Mar 092019
 


Juan Gris Portrait of Pablo Picasso 1912

 

World’s Biggest Debt Slaves: Americans Wimp Out in 11th Place (WS)
Chelsea Manning Jailed For Refusing To Testify About Wikileaks (ZH)
On Trump’s Ties To Russia, Americans Have Made Up Their Minds – Poll (R.)
Trump’s Private Talks With Putin May Contain Clues To His Russia Romance (G.)
Ilhan Omar Criticizes Obama And Past Presidents’ ‘Really Bad Policies’ (MW)
EU’s Barnier Sets May On Course For Brexit Defeat (G.)
Corbyn Tells May Second Defeat For Her Deal Is ‘The End Of The Road’ (Ind.)
Greenpeace Co-Founder Thrashes Global Warming ‘Brainwashing’ Campaign (RT)
Italy’s Government On Verge Of Collapse Over A Train (ZH)
Dutch Pharmacies Join Backlash At Expensive Drugs By Making Their Own (R.)
A Place of Your Own (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

Wolf Richter has the entire top-11. I picked a few. Note: this is debt-to-GDP. For debt-to-disposable income, graphs are different. Note 2: Switzerland is always an odd one out because of the role of its banking system.

World’s Biggest Debt Slaves: Americans Wimp Out in 11th Place (WS)

US household debt inched down to 76.4% of GDP in the third quarter 2018, according to the newest batch of global data from the Bank for International Settlements. This was the lowest level since 2002. It put Americans in the inexplicably wimpy, and for the finance sector, insufferable 11th place:

Canadian households have long been making headlines with their top-notch borrowing binge to support their top-notch housing bubble. By other debt measures, such as debt-to-disposable income, Canadian and Australian households have been battling over first place for years. In the debt-to-GDP measure, Canadian households are in a still respectable 6th place: This debt will pose some issues as the majestic housing bubbles in top metros are now deflating:

Households in the Netherlands were track to be undisputed king of the hill, with a debt-to-GDP ratio nearing 120%, in part because GDP plunged during the Financial Crisis, which caused the spike in the debt-to-GDP ratio and the collapse of some banks. During the subsequent euro debt crisis, GDP declined again. But since then, the economy has grown, and households have curtailed their borrowing, edging away from the brink, and in the process getting demoted to 4th place:

Australian households have been caught up in one of the biggest housing bubbles in the world, financed by debt. The household-debt-to-GDP ratio more than doubled between 1997 and 2016. Now that the housing bubble is deflating at an astounding pace, the debt ratio has begun to tick down, but remains in second place:

[..] the #1 debt slaves in the world: Swiss households. This is one of the reasons interest-rate repression remains the rule in Switzerland. The Swiss National Bank has imposed its negative interest rate policy on the country for years, and there have been stories of mortgages with 0% and even negative interest rates. There is simply too much household debt, and no one wants to see it blow up. Hence the negative interest rate policy. But this policy encourages more household borrowing, and the cycle will continue until it can’t:

China is in a category of its own. And so the chart has a different scale. The household-debt-to-GDP ratio is still in the German neighborhood of just above 50%, but it has quintupled in the 12 years since the BIS data began in 2006. The idea that Chinese households are paying cash to sustain their housing bubble or to buy cars has become a bad joke: Chinese consumers have discovered debt, and they are eagerly turning into debt slaves:

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Daniel Ellsberg: “Chelsea Manning is again acting heroically in the name of press freedom, and it’s a travesty that she has been sent back to jail for refusing to testify to a grand jury. An investigation into WikiLeaks for publishing is a grave threat to all journalists’ rights, and Chelsea is doing us all a service for fighting it. She has already been tortured, spent years in jail, and has suffered more than enough. She should be released immediately.”

Chelsea Manning Jailed For Refusing To Testify About Wikileaks (ZH)

Following a dramatic hearing at a federal district court in Eastern Virginia, activist and former military prisoner Chelsea Manning was jailed by a judge for contempt of court after refusing to testify to a grand jury empaneled in the government’s long running criminal investigation into Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. The judge, the Hon. Claude H. Hilton, ruled that Manning must remain in civil detention until she testifies, her lawyer Moira Meltzer-Cohen told the New York Times. Manning was subpoeaned in January to testify before the jury. But she vowed not to cooperate even though prosecutors offered immunity for her testimony. “In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles,” she said on Thursday. “I will exhaust every legal remedy available. My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.”

Manning’s jailing offers another glimpse into the government’s secretive investigation into Wikileaks, which was started under the Obama Administration and picked up by the Trump Administration. Manning served seven years in prison for leaking the infamous “collateral murder” tape to Wikileaks, by far the longest prison term ever served for leaking government secrets. Manning, who transitioned to a woman during her time in prison, twice tried to commit suicide before she was pardoned by Obama. Late last year, an accidental leak of some information in the case revealed that Assange had been charged under seal last summer. And while Manning has decided to refuse to cooperate, a Wikileaks volunteer recently agreed to testify against Assange in exchange for immunity. The grand jury has been investigating Assange for nine years.

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This is the worst condemnation of US media to date. And I betcha, no-one sees it that way. Whatever Mueller says, minds are made up. By what then? Can only be unproven accusations.

And it has similarities with the Chelsea Manning disaster: When will the first Republican refuse to testify before Nadler’s committee? In both cases people are looking to confirm pre-established narratives, if need be by force.

On Trump’s Ties To Russia, Americans Have Made Up Their Minds – Poll (R.)

Only a small number of Americans have not yet made up their minds about whether Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign coordinated with Russian officials, according to new Reuters/Ipsos polling, which also showed deep divisions in the United States in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Eight out of 10 Americans decided almost immediately about Trump campaign ties to Moscow and only about two in 10 appear to be undecided, the opinion poll released on Friday showed. About half of Americans believe President Trump tried to stop federal investigations into his campaign, the survey found. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to soon wrap up his investigation into U.S. allegations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. political process as well as the Trump campaign links and possible obstruction of justice.

Moscow and Trump deny the allegations. Barring bombshell revelations, the survey results suggest the investigation’s influence on voters in the 2020 campaign may already have run its course. The Reuters/Ipsos poll has tracked public opinion of the investigation since Mueller was appointed in May 2017 following Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey, gathering responses from more than 72,000 adults. Public opinion appears to have hardened early, changing little over the past two years despite a string of highly publicized criminal charges against people associated with the Trump campaign. Every time respondents were asked about the investigation, about 8 in 10 Democrats said they thought the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, while 7 in 10 Republicans said they did not.

With so few voters left undecided, the report expected from Mueller looks unlikely to serve as a significant voter turnout tool for Republicans or Democrats in November 2020 and could backfire on Democrats if they overplay it. “We keep waiting for something to happen during the Trump era to vastly change the way people view him,” said Kyle Kondik, a non-partisan analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “Maybe at this point there just aren’t many minds left to change.”

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The media can’t let go of Russiagate, no matter what Mueller says, it would leave them empty handed. So they play into the fact that Americans have their minds made up anyway. Scary when you think about it.

Trump’s Private Talks With Putin May Contain Clues To His Russia Romance (G.)

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as president he has met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, five times. The details of their conversations remain unknown to the public, and in most cases even to senior administration officials. Democrats in Congress are now demanding more details of communications between the two leaders. Secrecy around such meetings, they say, raises fresh questions about the nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin at a time when his ties to Russia are the subject of several investigations. The meetings with Putin are not the only subject of such Democratic demands. House leaders left little room for doubt this week that they will utilize their newly minted majority to cast a wide net around the president, his family and their businesses.

The judiciary committee issued document requests to 81 individuals and entities, seeking information on everything from contacts between Trump aides and Moscow to hush money payments to women and possible obstruction of justice. [..] Democrats now say Trump’s reportedly forceful attempts to conceal his communications with Putin raise questions about his motivations in pursuing closer relations with a regime largely regarded as a primary adversary. In a joint letter this week, the chairs of the House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees raised “profound national security, counterintelligence and foreign policy concerns, especially in light of Russia’s ongoing active measures campaign to improperly influence American elections.

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Discussions America should have but refuses. The Dem old guard wants things to stay as they were/are. But the party must change in radical ways.

Ilhan Omar Criticizes Obama And Past Presidents’ ‘Really Bad Policies’ (MW)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) says former President Barack Obama’s promise of “hope and change” was just a mirage in a Politico interview that hit on Friday. The magazine profile explains that when she ran for office in 2016, she was fed up with the Democratic Party — not so much Trumpism or politics in general. Omar also reminded the interviewer that there was “caging of kids” at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Obama administration. (Obama was called the “deporter-in-chief” by immigrant rights advocates for the record number of undocumented immigrants deported during his presidency; ICE deportations peaked at 409,849 in 2012. But it dropped to almost half of that by 2017.) mAnd she called out the “droning of countries around the world” under Obama. A 2015 report claimed that nearly 90% of people killed in recent drone strikes in the Middle East “were not the intended targets.”

The interview dropped the day after the House passed a resolution condemning bigotry that included anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination, which was a response to comments made by Omar, who accused people of having allegiances to foreign countries. (It did not mention Omar by name, however.) Her comments to Politico suggest she doesn’t mind being at the center of controversy. “As much as other people are uncomfortable, I’m excited about the change in tone that has taken place that is extremely positive … and my ability, I think, to agitate our foreign policy discussions in a way that many of my colleagues who have been anti-intervention, antiwar have been unable to do in the past,” she said. “So, I’m OK with taking the blows if it means it will ignite conversations that no one was willing to have before.”

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Is the Guardian finally standing up for May? Bit late, isn’t it?

EU’s Barnier Sets May On Course For Brexit Defeat (G.)

Theresa May appears set for a second humiliating defeat when she brings her Brexit deal back to parliament next week, after the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, rebuffed her pleas for last-minute concessions. The prime minister urged MPs to “get it done” and back her deal, in an impassioned speech at a dockside warehouse in the leave-voting town of Grimsby. A vote against the deal would mean “not completing Brexit and getting on with all the other important issues people care about, just yet more months and years arguing”, May told MPs. “If we go down that road we might never leave the EU at all.”

Addressing workers from Ørsted, a Danish energy and wind turbine firm, May also urged the EU to make new concessions over the Irish backstop – the issue that caused many of her MPs to vote against the deal the first time – before last-ditch talks in Brussels this weekend. The EU “has to make a choice too”, the prime minister said. “We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote. “European leaders tell me they worry that time is running out and that we only have one chance to get it right. My message to them is: now is the moment for us to act.”

But Barnier immediately appeared to rebuff the prime minister, by responding with an offer of reverting to his original plan, the Northern Ireland-only backstop, which May repeatedly said no prime minister could accept, because it risked creating a border in the Irish Sea. The EU’s chief negotiator said in a series of tweets that the EU was committed “to give the UK the option to exit the single customs territory unilaterally, while the other elements of the backstop must be maintained to avoid a hard border. [The] UK will not be forced into a customs union against its will.” The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, immediately replied: “With a very real deadline looming, now is not the time to rerun old arguments. The UK has put forward clear new proposals. We now need to agree a balanced solution that can work for both sides.”

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If a tree falls in a forest….

