The two most viral photographs of the ‘Trump Separation Scandal’ have now been debunked, or at the very least been proven to have been used ‘out of context’. This is a dangerous development, as are the reasons to use them the way they have been. Both pictures are of children who had not been separated from their mothers at all. But both were used to depict just that: a child being taken away from its mother.
What’s dangerous about this is, first, that those who spread the narrative regardless of the truth may next permit themselves to use images from entirely different locations or times to make their point. Yes, children have been taken from parents at US borders. And attention for that is warranted, very much so. But playing loose with the facts turns those facts into a mere narrative in which nobody can tell fact from fiction anymore.
A distressing image of a crying toddler locked in a barred cage after purportedly being detained by US immigration officials has gone viral – but despite online claims, it does not actually depict what has been alleged. The image, which shows a little boy crying in a cage as he looks out between its bars, was shared by activist journalist and undocumented migrant Jose Antonio Vargas as a comment on the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown on families.
In the same thread, Vargas admitted that he came across the photo on a friend’s timeline and was still looking for the original source. Nevertheless, the snap quickly went viral with Vargas’ post garnering more than 23,000 retweets and many others sharing the image across their own social media accounts.
Vargas explained that he shared the photo because when he was detained by ICE in McAllen, Texas in 2014, he encountered children who were locked up there. “It wasn’t okay then; it’s not okay now,” he wrote, adding that he’s been outraged about the incident for years.
It has since emerged that the picture was in fact not from a detention facility at all, and instead was taken at a protest against Trump’s immigration policies held on June 10 outside Dallas City Hall. The demonstration organized by Brown Berets de Cemanahuac was held to call out the policy of family separation and confining undocumented children.
Ergo: an activist journalist and undocumented immigrant makes it look as if a picture depicts something that in reality it did not. Note also that the article says he wanted to comment on the Trump immigration crackdown, because he has memories of the Obama immigration crackdown, when he saw children locked up. But then, hey, that’s social media, right? Anyone can say anything.
It’s different, though, when TIME Magazine uses such politics. And its editor-in-chief defends the use of the picture by saying it was the most visible symbol of something, even though he knew full well that the photo didn’t depict that something. That’s a mighty slippery scale. If they could have achieved the same effect with a picture of a overripe banana taken in the Pacific in the 1950’s, they probably would have used it. It’s the effect that counts, not the facts.
Two photos that went viral on social media depict scenes that are not directly related to the family separations taking place on the US-Mexico border since early May. The most prominent, of Honduran two-year-old Yanela Varela crying inconsolably, has become a global symbol of the separations – helping to attract more than $18 million in donations for a Texas non-profit called RAICES. The photograph was taken on June 12 in McAllen, Texas by John Moore, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for Getty Images.
An online article about the picture, published by Time Magazine, initially reported the girl was taken from her mother, but was subsequently corrected to make clear that: “The girl was not carried away screaming by US Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.” Time Magazine nonetheless used the image of the sobbing child on its cover, next to an image of President Trump looming over her, with the caption “Welcome to America”. The head of Honduras’ Migrant Protection Office Lisa Medrano confirmed to AFP that the little girl, just two years old, “was not separated” from her family.
The child’s father also said as much. Denis Varela told the Washington Post that his wife Sandra Sanchez, 32, had not been separated from their daughter, and that both were being detained together in an immigration center in McAllen. Under fire for its cover – which was widely decried as misleading including by the White House – the magazine said it was standing by its decision. “The June 12 photograph of the 2-year-old Honduran girl became the most visible symbol of the ongoing immigration debate in America for a reason,” Time’s editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said.
Nassim Nicolas Taleb, of black swans and Fragility, has found the appropriate term for this ‘phenomenon’, and explains why it works so well that TIME apparently doesn’t care about the damage to its reputation caused by using photographs for such purposes.
Pedophrasty Definition: Argument involving children to prop up a rationalization and make the opponent look like an asshole, as people are defenseless and suspend all skepticism in front of suffering children: nobody has the heart to question the authenticity or source of the reporting. Often done with the aid of pictures. [..] Pedophrasty is effective as it provides arguments to strike before the evidence is formed. People are moved into “doing something” Pedophrasts prey on our maternal (and paternal) instincts.
Pedophrasty has its most effects on actors, journalists and similar types who are intellectually insecure, deprived of critical judgment, and afraid of being classified as violators of some norm of political correctness. For instance, pedophrasty has been commonly used in the Syrian war by such propagandists as Julian Roepke continuously supplying the German public with pictures of dead children. Or the various lobbies hired by Saudi Barbaria (and allies), such as the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, to promote Sunni Islamist policies under the cover of “think tanks”.
The Nayirah testimony: a false congressional testimony by 15-year-old girl who provided only her first name, Nayirah (she turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S.) was a bit responsible into tipping the US into the war. Nayirah claimed that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators a Kuwaiti hospital, and leave the babies to die. Nobody dared to question the veracity of her claims.
That’s what is dangerous: seeing a photo of a child in distress makes people halt their critical thinking. That’s also why such photos are used. They help build a narrative that doesn’t have to be factual to shock people. But at that point TIME becomes a fiction magazine; it’s where it leaves journalism behind.
The narrative also depends to a large extent on the singularity of Trump’s brutality compared to other presidents and nations’ leaders. It seeks to single him out as being extremely cruel. That narrative will fall to pieces going forward, and not only because the stories behind the photos have now been exposed.
First, here’s a look at what happened under earlier US presidents, in this case Obama, published by the ACLU in May 2018:
Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union featured in a new report released today show the pervasive abuse and neglect of unaccompanied immigrant children detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The report was produced in conjunction with the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.
“These documents provide a glimpse into a federal immigration enforcement system marked by brutality and lawlessness,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, ACLU Border Litigation Project staff attorney. “All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their immigration status — and children, in particular, deserve special protection. The misconduct demonstrated in these records is breathtaking, as is the government’s complete failure to hold officials who abuse their power accountable. The abuse that takes place by government officials is reprehensible and un-American.”
The report is based on over 30,000 pages of documents dated between 2009 and 2014.
Then, what other ‘leaders’, who express their ‘disgust’ and worries at the Trump separation policies do at home. The Guardian yesterday:
[..] as a British citizen I cannot, in good faith, reassure myself with that time-old mantra that we are somehow more civilised and less cruel or brutal than our cousins across the pond. Nor do I think that condemnation from our government can carry any real currency. Since long before anybody had heard the words “Make America great again”, splitting up families has been official policy in Theresa May’s Home Office – and it has been carried out with a brutality and on a scale that would make even President Trump blush.
The Children’s Commissioner has found that at least 15,000 children growing up in the UK live without a parent because the right of British citizens to reunite with a foreign spouse is limited by an unreasonable income threshold, an impossible complicated application system fraught with Home Office errors, and no legal aid for families to challenge incorrect decisions.
When we visited Nauru as paediatric specialists three years ago, we were asked to see 30 of the 100 children being detained on the island. Among them was a six-year-old girl who had tried to kill herself and a two-year-old boy with such severe behaviour problems a doctor had prescribed anti-psychotic medicines. Their parents were in despair. They had fled persecution, trying to save their children from harm, but had ended up imprisoned on a remote island, without hope.
We left with the view that these were the most traumatised children we had ever consulted on, far worse than children we had seen in Australia, Africa, Asia or Europe. Three years later, 43 of those children remain on the island. Officially they are now free to move around, but reports of attacks by locals show Nauru is not safe and so they remain in the “Regional Processing Centre”.
In 2014, the Australian Human Rights Commission reported that children at this centre were deeply traumatised psychologically, and had even been abused. Their detention was harming them. When Australia introduced mandatory detention in 1992, it took 10 weeks on average to process an application for refugee status. Now it takes years. As the numbers of children in detention fall, the length of time in detention rises. This is deliberate: wilfully damaging children’s health to deter others from seeking asylum.
See, what TIME Magazine and others do, using pictures of crying children regardless of their actual context, may make for an initially appealing narrative, but in the end their approach only distracts from what really matters. Which is that children need to be with their mothers (and preferably fathers).
Just reporting the facts on this is not only enough, it’s the only way to report on it. Once you start making up stuff, you’re done, and the truth is done.
US immigration laws are clearly not working; so change them. ICE is a terrible organization that has attracted far too many sociopaths. Close it down. Child abuse as a tool to instill fear has been an international political tool for a very long time. Those are the things that should be making headlines. Turning this into yet another anti-Trump narrative, using crying children as shortcuts to people’s emotions, doesn’t work, or not for long.
This is not about Trump. Trying to make it about him is not going to help those children. And that’s what you want, right? Right?
James McNeill Whistler Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket 1875
Dr. D again. And wait, that deal was never even -legally- signed?
Dr. D: I know the U.S. hasn’t followed the law in 100 years, but let’s review the Iran Deal. A “Deal” with a foreign nation is supposed to be, for 200 years has been, and legally must be, a “Treaty”. Treaties under U.S. law are unique, as they are NOT to be brokered by the Congress and are a point of contention if Congressmen get involved, as you can imagine special deals and/or information leaks could damage the negotiating position.
This is one of the few things Congress doesn’t do. However, the deal, brokered by the President, is presented to the Senate and only the Senate, which is supposed to be the older, more stable house, and once upon a time when Americans were adults and the Senate was chosen by the State governments, this was true. Even with a Democratic election of Senators representing the people and not the States, (which is what the House is supposed to be) it’s the best we have.
So when Obama arranged the Iran “Deal”, he knew and did so against 220 years of history exclusively BECAUSE he knew the Senate would never approve an honest-to-God, legal “Treaty.” Worse, it was part of the reason the “Deal” was effectively secret, not overseen by anyone, and even John Kerry when asked what was in it said, “I don’t know.” You don’t know??? You’re the Secretary of State presumably brokering the deal. Who’s above you in the food chain that you’re not allowed to know? That was an interesting disclosure that the media – of course – never followed up on.
He also said, as the deal was never signed, it was “not legally binding.” Okay, yes, if the Senate does not approve it, making it therefore a “Treaty”, then it’s just a gentleman’s handshake verbal agreement and not binding. So…Iran therefore did NOT agree to stop weapons development, and certainly as proven did not agree to continue to use the U.S. petrodollar.
On the other hand, Obama DID send pallets of cash on 3 jumbo jets, and the U.S. prisoners were not released until those planes touched down. So Iran can legally reverse their weapons development, while you’re not going to get that cash back. That sounds like a terrible, terrible deal, a no-deal deal no one read and no one signed. And they’re upset this is cancelled? Why? What’s in it? Can we finally know now? Nope.
My personal theory is that since General Wesley Clark’s reveal that they planned 7 MENA wars, and named them in order back in 2001 and were to culminate in attacking Iran by 2013, they were years behind schedule on this world-domination murder-death play. In order to keep Iran in a holding pattern, still lacking viable nuclear weapons, they had to pay them billions and billions. Iran for their part knew they would win Syria anyway, so they were happy to play along and get a few billion dollars. And a lot of those billions Obama “gave” to Iran were Iran’s money anyway.
What? Yes, the U.S. confiscated and “froze” (actually stole and used) Iran’s western assets in 1979, and by law Iran was almost certainly owed this money plus interest. Then if I’m any judge of world politics, the negotiating parties — U.S., France, Germany, Iran, took these pallets of unmarked bills and used them for slush fund payouts among the various power factions, and about $50 ended up with the people.
This proved to be true, as Iran immediately ignored the U.S., moved into Syria, dumped the dollar, traded in Euros, and arguably continued weapons (missile) development. …But like I said, the important part got through: free cash payoffs, untraceable, back to the “right” people: the “Deep States” of the U.S., Iran, France, etc. You can see this in Macron and Merkel’s top priority and panic to force this deal to continue. And why? Isn’t that money gone? A one-time thing? Hmmm.
Back to the present, the nation is all agog about “ending” the Iran deal. You mean the deal we didn’t have? The one that was neither signed nor (generally) followed? How can Trump end it? He can end it because it was never a deal, it was a side-agreement by a specific President, THAT’S WHY WE HAVE TREATIES. So that they are in law, hard to negate, and much more stable. In fact, the Senate told Iran this outright: “if you sign this, you know that as soon as Obama is out of office, we’ll just reverse it.”
That wasn’t exactly a threat, it was simply a fact. If you don’t enlist the Senate and 220 year-old legal processes, you effectively have nothing but a wink and a smile. Then, yes, it is easy to undo as the wind blows. Now why the Senate and Congress didn’t stop this wink, withhold funds, or impeach the President for subverting law and Congressional authority is another matter: the only thing here is that there was no legal agreement, widely reported by all parties in the public media, so what is Trump really cancelling? Something that never existed except in the news?
We have law for a reason and this is what happens when you don’t follow it, but after not following it for 100 or more years, everyone forgets. This ain’t rocket science, folks. You want an Iran deal? Pass one.
Gutzon Borglum Mount Rushmore, Repairing Lincoln’s nose 1962
Dr. D figured his last missive was a bit heavy handed. So he went for something lighter this time. A penance, a doctor’s guide: “It’s hard enough to find a candidate that will even promise to do something right so it doesn’t help that they do the opposite 90% of the time.”
Who wrote “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal”? Jefferson, a slave owner.
Who was one of the most ardent Abolitionists? Alexander Hamilton.
Was he a slave owner? Yes.
Who won the election of 1824? No one, it was decided by the House of Representatives.
So which party lost? None: all four candidates were Democratic-Republicans.
In response, Andrew Jackson, a slave owner, created the Democratic Party.
Jackson created the Democratic Party as an anti-bank, anti-oligarch, states-rights platform the Tea Party would recognize.
Martin Van Buren, a Democrat, created the first concentration camp for Cherokee Indians in 1838.
Those 17,000 Cherokees owned 2,000 slaves.
Did Lincoln create the Republican Party? No, it was an amalgamation of failed parties: Lincoln was their 1st candidate.
What was the Lincoln campaign of 1860? Non-interference in state slavery.
Why? The decision of Dred Scott in 1857, a slave owned by abolitionists in a state he did not reside. Overturning 250 years of history, the case determined that no slave could ever become a citizen, i.e. freed.
Who was the best known Confederate General? Stonewall Jackson.
What did he do when he sided with the Southern cause? Freed his slaves.
Who else was a top Confederate General? William Mahone.
What did he do? He was the creator of the most successful interracial alliance in the post-war South. His name was purged first by Southern Democrats (for integration), then by modern Democrats (for being a Confederate).
Woodrow Wilson (D) ran an anti-collectivism, limited government, anti-monopoly, anti-bank campaign in 1912. He created the Federal Reserve and is known for founding the modern welfare state.
Wilson was re-elected on the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War.” He immediately forced the reluctant nation into WWI.
Herbert Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce under Calvin Coolidge during the Crash of ’21, demanded economic aid and bailouts, but Coolidge, “the great refrainer,” refused. The market immediately recovered.
Hoover was President during the Crash of ’29. He gave unprecedented bailouts to help the economy recover. It never did.
Roosevelt campaigned against Hoover for being “ the greatest spending Administration in peacetime in all our history.” He outspent Hoover tenfold.
Did Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the greatest stimulus and spending program up to that time, end the Great Depression? No. It was going strong in 1939.
What did Roosevelt campaign on? He promised to keep us out of war in Europe.
Who was Time’s Man of the Year in 1938? Adolf Hitler.
Who was Man of the Year in 1939? Joseph Stalin.
1942? Joseph Stalin.
Wars under “anti-war” Democratic Party: 93 years, 46.5%. 625K deaths since 1864.
