We associate the term “mass psychosis” with the reaction(s) to Covid, but I would argue it’s been around a lot longer, and broader. At least since 2015, and the media coverage (if you can even call it that) of Donald Trump, his campaign and his presidency. I have no special sympathy for Trump (though some people doubt that), but that episode, and the “coverage” of it, did wake me up -even more- to how the media -and US “intelligence”, and Trump’s various opponents- influenced the way they wanted people to think.
And perhaps the best way to illustrate this is the “heroes” they have been promoting ever since. It’s not just Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden during the “Trump days”, this model is still used to date. They make people like, and thereby trust, certain characters, and we’re off to the races. One thing that sticks out is how in the cases of Trump-Russia, Covid, and Ukraine-Russia, there are these personae that were getting adorned with celebratory candles and stuff like that.
The first person we saw that with was Robert Mueller. He did a 2-year “investigation”, which resulted in absolutely nothing -other than some vague allegations he had no proof of either-, and which he should have halted at least a year before he did, something nobody ever called him on. At his “closing” testimony he even claimed he had never heard of Fusion GPS, one of the key components in his own “investigation”, so we wondered if he ever had any control of this probe, or if it were perhaps Andrew Weizmann and the other 40-odd lawyers, paid god knows how many millions, and had god knows what other resources.
Robert Mueller turned out to be an utter disgrace to the whole nation, and he was never called on it. Nor was anyone else involved in the Steele Dossier, or any of the other false papers in the Trump persecution. This is a pattern. And you cannot and will not have a healthy country if these things do not happen, if the invented out of whole cloth falsehoods can be swept under the carpet. The complicity of US intelligence, moreover, means that nobody will ever know. They won’t investigate themselves. Or the Democratic party that ran the whole thing. Here is Mueller on July 24, 2019. Watch and weep.
Another main character in the Trump era was Adam Schiff, who repeated numerous times that he had “ample evidence” of collusion between Russia and Trump. But who, like Mueller, never showed one single shred of evidence for it. And now Schiff is back in the January 6 committee. Look, the guy lied in Congress and the Senate, so many times he would put Pinokkio to shame, but he’s still a Congressman, and he gets to do it all over again. You cannot have a functioning society, or political system, if people get away with lying incessantly, and there’s no penalty for that.
But still, here we go again. Legal expert Jonathan Turley noticed the exact same thing:
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) went on CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight” to tout the work of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6th riot. In that interview, Schiff declared that the Committee has enough evidence showing former President Donald Trump “engaged in likely multiple criminal acts.” While vague on the specific crimes, Schiff emphasized that the Justice Department did not have to wait any further to launch a criminal investigation based on what has already been disclosed.
While the Committee has disclosed new evidence in the form of videotapes and testimony, it has not presented new material evidence of criminal acts in my view. That could still come but the first two hearings largely focused on a “conspiracy” to challenge the election certification and allegations that Trump knew the there was no compelling evidence of widespread election fraud.
And from the Trump investigation disgrace for America, we moved on seamlessly to Covid. Another bizarre freak show, and another media-appointed hero for whom candles were dedicated and burned: Anthony Fauci. We’re two years and change after Fauci caught the limelight, and we now know nothing, absolutely nothing, he said was true. Face masks don’t work, they instead risk making people sicker, if anything; lockdowns: same thing, and the vaccine injuries have only just started. Saw the first study today that says unvaccinated people have less risk of severe Covid, which is the 180º opposite of the last alleged positive effect the jabs were supposed to bring. Game over.
What an insane story. But Fauci, and the FDA, and all these “experts”, are preparing to jab babies. Which puts them at great risk, who have no risk from Covid . Because it puts their immune systems in danger. For life. For Pfizer and Moderna profits. How many people were killed by lockdowns? How many by vaccines? We will never know. Your grandchildren are not going to believe you allowed it to happen. But yeah, go burn a candle for Tony. And for all his brethren in all other countries. They will try again this fall. Based on no other “proof” than that provided by Pfizer. Clown world. Latest EU vaccine deaths number is 44,348. That Eudra Vigilance number, like the US VAERS system, catches maybe 1 in 10 adverse effects. If that. But we saved so many lives! No, you did not. You were killing people, under coercion, all along. For money.
Today, then, we have the Russian Special Military Operation, totally unprovoked, unless you ask Pope Francis I. And again, the media present you with a hero for whom, again, celebratory candles are consecrated. And y’all fall for it again: Vlod Zelensky. Who’s doing the most elaborate PR campaign we’ve ever seen, dozens of media appearances per day, while hundreds of his people are dying daily in a “war” effort that has zero chance of succeeding.
Sending him more weapons will only mean killing more of his people, but that doesn’t appear to be his main concern, does it? How strange! Zelensky is the alleged -but not actual- leader of one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and certainly the no. 1 in the “west”. But he provides the western arms industries with a theater in which they can test their new weapons, while at the same time raking in huge profits for old and new systems. And as the only casualties are Ukrainians and Russians, but no Americans or Germans, Raytheon and Boeing couldn’t have asked for a better set-up.
