Jul 232019
 


Odilon Redon Sunset n.d.

 

US Justice Department Tells Mueller To Limit Congressional Testimony (R.)
What Goes Around (Kunstler)
A Non-Hack That Raised Hillary’s Hackles (Ray McGovern)/span>
Inequality is Destroying Democratic Capitalism (Deaton)
Who Was Jeffrey Epstein Calling? (NYMag)
Chelsea Clinton Denies Ties To Jeffrey Epstein’s Alleged ‘Madam’ (MN)
UK’s May Takes Parting Shot at Putin in Desperate Diversion From Failure (SCF)
Iran Warns West Against Starting Conflict (R.)
France To Shut Down Nuclear Plants Due To Heatwave (Montel)
Huge Swathes Of The Arctic On Fire, Satellite Images Show (Ind.)

 

 

He might as well stay home. Can’t talk about Concord, can’t talk about anything not in the report.

US Justice Department Tells Mueller To Limit Congressional Testimony (R.)

The U.S. Justice Department told former Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Monday he should limit his testimony before Congress this week to discussing his public report on the Russia probe. In a letter to Mueller, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer said his testimony set for Wednesday “must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege.” The letter said “these privileges would include discussion about investigative steps or decisions made during your investigation not otherwise described in the public version of your report.”

Mueller completed in March his nearly two-year-long probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. The Justice Department released a redacted copy of his 448-page report in April. A spokesman for Mueller, Jim Popkin, said no one at the Justice Department, Congress or the White House would review Mueller’s statement before he delivers it on Wednesday. In back-to-back hearings before the House of Representatives Judiciary and Intelligence committees, Democrats are expected to try to get Mueller to focus his testimony on specific examples of Trump’s misconduct.

[..] Mueller has been using offices at his former law firm WilmerHale and working with a small team from the special counsel’s office to prepare for Wednesday’s hearings, Popkin said. “He will come well prepared,” Popkin said. “His team has been working on this for a while and they will be ready for whatever comes their way.”

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“is it possible that he’s just not very bright?”

What Goes Around (Kunstler)

The entrapment operation that was the Special Counsel’s covert mission has turned out to be Mr. Mueller own personal booby-trap, prompting the question: is it possible that he’s just not very bright? Though Mr. Mueller’s final report asserted that the Russian government interfered in “a sweeping and systemic fashion” to influence the 2016 election, the 450-page great tome contains zero evidence to support that claim, and the discrepancy was actually noticed by federal judge Dabney Friedrich who is presiding over the case against the alleged Russian Facebook trolls that was one of the two tent-poles in the RussiaGate fantasy. The case is now blowing up in Robert Mueller’s face.

In early 2018, Mr. Mueller sold a DC grand jury on producing indictments against a Russian outfit called the Internet Research Agency and its parent company Concord Management, owned by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin for the so-called election meddling. The indictment was celebrated as a huge coup at the time by the likes of CNN and The New York Times, styled as a silver bullet in the heart of the Trump presidency. But the indicted parties were all in Russia, and could not be extradited, and there was zero expectation that any actual trial would ever take place — leaving Mueller & Co. off-the-hook for proving their allegations.

To the great surprise of Mr. Mueller and his “team,” Mr. Prigozhin hired some American lawyers to defend his company in court. Smooth move. It automatically triggered the discovery process, by which the accused is entitled to see the evidence that prosecutors hold. It turned out that Mr. Mueller’s team had no evidence that the Russian government was involved with the Facebook pranks. This annoyed Judge Friedrich, who ordered Mr. Mueller and his lawyers to desist making public statements about Concord and IRA’s alleged “sweeping and systemic” collusion with Russia, and threatened legal sanctions if they did.

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Three years ago. That went by fast.

A Non-Hack That Raised Hillary’s Hackles (Ray McGovern)/span>

Three years ago Monday WikiLeaks published a trove of highly embarrassing emails that had been leaked from inside the Democratic National Committee. As has been the case with every leak revealed by WikiLeaks, the emails were authentic. These particular ones, however, could not have come at a worse time for top Democratic Party officials. The emails made it unmistakably clear that the DNC had tipped the scales sharply against Democratic insurgent Bernie Sanders, giving him a snowball’s chance in hell for the nomination. [..] A mere four days after the WikiLeaks release, a well orchestrated Democratic Convention nominated Clinton, while many Sanders supporters loudly objected.

Thus, she began her campaign under a cloud, and as more and more Americans learned of the fraud that oozed through the DNC email correspondence — including the rigging of the Democratic primaries — the cloud grew larger and darker. On June 12, 2016, six weeks before the convention, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had announced in an interview on British TV, “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton … We have emails pending publication.” Independent forensic investigations demonstrated two years ago that the DNC emails were not hacked over the Internet, but had been copied onto an external storage device — probably a thumb drive. Additional work over recent months has yielded more evidence that the intrusion into the DNC computers was a copy, not a hack, and that it took place on May 23 and 25, 2016.

No one knew how soon WikiLeaks would publish the emails, but the DNC offense/defense would surely have to be put in place before the convention scheduled to begin on July 25. That meant there were, at most, six weeks to react. But it only took two days. As early as July 24, about 48 hours after the leaks were published, and a day before the convention, the DNC first blamed Russia for hacking their emails and giving them to WikiLeaks to sabotage Clinton. Granted, it was a stretch — and the DNC would have to hire a pliable cybersecurity firm to back up their claim. But they had good reason to believe that CrowdStrike would perform that service. It was the best Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook and associates could apparently come up with.

If they hurried, there would be just enough time to prepare a PR campaign before the convention and, best of all, there was little doubt that the media could be counted on to support the effort full bore. [..] It pretty much worked like a charm. The late Senator John McCain and others were quick to call the Russian “hack” an “an act of war.” Evidence? None. For icing on the cake, then-FBI Director James Comey decided not to seize and inspect the DNC computers. Nor, as we now know, did Comey even require a final report from CrowdStrike.

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Not sure having it discussed by well-paid economists is all that useful.

Inequality is Destroying Democratic Capitalism (Deaton)

At the risk of grandiosity, I think that today’s inequalities are signs that democratic capitalism is under threat, not only in the US, where the storm clouds are darkest, but in much of the rich world, where one or more of politics, economics, and health are changing in worrisome ways. I do not believe that democratic capitalism is beyond repair nor that it should be replaced; I am a great believer in what capitalism has done, not only to the oft-cited billions who have been pulled out of poverty in the last half-century, but to all the rest of us who have also escaped poverty and deprivation over the last two and a half centuries. It also provides our jobs and the cornucopia of goods and services that we take for granted.

And Milton Friedman, whose starry-eyed view of capitalism has much to answer for, was not entirely wrong when he extolled the freedom that free markets can bring. Though history has not been kind to his view that equality would be guaranteed by using markets to pursue freedom. But we need to think about repairs for democratic capitalism, either by fixing what is broken, or by making changes to head off the threats; indeed, I believe that those of us who believe in social democratic capitalism should be leading the charge to make repairs.

As it is, capitalism is not delivering to large fractions of the population; in the US, where the inequalities are clearest, real wages for men without a four-year college degree have fallen for half a century, even at a time when per capita GDP has robustly risen. Mortality rates are rising for the less-educated group at ages 25 through 64, and by enough that life expectancy for the entire population has fallen for three years in a row, the first time such a reversal has happened since the end of the first world war and the great influenza epidemic. Less educated Americans are dying by their own hands, from suicide, from alcoholic liver disease, and from overdoses of drugs. Morbidity is rising too, and they are also suffering from an epidemic of chronic pain that, for many, makes a misery of daily life.

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“If you watch Fox News, you will believe Bill Clinton was Epstein’s No. 1 pal and enabler. If you watch MSNBC, this scandal is usually all about Donald Trump. ”

Who Was Jeffrey Epstein Calling? (NYMag)

Perhaps, at long last, a serial rapist and pedophile may be brought to justice, more than a dozen years after he was first charged with crimes that have brutalized countless girls and women. But what won’t change is this: the cesspool of elites, many of them in New York, who allowed Jeffrey Epstein to flourish with impunity. For decades, important, influential, “serious” people attended Epstein’s dinner parties, rode his private jet, and furthered the fiction that he was some kind of genius hedge-fund billionaire. How do we explain why they looked the other way, or flattered Epstein, even as they must have noticed he was often in the company of a young harem?

Easy: They got something in exchange from him, whether it was a free ride on that airborne “Lolita Express,” some other form of monetary largesse, entrée into the extravagant celebrity soirées he hosted at his townhouse, or, possibly and harrowingly, a pound or two of female flesh. If you watch Fox News, you will believe Bill Clinton was Epstein’s No. 1 pal and enabler. If you watch MSNBC, this scandal is usually all about Donald Trump. In fact, both presidents are guilty (at the very least) of giving Epstein cover and credibility.

There are so many unanswered questions about Epstein, but one that looms over all of them is whether the bipartisan crowd who cleared a path for him will cover its tracks before we can get answers — not just Clinton and Trump and all those who drank at Epstein’s trough but also (among others) institutions like Harvard, Dalton, and the Council on Foreign Relations, or lawyers like the New York prosecutor Cy Vance Jr., whose office tried to downgrade Epstein’s sex-offender status; Kenneth Starr, who tried to pressure Republican Justice Department officials to keep the Epstein case from ever being prosecuted; and Alan Dershowitz, who tried to pressure the Pulitzer Prizes to shut out the Miami Herald for its epic investigative reporting that cracked open the case anew.

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People are going to start talking soon, if only to protect themselves. But why hasn’t Maxwell been arrested yet?

Chelsea Clinton Denies Ties To Jeffrey Epstein’s Alleged ‘Madam’ (MN)

Since Jeffrey Epstein’s latest arrest on sex trafficking charges, a who’s who of the rich and powerful — notably Donald Trump, Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton — have rushed to downplay their associations with the financier who is accused of abusing underaged girls. Now Chelsea Clinton has joined her ex-president father on this who’s who list. Her representative issued a statement to Politico over the weekend denying reports that the former First Daughter was close friends with Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s ex-girlfriend and the alleged “madam” who has been accused of helping him procure underaged girls for sex.

Politico’s report on Maxwell, 57, focuses on how the daughter of the late British publishing mogul Robert Maxwell helped Epstein, the Brooklyn-born son of a New York City parks groundskeeper, gain access to social circles that allowed him to become friendly with two U.S. presidents, billionaire business moguls, America’s media elite and at least one member of the British royal family. Maxwell has not been criminally charged, but has settled two lawsuits filed by women who say she participated in Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking, the New York Times reported last week. She has denied any wrongdoing. Politico said Maxwell first grew close to the Clinton family after former president Bill Clinton left office, and eventually became friends with Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation.

According to the news outlet, the two women vacationed together on a yacht in 2009, and Maxwell attended Chelsea’s wedding to Marc Mezvinsky in 2010, Politico reported. A photo of Maxwell at the wedding has circulated online. Maxwell also participated in the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative as recently as 2013, through The TerraMar Project, an oceanic non-profit she founded, according to the Initiative’s website. The contacts between Chelsea Clinton and Maxwell appear to have occurred after Maxwell’s name first emerged in accounts of Epstein’s alleged sexual abuse. “Ghislaine was the contact between Epstein and Clinton,” a person familiar with the relationship told Politico. “She ended up being close to the family because she and Chelsea ended up becoming close.”

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May goes away in July. Bye.

UK’s May Takes Parting Shot at Putin in Desperate Diversion From Failure (SCF)

In what was billed as her last major speech before quitting Downing Street, Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May focused her concerns on Russian President Vladimir Putin, lashing out at his “cynical falsehoods” and admonishing her successor “to stand up to” the Russian leader. Given her ignominious failure as premier over the Brexit fiasco, it seemed a strange choice of topic as she addressed the Chatham House think tank in London this past week. Her speech dealt with the wider theme of rising “populist politics” in the US and Europe. And she sought to portray Putin as an archetypal sinister figure fomenting populist threat to the “liberal” democratic order.

At one point, May claimed: “No one comparing the quality of life or economic success of liberal democracies like the UK, France and Germany to the Russian Federation would conclude that our system is obsolete.” This was supposed to be a riposte to an interview given by Putin to the Financial Times last month ahead of the G20 summit in Japan. During a lengthy interview on a wide range of issues, the Russian president was quoted as saying: “The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.”

Putin was apparently explaining a fairly straightforward and, to many observers, valid assessment of international politics. Namely, that Western establishments and institutions, including the mainstream media, are experiencing a crisis in authority. That crisis has arisen over several years due to popular perception that the governance of the political class is not delivering on democratic demands of accountability and economic progress. That in turn has led people to seek alternatives from the established parties, a movement in the US and Europe which is denigrated by the establishment as “populist” or rabble rousing.

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Boris is capable of doing very stupid things.

Iran Warns West Against Starting Conflict (R.)

Iran’s foreign minister warned the West on Monday against “starting a conflict,” saying it was not seeking confrontation after its military seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz last week. London described the seizure of the Stena Impero as “state piracy” and on Monday called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz. Speaking in Nicaragua, Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif said Iran had taken measures against the ship to implement international law, not in retaliation for the British capture of an Iranian tanker two weeks earlier in Gibraltar.


“Starting a conflict is easy, ending it would be impossible,” Zarif told reporters after meeting his Nicaraguan counterpart. “It’s important for everybody to realize, it’s important for Boris Johnson to understand, that Iran does not seek confrontation,” he said, referring to the front-runner to become Britain’s new prime minister. “Iran wants to have normal relations based on mutual respect,” he added. Zarif said Iran acted when it observed that the UK ship did not follow regulations. “The UK ship had turned down its signal for more time than it was allowed to (and) was passing through the wrong channel, endangering the safety and security of shipping and navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, for which we are responsible,” Zarif said.

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France imports UK wind energy.

France To Shut Down Nuclear Plants Due To Heatwave (Montel)

French weather service Meteo France issued a 40C heatwave warning on Monday for 21 regions across France, while utility EDF will shut down nearly 3 GW of nuclear capacity this week amid cooling water issues. Golfech 2 (1.3 GW) on the Garonne river would be stopped from Tuesday at 23:00 until 29 July at 23:59, while Golfech 1 (1.3 GW) would be halted from Wednesday at 02:00 until 29 July at 23:59. Low river flows and high water temperatures can force operators to cut output if it breaches environmental limits. Flows on key French rivers had “significantly” weakened over the last two weeks amid persistent hot and dry weather, the ministry of energy told Montel recently.


The St Alban 1 and 2 (2.6 GW) reactors, meanwhile, saw their output cut over the weekend, and though both reactors are now back online, EDF warned last week it could curb output at its nuclear plants located along the river Rhone – which also included Bugey (3.7 GW) – due to declining flows amid the hot weather. The temperature of the Rhone around St Alban and Tricast in was currently 26C, while it was 23.4C at Bugey, estimates from Montel’s Energy Quantified showed, with 28C deemed unsafe. French TSO RTE expected power demand to peak at 59.4 GW on Thursday and 58.6 GW on Friday, with a surge expected due to an increase in need for cooling.

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Ugly. Peat fires are impossible to control.

Huge Swathes Of The Arctic On Fire, Satellite Images Show (Ind.)

Vast swathes of the Arctic are suffering from “unprecedented” wildfires, new satellite images have revealed. North of the Arctic circle, the high temperatures are facilitating enormous wildfires which are wreaking ecological destruction on a colossal scale. It comes after the world’s hottest June on record which has been followed by a devastating heatwave in the US, with Europe forecast for the same treatment later this week. Satellite images reveal fires across Greenland, Siberia and Alaska, with warm dry conditions following ice melt on the enormous Greenland icesheet commencing a month earlier than average.

Pierre Markuse, a satellite photography expert, posted images showing smoke billowing across massive areas of uninhabited and wild land. The pictures show forest fires and burning peat. They also reveal the extent of the damage the fires leave behind. In Alaska wildfires have already burned more than 1.6 million acres of land. Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast, said the amount of CO2 emitted by Arctic wildfires between 1 June and 21 July 2019 is around 100 megatonnes and is approaching the entire 2017 fossil fuel CO2 emissions of Belgium.


Satellite image processed by Pierre Markuse showing numerous wildfires burning in Russia just south of the Arctic Circle (Pierre Markuse/Creative Commons)

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Jul 222019
 


Claude Monet Impression, sunrise 1872

 

Nadler: Mueller Has Evidence Of Trump High Crimes And Misdemeanours (G.)
Trump Has Nothing To Fear From Mueller (Hill)
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Plans Under Threat From Ministers’ Resignations (G.)
Incoming Prime Minister Poses A Brexit Puzzle For Brussels (G.)
From Hammond on to Johnson – Where Next For Fiscal Policy? (PE)
Abe Fails To Get Enough Votes To Change Japan’s Pacifist Constitution (AT)
Armed Mob Violence On Protesters Leaves Hong Kong In Shock (BBC)
Puerto Rico’s Week Of Massive Protests, Explained (Vox)
The Secret Sources of Populism (Bruno Maçães)
Latest Secret Government File Reveals UK Middle East Policy (TP)
Kicked Off the Land (New Yorker)
Losing My Religion For Equality (Jimmy Carter)

 

 

Curious to see what that evidence is, and curious to know why iot has remained hidden to date.

Nadler: Mueller Has Evidence Of Trump High Crimes And Misdemeanours (G.)

The eyes of America will be trained on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, as Robert Mueller testifies before two House committees about his report on Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice by the president. On Sunday, the chairman of the judiciary committee indicated the stakes when he said the 448-page report contained “very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours” – the benchmark for impeachment. “It’s important that we not have a lawless administration and a lawless president,” the New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler told Fox News Sunday.


“And it’s important that people see what we’re doing and what we’re dealing with.” Nadler’s committee would initiate impeachment proceedings. Mueller, a former director of the FBI, will also appear before the intelligence panel. “The report presents very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours,” he said, “and we have to present, or let Mueller present those facts to the American people and then see where we go from there because the administration must be held accountable and no president can be above the law.”

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Surprise: not everyone agrees with Nadler. Is everybody citing from the same report? Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004.

