Apr 232021
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Christ and St Mary Magdalene at the Tomb 1638

 

Biden Vows To Cut Nearly Half Of Greenhouse Emissions By 2030 (SAC)
GOP Sen. Ron Johson Criticizes ‘Big Push’ To Get Everyone Vaccinated (F.)
Greek Gov’t Legislates “Legal Impunity” For Epidemiologists’ Committee (KTG)
Greece to Recognize Validity of Sputnik V Vaccine for Travelers (GR)
One Dose Of Pfizer Or Oxford Jab Reduces Covid Infection Rate By 65% (G.)
Japan Rolls Out Vaccine Slowly, Despite Looming Olympics (Y!)
Russia To Withdraw Troops From Deployment On Border With Ukraine (RT)
Russia To Make Areas Of Airspace Inaccessible To Foreign Missiles, Drones (RT)
Russia Behind ‘Directed Energy’ Attacks On US Troops In Syria – Pentagon (ZH)
Who Runs The World? Blackrock and Vanguard (Sardi)
Why The ‘Magic Money Tree’ Suddenly Appeared When Covid-19 Hit (RP)

 

 

Flooding at a coal mine in one of the smallest of 61 counties in #Xinjiang #China shut down 35% of #Bitcoin’s global mining power this weekend.

 

 

Not the Onion. But way over the top.

 

 

Big differences.

 

 

If you find yourself hopeful when seeing this, snap out of it. This is just a way to spend trillions of your money on greenwashing. Here is the pattern that will continue, again:

“..the Obama administration aimed to reduce emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Currently, the U.S. has not yet reached the halfway point in achieving that goal.”

Replacing one source of energy with another one is useless, only using -a whole lot- less energy works. For that, we will need to redesign our cities and homes. Not our cars. And that will cost a lot of money, which won’t be available anymore, because it’s been spent on grandiose plans for windmills and solar panels to one-on-one replace all present sources. And that’s just the first problem.

Biden Vows To Cut Nearly Half Of Greenhouse Emissions By 2030 (SAC)

President Joe Biden on Earth Day vowed to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52%—compared to 2005 levels—by 2030, as part of a broader goal of achieving net-zero emissions in the country by 2050. “These steps will set America on a path of a net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050,” Biden told a virtual climate summit, attended by 40 leaders from around the world, Thursday morning as he announced the new emissions goal. “Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade, this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis,” Biden said.


“This is a moral imperative. An economic imperative. A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities,” the president added. The new greenhouse target more than doubles the United States’ previous target under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, when the Obama administration aimed to reduce emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Currently, the U.S. has not yet reached the halfway point in achieving that goal.

Biden energy boom

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Heretic.

GOP Sen. Ron Johson Criticizes ‘Big Push’ To Get Everyone Vaccinated (F.)

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) on Thursday questioned the “big push” to ensure everyone is vaccinated against coronavirus, putting him at odds with many of his Senate Republican colleagues who have attempted to close the partisan gap in vaccination rates. In an interview with conservative Wisconsin radio host Vicki McKenna, herself a vocal coronavirus vaccine skeptic, Johnson launched into a condemnation of “vaccine passports,” a credential that would allow businesses to verify vaccination status. But Johnson also went a step further, declaring he sees “no reason to be pushing vaccines on people,” arguing their distribution should be “limited” to those most vulnerable to coronavirus, and asking, “if you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?”

Johnson said he is “getting highly suspicious” of the “big push to make sure everybody gets the vaccine,” stating it’s “not a fully approved vaccine” but also arguing that the fact it is 95% effective means only a limited number of people need to be vaccinated. The comments put Johnson at odds with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who spent much of the last Senate recess urging Republican men to get vaccinated amid public opinion polling that shows they are the least likely to do so. Johnson is one of the Senate’s most prolific promoters of coronavirus pseudoscience, holding hearings last year as the chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to promote unproven treatments like Hydroxychloroquine.

[..] Johnson has drawn outrage from lawmakers in both parties for some of his recent comments, particularly on the Jan. 6 attack, which he has routinely sought to downplay. He said the attack “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me” in February, and last month he said the attackers “truly respect law enforcement” and claimed he wasn’t concerned for his safety during the incident – but might have been if the attackers were affiliated with Black Lives Matter.

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First time I’ve seen this. Many countries will follow. No investigation allowed.

