Aug 082019
 


Piet Mondriaan New York City I 1942

 

Globalization As We Know It Will Not Survive Trump (G.)
The Technological Revolution Devours its Children (Dmitry Orlov)
Donald Trump More Popular Today Than In 2016 (Raw)
New York Times Stock Price Has Soared During Trump’s Presidency (R.)
MMT May Be Democrats’ Economic Cure, But Only Trump Got The Memo (R.)
New Rebel Bid To Halt No-Deal Brexit Amid Fury At PM’s Enforcer (G.)
Deal Or No Deal? It’s Not Really Up To Dominic Cummings (G.)
The Super-Rich Have Made Britain Into A Nation Of Losers (G.)
Airlines Complain Boeing’s Production Standards ‘Way Below Acceptable’ (BI)
An Open Invitation to Tyranny (PCR)
Chelsea Manning Jailed For a YEAR For Refusing To Testify Against Assange (RT)
Tightening Nickel Supply Threatens Electric Vehicle Boom (SH)
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (G.)
Explosion of Toxic Pesticide Use Causes Insect Apocalypse in US (CD)

 

 

“And That’s A Good Thing..”

Globalization As We Know It Will Not Survive Trump (G.)

The significance of the trade war between China and the US goes well beyond the impact of tit-for-tat tariffs, or which of two self-styled strongmen wins the bragging rights. As was the case in the 1930s, the seemingly inexorable drift towards protectionism is part of a deeper crisis of the international status quo. When Beijing this week accused the US of “deliberately destroying the international order”, it was really saying that US hegemony will no longer go unchallenged. Globalisation as we have known it is coming to an end and that’s by no means unwelcome.

Hailed as the ultimate in human progress, a model based on loosening the controls on capital and the construction of global supply chains has spawned recurrent financial crises, fostered corrosive inequality and worsened the climate emergency. True, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in the past 25 years, but most of them live in a country – China – that has kept the market at arm’s-length. The world’s stock markets see things differently. They tremble every time Donald Trump tweets a paean to protectionism. Likewise, multinational corporations fret about the possible damage that trade barriers might cause to global supply chains. It is clear that those who have done best out of globalisation tend to be the rich and powerful, and they are not going to give up their privileges without a fight. Nothing in this is new.

Throughout history there have been successive waves of globalisation followed by a backlash when the model over-reached itself. This is one of those occasions and all the ingredients are in place for a struggle between the defenders of the status quo and those who say that recent trends in politics, technology and the climate point to the need for a new world order focused more on local solutions, stronger nation states and a reformed international system. It’s quite a stretch to imagine that Trump has this in mind when he is bashing China, but the economic crisis of the 1930s – of which protectionism was one part – led eventually, albeit after the war, to reforms that made the world a sounder and safer place.


Illustration: Thomas Pullin

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“..once your savings are depleted and your debts are maxed out, you are cast out into the howling wilderness roamed by various troglodytes—those the information revolution has already eaten as well as those who were never on the menu.”

The Technological Revolution Devours its Children (Dmitry Orlov)

As the famous movie quote goes, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker” (From John Dahl’s 1988 film Rounders). Another famous quote, all the way back from the French Revolution, is “The revolution, like Saturn, devours its own children” (said by Danton at his trial). If you can’t spot the resource for your next technological revolution, then you are the resource. Look at all the previous technological revolutions. In each case, a new technology opened up for exploitation a new, superabundant resource: agriculture—arable land; mechanical spinning and weaving—water power; steam engine and steelmaking—coal; internal combustion engine—oil; artificial intelligence-based robonanobiotronics—still oil?

Sorry, that’s no longer overabundant by any stretch of the imagination. (If you said “renewable energy” then think again: wind turbines, solar panels and battery banks can’t be made or maintained without oil and natural gas.) Technology without a superabundant resource it can tap into is as useful as a spoon if your bowl is empty. The logic is simple: spot the resource; if you can’t, it’s probably you. Let’s focus on what’s supposed to be the main pillar of the next technological revolution: information technology. Most of us have smartphones, laptops, store our data in the cloud and make use of abundant and free information resources—all the free apps you want, free blogging, free Youtube videos, etc. But what new resource has all this technology opened up for you, the user?

The hardware costs you money (the average iPhone now costs around 800 USD) and the time you spend fiddling around with it is subtracted from all the other, potentially useful and gainful activities. You could try arguing that having an iPhone makes you more efficient because you have all the information and communications technology you could possibly need right at your fingertips. That point is hard to deny. I recently recorded a radio interview for a radio station in upstate New York while strolling about among the potato blossoms on my field in the Novgorod region of Russia via the internet and a 4G connection via a tower in the neighboring village. That’s nothing short of miraculous, and it’s certainly efficient (my smartphone is 7 years old, fully amortized a long time ago and still as good as new now that I’ve replaced every single mechanical component, sometimes twice). But is it effective?

The smartphones are generally effective in making their users spend money that they may or may not have on things they may or may not need. All of the free access to information is paid for by collecting data on users (spying, basically) and using it to create targeted ads that turn users into online shoppers. Everything is highly customized: women look at pictures of shoes; men look at pictures of power tools. Both the shoes and the power tools, if purchased, will be used a few times a year at most, but the money will be gone forever. The limiting factor here, of course, is the resource, which is you: once your savings are depleted and your debts are maxed out, you are cast out into the howling wilderness roamed by various troglodytes—those the information revolution has already eaten as well as those who were never on the menu.

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Depends on who you ask.

Donald Trump More Popular Today Than In 2016 (Raw)

President Donald Trump’s administration has been mired in controversy after controversy, from his racist remarks to the Mueller report–which stopped short of clearing him of obstruction of justice. His policies, such as child separation at the border and his trade wars with China, are divisive. Yet, new numbers seem to show that he’s actually more popular today than he was in 2016, according to polling expert Nate Cohn. “The share of Americans who say they have a favorable view of him has increased significantly since the 2016 election,” Cohn writes. “And over the last few months, some of the highest-quality public opinion polls, though not all, showed the president’s job approval rating — a different measure from personal favorability — had inched up to essentially match the highest level of his term.”

This doesn’t guarantee Trump re-election. “The increase in his support since 2016, and the possibility that it continues to move higher, does not necessarily make him a favorite to win re-election. His job approval ratings remain well beneath 50 percent, and have never eclipsed it.” It should be noted that Cohn is relying on two polls, Gallup and YouGov, which show that he is more popular today than in 2016. And according to the website fivethirtyeight.com, which aggregates polling data, only 42.2 percent of Americans polled approve of Donald Trump, while 53.1 disapprove.

But, Trump’s surge in popularity since 2016 is clearly something his democratic challengers need to keep in mind. Of course, Democrats might benefit from a more popular candidate than they had in 2016,” Cohn writes. “Hillary Clinton was an unusually unpopular candidate, surpassed only by Mr. Trump in this regard in the modern era of polling. But an analysis that freezes the president’s standing in 2016 but assumes an improvement for the Democratic nominee would be misleading.”

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Cui bono. Inventing Russiagate out of thin air has paid off handsomely.

New York Times Stock Price Has Soared During Trump’s Presidency (R.)

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore concludes his “Apocalypse Now” soliloquy about the smell of napalm in the morning wistfully: “Someday this war’s gonna end.” The remark suggests the officer played by Robert Duvall is enjoying the conflict in Vietnam. Despite some recent friendly fire, New York Times commander-in-chief Mark Thompson could be forgiven for feeling similarly about his newspaper’s combat with U.S. President Donald Trump. Few companies have so directly benefitted from Trump’s tumultuous first term in office as the Times. Thanks to a boom in digital-subscription sales linked to the paper’s aggressive coverage of the administration’s many foibles, its shares have outperformed those of nearly every company investors pegged as those likely to suffer or benefit from a Trump presidency.

From around $11 at the time of his election, Times stock has soared to more than $35. That trumped the runup in Wall Street firms, such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, whose bottom lines were fattened by tax cuts. Times shares even dusted those of Facebook, the bête noire of all traditional publishers. As of Tuesday, the Manhattan-based company’s $5 billion market value was greater than the combined worth of America’s two biggest for-profit prison operators, whose fortunes were meant to soar under a law-and-order presidency. This background helps in interpreting a set of lousy second-quarter results, and a kerfuffle this week over a poorly conceived front-page headline. The Times added 197,000 net new digital-only subscriptions – bringing total subscribers to 4.7 million, nearly halfway to its 2025 goal of 10 million.

A shortfall in revenue, though, and a warning of greater challenges ahead, took nearly 20% off the Times share price on Wednesday. That came days after amending a headline related to the president’s response to two mass shootings over the weekend failed to stop a barrage of criticism, much of it from Trump’s Democratic opponents, and calls on social media to cancel subscriptions. The top-line miss had nothing to do with the headline skirmish, whose impact would appear in this quarter. But they are not unrelated. The risk for the Times is that any whiff of normalizing its coverage of the president might damage the brand that has fueled its subscription drive since 2016. One dopey headline is survivable, so long as the war shows no sign of ending.

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MMT is not going to go away.

MMT May Be Democrats’ Economic Cure, But Only Trump Got The Memo (R.)

From her home overlooking Setauket Harbor on Long Island’s North Shore, a motorboat bobbing at the dock, Stephanie Kelton hopes to revolutionize how the U.S. government manages the economy. It isn’t always a pleasant task. A key figure in the “Modern Monetary Theory” economic camp, her assertions that the federal government could spend freely for things like a jobs guarantee or Green New Deal without risking runaway inflation, a debt default or a clubbing by global creditors have been Twitter-bombed by mainstream economists as left-wing free lunchism. Proponents of MMT have been called fanciful for the notion that the U.S. Congress, which typically struggles to pass an annual budget, could with smart budgeting and regulation take over the Federal Reserve’s job of controlling inflation.


And even Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University in New York and an adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, is a bit thrown by the fact that the person who appears closest to accepting her argument is President Donald Trump, whose Republican Party has traditionally touted an adherence to fiscal discipline. Trump and Republicans in Congress, she said, “did not allow perceived budget constraints to stand in their way” of a $1.5 trillion tax cut package which was passed in late 2017 and pushed the federal debt beyond $22 trillion. Democrats now seem ready to get in the game. Lawmakers from both parties recently reached a federal spending deal that is expected to raise the federal deficit by $2 trillion over the next two years, and Democrats lining up to run against Trump in 2020 have largely avoided talk of fiscal restraint so far in the campaign.

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Told ya: “One Conservative insider said that Cummings had in effect demanded control over Johnson’s operation as his price for entering government..”

New Rebel Bid To Halt No-Deal Brexit Amid Fury At PM’s Enforcer (G.)

Rebel MPs are working on a plan to thwart Boris Johnson pursuing a no-deal Brexit on 31 October that involves forcing parliament to sit through the autumn recess, amid growing outrage about the power and influence of his controversial aide, Dominic Cummings. The cross-party group of MPs is looking at legislative options with mounting urgency because of the hardline tactics of Cummings, who one Conservative insider described as running a “reign of terror” in No 10 aimed at achieving Brexit on 31 October at any cost. Three MPs have told the Guardian that one method under discussion is for members to amend the motion needed for parliament to break for party conferences in mid-September.

This could give MPs another three weeks of sitting time to stop a no-deal and potentially open the door for days to be set aside for rebels to control parliamentary business. The ultimate aim would be to pass a bill forcing the government to request an extension to article 50 from Brussels. Since joining Johnson’s administration, Cummings has told government advisers that No 10 stands ready to do whatever is necessary to bring about Brexit on 31 October – deal or no deal. This could include proroguing parliament, or ignoring the result of any no-confidence vote in Johnson and calling a “people v politicians” general election – to be held after the UK had left the EU.

However, it is understood that alarm is mounting within No 10, among some special advisers and Tory MPs about the scale of Cummings’ influence and willingness to defy parliament. One Conservative insider said that Cummings had in effect demanded control over Johnson’s operation as his price for entering government and proceeded to sideline more moderate advisers, such as ex-City Hall stalwart Sir Eddie Lister, while installing a team of “true believers” in hard Brexit largely from the former Vote Leave campaign.

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Are you sure?

Deal Or No Deal? It’s Not Really Up To Dominic Cummings (G.)

Yet it would be as much of a mistake to dismiss Cummings as to exaggerate his mastery. He has certainly brought two weeks of focus to the Johnson government by making the Halloween deadline a non-negotiable centrepiece. He has changed the political conversation from Brexit or people’s vote to deal or no deal. Depending on events in the early autumn, he is clearly gearing up for a possible general election shortly afterwards. But Cummings does not control events. He is not Prospero, able to conjure up a tempest that delivers his enemies into his hands. He is having a good run, but he is helped by the most irresponsible parliamentary summer recess of modern times.

Even now MPs should be aiming to get back to Westminster and hold the government to account before the planned return on 3 September. They should scrap this year’s party conferences too. Cummings is also only one player. The idea that he pulls all the strings is lazy and wrong. The Brexit outcome depends on a tangled web of interests and influences beyond his control. These include everything from the role of the Queen to the hoarding of toilet rolls. In particular, it depends on events in the real economy, in parliament, in the courts, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Irish Republic, in the EU and in Johnson’s own head.

Those who take a Cummings-fixated view of the options find it is easier to forget this. They say the government’s aim is to crash out with no deal on 31 October and nothing will stand in the way. But that is not quite what Johnson and some of his ministers say. They say, still, that a deal is one possibility, perhaps a remote one, and that the UK government is even now looking for a deal with the EU in the next 12 weeks.

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“..people whose incomes sit a few zeroes above their value to society.”

The Super-Rich Have Made Britain Into A Nation Of Losers (G.)

Think of a football stadium. Not one of the vast caverns like Old Trafford or Wembley, but somewhere rather smaller and more bijou. Somewhere like Fulham’s Craven Cottage, which, once its new stand is completed, will pack in only about 30,000 fans. Now imagine this stadium of 30,000 souls rising up into the air and hovering unnoticed over central London. Thirty thousand men in late middle-age living the high life with the capital at their feet – and there, stuck way below on terra firma are their 66 million fellow Britons, tearing lumps out of each other. Congratulations: you’ve just pictured the central problem stalking the UK today. Not Brexit. Not the breakdown in civil debate. Not the dark money contaminating Westminster.

These are urgent and vitally important, but there is one big factor that forms a large part of the backdrop to all of them. It can be summed up by that gulf between a mid-sized football stadium of super-rich men in their 50s, and the rest of us spread out across our suburbs, our towns, our unpretty stretches of urban sprawl. That football stadium represents the top 0.1% of earners in the UK. To join their ranks, numbering just 31,000, you’d need a taxable income of at least £650,000 a year – £12,500 per week. In less than a fortnight, you would easily pull in more than the average Briton makes as taxable income over a whole year. But then, those drudges are the earthbound while you, as the old song out of Mary Poppins puts it, live in an entirely different realm: “Up to the highest height! … Up through the atmosphere! / Up where the air is clear!”

The stratospherically rich are among the subjects of a new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. An analysis of the tax returns of the highest earning Britons, it shows in uncompromising detail just how our money has ended up in fewer and fewer hands based in less and less of the country. Almost half the super-rich live in London and nearly 90% of them are men. What’s more, they often end up paying a lower tax rate than the pay-as-you-earn mugs like you and me. The generous breaks given by politicians to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and risk-taking are instead exploited by partners in City law firms and big accountancies and at hedge funds – people whose incomes sit a few zeroes above their value to society.

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It’s not just the 737 MAX. It’s Boeing itself.

Airlines Complain Boeing’s Production Standards ‘Way Below Acceptable’ (BI)

Airlines flying Boeing’s 787-10 Dreamliner have complained to the plane maker about “unacceptable” production mistakes and inconsistent quality. The problems center around Dreamliners built at Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina, factory, according to a report from The Post and Courier. Issues at the North Charleston plant were reported in April in a comprehensive New York Times investigation, which found evidence of shoddy production, poor oversight, and a culture that “made speed a priority over safety.” The report came a month after Boeing’s 737 Max jet was grounded worldwide after the second fatal crash in five months. The Department of Justice expanded an inquiry into the 737 Max to include issues at the North Charleston factory in June.


The new report surfaced complaints from a global cadre of airlines that fly the jet and have received orders from the South Carolina plant, one of two locations where the Dreamliner is assembled — other orders are built at Boeing’s Everett, Washington, factory. While the issues are not limited to either the South Carolina plant or the 787 — similar problems have been raised in Everett with both 787s and military tankers — the complaints surfaced by The Post and Courier focus on recent deliveries of Boeing’s newest and largest variant of the Dreamliner, the 787-10. It was not immediately clear whether the airlines made similar complaints about other variants of the plane, including the 787-8 and 787-9.

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Paul Craig Roberts on an FBI document that talks about “official” and “prevailing” explanations of events.

“What the FBI report does, intentionally or unintentionally, is to define a conspiracist as a person who doubts official explanations.”

An Open Invitation to Tyranny (PCR)

The FBI document says that conspiracy theories “are usually at odds with official or prevailing explanations of events.” Note the use of “official” and “prevailing.” Official explanations are explanations provided by governments. Prevailing explanations are the explanations that the media repeats. Examples of official and prevailing explanations are: Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Iranian nukes, Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the official explanation by the US government for the destruction of Libya. If a person doubts official explanations such as these, that person is a “conspiracy theorist.”

Official and prevailing explanations do not have to be consistent with facts. It is enough that they are official and prevailing. Whether or not they are true is irrelevant. Therefore, a person who stands up for the truth can be labeled a conspiracy theorist, monitored, and perhaps pre-emptively arrested. [..] Consider Russiagate. Here we have an alleged conspiracy between Trump and Russia that was the official prevailing explanation. Yet, to believe in the Russiagate conspiracy did not make one a conspiracy theorist as this conspiracy was the official prevailing explanation. But to doubt the Russiagate conspiracy did make one a conspiracy theorist.

What the FBI report does, intentionally or unintentionally, is to define a conspiracist as a person who doubts official explanations. In other words, it is a way of preventing any accountability of government. Whatever the government says, no matter how obvious a lie, will have to be accepted as fact or we will be put on a list to be monitored for preemptive arrest. In effect, the FBI’s document reduces the First Amendment, that is, free speech, to the right to repeat official and prevailing explanations. Any other speech is a conspiratorial belief that can lead to the commission of a crime.

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The judge says she can pay the fines, but he’s the only one who thinks that.

Chelsea Manning Jailed For a YEAR For Refusing To Testify Against Assange (RT)

Refusal to testify against WikiLeaks is costing whistleblower Chelsea Manning over $400,000 in fines and another year in jail, after a federal judge ruled that she must pay for what he called contempt of court. Manning was jailed for refusing the subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury seeking additional charges against WikiLeaks and its co-founder Julian Assange, currently imprisoned in the UK. To compel testimony, the government also fined the whistleblower $500 a day, going up to $1000 after 60 days. Judge Anthony Trenga of the federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia shot down Manning’s motion to reconsider sanctions on Monday, the final chance to contest the steep fines.

After a review of “a substantial number of financial records documenting her assets, liabilities, and current and future earnings,” the court found “that Ms. Manning has the ability to comply with the Court’s financial sanctions,” Trenga wrote in his ruling. Though Manning is now deeply in debt and unable to work while in jail, the judge nonetheless concluded the fines were payable and therefore amounted to “coercive” sanctions allowed to compel cooperation or testimony, rather than being a purely punitive measure. “I am disappointed but not at all surprised. The government and the judge must know by now that this doesn’t change my position one bit,” Manning said in response.

She insisted that the fines were in fact punitive, because her inability and unwillingness to pay rendered any “coercive” aspect moot. She has already spent 147 days behind bars and owes $38,000 in fines as of August 7. If she remains jailed for another year, Manning could end up owing $441,000 to the government.

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Not everything scales up.

Tightening Nickel Supply Threatens Electric Vehicle Boom (SH)

For Tesla and its chief competitors in the race for global domination of electric vehicle sales, it ain’t all about lithium ion. There are other valuable metals needed to make the battery packs do what’s asked of them, with nickel being essential. Tesla and its battery producer partners, and other automakers and their suppliers, are worried about the longer-term supply of nickel according to a new study by BloombergNEF. The study predicts that EV makers will be driving demand for nickel about 16 times to 1.8 million tons in the next years. Class-one nickel, a high-purity material used in batteries, is expected to see demand greatly outstrip supply in the next few years. That will be fueled by meeting the large Chinese EV market, and other global markets where demand is expected to grow.


That need for class-one nickel will outstrip supply within five years, according to the study. One problem has been a lack of real investment in new mines for materials including nickel, Tesla’s global supply manager of battery metals, Sarah Maryssael, said at a Washington meeting in May. That could drive up prices as battery demand increases greatly. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is concerned about having enough economically viable — and available — metal to continue meeting its growing electric car demand. That will take off even more as the company taps into China’s booming markets. “They are getting ready to have the new factory in China, and are at full capacity in North America,’’ Peter Bradford, chief executive officer of nickel producer Independence Group NL, said. “They recognize the biggest risk from a strategic supply point of view is nickel.’’

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Kind of mad that this didn’t stop America from sending its young people to be killed and maimed in more jungles and deserts.

Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (G.)

‘Someday this war’s gonna end,” is the sage comment from surf-crazed Wagner enthusiast Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, brusquely played by Robert Duvall. In fact, when Francis Ford Coppola’s grandiose epic masterpiece Apocalypse Now was first unveiled in 1979, the Vietnam war had only ended four years previously, and the succeeding Cambodian-Vietnamese war (where the film’s climax is set) was in full swing. Coppola’s bad trip into south-east Asia was co-written by John Milius with narration written by Michael Herr. It was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, Herr’s own Vietnam reportage-memoir Dispatches and maybe at one further remove by Rudyard Kipling’s lines about the US taking up the white man’s imperial burden.


It was famously an ordeal for all concerned. The production involved a filming expedition in the Philippines that felt hardly less colossal and traumatic to the participants than the actual war, though it became commonplace in Hollywood’s Vietnam for the anguish of American soldiers, not that of the Vietnamese people themselves, to be seen as important. (The nearest that Vietnamese people get to actual importance in Apocalypse Now is the four South Vietnamese intelligence officers, executed by ColKurtz as Communist spies, whose ID cards we briefly see.) Like Lawrence of Arabia, moreover, this is a film without women – or mostly.


Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Photograph: Allstar/United Artists

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“The study found that American agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to insects over the past 25 years and pinned 92 percent of the toxicity increase on neonicotinoids..”

Explosion of Toxic Pesticide Use Causes Insect Apocalypse in US (CD)

The rapid and dangerous decline of the insect population in the United States—often called an “insect apocalypse” by scientists—has largely been driven by an increase in the toxicity of U.S. agriculture caused by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS One. The study found that American agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to insects over the past 25 years and pinned 92 percent of the toxicity increase on neonicotinoids, which were banned by the European Union last year due to the threat they pose to bees and other pollinators. Kendra Klein, Ph.D., study co-author and senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, said the United States must follow Europe’s lead and ban the toxic pesticides before it is too late.


“It is alarming that U.S. agriculture has become so much more toxic to insect life in the past two decades,” Klein said in a statement. “We need to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides to protect bees and other insects that are critical to biodiversity and the farms that feed us.” “Congress must pass the Saving America’s Pollinators Act to ban neonicotinoids,” Klein added. “In addition, we need to rapidly shift our food system away from dependence on harmful pesticides and toward organic farming methods that work with nature rather than against it.” According to National Geographic, neonics “are used on over 140 different agricultural crops in more than 120 countries. They attack the central nervous system of insects, causing overstimulation of their nerve cells, paralysis, and death.” With insect populations declining due to neonic use, “the numbers of insect-eating birds have plummeted in recent decades,” National Geographic reported. “There’s also been a widespread decline in nearly all bird species.”

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Amazon: ~2,700,000 sq mi (7,000,000 km2)

Contiguous US: ~3,100,000 sq mi (8,000,000 km2)

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 132019
 


Pablo Picasso Weeping woman 1937

 

Robert Mueller’s Testimony Extended, Postponed By One Week (G.)
Trump Organization Probe Likely to End With No Charges (CNN)
Nemesis Rising (Kunstler)
Epstein Accused Of Paying Witnesses $350K In Hush Money (ZH)
Wall Street Banks Bailing On Troubled US Farm Sector (R.)
Fed Rate Cut Would Ease Pressure On China’s Central Bank (CNBC)
About Half Of China’s Loans To Developing Countries Are ‘Hidden’ (CNBC)
CIA Invokes WikiLeaks in Push For Expansion Of Secrecy Law (SP)
CIA Torture Unredacted (Bureau)
US To Hold Hearing On French Tax On Big Tech (R.)
EPA Expands Use Of Pesticide Considered ‘Very Highly Toxic’ To Bees (Hill)
Meeting the last Malaysian Sumatran Rhino on Earth (Lack)

 

 

The circus comes to town one week later but with a much longer show and added attractions. This will be nuts.

Robert Mueller’s Testimony Extended, Postponed By One Week (G.)

The special counsel Robert Mueller will testify before Congress about the findings of the Russia investigation on 24 July, one week later than his appearance was originally planned, under an agreement that gives lawmakers more time to question him. Mueller had been scheduled to report on the inquiry into Russian election meddling and ties between Russia and the campaign of Donald Trump on 17 July. But lawmakers in both parties complained that the short length of the hearings would not allow enough time for all members to ask questions. Under the new arrangement, Mueller will testify for an extended period of time, three hours instead of two, before the House judiciary committee. He will then testify before the House intelligence committee in a separate hearing.

The two committees said in a statement that all members of both committees will be able to question him. In the joint statement, the panels said the longer hearing “will allow the American public to gain further insight into the special counsel’s investigation and the evidence uncovered regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power”. Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won’t go beyond what is in his 448-page report. But Democrats have been determined to highlight its contents for Americans who they believe have not read it. They want to extract information from the former special counsel and spotlight what they say are his most damaging findings against Trump.

Democrats are expected to ask Mueller about his conclusions, including that he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice after detailing several episodes in which Trump tried to influence the investigation. Mueller also said there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Kremlin. One thing judiciary members want to focus on in questioning Mueller is whether Trump would have been charged with a crime were he not president. Mueller said at the news conference that charging a president with a crime was “not an option” because of longstanding justice department policy. But Democrats want to know more about how he made that decision and when.

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Michael Cohen couldn’t deliver.

Trump Organization Probe Likely to End With No Charges (CNN)

A federal investigation into whether Trump Organization executives violated campaign-finance laws appears to be wrapping up without charges being filed, according to people familiar with the matter. For months, federal prosecutors in New York have examined whether company officials broke the law, including in their effort to reimburse Michael Cohen for hush-money payments he made to women alleging affairs with his former boss, President Donald Trump.
In recent weeks, however, their investigation has quieted, the people familiar with the inquiry said, and prosecutors now don’t appear poised to charge any Trump Organization executives in the probe that stemmed from the case against Cohen.


In January, one month after Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, prosecutors requested interviews with executives at the company, CNN reported. But prosecutors never followed up on their initial request, people familiar with the matter said, and the interviews never took place. Meanwhile, there has been no contact between the Manhattan US Attorney’s office and officials at the Trump Organization in more than five months, one person familiar with the matter said.

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“..the obliteration of moral and ethical boundaries by the people who ended up running things in this fretful moment of US history.”

Nemesis Rising (Kunstler)

Where are Clintons, these dog days of summer? The Hamptons? Salty, sunny Martha’s Vineyard? Under a rock somewhere in the Chappaqua woods? Fate is turning in more than one uncomfortable way for the once-charmed couple of Boomerdom. There is, of course, the freshly re-issued Jeffrey Epstein underage sex scandal, come ‘round again with a vengeance this time because there are fewer Clinton partisans left in the Department of Justice where the matter has festered for decades like a fistula slowly seeping its rot through the body politic. The vengeance emanates from the Clinton’s nemesis, the uppity Golden Golem of Greatness who dared to “steal” Hillary’s place in the Oval Office (and history).

To put it plainly, Mr. Trump had enough of the two-year-plus persecution he endured from the Clinton-inspired Mueller investigation into the Clinton-propagated Russia Collusion flim-flam. And having patiently survived this audacious, seditious effrontery, is now out to squash the Clintons like a pair of palmetto bugs. [..] And now there is the Epstein matter, which threatens not only former president Bill Clinton, but a cosmos of political, financial, and entertainment “stars” in countless ugly incidents that involve a kind of personal corruption that has no political context but says an awful lot about the obliteration of moral and ethical boundaries by the people who ended up running things in this fretful moment of US history. President Clinton has already kicked off this debacle by lying to the media about the number of rides he took on Mr. Epstein’s notorious airplane.

I voted for Bill Clinton twice. When they came up from the backwater of Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1992, they seemed like the fresh, bright antidote to twelve years of fusty Reaganism with the GHW Bush moldy cherry-on-top. Governor Bill, so glib and charming. Tall and catnip to the ladies, too! And almost immediately he was in deep shit over that part of his act, but he wiggled through it all with the aid of his perky, stalwart wife and partner, who defended him sedulously on nationwide TV. (America had never even heard about her misadventures on the Watergate Committee, where, age 27, she gained a reputation for being less than honest.) And that was followed by the first instance of Hillary moneygrubbing when she turned a few thousand bucks into a six-figure bonanza almost overnight in a wired commodities trade.

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There is so much ugliness still hidden in this. Will we ever know?

Epstein Accused Of Paying Witnesses $350K In Hush Money (ZH)

Federal prosecutors allege in a new court filing that Jeffrey Epstein may have engaged in witness tampering by paying off two potential witnesses days before the Miami Herald began publishing a series of explosive exposés about the registered sex offender and his victims. According to financial records, Epstein wired $350,000 to two ‘possible co-conspirators’ who could testify against him. $100,000 was wired from “Institution-1” to one person, while just three days later $250,000 was wired to another individual. Neither of the payments appear to be recurring based on five years of bank records. Is one of the co-conspirators Ghislaine Maxwell? The daughter of a British media barron, Maxwell was described by one Epstein accuser in a 2017 lawsuit as “the highest ranking employee” of his alleged enterprise, in which she was said to have managed both Epstein’s household and his sex life.

Via the Wall Street Journal: “Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of a British media baron, was a fixture for years in Manhattan’s social scene, often written about in tabloids for her close ties to British royalty and to a mysterious financier named Jeffrey Epstein. But Mr. Epstein’s arrest last week on sex-trafficking charges has brought renewed attention to her alleged role as one of his top aides. Ms. Maxwell, 57 years old, has been accused by three women in affidavits and other court filings of recruiting young women for Mr. Epstein and training them for sex. Two of the women have alleged that Ms. Maxwell, together with Mr. Epstein, sexually assaulted them, according to the filings.

What’s more, “Juan Alessi, who said in one of the depositions that he served as the Palm Beach house manager from around 1992 through 2002, described a basket of sex toys in Ms. Maxwell’s bathroom closet. He said he would find them around when he cleaned up after visits from the young women,” according to the Journal.

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Only Big Ag deals with Wall Street.

Wall Street Banks Bailing On Troubled US Farm Sector (R.)

In the wake of the U.S. housing meltdown of the late 2000s, JPMorgan Chase & Co hunted for new ways to expand its loan business beyond the troubled mortgage sector. The nation’s largest bank found enticing new opportunities in the rural Midwest – lending to U.S. farmers who had plenty of income and collateral as prices for grain and farmland surged. JPMorgan grew its farm-loan portfolio by 76 percent, to $1.1 billion, between 2008 and 2015, according to year-end figures, as other Wall Street players piled into the sector. Total U.S. farm debt is on track to rise to $427 billion this year, up from an inflation-adjusted $317 billion a decade earlier and approaching levels seen in the 1980s farm crisis, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


But now – after years of falling farm income and an intensifying U.S.-China trade war – JPMorgan and other Wall Street banks are heading for the exits, according to a Reuters analysis of the farm-loan holdings they reported to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The agricultural loan portfolios of the nation’s top 30 banks fell by $3.9 billion, to $18.3 billion, between their peak in December 2015 and March 2019, the analysis showed. That’s a 17.5% decline.

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I meant to do that?!

Fed Rate Cut Would Ease Pressure On China’s Central Bank (CNBC)

A widely expected interest rate cut by the U.S. Federal Reserve would give China more breathing room in shoring up its slowing economy, some analysts said. Overnight, markets took Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s comments during the first of a two-day Congressional testimony as affirming expectations for easier monetary policy in the U.S. The S&P 500 briefly topped 3,000 for the first time, and Treasury yields edged lower. A looser monetary policy environment would reduce pressure on China’s central bank to ease monetary policy. Amid trade tensions with the U.S., China’s economy has struggled to gain momentum.


Private surveys released last week by Caixin showed services activity fell in June to its lowest since February, and the manufacturing sector contracted, after three months of expansion. Among several measures to support the economy over the last several months, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has made targeted attempts to lower financing costs to privately run enterprises, which account for the majority of the country’s economic growth and employment. “If the Fed does go ahead and cut rates, which I don’t think is a given … it simply means the PBoC has a little breathing room to see if the policies it has implemented have an impact on the real economy,” Hannah Anderson, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, told CNBC on Thursday by phone.

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“Between 2000 and 2017, other countries’ debt owed to China soared ten-fold, from less than $500 billion to more than $5 trillion..”

“..debt has increased on average from less than 1% of their GDP in 2015, to more than 15% in 2017..”

About Half Of China’s Loans To Developing Countries Are ‘Hidden’ (CNBC)

China’s lending to other countries has surged in the past decade, causing debt levels to jump dramatically, and as much as half of such debt to developing economies is “hidden,” a new study has found. Such “hidden” debt means that the borrowing isn’t reported to or recorded by official institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, or the Paris Club — a group of creditor nations. Between 2000 and 2017, other countries’ debt owed to China soared ten-fold, from less than $500 billion to more than $5 trillion — or from 1% of global economic output to more than 5%, according to the study from Germany-based think tank the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. “This has transformed China into the largest official creditor, easily surpassing the IMF or the World Bank,” the report’s researchers said.


The study, which looked at nearly 2,000 Chinese loans to 152 countries from 1949 to 2017, was undertaken by well-known debt expert Carmen Reinhart from Harvard University, as well as Kiel Institute’s Christoph Trebesch and Sebastian Horn. For 50 developing countries which have borrowed from China, that debt has increased on average from less than 1% of their GDP in 2015, to more than 15% in 2017, according to estimates by the study’s researchers. “Advanced and higher middle income countries tend to receive portfolio debt flows, via sovereign bond purchases of the People’s Bank of China, ” the report said. “As a result, many advanced countries have become highly indebted towards the Chinese government.”

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There’s Adam Schiff for you in all his glory. Watch for him in the Mueller hearings too.

CIA Invokes WikiLeaks in Push For Expansion Of Secrecy Law (SP)

When the CIA and other agencies in the United States government pushed for the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) in 1981, it was crafted to exclude “covert agents” who resided in the U.S. There was consideration by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of how the legislation might “chill or stifle public criticism of intelligence activities or public debate concerning intelligence policy.” More than three decades later, the CIA is apparently unsatisfied with the protections the bill granted “covert agents. It has enlisted a select group of senators and representatives to help expand the universe of individuals who are protected, making members of the press who cover intelligence matters more vulnerable to prosecution.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, was involved in adding language to expand the IIPA to the Intelligence Authorization Act moving through Congress. “Schiff is once again putting the interests of the intelligence agencies in concealing their misdeeds ahead of protecting the rights of ordinary Americans by criminalizing routine reporting by the press on national security issues and undermining congressional oversight in his Intelligence Authorization bill,” declared Daniel Schuman, who is the policy director for Demand Progress. Schuman added, “Schiff’s expansion of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act beyond all reason will effectively muzzle reporting on torture, mass surveillance, and other crimes against the American people—all at the request of the CIA. Schiff is clearly the resistance to the resistance, and he should drop this provision from his bill.”

The CIA put their specific request for what language they would like amended in writing and sent it to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Their request was essentially copied and pasted, with no changes, into the intelligence bill. “Undercover agency officers face ever-evolving threats, including cyber threats,” the CIA argued. “Particularly with the lengths organizations such as WikiLeaks are willing to go to obtain and release sensitive national security information, as well as incidents related to past agency programs, such as the RDI investigation [CIA torture report], the original congressional reasoning mentioned above for a narrow definition of ‘covert agent’ no longer remains valid.”

“This proposal would provide protection for all undercover agency officers by allowing for the prosecution of individuals responsible for disclosing the identities of those officers, regardless whether the undercover officer serves inside or outside of the United States,” the agency additionally stated. Schiff supports the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and shares the CIA’s view that WikiLeaks is a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” not a media organization. In 2018, when Assange was willing to speak with investigators about the Russia probe, he replied, “Our committee would be willing to interview Julian Assange when he is in U.S. custody, not before.”

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Do I want to read this report?

CIA Torture Unredacted (Bureau)

In December 2014, the Bureau, alongside The Rendition Project, began a major project to trace the history of the RDI programme. The impetus for our investigation came from the long-awaited publication of a report into CIA torture by the US Senate Select Intelligence Committee. The authors of this report had high-level access to internal CIA documents, which they mined to produce a damning assessment of the torture programme’s brutality, mismanagement and ineffectiveness. But they were compelled by the Obama administration, and by the CIA itself, to censor — “redact” — all parts of the report that could identify specific times and places where abuses had occurred.

This is important, because without being able to tie illegal activities to specific times and places, the quest for redress is hamstrung, and meaningful accountability — legal, public, historical — remains a mirage. The Senate report did offer a crucial insight, however: the first complete list of prisoners held in the CIA’s black sites. 119 names, each with a date of custody (redacted) and a record of how many days they were held (also partly redacted). In the days after the publication of the Senate report, we set to work reconstructing this list to reveal the hidden dates. Figuring out a date often meant that we could match it to a flight record; matching to a flight record meant that we could determine where a prisoner was brought from or sent to.

As we cross-correlated thousands of data points — from declassified government documents, footnotes in the Senate report, aviation data, records of corporate outsourcing of rendition flights, legal cases, media reporting and NGO investigations — the contours of the CIA’s programme of secret detention and torture began to emerge more clearly. Rather than just understanding certain individual histories, we could begin to discern the entire scope of the programme’s development. More than four years later, we’re publishing the results of our investigation in a 400-page report entitled CIA Torture Unredacted. It is the first time that the entirety of the CIA’s detention programme has been systematically revealed.

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“Other EU countries including Austria, Britain, Spain and Italy have also announced plans for their own digital taxes.”

US To Hold Hearing On French Tax On Big Tech (R.)

The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Office will hold a hearing on Aug 19 in its probe of France’s new planned tax on big technology companies, calling the proposal “unreasonable.” President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered an investigation into the tax, which could lead to the United States imposing new tariffs or other trade restrictions. USTR said in a public notice the levy was an “unreasonable tax policy.” The plan departs from tax norms because of “extraterritoriality; taxing revenue not income; and a purpose of penalizing particular technology companies for their commercial success,” it said. USTR added that statements by French officials suggest the tax will “amount to de facto discrimination against U.S. companies… while exempting smaller companies, particularly those that operate only in France.”


The tax is due to apply retroactively from the start of 2019. USTR said that calls into question the fairness of the tax. On Thursday, the French Senate approved the 3% levy that will apply to revenue from digital services earned in France by firms with more than 25 million euros in French revenue and 750 million euros ($845 million) worldwide. Other EU countries including Austria, Britain, Spain and Italy have also announced plans for their own digital taxes. They say a levy is needed because big, multinational internet companies such as Facebook and Amazon are currently able to book profits in low-tax countries like Ireland, no matter where the revenue originates. Political pressure to respond has been growing as local retailers in high streets and online have been disadvantaged.

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The crazies.

EPA Expands Use Of Pesticide Considered ‘Very Highly Toxic’ To Bees (Hill)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday it would allow for the expanded use of a pesticide it considers toxic to bees, a move that comes just days after the Trump administration said it was suspending data collection on bee populations. The pesticide known as sulfoxaflor will be permitted for use on certain crops for the first time, and in other areas that were prohibited under the Obama administration. The agency considers sulfoxaflor “very highly toxic” to bees. In a call with reporters to announce the decision, a top EPA official emphasized the agency’s research on the pesticide’s effects on bees and said the rule was designed with pollinators in mind.


“To reduce exposure to bees, the product label will have crop-specific restrictions and important pollinator protection language,” including limits on how close to bloom sulfoxaflor can be sprayed, the official said. But it may be difficult to monitor whether the regulations spare bees as intended. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week it was suspending one of the few remaining government data sets that monitor bee populations and loss. “At a time when honeybees and other pollinators are dying in greater numbers than ever before, Trump’s EPA decision to remove restrictions on yet another bee-killing pesticide is nothing short of reckless,” Earthjustice, which fought sulfoxaflor use in the 2015 suit, said in a statement Friday. “Scientists have long said pesticides like sulfoxaflor are the cause of the unprecedented colony collapse. Letting sulfoxaflor back on the market is dangerous for our food system, economy, and environment.”

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“..perhaps I will abstain from telling them of the heart-shattering, breath-snatching moment I gazed into the deep eyes of the last of a species, every sense trembling with anticipation.”

Meeting the last Malaysian Sumatran Rhino on Earth (Lack)

Deep set beady eyes peer from folds of thick leather skin. They close slowly in a leisurely, ponderous blink. Nostrils flare with each warm, damp exhalation, causing a slight rise of the stubby nasal horn that rests on those cavernous nostrils. I stare at this primitive, prehistoric creature which seems to have just trundled out of the Jurassic Period. Her skin is leather-thick, her face is topped by a firm horn and her species is over 20 million years old. She seems invincible. Somehow our soft-skinned species has managed to mangle her population down and down until today, when only one Malaysian Sumatran Rhino exists on earth. And there I stand looking into her eyes. She is called Iman. Iman means faith.

Faith is a funny concept when you stand looking at the very last individual of a species and your ears ring with her plaintive cries. Rather than feel faith in humanity, I felt a deep loss, a deep hopelessness. That was only after five minutes of meeting Iman. Yet behind me stood Dr Junaidi Payne and Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, who have been working on protecting the Sumatran Rhino in Sabah for almost their whole lives. They were there in 2017 when Puntung had to be euthanised. They were there in May this year when Tam, the last male, died. They will, most likely, be there when Iman breathes her last breath. The last breath of a species. They have front row seats of the sixth mass extinction, directed and produced wholly by humans.


Iman cannot be saved. It is the brutal yet undeniable truth that one day she will be gripped by illness or old age and will leave us. If I choose to have children, their world will be undoubtedly different to ours today. Perhaps they will cry at the abundance of life that has been ravaged by their ancestors. Perhaps they will listen to the story of the time I met Iman. But perhaps I will abstain from telling them of the heart-shattering, breath-snatching moment I gazed into the deep eyes of the last of a species, every sense trembling with anticipation. Rhino and girl. We were two, yet we were alike. Our hearts both pounding as we watched each other, our gazes both narrowed and our breath quickened.

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Jul 032019
 


Happy birthday Julian

 

 

Response to Open Letter of 1 July 2019 (Nils Melzer)
France And Germany Eye Lagarde For ECB and Von Der Leyen For EC President (R.)
The Inconvenient Truth About Ursula Von Der Leyen (Pol.eu)
Trump To Nominate Judy Shelton, Christopher Waller To The Fed (CNBC)
The Death of the Liberal Idea (Dmitry Orlov)
Stagecraft (Kunstler)
Families Of 737 MAX Crash Victims Say Boeing Has Not Contacted Them (BI)
Chinese Border Guards Put Secret Surveillance App On Tourists’ Phones
Italian Judge Rules Sea Watch Captain Carried Out Duty To Protect Lives (EN)
Austria Becomes First EU Country To Ban Glyphosate (RT)
Cockroach ‘Superbugs’ Evolve To Resist Pesticides In One Generation (RT)
Deep-Sea Mining To Turn Oceans Into ‘New Industrial Frontier’ (G.)
The Seabed Should Be Off-Limits To Mining Companies (Chris Packham)

 

 

Julian first on his birthday. Here’s Nils Melzer’s response to the 200+ academics who didn’t like how he described the -empty- rape allegations against Assange. These are the last few paragraphs. A man of great integrity.