And do remember that Zelensky has also claimed that the Russians want to eradicate the entire Ukrainian population, obliterate their whole culture, kill as many Ukrainians as they can, and that Russians kill Ukrainians just for fun. Among many other things. While the reality is that Russia has sacrificed the lives of many of its soldiers in order to prevent many more Ukrainian deaths. Russia could have taken Ukraine much faster than they have without that. That is, the consideration that they are brotherly people. But that reality does not fit the west’s picture.
We are a utterly sick culture, and we don’t have much time left to wake up from that and repair it. Our real heroes have been silenced, banned, imprisoned or murdered. We will not be able to live like this much longer.
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“We didn’t do a good enough job explaining why my policies that caused the border crisis are Putin’s fault” ~ Biden
Tonight we are endorsing Kamala D. Harris for the 2024 Democratic primaries. She deserves it. And so do Democrats. They created her. They should be forced to live with her. Anyone who disagrees with that is, by definition, a racist. https://t.co/WaeGEzMO2tpic.twitter.com/KOUkP01BG4
In an interview published Tuesday, Pope Francis said Russia’s war in Ukraine was “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented” — controversial remarks that will raise eyebrows internationally. He made the remarks during an interview with Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica conducted in mid-May but published Tuesday. “Someone may say to me at this point: but you are pro-Putin! No, I am not,” Francis said. “It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing. I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys, without reasoning about roots and interests, which are very complex.” The pope also recalled a conversation he had before the war with an unnamed head of state — a “wise man” — who told Francis he was concerned about NATO and Russia.
“He said, ‘They are barking at the gates of Russia. The situation could lead to war,’” the pope said. “That head of state was able to read the signs of what was happening.” The remarks will likely spark criticism as they echo Russia’s narrative that NATO expansion into former Soviet Union territory forced Moscow to invade Ukraine. Russia’s all-out assault, which began in late February, was launched unilaterally, leaving thousands dead. In the interview, the pontiff did criticize Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, pointing to the “brutality and ferocity” of the Russian troops, and emphasizing “the heroism of the Ukrainian people.” The pope’s new comments come a month after he said himself in an interview that NATO may have “perhaps facilitated” the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine by “barking” at Russia’s door.
Russia has told Ukrainian forces holed up in a chemical plant in the embattled eastern city of Sievierodonetsk to lay down their arms by early Wednesday. Ukraine says more than 500 civilians are trapped alongside soldiers inside Azot, a chemical factory where its forces have resisted weeks of Russian bombardment and assaults that have reduced much of Sievierodonetsk to ruins. Col Gen Mikhail Mizintsev, the officer who was in charge of the devastating siege of Mariupol, said fighters should “stop their senseless resistance and lay down arms” from 8am Moscow time (5am GMT).
The Russian army has shifted the bulk of its military efforts to capturing Sievierodonetsk in its attempt to take full control of Luhansk and Donetsk, collectively known as Donbas. Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk, told Ukrainian television on Tuesday that two more Russian battalion tactical groups had been moved into the area. The fight for Sievierodonetsk is turning into one of the war’s bloodiest battles and is seen as a potential turning point in Russia’s advances in Donbas.
Donald Trump moved to face the challenge of China. A major shift in U.S. policy that is likely considered the biggest geopolitical shift in the last 75 years. Trump strategically began with Trade Authority 302 national security Steel and Aluminum tariffs at 25% and 10% not only toward China but targeted globally. The entire multinational system was stunned at the bold step with tariffs. But remember, before Trump went to Saudi Arabia, he held a meeting with Chairman Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago. The global trade world was shocked by the tariff announcement, but I’ll bet you a doughnut Chairman Xi was not. That February 2017 meeting, only one month after his inauguration, was President Trump graciously informing Chairman Xi, in the polite manner that respectful business people do, that a new era in the U.S-China relationship was about to begin.
New trade agreements, new terms and conditions were to be expected in the future. The tariff announcement hit Wall Street hard, but not Beijing – who knew it was likely. U.S. financial pundits proclaimed the sky was surely falling. These tariffs would cause prices to skyrocket, the global order of all things around trade was under attack by Trump. They waxed and shouted about supply chains being complicated and intertwined amid the modern manufacturing era that was too complex for President Trump to understand with such a heavy handed tariff hammer. Remember all of that? Remember how cars were going to cost thousands more, and beer kegs would forever be lost because the orange man had just triggered steel and aluminum tariffs?
Did any of that happen? No. Of course it didn’t. Actually, the opposite was true and no one could even fathom it. Communist China first responded by subsidizing all of their industries targeted by the tariffs with free energy and raw materials, etc. China triggered an immediate reaction to lower their own prices to offset tariffs. Beijing did not want the heavy industries and factories to start back up again in the U.S, so they reacted with measures to negate the tariff impact. China’s economy started to feel the pressure and panda was not happy. Eventually, as the tariffs expanded beyond Steel and Aluminum to other specific segments and categories, China devalued their currency to lower costs even further for U.S. importers. The net result was something no one could have imagined. With lower prices, and increased dollar strength, we began importing all Chinese products at cheaper rates than before the tariffs were triggered. Yes, we began importing deflation. No one saw that coming…. but Trump did.