Trump Has Nothing To Fear From Mueller (Hill)

The president has nothing to fear from the testimony from Robert Mueller because nothing Mueller could possibly say will change the result of the report he delivered. He conclusively found that there was no collusion with the Russians by the Trump 2016 campaign, and he did not bring any indictments for obstruction of justice against the President or even a referral. What Mueller left open with regard to obstruction — if at all — was conclusively dealt with by the Justice Department through the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General who found that there was no probable cause to bring criminal charges against the president.


Congress is not bound by the Mueller investigation or its findings. Congress on its own could bring on impeachment proceedings in the House based on the report — if there was evidence contained therein to warrant such actions. Mueller’s testimony will add nothing other than to further politicize an investigation that was supposed to be apolitical. Mueller reminds me of the patient who decides not to be resuscitated only to find that doctors did so against his wishes. At best, Mueller is a reluctant witness and at worst — for Democrats — a hostile witness. He made it clear in his press conference months ago that he would like the report to speak for itself and that he would not go beyond his own reporting. Congress now runs the risk of further being seen as conducting a witch-hunt against the president by calling a witness who clearly has nothing further to add.

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Quite a few could walk, starting today, but most on Wednesday, when he takes over.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit Plans Under Threat From Ministers’ Resignations (G.)

Boris Johnson’s hoped-for triumphant march into Downing Street this week is set to be dampened by a carefully timed series of resignations by senior ministers, who will retreat to the backbenches with a vow to thwart any moves towards a no-deal Brexit. The announcements by Philip Hammond and David Gauke that they will step down on Wednesday, immediately before Johnson is likely to head to Buckingham Palace, highlight the perilous political climate for Theresa May’s expected successor. It comes amid predictions that the Conservatives’ already wafer-thin working Commons majority of three could entirely disappear by the time MPs return from their summer recess, with mooted defections to the Lib Dems coming on top of a predicted byelection defeat.


Barring a hugely unexpected twist, Johnson is expected to be announced on Tuesday as the victor over Jeremy Hunt in the vote of Conservative members, formally taking over the next day, after May holds a valedictory prime minister’s questions. However, some of the gloss will be removed with the promised resignations of Hammond, the chancellor, and Gauke, the justice secretary, with predictions that other ministers and junior ministers opposed to no deal, such as the international development secretary, Rory Stewart, could follow.

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Headline is just wrong. The EU has seen Boris coming from miles away. They know he will put the blame with Brussels. They know he wants to ditch the backstop, and they won’t let him. Then Boris will be known as the man who broke the Good Friday Agreement.

Incoming Prime Minister Poses A Brexit Puzzle For Brussels (G.)

While Westminster has been gripped by the Conservative leadership race, Brussels has been on a Brexit break. That respite will soon be over. And despite rumours of Brussels compromises in the works, the EU has no off-the-shelf Brexit plan for the new prime minister, who is expected to be announced on Tuesday. “It wouldn’t make any sense to start working on this now,” one senior EU source said. “Because we really need to know [what he wants]. The only thing we have seen are his public statements.” EU negotiators have had no contact with the teams of Boris Johnson – the widely presumed winner – or his rival, Jeremy Hunt. Danuta Hübner, a Polish centre-right member of the European parliament’s Brexit steering group, said there was a “worrying” lack of time to find a compromise before Britain’s departure day on 31 October.


She could not imagine the EU putting anything new on the table, but said it remained open to renegotiating the political declaration on future relations. “We cannot change the major red lines on our side, that there is no possibility of renegotiating the agreement, including the backstop.” Johnson and Hunt have vowed to tear up the backstop, the fallback plan to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, which both men have voted for at least once. Recent reports have suggested the EU is ready to offer a five-year transition to break the deadlock over the backstop. But three EU sources said this was a rehash of debates from the negotiation period, rather than fresh ideas. “It’s all quite ancient” and “not something that we are considering at all”, an official said.

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Ann Pettifor: “Hammond has quietly overseen the dismantling through austerity of a decent society…..”

From Hammond on to Johnson – Where Next For Fiscal Policy? (PE)

As Mr Johnson takes over as Leader of the Conservative Hard Brexit Cult, and by virtue thereof as Prime Minister, it is timely to take a quick look at what his economic and fiscal policy options are – at least in the lead up to DD-Day (Do or Die) on 31st October. It’s equally important to take stock of Mr Hammond’s record as he quietly fades away after three years as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Johnson proposes tax cuts for corporates (reduction in corporate tax rate, already one of the lowest of major economies), and praises President Trump’s example: “He has been very clever in allowing businesses to offset capital investment in tax, with capital allowances. I think we should think about that sort of thing for start-ups, in addition to cutting corporation tax, which would also be effective.” (Via Tom Newton Dunn, The Sun)


Johnson also promises significant tax cuts for the rich and well-to-do, notably by a big rise in the 40% income tax threshhold to £80,000 and by raising the starting-level of earnings for national insurance contribution (NIC) purposes. On the higher tax threshold, Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says this “costs about £9 billion and benefits the 4 million or so income taxpayers with the highest incomes. Most of the gain goes to those in the top 10% of the income distribution would gain an average of nearly £2,500 a year.” On the NIC issue, he calculates this costs £3 billion for every £1,000 the starting level is raised. All these measures will reduce the immediate tax take for government, probably by £20 to 30 billion per year initially, which is 1-1.5% of GDP.


Messrs Johnson & Hammond, circa 1910

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“The provisions, imposed by the United States after World War II, are popular with the public at large, but reviled by nationalists like Abe..”

Abe Fails To Get Enough Votes To Change Japan’s Pacifist Constitution (AT)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed victory Sunday for his ruling coalition in the upper house election, but appeared to fail to secure a “super majority” in the chamber in support of his dream to amend the nation’s pacifist constitution. With the results, the 64-year-old Abe, who is on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, aims to shore up his mandate ahead of a crucial consumption tax hike later this year, along with trade negotiations with Washington. “The ruling parties were given a majority … as people decided to urge us to firmly push for policies under the stable political base,” Abe told public broadcaster NHK.

“I want to meet their expectations soundly,” he said at the headquarters of his Liberal Democratic Party. Abe’s LDP and its coalition partner Komeito are forecast to take at least 69 of the 124 seats – about half the chamber – up for election on Sunday, with six seats still undecided, according to NHK. The two parties control 70 seats in the half of the 245-seat chamber that is not being contested, putting them on track to maintain their overall majority. [..] Local media did predict that forces in favor of revising the constitution, led by Abe’s LDP, were certain to fail to reach 85 of the seats up for grabs, which would have given them a two-thirds “super majority” in the chamber.

Following the vote, however, Abe said he would continue trying to expand support for the revision even if the pro-revision group eventually misses the target, necessary for proposing a constitutional amendment. Abe has pledged to “clearly stipulate the role of the Self-Defence Forces in the constitution,” which prohibits Japan from waging war and maintaining a military. The provisions, imposed by the United States after World War II, are popular with the public at large, but reviled by nationalists like Abe, who see them as outdated and punitive.

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Crazy. But Chinese.

Armed Mob Violence On Protesters Leaves Hong Kong In Shock (BBC)

Hong Kong has been left in shock after a night of violence on Sunday which saw dozens of masked men storm a train station. The men – dressed in white shirts and suspected to be triad gangsters – assaulted pro-democracy protesters and passers-by in the Yuen Long area. This is the first time this kind of violence has been seen in the ongoing anti-extradition demonstrations. Several lawmakers questioned why police were slow to arrive at the scene. Footage posted on social media showed dozens of men attacking people with batons inside the station. Forty-five people were injured, with one person in critical condition.


Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said police had taken more than an hour to arrive. “Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest cop to population ratio,” said another pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan in a tweet. “Where were [they?]” Police on Monday said they had not made any arrests but were still carrying out investigations. The mob attack followed a pro-democracy rally on Sunday in the centre of Hong Kong, where riot police had fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. The masked men stormed Yuen Long MTR station at about 22:30 local time (14:30 GMT), attacking passengers and people making their way back from the protest.

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“Protesters gave an ultimatum to the Governor after his address. “You have until 11:59pm to leave. If you refuse, we will make this country unmanageable“

Puerto Rico’s Week Of Massive Protests, Explained (Vox)

Thousands of protesters demonstrated in the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico Saturday, marking the eighth straight day of rallies calling for the resignation of the island’s governor. The crowds show no sign of ebbing, and analysts say that the protests are quickly becoming the biggest political demonstration in the US territory’s modern history. The protests arose in response to the leak of Telegram app messages in which Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his inner circle make light of the casualties caused by Hurricane Maria and disparage political opponents using vulgar, homophobic, and sexist language.

The text message leak came days after another scandal: The FBI arrested two former top officials in Rosselló’s government as part of a corruption probe over their handling of $15.5 million in contracts. The officials, former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and Ángela Ávila-Marrero (former chief of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration), are accused of funneling the contracts to businesses they had personal ties to, regardless of those companies’ relevant experience or ability. The incidents have galvanized a public that feels neglected and exploited by political and economic elites, and one that has endured great suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and a seemingly unresolvable debt crisis.

Calls for Rosselló’s resignation were growing following the corruption scandal; they exploded after the group chat scandal. Two cabinet officials have resigned in the wake of the scandals, but so far Rosselló has said that he plans to stay in office. Pressure on the governor is rising, however. The protests have garnered international attention, and a number of Puerto Rican celebrities like singer Ricky Martin (who was mocked in the leaked texts), Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and reggaeton star Bad Bunny have backed the demonstrations. “They mocked our dead, they mocked women, they mocked the LGBT community, they made fun of people with physical and mental disabilities, they made fun of obesity. It’s enough. This cannot be,” Martin said in a video on Twitter.

Many politicians from the US mainland have started to weigh in on the issue as well. President Donald Trump — who has called Puerto Rican officials “incompetent or corrupt” and who has opposed increased Hurricane Maria aid to the territory — was critical of Rosselló on Twitter. “The Governor is under siege, the Mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance, and the United States Congress foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief, much of which was squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again,” Trump tweeted on Thursday.

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Populism as a result of decaying power.

“As European affairs minister in Portugal, I had quickly become used to thinking of Poland as the EU’s fourth power, ahead of Spain and Italy”

The Secret Sources of Populism (Bruno Maçães)

Populism is a direct result of significant shifts in the global distribution of power. Namely, it is a reaction to the loss of power by a formerly hegemonic West. The populist parties competing for power in many European countries are reminiscent of the nationalist movements of the 1800s and 1900s in developing countries, which won support from people tired of feeling dependent on Europe and the United States. In particular, they sensed that their ancient civilizations had come to abandon their way of life for Western ideas. They lamented that their countries had been so deeply Westernized that only the sense of emptiness remained. “Our country resembles a hospital,” the Turkish writer Kazim Nami wrote in Turkish Country, a journal published between 1911 and 1931, “deprived of medicine, doctors and care.”

In Russia, a Europeanized aristocracy existed in an entirely different world from the peasantry. They spoke French, listened to different music and songs, ate different food, and had a radically different view of religion and the ends of life. It was as two countries rather than as two classes that they looked at each other, plotting a final and decisive struggle over Russia’s soul. Even in France, England, Germany, and the United States, a creeping sense of alienation was slowly developing between the classes, but it was of a different sort. Because these were the world’s ruling nations, elites assumed the responsibility of managing the affairs of foreign countries. Their outlook was more universal in character, although rooted in colonialism, and that created an inevitable distance with their compatriots.

Of course, as long as Western hegemony persisted, the spoils of empire flowed to the lower classes and reconciled them with those in power. But as the balance of power shifted, cosmopolitan elites appeared in a different light. It was implausible for them to dictate to the rest of the world from a position of growing weakness, and some had learned too well to incorporate the interests of the rest of humanity when formulating their positions. Today, many voters in Europe and the United States are starting to regard the elites as profoundly disconnected from what they see as the national interest. Distrust and alienation will keep growing.

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Divide and rule. Long read. Here’s one of its stories.

Latest Secret Government File Reveals UK Middle East Policy (TP)

In April 1941, nationalist army officers known as the Golden Square staged a coup in Iraq, overthrowing the pro-British regime, and signalled they were prepared to work with German and Italian intelligence. In response, the British embarked on a military campaign and eventually crushed the coup leaders two months later. But Suarez discovered in the files that the British were already wanting such a “military occupation of Iraq” by November 1940 – well before the Golden Square coup gave them a pretext for doing so. The reason was that Britain wanted to end “the mufti’s intrigues with the Italians”. One file notes: “We may be able to clip the mufti’s wings when we can get a new government in Iraq. FO [Foreign Office] are working on this.”

Suarez notes that a prominent thread in the British archive is: “How to effect a British coup without further alienating ‘the Arab world’ in the midst of the war, beyond what the empowering of Zionism had already done.” As British troops closed in on Baghdad, a violent anti-Jewish pogrom rocked the city, killing more than 180 Jewish Iraqis and destroying the homes of hundreds of members of the Jewish community who had lived in Iraq for centuries. The Farhud (violent dispossession) has been described as the Iraqi Jews’ Kristallnacht, the brutal pogrom against Jews carried out in Nazi Germany three years earlier.

There have long been claims that these riots were condoned or even orchestrated by the British to blacken the nationalist regime and justify Britain’s return to power in Baghdad and ongoing military occupation of Iraq. Historian Tony Rocca noted: “To Britain’s shame, the army was stood down. Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain’s ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct insubordination to express orders from Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety. Instead, Sir Kinahan went back to his residence, had a candlelight dinner and played a game of bridge.” Could this be the reason that UK government censors want the file to remain secret after all these years? It would neither be the first, nor the last time that British planners used or created pretexts to justify their military interventions.

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“Between 1910 and 1997, African-Americans lost about ninety per cent of their farmland. This problem is a major contributor to America’s racial wealth gap; the median wealth among black families is about a tenth that of white families.”

Kicked Off the Land (New Yorker)

In the spring of 2011, the brothers Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels were the talk of Carteret County, on the central coast of North Carolina. Some people said that the brothers were righteous; others thought that they had lost their minds. That March, Melvin and Licurtis stood in court and refused to leave the land that they had lived on all their lives, a portion of which had, without their knowledge or consent, been sold to developers years before. The brothers were among dozens of Reels family members who considered the land theirs, but Melvin and Licurtis had a particular stake in it. Melvin, who was sixty-four, with loose black curls combed into a ponytail, ran a club there and lived in an apartment above it. He’d established a career shrimping in the river that bordered the land, and his sense of self was tied to the water. Licurtis, who was fifty-three, had spent years building a house near the river’s edge, just steps from his mother’s.

Their great-grandfather had bought the land a hundred years earlier, when he was a generation removed from slavery. The property—sixty-five marshy acres that ran along Silver Dollar Road, from the woods to the river’s sandy shore—was racked by storms. Some called it the bottom, or the end of the world. Melvin and Licurtis’s grandfather Mitchell Reels was a deacon; he farmed watermelons, beets, and peas, and raised chickens and hogs. Churches held tent revivals on the waterfront, and kids played in the river, a prime spot for catching red-tailed shrimp and crabs bigger than shoes. During the later years of racial-segregation laws, the land was home to the only beach in the county that welcomed black families. “It’s our own little black country club,” Melvin and Licurtis’s sister Mamie liked to say.

In 1970, when Mitchell died, he had one final wish. “Whatever you do,” he told his family on the night that he passed away, “don’t let the white man have the land.” Mitchell didn’t trust the courts, so he didn’t leave a will. Instead, he let the land become heirs’ property, a form of ownership in which descendants inherit an interest, like holding stock in a company. The practice began during Reconstruction, when many African-Americans didn’t have access to the legal system, and it continued through the Jim Crow era, when black communities were suspicious of white Southern courts. In the United States today, seventy-six per cent of African-Americans do not have a will, more than twice the percentage of white Americans.

Many assume that not having a will keeps land in the family. In reality, it jeopardizes ownership. David Dietrich, a former co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Property Preservation Task Force, has called heirs’ property “the worst problem you never heard of.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized it as “the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.” Heirs’ property is estimated to make up more than a third of Southern black-owned land—3.5 million acres, worth more than twenty-eight billion dollars. These landowners are vulnerable to laws and loopholes that allow speculators and developers to acquire their property. Black families watch as their land is auctioned on courthouse steps or forced into a sale against their will.

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Carter leaves the Southern Baptist Convention after 60 years.

Losing My Religion For Equality (Jimmy Carter)

I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries. At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

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Jul 212019
 
 July 21, 2019  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Buzz Aldrin photographed by Neil Armstrong, who’s reflected in his visor

 

 

The Ham of Fate (Fintan O’Toole)
Brexit, or Project Fear (Lis)
The Story Began With UK’s Seizure Of Iranian-Flagged Ship In Gibraltar (O.)
Bolton Lured Britain Into A Dangerous Trap To Punish Iran (G.)
British Letter to UN Says Iran Approached Tanker In Omani Waters (R.)
Britain Mulls Sanctions In Response To Iran Tanker Seizure (R.)
UK Too Weak To Address Strategic Threats, Warns MP Committee (O.)
Twitter Blocks Accounts Of Iranian State Media Outlets (AFP)
Mueller Should Be Arrested For Conspiracy To Overthrow Trump (PCR)
Are Libertarians the New Neocons? (Daniel McAdams)
War Profiteers and the Demise of the US Military-Industrial Complex (Orlov)
Final Voyage (Kunstler)

 

 

A lot about Britain today, with a new PM being announced on Tuesday and taking over from Theresa May on Wednesday. And that at a point in time when the country has committed its biggest international blunder in years (though competition’s stiff) with the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker two weeks ago.

The Ham of Fate (Fintan O’Toole)

The Leave campaign that Johnson led to a stunning victory in the Brexit referendum of June 2016 owed much of its success to its carefully calibrated slogan “Take Back Control.” Akrasia, which is discussed in depth by Socrates, Plato, and especially Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, is the contrary of control. It means literally “not being in command of oneself” and is translated variously as “weakness of will,” “incontinence,” and “loss of self-control.” To Aristotle, an akratic is a person who knows the right thing to do but can’t help doing the opposite. This is not just, as he himself seems to have intuited, Boris Johnson to a tee. It is also the reason why he embodies more than anyone else a Brexit project in which the very people who promised to take back control are utterly incapable of exercising it, even over themselves.