Response to Open Letter of 1 July 2019 (Nils Melzer)

Beyond questions of law, you also take issue with my tone, which you deem to be “insensitive to victims”. Please let me assure you that, in two decades of work with victims of war and violence, sometimes under very difficult and dangerous circumstances, I have seen and suffered too much myself to be intellectually or emotionally capable of “mocking” potential victims. The countless testimonies I have collected in prisons, camps and villages throughout the world have marked me deeply, and some of them keep haunting me to this day. Whatever misunderstandings may have resulted from my article, they certainly do not warrant accusing me of “insensitivity to victims” or even a “profound lack of understanding that does a disservice to the mandate”.

Though the tone of my critique may be harsh, it does not aim at the women, but at the gross arbitrariness of the “rape” narrative, which has been wrongly imposed by zealous officials not only on Assange, but also on the two concerned women themselves, and on the general public. The State not only ignored the women’s own experience and interpretation of events, but also consistently declined to take the necessary measures which would have allowed advancing this matter beyond the stage of preliminary investigation, where it has been so conveniently left to simmer for almost a decade. As is well documented, both the two women and Assange fully cooperated with the police and the prosecution from the outset, he was questioned both in Sweden (2010) and in London (2016), and the only reason he refused to be extradited to Sweden was that Sweden declined to guarantee against further extradition to the United States, where I am convinced he would be exposed to serious violations of his human rights.


More generally, I fully share your concerns that sexual allegations against powerful men are often dismissed as attention-seeking or part of a conspiracy to bring them down. I would point out, however, that Assange is not a powerful man shielded by impunity, but an isolated and frail political prisoner persecuted for exposing war crimes and corruption. So, while we all work to safeguard the rights of victims of sexual abuse, let us not blindly dismiss well-founded doubts as to the veracity and / or appropriateness of rape allegations, where there are indications of duress or documented third party interests influencing the process. This holds particularly true in a highly politicized case which, in all involved jurisdictions, is plagued with a pervasive mix of grave and persistent due process violations, concerted public mobbing, humiliation and intimidation, and counterfactual accusations of hacking, spying and even causing death and injury.

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Right. The EU nominates two women. One is accused of gross incompetence, the other was convicted of negligence in a case of misuse of public funds, but never sentenced, no criminal record. Highly doubtful she would be seen as “fit and proper” for a commercal bank job. The entire nomination process reminds us about Groucho Marx’ famous line “Those are my principles; if you don’t like them, I have others”. So we get: “Who needs a Spitzenkandidat when you can have a Homecoming Queen?”

France And Germany Eye Lagarde For ECB and Von Der Leyen For EC President (R.)

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen may end up as European Commission President while IMF head Christine Lagarde may become new president of the European Central Bank following an agreement between France and Germany, said sources. One diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter said French President Emmanuel Macron had proposed to his German counterpart Angela Merkel that Lagarde should get the top ECB job. The source added that Merkel was “very positive” on the idea of Lagarde heading the ECB.

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“Von der Leyen is our weakest minister. That’s apparently enough to become Commission president..”

“..accusations that von der Leyen’s office circumvented public procurement rules in granting contracts worth millions of euros..”

The Inconvenient Truth About Ursula Von Der Leyen (Pol.eu)

A polyglot Brussels native who reared seven children and earned a medical degree on the side before storming to the top of German politics. News that this Wunderfrau — aka German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen — could become the Commission’s next president left European capitals abuzz on Tuesday. “Finally some good news” was the general tenor. Who needs a Spitzenkandidat when you can have a Homecoming Queen? At first glance, the affable 60-year-old minister with a camera-ready smile looks to be a perfect fit, with the requisite experience, political pedigree and personality to handle the EU’s toughest job. And yet a nagging question remains: Is she too good to be true?

In the German capital, the answer is clear. “Von der Leyen is our weakest minister. That’s apparently enough to become Commission president,” former European Parliament President Martin Schulz seethed in a tweet Tuesday evening. Though Schulz is a Social Democrat, his analysis of the minister’s record is shared by many of von der Leyen’s fellow Christian Democrats, though most are reluctant to criticize her publicly. Instead, they point to the state of the German military. “The Bundeswehr’s condition is catastrophic,” Rupert Scholz, who served as defense minister under Helmut Kohl, wrote last week before von der Leyen was nominated to the EU’s top post. “The entire defense capability of the Federal Republic is suffering, which is totally irresponsible.”


[..] In addition to problems surrounding the German military’s readiness, von der Leyen’s ministry also faces an investigation into suspected wrongdoing surrounding its use of outside consultants, including Accenture and McKinsey. The Bundestag, the German parliament, is currently holding hearings into the affair, including accusations that von der Leyen’s office circumvented public procurement rules in granting contracts worth millions of euros to the firms. Those hearings have taken a dramatic turn in recent days as testimony from key witnesses appeared to confirm suspicions of systematic corruption at the ministry.

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On our way to zero percent interest rates. Damn savings and pensions.

Trump To Nominate Judy Shelton, Christopher Waller To The Fed (CNBC)

President Donald Trump intends to nominate Christopher Waller, executive vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and Judy Shelton, an economic adviser to the president during his 2016 campaign, to the Federal Reserve’s board. The announcements, in a pair of tweets late Tuesday, come after Trump’s earlier nominees, Stephen Moore and Herman Cain, both withdrew from consideration. Moore, a conservative pundit, dropped out of consideration in May, citing public scrutiny of his professional and personal lives. Cain, the businessman and former GOP presidential candidate, dropped out of contention for the Fed in late April. Shelton was earlier speculated to be a pick for the Federal Reserve board.


Shelton has previously said that if appointed, she would lower interest rates to 0% in one to two years, echoing calls from Trump to lower rates. Waller has worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis since 2009, and previously was a chair of economics at the University of Notre Dame and a chair in macroeconomics and monetary theory at the University of Kentucky. He has written about the dangers of an inverted yield curve, in which short-term Treasury yields outpace long-term yields. The 3-month bond yield topped 10-year yields in May, the widest yield curve inversion since the financial crisis. Some economists and investors believe the curve sends a warning about economic growth. Both nominees will need Senate confirmation.

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Interpreting Putin’s words.

The Death of the Liberal Idea (Dmitry Orlov)

The migrant crisis is a perfect example of how liberalism has outlived its usefulness. Liberalism offers two ways forward, both of which are fatal to it. One approach is distinctly illiberal: halt the influx of migrants by any means necessary; insist that the migrants already in the country either conform to a strict set of requirements, including demonstrated competency in the nation’s language, detailed knowledge of its laws and administrative systems, strict obedience to its laws and demonstrated preference and respect for the customs and culture of the native population—or be not so much deported as expelled. The other approach is liberal at first: allow the influx to continue, do not hinder the formation of foreign ghettos and enclaves which native citizens and officials dare not enter, and eventually surrender to Sharia law or other forms of foreign dictate—guaranteeing the eventual death of the liberal idea along with much of the native population.

Thus, the choice is between killing the liberal idea but saving the native population or letting the liberal idea die willy-nilly, taking the native population along with it. It offers no solution at all. “We all live in a world based on traditional Biblical values,” quoth Putin. “We don’t have to demonstrate them every day… but must have them in our hearts and our souls. In this way, traditional values are more stable and more important to millions of people than this liberal idea which, in my view, is ceasing to exist.” This is true not just of the believers—be they Christian, Moslem or Jewish—but of the atheists as well. To put it in terms that may shock and astound some of you, you don’t have to believe in God (although it helps if you do—to avoid cognitive dissonance) but if you aspire to any sort of social adequacy in a traditional society you have no choice but to sincerely think and act as if God exists, and that He is the God of the Bible—be He Yahweh, Elohim, Jesus and the Holy Trinity or Allah (that’s the Arabic word for “God”).


Putin capped off his argument by ever so gently and politely putting the boot in. He said that he has no clue about any of this “transformer-trans… whatever” stuff. How many genders are there? He has lost count. Not that he is against letting consenting adult members of various minority sexual groups do whatever they want among themselves—“Let everyone be happy!”—but they have no right to dictate to the rest. Specifically, Russian law makes homosexual propaganda among those who are under age illegal. Hollywood’s pro-LGBT mavens must be displeased: their choice is either to redact LGBT propaganda from the script, or to redact it from the finished film prior to its release in Russia (and China).

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Fun with Bob.

Stagecraft (Kunstler)

I can think of a few 90-mph sliders I’d like to pitch to Mr. Mueller, some of them already floated in the press: like, why did you allow the GI cell phones of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to be destroyed shortly after you were informed about their unprofessional and compromising text exchanges, for which they were fired off your “team?” When did you learn that international men-of-mystery Stefan Halper and Josef Mifsud, whose operations spurred your prosecutions, were not Russian agents but rather in the employ of US and British government intel agencies? Your deputy, Andrew Weissmann, was informed by Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr in the summer of 2016, months before your appointment, that the predicating documents for your inquiry, known as the Steele Dossier, amounted to a Clinton campaign oppo research digest — when did he happen to tell you that?

You devoted nearly 20 pages of your report to the Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son, Donald, Jr., and two Russians, lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin. Why did you omit to mention that both Russians were in the employ of Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS company, candidate Clinton’s oppo research contractor, and met with Mr. Simpson both before and after the Trump Tower meeting? How did it happen that you hired attorney Jeannie Rhee for your team, knowing that she had previously worked as a lawyer for the Clinton Foundation? Under what legal standard did you pronounce Mr. Trump to be “not exonerated” in the obstruction of justice matter, considering you told the Attorney General, Mr. Barr, that it was not based on findings by the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel concerning presidential immunity from indictment?


[..] It’s just possible that Robert Mueller will not be reading chapter and verse from his sacred report, like an old-school Episcopal priest, but rather pleading the Fifth Amendment to avert his own potential prosecution.

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Lawyers tell them not to, in case they’d say something stupid. But bordering on criminal behavior.

Families Of 737 MAX Crash Victims Say Boeing Has Not Contacted Them (BI)

Families of those killed in two fatal crashes involving Boeing 737 Max planes say they have not received any contact from Boeing since the disasters, with no apology or offer of support from the manufacturer. The parents of a woman killed on one of the flights told Business Insider they had received “no condolences” and “no direct communication” from Boeing despite numerous public apologies by the plane maker and said Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg “talks to other people but not us, the victims’ families.” Nadia Milleron and Michael Stumo lost their 24-year-old daughter, Samya Stumo, when the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed in March, killing all 157 people on board.

It was the second crash of a 737 Max plane in five months after a Max 8 operated by the Indonesian carrier Lion Air crashed in the Java Sea in October, killing all 189 people on board. Investigations into both crashes have centered on a software issue that Boeing has since been working to fix, with all its Max aircraft grounded around the world in the meantime. Other attorneys representing more than 50 families of those killed in the crashes told Business Insider their clients’ experience was the same. The Chicago-based aviation attorney Joe Power, the Los-Angeles based attorney Brian Kabateck, and the Miami-based attorney Steve Marks said Boeing had not reached out to their clients.


Marks said that this response was not “unusual” from manufacturers after a crash, but he described Boeing’s reaction as “worse” than a typical response. He said Boeing “came out really quickly after the second tragedy, and said: ‘We own it, it’s our problem.'” But then, he said, the company “has since backed those comments off, in many different ways, which I think has only inflamed the situation, as far as the families are concerned.” Mike Danko, an aviation attorney who is not representing any families in the 737 Max crashes, told Business Insider that Boeing’s action in this case were “not unusual” and that manufacturers typically did not apologize or offer support after fatal plane crashes, but he noted its public apologies.

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Not surprising.

Chinese Border Guards Put Secret Surveillance App On Tourists’ Phones

Chinese border police are secretly installing surveillance apps on the phones of visitors and downloading personal information as part of the government’s intensive scrutiny of the remote Xinjiang region, the Guardian can reveal. The Chinese government has curbed freedoms in the province for the local Muslim population, installing facial recognition cameras on streets and in mosques and reportedly forcing residents to download software that searches their phones. An investigation by the Guardian and international partners has found that travellers are being targeted when they attempt to enter the region from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.


Border guards are taking their phones and secretly installing an app that extracts emails, texts and contacts, as well as information about the handset itself. Tourists say they have not been warned by authorities in advance or told about what the software is looking for, or that their information is being taken.

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Maritime law. Don’t play with it.

Italian Judge Rules Sea Watch Captain Carried Out Duty To Protect Lives (EN)

An Italian judge ruled on Tuesday that the German captain of a rescue charity ship had not broken the law when she forced a naval blockade at the weekend, saying she had been carrying out her duty to protect human life. Carola Rackete, a 31-year-old German national, disobeyed Italian military orders and entered the port of Lampedusa on Saturday to bring some 41 African migrants to land in the Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch boat. She was immediately detained and placed under house arrest, but in a blow for Italy’s hardline interior minister, Matteo Salvini, Judge Alessandra Vella ruled that Rackete had been carrying out her duty and had not committed any act of violence.


Rackete still faces possible charges of helping illegal immigration, but Vella ordered her immediate release. Salvini said in a statement he had hoped for a tougher response from the Italian justice system and promised to expel Rackete as soon as possible. Rackete appeared before the Agrigento court on Monday and apologised for hitting the patrol boat, saying it had been an accident and explaining that her sole concern was the well-being of the migrants who had been at sea for more than two weeks.

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Question is: can they, or does EU law prevail?

Austria Becomes First EU Country To Ban Glyphosate (RT)

Austria has voted to ban glyphosate, the main ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s notorious Roundup weedkiller, becoming the first EU country to outlaw the chemical and creating a PR disaster for the troubled German company. “The scientific evidence of the plant poison’s carcinogenic effect is increasing. It is our responsibility to ban this poison from our environment,” Social Democratic Party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner said in a statement on Tuesday. The resolution passed with the cooperation of her party, the right-wing Freedom Party and the liberal Neos Party, and remains only to be signed by President Alexander van der Bellen, a former Green Party leader, unless the upper house of Parliament objects.

“We want to be a role model for other countries in the EU and the world,” said Erwin Preiner, another Social Democrat MP who worked on the ban. Austria has embraced organic farming more than any other European country – nearly a quarter of its farmland is organic – and is thus not a major market for glyphosate-based herbicides, using only a few hundred tons per year. While a ban will have minimal direct impact on Bayer’s sales, the optics of the German company’s next-door neighbor nation exiling its flagship herbicide are likely to cause a few headaches at Bayer HQ.


Austria’s ministry for sustainability and tourism claims a total ban on glyphosate violates EU law, as the chemical is cleared for sale and use across the EU until 2022, but the bill’s backers have pointed to other examples of individual countries banning specific chemicals as proof of their right to legislate against the herbicide. France banned Roundup Pro 360, one type of Monsanto’s popular glyphosate weedkiller, earlier this year, and President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to phase out the use of glyphosate entirely within three years. “National bans on glyphosate-based plant protection products or restrictions on their use would be possible,” the European Commission declared in 2016, confirming that “the EU states do not have to hide behind the European Commission” in deciding whether or not to ban a particular formulation of an herbicide.

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“..cockroaches who survived treatment with one insecticide developed immunity not just to that chemical, but to other chemicals they hadn’t even been exposed to – increasing their resistance “four- to six-fold in just one generation..”

Cockroach ‘Superbugs’ Evolve To Resist Pesticides In One Generation (RT)

Cockroaches will soon be impossible to kill with standard pesticides, as they can develop cross-resistance to poisons they’ve never encountered within a single generation, an ominous new study has found.
German cockroaches – the small, quick-scurrying type whose traces can be found in 85 percent of US urban homes – are rapidly becoming impervious to pesticide chemicals, developing cross-resistance to a variety of insecticides within a single generation, a study published in Scientific Reports has demonstrated. And even the researchers who conducted the experiment are creeped out by the evolutionary capabilities of the ubiquitous six-legged pests. “We didn’t have a clue that something like that could happen this fast,” Michael Scharf, chair of the Entomology Department at Purdue University and co-author of the study, said in a statement last week.


“Cockroaches developing resistance to multiple classes of insecticides at once will make controlling these pests almost impossible with chemicals alone.” One experiment in which 10 percent of cockroaches started off resistant to a particular pesticide actually saw populations grow over the six months during which the researchers sprayed, a disconcerting result in itself. But it was the multi-chemical experimental groups that really caused a stir – cockroaches who survived treatment with one insecticide developed immunity not just to that chemical, but to other chemicals they hadn’t even been exposed to – increasing their resistance “four- to six-fold in just one generation,” Scharf marveled.

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N’importe quoi: “The industry has said deep-sea mining is essential to extract the materials needed for a transition to a green economy..”

Deep-Sea Mining To Turn Oceans Into ‘New Industrial Frontier’ (G.)

The world’s oceans are facing a “new industrial frontier” from a fledgling deep-sea mining industry as companies line up to extract metals and minerals from some of the most important ecosystems on the planet, a report has found. The study by Greenpeace revealed that although no mining had started on the ocean floor, 29 exploration licences had been issued covering an area five times bigger than the UK. Environmentalists said the proposed mining would threaten not only crucial ecosystems but the global fight against climate breakdown.

Louisa Casson, an ocean campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “The health of our oceans is closely linked to our own survival. Unless we act now to protect them, deep-sea mining could have devastating consequences for marine life and humankind.” The licences, issued by a United Nations body, the International Seabed Authority, have been granted to a handful of countries that sponsor private companies. They cover vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, totalling 1.3m sq km (500,000 sq miles). If the mining goes ahead, large machines will be lowered on to the seabed to excavate cobalt and other rare metals.


Campaigners said that, as well as destroying little understood regions of the ocean floor, the operations would deepen the climate emergency by disrupting carbon stores in seafloor sediments, reducing the ocean’s ability to store it. The industry has said deep-sea mining is essential to extract the materials needed for a transition to a green economy by supplying raw materials for key technologies including batteries, computers and phones. Its advocates say deep-sea mining is less harmful to the environment and workers than most existing mineral and mining operations.

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“They want to send gigantic bulldozers, decked out with rotating grinders and mammoth drills straight out of Robot Wars, into the deepest parts of the ocean, disturbing the home of unique creatures and churning up vital stores of carbon. ”

The Seabed Should Be Off-Limits To Mining Companies (Chris Packham)

When I was filming Blue Planet Live, I was struck by just how much of the ocean has been altered by humans. From industrial fisheries ensnaring ocean giants in kilometres-long lines, to finding our trash at some of the deepest parts of the ocean: it’s clear that however vast the seas are, we are causing profound harm. Yet at this point in history, when the oceans are facing more pressures than ever before, a secretive new industry is seeking to move into the deep sea, the largest ecosystem on the planet, to start mining for metals and minerals.

They want to send gigantic bulldozers, decked out with rotating grinders and mammoth drills straight out of Robot Wars, into the deepest parts of the ocean, disturbing the home of unique creatures and churning up vital stores of carbon. This is quite clearly an awful idea. As someone fascinated by weird and wonderful wildlife, the deep sea is a dream come true. Stoplight loosejaws, bearded sea-devils and vampire squid are just a few of the fantastically named creatures that make the deep ocean their home. On practically every mission down to the deep, scientists discover new species.


We know more about the surface of Mars and the moon than about the bottom of the ocean. Mining the deep sea sounds just as ludicrous as mining the moon. Far too often, industry has plundered the natural world before science has explored and understood its importance. Parts of the deep sea have already been ravaged by destructive fisheries. These ecosystems stand practically no chance of recovery if mining is allowed to start. Researchers who returned 30 years later to one mining test site on the Pacific sea floor could still see the wounds on the seabed – and warned of irreversible loss of some ecosystem functions.


A deep-sea blackdevil. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

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Jun 122019
 
 June 12, 2019  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Three apples 1924

 

Who Will Pay For The News? (R.)
The FBI Tragedy: Elites Above The Law (Hanson)
Sometimes Things Turn (Kunstler)
Jon Stewart Assails Congress For Ignoring 9/11 First Responders Fund (R.)
The Countries with the Most Monstrous Corporate Debt Pileups (WS)
China’s Loans To Other Countries Are Causing ‘Hidden’ Debt (CNBC)
Protests Against China Extradition Bill Paralyse Hong Kong (AFP)
Hong Kong Puts Off Debate On Extradition Bill Amid Mammoth Protests (NBC)
UK Accused Of ‘Silently Eroding’ EU Pesticide Rules In Brexit Laws (G.)
Outgoing UK Diplomat Slams ‘Chaotic Politics’ And Brexit ‘Shambles’ (Pol.)
Leaked Documents Reveal Russian Effort To Exert Influence In Africa (G.)
From Bears To Hippos: The Expert Guide To Surviving Killer Beasts (G.)

 

 

We wonder.

Who Will Pay For The News? (R.)

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism said in its annual Digital News Report that most people would not pay for online news and that there had been only a small increase in the proportion of people willing to do so in the last six years. Even among those who do pay, there is “subscription fatigue” – many are tired of being asked to pay for so many different subscriptions. Many will opt for films or music rather than pay for news. So some media companies will fail. “There is no sign that the majority of people are about to pay for online news, although many recognize that information on the internet is often overwhelming and confusing,” said Nic Newman, a senior research associate at the Reuters Institute.


“Some of the biggest brands have already shown they are able to attract a large number of paying subscribers, but the road ahead will be more challenging for other publishers,” he added. While many news organizations add paywalls and some see increases in digital subscriptions, there has been little change in the proportion of people paying for online news, apart from the “Trump bump” rise in the United States in 2016/2017. In the United States, those paying for news online were likely to have a university degree and be wealthy: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post did well on digital. Still, almost 40 percent of new digital subscriptions at the New York Times are for crosswords and cooking, the Reuters Institute said, citing an article by Vox.

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Excellent. Don’t miss.

The FBI Tragedy: Elites Above The Law (Hanson)

One of the media and beltway orthodoxies we constantly hear is that just a few bad apples under James Comey at the FBI explain why so many FBI elites have been fired, resigned, reassigned, demoted, or retired — or just left for unexplained reasons. The list is long and includes director James Comey himself, deputy director Andrew McCabe, counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, attorney Lisa Page, chief of staff James Rybicki, general counsel James Baker, assistant director for public affairs Mike Kortan, Comey’s special assistant Josh Campbell, executive assistant director James Turgal, assistant director for office of congressional affairs Greg Bower, executive assistant director Michael Steinbach, and executive assistant director John Giacalone. In short, in about every growing scandal of the past two years — FISA, illegal leaking, spying on a presidential candidate, lying under oath, obstructing justice — someone in the FBI is involved.

