Aug 312018
 
 August 31, 2018  Posted by at 7:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Starry night 1889

 

Argentine Peso And Turkish Lira Crash, Put Pressure On Emerging Markets (CNBC)
US, China To Regulate Big Tech Firms ‘Like National Security Companies’ (CNBC)
Trumps Legal Team Preparing Counter Report To Delegitimize Mueller (ZH)
‘Vital’ US Moles in the Kremlin Go Missing! (Stephen Cohen)
Trump Is Right About “Flipping” (FFF)
France Says EU Needs Strategic Relationship With Russia On Defense (R.)
EU Says It Is Willing To Scrap Car Tariffs In US Trade Deal (Pol.eu)
China-Africa Summit To Target Investment Despite Debt Worries (AFP)
As Tesla Shares Fall, Amazon Takes Over As Most Shorted US Stock (R.)
IMF Unwavering On Greek Pension Cuts (K.)
The Three Tribes of Austerity (Varoufakis)
Trade Of Coastal Sand Is Damaging Wildlife, Coastlines Of Poorer Nations (G.)
France’s Ban On Bee-Killing Pesticides Begins Saturday (AFP)
The Ocean Cleanup Is Starting, Aims To Cut Garbage Patch By 90% By 2040 (F.)

 

 

At some point, these things start feeding upon themselves.

Argentine Peso And Turkish Lira Crash, Put Pressure On Emerging Markets (CNBC)

Emerging markets were rattled again, with the Argentine peso, Turkish lira and Indonesian rupiah tumbling overnight. The negative sentiment is set to weigh on other Asian currencies, although they will remain fairly resilient to the impact, analysts say. The peso crashed nearly 12 percent, following a domestic crisis which saw its central bank hike rates to 60 percent in an attempt to shore up its currency. Extending its steep losses this year, the lira fell 2.94 percent to a fourth straight day of declines. In Asia, India’s rupee fell to a new record low against the dollar on Friday — a more than 11 percent fall since the start of the year, and the Indonesian rupiah hit a near three-year low.

“Emerging markets will remain pressured by the Argentine peso and Turkish lira crises,” DBS analysts said in a note Friday morning. The peso is down more than 45% against the greenback this year. “Argentina has hiked rates to a record 60% to address double-digit inflation, but this would exacerbate the recession, and coupled with budget/current account deficits of around 5% of GDP, have increased the risk of for the government to default on its debt,” they added.

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Likely to be pushed hard ahead of mid terms.

US, China To Regulate Big Tech Firms ‘Like National Security Companies’ (CNBC)

The U.S. and China may be at odds on trade, but both are lining up to crack down on big tech, according to an analyst. “I think this is actually wrapped up in the trade issue, which is around national security and tech companies,” Michael Hessel, political economy analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Thursday. “There’s a growing push both within China and the U.S. to regulate some of these companies increasingly like national security companies, which could have huge implications for their business model.” President Donald Trump on Tuesday made Google his latest target in a tirade against big tech, saying the firm’s search service is “rigged” against conservatives in favor of left-leaning media.

The president subsequently took another shot at the tech giant on Wednesday, claiming it snubbed twice his State of the Union speeches, while promoting Barack Obama’s during each year of the latter’s presidency. Google later responded to this claim, saying it did promote Trump’s State of the Union address this year, but not in 2017. [..] Absolute Strategy Research’s Hessel did not expand on how he expected either country to clamp down on their respective tech industries. He said that a lack of regulation in the U.S. on tech — while the media industry is more heavily regulated — meant it could be a long-term concern for lawmakers in Washington. “I think the regulation of the tech industry is going to be a huge issue on a three-to-five year view,” Hessel said.

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2nd Special Counsel preparations.

Trumps Legal Team Preparing Counter Report To Delegitimize Mueller (ZH)

President Trump’s lawyers are preparing a rebuttal to any negative report issued by special counsel Robert Mueller following the DOJ’s probe into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, reports the Daily Beast following an interview with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Part of the rebuttal, says Giuliani, would focus on whether the “initiation of the investigation was…legitimate or not.” “According to Giuliani, the bulk of the report will be divided into two sections. One section will seek to question the legitimacy of the Mueller probe generally by alleging “possible conflicts” of interest by federal law enforcement authorities. The other section will respond to more substantive allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russian government agents to sway the 2016 election, and obstruction of justice allegations stemming from, among other things, the president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.” -Daily Beast

The latter section of the rebuttal will focus on Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein’s mandate when he ordered the Mueller’s investigation – though Giuliani admits he has no idea what the final report will consist of. “Since we have to guess what it is, [our report so far] is quite voluminous,” Giuliani said, claiming that he would spend much of this weekend “paring it down” and that he was editing the document created by the “whole team.” “The first half of it is 58 pages, and second half isn’t done yet…It needs an executive summary if it goes over a hundred” -Daily Beast In other words, Mueller has fair warning that the Trump administration intends to fight this tooth and nail.

The Weekly Standard’s Eric Felton offered this last month: “Appellate and constitutional lawyers David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Elizabeth Price Foley recently made a compelling case that the political bias among the FBI agents working on “Crossfire Hurricane” renders illegitimate everything flowing from that investigation. If “Crossfire was politically motivated then its culmination, the appointment of a special counsel, inherited the taint,” Rivkin and Foley wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “All special-counsel activities—investigations, plea deals, subpoenas, reports, indictments and convictions—are fruit of a poisonous tree, byproducts of a violation of due process.” Rivkin and Foley add: “That Mr. Mueller and his staff had nothing to do with Crossfire’s origin offers no cure.” -Weekly Standard

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Another fully crazy story. And yes, if such moles existed, nobody would tell the media.

‘Vital’ US Moles in the Kremlin Go Missing! (Stephen Cohen)

on August 25, the ever-eager New York Times published yet another front-page Russiagate story—one that if true would be sensational, though hardly anyone seemed to notice. According to the Times’ regular Intel leakers, US intelligence agencies, presumably the CIA, has had multiple “informants close to…Putin and in the Kremlin who provided crucial details” about Russiagate for two years. Now, however, “the vital Kremlin informants have largely gone silent.” The Times laces the story with misdeeds questionably attributed to Putin and equally untrustworthy commentators, as well as a mistranslated Putin statement that incorrectly has him saying all “traitors” should be killed. Standard US media fare these days when fact-checkers seem not to be required for Russia coverage. But the sensation of the article is that the US had moles in Putin’s office.

The real novelty of Russiagate is the allegation that a Kremlin leader, Putin, personally gave orders to affect the outcome of an American presidential election. In this regard, Russiagaters have produced even less evidence, only suppositions without facts or much logic. With the Russiagate narrative being frayed by time and fruitless investigations, the “mole in the Kremlin” may have seemed a ploy needed to keep the conspiracy theory moving forward, presumably toward Trump’s removal from office by whatever means. And hence the temptation to play the mole card again, now, as yet more investigations generate smoke but no smoking gun.

The pretext of the Times story is that Putin is preparing an attack on the upcoming November elections, but the once-“vital,” now-silent moles are not providing the “crucial details.” Even if the story is entirely bogus, consider the damage it is doing. Russiagate allegations have already delegitimized a presidential election, and a presidency, in the minds of many Americans. The Times’ updated, expanded version may do the same to congressional elections and the next Congress. If so, there is an “attack on American democracy”—not by Putin or Trump but by whoever godfathered and repeatedly inflated Russiagate.

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Common practice, but in this case questionable.

Trump Is Right About “Flipping” (FFF)

Suppose a federal criminal defendant contacts a prospective witness in a case and offers him $50,000 in return for his “cooperation” in his upcoming trial. The money will be paid as soon as the trial is over. The defendant makes it clear that he wants the witness to “tell the truth” but that his “cooperation” when he testifies at trial would be greatly appreciated. What would happen if federal officials learned about that communication and offer? They would go ballistic. They would immediately secure an indictment for bribery and witness tampering. What if the defendant says, “Oh, no, I wasn’t tampering with the witness. I specifically told him that I wanted him to tell the truth when he took the witness stand. I was just seeking his friendly ‘cooperation’ with my $50,000 offer to him.”?

It wouldn’t make a difference. Federal prosecutors would go after him with a vengeance on bribery and witness-tampering charges. And it is a virtual certainty that they would get a conviction. There is good reason for that. The law recognizes that the money could serve as an inducement for the witness to lie. Even though the defendant tells him to “tell the truth,” the witness knows that the fifty grand is being paid to him to help the defendant get acquitted, especially since it is payable after the trial is over. The temptation to lie, in return for the money, becomes strong, which is why the law prohibits criminal defendants from engaging in this type of practice.

Suppose a federal prosecutor says to a witness, “You are facing life in prison on the charges we have brought against you. But if you ‘cooperate’ with us to get John Doe, we will adjust the charges so that the most the judge can do is send you to jail for only 5 years at most. If you are really ‘cooperative,’ we will recommend that the judge give you the lowest possible sentence, perhaps even probation. Oh, one more thing, we want to make it clear that we do want you to tell the truth.” Do you see the problem? The temptation to please the prosecutor with “cooperation” becomes tremendous. If the witness can help secure a conviction of Doe, he stands to get a much lighter sentence for his successful “cooperation.” The inducement to commit perjury oftentimes takes over, notwithstanding the prosecutor’s admonition to the witness to “tell the truth.”

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Are the UK going to use this to justify Brexit?

France Says EU Needs Strategic Relationship With Russia On Defense (R.)

The European Union needs a strategic relationship with Turkey, including in defense matters, and should modernize its post-Cold War relations with Russia, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday. Macron is a strong advocate for a Europe that is able to defend its strategic interests and financial independence and respond to new global economic and defense situation brought on by Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States. He has sought to improve relations with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, although his efforts have been complicated by allegations of Russian meddling in elections from the United States to France and a nerve agent attack in Britain.

“It is in our interest for the EU to have a strategic relationship with Turkey as well as with Russia that brings stability, that will in the long term and bring more strength and coherency,” Macron said in a news conference in Helsinki alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. He said the EU’s relations with Russia needed to be “brought up to date”, using the Italian word “aggiornamento”. “I think that on matters like cybersecurity, defense, strategic relationships, we could envisage the outlines of a new relationship between Russia and the EU which is coherent with the direction Europe is headed in,” Macron said.