Wars under “pro-war” “Republican” Party: 107 Years 53.5%. 12K deaths since 1864.
Who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Republicans 80% vs. Democrats 69%.
Who filibustered it? Southern Democrat Strom Thurmond.
Who signed it? Lyndon Johnson, a southern Democrat.
Where did Thurmond go? The GOP, who had voted against him and against southern segregation.
What did Richard Nixon campaign on? “Law and Order” and a “secret plan” to exit Vietnam. He immediately bombed Cambodia and was later impeached for a burglary.
Who said “the soundest way to raise revenues in the long run is to cut rates now” and “Every dollar released from taxation that is spent or invested will help create a new job and a new salary” ? John F. Kennedy.
Who gave the greatest modern tax cut? John F. Kennedy (income and capital gains, signed by Johnson).
Who most increased the postwar Federal deficit? Ronald Reagan 186%.
Who most increased taxes? Ronald Reagan, 1982 (as % of GDP, excluding Obamacare and Johnson’s one-year tax).
Who called young blacks “Superpredators”? Hillary Clinton, 1996.
Who put the most black men in jail? Bill Clinton, under the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act.
Who cut welfare most? Bill Clinton, 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Act.
Who was called the first “Black President”? Bill Clinton (“white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime.” –Toni Morrison, 1998. I swear this is true).
What was George W. Bush’s platform? Smaller, less-invasive government, lower taxes, and no foreign wars.
Who are the Neoconservatives? “Liberal hawks who became disenchanted with the pacifist foreign policy of the Democratic Party”.
Where did these Liberal Democrats finally prosper? Under G.W. Bush and on Fox News, e.g. Bill Kristol.
Which President won the Nobel Peace Prize? Barack Obama. (As did Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter)
What was his legacy? War every day of all eight years, with +50,000 official strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria and unofficial attacks in Ukraine, Sudan, Niger, Cameroon, Uganda, and elsewhere, as well as 3,000 drone deaths.
Wow, anything else? Due to his intervention, Obama, the first black president, caused the creation of an open-air black slave market in Libya.
Who campaigned advocating a Syrian no-fly zone expected to cause WWIII with Russia? Hillary Clinton (D).
Who campaigned for peace talks and de-escalation with Russia? Donald Trump (R).
Who sent 164 missiles into Russian ally Syria? Donald Trump (R).
Who advocated against the recent attacks? “Far-right” speakers Rand Paul and Tucker Carlson of Fox News.
Who advocated for the attacks? “Left” speakers Fareed Zakaria, and Rachel Maddow with left media Slate and Mother Jones.
What was the actual breakdown? 22% of GOP supported Syrian airstrikes in 2013 vs 86% for the same strikes in 2017.
And on and on. Got it? Know which side you’re on? History, party platforms, personal beliefs, economy, all clear?
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
UPDATE: There still seems to be a problem with our Paypal widget/account that makes donating -both for our fund for homless and refugees in Greece, and for the Automatic Earth itself- hard for some people. What happens is that for some a message pops up that says “This recipient does not accept payments denominated in USD”. This is nonsense, we do. We notified Paypal weeks ago.
We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):
Through Paypal.com, you can simply donate to an email address. In our case that is recedinghorizons *at* gmail *com*. Use that, and your donations will arrive where they belong. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Wall Street’s eye-popping gains should be of great concern to global investors, an analyst told CNBC on Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average broke above 25,000 on Thursday for the first time, following the release of stronger-than-expected jobs data. In terms of trading days, it was the fastest 1,000-point gain to a round number in the Dow’s history. The 30-stock index broke above 24,000 on Nov. 30, 23 trading days earlier. It took the Dow 24 trading days to go from 20,000 to 21,000 last year. “We’re really terrified,” Paul Gambles, managing partner at MBMG Group, told CNBC. When asked why he believed traders should avoid investing in stocks given the “Goldilocks” global growth conditions, Gambles said: “In the first three versions of the Goldilocks story, Goldilocks actually died horribly, and we think that could well happen again [to stocks].”
Gambles said that collective global growth at the level seen through 2017 was the GDP equivalent to a “blow-off top.” He added that similar levels of concerted worldwide growth were seen during previous financial crises and therefore the current risk to investors is “exponential.” The Dow gained 152 points on Thursday to 25,075, while the broader S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq also hit milestones. Earlier Thursday, ADP and Moody’s Analytics reported that the U.S. private sector added 250,000 jobs in December, well above the expected 190,000. In 2017, prices were supported by a rebound in global economic growth and renewed investor optimism that looming corporate tax cuts would result in bigger dividends and share buybacks. A low interest rate environment was also believed to make stocks a relatively attractive investment.
An amazing – or on second thought, given how central banks operate, not so amazing – thing is happening. On one hand… Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda keeps saying that the BOJ would “patiently” maintain its ultra-easy monetary policy, so too in his first speech of 2018 in Tokyo, on January 3, when he said the BOJ must continue “patiently” with this monetary policy, though the economy is expanding steadily. The deflationary mindset is not disappearing easily, he said. On December 20, following the decision by the BOJ to keep its short-term interest-rate target at negative -0.1% and the 10-year bond yield target just above 0%, he’d brushed off criticism that this prolonged easing could destabilize Japan’s banking system. “Our most important goal is to achieve our 2% inflation target at the earliest date possible,” he said.
On the other hand… In reality, after years of blistering asset purchases, the Bank of Japan disclosed today that total assets on its balance sheet actually inched down by ¥444 billion ($3.9 billion) from the end of November to ¥521.416 trillion on December 31. While small, it was the first month-end to month-end decline since the Abenomics-designed “QQE” kicked off in late 2012. Under “QQE” – so huge that the BOJ called it Qualitative and Quantitative Easing to distinguish it from mere “QE” as practiced by the Fed at the time – the BOJ has been buying Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs), corporate bonds, Japanese REITs, and equity ETFs, leading to astounding month-end to month-end surges in the balance sheet. But now the “QQE Unwind” has commenced. Note the trend over the past 12 months and the first dip (red):
JGBs, the largest asset class on the BOJ’s balance sheet, fell by ¥2.9 trillion ($25 billion) from November 30 to ¥440.67 trillion on December 31. In other words, the BOJ has started to unload JGBs – probably by letting them mature without replacement, rather than selling them outright. Some other asset classes on its balance sheet increased, including equity ETFs, Japanese REITs, “Loans,” and “Others” On net, and from a distance, the first decrease of the BOJ’s assets in the era of Abenomics was barely noticeable. Total assets are still a massive pile, amounting to about 96% of Japan’s GDP (the Fed’s balance sheet amounts to about 23% of US GDP):
[..] None of this – neither the 12 months of “tapering” nor now the “QQE Unwind” – was announced. They happened despite rhetoric to the contrary. During peak QQE, the 12-month period ending December 31, 2016, the BOJ added ¥93.4 trillion (about $830 billion) to its balance sheet. Over the 12-month period ending December 31, 2017, it added “only” ¥44.9 trillion to its balance sheet. That’s down 52% from the peak. This chart shows the rolling 12-month change in the balance sheet in trillion yen, going back to the Financial Crisis:
People are hard to please these days. Clients, customers, and cohorts – the whole lot. They’re quick to point out your faults and flaws, even if they’re guilty of the same derelictions. The recently retired always seem to have the biggest axe to grind. Take Jack Lew, for instance. He started off the New Year by sharpening his axe on the grinding wheel of the GOP tax bill. On Tuesday, he told Bloomberg Radio that the new tax bill will explode the debt and leave people sick and starving. “It’s a ticking time bomb in terms of the debt. “The next shoe to drop is going to be an attack on the most vulnerable in our society. How are we going to pay for the deficit caused by the tax cut? We are going to see proposals to cut health insurance for poor people, to take basic food support away from poor people, to attack Medicare and Social Security. One could not have made up a more cynical strategy.”
The tax bill, without question, is an impractical disaster. However, that doesn’t mean it’s abnormal. The Trump administration is merely doing what every other administration has done for the last 40 years or more. They’re running a deficit as we march onward towards default. We don’t like it. We don’t agree with it. But how we’re going to pay for it shouldn’t be a mystery to Lew. We’re going to pay for it the same way we’ve paid for every other deficit: with more debt. Of all people, Jack Lew should know this. If you recall, Lew was the United States Secretary of Treasury during former President Obama’s second term in office. Four consecutive years of deficits – totaling over $2 trillion – were notched on his watch.
[..] In truth, no one really cares about deficits and debt. Not former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Not current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Not Trump. Not Obama. Not your congressional representative. Not Dick Cheney. Plain and simple, unless there are political points to score like Lew was aiming for this week, no one gives a doggone hoot about the debt problem. That’s a problem for tomorrow. Not today. Quite frankly, everyone loves government debt – DOW 25,000! Aging baby boomers know they need massive amounts of government debt to pay their social security, medicare, and disability checks. On top of that, many employed workers are really on corporate welfare. They’re dependent upon the benevolence of government contracts to provide their daily bread.
What’s more, in this crazy debt based fiat money system, the debt must perpetually increase or the whole financial system breaks down. Specifically, more debt is always needed to keep asset prices inflated and the wealth mirage visible. By providing a quick burst to the rate of debt increase, President Trump expects to get a quick burst to the rate of GDP growth. We suspect President Trump and his followers will be underwhelmed by what effect, if any, the tax cuts have on the economy. Time will tell. In the meantime, don’t fret about government deficits and debt. The political leaders may say deficits don’t matter. But they do matter. In fact, soon they’ll matter a lot. We’re in the twilight of the debt bubble age. Embrace it. Love it. What choice do you have, really?
The U.S. economy added a disappointing 148,000 jobs in December while the unemployment rate held at 4.1%, according to a closely watched Labor Department report Friday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had been expecting nonfarm payrolls to grow by 190,000. The total was well below the November pace of 252,000, which was revised up from the initially reported 228,000. An unexpected loss of 20,000 retail positions during the holiday season held back the headline number. The unemployment rate for blacks fell to 6.8%, its lowest ever. “A little bit of a disappointment when you only get 2,000 jobs out of the government and get retail at the absolute busiest time of the year losing 20,000 jobs. It just goes to show the true struggle that traditional brick and mortar is having now,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “Outside of that I actually thought it was a good report.”
Biggest gains came from health care (31,000), construction (30,000) and manufacturing (25,000). Bars and restaurants added 25,000, while professional and business services grew by 19,000. Average hourly earnings rose modestly to the same 2.5% annualized gain as in November. Federal Reserve policymakers were watching the jobs data closely, both for payroll gains and for wage growth. Though central bank economists estimate the jobs market is near full employment, wage pressures have remained muted. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors, said of the lower-than-expected number. “I certainly don’t think this has any impact in terms of what the Fed will do in the future. The economy continues to be on solid footing.”
Last year was the year of the tech mega-cap, with the six most valuable companies in the world now coming from that industry. Yet, even with the consolidation of money and power, 2017 featured a notable dearth of large tech deals. Don’t expect 2018 to be so quiet. As Alphabet, Amazon and Apple expand their product portfolios and their market share, boards and CEOs of technology companies with less reach are being forced to consider if they can still thrive independently, said Robert Townsend, co-chair of global mergers and acquisitions at law firm Morrison & Foerster. On top of that, the tech giants are staring at a drop in corporate taxes starting in 2018, and they can bring some of the many billions of dollars they have stashed overseas back to the U.S. at a dramatically reduced tax rate.
“There’s truly getting to be a few companies at such a scale, like Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Alibaba and Tencent that the world is going to be like a barbell, with a large gap in between with humongous tech and IT service providers on one side and everyone else on the other,” Townsend said. “That’s an uncomfortable place to be if you’re not at the very top.” There were only three technology deals of more than $5 billion announced last year involving a U.S. buyer or seller – Toshiba’s memory chip sale to a consortium led by Bain Capital, Intel’s purchase of Mobileye, and Marvell’s takeover of Cavium, according to FactSet. A fourth hostile offer – Broadcom’s $103 billion bid for Qualcomm – was rejected late in the year. That marked a big dip from 2016, when 12 tech deals over $5 billion were announced. Among them was Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn and Tencent’s $8.6 billion acquisition of game developer Supercell.
U.S. public pension fund members are generally unaware that their pension is underfunded and of the risk this poses, according to a survey released Thursday by Spectrem Group. The study also reveals a wide gap between how members want their pension funds managed and the actual approach many managers take. The survey, conducted online in the second half of November, compared CalPERS and NYC Retirement Systems (NYC Funds) against a “national” group, comprising individuals from the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the Florida Retirement System, the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, as well as a small group from other public pension plans.
All told, 807 CalPERS members, 771 NYC Funds members and 1,687 “national” members responded to the survey. The survey results showed that 48% of members said they would rely on their pension for at least half of their retirement income. 92% of respondents considered their pension fund’s ability to generate returns at or above its target level important or very important, and 93% said the same about their fund’s ability to generate returns at or above overall market performance. In both instances, CalPERS members were the respondents most likely to identify these things as important or very important. 95% of respondents believed the fund’s ability to effectively manage risk was important or very important. “There’s a clear disconnect between pension fund managers, who are testing new investment styles and strategies, and members, who would prefer to see their pension fully funded,” Spectrem Group president George Walper said in a statement.
“Pension fund managers should refocus their efforts on the wants and needs of their investors, prioritizing investment decisions to maximize performance, while limiting votes to shareholder proposals that directly impact their fund and its members.” [..] 56% of members surveyed believed they are very well or moderately informed about their pension’s actual investment return, 54% about its target investment return, 60% about expenses and fees paid and 61% about the benefit structure. They were less confident in their knowledge of the costs associated with shareholder activism, the composition and investing experience of the fund’s board and the amount of time fund managers spent reviewing and voting on shareholder proposals.
However, the survey results uncovered a clear gap in how much members really knew about their pension’s actual performance and funding level. 40% of members believed their funds had performed in line with the market for the past few years — often not the case, according to Spectrem. 46% of NYC Funds members believe their pension fund has outperformed the market, when in fact their returns have been below both market performance and their target level. Likewise, 42% of CalPERS members held this mistaken belief.
Will 2018 be the year of the household hangover? The latest data on the saving rate, which broke under 3% to 2.9% in November, the lowest since 2007, suggest that an encore to the ebullient buying over the holidays will not happen in the new year. Without a doubt, households are as buoyant as they’ve been in years. In the most recent consumer confidence report, only 15.2% of those surveyed reported jobs were “hard to get,” a 16-year low. The few economists who have forecast that the unemployment rate would fall below 4% are looking prescient. So what’s to follow? Barring a repeat of 2017’s natural disasters, demand for employment seems likely to ebb headed into the second half of the year. Supply chains will be restored, tempering the need for emergency workers, and the auto recession disrupted by hurricanes Harvey and Irma appears set to resume.
In a recent report, Moody’s Vice President Rita Sahu maintained her stable outlook for the U.S. banking sector for 2018, citing the benefits of a rising rate environment and that ultralow unemployment rate. Aside from signs that the commercial sector is “overheating,” Sahu pointed to auto loans and credit cards as “negative outliers.” “Auto loan delinquencies are above pre-crisis levels at around 2.3%,” Sahu warned, “and credit card charge-offs have increased sharply to around 3.6% as of the third quarter 2017.” Those levels of distress are tame compared with dedicated non-bank lenders who are seeing 90-day serious delinquency rates run at four times those of conventional banks and credit unions.
