Jan 022018
 
 January 2, 2018  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Horacio Coppola Avenida de Mayo entre Bolívar y Perú, Buenos Aires 1936

 

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No Financial Stress (Mish)
Bitcoin Is Already Having A Bad Year (BBG)
Bitcoin Fever To Burn Out In ‘Spectacular Crash’ – David Stockman (CNBC)
Britain’s Benefits System Has Become A Racket For Cheating Poor People (G.)
Russia Posts Highest-Ever Natural Gas Output in Expansion Drive (BBG)
US Is Running The Same Script With Iran That It Ran With Libya, Syria (CJ)
More Than 170 Refugees Reach Lesbos, Samos Early New Year’s Day (K.)
Syrian Grandmother Defies Perils To Cross Aegean At Age 110 (K.)
Drones Over Africa Target $70 Billion Illegal Poaching Industry (ZH)

 

 

Article by Mish. Graph annotation by Jesse Colombo.

No Financial Stress (Mish)

As we head into 2018, the St. Loius Fed reports there is no financial stress. The STLFSI measures the degree of financial stress in the markets and is constructed from 18 weekly data series: seven interest rate series, six yield spreads and five other indicators. Each of these variables captures some aspect of financial stress. Accordingly, as the level of financial stress in the economy changes, the data series are likely to move together. The average value of the index, which begins in late 1993, is designed to be zero. Thus, zero is viewed as representing normal financial market conditions. Values below zero suggest below-average financial market stress, while values above zero suggest above-average financial market stress.

Financial stress has been negative since June 18, 2010. I expect 2018 will not be so complacent.

Jesse’s annotations: “Bubbles form during periods of very low financial stress”.

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Check back minutes later and it’s rising.

Bitcoin Is Already Having A Bad Year (BBG)

Bitcoin is already having a bad year. For the first time since 2015, the cryptocurrency began a new year by declining, extending its slide from a record $19,511 reached on Dec. 18. The virtual coin traded at $13,624.56 as of 5 p.m. in New York on Monday, down 4.8% from Friday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s also a fall from the $14,156 it hit Sunday, according to coinmarketcap.com, which tracks daily prices. The cryptocurrency fluctuated in early Asian trading on Tuesday.

Bitcoin got off to a much stronger start last year, and then kept that momentum going, helping to create a global frenzy for cryptocurrencies. It rose 3.6% on the first day of 2017 to $998, data from coinmarketcap.com show. It ended the year up more than 1,300%. That rally drew a growing number of competitors and last month brought bitcoin to Wall Street in the form of futures contracts. It reached the Dec. 18 peak hours after CME Group Inc. debuted its derivatives agreements, which some traders said would encourage short position-taking.

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Any questions?

Bitcoin Fever To Burn Out In ‘Spectacular Crash’ – David Stockman (CNBC)

David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s former director of the Office of Management and a relentless Wall Street bear, is warning investors that the cryptocurrency boom will end disastrously. “It’s basically a class of really stupid speculators who have convinced themselves that trees grow to the sky,” he told CNBC’s “Futures Now” last week. “It will burn out in a spectacular crash. All of these latter-day speculators will have their hands burned to a crisp, and they will learn the proper lesson.” Stockman’s latest prophecy isn’t exclusive to bitcoin. He’s been saying a “gigantic, horrendous storm” could soon hit stocks. In September, he warned investors that a 40% to 70% correction wasn’t too far down the road. On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average flirted with 25,000, with the S&P trading just shy of a new record.

Stockman blamed the Federal Reserve and central banks for creating the hype surrounding the stock and cryptocurrency markets. He argued that too much liquidity was pumped into the marketplace to deal with the 2008 global financial crisis — noting that not even regulators can improve the frothy situation. “What we really need to do is not think these are regulator problems, but understand they’re monetary problems,” he said. “It’s an irrational, overheated market like never before.” In the past two years, bitcoin prices have soared by more than 3,000%. Its wild price swings have sparked debates on Wall Street over how much it’s really worth. Bitcoin’s less expensive peers such as litecoin and ether have also surged. Stockman can’t put a price tag on them.

“I have no idea. I mean it could double or triple from here or it could fall to zero. But the point is that it’s not real money because real money for transactions has to be stable,” he said. According to Stockman, the CBOE and CME decisions to add bitcoin futures to their exchanges don’t give this emerging asset class legitimacy. “Anytime Wall Street sees an opportunity to shear the sheep, and they see the sheep stampeding to the slaughter, they line up with some new gimmick to take advantage of the circumstances. That’s all,” he said. “There is nothing that’s being validated by the opening up of a futures market. It’s just everybody trying to get on the train for the ride,” he added.

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Who needs the poor?

Britain’s Benefits System Has Become A Racket For Cheating Poor People (G.)

When Moira gets scared, she cuts herself. “It’s my way of taking control.” Right now she’s very scared. In a few days she faces a tribunal that will judge whether she is entitled to her disability benefit. She has been through forms and examinations and the officials who tell her one thing and those who tell her another, and she is nearly broken. In a low-ceilinged office at the back of a housing estate, she starts sobbing. “I cannot live like this any more.” Steph Pike lets Moira talk, before telling her, “stay focused”. After years as a welfare rights adviser, Pike knows what tribunals want: short, direct answers shorn of humiliation and pain. Now in her late 40s, Moira was raised in care, went to jail and has been repeatedly cheated of her benefits. Part of her life story is of being let down and punished by authority – but Pike needs her to set all that aside. “Bear with me,” Pike keeps saying. “This is important.”

Such meetings are normally confidential, but for three days over two weeks I had exclusive access to Pike in her work for the Child Poverty Action Group charity. I saw her advise others who appeared to have been wronged by state officials – and I accompanied Moira to that tribunal. That our benefits system is broken is no longer up for debate. Ministers are told universal credit is a fiasco and MPs weep over starving families in one of the richest societies in human history. Even rightwing tabloids run grim updates on how men with terminal cancer are declared fit to work just weeks before they die. Such cases are described as shameful. As failures. They are lined up like so many one-offs – not representative of fair-play Britain. But Pike and her colleagues know different. They see a system that routinely snatches money out of the hands of people who need and are entitled to it and bullies claimants with contempt.

