Sep 142017
 
 September 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Edward Hopper Chop Suey 1929

 

Top Democrats Announce Deal With Trump To Protect ‘Dreamers’ (MW)
Fed Balance Sheet Reduction Will Reduce Funds Sent To Treasury (BI)
“You Should Take the Fed at Their Word” (WS)
“Markets Have Always Been Wrong” – Jamie Dimon (ZH)
10% of Global GDP Is Stashed In Tax Havens (BI)
Did You Know Housing Gets Counted Twice In GDP? (Murray)
The Real Earnings of Men (WS)
China’s Steel Mills Run at Full Tilt as Output Hits New Peak (BBG)
China’s Economy Cools Again (BBG)
US Senate Rejects Bid To Repeal War Authorizations (R.)
Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad? (Robert Parry)
Crisis Brings Sea Change To Greek Housing Market (K.)
More Austerity May Be Ahead (K.)

 

 

They dine together, close a deal, and then can’t wait to tell entirely different stories to the press. But Trump has forced them into action.

Top Democrats Announce Deal With Trump To Protect ‘Dreamers’ (MW)

Top Democratic leaders said Wednesday night that they had reached a compromise agreement with President Donald Trump to enact protections for the children of undocumented immigrants in exchange for increased border security measures that do not include funding for a wall — which the White House then disputed. “We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the president,” read a joint statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “The discussions focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.” But shortly after that statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed that border-wall funding was off the table. “Excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” she said.

Schumer, of New York, and Pelosi, of California, had dinner with Trump at the White House on Wednesday night. It was apparently the second bipartisan agreement between Democrats and Trump in the past week, after last week’s surprise deal that provided funding for Hurricane Harvey relief and extended the debt ceiling for three months, much to Republicans’ chagrin. Extending protections for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which were rescinded by the Trump administration last week, is a top priority for Democrats and many Republican lawmakers. Without new legislation, the 690,000 children of undocumented immigrants — so-called “Dreamers” — enrolled in the program could face deportation as their status expires over the next two years. Trump had said he may “revisit” the issue of Dreamers in six months if Congress didn’t act.

Read more …

It’s like driving into a dark and wet dead end alley.

Fed Balance Sheet Reduction Will Reduce Funds Sent To Treasury (BI)

The Federal Reserve is not expected to raise interest rates again until at least December, and even that increase is now in doubt given low inflation and high political uncertainty in the United States. That doesn’t mean the central bank has no plans to tighten monetary policy, however. Officials are widely expected to announce the start of a gradual reduction of the Fed’s $4.4 trillion balance sheet, which more than quintupled in response to the Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-2009. Policymakers are hoping the shrinkage, which they intend to accomplish by ceasing reinvestments of maturing bonds back into the central bank’s portfolio, will have minimal market impact. But a previous episode in 2013 known as the “taper tantrum,” when bond yields spiked sharply higher at the mere mention of a possible end to the Fed’s bond-buying program, offers a cautionary tale.

Regardless of immediate market impact, there will be a longer term effect on the government budget, currently the subject of heated debate, that most investors and politicians are ignoring. That’s because the Fed’s bond-buying program, in addition to lowering the government’s borrowing costs at a time when weak economic activity called for bigger budget deficits, created a stream of yearly returns of nearly $100 billion for the Federal Reserve which it then siphoned back to the Treasury. Sometimes these are referred to as the Fed’s “profits,” but that is a deceptive way of describing what is in effect an intra-government transaction. “As assets under management drop, so too will revenue on that portfolio. This will be a lost revenue source for the Treasury that will raise deficits and add to the Treasury’s financing” costs, writes Societe Generale Economist Stephen Gallagher in a research note to clients.

Read more …

Downward volatility.

“You Should Take the Fed at Their Word” (WS)

The markets have been brushing off the Fed and have done the opposite of what the Fed has set out to accomplish. The Fed wants to tighten financial conditions. It’s worried about asset prices. It’s worried that these inflated assets which are used as collateral by the banks, pose a danger to financial stability. It has mentioned several inflated asset classes by name, including commercial real estate, which backs $4 trillion in loans heavily concentrated at regional banks. And yet, markets have loosened financial conditions since the Fed started its tightening cycle in earnest last December. Markets are hiding behind “low” inflation, when the Fed is focused on asset prices. So longer-term yields have been falling even as short-term yields have moved up in line with the Fed’s target rate, and thus the yield curve has flattened.

The dollar has been falling. Equities have been soaring to new highs. And companies, if they’re big enough, are able to get funding for the riskiest projects at stunningly low rates. “I think there is maybe too much confidence that the Fed is not really going to do too much more on interest rates, that we’ll have one or two more rate hikes and that’s it,” Brian Coulton, chief economist for Fitch Ratings, told Reuters on Tuesday. Market participants are expecting “just one or two interest rate increases a year” despite the Fed’s stated expectation of seeing long-run interest rates at around 3.0%. “When the Fed says they’re going to engage in a gradual rate of interest rate increases, they mean three or four rate hikes every year and we think that’s what they’re going to do,” Coulton said. “We think that you should take them at their word and it may even be a little faster than that.”