Corbyn Tells May Second Defeat For Her Deal Is ‘The End Of The Road’ (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has warned Theresa May not to make a third attempt to ram through her Brexit deal if it crashes to its expected defeat next week, saying it must be “the end of the road”. The prime minister has not ruled out a third “meaningful vote” if MPs reject her agreement next week – even with the scheduled exit day from the EU just three weeks away. But, speaking to Labour activists in Scotland, Mr Corbyn said Ms May must accept that defeat on Tuesday would “represent an unprecedented failure in British political history”. “Having already failed once to get her deal through, I want to make it clear to the prime minister if she fails again it will be the end of the road for her deal,” the Labour leader said.

“There is no coming back from it. There can be no more playing for time.” Mr Corbyn again insisted Labour’s softer Brexit proposals could secure agreement both at Westminster and in Brussels, following his “discussions with Michel Barnier” [the EU negotiator]. However, he also insisted Labour was not “obsessed” by Brexit like other parties – pointing to poverty and climate change as the issues that really matter. “Turn on the news at the moment and you’ll hear endlessly about constitutional issues. Brexit. Independence. It borders on the obsessive,” he told a conference in Dundee. “You don’t hear so much about the children arriving hungry to school or how the teachers at one nursery have had to arrange for Tesco and Greggs to donate their leftovers so they can feed the kids.”

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I think Moore has at least a partial burden of proof here. Just shouting out stuff isn’t good enough at this stage. Suggesting that research is good only if it’s paid by General Electric or Dupont or 3M is quite the stretch. Even if politics and business are indeed eyeing huge profits off of going green and off people’s ignorance about what that means.

Greenpeace Co-Founder Thrashes Global Warming ‘Brainwashing’ Campaign (RT)

Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore had harsh words for the modern environmental movement, calling global warming “the greatest scam in history” and denouncing the use of “fear and guilt” to push the message. “The climate catastrophe is strictly a fear campaign – well, fear and guilt,” Moore told Breitbart radio host Rebecca Mansour. “You’re afraid you’re killing your children because you’re driving them in your SUV and emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and you feel guilty for doing that. There’s no stronger motivation than those two.” “This abomination that is occurring today in the climate issue is the biggest threat to the enlightenment that has occurred since Galileo.”

“Nothing else comes close,” Moore insisted, likening the contemporary environmental movement to “a toxic mix of ideology, of politics and religion.” “CO2 is the food for life! It’s not pollution,” the would-be heretic declared, claiming that the use of fossil fuels had actually “saved life from an early demise” because CO2 had been declining since the last ice age, with barely enough for the earth’s plant life to sustain itself, until humanity stepped into the breach during the Industrial Revolution. Moore, who founded the pioneering environmental activist group almost 50 years ago to protest nuclear war, met with an outpouring of support from conservatives and weary Democrats alike, after tweeting a scathing rebuke earlier this week to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose quixotic Green New Deal has become the standard-bearer of the 21st century environmental movement.

“And so you’ve got the green movement creating stories that instill fear in the public. You’ve got the media echo chamber — fake news — repeating it over and over and over again to everybody that they’re killing their children, and then you’ve got the green politicians who are buying scientists with government money to produce fear for them in the form of scientific-looking materials, and then you’ve got the green businesses, the rent-seekers and the crony capitalists who are taking advantage of massive subsidies, huge tax write-offs, and government mandates requiring their technologies to make a fortune on this, and then of course you’ve got the scientists who are willingly, they’re basically hooked on government grants.

When they talk about the 99 percent consensus [among scientists] on climate change, that’s a completely ridiculous and false numbers, but most of the scientists — put it in quotes, scientists — who are pushing this catastrophic theory are getting paid by public money. They are not being paid by General Electric or Dupont or 3M to do this research, where private companies expect to get something useful from their research that might produce a better product and make them a profit in the end because people want it — build a better mousetrap type of idea — but most of what these so-called scientists are doing is simply producing more fear so that politicians can use it control people’s mind and get their votes because some of the people are convinced, ‘Oh, this politician can save my kid from certain doom.’

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The collapse may happen soon, but likely not because of an old topic like this.

Italy’s Government On Verge Of Collapse Over A Train (ZH)

With the Italian government seemingly on the verge of collapse every few months, and with tensions between the two parties in the ruling coalition – Five Star and the League, especially as the former has been sliding in the polls at the expense of the latter’s rising popularity – escalating in recent weeks, it was only a matter of time before Italian bondholders had a PTSD flashback to May 2018 when the populist government first stormed on the stage, sending Italian bonds plunging. All that was missing was a catalyst. Said catalyst emerged as a lingering dispute within Italy’s ruling coalition over the future of a train, or technically a high-speed rail link with France, escalated suddenly on Thursday, once again raising the risk of a government collapse, with the 5-Star chief accusing his partner of acting irresponsibly.

The Alpine rail line has been backed by the ruling League party but is fiercely opposed by its coalition partner, the 5-Star Movement, which argues Italy’s share of the funding would be better spent upgrading existing roads and bridges. And after League leader, the outspoken Matteo Salvini who continues to enjoy rising popularity with every new poll, said in an evening television interview he would not back down and his party would “never sign” a decree to block the project, 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio accused him of threatening to bring down the government.

While the tensions between Di Maio and Salvini were for the most part contained before closed doors, the animosity between the two “equal” vice premiers erupted in public when Di Maio said in a statement that Salvini “will bear the responsibility before millions of Italians” adding that he considers “this to be irresponsible behavior” adding that he was “stunned by the threat of a government crisis” coming from Salvini. The TAV project (Treno Alta Velocita) is a joint venture between the Italian and French states to link the cities of Turin and Lyon with a 58-km (36-mile) tunnel through the Alps on which work has already begun. According to Reuters, the EU has pledged to fund up to 40 percent of costs, Italy up to 35 percent and France up to 25 percent.

Earlier on Thursday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that recently updated traffic projections for the line warranted a review of the project’s long-term viability and, if necessary, a renegotiation of the way the funding is split. Conte told reporters he had strong personal doubts about the validity of the venture and he would take responsibility for a final decision based on a cost-benefit analysis already carried out by the government. That analysis, commissioned by Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, a 5-Star politician, found the TAV was a waste of public money, estimating the economic return would be a negative balance of $7.9-$8.8 billion. Conte, who is technically not a member of either party but is closer to 5-Star, called the funding of the TAV “iniquitous” and said he would speak to France and the EU “to share our doubts and perplexities.”

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Like the part where Big Pharma gets the big subsidies.

Dutch Pharmacies Join Backlash At Expensive Drugs By Making Their Own (R.)

In a radiation-proof room at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Emar Thomasa sits behind shielded glass as he carefully measures and mixes lutetium octreotate, an intravenous treatment for certain types of cancer. The Dutch hospital has been offering it to patients for more than a decade at 16,000 euros ($18,000) for one course of treatments. Drug firm Novartis, which in 2018 acquired rights to sell it in Europe, is asking more than five times that for its proprietary version, Lutathera. Thomasa is part of a protest against high drug prices launched by an unlikely group of rebels: Dutch pharmacies.

Three – Erasmus, Amsterdam’s University Medical Center (UMC) and the Transvaal Pharmacy in The Hague – have vowed to bypass drug company products and make treatments for a handful of rare diseases themselves, exercising their right to “compound” medicines. The Dutch market is small, with only hundreds of patients for the diseases in question. But the dispute is part of a growing global backlash against high drug prices, from the United States and Canada to Japan, and campaigners said it was being closely watched by health experts elsewhere. “People with rare diseases are dependent on medicines that are so expensive that they can’t afford them, when they could be offered for a much lower price,” said UMC pharmacist Marleen Kemper.

“The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in developing good products, but we think it’s not fair if these firms make big money off these patients.” Compounding is the ancient practice of preparing medicines for individual patients. Pharmacists are trained to compound, though nowadays most medicines are made by industrial producers. Drug companies have raised concerns about the safety of compounded medicines that have not been approved by European regulators. But the specialized compounding pharmacies, which have on-site laboratories, have been backed by the Dutch government as part of efforts to tame rapidly rising medicine costs.

[..] The first two drugs targeted by Dutch pharmacies are Novartis’s Lutathera and a drug called CDCA, registered in Europe by Leadiant. High prices are not unusual for new rare disease drugs, as companies must recoup development costs from a relatively small group of patients. Novartis charges 92,000 euros for a one-off course of four Lutathera injections. But while the drug is innovative, its development costs were relatively small and cannot justify the price tag, said Erasmus MC Chief Executive Ernst Kuipers. Main development costs amounted to about 40 million euros, including 15 million euros in public funding, according to Erasmus – where most of the testing took place – and a review published in the Dutch Journal of Medicine.

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Jim at his best.

A Place of Your Own (Jim Kunstler)

I don’t think you can overstate the damage we’ve done to ourselves in the sheer material arrangement of our national life. A decade ago, I sat in on many zoning board meetings called to approve new WalMarts and other chain-stores around my region of upstate New York and southern Vermont. Inevitably, the companies organized a claque of locals in the meeting hall — itself a depressing, low-ceilinged chamber of cinder blocks and fluorescent lighting — to fill the seats and yell in support of “bargain shopping.” That was some bargain they got. The chain-stores got approved and the Main Streets died, but that wasn’t the end of it. This dynamic also destroyed networks that gave local citizens an economic and social place.

Locally owned business people were the caretakers of the town. They took care of two buildings — their place of business and their home. They sat on library, school, and hospital boards and donated money to running local institutions. They employed people who lived in town and there were consequences for treating them well or badly. There was even a time in this country when local business people wouldn’t dare to put up an insultingly ugly building. A lot of this economic behavior has produced the social perversities of our time. Exterminating an entire class of local merchants has eliminated the heart of the American middle-class and grotesquely concentrated the nation’s wealth among corporate leviathans who comprise one percent of the population.

It also eliminated the place where young people learned how to do business, preparing themselves to try ventures of their own, and to make a place for themselves in the world. What is your place now? A cubicle in the marketing department of Old Navy? An aisle in the Home Depot? A desk in the Diversity and Inclusion office of some State University, pushing to sort the student population into racial and sexual categories because all other ways of belonging in society are gone? Or do you occupy ten square feet of sidewalk with a tarp and a shopping cart? None of those places are liable to furnish a personal sense that life is worth living.

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Mar 072019
 


Edward Hopper Le Bistro or The Wine Shop 1909

 

US Credit Card Debt Rises to Record $870 Billion (ET)
Fed Scraps ‘Qualitative’ Test For US Banks In 2019 Stress Tests (R.)
Beware The ‘Japanification’ Of Europe – ING Economists (MW)
Huawei Hits Back, Sues America, Claims US Hacked Its Servers (Age)
Nadler’s ‘Obstruction’ Quest (WSJ Ed.)
Michael Cohen Asked His Former Lawyer To Seek Pardon From Trump (WSJ)
Democrats Bar Fox From Hosting Primary Candidate Debates (AFP)
EU Urges UK To Offer ‘Acceptable’ Brexit Plan (BBC)
Brexit Meaningful Vote Will Go Ahead, Says No 10 (G.)
Monthly Income Lasts Just 19 Days For Over Half of Greek Households (K.)
Italy’s Welfare Revolution Kicks Off As ‘Citizens’ Income’ Goes Live (R.)
Red Wolf: The Struggle To Save One Of The Rarest Animals On Earth (G.)
China Prosecutes 11 People In $119 Million Totoaba Fish Bust (AFP)
Microplastics Found ‘Absolutely Everywhere’ (G.)

 

 

Let’s wind it down in an orderly fashion and call it a day. This is hopeless.