Moira never went looking for welfare advice; she was just starving That’s Moira’s experience, too. Her trouble started when she found herself feeling steadily worse – and so did as she was told and rang the Department for Work and Pensions. Her recent back operation hadn’t worked, the arthritis in her spine, hips and knees was getting worse and the heavy-duty painkillers were wrecking her kidneys. She was summoned for a reassessment in Southend, a 70-mile round trip from her home in London – tricky for a woman who cannot walk more than 10 steps without crutches. Claimants such as Moira are entitled to a home assessment, but Pike told me they are often dispatched “miles away”. She was still told off for being late, says Moira. After the examination, she lost her personal independence payment.

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Selling to the west and east.

Russia Posts Highest-Ever Natural Gas Output in Expansion Drive (BBG)

Russia registered its highest-ever natural gas production last year amid plans to expand into China and boost sales of liquefied natural gas. The nation’s output of the fuel jumped 7.9% to 690.5 billion cubic meters, according to data emailed Tuesday by the Russian Energy Ministry’s CDU-TEK unit. That beat the previous record, set in 2011, by 2.9%. Russia, the world’s largest gas exporter, is working to boost output with plans to increase production of LNG with new plants in an area that stretches from the Baltic region to its Pacific coast. That will put the country up against the biggest producers of the super-chilled fuel, including Qatar, Australia and the U.S. Russia has resources to increase its LNG production almost 10 times by 2035, led by the privately-owned Novatek PJSC in the Arctic, according to the nation’s Energy Ministry.

The country is also working to keep shipments to Europe near record levels this year as state-run Gazprom PJSC, the continent’s biggest supplier, plans to start pipeline exports to China in late 2019. Gazprom meets more than a third of Europe’s demand for natural gas, Russia’s biggest and most lucrative market worth some $37 billion in revenue this year. The U.S. became the world’s largest natural gas producer in 2009, leapfrogging Russia thanks to its fracking revolution. It pumped 22.1 trillion cubic feet (about 626 billion cubic meters) of dry gas in first 10 months of 2017, according to December data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This was 11% higher than Russia for the same period.

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Create chaos.

US Is Running The Same Script With Iran That It Ran With Libya, Syria (CJ)

Two weeks ago a memo was leaked from inside the Trump administration showing how Secretary of State and DC neophyte Rex Tillerson was coached on how the US empire uses human rights as a pretense on which to attack and undermine noncompliant governments. Politico reports: The May 17 memo reads like a crash course for a businessman-turned-diplomat, and its conclusion offers a starkly realist vision: that the US should use human rights as a club against its adversaries, like Iran, China and North Korea, while giving a pass to repressive allies like the Philippines, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. ‘Allies should be treated differently -and better- than adversaries. Otherwise, we end up with more adversaries, and fewer allies,’ argued the memo, written by Tillerson’s influential policy aide, Brian Hook.

With what would be perfect comedic timing if it weren’t so frightening, Iran erupted in protests which have been ongoing for the last four days, and the western empire is suddenly expressing deep, bipartisan concern about the human rights of those protesters. So we all know what this song and dance is code for. Any evil can be justified in the name of “human rights.” In October we learned from a former Qatari prime minister that there was a massive push from the US and its allies to topple the Syrian government from the very beginning of the protests which began in that country in 2011 as part of the so-called Arab Spring. This revelation came in the same week The Intercept finally released NSA documents confirming that foreign governments were in direct control of the “rebels” who began attacking Syria following those 2011 protests.

The fretting over human rights has occurred throughout the entirety of the Syrian war, even as the governments publicly decrying human rights abuses were secretly arming and training terrorist factions to murder, rape and pillage their way across the country. We’ve seen it over and over again. In Libya, western interventionism was justified under the pretense of defending human rights when the goal was actually regime change. In Ukraine, empire loyalists played cheerleader for the protests in Kiev when the goal was actually regime change. And who could ever forget the poor oppressed people of Iraq who will surely greet the invaders as liberators?

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Conveyor belt.

More Than 170 Refugees Reach Lesbos, Samos Early New Year’s Day (K.)

More than 170 undocumented migrants reached the shores of Lesvos and Samos in the early hours of New Year’s Day, according to government figures. The first incident occurred at 12.30 a.m. when a plastic boat carrying 52 people reached the coastline of Mytilene, the main port of Lesvos. Another 83 migrants arrived at 1.30 a.m. on another boat that followed the same route from neighboring Turkey. Shortly after midnight, a vessel belonging to the European Union’s border monitoring agency Frontex intercepted another plastic boat east of Samos, with 38 people aboard. All the migrants were transferred to reception centers on the two islands.

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“..The family now live in Athens and are getting to know their new neighborhood until their asylum hearing – unfortunately set for 2019, despite Laila’s age…”

Syrian Grandmother Defies Perils To Cross Aegean At Age 110 (K.)

How far can a desire to see a loved one take us? Laila Saleh was so desperate to see the granddaughters she helped raise that she didn’t think twice about following the rest of her family out of northern Syria, despite being 110 years old. Her yearning to see Nisrin and Berivan, who had fled Kobani for Europe three years ago and now live in Germany after being granted asylum, bolstered her determination. “The journey was not easy, of course,” Laila’s grandson, Halil, told Kathimerini as he welcomed us into an apartment rented by Solidarity Now for asylum seekers in downtown Athens. The family, which is of Kurdish descent, traveled from Kobani to Izmir on the Turkish coast, and from there to the Greek island of Lesvos by inflatable boat. “Our grandmother can walk a little bit, but not long distances.”

Their group consisted of seven people, spanning four generations, and tried to ensure that as little as possible of the journey was on foot. When finding transport proved impossible, Halil and his father would carry Laila. “I carried the two children, one on my front and one on my back,” said his young wife, Saousan, as she played with twins Azar and Ari, Laila’s great-grandchildren. Despite the enormous challenges of the journey and a treacherous sea crossing – a first for Laila – the idea of leaving the elderly woman behind never crossed her children’s minds. “Our house had been bombed and we had to rent another one, but living conditions were bad,” said Halil. “Even though Grandmother is independent, she wouldn’t want to live anywhere without her children.”

The family had already suffered tremendous loss and there was little to keep them in war-ravaged Kobani. “In Syria, it is the duty of the youngest son to take care of his mother when she grows old,” said Laila’s son Ahmet, who has a heart problem and couldn’t carry his mother alone. He thankfully has his wife of 33 years, Ali, by his side, who helps care for the elderly woman. “I sleep very lightly at night because she often needs me,” said the 58-year-old woman. “She is very confused right now because of all the changes,” she added of her mother-in-law. Born in December 1907, Laila had a birthday this month, though the family does not know her exact date of birth. He longevity may make an impression on outsiders, but the family thinks it normal. “Our grandfather, Laila’s husband, died at the age of 115. That was in 1987, and Grandmother has lived with us since,” said Halil.

