May 112019
 


Pierre-Auguste Renoir Riding in the Bois de Boulogne (Madame Henriette Darras or The Ride) 1873

 

Labour Without Energy Is A Corpse; Capital Without Energy Is A Sculpture (Keen)
Traditional Economics Has Absolutely Screwed Us (Tyee)
House Dems To Bundle Numerous Contempt Citations For Trump Advisers (R.)
House Democrat Subpoenas Six Years Of Trump Tax Returns (AP)
FISA Applications Were Illegally Obtained – DiGenova (PJ)
William Barr vs. Eric Holder: A Tale of Two Attorneys General (McConnell)
Fugees Founder, Banker Charged In 1MDB, Obama Campaign Scandal (RT)
Crisis? What Crisis? (Jim Kunstler)
Manning Could Delay US Superseding Indictment Against Assange (Sp.)
Dutch Court Blocks Extradition Of Man To ‘Inhumane’ UK Prisons (G.)
Varoufakis On Eurozone: ‘We Created A Monster’ (Exp.)
70 Migrants Dead After Boat Capsizes Trying To Reach Europe From Libya (G.)
Nearly All Countries Agree To Stem Flow Of Plastic Waste Into Poor Nations (G.)

 

 

First saw this a few days ago, and it slipped from my radar. Now, Steve Keen announced that he got a grant for his work with Tim Garrett and Matheus Grasselli on “developing models of production in which energy plays [a role] in production (and, necessarily, in climate degradation)”. Yes, you read that right: in 2019, economists need to begin the study the role of energy in an economic system, because it’s always been ignored. What a crazy field that is.

Labour Without Energy Is A Corpse; Capital Without Energy Is A Sculpture (Keen)

With the simple insight that “labour without energy is a corpse, and capital without energy is a sculpture”, I realised why economists have failed to properly incorporate the role of energy in production for so long. All previous attempts had treated energy as a third “factor of production”, on an equal footing with Labour and Capital. But that treatment is simply unrealistic. Adding energy on its own to a production process is like letting off a bomb in a factory: it will produce mayhem, not output. Equally, both Labour and Capital are “sterile”, to use the old Physiocratic term: without energy, they can’t produce anything.


Figure 1: The incorrect way to show energy as a factor of production

The correct way to incorporate energy into economic models of production, therefore, is to see energy as an input to both Labour and Capital (in vastly different forms, of course), which enable them to perform useful work. By the Second Law of Thermodynamics, this useful work necessarily results in disorder (waste energy, mainly in the form of waste matter, including CO2). Also by the Second Law, entropy increases globally, even though it can be reduced locally by the application of energy; so the increase in disorder in the waste from production necessarily exceeds the reduction in disorder manifest in output itself (raw materials turned into finished products).


Figure 2: The correct way: Energy as an input to labour and capital, output as necessarily generating waste

This useful work is what we call GDP, though we currently erroneously measure this as the inflation-adjusted sum of all monetary output—which means we add the cost of traffic accidents to GDP. Instead, the true measure of GDP is the sum of all the useful things we produce and consume: in transportation, that is moving a mass from one location to another in a given time, and traffic accidents (and congestion) subtract from it.

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Palm oil or orangutans? For economists, an easy choice.

Traditional Economics Has Absolutely Screwed Us (Tyee)

Capitalism is killing the planet. That is the gist of an exhaustive United Nations report on the bleak state of the world’s biodiversity. One million species face extinction in what has been aptly called a global murder-suicide, driven by a race to commodify ecosystems and externalize the costs of their destruction. If you were looking for a perky read to start your week, this report was not it. However, the collective efforts of 350 leading experts from 51 countries have resulted in the definitive wake-up call for those still doubting the dire consequences of business-as-usual on our one and only planet. A Noah’s ark of iconic species seems bound for oblivion due to our growing collective consumption and population.

Will your children be able to enjoy a world with wild elephants, orcas, or blue whales? Sixty per cent of primate species are threatened with extinction. The taste of a tuna sandwich may soon be consigned to lore. All of this has been happening in plain view but only recently has this become economically relevant by cutting into the bottom line. Up to $577 billion in global crop production is at risk due to collapsing populations of pollinating insects. One-third of commercial fish stocks are in steep decline with another 60 per cent being fully exploited, leaving only seven per cent of the world’s fisheries under safe management. This is exacerbated by regulatory failure where landings may be 50 per cent higher than reported, and illegal fishing accounts for up to one-third of the global catch.

Expanding agriculture is one of the main drivers of exploding extinction rates. Between 1980 and 2000, about 100 million hectares of tropical forests — roughly the area of France and Germany combined — were converted for grazing, monoculture plantations like palm oil, or short-term subsistence farming. Desperate humans and multinational companies both encroach on remaining rainforests, seeing only as far as the next growing season or financial quarter. Why does economics prioritize palm oil over orangutans? Because palm plantations are profitable, producing almost five times the oil yield per hectare of sunflowers, coconut or soybeans. Consumers too unintentionally contribute to this destruction, driving a market for a ubiquitous ingredient found in everything from lipstick to ice cream.

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McGahn, Barr, Mueller, Mnuchin, are these all the same?

House Dems To Bundle Numerous Contempt Citations For Trump Advisers (R.)

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said lawmakers may bundle numerous contempt citations from different committees into a single resolution that the full House of Representatives could then vote on. “There obviously are going to have to be, perhaps from our committee and certainly from other committees, other contempt citations to enforce subpoenas,” Nadler told reporters. Asked about bundling citations together, the New York Democrat replied: “It’s a great idea. In fact, I suggested it … It just makes sense, to spend as little floor time as possible, to group them together.”


A consolidated contempt vote is among options Democrats are considering in response to Trump’s stonewalling of congressional investigations into his presidency and business investments. Another option is reviving Congress’s “inherent” contempt authority. Some Democrats say that would allow lawmakers to fine uncooperative officials up to $25,000 per day. Some Democrats are also calling for impeachment proceedings against recalcitrant Trump Cabinet members. Nadler said Congress faces “the unprecedented situation in which the administration is essentially stonewalling all subpoenas – we’ve never had this before in American history, so far as I know.”

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They lost two years on the Russia collusion story. Doesn’t look so smart now, does it?

House Democrat Subpoenas Six Years Of Trump Tax Returns (AP)

A top House Democrat on Friday issued subpoenas for six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns, giving the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and the IRS commissioner, Charles Rettig, a deadline of next Friday to deliver them. Richard Neal, the chairman of the House ways and means committee, issued the subpoenas days after Mnuchin refused to comply with demands to turn over Trump’s returns. Mnuchin told the panel he wouldn’t provide Trump’s tax records because the panel’s request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose”, as supreme court precedent requires.

Neal reminded the two Trump appointees in a Friday letter that federal law states that the IRS “shall furnish” the tax returns of any individual upon the request of the chairmen of Congress’s tax-writing committees, and that ways and means “has never been denied” a request. The White House and the Democratic-controlled House are waging a multi-front battle over investigations into Trump, with the administration refusing to comply with subpoenas for the unredacted Mueller report and documents related to testimony by the former White House counsel Donald McGahn. If Mnuchin and Rettig refuse to comply with the subpoenas, Neal is likely to file a lawsuit in federal court.

He indicated earlier this week that he was leaning toward filing a court case immediately but changed course after meeting with lawyers for the House. Neal originally demanded access to Trump’s tax returns in early April. He maintains that the committee is looking into the effectiveness of mandatory IRS audits of tax returns of all sitting presidents, a way to justify his claim that the panel has a potential legislative purpose. Democrats are confident in their legal justification and say Trump is stalling in an attempt to punt the issue past the 2020 election. In rejecting Neal’s request earlier this week, Mnuchin said he relied on the advice of the justice department. He concluded that the treasury department was “not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information”. Mnuchin has also said that Neal’s request would potentially weaponize private tax returns for political purposes.

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I don’t think John Solomon is done yet.

As for the Papadopoulos $10,000 story, how is that an “explosive revelation”? Have known that for a long time.

FISA Applications Were Illegally Obtained – DiGenova (PJ)

Washington attorney Joe diGenova claimed in an interview last night that the Department of Justice inspector general has determined that “the final three FISA extensions were illegally obtained,” and the first one is still being investigated. For the past year, DOJ IG Michael Horowitz has been investigating the FBI’s 2016 surveillance activities and his report is expected later this month or in early June. Washington power couple Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing appeared on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business Network show Thursday night to talk about the latest turns in the “SpyGate” saga. “The only question now is whether or not the first FISA was illegally obtained,” diGenova said.

He told Dobbs that the latest revelations in investigative reporter John Solomon’s piece at The Hill, have prompted further investigation from Horowitz’s team. On Thursday, Solomon reported that newly unearthed memos show that a high-ranking government official from the Obama State Department met with former British spy Christopher Steele in October of 2016, and figured out pretty quickly that his dossier was a political hit job intended to slime Donald Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. [..] DiGenova said the inspector general was unaware of the memos, which were obtained last week through open-records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. “The Bureau hid those memos from Horowitz. As a result of that, they are doing some additional work on the first FISA,” diGenova explained, adding: “It may be that all four FISAs will have been obtained illegally.”

[..] DiGenova and Toensing shared another explosive revelation on Sebastian Gorka’s Salem Radio talk show “America First” on Thursday. According to Toensing, the FBI tried to frame former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos by having an informant give him $10,000 in cash during a trip to Israel in the summer of 2017. An individual allegedly talked the then-29-year-old into traveling to Israel to make a deal, and invited him to his hotel room. “And there on the bed is $10,000 in cash in a suitcase,” she continued. Papadopoulos took the money and gave it to his lawyer, who has it still. Toensing said when Papadopoulos returned to the United States, he was greeted by FBI agents at Dulles Airport and they started searching through everything that he had “the second he landed.”

She added, “in fact, they already had his baggage from the plane. He couldn’t believe they had his baggage.” “It was a set up!” exclaimed Gorka. “It was a complete set up,” agreed Toensing. DiGenova explained that the Feds already knew that he hadn’t declared that he had $10,000 and were expecting to find the undeclared cash so they could arrest him and “put the thumbscrews on and make him squeal,” as Gorka put it. Worst of all, according to Toensing, “one of the FBI agents said to him, ‘this is what happens when you work for Donald Trump.’”

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Good read. To a large extent, the Democrats made their own bed. Very far from a black and white story.

William Barr vs. Eric Holder: A Tale of Two Attorneys General (McConnell)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has declared it a “constitutional crisis” that Attorney General William Barr refuses to divulge the small parts of the Mueller report that contain grand-jury material. By a straight party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress. What did Pelosi think when Barr’s predecessor, Eric Holder, refused to divulge documents to a congressional committee and was held in contempt? “Ridiculous!” she said. What did Holder and Obama say? That the House subpoena was a violation of “separation of powers.” To partisans, the difference between the cases is obvious. Barr is defending Trump; Holder was Obama’s self-proclaimed “wing man.”

That is enough for many journalists and most politicians. The rest of us might want to know: What is the legal or constitutional difference between Holder’s refusal to provide documents and Barr’s? Here is the background of the Holder contempt. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), a unit of Holder’s Department of Justice (DOJ), conducted an operation called “Fast & Furious,” intended to track illegal gun sales. In fact it put hundreds of weapons in the hands of Mexican criminal gangs, leading to the death of an American officer. On February 2, 2011, after news of the operation emerged, Holder’s assistant attorney general sent a letter to Congress declaring that the Obama administration had no knowledge of the operation. This letter was false, as Holder later admitted.

A congressional committee wanted to know why it had been misled. BATFE employees leaked to Congress that the department was still suppressing the truth about the operation and retaliating against whistleblowers. The committee wanted to dig into that. It demanded DOJ documents “relating to actions the Department took to silence or retaliate against Fast and Furious whistleblowers,” so that it could determine “what the Department knew about Fast and Furious, including when and how it discovered its February 4 letter was false, and the Department’s efforts to conceal that information from Congress and the public.”

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“..funnelled [over $21 million] personally and through straw donors to President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, then lied about it to the Federal Elections Commission in 2015.”

Fugees Founder, Banker Charged In 1MDB, Obama Campaign Scandal (RT)

A founding member of the Fugees is accused of conspiracy to funnel illegal campaign contributions to Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign and lying about it, in a spinoff of the 1MDB corruption scandal. The indictment against Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, 46, was unsealed on Friday, the government says he received over $21 million from Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho (also known as “Jho Low”) and funnelled it personally and through straw donors to President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, then lied about it to the Federal Elections Commission in 2015. Michel was charged with conspiracy to defraud US government, falsifying records, and making a false statement. He appeared before a federal judge in Washington, DC on Friday and pleaded not guilty.


Mr. Michel is extremely disappointed that so many years after the fact the government would bring charges related to 2012 campaign contributions,” said his attorney Barry Pollack. “Mr. Michel is innocent of these charges and looks forward to having the case heard by a jury.” Michel is best known as one of the founding members of the Fugees, an award-winning group that set music charts on fire with ‘Killing me softly’ in 1996 and launched the solo careers of Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill. Low, 37, was also charged in the case, adding to the existing indictments against the Malaysian businessman already wanted for conspiring to launder billions of dollars and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

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“..he rode on the back of that fraud for two years, as if touring a political landfill on a donkey, leaving the public to stew in anxious hallucinations.”

Crisis? What Crisis? (Jim Kunstler)

Information emerged over the weeks since the Mueller Report’s release that Mr. Mueller and his team knew unequivocally that the Special Counsel’s mission and the FBI operations that preceded it were based on concocted political bullshit supplied by Mrs. Clinton and her network of flunkies and fixers, ranging throughout the permanent DC bureacuracy (a.k.a. the Swamp), to outposts in foreign intel services and the political kitty-litter box known as Ukraine. Mr. Mueller must have suspected this from the outset, but knew for sure by the summer of 2017, and omitted to advise the American public that he had uncovered a fraud. Rather, he rode on the back of that fraud for two years, as if touring a political landfill on a donkey, leaving the public to stew in anxious hallucinations.


What else did Mr. Mueller do, or omit to do? He never engaged US government forensic computer analysts to examine the DNC servers at the heart of RussiaGate story. Rather, he allowed the conclusions to stand of a company called CrowdStrike, hired by the DNC itself to supposedly investigate the theft of emails, especially those of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Mr. Mueller never bothered to interview the one person who might have known exactly who supplied the purloined emails to Wikileaks, namely Julian Assange. Mr. Mueller also did not bother to interview several dozen retired Intel Community computer experts, led by William Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, who determined that the hack was accomplished by direct download by an insider onto a flash drive.

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This is about what the US wants to add to the Assange charge once he’s been extradited.

Manning Could Delay US Superseding Indictment Against Assange (Sp.)

According to Manning’s legal team, her release was triggered by the expiration of the term of the grand jury that had demanded her testimony. She will be back in court on May 16, trying to convince a new grand jury of what she failed to prove to the last one: that she cannot be forced to cooperate, as she fundamentally disagrees with the concept of a grand jury, which she says use activists’ testimonies against them. “This will go on until they get what they want or she continues to stay in jail,” Joe Lauria, editor-in-chief of Consortium News, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Friday. “She’s in a position where she could delay or slow down what the Justice Department wants to do in terms of a superseding indictment against Assange.

Nobody believes that they are going to want to just put him in jail for five years… this initial indictment is a placeholder, and they have a deadline of June 12 to give to British court the charges; the decision has to be made in the UK,” Lauria said. However, there is a way around that, Lauria told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou, called the Doctrine of Specialty, which, according to reference website USLegal.com, is “a principle of international law that is included in most extradition treaties, whereby a person who is extradited to a country to stand trial for certain criminal offenses may be tried only for those offenses and not for any other pre-extradition offenses.” “Once the asylum state extradites an individual to the requesting state under the terms of an extradition treaty, that person can be prosecuted only for crimes specified in the extradition request,” the website notes.

“This doctrine allows a nation to require the requesting nation to limit prosecution to declared offenses.” “In other words, Assange could come to the US based on this very silly charge that he tried to help Chelsea Manning hack into a computer — when she had top secret clearance and total access anyway — clearly he was trying to just help her hide her identity. But, he could come to the US and they could start adding charges there. I suspect that might happen if she doesn’t testify — which she will not do, obviously; she’s made that abundantly clear.” “They clearly need something from her, or they wouldn’t be throwing her back in jail, effectively, because she refuses to testify,” Lauria said. “But she’s not going to say a damn thing; she’s not going to cooperate, at incredible personal expense to herself, and that just goes to show what a person of principle she is.”

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Curious but still..

Dutch Court Blocks Extradition Of Man To ‘Inhumane’ UK Prisons (G.)

Judges in the Netherlands have refused to send a suspected drug smuggler back to the UK because of concerns that conditions in British jails are inhumane. An initial application to extradite the unnamed man, who had been on the run for two years, was refused this week due to the reported state of HMP Liverpool where he would probably be sent.The court of Amsterdam heard how inspectors had found “some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen” and “conditions which have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century”, in reference to report on the state of prisons in the UK published last July.


A surprise inspection of HMP Liverpool in September 2017 found it was infested with rats and that inmates lived in squalid conditions, afraid of being attacked because of increasing violence. Similar conditions were found in HMP Birmingham and HMP Bedford. The Dutch judges said on Wednesday they were concerned the man, who was wanted in relation to cocaine and heroin smuggling on Merseyside, was at “real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment” if returned. The man had been made the subject of a European arrest warrant at Liverpool magistrates court in July 2017. His lawyer argued that the extradition should be refused based on the prison inspectors’ reports.

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“.. If you start with a monetary union, you make sure there will not be a democratic political union.”

Varoufakis On Eurozone: ‘We Created A Monster’ (Exp.)

Former Greek financial minister Yanis Varoufakis branded the eurozone “a monster” for allegedly taking away financial oversight from European Union member states. Mr Varoufakis, an outspoken opponent of the European monetary union, claimed the creation of the common currency led to an “undemocratic political union”. Recounting his first meeting with other eurozone Finance Ministers in 2015, Mr Varoufakis said: “When I was in the Eurogroup, Wolfgang Schauble was very clear. The first time he spoke, in my presence, he said –spectacularly and very honestly – ’democracy cannot be allowed to change economic policies.’


Mr Varoufakis continued: “We’ve created a monster. We’ve created a monetary union that has a central bank without a state behind it because the European Central Bank (ECB) doesn’t have a corresponding state. Before the euro, you had the Treasury, the ministry of finance and you had the central banks – correspondence. “The ECB is a gigantic central bank with no state behind it and you’ve got 19 states without a central bank. This is not the way to create a monetary union which is consistent with the political union.” He added: “The fallacy in 1992 with Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand, is that they believed you start with a monetary union and then you move towards a democratic political union. “No. If you start with a monetary union, you make sure there will not be a democratic political union.”

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Not sure the biggest EU monster is a finance one.

70 Migrants Dead After Boat Capsizes Trying To Reach Europe From Libya (G.)

As many as 70 people trying to reach Europe from Libya have drowned after their vessel capsized in the deadliest such incident in the Mediterranean since January. According to survivors, at least 16 of whom were rescued, the boat left Zuwara in Libya, where renewed warfare between rival factions has gripped the capital, Tripoli, in the past five weeks. The vessel capsized 40 miles off the coast of Sfax, south of Tunis, as it headed towards Italy. The survivors reported that a Tunisian fishing boat came to their rescue and transferred them to a Tunisian coastguard vessel.


The incident came as overall number of people reaching Europe has decreased, whilethe journey has become increasingly dangerous. So far this year, 17,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe via the sea, about 30% fewer than in the same period last year, according to the International Organization for Migration. The IOM said 443 people have reportedly died on Mediterranean crossings since 1 January, compared with 620 in the same period in 2018. The Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) thinktank said that one person died for every eight people who left Libya from January to April, based on analysis of figures from the Italian interior ministry.

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There’ll always be a dictator somewhere who invites a few million dollars. There’s only one solution: stop producing the stuff. 2 trillion drinks containers were sold in 2018. Cut it out.

Nearly All Countries Agree To Stem Flow Of Plastic Waste Into Poor Nations (G.)

Almost all the world’s countries have agreed on a deal aimed at restricting shipments of hard-to-recycle plastic waste to poorer countries, the United Nations announced on Friday. Exporting countries – including the US – now will have to obtain consent from countries receiving contaminated, mixed or unrecyclable plastic waste. Currently, the US and other countries can send lower-quality plastic waste to private entities in developing countries without getting approval from their governments. Since China stopped accepting recycling from the US, activists say they have observed plastic waste piling up in developing countries. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia), a backer of the deal, says it found villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia that had “turned into dumpsites over the course of a year”.


“We were finding that there was waste from the US that was just piled up in villages throughout these countries that had once been primarily agricultural communities,” said Claire Arkin, a spokeswoman for Gaia. The legally binding framework emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of UN-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals that threaten the planet’s seas and creatures. The pact comes in an amendment to the Basel convention. The US is not a party to that convention so it did not have a vote, but attendees at the meeting said the country argued against the change, saying officials didn’t understand the repercussions it would have on the plastic waste trade.

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Apr 172019
 


Jacques-Louis David Coronation of Napoleon in 1804 in Nôtre-Dame Cathedral 1805-7 (10 metres wide, 6 metres tall)

 

World Trade Suffers Biggest Collapse Since Financial Crisis (ZH)
Iran Parliament Declares US Central Command A ‘Terrorist Organization’ (RT)
CIA Director Used Fake Skripal Incident Photos To Manipulate Trump (MoA)
Affidavit Tries To Put WikiLeaks In Cahoots With The Taliban (ZH)
Suzie Dawson on Julian Assange’s Mistreatment (Unity4J)
Jesus Christ, Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies Of The State (JW)
First They Came For Assange (Varoufakis)
Macron Commits To Rebuilding Notre Dame Within Five Years (Ind.)
May Has ‘No Chance’ Of Avoiding EU Elections (Ind.)
Tory Deregulation Agenda Is Stalling Brexit Talks – Corbyn (G.)
Not In It To Win It: The Dirty Little Secret Of The Democrats’ 2020 Battle (G.)
Six-Decade Plankton Study Charts Rise Of Ocean Plastic Waste (G.)
Mark Carney Tells Global Banks They Cannot Ignore Climate Change (G.)
The Kids Aren’t Nearly Angry Enough (Spiegel)

 

 

The financial crisis is 11-12 years old. But the deception is brilliant: everybody thinks it’s over.

World Trade Suffers Biggest Collapse Since Financial Crisis (ZH)

The recent collapse in world trade volume is the worst since the financial crisis and as dangerous as during the dot-com bubble of the early 2000s, according to The Telegraph. Data from the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis revealed that world trade volume dropped 1.8% in the three months to January compared to the preceding three months as a synchronized global downturn gained momentum. “An industrial slump has been triggered by a perfect storm of factors, including China’s slowdown, the car industry downturn, Brexit paralysis and Donald Trump’s attempt to upend the international trade system with tariffs on European and Chinese goods,” explained The Telegraph.

A further escalation of the trade war between the U.S. and China could spark a world trade recession. Already, Washington has imposed steep tariffs on Chinese imports worth $250bn in a tit-for-tat battle with industrial centers in Asia and Germany experiencing sharp drops in trade in recent months. The Telegraph describes the sudden loss in trade momentum is equivalent to the months after the dot com bubble imploded in 2001 when trade volumes sank as much as 2.2%. Today’s current move is the biggest fall since the financial crisis of 2007–2008 when global trade plummeted, diving as much as 12.7%. The IMF warned last week that this is a “delicate moment” for the global economy as many countries are in the midst of a severe slowdown.

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“We” are losing to Iran all over again.

Iran Parliament Declares US Central Command A ‘Terrorist Organization’ (RT)

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has been designated as a “terrorist organization” by the Iranian parliament, in a mirror response to Washington’s blacklisting of Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard. All organizations, institutions and forces under CENTCOM command were acknowledged to be “terrorists” by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian MPs, who approved the contents of the bill, which also condemns the US move to blacklist the IRGC, an official military branch of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Armed Forces. “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s government and Armed Forces are required to adopt preventive actions and preemptive defensive measures whenever necessary, to deter any hostile US forces’ use of any possibilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests,” the bill states, according to Fars news.


Anyone offering military, intelligence, financial, or any other support to CENTCOM and its affiliate forces will be considered supporters of terrorism. The 13-article legislation also mandates the general staff to begin gathering intelligence about CENTCOM activities so that the material can be used in Iranian courts to prosecute specific individuals. The bill, however, does not mention the exact mechanisms through which Americans are expected to be brought to justice under Iranian laws. Last week the US, for the first time ever, designated an official foreign military institution –the IRGC– as a terrorist organization, as tensions between the states were pushed to the limit following President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear deal (JCPOA) and the reintroduction of sanctions that followed.

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Ducks and babies. We kid you not.

CIA Director Used Fake Skripal Incident Photos To Manipulate Trump (MoA)

An ass kissing portrait of Gina Haspel, torture queen and director of the CIA, reveals that she lied to Trump to push for more aggression against Russia. In March 2018 the British government asserted, without providing any evidence, that the alleged ‘Novichok’ poisoning of Sergej and Yulia Skripal was the fault of Russia. It urged its allies to expel Russian officials from their countries. The U.S. alone expelled 60 Russian officials. Trump was furious when he learned that EU countries expelled less than 60 in total. The expulsion marked a turn in the Trump administration’s relation with Russia: “The incident reflects a tension at the core of the Trump administration s increasingly hard-nosed stance on Russia: The president instinctually opposes many of the punitive measures pushed by his Cabinet that have crippled his ability to forge a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “

Today the New York Times portraits Gina Haspel’s relation with Trump. The writers seem sympathetic to her and the CIA’s position. They include an anecdote of the Skripal expulsion decision that is supposed to let her shine in a good light. But it only proves that the CIA manipulated the president for its own purpose: “Last March, top national security officials gathered inside the White House to discuss with Mr. Trump how to respond to the nerve agent attack in Britain on Sergei V. Skripal, the former Russian intelligence agent. London was pushing for the White House to expel dozens of suspected Russian operatives, but Mr. Trump was skeptical. …

[..] During the discussion, Ms. Haspel, then deputy C.I.A. director, turned toward Mr. Trump. She outlined possible responses in a quiet but firm voice, then leaned forward and told the president that the strong option was to expel 60 diplomats. Ms. Haspel showed pictures the British government had supplied her of young children hospitalized after being sickened by the Novichok nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals. She then showed a photograph of ducks that British officials said were inadvertently killed by the sloppy work of the Russian operatives. Ms Haspel was not the first to use emotional images to appeal to the president, but pairing it with her hard-nosed realism proved effective: Mr. Trump fixated on the pictures of the sickened children and the dead ducks. At the end of the briefing, he embraced the strong option.