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Not enough, says Trump.

EU Says It Is Willing To Scrap Car Tariffs In US Trade Deal (Pol.eu)

Brussels is willing to scrap tariffs on all industrial products, including cars, in its trade talks with the United States, EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström said Thursday. “We said that we are ready from the EU side to go to zero tariffs on all industrial goods, of course if the U.S. does the same, so it would be on a reciprocal basis,” Malmström told the European Parliament’s trade committee. “We are willing to bring down even our car tariffs down to zero … if the U.S. does the same,” she said, adding that “it would be good for us economically, and for them.”

Malmström’s comment went beyond what was agreed in July in the joint statement between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump, which only mentioned eliminating tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies for “non-auto industrial goods.” [..] The EU’s car tariff of 10 percent is higher than the general U.S. auto tariff of 2.5 percent, but America imposes a 25 percent duty on light trucks and pick-ups. Malmström insisted that the discussions were not about “restarting TTIP” but aiming for “a more limited trade agreement.” “Agriculture would not be in the agreement, nor public procurement as it looks to today,” she said.

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Same as Silk Road: loading countries up with debt. Then take their assets.

China-Africa Summit To Target Investment Despite Debt Worries (AFP)

African leaders will gather in Beijing Monday for a summit focused on economic ties, granting China a feel-good photo opportunity as it comes under increasing fire for its debt-laden approach to aid in the developing world. President Xi Jinping will host leaders from across the continent for the two-day Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which will include talks on his cherished “Belt and Road” infrastructure programme. The massive scheme, aimed at improving Chinese access to foreign markets and resources, and boosting its influence abroad, has already seen Beijing loan billions of dollars to countries in Asia and Africa for roads, railways, ports and other major building projects.

“The initiative will probably be expanded to include the whole of Africa,” said Cobus van Staden, senior researcher on Africa-China relations at the South African Institute of International Affairs. While some critics have branded the strategy a debt-trap, African leaders have long embraced Chinese investment, helping make Beijing the continent’s largest trading partner for the past decade. At the last three-yearly gathering in Johannesburg in 2015, Xi announced $60 billion of assistance and loans for Africa. This year, China will want to add more African countries to “its ever-expanding list of ‘friendly’ nations”, especially from the north and francophone west, said Adebusuyi Isaac Adeniran, an expert on the relationship at Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University.

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Starting to short all of Big Tech. Buffett calling iPhones underpriced may be seen in that light.

As Tesla Shares Fall, Amazon Takes Over As Most Shorted US Stock (R.)

With Tesla’s shares briefly dipping below the $300 level on Thursday, the electric carmaker ceded its seat as the most shorted U.S. stock to Amazon.com, according to data from financial technology and analytics firm S3 Partners. Tesla short interest in dollars, calculated using the number of shares sold short and the share price, stood at $9.93 billion, on Thursday, just shy of $9.95 billion for Amazon, S3 Partners data showed. Analysts said investors were still shorting Tesla shares, or taking positions that amounted to bets the stock would keep declining. Short-sellers aim to profit by selling borrowed shares, hoping to buy them back later at a lower price.

“While there was some short covering the week after the tweet, there has still not been any significant net Tesla short covering on the Street,” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research at S3 in New York. “Any traders who have closed down their positions to realize some profits have been replaced by new ones looking for continued price weakness,” he said. Tesla shares whipsawed this month after Chief Executive Elon Musk on Aug. 7 tweeted he planned to take the company private, only to abandon the idea by Aug. 24.

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Sovereign nation.

IMF Unwavering On Greek Pension Cuts (K.)

The government’s aim to suspend pension cuts due to come into effect in January is likely to fuel friction in the coming weeks, Kathimerini understands, as the IMF is adamant that the reductions should be made even if they are not required for Greece to meet budget targets. The IMF’s stance is at odds with that of European officials who are more flexible on the issue, as European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has suggested in a series of recent comments. Indeed, according to sources, the EC’s envoy to Greece, Declan Costello, is working on a compromise that would be acceptable to the government.

The IMF has not publicly declared its position on the Greek pensions issue yet but sources say the Fund has not shifted from its stance in favor of pension cuts despite the more favorable than expected fiscal forecasts, due to fears about the Greek pension system, which remains unsustainable partially due to the country’s aging population. The IMF’s unofficial position, it seems, is that fiscal savings worth 1 percent of GDP – the value of the planned pension cuts – are not required for Greece to achieve a primary surplus of 3.5 percent of GDP but it is preferable that they be carried out and offset by countermeasures than not carried out.

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US Republicans and German social democrats have the same agenda. But the latter have all but vanished.

The Three Tribes of Austerity (Varoufakis)

The first, and best known, “austerian” tribe is motivated by the tendency to view the state as no different from a business or a household that must tighten its belt during bad times. Overlooking the crucial interdependence between a government’s expenditure and (tax) income (from which businesses and households are blissfully free), they make the erroneous intellectual leap from private parsimony to public austerity. Of course, this is no arbitrary error; it is powerfully motivated by an ideological commitment to small government, which in turn veils a more sinister class interest in redistributing risks and losses to the poor.

A second, less recognized, austerian tribe can be found within European social democracy. To take one towering example, when the 2008 crisis erupted, Germany’s finance ministry was in the hands of Peer Steinbrück, a leading member of the Social Democratic Party. Almost immediately, Steinbrück prescribed a dose of austerity as Germany’s optimal response to the Great Recession. Moreover, Steinbrück championed a constitutional amendment that would ban all future German governments from deviating from austerity, no matter how deep the economic downturn. [..] Against a background of failing banks and a mighty recession, he opined that fiscal deficits deny elected politicians “room for maneuver” and rob the electorate of meaningful choices.

The third austerian tribe is American and perhaps the most fascinating of the three. Whereas British Thatcherites and German social democrats practiced austerity in an ill-conceived attempt to eliminate the government’s budget deficit, US Republicans neither genuinely care to limit the federal government’s budget deficit nor believe that they will succeed in doing so. After winning office on a platform proclaiming their loathing of large government and pledging to “cut it down to size,” they proceed to boost the federal budget deficit by enacting large tax cuts for their rich donors. Even though they seem entirely free of the other two tribes’ deficit phobia, their aim – to “starve the beast” (the US social welfare system) – is quintessentially austerian.

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Mindless and braindead.

Trade Of Coastal Sand Is Damaging Wildlife, Coastlines Of Poorer Nations (G.)

The secretive trade of coastal sand to wealthy countries such as China is seriously damaging the wildlife of poorer nations whose resources are being plundered, according to a new study. Sand and gravel are the most extracted groups of materials worldwide after water, with sand used in the concrete and asphalt of global cities. China consumed more sand between 2011 and 2013 than the US did during the entire 20th century. India has more than tripled its annual use of construction sand since 2000. But coastal sand is also being used to make wealthy countries larger via land reclamation projects, and the cost to poorer nations is revealed in a presentation to the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference.

Research by Melissa Marschke and Laura Schoenberger of the University of Ottawa highlights that the dredging of coastal sand from Cambodia is causing the loss of mangrove swamps, coastal erosion, and damaging local fishing. They also allege that the sheer scale of the multimillion dollar trade of sand must be illegal, given that the volumes permitted for import are being exceeded. Singapore is built on sand: its land area has grown by more than a fifth since its independence in 1965 from 581 sq km to 719 sq km in 2015, according to the researchers. Between 2007 and 2017, Singapore imported more sand from Cambodia than any other country. Sand worth US$752m was imported by Singapore from Cambodia between 2007 and 2016, according to UN data.

Cambodia is not the only place experiencing vast sand extraction. A study recently estimated that 236m cubic metres of sand were extracted from Poyang Lake in China, causing its water levels to drop dramatically. Sand miners have destroyed at least two dozen islands in Indonesia since 2005. The UK obtains about one fifth of its sand from the seabed.

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But the minister who made it possible resigned last week. Watch out.

France’s Ban On Bee-Killing Pesticides Begins Saturday (AFP)

A ban on five neonicotinoid pesticides enters into force in France on Saturday, placing the country at the forefront of a campaign against chemicals blamed for decimating critical populations of crop-pollinating bees. The move has been hailed by beekeepers and environmental activists, but lamented by cereal and sugar beet farmers who claim there are no effective alternatives for protecting their valuable crops against insects. With its ban, France has gone further than the European Union, which voted to outlaw the use of three neonicotinoids — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — in crop fields. Heavily agriculture-reliant France banned these three neonicotinoids plus thiacloprid and acetamiprid, not only outdoors but in greenhouses too.

These are the only five neonicotinoid pesticides hitherto authorised for use in Europe. Introduced in the mid-1990s, lab-synthesised neonicotinoids are based on the chemical structure of nicotine, and attack the central nervous system of insects. They were meant to be a less harmful substitute to older pesticides, and are now the most widely-used to treat flowering crops, including fruit trees, beets, wheat, canola, and vineyards. In recent years, bees started dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed partly on pesticides along with mites, viruses, and fungi, or some combination of these. Scientific studies have since shown that neonicotinoids harm bee reproduction and foraging by diminishing sperm quality and scrambling the insects’ memory and navigation functions.

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Watching with great interest.

The Ocean Cleanup Is Starting, Aims To Cut Garbage Patch By 90% By 2040 (F.)

A massive cleanup of plastic in the seas will begin in the Pacific Ocean, by way of Alameda, California. The Ocean Cleanup, an effort that’s been five years in the making, plans to launch its beta cleanup system, a 600-meter (almost 2,000-foot) long floater that can collect about five tons of ocean plastic per month. It’s a start. The launch date is September 8, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch being targeted is more than 1,000 nautical miles from the launch point and on the move. The Ocean Cleanup plans to monitor the performance of the beta, called System 001, and have an improved fleet of 60 more units skimming the ocean for plastics in about a year a half. The ultimate goal of the project, founded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat when he was 18, is to clean up 50% of the patch in five years, with a 90% reduction by 2040.

