Mar 222020
 
 March 22, 2020  Posted by at 11:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  44 Responses »


DPC Grand Central Station and Hotel Manhattan, NY 1906

 

Italy To Shut All Non-Strategic Business Activities Until April 3 (R.)
India Starts 14-Hour Curfew To Curb Virus Spread (R.)
FDA Approves New Coronavirus Test That Can Diagnose Within Hours (Solomon)
Most Cases In New York City Are Of People Under 50 (NBC)
38 Positive For Coronavirus In NYC Jails, Including Rikers (AP)
Britain ‘Two Or Three Weeks’ Behind Italy On Coronavirus: PM Johnson (R.)
NHS Could Be Overwhelmed Like Italy – Boris (R.)
Doctors Given New Guidelines On Choosing Which Patients To Treat (Ind.)
Airlines Appear To Come Up Short In Bid To Win Cash Grants In Rescue Package (R.)
Grocery Clerks Unlikely Heroes In US Coronavirus Fight (R.)
Banks Pressure Health Care Firms To Raise Prices On Drugs, Supplies (IC)
Russia Ready to Send 100 Specialists Including Virologists to Italy (Sp.)
The Coronavirus Did Not Escape From A Lab. Here’s How We Know. (LiveScience)

 

 

 

Cases 311,796 (+ 32,476 from yesterday’s 279,320)

Deaths 13, 071 (+ 1,481 from yesterday’s 11,587)

 

 

I dubbed it “Virus Time” myself, but even my brain has trouble comprehending what that truly is. It’s been less than two days since I wrote:

My prediction: The US has overtaken France, and will in the next few days pass Germany, Spain, and then Iran.

Less than 48 hours later, it’s done. This is what things looked like the day before I said that:

 

 

And here we are this morning:

 

 

 

Difference in timing of emergency declarations between San Francisco and Miami-Dade:

 

 

The virus still is a time machine. Project the next two weeks:

 

 

 

 

Here are the usual graphs. Note: I replaced the last one, COVID2019.app, with COVID2019Live.info, because the former keeps on closing off access.

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)

 

 

From Worldometer -NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 12% !! –

 

 

From SCMP: (SCMP appears to have given up on timely updating)

 

 

From COVID2019Live.info: (Replacement for COVID2019.app, which -again- had their pages closed)

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s real wartime measures. Contrast it with Germany politely asking its car manufacturers to produce medical equipment. Everyone’s waiting till the very last moment, and that’s always too late. But that’s politicians for you, and we’re not going to change that anytime soon.

Italy To Shut All Non-Strategic Business Activities Until April 3 (R.)

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday that all Italian businesses must close until April 3, with the exception of those essential to maintaining the country’s supply chain, in the latest desperate effort to halt the coronavirus epidemic. Italy recorded a jump in deaths from the virus of almost 800 on Saturday, taking the toll in the world’s hardest-hit country to almost 5,000. “It is the most difficult crisis in our post-war period,” Conte said in a video posted on Facebook, adding that “only production activities deemed vital for national production will be allowed”.


Supermarkets, pharmacies, postal and banking services will remain open, Conte said, and essential public services including transport will be ensured. “We are slowing down the country’s production engine but we are not stopping it,” he said. The government is expected to publish an emergency decree on Sunday to make the latest crackdown immediately effective.

Read more …

So let them roam free for 10 hours a day, and that should solve what exactly?

India Starts 14-Hour Curfew To Curb Virus Spread (R.)

India launched a 14-hour curfew on Sunday (March 22) to limit the fast-spreading coronavirus epidemic in the country, where 315 people have so far been found to have contracted the disease. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an address to the nation last week, urged citizens to stay indoors from 7am to 9pm local time – a move that he said would be a crucial test for a country to assess its abilities to fight the pandemic. “Let us all be a part of this curfew, which will add tremendous strength to the fight against the Covid-19 menace,” Mr Modi tweeted minutes before the curfew commenced. “The steps we take now will help in the times to come.” Health experts said India’s cases have been growing at a rate seen during the early stages of the outbreak in other countries, which subsequently reported exponential increases in infections.


Several Indian states announced measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. Four cities in Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat have declared a complete shutdown until Wednesday. The neighbouring desert state of Rajasthan ordered a shutdown until March 31, while eastern and central states suspended inter-state bus operations to prevent an exodus of daily wage earners from urban centres to villages. State leaders urged citizens not to rush to villages and avoid crowding trains and buses to prevent the virus spread. Tensions have mounted, however, with angry labourers protesting at some bus stations against sudden closures of basic transport services.

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Funny they don’t say who gets to be tested, and who doesn’t. Until we know, what’s the difference with today?

FDA Approves New Coronavirus Test That Can Diagnose Within Hours (Solomon)

The Food and Drug Administration announced approval Saturday for a new coronavirus test that can diagnose patients within hours, instead of days. The new rapid test, manufactured by California-based Cepheid, is expected to be in the market by March 30, officials said. “The test we’re authorizing today will be able to provide Americans with results within hours, rather than days like the existing tests,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “With the development of point of care diagnostics, Americans who need tests will be able to get results faster than ever before.


“More and more options for reliable, convenient testing are becoming available at an incredibly rapid pace, thanks to the hard work of our FDA team and the ingenuity of American industry.” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the approval “marks an important step in expanding the availability of testing and, importantly, rapid results.” Hahn said because the rapid test can be administered at the point of care, it “means that results are delivered to patients in the patient care settings, like hospitals, urgent care centers and emergency rooms, instead of samples being sent to a laboratory.”

Read more …

Tell the braindead on the Florida beaches that. I was thinking: let them get infected, good riddance. But they will infect others too, and besides, shouldn’t the blame rest with Florida state for leaving the beaches open, with the stores and bars for serving them, and with the parents who send their kids into the infection pools?

Most Cases In New York City Are Of People Under 50 (NBC)

Most people who have tested positive for coronavirus in New York City are younger than 50, according to figures released by the city Saturday. This does not reflect the ages of those who have died, only people confirmed to be infected with the virus. Overall, 57 percent of those who have tested positive in the city are 49 or younger. People 18 to 49 years old make up the majority, 54 percent, the city said. The next largest group are those age 50 to 64, who account for 23 percent of positive test results so far. The accounting reflects data known to the city through 5:30 p.m. Friday. On Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We are now the epicenter of this crisis” in the United States.

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About 2.5 million people are incarcerated in the US.

38 Positive For Coronavirus In NYC Jails, Including Rikers (AP)

At least 38 people have tested positive for coronavirus in New York City jails, including at the notorious Rikers Island jail complex, the board that oversees the city’s jail system said Saturday. In a letter to criminal justice leaders, Board of Correction interim chairwoman Jacqueline Sherman wrote that at least 58 other people were currently being monitored in contagious disease and quarantine units. “It is likely these people have been in hundreds of housing areas and common areas over recent weeks and have been in close contact with many other people in custody and staff,” Sherman warned, predicting a sharp rise in the number of infections.


“The best path forward to protecting the community of people housed and working in the jails is to rapidly decrease the number of people housed and working in them.” In the past six days, she wrote, the board learned that at least 12 Department of Correction employees, five Correctional Health Services employees, and 21 inmates have tested positive for the virus. The city’s jail agency and its city-run healthcare provider did not respond to messages seeking comment on the letter. On Friday, the city’s Department of Corrections said just one inmate had been diagnosed with coronavirus, along with seven jail staff members.

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Of all the failing “world leaders”, Boris is vying for the no. 1 position. This came one day after he refused to close pubs and schools.

What triggered him is this: “UK yesterday saw total deaths reach 233. Italy was at exactly that figure on March 7th. 2 weeks behind.”

Britain ‘Two Or Three Weeks’ Behind Italy On Coronavirus: PM Johnson (R.)

Britain was only “two or three” weeks behind Italy on the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. In comments carried in the Sunday Telegraph and other Sunday newspapers, Johnson said Britain’s health service could be overwhelmed. “Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread – then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed,” he said.

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Turning around on a dime with no mea culpa whatsoever should really boost people’s confidence in you.

NHS Could Be Overwhelmed Like Italy – Boris (R.)

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) could be “overwhelmed” by the coronavirus like the Italian health system in just two weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned. The death toll in Italy reached almost 5,000 on Saturday, while in the UK it hit 233. In comments carried in the Sunday Telegraph and other Sunday newspapers, Johnson again urged Britons to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus. “Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread – then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed,” he said. “The Italians have a superb health-care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand,” Johnson noted.


He advised people to keep away from elderly parents on Mothering Sunday (March 22). “The single best present that we can give … is to spare them the risk of catching a very dangerous disease,” he said. Earlier, Britain urged 1.5 million people identified by the NHS as being at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus to not leave their homes to protect themselves. On Friday, Johnson effectively closed down the United Kingdom, ordering pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms to shut their doors to fight the virus. Stores are also starting to shut.

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Also from f#*king Boris. And I kid you not: in the corner of my eye I see a BBC show called “The Big Questions”, in which people who all sit the “correct” 10 feet or so apart, discuss the urgent issue: “Should fat-shaming be against the law?”, as their health system is set to crash. And I’m thinking: those glaciers can’t melt fast enough.

Doctors Given New Guidelines On Choosing Which Patients To Treat (Ind.)

New guidelines have been published to help doctors and nurses decide how to prioritise patients during the coronavirus pandemic. The advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) was produced amid concerns that the NHS would be overwhelmed by the demand for intensive care beds and ventilators. It follows reports from the worst-hit parts of Italy where older and sicker patients had to be rejected in favour of the younger and fitter. The three new Nice guidelines, which have been drawn up within a week rather than the usual timescale of up to two years, cover patients needing critical care, kidney dialysis and cancer treatment.


They say all patients admitted to hospital should still be assessed as usual for frailty “irrespective of Covid-19 status”. Decisions about admitting patients to critical care should consider how likely they are to recover, taking into account the likelihood of recovery “to an outcome that is acceptable to them”. Doctors are advised to discuss possible “do not resuscitate” decisions with adults who are assessed as having increased frailty, such as those who need help with outside activities or are dependent for personal care. The document says critical care treatment should be stopped “when it is no longer considered able to achieve the desired overall goals”, following a discussion with family, carers, the patient or an independent advocate.

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“If there was a meteor racing towards earth right now, they would be passing a bill to give that meteor a tax credit.”
– @jimmy_dore

Airlines Appear To Come Up Short In Bid To Win Cash Grants In Rescue Package (R.)

A last-ditch effort by the chief executives of major U.S. airlines to try to win cash grants to weather the coronavirus crisis looked to be unsuccessful, four congressional aides and airline officials said late Saturday. Airlines had made a last ditch plea urging that $29 billion of $58 billion sought in assistance for airlines be in the form of cash grants. They had offered not to make any job cuts through Aug. 31 if they won the cash and to accept restrictions on executive pay and to forgo paying dividends or stock buybacks. The CEOs of 10 U.S. passenger and cargo carriers had said in a letter that without direct cash assistance, “draconian measures” such as furloughs may be necessary.

Senate Republicans hope to unveil the text of the rescue and stimulus package Sunday that could total $1.6 trillion and is set to include $50 billion in collateralized loan and loan guarantees for passenger airlines and $8 billion for cargo carriers. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said there was still “no deal,” so it is possible the final airline provisions could change in negotiations. Senator John Thune, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said earlier airline grants were not winning backing “at this point, I don’t sense support for it here or with the administration. But like I said, nothing is done.”

Airlines are expected to soon turn their attention to applying for government collateralized loans and the terms the legislation will include. The initial Republican plan said the U.S. Treasury could demand stock, warrants or options as part of any airline loans. The global coronavirus outbreak has forced airlines to cancel tens of thousands of flights and resulted in massive revenue losses. On Saturday, United Airlines said it was canceling 90% of its international flights in April.

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It’s been obvious for a long time that Americans have completely lost sight of what a hero is. But even then. Pay them a decent salary, then we can talk.

The article is the picture painted for you. The reality is:

“I have been coming in sick because I’m worried that I’ll lose my job or just be punished if I call out,” said Angel Duarte, a package handler at a UPS hub in Tucson, Ariz. “I am 23, and I have no savings, and I have a 4-month-old son.“

Grocery Clerks Unlikely Heroes In US Coronavirus Fight (R.)

For Philip, a grocery store clerk, it’s not a matter of if he gets coronavirus, but when. He is among millions of supermarket employees who have been classified as critical U.S. workers at “essential businesses” that will stay open to prevent disruption in food supply. While other workers are being told to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, these employees are being asked to put themselves in constant contact with the public. Coronavirus cases are beginning to appear among them. Whole Foods Market on Thursday reported a positive case in a New York City worker.

California late on Thursday issued an unprecedented statewide “stay at home order” directing the state’s 40 million residents to hunker down in their homes for the foreseeable future. Grocery stores, along with pharmacies, banks and gas stations, will remain open under the order. Working low-paying jobs, these unlikely heroes in the produce section and behind the meat counter are both terrified and gratified to be on the frontlines of the U.S. coronavirus fight. Some employers have raised wages and granted paid sick leave, but there is pressure on them to do more.

“I didn’t sign up to be in a position where I’m constantly exposed to a deadly virus, but I understand too that if grocery stores close then there are way bigger problems,” said Philip, who works in the produce section of a Whole Foods store in a southern U.S. state. Philip asked that his last name and location not be used. “I’d just like to get the virus now, and get it out of the way, so I can come back to work,” said Philip, who is in his 30s. “Everyone’s terrified there, deep down, apart from the few who think it’s not a big deal yet.”

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Words? Not me.

Banks Pressure Health Care Firms To Raise Prices On Drugs, Supplies (IC)

In recent weeks, investment bankers have pressed health care companies on the front lines of fighting the novel coronavirus, including drug firms developing experimental treatments and medical supply firms, to consider ways that they can profit from the crisis. The media has mostly focused on individuals who have taken advantage of the market for now-scarce medical and hygiene supplies to hoard masks and hand sanitizer and resell them at higher prices. But the largest voices in the health care industry stand to gain from billions of dollars in emergency spending on the pandemic, as do the bankers and investors who invest in health care companies.

Over the past few weeks, investment bankers have been candid on investor calls and during health care conferences about the opportunity to raise drug prices. In some cases, bankers received sharp rebukes from health care executives; in others, executives joked about using the attention on Covid-19 to dodge public pressure on the opioid crisis. Gilead Sciences, the company producing remdesivir, the most promising drug to treat Covid-19 symptoms, is one such firm facing investor pressure. Remdesivir is an antiviral that began development as a treatment for dengue, West Nile virus, and Zika, as well as MERS and SARS.

The World Health Organization has said there is “only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy in treating coronavirus symptoms” — namely, remdesivir. The drug, though developed in partnership with the University of Alabama through a grant from the federal government’s National Institutes of Health, is patented by Gilead Sciences, a major pharmaceutical company based in California. The firm has faced sharp criticism in the past for its pricing practices. It previously charged $84,000 for a yearlong supply of its hepatitis C treatment, which was also developed with government research support. Remdesivir is estimated to produce a one-time revenue of $2.5 billion.

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Just days after the EU accused Russia of using the virus to spread disinformation in Europe.

Russia Ready to Send 100 Specialists Including Virologists to Italy (Sp.)

“In accordance with instructions from the Russian Defence Minister, Army Gen. Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Aerospace Forces have completed the creation of a necessary air group to deliver forces and equipment from the Russian Defence Ministry allocated to assist the Italian Republic in the fight against the coronavirus”, the statement says. The ministry added that nine Il-76 military transport aircraft with trained crews had been transferred to the Chkalovsky military airfield in the Moscow Region from the Pskov, Ulyanovsk, and Orenburg regions.


The group of about 100 people, including experienced virologists and epidemiologists, is ready to depart for Italy, the ministry said. On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte by phone that Moscow was ready to promptly assist Rome in the fight against the coronavirus. The defence ministry then said that Russia would send eight mobile teams of Russian military virologists and doctors, vehicles for aerosol disinfection, and medical equipment to Italy.

Read more …

For your daily group discussion,. WHich you’re not allowed to have anymore.

The Coronavirus Did Not Escape From A Lab. Here’s How We Know. (LiveScience)

As the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 spreads across the globe, with cases surpassing 284,000 worldwide today (March 20), misinformation is spreading almost as fast. One persistent myth is that this virus, called SARS-CoV-2, was made by scientists and escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. A new analysis of SARS-CoV-2 may finally put that latter idea to bed. A group of researchers compared the genome of this novel coronavirus with the seven other coronaviruses known to infect humans: SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2, which can cause severe disease; along with HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E, which typically cause just mild symptoms, the researchers wrote March 17 in the journal Nature Medicine. “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” they write in the journal article.


Kristian Andersen, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, and his colleagues looked at the genetic template for the spike proteins that protrude from the surface of the virus. The coronavirus uses these spikes to grab the outer walls of its host’s cells and then enter those cells. They specifically looked at the gene sequences responsible for two key features of these spike proteins: the grabber, called the receptor-binding domain, that hooks onto host cells; and the so-called cleavage site that allows the virus to open and enter those cells. That analysis showed that the “hook” part of the spike had evolved to target a receptor on the outside of human cells called ACE2, which is involved in blood pressure regulation. It is so effective at attaching to human cells that the researchers said the spike proteins were the result of natural selection and not genetic engineering.


© Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Here’s why: SARS-CoV-2 is very closely related to the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which fanned across the globe nearly 20 years ago. Scientists have studied how SARS-CoV differs from SARS-CoV-2 — with several key letter changes in the genetic code. Yet in computer simulations, the mutations in SARS-CoV-2 don’t seem to work very well at helping the virus bind to human cells. If scientists had deliberately engineered this virus, they wouldn’t have chosen mutations that computer models suggest won’t work. But it turns out, nature is smarter than scientists, and the novel coronavirus found a way to mutate that was better — and completely different— from anything scientists could have created, the study found.


Another nail in the “escaped from evil lab” theory? The overall molecular structure of this virus is distinct from the known coronaviruses and instead most closely resembles viruses found in bats and pangolins that had been little studied and never known to cause humans any harm. “If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness,” according to a statement from Scripps.

Read more …

 

German doctor, during plague in 14th century:

 

 

 

 

If you read us, please support us. Help the Automatic Earth survive.

 

Feb 262020
 


‘Daly’ Somewhere in the South, possibly Miami 1941

 

First US Soldier Stationed In South Korea Tests Positive For Coronavirus (CNN)
China Outbreak Could Cause Critical Shortages Of Medical Products In US (CNN)
Larry Kudlow: US Has Contained Coronavirus, Economy Holding Up Nicely (CNBC)
Coronavirus Wipes Out $1.7 Trillion In US Stock Market Value In 2 Days (CNBC)
US Could See A Similar Death Rate To China If The Virus Spreads – Fauci (CNN)
Japan Now Aims to Limit, Not Prevent Virus Deaths (ZH)
UK Schools Close Doors Over Coronavirus Threat As NHS Steps Up Testing (Ind.)
EU Keeps Borders Open As Virus Spreads Across Continent (RT)
How The British Invented The Syrian “Opposition” (MEE)
Assange Tried To Call White House, Hillary Over Data Dump – Lawyer (R.)
Julian Assange Handcuffed 11 Times And Stripped Naked After 1st Court Day (G.)
US Mulled ‘Kidnapping, Poisoning, Killing’ Assange – Lawyer (RT)
Acting DNI Chief Grenell ‘Was Taking Orders’ From Trump On Assange Arrest (RT)
Thread For Day 2 Of Julian Assange’s Week-Long Extradition Hearing (Gosztola)
Trump’s Betrayal of Julian Assange (Ron Paul)

 

 

Cases 81,229 (+ 901 from yesterday’s 80,328).

Deaths 2,769 (+ 62 from yesterday’s 2,707)

 

• China has fewer deaths today, but many more new cases, + 901 from yesterday’s +621

• Japan gives up on defeating virus., moves to mitigation, With “only” 171 cases and one death.
– That does not include the Diamond Princess’s 691 cases and four deaths.
– Tokyo Olympics still supposedly on

• First US soldier stationed In South Korea tests positive, 18 South Korean soldiers infected

• One week ago 51 people were reported infected in South Korea. Today, there are 1,146. 169 new cases today.

• Italy 322 cases, 11 deaths. The new infections include three in southern Sicily, 1,200km from Milan
– one of the victims is just 4 years old

• EU borders stay open despite Italy cluster(s)

• Spain has 7 confirmed cases

• Taiwan 32 cases

• Thailand 40 cases

• Neighboring countries try to close borders with Iran

• Brazil reports first case in South America

• Large international gatherings in Vatican for Ash Wednesday

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From Worldometer (Note: mortality rate is down to 8%)

 

 

 

 

This is the military. They live in barracks. All you need to know.18 South Korean soldiers infected

First US Soldier Stationed In South Korea Tests Positive For Coronavirus (CNN)

Public health officials warned Wednesday that the spread of the novel coronavirus is inching closer toward meeting the definition of a global pandemic, as the number of cases outside mainland China continues to grow, including in South Korea where a US soldier has tested positive for the virus. [..] a top official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the United States could see the virus spread within its borders. “Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

South Korean authorities are attempting to contain an outbreak that has gone from just 51 people infected last week to at least 1,146 as of Wednesday. The outbreak began in the southern city of Daegu and was centered around the Shincheonji religious group, but the virus appears to have spread now beyond practitioners. Eighteen South Korean soldiers have been confirmed infected, and the country’s defense ministry has placed significant restrictions on soldiers leaving their bases due to fears surrounding the virus. On Wednesday, it was announced that a US service member stationed in South Korea tested positive for the virus, according to US Forces Korea statement.

The soldier, who is stationed at Camp Carroll which is approximately 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from the city of Daegu, is the first US service member to test positive for the novel coronavirus. “The patient, a 23-year old male, is currently in self quarantine at his off-base residence. He visited Camp Walker on 24 February and Camp Carroll 21-25 February. KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the statement said. The virus’ spread also prompted South Korea and the United States to scale back joint military drills, according to three US officials.

The three officials said this would be the first major impact of coronavirus on US military readiness, according to the officials. Without the full exercise, the US could lose ground in being able to quickly conduct future operations in a coordinated and highly synchronized manner with South Korea against North Korea in the event of a crisis, one of the officials said.

Read more …

Pretty much a sure thing by now. Question is how bad it will get.

China Outbreak Could Cause Critical Shortages Of Medical Products In US (CNN)

No drug manufacturers have reported that they anticipate shortages of particular drugs due to the novel coronavirus, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, but the agency and experts in the pharmaceutical industry are paying close attention to the potential challenges the virus might pose. “FDA is keenly aware that the outbreak will likely affect the medical product supply chain, including potential disruptions to suppliers [and] shortages of critical medical products in the US,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told reporters Tuesday. The US relies heavily on Chinese-made medical devices, drug ingredients and drugs for humans and animals, and, with heavy Chinese investment in the industry in recent years, its share of the global market has steadily grown.


As of 2018, China ranked second among countries that exported drugs and biologics to the United States, and first for medical devices, according to the FDA. The FDA said Monday it has been in touch with 180 drug manufacturers to remind them of their regulatory obligation to notify the FDA if they do anticipate any disruption in drugs supplies. The agency asked companies to evaluate their supply chain in light of the coronavirus outbreak and what potential challenge the virus may pose to the global drug supply, the agency said. The FDA said it has identified about 20 drugs that either solely source their active pharmaceutical ingredients or produce finished drug products from or in China.

Read more …

Oh Larry, why say such things when you don’t have to?

Larry Kudlow: US Has Contained Coronavirus, Economy Holding Up Nicely (CNBC)

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow tried on Tuesday to assuage concerns over the cornavirus and its impact on the U.S. economy. “We have contained this. I won’t say [it’s] airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow told CNBC’s Kelly Evans on “The Exchange.” He added that, while the outbreak is a “human tragedy,” it will likely not be an “economic tragedy.” “There will be some stumbles. We’re looking at numbers; it’s a little iffy,” Kudlow said. “But at the moment … there’s no supply disruptions out there yet.” Kudlow’s comments came as the stock market tanked for a second straight day amid worries that the coronavirus outbreak would lead to a prolonged global economic slowdown.


The Dow Jones Industrial Average was more than 700 points lower Tuesday, down 2.7%. On Monday, the 30-stock average had its worst day in two years, dropping more than 1,000 points. Investors dumped equities in favor of U.S. Treasurys, which are traditionally seen as a safe haven during volatile stretches for the stock market. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield dropped to 1.32% to reach an all-time low. The 30-year also traded at a record low. Yields move inversely to prices. Still, Kudlow said the U.S. is “holding up nicely,” adding, “All I can do is look at the numbers.”

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European markets are falling again today. US futures down as well.