This disconnect between market expectations and the Fed’s stated intentions could create volatility in fixed-income markets when markets finally catch up, he said. Volatility, when it’s used in this sense, always means downward volatility: a sudden downward adjustment in prices and spiking yields – a painful experience for the coddled bond market with big consequences for the stock market. “We think they’re going to be … getting more worried about some of the negative consequences of QE, the fact that it encourages risk taking and may create some issues for the banks,” he said. And he expects – this is “more of a personal view,” he said – that the Fed will continue with the rate hikes, or even accelerate them, even if consumer price inflation remains low.

Read more …

“There’s low volatility until they’re highly volatile.” Sounds like Minsky.

“Markets Have Always Been Wrong” – Jamie Dimon (ZH)

Oh, listen, markets are markets. There’s low volatility until they’re highly volatile. The stock market is high until it goes low. Markets therefore have always been wrong. And I think people are making mistakes. I can give you reasons why it might be low. We’ve had this fairly consistent, coherent, consistent growth. But forget the geopolitical noise and stuff like that. We’re chugging along, 2%. Europe is doing 2%. Russia – I mean, Japan is doing 1.5%, China’s doing their 6%. You know, earnings are doing okay. We’ve had a fairly benign economic environment. That’s a reason. I can give you another reason is that the Central Banks of the world that bought $12 trillion of securities. 12 trillion. Since they started doing QE. And that’s only just the U.S. That’s an awful lot of security purchases that might – in all things be equal, and remember things are never all equal – can reduce volatility.

And there may be other sides that are known. And once other sides happen, watch out. Then volatility goes way up. They’ll say they’re a genius, they figured out when it’s going to happened. I don’t guess on which kind of volatility. Like I said, we do a business. And we have to manage the volatility.” [..] The hurricanes are irrelevant. I wouldn’t have any policy matter as a function of hurricanes. Going to reduce GDP in the short run, they’ll probably increase it after that. I’ll let the economists figure it out. But almost a $20 trillion economy, that isn’t a reason to change monetary policy. It will create a lot of noise in the numbers, but I wouldn’t overreact to that. Advice, it’s very sympathetic. We’re doing – just so you know, we’re going to do a lot for affordable housing, get these people in these states 20,000 people in Florida, 6,000 in Houston. Most of the banks are waiving fees, delaying loan payments, offering special services for your employees and stuff like that.”

Read more …

Saw the graph before. Greece is the big one here.

10% of Global GDP Is Stashed In Tax Havens (BI)

The Panama Papers and other major leaks from offshore tax havens have helped shed light on just how much money the world’s wealthiest people are parking in untaxed obscurity, away from the authorities and, importantly, economic researchers. This new evidence has helped economists gain greater insight into just how steep disparities between the rich and the poor have become, because having actual data on offshore holdings tends to widen wealth gaps considerably. Three of these researchers have teamed up on two important papers that offer a more in-depth look at what the world’s worst tax-evading and -avoiding nations are, and they find that the existence of tax havens makes inequality much worse than it appears with standard, publicly available economic data.

“The equivalent of 10% of world GDP is held in tax havens globally, but this average masks a great deal of heterogeneity—from a few % of GDP in Scandinavia, to about 15% in Continental Europe, and 60% in Gulf countries and some Latin American economies,” Annette Alstadsæter at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Niels Johannesen of the University of Copenhagen, and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley write in the first of the two articles. Global gross domestic product is about $75.6 trillion, according to World Bank figures. They then apply these estimates to build revised series of top wealth shares in 10 countries accounting for nearly half of world GDP. “Because offshore wealth is very concentrated at the top, accounting for it increases the top 0.01% wealth share substantially in Europe, even in countries that do not use tax havens extensively,” the authors write. “It has considerable effects in Russia, where the vast majority of wealth at the top is held offshore.”

About 60% of the wealth of Russia’s richest households is held offshore, the economists estimate. “More broadly, offshore wealth is likely to have major implications for the concentration of wealth in many of the world’s developing countries, hence for the world distribution of income and wealth.” “These results highlight the importance of looking beyond tax and survey data to study wealth accumulation among the very rich in a globalized world,” they continue. They say that despite lip service to transparency, “very little has been achieved” in recent years. “With the exception of Switzerland, no major financial center publishes 18 comprehensive statistics on the amount of foreign wealth managed by its banks.”

Read more …

GDP is a lousy measure.

Did You Know Housing Gets Counted Twice In GDP? (Murray)

Your car gets counted once in GDP when it is built, not when it is driven. Your clothes, your bicycle, your furniture, all get counted once when they are manufactured, and not again when they are worn, ridden, or sat on. But homes are counted twice: Once when they are constructed, and again when they are occupied. The argument to include both housing construction (as a new capital investment good) and housing occupancy (as a consumption good) arises from a conceptual trick at the heart of national accounting. That trick is to separate out two types of ‘final’ goods when adding up the ‘value-added’ in the economy, which is what GDP does. One good is a consumption good. These are goods (and services) that households consume, like clothes, food, entertainment, and so forth. All the value added at intermediate stages in the production chain of these goods can be captured by looking only at the final retail value of the goods.

That value represents the total value-added across the economy to produce that good. The other type of good is an investment good. This is a good that lasts a long time and contributes to future production. A new rail line, for example, is classified a new investment good, and the value of its production is counted in GDP, even though households don’t get any value from it until it is used to run trains. Once the rail line is being used to run trains, the value of those travel services is also counted in GDP as a consumption good, which will include within it the value contribution of the rail line itself. Thus there is a type of double-counting when it comes to investment goods — you count them when they are made, and you count them again when they are used to make consumption goods.

