Jul 132018
 
 July 13, 2018  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh View of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer 1888

 

Stock Markets See the US Winning the Trade War, Defying Propaganda (WS)
A Decade On, Pre-Crisis Mortgages Linger For Big Banks, Homeowners (R.)
Fed’s Escape From Crisis Holdings Could Hit Dead End (R.)
Social Security, Medicare To Add Another $50 Trillion to Our National Debt (JM)
China’s Record Trade Surplus With US Further Inflames Trade Tensions (R.)
Approval Of Brexit Negotiations Lowest On Record (Orb)
No Brand Of Brexit Can Command A Commons Majority (G.)
Donald Trump Is Right. NATO Is A Costly White Elephant (G.)
Trump Ready To Help Some NATO States Buy US Arms (R.)
Who Wants To Disrupt Strategic Balance In The Black Sea Region? (SCF)
Germany Puts Last Bailout Tranche to Greece on Hold (GR)
Europe’s Remarkable Ability To Remain In Denial (Varoufakis)
US Judge Asked To Create Mental Health Fund For Migrant Children (R.)
Facebook Users Marked With “Treason” Label (ZH)

 

 

“Now they had a fig leaf – the threat of future tariffs – behind which to hide their long-planned offshoring strategies.”

Stock Markets See the US Winning the Trade War, Defying Propaganda (WS)

The trade war talk has been going on since the presidential campaign but markets just brushed it off and rallied. In 2018, the trade war verbiage moved to the foreground. But until June 14, the administration vacillated between thinking about tariffs and putting the trade war “on hold,” depending on who was doing the talking or tweeting. This vacillation ended on June 14 (Thursday) evening, when it was reported that Trump had approved to hit an initial list of $50 billion in goods (1,300 products) from China with tariffs of 25%. At the time, the administration was also preparing a second list of products, accounting for another $100 billion in imports from China.

On the evening of June 19 (Monday), Trump threatened to hit another $200 billion of imports from China with tariffs of 10%. And on Tuesday, the Shanghai stock market plunged. Markets were taking it seriously. Since then, Corporate America’s propaganda machine – the same that for the past two decades had extolled the unrivalled virtues of offshoring production to cheap countries – fired up the mainstream media, which launched into incessant, deafening, repetitive, and manipulative coverage of how these tariffs would hurt US jobs more than anything.

Two glorious examples are Harley-Davidson and GM, which had been laying off workers and shutting plants in the US for years as they were offshoring production to cheap countries. For example, in July 2017, Harley-Davidson announced layoffs in the US as it was building a factory in Thailand. GM has been laying off workers in the US since 2016, even as it opted to produce more models in Mexico. Now they had a fig leaf – the threat of future tariffs – behind which to hide their long-planned offshoring strategies.

Read more …

TBTF banks have no incentive to come clean.

A Decade On, Pre-Crisis Mortgages Linger For Big Banks, Homeowners (R.)

A decade on big U.S. banks are still running down and selling off crisis-era mortgages, a process executives point to as weighing on loan growth. Eager to see a turning point in loan books, analysts count these portfolios as one factor, along with home equity loan runoff and new mortgage demand, to watch for when deciphering the true loan growth picture as U.S. second-quarter bank earnings start on Friday. Wells Fargo and Bank of America executives have flagged portfolios from prior to the 2008-2009 crisis era where banks are no longer originating similar new products when they are asked to predict a turning point in consumer loans. “These are portfolios of a bygone era that were very, very painful for the banks,” said Gerard Cassidy at RBC Capital Markets.

“They are not plain vanilla portfolios, which means they are more costly to manage. It may just not be worth the headache.” Analysts have said higher loan growth is critical to driving bank’s stock prices, but they anticipate only a modest acceleration year over year, driven primarily by commercial and industrial loans, not residential. “Remember that there’s a portion of that book that, again, is pre-crisis,” Chief Executive Tim Sloan said about Wells Fargo’s mortgage book at a May conference. He added the bank continues to examine the older portfolio’s risk-return tradeoff and sells assets when the opportunity arises, factors “that could have some impact” on growth.

Read more …

Backpedalling.

Fed’s Escape From Crisis Holdings Could Hit Dead End (R.)

Not long ago the Federal Reserve expected to quietly shed nearly half of its $4.5-trillion portfolio by around 2022, leaving little trace of the extraordinary steps it took to face down the financial crisis. But an unexpected market kink could force the Fed to scrap the plan two or three years early and permanently leave it holding $1 trillion more than it wanted. The U.S. central bank is making adjustments on the fly and keeping its options open. “I don’t think that’s problematic in any way” to halt the process “somewhat earlier,” William Dudley, the former New York Fed president and key architect of the portfolio strategy, told reporters last month.

Yet if the world’s largest holder of U.S. bonds tossed out its play book and effectively took on a more accommodative stance, the result could be an across-the-board easing of market borrowing costs, the foreign-exchange value of the dollar, and of the growing strains on emerging markets. “The evidence that we have suggests that the ultimate size of the balance sheet will be bigger than what people expected,” said Matthew Luzzetti, senior economist at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. All of this amounts to the final chapter in the Fed’s unprecedented decision over the last decade to buy some $3.5 trillion in mortgage and Treasury bonds in an effort to boost riskier investments, hiring and economic recovery from recession. In a nod to a stronger U.S. economy, the Fed since 2015 has raised interest rates well above zero and, since October of last year, begun shrinking its balance sheet to a more normal but yet-unspecified size.

Read more …

“As of this year, both programs are in negative cash flow, meaning Congress must provide additional cash to pay the promised benefits.”

Social Security, Medicare To Add Another $50 Trillion to Our National Debt (JM)

The official, on-the-books federal debt is currently about $21.2 trillion, according to the US National Debt Clock. $21.2T is the face amount of all outstanding Treasury paper, including so-called “internal” debt. This is about 105% of GDP and it’s only the federal government. If you add in state and local debt, that adds another $3.1 trillion to bring total government debt in the US to $24.3 trillion or more than 120% of GDP. Then there’s corporate debt, home mortgages, credit cards, student loans, and more. Add it all together and total debt is about 330% of GDP, according to the IIF data I cited in Debt Clock Ticking. We are in hock up to our ears. In calculating debt, however, we don’t factor in Social Security and Medicare. These aren’t yet debt because they have dedicated revenue streams: payroll taxes.

Most Medicare recipients also pay premiums. To date, these revenue sources have covered current expenditures and more, allowing the programs to build up reserves. But that’s about to change. As of this year, both programs are in negative cash flow, meaning Congress must provide additional cash to pay the promised benefits. It will get worse, too. The so-called “trust funds” are going to run dry sooner or later, and it may be sooner. This month’s annual trustee report estimated Social Security will run out of reserves in 2034, and the hospitalization part of Medicare will go dry in 2026. Just for the record, those “trust funds” don’t exist except as an accounting fiction. It is like you saving $100,000 for your child’s education and then borrowing all the money from your child’s education fund.

You can pretend that you have set aside $100,000 for your child’s future education, but when it comes time to make those payments, you’ll have to pull it out of current income or liquidate other assets. The US government has borrowed (or used or whatever euphemism you want to apply) all the money in those trust funds. So, talking about running out of reserves in 2034 or 2026 is rather meaningless. We’ve already run out of reserves. Any time a politician talks about putting a “lock box” around Social Security or Medicare trust funds, he or she is either staggeringly ignorant or lying.

Read more …

Stockpiling ahead of the crash?!

China’s Record Trade Surplus With US Further Inflames Trade Tensions (R.)

China’s trade surplus with the United States swelled to a record in June as its overall exports remained solid, a result that could further inflame a bitter trade dispute with Washington. The data came after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump raised the stakes in its trade row with China on Tuesday, saying it would slap 10 percent tariffs on an extra $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, including numerous consumer items. China’s trade surplus with the United States, which is at the center of the tariff tussle, widened to a record monthly high of $28.97 billion, up from $24.58 billion in May, according to Reuters calculations based on official data going back to 2008.

Trump, who has demanded Beijing cut the trade surplus, could use the latest result to further ratchet up pressure on China after both sides last week imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on $34 billion of each other’s goods. Washington has warned it may ultimately impose tariffs on more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods – nearly the total amount of U.S. imports from China last year. The dispute has jolted global financial markets, raising worries a full-scale trade war could derail the world economy. Chinese stocks fell into bear market territory and the yuan currency has skidded, though there have been signs in recent days its central bank is moving to slow the currency’s declines.

[..] China’s exports to the United States rose 13.6 percent in the first half of 2018 from a year earlier, while its imports from the U.S. rose 11.8 percent in the same period. Separate data showed Chinese shipments to U.S. ports rose more than expected in June, suggesting some retailers moved up orders to insulate themselves from the intensifying trade war that threatens to send up costs on a growing number of consumer products. For January-June China’s trade surplus with the United States rose to $133.76 billion, compared with about $117.51 billion in the same period last year.

Read more …

May will have to find something else.

Approval Of Brexit Negotiations Lowest On Record (Orb)

Approval of the Brexit negotiations has seen a significant fall in July – now the lowest on record. Last month 36% approved of the negotiations and it is now 29%. In June, 32% agreed that Theresa May would get the right deal for Britain in the Brexit negotiations – this has now fallen to 26% – the lowest again on record. These 2,027 interviews were carried out before the resignation of Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Read more …

Perhaps the biggest one of a million problems.

No Brand Of Brexit Can Command A Commons Majority (G.)

Theresa May’s new cabinet has now rallied behind her Chequers plan, set out fully in the government’s white paper on future UK-EU relations. However, far from settling the Brexit debate, recent events have given rise to another nightmare scenario that is only just beginning to take shape: that every conceivable Brexit outcome may now not command a parliamentary majority. The conventional wisdom in Westminster is that since the general election last year, there is no House of Commons majority for a hard Brexit. With a working majority of only 13, including the Democratic Unionists, it would take just seven Tory MPs to oppose it. But there are at least 20-30 pro-European Tories minded to do so.

Yet May’s softer Brexit blueprint has also significantly increased the prospect of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs voting against her EU deal when it is put to parliament later this year. In the febrile atmosphere at Westminster this week, there have been rumours that up to 70 Tories could oppose it – especially if, as seems likely, May makes further concessions in order to win the EU’s backing for a bespoke deal, instead of having to choose between a Canada or Norway-style agreement. Hints in the white paper about a preferential system for EU migrants, despite May’s rhetoric about ending free movement of labour, will fuel the Tory revolt.

May’s embrace for a softer Brexit has therefore changed the Commons arithmetic – and the political calculations that come with it. It is now Labour MPs, rather than Tory ones, who may prove critical. In recognition of this, May has been reaching out to Labour MPs in the hope that soft Brexit supporters vote for her deal, neutralising the impact of the Eurosceptics voting against it. In an unusual move, David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister and May’s de facto deputy, briefed Labour (as well as Liberal Democrat and SNP) MPs on the Chequers plan. But Labour won’t want to save May. Their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will almost certainly whip Labour MPs to oppose May’s deal, in the hope that the ensuing chaos will result in an election.

Read more …

What I said a few days ago.

Donald Trump Is Right. NATO Is A Costly White Elephant (G.)

Nato was founded in 1949 in response to Stalin’s blockade of Berlin. It was meant to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. Since then, it has welcomed the American nuclear shield, at vast cost to America. Otherwise, its only military achievements have been the breakup of Yugoslavia and the loss of a squalid 17-year war in Afghanistan. Neither has anything to do with the North Atlantic. Nothing better symbolised this than Theresa May’s bizarre gift to Trump this week of 450 British troops for Kabul. Nato was about deterring an attack on Europe from Russia. In 1945, the west agreed the Potsdam settlement, accepting the Soviets’ “sphere of influence” over eastern Europe.

Thus when Russia invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, there was no question of Nato, or Europe, retaliating. The iron curtain was iron. Come 1989 and the collapse of Potsdam Europe, Nato did not approach a broken Russia to agree some new settlement. It did the opposite. To protests from Russia’s weakened leader, Boris Yeltsin, it gathered former Warsaw Pact states under its wing and advanced its border east towards Russia. It embraced Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, then the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria. It was like Khrushchev stationing missiles in Cuba. Only Germany counselled caution.

Nato’s provocation was so blatant as to be an open invitation to any new populist leader in Moscow to exploit Russia’s bruised patriotism: hence Vladimir Putin. He and his kleptocratic cronies are virtually a Nato creation. But the fact that America was party to the provocation does not invalidate Trump’s question. What is Nato’s policy beyond needling Russia and feebly relying on the American shield?

Read more …

But in the end, it’s all about money. That’s why NATO still exists. Nothing to do with security.

Trump Ready To Help Some NATO States Buy US Arms (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was ready to help smaller NATO countries to buy U.S. weapons as he pushed them to spend more on their own defense. Speaking after a NATO summit, at which he said nations had agreed on new spending pledges, Trump said some less wealthy members had asked during meetings in Brussels if he could help them buy U.S. arms equipment, but did not name the countries. Asked about pressures on countries with weaker finances, he said, “We have many wealthy countries with us today but we have some that aren’t so wealthy and they did ask me if they could buy the military equipment, and could I help them out, and we will help them out a little bit,” he told a news conference.

“We are not going to finance it for them but we will make sure that they are able to get payments and various other things so they can buy – because the United States makes by far the best military equipment in the world: the best jets, the best missiles, the best guns, the best everything.” Trump claimed a personal victory at the summit after telling European allies to increase spending or lose Washington’s support. The White House has been pushing a “Buy American” initiative which aims to help drum up billions of dollars more in arms business. The initiative has raised concerns in Europe, where some see increased weapons sales as a key goal of Trump’s repeated calls for NATO members to increase their military spending.

Read more …

Americans have no business there. Go home.

Who Wants To Disrupt Strategic Balance In The Black Sea Region? (SCF)

The US-led series of drills in and around Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline is part of NATO exercise Sea Breeze that kicked off on July 9 to last until July 21. The training event involves an international armada representing 19 countries, including such non-NATO states as Ukraine, India, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates and Moldova. All in all, 29 warships, 1 submarine, and 25 aircraft are involved in the exercise held in Odessa and Mykolayiv and the northwestern Black Sea region. The Black Sea regional security is actually an issue paid little attention to. It’s not addressed by an international forum. NATO official documents adopt an openly provocative language to challenge Russia.

The North Atlantic Alliance always emphasizes the Black Sea’s role as a critical intersection. The US-led NATO activities have been intensifying since 2014 to turn the region into another hotbed along with the South China Sea and the Baltic. Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania, three of the six Black Sea countries, are NATO members. Ukraine and Georgia are the bloc’s close partners aspiring for membership. The alliance has a significant military presence in Romania, including a US Aegis Ashore BMD system capable of firing long-range cruise missiles at Russia.

American military presence in Romania and Bulgaria is gradually growing. The US plans to deploy up to 2,500 troops at Novo Selo, Bulgaria. The facility is large enough to accommodate as many as 5,000 servicemen. Heavy tanks deployment is envisaged. The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, where NATO pledged not to deploy “substantial forces” near Russia, seems to be forgotten. The US Navy’s policy is aimed at ramping up its presence there. The presence of American warships perilously close to Russia’s borders is undoubtedly provocative. For comparison, the Russian Navy does not stage regular maneuvers in the Caribbean Sea with such allies as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela though nothing prevents it from doing so.

Read more …

First, Berlin forces Greece to keep the islands loaded with refugees. Then it forces them to load more taxes on the already destroyed economies there.

Germany Puts Last Bailout Tranche to Greece on Hold (GR)

Germany blocked a final 15 billion-euro ($17.5 billion) bailout payment to Greece after the government in Athens postponed a value-added tax (VAT) hike on a handful of islands that have been hit hard by the influx of migrants. For the tranche to be unblocked by early August, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos pledged at yesterday’s Eurogroup that the measure to retain the 30 percent VAT discount on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos will end in January 2019, and that the loss of 28 million euros of revenues will be offset from other sources.

The SYRIZA-led government postponed the VAT hike in the islands without consulting Greece’s creditors. Germany was eager to send a message to Athens that it will not tolerate any deviation from the program in the future. Commentators say that the Eurogroup decision shows how difficult it will be for the southern country to regain financial sovereignty even as it exits an eight-year bailout regime in August.

Read more …

Given how Greece gets treated, denial doesn’t sound like the correct term.