Greek Gov’t Legislates “Legal Impunity” For Epidemiologists’ Committee (KTG)

The Greek government has tabled a amendment to the Parliament to secure legal impunity for the committee of the epidemiologists advising the government on pandemic issues. The regulation comes amid pressure from the opposition to make the minutes of the meetings public. The introduction to provide impunity to infectious disease committee members in charge of the pandemic measures is for sure a unique worldwide. The amendment introduces impunity for the epidemiologists’ committee members from any form of prosecution or even questioning and protects them from having to testify if they were in “conflict of interest.”

The amendment was submitted by the Health Ministry in a legislation of Code of Judicial Officers of the Justice Ministry. It reportedly bears the signatures of the Health and Justice Ministers and other members of the government. It will be voted in the parliament later on Thursday. According to news website news247.gr, Article 4 of the amendment stipulates that members of the National Committee for the Protection of Public Health against the coronavirus disease Covid 19, the Committee for the Management of Public Health Emergencies by Infectious Diseases and the National Vaccination Committee are not liable, not prosecuted and are not examined for opinion they formulated or vote they gave in the exercise of their duties in the context of the operation of the above committees. Prosecution is allowed only for defamation or insult.

Particularly troubling, notes the website, is the provision that committee members are not prosecuted but can not even be questioned. It raises questions about what this means in the event that either a public prosecutor’s investigation or a possible pre-investigation committee of the Parliament is conducted in the future. In this case, it is possible that the members of the committee may not even be called as witnesses. It should be noted that this regulation comes after the intense pressure from the opposition to make public the minutes of the infectious disease committees and also in a period of the pandemic where the decisions of the committee are extremely important. At the same time, it comes in the middle of the vaccination process and also concerns the vaccination committee.

It is worth recalling that there have already been complaints from the opposition about conflicts of interest between members of the committee and their professional activities, notes news247. It should also be recalled that there has been recently a debate about the committee decisions and how much the members obey the government s plans to open or close activities than the scientific dictates. The gradual lifting of the lockdown and the opening of tourism in mid-May (unofficially on April 19) with daily infections are over 3000 and an average of 75 deaths per day while had many Greeks wonder why there was a 5.5 months lockdown anyway. [..] The government, ministers and lawmakers have immunity anyway.

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Also: “Germany to buy 30 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine”. EU Covid management is crumbling.

Greece to Recognize Validity of Sputnik V Vaccine for Travelers (GR)

Greece is taking all possible necessary precautions to ensure a successful launch of the 2021 tourism season on May 14 to avoid last year’s losses — including accepting the validity of Russia’s “Sputnik V” vaccine in allowing Russians to visit the country. The vaccine, dubbed the “traveling companion,” has a 97.6% efficacy rate under trial conditions, according to its makers. This was based on data analysis on the infection rate among people receiving both shots of the vaccine. The Sputnik V vaccine was registered in 60 countries worldwide as of April 19, 2021 from Argentina and Mexico to Israel and the Philippines. Russian officials say they have signed deals to produce it in South Korea and India. Via a post on Twitter on April 6, 2021, the distributor confirmed that it could supply Greece with the vaccine for 500,000 people in May.


A soft opening of the tourism sector in Greece commenced on Monday, April 20, by lifting its seven-day quarantine requirements for international travelers arriving from the EU, the Schengen Area, the US, the UK, Israel, Serbia, and the United Arab Emirates upon proof of vaccination, immunity, or a negative PCR test on arrival. Expected in this is group is hundreds of thousands of tourists from Russia as a result of joint efforts to resume tourism activity between the two countries. However, the Sputnik V is still under review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). There are not enough doses of other vaccines available in the EU to satisfy demand, so the desire for new options is substantial. The EU Green Passport regulation, due to be adopted soon, does not recognize vaccines that have not yet been approved by the EMA. However, it is flexible enough to allow EU member states to accept the validity of certain vaccines, such as Russia’s Sputnik V, on what it calls a “bilateral level.”

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That’s less effective than ivermectin. Good thing they didn’t research that, so they can keep saying: well, there’s no research! The only way to keep the EUA.

One Dose Of Pfizer Or Oxford Jab Reduces Covid Infection Rate By 65% (G.)

One shot of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduces coronavirus infections by nearly two-thirds and protects older and more vulnerable people as much as younger, healthy individuals, a study has found. The results from Oxford University and the Office for National Statistics are a welcome boost to the vaccination programme and the first to show the impact on new infections and immune responses in a large group of adults in the general population. By driving down rates of infection the vaccines will not only prevent hospitalisations and deaths but help break chains of transmission and so reduce the risk of a damaging resurgence of disease as the UK reopens.

