Apr 142019
 


Edward Hopper The Sheridan Theatre 1937

 

Draghi Worries About Fate Of Fed’s Independence (MW)
The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)
UK Tories Face European Elections Drubbing (Ind.)
Corbyn Told To Promise Final Say Referendum (Ind.)
It’s The UK Political System, Not Just MPs, That Is Failing (G.)
UK Media, MPs Unveil Latest Assange Deception (Cook)
American Values: Embassies Are For Chopping Up Journalists (McDonald)
Assange Is In The Dock, But Investigative Journalism Is On Trial (Crikey)
The Obvious Dirty Dealings Behind Julian Assange’s Arrest (OG)
Anonymous Attacks Continue Against Ecuadorian Government Websites (Cassandra)

 

 

Independence from what? Reality?

Draghi Worries About Fate Of Fed’s Independence (MW)

Concerns about central-bank independence are on the rise.Take, for example, the cover of this week’s edition of the Economist. And while not solely a U.S. concern, a steady stream of complaints by President Donald Trump about the Federal Reserve’s earlier string of interest-rate hikes and his announcement he would nominate Stephen Moore and Herman Cain — both widely criticized as unqualified and likely to act at the behest of the White house on policy decisions — to the central bank’s governing board have sparked fears the central bank’s policy independence could be at risk. (Four Republican senators have said they would vote against Cain if he were formally put forward, likely sinking his chances.)

On Saturday, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi appeared to take notice: ‘I’m certainly worried about central bank independence in other countries, especially…in the most important jurisdiction in the world.’ Draghi’s remarks, as reported by Reuters, came at a news conference at the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington. They also marked a rare instance of a central banker opining about the operations of a foreign central bank. “If the central bank is not independent, then people may well think that monetary policy decisions follow political advice rather than objective assessment of the economic outlook,” said Draghi.

Read more …

Amid all the loud news, both Canada and Australia are slipping fast.

The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)

Canada’s housing markets barely dipped during the Financial Crisis when US housing markets ran into deep trouble, causing the Mortgage Crisis that begat all kinds of other crises. Canadian homeowners and banks watched the mess from across the border and shook their heads. But now, after an 18-year housing boom, the downturn has arrived in Vancouver and Toronto, among the formerly hottest housing bubbles in the world.


The Teranet-National Bank House Price Index tracks single-family house prices, based on “sales pairs,” similar to the S&P CoreLogic Case Shiller index for US housing markets. It compares the sales price of a house in the current month to the prior sale of the same house years earlier. Using “sales pairs” eliminates the issues that affect median-price indices. But the median-price data for Vancouver is a lot more disconcerting than the Teranet data. So let’s compare how Vancouver’s housing bubble stacks up against the legendary but now also deflating housing bubble in San Francisco.

House prices in the Greater Toronto Area fell 0.3% in March from February and are down 4.3% from the peak in July 2017, the steepest 20-month decline since May 2009. From January 2002 through the peak in July 2017, the index soared 218% — meaning that house prices more than tripled. But that pales compared to Vancouver, where house prices more than quadrupled. I converted this Teranet index for Toronto house prices to “percent-change since January 2002” and overlaid the insane mind-boggling housing bubble in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it shows just how majestic the 18-year Toronto housing bubble has been:

Read more …

European elections in Britain do seem surreal.

UK Tories Face European Elections Drubbing (Ind.)

The Conservatives are facing a humiliating defeat at the European elections next month after support for the party slumped to its lowest level since 2013, according to a new poll. The survey shows the Tories on just 28 per cent when it comes to general election voting intention – a four-point fall which leaves them trailing Labour on 32. When voters were asked which party they will vote for at the European elections, Theresa May’s party languished on 16 per cent, eight points behind Labour on 24. In a clear sign support for the Conservatives is crumbling over the failure to deliver Brexit, 56 per cent of people who voted to leave at the 2016 referendum said they would back Ukip or Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party during next month’s vote.


The Brexit Party is on 15 per cent, while Ukip stands at 14 per cent when it comes to European voting intention, the YouGov poll for The Times indicated. By comparison, the Lib Dems and the Greens are both on 8 per cent, while Change UK has 7 per cent support. No 10 is still hoping to get a deal through parliament in time to avoid participation in the European elections on 23 May. But the UK is formally on track to hold the poll, having informed the EU authorities ahead of Friday’s deadline that it would be taking part. Boris Johnson’s backers have suggested he may not even campaign on behalf of his party next month in an effort to show his displeasure at the UK’s involvement. “Boris won’t campaign in European elections. He believes the prospect of the UK fielding candidates is utterly preposterous,” a source told The Times.

Read more …

Something only a small group wants. But then, that’s true of all Brexit issues and ‘solutions’.

Corbyn Told To Promise Final Say Referendum (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn is under intense pressure from within his shadow cabinet to give a strong commitment to a new Brexit referendum as part of Labour’s European election campaign offer. A string of senior shadow ministers are advocating a new public vote, alongside MPs from the left and right of the party, buoyed by a groundswell of support from the membership. The Independent understands Labour is now beginning the process of drawing up its manifesto with those wanting to give the public a final say on Brexit pushing the leader to make a strong bid for the Remain vote on polling day. Mr Corbyn’s team is currently engaged in talks with the Conservatives in an effort to find a Brexit compromise deal that can enjoy majority support in the House of Commons, with a referendum having been discussed during the negotiations.


The leader’s office emphasised that decisions on the manifesto were yet to be discussed, with the party simultaneously defending its majorities against the pro-Remain Change UK party run by Labour defectors and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party. One shadow cabinet source told The Independent: “We can’t credibly agree to any deal unless there is a confirmatory referendum attached to it. “We should be telling people about that, the support is there to be had.” The European elections are set to become a rerun of the 2016 referendum campaign with parties positioning themselves along the Brexit spectrum from Leave to Remain.

Read more …

Party before country.

It’s The UK Political System, Not Just MPs, That Is Failing (G.)

Brexit has prompted a recurring nightmare among an increasingly incredulous population: our very own Groundhog Day. Two weeks after the EU granted us an 11th-hour extension to prevent us crashing out without a deal, we are back in exactly the same position. The only thing standing between us and next Friday’s cliff edge is the hope the EU gifts us another extension. Meanwhile, the political turmoil engulfing the country worsens, the two main parties increasingly consumed by division and disarray and the political leadership we so desperately need to avert crisis as elusive as ever. It’s hard to believe that the Westminster model of democracy was one prized by constitutional theorists for the stability it purportedly delivers. As the stakes get higher, our political system has proved less and less capable of delivering a resolution to the gridlock that has infected Westminster.

Brexit has been a story of the favouring of party management over the national interest. From the very beginning, Theresa May’s approach to Brexit – from her premature decision to trigger article 50 to her red lines on freedom of movement and the customs union – has been driven not by a strategy to unite the country in the wake of a divisive referendum but to keep her Brexit ultras on side. Only now it has become clear that there are MPs in her party so fanatically dogmatic that they would rather hold out for no deal than vote for her deal has she opened compromise talks with Labour. But Labour emerged from the talks on Friday complaining that no changes to the political declaration were on offer, suggesting that this move may have been more about trying to lay blame for any further delay on the opposition.

Labour’s strategy has been no less determined by party interest. Jeremy Corbyn has kept a position of barely credible ambiguity for as long as possible to avoid alienating any of its voters. Labour has maintained the charade that it could deliver a Brexit deal that delivers all the benefits of EU membership with none of costs. And Labour has failed to provide any leadership support for a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal, with the shadow cabinet split on the issue. Time is running out for Labour to decide once and for all whether it will properly swing its weight behind a referendum. Thanks to the mess the Tories are in, Corbyn is in a position of power, if he only chooses to use it.

Read more …

Another excellent essay from Jonathan Cook.

UK Media, MPs Unveil Latest Assange Deception (Cook)

[..] the public conversation in the UK, sympathetically reported by the Guardian, supposedly Britain’s only major liberal news outlet, is going to be about who has first dibs on Assange. Here’s the first paragraph of the Guardian front-page article: “Political pressure is mounting on [Home Secretary] Sajid Javid to prioritise action that would allow Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, amid concerns that US charges relating to Wikileaks’ activities risked overshadowing longstanding allegations of rape.” So the concern is not that Assange is facing rendition to the US, it is that the US claim might “overshadow” an outstanding legal case in Sweden. The 70 MPs who signed the letter to Javid hope to kill two birds with one stone.

First, they are legitimising the discourse of the Trump administration. This is no longer about an illegitimate US extradition request on Assange we should all be loudly protesting. It is a competition between two legal claims, and a debate about which one should find legal remedy first. It weighs a woman’s sexual assault allegation against Assange and Wikileaks’ exposure of war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. It suggests that both are in the same category, that they are similar potential crimes. But there should only be one response to the US extradition claim on Assange. That it is entirely illegitimate. No debate. Anything less, any equivocation is to collude in the Trump administration’s narrative. The Swedish claim, if it is revived, is an entirely separate matter.

[..] In another article on Assange on Friday, the Guardian – echoing a common media refrain – reported as fact a demonstrably false claim: “Assange initially took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.” There could be no possible reason for its reporters to make this elementary mistake other than that the Guardian is still waging its long-running campaign against Assange, the information revolution he represents and the challenge he poses to the corporate media of which the Guardian is a key part.

[..] Assange was previously wanted for questioning, and has never been charged with anything. If the Swedish extradition request is revived, it will be so that he can be questioned about those allegations. I should also point out, as almost no one else is, that Assange did not “flee” questioning. He offered Swedish prosecutors to question him at the embassy. Even though questioning overseas in extradition cases is common – Sweden has done it dozens of times – Sweden repeatedly refused in Assange’s case, leading the Swedish appeal court to criticise the prosecutors. When he was finally questioned after four years of delays, Swedish prosecutors violated his rights by refusing access to his Swedish lawyer.

Read more …

First amendment anyone?

American Values: Embassies Are For Chopping Up Journalists (McDonald)

202310Fair-minded people across the world have rightly condemned the US-ordered arrest of Julian Assange. However, few have noted how it fits part of a pattern of American hypocrisy when it comes to the treatment of journalists. Only six months ago, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and hacked to pieces by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. He was a columnist at the Washington Post and editor-in-chief of the Al-Arab News Channel, known for his sharp criticism of the illegal US-backed Saudi war on Yemen. Despite a CIA conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the gruesome assassination, President Donald Trump stood by his ally and no meaningful sanctions or penalties were directed towards Riyadh.


Turkey itself remains a NATO member, and close US partner, despite holding more journalists behind bars than any other nation on earth. This figure stood at 68, at the end of last year, around one-quarter of the global total of 251. Now we have the indictment of Assange, which seeks to criminalize basic functions of journalism. For instance, keeping sources anonymous or deleting records of conversations. Indeed, it also appears to be a breach of America’s own First Amendment. He has been targeted by Washington for exposing evidence of appalling atrocities, carried out by the US military, in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, as a result, Assange sought sanctuary in the small London embassy of Ecuador. What followed was relentless pressure on Quito to reverse the asylum it granted the Wikileaks founder and it culminated in his arrest.

Read more …

“That would forestall extradition for long enough for Jeremy Corbyn to become PM, at which point extradition would be refused. But it may be just all screaming chaos.”

Assange Is In The Dock, But Investigative Journalism Is On Trial (Crikey)

Team Assange had a defence on the jumping bail thing: “Your honour, my client had a reasonable fear that from remand he would be extradited to the US.” That was received reasonably. “Also that the previous presiding judge Lady Arbuthnot, did not recuse herself …” That was not. “You had ample time to raise this issue, and now you are traducing the reputation of a fine judge…” Snow went on. I thought of Peter Cook’s great monologue of the summing-up of the Jeremy Thorpe trial: “You have ruined the reputation of one of the most pretty defendants.” Once Assange had been found guilty of skipping bail, it got even weirder. “Your situation is a product of your narcissism,” said the magistrate clearly riled. He did not want the situation of Justice Lady Arbuthnot further explored. I am happy to do so.


