Jun 152019
 
 June 15, 2019  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arnold Böcklin Mermaids at play 1886

 

Freeing Julian Assange: Part Two (Suzie Dawson)
Well Guess What? He Was Right Again! Free Julian Assange (CJ)
DOJ Bloodhounds on the Scent of John Brennan (Ray McGovern)
System To Circumvent US Sanctions On Iran Ready Soon: German FM (AlJ)
Jeremy Corbyn Challenges UK Government’s Iran Tanker Accusations (BBC)
Brexit Britain Wallows In Dangerous Talk Of National Humiliation (O’Toole)
All Eyes On Fed As Stock Market Pines For Rate Cut (R.)
US Commercial Real Estate Is Another Dangerous Bubble In The Making (Colombo)
The “Deficits Don’t Matter” Folly (Stockman)
Beijing Yields To Hong Kong’s Financial Clout (R.)
Meanwhile, over on Planet Japan (Simon Black)

 

 

Trump was merely added years after the Russia-WikiLeaks slander had started.

Freeing Julian Assange: Part Two (Suzie Dawson)

The public has been led to believe that the 2016 election and the resulting Mueller Report is the definitive evidence that WikiLeaks was somehow in cahoots with Russia, reinforcing the premise that they were in a political alliance with, or favoured, Donald Trump and his Presidential election campaign. Prominent Russiagate-skeptics have long pointed out the multitude of gaping holes inherent in those theories, including the advocacy group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) who have produced credible forensic work analysing the 2016 WikiLeaks releases, that resoundingly debunks officials claims.


In the course of researching this article, I stumbled across a major discovery that augments that: the false notion of WikiLeaks being a front for Russian intelligence isn’t new – it has been pushed by media since 2009. It turns out the circulation of the WikiLeaks-Russia myth was a tried and true diversionary, smear tactic that was simply regurgitated in 2016. Julian Assange believed that UK intelligence agencies were behind the pushing of that narrative, and he was publicly stating so at the end of last decade. He wouldn’t make such claims lightly, and other emerging facts support his suspicion.

Read more …

“Otherwise you are just the establishment’s PR firm.”

Well Guess What? He Was Right Again! Free Julian Assange (CJ)

“Today’s the day that journalism gets put on trial,” Dimmack said. “And it’s interesting that behind me there are this many cameras. There haven’t been this many cameras for quite a while. It’s interesting that when Julian was dragged out and kidnapped from within that Ecuadorian embassy, all of you guys had actually gone home, and it was a Russian TV station that actually caught it, Ruptly. It’s almost as if you don’t care.”

“For seven years you have smeared and slandered that man who is going to appear on video in that court in about fifteen minutes,” Dimmack told the mainstream press, right to their fucking faces. “You are all responsible for what has happened today! All of you in the media! Every one of you. You have got blood on your hands. When he released those documents that Chelsea Manning gave him, all he did was the job of a publisher. That’s it. Right now Julian Assange is going to court and put on trial for exposing war criminals as war criminals. And all of you for seven years have smeared and slandered him. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

“You have all got a chance right now to actually do a U-turn and repair some of the damage that you have done over the last seven years,” Dimmack roared. “The Fourth Estate is extremely important. You know this. This is why journalism is such a noble profession; you are meant to hold power accountable, not to suck up to it sycophantically and just repeat propaganda. Otherwise you are just the establishment’s PR firm.” “Stand up for Julian Assange and tell the truth,” he continued. “Ask yourselves why is it for seven years you have printed lie after lie after lie about him? Why is it for seven years you have said that he went to the Ecuadorian embassy to escape a rape charge? No he didn’t! How many times have I said it? He went in there to escape extradition to the United States.” “Well guess what?” Dimmack concluded, gesturing to the courthouse. “He was right again! Free Julian Assange.”

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More Russiagate.

DOJ Bloodhounds on the Scent of John Brennan (Ray McGovern)

The New York Times Thursday morning has bad news for one of its favorite anonymous sources, former CIA Director John Brennan. The Times reports that the Justice Department plans to interview senior CIA officers to focus on the allegation that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian intelligence to intervene in the 2016 election to help Donald J. Trump. DOJ investigators will be looking for evidence to support that remarkable claim that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report failed to establish. Despite the collusion conspiracy theory having been put to rest, many Americans, including members of Congress, right and left, continue to accept the evidence-impoverished, media-cum-“former-intelligence-officer” meme that the Kremlin interfered massively in the 2016 presidential election.

One cannot escape the analogy with the fraudulent evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As in 2002 and 2003, when the mania for the invasion of Iraq mounted, Establishment media have simply regurgitated what intelligence sources like Brennan told them about Russia-gate. No one batted an eye when Brennan told a House committee in May 2017, “I don’t do evidence.” As we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity have warned numerous times over the past two plus years, there is no reliable forensic evidence to support the story that Russia hacked into the DNC. Moreover, in a piece I wrote in May, “Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russia-gate,” I again noted that accumulating forensic evidence from metadata clearly points to an inside DNC job — a leak, not a hack, by Russia or anyone else.

So Brennan and his partners, FBI Director James Comey and National Intelligence Director James Clapper were making stuff up and feeding thin but explosive gruel to the hungry stenographers that pass today for Russiagate obsessed journalists. With Justice Department investigators’ noses to the ground, it should be just a matter of time before they identify Brennan conclusively as fabricator-in-chief of the Russiagate story. Evidence, real evidence in this case, abounds, since the Brennan-Comey-Clapper gang of three were sure Hillary Clinton would become president. Consequently, they did not perform due diligence to hide their tracks.

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From Monday. A few days later, the tankers were attacked. And not with mines either.

System To Circumvent US Sanctions On Iran Ready Soon: German FM (AlJ)

A European payment system designed to circumvent US sanctions on Iran will be ready soon, Germany announced on Monday. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran as part of European efforts to salvage the historic JCPOA nuclear pact and defuse rising US-Iranian tension. Iran and Germany held “frank and serious” talks on saving the 2015 deal with world powers, Zarif told a joint press conference. “Tehran will cooperate with EU signatories of the deal to save it,” Zarif said. Maas said earlier the payment system, known as INSTEX, (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) will soon be ready to go after months of work.


“This is an instrument of a new kind so it’s not straightforward to operationalise it,” he said, pointing to the complexity of trying to install a totally new payment system. “But all the formal requirements are in place now, and so I’m assuming we’ll be ready to use it in the foreseeable future,” added Maas about the system for barter-based trade with Iran. A cautious thaw in relations between Tehran and Washington began in 2015 when the deal was struck between six world powers and Iran, limiting its nuclear activity. But tensions with the US have mounted since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions. Iran has criticised the European signatories of the JCPOA for failing to salvage the pact after Trump pulled the US out. “There is a serious situation in the region. An escalation of tension is becoming uncontrollable and military action wouldn’t be in line with the interests of any party,” Maas said.

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From Skripal to Iran.

Jeremy Corbyn Challenges UK Government’s Iran Tanker Accusations (BBC)

Jeremy Corbyn has questioned whether the government has “credible evidence” to show Iran is behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said responsibility for Thursday’s attack in the Gulf of Oman “almost certainly” lies with the Iranian regime. But the Labour leader tweeted that there was no evidence for this. Mr Hunt responded that Mr Corbyn’s comments were “pathetic” and said he should back British intelligence. It is the second time in the past few weeks that tankers appear to have been attacked in the region and comes amid escalating tension between Iran and the United States.


The US military released video footage which it said proved Iran was behind Thursday’s attacks on the Norwegian and Japanese tankers – something Iran has categorically denied. The UK Foreign Office said it was “almost certain” that a branch of the Iranian military – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – attacked the two tankers on 13 June, adding that “no other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible”. “These latest attacks build on a pattern of destabilising Iranian behaviour and pose a serious danger to the region,” Mr Hunt said. However, in a tweet Mr Corbyn questioned that assessment and said the UK should ease tensions in the region, not fuel a military escalation.

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And it works!

Brexit Britain Wallows In Dangerous Talk Of National Humiliation (O’Toole)

Launching his bid for the Tory leadership this week, Dominic Raab announced, histrionically: “We’ve been humiliated as a country.” For those of us who do not live on planet Brexit, this might have been mistaken for a belated reaction to the genuinely demeaning spectacle of Donald Trump’s state visit a week earlier. But, of course, like almost all of his fellow contenders to be the next prime minister, Raab was playing his part in a strange performance in which the national honour has been so horribly besmirched by the European Union that it can be salved only by taking the pain of a no-deal Brexit.

Perhaps if you keep acting out phoney feelings, you end up not being able to recognise the real thing. Brexit Britain has been wallowing in a hyped-up psychodrama of national humiliation. It is, indeed, one of the very few things that remainers and leavers still share, even if they feel mortified for very different reasons. In relation to the EU, this sense of humiliation is wildly overplayed. But when Trump comes to town and really does degrade Britain, the sense of wounded dignity that ought to be felt seems curiously absent.

[..] how come the idea of national humiliation has loomed so large in Brexit? Shortly before the missed departure date of 29 March, a Sky Data poll asked: “Is the way Britain is dealing with Brexit a national humiliation?” Ninety per cent of respondents said yes. This idea of collective abasement is everywhere in the Brexit narrative. A random sample of headlines from across the spectrum tells the story: “Brexit and the prospect of national humiliation” (Financial Times); “Voice of the Mirror: Theresa May’s Brexit is a national humiliation”; “A national humiliation: Never was so much embarrassment caused to so many by so few” (Telegraph); “‘Humiliating to have to beg’ for EU exit, says Arlene Foster” (Irish Times). And so, endlessly, on.

There is something hysterical in this constant evocation of humiliation. It is a cry of outraged self-regard: how dare they treat us like this? Yes, of course, the Brexit debacle has reduced Britain’s prestige around the world. And the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May is indeed a miserable thing when compared with the glorious visions that preceded it. But Britain has not been humiliated by the EU – the deal was shaped by May’s (and Arlene Foster’s) red lines. Britain did not get what the Brexiters fantasised about, but it did get what it actually asked for. That’s not humiliation.

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Markets my ass. The only thing that’s left is the Fed. Markets are dead.

All Eyes On Fed As Stock Market Pines For Rate Cut (R.)

The Federal Open Market Committee meeting next week is shaping up as a pivotal one for Wall Street, with stocks primed for a selloff should the Fed fail to take an even more dovish tilt after policymakers raised expectations for a rate cut in recent weeks. The benchmark S&P 500 has rallied more than 5% this month as softening economic data coupled with comments by Fed officials heightened expectations the Fed will cut rates by the end of the year and, at the very least, telegraph it is leaning toward a later rate cut at its June 18-19 meeting. Those gains came on the heels of a selloff in May of nearly 7% in the S&P, largely fueled by investor concerns that trade wars were escalating, slowing the economy and putting it at risk of falling into a recession.


Bets for a rate cut were amplified by comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on June 4, who said the central bank will respond “as appropriate” to the risks from a global trade war and other developments, and after a weak May payrolls report on June 7. Bank of America Merrill Lynch Chief Economist Michelle Meyer expects the Fed’s “dot plots” projection of interest rates, which represents the anonymous, individual rate projections of Fed policymakers for the next few years, to shift lower as officials start to factor in cuts. However, “the median dot will signal a Fed on hold,” Meyer said in a note. “The market has somehow convinced themselves that we are in an easing cycle. I am not sure how we got so far ahead of ourselves,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.

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Virtual wealth in a virtual reality.

US Commercial Real Estate Is Another Dangerous Bubble In The Making (Colombo)

As a result of the Fed’s ZIRP and QE programs in the past decade, virtually all types of assets soared in value: stocks, bonds, art, classic cars, farmland, residential real estate, and commercial real estate. On average, U.S. commercial real estate prices have surged by 111%, or more than double, since their 2009 low. Interestingly, most people don’t realize that U.S. commercial real estate also experienced a bubble from 2004 to 2008 at the same time as the U.S. housing bubble. This early bubble inflated for many of the same reasons as the housing bubble, which were ultra-low borrowing costs and loose lending standards. From 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate prices rose 66%, but crashed by nearly 40% during the 2008 financial crisis. Commercial real estate prices have increased even more in the current bubble (111% vs. 66%), which means that the coming commercial real estate bust is likely to be even worse than the 2008 bust.

As discussed earlier, low interest rate environments often cause dangerous bubbles to develop by encouraging borrowing booms. Like the U.S. commercial real estate bubble of 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate lending has flourished during the current bubble. Since 2012, total commercial real estate loans at U.S. banks have increased by an alarming $700 billion or 50%.

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“There haven’t been any cataclysmic consequences, so why worry about it?”

The “Deficits Don’t Matter” Folly (Stockman)

Well, that was timely. The US Treasury just posted a record $207 billion deficit for May and record monthly spending of $440 billion. That brought the rolling 12 month deficit to just shy of the trillion dollar mark at $986 billion. The timely part is two-fold. First, it just so happens that May marked month #119 of the current expansion, making it tied for the duration record with the 1990s cycle. But even JM Keynes himself would be rolling in his grave in light of the chart below. To wit, even by the lights of hardcore Keynesians of yore, fiscal deficits were supposed to be falling sharply at the end of a business cycle or even moving into surplus as they did in 1999-2000, not erupting toward 5% of GDP as has now happened.

The second timely note, of sorts, is that the Wall Street Journal was Johnny on the Spot this AM with a front page story entitled, “How Washington Learned to Love Debt and Deficits”. The story’s quote from the current Dem Chairman of the House Budget Committee, John Yarmouth, says it all. There simply has never been such bipartisan complacency about the nation’s public finances in all of modern history – including during the biggest borrow and spend days of FDR, LBJ and every president since Gerald Ford: “Rep. John Yarmuth (D., Ky.), House Budget Committee chairman, says he rarely hears from constituents concerned about rising deficits and debt. Many voters’ attitudes, he says: “There haven’t been any cataclysmic consequences, so why worry about it?”

The WSJ story is a dog’s breakfast of rationalizations, non sequitirs, political double-talk and Keynesian tommyrot. What is the most telling, however, is that it was co-authored by Jon Hilsenrath, who was the paper’s long-time Fed reporter. Yet it contains not a single word about the role of central banks in fostering the utter collapse of fiscal responsibility described by his lengthy report. So for want of doubt, here is the culprit. The central banks of the world have expanded their balance sheets by upwards of $22 trillion since the turn of the century, thereby massively monetizing the erupting public debt of the US and most of the world via fiat credit snatched from thin air.

So did that massive $22 trillion “buy” order from the central banks weigh heavily on the supply of funds side of the scales in the fixed income market, thereby driving bond prices skyward and yields ever lower? Why, goodness gracious, yes it did!

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Really?

Beijing Yields To Hong Kong’s Financial Clout (R.)

Beijing has yielded to Hong Kong’s unique economic status. Carrie Lam, chief executive of the special administrative region, on Saturday indefinitely suspended a bill that would have allowed extradition to the mainland, responding to mass rallies and violent street protests that rocked the city. It’s a defeat for her, and leaves the central government embarrassed. But for the Chinese Communist Party, preserving Hong Kong’s financial role still trumps the desire for more political control. Lam took office in 2017, and is considered a reliable Beijing loyalist. Pushing through the extradition bill, however, came from her, she said. Either way, the central government endorsed it enthusiastically as well. Yet the strength and breadth of the protests caught both Lam and Beijing off guard.


The backlash was not confined to democracy advocates, much less to a radical minority that began calling for independence after the Occupy movement in 2014. It extended to anyone who distrusted the Chinese legal system. In the end, that seemed to be almost everyone. Some tycoons began moving funds out of Hong Kong to Singapore in advance of the bill’s passage, Reuters reported, a hint of the outflows before the 1997 handover from Britain. And not only did the pro-Beijing camp fail to mobilise against the demonstrations in force – as it did in 2014 – the conservative business community began expressing public doubts about the agenda almost immediately. Financial markets wobbled. Worse still, U.S. politicians threatened to re-evaluate Hong Kong’s unique status, which could affect everything from visas to trade.

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We’re all on planet Japan. Pension systems everywhere are imploding.

Meanwhile, over on Planet Japan (Simon Black)

It was only a few days ago that the Japanese government’s Financial Services Agency published its oddly-titled “Annual Report on Ageing Society”. (Like everything in Japan, English translations often hilariously miss the mark…) This is a report that the Ministry of Finance puts out every year. And as the name implies, the report discusses the state of Japan’s pension fund, and its future prospects for taking care of its senior citizens. Bear in mind that Japan has the oldest population in the world; Japan ranks #2 in the world for average age (46.9, just behind Monaco), #1 in the world for the greatest percentage of citizens over the age of 70, and #1 in the world for life expectancy. In a nutshell, this means that Planet Japan has more people collecting pension benefits, for more years, than anywhere else.

Yet at the same time, Japan’s pension fund is completely insolvent. There simply aren’t enough people paying into the system to make good on the promises that have been made. At present there are only 2 workers paying into the pension program for every 1 retiree receiving benefits in Japan. The math simply doesn’t add up, and it’s only getting worse. Planet Japan’s birth rate is infamously low, and the population here is actually DECLINING. So, fast forward another 10-15 years, and there will be even MORE people collecting pension benefits, and even FEWER people paying into the system. This year’s ‘Annual Report on Ageing Society’ plainly stated this reality; it was a brutally honest assessment of Japan’s underfunded pension program.

The report went on to tell people that they needed to save their own money for retirement because the pension fund wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. This terrified a lot of Japanese workers and pensioners. So the government stepped in to quickly solve the problem… by making the report disappear. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for the report, calling it “inaccurate and misleading.” And Finance Minister Taro Aso– himself a pensioner at age 78 (though in typical Japanese form he looks like he’s 45)– simply un-published the report.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 032019
 
 June 3, 2019  Posted by at 10:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Ranson Apple tree with red fruit 1902

 

Global Recession Fears Mount As Manufacturing Shrinks Across Asia (R.)
How Many People Will Be Retiring in the Years to Come? (St.L.Fed)
Economic Growth Is An Unnecessary Evil (TLE)
Mueller Must Testify Publicly To Answer Three Critical Questions (Turley)
Alan Dershowitz: US ‘Overplayed Its Hand’ on Assange (NM)
The Intelligence Community Needs A House-Cleaning (Matt Taibbi)
Juncker: Not Enough Work To Keep 28 EU Commissioners Busy (EuA)
US Regulators Say Some Boeing 737 MAX Planes May Have Faulty Parts (R>)
Science institute That Advised EU and UN ‘Actually Industry Lobby Group’ (G.)
EU Candidate To Run UN Food Body Will ‘Not Defend’ EU Stance On GMO (G.)
Helsinki’s Radical Solution To Homelessness (G.)

 

 

One tool left: lower interest rates.

Global Recession Fears Mount As Manufacturing Shrinks Across Asia (R.)

Factory activity contracted in most Asian countries last month as an escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing raised fears of a global economic downturn and heaped pressure on policymakers in the region and beyond to roll out more stimulus. Such growth indicators are likely to deteriorate further in coming months as higher trade tariffs take their toll on global commerce and further dent business and consumer sentiment leading to job losses and delays in investment decisions. Some economists predict a world recession and a renewed race to the bottom on interest rates if trade tensions fail to ease at a Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan at the end of June, when presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping could meet.


In China, Asia’s economic heartbeat, the Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) showed modest expansion at 50.2, offering investors some near-term relief after an official gauge on Friday showed contraction. The outlook, however, remained grim as output growth slipped, factory prices stalled and businesses were the least optimistic on production since the survey series began in April 2012. PMIs were below the 50-point mark separating contraction from expansion in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan, came below expectations in Vietnam and improved slightly in the Philippines. “The additional shock from the escalated trade tensions is not going to be good for global trade and if demand in the U.S., China and Europe continues to soften, which is very likely, it will bode ill for Asia as a whole,” said Aidan Yao, senior emerging markets economist at AXA Investment Managers.

Read more …

And because of those lower interest rates, very few Americans will be able to retire, let alone at 65. Which makes this St. Louis Fed article outright insane, insulting even.

How Many People Will Be Retiring in the Years to Come? (St.L.Fed)

In this post, I will describe a preliminary estimate of the number of people retiring each month over the next 20 years. I started with the population of workers between the ages of 40 and 65 in 2018 using data gathered by IPUMS-USA. I then used age- and gender-specific mortality rates from the Human Mortality Database to compute how many people are expected to still be alive the next year (at only one year older). I continued iterating this procedure for a few years, assuming that the age-specific mortality rates remain constant over the years I specify. Finally, I counted the number of people reaching age 65 each year, further breaking it down to the averages of those reaching 65 each day and each month. The figure below shows the result of this calculation.

Initially, it is evident that there will be around 10,000 people (taking the total of retiring males and females) turning 65 each day for the next two decades. The right axis indicates the number of people turning 65 each month, which is an easier number to compare with the BLS monthly report on the current employment situation in the U.S. Not surprisingly, the peak corresponds to the retiring of the baby boomers. From 2025 onward, the trend is declining, which is likely because of the baby bust that followed the baby boom.

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Don’t worry, growth will soon be a thing of the past.

Economic Growth Is An Unnecessary Evil (TLE)

In 2012, writing as a lone economics blogger, I put forward a case for why countries should ditch economic growth as a political priority. Long revered as a stalwart of a capitalist society the need to grow has come to overshadow everything else. We prioritise it over our personal health, we prioritise it over the health of the planet and we prioritise it over our happiness. But given that the function of any economy is to provide an environment of subsistence, that could be little short-sighted. Economist Kenneth Boulding once said that we eat in order to achieve the state of being well-fed, and moving our jaws is simply the ‘cost’ of getting there.