Credit cards are merely the next step along households’ path to living beyond their means. The decline in the saving rate is the mirror image of consumer credit outstanding as it’s ballooned in recent years. As has been heavily reported, student loans have been responsible for the bulk of the buildup, followed by car loans. Over the last two years, however, credit card growth has acted as an accelerant, outpacing income growth at an increasing pace. By its very nature, credit card debt gets more expensive to carry with every rate hike the Federal Reserve pushes through. What is perhaps most unsettling in the lack of alarm among conventional economists is that so much of the debt in the current cycle is unsecured.
Across the cobbled square in the city of Weimar where Germany’s national assembly met in 1919, plans to mark that first, stumbling attempt at a democratic government have taken on greater significance in recent weeks. The new center for events dedicated to the short-lived Weimar Republic is due to open in 2020, but it’s already a timely reminder of the past as the country struggles with political gridlock and the rise of the far right. The upheaval that preceded World War II and the need to avoid any repeat have cast a long shadow since Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected in September with no obvious coalition partner. While no-one is predicting a return to fascism, the unexpected threat of instability at the heart of Europe’s biggest economy has alarmed business and political leaders alike.
“We couldn’t have imagined that the issue of the danger to democracy and the Weimar Republic would become so contemporary,” Weimar’s mayor, Stefan Wolf, said at his office overlooking a square flanked by the 16th century St. Peter and Paul Church. The historic echoes reflect Merkel’s tarnished election victory and Germany’s slipped halo as Europe’s anchor of liberal stability. But Weimar also serves as a powerful reminder of Germany’s sense of collective responsibility to ensure the lessons of the descent into Nazi dictatorship and war are learnt by each new generation. The current dilemma stems from the erosion of support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc and the Social Democrats, which have governed together for eight of her 12 years in office.
As backing for the two main parties ebbed, a wrench has been thrown into coalition-building, with the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany a prime beneficiary: it swept into parliament for the first time last year with almost 13% of the vote. According to a detailed account in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Merkel invoked Weimar to her party colleagues, reminding them of the reasons for the collapse of the grand coalition under Chancellor Hermann Mueller in 1930 in an attempt to steel them for compromise. Former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, now Bundestag president, also recalled the need to remember the lessons of the Weimar Republic, whose collapse led to Adolf Hitler ramming through dictatorial powers three years later. “Too much polarization – meaning a competition for who’s the best anti-fascist combatant – ultimately only strengthens the right,” he said in an interview with Die Welt published on Dec. 27.
Twitter on Friday reiterated its stance that accounts belonging to world leaders have special status on the social media network, pushing back against users who have called on the company to banish U.S. President Donald Trump. “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” Twitter said in a post on a corporate blog. Twitter had already said in September that “newsworthiness” and whether a tweet is “of public interest” are among the factors it considers before removing an account or a tweet. The debate over Trump’s tweeting, though, raged anew after Trump said from his @realDonaldTrump account on Tuesday that he had a “much bigger” and “more powerful” nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Critics said that tweet and Trump’s continued presence on the network endanger the world and violate Twitter’s ban on threats of violence. Some users protested at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters on Wednesday. Twitter responded in its blog post that even if it did block a world leader, doing so would not silence that leader. The company said that it does review tweets by world leaders and enforces its rules accordingly, leaving open the possibility that it could take down some material posted by them. “No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions,” the company added. “We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.”
Not a lot of people remember this, but George W Bush actually campaigned in 2000 against the interventionist foreign policy that the United States had been increasingly espousing. Far from advocating the full-scale regime change ground invasions that his administration is now infamous for, Bush frequently used the word “humble” when discussing the type of foreign policy he favored, condemning nation-building, an over-extended military, and the notion that America should be the world’s police force. Eight years later, after hundreds of thousands of human lives had been snuffed out in Iraq and Afghanistan and an entire region horrifically destabilized, Obama campaigned against Bush’s interventionist foreign policy, edging out Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries partly because she had supported the Iraq invasion while he had condemned it.
The Democrats, decrying the warmongering tendencies of the Republicans, elected a President of the United States who would see Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq and raise him Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, along with a tenfold increase in drone strikes. Libya collapsed into a failed state where a slave trade now runs rampant, and half a million people died in the Syrian war that Obama and US allies exponentially escalated. Eight years later, a reality TV star and WWE Hall-of-Famer was elected President of the United States by the other half of the crowd who was sick to death of those warmongering Democrats. Trump campaigned on a non-interventionist foreign policy, saying America should fight terrorists but not enter into regime change wars with other governments. He thrashed his primary opponents as the only one willing to unequivocally condemn Bush and his actions, then won the general election partly by attacking the interventionist foreign policy of his predecessor and his opponent, and criticizing Hillary Clinton’s hawkish no-fly zone agenda in Syria.
Now he’s approved the selling of arms to Ukraine to use against Russia, a dangerously hawkish move that even Obama refused to make for fear of increasing tensions with Moscow. His administration has escalated troop presence in Afghanistan and made it abundantly clear that the Pentagon has no intention of leaving Syria anytime soon despite the absence of any reasonable justification for US presence there. The CIA had ratcheted up operations in Iran six months into Trump’s presidency, shortly before the administration began running the exact same script against that country that the Obama administration ran on Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Maybe US presidents are limited to eight years because that’s how long it takes the public to forget everything.
Is he fit for office? This question hangs in the air of the DC swamp like a necrotic odor that can’t be seen while it can’t be ignored. In a way, the very legitimacy of the republic comes into question — if Trump is the best we can do, maybe the system itself isn’t what it was cracked up to be. And then why would we think that removing him from office would make things better? How’s that for an existential quandary? We’re informed in The New York Times today that “Everyone in Trumpworld Knows He’s an Idiot,” though “moron” (Rex Tillerson) and “dope” (General H.R. McMaster) figure in there as well. Imagine all the energy it must take for everyone in, say, the cabinet room to pretend that the chief executive belongs in his chair at the center.
It reminds me of that old poker game, “Indian,” where each player holds a hole card pressed outward from his forehead for all to see but him. Ill winds are blowing and dire forces are converging. Do you think that it’s a wonderful thing that the Dow Jones Industrial Average just bashed through the 25,000 gate? The President obviously thinks so. And, of course, he’s egged on by all the fawning economic viziers selling stories about a booming economy of waiters, bartenders, and espresso jockeys. But, I tell you as sure as there is a yesterday, today, and tomorrow, those stock indexes, grand as they seem, are teetering on the brink of something awesomely sickening. And when they go over that no-bid Niagara cascade into the maelstrom, Mr. Trump’s boat will be going over the falls with them.
It’s an unappetizing spectacle to watch such a tragic arc play out. After all, these are the lives of fragile, lonely, human creatures trying hard to fathom their fate. You have to feel a little sorry for them as you would feel sorry even for a sad little peccary going down one of those quicksand holes in the Okeefenokee Swamp. Surely, many feel that these are simply evil times in which goodness and mercy are AWOL. I’m not sure exactly how this story ends, but it is beginning to look like a choice between a bang and a whimper.
The author of a book that is highly critical of Donald Trump’s first year as U.S. president said his revelations were likely to bring an end to Trump’s time in the White House. Michael Wolff told BBC radio that his conclusion in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” that Trump is not fit to do the job was becoming a widespread view. “I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect,” Wolff said in an interview broadcast on Saturday. “The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job,” Wolff said. “Suddenly everywhere people are going ‘oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes’. That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end … this presidency.” Trump has dismissed the book as full of lies. It depicts a chaotic White House, a president who was ill-prepared to win the office in 2016, and Trump aides who scorned his abilities.
Long analysis by Hudson. Trump as Obama’s legacy. And ousting Bernie has left America without a Democratic party, like some self-fulfilling prophecy. (Graph is from another source, but a very good fit)
Trump is sufficiently intuitive to proclaim the euro a disaster, and he recommends that Greece leave it. He supports the rising nationalist parties in Britain, France, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands, all of which urge withdrawal from the eurozone – and reconciliation with Russia instead of sanctions. In place of the ill-fated TPP and TTIP, Trump advocates country-by-country trade deals favoring the United States. Toward this end, his designated ambassador to the European Union, Ted Malloch, urges the EU’s breakup. The EU is refusing to accept him as ambassador. At the time this volume is going to press, there is no way of knowing how successful these international reversals will be. What is more clear is what Trump’s political impact will have at home. His victory – or more accurately, Hillary’s resounding loss and the way she lost – has encouraged enormous pressure for a realignment of both parties.
Regardless of what President Trump may achieve vis-à-vis Europe, his actions as celebrity chaos agent may break up U.S. politics across the political spectrum. The Democratic Party has lost its ability to pose as the party of labor and the middle class. Firmly controlled by Wall Street and California billionaires, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) strategy of identity politics encourages any identity except that of wage earners. The candidates backed by the Donor Class have been Blue Dogs pledged to promote Wall Street and neocons urging a New Cold War with Russia. They preferred to lose with Hillary than to win behind Bernie Sanders. So Trump’s electoral victory is their legacy as well as Obama’s. Instead of Trump’s victory dispelling that strategy, the Democrats are doubling down. It is as if identity politics is all they have.
Trying to ride on Barack Obama’s coattails didn’t work. Promising “hope and change,” he won by posing as a transformational president, leading the Democrats to control of the White House, Senate and Congress in 2008. Swept into office by a national reaction against the George Bush’s Oil War in Iraq and the junk-mortgage crisis that left the economy debt-ridden, they had free rein to pass whatever new laws they chose – even a Public Option in health care if they had wanted, or make Wall Street banks absorb the losses from their bad and often fraudulent loans. But it turned out that Obama’s role was to prevent the changes that voters hoped to see, and indeed that the economy needed to recover: financial reform, debt writedowns to bring junk mortgages in line with fair market prices, and throwing crooked bankers in jail.
Obama rescued the banks, not the economy, and turned over the Justice Department and regulatory agencies to his Wall Street campaign contributors. He did not even pull back from war in the Near East, but extended it to Libya and Syria, blundering into the Ukrainian coup as well. Having dashed the hopes of his followers, Obama then praised his chosen successor Hillary Clinton as his “Third Term.” Enjoying this kiss of death, Hillary promised to keep up Obama’s policies. The straw that pushed voters over the edge was when she asked voters, “Aren’t you better off today than you were eight years ago?” Who were they going to believe: their eyes, or Hillary? National income statistics showed that only the top 5% of the population were better off. All the growth in GDP during Obama’s tenure went to them – the Donor Class that had gained control of the Democratic Party leadership. Real incomes have fallen for the remaining 95%.
Miami-Dade’s spectacular condo flipping mania is in turmoil, with sales plunging, inventory-for-sale soaring, and new supply flooding the market. It’s not like Miami hasn’t been through this before. In February, existing home sales of all types fell 10% year-over-year, to 1,835 homes. These sales “do not include Miami’s multi-billion dollar new construction condo market,” the Miami Association of Realtors clarified in its report on March 23. And this new construction market that is not included has become distressed. Sales of single-family homes fell 10% in February, to 881 houses. The report blamed the shortage of properties “in popular price points.” Prices have been rising sharply, and at the price points where people could actually buy a house – below $250,000 – few sellers were playing ball.
Hence a stalling market. Sales of high-priced units rose, but they weren’t enough to pull out the totals. Condo sales fell 10% as well, to 954 units. This time, the report didn’t blame the lack of supply. Instead: “Existing condo sales are competing with a robust new construction market.” At the same time, inventory of existing condos for sale, not including new units, rose 10% to 15,289. At the current sales rate, supply soared 29% to 14 months. This chart by StatFunding shows the plunge in sales and the surge in condos listed for sale. I circled the last five Februaries on the sales line (red). From February 2014 to February 2017, condo sales have plunged 25%. Andrew Stearns, StatFunding’s founder and CEO, calls the resale inventory – the dark green line that has soared 90% since early 2013 – “scary”:
As a result of countless failures by central banks to normalize monetary policy over the past 7 years, the market – especially bonds and rates – has become openly cynical and outright skeptical regarding the possibility of a successful renormalization of policy by global central banks. After all, Japan has been trying to do that for over 30 years and has yet to succeed; the ECB hiked in 2011 resulting in near collapse of the Eurozone. Ironically, the recent Trumpflation trade – which few expected as a result of the “shocking” Trump election victory – has emerged as the most credible catalyst to prompt inflation not only in the US but around the globe, resulting in two Fed rate hikes in rapid succession.
Still, now that Obamacare repeal has failed, and questions are rising whether Trump will be able to implement his proposed Tax reform, the market has aggressively faded not only the broader Trumpflation trade, but also all of the recent dollar strength since the US election: in short, bets on a “bening” global reflation are rapidly fading, suggesting that the latest push to normalize monetary policy will once again result in failure. And yet, “what if it goes according to plan” this time? That’s the question posed by Barclays’ Christian Keller who notes that, at least for the time being, “The synchronized upswing in the global economy continues, supporting sentiment, which thus far has ignored elevated policy uncertainties. Headline inflation is increasing due to stable oil prices, while core inflation rates are mixed.”
And, assuming nothing changes, this sets the backdrop for monetary policy normalization, albeit at different speeds and modes. Taking this thought experiment one step further, what would happen if indeed this time central banks are successful to renormalize monetary policy without leading to a market crash. In that case, Barclays expects three Fed hikes in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The ECB is likely to taper further in 2018 and to start increasing depo rates in parallel (in 2018). Conveniently, Barclays has created the following chart which lays out what “coordinated global renormalization” would look like. It can serve as a benchmark to those keeping tabs on where various central banks are in the current attempt to restore monetary normalcy.
Populism is a political and social phenomenon that arises from the common man, typically not well- educated, being fed up with 1) wealth and opportunity gaps, 2) perceived cultural threats from those with different values in the country and from outsiders, 3) the “establishment elites” in positions of power, and 4) government not working effectively for them. These sentiments lead that constituency to put strong leaders in power. Populist leaders are typically confrontational rather than collaborative and exclusive rather than inclusive. As a result, conflicts typically occur between opposing factions (usually the economic and socially left versus the right), both within the country and between countries. These conflicts typically become progressively more forceful in self- reinforcing ways.
Within countries, conflicts often lead to disorder (e.g., strikes and protests) that prompt stronger reactions and the growing pressure to more forcefully regain order by suppressing the other side. Influencing and, in some cases, controlling the media typically becomes an important aspect of engaging in the conflicts. In some cases, these conflicts have led to civil wars. Such conflicts have led a number of democracies to become dictatorships to bring order to the disorder that results from these conflicts. Between countries, conflicts typically occur because populist leaders’ natures are more confrontational than cooperative and because conflicts with other countries help to unify support for the leadership within their countries.
In other words, populism is a rebellion of the common man against the elites and, to some extent, against the system. The rebellion and the conflict that comes with it occur in varying degrees. Sometimes the system bends with it and sometimes the system breaks. Whether it bends or breaks in response to this rebellion and conflict depends on how flexible and well established the system is. It also seems to depend on how reasonable and respectful of the system the populists who gain power are.
[..] In the period between the two great wars (i.e., the 1920s-30s), most major countries were swept away by populism, and it drove world history more than any other force. The previously mentioned sentiments by the common man put into power populist leaders in all major countries except the United States and the UK (though we’d consider Franklin D. Roosevelt to be a quasi-populist, for reasons described below). Disorder and conflict between the left and the right (e.g., strikes that shut down operations, policies meant to undermine the opposition and the press, etc.) prompted democracies in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan to choose dictatorships because collective/inclusive decision making was perceived as tolerance for behaviors that undermined order, so autocratic leaders were given dictatorial powers to gain control.
