Dec 312019
 
 December 31, 2019  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  15 Responses »


Peter Beard Francis Bacon on his Roof at 80 Narrow Street, London 1972

 

The Decade of Debt (R.)
I, Who Vowed to Never Short Stocks Again, Just Shorted the Entire Market (WS)
Pelosi’s Half Right Constitutional Claim Leaves The House All Wrong (Turley)
Strzok Claims FBI, DOJ Violated His Free Speech, Privacy Rights (Hill)
Tulsi: Impeachment Greatly Increased Likelihood Of Trump Reelection (Hill)
Forecast 2020 — Whirlin’ and Swirlin’ (Kunstler)
States Are Already Paying For Unfunded Pensions (Platt)
Ex-Nissan Boss Ghosn Says Is In Lebanon, Fleeing Japan’s ‘Rigged’ Justice (R.)
How Fentanyl Spread Across the US (Kolitz)
UK MoD Proposed Russian Membership Of NATO In 1995 (G.)
Images Of ‘Mayhem’ And ‘Armageddon’ As Bushfires Rage (G.)

 

 

Leave it to Reuters to turn this into a bland story. Oh, and just you watch the next decade.

The Decade of Debt (R.)

Whatever nickname ultimately gets attached to the now-ending Twenty-tens, on Wall Street and across Corporate America it arguably should be tagged as the “Decade of Debt.” With interest rates locked in at rock-bottom levels courtesy of the Federal Reserve’s easy-money policy after the financial crisis, companies found it cheaper than ever to tap the corporate bond market to load up on cash. Bond issuance by American companies topped $1 trillion in each year of the decade that began on Jan. 1, 2010, and ends on Tuesday at midnight, an unmatched run, according to SIFMA, the securities industry trade group. In all, corporate bond debt outstanding rocketed more than 50% and will soon top $10 trillion, versus about $6 trillion at the end of the previous decade.


The largest U.S. companies – those in the S&P 500 Index – account for roughly 70% of that, nearly $7 trillion. What did they do with all that money? It’s a truism in corporate finance that cash needs to be either “earning or returning” – that is, being put to use growing the business or getting sent back to shareholders. As it happens, American companies did a lot more returning than earning with their cash during the ‘Tens. In the first year of the decade, companies spent roughly $60 billion more on dividends and buying back their own shares than on new facilities, equipment and technology. By last year that gap had mushroomed to more than $600 billion, and the gap in 2019 could be just as large, especially given the constraint on capital spending from the trade war.

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Just too juicy.

I, Who Vowed to Never Short Stocks Again, Just Shorted the Entire Market (WS)

In my decades of looking at the stock market, there has never been a better setup. Exuberance is pandemic and sky-high. And even after today’s dip, the S&P 500 is up nearly 29% for the year, and the Nasdaq 35%, despite lackluster growth in the global economy, where many of the S&P 500 companies are getting the majority of their revenues. Mega-weight in the indices, Apple, is a good example: shares soared 84% in the year, though its revenues ticked up only 2%. This is not a growth story. This is an exuberance story where nothing that happens in reality – such as lacking revenue growth – matters, as we’re now told by enthusiastic crowds everywhere.

Until just a couple of months ago, the touts were out there touting negative interest rates soon to come to the US and thus making stocks the only place to be. Those touts have now been run over by the reality. Now they’re touting QE4 by the Fed, or whatever. And people were looking for any reason to buy. The unanimity of it all was astounding. I’ve seen this before, but not in this magnitude. And there is this: As stocks were surging over the past few months, investors with large gains who wanted to sell didn’t sell before year-end in order to defer that income for tax considerations. So there was reduced selling pressure from that group that would have liked to sell, and that will sell after the new year starts.

So I shorted the stock market today, December 30 – me who is on record of saying repeatedly that I would never ever short anything ever again, after the debacle of November 1999 when I shorted the most obviously ridiculous Nasdaq high-fliers a few months too early. They collapsed to near-zero, but not before ripping off my face.

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Turley’s on a roll.

Pelosi’s Half Right Constitutional Claim Leaves The House All Wrong (Turley)

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe has penned an editorial column in support of the refusal of Speaker Nancy Pelosi to submit House articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. Tribe declares this strategy is not just constitutional but also commendable. That view may be half right on the Constitution. However, it leaves Pelosi all wrong on her unprecedented gaming of the system. The withholding of the articles is not only facially inappropriate. It shatters the fragile rationale for the rush to impeach. Tribe focuses on a point on which I agree entirely. We both have criticized the position of Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, who testified with me in the House Judiciary Committee hearings, that President Trump has not really been impeached.

Feldman insists that impeachment occurs only when the articles and a slate of House trial managers are submitted to the Senate for trial. However, there is no support for that interpretation in the text or history of the Constitution. Indeed, English impeachments by the House of Commons often were not taken up for trial in the House of Lords, yet all those individuals still were referenced as impeached. Now for our point of disagreement. The Constitution does not state that the House must submit the articles of impeachment to the Senate at any time, let alone in a specific period of time. Tribe insists this means that the “House rules unmistakably leave to the House itself” when to submit an impeachment for trial. There are, in fact, two equal houses of Congress.

Faced with a House manipulating the system, the Senate can change its rules and simply give the House a date for trial then declare a default or summary acquittal if House managers do not come. It is the list of House trial managers that is necessary for Senate proceedings to commence. The “standing rules of procedure and practice in the Senate when sitting on impeachment trials” are triggered when the House gives notice that “managers are appointed.” The Senate is given notice of the impeachment in the congressional record shared by both houses. The articles are later “exhibited” by the managers at the trial. Waiting for the roster of managers is a courtesy shown by the Senate to the House in preparing its team of managers for the trial.

We have never experienced this type of bicameral discourtesy where the House uses articles of impeachment to barter over the details of the trial. Just as the Senate cannot dictate the handling of impeachment investigations, the House cannot dictate the trial rules.

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Feels weak overall, given the contents of his mails to Lisa Page.

Strzok Claims FBI, DOJ Violated His Free Speech, Privacy Rights (Hill)

Former FBI agent Peter Strzok, a onetime member of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, is claiming the FBI and Justice Department violated his rights of free speech and privacy when firing him for uncovered texts that criticized President Trump. Strzok and his legal team made the claims in a court document filed Monday that pushes back on the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) motion to dismiss the lawsuit he filed in August over his ouster a year earlier. DOJ alleged in its motion to dismiss that Strzok’s role in high-profile investigations meant he was held to a higher standard when it came to speech.

But Strzok’s legal team disputed this in Monday’s filing, saying that the approximately 8,000 other employees in similar positions retain their privacy even when using government-issued devices. “The government’s argument would leave thousands of career federal government employees without protections from discipline over the content of their political speech,” the filing said. “Nearly every aspect of a modern workplace, and for that matter nearly every non-workplace aspect of employees’ lives, can be monitored,” it added. “The fact that a workplace conversation can be discovered does not render it unprotected.”

Strzok’s team also accuses the bureau and DOJ of only punishing those who condemn Trump, as “there is no evidence of an attempt to punish” those who verbally backed the president ahead of the 2016 election. The FBI declined to comment, saying the bureau does not comment on pending litigation. “It doesn’t matter who you are — someone, like Pete, who has devoted his whole life to protecting this country, or a Gold Star family, or a Purple Heart winner, or a lifelong Republican who spent 5 years as a POW in North Vietnam. If you dare to raise your voice against President Trump, he and his allies will try to destroy you,” Strzok attorney Aitan Goelman said in a statement to The Hill.

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Trying to please the DNC. Not.

Tulsi: Impeachment Greatly Increased Likelihood Of Trump Reelection (Hill)

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) predicted Monday that it would be more difficult for House Democrats to remain in control of the House following passage of articles of impeachment against President Trump. In a video tweeted Monday evening, the 2020 candidate for president wrote that Trump’s chances of winning reelection had been “greatly increased” because of the House’s vote. “Unfortunately, the House impeachment of the president has greatly increased the likelihood Trump will remain the president for the next 5 years,” Gabbard says in the video. “We all know that Trump is not going to be found guilty by the U.S. Senate,” she added. The remarks are not the first Gabbard has made warning against Trump’s impeachment. She made similar comments just days ago in New Hampshire, arguing that Trump’s supporters would be emboldened by the House’s move heading in to 2020.

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“..the Golden Golem of Greatness himself, rises in his pajamas and tweets that, at long, long last, he has finally got “woke,” changed his name to Donatella..”

Forecast 2020 — Whirlin’ and Swirlin’ (Kunstler)

[..] a venerable institution such as The New York Times can turn from its mission of strictly pursuing news and be enlisted as the public relations service for rogue government agencies seeking to overthrow a president under false pretenses. The overall effect is of a march into a new totalitarianism, garnished with epic mendacity and malevolence. Since when in the USA was it okay for political “radicals” to team up with government surveillance jocks to persecute their political enemies? This naturally leads to the question: what drove the American thinking class insane?

I maintain that it comes from the massive anxiety generated by the long emergency we’ve entered — the free-floating fear that we’ve run out the clock on our current way of life, that the systems we depend on for our high standard of living have entered the failure zone; specifically, the fears over our energy supply, dwindling natural resources, broken resource supply lines, runaway debt, population overshoot, the collapsing middle-class, the closing of horizons and prospects for young people, the stolen autonomy of people crushed by out-of-scale organizations (government, WalMart, ConAgra), the corrosion of relations between men and women (and of family life especially), the frequent mass murders in schools, churches, and public places, the destruction of ecosystems and species, the uncertainty about climate change, and the pervasive, entropic ugliness of the suburban human habitat that drives so much social dysfunction.

You get it? There’s a lot to worry about, much of it quite existential. The more strenuously we fail to confront and engage with these problems, the crazier we get. Much of the “social justice” discontent arises from the obvious and grotesque income inequality of our time accompanied by the loss of meaningful work and the social roles that go with that. But quite a bit of extra tension comes from the shame and disappointment over the failure of the long civil rights campaign to correct the racial inequalities in American life — everything from attempts at school integration to affirmative action (by any name) to “multiculturalism” to the latest innovations in “diversity and inclusion.”

[..] By 2020 Wokesterism has shot its wad and the Wokesters are banished to a windowless room in the sub-basement of America’s soul where they can shout at the walls, point their fingers, grimace spittlingly, and issue anathemas that no one will listen to. And when they’re out of gas, they can kick back and read the only book in the room: Mercy, by Andrea Dworkin. And then, one fine spring morning, after everyone else has given up on it, Donald Trump, social media troll-of-trolls, the Golden Golem of Greatness himself, rises in his pajamas and tweets that, at long, long last, he has finally got “woke,” changed his name to Donatella, and declared his personal pronoun to be “you’all.”

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“When a company defaults, there is a clear legal framework for who gets paid back first. This isn’t the case for states, however, as there is no such legal structure, nor much precedent.”

States Are Already Paying For Unfunded Pensions (Platt)

Kicking pension problems into the future is popular with politicians, enabling them to make promises and let voters worry later about borrowing costs. But large, unfunded state pension liabilities are a costly problem—and the cost is already reflected in current bond prices, research by Chicago Booth PhD candidate Chuck Boyer suggests. “The public pension funding crisis is not merely about future insolvency,” he writes. “Future obligations are having an effect on debt spreads right now.” To many Americans, it may seem unimaginable that states would fail to fully pay pensions promised to teachers, firefighters, and other public-service workers.

It has been almost 90 years since the last state default: during the Great Depression, Arkansas owed over $160 million to debt payments, which was nearly half of the state’s annual revenue (and equivalent to roughly $3 billion in 2019 dollars). The debt was restructured and “debtholders were eventually made whole,” Boyer writes in recounting this history. However, pension obligations are mounting in many states, and officials are struggling to cut costs and raise taxes to pay what is owed. And he argues that the effects can be seen in the $3.8 trillion capital market for US municipal bonds, which includes bonds issued by 50,000 state and local governments. When a company defaults, there is a clear legal framework for who gets paid back first.

This isn’t the case for states, however, as there is no such legal structure, nor much precedent. The markets’ expectations, then, are built into bond prices. Bondholders, wary of how a default could play out, demand a premium. Using annual fiscal reports released by state governments, Boyer looked at the ratio of unfunded pension liabilities to GDP from 2002 to 2016 and estimates that every 1-standard-deviation increase is associated with a 27–32 basis-point increase in bond spreads over the Treasury rate, up to a fifth of the average total spread. Unfunded pensions cost US states more than $2 billion in lost bond-issuance proceeds in 2016, he calculates, adding that he considers that a conservative estimate.

But the penalty that a state would essentially pay in the form of higher spreads varies from state to state, providing some indication of how the market thinks a default could play out. States where pensioners have more legal protections and their unions have more bargaining power (and maybe higher public support) are paying higher borrowing costs. In these areas, debtholders see a higher risk of default—perhaps assuming states would take care of pensioners before bondholders, who are mostly high-net-worth and retail investors.

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Walking away from a $9 million bond.

Ex-Nissan Boss Ghosn Says Is In Lebanon, Fleeing Japan’s ‘Rigged’ Justice (R.)

Ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn confirmed he fled to Lebanon, saying he wouldn’t be “held hostage” by a “rigged” justice system and raising questions about how one of the world’s most-recognized executives escaped Japan months before his trial. Ghosn’s abrupt departure marks the latest dramatic twist in a year-old saga that has shaken the global auto industry, jeopardized the alliance of Nissan Motor Co Ltd and top shareholder Renault SA and cast a harsh light on Japan’s judicial system. “I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied,” Ghosn, 65, said in a brief statement on Tuesday.

“I have not fled justice – I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week.” Most immediately, it was unclear how Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan, given that he had been under strict surveillance by authorities while out on bail and had surrendered his passports. Japanese immigration authorities had no record of Ghosn leaving the country, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said. A person resembling Ghosn entered Beirut international airport under a different name after flying in aboard a private jet, NHK reported, citing an unidentified Lebanese security official.

His lawyers were still in possession of his three passports, one of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters in comments broadcast live by NHK. Hironaka said the first he had heard of Ghosn’s departure was on the news this morning and that he was surprised. He also said it was “inexcusable behavior”. [..] Ghosn was arrested at a Tokyo airport shortly after his private jet touched down on Nov. 19, 2018. He faces four charges – which he denies – including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to dealerships in the Middle East. Nissan sacked him as chairman saying internal investigations revealed misconduct ranging from understating his salary while he was its chief executive, and transferring $5 million of Nissan funds to an account in which he had an interest.

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Words fail. It’s not just bankers that don’t go to jail.

How Fentanyl Spread Across the US (Kolitz)

Often lost in the early news reports was the fact that fentanyl alone wasn’t killing people; many different kinds of fentanyl were. Since its invention in 1959 by the Belgian chemist and doctor Paul Janssen, fentanyl has seen more than 1,400 analogues: twists on the original formula whose origins and effects vary widely. Carfentanil, for instance—100 times stronger than fentanyl—was until 2018 FDA-approved for use as an elephant tranquilizer. It is here that the opioid crisis intersects with (and amplifies) a newer scourge: NPS, or new psychoactive substances, molecularly tweaked stand-ins for traditional street drugs. The best-known of these is probably K2, or Spice, the ostensible marijuana substitute whose high bears little resemblance to the real thing and whose side effects include blood-clotting, kidney failure, and instant death.

But there are hundreds more, and likely thousands in development. Mini-pandemics have erupted across the country, as when, in the course of a single week last year, over 100 people in New Haven overdosed on what was later determined to be AB-FUBINACA, yet another synthetic cannabinoid. Ben Westhoff, in “Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic”, charts this progression in harrowing detail. We are now dealing, he writes, with “the harshest drug challenge in our history.” His book is one of the first to address what the Centers for Disease Control has called the “third wave” of the opioid crisis: first OxyContin, then heroin, and now fentanyl and its analogues.

Earlier accounts of this crisis – Sam Quinones’s “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” or Beth Macy’s “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America” – had in Purdue Pharma the benefit, structural and dramatic, of a villain. More or less everyone can agree that pharmaceutical companies should refrain from wantonly pursuing profit at the expense of public health. Dopesick is rarely a pleasant read, but Macy’s account of Purdue’s first major court battle – which culminated in criminal convictions for three executives and $600 million in fines—provided at least some measure of catharsis.

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I still wonder what made Yeltsin turn to Putin. Guilt, a rare moment of lucidity?

UK MoD Proposed Russian Membership Of Nato In 1995 (G.)

Russia could have become an “associate member” of Nato 25 years ago if a Ministry of Defence proposal had gained support, according to confidential Downing Street files which also expose Boris Yeltsin’s drinking habits. The suggestion, aimed at reversing a century of east-west antagonism, is revealed in documents released on Tuesday by the National Archives at Kew. Presented by Malcolm Rifkind, then defence secretary, to a Chequers strategy summit, the plan was to dispel Kremlin suspicions of the alliance’s eastwards expansion. In 1995, Yeltsin was president and the cold war over. Relations were in flux as a Russia tried to come to terms with shrunken international borders.

Yeltsin was proving an unpredictable ally. Files show that he urged western leaders at a summit in Halifax, Canada to delay Nato enlargement until after Russia’s elections because “public discussion could provoke trouble”. But poor health and heavy drinking jeopardised his authority. The previous year he had notoriously failed to disembark from a plane during a stopover in Ireland amid rumours of alcoholism and a heart attack. In July 1995, the Moscow embassy cabled about Yeltsin going into hospital due to his “longstanding heart condition”. At Hyde Park, the Roosevelt home in New York, according to US diplomats, Yeltsin subsequently appeared “rolling, puffy and red”. He consumed “wine and beer greedily … and regretted the absence of cognac. One of his aides took a glass of champagne from him when the aide felt enough was enough and he was alcoholically cheerful at his press conference with Clinton.”

[..] In a 10-page submission, Rifkind argued that: “A possible solution would be to create a new category of associate member of Nato. Such a status could not involve article V guarantees [which declares an attack on one state is an attack on all members], membership of the IMS [Nato’s International Military Staff] or Russian vetoes and would not therefore change the essence of Nato. “It would, however, give Russia a formal status within Nato, allow it to attend, as of right, ministerial and other meetings and encourage a gradual convergence and harmonisation of policy, doctrine and practice.”

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The photos have now all turned red. NOTE: the army still hasn’t been sent in, apparently. The people dying are volunteer firemen.

Images Of ‘Mayhem’ And ‘Armageddon’ As Bushfires Rage (G.)

Thousands of people fled to the lake and ocean in Mallacoota, as bushfires hit the Gippsland town on Tuesday. The out-of-control fire reached the town in the morning and about 4,000 people fled to the coastline, with Country Fire Authority members working to protect them. The town had not been told to evacuate on Sunday when the rest of East Gippsland was, and authorities decided it was too dangerous to move them on Monday. People reported hearing gas bottles explode as the fire front reached the town, and the sound of sirens telling people to get in the water. By 1.30pm the fire had reached the water’s edge. A local man, Graham, told ABC Gippsland he could see fire in the centre of the town, and 20m high flames on the outskirts where he believed homes were alight.

“We saw a big burst of very big flames in Shady Gully,” he said. “As I speak to you I’m looking across Coull’s Inlet and there are big flames … and they would be impacting houses. That’s not good at all.” People in Mallacoota posted in community social media groups estimates of about 20 houses lost, with the school, bowling club and golf club also hit. Hundreds more evacuees sheltered in the community centre. “There are a lot of people at the waterfront jetty, in the lake, on the sand spit between the lake and the ocean, and there are people on a sandbar, and some on boats,” Charles Livingstone told Guardian Australia from the community centre. He said there were at least 350 people in the community centre, many with children and pets. He, his wife and their 18-month-old baby were at the jetty on Monday night but moved to the community centre to avoid the heavy smoke.

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Dec 172019
 


Dorothea Lange “Men on ‘Skid Row’, Modesto, California” 1937

 

Boeing Crisis Escalates As Planemaker Halts 737 Production (R.)
Judge Denies Flynn’s Requests for Exculpatory Information, Case Dismissal (ET)
What Everyone is Missing About the Afghanistan Papers (TMU)
Chinese Crypto Scammers Helped Inspire Recent Bitcoin Market Carnage (ZH)
College Enrollment Skids 8th Year in a Row, But Student Loans Skyrocket (WS)
Erdogan Threatens To Recognise Killings Of Native Americans As Genocide (Ind.)
Kudlow: US-China Deal ‘Absolutely’ Done, US Exports To China Will Double (R.)
Sacklers Took $11 Billion Out Of Purdue Pharma As Opioid Crisis Worsened (AP)
Assange Extradition Fight Could Turn On Reports He Was Spied On For CIA (G.)
Doctors Ask Government To Evacuate Assange To An Australian Hospital (SMH)

 

 

Almost no Russia/Ukrainegate today! Just a little Michael Flynn.

We’ll havt to do with Boeing, which suspended its production of … what exactly. Below is a Reuters article which I picked up late yesterday. Ita talks about 737 production being suspended, not just 737 MAX. At that same URL, a different headline and article today, which says:

Boeing’s 737 Crisis Deepens As Production Stops For First Time In Two Decades
Boeing Co said on Monday it would suspend production of its best-selling 737 MAX jetliner in January, its biggest assembly-line halt in more than 20 years, as fallout from two fatal crashes of the now-grounded aircraft drags into 2020.

Not sure what this means. Did they cut only MAX, or all models? Or was MAX the only model they were still producing? There is one other model: “Boeing said it will continue P8 production of the military version of the 737.”

Boeing Crisis Escalates As Planemaker Halts 737 Production (R.)

Boeing Co is temporarily halting 737 production in January for the first time in more than 20 years as the grounding of the planemaker’s best-selling MAX after two fatal crashes looks set to last well into 2020. Boeing, which builds the 737 south of Seattle, said it will not lay off any employees during the production freeze, though the move could have repercussions across its global supply chain and the U.S. economy. The decision, made by Boeing’s board after a two-day meeting in Chicago, follows news last week that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would not approve the plane’s return to service before 2020.