Coronavirus Wipes Out $1.7 Trillion In US Stock Market Value In 2 Days (CNBC)

The S&P 500 just wiped out about $1.737 trillion of its value during its two-day market sell-off, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. The equity benchmark lost $810 billion in value on Tuesday, adding to its $927 billion loss on Monday, according to the firm s Senior Index Analyst Howard Silverblatt. It s down $2.138 trillion since last Wednesday s high, according to S&P Dow Jones. Stocks cratered again on Tuesday as investors fled riskier assets amid intense fears about a slowdown in global growth caused by the deadly coronavirus. The S&P 5002 s two-day loss of 6.3% was the largest for the benchmark since August 2015, when the Chinese government devalued the yuan amid the U.S.-China trade war. Tuesday’s 900 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average added to Monday’s stunning 1,000 point plunge.


The Nasdaq Composite fell 2.8% on Tuesday and joined the S&P 500 and Dow in turning negative for the year. Bond yields also plunged as investor sought safer havens. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to a record low of 1.32%. The spreading deadly virus, that has infected more than 80,000 and killed more than 2,700, has sent shock waves through the markets. Companies like Apple, Nike, United Airlines and Mastercard have all raised flags about the coronavirus and its impact on their earnings. Chip stocks, which rely heavily on revenues from China, are being abandoned by Wall Street as it becomes more apparent supply chain disruption will persist until the epidemic is contained.

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Anthony Fauci is director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Wonder if he means the real or the “official” rate.

US Could See A Similar Death Rate To China If The Virus Spreads – Fauci (CNN)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN the US needed more resources to fight the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected 53 people in the US. “We’ve had a pandemic preparedness plan that we really developed in preparation for pandemic influenza, that we can extrapolate to this. We certainly need more resources, and that’s what you heard today with the supplemental request. Because we can only go a certain way with the resources we have,” Fauci said.


Death rate: Fauci added that the fatality rate of the outbreak could reach the same levels in the US as in China because there is no vaccine or cure available. “I mean, the people who are dying who require intensive care, for example in an intensive care unit – maybe even intubation for respiratory assistance in breathing – the Chinese have that. They have a pretty good system, and yet you’re still seeing the 2% mortality. So it isn’t a question of, ‘they don’t have as good care as we have.’ So if, in fact, we do get a pandemic that does impact us in this country, I think you’re going to see comparable types of morbidity and mortality,” he said.

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I think this is a milestone. Japan admits they can’t handle it. With just 171 cases and one death. That, admittedly, does not include the Diamond Princess’s 691 cases and four deaths.

Japan Now Aims to Limit, Not Prevent Virus Deaths (ZH)

Overwhelmed by a flurry of ‘unsolved’ cases (that is, cases with no obvious connection to the outbreak in China, or anywhere else), Japanese health authorities announced on Tuesday a new plan intended to focus the country’s precious medical resources on the most serious cases, while advising those with mild symptoms to treat themselves at home. The approach differs markedly from the heavy handed tactics employed by Beijing, which at its peak had 760 million – roughly half the country – under some form of lockdown restriction. According to the Washington Post, the “basic premise” of the Japanese plan is that the virus can’t be stopped. That’s right: The Japanese are essentially acknowledging that the thesis proposed by Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch – ie that 70% of the world’s population might someday contract the virus – has at least some legitimacy.


Japan has at least 160 confirmed cases of the virus outside the ~700 people who caught it aboard the ‘Diamond Princess’. Japanese health officials claim that a large-scale outbreak hasn’t taken hold; rather, small clusters of the disease have broken out around the country. One senior advisor who spoke with WaPo put it the starkest of terms: We can’t stop it, so the best we can do is keep the body count as low as possible. “We shouldn’t have illusions,” said Shigeru Omi, a senior government adviser. “We can’t stop this, but we can try to reduce the speed of expansion and reduce mortality.” In keeping with this maxim, hospital space will be reserved for patients with the most serious symptoms, while those with simple colds and fevers have been asked to rest at home. They’re only to contact health authorities if a fever persists for four days. Or two for the elderly, people with chronic diseases or pregnant women .

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In certain areas.

UK Schools Close Doors Over Coronavirus Threat As NHS Steps Up Testing (Ind.)

Schools across the UK have closed their doors to students at risk of coronavirus while all patients are to be routinely tested for the disease in a dramatic escalation of screening by health officials Cransley School in Cheshire and Trinity Catholic College in Teeside have both closed while Brine Leas School in Cheshire has shut its sixth form unit after pupils and staff returned from a ski trip in the Lombardy region of Italy, which has been badly hit by coronavirus. Elsewhere at least 10 schools in Cornwall, Yorkshire, Pembrokeshire, Guernsey, Co Antrim, Co Derry and Co Down have sent pupils home to self-quarantine after returning from similar trips.

It comes as England’s top doctor warned the UK could be forced to quarantine families and reduce transport if the virus becomes a global pandemic. NHS bosses have also expressed concerns about the impact any surge in cases could have on an already under pressure health system. Public Health England said flu patients in intensive care units and respiratory wards at eight NHS hospitals would be tested for coronavirus as well as at 100 primary care centre such as GP surgeries. Up to now tests have only been carried out on those suspected of being infected but this new regime is designed to identify whether the virus, which originated in China, is spreading throughout the country without being detected.

PHE said it did not believe this was currently happening but widening the testing would allow it to spot any circulation and act immediately to prevent it spreading further. Medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle said this was about taking a “belt-and-braces approach”, adding: “There is no change in risk for the public but taking this preparatory step now will enable us to better detect and contain the spread of the virus.”

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To keep the EU idea alive. And the economy.

EU Keeps Borders Open As Virus Spreads Across Continent (RT)

Italy’s health minister has said that neighboring countries will not close their borders, amid an outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus. It comes as Rome confirmed 11 people dead in the epidemic, with hundreds infected. “We agreed to keep borders open, closing borders would be a disproportionate and ineffective measure at this time,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters in Rome on Tuesday. Four more people infected with the deadly virus died in northern Italy on Tuesday, bringing the death toll in the Mediterranean country to 11. Three of the dead were in their eighties and came from Lombardy, the worst affected region of Italy, Civil Protection agency chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters. The fourth was from the Veneto region.

Alongside the three fatalities, Italian authorities confirmed more than 90 new cases of the illness on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in Italy to 322. Nearly a dozen towns have been quarantined across the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto, and supplies across the north have run low. Public events have been cancelled, and panicked shoppers have stripped supermarket shelves of provisions. Though Speranza insisted that Italy’s international borders will remain open, the disease has already begun to spread into mainland Europe. A hotel in Spain’s Canary Islands remains locked down after a guest and his wife were found to be infected, and mainland Spain reported its first case – an Italian woman living in Barcelona – on Tuesday.

Since then, another two people have been diagnosed with the virus in mainland Spain – a man from the city of Villarreal in the east of the country and a 24-year-old man in Madrid who travelled to Italy. This brings the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain to 7. Before that, a German tourist and a British man tested positive for the virus on the Canary Islands and in Mallorca, respectively, but both have since been discharged from hospital.

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What Putin is up against.

How The British Invented The Syrian “Opposition” (MEE)

The British government covertly established a network of citizen journalists across Syria during the early years of the country’s civil war in an attempt to shape perceptions of the conflict, frequently recruiting people who were unaware that they were being directed from London. A number of leaked documents seen by Middle East Eye show how the propaganda initiative began in 2012 and gathered pace the following year, shortly after the UK parliament refused to authorise British military action in Syria. Drawing upon British, American and Canadian funding, UK government contractors set up offices in Istanbul and Amman, where they hired members of the Syrian diaspora, who in turn recruited citizen journalists inside Syria.

These journalists, many of them young, were commissioned to produce TV footage, radio programmes, social media, posters, magazines and even children’s comics. While many Syrians turned spontaneously to media activism from the start of the war, the documents describe the way in which the British government sought to guide some of their output, seeing citizen journalism as a way of covertly influencing Syrian audiences. The papers also make clear that those people who were recruited were often unaware that they were part of a British propaganda initiative.

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The Guardian denies everything. It even claims: “The Guardian has made clear it is opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange.” The paper that published a fully fake piece on Manafort repeatedly visiting Assange, without ever retracting it. Their people knew exactly what they did, and forced Assange into late night redacting of names. Now HE stabns accused of what THEY did.

Assange Tried To Call White House, Hillary Over Data Dump – Lawyer (R.)

Julian Assange tried to contact Hillary Clinton and the White House when he realised that unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables given to WikiLeaks were about to be dumped on the internet, his lawyer told his London extradition hearing on Tuesday. On Monday, the lawyer representing the United States told the hearing that Assange, 48, was wanted for crimes that had endangered people in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan who had helped the West, some of whom later disappeared. U.S. authorities say his actions in recklessly publishing unredacted classified diplomatic cables put informants, dissidents, journalists and human rights activists at risk of torture, abuse or death.

Outlining part of his defence, Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers said allegations that he had helped Manning to break a government password, had encouraged the theft of secret data and knowingly put lives in danger were “lies, lies and more lies”. He told London’s Woolwich Crown Court that WikiLeaks had received documents from Manning in April 2010. He then made a deal with a number of newspapers, including the New York Times, Britain’s Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel, to begin releasing redacted parts of the 250,000 cables in November that year. A witness from Der Spiegel said the U.S. State Department had been involved in suggesting redactions in conference calls, Summers said.

However, a password that allowed access to the full unredacted material was published in a book by Guardian reporters about WikiLeaks in February 2011. In August, another German newspaper reported it had discovered the password and it had access to the archive. A spokesman for The Guardian said the authors were told the password was temporary and the book contained no details about the whereabouts of the files. Summers said Assange attempted to warn the U.S. government, calling the White House and attempting to speak to then- Secretary of State Clinton, saying “unless we do something, people’s lives are put at risk”. Summers said the State Department had responded by suggesting that Assange call back “in a couple of hours”.

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Beyond shame.

Julian Assange Handcuffed 11 Times And Stripped Naked After 1st Court Day (G.)

Julian Assange was handcuffed 11 times, stripped naked twice and had his case files confiscated after the first day of his extradition hearing, according to his lawyers, who complained of interference in his ability to take part. Their appeal to the judge overseeing the trial at Woolwich crown court in south-east London was also supported by legal counsel for the US government, who said it was essential the WikiLeaks founder be given a fair trial. Edward Fitzgerald QC, acting for Assange, said the case files, which the prisoner was reading in court on Monday, were confiscated by guards when he returned to prison later that night and that he was put in five cells.


The judge, Vanessa Baraitser, replied that she did not have the legal power to comment or rule on Assange’s conditions but encouraged the defence team to formally raise the matter with the prison. The details emerged on the second day of Assange’s extradition hearing, during which his legal team denied that he had “knowingly placed lives at risk” by publishing unredacted US government files. The court was told Wikileaks had entered into a collaboration with the Guardian, El País, the New York Times and other media outlets to make redactions to 250,000 leaked cables secret cables in 2010 and publish them. Mark Summers, QC, claimed the unredacted files had been published because a password to this material had appeared in a Guardian book on the affair. “The gates got opened not by Assange or WikiLeaks but by another member of tha partnership,” he said.

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Make it look like an accident.

US Mulled ‘Kidnapping, Poisoning, Killing’ Assange – Lawyer (RT)

The US government plotted to kidnap or kill Julian Assange while he was holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a UK court was told yesterday during the WikiLeaks publisher’s extradition hearing. Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald told Judge Vanessa Baraitser that the US wanted to make the WikiLeaks founder’s death look like an accident and that US intelligence agencies worked with Spanish company UC Global to extensively spy on Assange inside the embassy. Fitzgerald claimed that recordings were collected every 14 days and handed over to US intelligence services. The surveillance even included footage of Assange meeting with his legal team, breaching attorney-client privilege, he said.

“There were conversations about whether there should be more extreme measures contemplated, such as kidnapping or poisoning Assange in the embassy,” Fitzgerald told the court. Assange’s lawyers have long-warned that kidnapping or extraordinary rendition could be on the table for Washington if the US could not get to him any other way. The source of the claim heard in court on Monday is a whistleblower known only as ‘witness two’, responsible for exposing UC Global owner David Morales and his role in the surveillance operation for “the dark side” — meaning the US government. The witness described the Americans as “desperate.”

One suggestion was that the embassy door could be left open, which could make a kidnapping look like an “accident.” There wasn’t as much information given about the poisoning claim. This was not the first time claims had been made that the US considered such extreme measures for dealing with Assange. In a 2019 presentation on the technical aspects of the surveillance operation, German hacker Andy Muller-Maguhn, who had visited Assange inside the embassy, claimed that kidnapping and poisoning were options for the US government and that all doors and windows in the embassy were documented so various options could be explored. The surveillance was so intense that bugs were even implanted in a fire extinguisher and in a bathroom that Assange used, he said.

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Cassandra to the rescue.

Acting DNI Chief Grenell ‘Was Taking Orders’ From Trump On Assange Arrest (RT)

A GOP operative, known as the Trump family ‘fixer,’ appears to have admitted in a recorded call that the new US spy chief acted on the president’s orders when he allegedly secured the arrest of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. The contents of the call between GOP operative Arthur Schwartz and journalist Cassandra Fairbanks – which could turn Julian Assange’s UK extradition trial upside down – were reported on Tuesday by several US media outlets citing nonprofit transparency group Property of the People. The recording itself was later released by Fairbanks on Twitter. In the call, dated September 2019, Schwartz pleads with Fairbanks to delete a September 10 tweet in which she says that Richard Grenell, then a controversial US envoy to Germany, “was the one who worked out the deal for Julian Assange’s arrest.”

Initially, Fairbanks refused to budge, arguing that her tweet was based on an ABC News report from last April alleging that Grenell was instrumental in persuading Ecuador to let British police into its London embassy, where Assange spent some seven years under political asylum. The report suggested that Grenell promised Quito that the US would not pursue the death penalty for the self-exiled publisher if it gave the go-ahead for the raid. Schwartz, however, insisted that Fairbanks must scrub the tweet, accusing her of publishing “classified information.” Schwartz, however, insisted that Fairbanks must scrub the tweet, accusing her of publishing “classified information.” Sounding increasingly frustrated with Fairbank’s unwillingness to pull the post, the Trump fixer says he could go to jail over the information he had apparently shared with her.

“Rick’s role is classified… You can’t do that… you are posting things that are classified, that no one knows, that has not been reported… I know what’s been reported, I see what you’re tweeting, what you’re tweeting is not what was reported. Someone’s going to go to jail. You need to stop this.” Fairbanks then reminded him that it is Assange who was imprisoned due to his work to expose US war crimes, but Schwartz only doubled down on his request. At the same time, Schwartz appears to confirm that Trump himself had pulled strings behind the covert diplomatic op to nab Assange, reportedly orchestrated by Grenell. “Please. I’m begging you… They look at you, they see that we speak, that’s bad. He’s [Grenell] is taking orders from the president. OK? So you’re going to punish me because he took orders from the president? I’m begging you, I’m begging you, please.”

https://twitter.com/CassandraRules/status/1232466714098466816

A source privy to the Assange defense team’s strategy told Politico the call would be only “one piece of the argument,” part of a larger trove of evidence to be unveiled in court on Wednesday. The materials are intended to prove that the request for the publisher’s extradition was based on a desire for vengeance, rather than on any legal basis. Schwartz himself attempted to dismiss the bombshell as a nothingburger, telling the outlet that he “highly doubts” he would have told the journalist anything of substance, describing her as “not someone that I trust.”

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Thread of Kevin Gosztola tweets from the courtroom.

Thread For Day 2 Of Julian Assange’s Week-Long Extradition Hearing (Gosztola)

Defense raises issue of alleged mistreatment of Assange. He was handcuffed 11 times, strip searched multiple times, and moved between cells yesterday. Judge is, once again, insisting no authority to do anything about it. “Powers are very limited in this respect.” Prosecutor won’t speak into the microphone. Keeps it off to the side, and we in the press annex cannot hear a word. #Assange Defense is going over what they claim are examples of Zakrzewski abuse, which means offenses in extradition request are false or outlined inaccurately as proffered by the prosecution #Assange Defense: “False allegation” “Provably wrong.”


That Assange enabled Manning to log on to secret network with databases of information known as SIPRnet Defense also says it is “provably false” that “Assange knowingly put people’s lives at risk.” He mentions this is what US argues to get around First Amendment issues implicated in “pure publication counts.” Defense: “The case has lies, lies, and more lies.” #Assange Defense refers to Chelsea Manning’s plea statement. This is the key statement she made about her disclosures, which prosecutors desperately want to undermine. This is part of why she was subpoenaed to appear before grand jury and is still in jail. #Assange

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No kidding: “The deep state Trump is serving by persecuting Assange is the same deep state that continues to plot Trump’s own ouster.”

Trump’s Betrayal of Julian Assange (Ron Paul)

Donald Trump upset the Washington apple cart as presidential candidate and in so doing he set elements of the deep state in motion against him. One of the things candidate Donald Trump did to paint a deep state target on his back was his repeated praise of Wikileaks, the pro-transparency media organization headed up by Australian journalist Julian Assange. More than 100 times candidate Trump said “I love Wikileaks” on the campaign trail. Trump loved it when Wikileaks exposed the criminality of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, as it cheated to deprive Bernie Sanders of the Democratic Party nomination. Wikileaks’ release of the DNC emails exposed the deep corruption at the heart of US politics, and as a candidate Trump loved the transparency. Then Trump got elected.

The real tragedy of the Trump presidency is nowhere better demonstrated than in Trump’s 180 degree turn away from Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. “I know nothing about Wikileaks,” he said as president. “It’s really not my thing.” US pressure and bribes to the Ecuadorian government ended Assange’s asylum and his seven years in a room at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. After his dramatic arrest by London’s Metropolitan Police last April, he has been effectively tortured in British jails at the behest of the US deep state. Today, Monday the 24th of February, Assange faces an extradition hearing in a UK courthouse. The Trump Administration – led by a man who praised Assange’s work – seeks a show trial of Assange worthy of the worst of the Soviet era. The US is seeking a 175 year prison sentence.

The Trump Administration argues that the Australian Assange should be tried and convicted of espionage against a country of which he is not a citizen. At the same time the Trump Administration argues that the First Amendment does not apply to Assange because he is not an American citizen! So Assange is subject to US law when it comes to publishing information embarrassing to the US deep state but he is not subject to the law of the land – the US Constitution – which protects all journalists and is the backbone of our system of government. It is ironic that a President Trump who has been victim of so much deep state meddling has done the deep state’s bidding when it comes to Assange and Wikileaks.

President Trump should preempt the inevitable US show trial of Assange by granting the journalist blanket pardon under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The deep state Trump is serving by persecuting Assange is the same deep state that continues to plot Trump’s own ouster. Free Assange!

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20 years of Pluto:

 

 

 

If you read us, please support us. It’s the only way the Automatic Earth can survive. Donate on Paypal and Patreon.

 

Dec 082019
 


Arthur Rothstein “Bank that failed. Kansas” May 1936

 

UK’s Johnson Ahead But Polls Suggest Majority Might Be Tough (R.)
Calls Grow To Stop Boris Johnson With Tactical Voting As Race Tightens (O.)
Patient Data From GP Surgeries Sold To US Companies (G.)
How The Democrats & Federal Reserve Ensured Trump’s Re-Election (Hamilton)
Tracking Every Presidential Candidate’s TV Ad Buys (538)
Trump: Giuliani To Deliver Report On Ukraine Trip To Congress, Barr (Hill)
Is Russia Overtaking The US In The Realm Of Strategic Bombers? (SF)
China Crude Oil Imports Hit Record High As Refiners Race To Use Up Quotas (R.)
US Government Drops Case Against Journalist Max Blumenthal (GZ)
Fire ‘Too Big To Put Out’ May Blanket Sydney In Smoke For Months (NW)

 

 

There are so many different polls with even more different results, you’d think they do it on purpose.

UK’s Johnson Ahead But Polls Suggest Majority Might Be Tough (R.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is heading into Britain’s election next week with a lead in opinion polls, but some of the surveys also suggest that his chance of winning a parliamentary majority could be too close to call. Four opinion polls published on Saturday put the lead of Johnson’s Conservative Party over the main opposition Labour Party at between eight and 15 points, five days before the Dec. 12 national election. At the lowest end of that range, Johnson cannot count on winning the majority in parliament he needs to take Britain out of the European Union by Jan. 31, especially if voters choose to put aside their usual allegiances to vote tactically over Brexit.

Polling firm Savanta ComRes said Johnson’s lead over Labour had shrunk to eight points from 10 in a previous poll published on Wednesday – the tightest margin of Saturday’s four surveys. Its head of politics, Chris Hopkins, said the final few days of the campaign could be crucial. “The margins are incredibly tight,” he said. “The Conservative lead over Labour dropping or increasing by one or two points could be the difference between a hung parliament and a sizeable Conservative majority.” The election pits Johnson’s plan to get Brexit done next month against Labour’s call for a second referendum on a new Brexit deal under its veteran socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Opinion pollsters were embarrassed by Britain’s last election in 2017, when they under-estimated the size of Labour’s support which cost previous prime minister Theresa May her majority and threw Brexit into chaos. They also failed to predict the victory of the Leave campaign in the 2016 EU membership referendum. However, one poll, published before the 2017 election, by YouGov, was more accurate in predicting the number of seats won by each party. Known as an MRP poll – an acronym for its Multilevel Regression and Post-stratification model – it predicted 93% of results in individual constituencies correctly. The Sunday Times said a poll by Datapraxis, also using the MRP model and based on 500,000 online interviews, predicted that Johnson would win a majority of 38 in parliament next week, down from a projection of 48 two weeks ago.

https://twitter.com/i/status/1203590220173713409

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It doesn’t take that many votes.

Calls Grow To Stop Boris Johnson With Tactical Voting As Race Tightens (O.)

A cross-party alliance of opposition politicians has launched an 11th-hour appeal to anti-Tory voters to consider switching allegiance in Thursday’s general election, amid signs that a late surge of tactical voting in a few swing seats could deprive Boris Johnson of a majority in parliament. The calls from senior Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP figures come as a major poll suggests Johnson’s likely majority has been cut in half in the last two weeks – from 82 a fortnight ago to just 40 with four days to polling day. The analysis of almost 30,000 voters, for the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, also finds that tactical votes by as few as 40,700 people in 36 key seats could prevent Johnson from forming a majority government.

Without a majority, Johnson is unlikely to be able to deliver the central promise of the Tory campaign – “to get Brexit done” – as he will struggle to get enough MPs’ votes. The DUP, which agreed to prop up the Tories after the 2017 general election, is now fiercely opposed to Johnson’s Brexit deal. The special polling analysis concludes that if tactical voting keeps the Tories out in the three dozen seats, the Conservatives would have 309 MPs, Labour 255, the SNP 49, the Lib Dems 14, Plaid Cymru three and the Greens one. To guarantee a majority, a governing party needs 325 MPs.

Naomi Smith, Best for Britain’s chief executive, said: “This election is on a knife-edge, and, if enough Remainers hold their nose and vote for the candidate with the best chance of stopping the Tories, we’re heading for a hung Parliament and a final-say referendum.”

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Not sure this is the scandal it’s made out to be, but transparency is key.

Patient Data From GP Surgeries Sold To US Companies (G.)

Data about millions of NHS patients has been sold to US and other international pharmaceutical companies for research, the Observer has learned, raising new fears about America’s growing ambitions to access lucrative parts of the health service after Brexit. US drugs giants, including Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly, have paid the Department of Health and Social Care, which holds data derived from GPs’ surgeries, for licences costing up to £330,000 each in return for anonymised data to be used for research. Campaigners working to protect the privacy of patients’ medical histories said they were concerned at the lack of transparency that surrounded the sale of licences and a lack of clarity about what the data was being used for.

The most recent accounts of the government organisation that issues the licences, Clinical Practice Research Datalink or CPRD, reveal it received more than £10m in revenue last year. “Patients should know how their data is used. There should be no surprises. While legitimate research for public health benefit is to be encouraged, it must always be consensual, safe and properly transparent,” said Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential, which campaigns for the privacy of health data. “Do patients know – have they even been told by the one in seven GP practices across England that pass on their clinical details – that their medical histories are being sold to multinational pharma companies in the US and around the world?”

[..] Last week, a leak of secret government papers about private discussions between UK and US officials over a post-Brexit trade deal showed that the “free flow of data” was a “top priority” for the US. America appears to be pressing for unrestricted access to Britain’s 55 million health records, which are estimated to have a total value of £10bn a year. A minute of one of the meetings says: “On data flows, the critical element highlighted by the US was agreement that no parties will restrict information.” Another US demand is for “data localisation” to be ruled out, meaning the data of NHS patients could be stored on cloud servers abroad.

