Aug 032019
 


Dorothea Lange Migrant Father June 1938

 

Russian Assets In America: A Field Guide (RT)
Majority of House Democrats Favor Starting Impeachment Proceedings (R.)
The Rise and Fall of Superhero Robert Mueller (Matt Taibbi)
Obama Looms over the Primary in Invisible Ways (TPM)
Race Hustle (Jim Kunstler)
Tory Rebels Threaten Boris Johnson After Majority Cut To One (G.)
Watch Out Boris Johnson the Chickens are Coming Home to Roost (English)
Pentagon Testing Mass Surveillance Balloons Across The US (G.)
What Would Chinese Military Intervention In Hong Kong Look Like? (ZH)
First Human-Monkey Chimera Raises Concern Among Scientists (G.)

 

 

Russiagate intensifies.

Honorable mentions: Trump, hamburgers, Washington Post.

Russian Assets In America: A Field Guide (RT)

If the mainstream media is to be believed, the Kremlin’s network of hackers and bots could give the Illuminati a run for its money. When its operatives aren’t electing British prime ministers, embarrassing American politicians on debate night and flogging dildos to undermine democracy, they’re overseeing a team of assets earning their borscht openly in the United States. Thankfully, the intrepid detectives in the American press have named and shamed these double agents. We’ve compiled a list here.


Mitch McConnell, alias: Moscow Mitch McTreason

Cleverly posing as a Republican Senator from Kentucky since 1985, Mitch McConnell was outed as a Russian asset by the Washington Post last week when he shot down a trio of bills that would have supposedly beefed up American election security from foreign interference. Never mind that McConnell opposed the bills based almost entirely on partisan disagreements with the Democrats, the Post exclaimed “Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset,” and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough dubbed the southern Republican “Moscow Mitch.” With his nefarious plan exposed, #MoscowMitchMcTreason had no choice but to shrug, and continue about his day.


Lindsey Graham, alias: Leningrad Lindsey

#LeningradLindsey began trending after the South Carolina lawmaker helped push a controversial asylum bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Though the bill had nothing to do with Russia, the nickname stuck. Cleverly, Leningrad Lindsey has spent his career on Capitol Hill posing as a Russia-baiter. Graham has repeatedly called for Russia to “pay a price” for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and co-sponsored an anti-Russia “sanctions bill from hell.” With a record like that, nobody would suspect that he was secretly a Russian asset all along. Note too that Leningrad does not exist any more. Perhaps Graham’s treachery dates back to the communist era? Either that or Letnerechenskiy Lindsey didn’t have the same ring to it.

Read more …

I can’t seem to figure out on what specific grounds though.

Majority of House Democrats Favor Starting Impeachment Proceedings (R.)

A majority of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives now favor launching impeachment proceedings against Republican President Donald Trump, after a California lawmaker on Friday became the 118th Democrat to call for the process to begin. “In the past few years, our nation has seen and heard things from this president that have no place in our democracy,” Representative Salud Carbajal said in a statement that accused Trump of “criminal” behavior. “I believe it is time to open an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump,” Carbajal said. The Democrats have a majority of 235 members in the House of Representatives. Support for an impeachment inquiry has jumped by more than two dozen Democrats since former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified on July 24 about his probe of Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But the total of 118 is still far short of the 218 House votes needed to approve an impeachment resolution, and opinion polls continue to show voters sharply divided over the issue. The House is currently on a summer recess and will not return until Sept. 9. Having a majority of her own caucus favor impeachment could put new pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who opposes impeachment as a politically risky move unless investigators find powerful evidence of misconduct by Trump that can unify public opinion. In a statement issued Friday, Pelosi gave no sign she was about to change her cautious approach. Instead, she outlined in considerable detail her strategy of Democrats continuing to investigate the president, while also moving in court to get access to more evidence.

“Democrats in the Congress continue to legislate, investigate and litigate,” Pelosi declared. “The president will be held accountable.” Democrats opposing impeachment say the best way to remove Trump is by defeating him in 2020, when he is up for re-election. Some Democrats worry that too strong a focus on impeachment could eclipse other issues like healthcare and threaten the re-election of Democrats who pried seats away from Republicans last year in regions where many voters oppose impeachment. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and says he was vindicated by the Mueller report, but the special counsel made clear in his testimony to Congress that that was not the case.

In his report, Mueller described in detail the extensive contact Trump’s team had with Russia during the 2016 election campaign, and how Trump tried to impede Mueller’s investigation. While he stopped short of concluding Trump had committed a crime or that his aides had conspired with Moscow, Mueller did not clear him and indicated it was up to Congress to decide the next steps. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee effectively rebranded their six-month-old oversight investigation of Trump as an impeachment probe last week, when they asked a federal judge for access to Mueller’s grand jury evidence to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump.

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More impeachment nonsense.

The Rise and Fall of Superhero Robert Mueller (Matt Taibbi)

The conspiracy tale has validated every Trump criticism about both crooked media and the deep state. The whole narrative is the brainchild of Clinton hacks, a handful of overzealous intelligence nuts, and a subset of the Democratic Party’s weakest elected minds, in particular murine ex-prosecutor Schiff, a man who should be selling Buicks back in his hometown Burbank. Take a good look at Schiff, at our paranoid outpatient of an ex-CIA chief John Brennan, and at excuse-making Clinton campaign chief Robby Mook (a.k.a. the captain of the Democratic Titanic), and ask if you really want to be re-writing history for those people. They’re making the press accomplices in the most imbecilic effort at political opposition in recent American history.

Hence the desperate public comments and the string of wacked-out stunts, like putting Mueller under oath. Impeachment will be the next adventure in doubling down blind. A significant portion of the original conspiracy theory vanished via a series of under-circulated news reports just in the months since the end of the Mueller probe. Remember the Southern District of New York campaign finance probe that arose in connection with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, the one described as a “major danger” to Trump? Remember all that talk about how “Trump can’t run the Mueller playbook on the New York feds?” Experts told us that the Cohen probe posed a “significant threat” of new indictments for Trump and his family.

When that investigation closed with no new charges the same week Mueller testified, the commentariat barely noticed. Same with the Democrats v. Earth lawsuit/publicity stunt, in which the Democratic National Committee sued Trump, the Russian government, and Wikileaks under a RICO claim. Plaintiffs charged the Trump campaign conspired to steal and release DNC emails. But a federal judge tossed the suit on the grounds that the Trump campaign “did not participate in the theft.” Moreover, the Clinton-appointed judge said published documents were “of public concern” and therefore protected like any other journalistic work product. The judge also ruled that allegations about all the non-Russian defendants (including Wikileaks) were “insufficient to hold them liable” for any illegality involved in obtaining DNC emails.

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More superheroes.

Obama Looms over the Primary in Invisible Ways (TPM)

When Bernie Sanders got into the race in 2016 in many ways his campaign was premised on the idea that Obama had gotten most things wrong. Perhaps his presidency wasn’t a disaster, as my friend argues. But the premises of Sanders’ campaign was that Democrats needed to move in a dramatically different direction and that Obama’s policies and presidency were – while better than the GOP alternative – fundamentally misguided. Sanders was pretty straightforward about this before getting into the race. And he didn’t really hide it once he got in. But in the nature of things, since Obama was a popular incumbent, it wasn’t a point he emphasized during his campaign.

We also know that the entire country has moved left on a number of issues over the last decade (LGBTQ issues and marijuana legalization are just two examples). Democrats, meanwhile, have moved significantly to the left on a much broader range of issues. Some of this is an on-going trend. Some of it is in reaction to Trump, having his extremity lead to a reevaluation of practices that most Democrats didn’t focus much on. Maybe the best example of this is on immigration. As immigration advocates were saying very clearly at the time, the Obama administration deported lots and lots of people. It’s hard to see that in quite the same light after what we’ve all been exposed to about the mechanics of ICE, detention, deportation and everything that goes with it.

But with all of this, there’s a shift that has taken place that manages to be both all but invisible and yet very obvious. Part of it is Sanders deep imprint on the 2020 policy conversation – especially on health care and student debt but on other issues as well. Part of it is the wave of left activism that predates Trump but has intensified under his presidency. But taken together they’ve created a 2020 campaign policy conversation which at least implicitly gives a pretty negative verdict on Obama and his presidency. Perhaps not a disaster as my friend puts it but in many regards a mistake rather than something to build on. That, I think, is the root of Biden’s continuing strength, even with all the bobbles, flubs, the archaic policy histories and all the rest. It’s not just because he was Obama’s Vice President and people like Obama. It’s because the terms of the policy debate are in conflict – when forced together – with where the great majority of Democrats are, which is holding Obama and his presidency in very high regard.

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“Maybe the Democratic Party should move out of the ghetto it’s built for itself.”

Race Hustle (Jim Kunstler)

The shriekings of “racism” aren’t helping much anymore. Few observers have missed the fact that the city of Baltimore has been run by an African American city hall (Mayor, Police Chief, District Attorney) for many years, with over a billion dollars in additional federal assistance. So, if political power is the answer, how’s that working out? Add some extra shrieking about “white privilege” to explain the situation? How does “white privilege” explain the fact that 86 percent of kids in Baltimore primary schools can’t read and 89 percent can’t do arithmetic to grade level? This, despite the fact that at $15,564 per pupil, Baltimore is fourth highest per student of the 100 largest school districts in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Maybe becoming the party of a national race hustle isn’t such a good idea. The race hustle is wearing out its welcome in American politics, and the more the Democratic Party resorts to race hustling as its chief strategy, the sooner the party will go extinct. That is, if it doesn’t incite some kind of civil war first. Cue the cry, “That’s racist!”

Maybe there is a whole range of human values and human behaviors that have nothing to do with race — like reading to small children and helping them learn the English language so they don’t grow into adults who have to say “know what I mean?” every other sentence because they’ve barely acquired enough language skill themselves to know what they mean. Maybe there’s something called an American common culture that contains values and behaviors worth emulating rather than opposing. Maybe “multiculturalism” wasn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe ghetto culture is not such a precious foundation for a successful life. Maybe the Democratic Party should move out of the ghetto it’s built for itself.

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‘Even if my career is over, I can’t put my name to this.’

Tory Rebels Threaten Boris Johnson After Majority Cut To One (G.)

Boris Johnson faced a grave threat to his control of parliament on Friday as he was warned that Conservative rebels could cross the House of Commons to foil Brexit in the aftermath of a byelection that reduced his working majority to just one MP. Overnight, the Liberal Democrats’ Jane Dodds won a crucial byelection in Brecon and Radnorshire by a margin of 1,425, overturning the Tories’ previous majority of more than 8,000. The result prompted immediate recriminations across the party. Conservative no-deal sceptics warned about the rapidly growing threat the government could face from the reinvigorated Lib Dems, while insiders blamed Theresa May’s administration for choosing a candidate who had already been ousted for expenses fraud.

One of the most prominent Conservative supporters of a second referendum told the Guardian on Friday he was actively considering defecting to the Lib Dems or sitting as an independent, a move that would leave Johnson at the helm of a minority government. Dr Phillip Lee, the former justice minister, who first suggested he could quit the party in his own podcast, On the House, told the Guardian he was not alone among colleagues considering defecting or resigning if the government pursued no deal. “I have things to think about over the summer, but it is not just me,” he said.

“There are a number of colleagues who are spending the summer reflecting on what is the right way for them to confront this no-deal scenario. Of course, it is difficult for all of us because we joined the Conservative party, but it has morphed into something a lot different to what I joined in 1992.” Although Johnson might be able to rely on Labour Brexiters and independents to vote for a deal, Lee suggested that the government could still be threatened by the many Conservatives in the party’s centre who had been alienated by the number of rightwingers in Johnson’s cabinet. “At the moment Boris Johnson has a very difficult pitch to play and that has been made even harder by the formation of this cabinet,” he said. “There are increasingly people who think, ‘Even if my career is over, I can’t put my name to this.’

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“[..] the pound has plummeted since his appointment. It is currently the second worst performing currency in the world – after the Madagascan Ariary.”