We are told, however, that the FBI’s culture and institutions are exempt from the widespread wrongdoing at the top. Such caution is a fine and fitting thing, given the FBI’s more than a century of public service. Nonetheless, many of those caught up in the controversies over the Russian-collusion hoax were not recent career appointees. Rather, many came up through the ranks of the FBI. And that raises the question, for example, of where exactly Peter Strzok (22 years in the FBI) learned that he had a right to interfere in a U.S. election to damage a candidate that he opposed. And why would an Andrew McCabe (over 21 years in the FBI) think he had the duty to formulate an “insurance policy” to take out a presidential candidate? Or why would he even consider overseeing an FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s improper use of emails when his wife had been a recent recipient of Clinton-related PAC money?

And why would McCabe contemplate leaking confidential FBI information to the press or even dream of setting up some sort of operation to remove a sitting president under the 25th Amendment? And how did someone like the old FBI vet Peter Strozk ever end up at the center of the entire mess — opening up the snooping on the Trump campaign while hiding that fact and while briefing the candidate on Russian interference in the election, interviewing Michael Flynn, preening as a top FBI investigator for Robert Mueller’s dream team, right-hand man of “Andy” McCabe, convincing Comey to change the wording of his writ in the Clinton-email-scandal investigation, softball coddling of Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, instrumental in the Papadopoulos investigation con — all the while conducting an affair with fellow FBI investigator and attorney Lisa Page and bragging about his assurance that the supposedly odious Trump would be prevented from being elected.

[..] Think what Mueller’s precedent of not-not-guilty would do to the American criminal-justice system, as zealous prosecutors might fish for just enough dirt on a suspect to ruin his reputation, but not find enough for an indictment, thereby exonerating their own prosecutorial failure by defaming a “guilty until proven innocent” suspect.

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“Then somebody splattered John F. Kennedy’s brains all over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and everything changed again.”

Sometimes Things Turn (Kunstler)

A February night in 1924, in a Manhattan concert hall owned by the Aeolian piano company… the wailing, warped, and flatted clarinet glissando that opens George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue announced the 20th century’s self-recognition that something new was up in the world, and especially in the USA. The composer tried to represent the stupendous energy of the maturing industrial culture in a symphonic cacophony with a core of the deepest tenderness — capturing all the wonder and grace of the moment. For America, everything was on the move. Love and power were in the air. The idea that this was the American century stuck. The 1920s were a kind of hormonal rush of wonders and amazements.

Radio, movies, airplanes, giant industries, electric power in farm houses, the dizzying rush of progress that welled up into a dangerous wave that broke over the world in economic depression, and then war in 1939 — by which time George Gershwin was gone at 38. America performed splendidly in World War Two, rescuing Europe and Asia from manifest evil. The nation found itself the fully mature leader of the free world, with daunting responsibilities in the Atomic Age, filled with confidence, but tinged with an understandable paranoia in the nervous peace of the 1950s. This was the time of my childhood, along with my fellow travelers, the Baby Boomers. What a time to come into this world!

For a while, the USA luxuriated in power and stability. I sang the Davy Crockett theme song from the Disney TV show, and wore a coonskin hat, and lived in a home where dad left for work in a business suit, and all was well in the world. To me and my childhood friends, the mindboggling horrors of the recent war were reduced to comic books and plastic soldiers in the sandbox. Everything else in America seemed to work as advertised. We built a lot of stuff and saw the USA in our Chevrolet. President Ike bossed around Britain’s PM Anthony Eden. The Yankees bossed around the major leagues. Hardly anyone knew what the Federal Reserve did, or even what it was. Elvis was in the Army, babysitting the defeated Germans. Then somebody splattered John F. Kennedy’s brains all over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and everything changed again.

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They just didn’t show up.

Jon Stewart Assails Congress For Ignoring 9/11 First Responders Fund (R.)

Jon Stewart, the popular former host of the late-night comedy program The Daily Show, criticized members of Congress for not attending a hearing on Tuesday on renewing funding for a program that provides health care to first responders who were sickened responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. “Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak and no one,” Stewart said, pointing to a mostly empty dais. “Shameful, it’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution. You should be ashamed of yourselves for those who aren’t here but you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”


Stewart was testifying before the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties about a renewal of the 9/11 first responders health care fund. Most of the panel’s 14 members were not in attendance. “Where are they? It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy was benign, but it’s not,” Stewart said. “Their indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity, time, one thing they’re running out of.” The fund, originally approved for five years in 2010, provides medical treatment for emergency responders sickened by toxic dust inhaled at the World Trade Center site in New York in the days following the attack.

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China may be the worst, but Wolf Richter has a long list of graphs, and just about every country has a much worse corporate debt to GDP ratio than the US has.

The Countries with the Most Monstrous Corporate Debt Pileups (WS)

US “nonfinancial” corporate debt – this excludes debt by banks and by businesses that are not incorporated – rose to a record $15.2 trillion in the fourth quarter, according to data released by the Bank for International Settlements last week. To show how much of a burden this debt is, how it compares to other countries, and to eliminate the effects of inflation, the BIS also expresses this debt as a percent of nominal GDP. Given the growth of GDP in Q4, the ratio of corporate debt to GDP, at 74.4%, was unchanged from the upwardly revised Q3, and was down a tad from the record in Q2 of 74.9%. The prior record of US corporate debt had been set in Q4 2008, at $10.7 trillion. Corporate debt is high enough to be featured in the Fed’s Financial Stability Report at the top of the list of factors that might trigger the next financial crisis.


To compare the burden of debt levels from country to country, the BIS uses a country’s corporate debt as percent of nominal local-currency GDP. By this measure, and compared to all the debt sinners out there, the US is nevertheless only in a lowly 24th place.[..] China, a smaller economy than the US economy, has by far more nonfinancial corporate debt: In US dollar terms, corporate debt in China hit a record of $21.1 trillion in Q1 2018, by far the most of any country. But since then, Chinese companies have been deleveraging under the orders from the central government. Deleveraging takes many forms in China, including defaults, state-mandated loan-to-equity swaps by Chinese state-owned banks, and bailouts by the central government, which includes the PBOC. In Q4, 2018, China’s nonfinancial corporate debt (red line) was $19.8 trillion, with efforts to deleverage in Q4 having taken a backseat to efforts to boost the economy:

Among the major economies, China’s corporate-debt-to-GDP ratio is in a realm of its own. But there are some small economies with special tax laws and corporate tax-haven status that US, European, or Chinese corporations find attractive – and they have even higher corporate-debt-to-GDP ratios than China (we’ll get to those in a moment). China’s efforts to deleverage its corporate sector, and the growth in its official GDP, have been reducing the corporate debt-to-GDP ratio from a peak of a blistering 162.6% in Q1 2016 to 151.6% in Q4 2018, still about twice the US ratio. In this chart and all charts below, the US debt-to-GDP ratio is added as a red line for comparative purposes:

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Belt and Road. Exporting overcapacity and overindebtedness. See the graphs above.

China’s Loans To Other Countries Are Causing ‘Hidden’ Debt (CNBC)

China’s lending to other countries, often shrouded in secrecy, is thought to be higher than the amounts that are officially tracked, resulting in much “hidden debt.” That growing debt problem could spark a worse-than-expected slowdown, among other problems, experts warn. The lack of transparency would also affect investors who are considering bonds issued by those countries, or organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which are helping those countries with their debts, according to Carmen Reinhart, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Speaking at the Nomura Investment Forum in Singapore late last month, she said: “China’s rise as a global creditor has also meant that there are a lot of hidden debts. That is, countries that had borrowed from China but this borrowing is not reported by the IMF, by the World Bank. ” “So there is a tendency to think these countries had lower debt levels than what they actually have,” she concluded. That would hinder the IMF or the World Bank in doing their work on debt sustainability analysis, she said. That effort includes analyzing countries’ debt burdens, and coming up with recommendations for a borrowing strategy that limits the risk of debt distress.

“From the vantage point of surveillance, this means that the IMF, if they’re doing debt sustainability for example for Pakistan, unless they know how much Pakistan owes China, they are doing that sustainability exercise blindfolded, ” Reinhart said. For investors, the limited information they have hinders them in making investment decisions about bonds issued by those countries if they don’t know how much is actually owed to China already, she added. That could lead to them underestimating the risk of lending money to those countries through bonds.

[..] China has been criticized for saddling many countries with debt through its Belt and Road Initiative — a mammoth infrastructure investment plan to build rail, road, sea and other routes stretching from China to Central Asia, Africa and Europe. Chinese financial institutions have provided more than $440 billion in funding for Belt and Road projects, People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang said during a talk at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing early last month.

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Going for the financial district.

Protests Against China Extradition Bill Paralyse Hong Kong (AFP)

Tens of thousands of protesters paralysed central Hong Kong on Wednesday, blocking major roads in a defiant show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. Black-clad demonstrators, most of them young people and students, surrounded government offices, bringing traffic to a standstill as they called on authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed plan. Rows of riot police were far outnumbered by protesters — many of whom wore face masks, helmets or goggles — just hours ahead of a scheduled debate in the city’s legislature. By late morning, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council (Legco) said they would delay the second reading of the bill “to a later date”.

In scenes echoing the Occupy movement in 2014 that shut down swathes of the city for months, people flooded major roads and junctions in the heart of the city, dragging barricades onto highways and tying them together. Others plucked loose bricks from pavements. Some protesters deliberately stopped their cars in the middle of one key artery and jumped out, blocking the road, RTHK reported. Police used water cannons and pepper spray on protesters outside the Legco building and held up signs warning demonstrators they were prepared to use force.

Organisers of a gigantic march on Sunday said more than a million people turned out to voice their objections to the proposed law, which would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world — including China. But the record numbers have failed to sway pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw the bill. Many opponents are fearful the law would entangle people in the mainland’s opaque courts, leaving them vulnerable to a justice system seen as acting at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party. More than 100 Hong Kong businesses said they would close Wednesday in a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and the city’s major student unions announced they would boycott classes to attend the rallies.

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“Backers say the proposed extradition law is needed to stop Hong Kong from becoming a haven for fugitives….”

Hong Kong Puts Off Debate On Extradition Bill Amid Mammoth Protests (NBC)

Hong Kong’s legislature put off a debate on a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China after thousands of demonstrators dressed in black swarmed the area surrounding the central government complex on Wednesday. As demonstrators used police barriers, street signs and trash barrels to block off Harcourt Road, the government said that the session would be “changed to a later time to be determined” by the head of the Legislative Council, which is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority. The rally came three days after as many as 1 million people took to the streets.


Protesters had mixed reactions to news of the postponement, but remained steadfast to their cause standing under umbrellas and continuing to block potential traffic. “I would describe it as a small victory,” said Ramon Yuen, a member of a local district council representing the Democratic Party. “There are many possibilities … but we want the government to withdraw the amendment,” Yuen said. “No decision has been made to do that, and we do not see any good gestures that they will listen to Hong Kong people’s voices.” Cyrus Lee, 28, who was taking part in the demonstrations, echoed Yuen’s sentiment, telling NBC News he “can’t tell if it is a good sign or not because you don’t know what they will do next.”

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“The EU provides up to 80% of the UK’s environmental laws..”

The BIG Brexit issue: the country is completely unprepared to stand on its own.

UK Accused Of ‘Silently Eroding’ EU Pesticide Rules In Brexit Laws (G.)

The UK has been accused of “silently eroding” key environmental and human health protections in the Brexit-inspired rush to convert thousands of pages of European Union pesticide policy into British law. Despite government claims the process would be little more than a technical exercise, analysis by the University of Sussex’s UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) has uncovered significant departures from EU regulations, including the removal of a blanket ban on hormone-disrupting chemicals, which are known to cause adverse health effects such as cancer, birth defects and immune disorders. The UK legislation removes the EU system of checks and balances to give a handful of ministers the power to create, amend and revoke pesticide legislation.

It also appears to weaken the existing “precautionary principle” approach, which requires scientific evidence from an independent body that a pesticide is safe to use. Instead, UK ministers are given the option to obtain and consider such evidence at their own discretion. The changes could lead to the widespread use in the UK of harmful and carcinogenic pesticides, the researchers warn. But because the laws are being drawn up so quickly and at such a high volume, there has been little scrutiny of the process, said Emily Lydgate, a UKTPO fellow and senior lecturer at the university. “The creation of over 10,000 pages of new legislation, which effectively convert EU law into UK rulebooks, is one of the most intensive and significant efforts that the government has made to prepare for Brexit,” she said.

The EU provides up to 80% of the UK’s environmental laws, which include regulations on pesticides, landfills, recycling and climate heating. Under the new regulations, however, power to make, amend and revoke pesticide legislation will be devolved to each of the national territories and consolidated to a secretary of state in England, relevant ministers in Scotland and Wales, and the competent authority in Northern Ireland.

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Any -positive- reputation the UK still had is gone.

Outgoing UK Diplomat Slams ‘Chaotic Politics’ And Brexit ‘Shambles’ (Pol.)

The outgoing British high commissioner to Singapore has warned that the Asian city-state’s leaders are “baffled by the U.K.’s chaotic politics” and that Brexit is doing lasting damage to the U.K.’s reputation. In a devastating assessment of the damage Brexit is doing to the U.K.’s global reputation, Scott Wightman, one of the country’s most senior diplomats, said major investors told him the balance of future investment in Europe “will inevitably be weighted more towards Germany and France,” with post-referendum political risk now their “principle consideration.” His comments also cast doubt on the U.K.’s Global Britain strategy aimed at averting the economic damage of Brexit by using the country’s network of influence and trade links around the world.

In a confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomatic telegram, seen by POLITICO, Wightman, who has been in the job since 2015 but posted his last tweet as British high commissioner on Tuesday, said the Singapore-U.K. Partnership for the Future, an initiative to improve ties that was launched by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in January, was being used in the “classic manner of the illusionist.” “Like posts across the network and departments in the U.K., we’re performing minor miracles for U.K. interests faced with the utter political shambles of Brexit,” he said. Singaporean ministers are “mystified as to how our political leaders allowed things to get to this pass,” he added.

[..] Wightman also likened the damage to Britain’s reputation in the last three years to the battle known as the Fall of Singapore in 1942. He said the battle showed the “complacency and arrogance of colonial leadership.” “It transformed their view of British imperialism,” he added. “Things were never the same again. The last three years have done the same for Singaporeans’ view of contemporary Britain. The nation they admired for stability, common sense, tolerance and realism grounded in fact, they see beset by division, obsessed with ideology, careless of the truth, its leaders apparently determined to keep on digging. “I fear many around the world share their view,” he said.

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Luke Harding’s BS.

Leaked Documents Reveal Russian Effort To Exert Influence In Africa (G.)

Russia is seeking to bolster its presence in at least 13 countries across Africa by building relations with existing rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of “leaders” and undercover “agents”, leaked documents reveal. The mission to increase Russian influence on the continent is being led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman based in St Petersburg who is a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. One aim is to “strong-arm” the US and the former colonial powers the UK and France out of the region. Another is to see off “pro-western” uprisings, the documents say.

In 2018 the US special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts. According to Mueller, his troll factory ran an extensive social media campaign in 2016 to help elect Donald Trump. The Wagner group – a private military contractor linked to Prigozhin – has supplied mercenaries to fight in Ukraine and Syria. The documents show the scale of Prigozhin-linked recent operations in Africa, and Moscow’s ambition to turn the region into a strategic hub. Multiple firms linked to the oligarch, including Wagner, are known by employees as the “Company”. Its activities are coordinated with senior officials inside Russia’s foreign and defence ministries, the documents suggest. Putin showed little interest in Africa in the 2000s.

But western sanctions imposed in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea have driven Moscow to seek new geopolitical friends and business opportunities. Russia has a military presence and peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic. CAR is described as “strategically important” and a “buffer zone between the Muslim north and Christian south”. It allows Moscow to expand “across the continent”, and Russian companies to strike lucrative mineral deals, the documents say.

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How stupid can one get?

“Former soldier and explorer Levison Wood runs through how to endure or avoid confrontation with some of nature’s most dangerous animals.”

I’ll make sure to avoid Levison Wood.

From Bears To Hippos: The Expert Guide To Surviving Killer Beasts (G.)

When Andi Bauer, a German student hiking in Romania, was attacked by a bear, his girlfriend Lara Booth yelled “punch it in the eye!” (Lara is British, obviously). He did, the bear stopped attacking and Andi was helicoptered to hospital where rods were screwed into his broken leg. He survived, but was punching back the right thing to do? “If you’re being mauled by a bear, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, to escape and survive,” says Levison Wood. A former soldier, explorer and writer (his book for kids, Incredible Journeys, is published this week), Wood once had an encounter in a car park in Yosemite when a bear smashed into the adjacent empty car to get food. “We woke up and made a lot of noise, as bears do try to avoid humans. But each animal is different; you’ve got to know your stuff.” Here’s his guide to fighting off some of nature’s most-feared beasts.


[..] Wood knows some stuff about crocodiles, having avoided them while walking the length of the Nile. And that is his advice: avoid them. [..] When Wood was chased by a hippo, he scrambled up a hill. “They’re not good with hills, thankfully.” [..] “Most of the animals we’ve spoken about are critically endangered. While the fear is bred into us, remember that they’re the ones that are endangered, we generally come off better than they do.” Yes, Bauer is OK. But what about the poor bear wandering the Carpathian mountains with a sore head?

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Apr 182019
 


Pablo Picasso Maison 1931

 

Mueller Report Out Today, Much Could Be Redacted (AFP)
New York Times Accidentally Unravels UK’s Official Skripal Narrative (Sp.)
Assange UK Legal Battle To Take 2 Years, Chances of Winning Are Good (Helmer)
Reasons To Question China’s Blockbuster Economic Data (ZH)
Half of England Is Owned By Less Than 1% Of The Population (G.)
Greece To Send Note Verbale To Germany Over War Reparations (K.)
EU Threatens $12 Billion In Tariffs Over US Boeing Subsidies (AFP)
More Airlines Collapse: Jet Airways India, Alitalia, WOW Air (WS)
The Public Banking Revolution Is Upon Us (Ellen Brown)
EU Threatens to Legalize Human Harm From Pesticides (CP)
New Zealand’s Environment Is In Serious Trouble (G.)

 

 

It’ll be so much fun to see America divide further.

Mueller Report Out Today, Much Could Be Redacted (AFP)

The final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation on Thursday could leave much of the public unsatisfied because it could be heavily redacted, stripped of significant evidence and testimony that the investigators gathered. Attorney General Bill Barr made clear he will edit out large parts of Mueller’s 400-page final report on his investigation of President Donald Trump and Russian election meddling. Removed elements will include information from US intelligence used in the probe, information on ongoing investigations, and information on targets of Mueller’s team that never gelled and, if made public, could unfairly hurt them.


Crucially, Barr says the law prevents him from revealing materials from the two grand juries that the special counsel convened for his investigation. Redaction – blacking out words and blocks of text with real or digital ink, or leaving pages completely blank – is the way bureaucrats and courts prevent the public from learning about classified information and secret testimony or evidence, or just embarrassing information. Many court filings in the Mueller probe came with pages heavily blacked out, with prosecutors not wanting to tip their hands on ongoing parts of the sprawling Russia probe or expose sources. But some worry Barr’s redactions could have political aims.

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Haspel showed Trump pics of sick kids and dead ducks. But neither existed.

New York Times Accidentally Unravels UK’s Official Skripal Narrative (Sp.)

Elements of the official narrative also bizarrely and frequently vanish without warning or explanation — a key example being the Skripals giving bread to three local boys to feed to ducks in Salisbury’s Avon Playground at approximately 1:45pm on 4th March. The incident was initially widely reported in the media, with The Daily Mail claiming the children — one of whom apparently ate some of the bread given to them by the Skripals — had been “rushed to hospital for blood tests amid fears they’d been poisoned”, although the children were entirely unharmed, and discharged from hospital having been given “the all-clear”. “To try to kill Skripal is one thing, but now it seems children may have been caught up in it. It shows whoever did this didn’t care who they killed or maimed,” a spokesperson for Public Health England told the Sunday Mirror.

Strikingly, this episode would soon completely disappear from media coverage of the Salisbury incident, while never appearing in any officially sanctioned narrative — although it’s easy to understand why. According to the Metropolitan Police’s timeline, after leaving the Avon Playground the Skripals went on to the Bishops Mill Pub in Salisbury town centre, before arriving at Zizzi restaurant at around 14:20pm. They left at around 15:35pm, and emergency services received the first report they’d been found unconscious at around 16:15pm. British authorities determine Sergei and Yulia were poisoned by Novichok spread around their home — in particular the front door handle — at some point before 13:30pm, when Sergei’s car was seen on Devizes Road heading towards the town centre.

The pair were apparently so infected by the nerve agent, and the substance so dangerous, Zizzi was forced to close for eight months due to high levels of contamination, and the table the pair dined at had to be destroyed. The Mill pub, which they headed to immediately after their exploits in Avon Playground was likewise subject to extensive decontamination and only declared safe for reopening in August, although it remains shut even today. The bench the Skripals were found lying on was also destroyed. In spite of this, the children given bread by the Skripals and the ducks they fed were completely unharmed by novichok.

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John Helmer is the longest serving foreign correspondent covering Russia. His analysis is detailed. There are more voices who sound cautiously optimistic. But looking at the Skripal story, don’t let’s forget how the UK operates. We’re going to find out if there still is a functioning justice system.

Assange UK Legal Battle To Take 2 Years, Chances of Winning Are Good (Helmer)

The case for and against Julian Assange will keep him in the UK for at least eighteen months, probably two years, possibly three, according to leading London lawyers. The UK will have a new government by then; the US too. In the interval, Assange’s lawyers are preparing to prove the US indictment for conspiracy to commit computer hacking will be superseded by espionage charges. That, they will argue, requires the Westminster Magistrates’ Court to throw the US extradition application out. In addition, their evidence for American political motivation in the prosecution of Assange, and of US violations of the UK and European standards for a fair trial in an independent and impartial court, will be presented. The Chief Magistrate, Emma Arbuthnot, is likely to preside. The hearing is unlikely to start before December of this year.