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That and demographics. Much more from Hamilton and as usual, tons of graphs.

How The Democrats & Federal Reserve Ensured Trump’s Re-Election (Hamilton)

July 31…Debt Ceiling Deal – July 31st of this year, Senate Democrats carried President Trump’s budget deal eliminating the debt ceiling through July 31st of 2021. This after a majority of Trump’s House Republicans voted against the budget deal but House Democrats overwhelmingly passed it. And thus the debt ceiling was no more. Since July 31st, the Treasury has issued over $1 trillion in net new debt but that is just the start. Trump tweeted there would always be plenty of time to make budget cuts “later”.

July 31…Federal Reserve begins series of interest rate cuts – On July 31st, the Federal Reserve begins cutting rates and has cut rates from 2.4% to 1.55% or a 35% reduction on the cost of overnight intra-bank lending, the foundation of credit.

August 21.. Federal Reserve restarts QE – In August, the Fed ceased quantitative tightening (QT) and restarted quantitative easing (QE). The Federal Reserve balance sheet has expanded by over $300 billion in short order, with an $180 billion increase in Treasuries held. The supposed rationale for the QE restart, inadequate excess reserves or liquidity…

Excess Reserves Not Restarted – With all the new QE, hardly any of it has been added to bank excess reserves…just a paltry $16 billion out of the $306 billion in new currency digitally conjured.

Direct Monetization – That is $290 billion in new dollars directly in banks hands…and banks do what banks do, which is leverage those dollars by 5x’s to 10x’s (or more), resulting in…

Asset Explosion – Using the Wilshire 5000 as a proxy (as it represents all publicly traded US equities), US equities have risen $2.42 trillion over the 4 month period as all the new digitally conjured cash has been passed to large banks for the “assets” they held…or about a 8.5x the quantity of new “not QE” and “not excess reserves”.

[..] Debt creation by periods, 1960 through 2000, 2000 through 2008, and 2008 through 2019. Relatively stable corporate debt creation, collapsing mortgage debt, and surging federal debt. And collapsing mortgage debt and surging federal debt is only just getting started, because…

And finally, why mortgage debt won’t be rising anytime soon and all debt creation will be up to the federal government. The chart below shows the annual change in young (working age) versus elderly…a surging population of elderly versus huge deceleration of growth among the working age population.

Just a reminder, elderly earn and spend half as much as working age persons and “destroy money” via deleveraging while working age persons “create money” via undertaking new loans (debt). The current and future situation is one of collapsing credit and collapsing money creation as the growth of deflationary elderly overwhelms inflationary working age growth…and into that entirely predictable situation, steps the Federal government, Federal Reserve, and ludicrous politicians to serve the interests of the few at the expense of the many.

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Bloomberg.

Tracking Every Presidential Candidate’s TV Ad Buys (538)

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Wonder what he’s got.

Trump: Giuliani To Deliver Report On Ukraine Trip To Congress, Barr (Hill)

President Trump said that Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, will deliver a report to Congress and Attorney General William Barr about information he uncovered during his latest trip to Ukraine. “He’s going to make a report, I think to the attorney general and to Congress. He says he has a lot of good information. I have not spoken to him about that information yet,” Trump told reporters Saturday. “He has not told me what he found, but I think he wants to go before Congress … and also to the attorney general and the Department of Justice,” he added. “I hear he has found plenty.” Giuliani raised eyebrows this week when he traveled to Ukraine as the House conducts a whirlwind impeachment investigation into whether the president abused his power.


Democrats say Trump overstepped his bounds by pressuring Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden on unfounded corruption allegations and disproven claims that Ukraine was involved in 2016 election meddling. During his trip, Giuliani met with multiple Ukrainian officials as he continued his campaign to convince American lawmakers Trump did nothing wrong. Photos from the visit showed the ex-New York City mayor meeting with a former Ukrainian diplomat who has propagated the unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. He also met with Yuriy Lutsenko, a Ukrainian politician, former prosecutor general and important figure in the impeachment inquiry, who proposed a joint corruption investigation between the U.S. and Ukraine.

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Reading between the lines, what we see is America can only keep up by going to war and spending more with that as an excuse.

Is Russia Overtaking The US In The Realm Of Strategic Bombers? (SF)

In March 2018, Russia announced that it would completely overhaul its entire Tu-160 long-range strategic bomber fleet by 2030. According to Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov, the entire fleet of Tu-160 bombers will be replaced with the newer Tu-160M2 version, in addition to heavy upgrades of all operational aircraft. All on-board radio-electronic equipment and engines will be replaced. Serial production of the Tu-160M2 will begin in 2023 and the plan is for it to remain a state of the art warplane for the next 40 years. The Russian Aerospace Forces intend to purchase no less than 50 such aircraft.

The first such warplane is to be delivered in 2021, with 3 more in 2023. Afterwards serial production will continue with 3 Tu-160M2s being produced per year. The Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO codename: Blackjack) is a long range, supersonic, variable geometry wing, strategic bomber -designed to penetrate sophisticated air defense systems at low altitude and supersonic speed. It is the Soviet counterpart to the US Air Force B-1B Lancer strategic bomber.

[..] Currently, the US operates three types of strategic bombers – the B-1B, the B-2, and the B-52. The US Air Force has 62 B-1Bs, out of which, according to data from August 2019, only 6 were fully operational, with the others being grounded or undergoing maintenance. They have been in service since 1985. The longest serving bomber in the US Air Force is the B-52A which was commissioned back in 1955. The existing fleet was upgraded to the B-52H Stratofortress, commissioned in 1961. It is planned for this warplane to be operated until 2050. As of June 2019, there were 58 B-52 bombers in operation, with 18 more in reserve.

The B-2 is the only stealth bomber in operation anywhere in the world. It was commissioned in 1993. Thef US Air Force operates 20 such warplanes. There is also the B-21 Raider stealth bomber in development by Northrop Grumman. The first test aircraft is being built in Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California, facility and has yet to make its maiden flight. The optimistic forecast is that the first bomber should enter service by 2025.

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Beijing actively encourages additional oil imports. If you don’t produce output now, you’ll be cut next year. Fill your teapot!

China Crude Oil Imports Hit Record High As Refiners Race To Use Up Quotas (R.)

China’s crude oil imports hit a record high on a daily basis in November, as refiners operated at high run rates to use up annual import quotas. The world’s top oil buyer imported 45.74 million tonnes of crude, equivalent to 11.13 million barrels per day (bpd), according to data released by the General Administration of Customs on Sunday. That compared with 10.72 million bpd in October and 9.61 million bpd in November last year. For the first 11 months of 2019, China brought in a total of 461.88 million tonnes, or 10.09 million bpd, up 10.4% from the same period last year, the data showed. As the year draws to a close, private refineries, known as teapot refiners, are ramping up output to use up their crude import quotas for the year in order to be able to apply for more quotas next year.


[..] Total natural gas imports, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) and pipeline, in November rose 3.3% from the same period last year to 9.45 million tonnes, customs data showed. In the period of January-November, natural gas imports reached 87.11 million tonnes, up 7.4% from same period last year. On Monday, Russia started to transport pipeline gas from Siberia to northeastern China.

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Another failed coup.

US Government Drops Case Against Journalist Max Blumenthal (GZ)

The US government has dropped its bogus charge of “simple assault” against journalist Max Blumenthal, after having him arrested on a 5-month-old warrant and jailed for nearly two days. The Grayzone has learned that Secret Service call logs recorded during the alleged incident were either not kept or destroyed. The mysteriously missing evidence included print documents and radio recordings that may have exposed collusion between Secret Service officers operating under the auspices of the US State Department and violent right-wing hooligans in an operation to besiege peace activists stationed inside Venezuela’s embassy in Washington, DC.

Blumenthal, who is the editor of The Grayzone, was arrested at his home on October 25 by a team of DC cops who had threatened to break down his door. He later learned that he was listed in his arrest warrant as “armed and dangerous,” a rare and completely unfounded designation that placed Blumenthal at risk of severe harm by the police. The government’s case rested entirely on a false accusation by a right-wing Venezuelan opposition activist, Naylet Pacheco, that Blumenthal and Benjamin Rubinstein had assaulted her while they were delivering food to Venezuela’s embassy in Washington, DC in the early morning on May 8. (Rubinstein is the brother of journalist and Grayzone contributor Alexander Rubinstein, who was reporting from inside the embassy at the time.)

The Grayzone has reported extensively on the corruption of coup leader Juan Guaidó, whom Washington recognizes as “interim president” of Venezuela, as well as the scandals plaguing Guaidó’s “ambassador” to the United States, Carlos Vecchio. Vecchio personally presided over the weeks-long siege of Venezuela’s embassy in Washington, DC, stage-managing efforts by a mob of rabid right-wing activists to prevent peace activists from receiving deliveries of food and sanitary supplies. As The Grayzone reported, the Donald Trump administration has diverted USAID funding originally intended to assist Central American migrants to pay the salaries of Vecchio and his team in Washington.

[..] Lawyers representing Blumenthal and Rubinstein placed multiple and highly specified discovery requests to the prosecutor for Secret Service call recordings and reports logged on May 8 at the location of the embassy food delivery. The US prosecutor was unable to satisfy the request, verbally confirming that if the documents had existed, they no longer did. “This is highly unusual and highly notable, almost inexplicable in the ordinary course of operations that these records were not maintained and preserved,” said Carl Messineo, the counsel to Rubinstein and a co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “Given the false nature of allegations and that they advanced a prosecution based on these it is really questionable that this information was not produced.”

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It’s getting out of hand. Australia has a huge water/moisture shortage.

Fire ‘Too Big To Put Out’ May Blanket Sydney In Smoke For Months (NW)

A wildfire blazing 37 miles northwest from Sydney, Australia has been determined to be “too big to put out,” leaving residents to evacuate and the city with the prospect of months of heavy smoke. The fire is currently 1,150 square miles across and is comprised of several fires merging into one. Called the Gospers Mountain mega blaze, 2,200 firefighters are reported to be out in the field battling the fire, with groups of Canadian and American firefighters said to be joining them soon. Walkabout Wildlife Park has evacuated hundreds of animals to keep them safe from the fire. But the Bureau of Meteorology declared that some of the fires were too big to extinguish and would only be put out when the country received a good rain.


Sydney may be blanketed in smoke for weeks—possibly months. Sydney has already been enduring higher smoke levels than normal, and hospital officials report a 10 percent increase in admissions. Health officials warn that those who inhale the smoke long term might see effects similar to smoking cigarettes. “A cigarette is basically a plant that we purposely inhale. And in bushfires, it’s another plant that we’re inhaling the smoke from, so it’s not surprising the health effects are actually quite similar,” said Associate Professor Brian Oliver, an expert in respiratory disease from the University of Technology, Sydney to the BBC. “We cannot stop these fires, they will just keep burning until conditions ease, and then we’ll try to do what we can to contain them,” said NSW RFS deputy commissioner, Rob Rogers to the ABC.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Nov 282019
 
 November 28, 2019  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Paul Gauguin Brooding woman 1891

 

Is Censure The Democrat Escape Clause? (Noble)
Tulsi Gabbard Slams Democrats for Calling Trump Supporters ‘Deplorables’ (GP)
China Threatens Retaliation After Trump Signs Hong Kong Democracy Bill (ZH)
Obama Holdover Investigated for ‘Illegally Leaked’ Classified Document (ET)
The Real Barack Obama Has Finally Revealed Himself (Jacobin)
Reuters Gamed A Poll To Show Rising Support For Trump Impeachment (ZH)
Fewer Than 120,000 Tactical Votes Could Block Boris Johnson Premiership (Ind.)
US Wants NHS On Table For Post-Brexit Trade Deal – Labour Dossier (Ind.)
Christopher Steele Distributed Other Dossier Reports (Solomon)
“Russian Trolls” Did Not “Sow Discord” – They Influenced No One (MoA)
Brick & Mortar Rent Meltdown, Manhattan Style (WS)
Merkel Says NATO Is ‘More Important’ Now Than During Cold War (RT)

 

 

Well, censure appears to be the word of the day.

Is Censure The Democrat Escape Clause? (Noble)

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) is not one of those who represent a 2016 Trump-voting district. In fact, her safe Democrat district encompasses part of eastern Detroit. Even so, Lawrence has seen the writing on the wall: Among independent voters, enthusiasm for impeachment is waning, and Lawrence – who previously supported the idea – is perhaps now thinking beyond her own chances of re-election. “I will tell you, sitting here knowing how divided this country is,” Lawrence explained Nov. 24 during a radio interview, “I don’t see the value of taking [Trump] out of office, but I do see the value of putting down a marker saying his behavior is not acceptable.”

An editorial, published Nov. 23 by The Detroit News, suggests censure of the president rather than impeachment, and The Chicago Tribune followed suit on Nov. 25. It is neither unfair nor inaccurate to point out that the left-wing media rarely take up a political narrative not preapproved by someone within the Democratic Party. So the sudden appearance of editorials arguing for censure strongly suggests that Democrat strategists are leaning in that direction or at least testing the waters. Unlike impeachment, censure is not a constitutional measure. That is not to say that censure is unconstitutional, but that it is simply a course of action devised by Congress and not described in the nation’s founding document. There is no mandatory consequence to censure, and nobody would suggest that censure could lead to removal from the office of president.

It has been used most often to rebuke or reprimand members of Congress, though Trump, were he censured, would not be the first commander in chief to have faced it. In effect, censure is an act of disapproval. For a member of Congress, it may entail such undesirable consequences as loss of committee memberships or even suspension; it comes with no penalties when used against executive branch officials. And that is how it should be, or the concepts of separation of powers and co-equal branches of government would likely be swept away in an avalanche of partisan censure votes. Both the Senate and the House have the power to censure or reprimand, and each chamber may do it without the approval or involvement of the other. Censure requires only a simple majority. At least some Democrats, surely, are considering how much easier than impeachment censure will be. They also may be considering how a censure resolution will provide the opportunity to pontificate at length – on live TV – about Trump’s moral turpitude and failings, both as a human being and as a president.

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A lone voice in the wilderness: “..you can’t win support from people that you treat “like garbage.”

Tulsi Gabbard Slams Democrats for Calling Trump Supporters ‘Deplorables’ (GP)

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard once again defended supporters of President Donald Trump, as well as her appearances on Fox News, during an interview with Joe Rogan on Tuesday night. The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said that you can’t lead Americans as president if you’re going to throw “half of them away.” “It’s one thing to say you’re gonna go on Fox News and tussle with Sean Hannity about things you disagree on, but what they see as more dangerous is finding areas where you actually do agree,” Gabbard proclaimed.

“I have a platform to be able to speak to millions of people across the country about the kind of leadership I bring in the area of foreign policy. What I would do here in this country, what I would do there in that country if I were president today. And I have the opportunity to deliver that message directly to people’s living rooms or offices or wherever they are.” Rep. Gabbard was attacked by Sen. Kamala Harris during the November Democratic Primary debate for her willingness to appear on Fox News.

“I think in some of these areas, Tucker and I will disagree on a whole host of things, but on some of these issues of foreign policy he’ll say, ‘Yeah, I agree with you,’” she continued. “And I think when you look at this cancel culture — I was attacked on the debate stage for going on Fox News — how do you think you’re gonna lead this country, all Americans, if you’re completely not only shutting out and not willing to do talk to half the country that watches Fox News, but you’re in fact disrespecting and dismissing them just because they may disagree with you, or they watch a different news channel than you do. I think that’s the bigger issue here, is you know, yeah, there’s a political consequence.” She noted that you can’t win support from people that you treat “like garbage.”

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Trump had no choice, he was outnumbered. China also has no choice, it must respond, but Xi knows what situation Trump is in.

China Threatens Retaliation After Trump Signs Hong Kong Democracy Bill (ZH)

[..] on day 510 of the trade war, it appears the president was confident enough that a collapse in trade talks won’t drag stocks too far lower, and moments after futures reopened at 6pm, the White House said that Trump had signed the Hong Kong bill backing pro-democracy protesters, defying China and making sure that every trader’s Thanksgiving holiday was just ruined.Needless to say, no differences will be “settled amicably” and now China will have no choice but to retaliate, aggressively straining relations with the US, and further complicating Trump’s effort to wind down his nearly two-year old trade war with Beijing.

Trump’s signing of the bill comes during a period of unprecedented unrest in Hong Kong, where anti-government protests sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill proposal have ballooned into broader calls for democratic reform and police accountability. “The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act reaffirms and amends the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, specifies United States policy towards Hong Kong and directs assessment of the political developments in Hong Kong,” the White House said in a statement. “Certain provisions of the act would interfere with the exercise of the president’s constitutional authority to state the foreign policy of the United States.”

The legislation, S. 1838, which was passed virtually unanimously in both chambers, requires annual reviews of Hong Kong’s special trade status under American law and will allow Washington to suspend said status in case the city does not retain a sufficient degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework. The bill also sanctions any officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses or undermining the city’s autonomy. The House cleared the bill 417-1 on Nov. 20 after the Senate passed it without opposition, veto-proof majorities that left Trump with little choice but to acquiesce, or else suffer bruising fallout from his own party. the GOP.

Trump also signed into law the PROTECT Hong Kong act, which will prohibit the sale of US-made munitions such as tear gas and rubber bullets to the city’s authorities. While many members of Congress in both parties have voiced strong support for protesters demanding more autonomy for the city, Trump had stayed largely silent, even as the demonstrations have been met by rising police violence. Until now.

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A tangled web.

Obama Holdover Investigated for ‘Illegally Leaked’ Classified Document (ET)

The Obama holdover heading the Pentagon office reportedly under investigation by the U.S. attorney who is conducting the criminal probe of the Trump–Russia investigation was accused of leaking a classified document, in a recent court filing for retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. The connection hasn’t been previously reported. According to a Nov. 21 report by independent journalist Sara Carter, U.S. Attorney John Durham is questioning personnel in the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA). ONA awarded about $1 million in contracts to FBI informant Stefan Halper, who appears to have played a key role in alleged U.S. intelligence agency spying on 2016 Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.

In addition, however, a court filing indicates that ONA’s director, James H. Baker, “is believed to be the person who illegally leaked the transcript of Mr. Flynn’s calls” to The Washington Post. Specifically, the filing states, “ONA Director Baker regularly lunched with Washington Post Reporter David Ignatius.” The filing adds that Baker “was Halper’s ‘handler’” at ONA. Moreover, according to the court filing, the tasks assigned to “known long-time operative for the CIA/FBI” Halper “seem to have included slandering Mr. Flynn with accusations of having an affair with a young professor (a British national of Russian descent).” The filing notes that Flynn’s defense team has requested phone records for then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, likewise in order to confirm contacts with Ignatius.

The filing singles out records for Jan. 10, 2017, when, according to the filing, “Clapper told Ignatius in words to the effect of ‘take the kill shot on Flynn.’” The Pentagon’s current inspector general has already found that Baker’s office “did not maintain documentation of the work performed by Professor Halper or any communication that ONA personnel had with Professor Halper.” As a result, according to the inspector general, ONA staff “could not provide sufficient documentation that Professor Halper conducted all of his work in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”

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Quite the attack.

The Real Barack Obama Has Finally Revealed Himself (Jacobin)

What does Barack Obama want? To ask the question is both to wonder how one of the world’s most influential people chooses to dedicate his time and to consider to what ends he thinks it is best put to use. As Nathan Robinson and I argued a little more than two years ago, a post-presidency offers us the ideal heuristic for doing exactly that. In office, or so it has often been suggested, Obama’s fiery progressive spirit was endlessly stifled by a combination of events, GOP obstruction, and the inherent conservatism of the American legislative process. Having left such constraints behind, many believed, post-2016 Obama would now be free to do just about anything he wanted — meaning that the former president’s real self could finally surface from beneath the depths of institutional necessity under which it had hitherto been submerged.

This prediction turned out to be true enough, just not in the way many Obama partisans assumed. Equipped with fame, wealth, and a vast reservoir of residual goodwill Obama now has more power to do good in an hour than most of us do in a lifetime. The demands of etiquette and propriety notwithstanding, he no longer has intransigent Blue Dog senators to appease, donors to placate, or personal electoral considerations to keep him up at night. When he speaks or acts, we can be reasonably certain he does so out of sincere choice and that the substance of his words and actions reflect the real Barack Obama and how he honestly sees the world.

It therefore tells us a great deal that, given the latitude, resources, and moral authority with which to influence events, Obama has spent his post-presidency cozying up to the global elite and delivering vapid speeches to corporate interests in exchange for unthinkable sums of money. Though often remaining out of the spotlight, he has periodically appeared next to various CEOs at events whose descriptions might be read as cutting satire targeting the hollowness of business culture if they weren’t all-too real. As the world teeters on the brink of ecological disaster, he recently cited an increase in America’s output of oil under his administration as a laudable achievement.

When Obama has spoken about or intervened in politics, it’s most often been to bolster the neoliberal center-right or attack and undermine the Left. Having emerged from seclusion to endorse the likes of Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, Obama also rang up Britain’s austerity-loving Conservative prime minister Theresa May on election night in 2017 to offer reassurance and trash the Labour Party’s electoral prospects. Only last week, while denouncing the Democratic Party’s “activist wing,” the former president who had once introduced himself to the nation as a progressive, community-minded outsider inveighed against those pushing for a more ambitious direction — contemptuously instructing a group of wealthy donors not to concern themselves too-much with the irrational zealotry of “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds.”

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Why do we still have polls left? What purpose do they serve other than entertainment?

Reuters Gamed A Poll To Show Rising Support For Trump Impeachment (ZH)

After several major polls revealed a sharp decline in support for impeaching President Trump in the wake of unconvincing public testimony by aggrieved bureaucrats (and at least one House Democrat publicly opposing the move), Reuters/Ipsos now claims support for impeachment has increased. “The latest poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, found that 47% of adults in the United States felt Trump “should be impeached,” while 40% said he should not. The result, combined with Reuters/Ipsos polling over the past several weeks, showed that the number of Americans who want to impeach the president increasingly outnumbers those who do not.” -Reuters The problem? Reuters sampled a disproportionate number of Democrats. Buried at the bottom of their report, they disclose:

“The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,118 adults, including 528 Democrats, 394 Republicans and 111 independents. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 3 percentage points.” In other words, Reuters sampled more Democrats than Republicans and independents combined to arrive at their conclusion. They also reveal that ” about eight in 10 Democrats [were] supportive of impeaching Trump, and eight in 10 Republicans opposed,” and that seven in 10 Republicans felt the House impeachment inquiry had not been conducted fairly. As we noted during the 2016 US election, Reuters/Ipsos wasoversampling Democrats when they found that Hillary Clinton had a giant lead over Donald Trump – using a poll that sampled 44% Democrats and 33% Republicans.

But hey, Adam Schiff needs something to back his claim that support for impeachment has grown “dramatically” over the past two months.

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And here’s another poll. Does anyone fully understand this system?

Fewer Than 120,000 Tactical Votes Could Block Boris Johnson Premiership (Ind.)

Fewer than 120,000 anti-Brexit tactical votes in the right seats could deny Boris Johnson an overall majority in the House of Commons, new polling suggests. A large-scale survey of almost 40,000 voters found that Conservatives are heading for 366 seats in the House of Commons, giving Mr Johnson a comfortable majority of 82. But analysis for the Best for Britain campaign for a second EU referendum found that in 57 seats, the Tory candidate could be defeated by 4,000 or fewer anti-Brexit voters voting tactically. And the campaign said that as few as 117,314 pro-EU tactical votes in the right seats could produce a hung parliament which could deliver a Final Say referendum.

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Scary enough fpr you?

US Wants NHS On Table For Post-Brexit Trade Deal – Labour Dossier (Ind.)

US negotiators pushed for “full market access” to services including the NHS in talks on a post-Brexit free trade deal with the UK, a cache of leaked documents has revealed. The papers were dramatically unveiled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said they left “in tatters” the prime minister’s denial that the NHS will be on the table in trade talks. The 451-page dossier of official files showed the US had “pushed hard” to extend patents on drugs developed by American corporations in a way which would raise prices to NHS patients. A UK negotiator said such a move could put Britain “in difficult territory”.

And the dossier made clear that the US has been “emphatic” in its insistence that climate change should not even be mentioned in the deal, which Boris Johnson wants to strike as soon as possible after the UK leaves the European Union. But furious Conservatives accused Mr Corbyn of “out-and-out lying” and suggested he was peddling conspiracy theories in a bid to distract attention away from his difficulties over antisemitism allegations and Labour’s plans for Brexit and taxation. Mr Johnson dismissed the Labour leader’s claims as “total nonsense”, and said: “I can give you an absolute cast-iron guarantee that this is a complete diversion. That the NHS under no circumstances would be on the table for negotiation, for sale.”

