Mar 262019
 
 March 26, 2019  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean Metzinger The blue bird 1912-13

 

Russiagate: The Great Tragic Comedy of Modern Journalism (Bivens)
Mueller Madness: The Media Pundits Who Got It Most Wrong (NYPost)
Mueller Probe Accusations Were ‘Equal To Treason’ – Sarah Sanders (MW)
As the Mueller Probe Ends, New Russiagate Myths Begin (Taibbi)
Apologies to President Trump (Hill)
Democrats Refuse To Retreat On Trump Legal Issues (G.)
Democrats Not Yet Ready To Conclude There’s No Russia Conspiracy (CNN)
Buyer’s Remorse (Kunstler)
Michael Avenatti Arrested On Extortion Charges (G.)
General Election Looms As Theresa May Calls Cabinet Talks (Ind.)
UK MPs Seize Control Of Brexit Process (G.)
Nasa Cancels All-Female Spacewalk, Citing Lack Of Spacesuit In Right Size (G.)

 

 

Lots of Mueller report coverage today. Can’t be helped. Who’s going to apologize to Russia?

 

 

Matt Bivens is a former editor of the St. Petersburg Times and the Moscow Times who has left journalism to become an emergency room doctor.

Russiagate: The Great Tragic Comedy of Modern Journalism (Bivens)

In its Russiagate coverage, The New York Times has repeatedly offered a graphic accusing the President’s retinue of “more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals.” This decision to question the loyalty of people who have had contact with a Russian national -so, for just knowing or meeting a Russian- has been a staple of New York Times coverage. “More than 100 contacts with Russian nationals.” It’s incredible that this can even be an allegation -in our paper of record- there in explainer graphics almost every day, for more than two years now. It smacks of the famous Senator Joseph McCarthy speeches in the 1950s: “I have in my hand a list of 205 [or 57, or 81]…” And yet no one ever seemed to mind.

After all, as former intelligence chief (and liar to Congress) James Clapper has asserted on television, “Russians are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor.” Worse, I may have already been co-opted and penetrated without even knowing it! As Clapper said recently on CNN when asked if Trump could be “a Russian asset,” it is “a possibility, and I would add to that a caveat, whether witting or unwitting.” Unwitting! So you can be an unwitting traitor? Infected with Russian mind-control, like a zombie? Yes. As mainstream media have argued repeatedly and quite explicitly. Consider the stunning set of short films on The New York Times op-ed webpages titled “Operation Infektion: How Russia Perfected the Art of War”.

[..] I was not surprised to see politicians up on their hind legs, panting mindlessly about Russians. But to see journalists at CNN, The New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, competing to be even dumber … hot on the trail of a non-story, recklessly discarding fairness and professionalism … dragging us gleefully down every rabbit hole … applauding the collateral damage to bystanders, as they indulge their collective rage against Donald Trump, their hysterical certainty that he must be a Russian asset … What can I say? It’s been heart-breaking. I know of smart, progressive-leaning journalists who politically oppose Donald Trump, but who feel like strangers in their own newsrooms, afraid to speak out against this mob psychosis. When I meet old colleagues, we have to feel each other out cautiously, until with relief we realize: Thank God, you’re not one of them – not one of the pod people from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” that might point at me and scream.

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No, I don’t like having to go to the NY Post.

Mueller Madness: The Media Pundits Who Got It Most Wrong (NYPost)

Special counsel Robert Mueller has definitively put to rest the collusion theory of President Trump’s election. That’s not a little embarrassing for the many journalists, talking heads, celebrities and instant experts who spent more than two years furiously speculating about Moscow “pee-pee” tapes, treasonous rendezvous and the president’s imminent arrest. The president’s haters no doubt wish to memory-hole collusion and move on to the next anti-Trump theory. But not so fast: We want to laurel the punditry “champion” — the one who peddled the most nonsensical nonsense, the wildest inanities, the weirdest theories and unsubstantiated stories. That’s where your brackets come in.

Our contenders are divided into four groups (not unlike NCAA conferences): the print journalists, the cable TV talkers, the Twitterati and the network news reporters and “analysts.” And the brackets are seeded, with the most visible and influential figures contending against the lesser-known. In the Print category, the top seed is the never-Trump honcho Bill Kristol, who in August predicted that “Mueller will find there was collusion between Trump associates and Putin operatives; that Trump knew about it; and that Trump sought to cover it up and obstruct its investigation.” Or not. Pick your brackets — no, not for March Madness. This is Collusion Madness!


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“They are literally — the media and the Democrats — have called the president an agent of a foreign government. That is an accusation equal to treason, which is punishable by death in this country.”
Sarah Sanders

Maybe we can stop smearing her as well.

Mueller Probe Accusations Were ‘Equal To Treason’ – Sarah Sanders (MW)

President Donald Trump wasn’t the only one taking a victory lap a day after the Justice Department announced that the long-awaited Mueller report found no evidence that the president’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told “Today” show anchor Savannah Guthrie on Monday morning that Attorney General William Barr’s four-page letter to Congress summarizing the two-year investigation was a “total exoneration” of the president. What’s more, she called on the media and Democrats to apologize for “wasting” the past two years on treasonous charges.

The exchange between Sanders and Guthrie got heated at times, with the “Today” anchor — who has a law degree and previously covered courts — arguing with Sanders that the Barr letter is not a full exoneration. “Let’s be clear about what this report, what this letter is and what it isn’t,” said Guthrie. “It is a legal exoneration with regards to conspiracy and collusion. As to whether he obstructed justice, the special counsel doesn’t say. … Would you acknowledge that it is incorrect for the president to call this is a total exoneration? “It is complete and total exoneration, and here’s why — because the special counsel couldn’t make a decision one way or another — the way the process works is they then leave that up to the attorney general,” countered Sanders.

She also referred to the two-year, $25 million investigation as something that “never should have happened,” adding that “this should never happen to another president, and we want to make sure that the institution of the president is protected.”

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“..a roughly 33-month national ordeal (the first Russigate stories date back to July 2016) in which the public was encouraged, both by officials and the press, to believe Donald Trump was a compromised foreign agent.”

As the Mueller Probe Ends, New Russiagate Myths Begin (Taibbi)

On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress, summarizing the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The most telling section, quoted directly from Mueller’s report, read: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” That one sentence should end a roughly 33-month national ordeal (the first Russigate stories date back to July 2016) in which the public was encouraged, both by officials and the press, to believe Donald Trump was a compromised foreign agent. After the 2016 election, the storyline instantly became that Trump was an illegitimate president, a foreign operative who’d cheated his way into office and would therefore need to be removed ahead of schedule.

There were too many stories that dwelled on this theme to count here, but we all saw them. New York asked, Was Trump “meeting his handler” in Helsinki? The Daily Beast asked, “Is he a Russian asset?” (Note: the extravagant use of hack spy-novel language during this period is going to look particularly ridiculous in history books decades from now.) Some outlets didn’t even put their beliefs in the form of a question. “Trump Is Compromised by Russia” read a not-unusual editorial in the New York Times last November. If you tried to protest that this had not been proven, that journalists should be more careful about leveling such serious accusations, the first line of response (if it wasn’t accusing you of being in league with Putin) was usually a version of: Be quiet, you don’t know what Mueller knows.

