Apr 102020
 


Edward Hopper Burly Cobb’s House, South Truro 1930-33

 

Doctors Alarmed After Some COVID19 Patients Test Positive After Recovering (RT)
Doctors Say Ventilators Are Overused For COVID19 (Stat)
Pay Cuts, Furloughs, Layoffs For Doctors, Nurses, Healthcare Workers (BI)
New York Has More Cases Than Any Country (BBC)
Trump: Widespread Testing ‘Would Never Happen’, Not Needed To Reopen US (NW)
UK Gov’t: Keep Economy Running, We Will All Get COVID-19 Anyway (Nafeez Ahmed)
Ex-IMF Head Economist: Western Economies Slow To React (BBC)
Americans In Lebanon Decline Repatriation Offer: ‘It’s Safer In Beirut’ (CNN)
US Shouldn’t Bail Out Hedge Funds, Billionaires – Chamath Palihapitiya (CNBC)
WHO Chief And Taiwan In Row Over ‘Racist’ Comments (BBC)
Japan Will Pay Its Firms to Leave China, Relocate Production (N18)
China Factory Gate Deflation Deepens (R.)
How Greece Flattened The Coronavirus Curve (AlJ)
Saudi Energy Minister Says OPEC+ Oil Pact Hinges On Mexico Joining (R.)
US Banks Prepare To Seize Energy Assets As Shale Boom Goes Bust (R.)
Chicago Jail Reports 450 Coronavirus Cases Among Staff, Inmates (R.)
Assange Not Infected But Says Many in Belmarsh Are (CN)

 

 

US records 1,783 virus deaths in past 24 hours: Johns Hopkins
April 7: 1,939, April 8: 1.973

 

 

Cases 1,615,049 (+ 85,971 from yesterday’s 1,529,078)

Deaths 96,791 (+ 7,380 from yesterday’s 89,411)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-

 

 

From Worldometer – NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 21% ! NOTE 2: the number of active cases that are critical or severe is going down. 4% now.

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID2019Info.live:

 

 

 

 

We keep seeing articles that depict how poor our understanding of the virus is. Sometimes I even wonder how many people died from that, instead of the virus itself.

Doctors Alarmed After Some COVID19 Patients Test Positive After Recovering (RT)

Troublesome results from South Korea and China, showing some of the patients who recovered from the coronavirus test positive again, could throw off widely accepted strategies for battling the virus, from shutdowns to vaccines. After about 50 recovered patients in the city of Daegu tested positive for Covid-19 again, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) launched an investigation into whether they were somehow reinfected, or if the virus had made a comeback. “While we are putting more weight on reactivation as the possible cause, we are conducting a comprehensive study on this,” said KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong, as quoted by Bloomberg.

While reinfection would be problematic, reactivation is a more troubling prospect. In addition to raising questions about post-recovery immunity to the virus, it would pose a major challenge to mitigation strategies adopted around the world. If there is a high risk of Covid-19 reactivating among the people considered cured, that would mean longer quarantines and delays in reopening businesses and public spaces. Other possibilities include false positives, if the tests pick up residue from the initial infection, or prolonged “shedding” of the virus load missed by the tests at discharge because the levels were just under the limit.

South Korea has often been cited as one of the success stories of the pandemic, keeping the total number of infections to 10,400 and the death toll to 204, through strict quarantine, widespread testing and contact tracing measures. Further troubling news comes from China, where the novel coronavirus was first detected in December last year. A team of scientists at Fudan University analyzed blood samples from 175 patients discharged from a hospital in Shanghai and found that almost a third had “unexpectedly low” levels of antibodies, and in at least ten cases, no antibodies at all.

“Whether these patients were at high risk of rebound or reinfection should be explored in further studies,” the team said in a preliminary research paper released on Monday. While it has not been peer-reviewed or evaluated, the authors say they did the world’s first systematic examination of antibody levels in recovered Covid-19 patients. All of the people examined had recovered from mild symptoms, and most of those with low antibody levels were young, in the 15-39 age group. By contrast, the 60-85 age group had three times the amount of antibodies, the scientists said. If some patients do not develop antibodies, this could have serious implications for both vaccinations and “herd immunity.”

Read more …

More poor understanding.

Doctors Say Ventilators Are Overused For COVID19 (Stat)

Even as hospitals and governors raise the alarm about a shortage of ventilators, some critical care physicians are questioning the widespread use of the breathing machines for Covid-19 patients, saying that large numbers of patients could instead be treated with less intensive respiratory support. If the iconoclasts are right, putting coronavirus patients on ventilators could be of little benefit to many and even harmful to some. What’s driving this reassessment is a baffling observation about Covid-19: Many patients have blood oxygen levels so low they should be dead. But they’re not gasping for air, their hearts aren’t racing, and their brains show no signs of blinking off from lack of oxygen.

That is making critical care physicians suspect that blood levels of oxygen, which for decades have driven decisions about breathing support for patients with pneumonia and acute respiratory distress, might be misleading them about how to care for those with Covid-19. In particular, more and more are concerned about the use of intubation and mechanical ventilators. They argue that more patients could receive simpler, noninvasive respiratory support, such as the breathing masks used in sleep apnea, at least to start with and maybe for the duration of the illness. “I think we may indeed be able to support a subset of these patients” with less invasive breathing support, said Sohan Japa, an internal medicine physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I think we have to be more nuanced about who we intubate.”

That would help relieve a shortage of ventilators so critical that states are scrambling to procure them and some hospitals are taking the unprecedented (and largely untested) step of using a single ventilator for more than one patient. And it would mean fewer Covid-19 patients, particularly elderly ones, would be at risk of suffering the long-term cognitive and physical effects of sedation and intubation while being on a ventilator. None of this means that ventilators are not necessary in the Covid-19 crisis, or that hospitals are wrong to fear running out. But as doctors learn more about treating Covid-19, and question old dogma about blood oxygen and the need for ventilators, they might be able to substitute simpler and more widely available devices.

An oxygen saturation rate below 93% (normal is 95% to 100%) has long been taken as a sign of potential hypoxia and impending organ damage. Before Covid-19, when the oxygen level dropped below this threshold, physicians supported their patients’ breathing with noninvasive devices such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP, the sleep apnea device) and bilevel positive airway pressure ventilators (BiPAP). Both work via a tube into a face mask. [..] because in some patients with Covid-19, blood-oxygen levels fall to hardly-ever-seen levels, into the 70s and even lower, physicians are intubating them sooner. “Data from China suggested that early intubation would keep Covid-19 patients’ heart, liver, and kidneys from failing due to hypoxia,” said a veteran emergency medicine physician. “This has been the whole thing driving decisions about breathing support: Knock them out and put them on a ventilator.”

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Obvious no. 1 for the government to prevent.

Pay Cuts, Furloughs, Layoffs For Doctors, Nurses, Healthcare Workers (BI)

Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston started temporarily laying off 900 workers this week, a move it expects will last through June. Salaried employees are facing a 15% cut, and hourly workers who don’t care for patients will be working fewer hours. The hospital confirmed that workers won’t face cuts if they are treating patients with COVID-19,. Though some hourly workers already had reduced hours due to lower volume, they won’t see more cuts if they’re moved onto the COVID-19 response team, said hospital spokeswoman Heather Woolwine. The cuts at MUSC came as the hospital saw a 75% drop in surgeries, 30% fewer patients arriving at the hospital, and 70% fewer patients arriving there by ambulance. Without staffing changes, it projected a $100 million loss through June 30.

In Oklahoma, Hillcrest HealthCare System announced it is putting about 600 employees on an estimated 90-day furlough, which is a temporary layoff without pay, though some might be called back sooner if they’re needed. The furloughs affect workers in administration, surgery, and outpatient care, where patient visits have gone down, said Rachel Weaver Smith, spokeswoman for Hillcrest. About 20% of staff are facing furloughs, reassignments, or reduced hours or pay, but the changes don’t extend to staff treating people with COVID-19, Weaver Smith said.

[..] There’s no central place where hospitals are reporting all of their layoffs or how much money they’re losing. The American Hospital Association, which represents more than 5,000 hospitals, has sounded the alarm about the industry’s financial difficulties and said that quickly distributing funding from the CARES Act would help facilities keep their doors open. About $30 billion will go out in the coming days, according to Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but it’s not clear when or how the rest will be distributed.

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There are some 20 million people in NY State. Much less than in Spain, Italy etc.

New York Has More Cases Than Any Country (BBC)

New York state now has more coronavirus cases than any other country outside the US, according to latest figures. The state’s confirmed caseload of Covid-19 jumped by 10,000 on Thursday to 159,937, placing it ahead of Spain (153,000 cases) and Italy (143,000). China, where the virus emerged last year, has reported 82,000 cases. The US as a whole has recorded 462,000 cases and nearly 16,500 deaths. Globally there are 1.6 million cases and 95,000 deaths. While New York state leads the world in coronavirus cases, its death toll (7,000) lags behind Spain (15,500) and Italy (18,000), though it is more than double the official figure from China (3,300).


Photo: Reuters- Lucas Jackson

Photos have emerged of workers in hazmat outfits burying coffins in a mass grave in New York City. Drone footage showed workers using a ladder to descend into the huge pit where the caskets were stacked. The images were taken at Hart Island, off the Bronx, which has been used for more than 150 years by city officials as a mass burial site for those with no next-of-kin, or families who cannot afford funerals. Burial operations at the site have ramped up amid the pandemic from one day a week to five days a week, according to the Department of Corrections. Prisoners from Rikers Island usually do the job, but the rising workload has recently been taken over by contractors.

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Imagine you’re a country that has imposed a 2-3 month lockdown on its people, and you’re slowly getting out. Would you then invite mass numbers of untested Americans?

Trump: Widespread Testing ‘Would Never Happen’, Not Needed To Reopen US (NW)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said a widespread COVID-19 testing program to assess whether workers can safely return to their workplaces is “never going to happen” in the United States. As he addressed reporters during the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Trump touted the fact that 2 million Americans had been tested for the virus as a “milestone” in the U.S. fight against the global pandemic caused by SARS-Cov-2. The 2 million tests that have been administered so far represents a high water mark after weeks of problems in obtaining and administering tests caused by the Trump administration’s rejection of a test developed by the World Health Organization. However, that number means only .61 percent of the 330 million U.S. population has been tested for COVID-19.

That’s a paltry number compared to many other countries which have implemented testing programs. Italy, for example, has administered tests to approximately 1.4 percent of its population, and South Korea, which flattened its infection curve with widespread testing, has reached .9 percent of its population. Most public health experts have stressed the need for the U.S. to significantly expand its testing program, both with currently available tests to determine whether a given person is infected with SARS-Cov-2, and with so-called “antibody tests” to determine whether a person has successfully fought off the virus and is therefore immune to it.

Both varieties of test, experts say, must be administered in far greater quantities than currently being done in order to allow Americans to return to work without fear of infection, though Trump has repeatedly suggested that the U.S. could begin to emerge from social distancing measures within a few weeks. But when asked how his administration could discuss “reopening” the U.S. economy without an adequate testing program in place, Trump claimed that such a program was not just unnecessary, but was something that was simply not in the cards. “Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes,” Trump said.

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Long piece by Nafeez. I don’t know, when people spell Government with a capital G, I scratch my head.

UK Gov’t: Keep Economy Running, We Will All Get COVID-19 Anyway (Nafeez Ahmed)

Leaked recordings of a Home Office conference call on Tuesday, exclusively obtained by Byline Times, reveal that the Government has all but given up in its fight against the Coronavirus and is intent on simply finding “a method of managing it within the population”. The recordings show Home Office Deputy Science Advisor Rupert Shute stating repeatedly that the Government believes “we will all get” COVID-19 eventually. The call further implied that the Government now considers hundreds of thousands of deaths unavoidable over a long-term period consisting of multiple peaks of the disease. While urging the importance of reducing the burden on the NHS by staying at home, Shute downplayed the risk of people contracting the virus at work.

He said: “It’s perfectly okay to carry on around your business. And it’s vitally important that you do as there’s a whole bunch of supply chains and the economy that needs to continue running… So carrying on with your normal work is not putting you in harms way anymore so than staying at home or going out shopping. So I keep coming back to this point that we are all going to get this at some point. And it’s about making sure that we have a really strong NHS there to support us when we do get sick.” The policy being communicated by the Home Office privately among Government staffers is at odds with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement at a press conference three weeks ago that the next 12 weeks could “turn the tide of this disease”.


[..] A fuller analysis of leaked recordings obtained by Byline Times reveals that the Government remains committed to the idea that the vast majority of the UK population will contract COVID-19, making a minimum number of deaths inevitable, albeit over a longer period of time. Using the Government’s own lowest estimate of a fatality rate at around 0.5%, this confirms that it has resigned itself to the expectation that some 264,000 Britons will inevitably die in ensuing months and years from the disease. The recordings provide a sobering insight into how the scientific advice feeding into Government policy is evolving – without, however, being meaningfully communicated to the British public or being subjected to external scientific scrutiny.

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Western politicians focus on the economy, and only miles after that see anything else.

Ex-IMF Head Economist: Western Economies Slow To React (BBC)

The coronavirus was “taken a little more lightly” by western economies compared to those in Asia, says a former IMF chief economist. Raghuram Rajan said western economies are facing a drop in economic growth by as much as 6% this year. The widespread closure of businesses is having a huge financial impact as governments prevent the virus spread. His comments come as the IMF warns the global economy faces its worst crisis since the 1930s depression. “I think in the west, partly because there hadn’t been a direct experience of a serious epidemic, it was taken a little more lightly,” Mr Rajan told the BBC’s Asia Business Report on Friday. “This is something happening in faraway lands, it’s not going to be serious here.

“It’s all too easy to point fingers after the fact but what I’m saying is that the countries in East Asia that had the experience of previous pandemics, which didn’t quite rise to the level of pandemics I should say… but previous epidemics, they took this seriously right from the get-go.” Mr Rajan, a former governor of India’s central bank, praised South Korea and Singapore as two Asian economies that have handled the virus outbreak well. For his native India, he warned that it had “limited tools” given how densely populated the country is. “It’s hard to do social distancing anywhere in the normal course. Your markets are chock-full of people. Your dwellings are chock-full of people. And so I think the government is trying to attempt to reduce the pace of increase with this lockdown.”

His said it was necessary to send the message to people to take this pandemic seriously. “This is not fun and games, this is really about life and death, and if it really explodes in India, we really don’t have the resources to deal with that.” The economist, who is a finance professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, gave a bleak forecast for western economies as he expects them to shift from expansion to contraction. “At this point, we’re probably thinking of western countries seeing a shift in GDP growth from about 2 percentage to 3 percentage points, to negative 4 or 5 percentage points. “Each country is going to lose 5 to 6 percentage points of GDP at the very least over this year. So cumulate that, that’s significantly more than $2 trillion”.

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When Iran became a major case, there were fears for Lebanon as well. But so far it’s done well.

Americans In Lebanon Decline Repatriation Offer: ‘It’s Safer In Beirut’ (CNN)

Carly Fuglei was with a group of Danish friends in Beirut last month when she first considered moving back to the United States. They were preparing to leave Lebanon amid fears of a major coronavirus outbreak there, and tried to convince her to do the same. But the 28-year-old humanitarian consultant from Montana decided to stay. After Lebanon closed its borders on March 19 to stem the spread of the global pandemic, she began furnishing her rooftop terrace. Her time in Beirut, she realized, would be indefinite. “I made that decision for a combination of personal reasons and calculations about the virus that we’re all making,” says Fuglei. “I think that I am probably safer here.”

It’s a decision that several US citizens in Beirut who CNN spoke to have echoed, citing skyrocketing cases in the US. When the US government last week said it would fly its citizens and permanent residents to the US on a chartered flight for $2,500 per person, some Americans took to Twitter to publicly decline the offer. “And no, Mom, I’m not going,” Beirut-based freelance journalist Abby Sewell wrote in a tweet about the US embassy announcement. Responding to her tweet, a Lebanese journalist said: “For once I’m like no America is not safer than here.” Sewell’s mother, Meg Sewell, replied: “Actually, for the moment I might have to agree.” Sewell tells CNN she never considered taking the US embassy’s offer.

“From everything I’m reading, the situation is worse in the US, in terms of the number of cases, prevention measures or lack thereof, and how overburdened the health system is,” she says. “Also, since I’ve been living overseas for years, I don’t have health insurance in the US now, so if I did go back and then got sick, I would be looking at paying thousands of dollars out of pocket.” [..] Just under 12,000 tests for coronavirus have been carried out so far in Lebanon. That equates to around 0.1% of the population (by contrast, roughly 0.3% of the population in Britain, and 1.1% of the population of Germany have been tested). As a result, the ministry of public health believes it is underestimating the scale of its outbreak. It has urged more people to get tested. Lebanon’s ministry of public health has vowed to boost the number of screenings to as many as 2,000 a day. It says anyone with mild to severe symptoms is entitled to be tested.

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It will take pitchforks to change this.

US Shouldn’t Bail Out Hedge Funds, Billionaires – Chamath Palihapitiya (CNBC)

Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and CEO of investment firm Social Capital, told CNBC on Thursday that the U.S. shouldn’t be bailing out billionaires and hedge funds during the coronavirus pandemic. “On Main Street today, people are getting wiped out. Right now, rich CEOs are not, boards that have horrible governance are not. People are,” Palihapitiya, an early Facebook executive, said on CNBC’s “Fast Money Halftime Report.” “What we’ve done is disproportionately prop up poor-performing CEOs and boards, and you have to wash these people out.” “Just to be clear on who we are talking about. We’re talking about a hedge fund that serves a bunch of billionaire family offices, who cares? They don’t get the summer in the Hamptons?” he said.

“These are the people that purport to be the most sophisticated investors in the world.” Palihapitiya also said he was concerned that the Federal Reserve’s plans to support to economy during the COVID-19 crisis are going to have consequences. The Fed earlier in the day announced a slew of new moves aimed at getting another $2.3 trillion of financing into businesses and governments, including its Main Street business lending program and market interventions. The central bank said its loans will be geared toward businesses with up to 10,000 employees and less than $2.5 billion in revenues for 2019. Programs would total up to $2.3 trillion and include the Payroll Protection Program and other measures aimed at getting money to small businesses and bolstering municipal finances with a $500 billion lending program, it added.

But Palihapitiya said it would have been better to just give more money to Americans. “I’m not disagreeing with what the Fed has to do. What I’m saying is it’s creating a land mine, and it’s creating a bill that will have to come due,” he said. “It would be better for the Fed to have given half a million to every man, woman and child in the United States,” he added.

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“For years, we have been excluded from international organisations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated..”

WHO Chief And Taiwan In Row Over ‘Racist’ Comments (BBC)

A row has erupted after the chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) accused Taiwan’s leaders of spearheading personal attacks on him. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had been subjected to racist comments and death threats for months. But President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan opposed any form of discrimination, and invited Dr Tedros to visit the island. Taiwan said it had been denied access to vital information as the coronavirus spread. The WHO rejects this. Taiwan is excluded from the WHO, the United Nations health agency, because of China’s objections to its membership. The Chinese Communist Party regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and claims the right to take it by force if necessary. The WHO has also been criticised by US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to withdraw US funding to the agency.


Dr Tedros said he had been at the receiving end of racist comments for the past two to three months. “Giving me names, black or negro,” he said. “I’m proud of being black, or proud of being negro.” He then said he had received death threats, adding: “I don’t give a damn.” The WHO chief said the abuse had originated from Taiwan, “and the foreign ministry didn’t disassociate” itself from it. But Ms Tsai said Taiwan was opposed to discrimination. “For years, we have been excluded from international organisations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated,” Reuters news agency quoted her as saying. “If Director-General Tedros could withstand pressure from China and come to Taiwan to see Taiwan’s efforts to fight Covid-19 for himself, he would be able to see that the Taiwanese people are the true victims of unfair treatment.”

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Many countries will follow. Big shift.

Japan Will Pay Its Firms to Leave China, Relocate Production (N18)

Japan is willing to fund its companies to shift manufacturing operations out of China, Bloomberg has reported as the disruptions caused to production by the coronavirus pandemic has forced a rethink of supply chains between the major trading partners. As part of its economic stimulus package, Japan has earmarked $2.2 billion to help its manufacturers shift production out of China. Of this amount, 220 billion yen ($2 billion)is for companies shifting production back to Japan and 23.5 billion yen for those seeking to move production to other countries. China is Japan’s biggest trading partner under normal circumstances, but imports from China have slumped by almost half in February due to lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus hitting manufacturing and the supply chain.


Shinichi Seki, an economist at the Japan Research Institute, predicted that there would be a shift in the coming days as there already was renewed talk of Japanese firms reducing their reliance on China as a manufacturing base. “Having this in the budget will definitely provide an impetus,” he told Bloomberg. Companies, such as car makers, which are manufacturing for the Chinese domestic market, will likely stay put, he said. The Japanese government’s panel on future investment had last month discussed the need for manufacturing of high-added value products to be shifted back to Japan, and for production of other goods to be diversified across Southeast Asia. More than 37 per cent of the 2,600 companies surveyed by Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd. in February had also said they were diversifying procurement to places other than China amid the coronavirus crisis.

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Someone mentions the D word!.

China Factory Gate Deflation Deepens (R.)

China’s factory gate prices fell the most in five months in March, with deflation deepening and set to worsen in coming months as the economic damage wrought by the coroanvirus outbreak at home and worldwide shuts down many countries. The world’s second-largest economy is trying to restart its engines after weeks of near paralysis to contain the pandemic that had severely restricted business activity, flow of goods and the daily life of people. Friday’s data from the National Bureau of Statistics suggested a durable recovery was some way off, with China’s producer price index (PPI) falling 1.5% from a year earlier, the biggest decline since October last year. It compared with a median forecast of a 1.1% fall tipped by a Reuters poll of analysts and a 0.4% drop in February.


Headline consumer inflation also eased somewhat last month, partly led by government control measures, while core prices remained benign, leaving more room for monetary easing, some analysts said. The overall decline in the factory gate gauge was exacerbated by a slump in global oil and commodities prices, which filtered through to crude oil, steel and non-ferrous metal industries, the statistics bureau said in a statement accompanying the data. “The issue of having more supply than demand, and persistently low oil prices, will intensify deflationary pressures,” said Yang Yewei, a Beijing-based analyst with Southwest Securities.

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3 different articles on “How Greece Did It” today, This one from Al Jazeera, others are the Independent and an op-ed at Bloomberg.

How Greece Flattened The Coronavirus Curve (AlJ)

When Greece cancelled carnival celebrations in late February, many people thought the measure excessive. In the western city of Patra, which hosts Greece’s most flamboyant carnival parade, thousands defied the ban and took to the streets. “The government has ordered an end to all municipal activities … but this is a private enterprise. No one can shut it down,” said a jubilant reporter for the local Ionian TV in front of a crew dressed up as 17th-century French courtiers. “They’re gathering here on St George’s Square, where the [Greek] revolution began in 1821, and that’s symbolic,” he said. Greeks quickly put their revolutionary spirit aside, however, and largely heeded government advice to remain indoors. The result has been a remarkably low number of deaths – 81 by Tuesday, compared to more than 17,000 in neighbouring Italy.