Watch Out Boris Johnson the Chickens are Coming Home to Roost (English)

[..] a week is a long time in politics and Prime Minister Johnson quickly ran out of hot air. Just saying stuff will happen does not make stuff happen. You can’t strike a better deal if you refuse point blank to meet your opposite numbers. You see, incredibly, instead of setting up meetings with his fellow heads of state and selling his Brexit vision, Johnson has declared that he won’t meet Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron or any of the EU heads unless they scrap the backstop. This is the same ludicrous negotiating tactic he deployed when as Mayor of London he refused to engage with London Underground union reps. It didn’t work then and led to long strikes. It’s even less likely to work now – and the end result will be far more damaging.

Johnson is all about image and image management. His team has already set to work on a £100 million taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign – the biggest of its kind since World War Two – to convince the British people that a ‘no deal’ Brexit will be fine and, failing that, it will be everyone else’s fault. Every single reputable economist disagrees. And so do the markets, which is why the pound has plummeted since his appointment. It is currently the second worst performing currency in the world – after the Madagascan Ariary.

Some Brexit cultists argue that a weak currency is good for the economy. They’re wrong. Unless you’re a hedge fund manager or a holiday lettings firm in Cornwall, a weak pound is a disaster. It’s bad for consumers and calamitous for manufacturers relying on tight margins and supply chains. It’s awful for pensioners, holiday-makers or anyone who has an interest in the British economy functioning. A falling currency is like a failing heart. If it were otherwise, then Madagascar would be the economic powerhouse of the global economy and Italy would have been the envy of the world in the Berlusconi years.

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Freedom’s just another word for nothing.

Pentagon Testing Mass Surveillance Balloons Across The US (G.)

The US military is conducting wide-area surveillance tests across six midwest states using experimental high-altitude balloons, documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reveal. Up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are being launched from rural South Dakota and drifting 250 miles through an area spanning portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, before concluding in central Illinois. Travelling in the stratosphere at altitudes of up to 65,000ft, the balloons are intended to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats”, according to a filing made on behalf of the Sierra Nevada Corporation, an aerospace and defence company.


The balloons are carrying hi-tech radars designed to simultaneously track many individual vehicles day or night, through any kind of weather. The tests, which have not previously been reported, received an FCC license to operate from mid-July until September, following similar flights licensed last year. Arthur Holland Michel, the co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York, said, “What this new technology proposes is to watch everything at once. Sometimes it’s referred to as ‘combat TiVo’ because when an event happens somewhere in the surveilled area, you can potentially rewind the tape to see exactly what occurred, and rewind even further to see who was involved and where they came from.”

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“even smaller-scale intervention could spark a knee-jerk exodus from the city’s financial markets..”

What Would Chinese Military Intervention In Hong Kong Look Like? (ZH)

According to a new lengthy Bloomberg exploration outlining the possibilities that China’s military could intervene against the now eight weeks-long increasingly violent protests that have gripped Hong Kong streets, a central question now on everyone’s mind is, What will the Chinese military do? Reports began appearing late last week of a Chinese security forces build-up just outside the semi-autonomous city, setting nerves on edge, and this week the chief of the Chinese military garrison in Hong Kong warned that the army stands ready to “protect” Chinese sovereignty. And then there was also the extremely provocative just released “riot control” video, showing People’s Liberation Army (PLA) solders conducing a drill to invade a city in an imagined armed crackdown on protesters and unrest.


The Bloomberg report begins by noting that though Chinese army occupation of Hong Kong remains unlikely, it remains that “even smaller-scale intervention could spark a knee-jerk exodus from the city’s financial markets, drag down property prices and prompt international companies to reconsider their presence in the territory, analysts say.” The major financial hub could suffer “irreparable damage” by such an exodus, along with severely weakening the “one country, two systems” concept in effect since 1997. Chinese military officials, and especially state media have begun floating the argument for “military options” and intervention. Officials also recently described the US as a “black hand” behind the anti-Beijing protests – which began over a proposed extradition bill – something which the US state department dismissed as “ridiculous”.

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And all the sinners saints.

First Human-Monkey Chimera Raises Concern Among Scientists (G.)

Efforts to create human-animal chimeras have rebooted an ethical debate after reports emerged that scientists have produced monkey embryos containing human cells. A chimera is an organism whose cells come from two or more “individuals”, with recent work looking at combinations from different species. The word comes from a beast from Greek mythology which was said to be part lion, part goat and part snake. The latest report, published in the Spanish newspaper El País, claims a team of researchers led by Prof Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte from the Salk Institute in the US have produced monkey-human chimeras. The research was conducted in China “to avoid legal issues”, according to the report.

Chimeras are seen as a potential way to address the lack of organs for transplantation, as well as problems of organ rejection. Scientists believe organs genetically matched to a particular human recipient could one day be grown inside animals. The approach is based on taking cells from an adult human and reprogramming them to become stem cells, which can give rise to any type of cell in the body. They are then introduced into the embryo of another species. Izpisúa Belmonte and other scientists have previously managed to produce both pig embryos and sheep embryos which contain human cells, although the proportions are tiny: in the latter case, researchers estimate that only one cell in 10,000 was human.

Pig-human and sheep-human chimeras are attractive in part because pigs and sheep have organs about the right size for transplantation into humans. However Alejandro De Los Angeles, from the department of psychiatry at Yale University, said it was likely monkey-human chimeras were being developed to explore how to improve the proportion of human cells in such organisms. “Making human-monkey chimeras could teach us how to make human-pig chimeras with the hope of making organs for transplantation,” he said. “It could teach us which types of stem cells we should be using, or other ways of enhancing what’s called ‘human chimerism levels’ inside pigs.”

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 112019
 


Pierre-Auguste Renoir Riding in the Bois de Boulogne (Madame Henriette Darras or The Ride) 1873

 

Labour Without Energy Is A Corpse; Capital Without Energy Is A Sculpture (Keen)
Traditional Economics Has Absolutely Screwed Us (Tyee)
House Dems To Bundle Numerous Contempt Citations For Trump Advisers (R.)
House Democrat Subpoenas Six Years Of Trump Tax Returns (AP)
FISA Applications Were Illegally Obtained – DiGenova (PJ)
William Barr vs. Eric Holder: A Tale of Two Attorneys General (McConnell)
Fugees Founder, Banker Charged In 1MDB, Obama Campaign Scandal (RT)
Crisis? What Crisis? (Jim Kunstler)
Manning Could Delay US Superseding Indictment Against Assange (Sp.)
Dutch Court Blocks Extradition Of Man To ‘Inhumane’ UK Prisons (G.)
Varoufakis On Eurozone: ‘We Created A Monster’ (Exp.)
70 Migrants Dead After Boat Capsizes Trying To Reach Europe From Libya (G.)
Nearly All Countries Agree To Stem Flow Of Plastic Waste Into Poor Nations (G.)

 

 

First saw this a few days ago, and it slipped from my radar. Now, Steve Keen announced that he got a grant for his work with Tim Garrett and Matheus Grasselli on “developing models of production in which energy plays [a role] in production (and, necessarily, in climate degradation)”. Yes, you read that right: in 2019, economists need to begin the study the role of energy in an economic system, because it’s always been ignored. What a crazy field that is.

Labour Without Energy Is A Corpse; Capital Without Energy Is A Sculpture (Keen)

With the simple insight that “labour without energy is a corpse, and capital without energy is a sculpture”, I realised why economists have failed to properly incorporate the role of energy in production for so long. All previous attempts had treated energy as a third “factor of production”, on an equal footing with Labour and Capital. But that treatment is simply unrealistic. Adding energy on its own to a production process is like letting off a bomb in a factory: it will produce mayhem, not output. Equally, both Labour and Capital are “sterile”, to use the old Physiocratic term: without energy, they can’t produce anything.


Figure 1: The incorrect way to show energy as a factor of production

The correct way to incorporate energy into economic models of production, therefore, is to see energy as an input to both Labour and Capital (in vastly different forms, of course), which enable them to perform useful work. By the Second Law of Thermodynamics, this useful work necessarily results in disorder (waste energy, mainly in the form of waste matter, including CO2). Also by the Second Law, entropy increases globally, even though it can be reduced locally by the application of energy; so the increase in disorder in the waste from production necessarily exceeds the reduction in disorder manifest in output itself (raw materials turned into finished products).


Figure 2: The correct way: Energy as an input to labour and capital, output as necessarily generating waste

This useful work is what we call GDP, though we currently erroneously measure this as the inflation-adjusted sum of all monetary output—which means we add the cost of traffic accidents to GDP. Instead, the true measure of GDP is the sum of all the useful things we produce and consume: in transportation, that is moving a mass from one location to another in a given time, and traffic accidents (and congestion) subtract from it.

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Palm oil or orangutans? For economists, an easy choice.

Traditional Economics Has Absolutely Screwed Us (Tyee)

Capitalism is killing the planet. That is the gist of an exhaustive United Nations report on the bleak state of the world’s biodiversity. One million species face extinction in what has been aptly called a global murder-suicide, driven by a race to commodify ecosystems and externalize the costs of their destruction. If you were looking for a perky read to start your week, this report was not it. However, the collective efforts of 350 leading experts from 51 countries have resulted in the definitive wake-up call for those still doubting the dire consequences of business-as-usual on our one and only planet. A Noah’s ark of iconic species seems bound for oblivion due to our growing collective consumption and population.

Will your children be able to enjoy a world with wild elephants, orcas, or blue whales? Sixty per cent of primate species are threatened with extinction. The taste of a tuna sandwich may soon be consigned to lore. All of this has been happening in plain view but only recently has this become economically relevant by cutting into the bottom line. Up to $577 billion in global crop production is at risk due to collapsing populations of pollinating insects. One-third of commercial fish stocks are in steep decline with another 60 per cent being fully exploited, leaving only seven per cent of the world’s fisheries under safe management. This is exacerbated by regulatory failure where landings may be 50 per cent higher than reported, and illegal fishing accounts for up to one-third of the global catch.

Expanding agriculture is one of the main drivers of exploding extinction rates. Between 1980 and 2000, about 100 million hectares of tropical forests — roughly the area of France and Germany combined — were converted for grazing, monoculture plantations like palm oil, or short-term subsistence farming. Desperate humans and multinational companies both encroach on remaining rainforests, seeing only as far as the next growing season or financial quarter. Why does economics prioritize palm oil over orangutans? Because palm plantations are profitable, producing almost five times the oil yield per hectare of sunflowers, coconut or soybeans. Consumers too unintentionally contribute to this destruction, driving a market for a ubiquitous ingredient found in everything from lipstick to ice cream.

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McGahn, Barr, Mueller, Mnuchin, are these all the same?

House Dems To Bundle Numerous Contempt Citations For Trump Advisers (R.)

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said lawmakers may bundle numerous contempt citations from different committees into a single resolution that the full House of Representatives could then vote on. “There obviously are going to have to be, perhaps from our committee and certainly from other committees, other contempt citations to enforce subpoenas,” Nadler told reporters. Asked about bundling citations together, the New York Democrat replied: “It’s a great idea. In fact, I suggested it … It just makes sense, to spend as little floor time as possible, to group them together.”


A consolidated contempt vote is among options Democrats are considering in response to Trump’s stonewalling of congressional investigations into his presidency and business investments. Another option is reviving Congress’s “inherent” contempt authority. Some Democrats say that would allow lawmakers to fine uncooperative officials up to $25,000 per day. Some Democrats are also calling for impeachment proceedings against recalcitrant Trump Cabinet members. Nadler said Congress faces “the unprecedented situation in which the administration is essentially stonewalling all subpoenas – we’ve never had this before in American history, so far as I know.”

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They lost two years on the Russia collusion story. Doesn’t look so smart now, does it?

House Democrat Subpoenas Six Years Of Trump Tax Returns (AP)

A top House Democrat on Friday issued subpoenas for six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns, giving the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and the IRS commissioner, Charles Rettig, a deadline of next Friday to deliver them. Richard Neal, the chairman of the House ways and means committee, issued the subpoenas days after Mnuchin refused to comply with demands to turn over Trump’s returns. Mnuchin told the panel he wouldn’t provide Trump’s tax records because the panel’s request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose”, as supreme court precedent requires.