Lady Arbuthnot, who ruled on the lawfulness of Assange’s continued criminalisation in the UK in 2015, is the wife of Lord Arbuthnot, a Conservative who has held multiple defence industry posts over the last two decades. This sally got short shrift, but it seemed to me intended to do so. Although when I asked a member of the legal team how it had all gone, they said “well, you saw that shit show in there”. So perhaps not. Assange is now on remand awaiting sentencing for the fleeing bail charge — the Magistrates Court having transferred it to the Crown Court, so a larger maximum sentence of 12 months instead of six, can be awarded. Is that a plan too? That would forestall extradition for long enough for Jeremy Corbyn to become PM, at which point extradition would be refused. But it may be just all screaming chaos.

Read more …

“Of course, the idea that Moreno is handling the economy brilliantly, but somehow also needs over $10 billion dollars in loans is never addressed.”

The Obvious Dirty Dealings Behind Julian Assange’s Arrest (OG)

The US has been planning to have Julian Assange handed over for a longtime, that much is obvious. Mike Pence, the Vice President, was visiting Ecuador last year, notionally to discuss the Venezuela situation, and trade. But it was fairly obvious at the time, and even more so now, that they were discussing the details of Assange being handed over to UK authorities, and eventually extradited to the US. “Trade”, indeed. In terms of quid pro quo, the situation is clear-cut – In February, Ecuador got a $4.2 BILLION loan approved by the International Monetary Fund (amongst other pay-outs). Reuters reported on February 19th of this year:

“Ecuador has reached a $4.2 billion staff-level financing deal with the IMF, President Lenin Moreno said on Wednesday, as the Andean country grapples with a large fiscal deficit and heavy external debt. The country will also receive $6 billion in loans from multilateral institutions including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the CAF Andean development bank…” So, less than 2 months ago, it was announced Ecuador was going to receive over 10 billion dollars of loans. Where all that money will eventually end up is anyone’s guess, it certainly isn’t being spent on infrastructure or state enterprise: “Moreno has begun to implement an austerity plan that includes layoffs of workers at state-owned companies and cuts to gasoline subsidies, also plans to find a private operator for state-run telecoms company CNT and other state-owned firms.”

President Moreno has already been the subject of numerous corruption accusations. So these “loans”, nominally for “[creating] work opportunities for those who have not yet found something stable”, could more realistically be described as “a pay-off”. More than just money, Lenin Moreno has been gifted something all insecure third-world leaders crave: Western approval. The Economist ran a story on April 12th, the day after Assange was arrested, praising Lenin Moreno’s economic policies, and blaming the previous administration for the “mess” that Moreno has to clear up. (Of course, the idea that Moreno is handling the economy brilliantly, but somehow also needs over $10 billion dollars in loans is never addressed. A tiny logical contradiction compared with the nonsense the MSM dish-up on a daily basis).

Read more …

Expect it to be used against Assange.

Anonymous Attacks Continue Against Ecuadorian Government Websites (Cassandra)

Over 30 websites belonging to the Ecuadorian government are now offline — some of them defaced — in protest of the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The hackers are calling their efforts #OpEcuador, and are also promoting #OpUS and #OpUK. The United States and United Kingdom have not yet been hit with any cyber attacks, that we know of. It is important to note that none of this was directed by WikiLeaks or Assange himself. Supporters are acting on their own with the attacks. A data dump from the hackers warns that “Ecuador Government websites has been taken #Offline with 1 Direct attack. There are few most important websites that’s still down at this time. If some of their servers comes up again, we will fire again to take them down!”

Websites that have been hit include the Central bank of Ecuador, their Ministry of Interior, the Ecuadorian Assembly in UK and the main website for the Government of Ecuador — mot of which had been down for over twelve hours by Saturday evening. The hackers primarily appear to be speaking and coordinating in Spanish — though one of the data dumps was in Indonesia. A Twitter account belonging to the hackers stated that if the websites come back online they will “burn their servers.” The hacking group also called for other supporters to join them.


An InfoSec expert and Assange supporter who has been monitoring the situation told the Gateway Pundit that he is concerned that the attacks will be used against Assange by the media. “My opinion is that it’s deserved karma, but it could enable the anti-Assange media to divert attention away from Julian’s value to journalism by wrongly associating him with reckless hacktivism culture.” He also expressed concern about there being collateral damage within the large data dumps that are being posted online. Other supporters expressed similar concerns, though many still agreed that the attacks are warranted.

Read more …

Mar 252019
 


Yves Klein Leap into the Void 1960

 

Message to Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kemala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard and the rest of the crew: you can stop asking for campaign donations, because you no longer stand a chance in the 2020 elections. Your own party, and the media who support you, made sure of that. Or rather, the only chance you would have is if you guys start another smear campaign against your president, and I wouldn’t recommend that.

I don’t want to start another Lock Her Up sequence, that’s too ugly for my taste. But three parties in this No Collusion disaster must be held accountable: US intelligence, the Democratic party, and the media. You can’t just let it go, too much water under the bridge. No can do. “The Democrats need to move on”, a recent ‘soft line’, is not good enough. They must be held to account.

Bill Barr can investigate the FBI and DOJ, but the obstacles there are obvious: investigating the investigators. The Democratic party would mean going after individuals, but sure, let’s see what Loretta Lynch, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Maxine Waters have to say for themselves and take it from there, before you get to Hillary. The media, though, is something else altogether.

Freedom of the press, and freedom of opinion, is one thing. Conducting a 2-year+ smear campaign against your own president is another. So what does US law say about this? Let’s hear it. Since Trump made Bill Barr the new Attorney General, Barr is instrumental in answering these questions. Is it a smear campaign? Is that acceptable? Is it legal? Asking for a friend.

Not a soul could blame me if I were to gloat because what I’ve said since the 2016 elections has been proven: there is no collusion between ‘the Russians’ and Donald Trump and there never was. But I don’t feel much like gloating because 1) it’s old news and 2) this tale is far from over. The media, and the Democrats, are not going to cave in, because they have nowhere left to ‘cave into’.

The biggest shame, I think, is not that the media will just keep doing what they have, but that a remnant, a residue of all the made-up narratives will remain in their audience’s minds, long after Robert Mueller has said it was all lies all that time. That the public will say: there’s been so much, surely some of it must be true?! The power of repetition.

 

The same media that has spun the collusion theme all this time will simply continue doing what it’s done, just perhaps without using that term -and not even that is sure. Don’t let’s forget, and I’ve said this 1000 times, that while there is a dose of genuine hatred of their own president involved, and some political issues, most of all it’s about their business model. Trump scandals mean readers and viewers. And money.

Because of that, or at least partly because of it, I would seriously like to ask what the odds are of putting Rachel Maddow behind bars. How many lies can you tell, and how often can you repeat them, about anyone, but certainly about your President, before someone calls you on it? Trump can’t really defend himself, or couldn’t as long as Mueller was busy, but this can’t be.

Does the fact that you work for the media protect you to the extent that you can just say anything? And Maddow of course is just an example, albeit an extreme one, but the same goes for CNN, New York Times et al. What freedoms do you have as a journalist? And at what point are you no longer a journalist at all? Who decides that?

BuzzFeed said Mueller was in possession of evidence that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Mueller himself had to discredit that. The Guardian’s Luke Harding wrote a #1 NYT bestselling book called “Collusion” before writing an article with Dan Collins claiming that Manafort had met with Assange multiple times in London.

Not a word of that was true. But Harding And Collins and their editor still work at the Guardian, and no apologies or corrections were ever issued. And at some point you have no choice but to ask: where does it stop? Where do we draw the line? Can anyone who labels themselves a journalist and/or anyone employed by MSM, say anything they want? From sources:

The nonpartisan Tyndall Report pegged the total amount of time devoted to the story on the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS and NBC last year at 332 minutes, making it the second-most covered story after the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

According to a count by the Republican National Committee released Sunday, The [Washington] Post, The New York Times, CNN.com and MSNBC.com have written a combined 8,507 articles [since 2017] mentioning the special counsel’s investigation [into nonexistent collusion], some 13 articles a day. The cable news networks, particularly CNN and MSNBC, have added hundreds of hours of discussion about the topic, too.

And they wrote many more in 2016 as well. They were on a mission. Tyler Durden adds:

Mueller’s 40 FBI agents issued over 2,800 subpoenas, executed “nearly 500 search warrants,” and “obtained over 230 orders for communication records. They also issued 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.

All that time, and all those resources, dedicated to a figment of the imagination, invented out of this air to derail a presidential election and a presidency. Where do we think these people see their country go? I must admit I’m not sure about that one. But I see Bernie Sanders on the anti-Trump wagon, and AOC and Tulsi trying to get on, and I think: please don’t do that, it doesn’t go anywhere.

I’ve called for a second special counsel many times, and I can’t imagine there won’t be one, and as much as I think it’s desperately needed, it’s obvious at the same time that it can only divide the nation further.

There was a reason Trump was elected: people had gotten sick of what was there before, of what Republicans and Democrats had to offer. And there is absolutely nobody in either party who addresses that issue. In other words, there’s still nobody who is listening to those people. So they tune into Rachel Maddow and her kind of ‘reporting’.

Looks like Bill Barr will be badly needed. And that to restore the credibility of US intelligence, he will need to clean up the FBI and DOJ and get rid of all those who’ve taken part in the collusion debacle. A formidable task. I’d suggest he start with Maddow et al and take it from there. Find out who feeds the media their fantasy stories.

Oh, and now that collusion’s off the table, free Julian Assange. Let Robert Mueller show he’s not as much of a coward as he looks until now. To that end, let him swallow the Guccifer 2.0 nonsense as well. That Rachel Maddow makes things up from scratch, doesn’t mean Special Counsels should do that too. Mueller knows exactly what this is about.

A friend (not exactly a Trump fan) mailed me last night saying this was never a witch hunt. And I’m thinking: maybe that depends on how you define it. Here’s one definition: “an unforgiving, evidence-scant campaign against a group of people with unpopular views.” Not too far off, is it?

Time for spring cleaning, Bill Barr.

 

 

Mar 132019
 


René Magritte Personal values 1952

 

Commenting on my own essays has never been my favorite activity, because before you know it you land into Russian doll territory. But a few recent comments from readers have me rethinking that, for once.

Of course I understand that my expressed views over the past two years and change on the era of Donald Trump and his presidency do not please everyone out there, whether they’re long time Automatic Earth readers or new to the site. It’s just that a surprising -to me- number of people let their thoughts and opinions be shaped by media that primarily follow the color of politics and money, not objective facts.

Or perhaps it shouldn‘t be all that surprising, given the amount of attention the mainstream media still manages to gather. Then again, if the MSM would have been right on more issues, there would never have been a place for the Automatic Earth and many other ‘alternative’ media sources. So yeah, I’m a bit of two minds on that.

What I am sure about is that I don’t think the advent of Donald Trump has been the main event since 2016, I have very few illusions about US politics. For me the big story has been how the media has shifted from reporting the news to manufacturing it. I’m seeing the Russiagate narrative falling apart in real time right now and I think: I saw that coming, because none of all those collusion stories were based on facts to begin with.

And I’ve said exactly that for two years now as well. It started off with supporting their favorite candidate, who was a shoe-in anyway, then it turned into being angry when she lost, and it ended up with figuring out that denouncing Trump ten times a day was a goldmine that could save entire papers and TV channels, because Americans are addicted to scandals, even if they’re invented and/or inconsequential.

 

In my view, media making up stories and narratives from scratch is a much bigger threat to America than Donald Trump. Obviously, people believing the made-up tales is just as bad. You don’t have to be pro-Trump, let alone even like the man, to be very wary of reporters and papers and news channels and everyone and their pet hamster with a social media account, publishing a dozen anti-Trump stories every single day, most of them entirely made up and most of the rest just plain dumping on him.