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Can we throw in Pol Pot next? I’ll see your Bin Laden and raise you a Stalin.

Affidavit Tries To Put WikiLeaks In Cahoots With The Taliban (ZH)

The document uses maximal and hyped language to describe “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States,” yet struggles to ascertain whether “illegal agreement that Assange and Manning reached” specifically led to the release of the document trove (obviously crucial for charges against Assange to hold up). Concerning a potential extradition to the US, “probable cause” is cited to be the hundreds of messages sent between Manning and Assange on the Jabber platform. The argument is that Assange and Manning understood that it “would cause injury to the United States,” especially with US forces active on the ground in Afghanistan.

But on this point of whether the leaks did actual harm and damage to US efforts, the document is left reaching, trying to spin and insinuate a narrative that puts WikiLeaks and terrorist groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda in cahoots. It starts by claiming that “after the release of the Afghanistan War Reports, a member of the Taliban contacted the New York Times.” The supposed Taliban member said, “We are studying the report… If they are US spies, then we will know how to punish them.” This strange and somewhat comical example is meant to support the notion that Assange ultimately aided America’s enemies with the leaks. [..] Worse, the affidavit makes Osama bin Laden — killed in a 2011 raid by US Navy Seals while living comfortably in an Abbottabad, Pakistan compound — out to be a WikiLeaks fan, given letters had been found instructing an al-Qaeda member to “gather” the publicly available material leaked by Manning.

Somehow this is meant to imply WikiLeaks in a round-about way assisted al-Qaeda’s mission. The FBI is perhaps left grasping with this “bin Laden benefited” theory given the relative flimsiness of evidence to support the original “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion” aspect on which the case originated.

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Brilliant argument: “The question is not whether Julian is a journalist, the question is whether THEY are journalists.”

Suzie Dawson on Julian Assange’s Mistreatment (Unity4J)

Suzie Dawson powerfully expresses her feelings of righteous indignation on witnessing Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorean Embassy, and reflects on his mistreatment by the establishment and their propaganda arm, the complicit corporate media.

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So let that Pope of yours stand up for Julian. Do something useful with the $600 million already donated for the Notre Dame. THAT is what your Jesus would have done.

Jesus Christ, Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies Of The State (JW)

And then there was Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist, who not only died challenging the police state of his day—namely, the Roman Empire—but provided a blueprint for civil disobedience that would be followed by those, religious and otherwise, who came after him. Indeed, it is fitting that we remember that Jesus Christ—the religious figure worshipped by Christians for his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection—paid the ultimate price for speaking out against the police state of his day. A radical nonconformist who challenged authority at every turn, Jesus was a far cry from the watered-down, corporatized, simplified, gentrified, sissified vision of a meek creature holding a lamb that most modern churches peddle.


In fact, he spent his adult life speaking truth to power, challenging the status quo of his day, and pushing back against the abuses of the Roman Empire. Much like the American Empire today, the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day had all of the characteristics of a police state: secrecy, surveillance, a widespread police presence, a citizenry treated like suspects with little recourse against the police state, perpetual wars, a military empire, martial law, and political retribution against those who dared to challenge the power of the state. For all the accolades poured out upon Jesus, little is said about the harsh realities of the police state in which he lived and its similarities to modern-day America, and yet they are striking.

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Yanis has this completely upside down, like so many other well-meaning people:

“Let’s join forces to block #Assange’s extradition from any European country to the #US so that he can travel to Stockholm & give his accusers an opportunity to be heard”.

The accusers, if they are real, which is by no means clear, have been silenced by the Swedish government for a reason. And to say now that you can’t speak on the allegations because you too are a man, only reinforces that reason.

Assange has offered for years to talk, and for his accusers to be heard. That never needed to take place in Stockholm, and it does not now. It wouldn’t help anyone.

First They Came For Assange (Varoufakis)

My meetings with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange all took place in the same small room. As the intelligence services of a variety of countries know, I visited Assange in Ecuador’s London embassy many times between the fall of 2015 and December 2018. What these snoops do not know is the relief I felt every time I left. I wanted to meet Assange because of my deep appreciation of the original WikiLeaks concept. As a teenager reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, I, too, was troubled by the prospect of a high-tech surveillance state and its likely effect on human relations. Assange’s early writings – particularly his idea of using states’ own technology to create a huge digital mirror that could show everyone what they were up to – filled me with hope that we might collectively defeat Big Brother.

By the time I met Assange, that early hope had faded. Surrounded by bookcases featuring Ecuadorian literature and government publications, we would sit and chat late into the night. A device on top of a bookshelf emitted mind-numbing white noise to counter listening devices. As time passed, the claustrophobic living room, the badly hidden ceiling-mounted camera pointing at me, the white noise, and the stale air made me want to run out into the street. Assange’s detractors have been saying for years that his confinement was self-inflicted: he hid in Ecuador’s embassy because he jumped bail in the United Kingdom to avoid answering sexual assault allegations in Sweden. As a man, I feel I have no right to express an opinion regarding those allegations. Women must be heard when reporting assault.

Only the violence that men have inflicted upon women for millennia is viler than the disrespect and denigration to which women are subjected when they speak up. I recall saying to Julian that, had it been me, I would want to confront my accusers, and listen to them carefully and respectfully, regardless of whether official charges had been brought. He replied that he, too, wanted that. “But, Yanis,” he said, “if I were to go to Stockholm, they would throw me in solitary and, before I got a chance to answer any allegations, I would be bundled into a plane heading for a US supermax prison.” To drive the point home, he showed me his lawyers’ offer to Swedish authorities to go to Stockholm if they guaranteed that he would not be extradited to the United States on espionage charges. Sweden never considered the proposal.

During Assange’s years in Ecuador’s embassy, in circumstances that the United Nations deemed “arbitrary detention,” many friends and colleagues mocked his fear – and lambasted me for believing him. Last September, the historian and feminist intellectual Germaine Greer summed up that belief on Australian public radio: “He won’t be extradited to the United States,” she said derisively, blaming Julian’s lawyers for misleading him into fearing such an extradition while collecting his book’s royalties.

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Make that 50. Jesus himself would have to help. Alternatively, we can see this as a sign that Macron doesn’t expect to last as president for 5 years.

Macron Commits To Rebuilding Notre Dame Within Five Years (Ind.)

French president Emmanuel Macron promised that Notre Dame will be renovated within five years and will be “even better than before” after the devastating fire that ravaged much of the building. Investigators have already begun assessing the damage and questioning people to try to establish what started the blaze that consumed the roof and spire of the 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece. More then €600m has already been raised for rebuilding and restoration and the UK has said it stands ready to help. Firefighters battled for 14 hours to extinguish the flames, as onlookers feared the entire structure would be wrecked. But Parisians breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear the twin medieval bell towers had been spared and later when fire investigators revealed that “most precious” treasures have been saved.


They included the Crown of Thorns, a relic venerated by Christians and believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ, as well as the cathedral’s 18th-century organ and a number of artworks. European Council president Donald Tusk called on the European Union’s member countries to help, saying the site in central Paris is a symbol of what binds Europe together. The fire, which began on Monday evening, is thought to have been caused by an accident rather than arson, the Paris public prosecutor said. Architects warned repairs could take decades but in a televised address to the nation Mr Macron said: “We will rebuild Notre Dame even more beautifully, and I want it to be completed in five years, we can do it.”

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“..experts have concluded..”

May Has ‘No Chance’ Of Avoiding EU Elections (Ind.)

Theresa May has “no chance” of passing her Brexit deal in time to pull the UK out of the European parliament elections and avoid a likely devastating defeat, experts have concluded. Time has already effectively run out on attempts to ratify the agreement by 22 May, they say – despite the prime minister insisting talks with Labour can still deliver a compromise before the deadline. The verdict puts the Conservatives on course to lose most of their MEPs, polls suggest, as Leave voters protest at the failure to deliver Brexit, a disastrous result that would trigger huge pressure on Ms May to resign. The staging of the elections will also be a personal humiliation for the prime minister, who repeatedly told MPs they should not take place, three years after the Brexit referendum.


More talks with Labour are planned, as No 10 claims the complex (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – required to ratify EU withdrawal – can clear parliament before voters go to the polls on 23 May. But two respected think tanks have told The Independent the timetable is a fantasy, with one suggesting it will take “several months” to approve the legislation, which could involve up to 100 votes. Unlike the simple meaningful vote, the full legislation will trigger lengthy and gruelling parliamentary trench warfare, with echoes of the bitter battles over the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties. Approval of Maastricht took 41 days in 1993, while Lisbon required 25 days in 2008 – but there are only 17 sitting days planned before 22 May.

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There is no way they could ever agree.

Tory Deregulation Agenda Is Stalling Brexit Talks – Corbyn (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has said Brexit talks with the government are stalling because of a Tory desire for post-withdrawal deregulation, including as part of a US trade deal. Corbyn said Labour had been putting forward a robust case for a customs union during the talks over the past week but suggested he feared the two sides would not find common ground. “There has to be access to European markets and above all there has to be a dynamic relationship to protect the conditions and rights that we’ve got for environment and consumer workplace rights,” he said. “We’ve put those cases very robustly to the government and there’s no agreement as yet.”


Meetings are scheduled this week between ministers and shadow ministers on environmental protections, security and workers’ rights, which Corbyn described as “quite interesting, quite long technical discussions, particularly on environment regulations”. However, there will be no discussion before Easter on the big issues of a customs union or a confirmatory referendum. Corbyn underlined again that an agreement could only be reached if Theresa May was prepared to accept Labour’s central demand for a common external tariff policy with the EU. “The government doesn’t appear to be shifting the red lines because they’ve got a big pressure in the Tory party that actually wants to turn this country into a deregulated, low-tax society which will do a deal with Trump. I don’t want to do that,” he said.

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The Delusional Party.

Not In It To Win It: The Dirty Little Secret Of The Democrats’ 2020 Battle (G.)

Political scientists are quick to point out two reasons why a record number of candidates is running for president on the Democratic side in 2020. One: the Republican president, Donald Trump, is vulnerable with a low-40s approval rating, so the Democratic nominee has a good shot at winning the White House. Two: there’s no bigfoot candidate this time around – no incumbent, no Hillary Clinton – to dissuade other potential candidates from running. Those conditions have lured 15 major candidates so far into the race for the Democratic nomination, with as many as half a dozen more potentially getting in, including former vice-president Joe Biden, who has yet to officially declare. The previous record for major candidates in a presidential primary field was 17, on the Republican side in 2016.


But analysts also nod to a third factor inflating the gigantic 2020 Democratic field, a not-quite-dirty little secret about presidential politics. The fact is, not all of the people running for president are actually running for president. “There is almost always at least a few candidates in these kinds of fields that are either there to push an issue agenda, or these are candidates who are interested in building their name recognition, building their stature and status within the party,” said John Sides, professor of political science at George Washington University and editor-in-chief of The Monkey Cage politics analysis site.

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How much plastic is inside of you?

Six-Decade Plankton Study Charts Rise Of Ocean Plastic Waste (G.)

A trove of data showing when the Atlantic began choking with plastic has been uncovered in the handwritten logbooks of a little-known but doggedly persistent plankton study dating back to the middle of the last century. From fishing twine found in the ocean in the 50s, then a first carrier bag in 1965, it reflects how the marine refuse problem grew from small, largely ignored incidents to become a matter of global concern. The unique dataset, published in Nature Communications, is based on records from the continuous plankton recorder, a torpedo-shaped marine sampling device that has been towed across more than 6.5m nautical miles of ocean over the past 60 years.


Bryozoans, nudibranchs, crabs, and barnacles live on a clear plastic bottle in the ocean. Photograph: Justin Hofman/Greenpeace/PA

Based firstly in Hull, then Edinburgh and Plymouth, the long-running programme was initially designed to collect pelagic plankton, which are an indicator of water quality and also a source of food for whales and other marine life. But the operators have also kept a chart-and-counter track of entanglements that disrupted their work: what snared the equipment, where it happened and when. This has proved a valuable source of data on plastic waste, according to contemporary researchers. “This consistent time series provides some of the earliest records of plastic entanglement, and is the first to confirm a significant increase in open ocean plastics in recent decades,” the paper notes.

The start of the problem was so slow it was barely noticed. The log shows strands of fishing twine found off the east coast of Iceland in 1957, then a carrier bag in waters to the north-west of Ireland eight years later. The paper states this was a couple of years before the first reports of turtles and seabirds becoming ensnared in plastic. Over the following decades the problem grew steadily. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, fewer than 1% of tows were disrupted by entanglements with synthetic materials. By the 90s it was almost 2%, and in the first decade of this century the increase “was of an order of magnitude”, according to the paper. The figure is now hovering somewhere between 3% and 4%.

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Note: if you find yourself agreeing with Carney, and you fail to see the absurdity in this, seek treatment. Carney is a full-time douche. He’s saying going green is a profit opportunity.

Mark Carney Tells Global Banks They Cannot Ignore Climate Change (G.)

The global financial system faces an existential threat from climate change and must take urgent steps to reform, the governors of the Bank of England and France’s central bank have warned, writing in the Guardian. In an article published in the Guardian on Wednesday aimed at the international financial community, Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, and Villeroy de Galhau, the governor of the Banque de France, said financial regulators, banks and insurers around the world had to “raise the bar” to avoid catastrophe. They said: “As financial policymakers and prudential supervisors we cannot ignore the obvious physical risks before our eyes. Climate change is a global problem, which requires global solutions, in which the whole financial sector has a central role to play.”


The warning comes as concern over the impact of climate change and the lack of urgent action is increasing, reflected in the Extinction Rebellion protests and schoolchildren’s strikes across the world. The heads of two of the world’s most influential central banks urged other financial regulators around the world to carry out climate change stress tests to spot any risks in the system, while also calling for more collaboration between nations on the issue. They warned that a “massive reallocation of capital” was necessary to prevent global warming above the 2°C maximum target set by the Paris climate agreement, with the banking system required to play a pivotal role. “If some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist,” Carney and De Galhau said.

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Apr 162019
 
 April 16, 2019  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Charles Negre ‘The Vampire’, Henri Le Secq stands next to Stryge grotesque, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris 1853

 

Notre Dame ‘Saved From Total Destruction’ (CNBC)
The Notre Dame Fire And The Future Of History (Wired)
Notre Dame Was Built To Last Until The End Of The World (Mason)
Salma Hayek’s Husband Pledges €100 Million For Notre Dame Rebuild (Fox)
Redacted Mueller Report To Be Released To Congress & Public On Thursday (ZH)
Uncle Tom’s Empire (Hopkins)
Why Isn’t Assange Charged With ‘Collusion With Russia’? (Andrew McCarthy)
Assange Suffered Severe Psychological And Physical Harm – Doctors (IC)
Useful Idiots on Parade (Kunstler)
Respecting the Other (Dmitry Orlov)
Fed’s Rosengren Says Central Bank Should Target An Inflation Range (R.)
Free Our Marbles From British Museum’s ‘Murky Prison’ – Greek President (R.)
Winds Carry Microplastics Even On To Remote Mountaintops (G.)

 

 

The Notre Dame is first and foremost a work of art designed to make one marvel at what people can build with their hands.

Notre Dame ‘Saved From Total Destruction’ (CNBC)

Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral has been saved from “total destruction,” according to a French fire official, after a massive fire ripped through the structure on Monday and caused the roof and main spire to collapse. The blaze burned for eight hours, but has now been largely extinguished, according to firefighters. One official was quoted as saying the two iconic rectangular towers have been saved, which will come a relief after one of the towers caught fire earlier in the evening. Earlier, a French Interior Ministry official had said that firefighters might not be able to save the cathedral. “The worst has been avoided, but the battle isn’t fully won yet,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement outside of the cathedral.


He also expressed his sympathies to Catholics around the world, the people of Paris and the people of France. The fire broke out just days before Easter. “We will rebuild the cathedral together,” Macron said, adding that France will start an international fundraising campaign to raise money for the renovations. President Macron is treating the fire as a national emergency. Residents living close to the cathedral were evacuated in case the building collapsed, said Paris Mayor Anne Hildago. The area surrounding the cathedral, Paris’ Ile de la Cite, was also evacuated, according to Reuters.

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Our Lady in the cloud.

The Notre Dame Fire And The Future Of History (Wired)

Some of the wood that burned in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on Monday was put in place in the year 1160. The beams and exterior of the roof over the nave, the long main section of the building, date from between 1220 and 1240. Nearly a millennium ago it was forest; today, after a catastrophe that cuts to the heart of French culture and human history, it’s ash. “It was one of the oldest—until today—surviving roofs of that kind,” says Robert Bork, an architectural historian at the University of Iowa. “It’s incomparable.” [..] By Monday night, the art and treasured objects kept in the cathedral had been saved, it seemed. But architectural historians around the world were emailing each other frantically: If the lower three-quarters of the building resist, if the stone walls stand, it’ll be possible to imagine restoring Notre Dame.

“If the fire burns out while the stone vaults are intact, then the repair is a repair,” Bork says. “If the vaults start to crack and fall down, then the building is going to be lost. We’d be talking about rebuilding, not a repair.” Parisian fire brigades held the line. They kept the fire from spreading into the towers of the western face of the cathedral. The wood—itself an architectural treasure—was lost. “Cathedrals like Chartres had all burned off,” Bork says. “This was quite special, and it was from the time that they were really developing roof techniques.” But the rest of the building seems to have been spared. [..] because it survived largely intact into the digital era, Notre Dame lives on in the virtual world, too—and that may make its restoration all the more complete.

For the last half-decade or so, an architectural historian named Andrew Tallon worked with laser scanners to capture the entirety of the cathedral’s interior and exterior in meticulous 3D point clouds. His billion points of light revealed a living structure; the magnificent flying buttresses had indeed held the walls true, but the Gallery of Kings, statues on the western facade, were a foot out of plumb, Tallon told National Geographic in 2015. Just as it had in Victor Hugo’s day, the entire building had in fact fallen into disrepair by then. In 2017, the problems became too serious to ignore. The New York Times reported on stacks of masonry, fallen or removed, in the gardens. Gargoyles had given way to plastic pipes to drain away rainwater. A remodel was imperative, though as Time reported, it wasn’t clear who would pay for it.

This is the renovation project that was underway when the fire started, and architects now hope that Tallon’s scans may provide a map for keeping on track whatever rebuilding will have to take place. Tallon died late last year, and his mentor, a pioneer in using modern engineering forensics in historic architecture named Robert Mark, died in early 2019. “Both of them loved this building,” Bork says. “I’m just glad they didn’t have to see this.”

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“By the time it is rebuilt, as a partial replica, most people alive today will already be dead.”

Notre Dame Was Built To Last Until The End Of The World (Mason)

I’m writing this because I have to. The first time I saw Notre Dame was in 1980. Summertime, early morning, before the bakeries were open. The slanted light made the reliefs on the doors stand out. The second time I saw it, a year later, somebody (I have now been reminded it was Bill Ford) read out to me a complete analysis of the three doors of the façade. Deliberately assymetrical, each one contains a moral universe. As I write it will be lucky if they survive. The spire is gone, the stained glass is gone, the wood of the roof timber is gone. By the time it is rebuilt, as a partial replica, most people alive today will already be dead. Notre Dame was -and will be- a monument to civilisation. In an age when there were no information storage devices other than handwritten books, giant stone buildings were society’s hard drives.

This is like losing the hard drive of medieval Paris. Every inch had meaning – not just the meaning imbued by the carpenter and the stonemason, but the meaning imbued by the student, the monk, the penitent -and then by the emergent French bourgeois society. I know almost nothing about architecture, but I do understand music. And the music composed in Notre Dame during the high period of feudalism is some of the most complex, beautiful and emotionally expressive you will ever hear. Understanding the music helped me understand the building. Andrieu’s requiem dirge for Guillaume de Machaut, O Fleur des Fleurs, seems to be on loop inside my head. The challenge was to make it as complicated as possible but as directly expressive.

The one time I did the full tour of the inside was in 1986, before mass global tourism took off. I didn’t understand its vastness even then. If you have ever seen it, you have to hold those memories close now, because you will probably never in your lifetime see the whole thing rebuilt. Last year I went to Tito’s birthplace in Croatia. A small village of wood huts. A tank could have destroyed it in half an hour. It was a reminder that, until the mid 20thcentury, most of the world was built of wood, thatch and fragile bricks. Notre Dame was built to last until the end of the world, out of stone, glass and vast forests of thick timber frames.


Picked up on Twitter: Brooke Windsor – I took this photo as we were leaving #NotreDame about an hour before it caught on fire. I almost went up to the dad and asked if he wanted it. Now I wish I had. Twitter if you have any magic, help him find this

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Let’s do some gossip.

Salma Hayek’s Husband Pledges €100 Million For Notre Dame Rebuild (Fox)

Salma Hayek’s husband, the French billionaire François-Henri Pinault, pledged almost $113 million to rebuild Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral after Monday’s devastating fire. Pinault announced Tuesday that he will draw almost $113 million in funds from his family’s investment firm, Artemis, “to participate in the effort that will be necessary for the complete reconstruction of Notre-Dame,” the French newspaper Le Figaro reported. Pinault, 56, who is the chairman and CEO of Kering, a Paris-based luxury group behind brands including Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, married the Mexican and American actress Salma Hayek in Paris in 2009, Yahoo News reported.


The couple owns a residence nearby the destroyed 12th-century medieval Catholic cathedral. “As many others I’m in deep shock and sadness to witness the beauty of Notre-Dame turn into smoke. I love you Paris,” Hayek said on Instagram, sharing an image of the cathedral ablaze. Pinault’s father, the 82-year-old Francois Pinault, is worth $37.3 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. The family’s contribution is the first major donation to reconstruction efforts after the fire engulfed the historic structure, leading to the collapse of the structure’s main spire.

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Get ready for more of the same Russiagate. Just look at that cartoon.

Redacted Mueller Report To Be Released To Congress & Public On Thursday (ZH)

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec announced this morning Attorney General William Barr is expected to send Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report to Congress and make it public on Thursday (ahead of the long weekend’s news cycle). Those following Mueller’s investigation will pore over the report’s almost 400 pages for any new disclosures of contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives who interfered in the 2016 election, as well as evidence that the president sought to obstruct justice by interfering in the probe.


But, as Bloomberg reports, readers also will puzzle over sections that Barr has said he’ll blank out. He’s said the redacted material will be color-coded to indicate whether it involves classified material, grand jury information or damage to the reputation of a private citizen “peripheral” to the investigation. One key question the report may answer is why Mueller decided not to make a recommendation one way or the other on whether to charge Trump with obstructing justice.

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Brilliant absolute must read.

Uncle Tom’s Empire (Hopkins)

I don’t normally do this kind of thing, but, given the arrest of Julian Assange last week, and the awkward and cowardly responses thereto, I felt it necessary to abandon my customary literary standards and spew out a spineless, hypocritical “hot take” professing my concern about the dangerous precedent the U.S. government may be setting by extraditing and prosecuting a publisher for exposing American war crimes and such, while at the same time making it abundantly clear how much I personally loathe Assange, and consider him an enemy of America, and freedom, and want the authorities to crush him like a cockroach.

Now I want to be absolutely clear. I totally defend Assange and Wikileaks, and the principle of freedom of the press, and whatever. And I am all for exposing American war crimes (as long as it doesn’t endanger the lives of the Americans who committed those war crimes, or inconvenience them in any way). At the same time, while I totally support all that, I feel compelled to express my support together with my personal loathing of Assange, who, if all those important principles weren’t involved, I would want to see taken out and shot, or at least locked up in Super-Max solitary … not for any crime in particular, but just because I personally loathe him so much.

I’m not quite sure why I loathe Assange. I’ve never actually met the man. I just have this weird, amorphous feeling that he’s a horrible, disgusting, extremist person who is working for the Russians and is probably a Nazi. It feels kind of like that feeling I had, back in the Winter of 2003, that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, which he was going to give to those Al Qaeda terrorists who were bayonetting little babies in their incubators, or the feeling I still have, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Trump is a Russian intelligence asset who peed on Barack Obama’s bed, and who is going to set fire to the Capitol building, declare himself American Hitler, and start rounding up and murdering the Jews.

I don’t know where these feelings come from. If you challenged me, I probably couldn’t really support them with any, like, actual facts or anything, at least not in any kind of rational way. Being an introspective sort of person, I do sometimes wonder if maybe my feelings are the result of all the propaganda and relentless psychological and emotional conditioning that the ruling classes and the corporate media have subjected me to since the day I was born, and that influential people in my social circle have repeated, over and over again, in such a manner as to make it clear that contradicting their views would be extremely unwelcome, and might negatively impact my social status, and my prospects for professional advancement.