The organization will take time to learn lessons from System 001, but “we are in a big hurry,” said Lonneke Holierhoek, chief operating officer at The Ocean Cleanup. “We really see the urgency in starting the cleanup because there’s so much harm that could happen with this plastic that’s floating out there.” The total cost of System 001 is about 21 million euros ($24.6 million U.S.), according to a rep for startup. That includes design, development, production, assembly and monitoring during the first year of operation. The company will welcome corporations and philanthropists to sponsor their own cleanup system in coming years, the rep says. These systems will sport a sponsor logo and related app that follows the unit’s course through the gyre and shows how much plastic has been collected.

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Aug 302018
 
 August 30, 2018  Posted by at 8:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Trivaux pond 1916-17

 

Trump Says ‘No Reason’ For Military Exercises With South Korea (CNBC)
NATO Think Tank Continues Pre-Election Interference (RPI)
Whistleblower Exposes Key Player in FBI Russia Probe: “It Was A Set-Up” (SC)
CNN Lies About Cohen Story, Refuses to Comment (Greenwald)
The Media’s Chronic Misreporting on the Trump/Russia Story (Greenwald)
Russian Oligarch, DOJ And A Clear Case Of Collusion (ZH)
India’s Rupee Falls To An All-Time Low (CNBC)
Trade War Won’t Cause ‘Major’ Hit To China’s Economy – Morgan Stanley (CNBC)
Argentina Asks IMF For Early Release Of Standby Funds (R.)
Pound Sterling Rallies As Raab And Barnier Turn Optimistic On Brexit (Ind.)
EU’s Barnier Says Must Prepare For A ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (R.)
Car Manufacturing In Britain Fell By 11% In July (G.)
1000s Of British Expats Living In Spain Return To UK As Brexit Nears (Exp.)

 

 

“Trump’s announcement came a day after Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that there were no plans to cancel future exercises with South Korea.”

Trump Says ‘No Reason’ For Military Exercises With South Korea (CNBC)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday indicated that the U.S. will not participate in joint military exercises with South Korea, citing his “warm” relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even as U.S. efforts to denuclearize the reclusive dictatorship have stalled. “There is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” Trump said in a string of tweets Wednesday. Trump’s announcement came a day after Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that there were no plans to cancel future exercises with South Korea.

“As you know, we took this step to suspend several of the larger exercises as a good-faith measure coming out of the Singapore summit,” Mattis said Tuesday at the Pentagon. It was his first press briefing in five months, a timeline that has included President Donald Trump’s high-profile meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises. We will work very closely, as I said, with the secretary of State and what he needs done,” he added, noting that forces on the Korean Peninsula have continued with small-scale training exercises.

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On the Atlantic Council’s board: Henry Kissinger, Michael Hayden and Michael Chertoff. These are the people ‘advising’ Facebook on content.

NATO Think Tank Continues Pre-Election Interference (RPI)

On August 24 what is in effect the social media warfare division of the Atlantic Council published an article accusing the Russian television and print news outlet RT of running a one-sided attack against the Democratic Party and several leaders thereof ahead of this November’s politically pivotal Senate and House of Representatives elections. (Thirty-five Senate seats and all 435 House seats are being contested.) The Atlantic Council, until recently kept comparatively in the shadows for obvious reasons, is a think tank that has more than any other organization effected the transition of the NATO from a seeming Cold War relic with the break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the world’s only and history’s first international military network with 70 members and partners on six continents currently.

All thirteen new full member states are in Eastern and Central Europe; four of them border Russia. Three months ago it began collaborating with Facebook to police and censor that and (presumably) soon after other social media companies which in recent decades have become the major sources of information and communication for the seven billion citizens of the planet. No modest undertaking. This is by way of follow up to a Directive on Social Media issued four years ago by NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the bloc’s military command in Europe (which also oversees activities in Israel and until the activation of U.S. Africa Command ten years ago almost all of Africa).

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Excellent from Sara Carter. I took these snippets to make the point that both Flynn and Papadopoulos feel threatened by Mueller, and can’t afford to defend themselves. That’s how Mueller gets guilty pleas.

Whistleblower Exposes Key Player in FBI Russia Probe: “It Was A Set-Up” (SC)

Halper was not only spying on Page for the FBI in 2016, but he had also made contact in September 2016 with another Trump campaign volunteer, George Papadopoulos. He invited Papadopoulos to London that September, luring him with a $3,000 paycheck to work on a research paper under contract. By this time the young Trump campaign volunteer had already been in contact London-based professor, Josef Mifsud, who had basically informed him that the Russians had damaging material about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Misfud’s role has also come into question by Congress. Eventually, Papadopoulos was swept into Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation and pled guilty to one count of lying to the FBI.

His wife, Simona Papadopoulos, who’s been a vocal advocate for her husband, told SaraACarter.com that essentially he was forced to plead guilty because of threats from Mueller’s team and lack of financial resources. After testifying behind closed doors last month to the House Intelligence Committee, Simona told this outlet that she testified to Congress “as far as George is concerned, he met with individuals following the same pattern of behavior….and all of a sudden (Halper) was asking if he was doing anything with Russians…. This is the case with Halper, who is now proven to be a spy, possibly with (Australian Ambassador) Alexander Downer” who her husband met with in London.

[..] Flynn’s career with Trump ended as quickly as it came. He was forced to resign as Trump’s National Security Advisor 27 days after taking the job. The highly classified conversation between Flynn and former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was leaked to the Washington Post in January 2017 and he was later questioned by the FBI on that conversation. According to former FBI Director James Comey, the agents who interviewed Flynn did not believe he was lying, but in the end, Flynn pled guilty to one count of lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He had already spent more than $1 million in lawyers fees and sold his home to help with the debt. According to sources, Flynn’s family was being threatened by the Mueller team.

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The sordid tale of Lanny Davis continues.

CNN Lies About Cohen Story, Refuses to Comment (Greenwald)

CNN’s blockbuster July 26 story – that Michael Cohen intended to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that he was present when Donald Trump was told in advance about his son’s Trump Tower meeting with various Russians – includes a key statement about its sourcing that credible reporting now suggests was designed to have misled its audience. Yet CNN simply refuses to address the serious ethical and journalistic questions raised about its conduct. The substance of the CNN story itself regarding Cohen – which made headline news all over all the world and which CNN hyped as a “bombshell” – has now been retracted by other news outlets that originally purported to “confirm” CNN’s story.

That’s because the anonymous source for this confirmation, Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis, now admits that, in essence, his “confirmation” was false. As a result, both the Washington Post and the NY Post outed Davis as their anonymous source and then effectively retracted their stories “confirming” parts of CNN’s report. CNN, however, has retracted nothing. All inquiries to the network are directed to a corporate spokesperson, who simply says: “We stand by our story, and are confident in our reporting of it.” A newsletter sent Sunday night from CNN’s two media reporters, Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy, contained the same corporate language, but addressed none of the questions raised about CNN’s report.

It’s certainly possible that CNN had other sources for this story besides Davis, who now repudiates it. It’s hard to see how CNN’s story could be true given that Davis, Cohen’s own lawyer, explicitly says that Cohen has no information that Trump had prior knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting, that Cohen cannot and will not tell Mueller that this happened, and that Davis’ prior claims about Cohen’s knowledge and intentions are false. Axios reported that Cohen testified under oath to Congress that he has no knowledge that Trump had prior knowledge of the meeting and repeated this to leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee again after CNN’s report. Davis now says Cohen – rather than intending to tell Mueller he has such information – stands by his long-time claim that he has none.

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From the same Glenn Greenwald article. False claims galore.

The Media’s Chronic Misreporting on the Trump/Russia Story (Greenwald)

The other self-serving tactic media outlets use in situations like this is to claim that their errors are just good faith and rare mistakes, and that those who report on their mistakes are exaggerating their significance. This claim was also prominently featured in the New Yorker’s critique of my work, and is reflexively applied to anyone who has critiqued the dominant media narrative on this story. This tactic is also itself highly deceitful. The reality is that from the start of the Trump/Russia story, the U.S. media has repeatedly and frequently – not rarely and periodically – gotten major stories completely wrong, always in the same direction: exaggerating the threat posed by Russia to the U.S., and concocting evidence of Trump/Russia collusion even when such evidence did not exist.

Last December, I reported on what I call (and still believe) was the U.S. media’s “most humiliating debacle in ages”: a blatantly false and equally hyped CNN story claiming that an unknown person had emailed Donald Trump Jr. access to the WikiLeaks email archive before it was published: a story that MSNBC’s Ken Dilanian purported to “confirm.” That story – predictably and by design – generated huge headlines around the world, and was given breathless coverage on cable news given its obvious significance. In fact, the email in question was sent after WikiLeaks had published that archive to the entire world, rendering the magic-bullet email utterly worthless, not a massive scoop proving collusion.

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Swamp.

Russian Oligarch, DOJ And A Clear Case Of Collusion (ZH)

Steele and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr communicated extensively about the Russian Oligarch as recently as February 2016, which included efforts to obtain a Visa for Deripaska to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting int he US. Deripaska is now banned from the United States as one of several Russians sanctioned in April in response to alleged 2016 election meddling. Ohr, meanwhile, was demoted twice after the DOJ’s Inspector General discovered that he lied about his involvement with opposition research firm Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson – who employed Steele. Ohr’s CIA-linked wife, Nellie, was also employed by Fusion as part of the firm’s anti-Trump efforts, and had ongoing communications with the ex-UK spy, Christopher Steele as well. What’s more, Ohr met with Deripaska according to Solomon.

“By 2015, Steele’s work had left him friendly with one of Deripaska’s lawyers, according to my sources. And when Ohr, then the associate deputy attorney general and a longtime acquaintance of Steele, sought help getting to meet Deripaska, Steele obliged. Deripaska, who frequently has appeared alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at high-profile meetings, never really dealt with Steele, but he followed his lawyer’s recommendations and met with Ohr, my sources say. -The Hill The September 2015 meeting between Ohr, Deripaska and several FBI agents in New York sought the Russian billionaire’s assistance regarding organized crime investigations. That meeting was facilitated by Steele.

To recap: Bruce Ohr = the #4 official at the DOJ, met with a billionaire friend of Vladimir Putin, in a sit-down arranged by Christopher Steele. Steele and the DOJ, meanwhile, were accusing Donald Trump of collusion with Putin – while the Obama administration used Steele’s dodgy dossier to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Talk about actual collusion!

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India’s still largely inward looking, but still, what is imported -oil!-gets much more expensive.