[..] After a slew of bad headlines about his refusal to apologise for his handling of antisemitism during a TV interview on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn came back fighting with the claim that Mr Johnson’s government was “preparing to sell our NHS”. He pointed to details in the dossier which showed that the US was pushing for a deal in which all services would be opened up to American companies unless they were specifically exempted. “Total market access” should be the “baseline assumption of the trade negotiations” because it “incentivises freer trade”, the dossier said. UK officials assured their US counterparts that Britain would be “a liberalising influence” and that together they could “fly the good flag for services liberalisation”.

“That’s a green light for breaking open Britain’s public services so corporations can profit from them,” said Mr Corbyn. And he warned: “The US is demanding that our NHS is on the table in negotiations for a toxic deal – it’s already being talked about in secret. That could lead to runaway privatisation of our health service. “Mega-corporations see Johnson’s alliance with Trump as a chance to make billions from the illness and sickness of people in this country. “And if the Conservatives have their way and this deal goes forward, the changes I’ve revealed will be almost irreversible.”

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A foreigner paid for dirt on a political opponent. What do we call that?

Christopher Steele Distributed Other Dossier Reports (Solomon)

Just before Christmas 2015, the British intelligence operative Christopher Steele emailed a report to private clients that included an American lawyer for a Ukrainian oligarch. The title of the dossier was “FIRTASH Abortive Return to Ukraine,” and it purported to provide intelligence on why the energy oligarch Dmitri Firtash tried, but failed, to return to his home country of Ukraine. “FIRTASH’s talk of returning to Ukraine a genuine ambition rather than merely a ruse to reveal Ukrainian government’s hand. However the oligarch developed cold feet upon the news of a negative reception at Boryspil airport,” Steele reported on Dec. 23, 2015.

Perhaps most important to the recipients, the former MI6 agent’s report purported to share the latest thinking of Russian and U.S. officials on Firtash, who at the time faced U.S. criminal charges and was awaiting extradition from Austria. Those charges and extradition remain unresolved four years later. Firtash insists on his innocence, while the U.S. government stands by it case despite recent criticism from Austrian and Spanish authorities. “The prevarication over his return has lost FIRTASH credibility with the Russians, but his precarious position in Austria leaves him little choice but to acquiesce with Moscow’s demands,” the Steele report claimed. “Separate American sources confirm that US Government regards FIRTASH as a conduit for Russian influence and he remains a pariah to the Americans.”

The anecdote of the Firtash report underscores that challenges the FBI faced when it used Steele in 2016 as a human source in the Russia collusion probe. He not only opposed Trump and was paid by Hillary Clinton’s opposition research firm to dig up dirt on the then-GOP nominee, he also was in the business of selling intelligence to private clients – all perfectly legal — while informing for the FBI.

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Robert Mueller gave it away.

“Russian Trolls” Did Not “Sow Discord” – They Influenced No One (MoA)

The U.S. has claimed that the Russia government tried to influence the 2016 election through Facebook and Twitter. Russia supposedly did this through people who worked the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia. The IRA people ran virtual persona on U.S. social networks which pretended to have certain political opinions. It also spent on advertising supposedly to influence the election. U.S. intelligence claimed that the purpose of the alleged Russian influence campaign was to “sow discord” within the United States. But the IRA had nothing to do with the Russian government. It had no interests in politics. And a new study confirms that the idea that it was “sowing discord” is blatant nonsense.


IRA influencer

The Mueller investigation indicted 13 Russian persons and three Russian legal entities over the alleged influence campaign. But, as we wrote at that time, there was more to it than the media reported: “The published indictment gives support to our long held believe that there was no “Russian influence” campaign during the U.S. election. What is described and denounced as such was instead a commercial marketing scheme which ran click-bait websites to generate advertisement revenue and created online crowds around virtual persona to promote whatever its commercial customers wanted to promote. The size of the operation was tiny when compared to the hundreds of millions in campaign expenditures. It had no influence on the election outcome.”

The IRA hired people in Leningrad for little money and asked them to open accounts on U.S. social media. The virtual persona they created and ran were to attract as many persons to those accounts as possible. They did that by posting funny dog pictures or by taking strong political positions. They were ‘influencers’ who sold their customers’ products to the people they attracted. The sole purpose was the same as in any commercial media. Create content to attract ‘eyeballs’, then sell those eyeballs to advertisers.

The IRA also bought advertisement to attract more people to its accounts. But the amount it spent was tiny. The final price tag for the 2016 election was $6.5 billion for the presidential and congressional elections combined. The IRA spend a total of $100,000 to promote its own accounts. But only some $45,000 of that was spend before the election. It was 0.000007 cent for every election dollar that was spend during that time. It is statistically impossible that the mostly apolitical IRA spending had any effect on the election.

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Not the same all over Manhattan, but the trend is there.

Brick & Mortar Rent Meltdown, Manhattan Style (WS)

These are major shopping corridors in Manhattan, and in nearly all of them, asking rents for ground-floor retail space have been dropping for years – and in some of them by half. For example, the average asking rent on Madison Avenue between 57th Street and 72nd Street, plunged 22% in the second half of 2019, compared to the same period last year, to $906 per square foot per year, and is down 47% from the first half in 2015, according to the bi-annual Manhattan Retail Report released today by the Real Estate Board of New York. The REBNY report points out, “An increased amount of leases expiring has contributed to the high availability rates [meaning, vacancies] that has led owners to lower asking rents and offer more short-term lease agreements.”

Falling asking rents and better terms in the Madison Avenue corridor – better deals for prospective tenants – help bring out prospective tenants, according to the report: “Softening rents has led to increased absorption as recent leases consist of retailers relocating to smaller-sized storefronts with better co-tenancy. Notables tenants such as Akris, Mont Blanc, and Morgane Le Fay indicate that apparel tenants still dominate this corridor.” The report is entirely focused on ground-floor retail spaces. Of the 17 shopping corridors in Manhattan tracked by the REBNY, average asking rents fell in 11 of them. But since 2015, asking rents in all but three of them have dropped sharply.

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The true colors of Mutti.

Merkel Says NATO Is ‘More Important’ Now Than During Cold War (RT)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said NATO is now equally or more important than it was during the Cold War, a praise being sang to a military bloc long without its arch-rival and with a history of interventions.
East Germany native Angela Merkel provided her very complimentary take as NATO braces to mark their 70th anniversary at a special summit in London. Keeping the military bloc in place today “is even more in our very own interests as it was in the Cold War – or at least as important as it was in the Cold War,” the Chancellor told German MPs. “Because, and the Foreign Minister [Heiko Maas] said yesterday, Europe currently cannot defend itself on its own,” she reiterated.

Slightly contradicting her own words, the chancellor admitted that the US “no longer automatically takes up responsibility when it’s burning around us.” As the formal etiquette prescribes, Merkel called NATO a “bulwark for peace and freedom” over the past 70 years, without highlighting the bloc’s war on former Yugoslavia and the 2011 bombardments of Libya. The German leader has recently locked horns with France’s Emmanuel Macron over his famous “NATO’s brain death” remark that sent shockwaves through European elite circles. Macron’s “drastic words” were “unnecessary, even if we do have problems and must get it together,” Merkel complained at the time.

Rebuking Macron was also NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said last week that “European unity cannot replace Transatlantic unity as we need both … especially after Brexit.” But bringing the 70-year-old alliance together is increasingly becoming a challenge for its members. On the latest occasion, Turkey – a country that has one of NATO’s largest standing armies – refused to sign a new defense plan for the eastern European countries, according to Reuters.

Read more …

 

Clive James died yesterday.

 

 

 

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Jan 182019
 


Pablo Picasso Mother and child at the seaside 1922

 

Demand For Credit Cards And Mortgages In UK Falling Fast (G.)
May’s 10-Year Plan ‘Still Not Enough’ To Save NHS – (Ind.)
May Tells Corbyn It Is ‘Impossible’ To Rule Out No Deal (G.)
Run Down the Brexit Clock (Varoufakis)
Nigel Farage Urges Brexiteers To Prepare For Second Referendum (PA)
More Countries To Cut Down Their Belt And Road Investments (CNBC)
China’s Slowing Economy Takes Hong Kong’s Housing Market Down With It (BI)
Germany ‘Looks To Ban Huawei’ From 5G Build (BBC)
Huawei Funding Suspended By Oxford University (PA)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Teaches Fellow Democrats How To Use Twitter (Ind.)
How We’ll Pay For Green New Deal Isn’t ‘A Thing’ – Nor Is Inflation (F.)
Another Good Day For Putin As Turmoil Grips US and UK (CNN)
Putin Stole Santa’s Home (F.)

 

 

It’s certainly true that Nancy Pelosi gets more popular because she opposes Trump. In the same way that the NYT and CNN got milliions more viewers and readers by echo-chambering their Trump ‘resistance’.

But still, if she refuses to hold the State of the Union, Trump simply takes her plane away. Being more popular in the echo chamber isn’t the same as being popular. So many Americans, in media, politics, and in the street, have lived in their echo chambers for so long, they think it’s the entire country. That is not true.

Yes, Britain should wean off personal debt as much as any nation. But do it too fast and your engines fail and bring you to a full standstill.

Demand For Credit Cards And Mortgages In UK Falling Fast (G.)

Borrowing on credit cards is expected to plunge to the lowest levels since 2007 in the three months before Brexit, according to the Bank of England, in another indication of stresses facing the UK economy. According to the latest quarterly health check on credit conditions from Threadneedle Street, high street banks forecast borrowing on plastic will decline in the first quarter by the most since records began 12 years ago. It comes amid growing concern over consumer spending on the high street after the worst Christmas for retailers since the financial crisis, setting the economy up for a weak first quarter. The Bank said its measure of demand for credit card lending over the three months to the end of March dropped to -20.7 from -7.2.

Its gauge for mortgage lending also dropped to -17.5 in the final quarter of 2018, from -0.2 in the third quarter, its lowest level since the end of 2010. The looming threat of a no-deal Brexit in less than 80 days dragged down the UK property market further in December, according to a report from Britain’s top surveyors, with prices falling at the fastest rate in six years and the outlook for sales the weakest in two decades. Economists said that the drop in mortgage lending likely reflected banks reining in their lending in response to the risk of a no-deal Brexit, with Threadneedle Street warning that prices could drop by almost a third. Despite the warnings, prices have continued to rise sharply in some parts of the UK, including Manchester and Birmingham, even as the value of homes in London stalls or declines.

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May’s legacy: failed Brexit, hostile environment and murder of a reasonably well functioning health system.

May’s 10-Year Plan ‘Still Not Enough’ To Save NHS – (Ind.)

The NHS is financially “unsustainable” and the government’s much-trumpeted 10-year plan is inadequate to rescue cancer, mental health and social care services, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned. Years of underinvestment have resulted in longer waiting times, critical staff shortages and “substantial deficits” that have been covered up by raiding funds for long-term reform, an NAO review found. These factors “do not add up to a picture that we can describe as sustainable”, it said. NHS England’s recently published 10-year plan sets out how it aims to spend the pledged £20.5bn increase in its budget by 2023 to break this cycle.

But the NAO warns its success is dependent on the government producing – and funding – a long-delayed plan to reform social care and an estimated £6bn repair bill to fix run-down buildings. While NHS England expects to bring in thousands of staff from overseas to fill gaps, the report says ambitions to transform services will require significant additional growth. “The NAO has laid bare just how difficult it will be to achieve the ambitions of the NHS long-term plan given where the NHS is starting from,” Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund think tank, said. With health services finances “bedevilled by short-term fixes, fragile workarounds, and unrealistic expectations”, he said the NAO was right to make clear the government’s flagship investment is not an NHS panacea.

[..] key decisions about the future of waiting-time standards such as the four-hour treatment target in A&E departments have been deferred to a separate report. Auditors warned more than £700m will be required just to bring the NHS surgical waiting list down from a 10-year high of more than 4.3 million, to March 2018 levels. A workforce plan has also been delayed and the report says: “There is a risk that the NHS will be unable to use the extra funding optimally because of staff shortages.” This is because scarce funds are currently being squandered on costly agency staff to plug more than 100,000 vacant posts, and there could be too few people in key roles – like cancer or community services – to deliver its goals.

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May rules out a customs union and a second referendum, but not a “no deal”. Is that impossible, or merely her ‘principles’?

“..the prime minister was determined to stick to her “principles” on Brexit, including rejecting a customs union and a second referendum.”

May Tells Corbyn It Is ‘Impossible’ To Rule Out No Deal (G.)

Theresa May has told Jeremy Corbyn his demand that she rule out a no-deal scenario as a prerequisite for Brexit talks is “an impossible condition” and called on him to join cross-party discussions immediately. In a letter to Corbyn on Thursday afternoon, written after the Labour leader dismissed her request for talks as a “stunt”, May said that she would be “happy to discuss” the Labour leader’s ideas. She urged him to “talk and see if we can begin to find a way forward for our country on Brexit”. Referring to Corbyn’s instruction to Labour MPs not to meet with her, May asked: “Is it right to ask your MPs not to seek a solution with the government?”

The proposed talks have been stymied by Corbyn’s insistence that a no-deal must be ruled out as a precondition and May’s insistence that doing so would not be workable. In her letter she wrote: “It is not within the government’s power to rule out no deal.” May has been meeting other party leaders in the aftermath of the resounding defeat for her Brexit plan in the House of Commons earlier this week. A number of Labour MPs have defied their leader’s instruction not to engage in discussions designed to find a plan that might command a majority. Earlier, Downing Street insisted the prime minister was determined to stick to her “principles” on Brexit, including rejecting a customs union and a second referendum.

With the clock running down to Brexit day on 29 March, May kicked off Thursday’s talks with the Green party MP, Caroline Lucas. May’s official spokesman insisted these conversations would be approached “in a constructive spirit, and wanting to hear what the various groups have to say”. But when asked whether May was willing to flex any of her negotiating red lines, he said they remained in place.

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Yanis inserts a bit of -much needed- game theory into the debate. A deadline defeats the process, because there will be nothing happening before the deadline.

Run Down the Brexit Clock (Varoufakis)

Members of Parliament deserve congratulations for keeping their cool in the face of a made-up deadline. That deadline is the reason why Brexit is proving so hard and potentially so damaging. To resolve Brexit, that artificial deadline must be removed altogether, not merely re-set. [..] Once we are at, or close to March 29, heightened urgency will dissolve tactical procrastination. May’s deal will have bitten the dust, and Remainers will be closer to accepting that time is not on the side of a Brexit-annulling second referendum, perhaps turning their attention to the legitimate aim of a future referendum to re-join the EU.

At that point, government and opposition will recognize that only two coherent options remain for the immediate future. The first is Norway Plus, which would mean Britain would remain for an indeterminate period in the EU single market (like Norway), and also in a customs union with the EU. The second is an immediate full exit, with Britain trading under World Trade Organization rules while Northern Ireland remains within a customs union with the EU to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. Narrowing it down to two options will enable Parliament to choose. Once MPs acknowledge that freedom of movement between the UK and the EU is a red herring, the most likely outcome is Norway Plus for an indeterminate, deadline-free period.

Then and only then will Parliament and the people have the opportunity to debate the large-scale issues confronting Britain, not least the future of the UK-EU relationship. Norway Plus would, of course, leave everyone somewhat dissatisfied. But, unlike May’s deal or a hasty second referendum, at least it would minimize the discontent that any large segment of Britain’s society might experience in the medium term. And, because minimizing the discontent, along with a deadline-free horizon, are prerequisites for the people’s debate that Britain deserves, the overwhelming defeat of May’s deal may well be remembered as a vindication of democracy.

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It wouldn’t get more toxic that that.

Nigel Farage Urges Brexiteers To Prepare For Second Referendum (PA)

Nigel Farage has urged Leave campaigners to prepare for a second referendum as Britain’s Brexit deadlock continues. The former Ukip leader spoke at a packed Leave Means Leave rally in London, alongside former Conservative leader Iain Duncan-Smith, MP Esther McVey and Hotelier Rocco Forte. Mr Farage said he believed “it is now quite possible that we will see an extension of Article 50”. He added: “When I’ve talked in the past about being worried that they may force us into a second referendum. I don’t want it anymore than you do but I am saying to you we have to face reality in the face. Don’t think the other side aren’t organised, don’t think the other side aren’t prepared, don’t think they haven’t raised the money, don’t think they haven’t got the teams in place, they have.”

The audience at the Leave Means Leave rally were fired up and heckling throughout the nights speeches. Mr Duncan-Smith said Britain’s “greatness” lies in the post-Brexit future. He added: “I love this country dearly, I love it with all my heart. I love people whether they’re Remainers or Leavers, I don’t care. But I know one thing, this country’s greatness lies ahead of it and we have an opportunity and a duty to deliver it. I pledge to you tonight, I will not sleep, I will not rest, I will not wake to find a Britain that is otherwise than independent and free once again.” He branded the European Union a “political project that we have never fully been told the truth about” and described anti-Brexit arguments as “a load of rubbish”.

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As I’ve been saying for a while. “The phenomenon has been dubbed debt-trap diplomacy.”

More Countries To Cut Down Their Belt And Road Investments (CNBC)

Some countries are scaling down or scrapping entire projects that are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative amid mounting financial concerns over the continent-spanning venture. In recent months, developing nations such as Pakistan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone have either canceled or backed away from previously negotiated BRI commitments, citing worries over high project costs and their impact on national debt and the economy. That revised stance not only confirms global fears over the terms of BRI financing, it could also indicate that developing countries are now more willing to prioritize sovereign interests over their need for foreign investment.

The BRI — Beijing’s signature foreign policy program — is the superpower’s attempt to stretch its economic power across the globe through the construction of maritime and overland transportation links across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. But critics see it as a means to benefit China’s military, increase opportunities for Chinese companies and help Beijing gain political leverage. Under the trillion-dollar endeavor, Chinese state-owned entities flush with cash offer participating countries cheap loans and credit to build large-scale projects such as ports and railways.

[..] Many of these countries want to avoid the same fate as Sri Lanka. Shock waves rippled throughout the developing world when Colombo handed over a strategic port to Beijing in 2017, after it couldn’t pay off its debt to Chinese companies. It was seen as an example of how countries that owe money to Beijing could be forced to sign over national territory or make steep economic concessions if they can’t meet liabilities. The phenomenon has been dubbed debt-trap diplomacy

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The biggest housing bubble of them all.

China’s Slowing Economy Takes Hong Kong’s Housing Market Down With It (BI)

One of the world’s most expensive housing markets is facing a major slowdown. Analysts at HSBC dimmed their outlook for Hong Kong’s real-estate market on Wednesday, according to a research note. Previously forecasting activity would plateau, they now estimate prices will fall from 10% to 15% over the next six months. “We expect the first half of 2019 to be a challenging period for the Hong Kong housing market,” the analysts said. “Prices have already corrected 8% from the recent peak in August 2018 due to macro uncertainties and several events occurring in the property market that concerned investors.”

Hong Kong was ranked the most-expensive housing market in the world for eight consecutive years, benefitting from capital controls in mainland China that incentivize real-estate investments closer to home. But activity has slowed sharply in recent months, with property values falling by the most since the global financial crisis in 2008 in November. With China’s economy expected to continue to lose steam in coming months, the housing market looks poised to fall further. [..] Also helping to bring prices down from August highs, a vacancy tax aimed at discouraging investors from holding empty Hong Kong homes was introduced last year. Still, some are confident residential real estate activity will start to recover despite a slowing economy, with HSBC predicting annual price drops to shrink to between 5% and 10% by the end of the year.

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It’s about our intelligence controlling us. We don’t want Chinese intelligence to do that, and the only alternative we have is the CIA, MI6 etc.

Germany ‘Looks To Ban Huawei’ From 5G Build (BBC)

Germany is considering ways to block Huawei from its next generation mobile phone network, according to reports. Berlin is exploring stricter security requirements which may prevent Huawei products being used in its 5G network. Many countries have pushed against the involvement of the Chinese technology firm in their 5G networks over security concerns. The networks represent the next big wave of mobile infrastructure. The Chinese company, one of the world’s biggest producers of telecoms equipment, has faced resistance from foreign governments over the risk that its technology could be used for espionage. Huawei has denied claims it poses a spying risk.

Germany’s interior ministry had previously said it opposes banning any suppliers from its 5G network. But it may consider stricter security requirements and other ways to exclude Huawei, according to reports. Such a move would bring it in line with other Western countries. The Australian government has banned Huawei from providing 5G technology to its wireless networks, while New Zealand blocked a proposal to use its telecoms equipment over national security concerns. The US and UK have raised concerns with Huawei, and the firm has also been scrutinised in Japan and Korea.

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Some people have all the funding they need.

Huawei Funding Suspended By Oxford University (PA)

Oxford University is suspending research grants and funding donations from Huawei, amid growing security concerns about the Chinese firm’s telecommunication technology. Existing research contracts already received or committed with Huawei will go ahead, but the university will not pursue new funding opportunities with the company. There are two ongoing projects in which Huawei has committed £692,000, the university said.

“Oxford University decided on January 8 this year that it will not pursue new funding opportunities with Huawei Technologies Co Ltd or its related group companies at present,” an Oxford University spokesman said in a statement. “Huawei has been notified of the decision which the university will keep under review. The decision applies both to the funding of research contracts and of philanthropic donations. “The decision has been taken in the light of public concerns raised in recent months surrounding UK partnerships with Huawei. We hope these matters can be resolved shortly and note Huawei’s own willingness to reassure governments about its role and activities.

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The Democrats have their own Trump. But they don’t understand how that works, and personal desire for power is far too great amongst the octogenarians (or soon to be) anyway.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Teaches Fellow Democrats How To Use Twitter (Ind.)

There are some things, such as courage and a sense of humour, that you cannot teach. But becoming a titan of social media? That may just be possible to learn. Such is the hope, at least, of Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have undergone a class in how to tweet more effectively, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the veritable Twitter superpower. “With @AOC, @RepDebDingell, @jahimes, @davidcicilline, @RepCartwright & @Twitter representatives at training session on Twitter for Democratic Members of Congress,” tweeted California congressman Ted Lieu, after the lesson. “The below pic is called a selfie.”

Nobody in the Democratic party – Michelle and Barack Obama included – has as much Twitter power as the 29-year-old congresswoman of New York’s 14th district. Axios reported recently that from December 11 2018, to January 11 2019, Ms Ocasio-Cortez, had 11.8m Twitter interactions, second only to Donald Trump, – who had 39.8m – among politicians or the news media. Senator Kamala Harris was third with 4.6m, Barack Obama was fourth with 4.4m, and CNN came fifth with 3.1m.

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Robert Hockett is professor of Law and Public Policy at Cornell University. “How will we pay for it?” is not that interesting. “What’s in it?” is a much better question.

I don’t think I’m going to like the answer. Because I don’t think the people proposing the various Green New Deals can see sufficiently across the wide range of fields involved: finance, pollution, energy, politics, psychology etc.

How We’ll Pay For Green New Deal Isn’t ‘A Thing’ – Nor Is Inflation (F.)

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s announcement of an ambitious new Green New Deal Initiative in Congress has brought predictable – and predictably silly – callouts from conservative pundits and scared politicians. ‘How will we pay for it?,’ they ask with pretend-incredulity, and ‘what about debt?’ ‘Won’t we have to raise taxes, and will that not crowd-out the job creators?’ Representative Ocasio-Cortez already has given the best answer possible to such queries, most of which seem to be raised in bad faith. Why is it, she retorts, that these questions arise only in connection with useful ideas, not wasteful ideas? Where were the ‘pay-fors’ for Bush’s $5 trillion wars and tax cuts, or for last year’s $2 trillion tax giveaway to billionaires?

Why wasn’t financing those massive throwaways as scary as financing the rescue of our planet and middle class now seems to be to these naysayers? The short answer to ‘how we will pay for’ the Green New Deal is easy. We’ll pay for it just as we pay for all else: Congress will authorize necessary spending, and Treasury will spend. This is how we do it – always has been, always will be. The money that’s spent, for its part, is never ‘raised’ first. To the contrary, federal spending is what brings that money into existence. If years of bad or no economic education make that ring counterintuitive to you, you’re not alone: politicians and pundits who ought to know better are with you. But the problem is readily remedied: just take a look at a dollar (or five dollar, or ten dollar, or … dollar) bill.