The more UK and US Government officials take sides in public against Assange and support the allegations in the indictment, the stronger his case will be in court. The announcement by public letter to the Home Secretary last week that seventy-one members of the British parliament oppose Assange’s extradition to the US cuts even more of the ground from under UK prosecutors and the lawyers who will appear in court for the US. Reversing their campaign to block the Swedish extradition warrant between 2010 and 2012, Assange’s lawyers are also mobilizing to have the Swedish prosecutors return to London with a new warrant, so that this can stretch out the legal wrangling in London for long enough to reach a new British election. If won by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party forms a new government, Assange may benefit from a decision to move Assange’s prosecution to the UK courts, and then to release him.

“The anger for and against this man is extraordinary”, explains a leading London lawyer on extradition cases. “You need very technical lawyering now, and Assange will have to pay for it. But in parallel there will be the PR campaign amplifying the political issue, principally for the Labour Party. The Assange case will stand for every British voter’s idea of what [President Donald] Trump and the Americans are doing to the world. [Chief Magistrate Emma] Arbuthnot is not afraid to make decisions that would be unpopular. But as independent as she is, the pressure on her will be huge not to rule against the US.”

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That is one ominous graph. 6.4% growth, with electricity use down by 1%.

Reasons To Question China’s Blockbuster Economic Data (ZH)

Last, but not least, was the latest energy consumption data, which while not highlighted in yesterday’s report, was certainly a concern because in a quarter in which industrial production reportedly soared higher, we also saw the first contraction in total energy consumption, which shrank by 1%. That this took place when China’s economy allegedly grew by 6.4% certainly puts the veracity of China’s data under the microscope yet again. So whether China’s data was real or not, and there is enough historical precedent to lean toward the latter, the question is what this means for Beijing’s future policy. Here, as SocGen notes, “together with a stronger fiscal impulse and more positive economic data – whether they last or not, it is only logical for the PBoC to pause headline easing for now.”


Additionally, the sharp upward trend in credit growth also does suggests that the economy may not need as much liquidity easing in the future, which in turn will likely cause the rebound in China’s credit impulse to fizzle in the coming months. Echoing this take, Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid wrote that “the downside to the numbers will be a more hawkish PBOC” and indeed, on Wednsday the PBOC injected much less liquidity into the market than was expected. In short: while China has clearly benefited from the trillions in new credit injected into the system, the question is how long will this impulse last, how sustainable is the resultant reflationary ripple, and what happens when the “sugar high” from China’s stimulus once again fizzles, especially if a US-China trade deal is still to be finalized.

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Medieval.

Half of England Is Owned By Less Than 1% Of The Population (G.)

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, according to new data shared with the Guardian that seeks to penetrate the secrecy that has traditionally surrounded land ownership. The findings, described as “astonishingly unequal”, suggest that about 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – have control of half of the country. The figures show that if the land were distributed evenly across the entire population, each person would have almost an acre – an area roughly the size of Parliament Square in central London. Major owners include the Duke of Buccleuch, the Queen, several large grouse moor estates, and the entrepreneur James Dyson.


While land has long been concentrated in the hands of a small number of owners, precise information about property ownership has been notoriously hard to access. But a combination of the development of digital maps and data as well as pressure from campaigners has made it possible to assemble the shocking statistics. Jon Trickett, Labour MP and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, hailed the significance of the findings and called for a full debate on the issue, adding: “The dramatic concentration of land ownership is an inescapable reminder that ours is a country for the few and not the many. “It’s simply not right that aristocrats, whose families have owned the same areas of land for centuries, and large corporations exercise more influence over local neighbourhoods – in both urban and rural areas – than the people who live there.

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Definition of note verbale : a diplomatic note that is more formal than an aide-mémoire and less formal than a note, is drafted in the third person, and is never signed.

Greece To Send Note Verbale To Germany Over War Reparations (K.)

Greece will soon send a so-called note verbale to Germany, repeating a long-held demand for war reparations for the crimes committed by Nazi Germany in World War II, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told parliament on Wednesday, during a debate on a relevant report presented by a House committee. “The Greek government intends to address a note verbale to the Federal Republic of Germany, in which it will repeat its inalienable claims arising from the Nazi invasion and occupation, as well as the war crimes of Nazi Germany,” he told lawmakers and asked them to back the move.


According to the committee report, which has estimated the cost of occupation at up to 300 billion euros, the claims will include: war reparations for the material destruction and the dismantling of the country’s productive capabilities, compensation for victims and the relatives of the victims of war crimes, the repayment of the occupation loan and the return of stolen archaeological treasures. “The demand for German war reparations is a historical and moral debt for us. It will help us build a better future in our relations with Germany. Today, therefore, we have a duty to give our two peoples the opportunity to close this chapter,” Tsipras said.

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“..on the trail of a similar demand by the US for $11 billion in compensation for EU subsidies towards Airbus..”

EU Threatens $12 Billion In Tariffs Over US Boeing Subsidies (AFP)

The EU on Wednesday unveiled a wide-ranging list of US-made goods, from beeswax to car parts, subject to tariffs in retaliation for subsidies to Boeing as a transatlantic trade war risked re-erupting. “European companies must be able to compete on fair and equal terms… We must continue to defend a level-playing field for our industry,” said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in a statement. Europe’s $12 billion claim against Boeing comes on the trail of a similar demand by the US for $11 billion in compensation for EU subsidies towards Airbus. The ultimate amount to be won by both sides will be determined by the World Trade Organization, with the finals sums likely to be far below the tit-for-tat demands by the EU and US.


The Boeing-Airbus trade row has rumbled on for 14 years with the EU and US mutually accusing each other at the WTO of doling out illegal state aid since the 1990s to their respective aeronautical champions. Malmstrom insisted that the EU wanted to close the tit-for-tat battle amicably. “While we need to be ready with countermeasures in case there is no other way out, I still believe that dialogue is what should prevail between important partners such as the EU and the US,” she said.

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“Jet Airways presently has 217 aircraft of various models on order from Boeing..”

More Airlines Collapse: Jet Airways India, Alitalia, WOW Air (WS)

Today, another major airline collapsed. Jet Airways, India’s largest private airline, announced “with immediate effect” that it was “compelled to cancel all its international and domestic flights.” It suspended operations on a “temporary” basis. It said: “Since no emergency funding from the lenders or any other source is forthcoming, the airline will not be able to pay for fuel or other critical services to keep the operations going.” Last year, Jet Airways “suddenly” discovered serious financial issues, which led to a highly dramatic rescue effort by the main creditors (chiefly state-owned State Bank of India and private-sector ICICI Bank) and minority shareholder Etihad under the new Sashakt legislation introduced by the Indian government to deal with the chronic “sudden liquidity problems” of the giant Indian economy.

Etihad injected $35 million into the ailing Indian airline, and the State Bank of India and ICICI Bank provided $218 million emergency line of credit to meet immediate liquidity needs, such as paying salaries and keep alarmed lessors from immediately repossessing aircraft. Apparently Jet Airways burned these fresh funds in no time, as the company’s financial situation was spinning out of control. Cabin crews, pilots and office staff went on strike over unpaid salaries. Suppliers of goods and services started cutting off deliveries “until debts are repaid at least in part.” Dutch authorities seized a Jet Airways Boeing 777-300ER at Schiphol Airport on April 12 following a court ruling over unpaid handling fees.

Unpaid lessors scrambled to get their aircraft back: According to India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in the April 8-14 week alone, 22 of the company’s leased 737-800’s were deregistered and handed back to lessors. Between leased aircraft being repossessed and others being grounded for financial issues, Jet Airways’ operational fleet has gone from 124 planes in February to just 14. This presented a major problem, as the DGCA requires a bare minimum of 20 aircraft for an airline to operate internationally. This led to a wave of flight cancellations while Jet Airways tried to work out a “temporary” agreement with the DGCA over international licensing. In short, the company was falling apart.

Jet Airways presently has 217 aircraft of various models on order from Boeing. How many are going to be paid for and will be delivered remains an interesting question and raises even more questions about the feasibility of the maxi-orders placed by many other Asian airlines with vulnerable financials.

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A state bank may be a nice idea, but as long as you need the Fed’s permission, what are the odds?

The Public Banking Revolution Is Upon Us (Ellen Brown)

[..] when now-Sen. Hueso filed SB 528 earlier this year, he went straight for setting up a state bank. The details could be worked out during the two to three years it would take to get a master account from the Federal Reserve, by a commission drawn from in-house staff that had access to the data and understood the issues. [..] Banks now create most of our money supply and need to be made public utilities, following the stellar precedent of the Bank of North Dakota, which makes below-market loans for local communities and businesses while turning a profit for the state. The Bank of North Dakota was founded in 1919 in response to a farmers’ revolt against out-of-state banks that were foreclosing unfairly on their farms.


Since then it has evolved into a $7.4 billion bank that is reported to be even more profitable than JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, although its mandate is not actually to make a profit but simply to serve the interests of local North Dakota communities. Along with hundreds of public banks worldwide, it has demonstrated what can be done by cutting out private shareholders and middlemen and mobilizing public revenues to serve the public interest. The time is right politically to adopt that model. The newly elected California governor, Gavin Newsom, has expressed strong interest both in a state-owned bank and in the IBank approach. In Los Angeles, the City Council brought a measure for a city-owned bank that won 44% of the vote in November, and City Council President Herb Wesson has stated that the measure will be brought again. Where there is the political will, policymakers generally find a way.

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Monsanto fighting back. The EU needs to listen to its people.

EU Threatens to Legalize Human Harm From Pesticides (CP)

Current EU regulations forbid human exposure to pesticides that are classified as mutagenic, carcinogenic, reprotoxic (toxic for reproduction), persistent or capable of disrupting endocrine systems. By virtue of these and other protective measures EU regulations are considered the gold standard in public protection. However, experts who are closely linked to industry (or are part of anti-regulation pressure groups) have taken control of the EU’s new Science Advice Mechanism (SAM). These experts have contributed to a report commissioned to reevaluate the EU’s authorisation of pesticides. The report, called “EU authorisation processes of Plant Protection Products”, and published in late 2018, recommends dramatically weakening the EU regulatory system.

Especially notable is the adoption of many ideas previously proposed by the chemical industry. For example, the EU currently deems the acceptable level of public exposure to mutagenic pesticides (those that damage DNA) to be zero. The new report recommends scrapping this standard of protection. The history of the new SAM report is that it was requested by EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis. Its purpose was to determine how to act in cases of so-called ‘diverging views’; that is, when media and public interest groups get involved. The request follows a series of major controversies over EU regulatory decision-making. One such controversy was over the herbicide Glyphosate.

A “European Citizens Initiative” delivered more than a million signatures to the EU Commission asking for a ban on Glyphosate. Several cities banned Glyphosate. Even a dairy company banned the use of Glyphosate by their farmers. With this pressure from all over Europe, the EU Commission had difficulty reaching a decision since many EU member states (Bulgaria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and the U.K) opposed a ban. Ultimately, a very unusual 5-years extension for glyphosate was agreed but soon the discussion will start again.

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“New Zealand is now considered one of the most invaded countries in the world..” , “New Zealand is losing species and ecosystems faster than nearly any other country..”

New Zealand’s Environment Is In Serious Trouble (G.)

A report on the state of New Zealand’s environment has painted a bleak picture of catastrophic biodiversity loss, polluted waterways and the destructive rise of the dairy industry and urban sprawl. Environment Aotearoa is the first major environmental report in four years, and was compiled using data from Statistics New Zealand and the environment ministry. It presents a sobering summary of a country that is starkly different from the pristine landscape promoted in the “Pure New Zealand” marketing campaign that lures millions of tourists every year. It found New Zealand is now considered one of the most invaded countries in the world, with 75 animal and plant species having gone extinct since human settlement.

The once-vibrant bird life has fared particularly badly, with 90% of seabirds and 80% of shorebirds threatened with or at risk of extinction. Almost two-thirds of New Zealand’s rare ecosystems are under threat of collapse, and over the last 15 years the extinction risk worsened for 86 species, compared with the conservation status of just 26 species improving in the past 10 years. The scale of what is being lost is impossible to accurately gauge, as only about 20% of New Zealand’s species have been identified and recorded. Kevin Hague from the conservation group Forest and Bird said the report was chilling reading and captured the devastating affects of “decades of procrastination and denial”.

“New Zealand is losing species and ecosystems faster than nearly any other country,” he said. “Four thousand of our native species are in trouble … from rampant dairy conversions to destructive seabed trawling – [we] are irreversibly harming our natural world.”

Read more …

Apr 092019
 


Paul Cézanne Bibémus quarry 1898-1900

 

Trump is Right to Blow Up the Fed (Christopher Whalen)
What Would Stocks Do in “a World Without Buybacks,” Goldman Asks (WS)
Nunes Sends AG Barr Eight Criminal Referrals For Leaks (G.)
Theresa May Forced To Delay Brexit After Historic Win For MPs (G.)
Theresa May To Ask Merkel And Macron For Brexit Delay (R.)
May Risks Wrath Of Tory Brexiters To Plead With EU For More Time (G.)
IMF Economist Warns On Australia Property Slide (AFR)
Stretched Australians Unable To Reduce Debt (AFR)
US Proposes New Tariffs On EU Products Over Airbus Subsidies (AFP)
The Curse of the Thinking Class (Kunstler)
Ecuador Removes Official Close To Assange From London Embassy (SBS)
Brexiteers to Communists And Everything Between Unite For Julian Assange (CF)
Pesticides And Antibiotics Polluting Streams Across Europe (G.)
Nepal Expedition To Remeasure Height Of Mount Everest (AFP)

 

 

But blow it up for real then. What are the odds of that given that the Fed protects the riches of the rich?

Trump is Right to Blow Up the Fed (Christopher Whalen)

Last week, President Donald Trump set the economics community aflame by suggesting that he will appoint businessman and presidential aspirant Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board. Even more than political economist Stephen Moore, the critics maintain, Cain represents a threat to the cabal that has controlled the central bank for decades. Why? Because Cain is a successful executive who founded a real business, took risks, and created jobs, things most academic economists will never ever do. Media outlets and other allied constituencies have howled with rage at the prospect of President Trump “packing the Fed,” a distant reference to attempts by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pack the Supreme Court in the 1930s.

Those worried about the independence of the Federal Reserve Board should reconsider. Independence from what exactly? While the Fed is meant to be independent from the executive branch on a day-to-day basis, it is certainly not independent of Congress or the law. Yet the Fed in recent years has shown a troubling tendency to deviate from its legal mandate and make up new authorities to fit the changing economic situation. Case in point: the dubious notion that we should seek a 2 percent rate of inflation. Anybody who cares to read the 1978 Humphrey Hawkins law will know that the Fed is directed by Congress to seek full employment and then zero inflation. Not 2 percent, but zero.

Yet going back a decade and more, the Fed, led by luminaries such as Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, has advanced a policy of actively embracing inflation. And neither Bernanke nor Yellen bothered to consult Congress when they decided to discard their legal responsibilities. Quantitative easing, to take another example, represents a vast inflation of the financial markets and housing, yet Fed officials actually appear in public and talk about the conundrum presented by “low inflation.” The inflation in home prices that occurred during and after the Fed’s purchase of trillions in securities has permanently raised the price of housing in many parts of the country, preventing millions from purchasing homes. Yellen confesses to be “perplexed” by the dearth of home purchases by young families, but she is the cause of the malady.

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You are not allowed to know the value of the things you buy.

What Would Stocks Do in “a World Without Buybacks,” Goldman Asks (WS)

In the fourth quarter 2018, share repurchases soared 62.8% from a year earlier to a record $223 billion, beating the prior quarterly record set in the third quarter last year, of $204 billion, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices on March 25. It was the fourth quarterly record in a row, the longest such streak in the 20 years of the data. For the whole year 2018, share buybacks soared 55% year-over-year to a record $806 billion, beating the prior record of $589 billion set in 2007 by a blistering 37%! The record buybacks in Q4 came even as stock prices declined on average 5.3%, according to S&P Down Jones Indices. On some bad days during the quarter, corporations were about the only ones left buying their shares.

For the year 2018, these were the top super-duper buyback queens:
Apple: $74.2 billion
Oracle: $29.3 billion
Wells Fargo $21.0 billion
Microsoft: $16.3 billion
Merck: $9.1 billion


But who, outside of corporations buying back their own shares, was buying shares? Goldman Sachs strategists answered this question in a report cited by Bloomberg, that used data from the Federal Reserve to determine “net US equity demand.” These are the largest investor categories other than corporate buybacks, five-year totals:
Foreign investors shed $234 billion.
Pension funds shed $901 billion, possibly to keep asset-class allocations on target as share prices soared.
Stock mutual funds shed $217 billion.
Life insurers added 61 billion
Households added $223 billion.

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Also part of Russiagate.

Nunes Sends AG Barr Eight Criminal Referrals For Leaks (G.)

The “absolutely horrific” leak of Donald Trump’s contentious 2017 phone call with Malcolm Turnbull could lead to criminal charges. Devin Nunes, the highest-ranking Republican member on the US House of Representatives intelligence committee, announced on Sunday he was sending eight criminal referrals to the US attorney general, William Barr. One is aimed at finding out who leaked transcripts of the US president’s phone call with Turnbull on 28 January 2017, a call with the then Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s communications with a Russian ambassador.

“You had conversations with the president of the United States and the prime minister of Australia leak,” Nunes told Fox News. “You had leaks of President Trump talking to the president of Mexico leak. “We all know the travesty of General Flynn. “Nobody knows where those supposed transcripts came from. “Those are just three examples that are absolutely horrific but there’s things that are even worse that were leaked, and there were only two or three reporters involved in this, so it would not be hard to get to the bottom of.” The Trump-Turnbull phone call transcript leak to the Washington Post rocked the usually solid US-Australian alliance, with both nations going into damage control when it was revealed the president abruptly cut short the planned hour-long call to just 24 minutes.

The transcript showed Turnbull pushing Trump to support the asylum seeker deal struck with the former US president Barack Obama. It was Trump’s last of numerous calls with world leaders that day, including the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. “Putin was a pleasant call,” Trump told Turnbull. “This is ridiculous.” Nunes said the eight referrals “are classified or sensitive” so he was unable to offer details. “Five of them are what I would call straight up referrals, so just referrals that name someone and name the specific crimes,” Nunes said. “Those crimes are lying to Congress, misleading Congress, leaking classified information.”

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How far removed are we from the Article 50 activation being withdrawn by the UK?

Theresa May Forced To Delay Brexit After Historic Win For MPs (G.)

Backbench MPs have passed historic legislation to delay article 50, forcing the government to set out its timetable for the length of the Brexit delay in order to prevent the UK exiting the EU with no deal. In extraordinary circumstances, the bill devised by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Oliver Letwin passed its final stages in the House of Lords on Monday night and was approved by the Commons that evening. The swift passage of the bill, which took just three sitting days to complete, was made possible by the success of an unprecedented amendment which allowed MPs to seize control of parliamentary business on particular days, meaning the government could not block its progress.


The EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act received royal assent just after 11pm on Monday night, forcing the prime minister to extend the article 50 process and to set out the length of the extension in the Commons on Tuesday. The Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, said the government would no longer block the progress of the bill after it was passed by the Lords on Monday evening, but she called it a “huge dog’s dinner” and criticised how little time for debate the bill had been given.

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Take back control! Ask for permission!

Theresa May To Ask Merkel And Macron For Brexit Delay (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday to argue for a Brexit delay while her ministers hold crisis talks with Labour to try to break the deadlock in London. Britain’s departure from the EU has already been delayed once but May is asking for yet more time as she courts veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn, whose opposition Labour Party wants to keep Britain more closely tied to the bloc after Brexit. “The Prime Minister has not yet moved off her red lines so we can reach a compromise,” Corbyn said ahead of further talks between his team and government ministers on Tuesday. While May travels to Berlin and Paris ahead of an emergency EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday, British lawmakers will hold a 90-minute debate on her proposal to delay Britain’s EU departure date to June 30 from April 12.

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There is no way out anymore.

May Risks Wrath Of Tory Brexiters To Plead With EU For More Time (G.)

Theresa May will go to Paris and Berlin to plead with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for a Brexit extension on Tuesday, promising to be a good member of the European Union until departure day and claiming talks with Labour have a serious chance of reaching a deal. Before an emergency European summit this week, the prime minister will head to the continent to make the case for extending article 50 only until the end of June. However, she is also being forced to make pledges that the UK would abide by EU rules for however long it is a member, given that a longer delay and participation in European elections now look like the most likely option.

EU leaders will decide at the talks on Wednesday night whether to grant an extension to article 50 at all but are most likely to offer a longer delay of up to a year involving strict conditions forcing the UK into “sincere cooperation” with the rest of the bloc. That prospect appeared to be acknowledged on Monday when the Conservative party drew the ire of hard Brexiters – already seeking an indicative confidence vote in the prime minister – by telling potential local election candidates it is preparing to fight in the European elections in May, and asking potential MEPs to put themselves forward.

To avoid EU elections, May would probably have to pass her deal by 12 April and have all the necessary legislation pushed through parliament by the day of the polls on 23 May. If no extension is granted and no withdrawal agreement passed, the UK will leave the EU without a deal on Friday.

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I don’t understand things like this: “..whichever party wins the next election will have its work cut out for it sustaining Australia’s near three-decade run of continuous economic growth.

You’re going to have to accept that growth may halt over 30 years, and to realize that may be a good thing.

IMF Economist Warns On Australia Property Slide (AFR)

Australia’s housing market contraction is worse than first thought, says a top IMF analyst, leaving the economy in what he called a “delicate situation” that boosts the need for faster infrastructure spending and even potential interest rate cuts. In an exclusive interview, the International Monetary Fund’s lead economist for Australia, Thomas Helbling, endorsed last week’s federal budget forecasts for recognising the “weaker outlook” and its use of sober commodity price forecasts. However, Dr Helbling warned the negative fallout from what the IMF will this week admit is a greater-than-anticipated property market downturn in Australia requires more effort by governments to deliver new sources of growth to make up for a worsening shortfall.