And you certainly don’t need to be pro-Trump to point out that this is happening, or to agitate against it. But that’s how it’s presented, and that’s how many people, including no doubt many readers of the Automatic Earth, see it. In this day and age, if you wander too far from what the MSM tell you the truth is, you get punished even by somewhat smarter people.

If you don’t support the anti-Trump narrative, and elect to stay out of that echo chamber, you become a Trump supporter. And we all know what happens when you actively resist the narrative.

The reason why one so easily gets labeled a Trump supporter only for pointing out that stories contain no facts, provokes interesting questions, but none of them will have me shy away from saying what I think of it. I mean, just take a look at the Reuters/Ipsos poll that came out last week, which shows that Americans have made up their minds about Trump-Russia way ahead of the Mueller report being published.

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; about 8 in 10 Democrats said they thought the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, while 7 in 10 Republicans said they did not.

Now how is that possible, the majority ‘knowing’ what to believe without knowing the facts? Easy, the media made up their minds for them, and they did it without knowing the facts either. A much bigger story than Trump. And you would think old-fashioned journalism could have gotten a lot of real dirt on the Donald, but the entire MSM chose to go for unproven smear instead..

The Old Gray Lady and her consorts have made it entirely acceptable to disrespect the Office of the President of the United States. They’ve made doing so an honorable thing to do. All on the basis of rumors about Vladimir Putin pulling Trump’s strings. How this can fail to have terribly dramatic consequences for the US I do not see. Once the respect for the office is gone, how do you get it back? By putting a different questionable person in it?

 

But now I’m doing what I swore not to do: repeat myself. Inevitable when commenting on your own essays perhaps, but still. So let’s move on to the comments. Both came in by private emaiI, and I haven’t asked for permission to use real names, so they’ll be anonymous.

The first one was from a highly respected -and not just by me- retired US professor and writer I’ve had contact with for a decade or so, and came after I published The House Hit A New Low, commenting on Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House on February 27. Which I thought was about nothing at all, “A phishing expedition with a willing whale in the center who sort of volunteered to be harpooned..”, other than Democrat showboating.

But my friend the professor wrote:

Just so you know……… I thought Cohen courageous, believable and completely on target. I think people see what they are predetermined to see…. You and I see different things. As Congressional Republicans and apparently you do not see the problem is Trump, and as he said those who are blinded by him. Not Cohen. We should all speak out. The “conservatism” of your columns sometimes annoys me, but your insights are often good. I try to get different perspectives.

As I said above, and often before, I agree that “people see what they are predetermined to see”. It’s just that I think that originates at the NYT, WaPo, CNN, and my friend does not. But what struck me in his comment is him calling my writing “conservatism”. Nobody ever called me that, I don’t see myself that way, and I doubt that anyone did before I started talking about the way Trump has been treated.

And again, you don’t have to like Trump to dislike the made-up narratives that dictate what ‘news‘ in America has turned into. And that’s not conservative. Not that I think that conservatism is a wrong thing per se, but I don’t see many ‘conservatives’ these days conserving anything at all, other than their privileges.

See, I would think MAGA means protecting bald eagles, mountain lions, humpbacks and even mom-and-pop stores, but what counts as conservative today is the opposite of that. It basically revolves around making a few people rich at the expense of everyone else and the natural world they all depend on for their survival.

Other than that, as I said, I have few illusions about US politics, on either side of the aisle. Which is why I welcomed Trump three years ago, and I welcome Ocasio, Tulsi Gabbard and Ilhan Omar today: something better change, because if things don’t change fast, we’re bound to see the 21st century American version of pitchforks; yes, that would be rifles and handguns.

I hope perhaps that clears things a up, even if just a little, for my friend. But still, I didn’t think Cohen looked “courageous, believable and completely on target”. I thought he looked like a worn out tool of Nadler and Schiff’s committee, telling obvious lies about not having asked Trump for a White House job or a pardon. But let’s agree not to agree.

Then I mentioned the professor’s mail in the Automatic Earth comments section the next day, saying:

Someone mailed me yesterday talking about the conservatism of my columns. Never saw that before. And I don’t agree. Raging against the empty narratives of the anti-Trump machine does not make me a Trump supporter. (People should read more carefully. The world is not divided into two camps.)

… and a second mail came from someone who’s, let’s say, one of my more critical readers (he seems to think I’m full of it, and uses that as a reason to keep reading me):

You’re right: to the extent that you agree with anything Trump says or does to reduce US aggression in different parts of the world, the anti-Trumpers should be shouted down.

You’re wrong: your refusal to even mention racism, sexism, anti-democratic voter suppression, gerrymandering, campaign finance laws, electoral college, gun control, health care, tax cuts and the wholesale attack on the environment by Trump and Republicans (Trump is representative not an outlier among Republicans) is what makes you conservative.

Your silences speak louder than anything you say or print. Your alleged concern for the environment is comical compared to your total silence on American (Trump) policies on the environment. Keep up your selective silences. Its what you do best.

That’s a nice list, but it doesn’t appear to be all around fair. Criticizing Trump over all these things is at best a double-edged sword. But first of all, I don’t refuse to mention them, but I’m not here to provide a fully balanced picture. I’m here to balance out the one-sided positions the Old Gray Lady vents on a daily basis and 27 times on Sunday.

As for racism and sexism, I see those as America-wide issues, not Trump issues. Anti-democratic voter suppression: go ask Bernie Sanders and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Gerrymandering ditto. And campaign finance laws. How one can hold such things against Trump and not others in US politics is beyond me. But let’s talk.

The electoral college problem, if it indeed is one, has absolutely nothing to do with Trump. America as a society would need to come together to move to the popular vote. But what are the odds of any such unity happening given the anti-Trump campaigns?

Gun control: I can’t recall Obama doing anything much about that, so how can one hold it against Trump? Guns seem to be too big a problem for the US to deal with, and I see it leading to the American version of France’s pitchforks: the one tool the unwashed masses have left to defend themselves and get their grievances across. A good thing? No. But Trump’s fault? No.

When it comes to health care, things are a bit more confusing and clearer at the same time. The conservatives who conserve dick all, stand quasi-united against universal health care, while the Democrats, who long held a similar position, are starting to shift.

Health care is a much more worthy topic than the ones before mentioned in that comment, but that particular discussion, like so many others, has been stifled by the neverending accusations of Russia collusion that the MSM have placed -the vast majority of- their bets on.

Trump has been president for two years, and not one day has gone by in which he was not accused of sitting on Putin’s lap in some way or another, so how are you going to get him to open up to your different point of view? He’s had to retreat into his trenches just to survive and go about the business of being a president. He was never given a chance to open up and change his mind. Is he to blame for that?

What else was there? Tax cuts. Yeah, well, conservatives and their privileges. And a short-term way to make the economy look better. Long-term economic benefits? Maybe not so much. But don’t let’s go there, because Pandora would open and reveal, again, very little that’s Trump-specific. It’s simply Washington.

Last thing is the environment, and because I post many articles on that topic in my daily news aggregators, it’s obvious that my views are not the Donald’s. But that, again, is conservatives refusing to conserve. It’s not just Trump, and it’s not just Republicans either. From what I see, America has destroyed far too much of its natural world already, and I haven’t seen a single voice in Washington with a convincing story to stop it, not AOC and the Green New Deal either.

 

To summarize: the Automatic Earth has sought, and continues to seek, to provide a balance vs one-sided ‘news’, because it is a much bigger problem than any single presidency. Reporting in the age of Trump has not just been one-sided, most of it has been outright falsehood. Why does it happen? Because it sells. You are prone to believe fictional accounts, you have a tendency to become addicted to scandal, and so you are targeted.

Now, the reason the Automatic Earth exists is that it tells people things they don’t want to hear. That goes for the odd professor, no matter how much we appreciate him or her, for all those who dislike an individual like Donald Trump so much they let others form their opinions for them with trumped-up narratives, it goes for Trump himself, and for everyone else we think fail to think for themselves any longer.

If your opinions are shaped by people who seek to make a profit off of doing that for you, you are merely one among millions who fall into the same trap. It’s ironic and funny too that the Old Gray Lady et al could never have started out on their new business model without the internet and the social media it spawned, while the very same business model makes entities such as the Automatic Earth necessary.

It gets more ironic still: the MSM developed the model because the old one, just plain reporting, wasn’t paying them enough to survive. Orwell was never that easy to understand. After all, he was talking about things that existed only in his mind’s eye when he was alive, and came alive themselves long after he was gone. But look at us today.

One last thing: I can’t perhaps speak for the entire Automatic Earth, because Nicole Foss, though she may have been silent for a while, appears to detest Donald Trump. That gives her and I something to talk about.

 

 

Aug 052018
 
 August 5, 2018  Posted by at 1:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Salvador Dali Spain 1936-38 (Spanish civil war)

 

Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-semite. Julian Assange is a rapist, a Russian agent and a terrorist. Donald Trump is an anti-semite, a rapist AND a Russian agent. Vladimir Putin wants to invade and enslave the entire western world and to that end employs Assange, Trump, maybe also Corbyn(?), as well as thousands upon thousands of hackers and murderers who make people vote for whoever Putin chooses, and poison former Russian agents on western soil.

These allegations, and there’s many more of them, have a number of things in common. Most importantly, they serve to change your mind. They serve to change your perception of reality. They seek to whip up your support for the very people and forces that launch them into the media.

Something else they have in common is that none of them has ever been proven, even though some of them are getting on in years. But they were never meant to be proven, simply because they don’t have to be. If your mind is a fertile breeding ground for such allegations, all that needs to be done is plant a seed, and plant another, and then water them day after day by repeating the allegations and make them ‘yummier’, until they sprout a plant or a tree ‘spontaneously’.

A third feature the allegations have in common is that as they change your perception of reality, you will be -more- inclined to support those who invented them for that exact purpose, so you will not oppose their -further- grab for power and wealth.

That Jeremy Corbyn would hate Jews goes against the man’s entire life history. But he’s been exceedingly weak in defending himself, and his Labour Party, against the accusations of anti-semitism, so the label sticks and has been very successful. Instead of explaining his position in the face of the unfolding and increasingly disastrous Brexit proceedings, all Corbyn gets to do is utter some feeble defence about his history with Jewish people. On Brexit, he’s been all but silenced. Even his own party merrily goes along with the smear.

 

The accusations concerning Assange in the Swedish rape ‘case’ are, if possible, even more preposterous, even if they have also ostensibly been even more successful. The Swedes, British and Americans involved in the narrative knew beforehand that all they needed was to plant a fragile seed. Julian had historically enjoyed a lot of support from women, and that was over in a heartbeat.

Sweden’s female(!) prosecutor, Marianne Ny, refused for 4 years to talk to Assange one on one and when she finally did, dropped the case right after. But that’s 4 years of allegations hanging over him, easily enough to serve the purpose of those allegations: plant a seed of doubt. By then, another -hollow- tree had sprouted: Assange was accused of working directly with the Kremlin.

He always denied this, but after negotiations with the US Justice Department in early 2017 were abruptly halted by then FBI-head James Comey and US Senator Mark Warner (D.-VA) as Assange offered to prove that it wasn’t Russians who provided him with files from the DNC server(s), Robert Mueller felt free to accuse him of working with Russia once again in his indictment of 12 Russians last month. Not only could Assange not defend himself by then, since he had been totally silenced, but Mueller didn’t even attempt to provide evidence.

And I’ve said this numerous times before, but I still think it bears repeating: WikiLeaks is based on one underlying principle above and beyond anything else: trust; which means uncompromising honesty. WIthout that, no-one would ever again offer them any files. WikiLeaks doesn’t reveal sources, and it doesn’t redact things out of files other than to protect people’s lives.

In that sense it’s interesting that even with the Vault7 CIA files, after Comey had betrayed Assange, the latter still held back from publishing certain pages, just so CIA operatives wouldn’t be exposed. If Assange is caught in just one lie, be it about rape or about Russia, WikiLeaks is done, and so is he and his life’s work. So what do you do about someone who doesn’t lie? You spread lies about him.