Take my loathing of Assange, for example. I feel like I can’t even write a column condemning his arrest and extradition without gratuitously mocking or insulting the man. When I try to, I feel this sudden fear of being denounced as a “Trump-loving Putin-Nazi,” and a “Kremlin-sponsored rape apologist,” and unfriended by all my Facebook friends. Worse, I get this sickening feeling that unless I qualify my unqualified support for freedom of press, and transparency, and so on, with some sort of vicious, vindictive remark about the state of Assange’s body odor, and how he’s probably got cooties, or has pooped his pants, or some other childish and sadistic taunt, I can kiss any chance I might have had of getting published in a respectable publication goodbye.

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Because then they would have to prove it.

Why Isn’t Assange Charged With ‘Collusion With Russia’? (Andrew McCarthy)

So . . . I have a few questions. First, why was there no Sanders-Russia probe? Why, when President Obama directed John Brennan, his hyper-political CIA director, to rush out a report on Russia’s influence operations, did we not hear about the WikiLeaks-Russia objective of helping Sanders win the Democratic nomination? Brennan & Co. couldn’t tell us enough about our intelligence-agency mind readers’ confidence that Putin was rootin’ for Trump. Why nothing about the conspirators’ Feelin’ the Bern? Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think there is any basis for a criminal investigation of Senator Sanders.

But there appears to have been no criminal predicate for a “collusion” investigation of Donald Trump, either — not a shred of public evidence that he conspired in the Putin regime’s hacking, other than that presented in the Clinton-campaign-sponsored Steele dossier (if you can call that “evidence” — though even Christopher Steele admits it’s not). Yet, Trump was subjected to an investigation for more than two years — on the gossamer-light theory that Trump stood to benefit from Moscow’s perfidy. Yes, of course, this cui bono claim was amplified by what were said to be Trump’s intriguing, if noncriminal, ties to Russia.

To my knowledge, however, the mythical pee tape of Steele lore has never been located; it is unlikely, then, that there are any Trump photos that compare, intrigue-wise, to a shirtless Bernie boozing it up in the Soviet Union. Surely that should have been worth a FISA warrant or four. A more serious question: Why hasn’t Assange been indicted for criminal collusion with the Kremlin — the same hacking conspiracy for which Mueller indicted the Russian operatives with whom Mueller says Assange collaborated? The same conspiracy for which the president of the United States, though not guilty, was under the FBI’s microscope for nearly three years?

The most striking thing about the Assange indictment that the Justice Department did file is how thin it is, and how tenuous. Leaping years backwards, ignoring “collusion with Russia,” prosecutors allege a single cyber-theft count: a conspiracy between Assange and then–Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning to steal U.S. defense secrets. This lone charge is punishable by as little as no jail time and a maximum sentence of just five years’ imprisonment (considerably less than the seven years Assange spent holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid prosecution).

This is very peculiar. Manning, Assange’s co-conspirator, has already been convicted of multiple felony violations of the espionage act — serious crimes that the Assange indictment says WikiLeaks helped Manning commit . . . but which the Justice Department has not charged against Assange. Why? Probably because espionage charges are time-barred. Which brings us to the possibility — perhaps even the likelihood — that Assange will never see the inside of an American courtroom.

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Who’s going to sue the politicians responsible?

Assange Suffered Severe Psychological And Physical Harm – Doctors (IC)

In an April 8 letter sent to both U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and Dunja Mijatovic, the commissioner for human rights for the Council of Europe, Crosby added that during her February visit to the embassy, the conditions of Assange’s confinement had significantly worsened since her first visit in 2017. Her letter noted the severe psychological toll Assange suffered in his prolonged and indefinite confinement. “Mr. Assange’s situation [inside the embassy] differs from a typical prisoner in a conventional prison,” she wrote in her letter. “In fact, his position is worse than a conventional prison in many respects. His confinement is indefinite and uncertain, which increases chronic stress and its myriad of chronic physical and serious psychological risks, including suicide.”

During seven years of confinement, Assange had suffered “a number of serious deleterious effects of sunlight deprivation,” she wrote, including “neuropsychological impairment, weakened bones, decreased immune function, and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer.” He also displayed physical and psychological symptoms as a result of “prolonged social isolation and sensory deprivation.” “I believe the psychological, physical, and social [aftereffects] will be long-lasting and severe,” Crosby wrote.Assange was expelled from the Ecuadorian Embassy and arrested by British authorities on April 11, three days after her letter was sent to the U.N. and the Council of Europe. [..] Crosby wrote in her letter to the U.N. and the Council of Europe that Assange suffered from “multiple medical conditions” that had become “more complex and urgent” over the two years she had evaluated him.

“He has no ability to access necessary medical care, and he does not have access to the outdoors and sunlight. Even minimum standards for prisoners dictate at least one hour of sunlight daily and access to natural light.” While the British government and Assange’s many critics say that it was his choice to stay in the embassy, Crosby argues that Assange was denied the fundamental right to health care that should have been afforded to him as a refugee.In her April 8 letter, Crosby wrote that the “highest priority” for Assange’s medical care was his “critical need for an oral surgery procedure,” adding that “the severe daily pain” from his dental condition is “inhumane.” She had consulted with a dentist who had examined Assange, she wrote, and learned that the dental surgery could not be performed in the embassy. In her letter, Crosby says that the British government had repeatedly rejected requests to give Assange safe passage to a hospital for treatment.

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Jim illustrates the demise of Slate.

Useful Idiots on Parade (Kunstler)

There is probably a good reason that US government authorities did not essay to make Mr. Assange a witness on-the-record: because his testimony would have prevented Mr. Mueller from bringing his bullshit charges against the Russian internet trolls he indicted — who will never have to come to trial in the USA in any case, and thus never refute The Narrative so earnestly promoted by the Mueller team — until it all fell apart on March 24. But these are not terms that the Slate Political Gabfest chose to follow in their analysis of Julian Assange and his activities. Rather we got the following, transcribed verbatim:


Bazelon: “Assange is so detestable it’s really tempting to get as far away from him as possible. One look at him and I feel that way about him.” Plotz: “Do you think Joe Biden would get a little handsy with him?” Bazelon: “He’s far creepier.” Dickerson: “You don’t find that Dickensian beard alluring?” Bazelon: “It’s awful. But I always thought he was clean-shaven yucky.” Such are the Deep Thoughts of America’s leading Wokester political analysts. One also might ask why Mr. Assange has not been charged by the US with espionage, if that’s what their beef with him really is. In the meantime, behold the disgraceful episode of American journalists pimping for the leviathan state’s privilege to suppress the free flow of news and their own freedom of the press. Imagine them subjecting Daniel Ellsberg to such a hazing.

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I miss Dmitry.

Respecting the Other (Dmitry Orlov)

One of my old friends’ father was at one time something of a Cold Warrior: he did something or other for the US defense establishment—nuclear submarine-related, if I recall correctly. This work activity apparently led him to develop a particularly virulent form of Russophobia; not so much a phobia as a pronounced loathing of all things Russian. According to my friend, her father would compulsively talk about Russia in overly negative terms. He would also sneeze a lot (allergies, perhaps), and she said that it was often difficult for her to distinguish his sneezes from his use of the word “Russia” as an expletive. But perhaps she was trying to draw a distinction without a difference: her father was allergic to Russia, his allergy caused him to sneeze a lot and also to develop a touch of Tourette’s, thus his sneezes came out sounding like “Russia!”

What had caused him to develop such a jaundiced view of Russia? The reason is easy to guess: his work activity on behalf of the government forced him to focus closely on what his superiors labeled as “the Russian threat.” Unfolded a bit, it would no doubt turn out that what Russia threatened was Americans’ self-generated fiction of overwhelming military superiority. Unlike the United States, which had developed any number of plans to destroy the Soviet Union (of which nothing ever came due to said lack of overwhelming military superiority) the Soviet Union had never developed any such plans. And this was utterly infuriating to certain people in the US. Was this truly necessary, or was this an accident?

We could take into account geopolitical, military or economic considerations, consider the (no longer relevant) clash of socialist vs. capitalist ideologies or any number of other irrelevancies. Or we could find hints of what’s really behind this syndrome from certain efforts to combat it. Consider this lyrics from Sting’s 1985 debut solo album “The Dream of Blue Turtles.” Sting sang soulfully: “I hope the Russians love their children too.” From what mystical source sprang Sting’s forlorn hope? That the Russians may be a race of soulless automatons hell-bent on wanton destruction of all life on Earth, but that perhaps there is just a tiny streak of humanity running through their character—they love their children too—and that it will hold them back? Sting’s Russia is almost pure evil, but not quite, and a tiny speck of goodness is what keeps the world balanced on the edge of destruction.

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The Fed should do no such thing; it should close its doors before there’s no economy left.

Fed’s Rosengren Says Central Bank Should Target An Inflation Range (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve should shore up its ability to fight economic downturns by committing to let inflation run above 2% “in good times,” a top policymaker said on Monday. The comments by Eric Rosengren, president of the Boston Fed, echoed remarks made earlier in the day by another Fed policymaker who cited the U.S. economy’s falling a bit short on the central bank’s inflation target as a problem. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, is currently at 1.8%. Rosengren said he supports an approach that would see the Fed, which is “forced to accept” inflation below its 2% target during recessions, commit to achieve above-2% inflation “in good times.” Policymakers, for instance, could target a range of 1.5-2.5%.


“My own preference would be an inflation range,” because hitting the current target will only get harder with rates as low as they are, Rosengren said at Davidson College in North Carolina. “Even though we’re only missing by a little bit it actually does matter if you miss by a little bit on a regular basis.” The remarks come ahead of a broad policy review being conducted by the Fed this year. How the Fed meets its inflation target is one of the key topics. The president of the Chicago Fed, Charles Evans, said earlier on Monday that the U.S. central bank should embrace inflation above its target half the time and consider cutting rates if prices do not rise as fast as expected.

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What I always like most about this is the Brits’ defence is they bought them legally from an occupying force.

Free Our Marbles From British Museum’s ‘Murky Prison’ – Greek President (R.)

Greece’s president called on Monday for Britain to free the Parthenon marbles from the “murky prison” of its national museum, upping the rhetoric in a near 200-year-old campaign for the sculptures’ return. President Prokopis Pavlopoulos spoke at Athens’ own glass-fronted Acropolis Museum, which campaigners hope will one day house the classical reliefs and figures taken by a British diplomat in the early nineteenth century. “Let the British Museum come here and make the comparison between this (Acropolis) museum of light and the murky, if I may say, prison of the British Museum where the Parthenon Marbles are held as trophies,” Pavlopoulos said. There was no immediate response from the British Museum.


Britain’s Lord Elgin removed the 2,500-year-old sculptures from the Acropolis temple in Athens during a period when Greece was under Ottoman rule. They have been placed in a gallery inside the British Museum in London, lit by a long skylight. Greece has repeatedly requested their return since its independence in 1832, and stepped up its campaign in 2009 when it opened its new museum at the foot of the Acropolis hill. That building holds the sculptures that Elgin left behind alongside plaster casts of the missing pieces, lit by the sun coming through a glass wall looking over the original site. “This museum can host the Marbles,” Pavlopoulos said. “We are fighting a holy battle for a monument which is unique.” The British Museum has refused to return the sculptures, saying they were acquired by Elgin under a legal contract with the Ottoman empire.

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How much plastic is there inside of you?

Winds Carry Microplastics Even On To Remote Mountaintops (G.)

Microplastic is raining down on even remote mountaintops, a new study has revealed, with winds having the capacity to carry the pollution “anywhere and everywhere”. The scientists were astounded by the quantities of microplastic falling from the sky in a supposedly pristine place such as the French stretch of the Pyrenees mountains. Researchers are now finding microplastics everywhere they look; in rivers, the deepest oceans and soils around the world. Other recent studies have found microplastics in farmland soils near Shanghai, China, in the Galápagos Islands, a Unesco world heritage site, and in rivers in the Czech Republic.

Humans and other animals are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the potential health effects on people and ecosystems are as yet unknown. However the ubiquity of the pollution means it needs to be taken very seriously, said Steve Allen, at the EcoLab research institute near Toulouse and who led the new work in the Pyrenees: “If it is going to be a problem, it is going to be a very big problem. I don’t think there is an organism on Earth that is immune to this.” About 335m tonnes of plastic is produced each year – while it degrades extremely slowly, it can be broken into smaller and smaller pieces.

Microplastic pollution in rivers and oceans is now well known but just two previous studies have looked at its presence in the air, one in Paris, France, and another in Dongguan, China. Both found a steady fall of particles. The new study, published in Nature Communications, is the first to show microplastic is raining down just as hard in remote environments and that it can travel across significant distances through wind. The team collected samples from high altitudes in the Pyrenees that were far from sources of plastic waste – the nearest village was 6km away, the nearest town 25km, and the nearest city 120km.

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Apr 052019
 


Jack Delano Diner along U.S. Highway No. 1 near Berwyn, Maryland 1940

 

WikiLeaks Says Assange to Be Expelled Within ‘Hours to Days’ (TeleSur)
Barr Defends His Summary Of Mueller Report, And The Delay (AP)
Boeing Admits ANOTHER Glitch In 737 MAX Software (RT)
WTO Rules Against US And Boeing In Mammoth Trade Row With EU (DW)
Rising Risk Of US And China Housing Slump Causing Recession – IMF (G.)
Theresa May To Make Written Brexit Offer To Jeremy Corbyn (G.)
EU’s Donald Tusk ‘Suggests Flexible Brexit Delay’ (BBC)
Angela Merkel Promises To Back Ireland In Avoiding Hard Border (G.)
Currency-Trading Algos “Flummoxed” by Rapid-Fire Brexit Headlines (WS)
Marine Plastic Pollution Costs The World Up To $2.5 Billion A Year (G.)
Great Barrier Reef Suffers 89% Collapse In New Coral (G.)
Bavaria To Pass ‘Save The Bees’ Petition Into Law In Landmark Move (G.)
Attenborough’s First Act As An Eco-Warrior (G.)

 

 

Sad sad day. Time to pray.

WikiLeaks Says Assange to Be Expelled Within ‘Hours to Days’ (TeleSur)

Julian Assange will be expelled from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, England within “hours to days,” high-ranking Ecuadorean state officials told WikiLeaks. Acording to reports, an agreement between the United Kingdom and the South American nation has been reached regarding Assange’s imminent arrest. The Ina Papers offshore scandal will be used as a pretext, WikiLeaks says.Earlier this week, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno argued that WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has “repeatedly violated” the terms of his asylum in the embassy and that he will “make a decision in the short term.”

Ecuador’s head of state, interviewed by the local Radio Broadcasters’ Association, said Assange does not have the right to “hack private accounts or phones” and cannot intervene in the politics of other countries, especially those that have friendly relations with Ecuador. The Wikileaks founder accepted political asylum in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes, which have been dropped. However, in the last two years, ever since Moreno took office, a new set of draconian measures have reduced his fundamental rights, in regards to freedom of speech, visits and movement inside the diplomatic mission.

Assange, who was granted Ecuadoran citizenship in December 2017, legally cannot be extradited as Article 25 of Ecuador’s 2008 constitution forbids extradition of nationals. Yet he has denounced attempts, influenced by U.S. pressure, to strip him of this right. A United Nations Special Rapporteur on Privacy is due to visit Assange on Wednesday to investigate Ecuador’s spying on the activist. Ecuador filed a complaint with the rapporteur Monday denouncing WikiLeaks and others for reporting on the INA Papers offshore scandal engulfing its president.

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Just because the losers are sore, he has to defend himself?

Barr Defends His Summary Of Mueller Report, And The Delay (AP)

Attorney General William Barr on Thursday defended his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation, saying the confidential document contains sensitive grand jury material that prevented it from being immediately released to the public. The statement came as Barr confronts concerns that his four-page letter summarizing Mueller’s conclusions unduly sanitized the full report in President Donald Trump’s favor, including on the key question of whether the president obstructed justice. House Democrats on Wednesday approved subpoenas for Mueller’s entire report and any exhibits and other underlying evidence that the Justice Department might withhold.

The disparity in length between Barr’s letter and Mueller’s full report, which totals nearly 400 pages, raises the likelihood of additional significant information that was put forward by the special counsel’s office but not immediately shared by the attorney general. In Thursday’s statement, Barr defended the decision to release a brief summary letter two days after receiving the report on March 22. He has previously said he did not believe it would be in the public’s interest to release the full document in piecemeal or gradual fashion, and that he did not intend for his letter summarizing Mueller’s “principal conclusions” to be an “exhaustive recounting” of the special counsel’s investigation.

Barr is now expected to release the entire report, with redactions, by mid-April. “Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the Attorney General decided to release the report’s bottom-line findings and his conclusions immediately — without attempting to summarize the report — with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redaction process,” the Justice Department statement said. The statement also said that every page of Mueller’s report was marked that it may contain grand jury material “and therefore could not immediately be released.”

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Boeing wants you to believe it’s about software. The media helps. “It’s just a little coding error, and we’re real sorry for it, but we’ll fix it in no time.” It’s a narrative, carefully constructed.

Boeing Admits ANOTHER Glitch In 737 MAX Software (RT)

After a report on the fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines blamed a 737 MAX software error, Boeing reportedly revealed a second glitch. The “relatively minor” but still critical problem will delay 737s returning to service. In a report on last month’s crash that killed all 157 on board of the ill-fated airliner, Ethiopia blamed Boeing’s MCAS software that caused the jet to nosedive. On Thursday, Boeing confirmed to the Washington Post that it had found another software problem. The problem affects flaps and other flight stabilization hardware, according to two unnamed Federal Aviation Administration officials cited by the Post. The FAA has classified it as critical to flight safety and ordered a fix.


It will take weeks for the problem to be patched, meaning that the 737 Max fleet will remain grounded for the foreseeable future. Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 plunged into a field shortly after takeoff in early March. Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 nosedived into the sea last October, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Investigators noted “clear similarities” between both accidents. On Thursday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg offered condolences for “lives lost” and said the company was “relentlessly focused on safety to ensure tragedies like this never happen again.” The Ethiopian government report said the crew of Flight 302 “had performed all the procedures, repeatedly, provided by [Boeing], but was not able to control the aircraft.”

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“.. the EU was also failing to stop its own illegal subsidies for Europe’s Airbus..”

WTO Rules Against US And Boeing In Mammoth Trade Row With EU (DW)

US aerospace giant Boeing has received unfair tax breaks in the US state of Washington, an appellate panel in the WTO ruled on Thursday. The tax break of some $100 million annually harmed the sales of Boeing’s European rival Airbus, according to the WTO officials. The decision, which is not subject to appeal, opens the way for the EU to claim billions in damages. The damages are estimated based on the negative impact of the subsidies and not the subsidy itself. EU trade officials described the ruling as a “final victory” in the 15-year-long dispute. “The Appellate Body has now settled this case definitively, confirming our view the US has continued to subsidise Boeing despite WTO rulings to the contrary,” European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement.


However, a 2018 ruling by the WTO already found that the EU was also failing to stop its own illegal subsidies for Europe’s Airbus. Washington has since claimed an unspecified amount in damages and a WTO mediator is still examining this claim. The EU and the US have traded accusations on illegally subsidizing their respective aircraft manufacturers since 2004. The alleged subsidies vary from tax breaks and government research and development funding, to state issued loans, as both sides seek to give their companies a leg up in the global rivalry. In 2011, the WTO found that Boeing received $5.3 billion in illegal subsidies between 1989 and 2006. The verdict was confirmed in 2012. In late 2016, the WTO found some US subsidies have continued despite the global body declaring them illegal, and the Thursday verdict confirmed this decision.

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A China housing slump. Now that’s dangerous.

Rising Risk Of US And China Housing Slump Causing Recession – IMF (G.)

A growing number of homes in the US and China are teetering on the brink of a price slump that would drag their economies into a recession, the International Monetary Fund has warned. Using the latest evidence from global housing markets, the Washington-based organisation said there was a clear increase in the risk of a housing price collapse in both countries after years of ultra-low interest rates and loose lending by financial institutions. Ahead of its annual meeting next week, the IMF’s research showed a strong connection between falling house prices and declines in activity across the economy between 1990 and 2017, illustrating the power of housing markets to trigger wider slumps in GDP growth.


It follows similar concerns from US economists that the global recovery has been running out of steam since 2008 and slowdowns in the US and Chinese economies are likely to undermine worldwide growth. Recent falls in housing activity and relatively high long-term borrowing rates have also been seen as signals of a recession, possibly as soon as next year, in the US. Blackrock, the world’s largest fund manager, told investors that traders were becoming increasingly worried about the potential for a recession in the US. Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, said this week that rising trade tensions, concerns about Brexit and tougher financial conditions as central banks raised interest rates had “increasingly unsettled” the global economy over recent months.

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Yada yada.

Theresa May To Make Written Brexit Offer To Jeremy Corbyn (G.)

Theresa May is expected to write to Jeremy Corbyn to set out the government’s offer on Brexit, with negotiations due to resume in Downing Street on Friday. With just five days to go before the prime minister must travel to Brussels to request a further Brexit delay from EU leaders, little progress appears to have been made on finding a compromise deal both Labour and the Conservatives can back. But after the government delegation reported back to May on Thursday, officials began drafting a letter setting out a way forward. One government source suggested that, in accordance with Labour’s demands, it would include the proposal that a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal be offered to MPs as an option in any vote next week.


After Thursday’s discussions in Downing Street, Corbyn sent a note to Labour MPs, saying: “Agenda items were customs arrangements, single market alignment including rights and protections, agencies and programmes, internal security, legal underpinning to any agreements and confirmatory vote.” Technical talks lasted four and a half hours, but both sides emerged cautious about how much progress had been made. [..] A deal including a customs union would be explosive in the Conservative party as the majority of Tory MPs oppose such a move. Hardline Eurosceptic MPs are still furious, with many plotting moves against the prime minister, despite there being no formal Conservative party mechanism to move a motion of no confidence in her until December.

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They’re going to be in the European elections.

EU’s Donald Tusk ‘Suggests Flexible Brexit Delay’ (BBC)

European Council President Donald Tusk is proposing to offer the UK a 12-month “flexible” extension to its Brexit date, according to a senior EU source. His plan would allow the UK to leave sooner if Parliament ratifies a deal, but it would need to be agreed by EU leaders at a summit next week. The UK’s Conservatives and Labour Party are set to continue Brexit talks later. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has told the BBC that if they fail, the delay is “likely to be a long one”. The UK is due to leave the EU on 12 April and, as yet, no withdrawal deal has been approved by MPs. Downing Street said “technical” talks between Labour and the Conservatives on Thursday had been “productive” and would continue on Friday.


Prime Minister Theresa May has said a further postponement to the Brexit date is needed if the UK is to avoid leaving the EU without a deal, a scenario both EU leaders and many British MPs believe would create problems for businesses and cause difficulties at ports. However, the PM wants to keep any delay as short as possible. To do that, she and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would need to agree a proposal for MPs to vote on before 10 April, when EU leaders are expected to consider any extension request at an emergency summit. If they cannot, Mrs May has said a number of options would be put to MPs “to determine which course to pursue”.

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The de facto European president hasn’t said much for a long time.

Angela Merkel Promises To Back Ireland In Avoiding Hard Border (G.)

Angela Merkel has pledged the European Union’s support for averting a hard border on the island of Ireland despite concern this could undermine the single market in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The German chancellor expressed solidarity with the Irish government in a visit to Dublin on Thursday and urged the UK to present a viable plan to avert crashing out of the EU next week. Asked if averting a border was compatible with protecting the single market, Merkel told a press conference: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way … we simply have to do this, we simply have to be successful.” The chancellor was speaking after meeting the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and a group of people from Northern Ireland and the border area who told of lives and livelihoods lost during the Troubles.


Merkel said the stories moved her. “I lived behind the Iron Curtain, so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish … what I have heard here will encourage me to explore ways and means to continue the peaceful co-existence.” Speaking at a joint press conference with Varadkar, the chancellor said Germany and the EU would consider an extension request to help the UK avoid a no-deal departure. “We need to be patient and understanding of the predicament that they are in. But of course, any further extension must require and must have a credible and realistic way forward.” She said she hoped Theresa May would be able to table a proposal by next Wednesday at a special European Council meeting. “We want to stand together as 27. Until the very last hour – I can say this from the German side – we will do everything in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit.”

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Brexit: Just like Waiting for Godot, but still faster than robots.

Currency-Trading Algos “Flummoxed” by Rapid-Fire Brexit Headlines (WS)

The drama of Brexit with all its arcane details of UK parliamentary procedures and rarely noted characters that suddenly appear prominently on the global stage and utter market-moving words has turned into a complicated mess that is generating too many rapid-fire headlines per day, often in a whiplash manner, and news-reading currency-trading algos haven’t been programmed for this and are overwhelmed. Bloomberg has published more than 1,000 Brexit headlines a day “on some days,” and Reuters “up to 400” Brexit headlines a day, according to a Reuters report. Other news outlets and wire services together also publish hundreds of headlines a day.


News-reading FX algos are programmed to react to all that instantly, but they don’t know what the next 10 Brexit stories over the next few moments are going to be, and that might put the trade on the wrong side of the next headline. Artificial Intelligence isn’t quite ready yet to sort all this out. Reuters describes it this way: As a divided government battles a divided parliament over a way forward, the chorus of characters who can now influence events has grown, flummoxing news-reading algorithms, or ‘algos’, which are designed to parse phrases from recognized speakers before executing a trade. “The model signals are more quantitative driven and rely on historical data feeds,” said Neil Jones, head of hedge fund currency sales at Mizuho in London. “Brexit headlines have thrown a spanner in their works for the sheer number of characters moving the currency on a daily basis.”

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Sounds like a nonsense number to me. Try a hundred times that for starters.

Marine Plastic Pollution Costs The World Up To $2.5 Billion A Year (G.)

Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans costs society billions of dollars every year in damaged and lost resources, research has found. Fisheries, aquaculture, recreational activities and global wellbeing are all negatively affected by plastic pollution, with an estimated 1-5% decline in the benefit humans derive from oceans. The resulting cost in such benefits, known as marine ecosystem value, is up to $2.5bn a year, according to a study published this week in Marine Pollution Bulletin. Plastic waste is also believed to cost up to $33,000 per ton in reduced environmental value, the study found. An estimated 8m tons of plastic pollution enter the world’s oceans every year.