[..] Until now Boeing has continued to produce 737 MAX jets at a rate of 42 per month and purchase parts from suppliers at a rate of up to 52 units per month, even though deliveries are frozen until regulators approve the aircraft to fly commercially again. Halting production will ease a severe squeeze on cash tied up in roughly 375 undelivered planes, but only at the risk of causing industrial problems when Boeing tries to return to normal, industry sources said. Supply chains are already under strain due to record demand and abrupt changes in factory speed can cause snags. In 1997, Boeing announced a hit of $2.6 billion including hundreds of millions to deal with factory inefficiencies after it was forced to suspend output of its 737 and 747 lines due to supply chain problems. Boeing said it will continue P8 production of the military version of the 737.

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A judge refusing access to evidence for the lawyer of an accused is always suspicious. And will be overruled by a next court. Flynn said he didn’t discuss -or didn’t recall it because he talked with so many people at the time- Obama’s expulsion of Russian diplomats in late December 2016, with Kislyak. He did tell him Russia should lay low until Trump became president. It was his job at the time to talk to people. The judge says the FBI had “sufficient and appropriate basis” to interview Flynn because the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign. But that is the same basis that Horowitz has called into serious question.

Judge Denies Flynn’s Requests for Exculpatory Information, Case Dismissal (ET)

A federal judge has denied requests by Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to prompt the government to give him information he deems exculpatory and to dismiss the case against him. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan sided with the government in arguing that Flynn was already given all the information to which he was entitled. The judge also dismissed Flynn’s allegations of government misconduct, noting that Flynn already pleaded guilty to his crime and failed to raise his objections earlier when some of the issues he now complains about were brought to his attention. “The sworn statements of Mr. Flynn and his former counsel belie his new claims of innocence and his new assertions that he was pressured into pleading guilty,” Sullivan said in his Dec. 16 opinion.

Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, pleaded guilty on Nov. 30, 2017, to one count of lying to the FBI. He’s been expected to receive a light sentence, including no prison time, after extensively cooperating with the government on multiple investigations. In June, he fired his lawyers and hired former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell, who has since accused the government of misconduct, particularly of withholding exculpatory information or providing it late. Powell has argued that Flynn’s previous lawyers had a conflict of interest because they testified in a related case against Flynn’s former business partner. Flynn had previously told the court he would keep the lawyers despite the conflict, but Powell said prosecutors should have asked the judge to dismiss the lawyers anyway.

Sullivan disagreed, saying Flynn failed to show a precedent that the prosecutors had that obligation. Powell also said the government had no proper reason to investigate Flynn in the first place and that it had set up an “ambush interview” with the intention of making Flynn say something it could allege was false. Sullivan disagreed again and said that previously, with the advice of his former lawyers, Flynn never “challenged the conditions of his FBI interview.”

The prosecutors argued that the FBI had a “sufficient and appropriate basis” for the interview because Flynn days earlier told members of the Trump campaign, including soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence, that he didn’t discuss with the Russian ambassador the expulsion of Russian diplomats in late December 2016 by then-President Barack Obama. Flynn later admitted in his statement of offense that he asked, via Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak, for Russia to only respond to the sanctions in a reciprocal manner and not escalate the situation. The FBI was at the time investigating whether Trump campaign aides coordinated with Russian 2016 election meddling.

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Where is the outrage? h/t Tyler

What Everyone is Missing About the Afghanistan Papers (TMU)

If you need more proof that lawmakers in the U.S. couldn’t care less about America’s woeful commitment to human rights abroad—or even care about the public who vote them into office—look no further than the recent Afghanistan papers and the reaction to the publications from Congress. According to the Washington Post, the outlet had obtained 2,000 pages of notes from interviews with more than 400 generals, diplomats, and other officials directly involved in the war. The documents showed that U.S. officials were lying about the progress being made in Afghanistan, lacked a basic understanding of Afghanistan, were hiding unmistakable evidence that the war had become unwinnable, and wasted close to $1 trillion in the process.

Barely a few hours following the Post’s publication, Congress rewarded the Pentagon for its stellar efforts with a $22 billion budget increase. How can we as a society justify this? One stand-out statistic—among the many concerning ones—is the fact that before the U.S. invasion the Taliban had almost completely put to bed Afghanistan’s illicit opium trade. Since the U.S. invasion, combined with $9 billion in U.S. funding for anti-opium programs, the Taliban is not only stronger than it ever was but sits cemented in a country that now supplies 80 percent of the world’s opium. I can’t help but think this was done on purpose.

Still, it would be worth re-thinking our outrage over the Afghanistan papers and determining what exactly it is we are outraged about. Are we simply angry because top U.S. officials lied to us about the fact they weren’t winning the war, making it a less worthwhile venture? If the U.S. were winning the war, spending $1 trillion in the process, killing record numbers of civilians, ramping up night raids to terrorize local populations, committing war crimes left right and center, would that suddenly make it all okay? As long as the war is being won, right? The truth is, like most wars the U.S. finds itself prosecuting; this was yet another war based entirely on lies and misconceptions—right from the outset.

As Marjorie Cohn, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild famously said: “The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of U.S. law. Under the charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men—15 from Saudi Arabia—did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the U.S. or another UN member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The U.S. war in Afghanistan is illegal.” If that was the case in 2001, how this war has continued for close to another two decades begins to beggar belief.

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Below $7,000.

Chinese Crypto Scammers Helped Inspire Recent Bitcoin Market Carnage (ZH)

If you’re hoping to make money shorting bitcoin this holiday season, you might be in luck: Analysts say the price of a bitcoin is set to fall even further as the perpetrators of a massive Chinese crypto scheme dump their ill-gotten gains. Several of the participants in the $2 billion PlusToken scheme are dumping crypto from anonymous accounts. The sales are believed to be the reason fro bitcoin’s 50% drop since its peak in late June, which was around the time that some of the perpetrators of PlusToken were arrested in China. Unfortunately, Chinese authorities didn’t manage to nab them all, and a team of analysts at the blockchain consultancy Chainalysis are warning that the fallout isn’t over yet, according to Bloomberg.

“The largest cryptocurrency is likely to remain under pressure as perpetrators of the estimated more than $2 billion PlusToken scandal dump coins to cash out, the New York-based firm said Monday in the wake of a five-month investigation that continues to track the tokens as they filter through various blockchain ledgers. Bitcoin has tumbled almost 50% from its 2019 peak in late June, when Chinese authorities arrested multiple suspects in the pyramid scheme that promised returns as high as 600% and guaranteed that investors would be rewarded for inviting new members. Since that time, market observers have often pointed to possible sales tied to PlusToken suspects not in custody as one of many reasons for price declines.”

According to Chainalysis, PlusToken conspirators have already sold 25,000 bitcoins, and it’s believed another 20,000 (worth nearly $142 million at current prices). The coins are spread across some 8,700 anonymous bitcoin wallets.

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Fewer students, more debt. Number of male students plummets much faster than female. Does this look healthy to you?

College Enrollment Skids 8th Year in a Row, But Student Loans Skyrocket (WS)

With college costs blowing through the roof, with “luxury student housing” and not so luxury “student housing” having become asset classes – including, of course, CMBS, now in rough waters – for global investors, with textbook publishers gouging students to the nth degree, and with the monetary value of higher education questioned in more and more corners, the inevitable happened once again: College enrollment dropped for the eighth year in a row. The post-secondary student headcount – undergraduate and graduate students combined – in the fall semester of 2019 fell 1.3% from the fall semester last year, or by over 231,000 students to 17.97 million students, according to the Student Clearing House today. In the fall of 2011, the peak year, 20.14 million students had been enrolled. Since then, enrollment has dropped by 10.8%, or by 2.17 million students:

This is based on enrollment data submitted to the Student Clearing House by the schools. It does not include international students, which account for just under 5% of total student enrollment in the US. Duplicate headcounts – one student enrolled in two institutions – are removed from the data to eliminate double-counting. The 10.8% decline in enrollment since 2011 comes even as student loan balances have surged 74% over the same period, from $940 billion to $1.64 trillion:

[..] Women by far outnumbered men in total enrollment in the fall semester of 2019 with 10.63 million women enrolled and just 7.61 million men, meaning that overall there are now 40% more women in college than men: • At public four-year schools, there were 30% more women (4.51 million) than men (3.48 million) • At private non-profit four-year schools, there were 50% more women (2.32 million) than men (1.54 million) • At private for-profit four-year schools, there were more than twice as many woman (508,000) than men (241,000). • At public two-year schools, there were 38% more women (3.11 million) than men (2.26 million). Over the past three years, enrollment has declined for both men and women, but faster for men (-5.2%) than for women (-1.4%). Since 2011, enrollment has declined by 13% for men and by 9.4% for women.

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Estimates vary, but it appears that Europe’s total population in 1500 was some 60 million. North America’s was 50 million.

Erdogan Threatens To Recognise Killings Of Native Americans As Genocide (Ind.)

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to recognise the killing of Native Americans at the hand of European settlers in a tit-for-tat attack on Washington’s decision to rebuke Ankara for the Armenian genocide. The US Senate voted in favour of recognising the genocide last week, a move initially stalled by Republicans at the urging of Donald Trump – who had been due to meet with the Turkish leader at the time. However, with the bill now passed, Mr Erdogan has threatened to respond by recognising US killings of Native Americans – saying the deaths of millions of indigenous people at the hands of European settlers should also be viewed as a genocide.

Speaking on the pro-government A Haber news channel, he said: “We should oppose [the US] by reciprocating such decisions in parliament. And that is what we will do. “Can we speak about America without mentioning [Native Americans]? It is a shameful moment in US history” Around 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were killed by modern-day Turkey’s predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, in the early 20th century. But Turkey denies the killings amounted to genocide, instead marking up the deaths of Armenians and Turks as the consequences of the ongoing war. It claims a lower death toll of hundreds of thousands. While the ramifications of the US legislation are largely symbolic, its timing and the targeting of a sore spot for the Turkish state have been seen by many as a direct challenge to the Middle Eastern country’s foreign policy.

A University College London team estimates that 55 million indigenous people died following the conquest of the Americas that began at the end of the 15th century. The majority of these deaths are believed to have been caused by disease – with indigenous people unable to build immunities to diseases that had never previously crossed over the Atlantic to the Americas. War, slavery and displacement also contributed to the decline of indigenous populations.

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Yes, Larry. Of course, Larry.

Kudlow: US-China Deal ‘Absolutely’ Done, US Exports To China Will Double (R.)

The so-called Phase One trade deal between Washington and Beijing has been “absolutely completed,” a top White House adviser said on Monday, adding that U.S. exports to China will double under the agreement. “They’re … going to double our exports to China,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told Fox News Channel. Under the trade agreement announced last week, Washington will reduce some tariffs on Chinese imports in exchange for Chinese purchases of agricultural, manufactured and energy products increasing by about $200 billion over the next two years.


While U.S. officials have touted the deal, Chinese officials have been more cautious, emphasizing that the trade dispute has not been completely settled. “Make no mistake about it: the deal is done, the deal is completed,” Kudlow later told reporters at the White House. “The deal is absolutely completed.” Asked if officials still planned to sign the deal the first week of January, Kudlow said: “That’s the hope.” Translations were still being worked out but he did not expect any changes to the final Phase One agreement, he added.

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“The Sacklers pocketed billions of dollars from Purdue while thousands of people died from their addictive drugs. This is the very definition of ill-gotten gains..”

“The company says the family may back out if lawsuits against family members are allowed to proceed.”

Put them in jail pending trial.

Sacklers Took $11 Billion Out Of Purdue Pharma As Opioid Crisis Worsened (AP)

The wealthy owners of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma started taking far more money out of the company after it was fined for misleading marketing of the powerful prescription painkiller. A court filing made by the company Monday evening shows Purdue made payments totaling $10.7 billion from 2008 through 2017 for the benefit of members of the Sackler family who own the company. That includes taxes and other payments. Family members received $4.1 billion in cash over that period. By contrast, distributions for the benefit of family members from 1995 through 2007 totaled $1.3 billion. The total amount family members received from the company was made public in an October filing, but the new report offers new details on when the money was distributed.

“Today’s report confirms what we revealed in our lawsuit: The Sacklers pocketed billions of dollars from Purdue while thousands of people died from their addictive drugs. This is the very definition of ill-gotten gains,” Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, the first attorney general to sue Sackler family members, said in a statement. The Sacklers’ wealth has received intense scrutiny from Healey and 23 other states’ attorneys general, who are objecting to a plan to settle about 2,700 lawsuits against Purdue over the toll of opioids, including those filed by nearly every state.

The objecting attorneys general say that the settlement does not do enough to hold the family accountable for an opioid crisis linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000. The settlement calls for the family to contribute at least $3 billion in cash over time and give up control of the company. In all, the plan could be worth up to $12 billion over time. But the offer comes with a major catch: The company says the family may back out if lawsuits against family members are allowed to proceed. They are all on hold for now as the company’s settlement efforts play out in bankruptcy court.

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The Guardian reporting on Assange. Forever tainted.

Assange Extradition Fight Could Turn On Reports He Was Spied On For CIA (G.)

Julian Assange’s fight against extradition to the US could last years, and his argument could hinge on reports he has been illegally spied upon and his sensitive information given to the CIA. Meanwhile, more than 100 doctors from across the world have written to the Australian government, urging it to act and “protect the life of its citizen”, in a letter to be delivered to the foreign affairs minister on Tuesday, amid warnings Assange’s health continues to deteriorate. A judicial investigation by the Audiencia Nacional in Spain, the country’s national court, is acting on allegations that while Assange held asylum inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the Wikileaks founder was spied on, listened to and had his computer data scraped and that this information was sold to US intelligence agencies.

Speaking to the International Law Association in Sydney, Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of law at the University of New South Wales who has provided advice on asylum issues to the Assange legal team, said Assange’s fight against extradition would be a long contest and that allegations he was being spied on would likely form part of legal arguments he could not receive a fair trial in the US. Assange is currently being held in London’s Belmarsh prison, ahead of an extradition hearing that will begin in February. A US grand jury has indicted him on 18 charges – 17 of which fall under the Espionage Act – around conspiracy to receive, obtaining and disclosing classified diplomatic and military documents.

[..] medical doctors have banded together to urge authorities to halt any extradition plans, as well as urgently release him for medical care outside of the prison. “That we, as doctors, feel ethically compelled to hold governments to account on medical grounds speaks volumes about the gravity of the medical, ethical and human rights travesties that are taking place,” their letter, seen by the Guardian, states. “It is an extremely serious matter for an Australian citizen’s survival to be endangered by a foreign government obstructing his human right to health. It is an even more serious matter for that citizen’s own government to refuse to intervene, against historical precedent and numerous converging lines of medical advice.”

A group of Australian MPs from across party lines have gathered to discuss what can be done for Assange, with hopes of meeting with him in Belmarsh ahead of his extradition hearing.

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You’ve had many years to do this. Where were you?

Doctors Ask Government To Evacuate Assange To An Australian Hospital (SMH)

A group of doctors has asked Foreign Minister Marise Payne to evacuate Julian Assange to an Australian hospital amid claims the WikiLeaks founder’s health is rapidly deteriorating and that he “might die” in a London prison. Detailing allegations of “psychological torture” inflicted on Assange during efforts to extradite the 48-year-old to the United States, 100 medical doctors have urged Senator Payne and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to intervene. “It is an extremely serious matter for an Australian citizen’s survival to be endangered by a foreign government obstructing his human right to health,” the doctors say in a letter.

“It is an even more serious matter for that citizen’s own government to refuse to intervene, against historical precedent and numerous converging lines of medical advice. “Should Mr Assange die in a British prison, people will want to know what you, minister, did to prevent his death.” While the Australian government is highly unlikely to ask the UK government for permission to bring Assange home, there are concerns within some members of the Coalition about the asserted deterioration of his health in the months since he has been imprisoned in Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London. Doctors have said Assange is suffering from depression, dental issues and a serious shoulder ailment.

[..] “The term psychological torture is not a synonym for mere hardship, suffering or distress,” they said. “Psychological torture involves extreme mental, emotional and physical harm, which over time causes severe damage and disintegration of a number of critical psychological functions, involving emotions, cognitions, identity and interpersonal functioning.” They warned the physical effects of psychological torture caused susceptibility to a range of illnesses and diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. “The potentially fatal medical consequences of prolonged psychological torture are inherently unpredictable, and could strike at any time. Accordingly, no doctor, no matter how senior, can offer any legitimate assurances regarding Julian Assange’s survival or medical stability while he continues to be held in Belmarsh Prison.”

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Sep 162019
 
 September 16, 2019  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  21 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Night fishing at Antibes 1939

 

Oil Explodes 20% Higher, Biggest Jump On Record (ZH)
Trump Says US ‘Locked And Loaded’ As Iran Blamed For Saudi Attack (AP)
Liquidity Dies in Darkness (Rivelle)
‘Very Difficult’ For China’s Economy To Grow 6% Or Faster: Premier Li
China’s August Industrial Output Growth Grinds To 17.5-Year Low (R.)
General Motors Faces Strike By Almost 50,000 Staff (BBC)
OxyContin Maker Purdue Pharma Files For Bankruptcy Protection (R.)
Industrialized Militaries Are A Big Part Of The Climate Emergency (IC)
Farming Subsidies Destroy The World (G.)
The World’s Most Important Political Prisoner (Craig Murray)

 

 

It went down a little after, but then the war threats started.

Oil Explodes 20% Higher, Biggest Jump On Record (ZH)

Shanghai Oil futures are halted limit up.


Source: Bloomberg

With traders in a state of near-frenzy, with a subset of fintwit scrambling (and failing) to calculate what the limit move in oil would be (hint: there is none for Brent), moments ago brent reopened for trading in the aftermath of Saturday’s attack on the “world’s most important oil processing plant”, and exploded some 20% higher, to a high of $71.95 from the Friday $60.22 close, its biggest jump since futures started trading in 1988. As Bloomberg notes, “for oil markets, it’s the single worst sudden disruption ever, surpassing the loss of Kuwaiti and Iraqi petroleum supply in August 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbor. It also exceeds the loss of Iranian oil output in 1979 during the Islamic Revolution, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy.”

Furthermore, in light of news that the Saudi outage could last for months, this could be just the start. As a reminder, according to Morningstar research director, Sandy Fielden, “Brent could go to $80 tomorrow, while WTI could go to $75… But that would depend on Aramco’s 48-hour update. The supply problem won’t be clear right away since the Saudis can still deliver from inventory.” Of course, should Aramco confirm that the outage – which has taken some 5.7mmb/d in Saudi output after 10 drones struck the world’s biggest crude-processing facility in Abqaiq and the kingdom’s second-biggest oil field in Khurais – will last for weeks, expect the crude juggernaut to continue until the price hits $80, and keeps moving higher.


Source: Bloomberg

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Does any of this make any sense to you?

Trump Says US ‘Locked And Loaded’ As Iran Blamed For Saudi Attack (AP)

The U.S. government produced satellite photos showing what officials said were at least 19 points of impact at two Saudi energy facilities, including damage at the heart of the kingdom’s crucial oil processing plant at Abqaiq. Officials said the photos show impacts consistent with the attack coming from the direction of Iran or Iraq, rather than from Yemen to the south. Iraq denied Sunday that its territory was used for an attack on the Kingdom and U.S. officials said a strike from there would be a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. The U.S. officials said additional devices, which apparently didn’t reach their targets, were recovered northwest of the facilities and are being jointly analyzed by Saudi and American intelligence.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, did not address whether the drone could have been fired from Yemen, then taken a round-about path, but did not explicitly rule it out. The attacks and recriminations are increasing already heightened fears of an escalation in the region, after a prominent U.S. senator suggested striking Iranian oil refineries in response to the assault, and Iran warned of the potential of more violence. “Because of the tension and sensitive situation, our region is like a powder keg,” said Iranian Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. “When these contacts come too close, when forces come into contact with one another, it is possible a conflict happens because of a misunderstanding.”


[..] “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo wrote. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.” [..] U.S. officials previously alleged at least one recent drone attack on Saudi Arabia came from Iraq, where Iran backs Shiite militias. Those militias in recent weeks have been targeted themselves by mysterious airstrikes, with at least one believed to have been carried out by Israel. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Sunday dismissed Pompeo’s remarks as “blind and futile comments.” “The Americans adopted the ‘maximum pressure’ policy against Iran, which, due to its failure, is leaning toward ‘maximum lies,’” Mousavi said in a statement.

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“Trouble is, while loanable funds can be created without limit, the things that can be purchased with these funds is finite.”

Liquidity Dies in Darkness (Rivelle)

If democracy dies in darkness, so does liquidity in that embodiment of economic democracy, i.e., the capital markets. When information is scarce, investors must color in between the lines. That which is not known nor well quantified must be assumed or modeled. The door is therefore open to different investors reaching quite different conclusions about the underlying value of an asset leading, of course, to illiquidity. More so perhaps than any other in history, this cycle is the wellspring of the theories and actions of the central bankers who, in their infinite wisdom, determined that they could model interest rates better than markets could price them. Central banks have flooded the system with what they call “liquidity” but which are actually nothing more–nor less–than electronically conjured “loanable funds.”


Under the banner of “doing whatever it takes,” trillions in loanable funds were created so that now $17 trillion in global debt is priced to yield less than nothing. The magic trick of inverting economic logic with negative rates results from the capacity of the central banks to create unlimited quantities of loanable funds at no cost. Trouble is, while loanable funds can be created without limit, the things that can be purchased with these funds is finite. But, “free money” not only makes loans cheap, it also erodes the capacity of lenders to ask for such reasonable terms as traditional loan covenants and basic financial disclosure.

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Preparing the people for bad news?!

‘Very Difficult’ For China’s Economy To Grow 6% Or Faster: Premier Li

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said it is “very difficult” for China’s economy to grow at a rate of 6% or more because of the high base from which it was starting and the complicated international backdrop. The world’s No.2 economy faced “certain downward pressure” due to slowing global growth as well as the rise of protectionism and unilateralism, Li said in an interview with Russian media which was published on the Chinese government’s website, gov.cn. China’s GDP grew 6.3% in the first half of the year, and Li said the economy was “generally stable” in the first eight months of the year.