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“.. a 9000% increase in rhino killings since 2007 in South Africa alone..

” .. a rhino is slaughtered twice a day and an elephant is killed every 14 minutes…”

I’ve said it before, unless and until the penalty for killing big game is death (and even then!), we won’t solve this.

Drones Over Africa Target $70 Billion Illegal Poaching Industry (ZH)

In addition to the central bank-created bubble in financial markets, there is another bubble festering in the fields of Africa, called the “poaching boom.” Economic development in Vietnam, China, and the United States have fueled an illegal $70 billion industry of killing elephants and rhinoceroses for tusks. Poachers illegally hunt elephants and rhinos under the cover of darkness using surveillance equipment and high-tech weaponry.

The boom in poaching has contributed to a 9000% increase in rhino killings since 2007 in South Africa alone. Across Africa, a rhino is slaughtered twice a day and an elephant is killed every 14 minutes. According to Air Shepherd, a wildlife conservation group aimed at stopping poachers through a new AI drone system that targets poachers said, “at this rate elephants and rhinos will be extinct within 10 years.”

According to Air Shepherd, a wildlife conservation group aimed at stopping poachers through a new AI drone system that targets poachers said, “at this rate elephants and rhinos will be extinct within 10 years.” Air Shepherd has already conducted 6,000 flight hours over the skies of Africa testing the new AI drone system. Air Shepherd’s drones use high-tech airborne sensors, such as thermal infrared vision to detect heat coming from human or animal bodies. The mobile command center fits into the back of a van and uses AI systems developed by researchers from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Southern California, and Microsoft to detect potential poachers.

For now, the new AI drone surveillance system could greatly expand the area of coverage used to protect endangered wildlife by spotting poachers and alerting officials before the killing of an elephant and rhinoceros occurs. Which begs the question: are AI drones set to disrupt an illegal $70 billion industry in Africa? Perhaps, but not without a fight. Which is why we expect that the poaching industry will soon unveil a new set of aggressive countermeasures, which renderd the drone system powerless, which leads to the next question: are we about to observe the first drone-on-drone violence deep in the bowels of Africa?

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Aug 192017
 
 August 19, 2017  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Man in pushcart, New York 1944

 

We’re Racing Towards Another Private Debt Crisis (Graeber)
China Moves To Curb Overseas Acquisitions As Firms’ Debt Levels Rise (G.)
Wells Fargo Troubles Shift From Phony Bank Accounts To Real Ones (R.)
Total Eclipse (Jim Kunstler)
A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand (Paul Craig Roberts)
The Truth Will Not Be Googled (Connelly)
Greek Pensioners Set For Another Blow (K.)
The Super Gangs Behind Africa’s Poaching Crisis (G.)
Want To Fight Climate Change? Don’t Invest In Tesla (MW)

 

 

David Graeber on the all too obvious. So yeah, let’s have that inquiry.

We’re Racing Towards Another Private Debt Crisis (Graeber)

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt. For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And – this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That’s what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don’t do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe. These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.” As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt. We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened. Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there’s a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90% of MPs don’t even understand where money comes from (they think it’s issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

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It’s getting serious.

China Moves To Curb Overseas Acquisitions As Firms’ Debt Levels Rise (G.)

The Chinese government has served notice on the country’s foreign investment spree in football clubs, skyscrapers and Hollywood as it moves to curb rising levels of debt among domestic companies. The announcement of restrictions in a range of sectors follows a buying spree around the globe during which Chinese firms and business tycoons have taken control of assets including Legendary Entertainment, the US film producer behind Jurassic World and Warcraft, buildings such as the Cheesegrater in London, and English football clubs including Southampton and Aston Villa. The curbs were announced in a document released on Friday by the state council, China’s cabinet, in the latest move to halt a string of foreign acquisitions. This week the IMF described China’s credit-fuelled economic strategy as dangerous, in a strongly worded statement warning that the country’s approach risks financial turmoil.

Raising concerns that some of the companies involved may be taking on too much debt, the council said: “There are great opportunities for our nation’s companies to embark on foreign investment, but they also face numerous risks and challenges.” It added that through the new guidance, the government hopes to promote the “rational, orderly and healthy development of foreign investment while effectively guarding against risks”. The document limits overseas investments in areas such as hotels, cinemas, the entertainment industry, real estate and sports clubs. It also bans outright investments in enterprises related to gambling and the sex industry. The Chinese government had already flagged hotels as an area of concern, having reportedly asked the insurance group Anbang to sell the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

One of China’s biggest conglomerates, Wanda Group, also bowed to pressure from the government when it abandoned the $1bn (£780m) purchase of the entertainment company Dick Clark Productions earlier this year. In 2016 Wanda bought Legendary Entertainment for $3.5bn, having become the world’s biggest cinema operator in 2012 with its purchase of a majority stake in US chain AMC for $2.6bn. At the same time, the document encourages companies to plough money into projects related to the “Belt and Road” project, President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy initiative that seeks to link China with other parts of Asia and eastern Europe through multibillion-dollar investments in ports, highways, railways, power plants and other infrastructure.

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Why is Wells Fargo a going concern? Close it.

Wells Fargo Troubles Shift From Phony Bank Accounts To Real Ones (R.)

After paying customers millions of dollars for opening phony accounts they did not want, Wells Fargo has said it is now grappling with the possibility it harmed customers by closing real accounts they needed, leaving them without access to funds. Wells, the third-largest U.S. bank, disclosed in a regulatory filing on Aug. 4 that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is looking into the matter, one of many regulatory probes the bank faces over its treatment of depositors and borrowers. A Reuters review of the regulator’s complaints database found several instances of customers reporting financial hardship in recent years after Wells Fargo unexpectedly froze or closed their accounts. Some of the complaints described fraudulent deposits of unknown origin.

Others said they were victims of identity theft and Wells Fargo closed their accounts and refused to reopen them or open new ones. One customer said the bank closed an account after a hacker changed personal information, and then Wells Fargo improperly sent funds to the wrong address. The complaints had consistent themes of confusion about why accounts were frozen or closed, and reflected desperation over being unable to access money, as well as frustration over not getting help from Wells Fargo’s customer service. “I moved money from my mother’s savings account into her checking account the day before she passed away,” one Wells Fargo customer wrote. “This checking account has been ‘locked’ by the fraud department for almost 3 months … Now her debts are delinquent and mortgage about to go into foreclosure.”