Mueller knows became the cornerstone belief of nearly all reporters who covered the Russial investigation. Journalists reveled in the idea of being kept out of the loop, thrilled to defer to the impenetrable steward of national secrets, the interview-proof Man of State. He was no blabbermouth Donald Trump, this Mueller! He won’t tell us a thing! “What Robert Mueller knows — and Isn’t Telling Us,” proclaimed Wired in February, going on to list the many areas where Mueller “probably knows far more than he’s willing to say.” Last month’s “What we know we don’t know from Mueller’s investigation,” by the Washington Post, marveled at Mueller’s ability to keep secrets. It made note of former Trump aide George Papadopoulos: “Mueller’s team kept him under wraps for months, with barely a hint of his importance.”

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“We treated any words he spoke in his own defense as if they were automatically to be disbelieved because he had uttered them. ”

Apologies to President Trump (Hill)

With the conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe now known to a significant degree, it seems apologies are in order. However, judging by the recent past, apologies are not likely forthcoming from the responsible parties. In this context, it matters not whether one is a supporter or a critic of President Trump. Whatever his supposed flaws, the rampant accusations and speculation that shrouded Trump’s presidency, even before it began, ultimately have proven unfounded. Just as Trump said all along. Yet, each time Trump said so, some of us in the media lampooned him. We treated any words he spoke in his own defense as if they were automatically to be disbelieved because he had uttered them.

Some even declared his words to be “lies,” although they had no evidence to back up their claims. We in the media allowed unproven charges and false accusations to dominate the news landscape for more than two years, in a way that was wildly unbalanced and disproportionate to the evidence. We did a poor job of tracking down leaks of false information. We failed to reasonably weigh the motives of anonymous sources and those claiming to have secret, special evidence of Trump’s “treason.” As such, we reported a tremendous amount of false information, always to Trump’s detriment.

And when we corrected our mistakes, we often doubled down more than we apologized. We may have been technically wrong on that tiny point, we would acknowledge. But, in the same breath, we would insist that Trump was so obviously guilty of being Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet that the technical details hardly mattered. So, a round of apologies seem in order.

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Sure. Keep digging.

Democrats Refuse To Retreat On Trump Legal Issues (G.)

“It’s a shame that our country has had to go through this,” a defiant Trump said Sunday. “To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.” Democrats nonetheless demanded the release of the full Mueller report, while suggesting Barr’s summary could not be trusted given his prior criticisms of the special counsel investigation. “The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay,” the Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

“Given Mr Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.” Democrats took particular issue with the claim by Barr and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to prove Trump had obstructed justice. The special counsel examined several actions by Trump in considering the question of obstruction, including his firing of the former FBI director James Comey, public and private attempts to pressure the former attorney general Jeff Sessions, and role in misleading the public about a meeting between his campaign and a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

In a joint statement, the Democratic chairmen of the House intelligence, judiciary and oversight committees called for the complete release of Mueller’s report and “all underlying documents”. “It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the president in under 48 hours,” the chairmen said.

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When will they start attacking Bill Barr for real? And Mueller?

Democrats Not Yet Ready To Conclude There’s No Russia Conspiracy (CNN)

Special counsel Robert Mueller found that no one in the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in 2016 – but Democrats are not ready to accept that finding. In interviews since Attorney General William Barr issued his four-page letter on Sunday, Democrats have refused to accept that determination, saying there’s ample evidence of Trump campaign and Russia contacts that may not have risen to the level of criminal conduct. They are demanding the full release of the Mueller report to determine what else the special counsel found, and they say they will continue investigating ties between Trump and Russia.

But that strategy risks political backlash for Democrats if they are viewed as overreaching and probing into an area that has already been exhaustively investigated by a special counsel whose investigation turned up no criminal wrongdoing. “What I accept was there was apparently no criminal conspiracy … with the Russians,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, told CNN. “That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of activity with the Russians that ranges from unsavory to treacherous.” [..] House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, called for House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff’s resignation from the committee on Monday – payback after Schiff and the panel’s other Democrats pushed former Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, to recuse himself from the panel’s Russia investigation in 2017.

“When you look at the claims that they’ve made, Chairman Schiff said he had more than circumstantial evidence that there was collusion. Whether he was misleading people or he was misled himself, he ought to be held accountable,” Scalise told reporters. “A lot of people, I think, should be angry today that for two years they’ve had people misleading and lying to them, saying there was collusion when there wasn’t.”

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“..the collusion that actually occurred between the Hillary campaign, the FBI, the DOJ, the CIA, the NSA, the UK’s MI6 intel agency, and the Obama White House, striving to prevent the election of a TV reality show star, and to disable him afterwards..”

Buyer’s Remorse (Kunstler)

What actually happened with RussiaGate? A cabal of government officials colluded with the Hillary Clinton campaign to interfere in the 2016 election and, failing to achieve their desired outcome, engineered a two-years-plus formal inquisition to deflect attention from their own misconduct and attempt to overthrow the election result. The Cable News characters, quite a few of them lawyers, were litigating the living shit out of the story on Sunday night in their usual spirit of obdurate rank dishonesty. For instance, Jeffrey Toobin, who plays Attorney General on CNN, went off on the infamous 2016 Trump Tower Meeting in which the president’s son, Donald, Jr., met with Russian lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya.

Toobin omitted to mention that Ms. Veselnitskaya was, at that very time, on the payroll of Fusion GPS, Hillary Clinton’s “oppo” research contractor. In other words, Trump Junior was set up. That was characteristic of the collusion that actually occurred between the Hillary campaign, the FBI, the DOJ, the CIA, the NSA, the UK’s MI6 intel agency, and the Obama White House, striving to prevent the election of a TV reality show star, and to disable him afterwards — also of the news media’s role in the whole interminable scam of RussiaGate. Their fury and despair were as vivid the night of March 24, 2019, as on November 8, 2016. And now they will attempt to spark off a sequel.

[..] My favorite college professor and mentor, David Hamilton, once put a curious question to us when we were vexing him for some reason now forgotten: “Why,” he asked, “Did Achilles drag Hector around the city of Troy three times?” We twiddled our cigarettes and pulled our chins. “Because he was just that pissed,” he said.

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Who made this guy a star? You own that.

Michael Avenatti Arrested On Extortion Charges (G.)

The high-profile attorney Michael Avenatti was charged with trying to extort more than $20m from the sports company Nike. Avenatti, the former lawyer for Stormy Daniels and a prominent critic of Donald Trump, threatened to release damaging information about Nike unless it paid him off, according to a criminal complaint filed by federal authorities in New York. He was also charged with wire and bank fraud in a separate case in Los Angeles, where prosecutors said he embezzled money from a client. Avenatti, a California lawyer who has teased the idea of a presidential bid, rose to national fame as the lawyer for Daniels, the porn star who was paid off to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Donald Trump. They parted ways this month.