To grasp how Johnson’s akratic character has brought his country to a state approaching anarchy, it is necessary to return to the days immediately before February 21, 2016, when he announced to an expectant throng of journalists that he would support the Leave campaign. This was a crucial moment—polls have since shown that, in what turned out to be a very close-run referendum, Boris, as the mayor of London had branded himself, had a greater influence on voters than anyone else. “Character is destiny, said the Greeks, and I agree,” writes Johnson in The Churchill Factor, his 2014 book about Winston Churchill, which carries the telling subtitle “How One Man Made History.”

While the book shows Johnson to be a true believer in the Great Man theory of history, his own moment of destiny plays it out as farce, the fate of a nation turning not on Churchillian resolution but on Johnsonian indecision. For Johnson was, in his own words, “veering all over the place like a shopping trolley.” On Saturday, February 20, he texted Prime Minister David Cameron to say he was going to advocate for Brexit. A few hours later, he texted again to say that he might change his mind and back Remain. Sometime between then and the following day, he wrote at least two different columns for the Daily Telegraph—his deadline was looming, so he wrote one passionately arguing for Leave and one arguing that the cost of Brexit would be too high. (Asked once if he had any convictions, Johnson replied, “Only one—for speeding…”)

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Nothing wrong with leaving the EU, but everything wrong with how it’s been executed.

Brexit, or Project Fear (Lis)

If, during the 2016 referendum campaign, you had told voters that MPs would be scrambling to stop the prime minister shutting down the legislature in order to force through food shortages, mass job losses and a crash in the pound, someone might have needed to change the slogan on the side of that bus. What is happening right now in Britain goes beyond any previously conceivable limits of responsible or accountable governance. Viewed against the country which seemed to exist just a few years ago, it is quite literally unbelievable. It’s not just that Brexit is a case of “I told you so”: the harm to our national political fabric has been more catastrophic than even the most pessimistic Remainer could have contemplated.

Britain is now heading into immediate, unabated crisis, but the consequences could last for years or even decades. Even the most conservative estimates suggest damage to our economy in all circumstances if we leave, contrary to everything campaigners promised. The neutral Office for Budget Responsibility this week forecast a significant recession in the event of no-deal. But the economic damage will almost certainly take less time to repair than the damage to our politics and society. What was billed as a way for people to take back control of democracy has become a systematic attack on every institution which underpins it.

First the Brexiters came for political opponents. Any prominent Remainer who dared question the legitimacy of the referendum or, heaven forbid, suggested a new one in the light of changed circumstances, was branded a traitor, an enemy of democracy, an elitist, a Remoaner, someone who wanted to subvert the will of the people, someone who knew best, someone who hated Britain. It was devastatingly effective. Brexit’s leaders rapidly and comprehensively refigured democratic opposition as opposition to democracy. All potential opponents, particularly in parliament itself, were cowed into affirming “respect for the result.” It became a standard vow of allegiance to a movement they knew to be disastrous, and they had little choice but to make it.

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“The legality of the UK seizure of a tanker heading for Syria with oil from Iran intrigues me. One refers to EU sanctions against Syria, but Iran is not a member of the EU. And the EU as a principle doesn’t impose its sanctions on others. That’s what the US does.”

The Story Began With UK’s Seizure Of Iranian-Flagged Ship In Gibraltar (O.)

The morning after a group of 30 Royal Marines helped seize the Iranian-flagged Grace 1 in Gibraltar, tired Foreign Office officials did not look exactly jubilant. There was not exactly a sense of foreboding, but diplomats were aware of the wider bilateral consequences for British-Iranian relations. Now, with the capture of a British-owned oil tanker in the Gulf, some of their worst fears have been realised. The Stena Impero and its crew of more than 20 are now in the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – and the UK has been shown to be unable to protect British shipping going through the waterways of the strait of Hormuz.

The British insist that they only impounded Grace 1 due its suspected destination – a port in Syria – not due to the fact that the ship was carrying Iranian oil. European Union sanctions against the regime of Bashir al Assad regime were there to be enforced and international law upheld, the British argued. There seemed little doubt, given its circuitous route, that the ship was bound for Syria. Yet there were some oddities to the British decision. Few previous shipments of oil to Syria have been impounded. The Spanish claim that the British acted under the instruction of the Americans. The Trump administration is trying to freeze all Iranian oil exports as part of its policy of maximum economic sanctions designed to force the Iranians to reopen talks on the nuclear deal signed in 2015.

But Britain opposes that US policy, arguing that it is counterproductive and only likely to strengthen the hands of hardliners in Tehran. Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and co-chair of the European council on foreign relations, pinpointed the ambiguities of the British action in Gibraltar: “The legality of the UK seizure of a tanker heading for Syria with oil from Iran intrigues me. One refers to EU sanctions against Syria, but Iran is not a member of the EU. And the EU as a principle doesn’t impose its sanctions on others. That’s what the US does.”

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He didn’t lure Britain, but a handful of intellectually challenged posh kids. And anyway it’s far too easy to blame this on Bolton. They did it themselves, May and Hunt et al.

Bolton Lured Britain Into A Dangerous Trap To Punish Iran (G.)

John Bolton, White House national security adviser and notorious Iraq-era hawk, is a man on a mission. Given broad latitude over policy by Donald Trump, he is widely held to be driving the US confrontation with Iran. And in his passionate bid to tame Tehran, Bolton cares little who gets hurt – even if collateral damage includes a close ally such as Britain. So when Bolton heard British Royal Marines had seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar on America’s Independence Day, his joy was unconfined. “Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions,” he exulted on Twitter. Bolton’s delighted reaction suggested the seizure was a surprise.


But accumulating evidence suggests the opposite is true, and that Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident. The suspicion is that Conservative politicians, distracted by picking a new prime minister, jockeying for power, and preoccupied with Brexit, stumbled into an American trap. In short, it seems, Britain was set up. The consequences of the Gibraltar affair are only now becoming clear. The seizure of Grace I led directly to Friday’s capture by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of a British tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz. Although it has not made an explicit link, Iran had previously vowed to retaliate for Britain’s Gibraltar “piracy”. Now it has its revenge.

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I’m pretty sure that’s not true, but it doesn’t matter. Moreover, Spain says Gibraltar is not British either.

British Letter to UN Says Iran Approached Tanker In Omani Waters (R.)

Britain told the United Nations Security Council on Saturday that a British-flagged tanker seized by Iran was approached by Iranian forces when it was in Omani territorial waters and the action “constitutes illegal interference.” “The ship was exercising the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait as provided for under international law,” Britain’s U.N. mission wrote to the Security Council. “International law requires that the right of transit passage shall not be impeded, and therefore the Iranian action constitutes illegal interference.” The letter, seen by Reuters, was also sent to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.


Friday’s action in the global oil trade’s most important waterway has been viewed in the West as a major escalation after three months of confrontation that has already taken Iran and the United States to the brink of war. It follows threats from Tehran to retaliate for Britain’s seizure on July 4 of the Iranian tanker Grace 1, accused of violating sanctions on Syria. “Current tensions are extremely concerning, and our priority is to de-escalate. We do not seek confrontation with Iran,” the letter read. “But it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to threaten shipping going about its legitimate business through internationally recognized transit corridors.” Britain called on Iran to release the Stena Impero tanker and told the Security Council it was working to resolve the issue through diplomatic means.

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Ha ha. You mean there are sanctions that haven’t been applied yet?

Britain Mulls Sanctions In Response To Iran Tanker Seizure (R.)

British ministers are making plans aimed at targeting Iran with sanctions in the aftermath of the Iranian seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce on Sunday diplomatic and economic measures, including potential asset freezes, as a response to the incident, according to the report. Britain could push for United Nations and European Union sanctions to be reimposed on Iran after they had been lifted in 2016 following a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, the Telegraph reported.

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This is about weaponry, but I’d suggest the UK is mentally too weak.

UK Too Weak To Address Strategic Threats, Warns MP Committee (O.)

The government has repeatedly failed to invest in defence and security, leaving the UK struggling to cope with emerging threats, an influential parliamentary committee was due to warn on Sunday in a report thrown into sharp relief by the developing crisis in the Persian Gulf. The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy says the next prime minister will have to tackle major challenges – from growing strains on the UK’s relationship with the US and the EU, to the rise of China – if the UK is to meet its defence ambitions.

“If the Government wants to turn the ‘Global Britain’ concept into a meaningful strategy for a positive and self-assured role for the UK after its departure from the EU, then it needs to be more honest about how it proposes to address these challenges,” said the committee chair, Margaret Beckett MP. “It must also back this up with the necessary funding and resources, especially for defence and diplomacy.”

The report’s publication comes after the former chief of defence staff, Lord Richards, warned that the Royal Navy was “just too small to have a significant effect without being with allies”. Speaking in response to the seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker by Iranian authorities, Richards told BBC radio’s Today programme: “The fact is, for whatever reason, our government has invested relatively little against the threat and the risks that we face, particularly more and more in the longer term.” The former first sea lord, Lord West of Spithead, told Sky News that the navy had “too few ships” to escort merchant vessels in dangerous waters.

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@Jack has gone into politics. Bad move.

Twitter Blocks Accounts Of Iranian State Media Outlets (AFP)

A day after Twitter suspended the accounts of several Iranian state media outlets, the social networking service said Saturday it acted after harassment of people linked to the Baha’i faith. Amid soaring tensions in the region, heightened by Iran’s seizure on Friday of a British-flagged tanker, some of the affected media outlets had speculated that the suspensions were related to their coverage of the seizure. But Twitter cited what it said was the coordinated and targeted harassment of people linked to the Baha’i faith, a religious minority that has long faced persecution in Iran. It did not name the suspended accounts, and said it was continuing to investigate the matter.


“Account suspended. Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules,” read English-language messages on each of the Iranian media outlets’ accounts. Mehr news agency, which is close to moderate conservatives in Iran, said its Farsi-language account appeared to have been blocked late Friday following its reports on the seizure of the tanker Stena Impero in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it seized the Swedish-owned tanker for breaking “international maritime rules” in the strait, a chokepoint for around a third of the world’s sea-borne oil. Mehr’s Farsi-language Twitter page was inaccessible on Saturday, along with those of the official IRNA news agency and the agency of the Young Journalists’ Club.

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Wednesday July 24, big day: Boris becomes British PM and Bob Mueller’s circus comes to town.

Mueller Should Be Arrested For Conspiracy To Overthrow Trump (PCR)

The Mueller report, which had no choice as there was no evidence, but to clear Donald Trump of conspiring with Russian President Putin to steal the last US presidential election from Hillary Clinton, nevertheless managed to keep an aspect of the manufactured hoax known as “Russiagate” alive by indicting some Russian intelligence officers and a Russian Internet clickbait operation for attempting to discredit Hillary with Internet postings. At the time I noticed that Muller’s indictments were based only on his assertion and not on any evidence. As there was no prospect whatsoever of the fake indictments coming to trial, I did not comment on them. I focused instead on Mueller’s statement that Trump might have obstructed justice although he lacked evidence to support the charge.


I noted how corrupt American law has become when it is possible to obstruct justice in the absence of a crime. Democrats and presstitutes were determined to get Trump by any means and remain uninterested in how justice is obstructed when there is no crime. In retrospect, not picking up on Mueller’s indictment-by-hearsay of Russians was a mistake. Not only have the Democrats continued their Russiagate campaign on the basis of the unsubstantiated indictments, but, more importantly, the indictments-by-assertion-alone show Mueller’s total lack of moral character. A prosecutor, indeed a former Director of the FBI, who confuses his unsubstantiated allegation with evidence, is not only a person devoid of any respect for law, but also an extremely dangerous person to have been vetted for the high government positions that he has held.

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Or is that the Liberals?

Are Libertarians the New Neocons? (Daniel McAdams)

There is a disturbing trend in some libertarian circles and among some libertarian organizations to be increasingly enamored with foreign interventionism and US government backed regime change overseas. For those focused on foreign affairs, this is particularly troubling as it is abandoning a key tenet of libertarianism: non-interventionism. Not “your government 6,000 miles away must be changed… but I don’t support the US military doing it.” That is not non-interventionism. Non-interventionism is accepting that others may wish to live in a way you may not approve of. Non-interventionism in your neighbor’s affairs – whether he enjoys reading the Bible or lighting up a marijuana cigarette (or maybe both) – is really the sine qua non of the libertarian mindset: “aint nobody’s business if you do.”

You do not aggress against your neighbor just because you disagree with his life choices that do not infringe on your person or property and you extrapolate that dynamic to where you demand that to the highest extent possible your local, state, and federal governments treat you as you would treat your neighbor. The idea that this critical impulse somehow becomes null and void when it comes to international affairs is truly bizarre. In fact many self-described libertarians full-throatedly cheer when people are in the streets thousands of miles away trying to overthrow their governments. Somehow from this far distant vantage point they are just convinced that the mythical “free state” is about to break out somewhere.

And when someone points out that the semi-hidden hand behind these uprisings is the US government, which seeks to create overseas governments of subservient elites to prop up the (anti-libertarian) US empire, they accuse that person of being an extremist or a conspiracy theorist…or they get really lazy and stupid and just claim you are a “supporter” of the dictator of the day. So, many US libertarians (who knew next to nothing about Venezuela) demanded our support for that great “libertarian” liberator of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, who turned out to be just another crook with zero support from Venezuelans (but a lot of support from the CIA!).

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Dmitry, from a Russian perspective, shining his light on what I’ve repeatedly said: the US makes weapons for profit, Russia makes them to defend itself (from US weapons).

War Profiteers and the Demise of the US Military-Industrial Complex (Orlov)

Within the vast bureaucratic sprawl of the Pentagon there is a group in charge of monitoring the general state of the military-industrial complex and its continued ability to fulfill the requirements of the national defense strategy. Office for acquisition and sustainment and office for industrial policy spends some $100,000 a year producing an Annual Report to Congress. It is available to the general public. It is even available to the general public in Russia, and Russian experts had a really good time poring over it. In fact, it filled them with optimism. You see, Russia wants peace but the US seems to want war and keeps making threatening gestures against a longish list of countries that refuse to do its bidding or simply don’t share its “universal values.”

But now it turns out that threats (and the increasingly toothless economic sanctions) are pretty much all that the US is still capable of dishing out—this in spite of absolutely astronomical levels of defense spending. Let’s see what the US military-industrial complex looks like through a Russian lens. It is important to note that the report’s authors were not aiming to force legislators to finance some specific project. This makes it more valuable than numerous other sources, whose authors’ main objective was to belly up to the federal feeding trough, and which therefore tend to be light on facts and heavy on hype. No doubt, politics still played a part in how various details are portrayed, but there seems to be a limit to the number of problems its authors can airbrush out of the picture and still do a reasonable job in analyzing the situation and in formulating their recommendations.

What knocked Russian analysis over with a feather is the fact that these INDPOL experts (who, like the rest of the US DOD, love acronyms) evaluate the US military-industrial complex from a… market-based perspective! You see, the Russian military-industrial complex is fully owned by the Russian government and works exclusively in its interests; anything else would be considered treason. But the US military-industrial complex is evaluated based on its… profitability! According to INDPOL, it must not only produce products for the military but also acquire market share in the global weapons trade and, perhaps most importantly, maximize profitability for private investors. By this standard, it is doing well: for 2017 the gross margin (EBITDA) for US defense contractors ranged from 15 to 17%, and some subcontractors—Transdigm, for example—managed to deliver no less than 42-45%. “Ah!” cry the Russian experts, “We’ve found the problem! The Americans have legalized war profiteering!”

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“I doubt the former Special Counsel will ever sit in that hot-seat.”

Final Voyage (Kunstler)

[..] the party’s pathetic attempt to revive the walking dead narrative of RussiaGate is not working too well down on Jerold Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee. The chairman apparently discovered that his star witness, Robert Mueller, might have to answer some embarrassing questions about the conduct of his investigation — like, why did it go on for two years when his chief deputy, Mr. Weissmann, was informed from the get-go that the main predicate document was a fraud? So, Mr. Mueller’s turn in the witness chair keeps getting postponed clear into the August recess. I doubt the former Special Counsel will ever sit in that hot-seat. If I was him, I sure wouldn’t do it voluntarily. Oh, did anyone notice the House staged an impeachment vote on Wednesday? It flopped too.


Finally, there is the walking time-bomb known as Jeffrey Epstein, Democratic Party poohbah and impresario of an underage sex racket featuring the “Lolita Express” airplane service to his private “Orgy Island” in the Caribbean, with auxiliary party shacks in New York City and the New Mexico Desert. Rogue reports have been styling Epstein’s doings as an international blackmailing operation associated with the CIA and other Intel outfits, including the UK’s MI6 and Israel’s Mossad, for the purpose of keeping international bigshots on a short leash. Who knows? At the center of it all is former President Bill Clinton, listed twenty-six times on the Lolita Express’s flight manifest — though the ex-Prez said last week in a statement that it was only four times. (Consider the source.) A raft of unsealed documents in the matter has been court-ordered to drop any day, and power-players all over the world — especially in our nation’s capital and on Wall Street — are rumored to be chewing their fingernails down to the nubbins as they wait for it.

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Jul 172019
 


Salvador Dali Mme. Reese 1931

 

The circus will be coming to town a week later, but not to worry, the show will go on longer and there will be many added attractions, including a full troop of 800-pound gorillas and an entire herd of 8000-pound elephants in the room. And once the balancing acts, the clowns and the ferocious beasts pack up and move on, America might find itself without a Democratic Party, or at least one it would recognize.

The circus is the testimony of Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary (extended to 3 hours) and Intelligence Committees (2 hours). The Democrats will aim to use Mueller’s words to finally achieve their long desired impeachment of Donald Trump. But is there anyone who’s not a US Democrat who thinks that is realistic? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to think so.