The researchers analysed Covid test results from more than 350,000 people in the UK between December and April. They found that 21 days after a first jab – the time it takes the immune system to mount a decent response – new Covid infections dropped by 65%. The vaccines were more effective against symptomatic than asymptomatic infections, reducing rates by 72% and 57% respectively, compared with those seen in the unvaccinated population. A second shot of the Pfizer vaccine boosted protection further, causing symptomatic infections to fall by 90% and asymptomatic infections by 70%. Because the Oxford vaccine was approved and rolled out later, it is too early to assess the impact of those second doses.

Scientists on the team said the findings supported the UK’s decision to prioritise giving first shots to elderly and more vulnerable people by delaying second doses. “There was no evidence that the vaccines were less effective among older adults or those with long-term health conditions,” said Dr Koen Pouwels, a researcher on the team.

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“A majority of Japanese already oppose holding the Games this summer..”

Japan Rolls Out Vaccine Slowly, Despite Looming Olympics (Y!)

Three months before it hosts the Olympics – the biggest international event since the pandemic began – Japan has fully vaccinated less than one percent of its population in a cautious, slow-moving programme. Olympic organisers and local officials stress vaccines are not a prerequisite for the Games. Participants will not have to be inoculated before arrival and there are no plans to prioritise vaccination of Japanese athletes or volunteers. But the slow rollout in the world’s third-largest economy, which experts say is driven by a mixture of caution and entrenched bureaucratic hurdles, is starting to weigh on public opinion. The government has emphasised caution to build trust in the vaccine, said Takakazu Yamagishi, director of the Center for International Affairs at Nanzan University, who researches health policy.

But, seeing speedy vaccinations elsewhere, “more and more people are realising that the delayed vaccination process has put Japan in a difficult position to hold the Olympics,” he told AFP. This could “weaken their support for the Games”. A majority of Japanese already oppose holding the Games this summer, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who faces a general election this year, has been under pressure for months over his coronavirus response. The country’s outbreak has been comparatively small so far, with fewer than 10,000 deaths. But several regions, including Tokyo, requested new virus states of emergency this week over a fresh wave of cases that has already overwhelmed some local healthcare systems.

Writing in the British Medical Journal this month, four health experts cited Japan’s “sluggish vaccine rollout” among other factors in urging plans to hold the Games “be reconsidered as a matter of urgency”. Polls show three-quarters of Japan’s public consider the rollout slow, with 60 percent saying they are dissatisfied with the programme. Olympic organisers insist the rollout’s pace will not impact the Games. “We’ll be able to deliver the Games even without vaccination,” Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto told reporters on Wednesday.

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A big nothing. But a warning at the same time.

Russia To Withdraw Troops From Deployment On Border With Ukraine (RT)

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has announced that troops deployed in the west and south of the country in recent days will soon begin returning to base, saying they have now passed tests of their combat readiness. The chief of the country’s military revealed on Thursday that a number of units of the regular army and airborne divisions had been transferred to the area, near the shared border with Ukraine, as part of surprise military exercises. The buildup had caused alarm in Kiev, and been cited by Western nations as a potential precursor to an invasion, which the Kremlin repeatedly denied.


According to Shoigu, “the goals of the sudden inspection have been fully achieved. The troops demonstrated their ability to ensure reliable defense of the country.” As a result, he has now ordered commanders to “plan and begin the return of troops to their places of regular deployment, beginning from April 23.” By the end of the month, the minister said, “the personnel of the 58th Army of the Southern Military District, the 41st Army of the Central Military District, the 7th, 76th Air Assault and 98th Airborne Divisions of the Airborne Forces” will return to their normal bases. However, he warned that the army would “react and respond adequately to all changes in the situation near Russian borders.”

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“.. render foreign satellite navigation systems completely useless, disabling an enemy’s high-precision weapons.”

Russia To Make Areas Of Airspace Inaccessible To Foreign Missiles, Drones (RT)

Russia’s electronic warfare specialists will practice creating ‘protection areas’ in the country’s airspace that could render foreign satellite navigation systems completely useless, disabling an enemy’s high-precision weapons. According to Moscow daily Izvestia, citing a source in the Defense Ministry, radio-electronic warfare troops will practice using the technology during exercises this year, with the practice to be held nationwide in 2022. The system, known as Field-21, creates interference that disorients foreign satellite navigation systems, including the American GPS NAVSTAR. According to experts, the creation of special zones could be used to protect military facilities, as well as industrial areas, making the airspace virtually impenetrable. They believe the new approach will radically increase national security.