We would therefore be mistaken to focus our attention on the act of chewing as the desired end-state when it is simply the price we pay to become fed. But as long as growth is the target of our economic systems people will continue to focus on chewing, which is neither a sustainable nor desirable trait of an economy. Which is why I welcomed news that New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put out a national budget where spending is dictated by what best encourages the “well-being” of citizens, rather than focussing on traditional bottom-line measures like productivity and economic growth.

The government will put an emphasis on goals like community and cultural connection and equity in well-being across generations in what has been described as a “game-changing event” by LSE professor Richard Layard. As part of the framework Ardern has set aside more than $200 million to bolster services for victims of domestic and sexual violence and included a promise to provide housing for the homeless population. New guidance on policy suggests all new spending must advance one of five government priorities: improving mental health, reducing child poverty, addressing the inequalities faced by indigenous Maori and Pacific islands people, thriving in a digital age, and transitioning to a low-emission, sustainable economy.

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But he said he wouldn’t say another word…

Mueller Must Testify Publicly To Answer Three Critical Questions (Turley)

In that twinkling zone between man and myth, Robert Mueller transcends the mundane. Even in refusing to reach a conclusion on criminal conduct, he is excused. As Mueller himself declared, we are to ask him no questions or expect any answers beyond his report. But his motivations as special counsel can only be found within an approved range that starts at “selfless” and ends at “heroic.” Representative Mike Quigley defended Mueller’s refusal to reach a conclusion as simply “protecting” President Trump in a moment of “extreme fairness.” Yet, as I noted previously, Mueller’s position on the investigation has become increasingly conflicted and, at points, unintelligible.

As someone who defended Mueller’s motivations against the unrelenting attacks of Trump, I found his press conference to be baffling, and it raised serious concerns over whether some key decisions are easier to reconcile on a political rather than a legal basis. Three decisions stand out that are hard to square with Mueller’s image as an apolitical icon. If he ever deigns to answer questions, his legacy may depend on his explanations. One of the most surprising disclosures made by Attorney General William Barr was that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein expressly told Mueller to submit his report with grand jury material clearly marked to facilitate the release of a public version.

The Justice Department cannot release grand jury material without a court order. Mueller knew that. He also knew his people had to mark the material because they were in the grand jury proceedings. Thus, Barr and Rosenstein reportedly were dumbfounded to receive a report that did not contain these markings. It meant the public report would be delayed by weeks as the Justice Department waited for Mueller to perform this basic task. Mueller knew it would cause such a delay as many commentators were predicting Barr would postpone the release of the report or even bury it. It left Barr and the Justice Department in the worst possible position and created the false impression of a coverup.

Why would a special counsel directly disobey his superiors on such a demand? There is no legal or logical explanation. What is even more galling is that Mueller said in his press conference that he believed Barr acted in “good faith” in wanting to release the full report. Barr ultimately did so, releasing 98 percent of the report to select members of Congress and 92 percent to the public. However, then came the letter from Mueller.

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“..the Supreme Court. “I suspect that is where this case is headed as well..”

Alan Dershowitz: US ‘Overplayed Its Hand’ on Assange (NM)

Bringing charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act is one thing, but legal extradition is going to be far more difficult for merely publishing stolen material, not actually stealing it, according to legal expert Alan Dershowitz. “I think the Trump administration has overplayed its hand, so did the Justice Department,” Dershowitz told “The Cats Roundtable” on 970 AM-N.Y.. “They had a very strong case for extradition when they initially accused him of breaking into a password [-protected machine] to try to get classified material, that’s a crime. “But publishing materials? That’s very different. That’s The New York Times and The Washington Post, and I think Great Britain is going to have a lot of difficulty extraditing Assange to the U.S. to face trial for merely publishing material stolen not by him but by others.”


The case will not be one of espionage but a case of free speech and the First Amendment, according to Dershowitz. I think we’re in for a very interesting First Amendment case, probably the most interesting First Amendment case involving national security since Pentagon Papers.” Dershowitz was one of the lawyers of the Pentagon Papers case related to Watergate and the ultimate impeachment proceedings and resignation of former President Richard Nixon, taking the case to the Supreme Court. “I suspect that is where this case is headed as well,” Dershowitz told host John Catsimatidis.

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“Schiff was gung-ho to declassify “as much as possible about Russia hacking our elections” back in the summer of 2016, but now describes attempts to declassify information about the reasons for the probe as an attempt to “weaponize law enforcement.”

The Intelligence Community Needs A House-Cleaning (Matt Taibbi)

CIA director Gina Haspel crowed to the Washington Post a year ago that disclosing the name of informant Stefan Halper “could risk lives.” It turned out Halper had been outed as a spook in the pages of the New York Times back in 1983, and openly traded on his intelligence past as a professor in England. Where were lives at risk, in the Cambridge University Botanical Garden? We also saw reports that revealing the name of former British spy Christopher Steele would imperil his life. When the Wall Street Journal outed him in January of 2017, Steele responded by telling British media that he was “terrified for his safety.” He added he was going into hiding because he feared a “potentially dangerous backlash against him from Moscow.”

We later found out Steele had more media contacts than the Kardashian family, meeting with (at minimum) the Times, Post, Yahoo!, The New Yorker, CNN and Mother Jones in the space of about seven weeks in September-October 2016. In the years since his report became public, Steele fought through his terror to keep commiserating with the media. He invited a sprawling, laudatory 2018 profile in The New Yorker that described him answering “one of his two phones” in Farnham, a Surrey town with a “beautiful Georgian high street,” where he and his four children live on “nearly an acre of land.” He’s given depositions, negotiated to testify before congress, and been a primary source in several bestselling books. Thanks to such elaborate precautions, he’s managed somehow to avoid assassination since 2016.

[..] The release of the Page warrant turned out to not to compromise anything but the reputation of the FBI and other agencies. The major revelation was the FBI had indeed used Steele, a “compensated” FBI informant as well as a private oppo researcher, as a source despite having “suspended its relationship” with him in October 2016, ostensibly over failure to disclose media contacts. House Intel committee ranking member Adam Schiff knew this information when he conducted his “bombshell” hearing” on March 20, 2017. That was the one in which he and other members questioned not-yet-fired FBI chief James Comey and Rogers, and read out information from the Steele report as if it were factual, not giving any hint that there might be issues with it.

Schiff was gung-ho to declassify “as much as possible about Russia hacking our elections” back in the summer of 2016, but now describes attempts to declassify information about the reasons for the probe as an attempt to “weaponize law enforcement.” The hemming and hawing about “sources and methods” is really a pre-emptive ass-covering campaign. A bunch of these people are about to be highlighted in the upcoming review by Justice IG Michael Horowitz, as well as the larger probe led by former Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham. This is why we’ve seen stories that essentially show James Comey and Brennan pointing fingers and blaming the other for using the Steele material.

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“..a million euro per Commissioner, for relocation, staff and the lifelong pension which every Commissioner gets, no matter how long he or she has been in office..”

Juncker: Not Enough Work To Keep 28 EU Commissioners Busy (EuA)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has urged member states not to name short-term replacements for the Commissioners that have been elected as MEPs, insisting there is not enough work for 28 Commissioners anyway. Five of Juncker’s Commissioners have been elected as MEPs: First Vice President Frans Timmermans, vice-presidents Andrus Ansip and Valdis Dombrovskis, and Commissioners Corina Cretu and Mariya Gabriel. In an interview with BILD am Sontag yesterday (2 June), Juncker made a strong appeal that the member states should not replace them until the end of the mandate in November.


The elected MEPs must decide whether to take their seats before 1 July. If some of the elected Commissioners take their MEP seats, their countries will be without a Commissioner for four months. “Each member state has the right to appoint a new Commissioner for the remaining four months,” Juncker said, adding that “this would cost the European taxpayer a million euro per Commissioner, for relocation, staff and the lifelong pension which every Commissioner gets, no matter how long he or she has been in office, because the member states have decided that this is so. I’m trying to stop this.”

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“If it is in the air by Christmas (Dec. 25) I’ll be surprised – my own view..”

US Regulators Say Some Boeing 737 MAX Planes May Have Faulty Parts (R>)

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday disclosed a new problem involving Boeing Co’s grounded 737 MAX, saying that more than 300 of that troubled plane and the prior generation 737 may contain improperly manufactured parts and that the agency will require these parts to be quickly replaced. The FAA said up to 148 of the part known as a leading-edge slat track that were manufactured by a Boeing supplier are affected, covering 179 MAX and 133 NG aircraft worldwide. Slats are movable panels that extend along the wing’s front during takeoffs and landings to provide additional lift. The tracks guide the slats and are built into the wing.

[..] In a statement issued after the FAA announcement, Boeing said it has not been informed of any in-service issues related to this batch of slat tracks. Boeing, the world’s largest plane maker, said it has identified 20 737 MAX airplanes most likely to have the faulty parts and that airlines will check an additional 159 MAXs for these parts. Boeing said it has identified 21 737 NGs most likely to have the suspect parts and is advising airlines to check an additional 112 NGs. The NG is the third-generation 737 that the company began building in 1997. The affected parts “may be susceptible to premature failure or cracks resulting from the improper manufacturing process,” the FAA said.

[..] Boeing in April said the two fatal crashes had cost it at least $1 billion as it abandoned its 2019 financial outlook, halted share buybacks and lowered production. The company’s shares have fallen by nearly 20 percent since the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March. Some international carriers are skeptical the plane will resume flying by August as some U.S. airlines have suggested. Tim Clark, president of Emirates, told reporters in Seoul that it could take six months to restore operations as other regulators re-examine the U.S. delegation practices. “If it is in the air by Christmas (Dec. 25) I’ll be surprised – my own view,” he said.

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And there’s Monsanto again.

Science Institute That Advised EU and UN ‘Actually Industry Lobby Group’ (G.)

An institute whose experts have occupied key positions on EU and UN regulatory panels is, in reality, an industry lobby group that masquerades as a scientific health charity, according to a peer-reviewed study. The Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) describes its mission as “pursuing objectivity, clarity and reproducibility” to “benefit the public good”. But researchers from the University of Cambridge, Bocconi University in Milan, and the US Right to Know campaign assessed over 17,000 pages of documents under US freedom of information laws to present evidence of influence-peddling.

The paper’s lead author, Dr Sarah Steele, a Cambridge university senior research associate, said: “Our findings add to the evidence that this nonprofit organisation has been used by its corporate backers for years to counter public health policies. ILSI should be regarded as an industry group – a private body – and regulated as such, not as a body acting for the greater good.” In a 2015 email copied to ILSI’s then director, Suzanne Harris, and executives from firms such as Coca-Cola and Monsanto, ILSI’s founder Alex Malaspina, a former Coca-Cola vice-president, complained bitterly about new US dietary guidelines for reducing sugar intake.

“These guidelines are a real disaster!” he wrote. “They could eventually affect us significantly in many ways; Soft drink taxations, modified school luncheon programs, a strong educational effort to educate children and adults to significanty [sic] limit their sugar intake,, curtail advertising of sugary foods and beverages and eventually a great pressure from CDC [the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention] and other agencies to force industry to start deducing [sic] drastically the sugar we add to processed foods and beverages.”

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And more Monsanto. Europe is losing.

EU Candidate To Run UN Food Body Will ‘Not Defend’ EU Stance On GMO (G.)

Europe’s candidate to run the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which guides policymakers around the world, has promised the US she will “not defend the EU position” in resisting the global spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In a bid for US support, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle told senior US officials at a meeting in Washington on 15 May that under her leadership the FAO would be more open to American interests and accepting of GMOs and gene editing, according to a US official record of the meeting seen by the Guardian. The issue has been a longstanding point of conflict in trade talks with the EU, which has adopted a far more cautious approach to biotechnology in food and agriculture.

All GMO imports are subject to strict safety assessments imposed on a case-by-case basis. Plants and animals whose genome has been manipulated through gene editing are deemed to be GMOs and are subject to similar restrictions. The US portrays such restrictions as trade barriers and has demanded they be dropped. In the meeting with officials from the US agriculture and state departments, Geslain-Lanéelle, a former director general of the French agriculture and food ministry who also ran the European Food Safety Authority, signalled she would veer to the US side if she ran the FAO. “She is proud to be European, who she is, and where she comes from; however, she will promote FAO from a global perspective rather than with European Union or French views,” said a US government internal memo.

“She will not defend the EU position on biotechnology and genetically modified organisms. This is not what agriculture needs. She will defend a global project that includes US interests.”

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“..you don’t need to solve your problems before you get a home. Instead, a home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.”

Helsinki’s Radical Solution To Homelessness (G.)

As in many countries, homelessness in Finland had long been tackled using a staircase model: you were supposed to move through different stages of temporary accommodation as you got your life back on track, with an apartment as the ultimate reward. “We decided to make the housing unconditional,” says Kaakinen. “To say, look, you don’t need to solve your problems before you get a home. Instead, a home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.” With state, municipal and NGO backing, flats were bought, new blocks built and old shelters converted into permanent, comfortable homes – among them the Rukkila homeless hostel in the Helsinki suburb of Malminkartano where Ainesmaa now lives.

Housing First’s early goal was to create 2,500 new homes. It has created 3,500. Since its launch in 2008, the number of long-term homeless people in Finland has fallen by more than 35%. Rough sleeping has been all but eradicated in Helsinki, where only one 50-bed night shelter remains, and where winter temperatures can plunge to -20C. The city’s deputy mayor Sanna Vesikansa says that in her childhood, “hundreds in the whole country slept in the parks and forests. We hardly have that any more. Street sleeping is very rare now.” In England, meanwhile, government figures show the number of rough sleepers – a small fraction of the total homeless population – climbed from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,677 last year (and since the official count is based on a single evening, charities say the real figure is far higher).

But Housing First is not just about housing. “Services have been crucial,” says Helsinki’s mayor, Jan Vapaavuori, who was housing minister when the original scheme was launched. “Many long-term homeless people have addictions, mental health issues, medical conditions that need ongoing care. The support has to be there.”

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It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.
– Noel Coward

 

 

 

 

May 282019
 
 May 28, 2019  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Photo: Steve Biro

 

 

Abuses Show Assange Case Was Never About Law (J. Cook)
Rumors of War (Kunstler)
In Honor Of Memorial Day, John Bolton Announces 7 New Wars (Babylon Bee)
A Million Americans Could Lose Their Pensions (HP)
Michael Avenatti To Face 2 Arraignments In One Day (Fox)
Canada’s Ontario Province Says Will Sue Opioid Makers (AFP)
Macron and Merkel At Odds Over EU Top Jobs After European Elections (G.)
Ireland Likely To Back Barnier As Head Of European Commission (IT)
Greek PM Comes Unstuck Over Macedonia, Austerity In European Vote (R.)
Icebreakers And The Arctic Power Play (SF)
German Woman With 1,800 Cows Allowed To Stay In India (AFP)
Where Are All The Insects Gone? My Unease Deepens Year By Year (Viney)

 

 

“From the start, Assange faced political persecution.”

Abuses Show Assange Case Was Never About Law (J. Cook)

What is so striking in the Assange coverage is the sheer number of legal anomalies in his case – and these have been accumulating relentlessly from the very start. Almost nothing in his case has gone according to the normal rules of legal procedure. And yet that very revealing fact is never noticed or commented on by the corporate media. You need to have a blind spot the size of Langley, Virginia, not to notice it. If Assange wasn’t the head of Wikileaks, if he hadn’t embarrassed the most important western states and their leaders by divulging their secrets and crimes, if he hadn’t created a platform that allows whistleblowers to reveal the outrages committed by the western power establishment, if he hadn’t undermined that establishment’s control over information dissemination, none of the last 10 years would have followed the course it did.

[..] Assange has been under some form of detention since 2010. Since then, his ability to perform his role as exposer of serial high-level state crimes has been ever more impeded – to the point now that he may never be able to oversee and direct Wikileaks ever again. His current situation – locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison, in solitary confinement and deprived of access to a computer and all meaningful contact with the outside world – is so far based solely on the fact that he committed a minor infraction, breaching his police bail. Such a violation, committed by anyone else, almost never incurs prosecution, let alone a lengthy jail sentence.

So here is a far from complete list – aided by the research of John Pilger, Craig Murray and Caitlin Johnstone – of some of the most glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles. There are 17 of them below. Each might conceivably have been possible in isolation. But taken together they are overwhelming evidence that this was never about enforcing the law. From the start, Assange faced political persecution.

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Starting energy wars just as you run out of energy.

Rumors of War (Kunstler)

China compressed its version of the industrial revolution into a few decades, catching up to a weary, jaded West that took two hundred years achieving “modernity,” and now it is seeming to surpass us — which is the reason for so much tension and anxiety in our relations. The real news is: we’re all already in the climax of that movie. Nobody will surpass anyone. The reason is the decline of affordable energy to run the stupendously complex systems we have come to rely on. China never had very much petroleum. They import over 10 million barrels a day now, and most of that comes from far far away, having to pass through some very hazardous sea lanes like the Straits of Hormuz and Molucca.

They run things mostly on coal, and they’re well past peak — and let’s not get into the ecological ramifications of what they’re still burning. Even some intelligent observers in the West think that the Chinese have made gigantic strides in alt-energy, and will soon be free of old limits, but that’s a pipe dream. They have met the same disappointments over wind and solar as we have. Alt-energy just doesn’t pencil out money-wise or physics-wise. Plus, you absolutely need fossil fuels to make it happen, even as a science project. The US is smugly and stupidly under the impression that the “shale oil miracle” has put an end to our energy worries.

That comes from a foolish nexus of wishful thinking between a harried populace, a dishonest government, and the aforementioned brain-damaged news media. We want, with all our might, to believe we can keep running the interstate highways, WalMart, Agri-Business, DisneyWorld, the US Military, and suburbia just as they are, forever. So, we spin our reassuring fantasies about “energy independence” and “Saudi America.” Meanwhile, the shale oil companies can’t make a red cent pulling that stuff out of the ground. For the moment, ultra-low interest rate loans, riding on the back of all that wishful thinking, keep the racket going and sustain America’s illusions.

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Wish this was only funny.

In Honor Of Memorial Day, John Bolton Announces 7 New Wars (Babylon Bee)

In a moving speech to honor Memorial Day, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced seven new wars the U.S. will launch in the coming months. It’s customary for military leaders to say a few words on Memorial Day, sometimes thanking past soldiers for their sacrifice or reminding Americans of the price of freedom. This year, Bolton is going above and beyond, actually announcing new unnecessary wars as a special gift to the country on this solemn occasion. Bolton teased wars on Canada, Mexico, England, France, Russia, India, and California, all in honor of the memory of soldiers who have died in past American wars.


The national security advisor said that he selected these countries “kind of at random,” picking the names out of a MAGA hat. “The best way we can remember the fallen is to launch a bunch of new wars and make more fallen,” he said solemnly. “Remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought in foreign wars, so that we would have the freedom to launch more foreign wars. They died for your freedoms, they died for your sins. They died so we could attack Iran again.” “Amen.”

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Many millions.

A Million Americans Could Lose Their Pensions (HP)

The mining work also assured him security in old age through retiree health coverage and a defined-benefit pension – crucial perks that made the dangerous work and risk of black lung disease worth undertaking for Brown, who was one of just a few African Americans in his mine. When his injuries forced him into early retirement and onto disability in 2002, the benefits became even more vital. “It was in writing that the pension would be secure,” Brown, now 78, said on a recent afternoon, taking a break from remodeling his bathroom. “A pension ’til I pass away – that was the deal.”

But the pension plan through the United Mine Workers of America that Brown and 86,000 other retirees rely on is on track to be insolvent in about three years, which could result in deep cuts to once-guaranteed monthly payments. A growing number of plans are in similarly bad shape. If nothing is done, the coming rash of insolvencies could torpedo part of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, or PBGC, the government-run corporation that insures defined-benefit pensions. Brown’s is what’s known as a multiemployer pension plan. Anywhere from a handful to hundreds of companies contribute funds to these plans on behalf of their workers, with payments negotiated through union contracts.

The plans are common in the construction, transportation and service sectors, providing a portable benefit in cyclical industries where workers frequently change jobs. But many plans have run into trouble, losing their stream of income, as industries change and unionized employers go out of business. While most of the 1,400 multiemployer plans in the U.S. are not in any danger, some 130 plans are projected to be insolvent within 15 to 20 years. The PBGC’s multiemployer insurance program, which would need to step in to help cover pension payments for those plans, is expected to go under by 2025 if lawmakers don’t intervene with a plan to save it.

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Do the MSM have anything on their former princeling?

Michael Avenatti To Face 2 Arraignments In One Day (Fox)

Embattled attorney Michael Avenatti will have a busy day in Manhattan federal court Tuesday afternoon — but as a defendant, not as counsel. Avenatti, 49, is scheduled to be arraigned on charges that he stole nearly $300,000 from adult film actress Stormy Daniels, the client who rocketed him to national prominence. Approximately three-and-a-half hours later, Avenatti is scheduled to be arraigned on charges that he tried to extort up to $25 million from athletic apparel giant Nike by threatening to expose claims that the shoemaker paid off high school basketball players to steer them to Nike-sponsored colleges.

In the Nike case, Avenatti is charged with one count of extortion, one count of sending interstate communications with intent to extort and two counts of conspiracy. In the Stormy Daniels case, he is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. If convicted on all counts, Avenatti could face a total of 69 years in prison. Avenatti repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing and is expected to plead not guilty to all charges. [..] Avenatti was indicted formally in the Nike matter this past Wednesday. That same day, prosecutors indicted him in the Daniels case, in which they claimed Avenatti stole two payments totaling $297,500 from an advance Daniels was supposed to receive from a book deal in the summer of 2018.