Even adjusted for population sizes, Italy’s fatality rate is almost 40 times greater. Compared with other European Union members, too, Greece has fared better. Its fatalities are far lower than in Belgium (2,035) or the Netherlands (1,867), which have similar populations, but a much higher GDP. “State sensitivity, co-ordination, resolve, swiftness, seem not to be matters of economic magnitude,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently told a pared-down session of parliament. “Our schools closed before we had the first fatality. Most countries followed a week or two later, after they had mourned the loss of dozens,” he said.

George Pagoulatos, a political economist who heads the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), a think-tank, agrees that the government displayed “a very professional, managerial approach early on”, albeit largely dictated by inherent national weaknesses. Greece had very shallow resources with which to tackle a large outbreak. A decade of austerity saw its national healthcare expenses cut by three-quarters. Its intensive care beds numbered just 560 last month, though the government has now raised that to 910, and hired more than 4,000 extra doctors and nurses. Another weakness is that at least a quarter of Greece’s population is over 60, and elderly patients have been deemed particularly at risk from coronavirus.

All this has meant that a forward line of defence was Greece’s only real defence – but it has paid off. Greece is using only a tenth of its ICU beds, and has plenty of capacity left over.

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Put pressure on Mexico but not the US. BAU.

Saudi Energy Minister Says OPEC+ Oil Pact Hinges On Mexico Joining (R.)

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Friday that a final OPEC+ oil supply pact to reduce 10 million barrels per day (bpd), which was agreed on Thursday, hinges on Mexico joining in the cuts. OPEC, Russia and other allies, a group known as OPEC+, outlined plans on Thursday to cut their oil output by more than a fifth, but said a final agreement was dependent on Mexico signing up to the pact after it balked at the production cuts it was asked to make. Discussions among top global energy ministers will resume on Friday. “I hope (Mexico) comes to see the benefit of this agreement not only for Mexico but for the whole world. This whole agreement is hinging on Mexico agreeing to it,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told Reuters by telephone.


Global fuel demand has plunged by around 30 million bpd, or 30% of global supplies, as steps to fight the coronavirus have grounded planes, cut vehicle usage and curbed economic activity. The kingdom will host an extraordinary meeting by video conference at 12.00 GMT on Friday for energy ministers from the Group of 20 major economies. Asked about other countries such as the United States, Canada and Brazil joining the OPEC+ cut pact, Prince Abdulaziz said: “They will do it in their own way, using their own approaches, and it is not our job to dictate to others what they could do based on their national circumstances.” [..] The planned output curbs by OPEC+ amount to 10 million bpd, or 10% of global supplies, with another 5 million bpd expected to come from other nations, according to sources, to help deal with the deepest oil crisis in decades.

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Shale outdid subprime in sheer craziness.

US Banks Prepare To Seize Energy Assets As Shale Boom Goes Bust (R.)

Major U.S. lenders are preparing to become operators of oil and gas fields across the country for the first time in a generation to avoid losses on loans to energy companies that may go bankrupt, sources aware of the plans told Reuters. JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup are each in the process of setting up independent companies to own oil and gas assets, said three people who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The banks are also looking to hire executives with relevant expertise to manage them, the sources said. The banks did not provide comment in time for publication. Energy companies are suffering through a plunge in oil prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a supply glut, with crude prices down more than 60% this year.

Although oil prices may gain support from a potential agreement Thursday between Saudi Arabia and Russia to cut production, few believe the curtailment can offset a 30% drop in global fuel demand, as the coronavirus has grounded aircraft, reduced vehicle use and curbed economic activity more broadly. Oil and gas companies working in shale basins from Texas to Wyoming are saddled with debt. The industry is estimated to owe more than $200 billion to lenders through loans backed by oil and gas reserves. As revenue has plummeted and assets have declined in value, some companies are saying they may be unable to repay.

Whiting Petroleum Corp became the first producer to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 1. Others, including Chesapeake Energy Corp, Denbury Resources Inc and Callon Petroleum Co, have also hired debt advisers. If banks do not retain bankrupt assets, they might be forced to sell them for pennies on the dollar at current prices. The companies they are setting up could manage oil and gas assets until conditions improve enough to sell at a meaningful value.

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A whole bunch of scared people together in not very much space.

Chicago Jail Reports 450 Coronavirus Cases Among Staff, Inmates (R.)

Some 450 inmates and staff have tested positive for coronavirus at Chicago’s largest jail, county corrections officials said on Thursday, representing one of the nation’s largest outbreaks of the respiratory illness at a single site so far in the pandemic. The surge of cases at Cook County Jail marks the latest flare-up of COVID-19 at jails and prisons in major cities across the United States, where detainees often live in close quarters. The situation gained national attention earlier this week when inmates posted handmade signs pleading for help in the windows of their cells overlooking a public street. “Sheriff’s officers and county medical professionals are aggressively working round-the-clock to combat the unprecedented global coronavirus pandemic,” the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said in a written statement on Thursday.


Those measures include opening an off-site 500-bed “quarantine and care facility” for prisoners, an effort to move as many inmates as possible from double to single cells, and the opening of a testing site at the jail. “Front line” staff members were being checked for fever at the start of each shift and issued protective equipment if they interact with inmates, according to the sheriff’s department.[..] In Monroe, Washington, inmates at a minimum-security prison vandalized the facility in a protest on Wednesday evening after officials announced that six prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Washington state’s Department of Corrections. State and local police and corrections officers quelled the disturbance at the prison 24 miles northeast of Seattle using pepper spray, sting balls and rubber pellets, the corrections department said.


Signs made by prisoners pleading for help in a window of Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., April 9, 2020 REUTERS/Jim Vondruska

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“More than 150 Belmarsh guards are in self-isolation and the prison is barely functioning..”

Assange Not Infected But Says Many in Belmarsh Are (CN)

Julian Assange has told a friend in a telephone conversation on Wednesday that he is living in a prison in which the coronavirus is “ripping through” the population. He told photojournalist Vaughan Smith, founder of London’s Frontline Club, that he is isolated 23 1/2 hours a day and spends 30 minutes in a prison yard packed with other inmates. More than 150 Belmarsh guards are in self-isolation and the prison is barely functioning, Smith said. Assange did not show up for a video link to his case management hearing at Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday. A court official was overheard by three people present in the courtroom saying that Assange was “unwell.” He is not infected with Covid-19, but Vaughan says his life is threatened by it in prison.

Read more …

 

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Mar 092020
 


 

‘Fake Wealth’ Set To Pop (ABR)
Global Markets Plunge 7-8%, Oil Falls 30% To $30 (G.)
Goldman Cuts Brent Forecasts To $30 On Price War, Virus (R.)
Gig Economy Workers Can’t Afford To Be Ill (G.)
Plummeting Oil Prices And Mortgage Rates Could Boost Consumers (CNBC)
More Countries Will Adopt Italy’s Measures – Austria PM (G.)
Leaked Italy Quarantine Plans Create Chaos, Threaten To Spread Virus (ZH)
Charities Preparing To Feed Children If Schools Shut Over Coronavirus (G.)
NYC Asks Commuters to Stay Off Public Transit ‘If You Can’ (NBC)
A Perfect Storm Of Nationalism And Financial Speculation (Varoufakis)
Tyre Wear Produces 1,000 Times More Harmful Pollution Than Car Exhausts (BW)
Putin Saves Erdogan From Himself (Escobar)
Fiona Hill Says Putin Has America ‘Exactly Where He Wants Us’ (CNN)

 

 

As I wrote yesterday in The Virus is a Time Machine, it’s not about the number of deaths or cases, it’s about the disruption. Today, stock markets are down 7-8%, and oil plummeted 30% to $30. At your service. “Fake Wealth” is popping, say some.

Italy has an oversized role today so far, but there are a number of countries that could take off at any time now. As I said in that article, US, Germany, France, Spain appear to be in a phase where for instance Italy was about a week ago.

Something odd about the numbers today is that COVID2019.app puts South Korea at 8,100 cases, while the other two have it at around 7,400. It must be hard getting the numbers right, and on time.

 

Cases 110,607 (+ 4,120 from yesterday’s 106,487)

Deaths 3,831 (+ 231 from yesterday’s 3,600)

 

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

 

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID2019.app:

 

 

 

 

Smart cookie.

‘Fake Wealth’ Set To Pop (ABR)

Sharemarket and property investors are about to experience a reckoning that sweeps away the pretence of “fake wealth and artificial economy”, Lucerne Investment Partners portfolio manager Jerome Lander says. In a note to clients issued on Monday, Mr Lander said investors were “reacting in horror to the reality of the coronavirus as it begins its exponential growth around the world”. His note came as the Australian sharemarket was experiencing its biggest one-day fall since the global financial crisis, with the S&P/ASX 200 plunging 6 per cent to a 14-month low of 5840.90 amid a collapse in oil prices. “This is a truly frightening pandemic with significant ramifications which much of the developed world is unlikely to cope with well,” Mr Lander said.

“The reality is ICUs [intensive care units] are likely to be overrun around the world and people will increasingly seek to avoid social contact and hide at home in order to avoid contracting the deadly virus.” Mr Lander said a 10 per cent ICU admission rate for Italy’s 1492 cases of coronavirus was a “truly horrifying statistic”. Underlying economic weaknesses was being expose, he said. “One bubble after another is at risk of popping, as the fake wealth and artificial economy of the last few years explodes in the face of a devastating global recession.” With sharemarkets now “crashing, with delusional housing prices likely to follow”, he predicted central banks would shortly attempt to restore order to financial markets through so-called quantitative easing.

“Unlimited QE is likely but won’t help alter the destruction from the pandemic,” Mr Lander said. “These are truly dangerous times for all investors, but particularly for those holding large amounts of overvalued equity and property assets at fake economy prices.”

Read more …

Trillions upon trillions in fake wealth are going POOF. And the central banks that created the fake wealth will throw more fake money at the walls.

Global Markets Plunge 7-8%, Oil Falls 30% To $30 (G.)

Global stock markets have suffered their biggest falls since the 2008 financial crisis while the oil price crashed amid panic selling because of the double threat of a coronavirus-driven global recession and an oil price war. The FTSE 100 index in London plunged 8.5% to 5,911 points, losing 550 points, when trading began on Monday morning. Germany’s Dax tumbled 7.5% and Spain’s Ibex lost 7%. Asian markets also recorded huge losses as fears over the world economy were exacerbated by the shock decision by Saudi Arabia over the weekend to ramp up oil production in an attempt to drive rivals such as Russia and the US out of the market.

The price of Brent crude oil fell almost 30% to $31.14 on Monday, its biggest decline since the start of the Gulf war in 1991. Some experts expect it to fall further unless the Saudis and Russians return to the bargaining table. Turmoil spread on international markets as the coronavirus epidemic deepened around the world. Italy, the worst-hit country in Europe, was plunged into chaos as government plans to quarantine more than 16m people – more than a quarter of its population – were leaked to the media. Italian bond yields jumped on Monday. The number of people infected by coronavirus worldwide has passed 110,000.

Stock markets in Asia Pacific experienced the worst wave of selling since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 heralded the onset of the global financial crisis. With fears growing of a recession in Australia because of the virus, the Australian share market closed down 7.4%. The Nikkei in Japan fell more than 5%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Sen lost 3.9% and the Shanghai stock exchange dropped just over 3%. US 10-year government bond yields fell to fresh record lows and the Japanese yen and gold soared as investors rushed into safe haven investments.

Read more …

Putin stopped supporting MbS. Isn’t that a good thing? How much do we like MbS?

Goldman Cuts Brent Forecasts To $30 On Price War, Virus (R.)

Goldman Sachs cut its second- and third-quarter Brent price forecasts to $30 per barrel, citing the oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia and a significant collapse in oil demand due to the coronavirus that has killed more than 3,500 globally. Oil fell by the most since 1991 on Monday after Saudi Arabia started a price war with Russia by slashing its selling prices and pledging to unleash its pent-up supply onto a market reeling from falling demand because of the virus outbreak. “The aggressive cut to Saudi’s Official Selling Prices and Russia’s reluctance to be pushed into a deal on Friday point to a low probability of an immediate (OPEC+) agreement,” Goldman said in a note dated March 8.

A three-year pact between OPEC and Russia ended in acrimony on Friday after Moscow refused to support deeper oil cuts and OPEC responded by removing all limits on its own production. “While we can’t rule out an OPEC+ deal in coming months, we also believe that this agreement was inherently imbalanced and its production cuts economically unfounded,” the bank said. Goldman’s base case is now for no such deal, it said. Goldman’s base case is now for no such deal, it said. Lower oil prices will start creating acute financial stress and declining production from shale as well as other high cost producer, the bank said.

There will be a negligible response from U.S. shale producers in the second quarter, but output will fall in the third quarter by 75,000 barrels per day (bpd) and a further 250,000 bpd in the fourth quarter of 2020, the bank said. This will not prevent, however, a third-quarter supply surplus of 1.2 million bpd. “At that point, the fundamental rebalancing could require oil prices falling to operational stress levels for high-cost producers with well-head cash costs near $20/bbl,” it said.

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Home deliveries are set to double, but the people working the field don’t get paid anything. The future’s so bright…

Gig Economy Workers Can’t Afford To Be Ill (G.)

Shane Stephen, a Deliveroo rider, pulls a snood over his mouth and nose as he manoeuvres his mountain bike down a narrow side-street in central London. It is his makeshift defence against coronavirus. “If I catch something I’m screwed,” explains the 23-year-old. “Gig economy workers can’t afford to be ill. My bank balance is literally £4 something right now.” Stephen – like tens of thousands of other couriers and drivers in the UK – is classed as self-employed and therefore not entitled to any sick pay. He stands to gain nothing from Boris Johnson’s pledge last Wednesday to give coronavirus-hit workers statutory sick pay from the first day off work rather than the fourth. Yet Stephen and other gig economy couriers could be called on to deliver food and other essentials to self-isolating households when the virus reaches its peak.

Some industry analysts foresee the number of home deliveries doubling if people are told to work from home and avoid large gatherings under the government’s so-called social-distancing strategy, which will kick in if the virus continues to spread across the country. Unions representing gig economy workers, such as the GMB and Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), fear couriers with coronavirus symptoms may keep working. “Many will carry on because they need to put food on the table and pay the rent. They will then come into contact with other people and spread the virus,” says Mick Rix from the GMB, which represents thousands of couriers. “This would be going against everything the government is trying to achieve at the moment.”

[..] Josh Lane (not his real name) jumps into his DPD Local van after making a delivery in Tottenham. He cleans his hands with hand sanitiser. “I’m in a rush, but I’m doing my bit,” he says through the rolled-down window. However, the 30-year-old cannot afford to stop work if he contracts the virus. “It’s like a flu and I’ve worked through flu before. If you’re self-employed you have to continue working,” he says. “It’s not about me. I’ve got three children. I’m not about to make them starve because of coronavirus. If I’m physically able to work, then isolation is not happening for me.”

Read more …

The kind of stuff that stumps me: “This resiliency of the consumer will once again support equities and most likely show that this current market reaction is a ‘blip’..

These people have zero connection to reality.

Plummeting Oil Prices And Mortgage Rates Could Boost Consumers (CNBC)

As the deadly coronavirus spreads across the globe, oil prices are down 30% for the year and the average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage has fallen to an eight-year low. It’s positive news for consumers in the short term, even as some economists warn that the virus could tip the U.S economy into recession as the outbreak escalates. The drop in mortgage rates and oil prices could boost consumer confidence, which rose less than expected in February just one day after the stock market had one of its worst days amid virus concerns. A boost in consumer confidence, in turn, could ease those recession fears. “The U.S. economy is 70% consumer driven,” said John Kilduff, founding partner of Again Capital.

“A drop in gasoline prices acts like a tax cut, freeing up money to spend in other sectors of the economy, especially discretionary sectors, such as travel and leisure and dining.” The relentless pace of headlines related to the coronavirus, however, could ultimately act as a psychological break on any boost in confidence that low oil prices and mortgage rates might deliver to the consumer. “The question is whether the fear factor attributable to the virus will overwhelm any positive impact from lower gasoline prices and lower mortgage rates,” said Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research. “That’s hard to answer, but it seems to me that fear is winning the tug of war currently as evidenced by the drop in stock prices and the panicky responses of governments, the media … and the public,” he added.

[..] Jeff Kilburg, founder and CEO of KKM Financial, said that the short-term reaction to lower oil prices will translate into lower prices at the pump for Americans, and that in combination with historically low mortgage rates will provide substantial strength for consumers in the second quarter. “This resiliency of the consumer will once again support equities and most likely show that this current market reaction is a ‘blip,’ not the end of this bull market … and certainly not the beginning of a recession,” Kilburg said.

Read more …

Absolutely right. Will I be able to get to Greece in time?

More Countries Will Adopt Italy’s Measures – Austria PM (G.)

Austria’s chancellor has said other European countries will be forced to adopt containment measures as drastic as Italy’s, after Rome placed a quarter of the population in lockdown in an effort to halt the rapid spread of the coronavirus. As the head of the World Health Organization praised Italy’s “genuine sacrifices”, Sebastian Kurz said the situation in Austria, which has reported 99 Covid-19 cases, was under control and the measures it had adopted were appropriate for the time being. He said EU leaders and health ministers were in close contact over their countries’ handling of the epidemic [..] “It will be important to decide which steps to take when,” Kurz said. “You can close schools for one or two weeks and this is urgently necessary in Italy. It will happen in other European countries. The decisive question is when to do it.”

The difficulty will be in balancing the need to head off a peak in infections that could paralyse public health systems against excessive economic damage, he said. “You have to consider carefully when to adopt these measures, because a national economy cannot handle this over too long a period.” Speaking to French radio, the EU commissioner for the single market, Thierry Breton, said European countries were “each acting according to the latest available data in their countries. The virus has spread faster in some places than in others, so naturally the measures in each differ”. In the US, Anthony Fauci, the head of the infectious diseases unit at the National Institutes of Health, said Americans , and particularly those who are vulnerable, may have to stop attending big gatherings. Nor could large-scale quarantines be ruled out, he said.

The WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, tweeted his appreciation for Rome’s efforts after the government published a decree barring people from entering or leaving vast areas of northern Italy without good reason until 3 April. The quarantine zones are home to about 16 million people and include the regions around Venice and the financial capital, Milan. Cinemas, theatres and museums will be closed nationwide and leave has been cancelled for health workers as the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said the country was facing a national emergency.

Read more …

You announce an upcoming travel ban, so what do people do? Travel.

Leaked Italy Quarantine Plans Create Chaos, Threaten To Spread Virus (ZH)

Italians have become inured to alarming news over the past month as the outbreak has spiraled out of control in Lombardy. But following a flurry of uncontrolled leaks warning about an imminent lockdown as part of the government’s planned emergency decree, restaurants and bars started emptying out and many fled to the train station, where they hopped trains to get out of the region, especially those who had plans to travel elsewhere that were being interrupted by the lockdown. According to an SCMP reporter in Padua, packed bars and restaurants quickly emptied out as news of a coming lockdown hit, as many people rushed to the railway station. Travellers with suitcases, wearing face masks, gloves and carrying bottles of sanitising gel shoved their way on to the local train.

This appears to have been a phenomenon across the North. The video shows passengers with large bags packed heading toward a cross-country train to take them out of the quarantine zone and into the Italian south, where the virus has penetrated, but infection numbers and deaths remain much lower than in the north. This could be terrible news for the impoverished south: experts have repeatedly warned that southern Italy – best known as an agricultural and fishing center rife with organized crime – doesn’t possess the medical infrastructure to handle a surge in life-threatening cases of pneumonia. While Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly insisted during his seemingly never-ending series of press conferences that the panic is worse than the virus itself, in Italy, the situation is rapidly deteriorating on both fronts.

One epidemiologist described the series of panic-provoking leaks as “pure madness.” Fortunately, Italian markets were closed during the panic, and now people have more or less accepted the new rules. But at this point, the horse is already out of the barn. Panicked Italians are now traveling around the country, potentially bringing the virus with them. “The draft of a very harsh decree is leaked, sparking panic and prompting people to try and flee the [then] theoretical red zone, carrying the virus with them,” wrote Italian virologist Roberto Burioni on Twitter. “In the end, the only effect is to help the virus to spread. I’m lost for words.”

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Even before the virus, Britain’s reality is devastating: ““or so many families now, schools are the first line of defence against hunger..“

Charities Preparing To Feed Children If Schools Shut Over Coronavirus (G.)

A charity led by the archbishop of Canterbury is preparing to help feed children if schools are closed by coronavirus, amid fears the withdrawal of free school dinners could leave up to 3 million children at risk of hunger. Feeding Britain, which runs food poverty schemes in 12 areas of England including Cornwall, Leicester, Barnsley and South Shields, is exploring how to set up emergency programmes similar to those used to feed the poorest children during the summer holidays. The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which serves thousands of hot meals to children every summer in London boroughs, is also “prepared to enter crisis mode”, while food projects in Bristol and Huddersfield said they were exploring how their schemes to feed hundreds of children in school holidays could be adapted to help cope with emergency closures.

“For so many families now, schools are the first line of defence against hunger,” said Andrew Forsey, the national director of Feeding Britain, whose president is the Most Rev Justin Welby. “In many cases it is breakfast as well as lunch, so if the schools close it’s two meals we have to find. There is early-stage planning going on around ensuring supplies of food and the extent of voluntary support that could be drawn upon if some schools do need to close.” Downing Street said on Tuesday that school closures would be among “distancing strategies” used if the virus became established in the UK. On Thursday, Italy closed all of its schools and colleges for a month.

[..] An immediate challenge is likely to be finding a way to deliver meals in a way that maintains the distance between people that school closures are meant to achieve. The Bristol project said it could involve delivering food parcels door-to-door. Forsey also said panic-buying that cleared supermarket shelves could hinder efforts as many free meal programmes relied on retailers’ donations.

Read more …

“106 people in New York have confirmed cases of Coronavirus. But- “As of Saturday only about 120 people in New York City had been tested..”

The dumbest advice ever. “Take the next train”.

NYC Asks Commuters to Stay Off Public Transit ‘If You Can’ (NBC)

City and state officials issued new travel suggestions amid growing novel coronavirus cases in the tri-state area. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asked sick people to stay off public transit, especially subways and buses. Their warnings included a suggestion to avoid dense crowds on buses, subways and trains, or take alternate travel if possible. “If you take the subway and you are able to wait for a less packed train, please do. If you have the option of walking or biking, please do. Buses can be crowded too, but less than subways, so please use these if you can,” de Blasio said. “Move to a train car that is not as dense. If you see a packed train car, let it go by. Wait for the next train. Same if you’re taking a bus,” Cuomo said.


Avoiding public transit is not an option for most New Yorkers and they’re not afraid to let the mayor know. “Happy to ride a bike to work. Can you make it so people don’t die in Queens while biking? Vehicular deaths are a public health crisis too,” one Twitter user said in response to de Blasio’s announcement. In the city’s other effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, transit workers started to disinfect subway turnstiles, station handrails, MetroCard and ticket vending machines daily and other frequently used parts of the system, according to a statement from Transport Workers Union President Tony Utano. The deep clean extends to Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and Access-A-Ride services as well. In addition to the daily cleaning, the MTA says its full fleet of subway trains and buses will undergo sanitization every 72 hours.

Read more …

I think Yanis is getting ahead of himself. What the situation will be once the pandemic is over is so murky right now we must all be very cautious about predicting anythig.

