Edgar Degas L’absinthe (In a café) 1875-76
Very few outlets talk about this. Which is strange…
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.”
… because it is big news in the global economy.
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.”
Do these people look at themselves at all?
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”.
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.
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.
“a “profound misstatement of the law”..
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?”
“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.”
[..] 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.)
There’s no way the Ohrs, or Steele, McCabe, are going to be left alone.
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.
“As long as they return to their regularly scheduled fake news tomorrow, we’re good. We’re good.”
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.”
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.”
People at the FAA don’t want to run the risk of being blamed.
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.
The Midwest back in 1347.
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’.
I’d be more worried about toxins than about climate change at this polint.
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.”
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.
We are a culture of death.
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.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) April 2, 2019