US Credit Card Debt Rises to Record $870 Billion (ET)

Americans expanded their credit card debt by $26 billion in the last quarter of 2018, making it reach $870 billion—a record. “The increase in credit card balances is consistent with seasonal patterns but marks the first time credit card balances re-touched the 2008 peak,” the Federal Reserve Bank of New York stated in a quarterly report (pdf) released Feb. 12. The credit card debt rose for the 24th consecutive quarter; and balances sliding into 90 or more days of delinquency have increased since 2017. Total household debt increased by $32 billion in the last quarter and finished the year at more than $13.5 trillion. The largest chunk of that sum is mortgages at $9.1 trillion—virtually unchanged from the quarter before. Student loans stood at nearly $1.5 trillion and auto loans at almost $1.3 trillion.

Americans hold about 480 million credit cards, which is about 100 million more than in 2010, but still a bit fewer than at the precipice of the 2008 recession. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of growth in the world’s largest economy and is expected to hold strong this year. However, credit inquiries, which are one sign of consumer demand, slipped in the second half of 2018 to the lowest level recorded by the New York Fed. Another signal of weaker demand, the closing of credit cards and other accounts, jumped to its highest level since 2010. [..] The report also showed that Americans have continued to turn away from home equity lines of credit, or HELOC, which can free up funds for other purchases. HELOC balances dropped to $412 billion in the fourth quarter, the lowest level in 14 years.

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And while we’re at it let’s scrap the Fed.

Fed Scraps ‘Qualitative’ Test For US Banks In 2019 Stress Tests (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve said on Wednesday it would no longer flunk banks based on operational or risk management lapses during its annual health check of the country’s domestic banks. The “qualitative” portion of the 2019 test, however, will still apply to the U.S. subsidiaries of five foreign banks subject to the annual exam. The move, which is a big win for major banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citigroup, forms part of a broader effort by the Fed to overhaul its annual “stress-testing” process, which the industry has long criticized as too onerous and opaque. Since the 2007-09 global financial crisis, the Fed has put the country’s lenders through strict annual tests to see whether they would have enough capital to withstand a major economic downturn.

For the largest lenders, that test also included a so-called “qualitative objection,” that gives the Fed the discretion to fail banks due to risk management or operational failures, even if they have sufficient capital. Most banks that have failed the tests in the past stumbled on the qualitative objection. Banks that receive an objection from the Fed are required to adjust their capital distribution plans. [..] The Fed will still examine domestic banks for operational and risk management problems, but will address them through enforcement actions rather than a public flunking. The U.S. subsidiaries of five foreign lenders – Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, UBS, Barclays and TD Bank – would also still be subject to the qualitative objection.

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And scrap the ECB and BOJ too. Their only goal is to preserve zombies.

BTW, does anyone seriously think it’s not too late yet for Europe? Asking for a friend.

Beware The ‘Japanification’ Of Europe – ING Economists (MW)

The eurozone is beginning to resemble Japan with its low-growth and low-inflation environment, coupled with still very loose monetary policy, according to economists at ING. This raises questions about the European Central Bank’s tool kit and firing power. Interest rates haven’t gone up in either the eurozone or Japan since the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Conversely, the Federal Reserve has raised rates nine times since the crisis years, presumably giving it room to cut them again should the economy need a boost. The Bank of Japan is considered the most hesitant of its peers to normalize monetary policy. And already since the mid-1990s, Japan has been struggling with a high public debt ratio and stubbornly low inflation and growth rates.

None of that bodes well for a hawkish central bank approach. The eurozone looks like it entered a similar trend of late, said ING economists Carsten Brzeski and Inga Fechner, one day ahead of the European Central Bank’s next policy update. “An end to current unconventional monetary policy, i.e. the negative deposit rate and ample liquidity, is not insight and the ECB is expected to do everything it can to avoid an unwarranted tightening of its monetary stance.” “Last year, Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 238%, and since 1994, headline inflation has been negative for almost half of the time. This trend has also emerged in the eurozone in recent years,” said Brzeski and Fechner, pointing at Greece, as well as Spain and Italy, in the aftermath of the European sovereign debt crisis. Though deflationary risks have disappeared in the eurozone, consumer prices haven’t exactly been soaring.

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The power of US intelligence.

Huawei Hits Back, Sues America, Claims US Hacked Its Servers (Age)

Huawei has accused the US of hacking its computers in a defiant press conference where the Chinese telecommunications giant announced it had taken legal action in a Texas court to overturn a US ban. Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping said in China that the US Congress had failed to produce any evidence to justify its ban which prevents US agencies, private companies that deal with US agencies and recipients of US loans or grants from using Huawei’s gear. The Trump Administration has accused Huawei of being a national security risk because it was a tool of the Chinese government. But Guo fired back, saying the US “has hacked our servers and stolen our emails and source code”.

“Despite this, the US has never produced any evidence supporting their allegations that Huawei poses a cyber security threat.” He added: “The US is trying to block us from 5G markets in other countries.” Guo said that a section of the US National Defense Authorisation Act that names Huawei not only damages the company’s reputation but stops Huawei from servicing customers outside the US. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly urged other countries, particularly in Europe, to ban Huawei from 5G if they want to continue to deal with the US. Germany and Britain are due to make decisions this month.

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They’ll simply shift from collusion to -now- obstruction to yet another term. Just as long as it takes.

Nadler’s ‘Obstruction’ Quest (WSJ Ed.)

Well, we’re off on the march to impeachment, as we predicted last year even as Democrats said it wasn’t on their minds. With Chairman Jerry Nadler’s subpoena swarm from House Judiciary this week, and his assertions that President Trump obstructed justice, the articles of impeachment are apparently awaiting only the collection of the readily available details to fill in the blanks. “Do you think the President obstructed justice?” asked ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “Yes, I do,” replied Mr. Nadler. “It’s very clear that the President obstructed justice. It’s very clear—1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt, he tried to—he fired—he tried to protect [Michael] Flynn from being investigated by the FBI. He fired [FBI director Jim] Comey in order to stop the Russian thing, as he told NBC News.”

Credit Mr. Nadler for candor that Democrats didn’t display when they campaigned last year. Then they talked only about holding the President “accountable.” Now they claim they already have enough to impeach Mr. Trump, though as Mr. Nadler admitted Sunday, “you have to persuade enough of the opposition party voters, Trump voters . . . that you’re not just trying to steal the last—to reverse the results of the last election.” That may be harder than he imagines, and not only because of Mr. Nadler’s Freudian slip there of “steal.” Based on the public evidence so far, Mr. Trump hasn’t obstructed justice in any of the examples Mr. Nadler cited. Mr. Nadler wants to turn the President’s exercise of his normal constitutional powers into impeachable offenses.

The case against Mr. Nadler’s obstruction theory has been made in these pages by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and appellate lawyer and our contributor David Rivkin. Attorney General William Barr also made the case in his 2018 memo to the Justice Department when he was still in private life. A President can obstruct justice while in office but only if he is committing a per se illegal offense. That is, if he suborns perjury or destroys evidence, or commits “any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence,” as Mr. Barr put it. Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton committed such acts in Mr. Barr’s view, but Mr. Trump has not as far as we can see.

On the other hand, a President cannot obstruct justice when he takes actions that are consistent with his Article II powers under the Constitution. That includes in particular firing inferior executive-branch officers such as Mr. Comey. Such acts may be politically stupid, but they aren’t obstruction.

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Less than 100% truthful.

Michael Cohen Asked His Former Lawyer To Seek Pardon From Trump (WSJ)

Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for President Donald Trump, directed his attorney last spring to inquire about the possibility of a presidential pardon, weeks after federal agents raided his properties, Cohen’s lawyer said Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s attorney at the time, discussed the possibility of a pardon with lawyers for Trump in the weeks after the Federal Bureau of Investigation in April raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. The president’s lawyers, including Jay Sekulow, Rudy Giuliani and Joanna Hendon, dismissed the idea of a pardon at the time, people familiar with the discussions said.

But at least one of them, Giuliani, left open the possibility that the president could grant Cohen one in the future, they said. In testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week, Cohen said: “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from Mr. Trump.” Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, said Wednesday that in the months after the FBI raid, Cohen was open to a pardon from the president. “During that time period, he directed his attorney to explore possibilities of a pardon at one point with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as other lawyers advising President Trump,” Davis said. He referred to the discussions with the president’s lawyers as the “ongoing ‘dangling’ of a possible pardon.”

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It’s all about money, nothing else.

Democrats Bar Fox From Hosting Primary Candidate Debates (AFP)

The Democratic Party said Wednesday it will not allow Fox News to host any of its primary candidate debates, after published revelations suggested the network is a “propaganda” vehicle for President Donald Trump. National Committee (DNC) chairman Tom Perez said a story in this week’s New Yorker magazine on the White House’s apparently close relationship with the channel prompted the decision. “Just to be clear, Fox News will not serve as a media partner for the 2020 Democratic primary debates,” Perez said on Twitter. “Recent reporting in the New Yorker on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates,” he added in a statement to The Washington Post.

News of the move enraged Trump, who suggested on Twitter he would “do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats” — despite having no authority over Republican debate broadcasting rights. Trump often refers to CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and MSNBC as “fake news.” US presidential debate and primary debate broadcast rights are coveted prizes for American media outlets. The events traditionally draw broad viewership, and the series of debates beginning this year – aimed at winnowing the Democratic field of over a dozen candidates – will likely have large television audiences.

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I’m thinking if they haven’t so far, what are the odds?

EU Urges UK To Offer ‘Acceptable’ Brexit Plan (BBC)

The UK has been urged to table fresh proposals within the next 48 hours to break the Brexit impasse. EU officials said they would work non-stop over the weekend if “acceptable” ideas were received by Friday to break the deadlock over the Irish backstop. The UK has said “reasonable” proposals to satisfy MPs’ concerns about being tied to EU rules had already been made. It comes as Jeremy Corbyn has met with Tory MPs to discuss possible alternatives to the PM’s deal. The Labour leader held talks with ex-Tory minister Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin, who favour a closer, Norway-style relationship with the EU.

He said he had discussed the so-called “Common Market 2.0 option” – which would see the UK remain in the EU’s single market by staying part of the European Economic Area – but would not commit to backing it at this stage. There have been few visible signs of progress ahead of Parliament’s second vote on the Brexit deal next Tuesday. MPs emphatically rejected the terms of withdrawal negotiated by Theresa May in January. If they do so again, they will get to choose between leaving without a deal or deferring the UK’s exit date from the EU beyond the scheduled 29 March. The PM is seeking legally-enforceable changes to the backstop – an insurance policy designed to prevent physical checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

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Telegraph today: “Brexit deal ‘will be defeated by 100 votes’, ministers believe, after talks in Brussels collapse..”

Brexit Meaningful Vote Will Go Ahead, Says No 10 (G.)

Downing Street has insisted the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal will go ahead as promised on Tuesday, despite negotiations in Brussels stumbling. The prime minister’s spokesman repeated the line on Wednesday that the government is determined to secure “legally binding changes” to the Irish backstop, despite the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, returning empty-handed from the talks. Shortly before leaving Brussels, he conceded “strong views” had been expressed during three hours of “robust” discussions. Downing Street said the talks had been “difficult”, but stressed the vote would take place on Tuesday, as committed by May.