With satellite navigation foiled, enemy high-precision weapons and drones will not be able to direct themselves towards their target. “Electronic warfare systems hit several cruise missile systems at once,” military historian Dmitry Boltenkov told Izvestia. “Satellite navigation interference causes them to get ‘lost’ in space and dramatically reduces their accuracy. If the radio altimeter signal is suppressed, the ammunition will also not be able to perform its combat mission as expected.” Radio-electronic troops have already been deployed in Syria, where an electronic warfare protection dome has been created over the areas of Tartus and Khmeimim, protecting the military from attacks by militant drones. Russia has been involved in the Syrian Civil War since 2015, when it was invited by the Damascus government, led by President Bashar Assad, to help fight against a terrorist insurgency in the country.

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One thing about flimsy nonsensical narratives is you must keep feeding them. Then when someone asks for proof, you can point to all the other “cases” and say: see?! it fits a pattern.

Russia Behind ‘Directed Energy’ Attacks On US Troops In Syria – Pentagon (ZH)

In the newest dramatic allegations against suspected Russian malfeasance, the Department of Defense (DoD) on Thursday revealed that it believes the Russian military targeted US troops in Syria with ‘directed energy attacks’ in order to make them ill and unable to conduct normal operations. Apparently some US troops occupying the country began reporting “flu-like symptoms” which caused the DoD to investigate possible linkage to microwave or directed energy weapons on the battlefield of Syria. Politico reports that “officials identified Russia as a likely culprit, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.” DoD officials said they briefed top lawmakers on intelligence which they say points to Russia being behind a series of these suspected high tech attacks.

This follows a major investigation being conducted since last year of similar mysterious attacks against US personnel across the globe. Controversy has raged since late 2016 into 2017 and the “Havana syndrome” story, which involved some 50 diplomatic officials working at the US Embassy in Cuba coming down with strange illnesses and symptoms which many blamed on high tech ‘sonic attacks’ of some sort. Personnel reported experiencing everything from vomiting to concussions to chronic headaches to minor brain injuries. But analysts and scientists have been deeply divided on the issue, with speculation ranging from high pitched sounds from crickets or even mass hysteria causing the illness.

But Politico reports of these newest allegations of the potential targeting of Americans in northeast Syria as follows: “The briefings included information about injuries sustained by U.S. troops in Syria, the people said. The investigation includes one incident in Syria in the fall of 2020 in which several troops developed flu-like symptoms, two people familiar with the Pentagon probe said.” The CIA is said to also be looking into these suspected attacks via its own task force. Strangely, the Politico report also included a denial that troops in Syria were ever found to be victims of such weapons by the Pentagon press spokesperson, strongly suggesting this is a continuation of the current, highly politicized “just blame Russia” climate in Washington…

A Pentagon spokesperson, however, said the department is not aware of directed-energy attacks against U.S. troops in Syria. The spokesperson declined further comment on the Pentagon’s interactions with Capitol Hill or any internal investigation. “The incidents of suspected directed-energy attacks by Russia on Americans abroad became so concerning that the Pentagon’s office of special operations and low-intensity conflict began investigating last year, according to two former national security officials involved in the effort. It’s unclear exactly how many troops were injured, or the extent of their injuries.”

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Pretty brilliant exposé. By someone calling herself Covid Lie.

Who Runs The World? Blackrock and Vanguard (Sardi)

If you’ve been wondering how the world economy has been hijacked and humanity has been kidnapped by a completely bogus narrative, look no further than this video by Dutch creator, Covid Lie. What she uncovers is that the stock of the world’s largest corporations are owned by the same institutional investors. They all own each other. This means that “competing” brands, like Coke and Pepsi aren’t really competitors, at all, since their stock is owned by exactly the same investment companies, investment funds, insurance companies, banks and in some cases, governments. This is the case, across all industries. As she says:

“The smaller investors are owned by larger investors. Those are owned by even bigger investors. The visible top of this pyramid shows only two companies whose names we have often seen…They are Vanguard and BlackRock. The power of these two companies is beyond your imagination. Not only do they own a large part of the stocks of nearly all big companies but also the stocks of the investors in those companies. This gives them a complete monopoly. A Bloomberg report states that both these companies in the year 2028, together will have investments in the amount of 20 trillion dollars. That means that they will own almost everything. Bloomberg calls BlackRock “The fourth branch of government”, because it’s the only private agency that closely works with the central banks.