Dr Nicola Beaumont, an environmental economist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study, said the investigation was the first of its kind to explore the social and economic impact of plastics in the sea. “Our calculations are a first stab at ‘putting a price on plastic’. We know we have to do more research to refine, but we are convinced that already they are an underestimate of the real costs to global human society,” said Beaumont. The estimates do not take into account the direct and indirect impacts on the tourism, transport and fisheries industries, or on human health, the authors warned.

Plastic waste can be found all over the world – from the most populated coastlines to the most remote – and its impact on zooplankton, invertebrates, fish, turtles, birds and mammals is all negative, the study found. But authors discovered that plastics – which can remain buoyant for decades or longer, travelling distances of more than 3,000km from origin – create new habitats for bacteria and algae. These “colonies” increase the biogeographical range of bacteria and algae, thereby risking the spread of invasive species and disease, the research found.


A crab stuck in plastic in Verde Island Passage, Batangas City, Philippines. Photograph: Noel Guevara/Greenpeace/EPA

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No coral babies. Komodo island was closed to tourists, do the same for the Great Barrier.

Great Barrier Reef Suffers 89% Collapse In New Coral (G.)

The number of new corals on the Great Barrier Reef crashed by 89% after the climate change-induced mass bleaching of 2016 and 2017. Scientists have measured how many adult corals survived along the length of the world’s largest reef system and how many new corals they produced in 2018 in the aftermath of severe heat stress and coral mortality.The results, published in Nature, show not only a dramatic reduction in new coral recruitment compared with historic levels, but also a change in the types of coral species produced.


The paper’s lead author, coral scientist Terry Hughes from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said the results paint an uncertain picture for the reef in years to come if further bleaching events occur before corals have time to sufficiently recover – which typically takes a decade. “We’ve told the story of coral dying, we’ve told the story of some being winners and losers. Now we’ve got the next phase where species have a chance to recover,” Hughes said. “But what we’re seeing is that it’s happening a lot slower because we only have 10% of the babies.”

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Germans like their nature.

Bavaria To Pass ‘Save The Bees’ Petition Into Law In Landmark Move (G.)

Bavaria has announced that it will pass into law a popular “save the bees” petition that promises drastic changes in farming practices – without putting it to a referendum first. The landmark move comes amid increasingly alarming warnings from scientists that nearly half of all insect species are in rapid decline – a third of the crucial pollinators threatened with extinction. The petition launched in February to seek better protection of plant and animal species had become the most successful in the southern German region’s history, garnering 1.75m signatures. The proposal set a target for 20% of agricultural land to meet organic farming standards by 2025, before reaching 30% by 2030. 10% of green spaces in Bavaria would have to be turned into flowering meadows, and rivers and streams better protected from pesticides and fertilisers.


Rather than putting the petition to a referendum, Bavaria’s state premier, Markus Söder, announced it would simply be written into law, passing through parliament. “We are taking the text of the referendum word for word,” said Söder, leader of the conservative CSU party which governs the state in a coalition majority. The farming industry, which had sometimes felt marginalised in the environmental debate, would have to be given support to carry out the transformation, he added. Scientists in Germany and worldwide have sounded the alarm about massive insect losses in terms of species diversity and total biomass, with dire consequences for the animals that feed on them and for plants that require them for pollination.

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“..the herd we are watching is 70% smaller than it was 20 years ago.”

Attenborough’s First Act As An Eco-Warrior (G.)

It looks as spectacular as you would expect. Vast aerial sweeps across the Peruvian coast as millions of cormorants and boobies gather to feast on anchovies and breed, or across frozen tundra to watch herds of wildebeest head for the shelter of the forest in temperatures 40 degrees below freezing take your breath away. Then it catches in your throat, as you watch an orchid bee, in search of perfume to attract a mate, fall into a flower’s buckety petal and squeeze out of a tiny tunnel that deposits two sacks of pollen on its back; just as God, or a million years of evolutionary adjustments, intended. On every scale, it is amazing. You can only boggle at the endless precision of the natural world, and of the people who devote themselves to capturing its wonders.


This is Netflix’s first foray into nature programming – Our Planet, an eight-part, multimillion-dollar series, filmed by more than 600 crew members over four years in 50 countries and narrated by our very own David Attenborough. Produced largely by the team behind the BBC’s Planet Earth and Blue Planet, it looks very much like what they might have done next for Auntie if the Natural History Unit had given them their druthers (and Netflix’s budget). As with Planet Earth, it takes a different landscape every episode and fills the screen with incredible scenes. Lesser flamingos building mud mounds for their eggs and hatching thousands of chicks in unison. Eagles in combat in the air. Three of the 60 species of manakin birds doing their mating dances, each more jaw-droppingly complex than the last.


Just as God, or a million years of evolutionary adjustments, intended … an orchid bee. Photograph: Warwick Sloss/Silverback/Netflix

The routine from the blue manakin – which involves four birds who practise beforehand, with a juvenile male standing in for the prospective lady – will have you revising your own sexual decision-making. You’ll not be charmed by a pint and a compliment again, I assure you. Where it differs from BBC shows is in no longer ignoring or minimising the threats facing all the environments and animals on display. Hamstrung by the idea that any mention of eco-problems would make audiences switch off, and the broadcasters’ preferred strategy of hoping that sharing incredible sights around the world would inspire people to save them, nature programming has been taken to task for avoiding the issue, and not using their power to raise awareness of the dangers facing us all. Contextless stories don’t inspire us to change, after all; they just allow us to continue in our comfortable, fatal state of denial.


[..] Netflix has stolen their thunder by procuring his first outing as an in-yer-face eco-warrior. Our Planet places clearer emphasis on the fragility and interconnectedness of all the species and eco-systems on display, and on the huge impact humanity has had on them in so short a time. “In one human lifetime,” says Attenborough in the opening minutes, “wildlife populations have fallen by an average of 60%. The stability of nature can no longer be taken for granted.” Towards the end of the wildebeest scenes, he cuts the ground from under us by noting that the herd we are watching is 70% smaller than it was 20 years ago.


TV that may leave you jackknifing in pain … the wildebeest migration in Tanzania. Photograph: Sophie Lanfear/Silverback/Netflix

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Apr 022019
 


Edgar Degas L’absinthe (In a café) 1875-76

 

German Manufacturing Sector “Clearly In Deep Recession” (BI)
US Still Cleanest Dirty Shirt Among Manufacturing Giants (WS)
May Calls For Cabinet Showdown As MPs Reject All Brexit Options (G.)
Tory MPs’ No-Deal Fetish Makes Cross-Party Brexit Solution Impossible (G.)
Electoral Commission: New Vote Leave Investigation Not In Public Interest (G.)
Trump PAC To Crush Trash-Talking Journos With Their Russiagate Reporting (ZH)
Russiagate: “Why Did This Ever Start In The First Place?” (van Buren)
CNN Publishes Real News Story For April Fools’ Day (B.Bee)
China Says To Curb All Types Of Fentanyl, Following US Demands (BBC)
Boeing Must Do More Work On Proposed 737 Fix: FAA (AFP)
Biblical Anxieties (Kunstler)
Insects Have ‘No Place To Hide’ From Climate Change (G.)
Butterfly Numbers Fall By 84% In Netherlands Over 130 Years (G.)
Pregnant Sperm Whale Beached In Sardinia, 22 Kilos Of Plastic In Stomach (Tel.)

 

 

Very few outlets talk about this. Which is strange…

German Manufacturing Sector “Clearly In Deep Recession” (BI)

The German manufacturing sector “is clearly in deep recession” and is laying off workers, analysts said in notes Monday on data from the IHS Markit purchasing managers’ index, a measure of sentiment among factory executives. Monday’s data shows that manufacturing is falling even faster than feared from estimates published a week or so ago. At the same time, unemployment in Italy has started to rise, up 0.6 percentage points since late last year to 10.7%, after years of decline. The collapse of German manufacturing is being mirrored across the continent. The average for the eurozone — the 19 countries that use the euro currency — is now in negative territory. Of the four largest economies, only Spain is in positive territory.

The Pantheon Macroeconomics analyst Claus Vistesen called the numbers “horrific” and “horrible” in a note he sent to clients on Monday: “Manufacturing conditions are now deteriorating at their fastest rate in more than six years, thanks mainly to a slump in external demand. New orders are falling steadily, which means that the small gains in production are exclusively driven by the clearing of existing orders. This, in turn, means that purchasing activity of production inputs has slumped. In addition, employment growth has slowed to a trickle, and we think the labour market in manufacturing will suffer further pains in coming months.” Last week he told clients that manufacturers “shed workers in March, for the first time in three years.”

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… because it is big news in the global economy.

US Still Cleanest Dirty Shirt Among Manufacturing Giants (WS)

Much of the glowing press coverage today was focused on the uptick in manufacturing data coming out of China, as reported by the Caixin Manufacturing PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) and the Official Manufacturing PMI, both of which returned to (feeble) growth mode, after having been in contraction mode since November. We will get to them in a moment. But what got less coverage were the other PMI’s that were also released today, including those of Germany, the US, and Japan. And what is happening in Germany and Japan put China’s upticks into a different light – with the US remaining the cleanest dirty shirt that is now getting dirtier, so to speak.


Germany: March “makes for uncomfortable reading” For all these PMI measures, a value below 50 means “contraction,” and a value above 50 means “expansion.” The IHS Markit/BME Manufacturing PMI for Germany plunged to 44.1 in March, down from 47.6 in February, the lowest level since July 2012 near the bottom of the euro debt crisis. The report highlighted “a sharp and accelerated decrease in new orders,” with total order books and export orders falling at the fastest rate since April 2009. The reasons spanned the spectrum of “uncertainty surrounding Brexit and trade tensions, a weak automotive sector, and generally softer global demand.”

The Caixin China Manufacturing PMI ticked up into expansion mode (50.8) in March for the first time since November, with companies signaling “slightly quicker rises in output and overall new work,” and employment increased for the first time since October 2013. Production rose for the second month in a row, “supported by a stronger, albeit still relatively muted, rise in total new work.” But purchasing activities continued to contract (I also put this chart on the same index scale as Germany’s)./ And the report commented about what really mattered (emphasis added): “Overall, with a more relaxed financing environment, government efforts to bail out the private sector and positive progress in Sino-U.S. trade talks, the situation across the manufacturing sector recovered in March.”

The IHS Markit US Manufacturing PMI dipped to 52.4 in March, the lowest reading since June 2017, and “notably softer than the trend seen for 2018” (chart on the same index scale as Germany’s): Output expanded at a “marginal pace that was the weakest since June 2016,” based on “softer underlying client demand.” New order growth “has fallen close to the lows seen in the 2016 slowdown.” Export orders rose only marginally, “with firms noting that global trade tensions and the ongoing impact of tariffs had dampened foreign client demand.” The index for backlogs of work dipped slightly into contraction mode. But the employment index “rose at a solid rate.”

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Do these people look at themselves at all?

May Calls For Cabinet Showdown As MPs Reject All Brexit Options (G.)

Theresa May will summon her warring cabinet to Downing Street for a five-hour showdown on Tuesday after parliament once again failed to coalesce behind any alternative to her rejected Brexit deal. Three options – a common market, a customs union and a second referendum – were all narrowly rejected in the process of indicative votes, prompting renewed talk of a swift general election. After Conservative MPs failed to support any option in sufficient numbers, there were immediate recriminations in the House of Commons chamber. The Tory MP Nick Boles declared that he had failed to persuade his colleagues to compromise with his “common market 2.0” plan and announced his departure from the party.


Supporters of a second referendum from across parliament were also accused of increasing the risk of a no-deal by refusing to back soft Brexit options. With just 10 days left until Britain is due to leave the EU without a deal unless the government secures a fresh delay from Brussels, the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, said the cabinet would have to decide the way forward. “This house has continuously rejected leaving without a deal, just as it has rejected not leaving at all. Therefore the only option is to find a way through which allows the UK to leave with a deal,” he said. One Downing Street adviser said that a snap election fronted by May was being “tested” and that it was viewed by some in the No 10 bunker as “the least worst option”.

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What I wrote about Friday: “..the ambition has shrunk to winning at least one vote, on one day, by a majority of at least one.”

That is a very destructive ambition.

Tory MPs’ No-Deal Fetish Makes Cross-Party Brexit Solution Impossible (G.)

The number of Conservative MPs who are prepared to take Britain out of the EU with no deal is now greater than the total number of Conservatives elected to parliament in 1997. That is not the only way that British politics has changed since then. Parties have a lot of different positions over 22 years, but the capture of the Tories by no-dealism has happened within 22 months. When Tony Blair’s landslide victory reduced the Tory MPs to a rump of 165, Euroscepticism meant something different. It was all about obstructing Britain’s entry into the single currency, resisting new treaties and grumbling about old ones.

Only on the outermost political fringe would anyone advocate shredding the treaties, kicking away the legal and diplomatic foundations of Britain’s partnership with the continent and seeing what happened. Even three years ago, no one in the official leave campaign thought that was a good idea. Now 170 Tory MPs – more than half of the party’s parliamentary cohort – are signed up. [..] Since averting the worst of all Brexits became a frantic race against time, the focus has been on agreeing some kind of plan. And as the Commons deadlock has tightened, the ambition has shrunk to winning at least one vote, on one day, by a majority of at least one. In reality, a workable plan means legislation that runs the full gauntlet of amendment and rejection in both chambers of parliament. It needs a majority that can endure for weeks, maybe months.

The indicative votes process is a fine symbol of the cross-party spirit in which Brexit might and should have been undertaken. It was obvious after the last election that, in a hung parliament, traditional party allegiances would need to be suspended to get a deal done. Even Julian Smith, the Tory chief whip, now accepts that the Commons arithmetic in 2017 demanded a change of course. But party lines have proved to be one of the stickier bricks in the Jenga tower of conventional habits that passes for a constitution in this country. It is a bit late now to try to pluck them out. And while it might be possible to envisage a majority in this parliament for a sensible Brexit settlement, it is not possible to imagine Tories making up a majority of that majority. That is an immovable problem in this parliament and a reason the whole tower could easily come down.

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“a “profound misstatement of the law”..

Electoral Commission: New Vote Leave Investigation Not In Public Interest (G.)

The Electoral Commission believed it would “not be in the public interest” to investigate whether Vote Leave committed a second breach of referendum spending laws, according to the website OpenDemocracy. Last week Vote Leave dropped its appeal against a £61,000 fine for breaking the EU referendum spending limit by donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the pro-Brexit activist Darren Grimes. Grimes’s appeal against his own £20,000 fine continues. Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who played prominent roles in Vote Leave’s campaign, are now facing calls to reveal what they knew about the arrangement as they consider their bids to succeed Theresa May as Conservative party leader.

Last year an investigation by the BBC’s Spotlight programme reported that online adverts placed on behalf of the DUP were booked by Vote Leave’s director in Northern Ireland. The commission subsequently announced that it had considered the allegations but would not be launching an investigation because it did not have sufficient evidence. At the time, it said: “After requesting further evidence from BBC Northern Ireland and being told that there was no ‘significant information’ other than what was in the programme, the commission considered whether other sources were available to evidence the allegations made in it. “The commission has concluded it does not have grounds to open an investigation into the allegations made by BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight.”

That decision prompted the Good Law Project, a legal campaigning group run by the barrister Jolyon Maugham, to bring a judicial review asking a judge to examine the commission’s reasoning. A document unearthed in the course of the case reveals that the commission also believed that even if it had found sufficient evidence of Vote Leave coordinating with the DUP, there would be no public interest in investigating the matter because Vote Leave had already been found to have coordinated with Grimes. Maugham told OpenDemocracy the commission’s position was a “profound misstatement of the law”. “How many other times did the Electoral Commission fail to investigate because it didn’t think it was in the public interest for us to know?” Maugham said. “What else is out there that they wrongly closed their eyes to?”

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“Their major sin was the wrong assumption that Mueller’s professional silence about the probe was an indication that he was holding all his cards close to his chest.”

Trump PAC To Crush Trash-Talking Journos With Their Russiagate Reporting (ZH)

[..] while Trump and Congressional Republicans have put Obama officials and holdovers alike on notice that there will be an investigation to get to the bottom of the ‘hoax,’ journalists who peddled the Russiagate narrative will be subject to a montage of their journalistic malpractice over Twitter. “The media made a critical mistake concerning the Mueller investigation coverage,” Keystone College political science professor Jeff Brauer told the NY Post. “Their major sin was the wrong assumption that Mueller’s professional silence about the probe was an indication that he was holding all his cards close to his chest. In the end, it was the opposite. Mueller made all his moves openly during the investigation. When they found something, they simply indicted and prosecuted. When he was finished playing his last card, he wrapped up the probe and wrote the account. He did not keep a treasure trove of evidence and charges on Russian collusion from the public spotlight only to be released in a bombshell report.” – NY Post.


“To that end, the Republican National Committee and the pro-Trump super PAC America First are “geared up for any nonsense to come” from reporters covering the 2020 election. Any reporter who tries that will be hit with 30-second spots of all their ridiculous claims about collusion,” one source told The Atlantic on condition of anonymity. “Their tweets have all been screencapped. It’s all ready to go.” (“It’s the same thing we’ve been doing the last two years. We’re going to hold the media accountable when we see fit,” an RNC official clarified, adding that this would include digital clips shared on social media.)

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There’s no way the Ohrs, or Steele, McCabe, are going to be left alone.

Russiagate: “Why Did This Ever Start In The First Place?” (van Buren)

The end of the Special Counsel’s investigation into the non-existent conspiracy between Trump and the Russians has created an army of “Mueller Truthers,” demanding additional investigations. But Republicans are also demanding to know more, specifically how the FBI came to look into collusion, and what that tells us about the tension between America’s political and intelligence worlds. In Rudy Giuliani’s words “Why did this ever start in the first place?” The primordial ooze for all things Russia began in spring 2016 when the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee, through a company called Fusion GPS, hired former MI6 intelligence agent Christopher Steele to compile a report (“the dossier”) on whatever ties to Russia he could find for Donald Trump.

Steele’s assignment was not to investigate impartially, but to gather dirt aggressively – opposition research, or oppo. He assembled second and third hand stories, then used anonymous sources and Internet chum to purported reveal Trump people roaming about Europe asking various Russians for help, promising sanctions relief, and trading influence for financial deals. Steele also claimed the existence of a “pee tape,” kompromat Putin used to control Trump. Creating the dossier was only half of Steele’s assignment. The real work was to insert the dossier into American media and intelligence organizations to prevent Trump from winning the election. While only a so-so fiction writer, Steele proved to be a master at running his information op against America.

In July 2016 Steele met with over a dozen reporters to promote his dossier, with little success. It could not be corroborated. Steele succeeded mightily, however, in pushing his information deep into the FBI via three simultaneous channels, including the State Department, and via Senator John McCain, who was pitched by a former British ambassador retired to work now for Christopher Steele’s own firm. But the most productive channel into the FBI was Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr. Ohr’s wife Nellie worked for Fusion GPS, the front company for Steele, having previously done contract work for the CIA. Nellie passed the dossier to her husband, along with her own paid oppo research, so that he could use his credibility at DOJ to hand-carry the work into the FBI.

Bruce Ohr, despite acknowledging it broke all rules of protocol and evidence handling, did just that on July 30, 2016. He stressed to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe the material was uncorroborated and had been compiled by Christopher Steele, who wanted it used to stop Trump. The dossier landed in welcoming hands. The FBI immediately opened an unprecedented investigation called Crossfire Hurricane into the Trump campaign. It sent agents to London to meet Australian ambassador Alexander Downer, who claimed to have evidence George Papadopoulos, one of Trump’s junior-level advisers, was talking to Russians about Hillary’s emails. The FBI’s timing of the new investigation into Trump – only days after they closed their investigation into Clinton’s email server – can be considered a coincidence by those of good heart.

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“As long as they return to their regularly scheduled fake news tomorrow, we’re good. We’re good.”

CNN Publishes Real News Story For April Fools’ Day (B.Bee)

Fooling thousands of readers in a prank that the cable news organization said was “just for fun,” CNN published a real news story for April Fools’ Day this year. The story simply contained a list of facts, with no embellishment, editorializing, or invented details. The story also didn’t cite shaky “anonymous sources” and only quoted firsthand witnesses to the event. It was completely factual without any errors whatsoever. Baffled CNN fans immediately knew something was up. “I was reading this story, and I was like, ‘Wait, what is this?'” said one man in New York who relies on CNN for his fake news every morning. “They really got me good. Then I looked up at the calendar and I realized I’d been duped. A classic gag!” “Those little rascals!” he added, shaking his head and laughing goodnaturedly. “As long as they return to their regularly scheduled fake news tomorrow, we’re good. We’re good.”

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Opaque.

China Says To Curb All Types Of Fentanyl, Following US Demands (BBC)

China says it will crack down on all types of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, following a plea from the US. All fentanyl-related substances will be added to China’s list of controlled narcotic drugs from 1 May, officials said. It follows a pledge Beijing made during US-China trade talks in December. The powerful painkiller, much of it believed to be made in China, is said to be driving a huge rise in drug addiction in the US. The number of deaths from painkillers such as fentanyl led to President Donald Trump declaring a national emergency in 2017. China’s production of the drug has long been a source of tension between the two countries.


“The US is concerned about all variants [of fentanyl] and it has all been resolved,” Liu Yuejin, deputy director of China’s narcotics control commission, told a news conference. Mr Liu said the claim that China was the main source of fentanyl “lacked evidence”, and instead blamed a history of abuse of prescription medicine in the US for fuelling demand. “We believe that the United States itself is the main factor in the abuse of fentanyl there,” he said. “Some people link drug consumption with freedom, individuality, and liberation. If the US really wants to resolve the fentanyl substance problem they have more work to do domestically.”

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People at the FAA don’t want to run the risk of being blamed.

Boeing Must Do More Work On Proposed 737 Fix: FAA (AFP)

Boeing must perform more work on a proposed fix to its 737 MAX aircraft before it can be submitted for review, US officials said Monday, suggesting the planes could stay grounded a while longer. Additional work is needed “to ensure that Boeing has identified and appropriately addressed all pertinent issues,” a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said in a statement. “The FAA will not approve the software for installation until the agency is satisfied with the submission,” he added. The FAA statement is the bureaucratic equivalent of a “stop” sign after Boeing officials touted their proposed remedy last week during a media tour at the company’s manufacturing plant in Seattle, Washington.


Boeing’s 737 MAX planes were grounded globally last month following the second of two deadly crashes to occur in less than five months. Scrutiny has centered on an anti-stall system developed specifically for the planes that has given pilots problems. A preliminary report into the second calamity — the March 10 crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 that killed 157 people — will likely be issued this week, the Ethiopian government said Monday.

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The Midwest back in 1347.

Biblical Anxieties (Kunstler)

With spring rainfall already at 200 percent of normal levels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a statement in late March saying, “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.” More to the point, two major western dams show disturbing signs of potential failure that may bring on unprecedented disasters. The Oroville Dam on the Feather River north of Sacramento — the highest earthen dam in the US — nearly blew out in February 2017 when record rains damaged the main spillway, threatening to send a 30-foot wall of water downstream towards California’s capital and towns along the way. When that spillway was closed to assess the damage, which was significant, the secondary emergency spillway was opened for the first time since the dam was built in 1968.

[..] A shy, science-nerd correspondent writes: “Epidemiologists speculate that a flooding event in Central Asia steppes triggered the 1347 Eurasian plague outbreak. Rumors of a mass human die-off in India reached Europe in the mid-1340’s. The Mongols besieging the coastal city of Trebizond on the shore of the Black Sea catapulted plague infested corpses over the city walls and Italian merchant ships fleeing Trebizond carried the infestation to Genoa which foolishly permitted the dying crew to land…. Rodents hosting plague spreading fleas typically inhabit arid grassland regions such as the Great Plains of America and the semi deserts of California and New Mexico.

The current flooding of the American Mid-West and the mass dumping of flood tainted wheat, corn and soybeans will likely spark a rodent population explosion in the region, which in the context of rat-swarming homeless encampments may yield a 1347 repeat event in North America during the 2020s. What happened before can happen again.” The homeless camps around Los Angeles have turned up cases of other medieval-type diseases typical of human settlements before public sanitation became a standard feature of civilized life: Many are spread through feces (as well as drug use): Hepatitis A, Typhus, shigellosis (or trench fever, spread through body lice), and tuberculosis. Gawd knows what is coming across the border into America’s proudly leading “sanctuary state.” Wait for it. Just sayin’.

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I’d be more worried about toxins than about climate change at this polint.

Insects Have ‘No Place To Hide’ From Climate Change (G.)

Insects have “no place to hide” from climate change, scientists have said after analysing 50 years’ worth of UK data. The study found that woodlands, whose shade was expected to protect species from warming temperatures, are just as affected by climate change as open grasslands. The research examined records of the first springtime flights of butterflies, moths and aphids and the first eggs of birds between 1965 and 2012. As average temperatures have risen, aphids are now emerging a month earlier, and birds are laying eggs a week earlier. The scientists said this could mean animals were becoming “out of sync” with their prey, with potentially serious ramifications for ecosystems. Researchers are increasingly concerned about dramatic drops in populations of insects, which underpin much of nature.


In February it was said that these falls could lead to a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, and in March there was further evidence of widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades in Britain. Other studies, from Germany and Puerto Rico, have shown falling numbers in the last 25 to 35 years. Another showed butterflies in the Netherlands had declined by at least 84% over the last 130 years. James Bell, at Rothamsted Research institute, who led the woodlands research, said: “Under global warming you would expect woodlands to have some protection for insects, a buffer against change. But we didn’t see that. It is the major surprise and is disturbing. There is really no place to hide against the effects of global warming if you are an insect in the UK.”

