Apr 042018
 


Martin Luther King

 

US Home Prices Go Through The Roof, Defying Forecast Of Tax-Law Hit (MW)
US Plans Tariffs On $50bn In Chinese Imports To Protest Alleged Tech Theft (G.)
China Hits Soybeans, Aircraft in Counter-Punch to Trump Tariffs (BBG)
China’s Financial Opening Isn’t Quite What It Seems (BBG)
UK Experts Unable To Verify Precise Source Of Novichok (G.)
Russia Says Spy Poisoning ‘Grotesque Provocation’ By UK, US (AFP)
Chemical Watchdog To Meet Over Spy Nerve Agent Claims (AFP)
It’s The Trump Slump – But Don’t Blame The Donald! (Stockman)
Facebook CEO Stops Short Of Extending European Privacy Globally (R.)
Developing Nations To Study Ways To Dim Sunshine, Slow Warming (R.)
Bowhead Whales Are The Coolest Cats (AFP)

 

 

No bubble, 2018 version.

US Home Prices Go Through The Roof, Defying Forecast Of Tax-Law Hit (MW)

Home prices picked up steam in the first few months of the year, according to a report out Tuesday, defying expectations of a slowdown in price growth after years of scorching-hot gains and the industry-damaging effects of a tax bill that reduced preferential treatment for homeowners. The Home Price Index from real estate data provider CoreLogic showed national yearly price growth of 6.7% in February. That’s up from a 6.1% annual price gain in the prior three months, 6.0% annual price gain in the four months before that and 5.9% growth the month before that… you get the idea. Prices aren’t just rising, they’re accelerating. And that stirs uncomfortable questions about how long such gains can go on, what could happen when they end and what it all means for the housing market.

(It’s worth noting that CoreLogic’s findings are corroborated by price data from the National Association of Realtors, which found year-over-year price changes had increased every month since last October.) After so many years of robust home-price growth, CoreLogic considers nearly half of the 50 largest metropolitan areas “overvalued,” it said in a release. “Family income is rising more slowly than home prices and mortgage rates, meaning that the mortgage payment takes a bigger bite out of income for new homebuyers,” said Frank Martell, CoreLogic’s president and CEO. “Often buyers are lulled into thinking these high-priced markets will continue, but we find that overvalued markets will tend to have a slowdown in price growth.”

[..] Some housing analysts think that surging price gains that exceed what normal macro fundamentals call for suggest that the housing market is more dysfunctional than might be apparent. As one industry veteran told MarketWatch last December, everything from homeowners reluctant to sell because they think they’ll never find such a low mortgage rate again, to institutional investors who buy entry-level homes to rent out could be pressuring prices upward in ways that analysts can’t quantify — and that leave buyers frustrated.

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Intellectual property.

US Plans Tariffs On $50bn In Chinese Imports To Protest Alleged Tech Theft (G.)

The Trump administration has raised the stakes in a growing trade showdown with China by placing 25% tariffs on some 1,300 industrial technology, transport and medical products to try to force changes in Beijing’s intellectual property practices. The US announcement targets about $50bn of estimated 2018 imports and is aimed at hampering China’s efforts to upgrade its manufacturing base. The goods include electronics, aircraft parts, medicine and machinery. The move comes a day after Beijing imposed duties on about $3bn in US exports, itself prompted by Donald Trump’s decision to place tariffs on imports of Chinese steel and aluminium.

“The proposed list of products is based on extensive interagency economic analysis and would target products that benefit from China’s industrial plans while minimizing the impact on the US economy,” the office of the US trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, said in a statement. The list identifies roughly 1,300 goods but remains subject to a 30-day public review process before it can take effect. China’s ministry of commerce condemned the US decision. “Disregarding strong representations by China, the United States announced the tariff proposals that are completely unfounded, a typical unilateralist and protectionist practice that China strongly condemns and firmly opposes,” the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, according to Xinhua.

“We have the confidence and ability to respond to any US trade protectionist measures,” a spokesperson said. “As the Chinese saying goes, it is only polite to reciprocate.” The ministry did not reveal any specific countermeasures, but economists widely view imports of US soybeans, aircraft and machinery as prime targets for trade retaliation.