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Rename the capital!

Total Eclipse (Jim Kunstler)

I’d like to hear to hear an argument as to why the Washington Monument should remain dedicated to that vicious slave-driver and rebellious soldier, and indeed the name of the city that is the federal seat of government. Or the District of Columbia (after Columbus, who initiated the genocide of Native Americans). Or America, cribbed out of Amerigo Vespucci, the wicked Florentine cartographer who ascertained that the place called Brazil today was not the east coast of Asia but actually a New World — and so all our troubles began![..] Just as empires tend to build their most grandiose monuments prior to collapse, our tottering empire is concocting the most monumentally ludicrous delusions before it slides down the laundry chute of history.

It’s as if the Marx Brothers colluded with Alfred Hitchcock to dream up a melodramatic climax to the American Century that would be the most ridiculous and embarrassing to our posterity. In the meantime, many citizens await Monday’s spectacle of a total solar eclipse in parts of the country. They apparently don’t realize that another eclipse has been underway for months: the total eclipse of reality across the entire landscape of the USA. Now that has been an event to behold, not just some twenty-minute freak of astronomy. What’s being blacked out is the perilously fragile condition of the financial system — a great groaning Rube Goldberg contraption of accounting fraud, grift, statistical deceit, and racketeering that pretends to support the day-to-day activities of our national life.

For months, the recognition of this oncoming financial monster has been blocked by the hallucination of gremlins from the Kremlin infiltrating the recent presidential election. But just as that mirage was dissolving, along comes the treacherous invasion of the Confederate statues. It begins to look like the final piece of the puzzle in the Deep State’s quest to eject Donald Trump from the oval office. His response to the deadly statue situation (“…why not Washington and Jefferson…?”) was deemed so obtuse and unfeeling that even the rodents of his own nominal Republican Party want to jump his ship of state.

So, the set-up could not be more perfect! The country will now get down to the business of a months-long 25th Amendment circle-jerk at the very moment that the financial system flies apart. The damage from the financial clusterfuck will be much more real, and much worse, than anything that might be spun out of the anti-statue crusade hogging the headlines today. It will be interesting to see whether the old legacy media even reports on it as it happens, or whether they will cook up new and more bizarre entertainments to distract the public from what might be the ultimate swindling of a lifetime.

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The echo chamber causes hearing damage.

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand (Paul Craig Roberts)

The liberal/progressive/left are enjoying their drunkfest of denunciation. I can’t say I have ever witnessed anything like it. These are the people who sat on their hands for 16 years while Washington destroyed in whole or part seven countries. Not being satisfied with this level of warmongering and crimes against humanity, Washington orchestrated a conflict situation with Russia. Americans elected a president who said he would defuse this dangerous conflict, and the liberal/progressive/left turned on him. In contrast, one person is killed after the hated Charlottesville protest event was over, and there is endless absurd outrage against the president of the US. Three New York Times presstitutes yesterday blamed the crisis on Trump, declaring him “increasingly isolated in a racial crisis of his own making.”

Apparently, Trump is responsible for the crisis because he blamed both protest groups for the violence. But isn’t that what happened? Wasn’t there violence on both sides? That was the impression I got from the news reporting. I’m not surprised that Trump got the same impression. Indeed, many readers have sent emails that they received the same impression of mutual violence. So Trump is being damned for stating the truth. Let’s assume that the impression Trump and many others got from the news is wrong. That would make Trump guilty of arriving at a mistaken conclusion. Yet, he is accused of instigating and supporting Nazi violence. How is it possible to transform a mistake into evil intent? A mistaken impression gained from news reporting does not constitute a “defense of white nationalist protesters.”

An assertion by the New York Times cannot turn the absence of intent into intent. What the Establishment is trying to do is to push Trump into the arms of white supremacists, which is where they want him. Clearly, there is no basis for this charge. It is a lie, an orchestration that is being used to delegitimize President Trump and those who elected him. The question is: who is behind this orchestration? The orchestration is causing people to run away from Trump or is being used as an excuse by them to further the plot to remove him from office. Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum headed by Stephen A. Schwarzman ran away, just as members of the Carter Center’s board deserted President Jimmy Carter when he criticized Israel for its apartheid policy toward the Palestinians. The New York Times says that the armed services chiefs are running away. And the entire Republican Party.

The hypocrisy is stunning. For 16 years the armed services chiefs, the New York Times and the rest of the presstitute media, both political parties and the liberal/progressive/left have participated actively or passively in massive crimes against humanity. There are millions of dead, maimed, and displaced people. Yet one death in Charlottesville has produced a greater outpouring of protest. I don’t believe it is sincere. I don’t believe that people who are insensitive to the deaths of millions at the hands of their government can be so upset over the death of one person. Assume that Trump is responsible for the death of the woman. How much blood is it compared to the blood on the hands of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama?

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Too much monopoly, too much power.

The Truth Will Not Be Googled (Connelly)

While web-hosting services have been criticised for cancelling the registration of neo-Nazi website, Daily Stormer, progressive left-leaning sites are losing Google ranking and traffic because of a deliberate move to censor “fake” news by the internet search giant. New data released by World Socialist Websites (WSWS) revealed that sites such as Wikileaks, The Intercept, Electronic Frontiers Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Organisation, CounterPunch and many other organisations with the audacity to provide context about the activities of federal governments not reported in mainstream publications have experienced a significant drop in traffic after Google altered its algorithm. (WSWS is an online news and information service founded by the International Committee of the Fourth International, the leadership of the world socialist movement).

Earlier this week, internet hosting provider, GoDaddy, announced it had cancelled US neo-Nazi website, Daily Stormer, for posting an attack on Heather Heyer, the protester who was murdered at the Klan rally in Charlottesville last week. Google and CloudFlare likewise cancelled its registration after the site tried to move its hosting over to their respective services. But while these hosting services are being congratulated by some – and condemned by others on free-speech grounds – for ensuring that those looking to commit violence have to work slightly harder to get access to their like-minded Nazi communities, those who own the means of transmission – namely Google, Facebook and Twitter – are still preventing the rest of us from accessing information that allows people to make sense of the world around us.