“For China to maintain growth of 6% or more is very difficult against the current backdrop of a complicated international situation and a relatively high base, and this rate is at the forefront of the world’s leading economies,” Li was quoted as saying. Analysts say China’s economic growth has likely cooled further this quarter from a near 30-year low of 6.2% in April-June. Morgan Stanley says it is now tracking the lower end of the government’s full-year target range of around 6-6.5%.

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4.4% it is.

China’s August Industrial Output Growth Grinds To 17.5-Year Low (R.)

The slowdown in China’s factory and consumer sectors deepened in August, with industrial production growing at the weakest pace in 17-1/2 years, a sign of increasing weakness in an economy lashed by trade headwinds and soft domestic demand. Production rose 4.4% in August year-on-year, slower than the 4.8% growth in July. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast output would rise 5.2%. August’s data is the slowest growth since February 2002. [..] The data also showed retail sales growth at 7.5%, below the 7.9% expected in a Reuters poll and the 7.6% increase in July.


Fixed-asset investment for the first eight months of the year rose 5.5%, according to data published by the National Bureau of Statistics, compared with a 5.6% rise forecast by analysts. Data last week showed factory-gate prices fell at their fastest pace in three years and analysts predict that producer deflation will continue to worsen in the coming months. It also follows a factory survey that showed activity shrank for the fourth straight month as the U.S. trade war dragged on. China’s imports of unwrought copper also fell 3.8% year-on-year in August, a metal with wide use in infrastructure, power and consumption.

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America’s dying unions.

General Motors Faces Strike By Almost 50,000 Staff (BBC)

Almost 50,000 General Motors workers have been called out on strike after the car giant failed to reach a pay and conditions deal with the United Auto Workers union (UAW). “We do not take this lightly. This is our last resort,” UAW vice-president Terry Dittes told reporters in Detroit. The sides had set a Saturday night deadline to reach agreement. The strike – from midnight (04:00 GMT) on Monday – is the first at GM, America’s biggest carmaker, since 2007. In that strike, a two-day stoppage cost $300m (£240m). The union’s previous four-year contract with GM expired this weekend, and the two sides had been holding negotiations on wide-ranging issues, including wages, healthcare, profit sharing, and job security.

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Right after the Sackler family had transferred their billions to safe locations.

OxyContin Maker Purdue Pharma Files For Bankruptcy Protection (R.)

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP filed for bankruptcy protection Sunday night, succumbing to pressure from more than 2,600 lawsuits alleging the company helped fuel the deadly U.S. opioid epidemic. Purdue’s board met Sunday evening to approve the long-expected bankruptcy filing, which the company is pursuing to restructure under terms of a proposal to settle the widespread litigation. Purdue, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in a federal bankruptcy court in White Plains, New York, reached a tentative deal to resolve lawsuits with 24 states and five U.S. territories, as well as lead lawyers for more than 2,000 cities, counties and other plaintiffs, the company said.


Two dozen states remain opposed or uncommitted to the proposed settlement, setting the stage for contentious legal battles over who bears responsibility for a public health crisis that has claimed the lives of nearly 400,000 people between 1999 and 2017, according to the latest U.S. data. Thousands of cities and counties, along with nearly every state, have sued Purdue and, in some cases, its controlling Sackler family. The lawsuits, seeking billions of dollars in damages, claim the company and family aggressively marketed prescription painkillers while misleading doctors and patients about their addiction and overdose risks.

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I’d rather have a look at overall pollution, not just emissions.

Industrialized Militaries Are A Big Part Of The Climate Emergency (IC)

A British doctor who co-authored two studies on the environmental impact of U.S. military operations in Fallujah said that the city’s population suffers “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.” Much of this impact can be blamed on the use of depleted uranium munitions by U.S. forces. Despite vowing to cease their use, a study by the independent monitoring group Airwars and Foreign Policy Magazine found that the military continued to use the toxic munitions during its most recent bombing campaign in Syria. The fact that fossil fuel emissions have been the major driver of climate change adds another grim irony to these wars.


For decades, the heavy U.S. military footprint in the Middle East has been justified by the need to preserve access to the region’s oil reserves. The industrial extraction of those same reserves has been one of the major drivers of global carbon dioxide emissions. In other words, we have been killing, dying, and polluting to ensure our access to the same toxic resource most responsible for our climate disruption. It took this perfect symmetry between industrial warfare and industrial exploitation of the earth to bring about the unspeakable emergency we now face.

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$1 million every minute. And look at the sugary crap we’re eating.

Farming Subsidies Destroy The World (G.)

The public is providing more than $1m per minute in global farm subsidies, much of which is driving the climate crisis and destruction of wildlife, according to a new report. Just 1% of the $700bn (£560bn) a year given to farmers is used to benefit the environment, the analysis found. Much of the total instead promotes high-emission cattle production, forest destruction and pollution from the overuse of fertiliser. The security of humanity is at risk without reform to these subsidies, a big reduction in meat eating in rich nations and other damaging uses of land, the report says. But redirecting the subsidies to storing carbon in soil, producing healthier food, cutting waste and growing trees is a huge opportunity, it says.

The report rejects the idea that subsidies are needed to supply cheap food. It found that the cost of the damage currently caused by agriculture is greater than the value of the food produced. New assessments in the report found producing healthy, sustainable food would actually cut food prices, as the condition of the land improves. “There is incredibly small direct targeting of [subsidies at] positive environment outcomes, which is insane,” said Jeremy Oppenheim, principal at the Food and Land Use Coalition (Folu), the collaboration of food, farming and green research groups that produced the new report. “We have got to switch these subsidies into explicitly positive measures.”


He said the true global total was likely to be $1tn a year, as some subsidies are difficult to quantify precisely: “That trillion dollars of public funding is available and is a massive, massive lever to incentivise the farming community across the world to act differently.”

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“..all the excuses for Assange’s imprisonment which so-called leftists and liberals in the UK have hidden behind will evaporate.”

The World’s Most Important Political Prisoner (Craig Murray)

We are now just one week away from the end of Julian Assange’s uniquely lengthy imprisonment for bail violation. He will receive parole from the rest of that sentence, but will continue to be imprisoned on remand awaiting his hearing on extradition to the USA – a process which could last several years. At that point, all the excuses for Assange’s imprisonment which so-called leftists and liberals in the UK have hidden behind will evaporate. There are no charges and no active investigation in Sweden, where the “evidence” disintegrated at the first whiff of critical scrutiny. He is no longer imprisoned for “jumping bail”.

The sole reason for his incarceration will be the publishing of the Afghan and Iraq war logs leaked by Chelsea Manning, with their evidence of wrongdoing and multiple war crimes. In imprisoning Assange for bail violation, the UK was in clear defiance of the judgement of the UN Working Group on arbitrary Detention, which stated:

“Under international law, pre-trial detention must be only imposed in limited instances. Detention during investigations must be even more limited, especially in the absence of any charge. The Swedish investigations have been closed for over 18 months now, and the only ground remaining for Mr. Assange’s continued deprivation of liberty is a bail violation in the UK, which is, objectively, a minor offense that cannot post facto justify the more than 6 years confinement that he has been subjected to since he sought asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador. Mr. Assange should be able to exercise his right to freedom of movement in an unhindered manner, in accordance with the human rights conventions the UK has ratified,”


In repudiating the UNWGAD the UK has undermined an important pillar of international law, and one it had always supported in hundreds of other decisions. The mainstream media has entirely failed to note that the UNWGAD called for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a source of potentially valuable international pressure on Iran which the UK has made worthless by its own refusal to comply with the UN over the Assange case. Iran simply replies “if you do not respect the UNWGAD then why should we?”

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Nov 192018
 
 November 19, 2018  Posted by at 10:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


René Magritte Popular panorama 1926

 

Chinese Firms With Dollar Debts Are ‘Under Increasing Pressure’ (CNBC)
Tim Cook: Tech Regulation ‘Inevitable’ Because Free Market Isn’t Working (MW)
Trump Would Not Intervene If Whitaker Moves To Curtail Mueller Probe (R.)
The Ultimate Fake News (PL)
Brexit Transition Could Be Extended To 2022 – Barnier (G.)
May Told To Reveal Impact Of Brexit Plan On Economy (Ind.)
UK PM May Seeks Business Support For EU Deal (R.)
Jeremy Corbyn To Set Out Labour Alternative To PM’s Brexit Plan (G.)
Macron: Europe Must Unite To Prevent ‘Global Chaos’ (BBC)
The Eurozone Banks’ Trillion Timebomb (Lacalle)
Turkey Says Khashoggi Killers May Have Taken Body Parts Out Of Country (R.)
Sackler Family Face Mass Litigation, Criminal Investigations Over Opioids (G.)
China Expands Ban On Waste Imports (AFP)
Letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia (Pamela Anderson)

 

 

Corporate defaults on the horizon.

Chinese Firms With Dollar Debts Are ‘Under Increasing Pressure’ (CNBC)

More Chinese companies could default on their debts issued in U.S. dollars, experts warn. They say that the rising cost of borrowing and a weakening Chinese yuan could see more firms fail to meet upcoming payments, as an increasing number of bonds mature in the next few years. Japanese bank Nomura said in a research note in early November that for the first 10 months of this year, defaults on Chinese offshore corporate dollar bonds — or OCDB — totaled $3.4 billion, compared with none last year. It expects more defaults to come over the next two years. So far, there’s little chance that increased pressure on offshore dollar repayment could trigger a broader crisis, but the situation should be closely monitored for spillover threats.

“I’m watchful over how these dollar debts will roll over in time,” Tai Hui at JP Morgan in Hong Kong, told reporters Thursday. Hui stressed that he currently sees no systemic risks, but noted that financial strains often begin in one area before spreading. “I think the government needs to be very mindful of some of these potential links,” he said, adding that the property sector should be foremost in mind. In its report dated Nov. 7, Nomura estimated that outstanding dollar-denominated Chinese corporate debt stood at about $751 billion in the third quarter. That’s more than double the amount at the end of 2015. It projected that an average of $33.3 billion of Chinese corporate dollar bonds will mature each quarter from the fourth quarter of 2018 to the end of 2020, sharply higher than the estimated $11 billion that matured in the third quarter of this year.

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When you think about it, that’s quite a statement.

Tim Cook: Tech Regulation ‘Inevitable’ Because Free Market Isn’t Working (MW)

Regulation of tech companies is coming, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook says, because the free market “is not working.” “I’m a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here. I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation.” – Tim Cook, Apple CEO. “Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of regulation,” Cook told Axios in an interview for “Axios on HBO,” airing Sunday night, but “I think the Congress and the administration at some point will pass something,”

And Cook said tech companies should not be afraid of regulations. “This is not a matter of privacy versus profits, or privacy versus technical innovation. That’s a false choice,” he said. Cook told Axios that while he believes technology is not inherently good or bad, companies must be aware that their products can be misused. He also said that while Silicon Valley has embraced diversity in general, it “has missed it” when it comes to closing the gender gap.

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Time for Mueller to put his cards on the table.

Trump Would Not Intervene If Whitaker Moves To Curtail Mueller Probe (R.)

President Donald Trump said in an interview aired on Sunday he would not intervene if Matthew Whitaker, his acting U.S. attorney general, moved to curtail Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In an interview with the “Fox News Sunday” program taped on Friday, Trump also said he probably would not agree to a sit-down interview with Mueller, who also is investigating whether the Republican president’s campaign conspired with Moscow and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.

Whitaker took over supervision of Mueller’s investigation on Nov. 7 after Trump appointed him as the chief U.S. law enforcement official to replace Jeff Sessions, who the president ousted. Whitaker, who Democrats have called a Trump “political lackey,” in the past criticized the scope of the Mueller probe and brought up the possibility of undermining it by slashing Mueller’s funding. Trump, in the interview, said he was unaware of Whitaker’s past statements about Mueller’s probe and that he would “not get involved” if Whitaker moved to curtail it. “It’s going to be up to him,” Trump told “Fox News Sunday” interviewer Chris Wallace. “I think he’s very well aware politically. I think he’s astute politically. … He’s going to do what’s right.”

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“..the question asked: Did Russia “tamper with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President?” There is no evidence –I repeat, none– that Russia “tampered with vote tallies.” To my knowledge, no one has claimed that Russia tampered with vote tallies.”

The Ultimate Fake News (PL)

Fake news is a serious problem in our political life. I’m not referring to a pathetically small number of Facebook ads bought by Russian provocateurs. I’m talking about the fake news that was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee; fabricated by Democratic Party-allied consultants; propagated by the FBI and the CIA; promoted by the broadcast networks, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press; trumpeted by pretty much every senior elected Democrat; and kept alive by the appalling Robert Mueller. The claim that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to “steal” the 2016 presidential election is the great fake news of our time. How successful have the Democrats been in propagating that myth? This survey by The Economist and YouGov suggests that they have been successful beyond their wildest dreams. First the numbers, then some observations.


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Note the question asked: Did Russia “tamper with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President?” There is no evidence–I repeat, none–that Russia “tampered with vote tallies.” To my knowledge, no one has claimed that Russia tampered with vote tallies. I am not aware of any plausible theory on which a foreign power could tamper with vote tallies. To say that Russia tampered with vote tallies is as credible as asserting that the moon is made of green cheese. And yet, two-thirds of Democrats say it is either “definitely true” (31%) or “probably true” (36%) that Russia tampered with vote tallies. Women are especially gullible; 48%, across all party lines, have fallen for this fake news. Sadly, 70% of blacks have bought it hook, line and sinker. The Northeast is the country’s most ignorant region, apparently: 47% of Northeasterners have fallen for the hoax.

So the Democrats, by their constant hysteria and innuendo, have convinced a large majority of their followers, and 42% of all Americans, of a palpable falsehood that was fabricated in order to assure Hillary Clinton’s election and then, when that effort failed, perpetuated in an attempt to cripple President Trump’s administration. Is this the most successful disinformation campaign in history? I don’t know. But in American history, I can’t think of a plausible rival. President Trump is right: fake news is a serious threat. By cynically selling an absurd lie to its followers, the Democratic Party has badly damaged confidence in our democracy.

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Which would add the two years at the back end that May lost at the front by doing nothing.

Brexit Transition Could Be Extended To 2022 – Barnier (G.)

Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has raised the prospect of the UK remaining under EU control until the end of 2022, a proposal that would cost billions and infuriate Tory Brexiters. At a special meeting with ambassadors from the EU’s 27 member states, Barnier floated the prospect of extending the Brexit transition until the end of 2022. His idea would allow an extra two years to negotiate a trading relationship, but means the UK would continue to follow EU rules and pay into its budget with no say for six and a half years after the 2016 vote to leave. Both sides have already agreed a transition period of 21 months, until the end of 2020, as well as the chance to extend once by mutual consent.

The length of the extension is still to be finalised by negotiators. The transition period, which the British government prefers to call the implementation period, would see the UK following all EU laws and European court of justice rulings, while having no ministers or MEPs in the EU decision-making process. Theresa May has previously suggested an extension of only a few months would be needed, but the EU is still waiting on the UK to make a formal proposal. Negotiations between the EU and UK were continuing on Sunday as Brexit talks entered a critical final week, ahead of a special summit on 25 November when both sides hope to seal the deal.

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There is an analysis and she refuses to publish it?

May Told To Reveal Impact Of Brexit Plan On Economy (Ind.)

Theresa May faces an embarrassing defeat over plans to force her into publishing data comparing Britain’s economic prospects under her Brexit deal to staying in the EU. Eleven Conservatives – including Jo Johnson, who resigned as a minister last week – have publicly signed up to the cross-party push, with the rebellion set to grow if it comes to a vote on Monday. The prime minister has so far refused to commit to releasing the analysis, which is likely to underline how remaining in the EU would deliver a more prosperous future for the country. Ms May meanwhile continued her media offensive to defend her Brexit plans, while eurosceptics pushed to raise enough support to trigger a vote of no confidence in the Conservative leader.

On Monday more than 70 MPs from six different parties will attempt to push through an amendment to the Finance Bill, which if passed would obligate Ms May to publish an economic impact assessment into the withdrawal deal she has agreed with the EU. The names include 11 Tories – the same number who rebelled the last time Ms May was defeated in the Commons on Brexit – who had backed Remain in 2016, many of whom now also support a new final say referendum on the outcome of Brexit.

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Business is so scared of a No-Deal Brexit they’ll sign up to almost anything by now.

UK PM May Seeks Business Support For EU Deal (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to win support from business leaders for her contentious draft European Union divorce deal on Monday as dissenters in her own party scrambled to trigger a leadership challenge. May has had a tumultuous few days since unveiling her deal on Wednesday last week, with several ministers, including her Brexit minister, resigning and some of her own members of parliament seeking to oust her. The British leader has vowed to fight on, on Sunday warning that toppling her risked delaying Britain’s EU exit, and has said the future partnership agreement will help ensure the government delivers on the 2016 Brexit vote. The EU is due to hold a summit to discuss the deal on Nov. 25.

May will defend her deal in a speech to the CBI business lobby group’s annual conference on Monday, saying Britain would embark on an intense week of Brexit negotiations to try to thrash out the details of its outline future relationship with the EU. “We now have an intense week of negotiations ahead of us in the run-up to the special European Council on Sunday,” May will say, according to advance extracts. “During that time I expect us to hammer out the full and final details of the framework that will underpin our future relationship and I am confident that we can strike a deal at the council that I can take back to the House of Commons.”

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His entire idea is to wait for May to fail?! Look, she can threaten a No-Deal, and that would entice people to sign up for her plan, not for a separate Labour one for which time may have run out anyway.

Jeremy Corbyn To Set Out Labour Alternative To PM’s Brexit Plan (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will set out Labour’s “good Brexit plan” on Monday, saying that leaving the European Union must be the catalyst for a “radical programme of investment and real change” as the party steps up efforts to show it has an alternative to Theresa May’s approach. Speaking to business leaders at the CBI’s annual conference in London, which will also be addressed by the prime minister, Corbyn will claim May’s deal, published last week, would “leave the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say over our future”. Instead, he will say, “a good Brexit plan for this country is not just about what can be negotiated with Brussels. It must also include a radical programme of investment and real change across our regions and nations.

“Brexit should be the catalyst to invest in our regions and infrastructure, bringing good jobs and real control to local communities and people.” His words are likely to infuriate those Labour MPs who believe the party’s stance should be to seek to block Brexit by pressing for a referendum on May’s deal – with the option of remaining in the EU on the ballot paper. Corbyn played down that suggestion on Sunday, telling Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “It’s an option for the future, but it’s not an option for today. If there was a referendum tomorrow, what’s it going to be on, what’s the question going to be?” Asked how he might vote in such a referendum, Corbyn said, “I don’t know how I am going to vote, what the options would be at that time.”

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So unpopular at home he turns to saving the entire world.

Macron: Europe Must Unite To Prevent ‘Global Chaos’ (BBC)

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has called for closer ties between his country and Germany, saying Europe “has the obligation not to let the world slip into chaos”. Mr Macron is in Berlin for the country’s annual day of mourning for victims of war. In a speech to Germany’s parliament, he said Europe must not “become a plaything of great powers”. Mr Macron wants a more integrated EU, with a joint eurozone budget. He also wants Germany’s backing for a European Army, which he has said would reduce the bloc’s dependence on the US, and a new tax on internet tech giants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed tentative support for some of these ideas, but others are controversial in Berlin. The French leader spoke of nationalist forces “with no memory”, and urged progressive forces to unite in an uncertain world. “There are too many powers that wish to thwart us, that interfere in our public debates, attack our liberal democracies and are trying to pit us against each other,” he said. “And in this global order, which we have to take very seriously, our strength – our true strength – lies in unity.” The French president acknowledged that unity could be “scary,” and would mean nations pooling their funds and decision-making – but then asked: “Is it better to remain locked at a standstill?”

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CoCos.

The Eurozone Banks’ Trillion Timebomb (Lacalle)

Disappointing earnings, rising risk in the eurozone as well as in their diversification markets such as emerging economies, weak net income margins and low return on tangible equity are factors that have contributed to the weak performance of European banks. Investors are rightly suspicious about consensus estimates for 2019 with expectations of double-digit EPS growth rates. Those growth rates look impossible in the current macroeconomic scenario. Eurozone banks have done a good job of strengthening their capital structure, reaching almost a one per cent per annum increase in Tier 1 core capital. The question is whether this improvement is enough.

Two factors weigh on sentiment: • More than EUR104 billion of risky “hybrid bonds” (CoCos) are included in the calculation of core capital • The total volume of Non-Performing Loans across the European Union is still at around EUR 900 billion, well above pre-crisis levels, with a provision ratio of only 50.7%, according to the European Commission. Although the ratio has declined to 4.4%, down by roughly 1 percentage point year-on-year, the absolute figure remains elevated and the provision ratio is too small. This is what I call the “one trillion eurozone timebomb”. One trillion euro risk when the MSCI Europe Bank index has a total market capitalization of around EUR790 billion.

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This doesn’t rhyme with the acid.

Turkey Says Khashoggi Killers May Have Taken Body Parts Out Of Country (R.)

The killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have taken his dismembered body out of Turkey in luggage, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying by broadcaster CNN Turk on Sunday. [..] Speaking at a panel as part of an international conference in Halifax, Canada, Akar said Khashoggi’s killers may have taken the journalist’s body parts out of Turkey in luggage. “One probability is that they left the country three to four hours after committing the murder. They may have taken out Khashoggi’s dismembered corpse inside luggage without facing problems due to their diplomatic immunity,” CNN Turk cited Akar as saying. .

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“..the Sacklers wholly own Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma..”

Sackler Family Face Mass Litigation, Criminal Investigations Over Opioids (G.)

Members of the multi-billionaire philanthropic Sackler family that owns the maker of prescription painkiller OxyContin are facing mass litigation and likely criminal investigation over the opioids crisis still ravaging America. Some of the Sacklers wholly own Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, the company that created and sells the legal narcotic OxyContin, a drug at the center of the opioid epidemic that now kills almost 200 people a day across the US. Suffolk county in Long Island, New York, recently sued several family members personally over the overdose deaths and painkiller addiction blighting local communities. Now lawyers warn that action will be a catalyst for hundreds of other US cities, counties and states to follow suit.