Europe’s Remarkable Ability To Remain In Denial (Varoufakis)

Europe’s establishment is luxuriating in two recent announcements that would have been momentous even if they were only partly accurate: the end of Greece’s debt crisis, and a Franco-German accord to redesign the eurozone. Unfortunately, both reports offer fresh proof of the European Union (EU) establishment’s remarkable talent for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The two announcements did not come in the same week by accident. The Greek debt implosion, back in 2010, was the ugly symptom of the eurozone’s design flaws, which is why it triggered a domino effect across the continent. Greece’s continuing insolvency reflects the deep disagreements within the Franco-German axis concerning eurozone redesign.

While three French presidents and the same German chancellor were failing to agree on the institutional changes that would render the eurozone sustainable, Greece was asked to bleed quietly. In 2015, the Greeks staged a rebellion, which Europe’s establishment ruthlessly crushed. Neither Brexit nor the EU’s steady delegitimation in the eyes of European voters managed to convince the establishment to change its ways. French President Emmanuel Macron’s election seemed the last hope for the new Berlin-Paris accord needed to prevent a suffocating Italy from triggering the next—this time lethal—domino effect.

Under Macron, new, hopeful ideas were proposed: a common budget for the eurozone; a new safe debt instrument and quasi-federal tax-raising capacities; a common unemployment insurance fund; common bank deposit insurance and a common pot from which to recapitalize failing banks. Moreover, a new investment fund would mobilize idle savings across Europe, without adding to the fiscal stress of member states. A year later, with Italy on a collision course with the EU, the Meseberg Summit between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron delivered an agreement on eurozone reform. A few days later, the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers delivered its own “solution” to the Greek debt crisis.

Read more …

Sensible.

US Judge Asked To Create Mental Health Fund For Migrant Children (R.)

A civil rights group asked a federal judge on Thursday to order the U.S. government to provide mental health counseling for the around 2,000 immigrant children separated from their parents by officials at the U.S.-Mexican border. The request by the American Civil Liberties Union follows a chaotic week for U.S. immigration officials, who failed to meet a court-ordered deadline on Tuesday for reuniting children under the age of five. The government “must establish a fund to pay for professional mental health counseling, which will be used to treat children who are suffering from severe trauma as a result of their forcible separation from their parents,” said the ACLU in court papers filed late Thursday.

The group said the cost of the fund could be determined at a future date. The rights group brought the lawsuit that prompted U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego last month to order the government to reunite families separated at the border. The family separation policy was instituted as part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to curtail illegal immigration. The administration ended the practice last month after widespread protests. The government, in the same court filing on Thursday, acknowledged that it had missed a Tuesday deadline for reuniting the youngest children with their parents, but said it had now complied with the judge’s order.

Read more …

How does anyone make this, too, about Russia? It’s your own people who use this for spying on you. Targeting ‘Russians’ is just a way to divert your attention from that.

Facebook Users Marked With “Treason” Label (ZH)

Beleaguered social media giant Facebook has removed “treason” from their database of the keywords assigned to users for advertising purposes, the company stated Wednesday after Danish state broadcaster DR reported its existence. Company spokesman Joe Osborne replied “National treason was an advertising interest because of its historical significance, but as it is an illegal act, we have removed it.” Facebook tags its more than 2 billion users with a wide variety of keywords depending on their interests – from shopping habits to political and religious views in order to sell more efficiently targeted advertising.

This makes Facebook a sublime sales channel for companies. Categorizing users in areas of interest means that companies with ads on Facebook can buy into an almost perfect audience. Eg. garden equipment for people with special interest in gardens, etc. But categorization also allows intelligence services in all countries to look at the population over the shoulder. DR suggests that the a government such as Russia could have used the “treason” tag to locate around 65,000 Facebook users who had been marked with the keyword. The article notes that they do not know “if the Russian authorities have used Facebook’s “treason” keyword” for nefarious purposes – adding “Only the Russian authorities know that.”

Read more …

Jul 122018
 
 July 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Blu Mural in Rome, Italy 2015 Click to enlarge See also here

 

Trade War Risk On (Hedgeye)
Corporate Bonds Are Getting Junkier (DDMB)
It’s Not Wage Rises That Are A Problem – It’s The Lack Of Them (Frank)
Britain Facing ‘State Of Emergency’ If No Deal Reached – Grieve (Ind.)
Trump Tells NATO Allies To Spend 4% of GDP On Defence (G.)
Germans Want Trump To Pull US Troops Out Of Germany (Ind.)
China’s Silky Charming of Arabia (Escobar)
The Supreme Court Is Much Too Powerful (Mises.org)
New Zealand Hospitals In Chaos As 30,000 Nurses Strike (G.)
EU Approves ‘Enhanced Surveillance’ for Post-Bailout Greece (GR)
Trash Piles Up In US As China Closes Door To Recycling (AFP)

 

 

Great cartoon.

Trade War Risk On (Hedgeye)

– Global equities are retreating materially today on fears of a commensurate escalation in the burgeoning trade war between the U.S. and China. Specifically, the Trump administration released a list of goods that it may target w/ sanctions totaling some $200 billion, while China’s Commerce Ministry described the move as “totally unacceptable bullying”, and promised to lodge complaints at the WTO without detailing what its retaliatory steps would be. Are trade wars bad for growth? Of course they are. Does anyone really possess a reliable framework for quantifying the ultimate impact ex ante? Probably not.

This we do know, however: prior to the last Friday’s tit-for-tat escalation targeting $34 billion in Chinese goods and a list of [mostly] U.S. agricultural products, Export growth was trending lower in 70% of the near-50 economies we maintain detailed predictive tracking algorithms for, while 77% of Manufacturing PMI series were trending lower. This figures reflect data through MAY and JUN, respectively, and are supportive of our view that trade tensions aren’t the driving force behind Global #Divergences; they are merely adding fuel to the fire. Global equities peaked in late-JAN for a reason.

Read more …

Anyone remember AAA?

Corporate Bonds Are Getting Junkier (DDMB)

Life insurers invest heavily in high-grade corporate bonds to fund annuities, life insurance policies and other products. Here’s a look at the possibility that the issues might be affected by credit rating grade inflation… Much has been made of the degradation of the $7.5 trillion U.S. corporate debt market. High yield offers too little, well, yield. And “high grade” now requires air quotes to account for the growing dominance of bonds rated BBB, which is the lowest rung on the investment-grade ladder before dropping into “junk” status. And then there’s the massive market for leveraged loans, where covenants protecting investors have all but disappeared.

How does that break down? Corporate bonds rated BBB now total $2.56 trillion, having surpassed in size the sum of higher-rated debentures, which total $2.55 trillion, according to Morgan Stanley. Put another way, BBB bonds outstanding exceed by 50% the size of the entire investment grade market at the peak of the last credit boom, in 2007. But aren’t they still investment grade? At little to no risk of default? In 2000, when BBB bonds were a mere third of the market, net leverage (total debt minus cash and short term investments divided by earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) was 1.7 times. By the end of last year, the ratio had ballooned to 2.9 times.

Given the marked deterioration in fundamentals, bond powerhouse PIMCO worries that “This suggests a greater tolerance from the credit rating agencies for higher leverage, which in turn warrants extra caution when investing in lower-rated IG names, especially in sectors where earnings are more closely tied to the business cycle.” [..] why not treat the BBB portion of the bond market for what it is: a high-risk slice of the corporate debt pie. Keeping count of “fallen angels,” or those investment-grade bonds that are downgraded into junk territory, will become a spectator sport.

Read more …

“Except in the very tightest labour markets, workers simply don’t have the power to demand their fair share.”

It’s Not Wage Rises That Are A Problem – It’s The Lack Of Them (Frank)

If you study the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers on wages for nonsupervisory workers over the past few decades, you will notice that wage growth has been strangely slow to pick up. Hot economies usually drive wages up pretty promptly; this recovery has been running since 2009 and it has barely moved the needle. It’s even more perverse on the other side of the Atlantic. According to a 2017 story in the Financial Times, Britain was “the only big, advanced economy in which wages contracted while the economy expanded” – an amazing achievement if you think about it. And UK thinktank the Resolution Foundation has said this decade is “set to be the worst for pay growth since the Napoleonic wars”.

How could such a thing happen in this modern and enlightened age? Well, for starters, think of all that whining we’re hearing from the US’s management, who will apparently blame anyone and do anything to avoid paying workers more. Every labour-management innovation seems to have been designed with this amazing goal in mind. Every great bipartisan political initiative, from free trade to welfare reform, points the same way. When Republicans are in charge, it’s open season on working-class organisations. And you can forget about increases in the minimum wage, regardless of who’s in the White House.

Of course it’s happening the same way in the UK; be it Thatcher’s war on unions or New Labour’s “third way”, Britain has followed the US model closely. Political decisions within both countries have had highly predictable results, and we are now fated to live with them. Good times aren’t really all that good for ordinary people any more, only for the people on top – the owners of companies, of real estate, of stocks. Except in the very tightest labour markets, workers simply don’t have the power to demand their fair share. If you ask me, this is the thing to panic about: not the possibility that workers might prosper, but that they’re not prospering yet.

Read more …

“..ordinary life will grind to a halt. That is the extent to which our lives are intermeshed with the lives of our European partners..”

Britain Facing ‘State Of Emergency’ If No Deal Reached – Grieve (Ind.)

Britain will face a “state of emergency” if no Brexit deal is reached by February, Dominic Grieve has warned at an exclusive event for Independent subscribers. Appearing on a stage with other key Brexit figures, including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Gina Miller, the leading Tory rebel said “ordinary life will grind to a halt” if the talks are still deadlocked as D-Day nears. The warning came as Mr Rees-Mogg launched his most outspoken attack yet on big businesses opposing a hard Brexit, claiming they have “got everything wrong in the whole of their history”. Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, suggested she would not accept any further “compromises” beyond the deal struck at Chequers by Theresa May – preferring a no-deal outcome. [..]

Last month, Mr Grieve, a former attorney general, led an aborted revolt to guarantee MPs a “meaningful vote” to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU without an agreement. In his most dramatic language yet, to underline the high stakes, Mr Grieve told the audience: “If by the end of February or early March it is clear that there is no deal on anything, there will be a declaration of a state of emergency in this country. “Actually, ordinary life will grind to a halt. That is the extent to which our lives are intermeshed with the lives of our European partners, and that is what will happen if there is no deal on anything.” Mr Grieve said hardline anti-Brexit MPs had “abdicated” their responsibilities to the public by boasting that they will do “absolutely nothing while we skated off the edge of the cliff into this major national crisis”. “That is the madness that has crept into some of the discourse in parliament,” he added.

Read more …

They won’t.

Trump Tells NATO Allies To Spend 4% of GDP On Defence (G.)

Donald Trump left the opening day of the Nato summit in Brussels in disarray on Wednesday after making a surprise demand for members to raise their defence spending to 4% of GDP, and clashing with German chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed pipeline deal with Russia. Trump left the assembled presidents and prime ministers floundering, unsure whether he was serious about the 4% target, double the existing Nato target of 2%, which many do not meet, or whether it was just a ploy. After making the announcement, Trump walked out.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, confirmed the 4% figure. “During the president’s remarks today at the Nato summit he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to 4%,” she said. Sanders added: “President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and, at a very minimum, meet their already stated obligations.”

Read more …

So there. WHy on earth would you need so many US bases?

Germans Want Trump To Pull US Troops Out Of Germany (Ind.)

Germans would actually welcome the withdrawal of American troops stationed in their country, a new poll has found – as Donald Trump threatens to pull the plug on military support. The finding comes on the first day of a Nato summit in which the US president is urging Europe to spend more on defence if it wants to continue to receive American military protection. But far from being seen as a threat, a YouGov poll for the dpa news agency found that more Germans would welcome the departure of the 35,000-strong American force than would oppose it.

42% said they supported withdrawal while just 37% wanted the soldiers to stay, with 21% undecided. Last month the US media reported that the US government was in the process of assessing the cost of keeping troops in Germany ahead of a possible withdrawal, citing Pentagon sources. But the policy of actually pulling out of the country has not actually reached the negotiating table in his week’s Brussels summit and is not expected to be discussed as a possibility – for now.

Read more …

At some point the Chinese will run into Americans there.

China’s Silky Charming of Arabia (Escobar)

Under the radar, away from World Cup frenzy and the merger and acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo Inc. and Fiat, the eighth ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF), established in 2004, sailed on in Beijing, hosted by President Xi Jinping. Amid the torrential pledge of loans and aid, China committed to invest right across the Arab world in transportation infrastructure, oil and gas, finance, digital economy and artificial intelligence (AI). Significantly, Beijing will offer $15 million in aid for Palestinian economic development, as well as $91 million distributed among Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

A China-Arab bank consortium will be set up, with a dedicated fund of $3 billion tied up with the financial aid and loan package. Beijing also foresees importing a whopping $8 trillion from Arab states up to 2025. Predictably, once again Xi fully connected the whole Arab world with the expansion of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And careful to navigate the geopolitical minefield, he urged “relevant sides” to respect the international consensus in the Israel-Palestine confrontation, calling for justice. That may indicate a gradual, but sure departure from trademark Chinese passive or reactive policy across the Arab world, focused exclusively on energy and political non-interference.

Xi is now openly tying up Chinese financial aid and deals with nations across the Global South to an overall economic development drive; the only roadmap to solve intractable political and religious conflict. And that includes full respect of international deals. As much as the Arab world, Iran is in Southwest Asia. A day before the China-Arab forum, Premier Li Keqiang, in Berlin, was warning of “unforeseeable consequences” if the Iran nuclear deal, known as JCPOA, were to be discarded, as the Trump administration wants.

Read more …

Stating the obvious.

The Supreme Court Is Much Too Powerful (Mises.org)

The current frenzy over the vacancy on the Supreme Court in the wake of Justice Kennedy’s retirement highlights just how much power has been centralized in the hands of a small number of people in Washington, DC. The left has grown positively hysterical over the thought of yet another Trump-appointed judge being installed, who could potentially serve on the court for decades. Right-wingers who claim the left is overreacting, however, are unconvincing. One can only imagine the right’s reaction were Hillary Clinton president. She would have already had the opportunity to appoint Scalia’s replacement, and we might now be talking about her nominee to replace Justice Ginsberg.

The right-wing media would be filled with article after article about how the new court would be a disaster for health-care freedom, private gun ownership, and, of course, the unborn. But, as it is, we live in a country where five people on a court decide what the law is for 320 million people. And for some reason, many people think this is entirely normal. It’s our own American version of the Soviet politburo, but few are even bothering to ask whether it’s a good idea. After all, if it makes sense for a small handful of people to decide law for the entire country, why even bother with a House of Representatives? Even the Senate — composed primarily of multimillionaires living full-time in Washington, DC, is [by comparison] extravagantly “democratic.”

Read more …

“be fair to those who care”

New Zealand Hospitals In Chaos As 30,000 Nurses Strike (G.)

Hospitals in New Zealand have cancelled elective surgeries and discharged patients early after 30,000 nurses walked off the job in the first such nationwide strike in 30 years. The 24-hour strike began on Thursday, and comes after months of negotiations between the government and nurses broke down on Wednesday, leaving hospitals to battle winter illnesses without crucial staff. Long delays at hospital emergency departments are expected around the country. Striking nurses held rallies in major cities, chanting “be fair to those who care” in the largest public demonstrations by the health sector ever seen on the country’s streets. Nurses said they were overworked and underpaid, with unsafe working conditions leading to burnout and exhaustion.

Patient care and staff wellbeing were routinely compromised, they said. Acting prime minister Winston Peters said the government was “very, very disappointed” that its latest offer of a 12.5% increase had been rejected, and that it would take time to address nine years of neglect under the previous National government. Although the May budget delivered a surplus, Peters said the extra funds were needed to handle unforeseen spending, such as managing the spread of mycoplasma bovis, a cow disease. “We are saying give us some time … it’s not that we’re not willing to, we haven’t got the money,” said Peters. “We’ve gone as far as we can go as a government. We got hold of a negotiated arrangement which we inherited – the nurses have had a raw nine years.”

Read more …

Straight jacket.

EU Approves ‘Enhanced Surveillance’ for Post-Bailout Greece (GR)

The European Commission on Wednesday said Greece will remain under an “enhanced surveillance framework” to ensure that it meets ambitious budget targets through 2022. The country will still be subject to quarterly inspections from creditors after the bailout program ends in late August. “Greece is now able to stand on its own two feet but that doesn’t mean it has to stand alone … The reform era has not ended,” EU Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said. “Enhanced surveillance is not a fourth program: it involves no new commitments or conditions. It is a framework to support the completion and delivery of ongoing reforms,” he added.