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Toxins.

Butterfly Numbers Fall By 84% In Netherlands Over 130 Years (G.)

Butterflies have declined by at least 84% in the Netherlands over the last 130 years, according to a study, confirming the crisis affecting insect populations in western Europe. Researchers analysed 120,000 butterflies caught by collectors between 1890 and 1980 as well as more recent scientific data from more than 2 million sightings to identify dramatic declines in the country’s 71 native butterfly species, 15 of which have become extinct over the last century. “We are quite sure that the real decline must be much larger,” said Chris van Swaay, of Dutch Butterfly Conservation and one of the co-authors of the study.

The research follows warnings of catastrophic insect declines after a global review calculated that the total mass of insects was falling by 2.5% each year, and a German study found average flying insect abundance had declined by 76% over 27 years. Since the scientific monitoring of British butterflies began in 1976, there has been a 77% decline in “habitat specialists”, which are found only in certain areas, such as woodland or chalk grassland, while populations of more common species found across the countryside have fallen by 46%. Although no British species have become extinct since 1979, conservationists are concerned about the potential disappearance of once-abundant species’, including the small tortoiseshell (down 75%) and the white-letter hairstreak (93% since the 1970s).

Measurements of declines in wildlife usually begin from when the collection of scientific data began in the 1970s but Van Swaay said their study showed the dangers of “shifting baseline syndrome”, where declines are only identified from a point where species are already extremely depleted.

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We are a culture of death.

Pregnant Sperm Whale Beached In Sardinia, 22 Kilos Of Plastic In Stomach (Tel.)

A sperm whale found dead on the coast of Sardinia was pregnant and carrying 22 kilos of plastic in her stomach, researchers in Italy have found. The dead whale was discovered on a patch of rocky shoreline by the caretaker of a private beach resort in Cala Romantica, near Porto Cervo, late last week . Members of the local fire brigades used heavy equipment to hoist the 8-metre long whale onto a truck for transport inland where a necropsy could be performed over the weekend. When veterinarians and researchers from Sassari and the University of Padua opened the malnourished young female whale, they discovered not only was she pregnant, but likely unable to nourish her fetus due to the dangerous amount of plastic she had swallowed – 22 kilogrammes of plastic plates, fishing nets, tarps, black trash bags and even a sack of detergent with the label still legible.


Only a third of the whale’s stomach contents, about 12 kilogrammes, were squid beaks, the leftovers from its favourite food. “It was dramatic to find the fetus . . . we felt bad already at that point, “ said marine biologist Mattia Leone, who was present for the post-mortem exam. “But then when we opened the stomach and saw all the plastic, we realised, yet again, we were bearing witness to this very worrisome, sad situation.” [..] Northeastern Sardinia is a popular tourist destination, but also a known “hot spot” for whales, with over 500 documented sightings of eight different cetacean species known to inhabit the western Mediterranean. Just 20 miles off Sardinian coast lies the Caprera Canyon, a deep undersea gorge rich in marine wildlife, including sperm whales, fin whales, Curvier’s beaked whales and three different species of dolphins.

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Mar 182019
 


Albert Gleizes The football players 1912-13

 

How Boeing, FAA Certified The Suspect 737 MAX Flight Control System (ST)
Boeing’s Doomed 737 Max’s (Margolis)
The EU Has Never Had More Power Over Britain (G.)
Dutch PM Compares Theresa May To Monty Python Limbless Knight (G.)
100,000 Children in UK ‘Could Become Undocumented’ Overnight After Brexit (G.)
‘Pupil Poverty’ Pressure On School Cash (BBC)
With Brexit Approaching UK’s Voice In Brussels Grows Quiet (G.)
Smartphone Shipments In China Collapse To Six Year Low (ZH)
Apartment Values Tipped To Plunge As Much As 50% In Some Sydney Areas (DM)
Ultra Low Wage Growth The Intended Outcome Of Government Policies (Quiggin)
Deutsche Bank And Commerzbank Go Public On Merger Talks (R.)
Saudi Crown Prince Allegedly Stripped Of Some Authority (G.)
Dead Whale Washed Up In Philippines Had 40kg Of Plastic Bags In Stomach (G.)

 

 

As I said on March 15: “If I were New Zealand’s government, and Australia’s, I’d say this is not the time for the countries’ white populations to speak. Let the Maori do the talking instead. It’s their land.”

 

 

Maybe not the kind of thing we should want to be swept under the carpet. But don’t underestimate Boeing’s political power. A series of tweets from a pilot and software engineer sheds a lot of light on what happened with the 737-MAX: one corner cut led automatically to the next one being cut. Until there were no more corners left. Dominoes. Zero Hedge has that series here.

Mike -Mish- Shedlock adds this: “If the above analysis by Trevor Sumner is correct, the planes were too complicated to fly because Boeing cut corners to save money, then did not even have the decency to deliver them with needed warning lights and operation instructions. There may be grounds for a criminal investigation here, not just civil. Regardless, Boeing’s decision to appeal to Trump to not ground the planes is morally reprehensible at best. Trump made the right call on this one, grounding the planes, albeit under international pressure. [..] By the way, if the timelines presented are correct, the FAA got in bed with Boeing, under Obama.”

How Boeing, FAA Certified The Suspect 737 MAX Flight Control System (ST)

As Boeing hustled in 2015 to catch up to Airbus and certify its new 737 MAX, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers pushed the agency’s safety engineers to delegate safety assessments to Boeing itself, and to speedily approve the resulting analysis. But the original safety analysis that Boeing delivered to the FAA for a new flight control system on the MAX — a report used to certify the plane as safe to fly — had several crucial flaws. That flight control system, called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), is now under scrutiny after two crashes of the jet in less than five months resulted in Wednesday’s FAA order to ground the plane.

Current and former engineers directly involved with the evaluations or familiar with the document shared details of Boeing’s “System Safety Analysis” of MCAS, which The Seattle Times confirmed. The safety analysis: • Understated the power of the new flight control system, which was designed to swivel the horizontal tail to push the nose of the plane down to avert a stall. When the planes later entered service, MCAS was capable of moving the tail more than four times farther than was stated in the initial safety analysis document. • Failed to account for how the system could reset itself each time a pilot responded, thereby missing the potential impact of the system repeatedly pushing the airplane’s nose downward. •Assessed a failure of the system as one level below “catastrophic.” But even that “hazardous” danger level should have precluded activation of the system based on input from a single sensor — and yet that’s how it was designed.

The people who spoke to The Seattle Times and shared details of the safety analysis all spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their jobs at the FAA and other aviation organizations. Both Boeing and the FAA were informed of the specifics of this story and were asked for responses 11 days ago, before the second crash of a 737 MAX last Sunday. Late Friday, the FAA said it followed its standard certification process on the MAX. Citing a busy week, a spokesman said the agency was “unable to delve into any detailed inquiries.” Boeing responded Saturday with a statement that “the FAA considered the final configuration and operating parameters of MCAS during MAX certification, and concluded that it met all certification and regulatory requirements.”

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Nice story, but he seeks to blame Trump instead of the FAA, and that doesn’t go anywhere.

Boeing’s Doomed 737 Max’s (Margolis)

I don’t like flying. I consider it unnatural, unhealthy and fraught with peril. But I do it all the time. For me, it’s either fly or take an ox cart. In fact, I’ve been flying since I was six years old – from New York to Paris on a lumbering Boeing Stratocruiser, a converted, double-decker WWII B-29 heavy bomber. I even had a sleeping berth. So much for progress. Lots can go wrong in the air. Modern aircraft have thousands of obscure parts. If any one of them malfunctions, the aircraft can be crippled or crash. Add pilot error, dangerous weather, air traffic control mistakes, mountains where they are not supposed to be, air to air collisions, sabotage and hijacking.

I vividly recall flying over the snow-capped Alps in the late 1940’s aboard an old Italian three-motor airliner with its port engine burning, and the Italian crew panicking and crossing themselves. Some years ago, I was on my way to Egypt when we were hijacked by a demented Ethiopian. A three day ordeal ensued that included a return flight to New York City from Germany, with the gunman threatening to crash the A-310 jumbo jet into Wall Street – a grim precursor of 9/11. My father, Henry Margolis, got off a British Comet airliner just before it blew up due to faulty windows.

Which brings me to the current Boeing crisis. After a brand new Boeing 737 Max crashed in Indonesia it seemed highly likely that there was a major problem in its new, invisible autopilot system, known as MCAS. All 737 Max’s flying around the world should have been grounded as a precaution. But America’s aviation authority, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), allowed the Max to keep flying. The FAA is half regulator and half aviation business promoter, a clear conflict of interest. The crash of a new Ethiopian 737 Max outside Addis Ababa under very similar circumstances to the Lion Air accident set off alarm bells around the globe.

Scores of airlines rightly grounded their new Max’s. But the US and Canada did not. The FAA continued to insist the aircraft was sound. The problem, it was hinted between the lines, was incompetent third world pilots. It now appears that America’s would-be emperor, Pilot-in–Chief Donald Trump, may have pressed the FAA to keep the 737 Max’s in the air. Canada, always shy when it comes to disagreeing with Washington, kept the 737 Max’s flying until there was a lot of evidence linking the Indonesia and Ethiopian crashes. Trump finally ordered the suspect aircraft grounded. But doing so was not his business. That’s the job of the FAA. But Trump, as usual, wanted to hog the limelight. By now, the 737 Max ban is just about universal.

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Mess. 11 days left.

The EU Has Never Had More Power Over Britain (G.)

It is easy to assign all the blame to Mrs May, the control freak who lost control. The charge list against her is certainly a lengthy one. She triggered article 50 before her government had an agreed strategy for withdrawal and her senior team then wasted months squabbling with itself rather than advancing the negotiations with the EU. Ignoring advice to the contrary and without advance discussion with her cabinet, she made a prison for herself by laying down red lines that made the negotiations more difficult and set her up for a string of ignominious subsequent reversals. When she threw away her majority at an election she didn’t have to call, she carried on as if nothing had changed rather than trying to reach out to other parties to forge a broad consensus about a way forward.

That made her the hostage of the Democratic Unionist party and the Brexit ultras on the right of her party. Mrs May has one quality that is of value in a political crisis. She has resilience. She lacks all the other ones, such as imagination, advocacy and agility. True, all true, and yet not the whole truth. Any account of this nightmare that holds Mrs May solely culpable is not a complete explanation for how we got here. In a dark corner of what remains of its political brain, the Tory party knows that it is collectively guilty of driving the country it professes to love into this shaming mess. With a few prescient exceptions, the Conservatives all backed David Cameron when he promised a referendum on the cynical basis that he might not have to deliver it and with the arrogant assumption that, if he did have to, he would easily win it.

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“She reminds me occasionally of that character from Monty Python where all the arms and legs are cut off but he then tells the opponent: ‘Let’s call it a draw.’

Dutch PM Compares Theresa May To Monty Python Limbless Knight (G.)

Theresa May is like the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who loses his arms and legs in a duel and calls it a draw, the Dutch prime minister has said. Mark Rutte, who appeared visibly irritated last week at the failure of MPs to pass the Brexit deal, admitted feeling “angry” at the impasse in Westminster. He said his frustration was focused on the posturing of those seeking to make party political points during a major national crisis but praised May’s “incredible” resilience in the face of repeated knock-backs in the House of Commons. “Look, I have every respect for Theresa May,” Rutte said in an interview with the Dutch broadcaster WNL on Sunday.

“She reminds me occasionally of that character from Monty Python where all the arms and legs are cut off but he then tells the opponent: ‘Let’s call it a draw.’ She’s incredible. She goes on and on. At the same time, I do not blame her, but British politics.” The black knight sketch in the 1975 Monty Python film had John Cleese playing the role of the deluded swordsman who could not admit defeat, even as Graham Chapman’s King Arthur cut off all his limbs. Rutte said of the prime minister’s predicament: “You can see what happens when a country puts everything on the roulette wheel and takes a risk, and the whole thing collapses. That is what is happening. Economic, financial, politically, England is in a very bad position right now.”

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After 40 years of EU membership, the UK stands to plunge into chaos when 1000s of laws and regulations evaporate. Very predictable, but mostly ignored.

100,000 Children in UK ‘Could Become Undocumented’ Overnight After Brexit (G.)

Thousands of children of EU nationals risk becoming a new “Windrush generation”, a children’s legal charity has said. They are concerned that vulnerable children could become undocumented in the same way as the Caribbean children who came to the UK decades ago only to suffer at the hands of the Home Office’s hostile environment decades later. An estimated 900,000 EU national children are in the UK with about 285,000 born in the country. Coram Children’s Legal Centre fears that children in foster care, in care homes, and others from vulnerable families could slip through the net of the new Home Office registration scheme for EU nationals after Brexit.

The Home Office estimates that between 10% and 20% of all applicants will be vulnerable, unable to provide documentary evidence of their time in the UK. “If just 15% of the current population of EU national children fail to ‘regularise’ their status before the cut-off point, 100,000 children would be added to the UK’s undocumented child population overnight, nearly doubling it [the numbers of existing undocumented children],” said Kamena Dorling, group head of policy and public affairs at Coram. About 5,000 children of EU nationals are separated from their parents and are in care and Coram is calling on the government to force local authorities to identify them now in order to get their settled status before the cut-off point in 2020 or 2021.

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Dumb headline from BBC for a very real issue: schools care for poor pupils, and then see their funding cut.

‘Pupil Poverty’ Pressure On School Cash (BBC)

Schools in England are having to “pick up the pieces” for families in poverty, including giving food and clothes to children, head teachers warn. But, they say, that is unsustainable when schools are facing “funding cuts”. Heads will raise their concerns at the Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) annual conference. Education Secretary Damian Hinds will tell the conference he is setting up an expert advisory group to help teachers with “the pressures of the job”. The advisory group, including the mental health charity Mind and teachers’ representatives, will look at ways to improve wellbeing among teachers and to tackle stress. [..]

Edward Conway, head of St Michael’s Catholic High School in Watford, says: “Pupil poverty has increased significantly over the past eight years, with us providing food, clothing, equipment and securing funds from charitable organisations to provide essential items such as beds and fridges.” The head teachers’ union has canvassed the views of school leaders, whose comments include: “When schools have to buy shoes for children to wear to school on a regular basis, we must have a problem.” Another head said: “In 24 years of education, I have not seen the extent of poverty like this. “Children are coming to school hungry, dirty and without the basics to set them up for life. “The gap between those that have and those that do not is rising and is stark.”

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Where Britain is: “sitting in the EU departure lounge.”

With Brexit Approaching UK’s Voice In Brussels Grows Quiet (G.)

For years a British foreign minister has shuttled once a month to Brussels or Luxembourg to meet their European counterparts. The crises of the world have crowded the agenda: from the Arab spring to the annexation of Crimea, coups, stolen elections and intractable wars. Monday, in theory, could be the last time the United Kingdom name plate is on the table. While a Brexit extension is a near-certainty, the official departure date is still 29 March. Uncertainty over exit day requires careful diplomacy. On Monday the British minister will have the chance to weigh in on the EU’s China strategy, ahead of a summit with Beijing on 9 April.

While British officials remain involved in discussions, the UK will hang back on strategic questions about how the EU should approach China. Nobody wants to be seen as lecturing European allies, while sitting in the EU departure lounge. A government spokesperson said: “The UK will continue to take a full part in discussions at the [Foreign Affairs Council], focusing on those issues that matter most to the UK and EU.” Other day-to-day EU business provides a jarring contrast with the government’s Brexit strategy: one of Theresa May’s last acts as an EU leader will be to sign a routine communique on strengthening the single market – the one she insists Britain must leave.

Meanwhile, the UK’s 73 MEPs do not know if they will be out of a job in a fortnight, or in three months. “It is really unsettling, but we are the least people to worry about,” said the Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, speaking just outside the chamber in Strasbourg under the strident ring of a voting bell. The uncertainty facing MEPs is nothing, she adds, compared with the unknowns confronting business. “A politician’s life is always uncertain, you never know if you are going to come back for the next mandate.”

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Radiation.

Smartphone Shipments In China Collapse To Six Year Low (ZH)

Months after Apple stunned the market by announcing it would no longer be reporting quarterly iPhone unit sales, we have some insight as to the reason. February saw smartphone shipments in China collapse to their lowest levels in six years, indicating that the super-saturated industry has failed to turn around amidst a global economy that is grinding slower. Shipments to China came in at 14.5 million units for February, down 19.9% from last year, according to Reuters, who cited the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology. It’s the lowest total since February 2013.

February is traditionally a tough month for Chinese consumer purchases, as the Chinese spend a majority of the month celebrating the new year. However, this year’s drop was more concentrated than past years, as a result of both a slowing economy and the ongoing U.S./China trade war. When Apple recently cut sales forecasts this year, it blamed China for weighing on its results. To try and stimulate demand, the company paired with China-based Ant Financial to offer interest-free iPhone financing. Other retailers in China have tried similar promos to try and spur demand. This has some manufacturers, like Huawei, looking to corner the higher margin end of the market instead. Huawei saw its market share of China’s $500 to $800 device segment rise to 26.6% from 8.8% in 2018, according to data from Counterpoint Research. Apple, on the other hand, saw its share fall to 54.6% from 81.2%.

As an added bonus, we recently reported on Chinese smartphones also emitting the most radiation of any smartphones worldwide. The current smartphone creating the highest level of radiation is the Mi A1 from Chinese vendor Xiaomi. Another Chinese phone is in second place – the OnePlus 5T. In fact, the two companies are represented heavily in a list of “Phones Emitting the Most Radiation” that was recently released by Statista. 8 of the top 16 handsets being made by one of these two companies. Premium Apple phones, such as the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 8 are also here to be seen, as are the latest Pixel handsets from Google.

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But there’s no bubble.

Apartment Values Tipped To Plunge As Much As 50% In Some Sydney Areas (DM)

Apartment values in Australia’s big cities are set to plunge, with prices in one suburb to plummet as much as 50 per cent according to one industry observer, as Chinese buyers abandon off-the-plan residential tower projects. Ryde, in Sydney’s north, is Australia’s second-worst performing property market with dwelling values diving by 14.8 per cent during the past year, CoreLogic data showed. Digital Finance Analytics founder Martin North, an economist, feared apartment values there could be sliced in half during the next three years before stagnating for a decade. ‘We’ve got massive oversupply in those areas but you’ve just got no demand,’ he told Daily Mail Australia on Friday.

‘Some of the central high-rise apartments in the inner urban areas, like Ryde, 40 per cent now is certainly feasible. ‘In the worst case, you could see unit prices nearly halve.’ Starr Partners chief executive Doug Driscoll, who specialises in the Sydney real estate market, said Mr North’s forecasts were far fetched. He did, however, blame councils for approving too many developments. ‘We had an influx of foreign investment. We had an environment of record low interest rates, money was easily available – these things don’t last forever,’ he told Daily Mail Australia. ‘In some suburbs, in some pockets, we have seen an oversupply.’

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From Australia, but applicable worldwide.

Ultra Low Wage Growth The Intended Outcome Of Government Policies (Quiggin)

The long debate over the causes of wage stagnation took an unexpected turn last week, when Finance Minister Matthias Cormann described (downward) flexibility in the rate of wage growth as “a deliberate design feature of our economic architecture”. It was a position that was endorsed in a flurry of confusion 16 seconds after it had been rejected by Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds. Cormann had said policies aimed at pushing wages up could cause “massive spikes in unemployment”. The ease with which Reynolds was trapped into at first rejecting and then accepting what her ministerial colleague had said flowed from the fact that Cormann had broken one of the standing conventions of politics in Australia, and for that matter, the English-speaking world.

For more than forty years, both the architecture of labour market regulation and the discretionary choices of governments have been designed with the precise objective of holding wages down. These policies have been quite successful, as can be seen from the graph. However, at least until recently, there has been bipartisan agreement on at least one aspect of them – that no one should mention their role in holding back wages. Instead, the decline in the wage share of national income has been variously blamed on • technology • immigration • imports from China and, more recently, • the end of the mining boom. None of these explanations stand up to scrutiny.

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The lame and the blind. Reports should look at the size of Deutsche relative to the German economy, and the nerves that touches in Berlin.

Deutsche Bank And Commerzbank Go Public On Merger Talks (R.)

Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank confirmed on Sunday they were in talks about a merger, prompting labor union concerns about possible job losses and questions from analysts about the merits of a combination. Germany’s two largest banks issued short statements following separate meetings of their management boards, a person with knowledge of the matter said, indicating a quickening of pace in the merger process, although both also warned that a deal was far from certain. “In light of arising opportunities, the management board of Deutsche Bank has decided to review strategic options,” Deutsche said in its statement.

Christian Sewing, Deutsche Bank’s chief executive, told employees that Deutsche still aimed “to remain a global bank with a strong capital markets business… with a global network.”A merged bank would likely be the third largest in Europe after HSBC and BNP Paribas, with roughly 1.8 trillion euros ($2.04 trillion) in assets, such as loans and investments, and a market value of about 25 billion euros. [..] However, skeptics questioned the wisdom of a merger. “We do not see a national champion here, but a shaky zombie bank that could lead to another billion-euro grave for the German state. Why should we take this risk?” said Gerhard Schick, finance activist and ex-member of the German parliament.

While the banks had not publicly commented on merger talks until Sunday, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz last Monday confirmed that there were negotiations. On Sunday, the ministry acknowledged the announcement and said it remained in regular contact with all parties. However, there were signs of political opposition. Hans Michelbach, a lawmaker from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), urged the government to sell its 15 percent stake in Commerzbank before a deal. “There may not be an ownership by the federal government in a merged big bank indirectly through an old stake. We do not need a German State Bank AG,” he told Reuters.

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Hearsay report.

Saudi Crown Prince Allegedly Stripped Of Some Authority (G.)

The heir to the Saudi throne has not attended a series of high-profile ministerial and diplomatic meetings in Saudi Arabia over the last fortnight and is alleged to have been stripped of some of his financial and economic authority, the Guardian has been told. The move to restrict, if only temporarily, the responsibilities of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is understood to have been revealed to a group of senior ministers earlier last week by his father, King Salman. The king is said to have asked Bin Salman to be at this cabinet meeting, but he failed to attend.

While the move has not been declared publicly, the Guardian has been told that one of the king’s trusted advisers, Musaed al-Aiban, who was educated at Harvard and recently named as national security adviser, will informally oversee investment decisions on the king’s behalf. The Saudi embassy in Washington has declined multiple requests for comment since the Guardian approached it on Tuesday. The relationship between the king and his son has been under scrutiny since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which was alleged to have been ordered by Prince Mohammed and provoked international condemnation of the crown prince. This has been denied by the Saudi government.

Experts on the Middle East are divided over whether the murder, and concern over the kingdom’s role in the conflict in Yemen, have led to tension at the heart of the notoriously secretive royal court. But while most observers expect Prince Mohammed to accede to the thrown, there are some signs that the king is seeking to rein in his controversial son at a time when Saudi Arabia is under the spotlight. The Guardian has been told Prince Mohammed did not attend two of the most recent weekly meetings of cabinet ministers, which are headed by the king. The crown prince has also not attended other high-profile talks with visiting dignitaries, including one last week with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

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And this is just what we see, what washes up on beaches. “16 rice sacks. 4 banana plantation style bags and multiple shopping bags” in the whale’s stomach..”

Dead Whale Washed Up In Philippines Had 40kg Of Plastic Bags In Stomach (G.)

A young whale that washed up in the Philippines died from “gastric shock” after ingesting 40kg of plastic bags. Marine biologists and volunteers from the D’Bone Collector Museum in Davao City, in the Philippine island of Mindanao, were shocked to discover the brutal cause of death for the young curvier beaked whale, which washed ashore on Saturday. In a damning statement on their Facebook page, the museum said they uncovered “40 kilos of plastic bags, including 16 rice sacks. 4 banana plantation style bags and multiple shopping bags” in the whale’s stomach after conducting an autopsy. Images from the autopsy showed endless piles of rubbish being extracted from the inside of the animal, which was said to have died from “gastric shock” after ingesting all the plastic.

[..] The use of single-use plastic is rampant in south-east Asia. A 2017 report by Ocean Conservancy stated that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam have been dumping more plastic into the ocean than the rest of the world combined. Marine biologist Darrell Blatchley, who also owns the D’Bone Collector Museum, said that in the 10 years they have examined dead whales and dolphins, 57 of them were found to have died due to accumulated rubbish and plastic in their stomachs.

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Mar 142019
 


Pablo Picasso Studio with plaster head 1925

 

Zugzwang Brexit : How the UK Can Escape The Checkmate/Stalemate (English)
May Issues Final Warning To Tory Rebels: Back Me Or Lose Brexit (G.)
EU On No-Deal Brexit Motion: ‘Like Titanic Voting For Iceberg To Move’ (G.)
‘No Delay From EU – Or We Elect 73 Nigel Farages Into European Parliament’ (RT)
US Grounds Boeing 737 Max Planes, Citing Links Between 2 Fatal Crashes (CNBC)
Battle Brews over Who Should Analyze Black Boxes from 737 Crash (Fort.)
US Lawmakers Emerge From Whitaker Meeting With Conflicting Accounts (R.)
Mueller’s Forensics-Free Findings (VIPS)
Paul Manafort Sentenced To 43 Additional Months (ZH)
Greek Financial Crisis Still Evokes Pain, Fear On The Streets Of Athens (CNBC)
Sharp Rise In Arctic Temperatures Now Inevitable – UN (G.)
Coca-Cola Produces 200,000 Plastic Bottles A Minute (G.)

 

 

Nice different view of things: in chess, you can be forced to make a move (Zugzwang), even if your position gets worse. Buit there is a way out: forfeit the game, stop playing.