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Intellectual property and soybeans. An odd couple.

China Hits Soybeans, Aircraft in Counter-Punch to Trump Tariffs (BBG)

China said it would levy an additional 25 percent tariff on imports of 106 U.S. products including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircraft, in response to proposed American duties on its high-tech goods. Matching the scale of proposed U.S. tariffs announced the previous day, the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing said the charges will apply to around $50 billion of U.S. imports. Officials signaled that the implementation of the proposed measures will depend on when the U.S. applies its own after a period of public consultation.

The step ratchets up tension in a brewing trade war between the world’s two largest trading nations, with the Trump administration’s latest offensive based on alleged infringements of intellectual property in China. In targeting high-tech sectors that Beijing is openly trying to promote, the U.S. has provoked furious rhetoric from Beijing and stronger threats of retaliation than many had anticipated. “China’s response was tougher than what the market was expecting – investors didn’t foresee the country levying additional tariffs on sensitive and important products such as soybeans and airplanes,” said Gao Qi, Singapore-based strategist at Scotiabank. “Investors believe a trade war will hurt both countries and their economies eventually.”

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Too big to fail/bail.

China’s Financial Opening Isn’t Quite What It Seems (BBG)

Although trade tensions between the U.S. and China show no signs of abating, there are some reasons for cautious optimism. One is that the Americans have finally gotten around to giving the Chinese a concrete list of demands – and, on at least one score, China is prepared to deal. The Chinese financial market has long been closed to foreign ownership, despite widespread criticism from the U.S. and others. In November, following Donald Trump’s state visit to Beijing, China’s finance ministry announced that this was set to change in 2018, and now the Trump team is pushing China to make good on that promise. The catch, of course, is that the practical impact of this opening will be minimal – and for China, that’s the point.

It will accelerate its financial opening not because the Americans are demanding it, but because foreign financial firms no longer pose much of a threat. Chinese banks are now too big and too dominant domestically for foreign financial institutions to genuinely compete with them. Consider that the four largest banks in the world are all Chinese state-owned institutions. Together they have $11.9 trillion in assets. The world’s next five biggest banks roughly match up to China’s Big Four, accounting for $11.8 trillion, but they represent the largest institutions in four separate countries – Japan, the U.S., the U.K. and France. No single country has financial firepower on China’s scale.

Just taking America’s banking sector – where the concept of “too big to fail” originated – it would require the combined balance sheets of the top 10 lenders to equal the assets of just China’s top four. Within China, foreign firms own slightly more than 1 percent of total bank assets, compared to a full 36 percent owned by the five major state-owned institutions. Similarly, foreign banks account for less than 1 percent of annual earnings, or the equivalent of about 5 percent of the yearly profit made by just the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China. Starting from such a minuscule base, and up against such huge incumbents, foreign banks will always be relegated to the minor leagues in China, whether market restrictions are eased or not.

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The word ‘precise’ is meaningless here, and merely used to keep suspicion alive even as the story fails.

UK Experts Unable To Verify Precise Source Of Novichok (G.)

British scientists at the Porton Down defence research laboratory have not established that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal was made in Russia, it has emerged. Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), said the poison had been identified as a military-grade novichok nerve agent, which could probably be deployed only by a nation state. Aitkenhead said the government had reached its conclusion that Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack by combining the laboratory’s scientific findings with information from other sources.

The UK government moved quickly to make it clear that the prime minister, Theresa May, had always been clear the assessment from Porton Down was “only one part of the intelligence picture”. The comments came hours before an extraordinary meeting in The Hague of the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), called by Russia. Speaking to Sky News, Aitkenhead said it was not possible for scientists alone to say precisely where the novichok had been created. He said: “It’s a military-grade nerve agent, which requires extremely sophisticated methods in order to create – something that’s probably only within the capabilities of a state actor.”