This is intentional. The production of investment goods is a large share of GDP — between 20 and 40% in most countries. By ignoring this production, which is also the more volatile part of production over the business cycle, GDP loses much of its value as a measure of how economically active a country is. The construction of new homes is, therefore, an investment good, which gets counted in GDP. But then the occupancy of these same homes gets counted gain as a consumption ‘home rental’ good each period after. This applies to the 70% of households (in Australia at least) who own their own home, not just the renters. Although they don’t pay themselves rent to occupy their home, GDP is calculated as if they do by ‘imputing’ the rent that homeowners would have to pay themselves if they instead rented their home.

Read more …

” On this inflation-adjusted basis, men had earned more than that in 1972″
..

The Real Earnings of Men (WS)

For women who were working full-time year-round, median earnings (income obtained only from working) rose 0.7% on an inflation-adjusted basis from a year ago to $48,328, continuing well-deserved increases over the data series going back to 1960. The female-to-male earnings ratio hit a new record of 80.5%, after steady increases, up from the 60%-range, where it had been between 1960 and 1982. And while that may still be inadequate, and while more progress needs to be made for women in the workforce, it was nevertheless the good news.

Men in the workforce haven’t been so lucky. They have experienced the brunt of the wage repression over the past four decades, obtained in part via inflation, where wages inch up, but not quite enough to keep up with the Fed-engineered loss of purchasing power of the dollar. Median earnings for men who worked full-time year-round fell 0.4% in 2016, adjusted for inflation, to $51,640. On this inflation-adjusted basis, men had earned more than that in 1972 ($52,361). And it’s down 4.4% from the earnings peak in 1973 ($54,030). This translates into 44 years of real earnings decline:

Read more …

Just in time for the Party Congress. What a lucky coincidence!

China’s Steel Mills Run at Full Tilt as Output Hits New Peak (BBG)

Steel production in China chalked up a fresh monthly record as mills in the world’s top supplier increase output to profit from a rally in prices to six-year highs before government-ordered pollution curbs are implemented. Crude steel output climbed to 74.59 million metric tons last month, surpassing the previous peak of 74.02 million in July, and up from 68.57 million in August 2016, according to the statistics bureau Thursday. While that’s an all-time high for the month, daily output was less than the record in June. Production surged 5.6% to 566.4 million tons in the first eight months, also a record. Steel prices have been supercharged this year in the country that accounts for half of global output. A crackdown on illegal mills shuttered some supply, boosting the remaining producers, while demand has been underpinned by significant state-backed stimulus.

Investors are also eyeing signals that the government will press ahead with anti-pollution curbs over winter. “Steel mills have boosted output as profit margins are good,” said Helen Lau at Argonaut Securities in Hong Kong. “Production cuts won’t set in until September or October, so steelmakers are churning out as much as they can in the meantime.” Spot reinforcement bar in China, a benchmark product used in construction, hit 4,396 yuan a ton early this month, the highest level since October 2011. Prices have gained 30% this year. Steel output may drop in coming months as Asia’s top economy presses ahead with supply-side reforms. Hebei province, the center of China’s mammoth steel industry, has plans that’ll allow for winter output cuts of as much as 50% to reduce pollution. Citigroup Inc. has estimated daily production could shrink 8% because of the environmental crackdown.

Read more …

But wait! Same source, same day, opposite views.

China’s Economy Cools Again (BBG)

The pace of China’s economic expansion unexpectedly cooled further last month after a lackluster July, as factory output, investment and retail sales all slowed. • Industrial output rose 6.0% from a year earlier in August, versus a median projection of 6.6% and July’s 6.4%. That’s the slowest pace this year • Retail sales expanded 10.1% from a year earlier, versus a projection of 10.5% and 10.4% in July, also the slowest reading in 2017 • Fixed-asset investment in urban areas rose 7.8% in the first eight months of the year over the same period in 2016, compared with a forecast 8.2% rise. That’s the slowest since 1999.

The continued cooling of the world’s second-largest economy suggests that efforts to rein in credit expansion and reduce excess capacity are hitting home ahead of the key 19th Party Congress in October. Still, producer-price inflation and a manufacturing sentiment gauge both exceeded estimates earlier this month, signaling some resilience. The Shanghai Composite Index reversed earlier gains to fall 0.4%. “Today’s data shows that the economy clearly already peaked in the first half of this year,” said Larry Hu at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “Recently both property and exports are slowing down and that’s why the whole economy is slowing.” “Regulatory tightening in the financial sector is putting a squeeze on highly indebted firms reliant on shadow bank financing,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong.

“And officials are unlikely to take their foot off the regulatory brakes any time soon. Growth therefore looks set to weaken further into year end, as regulators step up their campaign to rein in shadow banking.” “That’s still on track to a gradual moderation,” Chang Jian, chief China economist at Barclays in Hong Kong, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The government has been closing capacity, especially those that don’t meet environmental standards, and enforcement this year has been much stricter in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress.”

Read more …

An empire built on war.

US Senate Rejects Bid To Repeal War Authorizations (R.)