Despite returning to growth after a massive recession, Greece leaves the program still facing major difficulties. Banks are struggling to deal with a high rate of bad loans. At over 20%, Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the euro currency union. Government bonds remain below investment grade even though their yields have fallen to manageable rates. And to help reduce its debt, Greece has committed to punishingly high primary budget surpluses — that is, the budget excluding the cost of debt servicing — of above 3.5% through 2022. “Enhanced surveillance is there to help Greece build confidence with markets, investors and companies,” Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said. “They all want stability and predictability.”

Read more …

They’ll find a new dump.

Trash Piles Up In US As China Closes Door To Recycling (AFP)

For months, a major recycling facility for the greater Baltimore-Washington area has been facing a big problem: it has to pay to get rid of huge amounts of paper and plastic it would normally sell to China. Beijing is no longer buying, claiming the recycled materials are “contaminated.” For sure, the 900 tons of trash dumped at all hours of the day and night, five days a week, on the conveyor belts at the plant in Elkridge, Maryland – an hour’s drive from the US capital – are not clean. Amid the nerve-shattering din and clouds of brown dust, dozens of workers in gloves and masks – most of them women – nimbly pluck a diverse array of objects from the piles that could count as “contaminants.”

That could be anything from clothes to cables to tree branches to the bane of all recyclers: plastic bags, which are not supposed to go in recycling bins because they snarl up the machinery. “We’ve had to slow our machinery, and hire more people” to clean up the waste, says Michael Taylor, the head of recycling operations for Waste Management, the company that runs the plant. At the end of the sorting line is the end product — huge bales of compacted waste containing paper, cardboard or plastics. These have been bought up for decades by businesses, most of them based in China, which clean them up, crush them and transform them into raw materials for industrial plants.

Last year, China bought up more than half of the scrap materials exported by the United States. Globally, since 1992, 72% of plastic waste has ended up in China and Hong Kong, according to a study in the journal Science Advances. But since January, China has closed its borders to most paper and plastic waste in line with a new environmental policy pushed by Beijing, which no longer wants to be the world’s trash can, or even its recycle bin. For other waste products such as cardboard and metal, China has set a contamination level of 0.5% — a threshold too low for most current US technology to handle. US waste handlers say they expect China will close its doors to all recycled materials by 2020 — an impossibly short deadline.

Read more …

Jul 112018
 
 July 11, 2018  Posted by at 5:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Marc Riboud Forbidden City under the snow, Beijing 1957

 

Okay, well, Trump did it again. Antagonizing allies. This time it was Germany that took the main hit, over the fact that it pays Russia billions of dollars for oil and gas while relying on the US for its defense … against Russia. And yes, that is a strange situation. But it’s by no means the only angle to the story. There are many more.

For one thing, The US has by far the largest military industry. So it makes a lot of money off the billions already spent by NATO partners on weaponry. Of course Raytheon, Boeing et al would like to see them spend more. But once they would have done that, they would clamor for even more after.

At some point one must ask how much should really be spent. How much is enough, how much is necessary. The military-industrial complex (MIC) has every reason to make the threat posed by ‘enemies’ as big as they possibly can. So knowing that, we must take media reports on this threat with tons of salt.

And that is not easy. Because the MIC has great influence in politics and the media. But we can turn to some numbers. According to GlobalFirePower, the US in 2018 will spend $647 billion on its military, while Russia is to spend a full $600 billion less, at $47 billion. And the US Senate has already voted in a $82 billion boost recently.

There are other numbers out there that suggest Russia spends $60 billion, but even then. If Moscow spends just 10% of the US, and much less than that once all NATO members’ expenditure is included, how much of a threat can Russia realistically be to NATO?

 

Sure, I’ve said it before, Russia makes weapons to defend itself, while America makes them to make money, which makes the latter much less efficient, but it should be glaringly obvious that the Russia threat is being blown out of all proportions.

Problem with that is that European nations for some reason love playing the threat card as much as America does. After all, Britain, France and Germany have major weapons manufacturers, too. So they’re all stuck. The Baltic nations clamor for more US protection, so does Sweden, Merkel re-focused on Putin just days ago, the game must go on.

Another way to look at this is to note that UD GDP in 2017 according to the IMF was $19.3 trillion, while Russia’s was $1.5 trillion. NATO members Germany France, Britain, Italy and France all have substantially higher GDP than Russia as well. European Union GDP was $17.3 trillion in 2017.

If this economically weak Russia were really such a threat to NATO, they would be using their funds so much better and smarter than anyone else, we’d all better start waving white flags right now. And seek their help, because that sort of efficiency, in both economics and defense, would seem to be exactly what we need in our debt-ridden nations.

 

The solution to the problems Trump indicated this morning is not for Germany et al to spend more on NATO and their military in general, but for the US to spend less. Much less. Because the Russian threat is a hoax that serves the interests of the MIC, the politicians and the media.

And because America has much better purposes to spend its money on. And because we would all be a lot safer if this absurd theater were closed. To reiterate: developments in weapons technology, for instance hypersonic rocket systems make most other weapons systems obsolete. Which is obviously a big threat to the MIC.

Russia attacking NATO makes as much sense as NATO attacking Russia: none whatsoever. Unwinnable. Russia attacking Germany and other European countries, which buy its oil and gas, makes no sense because it would then lose those revenues. From that point of view, European dependence on Russian energy is even a peacemaker, because it benefits both sides.

Can any of the Russiagate things be true? Of course, Russia has ‘bad’ elements seeking to influence matters abroad. Just like the US does, and France, Britain, Germany, finish the list and color the pictures. How about the UK poisoning stories? That’s a really wild one. Russia had no reason to poison a long-lost double spy they themselves let go free years ago, not at a time when a successful World Cup beckoned.

342 diplomats expelled and risking the honored tradition of exchanging spies and double agents from time to time. Not in Moscow’s interest at all. Britain, though, had, and has, much to gain from the case. As long as its people, and its allies, remain gullible enough to swallow the poisoned narrative. Clue: both poisonings, if they are real, occurred mere miles from Porton Down, Britain’s main chemical weapons lab.

And c’mon, if Putin wants his country strong and independent, the last thing he would do is to risk his oil and gas contracts with Europe. They’re simply too important, economically and politically. Trump may want some of that action for the US, understandably, but for now US LNG can’t compete with Russian pipelines. Simple as that.

Let’s hope Trump and Putin can talk sense in 5 days. There’s a lot hanging on it. Let’s hope Trump gets his head out of NATO’s and the US and EU Deep State’s asses in time. There’s no America First or Make America Great Again to be found in those dark places. It’s time to clear the air and talk. America should always talk to Russia.

Funny thing is, the more sanctions are declared on Russia, the stronger it becomes, because it has to learn and adapt to self-sufficiency. Want to weaken Russia? Make it depend on your trade with it, as opposed to cut off that trade. Well, too late now, they won’t trust another western voice anymore for many years. And we’re too weak to fight them. Not that we should want to anyway.

We’re all captive to people who want us to believe we’re still stuck in the last century, because that is their over-luxurious meal ticket. But it’s all imaginary, it’s an entirely made-up narrative. NATO is a con game.

 

 

Jun 292018
 
 June 29, 2018  Posted by at 1:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Mysteries of the horizon (a.k.a. The Masterpiece) 1955

 

Don’t know if you noticed, but the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki on July 16 takes place one day after the soccer World Cup final, Sunday July 15. Now it seems clear that Trump doesn’t care about soccer, though he apparently knows Christiano Ronaldo, but that factoid is significant because the World Cup takes place in Russia.

It’s amusing to contemplate that Putin told Trump’s people he would love to meet with his counterpart, but not until after the Cup Final. So they settled on the very next day.

The same people who now express worries about the summit, also had worries about the nasty things that could happen to players and supporters in Moscow and other cities. There has not been one single incident. No police violence, no hooliganism, the stadiums are beautiful, the organization is pitch perfect. There’s been only sunshine, too.

The only problem reported in the media was that some cities ran out of beer, because the Russians hadn’t expected the Aussies and British to drink as much of the stuff as Russians themselves do. They probably didn’t expect them to show up in such large numbers either. But those Russians don’t see a real problem: “we always have enough vodka”.

 

Patrick Lang called the fact that Trump sent uber-neocon John Bolton to Moscow to organize the summit a stroke of genius. The man who wants WWIII more than anyone must now make sure a summit that may serve to prevent it, successful. But what does Trump really want? And what do the neo-cons want?

First off, US and Russian presidents should meet all the time. It’s beyond reason that Trump has been in the saddle almost a year and a half without such a summit. Trumped up allegations of election meddling in about half the nations on the planet, about poisonings in Britain and about chemical weapons in Syria, have prevented a summit so far.

It looks like Trump got tired of all that. But of course all we’ll see the next two+ weeks is more ‘Trump is Putin’s lapdog’ memes. While there are very serious issues to be discussed. A major one, undoubtedly, is Syria. There has been a lot of movement politically on that.

The US has indicated it will no longer support the Syrian rebels. It has acknowledged that regime change, and removal of Assad, is not going to happen. Because Russia will not leave Assad to fend for himself.

 

There are signs that another false flag chemical attack in the country is being prepared, but if that happens before July 16, Trump himself will jump in to condemn the nonsense. He wants the meeting, and he wants it bad. As he should, and not for some nefarious reason.

Regime change in Syria is off the calendar because of Putin. Regime change in Iran, apparently still on that calendar, will also fail because while Putin may -but just may- be willing to give in, China will not. And not even a Saudi-US-UAE-Israel cabal can withstand both China AND Russia. Those days are over.

The neocons are way behind the action. They think in terms of something that has long since passed its best before date. Yeah, wonder how John Bolton sees these things these days. Maybe he had a crash course upon entering the White House.

But let’s not kid ourselves: the US warmonger faction may be outdated, they are still very powerful and very present. They can still attempt to force Trump’s hand with a false flag here or there. Their plans to conquer Russia, though, will have to be shelved for now. Or do they?

Tyler Durden has a lengthy report on the proposed spending in Europe by the US military. I won’t get into the details (tons of infrastructure spending close to Russian borders), but here’s the money shot:

 

The request for additional funding would more than double the military’s infrastructure projects under the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), from the 2018 request, when just a few years ago, the Pentagon was scaling back its Cold War-era footprint in Europe. According to Defense News, the EDI request increased to $6.5 billion from $4.8 billion in 2018, military construction projects in the EDI request jumped from $338 million in 2018, while pre-positioning funds soared from $2.2 billion to $3.2 billion.

The Air Force would spend roughly $368.6 million to pre-position equipment and $363.8 million for military construction projects. While the spending is almost equal to what was expensed in fiscal 2018, it is a huge jump from 2017, when the Air Force was only allotted $31.2 million in pre-positioning funds and $85.4 million for military construction.

 

And I know what you’re thinking: didn’t Trump say not so long ago that he wanted Europe to pay more for its own defense? Well, yes, he did, but Europe is other wise engaged, it’s now planning its own ‘army’, which can’t NOT take away from its contributions to NATO.

So Trump meets Putin on July 16, who knows all of this and a boatload more, and what’s he going to tell him? When Putin asks him about these new US ‘investments’ in Europe, what’s he going to say?

Putin will state that Russia’s military expenditures have only fallen over the past decade+, and that he doesn’t understand why the US spends that much more, because Russia’s new weapons are decades ahead of America’s. (I don’t think he’s kidding).

Of course Putin knows better then anyone that his military spending takes place for a whole different purpose than that in the US: he builds a strong defense, while America feeds its private contractors arms industry as much taxpayers’ money as it can get away with. What did the Pentagon lose track of again, was that $21 trillion?

And of course Putin knows that to an extent Trump is trapped inside the military-industrial complex Ike warned about. And that John Bolton is such a docile and eager servant of.

One thing we can be sure of is that just like the World Cup, the summit won’t be a boring event, the media will be all over it, each with their own favorite, and over half the world will follow the ‘games’. And the outcome of Helsinki is as unpredictable as that of the final in Moscow. One more thing that’s for sure: the US won’t be in that final. Not even John Bolton.

 

 

May 222018
 
 May 22, 2018  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Femme au Béret et à la Robe Quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) 1937

 

‘Who Are You?’ Iran Hits Back At US Demands (AlJ)
Trumpism Folds into Netanyahu-ism, or ‘Neo-Americanism’ (Alastair Crooke)
Swedes Told To Prepare For Conflict In Cold War-Style Booklet (R.)
Baltic States Ask the US for Bigger Military Presence on Their Soil (SCF)
Italy on Verge of Inducing a Fresh European Crisis (Cudmore)
Goldman Sachs: The Fiscal Outlook For The US ‘Is Not Good’ (CNBC)
The US is Shackled by Historic Debt (GT)
US Consumer Debt Set To Reach $4 Trillion By The End Of 2018 (CNBC)
Learning from America’s Forgotten Default (PS)
You Think It’s All About Guns? (Jim Kunstler)
Human Race Just 0.01% Of All Life But Eradicated Most Other Living Things (G.)

 

 

“The era of the US making decisions for the rest of the world is over”. That’s what Russia and China think, too.

‘Who Are You?’ Iran Hits Back At US Demands (AlJ)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said the world would “not accept” US unilateralism just hours after Washington laid out a series of tough demands to be included in a potential new nuclear treaty with Iran. In remarks carried by Iran’s ILNA news agency on Monday, Rouhani said the era of the United States making decisions for the rest of the world was “over”. “Countries are independent … We will continue our path with the support of our nation,” Rouhani said. “Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?”

[..] In announcing the new US strategy towards Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday warned that Washington “will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime” unless it complied with a list of 12 conditions, which must be met before any new deal can be reached. The demands include giving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of the country’s former nuclear military programme, withdrawing its forces from Syria and ending what Pompeo described as Iran’s “threatening behaviour” towards its neighbours.

Also responding to Pompeo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused the US of a “regression to old habits”, saying Washington’s diplomatic efforts were a “sham”. “It repeats the same wrong choices and will thus reap the same ill rewards. Iran, meanwhile, is working with partners for post-US JCPOA solutions,” Zarif said in a tweet on Monday.

Read more …

Regime change always leads to chaos.

Trumpism Folds into Netanyahu-ism, or ‘Neo-Americanism’ (Alastair Crooke)

The 8 May US Presidential declaration (on exiting JCPOA) requires of us fundamentally to revise our understanding of Trumpism. At the outset to his term of office, Trumpism was widely understood to be based on three key pillars: That the costs incurred by the US in upholding the full panoply of Empire (i.e. policing the American, rules-based, global order) were just too onerous and unfair (especially in the provision of the defence umbrella) – and that others must be coerced into sharing its cost. Secondly, that American jobs had been, as it were, stolen from America, and would have to be recovered through forced changes to the terms of trade. And thirdly, that these changes would be effected, through applying the tactics of the Art of the Deal.

That seemed, at least, to be clear, (if not necessarily a wholly feasible blueprint). But mostly we thought that the Art of the Deal was about threatening, blustering, and hiking leverage on ‘whatever the counterparty’ – raising tensions to explosive levels – before, at the very eleventh hour, at the very climax of crisis, offering ‘the deal’. And that was the point (then): Yes, Trump would toss verbal grenades intended to upend conventional expectations, take actions to force an issue – but the objective (as generally understood), was to get a deal: One that would tilt towards America’s mercantile and political interests, but a deal, nonetheless.

Maybe we misread Trump’s build-up of America’s already super-sized military. It seemed that it was about potential leverage: something to be offered (in terms of an umbrella to compliant states), or withdrawn from those who would not put their hand in their pocket deeply enough. But everything changed with Trump’s 8 May statement. It was not just an American ‘exit’ that was mooted, it was full court financial war that was declared against Iran (with ‘terms of surrender’ couched in terms of regime change, and total submission to the US). But this is no longer about how to reach a ‘fairer’, better deal for the US; how to make it more money. Rather the financial system was to be leveraged to destroy another state’s currency and economy. The US military are being super-sized further, to be used: to be able to rain down ‘fire and fury’ on non-compliant states.

Read more …

Sweden is no longer an independent country.

Swedes Told To Prepare For Conflict In Cold War-Style Booklet (R.)