India’s Rupee Falls To An All-Time Low (CNBC)

The Indian rupee fell to a record low on Thursday morning, following a declining trend all year — which economists attributed to rising oil prices, broader emerging market concerns, and strong month-end dollar demand. It slid to 70.8100 against the dollar, after a previous new low just a day before at 70.475. That marked a 10.97 percent decline since the start of the year. “Weakening has accompanied rising investment concerns about emerging markets more broadly, as well as a widening current account deficit, itself largely the result of higher oil prices,” said a Deutsche Bank Wealth Management report on Thursday.

More expensive oil leads to a higher import bill for India, a net importer of oil. Higher oil prices also lead to a widening current account deficit — a measure of the flow of goods, services and investments in and out of the country. Oil prices have been up more than 7 percent since mid-August, DBS Economist Radhika Rao explained in a note following the previous record low on Wednesday. Along with that, end-month dollar demand has also added to the pace of currency sell-off, she said. “Markets get a sense that the authorities are tolerant of a weaker rupee, with little by way of jawboning or verbal intervention,” Rao added.

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I think Beijing is more nervous than this lets on.

Trade War Won’t Cause ‘Major’ Hit To China’s Economy – Morgan Stanley (CNBC)

The Chinese government will continue implementing measures in order to cushion its economy from the impact of the ongoing trade spat with the U.S., a leading China economist said Wednesday. “We are not expecting any major growth correction because we think the potential impact from trade tariffs will be partially cushioned by the policy easing measures taken by the policy makers,” Robin Xing, chief China economist at Morgan Stanley, told CNBC at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in Beijing. Just last week, the U.S. and China slapped tariffs on $16 billion worth of goods on each other. Both countries also imposed tit-for-tat levies on $34 billion worth of each other’s imports in July.

Market watchers are now keeping their eyes on a fresh round of U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods expected later this year. If the U.S. imposes those additional tariffs, the impact could be “amplified” by how connected supply chains in East Asia are to China, Xing said. In fact, the trade war’s disruption to supply chains could cut 0.7 percentage points from China’s growth, he said. That will spur Beijing to take up more meaningful easing measures such as tax cuts and boosts to credit and liquidity in China’s financial system.

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Sure, just sell all your assets.

Argentina Asks IMF For Early Release Of Standby Funds (R.)

Argentina is asking the IMF for early release of funds from the country’s $50 billion standby financing deal, President Mauricio Macri said in a televised address on Wednesday, a move aimed at calming turbulent markets. The country’s currency has weakened 40.79 percent in 2018. Investors are concerned that with high inflation, a weak economy and fallout from a global selloff in emerging markets, Argentina may have problems meeting its dollar debt obligation in 2019. “We have agreed with the IMF to advance all the necessary funds to guarantee compliance with the financial program next year,” Macri said. “This decision aims to eliminate any uncertainty.” The Argentine peso dropped to trade more than 6 percent lower against the dollar on the news.

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Michel Barnier, said the bloc is “prepared to offer a partnership with Britain such as has never been with any other third country..”

Pound Sterling Rallies As Raab And Barnier Turn Optimistic On Brexit (Ind.)

The pound has rallied against the dollar and the euro following bullish Brexit comments from both UK and EU officials. Sterling rose more than 1 per cent against the greenback to hit $1.3006, and was up 0.99 per cent against the euro to €1.1118. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab told the Lords EU committee on Wednesday that he was “confident a deal is within our sights”. He said: “We’re bringing ambition, pragmatism, energy and if, and I expect it will be, and if it is matched, we get a deal.” He said the 17 October deadline for a deal could be pushed back, but added: “I think it is important as we enter the final phase of the negotiations in the lead up to the October council – and the possibility that it may creep beyond that – we want to see some renewed energy.

“We’re bringing the ambition and the substance of our white paper on the future relationship and also I think some pragmatism to try and go the extra mile to get the deal that I think is in both sides interests. We need that to be matched obviously, it’s a negotiation.” Meanwhile the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the bloc is “prepared to offer a partnership with Britain such as has never been with any other third country”. “That kind of bullishness has been in short supply of late – if it has ever been there at all – and had a hugely rejuvenating effect on the pound,” said Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex.

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But wait! Keep ’em guessing!

EU’s Barnier Says Must Prepare For A ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (R.)

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday the bloc must prepare for a no-deal Brexit, even if its goal was an orderly exit. The EU needed to be well prepared for everything, Barnier said, telling German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk: “That includes the no-deal scenario.” He said the issue of the Irish border with Northern Ireland was “the most sensitive point” of the negotiations. Of a solution to the issue, he added: “I think that is possible.”

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The industry wants to both cry for help AND look strong.

Car Manufacturing In Britain Fell By 11% In July (G.)

The number of cars built in UK factories slumped by 11% last month compared with a year ago. Just over 121,000 cars left production lines, with a fall of 35% in models built for the UK, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Car production for export in July fell by 4.2%. Despite the reduction, the sector remains on track to meet 2018 expectations, said the SMMT. Just under 955,500 cars were built in the first seven months of the year, down by 16% for the UK market and 1.2% for export. This marks an improvement on June, when production for the UK plunged 47%, although there was a 6% rise in cars made for export.

Model changes, operational adjustments and preparations for new emissions standards affected output last month, said the SMMT. Its chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: “While the industry is undoubtedly feeling the effects of recent uncertainty in the domestic market, drawing long-term conclusions from monthly snapshots requires a health warning. “The bigger picture is complex and month by month fluctuations are inevitable as manufacturers manage product cycles, operational changes and the delicate balance of supply and demand from market to market. “To ensure future growth, we need political and economic clarity at home, and the continuation of beneficial trading arrangements with the EU and other key markets.”

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Those were the days.

1000s Of British Expats Living In Spain Return To UK As Brexit Nears (Exp.)


Figures show the number of Brits living in Bendorm has fallen from around 5,000 before the 2007 financial crash to 2,825 last year. Almost 5,000 waved adios to Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca over the same period of time and by 2017, 14,981 expats remained on the Balearic islands. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported the total number of British residents in Spain had dropped from 397,892 to 240,785 – a fall of 157,107. It said data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute showed the number of residents from 15 EU-countries in Spain had fallen by a quarter but the number of British expats had fallen 40 percent. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of Britons leaving Spain outnumbered those who arrived. In the previous four years, 40,454 more Britons arrived in Spain than left.

The drop in expats was put down partly to a shake up in municipal enrolment regulations in Spain but many returnees fear Brexit will have a negative impact on their lives abroad while others say life on the continent has become too expensive with the devaluation of the pound. Michelle Ball, who has a shop in La Xara, Alicante having arriving in Valencia as a 14-year-old, said: “Many are returning because life has become incredibly expensive. “My mother has lost €160 a month in her pension since the Brexit referendum because of the devaluation of the pound. “Now her pension is €690. And since the Spanish government made changes a few years back she also has to pay a portion for her medicines. It’s not a lot but it doesn’t help either.”Sterling fell to its lowest against the euro in nearly a year yesterday after Theresa May played down the consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

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Jul 012018
 
 July 1, 2018  Posted by at 8:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giuseppe Leone Ragusa Sicily 1953

 

US Dollar Hegemony Tripped Up by Chinese Renminbi? Um, No (WS)
Even Eva Peron Would Be Crying… (ZH)
No Chance Of Brexit Deal By October Says EU (Ind.)
VW CEO Says Arrest Of Audi’s Stadler Hard To Comprehend (R.)
Trump Claims Saudi Arabia Has Agreed To Boost Oil Production Amid Turmoil (G.)
Trump Ally Giuliani Says End Is Near For Iran’s Rulers (R.)
The EU Is Killing Our Democratic Spaces Using Copyright As A Trojan Horse (OD)
Angela Merkel Secures Asylum Seeker Return Deals With 14 EU Countries (Ind.)
Hungary, Poland & Czech Republic Deny Sealing Migrant Deal With Merkel (RT)
EU’s New Refugee Policy Under Fire As Children Stuck In Limbo In Niger (G.)
End Of The Bailouts And Onto A Path To A New Bankruptcy (Economides)
Deluge Of Electronic Waste Turning Thailand Into ‘World’s Rubbish Dump’ (G.)
Bayer-Monsanto Partnership Signals Death Knell for Humanity (Bridge)

 

 

Rumors about the demise of the dollar are greatly…

US Dollar Hegemony Tripped Up by Chinese Renminbi? Um, No (WS)

Global central banks are not dumping US-dollar-denominated assets from their foreign exchange reserves. They’re not dumping euro-denominated assets either. And they remain leery of the Chinese renminbi – despite China’s place as the second largest economy in the world and despite all the hoopla of turning the renminbi into a major global reserve currency. This is clear from the IMF’s just released “Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves” (COFER) data for the first quarter 2018. The IMF is very stingy with what it discloses. The COFER data for each individual country – each country’s specific holdings of reserve currencies – is “strictly confidential.” But it does disclose the global allocation of each major currency.

In Q1 2018, total global foreign exchange reserves, including all currencies, rose 6.3% year-over-year, or by $878 billion, to $11.59 trillion, within the upper range of the past three years (from $10.7 trillion in Q4 2016 to $11.8 trillion in Q3, 2014). For reporting purposes, the IMF converts all currency balances into US dollars. This data was for Q1. The dollar bottomed out in the middle of the quarter and has since been rising. US-dollar-denominated assets among foreign exchange reserves continued to dominate in Q1 at $6.5 trillion, or 62.5% of “allocated” reserves (more on this “allocated” in a moment).

[..] The RMB is the thin red sliver in the pie chart below with a share of just 1.39% of allocated foreign exchange reserves. Minuscule as it is, it is the highest share ever, up from 1.2% in Q4 2017. In other words, its inclusion in the SDR basket hasn’t exactly performed miracles as central banks seem to remain leery of it and have not yet displayed any kind of eagerness to hold RMB-denominated assets.

[..] Note the term “allocated” reserves. Not all central banks disclose to the IMF how their overall foreign exchange reserves are allocated by specific currency. But over the years, more and more central banks have disclosed their holdings to the IMF, and the mystery portion has been shrinking. Back in Q4 2014, unallocated reserves – the undisclosed mystery portion – accounted for 41% of total reserves. In Q1, only 10.3% of the reserves remained undisclosed. [..] folks who’ve been eagerly anticipating “the death of the dollar” or similar scenarios will have to be very patient.

