Feb 112019
 
 February 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Glass, bread and cheesee 1923

 

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)
IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)
UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)
Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)
May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)
All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)
Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)
Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)
Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)
China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)
Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)
Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)
Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

 

 

This should be the only topic left on all media and political agendas. Instead, everyone’s talking about music awards. Mankind had its promises, but they came with fatal flaws. The ability to lie to ourselves and others -including about the relative importance of various events- is doing us in.

We do have the brain structure to foresee future dangers, but also to discard them. We can see ourselves do things we know are devastatingly stupid, but we cannot stop ourselves from doing them. In the end, no matter how smart we think we are, only stupidity is left.

Even here, when people talk about the collapse of nature, the media present it as something separate from us. While we’re right in the middle of it, and we know it only too well.

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review. More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century. The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet. “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.” The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.” One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

[..] “The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades. He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.

The world must change the way it produces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, noting that organic farms had more insects and that occasional pesticide use in the past did not cause the level of decline seen in recent decades. “Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems,” he said. [..] “When you consider 80% of biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years, it is a big concern.”

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“It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.”

IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)

For the fourth time since October, the IMF revised its global growth forecast lower. The Wall Street Journal reports IMF Lowers 2019 Global Growth Forecast. “The global economy is starting the year on weaker footing, according to new quarterly forecasts from the International Monetary Fund.” That report was on January 21. For details, see the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Update, January 2019.

“Last month, the IMF lowered its global economic growth forecast for this year from 3.7% to 3.5%. Lagarde cited what she called “four clouds” as the main factors undermining the global economy and warned that a “storm” might strike. The risks include “trade tensions and tariff escalations, financial tightening, uncertainty related to (the) Brexit outcome and spillover impact and an accelerated slowdown of the Chinese economy”, she said. Lagarde said trade tensions — mainly in the shape of a tariff spat between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies – are already having a global impact. “We have no idea how it is going to pan out and what we know is that it is already beginning to have an effect on trade, on confidence and on markets,” she said, warning governments to avoid protectionism.”

“Lagarde also pointed to the risks posed by rising borrowing costs within a context of “heavy debt” racked up by governments, firms and households. “When there are too many clouds, it takes one lightning (bolt) to start the storm,” she said.” The IMF is perpetually far behind the curve. It never sees the clouds or the lightening bolts in real time. It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.

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As if things are not bad enough. Get out while you can.

UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)

Many British public services risk ongoing real-terms cuts for years to come, despite a softer fiscal stance from Chancellor Philip Hammond, a major think tank predicted ahead of a half-yearly budget update next month. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) expects Hammond to give more details of the money available for a multi-year review of public spending when he updates budget plans on March 13, just two weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union. In his annual budget in November, Hammond loosened the government’s purse-strings, giving support to the economy as it slowed ahead of Brexit. However, rising healthcare spending leaves little spare for other public services, the IFS said.

“This suggests yet more years of austerity for many public services — albeit at a much slower pace than the last nine years,” IFS research economist Ben Zaranko said. Public services outside of health, defence and overseas aid saw budgets fall by an average of 3 percent a year in real terms after 2010, and now look set for declines of 0.4 percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms going forward, the IFS predicts. [..] “In the short run … government might well raise spending to support the economy, mitigate the impacts for the worst-hit sectors or areas and provide funding to departments now required to perform additional functions, notably at the border,” the IFS said. In the long run, higher taxes or further spending cuts would be required to pay for this spending, as well as to compensate for weaker growth caused by trade restrictions, the IFS added.

[..] Brexit uncertainty has damaged the economy already and will slow growth further over the long term, even with a deal. Last week the Bank of England estimated the costs to date at 1.5 percent of GDP — more than the forecast budget deficit for 2018/19. During 2016’s referendum campaign, Brexit supporters including former foreign minister Boris Johnson said leaving the EU would free as much as 350 million pounds a week to spend on public services such as healthcare.

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OK, where are the street fighting men?

Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)

Theresa May has effectively ruled out Labour’s ideas for a compromise Brexit plan, shutting off another potential route to a deal as business groups warned that with less than 50 days to go the departure process was entering the “emergency zone”. The prime minister’s formal response to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, in a letter to the Labour leader, stressed her objections to keeping the UK in some form of customs union, saying this would prevent the UK making its own trade deals. But in an apparent renewed bid to win over wavering Labour MPs, May made a concession on environmental and workers’ rights, discounting Corbyn’s idea of automatic alignment with EU standards but suggesting instead a Commons vote every time these change.

The letter comes amid a growing presumption that while May remains officially committed to putting a revised Brexit plan to MPs as soon as possible, in practice this is unlikely to happen before the end of February, if not later. The communities secretary, James Brokenshire, said on Sunday that if no finalised deal were put to the Commons by 27 February, MPs would again be given an amendable motion to consider, allowing them to block a no-deal departure or make other interventions. “If the meaningful vote has not happened, so in other words things have not concluded, then parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than 27 February,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

May remains officially committed to getting the EU to agree to significant changes to the Irish border backstop as a way of winning over the DUP and agitated Tory backbenchers who helped bring about the heavy defeat of her plan. But with the PM’s meetings in Brussels last week yielding no real hope of this, there had been speculation she might embrace suggestions from Corbyn, who last week outlined five commitments Labour needed for it to back a deal, including joining a customs union. In her letter May argued that her own Brexit plan “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union” in terms of avoiding tariffs, while allowing “development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU”. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”

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“..she successfully took another four days off the clock.”

May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)

On February 6, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn offered UK Prime Minister Theresa May a Customs Union Deal in which the Labour party would back a deal with May. She could have easily rejected Corbyn’s offer on the spot. Instead, she successfully took another four days off the clock. Today we see, May Rejects Corbyn’s Offer as Businesses Warn of Brexit Cliff Edge. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?” Great Question! Actually, the question itself is not great. May could have just as easily asked anything else. Thus, the question was irrelevant.

The importance is Corbyn now has to respond. How long will that take? Even if it’s a single day, that another day off the March 29 Brexit clock. Theresa May has effectively splintered the Labour party. Some want a new referendum, some want Brexit, and some want a custom’s union. Corbyn is now a clear loser in May’s tactics. The other side of May’s gambit is the Tories are now united. They still do not want her deal. [..] The biggest fear for the Tories was a new election. May’s gambit remains what it has always been, to play on the fears of both sides such that they would support her silly deal. While May succeeded on one front, she categorically failed on another. She now needs to win over DUP and splinter the Tories. If she can do that, then she wins. Meanwhile, the clock is running down.

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There are many more ways than these.

All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)

Reality bites. While millennials garner much of the negative press around financial issues — they live with their parents because they can’t get jobs! They spend all their money on avocado toast! — Gen Xers may be the ones who are really in trouble. Just 16% of Gen Xers say that they included financial planning in their 2019 goals, according to a recent survey from Allianz Life. That’s compared with 27% of millennials. And when asked what 2019 resolution they were most likely to make, and to keep, just 38% mentioned managing money better and saving more; meanwhile 50% of millennials said that. That lack of planning and goal-keeping could make a bad situation worse — as Gen X may already be financially worse off than other generations in a number of ways.

They’ve got the most credit card debt of anyone — yet still spend more than anyone on non-essentials. Members of Gen X have higher levels of credit card debt — which tends to carry a higher interest rate than most other debt — than other generations. Indeed, credit card debt levels peak between the ages of 45-54 at $9,096, with the second highest levels of debt being or those who are 35-44 at $8,235. Meanwhile, the under 35 set has just $5,808. “Millennials and individuals over 74 years old held the least credit card debt. These two groups are also among the least likely to have a credit card, which can serve as a potential explanation behind the trend we are seeing here,” ValuePenguin explains of their data.

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Don’t do it, Elizabeth. Dumb move.

Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)

Back in Iowa as a full-fledged presidential candidate, Democrat Elizabeth Warren took aim at President Donald Trump on Sunday, saying he “may not even be a free person” by next year’s election. The Massachusetts senator’s comments came a day after Trump renewed his criticism of her past claims of Native American heritage. In a tweet, Trump called Warren “Pocahontas” and said he would see her “on the campaign TRAIL.” The White House didn’t explain what the president was referring to in his tweet, though some Democrats accused him of making light of the Trail of Tears — the forced removal of Cherokee and several other Native American tribes from their lands in the 1830s. Warren’s campaign wouldn’t say what the senator believes Trump was referencing.

Warren has largely avoided talking about Trump since she began testing the waters for a campaign more than a month ago. During her first of three events Sunday in eastern Iowa, Warren said the president shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the direction of the campaign with divisive attacks. “Every day there is a racist tweet, a hateful tweet — something really dark and ugly,” she said. “What are we as candidates, as activists, as the press, going to do about it? We’re going to chase after those every day?” She continued: “Here’s what bothers me. By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president. In fact, he may not even be a free person.”

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Orban’s success: “..a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.”

Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)

Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has promised that women who have four or more children will never pay income tax again, in a move aimed at boosting the country’s population. Orbán, who has emerged as Europe’s loudest rightwing, anti-immigration voice in recent years, said getting Hungarian families to have more children was preferable to allowing immigrants from Muslim countries to enter. “In all of Europe there are fewer and fewer children, and the answer of the west to this is migration,” said Orbán in his annual state of the nation address on Sunday. “They want as many migrants to enter as there are missing kids, so that the numbers will add up. We Hungarians have a different way of thinking. Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.”

Orbán’s Fidesz party won a third consecutive electoral victory last year on an anti-migration platform, and the Hungarian prime minister rarely gives a speech without presenting the upcoming years as a do-or-die battle for the future of Europe. He has voiced a hope that after elections in May, all European institutions will be controlled by “anti-migration forces”. He has repeatedly claimed that the Hungarian-born American financier and philanthropist George Soros, a favoured target of the far right across the globe, is masterminding a conspiracy to destroy Europe by promoting mass migration. “The people of Europe have come to a historic crossroads,” Orbán said on Sunday, criticising the “mixed population countries” that result from allowing migration.

The process was moving so quickly, he said, that the transformation of previously Christian countries into those where Christians were a minority would happen in his lifetime. “There is no return ticket,” he said. [..] As the prime minister spoke, anti-Orbán protesters gathered in Budapest for the latest in a series of rallies against the government which began in December after parliament passed a “slave law” allowing employers to demand more overtime from workers. The law is seen as another result of the demographic problems in the country, as a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.

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And who does Pompeo visit first? Orban of course. Operating in the EU’s own back yard.

Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Hungary, Slovakia and Poland this week he wants to make up for a lack of U.S. engagement that opened the door to more Chinese and Russian influence in central Europe, administration officials say. On a tour that includes a conference on the Middle East where Washington hopes to build a coalition against Iran, Pompeo begins on Monday in Budapest, the Hungarian capital that last saw a secretary of state in 2011 when Hillary Clinton visited. On Tuesday he will be in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the first such high-level visit in 20 years. “This is overdue and needed,” a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Our message is we have to show up or expect to lose.