BlackRock lends money to the central bank but it’s also the advisor. It also develops the software the central bank uses. Many BlackRock employees were in the White House with Bush and Obama. Its CEO. Larry Fink can count on a warm welcome from leaders and politicians. Not so strange, if you know that he is the front man of the ruling company but Larry Fink does not pull the strings himself. BlackRock, itself is also owned by shareholders. Who are those shareholders? We come to a strange conclusion. The biggest shareholder is Vanguard. But now he gets murky. Vanguard is a private company and we cannot see who the shareholders are.

The elite who own Vanguard apparently do not like being in the spotlight but of course they cannot hide from who is willing to dig. Reports from Oxfam and Bloomberg say that 1% of the world, together owns more money than the other 99%. Even worse, Oxfam says that 82% of all earned money in 2017 went to this 1%. In other words, these two investment companies, Vanguard and BlackRock hold a monopoly in all industries in the world and they, in turn are owned by the richest families in the world, some of whom are royalty and who have been very rich since before the Industrial Revolution. Why doesn’t everybody know this? Why aren’t there movies and documentaries about this? Why isn’t it in the news? Because 90% of the international media is owned by nine media conglomerates.

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How did we get from austerity to spending trillions?

Why The ‘Magic Money Tree’ Suddenly Appeared When Covid-19 Hit (RP)

Coronavirus has proven that austerity was a political choice and that the ‘Magic Money Tree’ really does exist, progressive economists have said. Whether it be Joe Biden’s $1.9trillion relief bill or Rishi Sunak’s £50billion furlough scheme, centrist and conservative governments have suddenly found a way to spend in the public’s interest. All it took was a pandemic. In an event for Let’s Talk It Over entitled ‘The Austerity Doctrine in the Time of Coronavirus’, Yanis Varoufakis, Stephanie Kelton, Naomi Klein and Brian Eno discussed whether the “pandemic has ended the reign of austerity as policy and mindset”. Stephanie Kelton, a former economic adviser to Bernie Sanders, said: “Everything was in a budgeting framework and then Covid happened.

“Governments started committing huge sums of money. So where does it come from? The CARE act, for example, was Congress’ way of ordering up $2.2billion from the Federal Reserve. “They can commit to spending money that they do not have. If the votes are there, then the money follows. “Almost no-one believes any longer that the ‘coffers’ can be empty. “Everyone can now see that the government no longer needs to keep its powder dry. As Kelton explains in her now famous tome, countries that print their own money can easily spend their way towards economic prosperity without any notion of paying it back – as long as the economic potential of the nation is not reached. In the US, the total federal debt is nearing $30trillion – but does it really matter? To enact austerity to ‘pay for’ a year of generous public spending would not achieve anything except for a downward economic spiral, Varoufakis said.

The former Greek Finance Minister added: “I’m calling in from the epicentre of austerity. If there was a New Deal in 2011, after we had lost 25 percent of our GDP (in the crisis), it would have been a majestic success. “But instead, we continued and had a downward spiral. “We need to have major debt restructuring at the public and private level for countries that don’t have the same privilege as the United States in printing their own money. “The nightmare of the powerful is that the weak have alternatives. So when they hear about Universal Basic Income and job creation schemes they think it will become a nightmare for them. “As oligarchs, they are following the right instincts. Using the ‘magic money tree’ to empower the power is seriously circumscribing their own power.”

In essence, the powerful adore austerity and malign public debt because anything close to Modern Monetary Theory would give working people too many alternatives, Varoufakis said. Naomi Klein claimed that tax rises after the pandemic are a necessity – but only on the rich. Modern Monetary Theory dictates that one of the roles of taxation, in addition to curbing inflation, is to reduce inequality. She explained: “In theory, we need to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy not because we need to do it, but because of the levels of inequality. “It’s also a moral hazard for the wealthy to not have to live in the mess that they made. We’ve seen the wealthy retreat into their castles, as it were, and the pandemic has made this even more apparent. “Austerity is about disciplining a workforce.”

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Jan 072018
 
 January 7, 2018  Posted by at 10:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Edward Hopper Gloucester Beach, Bass Rocks 1924

 

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.

 

 

 

Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)
Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)
States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)
UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)
China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)
Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)
11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills
Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

 

 

So Why Are They Investing In The Exact Same Fashion?

Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)

The average pension fund assumes it can achieve a 7.6% rate of return on its assets in the future. As noted in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, the majority of these assets are invested in the stock market. The rest are invested in bonds, real estate and alternatives. An aggregate bond index fund yields 2.5% today. Real estate investment trusts, as a group, yield nearly 4%. Alternatives are a mixed bag but the point is that, in order for pensions to meet this 7.6% rate of return they require that stocks (and, to a much lesser degree, alternatives) do far better than even that optimistic assumption because the balance of the portfolio is nearly guaranteed to fall short of that mark. The trouble is that for stocks to return anywhere near 8% they would need to fall more than 50% first.