Sweden will send out instructions to its citizens next week on how to cope with an outbreak of war, as the country faces an assertive Russia across the Baltic Sea. The 20-page pamphlet titled “If Crisis or War Comes” gives advice on getting clean water, spotting propaganda and finding a bomb shelter, in the first public awareness campaign of its kind since the days of the Cold War. It also tells Swedes they have a duty to act if their country is threatened. “If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up,” the booklet says. “All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.” The leaflet’s publisher, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, did not spell out where an attack might come from.

“Even if Sweden is safer than most countries, threats do exist,” agency head Dan Eliasson told journalists. But Sweden and other countries in the region have been on high alert since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, 2014. They have also accused Russia of repeated violations of their airspace – assertions that Moscow has either dismissed or not responded to. The Kremlin has in the past insisted that it does not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries and has accused Western powers of stoking “Russophobia”. Stockholm has repeatedly cited Russian aggression as the reason for a series of security measures including the reintroduction of conscription this year and the stationing of troops on the Baltic island of Gotland.

The Swedish government decided to start increasing military spending from 2016, reversing years of declines. The booklet on its way to Sweden’s 4.8 million households warns that supplies of food, medicine and gasoline could run short during a crisis. It also lists oat milk, tins of Bolognese sauce and salmon balls as examples of food that people should store in case of an emergency along with tortillas and sardines. The publication describes what an air raid warning sounds like in the first such publication handed out since 1961. Sweden has not been at war with anyone for more than 200 years, not since its war with Norway in 1814. It was officially neutral during World War Two.

Read more …

NATO.

Baltic States Ask the US for Bigger Military Presence on Their Soil (SCF)

The foreign ministers (FMs) of the Baltic states have wound up their May 16-18 visit to Washington. They asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to reinforce the NATO battalions that have been deployed to their countries with air and naval units. They also want their air-defense capability enhanced. Lithuanian FM Linas Linkevicius emphasized that it’s not just the numbers that are important, but also training exercises, visits, the distribution of equipment, and the establishment of new military facilities. [..] NATO is ratcheting up tensions by holding an increasing number of large-scale exercises right on Russia’s borders. This greatly elevates the risk of inadvertent escalation. For instance, three major exercises are scheduled to be held in the Baltic region this summer.

On June 3-15, the Saber Strike exercise organized by the US Army Europe will encompass the three Baltic states and Poland, involving over 18,000 troops from 19 countries. About 3,000 American soldiers and over 1,500 combat vehicles will travel from Germany to Latvia and Lithuania. Public roads will be used to move heavy equipment. On June 12-13, the soldiers of the US 2nd Cavalry Regiment will construct a bridge in order to cross the Neman River in Lithuania (in the Kaunas district). Their main mission is to ensure that the forces are ready to rapidly advance, not to merely defend their positions. Eight thousand American airborne troops will land in Latvia during the Swift Response exercise, in order to train alongside Lithuanian and Polish troops.

Namejs 2018 will be held from August 20 to September 2 and will involve over 9,200 Latvian forces, including the military, police, border guards, volunteer reservists, and other state institutions. They will be joined by 650 troops from the US, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. All these large-scale intensive training activities will take place in the background of the planning for Trident Juncture 2018, the largest NATO exercise involving about 40,000 troops, 70 ships, and about 130 aircraft from over 30 nations, which will be deployed to central and northern Norway in October for the live portion of the event. A command post phase will be conducted in Italy. Norway does not have a shoreline in the Baltic Sea but it is a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

Read more …

“..while the policy platform doesn’t explicitly state an intention to leave the euro, the new government plan, if instituted as is, makes that the inevitable end-game…”

Italy on Verge of Inducing a Fresh European Crisis (Cudmore)

It may be time to move on from rising Treasury yields and trade wars. An Italian-led euro crisis is on the verge of becoming the dominant theme for markets. It turns out that the euro break-up trade isn’t dead — it’s just been hibernating and is likely to return with a vengeance in the months ahead if the populists get their way. Their proposed economic policies make no attempt at debt sustainability. Italy already has the largest absolute debt pile in the EU and the second-largest, after Greece, as a percentage of GDP, at 132%. The coalition’s plan sends the signal that it has no intention of ever paying back its debt. Things could spiral quickly because its fiscal promises will send BTP yields much higher, adding to refinancing costs and making the budgetary situation worse.

That creates a dilemma for the EU. Either fund Italy’s largesse at the expense of every other member country, or kick Italy out of the euro. The first option isn’t sustainable. This isn’t a relatively containable problem like Greece. Italy’s economy is almost ten times the size of Greece’s and the third-largest in the euro zone. The PIIGS — Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain — were only ever a problem as a group because of concerns that the contagion would infect Italy. And this isn’t just a sovereign debt problem. Italy’s banks have by far the most non-performing loans in the euro zone, more than a quarter of the total. A section of the plan makes it harder for banks to repossess collateral, further deteriorating the value of those loans.

So while the policy platform doesn’t explicitly state an intention to leave the euro, the new government plan, if instituted as is, makes that the inevitable end-game. Fortunately, the Italian constitution forbids an excessive budget deficit, so may act as a limiting force. However, the concern is whether they can circumvent those restrictions by selecting favorable economic projections. The proposal already seems to be stealthily planning for euro departure with a plan to issue short-term debt contracts to pay back arrears. As my colleague Ferdinando Giugliano suggested on Friday, that’s the first step toward a parallel currency. So Italy’s prospective rulers seem to be fully aware of the end-game and are already planning for it. Investors will soon need to catch up.

Read more …

“..debt could equal GDP within a decade..”

Goldman Sachs: The Fiscal Outlook For The US ‘Is Not Good’ (CNBC)

The fiscal outlook for the United States “is not good,” according to Goldman Sachs, and could pose a threat to the country’s economic security during the next recession. According to forecasts from the bank’s chief economist, the federal deficit will increase from $825 billion (or 4.1% of GDP) to $1.25 trillion (5.5% of GDP) by 2021. And by 2028, the bank expects the number to balloon to $2.05 trillion (7% of GDP). “An expanding deficit and debt level is likely to put upward pressure on interest rates, expanding the deficit further,” Jan Hatzius — Goldman’s chief economist — wrote Sunday. “While we do not believe that the U.S. faces a risk to its ability to borrow or repay, the rising debt level could nevertheless have three consequences long before debt sustainability becomes a major obstacle.”

Legislators passed a package of corporate and individual tax cuts in December, a two-year budget deal in February and a massive spending bill in March that boosted government expenditures on both domestic and military programs. In light of the big spending and easier tax burden, the Congressional Budget Office – Capitol Hill’s nonpartisan financial scorekeeper – in April projected that debt could equal GDP within a decade if Congress extends the tax cuts, a level not seen since World War II. Economic growth should jump above 3% in 2018 thanks to the stimuli, the CBO said, but the acceleration will likely prove brief, and debt held by the public will soar to $28.7 trillion by the end of fiscal 2028.

That could create a precarious situation for Congress if the economy faces an economic downturn in the near term, Hatzius wrote, hampering legislators’ ability provide additional fiscal stimulus. “Lawmakers might hesitate to approve fiscal stimulus in the next downturn in light of the already substantial budget deficit,” the economist said. “While we would expect some additional loosening of fiscal policy during the next downturn, there is a good chance in our view that it would be less aggressive than it was in the last few recessions.”

Read more …

“Is the Federal Reserve playing politics?”

The US is Shackled by Historic Debt (GT)

Do you feel as if you’re drowning in debt? It’s worse than you think. The U.S. government reached a new milestone when our country’s debt topped $21 trillion for the first time. The national debt grows by an average of $17,000 every second – more than some people earn in an entire year. That’s only an average, and During the past eight months, the national debt grew by $52,000 per second. And the trend toward bigger and higher spending is only getting worse. The ratio of national debt to GDP is at 105%, larger than the economy as a whole. In 1981, the national debt comprised a mere 31% of GDP. We are not moving in the right direction. The Treasury Department has plans to borrow $1 trillion this year, an 84% jump from last year.

When individuals borrow, they can use the money wisely to increase their wealth. That’s what happens when people make good investments. What does the government do with all this money? While some of it may be put to good use, the National Science Foundation’s spending $856,000 on having mountain lions run on treadmills can’t be termed prudent spending. Nor can the $2 billion spent on former President Obama’s healthcare website. In 2017, Brooklyn, NY spent $2 million on a 400 square feet restroom in a public park. Flushing money down the toilet?

Why is the government raising interest rates at a time consumer prices and wages are rising only marginally? During Obama’s administration, prices rose 14.6%, and the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low. Inflation is up by a mere 2.2% since Trump took office, and interests rates keep rising. Is the Federal Reserve playing politics? While the rate of inflation was somewhat higher during the Obama years, the Federal Reserve didn’t get aggressive in handling the problem until Trump came to office. If it’s politics, what game is being played?

Read more …

“Americans owe more than 26% of their annual income to this debt.”

US Consumer Debt Set To Reach $4 Trillion By The End Of 2018 (CNBC)

Americans are in a borrowing mood, and their total tab for consumer debt could reach a record $4 trillion by the end of 2018. That’s according to LendingTree, a loan comparison website, which analyzed data from the Federal Reserve on nonmortgage debts including credit cards, and auto, personal and student loans. Americans owe more than 26% of their annual income to this debt. That’s up from 22% in 2010. It’s also higher than debt levels during the mid-2000s when credit availability soared.

Debts on auto loans and credit cards are climbing by more than 7% annually, while housing debt is rising at a little more than 2%. Consumer credit has been rising by 5% to 6% for about two years. LendingTree projects total consumer debt will top $4 trillion by the end of 2018.

That kind of growth is not surprising, according to LendingTree chief economist Tendayi Kapfidze, and is in keeping with the growth of consumer debt that has been happening since 2012. At these levels, consumers are spending about 10% of their income paying these debts each month, Kapfidze said. From 2000 to 2008, that averaged about 12% to 13%, he said. Still, credit card delinquency rates, which are at 2.4%, are low.

Read more …

We’ve seen this movie before.

Learning from America’s Forgotten Default (PS)

One of the most pervasive myths about the United States is that the federal government has never defaulted on its debts. Every time the debt ceiling is debated in Congress, politicians and journalists dust off a common trope: the US doesn’t stiff its creditors. There’s just one problem: it’s not true. There was a time, decades ago, when the US behaved more like a “banana republic” than an advanced economy, restructuring debts unilaterally and retroactively. And, while few people remember this critical period in economic history, it holds valuable lessons for leaders today.

In April 1933, in an effort to help the US escape the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt announced plans to take the US off the gold standard and devalue the dollar. But this would not be as easy as FDR calculated. Most debt contracts at the time included a “gold clause,” which stated that the debtor must pay in “gold coin” or “gold equivalent.” These clauses were introduced during the Civil War as a way to protect investors against a possible inflationary surge. For FDR, however, the gold clause was an obstacle to devaluation. If the currency were devalued without addressing the contractual issue, the dollar value of debts would automatically increase to offset the weaker exchange rate, resulting in massive bankruptcies and huge increases in public debt.

To solve this problem, Congress passed a joint resolution on June 5, 1933, annulling all gold clauses in past and future contracts. The door was opened for devaluation – and for a political fight. Republicans were dismayed that the country’s reputation was being put at risk, while the Roosevelt administration argued that the resolution didn’t amount to “a repudiation of contracts.” On January 30, 1934, the dollar was officially devalued. The price of gold went from $20.67 an ounce – a price in effect since 1834 – to $35 an ounce. Not surprisingly, those holding securities protected by the gold clause claimed that the abrogation was unconstitutional. Lawsuits were filed, and four of them eventually reached the Supreme Court; in January 1935, justices heard two cases that referred to private debts, and two concerning government obligations.

The underlying question in each case was essentially the same: did Congress have the authority to alter contracts retroactively? On February 18, 1935, the Supreme Court announced its decisions. In each case, justices ruled 5-4 in favor of the government – and against investors seeking compensation. According to the majority opinion, the Roosevelt administration could invoke “necessity” as a justification for annulling contracts if it would help free the economy from the Great Depression.

Read more …

“..a bewildering clown culture wrapped in a Potemkin economy..”

You Think It’s All About Guns? (Jim Kunstler)

Is it possible that we Americans only pretend not to notice the conditions that produce an epidemic of school shootings, or is the public just too dumbed-down to connect the dots? Look at the schools themselves. We called them “facilities” because they hardly qualify as buildings: sprawling, one-story, tilt-up, flat-roofed boxes isolated among the parking lagoons out on the six-lane highway strip, disconnected from anything civic, isolated archipelagoes where inchoate teenage emotion festers and rules while the few adults on the scene are regarded as impotent clowns representing a bewildering clown culture wrapped in a Potemkin economy that has nothing to offer young people except a lifetime of debt and “bullshit jobs” — to borrow a phrase from David Graeber.

The world of teens has been exquisitely engineered to steal every opportunity for colonizing the chemical reward centers of their brains to provoke endorphin hits, especially the cell-phone realm of social media, which is almost entirely about status competition, much of which revolves around the wild hormonal promptings of teen sexual development — at the same time they are bombarded with commercial messages designed to prey on their fantasies, longings, and perceived inadequacies. All of this produces immersive and incessant melodrama along with untold grievance, envy, frustration, confusion, and rage. And, of course, where the cell-phone universe leaves off, the world of video games begins, so that boys (especially) get to act-out in “play” the extermination of their competitors and foes.

Read more …

The planet is dying.

Human Race Just 0.01% Of All Life But Eradicated Most Other Living Things (G.)

Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet. The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.

Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface. “I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Prof Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” he said, adding that he now chooses to eat less meat due to the huge environmental impact of livestock.

[..] The transformation of the planet by human activity has led scientists to the brink of declaring a new geological era – the Anthropocene. One suggested marker for this change are the bones of the domestic chicken, now ubiquitous across the globe. The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.

Read more …

May 202018
 
 May 20, 2018  Posted by at 2:20 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vittorio Matteo Corcos Conversation in the Jardin du Luxembourg 1892

 

Obviously, there are tensions between Europe and the US. Just as obviously, these tensions are blamed on, who else, Donald Trump. European Council President Donald Tusk recently said: “With friends like Trump, who needs enemies?” EU Commission chair Jean-Claude Juncker even proclaimed that “Europe must take America’s place as global leader”.

These European ‘leaders’ love the big words. They think they make them look good, strong. In reality, they are merely messenger boys for Berlin and Paris. Who have infinitely more say than Brussels. Problem is, Berlin and Paris are not united at all. Macron wants more Europe, especially in finance, but Merkel knows she can’t sell that at home.

So what are those big words worth when the whip comes down? It’s amusing to see how different people reach wholly different conclusions about that. Instructive and entertaining. First, Alex Gorka at The Strategic Culture Foundation, who likes the big words too: “..a landmark event that will go down in history as the day Europe united to openly defy the US.” and “May 17 is the day the revolt started and there is no going back. Europe has said goodbye to trans-Atlantic unity. It looks like it has had enough.

 

Brussels Rises In Revolt Against Washington: A Turning Point In US-European Relations

The May 16-17 EU-Western Balkans summit did address the problems of integration, but it was eclipsed by another issue. The meeting turned out to be a landmark event that will go down in history as the day Europe united to openly defy the US. The EU will neither review the Iran nuclear deal (JPCOA) nor join the sanctions against Tehran that have been reintroduced and even intensified by America.

Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the JPCOA was the last straw, forcing the collapse of Western unity. The Europeans found themselves up against a wall. There is no point in discussing further integration or any other matter if the EU cannot protect its own members. But now it can.

[..] As European Council President Donald Tusk put it, “With friends like Trump, who needs enemies?” According to him, the US president has “rid Europe of all illusions.” Mr. Tusk wants Europe to “stick to our guns” against new US policies. Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU Commission, believes that “Europe must take America’s place as global leader” because Washington has turned its back on its allies.

Washington “no longer wants to cooperate.” It is turning away from friendly relations “with ferocity.” Mr. Juncker thinks the time is ripe for Europe “to replace the United States, which as an international actor has lost vigor.” It would have been unthinkable not long ago for a top EU official to say such things and challenge the US global leadership. Now the unthinkable has become reality.

[..] Sandra Oudkirk, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy, has just threatened to sanction the Europeans if they continue with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to bring gas in from Russia across the Baltic Sea.