In order for the Dems to get their wish, Mueller would have to say a lot of things that are not in his report. It all appears to hang on the interpretation of his assessment that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted, which the Dems take to mean that there actually was a crime that could -or should- be prosecuted.

It’s not clear why the hearing was delayed from July 17 to 24, but don’t be surprised if it has to do with US District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s decision that Mueller must stop talking in public about a case that is in front of her, because his words might prejudice a jury. That is the case that Mueller brought in February 2018 against Internet Research Agency, Concord Management, their owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin (aka Putin’s cook), and 12 of his employees.

Mueller thought he could get away with presenting a case against them because they would not show up, but Prigozhin did hire a major law firm. Ironically, Friedrich has reportedly also decided that the lawyers cannot talk about the case to their own client(s). She hasn’t thrown out the case or anything, she’s simply told everyone including Mueller to stop discussing it in public.

 

So it’s quite possible that once the House Democrats figured this out (the decision stems from May 28 but was unsealed only on July 1), they had to change strategy. Mueller has been barred from saying a single word about it, including in the House.

In his report, Mueller tried to establish a link between the Russian firms and the Kremlin, but never proved any such link. They are accused of meddling in the 2016 election through emails and social media posts, an accusation that looks shakier by the day.

With that part of his report out of the way, what is left for him to talk about? He himself already gave up on the whole collusion narrative, which would appear to leave only obstruction. Well, there’s the Steele dossier, but with John Solomon blowing another gaping hole in it yesterday, that may not be the wisest topic to discuss on the House floor. By now, only the very faithful still believe in the dossier.

The Republicans surely don’t, and they also happen to be House members, and get to ask questions of Mueller on the 24th. The spectacle last night where Nancy Pelosi insisted on calling Trump a racist was nutty (you don’t do that in the House), but the Mueller hearings promise to be much much more nuts still.

 

In the background a second investigation is playing out: DOJ IG Michael Horowitz has been probing if DOJ or FBI officials abused their powers to spy on the Trump campaign. His report has been delayed, if reports are correct, because Christopher Steele at the very last minute agreed to testify. Those talks apparently were long and detailed. Wonder what he had to say.

And there’s a third probe too: AG Barr has tasked John Durham, the US attorney for Connecticut, to follow up on the Horowitz report and look at whether officials at the CIA, the NSA, and/or foreign intelligence agencies (think MI6), violated protocols or statutes.

That case is about whether the FISA court was misled to secure a warrant to put Trump campaign aide Carter Page under surveillance. It can also take a new look at the text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, messages that Trump tweeted about on Saturday: “This is one of the most horrible abuses of all. Those texts between gaga lovers would have told the whole story. Illegal deletion by Mueller. They gave us “the insurance policy.”

The deletion reportedly may have been accidental. But it does set the tone. The door is wide open for the Republicans to go after Mueller. And he knows it, always has. He never wanted the hearings, he said it was all in his report. But the Dems wanted more, they want Mueller to say Trump is guilty of obstruction (of a probe that perhaps should never have taken place).

Personally, I wonder whether a Republican congressman/woman will have the guts to ask Mueller why he refused to talk to Julian Assange, the most obvious person for him to talk to in the whole wide world. But since the GOP hates Assange as much as the Dems, I don’t have high hopes of that happening.

What they certainly will ask is when he knew his probe wasn’t going anywhere. And if that was perhaps as much as a whole year before he presented his report. The Dems will tear into Mueller looking for obstruction. Like: if Trump were not the president, would you sue him? Problem with that is none of this would have happened if Trump were just a citizen.

But I lean towards Ray McGovern’s take, who says that the circus may not come to town on July 24 either. Because there’s no there there (something Peter Strzok himself said about the Steele dossier), and because the Dems know this is their last shot at glory. And the GOP doesn’t mind another week or so of preparation.

Since the Democrats, the media, and Mueller himself all have strong incentive to “make the worst case appear the better” (one of the twin charges against Socrates), they need time to regroup and circle the wagons. The more so, since Mueller’s other twin charge — Russian hacking of the DNC — also has been shown, in a separate Court case, to be bereft of credible evidence. No, the incomplete, redacted, second-hand “forensics” draft that former FBI Director James Comey decided to settle for from the Democratic National Committee-hired CrowdStrike firm does not qualify as credible evidence.


Both new developments are likely to pose a strong challenge to Mueller. On the forensics, Mueller decided to settle for what his former colleague Comey decided to settle for from CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC despite it’s deeply flawed reputation and well known bias against Russia. In fact, the new facts — emerging, oddly, from the U.S. District Court, pose such a fundamental challenge to Mueller’s findings that no one should be surprised if Mueller’s testimony is postponed again.

And I was serious when I said before that once the Mueller hearings are done, “America might find itself without a Democratic Party, or at least one it would recognize”. Because if and when the Mueller circus fails to provide the impeachment dream (try elections!), where are they going to go, what else is there to do?

They’ve been clamoring for impeachment for collusion (big fail), for obstruction (Mueller wouldn’t have it) and now racism, but that is merely based on interpretation of tweets. Nancy Pelosi wrote about ‘women of color’, not Donald Trump.

America needs a strong Democratic party, and it certainly doesn’t have one right now. The Dems should be calling for an end to regime change wars, that is a popular theme among their voters. But they don’t, because guess where their money comes from. They are in a very deep identity crisis, and Trump just has to pick them off one by one. They should look at themselves, not at him. Do these people ever do strategy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 172019
 
 July 17, 2019  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Piet Mondriaan Place de la Concorde 1938-43

 

FBI Spreadsheet Puts A Stake Through The Heart Of Steele’s Dossier (Solomon)
Sic Transit Gloria Mueller (Ray McGovern)
House Floor In Chaos Over Pelosi Speech On Trump Tweets (RC)
House Condemns Trump Over ‘Racist Comments’ Tweeted At Congresswomen (R.)
Republican Support For Trump Rises After Racially Charged Tweets (R.)
Pentagon To Review If It Exposed Americans To Weaponised Ticks (G.)
Bitcoin Tumbles As US Senators Grill Facebook On Crypto Plans (R.)
Twitter CEO Maxes Out Donations To Tulsi Gabbard (RT)
Everything’s Fine Until Suddenly it Isn’t: How a Leveraged Loan Blows Up (WS)
Boris Johnson’s New Plan To Sideline Parliament, Guarantee No Deal Brexit (ZH)
Labour Peers Tell Corbyn: You Have Failed Test Of Leadership (G.)
Berlin Buys 670 Flats From Private Owner (G.)
Freeing Julian Assange: Part Three (Suzie Dawson)

 

 

“.. the spreadsheet found upward of 90 percent of the dossier’s claims to be either wrong, nonverifiable or open-source intelligence found with a Google search..”

FBI Spreadsheet Puts A Stake Through The Heart Of Steele’s Dossier (Solomon)

Over months of work, FBI agents painstakingly researched every claim Steele made about Trump’s possible collusion with Russia, and assembled their findings into a spreadsheet-like document. The over-under isn’t flattering to Steele. Multiple sources familiar with the FBI spreadsheet tell me the vast majority of Steele’s claims were deemed to be wrong, or could not be corroborated even with the most awesome tools available to the U.S. intelligence community. One source estimated the spreadsheet found upward of 90 percent of the dossier’s claims to be either wrong, nonverifiable or open-source intelligence found with a Google search. In other words, it was mostly useless.


“The spreadsheet was a sea of blanks, meaning most claims couldn’t be corroborated, and those things that were found in classified intelligence suggested Steele’s intelligence was partly or totally inaccurate on several claims,” one source told me. The FBI’s final assessment was driven by many findings contained in classified footnotes at the bottom of the spreadsheet. But it was also informed by an agent’s interview, in early 2017, with a Russian that Steele claimed was one of his main providers of intelligence, according to my sources.

Read more …

“..the new facts — emerging, oddly, from the U.S. District Court, pose such a fundamental challenge to Mueller’s findings that no one should be surprised if Mueller’s testimony is postponed again.”

Sic Transit Gloria Mueller (Ray McGovern)

As the truth seeps out, there will be plenty of crow to go around. To avoid eating it, the Democrats on the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, the stenographers who pass for journalists at the Times and Post, and the “Mueller team” will need all the time they can muster to come up with imaginative responses to two recent bombshell revelations from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Perhaps the most damning of the two came last Monday, when it was disclosed that, on July 1, Judge Dabney Friedrich ordered Mueller to stop pretending he had proof that the Russian government was behind the Internet Research Agency’s supposed attempt to interfere via social media in the 2016 election.

While the corporate media so far has largely ignored Judge Friedrich’s order, it may well have been enough to cause very cold feet for those attached to the strained Facebook fable. (The IRA social-media “interference” has always been ludicrous on its face, as journalist Gareth Porter established.) Ten days is not a lot of time to conjure up ways to confront and explain Judge Friedrich’s injection of some unwelcome reality. Since the Democrats, the media, and Mueller himself all have strong incentive to “make the worst case appear the better” (one of the twin charges against Socrates), they need time to regroup and circle the wagons. The more so, since Mueller’s other twin charge — Russian hacking of the DNC — also has been shown, in a separate Court case, to be bereft of credible evidence.

No, the incomplete, redacted, second-hand “forensics” draft that former FBI Director James Comey decided to settle for from the Democratic National Committee-hired CrowdStrike firm does not qualify as credible evidence. Both new developments are likely to pose a strong challenge to Mueller. On the forensics, Mueller decided to settle for what his former colleague Comey decided to settle for from CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC despite it’s deeply flawed reputation and well known bias against Russia. In fact, the new facts — emerging, oddly, from the U.S. District Court, pose such a fundamental challenge to Mueller’s findings that no one should be surprised if Mueller’s testimony is postponed again.

Read more …

Good read on a pretty nutty spectacle.

House Floor In Chaos Over Pelosi Speech On Trump Tweets (RC)

Amid debate over whether to condemn tweets by President Donald Trump as racist on Tuesday, the House descended into parliamentary chaos, with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, who was presiding, abruptly dropping the gavel and saying, “I abandon the chair.” It was an extraordinary moment on an extraordinary day, as the House considered a resolution condemning Trump’s tweets from the weekend that told four freshman Democrats from the House to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Before Cleaver’s action, House debate had come to an abrupt halt when Georgia Republican Doug Collins took a rare procedural step to “take down” comments by Speaker Nancy Pelosi characterizing Trump’s tweets as racist.


“Every member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us to condemn the president’s racist tweets,” said Pelosi, speaking on the House floor. Collins interjected unsuccessfully, but once Pelosi was finished speaking, made Pelosi an offer. “I was just going to give the gentle speaker of the House, if she would like to rephrase that comment?” he asked. Pelosi responded that she cleared her remarks with the parliamentarian before she read them on the floor. “I ask that her words be taken down,” Collins said as Pelosi walked away from the rostrum to a spattering of applause. “I make a point of order that the gentlewoman’s words are unparliamentary and request they be taken down.” Collins set off a more than hour-long review and debate over Pelosi’s comments before a decision could be rendered.

Read more …

Virtue signalling 101. As if the divide isn’t wide enough yet.

House Condemns Trump Over ‘Racist Comments’ Tweeted At Congresswomen (R.)

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to condemn President Donald Trump for “racist comments” against four minority Democratic congresswomen, a symbolic measure aimed at shaming Trump and his fellow Republicans who stood by him. The 240-187 vote, which split mainly along party lines, was the culmination of three days of outrage sparked by a Trump tweetstorm that diverted attention from other business in Washington but had little impact on the president’s overall approval rating, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll. Trump is seeking re-election next year. Trump had told the group of congresswomen on Sunday to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” [..]


“These comments from the White House are disgraceful and disgusting and these comments are racist,” Pelosi said. “Every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president’s racist tweets.” Pelosi’s comments put the House into a two-hour limbo after Republicans argued she went too far in her comments and broke debate rules. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy criticized Democrats for remarks that upset the “order and decency” of the chamber, saying: “Today is the day that historians will write about.”

Read more …

Not surprising. The trenches have been dug.

Republican Support For Trump Rises After Racially Charged Tweets (R.)

Support for U.S. President Donald Trump increased slightly among Republicans after he lashed out on Twitter over the weekend in a racially charged attack on four minority Democratic congresswomen, a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll shows. The national survey, conducted on Monday and Tuesday after Trump told the lawmakers they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” showed his net approval among members of his Republican Party rose by 5 percentage points to 72%, compared with a similar poll that ran last week.


Trump, who is seeking re-election next year, has lost support, however, with Democrats and independents since the Sunday tweetstorm. Among independents, about three out of 10 said they approved of Trump, down from four out of 10 a week ago. His net approval – the percentage who approve minus the percentage who disapprove – dropped by 2 points among Democrats in the poll. Trump’s overall approval remained unchanged over the past week. According to the poll, 41% of the U.S. public said they approved of his performance in office, while 55% disapproved.

Read more …

Craziest topic in a long time. Lyme comes from an army lab.

Pentagon To Review If It Exposed Americans To Weaponised Ticks (G.)

The US House of Representatives has called for an investigation into whether the spread of Lyme disease had its roots in a Pentagon experiment in weaponising ticks. The House approved an amendment proposed by a Republican congressman from New Jersey, Chris Smith, instructing the defence department’s inspector general to conduct a review of whether the US “experimented with ticks and other insects regarding use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975”. The review would have to assess the scope of the experiment and “whether any ticks or insects used in such experiment were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design”.


The amendment was approved by a voice vote in the House and added to a defence spending bill, but the bill still has to be reconciled with a Senate version. Smith said the amendment was inspired by “a number of books and articles suggesting that significant research had been done at US government facilities including Fort Detrick, Maryland, and Plum Island, New York, to turn ticks and other insects into bioweapons”. A new book published in May by a Stanford University science writer and former Lyme sufferer, Kris Newby, has raised questions about the origins of the disease, which affects 400,000 Americans each year. Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons, cites the Swiss-born discoverer of the Lyme pathogen, Willy Burgdorfer, as saying that the Lyme epidemic was a military experiment that had gone wrong.

Read more …

“..a U.S. senator said Facebook was “delusional” to believe people will trust it with their money.”

Bitcoin Tumbles As US Senators Grill Facebook On Crypto Plans (R.)

The cryptocurrency market took a beating on Tuesday with bitcoin losing over 10% in value after U.S. lawmakers grilled Facebook on its cryptocurrency plans, as political and regulatory scrutiny of digital coins intensifies. The social media giant is fighting to get Washington onside after it shocked regulators and lawmakers with its announcement on June 18 that it was hoping to launch its own digital coin called Libra in 2020. David Marcus, the company’s top executive overseeing the planned Libra project, answered questions from the Senate Banking Committee. During the hearing, a U.S. senator said Facebook was “delusional” to believe people will trust it with their money.


Facebook’s Libra plan, which is seen as a major step for wider adaptation of virtual currencies, has helped stoke this year’s rally in bitcoin, ethereum and other digital coins. “Libra is essentially slammed in the Senate,” said Lennon Sweeting, head trader at Coinsquare Capital Markets Ltd. “It’s just headline-driven volatility.” Digital currencies will likely recover with bitcoin returning to a $11,000-$12,000 trading range, Sweeting said. At 2:56 p.m. (1856 GMT), bitcoin fell 11.69% to $9,582.12 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange. It fell below $10,000 for the first time in two weeks.

Read more …

And the next moment Jack’s twisted head erased Julian Assange’s Unity4J support.

Twitter CEO Maxes Out Donations To Tulsi Gabbard (RT)

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has donated thousands of dollars to anti-war Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard – and Twitter users and mainstream media journalists are (rather ironically) up in arms about it. Dorsey gave the maximum donation of $5,600 to Gabbard’s campaign a day after her appearance during the first Democratic presidential campaign in June, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, reported on by BuzzFeed. Of all the Democrat contenders for the 2020 nomination, the Hawaii congresswoman has been a favorite punching bag for US journalists, who have accused her of being “pro-Russia” due to her anti-intervention foreign policy stances. She has also been consistently targeted for meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad during a 2017 trip to the war-torn country, with the media deriding her as an “Assad apologist” ever since.


BuzzFeed’s own story on Dorsey’s donations even smacks of disbelief, claiming that Gabbard is “probably best known for her visit to Syrian dictator” Assad, despite the fact that she is obviously well-known for other things, like being a high-profile congresswoman and Iraq war veteran. Later, BuzzFeed notes that Dorsey also scandalously “faved a bunch of tweets” from and about Gabbard. Needless to say, Dorsey’s own conspiracy machine – also known as Twitter – kicked into high gear, with people accusing him of being a Russian-bot-loving Assad apologist whose donations are “disappointing.”

Read more …

”And there are $1.3 trillion of them.”

Everything’s Fine Until Suddenly it Isn’t: How a Leveraged Loan Blows Up (WS)

Golden Gate Capital – the private equity firm now infamous for asset-stripping its portfolio company Payless ShoeSource into bankruptcy and liquidation – strikes again with another of its portfolio companies, Clover Technologies, whose $693-million leveraged loan has suddenly gone to heck. Slices of that leveraged loan are traded like securities. But because leveraged loans are loans, not securities, the SEC doesn’t regulate them. No one regulates them, though the Fed wrings its hands about them periodically. And there are $1.3 trillion of them.

The market for them is very illiquid, even during good times, and before Clover disclosed some issues on July 9, the loan still traded at 97 cents on the dollar, according to Bloomberg. This was the day investors, such as leveraged loan mutual funds and institutional investors that held these slices, suddenly woke up with the foul odor of debt restructuring and bankruptcy in the air. Within just a few days, the price of the loan plunged 35% to 62.625 cents on the dollar. The loan was “covenant-lite,” giving fewer protections to investors and allowing the company and its owners to get away with all kinds of things. This included the absence of certain disclosure requirements.


Not that we feel sorry for investors that suddenly got whacked: They knew that leverage loans are risky, that they’re issued by junk-rated over-leveraged companies with iffy cash-flows, often to fund their own leveraged buyout by a PE firm, and to fund special dividends back to the PE firm. Both factors apply to Clover’s leveraged loan. Investors don’t care. They’re chasing yield no matter what the risks, in a world where yield has been repressed by central-bank policies.