Earlier this month, Google altered its algorithm – allegedly in an attempt to address the ‘fake news’ problem – and in doing so, a broad array of anti-establishment news organisations, whistleblower, civil-rights and anti-war websites were censored from its search listings. But most people were too distracted by the opinions of some low-level engineer on Google’s diversity hiring policies and its intolerance of conservative views in the workplace to take notice. The data released by WSWS shows that since Google altered its algorithm, Wikileaks experienced a 30% decline in traffic from Google searches. Democracy Now fell by 36%. Truthout dropped by 25%. Its own traffic dropped by 67% percent over the same period. Alternet saw a 63% decline in traffic. Media Matters saw a 36% drop in traffic. Counterpunch.org fell by 21%. The Intercept fell by 19%.

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Ongoing.

Greek Pensioners Set For Another Blow (K.)

Pension applications submitted after May 13, 2016 – after the so-called Katrougalos law was legislated – reveal significant cuts in pension payments. According to the relevant data, five categories of pensioners will suffer cuts due to the new way pensions are calculated. Overall, experts estimate that by the year 2020 some 200,000 retirees will receive pensions that do not correspond to the amount of money they contributed to the funds during their working lives. In some cases, pensioners will receive 30% less than what they would have received had the Katrougalos law not come into effect. The overall reduction is estimated at 12 to 16%. The hardest hit will be civil servants, especially those who have worked for more than 30 years and belong to the categories of University and Technological Education. Other categories of pensioners that will be negatively impacted are those who made above-average contributions to the IKA social security foundation for more than 30 years.

Meanwhile, those who made medium or large contributions to the TEVE fund for the self-employed will also lose out. Others who can expect to be affected by pension cuts are people who contributed for 30 years to the retailer’ insurance fund (TAE) or the professional drivers’ pension fund (TSA). The new pension system, however, will favor retirees with monthly gross earnings below €700 and less than 30 years of insurance – in line with the declaration made by former labor minister Giorgos Katrougalos that the new system would be classless and favor people with low incomes. This category includes people insured for 20 to 30 years with IKA, who will retire with a gross remuneration of around €1,000, or the former social security fund for professional drivers (TSA). Those insured at several public enterprises (DEKO) and bank funds will also be entitled to an increase in their pension because they pay very high contributions.

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Man is losing the world to his own greed. Selling mother earth.

The Super Gangs Behind Africa’s Poaching Crisis (G.)

“It’s not hundreds of groups involved in ivory trafficking – there are just a handful of networks operating across Africa,” says Paula Kahumbu, a conservationist and elephant expert who runs Wildlife Direct, a Kenyan organisation working to stop the ivory trade and which deploys teams to closely observe trials such as Ali’s. lose scrutiny of cases – including making copies of court documents and video recording proceedings – keeps courts and judges honest and prevents the disappearance of files that so often scuppers trials. Wildlife Direct’s pressure was instrumental in ensuring Ali’s case went the distance. At the end, says Kahumbu, there was “a phenomenal sense of achievement”. “It was a huge surprise,” says Ofir Drori, an Israeli wildlife activist and co-founder of the Eagle Network, a group responsible for the prosecution of hundreds of traffickers, big and small, over the years, and who was involved in tracking Ali.

“Every Kenyan will tell you: what’s supposed to happen is that if you belong to a strong syndicate, you’re out.” It was the syndicate aspect that interested Gretchen Peters. A former foreign correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Peters had become fascinated by the links between drugs and terrorism that she saw in the Taliban’s heroin operation, and by the hidden connections between other forms of criminality. Ditching journalism, she decided to tackle wildlife crime. Peters set up the Satao Project – named after one of Kenya’s magisterial “tusker” bull elephants, killed by a poacher’s poisoned arrow in 2014 – to investigate criminal gangs in 2015 but quickly ran into the underlying problem: corruption. “If there’s a network that is moving illegal goods from one country to another, there are inevitably government officials involved, protecting them or looking the other way,” she says. “It is impossible for that not to be happening.”

Hired by the US department of state, Peters began by studying ivory supply chains in Tanzania and Kenya, but her investigations quickly enveloped Uganda too and spread into other forms of trafficking. There is in East Africa, she says, “a regional ecosystem moving ivory, drugs and guns … a matrix of different organisations that collaborate to move illegal goods along the Swahili coast.” The overlap between drugs and ivory smuggling came as no surprise to her. “I’m not aware of any syndicate trafficking ivory transnationally that is only moving ivory,” she says. No illicit commodity is as profitable as drugs, so: “When you get up to the traffickers they’re almost inevitably moving narcotics too.”

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Thermodynamics 101.

Want To Fight Climate Change? Don’t Invest In Tesla (MW)

Morgan Stanley identified 39 stocks that generate at least half their revenue “from the provision of solutions to climate change,” something it said was a central component of investing to make a difference, as opposed to just a making a buck. “In our view, impact investing needs to begin with companies whose products and services have a notable positive environmental or social impact,” wrote Jessica Alsford, an equity strategist at the investment bank. Not surprisingly, alternative-energy companies ranked the highest in terms of their positive impact, and the “top five climate-change impact stocks” were all manufacturers of solar and wind energy: Canadian Solar, China High Speed Transmission, GCL-Poly, Daqo New Energy and Jinko Solar. Not among the top companies? Electric-car makers, including Tesla. Elon Musk’s company has been an investor favorite for years, even eclipsing Ford and General Motors in market cap.

Tesla shares are up nearly 66% so far this year, but the good it may have been doing for portfolios may not translate to it doing good for the planet. Morgan Stanley said this was one of the “biggest surprises” of its study. The bank grouped the “climate-change impact stocks” into four sector categories: utilities, renewable manufacturers, green infrastructure companies and transportation stocks. It then analyzed them on a number of metrics, including “the CO2 [carbon dioxide] savings achieved from the products and services sold by the companies,” as well as secondary and tertiary factors centered around the environmental impact of the making of these products. This is where Tesla, along with China’s Guoxuan High-Tech, fall short.

“Whilst the electric vehicles and lithium batteries manufactured by these two companies do indeed help to reduce direct CO2 emissions from vehicles, electricity is needed to power them,” Morgan Stanley wrote. “And with their primary markets still largely weighted towards fossil-fuel power (72% in the U.S. and 75% in China) the CO2 emissions from this electricity generation are still material.” In other words, “the carbon emissions generated by the electricity required for electric vehicles are greater than those saved by cutting out direct vehicle emissions.” Morgan Stanley calculated that an investment of $1 million in Canadian Solar results in nearly 15,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide being saved every year. For Tesla, such an investment adds nearly one-third of a metric ton of CO2.