Since 1965, the dollar’s share has fluctuated sharply, and the current share of 62.5% remains in the middle of the range. The chart below shows the dollar’s share at year-end for each of the past 52 years, plus for Q1 2018. Note its low point in 1991 with a share of 46%. And note that the Financial Crisis made no visible dent:

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Don’t cry 4-3 Argentina.

Even Eva Peron Would Be Crying… (ZH)

The last 24 hours have not been great for Argentina. First – despite endless jawboning about The IMF bailout and how it will secure the nation’s future and enable reforms, the currency collapsed to a new record low on Friday…

Second – the central bank decided to step in with their newly minted IMF funds and blew over a billion dollars to buy pesos, managing a very modest bounce (but ARS still closed down 3% on the day)

Third – IMF officials spoke with Argentina’s union leaders, warning of the social impact of the ongoing disruptions. IMF spokesman Raphael Anspach confirmed Werner and Cardarelli’s participation in the call, which “reiterated the main elements of the IMF support to the government’s economic plans, including the measures aimed at supporting the most vulnerable in Argentine society.” And union officials told the media that The IMF was not worried about the ongoing collapse: “They are betting on a virtuous behavior by private investors, with the economy falling in the third and fourth quarters of 2018, but rebounding 1.5% in the first quarter of 2019” “They were not worried about the flight of capital”

Fourth, and finally, and perhaps worst of all – Argentina is now out of The World Cup. A nation mourns.

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The British people don’t seem to have a clue what this means.

No Chance Of Brexit Deal By October Says EU (Ind.)

EU negotiators have abandoned all hope that a Brexit deal will be signed with the UK at October’s European Council summit, The Independent has learned. Brussels officials said a complete standstill in talks with Britain means securing settlements on major outstanding issues in the remaining three-and-a-half months is fanciful. They point to the political logjam in Theresa May’s government as the obstacle blocking negotiations, piling pressure on the prime minister to break the deadlock this week. She is set to meet her full cabinet on Friday at Chequers for a meeting that may go late into the night, in a bid to finally thrash out the government’s approach to post-Brexit relations with the EU.

The EU officials were speaking after last week’s European Council summit which saw the bloc focus on tackling immigration from north Africa, while warning Ms May that time to secure a deal is now running out. One Brussels insider said: “There is no hope really for October now. We don’t know exactly what she is asking for yet, so how can there be? “First the UK needs to decide what it wants, then there needs to be a discussion here and even if it is acceptable, there are processes that have to take place first before everyone agrees to move forward.” Another source close to the European Commission told The Independent: “Now we are looking at December as a more likely option, but there are questions about how much time that leaves for the deal to be ratified in time before March.”

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VW owns Audi.

VW CEO Says Arrest Of Audi’s Stadler Hard To Comprehend (R.)

The CEO of Volkswagen, Herbert Diess, told a German newspaper the arrest of Audi head Rupert Stadler was a shock and hard to comprehend. VW has suspended Stadler, head of VW’s most profitable brand, after German authorities arrested him as part of an emissions probe. “It was a massive shock for me. The arrest of a CEO of a major car brand: that’s never happened before,” Diess told Germany newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “The arrest is hard to comprehend. I knew Rupert Stadler as a problem solver,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Diess said that for him, Stadler was innocent until proven guilty. Stadler, who has not made any public comment, has not been charged and prosecutors are set to continue questioning him next week. Asked whether he could imagine Stadler returning, Diess said it depended on what facts emerge: “Should the accusations of the state prosecutors prove to be true, then it’s a clear decision.”

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2 millions barrels a day in spare capacity? Don’t think so. He may have to ask Putin to join in.

Trump Claims Saudi Arabia Has Agreed To Boost Oil Production Amid Turmoil (G.)

Donald Trump said on Saturday he had received assurances from King Salman of Saudi Arabia that the kingdom would increase oil production “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels”, in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela. Saudi Arabia acknowledged the call took place, but mentioned no production targets. Trump wrote on Twitter that he had asked the king in a phone call to increase oil production “to make up the difference … Prices to [sic] high! He has agreed!” A little over an hour later, the state-run Saudi Press Agency acknowledged the call, but offered few details. “During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy,” the statement said.

It added that there also was an understanding that oil-producing countries would need “to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies”. It did not elaborate. Oil prices have edged higher as the Trump administration has pushed US allies to end all purchases of oil from Iran. Prices have also risen given ongoing unrest in Venezuela, as well as with fighting in Libya over control of that country’s oil infrastructure. Last week, members of the OPEC cartel led by Saudi Arabia agreed to pump 1m barrels more crude oil per day, a move that should help contain the recent rise in global energy prices. However, summer months in the US usually lead to increased demand for oil, which would push up the price of gasoline in a midterm election year. A gallon of regular gasoline sold on average in the US for $2.85, up from $2.23 a gallon last year.

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But Putin.

Trump Ally Giuliani Says End Is Near For Iran’s Rulers (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump will suffocate Iran’s “dictatorial ayatollahs”, his close ally Rudy Giuliani said on Saturday, suggesting his move to re-impose sanctions was aimed squarely at regime change. The former New York mayor who is now Trump’s personal lawyer, was addressing a conference of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella bloc of opposition groups in exile that seek an end to Shi’ite Muslim clerical rule in Iran. “I can’t speak for the president, but it sure sounds like he doesn’t think there is much of a chance of a change in behavior unless there is a change in people and philosophy,” Giuliani told Reuters in an interview.

“We are the strongest economy in the world … and if we cut you off then you collapse,” he said, pointing to protests in Iran. In May, Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 international deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting some sanctions. Trump supporters have spoken at NCRI events in the past, including national security adviser John Bolton, who, before taking his post at the same conference last July, told the group’s members they would be ruling Iran before 2019 and their goal should be regime change. Bolton said in May that the administration’s policy was to make sure Iran never got nuclear weapons and not regime change.

In Tehran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Trump would fail in any attempt to turn the Iranian people against the ruling system. “They bring to bear economic pressure to separate the nation from the system … but six U.S. presidents before him (Trump) tried this and had to give up,” Khamenei said on his website.

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From DiEM 25 members: “..a tool to control speech, expression, criticism and increase the surveillance levels imposed on all EU citizens.

The EU Is Killing Our Democratic Spaces Using Copyright As A Trojan Horse (OD)

Europe was one of the regions that connected massively to the Internet. Not only that, it was one of the few adopting literacy and inclusion programs early enough on to unleash the power of connected citizens, showing them how to create new business models and improve education but also how to express themselves, create, organize and protest. But alarmingly, the European Parliament is on the verge of a dramatic change of direction. The EU has recently embarked on a new mission: controlling the Internet through the monopoly of copyright. This attempt to reform and control the Internet has not received half the attention it deserves.

As Julia Reda, MEP for the Pirate Party, has explained, the current project of EU legislation would impose automatic filters that control ANY content that anyone wants to upload. The reason would be the protection of copyright, a monopoly right that primarily benefits large media behemoths, without any possibility of advance verification. You read that right: the EU wants to put in place a global censorship machine, on the basis of unverifiable monopoly rights, mostly held by large media corporations. In DiEM25, we do not see this as just an outdated law, isolated from current politics. Indeed, that is precisely what is most worrying about it.

We cannot see it as unconnected to the big push in Europe by authoritarian leaders wanting to restrict, to truly shrink the spaces of civil society. Increasing censorship online will reduce the ability of citizens to say what they think, filtering content before it is published. This will not only harm speech but increase surveillance and the meting out of punishments for things we say online. This is combined with all the existing online state surveillance already endured by EU citizens, which remains as powerful as ever. With dismay, we are witnessing now an open boycott of the democratic achievement of a connected Europe. The European Parliament Legal Committee has just given the green light to a law that will be a tool to control speech, expression, criticism and increase the surveillance levels imposed on all EU citizens.

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It’s all and only about Save Angela now. Not about the refugees.

Angela Merkel Secures Asylum Seeker Return Deals With 14 EU Countries (Ind.)

Angela Merkel has reportedly secured agreements with 14 European Union countries to rapidly return some asylum seekers arriving in Germany. The chancellor is seeking to end a divide in her coalition government over a migration policy that has attracted ire from immigration hardliners. Ms Merkel has said she also wants to establish “anchor centres” to process migrants at Germany’s borders, the DPA news agency reported on Saturday. The announcements came in a letter Ms Merkel wrote to leaders of her Christian Democratic Union’s Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, as well as to her junior coalition government partner, the Social Democrats, after she attended a two-day EU summit in Brussels.

Ms Merkel on Friday came away from an EU summit with agreements from Greece and Spain to take back migrants previously registered in those countries, and an overall agreement by the 28-nation bloc to ease the pressures of migration into Europe. In the eight-page letter obtained Saturday by DPA, the chancellor said that she had also secured agreement with half of the EU nations to return migrants to them if they had first registered in those countries. The countries included Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, which have all been harsh critics of Ms Merkel’s welcoming stance to migrants, as well as Belgium, France, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden.

In addition, the chancellor threw her support behind establishing large collection centres in Germany for migrants as their cases are processed. DPA reported the centres would be used for migrants who attempt to bypass border controls and for those whose cases don’t fall under bilateral return agreements.

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And so she stretches the truth a little here and there. Save Angela.

Hungary, Poland & Czech Republic Deny Sealing Migrant Deal With Merkel (RT)

Three EU countries have denied reaching any final agreement with Germany on the return of migrants to the country of entry, despite Angela Merkel’s claim she’d received “political consent” from 14 EU nations to strike such a deal. “No such deal has been reached,” spokesman for Hungary’s government Zoltan Kovacs said, adding that Budapest has repeatedly rejected German attempts to “return” migrants to their first country of entry into the EU. Similar statements have been produced by Poland and the Czech Republic, which also denied reaching any agreements on the matter. “There are no any new agreements regarding the reception of asylum seekers from EU countries, we confirm (that), like the Czech Republic and Hungary,” Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Artur Lompart said.