“Our efforts at diplomatic engagement are aimed at competing for positive influence and giving allies in the region an indication of U.S. support and interest in order to have alternatives to China and Russia.” Washington is concerned about China’s growing presence, in particular the expansion of Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom gear maker, in Hungary and Poland. [..] Pompeo will also voice concerns about energy ties with Moscow, and urge Hungary to not support the TurkStream pipeline, part of the Kremlin’s plans to bypass Ukraine, the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe. Hungary gets most of its gas from Russia and its main domestic source of electricity is the Paks nuclear power plant where Russia’s Rosatom is involved in a 12.5 billion-euro ($14 billion) expansion. It is also one of the EU states that benefit most from Chinese investment.

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Xi’s conundrum: does he play up how great this is, how it makes his economy look great, or does he try and cut down on borrowing even more, scared that Chinese are borrowing far too much?

China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)

China’s retailer and catering enterprises earned over 1 trillion yuan ($148.3 billion) during the Lunar New Year holiday, defying an economic slump to rise 8.5 percent from last year, the country’s commerce ministry said late on Sunday. The increase was down to the rapid growth in sales of new-year gifts, traditional foods, electronic products and local speciality products over a six-day holiday period ending on Saturday, the Ministry of Commerce said in a notice on its website. Domestic tourism during the new year break generated total revenues of 513.9 billion yuan, up 8.2 percent on the year, with the number of trips rising 7.6 percent to 415 million, the official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday, citing official data.

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The US is pricing itself out of the market: OPEC+ output cuts are meant to support prices, not to allow the US to fill in the gaps.

Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)

Crude prices fell by around 1 percent on Monday as U.S. drilling activity picked up and as Russia’s biggest oil producer pressured President Vladimir Putin to end the supply cut deal with Middle East-dominated producer club OPEC. [..] In the United States, energy firms last week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the second time in three weeks, a weekly report by Baker Hughes said on Friday. Companies added 7 oil rigs in the week to Feb. 8, bringing the total count to 854, pointing to a further rise in U.S. crude production, which already stands at a record 11.9 million bpd. Elsewhere, the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, has written to the Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Moscow’s deal with the OPEC to withhold output is a strategic threat and plays into the hands of the United States.

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Mea culpa. On the news yesterday that the Catalan court cases begin this week, I said nothing appeared to have changed from Rajoy’s days. Not true.

Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)

Tens of thousands gathered in Madrid on Sunday to protest Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plan to ease tensions with Catalan separatists, in a demonstration uniting the leaders of conservative and far-right parties. The protest of an estimated 45,000 people marked the first time that the leaders of the conservative Popular Party (PP), centrist Ciudadanos and far-right Vox were photographed together, El País reported. Protesters accused Sánchez of “stabbing [Spain] in the back” and called for a snap election because of his government’s decision to accept a long-held demand of Catalan secessionists to appoint a facilitator in talks between pro-independence and pro-unity political parties.

The ruling regional pro-independence parties in Barcelona have rejected the Socialists’ proposed framework for talks and are calling for a new independence vote, which the government opposes. “The time of Pedro Sánchez has ended,” said PP leader Pablo Casado. “There is no more room for surrendering by the Socialists, or further extortion from the separatists. Today, the reconquest begins.” Sánchez said at a separate rally on Sunday that “the government is working for the unity of Spain, and this means uniting Spaniards and not pitting people against one another like the right is doing.” He added: “Democracy is not heads or tails, there are many alternatives. Ours is coexistence, law and dialogue in Catalonia.”

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Off topic. What these works show, after you’ve watched them for 2 seconds, is how good Escher was, and others are not. The first one, cats and dogs, depends on cartoon animals. Escher used only real animals. The second comes closest to Escher’s work, but that makes it a bland imitation. The third is straight-up cartoon, not at all something Escher would have done.

Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

Alain Nicolas, aged 73, was inspired to create his own tessellations on seeing the work of Escher four decades ago. Escher’s tessellations of interlocking birds, fish and lizards are some of the most recognisable mathematical art of the twentieth century; striking and playful as well as breathtakingly ingenious. Nicolas’ work is also stunning and witty.

Now retired, he spends half his free time designing tessellations and recently finished his 400th. You can see many of them on his extensive website (but don’t peek until you have solved the puzzles!). Drawing tessellations is not easy. It takes a lot of geometrical acuity to make shapes that fit together and are convincing representations.

David Bailey, a British tessellation artist, believes that Nicolas is the best tessellation artist in the world. “His work has everything, recognisable silhouettes, quality, variety, number, level of innovation, next to no padding, and all rendered to a most pleasing standard of finish. Bravo, Alain!” Nicolas has – like Escher – no background in maths, but says all that is required is a sense of wonder and a desire to always do better. Here is a self portrait, sitting in a bar, reading his own book, and calling the waiter with his finger.

Read more …

Sep 232018
 
 September 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Swimming 1908

 

Trump To Investigate Google, Facebook Under New Executive Order (ZH)
Theresa May Said To Be Preparing For Snap Election To Save Brexit (R.)
Labour To Trigger Early Election If May Defeated In Parliament (Ind.)
Crashing Out Of EU May Hasten Breakup Of UK – Ministers (G.)
Corbyn Will Back Fresh Referendum If Labour Conference Wants It (Ind.)
Kavanaugh Accuser Has No-One Left To Corroborate Her Story (ZH)
Pompeo Hints Rosenstein Should Resign (G.)
The New York Times as Judge and Jury (Lauria)
Iran Summons UK, Dutch, Danish Envoys Over Attack On Military Parade (G.)
Greek Journalists Detained After Reporting Mishandling Of Migrant Funds (K.)
Mysterious Great White Shark Lair Discovered In Pacific Ocean (SFC)

 

 

Almost 3/4 of Americans say Big Tech is biased.

Trump To Investigate Google, Facebook Under New Executive Order (ZH)

According to a an early draft of an Executive Order (EO), the White House will instruct federal law enforcement and antitrust agencies to launch investigations into the business practices of Facebook, Google and other social media companies, according to Bloomberg which says it has seen the draft. While not specifically calling out companies by name, the document orders US antitrust officials to “thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws,” while instructing other agencies to return recommendations within a month of Trump signing the EO which could potentially “protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias.”

“The document doesn’t name any specific companies. If signed, the order would represent a significant escalation of Trump’s antipathy toward Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies, whom he has publicly accused of silencing conservative voices and news sources online. … The draft order directs that any actions federal agencies take should be “consistent with other laws” — an apparent nod to concerns that it could threaten the traditional independence of U.S. law enforcement or conflict with the First Amendment, which protects political views from government regulation.” -Bloomberg

[..] According to Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans, and in particular 85% of Republicans and right-leaning independents think social media companies purposefully censor political viewpoints which run counter to their internal culture. “The belief that technology companies are politically biased and/or engaged in suppression of political speech is especially widespread among Republicans. Fully 85% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think it likely that social media sites intentionally censor political viewpoints, with 54% saying this is very likely. And a majority of Republicans (64%) think major technology companies as a whole support the views of liberals over conservatives.” – Pew

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Trying to take the wind out of Corbyn’s’ sails? Or does she think she can win? Lost the last one badly.

Theresa May Said To Be Preparing For Snap Election To Save Brexit (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s aides have begun contingency planning for a snap election in November to save both Brexit and her job, the Sunday Times reported. The newspaper said that two senior members of May’s Downing Street political team began “wargaming” an autumn vote to win public backing for a new plan, after her Brexit proposals were criticised at a summit in Salzburg last week.

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With May’s election plan, this is a dud.

Labour To Trigger Early Election If May Defeated In Parliament (Ind.)

Labour will launch a plan to force an election by seeking a motion of no confidence in the government within days if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is defeated in parliament, The Independent has learnt. Jeremy Corbyn and his top team will launch an attempt to force the Conservative administration to go to the people at what they believe will be a moment of maximum weakness for the prime minister. Multiple sources confirmed party chiefs have game-planned their approach if Ms May’s beleaguered proposals are vetoed in a crucial commons vote or if she fails to get a deal in Europe, which looks increasingly likely after EU leaders torpedoed them earlier this week.

A motion of no confidence would need some support from Conservative MPs to pass, but either way would act to severely destabilise the prime minister as internal pressure for her to quit peaked. The moment could also prove critical for Labour’s own approach to Brexit, with the party having stated its preference for an election while signalling that if one is not possible it could back a new referendum. It comes as Labour starts its 2018 conference in Liverpool, with Brexit and the party’s approach to holding a fresh public vote on the outcome of negotiations set to dominate the agenda.

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Irish border. The EU has to protect Ireland. That’s not optional.

Crashing Out Of EU May Hasten Breakup Of UK – Ministers (G.)

Theresa May is being warned by cabinet colleagues that a shift towards a harder Brexit will hasten the break-up of the UK, amid a renewed attempt by Brexiters to secure a clean split from the European Union. With senior Tories warning that the prime minister now risks a diplomatic calamity on the scale of the Suez crisis, following her disastrous Salzburg summit, she is facing a renewed campaign among ministers and influential backbenchers to ditch her current plans and back a looser free trade deal with the EU. However, some cabinet ministers are concerned such a shift will effectively place a border between Northern Ireland and Britain and put it “in the departure lounge from the UK”.

Cabinet sources are also warning that such a move would reignite the debate about Scotland’s place in the UK and further unravel the union. “Nobody voted Brexit to break up the UK,” one minister said. Another said: “Those advocating [the free trade deal] approach need to face up to the consequences for the union.” Some Tory aides are said to be so worried about the lack of support for May’s current Brexit plans that they fear another snap election will be needed before the end of the year. Downing Street sources categorically denied that such an option was being considered in No 10.

Last night, May again attempted to calm the warring factions in her party, calling for “cool heads”. “It is time to hold our nerve,” she said. “I have said many times that these negotiations would be tough, and they were always bound to be toughest in the final straight.” She also accused Labour, Lib Dem and SNP figures of “actively undermining the UK’s negotiating position” in their talks with the EU.

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They will want it. But with an election coming, what use is it?

Corbyn Will Back Fresh Referendum If Labour Conference Wants It (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has said he will back giving the British people a final say on Brexit in a new referendum if party members vote for it at Labour’s conference this week. The Labour leader said that while he had not called for it up to now he had been elected to “empower” members and would not “walk away from it” if they demanded a new vote. Mr Corbyn also said he would join forces with rebel Tories to vote down Theresa May’s Brexit plans in parliament if they did not meet Labour’s tests, with The Independent reporting on Saturday that the party would then maximise pressure on the prime minister by seeking a motion of no confidence in the government if her proposals fell.