Dr Helbling implied the pace of infrastructure spending – as measured in the national accounts – has fallen short of what was scheduled in recent budget figures. “I think given where the economy is now, that this growth impetus comes forward is important in the current cyclical setting. “The ambition [on infrastructure spending] is in many senses welcome,” he said. “The housing market downturn is sort of sagging on the demand side, so you want to have other demand sources pulling.” The assessment by Dr Helbling suggests whichever party wins the next election will have its work cut out for it sustaining Australia’s near three-decade run of continuous economic growth.

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3 decades of growth, right?

Stretched Australians Unable To Reduce Debt (AFR)

Less than a third of Australians expect to reduce their debt load this year – down from 60 per cent last year – and not because they don’t want to but because they can’t, a survey by EY shows. Australia’s household debt-to-income ratio is 190 per cent, and the Reserve Bank of Australia says it remains one of the biggest vulnerabilities in the economy. The heightened level of debt is unlikely to change even with interest rates expected to fall over the coming year, and the introduction of income tax cuts helping some to reduce debt rather than increase spending.

When survey respondents were asked whether they expected to reduce, increase or keep personal and household debt at the same level, 28 per cent said they would reduce their debt level, down from 60 per cent in last year’s survey. In 2018, 73 per cent of high-income earners ($150,000 or more) said they expected to pay down debt. That has fallen to 37 per cent. “Given that our survey also showed that over 60 per cent of Australians are ‘extremely’ concerned about the increasing cost of living – the cost of essential services and increasing energy prices – it seems that more households are not paying down debt because they do not have the capacity to do so,” EY chief economist Jo Masters said.


[..] The number who said they would increase their debt level over the next 12 months has risen to 16 per cent, up from 4 per cent last year. In the income bracket of $70,000-$149,999 the number of people looking to increase debt has risen to 21 per cent up from just 6 per cent last year. The number in that income bracket who were looking to decrease their debt dropped to 34 per cent from 62 per cent last year.

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Dear Americans, you’re going to pay more for your European wine and cheeses so attention is deflected from Boeing.

US Proposes New Tariffs On EU Products Over Airbus Subsidies (AFP)

The US on Monday threatened to impose tariff counter measures of up to $11.2 billion on a host of European products in response to subsidies received by aircraft maker Airbus. In a statement, the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) said the World Trade Organization (WTO) had repeatedly found that EU subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States. “This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action,” said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.


“Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft. When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional US duties imposed in response can be lifted.” The statement added that the final amount it would seek in duties was subject to arbitration at the WTO, the result of which was expected this summer. The USTR’s preliminary list extends to 14 pages and contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.

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“.. a hopeless attempt to preserve their reputations and perhaps even their livelihoods.”

The Curse of the Thinking Class (Kunstler)

What is a bigger emergency: the destruction of all those towns, cities, and lives in flyover-land, or the S & P stock index going down twenty points? The choice made by the “experts” the past ten years is obvious: pump the financial markets at all costs by using dishonest policy interventions which they are smart enough to know will eventually blow up the banking system. They did it to preserve their reputations long enough to retire out of their jobs. The trouble is that the damage is now so extreme that when the time comes for them to apologize it will not be enough. They will lose their freedom and perhaps their heads. The neuroticism and dishonesty is exactly what turned two of this country’s most sacred and noble endeavors, higher education and medicine, into disgraceful rackets.

Sunday night, CBS 60 Minutes covered both bases in their lead story about how the NYU medical school recently declared its program tuition-free. This great triumph was due to an enormous cash gift from one of the founders of the Home Depot company, billionaire Ken Langone. Nowhere in the broadcast did CBS raise the question as to how the cost of a degree became so outrageous in the first place. Or how Mr. Langone made his fortune by putting every local hardware store in America out of business, which enabled him to capture the annual incomes of ten thousand small business owners and their employees. NYU’s grand gesture is just a way to paper over the shame of the University executives’ role in the college loan racket that may destroy countless lives.

[..] RussiaGate, of course, has been the most acute locus of neurotic dishonesty across this land the past two years. The primary information organs of the thinking class — The New York Times, The WashPo, CNN, MSNBC — have not only omitted to apologize for the dangerous hysteria they knowingly propagated, but they persist in supporting the matrix of fantasies at all costs in what must now be seen as a hopeless attempt to preserve their reputations and perhaps even their livelihoods. The repudiation of this nonsense by chief inquisitor Robert Mueller could not be more absolute, even if he was compelled by reality against his own wishes and instincts to do it. And now, what avenue will all this diseased animus of the thinking class go down in its destructive, shame-fueled frenzy to justify itself?

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I thought they’d already gotten rid of everyone even a little sympathetic to him.

Ecuador Removes Official Close To Assange From London Embassy (SBS)

The Ecuadorian government has removed an official from its London embassy accused of having a close rapport with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Foreign Minister Jose Valencia has told Democracia radio in Quito the civil servant “worked in a very close way” with Assange. Valencia did not provide the official’s name or go into any detail, other than to say that embassy workers must respond first to the Ecuadorian state. The removal comes as tensions between Ecuador and Assange continue to mount. Ecuador recently accused WikiLeaks of helping spread leaked personal documents belonging to President Lenin Moreno.

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Cassandra’s been reporting from the street in front of the embassy. Undercover cops galore.

Brexiteers to Communists And Everything Between Unite For Julian Assange (CF)

The mainstream media tells us we live in an age of “hyper-partisanship.” But that’s not what I witnessed outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where populist right-wingers, anti-imperialist socialists, Brexit supporters and even liberals stood united against the political establishment’s seven-year persecution of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Protesters from nearly every part of the political spectrum could be found outside the embassy during my three-day expedition, galvanized by reports that Assange may soon be expelled from the building where he has been living under political asylum since 2012.

On Saturday afternoon, England’s Yellow Vests and Brexit supporters flooded the area in support of the WikiLeaks publisher. A few steps away from them, also flying the flag for WikiLeaks, was an out-and-proud communist wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, wheeling around a slogan-adorned cart praising Cuban revolutionaries. It was the first sign that both the far-left and the populist right, despite the gulf of their differences, could stand together in support of a free press. Both leftists and the pro-Brexit right wing crowd chanted “which side are you on” together to the police. They also found common cause in their distrust of the mainstream media, chanting “Fake News BBC” for several minutes – a reference to the notoriously biased British Broadcasting Corporation, the U.K,’s state-backed broadcaster.


Over the next few days, more than one leftist activist told me of their special disdain for BBC reporter John Sweeney, and one even expressed quiet praise for the populist Islam critic Tommy Robinson’s work exposing the BBC in general and Sweeney in particular. The following day, it was the turn of Latin American leftists to have a show of force. Scattered right-wing activists danced along with an upbeat protest organized by socialist Ecuadorian expats in support of Assange. The group held signs branding Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno a traitor along with banners demanding that the WikiLeaks founder be protected — while standing around Che Guevara flags.


Ciaron O’Reilly has been camped outside the embassy for over 130 days

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“The pollution was so severe in places that the ditchwater itself could have been used as a pesticide.”

Don’t allow Monsanto and Syngenta to play the good guys, as they do here.

Pesticides And Antibiotics Polluting Streams Across Europe (G.)

Pesticides and antibiotics are polluting streams across Europe, a study has found. Scientists say the contamination is dangerous for wildlife and may increase the development of drug-resistant microbes. More than 100 pesticides and 21 drugs were detected in the 29 waterways analysed in 10 European nations, including the UK. A quarter of the chemicals identified are banned, while half of the streams analysed had at least one pesticide above permitted levels.

[..] One of the world’s biggest pesticide makers, Syngenta, announced a “major shift in global strategy” on Monday, to take on board society’s concerns and reduce residues in the environment. “There is an undeniable demand for a shift in our industry,” said Alexandra Brand, the chief sustainability officer of Syngenta. “We will put our innovation more strongly in the service of helping farms become resilient to changing climates and better able to adapt to consumer requirements, including reducing carbon emissions and reversing soil erosion and biodiversity decline.” Another major pesticide manufacturer, Bayer, said on Monday it was making public all 107 studies submitted to European regulators on the safety of its controversial herbicide glyphosate.

[..] The testing techniques used in the new research meant only a subset of pesticides could be detected. Two very common pesticides – glyphosate and chlorothalonil – were not included in the study.. [..] Irish Water said on Monday that EU pesticide levels were being breached in public water supplies across Ireland. In Switzerland, another new study found that soils in 93% of organic farms were contaminated with insecticides, as were 80% of the areas farmers set aside for wildlife. Research revealed in 2013 that insecticides were devastating dragonflies, snails and other water-based species in the Netherlands. The pollution was so severe in places that the ditchwater itself could have been used as a pesticide.

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1000s of highly sophisticated satellites in orbit but they still need climbers to measure a mountain.

Nepal Expedition To Remeasure Height Of Mount Everest (AFP)

Nepal is sending a team of government-appointed climbers up Mount Everest to remeasure its height, officials said Monday, hoping to quash persistent speculation that the world’s tallest mountain has shrunk. Four government surveyors will depart Wednesday for Everest, which lies on the Himalayan range straddling the border of Nepal and China. Its official height is 8,848 metres (29,029 feet), first recorded by an Indian survey in 1954. Numerous other teams have measured the peak, although the 1954 height remains the widely accepted figure. But a heated debate erupted in the aftermath of a massive earthquake in Nepal in 2015, with suggestions the powerful tremor had knocked height off the lofty peak.

Nepal’s Survey Department commissioned a team of surveyors in 2017 to prepare for an Everest expedition in the hope of putting the matter to rest. “We are sending a team because there were questions regarding the height of Everest after the earthquake,” the expedition’s co-ordinator from the Survey Department, Susheel Dangol, told AFP. Four government surveyors have spent two years fine tuning their methodology for measuring the peak, collecting readings from the ground and training for the extreme conditions they will encounter at the top of the world. They will ascend the treacherous mountain armed with advanced equipment to collect the remaining data to derive the true height of the peak, officials say.

[..] In May 1999 an American team added two metres to Everest’s height when it used GPS technology to survey the peak. That figure is now used by the US National Geographic Society, but otherwise not widely accepted. Later, Nepal became embroiled in a diplomatic row with China after the latter claimed the peak was four metres shorter than the accepted height.

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Mar 312019
 


Banksy Devolved Parliament 2009

 

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove Under Fire On Vote Leave’s Law-Breaking (G.)
EU Will Delay Brexit To Allow Another Referendum (Ind.)
May Risks ‘Total Collapse’ Of Government In Brexit Impasse – Sunday Times (R.)
Furious Tory MPs Tell May: We’ll Block Snap Brexit Election (G.)
Corbyn Accuses Government Of ‘Bullying’ MPs (G.)
The Insanity of Global Trade (Roar)
Chelsea Manning’s Lawyers File An Appeal Against Her Detention (Canary)
Who Is Paying For Monsanto’s Crimes? We Are (G.)
$80 Million Roundup Verdict Is Only $2.5M After Taxes, New IRS Math (F.)
EU Bans UK’s Most-Used Pesticide Over Health And Environment Fears (G.)
How The Lion Lost Its Strength (G.)
Chicxulub: Stunning Fossils Record Dinosaurs’ Demise (BBC)

 

 

For anyone who wanted to stop Brexit, this seemed the way out: show illegal activity. Plenty appears to be there, but it’s been swept under the carpet. Why hasn’t it been investigated much more?

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove Under Fire On Vote Leave’s Law-Breaking (G.)

Conservative leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are facing growing calls to account for illegal behaviour by the official Vote Leave Brexit campaign. The group has dropped its appeal against the Electoral Commission’s ruling that it broke the law by channelling hundreds of thousands of pounds of donations to an ostensibly independent campaign group, BeLeave. When the Observer revealed evidence a year ago that Vote Leave had broken spending rules, Johnson attacked the report on Twitter as “utterly ludicrous” and said it had “won … legally”. A Johnson adviser said on Saturday that the former foreign secretary would not comment on the end of the appeal.

There has been no government response to the appeal being dropped and little media coverage. And while national broadcasters and newspapers gave prime coverage to Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliot when he launched an aggressive media campaign against the watchdog’s initial findings, few covered the decision to to end the appeals process in any depth. After the announcement, whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, who was outed by a member of Theresa May’s team, lost his job and was vilified as a fantasist after his revelations about Vote Leave’s spending, said: “The [end of the appeal] feels extremely vindicating, but the way the media has responded to it has been extremely disappointing. The only excuse they had is that they were appealing. Now we know they broke the law, they need to be held to account.”


Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said the confirmation that Vote Leave had broken the law underlined the need for a second referendum. “It is now incumbent on the government to act. We have heard minister after minister say the referendum is valid. This is proof it was not,” she said. “Going ahead with Brexit in these circumstances would be the biggest betrayal of our democracy of all.”

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Britain can only do what the EU will allow.

EU Will Delay Brexit To Allow Another Referendum (Ind.)

EU leaders are prepared to let Britain delay Brexit again to allow time for a second referendum, The Independent understands. After parliament rejected Theresa May’s deal for a third time, the bloc called a summit on 10 April – two days before the UK is on course to leave without a deal. And senior Brussels officials familiar with leaders’ thinking say that barring a credible plan to get a majority for the withdrawal agreement, the UK would be given more time only if it was for another clear option such as a general election or a referendum. The EU has already warned that a further extension, which could run until at least the end of the year, would also require the UK to take part in European parliament elections scheduled for the end of May.


As reported by The Independent, the prime minister is considering a general election as a way out of the Brexit chaos in Westminster, where MPs have rejected all options – including a no-deal Brexit. Senior officials in Brussels have made clear that an extension would also be justified if it was to make time for a referendum. Indicative votes in the Commons this week showed relatively strong support for a confirmatory referendum among MPs, with numbers such that only around a dozen more would need to be convinced to back one to pass it. One senior EU official said there were “three possible justifications” for a long extension emerging in member states’ thinking following their summit last week.

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Obviously. But a lot more could collapse.

May Risks ‘Total Collapse’ Of Government In Brexit Impasse – Sunday Times (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May risks the “total collapse” of her government if she fails to get her battered Brexit deal through parliament, the Sunday Times newspaper said, amid growing speculation that she might call an early election. Underscoring the tough choices facing May to break the Brexit impasse, the newspaper said at least six pro-European Union senior ministers will resign if she opts for a potentially damaging no-deal departure from the EU. But at the same time, rival ministers who support Brexit were threatening to quit if May decides to stay close to the EU with a customs union or if she sought a long delay to Brexit, the Sunday Times said.

May’s Brexit strategy is in tatters after the exit deal she hammered out with other EU leaders was rejected for a third time by the House of Commons on Friday, the day that Britain was supposed to leave the bloc. [..] The Mail on Sunday newspaper said May’s advisors were divided over whether she should call an early election if she fails to win support for her Brexit deal from parliament in the coming week. The newspaper said a possible “run-off” vote could take place on Tuesday in parliament between May’s deal and whatever alternative emerges as the most popular from voting by lawmakers on Monday. That meant an election could be called as early as Wednesday, the newspaper said …


The Sunday Telegraph said senior members of the Conservative Party did not want May to lead them into a snap election, fearing the party would be “annihilated” at the polls if she faced down parliament over Brexit in the coming months. An opinion poll in the Mail on Sunday gave the opposition Labour Party a lead of five percentage points over the Conservatives. That lead fell to three points if voters were offered the chance to vote for a new group of independent lawmakers who have not yet created an official party.

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“The threat of an election immediately angered both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain MPs. May would need a two-thirds majority in the Commons to secure one..”

Furious Tory MPs Tell May: We’ll Block Snap Brexit Election (G.)

Conservative MPs from across the party are threatening to vote down any attempt by Theresa May to lead them into a snap election, warning it would split the Tories and exacerbate the Brexit crisis. In a sign of the collapse in authority suffered by the prime minister, cabinet ministers are among those warning that there will be a serious campaign by Conservative MPs to vote against an election headed by May, a move she hinted at last week to break the Brexit deadlock. The threat of an election immediately angered both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain MPs. May would need a two-thirds majority in the Commons to secure one, meaning a serious rebellion by Tories could block it. May would then be forced to secure an election by backing a no-confidence vote in her own government, which only requires a simple majority of MPs.


Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan said: “If we have a general election before Brexit is resolved, it will only make things worse.” Antoinette Sandbach, a Tory MP who backs another referendum being held on any deal agreed by parliament, said she would vote against calling an election. “The answer is not a general election, and I would vote against that. We need to find a way forward in parliament and then put that to the people in a confirmatory referendum.” Mark Francois, a member of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit MPs, said there was “not a chance” that Conservative MPs would back an election under May. “‘Of course they wouldn’t – not after last time. And remember, she needs a super majority to do it.”

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Then call for a national government, you twit.

Corbyn Accuses Government Of ‘Bullying’ MPs (G.)

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has accused the government of running down the clock and “bullying and threatening” MPs as it tried to force through Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Speaking in Newport, south Wales, before a byelection on Thursday, Corbyn also refused to say what his party’s parliamentary tactics would be during a second round of indicative votes due to take place on Monday. He said that the option of giving the public a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal “is the Labour position so far, but there hasn’t been enough support for that across the floor in the House of Commons”. During this week’s indicative votes, the option for a public vote was whipped by Labour but was defeated by 295 to 268 votes, with 27 of the party’s MPs rebelling.


Corbyn said: “The absolute priority at the moment is to end this chaos the government has brought us to by their endlessly running down the clock and basically bullying and threatening people. The bullying hasn’t worked, the threats haven’t worked. It’s time now for the sensible people to take over.” He cautioned: “This is a very dangerous period, because if we crash out without a deal then the supply chains get interrupted, jobs are at stake, and also the sense of security of many EU nationals living in Britain, and of course British people living across Europe.” [..] “However people voted in the referendum, no one voted to lose their jobs, no one voted to be worse off, and no one voted to deregulate our society.”

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Maximizing waste production is our economic model. Lovely video.

The Insanity of Global Trade (Roar)

The way trade works in the global economy is often absurd. Food routinely gets shipped halfway across the world to be processed, then shipped back to be sold right where it started. Mexican calves — fed imported American corn — are exported to the United States to be butchered, and then the meat is exported back to Mexico for sale. More than half of the seafood caught in Alaska gets processed in China, and much of it is sent right back to American grocery store shelves. Compounding the insanity of this “re-importation” is the equally head-scratching phenomenon of “redundant trade”. This is a common practice whereby countries both import and export identical quantities of identical products in a given year.

For instance, in 2007, Britain imported 15,000 tons of chocolate-covered waffles, while exporting 14,000 tons. In 2017, the US both imported and exported nearly 1.5 million tons of beef and nearly half a million tons of potatoes. On the face of it, this kind of trade makes no economic sense. Why would it be worth the immense cost — in money as well as fuel — of sending perfectly good food abroad only to bring it right back again? The answer lies in the way the global economy is structured. Direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels, on the order of $5 trillion per year worldwide, allow the costs of shipping to be largely borne by taxpayers and the environment instead of the businesses that actually engage in it. This allows transnational corporations to take advantage of differences in labor and environmental laws between countries, not to mention tax loopholes, in service of making a bigger profit.


The consequences of this bad behavior are already severe, and set to become worse in the coming decades. Small farmers, particularly in the Global South, have seen their livelihoods undermined by influxes of cheap food from abroad. Trade agreements have made it impossible for companies to compete in the global economy unless they base their operations in places with the weakest protections for workers and the environment. And all the while, the share of global carbon emissions produced by commercial shipping is set to rise to 17 percent by 2050, if action isn’t taken to curb our addiction to trade.

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So far, the law has not been on Chelsea’s side. Or actually, it has. It just doesn’t count for much anymore.

Chelsea Manning’s Lawyers File An Appeal Against Her Detention (Canary)

Chelsea’s Manning’s legal team have filed an appeal on her behalf. They’ve asked that the fourth circuit court order her release from detention. On 8 March, Manning refused to testify in front of a grand jury about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Judge Claude Hilton found that Manning was in contempt of court and ordered her jailed. Manning will walk free when she either chooses to testify or the grand jury finishes its work. As a result, Manning could be held in jail for a further 18 months. Her support group Chelsea Resists! published a statement about the appeal. It said that her legal team are basing the appeal on three issues. Firstly, it said: “Judge Hilton denied Chelsea’s motion asking the government to disclose the existence of any unlawful surveillance without actually considering the evidence.”

This is important, it argued, because “evidence derived from unlawful surveillance may not be used in a grand jury”. Secondly, it claimed judge Hilton did not get assurances that the government’s subpoenaing of Manning was “properly motivated”. Chelsea Resists! said: “Prosecutors may not use the grand jury for the primary purpose of preparing for trial of an already-secured indictment. Chelsea raised concerns that the government did not need her testimony to further their investigation, and that rather they intended to use the subpoena to preview and perhaps undermine any testimony she might give at trial for an already-pending indictment.” It said this is “an abuse of process” which would void the initial subpoena. It argued that the judge “did not consider the facts or the law on this motion”.


For now, the US government is still holding Manning in detention. As The Canary previously reported, her support group has also accused the government of torturing her. According to Chelsea Resists!, prison authorities confine Manning to her cell for 22 hours a day. It says that “this treatment qualifies as Solitary Confinement” which “amounts to torture” when maintained for over 15 days. In its latest statement, it also said that this confinement: “..is especially egregious given that Chelsea has not been charged with or convicted of a crime.” The US government previously held Manning in solitary confinement from May 2010 to April 2011.

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“..US district judge Vince Chhabria [..] said there were “large swaths of evidence” showing that the company’s herbicides could cause cancer. He also said there was “a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product..”

Who Is Paying For Monsanto’s Crimes? We Are (G.)

The chickens are coming home to roost, as they say in farm country. For the second time in less than eight months a US jury has found that decades of scientific evidence demonstrates a clear cancer connection to Monsanto’s line of top-selling Roundup herbicides, which are used widely by consumers and farmers. Twice now jurors have additionally determined that the company’s own internal records show Monsanto has intentionally manipulated the public record to hide the cancer risks. Both juries found punitive damages were warranted because the company’s cover-up of cancer risks was so egregious.