Neal reminded the two Trump appointees in a Friday letter that federal law states that the IRS “shall furnish” the tax returns of any individual upon the request of the chairmen of Congress’s tax-writing committees, and that ways and means “has never been denied” a request. The White House and the Democratic-controlled House are waging a multi-front battle over investigations into Trump, with the administration refusing to comply with subpoenas for the unredacted Mueller report and documents related to testimony by the former White House counsel Donald McGahn. If Mnuchin and Rettig refuse to comply with the subpoenas, Neal is likely to file a lawsuit in federal court.

He indicated earlier this week that he was leaning toward filing a court case immediately but changed course after meeting with lawyers for the House. Neal originally demanded access to Trump’s tax returns in early April. He maintains that the committee is looking into the effectiveness of mandatory IRS audits of tax returns of all sitting presidents, a way to justify his claim that the panel has a potential legislative purpose. Democrats are confident in their legal justification and say Trump is stalling in an attempt to punt the issue past the 2020 election. In rejecting Neal’s request earlier this week, Mnuchin said he relied on the advice of the justice department. He concluded that the treasury department was “not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information”. Mnuchin has also said that Neal’s request would potentially weaponize private tax returns for political purposes.

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I don’t think John Solomon is done yet.

As for the Papadopoulos $10,000 story, how is that an “explosive revelation”? Have known that for a long time.

FISA Applications Were Illegally Obtained – DiGenova (PJ)

Washington attorney Joe diGenova claimed in an interview last night that the Department of Justice inspector general has determined that “the final three FISA extensions were illegally obtained,” and the first one is still being investigated. For the past year, DOJ IG Michael Horowitz has been investigating the FBI’s 2016 surveillance activities and his report is expected later this month or in early June. Washington power couple Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing appeared on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business Network show Thursday night to talk about the latest turns in the “SpyGate” saga. “The only question now is whether or not the first FISA was illegally obtained,” diGenova said.

He told Dobbs that the latest revelations in investigative reporter John Solomon’s piece at The Hill, have prompted further investigation from Horowitz’s team. On Thursday, Solomon reported that newly unearthed memos show that a high-ranking government official from the Obama State Department met with former British spy Christopher Steele in October of 2016, and figured out pretty quickly that his dossier was a political hit job intended to slime Donald Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. [..] DiGenova said the inspector general was unaware of the memos, which were obtained last week through open-records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. “The Bureau hid those memos from Horowitz. As a result of that, they are doing some additional work on the first FISA,” diGenova explained, adding: “It may be that all four FISAs will have been obtained illegally.”

[..] DiGenova and Toensing shared another explosive revelation on Sebastian Gorka’s Salem Radio talk show “America First” on Thursday. According to Toensing, the FBI tried to frame former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos by having an informant give him $10,000 in cash during a trip to Israel in the summer of 2017. An individual allegedly talked the then-29-year-old into traveling to Israel to make a deal, and invited him to his hotel room. “And there on the bed is $10,000 in cash in a suitcase,” she continued. Papadopoulos took the money and gave it to his lawyer, who has it still. Toensing said when Papadopoulos returned to the United States, he was greeted by FBI agents at Dulles Airport and they started searching through everything that he had “the second he landed.”

She added, “in fact, they already had his baggage from the plane. He couldn’t believe they had his baggage.” “It was a set up!” exclaimed Gorka. “It was a complete set up,” agreed Toensing. DiGenova explained that the Feds already knew that he hadn’t declared that he had $10,000 and were expecting to find the undeclared cash so they could arrest him and “put the thumbscrews on and make him squeal,” as Gorka put it. Worst of all, according to Toensing, “one of the FBI agents said to him, ‘this is what happens when you work for Donald Trump.’”

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Good read. To a large extent, the Democrats made their own bed. Very far from a black and white story.

William Barr vs. Eric Holder: A Tale of Two Attorneys General (McConnell)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has declared it a “constitutional crisis” that Attorney General William Barr refuses to divulge the small parts of the Mueller report that contain grand-jury material. By a straight party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress. What did Pelosi think when Barr’s predecessor, Eric Holder, refused to divulge documents to a congressional committee and was held in contempt? “Ridiculous!” she said. What did Holder and Obama say? That the House subpoena was a violation of “separation of powers.” To partisans, the difference between the cases is obvious. Barr is defending Trump; Holder was Obama’s self-proclaimed “wing man.”

That is enough for many journalists and most politicians. The rest of us might want to know: What is the legal or constitutional difference between Holder’s refusal to provide documents and Barr’s? Here is the background of the Holder contempt. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), a unit of Holder’s Department of Justice (DOJ), conducted an operation called “Fast & Furious,” intended to track illegal gun sales. In fact it put hundreds of weapons in the hands of Mexican criminal gangs, leading to the death of an American officer. On February 2, 2011, after news of the operation emerged, Holder’s assistant attorney general sent a letter to Congress declaring that the Obama administration had no knowledge of the operation. This letter was false, as Holder later admitted.

A congressional committee wanted to know why it had been misled. BATFE employees leaked to Congress that the department was still suppressing the truth about the operation and retaliating against whistleblowers. The committee wanted to dig into that. It demanded DOJ documents “relating to actions the Department took to silence or retaliate against Fast and Furious whistleblowers,” so that it could determine “what the Department knew about Fast and Furious, including when and how it discovered its February 4 letter was false, and the Department’s efforts to conceal that information from Congress and the public.”

Read more …

“..funnelled [over $21 million] personally and through straw donors to President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, then lied about it to the Federal Elections Commission in 2015.”

Fugees Founder, Banker Charged In 1MDB, Obama Campaign Scandal (RT)

A founding member of the Fugees is accused of conspiracy to funnel illegal campaign contributions to Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign and lying about it, in a spinoff of the 1MDB corruption scandal. The indictment against Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, 46, was unsealed on Friday, the government says he received over $21 million from Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho (also known as “Jho Low”) and funnelled it personally and through straw donors to President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, then lied about it to the Federal Elections Commission in 2015. Michel was charged with conspiracy to defraud US government, falsifying records, and making a false statement. He appeared before a federal judge in Washington, DC on Friday and pleaded not guilty.


Mr. Michel is extremely disappointed that so many years after the fact the government would bring charges related to 2012 campaign contributions,” said his attorney Barry Pollack. “Mr. Michel is innocent of these charges and looks forward to having the case heard by a jury.” Michel is best known as one of the founding members of the Fugees, an award-winning group that set music charts on fire with ‘Killing me softly’ in 1996 and launched the solo careers of Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill. Low, 37, was also charged in the case, adding to the existing indictments against the Malaysian businessman already wanted for conspiring to launder billions of dollars and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Read more …

“..he rode on the back of that fraud for two years, as if touring a political landfill on a donkey, leaving the public to stew in anxious hallucinations.”

Crisis? What Crisis? (Jim Kunstler)

Information emerged over the weeks since the Mueller Report’s release that Mr. Mueller and his team knew unequivocally that the Special Counsel’s mission and the FBI operations that preceded it were based on concocted political bullshit supplied by Mrs. Clinton and her network of flunkies and fixers, ranging throughout the permanent DC bureacuracy (a.k.a. the Swamp), to outposts in foreign intel services and the political kitty-litter box known as Ukraine. Mr. Mueller must have suspected this from the outset, but knew for sure by the summer of 2017, and omitted to advise the American public that he had uncovered a fraud. Rather, he rode on the back of that fraud for two years, as if touring a political landfill on a donkey, leaving the public to stew in anxious hallucinations.


What else did Mr. Mueller do, or omit to do? He never engaged US government forensic computer analysts to examine the DNC servers at the heart of RussiaGate story. Rather, he allowed the conclusions to stand of a company called CrowdStrike, hired by the DNC itself to supposedly investigate the theft of emails, especially those of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Mr. Mueller never bothered to interview the one person who might have known exactly who supplied the purloined emails to Wikileaks, namely Julian Assange. Mr. Mueller also did not bother to interview several dozen retired Intel Community computer experts, led by William Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, who determined that the hack was accomplished by direct download by an insider onto a flash drive.

Read more …

This is about what the US wants to add to the Assange charge once he’s been extradited.

Manning Could Delay US Superseding Indictment Against Assange (Sp.)

According to Manning’s legal team, her release was triggered by the expiration of the term of the grand jury that had demanded her testimony. She will be back in court on May 16, trying to convince a new grand jury of what she failed to prove to the last one: that she cannot be forced to cooperate, as she fundamentally disagrees with the concept of a grand jury, which she says use activists’ testimonies against them. “This will go on until they get what they want or she continues to stay in jail,” Joe Lauria, editor-in-chief of Consortium News, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Friday. “She’s in a position where she could delay or slow down what the Justice Department wants to do in terms of a superseding indictment against Assange.

Nobody believes that they are going to want to just put him in jail for five years… this initial indictment is a placeholder, and they have a deadline of June 12 to give to British court the charges; the decision has to be made in the UK,” Lauria said. However, there is a way around that, Lauria told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou, called the Doctrine of Specialty, which, according to reference website USLegal.com, is “a principle of international law that is included in most extradition treaties, whereby a person who is extradited to a country to stand trial for certain criminal offenses may be tried only for those offenses and not for any other pre-extradition offenses.” “Once the asylum state extradites an individual to the requesting state under the terms of an extradition treaty, that person can be prosecuted only for crimes specified in the extradition request,” the website notes.

“This doctrine allows a nation to require the requesting nation to limit prosecution to declared offenses.” “In other words, Assange could come to the US based on this very silly charge that he tried to help Chelsea Manning hack into a computer — when she had top secret clearance and total access anyway — clearly he was trying to just help her hide her identity. But, he could come to the US and they could start adding charges there. I suspect that might happen if she doesn’t testify — which she will not do, obviously; she’s made that abundantly clear.” “They clearly need something from her, or they wouldn’t be throwing her back in jail, effectively, because she refuses to testify,” Lauria said. “But she’s not going to say a damn thing; she’s not going to cooperate, at incredible personal expense to herself, and that just goes to show what a person of principle she is.”

Read more …

Curious but still..

Dutch Court Blocks Extradition Of Man To ‘Inhumane’ UK Prisons (G.)

Judges in the Netherlands have refused to send a suspected drug smuggler back to the UK because of concerns that conditions in British jails are inhumane. An initial application to extradite the unnamed man, who had been on the run for two years, was refused this week due to the reported state of HMP Liverpool where he would probably be sent.The court of Amsterdam heard how inspectors had found “some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen” and “conditions which have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century”, in reference to report on the state of prisons in the UK published last July.


A surprise inspection of HMP Liverpool in September 2017 found it was infested with rats and that inmates lived in squalid conditions, afraid of being attacked because of increasing violence. Similar conditions were found in HMP Birmingham and HMP Bedford. The Dutch judges said on Wednesday they were concerned the man, who was wanted in relation to cocaine and heroin smuggling on Merseyside, was at “real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment” if returned. The man had been made the subject of a European arrest warrant at Liverpool magistrates court in July 2017. His lawyer argued that the extradition should be refused based on the prison inspectors’ reports.

Read more …

“.. If you start with a monetary union, you make sure there will not be a democratic political union.”

Varoufakis On Eurozone: ‘We Created A Monster’ (Exp.)

Former Greek financial minister Yanis Varoufakis branded the eurozone “a monster” for allegedly taking away financial oversight from European Union member states. Mr Varoufakis, an outspoken opponent of the European monetary union, claimed the creation of the common currency led to an “undemocratic political union”. Recounting his first meeting with other eurozone Finance Ministers in 2015, Mr Varoufakis said: “When I was in the Eurogroup, Wolfgang Schauble was very clear. The first time he spoke, in my presence, he said –spectacularly and very honestly – ’democracy cannot be allowed to change economic policies.’


Mr Varoufakis continued: “We’ve created a monster. We’ve created a monetary union that has a central bank without a state behind it because the European Central Bank (ECB) doesn’t have a corresponding state. Before the euro, you had the Treasury, the ministry of finance and you had the central banks – correspondence. “The ECB is a gigantic central bank with no state behind it and you’ve got 19 states without a central bank. This is not the way to create a monetary union which is consistent with the political union.” He added: “The fallacy in 1992 with Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand, is that they believed you start with a monetary union and then you move towards a democratic political union. “No. If you start with a monetary union, you make sure there will not be a democratic political union.”

Read more …

Not sure the biggest EU monster is a finance one.