But, again, that’s not what people see, because that’s not what their media report. Papers like the New York Times and the Guardian, who were more than happy to share, and profit from, WikiLeaks files before, have turned on Assange with a vengeance. Journalists are more than willing to throw a fellow journalist under the bus and then turn around and accuse Donald Trump of endangering journalists when he says they spread fake news. Well, they do, that’s what Assange’s case proves without a doubt.

 

That brings us to Trump, a ‘case’ that has much in common with Assange -even if the men themselves don’t-, but is also very different. Trump doesn’t seem to shy away from the odd white lie or embellishment. And sure, that may be putting it mildly. But both journalists and their viewers and readers need to keep one thing in mind: their work does not consist of spouting allegations. They need to provide proof.

And in the 18 -or 24- months since Trump prominently rose upon the Washington scene, precious little has been proven. Robert Mueller has alleged plenty, but proven next to nothing. It’s fair to say after all that time that he’s fishing. Sure, Paul Manafort will likely go to jail, but his case has nothing to do with Russia collusion, at least not in any way that Mueller has evidence for (we would have known if he did).

And you know, if you spend so much time, and resources, trying to find something, trying to find proof, and you have failed to find it, you have to acknowledge just that. Maybe not halt the investigation entirely, but go public and state that you haven’t been able to find what you thought you would or could. The country deserves that, The American people deserve it, and yes, Donald Trump does, too.

But the whole country now lives on a narrative. Media left and right profit from it, each to feed their audience the ‘latest’ 24/7. And there’s nothing really, so they have to make it up in order to continue profiting from the whipped-up attention. One side tells you how evil Trump is, the other how great he’s doing. The truth is always in the middle, but America has no middle left.

 

I said before that Donald Trump is portrayed as an anti-semite, a rapist AND a Russian agent. As for the first bit, I covered that a few days ago in “Globalist”. Does Trump hate Jews? Even if he does, he hides it pretty well. He’s always done business with Jewish people (hey, this is New York!), there are plenty Jews in his government, and in his own family. Calling someone an anti-Semite is a very serious thing, not a detail to be thrown around at will. Prove it or hold your tongue.

Is Trump a rapist, like what Assange is accused of? You can certainly find no shortage of people willing to state that in both cases. But again, no evidence. And with the fame and glory awaiting anyone who does prove it in either case, you would think by now someone would have found something. Again, prove it or hold your tongue.

Thirdly: is Trump a Russian agent? Look, if Robert Mueller hasn’t been able to prove that he is after two years and tens of millions spent, at least get off your high horse and focus on something else for a bit, if you want to be taken serious as a journalist. Russia, and Putin, are America’s favorite bogeyman today, and about the only thing that still unites the country.

So find something instead that unites you that is not your enemy. Find common cause. Find what makes you proud to be America. Are you all going to be proud if Assange is dragged into some place like Gitmo? Then you have completely lost what it is that should make you proud citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Because no matter how you may twist it, Julian Assange is braver than any of you, and braver than all of you put together too. But no, he’s not free. He gave up his freedom so you would know what it means to be free. Free from manipulation, free from people making up your minds for you, free from indoctrination, free from the forces that take more of your freedom away every day.

You see, Julian Assange is not free. But neither are you. He’s a prisoner of the very people who are taking your freedom away, day by day, step by step. That’s why you should stand up for him. And of course, it’s not just your freedom that’s at stake, it’s your humanity, it’s the very essence of what makes you human, the difference between a life worth living and a life wasted by complacency and cowardice.

Anything else is just narrative. It’s not life.

 

 

And yes, the title is from Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.

 

 

 

 

Jun 072018
 


Vincent van Gogh The good Samaritan (after Delacroix) 1890

 

UK House Prices Have Soared 100-Fold Since 1966 (CityAM)
No Need To Buy US Gas At Triple The Price, Will Buy From Russia – Austria (RT)
European Businesses Advised To Avoid Using British Parts Ahead Of Brexit (Sky)
Volatility May Hit Wall Street As Alphabet, Facebook Leave Tech Sector (R.)
China’s Debt Default Avalanche (ZH)
Turkey Escalates Row With Greece Over ‘Putschist’ Soldiers (G.)
Merkel Backs Macron’s European Defense Force Initiative (RT)
Airbnb Culls Japan Listings Ahead Of New Rental Law (AFP)
Whoever Controls The Narrative Controls The World (CJ)
How Humanity Could Become Impossible To Propagandize (CJ)
Study Warns Of Alarming Decline In Australian Fish (AFP)

 

 

Shifting priorities. Homes are no longer places to live.

UK House Prices Have Soared 100-Fold Since 1966 (CityAM)

UK house prices are 106 times higher than they were when England won the World Cup in 1966, according to research from online mortgage broker Trussle. Average house prices have gone up from £2,006 to £211,000, the company found, while wages have risen at around a third of the rate, moving from £798 to £26,500. But for the country’s footballers, the story is somewhat different. On average Premier League footballers earn 1,136 times more than top-flight stars like Bobby Moore and George Best did back in 1966. It’s estimated that the average wage of the current England squad is just below £80,000 per week – more than 3 times the annual UK average wage.

Ishaan Malhi, CEO and founder of Trussle, said: “A lot of has changed since England won the World Cup. We’ve put a man on the moon, invented the internet and we’ve seen technology transform almost every aspect of our lives. “We’ve also seen the UK housing market change dramatically. Prices have soared in the last 52 years, wages have struggled to keep pace and for young people, the chances of getting on the property ladder today will feel a lot slimmer than they did in 1966.” The research from Trussle comes as analysis from trade union GMB published yesterday showed that rents in London are far outpacing wage growth. Analysing data from the Valuation Office Agency, GMB found that between 2011 and 2017, rent prices for two-bedroom flats in London increased by 25.9%, whilst over the same period, monthly earnings increased by just 9.1%.

Read more …

European ties to Russia are old and deep.

No Need To Buy US Gas At Triple The Price, Will Buy From Russia – Austria (RT)

The US is force-feeding Europe its liquefied natural gas, which is three times more expensive that buying it from Russia, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said after signing a gas-supply contract with Moscow until 2040. While US politicians are accusing Europe of being dependent on Russian gas, they forget that “American liquefied gas is two or three times more expensive than Russian gas. Under such circumstances, it makes little sense in purely economic terms to replace Russian gas with American LNG,” Van der Bellen said at a press conference after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vienna on Tuesday.

Putin noted that Austria is a major transportation hub for Russian gas being exported to Europe. “Austria has become one of the key, if not to say, one of the most important units of Russian gas transportation to Western Europe and plays an important role in ensuring the energy security of the entire European continent,” Putin said. He recalled that Russia has exported more than 200 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Austria in the past 50 years. After the meeting, Russia’s Gazprom and Austria’s OMV signed a gas supply contract until 2040.

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Trade deals can be bitches.

European Businesses Advised To Avoid Using British Parts Ahead Of Brexit (Sky)

European governments are advising businesses not to use British parts in goods for export ahead of Brexit, Sky News has established. In its advice rolled out to all Dutch businesses, the Dutch government has told its exporters that “if a large part of your product consists of parts from the UK” domestic exporters may lose free trade access under existing deals. The advice says: “Brexit will have consequences for exports outside the EU. “After Brexit, parts made in the UK no longer count towards this minimum production in the European Union.” This is a reference to what are known as “rules of origin” and “local content” under international trade rules. In order to qualify for EU free trade deals, a certain proportion, typically 55% of a product’s parts, needs to come from the EU.

The Dutch government says UK parts “no longer count towards EU origin” in its official “Brexit impact scan” advice to Dutch businesses. That warning has also been underpinned by the EU’s own technical notice on this issue. “As of withdrawal date, the UK becomes a third country. UK inputs are considered ‘non-originating’,” it says. A leading car industry executive told Sky News that not using UK parts for EU exports would be a “catastrophe” for the British industry. “The hard Brexiteers have built a bomb under the UK automotive industry and the EU have lit it,” said one chief executive. Sky News has also heard of major UK automotive suppliers now ceasing UK supply of major components to cars for export to countries currently covered by EU Free Trade Areas – countries such as South Korea, South Africa and Canada.

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A new day.

Volatility May Hit Wall Street As Alphabet, Facebook Leave Tech Sector (R.)

Volatility could well be in the cards for Wall Street again early this fall, but not for the same reason stocks got rattled in February. This time the culprit would be the largest-ever shakeup of the stock market’s broad business sectors, which will mean some of the hottest stocks, like Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, will shift from their traditional homes in the top-performing technology sector and into a deepened pool of telecommunications and media stocks. The sweeping reorganization of the Global Industry Classification Standard, or GICS, means that funds tracking the telecom, tech and consumer discretionary sectors will be forced to trade billions of dollars of stock to realign their holdings by a Sept. 28 effective date.

While the choppiness many investors expect to see is unlikely to hit stocks in quite the same way that wave of the global uncertainty did in early 2018, the fact that so much money must be shifted among index funds in a short time will cause a stir. In a bid to ensure a smooth transition, leading fund provider Vanguard Group has have already started adjusting its sector exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, while State Street Global Advisors is launching an entirely new fund. Other investors predict price swings and commotion on trading desks if last-minute sales of Alphabet and Facebook shares by heavyweight technology index funds dwarf demand from a handful of telecom funds buying those stocks.

“There’s probably going to be net selling,” said Andrew Bodner, president of Double Diamond Investment Group in Parsippany, New Jersey. “That will be a temporary scenario, and it could be a good buying opportunity for a lot of those stocks.” Maintained by S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI since 1999 and widely used by portfolio managers, the GICS classifies companies across 11 sectors. The newest, real estate, was split off from financials in 2016. The upcoming changes, which have yet to be finalized, are meant to reflect evolving industries. Facebook and Alphabet will move from information technology and sit alongside AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications in a broadened telecommunication services sector that will be renamed communications services.

Read more …

Who’s the boss in China? Xi or the shadows?

China’s Debt Default Avalanche (ZH)

[..] what if the first domino to fall in the coming corporate debt crisis is not in the US, but in China? After all, as part of China’s aggressive deleveraging campaign, there has already been a spike of corporate bankruptcies as banks shed more of their massive note holdings and de-risk their balance sheets. According to Logan Wright, Hong Kong-based director at research firm Rhodium, there have already been least 14 corporate bond defaults in China in 2018; a separate analysis by Economic Information Daily, as of May 25, there had already been no less than 20 corporate defaults, involving more than 17 billion yuan, a shockingly high number for a country which until recently had never seen a single corporate bankruptcy, and a number which is set to increase as Chinese banks pull pull back from lending to other firms that use the funds to buy bonds, exacerbating the pressure on the market.

“You have seen banks redeeming funds placed with non-bank financial institutions that have reduced the pool of funds available for corporate bond investment overall,” Wright told Bloomberg, adding that additional bond defaults are especially likely among those property developers and local-government financing vehicles which have relied on shadow banking sources of funds. As we discussed last year, as part of Beijing’s crackdown on China’s $10 trillion shadow banking sector, strains have spread from high-yield trust products to corporate bonds as the lack of shadow funding has choked off refinancing for weaker borrowers. Separately, Banks’ lending to other financial firms, a common route for funds and securities brokers to add leverage for corporate bond investments, declined for three straight months, or a total of 1.7 trillion yuan ($265 billion), since January according to Bloomberg calculations.

The deleveraging campaign is also depressing bond demand: “Unlike the U.S., where the majority of buyers of bonds are mutual funds, individuals and investment companies, in China, the key holders of bonds are bank on-and off-balance sheet positions,” said Jason Bedford at UBS, who noted that Chinese banks are buying far fewer bonds as a result. Putting the number in context, according to Bloomberg, China’s four largest banks held about 4.1 trillion yuan in bonds issued by companies and other financial institutions at the end of 2017, nearly 20% below 5.1 trillion yuan a year earlier; all Chinese banks held about 12 trillion yuan of corporate bonds on or off their balances sheets, some 70% of outstanding issuance, according to Citic.