If it is lost, MPs will vote on successive days on whether to block a no-deal Brexit and whether to extend the departure date. With it increasingly being assumed No 10 will not secure significant EU concessions on the backstop, May is expected to try to sell her plan to MPs and the public later in the week, potentially with a speech. There are no plans as yet for the prime minister or Cox to return to Brussels, but it is understood this could happen if required. Sunday night is the final deadline for any changes, as the government needs to publish and print copies of deal documents on Monday, and publish the motion MPs will then vote on.

[..] Cabinet ministers are pessimistic about the prospects of wooing enough waverers in parliament to win the second meaningful vote. May will then come under intense pressure to offer MPs a free vote on a no-deal Brexit, with her cabinet deeply divided. The opportunity to vote on this was only secured after scores of frontbenchers made it clear they were willing to resign, and the cabinet ministers Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke wrote to the Daily Mail rejecting the idea of a no-deal departure.Senior EU diplomats said the bloc’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, offered a “gloomy” analysis of the talks. According to a diplomatic note, Weyand told the ambassadors: “Cox’s asks are going well beyond where Barnier can go.”

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“..49.1 percent of households have a main pension as their primary source of income..”

Monthly Income Lasts Just 19 Days For Over Half of Greek Households (K.)

The Greek economy’s scars from the decade-long financial crisis and the internal devaluation are more than obvious. Despite the slight improvement in certain income-related indexes, three in 10 households get by on an annual income of less than 10,000 euros, while pensions comprise the main source of income for almost half of all households, according to a survey published on Wednesday by the Institute of Small Enterprises of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen & Merchants (GSEVEE). In this first survey after the completion of the bailout programs, GSEVEE found that 43.9 percent of households reported a decline in their incomes last year compared to 2017.

Almost half of the households surveyed (48.9 percent) reported income stability, up from one in three (35.6 percent) in 2017, while 7.1 percent said they had seen an increase, up from just 2 percent in 2017. At the same time, the share of households on an annual income of less than 10,000 euros remained quite high, at 31.7 percent, against 34.2 percent in 2017. The biggest income bracket is that of households with earnings of between 10,000 and 18,000 euros per year, accounting for 39.8 percent in 2018 against 37.5 percent in 2017. This illustrates the shift of a number of households that were in the bottom bracket to a higher one; however, it also points to declines in the incomes of some households that in 2017 had been in the over-18,000 euros per annum bracket.

The bulk of Greek households find themselves in the bottom two income tiers. More than one in eight (12.7 percent) households say their incomes do not suffice to cover their basic needs, and more than half (52.5 percent) say their monthly income is not enough to carry them through all 30 days, sufficing instead for an average of just 19 days per month. All this is explained by the fact that 49.1 percent of households have a main pension as their primary source of income, even if that has been significantly reduced in recent years.

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Neoliberalism is killing the EU as a project, maybe not in Germany, but certainly in Italy and Greece. Still, labeling a basic income project ‘welfare’ is leading, Reuters.

Italy’s Welfare Revolution Kicks Off As ‘Citizens’ Income’ Goes Live (R.)

Italy’s flagship welfare reform kicked off in busy but orderly fashion on Wednesday as thousands of poor and unemployed people applied in post offices and tax assistance centers for the “citizens’ income” scheme. The populist 5-Star Movement, which governs with the right-wing League and has long promoted the measure, hopes it will lift its flagging fortunes ahead of European Parliament elections in May. Despite a steady flow of applicants, warnings of chaos and long queues proved misplaced, as many people appeared to heed advice not to sign up on the scheme’s first day.

“This is so helpful, it will give me some breathing space to get to the end of each month,” said 36-year-old Svetlana Guerra as she left a small tax assistance center (CAF) in a densely populated quarter of south-eastern Rome. Guerra, a Ukrainian-born widow who has lived in Italy for 19 years and survives thanks to odd jobs paid under the counter, said she expected the citizens’ income to give her about 280 euros ($315) per month to help her pay her rent. Guerra is one of millions struggling to make ends meet in a country in its third recession in 10 years and where the economy has barely grown since the start of the century.

Italians in absolute poverty, defined as not having enough money to buy a basket of basic goods and services, rose to 5.1 million in 2017, according to statistics office ISTAT. That is a more than threefold increase in a decade. Italy has traditionally had a generous pension system and offered limited-term state benefits for those laid off from work, but until last year it was virtually unique among rich countries in having no means-tested welfare scheme.

The previous center-left government aimed to fill that gap, but the “inclusion income” program it launched ahead of elections a year ago set aside just 2 billion euros and was widely deemed inadequate. The citizens’ income, a rallying call for 5-Star since its foundation in 2009, will cost 7 billion euros this year and is expected to go initially to 2.7 million people, according to ISTAT. Critics say Italy’s strained public finances cannot afford it. The 5-Star Movement was easily the biggest party at the March 2018 national election but has seen its support slide since then and been overtaken in opinion polls by the League.

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Make America Great Again must start with its wildlife. That’s much greater than millions working bullshit jobs where they drive an hour a day from the burbs. Nothing great about that.

First, define greatness.

Red Wolf: The Struggle To Save One Of The Rarest Animals On Earth (G.)

Attempting to locate one of the rarest animals on the planet, US government scientist Joe Madison pointed an antiquated VHF tracking antenna at a tangle of thick vegetation and twiddled some dials on the receiver. A red wolf, judging by the beeps, was in the vicinity but well-hidden. “Did you hear that beep? That’s a six-year-old male we just heard,” said Madison, a Tennessean with a sandy-coloured beard who is manager of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) red wolf program. “I mean, obviously I don’t see anything.” Sightings of red wolves are uncommon not only due to their elusive nature but also their plummeting population. Only around 30 of the creatures remain in the wild, in a corner of North Carolina, with 18 of them fitted with radio collars that Madison attempts to pick up with his antenna.


Photograph: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

An FWS assessment in 2016 warned this vestige could completely vanish within eight years. The scenario now is even grimmer. “We’re already way ahead of where that projection was,” Madison said. “If we stay on the current trajectory it won’t be that long before we lose the population. In fact, we are down to one known breeding pair.” Faced with hardening opposition to the wolves’ presence from some nearby landowners, the FWS has gradually pulled back. Wild releases of captive pups have stopped, as has the sterilization of encroaching coyotes to avoid hybridization. In June, the Trump administration unveiled a plan, several years in the making, that would scale the red wolves’ protected area back to its federally owned core and allow people to shoot the species without repercussions on private land.

Conservation groups argue this plan will swiftly snuff out the red wolf and have taken the fight to the courts. “The impression we’ve gotten is that Fish and Wildlife have got tired of trying to save controversial species like wolves,” said Dr Ron Sutherland, an ecologist and red wolf expert at the Wildlands Network. “They don’t have the budget or the backing of Congress. It’s easier to let the wolves decline to the point where they can just pull the plug and we’re very nearly at that point. This wasn’t a thing started by Trump but Trump could certainly finish it off.”


Photograph: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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I’m sure this is a priority for Beijing. Stop trading with these countries or they won’t stop.

China Prosecutes 11 People In $119 Million Totoaba Fish Bust (AFP)

Chinese authorities have prosecuted 11 people for smuggling $119 million worth of Mexican totoaba fish swim bladders, one of the country’s biggest busts related to the trafficking of an endangered species used in traditional medicine. Mexico has urged China for years to crack down on totoaba smuggling over fears that illegal fishing operations in the Gulf of California are also killing off the world’s smallest porpoise, the near-extinct vaquita marina. The Jiangmen city procuratorate in southern Guangdong province said the 11 people are suspected of smuggling nearly 20,000 swim bladders worth more than 800 million yuan ($119 million) from Mexico. The group of smugglers, led by an individual named Liang Weihua, transported the fish parts in “large quantities” and sold them to consumers in China.

“This crime lasted for more than three years,” said the Guangdong-based procuratorate, a legal supervision agency, on its website. The smuggling route involved a number of neighbouring countries, including Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, it said, adding that the case is currently under further investigation. The critically endangered totoaba fish has been in steep decline since the 1940s, largely because of its reputed healing powers in Chinese medicine. The fish’s swim bladder can fetch up to $20,000 on the black market in China, where it is believed to have beautifying properties and cure a host of ailments, from arthritis pain to discomfort during pregnancy. In fact, they are so prized that some Chinese simply display them in fancy cases in their homes.

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“..more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans..”

Microplastics Found ‘Absolutely Everywhere’ (G.)

Microplastic pollution spans the world, according to new studies showing contamination in the UK’s lake and rivers, in groundwater in the US and along the Yangtze river in China and the coast of Spain. Humans are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the possible health effects on people and ecosystems have yet to be determined. One study, in Singapore, has found that microplastics can harbour harmful microbes. The new analysis in the UK found microplastic pollution in all 10 lakes, rivers and reservoirs sampled. More than 1,000 small pieces of plastic per litre were found in the River Tame, near Manchester, which was revealed last year as the most contaminated place yet tested worldwide. Even in relatively remote places such as the Falls of Dochart and Loch Lomond in Scotland, two or three pieces per litre were found.

“It was startling. I wasn’t expecting to find as much as we did,” said Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Wales, who led the work. “It is quite depressing they were there in some of our country’s most iconic locations. I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater in the Lake District was polluted with plastic. “Microplastics are being found absolutely everywhere [but] we do not know the dangers they could be posing. It’s no use looking back in 20 years time and saying: ‘If only we’d realised just how bad it was.’ We need to be monitoring our waters now and we need to think, as a country and a world, how we can be reducing our reliance on plastic.”

[..] “Microplastic has been found in our rivers, our highest mountains and our deepest oceans,” said Julian Kirby, a plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth who helped collect water samples for the new UK study. He urged MPs to back legislation “to drastically reduce the flow of plastic pollution that’s blighting our environment”. Research by the National University of Singapore found more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans, as well as those linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.

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Mar 062019
 


Pablo Picasso Bathers with ball 1 1928

 

Amazon To Release Mueller Report in Full Print on March 26 (Taer)
Roger Stone’s Book May Violate Gag Order (R.)
Sharply Lower Prices Help Sell New US Houses, But it’s Not Enough (WS)
Democrats In Search Of A Crime To Punish Trump And His Voters (Sara Carter)
Trump Slams Democrats Over Probe He Calls Harassment (MW)
House Dems’ Rebuke of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For Many Reasons (Greenwald)
Will Congress Repair The Safety Net For Older Americans? (NA)
US Trucking Boom U-Turns (WS)
Division! Brexit Stretches Arcane British Parliament To Breaking Point (R.)
UK Cash System ‘On The Verge Of Collapse’ (G.)
BOE and ECB Activate Emergency Currency Swap Line (Ind.)
Toyota, BMW Warn No-Deal Brexit Could Hit UK Investment, Production (BBC)
What Do The People Of The World Die From? (BBC)
Arctic Animals Shift Feeding Habits (AFP)

 

 

Nice find.

Amazon To Release Mueller Report in Full Print on March 26 (Taer)

If you are a journalist looking for a copy of The Mueller Report, Amazon got news for you. They claim that the report will be out on March 26. It’s not clear if Attorney General William Barr has cleared the released of the full Mueller report. But Amazon announced today the pre-order of “The Mueller Report”, with an introduction by constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz.