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Nov 272016
 
 November 27, 2016  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Paris 1900

This Is The Greatest Suckers’ Rally Of All Time: David Stockman (CNBC)
More Than Half Of New Yorkers One Paycheck Away From Homelessness (Gothamist)
US Thanksgiving, Black Friday Store Sales Fall 10.4%, Online Rises (R.)
Dollar to Benefit if $2.5 Trillion in Cash Stashed Abroad Is Repatriated (WSJ)
China’s Property Frenzy And Surging Debt Raises Red Flag For Economy (AFP)
India’s Rural Economy Hit Hard As Informal Lending Breaks Down (R.)
UK MPs Launch New Attempt To Interrogate Tony Blair Over Iraq (G.)
First Brexit then Trump. Is Italy Next For The West’s Populist Wave? (G.)
Clinton Camp Splits From White House On Jill Stein Recount Push (G.)
Justin Trudeau Ridiculed Over Praise Of ‘Remarkable’ Fidel Castro (G.)
Military Veterans Seek New Role In South Africa Poaching War (AFP)

 

 

Sell everything!

This Is The Greatest Suckers’ Rally Of All Time: David Stockman (CNBC)

The Trump rally raged on this week with all major U.S. indexes hitting record highs, but despite the historic run, David Stockman is doubling down on his call for investors to sell everything. “This 5% eruption is meaningless. It’s some robo machine trying to tag new highs,” Stockman said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Fast Money,” in a dismissal of the S&P 500 rally. “I see a recession coming down the pike in 2017. The stock market is going to go down and it’s going to stay down long and hard because, for the first time in 25 years, there’s nothing to bail it out.” This echoed the initial call Stockman made Nov. 3, when he urged investors to sell stocks and bonds before the presidential election. However, since the Nov. 8 election, the Dow Jones industrial average has gained 4% en route to surpassing 19,000.

Additionally, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq also hit record highs in the same time period, gaining 3% and 4%, respectively. Yet Stockman, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, reaffirmed that markets are heading for disaster. “My call stands. Sell the stocks, sell the bonds, get out of the casino,” Stockman explained to CNBC in an off-camera interview. “Bonds have already cratered by nearly $2 trillion worldwide and have miles to go. This isn’t a rotation into stocks, either. It’s the greatest sucker’s rally ever.” Stockman, author of “Trumped: A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… And How to Bring It Back,” lamented that there will be no Trump stimulus or Reagan-style boom.

He further added that he expects “an unprecedented fiscal bloodbath” resulting from the $20 trillion worth of debt that the U.S. currently has on the books. “This isn’t Ronald Reagan with a clean $1 trillion balance sheet and with a fluke GOP and a Southern Democratic coalition that only materialized because he got shot,” Stockman said in reference to John Hinkley Jr. attempting to assassinate Reagan in Washington, D.C., in 1981. “Nor is it LBJ in 1965 with a thundering electoral mandate and a massive congressional majority for the Great Society.” On the contrary, Stockman, who initially predicted that Trump would win the election, added that Washington will be in chaos by June. This is because he anticipates ongoing disruptions from the tea party, which Stockman doesn’t foresee as allowing additional deficit increases.

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“..landlords are increasingly claiming “chronic rent delinquency” after just a single late payment..”

More Than Half Of New Yorkers One Paycheck Away From Homelessness (Gothamist)

More than half of all New Yorkers don’t have enough money saved to cover them in the event of a lost job, medical emergency, or other disaster, according to a new report by the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development. Nearly 60% of New Yorkers lack the emergency savings necessary to cover at least three months’ worth of household expenses including food, housing, and rent, but that statistic isn’t spread evenly across the five boroughs. The Bronx has the highest rate of families without adequate emergency savings: in Mott Haven, Melrose, Hunts Point, Longwood, Highbridge, South Concourse, University Heights, Fordham, Belmont, and East Tremont, 75% of families have inadequate emergency savings.

The Staten Island neighborhoods of Tottenville and Great Kills have the lowest rate, with just 41% of families lacking the funds necessary to cover three months’ worth of expenses. Without these savings, families who face emergencies could be at risk of eviction, foreclosure, damaged credit, and even homelessness. In Brooklyn, families in Brownsville (70%), Bed-Stuy (67%), Bushwick (68%), East New York (67%), and South Crown Heights/Prospect Heights (67%) are the most at-risk—in Manhattan, an average of 67% of families in Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood lack necessary savings. In Queens, the neighborhoods with the highest%age of these households were Elmhurst/Corona (64%), Rockaway/Broad Channel (60%), Sunnyside/Woodside (59%), and Jackson Heights (59%).

As DNAinfo notes, advocates say that rental assistance is crucial in preventing homelessness citywide, especially in neighborhoods where rents rise faster than incomes—many of which overlap with the neighborhoods where families lack adequate savings. And although an increase in rental assistance services like the one proposed by Queens Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi could cost the cost $450 million in state and federal funding, it would be more cost-effective than allowing more families to enter the chronically underfunded shelter system. Many tenants don’t know where to get emergency rental assistance, which can prevent them from falling behind on their rent. And landlords are increasingly claiming “chronic rent delinquency” after just a single late payment, which allows them to begin eviction proceedings earlier on than they would otherwise.

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“Net sales on Black Friday slid 10.4% for brick-and-mortar chains..”

US Thanksgiving, Black Friday Store Sales Fall 10.4%, Online Rises (R.)

Sales and traffic at U.S. brick-and-mortar stores on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday declined from last year, as stores offered discounts well beyond the weekend and more customers shopped online. Internet sales rose in the double digits on both days, surpassing $3 billion for the first time on Black Friday, according to data released on Saturday. Data from analytics firm RetailNext showed net sales at brick-and-mortar stores fell 5.0% over the two days, while the number of transactions fell 7.9%. Preliminary data from retail research firm ShopperTrak showed that shopper visits to such stores fell a combined 1% during Thanksgiving and Black Friday when compared with the same days in 2015.

The data highlights the waning importance of Black Friday, which until a few years ago kicked off the holiday shopping season, as more retailers start discounting earlier in the month and opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day. “We knew it (holiday season) was going to be off to a slow start,” Shelley Kohan, vice president of retail consulting at RetailNext, said. “The first couple of weeks with the election were a complete distracter from the normal course of business and…a warmer climate in November may have made the sales more stubborn,” she said, adding that she saw sales picking up in December.