Warren Buffett famously said, “the price you pay determines your rate of return.” John Hussman puts an even finer point on it this week showing that if you want an 8% rate of return over the coming 12 years you should not be willing to pay more than 1,281 for the S&P 500 today. Currently, the index trades at roughly 2,690 thus it would take a major stock market crash for investors to have the opportunity to invest at a level that would enable them to achieve anything close to what pensions now require. But if stocks were to crash again, as they did after the last two times valuations reached current extremes, that would obviously create other problems for pensions that are now fully invested in risk assets and already underfunded to the tune of several trillion dollars.

Even if they don’t crash, however, it is now almost inevitable that pensions will face a massive crisis sometime over the next decade or so. Still, it’s fascinating to note that even though this issue is common knowledge today, investors as a group have decided to ensure they will come to the very same fate. Passive investing, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, is essentially a way for individual investors to model pension investing, typically with an even greater exposure to equities.

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Of course they could. But Jeremy Grantham’s ‘Melt-Up’ is being criticized by quite a few voices. The question is not ‘could they rise’, but ‘how long until they will plunge’?

Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)

Shares are expensive – keep buying them. That appears to be investors’ consensus view. The storming run for stock markets in 2017 seemed almost too good to be trusted, but 2018 has started in similar style. In the US, the Dow Jones industrial average soared past 25,000 last week, almost exactly 12 months after 20,000 was achieved. In the UK, the FTSE 100 index stands at a record high. Even the Japanese market, for years an international laggard, is back at a 26-year high. Last year the MSCI World index – a proxy for a global stock market – delivered a return of 20.1%. Optimists expect more of the same. The other camp warns that a dangerous bubble is about to burst. Both sides could probably agree that the recent run in stock markets has been astonishing.

Or, rather, the truly remarkable feature has been the steady and unbroken pace of the march upwards. Stock markets, we used to think, offered thrills, spills and rollercoaster rides. Individual shares still provide such excitement, of course, but the overall market seems bizarrely free of stress. Andrew Lapthorne, who crunches the market numbers for French bank Société Générale, called 2017 “the year volatility died” in his end-of-year round-up. He wrote: “Those of us expecting greater market turbulence in 2017 could not have been more wrong. Not only did global equity markets perform well, but they did so with such low volatility and consistency that, if this were a fund, it would perhaps merit a visit from the authorities to check exactly what you were up to.”

What happened? First, investors seem to have decided that rising interest rates in the US, a big worry a year ago, are not the bogeyman they seemed. The US Federal Reserve has been a protective nurse. Rate rises have been gradual, and ultra-cheap money has been followed by very cheap. A US rate of 1.5% ain’t so bad. Second, President Donald Trump’s administration, amid its chaos and crises, has delivered the policy investors in companies cared about most: corporate tax cuts. Maybe a growth-generating splurge on infrastructure, the second part of his economic agenda, will follow.

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More of a partisan thing.

States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)

The new year has only just begun, but already Democratic politicians in the country’s largest high-tax states are threatening lawsuits and publicly touting proposed workarounds to help compensate tax payers for the elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deductions which were dramatically rolled back, along with deductions for mortgage interest, as part of the White House’s tax reform plan. During his state of the state address earlier this week, New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue the federal government over the tax bill, claiming that the plan is unconstitutional and overly burdensome to New Yorkers. Cuomo said that the new law could raise some families’ taxes by as much as 25% and said the plan amounted to “double taxation.”

He later accused President Donald Trump of waging “economic civil war” on states that didn’t back him during the election, and promised to consider workarounds that would help lower residents’ federal tax bills, according to Bloomberg. Then, on Thursday, California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon introduced a bill that the Washington Post said could become a model for how blue states push back against the Trump tax plan. According to the Trump tax plan, which took effect in January, taxpayers can only deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes when they file their federal return.

“De Leon’s bill, if it became law, would essentially allow Americans to deduct much more than the $10,000 limit by redirecting state tax payments into a type of charitable contribution that would be later redirected to the state. The new federal tax law, which was supported only by Republicans, went into effect in January and does not include any caps on charitable deductions. “The Republican tax plan gives corporations and hedge-fund managers a trillion-dollar tax cut and expects California taxpayers to foot the bill,” de León said in a statement. “We won’t allow California residents to be the casualty of this disastrous tax scheme.” Several states have said they are looking for ways to challenge or work around the law, particularly states such as California and New York where residents pay a higher level of local taxes that they have traditionally been able to deduct without any limits. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has said he is looking at a way of challenging the new law in court.”