The U.S. Senate rejected an amendment on Wednesday that would have forced the repeal of war resolutions used as the legal basis for U.S. military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and against extremists in Syria and other countries. The Senate voted 61 to 36 to kill the measure, which six months after it became law would have put an end to authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in 2001 and 2002. The legislation was offered by Republican Senator Rand Paul as an amendment to a must-pass annual defense policy bill, which lawmakers are using as a vehicle to gain a greater say in national security policy. Paul’s measure was aimed at asserting the constitutional right of Congress to approve military action, rather than the president.

Some of the other amendments address issues such as sanctions on North Korea and President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military. Many members of Congress are concerned the 2001 AUMF, passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks to authorize the fight against al Qaeda and affiliates, has been used too broadly as the legal basis for a wide range of military action in too many countries. The majority of support for the amendment came from Democrats, who joined Paul in arguing that it is long past time for Congress to debate a new authorization for the use of force. “We should oppose unauthorized, undeclared, unconstitutional war. At this particular time, there are no limits on war,” Paul said.

Read more …

Not really. They’re just chasing illusions.

Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad? (Robert Parry)

For those of us who have taught journalism or worked as editors, a sign that an article is the product of sloppy or dishonest journalism is that a key point will be declared as flat fact when it is unproven or a point in serious dispute – and it then becomes the foundation for other claims, building a story like a high-rise constructed on sand. This use of speculation as fact is something to guard against particularly in the work of inexperienced or opinionated reporters. But what happens when this sort of unprofessional work tops page one of The New York Times one day as a major “investigative” article and reemerges the next day in even more strident form as a major Times editorial? Are we dealing then with an inept journalist who got carried away with his thesis or are we facing institutional corruption or even a collective madness driven by ideological fervor?

What is stunning about the lede story in last Friday’s print edition of The New York Times is that it offers no real evidence to support its provocative claim that – as the headline states – “To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans” or its subhead: “Flooding Twitter and Facebook, Impostors Helped Fuel Anger in Polarized U.S.” In the old days, this wildly speculative article, which spills over three pages, would have earned an F in a J-school class or gotten a rookie reporter a stern rebuke from a senior editor. But now such unprofessionalism is highlighted by The New York Times, which boasts that it is the standard-setter of American journalism, the nation’s “newspaper of record.” In this case, it allows reporter Scott Shane to introduce his thesis by citing some Internet accounts that apparently used fake identities, but he ties none of them to the Russian government.

Acting like he has minimal familiarity with the Internet – yes, a lot of people do use fake identities – Shane builds his case on the assumption that accounts that cited references to purloined Democratic emails must be somehow from an agent or a bot connected to the Kremlin. For instance, Shane cites the fake identity of “Melvin Redick,” who suggested on June 8, 2016, that people visit DCLeaks which, a few days earlier, had posted some emails from prominent Americans, which Shane states as fact – not allegation – were “stolen … by Russian hackers.” Shane then adds, also as flat fact, that “The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled.”

Read more …

See my article yesterday.

Crisis Brings Sea Change To Greek Housing Market (K.)

“What we are experiencing is the end of the era of home ownership in Greece as households can no longer save to buy property,” says Nikos Hatzitsolis, chief executive at real estate firm CB Richard Ellis-Axies, underscoring the fundamental changes that the crisis has triggered in the Greek property market. This change, the experts explain, is not just evident in the case of those just flying the nest who wouldn’t be in any position to own their home anyway unless it was given to them by their family, but also existing homeowners who are opting to leave their property and rent it out or sell it. “Around 70% of homeowners are becoming renters because they choose to sell their property to pay off debts such as mortgages, late taxes or credit card debt,” says Lefteris Potamianos, vice president of the Athens-Attica Estate Agents Association.

“If any money is left over from the transaction, it is not reinvested in another property, as was the case in the past, but used to rent another home. Basically, the dream of ownership that drove past generations has come to an end.” A significant%age of homeowners choosing to rent out their home and lease a different property for themselves also consists of young people who see their accommodation requirements increasing, due to the birth of a child for example, or want to live in an area with better schools or security. “We are seeing more and more such cases in the property market,” says Potamianos. “Given that sales prices are very low and it is hard to find a buyer, many owners prefer to rent out their property and then rent another for themselves, as getting bank funding for a purchase is incredibly difficult. Some even move around to see which area suits them best. Renting has this flexibility, allowing you to relocate if you’re not happy.”

For the overwhelming majority, however, renting is the only option, as buying is seen as bringing no advantages whatsoever anymore. “Even from a purely economic perspective, it’s not worth owning a home today. In contrast, people who rent avoid all the additional tax costs and are not exposed to the instability of the tax framework for real estate assets, which has become a tool of politics and results in no taxpayer knowing what tomorrow will bring,” explains Hatzitsolis. “Previous generations believed that buying houses was a form of investment. This is no longer the case, as we’re seeing a completely different mentality in younger people.”

The expert also draws attention to the cases of people who are stuck with their properties. “I know an owner who inherited a house in [the upscale Athenian suburb of] Ekali and has to pay 80,000 euros a year in property tax,” he recounts. “At best, the house could fetch 50,000 euros a year in rent, which means that this man has to cover losses of 30,000 euros every year, something that is a complete dead end.” This owner has little choice but to sell, says Hatzitsolis, adding that such cases also explain why an increasing number of people are refusing their inheritances.