He used his prominence to try to extort millions from Nike, prosecutors alleged. He threatened to publicize allegations of misconduct against Nike unless the company paid a client he represented $1.5m, and paid Avenatti and another lawyer up to $25m to conduct an internal investigation, the criminal complaint says. “A suit and tie doesn’t mask the fact that at its core, this was an old-fashioned shakedown,” said Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the southern district of New York. Avenatti was arrested in New York on Monday morning and later appeared in court. He did not enter a plea and was released on a $300,000 bond.

Berman said Avenatti, 48, acted as an attorney bringing a case on behalf of a client merely to “provide cover for [his] extortionate demands for a massive payday for himself”, adding: “When lawyers use their law licenses as weapons as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys. They are acting as criminals.”

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It all comes apart.

General Election Looms As Theresa May Calls Cabinet Talks (Ind.)

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has been left in disarray and her leadership under threat after three of her ministers resigned and MPs dramatically voted to take control of the process from the government. A total of 30 Tory MPs defied the party whip and supported a cross-party amendment which will allow MPs to potentially dictate the business of the House of Commons. The move could pave the way for a “softer” deal that keeps Britain closer to the European Union, as ministers warned of the prospect of a third UK general election in four years.

[..] More than 80 per cent of people think the government has handled Brexit badly, a new survey has found. The NatCen Social Research poll found that just 7 per cent of voters think Theresa May’s team has done well, while 81 per cent said the opposite. The figures are significantly worse for the government those from 2017, when only 41 per cent said Brexit was being managed badly, while 29 per cent thought the government was doing well.

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But May could still try and steer the country into a no-deal.

UK MPs Seize Control Of Brexit Process (G.)

MPs have inflicted a fresh humiliating defeat on Theresa May, voting to seize control of the parliamentary timetable to allow backbenchers to hold a series of votes on alternatives to her Brexit deal. An amendment tabled by former Tory minister Oliver Letwin passed, by 329 votes to 302 on Monday night, as MPs expressed their exasperation at the government’s failure to set out a fresh approach. The prime minister had earlier declined to say whether she would abide by the outcome of a process of “indicative votes”. The government issued a punchy statement after the amendment passed, warning that it “upends the balance between our democratic institutions and sets a dangerous, unpredictable precedent for the future”.

Three ministers resigned from government in order to back the Letwin amendment: the foreign affairs minister, Alistair Burt, the health minister Steve Brine and the business minister Richard Harrington. A total of 29 Tory MPs rebelled to vote for the amendment. Harrington, who has been outspoken in his warnings about the risk of a no-deal Brexit in recent weeks, accused the government of “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country” in his resignation letter. The amendment was drawn up by a cross-party group – led by Letwin and Labour’s Hilary Benn – and gives MPs a series of votes on the alternatives to May’s deal, such as a softer Brexit or revoking article 50.

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The pride of America. Once.

Nasa Cancels All-Female Spacewalk, Citing Lack Of Spacesuit In Right Size (G.)

Nasa’s plans for an all-female spacewalk have fallen through – at least in part because the agency doesn’t have enough spacesuits that fit the astronauts. Early this month, Nasa announced that Christina Koch and Anne McClain would take part in the first-of-its kind mission on 29 March, walking outside the international space station (ISS) to install new batteries. In the past, missions have been all-male or male-female. But in a press release on Monday, Nasa said its plans had changed, “in part” due to a shortage of outerwear.

McClain had “learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit – fits her best.” Only one such top can be made by Friday, the agency said, and it will go to Koch. When McClain took part in a spacewalk last week, she became the 13th woman to do so, Nasa says; Koch will be the 14th. McClain is now “tentatively scheduled” to perform her next one on 8 April.

[..] The first woman to perform a spacewalk was the Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, 35 years ago. More than 500 people have been into space, but only 11% have been women, Reuters reported. But Koch and McClain were both part of Nasa’s 2013 class, which was half female. Fitting for spacesuits is a tricky business, according to Space.com, since microgravity makes you taller. McClain tweeted this month that she was 2in taller than when she launched.

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Nov 262018
 
 November 26, 2018  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh On the Outskirts of Paris 1887

 

Russia Seizes Three Ukrainian Naval Ships In The Black Sea (AP)
Not Remotely Possible For May’s Brexit Deal To Pass Parliament – UK MP (CNBC)
UK High Court To Rule If Brexit Vote ‘Void’ As Early As Christmas (Ind.)
Nineteen Months Of Brexit Wrangling – And That’s Just A Taster (BBC)
Business Leaders Rally Behind May’s Brexit Deal Amid Fears Of Crashing Out (G.)
Texas Is About to Create OPEC’s Worst Nightmare (BBG)
Tesla Was Weeks From Dying Earlier This Year – Elon Musk (MW)
Former Greek FinMin Varoufakis To Run In European Election – In Germany (R.)
Give In To The EU, Greek PM Tsipras Counsels Italian Government (K.)
Russia Space Agency To Check If US Moon Landings Really Happened (Ind.)

 

 

I would think Ukraine is trying to provoke things, but western politicians and media all disagree.

Russia Seizes Three Ukrainian Naval Ships In The Black Sea (AP)

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea on Sunday after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors, a move that risks igniting a dangerous new crisis between the two countries. Russia’s FSB security service said early on Monday its border patrol boats had seized the Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea and used weapons to force them to stop, Russian news agencies reported. The FSB said it had been forced to act because the ships — two small Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat — had illegally entered its territorial waters, attempted illegal actions, and ignored warnings to stop while maneuvering dangerously.

“Weapons were used with the aim of forcibly stopping the Ukrainian warships,” the FSB said in a statement circulated to Russian state media. “As a result, all three Ukrainian naval vessels were seized in the Russian Federation’s territorial waters in the Black Sea.” The FSB said three Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the incident and were getting medical care. Their lives were not in danger, it said. Ukraine denied its ships had done anything wrong, accused Russia of military aggression, and for the international community to mobilize to punish Russia. The United Nations Security Council is due to discuss the developments on Monday at the request of Russia, said Deputy Russian U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with his top military and security chiefs. Poroshenko said he would propose that parliament impose martial law. [..] Earlier on Sunday, Russia’s border guard service had accused Ukraine of not informing it in advance of the three ships’ journey, something Kiev denied. Russia said the Ukrainian ships had been maneuvering dangerously and ignoring its instructions with the aim of stirring up tensions. Russian politicians denounced Kiev, saying the incident looked like a calculated bid by Poroshenko to increase his popularity ahead of an election next year. In another sign of rising tensions, Russia’s state-controlled RIA news agency reported on Sunday night that Ukrainian forces had started heavy shelling of residential areas in eastern Ukraine which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

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She needs 320+ votes, has 260.