The juries saw evidence that Monsanto has ghost-written scientific papers, tried to silence scientists, scuttled independent government testing, and cozied up to regulators for favorable safety reviews of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Even the US district judge Vince Chhabria, who oversaw the San Francisco trial that concluded Wednesday with an $80.2m damage award, had harsh words for Monsanto. Chhabria said there were “large swaths of evidence” showing that the company’s herbicides could cause cancer. He also said there was “a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product… and does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.”

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Oh dear…

$80 Million Roundup Verdict Is Only $2.5M After Taxes, New IRS Math (F.)

Another Roundup verdict is in. This time, jurors found that Monsanto failed to warn users its product was dangerous and awarded Edwin Hardeman $200,000 for economic losses, $5 million for past and future pain and suffering, and $75 million in punitive damages. Last year, jurors gave $289 million to a man they say got cancer from Monsanto’s Roundup. That verdict was later reduced, and is on appeal. But the latest case is federal, and suggests that others could be headed for big numbers. The jury had already concluded that the weedkiller was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Hardeman’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Monsanto faces over 10,000 claims, and can be expected to continue fighting hard. But even if Monsanto pays up, new tax rules could swallow up many of the verdicts plaintiffs might be hoping to collect. Wait until you see the new tax math.

Under President Trump’s tax bill passed in late 2017, there is a new tax on litigation settlements: no deduction for legal fees. Amazingly, many legal fees can no longer be deducted. That means many plaintiffs must pay taxes even on monies their attorneys collect. Of course, the attorneys must also pay tax on the same money. Here’s the new math. Hardeman was awarded a bit over $5 million in compensatory damages, and $75M in punitive damages. The combined contingent fees and costs Mr. Hardeman pays his attorneys might total as much as 50%. If so, the plaintiff would get to keep half, or $2.5 million of the $5 million compensatory award. Since it is for his claimed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that part for physical injuries should not be taxed.


Then, of the $75 million punitive award, $37.5 million goes to legal fees and costs, and $37.5 million to Hardeman. So before taxes, the plaintiff’s take home is $40 million. What about after taxes? The $75 million in punitive damages are fully taxable, with no deduction for the fees to his lawyer. Between federal taxes of 37% and California taxes of up to 13.3%, Hardeman could lose about 50% to the IRS and California Franchise Tax Board. That makes his after-tax (and after legal fee) haul from an $80 million verdict only $2.5 million.

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Everything dies baby that’s a fact. We live in a death culture.

EU Bans UK’s Most-Used Pesticide Over Health And Environment Fears (G.)

One of the world’s most common pesticides will soon be banned by the European Union after safety officials reported human health and environmental concerns. Chlorothalonil, a fungicide that prevents mildew and mould on crops, is the most used pesticide in the UK, applied to millions of hectares of fields, and is the most popular fungicide in the US. Farmers called the ban “overly precautionary”. But EU states voted for a ban after a review by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) was unable to exclude the possibility that breakdown products of the chemical cause damage to DNA. Efsa also said “a high risk to amphibians and fish was identified for all representative uses”.

Recent research further identified chlorothalonil and other fungicides as the strongest factor linked to steep declines in bumblebees. Regulators around the world have falsely assumed it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes, according to a chief scientific adviser to the UK government. Other research in 2017 showed farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses, while a UN report denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.


A European commission spokeswoman said: “The [chlorothalonil ban] is based on Efsa’s scientific assessment which concluded that the approval criteria do not seem to be satisfied for a wide range of reasons. Great concerns are raised in relation to contamination of groundwater by metabolites of the substance.” Chlorothalonil has been used across the world since 1964 on barley and wheat, as well as potatoes, peas and beans. The ban will be passed formally in late April or early May and then enter into force three weeks later, the commission spokeswoman said.

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Inbreeding.

How The Lion Lost Its Strength (G.)

For more than a century, explorers and settlers have warned about the likely impact of the hunting of lions and other wild animals in Africa. One of the most prescient, Frederick Selous, the inspiration for the character Allan Quatermain in the novels of H Rider Haggard, wrote in 1908 that “since my first arrival in 1871, I had seen game of all kinds gradually decrease and dwindle in numbers to such an extent that I thought that nowhere south of the Great Lakes could there be a corner of Africa left where the wild animals had not been very much thinned out”.

Now researchers have uncovered the impact of that predation on the lion. Lion numbers and range have plunged – but it appears their genetic fitness has also declined. An alarming new study has revealed that lions shot by colonial hunters more than 100 years ago were more genetically diverse than the ones that now populate Africa. The discovery is worrying because it indicates that the species’ fight to survive may be even more difficult than had been previously thought. “Loss of genetic diversity means that lions are now less able to withstand new diseases or environmental problems, such as heatwaves or droughts,” said lead author Simon Dures, of the Zoological Society of London. “It means that we will have to be even more careful about how we try to protect them.”


In the late 19th century there were about 200,000 members of Panthera leo roaming the savannahs of Africa. Then European colonialists arrived and began shooting lions – the most social of all cats – in their thousands, first as sport and later to protect the cattle that the newcomers had begun to farm. With fewer than 20,000 of these majestic predators left on the continent, the species has now been designated as “vulnerable”.


Lions have lost some of their ability to cope with diseases, environmental changes or other threats. Photograph: Heinrich van den Berg/Getty Images

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Always fascinating.

Chicxulub: Stunning Fossils Record Dinosaurs’ Demise (BBC)

Scientists have found an extraordinary snapshot of the fallout from the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Excavations in North Dakota reveal fossils of fish and trees that were sprayed with rocky, glassy fragments that fell from the sky. The deposits show evidence also of having been swamped with water – the consequence of the colossal sea surge that was generated by the impact. Robert DePalma, from the University of Kansas, and colleagues say the dig site, at a place called Tanis, gives an amazing glimpse into events that probably occurred perhaps only tens of minutes to a couple of hours after the giant asteroid hit the Earth.


Fossilised fish piled one atop another as they were flung ashore by the seiche

When this 12km-wide object slammed into what is now the Gulf of Mexico, it would have hurled billions of tonnes of molten and vaporised rock into the sky in all directions – and across thousands of kilometres. And at Tanis, the fossils record the moment this bead-sized material fell back down and strafed everything in its path. Fish are found with the impact-induced debris embedded in their gills. They would have breathed in the fragments that filled the water around them. There are also particles caught in amber, which is the preserved remnant of tree resin. It is even possible to discern the wake left by these tiny, glassy tektites, to use the technical term, as they entered the resin.


Dating the tektites gives an age for the impact – 65.76 million years ago

Geochemists have managed to link the fallout material directly to the so-called Chicxulub impact site in the Gulf. They have also dated the debris to 65.76 million years ago, which is in very good agreement with the timing for the event worked out from evidence at other sites around the world. From the way the Tanis deposits are arranged, the scientists can see that the area was hit by a massive surge of water. Although the impact is understood to have generated a huge tsunami, it would have taken many hours for this wave to travel the 3,000km from the Gulf to North Dakota, despite the likely presence back then of a seaway cutting directly across the American landmass.


The outer rim (white arc) of the crater lies partly under Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Read more …

Mar 212019
 


Pablo Picasso Bathers with ball 3 1928

 

Why The Fed Keeps Propping Up The Market (Colombo)
Fed’s New Balance Sheet Plan: Get Rid of MBS (WS)
EU Will Only Back Short Brexit Delay If May’s Deal Passes First (G.)
Remain Would Win Second Brexit Referendum Clearly, Poll Indicates (Ind.)
Theresa May: Don’t Blame Me For Brexit Crisis, Blame MPs (G.)
MPs Furious After May Blames Them For Crisis (Ind.)
New Zealand Bans All Assault Weapons Immediately (AP)
Stagnant Capitalism (Varoufakis)
Exposing the Myth of MMT (Rickards)
Australia Construction Slowdown A Major Threat To The Economy (ABC.au)
As Russia Collusion Fades, Ukrainian Plot To Help Clinton Emerges (Solomon)
Sucking Liberals into a New Cold War (William Blum)
Loneliness Estimated To Shorten A Person’s Life By 15 Years (SciAm)
Kale Is Now One Of The Most Pesticide-Contaminated Vegetables (CNBC)

 

 

Yeah, no, more Fed crap and comments about markets and I’ve had enough. A market should be recognized as an action, a process, not as a thing or an object. And the action is price discovery. If that is not taking place you don’t have a market. Anything the Fed props up is not a market. One necessary aspect of price discovery is honesty, people must believe they’re not being tricked. With the way people talk about this now, the language they use risks losing all meaning. Enough already, and that goes for Jesse Colombo too. Who also posted this one on Twitter, which is a lot more relevant than his article. But that’s just me.

 

 

Why The Fed Keeps Propping Up The Market (Colombo)

The bull market of the past decade since the Great Recession has been an unusual one: despite all of the economic damage that occurred during the global financial crisis and rising risks (including global debt rising by $75 trillion), it has been the longest bull market in history. The explanation for this paradox is simple: it’s not an organic bull market because the Fed and other central banks keep stepping in to prop up the market every time it stumbles. Though the Fed has two official mandates (maintaining stable consumer prices and maximizing employment), it has taken on the unofficial third mandate of supporting and boosting the stock market since the Great Recession.

The chart below, which was inspired by market strategist Sven Henrich, shows how the Fed or other central banks have stepped in with more monetary stimulus (quantitative easing, promises to keep interest rates low, etc.) every time the S&P 500 has stumbled over the past decade:

An economy that is growing at 2%, inflation near zero, and Central banks globally required to continue dumping trillions of dollars into the financial system just to keep it afloat is not an economy we should be aspiring to. But despite commentary the financial system has been ‘put back together again,’ then why are Central Banks acting?

Read more …

Get rid of them or they’ll blow up America.

Fed’s New Balance Sheet Plan: Get Rid of MBS (WS)

The Fed has a new plan for what to do with its balance sheet and today announced several major components of it:

• Begin tapering the “runoff” of Treasury securities in May. • End the runoff of Treasury securities on September 30. • Continue shedding mortgage-backed securities (MBS) at the current maximum of $20 billion a month, essentially until their gone. • After September, reinvest MBS principal payments into Treasury securities. • Chair Jerome Powell said during the press conference that the balance sheet will by then be “a bit above $3.5 trillion.” • The balance sheet will remain at this level even as the economy grows, thus slowly shrinking in relationship to GDP. • The Fed may sell MBS outright to speed up the process of getting rid of them. • No decision has been made on the delicate issue of the maturity composition of the balance sheet – which would require buying short-term bills for the first time in years to replace longer-term notes and bonds.

The stated balance-sheet doctrine now is that the Fed wants to have sufficient reserves (money that banks deposit at the Fed) to conduct monetary policy efficiently. The interest it pays the banks on those reserves is one of its major tools to manage short-term interest rates.

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It’s not even the main trump card the EU has.

EU Will Only Back Short Brexit Delay If May’s Deal Passes First (G.)

Donald Tusk has put a no-deal Brexit back on the table by saying EU leaders will only agree to a short delay if MPs back Theresa May’s deal next week, on a day of high drama in Brussels and London. After belatedly receiving the prime minister’s formal letter requesting a three-month extension of article 50, and taking a late afternoon phone call with her, the European council president admitted that success appeared “frail, even illusory” on the eve of Thursday’s summit. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, tweeted: “The letter from Theresa May has not solved any problem yet. If the European council [summit of leaders] is to decide on an extension of the deadline for Britain, we would like to know what is the concrete purpose.”

But Tusk said the EU would seek until the very last moment to avoid the UK crashing out without a deal and show “patience and goodwill” despite the “Brexit fatigue” in the capitals. The EU27’s heads of state or government would be likely to agree in principle at the summit on Thursday to an extension up to 23 May or 30 June, and sign it off without needing to meet next week should May be able to find a majority in the Commons at the third time of asking, he said. The European commission is insisting that an extension beyond the date of the European elections on 23 May would require British MEPs to be elected, although others believe there is little risk as long as the UK has left by 1 July when the parliament formally convenes.

“In the light of the consultations that I have conducted over the past days I believe that a short extension will be possible but to be conditional on a positive vote on the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons,” Tusk said. “A question remains open as to the duration of such an extension. Prime Minister May’s proposal of the 30 June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature. Leaders will discuss this tomorrow.”

The frustration and “tension”, as one senior EU diplomat described it, was made clear by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who told the French parliament on Wednesday afternoon that Paris was willing to block an extension. He said there were only two ways to leave the EU: ratify the withdrawal agreement or a no-deal exit. If parliament did not ratify the withdrawal agreement “the central scenario is a no-deal exit”, he said, adding: “We’re ready.” He stated that if May could not present “sufficient guarantees of the credibility of her strategy” that would lead to the extension being refused and a no-deal exit.

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But it would be undemocratic?!

Remain Would Win Second Brexit Referendum Clearly, Poll Indicates (Ind.)

Nearly two-thirds of people would vote to remain in the EU rather than for Theresa May’s deal if a referendum offering those options were called, a snap poll by YouGov has found. Sixty-one per cent of the population would vote to remain while 39 per cent would opt for the existing deal, However, if people were asked in a public vote whether they would prefer to remain in the EU or leave with no deal in place, Remain would still win, though by the smaller margin of 57-43 per cent. It shows a 22-point lead for Remain over Ms May’s deal, or a 14-point lead for Remain over no deal at all.

The poll, carried out on behalf of the Put it to the People campaign, comes as second referendum expectations have risen. [..] A march in support of a Final Say second referendum takes place on in central London on Saturday and is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of protesters. Meanwhile a “Leave means Leave” protest, also known as the “Brexit betrayal march”, is underway with Brexit supporters walking for two weeks from Sunderland to London demanding the UK leaves the EU on 29 March.

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Carefully crafted utter panic.

Theresa May: Don’t Blame Me For Brexit Crisis, Blame MPs (G.)

Theresa May is facing a furious backlash from her own backbenchers and calls for her resignation after she blamed squabbling MPs for delaying Brexit. In a defiant statement on Wednesday night she told the British public: “I am on your side,” and now hopes to force her deal through parliament next week at the third time of asking. Less than an hour earlier, she had been warned in a private meeting with Conservative MPs that her bid to delay leaving could end up losing her even more votes from her own party.

“She is going into an ever narrower cul-de-sac,” said one former minister. Speaking in Downing Street in a televised address, May said the three-month Brexit delay she had earlier in the day formally requested from EU27 leaders was “a matter of great personal regret for me” – and she would not countenance a longer extension of article 50. With just nine days to go before Britain is due to leave the EU, she laid the blame for the crisis squarely at the door of parliament.

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“Of this I am absolutely sure: you the public have had enough.”

What she missed is that it’s her they’re tired of.

MPs Furious After May Blames Them For Crisis (Ind.)

MPs have called Theresa May “irresponsible”, “disgraceful” and “toxic” after she blamed them for for the UK’s impending failure to leave the EU on 29 March. Labour’s Wes Streeting accused the prime minister of putting MPs’ lives in danger with an “incendiary” address. Ms May used a Downing Street speech to criticise the very people she needs to get her Brexit deal through the Commons at the third time of asking, telling voters that she was “sure” that “you, the public, have had enough” of political games. She said: “You’re tired of the infighting, you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, knife crime. “You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side.”

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It can be done. Just not in the US, too many guns there already.

New Zealand Bans All Assault Weapons Immediately (AP)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand is immediately banning sales of military style semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines like the weapons used in last Friday’s attacks on two Christchurch mosques. Ardern announced the ban Thursday and said it would be followed by legislation to be introduced next month. She said the man arrested in the attacks had purchased his weapons legally and enhanced their capacity by using 30-round magazines “done easily through a simple online purchase.” [..] The New Zealand government is asking all owners of assault weapons or now-banned attachments to report them to the government in the next two days before turning them in.

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I think manipulation by central banks is a much bigger problem than stagnation.

Stagnant Capitalism (Varoufakis)

When the Great Depression followed the 1929 stock-market crash, almost everyone acknowledged that capitalism was unstable, unreliable, and prone to stagnation. In the decades that followed, however, that perception changed. Capitalism’s postwar revival, and especially the post-Cold War rush to financialized globalization, resurrected faith in markets’ self-regulating abilities. Today, a long decade after the 2008 global financial crisis, this touching faith once again lies in tatters as capitalism’s natural tendency toward stagnation reasserts itself. The rise of the racist right, the fragmentation of the political center, and mounting geopolitical tensions are mere symptoms of capitalism’s miasma.

A balanced capitalist economy requires a magic number, in the form of the prevailing real (inflation-adjusted) interest rate. It is magic because it must kill two very different birds, flying in two very different skies, with a single stone. First, it must balance employers’ demand for waged labor with the available labor supply. Second, it must equalize savings and investment. If the prevailing real interest rate fails to balance the labor market, we end up with unemployment, precariousness, wasted human potential, and poverty. If it fails to bring investment up to the level of savings, deflation sets in and feeds back into even lower investment.

It takes a heroic disposition to assume that this magic number exists or that, even if it does, our collective endeavors will result in an actual real interest rate close to it. How do free marketeers convince themselves that there exists a single real interest rate (say, 2%) that would inspire investors to funnel all existing savings into productive investments and spur employers to hire everyone who wishes to work at the prevailing wage?

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I’ve kept my distance from the discussion, but this is nice.

Exposing the Myth of MMT (Rickards)

When critics hear that a Green New Deal could potentially cost something like $97 trillion, or proposals for Medicare for all, free tuition, free child care or guaranteed basic income, they say, “That all sounds nice, but we just can’t afford it.” That’s their main argument — that no matter how desirable these programs might be in theory, we just can’t afford them. Most criticism of MMT falls along those lines. Even the Keynesians like those I mentioned earlier, who generally favor large amounts of government spending to stimulate the economy, have come out against MMT. Besides that claim that we can’t afford it, even the Keynesians say MMT would be highly inflationary. If you printed that much money and start handing it out to people, demand would outstrip the output capacity of the economy and you’d get high inflation.

But the MMT advocates have an answer to these objections. They’re not the least bit intimidated by critics who say we can’t afford it. They say, “Yes, we can, and Modern Monetary Theory proves it. Just print the money and monetize the debt. Japanese debt is 2.5 times the United States’ debt, and China’s is higher than ours.” They haven’t collapsed, so we can take on far more debt than we have today. Furthermore, QE did not create much inflation. In fact, the Fed would like to see more inflation than it has. It still can’t produce a sustained 2% inflation rate after all these years. You might think the argument is ridiculous. After all, do we really want to become Japan? But in important ways, the MMT crowd has the upper hand in the debate.

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After 27 years, Australia is finally hitting a recession.

Australia Construction Slowdown A Major Threat To The Economy (ABC.au)

The property market upheaval brings billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s oft-quoted piece of wisdom to mind: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” We are witnessing more naked developers as half-finished projects dot the landscape of our major cities. As the year progresses, many more operators who’ve pushed the boundaries will join them. “Areas of oversupply will see a bit more chaos in the next six to twelve months,” Scott Gray-Spencer, local head of capital markets at the global real estate firm CBRE, told ABC’s The Business. Mr Gray-Spencer sees areas more than 10 kilometres from the city centres of Sydney and Melbourne, and parts of Queensland, as the most vulnerable.

Property investors, who were major targets of the crackdown, accounted for almost 50 per cent of mortgages two to three years ago. They have largely left the market and political uncertainty may keep them on the sidelines for longer as they await the outcome of the looming federal election. Should Labor win, it’s likely investors will wait to see how its plans to curb the negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions pan out. Even though Labor’s proposed negative gearing changes will not affect new housing, investors may still be worried about price growth because the next buyer is unable to negatively gear. So it could be some time before developers see an important group of buyers return in force. If the banks don’t stop them, the less generous tax laws might.


A half-finished apartment block in Cronulla sits idle while it waits for a buyer. (ABC News: John Gunn)

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At first sight it looked like a parody.

As Russia Collusion Fades, Ukrainian Plot To Help Clinton Emerges (Solomon)

After nearly three years and millions of tax dollars, the Trump-Russia collusion probe is about to be resolved. Emerging in its place is newly unearthed evidence suggesting another foreign effort to influence the 2016 election — this time, in favor of the Democrats. Ukraine’s top prosecutor divulged in an interview aired Wednesday on Hill.TV that he has opened an investigation into whether his country’s law enforcement apparatus intentionally leaked financial records during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign about then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in an effort to sway the election in favor of Hillary Clinton.

The leak of the so-called “black ledger” files to U.S. media prompted Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign and gave rise to one of the key allegations in the Russia collusion probe that has dogged Trump for the last two and a half years. Ukraine Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko’s probe was prompted by a Ukrainian parliamentarian’s release of a tape recording purporting to quote a top law enforcement official as saying his agency leaked the Manafort financial records to help Clinton’s campaign. The parliamentarian also secured a court ruling that the leak amounted to “an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” Lutsenko told me.

Lutsenko said the tape recording is a serious enough allegation to warrant opening a probe, and one of his concerns is that the Ukrainian law enforcement agency involved had frequent contact with the Obama administration’s U.S. embassy in Kiev at the time. “Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko told me.

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A memorial service was held on Sunday in Washington for William Blum, a former State Department official whose disillusionment with the Vietnam War turned him into a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy. Blum educated a generation of Americans about the rapacious aims of the U.S. abroad, debunking the myth of Washington’s good intentions for the peoples of the world. Blum died on December 9, 2018.

Sucking Liberals into a New Cold War (William Blum)

Cold War Number One: 70 years of daily national stupidity. Cold War Number Two: Still in its youth, but just as stupid. “He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” – President Trump re Russian President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Vietnam. [Washington Post, Nov.e 12, 2017] Putin later added that he knew “absolutely nothing” about Russian contacts with Trump campaign officials. “They can do what they want, looking for some sensation. But there are no sensations.” Numerous U.S. intelligence agencies have said otherwise. Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, responded to Trump’s remarks by declaring: “The president was given clear and indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the election.”

As we’ll see below, there isn’t too much of the “clear and indisputable” stuff. And this of course is the same James Clapper who made an admittedly false statement to Congress in March 2013, when he responded, “No, sir” and “not wittingly” to a question about whether the National Security Agency was collecting “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans. Lies don’t usually come in any size larger than that. Virtually every member of Congress who has publicly stated a position on the issue has criticized Russia for interfering in the 2016 American presidential election. And it would be very difficult to find a member of the mainstream media who has questioned this thesis. What is the poor consumer of news to make of these gross contradictions?