Court documents said Avenatti gave Daniels’ literary agent a doctored letter with her signature directing the agent to divert the money to an account controlled by Avenatti. The lawyer then allegedly spent the money “on airfare, hotels, car services, restaurants and meal delivery, online retailers, payroll for his law firm and another business he owned, and insurance.”

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“More than 10,000 Canadians have died of opioid-related overdoses since 2016..”

Canada’s Ontario Province Says Will Sue Opioid Makers (AFP)

Canada’s most populous province of Ontario on Monday announced plans to sue opioid makers to recover health care costs related to the deadly addiction epidemic. Ontario’s attorney general, Caroline Mulroney, said the province will join a lawsuit launched last year by British Columbia against more than 40 opioid manufacturers and wholesalers. “The opioid crisis has cost the people of Ontario enormously, both in terms of lives lost and its impact on health care’s front lines,” Mulroney said. She unveiled legislation to set up the legal action “to battle the ongoing opioid crisis and hold manufacturers and wholesalers accountable for their roles in it.”


More than 10,000 Canadians have died of opioid-related overdoses since 2016, according to government figures. Combatting the crisis is estimated to have cost Ottawa nearly Can$400 million (US$300 million). Historically, opioid overdose deaths — mainly from the powerful painkiller fentanyl — were concentrated among drug addicts. But many victims became addicted to prescribed painkillers before turning to street drugs and others were experimenting with recreational drugs for the first time.

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Lobby. Trade. Compromise.

Macron and Merkel At Odds Over EU Top Jobs After European Elections (G.)

Paris and Berlin appear on a collision course over the replacement of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European commission after poor results for the centre-right in the European elections damaged Angela Merkel’s choice for the post. The German chancellor’s backing for the German MEP Manfred Weber, who leads the European People’s party of which her CDU party is a member, is facing tough resistance from the French president Emmanuel Macron in the post-election jockeying for top jobs. The EU heads of state and government, including Theresa May, are due to meet on Tuesday night to kickstart their discussions over the leadership of the bloc’s institutions after a set of election results that weakened the grip of the traditional centrist parties on the levers of power in Brussels.


The European People’s party (EPP) remains the largest in the parliament, but during a disappointing night its haul of seats plummeted from 221 in 2014 to 180, prompting Weber to concede that the “centre is shrinking”. The Socialists and Democrats group’s 191 seats five years ago fell to 145 despite surprisingly strong results in Spain and the Netherlands, where they topped the polls. It is the first time in 40 years that the two groups are not able to form a stable majority to allow them to carve up the top jobs and set the legislative agenda. The member states choice for commission president also requires endorsement by a majority in the parliament.

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Macron got rid of Weber. So why would they give him Barnier?

Ireland Likely To Back Barnier As Head Of European Commission (IT)

The [Irish] Government is likely to back Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier as the next head of the European Commission if, as expected, the bid of German Manfred Weber falters in the face of French opposition. EU leaders meet in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss who should lead the commission and also the Council of EU leaders for the next five years, while the next head of the European Central Bank will also be discussed. No decisions are expected that evening. Officially, the Government is backing Mr Weber “to the hilt”, says a spokesman, and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has repeatedly expressed his support. But privately senior officials acknowledge that his chances are falling away.

Mr Weber is the candidate of the European People’s Party, to which Fine Gael is attached, and under the system known as “spitzenkandidaten” the largest group in the European Parliament should nominate the incoming head of the European Commission. However, it is the Council of EU leaders which actually makes the appointment – to be confirmed by a vote of the parliament – and French president Emmanuel Macron has made his opposition to Mr Weber clear. Though the EPP remains the largest party in the new European Parliament, it suffered significant losses in the elections – a development which will damage Mr Weber, already considered a weak candidate to head the commission, when current president Jean Claude Juncker retires in the autumn.

The commission is the EU’s civil service and its policymaking engine. It is also charged with protecting the treaties. Mr Macron has been lobbying EU leaders on appointments to the EU’s top jobs and dined in Paris last night with the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez. Though other candidates, such as current competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the Dutch socialist Franz Timmermans or Belgian prime minister Charles Michel may be considered, Mr Macron is expected by many to back Mr Barnier, who is also French and a former EPP politician.

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The man who says Yes to everything. Once too often.

Greek PM Comes Unstuck Over Macedonia, Austerity In European Vote (R.)

His leftist Syriza, which stormed the Greek political stage in 2015 on the back of a popular backlash against painful economic reforms, suffered its first major defeat in years to the opposition conservative New Democracy party. Smarting from the fallout, Tsipras has called snap elections, speculated to take place by June 30 at the earliest. The full term of his administration ends in October. In his first appearance after calling the snap poll, a sombre-looking Tsipras told Syriza party faithful on Monday evening: “The crucial thing in life is not if you will fall, but if you will get up.” “I want to ask you all, today, to get up, and regroup, and fight. We very well know we can do it. Because our main strength is that we are defending what is just: our values, the values of the democratic faction and of the left.”

Tsipras is the longest-serving Greek prime minister since the country lurched from crisis to crisis from the onset of financial turmoil in 2010. Political analyst Theodore Couloumbis said that while Tsipras may be hurt, he is not a spent force. “(Syriza) will still remain at the forefront as the second-largest party,” he said. Another analyst, pollster Costas Panagopoulos from ALCO Research, said political parties that do well in European Parliament elections would do better in the national vote, meaning a projection of victory for New Democracy. Once a leftist firebrand, Tsipras, 44, built his career as the crowd-pleaser who stood up to creditors and their austerity demands. But he was forced into a painful new bailout in 2015 months after sweeping to power, when Greece was confronted with a choice of that or being turfed out of the euro zone.

His U-turn went down badly with many voters. A subsequent, deeply unpopular agreement that resolved a long-running country name dispute with North Macedonia also upset many Greek voters. Tsipras signed the so-called Prespes accord last year agreeing to a name change for its Balkan neighbor, resolving a decades-old wrangle which kept Macedonia out of the European Union and NATO. But for many Greeks, it was an unacceptable national defeat and an appropriation of Greek national heritage. A former associate said the Prespes accord was Tsipras’ nemesis. “It was probably one of the most important factors (in the European election outcome),” the former associate said on condition of anonymity.

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Lest we forget.

Icebreakers And The Arctic Power Play (SF)

The Arctic remains one of the few areas of the globe with relatively little human activity and therefore limited prospects for international conflict. Even during the Cold War the Arctic remained comparatively under-resourced by both adversarial blocs. The main theater was Europe, supporting theaters included the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but the Arctic was mainly visited by strategic nuclear platforms such as submarines and bombers which rehearsed their WW3 missions there. The end of the Cold War gradually raised the Arctic’s importance, and it did so for two reasons.

The current multipolar power distribution means the addition of two independent or largely independent political actors, namely the EU and China, and the shifting of the global economic “center of gravity” eastward. This development is increasing Russia’s importance as the economic and political link between the EU and China. However, while the European and Asian economic powerhouses are exploring various forms of economic linkages with Russia serving as a vital component of the relationship, United States is actively seeking to drive a wedge between them by isolating the EU from Russia and therefore also China, and fully subordinating Europe to its economic and political interests.

Whether the EU acquiesces to being merely a US protectorate or asserts its independence remains to be seen, however, in the meantime the Arctic is acquiring importance as a trade route linking Europe and Asia. The second reason for the Arctic’s importance is the presence of considerable reserves of energy resources in the region on which the global economy will depend. National control over these resources or lack thereof will in turn determine the power ranking of the country in question.

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From the same world that you live in.

German Woman With 1,800 Cows Allowed To Stay In India (AFP)

It’s a long way from Berlin to India, where Friederike Irina Bruening devotes her life to sick and abandoned cows. Now, after intervention from the Hindu nationalist government, she has been allowed to stay. “Currently we have around 1,800 cows,” Bruening told AFP from outside the holy city of Mathura in northern India where she keeps the animals. “Between five and 15 are brought in every day.” Bruening, 61, had threatened last week to return a top civilian award for cow protection that she won — the Padma Shri award — after her request for a visa extension was denied. This prompted Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to take to Twitter and announce she had “asked for a report”, and on Monday Bruening said she had been issued with a new visa allowing her to remain in India.

Bruening came to India around 25 years ago and says she has since spent around 200,000 euros ($225,000) of her own money over the years on her cow shelter, which costs around $45,000 per month to run. Many of the cows that arrive are blind or have been injured in road accidents, while others are sick from eating the vast amounts of plastic waste littering India. Around half of the new arrivals die. Since coming to power in 2014 one of the signature policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, newly re-elected, has been the protection of cows, which for many Hindus are sacred. Laws against the slaughter and consumption of beef have been strengthened, and lynchings of Muslims and low-caste Dalits — who have traditionally been involved in the sector — have risen.

This has prompted many people to abandon old and infirm cows instead of selling them for slaughter, resulting in more of the animals on the loose, including in cities like Delhi where they are a common sight. But Bruening, who has become a Hindu and is known as Sudevi Dasi, said that allowing the slaughter of old or sick cows is not the answer. “Killing a cow is the worse thing you can do,” she said.

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Agriculture had “the cumulative effect of forcing ancient foragers to spend their days carrying water buckets under a scorching sun”.

Where Are All The Insects Gone? My Unease Deepens Year By Year (Viney)

[..] the new and formidably sourced UN report on the destruction of nature seems to have left the human world largely dumbstruck or indifferent. After so many years of chronicling the trends in this column, species by species and habitat by habitat, I find the new figures properly appalling but their message no surprise. Allowed, in old age, to entertain grand if gloomy explanations, I find what is happening entirely consistent with the basic history of our species. This has been set out quite brilliantly by an Israeli academic, Dr Yuval Noah Harari, in his recent and best-selling book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Bill Gates recommends it, if that counts.

For more than two million years, as Harari reminds us, various breeds of humans fed themselves by gathering plants and hunting animals, their numbers generally in balance with the rest of the natural world. About 10,000 years ago, Homo sapiens in many separate parts of the planet began to spend their time manipulating the lives of a few edible plants and biddable animals and finding the need to settle down. “Scholars once proclaimed,” writes Harari, “that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward for humanity [in which] evolution gradually produced ever more intelligent people.” He finds no evidence for this. And the extra food “did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather it translated into population explosions and pampered elites.” It had “the cumulative effect of forcing ancient foragers to spend their days carrying water buckets under a scorching sun”.

One chapter, History’s Biggest Fraud, chronicles the traps set by the long-term pursuit of an easier life. When luxuries become necessities, they spawn new and never-ending obligations. “Humanity’s search for an easier life,” he concludes, “released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways nobody envisioned or wanted.” Among them, as I see it, is a mindset of expectation, entitlement and addiction to unremitting novelty, matched to the siren imperative of “growth”. With the world population nudging 10 billion by 2050, human usage spread across three-quarters of the planet’s land, and a million plants and animals at risk of extinction, the collapse of global ecosystems seems inevitable.

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Apr 132019
 
 April 13, 2019  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Standing nude 1928

 

The Assange Arrest Is a Warning From History (John Pilger)
The 7 Years Of Lies About Assange Won’t Stop Now (Cook)
UK MPs Want Assange Extradited To Sweden (G.)
Labour Urges PM To Block Julian Assange Extradition To US (G.)
Assange’s ‘Conspiracy’ to Expose War Crimes Has Already Been Punished (Fair)
Cascading Cat Litter (Jim Kunstler)
Is Julian Assange Another Pentagon Papers case? (Alan Dershowitz)
Facebook Removes Page of Rafael Correa on Same Day as Assange’s Arrest (MU)
Second Brexit Referendum Vote ‘Very Likely’ – Philip Hammond (Ind.)
What Went Wrong With Pensions And Why The Whole World Must Be Worried (Rubino)
Italy’s Fiscal Health Is Once Again In Serious Decline (DQ)
Uber Discloses 3-Yr $10-Billion Loss from Operations (WS)

 

 

“Imagine Tony Blair dragged from his multi-million pound Georgian home in Connaught Square, London, in handcuffs [..] Blair’s “paramount crime” is the deaths of a million Iraqis.”

The Assange Arrest Is a Warning From History (John Pilger)

The glimpse of Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy in London is an emblem of the times. Might against right. Muscle against the law. Indecency against courage. Six policemen manhandled a sick journalist, his eyes wincing against his first natural light in almost seven years. That this outrage happened in the heart of London, in the land of Magna Carta, ought to shame and anger all who fear for “democratic” societies. Assange is a political refugee protected by international law, the recipient of asylum under a strict covenant to which Britain is a signatory. The United Nations made this clear in the legal ruling of its Working Party on Arbitrary Detention.

But to hell with that. Let the thugs go in. Directed by the quasi fascists in Trump’s Washington, in league with Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno, a Latin American Judas and liar seeking to disguise his rancid regime, the British elite abandoned its last imperial myth: that of fairness and justice. Imagine Tony Blair dragged from his multi-million pound Georgian home in Connaught Square, London, in handcuffs, for onward dispatch to the dock in The Hague. By the standard of Nuremberg, Blair’s “paramount crime” is the deaths of a million Iraqis. Assange’s crime is journalism: holding the rapacious to account, exposing their lies and empowering people all over the world with truth.

The shocking arrest of Assange carries a warning for all who, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “sew the seeds of discontent [without which] there would be no advance towards civilisation”. The warning is explicit towards journalists. What happened to the founder and editor of WikiLeaks can happen to you on a newspaper, you in a TV studio, you on radio, you running a podcast. Assange’s principal media tormentor, the Guardian, a collaborator with the secret state, displayed its nervousness this week with an editorial that scaled new weasel heights. The Guardian has exploited the work of Assange and WikiLeaks in what its previous editor called “the greatest scoop of the last 30 years”. The paper creamed off WikiLeaks’ revelations and claimed the accolades and riches that came with them.

With not a penny going to Julian Assange or to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, turned on their source, abused him and disclosed the secret password Assange had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing leaked US embassy cables. With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding joined the police outside and gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”. The Guardian has since published a series of falsehoods about Assange, not least a discredited claim that a group of Russians and Trump’s man, Paul Manafort, had visited Assange in the embassy. The meetings never happened; it was fake.

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We just get more. But it’s what NOT being said that reveals more.

The 7 Years Of Lies About Assange Won’t Stop Now (Cook)

For seven years, from the moment Julian Assange first sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, they have been telling us we were wrong, that we were paranoid conspiracy theorists. We were told there was no real threat of Assange’s extradition to the United States, that it was all in our fevered imaginations. For seven years, we have had to listen to a chorus of journalists, politicians and “experts” telling us that Assange was nothing more than a fugitive from justice, and that the British and Swedish legal systems could be relied on to handle his case in full accordance with the law. Barely a “mainstream” voice was raised in his defence in all that time.

From the moment he sought asylum, Assange was cast as an outlaw. His work as the founder of Wikileaks – a digital platform that for the first time in history gave ordinary people a glimpse into the darkest recesses of the most secure vaults in the deepest of Deep States – was erased from the record. Assange was reduced from one of the few towering figures of our time – a man who will have a central place in history books, if we as a species live long enough to write those books – to nothing more than a sex pest, and a scruffy bail-skipper. The political and media class crafted a narrative of half-truths about the sex charges Assange was under investigation for in Sweden.

They overlooked the fact that Assange had been allowed to leave Sweden by the original investigator, who dropped the inquiry, only for it to be revived by another investigator with a well-documented political agenda. They failed to mention that Assange was always willing to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors in London, as had occurred in dozens of other cases involving extradition proceedings to Sweden. It was almost as if Swedish officials did not want to test the evidence they claimed to have in their possession. [..] It was a freedom of information request by an ally of Assange, not a media outlet, that unearthed documents showing that Swedish investigators had, in fact, wanted to drop the case against Assange back in 2013. The UK, however, insisted that they carry on with the charade so that Assange could remain locked up. A British official emailed the Swedes: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”

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There’s some confusion here. Some say because Sweden dropped charges, the US is now first in line. Others deny this.

UK MPs Want Assange Extradited To Sweden (G.)

Political pressure is mounting on Sajid Javid to prioritise action that would allow Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, amid concerns that US charges relating to Wikileaks’ activities risked overshadowing longstanding allegations of rape. More than 70 MPs and peers have written to Javid and the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, urging them to focus attention on the earlier Swedish investigations that Assange would face should the case be resumed at the alleged victim’s request.


In a letter coordinated by Labour’s Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips and seen by the Guardian, the MPs declare: “We do not presume guilt, of course, but we believe due process should be followed and the [Swedish] complainant should see justice be done.” They call on Javid and Abbott to “champion action” to ensure that extradition is a possibility should Swedish authorities choose to pursue it. Assange first entered the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which he has always denied. While the statute of limitations on one of the allegations has expired, the other will not be reached until August 2020.

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May did it before in 2012, but I understand laws have changed since. Labour better make sure that block counts.

Labour Urges PM To Block Julian Assange Extradition To US (G.)

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has urged Theresa May to block the extradition of Julian Assange to the US in the same way she intervened in the case of the computer hacker Gary McKinnon. In 2012, as home secretary, May halted McKinnon’s extradition on human rights grounds after doctors warned he was at risk of suicide if sent to face trial in the US. Abbott said similar grounds should be used to block Assange’s extradition. On Thursday, the Wikileaks founder was arrested on behalf of the US authorities, who have charged him with involvement in a computer hacking conspiracy.

The 47-year-old faces up to 12 months in a British prison after he was found guilty of breaching his bail conditions. The US charge could attract a maximum jail sentence of five years, according to the US Department of Justice. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, Abbott said: “If you remember the Gary McKinnon case, the Americans insisted on extraditing him. He had done this massive computer hack, but his real crime was to have embarrassed the American military and security service. “In the end the then home secretary, Theresa May, blocked his extradition on what she said were human rights grounds. We think there may be human rights grounds in relation to Assange.”

Abbott described the allegations facing Assange from two women in Sweden as “serious”, but said charges were never brought. She said: “If the Swedish government wants to come forward with those charges I believe that Assange should face the criminal justice system.” But she added: “It is not the rape charges, serious as they are, it is about WikiLeaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services that was made public. “He is at the very least a whistleblower and much of the information that he brought into the public domain, it could be argued, was very much in the public interest.”

[..] “It is this whistleblowing into illegal wars, mass murder, murder of civilians and corruption on a grand scale, that has put Julian Assange in the crosshairs of the US administration. “It is for this reason that they have once more issued an extradition warrant against Mr Assange.” In response, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Why is it whenever someone has a track record of undermining the UK and our allies and the values we stand for, you can almost guarantee that the leadership of the party opposite will support those who intend to do us harm? You can always guarantee that from the party opposite.”

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“The point of journalism is to expose horrific crimes like this so that the powerful people who order them pay legal consequences, not the ones who expose them.”

Assange’s ‘Conspiracy’ to Expose War Crimes Has Already Been Punished (Fair)

In 2010, the Guardian, like the New York Times and a few other corporate newspapers, briefly partnered with WikiLeaks to publish the contents of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables, known as Cablegate. That year, WikiLeaks released other confidential US government information as well: the Afghanistan War Logs, the Iraq War Logs, the infamous “Collateral Murder” video. The material exposed atrocities perpetrated by the US military, as well as other disgraceful acts—like US diplomats strategizing on how to undermine elected governments out of favor with Washington, spying on official US allies and bullying poor countries into paying wildly exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs.

One US soldier involved in the “collateral murder” airstrike that Manning and Assange exposed, Ethan McCord, was threatened and reprimanded by a superior officer for requesting psychiatric help after the atrocity. (“Get the sand out of your vagina,” he was reportedly told.) McCord had tended to wounded children during the massacre. He was soon expelled from the military, apparently now “unsuited” for it. The point of journalism is to expose horrific crimes like this so that the powerful people who order them pay legal consequences, not the ones who expose them. Presumably that is why “press freedom” is considered important, and why it’s guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The law should have protected Manning from punishment, the same way it protects somebody who uses violence in justifiable self-defense or in defense of others. In Manning’s case, that was especially true, because she exposed grave crimes while stationed in Iraq, as the US perpetrated an even higher-level crime—a war of aggression based on a fraudulent pretext. If the law should have protected Manning, who was at the very heart of the “conspiracy” to expose gruesome crimes, then it obviously should protect Assange, and any of the outlets that worked with him.

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“I’d like to see The New York Times’s front page headline on that story: Russian Colluder Wins Nobel Prize, Put on Trial in Federal Court.”

Cascading Cat Litter (Jim Kunstler)

And so now Julian Assange of Wikileaks has been dragged out of his sanctuary in the London embassy of Ecuador for failing to clean his cat’s litter box. Have you ever cleaned a litter box? The way we always did it was to spread some newspaper — say, The New York Times — on the floor, transfer the used cat litter onto it, wrap it into a compact package, and put it in the trash. It was interesting to scan the Comments section of The Times’s stories about the Assange arrest: Times readers uniformly presented themselves as a lynch mob out for Mr. Assange’s blood. So much for the spirit of liberalism and The Old Gray Lady who had published The Pentagon Papers purloined by Daniel Ellsberg lo so many years ago.

Reading between the lines in that once-venerable newspaper — by which I mean gleaning their slant on the news — one surmises that The Times has actually come out against freedom of the press, a curious attitude, but consistent with the neo-Jacobin zeitgeist in “blue” America these days. Anyway, how could anyone expect Mr. Assange to clean his cat’s litter box when he was unable to go outside his sanctuary to buy a fresh bag of litter, and was denied newspapers this past year, as well as any other contact with the outside world? US government prosecutors had better tread lightly in bringing Mr. Assange to the sort of justice demanded by readers of The New York Times — which is to say: lock him up in some SuperMax solitary hellhole and throw away the key. The show trial of Julian Assange on US soil, when it comes to pass, may end up being the straw that stirs America’s Mickey Finn as a legitimate republic.