Earlier on Saturday, media reported that, during the EU summit, 14 European countries, including some outspoken opponents of German Chancellor’s ‘open door’ policy, had allegedly “consented on a political level” to make a deal on taking migrants back. The document on the deal has been sent by Merkel to her coalition partners, according to Reuters. “At the moment, Dublin repatriations from Germany succeed in only 15% of cases,” the document says, as quoted by Reuters. “We will sign administrative agreements with various member states… to speed the repatriation process and remove obstacles.”

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But Save Angela.

EU’s New Refugee Policy Under Fire As Children Stuck In Limbo In Niger (G.)

Stop people in Africa, before they get anywhere near the Mediterranean, and sort them into refugees and migrants there, only allowing the refugees to continue to Europe. This was the big idea that came out of last week’s EU migration summit. But campaigners say the predicament of 260 children stuck in limbo in Niger demonstrates that there is no guarantee EU countries would eventually take the refugees, even if African countries agreed to this arrangement. In November, amid horrific tales of Africans being enslaved, imprisoned and tortured in Libya, Niger agreed to act as a halfway house for refugees that UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, had identified and could get out.

Evacuated from detention camps in Libya, the unaccompanied minors are among 1,200 people waiting in Niger for resettlement. Mainly aged 14 to 17, they were all in detention, and most are deeply traumatised by the violence they experienced and witnessed there. But so far no country has agreed to take them. “In Europe we have been talking a lot about legal pathways,” said UNHCR’s representative in Niger, Alessandra Morelli. “If we want to combat trafficking, if people in need of international protection, who fit the profile of asylum seekers, get out of that flow, I have to offer an alternative. Otherwise, what are we talking about here? But when I take them out I have no alternative. You see? This is our fight.” About 54,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been identified in Libya, but no more can leave until the 1,200 in Niger have been processed.

[..] One aspect of the migration deal reached on Friday looked to fall apart before it had even begun: four European countries – Austria, France, Germany and Italy – said they would not open “controlled centres” to assess asylum claims of people who had been rescued from the Mediterranean. At the same time they are asking some of the world’s poorest and least secure countries to do what Europe will not.

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“Is there a solution for Greece? Yes, but it is in quite the opposite direction of the EU and IMF plans this far.”

End Of The Bailouts And Onto A Path To A New Bankruptcy (Economides)

Last week’s Eurogroup set up the final conditions for the end of the third Greek bailout program in August. Since 2010, Greece has borrowed 275 billion euros from European Union countries and the IMF. Greece also shed 100 billion euros of private debt in an agreement with the borrowers in 2012. However, present debt is still over 300 billion euros for an economy of officially 185 billion GDP (plus 30% unaccounted illegal income). Thus, debt to gross domestic product remains extremely high. Even though the borrowing is over, the EU and the IMF have imposed new long-term austerity conditions on the Greek economy, including additional sharp pension decreases and the requirement that Greece produces a 3.5% of GDP budget surplus.

To achieve this, the government has imposed skyrocketing taxes including a 24% value-added tax (and plans to increase taxes to those making as little as 6,000 euros a year). Taxes suck out all the extra cash businesses and people have. Investment has plummeted, and consumption is 25% lower than a few years ago. Unemployment is at 23% but this number is misleadingly low because those working only two days a week are considered employed. With huge taxes and a business-unfriendly bureaucracy, Greece is unlikely to attract investment and will not achieve fast growth. Without growth, the country will be unable to pay back its debt in full despite a 10-year postponement of maturities on one-third of its debt granted by the EU last Thursday.

[..] Is there a solution for Greece? Yes, but it is in quite the opposite direction of the EU and IMF plans this far. Greece needs to achieve fast growth, 4-5% per year, for five years, and start paying its debt after that. To achieve high growth, the country needs to abandon the multi-year 3.5% surplus target for the much more reasonable 1.5-2% target. With lower surpluses, lower taxes and less bureaucracy, Greece will be able to attract investment and realize high growth. Once it has achieved high growth and its economy has expanded, only then will Greece start paying its debt, and it will be able to pay its debt in full over time.

Instead, the EU/IMF plan forces the country to create huge surpluses when its economy is hurting, thereby driving it in a downward spiral. Imposing the requirement of large surpluses now is catastrophic and forces Greece to take a path of low or zero growth and misery. Greece will never be able to pay back its debt in full on this path.

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They seem to be waking up. But then it’ll all just go to a poorer place.

Deluge Of Electronic Waste Turning Thailand Into ‘World’s Rubbish Dump’ (G.)

At a deserted factory outside Bangkok, skyscrapers made from vast blocks of crushed printers, Xbox components and TVs tower over black rivers of smashed-up computer screens. This is a tiny fraction of the estimated 50m tonnes of electronic waste created just in the EU every year, a tide of toxic rubbish that is flooding into south-east Asia from the EU, US and Japan. Thailand, with its lax environmental laws, has become a dumping ground for this e-waste over the past six months, but authorities are clamping down, fearful that the country will become the “rubbish dump of the world”. The global implications could be enormous.

A factory visited by the Guardian in Samut Prakan province, south of Bangkok, which was recently shut down in a raid for operating illegally, illustrated the mammoth scale of the problem. Printers made by Dell and HP, Daewoo TVs and Apple computer drives were stacked sky-high next to precarious piles of compressed keyboards, routers and copy machines. Labels showed the waste had mainly come from abroad. For locals, it is unclear why Thailand should be taking this waste. The Samut Prakan factory sits in the middle of hundreds of shrimp farms and there were concerns it was poisoning the landscape, with no environmental protections or oversight in place.

Until the beginning of this year, China was a willing recipient of the world’s electronic waste, which it recycled in vast factories. According to the UN, 70% of all electronic waste was ending up in China. But in January, having calculated that the environmental impact far outweighed the short-term profit, China closed its gates to virtually all foreign rubbish. It has prompted something of a global crisis, not just for e-waste but plastic waste as well. Asian nations such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia stepped in. Chinese businessmen have set about attempting to open about 100 plastic and e-waste recycling plants across Thailand since January.

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“Like a Hollywood villain falling into a crucible of molten steel only to turn up later in some altered state, Monsanto has been subsumed under the Orwellian-sounding ‘Bayer Crop Science’ division..”

Bayer-Monsanto Partnership Signals Death Knell for Humanity (Bridge)

On what plane of reality is it possible that two of the world’s most morally bankrupt corporations, Bayer and Monsanto, can be permitted to join forces in what promises to be the next stage in the takeover of the world’s agricultural and medicinal supplies? Warning, plot spoiler: There is no Mr. Hyde side in this horror story of epic proportions; it’s all Dr. Jekyll. Like a script from a David Lynch creeper, Bayer AG of poison gas fame has finalized its $66 billion purchase of Monsanto, the agrochemical corporation that should be pleading the Fifth in the dock on Guantanamo Bay instead of enjoying what amounts to corporate asylum and immunity from crimes against humanity. Such are the special privileges that come from being an above-the-law transnational corporation.

Unsurprisingly, the first thing Bayer did after taking on Monsanto, saddled as it is with the extra baggage of ethic improprieties, was to initiate a rebrand campaign. Like a Hollywood villain falling into a crucible of molten steel only to turn up later in some altered state, Monsanto has been subsumed under the Orwellian-sounding ‘Bayer Crop Science’ division, whose motto is: “Science for a better life.” Yet Bayer itself provides little protective cover for Monsanto considering its own patchy history of corporate malfeasance. Far beyond its widely known business of peddling pain relief for headaches, the German-based company played a significant role in the introduction of poison gas on the battlefields of World War I.

Despite a Hague Convention ban on the use of chemical weapons since 1907, Bayer CEO Carl Duisberg, who sat on a special commission set up by the German Ministry of War, knew a business opportunity when he saw one. Duisberg witnessed early tests of poison gas and had nothing but glowing reports on the horrific new weapon: “The enemy won’t even know when an area has been sprayed with it and will remain quietly in place until the consequences occur.” Bayer, which built a department specifically for the research and development of gas agents, went on to develop increasingly lethal chemical weapons, such as phosgene and mustard gas. “This phosgene is the meanest weapon I know,” Duisberg remarked with a stunning disregard for life, as if he were speaking about the latest bug spray. “I strongly recommend that we not let the opportunity of this war pass without also testing gas grenades.”

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Jun 152018
 
 June 15, 2018  Posted by at 8:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


OR LIGHT Compassion 2018

 

Argentina’s Peso Collapses Even Further Despite $50 Billion IMF Bailout (WS)
ECB Calls Halt To Quantitative Easing, Despite ‘Soft’ Euro (G.)
Japan’s Central Bank Dials Down Inflation View, Complicates Stimulus-Exit (R.)
Powell Orchestrates a Masterful Move (DDMB)
The Fed Creates Problems For Itself (Macleod)
The Art of the Deal Worked On Sentosa Island (AT)
Absence of “CVID” In Joint Statement? (Hani)
Optimism (Caitlin Johnstone)
Blackstone Becomes Biggest Hotel & Property Owner in Spain (WS)
‘Tourism Pollution’: Japanese Crackdown Costs Airbnb $10 Million (G.)
Greeks Are Least Satisfied In The EU (K.)
Turkey: Even Birds Need Our Consent To Fly In The Aegean (K.)
Comey et al Just Made It More Difficult For Mueller To Prosecute Trump (Hill)
A Closer Look At Extreme FBI Bias Revealed In OIG Report (ZH)

 

 

Money has left the building.

Argentina’s Peso Collapses Even Further Despite $50 Billion IMF Bailout (WS)

Today the Argentina peso plunged another 5.5% against the US dollar. It now takes ARS 27.7 to buy $1. Over the past 16 years, the peso has gone through waves of collapses. This collapse began on April 20. The central bank of Argentina (BCRA) countered it by selling $1 billion per day of scarce foreign exchange reserves and buying pesos. The peso fell more quickly. The BCRA responded with three rate hikes, to finally 40%! On May 8, the government asked the IMF for a bailout. On May 16, after a chaotic plunge of the peso, the BCRA was able to refinance about $26 billion in maturing peso-denominated short-term debt (Lebacs) at an annual interest of 40%, and the peso bounced. It was a dead-cat bounce, however, and the peso plunged another 13% against the dollar through today.