The Labour leader’s new comments on a People’s Vote Brexit referendum come as a new YouGov poll showed his party’s members overwhelmingly back one, while more than 100 motions relating to a new vote have been proposed for the conference in Liverpool. He said: “What comes out of conference I will adhere to. But I’m not calling for a second referendum. I hope we will agree that the best way of resolving this is a general election. “But I was elected to empower the members of the party.

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Too many people getting ahead of themselves already. Not me. But the story keeps getting weirder. You now have Blasey Ford who can’t remember where and when, and 4 others who say it never happened.

Kavanaugh Accuser Has No-One Left To Corroborate Her Story (ZH)

A woman believed to have been one of five people at a party some 35 years ago where Christine Blasey Ford claims she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh has become the fourth person to deny any recollection of the event. In a Saturday night email to the Senate Judiciary Committee also received by several news outlets, Leland Ingham Keyser – a “longtime friend” of Blasey Ford’s said through her attorney: “Simply put, Ms. Keyser does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford,” said Keyser’s attorney Howard Walsh, who has been “engaged in the limited capacity” of corresponding with the committee on behalf of Keyser, according to Politico.

Kavanaugh and Mark Judge – the other teenager allegedly in the room during the alleged sexual assault – have both stated that they have no recollection of the incident, while a third man who Ford claims was at the party – Patrick J. Smyth, also denied any recollection of the event, telling the Judiciary Committee last week in a statement: “I understand that I have been identified by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as the person she remembers as ‘PJ’ who supposedly was present at the party she described in her statements to the Washington Post,” Smyth wrote in his statement. “I am issuing this statement today to make it clear to all involved that I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has leveled against Brett Kavanaugh.”

[..] On Saturday night, a tentative deal was reached for Ford to testify publicly on Thursday, according to the New York Times. “After a brief call late on Saturday, the woman’s lawyers and aides to Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, planned to talk again Sunday morning to continue the halting negotiations over the conditions of the testimony, according to three people familiar with the call. Aides to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, were also involved.” -NY Times The Times notes, however, that Leland Keyser’s statement “seemed to eliminate any chance of corroboration of Dr. Blasey’s account by anyone who attended the high school party where she says she was assaulted.”

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New theory: Trump is being tricked into firing Rosenstein.

Sean Hannity said: “Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody … I have multiple sources confirming this … it is all a set-up.”

Pompeo Hints Rosenstein Should Resign (G.)

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has hinted that Rod Rosenstein could be in jeopardy, after reports on Friday said the deputy attorney general discussed wearing a wire to record conversations with Donald Trump and the possibility of invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president. In excerpts of an interview with Fox News Sunday, Pompeo said: “If you can’t be on the team, if you’re not supporting this mission, then maybe you just ought to find something else to do.” Asked by the host Chris Wallace if Rosenstein’s reported behaviour would constitute “being on the team”, Pompeo said: “Not remotely.”

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian election interference, links between Trump aides and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice by the president. The deputy attorney general’s remarks were reported by the New York Times and confirmed by other outlets. Speculation that Trump might fire Rosenstein, as a way to neutralise Mueller, increased to fever pitch. Such a move from the president, which would carry strong echoes of the Watergate affair which brought down Richard Nixon, would likely push the US to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

[..] Pompeo’s remarks to Fox were released after Trump told a rally in Springfield, Missouri on Friday night he would act to rid the Department of Justice and the FBI of “a lingering stench” of disloyalty. Also on Friday night, the Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro and Gregg Jarrett advocated firing Rosenstein. However Sean Hannity, who has perhaps even more influence with the president than Ingraham or Pirro, said Trump should not do that. In what he called “a message for the president”, Hannity said: “Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody … I have multiple sources confirming this … it is all a set-up.”

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In a very long Russiagate piece, the NYT confesses at the very end that there is no proof.

The New York Times as Judge and Jury (Lauria)

In a massive Times‘ article published on Thursday, entitled, “‘A Plot to Subvert an Election: Unravelling the Russia Story So Far,” it seems that reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti have succumbed to the same thinking that doubled down on Iraq. They claim to have a “mountain of evidence” but what they offer would be invisible on the Great Plains. With the mid-terms looming and Special Counsel Robert Mueller unable to so far come up with any proof of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to steal the 2016 election—the central Russia-gate charge—the Times does it for him, regurgitating a Russia-gate Round-Up of every unsubstantiated allegation that has been made—deceptively presented as though it’s all been proven.

This is a reaffirmation of the faith, a recitation of what the Russia-gate faithful want to believe is true. But mere repetition will not make it so. The Times’ unsteady conviction is summed up in this paragraph, which the paper itself then contradicts only a few paragraphs later: “What we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign.” But this schizoid approach leads to the admission that “no public evidence has emerged showing that [Trump’s] campaign conspired with Russia.”

The Times also adds: “There is a plausible case that Mr. Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer, Mr. Trump, though it cannot be proved or disproved.” This is an extraordinary statement. If it cannot be “proved or disproved” what is the point of this entire exercise: of the Mueller probe, the House and Senate investigations and even of this very New York Times article? Attempting to prove this constructed story without proof is the very point of this piece.

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See that coming?

Iran Summons UK, Dutch, Danish Envoys Over Attack On Military Parade (G.)

Iran has summoned envoys from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark over Saturday’s deadly shooting of 29 people at a military parade in the south of the country, state media has reported. The British charge d’affaires, along with the Dutch and Danish ambassadors, were “informed of Iran’s strong protests over their respective countries’ hosting of some members of the terrorist group” which carried out the attack, the official news agency Irna said. Gunmen sprayed a crowd with bullets in the south-western city of Ahvaz, at a military parade in the in oil-rich Khuzestan province. Members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and soldiers from the country’s army, as well as civilians, including children, were among the victims.

Islamic State and an Arab nationalist separatist group, called the Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz, both claimed responsibility for the attack. Islamic State said via Amaq, the news outlet linked to the group, that “Islamic State fighters attacked a gathering of Iranian forces” in Ahvaz. Isis wrongly suggested the Iranian president was speaking at the parade. Hassan Rouhani was speaking at a parade in the capital, Tehran, instead. Iran called on Denmark and the Netherlands to extradite the attack’s “perpetrators and their accomplices” to stand trial, Irna said, citing foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi. “It is not acceptable that the European Union does not blacklist members of these terrorist groups as long as they do not perpetrate a crime on … European soil,” Qasemi was quoted as saying.

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Dumb. Going after reporters is something from other cultures, not Greece.

Greek Journalists Detained After Reporting Mishandling Of Migrant Funds (K.)

The publisher and editor in chief of a Greek newspaper have been detained over an article that alleges mishandling of European Union funds meant to improve conditions in migrant hotspots across the country. The journalists were detained following a complaint by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose ministry is handling the EU funding. The article published Friday alleged some of the recipients of EU funding were businessmen connected to Kammenos. Panayiotis Lampsias, editor-in-chief of daily “Fileleftheros” (Liberal) told AP that “we are at the Exarchia police precinct, where we will spend the night and probably be sent to a prosecutor” on Sunday.

Opposition parties have condemned the detention. Conservative New Democracy party accused the defense minister of “thuggery” and said the real issue was the mishandling of funds. “Whether he wants it or not, [Kammenos] will be held accountable for the national shame that is Moria,” ND said in a statement. “The same goes for his ostensibly left-wing sensitive fellow ministers who on a daily basis humiliate human existence and tarnish Greece’s image across the world,” it said.

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Wonderful. The White Shark Cafe: “..it takes a month for the sharks to get there..”

Mysterious Great White Shark Lair Discovered In Pacific Ocean (SFC)

A scientific mission into the secret ocean lair of California’s great white sharks has provided tantalizing clues into a vexing mystery — why the fearsome predators spend winter and spring in what has long appeared to be an empty void in the deep sea. A boatload of researchers from five scientific institutions visited the middle-of-nowhere spot between Baja California and Hawaii this past spring on a quest to learn more about what draws the big sharks to what has become known as the White Shark Cafe, almost as if they were pulled by some astrological stimulus.

The sharks’ annual pilgrimage to the mid-Pacific region from the coasts of California and Mexico has baffled scientists for years, not just because it is so far away — it takes a month for the sharks to get there — but because it seemed, on the surface, to be lacking the kind of prey or habitat that the toothy carnivores prefer. But the researchers made a remarkable discovery. Instead of blank, barren sea, the expedition, led by scientists with Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, found a vast community of tiny light-sensitive creatures so tantalizing that the sharks cross the sea en masse to reach them. The primary lure, scientists believe, is an extraordinary abundance of squid and small fish that migrate up and down in a little understood deep-water portion of ocean known as the “mid-water,” a region skirting the edge of complete darkness that could provide an immeasurably valuable trove of information about the ocean ecosystem and climate change.

What’s clear so far is that, like the hidden community of specialized wildlife in the Sahara, the shark cafe is a swirling mass of tiny phytoplankton, fish, squid and jellies. They move up and down in a soupy layer deep under water, a kind of twilight zone just below where sunlight stops penetrating the ocean depths. “It’s the largest migration of animals on Earth — a vertical migration that’s timed with the light cycle,” Jorgensen said. “During the day they go just below where there is light and at night they come up nearer the surface to warmer, more productive waters under the cover of darkness.” It’s a surreal deep water world populated by bioluminescent lantern fish and other species that have evolved amazing adaptations to darkness, Jorgensen said.

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May 222018
 
 May 22, 2018  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Femme au Béret et à la Robe Quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) 1937

 

‘Who Are You?’ Iran Hits Back At US Demands (AlJ)
Trumpism Folds into Netanyahu-ism, or ‘Neo-Americanism’ (Alastair Crooke)
Swedes Told To Prepare For Conflict In Cold War-Style Booklet (R.)
Baltic States Ask the US for Bigger Military Presence on Their Soil (SCF)
Italy on Verge of Inducing a Fresh European Crisis (Cudmore)
Goldman Sachs: The Fiscal Outlook For The US ‘Is Not Good’ (CNBC)
The US is Shackled by Historic Debt (GT)
US Consumer Debt Set To Reach $4 Trillion By The End Of 2018 (CNBC)
Learning from America’s Forgotten Default (PS)
You Think It’s All About Guns? (Jim Kunstler)
Human Race Just 0.01% Of All Life But Eradicated Most Other Living Things (G.)

 

 

“The era of the US making decisions for the rest of the world is over”. That’s what Russia and China think, too.

‘Who Are You?’ Iran Hits Back At US Demands (AlJ)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said the world would “not accept” US unilateralism just hours after Washington laid out a series of tough demands to be included in a potential new nuclear treaty with Iran. In remarks carried by Iran’s ILNA news agency on Monday, Rouhani said the era of the United States making decisions for the rest of the world was “over”. “Countries are independent … We will continue our path with the support of our nation,” Rouhani said. “Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?”