It is therefore hardly surprising to see that Chinese corporate bonds, especially riskier issues, have been getting slammed in recent weeks. According to Chinabond data, as noted first by Bloomberg, the yield premium of three-year AA- rated bonds over similar-maturity AAA notes has blown out 72 bps since March to 225 basis points, the highest level since August 2016, an indication of the recent pressures on weaker firms. One can imagine what is going on with deep junk-rated corps.

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Under heavy police protection in Greece. Because the Turks may come and get them. Elections June 24.

Turkey Escalates Row With Greece Over ‘Putschist’ Soldiers (G.)

Turkey has sent fighter jets roaring into Greek airspace as tensions mount between the two neighbours following the release from pre-trial detention of eight Turkish army officers described as traitors by Ankara. Formations of F-16s flew at low altitude over Aegean isles for more than 20 minutes on Tuesday as Turkey furiously accused Greece of sheltering terrorists. Ankara vowed to trace the commandos who it claimed participated in the failed July 2016 coup against the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. “It is our duty to find these ‘putschist’ soldiers wherever they are, pack them up and bring them to Turkey,” the country’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, said late on Monday.

He personally criticised the Greek prime minster, Alexis Tsipras, for failing to hand the soldiers over to Turkey after they flew into Greek airspace. “From statements made in Greece by its prime minister right after the coup, we were of the positive opinion that they would be extradited to Turkey,” he said. “We thought that Mr Tsipras would keep his word. With time, though, we saw that the judicial authorities were mobilised and these ‘putschists’ were not extradited.” The fate of the eight has been in Greek hands ever since the army officers took local authorities aback, landing their helicopter outside the northern border town of Alexandroupolis a day after the abortive coup.

[..] On Monday Greek authorities moved the military personnel out of police custody; following expiry of the 18-month pre-trial period they are legally allowed to be detained while they apply for asylum. They have been placed in top-secret locations under heavy police protection. “Given Turkey’s mindset, the situation is very dangerous,” said a senior judicial source. “But this is an issue of justice and we feel strongly that we must stand up for it.”

Read more …

Competition for NATO?!

Merkel Backs Macron’s European Defense Force Initiative (RT)

Chancellor Angela Merkel has supported “in principle” the idea of a joint European Defense Force proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron. Germany’s opposition had been the main stumbling block for the much-discussed project. “I am in favor of President Macron’s proposal for an intervention initiative,” the German chancellor told Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on Sunday. “However, such an intervention force with a common military-strategic culture must fit into the structure of defense cooperation,” she said. Merkel said that the German military, the Bundeswehr, “must, in principle, be part of such an initiative,” but added that her statement “doesn’t mean that we are to be involved in every mission.”

During his key speech at Sorbonne University last September, Macron proposed a European military “intervention force” that would protect the continent by taking action in hotspots around the globe. It’s a crucial element of the French leader’s defense reform, which is aimed at integrating European defense capacities. But the talks on implementing the European Defense Force have so far been complicated due to Berlin’s cautions approach to the initiative. “European defense cooperation is very important. Of the 180 weapon systems that currently co-exist in Europe, we must move to a situation like the United States, which has only about 30 weapons systems,” Merkel said.

Read more …

Still a pretty weak law.

Airbnb Culls Japan Listings Ahead Of New Rental Law (AFP)

Rental platform Airbnb has suspended a large majority of its listings in Japan ahead of a new law that goes into effect next week regulating short-term rentals in the country. The law, which will comes into force on June 15, requires owners to obtain a government registration number and meet various regulations that some have decried as overly strict. “This weekend we reached out to those hosts who have not yet obtained their notification number to let them know that they will need this to accept any new bookings,” Airbnb spokesman for Asia-Pacific Jake Wilczynski told AFP. “We have informed those hosts that we are in the process of turning off future listing capabilities.”

He declined to confirm the exact number of listings affected, but local media reports and sources put the figure at about 80 percent of the rentals available on the site across Japan. Wilczynski said many Airbnb hosts had already obtained their registration, and others were “going through or finalising” the process. “We are on course to register tens of thousands of new listings in Japan in the months ahead,” he added. [..] The law limits stays to 180 days a year, and allows local governments to impose additional restrictions, with the tourist magnet of Kyoto only permitting rentals in residential areas between mid-January and mid-March, the low season for tourists.

Read more …

Two excellent pieces from Caitlin Johnstone.

Whoever Controls The Narrative Controls The World (CJ)

MSNBC host Joy Reid still has a job. Despite blatantly lying about time-traveling hackers bearing responsibility for bigoted posts a decade ago in her then-barely-known blog, despite her reportedly sparking an FBI investigation on false pretenses, despite her colleagues at MSNBC being completely fed up with how the network is handling the controversy surrounding her, her career just keeps trundling forward like a bullet-riddled zombie. To be clear, I do not particularly care that Joy Reid has done any of these things. I write about war, nuclear escalations and the sociopathy of US government agencies which kill millions of people; I don’t care that Joy Reid is or was a homophobe, and I don’t care that she lied to cover it up.

The war agendas that MSNBC itself promotes on a daily basis are infinitely worse than either of these things, and if that isn’t obvious to you it’s because military propaganda has caused you to compartmentalize yourself out of an intellectually honest understanding of what war is. What is interesting to me, however, is the fact that Reid’s bosses are protecting her career so adamantly. Both by refusing to fire her, and by steering the conversation into being about her controversial blog posts rather than the fact that she told a spectacular lie in an attempt to cover them up, Reid is being propped up despite this story constantly re-emerging and making new headlines with new embarrassing details, and despite her lack of any discernible talent or redeeming personal characteristics. This tells us something important about what is going on in the world.

It is not difficult to find someone to read from a teleprompter for large amounts of money. What absolutely is difficult is finding someone who is willing to deceive and manipulate to advance the agendas of the privileged few day after day. Who else would be willing to spend all day on Twitter smearing everyone to the left of Hillary Clinton while still claiming to stand on the political left? Who else would advance the point-blank lieabout “17 intelligence agencies” having declared Russia guilty in US election meddling months after that claim had been famously and virally debunked? Who else would publicly claim that Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks did not benefit anyone besides Russia? Who else could oligarchs like Comcast CEO Brian L Roberts, whose company controls MSNBC, count on to consistently advance his agendas?

While it’s easy to find someone you can count on to advance one particular lie at one particular time, it is difficult to find someone you can be absolutely certain will lie for you day after day, year after year, through election cycles and administration changes and new war agendas and changing political climates. A lot of the people who used to advance perspectives which ran against the grain of the political orthodoxy at MSNBC like Phil Donahue, Ed Schultz and Dylan Ratigan have vanished from the airwaves never to return, while reporters who consistently keep their heads down and toe the line for the Democratic establishment like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid are richly rewarded and encouraged to remain.

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It’s just that I’m asking myself if maybe the notion that ‘we can change and be better people’ is itself a narrative?!

How Humanity Could Become Impossible To Propagandize (CJ)

Narrative rules our world today, from our most basic concepts about ourselves to the behavior of nations and governments. Right now your direct experience of life is little more than the air going in and out of your respiratory system, your gaze moving from left to right over this text, and perhaps the sensation of your bum in a chair or sofa; without any narrative overlay, those experiences are all you are in this moment. Add in mental narrative and all of a sudden you’re a particular individual with a particular name and a particular story, who has perhaps some concerns about the future and regrets about the past, with all sorts of desires and goals and fears and aversions. As far as your actual present experience is concerned, all that stuff is pure mental noise. Pure narrative.

The same is true of things like power, money, and government. There is nothing grafted onto the electrons of the universe which says that the world needs to be mostly ruled by a few billionaires and their lackeys. Only the made-up rules about how power, money and government operate cause that to be the case, and those rules are only as true as we all collectively agree to pretend they are. They are all mental constructs that people made up, and we can therefore change them whenever we want to. Which is why so much plutocratic effort goes into making sure that we don’t.

Narrative dominates our society from top to bottom, which means that all someone has to do to control society is control its narratives. If people are sick, hungry, or poor, you don’t have to give them medicine, food or money to pacify them; you can just give them a narrative instead. If you can get them subscribed to the notion that attempts to rectify these problems with economic justice ought to be rejected and avoided by all hardworking Americans, you can have them defending the plutocracy and advocating their own poverty without giving them a thing. In a society where power is relative and money equals power, the rich are necessarily incentivized to keep everyone else poor in order to retain power, so using narrative control to pacify the masses is a common and useful tactic.

Read more …

Wherever you look, life itself appears to be exiting the planet. Rapidly.

Study Warns Of Alarming Decline In Australian Fish (AFP)

Conservation experts warned Wednesday of alarming falls in Australian fish populations and called for more marine reserves and better management to halt the decline. A 10-year study, looking at nearly 200 species at 544 sites, found the main cause was overfishing, with climate change also contributing, although the organisation that manages the nation’s fisheries disputed the findings. The research, in the decade to 2015 by the University of Tasmania and Sydney’s University of Technology, indicated that the numbers of large fish species – over 20 centimetres (eight inches) – had decreased by about 30 percent.

Claimed to be the first independent assessment of the size and abundance of coastal fish species off the Australian continent, it used frequent underwater surveys by divers along blocks of reef. Researchers compared areas where fishing was allowed with marine parks where it was limited or not permitted at all. “We found consistent population declines amongst many popular commercial and recreational fishes, including in marine parks that allowed limited fishing, while numbers increased within no-fishing reserves,” said lead author Graham Edgar. The study, published in the journal Aquatic Conservation, warned that the present situation globally — with more than 98 percent of seas open to some form of fishing — needed “immediate multinational attention”.

Read more …

Mar 292018
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Christ In The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee 1633
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

I am gullible. Very. I betcha I am more gullible than you. And that tells you something, because you know how gullible you are. Or so you think. Still, as bad as I got it, something physically snapped in the back of my head this morning, I could hear it snap, when I saw this Guardian headline:

Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say

Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home. Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said. Counter-terrorism detectives will continue to focus their inquiries on the home address for the coming weeks, and possibly months…

See, because of my gullibility, I’ve decided that if I’m to have any idea of what really goes on around me, I’m condemned to reading a lot. Obviously, like you, I’ve found that the vast majority of what passes for news is as fake as it gets. More so by the day. So we have to read between the lines all the time. It’s what it is. But this…

If these two people have actually been poisoned, that’s a really terrible thing. But maybe lying about such things is much worse. And I doubt that anything at all we’ve been told about the Skripal case is true. Not because I don’t want to believe it, but because the storytellers plant so many trees they’re getting lost in their own forest.

Today the British press reports that the Skripal father and daughter pair were poisoned “from their front door”. They do that with the same level of certainty that just a few days ago they used in telling us they were poisoned through the air vents of the dad’s BMW. Exact same story, just a different location. And that’s after a by now long sequence of headlines that claimed it had happened inside the home, or in a bar, a pizzeria, or on the parkbench they were ostensibly ‘found’ on.

What that headline above, and all others on the topic that came before it, tells me is that evidently the hundreds of ‘experts’ involved in the case have not yet been able to locate the ‘nerve agent’. They’re still just guessing, even 25 days after the incident is supposed to have happened. How would that be done? I have no idea, but I’m surely thinking that after almost 4 weeks it’s essentially a pure guessing game, and nothing more than that.

Does the alleged nerve agent leave traces after all that time? I don’t have a clue, but I do know from what I’ve read that it’s apparently so toxic (as in lethal) that even very faint traces of the stuff are, well, lethal. So when I first read the BMW air vent theory last week I was thinking: did the guy who towed that car to the police station wear a full hazmat suit? He would have had to if he’s still alive.