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Time to rephrase ‘social media’. Man evolved living in groups, it’s simple.

Loneliness Estimated To Shorten A Person’s Life By 15 Years (SciAm)

Thanks to remarkable new technologies and the widespread use of social media, we are more “connected” than ever before. Yet as a nation, we are also more lonely. In fact, a recent study found that a staggering 47 percent of Americans often feel alone, left out and lacking meaningful connection with others. This is true for all ages, from teenagers to older adults. The number of people who perceive themselves to be alone, isolated or distant from others has reached epidemic levels both in the United States and in other parts of the world. Indeed, almost two decades ago, the book Bowling Alone pointed to the increasing isolation of Americans and our consequent loss of “social capital.” In Japan, for example, an estimated half million (known as hikikomori) shut themselves away for months on end.

In the United Kingdom, four in 10 citizens report feelings of chronic, profound loneliness, prompting the creation of a new cabinet-level position (the Minister for Loneliness) to combat the problem. While this “epidemic” of loneliness is increasingly recognized as a social issue, what’s less well recognized is the role loneliness plays as a critical determinant of health. Loneliness can be deadly: this according to former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, among others, who has stressed the significant health threat. Loneliness has been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. A recent study revealed a surprising association between loneliness and cancer mortality risk, pointing to the role loneliness plays in cancer’s course, including responsiveness to treatments.

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Wasn’t kale supposed to not need any?

Kale Is Now One Of The Most Pesticide-Contaminated Vegetables (CNBC)

Often touted for being highly nutritious, kale has joined the list of 11 other fruits and vegetables known to be “dirty,” according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. The watchdog group publishes its “Dirty Dozen” list annually, in which it ranks the 12 produce items that contain the highest amount of pesticide residues. The group analyzes data from the Department of Agriculture’s regular produce testing to determine the list. Ranked alongside kale on the list are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

The last time kale was included in the USDA’s produce tests was 2009 and it ranked eighth on the Dirty Dozen list. “We were surprised kale had so many pesticides on it, but the test results were unequivocal,” said EWG Toxicologist Alexis Temkin in a release. More than 92 percent of kale had residue from at least two pesticides after washing and peeling the appropriate vegetables, according to the report. Some had up to 18. Almost 60 percent of the kale samples showed residual Dacthal, a pesticide that is known as a possible human carcinogen. The group releases its “Clean Fifteen” list as well, highlighting the 15 produce items with the least amount of pesticide residue detected. It includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons.

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Oct 252018
 
 October 25, 2018  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Circus 1918

 

Donald Trump Attacks Media ‘Hostility’ After Attempted Pipe Bombings (G.)
CNN President Jeff Zucker Blasts Trump White House After Bomb Threat (THR)
Dow Falls 600 Points And Wipes Out 2018 Gains (MW)
Asia Pacific Shares In Freefall Amid Fears Over Global Economy (G.)
Value of Euro Zone Banks Drops by a Third From 2018 Peak (R.)
Spain’s Mortgage Market Seizes Up, Bank Stocks Sink, Legal Uncertainty Reigns
It’s Not Just Italy – France’s 2019 Budget Also A Concern For Brussels (CNBC)
Tesla Shares Soar On Surprise Third-Quarter Profit (CNBC)
Airbnb Can’t Go On Unregulated – It Does Too Much Damage To Cities (G.)
Brexit Deal ‘Progress Is At 0%’ Until Irish Border Solved – Verhofstadt (Ind.)
May Sets November Date To Trigger No-Deal Brexit Preparations (G.)
Disadvantaged Groups Trapped In Poverty And Excluded From UK Society (Ind.)
Ban Entire Pesticide Class To Protect Children’s Health – Experts (G.)
European Parliament Votes To Ban Single-Use Plastics (Ind.)
Humpback Whales Stop Singing When Ships Are Near (AFP)

 

 

Another crazy story. less than 2 weeks before the midterms some loonie allegedly sent crude explosive devices to Democrats and CNN. Obviously, doesn’t appear to help Trump. Who they all fall over each other to blame, absolving themselves from all responsibility in the process. Some details:

Bombs had ISIS-like logo’s on them
At least some contained shards of glass
They were sent to people who don’t open their own mail
None of the bombs went off
Powder in package to CNN was harmless

Seen a lot more like that on Twitter, many people saying the ‘bombs’ are a joke.

Donald Trump Attacks Media ‘Hostility’ After Attempted Pipe Bombings (G.)

Donald Trump has attacked what he called media “hostility” in a speech to a campaign rally following a wave of pipe bombs sent to senior Democrats, prominent critics and the broadcaster CNN. The US president, who earlier said at the White House he condemned the attempted bombings and that a “major federal investigation” was under way, followed this with a plea for unity during a midterms campaign rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin, later on Wednesday. “Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself,” he told the crowd. “We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony. We can do it … Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as morally defective.” But he soon reverted to a familiar scapegoat. The media, he said, has “a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories”.

[..] Trump, who still assails Clinton at rallies while supporters chant “lock her up” two years after he defeated her, took a softer tone in Wisconsin. “Let’s get along,” he told supporters. “By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this? We’re all behaving very well and hopefully we can keep it that way, right?” He did not mention the intended recipients of the devices by name but spoke more generally, including in language which could be taken to refer to protests against himself and allies. “No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains, which is done often, it’s done all the time, got to stop. We should not mob people in public places or destroy public property. There is one way to settle our disagreements. It’s called peacefully, at the ballot box.”

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Zucker doesn’t take any responsibility for the political climate. Nor do any of the others. 24/7 blasting Trump for two years has had no influence, apparently. Someone should make a database with all Trump articles at MSM that contain positive things about Trump vs those that are negative.

CNN President Jeff Zucker Blasts Trump White House After Bomb Threat (THR)

CNN president Jeff Zucker, who has long sparred with President Donald Trump throughout their decades of knowing each other, lashed out at him in a statement on Wednesday, hours after his network’s New York office was forced to evacuate due to a bomb threat. “There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” Zucker said. “The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.”

The president has been criticized for his slow response to the bomb threat on Wednesday, initially responding only by echoing Vice President Mike Pence’s tweet condemning it. On Wednesday afternoon, Trump spoke directly at a White House event, pledging to take action. “The full weight of our government is being deployed to conduct this investigation and bring those responsible for these despicable acts to justice,” he said. “We will spare no resources or expense in this effort. In these times, we have to unify. We have to come together, and send one clear, strong unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”

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All over the world.

Dow Falls 600 Points And Wipes Out 2018 Gains (MW)

Stocks ended sharply lower Wednesday, as losses accelerated into the close and put both the Dow and the S&P 500 into the red for the year, and the Nasdaq into correction territory. Upbeat results from Boeing were credited with briefly pushing the Dow higher in early morning trading, before investors took an increasingly defensive stance, fleeing for the relative safety of utilities and consumer nondurable shares. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 606.11 points, or 2.4%, to 24,583.42, while The S&P 500 dropped 84.59 points, or 3.1%, to 2,656.10, it’s sixth straight losing session.

Meanwhile, the Nasdaq shed 329.14 points, or 4.4%, to 7108.4, a performance that put the index more than 10% below its Aug. 29 all-time high, meeting the widely used definition of a market correction. The loss also marked the worst day for the Nasdaq since Aug. 18, 2011. October is shaping up to be a brutal month for equities, as expected, with the S&P falling 8.9% month-to-date, the Dow down 7.1%, and the Nasdaq falling 11.7% since the start of the month. Wednesday’s session also sent the Dow into losing territory for the year, with the index down 0.6% in 2018. The blue-chip index is also down for five straight weeks, it’s longest string of weekly losses since July, 11 2008, when the market fell for six straight weeks. The S&P 500 also ended the trading day in the red, down 0.7% year-to-date.

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Broad pessimism.

Asia Pacific Shares In Freefall Amid Fears Over Global Economy (G.)

Shares in Asia Pacific have plunged into bear market territory and wiped billions off the values of companies as one analyst warned that the losses could be a harbinger of a wholesale “capitulation”. After the worst day for tech stocks on Wall Street for seven years, markets were in retreat from Sydney to Shanghai as concerns about the global economy and rising borrowing costs were compounded by local factors. In Australia the benchmark ASX200 closed down 164 points or 2.8% as it suffered its fifth straight day of losses. In Japan the Nikkei was off 3.2% and has now dropped around 13% from a 27-year peak of 24,448.07 touched in early October.

A broad indicator of shares in the region – the MSCI Asia Pacific index – has now fallen 20.3% from the year-to-date high set on 29 January, representing an official bear market. The Vix “fear” index, which measures volatility across the market, has spiked sharply this week and was up 21% overnight. “We haven’t thought that selling would be this steep. This sell-off makes us think the market may be set for capitulation,” said Shoji Hirakawa, chief global strategist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. The contagion looked set to continue into the European trading session with the FTSE100 expected to fall 0.65% at the open.

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Italians, Deutsche. Draghi doing a speech soon.

Value of Euro Zone Banks Drops by a Third From 2018 Peak (R.)

The value of euro zone banks have collapsed by a third since markets touched their peak at the end of January, data showed on Wednesday, as another quarter of disappointing profits at Deutsche Bank dragged the region’s sector down. European banks shares, which have never reclaimed their pre-financial crisis prices, have been the worst performing sector so far in the monetary block this year, down 26.5 percent as investors shed assets seen as most vulnerable to political upheaval. “The fall is not justified by a similar drop in earnings,” commented Farhad Moshiri, an analyst covering European banks at Alphavalue, arguing that political risk had a stronger negative impact than sector results.

Still, Deutsche’s bleak results and revenue forecast on Wednesday, which sent shares down 5 percent for their worst day since end-May, deepened the sector-wide rout. The Spring political crisis in Italy and the following on-going row with the European Commission about the country’s populist government’s budget took a heavy toll, particularly on Italian banks. The latters are heavily exposed to Italian sovereign debt, which has shed value since the country decided to raise spending and put an end to years of fiscal prudence. Slowing economic growth on the continent and elusive monetary normalization, with a first interest rate hike by the European Central Bank (ECB) still far away, also weighed on stock prices.

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A legal issue about taxes on mortgages only makes things worse.

Spain’s Mortgage Market Seizes Up, Bank Stocks Sink, Legal Uncertainty Reigns

In the last five trading days, the shares of Spain’s five largest listed banks have re-energized their plunge that had started at the end of January and now amounts to 40%. The cause for the recent drop? A shock ruling by Spain’s Supreme Court that lenders, rather than mortgage borrowers, should pay the contractual tax on mortgage loans, on the grounds that the lender is the only party with an interest in getting the loan certified by a notary, since this is what enables the bank to begin foreclosure proceedings if the borrower defaults on payments. Even the Supreme Court’s desperate decision last Friday to suspend its own ruling a day after it had announced the ruling, a historic flip-flop that left everything in limbo and its reputation in tatters, failed to stop the rout (data via YCharts):

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it won’t decide who has to pay the tax on mortgages — the banks or the borrowers — until November 5. In other words, there will be two more weeks of acute legal uncertainty. This has plunged Spain’s mortgage market into chaos. For years Spanish banks and builders have been desperately trying to breath new life into the market — including, in some cases, by resurrecting 100% mortgages, a high-risk instrument that helped fuel Spain’s madcap property boom. But now, thanks to the pervading legal uncertainty, the market has all but seized up. On Tuesday, sources from a number of large banks told the financial daily Cinco Dias that the only mortgages being signed are with clients who had already arranged to sign the contract before last week’s furor and who don’t mind paying the mortgage tax. “We’re not signing any new ones,” the sources said.

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Italy must insist France gets the same treatment.

It’s Not Just Italy – France’s 2019 Budget Also A Concern For Brussels (CNBC)

Markets have been on the edge regarding Italy’s future spending, but there are other countries challenging European fiscal rules. France, the second-largest economy in Europe, received a letter from Brussels last week, warning that its planned debt reduction in 2019 does not respect the proposals that Paris had agreed previously with the EU. Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Slovenia were also effectively told off by the EU. In the case of France, the 2019 budget plan sees its structural deficit (the difference between spending and revenues, excluding one-off items) falling 0.1 percent this year and 0.3 percent in 2019. Paris had agreed in April to an annual reduction of 0.6 percent of GDP for its structural deficit.

Though the tone of the warning from Brussels to Paris was softer than the tone towards Rome, the two countries have perhaps more similarities than differences. The French 2019 budget “shows that the government relies heavily on very optimistic revenues to achieve fiscal consolidation and that spending is out of control again,” Daniel Lacalle, chief economist and investment officer at Tressis Gestion, told CNBC via email. “In the case of France, it is a very difficult budget to accept by the European Commission because France has not had a balanced budget since 1974 and has missed its own deficit targets more than eleven times,” Lacalle added.

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A curious turnaround. To be continued.

Tesla Shares Soar On Surprise Third-Quarter Profit (CNBC)

Tesla shares soared by more than 12 percent after the company reported a surprise profit for the third quarter as CEO Elon Musk made good on his promise to start turning regular profits in the last half of the year. The company’s earnings report, released after the markets closed Wednesday, also showed better-than expected car sales and a faster timeline on its Model 3 production. The electric car maker said its midsize Model 3 sedan, which it hopes to produce on mass scale, was the best-selling car in the U.S. when measured by revenue and the fifth best-selling car in terms of volume. Musk told analysts on a call it was an “incredibly historic quarter” for the young car company. It was welcome news for investors following an otherwise a tumultuous few months.

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It does. Somone better get serious about this.

Airbnb Can’t Go On Unregulated – It Does Too Much Damage To Cities (G.)

Remember the “sharing economy”? That rhetoric looks more comically disingenuous than ever in light of the news that a single Airbnb user in Barcelona is managing a portfolio of properties that brings in an eye-watering £33,000 a day in high season. Old neighbourhoods are being overrun with short-term tourists and shops selling souvenir tat. Rents for residents are being driven up, in Barcelona as well as Berlin, New York and elsewhere. Airbnb is a parasitic monster that squats over cities and hoovers up vast sums of money through its slimy proboscis. So what can be done?

Airbnb, short for “airbed and breakfast”, originally sold itself as a way for travellers to stay in people’s spare rooms and get an authentic feel of a foreign culture. This friendly idea is still present in the company’s vocabulary – “hosts”, not landlords, and “hospitality” in place of “business” – even though the vast majority of its listings are now for self-contained apartments or houses. In Barcelona, it used to cost €250 (£221) for a short-term rental permit. Now that such permits are no longer being issued, they change hands for up to €80,000. It’s “sharing” for the rich, maybe, but not for the rest of us.

During their early rapid growth, sharing economy companies started operations around the world without regard to local laws on the basis that existing regulations had not envisaged the radical and disruptive new ideas they embodied. But the tide slowly turned as the whizzy tech rhetoric wore off and it became clear that Uber was in fact a taxi company and Airbnb was in effect a hotel business.

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Don’t like Verhofstadt, but it’s time for honesty.

Brexit Deal ‘Progress Is At 0%’ Until Irish Border Solved – Verhofstadt (Ind.)

The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator has rejected Theresa May’s suggestion that a deal is “95 per cent done”, as Brussels warned it will not be bounced into an agreement. Guy Verhofstadt said the withdrawal agreement needed to prevent no deal was “0 per cent done” as far as MEPs were concerned, because of the lack of a solution to the Irish border issue. “Progress on the Brexit negotiations can be 90 per cent, 95 per cent or even 99 per cent,” Mr Verhofstadt said. “But as long as there is no solution for the Irish border, as long as the Good Friday agreement is not fully secured, for us in our parliament progress is 0 per cent.”

The European Parliament has a veto on the final Brexit deal and has said it would kill any agreement that does not prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Speaking in a debate at the parliament’s Strasbourg seat on Wednesday morning, the second in command of the European Commission Frans Timmermans also warned that the block would not “rush a deal through at the expense of our principles”. “As was clear after the European Council the bottom line is that we do not have the decisive progress that we need,” Jean-Claude Juncker’s deputy said. “The good will and the determination to find a deal as soon as possible are there. But it is also clear that we will not rush a deal through at the expense of our principles or our agreed commitments, most notably on the Irish border question.

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Watch the pound when she makes it official.

May Sets November Date To Trigger No-Deal Brexit Preparations (G.)

Theresa May has set a date for Whitehall to trigger a series of no-deal Brexit preparations as her government faces up to the possibility that there will be no agreement with the EU about Britain’s departure. With less than six months to go before the UK leaves the bloc, the cabinet has agreed that a flurry of activity will be triggered in the second week of November as the government prepares to crash out of the EU, informed sources said. Civil servants have also accelerated plans to lay down new laws and secondary legislation so that UK businesses and both British and EU citizens can prepare. The move follows concerns across government that preparations for how the UK might cope with crashing out the EU are still uncertain.

The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, told cabinet colleagues on Tuesday that Whitehall departments needed to step up their efforts next month and move “from warning businesses to telling them to act”. Whitehall has until now concentrated on the publication of more than 100 technical notices detailing the potential impact on particular industries but not on individual businesses and people. A source said that there would be an acceleration of preparations after MPs return from a short break on 12 November. “We have to get on with no-deal legislation. At the moment, we’re looking at the same legislation for a deal as no deal. In the case of no deal it would need royal assent before we leave. “There will be an awful lot to discuss. It will concentrate minds. Obviously we don’t want to upset the negotiations, but the clock is ticking and it will get harder and harder the later we leave it,” the source said.

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This is Theresa May’s country, her accomplishment.

Disadvantaged Groups Trapped In Poverty And Excluded From UK Society (Ind.)

Britain is a divided nation as the poor are increasingly trapped in poverty and excluded from mainstream society because of their social status, the human rights watchdog has warned. A major report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found a continued decline in prospects for disadvantaged groups has cemented a “two-speed society” in the UK which leaves many behind. The watchdog found that in just three years “alarming backward steps” have left disabled people, ethnic minorities and children from poorer backgrounds struggling to make headway in a society where “significant barriers still remain”.

Charities accused Theresa May of breaking the promise she made in her first speech as prime minister to tackle “burning injustices” in British society. It comes just days before Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is to set out a budget with critics waiting for spending commitments that will deliver on the prime minister’s conference promise that austerity is finally coming to an end. In a speech on Thursday, shadow chancellor John McDonnell will say that schools, councils and the UK’s social care system are “crying out for investment” and called on the government to “stump up the cash”. David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, said Britain was facing a “defining moment in the pursuit of equality”.

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Stop using pesticides altogether.

Ban Entire Pesticide Class To Protect Children’s Health – Experts (G.)

Evidence that an entire class of pesticides threatens the health of children and pregnant women is now so arresting that the substances should be banned, an expert panel of toxicologists has said. Exposure to organophosphates (OPs) increases the risk of reduced IQs, memory and attention deficits, and autism for prenatal children, according to the paper, published in Plos Medicine. More than 10,000 tonnes of OP pesticides are sprayed in 24 European countries each year and usage is higher in the US, where the Trump administration is appealing against a federal court ban on chlorpyrifos, one of the most popular agricultural insecticides.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, the paper’s lead author and director of the UC Davis environmental health sciences centre, said: “We have compelling evidence from dozens of human studies that exposures of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides put children and foetuses at risk for developmental problems that may last a lifetime. By law, the EPA cannot ignore such clear findings: It’s time for a ban not just on chlorpyrifos, but all organophosphate pesticides.” The meta-review of data and literature on OPs analysed and cross-referenced scores of reviews and epidemiological studies with a UN database that covers 71 countries, and other research material.

In the process, the scientists discovered that US regulators had already quietly banned 26 out of 40 OP pesticides considered hazardous to human health. In Europe, the figure was 33 out of 39. However, 200,000 people still die each year from pesticide poisonings, according to UN estimates, about 99% of them in the developing world. A further 110,000 suicides using pesticides take place each year.

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Not bad, but too late.

European Parliament Votes To Ban Single-Use Plastics (Ind.)

Fragments of plastic have been found everywhere from Arctic sea ice to fertilisers being applied to farmland. Animals as small as plankton and as large as whales are known to eat plastic, and as tiny shards enter the human food chain they seem to be ending up inside humans as well. While much still remains unknown about the impact plastic is having on the environment and human health, environmentalists have called for urgent measures from industry and governments to curb the flow of plastic. “We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the council, due to start as early as November,” said Belgian liberal Frederique Ries, who was responsible for the bill.

Under the new rules, member states would have to ensure that tobacco companies cover the cost of cigarette butt collection and processing in a bid to reduce the number entering the environment by 80 per cent in the next 12 years. Similar measures would apply to producers of fishing gear, who would have to help ensure at least 50 per cent of lost or abandoned fishing gear containing plastic is collected per year. Fishing gear accounts for over a quarter of waste found on Europe’s beaches, and “ghost fishing” is thought to be responsible for thousands of whales, seals and birds dying every year. EU states would also be obliged to recycle 90 per cent of plastic bottles by 2025, and producers would have to help cover costs of waste management.

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But they don’t mean sailing ships.

Humpback Whales Stop Singing When Ships Are Near (AFP)

Humpback whales are famous for their eerie, underwater songs. But researchers in Japan said Wednesday these massive marine creatures stop singing, at least temporarily, when human-driven ships are nearby. Researchers focused on the remote Ogasawara Islands in Japan, some 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Tokyo, where a single passenger-cargo liner passed through the area once per day. Male humpback whales sing as a way to communicate and attract mates. But by plunging a pair of hydrophones into the water to listen to the whales’ reaction — about 26 of whom were detected in the study area — researchers found that the approach of a ship silenced them.

“The main reaction of humpback whales was to stop singing either when the ship approached or after it passed by,” said the study in the journal PLOS ONE, led by Koki Tsujii from Ogasawara Whale Watching Association and Hokkaido University. Fewer male humpbacks sang in the area within 500 yards (meters) of the shipping lane than elsewhere. “After the ship passed by, whales within around 1,200 meters tended to temporarily reduce singing or stop singing altogether,” said the study. Many whales did not start to sing again until a half hour after the ship was gone from the area. Since ocean noise has been on the rise in recent decades, some experts said the findings raise new questions about what other whale behaviors might be changing due to mounting human presence on the high seas.

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 August 31, 2018  Posted by at 7:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


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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