A Perfect Storm Of Nationalism And Financial Speculation (Varoufakis)

Nationalism and speculation have seldom had a better opportunity to combine forces as the one riding today on the coattails of Covid-19, known as the coronavirus. When Covid-19 leapfrogged from China to Italy, even ardent Europeanists normally appreciative of open borders joined the deafening calls to end freedom of movement across Europe’s national borders – a longstanding demand of nationalists. Meanwhile, the money men speculating on government debt are performing a classic flight from Italian to German government bonds, seeking the financial safety that only the continent’s hegemon can offer during any crisis. As if in a bid to remind us of the great contradiction of our times, Covid-19 is illuminating gloriously the freedom of money to transcend a borderless financial universe while humans remain as fenced in as ever.

Meanwhile in the United States, President Trump is combining his standard call for taller walls with a fresh instruction to moneymen to “buy the dip” in Wall Street, rather than to follow their natural instinct to seek refuge in the boring but safe bond markets. A great deal will depend on whether financiers believe Mr Trump or not, and not just because this is an election year. If speculators do believe the American president, Wall Street will recover swiftly even before the epidemic subsides. The forces of xenophobic financialisation will then have triumphed and America’s progressives will face an uphill struggle on every political front. As for the European Union, ruling elites will breathe a sigh of relief that a new depression was avoided and return to managing as best as they can the economic stagnation of recent times, tinged this time with a large dose of additional, coronavirus-reinforced, xenophobia.

Will Wall Street follow Mr Trump’s advice to “buy the dip”? For now, the large players are in two minds. The drop in the stock market does not worry them as such. Their concern is that the recent bull market was running on increasingly suspect debt and that Covid-19 may have pricked a bubble that was going to burst anyway. Similarly in Europe, the worst spectre hovering over investors’ heads is that large corporations, relying for too long on free money from the European Central Bank, may be downgraded from investment to junk-grade – especially so at a time of stagnant domestic demand and a collapsed Chinese import market.

Read more …

Maybe electric cars should run on electric tires?

Tyre Wear Produces 1,000 Times More Harmful Pollution Than Car Exhausts (BW)

Car tyres could be doing more damage to our health than the fumes from exhaust pipes, according to the results from a new test. Measurements found that 5.8 grams per kilometre of harmful particles are emitted by tyres as they wear when a car is being driven. That compares to 4.5 milligrams per kilometer produced from exhaust pipes of the latest vehicles on sale today – meaning harmful tyre outputs are higher by a factor of over 1,000. Assessments were conducted by UK-based experts Emissions Analytics, which specialises in calculating the pollution produced by cars in real-world driving.


The type of emissions tyres have been found to produce is harmful particulate matter that is almost impossible to see with the naked eye. It’s made up of microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter – also known as PM2.5 – pose the greatest risk to our health. Exposure can affect both the lungs and heart, with numerous scientific studies linking them to a variety of problems. This includes premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function and wider respiratory symptoms.

Read more …

But there are videos of Turkish troops destroying Greek fences to let migants pass. Erdogan is in Brussels today.

Putin Saves Erdogan From Himself (Escobar)

At the start of their discussion marathon in Moscow on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with arguably the most extraordinary diplomatic gambit of the young 21st century. Putin said: “At the beginning of our meeting, I would like to once again express my sincere condolences over the death of your servicemen in Syria. Unfortunately, as I have already told you during our phone call, nobody, including Syrian troops, had known their whereabouts.” This is how a true world leader tells a regional leader, to his face, to please refrain from positioning his forces as jihadi supporters – incognito, in the middle of an explosive theater of war. The Putin-Erdogan face-to-face discussion, with only interpreters allowed in the room, lasted three hours, before another hour with the respective delegations.

In the end, it all came down to Putin selling an elegant way for Erdogan to save face – in the form of, what else, yet another ceasefire in Idlib, which started at midnight on Thursday, signed in Turkish, Russian and English – “all texts having equal legal force.” Additionally, on March 15, joint Turkish-Russian patrolling will start along the M4 highway – implying endless mutating strands of al-Qaeda in Syria won’t be allowed to retake it. If this all looks like déjà vu, that’s because it is. Quite a few official photos of the Moscow meeting prominently feature Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu – the other two heavyweights in the room apart from both Presidents. In the wake of Putin, Lavrov and Shoigu must have read the riot act to Erdogan in no uncertain terms.

That’s enough: now behave, please – or else face dire consequences. A predictable feature of the new ceasefire is that both Moscow and Ankara – part of the Astana peace process, alongside Tehran – remain committed to maintaining the “territorial integrity and sovereignty” of Syria. Once again, there’s no guarantee that Erdogan will abide. It’s crucial to recap the basics. Turkey is deep in financial crisis. Ankara needs cash – badly. The lira is collapsing. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is losing elections. Former prime minister and party leader Ahmet Davutoglu – who conceptualized neo-Ottomanism – has left the party and is carving his own political niche. The AKP is mired in an internal crisis.

Erdogan’s response has been to go on the offensive. That’s how he re-establishes his aura. Combine Idlib with his maritime pretensions around Cyprus and blackmail pressure on the EU via the inundation of Lesbos in Greece with refugees, and we have Erdogan’s trademark modus operandi in full swing. In theory, the new ceasefire will force Erdogan to finally abandon all those myriad al Nusra/ISIS metastases – what the West calls “moderate rebels,” duly weaponized by Ankara. This is an absolute red line for Moscow – and also for Damascus. There will be no territory left behind for jihadis. Iraq is another story: ISIS is still lurking around Kirkuk and Mosul.

[..] No NATO fanatic will ever admit it, but once again it was Russia that just prevented the threatened “Muslim invasion” of Europe advertised by Erdogan. Yet there was never any invasion in the first place, only a few thousand economic migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Sahel, not Syrians. There are no “one million” Syrian refugees on the verge of entering the EU. The EU, proverbially, will keep blabbering. Brussels and most capitals still have not understood that Bashar al-Assad has been fighting al Nusra/ISIS all along. They simply don’t understand the correlation of forces on the ground. Their fallback position is always the scratched CD of “European values.” No wonder the EU is a secondary actor in the whole Syrian tragedy.

Read more …

To think there were scores of people who said Hill made so much sense. Very simple questions that remain unanswered: what exactly do the Russians do according to her, and how exactly does that divide Americans? Never an answer, other than “US intelligence believes that…”

Fiona Hill Says Putin Has America ‘Exactly Where He Wants Us’ (CNN)

President Donald Trump’s former top Russia adviser is warning that President Vladimir Putin has America “exactly where he wants us.” “Putin, sadly, has got all of our political class, every single one of us, including the media, exactly where he wants us. He’s got us feeling vulnerable…on edge, and he’s got us questioning the legitimacy of our own systems,” Fiona Hill told CBS’ Lesley Stahl in an interview set to air on “60 Minutes” Sunday. The interview marks the former top White House official’s first since testifying in the impeachment inquiry into Trump. During congressional hearings in the inquiry, Hill warned that the Republican defense of the President — by peddling Ukraine conspiracy theories — was in danger of extending Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

Hill, who left the Trump administration last summer, has studied Russia for decades and is a critical biographer of Putin, authoring or co-authoring a number of books on Russia, including two editions of a book titled “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. In the interview, Hill said Russia understands how to exploit American divisions. “The Russians didn’t invent partisan divides. The Russians haven’t invented racism in the United States,” Hill said. “But the Russians understand a lot of those divisions, and they understand how to exploit them.” Russian interference in the last presidential election — which the US intelligence community believes was aimed at boosting Trump’s candidacy and hurting his opponent, Hillary Clinton — led to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Part of the election interference included a Russian government-linked troll operation that sought to help Trump’s candidacy and undercut that of Clinton in part by posting messages in support of Sanders. Concerns over the Kremlin’s role in US politics have continued. The US intelligence community has assessed that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election and has separately assessed that Russia views Trump as a leader they can work with. In February, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders also said his campaign was briefed about Russian efforts to help his operation. It was unclear how Russia was attempting to help the Vermont senator.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

Today is International Women’s Day. So of course the DNC changes its rules yet again, this time to bar its only remaining female candidate from participating in the next debate.

 


 

 

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Jun 302019
 


 

Trump Invites Kim Jong-Un to the White House (BI)
China Warns Of Long Road Ahead For Deal With US After Ice-Breaking Talks (R.)
Russia and Saudi Arabia Agree To Extend OPEC Oil Output Cuts Into 2020 (MW)
Johnson And Hunt Don’t Understand What It’s Like When A Wall Falls (G.)
The Extradition Cases of Pinochet & Assange (Vos)
UN Torture Rapporteur About Op-Ed On Assange Rejected By MSM (RT)
Boeing Outsourced Its 737 MAX Software To $9-Per-Hour Engineers (ZH)
Deutsche Bank’s Medieval Medicine (Coppola)
Declaration of Digital Independence (Sanger)
Italian Police Arrest Migrant-Rescue Ship Captain After Docking (R.)
Spike In Autism Linked To Preservative In Processed Foods (F.)

 

 

Big moment no matter what. The situation at the DMZ has changed a lot in the past year. It’s like the DMZ has been dimilitarized. Far fewer weapons, guards don’t even wear helmets anymore.

Trump Invites Kim Jong-Un to the White House (BI)

Donald Trump has invited Kim Jong Un to the White House, after he became the first serving American President to step over the North Korean border and shake hands with a North Korean leader. Trump crossed over from the demilitarized zone to shake hands with Kim Jong Un, after earlier offering the meeting on Twitter. “When I put out the social media notification, if he didn’t show up he would have made me look very bad,” Trump told reporters. Kim Jong Un responded that “I was very surprised to hear about your offer on the tweet and only late in the afternoon I was able to confirm your invitation.”

The US president described his relationship with the North Korean leader as a “great friendship.” “This was a special moment, a historic moment,” Trump told reporters. “Stepping across that line was a great honour. A lot of progress has been made and a lot of friendships have been made and this in particular is a great friendship.” Following their handshake, the two men took part in a press conference during which the US president confirmed that he was extending an invite to Kim Jong Un to the White House. Trump thanked Kim Jong Un for meeting him. “I want to thank the chairman. You’ve got to hear that powerful voice.”

Read more …

But at least talks are back on.

China Warns Of Long Road Ahead For Deal With US After Ice-Breaking Talks (R.)

China and the United States will face a long road before they can reach a deal to end their bitter trade war, with more fights ahead likely, Chinese state media said after the two countries’ presidents held ice-breaking talks in Japan. The world’s two largest economies are in the midst of a bitter trade war, which has seen them level increasingly severe tariffs on each other’s imports. In a sign of significant progress in relations on Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, agreed to a ceasefire and a return to talks.


However, the official China Daily, an English-language daily often used by Beijing to put its message out to the rest of the world, warned while there was now a greater likelihood of reaching an agreement, there’s no guarantee there would be one. “Even though Washington agreed to postpone levying additional tariffs on Chinese goods to make way for negotiations, and Trump even hinted at putting off decisions on Huawei until the end of negotiations, things are still very much up in the air,” it said in an editorial late Saturday. “Agreement on 90 percent of the issues has proved not to be enough, and with the remaining 10 percent where their fundamental differences reside, it is not going to be easy to reach a 100-percent consensus, since at this point, they remain widely apart even on the conceptual level.”

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What else could they do?

Russia and Saudi Arabia Agree To Extend OPEC Oil Output Cuts Into 2020 (MW)

Russia and Saudi Arabia have agreed to extend the OPEC oil production cuts deal by another six to nine months, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the G-20 leaders summit in Japan on Saturday. The OPEC+ group — the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, plus Russia and other producers — meet on July 1-2 to renegotiate the pact which expires June 30. In 2016, Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to try to jointly manage global oil output to support prices in what became known as the OPEC+ coalition and the current deal called for production cuts of 1.2 million barrels a day. “We will support the extension, both Russia and Saudi Arabia,” Putin said at a news conference in Osaka, Reuters reported.


“As far as the length of the extension is concerned, we have yet to decide whether it will be six or nine months. Maybe it will be nine months,” said Putin said, who met the crown prince on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan. “In any event we will support the continuation of agreements, both Russia and Saudi Arabia, in the volumes previously agreed.” The announcement marks the first time a leader from the OPEC+ group has indicated the curbs could be needed into 2020. That reflects a gloomy outlook for oil demand next year due to a combination of slowing global economic growth and rising U.S. shale oil output.

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“For 34 years I lived behind the Iron Curtain so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish, once walls fall.”

Johnson And Hunt Don’t Understand What It’s Like When A Wall Falls (G.)

Perhaps it is a problem of language. The dictionary lacks a necessary word: UKish. Northern Ireland is not in Britain but it is in the UK. The porous boundary that divides it from the rest of Ireland is not, strictly speaking, a British frontier. So it is called “the Irish border”, making it, for the Brexiters, someone else’s problem. The terrain where a post-Brexit UK meets the remaining 27-member EU bloc is, as the miserable Tory leadership debate shows yet again, somewhere over there. For Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, its troubles are, as Neville Chamberlain might put it, “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”. They might have to know more about it if only we could call it what it is: the UKish border.

Hunt and Johnson both agree that a no-deal Brexit must be kept alive as a serious proposition. Both also agree that once in Downing Street they will reopen negotiations with the EU with the primary aim of ditching from the withdrawal agreement the so-called Irish backstop, which is also, of course, the UKish backstop. Hunt puts this in more emollient terms than Johnson, but makes up for this weakness by promising to include on his negotiating team representatives of the famously emollient Democratic Unionist party, which does not represent most voters in Northern Ireland. All of this is so drearily familiar (this hobbyhorse comes round and round on the non-stop Brexit carousel) that it is hard to remember how surreal it is.

It is weird not just because the backstop was designed around British demands; not just because Hunt and Johnson were in the cabinet when it was negotiated; not just because they both voted for it in parliament; and not just because the EU has repeated, over and over, that, in the words of the European council in January: “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.” That should be enough to be going on with, but there is an even deeper absurdity. On 4 April last, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, flew to Dublin [..] she said: “For 34 years I lived behind the Iron Curtain so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish, once walls fall.”

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Crazy enough that these two people are mentioned in the same sentence.

The Extradition Cases of Pinochet & Assange (Vos)

In October 1998, Pinochet, whose regime became a byword for political killings, “disappearances” and torture, was arrested in London while there for medical treatment. A judge in Madrid, Baltasar Garzón, sought his extradition in connection with the deaths of Spanish citizens in Chile. Citing the aging Pinochet’s inability to stand trial, the United Kingdom in 2000 ultimately prevented him from being extradited to Spain where he would have faced prosecution for human rights abuses. At an early point in the proceedings, Pinochet’s lawyer, Clare Montgomery, made an argument in his defense that had nothing to do with age or poor health.

“States and the organs of state, including heads of state and former heads of state, are entitled to absolute immunity from criminal proceedings in the national courts of other countries,” the Guardian quoted Montgomery as saying. She argued that crimes against humanity should be narrowly defined within the context of international warfare, as the BBC reported. Montgomery’s immunity argument was overturned by the House of Lords. But the extradition court ruled that the poor health of Pinochet, a friend of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would prevent him from being sent to Spain. Though the cases of Pinochet and Assange are separated by more than two decades, two of the participants are the same, this time playing very different roles.

Montgomery reappeared in the Assange case to argue on behalf of a Swedish prosecutor’s right to seek a European arrest warrant for Assange. Her argument ultimately failed. A Swedish court recently denied the European arrest warrant. But as in the Pinochet case, Montgomery helped buy time, this time allowing Swedish sexual allegations to persist and muddy Assange’s reputation. Garzón, the Spanish judge, who had requested Pinochet’s extradition, also reappears in Assange’s case. He is a well-known defender of human rights, “viewed by many as Spain’s most courageous legal watchdog and the scourge of bent politicians and drug warlords the world over,” as the The Independent described him a few years ago. He now leads Assange’s legal team.

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Melzer is not planning to let go. Now where’s his support?

“When you start exposing an isolated individual who can’t defend himself to a sustained campaign of humiliation, of shame, of ridicule, even death threats, then it can cause severe psychological trauma.”

UN Torture Rapporteur About Op-Ed On Assange Rejected By MSM (RT)

The UN rapporteur on torture told RT about the fanciful excuses Western media used to avoid publishing his damning op-ed on the extreme pressure Julian Assange was exposed to – despite covering every wild allegation against him. A host of reputed Western media outlets turned a deaf ear to Nils Melzer and his op-ed in which he said Julian Assange was exposed to enormous psychological trauma and isolation while in the Ecuadorian Embassy, and afterwards in the UK high-security prison. “Some of them said it wasn’t high enough on their news agenda, some of them said it wasn’t within their core area of interest.”

“The explanations seem awkward given that the same newspapers – the Guardian, the Times, the Washington Post, the Telegraph, and others – have been running news stories about Assange “when it was about his cat and his skateboard and… allegations that he smeared excrement on the walls.” “But when you have a serious piece that actually tries to de-mask this public narrative and to actually show the facts below it, then they’re not interested.”

In his piece, which was eventually published on blogging website Medium, Melzer admitted he “had been blinded by propaganda” and didn’t believe Assange was being dehumanized through isolation, ridicule, and shame. He even asked himself how could “life in an Embassy with a cat and a skateboard ever amount to torture.” “I didn’t know Assange, so I took with me experienced medical experts, a psychiatrist and a forensic expert that have worked for decades in examining torture victims,” he told RT. These experts, he said, found that Assange showed “all the symptoms that are typical for a person who has been exposed to prolonged psychological torture.”

He has been exposed to public mobbing. Now, that’s the slippery slope… When you start exposing an isolated individual who can’t defend himself to a sustained campaign of humiliation, of shame, of ridicule, even death threats, then it can cause severe psychological trauma.

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Criminal investigation next.

Boeing Outsourced Its 737 MAX Software To $9-Per-Hour Engineers (ZH)

The software at the heart of the Boeing 737 MAX crisis was developed at a time when the company was laying off experienced engineers and replacing them with temporary workers making as little as $9 per hour, according to Bloomberg. In an effort to cut costs, Boeing was relying on subcontractors making paltry wages to develop and test its software. Often times, these subcontractors would be from countries lacking a deep background in aerospace, like India. Boeing had recent college graduates working for Indian software developer HCL Technologies Ltd. in a building across from Seattle’s Boeing Field, in flight test groups supporting the MAX. The coders from HCL designed to specifications set by Boeing but, according to Mark Rabin, a former Boeing software engineer, “it was controversial because it was far less efficient than Boeing engineers just writing the code.”


Rabin said: “…it took many rounds going back and forth because the code was not done correctly.” In addition to cutting costs, the hiring of Indian companies may have landed Boeing orders for the Indian military and commercial aircraft, like a $22 billion order received in January 2017. That order included 100 737 MAX 8 jets and was Boeing’s largest order ever from an Indian airline. India traditionally orders from Airbus. HCL engineers helped develop and test the 737 MAX’s flight display software while employees from another Indian company, Cyient Ltd, handled the software for flight test equipment. In 2011, Boeing named Cyient, then known as Infotech, to a list of its “suppliers of the year”. One HCL employee posted online: “Provided quick workaround to resolve production issue which resulted in not delaying flight test of 737-Max (delay in each flight test will cost very big amount for Boeing).”

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Does Merkel really want to risk things getting worse?

Deutsche Bank’s Medieval Medicine (Coppola)

If there is one thing that Deutsche Bank executives agree on, it is the efficacy of medieval medicine. Bloodletting, to be precise. Successive Chief Executives have bled the patient, but it hasn’t recovered: profits remain disappointing, and the share price has continued to decline. So the latest incumbent is going to bleed it again – on a much larger scale. On Friday, June 28, the Wall Street Journal revealed plans to slash up to 20,000 jobs worldwide. This would reduce full-time headcount to just over 70,000, the lowest since the financial crisis. The WSJ says the staff cuts will fall “across all divisions and business lines.” But the largest cuts are expected to fall on the investment bank and the troubled U.S. arm. Deutsche Bank has been trying – and largely failing – to reduce its staff costs for years.

It may surprise people to learn that despite repeated cuts, Deutsche Bank’s headcount is significantly higher than it was in 2008. This is mainly due to the acquisition of PostBank in 2010, which added 18,000 employees. Back in 2016, Deutsche Bank announced plans to cut its headcount to 77,000, largely through disposing of PostBank. But when the PostBank disposal evaporated, so too did the headcount reductions. The bank now intends to integrate PostBank with its own retail bank, and says this will achieve “synergies” (i.e. cost savings). Presumably that will mean headcount reductions, though it is not clear whether these are included in the plans leaked to the WSJ.

But there has also been a gradual increase in headcount in other divisions, notably the investment bank. Frankly, given the bank’s awful performance in recent years, it is hard to see what benefit this has brought. It looks suspiciously like empire-building to me. Or perhaps gambling. “Recruit some star performers, they’ll soon turn this business round….” [..] Deutsche Bank’s high cost-income ratio isn’t caused by clerks in retail branches. No, it is due to the insanely high salaries and bonuses Deutsche Bank pays to traders and analysts in its investment bank. And above all, it is due to executive management’s head-in-the-sand attitude to business lines in terminal decline. In 2016, despite glaringly poor performance in its equities division, Deutsche Bank recruited more equities analysts. Now, it appears to be intending to sack them all.

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Larry Sanger is a co-founder of Wikipedia. This is a very detailed declaration.

Declaration of Digital Independence (Sanger)

Humanity has been contemptuously used by vast digital empires. Thus it is now necessary to replace these empires with decentralized networks of independent individuals, as in the first decades of the Internet. As our participation has been voluntary, no one doubts our right to take this step. But if we are to persuade as many people as possible to join together and make reformed networks possible, we should declare our reasons for wanting to replace the old. We declare that we have unalienable digital rights, rights that define how information that we individually own may or may not be treated by others, and that among these rights are free speech, privacy, and security.


Since the proprietary, centralized architecture of the Internet at present has induced most of us to abandon these rights, however reluctantly or cynically, we ought to demand a new system that respects them properly. The difficulty and divisiveness of wholesale reform means that this task is not to be undertaken lightly. For years we have approved of and even celebrated enterprise as it has profited from our communication and labor without compensation to us. But it has become abundantly clear more recently that a callous, secretive, controlling, and exploitative animus guides the centralized networks of the Internet and the corporations behind them. The long train of abuses we have suffered makes it our right, even our duty, to replace the old networks. To show what train of abuses we have suffered at the hands of these giant corporations, let these facts be submitted to a candid world.

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The international Law of the Sea makes it obligatory to rescue people in peril. Salvini is breaking that law.

Italian Police Arrest Migrant-Rescue Ship Captain After Docking (R.)

Italian police arrested on Saturday the German captain of a migrant-rescue ship at the center of a standoff with the Italian government, after she docked at the island port of Lampedusa. The Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, operated by German charity Sea-Watch, has been at sea for more than two weeks with rescued Africans on board. After waiting in international waters for an invitation from Italy or an EU state to accept the ship, German captain Carola Rackete decided this week to sail for the southern Italian island of Lampedusa but was blocked by Italian government vessels. The ship eventually entered the port in the early hours of Saturday morning amid a heavy police presence.


Live television video showed the 31-year-old Rackete being taken off Sea-Watch 3 by tax police and driven away amid applause and barracking from bystanders gathered at the port. She has been arrested for “resisting a war ship”, a charge which, according to media reports, carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. After Rackete was taken away, 40 Africans on board the ship were allowed to disembark and were taken to a reception center on the island. Italy’s right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who is taking a tough line against migrant rescue ships, previously said he would only allow Rackete to dock when other European Union states agree to immediately take the migrants. “Outlaw arrested. Pirate ship seized. Big fine on foreign NGO. Migrants all redistributed in other European countries. Mission completed,” Salvini said in a tweet on Saturday.