The face you see is George Washington’s – a public official’s – not yours or some other private sector person’s. The signatures you’ll find, for their part, are those of the Treasurer and the Treasury Secretary, not yours or some other private sector person’s. And the inscription you’ll read across the top is ‘Federal Reserve Note,’ not ‘Private Sector Sally’s Note.’ ‘Note’ here, note carefully, means ‘promissory note.’ Money betokens a promise. Hence money’s relation to credit. We’ll come back to this later. The money that Treasury spends is, in any event, jointly Fed- and Treasury-issued, not privately issued. That is to say it’s the citizenry’s issuance, not some single citizen’s issuance. It’s like a promise we make to each other. Hence the term ‘full faith and credit’ you’ll hear about when asking what ‘backs’ our currency and our Treasury securities.

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A narrative repeated so often most people will think it must be at least partly true. But then there’s this very curious line: “Whether the political distemper in the West was sown by a Russian intelligence operation masterminded by Putin may not matter because he is making a belated effort at winning the peace after the end of the Cold War.”

Another Good Day For Putin As Turmoil Grips US and UK (CNN)

The news just keeps on getting better for Vladimir Putin. On either side of the Atlantic, the United States and Britain, the two great English-speaking democracies that orchestrated Moscow’s defeat in the Cold War, are undergoing simultaneous political breakdowns. And the Russian leader may have had a hand in triggering the turmoil.

The allies are experiencing the reverberations of populist revolts that erupted in 2016 – in the Brexit vote and the election of Trump – and are now slamming into legislatures and breeding division and stasis. The result is that Britain and the United States are all but ungovernable on the most important questions that confront both nations. That’s music to Putin’s ears. The Russian leader has made disrupting liberal democracies a core principle of his near two-decade rule, as he seeks to avenge the fall of the Soviet empire, which he experienced as a heartbroken KGB agent in East Germany. Russia has been accused of meddling in both the Brexit vote and the US election in 2016 – the critical events that fomented the current crisis of the West.

Over the last five years, Putin has defied Western scorn about Russia’s frayed economic power and made the best of a bad hand, working to re-establish influence in the former Soviet orbit. He has seized Crimea from Ukraine and restored Moscow’s former political beachhead in the Middle East. In the last two years, Putin has had a witting, or unwitting, ally in Trump, whose attacks on NATO and US allies and decision to pull US troops out of Syria played into Russia’s goals. Whether the political distemper in the West was sown by a Russian intelligence operation masterminded by Putin may not matter because he is making a belated effort at winning the peace after the end of the Cold War.

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Original headline was “The Magnetic North Pole Has Moved. Here’s What You Need To Know”, but obviously this alternative one, phrased by someone on Twitter, is so much better.

Other than that, I’m curious to know how this affects animals that use magnetic poles, like migrating birds and insects. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t address the issue.

Putin Stole Santa’s Home (F.)

Earth’s magnetic pole is moving in the direction of Siberia and away from Canada. This is something that scientists have been tracking for a long time. It’s fairly easy to look up the location of the magnetic pole dating back to the early 1900s. The recent changes of the drifting pole are raising some concerns but the direction is not the problem. In fact, the direction of the drifting pole has been roughly the same for as long as scientists have been tracking it. The speed is the issue. Every five years scientists recalculate the location of the magnetic pole. This is important information for global navigation, which includes GPS satellites and other technology. These changes can make a big difference in our everyday lives.

The movement of the pole is caused by flows of molten liquid iron in the Earth’s core. This liquid and how it moves creates the Earth’s magnetic field. Variations in the liquid flow cause the magnetic field to change over time and cause the location of magnetic north to move. The global model was off because of a geomagnetic pulse the occurred beneath South America in 2016. This pulse just came at a bad time. The 2015 World Magnetic Model was brand new and not scheduled to be renewed until 2020. It seems that in the future we may not be able to wait as long between updates. The poles movement has sped up in recent memory from 9 miles a year in the 1990s to about 34 miles a year at present day.

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Aug 212018
 
 August 21, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Henri Matisse The painter and his model 1916-17

 

China’s Biggest Risk May Be Its Property Market – Not The Trade War (CNBC)
Why Do American CEOs Get Paid So Much? (Galbraith)
Trump Says It Is ‘Dangerous’ For Twitter, Facebook To Ban Accounts (R.)
Trump Worries That Mueller Interview Could Be A ‘Perjury Trap’ (R.)
Trump Demands Fed Help On Economy, Complains About Interest Rate Rises (R.)
UK’s Hunt To Call On Trump To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia (G.)
‘Secret Directive’ Bans UN Agencies From Helping Rebuild Syria – Lavrov (RT)
UK Household Debt Balloons To £19bn As Bailiff Problems Multiply (Ind.)
NHS Leak Warns Of Brexit Drug Shortages And Disease Risk (G.)
Jacinda Ardern Freezes New Zealand MPs’ Pay To Tackle Rich-Poor Divide (G.)
Salvini Refuses To Let In Refugees After Coastguard Ship Docks (G.)
What Being Back in the Markets Actually Means for Greece (TPP)
The Winners Will Lose and the Losers Will Win (Kunstler)
The Inescapable Weight Of My $100,000 Student Debt (G.)

 

 

“Real estate investment accounts for about two-thirds of Chinese household assets..”

China’s Biggest Risk May Be Its Property Market – Not The Trade War (CNBC)

China’s hot real estate market remains a challenge for authorities trying to maintain stable economic growth in the face of trade tensions with the U.S. In fact, property is the country’s biggest risk in the next 12 months, much greater than the trade war, according to Larry Hu, head of greater China economics at Macquarie. He said he is especially watching whether the real estate market in lower-tier, or smaller, cities will see a downturn in prices or housing starts after recent sharp increases. Real estate investment accounts for about two-thirds of Chinese household assets, according to wealth manager Noah Holdings. The property market also plays a significant role in local government revenues, bank loans and corporate investment.

As a result, a sharp slowdown in the real estate market’s growth and drop in prices would have a negative affect on overall economic growth. So far, the market has been hot: The average selling price for newly built non-governmental housing in 60 tier-three and tier-four cities tracked by Tospur Real Estate Consulting rose 28.1 percent from January 2016 to May 2018. [..] Last week, Nanjing, a tier-two city, announced a ban on corporate purchases of residential properties, following similar moves to limit speculation by Shanghai and some other cities. That’s a good move for controlling risk, according to Joe Zhou, real estate and investment management firm JLL’s regional director for China capital markets. He said the government is not likely to loosen its policy soon and that prices could decline on average.

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“The reliance of tech firms on venture capital and bubble psychology, rather than cash flow..”

Why Do American CEOs Get Paid So Much? (Galbraith)

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute calls attention to the hardy perennial of how much America’s corporate titans make: bosses of the top 350 firms made an average of $18.9m in 2017. That’s a ratio of 312-1 over the median worker in their industries. Big bucks to be sure. And a big change since 1965, when the ratio was just 20-1. But what does it mean? And if there’s a problem, what is it, exactly? What it means, as the EPI economists carefully document, is that the top US corporate chiefs are paid overwhelmingly with stock options, and their income fluctuates with the market. About 80% of the pay packet is in stocks, and the rise of 17% in 2017 after two flat years surely suggests that the top CEOs (not unreasonably) sensed the market peaked last year.

So they cashed in. On the other 20% of the pay packets, no gains occurred. The US numbers have shock value. But bear in mind that they reflect not only the way companies are run, but also changes over decades in the structure of the US economy and tax law, specifically the rise of market valuations in technology and finance at the expense of the major industrial corporations, and a corresponding decline in unions, which held down the ratios in the sectors the industrial firms dominated a half century back. Plus, there is the radical decline in top marginal tax rates on income and capital gains, beginning in 1978, which gave executives strong reasons to restructure their pay away from inside-the-corporation perks (the penthouses and country clubs of yore) and toward cash and capital assets.

The reliance of tech firms on venture capital and bubble psychology, rather than cash flow, deepened this trend. Note also that there is something a bit artificial about the resulting “wealth.” Jeff Bezos may have a net worth of over $150bn, mostly in Amazon stock, but he couldn’t convert it into cash if he wanted to, neither by selling nor by borrowing. Any effort to sell would demolish Amazon’s valuation and hence his own fortune. The rich aren’t like us – they have more money, true, but some of it isn’t really money and it can disappear, by the billions, pretty fast.

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As I wrote yesterday, this will have to change.

Trump Says It Is ‘Dangerous’ For Twitter, Facebook To Ban Accounts (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that it is “very dangerous” for social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to silence voices on their services. Trump’s comments in an interview with Reuters come as the social media industry faces mounting scrutiny from Congress to police foreign propaganda. Trump has made his Twitter account – with more than 53 million followers – an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. Trump previously criticized the social media industry on Aug. 18, claiming without evidence in a series of tweets that unnamed companies were “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.”

In the same post, Trump said “too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad.” Those tweets followed actions taken by Apple, Alphabet, YouTube and Facebook to remove some content posted by Infowars, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones’ own Twitter account was temporarily suspended on Aug. 15. “I won’t mention names but when they take certain people off of Twitter or Facebook and they’re making that decision, that is really a dangerous thing because that could be you tomorrow,” said Trump.

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Also mentioned yesterday. Chances of a sitdown in the next 10 days don’t look good.

Trump Worries That Mueller Interview Could Be A ‘Perjury Trap’ (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he was worried that any statements under oath he provides to Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be used to bring perjury charges against him as part of the probe into Russia’s electoral interference. In an interview with Reuters, Trump echoed the concerns of his top lawyer in the probe, Rudy Giuliani, who has warned that any sit-down with Mueller could be a “perjury trap.” The president expressed fears that investigators could compare his statements with that of others who have testified in the probe, such as former FBI Director James Comey, and that any discrepancies could be used against him.

“So if I say something and he (Comey) says something, and it’s my word against his, and he’s best friends with Mueller, so Mueller might say: ‘Well, I believe Comey,’ and even if I’m telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That’s no good.” Despite his concerns, Trump did not comment on whether he would ultimately agree to an interview with Mueller, who is, among other things, investigating whether Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians during the 2016 election and whether Trump has obstructed justice in the probe. Trump also declined to say whether he might strip Mueller of his security clearance, as he did last week to former CIA Director John Brennan, who had repeatedly criticized Trump’s handling of foreign policy and national security issues.

“I haven’t given it a lot of thought,” he said. [..] Trump asserted that he retained the power to intervene in the probe, but that he had chosen not to do so for the moment. His administration, Trump said, was “a smooth-running machine, except in that world. And I’ve decided to stay out. Now I don’t have to stay out. “I can go in, and I could do whatever — I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out,” he said. “I’m totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven’t chosen to be involved. I’ll stay out.”

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Whatever the predictable comments on this, what he really does is confirm the Fed’s independence.

Trump Demands Fed Help On Economy, Complains About Interest Rate Rises (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he was “not thrilled” with the Federal Reserve under his own appointee, Chairman Jerome Powell, for raising interest rates and said the U.S. central bank should do more to help him to boost the economy. In the middle of international trade disputes, Trump in an interview with Reuters also accused China and Europe of manipulating their respective currencies. American presidents have rarely criticized the Fed in recent decades because its independence has been seen as important for economic stability.

Trump has departed from this past practice and said he would not shy from future criticism should the Fed keep lifting rates. The president spooked investors in July when he criticized the U.S. central bank’s over tightening monetary policy. On Monday he said the Fed should be more accommodating on interest rates. “I’m not thrilled with his raising of interest rates, no. I’m not thrilled,” Trump said, referring to Powell.

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Nobody Hunt goes to Washington with veiled criticism of Trump. Good luck with that.

UK’s Hunt To Call On Trump To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia (G.)

The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is to urge Donald Trump to face down Moscow’s threat to western values by imposing wider economic sanctions against Russia and agreeing new rules to protect the legitimacy of democratic elections. In a speech in Washington on Tuesday during his first visit since taking over from Boris Johnson as the UK’s most senior diplomat, Hunt will specifically call for tighter regulation of online political advertising and new measures to prevent cyber attacks on electoral machinery. Hunt will also throw out a challenge to Trump’s protectionist policies by warning a weakening of free trade will only damage western economies, and ultimately western political power.

He will say the emergence of an international order based on the application of law rather than might had led to an exponential growth in trade, leading to extraordinary advances in economic and social prosperity across the globe. He will also call for Nato to set clearer red lines about Russia’s use of chemical weapons and incursions into foreign territory such as the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Without directly challenging the legitimacy of Trump’s election as president in 2016, he will point to the drawbacks in many recent democratic outcomes, saying: “The heart of any democracy is freedom of expression, which allows citizens to access independent information to help decide who to vote for. But the ubiquity of fake news, social media targeting and foreign attempts to manipulate elections have undermined confidence that this can actually happen.”

Any tarnishing of Trump’s electoral mandate is highly perilous territory for a foreign politician, and Hunt will temper his criticism by saying western leaders should not deceive themselves that populism is merely a byproduct of social media spreading fake news.

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Rebuilding Syria can solve a large part of Europe’s refugee problem, and US and UN are holding it back?

‘Secret Directive’ Bans UN Agencies From Helping Rebuild Syria – Lavrov (RT)

Washington’s “absolutely deconstructive” stance is hampering the rebuilding of Syria and constricts the UN in aiding the country until a so called ‘political transition’ takes place, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, said.
“We addressed UNESCO on how they plan to implement the longtime talks, the longtime understanding on attracting the potential of this organization to rebuilding Palmyra,” an ancient city, regarded by the agency as a World Heritage Site, Lavrov said. “From the explanations of why UNESCO has still been unable to get involved in this process actively, we took that there was some kind of a directive from the United Nations headquarters in New York.”

He said that the UN Secretariat, which is the organizations’ executive arms, has “actually issued and distributed a secret directive throughout the UN system in October last year that prohibited the agencies included in this system from participating in any kind of projects aimed at restoring the Syrian economy.” Only humanitarian aid and nothing more” was allowed, the minister told the journalists after talks with Lebanese counterpart, Gebran Bassil, in Moscow. “A term was put forward that restoration of Syria would only be on the agenda after a certain progress is made in the so-called political transition” in the country, he added. The Russian Foreign Ministry also said that due to the “absolutely deconstructive” stance of the US one also shouldn’t expect any positive decisions on rebuilding Syria and return of refugees to the country from the UN Security Council.

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“People can face having their essential services cut off, be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax..”

A country moving backwards.

UK Household Debt Balloons To £19bn As Bailiff Problems Multiply (Ind.)

UK households have fallen behind on essential bills such as council tax and electricity by as much as £18.9bn, according to Citizens Advice, which says it helps someone with bailiff-related problems every three minutes. The total outstanding debt includes almost £7.5bn in tax credit overpayments, £2.84bn owed in council tax and £2.2bn owed to water companies. Household debt has now overtaken consumer credit as the main money problem people contact Citizens Advice about, and the charity said that falling behind on household bills “has more severe consequences than missing consumer credit repayments”, such as overdrafts and personal loans.

“People can face having their essential services cut off, be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax,” Citizens Advice warned. The charity said it had seen a 24 per cent increase in bailiff problems since the government introduced reforms in 2014 that were meant to protect people from unfair bailiff practices. Under the reforms, bailiffs are no longer allowed to make late-night visits to collect debts, and are prevented from using force against people who owe money, amongst other rules.

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Since there is no progress on many essential Brexit elements, this is not some doom fantasy.

NHS Leak Warns Of Brexit Drug Shortages And Disease Risk (G.)

Hospitals face running out of drugs in a chaotic no-deal Brexit, the group that represents NHS hospital and ambulance service has privately warned. Poor co-ordination by ministers and health service bosses means there has been a failure to prepare for the UK to be left without a Brexit deal, a leaked letter from NHS Providers said. “Public health and disease control co-ordination could suffer,” said NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, setting out how a hard Brexit or no deal could negatively effect “the entire supply chain of pharmaceuticals” and “jeopardise” the EU citizens making up the “workforce on which the NHS relies”. Hopson’s letter, sent to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and NHS Improvement chief Ian Dalton on Friday, was leaked to the Times.

Hopson said the possibility of a no-deal or hard Brexit “with minimal regulatory alignment appears to be growing … For as long as that risk remains it is important that detailed operation planning is undertaken across the NHS. “Yet trusts tell us that their work in this area is being hampered by the lack of visible and appropriate communication. “Our members have begun planning … but they have hit a problem, in that some activities are clearly best done at a national level and, in the view of trusts, are best co-ordinated by NHS England and NHS Improvement. “However there has been no formal communication to trusts from either of your organisations on this issue.”

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Always risky to cut your immediate colleagues, but makes a ton of sense.

Jacinda Ardern Freezes New Zealand MPs’ Pay To Tackle Rich-Poor Divide (G.)

Jacinda Ardern has frozen the salaries of New Zealand’s MPs, saying the pay rises were out of step with the wider workforce and were adding to the rich-poor divide. The radical move has cross-party support from Ardern’s coalition partners, as well as the opposition National party. MPs’ salaries and allowances would be frozen till July 2019, Ardern said, while “a fairer formula for future pay increases” is developed for those in politics, who earn between NZ$163,000 ($108,000) to more than NZ$450,000 ($300,000). Ardern said the freeze was “the right thing to do” and was not about cost-cutting, but making New Zealand a more equitable nation.

The PM was prompted to take action after the Remuneration Authority recommended MPs receive a 3% pay rise, in a year that is seeing widespread strike action by teachers, nurses and other workers across New Zealand. Ardern earns more than NZ$450,000 a year, making her the fifth-highest paid leader in the OECD, and better paid than Canada’s Justin Trudeau and the UK’s Theresa May. According to a survey by Stuff, 62% of New Zealanders think the country’s prime ministers are paid too much. Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull earns the largest salary of any leader in the OECD. “It’s about whether or not it’s right that we receive a 3% pay increase that continues to extend that gap between those on the highest incomes and those on lower and more modest incomes,” Ardern told Radio NZ today.

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The EU MUST come up with a plan.

Salvini Refuses To Let In Refugees After Coastguard Ship Docks (G.)

An Italian coastguard ship with 177 people on board has docked in the Sicilian seaport of Catania, but Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has not given authorisation for the refugees and migrants to disembark. The passengers, who have been stuck on the coastguard boat Ubaldo Diciotti for five days will not be allowed on land until “Europe steps in to help’’, Salvini said. The Diciotti picked up 190 refugees and migrants last Wednesday from an overcrowded boat about 17 sea miles from the island of Lampedusa. Thirteen of them were evacuated for emergency medical treatment. Since then, Rome has insisted that Malta should take the group because their boat first passed through its search-and-rescue area.

But Malta has refused, claiming that the migrants wanted to reach Italy. Questioned by the Italian authorities, the 13 evacuated migrants claimed that the Maltese had escorted them outside its search-and-rescue zone. On Monday afternoon, after three days of negotiations, Italy’s transport minister Danilo Toninelli announced finally on Twitter that “The Diciotti ship will dock in Catania.” But shortly afterwards, sources close to Salvini said he had not given the authorisation to disembark, suggesting the boat was granted permission to dock but the migrants will have to remain on board. Salvini said on Italian TV: “The ship may land in Italy, as long as the 177 migrants are distributed, in a spirit of solidarity by the EU.”

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What does it mean? More debt.

What Being Back in the Markets Actually Means for Greece (TPP)

The devil, as they say in English, lies in the details. Being ‘back in the markets’, ‘turning a page,’ even declaring ‘the end of the Greek Crisis’ have all become commonplace expressions over the past few weeks. But what does this substantively mean? It means that an economy that has shrunk by around 25% saw, due to that shrinkage, its debts go up by about the same amount, despite near 100 billion Euro in debt being wiped off in 2012. Current outstanding Greek debt stands at 343 billion Euro. It now needs to pay a large chunk of that back to get back to where it was in 2008, with 109% debt to GDP.

The years of the Greek crisis (2010-2018) were the years that former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis famously described as the years of ‘extend and pretend.’ The EU would extend more credit (debt) to Greece that Greece would pretend to pay back. While most of the bailout cash prior to 2013 went through Greece back to Northern Banks, after 2013 most of the Debt was held by an opaqueprivate financial institution housed in Luxemburg called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). It’s the debts held by the ESM, and the loans disbursed by the ESM, that have been the focus of the new game of extend and pretend that is called variously ‘debt-relief’ and Greece ‘being back in the markets.’

Consider the following. The ESM lent 86 Billion Euro to Greece between August 2015 and July 2018. The final tranche of these loans will not be paid back until 2060, with payments beginning in 2034. This ten year deferral of payments along with an interest rate reduction to an average of 1.62% across issues is the much heralded debt relief agreement of June 21st 2018. All things considered, and given real ‘go to the market’ alternatives if you have Greece’s bond rating, this is not a bad deal – on paper. These measures, plus the final bailout cash being added to cash reserves, means that Greece will actually not have to return to the markets for funding for almost two years. Given this, the ‘return to the markets’ comes with some pretty large airbags, all of which makes buying Greek debt more attractive, hence recent bond rating upgrades. So, we are extending, but what are we still pretending?

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“..Pabst Blue Ribbon by the case!”

The Winners Will Lose and the Losers Will Win (Kunstler)

What a revoltin’ development, as Chester A. Riley used to say on “The Life of Riley” TV show back in 1955, when America was great (at least that’s the theory). Riley was an original deplorable before the concept even emerged from the murk of early pop culture. He worked in an aircraft factory somewhere in southern California, which only a few decades prior was the mecca of an earlier generations of losers: the Oakies and other Dust Bowl refugees who went west to pick fruit or get into the movies. Chester A. Riley supported a family on that job as a wing-riveter. All the male characters in the series had been through the Second World War, but were so far removed from the horror that the audience never heard about it.

That was the point: to forget all that gore and get down with the new crazes for backyard barbeque, seeing the USA in your Chevrolet, enjoying that healthful pack of Lucky Strikes in the valley of the Jolly Green Giant… double your pleasure, double your fun… and away go troubles down the drain…. As Tom Wolfe pointed out eons ago, the most overlooked feature of post-war American life was the way that the old US peasantry found themselves living higher on the hog than Louis the XVI and his court at Versailles. Hot and cold running water, all the deliciously engineered Betty Crocker cake you could eat, painless dentistry, and Yankees away games on Channel 11, with Pabst Blue Ribbon by the case! By 1960 or so, along came color TV and air-conditioning, and in places like Atlanta, St. Louis, and Little Rock, you barely had to go outside anymore, thank God! No more heat stroke, hookworm, or chiggers.

It was a helluva lot better than earlier peasant classes had it, for sure, but let’s face it: it was kind of a low-grade nirvana. And a couple of generations beyond “The Life of Riley” the whole thing has fallen apart. There are few hands-on jobs that allow a man to support a family. And what would we even mean by that? Stick the women back in kitchen and the laundry room? What a waste of human capital (even for socialists who oppose capital). The odd thing is that there is increasingly little for this class of people to do besides stand near the door of the WalMart, and if the vaunted tech entrepreneurs of this land have their way with robotics, you can be sure there would be less than nothing for them to do… except crawl off and die quietly, without leaving an odoriferous mess.

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Long read. Steve Keen comments: This will doom the USA to stagnation: a generation with too much debt and no prospect of using credit like the previous generation.

The Inescapable Weight Of My $100,000 Student Debt (G.)

On Halloween in 2008, about six weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, my mother called me from Michigan to tell me that my father had lost his job in the sales department of Visteon, an auto parts supplier for Ford. Two months later, my mother lost her job working for the city of Troy, a suburb about half an hour from Detroit. From there our lives seemed to accelerate, the terrible events compounding fast enough to elude immediate understanding. By June, my parents, unable to find any work in the state where they spent their entire lives, moved to New York, where my sister and I were both in school. A month later, the mortgage on my childhood home went into default.

After several months of unemployment, my mother got a job in New York City, fundraising for a children’s choir. In the summer of 2010, I completed my studies at New York University, where I received a BA and an MA in English literature, with more than $100,000 of debt, for which my father was a guarantor. My father was still unemployed and my mother had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She continued working, though her employer was clearly perturbed that she would have to take off every Friday for chemotherapy. To compensate for the lost time, on Mondays she rode early buses into the city from the Bronx, where, after months of harrowing uncertainty, my parents had settled. She wanted to be in the office first thing.

In January 2011, Chase Bank took full possession of the house in Michigan. Our last ties were severed by an email my father received from the realtor, who had tried and failed to sell the property, telling him he could now cancel the utilities. In May, I got a freelance contract with a newspaper that within a year would hire me full-time – paying me, after taxes, roughly $900 every two weeks. In September 2011, my parents were approved for bankruptcy, and in October, due to a paperwork error, their car was repossessed in the middle of the night by creditors. Meanwhile, the payments for my debt – which had been borrowed from a variety of federal and private lenders, most prominently Citibank – totalled about $1,100 a month.