Read more …

Cheap tricks is what you need?!

Boris Johnson’s New Plan To Sideline Parliament, Guarantee No Deal Brexit (ZH)

The British pound tumbled to its weakest level in more than two years on Tuesday as fears of a ‘no deal’ Brexit continued to weigh on GBP, which has been steadily sinking during the Tory leadership contest that many expect will send Boris Johnson, a committed Brexiteer, to No. 10 Downing Street. And on Tuesday, Johnson – who said last night that he wouldn’t accept any time limits (both he and his rival Jeremy Hunt ruled out such a measure), unilateral escape hatches or any other kind of elaborate device to make the Irish Backstop more palatable – gave investors one more reason to worry: Sky News reports, citing anonymous sources from within Johnson’s campaign, that the candidate could delay a customary speech by the Queen that marks the beginning of the Parliamentary session – this would render MPs unavailable on Oct. 31, the day the UK is set to leave the EU.

Though Johnson’s rival Jeremy Hunt has said he’s open to another brief delay, Johnson’s position is that on Halloween, Brexit will finally mean Brexit. There have been some negotiations to work out an alternative to Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, but thanks to the inevitability of dealing with the hated Irish Backstop – which conservatives argue would effectively allow Europe to annex Northern Ireland – talks have once again been fraught. As Sky explains (for our American readers), Parliament is typically out of session for between one and two weeks ahead of the Queen’s speech – meaning MPs would in effect be unavailable to stop a no-deal Brexit immediately before October 31.

Johnson’s campaign confirmed that the delay is one option being explored, but insisted that no final decision had yet been made. But others pointed out that this move would scupper the chances of a last-minute deal, since Parliament wouldn’t be there to approve it. With an orderly Brexit is looking less likely by the day – even as some remainer Tories join the struggle to thwart their own future leader. And for anybody trying to discern what might happen next, well, BBG has put together yet another complicated Brexit flow chart.

Read more …

The Labour Blairites prefer Boris over Corbyn.

Labour Peers Tell Corbyn: You Have Failed Test Of Leadership (G.)

More than sixty Labour peers have taken out an advertisement accusing Jeremy Corbyn of having “failed the test of leadership” over his handling of antisemitism complaints within the party. The peers, including more than a dozen former ministers such as Peter Hain, Beverley Hughes and John Reid, have addressed the advert in the Guardian to Corbyn directly, saying: “The Labour party welcomes everyone* irrespective of race, creed, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation. (*except, it seems, Jews). This is your legacy, Mr Corbyn.”

Representing about a third of Labour’s members in the House of Lords, the signatories told Corbyn the party was “no longer a safe place for all members” and claimed that thousands have resigned their membership “because of the toxic culture you have allowed to divide our movement”. The advert has been taken out amid a backlash within the party about the leadership’s response to a BBC Panorama documentary that aired last week, in which eight former staff members accused the Labour of failing to tackle complaints about antisemitism properly and allowing Corbyn’s office to get involved in disputes.

Labour strongly denied any interference by the leader’s office, complained to the BBC and said the claims were made by “disaffected former officials including those who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind”. In the advert, the 64 Labour peers state that Corbyn has not opened his eyes, taken responsibility or told the whole truth when it came to acknowledging the scale of complaints about antisemitism afflicting the party. “We are not asking if you are an antisemite. We are saying you are accountable as leader for allowing antisemitism to grow in our party and presiding over the most shaming period in Labour’s history,” they said.

Read more …

Government and central bank blow housing bubble, city must come to the rescue.

Berlin Buys 670 Flats From Private Owner (G.)

The state of Berlin has bought back 670 apartments on the historic Karl-Marx-Allee from a private owner after decades of property privatisation in the German capital. A 1950s prestige project for socialist East Germany, the grand boulevard that stretches from the city centre to Friedrichshain in the east has been the frontline of a months-long fight over gentrification and rising property prices. The struggle erupted last November when the property management firm Predac announced its intention to offload 700 apartments on the road to Berlin’s largest property company, Deutsche Wohnen. Fearing rent increases, tenants organised protest marches and hung banners from their apartments, eventually pushing the city senate to block the sale.


After months of legal wrangling, the senate confirmed on Monday that three blocs containing more than 670 apartments would instead be purchased by the state-owned housing provider Gewobag. While the price of the sale was not confirmed by either side, the move to renationalise the buildings on Karl-Marx-Allee is likely to come at a steep cost, with estimates ranging between €90m-€100m (£80m-£90m). Berlin’s mayor said the move was indicative of a wider strategy to reacquire housing stock sold to private investors in the 1990s, following rapid rises in rental costs in the city in recent years. “Berliners should be able to continue to afford living in the city,” said Michael Müller. “That is why it was and continues to be our intention to buy up apartments wherever we can, so that Berlin can regain control of its property market.”

Read more …

10,000 words on how to be an activist.

Freeing Julian Assange: Part Three (Suzie Dawson)

The movement to free Julian has already been a long battle but is likely to continue for many years to come. The movement to free Nelson Mandela was eight years to fruition, but some thirteen years of prior groundwork before that. Mandela was in prison for over a quarter century before being celebrated as a Nobel laureate or ascending to the Presidency of South Africa. These emancipation struggles are intergenerational. Nor are they guaranteed victories. There are no easy wins – they are hard. They are meaningful. And that’s why each win is so precious. Sometimes the same battle has to be won over and over again. At every stage, we individually and collectively have been, are and will be opposed by monied, institutional powers vastly greater than ourselves. To outmanoeuvre them takes great savvy.


It takes staunch, unmoving, determined activists willing to sacrifice the comforts of a conventional existence in service to greater principles. To be an activist like that, takes 50% natural talent and personal efficacy and 50% skill learned through experience, modelling and nurturing by other activists. I’m very lucky to have had both, and in this article I will attempt to pass on as much as I can of what I have learned, just as others did for me. In my nearly eight years of activism, I have traversed a rocky road fraught with peril and packed full of hard-learned lessons. I’ve gone from green, idealistic and largely oblivious, to jaded, seasoned and discerning. To varying extents, every other activist is somewhere along that path as well. Some are far, far more advanced than myself. (Julian would be a great example of this.)

Read more …

 

Apollo 11 U.S. Customs form after first moon landing

 

 

 

 

Jul 162019
 


Gustave Moreau Orpheus at the Tomb of Eurydice 1891

 

“Don’t Take The Bait”, said 4 young congresswomen yesterday in a press conference in Washington DC. They were referring to comments Donald Trump had made about them earlier. However, just the simple act of calling the press conference meant they were … taking the bait.

Yes, Trump was out of line, way out of left field territory out of line. But he did that on purpose, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, were voluntarily following him into that same left field.

I’ve been saying for over 3 years now that the role of Trump is to expose the -inherent and longtime- failures of the US political system. But when I see things like that press-op, how can I possibly think the system has learned anything at all?

If Trump’s role is to reveal the failures of the system, and that same system turns around and blames Donald Trump for all of those failures, how are we ever supposed to take the next step out of here?

 

Trump has been especially vicious against the 4 women, and it’s simply not enough to put that down to his racism or anything like that. There’s something else going on; how obvious would you like it?

What is happening here is not Trump pandering or virtue-signalling to his base -that’s just an added feature. The reality is that Trump, in say (re-)election mode, sees a divide within the Democratic party, drives a wedge into that divide, and twists it.

His strong if not vicious attacks on the 4 women are aimed straight at Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden, plus all the rest of the centrist Dems. Trump is calling them out. So they will have to either end up supporting AOC and co, or they will not.

If they don’t the Dems are seriously split. They might have been anyway, but Trump makes it impossible for them to keep hiding that. He forces Pelosi et al to either stand behind AOC et al, or to leave her alone, as Nancy was sort of trying to do last week by saying (paraphrased) that “they are just four women”.

And then these girls take the bait to the extent that they call a press conference, which gets tons of attention, but not because they are so newsworthy, as I’m sure they believe, but because Trump is, as anything Trump still is.

It is Pelosi’s worst nightmare. The most vocal members of her party are the furthest removed from the picture she wants to present of the party. But she has to deal with it, with them. She talks about unity all the time, and for good reason.

And Pelosi is smart enough to understand what Trump is doing. She sees the big divide within the Dems and she sees how the divide could make her party lose in 2020. And she sees how Trump uses that.

 

But what can she do? Tell AOC to shut up for the good of Joe Biden’s chances? The last big shot the Dems have at redemption is next week’s 5 hour Mueller hearing on Capitol Hill. And if that doesn’t work out, where are they going to go? Is it perhaps not the greatest idea to keep people with such different ideas in one party?

Bernie Sanders wants Medicare for all, as allegedly do AOC and Elizabeth Warren. AOC wants a Green New Deal, whatever shape that may take, and so on and so on. But if they ever agree on one candidate to run against Trump in 2020, will this person (m/f) run on that platform too?

Or will they go for a center kind of like candidate who’s totally out of line with the four women Trump is aggressively railing against, who thinks US healthcare only needs to be tweaked in minor fashion, Biden-style?!

By now, it’s all good by Trump, because he understands how divided the Dems are, and he’s had time to prepare for using that division.

And he also understands that the main thing the Dems are going to run on, because they have nothing else, is that they are not Donald Trump. They’re not going to agree on Medicare for All or absolving all student debt or any grand plans like that, because they’re too divided to do it.

What unites them is Donald Trump. And then he has them where he wants them.

Please note this is not what I prefer, I think America needs a strong Democratic Party, or perhaps by now more than two parties. It’s just that I think -as I have since 2016- that Trump is the ultimate challenge to the US political sytem, and the system is failing miserably in its response.

 

 

 

 

Jul 132019
 


Pablo Picasso Weeping woman 1937

 

Robert Mueller’s Testimony Extended, Postponed By One Week (G.)
Trump Organization Probe Likely to End With No Charges (CNN)
Nemesis Rising (Kunstler)
Epstein Accused Of Paying Witnesses $350K In Hush Money (ZH)
Wall Street Banks Bailing On Troubled US Farm Sector (R.)
Fed Rate Cut Would Ease Pressure On China’s Central Bank (CNBC)
About Half Of China’s Loans To Developing Countries Are ‘Hidden’ (CNBC)
CIA Invokes WikiLeaks in Push For Expansion Of Secrecy Law (SP)
CIA Torture Unredacted (Bureau)
US To Hold Hearing On French Tax On Big Tech (R.)
EPA Expands Use Of Pesticide Considered ‘Very Highly Toxic’ To Bees (Hill)
Meeting the last Malaysian Sumatran Rhino on Earth (Lack)

 

 

The circus comes to town one week later but with a much longer show and added attractions. This will be nuts.

Robert Mueller’s Testimony Extended, Postponed By One Week (G.)

The special counsel Robert Mueller will testify before Congress about the findings of the Russia investigation on 24 July, one week later than his appearance was originally planned, under an agreement that gives lawmakers more time to question him. Mueller had been scheduled to report on the inquiry into Russian election meddling and ties between Russia and the campaign of Donald Trump on 17 July. But lawmakers in both parties complained that the short length of the hearings would not allow enough time for all members to ask questions. Under the new arrangement, Mueller will testify for an extended period of time, three hours instead of two, before the House judiciary committee. He will then testify before the House intelligence committee in a separate hearing.

The two committees said in a statement that all members of both committees will be able to question him. In the joint statement, the panels said the longer hearing “will allow the American public to gain further insight into the special counsel’s investigation and the evidence uncovered regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power”. Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won’t go beyond what is in his 448-page report. But Democrats have been determined to highlight its contents for Americans who they believe have not read it. They want to extract information from the former special counsel and spotlight what they say are his most damaging findings against Trump.

Democrats are expected to ask Mueller about his conclusions, including that he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice after detailing several episodes in which Trump tried to influence the investigation. Mueller also said there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Kremlin. One thing judiciary members want to focus on in questioning Mueller is whether Trump would have been charged with a crime were he not president. Mueller said at the news conference that charging a president with a crime was “not an option” because of longstanding justice department policy. But Democrats want to know more about how he made that decision and when.

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Michael Cohen couldn’t deliver.

Trump Organization Probe Likely to End With No Charges (CNN)

A federal investigation into whether Trump Organization executives violated campaign-finance laws appears to be wrapping up without charges being filed, according to people familiar with the matter. For months, federal prosecutors in New York have examined whether company officials broke the law, including in their effort to reimburse Michael Cohen for hush-money payments he made to women alleging affairs with his former boss, President Donald Trump.
In recent weeks, however, their investigation has quieted, the people familiar with the inquiry said, and prosecutors now don’t appear poised to charge any Trump Organization executives in the probe that stemmed from the case against Cohen.


In January, one month after Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, prosecutors requested interviews with executives at the company, CNN reported. But prosecutors never followed up on their initial request, people familiar with the matter said, and the interviews never took place. Meanwhile, there has been no contact between the Manhattan US Attorney’s office and officials at the Trump Organization in more than five months, one person familiar with the matter said.

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“..the obliteration of moral and ethical boundaries by the people who ended up running things in this fretful moment of US history.”

Nemesis Rising (Kunstler)

Where are Clintons, these dog days of summer? The Hamptons? Salty, sunny Martha’s Vineyard? Under a rock somewhere in the Chappaqua woods? Fate is turning in more than one uncomfortable way for the once-charmed couple of Boomerdom. There is, of course, the freshly re-issued Jeffrey Epstein underage sex scandal, come ‘round again with a vengeance this time because there are fewer Clinton partisans left in the Department of Justice where the matter has festered for decades like a fistula slowly seeping its rot through the body politic. The vengeance emanates from the Clinton’s nemesis, the uppity Golden Golem of Greatness who dared to “steal” Hillary’s place in the Oval Office (and history).

To put it plainly, Mr. Trump had enough of the two-year-plus persecution he endured from the Clinton-inspired Mueller investigation into the Clinton-propagated Russia Collusion flim-flam. And having patiently survived this audacious, seditious effrontery, is now out to squash the Clintons like a pair of palmetto bugs. [..] And now there is the Epstein matter, which threatens not only former president Bill Clinton, but a cosmos of political, financial, and entertainment “stars” in countless ugly incidents that involve a kind of personal corruption that has no political context but says an awful lot about the obliteration of moral and ethical boundaries by the people who ended up running things in this fretful moment of US history. President Clinton has already kicked off this debacle by lying to the media about the number of rides he took on Mr. Epstein’s notorious airplane.

I voted for Bill Clinton twice. When they came up from the backwater of Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1992, they seemed like the fresh, bright antidote to twelve years of fusty Reaganism with the GHW Bush moldy cherry-on-top. Governor Bill, so glib and charming. Tall and catnip to the ladies, too! And almost immediately he was in deep shit over that part of his act, but he wiggled through it all with the aid of his perky, stalwart wife and partner, who defended him sedulously on nationwide TV. (America had never even heard about her misadventures on the Watergate Committee, where, age 27, she gained a reputation for being less than honest.) And that was followed by the first instance of Hillary moneygrubbing when she turned a few thousand bucks into a six-figure bonanza almost overnight in a wired commodities trade.

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There is so much ugliness still hidden in this. Will we ever know?

Epstein Accused Of Paying Witnesses $350K In Hush Money (ZH)

Federal prosecutors allege in a new court filing that Jeffrey Epstein may have engaged in witness tampering by paying off two potential witnesses days before the Miami Herald began publishing a series of explosive exposés about the registered sex offender and his victims. According to financial records, Epstein wired $350,000 to two ‘possible co-conspirators’ who could testify against him. $100,000 was wired from “Institution-1” to one person, while just three days later $250,000 was wired to another individual. Neither of the payments appear to be recurring based on five years of bank records. Is one of the co-conspirators Ghislaine Maxwell? The daughter of a British media barron, Maxwell was described by one Epstein accuser in a 2017 lawsuit as “the highest ranking employee” of his alleged enterprise, in which she was said to have managed both Epstein’s household and his sex life.

Via the Wall Street Journal: “Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of a British media baron, was a fixture for years in Manhattan’s social scene, often written about in tabloids for her close ties to British royalty and to a mysterious financier named Jeffrey Epstein. But Mr. Epstein’s arrest last week on sex-trafficking charges has brought renewed attention to her alleged role as one of his top aides. Ms. Maxwell, 57 years old, has been accused by three women in affidavits and other court filings of recruiting young women for Mr. Epstein and training them for sex. Two of the women have alleged that Ms. Maxwell, together with Mr. Epstein, sexually assaulted them, according to the filings.

What’s more, “Juan Alessi, who said in one of the depositions that he served as the Palm Beach house manager from around 1992 through 2002, described a basket of sex toys in Ms. Maxwell’s bathroom closet. He said he would find them around when he cleaned up after visits from the young women,” according to the Journal.

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Only Big Ag deals with Wall Street.

Wall Street Banks Bailing On Troubled US Farm Sector (R.)

In the wake of the U.S. housing meltdown of the late 2000s, JPMorgan Chase & Co hunted for new ways to expand its loan business beyond the troubled mortgage sector. The nation’s largest bank found enticing new opportunities in the rural Midwest – lending to U.S. farmers who had plenty of income and collateral as prices for grain and farmland surged. JPMorgan grew its farm-loan portfolio by 76 percent, to $1.1 billion, between 2008 and 2015, according to year-end figures, as other Wall Street players piled into the sector. Total U.S. farm debt is on track to rise to $427 billion this year, up from an inflation-adjusted $317 billion a decade earlier and approaching levels seen in the 1980s farm crisis, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


But now – after years of falling farm income and an intensifying U.S.-China trade war – JPMorgan and other Wall Street banks are heading for the exits, according to a Reuters analysis of the farm-loan holdings they reported to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The agricultural loan portfolios of the nation’s top 30 banks fell by $3.9 billion, to $18.3 billion, between their peak in December 2015 and March 2019, the analysis showed. That’s a 17.5% decline.

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I meant to do that?!