In several major economies it’s crunch time for the future of cash. Goldman Sachs notes that this is largely policy-driven: tangible steps are being taken to wean economies off cash (e.g. India, Europe); but adds that, at the same time consumer expectations around convenience are rising and enabling technologies have proliferated in the shape of contactless cards, mobile wallets, cryptocurrencies and more. So, they ask, does the decline in cash payments imply the demise of cash? Not necessarily. Technology has been an important catalyst for shrinking cash usage, but it is by no means a new phenomenon. As we wrote in 2012, the first technological step-change in the payments arena was the shift from cash to plastic money, i.e. credit and debit cards, which happened in the 1960s.
There are many parallels to be drawn between that period and the ongoing shift to digital money: an initial period of an increasing number of providers was followed by a consolidation stage that established a few players (Visa and MasterCard primarily) as the industry standards, eventually accelerating the adoption of plastic money. However, the availability of technology alone has not ensured the demise of cash. As the following chart shows, there are several advanced economies in which it is still the dominant mode of payment in volume terms (surprisingly quite a few European countries are in the bottom left quadrant).
Japan is a striking example of this; lots of tech and lots of cash. The US also stands out, and this could at least partly be attributed to the fact that regulators in the US have explicitly stated that the market should manage the shift to digital payments by itself. On the other hand, Scandinavian countries are on the cusp of becoming some of the first cashless societies, as a result of industry-co-ordinated steps and government initiatives. Swish, a payment app developed jointly by the major Swedish banks, has been adopted by nearly half the Swedish population, and is now used to make over nine million payments a month. About 900 of Sweden’s 1,600 bank branches no longer keep cash on hand or take cash deposits and many, especially in rural areas, no longer have ATMs.
In conjunction with that, cash transactions were just c.2% of the value and 20% of the volume of all payments made last year (down from 40% five years ago). Denmark’s move to a cashless society is a deliberate result of policy, with the government removing the obligation for some retailers to accept payment in cash. Without this legislative push, we believe cash is very difficult to disrupt and substitute. After all, it is a free and convenient mode of transacting. So far, the selling point of the most broadly used alternatives to cash (cheques and cards) is greater convenience. But that hasn’t been sufficient to meaningfully reduce the market share of cash in countries outside Scandinavia and Canada.
Back 18 months the team of Anne Case and Angus Deaton (who has since gained the economics Nobel) released a famous paper pointing out that white rural Americans were killing themselves. So much so that expected lifespans were in fact falling such was the rise in middle aged morbidity. That original paper found that the effect was geographically concentrated. And as I remarked at the time that’s a bit of a problem for the causality of that rise in morbidity. For we’ve got rather a lot of migration out of those rural areas. And it’s the better educated doing the leaving. Thus it is possible (no, no one has studied this in enough detail as yet for anyone to know) that the effect found is entirely down to those migration effects.
We know very well that poorer and less educated people are more likely to die in middle age than richer and better educated. So, if all the better educated and thus, in our current society, higher income people move away we will observe a rise in the death rate among the remnant population. Case and Deaton have returned to this subject with a new paper. And they agree that there is some of this compositional effect in their earlier findings: “It is important not to focus on those with less than a high school degree, a group that has grown markedly smaller over time, and is likely to be increasingly negatively selected on health.” And: “.. we note that for age-groups younger than 45, there has been a decline in the fraction of WNHs with only a high school degree, so that selection may be playing some role for the younger groups.”
Excellent, so that intuition of mine about those compositional effects was indeed correct at least in part. However, this new paper then drives a steamroller through my explanation by showing that this rise in morbidity is country-wide among that class and age group, middle aged and less educated whites. Except, well, I’m not quite sure it does. Fortunately, as I said last time, this is such an important result coming from such a well known name that it will be fully investigated. It’s not just going to be either ignored nor accepted at face value either. People will keep picking away at this until the definitive answer is understood.
Britain’s decision to leave the EU has been described by the Italian prime minister as “closed nationalism” that belongs in the past during a summit in Rome to celebrate the bloc’s 60th anniversary. In an address at the Orazi and Curiazi Hall of the Capitol in the Piazza del Campidoglio, where the EU was founded six decades ago, Paolo Gentiloni expressed his discomfort with the motives behind the referendum result. He blamed the EU for not responding adequately to the economic crisis of 2008, but said: “That triggered in part of public opinion, unfortunately the majority of public opinion in the United Kingdom, it triggered a crisis of rejection. It brought forward the closed nationalism that we thought has been closed down in the archives.”
The leaders of the 27 member states that will make up the EU after the UK’s departure assembled on Saturday to mark the day on which six nations signed what was to become the Treaty of Rome. They signed a Rome declaration, which offered ringing phrases about peace and unity, and the importance of maintaining the union. “We, the leaders of 27 member states and of EU institutions, take pride in the achievements of the European Union: the construction of European unity is a bold, far-sighted endeavour,” it says. “Sixty years ago, recovering from the tragedy of two world wars, we decided to bond together and rebuild our continent from its ashes.
“We have built a unique union with common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare. “European unity started as the dream of a few, it became the hope of the many. Then Europe became one again. Today, we are united and stronger: hundreds of millions of people across Europe benefit from living in an enlarged union that has overcome the old divides.” The document stipulates that the EU will make progress on a social dimension, building on its citizens’ rights, and that some member states will enhance their cooperation, particularly in the field of defence. The text concludes: “We have united for the better. Europe is our common future.”
When it comes to consumables, though, blowing it on drink is not such a southern European thing. On old professor of mine, an expert in the history of booze (among other substances) often observed that Europe is divided into north and south by distinct cultures of intoxication rooted in our prehistory – the grape in the south, the grain in the north, originally the function of geography and climate which in turn determined access to different sources of plant sugar.
It is the grain-fermenting northerners who have traditionally drunk themselves to oblivion, and it is them that felt the teetotal backlash of the protestant reformation, whereas the Mediterranean world used their fermented grape juice more sparingly and even made it “taboo” by ghoulishly turning it into blood in the Christian sacrament. It is said that you can still observe this divide by walking down the main street of any Mediterranean town hosting a Club 18-30 resort in high tourist season. Some might say, therefore, that Jeroen is merely projecting his own cultural inclinations. They don’t call it Dutch courage for nothing.
No, when it comes to consumables, another famous one-line aetiology of the Greek crisis comes to mind: “We ate it together” (”Mazí ta fágame”), is what PASOK grandee Theodoros Pangalos poffered in 2010 in response to the question “where did the money go?”. A succinct description of the workings of clientelism, delivered by a true master of the art. The saying survives and thrives, in large part because it had a grotesque, evocative appeal in light of the speaker’s own well-fed physique, an apparent embodiment of gluttony openly admitting to the sin and beckoning us to join him at the trough. In the popular imagination it conjured up images of the Greek political class, bloated with greed both physical and metaphorical, sharing a well-furnished table with their clients, the ordinary voters.
And although we, too, like to accuse our elites of eating Marie Antoinette’s cake and caviar (or perhaps the Greek pre-crisis equivalent, lobster spaghetti), the most appropriate fare loading down the table would be a cholesterol feast, most likely at Baïraktaris, the legendary Athens kebab house and political hangout. Not the starched white tablecloths of Washington’s Palm Grill, London’s private clubs, or the Michelin-starred chateaux of Gallic political intrigue, but oilcloth and stacks of paper napkins, the great equaliser, where we do indeed tuck in together in large, boisterous groups. You may recall Baïraktaris as the scene of another famous apophthegm, by another regular, former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, to the effect that “five pimps run this country”. And that is as far as I will go with the “women” element.
Portugal’s Economy Minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, whose Dutch party lost elections this month, should quit as chairman of the European finance ministers’ group after his comments about the duties of nations getting aid were deemed offensive. “It would be the best thing for Europe and the best thing he could do,” Cabral said in a Bloomberg Television interview from the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. “He just lost an election and I think he should not be trying to blame others for his own failures.” Dijsselbloem is under pressure to resign as leader of the euro area’s finance ministers after a German newspaper cited him saying, “I can’t spend all my money on women and drink and then at the end ask for your help.”
That remark inflamed tensions between stronger economies in the north and weaker nations including Greece, Ireland and Portugal. The Eurogroup chief has said he regrets causing offense, but doesn’t intend to resign. “I don’t think we can let the Eurogroup be divided in that way, and for that reason that person should be out,” Cabral said. “One of the worst things that some European responsibles have done in the past is not being leaders and trying to surpass their own difficulties at home by accusing other countries. This is a way of destroying Europe.”
On the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union, Cabral said the bloc must focus on getting good results from negotiations in the next two to five years and then moving on to other issues. He said broader trade pacts should be the goal rather than making Brexit the only thing on the agenda for Europe and the U.K. The EU should focus on trade talks that give serious results and make a priority “of opening to the world, of negotiating with Asia, of being part of this intuitive of One Belt-One Road with China and establishing links with Asia,” he said in the interview.
President Donald Trump has marked Greek Independence Day with a rather ominous message. At a White House reception, Trump said that in the years to come “we don’t know what will be required to defend our freedom.” But he said it will take “great courage, and we will show it.” Greek Independence Day commemorates the start of the 1821 war that led to Greece’s independence after nearly 400 years as part of the Ottoman Empire. It’s celebrated annually on March 25. Trump told the crowd, “I love the Greeks.” He also introduced Greek-American members of the White House staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus. Trump said Priebus is “really terrific and hard-working,” along with being “one of the top Greeks in the country.”
Hundreds of Syrian asylum seekers are struggling to survive in the UK, with some facing destitution and others forced into exploitative work because they are afraid of being detained and deported. The Observer has found Syrian asylum seekers working in warehouses, construction sites and garages for as little as £10 a day. Many had stopped signing in with the Home Office after being held in detention centres for months. Hundreds more are living in destitution, reliant on charities for food parcels and clothes. Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said: “A two-tier system, where Syrian nationals who arrive in the UK as asylum seekers are left vulnerable to exploitation, seems completely at odds with the spirit behind the government’s commitment to offer a safe home to 20,000 Syrian refugees under its resettlement programme.
The Observer interviewed 10 Syrians, all living in limbo because of the Dublin regulation, which means asylum seekers can be sent back to the first EU country they reach. The men were fighting removal to countries including Bulgaria, where Human Rights Watch found asylum seekers being shot at, beaten with weapons by uniformed officials and sent back to Turkey. Several of the men we spoke to were being threatened with removal to Hungary, despite the fact that the Home Office told the Observer that it is not currently returning asylum seekers there. At least 50 Syrians have been removed under the regulation since the start of 2015, prompting some to drop off the radar. Eight of the men interviewed said that they had stopped signing in with immigration authorities because they were afraid of detention and removal. Most had family in the UK and were supporting themselves by working illegally.
[..] The Red Cross said it had seen 1,341 destitute Syrian asylum seekers in Britain last year, up from 1,159 the year before. In South Yorkshire, a quarter of all destitute asylum seekers seen, of all nationalities, said they experienced hunger every day. In nearly half of all the cases seen by the Red Cross, asylum seekers were facing destitution, despite receiving the full £36 a week afforded to them under government rules. The Syrians the Observer interviewed said they were often too scared to pick up their allowance for fear of being detained.
For the past 60 years, the Ogallala has been pumped out faster than raindrops and snowmelt can seep back into the ground to replenish it, thanks largely to irrigation machinery like the one sleeping nearby. As a result, in parts of western Kansas, the aquifer has declined by more than 60% during that period. In some parts, it is already exhausted. The decline is steady now, dry years or wet. In 2015 rain was exceptionally heavy—50 to 100% above normal. Even so, water levels in the wells dropped again. Wilson’s field report will put the best face on it, noting it was the slowest decline in five years.
Tagging along with Wilson, I am nearing the end of a 5,000-mile journey along the back roads of Ogallala territory, from South Dakota to Texas. My drive has taken me through some of the most productive farmland anywhere, home to at least a $20-billion-a-year industry that grows nearly one-fifth of the United States’ wheat, corn, and beef cattle. It’s also a place facing hard choices: Farmers can reduce consumption of water to further extend the life of the aquifer. Or they can continue on their path toward an end that is already in sight. Some don’t like to frame the dilemma quite so starkly. But if they don’t reduce pumping and the aquifer is drained, food markets will be profoundly affected around the world. In the coming decades this slow-speed crisis will unfold just as the world needs to increase food production by 60%, according to the United Nations, to feed more than nine billion people by mid-century.
The draining of North America’s largest aquifer is playing out in similar ways across the world, as large groundwater basins in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East decline rapidly. Many of these aquifers, including the southern Ogallala, have little ability to recharge. Once their water is gone, they could take thousands of years to refill. “The consequences will be huge,” says Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead researcher on a study using satellites to record changes in the world’s 37 largest aquifers. “We need to sustain groundwater to sustain food production, and we’re not doing it. Is draining the Ogallala the smartest thing for food production in the U.S. and globally? This is the question we need to answer.”
Obviously, like hopefully many people, I’ve been following the WikiLeaks CIA revelations, and closely. It’s too early for too many conclusions, if only because WikiLeaks has announced much more will flow from that same pipeline. But one thing is already clear: the CIA is -still- a club that sees enemies behind every tree, and behind every TV set too. Which is not as obvious a world view as it may seem; it’s just something we’ve become used to.
Moreover, as we see time and again, organizations like the CIA and NATO have no qualms about ‘creating’ enemies if they are in short supply. The flavor du jour has now been, for years, Russia, but don’t be surprised if another one is cultivated alongside it. ISIS, China, North Korea, plenty of options, and plenty of media more than willing to aid the cultivation process. It’s a well-oiled machine geared towards making something out of nothing, a machine very adept at making you believe anything it wants you to.
In this way, our friends can become our enemies, and our enemies our friends. What gets lost in translation is that this way in reality we become our own worst enemies. While the upper and most secretive layers of society, filled with folk of questionable psychological constitution -sociopaths and psychopaths-, get to chase their dreams of wealth and power, those who try to live normal decent lives are, for that very purpose, increasingly subjected to poverty, misery and fear. As our economies decline further, this will only get worse.
Who needs your -conscious- vote or voice if these can be easily manipulated? Or do you not think you’re being manipulated? How many of you, American or European, think Russia is an actual threat to you? I’m afraid by now there’s a majority on each continent who perceive Putin as an evil force. The president of a country that spends one-tenth on its military of what the US does. Trump’s announced military spending increase alone is almost as much as Russia spends in a whole year.
If Putin is really the threat he’s made out to be, to both Europe and the US, he must be extremely smart; merely devious wouldn’t do it. A man who can be an active threat to two entire continents and almost a billion people while spending a fraction on building that threat of what those he threatens do, must be a genius. Or the victim of media-politico manipulation.
But we don’t stop there. As the CIA spying and hacking files once again make abundantly clear, America increasingly seeks its enemies at home. This may be presented in the shape of Donald Trump, or terrorists on US soil, imported or not, but claiming that we can still tell a real threat from an invented one is no longer credible. We are led along on a propaganda leash 24/7, and the best thing about it is we believe we are not. That’s why it’s a good idea to pay close attention to what WikiLeaks is telling us.
The most extreme example of the political machinery turning our friends into enemies is probably right there, in the WikiLeaks and whistleblower corner of society. Earlier today I wrote:
The CIA spent a huge wad of taxpayer money on this, and then lost it all. It’s early days to say what this will mean for the agency’s abilities, and the nation’s safety, as well as that of American citizens, but it’s not good. Question is: who’s going to investigate how this could have happened? (Snowden and Kim Dotcom could)… And who’s going to repair the damage done? Anyone could be spying on your phone and your TV by now, not just the CIA -as if that wouldn’t be bad enough.