He denied Russian claims that the substance could have come from Porton Down, which is eight miles from Salisbury, saying: “There’s no way that anything like that would ever have come from us or leave the four walls of our facilities.” Aitkenhead said: “We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify it was a military-grade nerve agent. We have not verified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific information to the government, who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions that they have come to.”

[..] two weeks ago Boris Johnson was asked by an interviewer on Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster, how the UK had been able to find out the novichok originated from Russia so quickly. He replied: “When I look at the evidence, the people from Porton Down, the laboratory, they were absolutely categorical. I asked the guy myself, I said: ‘Are you sure?’ And he said: ‘There’s no doubt.’ So we have very little alternative but to take the action that we have taken.”

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The British should demand an explanation from May. Can Boris Johnson keep his job?

Russia Says Spy Poisoning ‘Grotesque Provocation’ By UK, US (AFP)

The head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency said Wednesday the poisoning of a Russian former double agent in Britain was a “grotesque provocation” by the British and US security services. “Even when it comes to the grotesque provocation with the Skripals that was crudely concocted by the British and American security services, a number of European countries are in no rush to unquestioningly follow London and Washington but prefer to look into what has happened in detail,” SVR chief Sergei Naryshkin said at a security conference. He also warned that Moscow and the West must avoid the risk of escalating their current standoff to the dangerous levels reached at the height of the Cold War.

“It’s important to stop the irresponsible game of raising stakes and to stop the use of force in relations between states, not to bring matters to a new Cuban Missile Crisis,” he said, referring to the 1962 standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Naryshkin said that for Washington, “fighting the non-existent so-called Russian threat has become a real fixation” comparable in scale to the Cold War era. “It has reached such proportions and developed such ludicrous characteristics, that it’s time to talk about the return of the grim times of the Cold War,” Naryshkin said.

[..] Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a visit to Ankara late Tuesday that Britain’s “theory will not be confirmed in any case because it is not possible to confirm it.” “The British foreign secretary who has made accusations against President Putin, (and) the British prime minister will have to somehow look their EU colleagues… in the eye,” Peskov said. “Somehow they will have to apologise to the Russian side,” Peskov added. “It will certainly be a long story, the idiocy has gone too far.”

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“The meeting comes after Moscow also received and analysed samples of the Novichok agent used in the attack.”

Chemical Watchdog To Meet Over Spy Nerve Agent Claims (AFP)

The world’s chemical watchdog is to meet behind closed doors Wednesday, after a British laboratory said it had not proved that Russia manufactured a deadly nerve agent used to poison a former Russian spy. The talks at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have been requested by Moscow which said it wanted to “address the situation around the allegations… in regards to the incident in Salisbury.” “We hope to discuss the whole matter and call on Britain to provide every possible element of evidence they might have in their hands,” Russia’s ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, told reporters.

On Tuesday, the British military facility analysing the nerve agent used on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, said it was not in a position to say where the substance had originated. Skripal, who has lived in Britain since a spy swap in 2010, and his daughter have been in hospital since the March 4 poisoning that London and its major Western allies have blamed on Russia. The 41 member states of the OPCW’s executive council are to convene at 10:00 am (0800 GMT) at the organisation’s headquarters in The Hague. The meeting comes after Moscow also received and analysed samples of the Novichok agent used in the attack. “Russia is interested in establishing the whole truth of the matter,” Filatov said.

But Britain’s foreign ministry accused Russia of requesting the meeting to undermine the OPCW’s investigation. “This Russian initiative is yet again another diversionary tactic, intended to undermine the work of the OPCW in reaching a conclusion,” the ministry said in a statement. “Of course, there is no requirement in the Chemical Weapons Convention for the victim of a chemical weapons attack to engage in a joint investigation with the likely perpetrator,” it said.

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“..a distinction without a difference..”

It’s The Trump Slump – But Don’t Blame The Donald! (Stockman)

[..] the Donald is definitely not guilty because he hasn’t been around nearly long enough to take the blame or the praise for anything related to the economy. The phony stock market boom has been gestating for three decades owing to central bank monetary madness; the up-leg since election day reflects nothing more than the final phase of an horribly metastasized financial bubble that has now reached its sell-by date. In fact, our clueless medicine show impresario has confused the last gasp of the robo-machines and dip-buyers for an endorsement of his cockamamie brew of protectionism, nationalism, populism and unhinged Keynesian borrow and spend.