70 Migrants Dead After Boat Capsizes Trying To Reach Europe From Libya (G.)

As many as 70 people trying to reach Europe from Libya have drowned after their vessel capsized in the deadliest such incident in the Mediterranean since January. According to survivors, at least 16 of whom were rescued, the boat left Zuwara in Libya, where renewed warfare between rival factions has gripped the capital, Tripoli, in the past five weeks. The vessel capsized 40 miles off the coast of Sfax, south of Tunis, as it headed towards Italy. The survivors reported that a Tunisian fishing boat came to their rescue and transferred them to a Tunisian coastguard vessel.


The incident came as overall number of people reaching Europe has decreased, whilethe journey has become increasingly dangerous. So far this year, 17,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe via the sea, about 30% fewer than in the same period last year, according to the International Organization for Migration. The IOM said 443 people have reportedly died on Mediterranean crossings since 1 January, compared with 620 in the same period in 2018. The Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) thinktank said that one person died for every eight people who left Libya from January to April, based on analysis of figures from the Italian interior ministry.

Read more …

There’ll always be a dictator somewhere who invites a few million dollars. There’s only one solution: stop producing the stuff. 2 trillion drinks containers were sold in 2018. Cut it out.

Nearly All Countries Agree To Stem Flow Of Plastic Waste Into Poor Nations (G.)

Almost all the world’s countries have agreed on a deal aimed at restricting shipments of hard-to-recycle plastic waste to poorer countries, the United Nations announced on Friday. Exporting countries – including the US – now will have to obtain consent from countries receiving contaminated, mixed or unrecyclable plastic waste. Currently, the US and other countries can send lower-quality plastic waste to private entities in developing countries without getting approval from their governments. Since China stopped accepting recycling from the US, activists say they have observed plastic waste piling up in developing countries. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia), a backer of the deal, says it found villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia that had “turned into dumpsites over the course of a year”.


“We were finding that there was waste from the US that was just piled up in villages throughout these countries that had once been primarily agricultural communities,” said Claire Arkin, a spokeswoman for Gaia. The legally binding framework emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of UN-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals that threaten the planet’s seas and creatures. The pact comes in an amendment to the Basel convention. The US is not a party to that convention so it did not have a vote, but attendees at the meeting said the country argued against the change, saying officials didn’t understand the repercussions it would have on the plastic waste trade.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

Mar 132019
 


René Magritte Personal values 1952

 

Commenting on my own essays has never been my favorite activity, because before you know it you land into Russian doll territory. But a few recent comments from readers have me rethinking that, for once.

Of course I understand that my expressed views over the past two years and change on the era of Donald Trump and his presidency do not please everyone out there, whether they’re long time Automatic Earth readers or new to the site. It’s just that a surprising -to me- number of people let their thoughts and opinions be shaped by media that primarily follow the color of politics and money, not objective facts.

Or perhaps it shouldn‘t be all that surprising, given the amount of attention the mainstream media still manages to gather. Then again, if the MSM would have been right on more issues, there would never have been a place for the Automatic Earth and many other ‘alternative’ media sources. So yeah, I’m a bit of two minds on that.

What I am sure about is that I don’t think the advent of Donald Trump has been the main event since 2016, I have very few illusions about US politics. For me the big story has been how the media has shifted from reporting the news to manufacturing it. I’m seeing the Russiagate narrative falling apart in real time right now and I think: I saw that coming, because none of all those collusion stories were based on facts to begin with.

And I’ve said exactly that for two years now as well. It started off with supporting their favorite candidate, who was a shoe-in anyway, then it turned into being angry when she lost, and it ended up with figuring out that denouncing Trump ten times a day was a goldmine that could save entire papers and TV channels, because Americans are addicted to scandals, even if they’re invented and/or inconsequential.

 

In my view, media making up stories and narratives from scratch is a much bigger threat to America than Donald Trump. Obviously, people believing the made-up tales is just as bad. You don’t have to be pro-Trump, let alone even like the man, to be very wary of reporters and papers and news channels and everyone and their pet hamster with a social media account, publishing a dozen anti-Trump stories every single day, most of them entirely made up and most of the rest just plain dumping on him.

And you certainly don’t need to be pro-Trump to point out that this is happening, or to agitate against it. But that’s how it’s presented, and that’s how many people, including no doubt many readers of the Automatic Earth, see it. In this day and age, if you wander too far from what the MSM tell you the truth is, you get punished even by somewhat smarter people.

If you don’t support the anti-Trump narrative, and elect to stay out of that echo chamber, you become a Trump supporter. And we all know what happens when you actively resist the narrative.

The reason why one so easily gets labeled a Trump supporter only for pointing out that stories contain no facts, provokes interesting questions, but none of them will have me shy away from saying what I think of it. I mean, just take a look at the Reuters/Ipsos poll that came out last week, which shows that Americans have made up their minds about Trump-Russia way ahead of the Mueller report being published.

Only a small number of Americans have not yet made up their minds about whether Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign coordinated with Russian officials, according to new Reuters/Ipsos polling, which also showed deep divisions in the United States in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Eight out of 10 Americans decided almost immediately about Trump campaign ties to Moscow and only about two in 10 appear to be undecided; about 8 in 10 Democrats said they thought the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, while 7 in 10 Republicans said they did not.

Now how is that possible, the majority ‘knowing’ what to believe without knowing the facts? Easy, the media made up their minds for them, and they did it without knowing the facts either. A much bigger story than Trump. And you would think old-fashioned journalism could have gotten a lot of real dirt on the Donald, but the entire MSM chose to go for unproven smear instead..

The Old Gray Lady and her consorts have made it entirely acceptable to disrespect the Office of the President of the United States. They’ve made doing so an honorable thing to do. All on the basis of rumors about Vladimir Putin pulling Trump’s strings. How this can fail to have terribly dramatic consequences for the US I do not see. Once the respect for the office is gone, how do you get it back? By putting a different questionable person in it?

 

But now I’m doing what I swore not to do: repeat myself. Inevitable when commenting on your own essays perhaps, but still. So let’s move on to the comments. Both came in by private emaiI, and I haven’t asked for permission to use real names, so they’ll be anonymous.

The first one was from a highly respected -and not just by me- retired US professor and writer I’ve had contact with for a decade or so, and came after I published The House Hit A New Low, commenting on Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House on February 27. Which I thought was about nothing at all, “A phishing expedition with a willing whale in the center who sort of volunteered to be harpooned..”, other than Democrat showboating.

But my friend the professor wrote:

Just so you know……… I thought Cohen courageous, believable and completely on target. I think people see what they are predetermined to see…. You and I see different things. As Congressional Republicans and apparently you do not see the problem is Trump, and as he said those who are blinded by him. Not Cohen. We should all speak out. The “conservatism” of your columns sometimes annoys me, but your insights are often good. I try to get different perspectives.

As I said above, and often before, I agree that “people see what they are predetermined to see”. It’s just that I think that originates at the NYT, WaPo, CNN, and my friend does not. But what struck me in his comment is him calling my writing “conservatism”. Nobody ever called me that, I don’t see myself that way, and I doubt that anyone did before I started talking about the way Trump has been treated.

And again, you don’t have to like Trump to dislike the made-up narratives that dictate what ‘news‘ in America has turned into. And that’s not conservative. Not that I think that conservatism is a wrong thing per se, but I don’t see many ‘conservatives’ these days conserving anything at all, other than their privileges.

See, I would think MAGA means protecting bald eagles, mountain lions, humpbacks and even mom-and-pop stores, but what counts as conservative today is the opposite of that. It basically revolves around making a few people rich at the expense of everyone else and the natural world they all depend on for their survival.

Other than that, as I said, I have few illusions about US politics, on either side of the aisle. Which is why I welcomed Trump three years ago, and I welcome Ocasio, Tulsi Gabbard and Ilhan Omar today: something better change, because if things don’t change fast, we’re bound to see the 21st century American version of pitchforks; yes, that would be rifles and handguns.

I hope perhaps that clears things a up, even if just a little, for my friend. But still, I didn’t think Cohen looked “courageous, believable and completely on target”. I thought he looked like a worn out tool of Nadler and Schiff’s committee, telling obvious lies about not having asked Trump for a White House job or a pardon. But let’s agree not to agree.

Then I mentioned the professor’s mail in the Automatic Earth comments section the next day, saying:

Someone mailed me yesterday talking about the conservatism of my columns. Never saw that before. And I don’t agree. Raging against the empty narratives of the anti-Trump machine does not make me a Trump supporter. (People should read more carefully. The world is not divided into two camps.)

… and a second mail came from someone who’s, let’s say, one of my more critical readers (he seems to think I’m full of it, and uses that as a reason to keep reading me):

You’re right: to the extent that you agree with anything Trump says or does to reduce US aggression in different parts of the world, the anti-Trumpers should be shouted down.

You’re wrong: your refusal to even mention racism, sexism, anti-democratic voter suppression, gerrymandering, campaign finance laws, electoral college, gun control, health care, tax cuts and the wholesale attack on the environment by Trump and Republicans (Trump is representative not an outlier among Republicans) is what makes you conservative.

Your silences speak louder than anything you say or print. Your alleged concern for the environment is comical compared to your total silence on American (Trump) policies on the environment. Keep up your selective silences. Its what you do best.

That’s a nice list, but it doesn’t appear to be all around fair. Criticizing Trump over all these things is at best a double-edged sword. But first of all, I don’t refuse to mention them, but I’m not here to provide a fully balanced picture. I’m here to balance out the one-sided positions the Old Gray Lady vents on a daily basis and 27 times on Sunday.

As for racism and sexism, I see those as America-wide issues, not Trump issues. Anti-democratic voter suppression: go ask Bernie Sanders and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Gerrymandering ditto. And campaign finance laws. How one can hold such things against Trump and not others in US politics is beyond me. But let’s talk.

The electoral college problem, if it indeed is one, has absolutely nothing to do with Trump. America as a society would need to come together to move to the popular vote. But what are the odds of any such unity happening given the anti-Trump campaigns?

Gun control: I can’t recall Obama doing anything much about that, so how can one hold it against Trump? Guns seem to be too big a problem for the US to deal with, and I see it leading to the American version of France’s pitchforks: the one tool the unwashed masses have left to defend themselves and get their grievances across. A good thing? No. But Trump’s fault? No.

When it comes to health care, things are a bit more confusing and clearer at the same time. The conservatives who conserve dick all, stand quasi-united against universal health care, while the Democrats, who long held a similar position, are starting to shift.

Health care is a much more worthy topic than the ones before mentioned in that comment, but that particular discussion, like so many others, has been stifled by the neverending accusations of Russia collusion that the MSM have placed -the vast majority of- their bets on.

Trump has been president for two years, and not one day has gone by in which he was not accused of sitting on Putin’s lap in some way or another, so how are you going to get him to open up to your different point of view? He’s had to retreat into his trenches just to survive and go about the business of being a president. He was never given a chance to open up and change his mind. Is he to blame for that?

What else was there? Tax cuts. Yeah, well, conservatives and their privileges. And a short-term way to make the economy look better. Long-term economic benefits? Maybe not so much. But don’t let’s go there, because Pandora would open and reveal, again, very little that’s Trump-specific. It’s simply Washington.

Last thing is the environment, and because I post many articles on that topic in my daily news aggregators, it’s obvious that my views are not the Donald’s. But that, again, is conservatives refusing to conserve. It’s not just Trump, and it’s not just Republicans either. From what I see, America has destroyed far too much of its natural world already, and I haven’t seen a single voice in Washington with a convincing story to stop it, not AOC and the Green New Deal either.

 

To summarize: the Automatic Earth has sought, and continues to seek, to provide a balance vs one-sided ‘news’, because it is a much bigger problem than any single presidency. Reporting in the age of Trump has not just been one-sided, most of it has been outright falsehood. Why does it happen? Because it sells. You are prone to believe fictional accounts, you have a tendency to become addicted to scandal, and so you are targeted.

Now, the reason the Automatic Earth exists is that it tells people things they don’t want to hear. That goes for the odd professor, no matter how much we appreciate him or her, for all those who dislike an individual like Donald Trump so much they let others form their opinions for them with trumped-up narratives, it goes for Trump himself, and for everyone else we think fail to think for themselves any longer.