And where is that car anyway? Come to think of it, where are the Skripals? And how is it possible that they survived the ‘attack’? Were they given a full blood transfusion? Are they being treated 24/7 by dedicated personnel in hazmat suits? There are too many questions for me to answer. And that goes for you too. And for Boris Johnson. And Donald Trump. And the governments of the 30-or-so nations that nevertheless expelled well over a hundred Russian diplomats.

 

Now, I’m not a chemist, let alone an organic chemist. So perhaps I should consult with my friend Dave Collum, who is. But I was going to write this from memory, not go back and find all those headlines, or ask around. This is not about me being 100% correct, it’s about the ‘news reports’ being so far off the truth.

Here’s what I have picked up about the nerve agent. The press calls it “Novichok“ (Russian for newbies), but Novichok is not a nerve agent, it’s a group of them. In the Skripal case, the journalists -who I can only hope are not as gullible as I am- behind all the ‘news’ have been told by ‘authorities’ that we’re dealing with A-234, which is a novichok nerve agent.

Developed by Russia a long time ago, but no longer produced in Russia after 1993, as the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed. Its chemical formula has been made public, which means that at least in theory anyone could produce it.

Russia would seem to be the last country to try that, because it would point straight to them. And they haven’t stood still for 25 years, they can make Novichok 2.0 if they want. Not that they appear to have much if any reason to poison the Skripals, there are quite a few parties that have at least as much incentive to do that.

 

Wait, before I forget, there was a policeman who allegedly ‘treated’ the Skripals first, and was himself ‘poisoned’ in the act and hospitalized, but was released a few days ago. What exactly happened to him? How did the A-234 not kill him? Did he receive such a faint trace that he was ‘cleaned’ within days? Where is he now? Why has he not released any statement? Doesn’t he strike you, too, as being a little bit pregnant?

But, again, I’m not a chemist. Collum, who I can’t really claim as a friend anymore, because he’s everybody’s friend these days, tweets a hint:

Hey organic chemists: the Novichuk nerve agents are like those below. [..] You could just use the racemate with plenty of effect. Unlike drugs, the goal here is to kill the recipient.

From what I understand, A-234, like all novichoks, is just a pesticide with a fancy dress on. Not terribly unique or special, and not terribly Russian after 25 years either. Just terribly lethal. Which by the way is saying something about how we produce our food, too. Can we blame Putin for losing our insects as well, please? It’s so much easier that way.

 

But I digress. As I started out saying, it’s the ‘news’ that yet another ‘location’ for the ‘nerve agent’ had been discovered after 25 days and hundreds of specialists, at the bleeping front door of the ‘victims’ home, as if nobody ever thought of looking there, that snapped that thingy in my head. Location, location, location.

Still, when I venture beyond what can be or has been proven, which is about as near to zero Kelvin as I even want to think about, there was this other thing this morning. Julian Assange has been cut off from the internet by his gracious Ecuadorian hosts in their London embassy. And I betcha that’s because he dared question Britain in the Skripal case, on Twitter.

Here’s my theory, borne off my gullibility in all its glory: Theresa May and her government have been stumbling from disaster to catastrophe over the Brexit calamity for months now, and they needed some relief. But they themselves are not smart enough to provide it. So someone got it for them.

They’re keeping Labour boss Jeremy Corbyn occupied for all he’s worth with a cocked-up narrative of him being an antisemite. Stupid as can be story, but it works for as long as they need it to. The other day the BBC photoshopped a Russian hat on Corbyn’s face; that stuck less than the Jew-hater tale, so they went with that one. Some UK parliamentary fake news committee wants to talk to Zuckerberg, but they should look closer to home. If fake news is what they’re really after.

So anyway, they all went with the Novichok concocted thing, and boy did that ever catch on. Even every western politicians’ pet hamsters have now sent their Russian caregivers packing. And you know what it is, even if May and Boris had any proof of Russian involvement, all those countries certainly do not. Even if they had the evidence, they’re not going to send it around to dozens of countries. Just not.

Boris Johnson couldn’t resist comparing Putin to Hitler. You can’t fall any lower than that. Or can you? The diplomats were all expelled on a day that Russia was lamenting the death of 64(?) victims (mostly children) in a shopping mall fire, in what they declared a day of national mourning. You think Boris sent his condolences?

 

I can write about this all day long, and weekends too. You know, Crimea, Ukraine, MH17, the new cold war narrative has been well prepared. And now John Bolton, who may well be the deadliest cartoon character we’ve ever seen -let alone imagined-, is all set to score the easy tip-in. But that is possible only because all of you are as gullible as I am. Don’t forget that. They’re blinding you with silence, with stupidity, with your own lack of neuron activity.

Even if this is a story with too many holes in it to qualify as Swiss cheese. The story doesn’t make any sense? Who cares, really, all the front pages shout it out in bold print. And if you get tired of it: where’s the remote, Mildred?

 

British politician and former candidate for mayor of London, George Galloway, on Twitter, says it so much better than I ever could, and shorter too, which is why I quote him at the end of this article:

Why do I not believe you? Let me count the ways. You’re not looking for anyone in connection with the attack on the Skripals. There is no manhunt, no all points alert, no description, no identikit drawing, no CCTV. No suspects. That means you already know what happened. #Russia

We know Facebook is trying to screw with your brains. Well, they’re not the only ones. Your government -and ‘intelligence’ services- want the monopoly on that, too.

I can not make this a definitive, or final, or complete story. Because nobody can. But I can tell you this: if you think that Russia or God forbid Putin, ‘poisoned’ the Skripals, you’re so wrong you’re beyond salvation. Not because it may or may not be true, but because you have seen no evidence. And you still go with it. Where’s the remote, Mildred?

 

 

Jan 222018
 


Winslow Homer Mending the nets 1881

 

Yes, it’s 10 years ago today, on January 22 2008, that Nicole Foss and I published our first article on the Automatic Earth (the first few years on Blogger). And, well, obviously, a lot has happened in those 10 years.

For ourselves, we went from living in Ottawa, Canada to doing a lot of touring starting in 2009, to support Nicole’s DVDs and video downloads. We visited Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark, US of course, with prolonged stays in France, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, times that I miss a lot here and there, to now with Nicole settled in New Zealand and my time divided between Athens, Greece and the Netherlands.

We met so many people both online and in the flesh in all these countries it’s impossible to remember everyone of them, and every town we found ourselves in. Overall, it was a humbling experience to have so many people share their views and secrets, especially since we never stayed at hotels (or very rarely), we were always invited to stay with our readers. Thank you so much for that.

Since we started publishing 8 months before the fall of Bear Stearns, and we very much predicted the crisis that followed (we had been doing that before as well, since 2005 at the Oil Drum), we were the first warning sign for many people that things were going off the rails.

There are still to this day people expressing their gratitude for that. Others, though, not so much. And that has to do with the fact that governments, media and central banks came together to create the illusion of an economic recovery, something many if not most people still believe in. Just read the headlines and the numbers, on housing markets, stocks, GDP, jobs. Unfortunately, it was an illusion then and it still is now.

 

To get back to 10 years ago: Nicole and I decided to leave the Oil Drum because they didn’t want us to write about finance. Given what happened with Lehman while we were leaving, and as said with Bear Stearns later, it would appear that finance was indeed the hot issue back then, more than peak oil or associated themes.

The main reason we wanted to focus on finance was that we realized it was the most imminent of all the crises mankind faced and still faces. Energy and environmental issues are real and threaten our way of life, but before they hit us, the mother of all financial crises will.

What has changed, and increased, a lot over the past decade is the media. They have moved, more than before, into a kind of la la land where narratives are invented and presented with the express intention of keeping people feeling good about themselves in the face of all the distortion and disasters they face.

The big move in energy is not so much peak oil, but a meme of moving away from oil. ‘Renewable energy’ is all the fad, and it works, because it holds the promise that we can maintain our levels of energy consumption, and our lifestyles in general, pretty much up to some undefined moment in the future. For all you know, a seamless transition.

It’s a nonsense narrative, which originates not just in wishful thinking, but much more than that in widespread ignorance about what energy actually is and does, and what qualities oil and gas bring to the table that no other energy source can.

We must have written a hundred articles about such themes as energy return on energy invested (EROEI), and that the EROEI on renewables doesn’t allow for our present complex societies to continue as they are. Renewables are not useless by any means, but switching to them from oil will mean a huge simplification from our present lives. More than anything, probably, we have to ask if that would be such a bad thing.

But that is a question we avoid at all costs, because it is a threatening one. It implies we may have to do with less, and that’s not what we’re hardwired to do. Like any other species, we always want more. This is so ingrained in our world that our economies depend squarely on a perpetual need to strive for more tomorrow than we have today. Not as individuals, perhaps, but certainly as a group.

More trinkets, more gadgets, more energy. And for a -relatively- long time, more people. Relatively, because population growth is a recent phenomenon. It started at the very moment we began to have sources of ‘free’ or ‘surplus’ energy. Give any species a source of ‘surplus’ energy, and it will use it up as fast as it can, and proliferate to achieve that, until the surplus is gone. We are no different.

 

Of course, as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics holds, the use of energy produces waste. More energy use produces more waste. One source may be slightly less polluting than another, but it’s thermodynamics that dictates the limits here. No energy source is fully renewable, and clean energy is just an advertizing term. And with an energy return too low to run complex societies on, those are hard limits. The only way out is to use less energy, but our economic models are geared towards the opposite, as are our brains.

Meanwhile, we’re saddling our children with the consequences of our prolific use of energy. Species extinction runs a hundred or a thousand times faster than is ‘natural’, ever more of our arable land is too polluted or wasted to produce food, and the grand mass of plastics in our oceans exceeds that of the living creatures that fed us for a very long time, taking the numbers of these creatures down so fast our grandchildren will have to eat jellyfish.

Ironically (and there’s lots of irony in the story of our tragic species), we produce more food per capita today than ever before, but its distribution is so warped that one group of us throw away more than we consume, while another goes hungry. And to top it off, much of what we eat lacks nutrition, and is often even downright toxic for us; it makes us fat and it makes us sick.

Then again, our entire environment is also fast becoming toxic. We’re a bloated, obese, asthmatic, allergic and cancer-riddled species, and yet we call ourselves a success. It’s all about the narrative.

 

But as Nicole and I said 10 years ago, and still do, it’s finance that will be the first crisis to hit. It will hit so hard it’ll make any other crises, environment and energy, feel like an afterthought. Pension plans across the board will prove to be a Ponzi, housing will collapse, shares will crumble, scores of people will lose all their savings and their jobs, their homes.

This is because, in an ostensible effort to ‘save’ our societies and economies, our -central- bankers and politicians decided to put everything on red, and loaded another $20 trillion into the upper shelf of the financial world, the very shelf that was most rotten to begin with in more than one sense of the word. And they’re not the ones paying the heftiest price for this stupidest bet of all times, you are.

 

All in all, the only possible conclusion we can draw is that in the past 10 years, things have indeed changed. Thing is, they have changed for the worse. Much worse. And the recovery narrative can’t and won’t hold. Question is who realizes this, and what they are planning to do with the knowledge.

Friend of the Automatic Earth Nomi Prins said recently that in her view, the Fed is scared to death of causing a global financial crash. I think they may have recognized the inevitability of that crash quite a while ago, and they’re working to minimize the impact on themselves and their buddies and masters.

A global central bank tightening looks an easy sale now that people have swallowed the recovery myth whole. The crash that will lead to might take long enough to develop for them to deny any responsibility.

And then we’re all on our own. The political ramifications will be gigantic. Because the incompetence and corruptness of incumbent politicians will be exposed, and governments overthrown.

Nothing we couldn’t have, and didn’t, see coming in January 2008. Best advice today, as it was back then: get out of debt.

And thank you so much for 10 years of reactions, responses, comments, your hospitality, and all other forms of support -including financial of course.