Then on Friday, incoming New Jersey Gov. Democrat Phil Murphy said he’s working on a plan similar to California’s that would allow taxpayers to pay a percentage of their state income taxes as if they were a charitable donation. The money will eventually be redirected to the state. And there’s nothing in the Republican tax plan that limits charitable deductions. Predictably, the White House has threatened to push back against these strategies. During a televised interview this week, Gary Cohn said the administration would be looking into ways to stop states from implementing these work-arounds.

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Seems easy to avoid.

UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)

More than 130,000 UK firms will be forced to pay VAT upfront for the first time on all goods imported from the European Union after Brexit, under controversial legislation to be considered by MPs on Monday. The VAT changes spelled out in the taxation (cross-border trade) bill – one of a string of Brexit laws passing through parliament – are causing uproar among UK business groups, which say that they will create acute cashflow problems and huge additional bureaucracy. Labour and Tory MPs and peers said that the only way to avoid the VAT Brexit penalty would be to stay in the customs union or negotiate to remain in the EU-VAT area. On Sunday night the Tory chair of the all-party Treasury select committee, Nicky Morgan, said the committee would launch an urgent investigation.

She also said she would be writing to the head of HM Revenue and Customs to see what contingency plans were being made to avoid hitting UK firms. The bill, which has its second reading in the Commons on Monday, spells out clearly how VAT would have to be paid upfront by companies. The government’s own explanatory notes on the bill say the existing regime will end “so that import VAT is charged on all imports from outside the UK”. The Labour MP and former minister Chris Leslie said that the VAT hit to firms was “yet another aspect of Brexit that the Leave campaign failed to inform the public about”. He added that he would be tabling urgent amendments to ensure the UK remained in the EU VAT area – a move that would enrage pro-Brexit MPs.

UK companies that import machine parts or goods ready for sale from the EU can currently register with HMRC to bring them into the UK free of VAT. They register the VAT charge and reclaim it later, all as a paper exercise. VAT is added to the price of the product whenever it is sold to the final customer. Without a VAT deal with Brussels, importers will have to pay the VAT upfront in cash and then recover the money later, creating a huge outflow of funds before they can be recouped.

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“Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold..”

China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)

Over the next three years Xi Jinping’s anti-poverty crusade – which the Communist party leader has declared one of the key themes of his second five-year term – will see millions of marginalised rural dwellers resettled in new, government-subsidised homes. Some are being moved to distant urban housing estates, others just to slightly less remote or unforgiving rural locations. Other poverty-fighting tactics – including loans, promoting tourism and “pairing” impoverished families with local officials whose careers are tied to their plight – are also being used. By 2020, Beijing hopes to have helped 30 million people rise above its official poverty line of about 70p a day while simultaneously reinforcing the already considerable authority of Xi, now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.

China’s breathtaking economic ascent has helped hundreds of millions lift themselves from poverty since the 1980s but in 2016 at least 5.7% of its rural population still lived in poverty, according to a recent UN report, with that number rising to as much as 10% in some western regions and 12% among some ethnic minorities. A recent propaganda report claimed hitting the 2020 target would represent “a step against poverty unprecedented in human history”. In his annual New Year address to the nation last week Xi made a “solemn pledge” to win his war on want. “Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold,” he said. The current wave of anti-poverty relocations – a total 9.81 million people are set to be moved between 2016 and 2020 – are taking place across virtually the whole country, in 22 provinces.

[..] Mark Wang, a University of Melbourne scholar who studies Beijing’s use of resettlements to fight poverty, attributed Xi’s focus on the issue partly to the seven years he spent in the countryside during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Xi was born into China’s “red aristocracy” – the son of the revolutionary elder Xi Zhongxun – but was exiled to the parched village of Liangjiahe in the 1960s after his father strayed to the wrong side of Mao. Wang claimed those years of rural hardship continued to shape Xi’s political priorities: “From the bottom of his heart he knows the Chinese farmers … He understands what they want … He even knows the dirty language the people use in the fields when they are farming.”

But hard-nosed political calculations also explained Xi’s bid to paint himself as a champion of the poor – an effort undermined by a recent crackdown on migrants in Beijing which has reportedly seen tens of thousands of poor workers forced from the capital. “How can you make sure a billion people trust you and say: ‘This is our strong leader?’” asked Wang, who argued one answer was waging war on poverty.