Then later I saw I wasn’t the only one who had thought of this:
Edward Snowden and Kim Dotcom and Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are ‘the enemy’, so say our ‘leaders’. They have received this honorable label for exposing secrets these same leaders were trying to hide from us. Secrets most of us, if we think it over, would say should not be kept from us. The NSA spying on the American people, or the CIA turning your phones and TVs and cars into objects that can be used against you, these are things that don’t belong in our societies.
Still, as I’ve always said, if they can do it -from a technical point of view-, they will, damn the law. So we will have to make very sure the laws keep up with these developments, or we’re defenseless. The Obama administration hasn’t been much help with this, and the rest of Washington won’t be either, they’re not just part of the machine, they are the engine that drives the machine. Obama allegedly gave in to the CIA for fear of ending up like JFK and the rest, along with the press, is under control too.
So perhaps Trump is our best chance at putting a stop to this coup, this deep state, from taking over. If we still can. And for that we might well need Snowden and Dotcom and Assange, who are not the enemies they are made out to be, they are the smartest among us, or at least they belong right up there. And they are not only the smartest, they are the bravest too. Locking them up would be a huge disservice to our societies, it would be much better to ask them to help us figure out what game the hell is being played.
One thing the WikiLeaks files accomplished is they made and and all accusations of Russian hacking, and of links between Trump and Russia, utterly meaningless in one fell swoop. Because the CIA has acquired the capability, both through hacking Russian files and through coding, to leave ‘footprints’ that make it look like the Russians left them. And the only ‘proof’ there ever was for all these accusations was based on these footprints. That’s one narrative that must now be restarted from scratch -just one of many.
All we need now is for Trump to figure out who his enemies are, and who his friends. He already knows the CIA is not his friend, but has he figured out yet that the whistleblowers are not his enemy? And has his crew? Kim Dotcom is right, Trump is in real danger, he’s been watched, and being watched, 24/7. Whether Obama ordered that or not is not very relevant. There are more urgent matters at hand.
And somewhere along the way he’s going to have to figure out that chasing women and children around the country and out of it is not just ugly, it’ll cost him too much sympathy too. But so far all protests come from the Democrats and their supporters, who have all been left voiceless and shapeless by the election and now see their Russian conspiracy narratives blown to smithereens too, so why wouldn’t he please his own voters for a bit longer?
Well, for one thing, because he has to start to realize he’s going to need very broad support, and soon, be a president for all Americans so to speak, to fend off the CIA et al, and in what may be the hardest thing to do, he needs to invoke transparency, explain to people exactly what he does, and why, to drain the deep swamp.
If he fails in all this, and for now the odds point in that direction, those who protest him today will feel validated, right, and winners. They will be tragically wrong. Because if Trump loses this, the CIA wins. And then we will all live in 1984 for as far into the future as we can see.
I know there’s a lot that’s not to like about Trump and Bannon and all those guys. However, look at it this way: they are the only ones who can keep the doors of the vault from slamming shut for the rest of our lives, leaving time for y’all to wake up and find a president who doesn’t seek to turn your friends into your enemies. At least you’ll still have that choice.
With present-day Washington, Democrat or Republican, there’s no such choice. They’re CIA, as are the media. Kim Dotcom tweeted this too today:
Looks like a must read: [..] a special preview excerpt from FED UP: An Insider’s Take on Why The Federal Reserve is Bad for America by Danielle DiMartino Booth.
She agrees with me: “The one true growth industry? That would be all that high cotton harvested in high finance. Since 2007, world debt has grown by about $60 trillion, enriching legions of investment bankers one bond deal at a time.”
Created in 1913 after the Panic of 1907, the Federal Reserve was founded to keep the public’s faith in the buying power of the U.S. dollar. After failing miserably in the 1930s, the Fed aimed to be more responsive. This led the institution to find discipline in the rising macroeconomic models championed by top monetary theorists. During the ensuing “Quiet Period” in American banking, deposit insurance prevented panics, the Fed controlled interest rates and manipulated the money supply, and though occasional disruptions flared, like the failure of Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company in 1984, no systemic risk erupted for seventy years. The Fed had tamed the volatile U.S. economy.
Until September 2008, when all hell broke loose in a worldwide panic that completely blindsided and, embarrassed the Federal Reserve. The Fed had used billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to bail out Wall Street fat cats. Everyone blamed the Fed. Just before 9 a.m., the door to the chairman’s office opened. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke took his place in an armchair at the center of a massive oval table. The members of the FOMC found their designated places around the table; aides sat in chairs or couches against the wall. With staff, the room contained fifty or sixty people, far more than normal for this momentous occasion. In front of each FOMC member was a microphone to record their words for posterity. To a casual observer, the content of their conversation would be obscured by economic jargon.
This day, their essential task was to vote on whether to take the “fed funds” rate—the interest rate at which banks lent money to each other in the overnight market—to the zero bound. The history-making low rate would ripple throughout the economy, affecting the price to borrow for businesses and consumers alike. Bernanke was calm but insistent. His lifetime of study of the Great Depression indicated this was the only way. His sheer depth of knowledge about the Fed’s mishandling of that tragic period was undoubtedly intimidating. By the end of the meeting, the vote was unanimous. The FOMC officially adopted a zero-interest-rate policy in the hopes that companies teetering on the brink of insolvency would keep the lights on, keep employees on their payrolls, and keep consumers spending. It would even pay banks interest on deposits.
Free cash. We’ll even pay you to take it! As they gathered their belongings, everyone shook hands, all very collegial despite the sometimes vigorous discussion. They journeyed back to their nice homes in the toniest neighborhoods of America’s richest cities: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, DC. They returned to their lofty perches, some at the Eccles Building, others to the executive floors of Federal Reserve District Bank buildings, safely cushioned from the decision they had just made. Most of them were wealthy or had hefty defined benefit pensions. Their investments were socked away in blind trusts. They would feel no pain in their ivory towers.
While we urge readers to listen to the full interview below, here are some of the highlights, starting with “why the Dollar shortage a symptom of an inherently unstable system.” As Snider explains, “the dollar shortage isn’t so much the shortage per se, it’s the fact that it’s a symptom of what is an inherently unstable system.” He notes that “the reason banks are withdrawing from the system is that it’s just is no longer tenable” and “so there has to be some kind of – whether you want to look at it like another Bretton Woods – conference, a global monetary system, a global monetary get together where people start to analyze solutions to the problem as they are rather than keep trying to apply band aids that are not going to work. ” But, he concludes, “step one of that task is to actually recognize the problem as it is and so doing more stimulus or doing more QE isn’t going to solve anything it isn’t do anything just like prior QEs and prior stimulus haven’t done anything either because the problem is an unstable system.”
Snider focuses on the Eurodollar system, which he defines as a problem of “decay and dysfunction” and explains that “nothing ever happens in a straight line even the Eurodollar problem has not been a singular event. It’s not been a decade long straight line of decay and dysfunction.” He goes on to say that the fact that after enough time these markets have adjusted to the fact that the economy’s going to be bad for a very long time until something actually changes and so true reflation is predicated on something actually changing rather than the hope that something might change.
Looking at history, Snider observes that “what happened in July 2008 obviously was the fact that everyone decided almost all at once that wasn’t the right interpretation of what the Fed was doing nor was it the right interpretation of the dollar system overall. So, that reflation ended in reality which was the dollar system was eroding and it was eroding in a very dangerous way and that’s why oil prices essentially crashed from July till I think January 2009.” An implication of the ongoing reserve currency funding shortage is that, according to Snider, despite the occasional blip (arguably funded by massive Chinese credit creation), “reflation is going to fail and there’s nothing the Fed can do about it.” He goes on to state that “until they fix the global dollar problem we’re not going to fix the global economy and so we’re kind of stuck gyrating between various levels of really bad. We go from the lack of recovery to what looks like a global recession to the lack of recovery and back again” as a result he thinks that “reflation is going to fail.”
[..] Snider summarizes by saying that “the fact that these markets realize that there’s a problem in Eurodollar system, there’s no banking to be had, no additional marginal banking capacity being added and without it none of these stuff really matters, none of these other stuff really matters. That’s the only thing that truly matters” and concludes gloomily that “the probability scenarios for economic and financial future are much darker now than they were three years ago.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested on Saturday that the euro was too low for Germany but made clear that Berlin had no power to address this “problem” because monetary policy was set by the independent ECB. Merkel made her remarks at the Munich Security Conference as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence looked on. They seemed aimed at addressing recent criticism from a top trade adviser to President Donald Trump, who has accused Germany of profiting from a “grossly undervalued” euro. “We have at the moment in the euro zone of course a problem with the value of the euro,” Merkel said in an unusual foray into foreign exchange rate policy.
“The ECB has a monetary policy that is not geared to Germany, rather it is tailored (to countries) from Portugal to Slovenia or Slovakia. If we still had the (German) D-Mark it would surely have a different value than the euro does at the moment. But this is an independent monetary policy over which I have no influence as German chancellor.” The euro has fallen nearly 25% against the dollar over the past three years, touching a 14-year low of $1.034 in January. But it has since risen to roughly $1.061. In late January, Peter Navarro, the head of Trump’s new National Trade Council, said the euro’s low valuation was giving Germany an edge over the United States and its European Union partners. His comments came weeks after Trump himself said the dollar’s strength against the Chinese yuan “is killing us”, deepening concerns that his administration could pursue a more confrontational, protectionist approach to trade. Merkel and other German officials pushed back forcefully at the time.
The deep state, although there’s no precise or scientific definition, generally refers to the agencies in Washington that are permanent power factions. They stay and exercise power even as presidents who are elected come and go. They typically exercise their power in secret, in the dark, and so they’re barely subject to democratic accountability, if they’re subject to it at all. It’s agencies like the CIA, the NSA and the other intelligence agencies, that are essentially designed to disseminate disinformation and deceit and propaganda, and have a long history of doing not only that, but also have a long history of the world’s worst war crimes, atrocities and death squads. This is who not just people like Bill Kristol, but lots of Democrats are placing their faith in, are trying to empower, are cheering for as they exert power separate and apart from—in fact, in opposition to—the political officials to whom they’re supposed to be subordinate.
And you go—this is not just about Russia. You go all the way back to the campaign, and what you saw was that leading members of the intelligence community, including Mike Morell, who was the acting CIA chief under President Obama, and Michael Hayden, who ran both the CIA and the NSA under George W. Bush, were very outspoken supporters of Hillary Clinton. In fact, Michael Morell went to The New York Times, and Michael Hayden went to The Washington Post, during the campaign to praise Hillary Clinton and to say that Donald Trump had become a recruit of Russia. The CIA and the intelligence community were vehemently in support of Clinton and vehemently opposed to Trump, from the beginning. And the reason was, was because they liked Hillary Clinton’s policies better than they liked Donald Trump’s.
One of the main priorities of the CIA for the last five years has been a proxy war in Syria, designed to achieve regime change with the Assad regime. Hillary Clinton was not only for that, she was critical of Obama for not allowing it to go further, and wanted to impose a no-fly zone in Syria and confront the Russians. Donald Trump took exactly the opposite view. He said we shouldn’t care who rules Syria; we should allow the Russians, and even help the Russians, kill ISIS and al-Qaeda and other people in Syria. So, Trump’s agenda that he ran on was completely antithetical to what the CIA wanted. Clinton’s was exactly what the CIA wanted, and so they were behind her. And so, they’ve been trying to undermine Trump for many months throughout the election. And now that he won, they are not just undermining him with leaks, but actively subverting him. There’s claims that they’re withholding information from him, on the grounds that they don’t think he should have it and can be trusted with it. They are empowering themselves to enact policy.
Now, I happen to think that the Trump presidency is extremely dangerous. You just listed off in your news—in your newscast that led the show, many reasons. They want to dismantle the environment. They want to eliminate the safety net. They want to empower billionaires. They want to enact bigoted policies against Muslims and immigrants and so many others. And it is important to resist them. And there are lots of really great ways to resist them, such as getting courts to restrain them, citizen activism and, most important of all, having the Democratic Party engage in self-critique to ask itself how it can be a more effective political force in the United States after it has collapsed on all levels. That isn’t what this resistance is now doing.
[..] what until recently was a trickle of private data captured about US individuals by the NSA with only a handful of people having full, immersive access, suddenly became a firehose with thousands of potential witnesses across 16 other agencies, each of whom suddenly became a potential source of leaks about ideological political opponents. And with the universe of potential “leaking” culprits suddenly exploding exponentially, good luck finding the responsible party. However, the implications are far more serious than just loss of privacy rights. According to civil right expert and prominent First Amendement Supreme Court lawyer, Jay Sekulow, what the agencies did by leaking the Trump Administration information was not only illegal but “almost becomes a soft coup”, one which was spurred by the last minute rule-change by Obama, who intentionally made it far easier for leaks to propagate, and next to impossible to catch those responsible for the leaks.
This is his explanation: “There was a sea-change here at the NSA with an order that came from president Obama 17 days before he left office where he allowed the NSA who used to control the data, it now goes to 16 other agencies and that just festered this whole leaking situation, and that happened on the way out, as the president was leaving the office. Why did the Obama administration wait until it had 17 days left in their administration to put this order in place if they thought it was so important. They had 8 years, they didn’t do it, number one. Number two, it changed the exiting rule which was an executive order dating back to Ronald Reagan, that has been in place until 17 days before the Obama administration was going to end, that said the NSA gets the raw data, and they determine dissemination.
Instead, this change that the president put in place, signed off by the way by James Clapper on December 15, 2016, signed off by Loretta Lynch the Attorney General January 3, 2017, they decide that now 16 agencies can get the raw data and what that does is almost creates a shadow government. You have all these people who are not agreeing with President Trump’s position, so it just festers more leaks. If they had a justification for this, wonderful, why didn’t they do it 8 years ago, 4 years ago, 3 years ago. Yet they wait until 17 days left. One potential answer: they knew they had a “smoking gun”, and were working to make it easier to enable the information to be “leaked” despite the clearly criminal consequences of such dissemination.
As this point Hannity correctly points out, “it makes it that much more difficult by spreading out the information among 16 other agencies, if they want to target or take away the privacy rights, and illegally tap the phones, in this case General Flynn, it’s going to be much harder to find the perpetrator. Sekulow confirms, noting that back when only the NSA had access to this kind of raw data, there would be a very small amount of people who have access to this kind of data. “But this change in the Obama Administration was so significant that they allowed dissemination to 16 other agencies, and we wonder why there’s leaks.” Sekulow’s conclusion: “President Obama, James Clapper, Loretta Lynch should be held accountable for this.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Saturday for an end to a world order dominated by the West and said Moscow wanted to establish a “pragmatic” relationship with the United States. Lavrov was speaking at the Munich Security Conference shortly after US Vice President Mike Pence told the audience Washington remained “unwavering” in its commitment to the US-led NATO military alliance as it faced a more assertive Russia. Lavrov said that the time when the West called the shots was over and, dismissing NATO as a relic of the Cold War, added: “I hope that (the world) will choose a democratic world order – a post-West one – in which each country is defined by its sovereignty.”