Not Remotely Possible For May’s Brexit Deal To Pass Parliament – UK MP (CNBC)

It is not “remotely possible” that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement would pass the House of Commons, which is the lower house of Parliament, in a crucial vote that will likely take place in December, a member of Parliament said on Monday. Lawmakers on both sides of the debate over the United Kingdom’s future as part of the European Union are unhappy with the proposals set by May in a 585-page, legally-binding document that lays out the terms of the former’s exit, Sarah Wollaston, who is also a member of the prime minister’s Conservative party, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“I just don’t think it’s remotely possible that this deal would pass the Commons,” she said, adding that it will likely fall short on the numbers needed to move the agreement forward. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that we would crash out with no deal because, certainly, Parliament, British parliamentarians are very opposed to leaving with no deal at all.” [..] May needs a simple majority of the 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons, but experts have indicated it will be an uphill task for the prime minister. Her Conservative Party holds 315 seats and represents the largest party in the House, but a significant number are against the plan, including some pro-Brexit members. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the opposition have mostly indicated that they will vote against the deal.

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Was the vote fraudulent to begin with?

UK High Court To Rule If Brexit Vote ‘Void’ As Early As Christmas (Ind.)

The High Court will rule as early as Christmas whether Brexit should be declared “void”, in a legal case given a turbo-boost by the criminal investigation into Leave funder Arron Banks. Judges are poised to fast track the potentially explosive challenge, after Theresa May’s refusal to act on the growing evidence of illegality in the 2016 referendum campaign, The Independent can reveal. Lawyers describe that failure as “absolutely extraordinary” – given the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) probe into suspicions of “multiple” criminal offences committed by Mr Banks and the Leave.EU campaign.

Now The Independent understands the case is likely to move to a full hearing and a ruling within weeks of opening on 7 December, with the clock ticking on the UK’s departure from the EU next March. Both its lawyers and a leading academic believe its chances of success have been given a big boost by the unfolding scandal and the government’s refusal to recognise the gravity of what is being exposed. The government is expected to deploy Sir James Eadie QC – the star barrister who led the unsuccessful battle for the government to trigger Article 50 without parliament’s consent – in a sign of the case’s importance.

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We haven’t even started.

Nineteen Months Of Brexit Wrangling – And That’s Just A Taster (BBC)

There was a definite “battle of the tones” at the seal-the-deal Brexit summit with Theresa May. EU leaders were determinedly sombre, while the UK prime minister had to sound upbeat and positive about her country’s Brussels-free future. It shouldn’t be under-estimated. Sunday was a huge day for the EU, signing off on the divorce papers of a departing key member state for the first time in the history of the bloc. In the eyes of many, Brexit counts as an EU failure. At the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron reminded the press of the fragility of European Union. Which is why, time and again, EU leaders in Brussels continue to make so much of the (unusual) show of unity the Brexit process has provoked in EU ranks.

For now, of course, all European eyes turn to the UK to see if the hard-negotiated Brexit deal passes through the House of Commons. If it doesn’t, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, insists there will be no deal. “This is the deal. This is THE deal,” he told me emphatically, ruling out the possibility of renegotiating the Brexit texts. If he’s true to his word, and parliament votes down the divorce deal, then all 19 months of painful EU-UK negotiations were for naught. And both sides could find themselves staring at the cost and potential chaos of what the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier calls a non-orderly Brexit. EU leaders are hell-bent on avoiding that.

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May sure scared the money.

Business Leaders Rally Behind May’s Brexit Deal Amid Fears Of Crashing Out (G.)

Business leaders have rallied to support Theresa May’s Brexit deal, even as an independent study showed that the prime minister’s agreement meant the UK stood to lose £100bn a year by 2030 in reduced trade and income. Executives in the City of London warned MPs to vote for the deal negotiated by the prime minister to avoid a no-deal Brexit that would harm the UK economy. TheCityUK, which represents banks and insurers in the Square Mile, said parliament had “a straight choice” between the agreement hammered out in Brussels and a no-deal Brexit, “which offers only higher risk, costs and disruption”.

Miles Celic, the organisation’s boss, said: “The focus must now be on securing the withdrawal agreement and the transition period it brings – which is critical for our industry and many others. There is much still to be negotiated to define the future relationship. The sooner that can get started, the better.” His warning echoed those of industry bodies and small business groups, which have become nervous in recent weeks that No10 would fail to overcome the hurdles towards securing a withdrawal agreement. The Institute of Directors, which has found in polls of its members that they split 50:50 over proposals for a second referendum, said they all objected to an outcome that leaves Britain with no deal.

“The deal the EU approved today provokes a wide range of reactions across the political spectrum, and indeed among business leaders, but the steer from our members is that avoiding no deal must be the main priority,” said Stephen Martin, the director general.

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Hmmm. Problem with shale is debt.

Texas Is About to Create OPEC’s Worst Nightmare (BBG)

OPEC helped create the monster that haunts its sleep. After it flooded the market in 2014, oil prices crashed, forcing surviving U.S. shale producers to get leaner so they could thrive even with lower oil prices. As prices recovered, so did drilling. Now growth is speeding up. In Houston, the U.S. oil capital, shale executives are trying out different superlatives to describe what’s coming. “Tsunami,’’ they call it. A “flooding of Biblical proportions’’ and “onslaught of supply’’ are phrases that get tossed around. Take the hyperbolic industry talk with a pinch of salt, but certainly the American oil industry, particularly in the Permian, has raised a buzz loud enough to keep OPEC awake. “You’ve got an awful lot of production that can come in very economically,’’ said Patricia Yarrington, Chevron’s CFO.

“If you think back four or five years ago, when we didn’t really understand what shale could do, the marginal barrel was priced much higher than what we think the marginal barrel is priced today.’’ That shift makes shale resilient to a price tumble. After touching a four-year high in October, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, has fallen by more than 20 percent. [..] August saw the largest annual increase in U.S. oil production in 98 years, according to government data. The American energy industry added, in crude and other oil liquids, nearly 3 million barrels, roughly the equivalent of what Kuwait pumps, than it did in the same month last year. Total output of 15.9 million barrels a day was more than Russia or Saudi Arabia.

[..] By the end of 2019, total U.S. oil production – including so-called natural gas liquids used in the petrochemical industry – is expected to rise to 17.4 million barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. At that level, American net imports of petroleum will fall in December 2019 to 320,000 barrels a day, the lowest since 1949, when Harry Truman was in the White House. In the oil-trading community, the expectation is that, perhaps for just a single week, the U.S. will become a net oil exporter, something that hasn’t happened for nearly 75 years.

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Now he tells us.

Tesla Was Weeks From Dying Earlier This Year – Elon Musk (MW)

Tesla Inc. was “bleeding money like crazy” during its Model 3 production ramp-up and almost went under earlier this year, Elon Musk said Sunday. In an interview aired Sunday night on “Axios on HBO,” Tesla’s chief executive said the electric-car company was “within single-digit weeks” of dying. “Essentially, the company was bleeding money like crazy, and if we didn’t solve these problems in a very short period of time, we would die. And it was extremely difficult to solve them,” Musk said. Earlier this year, Musk described “production hell” as Tesla ramped up production to build 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of June, and said he had been sleeping on the factory floor.