If your opinions are shaped by people who seek to make a profit off of doing that for you, you are merely one among millions who fall into the same trap. It’s ironic and funny too that the Old Gray Lady et al could never have started out on their new business model without the internet and the social media it spawned, while the very same business model makes entities such as the Automatic Earth necessary.

It gets more ironic still: the MSM developed the model because the old one, just plain reporting, wasn’t paying them enough to survive. Orwell was never that easy to understand. After all, he was talking about things that existed only in his mind’s eye when he was alive, and came alive themselves long after he was gone. But look at us today.

One last thing: I can’t perhaps speak for the entire Automatic Earth, because Nicole Foss, though she may have been silent for a while, appears to detest Donald Trump. That gives her and I something to talk about.

 

 

Dec 072018
 


Claude Monet Camille on the Beach at Trouville 1870

 

Russia Seeks To ‘Feed The Whole Planet’ – PM (RT)
Markets Are Going Haywire, Sudden Moves Are Here To Stay (CNBC)
Did The Market Miss Powell’s Real Message? (Roberts)
Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $374 Billion (WS)
The Fed Finally Broke Something (Muir)
Oil Drops As OPEC Makes Supply Cut Dependent On Russia (CNBC)
Bitcoin Plunges 10% As December Rout Continues (CNBC)
France To Deploy 90,000 Police Over Weekend Riot Fears (Ind.)
Chinese Giant Huawei Faces Catastrophe (G.)
White House, Trudeau Seek To Distance Themselves From Huawei Move (R.)
Lyft Races To Leave Uber Behind In IPO Chase (R.)
Mueller To Give Details On Russia Probe With Filings On Former Trump Aides (R.)
Mueller’s Gift to Obama (Kim Strassel)
Julian Assange Rejects UK-Ecuador Deal For Him To Leave The Embassy (Tel.)

 

 

Medvedev is funny, with a serious twist. Note that this has all happened because of US sanctions. Russian grain exports have surged more than 54% this year. Funny that Ukraine fed much of Europe not that long ago (100 years?!) because of its highly fertile back earth.

Russia Seeks To ‘Feed The Whole Planet’ – PM (RT)

Russia seeks to expand its agricultural exports, ultimately seeking to feed the whole planet, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said. The PM’s statement comes as the country enjoys a record surge in grain exports. “Our country is, as they say, destined by the heavens to feed the whole planet. And we’ll try and do that,” Medvedev told journalists of Russian TV channels in a major interview aired on Thursday. Apart from being the country’s “destiny,” the foods plainly make “nice export goods,” the prime minister added. Russia’s agriculture has expanded greatly over the past few years, becoming a solid and profitable industry, unlike the way it was a couple decades ago.

“Back in 1990s, the agriculture was called a ‘black hole’, where one should not invest, we were told we should not feed ourselves since we can purchase everything elsewhere,” Medvedev said. “Now, it feeds our whole country. We’ve reached the main goals regarding food security and we’re exporting grains, other goods to the world market.” This year, Russia has enjoyed vast growth of its agricultural exports, becoming the world’s top exporter of wheat. From January through September of 2018, exports of Russia’s wheat and meslin flour expanded by 54.3% compared to the previous year. The amount of food which the county imports, in its turn, continued to shrink. Imports of grains to Russia dropped by 11.1% during the same period. Imports of barley have suffered an enormous decline, dropping a whopping 94%.

Read more …

The logical consequences of central banks strangling price discovery.

Markets Are Going Haywire, Sudden Moves Are Here To Stay (CNBC)

Wherever Mark Connors looks at markets, from stocks to currencies to oil, he sees signs of the unknown. Equity investors got whipsawed this week during two rough and volatile sessions, but Connors, global head of risk advisory at Credit Suisse, had seen worrying signs long before that. A key technical measure he tracks, the correlation between the price of stocks and currencies, had broken down starting in April. That, along with sharp drops in the price of oil, point to one thing, he says: Uncertainty about the future as central banks around the world unwind programs that bought trillions of dollars of assets.

“We’re seeing two of the biggest asset classes, stocks and currencies, exhibit a degree of uncertainty in their relationship in 2018 that we’ve never seen before,” Connors said. “Crude just exhibited something very unusual in the context of the last 40 years.” The unwinding of central banks’ programs a decade after the financial crisis brought economies to the brink is known as quantitative tightening. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in July that one of his biggest fears is around how markets would behave as central banks removed their unprecedented stimulus. “If quantitative tightening continues, guess what’s going to happen? More of this,” Connor said, referring to unusually violent moves across markets.

Another factor in the speed of recent declines is the result of several important changes that have happened since the last financial crisis. Automated trading strategies from quant hedge funds and the massive shift to passive investing have helped to remove liquidity from the system in times of panic, according to Marko Kolanovic, J.P. Morgan’s global head of macro quantitative and derivatives research. He said in a September note that index and quant funds made up two-thirds of assets under management globally and the majority of daily trading. So when investors begin to sell, as they did on Tuesday amid concerns over the state of U.S. trade talks with China, the moves were probably amplified by computerized trading strategies.

Read more …

You’d have to have a -functioning- market for it to miss anything.

Did The Market Miss Powell’s Real Message? (Roberts)

[..] With the Fed Funds rate running at near 2%, if the Fed now believes such is close to a ‘neutral rate,’ it would suggest that expectations of economic growth will slow in the quarters ahead from nearly 6.0% in Q2 of 2018 to roughly 2.5% in 2019.” [..] the bond market has picked up on that realization as the yield has flattened considerably over the last few days as the 10-year interest rate broke back below the 3% mark. The chart below shows the difference between the 2-year and the 10-year interest rate.

Now, there are many who continue to suggest “this time is different” and an inverted yield curve is not signaling a recession, and Jerome Powell’s recent comments are “in line” with a “Goldilocks economy.” Maybe. But historically speaking, while an inversion of the yield curve may not “immediately” coincide with a recessionary onset, given its relationship to economic activity it is likely a “foolish bet” to suggest it won’t. A quick trip though the Fed’s rate hiking history and “soft landing” scenarios give you some clue as to their success.

Read more …

Useful to remember that this is -mostly- an irreversible process.

Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $374 Billion (WS)

The Federal Reserve shed $54 billion in assets over the five weekly balance sheet periods that encompass the calendar month of November. This reduced the assets on its balance sheet to $4,086 billion, the lowest since January 15, 2014, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended December 5, released this afternoon. Since the beginning of the QE unwind — or “balance sheet normalization,” as the Fed calls it — in October 2017, the Fed has now shed $374 billion. The Fed holds a variety of assets, including the Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) that it had acquired as part of QE. Between the end of QE in late 2014 and the beginning of the QE unwind in October 2017, the Fed replaced maturing securities with new securities to keep their levels roughly the same. Starting in October 2017, the Fed has been shedding Treasury securities and MBS.

[..] Treasury Securities Until October, the QE unwind had been in ramp-up mode. In October, it reached cruising speed, according to the Fed’s plan. In the cruising-speed phase, the Fed is scheduled to shed “up to” $30 billion in Treasuries and “up to” $20 billion in MBS a month, for a total of “up to” $50 billion a month. So how did it go in November? From November 1 through December 5, the Fed’s holdings of Treasury Securities fell by $30 billion to $2,241 billion, the lowest since January 22, 2014. Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, the Fed has shed $225 billion in Treasuries:

Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) Under QE, the Fed also acquired residential MBS that were issued and guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. Holders of residential MBS receive principal payments as the underlying mortgages are paid down or are paid off. At maturity, the remaining principal is paid off. To keep the balance of MBS from declining after QE ended, the New York Fed’s Open Market Operations kept buying MBS in the market. The Fed books the trades at settlement, which lags the trade by two to three months. Due to this lag, the amount of MBS on today’s balance sheet reflects trades in August and September when the cap for shedding MBS was $16 billion a month. And this is how it panned out. From November 1 through today’s balance sheet, the balance of MBS fell by $16 billion, to $1,653 billion, the lowest since May 7, 2014.

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There’s a lot of -often contradictory- talk about yield conversion. Kevin Muir picks out a nice detail: “..we will not see the same degree of yield curve inversion that we have in past cycles. There is simply too much debt out there..

The Fed Finally Broke Something (Muir)

[..] an inversion of the yield curve has traditionally been one of the best indicators presaging a recession. There has been tons of studies and even more conclusions drawn from the data, so you probably don’t need me to rehash them all. Yet I think it’s amusing to hear all the yield-curve-apologists (a term coined by my colourful pal, Janney’s Guy LeBas in this article) once again claiming that yield curve inversions don’t matter. Whether it’s the fact that we need to wait for the 3-month / 5-year to invert, or whether it is the long lead time between the 2-10-year spread inverting and the actual recession, there are plenty of excuses being offered up about why the yield curve inversion doesn’t matter.

Yeah, let me get this straight. The largest, most liquid market in the world is sending a signal that has consistently been one of the most reliable indicators that a recession is near and somehow it makes sense to fade it? As a trader who cut his eye-teeth in the equity market, I can tell you unequivocally, bond traders are smarter. They just are. Denying it is like trying to argue that people in Malibu are no better looking than any other big U.S. suburb. So when the yield curve starts inverting, you better believe I am paying attention. However, as usual, there is a catch. Market cycles are similar, but never exactly the same.

In the post-GFC era we will not see the same degree of yield curve inversion that we have in past cycles. There is simply too much debt out there. The global economy cannot handle the same amount of tightening as in past cycles. I know the crowd who believes that “Powell is different than all the other Fed Chairs” will cry out in anguish at this proclamation, but last week’s dovish shift shows his stomach to handle any sort of market disruption is way lower than previously believed. Powell will be no different than all the other Fed Chairs. At the end of the day, he will be loose.

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How about US shale? Won’t they cut production to help MbS?

Oil Drops As OPEC Makes Supply Cut Dependent On Russia (CNBC)

Oil prices fell on Friday, pulled down by OPEC’s decision to delay a final decision on output cuts, awaiting support from non-OPEC heavyweight Russia. International Brent crude oil futures fell below $60 per barrel early in the session, trading at $59.50 per barrel at 0144 GMT, down 56 cents, or 0.9% from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $51.24 per barrel, down 25 cents, or 0.5%. The declines came after crude slumped by almost 3% the previous day, with OPEC ending a meeting at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday without announcing a decision to cut crude supply, instead preparing to debate the matter on Friday.

“OPEC has decided to meet Friday again…(as) Russia remains the sticking point,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia/Pacific at futures brokerage Oanda in Singapore. Analysts still expect some form of supply reduction to be decided. “We are beginning to witness the outline of the next iteration of production cuts, with OPEC conforming to cut its own production by around 1 million barrels per day, with the cartel lobbying non-OPEC members to contribute more,” Japanese bank MUFG said in a note.

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Relentless.

Bitcoin Plunges 10% As December Rout Continues (CNBC)

As of Asia’s Friday afternoon trade, bitcoin had fallen nearly 10% against the U.S. dollar in 24 hours, marking another recent plunge for the world’s largest cryptocurrency. It’s been a rough December for the digital token: Its price dropped 8% on the first day of the month. Bitcoin traded at $3,337.32 as of 12:28 p.m. HK/SIN (11:28 p.m. ET on Thursday), falling 9.88% over the last 24 hours, according to data from industry site Coindesk. Meanwhile, prices for the second and third largest cryptocurrencies by market value, XRP and Ether, also saw sharp declines in the 24 hour period. XRP fell by 10.62% and Ether dropped 15.90%, according to Coindesk.

This calendar year has generally been unkind to cryptocurrency prices, with the industry seeing its entire market cap falling almost 87.09% from its highs in January, according to data from Coinmarketcap. 24-hour trading volumes have also plunged about 61.65% since then. In recent industry related news, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) posted an update on Thursday regarding the approval process for a rule change proposal for the allowance of a bitcoin exchange traded fund (ETF).

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The worst thing Macron could have done: “In a move questioned by both critics and supporters, the president has recently disappeared from public view.” And now his police are going to fire on protesters tomorrow?

France To Deploy 90,000 Police Over Weekend Riot Fears (Ind.)