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Suicide. Or murder, since it’s about babies.

Spike In Autism Linked To Preservative In Processed Foods (F.)

Researchers from the University of Central Florida (UCF) just announced intriguing findings which describe cellular changes that develop when neuronal stem cells are exposed to elevated levels of a chemical typically found in processed foods. The study serves as an example of the importance of the food pregnant women eat, and how it may potentially affect development of the fetal brain. The study describes how elevated levels of the preservative, propionic acid (PPA)–used to extend shelf life and reduce mold in packaged foods, breads and cheeses—can adversely affect the development and differentiation of neurons in fetal brains in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

From clinical experience, healthcare providers have observed for many decades how children with ASD are often afflicted with gastrointestinal ailments, including chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The mechanism behind this association is unclear, but ongoing research suggests that the gut microbiome plays an important role in brain development. One of the key questions is how the gut microbiome–the bacteria that live in our intestines–may be unique in those with ASD compared to those without the condition. Previous studies have demonstrated increased levels of PPA, a short chain fatty acid (SCFA), in the feces of children with ASD; we also know that the gut microbiome in these children is also quite distinct in terms of the type of bacteria that inhabit their intestines.

Clostridia, Bacteriodetes, and Desulfovibrio bacteria are unique to patients with ASD. What’s interesting is that these bacteria are also known to be fermenters of carbohydrates that produce PPA, and other SCFAs as well. Ironically, while PPA is the most common compound produced by bacteria in ASD patients, it is also widely used in the food industry as a preservative due to its ability to inhibit growth of fungi (mold). In the current study, Saleh Naser, PhD and her team at UCF found that when neural stem cells were exposed to high levels of PPA, the neurons incurred multiple changes resulting in cellular damage and inflammation.

One of the major effects of PPA they noted was the overproduction of glial cells , the protective outer cells making up the sheath covering neurons, with a corresponding reduction in the number of neurons themselves. An excess of glial cells may disrupt the connectivity between the neurons and induce inflammation, a common finding in the brains of children with ASD. While prior studies have suggested the role of genetic factors and environmental influence in ASD, this study, according to the authors, is the first to note a molecular link from elevated levels of PPA, overproduction of glial cells, disruption of neural connections and autism.

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Wednesday is Julian’s birthday.

 

 

 

 

Feb 112019
 
 February 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Glass, bread and cheesee 1923

 

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)
IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)
UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)
Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)
May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)
All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)
Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)
Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)
Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)
China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)
Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)
Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)
Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

 

 

This should be the only topic left on all media and political agendas. Instead, everyone’s talking about music awards. Mankind had its promises, but they came with fatal flaws. The ability to lie to ourselves and others -including about the relative importance of various events- is doing us in.

We do have the brain structure to foresee future dangers, but also to discard them. We can see ourselves do things we know are devastatingly stupid, but we cannot stop ourselves from doing them. In the end, no matter how smart we think we are, only stupidity is left.

Even here, when people talk about the collapse of nature, the media present it as something separate from us. While we’re right in the middle of it, and we know it only too well.

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review. More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century. The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet. “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.” The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.” One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

[..] “The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades. He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.

The world must change the way it produces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, noting that organic farms had more insects and that occasional pesticide use in the past did not cause the level of decline seen in recent decades. “Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems,” he said. [..] “When you consider 80% of biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years, it is a big concern.”

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“It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.”

IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)

For the fourth time since October, the IMF revised its global growth forecast lower. The Wall Street Journal reports IMF Lowers 2019 Global Growth Forecast. “The global economy is starting the year on weaker footing, according to new quarterly forecasts from the International Monetary Fund.” That report was on January 21. For details, see the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Update, January 2019.

“Last month, the IMF lowered its global economic growth forecast for this year from 3.7% to 3.5%. Lagarde cited what she called “four clouds” as the main factors undermining the global economy and warned that a “storm” might strike. The risks include “trade tensions and tariff escalations, financial tightening, uncertainty related to (the) Brexit outcome and spillover impact and an accelerated slowdown of the Chinese economy”, she said. Lagarde said trade tensions — mainly in the shape of a tariff spat between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies – are already having a global impact. “We have no idea how it is going to pan out and what we know is that it is already beginning to have an effect on trade, on confidence and on markets,” she said, warning governments to avoid protectionism.”

“Lagarde also pointed to the risks posed by rising borrowing costs within a context of “heavy debt” racked up by governments, firms and households. “When there are too many clouds, it takes one lightning (bolt) to start the storm,” she said.” The IMF is perpetually far behind the curve. It never sees the clouds or the lightening bolts in real time. It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.

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As if things are not bad enough. Get out while you can.

UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)

Many British public services risk ongoing real-terms cuts for years to come, despite a softer fiscal stance from Chancellor Philip Hammond, a major think tank predicted ahead of a half-yearly budget update next month. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) expects Hammond to give more details of the money available for a multi-year review of public spending when he updates budget plans on March 13, just two weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union. In his annual budget in November, Hammond loosened the government’s purse-strings, giving support to the economy as it slowed ahead of Brexit. However, rising healthcare spending leaves little spare for other public services, the IFS said.

“This suggests yet more years of austerity for many public services — albeit at a much slower pace than the last nine years,” IFS research economist Ben Zaranko said. Public services outside of health, defence and overseas aid saw budgets fall by an average of 3 percent a year in real terms after 2010, and now look set for declines of 0.4 percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms going forward, the IFS predicts. [..] “In the short run … government might well raise spending to support the economy, mitigate the impacts for the worst-hit sectors or areas and provide funding to departments now required to perform additional functions, notably at the border,” the IFS said. In the long run, higher taxes or further spending cuts would be required to pay for this spending, as well as to compensate for weaker growth caused by trade restrictions, the IFS added.

[..] Brexit uncertainty has damaged the economy already and will slow growth further over the long term, even with a deal. Last week the Bank of England estimated the costs to date at 1.5 percent of GDP — more than the forecast budget deficit for 2018/19. During 2016’s referendum campaign, Brexit supporters including former foreign minister Boris Johnson said leaving the EU would free as much as 350 million pounds a week to spend on public services such as healthcare.

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OK, where are the street fighting men?

Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)

Theresa May has effectively ruled out Labour’s ideas for a compromise Brexit plan, shutting off another potential route to a deal as business groups warned that with less than 50 days to go the departure process was entering the “emergency zone”. The prime minister’s formal response to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, in a letter to the Labour leader, stressed her objections to keeping the UK in some form of customs union, saying this would prevent the UK making its own trade deals. But in an apparent renewed bid to win over wavering Labour MPs, May made a concession on environmental and workers’ rights, discounting Corbyn’s idea of automatic alignment with EU standards but suggesting instead a Commons vote every time these change.

The letter comes amid a growing presumption that while May remains officially committed to putting a revised Brexit plan to MPs as soon as possible, in practice this is unlikely to happen before the end of February, if not later. The communities secretary, James Brokenshire, said on Sunday that if no finalised deal were put to the Commons by 27 February, MPs would again be given an amendable motion to consider, allowing them to block a no-deal departure or make other interventions. “If the meaningful vote has not happened, so in other words things have not concluded, then parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than 27 February,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

May remains officially committed to getting the EU to agree to significant changes to the Irish border backstop as a way of winning over the DUP and agitated Tory backbenchers who helped bring about the heavy defeat of her plan. But with the PM’s meetings in Brussels last week yielding no real hope of this, there had been speculation she might embrace suggestions from Corbyn, who last week outlined five commitments Labour needed for it to back a deal, including joining a customs union. In her letter May argued that her own Brexit plan “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union” in terms of avoiding tariffs, while allowing “development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU”. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”

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“..she successfully took another four days off the clock.”

May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)

On February 6, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn offered UK Prime Minister Theresa May a Customs Union Deal in which the Labour party would back a deal with May. She could have easily rejected Corbyn’s offer on the spot. Instead, she successfully took another four days off the clock. Today we see, May Rejects Corbyn’s Offer as Businesses Warn of Brexit Cliff Edge. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?” Great Question! Actually, the question itself is not great. May could have just as easily asked anything else. Thus, the question was irrelevant.

The importance is Corbyn now has to respond. How long will that take? Even if it’s a single day, that another day off the March 29 Brexit clock. Theresa May has effectively splintered the Labour party. Some want a new referendum, some want Brexit, and some want a custom’s union. Corbyn is now a clear loser in May’s tactics. The other side of May’s gambit is the Tories are now united. They still do not want her deal. [..] The biggest fear for the Tories was a new election. May’s gambit remains what it has always been, to play on the fears of both sides such that they would support her silly deal. While May succeeded on one front, she categorically failed on another. She now needs to win over DUP and splinter the Tories. If she can do that, then she wins. Meanwhile, the clock is running down.

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There are many more ways than these.

All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)

Reality bites. While millennials garner much of the negative press around financial issues — they live with their parents because they can’t get jobs! They spend all their money on avocado toast! — Gen Xers may be the ones who are really in trouble. Just 16% of Gen Xers say that they included financial planning in their 2019 goals, according to a recent survey from Allianz Life. That’s compared with 27% of millennials. And when asked what 2019 resolution they were most likely to make, and to keep, just 38% mentioned managing money better and saving more; meanwhile 50% of millennials said that. That lack of planning and goal-keeping could make a bad situation worse — as Gen X may already be financially worse off than other generations in a number of ways.

They’ve got the most credit card debt of anyone — yet still spend more than anyone on non-essentials. Members of Gen X have higher levels of credit card debt — which tends to carry a higher interest rate than most other debt — than other generations. Indeed, credit card debt levels peak between the ages of 45-54 at $9,096, with the second highest levels of debt being or those who are 35-44 at $8,235. Meanwhile, the under 35 set has just $5,808. “Millennials and individuals over 74 years old held the least credit card debt. These two groups are also among the least likely to have a credit card, which can serve as a potential explanation behind the trend we are seeing here,” ValuePenguin explains of their data.

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Don’t do it, Elizabeth. Dumb move.

Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)

Back in Iowa as a full-fledged presidential candidate, Democrat Elizabeth Warren took aim at President Donald Trump on Sunday, saying he “may not even be a free person” by next year’s election. The Massachusetts senator’s comments came a day after Trump renewed his criticism of her past claims of Native American heritage. In a tweet, Trump called Warren “Pocahontas” and said he would see her “on the campaign TRAIL.” The White House didn’t explain what the president was referring to in his tweet, though some Democrats accused him of making light of the Trail of Tears — the forced removal of Cherokee and several other Native American tribes from their lands in the 1830s. Warren’s campaign wouldn’t say what the senator believes Trump was referencing.

Warren has largely avoided talking about Trump since she began testing the waters for a campaign more than a month ago. During her first of three events Sunday in eastern Iowa, Warren said the president shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the direction of the campaign with divisive attacks. “Every day there is a racist tweet, a hateful tweet — something really dark and ugly,” she said. “What are we as candidates, as activists, as the press, going to do about it? We’re going to chase after those every day?” She continued: “Here’s what bothers me. By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president. In fact, he may not even be a free person.”

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Orban’s success: “..a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.”

Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)

Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has promised that women who have four or more children will never pay income tax again, in a move aimed at boosting the country’s population. Orbán, who has emerged as Europe’s loudest rightwing, anti-immigration voice in recent years, said getting Hungarian families to have more children was preferable to allowing immigrants from Muslim countries to enter. “In all of Europe there are fewer and fewer children, and the answer of the west to this is migration,” said Orbán in his annual state of the nation address on Sunday. “They want as many migrants to enter as there are missing kids, so that the numbers will add up. We Hungarians have a different way of thinking. Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.”

Orbán’s Fidesz party won a third consecutive electoral victory last year on an anti-migration platform, and the Hungarian prime minister rarely gives a speech without presenting the upcoming years as a do-or-die battle for the future of Europe. He has voiced a hope that after elections in May, all European institutions will be controlled by “anti-migration forces”. He has repeatedly claimed that the Hungarian-born American financier and philanthropist George Soros, a favoured target of the far right across the globe, is masterminding a conspiracy to destroy Europe by promoting mass migration. “The people of Europe have come to a historic crossroads,” Orbán said on Sunday, criticising the “mixed population countries” that result from allowing migration.

The process was moving so quickly, he said, that the transformation of previously Christian countries into those where Christians were a minority would happen in his lifetime. “There is no return ticket,” he said. [..] As the prime minister spoke, anti-Orbán protesters gathered in Budapest for the latest in a series of rallies against the government which began in December after parliament passed a “slave law” allowing employers to demand more overtime from workers. The law is seen as another result of the demographic problems in the country, as a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.

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And who does Pompeo visit first? Orban of course. Operating in the EU’s own back yard.

Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Hungary, Slovakia and Poland this week he wants to make up for a lack of U.S. engagement that opened the door to more Chinese and Russian influence in central Europe, administration officials say. On a tour that includes a conference on the Middle East where Washington hopes to build a coalition against Iran, Pompeo begins on Monday in Budapest, the Hungarian capital that last saw a secretary of state in 2011 when Hillary Clinton visited. On Tuesday he will be in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the first such high-level visit in 20 years. “This is overdue and needed,” a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Our message is we have to show up or expect to lose.

“Our efforts at diplomatic engagement are aimed at competing for positive influence and giving allies in the region an indication of U.S. support and interest in order to have alternatives to China and Russia.” Washington is concerned about China’s growing presence, in particular the expansion of Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom gear maker, in Hungary and Poland. [..] Pompeo will also voice concerns about energy ties with Moscow, and urge Hungary to not support the TurkStream pipeline, part of the Kremlin’s plans to bypass Ukraine, the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe. Hungary gets most of its gas from Russia and its main domestic source of electricity is the Paks nuclear power plant where Russia’s Rosatom is involved in a 12.5 billion-euro ($14 billion) expansion. It is also one of the EU states that benefit most from Chinese investment.

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Xi’s conundrum: does he play up how great this is, how it makes his economy look great, or does he try and cut down on borrowing even more, scared that Chinese are borrowing far too much?

China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)

China’s retailer and catering enterprises earned over 1 trillion yuan ($148.3 billion) during the Lunar New Year holiday, defying an economic slump to rise 8.5 percent from last year, the country’s commerce ministry said late on Sunday. The increase was down to the rapid growth in sales of new-year gifts, traditional foods, electronic products and local speciality products over a six-day holiday period ending on Saturday, the Ministry of Commerce said in a notice on its website. Domestic tourism during the new year break generated total revenues of 513.9 billion yuan, up 8.2 percent on the year, with the number of trips rising 7.6 percent to 415 million, the official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday, citing official data.

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The US is pricing itself out of the market: OPEC+ output cuts are meant to support prices, not to allow the US to fill in the gaps.

Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)

Crude prices fell by around 1 percent on Monday as U.S. drilling activity picked up and as Russia’s biggest oil producer pressured President Vladimir Putin to end the supply cut deal with Middle East-dominated producer club OPEC. [..] In the United States, energy firms last week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the second time in three weeks, a weekly report by Baker Hughes said on Friday. Companies added 7 oil rigs in the week to Feb. 8, bringing the total count to 854, pointing to a further rise in U.S. crude production, which already stands at a record 11.9 million bpd. Elsewhere, the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, has written to the Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Moscow’s deal with the OPEC to withhold output is a strategic threat and plays into the hands of the United States.

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Mea culpa. On the news yesterday that the Catalan court cases begin this week, I said nothing appeared to have changed from Rajoy’s days. Not true.

Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)

Tens of thousands gathered in Madrid on Sunday to protest Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plan to ease tensions with Catalan separatists, in a demonstration uniting the leaders of conservative and far-right parties. The protest of an estimated 45,000 people marked the first time that the leaders of the conservative Popular Party (PP), centrist Ciudadanos and far-right Vox were photographed together, El País reported. Protesters accused Sánchez of “stabbing [Spain] in the back” and called for a snap election because of his government’s decision to accept a long-held demand of Catalan secessionists to appoint a facilitator in talks between pro-independence and pro-unity political parties.

The ruling regional pro-independence parties in Barcelona have rejected the Socialists’ proposed framework for talks and are calling for a new independence vote, which the government opposes. “The time of Pedro Sánchez has ended,” said PP leader Pablo Casado. “There is no more room for surrendering by the Socialists, or further extortion from the separatists. Today, the reconquest begins.” Sánchez said at a separate rally on Sunday that “the government is working for the unity of Spain, and this means uniting Spaniards and not pitting people against one another like the right is doing.” He added: “Democracy is not heads or tails, there are many alternatives. Ours is coexistence, law and dialogue in Catalonia.”

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Off topic. What these works show, after you’ve watched them for 2 seconds, is how good Escher was, and others are not. The first one, cats and dogs, depends on cartoon animals. Escher used only real animals. The second comes closest to Escher’s work, but that makes it a bland imitation. The third is straight-up cartoon, not at all something Escher would have done.

Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

Alain Nicolas, aged 73, was inspired to create his own tessellations on seeing the work of Escher four decades ago. Escher’s tessellations of interlocking birds, fish and lizards are some of the most recognisable mathematical art of the twentieth century; striking and playful as well as breathtakingly ingenious. Nicolas’ work is also stunning and witty.

Now retired, he spends half his free time designing tessellations and recently finished his 400th. You can see many of them on his extensive website (but don’t peek until you have solved the puzzles!). Drawing tessellations is not easy. It takes a lot of geometrical acuity to make shapes that fit together and are convincing representations.

David Bailey, a British tessellation artist, believes that Nicolas is the best tessellation artist in the world. “His work has everything, recognisable silhouettes, quality, variety, number, level of innovation, next to no padding, and all rendered to a most pleasing standard of finish. Bravo, Alain!” Nicolas has – like Escher – no background in maths, but says all that is required is a sense of wonder and a desire to always do better. Here is a self portrait, sitting in a bar, reading his own book, and calling the waiter with his finger.

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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%.

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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.

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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.

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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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Nov 262018
 
 November 26, 2018  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh On the Outskirts of Paris 1887

 

Russia Seizes Three Ukrainian Naval Ships In The Black Sea (AP)
Not Remotely Possible For May’s Brexit Deal To Pass Parliament – UK MP (CNBC)
UK High Court To Rule If Brexit Vote ‘Void’ As Early As Christmas (Ind.)
Nineteen Months Of Brexit Wrangling – And That’s Just A Taster (BBC)
Business Leaders Rally Behind May’s Brexit Deal Amid Fears Of Crashing Out (G.)
Texas Is About to Create OPEC’s Worst Nightmare (BBG)
Tesla Was Weeks From Dying Earlier This Year – Elon Musk (MW)
Former Greek FinMin Varoufakis To Run In European Election – In Germany (R.)
Give In To The EU, Greek PM Tsipras Counsels Italian Government (K.)
Russia Space Agency To Check If US Moon Landings Really Happened (Ind.)

 

 

I would think Ukraine is trying to provoke things, but western politicians and media all disagree.

Russia Seizes Three Ukrainian Naval Ships In The Black Sea (AP)

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea on Sunday after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors, a move that risks igniting a dangerous new crisis between the two countries. Russia’s FSB security service said early on Monday its border patrol boats had seized the Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea and used weapons to force them to stop, Russian news agencies reported. The FSB said it had been forced to act because the ships — two small Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat — had illegally entered its territorial waters, attempted illegal actions, and ignored warnings to stop while maneuvering dangerously.

“Weapons were used with the aim of forcibly stopping the Ukrainian warships,” the FSB said in a statement circulated to Russian state media. “As a result, all three Ukrainian naval vessels were seized in the Russian Federation’s territorial waters in the Black Sea.” The FSB said three Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the incident and were getting medical care. Their lives were not in danger, it said. Ukraine denied its ships had done anything wrong, accused Russia of military aggression, and for the international community to mobilize to punish Russia. The United Nations Security Council is due to discuss the developments on Monday at the request of Russia, said Deputy Russian U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with his top military and security chiefs. Poroshenko said he would propose that parliament impose martial law. [..] Earlier on Sunday, Russia’s border guard service had accused Ukraine of not informing it in advance of the three ships’ journey, something Kiev denied. Russia said the Ukrainian ships had been maneuvering dangerously and ignoring its instructions with the aim of stirring up tensions. Russian politicians denounced Kiev, saying the incident looked like a calculated bid by Poroshenko to increase his popularity ahead of an election next year. In another sign of rising tensions, Russia’s state-controlled RIA news agency reported on Sunday night that Ukrainian forces had started heavy shelling of residential areas in eastern Ukraine which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

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She needs 320+ votes, has 260.

Not Remotely Possible For May’s Brexit Deal To Pass Parliament – UK MP (CNBC)

It is not “remotely possible” that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement would pass the House of Commons, which is the lower house of Parliament, in a crucial vote that will likely take place in December, a member of Parliament said on Monday. Lawmakers on both sides of the debate over the United Kingdom’s future as part of the European Union are unhappy with the proposals set by May in a 585-page, legally-binding document that lays out the terms of the former’s exit, Sarah Wollaston, who is also a member of the prime minister’s Conservative party, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“I just don’t think it’s remotely possible that this deal would pass the Commons,” she said, adding that it will likely fall short on the numbers needed to move the agreement forward. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that we would crash out with no deal because, certainly, Parliament, British parliamentarians are very opposed to leaving with no deal at all.” [..] May needs a simple majority of the 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons, but experts have indicated it will be an uphill task for the prime minister. Her Conservative Party holds 315 seats and represents the largest party in the House, but a significant number are against the plan, including some pro-Brexit members. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the opposition have mostly indicated that they will vote against the deal.

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Was the vote fraudulent to begin with?

UK High Court To Rule If Brexit Vote ‘Void’ As Early As Christmas (Ind.)

The High Court will rule as early as Christmas whether Brexit should be declared “void”, in a legal case given a turbo-boost by the criminal investigation into Leave funder Arron Banks. Judges are poised to fast track the potentially explosive challenge, after Theresa May’s refusal to act on the growing evidence of illegality in the 2016 referendum campaign, The Independent can reveal. Lawyers describe that failure as “absolutely extraordinary” – given the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) probe into suspicions of “multiple” criminal offences committed by Mr Banks and the Leave.EU campaign.

Now The Independent understands the case is likely to move to a full hearing and a ruling within weeks of opening on 7 December, with the clock ticking on the UK’s departure from the EU next March. Both its lawyers and a leading academic believe its chances of success have been given a big boost by the unfolding scandal and the government’s refusal to recognise the gravity of what is being exposed. The government is expected to deploy Sir James Eadie QC – the star barrister who led the unsuccessful battle for the government to trigger Article 50 without parliament’s consent – in a sign of the case’s importance.

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We haven’t even started.

Nineteen Months Of Brexit Wrangling – And That’s Just A Taster (BBC)

There was a definite “battle of the tones” at the seal-the-deal Brexit summit with Theresa May. EU leaders were determinedly sombre, while the UK prime minister had to sound upbeat and positive about her country’s Brussels-free future. It shouldn’t be under-estimated. Sunday was a huge day for the EU, signing off on the divorce papers of a departing key member state for the first time in the history of the bloc. In the eyes of many, Brexit counts as an EU failure. At the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron reminded the press of the fragility of European Union. Which is why, time and again, EU leaders in Brussels continue to make so much of the (unusual) show of unity the Brexit process has provoked in EU ranks.