Net sales on Black Friday slid 10.4% for brick-and-mortar chains, according to RetailNext. “Stores that opened on Thursday were not very busy on Black Friday,… and while the Thanksgiving Day opt-outs were busier on Black Friday, they didn’t see the crowds they saw in previous years,” NPD group’s Chief Industry analyst Marshal Cohen said. Still, total holiday season sales are expected to jump 3.6% to $655.8 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation, due to a tightening job market.

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Only if buybacks are banned.

Dollar to Benefit if $2.5 Trillion in Cash Stashed Abroad Is Repatriated (WSJ)

Part of $2.5 trillion in profits held overseas by companies such as Apple and Microsoft could be heading back to the U.S., a move analysts say could further fuel the U.S. dollar’s powerful rally. U.S. corporations have been holding billions in earnings and cash abroad to avoid paying a 35% tax that would be levied whenever the money is brought home. President-elect Donald Trump has said he would propose a one-time cut of the repatriation tax to 10% to lure money back to the U.S. that can be spent on hiring, business development and funding Mr. Trump’s fiscal stimulus proposals. Market optimism that the stimulus plan can generate U.S. economic growth and push the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates has buoyed the dollar against a basket of major trading partners toward 14-year-highs since the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Now, some say the prospect of companies repatriating perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars could offer more impetus to the U.S. currency’s rally. “However small, however big this flow of money will be, it will be positive for the case of dollar strength,” said Daragh Maher at HSBC. “There will most likely be an inflow into dollars.” When a company repatriates earnings from abroad, it may have to exchange the local currency for the U.S. dollar. The $2.5 trillion hoard of overseas earnings is highly concentrated in the technology and pharmaceutical sectors, according to Capital Economics. Microsoft held about $108 billion in earnings overseas as of 2015, while pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had $80 billion. General Electric had $104 billion overseas, according to Capital Economics. Analysts note that many companies already hold their overseas earnings in U.S. dollar assets, which would mute the demand for dollars.

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Famous last words: “The notion that Chinese people do not like to borrow is clearly outdated..”

China’s Property Frenzy And Surging Debt Raises Red Flag For Economy (AFP)

Chinese household debt has risen at an “alarming” pace as property values have soared, analysts have said, raising the risk that a real estate downturn could wreak havoc on the world’s second largest economy. Loose credit and changing habits have rapidly transformed the country’s famously loan-averse consumers into enthusiastic borrowers. Rocketing real estate prices in major Chinese cities in recent years have seen families’ wealth surge. But at the same time they have fuelled a historic boom in mortgage lending, as buyers race to get on the property ladder, or invest to profit from the phenomenon. Now the debt owed by households in the world’s second largest economy has surged from 28% of GDP to more than 40% in the past five years.

“The notion that Chinese people do not like to borrow is clearly outdated,” said Chen Long of Gavekal Dragonomics. The share of household loans to overall lending hit 67.5% in the third quarter of 2016, more than twice the share of the year before. But this surge has raised fears that a sharp drop in property prices would cause many new loans to go bad, causing a domino effect on interest rates, exchange rates and commodity prices that “could turn out to be a global macro event”, ANZ analysts said in a note. While China’s household debt ratio is still lower than advanced countries such as the US (nearly 80% of GDP) and Japan (more than 60%), it has already exceeded that of emerging markets Brazil and India, and if it keeps growing at its current pace will hit 70% of GDP in a few years.

It still has some way to go before it outstrips Australia, however, which has the world’s most indebted households at 125% of GDP. The ruling Communist party has set a target of 6.5-7% economic growth for 2017, and the country is on track to hit it thanks partly to a property frenzy in major cities and a flood of easy credit. But keeping loans flowing at such a pace creates such “substantial risks” that it could be a “self-defeating strategy”, Chen said. China’s total debt – including housing, financial and government sector debt – hit 168.48 trillion yuan ($25 trillion) at the end of last year, equivalent to 249% of national GDP, according to estimates by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think tank.

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“..the informal sector accounts for [..] 80% of employment..”

India’s Rural Economy Hit Hard As Informal Lending Breaks Down (R.)

Life was good for Mitharam Patil, a wealthy money lender from a small village in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Small-time financiers like Patil would typically lend cash to farmers and traders every day, providing a vital source of funding for a rural economy largely shut out of the banking sector, albeit at interest rates of about 24%. All that came crashing down on Nov. 8, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned 500 and 1,000 rupee ($7.30-$14.60) banknotes, which accounted for 86% of currency in circulation. The action was intended to target wealthy tax evaders and end India’s “shadow economy”, but it has also exposed the dependency of poor farmers and small businesses on informal credit systems in a country where half the population has no access to formal banking.

Patil was stuck with 700,000 rupees ($10,144) of worthless cash. He can also only withdraw up to 24,000 rupees from his account every week, barely enough for his own personal needs given he also works as a farmer. That is bad news for farmers and traders who had come to depend on Patil, despite his high interest rates, given that bank branches are located far from the village, while the process to obtain loans is long and cumbersome. It may also hurt India’s economy, as the informal sector accounts for 20% of GDP and 80% of employment. The country is due to report July-September GDP on Wednesday. “Sowing of winter crops has been started and farmers badly need money. But I couldn’t lend (to) them due to restrictions on withdrawal,” Patil said.

Some farmers and small businesses say India’s informal credit system has ground to a virtual halt, despite government measures to steer more funds to them, including 230 billion rupees in crop loans. Not only are money lenders struggling to lend, they are also struggling to get paid. Saumya Roy, CEO of Vandana Foundation, a micro finance firm, said it has encountered difficulties in collecting payments from borrowers, which will have a knock-on effect on how much they can lend to others. “We can’t go on lending and suffer losses,” she said. “How can we force people to pay back when they don’t have money to buy food. How will they pay us?”

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That should be fun.

UK MPs Launch New Attempt To Interrogate Tony Blair Over Iraq (G.)

A cross-party group of MPs will make a fresh effort to hold Tony Blair to account for allegedly misleading parliament and the public over the Iraq war. The move, which could see Blair stripped of membership of the privy council, comes as the former prime minister tries to re-enter the political fray, promising to champion the “politically homeless” who are alienated from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and the Brexit-promoting government of Theresa May. The group, which includes MPs from six parties, will put down a Commons motion on Monday calling for a parliamentary committee to investigate the difference between what Blair said publicly to the Chilcot inquiry into the war and privately, including assurances to then US president George W Bush.