At the same time, prosecutors in Connecticut and New York are understood to be considering criminal fraud and racketeering charges against leading family members over the way OxyContin has allegedly been dangerously over-prescribed and deceptively marketed to doctors and the public over the years, legal sources told the Guardian last week. “This is essentially a crime family … drug dealers in nice suits and dresses,” said Paul Hanly, a New York city lawyer who represents Suffolk county and is also a lead attorney in a huge civil action playing out in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, involving opioid manufacturers and distributors.

[..] The Sackler name is prominently attached to prestigious cultural and academic institutions that have accepted millions donated by the family in the US and the UK. It is now inscribed on a lawsuit alleging members of the family “actively participated in conspiracy and fraud to portray the prescription painkiller as non-addictive, even though they knew it was dangerously addictive”

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The waste will move to poorer countries. Because imagine we’d produce less of it…

China Expands Ban On Waste Imports (AFP)

China will expand its ban on imports of solid waste, local media reported Monday, almost a year after its first curbs caused havoc in countries that sent their rubbish to the Asian giant. The regulatory action — which expands the prohibition to 32 categories of solid waste from the 24 banned last year — will go into effect from December 31, according to official news agency Xinhua, citing four Chinese government agencies. Newly banned product types include hardware, ships, auto parts, stainless steel waste and scrap, titanium and wood, Xinhua said. The initial ban caused worldwide problems as recyclers were cut off from their main market for waste material.

Globally, since 1992, 72 percent of plastic waste has ended up in China and Hong Kong, according to a study in the journal Science Advances. China bought up more than half of the scrap materials exported by the US last year — but that proportion has been falling with Beijing’s regulatory moves cutting down the types of waste Chinese companies could buy. China says the policy changes are in line with a new push to protect the environment. They suggest Beijing no longer wants to be the world’s trash can, or even its recycle bin. [..] Global plastic exports to China were forecast to fall from 7.4 million tonnes in 2016 to 1.5 million tonnes in 2018, while paper exports might tumble nearly a quarter, according to one researcher.

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It’s easy to ridicule Pamela Anderson as just a pair of boobs. So that’s what Australia’s PM does. That’s how Aussie politics works.

Letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia (Pamela Anderson)

Dear Prime Minister Morrison, Your comments following my appeal to you on 60 Minutes were disappointing. You trivialized and laughed about the suffering of an Australian and his family. You followed it with smutty, unnecessary comments about a woman voicing her political opinion. We all deserve better from our leaders, especially in the current environment. Following the show, 60 Minutes canvassed the views of Australians online. People responded in their thousands, overwhelmingly – 92% of more than 7000 – in favour of bringing Julian home. Rather than making lewd suggestions about me, perhaps you should instead think about what you are going to say to millions of Australians when one of their own is marched in an orange jumpsuit to Guantanamo Bay – for publishing the truth. You can prevent this.

Julian Assange will soon face his Seventh Christmas isolated from family and friends, after 8 years of detention without charge. For six years he has been refused any access to fresh air, sunshine, exercise, or proper medical or dental care. In February 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) stated that his detention was unlawful. For the past seven months Mr. Assange has been denied the right to receive visitors, use internet or telecommunications. This Australian is not getting a fair go; his human rights are being openly violated. I am hopeful Australia now has a leader with strength and conviction enough to bring him home. Australia and the world are watching how you treat your citizen, your publisher, in dire need of help from his own government.

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Nov 082018
 
 November 8, 2018  Posted by at 10:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Juan-Les-Pins 1920

 

White House Pulls CNN’s Jim Acosta’s Media Credentials (ZH)
Will Mueller Use “Constructive Discharge” To Challenge Sessions Replacement?
Big Investors Sue 16 Banks In US Over Currency Market Rigging (R.)
The United States Is Going Broke (Rickards)
Japan Machinery Orders Hit By Worst-Ever Slump In September (R.)
China October Exports Surprisingly Strong In Race To Beat US Tariffs (R.)
EU’s Vestager Says Probe Into Google AdSense Case Nearing End (R.)
Italy’s Enria Wins Race To Head ECB Banking Watchdog (R.)
The Making of an Opioid Epidemic (G.)
EU Backtracks On Total Ivory Ban (Ind.)

 

 

I could use any report about what happened yesterday, I’ll stick with Tyler Durden. Because everything I read from major news outlets is about freedom of the press being violated by Trump and his staff. I saw the press conference, and that was not my impression. After Jim Acosta has asked multiple questions, in antagonistic fashion, Trump said it was enough. Then Acosta tried to turn it into the Jim Acosta show.

Access to a president’s press-ops does not mean permission to be obnoxious, nor does it mean a journalist gets to set the rules, which the president would then have to abide by. You’ve had multiple questions, there are dozens of other reporters, that’s it for you. Refusing to hand over the mic at that point means denying your peers their own freedom of the press. Also of course, there’s history here: Acosta and CNN have been hounding Trump for over 2 years now. Not objectively, not impartial, but with an agenda. And now they get to play the victims again.

White House Pulls CNN’s Jim Acosta’s Media Credentials (ZH)

Following the disturbing behavior in this morning’s White House press conference, when a journalist from CNN refused to hand his mic back to a White House aide… White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders announced that CNN’s Jim Acosta has had his media credentials pulled: “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern… This conduct is absolutely unacceptable. It is also completely disrespectful to the reporter’s colleagues not to allow them an opportunity to ask a question. President Trump has given the press more access than any President in history. ”

Sanders continued: “Contrary to CNN’s assertions there is no greater demonstration of the President’s support for a free press than the event he held today. Only they would attack the President for not supporting a free press in the midst of him taking 68 questions from 35 different reporters over the course of 1.5 hours including several from the reporter in question. The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it‘s an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women, who work in this Administration. As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice.”

While some have questioned whether he “acosta’d her”, the CNN reporter has just confirmed it via tweet… “I’ve just been denied entrance to the WH. Secret Service just informed me I cannot enter the WH grounds for my 8pm hit” Shortly after the press briefing debacle, Rawstory reports that CNN President Jeff Zucker attempted to rally the network’s reporters… “I want you to know that we have your backs,” Zucker said a memo to employees that was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “That this organization believes fiercely in the protections granted to us by the First Amendment, and we will defend them, and you, vigorously, every time.” Although not even CNN probably expected this level of escalation. Which is why we wonder, how long before a) the rest of the press corps boycotts the White House briefings, and b) the hashtag #BringBackAcosta starts trending?

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Funny, I was doing a podcast with Jim Kunstler yesterday, and as soon as we finished there were the Acosta and Sessions events (would have been prominent material in our conversation). The Sessions firing was obvious well before the midterms. Whatever you think of it, Sessions left Trump in a hole when he first accepted the AG job and recused himself in the Mueller files right after. A dependable AG is crucial for any president, and even more for Trump, who’s been under investigation(s) from day one. There’s an assumption that Mueller will now be fired, but everyone understands that can only be done with solid reasoning. That the Mueller investigation should be wrapped up is clear to everyone except those who like it hanging over Trump’s head.

Will Mueller Use “Constructive Discharge” To Challenge Sessions Replacement?

Special Counsel Robert Mueller could use a legal concept known as “constructive discharge” to challenge the appointment of Matt Whitaker, the acting Attorney General, by arguing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out as opposed to voluntarily leaving, reports Bloomberg, citing a former federal prosecutor. “Mueller could argue in court that Trump effectively fired Sessions after months of verbal abuse, a legal concept known as a constructive discharge, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Trump can appoint an acting official without Senate confirmation if he replaces someone who has been incapacitated or resigned. It doesn’t apply if the previous official was fired.”-Bloomberg

Whitaker was appointed to run the DOJ after Sessions submitted his resignation Wednesday at Trump’s request. While Sessions had recused himself from the Trump-Russia probe, Whitaker will now control oversight of the investigation – a duty which has fallen on the shoulders of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – despite the fact that he himself was involved in the FISA warrant process to spy on the Trump campaign. Sessions’ resignation letter begins with “At your request,” making it unambiguous that Trump fired him. “The question is whether he was constructively fired, which means he didn’t resign from his post,” Mariotti said. “I don’t know the answer as to how the courts would view that.”

Challenging Whitaker’s appointment “could be Mueller himself,” said Mariotti, adding “That would be one obvious person.” “Legal experts agree it would be difficult to remove Whitaker from a post he can hold for seven months under the law. He can’t be appointed permanently, and Trump said he would appoint someone at a later date.” -Bloomberg “It’s not clear whether a firing would allow Trump to appoint him as an interim,” said former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade, who teaches law at the University of Michigan. If Sessions voluntarily resigned, “it’s permissible for Trump to make this interim appointment.”

“I don’t see any reason why Whitaker would not be the one to supervise the Mueller investigation and take it out of the hands of Rod Rosenstein,” she added. Rosenstein appeared at the White House on Wednesday for a previously unscheduled appointment. Meanwhile, Bloomberg notes that special counsels can be removed under the law for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause.” Whitaker is on record saying that if Mueller investigates the Trump family finances beyond anything to do with Russia, “that goes beyond the scope of the special counsel.”

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“..allegedly done through chat rooms with such names as “The Cartel,” “The Mafia” and “The Bandits’ Club,” through tactics with such names as “front running,” “banging the close,” “painting the screen” and “taking out the filth.”

Big Investors Sue 16 Banks In US Over Currency Market Rigging (R.)

A group of large institutional investors including BlackRock and Allianz’s Pacific Investment Management Co has sued 16 major banks, accusing them of rigging prices in the roughly $5.1 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by plaintiffs that decided to “opt out” of similar nationwide litigation that has resulted in $2.31 billion (£1.76 billion) of settlements with 15 of the banks. Those settlements followed worldwide regulatory probes that have led to more than $10 billion of fines for several banks, and the convictions or indictments of some traders. The banks being sued are: Bank of America, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Japan’s MUFG Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Scotland, Societe Generale, Standard Chartered and UBS.

Investors typically opt out of litigation when they hope to recover more by suing on their own. The plaintiffs in Wednesday’s lawsuit accused the banks of violating U.S. antitrust law by conspiring from 2003 to 2013 to rig currency benchmarks including the WM/Reuters Closing Rates for their own benefit by sharing confidential orders and trading positions. This manipulation was allegedly done through chat rooms with such names as “The Cartel,” “The Mafia” and “The Bandits’ Club,” through tactics with such names as “front running,” “banging the close,” “painting the screen” and “taking out the filth.” “By colluding to manipulate FX prices, benchmarks, and bid/ask spreads, defendants restrained trade, decreased competition, and artificially increased prices, thereby injuring plaintiffs,” the 221-page complaint said.

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What can be done with gold.

The United States Is Going Broke (Rickards)

The Fed could actually cause inflation in about 15 minutes if it used it. How? The Fed can call a board meeting, vote on a new policy, walk outside and announce to the world that effective immediately, the price of gold is $5,000 per ounce. They could make that new price stick by using the Treasury’s gold in Fort Knox and the major U.S. bank gold dealers to conduct “open market operations” in gold. They will be a buyer if the price hits $4,950 per ounce or less and a seller if the price hits $5,050 per ounce or higher. They will print money when they buy and reduce the money supply when they sell via the banks. The Fed would target the gold price rather than interest rates.

The point is to cause a generalized increase in the price level. A rise in the price of gold from today’s roughly $1,230 per ounce to $5,000 per ounce is a massive devaluation of the dollar when measured in the quantity of gold that one dollar can buy. There it is — massive inflation in 15 minutes: the time it takes to vote on the new policy.

Don’t think this is possible? It’s happened in the U.S. twice in the past 80 years. The first time was in 1933 when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered an increase in the gold price from $20.67 per ounce to $35.00 per ounce, nearly a 75% rise in the dollar price of gold. He did this to break the deflation of the Great Depression, and it worked. The economy grew strongly from 1934-36. The second time was in the 1970s when Nixon ended the conversion of dollars into gold by U.S. trading partners. Nixon did not want inflation, but he got it. Gold went from $35 per ounce to $800 per ounce in less than nine years, a 2,200% increase. U.S. dollar inflation was over 50% from 1977-1981. The value of the dollar was cut in half in those five years.

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Abenomics keeps on giving…

Japan Machinery Orders Hit By Worst-Ever Slump In September (R.)

Japan’s core machinery orders tumbled by the most on record in September after a severe earthquake and typhoons disrupted business activity, with economists now also worried about a fall in overseas orders. The 18.3 percent slump in machinery orders far outpaced the median market estimate for a 10.0 percent decline and follows a 6.8 percent increase in August. September’s 12.5 percent decline in overseas machinery orders, the biggest such fall in more than two years, could signal sustained weakness in export demand. Japan’s economy is forecast to contract in July-September, and the machinery orders slump suggests any rebound in the following quarters is likely to be weak if exports and business investment lose momentum.

Manufacturers surveyed by the government expect core machinery orders to rise 3.6 percent in October-December after a 0.9 percent increase in July-September, but some economists worry this forecast is overly optimistic. “I was already expecting capital expenditure to be weak in July-September, but the fall in overseas orders makes me worried about demand from China,” said Hiroaki Muto, economist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. “Japan’s economy will resume expansion from the fourth quarter, but I’m worried the pace of growth will wane.”

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Watch the rest of the year.

China October Exports Surprisingly Strong In Race To Beat US Tariffs (R.)

China reported much stronger-than-expected exports for October as shippers rushed goods to the United States, its biggest trading partner, racing to beat higher tariff rates due to kick in at the start of next year. Import growth also defied forecasts for a slowdown, suggesting Beijing’s growth-boosting measures to support the cooling economy may be slowly starting to make themselves felt. The upbeat trade readings from China offer good news for both those worried about global demand and for the country’s policymakers after the economy logged its weakest growth since the global financial crisis in the third quarter. October was the first full month after the latest U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect on Sept. 24, in a significant escalation in the tit-for-tat trade battle.

But analysts continue to warn of the risk of a sharp drop in U.S. demand for Chinese goods early in 2019, with all eyes now on whether presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping can make any breakthroughs on trade when they meet later this month. China’s exports rose 15.6 percent last month from a year earlier, customs data showed on Thursday, picking up from September’s 14.5 percent and beating analysts’ forecasts for a modest slowdown to 11 percent. “The strong export growth in October was buoyed by front-loading activities by exporters…,” said Iris Pang, Greater China Economist at ING in Hong Kong, noting the month is traditionally quieter due to long holidays. “We expect exports to remain strong towards the end of the year as businesses are afraid of a failure in the Trump-Xi meeting, which could lead to broader tariffs on more Chinese goods from the U.S.” Pang said.

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The edge of monoply.

EU’s Vestager Says Probe Into Google AdSense Case Nearing End (R.)

EU regulators are close to wrapping up their third case against Alphabet unit Google involving its AdSense advertising service, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday, suggesting the company may soon be hit with another hefty fine. The comments by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager come four months after she levied a record 4.34 billion euro ($5 billion) fine against Google for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals. That followed a 2.4 billion euro fine imposed on the company last year after it thwarted rivals of shopping comparison websites. The European Commission in 2016 opened a third case when it accused Google of preventing third parties using its AdSense product from displaying search advertisements from Google’s competitors. Vestager can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU rules.

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Europe’s finances in all Italian hands.

Italy’s Enria Wins Race To Head ECB Banking Watchdog (R.)

Italian Andrea Enria was picked on Wednesday to head the European Central Bank’s supervisory arm, overseeing a bloated, 21 trillion euro banking sector still troubled by a legacy of bad debt from the euro zone’s financial crisis. Defeating Ireland’s Sharon Donnery in a hotly-contested run-off, Enria will now head the Single Supervisory Mechanism, covering the euro zone’s 118 top lenders, with many still reeling from the last recession and facing new challenges from hacking to fintech. The ECB’s Governing Council selected Enria in a secret ballot, and his appointment must now be approved by the full European Parliament and relevant ministers.

Enria, who has chaired the London-based European Banking Authority since 2011, has played a major role in shaping the European Union’s new financial rulebook in the aftermath of the crisis. A former supervisor at the Bank of Italy and the ECB, he is viewed as politically neutral and ruffled some feathers at home for what was seen as an overly tough stance on unpaid bank loans and credit to small companies. “If approved by the Parliament and confirmed by the Council of the European Union, Mr Enria will succeed Danièle Nouy as Chair of the Supervisory Board on 1 January 2019,” the ECB said in a statement.

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Long read. The origins are curious. And extremely misguided. How can you deny that opium is addictive after seeing Britain’s opium trade laying siege to large swaths of China?

“One theory, promoted by Dr David Haddox, was that patients genuinely experiencing pain could not become addicted to opioids because the pain neutralised the euphoria caused by the narcotic…”

The Making of an Opioid Epidemic (G.)

Jane Ballantyne was, at one time, a true believer. The British-born doctor, who trained as an anaesthetist on the NHS before her appointment to head the pain department at Harvard and its associated hospital, drank up the promise of opioid painkillers – drugs such as morphine and methadone – in the late 1990s. Ballantyne listened to the evangelists among her colleagues who painted the drugs as magic bullets against the scourge of chronic pain blighting millions of American lives. Doctors such as Russell Portenoy at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York saw how effective morphine was in easing the pain of dying cancer patients thanks to the hospice movement that came out of the UK in the 1970s.

Why, the new thinking went, could the same opioids not be made to work for people grappling with the physical and mental toll of debilitating pain from arthritis, wrecked knees and bodies worn out by physically demanding jobs? As Portenoy saw it, opiates were effective painkillers through most of recorded history and it was only outdated fears about addiction that prevented the drugs still playing that role. Opioids were languishing from the legacy of an earlier epidemic that prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to appoint the US’s first opium commissioner, Dr Hamilton Wright, in 1908. Portenoy wanted to liberate them from this taint. Wright described Americans as “the greatest drug fiends in the world”, and opium and morphine as a “national curse”. After that the medical profession treated opioid pain relief with what Portenoy and his colleagues regarded as unwarranted fear, stigmatising a valuable medicine.

These new evangelists painted a picture of a nation awash in chronic pain that could be relieved if only the medical profession would overcome its prejudices. They constructed a web of claims they said were rooted in science to back their case, including an assertion that the risk of addiction from narcotic painkillers was “less than 1%” and that dosages could be increased without limit until the pain was overcome. But the evidence was, at best, thin and in time would not stand up to detailed scrutiny. One theory, promoted by Dr David Haddox, was that patients genuinely experiencing pain could not become addicted to opioids because the pain neutralised the euphoria caused by the narcotic. He said that what looked to prescribing doctors like a patient hooked on the drug was “pseudo-addiction”.

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Guess where most of the world’s ivory is traded? It’s very clear what Europeans want, but Brussels again simply slips them the finger.

EU Backtracks On Total Ivory Ban (Ind.)

Politicians and campaigners have expressed dismay that the European Union (EU) appears to be holding back on further restrictions on the continent’s ivory trade, despite enormous global pressure. Europe is the largest domestic market for ivory products in the world and research has demonstrated that illegally poached ivory often makes its way into the legal market. In 2017, the European Commission banned the export of raw ivory, but many still think the only way to make a dent in demand for products made of the material is to ban the domestic trade entirely. China, the US and the UK have already moved to halt such trade in an effort to make elephants a less lucrative target for poachers and to stamp out the corruption and organised crime the trade supports.

Despite the backing of African leaders and scores of European politicians, a new report outlining efforts to curb wildlife trafficking in Europe has removed a pledge to further restrict the trade. [..] Besides the consultation respondents calling for tougher rules, 32 African nations have joined together in calling for an EU-wide ban, including a complete shutdown of the domestic market. Further support has come from over 100 MEPs who wrote to the environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in July urging a total ban. Responding to the discrepancy between different versions of the report, chair of interest group MEPs for Wildlife, Catherine Bearder said: “The EU is a major transit point for illegal wildlife products being shipped to the Far East and other global destinations. Elephants are being pushed to the brink of extinction and for what? For useless trinkets the world doesn’t need.”

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Jun 272018
 
 June 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Édouard Vuillard In bed 1891

 

Judge Orders Families Reunited Within 30 Days (AP)
17 US States Sue Trump Administration Over Family Separation (Ind.)
Democrats See Major Upset As Socialist Beats Top-Ranking US Congressman (G.)
How Long Can The Federal Reserve Stave Off the Inevitable? — PCR
Market Drop Prompts Trump To Offer China A Trade War “Olive Branch” (ZH)
US Asset Prices Divorced From Economic Reality More Than Ever (GMM)
IMF Sounds The Alarm Over Junk Bonds (ZH)
France And Germany Will Block May’s Single Market Plan, Says Spain (G.)
Merkel Calls For Direct Deals Between Countries To Fix Migration Crisis (R.)
Misuse Of Opioids Is A ‘Global Epidemic’ -UN (G.)
One Football Pitch Of Forest Lost Every Second In 2017 (G.)
‘There Is No Oak Left’: Are Britain’s Trees Disappearing? (G.)
‘Green Gold’: Pakistan Plants Hundreds Of Millions Of Trees (AFP)

 

 

Reason. The mother and child reunion is only a motion away.

Judge Orders Families Reunited Within 30 Days (AP)

A judge in California has ordered U.S. border authorities to reunite separated families within 30 days. If the children are younger than 5, they must be reunified within 14 days of the order, issued Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego issued the order in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. The lawsuit involves a 7-year-old girl who was separated from her Congolese mother and a 14-year-old boy who was separated from his Brazilian mother.

Sabraw also issued a nationwide injunction on future family separations, unless the parent is deemed unfit. More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in recent weeks and placed in government-contracted shelters. President Donald Trump last week issued an executive order to stop the separation of families and said parents and children will instead be detained together.

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The ruling above seems to cover this?

17 US States Sue Trump Administration Over Family Separation (Ind.)

Seventeen US states and Washington DC are suing Donald Trump’s administration over its family separation policy at the US border. The lawsuit was filed by 18 Democratic Attorneys General and attempts to force the administration to reunite the approximately 2,000 separated children with their families. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that the policy to detain children away from parents was a “heartless political manoeuvre”. Though Mr Trump signed an executive order last week declaring that families would no longer be separated upon illegal entry into the US, the lawsuit stated the executive order is “so vague and equivocal that it is unclear when or if any changes will actually be made”.