For now, of course, all European eyes turn to the UK to see if the hard-negotiated Brexit deal passes through the House of Commons. If it doesn’t, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, insists there will be no deal. “This is the deal. This is THE deal,” he told me emphatically, ruling out the possibility of renegotiating the Brexit texts. If he’s true to his word, and parliament votes down the divorce deal, then all 19 months of painful EU-UK negotiations were for naught. And both sides could find themselves staring at the cost and potential chaos of what the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier calls a non-orderly Brexit. EU leaders are hell-bent on avoiding that.

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May sure scared the money.

Business Leaders Rally Behind May’s Brexit Deal Amid Fears Of Crashing Out (G.)

Business leaders have rallied to support Theresa May’s Brexit deal, even as an independent study showed that the prime minister’s agreement meant the UK stood to lose £100bn a year by 2030 in reduced trade and income. Executives in the City of London warned MPs to vote for the deal negotiated by the prime minister to avoid a no-deal Brexit that would harm the UK economy. TheCityUK, which represents banks and insurers in the Square Mile, said parliament had “a straight choice” between the agreement hammered out in Brussels and a no-deal Brexit, “which offers only higher risk, costs and disruption”.

Miles Celic, the organisation’s boss, said: “The focus must now be on securing the withdrawal agreement and the transition period it brings – which is critical for our industry and many others. There is much still to be negotiated to define the future relationship. The sooner that can get started, the better.” His warning echoed those of industry bodies and small business groups, which have become nervous in recent weeks that No10 would fail to overcome the hurdles towards securing a withdrawal agreement. The Institute of Directors, which has found in polls of its members that they split 50:50 over proposals for a second referendum, said they all objected to an outcome that leaves Britain with no deal.

“The deal the EU approved today provokes a wide range of reactions across the political spectrum, and indeed among business leaders, but the steer from our members is that avoiding no deal must be the main priority,” said Stephen Martin, the director general.

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Hmmm. Problem with shale is debt.

Texas Is About to Create OPEC’s Worst Nightmare (BBG)

OPEC helped create the monster that haunts its sleep. After it flooded the market in 2014, oil prices crashed, forcing surviving U.S. shale producers to get leaner so they could thrive even with lower oil prices. As prices recovered, so did drilling. Now growth is speeding up. In Houston, the U.S. oil capital, shale executives are trying out different superlatives to describe what’s coming. “Tsunami,’’ they call it. A “flooding of Biblical proportions’’ and “onslaught of supply’’ are phrases that get tossed around. Take the hyperbolic industry talk with a pinch of salt, but certainly the American oil industry, particularly in the Permian, has raised a buzz loud enough to keep OPEC awake. “You’ve got an awful lot of production that can come in very economically,’’ said Patricia Yarrington, Chevron’s CFO.

“If you think back four or five years ago, when we didn’t really understand what shale could do, the marginal barrel was priced much higher than what we think the marginal barrel is priced today.’’ That shift makes shale resilient to a price tumble. After touching a four-year high in October, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, has fallen by more than 20 percent. [..] August saw the largest annual increase in U.S. oil production in 98 years, according to government data. The American energy industry added, in crude and other oil liquids, nearly 3 million barrels, roughly the equivalent of what Kuwait pumps, than it did in the same month last year. Total output of 15.9 million barrels a day was more than Russia or Saudi Arabia.

[..] By the end of 2019, total U.S. oil production – including so-called natural gas liquids used in the petrochemical industry – is expected to rise to 17.4 million barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. At that level, American net imports of petroleum will fall in December 2019 to 320,000 barrels a day, the lowest since 1949, when Harry Truman was in the White House. In the oil-trading community, the expectation is that, perhaps for just a single week, the U.S. will become a net oil exporter, something that hasn’t happened for nearly 75 years.

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Now he tells us.

Tesla Was Weeks From Dying Earlier This Year – Elon Musk (MW)

Tesla Inc. was “bleeding money like crazy” during its Model 3 production ramp-up and almost went under earlier this year, Elon Musk said Sunday. In an interview aired Sunday night on “Axios on HBO,” Tesla’s chief executive said the electric-car company was “within single-digit weeks” of dying. “Essentially, the company was bleeding money like crazy, and if we didn’t solve these problems in a very short period of time, we would die. And it was extremely difficult to solve them,” Musk said. Earlier this year, Musk described “production hell” as Tesla ramped up production to build 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of June, and said he had been sleeping on the factory floor.

Musk admitted in Sunday’s interview that he had been stretched to the limit. “People should not work this hard,” he said of his stretch working 22-hour days, seven days a week. “This is very painful.” “It hurts my brain and my heart,” Musk said. “It hurts. It is not recommended for anyone. I just did it because if I didn’t do it… there was a good chance Tesla would die.” In late October, Tesla posted a surprise quarterly profit, and earlier this month, Musk said Tesla is not “staring death in the face” anymore, and it will likely be cash-flow positive for all quarters going forward.

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Godspeed. Politics? You sure?

Former Greek FinMin Varoufakis To Run In European Election – In Germany (R.)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was outspoken in his criticism of the austerity policies championed by Berlin at the height of the euro zone’s debt crisis, is to stand in European elections next year – in Germany. The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), which he launched in 2016 to “democratize” the continent, picked him on Sunday as a candidate for the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019. “I accept [the nomination] because it epitomizes the new trans-national politics we need in Europe,” he told a news conference in Berlin where his colleagues unfurled a banner with the slogan “European Spring.” “I call on all of you to join us in this pan-European quest for democracy in Europe, democracy in Germany as a condition for prosperity and authentic democracy,” he said.

The motorbike-riding academic-economist, who rose to celebrity status in the euro crisis, once described the austerity measures forced on Greece by creditors as “fiscal waterboarding”. Varoufakis, who frequently clashed with his hardline German counterpart at the time, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said the political center in Germany was under threat because of austerity. “On paper, Germany is drowning in money…but the German people have been victims of the same austerity as the rest of Europe. The result is low levels of investment,” he said. This, he argued, boosted inequality, share prices and house prices. He said his movement wanted to pour cash, raised if necessary via bond issuance, into green policies to tackle climate change.

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‘You’d better do today what they’ll do tomorrow..’

Give In To The EU, Greek PM Tsipras Counsels Italian Government (K.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has counseled the Italian government to give in to EU demands that it lower its budget deficit, according to newspaper Corriere della Sera. In an analysis piece titled “Tsipras’ advice to Italy: Give in now, then it will be worse,” Federico Fubini writes that Tsipras was sort of apologetic to the Italians for not taking their side in their conflict with the EU Commission. “I can not do anything because I would be the first to arouse suspicion,” Tsipras reportedly said. Rubini adds: “(Tsipras) no doubt remembers that Italy did nothing when he tried desperately to soften the conditions – then draconian – placed by the euro area on Greece.”

“But then Tsipras, mindful of the retreat that he improvised in July 2015 after blocking the bank accounts of the voters to avoid the collapse of the system, has offered advice to Italy. ‘You’d better do today what they’ll do tomorrow,’ he said. ‘If instead you have another idea – he added, perhaps alluding to the euro exit option that he refused – well, then, good luck.’”

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Ha!

Russia Space Agency To Check If US Moon Landings Really Happened (Ind.)

The head of Russia‘s national space agency has proposed a mission to the moon to verify whether the American moon landings really took place. Dmitry Rogozin responded to a question about whether Nasa’s Apollo programme actually put men on the moon back in the 1960s and 1970s during a conversation with the president of Moldova, Igor Dodon. He appeared to be joking, as he smirked and shrugged while answering. But conspiracies surrounding Nasa’s moon missions are common in Russia. In a video of their interaction, posted to his 815,000 Twitter followers, Mr Rogozin says: “We have set this objective to fly and verify whether they’ve been there or not”.

Nasa’s six well-documented official manned missions to the surface of the Moon, beginning with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969 and continuing with Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972, have been dogged with conspiracy theories. In 2015, a former spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee called for an investigation into the Nasa moon landings. Vladimir Markin said an enquiry should be launched into the disappearance of original footage from the first moon landing in 1969 and the whereabouts of lunar rock, which was brought back to Earth during several missions.

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Jul 082018
 
 July 8, 2018  Posted by at 8:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  15 Responses »


Utagawa Hiroshige Sudden Evening Shower on the Great Bridge near Atake 1857

 

US Debt Explosion & Weimar II (von Greyerz)
China Threatened By “Vicious Circle Of Panic Selling” (ZH)
The Demise of Toys ‘R’ Us Is a Warning (Atlantic)
Why It’s Not Too Late To Step Back From The Brexit Brink (G.)
British MPs Should Be Ashamed Of Supporting Regime Change In Tehran (Oborne)
OPEC’s Dilemma (Lacalle)
Turkey Sacks Another 18,500 State Employees In New Decree (AFP)
Trump, the Dragonbear, and the Bipolar World Order 2.0 (M.)
Trump’s Existential Threat To The Empire (Stockman)
Are All Societies Destined To Destroy Themselves? (Wef)
Inventing the Weekend (Jacobin)

 

 

“Prosperity built on debt is short lived..”

US Debt Explosion & Weimar II (von Greyerz)

[..] change starts in the periphery where very few are looking. Look at China where the Shanghai composite is down 23% since January. And look at Brazil where the Bovespa is off 17% so far this year and Turkey which has lost 20%. What is important to understand is that most major markets are now looking extremely vulnerable, be it Japan, Germany or the US. Fundamentally most markets are overvalued with the help of central bank liquidity. Also, technically we are not far from crashes in most markets. Whilst there is always a possibility of a last hurrah, it looks like all markets have topped, including the US, and that later in 2018 we will see major falls. Once the bear markets start, they are likely to turn into secular trends that last many years and result in falls of 75% to 95%.

Difficult to believe for most investors today, but nobody in 1929 believed that the Dow would fall 90% in the ensuing years and take 25 years to recover. The investment world has been lulled into a permanent state of security and euphoria. Hard to deny that central banks and governments have been extremely skilful in telling the world constant lies. And why would anyone protest, as the rich are getting incredibly rich and many normal people in the West have a higher standard of living than ever. Very few of the “normal people” understand that their prosperity is built on personal debt and their government borrowing more than ever. Nor do they understand that they are responsible for this debt that they of course can never repay.

Even less do they understand that they will be on their own when debt implodes and they lose their jobs. Because the state will at that point have run out of money and there will be no social security or unemployment benefits. Nor will there be any pension for retirees as pension funds will go from extremely underfunded to totally unfunded.

When Trump was elected in November 2016, I forecast that US debt would continue to double every 8 years on average, as it has done since Reagan become president. That would lead to $28 trillion debt by 2021 and $40 trillion by 2025. Well, it seemed quite unrealistic back in 2016 that the US would average over $2.5 trillion deficit in the ensuing 8 years to 2025. Judging by current forecasts, it looks like debt will “only” be $25 trillion in 2021. But as tax revenues decline and spending increases, I would not be surprised to see $28 trillion debt in 2021. That would put the US on course for a $40 trillion debt in 2025.That would mean a doubling of the debt from 2017 which is in line with the historical trend of a 100% increase every 8 years.

A $40 trillion debt in 2025 would be bad enough but things are likely to get worse. With debt exploding, the Fed will lose control of interest rates as foreign investors dump US bonds. A rate of 10% at that point would not be unrealistic. That would lead to an interest bill of $4 trillion per year (10% on $40T). This would mean that just interest costs are likely to be higher than total tax revenue.

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“$1 trillion worth of stocks are being pledged as collateral for loans..”

China Threatened By “Vicious Circle Of Panic Selling” (ZH)

Small caps aside, the marketwide numbers are staggering: about $1 trillion worth of stocks listed in China’s two main markets, Shanghai or Shenzhen, are being pledged as collateral for loans, according to data from the China Securities Depository and ChinaClear. More ominously, this trends has exploded in the past three years, and according to Bank of America, some 23% of all market positions were leveraged in some way by the end of last year in China, double from the start of 2015.


Source: WSJ

As a result of the recent market rout which sent the Shanghai Composite into bear market territory, in June UBS warned that it sees a growing risk in China’s stock pledges; the bank calculated that the market cap of pledged stocks that have fallen below levels triggering liquidation amounts to 440 billion yuan with some 500 billion yuan below warning line, which translates to ~1% and 1.1% of China’s entire market value of $6.8 trillion. A separate analysis by TF Securities, as of Jun 19th, stock prices of 619 companies were close to levels where margin calls will be triggered. Since then, that number has increased.

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When Toys R Us went bankrupt, they got permission to give the executives that drove the company into bankruptcy $32 million in bonuses. Store employees, regular working people, got nothing.

The Demise of Toys ‘R’ Us Is a Warning (Atlantic)

Ann marie reinhart was one of the first people to learn that Toys “R” Us was shuttering her store. She was supervising the closing shift at the Babies “R” Us in Durham, North Carolina, when her manager gave her the news. “I was almost speechless,” she told me recently. Twenty-nine years ago, Reinhart was a new mother buying diapers in a Toys “R” Us when she saw a now hiring sign. She applied and was offered a job on the spot. She eventually became a human-resources manager and then a store supervisor. She stayed because the company treated her well, accommodating her schedule. She got good benefits: health insurance, a 401(k). But she noticed a difference after the private-equity firms Bain Capital and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, along with the real-estate firm Vornado Realty Trust, took over Toys “R” Us in 2005.

“It changed the dynamic of how the store ran,” she said. The company eliminated positions, loading responsibilities onto other workers. Schedules became unpredictable. Employees had to pay more for fewer benefits, Reinhart recalled. Reinhart’s store closed for good on April 3. She was granted no severance—like the more than 30,000 other employees who are losing their job with the company. In March, Toys “R” Us announced that it was liquidating all of its U.S. stores as part of its bankruptcy process, which began last September. Observers pointed to the company’s struggle to fight off new competition. In its court filing, the company laid the blame at the feet of Amazon, Walmart, and Target, saying it “could not compete” when they priced toys so low.

Less attention was paid to the albatross that Bain, KKR, and Vornado had placed around the company’s neck. Toys “R” Us had a debt load of $1.86 billion before it was bought out. Immediately after the deal, it shouldered more than $5 billion in debt. And though sales had slumped before the deal, they held relatively steady after it, even when the Great Recession hit. The company generated $11.2 billion in sales in the 12 months before the deal; in the 12 months before November 2017, it generated $11.1 billion.

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The legal position.

Why It’s Not Too Late To Step Back From The Brexit Brink (G.)

Last week, in response to a petition seeking a referendum on the final deal, the government not only refused to allow “the people” to decide on the terms of Brexit, it categorically stated that parliament will not be allowed to do so either. Parliament will instead be given what it calls “a meaningful vote … either [to] accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement”. This is the opposite of “meaningful”; the government intends to refuse parliament the chance to reject both options – it must accept what is offered or take nothing at all. And this is the government’s position, irrespective of the dire consequences for our country or “the will of its people” to avoid them. Even though the UK could before March 2019 change its mind, the government says that it will on no account let that happen.

The reason given for this is said to be the government’s “firm policy” that “there must be no attempts to [reverse the referendum and] remain inside the European Union”; the government does not deny that reversal is legally possible. Its position accords with advice, which I am told from two good sources the prime minister has received, namely that the article 50 notification can be withdrawn by the UK at any time before 29 March 2019, resulting in the UK remaining in the EU on its current favourable terms. Such advice would also accord with the view of Lord Kerr, who was involved in drafting article 50, of Jean-Claude Piris, former director general of the Council of the EU’s legal service and of Martin Selmayr, a lawyer and head of cabinet to the president of the European commission.

As a lawyer, I agree with them. Article 50 provides for the notification – not of withdrawal but of an “intention” to withdraw. In law, an “intention” is not a binding commitment; it can be changed or withdrawn. Article 50(5) is, moreover, clear that it is only after a member state has left that it has to reapply to join. Had the drafters intended that once a notification had taken place, a member state would have to request readmission (or seek the consent of the other member states to stay), then article 50(5) would have referred not just to the position following withdrawal, but also following notification. Such an interpretation is in line with the object and purpose of article 50.

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Britain’s empire days are over. Hard to accept?!

British MPs Should Be Ashamed Of Supporting Regime Change In Tehran (Oborne)

Britain’s prime minister has been fighting a valiant, losing battle to rescue British relations with Iran in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s reckless attempts to wreck them. But last week Theresa May was dealt a devastating blow to her authority after several Tory MPs defied her by going to Paris for a meeting designed to promote regime change inside Iran. This event is the latest sign that the prime minister and her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, are facing a mutiny over Iran. Former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers was among senior Tories who travelled to Paris last week to hear Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York and Trump’s highly influential lawyer, call for the downfall of the Iranian government.

This meeting was a direct defiance of British government policy, which aims to save the Iran nuclear deal intact, and is against engineering a change of government in Iran. Indeed, Johnson assured Parliament in May that “I do not believe that regime change in Tehran is the objective that we should be seeking.” The overwhelming majority of Conservative MPs favoured Trump’s policy of dismantling the JCPOA – and condemned May’s policy of keeping it Three Tory MPs – along with one Labour MP – travelled to the event, organised by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a front organisation for Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organisation (MEK), once listed by the US as a terror organisation. There is no question that these reflect a powerful and vocal body of sentiment inside the Conservative Party.

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Sanctions on Iran conflict with lower oil prices.

OPEC’s Dilemma (Lacalle)

The fundamental problem of the last OPEC meeting is the evidence of the division between two groups. One, led by Iran, which wants higher prices and deeper cuts, and the two largest producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia, who support a more diplomatic position. Iran wants to continue increasing its own production yet wants OPEC to maintain the group cuts. Iran also faces the backlash of sanctions on exports. Today, the US exports more oil than Iran. Saudi Arabia and Russia have the lowest production costs and stand as the ones to gain more from a moderate production increase. Oil prices will not collapse and they will sell more oil.

The agreed increase in production is a good political move from Saudi Arabia because it shows that it does not aim to harm the world economy or its customers, only to return to a stabilized oil market. With this, Saudi Arabia cements its position as the Central Bank of oil. The winners from this carefully designed agreement are Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the Gulf countries. Those who enjoy lower costs and can generate higher revenues from improved exports. The agreement sets production higher but no individual quotas, so improvement in output is left to the countries with the highest excess capacity. Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador and other countries that have production and geopolitical problems suffer the most. The commitment is likely to add 600,000-650,000 barrels per day to the market.

A figure of 32 million barrels per day is agreed, but the real increase will not be the optical one million barrels per day, but rather the aforementioned 650,000 one. This figure, at a time when oil inventories are in line with the average of the past five years, relieves inflationary pressures and eliminates the risk that the US Administration will take political measures against the OPEC countries. Trump had already alerted OPEC that it could not keep inflating prices artificially. In addition to showing the tension between these two sides, the OPEC summit also reveals that the cartel has much less market control than they would like to have. The fact that the price has only reached 80 dollars a barrel (compared to 100-130 dollars a few years ago) indicates that their ability to manipulate prices to 100 dollars per barrel is very low.

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How does that country still function?

Turkey Sacks Another 18,500 State Employees In New Decree (AFP)

Turkish authorities ordered the dismissal of more than 18,500 state employees including police officers, soldiers and academics, in a decree published on Sunday. The Official Gazette said 18,632 people had been sacked including 8,998 police officers in the emergency decree over suspected links to terror organisations and groups that “act against national security”. Some 3,077 army soldiers were also dismissed as well as 1,949 air force personnel and 1,126 from the naval forces. Another 1,052 civil servants from the justice ministry and linked institutions have been fired as well as 649 from the gendarmerie and 192 from the coast guard. Authorities also sacked 199 academics, according to the new decree, while 148 state employees from the military and ministries were reinstated.

Turkey has been under a state of emergency since the July 2016 attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish media dubbed the decree as the “last” with officials indicating the state of emergency could end as early as Monday. The emergency has been renewed seven times and the latest period is officially due to end on July 19. Over 110,000 public sector employees have been removed previously from their jobs via emergency decrees since July 2016 while tens of thousands more have been suspended in a crackdown criticised by Ankara’s Western allies. [..] Sunday’s decree shut down 12 associations across the country as well as three newspapers and a television channel.

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Recommended by Jim Rickards. The changing shapes of world order.

Trump, the Dragonbear, and the Bipolar World Order 2.0 (M.)

Just a few days ago, in an unexpected move, Ray Dalio, the founder of world’s largest hedge fund -Bridgewater Associates- announced on Social Media: “Today is the first day of the war with China.” And a day earlier, Trump made a statement about the upcoming summit in Helsinki, claiming that: “Putin’s fine. He’s fine.” One might wonder what the former message has to do with the latter, and how all these contradictory statements fit together. In fact, they make sense if seen through the prism of an emerging bipolar World Order 2.0, which is about the systemic rivalry between the USA and China, and the unique position of Russia in between.

It has become apparent that most of the decision-makers, experts and scholars mistook the end of the US-led unipolarity for the beginning of multipolarity and thus overlooked the emergence of the Global System bipolarity as well as the creation of the Dragonbear (an unique systemic bond between China and Russia as opposed to the USA). Furthermore, the Global System has become too unsustainable regarding its main (man-made) socio-economic components of global finance, monetary, economy, trade, and energy networks, and, as a consequence, is now being shaped by the unprecedented systemic rivalry between the USA and China, with Russia, the EU and India being the free riders, which leads to unexpected new alliances like the Dragonbear or the one between the USA and India, and might also result in the breakup of the NATO and the EU in the long term.

Back in 1975, the West and the Soviet Union bloc met in Helsinki to negotiate and sign a final act with ten principles that have been guiding their relations until now, among which the principle of sovereign equality, the refraining from the threat or use of force, inviolability of frontiers, the territorial integrity of states, and the non-intervention in internal affairs. Indeed, these principles were constantly deteriorated by the actions of single states or organisations over the last decades but were at least recognised by all actors of the global affairs.

However, Trump and Putin might declare new rules of the game, which will reflect the growing great powers competition and the flux of the global affairs. The meeting between Trump and Putin tête-à-tête will most likely address the broader picture of the geopolitical and geoeconomic interests of the two actors in the Middle East and beyond, particularly avoiding sensitive issues such as Ukraine, Syria (except for the sake of coordination efforts) or energy sanctions, and will specifically focus on North Korea, Iran and nuclear non-proliferation.

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The old world order no longer works.

Trump’s Existential Threat To The Empire (Stockman)

[..] the NATO subservient think tanks and establishment policy apparatchiks are harrumphing up a storm, but for crying out loud most of Europe’s elected politicians are in on the joke. They are fiscally swamped paying for their Welfare States and are not about to squeeze their budgets or taxpayers to fund military muscle against a nonexistent threat. As Justin Raimondo aptly notes, “Finally an American president has woken up to the fact that World War II, not to mention the cold war, is over: there’s no need for US troops to occupy Germany. Vladimir Putin isn’t going to march into Berlin in a reenactment of the Red Army taking the Fuehrer-bunker – but even if he were so inclined, why won’t Germany defend itself?”

Exactly. If their history proves anything, Germans are not a nation of pacifists, meekly willing to bend-over in the face of real aggressors. Yet they spent the paltry sum of $43 billion on defense during 2017, or barely 1.1% of Germany’s $3.8 trillion GDP, which happens to be roughly three times bigger than Russia’s. In short, the policy action of the German government tells you they don’t think Putin is about to invade the Rhineland or retake the Brandenburg Gate. And this live action testimonial also trumps, as it were, all of the risible alarms emanating from the beltway think tanks and the 4,000 NATO bureaucrats talking book in behalf of their own plush Brussels sinecures. But now comes the piece de resistance. The Donald is going to Helsinki to make peace with Vlad Putin, and just in the nick of time.