Since April 20, the peso has plunged 27.5%. The annotated chart shows the daily moves of the collapse, and the various failed gyrations to halt it (the chart depicts the value of 1 ARS in USD). The collapse of the peso comes despite an endless series of measures to halt it. Just this week so far: On Tuesday, the BCRA decided to keep its key interest rate at 40%; and on Wednesday, the Ministry of Finance announced it would hold daily auctions to sell $7.5 billion in foreign exchange reserves and buy pesos, to prop up the peso. But it was apparently the only one buying pesos. With inflation at 25.5% and heading to 27% by year-end, according to government estimates, with a rising budget deficit, a surging current account deficit, soaring borrowing costs, and burned investors, what else is there to do?

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Not Draghi’s finest hour.

ECB Calls Halt To Quantitative Easing, Despite ‘Soft’ Euro (G.)

The European Central Bank has shrugged off evidence of a slowdown in the eurozone and announced that it will phase out the stimulus provided by its massive three-year bond-buying programme to the eurozone economy by the end of the year. Despite warning that the single currency area was going through a soft patch at a time when protectionist risks were rising, the ECB said it would wind down its bond purchases over the next six months. The ECB is currently boosting the eurozone money supply by buying €30bn of assets each month, but this will be reduced to €15bn a month after September and ended completely at the end of 2018.

The move follows strong pressure from some eurozone countries, led by Germany, that were uncomfortable about the more than €2.4tn of assets accumulated by the ECB since it launched its quantitative easing programme at the start of 2015. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said at the end of a meeting of the bank’s governing council in Latvia that the QE programme had succeeded in its aim of putting inflation on course to meet its target of being below but close to 2%. Eurozone activity has accelerated markedly over the past three years, with some estimates suggesting that QE contributed 0.75percentage points a year to the average 2.25% annual growth rate.

The ECB’s statement reflected the battle between hawks and doves on the bank’s council, with the decision on QE matched by a softening of its approach to interest rates. Draghi said there would be no prospect of an increase in the ECB’s key lending rate – currently 0.0% – until next summer at the earliest. “We decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged and we expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure that the evolution of inflation remains aligned with our current expectations of a sustained adjustment path,” Draghi said.

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No, really, Abenomics is dead.

Japan’s Central Bank Dials Down Inflation View, Complicates Stimulus-Exit (R.)

The Bank of Japan maintained its ultra-loose monetary policy on Friday and downgraded its view on inflation in a fresh blow to its long-held 2% price goal, further complicating the central bank’s path to rolling back its crisis-era stimulus. Markets are on the lookout for clues from BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s post-meeting briefing on how long the central bank could hold off on whittling down stimulus given recent disappointingly weak price growth. As widely expected, the Bank of Japan kept its short-term interest rate target at minus 0.1% and a pledge to guide 10-year government bond yields around zero%.

The move contrasts with the European Central Bank’s decision to end its asset-purchase program this year and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s steady rate increases, which signaled a break from policies deployed to battle the 2007-2009 financial crisis. “Consumer price growth is in a range of 0.5 to 1%,” the BOJ said in a statement accompanying the decision. That was a slightly bleaker view than in the previous meeting in April, when the bank said inflation was moving around 1%. The BOJ stuck to its view the economy was expanding moderately, unfazed by a first-quarter contraction that many analysts blame on temporary factors like bad weather.

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He just likes the attention.

Powell Orchestrates a Masterful Move (DDMB)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has taken the first steps in remaking the central bank in his “plain-English” image, which can only be a good thing for financial markets. Earlier this week, news leaked that the central bank was considering holding a press conference following each Federal Open Market Committee meeting instead of after every other one like it does now. The reports set off a mini-storm. Speculation rose the Fed would implement this new policy immediately, which could mean the central bank was considering accelerating the pace of interest-rate increases as soon as August. After all, investors had become accustomed to the Fed only making a major policy move at meetings followed by a press conference. Now, every meeting would be “live.”

But in a masterful move, Chairman Jerome Powell managed to confirm the policy while also putting financial markets at ease. Rather than announcing the change in the official statement outlining the Fed’s plan to raise its target for the federal funds rate for the seventh time since December 2015, Powell waited until the start of his press conference to drop the bomb, noting that the policy wouldn’t start until January. Here’s Powell’s reasoning: “My colleagues and I meet eight times a year and take a fresh look each time at what is happening in the economy and consider whether our policy needs adjusting. We don’t put our interest rate decisions on auto-pilot because the economy can always evolve in unexpected ways.

History has shown that moving interest rates either too quickly or too slowly can lead to bad economic outcomes. We think the outcomes are likely to be better overall if we are as clear as possible about what we are likely to do and why. To that end, we try to give a sense of our expectations for how the economy will evolve and how our policy stance may change. As Chairman, I hope to foster a public conversation about what the Fed is doing to support a strong and resilient economy. And one practical step in doing so is to have a press conference like this after every one of our scheduled FOMC meetings. We’re going to do that beginning in January. That will give us more opportunities to explain our actions and to answer your questions.

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“..the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates..”

The Fed Creates Problems For Itself (Macleod)

Since Hayek’s time, monetary policy, particularly in America, has evolved away from targeting production and discouraging savings by suppressing interest rates, towards encouraging consumption through expanding consumer finance. American consumers are living beyond their means and have commonly depleted all their liquid savings. But given the variations in the cost of consumer finance (between 0% car loans and 20% credit card and overdraft rates), consumers are generally insensitive to changes in interest rates. Therefore, despite the rise of consumer finance, we can still regard Hayek’s triangle as illustrating the driving force behind the credit cycle, and the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates as the reason monetary policy always leads to an economic crisis.

The chart below shows we could be living dangerously close to another tipping point, whereby the rises in the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) might be about to trigger a new credit and economic crisis. Previous peaks in the FFR coincided with the onset of economic downturns, because they exposed unsustainable business models. On the basis of simple extrapolation, the area between the two dotted lines, which roughly join these peaks, is where the current FFR cycle can be expected to peak. It is currently standing at about 2% after yesterday’s increase, and the Fed expects the FFR to average 3.1% in 2019. The chart tells us the Fed is already living dangerously with yesterday’s hike, and further rises will all but guarantee a credit crisis.

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The view from Asia Times. Many people in that part of the world don’t understand the criticism.

The Art of the Deal Worked On Sentosa Island (AT)

Some statesmen by their sheer force of personality and unorthodox ways of politicking arouse disdain among onlookers. US President Donald is perhaps the most famous figure of that kind in world politics today. No matter what he does, Trump attracts criticism. He evokes strong feelings of antipathy among a large and voluble swathe of opinion within half of America. The making of history in a virtual solo act on his part, which is the rarest of efforts, on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday and which the world watched with awe and disbelief, will be instinctively stonewalled. Half of America simply refuses to accept the positive tidings about him coming from Singapore.

The skeptics are all over social media pouring scorn, voicing skepticism, unable to accept that if the man has done something sensible and good for his country and for world peace, it deserves at the very least patient, courteous attention. The problem is about Trump – not so much the imperative need of North Korea’s denuclearization. But western detractors – ostensibly rooting for the “liberal international order” – will eventually lapse into silence because what emerges is that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has enough to “bite” here in the deal that Trump is offering – broadly, a security guarantee from the US and the offer of a full-bodied relationship with an incremental end to sanctions plus a peace treaty.

Succinctly put, Trump has offered a deal that Kim simply cannot afford to reject. The ending of the US-ROK military exercises forthwith; Trump’s agenda of eventual withdrawal of troops from ROK; the lure of possible withdrawal of sanctions once 20% of the denuclearization process gets underway, or once the process becomes irreversible; Trump’s hint that he has sought assurances from Japan and the ROK that they will be “generous” in offering economic assistance to the reconstruction of North Korea; China’s involvement in the crucial process – these are tangibles.

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The view from South Korea.

Absence of “CVID” In Joint Statement? (Hani)

The absence of any reference to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear program in the joint statement reached at US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s June 12 summit in Singapore is being seen by some as a “negotiation failure” on the US’s part. But an analysis of Trump’s subsequent remarks – and a reading between the lines of the Pyongyang’s official announcement – suggests the US achieved practical gains in terms of a commitment from the North in exchange for the face-saving measure of avoiding use of the “CVID” term due to possible North Korean objections to it.

To begin with, the Singapore joint statement’s language marks a step forward from the Panmunjeom Declaration of Apr. 27 in terms of the final goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The latest statement refers to Kim having “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” While the Panmunjeom Declaration referred to “realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” the new statement includes the additional reference to a “firm and unwavering commitment.”

From the reference to Kim’s “firm and unwavering” commitment to denuclearization, some experts are suggesting North Korea may have agreed to verification in addition to denuclearization – in other words, that the language may be a substitute for the “verifiable” part of the CVID approach demanded by Washington. “You could see them as having used the term out of awareness of North Korea’s discomfort with the word ‘verification,’” Handong Global University professor Kim Joon-hyung said after a Korea Press Foundation debate at Singapore’s Swissotel on June 13. “It may be fair to say North Korea made a definite commitment on the implementation and verification issues,” Kim argued.

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“..while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter. ”

Optimism (Caitlin Johnstone)

Off the top of my head I have a hard time thinking of anything sleazier than smearing peace talks in order to gain partisan political points, but that has indeed been the theme of the last few days when it comes to the Singapore summit. Liberal pundits everywhere have been busily circulating the narrative that Kim Jong-Un “played” Trump by getting him to temporarily halt military drills in exchange for suspended nuclear testing. It was the most fundamental beginning of peace negotiations and a slight deescalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but the way they talk about it you’d think Kim had taken off from Singapore in Air Force One with the keys to Fort Knox and Melania on his lap.

I’m not sure how far up the military-industrial complex’s ass one’s head needs to be to think that one single step toward peace is a gigantic take-all-the-chips win for the impoverished North Korea, but many of Trump’s political enemies are taking it even further. Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to make it more difficult for Trump to withdraw US troops from South Korea, because while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter.

Surprising no one, MSNBC’s cartoon children’s program The Rachel Maddow Show took home the trophy for jaw-dropping, shark-jumping ridiculousness with an eighteen-minute Alex Jones impression claiming that the chief architect of the Korean negotiations was none other than (and if you can’t guess whose name I’m going to write once we get out of these parentheses I deeply envy your ignorance on this matter) Vladimir Putin. [..] This president is facilitating acts of military violence and dangerous escalations around the world; anyone who isn’t relieved by the possibility of one powder keg being defused in that rampage actually has a lot more faith in Trump’s competence than they’re pretending to.