[..] President Donald Trump has just instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to prepare a list of new sanctions against the Russian Federation for its alleged violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. [..] But nobody in Europe has announced that they want US nuclear-tipped intermediate- range weapons on their territory that will be a target for a potential retaliatory strike by Russia.

[..] The time is ripe for Brussels to stop this sanctions-counter-sanctions mayhem and stake out its own independent policies on Russia, Iran, defense, and other issues, that will protect European, not US, national interests. May 17 is the day the revolt started and there is no going back. Europe has said goodbye to trans-Atlantic unity. It looks like it has had enough.

As for placing new nukes in Europe, that will be a hard sell. But the US will probably find countries that say yes, provided they are compensated well. Just don’t try it in Holland, Germany or France. But also don’t forget the amount of nukes already on the continent: just call it an upgrade.

Nord Stream 2 is tricky, but mostly an economic issue: Trump wants to sell American gas to Europe, and uses the bad bad Putin narrative to make that happen. Still, the pipeline has been in the pipeline for a long time, and a lot of time and money has been spent on it. It’ll be hard for the US to cut it off at this late stage.

When it comes to claiming the EU will not review the Iran nuclear deal, isn’t that exactly what they are indeed doing? Reuters:

 

Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists.

Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran’s activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said. “We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

All in all, Mr. Gorka doesn’t convince me. Europe doesn’t speak with one voice, and we wouldn’t even know which voice speaks for it. Just that it isn’t Juncker or Tusk, they’re handpuppets. Moreover, Europe has so many internal issues to deal with that it has a hard time speaking at all. A landmark event in US-EU relations may happen one day, but May 17 wasn’t it.

What I find more interesting is the account of academic John Laughland, ‘a historian and specialist in international affairs’, at RT:

 

With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are

Donald Tusk may say “Europe must be united economically, politically and also militarily like never before … either we are together or we are not at all” but Europe is indeed not “together” at all. The Brussels commission is hounding Poland and Hungary on what are clearly internal political matters beyond the Commission’s remit; the EU is about to lose one of its most important member states; and a new government is going to take power in Rome whose economic policies (a flat tax at 15%) will blow the eurozone’s borrowing rules out of the water and perhaps cause Italy to leave the euro.

The Italian 5-Star/League government also wants an end to the EU sanctions against Russia; these are voted by a unanimity which, although fragile, has held until now but which, if the new power in Rome keeps its word, will shortly collapse. In other words, what Trump has done is to make the Europeans look like the fools they are. In circumstances in which the EU has placed all its eggs in one basket, a basket which Trump has now overturned, it will be impossible for it to come together. On the contrary, it is falling apart.

[..] the EU draws its entire legitimacy from the belief that by pooling sovereignty and by merging its states into one entity, it has advanced beyond the age when international relations were decided by force. It believes that it embodies instead a new international system based on rules and agreements, and that any other system leads to war. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this belief for European leaders; yet Donald Trump has just driven a coach and horses through it.

The angry statements by European leaders might lead one to think that we are on the cusp of a major reappraisal of trans-Atlantic relations. However, the reality is that the EU and its leaders have painted themselves into a corner from which it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to extricate themselves.

Like I said, completely different conclusions based on the exact same events. The EU risks what might turn into an existential crisis with Beppe Grillo effectively holding the reins of power in Rome. The new government may have dropped the demand for a €260 billion debt relief, but the basic income plan is still there, and so is dropping Russian sanctions.

The new guys can’t divert from their election promises much further, they need to maintain their credibility. But for a lot of their promises it is not at all clear how they could possible fit into the present EU structure. Try their demand for a mechanism to leave the EU.

Italy is so large that Brussels cannot be too aggressive against it. The ECB cannot stop buying Italian bonds, as it did with Greek ones. And at some point the debt relief demand will return too.

But Laughland has a lot more cold water to pour on the alleged but toothless European revolt. In the shape of NATO. This is scary for every European:

 

[..] the links between the EU and the US are not only very long-standing, they are also set in stone. NATO and the EU are in reality Siamese twins, two bodies born at the same time which are joined at the hip. The first European community was created with overt and covert US support in 1950 in order to militarize Western Europe and to prepare it to fight a land war against the Soviet Union; NATO acquired its integrated command structure a few months later and its Supreme Commander is always an American.

Today the two organizations are legally inseparable because the consolidated Treaty on European Union, in the form adopted at Lisbon in 2009, states that EU foreign policy “shall respect” the obligations of NATO member states and that it shall “be compatible” with NATO policy. In other words, the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally. In such circumstances, European states can only liberate themselves from US hegemony, as Donald Tusk said they should, by leaving the EU. It is obvious that they are not prepared to do that.

Anything else about those dreams of standing up to Trump? Have the past and present leaders in Brussels, and in Berlin and Paris and Rome, betrayed their own citizens? Sold them out? How far removed is this from treason? And does this perhaps indicate that it’s high time for a complete and utter overhaul of the European Union?

It sure sounds a lot more realistic than Europe replacing America as the global leader.

Who needs enemies? NATO does.

 

 

May 202018
 
 May 20, 2018  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roman Vishniac Isaac Street, Krakow 1930s

 

Stefan Halper: The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign (GG)
IG Horowitz Finds FBI, DOJ Broke Law In Clinton Probe (ZH)
China Agrees To Bolster Purchases Of US Goods (CNBC)
With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are (RT)
Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran (R.)
Now Facebook Serves NATO’s Agenda (McDonald)
Hedge Funds Bet On Big Turnaround By Italy’s Mid-Tier Banks (R.)
Companies Are Now Paying Off Their Employees’ Student Loans (CNBC)
What Happens In An Internet Minute In 2018? (WEF)
Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving (HBR)

 

 

Why not just call him a spy?

Stefan Halper: The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign (GG)

An extremely strange episode that has engulfed official Washington over the last two weeks came to a truly bizarre conclusion on Friday night. And it revolves around a long-time, highly sketchy CIA operative, Stefan Halper. Four decades ago, Halper was responsible for a long-forgotten spying scandal involving the 1980 election, in which the Reagan campaign – using CIA officials managed by Halper, reportedly under the direction of former CIA Director and then-Vice-Presidential candidate George H.W. Bush – got caught running a spying operation from inside the Carter administration. The plot involved CIA operatives passing classified information about Carter’s foreign policy to Reagan campaign officials in order to ensure the Reagan campaign knew of any foreign policy decisions that Carter was considering.

Over the past several weeks, House Republicans have been claiming that the FBI during the 2016 election used an operative to spy on the Trump campaign, and they triggered outrage within the FBI by trying to learn his identity. The controversy escalated when President Trump joined the fray on Friday morning. “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” Trump tweeted, adding: “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”

In response, the DOJ and the FBI’s various media spokespeople did not deny the core accusation, but quibbled with the language (the FBI used an “informant,” not a “spy”), and then began using increasingly strident language to warn that exposing his name would jeopardize his life and those of others, and also put American national security at grave risk. On May 8, the Washington Post described the informant as “a top-secret intelligence source” and cited DOJ officials as arguing that disclosure of his name “could risk lives by potentially exposing the source, a U.S. citizen who has provided intelligence to the CIA and FBI.”

Read more …

Excellent from Zero Hedge. Things are going to change. Read the whole thing.

IG Horowitz Finds FBI, DOJ Broke Law In Clinton Probe (ZH)

As we reported on Thursday, a long-awaited report by the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog into the Hillary Clinton email investigation has moved into its final phase, as the DOJ notified multiple subjects mentioned in the document that they can privately review it by week’s end, and will have a “few days” to craft any response to criticism contained within the report, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Those invited to review the report were told they would have to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to read it, people familiar with the matter said. They are expected to have a few days to craft a response to any criticism in the report, which will then be incorporated in the final version to be released in coming weeks.” -WSJ

Now, journalist Paul Sperry reports that “IG Horowitz has found “reasonable grounds” for believing there has been a violation of federal criminal law in the FBI/DOJ’s handling of the Clinton investigation/s and has referred his findings of potential criminal misconduct to Huber for possible criminal prosecution.” Sperry also noted on Twitter that the FBI and DOJ had been targeting former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn before his December 2016 phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, stemming from photos of Flynn at a December 2015 Moscow event with Vladimir Putin (and Jill Stein). As we reported in March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed John Huber – Utah’s top federal prosecutor, to be paired with IG Horowitz to investigate the multitude of accusations of FBI misconduct surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The announcement came one day after Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirmed that he will also be investigating allegations of FBI FISA abuse. While Huber’s appointment fell short of the second special counsel demanded by Congressional investigators and concerned citizens alike, his appointment and subsequent pairing with Horowitz is notable – as many have pointed out that the Inspector General is significantly limited in his abilities to investigate. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) noted in March “the IG’s office does not have authority to compel witness interviews, including from past employees, so its investigation will be limited in scope in comparison to a Special Counsel investigation,” Sessions’ pairing of Horowitz with Huber keeps the investigation under the DOJ’s roof and out of the hands of an independent investigator.

Read more …

You’ll need to put meat on that bone.

China Agrees To Bolster Purchases Of US Goods (CNBC)

China and the U.S. have mutually agreed to “substantially reduce” the yawning trade imbalance between the two countries, a joint statement read on Saturday, in a move that will involve the Chinese boosting more of what they buy from American producers. Amid fears of a global trade war and rising tensions between the world’s two largest economies, both China and the U.S. have entered bilateral talks to bolster cooperation. In a statement issued by the White House, both parties forged a “consensus on taking effective measures to substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China.”

Just a day ago, both countries were sharply at odds over a claim, made by White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow, that China would move to cut its trade deficit with the U.S. by $200 billion annually. That characterization was disputed by Chinese officials. Left unclear was exactly how much the Chinese would boost its purchases of U.S. goods. The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that China’s delegation rebuffed American demands to commit to an exact deficit reduction figure, and the two sides bickered all night over the statement’s language. The trade imbalance has long been a thorny and intractable topic in the Sino-US relationship.

Commerce Department data recently showed that imbalance between what China buys from the U.S. and vice versa hit a record in 2017 at over $375 billion. However, President Donald Trump has staked a resolution of the dispute on his personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. This week, Kudlow stated that China was “meeting many” Trump administration demands to cut its U.S. surplus. The statement released on Saturday struck a conciliatory tone. “To meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people and the need for high-quality economic development, China will significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services. This will help support growth and employment in the United States,” it read.

Read more …

John Laughland: “..the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally ..”

With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are (RT)

First, the links between the EU and the US are not only very long-standing, they are also set in stone. NATO and the EU are in reality Siamese twins, two bodies born at the same time which are joined at the hip. The first European community was created with overt and covert US support in 1950 in order to militarize Western Europe and to prepare it to fight a land war against the Soviet Union; NATO acquired its integrated command structure a few months later and its Supreme Commander is always an American.

Today the two organizations are legally inseparable because the consolidated Treaty on European Union, in the form adopted at Lisbon in 2009, states that EU foreign policy “shall respect” the obligations of NATO member states and that it shall “be compatible” with NATO policy. In other words, the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally. In such circumstances, European states can only liberate themselves from US hegemony, as Donald Tusk said they should, by leaving the EU. It is obvious that they are not prepared to do that.

Second, EU leaders have burned their own bridges with other potential partners, especially Russia. Angela Merkel traveled to Russia on Friday but only a few weeks ago more than half of the EU member states expelled scores of Russian diplomats and encouraged non-EU European states like Ukraine and Montenegro to do the same, in retaliation for the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei and Julia Skripal.

How is Mrs Merkel going to convince Mr Putin to join her in keeping Iran’s nuclear program under control if she officially thinks that Mr Putin is guilty of secretly stockpiling and using chemical weapons for assassinations in the West? Only a few weeks later, in mid-April, Britain and France, together with the US, attacked Syria on the basis that its army had used chemical weapons at Douma with Russian backing. If they try to turn on the charm now in Sochi or in Moscow, do they really expect the Russians can take them seriously?

Read more …

It might yet work.

Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran (R.)

Diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development and meddling in the region, in the hope of salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal, a German newspaper reported on Sunday. The officials will meet in Vienna in the coming week under the leadership of senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said, citing senior EU sources. Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China would participate in the meeting, but the United States would not, it said. It was not immediately clear if Iran – which has resisted calls to curb its ballistic missile program in the past – would take part.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists. Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran’s activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said. “We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

Read more …

CIA, military, they all want in.

Now Facebook Serves NATO’s Agenda (McDonald)

Facebook has engaged a think tank funded by weapons manufacturers, branches of the US military and Middle-Eastern monarchies to safeguard the democratic process. It’s akin to hiring arsonists to run the fire brigade.
If Facebook truly wanted to “protect democracy and elections worldwide,” it would build a broad coalition of experts and activists from a wide and disparate range of the countries it serves. Instead, the American social media giant has outsourced the task to NATO’s propaganda wing. For the uninitiated, the Atlantic Council serves as the American-led alliance’s chief advocacy group. And its methods are rather simple: it grants stipends and faux academic titles to various activists that align with NATO’s agenda.

Thus, lobbyists become “fellows” and “experts,” while the enterprise constructs a neutral sheen, which is rarely (if ever) challenged by Western media outlets – often reliant on its employees for easy comment and free op-eds. While that has always been ethically questionable, Facebook’s latest move, given its effective monopoly position, is far more sinister. Because it is now tied to a “think tank” which has proposed terrorist attacks in Russia and has demanded Russian-funded news outlets be forced to register as “foreign agents” in the United States. Make no mistake: this is a dream scenario for NATO and those who depend on it for their livelihoods and status. Because the Atlantic Council is now perfectly positioned to be the tail wagging the Facebook dog in the information space.

On Thursday, the social network announced how it was “excited to launch a new partnership with the Atlantic Council, which has a stellar reputation looking at innovative solutions to hard problems.” It then added that “experts” from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) will liaise closely with Facebook’s “security, policy and product teams” to offer “real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world.” Now, this sort of talk would be fine if Facebook had assembled a diverse group, comprised of stakeholders from a wide range of democracies. But, by selecting a clearly biased actor to police “misinformation and foreign interference” during “elections and other highly sensitive moments” and also work to “help educate citizens as well as civil society,” Mark Zuckerberg’s team has essentially made their company a tool of the US military agenda.

Read more …

Wonder what the new government will do to this.

Hedge Funds Bet On Big Turnaround By Italy’s Mid-Tier Banks (R.)

Major hedge funds have picked Italian mid-tier banks as one of Europe’s few remaining recovery plays, betting they will shed billions of euros in bad loans. Europe’s 2010-2012 debt crisis left Italy’s banks with among the euro zone’s biggest hangovers, some 285 billion euros ($338 billion) of soured debt on their balance sheets. But when Credito Valtellinese sold new shares in a February rights issue for eight times its market value, they were lapped up by hedge funds in the United States and Britain. Now the mid-sized Italian bank counts Algebris Chief Investment Officer Davide Serra, Toscafund Asset Management and a hedge fund run by Eurizon Capital SGR among its biggest investors, Thomson Reuters data shows.

So far the bet seems to be paying off as Italy’s bank shares have risen 15% year-to-date against a fall of 1% for European banks, while Credito Valtellinese stock has risen 7.5% since the rights issue completion. Although the price-to-book ratio of Italian banks has improved since Rome announced a state bailout fund in 2016, it trades around 8% below the European sector average. Even the possible formation of a new government comprising two anti-establishment parties has not put off many of the funds contacted by Reuters, some of whom invested in Greek government bonds on a similar bet, who said the investment stacked up despite the vagaries of Italian politics.

Italy’s bad loans are a legacy of the recession that followed the debt crisis and with small and medium-sized businesses heavily dependent on bank lending, the soured loans have long been a drag on the third biggest euro zone economy. But pressure from regulators has begun to have an impact and the ratio of gross impaired loans to total loans has fallen to 14.5% from 17.3% a year ago, Bank of Italy data shows ..

Read more …

But move away from paying for the education.

Companies Are Now Paying Off Their Employees’ Student Loans (CNBC)

Student loan assistance, which started as a niche offering by a handful of companies, is finding its way into the mainstream menu of workplace benefits. “This is certainly emerging as a new and very important benefit,” said David Pratt, a professor at Albany Law School who studies employee benefits. This year, Fidelity began to offer businesses a way to contribute to their workers’ education debt. Since then, more than two dozen companies have signed up and it expects that number to double by the year’s finish. “This is going to grow rapidly over time,” said Asha Srikantiah, vice president of workplace emerging products at Fidelity. “We’re seeing so many more people who have debt and who are overwhelmed by that.”