So rather than puncturing the bubble he accurately identified during the campaign, he’ll soon be dripping with implosion splatter from comb-over to toe. Likewise, the market’s post-election rip has nothing to do with a putative Trump economic boom because there hasn’t been one. A 2.0% or lower real GDP growth rate is now virtually baked into the cake for Q1 based on the economic releases to date. That would amount to a $75 billion gain over the Q4 annualized level of real GDP. Accordingly, the first five quarters of the Trump Economy will have generated an average real GDP gain of $102 billion per quarter. Then again, during the previous three years (2014-2016) the quarterly growth rate was $99 billion per quarter.

We’d call that a distinction without a difference. Indeed, the notion that there has been some-kind of Trump fostered economic acceleration is, well, Fake News. In fact, what we have is a plodding business expansion that is freighted down by debt and financial engineering—both gifts of a rogue central bank that has been inflicting harm on the main street economy for decades.

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Your privacy is not up to him to decide. That is just crazy.

Facebook CEO Stops Short Of Extending European Privacy Globally (R.)

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Tuesday that he agreed “in spirit” with a strict new European Union law on data privacy but stopped short of committing to it as the standard for the social network across the world. As Facebook reels from a scandal over the mishandling of personal information belonging to millions of users, the company is facing demands to improve privacy and learn lessons from the landmark EU law scheduled to take effect next month. Zuckerberg told Reuters in a phone interview that Facebook was working on a version of the law that would work globally, bringing some European privacy guarantees worldwide, but the 33-year-old billionaire demurred when asked what parts of the law he would not extend worldwide.

“We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,” Zuckerberg said. He did not elaborate. His comments signal that U.S. Facebook users, many of them still angry over the company’s admission that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica got hold of Facebook data on 50 million members, could find themselves in a worse position than Europeans. The European law, called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is the biggest overhaul of online privacy since the birth of the internet, giving Europeans the right to know what data is stored on them and the right to have it deleted. Apple and some other tech firms have said they do plan to give people in the United States and elsewhere the same protections and rights that Europeans will gain.

[..] When GDPR takes effect on May 25, people in EU countries will gain the right to transfer their data to other social networks, for example. Facebook and its competitors will also need to be much more specific about how they plan to use people’s data, and they will need to get explicit consent. GDPR is likely to hurt profit at Facebook because it could reduce the value of ads if the company cannot use personal information as freely and the added expense of hiring lawyers to ensure compliance with the new law. Data is central to Facebook’s advertising business, and it has not yet sketched out a satisfying plan for how it plans to comply, said Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser. “I haven’t heard any solutions from Facebook to get ahead of the problem yet,” Wieser said. Failure to comply with the law carries a maximum penalty of up to 4% of annual revenue.

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I would have understood this better if it had been published on April 1. Now I’m thinking: some idiot is actually going to do this.

Developing Nations To Study Ways To Dim Sunshine, Slow Warming (R.)

Scientists in developing nations plan to step up research into dimming sunshine to curb climate change, hoping to judge if a man-made chemical sunshade would be less risky than a harmful rise in global temperatures. Research into “solar geo-engineering”, which would mimic big volcanic eruptions that can cool the Earth by masking the sun with a veil of ash, is now dominated by rich nations and universities such as Harvard and Oxford. Twelve scholars, from countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Jamaica and Thailand, wrote in the journal Nature on Wednesday that the poor were most vulnerable to global warming and should be more involved.

“Developing countries must lead on solar geo-engineering research,” they wrote in a commentary. “The overall idea (of solar geo-engineering) is pretty crazy but it is gradually taking root in the world of research,” lead author Atiq Rahman, head of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, told Reuters by telephone. The solar geo-engineering studies would be helped by a new$400,000 fund from the Open Philanthropy Project, a foundation backed by Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook, and his wife, Cari Tuna, they wrote.