Fed Rate Cut Would Ease Pressure On China’s Central Bank (CNBC)

A widely expected interest rate cut by the U.S. Federal Reserve would give China more breathing room in shoring up its slowing economy, some analysts said. Overnight, markets took Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s comments during the first of a two-day Congressional testimony as affirming expectations for easier monetary policy in the U.S. The S&P 500 briefly topped 3,000 for the first time, and Treasury yields edged lower. A looser monetary policy environment would reduce pressure on China’s central bank to ease monetary policy. Amid trade tensions with the U.S., China’s economy has struggled to gain momentum.


Private surveys released last week by Caixin showed services activity fell in June to its lowest since February, and the manufacturing sector contracted, after three months of expansion. Among several measures to support the economy over the last several months, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has made targeted attempts to lower financing costs to privately run enterprises, which account for the majority of the country’s economic growth and employment. “If the Fed does go ahead and cut rates, which I don’t think is a given … it simply means the PBoC has a little breathing room to see if the policies it has implemented have an impact on the real economy,” Hannah Anderson, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, told CNBC on Thursday by phone.

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“Between 2000 and 2017, other countries’ debt owed to China soared ten-fold, from less than $500 billion to more than $5 trillion..”

“..debt has increased on average from less than 1% of their GDP in 2015, to more than 15% in 2017..”

About Half Of China’s Loans To Developing Countries Are ‘Hidden’ (CNBC)

China’s lending to other countries has surged in the past decade, causing debt levels to jump dramatically, and as much as half of such debt to developing economies is “hidden,” a new study has found. Such “hidden” debt means that the borrowing isn’t reported to or recorded by official institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, or the Paris Club — a group of creditor nations. Between 2000 and 2017, other countries’ debt owed to China soared ten-fold, from less than $500 billion to more than $5 trillion — or from 1% of global economic output to more than 5%, according to the study from Germany-based think tank the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. “This has transformed China into the largest official creditor, easily surpassing the IMF or the World Bank,” the report’s researchers said.


The study, which looked at nearly 2,000 Chinese loans to 152 countries from 1949 to 2017, was undertaken by well-known debt expert Carmen Reinhart from Harvard University, as well as Kiel Institute’s Christoph Trebesch and Sebastian Horn. For 50 developing countries which have borrowed from China, that debt has increased on average from less than 1% of their GDP in 2015, to more than 15% in 2017, according to estimates by the study’s researchers. “Advanced and higher middle income countries tend to receive portfolio debt flows, via sovereign bond purchases of the People’s Bank of China, ” the report said. “As a result, many advanced countries have become highly indebted towards the Chinese government.”

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There’s Adam Schiff for you in all his glory. Watch for him in the Mueller hearings too.

CIA Invokes WikiLeaks in Push For Expansion Of Secrecy Law (SP)

When the CIA and other agencies in the United States government pushed for the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) in 1981, it was crafted to exclude “covert agents” who resided in the U.S. There was consideration by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of how the legislation might “chill or stifle public criticism of intelligence activities or public debate concerning intelligence policy.” More than three decades later, the CIA is apparently unsatisfied with the protections the bill granted “covert agents. It has enlisted a select group of senators and representatives to help expand the universe of individuals who are protected, making members of the press who cover intelligence matters more vulnerable to prosecution.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, was involved in adding language to expand the IIPA to the Intelligence Authorization Act moving through Congress. “Schiff is once again putting the interests of the intelligence agencies in concealing their misdeeds ahead of protecting the rights of ordinary Americans by criminalizing routine reporting by the press on national security issues and undermining congressional oversight in his Intelligence Authorization bill,” declared Daniel Schuman, who is the policy director for Demand Progress. Schuman added, “Schiff’s expansion of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act beyond all reason will effectively muzzle reporting on torture, mass surveillance, and other crimes against the American people—all at the request of the CIA. Schiff is clearly the resistance to the resistance, and he should drop this provision from his bill.”

The CIA put their specific request for what language they would like amended in writing and sent it to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Their request was essentially copied and pasted, with no changes, into the intelligence bill. “Undercover agency officers face ever-evolving threats, including cyber threats,” the CIA argued. “Particularly with the lengths organizations such as WikiLeaks are willing to go to obtain and release sensitive national security information, as well as incidents related to past agency programs, such as the RDI investigation [CIA torture report], the original congressional reasoning mentioned above for a narrow definition of ‘covert agent’ no longer remains valid.”

“This proposal would provide protection for all undercover agency officers by allowing for the prosecution of individuals responsible for disclosing the identities of those officers, regardless whether the undercover officer serves inside or outside of the United States,” the agency additionally stated. Schiff supports the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and shares the CIA’s view that WikiLeaks is a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” not a media organization. In 2018, when Assange was willing to speak with investigators about the Russia probe, he replied, “Our committee would be willing to interview Julian Assange when he is in U.S. custody, not before.”

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Do I want to read this report?

CIA Torture Unredacted (Bureau)

In December 2014, the Bureau, alongside The Rendition Project, began a major project to trace the history of the RDI programme. The impetus for our investigation came from the long-awaited publication of a report into CIA torture by the US Senate Select Intelligence Committee. The authors of this report had high-level access to internal CIA documents, which they mined to produce a damning assessment of the torture programme’s brutality, mismanagement and ineffectiveness. But they were compelled by the Obama administration, and by the CIA itself, to censor — “redact” — all parts of the report that could identify specific times and places where abuses had occurred.

This is important, because without being able to tie illegal activities to specific times and places, the quest for redress is hamstrung, and meaningful accountability — legal, public, historical — remains a mirage. The Senate report did offer a crucial insight, however: the first complete list of prisoners held in the CIA’s black sites. 119 names, each with a date of custody (redacted) and a record of how many days they were held (also partly redacted). In the days after the publication of the Senate report, we set to work reconstructing this list to reveal the hidden dates. Figuring out a date often meant that we could match it to a flight record; matching to a flight record meant that we could determine where a prisoner was brought from or sent to.

As we cross-correlated thousands of data points — from declassified government documents, footnotes in the Senate report, aviation data, records of corporate outsourcing of rendition flights, legal cases, media reporting and NGO investigations — the contours of the CIA’s programme of secret detention and torture began to emerge more clearly. Rather than just understanding certain individual histories, we could begin to discern the entire scope of the programme’s development. More than four years later, we’re publishing the results of our investigation in a 400-page report entitled CIA Torture Unredacted. It is the first time that the entirety of the CIA’s detention programme has been systematically revealed.

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“Other EU countries including Austria, Britain, Spain and Italy have also announced plans for their own digital taxes.”

US To Hold Hearing On French Tax On Big Tech (R.)

The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Office will hold a hearing on Aug 19 in its probe of France’s new planned tax on big technology companies, calling the proposal “unreasonable.” President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered an investigation into the tax, which could lead to the United States imposing new tariffs or other trade restrictions. USTR said in a public notice the levy was an “unreasonable tax policy.” The plan departs from tax norms because of “extraterritoriality; taxing revenue not income; and a purpose of penalizing particular technology companies for their commercial success,” it said. USTR added that statements by French officials suggest the tax will “amount to de facto discrimination against U.S. companies… while exempting smaller companies, particularly those that operate only in France.”


The tax is due to apply retroactively from the start of 2019. USTR said that calls into question the fairness of the tax. On Thursday, the French Senate approved the 3% levy that will apply to revenue from digital services earned in France by firms with more than 25 million euros in French revenue and 750 million euros ($845 million) worldwide. Other EU countries including Austria, Britain, Spain and Italy have also announced plans for their own digital taxes. They say a levy is needed because big, multinational internet companies such as Facebook and Amazon are currently able to book profits in low-tax countries like Ireland, no matter where the revenue originates. Political pressure to respond has been growing as local retailers in high streets and online have been disadvantaged.

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The crazies.

EPA Expands Use Of Pesticide Considered ‘Very Highly Toxic’ To Bees (Hill)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday it would allow for the expanded use of a pesticide it considers toxic to bees, a move that comes just days after the Trump administration said it was suspending data collection on bee populations. The pesticide known as sulfoxaflor will be permitted for use on certain crops for the first time, and in other areas that were prohibited under the Obama administration. The agency considers sulfoxaflor “very highly toxic” to bees. In a call with reporters to announce the decision, a top EPA official emphasized the agency’s research on the pesticide’s effects on bees and said the rule was designed with pollinators in mind.


“To reduce exposure to bees, the product label will have crop-specific restrictions and important pollinator protection language,” including limits on how close to bloom sulfoxaflor can be sprayed, the official said. But it may be difficult to monitor whether the regulations spare bees as intended. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week it was suspending one of the few remaining government data sets that monitor bee populations and loss. “At a time when honeybees and other pollinators are dying in greater numbers than ever before, Trump’s EPA decision to remove restrictions on yet another bee-killing pesticide is nothing short of reckless,” Earthjustice, which fought sulfoxaflor use in the 2015 suit, said in a statement Friday. “Scientists have long said pesticides like sulfoxaflor are the cause of the unprecedented colony collapse. Letting sulfoxaflor back on the market is dangerous for our food system, economy, and environment.”

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“..perhaps I will abstain from telling them of the heart-shattering, breath-snatching moment I gazed into the deep eyes of the last of a species, every sense trembling with anticipation.”

Meeting the last Malaysian Sumatran Rhino on Earth (Lack)

Deep set beady eyes peer from folds of thick leather skin. They close slowly in a leisurely, ponderous blink. Nostrils flare with each warm, damp exhalation, causing a slight rise of the stubby nasal horn that rests on those cavernous nostrils. I stare at this primitive, prehistoric creature which seems to have just trundled out of the Jurassic Period. Her skin is leather-thick, her face is topped by a firm horn and her species is over 20 million years old. She seems invincible. Somehow our soft-skinned species has managed to mangle her population down and down until today, when only one Malaysian Sumatran Rhino exists on earth. And there I stand looking into her eyes. She is called Iman. Iman means faith.

Faith is a funny concept when you stand looking at the very last individual of a species and your ears ring with her plaintive cries. Rather than feel faith in humanity, I felt a deep loss, a deep hopelessness. That was only after five minutes of meeting Iman. Yet behind me stood Dr Junaidi Payne and Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, who have been working on protecting the Sumatran Rhino in Sabah for almost their whole lives. They were there in 2017 when Puntung had to be euthanised. They were there in May this year when Tam, the last male, died. They will, most likely, be there when Iman breathes her last breath. The last breath of a species. They have front row seats of the sixth mass extinction, directed and produced wholly by humans.


Iman cannot be saved. It is the brutal yet undeniable truth that one day she will be gripped by illness or old age and will leave us. If I choose to have children, their world will be undoubtedly different to ours today. Perhaps they will cry at the abundance of life that has been ravaged by their ancestors. Perhaps they will listen to the story of the time I met Iman. But perhaps I will abstain from telling them of the heart-shattering, breath-snatching moment I gazed into the deep eyes of the last of a species, every sense trembling with anticipation. Rhino and girl. We were two, yet we were alike. Our hearts both pounding as we watched each other, our gazes both narrowed and our breath quickened.

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Jul 072019
 


Johannes Vermeer The geographer 1668-69

 

July 7 2019, just another tequila Sunday. There are elections here in Greece, and the right wing will take over. Bad idea, because it will bring out the left wing resistance that have remained subdued while Syriza reneged on all their promises, but they were left wing, and how does left protesting left work exactly? They didn’t know. Better lay low. No more.

From now on in, it’s women and children first. And there are so many pent up grievances. Youth unemployment is still at 40%. While ever more Greeks are evicted from their homes through Airbnb alone. This ain’t gonna go well. That strong economy the right promises will be there exclusively for their own richer supporters, at the ever-increasing cost of the poor.

 

The US women’s soccer team just became World Champions again. That’s the last time in a very long time. Because traditional soccer countries now also have women’s teams. There’s a very peculiar division at the bottom of this. In Europe and South America and Africa, soccer is a men’s game.

In the US, baseball, hockey, basketball and American football have spent millions making sure soccer was turned into, and perceived as, a girly sport. Just so the best male athletes would not turn there. So the US, colleges, universities, have this decades-long tradition of women’s soccer. But they have no such tradition for men, while almost the entire rest of the world does.

That’s why the US women’s soccer team will never win again, and it’s also why the men’s team never will. No culture, no tradition, even as they easily could have them. This was very obvious to me in my Montreal days. In summer, in just about every city park, there were community and family gatherings of South- and Central Americans, and they were all playing soccer.

Still, Canada stinks at the game on an international level. Why? Because the hockey people don’t want the competition for male athletes. They cut it down wherever they can. All they would have to do is take the most promising 100 10-year old kids just playing in the parks in one city, and get them into a program. Within 10 years they’d have a national team that’s an international contender. Kids from Peru, Chili, Brazil, 100 different countries, and throw in the European kids that are there anyway. But no.

 

Still, I was going to talk about Trump again. Just to piss off the people some more who -stupidly- accuse me of supporting Trump. Though it is sort of the same thing: Greek PM Tsipras is set to lose (no results yet as I write this) because he never did what he promised. US soccer is set to lose because other domestic sports don’t want it to be successful. People are -mostly- blind.

First I saw this UK ambassador to Washington, one Sir Kim Darroch, has sent “secret” cables (memos) to his government about how Trump’s administration is supposedly “inept, insecure and incompetent”, as well as “uniquely dysfunctional” and “divided”. “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction-riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”

“Differences between the US and the UK on climate change, media freedoms and the death penalty might come to the fore as the countries seek to improve trading relations after Brexit, the memos said.” Oh, fcuking yeah, the UK is such a shining light on climate change and press freedom, right?! Who’s holding a certain journalist, one Julian Assange, in a maximum security prison again?

“Mr Trump’s publicly stated reason for calling off an airstrike against Tehran with 10 minutes to go – that it would cause 150 casualties – “doesn’t stand up”, Sir Kim said. Instead, he suggested the president was “never fully on board”. When I read that line, I thought Sir Kim was not-even-so secretly in favor of attacking Iran. Was that just me?

Oh, and earlier today I was wondering if they ever hand out these Sir and Dame titles to people who are poor or even destitute but who work 25 hours a day for the people around them, to make sure they can alleviate the suffering in their communities as much as they can. Or does that mummified “Queen” of theirs only bestow that “honor” on the upper classes? No, I do not care, I think I know the answer. Inglan is a bitch.

And if I’ve ever seen a dysfunctional, “inept, insecure and incompetent” government, it’s the one that these secret memos were sent to. From Cameron to May to soon Boris Johnson, let get real.

 

Then also today there were all these news reports about Jeffrey Epstein on how he’s finally being charged with abusing dozens of underage on his planes and his estates. This has been going on for decades (who was in charge during those years). What is the media focus? Trump, of course. But Epstein was thrown out of Mar-A-Lago I think 12 years ago for hitting on an underage girl. Does that mean we know for sure Trump was never involved? Nope.

But we do know that Bill Clinton flew 26 times in a few years on Epstein’s ‘Lolita Express’ bringing helpss girls so faraway places. So maybe he should be the main focus here, not Trump. Then again, it’s too late in the game now, isn’t it? US -and UK- media have bet all their money on the anti-Trump game. They have lost everything so far, and then they double down, everything on red style.

I’m thinking: guys, you lost, time to find a new game plan. But they don’t have the flexibility nor the intelligence required. Aaron Maté wrote another scathing -must read- essay on the Mueller Report , putting its credibiltiy at the same level as the Steele dossier, but one half of America doesn’t even want to see that. It only wants to see more damning reports, damn evidence, about their favorite orange piñata.

And no, talking about that does not make me a Trump supporter. Let’s say I’m looking at that like it were a game of soccer, and I point out to you that the other team has absolutely nothing while they’re already 10-0 down (that’s a very big score in soccer).

 

But a third thing i saw today really made me think Trump can’t lose in 2020. The Guardian of all places had a review of a book entitled American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War by Politico writer Tim Alberta, in which Trump effusively praises Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among other things by comparing her to Evita Peron.

“Trump says he first saw Ocasio-Cortez during her primary against Crowley, while watching TV with political advisers. “I see a young woman,” he says, “ranting and raving like a lunatic on a street corner, and I said: ‘That’s interesting, go back.’” Alberta then says Trump “became enamored” and “starstruck” by Ocasio-Cortez. “I called her Eva Perón,” Trump says. “I said, ‘That’s Eva Perón. That’s Evita.”


[..] Trump does row back on his praise, telling Alberta: “She’s got talent. Now, that’s the good news. The bad news: she doesn’t know anything. She’s got a good sense, an ‘it’ factor, which is pretty good, but she knows nothing. But with time, she has real potential.”

 

I still remain convinced that the one dimensional Trump haters, the same people who would accuse me of supporting him, don’t understand how or why that means he will win easily in 2020. Well, that, and they have nobody to put up against him. Joe Biden is not just a joke, he’s an old and stale joke. Kamala Harris is an attempt to cross Obama with Hillary. Bernie Sanders is a wonderful man, but he should be the campaign manager for a younger prospect, but who isn’t there.

And Tulsi Gabbard is being actively suppressed by the DNC, like Bernie Sanders four years ago. All the rest of the field are mere bystanders. It’s the exact same feeling of the GOP ‘contestants’ standing against Trump in 2016. They’re there to fill up space, and to create the illusion there’s an actual conversation or dialogue or contest happening.

 

Personally, I think it would be great if the Democrats have a valid candidate next year, at the level of Trump or better. The Donald should have stayed in real estate. But instead he’s the President, and now everybody has to deal with that. And you don’t do that by continuing to blame him for everything that happens under the sun. That ‘tactic’ has failed for three years.

Those past 3 years of media bias against him, plus the Mueller report debacle, should have made this clear. But what we see today is that neither the Democrats nor the press that supports them have anything to fight Trump with. While he compliments their main future asset for her talent, and for her likeness to a world-famous tragic actress-turned-politician and Broadway darling.

That’s why he’ll win.