Indeed, 7 in 10 college graduates have student loan debt. The average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears, while nearly 20% owe more than $100,000. Americans are now more burdened by education loans than they are by credit card or auto debt. [..] one of the factors likely contributing to the nation’s swelling student loan debt is that the number of employers helping their workers with their original education costs is shrinking. Company contributions to undergraduate education expenses dropped to 53% in 2017, from 61% in 2013, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. During that same time period, graduate school assistance at work also fell, to 50% from about 60%.

Read more …

100 trillion emails per year.

What Happens In An Internet Minute In 2018? (WEF)

In your everyday life, a minute might not seem like much. But when it comes to the vast scale of the internet, a minute of time goes much further than you ever could have imagined. That’s because the internet has a degree of scale that our linear human brains are unaccustomed to operating on. Today’s infographic is from Lori Lewis and Chadd Callahan of Cumulus Media, and it shows the activity taking place on various platforms such as Facebook or Google in each 60 second span. It really helps put an internet minute in perspective.

The numbers for these services are so enormous that they can only be shown using the 60 second time scale. Any bigger, and our brains can’t even process these massive quantities in any useful capacity. Here are just a few key numbers scaled to a monthly basis, for fun: • 42,033,600,000 Facebook logins • 159,840,000,000 Google searches • 1,641,600,000,000 WhatsApp messages sent • 8,078,400,000,000 emails sent On an annualized basis, the data becomes even more ridiculous, with something close to 100 trillion emails sent.

Read more …

The world’s biggest problems are solved in bars.

Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving (HBR)

Professor Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University and colleagues served vodka-cranberry cocktails to 20 male subjects until their blood alcohol levels neared legal intoxication and then gave each a series of word association problems to solve. Not only did those who imbibed give more correct answers than a sober control group performing the same task, but they also arrived at solutions more quickly. The conclusion: drunk people are better at creative problem solving.

JAROSZ: You often hear of great writers, artists, and composers who claim that alcohol enhanced their creativity, or people who say their ideas are better after a few drinks. We wanted to see if we could find evidence to back that up, and though this was a small experiment, we did. We gave participants 15 questions from a creative problem-solving assessment called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT—for example, “What word relates to these three: ‘duck,’ ‘dollar,’ ‘fold’?”; the answer to which is “bill.” We found that the tipsy people solved two to three more problems than folks who stayed sober. They also submitted their answers more quickly within the one-minute-per-question time limit, which is maybe even more surprising.

HBR: So alcohol doesn’t slow us down mentally after all? It still does, but we think that creative problem solving is one area in which a key effect of drunkenness—loss of focus—is a good thing. In an exercise like the RAT, it’s important not to fixate on your first thought, and alcohol seems to help that seemingly irrelevant stuff slip in. When we asked participants how much they relied on strategic thinking versus sudden insights to solve the problems, the intoxicated people reported solving via insight on 10% more problems than their sober counterparts did.

Read more …

Apr 162018
 
 April 16, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Arrangement in Pink, Red and Purple 1883-4

 

US Stock Valuations Are At Multiyear Highs – And Multiyear Lows (MW)
Australia’s Lending Rules Are About to Batter Home Buyers (BBG)
Macron Says He Convinced Trump To Stay In Syria (AFP)
Trump Felt Misled, Angry Over Expulsion Of 60 Russian Diplomats (MW)
Comey And Mueller Have Both Fallen Into Trump’s Trap (MW)
A Third Of People Think Facebook Has A ‘Negative Impact On Society’ (MI)
Who Owns The ‘Virtual You?’ (Escobar)
How Many People Had Their Data Harvested By Cambridge Analytica? (G.)
Where Does the ECB Go From Here? (Mervyn King)
Stoltenberg Calls On NATO Allies To Provide More Support To Turkey (DS)
Detained American Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey (AFP)
Greek-Turkish Tension ‘Not An Issue For NATO – Stoltenberg (K.)
Greece Is Back in the Spotlight (BBG)
Plastic Is Literally Everywhere: The Epidemic Attacking Australia’s Oceans (G.)

 

 

The new markets.

US Stock Valuations Are At Multiyear Highs – And Multiyear Lows (MW)

With the start of the first-quarter earnings season, U.S. stock-market investors are waiting to see whether the results point to a business environment that is thriving and supportive of the market’s rally over the past several years, or whether the move has been overdone. Turns out, both bulls and bears have data they can marshal in their favor. According to data from FTSE Russell and Thomson Reuters, the U.S. stock market was recently trading at its most expensive levels since the dot-com era, and — even after the first correction for the DJIA and the S&P 500 in about two years — it continues to trade one standard deviation above a historical range. The data is based on the forward price-to-earnings ratio for stocks, which is currently above 17, compared with the long-term average of about 15.

This measure of valuation can be seen mapped out in the following chart. The recent peak of the forward P/E represented a nearly 20-year high, per FTSE Russell.

In another potential warning sign for investors, the cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio gives the S&P 500 a ratio of 31.6, nearly twice its long-term mean of 16.85, and at its highest level since the dot-com era. Both of these statistics may give investors pause, as they suggest a market’s that is overstretched and could have more room to fall. However, they only tell half the story. The forward P/E comes at a time when first-quarter earnings growth isn’t just expected to be strong, but coming in at its strongest rate in years. According to FactSet, earnings for companies in the S&P 500 are estimated to grow 17.3% in the first quarter, while sales grow 10%. For both, such rates would represent the fastest pace of growth since the first quarter of 2011.

Accounting for that high level of expansion paints a very different picture for stock valuations, so much so that they go from being at or near multiyear highs, to being at multiyear lows. FTSE Russell also provided the following chart to MarketWatch, which looks at the market in terms of its PEG, or a P/E ratio that accounts for earnings growth. Based on this metric, stocks have a PEG of 1.2, which means they’re not only trading one standard deviation below their long-term average of a little more than 1.3, but also at their cheapest level since 2012.

Read more …

Really? Killing the golden eggs?

Australia’s Lending Rules Are About to Batter Home Buyers (BBG)

A toughening of lax lending standards in Australia is threatening an already-cooling property market. An inquiry into misconduct in the financial industry is likely to lead to greater regulation of the nation’s A$1.6 trillion ($1.2 trillion) mortgage market. Banks have routinely relied on an unrealistically low estimate of homebuyers’ living expenses, and a more genuine assessment of spending could reduce borrowing power by as much as 35 percent, according to UBS analysts. That would mean many new buyers simply couldn’t afford current prices – a further drag on home prices that are already falling as a seven-year property boom tails off.

“What drives house prices is credit availability,” said Sean Fenton, director at Sydney-based Tribeca Investment Partners, which manages about A$2.5 billion. “A tightening of lending standards directly impacts the ability of the marginal buyer to buy a house.” The heat is already coming out of the housing market. Prices in Sydney, the world’s second-most expensive property market, fell 2.1 percent in March from a year earlier, according to CoreLogic Inc. A year ago, annual price growth was running at almost 16 percent. The top end of the market has recorded the biggest falls, the data shows.

[..] “It’s really obvious that a lot of people have a lot of unmanageable debt,” said Karen Cox, coordinator of Sydney’s Financial Rights Legal Centre, which fielded 25,000 calls last year from people seeking financial help. “Because it’s such a benign interest rate environment, the problems can only get worse.” Based on historic income and price relationships, property prices in Sydney and Melbourne are overvalued by between 25 percent and 30 percent, according to Paul Dales, chief Australian economist at Capital Economics. For now, he’s predicting prices will just edge lower, with the crunch coming if interest rate increases coincide with tighter credit conditions. “All properties in those cities are particularly vulnerable.”

Read more …

Macron dreams big. About himself, mostly.

Macron Says He Convinced Trump To Stay In Syria (AFP)

President Emmanuel Macron asserted Sunday that Paris had convinced Donald Trump to stay engaged in Syria “for the long-term”, adding that French air strikes did not amount to a declaration of war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. A day after France joined the United States and Britain in launching unprecedented strikes against regime targets, Macron insisted the intervention was legitimate and urged international powers to now push for a diplomatic solution to the brutal seven-year war. “We have not declared war on the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” the 40-year-old centrist said at the start of a combative TV interview, stretching nearly three hours, to mark almost a year in office.

But Macron again argued his first major military intervention as president was necessary to send a signal that the use of chemical weapons against civilians would not go unpunished. Saturday’s strikes targeted three alleged chemical weapons facilities in response to what the West says was a gas attack on the town of Douma that killed dozens of people. “We have full international legitimacy in intervening in this case,” Macron said. He said the US, France and Britain targeted “extremely precise sites of chemical weapons use” in an operation that went off “perfectly”. And he further argued the operation was legitimate despite not being sanctioned by the UN, retorting that under a 2013 UN resolution Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. As for his allies, Macron suggested France played a pivotal role in changing Trump’s mind on the need to stay involved in the conflict.

Read more …

Makes sense.

Trump Felt Misled, Angry Over Expulsion Of 60 Russian Diplomats (MW)

President Donald Trump erupted in anger when he learned the U.S. was expelling 60 Russian diplomats in March, while France and Germany were only expelling four each, the Washington Post reported late Sunday. Trump reportedly only wanted to match the number of allies’ expulsions, and not to be seen as taking the lead. Trump believed his aides misled him, the Post said. “There were curse words,” one official told the Post, “a lot of curse words.” The expulsions were the most ever by the U.S. against Russia, and came in response to a suspected Russian nerve-agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in England. Separately, the Trump administration appears ready to impose more sanctions on Russia. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday that a new round of sanctions will target Russian companies that aid Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities.

Read more …

Playing on Trump’s field.

Comey And Mueller Have Both Fallen Into Trump’s Trap (MW)

If there’s any strategy in the world of President Donald Trump, it’s a simple one: Play on my field. And the Trump playing field is a salacious one. The scandals and affairs are literally too numerous to be chronicled in a single article. Large and small, Trump University to Trump Steaks, bankruptcies and legal judgements, all manner of infidelity and aberrant behavior, real or imagined. Former FBI Director James Comey and Special Counsel Robert Mueller were each charged with looking into an allegation of the most serious variety — colluding with a foreign hostile power to alter the presidential election. This week the headlines emanating from Mueller’s investigation, and Comey’s book, involve a porn star, a Playboy bunny, a pee tape, the size of Trump’s hands and a doorman with a history of fibbing apparently alleging the existence of an illegitimate child.

That is playing on Trump’s field. But wait. Isn’t it a violation of campaign law if Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels just ahead of the election? If Cohen used a home-equity loan to fund the payment, did he lie to the bank? Doesn’t it speak to Trump’s truthfulness on a variety of a matters — including alleged collusion with Russia — whether his persistent denials of engaging with prostitutes in Moscow are truthful? Doesn’t it have relevance to the question of whether payoffs were legal if Trump bought off a doorman? And didn’t Mueller actually hand off the investigation on Daniels? Yeah, sure, all of that. Those are all on the level of the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton’s perjury — legal matters, yes, that aren’t really the stuff of high crimes and misdemeanors.

They’re all gotchas reinforcing what we basically knew about Trump and his behavior before the election. By contrast, the consequences of playing on Trump’s field are enormous. For Comey, baiting Trump into a reaction, which sure as water is wet came on Friday morning, will result in better book sales. But it will come at the expense of holding any future higher office. His legacy as FBI director — already tarnished for the ridiculous, torturous inconsistencies in how he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails — is forever tarnished. Who in Washington could hire this guy? “Untruthful,” as Trump called him? No. “Slime ball?” Hmm.

Mueller, too, looks set to emerge damaged, if perhaps not as fatally. The question of whether Trump can, or should, fire him has returned. Mueller, also a former FBI director, does still have the support of both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to finish his investigation, and a few key Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, have expressed willingness to support legislation to protect him. But the idea of his dismissal is definitely more plausible — and, for that matter, the outrage it would generate a good bit lessened.

Read more …

“..how does it affect children, how does the platform create addiction..”

A Third Of People Think Facebook Has A ‘Negative Impact On Society’ (MI)

Here’s another bone to pick with Facebook. Nearly one-third of Americans (31.7%) think the embattled social network is having a “negative impact on society,” according to a survey conducted in recent months by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s former personal pollster, Tavis McGinn. That view was even more widely held among respondents in Australia (33.4%), Canada (33.3%) and the U.K. (32.2%), per the results reported by Recode. The survey research was conducted on 10,000 respondents across 10 nations in January and February, prior to recent revelations that the British data firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly harvested personal data from up to 87 million Facebook users to create targeted political ads.

Facebook had already come under fire for its role in the proliferation of fake news on the platform during the 2016 election. While McGinn and his Honest Data company didn’t delve into specifics of this “negative” societal impact, the pollster had some ideas. “In the U.S. obviously we’re very focused on election interference, and in the U.K. they’ve been focused on that as well with Brexit,” he told Recode. “But there are also things like, ‘how does it affect children, how does the platform create addiction, how does the platform encourage extremism, how does the platform push American values onto other countries?’”

Read more …

Anyone but you does.

Who Owns The ‘Virtual You?’ (Escobar)

While GAFA in the US essentially controls the politics limiting the capacity for regulation, Brussels will continue to insist the only path towards healthy regulation comes from the EU. The other model is of course China. Beijing has domesticated its sprawling digital industry – which is a de facto extension of the state apparatus as well as a growing instrument of global influence. When Zuckerberg was asked whether Facebook should be broken up – the monopoly issue once again – he said that would weaken the US’s competitive advantage against China, which by the way is fast disappearing. Facebook’s customer base though is not American; it’s global. Inside the Facebook HQ, the consensus is that it is a global company.

So all these issues at stake – from monopoly to regulation to privacy – are indeed global issues. Zuckerberg dodged extremely serious questions. Who owns “the virtual you?” Zuckerberg’s response was that you own all the “content” you upload, and can delete that content any time you want. Yet the heart of the matter is the advertising profile Facebook builds on each user. That simply cannot be deleted. And the user cannot alter it in any way. The GAFA galaxy, in fact, owns you when you click accepting those massive terms and conditions of use. As argued by philosopher Gaspard Koenig, director of the GenerationLibre think tank in France, data property should logically follow the evolution of property rights, land property, financial property and property of ideas, thus replacing the current figure of the “proletarian 2.0” at the heart of the value chain of the digital economy.

Read more …

Why would the number be limited to Facebok’s users? Isn’t it clear yet? It’s everyone.

How Many People Had Their Data Harvested By Cambridge Analytica? (G.)

Statistics are a staple of journalistic accuracy issues, but rarely is a number so big, consequential and hard to verify as the number of Facebook users directly affected by the still emerging Cambridge Analytica story. Is it no more than 30 million, as Cambridge Analytica says? Fifty million, as estimated by the Observer and Guardian journalists who have done so much to disclose the issue? Or 87 million, as Facebook has ventured? Facebook’s estimate has a fine-print caveat: “We do not know precisely what data the app shared with Cambridge Analytica or exactly how many people were impacted. Using as expansive a methodology as possible, this is our best estimate of the maximum number of unique accounts that directly installed the thisisyourdigitallife app as well as those whose data may have been shared with the app by their friends.”

The numbers seem to be calculated by multiplying the number of people known as “seeders” by the average number of Facebook friends seeders are thought to have. A seeder was a Facebook user who installed certain apps that permitted the apps’ controllers to harvest data from the user and the seeder’s (unknowing) Facebook friends. The wide variation in the estimates of people affected results partly from different estimates of seeders – 185,000, 275,000, 300,000 – and different average-number-of-friends figures – 160, 180, 250, 340.

Does it matter, in the sense that it is now evident that many, many other entities – academic, commercial, governmental – could have harvested the data of users under previous Facebook policies, for which Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s ethically callow controller, apologised before committees of the US Congress last week, without apparent loss of face? A sense of perspective was given by the Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain, a sophisticated observer of the social and democratic impacts of digital technologies: “The Cambridge Analytica dataset from Facebook is itself but a lake within an ocean, a clarifying example of a pervasive but invisible ecosystem where thousands of firms possess billions of data points across hundreds of millions of people – and are able to do lots with it under the public radar.”

[..] Is it unreasonable to wonder whether the potential dataset for the team’s work is 2 billion, the total number of Facebook users?

Read more …

Former BOE governor sees stormy days ahead. The ECB must save the euro system, and that won’t be easy.