Hopefully, in one-fell swoop they can reach an agreement to get the US military out of Syria; normalize the return of Crimea and Moscow’s historic naval base at Sevastopol to the Russian motherland; stop the civil war in Ukraine via a mutually agreed de facto partition; stand-down from the incipient military clashes from the Baltic to the Black Sea; and pave the way for lifting of the absurd sanctions on Russian businessmen and citizens. Needless to say, time is of the essence. Every hour that the Donald wastes tweeting, bloviating about his beloved Mexican wall, sabotaging American exports and jobs and watching Fox & Friends reruns is just more opportunity for the vast apparatus of the Deep State (and most of his own top officials) to deep-six the Donald’s emerging and thoroughly welcome rendition of America First.

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It’s about energy.

Are All Societies Destined To Destroy Themselves? (Wef)

In order to illustrate how civilization-planet systems co-evolve, Frank and his collaborators developed a mathematical model to show ways in which a technologically advanced population and its planet might develop together. By thinking of civilizations and planets—even alien ones—as a whole, researchers can better predict what might be required for the human project of civilization to survive. “The point is to recognize that driving climate change may be something generic,” Frank says. “The laws of physics demand that any young population, building an energy-intensive civilization like ours, is going to have feedback on its planet. Seeing climate change in this cosmic context may give us better insight into what’s happening to us now and how to deal with it.” Using their mathematical model, the researchers found four potential scenarios that might occur in a civilization-planet system:

Die-off: The population and the planet’s state (indicated by something like its average temperature) rise very quickly. Eventually, the population peaks and then declines rapidly as the rising planetary temperature makes conditions harder to survive. A steady population level is achieved, but it’s only a fraction of the peak population. “Imagine if 7 out of 10 people you knew died quickly,” Frank says. “It’s not clear a complex technological civilization could survive that kind of change.” Sustainability: The population and the temperature rise but eventually both come to steady values without any catastrophic effects. This scenario occurs in the models when the population recognizes it is having a negative effect on the planet and switches from using high-impact resources, such as oil, to low-impact resources, such as solar energy.

Collapse without resource change: The population and temperature both rise rapidly until the population reaches a peak and drops precipitously. In these models civilization collapses, though it is not clear if the species itself completely dies outs. Collapse with resource change: The population and the temperature rise, but the population recognizes it is causing a problem and switches from high-impact resources to low-impact resources. Things appear to level off for a while, but the response turns out to have come too late, and the population collapses anyway. “The last scenario is the most frightening,” Frank says. “Even if you did the right thing, if you waited too long, you could still have your population collapse.”

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Lovely treatise on how capitalism shaped leisure time.

Inventing the Weekend (Jacobin)

Although “commemoration of the Resurrection” was the official reason early Christians began observing the day of rest on Sunday instead of Saturday, they were also eager to differentiate themselves from Jews, and by the fourth century this eagerness translated into the codification of the Sunday Sabbath in ecclesiastical and civil legislation. A millennium and a half later, the Sabbatarian movement pointed to this antisemitism, along with the undue influence of pagan sun worship among early Christians, as reason to reestablish Saturday as the Christian Sabbath day. Temporal, political concerns should not have affected the observance of the true day of rest, so their argument went.

There’s another reason Saturday was re-sanctified in the nineteenth century, which has to do with the “illegitimacy” not of Sunday but of Monday. In preindustrial England, according to a poem of George Davis’s, “people of all ranks, at times, obey[ed] / the festive orgies of this jocund day.” Not just skilled laborers but all classes of workers observed “Saint Monday” as a holiday from work, much to the chagrin of emergent entrepreneurs. While it’s true that many workers spent Saint Monday in the alehouse and at cock or dog fights, it was also a day of relaxation and sociability, a day when the public gardens would be “literally swarming with a well-dressed, happy and decorous body of the working classes.”

The fact that Monday was often taken as a day of rest was a consequence of the typical rhythm of preindustrial work, in which workers would assemble to complete a certain set of tasks, work intensely for a few days until those tasks were completed, and then be at play half the week. In E. P. Thompson’s portrayal, “the work pattern was one of alternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness, wherever men were in control of their own working lives.” The idea that work was to be done during a set amount of regularly apportioned time, time that was well demarcated from another time of “leisure,” was still rather foreign. In 1806, a committee appointed by the House of Commons to assess the state of woolen manufacture in England found an “utmost distaste on the part of the men, to any regular hours or regular habits.” Work was a set of tasks, and when those tasks were completed, play began.

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Jun 012017
 
 June 1, 2017  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Ted Russell James Baldwin and Bob Dylan 1963

 

America Is Racing Toward Peak Polarization (NYMag)
US Middle Class Is Now The Company Store Class (Michael Hudson)
Theresa May’s Lead Slashed To Record Low Of Three Points In New Poll (Ind.)
Does Theresa May Pass The Turing Test? (PH)
Terror In Britain: What Did The Prime Minister Know? (John Pilger)
UK Policymakers Face A Dilemma Over Public’s Slowing Demand For Credit (G.)
UK Comes Bottom Of G7 Growth League, Canada Takes Lead (G.)
Europe May Finally Rethink NATO Costs (McGovern)
NATO Allies Can Spend More Money, More Wisely (BBG)
Oil Prices Crushed As Traders Bet Against OPEC, Russia (CNBC)
Fitch Warns Baidu Faces “Default Risk” Due To Growing Shadow Banking Business (ZH)

 

 

Very true of course, but what’s this worth coming from a polarized view?

America Is Racing Toward Peak Polarization (NYMag)

There is a venerable, centrist point of view that partisan polarization is a function of Washington’s warring politicians, who inflate artificial differences into causes for political war. Out there in the country, it is thought, Americans simply want politicians to come together and work out sensible, centrist policies. Whatever this gospel’s general applicability, it is increasingly clear that in the era of Donald Trump it’s The People who are even more polarized than their representatives in Washington. A new poll from Morning Consult for Politico has this jarring news: after the president’s first overseas trip, his job approval ratings rose. But so, too, did the percentage of Americans who want impeachment proceedings against him to begin post-haste.

Indeed, we are rapidly approaching the point where Americans are basically divided between those who think the president’s doing a good job (45% at present), and those who think he should be removed from office before his first term ends (43% at present). Unsurprisingly, these sentiments closely match partisan preferences. According to this same poll, 82% of self-identified Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance, 46% of them strongly. 79% of self-identified Democrats disapprove of Trump’s job performance, 65% of them strongly. These grassroots Americans are really, really at odds. That becomes even more obvious when the possibility of impeachment is introduced. Seventy-one% of Democrats want Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings.

Over half of these impeachment supporters say he’s unfit to serve, whether or not he has committed an impeachable offense. 76% of Republicans oppose the idea. For all the talk about anti-Trump Republicans and moderate Democrats, the truth is there is not a lot of support out there for anything other than the highly partisan approach Trump and the congressional GOP have taken this year, and for what some Democrats have called “the resistance.”

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Empty bags can get heavy.

US Middle Class Is Now The Company Store Class (Michael Hudson)

Students usually don’t think of themselves as a class. They seem “pre-class,” because they have not yet entered the labor force. They can only hope to become part of the middle class after they graduate. And that means becoming a wage earner – what impolitely is called the working class. But as soon as they take out a student debt, they become part of the economy. They are in this sense a debtor class. But to be a debtor, one needs a means to pay – and the student’s means to pay is out of the wages and salaries they may earn after they graduate. And after all, the reason most students get an education is so that they can qualify for a middle-class job. The middle class in America consists of the widening sector of the working class that qualifies for bank loans – not merely usurious short-term payday loans, but a lifetime of debt.

So the middle class today is a debtor class. Shedding crocodile tears for the slow growth of U.S. employment in the post-2008 doldrums (the “permanent Obama economy” in which only the banks were bailed out, not the economy), the financial class views the role industry and the economy at large as being to pay its employees enough so that they can take on an exponentially rising volume of debt. Interest and fees (late fees and penalties now yield credit card companies more than they receive in interest charges) are soaring, leaving the economy of goods and services languishing. Although money and banking textbooks say that all interest (and fees) are a compensation for risk, any banker who actually takes a risk is quickly fired. Banks don’t take risks. That’s what the governments are for. (Socializing the risk, privatizing the profits.)

Anticipating that the U.S. economy may be unable to recover under the weight of the junk mortgages and other bad debts that the Obama administration left on the books in 2008, banks insisted that the government guarantee all student debt. They also insisted that the government guarantees the financial gold-mine buried in such indebtedness: the late fees that accumulate. So whether students actually succeed in becoming wage-earners or not, the banks will receive payments in today’s emerging fictitious “as if” economy. The government will pay the banks “as if” there is actually a recovery. And if there were to be a recovery, then it would mean that the banks were taking a risk – a big enough risk to justify the high interest rates charge on student loans.

This is simply a replay of what banks have negotiated for real estate mortgage lending. Students who do succeed in getting a job hope to start a family, or at least joining the middle class. The most typical criterion of middle-class life in today’s world (apart from having a college education) is to own a home. But almost nobody can buy a home without getting a mortgage. And the price of such a mortgage is to pay up to 43% of one’s income for thirty years, that is, one’s prospective working life (in today’s as-if world that assumes full employment, not just a gig economy).

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Boy, is she doing a bad job. Calling an election and not showing up. And yeah, we get it: if she would show up, numbers would be even worse. On Twitter: “A Ladbrokes customer in Chelsea has just had £2,000 at 100/1 for Boris Johnson to be PM on July 1st. #GE2017

Theresa May’s Lead Slashed To Record Low Of Three Points In New Poll (Ind.)

Labour is closing the gap with Tories and now stands just three points from Theresa May’s party, a new YouGov poll shows. The poll, commissioned by The Times, found the Conservative lead has slipped dramatically in recent weeks and is now within the margin of error. The figures show the Conservatives on 42 points but Labour are close behind on 39. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are struggling to maintain the momentum of their “fightback” as they slip to just 7% vote share. The poll points to a remarkable change in fortunes for the Tories, which had a 24-point lead over Labour when the snap general election was called in April. Ms May has struggled in recent weeks after she was forced into an embarrassing U-turn over plans to reform social care in the party’s manifesto.

The party said elderly people who needed care will be able to put off playing for it until after their deaths so they could potentially stay in their own home for as long as possible. But critics said this would unfairly penalise people who suffer a slow decline from illnesses like dementia, over people who die suddenly and can then leave their estate to their children. Ms May has faced criticism for refusing to to engage with voters, especially after she declined to take part in televised debates. During the debate, Green party leader Caroline Lucas said: “You don’t call a general election and say it is the most important election in her lifetime and then not even be bothered to debate the issues at hand.” She added: “I think the first rule of leadership is to show up.”

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Fitting comment on Twitter to the original title “Three minutes of nothing”: “Does this pass the Turing test?”

Does Theresa May Pass The Turing Test? (PH)

Before 8.30am today, I had never interviewed a Prime Minister. Heading back to the office to transcribe my encounter with Theresa May at Plymouth’s fish market, I couldn’t be certain that had changed. To start with, it was quite an exciting experience. We got the call late on Tuesday night, and the visit was kept totally secret until her arrival. We waited in the drizzle as she chatted with fishermen and nodded earnestly at nets and buckets, leopard print heels click-clacking on the harbour floor. ired-looking campaign managers hurried back and forth, mulling over our request for a filmed interview which had been denied on her previous visit. Then suddenly we were on. I had a list of four questions, all on local issues, carefully prepared with the help of my newsroom colleagues.

Two visits in six weeks to one of the country’s most marginal constituencies – is she getting worried?

May: “I’m very clear that this is a crucial election for this country.”

Plymouth is feeling the effects of military cuts. Will she guarantee to protect the city from further pain?

May: “I’m very clear that Plymouth has a proud record of connection with the armed forces.”

How will your Brexit plan make Plymouth better off?

May: “I think there is a better future ahead for Plymouth and for the whole of the UK.”

Will you promise to sort out our transport links?

May: “I’m very clear that connectivity is hugely important for Plymouth and the South West generally.”

I was pleased to have secured the interview and happy to have squeezed all my points in. But no sooner had the ministerial car pulled away from Sutton Harbour than I began to feel a bit deflated. If the ultimate job of a journalist is to get answers, I had failed. Should I have stopped her and demanded she be more specific? Could I have gone full angry Paxman, or brought the interview to an abrupt close in protest? Back at the office, we scratched our heads and wondered what the top line was. She had and given me absolutely nothing. It was like a postmodern version of Radio 4’s Just A Minute. I pictured Nicholas Parsons in the chair: “The next topic is how Plymouth will be affected by Brexit, military cuts and transport meltdown. Theresa, you have three minutes to talk without clarity, candour or transparency. Your time starts now.”

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No, Theresa May in reality is not so funny or innocent.

Terror In Britain: What Did The Prime Minister Know? (John Pilger)

The unsayable in Britain’s general election campaign is this. The causes of the Manchester atrocity, in which 22 mostly young people were murdered by a jihadist, are being suppressed to protect the secrets of British foreign policy. Critical questions – such as why the security service MI5 maintained terrorist “assets” in Manchester and why the government did not warn the public of the threat in their midst – remain unanswered, deflected by the promise of an internal “review”. The alleged suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by MI5 for more than 20 years. The LIFG is proscribed by Britain as a terrorist organisation which seeks a “hardline Islamic state” in Libya and “is part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement, as inspired by al-Qaida”.

The “smoking gun” is that when Theresa May was Home Secretary, LIFG jihadists were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe and encouraged to engage in “battle”: first to remove Mu’ammar Gadaffi in Libya, then to join al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria. Last year, the FBI reportedly placed Abedi on a “terrorist watch list” and warned MI5 that his group was looking for a “political target” in Britain. Why wasn’t he apprehended and the network around him prevented from planning and executing the atrocity on 22 May? These questions arise because of an FBI leak that demolished the “lone wolf” spin in the wake of the 22 May attack – thus, the panicky, uncharacteristic outrage directed at Washington from London and Donald Trump’s apology.

The Manchester atrocity lifts the rock of British foreign policy to reveal its Faustian alliance with extreme Islam, especially the sect known as Wahhabism or Salafism, whose principal custodian and banker is the oil kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Britain’s biggest weapons customer. This imperial marriage reaches back to the Second World War and the early days of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The aim of British policy was to stop pan-Arabism: Arab states developing a modern secularism, asserting their independence from the imperial west and controlling their resources. The creation of a rapacious Israel was meant to expedite this. Pan-Arabism has since been crushed; the goal now is division and conquest.

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“The BoE has busted a gut to keep the mortgage market afloat with one scheme after another to subsidise everything from deposits to the lenders themselves. It must have been upsetting to see a fall in approvals for house purchases in April for the third month in a row.”

UK Policymakers Face A Dilemma Over Public’s Slowing Demand For Credit (G.)

As the election on 8 June nears, the debate has intensified over how much Britain’s frothy cappuccino-drinking economy can cope without endless dollops of interest-free credit. Financial regulators are worried about it. So are the debt charity workers who pick up the pieces when the debt merry-go-round grinds to a halt. And they should be worried. Many of the biggest, shiniest new cars zipping round UK streets would still be sitting on the garage forecourt without ultra cheap credit deals that rival mortgages for their rock-bottom rates. On the high street, shops have in recent years relied more heavily on consumers using their credit cards for big purchases. Back in 2014 these shoppers could avoid paying the 18.9% interest commonly applied to credit card balances and use the two, even three-year interest-free period many card operators allow.

As we know from recent experience, when debt bubbles burst, they hit everyone and drag the economy down into recession. The Bank of England’s most recent data for April shows that the mania for borrowing last year and the year before has paused somewhat since January. That should be seen as good news. Net mortgage lending is down at levels seen a year ago while unsecured borrowing on credit cards and loans has stabilised at a growth rate of of just over 10% a year. But not everybody at the Bank of England will be content to see consumers putting their credit cards in a drawer. The economists attached to the BoE’s interest rate-setting committee know the economy runs on debt. To adapt a well-known first world war poster, they know Britain needs borrowers. If a reminder of this basic economic rule was needed, it was made clear earlier this month when the latest UK GDP figures appeared.

The relative lack of borrowing in the first three months of the year coincided with a dive in GDP growth from 0.7% in the final quarter of 2016 to 0.2% in the first quarter of this year. The BoE has busted a gut to keep the mortgage market afloat with one scheme after another to subsidise everything from deposits to the lenders themselves. It must have been upsetting to see a fall in approvals for house purchases in April for the third month in a row. Now there are signs that the credit habit is returning as almost zero interest rates work their magic again, Easter’s spending is out of the way and wage rises are being outpaced by inflation. Analysts say GDP growth in Q2 will be higher for this very reason. Is that a return of consumer confidence with shoppers shrugging off the election, they ask? Or is it, as the debt charities suspect, cash-strapped consumers rolling over their debts and taking out a bit more credit just to get by?

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Yes, if you can’t get people to go deeper into debt, your growth shrinks. That’s economics these days.

UK Comes Bottom Of G7 Growth League, Canada Takes Lead (G.)

The UK has slumped to the bottom of the league table of advanced economies after Canada registered stellar growth in the first three months of the year. Canada was the final member of the G7 to report its growth figures, which confirmed the UK as officially the joint worst performing member so far this year. The announcement marked a significant decline for the UK economy, which a year ago was outshining Germany, the US and Japan. In February it was announced that Germany had pipped the UK as the fastest-growing G7 nation during 2016 by 10 basis points. However, the latest figures for Canada, which showed that growth accelerated to 0.9% in the first quarter, putting it top of the G7 performers, has left Britain languishing alongside Italy at the bottom of the table.

Germany is in second spot at 0.6%, followed by Japan with 0.5%, France 0.4% and the US at 0.3%. The UK and Italy are then level on growth of just 0.2%. The sluggish expansion in the first quarter provides the latest evidence that the early resilience to the EU referendum result last June is now wearing off as higher inflation puts consumers under pressure. Prices have been increasing since the Brexit vote because the referendum result sent the pound sharply lower and has raised the cost of imports to the UK. That higher inflation has hit household budgets and dented the main driver of UK growth, consumer spending. The Bank of England said earlier this month that it expected GDP growth would edge up marginally to 1.9% for 2017 from 1.8% in 2016. But it warned that living standards would fall this year because inflation would be higher than pay growth.

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NATO needs enemies or it will disappear.

Europe May Finally Rethink NATO Costs (McGovern)

President Donald Trump’s politically incorrect behavior at the gathering of NATO leaders in Brussels on Thursday could, in its own circuitous way, spotlight an existential threat to the alliance. Yes, that threat is Russia, but not in the customary sense in which Westerners have been taught to fear the Russian bear. It is a Russia too clever to rise to the bait – a Russia patient enough to wait for the Brussels bureaucrats and generals to fall of their own weight, pushed by financial exigencies in many NATO countries. At that point it will become possible to see through the West’s alarmist propaganda. It will also become more difficult to stoke artificial fears that Russia, for reasons known only to NATO war planners and neoconservative pundits, will attack NATO. As long as Russian hardliners do not push President Vladimir Putin aside, Moscow will continue to reject its assigned role as bête noire.

First a request: Let me ask those of you who believe Russia is planning to invade Europe to put down the New York Times for a minute or two. Take a deep cleansing breath, and try to be open to the possibility that heightened tensions in Europe are, rather, largely a result of the ineluctable expansion of NATO eastward over the quarter-century since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Actually, NATO has doubled in size, despite a U.S. quid-pro-quo promise in early 1990 to Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev in early 1990 not to expand NATO “one inch” to the east of Germany. The quid required of Russia was acquiescence to a reunited Germany within NATO and withdrawal of the 300,000-plus Russian troops stationed in East Germany.

The US reneged on its quo side of the bargain as the NATO alliance added country after country east of Germany with eyes on even more – while Russia was not strong enough to stop NATO expansion until February 2014 when, as it turned out, NATO’s eyes finally proved too big for its stomach. A U.S.-led coup d’etat overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych and installed new, handpicked leaders in Kiev who favored NATO membership. That crossed Russia’s red line; it was determined – and at that point able – to react strongly, and it did.

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No, Bloomberg, spending more is not an answer to any serious question.

NATO Allies Can Spend More Money, More Wisely (BBG)

If Donald Trump and Barack Obama agree on something, does that mean it’s true? In the case of Europe’s woeful support of its collective defense, yes: Member states need to contribute their “fair share” toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a phrase both men used in speeches in European capitals. The question is what “fair share” means. Instead of measuring how much member nations spend on their defense, NATO should pay more attention to how they spend it. The current definition – members are expected to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense – is both misleading and unfair. Currently, only four European members meet the alliance’s target and things are going the wrong direction. Across Europe, including non-NATO members, military spending as a percentage of GDP has dropped by almost 9% in the last five years.

But some kinds of military spending are better than others. Money for major training exercises, or transport planes and helicopters for airlift operations, is far more valuable than lots of spending on ill-equipped troops in glorified jobs programs. Spending on national defense is always going to reflect national priorities. That said, better coordination among member nations can bolster both their security and the alliance’s. A wealthy nation may want some shiny new fighter jets, but the collective defense may be better served by more prosaic equipment such as refueling tankers. To their credit, not only have the alliance’s newer members such as the Baltic States been paying up, they’ve been helpful in buying what NATO most needs. Arriving at a consensus as to what constitutes useful spending among 28 separate militaries would be contentious and difficult, to put it mildly. It would still be a useful exercise.

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Flip flop. Up down.

Oil Prices Crushed As Traders Bet Against OPEC, Russia (CNBC)

The oil market has serious doubts that the production deal between OPEC and Russia is sufficient enough to bring the world oil market back into balance, against a potential wave of new supply. As a result, traders appeared to be adding to short positions, as crude fell sharply Wednesday morning, analysts said. The decline in oil prices was triggered by news that Libya had increased its production to a three-year high of 827,000 barrels a day. “The game of chicken between them and the market is back on again,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital. West Texas Intermediate crude for July settled off 2.7%, at $48.32 per barrel after briefly breaking $48. Brent, the international benchmark, dipped temporarily below the psychological $50 for the first time in two weeks, and was down 3% at $50.66 in afternoon trading.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC agreed with Russia and other producers to extend their agreement to cut back output by 1.8 million barrels a day for another nine months. But market expectations had been hinging on the idea that producers would take even more barrels off the market because of the overhang of supply. Oil plunged 5% last Thursday, after the announcement. “The meeting was much more of a failure than people realize because of what wasn’t achieved. There are no caps on production for Libya, or Nigeria, or Iran,” said Kilduff. Libya has shipped an average of 500,000 barrels per day of oil so far this year, up from 300,000 per day last year. Production reached 800,000 barrels per day earlier this month.

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“Shadow bank run” is a good way to put it. I’ve been warning about Chinese shadown banking for years, and I haven’t been wrong. Baidu is a search engine, for pete’s sake… which “does not need to set aside large capital against potential defaults on its WMPs”… Beijing facilitates the shadows, and they in turn lend into the economy what Beijing’s state banks can’t do without raising bright red alarms.