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Jun 182018
 
 June 18, 2018  Posted by at 8:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »


Paul Klee Pflanze und Fenster Stillleben 1927

 

The US Should Break The German Lock On The European Economy (CNBC)
Merkel Gets Extra Time To Reach Deal With EU Over Asylum Row (G.)
Eurozone Braces For Row With Greece Over Bailout Exit Terms (G.)
The Bigger Cryptocurrencies Get, The Worse They Perform: BIS (R.)
May’s NHS ‘Brexit Dividend’ Claim Draws Scepticism And Doubt (G.)
FARC Peace Deal At Risk As Conservative Duque Wins Colombia Presidency (AFP)
Bolivia’s Morales Condemns US Intervention in Venezuela, Latin America (TSur)
Russia-Syria Warnings of Coming False-Flag Attack Have Ring of Truth (MPN)
Refugee Camps Reopening On Greek Mainland (K.)
Scientists Scramble To Stop Bananas Being Killed Off (G.)
Losing The Buzz (ODT)
Where Have All Our Insects Gone? (G.)
Bringing Julian Assange Home (John Pilger)

 

 

There’s a thought.

The US Should Break The German Lock On The European Economy (CNBC)

Germany may only account for 3.4% of the world economy, but it is more than a quarter of the European Union’s demand and output. The EU, in turn, is close to 20% of the world economy, and, based on last year’s numbers, it takes $283.5 billion of U.S. exports, or 18.3% of America’s total goods sold overseas. What the U.S. sells to the EU is more than 40% of all the goods America exports to China and Japan. That shows that the damage caused to the U.S. economy transcends, by far, Germany’s surplus of $64.2 billion on American trades in 2017. Imagine, for example, what would happen to the EU economy, to the rest of the world — and to U.S. export sales in general — if Germany were not living off its fellow Europeans with a massive €164.4 billion trade surplus.

That German surplus is stifling the economic growth in the rest of Europe, because it is a deficit for countries trading with Germany. You can think of those €164.4 billion as a large wealth transfer to Germany. Indeed, it is a structural foundation of Germany’s export-driven economy, where sales to the rest of the world account for nearly a half of German GDP (compared with 14% in the U.S. case). What Europe, the U.S. and the rest of the world need here is a radical change of German economic policies. Germany should be generating more growth from domestic demand to give an opportunity to its trade partners to sell more of their goods and services on German markets. That would boost intra-European growth and create opportunities for more American sales to Europe — its largest overseas customer.

There is nothing new here. It’s a very old story Germans don’t even want to talk about. And why should they? France is meekly taking it on the chin with annual deficits of 36 to 41 billion euros on its German trades, and the rest of Europe does not dare question what it wrongly sees as a virtuously strong German economy.

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There will be no such deal. Not a comprehensive one.

Merkel Gets Extra Time To Reach Deal With EU Over Asylum Row (G.)

Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has signalled he is open to giving Angela Merkel more time to reach a deal with Germany’s EU partners over an asylum row that has threatened to bring down her government. As the German chancellor met leaders of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Sunday in an attempt to divert the collapse of her fledgling administration, Seehofer emerged from emergency talks with his Christian Social Union (CSU) saying he had no intention of toppling Merkel. Seehofer wants police stationed at borders to turn back refugees and migrants arriving from other EU countries but signalled he would give Merkel two weeks’ grace to reach migration agreements with EU partners.

“No one in the CSU is interested in bringing the chancellor down, or dissolving the CDU/CSU parliamentary partnership or destroying the coalition,” Seehofer told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, adding that he did not want the asylum row to endanger the coalition government, which is less than 100 days old. Seehofer said his party was keen to find a way to limit the number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany. “We finally want to have a solution for the return of refugees at our borders which is fit for the future,” he added. But he was quoted in the Welt am Sonntag as having voiced his scepticism about the future of the CDU/CSU alliance in a meeting of the CSU’s leadership. “I cannot work with this woman any more,” he was quoted as saying.

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A row with the IMF, you mean.

Eurozone Braces For Row With Greece Over Bailout Exit Terms (G.)

Eurozone finance ministers are braced for a row this week with the Greek government over the terms of a “golden goodbye” as the country prepares to exit its third bailout programme. Concerns that Greece will suffer a fourth financial collapse unless an agreement is signed with the EU to write off some of its debt mountain are likely to surface before a showdown in Brussels on Thursday. The IMF, which has lent Greece several billion euros and has taken part in a tripartite monitoring of reforms with the European commission and ECB, is expected to pull out of the arrangement unless Brussels reduces Greece’s debt burden. Without the IMF on board, Germany and other hardline countries such as Finland and Austria could demand stricter clauses in the reform programme due to be imposed on Greece as the price of its final bailout payoff.

“Everyone has an interest to alleviating the burden, for Greece and the rest of the creditors,” said Olivier Bailly, the chief adviser to the EU’s finance commissioner, Pierre Moscovici. “If we leave too much burden, this will slow down Greece’s recovery.” He played down the impact of the IMF pulling out of the first stage of surveillance that will last until at least 2022. “What is important is that the IMF give its view on debt measures. What the markets expect is that it says they are credible enough,” he said, admitting that the lack of involvement by the Washington-based lender of last resort puts pressure on Germany. Finance ministers from the 19-member currency bloc will meet on Thursday to agree a package of measures that will include a final loan payment of between €10bn and €12bn and a cash buffer of up to €20bn. The payments are due to be the last of the €86bn bailout agreed in 2015.

[..] Hans Vijlbrief, the top EU official advising eurogroup ministers, said: “It’s very important that Greece can stand on its own feet. If it’s not credible, we won’t come out. This is the first condition.” The Eurogroup is seeking to reduce Greek debt payments by extending loans until beyond 2040 and reducing the interest rate to near 1%, well below the rate Greece would need to pay international investors. The IMF, however, has insisted that reducing the overall debt mountain from the outset is the only way to stabilise Athens’ public finances. Vijlbrief said the EU charter prevented the Eurogroup from offering debt write-offs, but this assertion has never been tested and is still the basis for IMF involvement in the next stage of Greece’s recovery.

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The bank of banks feels threatened.

The Bigger Cryptocurrencies Get, The Worse They Perform: BIS (R.)

Cryptocurrencies are not scalable and are more likely to suffer a breakdown in trust and efficiency the greater the number of people using them, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS)said on Sunday in its latest warning about the rise of virtual currencies. For any form of money to work across large networks it requires trust in the stability of its value and in its ability to scale efficiently, the BIS, an umbrella group for the world’s central banks, said in its annual report. But trust can disappear instantly because of the fragility of the decentralized networks on which cryptocurrencies depend, the BIS said.

Those networks are also prone to congestion the bigger they become, according to the BIS, which noted the high transaction fees of the best-known digital currency, bitcoin, and the limited number of transactions per second they can handle. “Trust can evaporate at any time because of the fragility of the decentralised consensus through which transactions are recorded,” the Switzerland-based group said in its report. “Not only does this call into question the finality of individual payments, it also means that a cryptocurrency can simply stop functioning, resulting in a complete loss of value.”

The BIS’ head of research, Hyun Song Shin, said sovereign money had value because it had users, but many people holding cryptocurrencies did so often purely for speculative purposes. “Without users, it would simply be a worthless token. That’s true whether it’s a piece of paper with a face on it, or a digital token,” he said, comparing virtual coins to baseball cards or Tamagotchi. [..] Agustin Carstens, general manager of the BIS, has described bitcoin as “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster”.

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The claim is so out there it’s funny.

May’s NHS ‘Brexit Dividend’ Claim Draws Scepticism And Doubt (G.)

Theresa May’s promise of £400m extra in weekly NHS spending within five years has been overshadowed by scepticism among experts and her own backbenchers over her claim it can be financed through a windfall delivered by Brexit. Ahead of a major speech by the prime minister in which she will pledge a £20bn annual real-terms NHS funding increase by 2023-24, May was ridiculed for arguing that some of the money would come from a so-called Brexit dividend. “At the moment, as a member of the European Union, every year we spend significant amounts of money on our subscription, if you like, to the EU,” she said in an interview on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show.

“When we leave we won’t be doing that. It’s right that we use that money to spend on our priorities, and the NHS is our number-one priority.” The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said, however, that even the government had accepted the idea of an immediate post-Brexit boost to coffers would not happen. The decision to announce extra spending for the NHS and to frame it specifically as a benefit of leaving the EU has been widely seen as a sop by May to hardline Brexiters in her cabinet and on the Tory backbenches ahead of some potentially crucial votes this week on the EU withdrawal bill.

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Finally there’s peace, and now this. Colombia is set to become a NATO member.

FARC Peace Deal At Risk As Conservative Duque Wins Colombia Presidency (AFP)

Conservative Ivan Duque won Colombia’s presidential election Sunday after a campaign that turned into a referendum on a landmark 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels that he pledged to overhaul. Duque, 41, polled 54 percent to his leftist rival Gustavo Petro’s 42 percent with almost all the votes counted, electoral authority figures showed. Petro, a leftist former mayor and ex-guerrilla, supports the deal. Tensions over the deal became apparent in the immediate aftermath of Duque’s victory, after the president-elect lost no time in pledging “corrections” to the peace deal. “That peace we long for — that demands corrections — will have corrections, so that the victims are the center of the process, to guarantee truth, justice and reparation,” Duque told supporters in his victory speech at his campaign headquarters.

“The time has come to build real change,” Duque said, promising a future for Colombians “of lawfulness, freedom of enterprise and equity,” after decades of conflict. His vanquished opponent Petro promised to resist any fundamental changes to the deal. “Our role is not to be impotent and watch it being destroyed,” he said. FARC, which disarmed and transformed into a political party after the peace deal but did not contest the election, immediately called on Duque to show “good sense” in dealing with the agreement. “What the country demands is an integral peace, which will lead us to the hoped-for reconciliation,” the FARC said in a statement after Duque’s presidential win. The former rebels also called for an early meeting with Duque.

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A US supported coup soon?

Bolivia’s Morales Condemns US Intervention in Venezuela, Latin America (TSur)

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Saturday that Latin America “is no longer the United States’ backyard” while denouncing the United States’ attempt to convince its South American allies to help it orchestrate a military intervention or coup in Venezuela. In an interview with news agency EFE, Morales explained that several Latin American leaders have confided in him that U.S. Vice president Mike Pence is “trying to convince some United States-friendly countries” help them seize control of the South American country and replace the current government led by Nicolas Maduro. The real target, Morales explained, is not the Venezuelan president but “Venezuelan oil, and Venezuelans know that.”

Drawing parallels to 2011 military intervention in Libya, Morales said the U.S. isn’t interested in helping with alleged humanitarian crisis since, despite the current political and social turmoil in Libya, the U.S. will not intervene there since “the country’s oil is now owned by the U.S. and some European oil companies,” Morales asserted. “One military intervention (in the region) would only create another armed conflict,” he added pointing to Colombia’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a general sign of an escalation of “military aggression to all Latin America and the Caribbean” region. Morales explained, however, that U.S. interventionism is not only militaristic.

“When there are no military coups, they seek judicial or congressional coups” as in the case of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and the Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s imprisonment, which is barring him from running in the upcoming 2018 elections.

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They warned of the last one as well.

Russia-Syria Warnings of Coming False-Flag Attack Have Ring of Truth (MPN)

In recent days, speculation has swirled regarding whether another chemical-weapons attack will soon take place in Syria, as sources in both Syrian intelligence and the Russian military have warned that U.S.-backed forces in the U.S.-occupied region of Deir ez-Zor are planning to stage a chemical weapons attack to be blamed on the Syrian government. Concern that such an event could soon take place has only grown since the U.S. government announcement this past Thursday that the U.S. would provide $6.6 million over the next year to fund the White Helmets, the controversial “humanitarian” group that has been accused of staging “false flag” chemical weapons attacks in the past.

Notably, the White Helmets were largely responsible for staging the recent alleged chlorine gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, which led the United States, the United Kingdom and France to attack Syrian government targets. That same attack in Eastern Ghouta had been predicted weeks prior by the Russian military and Syrian government, who are warning once again that a similar event is likely to occur in coming weeks. An additional and largely overlooked indication that another staged attack could soon take place has been the recent movements of U.S. military assets to the Syrian coast, particularly the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG). As MintPress previously reported, the deployment of the HSTCSG – which consists of some 6,500 sailors — was first announced in April prior to the U.S., France and U.K. bombing of Syria. However, the group did not arrive until after that bombing had taken place.

While the April bombing was called a “one-time shot” by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the fact that the Truman strike group’s deployment to the region was not canceled after the bombings occurred led some to suggest that the U.S. may have been anticipating more strikes against Syria’s government in the coming months. Indeed, soon after the U.S.-led bombing of Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, declared the U.S. was “locked and loaded” should the Syrian government again be accused of using chemical weapons. Now, amid claims from both the Syrian and Russian governments of another chemical weapons provocation, as well as the U.S.’ renewed funding of the White Helmets, the strike group’s deployment directly off the Syrian coast has only given greater credence to those previously voiced concerns.

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12,000 refugees so far this year.

Refugee Camps Reopening On Greek Mainland (K.)

While European Union countries shut their doors to migrants – Italy and Malta last week refused to allow a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants to dock at their ports – Greek authorities are reopening unused camps and facilities across the mainland to accommodate the swelling number of asylum seekers. Following a series of meetings last week, sources told Kathimerini, the Ministry for Migration Policy decided to reopen four camps, first set up at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, raising the total number of operational centers to 25. More specifically, tents have been set up again at the Malakasa camp, north of Athens, to house 300 people.

The Vagiochori camp near Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, is also expected to open in the coming days, providing accommodation for 400 individuals. The facility at Elefsina, west of the capital, has been hosting 250 refugees since late April, while another 350 migrants and refugees were transferred to the reception center at Oinofyta, north of Attica. A drop in the migrant population at the Skaramangas refugee center, meanwhile, was reversed after September last year, with the current number estimated at more than 2,000. An average 75 migrants land daily on Greece’s Aegean islands. A total of 12,065 people had entered the country until June 11 this year.

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“..the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”

Scientists Scramble To Stop Bananas Being Killed Off (G.)

A British company has joined the race to develop a banana variety resistant to diseases and climatic changes that threaten to disrupt the availability of the country’s favourite fruit – or even kill it off altogether. The UK alone consumes more than 5bn bananas a year, while the fruit is a staple food in many poor countries and accounts for an export industry worth $13bn (£9.8bn) a year. But the global supply chain is threatened by a virulent disease that has been attacking plantations in Australia, south-east Asia and parts of Africa and the Middle East. As experts warn the fungus known as “fusarium wilt”, or Panama disease, could spread to Latin America, from where the majority of bananas are exported, scientists are scrambling to create a more robust variety that could help sustain the crop.

A single type of banana, called the Cavendish, accounts for 99.9% of bananas traded globally. It replaced a tastier variety wiped out by disease in the 1950s. Now researchers at the Norwich-based startup Tropic Biosciences are using gene editing techniques to develop a more resilient version of the Cavendish after securing $10m from investors. The company’s CEO, Gilad Gershno, : “In the developed world we tend to take bananas for granted. A banana found in your local supermarket grown in Costa Rica and shipped to the UK probably costs less than an apple grown 20 miles away. “If you look at the broader consumption on top of exports, the banana industry is worth a massive $30bn a year. However,people have been getting increasingly worried because the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”

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“10,000,000,000,000,000,000. 10 quintillion. That equals more than 1500 million insects for every person.”

Losing The Buzz (ODT)

He starts at the beginning, with a black and white photocopy of a pie chart representing the animal kingdom and its various, speciated slices of pie. 80 percent of all known species of animals are insects, he says. You can tell an insect – if you can get it to hold still for long enough – by its six legs, exoskeleton divided into a head, thorax and abdomen and its two waggling antennae. By far the biggest orders of insects are the coleoptera (beetles) and the hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants), followed by the lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), then diptera (flies and mosquitoes) and, finally, other insects, such as grasshoppers and silverfish. “The total number of individual insects alive worldwide today is …” He writes it out. 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. “… 10 quintillion. That equals more than 1500 million insects for every person.”

[..] The total biomass, that is the total weight of all organisms on earth, is estimated at 545.2 Gt C (gigatons of carbon), the researchers say. More than 80% of this, 452.5Gt C, is plants. Next comes bacteria (16%, 87.2Gt C) and fungi (2%, 10.9 Gt C). Animals make up just 0.4% of the total biomass. The globe’s 7.6 billion people account for just 0.01% of all living things. And yet our impact on the globe has been enormous – some would say catastrophic. According to the Proceedings article, humans are responsible for the possibly irreparable loss of large chunks of the animal and plant kingdoms; more than 80% of all wild animals and half of all plants.

Anthony Harris finds it deeply disturbing. “Farmed poultry now makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% wild,” he says with a shocked tone. “The picture for mammals is worse. 60 percent of all mammals on earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are humans and just 4% of all mammals are wild.’ [..] Without insects, we face total ecological collapse and global famine. It is being called the Sixth Mass Extinction. The Fifth Mass Extinction was the one that killed off the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. Harvard entomologist Prof E.O. Wilson has estimated that, without insects and other land-based invertebrates, humanity would only last a few months. Land-based plants and animals would be next to go. The planet would fall quiet and still. The last time the earth was like that was 440 million years ago.

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Anyone seen any initiative to stop this?

Where Have All Our Insects Gone? (G.)

Certainly, the statistics are grim. Native ladybird populations are crashing; three quarters of butterfly species – such as the painted lady and the Glanville fritillary – have dropped significantly in numbers; while bees, of which there are more than 250 species in the UK, are also suffering major plunges in populations, with great yellow bumblebees, solitary potter flower bees and other species declining steeply in recent years. Other threatened insects include the New Forest cicada, the tansy beetle and the oil beetle. As for moths, some of the most beautiful visitors to our homes and gardens, the picture is particularly alarming. Apart from the tiger moth, which was once widespread in the UK, the V-moth (Marcaria wauaria) recorded a 99% fall in numbers between 1968 and 2007 and is now threatened with extinction, a fate that has already befallen the orange upperwing, the bordered gothic and the Brighton wainscot in recent years.

An insect Armageddon is under way, say many entomologists, the result of a multiple whammy of environmental impacts: pollution, habitat changes, overuse of pesticides, and global warming. And it is a decline that could have crucial consequences. Our creepy crawlies may have unsettling looks but they lie at the foot of a wildlife food chain that makes them vitally important to the makeup and nature of the countryside. They are “the little things that run the world” according to the distinguished Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, who once observed: “If all humankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

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Beginning and end of a speech by Pilger in Sydney. Tomorrow there are many rallies for Assange, especially in Australia. There is also a UN Human RIghts Commission meeting in Genava.

Bringing Julian Assange Home (John Pilger)

The persecution of Julian Assange must end. Or it will end in tragedy. The Australian government and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull have an historic opportunity to decide which it will be. They can remain silent, for which history will be unforgiving. Or they can act in the interests of justice and humanity and bring this remarkable Australian citizen home. Assange does not ask for special treatment. The government has clear diplomatic and moral obligations to protect Australian citizens abroad from gross injustice: in JulianE’s case, from a gross miscarriage of justice and the extreme danger that await him should he walk out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London unprotected. We know from the Chelsea Manning case what he can expect if a US extradition warrant is successful — a United Nations Special Rapporteur called it torture.

[..] Malcolm Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia. Julian Assange’s father has written to Turnbull. It is a moving letter, in which he has appealed to the prime minister to bring his son home. He refers to the real possibility of a tragedy. I have watched Assange’s health deteriorate in his years of confinement without sunlight. He has had a relentless cough, but is not even allowed safe passage to and from a hospital for an X-ray . Malcolm Turnbull can remain silent. Or he can seize this opportunity and use his government’s diplomatic influence to defend the life of an Australian citizen, whose courageous public service is recognised by countless people across the world. He can bring Julian Assange home.

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Jun 172018
 


George Grosz Apocalyptic landscape 1936

 

Is Merkel’s Reign Nearing A Frustrated End? (G.)
Merkel Wants to Hold Urgent Summit With EU States on Migration Issues (Sp.)
Italy Bars Two More Refugee Ships From Ports (G.)
Spain Rescues More Than 900 Boat Migrants, Finds Four Bodies (R.)
First Migrants From Aquarius Rescue Ship Arrive At Spanish Port (Sky)
Spain Says France To Take In Aquarius Ship Migrants (AFP)
Trump Keeps His Promises On Trade (AFP)
China Tariffs On US Soybeans Could Cost Iowa Farmers Up To $624 Million (DMR)
Mattis: Putin Is Trying To “Undermine America’s Moral Authority” (CJ)
Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash (DQ)
May To Unveil £20 Billion A Year Boost To NHS Spending (G.)
Greece, FYROM To Sign Name Change Accord Sunday (K.)

 

 

This morning Merkel’s coalition partner, Horst Seehofer, said ‘I can not work with this woman anymore’. Looks like game could be over.

Is Merkel’s Reign Nearing A Frustrated End? (G.)

For nearly 14 years as Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel has defined and personified Europe’s middle ground: pragmatic, consensual, mercantilist, petit-bourgeois, above all stable. It is little wonder the leader of Mitteleuropa’s major economic power has dominated the political centre for so long. But what if Merkel falls? Can the centre hold? These are increasingly urgent questions as the once unassailable “Mutti” struggles to hold together a fractious coalition. The immediate issue, which is likely to come to a head on Monday, is a furious row over EU immigration policy. But other problems are piling up, with unpredictable consequences for Europe’s future cohesion.

Merkel’s political obituary has been written many times, but now the final draft is nearing completion. She is under fire from the hard-right, anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which stormed into the Bundestag last autumn. She has problems with the failing, unpopular Social Democrats on her left, on whom she depends for support. More seriously, though, Merkel is being challenged from within by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, former chairman of Bavaria’s rightwing CSU, which is allied to Merkel’s Christian Democrats. In sum, Seehofer is demanding Germany no longer admit migrants who have first entered the EU via other member states – which is nearly all of them.

In Merkel’s view, such a bar would be illegal and would wreck her efforts – ongoing since the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, when Germany accepted 1 million migrants – to create a balanced, EU-wide policy of voluntary migrant quotas. She says Seehofer should wait for this month’s EU summit to come up with a joint plan. The problem with that approach is twofold. Seehofer’s CSU, which faces a critical electoral clash with the AfD in October, complains that the EU has been trying and failing to agree this for years. Another objection, as her critics see it, is that most Germans, recalling her 2015 “open door” policy, do not trust Merkel on this issue. Polls indicate 65% back tighter border controls.

Last week’s row between France and Italy, sparked by Rome’s decision to refuse entry to a ship, the Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants rescued off Libya, showed how improbable is the prospect of agreement at the Brussels summit. Italy’s new populist leadership, in common with an emerging axis of nationalist-minded governments in Austria, Hungary and Poland, believes it has a mandate to halt the migrant flow. Meanwhile, so-called “frontline states” such as Greece, Spain and Italy accuse “destination states” such as Germany, France and the UK of failing to accept a fair share of migrants. Divisions have been exacerbated by the failure, so far, of a key Merkel-backed initiative, the multibillion-euro EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, to reduce migration by addressing “root causes” in places such as Nigeria, Eritrea and Somalia.

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And this is of course far too late. This summit should have been held 3 years ago. And it should be a UN summit, not some talks with Greece and Italy. Give Africa a voice. And Central America. Stop inviting xenophobia.

Merkel Wants to Hold Urgent Summit With EU States on Migration Issues (Sp.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to hold an urgent summit dedicated to the migration crisis and to discuss this issue with a group of the EU member states, local media reported. The Bild newspaper reported Saturday citing own sources in the leadership of several EU countries that Merkel would like to discuss migration-related issues with leadership of Austria, Greece, and Italy. According to the media outlet, a final decision about the date of the summit has not been made yet, however it could take place later in the month. Earlier, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, called for reforms of EU asylum rules, proposing that the EU set up centers to process asylum claims in migrants’ countries of origin. France’s President Emanuel Macron also stressed the need to modify current migration rules and criticizing the European Union for not sharing the burden with Rome over the migrant crisis.

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This comes at a bad time given Merkel’s problems.

Italy Bars Two More Refugee Ships From Ports (G.)

Italy’s interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Auarius was prevented from docking. “Two other ships with the flag of Netherlands, Lifeline and Seefuchs, have arrived off the coast of Libya, waiting for their load of human beings abandoned by the smugglers,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant party the League, wrote on his Facebook page. “These gentlemen know that Italy no longer wants to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration, and therefore will have to look for other ports [not Italian] where to go.”

Italy’s closure of its ports to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was carrying 620 people, triggered warnings from aid agencies of a deadly summer at sea for people trying to cross the Mediterranean. Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a US warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel. He said his ship was too small to make the journey from Libya to Italian ports and that he always transferred migrants to other ships, but insisted those craft should have the right to land in Italy.