 

 

Jul 062019
 
 July 6, 2019  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Sleeper with shutters 1936

 

Mueller’s Own Report Undercuts Its Core Russia-Meddling Claims (Maté)
As You Celebrate Your Freedom, Remember Julian Assange (Nils Melzer)
Three Job-Market Data Points Investors Are Overlooking (Street)
Why Low Mortgage Rates Haven’t Goosed The Housing Market (HW)
Trump: Fed Doesn’t Know ‘What They’re Doing’ (AFP)
Fed Sheds $38 Billion in Treasuries, MBS in June, Dumps MBS at Record Pace (WS)
Turkey Sacks Central Bank Governor (AFP)
Ghosts of the Fourth (Kunstler)
Syriza Betrayed Its Principles – And The Greek People (G.)
The Ruling Class Are Not In Climate Denial, They Are in Control (CP)

 

 

Must read. Aaron Maté excellently hammers the final nails into the Mueller report. Ray McGovern commented: [Mueller} will call in sick on July 17; wanna bet?!

Mueller’s Own Report Undercuts Its Core Russia-Meddling Claims (Maté)

Mueller’s uncertainty over the theft and transfer of Democratic Party emails isn’t the only gap in his case. Another is his timeline of events – a critical component of any criminal investigation. The report’s timeline defies logic: According to its account, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced the publication of the emails not only before he received the documents, but before he even communicated with the source that provided them. As the Mueller report confirms, on June 12, 2016, Assange told an interviewer, “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton, which is great.” But Mueller reports that “WikiLeaks’s First Contact With Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks” comes two days after that announcement.

If Assange’s “First Contact” with DC Leaks came on June 14, and with Guccifer 2.0 on June 22, then what was Assange talking about on June 12? It is possible that Assange heard from another supposed Russian source before then; but if so, Mueller doesn’t know it. Instead the report offers the implausible scenario that their first contact came after Assange’s announcement. There is another issue with the report’s Guccifer 2.0-WikiLeaks timeline. Assange would have been announcing the pending release of stolen emails not just before he heard from the source, but also before he received the stolen emails. As noted earlier, Mueller suggested that WikiLeaks received the stolen material from Guccifer 2.0 “on or around” July 14 – a full month after Assange publicly announced that he had them.

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Nils Melzer is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. He finally got an op-ed published, in Newsweek.

“It is about drowning his radical challenge to government secrecy, which holds the power to change world affairs forever, inspired by the truths and principles proclaimed in the 1776 Declaration.”

As You Celebrate Your Freedom, Remember Julian Assange (Nils Melzer)

[..] But how do you break a political dissident, a promoter of truth and transparency? Well, first you attack his reputation and credibility, and destroy his human dignity. You maintain a constant trickle of poisonous rumors, first half-truths and then increasingly bold lies. You keep him suspected of rape without trial, of hacking and spying, and of smearing feces on Embassy walls. You portray him as an ungrateful narcissist with a cat and a skateboard, whose only aim is self-glorifying exceptionalism. By making him unlikeable in the eyes of the world, you ensure no one will feel any empathy, so once his voice is muzzled and his isolation complete, he can be burned at the stake with impunity.

Most importantly, having degraded him to a clown for the entertainment of all, you will have diverted attention from his spotlight on your own crimes. Next, you make sure that any attempt of his to expose your lies comes at the cost of extradition to a hanging judge in a land bent to see his head on a stick, where torturers enjoy impunity. You then pressure his country of refuge into submission – military and economic leverage never fail – and you turn his protectors into enemies, and his daily existence into attritive hell. The method is deliberate, concerted, and sustained, and employs isolation, hostility, and shame. Whether you call it “bullying,” “mobbing,” or “persecution” – in essence it is all the same.

It purposefully inflicts severe mental suffering and aims to coerce, punish, and intimidate. It is thus, under international law, nothing else than full-fledged psychological torture. Mind you, psychological torture is neither ‘soft’ nor ‘light’. It aims straight at the destruction of your innermost self, albeit without leaving a physical trace. It targets your emotions, your mind and your dignity, and instills chronic shame and anxiety. Through relentless over-stimulation, confusion and stress, it eventually causes total exhaustion, cardiovascular failure and nervous collapse.

Let us not be fooled, extraditing Assange was never about hacking, rape, espionage or narcissism. It is about drowning his radical challenge to government secrecy, which holds the power to change world affairs forever, inspired by the truths and principles proclaimed in the 1776 Declaration. That is why the powerful persecute Assange with ferocity, while proven war criminals are allowed to walk free.

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224,000 new jobs sounds nice, but then you notice the US labor force has actually contracted by more than 600,000 workers this year…

Three Job-Market Data Points Investors Are Overlooking (Street)

Friday’s government report showed 224,000 added jobs, beating economists’ expectations of 140,000. The unemployment rate currently stands at 3.7%, but GDP growth has been slowly fading from a current-boom high of 4% in August 2018, and inflation has remained at around 2%. The Federal Reserve had initially planned to raise interest rates four times in 2019 — before rapidly falling economic forecasts prompted investors to sell off stocks to end 2018. Now, the Fed is considering cutting rates. When one considers a few more economic data points, the picture doesn’t necessarily get better. The S&P 500 fell 0.9% Friday, as investors worried the Fed may reconsider cutting rates.


The labor-participation rate is the elephant in the room. For the past few years skeptics have said the low participation rate is tainting the reported unemployment percentage. Jobless statistics account only for people seeking jobs or participating. They don’t count those who are not participating. The U.S.’s current labor-participation rate is 62.9%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 66% in 2007, just before the financial crisis. “The number remains low,” Danielle DiMartino Booth, former adviser to the president of the Dallas Fed and founder and CEO of Quill Intelligence, told TheStreet. As for GDP, “There is no feasible way to reflect the labor-participation rate, and therefore you don’t get the full story when you see the GDP numbers,” she said. “The Fed’s dual mandate is to maximize employment. We’re not seeing that happen because were seeing a decline in the labor-participation rate.”

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Because: “Probably half the population is living pretty close to the edge.”

Why Low Mortgage Rates Haven’t Goosed The Housing Market (HW)

American household income fell in May, even with the unemployment rate at the lowest level in almost 50 years. Median household income fell 0.6% from the prior month to $63,799, according to a report by Sentier Research on Tuesday. That’s combined gross wages plus retirement and military benefits of all people sharing a housing unit. The unemployment rate in April and May was 3.6%, the lowest since December 1969. Stagnant or even falling wages are making it tougher for Americans to get mortgages to buy homes, evan as loan rates fall, according to Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders. While corporate profits and C-suite compensation have spiraled higher during the economic expansion, workers haven’t had much to celebrate, he said.

Adjusted for inflation, household income has barely budged over the last two decades, according to Sentier Research. “When you’re talking about affordability, you’re not just talking about mortgage interest rates – you’re talking about home prices and household income,” Dietz said in an interview. “Since the end of the Great Recession, while we’ve had a very good improvement in the unemployment rate, wage growth has been lackluster.” Mortgage rates are near three-year lows, according to Freddie Mac. But that hasn’t sparked the buying activity it has in the past, Dietz said. In the past year, there have been some months that showed acceleration in household income, but the numbers have remained “lackluster,” he said.


“We have seen a pretty dramatic and quick decline in mortgage interest rates, but so far we haven’t seen a very noticeable uptick in home construction and home-sale activity,” Dietz said. [..] Lackluster wage growth has kept a portion of U.S. workers living from paycheck to paycheck, said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. He pointed to a Federal Reserve report in May that said about 40% of American adults wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency without resorting to credit cards they couldn’t pay off right away. “It’s indicative of the financial fragility of a large chunk of the population,” Zandi said in an interview. “Probably half the population is living pretty close to the edge.”

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The Fed as a power tool. Be careful with that.

Trump: Fed Doesn’t Know ‘What They’re Doing’ (AFP)

US President Donald Trump on Friday lobbed another attack on the Federal Reserve, accusing it of incompetence for failing to stimulate the economy. “If we had a Fed that would lower interest rates, we would be like a rocket ship,” he told reporters at the White House. “But we don’t have a Fed that knows what they’re doing.” Wall Street stocks were lower on Friday morning, with investors believing strong June jobs data could make the Fed less likely to cut interest rates this month. The Labor Department announced job creation had zoomed higher in June, with employers adding a much-higher-than-expected 224,000 net new positions for the month.


“Those were really unexpectedly good and our country continues to do really well really, really well so we’re very happy about,” Trump said Friday of the employment numbers. “We’re going to be breaking records.” Trump since last year has excoriated the central bank and its chairman, Jerome Powell, in particular, shattering recent political norms according to which presidents refrained from commenting on monetary policy. Powell has brushed off Trump’s jibes, insisting on the Fed’s political independence.

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They’re not sitting still.

Fed Sheds $38 Billion in Treasuries, MBS in June, Dumps MBS at Record Pace (WS)

In June, the Fed shed Treasury securities at the slower pace announced in its new plan for QT, but it dumped Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) at the fastest rate since the QE unwind started, breaching its “up to” cap for the first time. And it is experimenting with the opposite of its QE-era “Operation Twist” – Operation Untwist? Total assets at the Fed fell by $34 billion in June, as of the balance sheet for the week ended July 3, released Friday afternoon. This includes $15 billion in Treasury securities and a record $23 billion in MBS, for a total of $38 billion, less some other balance-sheet activities unrelated to the QE unwind. This trimmed its total assets to $3.813 trillion, the lowest since September 2013. Since the beginning of the “balance sheet normalization” era, the Fed has shed $648 billion. Since peak-QE in January 2015, it has shed $687 billion:

The Fed doesn’t sell its Treasury holdings outright. But when securities mature, the US Treasury Department pays them off, and the Fed then doesn’t reinvest this money in new securities. Instead, it destroys this money in the reverse manner in which it created it during QE. But the Fed has announced caps — the “up to” amounts. If the amount of Treasuries that mature in a given month exceed the cap, the Fed reinvests the overage in new Treasuries. Under the Fed’s new regime, the maximum amount of Treasury securities allowed to roll off when they mature was $15 billion in June. And that’s what happened.


In June, three issues matured, for a total of about $21 billion. The Treasury Department redeemed them and paid the Fed for them. The Fed reinvested $6 billion of this money into new Treasury securities but allowed $15 billion to roll off without replacement. So the balance of Treasuries dropped by $15 billion, to $2.095 trillion, the lowest since September 2013:

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Hey, if Erdogan can do it…

Turkey Sacks Central Bank Governor (AFP)

Turkey has sacked the governor of its central bank and replaced him with his deputy, a presidential decree published in the official gazette said on Saturday. Murat Cetinkaya, who was appointed to the role in April 2016, had been replaced by Murat Uysal, the decree said, but gave no official reason for the change. There had been recent speculation that Cetinkaya could be replaced amid disagreements with the government on cutting interest rates. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly railed against high interest rates and called for them to be lowered in a bid to stimulate growth. Erdogan once called high rates the “mother and father of all evil”.


Turkey’s main interest rate is 24 percent after the bank under Cetinkaya made an aggressive rate hike of 625 basis points last September following a currency crisis in August. Uysal said he would continue to use monetary policy tools “independently” while remaining focused on ensuring price stability as his “main aim”, according to a central bank statement. Uysal, who had served as deputy governor since June 2016, will hold a press conference in the coming days, the bank said. Turkish inflation fell to 15.72 percent in June from 18.71 percent in May, official statistics showed on Wednesday, the lowest rate in nearly a year.

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“Today, we remain hostages to the automobile, with its geography-negating banality, but you can see the end of that road from here, too, and it is already subject to a very public nostalgia.”

Ghosts of the Fourth (Kunstler)

We heard there was a good parade up in Salem, NY, ten miles northeast of here. Salem was a railroad town after 1852. It changed everything for a while. Farmers could send their potatoes and milk all the way to Boston. Slate was abundant nearby and there was a lively commerce in it for roofing and other things. Marble came over from Vermont and was dressed into tombstone blanks, which were sent as far as the Midwest. The railroad itself employed scores of hands in the roundhouse where its locomotives were repaired. This rail connection to distant places and markets must have seemed wondrous. The system held together for less than 100 years and now it, too, is a ghost presence, along with the factories.

History has treated this corner of the country with something that feels like swift injustice. Today, we remain hostages to the automobile, with its geography-negating banality, but you can see the end of that road from here, too, and it is already subject to a very public nostalgia. The Fourth of July parade up in Salem was mostly a parade of motor vehicles: fire engines, EMT trucks, tractors, vintage 1920s flivvers, 1960s muscle cars, one classic hot-rod, and one weird Avanti, a mid-60s product of the then-floundering Studebaker Company — which, ironically, had run a wagon and carriage assembly factory in Salem around 1910, just as cars were being introduced.


The economic history of this place looks like a sequence of great works performed at enormous capital investment, and then quickly trashed for the next new thing. It must have been intoxicating at the time. I’d put the high-tide of it all at about 1900, when all the systems of manufacturing and transport were humming in synchrony. Turns out it was an economy with a surprising purpose: to get rid of itself! And it’s stunning how gone it all is now. What replaced it is not only happening far, far away, but many items made far, far away can’t even be bought within a twenty-mile journey of any town in the county.

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Tomorrow Greece will elect a right wing government. Life will get even harder.

Syriza Betrayed Its Principles – And The Greek People (G.)

In January 2015, progressives the world over hailed Syriza’s general election victory as a rejection of EU-imposed austerity and the dawn of a new era for Greece. Four years on, Alexis Tsipras’s once radical party goes to the polls on Sunday as a dead man walking – it’s now a confused political mishmash of leftists, social democrats, conservatives and rightwing populists that defends the very neoliberal policies Syriza once threatened to destroy the eurozone over. The party’s main difference from its rightwing rival, New Democracy, is a laughable persistence in claiming to be a party of the left. Its government record shows greater zeal in implementing the neoliberal programme of the European troika – the consortium of the European commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF – in the years since the 2008 financial crisis than any of its conservative predecessors.

Tsipras goes to the polls on Sunday having already suffered a major setback in the European elections in May. In its first contest since the national election of September 2015, Syriza saw its share of the vote plummet, confirming the party’s slump since its peak four years ago. The party’s own ministers attributed its defeat in May to the unpopularity of austerity and the controversial Prespa agreement, resolving the decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name. Centre-right opponents, however, portray the result as a rejection of what they call Syriza’s populism. Both explanations, however, are inadequate. The painful truth about Syriza is that it has ruled Greece for four years as a party suffering from identity loss and diminishing credibility.

Its record in government has been so full of compromises and retreats that it now hovers across the political spectrum like an amorphous haze – a phantom of its old self, without much shape or substance. Tsipras’s cabinet includes ministers who have defected from almost every other party in parliament, even several hard-right populists from the Independent Greeks. Much of this goes back to the summer of 2015, when Tsipras made an astonishing U-turn, accepting the troika’s bailout deal with many strings attached, including austerity until 2060 and revenue from privatisations going to an international fund until 2114. What Syriza fails to grasp, is that, besides the toxic deal itself, the deceitful manner in which it accepted and implemented it caused a deep political and cultural trauma among Greek progressives.

Exit polls from the European elections show that “desire to punish Syriza for its unfulfilled promises” was a key voter sentiment as the pain of austerity lingers. [..] Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “I can tell you how to fail: try to please everybody.” On Sunday Syriza will be crushed because it broke this cardinal rule.

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“When Trump and the Republicans deny climate change, when Pelosi, Pallone, Perez, Biden and Obama join with Trump in sabotaging the Green New Deal or dismissing climate action as too expensive, too dreamy, not practical or too pure — they are all bold-faced liars and frauds.”

The Ruling Class Are Not In Climate Denial, They Are in Control (CP)

The ruling class may be an utter failure but that is not stopping them taking aggressive action on climate change. Their chief concern: maintaining power, control and profits at all costs. The plan is well underway and it sure ain’t the Green New Deal. Just imagine a more extreme version of the world that already exists: where healthcare is rationed; where wealth inequality strangles democracy; where austerity is a weapon of class warfare; where millions die prematurely from toxins in air and water; where war and incarceration is the solution of choice; where people are rounded up in concentration camps; where corporations rule unchallenged; where extreme weather wrecks havoc in an expanding circle of misery. The only new thing about their solution is the stench of fascism that grows ever stronger and more odious.

When Trump and the Republicans deny climate change, when Pelosi, Pallone, Perez, Biden and Obama join with Trump in sabotaging the Green New Deal or dismissing climate action as too expensive, too dreamy, not practical or too pure — they are all bold-faced liars and frauds. The Republicans know full well that their partners in crime — oil companies, bankers and the military brass have known about climate change for decades. And, the corporate Democrats know that these same powerful players they too represent already have a risky plan to deal with climate change. From their shared perspective, even the Democrat’s Green New Deal, despite its weaknesses, must be marginalized since it competes with the establishment’s plans for our future.


To maintain power they need to limit our thinking. The two most important narratives imposed on us are climate change as a “threat to national security” and as a “business opportunity” — the twin rationales for military and corporate power. They want to focus us on how to manage the crisis, profit from it, or adapt to it, instead of opposing it. Once framed in this way the very institutions responsible for climate change can benefit from disaster while hiding their responsibility for creating the crisis. But the military-corporate management of the crisis will undoubtedly follow the same principles that created the crisis: the costs of pollution, adaptation, endless growth and war won’t appear in the corporate ledger.

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UNESCO lists Iraq’s Babylon as World Heritage Site

 

 

 

 

Jul 052019
 


Pablo Picasso Rest 1932

 

US Job Growth Seen Accelerating, Rate Cut Still Expected (R.)
German Industrial Orders Fell Far More Than Expected In May (R.)
Iran Demands Britain Release Oil Tanker Held In Gibraltar (AFP)
Europe Trade Channel With Iran Close To First Deal In Days (R.)
Has Trump Turned an Important Corner? (Luongo)
Mueller Report Gets Trump Tower Meeting Wrong; Promotes Browder Hoax (CN)
Vast Chinese Loans Pose Risks to Developing World (Spiegel)
The End Of Inheritance For The Middle Class (F.)
Electric Cars Will Not Solve Transport Problem (BBC)
Brazil Deforestation Increase Exceeds 88% In June (R.)
From Madagascar to Brazil, Researchers Pick Best Spots To Replant Forests (R.)
Tree Planting ‘Has Mind-Blowing Potential’ To Tackle Climate Crisis (G.)
Europe’s Treatment of Migrants Is Shameful (Spiegel)
82 Migrants Feared Dead After Boat Capsizes Off Tunisia (AlJ)

 

 

No, no fireworks, jets or tanks here.