Read more …

Europe won’t rest until they have created their very own Somalia.

More Austerity May Be Ahead (K.)

Greek authorities will honor their commitments as laid out in the latest loan deal with international creditors, even if this results in the need for additional austerity measures next year, a top government official indicated Wednesday. In an unusual show of honesty and realism, the same official suggested that there might not be a “clean exit” for Greece after its third bailout expires next summer but something more restrictive. There are a range of possible scenarios between that of a clean exit, which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has heralded, and the prospect of a credit line for Greece, the official said. On the prospect of more austerity next year, the official said he believed that there would not be a big divergence in fiscal targets next year. “If there is, we’ll see what happens, but were are committed to a target of 3.5% of GDP,” the official said, referring to the primary surplus goal set by creditors.

The official also noted that, once a primary surplus target is reached, residual revenue will go toward boosting the Social Solidarity Income program for 2017 for Greeks who have been hardest hit by austerity but also toward paying off state debts to the private sector and to growth programs. Decisions on these matters are expected to be taken following talks with the mission chiefs representing Greece’s foreign lenders, who are expected to travel to Athens next month and to assess the progress of authorities in boosting tax collection and curbing spending. Although Greek officials have underlined the importance of completing the next bailout review by the end of the year, sources suggest that the process might drag into January.

The most important thing, the official noted, is “that we are not part of the problem” when important discussions about the future of the Greek program get under way in the first quarter of next year, touching on the participation (or not) of the IMF in Greece’s third bailout and relief for the country’s debt burden. Greek authorities are concerned about the IMF’s stance opposite Athens. Apart from the Fund’s traditionally tough position on fiscal matters, there are concerns too about its demands for a further recapitalization of Greek banks. The official, however, assumed the stance of the ECB on this issue, noting that there is no need for Greek banks to receive further capital. The official said that Greece planned to tap international bond markets in the next 6-9 months following a successful return in July.

Read more …

Jan 222017
 
 January 22, 2017  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrFlattr the authorDigg thisShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone


Dorothea Lange Resettlement project, Bosque Farms, New Mexico 1935

The Inauguration, and the Counter-Inauguration (Atlantic)
White House Spokesman Slams Media In Bizarre First Briefing (ZH)
The Demons Have Been Unchained (HB)
How the NYT Plays with History (Robert Parry)
Any Country Leaving Euro Zone Must Settle Bill First: ECB’s Draghi (R.)
Trump Team in Talks with UK on Post-Brexit Trade Deal (BBG)
Utopian Ideas On Climate Change Will Get Us Precisely Nowhere (G.)

 

 

The Automatic Earth ‘celebrates’ its 9th birthday today! Thank you Nicole first of all, and thank all of you, so much, for reading, for commenting, being involved, for your kind donations. A true honor and pleasure.

(Someone had to point it out to me, of course I forgot.)

 

 

I’ve tried hard to understand what the women were/are protesting, and what I find is I’m still confused, since it seems they protest anything and everything. Or, as the Atlantic puts it: “the Women’s March was a protest that celebrated protest.” Looks to me like a surefire recipe for handing it to Trump on a platter.

Trump seems to be part of what’s being protested, but what exactly? His “grab the pussy” nonsense? But that was years ago and he was talking about willing women. Stupid and ugly, but it doesn’t make him a threat to all women. His abortion stance? Some of his supporters are pro-lifers for sure, but so far nothing indicates he’ll lead some big turnaround on the issue.

What I think everybody needs to recognize is that there are, and especially will be, very obvious and clearly definable topics linked to this administration that should be vigurously protested and investigated. But this protest doesn’t do any such thing.

Neither does the Democratic party, who can’t locate their own asses anymore. And most of all neither do the media, which for example covered nothing yesterday but a piece of absurd briefing theater about the number of people attending the inauguration. Once again handing the floor to Trump. It’s embarrassing.

Pointing out silly things Trump says that you know everyone in your respective echo chambers will agree with you on is easy, and Trump will keep feeding you. What it is not, though, is journalism. Or politics, for that matter. Or meaningful protest.

The role of Trump, I think, in America, must be that of a wake-up call. But nobody’s waking up.

The Inauguration, and the Counter-Inauguration (Atlantic)

In the middle of the National Mall, on the same spot that had, the day before, hosted the revelers who had come out for the inauguration of Donald Trump, a crowd of people protesting the new presidency spontaneously formed themselves into a circle. They grasped hands. They invited others in. “Join our circle!” one woman shouted, merrily, to a small group of passersby. They obliged. The expanse—a small spot of emptiness in a space otherwise teeming with people—got steadily larger, until it spanned nearly 100 feet across. If you happened to be flying directly above the Mall during the early afternoon of January 21, as the Women’s March on Washington was in full swing, you would have seen a throng of people—about half a million of them, according to the most recent estimates—punctuated, in the middle, by an ad-hoc little bullseye.

“What is this circle about?” a woman asked one of the circle-standers. “Nobody knows!” the circle-stander replied, cheerfully. The space stayed empty for a moment, as people clasped hands and looked around at each other with grins and “what-now?” expressions. And then: A woman ran through the circle, dancing, waving a sign that read “FREE MELANIA.” The crowd nodded approvingly. Another woman did the same with her sign. A group of three teenage boys danced with their “BAD HOMBRE” placards. The crowd whooped. Soon, several people were using the space as a stage. A woman dressed as a plush vulva shimmied around the circle’s perimeter. The circle-standers laughed and clapped and cheered. They held their phones in their air, taking pictures and videos. They cheered some more.