French authorities are bracing for the possibility of more riots and violence at planned anti-government protests this weekend. The government is deploying tens of thousands of police and security forces across the country, while in Paris, museums, theatres and shops announced they would close on Saturday as a precaution – including the iconic Eiffel Tower. Police unions and city authorities held emergency meetings to decide how to handle the protests, which are being held despite Emmanuel Macron’s surrender to marchers demanding the scrapping of a planned fuel tax hike. Prime minister Edouard Philippe told senators on Thursday the government would deploy “exceptional” security measures for the protests in Paris and elsewhere.

Speaking on TF1 television, Mr Philippe said 89,000 police officers will be deployed on Saturday across France – up from 65,000 last weekend. In Paris alone, 8,000 police officers will be mobilised. They will be equipped with a dozen armoured vehicles – a first in a French urban area since 2005. Some “yellow vest” protesters, French union officials and prominent politicians across the political spectrum called for calm on Thursday after the worst rioting in Paris in decades last weekend. Mr Macron agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, part of his plans to combat global warming, but protesters’ demands have now expanded to other issues hurting French workers, retirees and students. In a move questioned by both critics and supporters, the president has recently disappeared from public view.

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If this is true, US Big Tech will face the same.

Chinese Giant Huawei Faces Catastrophe (G.)

The arrest in Canada of the chief financial officer of the Chinese mobile network and handset tech firm Huawei marks a new stage in a technological cold war between western spy agencies and Beijing. This development could be catastrophic for Huawei: according to reports, the US suspects it broke sanctions by selling telecoms equipment to Iran. If that is proven, the response could exclude Huawei from many of the world’s most valuable markets. That quiet war of words had already begun to ramp up this week when first the head of the UK’s secret service, Alex Younger, said in a speech that “we need to have a conversation” about Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s telecoms network.

Then on Wednesday, BT revealed it is stripping out Huawei’s networking kit from parts of the EE mobile network. Huawei has been the world’s largest telecoms network equipment company since 2015, ahead of European rivals Ericsson and Nokia, and far above domestic competitor ZTE and South Korea’s Samsung. But the company has for years struggled against suspicions that it has bowed to pressure from the Chinese government to tap or disrupt telecoms systems in foreign countries. That has seen it banned from selling its profitable network equipment to the US, Australia and New Zealand – three of the “Five Eyes” group of intelligence-sharing countries (the other two being the UK and Canada).

But Meng Wanzhou’s arrest on a federal warrant in Canada is a dramatic escalation. As well as being the CFO and deputy chairwoman of one of the world’s largest makers of telecoms networking equipment that is essential to phone, smartphone and internet traffic, she is also the daughter of Huawei’s 74-year-old founder Ren Zhengfei. Ren attracted suspicion from western agencies because of his role working in IT for the Red Army before he set up the firm in 1987.

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Even Bolton has -belatedly- denied involvement.

White House, Trudeau Seek To Distance Themselves From Huawei Move (R.)

President Donald Trump did not know about plans to arrest a top executive at Chinese telecoms giant Huawei in Canada, two U.S. officials said on Thursday, in an apparent attempt to stop the incident from impeding crucial trade talks with Beijing. Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, the 46-year-old daughter of the company’s founder, was detained in Canada on Dec. 1, the same day Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping dined together at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. A White House official told Reuters Trump did not know about a U.S. request for her extradition from Canada before he met Xi and agreed to a 90-day truce in the brewing trade war.

Meng’s arrest during a stopover in Vancouver, announced by the Canadian authorities on Wednesday, pummeled stock markets already nervous about tensions between the world’s two largest economies on fears the move could derail the planned trade talks. [..] Meng’s detention also raised concerns about potential retaliation from Beijing in Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to distance himself from the arrest. “The appropriate authorities took the decisions in this case without any political involvement or interference … we were advised by them with a few days’ notice that this was in the works,” Trudeau told reporters in Montreal in televised remarks.

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Top of the Bubble to you!

Lyft Races To Leave Uber Behind In IPO Chase (R.)

Ride-hailing company Lyft Inc beat bigger rival Uber Technologies Inc in filing for an initial public offering (IPO) on Thursday, defying the recent market jitters and taking the lead on a string of billion-dollar-plus tech companies expected to join Wall Street next year. Lyft’s IPO will test investors’ appetite for the most highly valued Silicon Valley companies and for the ride-hailing business, which has become a wildly popular service but remains unprofitable and has an uncertain future with the advance of self-driving cars. San Francisco-based Lyft, last valued at about $15 billion in a private fundraising round, did not specify the number of shares it was selling or the price range in a confidential filing with the SEC.

Lyft could go public as early as the first quarter of 2019, based on how quickly the SEC reviews its filing, people familiar with the matter said. Lyft’s valuation is likely to end up between $20 billion and $30 billion, one source added. The ride service was set up in 2012 by entrepreneurs John Zimmer and Logan Green and has raised close to $5 billion from investors. While it continues to grow faster than its larger competitor, Uber, it is also losing money. Lyft would follow a string of high-profile IPOs of technology companies valued at more than $1 billion this year, such as Dropbox and Spotify.

However, market turmoil fueled by the escalating trade tensions between the United States and China could dampen enthusiasm for the debuts of other 2019 hopefuls like apartment-rental service Airbnb, analytics firm Palantir. and Stripe Inc, a digital payment company. Including Lyft, these round out four of the top-10 most highly valued, venture-backed tech companies. “Market declines mean that the offer price will be lower than otherwise. But there’s a danger of waiting to go public as well. Markets could go even lower, and the companies could raise less money if they waited longer,” said Jay Ritter, an IPO expert and professor at the University of Florida.

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Later today. But forget about collusion. Not going to happen.

Mueller To Give Details On Russia Probe With Filings On Former Trump Aides (R.)

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller will provide new details on Friday on how two of President Donald Trump’s closest former aides have helped or hindered his investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Mueller last month accused Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort of breaching a plea bargain deal by lying to prosecutors, and he will submit information on those alleged lies in a filing to a federal court in Washington. That could include shedding new light on Manafort’s business dealings or his consulting for pro-Kremlin interests in Ukraine.

Manafort, who maintains he has been truthful with Mueller, managed Trump’s campaign for three months in 2016. Also on Friday, Mueller’s office and the Southern District of New York are to file sentencing memos on Michael Cohen, Trump’s former private lawyer. Cohen pleaded guilty to financial crimes in a New York court in August, and last week to lying to Congress in a Mueller case. Sentencing for both of those cases will be handled by one judge. Attention will focus on whether Mueller discloses new information to supplement Cohen’s admission last week that he sought help from the Kremlin for a Trump skyscraper in Moscow late into the 2016 campaign.

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Kimberley Strassel is still a lone(ly) in the US mainstream.

Mueller’s Gift to Obama (Kim Strassel)

[..] what about the potential crimes that put Mr. Flynn in Mr. Mueller’s crosshairs to begin with? On Jan. 2, 2017, the Obama White House learned about Mr. Flynn’s conversations with Mr. Kislyak. The U.S. monitors phone calls of foreign officials, but under law they are supposed to “minimize” the names of any Americans caught up in such eavesdropping. In the Flynn case, someone in the prior administration either failed to minimize or purposely “unmasked” Mr. Flynn. The latter could itself be a felony. Ten days later someone in that administration leaked to the Washington Post that Mr. Flynn had called Mr. Kislyak on Dec. 29, 2016. On Feb. 9, 2017, someone leaked to the Post and the New York Times highly detailed and classified information about the Flynn-Kislyak conversation.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has called this leak the most destructive to national security that he seen in his time in Washington. Disclosing classified information is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison. The Post has bragged that its story was sourced by nine separate officials. The Mueller team has justified its legal wanderings into money laundering (Paul Manafort) and campaign contributions (Michael Cohen) on grounds that it has an obligation to follow up on any evidence of crimes, no matter how disconnected from its Russia mandate. Mr. Flynn’s being caught up in the probe is related to a glaring potential crime of disclosing classified material, yet Mr. Mueller appears to have undertaken no investigation of that. Is this selective justice, or something worse?

Don’t forget Mr. Mueller stacked his team with Democrats, some of whom worked at the highest levels of the Obama administration, including at the time of the possible Flynn unmasking and the first leak. The Flynn sentencing document, meanwhile, contained yet another outrageous gift to Obama alumni. In laying out the “serious” nature of Mr. Flynn’s crimes, the document asserts that one of the questions about the Flynn-Kislyak discussion was whether “the defendant’s actions violated the Logan Act,” a 1799 statute that criminalizes negotiation by unauthorized persons with foreign governments that are in dispute with the U.S. Only two defendants have ever been charged under the Logan Act, the more recent one in 1852, and neither was convicted.

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We have to turn to the Telegraph of all sources, since we -obviously- can’t trust info from the Guardian, which does run a piece on this. That piece was written by Dan Collyns in Quito. Thought for all those who’ve been feeding on the Guardian smear piece for well over a week: investigate instead the link between the paper and the Ecuador government., especially how it changes and intensified around teh time Moreno became president. But don’t forget that the Guardian already had people in the country in at least 2014.

Julian Assange Rejects UK-Ecuador Deal For Him To Leave The Embassy (Tel.)

Julian Assange’s lawyer has rejected an agreement announced by Ecuador’s president to see him leave the Ecuadorean embassy in London, after six years inside. Lenin Moreno, the president of Ecuador, has made no secret of his wish to be rid of the WikiLeaks founder, who sought asylum inside the embassy in June 2012 and has not left since. On Thursday Mr Moreno announced that a deal had been reached between London and Quito to allow Mr Assange, 47, to be released. “The way has been cleared for Mr Assange to take the decision to leave in near-liberty,” said Mr Moreno. He did not specify what “near liberty” meant.

[..] Mr Moreno added that Britain had guaranteed that the Australian would not be extradited to any country where his life is in danger. But Mr Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, told The Telegraph that the deal was not acceptable. The legal team have long argued that they will not accept any agreement which risks his being extradited to the United States. In November a filing error revealed that Mr Assange faced charges in the US – although it was not clear what those charges were. Many speculate they would be connected to the release of classified information, and Mr Assange fears a long prison sentence in the US for what his supporters say is publishing information in the public interest.

“The suggestion that as long as the death penalty is off the table, Mr Assange need not fear persecution is obviously wrong,” said Mr Pollack. “No one should have to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information. “Since such charges appear to have been brought against Mr Assange in the United States, Ecuador should continue to provide him asylum.”

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Sep 082018
 


Vincent van Gogh Rispal Restaurant at Asnieres 1887

 

Obama Claims Ownership Of US Economic Recovery (MW)
Trump Has Set Economic Growth On Fire. Here Is How He Did It (CNBC)
May Urged To Ignore ‘Three Stooges’ In Brexit Negotiations (G.)
Cohen Seeks To Vacate Hush-Money Deal With Stormy Daniels (Hill)
Papadopoulos Sentenced To 14 Days In Prison For Lying To FBI (ES)
Secret Grand Jury Proceedings Underway Against Andrew McCabe (ZH)
Apple Bans Alex Jones App For ‘Objectionable Content’ (R.)
Erdogan Legacy Construction Projects Stall In Turkish Financial Crisis (Ind.)
Slouching Toward Okeefenoke (Kunstler)
Russia Asks Britain For Help In Identifying Novichok Suspects (G.)
Nike Online Sales Jump 31% After Company Unveiled Kaepernick Campaign (MW)

 

 

I’d say be careful what you claim ownership of. Because you break it, you own it

Obama Claims Ownership Of US Economic Recovery (MW)

Former President Barack Obama on Friday used a speech at the University of Illinois to sharply criticize his successor as well as claim ownership of the U.S. economic recovery. Speaking in Urbana, Ill., where he received an award for ethics in government, Obama recalled that the U.S. economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month when he entered office. “We worked hard to end that crisis but also break some of these longer-term trends,” said Obama, who is planning a series of campaign trips ahead of the midterm elections in November. “By the time I left office, household income was near its all-time high, and the uninsured rate had hit an all-time low and wages were rising,” he said. “I mention all this so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started.