Lavrov said Moscow wanted to build relations with Washington which would be “pragmatic with mutual respect and acknowledgement of our responsibility for global stability.” The two countries had never been in direct conflict, he said, noting that they were actually close neighbours across the Baring Straits. Russia wanted to see a “common space of good neighbour relations from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” he added. Pence was in Europe along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and defence chief James Mattis as part of efforts to reassure allies rattled by President Donald Trump’s “America First” stance and his calls for improved ties with Russia despite the continuing crisis in Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pushed back against accusations that Russian hackers meddled in last year’s U.S. presidential election, saying no one had put forward any proof and former President Barack Obama’s administration ignored repeated overtures to discuss cyber-security norms. “Somehow when we are blamed, no one asked for facts,” Lavrov said at the Munich Security Summit on Saturday. “Give us some facts.” In his remarks, made in response to an audience question about whether Russia interferes in other countries’ elections, Lavrov portrayed Russia as a leader in efforts to focus on information security. He said Russia had “many years ago” initiated work at the United Nations to discuss information security. “Our western partners evaded that work,” he said.
After Donald Trump won the election in November, the U.S. intelligence community issued an assessment that Russia sought to sway the election in his favor through the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff. In the waning days of his administration, Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia’s military intelligence agency and the successor agency to the KGB, saying the actions had been directed “at the highest level” of the government. [..] “I have seen no facts, there were just some accusations that we tried to hack some Democratic party website; that’s happening in France, Germany, Italy,” Lavrov said. He went on to point blame at the U.S. and make a reference to recent leaks that the CIA may have spied on French political parties before the 2012 election there. WikiLeaks released e-mails making that claim this week.
Lavrov said he had suggested to the Obama administration in 2015 that the two countries discuss working together on cyber-security, and repeatedly asked former Secretary of State John Kerry about the proposal. “For a year we had no reaction from them,” he said. “Then in December last year they said let’s meet, and later they said now we have transitional administration let’s postpone it.”
Nine asylum-seekers, including four children, barely made it across the Canadian border on Friday as a U.S. border patrol officer tried to stop them and a Reuters photographer captured the scene. As a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer seized their passports and questioned a man in the front passenger seat of a taxi that had pulled up to the border in Champlain, New York, four adults and four young children fled the cab and ran to Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the other side. One by one they scrambled across the snowy gully separating the two countries. RCMP officers watching from the other side helped them up, lifting the younger children and asking a woman, who leaned on her fellow passenger as she walked, if she needed medical care. The children looked back from where they had come as the U.S. officer held the first man, saying his papers needed to be verified.
The man turned to a pile of belongings and heaved pieces of luggage two at a time into the gully – enormous wheeled suitcases, plastic shopping bags, a black backpack. “Nobody cares about us,” he told journalists. He said they were all from Sudan and had been living and working in Delaware for two years. The RCMP declined on Friday to confirm the nationalities of the people. A Reuters photo showed that at least one of their passports was Sudanese. The man then appeared to grab their passports from the U.S. officer before making a run for the border. The officer yelled and gave chase but stopped at the border marker. Canadian police took hold of the man’s arm as he crossed. The border patrol officer told his counterpart that the man was in the United States illegally and that he would have detained him. Officers on both sides momentarily eyed the luggage strewn in the snow before the U.S. officer took it, and a walker left on the road, to the border line.
We currently face a desperate, almost farcical push for GM crops in the UK and Europe, characterised by hyperbolic and inaccurate claims. So rather than taking those claims on trust, let’s look at the impacts of GM crops in countries that have adopted them. That means North and South America, where GM crops were first launched in 1996. The cultivation of herbicide tolerant crops in Argentina began in 1996 with GM soya and spread swiftly through the country. As Argentina’s Grupo Reflexion Rural (GRR) wrote to the Vatican in April 2013, “The model was based on the political decision that Argentina, which had once been the grain basket of the world and a producer of healthy and high-quality foods, would be transformed into a producer of animal forage, firstly, to provide fodder for European livestock, and then for livestock in China.”
At first, herbicide tolerant crops seemed to simplify the farming process, especially for larger mechanised farms. Instead of skillful weed management, farmers applied large quantities of the herbicide glyphosate, mainly from the air. Powerful groups of investors helped drive GM soya production. Small farmers could not compete and many have left or been driven off their land, often into urban slums. People who remain in the countryside and small towns find themselves bombarded from the air with increasingly complex mixtures of chemicals intended to combat the problem of increasing weed and pest resistance. Although GM crops were promoted as a means to reduce levels of pesticides used, pesticide use in Argentina has increased massively, “from nine million gallons (34 million litres) in 1990 to more than 84 million gallons (317 million litres) today”.
[..] Europe has been wise to resist the pressure to adopt GM crops for cultivation except for a GM maize mainly grown in Spain. In the face of the evidence from countries with experience of these crops, and their associated cocktails of agrotoxics, why should Europe be forced to consider another GM crop for cultivation? But Europe should go further. The soya boom is driven by markets for animal feed, in the form of soya meal or cake, and biodiesel from soya oil. Vast quantities of both are imported into Europe, making it a major driver of South America’s unfolding GM disaster. The EU should surely stop importing GM animal feeds and oils from North and South America.
Indeed Europe should change its whole approach to livestock and crop production to address human health impacts, biodiversity loss and climate change. Far from being a “museum of world farming” as the UK’s current environment minister, Owen Paterson, likes to claim, Europe could show the way to a rich and varied GM free agriculture that provides nutritious, healthy food and jobs. It would at the same time address the profound degradation of soils and accelerating biodiversity loss, caused to a great extent by the industrial model of agriculture to which genetically engineered crops belong.
The assumption is that the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, will cave in, just as he did when the country came closest yet to leaving the euro at the height of the crisis in the summer of 2015. But the 41-year-old leader, like Syriza, has been pummelled in the polls. Persuading disaffected backbenchers to support more measures, and then selling them to a populace exhausted by repeated rounds of austerity, will be extremely difficult. Disappointment has increasingly given way to the death of hope – a sentiment reinforced by the realisation that Cyprus and other bailed-out countries, by contrast, are no longer under international supervision.
In his city centre office, the former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos pondered where Greece’s predicament was now. “[We are] at the same point we were several years ago,” he joked. “The only difference is that anti-European sentiment is growing. What was once a very friendly country towards Europe is becoming increasingly less so, and with that comes a lot of danger, a lot of risk.” When historians look back they, too, may conclude that Greece has expended a great deal of energy not moving forward at all.
The arc of crisis that has swept the country – coursing like a cancer through its body politic, devastating its public health system, shattering lives – has been an exercise in the absurd. The feat of pulling off the greatest fiscal adjustment in modern times has spawned a slump longer and deeper than the Great Depression, with the Greek economy shrinking more than 25% since the crisis began. Even if the latest impasse is broken and a deal is reached with creditors soon, few believe that in a country of weak governance and institutions it will be easy to enforce. Political turbulence will almost certainly beckon; the prospect of “Grexit” will grow.
“Grexit is the last thing we want, but we may arrive at a point of serious dilemmas,” said Venizelos. “Whatever deal is reached will be very difficult to implement, but that notwithstanding, it is not the memoranda [the bailout accords] that caused the crisis. The crisis was born in Greece long before.” Like every crisis government before it, Tsipras’s administration is acutely aware that salvation will come only when Greece can return to the markets and raise funds. What happens in the weeks ahead could determine if that is likely to happen at all. Back in Syntagma, Costopoulos the good-natured farmer ponders what lies ahead. Like every Greek, he stands to be deeply affected. “All I know is that we are all being pushed,” he said, searching for the right words. “Pushed in the direction of somewhere very explosive, somewhere we do not want to be.”
Nonperforming loans last month posted a major spike of almost 1 billion euros, reversing the downward course set in the last few months of 2016. This has generated major concerns among local lenders regarding the achievement of targets for reducing bad loans, as agreed with the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) of the ECB for the first quarter of this year. Bank sources say that after several months of stabilization and of a negative growth rate in new nonperforming exposure,the picture deteriorated rapidly in January, as new bad loans estimated at €800 million in total were created. This increase in a period of just one month is considered particularly high, and is a trend that appears to be continuing this month as well.
Bank officials attribute the phenomenon to uncertainty from the government’s inability to complete the second bailout review, fears for a rekindling of the crisis and mainly the expectations of borrowers for extrajudicial settlements of bad loans. Senior bank officials note that a large number of borrowers will not cooperate with their lenders in reaching an agreement for the restructuring of their debts, in the hope that the introduction by the government of the extrajudicial compromise could lead to better terms and possibly even to a debt haircut
Banks further observe that the issue of the extrajudicial settlement, along with the matter of the deferred tax assets for the tackling of banks’ losses from the write-off or sale of bad loans, are of major significance to the general issue of dealing with the NPL problem, so they have to be arranged rapidly. Even more important to the banking sector is the completion of the pending bailout review, as uncertainty and the re-emergence of fears over a possible Greek exit from the eurozone have frozen the market and encouraged many people to avoid paying their dues in anticipation of negotiations. This unexpected deterioration in the quality of loan portfolios in recent weeks has banks on edge, as NPLs will have to be reduced by €2.5 billion by end-March, which will be particularly difficult to achieve given the fresh addition of another €800 million.
During seven years of a grinding economic crisis, Dimitri Tsamopoulos has lost at least half the clients from his once bustling tax consultancy. But in the past few months, business has jumped, not because the Greek economy is finally recovering but because it is falling even deeper into the abyss. With the Greek government pushing through more tax increases to comply with austerity requirements, more than 21,000 self-employed workers and small firms have shut down in the past two months, with many seeking help from accountants like Mr. Tsamopoulos to close their books. Yet many are not actually closing their businesses. “Most of these people will keep working,” Mr. Tsamopoulous said, arching an eyebrow from behind his desk as clients waited in a smoky room outside. “But now, they’ll do it on the black market. They’re saying they need a way to survive.”
Greece is the crisis that never quite goes away for the EU, and with another tense negotiation with creditors scheduled for this coming week, the country is struggling to recover from the longest downturn in the eurozone. The budget-slashing policies and reform medicine required by creditors have done little to revive growth, leaving Greece even more dependent on the three international bailouts the country has received since 2010. Few problems are more ingrained, or harder to combat, than the shadow economy, which appears to be growing again as new austerity measures compel once law-abiding Greeks to go off the books. Greece’s black market is estimated at 20 to 25% of the gross domestic product, as more people have stopped reporting their income to avoid paying taxes that, by some estimates, have risen to 70% of an individual’s gross income.
As of last month, unpaid taxes in Greece had soared to €95 billion, up from €76 billion two years ago. Most of that is considered uncollectable. “The heart of the matter for an ever-rising number of citizens and businesses is that they simply do not have the financial resources anymore to meet their rising tax obligations,” said Jens Bastian, an economist and a member of a team of European Union specialists that helped supervise the country’s earlier bailouts. Short on alternatives, he said, “many are falling back into the gray economy.”
Tension between Greece and Turkey escalated further on Friday after a Turkish coastal patrol boat fired live ammunition during a military exercise in Greek territorial waters in the eastern Aegean Sea. [..] a Greek diplomatic source described the incident in the area around the eastern Aegean island of Farmakonisi, as “a grave violation of international law.” “Turkey’s unacceptable act raises serious concerns about the potential consequences of its behavior on the stability of the wider region,” the same source said. Greek defense officials were reportedly preparing to lodge a demarche with Ankara and brief allies and international organizations on the incident.
According to the Defense Ministry, Turkish authorities issued a navigational telex, or Navtex, the day before informing of a military exercise with live ammunition within Greek territorial waters, east of Farmakonisi, on Friday [yesterday] morning between 7 and 9 a.m. The Greek Defense Ministry responded by issuing a Navtex turning down the Turkish notification, saying it covered Greek territorial waters. Turkish authorities have previously issued similar notifications without executing them. The Greek gunboat Nikiforos was sent to the area to monitor the Turkish Kusadasi vessel, which fired a volley of shots from small caliber (up to 40mm) guns between 7.40 and 7.55 a.m., until it left the area just before 8 a.m.
[..] Friday’s incident occurred in the wake of repeated Turkish violations of Greek air space and increased tensions between Athens and Ankara, which were further fueled last month when Greece’s highest court blocked the extradition of eight Turkish officers to Turkey for their alleged involvement in July’s failed coup. Reacting to the development on Friday, Greece’s conservative opposition requested a meeting of the country’s National Council of Foreign Policy. “We are deeply concerned to witness Turkey’s insistence on provoking [Athens] and maintaining a climate of tension in the Aegean,” New Democracy shadow foreign minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos said in a letter to Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.
Capturing the heart of a movement that is constantly evolving is difficult. How do you capture Spirit? “Defend The Sacred” is a short documentary that attempts to capture the spirit of Indigenous people at Standing Rock.
President Trump’s brief inaugural speech was a declaration of war against the entirety of the American Ruling Establishment. All of it. Trump made it abundantly clear that Americans’ enemies are right here at home: globalists, neoliberal economists, neoconservatives and other unilateralists accustomed to imposing the US on the world and involving us in endless and expensive wars, politicians who serve the Ruling Establishment rather than the American people, indeed, the entire canopy of private interests that have run America into the ground while getting rich in the process. If truth can be said, President Trump has declared a war far more dangerous to himself than if he had declared war against Russia or China.
The interest groups designated by Trump as The Enemy are well entrenched and accustomed to being in charge. Their powerful networks are still in place. Although there are Republican majorities in the House and Senate, most of those in Congress are answerable to the ruling interest groups that provide their campaign funds and not to the American people or to the President. The military/security complex, offshoring corporations, Wall Street and the banks are not going to roll over for Trump. And neither is the presstitute media, which is owned by the interest groups whose power Trump challenges. Trump made it clear that he stands for every American, black, brown, and white. Little doubt his declaration of inclusiveness will be ignored by the haters on the left who will continue to call him a racist just as the $50 per hour paid protesters are doing as I write.
Indeed, black leadership, for example, is enculturated into the victimization role from which it would be hard for them to escape. How do you pull together people who all their lives have been taught that whites are racists and that they are the victims of racists? Can it be done? I was just on a program briefly with Press TV in which we were supposed to provide analysis of Trump’s inaugural speech. The other commentator was a black American in Washington, DC. Trump’s inclusiveness speech made no impression on him, and the show host was only interested in showing the hired protesters as a way of discrediting America. So many people have an economic interest in speaking in behalf of victims that inclusiveness puts them out of jobs and causes.
So along with the globalists, the CIA, the offshoring corporations, the armaments industries, the NATO establishment in Europe, and foreign politicians accustomed to being well paid for supporting Washington’s interventionist foreign policy, Trump will have arrayed against him the leaders of the victimized peoples, the blacks, the hispanics, the feminists, the illegals, the homosexuals and transgendered. This long list, of course, includes the white liberals as well, as they are convinced that flyover America is the habitat of white racists, misogynists, homophobes, and gun nuts. As far as they are concerned, this 84% of geographical US should be quarantined or interred.
Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office on Friday facing unprecedented opposition but also an extraordinary opportunity. He confronts the paradox of a country skeptical that he has the personal traits for the Presidency but still hopeful he can fulfill his promise to shake up a government that is increasingly powerful even as it fails to work. In this respect he is the opposite of President Obama, whom Americans admire personally but see as a failure in delivering on his promises. Mr. Trump begins his Presidency without a reservoir of personal goodwill, so more than most Commanders in Chief he will have to win over Americans with results. He will have to do this, moreover, against a political opposition that is blunt and relentless in wanting him to fail. Inaugurations are typically moments of political unity and appeals to larger national purpose, but Mr. Trump will get no honeymoon.