The Women’s March on Washington began in a similarly ad-hoc manner. The protest sprang to life as an errant idea posted to Facebook, right after Trump won the presidency. The notion weathered controversy to evolve into something that, on Saturday, was funereal in purpose but decidedly celebratory in tone. The march, in pretty much every way including the most literal, opposed the inaugural ceremony that had taken place the day before. On the one hand, it protested President Trump. Its participants wore not designer clothes, but jeans and sneakers and—the unofficial uniform of the event—pink knit caps with ears meant to evoke, and synonymize, cats. It had, in place of somber ritual, a festival-like atmosphere. It featured, instead of pomp and circumstance, people spontaneously breaking into dance on a spontaneously formed dance floor.

And yet in many ways, the march was also extremely similar to the inauguration whose infrastructure it had co-opted, symbolically and otherwise, for its own purposes. The Women’s March on Washington shared a setting—the Capitol, the Mall, the erstwhile inaugural parade route—with the ceremonies of January 20. And, following an election in which the victor lost the popular vote, the protest seems to have bested the inauguration itself in terms of (physical) public turnout. During a time of extreme partisanship and division—a time in which the One America the now-former president once spoke of can seem an ever-more-distant possibility—the Women’s March played out as a kind of alternate-reality inauguration: not necessarily of Hillary Clinton, but of the ideas and ideals her candidacy represented. The Women’s March was an installation ceremony of a sort—not of a new president, but of the political resistance to him.

“I DO NOT ACCEPT THIS FILTHY ROTTEN SYSTEM,” read one sign, carried by Lauren Grace, 35, of Philadelphia. She got the quote from Dorothy Day. And she intended it, Grace explained to me, to protest “a system that sort of left me out.” “We’re told that voting is a sacred right in this country,” Grace said. “But even though Hillary won the popular vote, she still lost. I feel pretty conflicted about a country where that could happen.”

The Women’s March was, to be sure, also a protest march in an extremely traditional vein: It featured leaders—celebrities, activists, celebrity activists—who gave speeches and offered performances on a stage with the Capitol in its background; its participants held signs, and chanted (“This-is-what-a-feminist-looks-like!,” “No-person-is-illegal!”), and commiserated. It was also traditional in that its participants were marching not for one specific thing, but for many related aspirations. Women’s reproductive rights. LGBTQ rights. Immigration rights. Feminism in general (“FEMALES ARE STRONG AS HELL,” one sign went, riffing off a famous feminist’s Netflix show). The environment (“CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL,” “MAKE THE PLANET GREAT AGAIN”). Science (“Y’ALL NEED SCIENCE”). Facts (“MAKE AMERICA FACT-CHECK AGAIN”). Some signs argued for socialism. Some argued against plutocracy. Some argued for Kindness. Some pled for Peace. Some simply argued that America is Already Great.

This was a big-tent protest, in other words—a messy, joyful coalescence of many different movements. The Women’s March deftly employed, in its rhetoric, the biggest of the big-tent tautologies: The point of this protest wasn’t so much the specific things being protested as it was the very bigness of the crowds who were doing the protesting. This was another way the protest alternate-realitied the presidential inauguration: Just as the official ceremony is meant to celebrate not only the person occupying the presidency, but the presidency itself, the Women’s March was a protest that celebrated protest.

Read more …

Tyler Durden gets the essence: ..what he is seeing is that he once again is controlling the media narrative, which is focusing on a very immaterial and arbitrary issue, instead of spending time on investigative work and reporting on far more serious issues relating to Trump’s new administration.

White House Spokesman Slams Media In Bizarre First Briefing (ZH)

In a bizarre first briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday unloaded a blistering attack on the media and accused it of false reporting about the otherwise irrelevant question of why Trump’s inauguration crowd was visibly smaller than that of Obama’s. Spicer used up virtually all the time in his first official appearance in the Press Briefing Room to denounce news organizations’ focus on the inaugural crowd size, saying “these attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.” We wouldn’t necessarily use those words: silly should suffice since if Trump really wanted to “defend” why fewer people attended his inauguration, he can simply say many more of his supporters are employed and had to be at work on Friday, than during either Obama’s 2009 or 2013 inauguration events.

However, the press secretary decided that hyperbole is the better part of valor and said “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the world” Spicer made the allegation despite photographs of the event clearly showed that the Mall was not full in the sections Spicer described, with dwindling-to-nonexistent crowds near the Smithsonian Institution Building and west toward the Washington Monument. There was also sparse attendance along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House. He alleged that some photos of the inauguration were “intentionally framed in a way” that minimized the crowd, without providing examples or evidence.

No official agency provides estimates of the size of gatherings on the Mall. But photos taken from the same vantage point at about the same time of day show that the crowds were far smaller than for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, which Washington city officials estimated at 1.8 million people.Ultimately, the whole press briefing episode had a surreal undertone, one in which Trump, via his speaker, appears to continue to troll the press, now in the White House. As a seemingly perturbed NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen summarized it “Wow. Sean Spicer walked to the podium. Unloaded on the media for bias. Accused reporters of dishonesty. Walked off without taking questions.” The reaction among the rest of the press was similar.