[..] Rahman said the academics were not taking sides about whether geo-engineering would work. Among proposed ideas, planes might spray clouds of reflective sulfur particles high in the Earth’s atmosphere. “The technique is controversial, and rightly so. It is too early to know what its effects would be: it could be very helpful or very harmful,” they wrote. A U.N. panel of climate experts, in a leaked draft of a report about global warming due for publication in October, is skeptical about solar geo-engineering, saying it may be “economically, socially and institutionally infeasible.”

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Article says “..hunted to the edge of extinction..”. Graph says healthy population. Source for both is AFP.

Bowhead Whales Are The Coolest Cats (AFP)

How do bowhead whales in the unbroken darkness of the Arctic’s polar winter keep busy during breeding season? They sing, of course. From late autumn to early spring, off the east coast of Greenland, some 200 bowheads, hunted to the edge of extinction, serenade each other with compositions from a vast repertoire of song, according to a study published on Wednesday. “It was astonishing,” said the lead author, Kate Stafford, an oceanographer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Seattle, who eavesdropped on these subaquatic concerts. “Bowhead whales were singing loudly, from November until April” – non-stop, 24/7 – “and they were singing many, many different songs.”

Stafford and three colleagues counted 184 distinct melodies over a three-year period, which may make bowheads one of the most prolific composers in the animal kingdom. “The diversity and inter-annual variability in songs of bowhead whales in this study are rivalled only by a few species of songbirds,” the study found. Unlike mating calls, songs are complex musical phrases that are not genetically hard-wired but must be learned. Only a handful of mammals – some bats and a family of apes called gibbons, for example – vocalise in ways akin to bird song, and when they do it is quite repetitive.

The only other whale that produces elaborate songs is the humpback, which has been extensively studied in its breeding grounds near Hawaii and off the coast of Mexico. The humpback’s melody is shared among a given population over a period of a year, and gives way to a new tune each spring. Bowhead whales, it turns out, are far more versatile and would appear to improvise new songs all the time. “If humpback whale song is like classical music, bowheads are jazz,” Stafford said in a statement. “The sound is more free-form.”

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Mar 302018
 
 March 30, 2018  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Nocturne in Blue and Silver, The Lagoon, Venice 1880

 

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn (David Stockman)
Russia To Expel 150 Diplomats And Close US Consulate In St Petersburg (Ind.)
Yulia Skripal No Longer In Critical Condition (G.)
UK Household Spending Hit Six-Year Low In 2017 Amid Brexit Inflation (PA)
Bitcoin Drops Below $7,000, Down 50% in 2018 (BBG)
Tesla Recalls 123,000 Early Model S Cars (BBG)
Volkswagen Stores 300,000 Diesels Across US (R.)
Trump Says US Withdrawing From Syria ‘Very Soon’ (AFP)
Sessions Rejects Calls for Second Special Counsel, Appoints Investigator (BBG)

 

 

“Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state..” Are we seeing the Big Tech Backlash of 2018?

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn (David Stockman)

It is said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, and so it goes with the Donald. Banging on his Twitter keyboard in the morning darkness, he drilled Jeff Bezos a new one – or at least that’s what most people would call having their net worth lightened by about $2 billion: “I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” You can’t get more accurate than that. Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state, but Amazon’s outrageous postal subsidy – a $1.46 gift card from the USPS stabled on each box – isn’t the half of it.

The real crime here is that Amazon has been exempted from making a profit, and the culprit is the Federal Reserve’s malignant regime of Bubble Finance. The latter has destroyed financial discipline entirely and turned the stock market into the greatest den of speculation in human history. That’s why Bezos can kill established businesses with impunity. The casino allows him to run a pernicious business model based on “price to destroy”, rather than price for profit and a return on capital. Needless to say, under a regime of sound money and honest capital markets Amazon would be a far more benign economic creature. That’s because no real investors would value AMZN’s money-loosing e-Commerce business at $540 billion – nor even a small fraction of that after 25-years of profitless growth.