Democratic leaders are calling his election illegitimate, and most of the media wants Mr. Trump to implode—for reasons of partisanship, ideology or simply to vindicate their view during the campaign that he couldn’t and shouldn’t win. No President since Nixon will face a more hostile resistance in the press and permanent bureaucracy. Yet rather than rage against this hostility, Mr. Trump should view it as an opportunity. So many elites expect him to fail that even small early successes will confound them. So many on the left are predicting the rise of fascism that he can make them look foolish by working well with Congress. So many in the media will portray him as the leader of a gang of billionaires that he can turn the tables with an up-from-poverty and education choice campaign.
Mr. Trump owes his narrow election victory to center-right and independent voters who decided he was a risk worth taking. Notably, they seem to be reserving judgment. In the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Mr. Trump’s personal popularity rating is 10 points underwater, 38% positive, 48% negative—the lowest of any modern President at inauguration. But as notably, the public is better disposed to Mr. Trump’s agenda than to his character and temperament. Tax reform, a faster campaign against Islamic State, improving roads and bridges, and fixing health care enjoy widespread support. If voters are ambivalent about Mr. Trump personally, he has a policy opening to earn their support.
The new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump said on Friday its trade strategy to protect American jobs would start with withdrawal from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact. A White House statement issued soon after Trump’s inauguration said the United States would also “crack down on those nations that violate trade agreements and harm American workers in the process.” The statement said Trump was committed to renegotiating another trade deal, NAFTA, which was signed in 1994 by the United States, Canada and Mexico. “For too long, Americans have been forced to accept trade deals that put the interests of insiders and the Washington elite over the hard-working men and women of this country,” it said.
“As a result, blue-collar towns and cities have watched their factories close and good-paying jobs move overseas, while Americans face a mounting trade deficit and a devastated manufacturing base.” The statement said “tough and fair agreements” on trade could be used to grow the U.S. economy and return millions of jobs to America. “This strategy starts by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and making certain that any new trade deals are in the interests of American workers.” If NAFTA partners refused to give American workers a fair deal in a renegotiated agreement, “the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA,” the statement added.
President Donald Trump directed government agencies on Friday to freeze regulations and take steps to weaken Obamacare, using his first hours in the White House to make good on a campaign promise to start dismantling his predecessor’s healthcare law. Heading into the Oval Office shortly after the conclusion of his inaugural parade, Trump signed an order on the Affordable Care Act that urged government departments to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation” of provisions that imposed fiscal burdens on states, companies or individuals. It also called for efforts to give states greater flexibility in implementing healthcare programs while developing “a free and open market in interstate commerce for the offering of healthcare services and health insurance.”
Health experts had speculated that Trump could expand exemptions from the so-called individual mandate, which requires Americans to carry insurance or face a penalty, or the requirement that employers offer coverage. Experts also believe the administration could try to reduce the “essential benefits,” such as maternity care and mental health services, that insurance plans must cover. The White House did not provide further details about the executive order. Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer said the White House also directed an immediate regulatory freeze for all government agencies in a memo from Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus. He did not offer details. Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, one of former President Barack Obama’s signature laws, was a central pledge for Trump during the presidential election campaign.
Republicans in the U.S. Congress have not yet laid out a plan to recast the insurance program. In a hastily arranged ceremony, surrounded by some of his aides, Trump sat behind the presidential Resolute Desk and signed the order. He also signed commissions for his newly confirmed defense secretary, James Mattis, and his homeland security secretary, John Kelly. Trump spoke briefly about his day with reporters. “It was busy, but good. It was a beautiful day,” he said. Vice President Mike Pence then swore in Mattis and Kelly in a separate ceremony. There were other signs of change in the Oval Office, which Obama vacated on Friday morning. Golden drapes hung where crimson ones had earlier in the day and new furniture dotted the room.
Soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, his administration undid one of Barack Obama’s last-minute economic-policy actions: a mortgage-fee cut under a government program that’s popular with first-time home buyers and low-income borrowers. The new administration on Friday said it’s canceling a reduction in the Federal Housing Administration’s annual fee for most borrowers. The cut would have reduced the annual premium for someone borrowing $200,000 by $500 in the first year. The reversal comes after Trump’s team criticized the Obama administration for adopting new policies as it prepared to leave office. In the waning days of the administration, the White House announced new Russia sanctions, a ban on drilling in parts of the Arctic and many other regulations.
Last week, Obama’s Housing and Urban Development secretary, Julian Castro, said the FHA would cut its fees. The administration didn’t consult Trump’s team before the announcement. Republicans have argued in the past that reductions put taxpayers at risk by lowering the funds the FHA has to deal with mortgage defaults. [..] A letter Friday from HUD to lenders and others in the real-estate industry said, “more analysis and research are deemed necessary to assess future adjustments while also considering potential market conditions in an ever-changing global economy that could impact our efforts.” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York took to the chamber’s floor to denounce the reversal. “It took only an hour after his positive words on the inaugural platform for his actions to ring hollow,” Schumer said. “One hour after talking about helping working people and ending the cabal in Washington that hurts people, he signs a regulation that makes it more expensive for new homeowners to buy mortgages.”
Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies for the libertarian Cato Institute, said it was appropriate for the administration to examine last-minute decisions by its predecessor, “especially when those decisions appear to be purely motivated by politics.” Ben Carson, Trump’s nominee to lead HUD, FHA’s parent agency, said at his confirmation hearing last week that he was disappointed the cut was announced in Obama’s final days in office. The FHA sells insurance to protect against defaults and doesn’t issue mortgages. It is a popular program among first-time home buyers because it allows borrowers to make a down payment of as low as 3.5% with a credit score of 580, on a scale of 300 to 850. The Obama administration announced last week it would cut the insurance premium by a quarter of a %age point to 0.60%, effective on Jan. 27.
Far-right populist leaders from Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands meet in the German city of Koblenz on Saturday to present their vision for “a free Europe” that would dismantle the European Union. Marine Le Pen, who is expected to make it into a May 7 second-round run-off for the French presidency, is due to speak at the meeting, along with Frauke Petry of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD). They will be joined by Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party (PVV) who was last month convicted of discrimination against Moroccans, and Matteo Salvini of the Northern League who wants to take Italy out of the euro. Emboldened by Britons’ vote last year to leave the European Union, the leaders are meeting under the slogan “Freedom for Europe” and aim to strengthen ties between their like-minded parties, whose nationalist tendencies have hampered close collaboration in the past.
“This gives us an opportunity to see how we stand with other European parties,” a spokeswoman for Salvini said. Le Pen told France’s Radio Classique that the meeting was proof that her party was not isolated. “It is therefore the revolution of the people that we are taking part in. It is obviously very important to show that the cooperative Europe we want to achieve (is reflected) in our cooperation,” she said. Several leading German media have been barred from the meeting, which is being organized by the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), the smallest group in the European Parliament, in a year when the parties are hoping for electoral breakthroughs. Populist anti-immigration parties are on the rise across Europe as high unemployment and austerity, the arrival of record numbers of refugees and militant attacks in France, Belgium and Germany feed voter disillusionment with traditional parties.
That didn’t take long. Earlier this week we reported that after 19 straight months of continued acceleration in home prices, China’s latest housing bubble may have finally burst (again) after December prices in the 70 cities tracked by the NBS, rose by 12.7%, below the 12.9% annual growth rate in the previous month – the first annual decline in nearly 2 years. Fast forward to Friday, when at least two major Chinese private providers of home price data stopped publishing the figures, just as the housing market is stating to cool off at a dramatic pace across all Tier cities. According to Reuters, the China Index Academy, a unit of U.S.-listed Fang Holdings, has stopped distributing monthly housing price index data for 100 cities that it usually issued at the start of the month. The academy said it had suspended distribution indefinitely, without giving a reason for the suspension.
“I don’t know who exactly is making the order, and it’s not mandatory,” said a source with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be identified as the topic is a sensitive one. Home price data from private providers tends to show sharper increases than official data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which publishes monthly and annual %age changes in 70 major cities. It also overextends on the downside, which according to official data, has now begun, and may explain the self-imposed censorship. Since last summer, in an attempt to cool the overheating housing market, China’s government had levied curbs on buying and ownership to rein in soaring prices and limit asset bubble risks. E-house China, another influential private real estate consultancy also indefinitely suspended its monthly housing price index for 288 cities.
“Judged by current conditions, we won’t publish it in the future,” said Cherilyn Tsui, a public relations officer at CRIC, the consultancy’s real estate research branch. “We stopped distributing prices data a few months ago. At first it was just no external distribution, but now even internally we don’t distribute any more,” she told Reuters. While Tsui said she did not know the reason for the halt, she added that data on sales volumes and inventories would still be published. “Housing prices are an extremely sensitive matter right now,” a second source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Perhaps the reason is that having created a massive bubble to the upside, Beijing is hoping to delay the descent in prices in order to attain a smooth landing at a time when China is already faced with record capital outflows, a plunging currency and all time high levels of debt.
In a rich, post-industrial society, where most people walk around with supercomputers in their pockets and a person can have virtually anything delivered to his or her doorstep overnight, it seems wrong that people who work should have to live in poverty. Yet in America, there are more than ten million members of the working poor: people in the workforce whose household income is below the poverty line. Looking around, it isn’t hard to understand why. The two most common occupations in the United States are retail salesperson and cashier. Eight million people have one of those two jobs, which typically pay about $9–$10 per hour. It’s hard to make ends meet on such meager wages. A few years ago, McDonald’s was embarrassed by the revelation that its internal help line was recommending that even a full-time restaurant employee apply for various forms of public assistance.
Poverty in the midst of plenty exists because many working people simply don’t make very much money. This is possible because the minimum wage that businesses must pay is low: only $7.25 per hour in the United States in 2016 (although it is higher in some states and cities). At that rate, a person working full-time for a whole year, with no vacations or holidays, earns about $15,000—which is below the poverty line for a family of two, let alone a family of four. A minimum-wage employee is poor enough to qualify for food stamps and, in most states, Medicaid. Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum is roughly the same as in the 1960s and 1970s, despite significant increases in average living standards over that period. The United States currently has the lowest minimum wage, as a proportion of its average wage, of any advanced economy, contributing to today’s soaring levels of inequality. At first glance, it seems that raising the minimum wage would be a good way to combat poverty.
The argument against increasing the minimum wage often relies on what I call “economism”—the misleading application of basic lessons from Economics 101 to real-world problems, creating the illusion of consensus and reducing a complex topic to a simple, open-and-shut case. According to economism, a pair of supply and demand curves proves that a minimum wage increases unemployment and hurts exactly the low-wage workers it is supposed to help. The argument goes like this: Low-skilled labor is bought and sold in a market, just like any good or service, and its price should be set by supply and demand. A minimum wage, however, upsets this happy equilibrium because it sets a price floor in the market for labor. If it is below the natural wage rate, then nothing changes. But if the minimum (say, $7.25 an hour) is above the natural wage (say, $6 per hour), it distorts the market. More people want jobs at $7.25 than at $6, but companies want to hire fewer employees. The result: more unemployment.
I could write a lot about this. For now let’s just say that the lack of virtually any discussion of energy shows just how poor a field economics is. One other thing: one must at least bring to the table that the 2nd law of thermodynamics contradicts the very term ‘sustainable’.
A common view of some is that the relationship between economics and the environment is that environmental considerations are “externalities” for economic systems. In other words, effects produced by economic activity in the environment result from a limited overlap between the economic “system” and the environment, such as the diagram shown (from Giddings, Hopewood and O’Brien): The diagram above is adopted by some to describe the fields of enivonmental economics and environmental science. EnviromentalScience.org describes their discipline: “Environmental economics is an area of economics dealing with the relationship between the economy and the environment. Environmental economists study the economics of natural resources from both sides – their extraction and use, and the waste products returned to the environment. They also study how economic incentives hurt or help the environment, and how they can be used to create sustainable policies and environmental solutions.”
This seems a resonable description. But the accompanying diagram indicates a lack of understanding of the scope of the field. Giddings, Hopewood and O’Brien point out the logical shortcomings of the traditional concept above, and suggest a more correct way of conceptualizing the relationships: “A more accurate presentation of the relationship between society, economy and environment than the usual three rings is of the economy nested within society, which in turn is nested within the environment (Figure 2). Placing the economy in the centre does not mean that it should be seen as the hub around which the other sectors and activities revolve. Rather it is a subset of the others and is dependent upon them. Human society depends on environment although in contrast the environment would continue without society (Lovelock, 1988). The economy depends on society and the environment although society for many people did and still does (although under siege) exist without the economy.”
The importance of recognizing that all of society is a subset of functions within the environment is that society cannot violate the proven physical laws of the physical world (actually universe, but we will return to that thought later). Likewise, the economy exists totally within society so economics must also obey the same physical laws. Steve Keen has argued that the forgotten parameter in economics is energy. Whereas economists develop models and theories based on labor and capital as the components of production, energy should also be explicitly defined as separate and co-variant with labor and capital. Keen argues that failure to do so has led economists to propose models and theories which violate the fundamental laws of our environment, the Laws of Thermodynamics.
In a night-long session, lawmakers voted in favor of a set of amendments presented by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which was founded by current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2003. The reform bill is designed to widen Erdogan’s powers, who presently only occupies a largely ceremonial role. The bill cleared the minimum parliamentary threshold necessary to put the measures to a national referendum for final approval, which could be held as early as in the spring. The vote took place with 488 lawmakers out of the 550-seat assembly in attendance. A total of 339 parliamentarians voted in favor of the motion and 142 against it, while five cast empty ballots and two of the votes were ruled out as invalid.
The measure required at least 330 votes to be approved and be put forward to a plebiscite. Some of the lawmakers not attending the vote were absent on account of remaining in detention; as part of a wide-ranging purge on dissidents Turkey has detained opposition HDP politicians, whom it accuses of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim celebrated the result saying “we are now entrusting this to the people, its actual owners. Now it’s the people’s word. It is the people’s decision.” Critics, however, say the amendments will weaken checks and balances in Turkey’s democracy, leading to too much power being consolidated in the office of the president.
The Turkish Republic is on the throes of a radical transformation, even regime change, as Parliament completed 2nd round of voting 18-article constitutional reform bill, which gives expanded powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a way that removes last vestiges of separation of powers. While the world watch inauguration ceremony of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, Turkish Parliament paved way for a referendum to significantly expand powers of Mr. Erdogan, the president’s long-held political ambition. The breathtaking speed of the first round vote was a clear-cut indication of a strong will on behalf of government and its ardent backer, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to quickly push through the controversial package.
The vote reflected the emergence of a new alignment in the Turkish political landscape, formation of an Islamist-nationalist front that harbor similar views on a number of political issues concerning the fate of the country. While the first round of voting was a scene of brawls among men, the 2nd round was women’s turn. The fighting among differing factions in Parliament reflected the deep divide the voting created in the society, with critics blasting the government for transforming the country’s regime from a parliamentary democracy into a the rule of a strongman. Aylin Nazliaka, an independent lawmaker, handcuffed herself to the rostrum to protest the voting, prompting a scuffle that hospitalized several female lawmakers. What constitutional bill brings to Turkey is at the core of ensuing debates amid ongoing emergency rule that rendered free discussion of the proposed changes in public sphere near impossible.
While dozens of national TV channels live aired Mr. Erdogan’s address to village administrators in the presidential palace a few days ago, almost no TV station broadcasted the parliamentary session where lawmakers squabbling over momentous decisions that have the power of shattering roots of the republic’s established system. A CHP lawmaker set his own “studio” in Parliament to bypass the censorship. For supporters of the bill, the shift to executive presidency long sought by President Erdogan will provide a bulwark against return to fragile coalition governments of the past. But for the critics of the proposal, it will cement Erdogan’s power and turn Turkey into a dictatorship with scrapping checks and balances, regarded as central pillars of any democratic system. Main opposition CHP says the new scheme will create one-man dictatorship.