The bloodthirsty hysteria among New York Times readers is a symptom of the mass confusion sown by agencies of the US government itself when its own agents ventured to meddle in the national election of 2016 and then blame it on “the Russians.” As you will learn in the months ahead, it was The Times itself, and other corporate news organizations, who colluded with officers of the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA, and the Obama White House to concoct a phony narrative about Mr. Trump being in cahoots with Vladimir Putin, thus depriving Hillary Clinton of her “turn” in the White House; and then to join those agencies, and the grotesquely dishonest two-year investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in a cover-your-ass operation to hide their nefarious and criminal acts.

In the meantime, Mr. Assange may receive a Nobel Prize as a symbol of a lone conscience standing up against the despotic deceits of the world’s deep states. Wouldn’t that gum up the works nicely? I’d like to see The New York Times’s front page headline on that story: Russian Colluder Wins Nobel Prize, Put on Trial in Federal Court. By then, the United States of America will be so completely gaslighted that it will pulsate in the darkness like a death star about to explode.

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Michael Malice on Twitter: “Let’s be clear: Julian Assange is not a journalist.
He uncovered and released information that the political establishment and government wanted to stay hidden.
Does that sound like the work of a journalist?”

Is Julian Assange Another Pentagon Papers case? (Alan Dershowitz)

Before WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gained asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012, he and his British legal team asked me to fly to London to provide legal advice about United States law relating to espionage and press freedom. I cannot disclose what advice I gave them, but I can say that I believed then, and still believe now, that there is no constitutional difference between WikiLeaks and the New York Times. If the New York Times, in 1971, could lawfully publish the Pentagon Papers knowing they included classified documents stolen by Rand Corporation military analyst Daniel Ellsberg from our federal government, then indeed WikiLeaks was entitled, under the First Amendment, to publish classified material that Assange knew was stolen by former United States Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning from our federal government.

So if prosecutors were to charge Assange with espionage or any other crime for merely publishing the Manning material, this would be another Pentagon Papers case with the same likely outcome. Many people have misunderstood the actual Supreme Court ruling in 1971. It did not say that the newspapers planning to publish the Pentagon Papers could not be prosecuted if they published classified material. It only said that they could not be restrained, or stopped in advance, from publishing them. Well, they did publish, and they were not prosecuted.

[..] the problem with the current effort is that, while it might be legally strong, it seems on the face of the indictment to be factually weak. It alleges that “Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records” from federal government agencies, that “Manning provided Assange with part of a password,” and that “Assange requested more information.” It goes on to say that Assange was “trying to crack the password” but had “no luck so far.” Not the strongest set of facts here!

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Nice going, Zuck.

Facebook Removes Page of Rafael Correa on Same Day as Assange’s Arrest (MU)

Facebook has unpublished the page of Ecuador’s former president, Rafael Correa, the social media giant confirmed on Thursday, claiming that the popular leftist leader violated the company’s security policies.[..] In March, WikiLeaks published a tranche of documents dubbed the INA Papers linking President Lenin Moreno to the INA Investment Corporation, an offshore shell company used by Moreno to procure furniture, property, and various luxury items. The account number for the offshore account allegedly used by the president to launder money was shared across Ecuadorean social networks by netizens of all political stripes, including by Correa – who had about 1.5 million followers and whose Facebook page enjoyed more interactions and attention than that of President Moreno himself.


[..] The removal of Correa’s page for violating Facebook’s “community standards” is an unprecedented move, and the former statesman is the most high-profile public political figure to ever be removed from the social platform–placing the economist and icon of Latin American “socialism of the 21st century” in the same unlikely category as right-wing conspiracy theorist and broadcaster Alex Jones.

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What would that solve?

Second Brexit Referendum Vote ‘Very Likely’ – Philip Hammond (Ind.)

A second referendum on Brexit is “very likely” to be put before parliament, Philip Hammond has said. Speaking in Washington on Friday, the chancellor said a fresh public vote was a “proposition that could and, on all the evidence, is very likely to be put to parliament at some stage”. However, he also said about six months would be needed to hold a referendum, and that there would not be enough time before Britain is due to leave the EU on the new deadline of 31 October. Mr Hammond also stressed that the government was still opposed to a second referendum, although he said other Labour demands – such as a customs union with the EU – were up for debate.


“The government’s position has not changed,” he said. “The government is opposed to a confirmatory referendum and therefore we would not be supporting it.” The idea of a new referendum was among several Brexit alternatives to Theresa May’s deal that were put to lawmakers in the last month – but which all fell short of a majority in parliament. The prime minister has so far failed to get her own party behind the Brexit divorce deal she agreed with other European Union leaders last year. She was forced to ask the bloc for a delay and to start talks with Labour about how to break the impasse in parliament.

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It says a lot about the human attention span that this doesn’t receive a lot more scrutiny.

This is where Fed policies will be found to have hurt people most.

What Went Wrong With Pensions And Why The Whole World Must Be Worried (Rubino)

As baby boomer teachers, police and firefighters retire, the required pension payouts are soaring. Combine this with inadequate contributions, and the liabilities of major U.S. public pensions are up 64% since 2007 while assets are up only 30%. This math is simple enough for even a politician or fund trustee to grasp, but because there’s no immediate penalty for underfunding a pension system, it has become normal practice in a long list of places. Another, related problem is also mathematical, but it’s harder to manage in a boom-and-bust world: When pension plans suffer a big loss, as they tend to do in bear markets, the next few years’ returns have to go towards making up that loss before plan assets can start growing again. The following chart, from a recent Wall Street Journal article, shows pension fund assets falling behind in the past two bear markets and having increasing trouble catching up with steadily-growing liabilities.

In some cases this puts funds permanently behind the curve and can only be fixed with massive infusions of taxpayer cash or draconian benefit cuts, neither of which are feasible in a system that punishes hard choices. The next chart shows how much more the worst offenders would have to contribute to their plans to get by with honest future return assumptions. For Illinois, Kentucky and New Jersey this will never happen.

What does all this mean? A few things: In the next bear market the pension funds that are already wildly underfunded will fall into a financial black hole from which they’ll never be able to escape. Those states and cities – many of which are issuing bonds to cover their day-to-day expenses – will be exposed as junk credits (as Chicago was recently) and will have to either pay way up to borrow or enact some combination of tax increases (politically almost impossible) or pension benefit cuts (legally impossible in many places) which will cause chaos without fixing the underlying problem. The weakest cities and the states in which they reside will be forced to default on some of their obligations, stiffing suppliers, creditors, and/or employees.


This will throw the municipal bond market into chaos as investors, worried that the next Chicago is lurking in their portfolios, dump the whole muni sector. Faced with a cascade failure of a crucial part of the fixed income universe, the federal government will react the way it did when the mortgage market imploded in 2008, with a massive taxpayer funded bailout. At which point there’s a good chance of the crisis spreading from pensions to currencies, as the world finally realizes that the bailouts are just beginning, with US states and cities soon to be followed by student loans, emerging markets, and European failed states.

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Drip. Drip.

Italy’s Fiscal Health Is Once Again In Serious Decline (DQ)

On Wednesday, Italy’s coalition government slashed its growth forecast for the Italian economy in 2019 to 0.2% – the weakest forecast in the Eurozone – from a previous forecast of 1%. Italy is already in a technical recession after chalking up two straight quarters of negative GDP growth in the second half of 2018. The government’s budget for this year was based on the assumption that the economy would expand by 1% this year. Now, it seems the economy may not grow at all; it could even shrink. One direct result of this is that Italy’s current account deficit for 2019 will be substantially higher than the 2.04% of GDP Italy’s government pledged to stick to late last year. And that can mean only thing: another standoff between Rome and Brussels over the direction of fiscal policy is in the offing.

Italy already boasts the largest public debt pile in Europe in nominal terms, clocking in at €2.14 trillion, as well as the second largest in relative terms after Greece’s twice bailed out economy. Rome just forecast that public debt would hit a new record high of 132.6% of GDP this year. That record is unlikely to last very long given Italy’s stagnating economy and the government’s determination to cut taxes, reduce the retirement age and introduce a citizens’ basic income.

The biggest problem with Italy’s economy is that many of its problems are chronic and deep seated. Many of them date back to the adoption of the euro, in 2000, or in the case of Rome’s massive addiction to public debt, to the 1980s. As the OECD points out, real GDP in Italy is still well below its pre-crisis peak. Italy is also the only OECD country where incomes (as measured by GDP per capita) are no higher than in 2000. By contrast, in France, Spain, the UK and Germany they have risen during the same period by 13%, 17%, 21% and 23 respectively.

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Now imagine this WITHOUT interest rates at record lows. What was once a market has now turned into a slot machine.

Uber Discloses 3-Yr $10-Billion Loss from Operations (WS)

Uber Technologies’ IPO filing was made public today. The 330-page or so S-1 filing disclosed all kinds of goodies, including detailed but still unaudited pro-forma financial statements as of December 31, 2018, huge losses from operations, big tax benefits, large gains from the sale of some operations, stagnating rideshare revenues, and an enormous list of chilling “Risk Factors” that go beyond the usual CYA. The filing, however, didn’t disclose the share price, the IPO valuation, and how much money the IPO will raise for Uber. On Tuesday, “people familiar with the matter” had told Reuters that Uber plans to raise $10 billion in the IPO. Most of the IPO shares would be sold by the company to raise funds, and a smaller amount would be sold by investors cashing out, the sources said.


The filing did not confirm this and instead left blanks or used placeholder amounts. But if true, $10 billion in shares sold would make this IPO one of the biggest tech IPOs. And the rumored $90 billion to $100 billion valuation would make it the biggest since Alibaba’s $169 billion IPO. Uber will need every dime it raises in the IPO going forward because it’s got a little cash-burn situation in its operations that persists going forward, as it admitted in its “Risk Factors,” and it will need to raise more money, and if it cannot raise more money, it might not make it. Uber is upfront about this. The company has already raised – and mostly burned through – over $20 billion so far in its 10 years of existence. This includes $15 billion in equity funding and over $6 billion in debt.

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Mar 072019
 


Edward Hopper Le Bistro or The Wine Shop 1909

 

US Credit Card Debt Rises to Record $870 Billion (ET)
Fed Scraps ‘Qualitative’ Test For US Banks In 2019 Stress Tests (R.)
Beware The ‘Japanification’ Of Europe – ING Economists (MW)
Huawei Hits Back, Sues America, Claims US Hacked Its Servers (Age)
Nadler’s ‘Obstruction’ Quest (WSJ Ed.)
Michael Cohen Asked His Former Lawyer To Seek Pardon From Trump (WSJ)
Democrats Bar Fox From Hosting Primary Candidate Debates (AFP)
EU Urges UK To Offer ‘Acceptable’ Brexit Plan (BBC)
Brexit Meaningful Vote Will Go Ahead, Says No 10 (G.)
Monthly Income Lasts Just 19 Days For Over Half of Greek Households (K.)
Italy’s Welfare Revolution Kicks Off As ‘Citizens’ Income’ Goes Live (R.)
Red Wolf: The Struggle To Save One Of The Rarest Animals On Earth (G.)
China Prosecutes 11 People In $119 Million Totoaba Fish Bust (AFP)
Microplastics Found ‘Absolutely Everywhere’ (G.)

 

 

Let’s wind it down in an orderly fashion and call it a day. This is hopeless.

US Credit Card Debt Rises to Record $870 Billion (ET)

Americans expanded their credit card debt by $26 billion in the last quarter of 2018, making it reach $870 billion—a record. “The increase in credit card balances is consistent with seasonal patterns but marks the first time credit card balances re-touched the 2008 peak,” the Federal Reserve Bank of New York stated in a quarterly report (pdf) released Feb. 12. The credit card debt rose for the 24th consecutive quarter; and balances sliding into 90 or more days of delinquency have increased since 2017. Total household debt increased by $32 billion in the last quarter and finished the year at more than $13.5 trillion. The largest chunk of that sum is mortgages at $9.1 trillion—virtually unchanged from the quarter before. Student loans stood at nearly $1.5 trillion and auto loans at almost $1.3 trillion.

Americans hold about 480 million credit cards, which is about 100 million more than in 2010, but still a bit fewer than at the precipice of the 2008 recession. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of growth in the world’s largest economy and is expected to hold strong this year. However, credit inquiries, which are one sign of consumer demand, slipped in the second half of 2018 to the lowest level recorded by the New York Fed. Another signal of weaker demand, the closing of credit cards and other accounts, jumped to its highest level since 2010. [..] The report also showed that Americans have continued to turn away from home equity lines of credit, or HELOC, which can free up funds for other purchases. HELOC balances dropped to $412 billion in the fourth quarter, the lowest level in 14 years.

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And while we’re at it let’s scrap the Fed.

Fed Scraps ‘Qualitative’ Test For US Banks In 2019 Stress Tests (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve said on Wednesday it would no longer flunk banks based on operational or risk management lapses during its annual health check of the country’s domestic banks. The “qualitative” portion of the 2019 test, however, will still apply to the U.S. subsidiaries of five foreign banks subject to the annual exam. The move, which is a big win for major banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citigroup, forms part of a broader effort by the Fed to overhaul its annual “stress-testing” process, which the industry has long criticized as too onerous and opaque. Since the 2007-09 global financial crisis, the Fed has put the country’s lenders through strict annual tests to see whether they would have enough capital to withstand a major economic downturn.

For the largest lenders, that test also included a so-called “qualitative objection,” that gives the Fed the discretion to fail banks due to risk management or operational failures, even if they have sufficient capital. Most banks that have failed the tests in the past stumbled on the qualitative objection. Banks that receive an objection from the Fed are required to adjust their capital distribution plans. [..] The Fed will still examine domestic banks for operational and risk management problems, but will address them through enforcement actions rather than a public flunking. The U.S. subsidiaries of five foreign lenders – Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, UBS, Barclays and TD Bank – would also still be subject to the qualitative objection.

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And scrap the ECB and BOJ too. Their only goal is to preserve zombies.

BTW, does anyone seriously think it’s not too late yet for Europe? Asking for a friend.

Beware The ‘Japanification’ Of Europe – ING Economists (MW)

The eurozone is beginning to resemble Japan with its low-growth and low-inflation environment, coupled with still very loose monetary policy, according to economists at ING. This raises questions about the European Central Bank’s tool kit and firing power. Interest rates haven’t gone up in either the eurozone or Japan since the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Conversely, the Federal Reserve has raised rates nine times since the crisis years, presumably giving it room to cut them again should the economy need a boost. The Bank of Japan is considered the most hesitant of its peers to normalize monetary policy. And already since the mid-1990s, Japan has been struggling with a high public debt ratio and stubbornly low inflation and growth rates.

None of that bodes well for a hawkish central bank approach. The eurozone looks like it entered a similar trend of late, said ING economists Carsten Brzeski and Inga Fechner, one day ahead of the European Central Bank’s next policy update. “An end to current unconventional monetary policy, i.e. the negative deposit rate and ample liquidity, is not insight and the ECB is expected to do everything it can to avoid an unwarranted tightening of its monetary stance.” “Last year, Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 238%, and since 1994, headline inflation has been negative for almost half of the time. This trend has also emerged in the eurozone in recent years,” said Brzeski and Fechner, pointing at Greece, as well as Spain and Italy, in the aftermath of the European sovereign debt crisis. Though deflationary risks have disappeared in the eurozone, consumer prices haven’t exactly been soaring.

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The power of US intelligence.

Huawei Hits Back, Sues America, Claims US Hacked Its Servers (Age)

Huawei has accused the US of hacking its computers in a defiant press conference where the Chinese telecommunications giant announced it had taken legal action in a Texas court to overturn a US ban. Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping said in China that the US Congress had failed to produce any evidence to justify its ban which prevents US agencies, private companies that deal with US agencies and recipients of US loans or grants from using Huawei’s gear. The Trump Administration has accused Huawei of being a national security risk because it was a tool of the Chinese government. But Guo fired back, saying the US “has hacked our servers and stolen our emails and source code”.

“Despite this, the US has never produced any evidence supporting their allegations that Huawei poses a cyber security threat.” He added: “The US is trying to block us from 5G markets in other countries.” Guo said that a section of the US National Defense Authorisation Act that names Huawei not only damages the company’s reputation but stops Huawei from servicing customers outside the US. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly urged other countries, particularly in Europe, to ban Huawei from 5G if they want to continue to deal with the US. Germany and Britain are due to make decisions this month.

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They’ll simply shift from collusion to -now- obstruction to yet another term. Just as long as it takes.

Nadler’s ‘Obstruction’ Quest (WSJ Ed.)

Well, we’re off on the march to impeachment, as we predicted last year even as Democrats said it wasn’t on their minds. With Chairman Jerry Nadler’s subpoena swarm from House Judiciary this week, and his assertions that President Trump obstructed justice, the articles of impeachment are apparently awaiting only the collection of the readily available details to fill in the blanks. “Do you think the President obstructed justice?” asked ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “Yes, I do,” replied Mr. Nadler. “It’s very clear that the President obstructed justice. It’s very clear—1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt, he tried to—he fired—he tried to protect [Michael] Flynn from being investigated by the FBI. He fired [FBI director Jim] Comey in order to stop the Russian thing, as he told NBC News.”

Credit Mr. Nadler for candor that Democrats didn’t display when they campaigned last year. Then they talked only about holding the President “accountable.” Now they claim they already have enough to impeach Mr. Trump, though as Mr. Nadler admitted Sunday, “you have to persuade enough of the opposition party voters, Trump voters . . . that you’re not just trying to steal the last—to reverse the results of the last election.” That may be harder than he imagines, and not only because of Mr. Nadler’s Freudian slip there of “steal.” Based on the public evidence so far, Mr. Trump hasn’t obstructed justice in any of the examples Mr. Nadler cited. Mr. Nadler wants to turn the President’s exercise of his normal constitutional powers into impeachable offenses.

The case against Mr. Nadler’s obstruction theory has been made in these pages by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and appellate lawyer and our contributor David Rivkin. Attorney General William Barr also made the case in his 2018 memo to the Justice Department when he was still in private life. A President can obstruct justice while in office but only if he is committing a per se illegal offense. That is, if he suborns perjury or destroys evidence, or commits “any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence,” as Mr. Barr put it. Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton committed such acts in Mr. Barr’s view, but Mr. Trump has not as far as we can see.

On the other hand, a President cannot obstruct justice when he takes actions that are consistent with his Article II powers under the Constitution. That includes in particular firing inferior executive-branch officers such as Mr. Comey. Such acts may be politically stupid, but they aren’t obstruction.

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Less than 100% truthful.

Michael Cohen Asked His Former Lawyer To Seek Pardon From Trump (WSJ)

Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for President Donald Trump, directed his attorney last spring to inquire about the possibility of a presidential pardon, weeks after federal agents raided his properties, Cohen’s lawyer said Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s attorney at the time, discussed the possibility of a pardon with lawyers for Trump in the weeks after the Federal Bureau of Investigation in April raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. The president’s lawyers, including Jay Sekulow, Rudy Giuliani and Joanna Hendon, dismissed the idea of a pardon at the time, people familiar with the discussions said.

But at least one of them, Giuliani, left open the possibility that the president could grant Cohen one in the future, they said. In testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week, Cohen said: “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from Mr. Trump.” Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, said Wednesday that in the months after the FBI raid, Cohen was open to a pardon from the president. “During that time period, he directed his attorney to explore possibilities of a pardon at one point with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as other lawyers advising President Trump,” Davis said. He referred to the discussions with the president’s lawyers as the “ongoing ‘dangling’ of a possible pardon.”

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It’s all about money, nothing else.

Democrats Bar Fox From Hosting Primary Candidate Debates (AFP)

The Democratic Party said Wednesday it will not allow Fox News to host any of its primary candidate debates, after published revelations suggested the network is a “propaganda” vehicle for President Donald Trump. National Committee (DNC) chairman Tom Perez said a story in this week’s New Yorker magazine on the White House’s apparently close relationship with the channel prompted the decision. “Just to be clear, Fox News will not serve as a media partner for the 2020 Democratic primary debates,” Perez said on Twitter. “Recent reporting in the New Yorker on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates,” he added in a statement to The Washington Post.

News of the move enraged Trump, who suggested on Twitter he would “do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats” — despite having no authority over Republican debate broadcasting rights. Trump often refers to CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and MSNBC as “fake news.” US presidential debate and primary debate broadcast rights are coveted prizes for American media outlets. The events traditionally draw broad viewership, and the series of debates beginning this year – aimed at winnowing the Democratic field of over a dozen candidates – will likely have large television audiences.

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I’m thinking if they haven’t so far, what are the odds?

EU Urges UK To Offer ‘Acceptable’ Brexit Plan (BBC)

The UK has been urged to table fresh proposals within the next 48 hours to break the Brexit impasse. EU officials said they would work non-stop over the weekend if “acceptable” ideas were received by Friday to break the deadlock over the Irish backstop. The UK has said “reasonable” proposals to satisfy MPs’ concerns about being tied to EU rules had already been made. It comes as Jeremy Corbyn has met with Tory MPs to discuss possible alternatives to the PM’s deal. The Labour leader held talks with ex-Tory minister Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin, who favour a closer, Norway-style relationship with the EU.