[..] At the end of the mini-correction in February 2016 Amazon’s market cap was $230 billion, but just 25 months later it was worth $775 billion at its March 12 peak. That staggering $545 billion gain in market cap had absolutely nothing to do with financial performance, of course. Operating free cash flow was a meager $6.4 billion during 2017 and had been $6.6 billion two years earlier. That is to say, AMZN was valued at a frisky 35X free cash flow in early 2016 and a completely insane 121X a few weeks ago. The fact that Bezos’ net worth exploded by $100 billion during that same 25 month interval perhaps explains why even the Donald found his acorn.

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By all means, let’s stop talking.

Russia To Expel 150 Diplomats And Close US Consulate In St Petersburg (Ind.)

Russia has said it will expel around 150 diplomats and close the US consulate in St Petersburg in retaliation to the coordinated international response over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. More than two dozen countries, including the US and many EU nations – as well as Nato – have ordered more than 150 Russian diplomats out this week in a show of solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury earlier this month. The UK has accused Russia of responsibility for the attack, during which it claims the Skripals were exposed to a class of nerve agent called novichok. Russia has denied being involved and its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov made clear that all expulsions will be responded to in kind.

Mr Lavrov said that US Ambassador Jon Huntsman was summoned to the Foreign Ministry where he was given notice that Russia is replicating the US decision to order 60 Russian diplomats out. Mr Lavrov added that Moscow will also retaliate to the decision by Washington to shut the Russian consulate in Seattle by closing the US consulate in St Petersburg. The tit-for-tat expulsions come as no surprise. But the shuttering of the American consulate in Russia’s second city is an escalation. The Seattle consulate is Russia’s smallest diplomatic outpost in the US. Fifty-eight of the US officials are based in Moscow, with another two general consulate officials in the eastern city of Yekateringburg. They have been declared persona non grata and have been told to leave Russia by 5 April.

The US Consulate in St Petersburg has two days to suspend operations, according to Russian media. During the briefing Mr Lavrov accused Britain of “forcing everyone to follow an anti-Russian course” and that they were “making mockery of international law”. Russia has called for a meeting with the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ask questions to “establish the truth”, he said. “The measures would be reciprocal … They include expulsion of the equivalent number of diplomats and they include our decision to withdraw our agreement to allow the United States’ general consulate to operate in St Petersburg,” Mr Lavrov said.

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How does one recover from being infected with one of the most lethal nerve agents ever?

The photo, dated 3 days after the ‘attack’, shows a policeman standing by the front door to the Skripal home, the very door through which father and daughter were allegedly poisoned. He wears no protection.

Yulia Skripal No Longer In Critical Condition (G.)

The condition of Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned with a nerve agent in Salisbury along with her father, is improving rapidly, doctors have said. Salisbury NHS foundation trust said on Thursday the 33-year-old was no longer in a critical condition, describing her medical state as stable. Christine Blanshard, the medical director for Salisbury district hospital, said: “I’m pleased to be able to report an improvement in the condition of Yulia Skripal. She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day. “I want to take this opportunity to once again thank the staff of Salisbury district hospital for delivering such high-quality care to these patients over the last few weeks. I am very proud both of our frontline staff and all those who support them.”

Her father’s condition was described by the hospital as still critical but stable. Sergei Skripal, 66, a former Russian double agent, is believed to have been the main target of the attack. The update came as Russia said it was taking tit-for-tat measures against all the nations that have expelled Russian diplomats over attack. In a separate development, Scotland Yard said police had placed a cordon around a children’s play area near Sergei Skripal’s home as a precautionary measure. “Officers investigating the attempted murders of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal are continuing to focus their enquiries around the Skripals’ home address,” a police statement revealed.

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Both spending and saving are hit.

UK Household Spending Hit Six-Year Low In 2017 Amid Brexit Inflation (PA)

Household spending slowed to its lowest annual growth for six years in 2017 amid Brexit-fuelled inflation, with borrowing surging and family savings slumping to a record low. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed economic growth slowed to 0.4% in the final three months of last year, down from 0.5% in the third quarter as weaker household spending took its toll. The ONS revised upgrowth for the year as a whole to 1.8% from the previous estimate of 1.7%, but this was still the lowest since 2012. It leaves the UK with the lowest growth among the G7 economies at the end of 2017 as it enters the final year of its membership of the European Union.