Spicer took no questions from reporters and he did not say specifically how many people the White House believes attended the inauguration. He said three large sections of the Mall that each held at least 200,000 people were “full when the president took the oath of office.” Earlier on Saturday, in remarks at CIA headquarters in Langley, Trump said that from his vantage point at the podium, “it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there, and they said Donald Trump did not draw well.” Trump also said parts of the National Mall “all the way back to the Washington Monument” were “packed.”

Quoted by Bloomberg, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Twitter after Spicer’s remarks that “This is called a statement you’re told to make by the president. And you know the president is watching.” He is indeed, and what he is seeing is that he once again is controlling the media narrative, which is focusing on a very immaterial and arbitrary issue, instead of spending time on investigative work and reporting on far more serious issues relating to Trump’s new administration.

Read more …

The German press is just like the American one, clinging to consensus, hanging on to what is already lost: “Not only Democrats are hoping for an impeachment proceeding.”

The Demons Have Been Unchained (HB)

That was no presidential speech; that was a veritable declaration of war. Threatening in tone. Cold and calculating in logic. Change minus the hope. Donald Trump used the traditional Inauguration Day address to settle a score with the U.S. political establishment going back decades. With four ex-presidents sitting a few feet behind him, the 45th president delivered a populist manifesto. Until his victory, the nation’s political elite used days like these, he told America, to celebrate amongst themselves. Their triumph was not your triumph. Their well-being was not your well-being. But this time, power would transfer not just from one party to the other, but from Washington back to the people. In the people’s name, he will put America “first.” In their name, he will “take back” America’s factories.

In their name, he will “exterminate” Islamic terrorism, end inner-city drug gang “bloodbaths” and get NATO partners like Germany to pay more for Europe’s security. In domestic policy, the Trump agenda sounds like a blueprint for civil war; in foreign policy, it sounds like the dawn of a new ice age. Not that he’s cold-bloodedly planning either one, but he knows where his fiery rhetoric will lead him. The new president loves a good fight, not consensus. He doesn’t want to hug, but to smother, to overwhelm. Yesterday was his day, but the days that follow may belong to his opponents. There are three main opponents that could bring him down politically.

Opponent No. 1: The other America. Across the country, an anti-Trump movement is growing. While only 10,000 people came to an open-air concert in Washington celebrating his victory on the night before the inauguration, 20,000 people took to the streets in New York to protest his elevation. Their signs shouted: Not My President. The security and surveillance costs around Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 56th Street, is costing taxpayers about a half million dollars – each day.

Opponent No. 2: The Media. Among publishers, producers, filmmakers and journalists, Trump has hardly any friends. CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Hollywood couldn’t warm to the volcanic personality of the new president. Even an unbroken Twitter assault has no chance against such a monolithic wall of media rejection. He hates them, and they hate him right back. He pushes forward his agenda, and they push back unabashedly with theirs. Trump enters The White House with the lowest approval rating ever of an elected president.

Opponent No. 3: The Political Party System. Washington is having an allergic reaction to Trump. Democrats and even Republicans are cooperating on Capitol Hill to investigate the Trump team’s contacts to Russia in a special committee. House Speaker Paul Ryan doesn’t see himself as a Trump follower but as a Trump successor. He is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, biding his time, waiting for an opening. Put another way: Not only Democrats are hoping for an impeachment proceeding. America is now on the brink of a new period of polarization. The demons in this fraternal battle have been unchained. The greatness that Trump seeks will not be borne under these conditions. An icy wind is blowing across the land.

Read more …

Good overview by veteran Parry of late 20th century false news campaigns, Nixon vs Johnson, Reagan vs Carter and more.

How the NYT Plays with History (Robert Parry)

Whenever The New York Times or some other mainstream news outlet holds itself out as a paragon of professional journalism – by wagging a finger at some pro-Trump “fake news” or some Internet “conspiracy theory” – I cringe at the self-delusion and hypocrisy. No one hates fake news and fact-free conspiracy theories more than I do, but the sad truth is that the mainstream press has opened the door to such fantasies by losing the confidence of the American people and becoming little more than the mouthpiece for the Establishment, which spins its own self-serving narratives and tells its own lies. Rather than acting as a watchdog against these deceptions, the Times and its mainstream fellow-travelers have transformed themselves into little more than the Establishment’s apologists and propagandists.

If Iraq is the “enemy,” we are told wild tales about how Iraq’s non-existent WMD is a danger to us all. If Syria is in Washington’s crosshairs, we are given a one-sided account of what’s happening there, black hats for the “regime” and white hats for the “rebels”? If the State Department is backing a coup in Ukraine to oust an elected leader, we are regaled with tales of his corruption and how overthrowing a democratically chosen leader is somehow “democracy promotion.” Currently, we are getting uncritical stenography on every conceivable charge that the U.S. government lodges against Russia. Yet, while this crisis in American journalism has grown more severe in recent years, the pattern is not entirely new. It is reflected in how the mainstream media has missed many of the most significant news stories of modern history and has, more often than not, been an obstacle to getting at the truth.