He said he had discussed the so-called “Common Market 2.0 option” – which would see the UK remain in the EU’s single market by staying part of the European Economic Area – but would not commit to backing it at this stage. There have been few visible signs of progress ahead of Parliament’s second vote on the Brexit deal next Tuesday. MPs emphatically rejected the terms of withdrawal negotiated by Theresa May in January. If they do so again, they will get to choose between leaving without a deal or deferring the UK’s exit date from the EU beyond the scheduled 29 March. The PM is seeking legally-enforceable changes to the backstop – an insurance policy designed to prevent physical checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

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Telegraph today: “Brexit deal ‘will be defeated by 100 votes’, ministers believe, after talks in Brussels collapse..”

Brexit Meaningful Vote Will Go Ahead, Says No 10 (G.)

Downing Street has insisted the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal will go ahead as promised on Tuesday, despite negotiations in Brussels stumbling. The prime minister’s spokesman repeated the line on Wednesday that the government is determined to secure “legally binding changes” to the Irish backstop, despite the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, returning empty-handed from the talks. Shortly before leaving Brussels, he conceded “strong views” had been expressed during three hours of “robust” discussions. Downing Street said the talks had been “difficult”, but stressed the vote would take place on Tuesday, as committed by May.

If it is lost, MPs will vote on successive days on whether to block a no-deal Brexit and whether to extend the departure date. With it increasingly being assumed No 10 will not secure significant EU concessions on the backstop, May is expected to try to sell her plan to MPs and the public later in the week, potentially with a speech. There are no plans as yet for the prime minister or Cox to return to Brussels, but it is understood this could happen if required. Sunday night is the final deadline for any changes, as the government needs to publish and print copies of deal documents on Monday, and publish the motion MPs will then vote on.

[..] Cabinet ministers are pessimistic about the prospects of wooing enough waverers in parliament to win the second meaningful vote. May will then come under intense pressure to offer MPs a free vote on a no-deal Brexit, with her cabinet deeply divided. The opportunity to vote on this was only secured after scores of frontbenchers made it clear they were willing to resign, and the cabinet ministers Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke wrote to the Daily Mail rejecting the idea of a no-deal departure.Senior EU diplomats said the bloc’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, offered a “gloomy” analysis of the talks. According to a diplomatic note, Weyand told the ambassadors: “Cox’s asks are going well beyond where Barnier can go.”

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“..49.1 percent of households have a main pension as their primary source of income..”

Monthly Income Lasts Just 19 Days For Over Half of Greek Households (K.)

The Greek economy’s scars from the decade-long financial crisis and the internal devaluation are more than obvious. Despite the slight improvement in certain income-related indexes, three in 10 households get by on an annual income of less than 10,000 euros, while pensions comprise the main source of income for almost half of all households, according to a survey published on Wednesday by the Institute of Small Enterprises of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen & Merchants (GSEVEE). In this first survey after the completion of the bailout programs, GSEVEE found that 43.9 percent of households reported a decline in their incomes last year compared to 2017.

Almost half of the households surveyed (48.9 percent) reported income stability, up from one in three (35.6 percent) in 2017, while 7.1 percent said they had seen an increase, up from just 2 percent in 2017. At the same time, the share of households on an annual income of less than 10,000 euros remained quite high, at 31.7 percent, against 34.2 percent in 2017. The biggest income bracket is that of households with earnings of between 10,000 and 18,000 euros per year, accounting for 39.8 percent in 2018 against 37.5 percent in 2017. This illustrates the shift of a number of households that were in the bottom bracket to a higher one; however, it also points to declines in the incomes of some households that in 2017 had been in the over-18,000 euros per annum bracket.

The bulk of Greek households find themselves in the bottom two income tiers. More than one in eight (12.7 percent) households say their incomes do not suffice to cover their basic needs, and more than half (52.5 percent) say their monthly income is not enough to carry them through all 30 days, sufficing instead for an average of just 19 days per month. All this is explained by the fact that 49.1 percent of households have a main pension as their primary source of income, even if that has been significantly reduced in recent years.

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Neoliberalism is killing the EU as a project, maybe not in Germany, but certainly in Italy and Greece. Still, labeling a basic income project ‘welfare’ is leading, Reuters.

Italy’s Welfare Revolution Kicks Off As ‘Citizens’ Income’ Goes Live (R.)

Italy’s flagship welfare reform kicked off in busy but orderly fashion on Wednesday as thousands of poor and unemployed people applied in post offices and tax assistance centers for the “citizens’ income” scheme. The populist 5-Star Movement, which governs with the right-wing League and has long promoted the measure, hopes it will lift its flagging fortunes ahead of European Parliament elections in May. Despite a steady flow of applicants, warnings of chaos and long queues proved misplaced, as many people appeared to heed advice not to sign up on the scheme’s first day.

“This is so helpful, it will give me some breathing space to get to the end of each month,” said 36-year-old Svetlana Guerra as she left a small tax assistance center (CAF) in a densely populated quarter of south-eastern Rome. Guerra, a Ukrainian-born widow who has lived in Italy for 19 years and survives thanks to odd jobs paid under the counter, said she expected the citizens’ income to give her about 280 euros ($315) per month to help her pay her rent. Guerra is one of millions struggling to make ends meet in a country in its third recession in 10 years and where the economy has barely grown since the start of the century.

Italians in absolute poverty, defined as not having enough money to buy a basket of basic goods and services, rose to 5.1 million in 2017, according to statistics office ISTAT. That is a more than threefold increase in a decade. Italy has traditionally had a generous pension system and offered limited-term state benefits for those laid off from work, but until last year it was virtually unique among rich countries in having no means-tested welfare scheme.

The previous center-left government aimed to fill that gap, but the “inclusion income” program it launched ahead of elections a year ago set aside just 2 billion euros and was widely deemed inadequate. The citizens’ income, a rallying call for 5-Star since its foundation in 2009, will cost 7 billion euros this year and is expected to go initially to 2.7 million people, according to ISTAT. Critics say Italy’s strained public finances cannot afford it. The 5-Star Movement was easily the biggest party at the March 2018 national election but has seen its support slide since then and been overtaken in opinion polls by the League.

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Make America Great Again must start with its wildlife. That’s much greater than millions working bullshit jobs where they drive an hour a day from the burbs. Nothing great about that.

First, define greatness.

Red Wolf: The Struggle To Save One Of The Rarest Animals On Earth (G.)

Attempting to locate one of the rarest animals on the planet, US government scientist Joe Madison pointed an antiquated VHF tracking antenna at a tangle of thick vegetation and twiddled some dials on the receiver. A red wolf, judging by the beeps, was in the vicinity but well-hidden. “Did you hear that beep? That’s a six-year-old male we just heard,” said Madison, a Tennessean with a sandy-coloured beard who is manager of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) red wolf program. “I mean, obviously I don’t see anything.” Sightings of red wolves are uncommon not only due to their elusive nature but also their plummeting population. Only around 30 of the creatures remain in the wild, in a corner of North Carolina, with 18 of them fitted with radio collars that Madison attempts to pick up with his antenna.


Photograph: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

An FWS assessment in 2016 warned this vestige could completely vanish within eight years. The scenario now is even grimmer. “We’re already way ahead of where that projection was,” Madison said. “If we stay on the current trajectory it won’t be that long before we lose the population. In fact, we are down to one known breeding pair.” Faced with hardening opposition to the wolves’ presence from some nearby landowners, the FWS has gradually pulled back. Wild releases of captive pups have stopped, as has the sterilization of encroaching coyotes to avoid hybridization. In June, the Trump administration unveiled a plan, several years in the making, that would scale the red wolves’ protected area back to its federally owned core and allow people to shoot the species without repercussions on private land.

Conservation groups argue this plan will swiftly snuff out the red wolf and have taken the fight to the courts. “The impression we’ve gotten is that Fish and Wildlife have got tired of trying to save controversial species like wolves,” said Dr Ron Sutherland, an ecologist and red wolf expert at the Wildlands Network. “They don’t have the budget or the backing of Congress. It’s easier to let the wolves decline to the point where they can just pull the plug and we’re very nearly at that point. This wasn’t a thing started by Trump but Trump could certainly finish it off.”


Photograph: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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I’m sure this is a priority for Beijing. Stop trading with these countries or they won’t stop.

China Prosecutes 11 People In $119 Million Totoaba Fish Bust (AFP)

Chinese authorities have prosecuted 11 people for smuggling $119 million worth of Mexican totoaba fish swim bladders, one of the country’s biggest busts related to the trafficking of an endangered species used in traditional medicine. Mexico has urged China for years to crack down on totoaba smuggling over fears that illegal fishing operations in the Gulf of California are also killing off the world’s smallest porpoise, the near-extinct vaquita marina. The Jiangmen city procuratorate in southern Guangdong province said the 11 people are suspected of smuggling nearly 20,000 swim bladders worth more than 800 million yuan ($119 million) from Mexico. The group of smugglers, led by an individual named Liang Weihua, transported the fish parts in “large quantities” and sold them to consumers in China.

“This crime lasted for more than three years,” said the Guangdong-based procuratorate, a legal supervision agency, on its website. The smuggling route involved a number of neighbouring countries, including Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, it said, adding that the case is currently under further investigation. The critically endangered totoaba fish has been in steep decline since the 1940s, largely because of its reputed healing powers in Chinese medicine. The fish’s swim bladder can fetch up to $20,000 on the black market in China, where it is believed to have beautifying properties and cure a host of ailments, from arthritis pain to discomfort during pregnancy. In fact, they are so prized that some Chinese simply display them in fancy cases in their homes.

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“..more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans..”

Microplastics Found ‘Absolutely Everywhere’ (G.)

Microplastic pollution spans the world, according to new studies showing contamination in the UK’s lake and rivers, in groundwater in the US and along the Yangtze river in China and the coast of Spain. Humans are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the possible health effects on people and ecosystems have yet to be determined. One study, in Singapore, has found that microplastics can harbour harmful microbes. The new analysis in the UK found microplastic pollution in all 10 lakes, rivers and reservoirs sampled. More than 1,000 small pieces of plastic per litre were found in the River Tame, near Manchester, which was revealed last year as the most contaminated place yet tested worldwide. Even in relatively remote places such as the Falls of Dochart and Loch Lomond in Scotland, two or three pieces per litre were found.

“It was startling. I wasn’t expecting to find as much as we did,” said Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Wales, who led the work. “It is quite depressing they were there in some of our country’s most iconic locations. I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater in the Lake District was polluted with plastic. “Microplastics are being found absolutely everywhere [but] we do not know the dangers they could be posing. It’s no use looking back in 20 years time and saying: ‘If only we’d realised just how bad it was.’ We need to be monitoring our waters now and we need to think, as a country and a world, how we can be reducing our reliance on plastic.”

[..] “Microplastic has been found in our rivers, our highest mountains and our deepest oceans,” said Julian Kirby, a plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth who helped collect water samples for the new UK study. He urged MPs to back legislation “to drastically reduce the flow of plastic pollution that’s blighting our environment”. Research by the National University of Singapore found more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans, as well as those linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.

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Feb 052019
 
 February 5, 2019  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Meditation 1936

 

How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the US Recovery? (FRBSF)
Bill Gross Retires (R.)
SOTU (Jim Kunstler)
EU Goods Will Be Waved Through British Ports In Case Of No Deal Brexit (Sun)
Nissan Was Offered Secret UK State Aid To Cope With Brexit (G.)
Merkel Says ‘Still Time’ To Find Brexit Solution (AFP)
An Italian Debt Crisis Could Take Down The EU (ZH)
Australia Central Bank Stays Calm As Shoppers Go Missing (R.)
Recognising Juan Guaidó Risks A Bloody Civil War In Venezuela (Ponceleon)
The Venezuelan Coup and Gilets Jaunes: Great-Power Politics (Pieraccini)
Italy Vetoes EU Recognition Of Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido (RT)
Twitter Erupts After 2,000 Pro-Venezuelan Accounts Are Deleted (Telesur)

 

 

As Trump has dinner with Powell, some San Francisco Fed theorist waxes enthusiastically about what more the Fed could have done. Not pre-2008, when the crisis caused by Fed policies erupted, but post-2008, when it tried to repair the damage it had done -and ‘failed’. Get these guys out of your economy or you’re going to see a real crisis. The Fed serves rich people only. All these people claim to defend a free market, but the Fed is the biggest enemy of a free market.

How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the US Recovery? (FRBSF)

The Federal Reserve responded aggressively to the most recent financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-2009 by cutting the target for its benchmark short-term interest rate, known as the federal funds rate, to a range just above zero in December 2008, where it stayed until the end of 2015. Traditionally, it has been assumed that nominal interest rates cannot fall below zero, known as the “lower bound.” Ever since 2008, researchers have debated how much monetary policy was constrained by this lower bound and how much it affected economic outcomes. To work around this constraint, the Federal Reserve turned to unconventional monetary policy tools such as forward guidance and large-scale asset purchases.

Other central banks—in Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, and the euro area—took unconventional policy one step further and challenged the traditional view on the lower bound by setting their target rates below zero. In this Economic Letter, I consider whether pushing rates below zero would have improved economic outcomes in the United States in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Model estimates suggest that reducing the effective lower bound for the federal funds rate to –0.75% would have reduced economic slack by as much as one-half at the trough of the recession and sped up the ensuing recovery. While the boost to the economy would have been negligible after 2014, inflation would have been higher throughout the recovery by about half a percentage point on average.

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Alternative headline: Fed policies killed Bill Gross. Can’t support stocks without killing bonds. It’s about pensions, don’t you know.

Bill Gross Retires (R.)

Bill Gross, once the bond market’s most influential investor, will retire from Janus in coming weeks, ending attempts to reclaim the stature he enjoyed leading the world’s largest fixed-income investing firm. Gross, who turned to investing after serving as U.S. naval officer, co-founded Pacific Investment Management Co in 1971, attaining rock-star status in investing circles as he attracted hundreds of billions of dollars in assets. Under his watch, Pimco blossomed into a $2 trillion asset-management powerhouse, one so influential that the U.S. Federal Reserve tapped it to help implement its program of emergency bond purchases in the financial crisis in 2008. At Janus, however, Gross was unable to repeat his earlier success, with the performance of the fund he managed ranking near the bottom. Gross told Reuters on Friday that low rates are distorting returns.

His tenure at Pimco ended abruptly and acrimoniously in September 2014, when he was ousted. His flagship Total Return Fund – which hit a peak of $292.9 billion in assets in April 2013 – was hemorrhaging assets. At the end of April 2015, the Pimco Total Return Fund had lost its title as the world’s biggest bond mutual fund to the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund, which had $117.3 billion of assets. “You have to give Bill a lot of credit because he was the prime mover, popularizing active management,” Dan Fuss, vice chairman at Loomis, Sayles & Co LP, and one of Gross’ biggest competitors, said in a telephone interview. “I had hoped he’d be out and about and stay in the business because I know he would have wound up doing a good job.”

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Here’s hoping he rips them all another one. That the SOTU may be as exciting as the Super Bowl was dull.

SOTU (Jim Kunstler)

It’s conceivable, in a nation that absolutely can’t make sense of itself, that Mr. Trump’s annual report to congress will be as incomprehensible as this year’s Superbowl halftime show. Even the weather in Atlanta was a complete mystery with Maroon 5’s front man, Adam Levine, capering half-naked in tattoo drag amid artificial fires-of-hell, and then local hero rapper Big Boi’s triumphal entry in a limo, nearly lost inside what looked like the pelt of a giant ground sloth — an eight-year-old’s idea of what it means to be important. Or maybe it was just all code for two sides of the climate change debate. You can be sure the atmosphere will be frosty to the max when the Golden Golem of Greatness lumbers down the aisle of congress’s house on Tuesday night.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Democratic majority turns its backs on him during the always excruciating preliminaries and then just walks out of the chamber. Don’t expect the usual excessive rounds of applause from the president’s own party this time, either, in the big, half-empty room. They don’t know what to do about him at this point… or what to do with themselves, for that matter. The running theme for State of the Union (SOTU) messages going back to Ronald Reagan is American Wonderfulness, so expect at least forty minutes of national self-esteem therapy, which nobody will believe. Throw in another ten minutes of elevating sob stories about “special guests” up in the galleries. But leave a little time for Mr. Trump to roll a few cherry bombs down the aisles. He must be good and goddam sick of all the guff shoveled at him for two years.

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Smugglers rejoice!

EU Goods Will Be Waved Through British Ports In Case Of No Deal Brexit (Sun)

GOODS shipped to Britain from the EU are to be waved through 20 UK ports without checks in a No Deal to avoid huge jams – HMRC has declared. In official advice released today, HM Revenue & Customs said that “for a temporary period” it would allow “most” shipments into the country before companies have even informed them they’ve arrived. Exporters would have just over 24 hours to then fill in an electronic declaration. The revelation comes just months after HMRC bosses warned the UK’s post-Brexit customs system would not work properly for two years in a No Deal. HMRC chief John Thompson told MPs last year that the Government would have a choice to make – whether to keep trade moving, ensure security at the border, or collect revenues.

Insiders said it appeared that HMRC had decided it was essential to keep trade moving rather than risk huge queues on the way to ports such as Dover or at Eurotunnel terminals. Hauliers have been furious at the lack of guidance from HMRC and the Government over how the customs system would work in the event of a No Deal. Today’s “updated guidance” warns that anyone importing into Brexit Britain will have to fill out a customs form before checking goods onto a ferry or train on the EU side. But it adds: “For a temporary period, HMRC will allow most goods moving from the listed roll on roll off locations to leave the UK port or train station before you’ve told us that the goods have arrived.”

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What other secret plans are there?

Nissan Was Offered Secret UK State Aid To Cope With Brexit (G.)

The business secretary has been forced to admit the existence of a previously secret package of state aid to Nissan that could have been worth up to £80m had the carmaker gone ahead with plans to manufacture a new model X-Trail in Sunderland after Brexit. Greg Clark released a letter dated October 2016 in which he pledged tens of millions of taxpayer support and promised the Japanese company it would not be “adversely affected” after the UK left the EU. Yet, at the time the commitments were first made, Downing Street had said “there was no special deal for Nissan” and Clark refused six times to answer a question about what was on offer when interviewed on the BBC. He even appeared to suggest no money was involved. Asked on BBC One’s Question Time about the deal, he said: “There’s no chequebook. I don’t have a chequebook.”

Clark and the government had repeatedly refused to release the 2016 letter until the promises turned out to be worthless, because Nissan had abandoned its future investment plan, partly because of uncertainty over Brexit. The four-page document, sent by Clark to Nissan’s then chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, committed the government to “a package of support in areas such as skills, R&D and innovation” which “could amount to additional support of up to £80m”. The state aid package ultimately turned out to be worth £61m when it was formally awarded to Nissan in June 2018, a fact only acknowledged by Clark in a second letter sent on Monday to the Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the business select committee.

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Merkel seems to open a door just to slam it shut again the next instant.

“..she was clear that any solution could only come via the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement – rather than re-opening talks on the actual exit deal.”

Merkel Says ‘Still Time’ To Find Brexit Solution (AFP)

There is still time to find a solution to Britain’s exit from the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday, voicing optimism on a political deal over the tricky “backstop” that has stymied progress. Speaking to Japanese and German business leaders in Tokyo, Merkel stressed that “on the one hand, time is pressing” and businesses using “just-in-time” delivery processes could not afford lengthy customs procedures. However, she added: “From a political point of view, there is still time. Two months is not a long time but there is still time, and this should be used by all sides.” Britain is poised to leave the EU at the end of March following a 2016 referendum. Merkel acknowledged the issue of the unpopular Northern Ireland backstop provision was “complicating” Brexit talks.

The backstop is intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border with Ireland, but Brexit supporters fear it will keep Britain tied to EU customs rules. She said the issue with the backstop was a “problem that is precisely defined and therefore one should be able to find a precisely defined solution”. “But this solution depends on the question of what the future relationship between Britain and the EU will be like and what type of trade deal we sign with each other,” added the chancellor. Throwing the ball into London’s court, she stressed: “It will be very important for us to know what exactly the British side sees as its future relationship with the EU.” [..] she urged “creativity” and “goodwill” to find a solution. However, she was clear that any solution could only come via the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement – rather than re-opening talks on the actual exit deal.

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French banks. And Wall Street.

An Italian Debt Crisis Could Take Down The EU (ZH)

Plagued by another run of bank bailouts and simmering tensions between the partners in its ruling coalition, Italy’s brief reprieve following the detente between its populist rulers and angry bureaucrats in Brussels is already beginning to fade. As Bloomberg reminded us on Monday, Italy’s $1.7 trillion pile of public debt – the third largest sovereign debt pool in Europe – is threatening to set off a chain reaction that could hammer banks from Rome, to Madrid, to Frankfurt – and beyond. Just the mention of the precarity of Italian debt markets “can induce a shudder of financial fear like no other” in bureaucrats and businessmen alike – particularly after Italy’s economy slid into a recession during Q4. While much of Italy’s debt burden is held by its banks and private citizens, lenders outside of Italy are holding some €425 billion ($486 billion) in public and private debt.

The Bloomberg analysis of Italy’s financial foibles follows more reports that Italy’s ruling coalition between the anti-immigrant, pro-business League and the vaguely left-wing populist Five-Star Movement has become increasingly strained. Per BBG, the two parties are fighting a battle on two fronts over the construction of a high speed Alpine rail and a legal case involving League leader Matteo Salvini over his refusal to let the Dicotti migrant ship to dock in an Italian port last summer. After M5S intimated that it could support the investigation, the League warned that such a move would be tantamount to “blackmail” against Salvini, whose lieutenants have been pushing for him to take advantage of the party’s rising poll numbers and push for early elections later this year. However, Salvini has rebuffed these demands, warning that there’s nothing stopping Italian President Sergio Mattarella from calling for a new coalition instead of new elections.