 

The world of finance has developed a whole new logic.

US Job Growth Seen Accelerating, Rate Cut Still Expected (R.)

U.S. job growth likely rebounded in June, with wage gains expected to pick up, but that would probably not be enough to discourage the Federal Reserve from cutting interest rates this month amid growing evidence the economy is slowing. Lack of concrete progress in resolving an acrimonious trade war between the United States and China was also seen forcing the U.S. central bank’s hand, regardless of a strong employment report from the Labor Department on Friday. The Fed last month signaled it could ease monetary policy as early as July, citing low inflation as well as growing risks to the economy from an escalation in trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last week agreed to a trade truce and a return to talks. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Tuesday talks were heading in the right direction, but it would take time to get the right deal made. The trade fight has undercut business confidence, leading to a downturn in equipment spending and manufacturing. “Given signs of slowing growth and little material progress on the trade war, a rebound in job growth would still leave the Fed on course to cut rates at the July meeting and we expect a 25 basis points cut,” said Sam Bullard, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 160,000 jobs last month after rising by only 75,000 in May, according to a Reuters survey of economists. May marked the second time this year that job gains dropped below 100,000. Reports on Wednesday showed private employers hired far fewer-than-expected workers last month and a measure of services industries employment declined.

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When Germany has a problem, the entire EU does.

German Industrial Orders Fell Far More Than Expected In May (R.)

German industrial orders fell far more than expected in May, and the Economy Ministry warned on Friday that this sector of Europe’s largest economy was likely to remain weak in the coming months. Contracts for ‘Made in Germany’ goods were down by 2.2% on the month after rising slightly in March and April, data from the Economy Ministry showed. The reading undershot the Reuters consensus forecast for a 0.1% decline. “The great order book deflation continues,” ING economist Carsten Brzeski said. Devastating new orders data just undermined any hopes for an industrial rebound.”


Other recent data have painted a gloomy picture of the sector too, with engineering orders falling and activity in the manufacturing sector contracting. In a sign that the economic slowdown is beginning to bite, a survey by the Ifo institute published on Thursday showed German manufacturers expect to make more use of “Kurzarbeit” — a short-hours facility aimed at avoiding mass lay-offs. “What misery!” VP Bank economist Thomas Gitzel said after the orders data was published. “Given the significant decline in incoming orders, industrial production will remain extremely weak in the second half of the year and that increases the risk of recession for the German economy.”

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It didn’t even dock, it just slowed down to take on provisions. In waters that EU member Spain says are Spanish.

Iran Demands Britain Release Oil Tanker Held In Gibraltar (AFP)

Iran demanded Friday that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. A senior foreign ministry official “described the UK move as unacceptable” in a meeting with British ambassador Rob Macaire, who had been summoned to hear a formal protest, the ministry said in a statement. He “called for the immediate release of the oil tanker, given that it has been seized at the request of the US, based on the information currently available”, the statement added. Authorities in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory on Spain’s southern tip at the western entrance to the Mediterranean, said they suspected the tanker was carrying crude to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.


The detention of the 330-metre (1,000-feet) Grace 1 vessel comes at a sensitive time in Iran-EU ties as the bloc mulls how to respond to Tehran announcing it is poised to breach the uranium enrichment limit it agreed to in a troubled 2015 nuclear deal. The Grace 1 tanker was halted in the early hours of Thursday by police and customs agencies in Gibraltar, aided by a detachment of British Royal Marines. The ship was detained 2.5 miles (four kilometres) south of Gibraltar in what it considers British waters, although Spain, which lays claim to the territory, says they are Spanish. It was boarded when it slowed down in a designated area used by shipping agencies to ferry goods to vessels.

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So how do we link the seized Iran tanker to the new Instex trade channel set up to bypass the US?

Europe Trade Channel With Iran Close To First Deal In Days (R.)

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday he hoped a special trade channel set up with Iran would complete a first, limited transaction in the coming days. Set up by France, Britain and Germany, Instex is a barter trade mechanism that aims to avoid direct financial transfers by offsetting balances between importers and exporters on the European side. The mechanism is aimed at making it possible for trade between European Union members and Iran to continue in the face of stiff U.S sanctions since Washington quit a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers last year.


Those sanctions have effectively suffocated Iran’s economy by clamping down on its oil sales. “We want Instex to enter into force in a few days, and I hope that we will be able to operate in a few days. I hope the first transaction will be completed in a few days,” Le Maire told journalists at a meeting in Poland. “The first transaction will be a limited one, but this is a starting point and we expect Instex to be an efficient tool,” Le Maire added. [..] France’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Instex would become operational based on Iran’s “full compliance with its JCPOA (Iran deal) commitments.” “We aren’t going to press the yes button if there are doubts about its compliance,” said one European diplomat.

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Bolton in Mongolia, Tucker Carlson in Air Force One.

Has Trump Turned an Important Corner? (Luongo)

Donald Trump’s surprise visit to North Korea last week was impressive. It was a bold first step in repairing a foreign policy in tatters after more than a year of assaults by his neoconservative boobsie-twins Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton. Trump took Kim at his word who said after talks broke down thanks to Bolton and Pompeo in Hanoi that no dialogue would be possible if Bolton was involved. So, Trump sent Bolton to Mongolia. Then he went to Korea and did the one thing he had to do to begin unraveling the mess he’d gotten himself into. Last week I asked where does Trump go after his confrontation with Iran? Trump answered that question in dramatic fashion. And he deserves a lot of credit for it.

But what does this mean in the wider context? It’s a good first step but we’ve seen this game from him before, making bold moves only to be reined in by his staff. I would say that the optics of sending Bolton to Mongolia are pretty clear. Bolton’s time in the White House is nearly over. This is also a strong signal to Iran that Trump trying to back down without actually saying that. The drone incident was intended to box Trump into a path to war with Iran after the tanker attack in the Gulf of Oman two weeks prior. That was likely not the Iranians but the Saudis and/or MEK, again trying to get Trump to fly off the handle, since he’s easily manipulated into emotional acts. But he was talked out of it at the last minute, presumably by Tucker Carlson, who was with him on Air Force One when Trump went to meet Kim.

[..] A lot has changed in the past four months since the end of the Mueller investigation. And the signs are all there that Trump is feeling a lot more secure both politically and financially that would allow him to not only make bold first moves but follow through on them. Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed down on border wall funding. She’s ruled out impeachment as a bad political tactic. And she’s under fire from the hard-core Progressives in the party. This makes them weak. So, from a re-election standpoint Trump looks very secure, especially after the “I’m more woke than you” fest that was the first debate among DNC candidates. We’re looking at a mirror of 2016 with the Republicans that Trump beat. A wide and shallow pool of less than capable candidates who will all eat each other alive while he rides to re-election.

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“On the issue of Browder, the Magnitsky story and the essence of the Trump Tower meeting, the Mueller Report is a deception intended to keep the myth of collusion in the air while dismissing that any collusion took place.”

Mueller Report Gets Trump Tower Meeting Wrong; Promotes Browder Hoax (CN)

The Mueller report thus focuses instead on “efforts to prevent disclosure of information about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians and senior campaign officials.” But the report on this topic is deceptive. Ironically, as it attacks Donald Trump and top campaign officials for lying, the report itself lies about the issue the meeting addressed. It wasn’t to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton, which the Russian lawyer did not have and never produced. That was a ploy by Robert Goldstone, a British music publicist whose job is to get what his clients want, in this case, a meeting. So, recklessly, he invented the idea of Clinton dirt as a bait-and-switch to get Trump’s people to come to it. He got the lawyer the meeting for her to lobby a potentially incoming administration against the Magnitsky Act, which is why she was in the United States in the first place.

The Magnitsky Act is a 2012 U.S. law that was promoted by William Browder, an American-born British citizen and hedge fund investor, who claimed his “lawyer” Sergei Magnitsky had been imprisoned and murdered because he uncovered a scheme by Russian officials to steal $230 million from the Russian Treasury. It sanctioned Russians he said were involved or benefitted from Magnitsky’s death. It has since been used by the U.S. to put sanctions on other Russians and nationals from other countries.

The lawyer lobbying against the act, Natalia Veselnitskaya, told Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort that Browder’s story was fake, a smokescreen to block the Russians from going after him for multi-millions in tax evasion. She argued the Magnitsky Act was built on this fraud. Manafort’s notes, included in the Mueller Report, trace what she said.

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At the heart of Belt and Road is Chinese overcapacity.

Vast Chinese Loans Pose Risks to Developing World (Spiegel)

The future rail link cuts its way through the jungles of Laos for over 400 kilometers. Soon, trains will be rolling through — over bridges, through tunnels and across dams built just for the line, which runs from the Chinese border in the north to the Laotian capital of Vientiane on the Mekong River. After five years of construction, the line is set to go into service in 2021. And the Chinese head of one of the sections has no doubt that it will be finished on time. “Our office alone employs 4,000 workers,” he says. There is also no lack of money: The Chinese government in Beijing has earmarked around 6 billion dollars for the project and has recently become both Laos’s largest creditor and most significant provider of development aid.

China, after all, isn’t just directly financing 70 percent of the new train lain, it is also building dams, schools, military hospitals and has even launched a communications satellite into space for the country. In April, Beijing loaned Laos another 40 million dollars for road construction — a credit that was provided through the multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank based in Beijing, a financial institution that China established as an alternative to Western development banks. If Hong Kong is included, China isn’t just the largest creditor in Laos, but in the entire world. Beijing’s foreign loans dominate global markets almost to the same degree as its toys, smartphones and electric scooters do.

From Kenya to Montenegro, from Ecuador to Djibouti, roads, dams and power plants are being built with billions in loans from Beijing. And all of those countries will have to pay back those loans in the years to come. With interest. The flood of capital from China helped prevent the global economy from plunging into depression following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing financial crisis. But it isn’t without controversy. For some, the billions of dollars from China are a welcome contribution to helping many underdeveloped regions in Asia and Africa expand infrastructure. For others, the loans from Beijing have forced half the world into economic and political dependency on Beijing.

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What is left of Americans’ wealth dies by a thousand cuts. A predator society.

The End Of Inheritance For The Middle Class (F.)

Increasingly, the old family homestead is not being passed down to the family when the parents die. Older parents are taking advantage of reverse mortgages to pay off credit cards and to escape poverty and debt. This reduces equity in the home and often leads to foreclosure, leaving traditional heirs with nothing but memories. Not only are reverse mortgage companies feasting upon the assets of older Americans; so too are health insurers and prescription drug companies. Moreover, seniors on a fixed income were adversely affected by President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which raised the threshold on medical expense tax deductions and placed a cap of $10,000 on the itemized deductibility of state and local taxes.

America seems to be in the midst of a paradigm shift. Wealth transfer is skipping the deceased’s traditional heirs and going directly into the pockets of mortgage companies, banks, international corporations and the government. An alarming percentage of older Americans have insufficient money to cover basic necessities. According to the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, one-third of senior households have no money left over each month or are in debt after meeting essential expenses. This makes them vulnerable to the lure of reverse mortgages.

Reverse mortgages allow homeowners age 62 and above to withdraw a portion of their home’s equity to help them pay expenses in retirement. The debt usually comes due when the borrower dies and is repaid through the sale of the home. However, borrowers can face foreclosure while living if they fall behind on property taxes or homeowner’s insurance.

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That a report must be written on this is what drives me to despair.

Electric Cars Will Not Solve Transport Problem (BBC)

Car use will still need to be curbed even when all vehicles are powered by clean electricity, a report has said. It warns that electrifying cars will not address traffic jams, urban sprawl and wasted space for parking. The Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) report calls on the government to devise a strategy allowing people to have a good standard of living without needing a car. The government said it was spending £2bn to promote walking and cycling. It also says it plans to spend £50bn on improving roads. However, critics accuse the government of not having a serious plan to deal with the social problems associated with mass car ownership.


CREDS is an academic consortium of more than 80 academics across the UK. “Car use is a massive blind spot on government policy,” Prof Jillian Anable, one of the authors of the report, said. She added: “For many years ministers have adopted the principle of trying to meet demand by increasing road space. “They need to reduce demand instead.” The authors say there will always be people who depend on cars, especially in the countryside or suburbs. But, they point out that many young people in cities are choosing not to buy cars. Instead they are using public transport, walking, cycling, taking minicabs and hiring cars when they are needed.

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Imagine all the species that vanish with the trees.

Brazil Deforestation Increase Exceeds 88% In June (R.)

Deforestation in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon rainforest soared more than 88% in June compared with the same month a year ago, the second consecutive month of rising forest destruction under new President Jair Bolsonaro, who has called for development of the region. According to data from Brazil’s space research agency, deforestation in the world’s largest tropical rainforest totaled 920 square km (355 square miles). The data showing an 88.4% deforestation increase is preliminary but indicates the official annual figure, based on more detailed imaging and measured for the 12 months to the end of July, is well on track to surpass last year’s figure.


In the first 11 months, deforestation already has reached 4,565 square km (1,762 square miles), a 15 percent increase over the same period in the previous year. That is an area larger than the U.S. state of Rhode Island. Environmentalists have warned that Bolsonaro’s strong remarks calling for the development of the Amazon and criticizing the country’s environmental enforcement agency Ibama for handing out too many fines would embolden loggers and ranchers seeking to profit from deforestation. “Bolsonaro has aggravated the situation. … He has made a strong rhetorical attack,” said Paulo Barreto, a researcher at Brazilian nongovernment organization Imazon.

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“..more than half of the tropical forests in the world are gone – most of that in the last 50 years..”

From Madagascar to Brazil, Researchers Pick Best Spots To Replant Forests (R.)

Researchers have identified swathes of lost tropical rainforests as the best places to replant trees, hoping to redress some of the damage done by deforestation and limit climate change. A four-year study used high-resolution satellite imagery to pinpoint more than 100 million denuded hectares (247 million acres) – from South Sudan to Brazil and India – that would deliver good results if reforested. “Globally, more than half of the tropical forests in the world are gone – most of that in the last 50 years,” said Robin Chazdon, a professor at the University of Connecticut and co-author of the study published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.


“These forests provide a huge amount of functioning and services for our planet and people that have gone unappreciated,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The tropics lost 12 million hectares of tree cover in 2018, the fourth-highest annual loss since records began in 2001, according to forest monitoring service Global Forest Watch. Of greatest concern, it said, was the disappearance of 3.6 million hectares of old-growth rainforest, an area the size of Belgium, much due to fires, land-clearing for farms and mining. Environmentalists say protecting existing forests and restoring damaged ones prevents flooding, stores carbon, limits climate change and protects biodiversity.

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Strong contender for stupidest headline.

Tree Planting ‘Has Mind-Blowing Potential’ To Tackle Climate Crisis (G.)

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas. As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”. The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined.


Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy. The scientists specifically excluded all fields used to grow crops and urban areas from their analysis. But they did include grazing land, on which the researchers say a few trees can also benefit sheep and cattle. “This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one,” said Prof Tom Crowther at the Swiss university ETH Zürich, who led the research. “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”

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“This year alone, just under 600 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean, a figure that is far greater than the number who have died along the U.S.-Mexican border.”

Europe’s Treatment of Migrants Is Shameful (Spiegel)

Today’s migration policies in the European Union are even more brutal than those pursued by Donald Trump. It may be true that the Europe doesn’t have border officials separating children from their parents, but the Europeans have entered into pacts with Libyan militias that operate horrific camps where torture and rape are commonplace, and they work together with the so-called Libyan coast guard, which is little more than a militia at sea. Sea rescue operations in the Mediterranean have practically been shut down, and Italian hardliner Matteo Salvini is no longer allowing private rescue ships to come ashore in the country.

The aim of all of this is clear: The crossing to Europe should be made more dangerous as a way of discouraging migrants from attempting it. And it seems to have worked: Fewer boats are coming. But more of those who try are dying. This year alone, just under 600 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean, a figure that is far greater than the number who have died along the U.S.-Mexican border. The horrors of the EU’s migration policies aren’t playing out in front of the cameras — they are unfolding in North Africa and on the high seas. There was one exception last week: The captain of a ship with the German rescue organization Sea Watch, Carola Rackete, steered her ship to Lampedusa because people on board had already spent two weeks crammed together on deck and she felt the situation was no longer tenable. The captain was promptly arrested upon the vessel’s arrival in Italy. She was released by an Italian court on Tuesday.

Despite the suffering, the situation in the Mediterranean Sea is quite convenient for countries in northern Europe, while Italian Interior Minister Salvini is playing the role of brutal doorman and scapegoat. The numbers of refugees are stable, but the status quo also means that the issue of migration isn’t being solved. And meanwhile, the EU is selling its soul.

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Time to normalize Libya.

82 Migrants Feared Dead After Boat Capsizes Off Tunisia (AlJ)

A boat carrying at least 86 refugees and migrants has capsized off the coast of Tunisia with most feared drowned. Some of the four initial survivors told the Tunisian coastguard on Thursday the boat sank off the town of Zarzis, Tunisian Red Crescent official Mongi Slim told Reuters news agency. Tunisian fishermen came across the sinking boat and were able to pull four survivors out on Wednesday night, but could not find any of the other passengers, said Lorena Lando, head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Tunisia.


Eighty-two people remain missing in the incident, which comes a day after a deadly air attack on a Libyan detention centre killed at least 44 migrants. Al Jazeera’s Sarah Khairat, reporting from a refugee camp in Zarzis where the survivors were brought, said the vessel was heading from the west of Libya to Europe when it capsized. The four survivors were all men – three from Mali and one from the Ivory Coast. The Ivory Coast national later died and two of the others are in hospital. Slim told dpa news agency the boat set sail from Libya on Monday. Earlier this week, another boat from Libya made it to the Tunisian port of Sfax with 65 people on board.

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