The order did not reverse or end the underlying “zero tolerance” policy announced by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not ended. Families can also now be indefinitely detained and the policy still makes seeking asylum in the US a crime. Per US immigration law, people wanting the protected status must enter the US before applying for it. It stated that “family unity” will be maintained “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources”. “Child internment camps in America…the Trump Administration has hit a new low. President Trump’s indifference towards the human rights of the children and parents who have been ripped away from one another is chilling,” Mr Becerra said.

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The choice of headlines I’ve seen for this looks weird. Someone tweeted a list of corporations that donate to Crowley. Needed a dozen tweets to cover them. Ocasio beat the system. But watch out: the system has now woken up. They never expected to lose. The big guns will now step in. Next up: Cynthia Nixon vs Cuomo. If she can pull that off, we’re in business.

Democrats See Major Upset As Socialist Beats Top-Ranking US Congressman (G.)

Joe Crowley, a 10-term Democrat pegged as his party’s next leader in Congress, lost his party’s New York congressional primary to a 28-year-old socialist, in one of the biggest upsets in recent American political history. With 98% reporting, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had 57.5% and Crowley had 42.5%, in a majority minority district that included parts of Queens and the Bronx Ocasio-Cortez, a Puerto-Rican American and former Bernie Sanders volunteer, defeated Crowley in his re-election bid Tuesday night, after hitting the incumbent on his ties to Wall Street and accusing him of being out of touch with his increasingly diverse district.

Crowley, head of the Queens county Democratic party and the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, was considered to be Nancy Pelosi’s likely successor as House speaker if she stepped down. [..] Ocasio-Cortez ran a grassroots campaign and made a surprise visit to the Mexican border on the eve of the election to emphasize her call to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). In contrast, Crowley was unwilling to go that far, simply calling the agency “fascist”.

Crowley had expressed confidence about the race in private conversations and as one national Democratic strategist told the Guardian: “The Crowley team did not raise red flags or ask allies for help with his primary.” Prior to 2018, Crowley had not even faced a primary since 2004, years before his opponent was even eligible to vote. He had raised over $3m for his campaign, 10 times the amount his opponent had.

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Tariffs on US companies?

How Long Can The Federal Reserve Stave Off the Inevitable? — PCR

When are America’s global corporations and Wall Street going to sit down with President Trump and explain to him that his trade war is not with China but with them? The biggest chunk of America’s trade deficit with China is the offshored production of America’s global corporations. When the corporations bring the products that they produce in China to the US consumer market, the products are classified as imports from China. Six years ago when I was writing The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, I concluded on the evidence that half of US imports from China consist of the offshored production of US corporations. Offshoring is a substantial benefit to US corporations because of much lower labor and compliance costs.

Profits, executive bonuses, and shareholders’ capital gains receive a large boost from offshoring. The costs of these benefits for a few fall on the many—the former American employees who formerly had a middle class income and expectations for their children. In my book, I cited evidence that during the first decade of the 21st century “the US lost 54,621 factories, and manufacturing employment fell by 5 million employees. Over the decade, the number of larger factories (those employing 1,000 or more employees) declined by 40 percent. US factories employing 500-1,000 workers declined by 44 percent; those employing between 250-500 workers declined by 37 percent, and those employing between 100-250 workers shrunk by 30 percent.

These losses are net of new start-ups. Not all the losses are due to offshoring. Some are the result of business failures” (p. 100). In other words, to put it in the most simple and clear terms, millions of Americans lost their middle class jobs not because China played unfairly, but because American corporations betrayed the American people and exported their jobs. “Making America great again” means dealing with these corporations, not with China. When Trump learns this, assuming anyone will tell him, will he back off China and take on the American global corporations?

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Mnuchin wants less agressive policies.

Market Drop Prompts Trump To Offer China A Trade War “Olive Branch” (ZH)

One day after the market tanked followed media reports that the Trump administration would pursue new initiatives to limit Chinese investments in US tech industries, on Tuesday the president suggested that he will ease off demands for such new restrictions, and will rely instead on a 1988 law being updated by Congress that authorizes the government to review foreign investments for national security problems. Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said that “we have the greatest technology in the world, people come and steal it. We have to protect that and that can be done through CFIUS,” or the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which traditionally has screened foreign investments to see whether they endanger national security.

Trump also said that the recent WSJ article reporting that the administration was planning two further initiatives, in addition to CFIUS, to prevent Beijing from obtaining advanced U.S. technology, “a bad leak…probably just made up.” Why is this stated policy important? Because according to the WSJ it would represent a potential “olive branch” for Trump in the escalating trade war with China, and a signal that the US is willing to break the tit-for-tat escalation: If Mr. Trump’s decision holds through June 30, when the new policies are scheduled to be announced, it would represent a significant backing away from threats the president has made against China and a possible olive branch to Beijing before the July 6 impositon of tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods.

Meanwhile, lawmakers who have worked on a CFIUS reform bill have also been arguing in administration meetings that additional investment restrictions weren’t necessary given changes being made to CFIUS. Separately, the report notes that relying mainly on CFIUS — if that is the final decision — would be a big victory for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and others who have tried to tamp down the burgeoning trade battle with China.

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Obese tails.

US Asset Prices Divorced From Economic Reality More Than Ever (GMM)

You would never know it listening to the market cheerleaders but asset prices, both real and financial, are, once again, at extreme valuation levels relative to the trend economy. The valuation reality coupled with the prevailing, but false, “don’t worry” market narrative sets us up for another major financial crisis. A third major crisis in 20 years? These are only supposed to happen once in every 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 years, so say the rocket scientists. Blame it on fat obese tails. The chart below illustrates that household net worth, as measured by real and financial assets minus liabilities, which just hit a record high at around $102 trillion, is, once again, totally divorced from the economy.

Note that one of the reasons why the highest level U.S. policymakers missed the last financial crisis is because they were too focused on this indicator, which also hit a record high in Q3 2007. They failed, or chose not to see, the massive leverage as the root cause driving up assets prices. Their error was twofold: 1) not fully recognizing or believing the risk of asymmetric mark-to-market, where asset prices are variable, while liabilities remain fixed, and 2) not understanding the economy had morphed into a giant asset-driven feedback loop, where the wealth effect drives growth (both consumption and investment confidence), which drives asset prices, which drives the wealth effect. Wash, rinse, repeat.

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Well, how timely.

IMF Sounds The Alarm Over Junk Bonds (ZH)

Ever since the start of 2018, an odd divergence has emerged in credit markets, where Investment Grade bonds have seen their spreads leak progressively wider, hitting levels not seen in 2 years, while the bid for higher yielding, and much more risky, junk bond debt has been seemingly relentless, with high yield spreads near all time lows. To be sure, many reasons have been offered, with Bank of America suggesting that IG weakness is “due to supply pressures in an environment of reduced demand that began in March and extended through last week, plus the Italian situation, which is about systemic risks running through the global IG financial system.”

Meanwhile, it believes the strength in HY is mostly due to the lack of supply of higher yielding paper. Whatever the suggested reasons, however, the underlying causes are two: an environment of artificially low interest rates created by central banks, and unyielding, pardon the pun, investor euphoria. In other words: a multi-year credit boom. And while the Fed’s “macroprudential regulation team” appears to have zero problems with what is going on in the world of junk bonds, the IMF has sounded the alarm on the troubling developments in junk bond land in particular, and capital markets in general.

In its The Chart of the Week, the IMF Blog shows the impact of a bad credit boom – one which the fund defines as followed by slower economic growth or even a recession – on economic growth in the years that follow. But first, it ask a basic question: what makes for a bad boom? The IMF’s answer: it is fueled by excessive optimism among investors. When the economy is doing well and everybody seems to be making money, some investors assume that the good times will never end. They take on more risk than they can reasonably expect to handle.

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Really, guys, you should send her packing. The damage accelerates.

France And Germany Will Block May’s Single Market Plan, Says Spain (G.)

Theresa May’s plan to protect British industry by keeping the UK in a single market for goods without respecting the free movement of people after Brexit will be rejected by an “angry” France and Germany, despite some sympathy within the EU to Downing Street’s cause, Spain’s foreign minister has said. The new Spanish government would also block such a political fix, Josep Borrell told the Guardian, ahead of both a summit of leaders in Brussels and a summer tour by the prime minister of EU capitals during which May hopes to convince leaders of her economic case. Of those member states who might see value in a deal on single market access for goods without free movement, Borrell said: “They will not win the battle. They have not enough power. Germany will say no, France will say no, Spain will say no.”

The government has been rocked by a series of warnings from industry, from Airbus to BMW, that companies will move out of the UK unless preferential access to the single market can be secured in the negotiations. Ministers have openly squabbled over how seriously they should take the threats. The business secretary, Greg Clark, urged his cabinet colleagues to “listen with respect” and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, called Airbus’s warnings “completely inappropriate”. The prime minister is expected to publish a white paper on the UK’s vision of the future relationship, including a proposal for regulatory alignment on goods, for the benefit of UK industry and European-wide supply chains, shortly after a meeting of the cabinet at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, on 6 July.

UBS survey of 600 companies spells out Brexit “dividend”:
– 35% of companies plan to reduce UK investment post-Brexit
– 41% plan to move a large amount of capacity out of UK
– 42% plan to shift capacity to euro zone

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Too late. No unity.

Merkel Calls For Direct Deals Between Countries To Fix Migration Crisis (R.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she will seek direct deals with separate EU states on migration, conceding the bloc had so far failed to find a joint solution to the issue threatening her government. Sixteen EU leaders met for emergency talks in Brussels hoping to get a deal for the full summit of all 28 states on 28 to 29 June. Ms Merkel said the meeting produced “a lot of goodwill” to resolve differences, but was clear smaller agreements may produce better results. “There will be bilateral and trilateral agreements, how can we help each other, not always wait for all 28 members,” she said.

Since Mediterranean arrivals spiked in 2015, when more than a million refugees and migrants reached the bloc, EU leaders have been at odds over how to handle them. The feud has weakened their unity and undermined Europe’s Schengen free-travel area. Wealthy Germany is where the newly-arrived mostly end up and Merkel is under pressure to curb the numbers. Her coalition partner is pushing for firmer action that could break her government. The talks were “frank and open,” but “we don’t have any concrete consequences or conclusions,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said. French President Emmanuel Macron offered his backing for Ms Merkel’s proposal , saying the solution should be “European” but it could just be several states together.

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But the profits!

Misuse Of Opioids Is A ‘Global Epidemic’ -UN (G.)

The misuse of pharmaceutical opioids is fast becoming a “global epidemic”, with the largest quantities being seized in African countries for the second year in a row, according to a UN report. While huge attention has been paid to the opioid crisis in the US – where the misuse of prescription drugs like fentanyl dominates – figures released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has revealed seizures in Africa of opioids now account for 87% of the global total. Unlike in the US, the seizures – concentrated in west, central and north Africa – have largely consisted of the drug tramadol, followed by codeine.

The figures were disclosed in the latest UN world drug report, which noted that opioids were the most harmful global drug trend, accounting for 76% of deaths where drug-use disorders were implicated. The report said that while fentanyl and its analogues remain a problem in North America, tramadol – used to treat moderate and moderate-to-severe pain – has become a growing concern in parts of Africa and Asia. The report added that the global seizure of pharmaceutical opioids in 2016 was 87 tonnes, roughly the same as the quantities of heroin impounded that year.

The figures on pharmaceutical opioids were rivalled by global cocaine manufacture, which the agency said had reached the highest level ever reported in 2016, with an estimated 1,410 tonnes produced. Most of the world’s cocaine comes from Colombia, but the report also showed Africa and Asia emerging as cocaine trafficking and consumption hubs. From 2016-17, global opium production also jumped by 65% to 10,500 tonnes, the highest estimate recorded by the agency since it started monitoring global opium production nearly 20 years ago.

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They convert greenhouse gases into oxygen.

One Football Pitch Of Forest Lost Every Second In 2017 (G.)

The world lost more than one football pitch of forest every second in 2017, according to new data from a global satellite survey, adding up to an area equivalent to the whole of Italy over the year. The scale of tree destruction, much of it done illegally, poses a grave threat to tackling both climate change and the massive global decline in wildlife. The loss in 2017 recorded by Global Forest Watch was 29.4m hectares, the second highest recorded since the monitoring began in 2001. Global tree cover losses have doubled since 2003, while deforestation in crucial tropical rainforest has doubled since 2008. A falling trend in Brazil has been reversed amid political instability and forest destruction has soared in Colombia.

In other key nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast forests suffered record losses. However, in Indonesia, deforestation dropped 60% in 2017, helped by fewer forest fires and government action. Forest losses are a huge contributor to the carbon emissions driving global warming, about the same as total emissions from the US, which is the world’s second biggest polluter. Deforestation destroys wildlife habitat and is a key reason for populations of wildlife having plunged by half in the last 40 years, starting a sixth mass extinction.

“The main reason tropical forests are disappearing is not a mystery – vast areas continue to be cleared for soy, beef, palm oil, timber, and other globally traded commodities,” said Frances Seymour at the World Resources Institute, which produces Global Forest Watch with its partners. “Much of this clearing is illegal and linked to corruption.” Just 2% of the funding for climate action goes towards forest and land protection, Seymour said, despite the protection of forests having the potential to provide a third of the global emissions cuts needed by 2030. “This is truly an urgent issue that should be getting more attention,” she said. “We are trying to put out a house fire with a teaspoon.”

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No, trees are not an industrial resource. They are so much more.

‘There Is No Oak Left’: Are Britain’s Trees Disappearing? (G.)

England is running out of oak. The last of the trees planted by the Victorians are now being harvested, and in the intervening century so few have been grown – and fewer still grown in the right conditions for making timber – that imports, mostly from the US and Europe, are the only answer. “We are now using the oaks our ancestors planted, and there has been no oak coming up to replace it,” says Mike Tustin, chartered forester at John Clegg and Co, the woodland arm of estate agents Strutt and Parker. “There is no oak left in England. There just is no more.” Earlier this month, the government appointed the first “tree champion”, who will spearhead its plans to grow 11 million new trees, and conserve existing forests and urban trees.

Sir William Worsley, currently chairman of the National Forest Company, has been given the task of overseeing trees in England and Wales, including England’s iconic national tree, and ensuring that trees are not felled unnecessarily. Worsley is a former chief of the Country Land and Business Association, which represents landowners and rural businesses. Trees were once fundamental to the British economy, from the days of Magna Carta, a large section of which concerned forestry rights, to the “Hearts of Oak” centuries of the empire-building Royal Navy, up to more recent times when millions of homes were needed, and the Forestry Commission was set up immediately after the First World War to grow the material to make them, while providing jobs for returning soldiers.

Today, forestry is a tiny business and only about 13% of the UK is covered in forest, a vast improvement on the 5% after the First World War, but far less than the European average of more than 30%.

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That’s the spirit.

‘Green Gold’: Pakistan Plants Hundreds Of Millions Of Trees (AFP)

The change is drastic: around the region of Heroshah, previously arid hills are now covered with forest as far as the horizon. In northwestern Pakistan, hundreds of millions of trees have been planted to fight deforestation. In 2015 and 2016 some 16,000 labourers planted more than 900,000 fast-growing eucalyptus trees at regular, geometric intervals in Heroshah – and the titanic task is just a fraction of the effort across the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “Before it was completely burnt land. Now they have green gold in their hands,” commented forest manager Pervaiz Manan as he displayed pictures of the site previously, when only sparse blades of tall grass interrupted the monotonous landscape.

The new trees will reinvigorate the area’s scenic beauty, act as a control against erosion, help mitigate climate change, decrease the chances of floods and increase the chances of precipitation, says Manan, who oversaw the revegetation of Heroshah. Residents also see them as an economic boost – which, officials hope, will deter them from cutting the new growth down to use as firewood in a region where electricity can be sparse. “Now our hills are useful, our fields became useful,” says driver Ajbir Shah. “It is a huge benefit for us.” Further north, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat, many of the high valleys were denuded by the Pakistani Taliban during their reign from 2006 to 2009.

Now they are covered in pine saplings. “You can’t walk without stepping on a seedling,” smiles Yusufa Khan, another forest department worker. The Heroshah and Swat plantations are part of the “Billion Tree Tsunami”, a provincial government programme that has seen a total of 300 million trees of 42 different species planted across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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Jun 072018
 


Ivan Aivazovsky Stormy Night at Sea 1850

 

Is Draghi Risking Everything To Teach Rome A Lesson? (ZH)
The Next Economic Crisis Begins in the European Union (Bruno)
David Stockman: Stocks Will Plunge 50% In This ‘Daredevil Market’ (CNBC)
Euro Recovers On Rising Bets ECB May Unwind Stimulus (R.)
Indonesia Joins India In Begging Fed To Stop Shrinking Its Balance Sheet (ZH)
Fed Clambers Back To Positive Real Rates, Now Debate Is When To Stop (R.)
Social Security To Tap Into Trust Fund For First Time In 36 Years (MW)
Opioids Are Responsible For 20% Of US Millennial Deaths (ZH)
The ‘Doomsday Brexit Plan’ Document Should Frighten Us All (TP)
Nearly 4 Million UK Adults Forced To Use Food Banks (Ind.)
How We Created The Anthropocene (BBC)

 

 

“..watch as the EUR and bond yields tumble, and the dollar resumes its relentless push higher.”

Is Draghi Risking Everything To Teach Rome A Lesson? (ZH)

[..] as Bloomberg’s Lisa Abramowicz said in a podcast today, it was the ECB “basically just giving the finger to Italy.” Confirming as much, Anne Mathias, Global Rates and FX strategist for Vanguard, responded that “part of the vocal nature of the ‘talking about the talking about’ [the end of QE] probably has something to do with Italy, especially as they’ve been paring their purchases of Italian debt. What the ECB is trying to say is hey, “this is our party, and you’re welcome to it, but if you’re going to leave it’s not going to be easy for you.” The ECB is trying to show Italy a future without the ECB as backstop.”

A spot-on follow up question from Pimm Fox asked if this is “a situation in which the ECB is cutting off its nose to spite its face, because you can stick to rules for the sake of sticking to rules, but when you have a potential crisis, why wait for it to be a real crisis such as Italy, which the new government has pledged to spend a lot of money, to lower taxes, while they still have a huge government deficit. Why would the ECB do this.” The brief answer is that yes, it is, because sending the Euro and yields higher on ECB debt monetization concerns, only tends to destabilize the market, and sends a message to investors that the happy days are ending, in the process slamming confidence in asset returns, a process which usually translates into a sharp economic slowdown and eventually recession, or even depression if the adverse stimulus is large enough.

As for the punchline, it came from Abramowicz, who doubled down on Pimm Fox’ question and asked if the “European economy can withstand the shock” of the ECB’s QE reversal, which would send trillions in debt from negative to positive yields. While the answer is clearly no, what is curious is that the ECB is actually tempting fate with the current “tightening” scare, which may send the Euro and bond yields far higher over the next few days, perhaps even to a point where Italy finds itself in dire need of a bailout… from the ECB. Then again, don’t be surprised if during next Thursday’s ECB press conference, Mario Draghi says that after discussing the end of QE, no decision has been made or will be made for a long time. At that moment, watch as the EUR and bond yields tumble, and the dollar resumes its relentless push higher.

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Downsize Germany or else.

The Next Economic Crisis Begins in the European Union (Bruno)

Mercantilism is a practice of conducting economic affairs that Europe practiced especially during the period between the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s the progenitor of colonialism and favors the idea that a state’s—or nation’s—power increases in direct proportion to its ability to export. The more a nation exports, producing a trade surplus, the stronger it becomes. The current “imperfection” of the euro stems from this concept. Germany has become a mercantilist power within a union of nation states (the EU) that had agreed to pursue common as well as national interests. The result has not only been an imbalance of trade; rather, it’s been a complete political and economic disparity.

Some EU countries, of which Germany represents the best example, have also used their surplus to lower their inflation rate below the eurozone-accepted two-percent standard. Indeed, Germany’s trade surplus formula was predicated on a minimal increase in salaries—and reduced government spending on infrastructure and other public services. The result has been the accumulation of significant competitive advantages. Ironically, whenever the euro drops in value, Germany gains with respect to the PIGS. The products that make up the core of its surplus become even more competitive within and beyond the EU.

That explains President Donald Trump’s ever more vociferous suggestions to ban the import of German cars in the United States. It’s no accident that Trump launched a literal trade war, focusing on Germany and China, just days before the start of the G7 Summit in Canada. Germany’s accumulated gains from the low inflation and the more competitive conditions allow it to literally “colonize” (financially speaking) the so-called less virtuous or “deficit” nations. Germany can buy up their best businesses and services. In the meantime, Germany has also acquired a political dominance to match its surplus within the EU itself.

It can control the rules of the EU economy and influence their evolution. That’s why there are few options for the PIGS. And that’s why society and political discourse have deteriorated. The rise of the so-called populist—I prefer the term “protest”—parties, Left or Right, in countries like Italy is a trend destined to expand throughout the EU and cause irreparable fissures. If the EU does not change (and by change, I mean a downsizing of Germany’s stature), the fissures will be irreparable, and one or more states will leave, breaking the union.

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“It’s all risk and very little reward in the path ahead..”

David Stockman: Stocks Will Plunge 50% In This ‘Daredevil Market’ (CNBC)

David Stockman is intensifying his bear case. President Ronald Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget director blames a bull market that’s getting longer in the tooth — paired with headwinds ranging from President Donald Trump’s leadership to fiscal policy decisions to questionable earnings. “I call this a daredevil market. It’s all risk and very little reward in the path ahead,” Stockman said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “This market is just way, way over-priced for reality.” His thoughts came as the Nasdaq was reaching all-time highs again, while S&P 500 rose slightly but the Dow failed to extend its win streak to three days in a row.