Fitch Warns Baidu Faces “Default Risk” Due To Growing Shadow Banking Business (ZH)

Less than a week after Moody’s downgraded China’s sovereign credit rating, prompting an unprecedented currency response by the PBOC which as noted earlier resumed its crusade against Yuan shorts by sending CNH overnight deposit rates as high as 65%, on Wednesday another rating agency, Fitch, took aim at what many consider the weakest link in China’s financial system: the nearly $9 trillion in shadow banking “assets”, of which roughly $4 billion are Wealth Management Products. Just as surprising was the target of Fitch’s wrath: none other than China’s tech giant Baidu, which Fitch put on “negative watch” warning that the company’s financial services division faced increased risk of default as a result of its growing reliance on shadow banking in general and Wealth Management Products (WMPs) in particlar.

As reported previously, China’s popular WMPs offer a higher yielding alternative to conventional financial instruments by bundling together investments into money market bonds, corporate loans and many other products, all of which are usually a mystery to the buyer. As of 2016, China had nearly 30 trillion yuan outstanding in WMPs. Baidu, China’s dominant search engine, has not been immune to the scramble for funding optionality provided by shadow banking alternatives, and has been getting into the WMP game by rapidly expanding its Financial Services Group, which Fitch says is increasing Baidu’s overall business risk. While Baidu is not under obligation to pay the returned target on these products, a failure could be potentially damaging to Baidu’s reputation, Fitch warned.

As with Chinese banks, Baidu does not need to set aside large capital against potential defaults on its WMPs … WMPs have become an alternative form of financing for projects or investments that would not qualify for bank loans,” Fitch said. This could lead to an increased risk of default or “shadow bank run”, since many of the bundled assets are of poor quality and would not qualify for bank loans. The WMP warning from Fitch came less than two weeks after Moody’s also put Baidu’s corporate debt on watch for a potential downgrade. WMPs have been behind the staggering surge in total assets of Baidu’s Financial Services Group, which have more than doubled to CNY25 billion in the period ended April 2017.

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May 312017
 
 May 31, 2017  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Johannes Vermeer Woman in Blue Reading a Letter 1662-3

 

China Is The Greatest Financial Bubble in History (Rickards)
In Watershed Event, Europe Unveils Plan To Securitize Sovereign Debt (ZH)
EU Executive To Say Eurozone May Need Treasury, Minister, Budget (R.)
Sterling Dips After Poll Suggests Hung UK Parliament (BBC)
Theresa May Asks Voters To Imagine Jeremy Corbyn ‘Naked And Alone’ (M.)
US Starts Shipping Weapons To Syrian Kurds (ZH)
The Plot To Overthrow Trump Is Very Real (Martin Armstrong)
‘She’s Finally Understood She Needs To Solve Europe’ (Exp.)
Merkel Comes Out Swinging At Trump And Misses (Luongo)
After A Year’s Delay, Dutch Approve Ukraine Treaty (R.)
Two-Thirds Of Greek Construction Jobs Have Vanished (K.)
Once Costly Deep-Sea Oil Turns Cheap, to OPEC’s Dismay (BBG)
US Army Veterans Find Peace In Protecting Rhinos From Poaching (G.)

 

 

“The toxic combination of government debt, corporate debt, WMPs, and unrealistic growth expectations have set up China for the greatest market crash in history. But, not yet. As analysis will continue to prove, political forces will put off a day of reckoning until early 2018.”

China Is The Greatest Financial Bubble in History (Rickards)

China is in the greatest financial bubble in history. Yet, calling China a bubble does not do justice to the situation. This story has been touched on periodically over the last year. China has multiple bubbles, and they’re all getting ready to burst. If you make the right moves now, you could be well positioned even as Chinese credit and currency crash and burn. The first and most obvious bubble is credit. The combined Chinese government and corporate debt-to-equity ratio is over 300-to-1 after hidden liabilities, such as provincial guarantees and shadow banking system liabilities, are taken into account. Paying off that debt requires growth, but the growth itself is fueled by more debt. China is now at the point where enormous new debt is required to achieve only modest new growth. This is clearly non-sustainable.

The next bubble is in investment instruments called Wealth Management Products, or WMPs. Picture this. You’re a middle-class Chinese saver and you walk into a bank. They offer you two investment options. The first is a bank deposit that pays about 2%. The other is a WMP that pays about 7%. Which do you choose? In the past ten years, bank customers have chosen almost $12 trillion of WMPs. That might be fine if WMPs were like high-quality corporate or municipal bonds. They’re not. They’re more like the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. Here’s how they work. Proceeds from sales of WMPs are loaned to speculative real estate developers and unprofitable state owned enterprises (SOEs) at attractive yields in the form of notes. So, WMPs resemble collateralized debt obligations, CDOs, the same product that sank Lehman Brothers in the panic of 2008.

The problem is that the borrowers behind the WMPs can’t pay their debts. They’re relying on further bubbles in real estate or easy credit from the government to meet their interest obligations. What happens when a WMP matures? Usually the bank customer is encouraged to rollover the investment into a new WMP. What happens if the customer wants her money back? The bank sells a new WMP to another customer, then uses those sales proceeds to redeem the first customer. The new customer now steps into the shoes of the first customer with the same pile of bad debt. That’s where the Ponzi dynamic comes in. Simply put, most of the debts backing up the WMPs cannot be repaid, which means it’s just a matter of time before the WMP market goes into a full meltdown and triggers a banking panic.

Finally, there is an infrastructure bubble. As explained in more detail below, China has kept its growth engine humming mostly with investment instead of aggregate demand from consumers. Investment is fine if it is directed at long-term growth projects that produce a positive expected return and help the broader economy grow as well. But, that’s not what China has done. About half of China’s investment in the past ten years has been wasted on “ghost cities,” white elephant transportation facilities, and prestige projects that look good superficially, but that don’t produce enough revenue or efficiencies to pay for themselves. Much of this investment was financed with debt. If the project itself is not revenue producing then the associated debt cannot be repaid, and will go into default.

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Watershed Ponzi.

In Watershed Event, Europe Unveils Plan To Securitize Sovereign Debt (ZH)

Less than a decade after various complex, synthetic, squared, cubed and so on securitized debt structures nearly brought down the financial system, here come “Sovereign Bond-Backed Securities.” Moments ago, the FT reported that in a watershed event for the European – and global – bond markets, Brussels is pressing for sovereign debt from across the eurozone to be “bundled into a new financial instrument and sold to investors as part of a proposal to strengthen the single currency area.” Call it securitized sovereign debt. In the latest attempt by Europe to create a common bond market, a European Commission paper on the future of the euro seen by the Financial Times, advocates the launching of a market of “sovereign bond-backed securities” — packaging different countries’ national debt into a new asset.

The logic is simple: combine all the debt from strong and weak countries into one big pool, eliminating the outliers on both sides, then tranche it out, and sell it based on required yield returns. “Officials hope that the plans would boost demand for debt issued by governments with relatively weaker economies, and encourage banks to manage their risks better by diversifying their portfolios, while avoiding old political battles over whether the currency bloc should issue common bonds”. Why now? Because as has been Germany’s intention all along, Berlin has been hoping to create a fiscally intergrated Europe (with a shadow government in Berlin of course), call it a (quasi) “fiscal union”, and which is much more stable and resilient than the current iteration which is only as strong as its weakest link. Securitizing the sovereign debt resolves virtually all outstanding problems.

“The commission paper is the latest in a series of efforts to kick-start integration inside the eurozone. Such integration efforts have stalled since financial markets became convinced in 2013 that the European Central Bank would not allow the eurozone to break up. The last successful integration project was the creation of an EU banking union three years ago.” There is another reason why now: over the next year, the ECB’s QE, which has been instrumental to implement Draghi’s “Whatever it takes” bluff, will start hiking rates and eventually unwinding its balance sheet, the world’s biggest. That’s when the European bond market may have its next freak out moment. As a result, Brussels and Frankfurt are hoping to preempt this potential unwind by coming up with today’s “ingenious” solution.

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Brussels wants the opposite of what the people want.

EU Executive To Say Eurozone May Need Treasury, Minister, Budget (R.)

The EU executive will suggest on Wednesday the euro zone might need to issue collective debt and run a joint budget, among proposals for bolstering the single currency that echo ideas from new French President Emmanuel Macron. People familiar with the European Commission reflection paper told Reuters the scenario of a finance minister managing common revenue, spending and borrowing had been worked on for many months in Brussels, but now appears a much more likely option since centrist former banker Macron won power on May 7. German conservatives dislike an idea they say means paying for poorer neighbors. But Chancellor Angela Merkel, seeking re-election in September, has welcomed Macron’s victory and EU officials said they hoped governments might start working on a plan to forge a more cohesive euro zone from next year.

The Commission paper examines possible reforms to the bloc after the 2010-2012 sovereign debt crisis that nearly destroyed it and which triggered a wave of quick fixes for its weak spots. While some problems have been addressed, there is a lot more EU governments need to do to have an optimally functioning Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the Commission will say. The document, part of a wider series on the future of the EU, comes as the EU is to start talks with Britain on the terms of its withdrawal – a great setback to European integration but one that will see the euro zone make up nearly four-fifths of the EU’s economy, up from two thirds today. The Commission will avoid making any clear suggestions as to the evolution of the single currency area, leaving it up to EU governments to decide which of the ideas they like. But it does say that in the later stages of deepening euro zone integration, not least because it would require politically difficult and time-consuming changes to EU treaties, the bloc could establish a euro zone treasury.

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May’s fall is swift.

Sterling Dips After Poll Suggests Hung UK Parliament (BBC)

The value of the pound dropped after a projection suggested the Conservatives could fail to win an outright majority in the election on 8 June. Previous opinion polls suggested Prime Minister Theresa May’s party would increase its majority, which is currently 17 seats. But the projection, published in the Times and based on YouGov research, suggests a possible hung parliament. Sterling fell by more than half of one per cent, but recovered some losses. By early Wednesday morning, it was trading 0.44% lower against the dollar at $1.28020 and 0.29% lower against the euro at €1.146. The Times said the YouGov data suggested that the Tories could lose up to 20 of the 330 seats they held in the last parliament, with Labour gaining nearly 30 seats.

The Conservatives would still be the biggest party, but would not have an overall majority. The model is based on 50,000 interviews over a week, with voters from a panel brought together by YouGov. It uses a new “constituency-by-constituency” model for polling, which the paper says allows for big variations. According to the Times, “the estimates were met with scepticism by Tory and Labour figures.” YouGov’s chief executive, Stephan Shakespeare said the model had been tested during the EU referendum campaign, when it consistently put the winning Leave side ahead. But he added: “It would take only a slight fall in Labour’s share and a slight increase in the Conservatives’ to result in Mrs May returning to No 10 with a healthy majority.”

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Fear rules the waves. Telegraph headline today: “Tax on homes ‘to treble under Labour plans for Land Value Tax’ “

Theresa May Asks Voters To Imagine Jeremy Corbyn ‘Naked And Alone’ (M.)

Flapping Theresa May fired off a volley of insults at Jeremy Corbyn today after Labour surged in general election polls. The desperate Prime Minister even conjured up an image of the Labour leader naked in Brussels as she urged voters to consider the impact of propelling Mr Corbyn to No 10. She used a Labour legend’s quote as she mocked Mr Corbyn over what she claimed would be his weakness in tough EU divorce talks. “With his position on Brexit , he will find himself alone and naked in the negotiating chamber,” she said. “I know that’s an image that doesn’t bear thinking about but actually this is very serious.” The barb was particularly wounding for Labour by borrowing the charge from one of the party’s heroes, NHS founder Aneurin Bevan.

Urging Labour conference delegates in October 1957 not to support unilateral nuclear disarmament, he warned: “You will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber.” Challenged by the Mirror, Mrs May denied demeaning the office of Prime Minister with her outspoken attacks. And she was later forced to deny they showed she was getting “desperate”, saying: “It represents the difference between myself, having prepared for the negotiations, having a clear plan for the negotiations, and Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party who have said they would tear up the plan we have produced.” Speaking at the former railway station in Wolverhampton, Mrs May claimed her rival’s performance in the Sky News/Channel 4 TV showdown proved he could not be PM. “Despite being a Member of Parliament for 34 years, despite being the leader of the Labour Party for the last two years, he’s simply not ready to govern, and not prepared to lead,” she said.

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Some are trying to turn this into a war with Iraq.

US Starts Shipping Weapons To Syrian Kurds (ZH)

Just three weeks after reports first emerged that the Trump administration was considering arming the Syrian Kurd militia caught in the crossfire between Turkish and Syrian army forces, NBC reported that the American military has started shipping weapons and equipment to the Kurdish fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, also known as YPG, a key US ally on the ground in Syria. Citing an unnamed official, NBC adds that the U.S. began providing the equipment in the last 24 hours. Details were scarce, with no specifics about what weapons and supplies the US is sending the Syrian Democratic Forces or how those items are being delivered however when the report first emerged, the U.S. military announced it would provide the YDF with ammunition, rifles, armor, radios, bulldozers, vehicles, and engineering equipment.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told RT taid that this move represents the “early steps to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa,” which the Islamic State has declared the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate. “Overall, the equipment the US-led coalition will provide to the SDF includes small arms, ammunition, heavy machine guns and weapons capable of defeating specific threats our partner forces are expected to encounter as they take the fight to a desperate enemy, such as heavily-armored vehicle-borne IEDs,” Pahon said. Earlier this month US officials said that Trump had signed off on a plan “to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces” in the fight to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from ISIS. “The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

The announcement is guaranteed to send Turkey’s president Erdogan into another fit of rage. Earlier this month Erdogan condemned Trump’s decision to arm Syrian Kurds whom Turkey considers to be terrorists and an extension of outlawed Kurdish insurgents within its borders. Three weeks ago Erdogan said: “I hope very much that this mistake will be reversed immediately,” adding that “we want to believe that our allies would prefer [to] be side by side with ourselves rather than with the terror groups.” President Trump and Erdogan met earlier this month and discussed the administration’s plans to arm Kurdish militias in Syria. It was unclear what agreement the two leaders reached on this controverial move.

At the same time, Reuters reported that Syrian rebels say the United States and its allies “are sending them more arms to try to fend off a new push into the southeast by Iran-backed militias aiming to open an overland supply route between Iraq and Syria.” Rebels said military aid has been boosted through two separate channels: a program backed by the CIA, known as the MOC, and regional states including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and one run by the Pentagon. “There has been an increase in the support,” said Tlass Salameh, head of the Jaish Usoud al-Sharqiya, one of the FSA groups backed via the CIA-backed program. “There’s no way we can let them open the Baghdad-Damascus highway,” he said.

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No doubt there.

The Plot To Overthrow Trump Is Very Real (Martin Armstrong)

There is a very REAL plot to overthrow Trump led by the political establishment and aided by the mainstream press.. This is not simply speculation – this is the real deal. Of course the Washington Post and New York Times are in full swing to get rid of Trump. No matter what it might be, the twist is always against Trump right down to the story how Sean Spicer wanted to see the Pope because he is a devote Catholic and was denied. CNN, of course, is also part of this conspiracy. You will NEVER find any positive article about Trump in mainstream media. Here is CNN and we can see that 50% of the top stories are always against Trump. We have Boehner coming out saying Trump is a disaster. This is the guy who threw people off committees if they did not vote for his agenda. The Kushner story is desperately trying to make something out of nothing.

Here we have after Flynn’s removal, Kushner suggesting setting up a direct channel for diplomatic purposes regarding Syria with the Russians. That is entirely within reason and has been done during confrontations in the past. This was only a suggestion. It was not done, yet the press twist this into somehow supporting Russia who single-handedly defeated Hillary and put Trump in office. They think if they can just keep selling that nonsense it will become a fact.. The press seems to want war with Russia and absolutely nothing else. No such link was established and the last thing you want to do is not talk to your adversary. So why is this a major story? Of yes. It’s again RUSSIA. The press created the Spanish American War. They supported the Vietnam War and kill more than 58,000 American boys, most of my high school friends died thanks to them.

Behind the Curtain, Republican Elites are conspiring to overthrow Trump (including Boehner) to protect the establishment. McCain and Graham are the worst of the lot in office. They obviously picked up the phone and called Boehner for help. The Republicans have lost it. They think this “populism” is over with Macron’s victory in France so it’s time to get rid of Trump and it will all be OK again. I have never seen such an all out effort on a massive coordinated effort to reject the people’s demand for reform. This is HIGHLY dangerous for we can very well move toward civil war. These people think getting rid of Trump and it will all be roses and raining money for them once again. They are DEAD wrong! Our model also warns that that United States can break up as a result of this by 2032-2040.

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No, Merkel has started her campaign.

‘She’s Finally Understood She Needs To Solve Europe’ (Exp.)

Attending a campaign rally ahead of the country’s elections, Angela Merkel claimed that now was the time for Europe to pay more attention to its own interests, and “take our fate into our own hands”. In an uncharacteristically bold speech, she went so far as to suggest that even the US was no longer a reliable partner to the EU – a strong statement, according to officials, who were left stunned. The words appeared to herald a change in transatlantic relations – effectively saying with Donald Trump in charge, the US-European alliance would never be the same. Mrs Merkel’s out of character appearance also signalled a strong pro-European stance to voters in Germany, as well as the wider EU, that Berlin will be playing a more activist role in the bloc. Norbert Spinrath, Europe spokesman in the Bundestag for the Social Democrats, said: “[Mrs] Merkel seems to have finally understood that she really needs to get stuck in and solve Europe’s problems.

“She has to realise that Europe is more than just fiscal consolidation — we need closer integration, we need to strengthen the currency and fight social imbalances.” The speech comes just weeks after newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron announced his plans to spearhead reforms in the Eurozone. It would be a sharp departure from her previous role as the EU’s crisis manager, with Mr Macron’s election pushing the German leader to present a more promising vision of Europe’s future. According to Jan Techau, a foreign policy analyst at the American Academy in Berlin, the speech was more for domestic audiences than those abroad, with the country’s federal elections just four months away. He adds: “It shows she is finally moving into campaign mode. “She’s switched from the international Merkel to the domestic Merkel.”

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What is Trump going to do if Corbyn wins? Or Merkel?

Merkel Comes Out Swinging At Trump And Misses (Luongo)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will preside over the end of the European Union. Her reaction to the G-7 meeting and U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to endorse the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will accelerate the market’s rejection of EU policy. I’ve been warning about this for months in my articles here on Seeking Alpha. Angela Merkel is caught between two stanch nationalists whom Germany depends on: Russian President Vladimir Putin to the east and U.S. President Donald Trump to the right. Last week, I told you that Trump would clash with Merkel over Brexit at the G-7 meeting. “But, the likelihood of that is remote. If anything, there are signs that Trump is getting control of the narrative and his presence at the G-7 meeting this weekend will put the EU, specifically German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her place with respect to Brexit by backing U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.”

And by all accounts he did that and more, forcing the G-7 to issue a four-page forward statement that outlined the lack of consensus among the participants. This is unprecedented. Trump went overseas and stood athwart the financial and political order to fulfill campaign promises. Now, Angela Merkel is forced to make campaign promises of her own. And she’s not happy about it. Merkel gave a “watershed speech” during a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) rally in Munich. From an AFP report on the speech: “Europe “must take its fate into its own hands” faced with a western alliance divided by Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days,” Merkel told a crowd at an election rally in Munich, southern Germany. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” she added.

And while these are fighting words, they also ring hollow. Merkel is in no position to drive a hard bargain with either the U.S. or the U.K. over trade. Trump went to the G-7 to put the kibosh on the EU’s intransigence over Brexit. He succeeded. Trump is winning control of the political narrative at home. He’s up in the polls, he was deferential to Israel and even handed with the Arabs in Saudi Arabia. This trip and his standing up to G-7 technocrats on behalf of his voters give him the political capital to whip his Republican majority into line on spending, taxes and budgeting. The punditry is right. This is a watershed moment. But, it was not instigated by Merkel. It was instigated by Trump. And it will be the beginning of the next wave of capital flight out of the EU.

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So much for democracy in Holland. Make that Europe. Big mistake, guys.

After A Year’s Delay, Dutch Approve Ukraine Treaty (R.)

The Dutch senate on Tuesday approved a European Union “association agreement” with Ukraine, a final hurdle to the treaty, which strengthens the former Soviet republic’s ties with Western Europe and moves it further from Moscow’s orbit. It did so following amendments made at the EU level to take into consideration the Dutch referendum vote last year against the agreement. “Today’s vote in the Dutch Senate sends an important signal from the Netherlands and the entire European Union to our Ukrainian friends: Ukraine’s place is in Europe. Ukraine’s future lies with Europe,” said EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The agreement, a treaty, had already been negotiated and approved by all EU governments and by Ukraine in 2014, and had even partially gone into effect pending ratification when it was abruptly rejected by Dutch voters in a snap referendum held in April 2016.

The Dutch vote was as much a rebuke to Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the European Union as a rejection of the treaty, which focuses mostly on trade ties. But Rutte and the European Union diplomats were forced to renegotiate parts of the treaty in order to render it palatable to Dutch parliament or risk seeing it derailed, since it cannot be ratified without support from all European Union legislatures. Ultimately the treaty was amended to underline it does not make Ukraine a candidate for EU membership, does not entitle Kiev to financial aid or military assistance from the bloc, and does not give Ukrainians the right to live and work in EU member states. The amended version passed Dutch parliament in March, and the Senate approved it Monday, both by comfortable margins.

Read more at

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Everything is left to fall apart. As billion-dollar buildings open in Brussels. Union.

Two-Thirds Of Greek Construction Jobs Have Vanished (K.)

The number of companies active in the construction sector has declined by 35.4% since 2004 as a result of the financial crisis and the considerable drop in investment in infrastructure. Worse, compared to the 401,000 employees in the sector during the third quarter of 2008 – just before the recession cycle started – construction employed just 141,800 workers at end-2016, which means that at least 64.6% of the construction workers eight-and-a-half years ago have now been forced out of the sector.

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Ironic quote of the year, from the oil industry: “There is life in deep-water yet..”

Once Costly Deep-Sea Oil Turns Cheap, to OPEC’s Dismay (BBG)

Reports of deep-sea drilling’s demise in a world of sub-$100 oil may have been greatly exaggerated, much to OPEC’s dismay. Pumping crude from seabeds thousands of feet below water is turning cheaper as producers streamline operations and prioritize drilling in core wells, according to Wood Mackenzie. That means oil at $50 a barrel could sustain some of these projects by next year, down from an average break-even price of about $62 in the first quarter and $75 in 2014, the energy consultancy estimates. The tumbling costs present another challenge for OPEC which is currently curbing output to shrink a glut. In 2014, when the U.S. shale boom sparked oil’s crash from above $100 a barrel, the group embarked on a different strategy of pumping at will to defend market share and throttle high-cost projects.

Ali Al-Naimi, the former energy minister of OPEC member Saudi Arabia, said in February 2016 that such producers need to either “lower costs, borrow cash or liquidate.” “There is life in deep-water yet,” said Angus Rodger, director of upstream Asia-Pacific research at Wood Mackenzie in Singapore. “When oil prices fell, many projects were deferred, but the ones that were deferred first were deep-water because the overall break-evens were highest. Now in 2017, we’re seeing signs that the best ones are coming back.” The falling costs make it more likely that investors will approve pumping crude from such large deep-water projects, the process for which is more complex and risky than drilling traditional fields on land. That may compete with OPEC’s oil to meet future supply gaps that the group sees forming as demand increases and output from existing wells naturally declines.