[..] To keep operating without massive budget cuts (something neither party in the ruling coalition has shown any sign of supporting) Italy must sell 400 billion euros ($457 billion) of debt per year. But since Italy’s banks hold so much of the country’s debt, declines in the price of Italian bonds inevitably hurts the shares of Italian banks, and also forces them to hold more capital on their books to ensure liquidity from the ECB. This creates the potential for a negative feedback loop known as the “doom loop”. Put another way, “a government crisis could drag down the banking system or a banking crisis could suck in the government.”

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And the Chinese withdraw.

Australia Central Bank Stays Calm As Shoppers Go Missing (R.)

Australia’s central bank warned of risks to growth on Tuesday but wrongfooted rate bears by steering clear from an explicit easing signal, even as data showed shoppers slashed spending during Christmas in another sign of cooling economic momentum. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) left rates at a record low 1.50 percent for a 30th straight month, saying accommodative policy was supporting the economy and that further progress was expected in reducing unemployment and lifting inflation over time. The local dollar jumped as the statement sounded less dovish than the markets had wagered on.

“The main message from the RBA today was that they are still positive on the growth outlook, and particularly on the labor market, and they see the economy as still on track towards lifting inflation back to their target,” said HSBC Australia’s chief economist Paul Bloxham. Yet, interest rates futures continued to price in a 50-50 chance of a rate cut by the end of the year, reflecting the deteriorating growth momentum in the face of rising global and domestic risks. Lowe expects Australia’s A$1.8 trillion economy ($1.3 trillion) to expand at an above-trend rate of around 3 percent this year. That is a slightly more cautious view compared to “a little above 3 percent” in its previous statement.

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Temir Porras Ponceleon was chief of staff to Nicolás Maduro from 2007 to 2013. He is now a visiting professor at Sciences Po, Paris.

Stangely missing from this piece: the CIA.

Recognising Juan Guaidó Risks A Bloody Civil War In Venezuela (Ponceleon)

Falsely presented as a “fresh face”, Guaidó first came to prominence in 2007, as a member of a generation of students who led protests against Chávez’s socialism, despite his landslide presidential victory in 2006. Guaidó is part of an opposition that never stopped challenging Chávez’s popular legitimacy even in his heyday, and who naturally doubled down as soon as the less assertive Maduro took office. The challenges to Maduro’s legitimacy began the moment he was elected. His presidential opponent, Henrique Capriles, labelled the 2013 election a fraud (without providing any supporting evidence). Capriles called on his followers to ventilate their “anger” in the streets, a move resulting in the killing of a number of Chavistas.

In January 2014 Guaidó’s political party, Voluntad Popular, launched a nationwide insurrectionary movement aimed at forcing Maduro out of office. This was only nine months into Maduro’s term, and long before the country faced any serious economic or social problems. In fact, in early 2014 oil prices were at record highs, and Venezuelans were still enjoying their highest levels of income ever, in terms of GDP per capita. [..] And then oil prices collapsed in June 2014, leaving an ill-prepared country frozen in inaction. Living standards started to deteriorate, and while a Maduro-led Chavismo remained a large and organised political force, it lost its dominance. Maduro suffered a humiliating defeat in the December 2015 legislative elections, which allowed an opposition coalition to seize a potentially devastating two-thirds supermajority in the national assembly.

[..] Unless the international community is willing to risk a needless war on the American continent, it must urgently create conditions for a national dialogue aimed at reaching a political agreement. [..] The idea that Maduro has managed to remain in office during the past six years solely through corruption and the use of force is a gross misrepresentation. It ignores that, beyond the president, the Chavismo social movement counts millions of supporters, primarily from lower-income communities, and is strongly embedded within the Venezuelan military.

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“The protests seen in France and the interference in the domestic politics of Venezuela highlight Western double standards, which stand in contrast to the respect for international law maintained by China, India and Russia.”

The Venezuelan Coup and Gilets Jaunes: Great-Power Politics (Pieraccini)

In France on November 17, 2018, hundreds of thousands of citizens, angered by the diminishing quality of their lives, the social iniquity in the country, and the widening gap between rich and poor, took to the streets in protest. The protests can easily be encapsulated in the following slogan: “We the people against you the elite.” This slogan has been a recurring theme throughout the West over the last three years, shaking up the British establishment with the pro-Brexit vote, discombobulating the United States with Trump’s victory, overturning Italy with the Lega/Five-Star government, and bringing Merkel’s star crashing down in Germany.

Now it is the turn of Macron and France, one of the least popular leaders in the world, leading his country into chaos, with peaceful protests drawing a bloody response from the authorities following ten weeks of unceasing demonstrations. In Venezuela, Western elites would like us to believe that the situation is worse than in France in terms of public order, but that is simply a lie. It is a media creation based on misinformation and censorship. In Europe, the mainstream media has stopped showing images of the protests in France, as if to smother information about it, preferring to portray an image of France that belies the chaos in which it has been immersed for every weekend over the last few months.

In Caracas, the right-wing, pro-American and anti-Communist opposition continues the same campaign based on lies and violence as it has customarily conducted following its electoral defeats at the hands of the Bolivarian revolution. The Western mainstream media beams images and videos of massive pro-government Bolivarian rallies and falsely portrays them as anti-Maduro protests. We are dealing here with acts of journalistic terrorism, and the journalists who push this narrative, instigating clashes, should be prosecuted by a criminal court of the Bolivarian people in Caracas.

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Good on them. All these EU countries don’t deem it needed to explain why they do it, other than: Maduro is a dictator. Well, his approval rating is higher than any of theirs.

Italy Vetoes EU Recognition Of Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido (RT)

Rome has effectively derailed an EU statement meant to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader if President Nicolas Maduro fails to set up snap elections, a Five Star Movement source confirmed to RT. Italy announced the veto at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers that started on January 31 in Romania, the source said. The statement, which was supposed to be delivered by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini recognized Guaido as interim president if snap elections were not held. The European Parliament is the first European body to recognize Guaido “as the only legitimate interim president of the country until new free, transparent and credible presidential elections can be called in order to restore democracy.”

The parliament urged the EU to follow suit but the effort stalled due to internal discord. A range of European nations have separately recognized the opposition chief as Venezuela’s acting president, including the UK, France, Sweden, Spain, and Austria. The coordinated move came after an eight-day deadline for Maduro to call presidential elections expired on Monday. The US announced that it is backing the new interim leader and pledged their full support immediately after what has been labeled “a coup” by officials in Caracas. However Russia, China, Turkey and Iran said they see Maduro as the only legitimate leader, warning against meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.

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Orwell.

Twitter Erupts After 2,000 Pro-Venezuelan Accounts Are Deleted (Telesur)

Nearly 2,000 pro-Venezuelan Twitter accounts have been removed for “engaging in a state-backed influence campaign,” the social media company said in a blog post on Thursday. A total of 1,196 social media accounts based in Venezuela suspected of attempting to “influence domestic audiences” were purged last week. Another 764 accounts were deleted, although the San Francisco-based company told users, “We are unable to definitively tie the accounts located in Venezuela to information operations of a foreign government against another country.” Allegations of censorship soon filled the site’s timeline.

Television host for the investigatory series, Empire Files, Abby Martin tweeted, “While pro-coup Venezuelans & right-wing exiles dominate the media sphere, tech companies are actively censoring pro-government accounts they say are working to “influence” people.” Another journalist, Ben Norton, accused the company of catering to “U.S. government interests:” Twitter is now removing thousands of accounts supposedly linked to Venezuela’s sovereign government. This comes after Twitter suspended Venezuelan government accounts 1.5 years ago. Social media corporations act as an extension of US government interests.” In another blog post, Twitter announced the release of five new datasets which were allegedly created in relation to suspected foreign interference efforts it had encountered.

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Oct 282018
 
 October 28, 2018  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali City of drawers – The Anthropomorphic Cabinet 1936

 

OECD Countries’ Retirement Assets Surpass $43 Trillion In 2017 (PiO)
As The Housing Market Stagnates, American Homeowners Are Staying Put (MW)
Economist Slams ‘China Model’ That ‘Inevitably Leads To Confrontation’ (SCMP)
Rand Paul Seeks To Punish Saudi Arabia For Khashoggi Killing (Pol.)
Saudi Arabia Says It Is A Beacon Of Light Fighting ‘Dark’ Iran (G.)
EU To Make Contingency Plans For A Second Brexit Referendum (Ind.)
Germany’s Fragile Coalition Braced For More Upsets (G.)
Russia-Turkey-Germany-France Talks On Syria Kick Off (RT)
“My” Suspended Twitter Account (Paul Craig Roberts)
Mexico Honors Migrants At Day Of The Dead As Caravan Treks North (R.)

 

 

2/3(?!) of it is in the US.

OECD Countries’ Retirement Assets Surpass $43 Trillion In 2017 (PiO)

Retirement assets in OECD countries hit a record $43.4 trillion at the end of 2017, well above the pre-crisis level. The OECD said in its annual Pension Markets in Focus report that assets invested in all funded and private pension systems across 87 jurisdictions grew 12.1% over the year, and increased 53.9% compared with figures at the end of 2007. The report said assets are unevenly distributed worldwide, with less than $200 billion across 78% of the reporting countries, while 8% held more than $1 trillion each: the U.S. with about $28.2 trillion; the U.K. with $2.9 trillion; Canada at $2.6 trillion; Australia with $1.8 trillion; the Netherlands with $1.6 trillion; Japan at $1.4 trillion; and Switzerland with $1 trillion. The remaining 9% of assets, or about $3.9 trillion, are split among the other 29 OECD countries.

The largest amounts of assets are located in some of the biggest economies in the world and with a long history of retirement savings. High investment returns from equity markets partially explain the growth of these assets, said the report, with the real net investment rate of return on retirement assets exceeding 4% on average in 2017. U.S. retirement plans achieved a 7.5% real net investment rate of return in 2017, added the OECD. Funding levels for DB funds improved in the U.S., to 59.6% at end-2017 from 56% a year earlier; but worsened from 2007 figures of 68.6%. The funding ratio was calculated as the ratio of total investment and net technical provisions for occupational defined benefit plans using values reported by national authorities in the OECD template.

U.K. funding levels improved to 90.5% as of the end of 2017, up from 85.8% a year earlier, but down from 108.8% as of the end of 2007. Denmark had the highest funding level of OECD countries in the report, at 135.1%. However, that level was down from 146.1% a year earlier, but improved over the 127.4% funding level as of the end of 2007.

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Bad time to become a real estate agent.

As The Housing Market Stagnates, American Homeowners Are Staying Put (MW)

Housing-market headwinds are keeping American homeowners in their properties for the longest stretches on record, in a sharp distortion of the mobility Americans have for decades prized. Across the country, homes that sold in the third quarter of this year had been owned an average of 8.23 years, according to an analysis from Attom Data Solutions. That’s almost double the length of time a home sold in 2000, when Attom’s data begin, had been owned. It’s partly the long tail of the housing crisis that’s created stagnant conditions and a less dynamic housing market, Attom spokesman Daren Blomquist told MarketWatch.

As of the second quarter, 2.2 million homeowners were still underwater on their mortgages, meaning they owe more to their lending institution than the home is worth, according to data from CoreLogic. Another 550,000 have 5% equity or less, meaning that if that property were to be sold the transaction costs, such as a real-estate agent’s commission, would likely leave the homeowner with nothing. The hypercompetitive market that’s emerged from the wreckage of the crisis is also keeping people in place. Many homeowners have ample equity in their homes, but hesitate to list those homes because they’re worried about finding a property to buy if they do sell. A few others may be trapped by “rate lock” — enjoying the benefits of their ultralow mortgage rates, and unwilling to spend more on financing costs.

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Interesting that he gets to say it.

Economist Slams ‘China Model’ That ‘Inevitably Leads To Confrontation’ (SCMP)

Using the “China model” to explain the country’s economic success over the past four decades is wrong and dangerous, according to an influential Chinese economist, who says this misconception has inevitably led to antagonism between China and the West. Zhang Weiying, one of the most prominent liberal economists in the country and a professor at prestigious Peking University, made the comments in a lecture on October 14. An edited version of his speech was published on the university’s website on Wednesday. The speech is a wholesale negation of the “China model” theory that has gained traction in recent years, as the country becomes more confident in promoting its own development path under President Xi Jinping.

Zhang lashes out at those who attribute China’s economic growth to an exceptional “China model”, which includes a powerful one-party state, a colossal state sector and “wise” industrial policy, saying it is not only factually wrong, but also detrimental to the country’s future. “The theory of the ‘China model’ sets China as a frightening anomaly from the Western perspective, and inevitably leads to confrontation between China and the West,” he said. “The hostile international environment we face today is not irrelevant to the wrong interpretation of China’s achievement in the past 40 years by some economists.”

The economist’s rejection of the “China model” comes as debates about the country’s economic future are heating up. The world’s second largest economy is losing steam – growth is at its slowest pace since 2009 – as it marks 40 years since its market reforms. At home, it is grappling with a mountain of debt, plunging stocks and an ailing private sector. Abroad, tensions over the prolonged trade war with the United States appear to be spilling over into defence, diplomacy and politics. Zhang said the trade war not only reflected conflict between China and the US, but between China and the larger Western world. It also went beyond trade to reflect the clash over value systems, he said.

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Like his dad, strongly anti-war.

Rand Paul Seeks To Punish Saudi Arabia For Khashoggi Killing (Pol.)

Sen. Rand Paul says he’s not going to let Saudi Arabia off the hook after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Turkey by agents linked to the Saudi government. The Kentucky Republican said Saturday he’s intent on forcing another vote to block billions in arm sales to the autocratic Middle Eastern kingdom and won’t settle for targeted sanctions, seeking to capitalize on negative public sentiment surrounding the Oct. 2 killing. “Are we going to do fake sanctions? Are we going to pretend to do something by putting sanctions on 15 thugs. Or are we going to do something that hurts them?” Paul said in an interview here, explaining that he thinks Saudi Arabia is trying to wait him out until Khashoggi fades from the headlines before announcing the arms sale, which would allow him to try and stop it.

“They know if they have the vote they might lose. So they’re probably not going to make any announcement until this dies down,” Paul said. Rather than focusing simply on Khashoggi, Paul has made a broader critique of Saudi Arabia as supporting “violent Jihad” and a brutal civil war in Yemen. But he’s noticed a substantive shift in the way his colleagues are now talking about the country. [..] Paul, a longtime Saudi critic, has previously forced votes to block the arms sales, but they have failed given a strong hawkish wing in the Senate that wants to keep a key ally against Iranian influence in the Middle East. Paul says that has changed. “We would win the vote right now. It would be a very bad vote if 60, 65, or even 70 people voted to cut the arms sales for now and the president were to veto that, that would be bad,” he said.

President Donald Trump has been more circumspect when discussing arms sales, questioning the wisdom of canceling sales that he believes creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. Paul said he’s tried to convince the president to come to his position, but he’s not there yet. “He says he doesn’t want to disrupt the arm sales. And it’s something we have an honest disagreement on. I don’t think arms are jobs programs,” Paul said. He said their “discussions aren’t really that much that back and forth.” [..] Paul also broke further with the president on foreign policy. He called it a “terrible idea” for the United States to back away from nuclear and weapons agreements with Russia and said he’s asked Trump to appoint nuclear negotiators in a bid to preserve the NEW START treaty and the INF agreement.

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Not sure how this would help their case at this point.

Saudi Arabia Says It Is A Beacon Of Light Fighting ‘Dark’ Iran (G.)

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has described the kingdom as a “vision of light” in the region as it tries to control the fallout from Jamal Khashoggi’s killing – its biggest diplomatic crisis since the 9/11 attacks. After more than two weeks of international outrage over the journalist and dissident’s death, Adel al-Jubeir sought to portray the country as the moral beacon of the Middle East, in stark opposition to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival. “We are now dealing with two visions in the Middle East,” Jubeir told a security summit in Bahrain on Saturday. “One is a [Saudi] vision of light … One is [an Iranian] vision of darkness which seeks to spread sectarianism throughout the region. History tells us that light always wins out against the dark.”

Condemning the media coverage of Khashoggi’s killing as “hysterical”, Jubeir rejected a call from Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, to try the 18 suspects in Turkey, stressing that they would be “held accountable” on Saudi soil. [..] Erdogan reiterated during an address to parliament on Friday that Riyadh must disclose the location of Khashoggi’s body and identify who ordered his killing – a sign that Ankara is willing to keep up the pressure on the beleaguered kingdom and its de facto ruler, the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. [..] Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, who also spoke at the summit in Manama, said that Khashoggi’s killing had “undermined regional stability”. Washington was considering additional punitive measures against those responsible after issuing visa bans for the suspects in the case, Mattis added.

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5 months left. Nothing decided on.

EU To Make Contingency Plans For A Second Brexit Referendum (Ind.)

The EU’s chief negotiator has been warned to make contingency plans for a second Brexit referendum, as pressure builds to give the public a final say on leaving. Prominent Remain politicians met with Michel Barnier in Brussels this week and said it was time to start “serious contingency planning”, as The Independent’s petition neared one million signatures and the future of Brexit looks increasingly uncertain. In a visit on Friday, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, told Mr Barnier that the negotiating period should be extended so Britain could have “time to have a referendum”. The warning comes after 700,000 people took to the streets of London last weekend to make the case for a vote on the final deal.

For there to be time to hold a referendum, the EU would likely have to extend the Article 50 negotiating period, which will automatically expire on 29 March 2019, leaving Britain to slide out with a no-deal Brexit. The calls for an extension came from across a number of parties. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said following a meeting with Mr Barnier on Thursday: “My message to Michel Barnier was clear: it’s time to start serious contingency planning for a People’s Vote. We know the UK government has started making such plans as a result of the growing demand for such a vote, demonstrated by last weekend’s march. “The EU should do the same, because MPs who back the People’s Vote are fast forming the biggest and most cohesive bloc in Westminster.”

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This will have an increasing effect on Europe as a whole. Who’s going to listen to Merkel as she’s fading at home?

Germany’s Fragile Coalition Braced For More Upsets (G.)

[..] voters in the central state of Hesse have the power to deliver a second electoral upset within a fortnight to Germany’s embattled ruling parties, potentially plunging both into fresh crises. The regional election is seen as decisive for the future of Merkel’s rickety coalition government. Last-minute polling showed support plummeting for both her Christian Democrat Union (CDU) and coalition partner the Social Democrats (SPD) in a swing state traditionally seen as a bellwether for national politics. Both parties were predicted to drop 10 points each since the state’s last regional election in 2013. Such a trouncing would come on the heels of a disastrous result in Bavaria that was widely seen as a protest against the failings of the Berlin government.

“None of the parties are there for us,” said Müller, who has voted for both CDU and SPD in the past, but was still undecided. “What should I do? I have to vote, it’s my duty to stop the far right getting into power. But I also know I won’t be heard. I can vote for whoever I like; the politicians will still do whatever they want.” Hesse, home to Germany’s financial centre, Frankfurt, has been governed by CDU-led coalitions for the past two decades. But polls have the party nosediving to 28%, a result that would end the state’s CDU-Green coalition and leave a question mark over the future of CDU state premier and close Merkel ally Volker Bouffier.

With tensions running high in the CDU, mutinous members have implied that if Bouffier falls, it may cost the chancellor vital votes when she stands for re-election as party leader at its conference in early December. But Merkel, who joined Bouffier on the campaign trail last week, was at pains to play down the significance of the regional vote for her party, government and chancellorship. “Hesse, and what happens here, is being watched and considered from far beyond Germany’s borders,” Merkel told supporters on Thursday in Fulda. “I want to point out once again that on Sunday the vote is about Hesse. Afterwards we’ll talk again about Berlin.”

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The fighting in Idlib must cease. It’s the only outcome.

Russia-Turkey-Germany-France Talks On Syria Kick Off (RT)

Leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France have gathered in Istanbul to discuss the Syrian peace process. While the outcome of such tricky talks is hard to predict, the new format appears to be, at least, quite refreshing. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Istanbul on Saturday to talk Syrian reconciliation. The host, Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has put high expectations on the gathering. “The whole world is watching this meeting. I hope, that the hopes will be met,” Erdogan said, while opening the summit. The four leaders are also expected to be joined by UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura.

The four-way summit is an entirely new format of talks on the war-torn country, which has endured years-long conflict. The meeting is all about testing the waters and trying to bring about different formats of talks on Syria, as if the leaders were to “synchronize watches” rather than reach a breakthrough, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Similar opinion was expressed by Germany, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stating that the summit effectively brings different sides together for the very first time. “There are Russians and Turks, who have been at the same format of talks with Iran. And on the other side, there are French and us, who partake in the so-called ‘Friends of Syria’ group,” Maas said ahead of the event, adding that having a “joint conversation” was a viable idea.

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Turns out, the story was a bit different than many reported.

“My” Suspended Twitter Account (Paul Craig Roberts)

Dear Readers:

It is all over the internet and international media that Twitter has suspended my account. This is not the case. I do not use social media. I discovered that a Twitter account was operating in my name. I requested that the account be taken down. I have no recollection of giving anyone permission to operate a Twitter account in my name. I am still extremely busy trying to help family relatives impacted by Hurricane Michael and could only quickly look at the Twitter postings. It seemed to be mainly innocuous, consisting of links or quotes from my posted columns.

However, there were other things, such as appeals that money be sent to Alex Jones InfoWars and other things. I have no objection to Alex Jones. However, my webmaster and I were concerned that things could be posted that would be dangerous for me, such as libel, death threats to others, and so forth. To repeat, the account was closed at my request. To repeat, I do not use social media.