The wealth of Greeks shrank by €167 billion during the years of the financial crisis – i.e. almost one year’s GDP – according to a survey by Credit Suisse included in the weekly bulletin of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV). The Swiss bank estimates the net wealth of Greeks – that is with their loans deducted – at €856 billion, against €1,023 billion in 2009, just before the country entered the bailout process.The data show that the net wealth per adult Greek inhabitant amounted to €114,000 in 2009, while in the rest of Europe it came to €93,000 per adult inhabitant. According to SEV, what puts Greece in a different category to the rest of Europe is the excessive borrowing.
SEV stresses that what is not obvious in the data on the fortune of Greek people and is not sufficiently presented is the huge deficits of the local social security system that will continue to absorb considerable resources in the future, putting a lid on the country’s growth unless tackled sufficiently. In practice, the older generations have not just borrowed from the savings of fellow Europeans, but also from the future savings of their children.
Sometimes you best fight fire with fire. This knowledge goes back to the advent of agriculture. Australian aboriginees have used it since as long as their stories of dream time can remember. For Native Americans it was an essential part of their lives. These days, we need Trump to fight the fire of an elite class world power that is a threat to all of us.
Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;
Threaten the threatener and outface the brow
Of bragging horror
Shapespeare: King John, 1595
Been greatly enjoying Donald Trump’s pair of interviews with the European press this weekend, in the shape of German scandal paper Bild’s chief, very-right Kai Diekmann, and disgraced Brexiteer Michael Gove for the Sunday Times. What a pair of choices, by the way, what’s next, a Russian interview conducted by Zhirinovsky?. Who picked those clowns? Let’s just hope it was the Trump campaign.
Enjoying it not in the least because Trump is right in just about everything he says. At least, as per what we at the Automatic Earth have been saying about some of the topics involved all along. And we’re not Trump fans, we just think the others are more wrong than he is, and that it’s high time to abolish the EU, and NATO, and sure, the CIA too.
Speaking of which: Chuck Shumer has made it all the way to Senate leader for the Democrats, right? And then he says about Trump’s criticism of US intel and the Steele ‘report’:
“Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you. For a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”
Want to take any of that back, Chuck? While you still can? Because, you know, threatening the president-elect with the might of the CIA, what does that say about your view of who actually rules the country, Charlie? That’s not a gaffe, that’s what would in America’s better days have been a career buster, buster. But your own rudderless party won’t call you on it, and Trump would love for you to keep your seat; one less worry. Still, c’mon, you just can’t say sh*t like that. It’s beyond any pale. Or, you know, it once was.
What did Trump get right? Here’s what. First, NATO should not exist anymore, since as we’ve said 1000 times, and Ron Paul said 10 times more, it’s merely a hammer looking for a nail, having turned for the purpose, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, from a defensive collaboration into the planet’s worst aggressor. The 1000s of additional US troops gathered at or close to the Russian border recently are more than plenty evidence of that.
Trump wants far fewer nukes on the planet, and proposes to negotiate a deal with Russia to achieve that goal. Ergo, 30 years after Reagan met Gorbachev in Reykjavik to accomplish just that, Trump must meet Putin in that same spot to do it all over again?! That’s the legacy of NATO. It would be mighty symbolic, though we might want to remember the 1972 Spasski-Bobby Fisher chess ‘world cup’ there, and the American’s paranoia at the time. Not a good example. But they’ll meet someplace, for sure.
Second, Trump likes Brexit. So do we. Beautiful Brexit. Because it is a preliminary step towards the dissolution of the EU, which, as Trump very correctly remarks, has degenerated into a “vehicle for Germany” to compete with the US as a global trading force.
And of course Germany would deny this. After all, didn’t the notorious FinMin Schäuble say -again- just a few days ago that Europe’s problem is not Germany’s surplus, but the weakness of other nations? This week, German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer added:“For the German government, Europe has never been a means to an end, but a community of fate which, in times of collapsing old orders, is more important than ever.” A community of ‘fate’? An ‘old order’ vs a ‘new order’? Are we taking notes?
Anyway, this is cheap quatsch as long as a huge part of Germany’s surplus comes from its trade with co-EU nations. Because in that scenario, there’s only so much surplus to go around, and the rest will all of necessity run deficits. If that is hard to understand, let’s dive up these stats again, and close that discussion once and for all:
The EU very much IS a vehicle for Germany, and it eats people alive. That has nothing to do with Germany taking in immigrants, it has to do with economic and power policies, with the destruction of Greece and Italy. The structure of the EU makes it possible, inevitable even, that the strongest partner forces all the others to do its will. That really is all you need to know about why the EU is doomed to failure. All the rest is just about describing the process of how that failure unfolds.
Setting and keeping the euro at a rate that is beneficial to Germany condemns poorer EU nations to ever deeper poverty. That’s what those numbers say. And if anyone thinks Schäuble is not aware of either the numbers or the principle itself, get help. Merkel and Schäuble have been elected to represent Germans, but then they wind up making decisions for 400 million other people, who are the victims of the very policies that benefit Germany. There’s nothing difficult about it.
‘Community of Fate’.. Let’s just hope something was lost in translation there. Point is, Trump is right on the money, and he’s about the first person to put it as simply and poignantly as that. The EU is a vehicle for trade domination. It’s a means for Germany and Holland to acquire access to a huge market for their products, free of just about any trade restrictions. Promoted with the flogged dead horse of the ‘tide that lifts all boats’. It does no such thing.
Other than times of open warfare, for countries like Greece and Italy the EU is the worst thing that ever happened to them in a long time. Brussels stands for economic warfare labeled as a unifying force for peace. It’s a blatant lie wrapped in sheep’s clothing. And of course more nations will want to get out, they’d be crazy not to.
Which is what’s so painfully missing from all the Brexit talk in the UK: everyone goes with the idea that the EU will continue to exist as is, just without Britain. The chance of others leaving, and the effect that will have on the ‘Union’, is never discussed. Though it might put the exit from it in a whole different light, politically and especially economically.
Responding to Trump’s comments that Merkel had made an “utterly catastrophic mistake by letting all these illegals into the country”, Gabriel said the increase in the number of people fleeing the Middle East to seek asylum in Europe had partially been a result of US-led wars destabilising the region.
Slamming US foreign policy – and thus the Obama regime, not to mention Angela Merkel’s close friend Hillary Clinton – as a culprit for the European refugee crisis, Gabriel said that “there is a link between America’s flawed interventionist policy, especially the Iraq war, and the refugee crisis, that’s why my advice would be that we shouldn’t tell each other what we have done right or wrong, but that we look into establishing peace in that region and do everything to make sure people can find a home there again,” Gabriel said.
First, if you are against America’s deeply flawed and ‘deeply deadly’ regime change policies of the last few decades, as Gabriel pretends to be, you should be pro-Trump, because the man who will be the next US president a little over 50 hours from now is not only of the same opinion, he will be in a position to do something about it. And while you’re at it, why not tell us of all the heroics Merkel has performed over the past decade of her reign, to make it stop?
And do yourself one better: describe in detail the role your EU partners France and Britain have played in these failures. In which untold trillions were spent and untold millions of lives lost, but in which the arms industries of these nations, and certainly Germany’s too, have made mind-boggling profits. Once you’ve done all that, Mr. Gabriel, feel free to criticize the 45th president of the United States.
“In that area Germany and Europe are already making enormous achievements – and that’s why I also thought it wasn’t right to talk about defence spending, where Mr Trump says we are spending too little to finance Nato. We are making gigantic financial contributions to refugee shelters in the region, and these are also the results of US interventionist policy.” Gabriel, who will likely run as the centre-left candidate against Merkel in Germany’s federal elections in September, said Trump’s election should encourage Europeans to stand up for themselves.
Here is where Gabriel’s foot enters his mouth:
“On the one hand, Trump is an elected president. When he is in office, we will have to work with him and his government – respect for a democratic election alone demands that,” Gabriel said. “On the other hand, you need to have enough self-confidence. This isn’t about making ourselves submissive.
What he says about trade issues, how he might treat German carmakers, the question about Nato, his view on the European Union – all these require a self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans. We are not inferior to him, we have something to bring to the table too. “Especially in this phase in which Europe is rather weak, we will have to pull ourselves together and act with self-confidence and stand up for our own interests.”
If that is your idea of exuding confidence, of being and/or appearing strong, Trump will have you for breakfast. “in this phase in which Europe is rather weak, we will have to pull ourselves together”, “you need to have enough self-confidence. This isn’t about making ourselves submissive.” Or how about some genuine pouting: “We are not inferior to him, we have something to bring to the table too.”
No, Mr. Gabriel is not the horse you want to place your bets on. He’s a left wing leader sitting in a government with right wing Merkel, in the kind of flawed consensus model that haunts both the EU and its member states, leaving large groups of people without anyone addressing their issues. This is where ‘populists’ are born. In the US, it gave us Trump.
Gabriel is just one of many who are all wedded to the broken Obama/Merkel/Hillary ideal, financed by a deep state class that profits greatly from the fake notion that what is good for the rich is also good for the poor. Should have given them bread and circuses, guys.
2016 brought a lot of changes, or rather, brought them to light. In reality, the world has been changing for many years, but many prominent actors benefitted from the changes remaining hidden. Simply because their wealth and power and worldviews are better served that way.
It’s entirely unclear whether we will ever get a chance to see to what extent the efforts to hide developments have been successful, or even been perpetrated at all, because we don’t know to what extent truth and reality will be accessible in the future.
What we can say at this point in time is that the changes 2016 delivered were urgently needed. There are many people out there who just want to turn back the clock, and change everything back to how it was, but they can’t, and that’s a good thing, because the way things were was hurting too many people.
2016 will go down in history as the year when a big divide between groups of people in the western world became visible, a divide that had until then been papered over by real or imaginary wealth, as well as by ignorance and denial.
When politics and media conspire to paint for the public a picture of their choosing, they can be very successful, especially if that picture is what people very much wish to see, true or not. But as we’ve seen recently, our traditional media have become completely useless when it comes to reporting news; the vast majority have switched to reporting their own opinions and pretending that is news.
On the one hand, there is a segment of society that either has noticed no changes, or is so desperate to hold on to what they have left, that they resist seeing them. On the other hand, there are those who feel left behind by that first group, and by the idea that the world that is still functioning and even doing well.
The first group has been captivated by, and believed in, the incessantly promoted message of recovery from an economic, financial and gradually also political crisis. The second see in their lives and that of their friends and neighbors that this recovery is an illusion.
It’s like the old saying goes: you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. And that’s why you have Brexit and Trump and why you’re going to have much more of that, certainly across Europe. Things are not going well, and there is no recovery, for a large enough percentage of people that their votes and voices now swing the debates and elections.
It’s not even complicated. This week there was a report from Elevate’s Center for the New Middle Class that concluded that half of Americans, 160 million people, can’t afford to have a broken arm treated (at $1,400). And sure, you can say that perhaps that number is a bit too high, but there have been many such reports, that for instance say the majority of Americans have less than $1000 in savings, and can’t even afford a car repair.
In Britain numbers are not much different. Over the past decade, the country has been very busy creating an entire new underclass. If your economy is not doing well, and your answer to that is budget cuts and austerity, it’s inevitable that this happens, that you create some kind of two-tier or three-tier society. And then come election time, you run the risk of losing.
Both Britain and the US boast low unemployment numbers, but as soon as you lift the veil, what you see is low participation rates, low wages and huge numbers of part-time jobs stripped of all the benefits a job used to guarantee. It allows those who still sit pretty to continue doing that, but it’ll come right back to haunt you if you don’t turn it around, and fast enough.
For many people, Obama, Merkel, Cameron and the EU cabal have been disasters. For too many, as we now know. That doesn’t mean that Trump will fix the economic problems, but that’s not the issue. People have voted for anything but more of the same. Which in Britain they’re not even getting either, so expect more mayhem there.
In most places, some variety of right wing alternative is the only option available that is far enough removed from ‘more of the same’. Moreover, many if not most incumbent parties are in a deep identity crisis. Trump did away with the Republicans AND the Democrats, and they had better understand why that is, or they’ll be wholly irrelevant soon.
In Britain, the most important votes in many decades was lost by the Tories, who subsequently performed a musical chairs act and stayed in power. You lost! Losers are not supposed to stay in power! But the other guys are all too busy infighting to notice.
That identity crisis, by the way, is not a new thing. If you look across the western political spectrum, there are all these left wing and right wing parties happily working together, either in coalition governments or through other ‘productive’ forms of cooperation. So who are people going to vote for when they’re unhappy with what they’ve got? Where is that ‘change’ that they want? Not on the traditional left or right.
So you get Podemos and M5S and Trump and UKIP and Le Pen. It’s not their fault, or the voters’ fault, it’s the political establishment that has tricked itself into believing in the same illusion it’s been promoting to voters.
And yes, they have now proven that it’s possible to stave off, for a number of years, a deeper crisis, depression, by borrowing and printing ‘money’. Especially if you can at the same time hit the poorest in your society with impunity.
But in the end no amount of fake or false news on the economic front will allow you to continue the facade for too long, because people know when they can’t afford things anymore. The evidence here is somewhat more direct than with regards to political fake news, though they may well both follow the same pattern of ‘discovery’.
Our societies are still run as if there is no real crisis, as if it’s all just a temporary glitch, as if the incumbent models function just fine, and as if recovery is just around the corner. And we can make it look as if that is true, but only for an ever smaller amount of time, and for an ever smaller amount of people.
The basic issue here is not a political one. It’s economic. Our economic systems have failed, and they can’t be repaired. We should always have realized that no growth is forever, but at least we now know. Or could know, it’ll take a while to sink in.
Next up is a redo and revamp of those economic systems, but that is not going to be easy, and may not get done at all. The resistance may be too strong, warfare -economic or physical- may seem like a way out, there are many unknowns. We could, ironically, get quite far in that redo if we simply cut all the waste for our economic processes, but then again, that would have us find out that much of the system runs entirely on wasting stuff, and wasting less kills the system.
However that may be, and however it may turn out, this is where we find ourselves. Protesting Trump and Brexit is inevitable, but it doesn’t address any core issues. From a purely economic point of view, Obama failed spectacularly, as did David Cameron, as does Angela Merkel. And as do, we will find out in 2017, many other incumbent ‘leaders’.
Their successors, whatever political colors they may come from, will all come to power promising, and subsequently attempting, to restart growth. Which is no longer feasible across an entire country, or even if it were, it would mean squeezing other countries. With corresponding risks.
Trump and Brexit are necessary, perhaps even long overdue, in order to break the illusion that things could go on as they were. But they are not solutions. America needs a big wake-up. Trump looks likely to deliver one. That is needed for the rest of the country to wake from its slumber. Ask yourself: are you going to get weaker from dealing with a Trump presidency? Maybe not the best question, or at least not before having asked: do you know how weak you are right now?
For Britain to leave the EU is a great first step. As I’ve said many times, centralization is not an option without growth. And Brussels has shown us quite a few of the worst consequences of centralization. Nobody should want to be a part of that.
Summarized: for most people, 2017 will be the year of the inability to understand where their favorite worldview flew off the rails. Change can be a bitch. But change is needed to keep life alive.