 

 

Oct 102016
 
 October 10, 2016  Posted by at 6:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Elliot Erwitt New York 1955

If the US presidential debate last night showed anything, it must be that just about everyone has dug themselves into their trenches and had no desire whatsoever to ever came out.

This seemed especially clear on the Hillary side, which appeared to include -to an extent- ‘moderators’ Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz, judging from their interruptions. But, granted, they were the only biased side in the discussion, so we don’t really know what trenches the Republicans have dug.

The biggest problem with biased moderators is that people notice their bias. Not those who are on one side already, it passes them by. But others do. And perhaps more importantly, -in this case-, Hillary’s team loses its ability to adopt a neutral view. And she will therefore hear so much praise that she can’t figure out if she’s not done too well.

To illustrate that point: the main takeaway must be that Trump won the debate hands down, but that’s the opposite of what Hillary sympathizers concluded and what various polls said. It’s still true though, if only for one simple reason. That is, for 48 hours straight all talk and ‘reporting’ had been about Trumps lewd ‘words’ on the Access Hollywood tapes.

Trump really was cornered, and he knew it, everyone knew it. But after the second debate, and within 90 minutes, most of the talk turned towards how he ‘threatened’ to jail Hillary. Now, that’s not what he said, but even if he had, it’s something a lot more people sympathize with than with his language on the tapes. That’s a lot of territory ‘conquered’.

Meanwhile, even the likes of Paul Ryan don’t seem to grasp what happened overnight (he apparently think Hillary already won). What he doesn’t appear to see is, again, that Trump looked completely lost for 48 hours, but doesn’t look so lost now. There are 4 weeks and a day left in the campaign, and a lot can still happen.

Look, Trump is a buffoon. The word could have been invented specifically to define him. And it would be a very bad idea to make him president of the US. But that doesn’t mean the idea of making Hillary president is any better. It may well be worse, for a variety of reasons.

What the debate made clear once more is that America stands face to face with itself, it’s looking in a giant mirror, one which -only- in choice moments does not contort its own image, and America finds there’s nothing to like about what it sees in those brief moments in that mirror. And then therefore immediately proceeds to contort that image like it’s used to doing.

America may not like to look at its own stone cold hard reality, but it’s better than any culture ever in painting a picture of itself that it does like. In fact, it’s the first nation ever that made exactly that its main goal in life.

The Brits, the French and the Dutch try to hide their dark colonial and slave trading pasts, but America built an entire culture around contorting its history, right there in Hollywood, with ‘stars’ like John Wayne and John Ford being celebrated for movies that celebrate the annihilation and violent submission by the white man of both Native Americans and African slave populations.

In that same vein, the ‘heroic exploits’ of US soldiers in Muslim countries from Libya to Afghanistan in the past decades are now a major topic for the next generation of twisted history in movies and other media, in which invasions, drone killings and carpet bombings are portrayed as acts of bravery that warrant Purple Hearts. While the people whose lives and cultures are destroyed are swept under the first available carpet.

 

But that’s another story for another time. Back to last night’s debate. Trump may have won big, but he left some substantial scraps on the table that he may yet come to regret. Perhaps he was too focused on digging himself out of the ‘grab that pu**y’ hole -and yes, that is foul- to notice he was already out. Hard to say. He has the intuition, but does he have the brain?!

The first thing either The Donald or one of his team members must hammer down, urgently, is the way past stupid narrative of Russia’s involvement in US politics. Hillary repeatedly brought it up again, and it’s cheap fare for her, she can say anything she likes on the issue, no-one will contradict her or check any facts.

There were all these alleged fact-checkers ‘active’, but they dare not check the facts on this (there are none). Anything the Democratic Party wants to hide, it is free to hide behind Putin. No questions asked. That is insane at best, and Trump should have halted the narrative.

As should Cooper and Raddatz, and the army of fact checkers, but the fix was in. The low point must have been the allegation that Wikileaks is linked to Putin. Really? Come with facts, or forever hold your tongue. Too much cheap fare, hollow as can be, and Hillary build much of her story on it. Not good on the part of the Trump people.

I was reading an August 2 piece by Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg the other day on Trump’s Russian connections, and Tim seems to start off with good hope of ‘inking the deal’, but ends up admitting there’s no there there.. The entire narrative of Trump’s Russian connections is as false as John Wayne’s heroism in slaughtering Native Americans. He should have cut that tale short in the debate, He didn’t.

Hillary gets to say, without any interruption or fact checking that “Russia has decided who it wants to be president, and it’s not me.” and that is way beyond any comprehension, really. There is zero proof of that, as there is of everything the US claims about Russia.

For all we know, Putin would much prefer Hillary to be president, because he sees Trump as a much stronger opponent when the chips are down. Hillary’s allegations are just a narrative she thinks will appeal to voters. She’s wrong. At least when it comes to those who wouldn’t have voted for her regardless of the narrative.

 

The second issue Trump desperately needs to put to bed is the one of his taxes. And mind you, I did say Trump should not ever be president of the US. That’s my perspective.

Hillary again last night painted a picture of Trump leaving US veterans out in the cold by not paying enough taxes. Trump retorted by saying Buffett (not Jimmy) and Soros do the same. But that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Paying taxes in America, and in any western nation, is not some voluntary exercise; there are laws, and they are some of the most stringent and most punishable there are. You cheat on your taxes, and the IRS or their equivalent in other countries have the power to go after you like no other government institution. Tax cheats very often go to jail.

That none of this has happened to Trump means, it’s that simple, that he did not break the law. He has used to the law to his advantage, just like everyone else who could, sure, But there’s not an inch of evidence, not even a hint, that he did anything illegal.

Hillary’s campaign is well aware of this, so the issue gets presented as some -pretty opaque- moral issue: ‘You didn’t do well by our veterans’. But what could he have done? Should Trump be the only American, or only western citizen, to tell the IRS to please take another extra $10 million or so, or $100 million, after they were done auditing him? So he wouldn’t be attacked 20 years on when running for office? It makes no sense in any sense.

And yes, the situation is very different if you’re on a payroll for some company, you can’t deduct what Trump could. But he’s not alone in that; in fact, all American entrepreneurs are in the same boat, and they will all try to swing that boat in the direction that fits them best. And Hillary loves these entrepreneurs as much as anyone when it suits her purposes. And her accountants do the same thing, they follow the same principle. Perhaps for lesser amounts, but that’s not the point.

Trump’s taxes are a non-issue, a brainless narrative. Not something for Hillary or anyone else to use as some innuendo-laden topic, anymore than Trump can use Hillary’s tax files against her in an ‘innuendo illegal’ way. Any judgment on that is up to the IRS, not either the Republican or Democratic campaigns. It’s ridiculous that Hillary can use that in a debate, and Trump and his people should have shut that venue down long ago.

But anyway, we have that 4 weeks and a day to go, and there’ll by much more to ‘enjoy’. Still, Trump came back last night from very very far away. No matter what CNN and other polls may say. Those polls are as biased as the night’s moderators.

It might be a good idea to realize that a year ago nobody ever gave Trump a shot at the gold medal, and his support never came from the people who conform with CNN (which nobody watches stateside anyway) or ABC.

We’ll talk again soon. Meanwhile, I’m with Susan Sarandon, who says bring it on, bring on Trump, because she despises Hillary, and because:

Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately; if he gets in then things will really explode.”

Sort of like what I wrote before, that if you must choose between two very bad options, might as well pick the worst and get it over with:

 

 

 

Nov 152015
 
 November 15, 2015  Posted by at 8:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Osama Hajjaj Madeleine Pleure 2015

9/11, 3/11, 7/7, 11/13 = New York, Madrid, London, Paris

Better to wait a day before writing, after a night like that. What does one write after such a night anyway? And why write anything at all if you can be dead sure to always antagonize some one on some side of some spectrum, ideological or not, no matter what you write, unless you tag some safe official line, and even then, or especially then?

Better to soak in what the official media have to say, or so one might think. After all, they got all the resources and the reporters and the analysts and -access to- the politicians, and most of all the attention of the people.

Unfortunately, all that firepower -pun intended- is used only to tag official lines. To provide air space to ‘leaders’ who profess their utmost grief and sadness and anger and solidarity over barbarous criminal “acts of war” that they swear will be avenged with all the power they have. It’s so predictable it’s like all of their spin doctors have been sent on a Caribbean holiday at the same time, and together.

Still, it also doesn’t seem very appropriate to address the economic issues we usually talk about, at least not at first glance. Respect for victims and families must come first, that is a given. Then again, it does seem appropriate, out of that very same respect, to get to the bottom of what’s behind these attacks that will at final count leave perhaps 200 people dead on what started as a nice and balmy autumn evening in the city of lights. And the politicians’ truisms and platitudes don’t exactly help.

But how does one go about that truth finding? French President Hollande declared eerily early in the ‘game’ he was sure ISIS is behind the tragedy, and ISIS statements seem to confirm that conclusion. But what is ISIS? And where does it come from?

It’s no longer really credible to entirely ignore the role of the west, including France, in the origins of the ‘movement’, if it can be called that. From Al Queda to ISIS, and scores of groups and factions in between and beyond, there is at least some kind of link to western military action in the middle East. And that link goes back quite a few years, if not decades.

So if we really want to pay the kind of respect to the victims that comes with trying to figure out what’s behind these attacks, it would seem that we can’t get it done without a critical look at our own roles in what led up to this. Not to say that we’re the only guilty party, or that the perpetrators are not cuckoos, but to say we’re not credible if we completely ignore our own roles and don’t look in a mirror.

Hence, the first reaction we probably might want to have is that it’s enough alright with the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Even if, or exactly because, that reaction is, obviously, 180º removed from what the initial reactions to the attacks are, whether they’re provoked by media coverage or not. And they are. It cannot be only ‘us’ vs ‘them’. No black, no white. To understand this world you need a lot more than that.

If we try to phrase it that way, and we’re only halfway decent and honest about it, there’s no escaping that in the final analysis we indeed are them. We’re not like them, we are them. ‘We’ have spread terror, death and mayhem across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions for a long time (to a large extent because that’s where the oil is, but that’s a story for a different day).

And then ‘we’ took it up a notch with the removal of the likes of Saddam and Gaddafi, leaving rudderless societies in their wake.

We can’t pretend to be honest and still ignore the fact that for many people in the Middle East a day like this Friday 13th is their everyday routine. And that that’s what makes them refugees. Many Parisians -or New Yorkers, for that matter- would do the same, get out of Dodge, if this were a common event in their city. Not only because of the danger and the fear, but also because there would be no functioning society or economy left, and hence no future.

No matter how you look at it, there’s no denying it’s kind of ironic that attacks on Beirut that were similar in many regards to the ones in Paris, even took place at the same time, and similar attacks on several other places, receive no media coverage at all in the west, while the Paris attacks dominate all western media.

That is not a coincidence. And it’s not either because most Americans would find it as easy to find Damascus or Beirut on a map as they would Paris. That is, they would not. But still Paris is on American TV about 48/7 (that’s the attention span limit), interrupted only by either a Kardashian body part -or two- or by the single The Donald’s body part that sticks in memory.

And that’s where we find our link to economics, because in geo-politics as in economics, we, all of us, think, talk and live exclusively in narratives. We have stories pre-fabricated for us, and these stories determine how we see the world, and our lives, and other people’s lives and dreams and wishes.

That is to say, whatever it is we want and dream of is per definition just and justified, and other people’s desires are not, as soon as they threaten to interfere with ours. As we read ad nauseam post-Paris in literally countless references to the ‘freedom’ that ‘we’ have and ‘they’ hate, and to ‘our way of life’ that is under threat -with nary a soul knowing what that way is.

We cannot forever fool ourselves and others into believing that we are the good guys and ‘the others’ are the bad guys. It’s tempting, and there’s a whole behemoth media apparatus to confirm it, but it doesn’t get us any closer to what happened, and why, and therefore no closer to paying our full and due respect to those who died in Paris on 11/13.