The quarterly national accounts data showed Britons turned to debt to support spending in the face of last year’s surging inflation, which outstripped paltry wage growth. The proportion of total income saved by households dropped to 4.9% in 2017, its lowest level since records began in 1963, the ONS said. Overall household spending fell last year to 1.7%, which was the lowest annual growth since 2011, according to the ONS. But there was some cheer in Thursday’s latest official data dump as figures revealed the UK’s current account deficit with the rest of the world narrowed to £82.9bn or 4.1% of GDP in 2017 – the smallest gap since 2011. This came as a growing world economy boosted the earnings on foreign investments.

In the fourth quarter, the current account deficit shrank by more than expected to £18.4bn, or 3.6% of GDP, down from £19.2bn in the previous three months. Net trade – exports less imports – made its largest contribution to full-year growth since 2011, the ONS reported.

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Shaky?!

Bitcoin Drops Below $7,000, Down 50% in 2018 (BBG)

Bitcoin’s miserable quarter isn’t over yet. The world’s biggest cryptocurrency by market value dropped below the $7,000 mark Friday morning in Asia, the first time it’s breached that level since early February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It fell as low as $6,912 before rebounding, trading at $7,094 as of 7:50 a.m in Hong Kong. The moves took the token’s losses in 2018 to a whopping 50%, and other digital assets, including rivals Ripple and Litecoin, slumped more. In addition, regulatory pressure is mounting in the cryptocurrency space, while major social media platforms are distancing themselves from the industry. Reddit, a community hub popular in the crypto community, no longer accepts payments made in Bitcoin, while Twitter confirmed Monday that it’s banning advertisements for initial coin offerings, joining Facebook and Google.

Looming over the market are sales of Bitcoin held by the trustee of Mt Gox, the now-defunct Japanese exchange. The trustee sold about $400 million in Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash in the last few months to reimburse the exchange’s creditors, according to his recent report. The trustee had said that he will sell more of the cryptocurrency he holds. As of early March, he was sitting on more than $1 billion. “Bitcoin is under selling pressure again and chances of its recovery are looking slim,” Naeem Aslam at TF Global Markets said in a note. It has “slid significantly, since the tech giants’ ban on ICOs,” he noted. The slump this year is its biggest quarterly decline since 2011. Keep in mind that Bitcoin rallied 1,400% last year.

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“Classic two hours after the close before a three-day weekend news release. Unbelievable (almost)!”

Tesla Recalls 123,000 Early Model S Cars (BBG)

Tesla is recalling all Model S cars built before April 2016 to retrofit a power-steering component as the company caps its worst one-month performance in the stock market since December 2010. The issue, which the carmaker said has not led to any accidents or injuries, impacts only the flagship Model S sedan, not the Model X sport utility vehicle or more affordable Model 3. The recall affects roughly 123,000 vehicles globally. The carmaker said it’s performing the voluntary recall after observing “excessive corrosion in the power steering bolts, though only in very cold climates, particularly those that frequently use calcium or magnesium road salts,” according to an email sent to impacted customers Thursday.

“Nonetheless, Tesla plans to replace all early Model S power steering bolts in all climates worldwide to account for the possibility that the vehicle may later be used in a highly corrosive environment,” the electric-car maker said in the customer email. Tesla has been routed this month as analysts and investors have questioned the company’s ability to mass-manufacture its new Model 3 sedan. Bottlenecks at Tesla’s battery factory and assembly plant have undermined that effort, limiting the return on that investment and arousing concern that the company may need to raise more cash. Moody’s Investors Service also downgraded Tesla’s credit rating further into junk on Tuesday.

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Maybe they can figure something out with Musk?

Volkswagen Stores 300,000 Diesels Across US (R.)