Zugzwang Brexit : How the UK Can Escape The Checkmate/Stalemate (English)

The EU referendum has plunged the United Kingdom into a chaos so unprecedented, that only a fool would bet on the final outcome. What is clear is that each move to try to break the political deadlock has merely shoved the nation into further bedlam. With just two weeks to go before the March 29th deadline – the country is like that coach in the final scene of 1969 crime caper The Italian Job. Any move in any direction risks sending the whole thing tumbling down a cliff, while staying put is likewise not an option. In short, all attempts to resolve the crisis simply make matters worse. The Germans have a word for this. “Zugzwang” is a term used by chess masters to describe the situation where a participant is compelled to play, even when it is clearly not in their interests to do so.

“Zugzwang Brexit” is where we are now at. Consider May’s potential moves. The EU rightly insists it is up to the UK to find a solution – but with her deal voted down, no viable alternative on the table and the EU leaders unwilling to debate the matter further what alternatives does the PM have? It is far from certain that the EU 27 would grant the UK extra time. Even if they did, an extension of Article 50 would merely kick the can further down the road. A second referendum could go either way. If ‘Leave’ were to win again we would be back at square one. If Remain won but not by a considerable margin then the issue would not be satisfactorily resolved. A No Deal Brexit would heap ruin on the country and only serve as an ‘I told you so’ for Remainers as we disappeared down the plughole of global relevance.

If the polls are to be believed a General Election would be unlikely to deliver a result very different to that of 2017 and further uncertainty – possibly lasting years would ensue. Labour’s leadership anyway remain committed to Brexit. So What Can be Done? Well there is a way out of ‘Zugzwang Brexit’ – but it is the political equivalent of forfeiting the game. The UK could revoke Article 50 and simply accept that the country has failed to reach political accord. May has twice failed to get her deal through the House of Commons and it seems likely that any further version, negotiated by any of her successors would meet a similar fate.

By revoking the mechanism by which a member state leaves the EU – dignity and sanity could momentarily be restored and the country could dampen the fuse of the ticking time bomb which Theresa May so recklessly and foolishly lit. That would be in the public’s interest, in the nations’ interest, in the interest of jobs and industry and the UK economy. As such – it’s unlikely to happen.

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“Seething Brexiteer Tory MPs lining up on ERG’s WhatsApp group in their dozens to vote against Govt A50 motion tonight, and John McDonnell confirms to #r4Today Labour will amend it – leaving it no hope of passing. Then what?”

May Issues Final Warning To Tory Rebels: Back Me Or Lose Brexit (G.)

Theresa May will attempt one final desperate roll of the dice on her Brexit deal, issuing a stark warning to mutinous Brexiters that they must approve her offer by next week or face a long article 50 extension. The prime minister was humiliated yet again amid chaotic scenes on Wednesday night in parliament, as her cabinet ruptured three ways and MPs inflicted two more defeats on the government to demand no deal should be taken off the table permanently. In an unprecedented night of Tory splits, four cabinet ministers, Amber Rudd, David Mundell, David Gauke and Greg Clark, defied their party’s last-minute whip and refused to vote against the government’s own motion, after it was amended to rule out any prospect of no-deal Brexit.

Six other cabinet ministers also splintered to back a separate proposal for a “managed no deal”, despite the prime minister’s warning that the plan was doomed. After her defeat, May signalled she would gamble one last time on forcing through her Brexit deal, bringing forward a motion on Thursday on delaying Brexit which would “set out the fundamental choice facing this house”.= If MPs agreed a deal, she said, the government would request a “short, technical extension” to article 50, a hint that May plans a third meaningful vote next week. Without an agreed deal, she said, there would be a “much longer extension” that would require the UK to take part in European parliament elections. “I do not think that would be the right outcome,” May said.

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“..the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told EU ambassadors that she feared the Commons was “divorced from reality”..”

EU On No-Deal Brexit Motion: ‘Like Titanic Voting For Iceberg To Move’ (G.)

Brussels has said a vote by UK MPs to block a no-deal Brexit in any circumstances is a meaningless move, with one senior EU negotiator describing it as “the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way”. A European commission spokesman offered a withering assessment of the decision by MPs to ignore Theresa May’s assertion that no deal was the default position unless there was a deal in place by the time of the UK’s departure. “We take note of the votes in the House of Commons this evening,” the spokesman said. “There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal. The EU is prepared for both. To take no deal off the table, it is not enough to vote against no deal – you have to agree to a deal. We have agreed a deal with the prime minister, and the EU is ready to sign it.”

MPs voted by 312 to 308 to support a backbench amendment ruling out a no-deal Brexit and striking out a phrase in a government-backed motion noting that no deal remained the default position in UK and EU law if an agreement was not ratified. They then voted on the amended motion, which won by a majority of 43. On Thursday, MPs will vote on whether to request an extension of the article 50 negotiating period beyond 29 March until 30 June. But the commission is pushing member states to take an uncompromising position. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, speaking to the European parliament in Strasbourg earlier on Wednesday, questioned whether the EU should offer extra time for talks, leading officials to prepare for all options to be on the table at a leaders’ summit next week.

“Why would we extend these discussions?” Barnier asked. “The discussion on article 50 is done and dusted. We have the withdrawal agreement. It is there.” During a private meeting before his public comments, Barnier advised senior MEPs that at present there was no consensus among the EU’s member states over an extension, let alone on the conditions that would be attached. At the same time, the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told EU ambassadors that she feared the Commons was “divorced from reality”. Quoting private remarks by the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, Weyand concurred with his description of the decision to vote for no deal as “like the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way”.

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What powers would UK MEPs have in case a temporary extension comes into play? Interesting question.

‘No Delay From EU – Or We Elect 73 Nigel Farages Into European Parliament’ (RT)

The UK Parliament is set to seek postponement of Brexit, but Brussels may be reluctant to grant it. One argument against may be a potential poison pill in the form of Eurosceptic MEPs, voted in by offended Britons in May. The dramatic week of Brexit votes in the UK Parliament draws to a conclusion on Thursday. Earlier, MPs rejected both the deal negotiated with the EU by Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, and the option to leave the EU with no deal at all, which the government asked to leave on the table to keep pressure on Brussels. MPs are now set to vote on whether London should ask for a delay in exiting the union.

While a disorderly Brexit would hurt the EU, several top European officials warned that no delay would be granted unless Britain comes up with a clear and substantial plan, which it would try to achieve if given more time. But European bureaucrats may have more reasons not to tolerate Britain dragging its feet, MEP from Scotland David Coburn told RT. If we end up staying beyond a certain period, we have to take part in the European elections. Then what you are going to see is 73 Nigel Farages returned to the European Parliament. It would make the government of the EU impossible. They would probably want to throw us out, I should think.

The next European election is scheduled for the end of May. The UK’s share of the seats would be 73 if it remained part of the EU – with both Britain and the EU making contingencies for this scenario. Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, is still technically an independent MEP, as is David Coburn, even though they belong to the newly-formed Eurosceptic Brexit Party. [..] “People are becoming more and more angry about the European Union. And more and more people, who previously voted for ‘Remain’, are now supporting ‘Leave’,” he said. “I think people do not like the way that Britain has been treated by the EU.”

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Bopeing will be sued like nuts by airlines. They pay $121 million for the brand new thing and then can’t fly it. Orders are over 5000.

US Grounds Boeing 737 Max Planes, Citing Links Between 2 Fatal Crashes (CNBC)

The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday grounded all Boeing 737 Max jets in the U.S., citing new evidence that showed similarities between two fatal crashes of the popular planes that have killed 346 people in less than five months. The move marks a stunning turnaround for the U.S., which has stood by the American-made aircraft as dozens of countries around the world grounded the planes. The crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on Sunday came less than five months after a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8 — the same type of plane — plunged into the Java Sea minutes into the flight from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board. Both planes were new, delivered from Boeing just months before their doomed flights.

The FAA said the grounding will remain in effect while it investigates the crash. “An FAA team is in Ethiopia assisting the NTSB as parties to the investigation of the Flight 302 accident,” it said in a statement. New satellite data shows the plane’s movement was similar to the October crash, the FAA’s acting administrator Daniel Elwell told reporters on a call Wednesday. The agency also took physical evidence into account, but Elwell declined to elaborate. “It became clear the track was very close and behaved similarly to the Lion Air flight,” Elwell told reporters on a call Wednesday. “My hope is the FAA, the carriers, the manufacturers and all parties will work very hard to make this grounding as short as possible so that these airplanes can get back up in the sky.”

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US standing in the world.

Battle Brews over Who Should Analyze Black Boxes from 737 Crash (Fort.)

Ethiopia’s aviation authority is unable to read the black box recorders from the Boeing 737 Max plane that crashed Sunday, but a row is brewing over just where the flight recorders will be sent for analysis. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is pushing to have its experts analyze the data and voice recorders, which were partly damaged, the Wall Street Journal reports, but Ethiopian authorities would prefer to work with the U.K.’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch to ensure that U.S. experts won’t have undue influence in the probe of the American-made plane. Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told WSJ that the U.K., France and Germany were being considered as destinations for the black boxes, as was the European Union Aviation Safety Agency based in Cologne.

He added that a decision would be made Wednesday. Aviation authorities worldwide are anxiously awaiting the data from the black box recorders, hoping it will give answers as to why Boeing’s (BA, +0.55%) best-selling model has been involved in two major crashes in the past six months. Ethiopian Airlines’ recently acquired Boeing 737 Max 8 was flying from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya, when it crashed six minutes into its flight, killing all 157 people on board. The Lion Air plane that crashed 12 minutes into its flight in Indonesia in October, killing 189 people, was the same model.

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Wow. 180º different accounts of one and the same meeting. A good journalist should be able to get a good story out of this.

US Lawmakers Emerge From Whitaker Meeting With Conflicting Accounts (R.)

U.S. lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee emerged from a closed-door meeting with former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Wednesday with conflicting accounts of their conversation with the controversial Trump ally. Whitaker was called to Capitol Hill to clarify his testimony at a combative Feb. 8 committee hearing, during which he denied speaking with President Donald Trump about a federal case involving Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who met for two hours with Whitaker and the panel’s top Republican, Representative Doug Collins, said Whitaker no longer denied speaking to Trump about Cohen or about the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.

“Unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the president called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District,” the New York Democrat told reporters. Nadler also said Whitaker told the lawmakers that he was involved in conversations about U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman’s recusal from the Cohen investigation in the Southern District of New York and about whether its campaign finance case involving hush money payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump had gone too far. Nadler’s committee is seeking evidence that Trump may have urged Whitaker to put the investigations under the supervision of Berman, a Trump donor and former law partner of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani who is recused.

But Collins, a Georgia Republican, contradicted much of Nadler’s account. “He (Whitaker) said that he had not talked with the president about Mr. Cohen at all,” Collins told reporters. Collins described Whitaker’s conversations about Berman and the campaign finance case as questions for his personal staff. “(Whitaker) had no conversations with the Southern District of New York,” he said. Collins also dismissed a Nadler statement that Whitaker was involved in conversations about firing one or more U.S. attorneys as “normal personnel issues.”

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US intelligence continues to ignore its own veterans. There’s a long list of them. But their message doesn’t rhyme with official standpoints. I’ve said it before, Mueller’s account relies on hacking Russians and Assange. And he’s a coward and a liar for doing that.

Mueller’s Forensics-Free Findings (VIPS)

MEMORANDUM FOR: The Attorney General Media reports are predicting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is about to give you the findings of his probe into any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump. If Mueller gives you his “completed” report anytime soon, it should be graded “incomplete.” Major deficiencies include depending on a DNC-hired cybersecurity company for forensics and failure to consult with those who have done original forensic work, including us and the independent forensic investigators with whom we have examined the data. We stand ready to help.

We veteran intelligence professionals (VIPS) have done enough detailed forensic work to prove the speciousness of the prevailing story that the DNC emails published by WikiLeaks came from Russian hacking. Given the paucity of evidence to support that story, we believe Mueller may choose to finesse this key issue and leave everyone hanging. That would help sustain the widespread belief that Trump owes his victory to President Vladimir Putin, and strengthen the hand of those who pay little heed to the unpredictable consequences of an increase in tensions with nuclear-armed Russia. There is an overabundance of “assessments” but a lack of hard evidence to support that prevailing narrative.

We believe that there are enough people of integrity in the Department of Justice to prevent the outright manufacture or distortion of “evidence,” particularly if they become aware that experienced scientists have completed independent forensic study that yield very different conclusions. We know only too well — and did our best to expose — how our former colleagues in the intelligence community manufactured fraudulent “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

We can prove that the conventional-wisdom story about Russian-hacking-DNC-emails-for-WikiLeaks is false. Drawing largely on the unique expertise of two VIPS scientists who worked for a combined total of 70 years at the National Security Agency and became Technical Directors there, we have regularly published our findings. But we have been deprived of a hearing in mainstream media — an experience painfully reminiscent of what we had to endure when we exposed the corruption of intelligence before the attack on Iraq 16 years ago.

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No love lost for Manafort. But sending him away for years while people like the Podestas walk free, doesn’t sound fair.

Paul Manafort Sentenced To 43 Additional Months (ZH)

Lobbyist and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was sentenced to more than six years in prison by a federal judge in the District of Columbia on two conspiracy counts. Manafort pleaded guilty last fall to the two charges which encompass a host of crimes – including money laundering and obstruction of justice. Manafort was sentenced to 60 months on count one, with 30 months of that overlapping a 47 month sentence handed down last week in a separate trial in Virginia – and 13 months on count two. In total, he will serve 90 months in prison, or 7.5 years.

Manafort asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson for leniency during Wednesday’s hearing, saying that the criminal charges against him have “taken everything from me already,” and asking that Berman Jackson not impose any additional prison time beyond the sentence handed down last week. Jackson agreed with Manafort that the original 19-24 year sentencing guideline “overstates the seriousness of this offense.” “I am sorry for what I have done and all the activities that have gotten us here today,” said Manafort in a calm and steady voice as he read from a prepared statement. “While I cannot undo the past, I will ensure that the future will be very different.”

[..] Before reading her decision, Berman Jackson reamed Manafort – saying that there was no good explanation for granting the leniency Manafort had requested.”What you were doing was lying to Congress and the American public,” said Berman Jackson, adding that Manafort had “contempt for” and “believed he had the right to manipulate these proceedings.” “Saying I’m sorry I got caught is not an inspiring plea for leniency,” the judge said, adding that Manafort’s defense that there was “no collusion” with Russia is not related to the case.

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A few days ago the IMF talked about how great Greece is doing. BS. 2% growth from nothing is still nothing.

Greek Financial Crisis Still Evokes Pain, Fear On The Streets Of Athens (CNBC)

Greece’s financial crisis is still hurting the hopes and dreams of the people that live in the Mediterranean nation. The country has been in economic turmoil for most of the last decade. Years of financial mismanagement alongside a culture of clientelistic politics, where goods and services were exchanged for political support, culminated in a long-term recession.= “I still think the crisis exists. It’s more than in one field now, (it’s) not only (a) financial crisis, but it’s a crisis of our values … I don’t think it’s better now … it is really a stressful period for Greece,” Stavros Dimopoulos, a 23-year-old university student told CNBC in Athens.

Different governments in Greece borrowed above the country’s capacity and its public debt pile became so high that in 2010 investors were no longer willing to keep on financing the Greek government. The end result: George Papandreou, the prime minister at the time, saw no other way out but to ask for a bailout — without even consulting with other European leaders. Since August, the Greek government has tried to show that austerity is over, by providing additional funds to the lower and middle classes. But ordinary Greeks told CNBC they haven’t seen a massive difference in their lives. “We love our city, we love our weather, we love the Greek people, but we are scared and afraid in a way, because the situation is not that good,” Dimopoulos said about him and his friends.

“We have to try harder and harder to make our own money … Sometimes we are talking (about going) abroad: If it is going to be better for us to leave Greece or if it is going to be better to stay in Greece and try harder. It is in our minds.” [..] 2019 is expected to be the country’s third consecutive year of growth, at a pace of about 2.2 percent. Still, this growth doesn’t seem to be making ordinary Greeks happy about the economy. Nikolas complained there hasn’t been a significant improvement for people and there’s still way too many taxes. “Some people have good jobs if they are in the civil service, but the others are suffering, they are paying like 85 percent taxes, which is very hard to get by. You risk losing your house if you don’t have enough money to pay the taxes,” he said. “(the) long term is hard, we just have to smile, pretend.”

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Maybe it’s an idea to rethink the way the data are made public. It’s a litany of ever more of the same now.

Sharp Rise In Arctic Temperatures Now Inevitable – UN (G.)

Sharp and potentially devastating temperature rises of 3C to 5C in the Arctic are now inevitable even if the world succeeds in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement, research has found. Winter temperatures at the north pole are likely to rise by at least 3C above pre-industrial levels by mid-century, and there could be further rises to between 5C and 9C above the recent average for the region, according to the UN. Such changes would result in rapidly melting ice and permafrost, leading to sea level rises and potentially to even more destructive levels of warming. Scientists fear Arctic heating could trigger a climate “tipping point” as melting permafrost releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, which in turn could create a runaway warming effect.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” said Joyce Msuya, the acting executive director of UN Environment. “We have the science. Now more urgent climate action is needed to steer away from tipping points that could be even worse for our planet than we first thought.” The findings, presented at the UN Environment assembly in Nairobi on Wednesday, give a stark picture of one of the planet’s most sensitive regions and one that is key to the fate of the world’s climate. Last year’s stark warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, setting out the dramatic impacts of 1.5C of global warming, did not include the impacts of potential tipping points such as melting permafrost.

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Coca-Cola produces 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year.

Coca-Cola Produces 200,000 Plastic Bottles A Minute (G.)

Coca-Cola has revealed for the first time it produces 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year – equivalent to 200,000 bottles a minute – as a report calls on other global companies to end the secrecy over their plastic footprint. The data from the soft drinks manufacturer was provided to the campaigner Ellen MacArthur, who is pushing for major companies and governments to do more to tackle plastic pollution. The figures – which the company has refused in the past to disclose – reveal the amount of plastic packaging Coca-Cola produced in 2017. The company did not reveal the scale of its bottle production but when its packaging footprint is translated into 500ml PET plastic bottles, it amounts to about 108bn bottles a year, more than a fifth of the world’s PET bottle output of about 500bn bottles a year.

Coca-Cola is one of 31 companies – including Mars, Nestlé and Danone – that have revealed how much plastic packaging they create as part of a drive for transparency by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Combined, they produce 8m tonnes of plastic packaging a year. But the majority of the 150 companies who have signed up to MacArthur’s global commitment to reduce plastic pollution are still refusing to publicly disclose figures on their own plastic packaging production. These include Pepsi Co, H&M, L’Oréal, Walmart, Marks & Spencer and Burberry – which was heavily criticised last year when it was revealed that the company burned £28m of stock in a year to prevent counterfeiting.


Photograph: Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

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Feb 282019
 


René Magritte The endearing truth 1966

 

Trump Says Deal With Kim Thwarted By North Korea’s Sanction Demands (R.)
Michael Cohen Predicts Revolution If Trump Loses In 2020 (RT)
Michael Cohen’s Explosive Allegations Spell Danger For Trump On Two Fronts (G.)
Why Trump Will Likely Be Reelected, And What It Means For Global Security (F.)
Regime Change is Urgently Needed…in Washington (OffG)
Venezuela Set For More False Flags (Cunningham)
Disintegration Of Global Capitalism Could Unleash WWIII (Nafeez Ahmed)
China Factory Activity At 3-Year Low, Export Orders Worst In A Decade (CNBC)
Denmark Government Wants Stores To Stop Accepting Cash (RT)
Chinese Dam Project In Guinea Could Kill Up To 1,500 Chimpanzees (G.)
Kenya Announces Death Penalty for Poachers (SAI)
The Endless Sunshine of Planetary Death (HmmD)
World’s Deepest Waters Becoming ‘Ultimate Sink’ For Plastic Waste (G.)
How To Live Happily With The 5,000 Other Species In Your House (G.)

 

 

No, not even that headline is true. Trump wants full denuclearization, and Kim wants full lifting of sanctions. That is complex, that takes trust, that will take a lot more talk. And that’s fine, as Trump recognizes. These meetings should become so common they don’t make the news anymore.

Trump Says Deal With Kim Thwarted By North Korea’s Sanction Demands (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had walked away from a nuclear deal at his summit with Kim Jong Un because of unacceptable demands from the North Korean leader to lift punishing U.S.-led sanctions. Trump said two days of talks in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi had made good progress in building relations and on the key issue of denuclearization, but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. “It was all about the sanctions,” Trump said at a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.” The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state undertook a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources hard cash.

Both Trump and Kim left the venue of their talks, the French-colonial-era Metropole hotel, without attending a planned lunch together. “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” Trump said, adding “it was a friendly walk”. Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office. Trump said Cohen “lied a lot” during Congressional testimony in Washington on Wednesday, though he had told the truth when he said there had been “no collusion” with Russia.

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I watched quite a bit of the ‘testimony’ yesterday, increasingly wondering: what are we watching here? Why is this show put on? It was clear from the ‘leaked’ files that Cohen had nothing, as I said yesterday morning. In the Q&A session he had way less than nothing. So yeah, let’s go with the most absurd headline of the bunch.

Michael Cohen Predicts Revolution If Trump Loses In 2020 (RT)

Trump consigliere turned federal informant Michael Cohen shared his fear that there will “never be a peaceful transition of power” if his former boss loses the 2020 election during a congressional hearing some called a ‘circus.’ “You don’t know him! I do!” Cohen insisted plaintively during his testimony before the Oversight Committee of the House of Representatives, before predicting Trump would refuse to step down even if he was defeated in 2020. “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat,” declared Cohen, who pleaded guilty to charges he lied to Congress regarding the special counsel’s ongoing ‘Russiagate’ probe in November, months after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and tax fraud. He has been busily feeding information to the various Trump probes ever since.

Despite promising big things – proof that Trump had instructed him to commit crimes, evidence of Trump’s racism, even the holy grail of Russian collusion – Cohen failed to deliver anything tangible to the salivating Democrats on the committee, admitting he had no “real examples” of collusion and instead filling his time on the stand with public displays of repentance over his ten years of service to Trump. “Everybody’s job at the Trump organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something. And that became the norm, and that’s what’s happening right now in this country,” Cohen intoned. “This destruction of our civility to one another is just out of control.” Republicans, meanwhile, repeatedly reminded the committee that Cohen had already been convicted for perjury. Rep. Carol Miller (R-West Virginia) denounced the entire affair as a “circus.”

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Things don’t magically become ‘explosive’ or ‘bombshell’ just because opinionated reporters say so. And these lines from Cohen don’t exactly save the narrative:

“Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion..”

“There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction..”

Michael Cohen’s Explosive Allegations Spell Danger For Trump On Two Fronts (G.)

Michael Cohen on Wednesday delivered a sharp warning to Donald Trump and the Republican party that the president faces legal and political peril on at least two fronts. First, the Trump-Russia investigation. Cohen became the first Trump associate to allege that, in 2016, Trump knew in advance that his eldest son, Donald Jr, was meeting Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton – and that WikiLeaks would be releasing emails stolen from Democrats by Russian operatives. Moreover, Cohen hinted that Robert Mueller, the special counsel currently wrapping up a two-year inquiry into whether Trump’s team coordinated with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, may have proof.

Cohen was asked by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat forced to resign as party chairwoman over the WikiLeaks disclosures, how they could corroborate his explosive allegations, which are based on remarks he says he overheard in Trump’s office. “I suspect that the special counsel’s office and other government agencies have the information you’re seeking,” Cohen said. Trump denied both allegations in his written answers to questions from Mueller. Cohen also reiterated that Trump lied repeatedly to the American public during the 2016 campaign by saying he had no dealings with Russia. In fact, Cohen has told prosecutors, Trump was keenly pursuing a lucrative tower in Moscow until June 2016.

Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion” with Moscow that the president vehemently denies. Still there was, Cohen said, “something odd” about the affectionate back-and-forth Trump had with Vladimir Putin in public remarks over the years. “There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction,” he said.

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The Democrats may be intent -again- on swamping the field with candidates, only to end up with the establishment candidate. That would mean they haven’t learned a thing in 4 years. Unless Ocasio rises to the occasion (get it? Ocasio->Occasion). But that’s doubtful, 1 year is short. So maybe they should chew on this a little:

Why Trump Will Likely Be Reelected, And What It Means For Global Security (F.)

Donald Trump’s presidency has been so widely derided in the national media that a casual observer might easily conclude his prospects for reelection are dim. However, that is not what the odds makers are saying. They give Trump a solid edge over any Democratic candidate in 2020. The odds makers are right. Trump will probably be reelected if he chooses to run. What follows is an explanation of why the odds favor Trump, and what eight years of his leadership would mean for global security. Let’s start with the factors favoring a second term. First of all, candidates who get elected to the presidency once tend to get reelected if they run. Only two chief executives seeking reelection over the last 50 years—Carter and Bush 41—failed in their bid for a second term.

Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama all won reelection, even though at least two of them were highly controversial. In fact, the most controversial presidents tend to roll up the biggest reelection victories. Second, Trump has presided over the strongest economy in living memory. Unemployment is at record lows, inflation is nearly non-existent, and new jobs are being created at a startling pace. Anyone who studies presidential politics knows that strong economies are the most important factor driving support for the incumbent. While growth may moderate between now and election day, few economists expect a recession anytime soon. Third, the nation is at peace. Trump has avoided involvement in new overseas adventures, and is pressing to scale back what is left of the operations he inherited from his predecessor.

Critics complain he is too eager to get out of places like Afghanistan and Syria, however the record shows that voters have little patience for foreign military intervention. Unpopular wars are the one issue that can eclipse a good economy in the minds of voters, but at the moment Trump seems to be delivering both peace and prosperity. Fourth, Democrats are busy reminding voters in the middle of the political spectrum why they voted for Trump in 2016. Ever since the Democrats drifted away from their blue-collar base in the 1970s, winning the party’s presidential nomination has required appeals to the Left. While many voters may resent the rich and want more government benefits, those sentiments become muted when the economy is strong.