Musk admitted in Sunday’s interview that he had been stretched to the limit. “People should not work this hard,” he said of his stretch working 22-hour days, seven days a week. “This is very painful.” “It hurts my brain and my heart,” Musk said. “It hurts. It is not recommended for anyone. I just did it because if I didn’t do it… there was a good chance Tesla would die.” In late October, Tesla posted a surprise quarterly profit, and earlier this month, Musk said Tesla is not “staring death in the face” anymore, and it will likely be cash-flow positive for all quarters going forward.

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Godspeed. Politics? You sure?

Former Greek FinMin Varoufakis To Run In European Election – In Germany (R.)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was outspoken in his criticism of the austerity policies championed by Berlin at the height of the euro zone’s debt crisis, is to stand in European elections next year – in Germany. The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), which he launched in 2016 to “democratize” the continent, picked him on Sunday as a candidate for the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019. “I accept [the nomination] because it epitomizes the new trans-national politics we need in Europe,” he told a news conference in Berlin where his colleagues unfurled a banner with the slogan “European Spring.” “I call on all of you to join us in this pan-European quest for democracy in Europe, democracy in Germany as a condition for prosperity and authentic democracy,” he said.

The motorbike-riding academic-economist, who rose to celebrity status in the euro crisis, once described the austerity measures forced on Greece by creditors as “fiscal waterboarding”. Varoufakis, who frequently clashed with his hardline German counterpart at the time, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said the political center in Germany was under threat because of austerity. “On paper, Germany is drowning in money…but the German people have been victims of the same austerity as the rest of Europe. The result is low levels of investment,” he said. This, he argued, boosted inequality, share prices and house prices. He said his movement wanted to pour cash, raised if necessary via bond issuance, into green policies to tackle climate change.

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‘You’d better do today what they’ll do tomorrow..’

Give In To The EU, Greek PM Tsipras Counsels Italian Government (K.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has counseled the Italian government to give in to EU demands that it lower its budget deficit, according to newspaper Corriere della Sera. In an analysis piece titled “Tsipras’ advice to Italy: Give in now, then it will be worse,” Federico Fubini writes that Tsipras was sort of apologetic to the Italians for not taking their side in their conflict with the EU Commission. “I can not do anything because I would be the first to arouse suspicion,” Tsipras reportedly said. Rubini adds: “(Tsipras) no doubt remembers that Italy did nothing when he tried desperately to soften the conditions – then draconian – placed by the euro area on Greece.”

“But then Tsipras, mindful of the retreat that he improvised in July 2015 after blocking the bank accounts of the voters to avoid the collapse of the system, has offered advice to Italy. ‘You’d better do today what they’ll do tomorrow,’ he said. ‘If instead you have another idea – he added, perhaps alluding to the euro exit option that he refused – well, then, good luck.’”

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Ha!

Russia Space Agency To Check If US Moon Landings Really Happened (Ind.)

The head of Russia‘s national space agency has proposed a mission to the moon to verify whether the American moon landings really took place. Dmitry Rogozin responded to a question about whether Nasa’s Apollo programme actually put men on the moon back in the 1960s and 1970s during a conversation with the president of Moldova, Igor Dodon. He appeared to be joking, as he smirked and shrugged while answering. But conspiracies surrounding Nasa’s moon missions are common in Russia. In a video of their interaction, posted to his 815,000 Twitter followers, Mr Rogozin says: “We have set this objective to fly and verify whether they’ve been there or not”.

Nasa’s six well-documented official manned missions to the surface of the Moon, beginning with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969 and continuing with Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972, have been dogged with conspiracy theories. In 2015, a former spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee called for an investigation into the Nasa moon landings. Vladimir Markin said an enquiry should be launched into the disappearance of original footage from the first moon landing in 1969 and the whereabouts of lunar rock, which was brought back to Earth during several missions.

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Dec 122017
 
 December 12, 2017  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wassily Kandinsky Clear connection 1925

 

How Fed Rate Hikes Impact US Debt Slaves (WS)
Why Obamacare Is Locked In An Inescapable Death Spiral (ZH)
Sitting Closer To The Exit (Roberts)
Oil Producers Turning to Crypto to Solve Sanctions Problems (Luongo)
Peak Bitcoin Media Mania Yet? (WS)
Bitcoin – Millennials’ “Fake Gold” (Katsenelson)
Next Bank of Japan Governor Faces a ‘Job From Hell’ (BBG)
Sweden: More Signs The World’s Biggest Housing Bubble Is Cracking (ZH)
Trump Tells NASA to Send Americans to the Moon (AFP)
Exxon To Provide Details On Climate Change Impact To Its Business (R.)
Apple Aims To Block Climate, Rights Using SEC Guidance (R.)
EU Could ‘Scrap Refugee Quota Scheme’ (G.)
Lesvos Authorities Block Ship With Container Homes For Refugees (AP)
Germany Rejects Additional Winter Aid For Refugees On Greek Islands (KTG)

 

 

“If the average interest rate on this debt is 20%, credit-cart interest payments alone add $233 a month to their household expenditures.”

How Fed Rate Hikes Impact US Debt Slaves (WS)

Revolving credit outstanding of $1 trillion, spread over 117.72 million households, would amount to $8,300 per household. But many households do not carry interest-bearing credit card debt; they pay their cards off in full every month. Finance charges are concentrated on households that use this form of debt to finance their spending and that cannot pay off their balances every month. Many of these households are already strung out and are among the least able to afford higher interest payments. Consumer credit bureau TransUnion shed some light on this in its Q3 2017 Industry Insights Report, according to which 195.9 million consumers had a revolving credit balance at the end of Q3, with total account balances of $1.35 trillion. This equals $6,892 per person with revolving credit balances.

If there are two people with balances in a household, this would amount to nearly $14,000 of this high-cost debt. If the average interest rate on this debt is 20%, credit-cart interest payments alone add $233 a month to their household expenditures. What is next for these folks? For now, the Fed has penciled in, and economists expect, three hikes next year. But recent developments – particularly the expected tax cuts and what the Fed calls “elevated asset prices” – suggest that the Fed might “surprise” the markets with its hawkishness in 2018. The Fed is currently pegging the “neutral” rate – the rate at which the federal funds rate is neither stimulating nor slowing the economy – at somewhere near 2.5% to 2.75%, so about five or six more rates hikes from today’s target range.

Interest rates on credit cards would follow in lockstep. These rate hikes to “neutral” would extract another $8 billion or so a year, on top of the additional $7.5 billion from the prior rate hikes. But that’s not all. Credit card balances continue to rise as our brave consumers are trying to prop up US consumer spending and thus the global economy by borrowing more and more. Thus, rising credit card balances combined with rising interest rates on those balances conspire to produce sharply higher interest costs. Since consumers with high-interest credit-card balances already don’t have enough money to pay off their costly debt, these additional interest payments will further curtail their efforts at making principal payments and thus inflate their credit card balances further.