[..] In announcing the new US strategy towards Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday warned that Washington “will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime” unless it complied with a list of 12 conditions, which must be met before any new deal can be reached. The demands include giving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of the country’s former nuclear military programme, withdrawing its forces from Syria and ending what Pompeo described as Iran’s “threatening behaviour” towards its neighbours.

Also responding to Pompeo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused the US of a “regression to old habits”, saying Washington’s diplomatic efforts were a “sham”. “It repeats the same wrong choices and will thus reap the same ill rewards. Iran, meanwhile, is working with partners for post-US JCPOA solutions,” Zarif said in a tweet on Monday.

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Regime change always leads to chaos.

Trumpism Folds into Netanyahu-ism, or ‘Neo-Americanism’ (Alastair Crooke)

The 8 May US Presidential declaration (on exiting JCPOA) requires of us fundamentally to revise our understanding of Trumpism. At the outset to his term of office, Trumpism was widely understood to be based on three key pillars: That the costs incurred by the US in upholding the full panoply of Empire (i.e. policing the American, rules-based, global order) were just too onerous and unfair (especially in the provision of the defence umbrella) – and that others must be coerced into sharing its cost. Secondly, that American jobs had been, as it were, stolen from America, and would have to be recovered through forced changes to the terms of trade. And thirdly, that these changes would be effected, through applying the tactics of the Art of the Deal.

That seemed, at least, to be clear, (if not necessarily a wholly feasible blueprint). But mostly we thought that the Art of the Deal was about threatening, blustering, and hiking leverage on ‘whatever the counterparty’ – raising tensions to explosive levels – before, at the very eleventh hour, at the very climax of crisis, offering ‘the deal’. And that was the point (then): Yes, Trump would toss verbal grenades intended to upend conventional expectations, take actions to force an issue – but the objective (as generally understood), was to get a deal: One that would tilt towards America’s mercantile and political interests, but a deal, nonetheless.

Maybe we misread Trump’s build-up of America’s already super-sized military. It seemed that it was about potential leverage: something to be offered (in terms of an umbrella to compliant states), or withdrawn from those who would not put their hand in their pocket deeply enough. But everything changed with Trump’s 8 May statement. It was not just an American ‘exit’ that was mooted, it was full court financial war that was declared against Iran (with ‘terms of surrender’ couched in terms of regime change, and total submission to the US). But this is no longer about how to reach a ‘fairer’, better deal for the US; how to make it more money. Rather the financial system was to be leveraged to destroy another state’s currency and economy. The US military are being super-sized further, to be used: to be able to rain down ‘fire and fury’ on non-compliant states.

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Sweden is no longer an independent country.

Swedes Told To Prepare For Conflict In Cold War-Style Booklet (R.)

Sweden will send out instructions to its citizens next week on how to cope with an outbreak of war, as the country faces an assertive Russia across the Baltic Sea. The 20-page pamphlet titled “If Crisis or War Comes” gives advice on getting clean water, spotting propaganda and finding a bomb shelter, in the first public awareness campaign of its kind since the days of the Cold War. It also tells Swedes they have a duty to act if their country is threatened. “If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up,” the booklet says. “All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.” The leaflet’s publisher, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, did not spell out where an attack might come from.

“Even if Sweden is safer than most countries, threats do exist,” agency head Dan Eliasson told journalists. But Sweden and other countries in the region have been on high alert since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, 2014. They have also accused Russia of repeated violations of their airspace – assertions that Moscow has either dismissed or not responded to. The Kremlin has in the past insisted that it does not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries and has accused Western powers of stoking “Russophobia”. Stockholm has repeatedly cited Russian aggression as the reason for a series of security measures including the reintroduction of conscription this year and the stationing of troops on the Baltic island of Gotland.

The Swedish government decided to start increasing military spending from 2016, reversing years of declines. The booklet on its way to Sweden’s 4.8 million households warns that supplies of food, medicine and gasoline could run short during a crisis. It also lists oat milk, tins of Bolognese sauce and salmon balls as examples of food that people should store in case of an emergency along with tortillas and sardines. The publication describes what an air raid warning sounds like in the first such publication handed out since 1961. Sweden has not been at war with anyone for more than 200 years, not since its war with Norway in 1814. It was officially neutral during World War Two.

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NATO.

Baltic States Ask the US for Bigger Military Presence on Their Soil (SCF)

The foreign ministers (FMs) of the Baltic states have wound up their May 16-18 visit to Washington. They asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to reinforce the NATO battalions that have been deployed to their countries with air and naval units. They also want their air-defense capability enhanced. Lithuanian FM Linas Linkevicius emphasized that it’s not just the numbers that are important, but also training exercises, visits, the distribution of equipment, and the establishment of new military facilities. [..] NATO is ratcheting up tensions by holding an increasing number of large-scale exercises right on Russia’s borders. This greatly elevates the risk of inadvertent escalation. For instance, three major exercises are scheduled to be held in the Baltic region this summer.

On June 3-15, the Saber Strike exercise organized by the US Army Europe will encompass the three Baltic states and Poland, involving over 18,000 troops from 19 countries. About 3,000 American soldiers and over 1,500 combat vehicles will travel from Germany to Latvia and Lithuania. Public roads will be used to move heavy equipment. On June 12-13, the soldiers of the US 2nd Cavalry Regiment will construct a bridge in order to cross the Neman River in Lithuania (in the Kaunas district). Their main mission is to ensure that the forces are ready to rapidly advance, not to merely defend their positions. Eight thousand American airborne troops will land in Latvia during the Swift Response exercise, in order to train alongside Lithuanian and Polish troops.

Namejs 2018 will be held from August 20 to September 2 and will involve over 9,200 Latvian forces, including the military, police, border guards, volunteer reservists, and other state institutions. They will be joined by 650 troops from the US, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. All these large-scale intensive training activities will take place in the background of the planning for Trident Juncture 2018, the largest NATO exercise involving about 40,000 troops, 70 ships, and about 130 aircraft from over 30 nations, which will be deployed to central and northern Norway in October for the live portion of the event. A command post phase will be conducted in Italy. Norway does not have a shoreline in the Baltic Sea but it is a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

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“..while the policy platform doesn’t explicitly state an intention to leave the euro, the new government plan, if instituted as is, makes that the inevitable end-game…”

Italy on Verge of Inducing a Fresh European Crisis (Cudmore)

It may be time to move on from rising Treasury yields and trade wars. An Italian-led euro crisis is on the verge of becoming the dominant theme for markets. It turns out that the euro break-up trade isn’t dead — it’s just been hibernating and is likely to return with a vengeance in the months ahead if the populists get their way. Their proposed economic policies make no attempt at debt sustainability. Italy already has the largest absolute debt pile in the EU and the second-largest, after Greece, as a percentage of GDP, at 132%. The coalition’s plan sends the signal that it has no intention of ever paying back its debt. Things could spiral quickly because its fiscal promises will send BTP yields much higher, adding to refinancing costs and making the budgetary situation worse.

That creates a dilemma for the EU. Either fund Italy’s largesse at the expense of every other member country, or kick Italy out of the euro. The first option isn’t sustainable. This isn’t a relatively containable problem like Greece. Italy’s economy is almost ten times the size of Greece’s and the third-largest in the euro zone. The PIIGS — Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain — were only ever a problem as a group because of concerns that the contagion would infect Italy. And this isn’t just a sovereign debt problem. Italy’s banks have by far the most non-performing loans in the euro zone, more than a quarter of the total. A section of the plan makes it harder for banks to repossess collateral, further deteriorating the value of those loans.

So while the policy platform doesn’t explicitly state an intention to leave the euro, the new government plan, if instituted as is, makes that the inevitable end-game. Fortunately, the Italian constitution forbids an excessive budget deficit, so may act as a limiting force. However, the concern is whether they can circumvent those restrictions by selecting favorable economic projections. The proposal already seems to be stealthily planning for euro departure with a plan to issue short-term debt contracts to pay back arrears. As my colleague Ferdinando Giugliano suggested on Friday, that’s the first step toward a parallel currency. So Italy’s prospective rulers seem to be fully aware of the end-game and are already planning for it. Investors will soon need to catch up.

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“..debt could equal GDP within a decade..”

Goldman Sachs: The Fiscal Outlook For The US ‘Is Not Good’ (CNBC)

The fiscal outlook for the United States “is not good,” according to Goldman Sachs, and could pose a threat to the country’s economic security during the next recession. According to forecasts from the bank’s chief economist, the federal deficit will increase from $825 billion (or 4.1% of GDP) to $1.25 trillion (5.5% of GDP) by 2021. And by 2028, the bank expects the number to balloon to $2.05 trillion (7% of GDP). “An expanding deficit and debt level is likely to put upward pressure on interest rates, expanding the deficit further,” Jan Hatzius — Goldman’s chief economist — wrote Sunday. “While we do not believe that the U.S. faces a risk to its ability to borrow or repay, the rising debt level could nevertheless have three consequences long before debt sustainability becomes a major obstacle.”

Legislators passed a package of corporate and individual tax cuts in December, a two-year budget deal in February and a massive spending bill in March that boosted government expenditures on both domestic and military programs. In light of the big spending and easier tax burden, the Congressional Budget Office – Capitol Hill’s nonpartisan financial scorekeeper – in April projected that debt could equal GDP within a decade if Congress extends the tax cuts, a level not seen since World War II. Economic growth should jump above 3% in 2018 thanks to the stimuli, the CBO said, but the acceleration will likely prove brief, and debt held by the public will soar to $28.7 trillion by the end of fiscal 2028.

That could create a precarious situation for Congress if the economy faces an economic downturn in the near term, Hatzius wrote, hampering legislators’ ability provide additional fiscal stimulus. “Lawmakers might hesitate to approve fiscal stimulus in the next downturn in light of the already substantial budget deficit,” the economist said. “While we would expect some additional loosening of fiscal policy during the next downturn, there is a good chance in our view that it would be less aggressive than it was in the last few recessions.”

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“Is the Federal Reserve playing politics?”

The US is Shackled by Historic Debt (GT)

Do you feel as if you’re drowning in debt? It’s worse than you think. The U.S. government reached a new milestone when our country’s debt topped $21 trillion for the first time. The national debt grows by an average of $17,000 every second – more than some people earn in an entire year. That’s only an average, and During the past eight months, the national debt grew by $52,000 per second. And the trend toward bigger and higher spending is only getting worse. The ratio of national debt to GDP is at 105%, larger than the economy as a whole. In 1981, the national debt comprised a mere 31% of GDP. We are not moving in the right direction. The Treasury Department has plans to borrow $1 trillion this year, an 84% jump from last year.