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What if the entire third world unites against the west?

Regime Change is Urgently Needed…in Washington (OffG)

I am surprised that no one else is saying it, writing it, shouting it at each and every corner: It is not Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran that are in dire and crucial need of ‘regime change’. It is the United States of America, it is the entire European Union; in fact, the entire West. And the situation is urgent. The West has gone mad; it has gone so to speak, bananas; mental. And people there are too scared to even say it, to write about it. One country after another is falling, being destroyed, antagonized, humiliated, impoverished. Entire continents are treated as if they were inhabited by irresponsible toddlers, who are being chased and disciplined by sadistic adults, with rulers and belts in their hands yelling with maniacal expressions on their faces: “Behave, do as we say, or else!”

It all would be truly comical, if it weren’t so depressing. But… nobody is laughing. People are shaking, sweating, crying, begging, puking, but they are not chuckling. I see it everywhere where I work: in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. But why? It is because North American and European countries are actually seriously delivering their ultimatum: you either obey us, and prostrate yourself in front of us, or we will break you, violate you, and if everything else fails, we will kill your leaders and all of those who are standing in our way. This is not really funny, is it? Especially considering that it is being done to almost all the countries in what is called Latin America, to many African and Middle Eastern nations, and to various states on the Asian continent.

And it is all done ‘professionally’, with great sadistic craftsmanship and rituals. No one has yet withstood ‘regime change’ tactics, not even the once mighty Soviet Union, nor tremendous China, or proud and determined Afghanistan. Cuba, Venezuela, DPRK and Syria may be the only countries that are still standing. They resisted and mobilized all their resources in order to survive; and they have survived, but at a tremendous price.

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What a failure this has become in a few short weeks.

Venezuela Set For More False Flags (Cunningham)

It seems obvious the whole scenario of delivering US aid into Venezuela from neighboring countries was really intended as a pretext for military intervention by Washington. The government in Caracas had warned of such a contingency in advance, as had Russia, which is allied to President Maduro’s administration. Moscow’s experience in Syria has no doubt given a lot of valuable insights into the American playbook of using false flags for justifying military aggression. The timing of the Lima Group summit – 12 Latin American states along with the US and Canada – was meant to capitalize on the false-flag incident over aid, as well as other deadly clashes at the weekend that resulted in dozens of casualties.

However, the provocation did not go to plan, despite Pence and Guaido’s grandstanding assertions. The other downside for the US regime-change objective in Venezuela is that the Lima Group has for the moment broken ranks over the military option. Pence and Guaido stepped up the rhetoric calling for “all options” on the table – meaning military intervention. But the Lima Group, including US allies Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, issued a statement after the summit Monday rejecting any military action. They are still functioning as lackeys by calling for a “peaceful transition to democracy” and are in favor of the dubious US-anointed opposition figure Guaido, recognizing him as the “interim president” of Venezuela, in accordance with Washington’s desires.

Nevertheless, repudiation of the military option by Washington’s regional allies will be seen as a damper to the momentum for using American force to overthrow the Maduro government. Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourão repeatedly said in interviews that his government would not allow a US military incursion into Venezuela from its territory. The European Union also said it was opposed to any military force being used by the US against Venezuela. The emerging situation therefore puts the regime-change planners in Washington in a quandary. Their sanctions pressure for blackmailing defections in the Venezuelan political and military leadership has failed. So too has the much-vaunted spectacle of delivering US aid.

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So why is capitalism disintegrating? Maybe you should answer that first. Being deeply embedded in academia doesn’t impress me one bit. That same academia has helped lead us to this mess.

Disintegration Of Global Capitalism Could Unleash WWIII (Nafeez Ahmed)

A senior European Commission economist has warned that a Third World War is an extremely “high probability” in coming years due to the disintegration of global capitalism. In a working paper published last month, Professor Gerhard Hanappi argued that since the 2008 financial crash, the global economy has moved away from “integrated” capitalism into a “disintegrating” shift marked by the same sorts of trends which preceded previous world wars. Professor Hanappi is Jean Monnet Chair for Political Economy of European Integration -an European Commission appointment- at the Institute for Mathematical Models in Economics at the Vienna University of Technology. He also sits on the management committee of the Systemic Risks expert group in the EU-funded European Cooperation in Science and Technology research network.

In his new paper, Hanappi concludes that global conditions bear unnerving parallels with trends before the outbreak of the first and second world wars. Key red flags that the world is on a slippery slope to a global war, he finds, include: • the inexorable growth of military spending; • democracies transitioning into increasingly authoritarian police states; • heightening geopolitical tensions between great powers; • the resurgence of populism across the left and right; • the breakdown and weakening of established global institutions that govern transnational capitalism; • and the relentless widening of global inequalities. These trends, some of which were visible before the previous world wars, are reappearing in new forms. Hanappi argues that the defining feature of the current period is a transition from an older form of “integrating capitalism” to a new form of “disintegrating capitalism”, whose features most clearly emerged after the 2008 financial crisis.

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All the way back to 2008. Have we passed China’s peak already?

China Factory Activity At 3-Year Low, Export Orders Worst In A Decade (CNBC)

Factory activity in China contracted to a three-year low in February as export orders fell at the fastest pace since the global financial crisis, highlighting deepening cracks in an economy facing weak demand at home and abroad. The gloomy findings are likely to reinforce views that the world’s second-largest economy is still losing steam, after growth last year cooled to a near 30-year low. Even with increasing government stimulus to spur activity, concerns are growing that China may be at risk of a sharper slowdown if current Sino-U.S. trade talks fail to relieve some of the pressure. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell for the third straight month, dropping to 49.2 in February from 49.5 in January, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Thursday.

The 50-mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast the gauge would stay unchanged from January’s 49.5. “Unless the trade war truly turns into an extended truce, the weakening trend may not end quickly,” Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING, said in a note. “As such we expect March’s PMI to fall, too.” Manufacturing output contracted in February for the first time since January 2009, during the depths of the global crisis. Manufacturers also continued to cut jobs, a trend Beijing is closely watching as its weighs more support measures. New export orders shrank for a ninth straight month, and at a sharper rate, amid faltering global demand.

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Exactly what even the central bank in Holland has started warning against.

Denmark Government Wants Stores To Stop Accepting Cash (RT)

The Danish government is considering changing current laws which make it compulsory for the vast majority of stores to accept cash payments. The measure is part of Copenhagen’s push for a completely cashless society by 2030. The law change would allow petrol stations, convenience stores and clothing shops to choose to only accept card and online forms of payment. The anti-crime measure would provide additional security for stores, according to Denmark’s Business Minister Rasmus Jarlov. “Fewer people use cash today, so we think there should be a balance between the difficulty and security risks placed on business owners and the benefits of accepting cash,” Jarlov told the DR broadcaster.

A 2017 law enabled certain types of stores to apply for a dispensation to be cash-free between 10pm and 6am. The minister said that, “If you still want to use cash, I would advise saying so to the stores where you shop. I expect businesses to listen to their customers.” “We are not forcing anyone to stop using cash,” he added. Certain services, including supermarkets, postal services, doctors, pharmacies and other stores with “central societal functions,” will still be required to accept cash. Denmark’s endeavor to move towards a completely cash-free economy has been the subject of heated debate lately; with opponents saying the measure is aimed at placing citizens exclusively under state control. The government has “set a 2030 deadline to completely do away with paper money.”

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OK, this is easy. We get together, UN or something, to make sure such projects don’t happen anymore. We’ll make sure people get electricity from other sources, but we’re done destroying nature for it.

Chinese Dam Project In Guinea Could Kill Up To 1,500 Chimpanzees (G.)

Up to 1,500 chimpanzees could be killed by a new Chinese dam that will swamp a crucial sanctuary for the endangered primate in Guinea, experts have warned. The 294MW Koukoutamba dam will be built by Sinohydro, the world’s biggest hydroelectric power plant construction company, in the middle of a newly declared protected area called the Moyen-Bafing National park. The Chinese company is already facing similar criticism for building a dam in Indonesia that threatens the only known habitat of a newly discovered species of orangutan. Its executives signed a contract this week with local representatives eager to secure a power project that will bring energy and funds to one of Africa’s poorest countries. The flooding of swathes of the park is expected to force the displacement of 8,700 people.

It will also increase the pressure on western chimpanzees, which have declined by 80% in the past 20 years, and are now considered critically endangered – the highest level of risk – by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The highlands of Guinea are home to Africa’s healthiest remaining population of about 16,500 western chimpanzees. In most other countries, this subspecies is either extinct or perilously threatened in populations of less than 100 individuals. The Moyen-Bafing reserve was established in 2016 as a “chimpanzee offset” and funded by two mining companies – Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée and Guinea Alumina Corporation – in return for permission to open mineral excavation sites inside other territories of the primate.

Rebecca Kormos, a primatologist who has been researching the animal for decades, has warned that a dam inside the park would have the biggest impact a development project has ever had on chimpanzees. “I hope Sinohydro will reconsider engaging in a project that could drive the western chimpanzee into extinction. Once a species goes, it’s gone forever,” she said. She estimates 800 to 1,500 chimpanzees will die as a result of the project, either by having their habitats flooded or as a result of territorial conflicts if they try to move.

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Article’s a bit confused about timing, but the idea is one I’ve mentioned before. Stop trading with any country that trades in these materials, and shoot poachers on site.

Kenya Announces Death Penalty for Poachers (SAI)

Najib Balala, the tourism and wildlife minister of Kenya, recently announcedthat those who take the lives of innocent animals through poaching will soon face the death penalty in the African country. While this proposal hasn’t been officially enacted into law yet, Balala told China’s Xinhua news agency that wildlife poaching is on a fast track to becoming a capital offense. Sudan, Kenya’s last Rhino who was 45, lived at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya died last year. The species is now extinct due the Chinese demand for Rhino horn. While this measure may seem extreme, it is a last resort attempt to deter people from slaughtering Kenya’s rapidly decreasing wildlife population. Balala reportedly said:

“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of U.S. $200,000. However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.” As compared to recent years, poaching in Kenya is actually on the decline in the present day. According to the country’s tourism ministers, this decrease can largely be attributed to more serious wildlife law enforcement efforts and increased investment in conservation. “These efforts led to an 85 percent reduction in rhino poaching and a 78 percent reduction in elephant poaching, respectively, in 2017 compared to when poaching was at its peak in 2013 and 2012 respectively,” reported the ministry.

However, as Balala pointed out, wildlife poaching has not yet been completely eradicated in Kenya. The Independent reported, “Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 — and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed.” Furthermore, a poacher killed two black rhinos and a calf earlier this month in Kenya’s Meru National Park.


An ‘ordinary’ ivory shop in Hong Kong

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No more clouds.

The Endless Sunshine of Planetary Death (HmmD)

We’re on course to destroy the clouds, they said now. Not just the coral, not just the insects, not just all the wild vertebrates living on land. The clouds. Quanta Magazine, writing about a new Nature Geoscience study on warming and clouds, described the temperature spike known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when a sharp increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide led to an even sharper increase in temperature—along with “mass extinctions” of ocean life, immense dislocations of land animals, and “flash floods and protracted droughts.” How did the temperature jump out of normal boundaries into a lethal range? Clouds currently cover about two-thirds of the planet at any moment. But computer simulations of clouds have begun to suggest that as the Earth warms, clouds become scarcer.

With fewer white surfaces reflecting sunlight back to space, the Earth gets even warmer, leading to more cloud loss. This feedback loop causes warming to spiral out of control. In computer simulations, researchers found that at 1,200 parts per million of carbon dioxide, the level at which temperatures would be expected to be 4º C above the historical baseline, the atmosphere would become too warm and too turbulent to allow sheets of stratocumulus clouds to form. If the clouds fell apart, the extra sunlight could bring on an extra 8 degrees of warming—for a total increase of 12º C, or more than 21º F. Like the methane-spilling permafrost or the fracturing Antarctic ice sheet, the clouds can’t come back if they’re broken; the runaway heating effect would linger even after carbon dioxide levels dropped. We would have irrevocably ruined the sky.

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“If you contaminate a river, it can be flushed clean. If you contaminate a coastline, it can be diluted by the tides. But, in the deepest point of the oceans, it just sits there.”

World’s Deepest Waters Becoming ‘Ultimate Sink’ For Plastic Waste (G.)

The world’s deepest ocean trenches are becoming “the ultimate sink” for plastic waste, according to a study that reveals contamination of animals even in these dark, remote regions of the planet. For the first time, scientists found microplastic ingestion by organisms in the Mariana trench and five other areas with a depth of more than 6,000 metres, prompting them to conclude “it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by plastic pollution”. The paper, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, highlights the threat posed by non-biodegradable substances in clothes, containers and packaging, which make their way from household bins via dump sites and rivers to the oceans, where they break up and sink to the floor.

The impact of plastic in shallower waters – where it chokes dolphins, whales and seabirds – is already well documented in academic journals and by TV programmes such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. But the study shows this problem is far more profound than previously realised. Researchers baited, caught and examined subsea creatures from six of the deepest places in the world – the Peru-Chile trench in the south-east Pacific, the New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches in the south-west Pacific, and the Japan trench, Izu-Bonin trench and Mariana trench in the north-west Pacific. In all six areas, they found ingestion of microparticles by amphipods – a shrimp-like crustacean that scavenges on the seabed. The deeper the region, the higher the rate of consumption. In the Mariana trench – which goes down to the lowest point on earth of 10,890 metres below sea level – 100% of samples contained at least one microparticle.

The materials included polyester-reinforced cotton and fibres made of lyocell, rayon, ramie, polyvinyl and polyethylene. The breadth of substances and broad range of geographic sites prompted the authors to observe that increasing volumes of global plastic waste will find their way from surface gyres into these trenches. “It is intuitive that the ultimate sink for this debris, in whatever size, is the deep sea,” they noted. Once the materials reach these areas the waste has nowhere else to go, said Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University, the lead author of the paper. “If you contaminate a river, it can be flushed clean. If you contaminate a coastline, it can be diluted by the tides. But, in the deepest point of the oceans, it just sits there. It can’t flush and there are no animals going in and out of those trenches.”

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The other side of the spectrum: celebrate and understand what life is. Should have mentioned EO Wilson, though, I think.

“..we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”

How To Live Happily With The 5,000 Other Species In Your House (G.)

The good news is that I will never be home alone again. The bad news – well, it’s not in fact bad news, but it is slightly unsettling – is that I share my home with at least 5,000 other species: wasps, flies, spiders, silverfish and an exotic bunch of wild bacteria. All that information is apparently contained in a patch of grey dust I have just swabbed with my right index finger from a door frame in my living room. It’s like a DNA test of my house, says Rob Dunn, a 43-year-old American biologist who has come to my house in Copenhagen to hunt microbial life. He carries no lab gear and his blue crewneck jumper and striped Oxford shirt are hardly the combat suit of an exterminator. But with every discovery we make, with every spider we find lurking in the corner or each swab of dust, he displays an almost childlike sense of excitement.

He swears and smiles, even whoops with delight: “This dust sample contains bacteria, your body microbes, your wife’s body microbes, your child’s body microbes. If you smoke weed we would find marijuana DNA in there. Everything is visible, but it’s also present in every breath. Every time you inhale, you inhale that story of your home.” [..] When he began working as a biologist he went to the jungle to study wild beasts, but now his research is dedicated to species much closer to home: to the flies, spiders and bacteria hidden in every nook and cranny of our kitchens, bathrooms and basements. To the “jungle of everyday life”, as he describes it in his new book.

Never Home Alone tracks how we have been disconnected from the ecosystems of our homes. It’s a book of hard truths – I now know that I shed 50m flakes of skin every day, providing food for thousands of bacteria, and that cockroaches are basically our perfect interspecies Tinder-match. It also confronts our irrational relationship with cleanliness. Our modern instinct might be to swat a spider on the kitchen worktop or blitz creepy crawlies into oblivion with antimicrobial sprays, but we could be killing useful allies, according to Dunn: “The key thing is that your life is going to be full of life. And your only choice is which life. Our default is that we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”

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Celebrate life:

Feb 042019
 


René Magritte Morning star 1938

 

Maduro Warns White House Will Be ‘Stained With Blood’ If Trump Invades (G.)
Regional Bloc Plans Pressure Campaign Against Venezuela’s Maduro (R.)
Austerity And Welfare Cuts Main Driver Behind Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Hard Brexiters Say Only Acceptable Way Forward Is To Remove Backstop (G.)
Theresa May Launches Committee To Find Irish Backstop Alternatives (Ind.)
UK Home Secretary Dismisses Speculation Of Snap General Election In June (G.)
Macron Blames Social Media & Russia For Yellow Vests (RT)
NBC News Claims Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard (Greenwald)
D-Day For Australian Banks As Bombshell Inquiry Report Set For Release (R.)
MAGA Misses the Eurasia Train (Escobar)
The Chinese Were White – Until White Men Called Them Yellow (SCMP)
Animals And Birds Under Increasing Threat From Plastic Waste (G.)
Bacteria Glues Plastic Together Posing Even Deadlier Threat To Sea Life (Ind.)

 

 

Maduro has been practicing the Trump style.

Maduro Warns White House Will Be ‘Stained With Blood’ If Trump Invades (G.)

Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro, has warned Donald Trump he will leave the White House “stained with blood” if he insists on pursuing what he called a “dirty” imperialist conspiracy to overthrow him. “Stop. Stop, Trump! Hold it right there! You are making mistakes that will leave your hands covered in blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood,” Maduro warned during a combative interview with the Spanish journalist Jordi Évole. “Why would you want a repeat of Vietnam?” He also rejected European calls for elections, saying: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone. I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024. We don’t care what Europe says.” He added: “You can’t base international politics on ultimatums. That’s the stuff of the empire, of colonial times.”

Tens of thousands of Venezuelan protesters streamed through the capital, Caracas, on Saturday to demand the exit of a president who has led the oil-rich South American nation into economic collapse and humanitarian crisis. [..] in his television interview Maduro – who came to power after the 2013 death of his political mentor, Hugo Chávez – signalled that he had no plans to go anywhere. “If the north American empire attacks us, we will have to defend ourselves … We aren’t going to hand Venezuela over,” Maduro said. The UN estimates that more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled overseas in recent years to escape hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine and healthcare and chronic insecurity. That number is expected to rise to more than 5 million this year.

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Trump and Trudeau, a happy couple. And of course Canada belongs in a regional bloc with Venezuela, it’s right next door.

Regional Bloc Plans Pressure Campaign Against Venezuela’s Maduro (R.)

A major bloc of Latin American nations and Canada will discuss on Monday how to maintain pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to hold new elections as he faces widespread calls to resign after last year’s disputed presidential vote. Sources briefed on the matter said that the 14-nation Lima Group looked set, though, to hold off imposing further sanctions on the Maduro government when it meets in Ottawa. Most group members say Maduro should quit in favour of opposition leader Juan Guaido – who declared himself interim president last month – and are calling for a new presidential election in the troubled OPEC nation.

The United States, which is not a member of the group, also wants Maduro gone. “How can we continue to support the opposition to keep the pressure up on the regime and push for new elections? Certainly that’s something we’ll be looking at,” said a Canadian government official. Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, said in an interview that aired on Spanish television channel Antena 3 on Sunday: “We don’t accept ultimatums from anyone,” adding: “I refuse to call for elections now – there will be elections in 2024.” [..] Trudeau spoke on Sunday to Guaido and the two “discussed the importance of the international community sending a clear message regarding the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime,” Trudeau’s office said.

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How the Tories got their Brexit.

Austerity And Welfare Cuts Main Driver Behind Brexit Vote (Ind.)

Welfare cuts and other austerity measures implemented under the Conservatives pushed vital swing voters to back Brexit and won the EU referendum for the Leave campaign, according to a new report. Research published by the Social Market Foundation suggests the best indicator of a person’s referendum vote was not age or education, but happiness or sadness about their personal finances – with unhappy people tending to vote Leave and contented ones preferring Remain. The report, which analysed the level of cuts in each area of the UK alongside each area’s growth in support for Ukip, argues that had it not been for austerity, the referendum would not have turned out the way it did.

It found that in districts that received the average austerity shock, Ukip vote shares were on average 11.62 percentage points higher in the most recent local elections prior to the referendum than in districts with little exposure to austerity. As well as area-level analysis, the report looked at individual-level data and found that some people directly affected by welfare cuts shifted their political support to Ukip and rejected the political establishment. “Households exposed to the bedroom tax increasingly shifted to support Ukip and experienced economic grievances as they fell behind with their rent payments due to the cuts,” the paper stated.

As much as 9 percentage points of the 52 per cent support for Leave – around 3 million votes – was decided by concern about austerity and related issues, the researchers estimated. It suggests that without the effect of the “austerity shock” on welfare and public services, the Leave share of the referendum vote could have been as low as 43 per cent, delivering a comfortable win for Remain.

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Ruled out by EU.

Hard Brexiters Say Only Acceptable Way Forward Is To Remove Backstop (G.)

Hard Brexiters have warned Theresa May that the only proposal they are likely to support to break the Brexit impasse is a version of the “Malthouse compromise”, which envisages removing the backstop from the draft European Union exit treaty. Steve Baker, vice chair of the European Research Group, said that he and other Conservative Eurosceptics could not support the alternative they believed Theresa May favoured – an addendum to the existing EU withdrawal agreement. Baker is one of five backbench MPs who will meet Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, on Monday, in the first meeting of a new working group aimed at examining whether technological solutions could eliminate the backstop.

The “Malthouse compromise” – named after the junior minister, Kit Malthouse, who brokered it – is a proposal to replace the unpopular backstop with alternative technological arrangements to prevent the return of a hard border in Ireland. It is supported by Baker, other Eurosceptics and the pro-remain former ministers Nicky Morgan and Damian Green, both of whom will attend further meetings with Barclay on Tuesday and Wednesday. “As far as I’m concerned the Malthouse compromise is the only game in town if we’re going to reach an agreement in Brussels,” Baker said, indicating that only rewriting the draft withdrawal agreement to remove the backstop would satisfy Tory Brexiters.

Last week MPs voted in favour of an amendment in the name of Sir Graham Brady, a senior Conservative, to examine the possibility of new customs arrangements but it is unclear that the necessary technology exists. May also instructed Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, to examine two other proposals that could be taken to Brussels – whether it would be possible to time-limit the backstop or to introduce a unilateral exit mechanism for the UK.

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53 days to go: plenty time to waste.

Theresa May Launches Committee To Find Irish Backstop Alternatives (Ind.)

Theresa May has been accused of “wasting valuable time” in the countdown to Britain’s exit from the EU as she announced plans to establish a Commons group probing alternative plans for the Irish border post-Brexit. Despite the prime minister’s hopes of reopening the withdrawal agreement already being dashed by EU leaders with just 53 days to go until Brexit, the new committee made up of senior Tory MPs will meet for the first time on Monday. Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay is expected to attend the sessions, alongside support from officials at HM Revenue and Customs, the Cabinet Office, and No 10. The group will aim to provide “alternative arrangements” to the backstop – the EU’s insurance policy in the withdrawal agreement that aims to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

[..] But the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, has already dismissed using existing technology as an alternative solution to the question of the Irish border. “We looked at every border on this Earth, every border the EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls,” she said last week. Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney also rubbished the idea of “alternative arrangements”, adding in The Sunday Times: “This is not a new concept. The EU is committed to trying to agree alternative arrangements to replace the backstop. We want a comprehensive future relationship in place by the end of 2020 so the backstop is never used.

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So they leave on March 29 and hold elections 2-3 months later?

UK Home Secretary Dismisses Speculation Of Snap General Election In June (G.)

Sajid Javid has said “the last thing we want is a general election”, emphasising that the government is still hoping to secure a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism for the Irish border backstop. The home secretary dismissed newspaper reports that Downing Street strategists were considering holding a snap general election on 6 June, if Theresa May cannot get her Brexit deal through parliament before the 29 March deadline. “The last thing we want is a general election, the people will never forgive us for it,” Javid told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show. “They want politicians to get on with the job. They have been given a very clear mandate, now it’s our job to get on with it.”

There are signs that the Conservatives have started to gear up for a possible snap election, with the party’s chief executive, Sir Mick Davis, placing the Tories on a “war footing” last week and increased fundraising activities under the cover of the local elections in May. A poll by Opinium for the Observer showed the Conservatives seven points ahead of Labour on 41%, but few people believe the party would risk going to the country under May’s leadership after the disaster of 2017, when its overall majority was lost. “I know that Conservative party headquarters is planning on only one set of elections, which is the local government elections. The last thing this country wants is an election; they want parliament to deliver Brexit in an orderly way,” Javid said.

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“[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.”

Macron Blames Social Media & Russia For Yellow Vests (RT)

Who is at fault for Yellow Vest protests raging in France since November? For President Emmanuel Macron it’s not actual economic problems or his own decisions, but the right, the left, social media and, of course, “Russes.” Macron blasted the nation’s mainstream media for failing to control the narrative and argued that social networks and “the Russians” are driving all content instead, with traditional outlets falling into line. The president’s calculated outburst was published by the weekly Le Point on Friday, just before the Yellow Vests officially marked the 12th consecutive week of staging large-scale protests against the government.

The president dismissed Eric Drouet, the 33-year-old trucker who emerged as a prominent figure in the protests, as “a media product, a product of social networks,” and claimed that the demonstrators are being “advised from outside,” without elaborating. He argued that 90 percent of the chatter online about the Yellow Vests comes from the “[far] rightists, leftists, and the Russians.” Yet, 18 months after bending the French party system to his will and his triumphant win against bien-pensant pariah Marine Le Pen, Macron’s excuses for disappointing expectations are running thin. His first cannonade in what was intended to be a sweeping march of modernity, was a labor reform that he claimed would help small businesses. It was met with protests from unions, public sector workers who said it made firing easier, and those fearing loss of benefits.