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And if/when you manage to pay off your credit cards, there’s the next challenge…

Why Obamacare Is Locked In An Inescapable Death Spiral (ZH)

Ever since it was signed into law in 2010, defenders of Obamacare have dismissed staggering surges in annual premiums by highlighting only the rates paid by those fortunate enough to receive subsidies. In fact, last year we wrote about Marjorie Connolly’s, from Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, response to the Tennessee insurance commissioner’s fear that the exchanges in his state were “very near collapse” after a staggering 59% premium surge: “Consumers in Tennessee will continue to have affordable coverage options in 2017. Last year, the average monthly premium for people with Marketplace coverage getting tax credits increased just $2, from $102 to $104 per month, despite headlines suggesting double digit increases,” said Marjorie Connolly, HHS spokeswoman, in a statement.

We’re unsure whether Connolly’s comment was just propaganda intended to defend a failing piece of legislation or an intentional, blatant admission that the Department of Health and Human Services just doesn’t care about the majority of Americans, the so-called 1%’ers, who are facing debilitating increases in healthcare costs simply because they manage to live above the poverty line. We’ll let you decide on that one. Be that as it may, as the Miami Herald points out this morning, roughly half of all Obamacare participants, nearly 9 million people in aggregate, don’t qualify for the subsidies that Connolly praised and have been forced to absorb debilitating premium increases for the past several years.

[..] As open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage nears the deadline of Dec. 15, and Florida once again leads all states using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, Heidi and Richard Reiter sit at the kitchen table at their Davie home and struggle to piece together the family’s health insurance for 2018. The Reiters buy their own coverage, but they earn too much to qualify for financial aid to lower their monthly premiums. For 2017, they bought a plan off the exchange and paid $26,000 in premiums for family coverage, including their two sons, ages 21 and 17. Keeping the same coverage for 2018 would have cost the Reiters $40,000 in premiums, a 54% increase. So they selected a lower-priced plan that covers less but costs $29,000 in premiums. “That’s more than a lot of people’s mortgage payments,” Richard Reiter said. “For me, it’s a crisis situation.”

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The odds of a correction (reversion).

Sitting Closer To The Exit (Roberts)

While valuation risk is certainly concerning, it is the extreme deviations of other measures to which attention should be paid. When long-term indicators have previously been this overbought, further gains in the market have been hard to achieve. However, the problem comes, as identified by the vertical lines, is understanding when these indicators reverse course. The subsequent “reversions” have not been forgiving. The chart below brings this idea of reversion into a bit clearer focus. I have overlaid the real, inflation-adjusted, S&P 500 index over the cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio. Historically, we find that when both valuations and prices have extended well beyond their intrinsic long-term trendlines, subsequent reversions beyond those trend lines have ensued. Every. Single. Time.

Importantly, these reversions have wiped out a decade, or more, in investor gains. As noted, if the next correction began in 2018, and ONLY reverts back to the long-term trendline, which historically has never been the case, investors would reset portfolios back to levels not seen since 1997. Two decades of gains lost. With everyone crowded into the “ETF Theater,” the “exit” problem should be of serious concern. “Over the next several weeks, or even months, the markets can certainly extend the current deviations from long-term mean even further. But that is the nature of every bull market peak, and bubble, throughout history as the seeming impervious advance lures the last of the stock market ‘holdouts’ back into the markets.”

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“..the petrodollar is not the source of the U.S. dollar’s power around the world, but rather the U.S.’s main fulcrum by which to keep competition out of the markets..”

Oil Producers Turning to Crypto to Solve Sanctions Problems (Luongo)

Last week, Venezuela announced it would develop a national cryptocurrency backed by its oil reserves, the Petro. Now there is a report that Russia is considering the same thing. Iran will likely follow suit. As of right now this is just a rumor, but it makes some sense. So, let’s treat this rumor as fact for the sake of argument and see where it leads us. The U.S. continues to sanction and threaten all of these countries for daring to challenge the global status quo. There is no denying this. [..] at the heart of this is the petrodollar. Contrary to what many believe, the petrodollar is not the source of the U.S. dollar’s power around the world, but rather the U.S.’s main fulcrum by which to keep competition out of the markets. It is a secondary effect of the dollar’s dominance in global finance today. But it is not the main driver.

Financial market are simply too big relative to the size any one commodity market for it to be the fulcrum on which everything hinges. It was that way in the past. But it is not now. That said, however, getting out from underneath the petrodollar gives a country independence to begin building financial architecture that can be levered up over time to threaten the institutional control it helped create. U.S. foreign policy defends the petrodollar along with other systems in place – the IMF, the World Bank, SWIFT, LIBOR and the central banks themselves – to maintain its control. The main oil producers, however, can escape this control simply by selling their oil in currencies other than the U.S. dollar. That’s not enough to dethrone the dollar, but, like I just said, it is where the process has to start. Therefore, any and all means must be employed to defend the dollar empire by keeping everyone inside that system.

[..] The problem with backing any currency with physical reserves is the fluctuations in value of those reserves. It’s not like oil is a low-beta commodity or anything. But, like everything else in the commodity space, price movements are supposed to be smoothed out by the futures markets helping to coordinate price with time. But the bigger problem is the estimation of those reserves the coin’s value is based on. First, how do you accurately quantify them? Can holders of Petro or Neft-coin trust the Russian or Venezuelan governments to provide accurate assessments of their reserves? Second, there is the ability of the country to pull it out of the ground and sell it into the market at anything close to a fair price. This isn’t a concern for Russia, the world’s 2nd largest supplier of oil and very stable government but Venezuela is the opposite. And, its “Petro” would probably trade at quite a discount early on to the dollar price of oil.

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I doubt it. If only because as Taleb said, you can’t actually short BTC, and they should have introduced options along with futures. They didn’t. This story is far from over.

Peak Bitcoin Media Mania Yet? (WS)

Bitcoin mania is now everywhere. It’s hard to have a conversation with regular people without sooner or later getting into bitcoin. Some of this is just for fun. Manias breed amazement. Miracles are wonderful to behold. But some of it is pretty serious. “We’ve seen mortgages being taken out to buy bitcoin,” said Joseph Borg, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association and director of the Alabama Securities Commission, on CNBC’s Power Lunch today. “People do credit cards, equity lines,” he said. Bitcoin futures trading started Sunday night on the Cboe futures exchange. Next week, the CME will offer trading in bitcoin futures.

This way, speculators can bet with unlimited derivatives on an unregulated digital entity that is backed by nothing and whose cash trading takes place in unregulated opaque and easily hacked exchanges around the world. But Borg doesn’t think that futures contracts legitimize bitcoin. Innovation and technology always outrun regulation, he said. “You’re on this mania curve. At some point in time there’s got to be a leveling off,” he said. “Cryptocurrency is here to stay. Blockchain is here to stay. Whether it is bitcoin or not, I don’t know.” And so the media mania over bitcoin has become deafening.