As CNN has previously reported, Barr has been closely consulting with top Justice Department officials on the outlines of plans to handle the highly anticipated report, including to what extent it should be shared with Congress, and by extension the public. Could this be a trick from Dershowitz to sell a book about the report or would it be the full report, this we will have to wait and see. Amazon also list Robert Mueller III as author of the book. The book will be offered in both e-book and paperback editions. This is a developing story that will be updated.

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A book that first came out in 2017. That can’t be it. It was re-published under another name and critized Mueller in its introduction. Oh, that’s it. Wait: it was published before the gag order was issued. No, so that can’t be it either.

Roger Stone’s Book May Violate Gag Order (R.)

A federal judge said Tuesday that the publication of a book last month by President Donald Trump’s former political adviser Roger Stone which criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller may violate a media gag order – a transgression that could land the self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” behind bars. Judge Amy Berman Jackson for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered Stone and his lawyers to provide her with a report by Monday explaining how he plans to comply with the order, and also demanded that he turn over certain records detailing everything he knew about the book’s release.

“There is no question that the order prohibited and continues to prohibit the defendant from making any public statements, using any medium, concerning the investigation,” Jackson wrote. “It does not matter when the defendant may have first formulated the opinions expressed, or when he first put them into words: he may no longer share his views on these particular subjects with the world.” Shortly after Stone was charged, Jackson gave him wide latitude to discuss the case against him as long as it was not in the vicinity of the federal courthouse. But just days later, she tightened the reins with a sweeping gag order after Stone posted a photo of her on his Instagram account next to an image resembling the crosshairs of a gun and a message critical of both her and Mueller.

In issuing her gag order on Feb. 21, Jackson warned Stone he would not have a second chance if he violated it. She also said his apologies about the posting, which was later removed, rang hollow. After the gag order, Jackson learned that a 2017 book by Stone originally titled “The Making of the President 2016” had been re-published under the name “The Myth of Russian Collusion” and that it criticized Mueller in its introduction. In addition, Stone also in March posted an item on Instagram that said “Who framed Roger Stone.” It was later removed. Stone’s lawyers have said the book does not violate the gag order because it came out on Feb. 19, before the order was issued.

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Did you notice the similarities between the US and China?

Sharply Lower Prices Help Sell New US Houses, But it’s Not Enough (WS)

Here is the good news: Lower prices stir sales. Clearly, homebuilders are motivated to move their inventory, and they’re making deals at lower prices. The median price of new single-family houses whose sales closed in December fell 7.2% from a year earlier, to $318,000, according to the Commerce Department this morning. December’s 7.2% drop and November’s blistering 11.6% drop were the sharpest year-over-year declines since Housing Bust 1:

The new-house sales data, produced jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is very volatile. It is revised in the following months, often quite drastically. But despite the ups-and-downs in the monthly data, trends emerge. The steep year-over-year price increases in prior years formed a multi-year boom in prices that has now outrun what the market can bear. The median price of new houses ballooned by about 55% from the range in 2011 and 2012 to the peak in November and December 2017 ($343,300), which exceeded by 31% the crazy bubble peak in March 2007, before it all came apart:

Sales of new houses, in terms of the seasonally adjusted annual rate, had plunged late last year. The year-over-year decline exceeded 15% in November. So in December, this seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales finally responded to lower prices and declined a little, instead of plunging. The year-over-year drop of 2.4%, to an annual rate of sales of 621,000, was the fourth month in a row of year-over-year declines – but a heck of a lot less bad than the double-digit plunges in the prior two months:

That the price declines have not moved the needle enough also shows up in the inventory of new houses for sale that just keeps on rising. In December, the supply surged 17% year-over-year to 344,000 houses, for a supply of 6.6 months at December’s rate of sales (up from 5.5 months a year earlier):

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Trump has this one down: “Basically they’ve started the campaign..”

Democrats In Search Of A Crime To Punish Trump And His Voters (Sara Carter)

The House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler is a man in search of a crime. Nadler and his colleague House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff have moved the conversation from Russian collusion and are now promising to investigate virtually everything connected to President Donald Trump. Mind you, we the tax payers will be paying for these investigations and it will drag America and the administration into another two years of endless witch hunts. Yes, a witch-hunt. Can you imagine if someone despised you so much that all they did day in and day out was search for something, anything, that would get those around you to doubt your intentions. Imagine having to fight every single day of your life against never ending accusations.

Even when those accusations are later proven false it won’t matter because the original lie has already been thoroughly disseminated far and wide among the population. Why are Nadler, D-NY, and Schiff, D-CA, promising these investigations? Because they want to impeach Trump. It’s just that simple. They also want to send a message to the American people: your vote really didn’t matter because in the end it’s Congress that holds the power. Think about that. There was never any evidence of crime that called for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to establish a special counsel. Yet, he did. In fact, he wrote the letter authorizing Trump to fire former FBI Director James Comey. Comey would’ve been fired the first day had Hillary Clinton been president. However, obstruction charges are at the top of the Nadler’s list of investigations.

He also promises to investigate all of Trump’s financial dealings and past business associations. Why? The pair realize that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report will not do the damage they were hoping it would. Both Democratic leaders, supported by their party, realize that Mueller has found no evidence of a conspiracy with the Russians. It has left believers like Schiff, Nadler and many former Obama Administration officials who’ve worked diligently over the past several years to destroy Trump, seething. They do not want to go on the defensive. Nadler and Schiff don’t want to explain that their narrative has been debunked. They do not want Americans to look too close because in the end what will be discovered is that the crimes they are accusing others of committing are the ones they themselves have committed.

So what do they do? They fish for a crime, use the media to propagate their lies and spread malicious rumors. Those crimes can be anything from obstruction of justice, process crimes or financial crimes. The lawmakers will use the power of America’s purse. They will investigate Trump’s children, those who support him and those who work closely with him at the White House. nHowever, remember this: It is the American people, liberty and the principals endowed in our Constitution that will pay the heaviest burden. Nadler announced his probe on Monday into potential “obstruction of justice.” He will lob accusation, after accusation, against the Trump administration and his family. He will seek documents and communications from over 60 individuals connected with the White House. He will look for that needle in a haystack for as long as it takes.

Nadler and Schiff will conduct what they describe as thorough investigations. They will keep these lengthy investigations going to buy time on the clock until they get close to the Democratic National Convention. Nadler will do so at the cost of our nation. Don’t be fooled. He doesn’t care about the American people or justice. In the end, this all about ‘getting back’ for the Democrats.

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You won’t find anyone saying: “but he’s the president, the people voted for him” anymore. What will that mean for subsequent presidents?

Trump Slams Democrats Over Probe He Calls Harassment (MW)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday escalated attacks on Democrats investigating him and his associates, as he signed an executive order establishing a task force addressing veteran suicide. Trump blasted Democrats who have launched an investigation into his White House and allies, saying on Twitter that lawmakers including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler are looking to “harass” the 81 individuals and entities they’re seeking documents from. Those individuals include Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr., as well as David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer.

Calling Nadler and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff “stone cold CRAZY,” Trump said letters were “sent to innocent people to harass them.” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said late Monday the investigation was “disgraceful and abusive.” Nadler said his committee is beginning a probe into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power. Trump later said Democrats’ probe was a “disgrace” and said they wanted to “play games” instead of work on infrastructure or health care. “Basically they’ve started the campaign,” he said.

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They’ve started the campaign. But they actually believe they can get rid of Ocasio and Omar whenever they want. And that’s not true. The old guard is done.

House Dems’ Rebuke of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For Many Reasons (Greenwald)

GOP Congressman Steve King has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for sixteen years, yet Democrats – who controlled the House for four of those years and now control it again – never formally rebuked or condemned him until last month (they did so at the same time that Republicans removed him from his Committee assignments due to a long history of white supremacist remarks). By extremely stark contrast, Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar – the first black Muslim woman ever elected to the Congress – has served in the House for a little more than two months, and House Democratic leaders have already formally condemned her once and are preparing to so again, this time even more harshly and officially, on Wednesday.

On February 11, the House Democratic leadership, responding to statements made by Omar about large donors and AIPAC driving pro-Israel policies, issued a joint statement condemning Omar for what they called her “use of anti-Semitic tropes,” adding that her “prejudicial accusations about Israel’s defenders” are “deeply offensive.” They then demanded: “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.” Omar then issued a statement of her own in which she “unequivocally apologized” for unintentionally invoking “anti-Semitic tropes,” but made crystal clear that “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics” – whether it be AIPAC, as well as the NRA or the fossil fuel industry – was one she would continue to aggressively address and combat.

The Congresswoman quickly made good on her promise to continue speaking out about AIPAC’s toxic influence, the destructive and immoral support given to Israel by the U.S., and the subordination of Americans’ Constitutional rights and the country’s national interests to that foreign nation. Speaking last Wednesday in Washington at a town hall meeting with several other progressive House members, Congresswoman Omar was asked about the use of the “anti-semitism” label to shut down debate over Israel. In reply, she said: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” That remark created a new outburst of anti-Semitism accusations against Omar, initially provoked by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, whose column carried the most sensationalistic and misleading headline possible: “Ilhan Omar Accuses Israel Hawks of ‘Allegiance to a Foreign Country.’”

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Small detail: older Americans own lots of firearms.

Will Congress Repair The Safety Net For Older Americans? (NA)

The first two federal safety net programs, Social Security and Unemployment Insurance, will turn 65 next year. This historic milestone is being preceded by a new focus from the new Congress on how the government’s safety net programs are performing and what changes might be needed to improve them. Safety net programs have evolved over time, from Head Start in 1964 to Supplemental Security Income in 1972 to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, with its expansion of Medicaid to approximately 15 million people. And social safety net programs have done a lot of good over time. For example, Social Security has lifted an estimated 27 million people out of poverty. However, against this backdrop are some more disturbing realities.

First, many eligible Americans, especially older adults, are not receiving safety net benefits to which they are entitled. For example, the National Council on Aging estimates that almost 60% of older Americans eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as food stamps) aren’t enrolled. Access to federal benefits is especially challenging for older women, who represent nearly two-thirds of all people 65 and older living in poverty. Certain safety net programs have shown a bias against women regarding benefits and coverage by considering work history and salary history; historically, women have been more likely to be unpaid caregivers and to have lower salaries than men. Fixing this type of bias is a prime example of potential safety net reform.

Second, safety net program benefits are not keeping up with the need. For example, Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), a program for low-income older adults and people with disabilities, has only seen minimal benefit increases since it was created nearly 50 years ago. Third, the government’s measurement of what constitutes poverty for safety net programs, especially poverty of older adults, is grossly outdated. This results in many more older Americans living in poverty than the federal guidelines show. Finally, out-of-pocket health care costs are not sustainable for some poorer, older adults in the Medicare program, leaving many with hard choices between paying for food or rent.

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But cyclical.

US Trucking Boom U-Turns (WS)

Orders for Class-8 trucks – made by Daimler (Freightliner, Western Star), Paccar (Peterbuilt, Kenworth), Navistar International, and Volvo Group (Mack Trucks, Volvo Trucks) – plunged 58% in February compared to February last year, to 16,700 orders, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence after they’d already plunged 58% year-over-year in January and 43% in December. The orders in January and February were back in the range of the “transportation recession” that had hit the industry in 2015 and 2016. At the time, truck and engine manufacturers reacted with layoffs. But for now, they’re sitting on a massive backlog from the boom in orders last year (data via FTR):

The business is infamously cyclical, with regular booms that lead to over-ordering and then overcapacity, followed by busts that then sort it all out again. The industry is also seasonal, so we can use year-over-year comparisons to eliminate most of the effects of seasonality. The chart below shows the percent change of Class-8 truck orders for each month compared to the same month a year earlier. The year-over-year plunges over the past three months are of the same magnitude as the plunges during the last transportation recession (data via FTR):

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Brexit according to Henry VIII.

