Friday, three separate Judges have rendered harsh setbacks to the Mueller investigation – demanding, if you can believe it, facts and evidence to back up the Special Counsel’s claims – in unredacted format as one Judge demands, or risk having the cases tossed out altogether. [..] And as we noted yesterday, some have suggested that Flynn pleaded guilty due to the fact that federal investigations tend to bankrupt people who aren’t filthy rich – as was the case with former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee “God damn you to hell” after having to sell his home due to mounting legal fees over the inquiry. “Your investigation and others into the allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russia are costing my family a great deal of money — more than $125,000 — and making a visceral impact on my children.”
Until this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and fellow institutionalists at the department had fought Congress’s demands for information with the tools of banal bureaucracy – resist, delay, ignore, negotiate. But Mr. Rosenstein took things to a new level on Tuesday, accusing House Republicans of “threats,” extortion and wanting to “rummage” through department documents. A Wednesday New York Times story then dropped a new slur, claiming “Mr. Rosenstein and top FBI officials have come to suspect that some lawmakers were using their oversight authority to gain intelligence about [Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s ] investigation so that it could be shared with the White House.”
Mr. Rosenstein isn’t worried about rummaging. That’s a diversion from the department’s opposite concern: that it is being asked to comply with very specific – potentially very revealing – demands. Two House sources confirm for me that the Justice Department was recently delivered first a classified House Intelligence Committee letter and then a subpoena (which arrived Monday) demanding documents related to a new line of inquiry about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Trump investigation. The deadline for complying with the subpoena was Thursday afternoon, and the Justice Department flouted it. As the White House is undoubtedly monitoring any new congressional demands for information, it is likely that President Trump’s tweet Wednesday ripping the department for not turning over documents was in part a reference to this latest demand.
Republicans also demand the FBI drop any objections to declassifying a section of the recently issued House Intelligence Committee report that deals with a briefing former FBI Director James Comey provided about former national security adviser Mike Flynn. House Republicans say Mr. Comey told them his own agents did not believe Mr. Flynn lied to them. On his book tour, Mr. Comey has said that isn’t true. Someone isn’t being honest. Is the FBI more interested in protecting the reputations of two former directors (the other being Mr. Mueller, who dragged Mr. Flynn into court on lying grounds) than in telling the public the truth?
We can’t know the precise motivations behind the Justice Department’s and FBI’s refusal to make key information public. But whether it is out of real concern over declassification or a desire to protect the institutions from embarrassment, the current leadership is about 20 steps behind this narrative. Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe – they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust. There is nothing to be gained from pretending this is business as usual, or attempting to stem continued fallout by hiding further details.
Leading politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives want to pass a resolution at a meeting this week to reject any pooling of debts in Europe and any fiscal policy without national parliamentary controls, Handelsblatt reported. The daily business newspaper, citing sources from the conservative bloc’s parliamentary leadership, said the senior politicians also oppose European Commission plans for a European finance minister. The group includes the parliamentary leaders of the conservative bloc in the Bundestag, the European Parliament as well as from Germany’s 16 states, Handelsblatt reported.
Merkel will join them on Monday for a meeting in Frankfurt. The report highlights the resistance among Merkel’s conservatives to any euro zone reforms that could see more German taxpayers’ money being used to fund other member states. The conservatives are nervous about European Union reform after bleeding support to the anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) party at national elections last September. Last month, Merkel called for a spirit of compromise on reforming the euro zone at a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed for solidarity among members of the currency union.
German industrial orders unexpectedly dropped for the third month running in March due to weak foreign demand, data showed on Monday, suggesting factories in Europe’s largest economy are shifting into a lower gear. Contracts for German goods fell 0.9% after a downwardly revised drop of 0.2% the previous month, data from the Federal Statistics Office showed. Analysts polled by Reuters had on average predicted a 0.5% rise in orders. “The economy is slowing down, that’s the sure take-away from today’s industrial orders data,” VP Bank Group analyst Thomas Gitzel said, adding that some growth forecasts would soon have to be revised down.
The government last month cut its 2018 growth forecast to 2.3% from 2.4% and expressed concern about international trade tensions. “The debate about tariffs has probably created great uncertainty in Europe’s export-driven industry,” Gitzel added. As Europe’s biggest exporter to the United States, Germany is desperate to avoid an EU trade war with the United States. In the run-up to a June 1 deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide on whether to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU, Berlin is urging its European partners to be flexible and pursue a broad deal that benefits both sides. The drop in industrial orders was led by foreign orders which fell by 2.6%, while domestic orders rose 1.5%, the data showed.