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Easy pickings.

Blackstone Becomes Biggest Hotel & Property Owner in Spain (WS)

Private equity firm Blackstone, the undisputed king of property funds, continues to bet big on global real estate. In the last week it raised $9.4 billion for Asian real estate. It was also given the green light to acquire Spain’s biggest real estate investment fund (REIT), Hispania, for €1.9 billion. The move, after its prior acquisitions, will cement its position as Spain’s biggest hotel owner and fully private landlord. Hispania’s 46 hotels, added to Blackstone’s other hotels, will turn the PE firm into Spain’s largest hotelier with almost 17,000 rooms, far ahead of Meliá (almost 11,000), H10 (more than 10,000) and Hoteles Globales (just over 9,000).

It took Blackstone just three moves to become market leader. First, it acquired the hotel group HI Partners from struggling Spanish lender Banco Sabadell for €630 million in October 2017. Then, a month ago, it bought 29.5% of the hotel chain NH Hoteles, which is currently in the hands of the Chinese conglomerate HNA. Now, by raising its stake in Hispania from 16.75% to 100%, it will take up a dominant position in one of the world’s biggest tourist markets. With this deal, it will also expand its residential property empire in Spain. Blackstone has over 100,000 real estate assets controlled via dozens of companies. Those assets include a huge portfolio of impaired real estate assets, including defaulted mortgages and real estate-owned assets (REOs).

Blackstone also owns 1,800 social housing units, which it acquired from Madrid City Hall in a controversial deal brokered by the son of former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar and former Madrid mayor Ana Botella. Blackstone paid €202 million for the apartments in 2013; they are now estimated to be worth €660 million — a 227% return in just five year! Since its purchase of the properties, Blackstone has hiked rents on the flats by 49%. Those who can’t pay have been evicted. Blackstone also played a starring role in one of the world’s biggest real estate operations of 2017, in which it payed €5.1 billion for the defaulted loans Banco Santander inherited from its shotgun-acquisition of Banco Popular.

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“..a dramatic drop in the number of Japanese properties available via Airbnb, from more than 60,000 this spring to just 1,000 on the eve of the law’s introduction.”

‘Tourism Pollution’: Japanese Crackdown Costs Airbnb $10 Million (G.)

It has become a familiar scene: tourists in rented kimonos posing for photographs in front of a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. They and other visitors have brought valuable tourist dollars to the city and other locations across Japan. But now the country’s former capital is on the frontline of a battle against “tourism pollution” that has already turned locals against visitors in cities across the world such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam. The increasingly fraught relationship between tourists and their Japanese hosts has spread to the short-stay rental market. On Friday a new law comes into effect that requires property owners to register with the government before they can legally make their homes available through Airbnb and other websites.

The restriction has caused the number of available properties to plummet and has cost the US-based company millions of dollars. Thanks to government campaigns, the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has soared since the end of a flat period caused by a strong yen and radiation fears in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. A record 28.7 million people visited last year, an increase of 250% since 2012. Almost seven million were from China, with visitors from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong Thailand and the US taking the next five spots. By 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games, the government hopes the number will have risen to 40 million.

[..] Under the new private lodging law, which was supposed to address a legal grey area surrounding short-term rentals – known as minpaku – properties can be rented out for a maximum of 180 days a year, and local authorities are permitted to impose additional restrictions. The result has been a dramatic drop in the number of Japanese properties available via Airbnb, from more than 60,000 this spring to just 1,000 on the eve of the law’s introduction. The legislation has forced the firm to cancel reservations for guests planning to stay in unregistered homes after Friday and to compensate clients to the tune of about $10m.


A sign in Kyoto cautions against touching geishas, taking selfies, littering, sitting on fences and eating and smoking on the street. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

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Surprise!

Greeks Are Least Satisfied In The EU (K.)

Greece is the least satisfied nation in the European Union, according to a Eurobarometer survey published Thursday. More specifically, the survey, conducted between March 17 and 28, showed that just 52% of Greeks said they were satisfied with their lives, compared to a 83% average for the 28-member bloc. Only 35% of Greeks surveyed said they were satisfied with the financial situation of their households, compared to 71% across the EU. A staggering 98% said the state of the country’s economy is bad while one in two Greeks said the country’s financial crisis is not over yet and that it will deteriorate even further. As for the country’s general situation, 94% said it is negative. Just 6% said the general situation was positive compared to the 51% average for EU member-states.

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Even turkeys?!

Turkey: Even Birds Need Our Consent To Fly In The Aegean (K.)

With Greece featuring prominently in Turkey’s election campaigning, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu raised the tension a notch again Thursday, warning that not even a bird will fly over the Aegean without Ankara’s permission. Responding to criticism by Turkish ultra-nationalists that 18 islands have been “lost” to Greece in recent years, Cavusoglu said that since the crisis over the Imia islets in 1996 there have been no changes in the legal status of the Aegean. “Not only during our own rule, but before that there has been no change in the status of the Aegean. We will not allow this. Even in the case of research we will not give permission, not even to a bird in the Aegean,” he said during an interview with a Turkish radio station.

He went on to say that Turkey will make no concessions in the Aegean and Cyprus, and that Ankara will also begin gas exploration “around” the Eastern Mediterranean island. “We also have a drill,” he said. Turkey has vowed to stop Cyprus from drilling for gas and oil in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), insisting there can be no development of the island’s natural resources without the participation of the Turkish Cypriots in the island’s Turkish-occupied north. “In the last few months we have prevented drilling and we drove the Italians away. We will not allow anyone to take away the rights of Turkish Cypriots,” he said. Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said that Nicosia will not be dragged into the “climate of tension” that Turkey is cultivating. He cited international law and said that Cyprus has an established EEZ. Moreover, he said the US, Russia and the European Union have all backed Cyprus’s rights.

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Wonder what the fallout will be.

Comey et al Just Made It More Difficult For Mueller To Prosecute Trump (Hill)

James Comey once described his position in the Clinton investigation as being the victim of a “500-year flood.” The point of the analogy was that he was unwittingly carried away by events rather than directly causing much of the damage to the FBI. His “500-year flood” just collided with the 500-page report of the Justice Department inspector general (IG) Michael Horowitz. The IG sinks Comey’s narrative with a finding that he “deviated” from Justice Department rules and acted in open insubordination. Rather than portraying Comey as carried away by his biblical flood, the report finds that he was the destructive force behind the controversy. The import of the report can be summed up in Comeyesque terms as the distinction between flotsam and jetsam.

Comey portrayed the broken rules as mere flotsam, or debris that floats away after a shipwreck. The IG report suggests that this was really a case of jetsam, or rules intentionally tossed over the side by Comey to lighten his load. Comey’s jetsam included rules protecting the integrity and professionalism of his agency, as represented by his public comments on the Clinton investigation. The IG report concludes, “While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”

The report will leave many unsatisfied and undeterred. Comey went from a persona non grata to a patron saint for many Clinton supporters. Comey, who has made millions of dollars with a tell-all book portraying himself as the paragon of “ethical leadership,” continues to maintain that he would take precisely the same actions again. Ironically, Comey, fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and others, by their actions, just made it more difficult for special counsel Robert Mueller to prosecute Trump for obstruction. There is now a comprehensive conclusion by career investigators that Comey violated core agency rules and undermined the integrity of the FBI. In other words, there was ample reason to fire James Comey.

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Many heads will roll at the Bureau.

A Closer Look At Extreme FBI Bias Revealed In OIG Report (ZH)

As we digest and unpack the DOJ Inspector General’s 500-page report on the FBI’s conduct during the Hillary Clinton email investigation “matter,” damning quotes from the OIG’s findings have begun to circulate, leaving many to wonder exactly how Inspector General Michael Horowitz was able to conclude: “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed” We’re sorry, that just doesn’t comport with reality whatsoever. And it really feels like the OIG report may have had a different conclusion at some point.

Just read IG Horowitz’s own assessment that “These texts are “Indicative of a biased state of mind but even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the Presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” Of course, today’s crown jewel is a previously undisclosed exchange between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in which Page asks “(Trump’s) not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” to which Strzok replies “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Nevermind the fact that the FBI Director, who used personal emails for work purposes, tasked Strzok, who used personal emails for work purposes, to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of personal emails for work purposes. Of course, we know it goes far deeper than that…

The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel also had plenty to say in a Twitter thread:
1) Don’t believe anyone who claims Horowitz didn’t find bias. He very carefully says that he found no “documentary” evidence that bias produced “specific investigatory decisions.” That’s different
2) It means he didn’t catch anyone doing anything so dumb as writing down that they took a specific step to aid a candidate. You know, like: “Let’s give out this Combetta immunity deal so nothing comes out that will derail Hillary for President.”
3) But he in fact finds bias everywhere. The examples are shocking and concerning, and he devotes entire sections to them. And he very specifically says in the summary that they “cast a cloud” on the entire “investigation’s credibility.” That’s pretty damning.
4) Meanwhile this same cast of characters who the IG has now found to have made a hash of the Clinton investigation and who demonstrate such bias, seamlessly moved to the Trump investigation. And we’re supposed to think they got that one right?
5) Also don’t believe anyone who says this is just about Comey and his instances of insubordination. (Though they are bad enough.) This is an indictment broadly of an FBI culture that believes itself above the rules it imposes on others.
6) People failing to adhere to their recusals (Kadzik/McCabe). Lynch hanging with Bill. Staff helping Comey conceal details of presser from DOJ bosses. Use of personal email and laptops. Leaks. Accepting gifts from media. Agent affairs/relationships.
7)It also contains stunning examples of incompetence. Comey explains that he wasn’t aware the Weiner laptop was big deal because he didn’t know Weiner was married to Abedin? Then they sit on it a month, either cuz it fell through cracks (wow) or were more obsessed w/Trump
8) And I can still hear the echo of the howls from when Trump fired Comey. Still waiting to hear the apologies now that this report has backstopped the Rosenstein memo and the obvious grounds for dismissal.

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