Paul Craig Roberts

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There’s something cynical about this, but also beautiful.

Mexico Honors Migrants At Day Of The Dead As Caravan Treks North (R.)

Mexico City dedicated its Day of the Dead parade on Saturday to migrants, just as thousands of Central Americans were trekking from the country’s southern border toward the United States under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to disband. In an a twist on the traditional dancing skeletons and marigold-adorned altars making their way down the capital’s main thoroughfare, the parade also referenced Mexicans who emigrated as well as foreigners who settled in the capital. “The parade… is dedicated to migrants, who in their transit to other countries have lost their lives, and who in their passing through the country have contributed to a true ‘Refuge City,’” the Mexico City government said on Twitter.

In one segment, gray metallic panels representing the Mexico side of the U.S. border wall were stenciled with the phrase, “There are also dreams on this side.” Other presentations honored exiled Spaniards, Argentineans and Jews, Mexico City’s culture ministry said. The event ahead of Nov. 1 and 2, when Mexicans observe Day of the Dead in town squares, homes and cemeteries, coincided by chance with the journey of a migrant caravan traveling into Mexico, many fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras and Guatemala.

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Oct 222018
 
 October 22, 2018  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Autumn landscape with four trees 1885

 

5 Companies That Spent Big On Stock Buybacks As Pension Funding Lagged (MW)
How Everything Has Changed Since Trump Became President (CNBC)
Trump Right To Blame Fed for Next Market Crash – Dave Janda (USAW)
Democrats Slide In Battle For Senate (Hill)
Erdogan Says Will Reveal Details Of Khashoggi Case Tuesday (DS)
No Arms For Riyadh While Khashoggi Questions Remain – Merkel (R.)
Germany Urges Other EU States To Also Stop Arms Exports To Saudi Arabia
Merkel to Resign: ‘Wants To Replace Juncker As European Commission Chief’ (VoE)
Italian Bank Fears Expected To Grow After Debt Downgrade (G.)
Brexit Deal Is 95% Settled, Theresa May To Tell Commons (G.)
Sydney Property Slowdown Bites As Auction Clearance Rates Tumble (G.)

 

 

Madness. Should never be allowed. Why do you have a pension fund when you are free not to contribute to it?

5 Companies That Spent Big On Stock Buybacks As Pension Funding Lagged (MW)

Even as corporate executives engage in a spree of share buybacks to spur stock prices higher, many have eschewed adding to their employee’s pension pots. That’s according to Danielle DiMartino Booth of Quill Intelligence who picked out a few of the more standout firms whose “enthusiasm for funding pensions was subpar compared to buybacks.” She lined up five of the worst offenders to illustrate that in the pursuit of higher stock prices and shareholder value corporations often left other pressing needs to languish. They include the likes of Boeing, General Electric and Lockheed Martin. In the chart below, the amount of buybacks and pension contributions between 2009 and 2017 for the five companies is compared alongside their respective pension funding ratio, which represents how much the company can deliver on its future pension obligations as a percentage of the plan’s total assets.

One case Booth highlights in the chart is American Airlines. Though, the airline carried around $18.3 billion of pension obligations, its pension system was only 62% funded even after a nine-year bull market. Market participants have cited the prevalence of share repurchases to the stock market’s searing rise in the past few years, even as equities retreated from their record highs in October. A report by Goldman Sachs said share buybacks could hit a record $1 trillion this year, nearly doubling last year’s haul.

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For now.

How Everything Has Changed Since Trump Became President (CNBC)

Since Donald Trump won the presidency, he has presided over both one the most tumultuous political times in recent memory, as well as the best economy the country has seen since well before the financial crisis. Consumer and small business confidence is up — but so are both the national debt and budget deficit. The chart below, using mostly data compiled by Goldman Sachs, quantifies just how much things changed from the days just before the election in November 2016 through September 2018. Of course, the stock market has weakened in October, which has been its historically most volatile month. The chart doesn’t include GDP, which has averaged 2.72 percent since Trump took over, compared to the 1.6 percent gain in 2016. But the numbers provide a solid overview of how conditions have evolved during the 45th president’s time in office.

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No, it’s the low interest rates that will cause a market crash. It’s the manipulation.

Trump Right To Blame Fed for Next Market Crash – Dave Janda (USAW)

Radio host Dr. Dave Janda says everybody in Washington knows the next big crash is right around the corner. It’s been 10 years since the Fed reflated the last meltdown, and Dr. Janda says President Trump is already blaming the Federal Reserve for killing the economy that his policies revived. Dr. Janda explains, “President Trump has been pointing the finger at the Fed. He’s been pointing the finger at the Fed, and that is exactly where he should be pointing. The globalist syndicate’s tentacle is the central banking system, and, in particular, in the United States, the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is one of the entities that is directly responsible for this financial mess our country is currently in.

You would never see Obama or the Bushes, or Bill Clinton, point at the Fed and say what Trump has said. Trump said, ‘I think the Fed has gone crazy. I think the Fed is making a mistake. They’re so tight with interest rates. I think the Fed has gone crazy.’ Just the other day, Trump said, ‘My biggest threat is the Fed. . . . The Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s too independent.’ Now, wait a minute, listen to that. It’s too independent. When was the last time a president of the United States said the Fed was too independent? . . . . Banking groups, that is their priority. So, when the President says the Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s my biggest enemy, and too independent, what he is saying is they are looking out for their own interests.

They are not looking out for the interests of our country or for you or for me or for any American, and he’s right. I don’t know of any other president that has had the guts to say this.” So, what happens next? Dr. Janda says, “Trump knew this thing was rigged to blow, the economy, the financial system, and when the right time came, he would start pointing the finger at the globalists, the Fed. I believe that’s where we are right now.”

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As predicted.

Democrats Slide In Battle For Senate (Hill)

The battle for control of the Senate is looking worse and worse for Democrats, who just a month ago saw a path to the majority but now increasingly look like they could lose more seats and have a smaller minority next year. Republicans have seen a bump in the polls in several key races since Labor Day. They believe momentum has flipped to their party since the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh polarized the electorate, hurting Democrats running for reelection in states where President Trump is popular. Two states where Democrats had hopes of pulling major upsets — Texas and Tennessee — have moved in favor of Republicans.

Races in Nevada and Arizona, two other states where Democrats had hoped to make gains, remain tight, but Republicans feel more confident about their candidates. Meanwhile, the tide has moved against Democratic candidates in a couple of states that Trump won by double digits in 2016. In North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has fallen behind by double digits. And in Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D), who seemed poised for victory a month ago, has seen his race tighten amid attacks by the president. There is some good news for Democrats in the polls. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat to back Kavanaugh’s confirmation, has maintained a healthy average lead of 9 points in the polls, despite running in a state that Trump won by a whopping 42 points in 2016.

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Do the US and Riyadh know what he knows?

Erdogan Says Will Reveal Details Of Khashoggi Case Tuesday (DS)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that he will make important statements on Tuesday at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting regarding the investigation on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fate, who was admittedly killed by Saudi authorities. “We seek justice and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth. This is not an ordinary case. I will make statements on Tuesday at the AK Party parliamentary group meeting. The incident will be revealed entirely,” said Erdogan at a ceremony in Istanbul.

His comments are likely to heighten speculation that Turkey may be about to reveal some of the results of its investigations into the killing of the dissident journalist [..] Turkish newspapers have released information detailing a 15-member team that purportedly arrived in Istanbul to confront Khashoggi at the consulate. “Why did these 15 people come here (to Istanbul), why were 18 people arrested (in Saudi Arabia)? These need to be explained in detail,” Erdogan said. Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor on Saturday said 18 people were arrested in connection with the incident. Turkish sources say the authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate.

“If the incident transpired as it has been told across the world, there is no way Saudi officials can cover this up by saying a team from Saudi Arabia came and two or three men among them murdered him,” Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of the AK Party, told broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview. “A crime committed in a consulate cannot be carried out without the knowledge of the senior state officials of that country. If this crime was really carried out as has been said, if the evidence really leads to that conclusion, the situation will be dire and this must have very serious legal consequences.”

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Not that Germany sells all that much.

No Arms For Riyadh While Khashoggi Questions Remain – Merkel (R.)

Germany will not export arms to Saudi Arabia while the current uncertainty over the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi persists, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday. Campaigning for her party in a regional election, Merkel repeated to a news conference her earlier condemnation of Khashoggi’s killing, which Saudi Arabia admitted had taken place inside its consulate in Istanbul. “First, we condemn this act in the strongest terms,” she said. “Second, there is an urgent need to clarify what happened – we are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account … As far as arms exports are concerned, those can’t take place in the current circumstances.”

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But look at the UK. Will they stop arms exports?

Germany Urges Other EU States To Also Stop Arms Exports To Saudi Arabia

Germany wants other European Union member states to follow its example in stopping arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as uncertainty remains over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday. Riyadh has given multiple and conflicting accounts on what led to Khashoggi’s death on Oct. 2 at its consulate in Istanbul. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called the killing a “huge and grave mistake” but sought to shield Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince. Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that Germany would stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as the uncertainty around Khashoggi’s death persisted.

Altmaier, a close ally of Merkel, said Riyadh’s explanations on the case so far had not been satisfactory. “The government is in agreement that we will not approve further arms exports for the moment because we want to know what happened,” Altmaier told ZDF broadcaster. So far this year the German government had approved weapons exports worth more than 400 million euros ($462 million) to Saudi Arabia, making it the second-biggest recipient of German arms after Algeria. [..] Altmaier said other EU states should stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia in order to increase pressure on Riyadh over the Khashoggi case. “For me it would be important that we come to a joint European stance,” Altmaier said.

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A popular job.

Merkel to Resign: ‘Wants To Replace Juncker As European Commission Chief’ (VoE)

Bavaria’s state election last weekend proved painful for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In yet another election next week, Ms. Merkel is expected to see further discomfiture. The German leader could resign from her post at the December CDU party conference in December in order to take another senior European position. “Rumours are swirling in Brussels that Merkel could run for the European Commission next year”, Die Welt’s Stefanie Bolzen tells the BBC. As Jean-Claude Juncker gets ready to retire as European Commission President next year, there have been suggestions that French President Emanuel Macron is considering a run, Italy’s fierce and most popular politician in Italy’s history Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has also been asked to run, and now Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel could potentially be throwing her hat into the ring.

May the best Italian win!

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What happens when the vigilantes decide it’s time?

Italian Bank Fears Expected To Grow After Debt Downgrade (G.)

Fears that Italy’s banks face a black hole in their finances are expected to grow this week following a debt downgrade that could send the value of bank reserves plummeting. Despite efforts to shore up Italian banks’ reserves, a downgrade by the ratings agency Moody’s on Friday following a row between Rome and Brussels over the government’s budget could send them into freefall again. A senior government official added to the tension on Sunday by issuing a warning that Italy should not ignore the deteriorating financial situation and its effect on the country’s banks, including possible capital needs. Giancarlo Giorgetti said in a newspaper interview that a fire sale of Italian government bonds over the last five months had put huge pressure on bank reserves and could trigger a second crisis in two years.

The budget plans of Italy‘s populist government, which breach EU borrowing rules, have prompted investors to shed €67bn ($77bn) of Italian government bonds since May. The effect has been to push values down and the interest rate on government bonds, referred to as the yield, to more than three percentage points higher than safer German bonds. “The increase in the [bond yield] spread, the amount of public debt banks hold and new European Union banking rules put the industry under pressure and may generate the need to recapitalise the most fragile lenders,” said Giorgetti, who is an influential member of the far-right League, one of the two parties in Italy’s ruling coalition.

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But the remaining 5% were always the hardest, so nothing really changed.

Brexit Deal Is 95% Settled, Theresa May To Tell Commons (G.)

Theresa May will tell the Commons on Monday that 95% of the Brexit withdrawal agreement and its protocols are settled as she seeks to demonstrate to anxious MPs in her own party that she is making headway in the increasingly fraught divorce talks. The prime minister is expected to confirm she has resolved with the EU the future status of Gibraltar, developed a protocol around the UK’s military base in Cyprus and agreed a mechanism for resolving any future disputes with the EU.

Taking the unusual step of briefing planned remarks to the Commons in advance, May will conclude that “taking all of this together, 95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled” in talks that she has until now largely insisted on keeping secret. The prime minister is scheduled to make a statement on Monday afternoon, after intense criticism from the Tory right for appearing to have made no progress other than indicating at last week’s European summit that she was open to extending the post-Brexit transition period, prompting renewed speculation about a leadership challenge.

A clearly rattled Downing Street held two conference calls with cabinet ministers over the weekend to update them on the European summit before a cabinet discussion on Brexit on Tuesday. Concerns were raised about the transition period and time-limiting the Irish backstop. “No one is in the mood to be bounced,” said one cabinet source. May intends to show the progress made by highlighting all the specific areas of agreement already reached, including settling the divorce bill at £39bn, having an implementation period until at least the end of 2020 and recognising the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa.

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Down under goes further down.

Sydney Property Slowdown Bites As Auction Clearance Rates Tumble (G.)

Sydney’s housing market is facing the toughest conditions since the global financial crisis after auction rates slumped again at the weekend, with analysts predicting that the slowdown could get much worse in the months ahead. Australia’s biggest city saw only 44% of 567 listed properties sold at the weekend, according to Domain, the lowest preliminary clearance rate for a decade. The figure is likely to be revised down below 40%, a level of downturn not seen for a decade. The last time rates were in the 30% range was November 2008, at the peak of the global financial crisis. The two instances before that were May 2004, when New South Wales introduced vendor stamp duty, and July 1989, when interest rates were 17%.

Equally striking is the collapse in the total amount changing hands at auctions across the city, which sank to $160m at the weekend compared with $484m on the same weekend a year ago – a drop of about two-thirds. The decline in the property market, which AMP’s chief economist, Shane Oliver, thinks could fall 20% before bottoming out in 2020, has been most marked in Sydney where prices are down around 6.3% from the peak in 2017 as buyers drop out owing to tougher credit standards and falling confidence. The clearance rate in Melbourne at the weekend was below 50% on a much greater number of properties (nearly 1,000). But the dollar volume of auction sales shows a similar decline across the country, where buyers spent $453m at the weekend compared with $1.3bn the same weekend last year.

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Aug 172018
 
 August 17, 2018  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Brick factory at Tortosa 1909

 

Emerging Markets and US Treasuries (Albert Edwards)
Asia the Next Source of Downside Systemic Risk for Financial Markets (WS)
Trump Says US ‘Will Pay Nothing’ To Turkey For Release Of Detained Pastor (R.)
Lira Rallies As Turkey Pledges Spending Cuts To Avoid IMF Bailout (G.)
Turkish Tremors Will Cause Shocks In Britain (Times)
$125,000: The Pension Debt Each Chicago Household Is On The Hook For (WP)
Russian Oil Industry Would Weather US ‘Bill From Hell’ (R.)
NATO Repeats the Great Mistake of the Warsaw Pact (SCF)
Italy’s NATO Racket… A Bridge Too Far (SCF)
Google Staff Tell Bosses China Censorship Is “Moral And Ethical” Crisis (IC)
Jury in Paul Manafort’s Case Asks Judge to Redefine ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (BBG)

 

 

From an email sent to Mish.

Emerging Markets and US Treasuries (Albert Edwards)

Turkey has discovered that high and rising foreign-denominated debt never sits well with a huge current account deficit and a reluctance to raise interest rates. The problem though is that this is not about Turkey or even EM. It is as always, about the Fed. When the most important person in the free world starts lobbing macro hand-grenades in an effort to drain the swamp, the financial markets will always eventually react badly. No, I am not talking about President Trump with his tweets about imposing tariffs on Turkey. I am actually talking about Fed Chair Jerome Powell draining the global liquidity swamp.

Make no mistake, whatever the macro-idiosyncrasies of Turkey, the key to the current turmoil that is spreading into EM generally, is Fed tightening and the strong dollar. As we have repeated ad infinitum, since 1950 there have been 13 Fed tightening cycles, 10 of them ended in recession and the others usually saw the EM blow up – such as the 1994 collapse in the Mexican peso. The Fed always tightens until something breaks. It is usually its own economy, but sometimes it is the EM’s. And when the liquidity tide goes out we always find out who is swimming naked. If it hadn’t been Turkey it would eventually have been someone else.

To be sure the unfolding EM crisis has been building for many years. And just as investors ignored the naysayers in the run-up to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), they have ignored the IMF and BIS, who have been cautioning for some years about the explosive build-up in EM debt and especially dollar-denominated debt. According to the BIS, total dollar-denominated debt outside the U.S. reached $10.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, and about a third of this debt is owed by the EM nonfinancial sector. EM specialists, the Institute of International Finance (IIF), have also warned about this build-up in EM foreign-denominated debt. They too note that the EM corporate sector has been leading the explosion of debt, with Turkey standing out for the increase in its exposure since the GFC. Turkey has never managed to escape membership of ‘The Fragile Five’ EM country club.

 

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Dollar shortages.

Asia the Next Source of Downside Systemic Risk for Financial Markets (WS)

“Except for an expected short-term reprieve, we expect these tighter USD conditions to remain in place for the rest of the year,” the strategists write. “That is unless policy makers react soon to stimulate financial markets with liquidity.” “Southeast Asia stands out again as in 1997/8, with a large amount of USD denominated debt outstanding,” the write. “The only difference is then Asia had fixed exchange rates and now they are floating! We believe Asia will be the next source of downside systemic risk for financial markets.” The chart below shows dollar-denominated debt in the EMs, in trillion dollars. This does not include euro-denominated debt which plays a large role in Turkey. The fat gray area represents Asia without China:

Asia’s dollar-denominated debt, relative to its foreign exchange reserves and exports, has risen significantly since 2009, they note. The chart below shows the ratio between dollar-denominated debt and foreign exchange reserves in Asia, with China (green line) and without China (black dotted line). Values over 50% mean that there is more dollar-debt than foreign exchange reserves:

“This leaves these nations susceptible to a shortage in USDs,” they write: “Notably, the Asian nations that have amassed record amounts of USD debt are also home to the largest technology companies i.e. Tencent (China), Alibaba (China), TSNC (Taiwan), Samsung (South Korea). The tech sector is now 28% of the MSCI EM index. The rally in the US Dollar, dented global growth prospects, credit growth in China slowing down and escalating political tensions from the US leaves these nations very exposed to a shortage in USDs.”

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More sanctions. Yesterday’s relief is gone.

Trump Says US ‘Will Pay Nothing’ To Turkey For Release Of Detained Pastor (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States “will pay nothing” to Turkey for the release of detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, who he called “a great patriot hostage.” “We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!” Trump said on Twitter. The U.S. warned Turkey on Thursday to expect more economic sanctions unless it hands over Brunson, as relations between the two countries took a further turn for the worse. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin assured Trump at a Cabinet meeting that sanctions were ready to be put in place if Brunson was not freed. “We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” Mnuchin said during the meeting.

The United States and Turkey have exchanged tit-for-tat tariffs in an escalating attempt by Trump to induce Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan into giving up Brunson, who denies charges that he was involved in a coup attempt against Erdogan two years ago. “They have not proven to be a good friend,” Trump said of Turkey during the Cabinet meeting. “They have a great Christian pastor there. He’s an innocent man.” Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, had issued a blunt warning to Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic when he met him on Monday at the White House, an administration official said on Thursday. When Kilic sought to tie conditions to Brunson’s release, Bolton waved them aside and said there would be no negotiations.

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But that was yesterday. Today, the lira’s lost 4% already.

Lira Rallies As Turkey Pledges Spending Cuts To Avoid IMF Bailout (G.)

Turkey’s finance minister sparked a recovery in the lira after he addressed thousands of international investors, pledging to protect beleaguered local banks and cut public spending to prevent the country defaulting on its loans. Berat Albayrak, who has faced criticism for failing to tackle the country’s growing financial crisis, spoke to around 6,000 investors on a conference call to rebuff concerns that a funding squeeze on Turkey’s banks and a damaging trade war with the US would force him to seek a rescue bailout from the IMF. Albayrak, who was appointed as finance minister last month by his father-in-law, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey will not hesitate to provide support to the banking sector, which was capable of accessing funds itself during the current turmoil in financial markets.

He added that deposit withdrawals by panicked investors remained low and manageable. “We are experiencing unfavourable conditions but we will overcome,” he said. The Turkish lira was up 4% against the US dollar following the conference call and after reassuring words from the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, that Turkey’s stability was important. However, Albayrak’s attempt to shore up confidence in the lira was quickly undermined by the US Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who reportedly told president Donald Trump in a cabinet meeting that he was preparing further sanctions against Ankara. The lira slipped back to settle at just 1% up on the previous day.

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It’s not Spain or Italy. It’s Britain.

Turkish Tremors Will Cause Shocks In Britain (Times)

There are many strange things about Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but one of the oddest is his pet theory about interest rates. The Turkish president believes that high borrowing costs produce high inflation. “The interest rate is the cause and inflation is the result,” he said a few months ago. “The lower the interest rate is, the lower inflation will be.” No, you didn’t misread that. In defiance of economic orthodoxy (not to mention centuries of experience) which says that high interest rates tend to reduce inflation, President Erdogan believes the opposite. As one economist put it, this is a little like believing that umbrellas cause rain.

The Turkish president’s eccentric attitude towards monetary policy is not the only reason his country is now facing an economic crisis, but it is at least part of the explanation. Over the past decade or so, Turkey became one of the great bubbles of the modern era. Housing bubble? Check. Debt binge? Check. Yawning current account deficit? Check. Runaway inflation? Check. These traits alone qualified the Turkish economy for crisis candidacy some time ago. But as always, saying a country is due a crunch is far simpler than predicting when and how. And Turkey may well have muddled through a little longer were it not for four critical ingredients.