Where Does the ECB Go From Here? (Mervyn King)

Many observers have drawn comfort from the likelihood that Germany’s new “grand coalition” and French President Emmanuel Macron will indeed reform the basic architecture of monetary union. The language will be warm and encouraging, but the substance less so. In recent months I’ve been struck by the dissonance between, on the one hand, a common French and German determination to move ahead on the principle of reform to the monetary union, and, on the other, their governments’ clashing ideas about how to do it. Macron wants a fiscal union and a finance minister for the euro area. Germany doesn’t: It insists that countries must be responsible for their own fiscal position.

The likely compromise is that any fiscal transfers will be kept as small as possible – no larger than needed to get past the immediate problem. That might suffice in reasonably normal times, but not if market confidence disappears as it did in 2010-12. At that point, the issue can no longer be fudged. As these events unfold, Draghi and his successor, due to take over in October 2019, can expect to face many tests. The rise of populist parties in southern Europe is one — but the greatest challenge is likely to come from opinion in Germany. So far, the monetary union has been good for German exporters and politicians but less so for German consumers, who’ve been denied the higher standard of living that an appreciating currency would have delivered.

[..] U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson famously remarked about his FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” I’ve no doubt Johnson would be strongly recommending the appointment of Jens Weidmann, the current president of the Bundesbank, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Europe’s governments see it the same way. My advice to Jens? Think twice before accepting.

Read more …

The NATO Secretary General is a dangerous man. He’s tasked with increasing NATO’s power.

Stoltenberg Calls On NATO Allies To Provide More Support To Turkey (DS)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg drew attention to already existing NATO presence in Turkey and called on all allies to provide more support to the country. “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks. NATO immediately condemned the coup attempt that targeted Turkey’s democratic institutions,” the secretary-general said. Stoltenberg spoke to Anadolu Agency (AA) at the NATO headquarters in Brussels ahead of his official visit to Turkey on April 16. The NATO chief said the aim of his trip to Ankara is to “to prepare for the upcoming [NATO] summit in Brussels in July..”

[..] Stoltenberg said he highly values the visit to Turkey, as he sees the country it is “a highly valued and key ally for many reasons, not just for its strategic location.” He added that during the visit he will “discuss the preparations for the important summit where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment.” He said that NATO functions with the solidarity principle “one for all and all for one” and added: “We have deployed missile batteries that are augmenting the missile air defenses of Turkey. We have Italy and Spain deploying Patriot batteries and also SAMP-T batteries, and we conduct surveillance flights with our AWACS planes over Turkey. We have also increased our naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

[..] When asked about NATO’s approach to Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syrian region of Afrin, Stoltenberg said NATO welcomed Turkey’s transparency. “We’re aware that there are some challenges related to the situation in northern Syria and around Afrin. NATO has been a platform for direct dialogue between Turkey and the U.S. We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns, which we expect to be addressed in a proportionate and measured way,” NATO chief said. “We all understand that Turkey has to address these threats. We welcome that Turkey has been transparent and briefed NATO several times on the operation in Afrin, both the military operations and the humanitarian assistance.”

Read more …

Erdogan gambles on being needed by the US.

Detained American Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey (AFP)

An American pastor Monday went on trial in Turkey on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has increased friction between Ankara and Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. Brunson, wearing a white shirt and a black suit, was present in court in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir for the hearing, an AFP correspondent said. In an indication of the importance of the case for Washington, also in court were Sam Brownback, the US ambassador at large for religious freedoms, and Senator Thom Tillis.

Turkish prosecutors have charged Brunson with engaging in activities on behalf of the group led by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says is behind the failed 2016 coup, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. Brunson is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes. If convicted, he faces two separate terms of 15 years and 20 years in prison, his lawyer Cem Halavurt told AFP. [..] The Brunson case has further raised the temperature of heated relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, with US President Donald Trump raising the issue in talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Relations are already tense over American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria despised by Ankara and the jailing of two employees at American missions in Turkey.

Gulen, who lives in self-exile in the US state of Pennsylvania, firmly denies any role in the failed coup and says his Hizmet (Service) movement promotes a peaceful form of Islam. Turkey has sent a spate of documents to back up its repeated request for Gulen’s extradition from the United States, which has so far shown no sign of interest in expelling the preacher. In September last year, Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if Washington handed over Gulen, raising the idea of a swap deal. “They say ‘give us the pastor’. You have a preacher (Gulen) there. Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back,” Erdogan said then. The idea was brushed off by the United States.

Read more …

Turkey’s a neighbor of Syria. Stoltenberg will have no qualms about selling out Greece.

Greek-Turkish Tension ‘Not An Issue For NATO – Stoltenberg (K.)

The leaders of Greece and Turkey need to address the issues that have been causing tension between the two countries in recent months and this is “not an issue for NATO,” the head of the alliance of which both countries are members said on Sunday. Speaking to Turkey’s Anadolou news agency ahead of a visit to Turkey on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Greece and Turkey are “two highly valued NATO allies” and “both contribute to our collective defense.” “I expect that the differences we see on some issues are solved between Turkey and Greece in the spirit of good relations,” he added.

“In this context, I welcome that the PMs of both countries have recently held a phone conversation and that they have agreed to resolve these differences through dialogue.” Stoltenberg’s visit is planned in preparation for a crucial NATO summit in Brussels in July, “where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment,” he said. Asked to respond to criticism that NATO is not doing enough to help Turkey in its fight against terrorism, Stoltenberg said “there’s a lot of NATO presence in Turkey but I call on the allies to provide even more support.” “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks,” the alliance chief told Anadolou.

Read more …

Also about Turkey.

Greece Is Back in the Spotlight (BBG)

Consider what Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is up against. As Greece prepares to free itself from an eight-year European bailout, its 43 year-old premier is confronting challenges at home and abroad. On the domestic front: preparations for post-bailout economic life and the first general election since the end of the program, including feuds with both allies and rivals. On the foreign-policy front: increased tensions with traditional rival Turkey and regional instability stemming from a dispute over a neighboring country’s name. Tsipras’s ability to navigate through all this could determine just how stable the country and its region will be in coming years, experts say, and the European Union, the U.S. and NATO are all watching with interest.

“The worst problem for Tsipras, for the government, but also for Greece is the evolving ‘rogueness’ of Turkey,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “Diminishing American influence on the region is a destabilizing factor and the stakes are very high,” Hatzis said, adding that Greece is not a primary concern for Turkey, but a part of an overall plan by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to establish hegemony in the region. Tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated in March after two Greek soldiers, who Greece says wandered across the border during a routine patrol, were arrested by Turkey. Greece has demanded their return. Relations between Greece and Turkey, always fraught, worsened further after a Greek court declined to extradite eight Turkish soldiers allegedly involved in a military coup attempt in July 2016.

Read more …

“No location and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff.”

Plastic Is Literally Everywhere: The Epidemic Attacking Australia’s Oceans (G.)

The scientific literature is awash with research documenting plastics of all sizes in every environment that’s been studied – from the deep ocean to both the Arctic and Antarctic. Microplastic is the term used to describe any piece of plastic less than 5mm wide – it’s mostly the broken-apart remnants of straws, fishing nets and all manner of other plastic items, creating trillions of tiny pieces. Dr Jennifer Lavers, a marine biologist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, has spent the past 15 years studying the impacts of plastics.

In 2015 Lavers travelled to one of the most remote spots on the planet – the uninhabited Henderson Island in the middle of the Pacific – to find this world heritage-listed coral atoll’s beaches strewn with an estimated 37m pieces of plastic weighing about 17 tonnes – the equivalent of less than two seconds of global plastic production. Just one washed-up fishing net, barely a decade old, was disintegrating into trillions of plastic fibres that gave the surrounding sand a lucid green splash. “You can’t prepare yourself for moments like that,” she says.

Northern Australia is a known hotspot for these so-called “ghost nets” that are left to haunt the lives of marine animals. One project, GhostNets Australia, has collected more than 13,000 nets since 2004. A study analysed 9,000 nets found in the north of Australia and estimated that they alone had probably caught between 4,866 and 14,600 turtles. “Nowhere is safe, and plastic is literally everywhere,” says Lavers. “No location and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff.”

Read more …

Mar 182018
 
 March 18, 2018  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Bartolomeo Schedoni The Deposition (of Jesus’ body by St. Joseph of Arimathea) 1613

 

The Art of (Cold) War (Claire Connelly)
Killing Diplomacy (Dmitry Orlov)
Russia’s EU Ambassador Says UK Lab Could Be Nerve Agent Source (BBC)
NATO Must Improve Defences Against ‘More Aggressive’ Russia – Stoltenberg (G.)
Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 3 (David Stockman)
UK Brexit Committee In Bitter Row Over Plan To Delay EU Withdrawal (Ind.)
French Language Eyes ‘Le Comeback’ After Brexit (AFP)
Arms Deals Between Turkey And Germany Are Like A Well-Oiled Machine (Region)
At Least 15 Refugees Die As Boat Sinks Near Greek Island In Aegean Sea (R.)
Billion-Dollar Polar Bio-Engineering ‘Needed To Slow Melting Glaciers’ (G.)

 

 

Several people punch sizable holes in the UK story blaming Russia. Found on Twitter, from “Harry Dilemma”:

“Without any evidence, the probability of millions of people being infected with bullshit is higher than the probability of two people being infected with a toxic agent.”

The Art of (Cold) War (Claire Connelly)

Here’s what we know so far: • UPDATE I: Former spy and double agent, Sergey Skripal and his daughter, Julia were allegedly poisoned. • Initial reports claimed the culprit was a chemical which falls under the category of ‘novichoks’, a collection of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, there has been no official medical or scientific confirmation of these claims. The doctor that was allegedly one of the first people on the scene of the Skripals’ poisoning asked to remain anonymous. • No pictures or footage of the victims have been provided. • Skripal’s daughter, Julia, is a member of the Russian Federation but has been denied consular access by the British government.

• The Russian Embassy officially requested the Foreign Office provide information on Sergey and Julia Skripal’s health and details of investigation the day after the poisonings occured on March 5th. Almost two weeks have passed and it still has received no confirmation from the UK government, nor granted access to the alleged victims. • Skripal received at least $100,000 for sharing Russian state secrets with British intelligence. • Skripal was feeding secrets to MI6 at the time Christopher Steele was an MI6 officer in Moscow. • Skripal’s handler was British MI6 agent, Pablo Miller who was previously involved as a suspect in a criminal case against Skripal who in 2006 was sentenced to 13 years in prison for spying for Britain.

Russia is not alone in the development of novichok nerve agents. Former British Ambassador Craig Murray revealed that similar nerve agents are manufactured by the British Government in Porton Down, just 8 miles from where Skripal was poisoned. • Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve gas as being of Russian manufacture. • The official British government story is that these nerve agents are only manufactured “To help develop effective medical countermeasures and to test systems”. • Israel also has a chemical and biological weapons program that manufactures similar poisons. A 1983 CIA intelligence estimate revealed that US spy satellites had uncovered a chemical nerve agent production facility in the Negev Desert the year prior. This fact was censored by the CIA before a version was released to the National Archives in 2009. The information would likely not have come to light were it not for the discovery of the redacted document by a researcher at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

• Russia has never killed a swapped spy before. • Miller had a Salisbury address, according to his LinkedIn account which has since been deactivated. He specialised in the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eastern Europe and his diplomatic postings included Tallinn, Estonia. • Both Steele and Miller were members of Orbis Intelligence, the same firm that produced the sensational Steele Dossier which alleged Trump’s links with Russia, including a certain episode involving Russian prostitutes and golden showers.

Read more …

There are quite a few tales about how the victims were supposedly infected with Novichok. Powder or liquid, in Russia or Britain.

Killing Diplomacy (Dmitry Orlov)

• May claimed that the nerve agent was Novichok, developed in the USSR. In order to identify it, the UK experts had to have had a sample of it. Since neither the USSR, nor Russia, have ever been known to export it, we should assume that it was synthesized within the UK. The formula and the list of precursors are in the public domain, published by the scientist who developed Novichok, who has since moved to the US. Thus, British scientists working at Porton Down could have synthesized it themselves. In any case, it is not possible to determine in what country a given sample of the substance was synthesized, and the claim that it came from Russia is not provable.

• It was claimed that the victims—Mr. Skripal and his daugher—were poisoned with Novichok while at a restaurant. Yet how could this have been done? The agent in question is so powerful that a liter of it released into the atmosphere over London would kill most of its population. Breaking a vial of it open over a plate of food would kill the murderer along with everyone inside the restaurant. Anything it touched would be stained yellow, and many of those in the vicinity would have complained of a very unusual, acrid smell. Those poisoned would be instantaneously paralyzed and dead within minutes, not strolling over to a park bench where they were found. The entire town would have been evacuated, and the restaurant would have to be encased in a concrete sarcophagus by workers in space suits and destroyed with high heat. None of this has happened.

• In view of the above, it seems unlikely that any of what has been described in the UK media and by May’s government has actually taken place. An alternative assumption, and one we should be ready to fully test, is that all of this is a work of fiction. No pictures of the two victims have been provided. One of them—Skripal’s daughter—is a citizen of the Russian Federation, and yet the British have refused to provide consular access to her. And now it has emerged that the entire scenario, including the Novichok nerve gas, was cribbed from a US/UK television drama “Strike Back.” If so, this was certainly efficient; why invent when you can simply plagiarize.

• This is only one (and not even the last) in a series of murders and assumed but dubious suicides on former and current Russian nationals on UK soil that share certain characteristics, such the use of exotic substances as the means, no discernible motive, no credible investigation, and an immediate, concerted effort to pin the blame on Russia. You would be on safe ground if you assumed that anyone who pretends to know what exactly happened here is in fact lying. As to what might motivate such lying—that’s a question for psychiatrists to take up.

Read more …

Imagine the outrage.

Russia’s EU Ambassador Says UK Lab Could Be Nerve Agent Source (BBC)

Russia’s EU ambassador has suggested a UK research laboratory could be the source of the nerve agent used in the attack on an ex-spy and his daughter. Vladimir Chizhov told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Russia had “nothing to do” with the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. He said Russia did not stockpile the poison and that the Porton Down lab was only eight miles (12km) from the city. The government dismissed his comments as “nonsense.” Retired military intelligence officer Mr Skripal, 66, and Yulia, 33, remain critically ill in hospital after being found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre on 4 March.

Theresa May had told MPs that personnel from the Defence Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Centre at Porton Down in Wiltshire had identified the substance used on them as being part of a group of military-grade nerve agents developed by Russia known as Novichok. Mr Chizhov told the BBC that Mr Skripal could “rightly be referred to as a traitor” but “from the legal point of view the Russian state had nothing against him”. Asked how the nerve agent came to be used in Salisbury, he said: “When you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories.

“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research. And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.” But pressed on whether he was suggesting Porton Down was “responsible” for the nerve agent in the attack, Mr Chizhov said: “I don’t have evidence of anything being used.” He added: “I exclude the possibility of any stockpiles of any chemical weapons fleeing Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union but there were certain specialists, including some scientists who today claim to be responsible for creating some nerve agents, that have been whisked out of Russia and are currently residing in the United Kingdom.”

Read more …

But of course.

NATO Must Improve Defences Against ‘More Aggressive’ Russia – Stoltenberg (G.)

Nato must improve its defensive capabilities and willingness to act in the wake of increasingly aggressive and unpredictable actions by Russia, the head of the transatlantic alliance said in a German newspaper interview published on Sunday. The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said he expected the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other Nato leaders to revamp their approach at the next Nato summit this summer, given a risk that Russia could gradually give more weight to nuclear weapons in its doctrine, exercises and new military capabilities. “I think Chancellor Merkel and her colleagues will face new decisions at the Nato summit in July in Brussels. We must be alert and resolute,” Stoltenberg was quoted saying by Welt am Sonntag.

The Nato leader last week accused Russia of trying to destabilise the west with new nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and covert action, including the poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury. “We can always do more and must reflect on that now. Salisbury follows, by all appearances, a pattern we’ve observed for some years – Russia is becoming more unpredictable and more aggressive,” he said. Russia denies any involvement and says it is the US-led transatlantic alliance that is a risk to peace in Europe. “Russia must not miscalculate,” Stoltenberg told the newspaper. “We are always ready to respond when an ally is attacked militarily. We want credible deterrence. We don’t want any war. Our goal is de-escalation.“

Read more …

The curious valuations of Amazon and its profitless prosperity.

Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 3 (David Stockman)

The first law of Bubble Finance is that stock market crashes trigger recessions, not vice versa. That stands your grandfather’s macroeconomics on its ahead, yet the casual chain from which it arises is straight forward. To wit, in a world of Peak Debt ($230 trillion globally), central bank money pumping mainly inflates financial bubbles. Such bubbles eventually reach blow-off extremes and then burst, thereby sending stock (option) obsessed corporate C-suites into paroxysms of restructuring and downsizing designed to appease the trading gods of Wall Street. The main street sacrificial lambs thus tossed overboard – workers, inventories, plants, stores, warehouses, other “redundant” fixed assets and CapEx outlays – are what we are pleased to call recessions nowadays.

Needless to say, you can’t see these bouts of C-suite mayhem coming if your dashboard is still cluttered with your grandfather’s macro-monitors. That is, the junk data from the BLS and Commerce Department. By the same token, you will most surely espy Goldilocks prancing through these incoming data reports because at this late stage of the business cycle they are really nothing more than a read-out on capitalism’s inherent impulse to trudge forward until it is monkey-hammered by the central bank and its imploding bubbles. That is to say, the next recession is embedded in the stock charts because they are the Bubble tracker in plain sight. And here is the leading indicator at the present moment – the utterly lunatic trading metrics for Amazon (AMZN).

As the current bubble metastized after the immediate post-recession rebound in the stock market, the momo crowd piled into AMZN because the “price action” was just plain awesome. Between the March 2009 bottom and January 2017, the stock soared from $65 to $750 per share or by nearly 1100%. And it did so without any regard for AMZN’s profitless prosperity—perhaps signified by its 170X PE multiple at the end of 2016. Then again, when it comes to miracle stocks and the Great Disrupters, profits are–apparently–a matter of will, not performance. If Jeff Bezos wanted profits, the true believers insist, he would will them. Simple. Still, since the beginning of 2017, even the willpower meme has begun to get way in front of its skis.

During the past 14 months, Amazon’s market cap exploded by $400 billion – rising from $360 billion in January 2017 to $760 billion at present. At the same time, its LTM operating free cash flow plunged from a meager $9.5 billion ( on $136 billion of sales) to just $6.5 billion during the year ending in December. Since the rules of arithmetic apparently have not yet been “disrupted”, AMZN’s implied multiple on operating free cash flow has erupted from an already frisky 39X to a completely absurd 120X. Needless to say, a 24-year old company with virtually no cumulative profits and free cash flow to show for itself should not trade at anything remotely close to a triple digit multiple – and that’s to say nothing of one that’s essentially in the books, schmatta, gadgets and food sourcing, moving, storage and moving business.

Read more …

The Brexit mayhem hides behind the Russia story for now.

UK Brexit Committee In Bitter Row Over Plan To Delay EU Withdrawal (Ind.)

An influential Commons committee has become mired in a bitter row after Leave members refused to back its report recommending a potential delay to Brexit and extending the transition period afterwards. After they fell out with Remain backing members of the Brexit Committee, the group was forced to publish two sets of recommendations on Sunday. Prominent Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is a member, attacked others in the group as the “high priests of Remain”, claiming they had attempted to force through a “partisan” document. The committee’s Labour chair Hilary Benn said the divisions demonstrated just how difficult achieving an agreement on Brexit will be.

The group was set to call for an “extension to the Article 50 time”, which dictates the UK will formally leave the EU in March 2019, in order to ensure a comprehensive agreement can be reached. Their report was also due to back a provision in withdrawal arrangements to allow the transition period after departure, to be extended beyond the 21 months currently set, “if necessary”. Mr Benn highlighted that the extension would likely be needed because with just seven months left to reach an agreement, a host of highly complex issues remain. He said: “While the committee welcomes the progress that has been made in some areas, the Government faces a huge task when the phase two talks actually begin.

“The Government must now come forward with credible, detailed proposals as to how it can operate a ‘frictionless border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because at the moment, the committee is not persuaded that this can be done at the same time as the UK is leaving the single market and the customs union.”

Read more …

“There was a time when everyone in the bubble spoke French..”

French Language Eyes ‘Le Comeback’ After Brexit (AFP)

Once upon a time speaking French was easy in Brussels, but things have changed. Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, felt that keenly during a recent panel event with European steel-makers after several hours of speaking English with EU counterparts. “Maybe one in French if possible, otherwise I will run the risk of being criticised,” Le Maire, who speaks perfect English, said as he scanned the audience for questions. But raised hands quickly dropped away, leaving just one from a journalist, who asked the question in English anyway. Such is the fate of the speaker of French in today’s EU bubble, that small world of European decision-making where the language of Catherine Deneuve and Moliere was once essential.

Even after the shock vote of Brexit, English – or at least that simplified, beat-up version known as Globish – is firmly rooted as the lingua franca of the Brussels elite. “In the last 20 years, English has become completely dominant. French is not going to replace English in any way,” said Nicolas Veyron, one of the most respected economists in Brussels, who spends most of his day speaking English although he is French. That reality stings for French-speaking veterans of the Brussels bubble who remember a time when the top echelon of Europe was a coterie of francophones.

“The retreat of French has been catastrophic,” said Jean Quatremer, the longtime EU correspondent for French daily Liberation who has championed holding the line against the advance of English. “There was a time when everyone in the bubble – commissioners, officials, spokespeople, even (Brexit-backing British foreign minister) Boris Johnson, who was a journalist here – spoke French,” said AFP’s Christian Spillman, who first came to Brussels as a corespondent in 1991.

Read more …

Whenever Europe talks about peace, remember this.

Arms Deals Between Turkey And Germany Are Like A Well-Oiled Machine (Region)

Even after Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria’s Afrin, the German government has approved the supply of millions of euros in armaments to its partner, Turkey. The situation is revealed by a response from the Ministry of Economic Affairs to a request by the Green MP Omid Nouripour. In the first five and a half weeks of Turkey’s so-called “Operation Olive Branch” against the Kurdish militia YPG, and unfortunately civilians, in Afrin, 20 export authorisations for German armaments worth 4.4 million euros were granted. This is even more than the average value of the previous year for the same period (14 permits worth 3.6 million euros). Despite the strong opposition of German public opinion and media, arms sales to Turkey aren’t disrupted.

The type of armaments is unclear. In addition to weapons such as rifles, tanks or missiles, for example, unarmed military vehicles or reconnaissance armaments are possibly on the list. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD), who resigned on Wednesday, had repeatedly assured in February, since the beginning of the Syrian offensive, that there is a complete export ban for all armaments to Turkey. “We did not deliver any armaments because of the conflict in northern Syria. That is forbidden in Germany, even to supply military armaments to a NATO partner like Turkey, “he said to the media on 16 February, the day of release of the journalist Deniz Yucel. Gabriel added, “Before this conflict, we would have been willing to deliver armaments that are not weapons. But that too has been stopped because of the conflict in Syria. And we can not and do not want to change that. ”

State Secretary Matthias Machnig (SPD), however, now writes in his reply to the request that the Federal Government has issued export licenses “in individual cases” even after the beginning of Turkey’s offensive. “These are either in connection with international arms cooperation, in which Germany is bound by contractual obligations to other EU and NATO partners, or they serve the NATO Alliance defence.” “The Federal Government has lied publicly and systematically to the public,” Nouripour told the media. “Permits, given despite the disproportionate assaults of the Turkish forces in northern Syria, cause heavy damage on the credibility of the new federal government and unmask their commitment to a restrictive arms export policy as empty promises.”

Read more …

Mere numbers.

At Least 15 Refugees Die As Boat Sinks Near Greek Island In Aegean Sea (R.)

Fifteen people, including at least five children, drowned on Saturday when the small boat they were travelling on capsized in the Aegean Sea, Greek coast guard officials said. The incident occurred off Greece’s Agathonisi island, which is close to the Turkish coast. The identity and nationality of the victims was not immediately known. “At least four more [migrants] were unaccounted [for],” a coast guard official told Reuters. Three others were rescued. Saturday’s incident was thought to be the highest death toll of migrants trying to reach outlying Greek islands in months.

Greek authorities said they believed there were 22 people on the boat. Greek coast guard vessels assisted by two helicopters were searching for more survivors. “We can’t tolerate losing children in the Aegean Sea … the solution is to protect people, to implement safe procedures and safe routes for migrants and refugees, to hit the human trafficking circuits,” Greek migration minister Dimitris Vitsas said in a press release.

Read more …

Because man is smarter than nature.

Billion-Dollar Polar Bio-Engineering ‘Needed To Slow Melting Glaciers’ (G.)

Scientists have outlined plans to build a series of mammoth engineering projects in Greenland and Antarctica to help slow down the disintegration of the planet’s main glaciers. The controversial proposals include underwater walls, artificial islands and huge pumping stations that would channel cold water into the bases of glaciers to stop them from melting and sliding into the sea. The researchers say the work – costing tens of billions of dollars a time – is urgently needed to prevent polar glaciers melting and raising sea levels. That would lead to major inundations of low-lying, densely populated areas, such as parts of Bangladesh, Japan and the Netherlands.

Flooding in these areas is likely to cost tens of trillions of dollars a year if global warming continues at its present rate, and vast sea-wall defences will need to be built to limit the devastation. Such costs make glacier engineering in polar regions a competitive alternative, according to the team, which is led by John Moore, professor of climate change at the University of Lapland. “We think that geoengineering of glaciers could delay much of Greenland and Antarctica’s grounded ice from reaching the sea for centuries, buying time to address global warming,” the scientists write in the current issue of Nature. “Geoengineering of glaciers has received little attention in journals. Most people assume that it is unfeasible and environmentally undesirable. We disagree.”

Ideas put forward by the group specifically target the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctic because these will contribute more to sea rise this century than any other source, they say. Their proposals include: • Building a 100-metre high wall on the seabed across a 5km wide fjord at the end of the Jakobshavn glacier in western Greenland. This would reduce influxes of warming sea water which are eroding the glacier’s base; • Constructing artificial islands in front of glaciers in Antarctica in order to buttress them and limit their collapse as their ice melts due to global warming; • Circulating cooled brine underneath glaciers such as the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica – in order to prevent their bases from melting and sliding towards the sea.

In each case, the team – which includes scientists in Finland and the US – acknowledges that costs would be in the billions. Construction is also likely to cause considerable disruption. For example, building a dam across the Jakobshavn fjord could affect ecology, fisheries and tourism, and large numbers of workers would have to be shipped in to complete the project. Similarly, building artificial islands in front of glaciers would mean importing about six cubic kilometres of material, a task that would be immensely difficult in stormy Antarctic waters. And drilling through ice that is kilometres thick to pump down cooled water would also stretch the capabilities of engineers.

Read more …

Feb 132018
 
 February 13, 2018  Posted by at 3:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frank Larson Chrysler reflection, 42nd Street near 5th Ave, New York 1950s

 

Update: Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned at 5pm local time, before the parliamentary debate could take place. But that still leaves Rutte in place with his own version of “when it gets serious, you have to lie”.

 

 

There will be a parliamentary debate in Holland (the Netherlands) today about abject lies about Russia and Vladimir Putin that its Foreign Minister, Halbe Zijlstra, has been telling the country for a few years now. Zijlstra is supposed to fly to Russia tomorrow to meet with his Russian peer, Sergey Lavrov. One would suppose Zijlstra will be fired later today, if only to prevent such a meeting from taking place, but that is by no means a given.

Here’s what happened: in 2006, there was a ‘conference’ in Putin’s dacha outside of Moscow. Zijlstra worked for Shell at the time at a lower level. Later, he has pretended he way present at a meeting with Putin in which the latter supposedly talked about his dreams for a ‘Greater Russia’.

Now, Zijlstra has revealed he was not at that meeting. He claimed ‘a source’ was there and told him about it, and he had wanted to protect the source and therefore pretended he himself was present. That source, then-Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, not only never asked for any such protection, he also sent an email to paper De Volkskrant saying that Zijlstra had ‘misinterpreted’ the story Van der Veer had told him (a diplomatic word for he lied).

Putin never talked about ambitions for a Greater Russia, and never said Kazachstan was ‘nice to have’. Zijlstra made that all up. There had been mention of Greater Russia, but in a nostalgic, historical manner. And now Van der Veer, undoubtedly much to his chagrin, gets dragged into this entire false tale.

Because the entire Dutch government, longtime Prime Minister Mark Rutte first and most of all, has said Zijlstra’s lies were somehow acceptable because the ‘inhoud’ (tenor, content, narrative) of his story was true. That is to say, Rutte claims that Putin does indeed dream of land-grabbing, of invading Ukraine, the Baltic States etc.

 

It doesn’t matter if you have no proof of something (see the painfully botched MH17 investigation), and neither does it matter if you just make the whole thing up. The only thing that matters in Holland is that you stick to the narrative. Which, there is no other way to look at it, is fully unproven and entirely made up.

This makes the government of Holland (a NATO member), and certainly Rutte, a danger to world peace. Therefore, Rutte has to go along with Zijlstra. Because he not only condones the latter’s lies and fantasies, maintained in his days as Foreign Minister, Rutte himself also makes claim after claim based on no proof at all. Or at least nothing he has ever revealed.

Holland should never have chaired the MH17 investigation, because it was its main victim (2/3 of the near 300 who died in the plane crash had Dutch passports). In the 3,5 years since the tragedy, not an ounce of evidence has ever been published by the investigators that proves Russia was the culprit. But claims to that end have been freely made over the entire period.

Fro his Putin-bashing, then-Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans got himself a cushy job as second to EU head Jean-Claude Juncker (and yes, Juncker’s “when it gets serious, you have to lie” comes to mind in the Zijlstra thing). Timmermans, like then-US Secretary of State Joe Biden, wasted no time in fingering Russia as the perpetrator. They both made this claim within minutes. Again, without any proof.

 

None of this is a specific Dutch issue. The western world, led by the US, has created an atmosphere and a narrative in which it’s deemed acceptable to lie about Russia, about Vladimir Putin, about Russian hackers, and about connections Americans and western Europeans who don’t abide by the narrative, have to Russia and everything connected with it.

And well, they are right in one sense: there is a pattern here. The Russiagate investigations in the US into ties of Trump associates with Russians, like the Dutch investigation into MH17, continue ad infinitum without producing a sliver of proof.

Various and multiple claims pertaining to alleged Russian actions in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria etc. have come up hollow. Indeed, what actions Russia has undertaken are largely in response to American and EU ‘provocation’.

And yes, all this plays out against the backdrop of the military-industrial complex that hides behind the identity of NATO, an organization without a reason to exist even since the Berlin wall came down (the wall has now been gone longer than it ever existed). NATO is a convenient entity for the entirety of the western arms industry, and the neocons that still hold sway in various of its member-nations, to publicize its fear-mongering anti-Russia messages from.

Those messages keep being duly publicized by mainstream media. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement today in which it said “bilateral relations with Holland are being overshadowed by an unparalleled anti-Russia campaign in Dutch media.”

“Holland accuses Russia of spreading disinformation (fake news). People in the Dutch government keep on making such unfunded claims.” Dutch media readily and uncritically disperse the idea that Russian authorities are obsessed with the creation of a Great Russia. How is that not an example of fake news?”

 

Holland would be crazy to let Zijlstra go to Moscow tomorrow to talk to Lavrov. But, given what has already been said, one can only conclude that the country is indeed crazy. Or at the very least its government is. Still, even if parliament today decides that Zijlstra must leave his post, chances that they’ll send Rutte packing as well are zero.

Even though as prime minster he’s publicly stated that his Foreign Minister telling outright lies about another country is no problem as long as he stays with the narrative that said country is a threat, a narrative for which apparently no evidence must ever be presented.

At the next EU meeting Rutte is more likely to be hailed for his stance, because the narrative is that of the entire EU, of Brussels, Berlin and Paris. And NATO.

Will this episode wake up the Dutch people? Fat chance. They will focus on Zijlstra, and probably clamor for him to leave, and then go about their daily job of feeding their readers and watchers their, as Moscow puts it, “unparralleled anti-Russia campaign.”

People like Rutte and Merkel do a very good job of showing us that Europeans have more to fear from their own governments than they do of Putin. But nobody is listening. Because their media have become as much of an echo chamber as the US MSM.

Still, make no mistake: what Rutte tells his people is that he cannot be trusted. That there are things more important than the truth: the narrative. This means they will never again be able to trust him to tell them the truth. He just said so himself.