Backing the motion are Alex Salmond, the SNP MP and former first minister of Scotland; Hywel Williams, Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru; and Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas. Senior Tory and Labour MPs are also backing the move, which reflects widespread frustration that the publication of the Chilcot report in July, after a seven-year inquiry, did not result in any government action or accountability for Blair. Salmond said some MPs believe that senior civil servants were “preoccupied with preventing previous and future prime ministers being held accountable”. He said: “An example should be set, not just of improving government but holding people to account.”

He pointed to last week’s Observer story revealing that, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, the inquiry was designed by senior civil servants to “avoid blame” and reduce the risk that individuals and the government could face legal proceedings. Salmond also noted that documents show many officials involved in planning the inquiry, including current cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, were involved in the events that led to war. The new motion will be debated on Wednesday in Commons time allotted to the SNP.

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What Renzi’s Dec. 4 constitutional referendum tries to achieve: “They’re sealing the system off so it can’t be changed in the future.”

First Brexit then Trump. Is Italy Next For The West’s Populist Wave? (G.)

On a bitterly cold evening, MPs and senators representing the Five Star Movement (M5S), launched by Beppe Grillo, the comedian-turned-political rabble rouser, implored a packed piazza to use a referendum on the constitution on Sunday 4 December to send the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, packing. Renzi, the telegenic, youthful leader of the centre-left Democratic party (PD), has placed his authority behind proposals to limit the powers of the senate, Italy’s second chamber. His plan involves cutting the number of senators from 315 to 100, all of whom would be appointed – rather than elected, as at present – and restricting their power to influence legislation.

Since 1948 the Italian constitution has preserved a perfect balance of powers between the two houses of parliament, frequently leading to legislative gridlock in Rome. Renzi claims that slimming down the role of the senate will, along with other reforms to strengthen executive power, finally free governments to govern. Crucially, he has indicated he will step down if the vote goes against him. In other eras, a dry and technical debate might have preoccupied a few constitutional cognoscenti. But these are not ordinary times in western democracies. In Ferrara’s Piazza Trento e Trieste, Alessandro Di Battista, a rising star of Grillo’s movement, issued a populist call to arms. Renzi’s referendum, he told the crowd, was just the latest gambit by a political class determined to insulate itself from the people it should serve.

“This unelected senate will be constituted by the arselickers of the various parties”, said Di Battista, “and by those who are in trouble with the courts and need parliamentary immunity. They’re sealing the system off so it can’t be changed in the future.” Such a devious manoeuvre should, he said, come as no surprise: “There are two Italys: on the one side the very wealthy few who look after themselves, and on the other the masses who live every day with problems of transport and public health.” As his audience launched into a favourite Five Star chant, “A casa! A casa!” (“Send them home”), Di Battista referenced the political earthquake that was in everyone’s mind. “The election of Donald Trump is the American people’s business,” he said. “But what that election does show is that so many citizens are simply not taking the establishment’s bait any more.”

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Did Stein really raise more money for this than for her entire 2016 campaign?

Clinton Camp Splits From White House On Jill Stein Recount Push (G.)

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign said on Saturday it would help with efforts to secure recounts in several states, even as the White House defended the declared results as “the will of the American people”. The campaign’s general counsel, Marc Elias, said in an online post that while it had found no evidence of sabotage, the campaign felt “an obligation to the more than 64 million Americans who cast ballots for Hillary Clinton”. “We certainly understand the heartbreak felt by so many who worked so hard to elect Hillary Clinton,” Elias wrote, “and it is a fundamental principle of our democracy to ensure that every vote is properly counted.”

In response, President-elect Donald Trump said in a statement: “The people have spoken and the election is over, and as Hillary Clinton herself said on election night, in addition to her conceding by congratulating me, ‘We must accept this result and then look to the future.’” Wisconsin began recount proceedings late on Friday after receiving a petition from Jill Stein, the Green party candidate. Stein claims there are irregularities in results reported by Wisconsin as well as Michigan and Pennsylvania, where she plans to request recounts next week, having raised millions of dollars from supporters. Trump called Stein’s effort a “scam” and said it was “just a way … to fill her coffers with money, most of which she will never even spend on this ridiculous recount”. “The results of this election should be respected instead of being challenged and abused,” he added, “which is exactly what Jill Stein is doing.”

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I bet you there’s hardly a single American -or European- who knows Cuba has been one of Canada’s most popular holiday destinations for many years.

Justin Trudeau Ridiculed Over Praise Of ‘Remarkable’ Fidel Castro (G.)

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, has been mocked and criticised over his praise of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Following the death of Castro, Trudeau, whose father had a close relationship with the revolutionary, released a statement mourning the loss of a “remarkable leader”. Castro, who died on Friday aged 90, won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor but also created legions of enemies for his ruthless suppression of dissent. Trudeau’s comments were markedly more positive than most western leaders, who either condemned Castro’s human rights record or tip-toed around the subject. Instead, Trudeau warmly recalled his late father’s friendship with Castro and his own meeting with Castro’s three sons and brother – Raul, Cuba’s current president – during a visit to the island nation earlier this month.

“While a controversial figure, both Mr Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante’,” Trudeau said in the statement. He called Castro “larger than life” and “a legendary revolutionary and orator”. Fidel Castro was an honorary pall bearer at the 2000 funeral of Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. In 1976, the senior Trudeau became the first Nato leader to visit Cuba under Castro’s rule, at one point exhorting “Viva Castro!”. “I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away,” Trudeau said.

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Better be careful with private armies getting involved.

Military Veterans Seek New Role In South Africa Poaching War (AFP)

In another life, Lynn was a sniper in Afghanistan, Damien trained paramilitary forces in Iraq, and John worked undercover infiltrating drug cartels in central America. Now all three are back in action, this time fighting what they describe as a “war” against poachers in southern Africa as the killing of rhinos escalates into a crisis that threatens the survival of the species. In 2008, less than 100 rhinos were poached in South Africa, but in recent years numbers have rocketed with nearly 1,200 killed in 2015 alone. Faced with such slaughter, conservationists and government authorities have been desperately searching for ways to protect the animals.

Many ideas have been tried, including drones, tracking dogs, satellite imagery, DNA analysis, hidden cameras and even cutting horns off live animals before poachers can get to them. But the killing has continued, and now military veterans from the United States, Australia and elsewhere have been drafted to bring their expertise to the uphill battle to save the rhinos. “You have animals who are targeted by people using automatic weapons,” Damien Mander, a former Australian Navy special forces officer, told AFP. “You can not go to the communities and ask them nicely to stop. This is a war. We are fighting a war out there.”

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