“They” don’t resent us for our freedom, “they” resent us for not allowing them to have their freedom, too. We need to recognize at some point that we owe our affluence to the misery of others, not to our superior intelligence or morals or religion or way of life. But there’s not a single voice among us which wants to make that recognition happen.

We are not a benevolent force, no matter what we tell ourselves or how many times we repeat it. We are a civilization of oppressors. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after. We seek to uphold our status and our wealth at the expense of others, of strangers, people who live conveniently far enough away in conveniently impoverished conditions.

We have been building our empire this way since well before Columbus, we’ve greatly expanded it over the past 500 years, and we’re now looking at the terminal phase of that empire. Just like the Romans and the Mongols and so many others before and after.

Interestingly enough, it’s our own technological prowess and ‘progress’ that leads us into that phase. The very moment we started exporting our oil drilling technologies, our smartphones, our databases and most of all our modern weaponry to what we still see as colonies, the very foundations of our civilization and our power started eroding.

But that’s getting too philosophical, and it would require too many words and lead us too far astray from Paris and the due diligence we owe those who lost their lives and those who mourn them.

Pope Francis said in a reaction to the Friday 13th attacks: “This is not human”. Unfortunately, 2000 years of Christianity say he’s dead wrong, wrong as he could be. This is very human. It’s as human as feeling an overbearing love for our children. It’s all human.

It’s very human, too, to go for the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. Which is a big help in times of fear and insecurity and not having the answer, not having any other answers than the ubiquitous ones the media feed you.

But that still is not what the dead deserve. They deserve much more. They deserve that we try the best we can, not to settle for the first thing that comes to our reptilian minds. Not to make our entire lives come down to just fight or flight, but to attempt to find that area in between that is as close to truth finding as we know we can come.

To honor the dead, we need to look inside ourselves, and inside the societies we live in. And only when we’ve found, and eradicated, those things that make both us, and our communities, ‘guilty by association’ -for lack of a better term-, will we have paid proper respect to those who lost their lives.

Jun 142015
 
 June 14, 2015  Posted by at 7:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Milton Greene “Actress Marilyn Monroe in bed” 1955

Through the last decades, as we have been getting ever more occupied trying to be what society tells us is defined as successful, we all missed out on a lot of changes in our world. Or perhaps we should be gentle to ourselves and say we’re simply slow to catch up.

Which is somewhat curious since we’ve also been getting bombarded with fast increasing amounts of what we’re told is information, so you’d think it might have become easier to keep up. It was not.

While we were busy being busy we for instance were largely oblivious to the fact the US is no longer a beneficial force in the world, and that it doesn’t spread democracy or freedom. Now you may argue to what extent that has ever been true, and you should, but the perception was arguably much closer to the truth 70 years ago, at the end of WWII, then it is today.

Another change we really can’t get our heads around is how the media have turned from a source of information to a source of – pre-fabricated – narratives. We’ll all say to some extent or another that we know our press feeds us propaganda, but, again arguably, few of us are capable of pinpointing to what extent that is true. Perhaps no big surprise given the overdose of what passes for information, but duly noted.

So far so good, you’re not as smart as you think. Bummer. But still an easy one to deny in the private space of your own head. If you get undressed and stand in front of the mirror, though, maybe not as easy.

What ails us is, I was going to say perfectly human, but let’s stick with just human, and leave perfection alone. What makes us human is that it feels good to be protected, safe, and prosperous. Protected from evil and from hard times, by a military force, by a monetary fund, by a monetary union. It feels so good in fact that we don’t notice when what’s supposed to keep us safe turns against us.

But it is what happens, time and again, and, once again arguably, ever more so. What we think the world looks like is increasingly shaped by fiction. Perhaps that means we live in dreamtime. Or nightmare time. Whatever you call it, it’s not real. Pinching yourself is not going to help. Reading Orwell might.

The Sunday Times ran a story today -which the entire world press parroted quasi verbatim- that claimed MI6 had felt compelled to call back some of its operatives from the ‘field’ because Russia and China had allegedly hacked into the encrypted files Edward Snowden allegedly carried with him to Russia (something Snowden denied on multiple occasions).

Glenn Greenwald’s take down of the whole thing is – for good reasons- far better than I could provide, and it’s blistering, it leaves not a single shred of the article. Problem is, the die’s been cast, and many more people read the Times and all the media who’ve reprinted its fiction, than do read Greenwald:

The Sunday Times’ Snowden Story Is Journalism At Its Worst

Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it’s hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they’ve learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major US and British media outlets “report,” especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials – laundered through their media – as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting.

We now have one of the purest examples of this dynamic. Last night, the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times published their lead front-page Sunday article, headlined “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.” Just as the conventional media narrative was shifting to pro-Snowden sentiment in the wake of a key court ruling and a new surveillance law, the article claims in the first paragraph that these two adversaries “have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.”

Please read Greenwald’s piece. It’s excellent. Turns out the Times made it all up. At the same time, it’s just one example of something much more expansive: the entire world view of the vast majority of Americans and Europeans, and that means you too, is weaved together from a smorgasbord of made-up stories, narratives concocted to make you see what someone else wants you to see.

Last week, the Pew Research Center did a survey that was centered around the question what ‘we’ should do if a NATO ally were attacked by Russia. How Pew dare hold such a survey is for most people not even a valid question anymore, since the Putin as bogeyman tale, after a year and change, has taken root in 99% of western brains.

And so the Pew question, devoid of reality as it may be, appears more legit than the question about why the question is asked in the first place. NATO didn’t really like the results of the survey, but enough to thump some more chests. Here’s from an otherwise wholly forgettable NY Times piece:

Poles were most alarmed by Moscow’s muscle flexing, with 70% saying that Russia was a major military threat. Germany, a critical American ally in the effort to forge a Ukraine peace settlement, was at the other end of the spectrum. Only 38% of Germans said that Russia was a danger to neighboring countries aside from Ukraine, and only 29% blamed Russia for the violence in Ukraine. Consequently, 58% of Germans do not believe that their country should use force to defend another NATO ally. Just 19% of Germans say NATO weapons should be sent to the Ukrainian government to help it better contend with Russian and separatist attacks.

Do we need to repeat that Russia didn’t attack Ukraine? That if after all this time there is still zero proof for that, perhaps it’s time to let go of that idea?

Over the past week, there have been numerous reports of NATO ‘strengthening’ its presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Supposedly to deter Russian aggression in the region. For which there is no evidence. But if you ask people if NATO should act if one of its allies were attacked, you put the idea in people’s heads that such an attack is a real risk. And that’s the whole idea.

This crazy piece from the Guardian provides a very good example of how the mood is manipulated:

US And Poland In Talks Over Weapons Deployment In Eastern Europe

The US and Poland are discussing the deployment of American heavy weapons in eastern Europe in response to Russian expansionism and sabre-rattling in the region in what represents a radical break with post-cold war military planning. The Polish defence ministry said on Sunday that Washington and Warsaw were in negotiations about the permanent stationing of US battle tanks and other heavy weaponry in Poland and other countries in the region as part of NATO’s plans to develop rapid deployment “Spearhead” forces aimed at deterring Kremlin attempts to destabilise former Soviet bloc countries now entrenched inside NATO and the EU.

Warsaw said that a decision whether to station heavy US equipment at warehouses in Poland would be taken soon. NATO’s former supreme commander in Europe, American admiral James Stavridis, said the decision marked “a very meaningful policy shift”, amid eastern European complaints that western Europe and the US were lukewarm about security guarantees for countries on the frontline with Russia following Vladimir Putin’s seizure of parts of Ukraine. “It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full time on the ground, of course,” the retired admiral told the New York Times.

NATO has been accused of complacency in recent years. The Russian president’s surprise attacks on Ukraine have shocked western military planners into action. An alliance summit in Wales last year agreed quick deployments of NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic states. German mechanised infantry crossed into Poland at the weekend after thousands of NATO forces inaugurated exercises as part of the new buildup in the east. Wary of antagonising Moscow’s fears of western “encirclement” and feeding its well-oiled propaganda effort, which regularly asserts that NATO agreed at the end of the cold war not to station forces in the former Warsaw Pact countries, NATO has declined to establish permanent bases in the east.

It’s downright borderline criminally tragic that NATO claims it’s building up its presence in the region as a response to Russian actions. What actions? Nothing was going on until ‘we’ supported a coup in Kiev, installed a puppet government and let them wage war on their own citizens. That war killed a lot of people. And if Kiev has any say in the matter, it ain’t over by a long shot. Poroshenko and Yats still want it all back. So does NATO.

When signing a post-cold war strategic cooperation pact with Russia in 1997, Nato pledged not to station ground forces permanently in eastern Europe “in the current and foreseeable security environment”. But that environment has been transformed by Putin’s decision to invade and annex parts of Ukraine and the 1997 agreement is now seen as obsolete.

Meanwhile, Russia re-took Crimea without a single shot being fired. But that is still what the western press calls aggression. Russia doesn’t even deem to respond to ‘our’ innuendo, they feel there’s nothing to be gained from that because ‘our’ stories have been pre-cooked and pre-chewed anyway. Something that we are going to greatly regret.

There are all these alphabet soup organizations that were once set up with, one last time, arguably, good intentions, and that now invent narratives because A) they can and B) they need a reason to continue to exist. That is true for NATO, which should have been dismantled 25 years ago.

It’s true for the IMF, which was always only a tool for US domination. It’s true for the CIA and FBI, which might keep you safe if that was their intent, but which really only function to keep themselves and their narrow group of paymasters safe.

It’s also true for political unions, like the US and EU. Let’s leave the former alone for now, though much could be said and written about the gaping distance between what the Founding Fathers once envisioned for the nation and what it has since descended into.

Still, that is a story for another day. When we can find our way through the web of narratives that holds it upright. Like the threat from Russia, the threat from China, the threat from all the factions in the Middle East the US itself (helped) set up.

The EU is much younger, though its bureaucrats seem eager to catch up with America in fictitious web weaving. We humans stink at anything supra-national. We can have our societies cooperate, but as soon as we invent ‘greater’ units to incorporate that cooperation, things run off the rails, the wrong people grab power, and the weaker among us get sacrificed. And that is what’s happening once again, entirely predictably, in Greece.

That Spain’s two largest cities, Barcelona and Madrid, have now sworn in far-left female mayors this week will only serve to make things harder for Athens. Brussels is under siege, and it will defend its territory as ‘best’ it can.

What might influence matters, and not a little bit, is that Syriza’s Audit Commission is poised to make public its findings on June 18, and that they yesterday revealed they have in their possession a 2010 IMF document that allegedly proves that the Fund knew back then, before the first bail-out, that the Memorandum would result in an increase in Greek debt.

That’s potentially incendiary information, because the Memorandum -and the bailout- were aimed specifically at decreasing the debt. That -again, allegedly- none of the EU nations have seen the document at the time -let’s see how the spin machine makes that look- doesn’t exactly make it any more acceptable.

Nor of course does the fact that Greece’s debt could and should have been restructured, according to the IMF’s own people and ‘standards’, but wasn’t until 2012, when the main European banks had been bailed out with what was subsequently shoved onto the shoulders of the Greek population, and had withdrawn their ‘assets’ from the country, a move that made Greece’s position that much harder.

The narrative being sold through the media in other eurozone nations is that Greece is to blame, that for instance German taxpayers are on the hook for Greek debts, while they’re really on the hook for German banks’ losing wagers (here’s looking at you, Deutsche!). And that is, no matter how you twist it, not the same story. It’s again just a narrative.

Once more, and we’ve said it many times before, Brussels is toxic -and so is the IMF- and Greece should leave as soon as possible, as should Italy, Spain, Portugal. And we should all resist the spin-induced attempts to demonize Putin, Athens and China any further, and instead focus on the rotten apples in our own basket(s).

In short, the propaganda we should be worried about is not Russia’s, it’s our own. And it comes from just about every news article we’re fed. We’re much less than six degrees removed from Orwell.