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We should start training young people for this. Send them to Africa to live with the vets and observe. Best teachers ever.

US Army Veterans Find Peace In Protecting Rhinos From Poaching (G.)

The sun has set over the scrubby savannah. The moon is full. It is time for Ryan Tate and his men to go to work. In camouflage fatigues, they check their weapons and head to the vehicles. Somewhere beyond the ring of light cast by the campfire, out in the vast dark expanse of thornbushes, baobab trees, rocks and grass, are the rhinos. Somewhere, too, may be the poachers who will kill them to get their precious horns. The job of Tate, a 32-year-old former US Marine, and the group of US military veterans he has assembled in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa is simple: keep the rhinos and the rest of the game in the bush around their remote base alive. The men are not mercenaries, or park rangers –they work for Tate’s Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (Vetpaw), a US-based nonprofit organisation funded by private donations.

All have seen combat, often with elite military units, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Though equipped with vehicles, trail bikes, assault rifles, sniper suits and radios, the most important weapons in the war against poaching, Tate believes, are the skills and experiences his team gained on successive deployments in conflict zones over the last decade and a half. “We are here for free. We are not going anywhere. Whether it is cold or hot, day or night … we want to work with anyone who needs help,” Tate says. The initiative is not without controversy. Some experts fear “green militarisation” and an arms race between poachers and gamekeepers. Others believe deploying American former soldiers to fight criminals in South Africa undermines the troubled country’s already fragile state. But the scale of the challenge of protecting South Africa’s rhinos is clear to everyone, with a rise in poaching in recent years threatening to reverse conservation gains made over decades.

[..] Tate founded Vetpaw after seeing a documentary about poaching and the deaths of park rangers in Africa. His team now work on a dozen private game reserves covering a total of around 200,000 hectares in Limpopo, the country’s northernmost province. One advantage for local landowners is the protection heavily armed combat veterans provide against the violent break-ins feared by so many South Africans, particularly on isolated rural farmsteads. The team has also run training courses for local guides and security staff. But if one aim of Vetpaw is to counter poaching, another is to help combat veterans in the US, where former servicemen suffer high levels of unemployment and mental illness. “Everyone gets PTSD when they come back from war … you are never going to get the brotherhood, the intensity again.. [There are] all these veterans with billions of dollars of training and the government doesn’t use them. I saw a need in two places and just put them together,” says Tate.

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Jan 182017
 
 January 18, 2017  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Albert Freeman Effect of gasoline shortage in Washington, DC 1942

Why Theresa May Is Right To Take A Huge Gamble On Hard Brexit (MW)
Trump Is Waving Adios To The Longstanding ‘Strong Dollar Policy’ (MW)
The Issue Is Not Trump, It’s Us (John Pilger)
Focus Turns To Julian Assange After US Decision To Free Chelsea Manning (G.)
Russia Extends Snowden’s Residency Permit ‘By A Couple Of Years’ (R.)
Putin Mocks Claims That Trump Was Spied On (AFP)
PBOC Cash Injections Surge To Record $60 Billion Before Holidays (BBG)
China New Home Prices Rise 12.4% Y/Y In December (R.)
Rustbelt China Province Admits It Faked Fiscal Data For Years (BBG)
Saudis Claim Victory Over US Shale Industry (AEP)
Rising U.S. Shale-Oil Output Threatens OPEC’s Production Pact (MW)
Italian Conservative Tajani Wins Race To Head European Parliament (R.)
The Bankers Who Fixed The World’s Most Important Number (G.)
Percentage of World Population Age 65+ in 2015 and 2050 (BR)

 

 

While I tend to largely agree with this, I also think what makes these discussions obsolete is that I haven’t seen a single person talk about the possibility that EU will not survive as is, or the single market, and what that would in turn mean for Brexit. Not a single one. Meanwhile, Britain has declared mudslinging its new national sport, and that will continue to make predicting anything at all very hard.

Why Theresa May Is Right To Take A Huge Gamble On Hard Brexit (MW)

First, there is very little evidence that membership of the Single Market is worth the costs. Every country in the world has access to the single market, under WTO Rules, although occasionally subject to some very minor tariffs. What you lose by leaving is any voice in how the rules of that market are set, and the hassle and paperwork involved in exporting. How much that is really worth, it is hard to judge. What we do know is that ever since the single market was launched in 1992, the EU has been one of the slowest-growing regions in the world, and that trade between its member states has started to decline. If it is so important to an economy, that is, to put it mildly, a bit odd. The only honest position is to say we have absolutely no idea what difference it will make. No country has left the single market before. But given the obligations that come with it — especially open borders and budget contributions — it may well not be worth much.

Second, it strengthens the U.K.’s negotiating position. If Britain goes into the haggling over the terms of departure saying it has decided to leave the single market, and that there is nothing it really wants from Brussels, then suddenly the conversation changes. After all, there are two things the EU wants from the U.K.: the net budget contribution, which accounts for 7% of its total spending, and access to our market, given that the U.K. runs a massive trade deficit with Europe. The EU doesn’t have to have either — it will get by OK without them. But they are helpful. If the U.K. can offer both, while asking for virtually nothing in return, it is more likely to get what it genuinely wants — which is mainly free access to Europe for its financial sector.

Finally, the politics look right. The Conservative Party has remarkably and quickly reassembled itself as the Brexit Party. That might be the right or the wrong decision, but it is where the majority of the country is right now. After all, Leave won the referendum despite fierce warnings of catastrophe from the rest of the world. Of its opponents, the Liberal Democrats want to go back in, and Labour is hopelessly undecided. If Brexit is a reasonable success — and that simply means it regains control of its borders, and the economy keeps expanding even if it is at a lower rate than before — then the Tories will be rewarded with power for a generation. That makes it a prize worth fighting for.

True, the risks are great. The potential disruption to the economy may be a lot worse than anyone yet realizes. The pound could collapse, inflation could soar, and joblessness start to rise. If any of that happens, May will go down as a catastrophic prime minister. But it is more likely she has called this right — and a hard Brexit will turn out to be best the best option available.

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Question is, how much can teh US do as long as the USD is the reserve currency and so much global debt is denominated in it?

Trump Is Waving Adios To The Longstanding ‘Strong Dollar Policy’ (MW)

The strong dollar policy—a mantra of Democratic and Republican administrations for more than two decades—may be headed for the scrap heap once Donald Trump is sworn in as president on Friday. Indeed, Trump sent the dollar skittering lower Tuesday after he told The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. currency was “too strong,” in part due to Chinese efforts to hold down the yuan. But while much is made of Trump’s questioning of the need for NATO or the lasting power of the EU, an administration-level push for a weaker currency would hardly be without precedent. It would, however, be an adjustment a generation of investors and traders who came of age in an era when the executive branch at least paid lip service to the notion that a strong dollar was a desirable aim.

The tide last shifted during the Clinton administration after Robert Rubin, the former Goldman Sachs chief, took over as Treasury secretary from Lloyd Bentsen in early 1995. Before that, Bentsen and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor had often used language that inadvertently—or not—tended to weaken the dollar. Bentsen got the ball rolling early in Clinton’s first term, calling for a stronger yen in a February 1993 appearance and shocking currency traders who duly bid up the Japanese currency. As recounted in a 2001 paper by economists Brad DeLong and Barry Eichengreen, Bentsen saw the stronger yen as potentially helpful in alleviating the U.S. trade deficit, while Kantor saw a weaker dollar providing leverage in trade talks. That may sound a bit familiar. Trump made the U.S. trade deficit a centerpiece of his campaign, using it to argue that it was proof the nation is getting its lunch eaten by competitors in a zero-sum world.

[..] Douglas Borthwick, managing director of Chapdelaine Foreign Exchange, argued in a note earlier this month that an incoming Trump administration, by throwing out the strong dollar policy, could use the currency as a linchpin in implementing its economic agenda: “With a removal of the Strong USD Policy, the US Dollar will weaken against its global counterparts. This will give the FED the ability to normalize US interest rates, as they can use the weaker USD and the resulting inflation as an excuse for raising rates. The FED will then be used by the Administration as a brake on US Dollar weakness. The weaker USD will also force other countries struggling to get their economies moving to rewrite trade agreements in a way that is more advantageous to the US. In other words, we will see a normalization of US Interest rates, and better negotiated trade deals. Both a win for the new Administration.”

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Pilger’s not a fan of Obama. Good read.

The Issue Is Not Trump, It’s Us (John Pilger)

One of the persistent strands in U.S. political life is a cultish extremism that approaches fascism. This was given expression and reinforced during the two terms of Barack Obama. “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” said Obama, who expanded the United States’ favorite military pastime: bombing and death squads (“special operations”) as no other president has done since the Cold War. According to a Council on Foreign Relations survey, in 2016 alone Obama dropped 26,171 bombs. That is 72 bombs every day. He bombed the poorest people on earth, in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan. Every Tuesday — reported the New York Times — he personally selected those who would be murdered by mostly hellfire missiles fired from drones.

Weddings, funerals, shepherds were attacked, along with those attempting to collect the body parts festooning the “terrorist target.” A leading Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, estimated, approvingly, that Obama’s drones killed 4,700 people. “Sometimes you hit innocent people and I hate that,” he said, “but we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al Qaeda.” Like the fascism of the 1930s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome, thanks to an omnipresent media whose description now fits that of the Nuremberg prosecutor: “Before each major aggression, with some few exceptions based on expediency, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically … In the propaganda system … it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.”

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Assange doesn’t lie. But he may demand the US clarify its positions.

Focus Turns To Julian Assange After US Decision To Free Chelsea Manning (G.)

The decision by the US president, Barack Obama, to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning has brought fresh attention to the fate of Julian Assange. On Twitter last week, Assange’s anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks posted: “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ [Department of Justice] case.” Obama’s move will test the promise. The president commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence, freeing her in May, nearly three decades early. In a statement on Tuesday, Assange said Manning should never have been convicted and described her as “a hero, whose bravery should have been applauded not condemned”. Assange went on to demand that the US government “immediately end its war on whistleblowers and publishers, such as WikiLeaks and myself”, but made no mention of the Twitter pledge.

His lawyer said he has been pressing the Justice Department for updates on an investigation concerning WikiLeaks. The transgender former intelligence analyst, born Bradley Manning, was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offences after admitting to leaking 700,000 sensitive military and diplomatic classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. Assange has been holed up for more than four years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He has refused to meet prosecutors in Sweden, where he remains wanted on an allegation of rape, fearing he would be extradited to the US to face espionage charges if he leaves the embassy. In a statement on Tuesday, a lawyer for Assange did not address whether Assange intended to come to the US.

“For many months, I have asked the DoJ to clarify Mr Assange’s status. I hope it will soon,” Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, said in the statement. “The Department of Justice should not pursue any charges against Mr Assange based on his publication of truthful information and should close its criminal investigation of him immediately.” Another Assange lawyer, Melinda Taylor, said: “Julian’s US lawyers have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to clarify Julian Assange’s status and would like them to do so now by announcing it is closing the investigation and pursuing no charges.”

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Only right thing to do.

Russia Extends Snowden’s Residency Permit ‘By A Couple Of Years’ (R.)

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been given leave to remain in Russia for another couple of years, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry said. “Snowden’s residency in Russia has just been extended by another couple of years,” the spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said in a post on Facebook.

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He must be having so much fun with this. And he’s right: “This shows a significant level of degradation of the political elite in the West.”

Putin Mocks Claims That Trump Was Spied On (AFP)

President Vladimir Putin cracked raunchy jokes on Tuesday as he poked fun at claims that Russian secret services filmed US President-elect Donald Trump with prostitutes. Showing he is familiar with the claims in the explosive dossier, Putin launched into a series of ribald jokes about prostitutes, riffing on Trump’s former role as owner of the Miss Universe beauty contest. The unsubstantiated dossier published by American media last week alleged that Russia had gathered compromising information on Trump, namely videos involving prostitutes at a luxury Moscow hotel, supposedly as a potential means for blackmail. In his first public comments on the claims, Putin rubbished the idea that Russian secret services would have spied on Trump during his 2013 visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe final, as alleged in the dossier.

“Trump when he came to Moscow… wasn’t any kind of political figure, we didn’t even know of his political ambitions,” Putin said, responding to a journalist’s question at a news conference. “Does anyone think that our special services chase every American billionaire? Of course not, it’s just completely ridiculous.” Putin also questioned why Trump would feel the need to hire prostitutes, given his opportunities to meet beautiful women at the Miss Universe contest. “He’s a grown-up for a start and secondly a man who spent his whole life organising beauty contests and meeting the most beautiful women in the world,” Putin said. “I can hardly imagine that he ran off to a hotel to meet our girls of ‘lowered social responsibility’,” said Putin, adding jokingly “although they are of course the best in the world. “I doubt Trump fell for that.”

Putin went on to compare those behind the dossier unfavourably with prostitutes. “The people who order falsifications of the kind that are now circulating against the US president-elect – they are worse than prostitutes, they don’t have any moral limits at all. “The fact that such methods are being used against the US president-elect is a unique case: nothing like this has happened before. “This shows a significant level of degradation of the political elite in the West.”

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Xi ordered no market selloffs while he’s in Davos. Joke.

PBOC Cash Injections Surge To Record $60 Billion Before Holidays (BBG)

China’s benchmark money-market rate surged the most in 19 months, with record central bank cash injections being overwhelmed by demand before the Lunar New Year holidays. The People’s Bank of China put in a net 410 billion yuan ($60 billion) through open-market operations on Wednesday, the biggest daily addition since Bloomberg began compiling the data in 2004. That brings the total injections so far this week to 845 billion yuan. The interbank seven-day repurchase rate jumped 17 basis points, the most since June 2015, to 2.58% as of 1:18 p.m. in Shanghai, according to weighted average prices. Demand for cash tends to increase before the Lunar New Year holidays, when households withdraw money to pay for gifts and get-togethers.

Month-end corporate tax payments are adding to the pressure this time, with the break running from Jan. 27 through Feb. 2. The PBOC offered 200 billion yuan of seven-day reverse repos and 260 billion yuan of 28-day contracts, compared with 50 billion yuan of loans maturing on Wednesday. “The PBOC aims to ensure that the liquidity situation remains adequate, while the 28-day reverse repo is apparently targeted at covering the holidays,” said Frances Cheung at Societe Generale. “There could also be preparation for any indirect tightening impact from potential outflows.” China’s central bank has been offering more 28-day reverse repos than one-week loans in the past two weeks, while curbing the injection of cheaper, short-term funds amid efforts to lower leverage in the financial system. It drained a net 595 billion yuan in the first week of January, before switching to a net injection of 100 billion yuan last week as the seasonal funding demand started to emerge.

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The result of cash injections.

China New Home Prices Rise 12.4% Y/Y In December (R.)

Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 12.4% in December from a year earlier, slowing slightly from a 12.6% increase in November, an official survey showed on Wednesday. Compared with a month earlier, home prices rose 0.3% nationwide, slowing from November’s 0.6%, according to Reuters calculations from data issued by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing prices rose 23.5%, 26.5% and 25.9%, respectively, from a year earlier. Monthly growth in Shanghai and Shenzhen slowed but was unchanged in Beijing as local governments’ tightening measures took effect.

China relied heavily on a surging real estate market and government stimulus to help drive economic growth in 2016, but policymakers have grown concerned that the property frenzy will fuel price bubbles and risk a market crash, with serious consequences for the broader economy. Soaring home prices have prompted more than 20 Chinese cities to tighten lending requirements on house purchases, while regulators have told banks to strengthen their risk management on property loans.

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Scapegoating. You pick one to make the rest look good in comparison. But this is endemic, in a variety of forms.

Rustbelt China Province Admits It Faked Fiscal Data For Years (BBG)

The rust-belt province of Liaoning fabricated fiscal numbers from 2011 to 2014, local officials have said, raising fresh doubts about the accuracy of China’s economic data just days ahead of the release of the nation’s full-year growth report. City and county governments in the northwestern region committed fiscal data fraud in the period, Governor Chen Qiufa said at a meeting with provincial lawmakers Tuesday, according to state-run People’s Daily. Fiscal revenues were inflated by at least 20 percent, and some other economic data were also false, the paper said, without specifying categories. Chen said the data were made up because officials wanted to advance their careers. The fraud misled the central government’s judgment of Liaoning’s economic status, he said, citing a report from the National Audit Office in 2016.

With growth now moderating, officials have sought to improve the credibility of economic data as diffusing financial risks becomes a key policy consideration, along with keeping growth ticking along at a rapid clip. Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, has said China should prevent fake economic data and increase the quality of its statistics. Liaoning has seen an unprecedented purge of more than 500 deputies from its legislature. The deputies were implicated in vote buying and bribery in the first provincial-level case of its kind in the Communist Party’s almost seven-decade rule, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Former provincial party chief Wang Min, who led Liaoning from 2009 until 2015, was earlier expelled following corruption allegations by China’s top anti-graft watchdog.

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Wonderful pair of articles. Take your pick. Ambrose has one view, while…

Saudis Claim Victory Over US Shale Industry (AEP)

Saudi Arabia’s oil sheikhs insisted defiantly in Davos that they have defeated the challenge of the American shale industry and restored the balance to the global oil markets after two years of trauma and glut. The country’s energy minister Khalid Al-Falih said US oil frackers had survived only by tapping the most prolific wells and would face surging costs once again as recovery builds, while cannibalisation of their plant will prevent a rapid rebound in US output. “Their supply infrastructure has been decimated,” he said, speaking at the World Economic Forum. Mr Al-Falih admitted for the first time that Saudi Arabia’s decision to flood the world crude markets in 2014 and force a collapse in prices was essentially aimed at US shale frackers, a claim always denied in the past.

“If we had cut production and kept prices at three-digit levels, they would have kept adding one million barrels a day each year, for year after year. Saudi production would have been three million barrels day less in 2017 under that scenario. It was not sustainable,” he said. US drillers bridle at the suggestion that the Saudis won, insisting that they held Opec and Russia to a standstill, forcing them to capitulate last November with an agreement by 22 states to trim output by 1.2m barrels a day, and even that may not prove enough. “Opec engaged in a price war against US producers and they lost,” said Kenneth Hersh from Energy Capital. “This has brought the cost structure down for the whole world. There is no longer a cartel any more.”

Amin Nasser, head of Saudi Aramco, insisted that the job of knocking back shale is largely accomplished and that the market would rebalance by the first half of this year. The cycle is now switching to the opposite extreme. He warned that the world needs $1 trillion of fresh investment in oil projects each year just to keep up with growing demand, and the risk of “price spikes” later this decade is rising fast. The warning was echoed by Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, who fears a looming oil shortage after an unprecedented collapse in spending on exploration and development over the last two years. “Alarm bells will be ringing if there is no major new investment this year,” he said.

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….MarketWatch has the exact opposite.

Rising U.S. Shale-Oil Output Threatens OPEC’s Production Pact (MW)

The oil market got a stark reminder Tuesday that rising oil production in the U.S. could upend efforts by major producers to bring global supply and demand for crude back in to balance. Just ahead of the settlement for oil futures prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration released a report on drilling productivity—forecasting a monthly rise of 41,000 barrels a day in February oil production to 4.748 million barrels a day. “That is bearish for oil and a concern for OPEC,” said James Williams, energy economist at WTRG Economics, pointing out that the volume of new oil per rig has climbed because of gains in efficiency.

“If maintained, the expected February production gain means production from the shale plays will be up at least a half million barrels per day by the end of the year,” said Williams. Prices for February West Texas Intermediate crude lost the bulk of the day’s gain on Tuesday to settle with a modest 11-cent climb at $52.48 a barrel. “Since rigs are higher now than in December and should continue to increase, that means a half million [barrel-per-day] gain in production by year-end is a conservative estimate,” Williams said. “Most OPEC members expected this, but U.S. shale production will be the closest monitored data after OPEC’s own compliance with quotas,” he said.

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Backroom dealmaking. Why the EU is on its way out.

Italian Conservative Tajani Wins Race To Head European Parliament (R.)

Centre-right politician Antonio Tajani was elected the new president of the European Parliament on Tuesday after defeating his socialist rival, a fellow Italian, in a daylong series of votes. The new speaker, 63, a former EU commissioner and an ally of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, succeeds German Social Democrat Martin Schulz at a time of crisis for the European Union. Britain wants a divorce deal that needs the legislature’s blessing while old adversary Russia and old ally the United States both pose new threats to EU survivors holding together. Schulz’s tenure saw close cooperation with the centre-right head of the EU executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, but ended with recriminations over the end of a left-right grand coalition. That could spell trouble for the smooth passage of EU laws on a range of issues.

And the win for Tajani, who beat centre-left leader and fellow Italian Gianni Pittella by 351 votes to 282 in a fourth-round runoff, gives the right a lock on three pivotal EU political institutions. That has stirred some calls for change from either Juncker at the European Commission or Donald Tusk, who chairs the European Council of national leaders. However, there is no clear consensus for such changes. Tajani, mindful of the scars left by an unusually bruising battle over a post which can be a powerful influence on which EU rules are made, promised to be “a president for all of you”. His eventual victory came with backing from pro-EU liberals as well as from the ruling conservative parties of Britain and Poland, both of them sharply critical of the EU’s failings. They bristle at the EU impinging on national sovereignty and see it as bureaucratic and wasteful.

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Not THE world, but THEIR world.

The Bankers Who Fixed The World’s Most Important Number (G.)

By the time the market opened in London, Lehman’s demise was official. Hayes instant-messaged one of his trusted brokers in the City to tell him what direction he wanted Libor to move. Typically, he skipped any pleasantries. “Cash mate, really need it lower,” Hayes typed. “What’s the score?” The broker sent his assurances and, over the next few hours, followed a well-worn routine. Whenever one of the Libor-setting banks called and asked his opinion on what the benchmark would do, the broker said – incredibly, given the calamitous news – that the rate was likely to fall. Libor may have featured in hundreds of trillions of dollars of loans and derivatives, but this was how it was set: conversations among men who were, depending on the day, indifferent, optimistic or frightened.

When Hayes checked the official figures later that night, he saw to his relief that yen Libor had fallen. Hayes was not out of danger yet. Over the next three days, he barely left the office, surviving on three hours of sleep a night. As the market convulsed, his profit and loss jumped around from minus $20 million to plus $8 million in just hours, but Hayes had another ace up his sleeve. ICAP, the world’s biggest inter-dealer broker, sent out a “Libor prediction” email each day at around 7am to the individuals at the banks responsible for submitting Libor. Hayes messaged an insider at ICAP and instructed him to skew the predictions lower. Amid the chaos, Libor was the one thing Hayes believed he had some control over. He cranked his network to the max, offering his brokers extra payments for their cooperation and calling in favours at banks around the world.

By Thursday, 18 September, Hayes was exhausted. This was the moment he had been working towards all week. If Libor jumped today, all his puppeteering would have been for nothing. Libor moves in increments called basis points, equal to one one-hundredth of a percentage point, and every tick was worth roughly $750,000 to his bottom line. For the umpteenth time since Lehman faltered, Hayes reached out to his brokers in London. “I need you to keep it as low as possible, all right?” he told one of them in a message. “I’ll pay you, you know, $50,000, $100,000, whatever. Whatever you want, all right?” “All right,” the broker repeated. “I’m a man of my word,” Hayes said. “I know you are. No, that’s done, right, leave it to me,” the broker said.

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Yes, you should be scared. For your children.

Percentage of World Population Age 65+ in 2015 and 2050 (BR)

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