“I am sure there is an obligation for Italy to take them because its closest safe harbour is Lampedusa. We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention,” he said. Vessels chartered by an assortment of European NGOs have plied the waters off Libya for three years, rescuing migrants from leaking boats and transporting them to Sicily.

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Greece, Italy and now Spain.

Spain Rescues More Than 900 Boat Migrants, Finds Four Bodies (R.)

Spain’s coast guard rescued 933 migrants and found four dead bodies in the Mediterranean Friday and Saturday, as the country prepared for the arrival of a charity rescue ship that was denied a port by Italy and Malta. The number of people fleeing poverty and conflict by boat to Spain doubled last year and is likely to rise again in 2018, according to the EU border agency, potentially pushing migration up the national political agenda. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has already made migrant-friendly moves in his first two weeks in the job, offering to take in the rescue ship Aquarius with 629 people on board and pledging free healthcare to undocumented migrants. The coast guard said on Twitter it had rescued 507 people from 59 small dinghies in the Gibraltar strait, where it also found the four bodies.

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Kudos to Sanchez. But what comes next?

First Migrants From Aquarius Rescue Ship Arrive At Spanish Port (Sky)

The first boat of the Aquarius convoy carrying 630 people, who have become the focus of a pan-European disagreement over migration, has docked in Valencia. The Italian coast guard vessel Dattilo arrived in the Spanish port just before 7am local time on Sunday, and will be followed by the Aquarius and another Italian navy ship, the Orione. The migrants were rescued a week ago off the coast of Libya and have been at sea ever since after the Italian government refused to allow the vessel they were aboard to dock in Italy. Among those rescued are seven children aged under five, 32 children aged between five and 15 years, 61 young people aged from 15 to 17 and 80 women, seven of whom are pregnant.

They were rescued in several different operations last weekend after Italian coastguard vessels reported a group of small rubber dinghies off the coast of Libya. The Aquarius, a charity rescue vessel operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), picked up more than a hundred people in a complex night-time rescue before being asked by the Italian authorities to take on board hundreds more people they had recovered. However the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, then refused to allow the Aquarius to dock at Italian ports, fulfilling an election pledge to stop the arrival of migrants from Africa. Malta also refused to allow them to dock there, arguing that the Italians had assumed responsibility for the rescue operations.

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More kudos for Sanchez. France is moving.

Spain Says France To Take In Aquarius Ship Migrants (AFP)

Madrid said Saturday it had accepted an offer from France to take in migrants from the Aquarius rescue ship, currently en route to Spain with more than 600 people on board. “The French government will work together with the Spanish government to handle the arrival of the migrants” scheduled for Sunday, Spain’s deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said in a statement. “France will accept migrants who express the wish to go there” once they have been processed in Valencia, the statement said. The vessel is at the heart of a major migration row between European Union member states.

Chartered by a French aid group, the vessel rescued 629 migrants including many children and pregnant women off Libya’s cost last weekend. Italy’s new populist government and Malta refused to let it dock in their ports, accusing each other of failing to meet their humanitarian and EU commitments. Spain eventually stepped in and agreed to receive the refugees. France – who had angered Rome by branding it irresponsible over the vessel rejection – offered Thursday to welcome Aquarius migrants who “meet the criteria for asylum”.

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Still negotiating.

Trump Keeps His Promises On Trade (AFP)

By inflicting tariffs on the steel and aluminum of his allies, and then on tens of billions of dollars in goods from China, US President Donald Trump has quickly moved to fulfill the tough campaign pledges he made on trade. During his first year in office, Trump and his top economic aides made repeated threats and warned that preliminary investigations were launched into whether certain imports were being unjustly subsidized. But no concrete steps were taken. That all changed in March, when the “America First” president went on the offensive. “What happened for a period of time is the president was constrained by different members” of his administration, said Edward Alden, a specialist on US economic competitiveness at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“But the president has become increasingly confident in his own judgment on these issues… He is willing to do radical things he promised during his campaign and for many years before that.” In its latest move, the White House on Friday announced stiff 25 percent tariffs on Chinese imports, sparking immediate retaliation from Beijing. The move, which Trump justified as payback for the theft of American intellectual property and technology, reignited a trade spat between the world’s two largest economies, spooking markets and worrying business leaders.

It came on top of the tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum that went into effect in late March – measures that prompted Beijing to slap punitive duties on 128 US goods, including pork, wine and certain pipes. Since June 1, steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico have been hit with tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Trump has seemingly opted to go with his gut, sometimes over the protestations of his closest aides.

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Since there is no glut of soybeans globally, this looks improbable.

China Tariffs On US Soybeans Could Cost Iowa Farmers Up To $624 Million (DMR)

Perhaps Iowa farmers’ biggest fear is becoming a harsh reality: The escalating U.S.-China trade dispute erupted Friday, with each country vowing to levy 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in goods. U.S. and Iowa agriculture is caught in the crossfire, with farmers selling $14 billion in soybeans to China last year, its top export market. Soybeans are among hundreds of U.S. products China has singled out for tariffs. The U.S. has an equally long list that includes taxing X-ray machines and other Chinese goods. Iowa farmers could lose up to $624 million, depending on how long the tariffs are in place and the speed producers can find new markets for their soybeans, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist.

U.S. soybean prices have fallen about 12 percent since March, when the U.S.-China trade dispute began. “Any tariff or tax put in place will have a significant impact, not only to the U.S. soybean market but to Iowa’s, because we’re such a large producer,” Hart said Friday. Iowa is the nation’s second-largest soybean grower, producing 562 million bushels last year worth $5.2 billion. “It will slow down the market. Even with the tariffs in place, we will ship a lot of soybeans to China,” Hart said. “It just won’t be nearly the amount we did before. “It’s likely to still be our largest market even with these tariffs in place.”

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Word.

Mattis: Putin Is Trying To “Undermine America’s Moral Authority” (CJ)

At a graduation ceremony for the US Naval War College (barf), US Secretary of Defense James Mattis asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin “aims to diminish the appeal of the western democratic model and attempts to undermine America’s moral authority,” and that “his actions are designed not to challenge our arms at this point but to undercut and compromise our belief in our ideals.” This would be the same James Mattis who’s been overseeing the war crimes committed by America’s armed forces during their illegal occupation of Syria.

This would be the same United States of America that was born of the genocide of indigenous tribes and the labor of African slaves, which slaughtered millions in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Libya and Syria for no legitimate reason, which is partnered with Ukrainian Nazis, jihadist factions in Syria and Iranian terror cultists, which supports 73 percent of the world’s dictators, which interferes constantly in the electoral processes of other countries as a matter of policy, which stages coups around the world, which has encircled the globe with military bases, whose FBI still targets black civil rights activists for persecution to this very day, which routinely enters into undeclared wars of aggression against noncompliant governments to advance plutocratic interests, which remains the only country ever to use nuclear weapons on human beings after doing so completely needlessly in Japan, and which is functionally a corporatist oligarchy with no meaningful “democratic model” in place at all.

A casual glance at facts and history makes it instantly clear that the United States has no “moral authority” of any kind whatsoever, and is arguably the hub of the most pernicious and dangerous force ever assembled in human history. But the establishment Russia narrative really is that cartoonishly ridiculous: you really do have to believe that the US government is 100 percent pure good and the Russian government is 100 percent pure evil to prevent the whole narrative from falling to pieces. If you accept the idea that the exchange is anything close to 50/50, with Russia giving back more or less what it’s getting and simply protecting its own interests from the interests of geopolitical rivals, it no longer makes any sense to view Putin as a leader who poses a unique threat to the world. If you accept the idea that the west is actually being far more aggressive and antagonistic toward Russia than Russia is being toward the west, it gets even more laughable.

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“Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents..”

Consumers Stubbornly Cling to Cash (DQ)

The last month has been an unhappy time for daydreamers of a cashless nirvana. Following weeks of disruptive tech failures, payment outages, and escalating cyber fraud scams, much of it taking place in Britain, consumers have been reminded of one of the great benefits of physical cash: it is accepted just about everywhere and does not suddenly fail on you. The findings of a new study by UK-based online payments company Paysafe, partly owned by US private equity giant Blackstone, confirm that consumers on both sides of the Atlantic continue to cling to physical lucre. For its Lost in Transaction report, Paysafe surveyed over 5,000 consumers in the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, and Austria on their payment habits.

One of its main findings is that 87% of consumers used cash to make purchases in the last month, while 83% visited ATMs, and 41% are not interested in even hearing about cash alternatives. “Despite the apparent benefits of low-friction payment technologies, these findings suggest many consumers aren’t ready to lose visibility of the payment process,” says Paysafe Group Chief Marketing Officer Oscar Nieboer. “It’s clear that the benefits are not unilaterally agreed upon, with cultural and infrastructure trends at play, and it may be some time before adoption is widespread.” Although consumers continue to cling to cash, they appear to be carrying less of it: 49% overall in the survey and 55% of U.S. respondents said they carry less cash now than they did a year ago.

The average American consumer carries $42 today — that’s $8 less than in 2017. In the UK the average amount carried in 2017 was £33; that has now fallen to £21. But that does not mean that the amount of cash in circulation is dwindling. On the contrary, according to this year’s G4S cash report, the world average ratio of currency vs GDP continues to rise, reaching 9.6% in 2018. “Currency in Circulation vs. GDP is increasing on all continents, indicating a consistent, growing demand for cash across the world,” says the report. South America has by far the highest cash dependency relative to its GDP, with an average ratio of over 16%.

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First you kill it, then it needs to be revived. How much of the £20 billion goes to repairing the damage already done?

May To Unveil £20 Billion A Year Boost To NHS Spending (G.)

Taxpayers are to be asked to help fund a £20bn a year injection of extra cash into the National Health Service by 2023-24 that will pay for thousands more doctors and nurses, while cutting cancer deaths and improving mental health services, Theresa May will say today. The announcement, before the NHS’s 70th birthday next month, will represent the biggest funding boost since Gordon Brown imposed a one percentage point rise in National Insurance to pay for more NHS spending in his 2002 budget, in the face of Tory claims that Labour was slapping a “tax on ordinary families”.

Government sources said the increases, which would be paid for in part by a “Brexit dividend”, would amount to around £600m a week extra for the NHS in cash terms within six years. Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said last night that the government wanted to “show the world what a cutting-edge 21st-century healthcare system can look like”. He added: “This long-term plan and historic funding boost is a fitting birthday present for our most loved institution. Like no other organisation could ever hope to be, the NHS is there for every family at the best and worst of times, from the wonder of birth to the devastation of death, living and breathing those very British values of decency, fairness and compassion.

He said the extra cash “recognises the superhuman efforts made by staff over the last few years to maintain services in the face of rapidly growing demand. But it also presents a big opportunity for the NHS to write an entirely new chapter in its history”. Details of how the public will be required to pay through tax rises, and the proportion of the funding increases they will pay for, will not be spelled out until the budget, because of ongoing arguments involving the chancellor Philip Hammond, Hunt, and No 10.

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70% of Greeks is against the deal, protests are everywhere. But he pushed it through. In Foreign Policy, someone suggested giving him a Nobal Peace Prize for it. But, but, democracy…

Greece, FYROM To Sign Name Change Accord Sunday (K.)

Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are set to sign a historic accord to modify the latter’s name after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament Saturday. The accord is to be signed in the Prespes region, a lake district which borders Greece, FYROM and Albania, by the two countries’ foreign ministers Sunday. Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev will both attend the ceremony, along with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz and other European officials – including the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Following the ceremony, members of the two delegations will hold a working lunch in the town of Otesevo, in FYROM. Security at the event is expected to be ultra-tight. A protest against the deal will be held in the nearby village of Pisoderi. On Saturday, after more than two days of vehement debate in Parliament, Greece’s SYRIZA-led government survived a no-confidence vote brought against it by the main opposition New Democracy party, but with one less MP. The motion garnered 127 votes with 153 against. The junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) backed the government despite its opposition to the name deal with FYROM that Tsipras announced last week, bar one MP, Dimitris Kammenos, who backed the motion. He was subsequently expelled from the party, reducing the government’s majority to 153.

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May 292018
 


Roy Lichtenstein Crying girl 1963

 

Showdown Looms In Italy As Caretaker PM Assembles Team (AFP)
The Biggest Short-Sellers Of Italian Bonds (ZH)
If Italy Exits The Euro, It Could Be The End Of The Single Currency (Tel.)
Stock Market Borrowing at All Time High, Increasing Risk of Downdrafts (NC)
The Financial Scandal No One Is Talking About (G.)
Fears Of Bad Brexit Deal Raise Tension Between Bank of England, Treasury (G.)
Eastern, Southern African Finance Leaders Debate Yuan As Reserve Currency (R.)
Indonesia’s Currency Is Spiraling. Sacrifices Are Needed To Save It (CNBC)
Papua New Guinea Bans Facebook For A Month To Root Out ‘Fake Users’ (G.)
Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Lashes Out At Former CEO Ackermann (HB)
Fake Maths: The NHS Doesn’t Need £2,000 From Each Household To Survive (G.)
After China’s Waste Import Ban EU Wants To Get Rid Of Single-Use Plastics (RT)
Great Barrier Reef On Sixth Life In 30,000 Years (AFP)

 

 

A team he knows will never be accepted.

Showdown Looms In Italy As Caretaker PM Assembles Team (AFP)

Italy’s caretaker prime minister was Tuesday assembling a cabinet lineup despite almost certain rejection by the populists whose bid for power collapsed at the weekend. Fresh elections are now looming as the most likely outcome of the long-running political saga sparked by inconclusive elections in March. Carlo Cottarelli, a former IMF economist, was tasked with naming a technocrat government on Monday after President Sergio Mattarella nixed a cabinet proposed by the far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S). The president in particular vetoed their pick for economy minister, fierce eurosceptic Paolo Savona, throwing the eurozone’s third largest economy into a fresh crisis.


Savona has called the euro a “German cage” and said that Italy needs a plan to leave the single currency “if necessary”. Mattarella said that an openly eurosceptic economy minister was counter to the parties’ joint promise to simply “change Europe for the better from an Italian point of view”. Cottarelli said Italy would face new elections “after August” if parliament did not endorse his team, a near certainty given that M5S and the League together hold a majority. [..] Salvini and Di Maio furiously denounced the presidential veto, blasting what they called meddling by Germany, debt ratings agencies, financial lobbies and even lies from Mattarella’s staff. “Paolo Savona would not have taken us out of the euro. It’s a lie invented by Mattarella’s advisors,” Di Maio said in a live video on Facebook. “The truth is that they don’t want us in government.”

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Draghi vs the vigilantes.

The Biggest Short-Sellers Of Italian Bonds (ZH)

[..] it was in December when we first pointed out a dramatic observation by Citi, which noted that over the past several years, the only buyer of Italian government bonds was the ECB, and that even the smallest political stress threatened a repeat of the 2011 “Berlusconi” scenario, when the freshly minted new ECB head Mario Draghi sent Italian yields soaring to prevent populist forces from seizing power in Italy. Or maybe it didn’t, and it only took the bulls far longer than the bear to admit that nothing in Europe had been fixed, even as the bears were already rampaging insider Europe’s third largest economy.

Consider that according to the latest IHS Markit data, demand to borrow Italian government bonds — an indicator of of short selling — was up 33% to $33.3 billion worth of debt this year to Tuesday while demand to borrow bonds from other EU countries excluding Italy has risen only 5% this year. That said, things certainly accelerated over the last week, when demand to borrow Italian bonds soared by $1.2 billion, which according to WSJ calculations, takes demand, i.e. short selling, close to its highest level since the financial crisis in 2008 (while demand to borrow bonds from EU countries excluding Italy has fallen by $800 million over the past week).


Said otherwise, while the events over the past week may have come as a surprise to many, to the growing crowd of Italian bond shorts today’s plunge and the blowout in Italian-German spreads was not only expected, but quite predictable and extremely lucrative… which is also a major problem as Brussels is well-known to take it very personally when a hedge fund profits from the ongoing collapse of Europe’s failing experiment in common everything, and tends to create huge short squeezes in the process, no matter how obvious the (doomed) final outcome is.

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Sorry, but I said it a lot better on Friday.

If Italy Exits The Euro, It Could Be The End Of The Single Currency (Tel.)

You might think that it would be fitting if the European Union were to come to a sticky end because of Italy. After all, the agreement that established the entity that we now call the European Union was signed in Rome. For several decades after that 1957 treaty, Italy was one of the strongest supporters of the European project. Having endured first fascism and then, after the war, unstable and ineffectual government, it suffered none of the angst about the loss of sovereignty that plagued British debates about joining the European Community. Moreover, in the early years of the union, Italy prospered. At one point its GDP overtook the UK’s, an event that was widely celebrated in Italy as “il sorpasso”, the surpassing, or, if you like, the overtaking.


But the overtaking did not last long. Indeed, since the euro was formed in 1999, the Italian economy has grown by a mere 9%, or less than 0.5% per annum. Over the same period, the UK economy has grown by 42%. This recent disastrous economic performance, plus mounting anxiety about inward migration and the fact that the EU has left Italy to cope with this huge influx on its own, has changed many Italians’ attitudes to the EU. Understandably. These failings go to the heart of the EU project. The truth is that Italy should never have joined the euro in the first place. And it isn’t only Anglo-Saxon euro pessimists such as myself who believe this. At the time the German Bundesbank was appalled at the idea that Italy should be admitted. After all, even then it had a huge public debt and a history of high inflation offset by frequent currency depreciation.

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“..the Chinese stock markets permit a much higher level of borrowings than those in the West..”

Stock Market Borrowing at All Time High, Increasing Risk of Downdrafts (NC)

I find it hard to get excited about stock market risks unless defaults on the borrowings can damage the banking/payments system, as they did in the Great Crash. This is one reason the China perma-bears have a point: even though the Chinese government has managed to do enough in the way of rescues and warnings to keep its large shadow banking system from going “boom,” the Chinese stock markets permit a much higher level of borrowings than those in the West, which could make them the detonator for knock-on defaults. The US dot-com bubble featured a high level of margin borrowing, but because the US adopted rules so that margin accounts that get underwater are closed and liquidated pronto, limiting damage to the broker-dealer, a stock market panic in the US should not have the potential to produce a credit crisis.

But if stock market bubble has been big enough, a stock market meltdown can hit the real economy, as we saw in the early 2000s recession. Recall that Greenspan, who saw the stock market as part of the Fed’s mission, dropped interest rates and kept them low for a then unprecedented nine quarters, breaking the central bank’s historical pattern of reducing rates only briefly. Greenspan, as did the Bank of Japan in the late 1980s, believed that the robust stock market prices produced a wealth effect and stimulated consumer spending. It isn’t hard to see that even if this were true, it’s a very inefficient way to try to spur growth, since the affluent don’t have anything approach the marginal propensity to spend of poor and middle class households.


Subsequent research has confirmed that the wealth effect of higher equity prices is modest; home prices have a stronger wealth effect. A second reason for seeing stock prices as potentially significant right now be is that the rally since Trump won the election is important to many of his voters. I have yet to see any polls probe this issue in particular, but in some focus groups, when Trump supporters are asked why they are back him, some give rise in their portfolios as the first reason for approving of him. They see him as having directly improved their net worth.1

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Accounting.

The Financial Scandal No One Is Talking About (G.)

For centuries, accounting itself was a fairly rudimentary process of enabling the powerful and the landed to keep tabs on those managing their estates. But over time, that narrow task was transformed by commerce. In the process it has spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry and lifestyles for its leading practitioners that could hardly be more at odds with the image of a humble number-cruncher. Just four major global firms – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY) and KPMG – audit 97% of US public companies and all the UK’s top 100 corporations, verifying that their accounts present a trustworthy and fair view of their business to investors, customers and workers.

They are the only players large enough to check the numbers for these multinational organisations, and thus enjoy effective cartel status. Not that anything as improper as price-fixing would go on – with so few major players, there’s no need. “Everyone knows what everyone else’s rates are,” one of their recent former accountants told me with a smile. There are no serious rivals to undercut them. What’s more, since audits are a legal requirement almost everywhere, this is a state-guaranteed cartel. Despite the economic risks posed by misleading accounting, the bean counters perform their duties with relative impunity.


The big firms have persuaded governments that litigation against them is an existential threat to the economy. The unparalleled advantages of a guaranteed market with huge upside and strictly limited downside are the pillars on which the big four’s multi-billion-dollar businesses are built. They are free to make profit without fearing serious consequences of their abuses, whether it is the exploitation of tax laws, slanted consultancy advice or overlooking financial crime.

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Interesting fight.

Fears Of Bad Brexit Deal Raise Tension Between Bank of England, Treasury (G.)

The growing risk of a bad Brexit deal for the City of London is causing severe tensions between the Bank of England and the Treasury, according to reports. Amid mounting fears that Brussels will reject plans put forward by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, for maintaining close ties with the EU for financial services, the Financial Times reported that Bank officials are at loggerheads with the Treasury over the search for a “Plan B” arrangement. Threadneedle Street fears it could be left as a “rule taker” should Britain agree to a new deal that maintains European market access for financial firms without giving the Bank sufficient control over City regulations in future. The concerns stem from the sprawling scale of the City as one of the biggest financial centres in the world.


Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, used a speech in London last week to highlight the risks posed to the financial system from Brexit and said it was one of the issues raised by Britain leaving the European Union that made him most “nervous”. He also warned in plain terms last year that “we do not want to be a rule taker as an authority”. According to the FT, a number of officials at Threadneedle Street said Jon Cunliffe, the Bank’s deputy governor for financial stability, had fallen out with the Treasury over the issue. The paper quoted one anonymous official saying “the fear is the Treasury is going to give it all away”. The breakdown in relations comes as Hammond strives to prevent an exodus of international banks from the Square Mile, having attempted to reassure them in March that the UK would seek to maintain European market access after Brexit.

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Wishful thinking.

Eastern, Southern African Finance Leaders Debate Yuan As Reserve Currency (R.)

Eastern and southern African central bankers and government officials are to consider the use of China’s yuan as a reserve currency for the region, the official Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday. Seventeen top central bankers and officials from 14 countries in the region will meet at a forum in Harare to consider the viability of the Chinese yuan as a reserve currency, Xinhua said, citing a statement from the Macroeconomic and Financial Management Institute of Eastern and Southern Africa (MEFMI). The forum, to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, will be attended by deputy permanent secretaries and deputy central bank governors, as well as officials from the African Development Bank, Xinhua reported.


Attendees will strategies on the weakening external positions of most member countries, following the global economy slowdown. “Most countries in the MEFMI region have loans or grants from China and it would only make economic sense to repay in termini (Chinese yuan),” said MEFMI spokesperson Gladys Siwela-Jadagu. “This is the reason why it is critical for policy makers to strategize on progress that the continent has made to embrace the Chinese yuan which has become what may be termed ‘common currency’ in trade with Africa,” she added. “Ascendancy of Chinese yuan in the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket of currencies is an important symbol of its importance and the IMF’s approval as an official reserve currency,” said Siwela-Jadagu.

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Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia. Next!

Indonesia’s Currency Is Spiraling. Sacrifices Are Needed To Save It (CNBC)

Indonesia’s rupiah has been growing worryingly weak, and the country’s central bank has seen little success after multiple attempts to prop up the currency. Now, Bank Indonesia said it will meet again on Wednesday — and speculations are rife that the central bank has more tricks up its sleeve. The rupiah has been one of the worst-hit Asian currencies as investors pull out of the Indonesian stock and bond markets amid rising U.S. Treasury yields and strengthening in the greenback. The falling value of the rupiah could spell trouble for the country’s large foreign currency debt, and the outflows from its bonds are bad news for its government.


The central bank has tried to stem the currency weakness with measures including hiking interest rates and buying sovereign bonds, but the rupiah still depreciated: It fell to 14,202 per U.S. dollar on May 23. That was the weakest in more than two years. With the persistent rupiah weakness, more “rate hikes may be needed, with the next one possibly as early as this week,” Eugene Leow, a strategist at Singapore’s DBS Bank, wrote in a Monday note. The central bank hiked interest rates by 25 basis points in its mid-May meeting — the first raise since November 2014. Central bankers were scheduled to convene again in June, but Bank Indonesia last Friday said an additional policy meeting would be held on May 30.

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Censors?!

Papua New Guinea Bans Facebook For A Month To Root Out ‘Fake Users’ (G.)

The Papua New Guinean government will ban Facebook for a month in a bid to crack down on “fake users” and study the effects the website is having on the population. The communication minister, Sam Basil, said the shutdown would allow his department’s analysts to carry out research and analysis on who was using the platform, and how they were using it, admits rising concerns about social well-being, security and productivity. “The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed,” Basil told the Post Courier newspaper. “This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly.”