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But there’s definitely a media bubble, even if there’s no BTC one yet.

Bitcoin – Millennials’ “Fake Gold” (Katsenelson)

If you cannot value an asset you cannot be rational. With Bitcoin at $11,000 today, it is crystal clear to me, with the benefit of hindsight, that I should have bought Bitcoin at 28 cents. But you only get hindsight in hindsight. Let’s mentally (only mentally) buy Bitcoin today at $11,000. If it goes up 5% a day like a clock and gets to $110,000 – you don’t need rationality. Just buy and gloat. But what do you do if the price goes down to $8,000? You’ll probably say, “No big deal, I believe in cryptocurrencies.” What if it then goes to $5,500? Half of your hard-earned money is gone. Do you buy more? Trust me, at that point in time the celebratory articles you are reading today will have vanished. The awesome stories of a plumber becoming an overnight millionaire with the help of Bitcoin will not be gracing the social media.

The moral support – which is really peer pressure – that drives you to own Bitcoin will be gone, too. Then you’ll be reading stories about other suckers like you who bought it at what – in hindsight – turned out to be the all-time high and who got sucked into the potential for future riches. And then Bitcoin will tumble to $2,000 and then to $100. Since you have no idea what this crypto thing is worth, there is no center of gravity to guide you or anyone else to make rational decisions. With Coke or another real business that generates actual cash flows, we can at least have an intelligent conversation about what the company is worth. We can’t have one with Bitcoin. The X times Y = Z math will be reapplied by Wall Street as it moves on to something else.

People who are buying Bitcoin today are doing it for one simple reason: FOMO – fear of missing out. Yes, this behavior is so predominant in our society that we even have an acronym for it. Bitcoin is priced today at $11,000 because the fool who bought it for $11,000 is hoping that there is another, greater fool who will pay $12,000 for it tomorrow. This game of greater fools is not new. The Dutch played it with tulips in the 1600s– it did not end well. Americans took the game to a new level with dotcoms in the late 1990s – that round ended in tears, too. And now millennials and millennial-wannabes are playing it with Bitcoin and few hundred other competing cryptocurrencies.

The counterargument to everything I have said so far is that those dollar bills you have in your wallet or that digitally reside in your bank account are as fictional as Bitcoin. True. Currencies, like most things in our lives, are stories that we all have (mostly) unconsciously bought into. Of course, society and, even more importantly, governments have agreed that these fiat currencies are going to be the means of exchange. Also, taxation by the government turns the dollar bill “story” into a very physical reality: If you don’t pay taxes in dollars, you go to jail. (The US government will not accept Bitcoins, gold, chunks of granite, or even British pounds).

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Compared to Japan, all other central banks are wimps and pussies.

Next Bank of Japan Governor Faces a ‘Job From Hell’ (BBG)

The next governor of the Bank of Japan faces a “job from hell.” That’s according to Takeshi Fujimaki, a banker-turned-lawmaker who sees any attempt by Japan’s central bank to exit its program of unprecedented easing as triggering a Greek-like debt crisis. “This is the calm before the battle,” Fujimaki, an opposition Japan Innovation Party politician who once served briefly as an adviser to George Soros, said in an interview at his Tokyo office on Monday. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s five-year term runs out in April, with recent praise from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strengthening expectations that the 73-year-old will stay on for a second stint. His massive easing program has weakened the yen, bolstered exports and helped stock prices to more than double. But inflation is still short of the government’s 2% target, and critics say the BOJ’s swollen balance sheet is unsustainable.

Fujimaki, 67, said he agreed with the view expressed by Kuroda’s predecessor Masaaki Shirakawa in his 2013 resignation press conference, when he said no judgment could be made on non-traditional monetary easing in Japan and in other developed economies until exits had been completed. Last week, Kuroda said the BOJ can take the appropriate steps to exit when the time comes, but talking specifics of an exit now would end up confusing markets. Even so, Fujimaki said Kuroda should stay on to oversee an exit from the policies he introduced. “Because Mr. Kuroda has taken it this far, he should carry on until the end,” Fujimaki said. “Just taking the good part and running away would be unfair.”

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“(SEB) says 63% of households in Stockholm now expect prices to decline in the coming year while only 21% expect an increase; that’s “a dramatic shift compared with only two months’ ago..”

Sweden: More Signs The World’s Biggest Housing Bubble Is Cracking (ZH)

We like to highlight that although Sweden’s property bubble is not the longest running (that accolade goes to Australia at 55 years), it is probably the world’s biggest, even though it gets relatively little coverage in the mainstream financial media. A month ago, we noted that SEB’s housing price indicator suffered its second biggest ever drop, falling by 39 points, only lagging a steeper fall from ten years earlier. This month the indicator, which shows the balance between households forecasting rising or falling prices, fell into negative territory, dropping to -5 from +11 in November. Households expecting prices to rise has almost halved from 66% In October, to 43% in November and 36% this month. The percentage of households expecting prices to fall has risen from 16% in October, to 32% in November and 41% this month.

After the housing price indicator was published, the Swedish krona fell as much as 0.7% versus the Euro to 10.0118, its lowest level since 5 December 2017. Not surprisingly, the focal point of Sweden’s property boom has been Stockholm, where the decline in the housing price indicator in December 2017 was precipitous. According to Bloomberg. “SEB says sharp drop in home-price expectations in Stockholm was main culprit behind the decline in its Swedish home-price indicator, with the indicator falling to -42 in the Swedish capital in Dec. from -6 in Nov. That means the Stockholm indicator is now close to the record low of -47 that was reached in Dec. 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis. (SEB) says 63% of households in Stockholm now expect prices to decline in the coming year while only 21% expect an increase; that’s “a dramatic shift compared with only two months’ ago..”

Given the disproportionate rate of decline in December in Stockholm, SEB was minded to ask whether special factors are at work “rather than general drivers such as fears over rising interest rates or a weak business cycle”. Indeed, aside from south-eastern Sweden, the outlook in all other regions remains positive. With regard to Stockholm, the bank notes that a large increase in new supply of expensive residential property and what it terms “very negative media reporting” have had an impact. Whether that’s a fair assessment, or whether it’s realist reporting of a monumental asset bubble is a moot point. What is indisputable is that the number of Swedish homes for sale has surged in November 2017 compared with the same month last year.

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After talking to Musk and Bezos. Who target billions in profits from the bridges to nowhere on steroids.

Trump Tells NASA to Send Americans to the Moon (AFP)

US President Donald Trump directed NASA on Monday to send Americans to the Moon for the first time since 1972, in order to prepare for future trips to Mars. “This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint,” Trump said at a White House ceremony as he signed the new space policy directive. “We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond.” The directive calls on NASA to ramp up its efforts to send people to deep space, a policy that unites politicians on both sides of the aisle in the United States. However, it steered clear of the most divisive and thorny issues in space exploration: budgets and timelines.