Division! Brexit Stretches Arcane British Parliament To Breaking Point (R.)

Britain’s 800-year-old parliament has a big decision to make, and little time to make it. After months of drama and delay, the country’s fate could be decided next week in a series of Brexit votes in which lawmakers must choose one of two wood-panelled corridors to shuffle down inside the neo-gothic Westminster palace. Each vote, known as a division, takes about 15 minutes. If it takes too long, the Serjeant-at-Arms, dressed in shiny black shoes, knee-high socks and a long woollen suit, will be sent bearing a ceremonial sword to investigate. Rich in pageantry and theater, Westminster’s parliamentary format has been adapted, modernized and exported to more than two dozen countries across the globe.

[..] On March 12, May is expected to try once more to get her deal approved, though much will rest on whether she can secure extra assurances from Brussels about the thorny issue of Northern Ireland’s border. If that vote fails, May will ask parliament a day later whether it wants to leave the European Union without any kind of exit deal – a potentially disruptive divorce with damaging consequences for the world’s fifth largest economy. If parliament rejects that outcome as well, lawmakers will then decide on March 14 if they want to try to delay Brexit, potentially opening the door to a wholesale renegotiation with the EU – or even a second referendum at home. If the process does go to a third ballot, when Speaker John Bercow bellows “Division!” and bells ring across parliament and beyond to alert lawmakers to the vote, Britain could be 15 minutes from taking its first step towards reversing Brexit.

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“17% of the UK population – over 8 million adults – would struggle to cope in a cashless society”. And nobody cares.

UK Cash System ‘On The Verge Of Collapse’ (G.)

More than 8 million UK adults would struggle to cope in a cashless society, according to a major report which claims that the country’s “cash infrastructure” is in danger of collapsing. With Britons increasingly turning to digital payments, and bank branches and ATMs closing, the Access to Cash Review said companies and organisations providing “essential” services should be required to ensure that consumers can continue to pay by cash. The review is funded by cash machine network Link, but is independent from it, and is chaired by the former head of the Financial Ombudsman Service Natalie Ceeney, with other members including Richard Lloyd, the former executive director of consumer group Which?.

Ceeney said that “17% of the UK population – over 8 million adults – would struggle to cope in a cashless society”. Debit cards last year officially overtook notes and coins as the most popular form of payment in the UK for the first time, and the review’s report predicted that cash could fall to just 10% of all payments within the next 15 years. It also called on the government, regulators and banks to “act now or risk leaving millions behind”. A spokesman for the review claimed the UK’s cash system was “on the verge of collapse”. The bill for running the UK’s cash infrastructure – from ATMs to cash-sorting centres – was about £5bn a year, paid for predominantly by banks (and, ultimately, consumers), said the report. But while the costs were largely fixed, income was declining quickly. As a result, it said, “we have a cash infrastructure which is fast becoming unsustainable”.

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EU banks hold 15 percent of UK bank debt and 10 percent of UK government bonds.

BOE and ECB Activate Emergency Currency Swap Line (Ind.)

The Bank of England and the European Central Bank (ECB) have agreed an emergency currency swap line to ensure banks have access to cash in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The agreement means the Bank of England will offer to lend euros to UK banks on a weekly basis while the ECB will receive pound sterling from the BoE in exchange for euros. It means that even if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, the country will still remain reliant on Frankfurt to help safeguard the financial system. “Activation marks a prudent and precautionary step by the Bank of England… supporting the functioning of markets that serve households and businesses,” the ECB said on Tuesday.

Since 2013, Britain has had similar swap lines with four other central banks: the US, Canada, Japan and Switzerland. The UK needs free access to supplies of foreign currencies to facilitate trade and much of the financial services industry. During a crisis, banks can find it hard to access the volume of foreign currency they need. It is at this point that central banks will be available to provide cash through so-called swap lines. There had been some speculation that the ECB would not support a euro swap line if no Brexit deal is agreed with the UK. But the ECB and BoE confirmed on Tuesday that the facility will be available. The ECB said it will continue to work closely with the Bank of England to monitor market conditions carefully.

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Good. Let them ride bicycles.

Toyota, BMW Warn No-Deal Brexit Could Hit UK Investment, Production (BBC)

Car giants Toyota and BMW have both warned a no-deal Brexit threatens the production of their cars in the UK. BMW told Sky News it could consider moving production of its Mini from the UK in a no-deal scenario. Separately, the head of Toyota’s European operations said a negative outcome could put future investment at its UK factory near Derby at risk. Johan van Zyl told the BBC that if the Brexit “hurdles” are too high it would undermine Toyota’s competitiveness. Speaking to Sky News, BMW board member Peter Schwarzenbauer said if a “worst case” no-deal scenario happened, “we would need to consider what it exactly means for us in the long run”. “For Mini, this is really a danger,” he added.

Asked if BMW could move Mini production out of Cowley near Oxford, he said: “We at least have to consider it.” Earlier, BMW chief executive Harold Krueger told the BBC that the carmaker was preparing “for a lot of scenarios” and was “very flexible” in its approach to production. He said the company had “reserved some air flight capacity for the transportation of bigger materials” and had prepared its suppliers. “The logistics network is very flexible to adjust to changes,” he said. The warnings come after Japanese rivals Nissan and Honda both recently dealt major blows to the UK motor industry. Last month, Nissan reversed a decision to build a new car in the UK , and Honda said it was closing its Swindon plant , although both cited non-Brexit reasons.

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Our food is killing us.

What Do The People Of The World Die From? (BBC)

Around the world, people are living longer. In 1950, global average life expectancy at birth was only 46. By 2015, it had shot up to over 71. In some countries, progress has not always been smooth. Disease, epidemics and unexpected events are a reminder that ever-longer lives are not a given. Meanwhile, the deaths that may preoccupy us – from terrorism, war and natural disasters – make up less than 0.5% of all deaths combined. But across the world, many are still dying too young and from preventable causes. The story of when people die is really a story of how they die, and how this has changed over time.

About 56 million people in the world died in 2017. This is 10 million more than in 1990, as the global population has increased and people live longer on average. More than 70% die from non-communicable, chronic diseases. These are not passed from person to person and typically progress slowly. The biggest single killer is cardiovascular disease, which affects the heart and arteries and is responsible for every third death. This is twice the rate of cancers – the second leading cause – which account for about one in six of all deaths. Other non-contagious diseases such as diabetes, certain respiratory diseases and dementia are also near the top of the list.

In the past, infectious diseases played a bigger part than they do today. In 1990, one in three deaths resulted from communicable and infectious diseases; by 2017 this had fallen to one in five. Children are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases. As recently as the 19th Century, every third child in the world died before the age of five. Child mortality rates have fallen significantly since then thanks to vaccines and improvements in hygiene, nutrition, healthcare and clean water access. Child deaths in rich countries are now relatively rare, while the poorest regions today have child mortality rates similar to the UK and Sweden in the first half of the 20th Century, and are continuing to catch up.

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Impossible choices.

Arctic Animals Shift Feeding Habits (AFP)

Seals and whales in the Arctic are shifting their feeding patterns as climate change alters their habitats, and the way they do so may determine whether they survive, a new study has found. Researchers harnessed datasets spanning two decades to examine how two species of Arctic wildlife – beluga whales, also known as white whales, and ringed seals – are adapting to their changing homes. Both species traditionally hunt for food in areas with sea ice and particularly at so-called tidal glacier fronts, where glaciers meet the ocean. But with climate change melting sea ice and prompting glaciers to retreat, researchers in Norway decided to look at whether and how animals in the affected areas were adapting.

“The Arctic is the bellwether of climate change,” the researchers wrote. “With the rapid pace of change rendering genetic adaptation unfeasible,” they reasoned that behavioural and dietary changes “will likely be the first observable responses within ecosystems”. [..] For the seals, they compared tracker data from 28 individuals between 1996-2003 and then 2010-2016, and for the whales they looked at data from 18 animals between 1995-2001 and 16 animals from 2013-2016. The data showed that two decades ago, both species spent around half their time foraging at glacier fronts and eating a diet dominated by polar cod. But ringed seals now spend “significantly higher proportions of time near tidal glacier fronts” while the white whales had the opposite response and had moved elsewhere to look for food.

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Mar 052019
 
 March 5, 2019  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Weaver 1884

 

China Warns Of ‘Tough Struggle’, Cuts Growth Target To Lowest Since 1990 (G.)
China’s Largest Property Developer To Sell All Homes At A 10% Discount (ZH)
Relying On Central Banks For Growth Is A Bad Idea (Das)
Theresa May ‘Did Not Understand EU When She Triggered Brexit’ (G.)
Dear Europe, Brexit Is A Lesson For All Of Us: It’s Time For Renewal (Macron)
EU Must Learn From Brexit And Reform – Macron (G.)
The Prisoner Says No To Big Brother (John Pilger)
White House Lambasts Trump Probe (BBC)
Fox News’s Propaganda Isn’t Just Unethical, It’s Enormously Influential (Vox)
Manafort Asks Judge to Revisit Order on Lies to Special Counsel (CN)
Britain Puts New Roof On Skripal House of Horrors (Galloway)
Sunset Boulevard with Chimp (Kunstler)
Heatwaves Sweeping Oceans ‘Like Wildfires’ (G.)
World’s Rarest Orangutan Under Threat In Indonesia From Dam Project (G.)

 

 

To reiterate from yesterday, Xiang Songzuo, professor at Renmin University in Beijing, former deputy director at the People’s Bank of China and chief economist at the Agricultural Bank of China, said in a speech in December that real GDP growth was 1.67%, and now says: “I think this year, regulators will encourage more shadow banking financing, particularly to the private sector.”

Perhaps the biggest takeaway today is that China is failing to increase domestic demand, long predicted to be the country’s saving grace.

China Warns Of ‘Tough Struggle’, Cuts Growth Target To Lowest Since 1990 (G.)

China has set its lowest growth target in nearly three decades as premier Li Keqiang warned of “tough” challenges facing the world’s second-largest economy. He set the country’s growth at 6.0 to 6.5%, down from a target of 6.5% last year. In 1990, growth sank to 3.9% because of international sanctions sparked by the Tiananmen square protests. Growth in 2018 was 6.6%, the slowest rate since 1990. Speaking at the opening of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislative body, on Tuesday, Li said: “We will face a graver and more complicated environment as well as risks and challenges … We must be fully prepared for a tough struggle.”

Li’s state-of-the-nation-style address comes as the ruling Chinese Communist Party faces a difficult year amid a slowing economy, a trade war with the US, and diplomatic tensions over Huawei, the Chinese tech giant. Domestically, China has been hit by public health scandals as well as protests by workers, students, and small pockets of activists. Striking a sombre tone, Li stressed the “severe challenges” China is faced last year, including trade frictions, “mounting protectionism and unilateralism” and slowing domestic demand. “Downward pressure on the Chinese economy continues to increase, growth in consumption is slowing, and growth in effective investment lacks momentum. The real economy faces many difficulties,” Li said.

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The people who gave you empty cities.