Then, if the evidence finally becomes so overwhelming that continued denials are no longer tenable, the mainstream media tries to reclaim its tattered credibility by seizing on some new tidbit of evidence and declaring that all that went before were just rumors but now we can take the long whispered story seriously — because the Times says so.

Read more …

How long before Brussels starts begging countries to stay, offering deals and discounts?

Any Country Leaving Euro Zone Must Settle Bill First: ECB’s Draghi (R.)

Any country leaving the euro zone would need to settle its claims or debts with the bloc’s payments system before severing ties, ECB President Mario Draghi said. The comment – a rare reference by Draghi to the possibility of the currency zone losing members – came in a letter to two Italian lawmakers in the European Parliament released on Friday. It coincides with a groundswell of anti-euro sentiment in Italy and other euro zone states, fueled in part by last June’s unprecedented decision by Britain to leave the European Union. “If a country were to leave the Eurosystem, its national central bank’s claims on or liabilities to the ECB would need to be settled in full,” Draghi said in the letter.

Based on data to end-November from the Target 2 payment system, that would leave Italy with a €358.6 billion ($383.1 billion) bill. The system records flows of payments between euro zone countries. The threat of defaults on cross-border debts has often been credited as one element keeping the euro zone together throughout the financial crisis. As these payments are not generally settled, weaker economies including Italy, Spain and Greece have accumulated huge liabilities towards Target 2 while Germany stands out as the biggest creditor with net claims of €754.1 billion. Target 2 imbalances have worsened in recent months, with Harvard economist Carmen Reinhart warning of capital flight from Italy.

Read more …

Am I wrong in thinking the UK will have a very hard time signing any deal as long as it’s part of the EU? What are the odds of that even being legal in the first place?

Trump Team in Talks with UK on Post-Brexit Trade Deal (BBG)

The Trump administration this week will begin laying groundwork for a trade deal between the U.S. and the U.K. that would take effect after Britain leaves the European Union, a White House aide said. Prime Minister Theresa May last week declared Britain is “open for business” as she announced plans to pursue a clean break with the EU, paving the way for the U.K. to eventually strike new trade accords with the continent and other countries. May is to visit Washington this week. Trump officials believe their discussions with her government encouraged May to be more aggressive in exiting the union. She can use any American support to argue the U.K. will prosper outside the bloc although she risks inflaming tensions with EU leaders if they suspect her government is actively negotiating trade deals while still an EU member.

Two of President Donald Trump’s senior advisers, Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, met with U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in New York on Jan. 8. The three are preparing for the future pact, the aide said, requesting anonymity because the discussions aren’t public. Bannon, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and other administration officials have also met with British defense and intelligence leaders, the aide said. President Barack Obama warned in April that if the U.K. pursued Brexit, the country would go to the “back of the queue” for U.S. trade deals. U.K. voters chose to leave the EU anyway in a June referendum, and Trump now appears to be scrapping Obama’s position on the matter. Trump’s team is also considering a deal to reduce barriers between U.S. and British banks, the Sunday Telegraph reported, citing officials from both sides.

Trump has tapped Woody Johnson, the billionaire owner of the New York Jets NFL team, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the U.K., a person familiar with the matter said on Jan. 19. May and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will make visits to the U.S. this month to meet with Trump, White House officials said. May will meet with Trump on Jan. 27, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee said on Saturday. Pena Nieto will meet with Trump on Jan. 31, said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Read more …

The author starts out promising, then gets lost in the woods.

Utopian Ideas On Climate Change Will Get Us Precisely Nowhere (G.)

Urging people to stop consuming stuff in order to slow the rate of climate change is a gambit that is doomed to fail. It would be helpful if shoppers put off buying a suit or installing a new kitchen, but it’s not going to happen. Demonising those who fly to Barcelona for a long weekend is another tactic that will have almost no impact. It’s not for nothing that economists base many of their assumptions on populations having unlimited wants. Most people strain to acquire stuff that the rich have long taken for granted. Telling them to switch off this desire has never worked and is unlikely to do so now, even when the future of the planet is at stake. In this vein, the accession of Donald Trump to the presidential throne should not be read as a spectacular one-off reaction by a narrow, if electorally important group who missed out on GDP growth.

Consumption is how most people measure progress, and that will still be the case next year and in 10 years’ time, when Trump is long gone. Take a look at the figures for flights in and out of the UK, home of some the world’s busiest airports. City Airport, which is embarking on a £344m expansion, saw 4.3 million passengers in 2015. Heathrow, which has the government’s blessing for its own multibillion-pound development, welcomed 75 million passengers in the same year, Gatwick broke 40 million, and Stansted hit double-digit growth with 22.5 million passengers. Last year, Manchester airport boasted annual growth of 11% after it attracted 23.7 million passengers. And these figures don’t include the huge amount of imported and exported goods that flow through Britain’s airports.

If it’s true that trade is in the UK’s DNA – and the figures support this – any government, of whatever colour, will think twice before standing in the way of airport expansion. That doesn’t mean governments should not think about air travel when searching for ways to tackle climate change. Aircraft makers should be forced to make their planes more efficient, and airport owners must clean up the pollution they create. But this is an exercise in minimising the impact of flying, given that its expansion is inevitable. The same analysis should have applied to the country’s steel plants –and to its other polluting industries. Without a reduction in steel consumption, we must live with its continued production.

Read more …