“I’m glad it’s continued, but when you hear about this economic miracle that’s been going on … I have to kind of remind them, actually those job numbers are kind of the same as they were in 2015 and 2016.” On that, Obama is correct. U.S. job growth averaged 226,000 per month in 2015, 195,000 in 2016, 182,000 in 2017 and, so far this year, 207,000. Data also show a pickup in business and consumer confidence after Trump’s election. The U.S. is on track to grow more than 3% in 2018, a rate of economic expansion not recorded over the course of a full calendar year since the second term of the George W. Bush administration. At a North Dakota event, Trump responded. “Obama was trying to take credit for this incredible thing that’s happening,” Trump said.

“I have to say this to President Obama – if the Dems got in with their agenda in November of almost 2 years ago, instead of having 4.2 up, I believe honestly we’d have 4.2 down,” he said, referring to GDP growth of 4.2% in the second quarter. Obama meanwhile had a broader attack on Trump than just the economy. Mentioning Trump by name, Obama said political division is more manufactured than real. “Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change. More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep up cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege,” he said. “And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments. It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause,” Obama said to applause.

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And these ownership claims are easy to argue.

Trump Has Set Economic Growth On Fire. Here Is How He Did It (CNBC)

President Donald Trump is more than 19 months into an administration engulfed in so much controversy that it may overshadow a tremendous achievement, namely an economic boom uniquely his. During his time in office, the economy has achieved feats most experts thought impossible. GDP is growing at a 3 percent-plus rate. The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low. Meanwhile, the stock market has jumped 27 percent amid a surge in corporate profits. Friday brought another round of good news: Nonfarm payrolls rose by a better-than-expected 201,000 and wages, the last missing piece of the economic recovery, increased by 2.9 percent year over year to the highest level since April 2009.

That made it the best gain since the recession ended in June 2009. His critics, a group that includes a legion of Wall Street economists, most Democrats and even some in his own Republican Party, don’t believe it will last. They figure the current boom will begin petering out as soon as mid-2019 and possibly end in recession in 2020. But even they acknowledge that the current numbers are a uniquely Trumpian achievement and not owed to policies already set in motion when he took office. “I still believe the big story this year is an economic boom that most folks thought impossible,” Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council and a chief advisor to Trump, said in a recent interview with CNBC.com. “I understand that he’s been in for a year and a half, but when you look at those numbers, this is not going away.”

Indeed, the economy does seem to be on fire, and it’s fairly easy to draw a straight line from Trump’s policies to the current trends. Business confidence is soaring, in part thanks to a softer regulatory environment. Consumer sentiment by one measure is at its highest level in 18 years. Corporate profits, owed in good part to last year’s tax cuts, are coming close to setting records.

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May will have to bend a lot.

May Urged To Ignore ‘Three Stooges’ In Brexit Negotiations (G.)

An EU commissioner has likened Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage to the “Three Stooges” and issued a stern warning to Theresa May that there would be no Brexit deal next March if she insisted on sticking to her Chequers proposal. In a speech in Ireland on Friday, Phil Hogan said the EU would fight to the end to preserve the union of nations that has stood for the past 60 years. He said Brussels would not allow the bloc to be damaged just to save the UK “from its own silliness” and reiterated the EU position that the four freedoms forming the bedrock of the union were not negotiable. He said the only room for a special deal on deviating from the four freedoms would be in relation to Northern Ireland.

“The EU’s first offer, reflexively rejected, was a significant departure from our internal market policy. And it was meant for Northern Ireland only. It was that Northern Ireland could remain in the single market with the EU27,” he said. Instead of accepting that offer, the UK’s reply, he said, was “‘Let’s restrict the single market to goods and generalise it for the whole UK.’ The EU’s answer has already been given: no. “If the UK attitude is Chequers and only Chequers, there will be no agreement before March next year on the future trade relationship,” he said. He said that if May could not progress the UK’s position then the EU’s offer on a future trade deal would be the one it put forward months ago, “essentially a Canada-type trade arrangement”. He added: “There is nothing new in this. Each time she is asked about her red lines, the prime minister repeats them, making a Canada-type trade deal more likely.

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Curious development. Trying to make it look like it never happened?

Cohen Seeks To Vacate Hush-Money Deal With Stormy Daniels (Hill)

Michael Cohen’s shell company has reportedly moved to vacate a 2016 nondisclosure agreement with adult-film star Stormy Daniels, requesting that she return the $130,000 she received as part of the deal. Cohen’s lawyer Brent Blakely said Friday that California law requires Daniels to return the money that Cohen paid her in 2016 to stay quiet about her alleged affair with President Trump in 2006, CNN reports. “Today, Essential Consultants LLC and Michael Cohen have effectively put an end to the lawsuits filed against them by Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels,” Blakely told CNN.

“The rescission of the Confidential Settlement Agreement will result in Ms. Clifford returning to Essential Consultants the $130,000 she received in consideration, as required by California law,” he added. A source familiar with Cohen’s thinking told the network that Cohen no longer benefits from Daniels’s promise to keep quiet about the affair. The existence of the deal, and Daniels’s alleged affair, were reported by The Wall Street Journal originally in January, while Daniels has been outspoken about her allegations since then. Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing Daniels in her defamation case against Cohen and Trump over their denials of the alleged affair, told CNN that the move was likely made in an attempt to protect Trump from being deposed.

“I haven’t had a chance to digest it, I just saw it on my email literally right before I came on,” Avenatti told CNN. “What they’re trying to do is they don’t want me to get a chance to depose Michael Cohen and Donald Trump,” he added. “This is a hail mary to try and avoid that, that’s my first guess.” Avenatti added in a tweet Friday night that Cohen “is back to playing games and trying to protect Donald Trump.” “He is now pulling a legal stunt to try and ‘fix it’ so that we can’t depose Trump and present evidence to the American people about what happened. He is not a hero nor a patriot. He deserves what he gets,” the attorney added.

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If Mueller et al had a sense of decency, they’d have let him go on “Time Served”. All they’ve proven is that Papadopoulos is indeed a nobody. BTW, rumor has it that Joseph Mifsud is dead.

Papadopoulos Sentenced To 14 Days In Prison For Lying To FBI (ES)

President Trump’s former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos has been sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI. He is the first former campaign aide to be sentenced in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation. In October 2017, he pled guilty to one count of lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” who he thought had close connections to senior government officials. Mr Papadopoulos was a member of the campaign’s foreign policy team, but Trump aides have said he played a limited role in the campaign and had no access to the candidate.

Court papers revealed that Mr Papadopoulos was told about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” on April 26 2016, well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails had been hacked. The interactions at the centre of the case included speaking with Russian intermediaries who were attempting to line up a meeting between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and offering “dirt” on Mrs Clinton. During the trial, Mr Papadopoulos apologised for his actions, telling a judge that he had made a “dreadful mistake” and was eager for redemption.

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See, Papadopoulos gets jailed for lying to the FBI (about nothing). Now, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lied 4x, twide under oath, about leaking FBI info to the press. Which is worse? And if this concerns the FBI so much, how come Mueller, ex-FBI head, conducts the investigation?

Secret Grand Jury Proceedings Underway Against Andrew McCabe (ZH)

Federal prosecutors have been using a grand jury over the last several months to investigate former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, reports the Washington Post, citing two people familiar with the matter. What’s more, the grand jury has summoned at least two witnesses, and the case is ongoing according to WaPo’s sources. “The presence of the grand jury shows prosecutors are treating the matter seriously, locking in the accounts of witnesses who might later have to testify at a trial. But such panels are sometimes used only as investigative tools, and it remains unclear if McCabe will ultimately be charged.” -Washington Post

McCabe was fired on March 16 after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a criminal referral following a months-long probe, which found that McCabe lied four times, including twice under oath, about authorizing a self-serving leak to the press. Horowitz found that McCabe “had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor – including under oath – on multiple occasions.” Specifically, McCabe was fired for lying about authorizing an F.B.I. spokesman and attorney to tell Devlin Barrett of the Wall St. Journal – just days before the 2016 election, that the FBI had not put the brakes on a separate investigation into the Clinton Foundation, at a time in which McCabe was coming under fire for his wife taking a $467,500 campaign contribution from Clinton proxy pal, Terry McAuliffe.

In order to deal with his legal woes, McCabe set up a GoFundMe “legal defense fund” which stopped accepting donations, after support for the fired bureaucrat took in over half a million dollars – roughly $100,000 more than his wife’s campaign took from McAuliffe as McCabe’s office was investigating Clinton and her infamous charities.

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Let’s go through all the apps. And through all Twitter accounts. I understand Hamas and Ahmadinejad still operate.

Apple Bans Alex Jones App For ‘Objectionable Content’ (R.)

Apple said on Friday that it had banned from its App Store the Infowars app belonging to popular U.S. conspiracy theorist Alex Jones after finding that it had violated the company’s rules against “objectionable content”. The move makes Apple the latest tech company or social media platform to take action against Jones, a deeply controversial right-wing radio talk-show host who has suggested that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, among other sensational claims. Apple said the guidelines Jones violated bar “defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited content, including references or commentary about religion, race, sexual orientation, gender, national/ethnic origin, or other targeted groups, particularly if the app is likely to humiliate, intimidate, or place a targeted individual or group in harm’s way.”

Representatives for Jones could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters on Friday evening. On Thursday, Twitter Inc permanently banned Jones and his website from its platform and Periscope, saying in a tweet that the accounts had violated its behavior policies. In a video posted on the Infowars website on Thursday, Jones said in response: “I was taken down not because we lied but because we tell the truth and because we were popular.” Last month, Twitter banned Jones and Infowars for seven days, citing tweets that it said violated the company’s rules against abusive behavior, which state that a user may not engage in targeted harassment of someone or incite other people to do so.

Apple said at the time that the Infowars app remained in its store because it had not been found to be in violation of any content policies, although it had removed access to some podcasts by Jones. The podcasts differ from the Infowars app by allowing access to an extensive list of previous episodes, subjecting all of those past episodes to Apple’s content rules.

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Oh well, just blame America.

Erdogan Legacy Construction Projects Stall In Turkish Financial Crisis (Ind.)

Turkey’s financial meltdown has brought the country’s years-long construction boom screeching to a halt, with even some of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s favourite projects being suspended or scaled back amid a cash crunch and debt woes. In recent weeks, worried murmurs about stalled projects among developers and ordinary Turks about dormant construction sites and half-finished buildings left untouched for months have reached a crescendo. This week local news outlets reported that a key transport project in Istanbul, the Kabatas ferry terminal connecting the city’s European and Asian sides of Turkey’s commercial capital, would be scaled back.

Across the country, experts say construction sites have gone dormant, projects suspended or delayed. The construction cranes remain in place, but the work has stopped. “The huge companies that do fancy infrastructure projects – they don’t have any money,” said one developer who is well-connected to official circles. “The government has a spending freeze. They’re going to reconsider all the projects and reprioritise.” Mr Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, built his reputation and electoral popularity on undertaking gigantic public works projects like mosques, airports, and bridges, as well as facilitating big private sector projects that included showy housing complexes, glittery office towers, and shopping malls packed with Turkish and international retail brands.

But the miracle was built on cheap credit from abroad, which has now dried up in a climate of rising US interest rates and doubts about Turkey’s economic health. And financial experts, developers, and bankers say many of Turkey’s projects – including the 45km Istanbul canal connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara that even Mr Erdogan himself called “crazy” – are now in doubt. “The Istanbul Canal is almost impossible,” said Atilla Yesilada, an economist and consultant. “Because no one wants to lend to Turkey now.”

Read more …

A caravan of grand jury’s.

Slouching Toward Okeefenoke (Kunstler)

There is now a clear evidence trail about eight-lanes wide detailing Russian collusion of the Democratic Party, the Hillary Campaign, the FBI / DOJ, plus a caravan of Robert Mueller aides, adjuncts, colleagues and former trainees. They are all mixed up with a cavalcade of events weaving through more than one Clinton investigation (and its damage control operations), and they need to appear before grand juries too. Many, I suspect are criminally culpable and will end up in the slammer. Perhaps even ole Horse-face himself, grave and aseptic as he may seem.

I’ve caught two of Trump’s rallies the past week or so. His freestyling babble at the podium makes me wish I could wave a magic wand and just make him vanish in a cloud of orange vapor, or perhaps turn him into Richard Nixon. (Doesn’t all this make you nostalgic for ole Nixie?) He can’t shut up about the economic miracles that he has wrought with his mighty “stable genius” brain. Perhaps he has not noticed that the money system is crumbling all around the world at the margins. If he does not understand that this rot eventually must reach the center, then he has washed down too many cheeseburgers with his own Kool Aid.