Basil has repeatedly raised concerns about protecting the privacy of PNG’s Facebook users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, which found Facebook had leaked the personal data of tens of millions of users to a private company. The minister has closely followed the US Senate inquiry into Facebook. “The national government, swept along by IT globalisation, never really had the chance to ascertain the advantages or disadvantages [of Facebook] – and even educate and provide guidance on use of social networks like Facebook to PNG users,” said Basil last month. “The two cases involving Facebook show us the vulnerabilities that Papua New Guinean citizens and residents on their personal data and exchanges when using this social network.”

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Blame game. Deutsche is hanging in the ropes.

Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Lashes Out At Former CEO Ackermann (HB)

German executives rarely wash their dirty laundry in public. This week was a notable exception, when David Folkerts-Landau, Deutsche Bank’s chief economist, accused his former bosses of causing the bank’s current woes by racing hell-for-leather into investment banking. Mr. Folkerts-Landau, who has been with Deutsche’s investment banking division for over two decades, accused its former CEOs of reckless expansion and of losing control of the ship. “Since the mid-1990s, the bank’s management has left operational and strategic control of its financial markets business to the traders,” he said in an interview with Handelsblatt. The bank is still reeling from the consequences of this “reverse takeover,” the economist said.


Deutsche Bank has accumulated more than €9 billion in losses over the past three years, due chiefly to the woes of its investment banking division. The bank is in the throes of a revamp intended to refocus operations on more stable sources of revenue, such as private and commercial banking and asset management. Mr. Folkerts-Landau singled out Josef Ackermann, the bank’s flamboyant boss from 2002 to 2012, for particular criticism over his aggressive expansion into investment banking. “Ackermann was (…) fixed on the magic goal of a return on equity of 25% before taxes. At that time, however, this could only be achieved by accepting major financial and ethical risks,” said the German-born economist. After the financial crisis, Mr. Ackermann rejected state aid from the German authorities and postponed tackling the bank’s structural problems, Mr. Folkerts-Landau added.

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Yeah, you can do the math in many different ways.

Fake Maths: The NHS Doesn’t Need £2,000 From Each Household To Survive (G.)

Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation published a report on funding for health and social care. One figure from the report was repeated across the headlines. For the NHS to stay afloat, it would require “£2,000 in tax from every household”. Shocking stuff! The trouble with figures like this is that while there may be a sense in which this is mathematically true, that kind of framing is dangerously close to being false. If you’re sitting at a bar with a group of friends and Bill Gates walks in, the average wealth of everyone in the room makes you all millionaires. But if you try to buy the most expensive bottle of champagne in the place, your debit card will still be declined.

Similarly, the IFS calculated its “average” figures by taking the total amount it calculated the NHS would need and dividing it by the number of households in the country. That’s certainly one way of doing it – it’s not wrong per se – but in terms of informing people about the actual impact on their own finances, it’s very misleading. We have progressive taxation in this country: not every household gets an equally sized bill. Could you pay more if the government chose to cover the cost of social care through a bump in income tax? Sure, but for the vast majority of the country it would be a few hundred pounds.


That’s without engaging with the underlying assumption that a bump in income tax is the way the government will choose to go. Some people have argued that, since the last couple of decades have seen wealth accumulate disproportionately at the very top, government should tax wealth rather than income. Alternatively, researchers have shown that health spending is one of the best ways to stimulate the economy, so the government could opt against tax increases in the short term and instead let healthcare spending act as a fiscal stimulus, at least until purchasing power had increased.

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The reason why is revealing.

After China’s Waste Import Ban EU Wants To Get Rid Of Single-Use Plastics (RT)

The European Commission wants to ban single-use plastic products like disposable cutlery, straws and cotton buds to fight the plastic epidemic littering our oceans – months after China banned millions of tons of imported EU waste. The EC unveiled the market ban proposal on Monday, which included 10 items that make up 70% of all the marine litter in the EU. As well as the aforementioned items, the list includes plastic plates, drink stirrers, sticks for balloons and single-use plastic drinks containers. The crackdown comes less than six months after the EU announced its first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastic recycling following China’s ban on waste imports from Western countries.

At the end of 2017, Beijing banned the import of 24 types of waste from the US and EU and accused the nations of flouting waste standard rules. The new proposal says the ban on single-use plastic products will be in place wherever there are “readily available and affordable” alternatives. Where there aren’t “straight-forward alternatives,” the focus will be on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption. In order for the products to be sold in the EU, they will have to be made exclusively from sustainable materials. Single-use drink containers will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached.


[..] The EC’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption. It will need the approval of all EU member states and the European Parliament in order to pass – a process which could take three to four years before the rules come into force. Once fully implemented in 2030, the EC estimates that the new measures could cost businesses more than €3 billion ($3.5 billion) per year. But they could also save consumers about €6.5 billion per year, create 30,000 jobs and avoid €22 billion in environmental damage and cleanup costs.

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Resilient little bugger.

Great Barrier Reef On Sixth Life In 30,000 Years (AFP)

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, under severe stress in a warmer, more acidic ocean, has returned from near-extinction five times in the past 30,000 years, researchers said Monday. And while this suggests the reef may be more resilient than once thought, it has likely never faced an onslaught quite as severe as today, they added. “I have grave concerns about the ability of the reef in its current form to survive the pace of change caused by the many current stresses and those projected into the near future,” said Jody Webster of the University of Sydney, who co-authored a paper in the journal Nature Geoscience.


In the past, the reef shifted along the sea floor to deal with changes in its environment – either seaward or landward depending on whether the level of the ocean was rising or falling, the research team found. Based on fossil data from cores drilled into the ocean floor at 16 sites, they determined the Great Barrier Reef, or GBR for short, was able to migrate between 20 centimetres (7.9 inches) and 1.5 metres per year. This rate may not be enough to withstand the current barrage of environmental challenges. The reef “probably has not faced changes in SST (sea surface temperature) and acidification at such a rate,” Webster told AFP. Rates of change “are likely much faster now — and in future projections.”

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May 242018
 


Wassily Kandinsky Contrasting Sounds 1924

 

Every Fed Tightening Cycle ‘Creates A Meaningful Crisis Somewhere’ (MW)
Fed Minutes Show Support For June Hike And Calm About Inflation Outlook (MW)
US Launches Auto Import Probe (R.)
China Signals To State Giants: ‘Buy American’ Oil And Grains (R.)
Turkey Halts Lira’s Free Fall – But It’s Not Out Of The Woods Yet (MW)
Argentines Brace For Another Crisis As Nation Again Seeks IMF Help (R.)
US Birth Rates Are Falling Because This Is A Harsh Place To Have A Family (G.)
Yulia Skripal Gives First Interview (RT)
NHS Needs £2,000 In Tax From Every Household To Stay Afloat (Ind.)
Trump’s Blocking Of Critics On Twitter Violates Constitution – US Judge (R.)
Hitting Toughest Climate Target Will Save World $30 Trillion In Damages (G.)
The Mediterranean Diet Is Gone: Region’s Children Are Fattest In Europe (G.)

 

 

Take their power away?!

Every Fed Tightening Cycle ‘Creates A Meaningful Crisis Somewhere’ (MW)

Federal Reserve rate increases are a lot like shaking an overripe fruit tree. That’s the analogy offered by Deutsche Bank macro strategist Alan Ruskin in a note late Wednesday, in which he urged clients not to “overcomplicate” the macro picture. “A starting point should be that every Fed tightening cycle creates a meaningful crisis somewhere, often external but usually with some domestic (U.S.) fallout,” he wrote. To back it up, Ruskin offered the following history lesson:

“Going back in history, the 2004-6 Fed tightening looked benign but the US housing collapse set off contagion and a near collapse of the global financial system dwarfing all post-war crises. The late 1990s Fed stop/start tightening included the Asia crisis, LTCM and Russia collapse, and when tightening resumed, the pop of the equity bubble. The early 1993-4 tightening phase included bond market turmoil and the Mexican crisis. The late 1980s tightening ushered along the S&L crisis. Greenspan’s first fumbled tightening in 1987 helped trigger Black Monday, before the Fed eased and ‘the Greenspan put’ took off in earnest. The early 80s included the LDC/Latam debt crisis and Conti Illinois collapse. The 1970s stagflation tightening was when the Fed was behind ‘the curve’ and where inflation masked a prolonged decline in real asset prices.”

So what about now? The fed funds rate stands at 1.50% to 1.75% following a series of slow rate increases that began in December 2015, lifting it from near zero. The degree of tightening might seem pretty tame, but Ruskin notes that it comes after a period of “extreme and prolonged” accommodation and is also taking forms that economists and investors don’t fully understand as swollen balance sheet begins to shrink.

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The stronger the dollar the more likely rate hikes get.

Fed Minutes Show Support For June Hike And Calm About Inflation Outlook (MW)

Federal Reserve officials in their meeting in early May confirmed they planned to raise interest rates in June and were not concerned they were behind the curve on inflation. “Most participants judged that if incoming information broadly confirmed their economic outlook, it would likely soon be appropriate for the FOMC to take another step in removing policy accommodation,” the minutes said. Traders in the federal funds futures market see more than a 90% chance of a June rate hike. Although inflation hit the Fed’s 2% target in the latest reading for March, for the first time in a year, officials were not convinced it would remain there for long.

“It was noted that it was premature to conclude that inflation would remain at levels around 2%, especially after several years in which inflation had persistently run below the Fed’s 2% objective,” the minutes said. Only a “few” officials thought inflation might move “slightly” above the 2% target. “It has taken them so long to get there, with so many fits and starts, they are not quite sure it’s going to stay there,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist for State Street Global Advisors. Arone said the minutes were consistent with three total hikes this year although the Fed gave itself wiggle room if inflation picks up markedly. “They didn’t take [a fourth hike] off the table,” he said.

On the trade dispute with China, officials said the possible outcome on inflation and growth remained “particularly wide,” but there was some concern the dispute would hurt business confidence.

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Up to 25% tariffs. How about building better cars? Or weaning yourself off the addiction?

US Launches Auto Import Probe (R.)

The Trump administration has launched a national security investigation into car and truck imports that could lead to new U.S. tariffs similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March. The national security probe under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 would investigate whether vehicle and parts imports were threatening the industry’s health and ability to research and develop new, advanced technologies, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. “There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement, promising a “thorough, fair and transparent investigation.”

Higher tariffs could be particularly painful for Asian automakers including Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai, which count the United States as a key market, and the announcement sparked a broad sell-off in automakers’ shares across the region. The governments of Japan, China and South Korea said they would monitor the situation, while Beijing, which is increasingly eyeing the United States as a potential market for its cars, added that would defend its interests. “China opposes the abuse of national security clauses, which will seriously damage multilateral trade systems and disrupt normal international trade order,” Gao Feng, spokesman at the Ministry of Commerce, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday which focused largely on whether it is making any progress in its trade dispute with Washington.

[..] Roughly 12 million cars and trucks were produced in the United States last year, while the country imported 8.3 million vehicles worth $192 billion. This included 2.4 million from Mexico, 1.8 million from Canada, 1.7 million from Japan, 930,000 from South Korea and 500,000 from Germany, according to U.S. government statistics. At the same time, the United States exported nearly 2 million vehicles worldwide worth $57 billion. German automakers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW all have large U.S. assembly plants. The United States is the second-biggest export destination for German auto manufacturers after China, while vehicles and car parts are Germany’s biggest source of export income. Asked if the measures would hit Mexico and Canada, a Mexican source close to the NAFTA talks said: “That probably is going to be the next battle.”

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For now it’s all opaque.

China Signals To State Giants: ‘Buy American’ Oil And Grains (R.)

China will import record volumes of U.S. oil and is likely to ship more U.S. soy after Beijing signalled to state-run refiners and grains purchasers they should buy more to help ease tensions between the two top economies, trade sources said on Wednesday. China pledged at the weekend to increase imports from its top trading partner to avert a trade war that could damage the global economy. Energy and commodities were high on Washington’s list of products for sale. The United States is also seeking better access for imports of genetically modified crops into China under the deal. As the two sides stepped back from a full-blown trade war, Washington neared a deal on Tuesday to lift its ban on U.S. firms supplying Chinese telecoms gear maker ZTE, and Beijing announced tariff cuts on car imports.

But U.S. President Donald Trump indicated on Wednesday that negotiations were still short of his objectives when he said any deal would need a “different structure”. China is the world’s top importer of both oil and soy, and already buys significant volumes of both from the United States. It is unclear how much more Chinese importers will buy from the United States than they would have otherwise, but any additional shipments would contribute to cutting the trade surplus, as demanded by Trump. Asia’s largest oil refiner, China’s Sinopec will boost crude imports from the United States to an all-time high in June as part of Chinese efforts to cut the surplus, two sources with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

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Erdogan defeated?

Turkey Halts Lira’s Free Fall – But It’s Not Out Of The Woods Yet (MW)

Turkey’s central bank intervened to halt the free fall of the Turkish lira on Wednesday, but it isn’t clear whether policy makers will be able to stave off a full-fledged currency crisis. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey raised its late liquidity window lending rate by 300 basis points on Wednesday, in a surprise move that put a halt to the lira selloff — at least for now. The lending rate now sits at 16.5%, compared with 13.5% before. The U.S. dollar had rallied to a historic high against Turkey’s lira on Wednesday, buying 4.9233 lira at the high, before the path reversed on the back of the CBRT’s action and the lira found its feet again. The buck last bought 4.7015 lira. In the year to date, the Turkish currency has dropped more than 20% against the dollar, according to FactSet data.

The euro-lira pair behaved similarly, first rallying to an all-time high but paring the rise after the rate increase. The euro last bought 5.5084 lira. The U.S. and eurozone are two of Turkey’s most important trading partners. The central bank has been operating in a peculiar environment given that Turkey’s inflation has been hitting double digits and its currency keeps sliding to historic lows. Moreover, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been critical of the central bank, calling for lower interest rates.

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Rising dollar.

Argentines Brace For Another Crisis As Nation Again Seeks IMF Help (R.)

Maria Florencia Humano opened a clothing store in 2016, convinced that Argentina’s long history of economic crises had ended under pro-business President Mauricio Macri. She will shutter it later this month, unable to make rent or loan payments. Soaring interest rates and a plunging currency have upended her dream and returned Argentina to a familiar place: asking the IMF for a lifeline. Humano’s decision comes just weeks after a somber Macri announced in a televised May 8 speech that Argentina would start talks with the IMF. He is seeking a credit line worth at least $19.7 billion to fund the government through the end of his first term in late 2019. The unexpected move surprised investors and stoked Argentines’ fears of a repeat of the nation’s devastating 2001-2002 economic collapse.

Many here blame IMF-imposed austerity measures for worsening that crisis, which impoverished millions and turned Argentina into a global pariah after the government defaulted on a record $100 billion in debt. Word of a potential bailout sent thousands of angry Argentines into the streets this month, some with signs declaring “enough of the IMF.” As recently as a few months ago, analysts were hailing Argentina as an emerging-market success story. Now some are predicting recession. Macri’s popularity has plummeted. [..] Macri’s free-market credentials earned him a 2017 invitation to the White House to meet U.S. President Donald Trump, who just last week on Twitter hailed the Argentine leader’s “vision for transforming his country’s economy.”

But economists say Macri badly damaged his credibility in December when his administration weakened tough inflation targets. The central bank followed with a January rate cut to goose growth, even as consumer prices kept galloping. Rising U.S. interest rates did not help. Argentina is saddled with more than $320 billion in external debt, equivalent to 57.1% of GDP, much of it denominated in dollars. Jittery investors hit the exits. The peso swooned. The central bank sold $10 billion in reserves trying to prop up the peso, forcing Macri to seek assistance from the IMF.

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And getting harsher all the time.

US Birth Rates Are Falling Because This Is A Harsh Place To Have A Family (G.)

America’s birth rate has fallen to a 30-year low, let the hand-wringing and finger-pointing begin. It’s those selfish women, wanting careers before kids! Or, gasp, not wanting kids at all! It’s all those abortions! It’s Obama’s fault! The reality is, for all its pro-family rhetoric, the US is a remarkably harsh place for families, and particularly for mothers. It’s a well-known fact, but one that bears repeating in this context, that the US is one of only four countries in the world with no government-subsidized maternity leave. The other three are Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea, countries that the US doesn’t tend to view as its peer group.

This fact is met with shrugs from those who assume that companies provide maternity leave. Only 56% do, and of those, just 6% offer full pay during maternity leave. This assumption also ignores the fact that 36% of the American workforce, a number expected to surpass 50% in the next 10 years, are contract laborers with no access to such benefits. That gig economy you keep hearing so much about, with its flexible schedule and independence? Yeah, it sucks for mothers. That doesn’t stop companies and pundits from pushing it as a great way for working moms to balance children and career. As a gig-economy mother myself, I can tell you exactly how great and balanced it felt to go back to work two hours after giving birth.

If they return to work, mothers can look forward to an increasingly large pay gap for every child they have, plus fewer promotions. Who could resist? The option for one parent to stay home with kids is increasingly not economically viable for American families, either. A data point that got far less attention than the falling birth rate was released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last month: 71.1% of American mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce now. It’s not just because they want to be (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but increasingly because they have to be in order to support the family.

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Scripted interview?

Yulia Skripal Gives First Interview (RT)

In her first interview since surviving an alleged nerve agent attack, Yulia Skripal said she eventually wants to return to Russia. She has not shed any light on what happened in March in Salisbury. “I came to the UK on the 3rd of March to visit my father, something I have done regularly in the past. After 20 days in a coma, I woke to the news that we had both been poisoned,” Skripal said in a video that was recorded by Reuters. She reiterated her words in a handwritten statement. She and her father, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double-agent, were found unconscious on a public bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. The UK government immediately accused Russia of being behind their poisoning, but it has yet to provide evidence for the claim.

Skripal did not comment on who she thought was to blame for her poisoning. “I still find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that both of us were attacked. We are so lucky to have both survived this attempted assassination. Our recovery has been slow and extremely painful,” she said. “The fact that a nerve agent was used to do this is shocking. I don’t want to describe the details but the clinical treatment was invasive, painful and depressing.” She also said that she was “grateful” for the offers of assistance from the Russian Embassy, “but at the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services.” Skripal reiterated what she had said in an earlier written statement released by British police: “no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves.”

Following the release of the interview, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman addressed Yulia Skripal in a comment to RT. “We’d like Yulia Skripal to know that not a single day passed without the Foreign Ministry, Russia’s Embassy in London trying to reach her with the main purpose to make sure she was not held against her will, she was not impersonated by somebody else, to get the first-hand information about her and her father’s condition,” Maria Zakharova said.

Russia’s Embassy in the UK welcomed the release of the interview, stating: “we are glad to have seen Yulia Skripal alive and well.” The video itself and the wording of the written statements, however, raised concerns with Russian diplomats, who urged London once again to allow consular access to Yulia “in order to make sure that she is not held against her own will and is not speaking under pressure.” Skripal said that the ordeal had turned her life “upside down,” both “physically and emotionally.” She added that she was now focused on helping her father to make a full recovery, and that “in the long term I hope to return home to my country.”

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With the level of incompetence in UK politics, the NHS looks beyond salvation.

NHS Needs £2,000 In Tax From Every Household To Stay Afloat (Ind.)

Taxes will “almost certainly” have to rise over the coming years simply to prevent the National Health Service and social care system from slipping further into crisis, a major new report concludes. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation state that the NHS, which has been suffering the most severe fiscal squeeze since its foundation over the past eight years, now requires an urgent increase in government spending in order to cope with an influx of older and sicker patients. Funding the projected increases in health spending through the tax system would need taxes to rise by between 1.6 and 2.6% of GDP – the equivalent of between £1,200 and £2,000 per household, the experts said.

The two organisations say that state funding growth rate, which has been just 1.4% a year since 2010, will have to more than double to between 3.3% and 4% over the next 15 years if government pledges, such as bringing down waiting times and increasing the provision of mental health services, are to stand any chance of being delivered. They also say that to finance this increase the government would “almost certainly need to increase taxes”. “If we are to have a health and social care system which meets our needs and aspirations, we will have to pay a lot more for it over the next 15 years. This time we won’t be able to rely on cutting spending elsewhere – we will have to pay more in tax,” said the IFS’s director Paul Johnson.

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Raises some interesting questions. I can block him, but he cannot block me. I can all him “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian” and much much worse, and he’s going to have to swallow it.

Trump’s Blocking Of Critics On Twitter Violates Constitution – US Judge (R.)

Trump has made his @RealDonaldTrump Twitter account an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. He has blocked many critics from his account, which prevents them from directly responding to his tweets. U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled that comments on the president’s account, and those of other government officials, were public forums, and that blocking Twitter users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of Constitution. Eugene Volokh, a University of California Los Angeles School of Law professor who specializes in First Amendment issues, said the decision’s effect would reach beyond Trump.

“It would end up applying to a wide range of government officials throughout the country,” he said. The U.S. Department of Justice, which represents Trump in the case, said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are considering our next steps.” Twitter, which is not a party to the lawsuit, declined to comment on the ruling. Buchwald’s ruling was in response to a First Amendment lawsuit filed against Trump in July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and several Twitter users. The individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland; Holly Figueroa, described in the complaint as a political organizer and songwriter in Washington state; and Brandon Neely, a Texas police officer.

Cohen, who was blocked from Trump’s account last June after posting an image of the president with words “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian,” said he was “delighted” with Wednesday’s decision. “This increases my faith in the system a little,” he said. Novelists Stephen King and Anne Rice, comedian Rosie O’Donnell, model Chrissy Teigen, actress Marina Sirtis and the military veterans political action committee VoteVets.org are among the others who have said on Twitter that Trump blocked them. Buchwald rejected the argument by Justice Department lawyers that Trump’s own First Amendment rights allowed him to block people with whom he did not wish to interact.

“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the president’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” Buchwald said. She said Trump could “mute” users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his, without violating their free speech rights.

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Said it before: putting it in monetary terms is counter-productive. Only when we recognize that it’s not about money will we do something.

Hitting Toughest Climate Target Will Save World $30 Trillion In Damages (G.)

Achieving the toughest climate change target set in the global Paris agreement will save the world about $30tn in damages, far more than the costs of cutting carbon emissions, according to a new economic analysis. Most nations, representing 90% of global population, would benefit economically from keeping global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the research indicates. This includes almost all the world’s poorest countries, as well as the three biggest economies – the US, China and Japan – contradicting the claim of US president, Donald Trump, that climate action is too costly. Australia and South Africa would also benefit, with the biggest winners being Middle East nations, which are threatened with extreme heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival.

However, some cold countries – particularly Russia, Canada and Scandinavian nations – are likely to have their growth restricted if the 1.5C target is met, the study suggests. This is because a small amount of additional warming to 2C would be beneficial to their economies. The UK and Ireland could also see some restriction, though the estimates span a wide range of outcomes. The research, published in the journal Nature, is among the first to assess the economic impact of meeting the Paris climate goals. Data from the last 50 years shows clearly that when temperatures rise, GDP and other economic measures fall in most nations, due to impacts on factors including labour productivity, agricultural output and health.

The scientists used this relationship and 40 global climate models to estimate the future economic impact of meeting the 1.5C target – a tough goal given the world has already experienced 1C of man-made warming. They also assessed the long-standing 2C target and the impact of 3C of warming, which is the level expected unless current plans for action are increased.

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It’s not gone. But it is under threat.

The Mediterranean Diet Is Gone: Region’s Children Are Fattest In Europe (G.)

For kids in Greece, Spain and Italy, the Mediterranean diet is dead, according to the World Health Organisation, which says that children in Sweden are more likely to eat fish, olive oil and tomatoes than those in southern Europe. In Cyprus, a phenomenal 43% of boys and girls aged nine are either overweight or obese. Greece, Spain and Italy also have rates of over 40%. The Mediterranean countries which gave their name to the famous diet that is supposed to be the healthiest in the world have children with Europe’s biggest weight problem. Sweets, junk food and sugary drinks have displaced the traditional diet based on fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil, said Dr Joao Breda, head of the WHO European office for prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

“The Mediterranean diet for the children in these countries is gone,” he said at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna. “There is no Mediterranean diet any more. Those who are close to the Mediterranean diet are the Swedish kids. The Mediterranean diet is gone and we need to recover it.” Children in southern Europe are eating few fruit and vegetables and drinking a lot of sugary colas and other sweet beverages, said Breda. They snack. They eat sweets. They consume too much salt, sugar and fat in their food. And they hardly move. “Physical inactivity is one of the issues that is more significant in the southern European countries,” he said. “A man in Crete in the 60s would need 3,500 calories because he was going up and down the mountain.”

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