Space policy experts agree that any attempt to send people to Mars, which lies an average of 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) from Earth, would require immense technical prowess and a massive wallet. The last time US astronauts visited the Moon was during the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s. Trump, who signed the directive in the presence of Harrison Schmitt, one of the last Americans to walk on the Moon 45 years ago, said “today, we pledge that he will not be the last.” The better known Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon after Armstrong and a fervent advocate of future space missions, was also present at the ceremony but not mentioned by Trump during his speech.

[..] Trump vowed his new directive “will refocus the space program on human exploration and discovery,” and “marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972.” The goal of the new Moon missions would include “long-term exploration and use” of its surface. “We’re dreaming big,” Trump said. His administration has previously held several meetings with SpaceX boss Elon Musk and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, who also owns Blue Origin.

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The article has two authors, and at least one editor (Reuters), and still it says this: “world temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F) this century..

Exxon To Provide Details On Climate Change Impact To Its Business (R.)

Exxon Mobil on Monday said it would publish new details about how climate change could affect its business in a move aimed at appeasing critics and forestalling another proxy fight next year. The largest U.S. oil and gas producer said in a filing to U.S. securities regulators that its board agreed to provide shareholders with information on “energy demand sensitivities, implications of two degree Celsius scenarios, and positioning for a lower-carbon future.” Scientists have warned that world temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F) this century, surpassing a “tipping point” that a global climate deal aims to avert. Exxon’s statement, which came three days before the deadline for its 2018 annual meeting resolution submissions, said additional information would be released in the near future, but did not provide details.

The company’s board originally opposed providing shareholders with a report outlining the potential impact of global warming on Exxon’s long-term outlook. Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York state’s comptroller, heads one the two lead sponsors of a shareholder resolution calling for Exxon to issue a climate-impact report. He called Monday’s decision “a win for shareholders and for the company’s ability to manage risk.” However, another sponsor noted the lack of specificity in the company’s statement. “This is giving no detail,” said Tim Smith, who leads shareholder engagement efforts at Walden Asset Management, a co-filer of last spring’s resolution. He said Exxon’s statement “needs to be expanded to assure shareowners that they’re responsive to last year’s request.”

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Apple, Exxon, everybody seeks to escape their own shareholders.

Apple Aims To Block Climate, Rights Using SEC Guidance (R.)

Apple is pushing back on shareholder proposals on climate issue and human rights concerns, an effort activists worry could sharply restrict investor rights. In letters to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month, an attorney for the California computer maker argued at least four shareholder proposals relate to “ordinary business” and therefore can be left off the proxy Apple is expected to publish early next year, ahead of its annual meeting. The attorney, Gene Levoff, cited guidance issued by the SEC on Nov. 1 saying that company boards are generally best positioned to decide if a resolution raises significant policy issues worth putting to a vote.

While companies routinely seek permission to skip shareholder proposals, Apple’s application of the new SEC guidance shows how it could be used to ignore many investor proposals by claiming boards routinely review those areas, said Sanford Lewis, a Massachusetts attorney representing Apple shareholders who had filed two of the resolutions. Were the SEC to side with Apple, “this would be an incredibly dangerous precedent that would essentially say a great many proposals could be omitted,” Lewis said. [..] Often seen as distractions in the past, shareholder measures have taken on new significance as big asset managers increasingly back those on areas like climate change or board diversity.

Apple cited the SEC’s new guidance among other things in seeking to omit the shareholder measures from its proxy, according to letters Apple sent to the SEC. These include calls for Apple to take steps such as establishing a “human rights committee” to address concerns on topics like censorship, and for Apple to report on its ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Tusk against the rest. Couldn’t be because he’s Polish, could it? And looking at big jobs back home?!

EU Could ‘Scrap Refugee Quota Scheme’ (G.)

The EU could scrap a divisive scheme that compels member states to accept quotas of refugees, one of the bloc’s most senior leaders will say this week. The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, will tell EU leaders at a summit on Thursday that mandatory quotas have been divisive and ineffective, in a clear sign that he is ready to abandon the policy that has created bitter splits across the continent. Tusk will set a six-month deadline for EU leaders to reach unanimous agreement on reforms to the European asylum system, but will propose alternatives if there is no consensus. “If there is no solution … including on the issue of mandatory quotas, the president of the European council will present a way forward,” states a draft letter from Tusk to national capitals, seen by the Guardian.

In effect this means scrapping mandatory quotas, because Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic are fiercely opposed to the idea of dispersing refugees around the bloc based on a formula drawn up in Brussels. Tusk is likely to face opposition, however, from other EU bodies, including the European commission. EU leaders introduced compulsory quotas in 2015 at the height of the migration crisis, as thousands of people arrived daily on Europe’s shores, many of whom were refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic voted against the move, but the policy was forced through by a majority vote. Hungary and Poland have defied the rest of the EU by not taking a single refugee under the scheme, which aimed to relocate about 120,000 refugees, mainly Syrians. The Czech republic has taken in only 12. All three countries were referred to the European court of justice last week for failing to implement the policy, the usual procedure for flouting EU rules.

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All refugees living on Lesbos should be evacuated.

Lesvos Authorities Block Ship With Container Homes For Refugees (AP)

Authorities on the Greek island of Lesvos say they have blocked a ship carrying container homes for refugees and other migrants in protest at the refusal of the government and the European Union to move more people to Greece’s mainland. A government-chartered ship carrying the containers remained anchored at Mytilene, the island’s main town, on Monday after municipal vehicles were used to block port facilities. The island’s municipal board was due to meet later on Monday to decide on whether to lift the blockade following talks with the government, state-run TV ERT said. The mayors of five Greek islands facing the coast of Turkey are demanding that the government and EU end a policy of containment for migrants – introduced last year as a deterrent against illegal migration – because living facilities are severely overcrowded.

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Merkel, the story of a great and bitter failure.

Germany Rejects Additional Winter Aid For Refugees On Greek Islands (KTG)

The German Foreign Ministry has made it clear that it will not provide additional winter assistance to refugees on the Aegean islands. In a related question from German newspapers, the foreign ministry replied that “responsibility for accommodating and feeding refugees falls under the jurisdiction of each country.” According to dpa, the Foreign Ministry recalled that Berlin recently funded the installation of 135 heated containers for a total of 800 people in two camps in the Thessaloniki region and that the EU has allocated up to now 1.4 billion euros to tackle the refugee crisis in Greece.

Meanwhile, there is media report that Greece has persuaded Turkey to accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to reduce critical overcrowding in its refugee camps. The Kathimerini daily said the agreement came during a strained two-day state visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week, during which he angered his hosts with talk of revising borders and complaints about Greece’s treatment of its Muslim minority. The deal is in addition to Turkey’s existing agreement to take back migrants from Aegean island camps, under the terms of an EU-Turkey pact.

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