When individuals borrow, they can use the money wisely to increase their wealth. That’s what happens when people make good investments. What does the government do with all this money? While some of it may be put to good use, the National Science Foundation’s spending $856,000 on having mountain lions run on treadmills can’t be termed prudent spending. Nor can the $2 billion spent on former President Obama’s healthcare website. In 2017, Brooklyn, NY spent $2 million on a 400 square feet restroom in a public park. Flushing money down the toilet?

Why is the government raising interest rates at a time consumer prices and wages are rising only marginally? During Obama’s administration, prices rose 14.6%, and the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low. Inflation is up by a mere 2.2% since Trump took office, and interests rates keep rising. Is the Federal Reserve playing politics? While the rate of inflation was somewhat higher during the Obama years, the Federal Reserve didn’t get aggressive in handling the problem until Trump came to office. If it’s politics, what game is being played?

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“Americans owe more than 26% of their annual income to this debt.”

US Consumer Debt Set To Reach $4 Trillion By The End Of 2018 (CNBC)

Americans are in a borrowing mood, and their total tab for consumer debt could reach a record $4 trillion by the end of 2018. That’s according to LendingTree, a loan comparison website, which analyzed data from the Federal Reserve on nonmortgage debts including credit cards, and auto, personal and student loans. Americans owe more than 26% of their annual income to this debt. That’s up from 22% in 2010. It’s also higher than debt levels during the mid-2000s when credit availability soared.

Debts on auto loans and credit cards are climbing by more than 7% annually, while housing debt is rising at a little more than 2%. Consumer credit has been rising by 5% to 6% for about two years. LendingTree projects total consumer debt will top $4 trillion by the end of 2018.

That kind of growth is not surprising, according to LendingTree chief economist Tendayi Kapfidze, and is in keeping with the growth of consumer debt that has been happening since 2012. At these levels, consumers are spending about 10% of their income paying these debts each month, Kapfidze said. From 2000 to 2008, that averaged about 12% to 13%, he said. Still, credit card delinquency rates, which are at 2.4%, are low.

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We’ve seen this movie before.

Learning from America’s Forgotten Default (PS)

One of the most pervasive myths about the United States is that the federal government has never defaulted on its debts. Every time the debt ceiling is debated in Congress, politicians and journalists dust off a common trope: the US doesn’t stiff its creditors. There’s just one problem: it’s not true. There was a time, decades ago, when the US behaved more like a “banana republic” than an advanced economy, restructuring debts unilaterally and retroactively. And, while few people remember this critical period in economic history, it holds valuable lessons for leaders today.

In April 1933, in an effort to help the US escape the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt announced plans to take the US off the gold standard and devalue the dollar. But this would not be as easy as FDR calculated. Most debt contracts at the time included a “gold clause,” which stated that the debtor must pay in “gold coin” or “gold equivalent.” These clauses were introduced during the Civil War as a way to protect investors against a possible inflationary surge. For FDR, however, the gold clause was an obstacle to devaluation. If the currency were devalued without addressing the contractual issue, the dollar value of debts would automatically increase to offset the weaker exchange rate, resulting in massive bankruptcies and huge increases in public debt.

To solve this problem, Congress passed a joint resolution on June 5, 1933, annulling all gold clauses in past and future contracts. The door was opened for devaluation – and for a political fight. Republicans were dismayed that the country’s reputation was being put at risk, while the Roosevelt administration argued that the resolution didn’t amount to “a repudiation of contracts.” On January 30, 1934, the dollar was officially devalued. The price of gold went from $20.67 an ounce – a price in effect since 1834 – to $35 an ounce. Not surprisingly, those holding securities protected by the gold clause claimed that the abrogation was unconstitutional. Lawsuits were filed, and four of them eventually reached the Supreme Court; in January 1935, justices heard two cases that referred to private debts, and two concerning government obligations.

The underlying question in each case was essentially the same: did Congress have the authority to alter contracts retroactively? On February 18, 1935, the Supreme Court announced its decisions. In each case, justices ruled 5-4 in favor of the government – and against investors seeking compensation. According to the majority opinion, the Roosevelt administration could invoke “necessity” as a justification for annulling contracts if it would help free the economy from the Great Depression.

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“..a bewildering clown culture wrapped in a Potemkin economy..”

You Think It’s All About Guns? (Jim Kunstler)

Is it possible that we Americans only pretend not to notice the conditions that produce an epidemic of school shootings, or is the public just too dumbed-down to connect the dots? Look at the schools themselves. We called them “facilities” because they hardly qualify as buildings: sprawling, one-story, tilt-up, flat-roofed boxes isolated among the parking lagoons out on the six-lane highway strip, disconnected from anything civic, isolated archipelagoes where inchoate teenage emotion festers and rules while the few adults on the scene are regarded as impotent clowns representing a bewildering clown culture wrapped in a Potemkin economy that has nothing to offer young people except a lifetime of debt and “bullshit jobs” — to borrow a phrase from David Graeber.

The world of teens has been exquisitely engineered to steal every opportunity for colonizing the chemical reward centers of their brains to provoke endorphin hits, especially the cell-phone realm of social media, which is almost entirely about status competition, much of which revolves around the wild hormonal promptings of teen sexual development — at the same time they are bombarded with commercial messages designed to prey on their fantasies, longings, and perceived inadequacies. All of this produces immersive and incessant melodrama along with untold grievance, envy, frustration, confusion, and rage. And, of course, where the cell-phone universe leaves off, the world of video games begins, so that boys (especially) get to act-out in “play” the extermination of their competitors and foes.

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The planet is dying.

Human Race Just 0.01% Of All Life But Eradicated Most Other Living Things (G.)

Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet. The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.

Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass. The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface. “I was shocked to find there wasn’t already a comprehensive, holistic estimate of all the different components of biomass,” said Prof Ron Milo, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I would hope this gives people a perspective on the very dominant role that humanity now plays on Earth,” he said, adding that he now chooses to eat less meat due to the huge environmental impact of livestock.

[..] The transformation of the planet by human activity has led scientists to the brink of declaring a new geological era – the Anthropocene. One suggested marker for this change are the bones of the domestic chicken, now ubiquitous across the globe. The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.

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May 092018
 


Edgar Degas Two laundresses 1876

 

Fed Chair Powell To Emerging Markets: You Are On Your Own (ZH)
Argentina Seeks IMF Aid ‘To Avoid Crisis’ (BBC)
Europe On Collision Course With US Over Iran Deal (AFP)
Mnuchin: Revoking Boeing, Airbus Licenses To Sell Jets To Iran (R.)
Pompeo, In North Korea, To Return With Detained Americans (R.)
Central Banks Rigged The Cost Of Money And The State Of The Markets (Prins)
US Student Debt Just Hit $1.5 Trillion (MW)
The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q1 2018 (WS)
UK PM May Suffers Upper House Defeat Over Plans To Leave EU Single Market (R.)
UK Retailers Suffer Sharpest Sales Drop For 22 Years In April (G.)
Sharp Drop In UK Retail Job Vacancies As High Street Crisis Deepens (Ind.)
Cynthia Nixon: Marijuana Industry Could Be ‘A Form Of Reparations’ (Hill)
Record Drop In Greek Savings Last Year (K.)
Debt Repayment Feasible if Greece ‘Implements Reforms’ – Regling (AMNA)
British Diplomats: Saving The Rainforest Could Hurt Fighter Jet Sales (UE)

 

 

As the dollar keeps rising.

Fed Chair Powell To Emerging Markets: You Are On Your Own (ZH)

Over the weekend, when commenting on the ongoing rout in emerging markets, Bloomberg published an article titled “Rattled Emerging Markets Say: It’s Over to You, Central Bankers.” Well, overnight the most important central banker of all, Fed Chair Jay Powell responded to these pleas to “do something”, and it wasn’t what EMs – or those used to being bailed out by the Fed – wanted to hear. As Powell explained, speaking at a conference sponsored by the IMF and Swiss National Bank in Zurich, the Fed’s gradual push towards higher interest rates shouldn’t be blamed for any roiling of emerging market economies – which are well placed to navigate the tightening of U.S. monetary policy. In other words, with the Fed’s monetary policy painfully transparent, Powell’s message to EM’s was simple: “you’re on your own.”

Arguing that the Fed’s decision-making isn’t the major determinant of flows of capital into developing economies (which, of course, it is especially as the Fed gradually reverses the biggest monetary experiment in history) Powell said the influence of the Fed on global financial conditions should not be overstated, despite Bernanke taking the blame five years ago for the so-called taper tantrum. “There is good reason to think that the normalization of monetary policy in advanced economies should continue to prove manageable for EMEs,” Powell said, adding that “markets should not be surprised by our actions if the economy evolves in line with expectations.”

[..] Meanwhile, as the Fed refuses to change course, other policy makers have been forced to step in to counter the sharp, sudden capital outflows, with Argentina’s central bank abruptly raising rates three times, to 40% to halt a sell-off in the peso. Russia has also put the brakes on further monetary easing. Turkey, which is a unique basket case in that Erdogan is expressly prohibiting the central bank from doing the one thing it should to ease the ongoing panic, i.e., raise rates, is seeking to bring down its current account deficit. Overnight, we learned that Indonesia was burning reserves to prop up its currency.

Meanwhile, also overnight, JPM CEO Jamie Dimon said it’s possible U.S. growth and inflation prove fast enough to prompt the Fed to raise interest rates more than many anticipate, and it would be wise to prepare for benchmark yields to climb to 4%. Such a scenario would be a disaster for EMs: “A sustained move higher would pressure local currencies and lure away foreign investors. The IMF warned last month that risks to global financial stability have increased over the past six months.” “Central banks may have to respond with interest rate hikes if the sell-off intensifies,” said Chua Hak Bin, a senior economist at Maybank Kim Eng Research in Singapore. Those most vulnerable include Ukraine, China, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey according to the Institute for International Finance.

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IMF demand: austerity. Back to the hoovervilles.

Argentina Seeks IMF Aid ‘To Avoid Crisis’ (BBC)

Argentina is to start talks about a financing deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday amid reports it is seeking $30bn (£22bn). Finance minister Nicolas Dujovne is due to fly to the IMF’s Washington offices. After recent turmoil that saw interest rates hit 40%, President Mauricio Macri said IMF aid would “strengthen growth” and help avoid crises of the past. The talks come 17 years after Argentina defaulted on its debts and 12 years since it severed ties with IMF. Mr Macri said in an address to the nation on Tuesday: “Just a few minutes ago I spoke with (IMF) director Christine Lagarde, and she confirmed we would start working on an agreement.”