China’s Largest Property Developer To Sell All Homes At A 10% Discount (ZH)

“Property accounts for roughly 70 per cent of urban Chinese families’ total assets – a home is both wealth and status. People don’t want prices to increase too fast, but they don’t want them to fall too quickly either,” said Shao Yu, chief economist at Oriental Securities. “People are so used to rising prices that it never occurred to them that they can fall too. We shouldn’t add to this illusion,” Shao added, echoing Ben Bernanke circa 2005. The bottom line is that just like true price discovery for US capital markets is prohibited (and sees Fed intervention any time there is an even modest, 10-20% drop in asset prices) or else the risk of an all out panic is all too real, in China true price discovery is also not permitted, however when it comes to the country’s all important, and wealth effect boosting, real estate.

Which is a problem, because whereas China suddenly appears to be suffering from all the conventional signs of deflation in the auto retail sector, where as we noted previously, neither lower prices nor easier loans have managed to put a dent the ongoing demand plunge the same ominous price cuts – which are clearly meant to boost flagging demand – are starting to emerge in China’s housing sector. Case in point, according to China’s Paper, Hui Ka Yan, the Chairman of Evergrande, China’s biggest property developer, and China’s second richest person announced it must ramp up home sales and to do that it would sell all its properties at a 10% discount after its home sales tumbled in January amid a cooling market.

[..] In November, Evergrande, which carries the industry’s largest debt pile of any Chinese housing developer, was caught in a vicious funding squeeze and raised eyebrows with a $1.8BN, 5-year bond deal, which it had to pay a whopping 13.75% coupon, prompting analysts to say the move “carried a whiff of desperation.” The fact that chairman Hui Ka Yan, China’s second-richest person, bought $1bn of it himself, added to a sense that outside investors were shunning the company. In many ways, Evergrande had no choice: after the property market boomed for the past three years, helping to power the economy through Xi Jinping’s crucial political transition year of 2017, in 2018 the market slowed sharply, after local governments shifted focus to controlling frothy prices and China Development Bank, the policy lender, phased out a $1 trillion subsidy program for homebuyers in smaller cities, where Evergrande’s projects are concentrated, the FT reported.

Even the official China News Service, usually a cheerleader for the economy, acknowledged recently that the property market “was a bit chilly”. Nomura chief China economist Ting Lu put it more starkly, forecasting a “frigid winter”. The bigger problem for Evergrande, which had $208 billion in total liabilities at the end of June 2018 — the most of any Chinese developer — including $43bn maturing in 2019, is that should China’s housing market suffer a steep downturn, it will likely be the company to suffer the most, if for no other reason than its massive leverage which stood at a net debt to equity ratio of 400%.

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I like and appreciate Satiayit Das, but the Fed doesn’t make grand policy errors, it simply protects its clients with public money. Since it does that by killing off price discovery, let’s stop talking about ‘markets’.

Relying On Central Banks For Growth Is A Bad Idea (Das)

Just since December 2018, central banks have collectively injected as much as $500 billion of liquidity to stabilize economic conditions. The U.S. Federal Reserve has put interest rate increases on hold and is contemplating a halt to its balance-sheet reduction plan. Other central banks have taken similar actions, fueling a new phase of the “everything bubble” as markets careen from December’s indiscriminate selling to January’s indiscriminate buying. The monetary onslaught appears a reaction to financial factors – falling equity markets, rising credit spreads, increased volatility – and a perceived weakening of economic activity, primarily in Europe and China.

If they heeded Walter Bagehot’s oft-cited rule, central banks would act only as lenders of last resort in times of financial crisis, lending without limit to solvent firms against good collateral at high rates. Instead, they’ve become lenders of first resort, expected to step in at any sign of problems. U.S. central bankers are currently debating whether quantitative-easing programs should be used purely in emergency situations or more routinely. Since 2008, the global economy has grown far too dependent on huge central bank balance sheets and accommodative monetary policy. The U.S. economic boom President Donald Trump loves to tout is largely fake, engineered by artificial policy settings.

Such dependence is dangerous and, for various reasons, could well backfire. For one thing, central banks are poor forecasters. GDP growth, inflation and labor markets may prove more resilient than feared, remaining at or above trend. Key risks, such as the trade dispute between the U.S. and China, may recede. Financial markets and asset prices have already recovered substantially. It’s possible that central banks may be forced to make another U-turn to reduce the risk of reflating asset price bubbles and overheating economies. This flip-flop would be destabilizing and affect decisionmakers’ credibility.

Printing money was always going to be easier than withdrawing it later. In effect, central banks are boxed into a situation where they can’t normalize policy and must maintain low rates and abundant liquidity, lest they destabilize fragile asset markets and spur low growth and disinflation. This state of “infinite QE” risks miscalculations and major policy errors. If central banks are, as is now fashionable to state, the only game in town, then the game is lost.

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The Tories thought they could get deals done with separate EU countries.

Theresa May ‘Did Not Understand EU When She Triggered Brexit’ (G.)

Theresa May and her circle of advisers did not understand how the European Union works, and consequently followed a negotiating strategy in 2016 that was doomed to fail, the former UK ambassador to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers has said. Speaking to the Institute for Government on Monday, Rogers said the people around the prime minister at the start of the article 50 process “didn’t know very much about European councils or that much about the EU”. Rogers, who resigned a year ago and has developed a reputation for producing some of the most caustic assessments of the misunderstandings between the UK and the EU, said the UK lived under the illusion that it could circumvent Brussels by making direct deals with the major capitals.

He said: “Capitals obviously matter, but I think having lived through this with a number of prime ministers, a number of different negotiations … that reflex in the British system always to think that we can deal direct with the organ grinders and not the monkeys: it never works like that. “It didn’t work like that in the Cameron renegotiation either. That stuff is not done in the way British politics works, leader to leader. It’s done via the bureaucrats, and the sherpas, and the people at the top of the institutions.” Rogers also warned that the chances of a no-deal Brexit sticking for long were close to zero. “The UK and EU know there is no chance of no-deal Brexit being the long-term end state, as the UK would quickly come back to the negotiating table,” he said. “There is not a world where we are going to end up with no deal.”

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A 25% approval rating won’t keep Little Napoleon from designing grande plans. More Europe!

Dear Europe, Brexit Is A Lesson For All Of Us: It’s Time For Renewal (Macron)

Never since the second world war has Europe been so essential. Yet never has Europe been in such danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of that. It symbolises the crisis of a Europe that has failed to respond to its peoples’ need for protection from the major shocks of the modern world. It also symbolises the European trap. The trap lies not in being part of the European Union; the trap is in the lie and the irresponsibility that can destroy it. Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the EU market? Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the border? Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. And this is the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.

Europe is not a second-tier power. Europe in its entirety is a vanguard: it has always defined the standards of progress. In this, it needs to drive forward a project of convergence rather than competition: Europe, where social security was created, needs to introduce a social shield for all workers, guaranteeing the same pay for the same work, and an EU minimum wage, appropriate to each country, negotiated collectively every year. Getting back on track also means spearheading the environmental cause. Will we be able to look our children in the eye if we do not also clear our climate debt?

The EU needs to set its target – zero carbon by 2050 and pesticides halved by 2025 – and adapt its policies accordingly with such measures as a European Climate Bank to finance the ecological transition, a European food safety force to improve our food controls and, to counter the lobby threat, independent scientific assessment of substances hazardous to the environment and health. This imperative needs to guide all our action: from the Central Bank to the European commission, from the European budget to the Investment Plan for Europe, all our institutions need to have the climate as their mandate.

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Not the Onion. The man who has his police maim his own citizens now says “the people will really take back control of their future”.

EU Must Learn From Brexit And Reform – Macron (G.)

Macron later said: “The Brexit impasse is a lesson for us all”. In a nod to the Brexiters’ campaign slogan “take back control”, he said that in a changed Europe “the people will really take back control of their future”. In a suggestion the UK would deepen its future relationship with the EU, he said that “in this new Europe, the UK, I am sure, will find its true place”. The call for a Europe-wide agency “for the protection of democracies” to shield against electoral interference from outside powers comes as campaigning for May’s European parliament elections gets underway. Security officials are preparing for potential attempts by Russia-linked hackers to sway the vote and potentially deepen divisions in the bloc.

“There’s a strong likelihood that people will try to manipulate the debates and falsify the European election results,” the EU’s security commissioner, Julian King, told France’s Alsace newspaper last week. The May vote is shaping up as a continental clash between populist and Eurosceptic movements on the one hand, and pro-European internationalists on the other. Macron, who has faced months of gilets jaunes or yellow vest anti-government protests, has sought to style himself as a progressive voice against nationalism. His centrist party La République En Marche is narrowly ahead of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in French polls – a re-run of his face-off with Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election.

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John Pilger gave this speech at a rally in Sydney for Julian Assange recently, organised by the Socialist Equality Party. Unfortunate name.

The Prisoner Says No To Big Brother (John Pilger)

Whenever I visit Julian Assange, we meet in a room he knows too well. There is a bare table and pictures of Ecuador on the walls. There is a bookcase where the books never change. The curtains are always drawn and there is no natural light. The air is still and fetid. This is Room 101. Before I enter Room 101, I must surrender my passport and phone. My pockets and possessions are examined. The food I bring is inspected. The man who guards Room 101 sits in what looks like an old-fashioned telephone box. He watches a screen, watching Julian. There are others unseen, agents of the state, watching and listening. Cameras are everywhere in Room 101. To avoid them, Julian manoeuvres us both into a corner, side by side, flat up against the wall.

[..] Julian is a distinguished Australian, who has changed the way many people think about duplicitous governments. For this, he is a political refugee subjected to what the United Nations calls “arbitrary detention”. The UN says he has the right of free passage to freedom, but this is denied. He has the right to medical treatment without fear of arrest, but this is denied. He has the right to compensation, but this is denied. As founder and editor of WikiLeaks, his crime has been to make sense of dark times. WikiLeaks has an impeccable record of accuracy and authenticity which no newspaper, no TV channel, no radio station, no BBC, no New York Times, no Washington Post, no Guardian can equal. Indeed, it shames them. That explains why he is being punished.

For example: Last week, the International Court of Justice ruled that the British Government had no legal powers over the Chagos Islanders, who in the 1960s and 70s, were expelled in secret from their homeland on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and sent into exile and poverty. Countless children died, many of them, from sadness. It was an epic crime few knew about. For almost 50 years, the British have denied the islanders’ the right to return to their homeland, which they had given to the Americans for a major military base. In 2009, the British Foreign Office concocted a “marine reserve” around the Chagos archipelago. This touching concern for the environment was exposed as a fraud when WikiLeaks published a secret cable from the British Government reassuring the Americans that “the former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.”

The truth of the conspiracy clearly influenced the momentous decision of the International Court of Justice. WikiLeaks has also revealed how the United States spies on its allies; how the CIA can watch you through your iPhone; how Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took vast sums of money from Wall Street for secret speeches that reassured the bankers that if she was elected, she would be their friend. In 2016, WikiLeaks revealed a direct connection between Clinton and organised jihadism in the Middle East: terrorists, in other words. One email disclosed that when Clinton was US Secretary of State, she knew that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding Islamic State, yet she accepted huge donations for her foundation from both governments. She then approved the world’s biggest ever arms sale to her Saudi benefactors: arms that are currently being used against the stricken people of Yemen. That explains why he is being punished.