“The S&P 500 could easily drop to 1,600 because earnings could drop to $75 a share the next time we have a recession,” Stockman warned. “We’re about eight or nine years into this expansion. Everything is crazily priced. I mean the S&P 500 at 24 times at the end, tippy top of a business cycle.” One of his biggest gripes with the bulls is the notion that President Donald Trump’s tax cuts are providing a fundamental lift to stocks. “These tax cuts are going to add to the deficit in the 10th year of an expansion. It’s just irresponsible crazy,” he said. “It’s all going to stock buybacks and M&A deals anyway. That doesn’t cause the economy to grow. It’s just a short-term boost to the stock market that doesn’t last.”

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All it takes is some hollow words.

Euro Recovers On Rising Bets ECB May Unwind Stimulus (R.)

The euro stayed near two-week highs against many of its rivals on Thursday, on rising bets the ECB may soon announce it will start winding down its massive bond purchase program. Jens Weidmann, the head of Germany’s central bank, said expectations the ECB would taper its bond-buying program by the end of this year were plausible while his Dutch counterpart, Klaas Knot, said there was no reason to continue a quantitative easing program. The trio of comments drove the euro to a two-week high of $1.1800 sharp. The common currency last traded at $1.1781, extending its gains so far this week to 1.15%.

“In the near term, we are likely to see event-driven trading on the euro. We should expect the euro to jump 100 pips (one cent) quite easily on comments from key officials,” said Kyosuke Suzuki, director of forex at Societe Generale. The ECB has been debating whether to end the unprecedented 2.55 trillion euro ($2.99 trillion) bond purchase program this year as the threat of deflation has passed. Still many market players were surprised by the flurry of comments as they had thought uncertainty caused by a political crisis in Italy could make policymakers cautious about indicating an end to stimulus at its policy meeting on June 14.

Indeed, the yield spread of Italian debt to German Bunds widened on Wednesday as Italian bonds are seen as the biggest beneficiary of the ECB’s buying. “This euro buying is essentially short-term trade. People don’t know when Italian debt problems will be solved but they do know when the ECB might announce an exit from stimulus,” said Mitsuo Imaizumi, chief currency strategist at Daiwa Securities.

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But then Europe and Japan signal they’ll do the same.

Indonesia Joins India In Begging Fed To Stop Shrinking Its Balance Sheet (ZH)

On the same day that the governor of Malaysia’s central bank quit, and just days after Urjit Patel, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, took the unprecedented step of writing an oped to the Federal Reserve, begging the US central bank to step tightening monetary conditions, and shrinking its balance sheet, thereby creating a global dollar shortage which has slammed emerging markets (and forced India into an unexpected rate hike overnight), Indonesia’s new central bank chief joined his Indian counterpart in calling on the Federal Reserve to be “more mindful” of the global repercussions of policy tightening amid the ongoing rout in emerging markets.

As Bloomberg reports, in his first interview with international media since he took office two weeks ago, Bank Indonesia Governor Perry Warjiyo echoed what Patel said just days earlier, namely that the pace of the Fed’s balance sheet reduction was a key issue for central bankers across emerging markets. As a reminder, the RBI Governor made exactly the same comments earlier this week, arguing that slowing the pace of stimulus withdrawal at a time when the US Treasury is doubling down on debt issuance, would support global growth, as the alternative would be an emerging markets crisis that would spill over into developed markets.

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Get the hell out. Take their powers away.

Fed Clambers Back To Positive Real Rates, Now Debate Is When To Stop (R.)

The Federal Reserve will likely raise its target interest rate to above the rate of inflation for the first time in a decade next week, igniting a new debate: when to stop. The Fed has been gradually hiking rates since late 2015 with little sign of tighter conditions hampering economic recovery. The expected June increase will raise the stakes as the Fed seeks to sustain the second-longest U.S. expansion on record while continuing to edge rates higher. With inflation still tame, policymakers are aiming for a “neutral” rate that neither slows nor speeds economic growth. But estimates of neutral are imprecise, and as interest rates top inflation and enter positive “real” territory, analysts feel the Fed is at higher risk of going too far and actually crimping the recovery.

The Fed is “gradually entering a new world when rates are at 2 percent,” nearing zero on a real basis and approaching where they are no longer felt to be stimulating economic activity, said Thomas Costerg, senior U.S. economist at Pictet Wealth Management. The last time rates moved into positive real territory on a sustained basis was the spring of 2005 when the Fed began tightening rapidly after a period of arguably too-lax monetary policy, ending just months before the start of the 2007-2009 financial crisis. The debate over the current cycle’s end point “came earlier than I expected,” Costerg said, with the Fed facing imminent calls on where the neutral rate of interest lies.

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Opaque topic, but this is obviously not good.

Social Security To Tap Into Trust Fund For First Time In 36 Years (MW)

Medicare’s finances were downgraded in a new report from the program’s trustees Tuesday, while the projection for Social Security’s stayed the same as last year. Medicare’s hospital insurance fund will be depleted in 2026, said the trustees who oversee the benefit program in an annual report. That is three years earlier than projected last year. This year, like last year, Social Security’s trustees said the program’s two trust funds would be depleted in 2034. For the first time since 1982, Social Security has to dip into the trust fund to pay for the program this year. It should be stressed that the reports don’t indicate that benefits disappear in those years.

After 2034, Social Security’s trustees said tax income would be sufficient to pay about three-quarters of retirees’ benefits. Congress could at any time choose to pay for the benefits through the general fund. Medicare beneficiaries also wouldn’t face an immediate cut after the trust fund is depleted in 2026. The trustees said the share of benefits that can be paid from revenues will decline to 78% in 2039. That share rises again to 85% in 2092. The hospital fund is financed mainly through payroll taxes. Social Security trustees said that reserves for the fund that pays disability benefits would be exhausted in 2032. Combined with the fund that pays benefits to retirees, all Social Security reserves would be exhausted by 2034, they said.

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Better start acting.

Opioids Are Responsible For 20% Of US Millennial Deaths (ZH)

The opioid crisis has become a significant public health emergency for many Americans, especially for millennials, so much so that one out of every five deaths among young adults is related to opioids, suggested a new report. The study is called “The Burden of Opioid-Related Mortality in the United States,” published Friday in JAMA. Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, found that all opiate deaths — which accounts for natural opiates, semi-synthetic/ humanmade opioids, and fully synthetic/ humanmade opioids — have increased a mindboggling 292% from 2001 through 2016, with one in every 65 deaths related to opioids by 2016. Men represented 70% of all opioid-related deaths by 2016, and the number was astronomically higher for millennials (24 and 35 years of age).

According to the study, one out of every five deaths among millennials in the United States is related to opioids. In contrast, opioid-related deaths for the same cohort accounted for 4% of all deaths in 2001. Moreover, it gets worse; the second most impacted group was 15 to 24-year-olds, which suggests, the opioid epidemic is now ripping through Generation Z (born after 1995). In 2016, nearly 12.4% of all deaths in this age group were attributed to opioids. “Despite the amount of attention that has been placed on this public health issue, we are increasingly seeing the devastating impact that early loss of life from opioids is having across the United States,” said Dr. Tara Gomes, a scientist in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s.

“In the absence of a multidisciplinary approach to this issue that combines access to treatment, harm reduction and education, this crisis will impact the U.S. for generations,” she added. Over the 15-year period, more than 335,000 opioid-related deaths were recorded in the United States that met the study’s criteria. Researchers said this number is an increase of 345% from 9,489 in 2001 (33.3 deaths per million population) to 42, 245 in 2016 (130.7 deaths per million population).

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“At what stage of their hapless fiddling, constant arguing and pitiful attempts to administer the kiss of life to the corpse that Brexit has turned out to be, does a politician officially earn the title of – stupid idiot?”

The ‘Doomsday Brexit Plan’ Document Should Frighten Us All (TP)

This is the first paragraph of The Times article (paywall) regarding Britain’s now famous Doomsday Brexit plan. “Britain would be hit with shortages of medicine, fuel and food within a fortnight if the UK tries to leave the European Union without a deal, according to a Doomsday Brexit scenario drawn up by senior civil servants for David Davis.” The Times confirms that the port of Dover will collapse “on day one” if Britain crashes out of the EU, leading to critical shortages of supplies. This was the middle of three scenarios put forward by senior advisors. A type of best guestimate if you like. You simply do not want to know the outcome of the worst of those three scenarios. Indeed, we have been spared from such details.

The article states that the RAF would have to be deployed to ferry supplies around Britain. And yes, we’re still on the middle scenario here. “You would have to medevac medicine into Britain, and at the end of week two we would be running out of petrol as well,” a contributing source said. The report continues to describe matters such as cross-channel disruption for heavy goods vehicles, which would also be catastrophic. Massive carparks will be required. A senior official said in the ‘Doomsday’ Brexit plan: “We are entirely dependent on Europe reciprocating our posture that we will do nothing to impede the flow of goods into the UK. If for whatever reason, Europe decides to slow that supply down, then we’re screwed.”

Let’s not worry about the fact that French borders are often left in chaos due to the all too familiar strikes that appear almost monthly during holiday season for one reason or another. Home secretary Sajid Javid makes an unconvincing comment stating he’s ‘confident’ a deal will be done. That’s hardly the type of assurance we need is it? UK officials emphasised that the June EU summit due on the 28th was heading for a “car crash” because “no progress has been made since March” to devise plans for a long-term deal. If your confidence in Brexit is starting to wane, don’t worry, half the nation are not just anxious but downright fearful – mainly because, neither in or out has given any concreate evidence of likely outcomes. This is probably because Brexit hasn’t been done before – and was designed that way. Deliberately.

At what stage of their hapless fiddling, constant arguing and pitiful attempts to administer the kiss of life to the corpse that Brexit has turned out to be, does a politician officially earn the title of – stupid idiot? “Just bloody get on with it” shout the Brexiteers, except both they and the UK government still can’t decide what ‘it’ is.

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I’ve asked it before: where will Britain be 10 years from now?

Nearly 4 Million UK Adults Forced To Use Food Banks (Ind.)

Nearly 4 million adults in the UK have been forced to use food banks due to ”shocking” levels of deprivation, figures have revealed for the first time. An exclusive poll commissioned by The Independent reveals one in 14 Britons has had to use a food bank, with similar numbers also forced to skip meals and borrow money as austerity measures leave them “penniless with nowhere to turn”. The findings come as a major report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) shows more than 1.5 million people were destitute in the UK last year alone, a figure higher than the populations of Liverpool and Birmingham combined. This includes 365,000 children, with experts warning that social security policy changes under the Tory government were leading to “destitution by design”.

Destitution is defined as people lacking two “essential needs”, such as food or housing. The polling on food poverty, from a representative sample of 1,050 UK adults carried out for The Independent by D-CYFOR, suggests that 7 per cent of the adult population – or 3.7 million people – have used a food bank to receive a meal. A million people have decreased the portion size of their child’s meal due to financial constraints, the survey says. The results come after it emerged in April that the number of emergency meals handed out at food banks had risen at a higher rate than ever, soaring by 13 per cent in a year, with more than 1.3 million three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in the 12 months to March.

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I haven’t read the book -and it’s not out yet- but this seems, let’s say, naive. If you figure that a constant increase in energy use is the culprit, how can you say renewable nergy is the solution, and not call for using less energy?

How We Created The Anthropocene (BBC)

Factories and farming remove as much nitrogen from the atmosphere as all of Earth’s natural processes, and the climate is changing fast because of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use. Beyond these grim statistics, the critical question is: will today’s interconnected mega-civilisation that allows 7.5 billion people to lead physically healthier and longer lives than at any time in our history continue from strength to strength? Or will we keep using more and more resources until human civilisation collapses? To answer this, we re-interpret human history using the tools of modern science, to provide a clearer view of the future.

Tracing the ever-greater environmental impacts of different human societies since our march out of Africa, we found that there are just five broad types that have spread worldwide. Our original hunter-gatherer societies were followed by the agricultural revolution and new types of society beginning some 10,500 years ago. The next shift resulted from the formation of the first global economy, after Europeans arrived in the Americas in 1492, which was followed in the late 1700s by the new societies following the Industrial Revolution. The final type is today’s high-production consumer capitalist mode of living that emerged after WWII.

A careful analysis shows that each successive mode of living is reliant on greater energy use, greater information and knowledge availability, and an increase in the human population, which together increase our collective agency. These insights help us think about avoiding the coming crash as our massive global economy doubles in size every 25 years, and on to the possibilities of a new and more sustainable sixth mode of living to replace consumer capitalism. Seen in this way, renewable energy for all takes on an importance beyond stopping climate breakdown; likewise free education and the internet for all has a significance beyond access to social media – as they empower women, which helps stabilise the population.

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May 162018
 


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)
US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)
Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)
Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)
Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)
Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)
Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)
New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)
US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)
Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)
Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)
UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)
Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

 

 

Deflation.

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)

What if the entire world of money is preparing for the wrong disaster — which would be a disaster in and of itself? Since the financial crisis, Wall Street, central-bank heads, economists, and policymakers have been waiting for the return of inflation. At the beginning of this year, they thought they had found it. It came, so they thought, in the form of a weak dollar, wage growth, economic stability in China, and steadily rising interest rates. So here in the US, the Fed started talking about the importance of preparing to fight runaway inflation. In fact, it’s obsessed with the idea. According to Deutsche Bank analyst Torsten Slok, the Fed is talking more about inflation now (in its minutes and in its reports) than it did in 2006 when the economy was actually overheating, right before the crash.

This, even though personal-consumption expenditures haven’t grown by the Federal Reserve’s 2% target since the financial crisis. There’s a lot of noise, from data revisions and Trump tweets, trade-war threats and hopes of growth from tax policy, a wobbling stock market, and rising interest rates. But when it comes down to it, the things that everyone is saying will be sources of inflation may not be sources at all. Meanwhile, the weak dollar, wage growth, and a stable China elixir that got markets high in January have since faded. That should be a warning. If we play our cards wrong and pay attention to all the wrong signs, we may still be in a world tilting dangerously closer to our old enemy, deflation.

[..] As Slok said, aging can’t fully explain why wage growth has been suppressed, but he has other ideas too. “One important reason why the expansion since 2009 has been so weak is that wealth gains have been unevenly distributed (see chart below). A decline in the homeownership rate and the number of households holding stocks has dampened consumer spending growth for the bottom 90% of households,” he wrote in a note to clients back in March.

The deflationary impacts of economic inequality and an aging population are not going away with the flick of a wrist or the push of a button. They are long-term challenges that require imaginative, difficult policy solutions. It’s hard to see that coming from the Trump administration or an increasingly polarized, uncooperative world. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we waiting for the wrong disaster?

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That’s the end?!

US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)

A sharp sell-off in the bond market is sending mortgage rates to the highest level in seven years. The average contract rate on the 30-year fixed will likely end the day as high as 4.875% for the highest creditworthy borrowers and 5% for the average borrower, according to Mortgage News Daily. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, started the year right around 4% but began rising almost immediately. They then leveled off in March and early April, only to begin rising yet again. Tuesday’s move follows positive economic data in retail sales, suggesting that newly imposed tariffs would not hit sales as hard as expected.

Rates have been widely expected to rise, as the Federal Reserve increases its lending rate and pulls back its investments in mortgage-backed bonds. But mortgage rates have reacted only in fits and starts. “The bottom line is that the writing on the wall has been telling rates to go higher since at least last September,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Rates keep looking back to see if the writing has changed, and although there have been opportunities for hope (trade wars, stock selling-sprees, spotty data at times), it hasn’t. Today is just the latest reiteration of that writing.”

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10% unemployment.

Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)

Let’s start with the employment report. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics report dated May 4, 2018, showed the official U.S. unemployment rate for April 2018 at 3.9%, with a separate unemployment rate for adult men of 4.1% and adult women of 3.7%. The 3.9% unemployment rate is based on a total workforce of 160 million people, of whom 153 million are employed and 6.3 million are unemployed. The 3.9% figure is the lowest unemployment rate since 2001, and before that, the early 1970s. The average rate of unemployment in the U.S. from 1948 to 2018 is 5.78%. By these superficial measures, unemployment is indeed low and the economy is arguably at full employment.

Still, these statistics don’t tell the whole story. Of the 153 million with jobs, 5 million are working part time involuntarily; they would prefer full-time jobs but can’t find them or have had their hours cut by current employers. Another 1.4 million workers wanted jobs and had searched for a job in the prior year but are not included in the labor force because they had not searched in the prior four weeks. If their numbers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 5%. Yet the real unemployment rate is far worse than that. The unemployment rate is calculated using a narrow definition of the workforce. But there are millions of able-bodied men and women between the ages of 25–54 capable of work who are not included in the workforce.

These are not retirees or teenagers but adults in their prime working years. They are, in effect, “missing workers.” The number of these missing workers not included in the official unemployment rolls is measured by the Labor Force Participation Rate, LFPR. The LFPR measures the total number of workers divided by the total number of potential workers regardless of whether those potential workers are seeking work or not. The LFPR plunged from 67.3% in January 2000 to 62.8% in April 2018, a drop of 4.4percentage points. If those potential workers reflected in the difference between the 2018 and 2000 LFPRs were added back to the unemployment calculation, the unemployment rate would be close to 10%.

[..] Another serious problem is illustrated in Chart 1 below. This shows the U.S. budget deficit as apercentage of GDP (the white line measured on the right scale) compared with the official unemployment rate (the blue line measured on the left scale). From the late 1980s through 2009, these two time series exhibited a fairly strong correlation. As unemployment went up, the deficit went up also because of increased costs for food stamps, unemployment benefits, stimulus spending and other so-called “automatic stabilizers” designed to bring the economy out of recession. That makes sense. But as the chart reveals, the correlation has broken down since 2009 and the two time series are diverging rapidly. Unemployment is going down, but budget deficits are still going up.

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Too late to get a new government?

Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)

In financial markets, memories can be short. Last year, Argentina sold 100-year bonds, joining a select club of countries with the confidence to borrow for such an extended period. Yes, the same Argentina that has defaulted on its debt eight times in the past 200 years, including the largest sovereign default in history in 2001. Not long before investors decided it was a good idea to lend to the South American nation for 100 years, it was largely shut out of international capital markets. In June 2017, Argentina sold $2.75 billion of US dollar-denominated 100-year bonds at an effective yield of 8%. The history of defaults seemed to be forgotten—nearly $10 billion in bids were placed for the bonds.

The sale came at a time when investors were hungry for high-yielding debt, but it also showed confidence in president Mauricio Macri and his program of pro-market reforms. Less than a year later, Macri has asked the IMF for a $30 billion loan to help it combat a currency crisis and limit further damage to the Argentinian economy from a dangerous outbreak of market turmoil. What went wrong?

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Not sure it’ll be all that slow. Turekey has borrowed in dollars up the wazoo.

Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)

Turkey’s economy is overheating and if the government doesn’t act then the country is in trouble, according to several analysts. “The government has no intention of tackling imbalances or overheating,” Marcus Chevenix, global political research analyst at TS Lombard, said in a research note this week. “It is this unwillingness to act that leads us to believe that we can now say that Turkey is entering a slow burning crisis.” The Turkish lira is at a record low against the dollar, and is ranked among the worst-performing currencies this year. After comments this week by Turkish President Recep Erdogan promising to lower interest rates after the country’s June election, the currency tanked to its lowest point yet against the greenback, hitting 4.4527 on Tuesday mid-afternoon.

The dollar has appreciated by around 18% against the lira so far this year. The reason? Erdogan has been sitting on interest rates, opting for a monetary policy that prioritizes growth over controlling its double-digit inflation. Turkey’s growth rate reached an impressive 7.4% for 2017 and leads the G-20, but at the expense of inflation, which has shot up to 10.9%. Market sentiment has driven much of the lira’s sell-off, as investors worry about government intervention in monetary policy and central bank independence. Investors have been hoping for a rate rise by the bank, but that now appears unlikely.

Erdogan plays an unusually heavy-handed role in deciding his country’s monetary policy, and many observers say he keeps the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey’s (TCMB) hands tied. The bank finally raised its rates for the first time in several sessions in late April, moving its late liquidity window rate (which it uses to set policy) up by 75 basis points to 13.5%. The lira temporarily jumped on the news. But Erdogan aims to bring the rate back down, saying it must be done to ease pressure on Turkish households and drive the growth needed to create jobs for Turkey’s youth. “I’m seriously concerned about the Turkish lira,” Piotr Matys at Rabobank told CNBC via email. “Is Turkey the domino the market expects to fall next? It’s got all those problems — high current account deficit, government borrowing in other currencies.”

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He went to the City for this?!

Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)

“Shock and disbelief” – that’s how global money managers reacted to an attempt by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to re-assure foreign investors about his economic management as the lira went into tailspin. Fund managers who met Erdogan and his delegation in London on Monday, part of a three-day visit to Britain, were baffled about how he plans to tame rising inflation and a currency in freefall – while simultaneously seeking lower interest rates. Some said that while Erdogan has crushed his domestic enemies, he would find taking on international financial markets with policies that defy economic orthodoxy much tougher.

A resurgent dollar, rising oil prices and a jump in borrowing costs have caused havoc across emerging markets in recent weeks. However, Turkey has been among the worst affected due to its a gaping current account deficit and growing puzzlement over who exactly holds the reins of monetary policy. Erdogan’s comments that he planned to take greater control of the economy after snap presidential and parliamentary elections next month deepened investors’ worries about the central bank’s ability to fight inflation, helping to send the lira to a record low on Tuesday.

Rampant inflation dogged Turkey for decades before 2000 and has been back in double digits since the start of 2017. But Erdogan has styled himself as an enemy of high interest rates, defying orthodox monetary policy that prescribes tighter credit to keep a lid on prices. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivity of the meetings, investors told Reuters they were flabbergasted by his stance and willingness to go into battle with world markets at such a fragile time.

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A suggestive and tendentious piece by the Guardian, which seems to prepare us for a justification of Ecuador throwing Julian out. Other articles in today’s paper have titles like “How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy” and “Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy?”

Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)

Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected the WikiLeaks founder while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin. Other guests included hackers, activists, lawyers and journalists.

[..] Documents show the intelligence programme, called “Operation Guest”, which later became known as “Operation Hotel” – coupled with parallel covert actions – ran up an average cost of at least $66,000 a month for security, intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence to “protect” one of the world’s most high-profile fugitives. An investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador reveals the operation had the approval of the then Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, and the then foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, according to sources. [..] Worried that British authorities could use force to enter the embassy and seize Assange, Ecuadorian officials came up with plans to help him escape.