“This will allow us to strengthen our program of growth and development, giving us greater support to face this new global scenario and avoid crises like the ones we have had in our history,” he said. Local media and Bloomberg reported that Argentina was seeking $30bn, although the government declined to comment. The peso has lost a quarter of its value in the past year amid President Macri’s pro-market reforms. Last week the central bank raised interest rates from 33.25% to 40%. Many people still blame IMF austerity requirements for policies that led to a financial and economic meltdown in 2001 to 2002 that left millions of middle class Argentines in poverty. Argentina eventually defaulted on its debts. And although its last IMF loan was paid down in 2006, the country severed ties with the Washington-based body.

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“US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately,” tweeted the US ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell.

Europe On Collision Course With US Over Iran Deal (AFP)

Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the landmark 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear programme is a bitter pill to swallow for European leaders and risks a creating a major transatlantic rift. French President Emmanuel Macron, who has spent the past year cultivating the closest ties with Trump among EU leaders, made saving the Iran deal one of his priorities during his state visit to Washington last month. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also travelled to the US in late April and she worked closely with Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May right up to the last minute.

In a joint statement issued shortly after Trump walked away from 2015 accord, they said they noted the decision with “regret and concern” but they said they would continue to uphold their commitments. “Our governments remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld, and will work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure this remains the case,” they said. They noted that this included the “economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement,” which means European firms would in theory continue to invest and operate there. This would appear to set the three countries, all signatories along with Russia, China and the EU, on a direct collision course with Washington.

European leaders have clashed with the White House already on issues ranging from climate change to trade and Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton said that European firms would have a “wind down” period to cancel any investments made in Iran under the terms of the accord. “US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately,” tweeted the US ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell. Under the 2015 deal, Iran was meant to benefit from increased trade and contracts with foreign firms in exchange for accepting curbs on its nuclear activity and stringent monitoring.

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Airbus? But it’s European. Oh: “All the deals are dependent on U.S. licenses because of the heavy use of American parts in commercial planes.”

Mnuchin: Revoking Boeing, Airbus Licenses To Sell Jets To Iran (R.)

Licenses for Boeing Co and Airbus to sell passenger jets to Iran will be revoked, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Tuesday after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. Trump said he would reimpose U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, which were lifted under the agreement he had harshly criticized. The pact, worked out by the United States, five other world powers and Iran, lifted sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program. It was designed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. IranAir had ordered 200 passenger aircraft – 100 from Airbus SE, 80 from Boeing and 20 from Franco-Italian turboprop maker ATR.

All the deals are dependent on U.S. licenses because of the heavy use of American parts in commercial planes. Boeing agreed in December 2016 to sell 80 aircraft, worth $17 billion at list prices, to IranAir under an agreement between Tehran and major world powers to reopen trade in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear activities. The U.S. Treasury Department, which controls licensing of exports, said the United States would no longer allow the export of commercial passenger aircraft, parts and services to Iran after a 90-day period. “The Boeing and (Airbus) licenses will be revoked,” Mnuchin told reporters at the Treasury. “Under the original deal, there were waivers for commercial aircraft, parts and services and the existing licenses will be revoked.”

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Are they going to say they were well treated?

Pompeo, In North Korea, To Return With Detained Americans (R.)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to return from North Korea with three American detainees, as well as details of an upcoming summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, a South Korean official said on Wednesday. Pompeo arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday from Japan and headed to the Koryo Hotel in the North Korean capital for meetings, a U.S. media pool report said. Trump earlier broke the news of Pompeo’s second visit to North Korea in less than six weeks and said the two countries had agreed on a date and location for the summit, although he stopped short of providing details. An official at South Korea’s presidential Blue House said Pompeo was expected to finalize the date of the summit and secure the release of the three American detainees.

While Trump said it would be a “great thing” if the American detainees were freed, Pompeo told reporters en route to Pyongyang he had not received such a commitment but hoped North Korea would “do the right thing”. “We’ll talk about it again today,” he said. “I think it’d be a great gesture if they would choose to do so.” The pending U.S.-North Korea summit has sparked a flurry of diplomacy, with Japan, South Korea and China holding a high-level meeting on Wednesday. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said concerned parties should seize the opportunity to promote denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

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More Nomi.

Central Banks Rigged The Cost Of Money And The State Of The Markets (Prins)

Nomi Prins: The word “collusion” has come to be associated with Russia, Trump and the US election. My book is about something entirely different, much more global: the collusion (or coordination) that the US central bank (the Federal Reserve) forged with other major countries to fabricate an abundance of money in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to support the US financial system at first, and banks and select companies and markets worldwide, as well, since. The Fed conjured up this money to provide liquidity for Wall Street banks. The policy was then exported to the major central banks who acted as a lender and supplier of last resort to the world.

Some of the most notable central banks include the European Central Bank (ECB), the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England. Collusion is about these powerful institutions’ relationships with each other. The book dives into how central banks rigged the cost of money and the state of the markets, and ultimately created more inequality and instability as a result. They did all of this in order to subsidize private banks at the expense of people everywhere. The book reveals the people in charge of these strategies, their elite gatherings and public and private communications. It uncovers how their policies rerouted economies, geopolitics, trade wars and elections.

How do central banks relate to the world’s markets? Central banks have several functions from an official standpoint. The first is to regulate the smooth and orderly operation of private banks or public banks within a particular country or region (the ECB is responsible for many countries in Europe). The other function they are tasked with is setting interest rates (the cost of borrowing money) so that there’s adequate economic balance between full employment and a select inflation rate. The idea is that if the cost of money is cheap enough, private banks will lend to the general population and businesses. The ultimate goal is that the money can be used to expand enterprise, hire people and develop a strong economic posture.

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What cannot be repaid will not be.

US Student Debt Just Hit $1.5 Trillion (MW)

America’s student loan problem just surpassed a depressing milestone. Outstanding student debt reached $1.521 trillion in the first quarter of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve, hitting $1.5 trillion for the first time. Though the marker is somewhat arbitrary, it offers a reminder of how quickly student debt has grown—jumping from about $600 billion 10 years ago to more than $1.5 trillion today—and that the factors fueling the increase aren’t likely to disappear any time soon. “People pay attention to milestones,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert. When student debt surpassed $1 trillion in 2012, “it definitely caused a shift in coverage of student loans in the news media,” he said.

In theory, that helps raise awareness of the issue for student advocates, lawmakers and, in particular, borrowers when considering what college to attend. But Kantrowitz added, “What’s more important is the impact on individual borrowers.” And they are feeling it. College graduates leave school with about $37,000 in debt on average, according to Kantrowitz’s data, a sum that can be bearable for many, given that the average starting salary for a new college graduate last year hovered around $50,000. But a large share—as many as one in six college graduates, Kantrowitz estimates—will leave school with debt that exceeds their income. That will make it challenging for those borrowers to pay off their loans on a standard 10-year repayment plan, he said.

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Now let’s throw in some rate hikes, see what happens.

The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q1 2018 (WS)

Total consumer credit rose 5.1% in the first quarter, compared to a year earlier, or by $184 billion, to $3.824 trillion (not seasonally adjusted), according to the Federal Reserve. This includes credit-card debt, auto loans, and student loans, but not mortgage-related debt. That 5.1% year-over-year increase isn’t setting any records – in 2011, year-over-year increases ran over 11%. But it does show that Americans are dealing with the economy and their joys and woes the American way: by piling on debt faster than the overall economy is growing. The chart below shows the progression of consumer debt since 2006. In line with seasonal patterns for first quarters, consumer credit (not seasonally adjusted) edged down from Q4, as the spending binge of the holiday shopping season turned into hangover, an annual American ritual:

Note how the dip after the Financial Crisis – when consumers deleveraged mostly by defaulting on those debts – didn’t last long. Over the 10 years since Q1 2008, consumer debt has now surged 47%. Over the same period, the consumer price index has increased 16.9%: Auto loans and leases for new and used vehicles rose by 3.8% from a year ago, or by $41 billion, to $1.118 trillion. It was one of the smaller increases since the Great Recession: The peak year-over-year jumps occurred at the peak of the new vehicle sales boom in the US in Q3 2015 ($87 billion or 9%). However, the still standing records were set in Q1 and Q2 2001 near the end of the recession, with each quarter adding around $93 billion, or 16%, year-over-year.

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It really makes no difference; the EU will say no anyway to all plans acceptable to the UK.

UK PM May Suffers Upper House Defeat Over Plans To Leave EU Single Market (R.)

Britain’s upper house of parliament on Tuesday inflicted another embarrassing defeat on Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on Tuesday, challenging her plan to leave the European Union’s single market after Brexit. May, who has struggled to unite the government behind her vision of Brexit, has said Britain will also leave the European Union’s single market and customs union after it quits the bloc next March. That stance has widened divisions not only within her own Conservative Party but also across both houses of parliament, which like Britons at large, remain deeply split over the best way to leave the EU after more than four decades of membership.

By a vote of 245 to 218, the unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, supported an amendment to her Brexit blueprint, the EU withdrawal bill, requiring ministers to negotiate continued membership of the European Economic Area, meaning that it would remain in the single market. “The time has come over Brexit, really, for economic reality and common sense to prevail over political dogma and wishful thinking,” said Peter Mandelson, a member of the House of Lords from the main opposition Labour Party, who backed the amendment.

His comments drew criticism from pro-Brexit peers, including Conservative member Michael Forsyth who described the amendment as part of an attempt by “a number of people in this house who wish to reverse the decision of the British people”. Those proposing the amendment deny the charge. This is the 13th time in recent weeks that the government has been defeated in the House of Lords on the draft legislation that will formally terminate Britain’s EU membership.

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Must have been the weather.

UK Retailers Suffer Sharpest Sales Drop For 22 Years In April (G.)

Britain’s retailers suffered the sharpest drop in business in more than two decades last month as bad weather, the squeeze on household budgets and the timing of Easter led to a hefty cut in consumer spending. In the latest evidence of the slowdown in the economy since the turn of the year, the latest health check from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG found that sales were down by 3.1% in April, the biggest decline since the survey was launched in 1995. Spending on non-food items has been particularly hard hit over the last three months, and retailers are braced for tough trading conditions to continue for the rest of the year even though wages have now started to rise more quickly than prices.

Retailers have been hit hard by a combination of problems on top of the squeeze on spending, including higher labour costs as a result of increases in the minimum wage, the shift to online shopping and rapidly changing spending patterns. Toys R Us and the electricals retailer Maplin collapsed in February and a number of retailers, including House of Fraser, New Look, Carpetright and Poundworld, are all pursuing agreements with their landlords to cut their rents and close stores. The industry had been expecting that year-on-year comparisons would look poor for April, but the BRC’s chief executive, Helen Dickinson, said the problem ran deeper.

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Pickers and packers.

Sharp Drop In UK Retail Job Vacancies As High Street Crisis Deepens (Ind.)