Volkswagen has taken parking lots to a whole new level in the US – and will not be emptying them soon. Volkswagen AG has paid more than $7.4bn to buy back about 350,000 US diesel vehicles, a recent court filing shows. The German automaker has been storing hundreds of thousands of vehicles around the US for months. Volkswagen has 37 secure storage facilities around the US housing nearly 300,000 vehicles, the filing from the program’s independent administrator said. The lots include a shuttered suburban Detroit football stadium, a former Minnesota paper mill and a desert site near Victorville, California.

VW spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said in a statement the storage facility in Victorville, California, is one of many “to ensure the responsible storage of vehicles that are bought back” under the terms of the Volkswagen diesel settlements. “These vehicles are being stored on an interim basis and routinely maintained in a manner to ensure their long-term operability and quality, so that they may be returned to commerce or exported once US regulators approve appropriate emissions modifications,” she said. In total VW has agreed to spend more than $25bn in the US for claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers and offered to buy back about 500,000 polluting vehicles.

The buybacks will continue through the end of 2019. The court filing said through 31 December Volkswagen bought back 335,000 diesel vehicles, resold 13,000 and destroyed about 28,000. As of the end of last year VW was storing 294,000 vehicles around the country. VW must buy back or fix 85% of the vehicles involved by June 2019 or face higher payments for emissions.

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A populist address? What does that mean?

Trump Says US Withdrawing From Syria ‘Very Soon’ (AFP)

US President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that US forces would pull out of Syria “very soon” and lamented what he said was Washington’s waste of $7 trillion in Middle East wars. In a populist address to industrial workers in Ohio, Trump said US forces were close to securing all of the territory that the Islamic State jihadist group once claimed. “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” he promised, to applause. Trump did not say who the others were who might take care of Syria, but Russia and Iran have sizable forces in the country to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “Very soon – very soon we’re coming out. We’re going to have 100% of the caliphate, as they call it – sometimes referred to as ‘land’ – taking it all back quickly, quickly,” he said.

“But we’re going to be coming out of there real soon. Going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was later asked at a briefing if she was aware of any decision for the US to pull out of Syria. She responded, “I am not, no. No.” The United States has more than 2,000 military personnel in eastern Syria, working with local militia groups to defeat the Islamic State group while trying to keep out of Syria’s broader civil war. Trump’s eagerness to quit the conflict flies in the face of a new US Syria strategy announced in January by then secretary of state Rex Tillerson – who has since been sacked. Tillerson argued that US forces must remain engaged in Syria to prevent IS and Al-Qaeda from returning and to deny Iran a chance “to further strengthen its position in Syria.”

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This is not over.

Sessions Rejects Calls for Second Special Counsel, Appoints Investigator (BBG)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected calls from Republican lawmakers for a second special counsel to look into potential misconduct by the Justice Department and the FBI in past investigations of Hillary Clinton, saying that the issues were already under scrutiny. In a letter to three Republican committee chairmen, Sessions disclosed Thursday that he has assigned John Huber, a U.S. attorney based in Utah, to conduct an internal probe into complaints of FBI bias and wrongdoing. “I am confident that Mr. Huber’s review will include a full, complete and objective evaluation of these matters in a manner that is consistent with the law and facts,” Sessions wrote to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy.

Sessions said he would consider the recommendations Huber might make, including “whether any matters merit the appointment of a special counsel” later. Huber has been the U.S. attorney in Utah since June 2015 and was twice confirmed unanimously by the Senate. He served for almost two years as an appointee of Democratic President Barack Obama, and was appointed by Sessions to continue his work in March 2017.| Gowdy and Goodlatte, in a joint statement released Thursday night, said that “while we continue to believe the appointment of a second special counsel is necessary, this is a step in the right direction.”

[..] Sessions reminded the chairmen in his letter that the department’s inspector general also is looking into some of the same matters. The attorney general’s letter came a day after that internal watchdog, Michael Horowitz, confirmed that he’s now examining the FBI’s actions early in its investigation into Russian campaign interference, including how it obtained a warrant to monitor Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.

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Mar 292018
 
 March 29, 2018  Posted by at 1:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


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

 

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

Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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