In a preview of what has now become the norm, Macron dismissed the opponents of his policies as “slackers.” [..] The government has already suspended the fuel tax hike that caused the traffic law-mandated vests to be put on in the first place, while the president has promised to raise the minimum wage. But for many demonstrators these actions are belated, and do not address underlying issues. “It’s not enough. We still have to fight the current taxes, the ones that have been in place for years. We should have woken up years ago, and now we have to make up for the years we missed,” one of the original and most popular Yellow Vests, Ghislain Coutard, told Deutsche Welle, adding that Macron should “come out of his hole and face” the people.

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It’s a model that works inside the echo chamber.

NBC News Claims Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard (Greenwald)

NBC News published a predictably viral story Friday, claiming that “experts who track websites and social media linked to Russia have seen stirrings of a possible campaign of support for Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.” But the whole story was a sham: the only “experts” cited by NBC in support of its key claim was the firm, New Knowledge, that just got caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election. To justify its claim that Tulsi Gabbard is the Kremlin’s candidate, NBC stated: “analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted ‘chatter’ related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns.”

What NBC – amazingly – concealed is a fact that reveals its article to be a journalistic fraud: that same firm, New Knowledge, was caught just six weeks ago engaging in a massive scam to create fictitious Russian troll accounts on Facebook and Twitter in order to claim that the Kremlin was working to defeat Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones in Alabama. The New York Times, when exposing the scam, quoted a New Knowledge report that boasted of its fabrications: “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the [Roy] Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.’”

[..] In any event, NBC News, to smear Gabbard as a Kremlin favorite, relied on a group that it heralded as “experts” without telling its audience about the major fraud which this firm just got caught perpetrating in order – on behalf of the Democratic Party – to fabricate claims of Kremlin interference in the Alabama Senate race. That’s because the playbook used by the axis of the Democratic Party, NBC/MSNBC, neocons and the intelligence community has been, is and will continue to be a very simple one: to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party – whether on the left or the right – as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin (a key target will undoubtedly be, indeed already is, Bernie Sanders).

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They’ll just paper it all over.

D-Day For Australian Banks As Bombshell Inquiry Report Set For Release (R.)

The Australian government is due to release on Monday the final recommendations of the independent inquiry that exposed systemic wrongdoing in Australia’s financial sector last year, likely leading to sweeping changes to the country’s banking industry. The big banks, insurers, pension funds and regulators who oversee the financial industry are bracing for a brutal summary of their misdeeds and weaknesses, and a list of tough recommendations including possible criminal charges. The Royal Commission was a quasi-judicial independent body led by a former high court judge that was tasked by the government, reluctantly at first, with investigating financial sector misconduct following a string of banking scandals.

For 11 months its public hearings shocked the country and wiped more than A$60 billion ($43.4 billion) from top financial stocks as investors factored in the prospect of tougher regulation, higher compliance costs and thinner margins. Regulators were also grilled by the commission’s barristers about why they seemed reluctant to crack down on wrongdoing, sometimes penalizing firms with little more than a mildly worded press release. “There will be nothing positive in the recommendations because the banks have clearly breached various obligations in the laws, and obligations to good customer service,” said Matthew Wilson, a banking analyst at Deutsche Bank.

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Pepe appears blind to China’s multiple bubbles. I could see them halt any expansion and close their borders first to sort out the financial mess.

MAGA Misses the Eurasia Train (Escobar)

We should know by now that the heart of the 21st Century Great Game is the myriad layers of the battle between the United States and the partnership of Russia and China. Even the U.S. National Defense Strategy says so: “The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by … revisionist powers.” The recently published assessment on U.S. defense implications of China’s global expansion says so too. The clash will frame the emergence of a possibly new, post-ideological, strategic world order amidst an extremely volatile unpredictability in which peace is war and an accident may spark a nuclear confrontation.

The U.S. vs. Russia and China will keep challenging the West’s obsession in deriding “illiberalism,” a fearful, rhetorical exercise that equates Russian democracy with China’s one party rule, Iran’s demo-theocracy and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman revival. It’s immaterial that Russia’s economy is one-tenth of China’s. From boosting trade that bypasses the U.S. dollar, to increasing joint military exercises, the Russia-China symbiosis is poised to advance beyond political and ideological affinities. China badly needs Russian know-how in its military industry. Beijing will turn this knowledge into plenty of dual use, civilian-military innovations.

The long game indicates Russia and China will break down language and cultural barriers to lead Eurasian integration against American economic hegemony backed by military might. One could say the Eurasian century is already upon us. The era of the West shaping the world at will (a mere blip of history) is already over. This is despite Western elite denials and fulminations against the so-called “morally reprehensible,” “forces of instability” and “existential threats.” Standard Chartered, the British financial services company, using a mix of purchasing power exchange rates and GDP growth, has projected that the top five economies in 2030 will be China, the U.S., India, Japan and Russia. These will be followed by Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and the UK. Asia will extend its middle class as they are slowly killed off across the West.

[..] Beijing is realizing it can’t meet its geo-economic goals on energy, security, and trade without bypassing the U.S. dollar. According to the IMF, 62 percent of global central bank reserves were still held in U.S. dollars by the second quarter of 2018. Around 43 per cent of international transactions on SWIFT are still in U.S. dollars. Even as China, in 2018, was the single largest contributor to global GDP growth, at 27.2 percent, the yuan still only accounts for 1 percent of international payments, and 1.8 per cent of all reserve assets held by central banks.

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Our history. A proud story. We bring democracy and freedom and prosperity.

The Chinese Were White – Until White Men Called Them Yellow (SCMP)

How did East Asians come to be referred to as yellow-skinned? It was the result of a series of racial mappings of the world and had nothing to do with the actual colour of people’s skin. In fact, when complexion was mentioned by an early Western traveller or missionary or ambassador (and it very often wasn’t, because skin colour as a racial marker was not fully in place until the 19th century), East Asians were almost always called white, particularly during the period of first modern contact in the 16th century. And on a number of occasions, even more revealingly, the people were termed “as white as we are”. The term yellow occasionally began to appear towards the end of the 18th century and then really took hold of the Western imagination in the 19th.

But by the 17th century, the Chinese and Japanese were “darkening” in published texts, gradually losing their erstwhile whiteness when it became clear they would remain unwilling to participate in European systems of trade, religion, and international relations. Calling them white, in other words, was not based on simple perception either and had less to do with pigmentation than their presumed levels of civilisation, culture, literacy, and obedience (particularly if they should become Christianised). Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus decided that varieties of homo sapiens could be similarly separated into four continental types, one of which was called homo asiaticus. The colour of that group, he said, was fuscus, which can be best translated as “dark”. This was in 1735.

Evidently there was some difficulty deciding on a precise colour for Asian Man, since the other three types, European, African, and American, could be “unproblematically” identified according to already accepted stereotypes of white, black, and red. In the tenth edition of Linnaeus’ taxonomy, however, published in 1758, fuscus was silently changed to luridus, meaning “lurid”, “sallow”, or “pale yellow”. The reasons for this alteration were never explained, although luridus also appeared in several of Linnaeus’ botanical publications to characterise unhealthy and toxic plants. Was Asian Man also to be viewed as sickly or dangerous?

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Animals and birds? You sure about that?

Animals And Birds Under Increasing Threat From Plastic Waste (G.)

Wildlife and pets are under increasing threat from plastic waste and litter, according to new data from the RSPCA, which shows the number of incidents of animals hurt by plastic litter has risen sharply on previous years. Plastic litter led to 579 cases of damage to wildlife or pets that were reported to the animal charity in England and Wales in 2018, up from 473 in 2015. That rise came against a background of falling damage to animals from other forms of litter, down from 4,968 reported incidents in 2015 to 4,579 last year. Water birds and marine animals were particularly at risk, with 28 incidents involving seals hurt by plastic litter in 2018, compared with five in 2015. Among birds, swans were among the worst affected, followed by geese and gulls.

Plastic has become an increasing focus of concern, as it does not break down in the natural environment and can continue to cause problems in waterways for years. The government has increased charges on disposable plastic bags to discourage their overuse, and businesses from supermarkets to consumer goods companies are changing their practices to use less plastic packaging in response to public concerns. But the biggest source of damage to wildlife from litter comes from angling, according to the RSPCA’s findings, with discarded equipment such as lines, nets and hooks causing more than 3,200 of last year’s reports.

“[Fishing] lines can wrap around necks, causing deep wounds in flesh and cutting off the blood supply,” said a spokeswoman for the charity. “Hooks can pierce beaks or feet, become embedded in skin or get caught in the bird’s throat, and weights can be swallowed causing internal injuries and blockages.”

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It just got a whole lot scarier. Has plastic been banned where you live yet?

Bacteria Glues Plastic Together Posing Even Deadlier Threat To Sea Life (Ind.)

Plastic in the oceans is being turned into an even greater threat to small sea creatures than previously thought because bacteria are sticking particles of it together, scientists have discovered. Glue-like substances secreted by bacteria are sticking tiny bits of plastic to form larger clusters that marine animals could mistake for food, experts fear. They also worry that the clumping could divert the natural flow of food from the ocean surface to the seafloor, leading to deep sea creatures being starved. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh staged experiments with seawater, adding plastics in conditions simulating the ocean surface. Within minutes, the minuscule pieces of plastic grouped together with bacteria, algae and other organic particles to form larger clumps.

The scientists are said to have been surprised to discover that large masses of biopolymers – molecules made by organisms – formed the bulk of the plastic clusters. About eight million tonnes of plastic are thrown into the ocean each year, research shows. Team member Stephen Summers said: “This is a first step towards understanding how nanoplastics interact with natural biopolymers throughout the world’s oceans. “This is very important, as it is at this small scale that much of the world’s biogeochemistry occurs.” The clumps became visible to the naked eye. “The fact that these agglomerates become large enough to see raises concern, as they are likely to be seen as a food source by small marine animals,” he said.

Read more …

Nov 222018
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Study of the Head and Clasped Hands of a Young Man as Christ in Prayer 1655

 

Mortgage Rates Slide May Be Too Late For The Housing Market (MW)
A $9 Trillion Corporate Debt Bomb Is ‘Bubbling’ In The US Economy (CNBC)
Multiple Risks Are Converging on Markets (Rickards)
May In Brussels Dash As Merkel Threatens To Pull The Plug On Brexit Summit (G.)
Salvini Ready To ‘Confront EU’ After Italy’s Budget Rejected Again (G.)
Facebook Admits Targeting George Soros After He Criticized Company (MW)
House GOP To Hold Hearing Into DOJ Probe Of Clinton Foundation (Hill)
Clinton Foundation Donations Plummet 90% (ZH)
Tyres And Synthetic Clothes ‘Biggest Causes Of Microplastic Pollution’ (G.)
Former New York Times Chief Lawyer: Rally to Support Julian Assange (Timm)

 

 

Despite Fed rate hikes, mortgage rates fall. An ominous sign. Maybe we should even say: mortgage rates fall because of Fed rate hikes. Is the pond getting smaller, or are there fewer fish?

Mortgage Rates Slide May Be Too Late For The Housing Market (MW)

Rates for home loans tumbled as turmoil rocked global financial markets, but any reprieve in rates may come too late for would-be home buyers or refinancers. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.81% in the November 21 week, down 13 basis points, mortgage liquidity provider Freddie Mac said Wednesday. That’s the biggest weekly decline since January 2015 and the lowest level for the popular product since early October. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.24%, down 12 basis points during the week. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 4.09%, down from 4.15%. Those rates don’t include fees associated with obtaining mortgage loans.

Fixed-rate mortgages follow the U.S. 10-year Treasury note, although with a slight delay. As a global stock sell-off has raged over the past week, bonds have been the best house in a bad neighborhood. The yield on the benchmark 10-year bond touched a six-week low Monday. Bond yields decline as prices rise, and vice versa. Meanwhile, this week has brought a raft of fresh information on the housing market, little of it cheery. Sales of already-owned homes perked up in October, but are still lower than the year-ago selling pace by more than 5%. Home builders broke ground on more — but not enough — homes. And one fresh data point bears watching: mortgage applications for newly-constructed houses are plunging, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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Forgive me for presuming there are several such debt bombs.

A $9 Trillion Corporate Debt Bomb Is ‘Bubbling’ In The US Economy (CNBC)

At first glance, it looks like a $9 trillion time bomb is ready to detonate, a corporate debt load that has escalated thanks to easy borrowing terms and a seemingly endless thirst from investors. On Wall Street, though, hopes are fairly high that it’s a manageable problem, at least for the next year or two. The resolution is critical for financial markets under fire. Stocks are floundering, credit spreads are blowing out and concern is building that a combination of higher interest rates on all that debt will begin to weigh meaningfully on corporate profit margins. “There is angst in the marketplace. It’s not misplaced at all,” said Michael Temple, director of credit research at asset manager Amundi Pioneer.

“But are we at that moment where this thing blows sky high? I would think that we’re not there yet. That’s not to say that we don’t get there at some point over the next 12 to 18 months as rates continue to move higher.” [..] Over the past decade, companies have taken advantage of low rates both to grow their businesses and reward shareholders. Total corporate debt has swelled from nearly $4.9 trillion in 2007 as the Great Recession was just starting to break out to nearly $9.1 trillion halfway through 2018, quietly surging 86 percent, according to Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association data. Other than a few hiccups and some fairly substantial turbulence in the energy sector in late-2015 and 2016, the market has performed well.

In fact, Fitch Ratings forecasts bond defaults for 2019 at the lowest since 2013, with leveraged loans at the lowest since 2011. Such high debt levels are “certainly something to take notice of,” said Eric Rosenthal, Fitch’s senior director of U.S. leveraged finance. “In terms of the systemic risk, at the moment it’s not there.” One reason markets worry about debt is that there’s not as much cash around to cover it. The cash-to-debt ratio for corporate borrowers fell to 12 percent in 2017, the lowest ever.

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It’s starting to feel like a siege.

Multiple Risks Are Converging on Markets (Rickards)

Warnings of economic collapse are no longer confined to the fringes of economic analysis but are now coming from major financial institutions and prominent economists, academics and wealth managers. Leading financial elites have been warning of coming collapses and dangers. These warnings range from the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio, the Bank for International Settlements and many other highly regarded sources. Just when we think we’ve seen enough of these, another one arrives. This time it’s the legendary Paul Tudor Jones, who manages Tudor Investment. I’ve met Jones; he’s a cerebral yet polite and mild-mannered manager from Tennessee who has not lost his Southern accent despite decades in Connecticut and an estate on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

What gives Jones’ voice added authority is his longevity in the fund investment world. He’s managed through the 1987 stock crash, the 1994 Mexican crisis, the 1998 Long Term Capital meltdown, the 2000 dot-com crash and, of course, the 2008 financial panic. Jones knows that panics happen, but he also knows they don’t happen all the time. Panics take years to build and usually have specific triggers (even though endpoints can spin wildly out of control). Jones does not treat the possibility of a financial crisis lightly, so his warning deserves close consideration. Jones warns that the next crisis is likely to be triggered by excessive debt, specifically corporate debt, which can be more difficult to manage or bail out than sovereign debt.

At the same time, other gurus are warning that the next panic will emerge from the foreign exchange market, overvalued equities or commercial real estate. Perhaps the real message is that all of these areas are vulnerable and the next crisis will seem to come from everywhere at once. That’s the danger. We’re looking at another debt crisis and global financial panic. Only this time it won’t come from mortgages alone but from all directions at once.

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The original headline talked of 24 hours.

May In Brussels Dash As Merkel Threatens To Pull The Plug On Brexit Summit (G.)

Theresa May is to make an emergency dash to Brussels on Saturday to complete the Brexit negotiations after the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, threatened to pull the plug on the Sunday leaders’ summit. As she emerged from talks in Brussels lasting nearly two hours with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, the British prime minister admitted that there were some major issues to resolve. Merkel had let it be known through her diplomats in Brussels that she was unwilling to negotiate with May on Sunday at the extraordinary Brexit summit. She had demanded a finalised agreement to emerge in good time before the leaders’ meeting.

The development threatened to disrupt Downing Street’s plans for agreement among leaders this month in time for a meaningful vote in parliament in early December. After meeting the European commission president on Wednesday, May said: “We have had a very good meeting this evening. We have made further progress and as a result, we have given sufficient direction to our negotiators. “I hope for them to be able to resolve the remaining issues and that work will start immediately. I now plan to return for further meetings, including with President Junker, on Saturday to discuss how we can bring to a conclusion this process and bring it to a conclusion in the interests of all our people.”

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Salvini and Di Maio said again this morning that they won’t change a letter in their budget.

Salvini Ready To ‘Confront EU’ After Italy’s Budget Rejected Again (G.)

Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has said he is prepared to confront EU leaders after the European commission rejected his country’s draft 2019 budget for a second time, while calling on them to “respect the Italian people”. Italy is facing sanctions after the commission said in a report that the government of the far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement had seriously violated fiscal rules. Both parties’ leaders have refused to succumb to pressure to change their deficit target of 2.4% of GDP as they endeavour to push through campaign promises, such as introducing a universal basic income, cutting taxes and lowering the retirement age.

Italy has about €2.3tn (£2tn) of public debt and the Bank of Italy warned this month that the cost of servicing the debt could rise to €5bn in 2019 and €9bn in 2020. The government is convinced that the budget would help the Italian economy grow by 1.5% over the next year. However, the economy stagnated in the third quarter. On Wednesday Italy’s national statistics agency, Istat, revised down its growth forecast for the year to 1.1%; in May it predicted 1.4% for 2018. Salvini, who leads the League, responded sarcastically to news of the commission’s report. “A letter from the EU? I’m also waiting for one from Father Christmas,” he told reporters.

Referring to the commission president and economics commissioner, Salvini said he was ready to “confront [Jean-Claude] Juncker, [Pierre] Moscovici or whoever” over a budget he said responded to the needs of Italians.

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But Zuckerberg and Sandberg plead innocent.

Facebook Admits Targeting George Soros After He Criticized Company (MW)

Facebook Inc. admitted Wednesday that it asked an opposition-research company to investigate billionaire George Soros over his criticism of the social network. In an internal memo released publicly late Wednesday, Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s outgoing head of communications and policy, said he was responsible for hiring the company, Definers Public Affairs, to investigate who was behind the “Freedom From Facebook” campaign. “In January 2018, investor and philanthropist George Soros attacked Facebook in a speech at Davos, calling us a ‘menace to society,’” Schrage wrote in the memo. “We had not heard such criticism from him before and wanted to determine if he had any financial motivation. Definers researched this using public information.

“Later, when the ‘Freedom from Facebook’ campaign emerged as a so-called grassroots coalition, the team asked Definers to help understand the groups behind them. They learned that George Soros was funding several of the coalition members. They prepared documents and distributed these to the press to show that this was not simply a spontaneous grassroots movement.” Definers later distributed a document suggesting Soros, a major donor to liberal causes, bankrolled the anti-Facebook campaign, playing into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Soros. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg have denied knowledge of the Definers efforts until after it was revealed by a New York Times report last week. Facebook has since cut ties with Definers.

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A long running but secretive investigation, running concurrently with Mueller’s.

House GOP To Hold Hearing Into DOJ Probe Of Clinton Foundation (Hill)

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Tuesday that House Republicans plan to hear testimony on Dec. 5 from the prosecutor appointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to probe alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation. [..] Meadows, who is also the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said the committee plans to delve into a number of Republicans concerns surrounding the foundation, including whether any tax-exempt proceeds were used for personal gain and whether the foundation complied with IRS laws. Sessions appointed Huber last year to work in tandem with the Justice Department to look into conservative claims of misconduct at the FBI and review several issues surrounding the Clintons.

This includes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ties to a Russian nuclear agency and concerns about the Clinton Foundation. Huber’s work has remained shrouded in mystery. The White House has released little information about Huber’s assignment other than Sessions’s address to Congress saying his appointed successor should address concerns raised by Republicans. But Meadows said the committee thinks it’s time Huber gives an update to Congress about his findings and expects him to be one of the witnesses at the hearing. Meadows also added that his committee is also trying to secure testimonies from whistleblowers who could have more information about potential improprieties surrounding the Clinton Foundation. “We’re just now starting to work with a couple of whistleblowers that would indicate that there is a great probability of significant improper activity that’s happening in and around the Clinton Foundation,” he said.

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They must have thought for quite a while that there would never be any scrutiny.

Clinton Foundation Donations Plummet 90% (ZH)

The Clinton Foundation saw contributions dry up approximately 90% over a three-year period between 2014 and 2017, according to financial statements. The global charity is currently under investigation by the DOJ, FBI and IRS for a variety of allegations – including whether favors were handed out while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, also known as “pay for play.” The Clinton-led State Department authorized $151 billion in Pentagon-brokered deals to 16 countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation – a 145% increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration, according to IBTimes.

2014

2017

“American defense contractors also donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and in some cases made personal payments to Bill Clinton for speaking engagements. Such firms and their subsidiaries were listed as contractors in $163 billion worth of Pentagon-negotiated deals that were authorized by the Clinton State Department between 2009 and 2012.” -IBTimes. Then there was that $1 million check Qatar reportedly gave Bill Clinton for his birthday in 2012, which the charity confirmed it accepted. Coincidentally, we’re sure, Qatar was one of the countries which gained State Department clearance to buy US weapons while Clinton was Secretary of State, “even as the department signaled them out ofr a range of alleged ills,” according to IBTimes.

Then there was the surely unrelated $145 million donated to the Foundation from parties linked to the Uranium One deal prior to its approval through a rubber-stamp committee. “The committee almost never met, and when it deliberated it was usually at a fairly low bureaucratic level,” Richard Perle said. Perle, who has worked for the Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations added, “I think it’s a bit of a joke.” –CBS. Meanwhile, according to a November 2016 report by the Dallas Observer, the Clinton Foundation has been under investigation by the IRS since July, 2016, while the Arkansas FBI field office has been investigating allegations of pay-for-play and tax code violations, according to The Hill.

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Like that fleece sweater?

Tyres And Synthetic Clothes ‘Biggest Causes Of Microplastic Pollution’ (G.)

Vehicle tyres and synthetic clothing are the two leading contributors to microplastic pollution from UK households, according to a new report from Friends of the Earth. The report estimates that between 9,000 and 32,000 tonnes of microplastic pollution enter British waterways each year from just four sources. The two leading sources are tyre abrasion, with between 7,000 and 19,000 tonnes entering surface waters each year, and clothing. In the UK an estimated two-thirds of clothing is made from synthetic plastic material, according to analysts from Eunomia, who wrote the report for FoE.

Up to 2,900 tonnes of microplastics from the washing of synthetic clothing such as fleeces could be passing through wastewater treatment into our rivers and estuaries. The scale of plastic pollution from household plastics is of the same magnitude as that from large plastic waste such as bottles and takeaway containers – about 26,000 tonnes of which enters UK waterways each year. The environmental campaign group is calling on the government’s resources and waste strategy – expected next month – to include measures for tackling microplastics as part of a comprehensive action plan. The four key contributors to microplastic pollution in the oceans from UK sources, according to the report, are:

• Vehicle tyres: 68,000 tonnes of microplastics from tyre tread abrasion are generated in the UK every year, with between 7,000 and 19,000 tonnes entering surface waters;

• Clothing: the washing of synthetic clothing could result in the generation of 2,300-5,900 tonnes of fibres annually in the UK – up to 2,900 tonnes of this could be passing through wastewater treatment into our rivers and estuaries;

• Plastic pellets used to manufacture plastic items. Up to 5,900 tonnes are lost to surface waters in the UK every year;

• Paints on buildings and road markings – weather and flake-off results in between 1,400 and 3,700 tonnes ending up in surface water every year.

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There’s a disturbing trend emerging that people are fully blind to. In this piece, and I’ve seen it a lot more recently, the topic is the 1st amendment. To make their well-meaning arguments, writers then pose questions like “What if Assange DID get his info from Russia?” or “What if Assange really DOES hate America?” The response of course is that this would make no difference as far as the 1st amendment is concerned.

But in the meantime the possibility that Assange is indeed a Russian agent who hates all Americans has been introduced into the narrative. That makes these articles effectively part of the smear campaign. There is no indication that either allegation is true, but they are posited by those ostensibly defending him. They don’t help. Or rather, they help smear.

Former New York Times Chief Lawyer: Rally to Support Julian Assange (Timm)

I recently spoke to James Goodale, the famed First Amendment lawyer and former general counsel the New York Times, who led the paper’s legal team in the famed Pentagon Papers case about the dire impact the Justice Department’s move may have on press freedom, regardless of whether people consider Assange himself a “journalist”.

There’s speculation on what Assange could be charged with. There’s a possibility that he could be outright charged under the Espionage Act for the act of publishing classified information. Then there’s the “conspiracy theory” that Assange was engaged in a conspiracy with his sources by asking them or soliciting more information from them that the sources may have gathered illegally. Do you find that type of charge would be just as dangerous as a charge for publishing information?

I do find that that charge would be just as dangerous. As a matter of fact, a charge against Assange for “conspiring” with a source is the most dangerous charge that I can think of with respect to the First Amendment in almost all my years representing media organizations. The reason is that one who is gathering/writing/distributing the news, as the law stands now, is free and clear under the First Amendment. If the government is able to say a person who is exempt under the First Amendment then loses that exemption because that person has “conspired” with a source who is subject to the Espionage Act or other law, then the government has succeeded in applying the standard to all news-gathering.

That will mean that the press ability to get newsworthy classified information from government sources will be severely curtailed, because every story that is based on leaked info will theoretically be subject to legal action by the government. It will be up to the person with the information to prove that they got it without violating the Espionage Act. This would be, in my view, the worst thing to happen to the First Amendment-almost ever.

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