Wages rose in April amid strong demand for candidates, but the number of retail vacancies dropped sharply as the crisis on the high street worsened, a recruitment industry survey has found. Growth of overall job vacancies picked up to a three-month high in April, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said. Demand for permanent staff increased in the “vast majority” of job categories during the month, with the notable exception of retail, the REC said. The study of 400 recruitment consultancies found that engineering and IT saw the steepest increases in vacancies. REC director of policy Tom Hadley said the high-profile struggles of many retailers indicated it was a good time for staff to consider how they could transfer their skills into other roles, such as in the technology sector or as pickers and packers in distribution centres. “Helping people make career transitions will become increasingly important in this fast-changing business and employment landscape,” he said.

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Smart.

“..In New York in 2017, 86% of fifth-degree marijuana arrests were of people of color, while only 9% of those arrested were white..”

Cynthia Nixon: Marijuana Industry Could Be ‘A Form Of Reparations’ (Hill)

New York gubernatorial candidate and actress Cynthia Nixon on Saturday expanded on her calls for marijuana legalization, saying that the industry could provide a form of “reparations” for communities of color. Nixon, who expressed her support for legalizing marijuana earlier this year, told Forbes that she views marijuana as a racial justice issue. “We’re incarcerating people of color in such staggering numbers,” she said. She expressed support for what is known as an “equity” program, which would prioritize giving marijuana business licenses to people who have received marijuana convictions in the past. “Now that cannabis is exploding as an industry, we have to make sure that those communities that have been harmed and devastated by marijuana arrests get the first shot at this industry,” she told Forbes.

“We [must] prioritize them in terms of licenses. It’s a form of reparations.” In New York in 2017, 86% of fifth-degree marijuana arrests were of people of color, while only 9% of those arrested were white, despite data showing that black and white people are about equally likely to use marijuana. “Arresting people — particularly people of color — for cannabis is the crown jewel in the racist war on drugs and we must pluck it down,” she said. “We must expunge people’s records; we must get people out of prison.” “The use of marijuana has been effectively legal for white people for a really long time,” she told Forbes. “It’s time that we legalize it for everybody else.”

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Everything keeps going down. It’s guaranteed.

Record Drop In Greek Savings Last Year (K.)

Household savings shrank by 32.5 billion euros in total in the period from 2011 to 2017, as families increasingly resorted to dipping into their deposits after finding that disposable incomes are no longer enough to cover their outgoings. Last year the drop in savings reached an historic high of 8.3 billion euros in current prices, according to an analysis by Eurobank. In addition, households have resorted to liquidating assets such as properties, deposits, shares and bonds, among other investments. Notably consumption shrank by almost a quarter from 2008 to 2017, falling from 163.3 billion euros to 123.3 billion last year, which was the sixth in a row with negative savings for Greek households; this means that disposable income was less than consumption.

Eurobank data showed that the wealth of the country’s households has been in constant decline since 2011, falling at an average rate of 6.6 billion euros per year, which is transformed from various forms of savings into consumption. The report by Eurobank’s analysis department highlighted that the economic recession, the stagnation in investments and the major fiscal adjustment Greece experienced from 2009 to 2017 have compressed households’ saving capacity, both in terms of incomes and their obligations to the state through taxes and social security contributions.

The figures reveal that Greek households’ net annual savings amounted to 11.4 billion euros in 2009, or 7% of their gross disposable income, while last year the balance was negative by 8.3 billion, or 6.7% of households’ gross disposable income. Shrinking private consumption has had a direct impact on investments: In 2009 investments had amounted to 18.3% of GDP and were 31.8% funded by domestic consumption and the rest from borrowing. In 2017 the investment rate slipped to 11.6% of GDP, with domestic consumption accounting for 91.1%.

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Delusional or lying to our faces?

Debt Repayment Feasible if Greece ‘Implements Reforms’ – Regling (AMNA)

“If the government in Athens implements all the remaining reforms decisively, Greece can successfully emerge from the ESM program in August 2018,” Klaus Regling, president of the European Stability Mechanism, has said. The ESM chief spoke at en event held in Aachen, Germany on the occasion of the awarding of the 60th International Charlemagne Prize to French President Emmanuel Macron. Regling expressed confidence that Greece could repay its loans, provided the maturity times are sufficiently extended and the obligations do not exceed 15-20% of the country’s economic performance. The ESM chief said that if the latest report on Greece’s bailout program is positive, there will be a final disbursement from the ESM, and then decisions will be made on possible further debt relief.

He argued that there was absolutely no alternative to the establishment of the rescue mechanism, without which, as he said, Greece, Portugal and Ireland would have probably come out of Economic and Monetary Union under “chaotic conditions,” while at the same time other countries such as Germany, would have problems. Regling also stressed that ESM interest rates are clearly below the level that countries would have to pay in the markets, and that is why they save a lot of money. In the case of Greece, “we estimate that ESM loans lead to savings of almost €10 billion [$11.8 billion] each year for the Greek budget”, he said and stressed that this is happening costing nothing to the European taxpayer.

“These savings are an expression of the solidarity shown by the member states of the euro zone,” he said, and referred to “great efforts” that Greece is making to fulfill the strict reform conditions. “Overall, Greece now has impressive adaptation efforts behind it. The budget deficit at the start of the 2009 crisis was above 15% of GDP. For two years, the country has been generating a budget surplus. Such a success is only possible with profound reforms,” Regling noted and said that if Greece implements all reforms, eurozone finance ministers would give Greece further debt relief, namely longer repayment times.

Finally, explaining the reasons why Greece remains in a program while the other countries have completed their own, referred to the country as a “special case” for three reasons: “Firstly, the Greek economy has had problems that are deeper rooted than for other countries in a program. Secondly, the country suffered from a much weaker public administration than the other eurozone member states. “And thirdly, the Greek government in the first half of 2015 went in the wrong direction with then finance minister (Yanis Varoufakis): major reforms were revoked and an effort was made to stop the agreed reform program. “As a result, the Greek economy had fallen into a recession. Grexit suddenly became a realistic scenario. The Bank of Greece estimates that this wrong move cost Greece €86 billion.”

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How we think.

British Diplomats: Saving The Rainforest Could Hurt Fighter Jet Sales (UE)

British government officials warned a proposed EU ban on palm oil in biofuels could harm UK defence sales to Malaysia, specifically Typhoon fighter jets, according to government emails obtained by Unearthed. The correspondence reveals that the British high commission in Kuala Lumpur even expected Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to lobby Theresa May personally on the issue at last month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. In the event, Razak did not attend the meeting in London, a Number 10 spokeswoman told Unearthed. Correspondence between the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the British high commission reveals British officials were concerned that EU moves to ban palm oil in biofuels could result in Malaysian trade reprisals against the UK.

MEPs voted in January to phase out the use of palm oil in biofuels, citing environmental concerns. The move sparked a furious response from the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia, which produce most of the world’s palm oil. The debate over palm oil is playing a significant role in the run-up to Malaysia’s general election, which will be held tomorrow. On the morning of 5 February, an official at the British high commission in Malaysia sent an email warning that the EU decision was “a big issue for Malaysia and, if not handled correctly, has the potential to impact on bilateral trade, particularly defence sales (Typhoon)”.

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Mar 142018
 
 March 14, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Sprig of Flowering Almond in a Glass 1888

 

One Of The Greatest Minds Ever To Live Dies Age 76 (Ind.)
Trump Unmasked 68 Years Of Washington Duplicity (Stockman)
What Secretary of State Tillerson’s Firing Means (Paul Craig Roberts)
New CIA Director Gina Haspel Once Ran A Torture Site (Qz)
Theresa May Plans For ‘Economic War’ With Vladimir Putin And His Allies (Ind.)
False Flags for Newbies (Dmitry Orlov)
Google To Ban All Cryptocurrency-Related Advertising (CNBC)
The Retirement Crisis: The Elderly Are Broke (GT)
More Than 500 Refugees, Migrants Reach Greek Islands In Four Days (K.)

 

 

Bit of a hyperbole headline perhaps (how would you know), but certainly unequalled in our times. I think Hawking greatest achievement was that once people had accepted his ‘initial’ groundbreaking theories on black holes (nothing can escape, event horizons etc.), he turned around and said they were not true: matter does escape from them after all: Hawking radiation.

One Of The Greatest Minds Ever To Live Dies Age 76 (Ind.)

He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.” Professor Hawking explored both the very smallest and very largest parts of the universe: testing the limits of human understanding across time and space space, and peering into the sub-molecular world of quantum theory. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web, was one of the first to respond to news of his death, saying on Twitter: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit”. Professor Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for 237 weeks.

Over the years, he would also embrace areas of popular culture appearing in both The Simpsons and hit US science comedy The Big Bang Theory. His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through the possibility of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes. His most famous theoretical breakthrough was the idea that black holes are not really black, but can produce thermal radiation and potentially “evaporate”. Scientists refer to such potential emanations as “Hawking radiation.” “My goal is simple,” Professor Hawking once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

With Roger Penrose, Professor Hawking showed that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. He spent much of his career trying to find a way to reconcile Einstein’s theory with quantum physics and produce a “Theory of Everything.” Professor Hawking said he wrote A Brief History of Time to convey as clearly as he could the topics that excited him. “My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time. “In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.”

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Not a general view.

Trump Unmasked 68 Years Of Washington Duplicity (Stockman)

[..] the Korean peninsula never had anything to do with American security. Its partition was an accident in the final days of WWII; the 1950-1953 war was utterly pointless and unnecessary; and the prolonged US occupation of the southern half of the peninsula was at once a provocation, a massive waste of treasure and a prime example of what imperial rulers do once bivouacked astride a global empire. That is, like Imperial Rome, they puff themselves up with self-importance and busy-body rule for its own sake. So doing, they invent self-serving rationalizations for hegemony, such as the insidious “indispensable nation” conceit—even as they extract the taxes and issue the mountains of debt required to fund the endless fiscal needs of the state’s machinery of war and foreign domination.

Indeed, Washington has long ago forgotten how its global empire came about or why the Korean frontier has remained a vestigial Maginot Line – long after the “enemies” it was designed to contain disappeared from the pages of history. We are referring, or course, to the Soviet Empire, which is no more; and the Red China Menace, which has morphed into a colossal Red Ponzi scheme of debt, malinvestment and speculative building madness that is a danger mostly to the 1.3 billion Chinese caught up in history’s craziest economic freak show. So whether by inadvertence or blind impulse, the Donald has now opened the door to sweeping away six decades of Washington duplicity and double-speak.