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Dunk.

Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)

Donald Trump said on Saturday he was open to talking to Kim Jong-un and hoped good could come from negotiations between North and South Korea over this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The US president also took credit for those talks, saying: “If I weren’t involved they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics right now. They’d be doing no talking or it would be much more serious.” North and South Korea have agreed to discuss cooperation on the games as well as other issues in rare meetings set to begin on Tuesday in Panmunjom, a village that straddles the demilitarised zone between the two countries. Amid international concern over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, the talks will be the first staged since December 2015. The discussions will be held at the Peace House on the South Korean side of Panmunjom.

[..] Speaking to reporters at Camp David in Maryland on Saturday, at the end of a week marked by the publication of an explosive book about his administration and his mental capacity for his job, the president was asked if he would speak to Kim on the telephone. “Sure, I believe in talking,” he said. “… Absolutely I would do that, no problem with that at all.” Asked if that meant there would be no prerequisites for such talk, the president said: “That’s not what I said at all.” Trump added: “[Kim] knows I’m not messing around, not even a little bit, not even 1%. He understands that. “At the same time, if we can come up with a very peaceful and very good solution, we’re working on it with [secretary of state] Rex [Tillerson], we’re working on it with a lot of people. “If something good can happen and come out of those talks it would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world. Very important.”

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Prines have been arrested, tortured, forced to sign away their fortunes. But now they protest over water bills? And think they’ll win that one?

11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills

Saudi authorities made a fresh round of arrests of royal-family members as a group of princes staged a palace protest in the capital over the non-payment of their electricity and water bills. Security services on Thursday arrested the 11 princes after they refused to leave Qasr Al-Hokm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General, Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, said in an emailed statement. The princes, who objected to a decree that ordered the state to stop paying their utility bills, will be held at al-Ha’er prison pending their trial, Al Mojeb said. “No one is above the law in Saudi Arabia, everyone is equal and is treated the same as others,” Al Mojeb said. “Any person, regardless of their status or position, will be held accountable should they decide not to follow the rules and regulations of the state.”

In November, authorities swept up dozens of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most influential people, including princes and government ministers, and detained them at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. The arrests were ordered by a newly established anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The prince’s anti-graft drive appeared designed to tap into a popular vein among young Saudis who are bearing the brunt of low oil prices and complaining, privately and on social media, that the kingdom’s elite were above the rule of law. King Salman on Saturday ordered extra pay for Saudi government workers and soldiers this year after the implementation of value-added taxation and a surge in fuel prices stirred grumbling among citizens, highlighting the kingdom’s struggle to overhaul its economy without risking a public backlash.

The handouts will cost the state more than 50 billion riyals ($13.3 billion), Saud Al-Qahtani, an adviser to the royal court, said on his Twitter account. The princes arrested at the palace were also seeking compensation for a death sentence that was issued against one of their cousins, who had been convicted of killing another man and executed in 2016, according to Al Mojeb’s statement. Earlier Saturday, the Jeddah-based newspaper Okaz reported the princes had been arrested. The Al-Ha’er facility south of Riyadh is one of Saudi Arabia’s maximum-security prisons. Many of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic militants who have fought abroad are held there.

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That’s where the life is.

Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of,” Terry Hughes, a coral scientist at Australia’s James Cook University and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. Hughes personally surveyed thousands of miles of the Great Barrier Reef during the 2015 and 2016 bleaching. “It broke my heart,” he told the Guardian last year. The new study finds that 94% of surveyed coral reefs have experienced a severe bleaching event since the 1980s. Only six sites surveyed were unaffected. They are scattered around the world, meaning no ocean basin on Earth has been entirely spared. The implications of these data in a warming world, taken together with other ongoing marine stressors like overfishing and pollution, are damning.

“It is clear already that we’re going to lose most of the world’s coral reefs,” says study coauthor Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch program. He adds that by 2050, ocean temperatures will be warm enough to cause annual bleaching of 90% of the world’s reefs. For conservation biologists like Josh Drew, whose work focuses on coral reefs near Fiji, that loss of recovery time amounts to a “death warrant for coral reefs as we know them.” “I’m not saying we’re not going to have reefs at all, but those reefs that survive are going to be fundamentally different,” says Drew, who is not affiliated with the new study. “We are selecting for corals that are effectively weedy, for things that can grow back in two to three years, for things that are accustomed to having hot water.”

Reefs are incalculably important not only as a harbor for life — they shelter about one-quarter of all marine species in just a half-percent of the ocean’s surface area — but also for human nutrition and many nation’s economies.

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