They included smuggling Assange out in a diplomatic vehicle or appointing him as Ecuador’s United Nations representative so he could have diplomatic immunity in order to attend UN meetings, according to documents seen by the Guardian dated August 2012. In addition to giving Assange asylum, Correa’s government was apparently prepared to spend money on improving his image. A lawyer was asked to devise a “media strategy” to mark the “second anniversary of his diplomatic asylum”, in a leaked 2014 email exchange seen by the Guardian.

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Force them to open the books.

New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)

New York’s City Council is plotting a crackdown on Airbnb, the largest home-sharing platform in the world, as the hotel industry and its unionized workers push lawmakers in some of the nation’s biggest cities to blunt the $30 billion company’s growth. New York City’s push resembles a legislative effort underway in Los Angeles, and comes months after San Francisco passed a measure mandating that hosts of short-term rental platforms register their homes with the city, leading to a decline in listings. The coastal cities are among Airbnb’s largest markets in the United States.

The Council is crafting a bill that would require online home-sharing companies to provide the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement with the addresses of their listings — a potential blow to Airbnb if its users are revealed to be turning rent-regulated apartments into business enterprises in a city starved for more housing. The move is coming two years after New York’s state Legislature first took aim at Airbnb with a bill that banned the advertising of illegal short-term rentals — but ultimately did little to hurt the company. The New York push comes amid a well-funded advertising and lobbying campaign by the hotel industry, which has run ads supporting a recent report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer that was critical of Airbnb, and is accusing the company of reducing the amount of affordable housing in cities.

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What’s taking so long?

US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)

Litigation against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is intensifying as six more U.S. states on Tuesday announced lawsuits, accusing the company of fueling a national opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing its prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sales. U.S. state attorneys general of Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee also said Purdue Pharma violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids. “It’s time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they’ve caused,” Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi told a press conference.

Florida also sued drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. [..] Lawsuits have already been filed by 16 other U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Purdue. The privately-held company in February said it stopped promoting opioids to physicians after widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market highly addictive painkillers. Bondi said state attorneys general from New York, California and Massachusetts were preparing similar lawsuits.

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And on and on and on…

Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)

The tug of war between the IMF and Berlin over the Greek debt issue is threatening Greece’s successful bailout program exit in August. Germany insists on granting Greece gradual debt relief under the condition that it will be approved every year by the Bundestag. For its part, the IMF disagrees with Berlin’s insistence on reviewing the measures every year and is threatening to leave the Greek program. If the IMF were to leave the program because it thinks that debt relief measures are inadequate to secure the sustainability of Greece’s debt, the country’s access to international market funding will be cast in doubt. This means that, inevitably, the government will have to resort to precautionary credit to shield itself from complications.

The chasm between Berlin and the IMF was clear during Monday’s session of the so-called Washington Group – representatives of Greece’s creditors as well as the governments of Germany, France, Spain and Italy, the biggest eurozone economies. Poul Thomsen, the head of the IMF’s European Department, who attended Monday’s meeting, countered that Berlin’s conditions were not acceptable. Thomsen said Tuesday that the Fund wants to activate the program for Greece but warned that time is running out and asked for final decisions on the matter by the next Eurogroup on May 24.

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Speed up deportations and appeals, restrict freedom of movement. Lovely

Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)

Greece’s parliament approved legislation Tuesday that is designed to speed up the asylum process for migrants, ease the overcrowding at Greek island refugee camps and to deport more people back to Turkey. Under the new law, staff will be added at the office that handles asylum requests, the appeals process for rejected applications will be shortened and travel restrictions can be imposed on asylum-seekers who are moved from the Greek islands to the mainland. Currently, restrictions on asylum-seekers are mostly limited to five islands near the coast of Turkey, where strained refugee camps are trying to cope with up to three times more residents than planned.

More than 16,000 people are stuck there. A group of 13 Greek human rights organizations, however, has accused the government of ignoring refugee rights. The number of newly arriving migrants and refugees has risen sharply this year at the islands and Greece’s land border with Turkey, prompting the change in policy. Police cleared out two abandoned factory buildings used by migrants in the city of Patras in western Greece early Tuesday. More than 600 people will be moved from there to refugee camps on the mainland, police said.

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Have we lost the ability to frame everything in anything else than monetary terms?

UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)

Never mind that the new environmental watchdog will have no teeth. Never mind that the government plans to remove protection from local wildlife sites. Never mind that its 25-year environment plan is all talk and no action. We don’t need rules any more. We have a pouch of magic powder we can sprinkle on any problem to make it disappear. This powder is the monetary valuation of the natural world. Through the market, we can avoid conflict and hard choices, laws and policies, by replacing political decisions with economic calculations. Almost all official documents on environmental issues are now peppered with references to “natural capital” and to the Natural Capital Committee, the Laputian body the government has created to price the living world and develop a set of “national natural capital accounts”.

The government admits that “at present we cannot robustly value everything we wish to in economic terms; wildlife being a particular challenge”. Hopefully, such gaps can soon be filled, so we’ll know exactly how much a primrose is worth. The government argues that without a price, the living world is accorded no value, so irrational decisions are made. By costing nature, you ensure that it commands the investment and protection that other forms of capital attract. This thinking is based on a series of extraordinary misconceptions. Even the name reveals a confusion: natural capital is a contradiction in terms. Capital is properly understood as the human-made segment of wealth that is deployed in production to create further financial returns.

Concepts such as natural capital, human capital or social capital can be used as metaphors or analogies, though even these are misleading. But the 25-year plan defines natural capital as “the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life”. In other words, nature is capital. In reality, natural wealth and human-made capital are neither comparable nor interchangeable. If the soil is washed off the land, we cannot grow crops on a bed of derivatives. A similar fallacy applies to price. Unless something is redeemable for money, a pound or dollar sign placed in front of it is senseless: price represents an expectation of payment, in accordance with market rates. In pricing a river, a landscape or an ecosystem, either you are lining it up for sale, in which case the exercise is sinister, or you are not, in which case it is meaningless.

Still more deluded is the expectation that we can defend the living world through the mindset that’s destroying it. The notions that nature exists to serve us; that its value consists of the instrumental benefits we can extract; that this value can be measured in cash terms; and that what can’t be measured does not matter, have proved lethal to the rest of life on Earth. The way we name things and think about them – in other words the mental frames we use – helps determine the way we treat them.

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Make a fresh bed every day.

Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

Chimpanzees have much cleaner beds – with fewer bodily bacteria – than humans do, scientists have found. A study comparing swabs taken from chimp nests with those from human beds found that people’s sheets and mattresses harboured far more bacteria from their bodies than the animals’ beds did from theirs. The researchers say their findings suggest that our attempts to create clean environments for ourselves may actually make our surroundings “less ideal”. More than a third – 35 per cent – of the bacteria in human beds comes from our own saliva, skin and faecal particles. By contrast, chimps – humans’ closest evolutionary relatives – appear to sleep with few such bacteria.

“We found almost none of those microbes in the chimpanzee nests, which was a little surprising,” said Megan Thoemmes, lead author of the paper. The researchers collected samples from 41 chimpanzee beds – or nests – in Tanzania and tested them for microbial biodiversity. At 15 primates’ nests, researchers also used vacuums to find out whether there were arthropods, such as insects, spiders, mites and ticks. “We also expected to see a significant number of arthropod parasites, but we didn’t,” said Ms Thoemmes. In addition, the team were shocked to find very few fleas, lice and bed bugs – ectoparasites – in the chimp nests.

“There were only four ectoparasites found, across all the nests we looked at. And that’s four individual specimens, not four different species,” said Ms Thoemmes, a PhD student at North Carolina State University. She believes chimps’ beds are cleaner because they make them freshly in treetops each day.

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Apr 292018
 


John Collier Lady Godiva c1897

 

The Stock Market That’s Never Satisfied (Forsyth)
Kim Pledges to Invite Media to Witness Nuclear Site Shutdown in May (BBG)
North Korea To Wind Clocks Forward By 30 Minutes (UPI)
Are European Companies Ready for Life Without Draghi? (DQ)
Millennial Housing Crisis Engulfs Britain (G.)
Twitter Sold Information To Researcher Behind Facebook Data Scandal (ZH)
Early Facebook Investor, Mentor: “They’ve Done Bupkis To Protect Us” (ZH)
Facebook’s Global Monopoly Poses A Deadly Threat In Developing Nations (G.)
Future Uncertain For Assange In Wake Of US-Ecuador Military Deal (DisM)
‘Caravan’ Migrants Weigh Staying In Mexico Or Risking US Expulsion (R.)
In The Opioid Epidemic, White Means Victim, Black Means Addict (G.)
Australia Pledges Half A Billion To Restore Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

 

 

Why own stocks?

The Stock Market That’s Never Satisfied (Forsyth)

If anything, the stock market is being extraordinarily critical of what it’s being served, notably earnings that are exceeding already high expectations. Take Caterpillar, which initially rallied Tuesday after reporting better-than-expected results. But on the post-earnings conference call, its chief financial officer called the first quarter the farm- and construction-equipment maker’s “high-water mark for the year.” So, if it doesn’t get any better than that, the stock market’s response isn’t to savor the moment, but to sell it. CAT ended up losing 6.2% in reaction to that comment, leading a massive retreat in industrial and material names that helped the Dow industrials shed over 400 points in the trading session.

That isn’t an entirely irrational response, given data that show growth is slowing, while inflation is picking up. To those late-cycle symptoms add rising rates, both the ones administered by the Federal Reserve and those set by the bond market. On the latter score, the benchmark Treasury 10-year note briefly peaked just over 3%, a psychologically significant but otherwise not terribly meaningful number. Arguably far more significant is that investors and savers can get 2% on six-month Treasury bills and almost 2.5% on a two-year note. Two years ago, dividend stocks provided investors a one-percentage point advantage over risk-free rates, says Danielle DiMartino Booth in her Money Strong missive. Now those places have been swapped.

Adds David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist for Gluskin Sheff, this ability to get a “safe yield” for the first time in a decade, with no risk from falling stock or bond prices, represents a “seminal shift and a huge source of competition for the dividend allure of the stock market.” The prospect of higher rates may cheer savers, but poses greater risk to an economy never more dependent on debt, DiMartino Booth says. But that’s the direction the Fed is headed, given the rise in inflation and signs of slowing growth, an unpleasant combination that suggests stagflation; if not 1970s-style double-digit inflation and unemployment, then an economy expanding more slowly than prices are rising.

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He claims it’s all still intact.

Kim Pledges to Invite Media to Witness Nuclear Site Shutdown in May (BBG)

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un has promised to close his main nuclear weapons test site in May and said he will invite South Korean and American media to witness the shutdown. Ahead of an historic meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump expected within the next three to four weeks, Kim told South Korea’s president that two tunnels at the nuclear test site are still in good condition, playing down international speculation that the site was so badly damaged by nuclear explosions that it can no longer be used. Kim’s pledges to Moon at their historic summit on Friday were detailed in Seoul on Sunday by Moon’s chief communication official.

Kim told President Moon Jae-in on the disputed Korean border that Trump will learn at their meeting that North Korea has no intention of using its nuclear arsenal toward South or the Pacific or to target the U.S. The North had no reason to own nuclear weapons if it and the U.S. promise non-aggression against each other, he said, according the the Seoul briefing. Trump said Saturday night that he expects his historic meeting with Kim will take place “over the next three or four weeks.” “Strength is going to keep us out of nuclear war, not get us in,” Trump told a rally in Washington, Michigan. Earlier, he said details of the summit are being ironed out, and that he’d spoken with the leaders of South Korea and Japan about preparations for the meeting.

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Symbols are important.

North Korea To Wind Clocks Forward By 30 Minutes (UPI)

North Korea has decided to wind its clock forward half an hour to match its time with the South’s, two years and eight months after it decided to adopt its own standard time, News 1 reported. Seoul’s presidential official Yoon Young-chan told reporters Sunday that in talks between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Kim said he would shift time in Pyongyang to Korea Standard Time (UTC+9:00) Accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, Kim is said to have pointed to the two clocks hanging inside the Peace House, located on the South’s side of Panmunjom truce village, and said that this “pained his heart,” before suggesting to Moon that the South and North “first unify the time.”

Until 2015, Pyongyang used the same time (135 degrees East) as Seoul but adopted its own standard time which was thirty minutes behind KST. The North Korean leader said, as Pyongyang was the one that changed the time, it should be the one to make the adjustment again, JoongAng Ilbo reported. Yoon said this indicates Kim’s willingness to actively coordinate with the international community.

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A continent full of zombies.

Are European Companies Ready for Life Without Draghi? (DQ)

[..] there are signs that the ECB has quietly begun to taper its corporate-bond buying program. The rate of purchases under the Corporate Sector Purchase Programme dropped 50% in April to about €700 million per week, down from €1.4 billion during the first quarter, analysts at Deutsche Bank pointed out. That could mean the ECB is starting a “stealth taper” in order to wean the European bond market off the corporate debt purchases it began in June 2016, Deutsche Bank said. But are the companies that benefited from the ECB’s largesse ready for life without Draghi? There’s no doubting the ECB’s bond buying has exacerbated distortions in the corporate bond market — distortions that were first engendered by the central bank’s low interest rate policy. Yields came crashing down and spreads narrowed.

At the peak of ECB’s bond buying binge, the average yield of the Iboxx non-financials index fell as low as 0.69%. For German blue-chip companies such as BASF, Continental, Linde, SAP and Siemens, yields fell to less than 0.5%. France’s pharmaceutical company Sanofi and German consumer goods manufacturer Henkel even managed to issue bonds at slightly negative yields, effectively helping pay off their debts. But that was then. Now, the average yield of the Iboxx non-financials index is back above 1.10%. As Reuters reports, some of Europe’s biggest money managers are reducing their exposure to corporate bonds. Some are even shorting them, betting that stress is building in a market that was buoyed by years of rock-bottom borrowing costs. Some new bond issues have even struggled to find buyers, when not so long ago they were flying off shelves.

Bank of America guesstimated last year that as many as 50 of the euro zone’s 600 biggest companies deserve to be classified as “zombies,” as they pay far too much interest in relation to their profits. For these companies the ECB’s bond-buying program was a godsend, allowing them to continue refinancing their debt and stave off default. But interest rates are beginning to rise again. Whether or not the ECB has already begun to taper its corporate bond buying on the quiet, the program will likely be phased out later this year. And yields have already been rising ever so gradually in anticipation. That means that the companies that have benefited from the central bank’s monetary support are going to soon find themselves facing a whole new, more challenging reality. For some it’s unlikely to be a pleasant one.

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That’s what happens when you try and run an economy on a housing bubble.

Millennial Housing Crisis Engulfs Britain (G.)

Home ownership among young families has plummeted across every corner of Britain over the past 35 years, according to a devastating inquiry into the housing crisis facing millennials. The proportion of families headed by a 25- to 34-year-old that own their own home has more than halved in some regions, showing that the crisis goes far beyond London. Analysis conducted as part of a two-year investigation into intergenerational fairness in Britain, chaired by a former Tory minister, found that millennials are being forced into increasingly cramped and expensive rented properties that leave them with a longer commute and little chance of saving for a home. It also finds an increasing proportion of the young living in overcrowded housing.

The commission, which has been overseen by the Resolution Foundation thinktank and includes the former universities minister David Willetts, is expected to conclude that new taxes on property wealth may be the only way to restore fairness and prepare the country to pay the care and support costs of an ageing population. Ownership among 25- to 34-year-olds has plummeted in Greater Manchester from 53% in 1984 to 26% last year. It has fallen from 54% to 25% in south Yorkshire, from 45% to 20% in the West Midlands, from 50% to 28% in Wales and from 55% to 27% in the south-east. In outer London, the proportion has collapsed from 53% to just 16%. Out of 22 regions analysed by the commission, in only one – Strathclyde in Scotland – has home ownership among the young remained stable. It stood at 32% in 1984 and 33% last year, having peaked at 45% in 2002.

Ownership in London has fallen consistently over the past 30 years, whereas rates in some other parts of the country declined more slowly before the early 2000s, but very rapidly thereafter. Even favourable economic conditions are likely to result in millennials catching up with the home ownership levels of the previous cohort only by the age of 45. Fast-growing inheritances will help some, but nearly half of young non-homeowners have parents who do not own either.

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We need an overall ban on data harvesting for profit.

Twitter Sold Information To Researcher Behind Facebook Data Scandal (ZH)

Twitter has now also become embroiled in the Facebook data harvesting scandal – as the Sunday Telegraph reveals that the social media giant sold user data to Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher and director of Global Science Research (GSR), who created an app which harvested the data of millions of Facebook users’ without their consent before selling it to political data firm Cambridge Analytica. “Aleksandr Kogan, who created tools for Cambridge Analytica that allowed the political consultancy to psychologically profile and target voters, bought the data from the microblogging website in 2015, before the recent scandal came to light. -Sunday Telegraph”

Kogan says that the data was only used to generate “brand reports” and “survey extender tools” which were not in violation of Twitter’s data policies. While most tweets are public information and easy for anyone to access, Twitter charges companies and organizations for access to information in bulk – though Twitter bans companies which use the data for political purposes or to match with personal user information found elsewhere. A Twitter spokesman confirmed the ban and said: “Twitter has also made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica. This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices.

The company said it does not allow “inferring or deriving sensitive information like race or political affiliation, or attempts to match a user’s Twitter information with other personal identifiers” and that it had staff in place to police this “rigorously”.-Sunday Telegraph Data licensing made up 13% of Twitter’s 2017 revenue at $333 million. In a March blog post, Citron Research said that Twitter’s 2018 data-licensing business will generate $400 million (analysts polled by FactSet say $387 million) and that it represents the fastest-growing segment of the company’s operations (which it is, according to FactSet).

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“..I feel like my baby has turned out to be something horrible, and these people I trusted and helped along have forgotten where they came from..”

Early Facebook Investor, Mentor: “They’ve Done Bupkis To Protect Us” (ZH)

Even if Facebook’s stellar Q1 earnings report hadn’t helped erase some of the losses that Facebook shares incurred in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sanderberg would still believe that the company’s troubles are largely behind them and that the company had essentially repaired the damage done to its reputation. That was the assessment delivered by early Facebook investor and one-time Zuckerberg mentor Roger McNamee, who warned during an appearance at an event organized by Quartz in Washington DC last week that the company’s leaders are deeply complacent and still haven’t accepted the fact that Facebook has badly mislead its users about how the company profits off their data.

Despite Zuckerberg’s warning, embedded in his opening statement to Congress earlier this month, that the company planned to make changes that could “significantly impact” profitability, McNamee believes it’s likely Facebook is “going to get away” with the bad things that it has done, which is “particularly dangerous” considering the 2018 midterm elections are only months away. McNamee said he’s deeply disappointed in how Zuckerberg and Sandberg have responded to the crisis by refusing to accept responsibility. During their post-crisis media tour, both executives insisted on blaming Cambridge Analytica for “misleading” Facebook, even though Facebook never bothered to alert users whose data had been affected. “They’ve done bupkis to protect us,” McNamee said.

The whole affair has left McNamee – who considers his involvement with Facebook during its early days to be the “highlight of a long career” – deeply saddened. “Every part of this has made me sadder and sadder and sadder. I feel like my baby has turned out to be something horrible, and these people I trusted and helped along have forgotten where they came from,” he said in a conversation with Kevin Delaney, Quartz’s editor-in-chief. McNamee has become an outspoken critic of the company, comparing its role in the 2016 US election to “the plot of a sci-fi novel” while at the same time admitting that he has “profited enormously” by backing Facebook early on. The organization he helped found, the Center for Humane Technology, has made it a mission to expose Facebook’s multiple flaws, and to try to fix them.

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Facebook facilitates ethnic cleansing. But profits are more important.

Facebook’s Global Monopoly Is A Deadly Problem In Developing Nations (G.)

[..] Facebook is a new kind of monopoly. We’re accustomed to the idea of companies becoming dominant in some jurisdictions. But we have never before encountered a corporation that has a global monopoly. Because wherever you go on the planet these days, Facebook is the only social-networking game in town. It has no serious competitors – anywhere. The implications of this are only now beginning to dawn on us. In the past two years, we have woken up to Facebook’s pernicious role in western democratic politics and are beginning to think about ways of addressing that problem in our bailiwicks. To date, the ideas about regulation that have surfaced seem ineffectual and so the damage continues.

But at least liberal democracies have some degree of immunity to the untruths disseminated by bad actors who exploit Facebook’s automated targeting systems – provided by a free press, parliamentary inquiries, independent judiciaries, public-service broadcasters, universities, professional bodies and so on. Other societies, particularly the developing countries now most assiduously targeted by Facebook, have few such institutions and it is there that the company has the capacity to wreak the most havoc. We’ve had intimations of this for a while, notably after it became clear that Facebook was a medium for anti-Muslim hysteria in Myanmar, hysteria that was subsequently translated into full-blown ethnic cleansing.

One of the key figures in all this was the ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, who used Facebook to broadcast his views about the Rohingya after he was banned from preaching by the government. Wirathu compared Muslims to mad dogs and posted gruesome pictures of dead bodies that he claimed were killed by Muslims – with predictable consequences. United Nations officials now say that social media has had a “determining role” in anti-Rohingya Muslim violence in Myanmar, which the UN itself has called “ethnic cleansing”. For “social media”, read Facebook, because there’s no competition to it in Myanmar.

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Torture.

Future Uncertain For Assange In Wake Of US-Ecuador Military Deal (DisM)

Late yesterday, Telesur reported that Ecuador had signed a “security deal” with the United States, which is expected to result in a US military presence in that country. Telesur wrote: “Ecuador signed Wednesday a cooperation agreement with the United States to fight transnational organized crime and drug trafficking…. Moreno’s move is a further shift away from the policies of his left-wing predecessor and former ally, Rafael Correa, who has criticized and refused to participate in the U.S.-sponsored Plan Colombia, arguing peace is not obtained with helicopters and weapons but rather by promoting economic and social development.”