The fact is, the Korean problem is not complicated or some kind of imponderable riddle that baffles even the so-called “experts”.To the contrary, both a visiting Martian and an attentive reader of history not enthrall to the groupthink of Imperial Washington can see that the key to “de-nuclearizing” Korea is to demilitarize it and de-internationalize it at the same time. That is, if Washington ever wishes to de-escalate its current dangerous nuclear brinksmanship with the Fat Boy Of Pyongyang, it needs to get its 29,000 troops off the peninsula and end the constant war games and practice invasions of the North Korea; and to also tear up the Washington imposed mutual security agreements, and let the two halves of the “Hermit Kingdom” restore their own version of the pre-1945 status quo ante.

[..] since 2002 South Korea’s economy has grown every eight months by more than the entire current GDP of North Korea. But that doesn’t change the reality on the ground and the overwhelming case to permit Korea to be run by the Koreans under whatever state arrangements they can agree to. That was the exact aim of the South Korean governments after the Cold War ended when they pursued “sunshine policy” rapprochement with the North. That is, until it was shutdown by George Bush’s neocon hatchet men.

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The choice for Tillerson was never a good one. But with adding Pompeo, Haspel and next up John Bolton, Trump’s own picks are a bigger threat to him than Robert Mueller ever could be.

What Secretary of State Tillerson’s Firing Means (Paul Craig Roberts)

The firing of Secretary of State Tillerson, the movement of CIA Director Pompeo to Secretary of State, and the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the secret CIA torture prisons in Thailand, indicate that the military/security complex has closed its grip on the Trump regime. There will be no more talk of normalizing relations with Russia. The combination of the Israel Lobby, the neoconservatives, and the military/security complex have proven to be too powerful for peace to be established between the two nuclear powers. If you look at Trump’s administration, the above three forces are those in charge. Israel remains determined to use the US military to destabilize Syria and Iran in order to isolate Hezbollah and cut off the milita’s support and supplies.

The neoconservatives both support Israel’s interest and their own desire for Washington’s hegemony over the world. The military/security complex intends to hold on to the “Russia threat” as a justification of its budget and power. The presstitutes are in complete harmony with the scheme. Although Russiagate has been proven to be false charges orchestrated by the DNC, FBI, and CIA, the presstitutes continue to repeat the charges as if evidence exists that proves the charges to be true. The “stolen election” is fiction turned into fact. And now we have a new charge, that Putin ordered a former British spy in England to be eliminated while sitting on a park bench with the use of a highly unlikely form of military poison.

The charge is preposterous, but that is not preventing the fiction from becoming fact. Having served in Washington for a quarter century and having known members of the British government, I do not believe that any of them believe the Russiagate and Skripal poisoning stories. What is happening is that an agenda has taken precedence over truth. This is an extremely dangerous agenda. Russia’s new weapons easily give Russia military superiority over the US. As China and Iran see the situation similarly to the Russians, the US is greatly out-classed.

Yet, Washington and its vassals persist in making violent and false charges and threats against Russia, Iran, and on occasion China. Russia, Iran, and China know that these charges are false. Confronting an endless string of false and hostile charges, they prepare for war. The world is being driven to war, which would be nuclear, by a tiny minority: Israeli Zionists, neoconservatives, and the US military/security complex. We are witnessing the most reckless and irresponsible behavior in world history. Where are the voices against it?

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She should be held in one of those sites.

New CIA Director Gina Haspel Once Ran A Torture Site (Qz)

As CIA director Mike Pompeo moves to become the United States’ secretary of state, deputy director Gina Haspel has been nominated to lead the agency. If confirmed by the Senate, she will become the first woman to run the CIA. Haspel’s nomination will be controversial; she played a leading role (paywall) in running a US torture site abroad and later destroyed the evidence of it. In 2002, she oversaw a secret prison in Thailand that tortured two terrorism suspects. That torture took place within the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which suspected terrorists are sent to US allies, and interrogated in “black sites” on their soil. One of the men, known as Abu Zubayda, was waterboarded 83 times in one month and was slammed into walls by the head.

He was deprived of sleep and kept in a coffin-like box. Interrogators later decided he didn’t have any useful information. ProPublica found that Haspel personally signed cables to CIA headquarters that detailed Zubayda’s interrogation. CIA videos of the torture were destroyed in 2005, on the orders of a cable drafted by Haspel. Her then-boss Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s director of operations for counterterrorism, signed off on the order. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes,” he wrote in his memoir, according to ProPublica. “They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.” The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a Berlin-based NGO, has been pushing Germany’s public prosecutor to arrest Haspel for her role in the torture program.

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You can’t pull this stuff without proof. But note how she gets support from all over, countries, media. Like the US does when it invades yet another nation.

Theresa May Plans For ‘Economic War’ With Vladimir Putin And His Allies (Ind.)

Theresa May is drawing up plans for an “economic war” with Vladimir Putin and his allies after Moscow refused to explain how a deadly Russian nerve agent came to be used in a rural British city. The Independent understands the ground is already being prepared for economic measures such as asset freezes and seizures, alongside visa bans against Russian individuals. Ms May is also understood to be considering expelling diplomats and pushing for joint international action with allies. The Prime Minister is set to meet her National Security Council on Wednesday to finalise her approach which is then likely be announced to the House of Commons in the afternoon.

Action came a step closer after the Russian Foreign Minister said his country would not cooperate with the British investigation into the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March. But Britain’s allies gave early support to Ms May’s push, with Angela Merkel calling for unified action and Donald Trump saying there must be “consequences” for those responsible. [..] A Government minister said: “What happens will be an economic war, these will be economic measures. “Russia’s economy is only half that of the UK, a lot of it concentrated in a few people’s hands. Well, we’ll do our bit to make it smaller if they want to carry on like this. “That doesn’t give us any pleasure at all, but we need the nations of Europe to behave within the rule of law and not like gangsters. The message has to be economic, political and diplomatic.”

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“.. the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down..”

False Flags for Newbies (Dmitry Orlov)

An important key to spotting a false flag is that the “knowledge” of who is to blame becomes available before any evidence is in. For example, in the case of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 over Eastern Ukraine, everyone in the West was convinced that “pro-Russian separatists” were to blame even before the means could be established. To this date, it isn’t understood how they could have done it given the equipment they had at their disposal. In this case, Russia was accused almost immediately, while British FM Boris Johnson was quick to volunteer that Britain should not send its team to the World Cup in Russia this summer, disclosing the real reason behind the assassination attempt.

Is there anything new and different behind this latest provocation? Not really; it seems like a replay of the Litvinenko assassination back in November 2006. The choice of an exotic poison (Polonium 210), the lack of evidence (the British claimed that compelling circumstantial evidence exists but haven’t provided any), and the instantaneous leap to “blame Russia” are all the same. The Russians offered to prosecute whoever is responsible if only the British would provide them with the evidence, but the British have failed to do so.

Giving the British story the benefit of the doubt, let’s see what would compel Russia’s secret services to go after Skripal. In Russia, he was convicted and sentenced for treason, then pardoned and released to the British in a prisoner exchange that included ten Russian spies who had worked in the US, including the rather memorable Anna Chapman. It is a very important rule of the spy business that those released in a spy swap are never acted against; if this rule were violated, the resulting bad faith would make spy swaps impossible to negotiate.

[..] My simple and consistent explanation, expressed in a single sentence, is as follows: Under direction from their colleagues in the US, and closely following a script previously worked out in the Litvinenko case over a decade ago, the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down in order to obtain an excuse to compromise the World Cup games in Russia this summer and also to create a scandal immediately before the Russian presidential election.

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Too close to politics.

Google To Ban All Cryptocurrency-Related Advertising (CNBC)

Google is cracking down on cryptocurrency-related advertising. The company is updating its financial services-related ad policies to ban any advertising about cryptocurrency-related content, including initial coin offerings (ICOs), wallets, and trading advice, Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, told CNBC. That means that even companies with legitimate cryptocurrency offerings won’t be allowed to serve ads through any of Google’s ad products, which place advertising on its own sites as well as third-party websites. This update will go into effect in June 2018, according to a company post.

“We don’t have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we’ve seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it’s an area that we want to approach with extreme caution,” Scott said. Google’s hard-line approach follows a similar ban that Facebook announced earlier this year. While the crypto-currency boom has produced a lot of excitement and wealth, it’s still a largely unregulated space and has spawned countless high-profile scams.

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Virginia Fidler has it right, except for this: “The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem”. Thing is, it makes no difference if they’re aware or not. I’ve said it before: the demise of retirement systems is the no. 1 reason for UBI.

The Retirement Crisis: The Elderly Are Broke (GT)

42% of Americans are facing their golden years with less than $10,000 in savings. A lack of savings and planning has reduced what should be an enjoyable time in seniors’ lives to a period of stress and worries for many. Out-of-pocket expenses for health care is spiraling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that Americans 65 years of age and older may spend up to $46,000 annually on healthcare. This is not good news for those with only $10,000 on which to fall back on. For adults over 50, this should be a call to act now, while there is still time. Only one-third of adults in that age group have savings greater than $10,000. Retirement planning needs to become a priority, as there is little time to waste.

Pensions are becoming rarer, and Social Security is becoming less secure than it used to be. Many health needs of seniors are not covered by Medicare. Some experts believe the Social Security system will be depleted by 2030. Adults over the age of 50 need to consider making contributions into 401(k) accounts or similar retirement plans. Social Security was never intended to be the sole income of retiring seniors. It was meant to supplement approximately only 40% of post-retirement spending. Social security was supposed to enhance seniors’ lives, not support it entirely. However, according to Investopedia.com, 43% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security to cover 90% of their basic needs. Almost a quarter of married couples depend on Social Security to meet most of their expenses.

Some seniors struggling with poverty are able to receive supplemental income (“SPM”), such as food stamps for a bit of additional help. The need is especially high for seniors who are women, African Americans, and Hispanics, and those with ongoing health issues.6,400,000 million American seniors are living at poverty level, struggling to meet fundamental needs such as rent and food. This number is likely to increase as more boomers become eligible for Social Security and the system becomes less able to support them.

What does this mean for the Millennial generation? The current Social Security system will be unsustainable at some point. It cannot continue at the current level. It probably won’t be abolished, as that would cause chaos for seniors. However, Millennials are aware that changes are coming. They know that benefits will likely be reduced by the time they grow older. The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem. Members of the boomer generation who assumed Social Security would take care of their needs are learning a hard lesson.

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Turkey rattles the cage.

More Than 500 Refugees, Migrants Reach Greek Islands In Four Days (K.)

According to official figures released on Tuesday more than 500 migrants reached islands of the eastern Aegean in the previous four days, following a two-week lull in arrivals. The spike in arrivals was attributed by a Greek Police official to Turkish authorities, who, he said, control the influx. “But they always make sure not to overdo it so they can claim they are honoring the joint EU-Turkey agreement,” the official said, referring to a deal signed between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 to curb human smuggling. The two-week drop in arrivals eased the pressure on facilities, as did the transfer of migrants to camps on the mainland. But some camps, notably on Lesvos, remain overcrowded.

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