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Nadler et al sent Julian Assange a request for documents. Imagine the brain damage required for that. Other than that, from what I get, there’s nothing new. All 81 requests concern people who’s already sent docs before, to Mueller and elsewhere.

White House Lambasts Trump Probe (BBC)

House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat, said it was the “obligation” of Congress to “provide a check on abuses of power” by the White House. Mr Nadler, whose committee has the power to conduct impeachment hearings, also said it was “very clear” that the president had obstructed justice. But Mr Nadler told ABC News it was too early to discuss removing the president from office. President Trump dismissed Mr Nadler’s probe as a “political hoax”, but added: “I co-operate all the time with everybody.” Democrats, who took control of the House of Representatives in January, have vowed to open investigations into the president and White House.

More than five House committees are now investigating alleged attempts by Russia to meddle in the 2016 election campaign, the president’s tax returns and potential conflicts of interest involving Mr Trump’s family. Those inquiries are in addition to the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is expected to file his report soon. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: “Today, Chairman Nadler opened up a disgraceful and abusive investigation into tired, false allegations already investigated by the special counsel and committees in both chambers of Congress. “Chairman Nadler and his fellow Democrats have embarked on this fishing expedition because they are terrified that their two-year false narrative of ‘Russia collusion’ is crumbling.

[..] Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, longtime Trump personal assistant Rhona Graff and ex-White House counsel Don McGahn are also on the list of names released by the House Judiciary Committee. Donald Trump Jr has previously been forced by members of Congress to answer questions about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, in which he sat down with a Kremlin-linked lawyer who had offered dirt on Mr Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton. Wikileaks, and its founder Julian Assange, have also been sent documents requests by the committee. Wikileaks published emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and released them during the 2016 campaign, causing political embarrassment to Mrs Clinton and her campaign team.

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Yes, Trump has Fox. The other side has just about everything else: CNN, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo, ABC, Politico, etc etc etc. Doesn’t someone who writes pieces like this one see the irony?

Fox News’s Propaganda Isn’t Just Unethical, It’s Enormously Influential (Vox)

Jane Mayer, the New Yorker’s longtime star investigative reporter, has a fantastic new longform piece out detailing the extent to which the Fox News Channel has become propaganda television for the Trump administration. Many of the basic points — like Fox’s bending of ethical standards to accommodate Sean Hannity, the collaborative relationship between Fox and Trump in shaping the news agenda, and the extent to which Trump at times seems to take his policy cues from Fox & Friends – will be familiar to Vox readers. But Mayer adds critical new insights into the arc of change at the network during a period when CEO Roger Ailes was deposed and then died, vice president Bill Shine left to become White House communications director, and the company’s owner Rupert Murdoch has restructured his media holdings and prepared to pass the baton to his son.

She also adds a couple of key scoops, including: • A Fox reporter named Diana Falzone had pieced together the entire Stormy Daniels story before the election, but network executives killed the story, demoted her, and then, after she sued them, reached a settlement with her that included a nondisclosure agreement. • “Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene” and sue to block AT&T’s proposed takeover of Time Warner. (The DOJ did sue, though they denied this was due to improper interference from the White House, and ended up losing in court.) • “During the Bush Administration’s disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina, Fox’s ratings slumped so badly, a former Fox producer told me, that he was told to stop covering it.”

Fox’s propaganda broadcasting matters. It’s a somewhat underexplored topic in political science research, but the information that’s available suggests that right-wing propaganda broadcasting — led by Fox but also including Sinclair Broadcast Group — has a decisive influence on American politics. [..] A study by Emory University political scientist Gregory Martin and Stanford economist Ali Yurukoglu estimates that watching Fox News translates into a significantly greater willingness to vote for Republican candidates. Specifically, by exploiting semi-random variation in Fox viewership driven by changes in the assignment of channel numbers, they find that if Fox News hadn’t existed, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008. Without Fox, in other words, the GOP’s only popular vote win since the 1980s would have been reversed and the 2008 election would have been an extinction-level landslide.

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Interesting twist. But under wraps.

Manafort Asks Judge to Revisit Order on Lies to Special Counsel (CN)

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort asked a federal judge Monday to reconsider her earlier ruling that Manafort violated his plea agreement by lying about his contacts with suspected Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik. The details of the request remain under seal for now, but a short order from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson entered into the docket in the case shows it is a request to reconsider her earlier decision based on new evidence. The docket entry specifically references a supplemental filing last month from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office that informed Jackson of new information relevant to Manafort’s plea deal that came up in an interview with longtime Manafort associate Rick Gates.

Jackson said in the short order Monday she will “deem [Manafort’s] filing as a motion for reconsideration” of her earlier decision. The motion is under seal for now, but Manafort and Mueller’s office will discuss whether portions of the filing may become public, according to the order. Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in Washington, D.C., on March 13. He pleaded guilty to head off a second criminal trial after a federal jury in Virginia found him guilty last year of various financial crimes. In Washington, Manafort pleaded to conspiring to defraud the United States, obstruction of justice and violations of lobbying laws in relation to work he did on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

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Britain would fall apart if it could no longer unite vs Russia.

Britain Puts New Roof On Skripal House of Horrors (Galloway)

In 12 months of shifting sands, one thing remains as its original foundations: the British state narrative on Salisbury stands as a castle in the air. One year from the dastardly fate of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, no one is a step forward on what happened to them, how, why, or of course where they are. One year ago, a nerve agent was allegedly sprayed onto their front doorknob. One year later, their house needs a new roof as a result. And why the roof? And why only the roof? I don’t know what happened to the stricken pair but then, neither do you, however much you’ve followed the story in Britain’s mass media. In fact, the more you’ve read, the more confused you’re likely now to be. There are some things I do know, however. The first is that the Russian state had as little to gain from attacking this pair in broad daylight on a Salisbury street with a signature Soviet-developed weapon, ‘novichok,’ as I said at the time.

It was exactly 100 days before the World Cup, just days before President Putin’s re-election. If – and it’s a big if – the Russian state wanted to kill the Skripals, many things would’ve been different. Firstly, they would’ve been dead. Yulia would’ve been dead in Russia where she lived. And Sergei would’ve been dispatched at a less sensitive time by rather more reliable, less identifiable means, and by rather less comical killers. The killers would not have flown directly from and back to Moscow. They would not have entrusted their egress to the Sunday service of Wiltshire public transport. They would not have smiled up at every CCTV camera they could find. They would not have stayed at a downscale small hotel in East London, they would not have smoked drugs there, and they would not have noisily entertained a prostitute in their room. They would not have left traces of their nerve agent in their hotel room.

They would not have spent a mere hour scoping Salisbury the day before the alleged poisoning of the Skripals. Nor would they have returned by public transport to London for their sex and drug party, only to retrace their steps by public transport the next day. If they were going to kill a man and his daughter, they would not have trusted nerve agent on a doorknob when there was no conceivable way of knowing who’s hand would touch it. Yulia? Sergei? The milkman? Any Tom, Dick or Harry in the street (or any of their children)? If they were going to smear nerve agent on a doorknob, they would’ve done it in the dark – not at noon the next day, when anyone or any camera could watch them doing so, yet no one did. Quite apart from the salient fact that by noon the victims had already left the house never to return to it.

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Very sorry to see what Jacko was up to.

Sunset Boulevard with Chimp (Kunstler)

If you want some insight into how deep the collective public psychosis of this land runs, check out Dan Reed’s four-hour documentary about the late Michael Jackson streaming on the HBO cable network. The film apparently provoked outrage when it premiered at the Sundance Festival recently, as if it were in bad taste to disclose the icon’s peccadillos in these days of Progressive intersectional triumph. Mr. Jackson methodically assembled a harem of catamites as his show business fame exploded and he struggled with the personal horror of developing into a full-grown man. He solved that problem by restricting his social consort to little boys while surgically metamorphosing into a schematic approximation of a woman — interesting, since he repeatedly referred to women as “evil,” but then his greatest hit was the self-revealing song, Bad.

Everybody and his uncle’s-second-cousin in Hollywood at the time must have known what the deal was with him but they went along with the gag that he was the reincarnation of Peter Pan, just a harmless character out of Show Biz’s own catalog of manufactured mythology, something they could understand, a framing device to spin cotton candy out of the truth that Mr. Jackson was simply a child-molester. [..] perhaps, Leaving Neverland signals an interesting turning point in the madness that has gripped this country for years, and especially the bewitched, bothered, and bewildered thinking class, lost in its labyrinth of sacred monsters. This year 2019 — and especially the coming springtime — promises to be a time of spectacular reversals in politics, manners, and markets.

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Most of you will be eating yellyfish in your lifetime, it’s not just your kids anymore.

Heatwaves Sweeping Oceans ‘Like Wildfires’ (G.)

The number of heatwaves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, scientists have revealed, killing swathes of sea-life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest”. The damage caused in these hotspots is also harmful for humanity, which relies on the oceans for oxygen, food, storm protection and the removal of climate-warming carbon dioxide the atmosphere, they say. Global warming is gradually increasing the average temperature of the oceans, but the new research is the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves, when temperatures reach extremes for five days or more. The research found heatwaves are becoming more frequent, prolonged and severe, with the number of heatwave days tripling in the last couple of years studied.

In the longer term, the number of heatwave days jumped by more than 50% in the 30 years to 2016, compared with the period of 1925 to 1954. As heatwaves have increased, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs have been lost. These foundation species are critical to life in the ocean. They provide shelter and food to many others, but have been hit on coasts from California to Australia to Spain. “You have heatwave-induced wildfires that take out huge areas of forest, but this is happening underwater as well,” said Dan Smale at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK, who led the research published in Nature Climate Change. “You see the kelp and seagrasses dying in front of you. Within weeks or months they are just gone, along hundreds of kilometres of coastline.”

The damage global warming is causing to the oceans has also been shown in a series of other scientific papers published in the last week. Ocean warming has cut sustainable fish catches by 15% to 35% in five regions, including the North Sea and the East China Sea, and 4% globally, according to work published by Pinsky and colleagues.

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More victims of European fossil fuel replacements. This is so easy to solve: pay them to NOT build that dam. Demand phasing out of palm oil, in fuel and food.

World’s Rarest Orangutan Under Threat In Indonesia From Dam Project (G.)

Environmentalists in Indonesia have lost a court challenge to a Chinese-backed dam project in Indonesia that will rip through the habitat of the most critically endangered orangutan species. On Monday, the state administrative court in North Sumatra’s capital, Medan, ruled that construction can continue despite critics of the 510-megawatt hydro dam providing evidence that its environmental impact assessment was deeply flawed. Experts said the dam would flood and in other ways alter the habitat of the orangutan species, which numbers only about 800 primates, and was likely to make it impossible to ensure the species survived.

Scientists announced the discovery of the species, Pongo tapanuliensis, in November after DNA analysis and field study revealed unique characteristics. The population, with frizzier hair and distinctively long calls, was previously believed to be Sumatran orangutans, also critically endangered. Without special protection, it is in danger of rapid extinction, according to scientists. The species is found only in the Batang Toru forest, where the dam will be built. Announcing the decision of a three-judge panel, presiding Judge Jimmy C Pardede said the witnesses and facts presented by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, the country’s largest environmental group, in its case against the North Sumatra provincial government were irrelevant.


A newly-discovered species of orangutan, the Pongo tapanuliensis, is only found in the forest where the dam will be built. Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters

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