[..] Who is most exposed to this looming crisis? Conventional wisdom says Spain and Italy, whose banks have Turkish subsidiaries. However, this slightly misses the point, since much of that lending is in lira. Those banks should be able to survive even the loss of their stakes. The real question is: who has been lending Turkish companies all this foreign exchange debt? That brings us to the sting in the tail. For when you dig through Turkish treasury data, as the Deutsche Bank economist Oliver Harvey has, you discover that the country that lent most to Turkey, both short and long term, was the UK. That’s right: Britain, or more specifically the City of London, is by far the most exposed to a collapse in the Turkish economy.

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Creative accounting 101.

$125,000: The Pension Debt Each Chicago Household Is On The Hook For (WP)

Chicagoans have no idea how much pension debt Illinois politicians have saddled them with. Officially, Windy City residents are on the hook for $70 billion in total pension shortfalls from the city and its sister governments plus a share of Cook County and state pensions. But listen to Moody’s Investors Service, the rating agency that’s been most critical of Chicago’s finances, and you’ll get a different picture. Moody’s pegs the total pension debt burden for Chicagoans at $130 billion, nearly double the official numbers. (Yes, by chance the number is eerily similar to the official shortfall of $129 billion facing the five state-run pension funds. But don’t confuse the two.)

That’s scary news for Windy City residents. Barring real reforms, concessions from the unions or bankruptcy, Chicagoans can expect to be hit with whatever series of tax hikes politicians will try to enact to reduce that debt. That $130 billion is the total Moody’s calculates when adding up the direct pension debt owed by the city government, Chicago Public Schools, the park district and Chicago’s share of various Cook County governments and the five state pension funds. Moody’s takes a more realistic approach to investment assumptions than the city and county governments take.

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Russia’s had time to prepare.

Russian Oil Industry Would Weather US ‘Bill From Hell’ (R.)

Stiff new U.S. sanctions against Russia would only have a limited impact on its oil industry because it has drastically reduced its reliance on Western funding and foreign partnerships and is lessening its dependence on imported technology. Western sanctions imposed in 2014 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea have already made it extremely hard for many state oil firms such as Rosneft to borrow abroad or use Western technology to develop shale, offshore and Arctic deposits. While those measures have slowed down a number of challenging oil projects, they have done little to halt the Russian industry’s growth with production near a record high of 11.2 million barrels per day in July – and set to climb further.

Since 2014, the Russian oil industry has effectively halted borrowing from Western institutions, instead relying on its own cash flow and lending from state-owned banks while developing technology to replace services once supplied by Western firms. Analysts say this is partly why Russian oil stocks have been relatively unscathed since U.S. senators introduced legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia over its interference in U.S. elections and its activities in Syria and Ukraine. The measures introduced on Aug. 2, dubbed by the senators as the “bill from hell”, include potential curbs on the operations of state-owned Russian banks, restrictions on holding Russian sovereign debt as well as measures against Western involvement in Russian oil and gas projects.

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Too expensive.

NATO Repeats the Great Mistake of the Warsaw Pact (SCF)

Through the 1990s, during the terms of US President Bill Clinton, NATO relentlessly and inexorably expanded through Central Europe. Today, the expansion of that alliance eastward – encircling Russia with fiercely Russo-phobic regimes in one tiny country after another and in Ukraine, which is not tiny at all – continues. This NATO expansion – which the legendary George Kennan presciently warned against in vain – continues to drive the world the closer towards the threat of thermonuclear war. Far from bringing the United States and the Western NATO allies increased security, it strips them of the certainty of the peace and security they would enjoy if they instead sought a sincere, constructive and above all stable relationship with Russia.

It is argued that the addition of the old Warsaw Pact member states of Central Europe to NATO has dramatically strengthened NATO and gravely weakened Russia. This has been a universally-accepted assumption in the United States and throughout the West for the past quarter century. Yet it simply is not true. In reality, the United States and its Western European allies are now discovering the hard way the same lesson that drained and exhausted the Soviet Union from the creation of the Warsaw Pact in 1955 to its dissolution 36 years later. The tier of Central European nations has always lacked the coherence, the industrial base and the combined economic infrastructure to generate significant industrial, financial or most of all strategic and military power.

[..] When nations such as France, Germany, the Soviet Union or the United States are seen as rising powers in the world, the small countries of Central Europe always hasten to ally themselves accordingly. They therefore adopt and discard Ottoman Islamic imperialism. Austrian Christian imperialism, democracy, Nazism, Communism and again democracy as easily as putting on or off different costumes at a fancy dress ball in Vienna or Budapest. As Russia rises once again in global standing and national power, supported by its genuinely powerful allies China, India and Pakistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the nations of Central Europe can be anticipated to reorient their own loyalties accordingly once again.

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Case in point: the cost of NATO and Russiagate.

Italy’s NATO Racket… A Bridge Too Far (SCF)

What should be a matter of urgent public demand is why Italy is increasing its national spending on military upgrades and procurements instead of civilian amenities. As with all European members of the NATO alliance, Italy is being pressured by the United States to ramp up its military expenditure. US President Donald Trump has made the NATO budget a priority, haranguing European states to increase their military spending to a level of 2 per cent of GDP. Trump has even since doubled that figure to 4 per cent. Washington’s demand on European allies predates Trump. At a NATO summit in 2015, when Barack Obama was president, all members of the military alliance then acceded to US pressure for greater allocation of budgets to hit the 2 per cent target.

The alleged threat of Russian aggression has been cited over and over as the main reason for boosting NATO. Figures show that Italy, as with other European countries, has sharply increased its annual military spending every year since the 2015 summit. The upward trend reverses a decade-long decline. Currently, Italy spends about $28 billion annually on military. That equates to only about 1.15 per cent of GDP, way below the US-demanded target of 2 per cent of GDP. But the disturbing thing is that Italy’s defense minister Elisabetta Trenta reportedly gave assurances to Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton that her government was committed to hitting its NATO target in the coming years. On current figures that translates roughly into a doubling of Italy’s annual military budget. Meanwhile, the Italian public have had to endure years of economic austerity from cutbacks in social spending and civilian infrastructure.

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But the company’s become a secret service.

Google Staff Tell Bosses China Censorship Is “Moral And Ethical” Crisis (IC)

Google employees are demanding answers from the company’s leadership amid growing internal protests over plans to launch a censored search engine in China. Staff inside the internet giant’s offices have agreed that the censorship project raises “urgent moral and ethical issues” and have circulated a letter saying so, calling on bosses to disclose more about the company’s work in China, which they say is shrouded in too much secrecy, according to three sources with knowledge of the matter. The internal furor began after The Intercept earlier this month revealed details about the censored search engine, which would remove content that China’s authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

It would “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, leaked Google documents disclosed. The search platform is to be launched via an Android app, pending approval from Chinese officials. The censorship plan – code-named Dragonfly – was not widely known within Google. Prior to its public exposure, only a few hundred of Google’s 88,000 employees had been briefed about the project – around 0.35 percent of the total workforce. When the news spread through the company’s offices across the world, many employees expressed anger and confusion. Now, a letter has been circulated among staff calling for Google’s leadership to recognize that there is a “code yellow” situation – a kind of internal alert that signifies a crisis is unfolding.

The letter suggests that the Dragonfly initiative violates an internal Google artificial intelligence ethical code, which says that the company will not build or deploy technologies “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.” The letter says: “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment. That the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret, and progressed with the [artificial intelligence] Principles in place, makes clear that the Principles alone are not enough. We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”

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Don’t be surprised if he’s aquitted.

Jury in Paul Manafort’s Case Asks Judge to Redefine ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (BBG)

A Virginia jury deliberating the fraud charges against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort sent a note with four questions to the judge in the case. Near the end of the first day of deliberations on Thursday, the jury asked whether a report of foreign bank and financial accounts, known as an FBAR, needed to be filed by a person with less than a 50 percent ownership. Manafort is charged with four counts of failing to file FBARs for offshore companies. The jury also asked about the definition of a shelf company.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III replied that the jurors should rely on their collective memory. The jury also requested that the judge redefine “reasonable doubt.” Ellis replied that the government wasn’t required to prove its case beyond “all doubt,” just to the extent that a person would consider reasonable. Finally, the jury asked if the exhibit list could be amended to include the indictment. The jury was excused for the day and is to return Friday to continue deliberations.

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Jul 242018
 
 July 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Félix Vallotton Sunset, Bronze-Purple 1911

 

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)
Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)
NATO Trumped (SCF)
Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)
Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)
Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)
The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)
Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)
End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)
Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)
Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

 

 

Yesterday around noon the skies here in Athens started turning brown. We learned this was due to a wildfire west of the city. In late afternoon winds began picking up, a lot. Then this happened throughout the evening and night, in a wildfire at the exact opposite side of the city. Latest number of dead is now 54. 26 of them died together just 30 meters from the beach.

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)

A wildfire killed at least 50 people and injured more than 150 as it swept through a small resort town near Athens, with huge flames trapping families with children as they fled. The fire which hit Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, late Monday afternoon was by far the country’s worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. People scrambled to the sea as the blaze closed in close to the shore. Hundreds were rescued by passing boats but others found their way blocked by smoke and flames. “I was briefed by a rescuer that he saw the shocking picture of 26 people tightly huddled in a field some 30 meters from the beach,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time,” he said. A Reuters witness also saw several bodies in the area. Mati is in the eastern Rafina region, a popular spot for Greek holidaymakers, particularly pensioners and children at camps. The 26 deaths came on top of more than 20 casualties reported by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier on Tuesday. He said more than 88 adults and 16 children were injured.

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They’re walking this back a little bit.

Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)

Speculation about Mr Assange’s future has grown this month after the Sunday Times said senior officials from Ecuador and Britain have been in discussions since last week about how to remove him from the embassy after revocation of his asylum. “The situation is very serious. Things are coming to a head,” the source, who spoke on condition on anonymity, told Reuters. He said the latest information from inside the embassy was, “It’s not looking good”. However, both the Ecuadorean government and British government sources played down suggestions there was likely to be any imminent movement to break the stalemate.

“The Ecuadorian state will only talk and promote understandings about Mr Assange’s asylum, within the framework of international law, with the interested party’s lawyers and with the British government,” Ecuador’s foreign ministry said in a statement ahead of the visit. “At the moment, due to the complexity of the topic, a short or long-term solution is not in sight.” A British government source also said there was no sign of immediate progress. Last month, Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan told parliament that they were increasingly concerned about Mr Assange’s health. “It is our wish that this is brought to an end, and we would like to make the assurance that if he were to step out of the embassy, he would be treated humanely and properly,” Mr Duncan said. “The first priority would be to look after his health, which we think is deteriorating.”

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“If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.”

NATO Trumped (SCF)

Indicators of European NATO members’ actual readiness and combat capability are stunning; the latest being “Only 4 of Germany’s 128 Eurofighter jets combat ready — report”; “Ground force: Half of France’s military planes ‘unfit to fly'”. “Britain’s ‘withered’ forces not fit to repel all-out attack”. “Europe’s Readiness Problem”. Obviously they’re not expecting a Russian attack any time soon. NATO is, as I have argued here, a paper tiger. It is questionable whether NATO members can conduct any operation without the USA providing satellite navigation and observation, air defence suppression, airborne command and control, inflight tankers, heavy lift and ammunition resupply to name a few deficiencies. So, either the Europeans are not worried; or, as Trump likes to say, they are free riders.

Six months ago I suggested that Trump may be trying to get out of what I called the “Gordian knot of entanglements”. President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements? By getting others to untie it. He stomps out of NATO leaving them quaking: if you say Russia is the enemy, why do you act as if it isn’t; and if you act as if it isn’t, why do you say it is? And firing, over his shoulder, the threat: 2% by next January.

I believe it is a threat and a very neat one too: If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.

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Their best shot may be if they can prove that Monsanto suppressed scientists.

Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)

Dewayne Johnson said that if he had known what he knew now about Roundup weedkiller, “I would’ve never sprayed that product on school grounds … if I knew it would cause harm … It’s unethical.” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper in northern California who is terminally ill, was testifying Monday in his landmark suit against Monsanto about the cancer risks of the company’s popular weedkiller. He is the first person to take the agrochemical company to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the Roundup brand is linked to cancer. He spoke for the first time during the trial in San Francisco, detailing his use of Monsanto’s products, his extensive exposure to herbicides, and his belief that the chemicals caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cell cancer.

He also described the suffering he endured as skin lesions took over his body. “I’ve been going through a lot of pain,” said Johnson, a father of three who goes by the name Lee. “It really takes everything out of you … I’m not getting any better.” His doctors have said he may have just months to live. Johnson’s lawyers have argued in court that Monsanto has “fought science” over the years and worked to “bully” researchers who have raised concerns about potential health risks of its herbicide product. At the start of the trial, the attorneys presented internal Monsanto emails that they said revealed the corporation’s repeated efforts to ignore expert’s warnings while seeking favorable scientific analyses and helping to “ghostwrite” positive papers.

Thousands have brought similar legal claims across the US, and a federal judge in California ruled this month that hundreds of cancer survivors or those who lost loved ones can also proceed to trial. Johnson’s case has attracted international attention, with the judge allowing his team to present scientific arguments about glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.

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“We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.”

Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)

The Helsinki summit meeting has the look of a turning point in Mr. Trump’s political fortunes. One irony is that he may escape his enemies’ efforts to nail him on any Russia “collusion” rap only to be sandbagged by financial turmoil as the dog days of summer turn nervously toward autumn. Events will cancel the myth that his actions as president have produced a booming economy. If anything, the activities that make up our economy have only become more vicious rackets, especially the war industries, with all their inducements to counter the imagined Russia threat.

The financial markets are the pillars of the fantasy that the US economy is roaring triumphantly. The markets are so fundamentally disabled by ten years of central bank interventions that they don’t express the actual value of any asset, whether stocks, or bonds, or gold, oil, labor, currencies, or the folly known as crypto-currency. We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.

The revelation that Mr. Trump is not an economic genius will spur a deeper dive by chimerical Democrats into nanny state quicksand. They will make the new fad of a Guaranteed Basic Income the centerpiece of the midterm election — even though many Democrats will not really believe in it. They are pretending not to notice how broke the USA actually is, and how spavined by unpayable debt. The lurking suspicion of all this is surely behind fantasies such as Russia attacked us, the displacement of abstruse and impalpable fear onto something simple and cartoonish, like the President of the United States.

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“The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business…”

Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)

The amount investors must pay to insure their debt holdings in Tesla Inc against declining credit quality rose on Monday to its second-highest price ever, implying the company is at a greater risk of default following a report that sparked concern that Tesla may need to raise funds. Insurance on Tesla’s debt, which is sold as a credit default swap contract, increased from Friday by 13 cents to $5.96 per $100 of Tesla debt. That followed a Wall Street Journal report on Sunday that Tesla had turned to some suppliers for a refund of previously made payments in a bid to make a profit, citing a memo sent by a Tesla global supply manager.

A Tesla spokesperson said on Monday that the company had no comment on the credit default swaps, but said in a statement in response to the WSJ story that Tesla had asked fewer than 10 suppliers to reduce capital expenditure project spending. Tesla said that any changes with these suppliers would improve future cash flows but not affect its ability to achieve profitability in the third quarter. Company founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk may be obligated to tap debt or equity markets again this year, according to analysts, though he has said he would do neither. [..] It cost $5.96 to insure $100 of Tesla’s debt, plus an upfront cost of around 18%, representing a total of 24.1% of the face value of the 2025 bond on Monday. “The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business,” said Thomas Graff, head of fixed income at Brown Advisory.

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Trying to outdo Orwell. First blow a ginormous bubble and then claim there are not enough cheap homes.

The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)

The nationwide housing shortage continues but is especially troublesome for homebuyers with a budget of $250,000 or less, Susan Wachter, professor of real estate and of finance at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNBC on Monday. Rising labor, land and material costs are slowing down the supply, “except at higher prices, which is simply not affordable for the great middle, and that’s where we see the hit in … existing sales,” Wachter said on “Power Lunch.” Sales of existing homes are down for the third month in a row due to a shortage of properties, which results in higher prices and pushes some potential buyers out of the market.

Existing home sales fell 0.6% in June, or 2.2% from June 2017. And as prices for new home construction increase, construction in general is on the decline. Housing starts, or the number of new residential housing projects, decreased in June, plunging 12.3%. The loss represents the third month in a row of declines or a nine-month low. “That sets a price point for the existing sale market as well,” Wachter said. And with inventory at historic lows and a lack of new construction, existing homeowners are holding on to their homes longer, Wachter noted.

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I’ll leave this here.

Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)

The “founding fathers” deliberately arranged a system of governance that would protect the wealthy minority from the majority. Over time, as it fused with capitalism, this arrangement transformed the US government into a market. Railroad tycoons and robber barons forced their way into this market during the Gilded Age. Big business controlled the “public agenda” throughout the 20th century, with multinational firms taking root in the 1980s and 90s. Ronald Reagan ushered in the neoliberal era, which amounted to an all-out corporate coup of American politics. And, in 2010, the Supreme Court placed its stamp of approval on this system with its Citizens United decision, allowing anonymous donors unlimited access to politics through Political Action Committees (PACs).

In other words, the US government has been a traded commodity for a long time, in many ways since the beginning of the country’s founding. Wealth determines elections (over 90% of the time the campaign with the most money wins). Politicians are commodities that are bought by capitalists. Legislation is a commodity that is bought by lobbyists (employed by capitalists). This is the case for both parties and all politicians (because it is built into the system). The point: If you still believe your 5th-grade textbook and think you have a say in determining public policy in the US, you are furious right now. Because you believe democracy exists and that it was hijacked by a foreign government. However, if you realize democracy (or a republic) does not exist, the Russia/Trump revelations mean only one thing: the traded commodity known as the US government has gone global, following all of the other capitalist markets that have been globalized over the past 40 years.

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Anyone convinced by Corbyn?

End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)

British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn will call on the government on Tuesday to back his vision for a new customs union with the European Union to avoid a “botched” Brexit leaving the country “in hock to Donald Trump”. Unveiling a Labour Party campaign to boost manufacturing and keep public contracts in Britain, Corbyn will also increase the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May over her Brexit plans by suggesting she back his vision of “a brand new customs union”. May is struggling to sell what she calls her business-friendly Brexit to not only the competing factions in her governing Conservative Party but also across Britain just over eight months before the country is due to leave in March.

But Corbyn also faces dissent in his party, with many Labour lawmakers and members calling for him to back a second referendum on any deal and support keeping the closest possible ties with the EU by staying in its single market and customs union. “Theresa May and her warring cabinet should think again, even at this late stage, and reconsider the option of negotiating a brand new customs union,” Corbyn will tell the EEF manufacturers’ organisation in the city of Birmingham. “A botched…Brexit will sell our manufacturers short with the fantasy of a free trading buccaneering future, which in reality would be a nightmare of chlorinated chicken, public services sold to multinational companies and our country in hock to Donald Trump,” he will say, according to excerpts of his speech.

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Extensive report h/t ZH

Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)

The real problem plaguing public pension funds nationwide has gone largely ignored. Most reporting usually focuses on the underfunding of state plans and blames the crises on a lack of taxpayer dollars. But a Wirepoints analysis of 2003-2016 Pew Charitable Trust and other pension data found that it’s the uncontrolled growth in pension promises that’s actually wreaking havoc on state budgets and taxpayers alike. Overpromising is the true cause of many state crises. Underfunding is often just a symptom of this underlying problem. Wirepoints found that the growth in accrued liabilities has been extreme in many states, often growing two to three times faster than the pace of their economies. It’s no wonder taxpayer contributions haven’t been able to keep up.

The reasons for that growth vary state to state – from bigger benefits to reductions in discount rates – but the reasons don’t matter to ordinary residents. Regardless of how or when those increases were created, it’s taxpayers that are increasingly on the hook for them. Unsurprisingly, the states with the most out-of-control promises are home to some of the nation’s worst pension crises. Take New Jersey, for example. The total pension benefits it owed in 2003 – what are known as accrued liabilities – were $88 billion. That was the PV, or present value, of what active state workers and retirees were promised in pension benefits by the state at the time. Today, promises to active workers and pensioners have jumped to $217 billion – a growth of 176% in just 13 years. That increase in total obligations is four times greater than the growth in the state’s GDP, up only 41%.

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Oh yes, we really need censorship by a bunch of poorly educated kids.

Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

Rubens nudes have entranced those visiting the world’s great art galleries for some 400 years. Contemporaries on whom the Flemish master is said to have had a profound impact include Van Dyck and Rembrandt … but none of this has passed muster with Facebook’s censors. In a move that has prompted a semi-playful complaint to the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, it has taken down a series of promotions on social media for the Belgian region of Flanders because they feature works by the artist famous for his Baroque paintings of voluptuous women and cherubs. Advertisements containing sexually oriented content, including artistic or educational nudes, apart from statues, are prohibited on the site.

In an open letter signed by most of the museums in Flanders, the Flemish tourist board, Toerisme Vlaanderen, has written to Zuckerberg to ask for a rethink. “Breasts, buttocks and Peter Paul Rubens’ cherubs are all considered indecent”, the letter says. “Not by us, but by you … Even though we secretly have to laugh about it, your cultural censorship is making life rather difficult for us.” Posts removed have even included an advert featuring Rubens’ The Descent from the Cross, in which Jesus is naked in his loincloth. The Flemish tourist board has pushed its point by releasing a short video in which the “nude police” drag away visitors at the Rubens House in Antwerp to stop them from gazing at the implicated paintings.

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