The news comes as a new blow to hopes that Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno would heed calls from around the globe to end the solitary confinement of Julian Assange. Tomorrow, the arbitrarily confined journalist will have been totally isolated for one month. The latest news of a military agreement struck between Moreno’s government and the US comes as yet another major shift away from the policies of Ecuador’s prior administration. It is also a distinct pivot away from Ecuador’s decision, made just a few months prior, to confer citizenship and diplomatic status on the Wikileaks Editor-In-Chief.

This writer previously expressed the opinion that the ongoing solitary confinement of Assange by his own government constitutes torture. Disobedient Media has also reported consistently on the numerous online and physical vigils, petitions and other efforts to encourage Ecuador to return the Ecuadorian embassy in London to a place of refuge, as intended when the previous administration bravely granted Assange political asylum from the threats to his life and work emanating from the United States.

In our previous report, Disobedient Media noted that enforced isolation is not only torture in the opinions of those who have experienced it, but has also been labeled as such by the UN. Rick Raemisch wrote in an opinion piece published by The New York Times that, according to the Nelson Mandela rules, solitary confinement lasting more than 15 days constitutes torture. This means that the length of time for which Julian Assange has been cut off from the outside world would now have almost doubled the official benchmark for being considered torture.

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if the US would simply clean ita back yard, and stop stoking tensions there, it wouldn’t have these problems.

‘Caravan’ Migrants Weigh Staying In Mexico Or Risking US Expulsion (R.)

Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans who drew the wrath of President Donald Trump in a month-long caravan to the U.S. border will make hard decisions on Sunday whether to risk being deported all the way home by trying to cross, or to build a life in Mexico. After angry tweets from Trump, U.S. border authorities said some people associated with the caravan had been caught trying to slip through the fence, and encouraged the rest to hand themselves in to authorities. “We are a very welcoming country but just like your own house, we expect everyone to enter through our front door, and answer questions honestly,” San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott said in a statement.

Most of the group of about 400 travelers who arrived in border city Tijuana on buses over the past couple of days said they intended to legally seek asylum in San Diego later on Sunday, but lawyers advising the group gave them stark advice – not everyone will be successful. After the grueling journey, a somber mood took hold as the reality sank in that many of them would be separated from their families. Lovers and parents with slightly older sons and daughters could be forced to split up. At venues around the city, U.S. immigration lawyers working on a pro bono basis on Saturday listened to harrowing tales of life in the immigrants’ home countries.

Death threats from local gangs, the murder of family members, retaliatory rape, and political persecution back home prompted them to flee, the migrants and lawyers say. Many of the immigrants who spoke at length with Reuters at various points during their trip through Mexico had been short on knowledge of their legal rights, but at least 24 recounted detailed stories of facing death threats.

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How true.

In The Opioid Epidemic, White Means Victim, Black Means Addict (G.)

My cursor is hovering over the “unfriend” button, but I haven’t clicked it. Today, my relationship-severing finger is poised to get rid of Matt. Matt is a friend with whom I spent a lot of time about six years ago. We were close in rehab, but I haven’t seen him since. I entered Greenbriar treatment center in Washington, Pennsylvania, just a few days after he’d arrived, and he showed me the ropes. For the next few weeks, we were virtually inseparable. Rehab can be a frightening place when you first arrive. With any luck, you’ve already had some sort of “come to Jesus” moment with yourself and you’ve realized that you need to be there or else you’re going to die. I had had no such moment and was fully convinced that this was all a big mistake.

Once I got through the door into the facility, I heard it lock electronically with a loud buzz and a finality that shook my bones. I immediately regretted it. There is no lonelier feeling on this Earth than sitting there, abandoned and broken. You’ve burned all your bridges on the outside and your life feels as though it’s half a world away. This is the moment when you really need a guy like Matt to walk up to you, thrust out his hand and say: “Hi! I’m Matt! What’s your name?” Over the next few weeks, he and I attended group therapy sessions together and stayed up late talking about our problems, our addictions and our families. We ugly-cried in front of each other as we shared our darkest secrets, what we had done for drugs and how deeply unhappy we were.

Matt is a man who, in many ways, helped me to take my recovery seriously in rehab and, in the first few weeks after my release, he helped me to remain sober on the outside. And, today, I sit in front of my monitor poised to cancel him forever because whiteness is apparently more addictive than any drug could ever be. We sobered up in the same facility, but he was a victim. I was an addict. Matt is a Christian. I am not. Matt is a Republican. I am not. And, most significantly, Matt is white. I am not. And these facts make all the difference in America.

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First you destroy it, then you spend taxpayers’ money to restore it. It’s called a profit model.

Australia Pledges Half A Billion To Restore Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

Australia pledged half a billion dollars to restore and protect the Great Barrier Reef Sunday in what it said would be a game-changer for the embattled natural wonder, but conservationists were not convinced. The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.It is also under threat from the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, which has proliferated due to pollution and agricultural runoff.Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said more than Aus$500 million ($400 million) would go towards improving water quality, tackling predators, and expanding restoration efforts.

Turnbull said it was the “largest ever single investment — to protect the reef, secure its viability and the 64,000 jobs that rely on the reef”.”We want to ensure the reef’s future for the benefit of all Australians, particularly those whose livelihood depends on the reef,” he added.The reef is a critical national asset, contributing Aus$6.4 billion a year to the Australian economy.Canberra has previously committed more than Aus$2.0 billion to protect the site over the next decade, but has been criticised for backing a huge coal project by Indian mining giant Adani nearby.With its heavy use of coal-fired power and relatively small population, Australia is considered one of the world’s worst per-capita greenhouse gas polluters.

Canberra insists it is taking strong action to address the global threat of climate change, having set an ambitious target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030.

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Apr 082018
 


Johannes Vermeer The Concert 1663
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, the single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)
Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)
Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)
Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)
US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)
China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)
Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)
China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)
No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)
Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)
US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)
Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

 

 

At some point it will stop. But it’s just too tempting.

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)

The world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030, according to a shocking analysis that has lead to a cross-party call for action. World leaders are being warned that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top will fuel growing distrust and anger over the coming decade unless action is taken to restore the balance. An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030. Even taking the financial crash into account, and measuring their assets over a longer period, they would still hold more than half of all wealth.

Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) – up from $140tn today. Analysts suggest wealth has become concentrated at the top because of recent income inequality, higher rates of saving among the wealthy, and the accumulation of assets. The wealthy also invested a large amount of equity in businesses, stocks and other financial assets, which have handed them disproportionate benefits.

New polling by Opinium suggests that voters perceive a major problem with the influence exerted by the very wealthy. Asked to select a group that would have the most power in 2030, most (34%) said the super-rich, while 28% opted for national governments. In a sign of falling levels of trust, those surveyed said they feared the consequences of wealth inequality would be rising levels of corruption (41%) or the “super-rich enjoying unfair influence on government policy” (43%).

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Once they have new identities, nobody can ever ask them a question again.

Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)

Britain is considering offering poisoned Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia new identities and a fresh life in the United States in an attempt to protect them from further murder attempts, the Sunday Times newspaper reported. It said officials at the MI6 intelligence agency have had discussions with their counterparts in the CIA about resettling the victims poisoned last month in the English city of Salisbury. “They will be offered new identities,” it quoted an unidentified source as saying.

The paper said its sources believed Britain would want to ensure their safety by resettling them in one of the so-called “five eyes” countries, the intelligence-sharing partnership that also includes the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. “The obvious place to resettle them is America because they’re less likely to be killed there and it’s easier to protect them there under a new identity,” it quoted what it called an intelligence source familiar with the negotiations as saying. “There’s a preference for them to be resettled in a five-eyes nation because their case would have huge security implications,” the source added.

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Some are more equal than others.

Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)

Facebook secretly deleted private messages from people’s inboxes that had been sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the company has admitted. Messages disappearing from people’s inboxes was first noted by TechCrunch, who cited three sources whose inboxes had been tampered with. It is not possible for normal Facebook users to delete messages from other people’s inboxes, though Mr Zuckerberg and other executives appear to have had access to the functionality for several years. Facebook said in a statement that the self-destructing feature was added in response to the Sony Pictures hack in 2014 that compromised personal information of Sony employees, as well as copies of unreleased films.

The feature may also have been used to prevent potentially embarrassing messages from resurfacing, such as a 2004 message sent by Mr Zuckerberg that reportedly called users of the social network “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their data. “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” Facebook said. “These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.” The messages were also missing when the affected users attempted to recover them using Facebook’s “download your information” tool.

Deleting private messages from people’s inboxes without their consent may potentially go against Facebook’s terms of service, which make no mention of removing content unless it is a violation of the firm’s community standards.

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We spy on you for your own good. Trust us, we know better.

Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)

Facebook scans the links and images that people send each other on Facebook Messenger, and reads chats when they’re flagged to moderators, making sure the content abides by the company’s rules. If it doesn’t, it gets blocked or taken down. The company confirmed the practice after an interview published earlier this week with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg raised questions about Messenger’s practices and privacy. Zuckerberg told Vox’s Ezra Klein a story about receiving a phone call related to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Facebook had detected people trying to send sensational messages through the Messenger app, he said. “In that case, our systems detect what’s going on,” Zuckerberg said. “We stop those messages from going through.”

Some people reacted with concern on Twitter: Was Facebook reading messages more generally? Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over how it handles users’ private data and the revelation struck a nerve. Messenger doesn’t use the data from the scanned messages for advertising, the company said, but the policy may extend beyond what Messenger users expect. The company told Bloomberg that while Messenger conversations are private, Facebook scans them and uses the same tools to prevent abuse there that it does on the social network more generally. All content must abide by the same “community standards.” People can report posts or messages for violating those standards, which would prompt a review by the company’s “community operations” team.

Automated tools can also do the work. “For example, on Messenger, when you send a photo, our automated systems scan it using photo matching technology to detect known child exploitation imagery or when you send a link, we scan it for malware or viruses,” a Facebook Messenger spokeswoman said in a statement. “Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behavior on our platform.”

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When Facebook looks at everybody’s everything, this should come as no surprise.

US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking to create a searchable database of hundreds of thousands of news sources, journalists, bloggers and “media influencers” for the federal government, a move a DHS spokesman called “standard practice.” In a job request posted last week to the Federal Business Opportunities website, the main contracting website used by the federal government, DHS wrote that it is seeking a contractor that is able to monitor up to 290,000 global news sources, track media coverage in up to 100 languages and can “track online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media.”

The request also seeks the ability to build lists of journalists “based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role.” Data to be collected would also include an analysis of each news source’s “sentiment,” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum and circulation. The database of “top media influencers” would include “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”

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Treasuries are the only thing China can buy with its -dollar- surplus.

China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)

When China builds a trade surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. That means its purchase of US dollar assets is non-discretionary unless it revalues its currency. Every time there is some kind of dispute between China and the United States, a litany of voices emerges to warn of spiking interest rates. These warnings are wrong-headed. We went through this very same exercise in 2010. And Michael Pettis’s commentary is useful in this context. Let me quote from Michael and explain what it means in today’s context:

“If China runs a current account surplus, it must accumulate net foreign claims by exactly that amount, and the entity against which it accumulates those claims (adjusting for actions by other players within the balance of payments) ultimately must run the corresponding current account deficit. And as long as China ran the largest current account surplus ever recorded as a share of global GDP, and the US the largest current account deficit ever recorded, and especially since China also ran an additional capital account surplus (i.e. other non-PBoC agents ran a net capital inflow), it was almost impossible for the PBoC to do anything but buy US dollar assets. Given the sheer amounts, a substantial portion of these assets had inevitably to be USG bonds.“

The source of acrimony between China and the US is China’s trade surplus with the US. Now, when China builds this surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. And so, for a large portion of that dollar hoard, the Chinese have decided to store it as Treasury bonds. We don’t have to argue the merits of the Trump trade position here. It’s irrelevant regarding China’s accumulation of Treasury securities or mortgage-backed securities. Note that now it is Germany instead of China that has the largest current account surplus. And the EU has drawn Trump’s ire for this reason.

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“..growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009”

Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)

The Reserve Bank of Australia is concerned that the rapid expansion of China’s shadow banking sector over the past decade poses a threat to financial stability.The RBA estimates that China’s shadow banking sector currently stands at USD$7 trillion, or around 60% of GDP, after growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009. This means China’s shadow banking sector is far largely proportionately compared to other emerging economies, and roughly on par with developed nations such as the UK and the US. The RBA points out that shadow banking has brought benefits to the Chinese economy, chief amongst them the provision of more innovative forms of financing to companies otherwise barred from the state-dominated banking system.

Chinese households also benefited by obtaining access to investment products that provide competitive yields, in a highly regulated financial environment that provides few investment options.These benefits have also created problems, however, in the form of surging debt growth beyond the purview of regulatory scrutiny, riskier lending that is still inextricably linked to the Chinese banking system, as well as liquidity and maturity mismatches.These risks have been further exacerbated by the relative inexperience of China’s retail investors, and the perception that many financial instruments such as bank wealth management products enjoy “implicit guarantees. ”Beijing is well aware of the risks associated with exorbitant debt growth via shadow banking activity, launching a crackdown on the sector over a year ago as part of a broader deleveraging campaign.

The recently merged banking and insurance regulator has also flagged a continued focus on local government and state-owned enterprise leverage, alongside concern over the rapid increase in household borrowing.According to RBA analysts, however, Chinese regulators are still struggling to control breakneck credit growth in the economy.“Chinese regulators have been trying to mitigate these risks for some time, but it has been a challenge to design regulations that address these risks and are not easily circumvented,” said RBA officials in the Australian central bank’s March bulletin. In January China posted record growth in lending, which surged to 2.9 trillion yuan (approx. USD$458.5 billion) for a five-fold increase compared to the preceding month.

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What Xi can’t control.

China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)

The transformation of China’s economy, both in terms of GDP growth rate and poverty reduction since it started its transition to the market system in the late 1970s, has arguably been the biggest macroeconomic event of the past half-century. The model that has characterized the country’s high output growth rates has followed in the footsteps of the Asian “tigers“: first, its high growth rates of capital accumulation, driven by high investment-output ratios; second, a marked outward orientation through export-led growth policies; and third, the pursuit of industrialization (in particular the production and export of manufacturing goods), a key ingredient for fast growth and development. By almost every metric, China has advanced from economic backwater to the world’s second-largest GDP (and by some measures, is now the largest economy).

But in spite of signs of renewed economic activity in March, the country’s debt build-up has provoked increasing concern amongst Beijing’s policy makers, as it points to an underlying long-term financial fragility, particularly if trade war pressures intensify. Just last October during the Communist Party Plenary, Zhou Xiaochuan, then head of the country’s central bank, warned of a “Minsky moment“: “When there are too many pro-cyclical factors in an economy, cyclical fluctuations will be amplified. If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky Moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.”

To elaborate on Zhou’s statement, the economist Hyman Minsky described how once the debt “disease” goes metastatic, there will come a “Minsky moment” (a term originally coined by economist Paul McCulley) when euphoria gives way to concern and then to panic liquidation and credit revulsion. When that dynamic is in full flower, policy makers are powerless to avert it, no matter how much they want to bring the punchbowl back. Governor Zhou’s public warning was no doubt in response to recent rapid increase of debt which, according to Professor L. Randall Wray, “increased from 162% to 260% of GDP between 2008 and 2016,” and remains “a topic of discussion, if not deep concern.”

It may seem odd to warn of a Chinese slowdown, given the recent renewed surge in exports and the corresponding rise in both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing purchasing managing indices (both the manufacturing and service gauges remain above 50, and therefore indicative of robust economic activity). But these gains ought to be viewed against the backdrop of a more hostile external environment for Chinese manufactured goods. Discussing the recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, the New York Times reported that Trump has already provided brief exemptions to “Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea” (countries that “account for more than half of the $29 billion in steel sold to the United States in 2017”), which reinforces the idea that it is largely China that remains the major target of Trump’s economic nationalists.

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A nice thought experiment.

No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum, I borrowed this line from the Eagles’ 1976 hit “Hotel California” as an argument against Britain exiting the European Union. I told audiences up and down Britain that if they voted to leave the EU, they would end up more entangled with the EU Commission than ever before. As British Prime Minister Theresa May is finding out, disentangling a member state from the EU is an arduous and complex undertaking. But how much harder would Brexit have been had the United Kingdom adopted the euro back in 2000?

For starters, the people of Britain would never have been consulted on whether they wanted to check out of the EU. In a hypothetical eurozone Britain, the very announcement of a referendum on membership would have triggered a bank run. Given Britain’s chronic trade and current-account deficits, an exit from the euro would have necessarily caused a decline in the international value of UK bank deposits. Foreseeing this, depositors would have responded to the announcement of a referendum by immediately withdrawing their euros in cash or by wiring them to Frankfurt, Paris, New York, or elsewhere. And, foreseeing that reaction, no British prime minister, not even David Cameron, would have dared announce a Brexit referendum.

Looking further back, what would the effect of 16 years in the eurozone have been on the relative strength of Leavers and Remainers within the Conservative Party? What would Britain’s economic circumstances have been like prior to 2016 had the euro been the UK’s currency? Would the political pressure to hold the referendum in 2016 have been weaker had Britain shared the same currency as Germany, France, and Greece? As with all counterfactuals, we are treading on thin ice here. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to sketch a plausible economic past for a UK that, hypothetically, entered the eurozone in 2000.

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Time to follow the money on pot.

Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)

Legalised cannabis use may help solve America’s opioid crisis, two scientific studies have suggested. Two separate peer-reviewed studies in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found significant drops in opioid prescribing in US states that had relaxed their cannabis laws. Both studies appear to offer insights into possible ways to solve a crisis that saw 17,087 people die from prescription opioid overdoes in the US in 2016. The crisis has its origins in soaring prescription rates after a new generation of opioids were marketed in the 1980s and 1990s with inaccurate claims that they could alleviate chronic pain with minimal risk of addiction.

The new research was accompanied by an opinion piece in JAMA Internal Medicine which said both studies produced “results suggesting that cannabis legalisation may play a beneficial role in the opioid crisis”. In the first study, researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, looked at Medicare Part D prescriptions for people over the age of 65 between 2010 and 2015. It found that prescriptions for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses per year from an average of 23.08 million daily doses per year when a state instituted any medical cannabis law. When a state opened marijuana dispensaries, opioid prescriptions dropped by 3.7 million daily doses per year.

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Loophole. And a dangerous one.

US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)

Researchers in the US have been given the go-ahead to use gene-editing techniques to alter crops and plants. The decision opens the door for scientists to create a new generation of genetically altered crops without serious restriction and paves the way for approvals for similar work in Britain and the rest of Europe. The decision – by the US Department of Agriculture – has delighted scientists who had feared that limitations on the creation and growing of genetically modified crops would also be imposed on crops created using far simpler gene-editing techniques. “I think this decision by American legislators will have all sorts of benefits in the long run,” said Professor Denis Murphy of the University of South Wales.

“This is a win-win situation because agriculture for gene-editing is cheaper, faster, simpler and more precise than the genetic modification of plants, in which a gene is taken from one organism and moved to another.” The European Court of Justice indicated in January that it does not think crops created though gene-editing techniques should be regulated by the rules that govern genetically modified organisms in Europe. “At the same time, Britain’s Acre – the advisory committee on releases into the environment – also seems to be sympathetic to this position,” said Professor Huw Dylan Jones of Aberystwyth University. “It is very encouraging.”

In the wake of hostile green campaigns, Britain imposed severe restrictions on GM crops two decades ago and few have been grown. The prospect that this fate would also befall plants created by the newer and simpler technique of gene-editing worried many researchers who feared a technology at which Britain excels would be banned. These fears are now disappearing, they say. “If we have our own domestic gene-editing industry then scientists trained at our universities will have something to work on here when they qualify,” said Murphy. “At present, our young scientists have to go to work in another country if they want to continue working on the topic.”

Gene-editing could lead to the development of domestic crops particularly suited to Britain, said Dylan Jones. “Loliums and clovers that are good for grazing could be improved to make them more hardy, for example,” he said. “It is very hopeful.” Genetically modified crops are generated through the introduction of foreign DNA sequences. Gene-edited crops are created by editing an organism’s native genome. Gene-editing is more efficient, cheaper, quicker and more precise. By altering the DNA make-up of a gene the characteristics of a cell or an organism can be changed.

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I don’t like calling living creatures ‘pests’, and the tone here is a bit sensational, but the core is resistance against pesticides. We must stop poisoning nature.

Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

A pair of major agricultural pests have combined to produce a “mega-pest” that could threaten crops around the world. Losses from the original pest species, cotton bollworms and corn earworms, already amounts to billions of dollars worth of food. But a hybrid of the two, shows signs of rapidly developing resistance to pesticides and it scientists fear it could cross international boundaries undetected, wiping out all the crops it comes across. Bollworms and earworms are closely related. The bollworm has its origins in Africa, Asia and Europe while the earworm is a native of the Americas. Both are in fact moth caterpillars and they feed on more than 100 plant species including vital crops like corn, cotton, tomato and soybean.

A team of Australian scientists who discovered the hybrid mega-pests think the combination of international species could be creating a new strain with unlimited geographical boundaries. It is impossible to tell which individuals are hybrids just by looking at them, meaning by the time the hybrids have been detected it may be too late. [..] In Australia, a combination of pesticides is currently being employed to manage the nation’s bollworms, but chemical resistance is a major cause for concern. Bollworms are generally better at developing resistance than their earworm cousins, and are immune to the effects of many major insecticides.

However, within the “hybrid swarm” they studied in Brazil the scientists found creatures that were largely earworm in their genetic makeup, but with bollworm DNA coding for pesticide resistance. The scientists warned that the Brazilian case highlighted the threat that new “agriculturally problematic” strains of pest could soon spread throughout the rest of the Americas. “On top of the impact already felt in South America, recent estimates that 65% of the USA’s agricultural output is at risk of being affected by the bollworm demonstrates that this work has the potential to instigate changes to research priorities that will have direct ramifications for the people of America, through the food on their tables and the clothes on their backs,” said Dr Craig Anderson, one of the study’s authors.

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