Having taken ownership of all this lock, stock, and barrel, then he is perfectly situated to be blamed when the honey-wagon of algo trading robots turns south and whatever remains of the world’s hot money, including the US dollar, goes up in smoke. If it coincides even bluntly with the mid-term election, then we will find ourselves living through Civil War Two.

Read more …

2 Russian secret agents who make sure they get photographed by 5-6 different camera’s. Yeah.

Russia Asks Britain For Help In Identifying Novichok Suspects (G.)

Moscow has claimed it wants to ascertain as soon as possible the identities of the two men named by Britain as suspects in the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, and has asked London to help. “We need to establish who these people are, if these are [Russian] citizens or not,” said Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman on Friday. “We want to do this with maximum haste and effectiveness, and so we are again appealing to Britain for help in ascertaining the identities of these people.” Britain announced charges in absentia on Wednesday against two men believed to be officers with Russia’s military intelligence service, known as the GRU.

Theresa May said the men flew into Britain in March to try to murder Sergei Skripal, a former GRU officer who sold secrets to MI6, and accused the Russian government of orchestrating the operation. Scotland Yard said the alleged secret agents travelled to Britain under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, which were probably aliases. The Kremlin has described the allegations as unacceptable and denies that any Russian officials were involved. Zakharova also accused May of a “frank lie” over her claims that Russia had not offered Britain information after the nerve agent attack, and suggested that May had “selective access” to Russian media reports. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, said on Thursday that Russia would not investigate the two suspects because it had not received a formal request for legal assistance from Britain.

Zakharova’s comments came as a purported ex-GRU officer claimed the attempted murder was too amateurish to have been the work of professional secret service agents. If GRU agents had wanted to target Skripal, they would have done it “quietly, without fuss, and brought him [to Russia] in a mail bag, and no one would have known where he had gone,” Ivan Tarasov told Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. Tarasov also claimed the Skripals could have been targeted by a Russian crime gang, possibly over unpaid debts, and mocked reports that the suspects stayed in the same room in a cheap hotel near Salisbury. “That’s how bandits act, not professional secret service officers. GRU officers don’t stay in London hotels,” he said.

Read more …

I don’t care about Nike. But I do care about Kaepernick. See, if there’s one thing wrong here that proves him right, it’s that only black people come out in support of him. Where are his white colleagues, white athletes in general? Why only Tiger, Serena and LeBron?

The world he’s protesting is the one that is killing black kids. His protest started under the first black US president. So did Black Lives matter. So where is Obama on the issue? Why doesn’t he stand with Kaepernick?

Nike Online Sales Jump 31% After Company Unveiled Kaepernick Campaign (MW)

Talk of Nike Inc. sales taking a hit from the company’s decision to put ex–NFL player Colin Kaepernick at the center of its latest “Just Do It” campaign is looking overblown, based on data from a Silicon Valley digital commerce research company. After an initial dip immediately after the news broke, Nike’s online sales actually grew 31% from the Sunday of Labor Day weekend through Tuesday, as compared with a 17% gain recorded for the same period of 2017, according to San Francisco–based Edison Trends. “There was speculation that the Nike/Kaepernick campaign would lead to a drop in sales, but our data over the last week does not support that theory,” said Hetal Pandya, co-founder of Edison Trends.

Nike’s stock has also held up after its initial slump. The stock was up 1% on Friday and remains in the black for the month. It has gained 29% in 2018, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, which since 2013 has counted Nike as a member, has gained 5%, as the S&P 500 index has risen about 8%. The news generated plenty of online buzz, with social engagement around Nike and Kaepernick rising sharply this week, according to 4C Insights, a marketing technology company. Mentions of and comments about Nike on social-media platforms rose 1,678% on Sunday and Monday, according to 4C data. Mentions of Kaepernick spiked 362,280%, the data showed.

Read more …

Jul 302018
 
 July 30, 2018  Posted by at 1:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Family of Saltimbanques 1905

 

Why did Britain vote Yes in the Brexit vote Cameron called? To a large degree to protest policies he himself imposed. For many it’s still a mystery ‘mechanism’, but not for all. People like Steve Bannon understand it very well. That is, austerity and mass migration make voters turn to the political right. Even if they are initiated by the right. When Britain’s Tories under David Cameron and George Osborne began ripping apart much of the country’s institutions and infrastructure, they knew that their austerity measures would only make their party stronger.

The incompetence of Theresa May and her ministers on Brexit will lead to an almighty backlash, and soon, but then Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg, far to the right of May, will take over. Labour under Corbyn doesn’t stand a chance. The same pattern repeats itself everywhere, and nobody knows how to stop it. How could they if and when they don’t understand it?

For the right, this is a ‘can’t lose’, and they’re not done. That’s why Steve Bannon is touring Europe. It’s easy pickings: a rightwing government that imposes austerity measures will be rewarded for it with more voters. If it also lets in large numbers of migrants, even more votes. Can’t lose. The migration streams in Europe are supported by the right, because they know that subsequently opposing them will keep them in power.

Under political systems as we once knew them, you’d expect people to turn left instead of right, but there is no left left to vote for. What’s left of what was once left, has become an indistinguishable part of a big shapeless blob in the center -or even center-right- of our political systems. Or perhaps we should say: the systems as we once knew them. And it’s indeed just what’s left of the left, which in most cases is very little. In many countries, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, formerly left parties have been all but extinguished, former ‘glory’ brought to its knees.

Spain is an exception, but leftwing PM Pablo Sanchez seems to have landed his job primarily by playing a better game of chess -or poker- than his opponents when he forced then-PM Mariano Rajoy out. But just wait till you see what happens when refugees and migrants begin flooding into Spain, instead of Greece and Italy, for real. That development has already started. Italy closed its borders, Spain opened them. It will lead to a rightwing government in Madrid, too.

This is not about opinion. it’s simply what happens. When there is no left to turn to to halt austerity, let alone temper migration numbers, people will turn to the only alternative available to them. Right. The same right that is more than ready to magnify the problems, whether it’s migration or increasing levels of poverty. They win either way.

 

In Germany, the leftwing SDP hardly exists anymore. Center-right Angela Merkel, Queen of Europe, opened the doors of the nation and whaddaya know, parties to her right started growing. If I can insert one bit of opinion here, I’d say letting one million migrants into your country in one year is asking for trouble. Migration must always take place in moderation, especially when the difference in wealth between an existing population and new arrivals is very large. It’s different in Turkey or Lebanon, where wealth disparities are much smaller.

And those countries are already largely Muslim, whereas allowing many people into your country who have completely different religions and worldviews is a whole different game. Canada does this -relatively- well: new arrivals are Canadian first, and Muslim or Syrian after. European countries have never mastered that model; that’s why they have ghetto’s and assorted other problems. Migration and assimilation must be two sides of the same coin, or you have not immigration but an invasion.

The right can do what it wants and still win and get bigger, while privatizing everything in sight and robbing the public of all they once owed. And then that same public will vote for them again. It’s neoliberal and neocon and there’s nobody left to explain, let alone fight it. And if there were, there’s a formidable propaganda machine waiting in the wings, and they’ve been at it for a while now. The -formerly- left has no such machine. The best they can do is blame Russia. But they themselves are to blame, not Moscow.

 

So the people vote against their own best interests, and it’s not even very hard to get them to do that anymore. All you need to do is deprive them of all other options. Once the left wing becomes part of the center, whether it’s in the US or any of many European countries, rien ne va plus. The die has been cast.

The left must turn against neoliberalism, but it has no economists to explain the reason why, and no leaders who understand economics. So they have become neoliberalists themselves. They’re all stuck in the austerity model, and nobody gets how damaging it is to take a meat cleaver to an already suffering economy. The people of Greece can explain that one.

Economies function -or not- because of money flowing through them. You can cut away some of the fat in lean times, but you can’t cut away the arteries. Austerity is deadly to an economy, but the irony is that it makes people vote for those who first, initiate it, and second, promote more austerity.

I don’t want to insert any political opinions, but I do think that for a society, and an economy, to properly function there needs to be a balance, between left and right, between rich and poor, between owners and workers. We’re far away from any such balance wherever I look. And as I’ve said before, that’s why we have Trump.

To reveal what has so far remained hidden: everything done under the guise of ‘left’ that was merely more neoliberalism. To allow people who don’t agree with him to form an opinion and an identity, something they thought was not necessary under neoliberals like Obama or Tony Blair or Merkel. I don’t see any of that happening though, and that means many more years of Trump and other rightwing dominance.

If the answer to austerity is to vote for more austerity, what will be the answer to collapsing stock- and housing markets? I have an idea. And it doesn’t include Jeremy Corbyn. Or Bernie Sanders.

 

 

Jun 232018
 


René Magritte Le Mal du Pays (Homesickness) 1940

 

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.

First, a week ago already, I saw this on RT:

 

Debunked: Viral Image Of Crying, Caged Toddler ‘Detained By ICE’ Not What It Seems

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.

 

Fact-Check: Was Migrant Girl On US Border Taken From Mother? Unfounded

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, Bigoteering, and Other Modern Scams

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:

 

ACLU Obtains Documents Showing Widespread Abuse Of Child Immigrants In US Custody

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:

 

Theresa May’s Brutal Family Separations Would Make Trump Blush

[..] 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.

And the Sydney Morning Herald from December 2017:

 

Australia Is Wilfully Damaging The Health Of Children On Nauru To Make A Point – And It Is Appalling

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?

 

 

May 102018
 
 May 10, 2018  Posted by at 6:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


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.

 

 

May 042018
 


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.”

 

 

Dr. D:

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.”

P.S. Mark Twain never said this.

 

 

Jan 062018
 
 January 6, 2018  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Acrobat 1930

 

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.

 

 

 

Investors Should Be ‘Terrified’ About Dow 25,000 (CNBC)
QE Party Over, Even by the Bank of Japan (WS)
Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age (Gordon)
US Created Only 148,000 Jobs In December vs 190,000 Jobs Expected (CNBC)
Big Tech Will Get Bigger In 2018, While Smaller Players Look For Exits (CNBC)
Pension Fund Members Don’t Know Their Plans Are Underfunded (TA)
US Households May Rue Their Spending Exuberance Of 2017 (BBG)
Ghost of Weimar Looms Over German Politics (BBG)
Twitter Says World Leaders Like Trump Have Special Status (R.)
Trump Isn’t Another Hitler. He’s Another Obama. (CJ)
Fire and Fury (Jim Kunstler)
Trump Book Author Says His Revelations Will Bring Down US President (R.)

 

 

“”In the first three versions of the Goldilocks story, Goldilocks actually died horribly..”

Investors Should Be ‘Terrified’ About Dow 25,000 (CNBC)

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.

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All central banks making the same moves, except perhaps for China. Rattling nerves.

QE Party Over, Even by the Bank of Japan (WS)

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:

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You might as well. But do get out of the way.

Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age (Gordon)

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?

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The drop in retail jobs in the holiday season stands out.

US Created Only 148,000 Jobs In December vs 190,000 Jobs Expected (CNBC)

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.”

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Remember: we are the ones making big tech bigger by using their products. We don’t have to.

Big Tech Will Get Bigger In 2018, While Smaller Players Look For Exits (CNBC)

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.

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All over the western world, this may be the no. 1 problem. Lies, ignorance and evaporated entitlements. Ponzi 2.0.

Pension Fund Members Don’t Know Their Plans Are Underfunded (TA)

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.

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Yes, but MAGA…

US Households May Rue Their Spending Exuberance Of 2017 (BBG)

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.

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Maybe the biggest problem is that there’s no successor for Merkel.

Ghost of Weimar Looms Over German Politics (BBG)

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.

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Where would Twitter be without Trump?

Twitter Says World Leaders Like Trump Have Special Status (R.)

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.”

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Caitlin Johnstone provides balance.

Trump Isn’t Another Hitler. He’s Another Obama. (CJ)

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.

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Trump depends on bubbles.

Fire and Fury (Jim Kunstler)

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.

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How to sell your book: Make outrageous claims.

Trump Book Author Says His Revelations Will Bring Down US President (R.)

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.

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