The number of children growing up in poverty in working households will be a million higher than in 2010, a new study has found. Research for the TUC estimates that 3.1 million children with working parents will be below the official breadline this year. About 600,000 children with working parents have been pushed into poverty because of the government’s benefit cuts and public sector pay restrictions, according to the report by the consultancy Landman Economics. The east Midlands will have the biggest increase in child poverty among working families, followed by the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, the research found. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said child poverty in working households had shot up since 2010.
“Years of falling incomes and benefit cuts have had a terrible human cost. Millions of parents are struggling to feed and clothe their kids,” she said. “The government is in denial about how many working families just can’t make ends meet. We need ministers to boost the minimum wage now, and use the social security system to make sure no child grows up in a family struggling to get by.” [..] A government spokeswoman said it did not recognise the TUC’s figures. She said: “The reality is there are now 1 million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010, including 300,000 fewer children. “We want every child to get the very best chances in life. We know the best route out of poverty is through work, which is why it’s really encouraging that both the employment rate and household incomes have never been higher.”
The survival of strike-hit Air France is in the balance, according to the country’s economy minister. Bruno Le Maire’s warning that Air France could “disappear” comes as staff begin another round of industrial action over a pay dispute. Despite the French state owning 14.3% of the Air France-KLM parent group, the loss-making airline would not be bailed out, he said. On Friday Air France-KLM’s chief executive quit over the crisis. Air France-KLM is one of Europe’s biggest airlines, but has seen a series of strikes in recent weeks. Monday’s walk-out is the 14th day of action, as staff press for a 5.1% salary increase this year. The government’s response is seen as a test of labour reforms launched by French President Emmanuel Macron. There have also been strikes at the state-owned SNCF rail company.
On Sunday, Mr Le Maire told French news channel BFM: “I call on everyone to be responsible: crew, ground staff, and pilots who are asking for unjustified pay hikes. “The survival of Air France is in the balance,” he said, adding that the state would not serve as a backstop for the airline’s debts. “Air France will disappear if it does not make the necessary efforts to be competitive,” he warned. Despite the strike, the airline insisted that it would be able to maintain 99% of long-haul flights on Monday, 80% of medium-haul services and 87% of short-haul flights. On Friday, Jean-Marc Janaillac, chief executive of parent company Air France-KLM, resigned after staff rejected a final pay offer from him, which would have raised wages by 7% over four years.
For salaried workers to bring home 1,500 euros per month net on a 12-month basis, or 18,000 euros per year not including holiday bonuses, their employers need to pay 2,610 euros a month or over 31,300 euros a year, given Greece’s particularly high taxes and social security contributions. For a self-employed professional to pocket the same amount , about 18,000 euros per annum, he or she would have to earn at least 50,000 euros on a yearly basis so as to cover professional expenses, taxes and contributions. As for new pensioners, a net income of 1,500 euros/month or 18,000 euros/year can only be achieved if they worked without pause for 40 years at an average monthly salary of 2,400 euros over that entire period.
The framework that has emerged in the last three years with tax and contribution hikes, in particular, as well as the new way pensions are being calculated are drastically reducing the chances of any worker or pensioner to have a decent monthly salary or pension. Official figures already highlight the shrinking of the so-called middle class: From the 8.8 million individual taxpayers who submitted a declaration last year, no more than 450,000 showed a net annual income of 18,000 euros or more, down from 840,000 in 2010. The shrinking trend of the middle class is expected to continue both for taxation and for practical reasons.
An employer will face the same cost hiring five or six part-timers offering a total of 20-24 working hours per day as in hiring one full-timer offering eight hours of work. Particularly in sectors where there is no need for highly skilled workers, such as retail commerce or tourism, the trend to replace well paid positions has already become dominant. Among the self-employed, overtaxation is this year anticipated to reduce the number of those declaring a taxable income of over 30,000 euros per year. As for pensioners, already the first pensions issues on the basis of the new system of calculation prove that the chances for anyone to secure a benefit of 1,500 euros after retirement are next to zero, and will shrink further in the years to come.
U.S. oil firm ConocoPhillips has moved to take Caribbean assets of Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award over a decade-oil nationalization of its projects in the South American country, according to two sources familiar with its actions. The U.S. firm targeted Caribbean facilities on the islands of Bonaire and St. Eustatius that play critical roles in PDVSA’s oil exports, the country’s main source of revenue. PDVSA relies on the terminals to process, store and blend its oil. “We will work with the community and local authorities to address issues that may arise as a result of enforcement actions,” ConocoPhillips said in a statement to Reuters.