We don’t have to guess at whether Donald Trump can put together a program to ensure Economic Security is National Security. We don’t have to guess at whether Donald Trump can deliver on economic policy. We don’t have guess if Trump’s policy platform, proposals and initiatives would be successful. We have the experience of it. We have the results of it. We have felt the success of it. We also don’t need to guess at who is the best candidate to lead Making America Great Again, we already know who that is. There is no other 2024 Presidential Candidate, who I am aware of, who could possibly achieve what Donald John Trump has achieved, or who could even fathom contemplating how to achieve a quarter of what President Trump achieved.
Governor Ron DeSantis has a lot of really good skills and policies on the domestic front unique to his position in Florida; however, it is not a slight toward him to point out he has never expressed any larger economic proposal that would give any confidence in a national economic policy. Look at the sum total of it, and there’s so much more that could be outlined to what Donald Trump achieved and could yet still achieve, it’s not even a close question. And that my friends is exactly why Donald Trump is under relentless attack from both wings of the UniParty in DC. Additionally, it is clear the Wall Street Republicans are trying to position Ron DeSantis as an alternative to another Trump term.
Look carefully at the current advocates for DeSantis, Nikki Haley and/or Kristi Noem, and you will note every one of those early voices are attached to favorable Wall Street politics and multinational corporate advocacy. Look at what Donald J. Trump was able to achieve while he was under constant political attack. Just imagine what Trump 2.0 would deliver. They, the leftist Democrats and Wall Street Republicans, are yet again absolutely petrified of that.
The Daily Caller contacted all 50 Senate Democrats repeatedly and asked if they would support President Joe Biden in his 2024 presidential bid. Five Senators said “Yes.” A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader and Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer responded to the Daily Caller with a one-word answer: “Yes.” Spokespeople for Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Jack Reed of Rhode Island responded in the same way: “Yes.” Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s spokesperson also said the senator would endorse Biden, noting, “Yes, Senator Booker supports President Biden for re-election should he run again in 2024.” Several members of the Democratic Party have recently cast doubt on Biden’s support for his presidential run in 2024 amid his desperate polling numbers.
This week, Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez refused to answer if she will endorse Biden, saying “we’ll take a look at it” when the time comes. Democratic officials and voters also cited the poor state of the country and Biden’s age as reasons they are hesitant to be fully behind Biden now in an article from The New York Times. (RELATED: A Slew Of Democrats Are Quietly Hoping Biden Won’t Run In 2024) Democratic Delaware Sen. Chris Coon’s spokesperson answered the Daily Caller’s inquiry with a reference to the senator’s recent comments about Biden’s 2024 run. “It’s my understanding that the president intends to seek a second term, and I understand why,” Coons said in a Monday interview, adding that Biden’s “leadership on the world stage has been impressive.”
Coons cited Biden’s performance in foreign policy, the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Biden’s vow to tackle health care costs and his “clear plans” on how to handle inflation as reasons for why Biden deserves support. “I can understand why he might think running for reelection is a good idea,” Coons concluded in the interview. Coons’ spokesperson then confirmed to the Daily Caller that the senator would endorse Biden in 2024. “Yes, If President Biden runs, he’ll support him,” he said. The 45 other Democratic Senators did not respond to several inquiries form the Daily Caller if they would endorse Biden in 2024.
With less than five months to go before voters elect all members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate, the current Democratic congressional majority is facing an extremely unfavorable election environment. The party of the president typically loses U.S. House seats in midterm elections — an average of 23 since 1974. However, 2022 is not shaping up to be an average year. Rather, as of May, Gallup finds presidential job approval and three other key national mood indicators well below the historical averages measured in past midterm election years. On their own, those numbers would all predict a greater-than-average loss of seats for the Democratic Party this fall.
Gallup’s latest data, from a May 2-22 survey, finds 41% of Americans approving of the job President Joe Biden is doing, 18% approving of the job Congress is doing, 16% satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S., and a 32-percentage-point deficit in positive (14%) versus negative (46%) ratings of current economic conditions. Each of those metrics is at least 10 points lower than the historical average at the time of past midterm elections, and most are on pace to be the worst of such readings. Midterm elections are widely seen as a referendum on the incumbent president, and this is justified by the high correspondence between overall job approval and seat loss for the president’s party. Given this, congressional seat losses for unpopular presidents’ parties have been above average historically, averaging 37 since 1946.
Biden’s current 41% approval rating puts him in the lower tier of all prior presidents’ job approval ratings taken just before past midterm elections. Biden currently has the same approval rating that Donald Trump did at the time of the 2018 elections, when the GOP lost 40 House seats, and similar to Ronald Reagan’s 42% in October 1982, before the Republicans lost 26 seats. Only one president, George W. Bush, had a lower rating than Biden does today, and his 38% rating in November 2006 was associated with a 30-seat loss.
Biden’s fellow Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama lost an even larger number of House seats in 1994 and 2010, respectively, with slightly higher approval ratings than Biden has now. Those steeper losses reflect the relatively large number of House seats held by Democrats going into those elections in addition to the president’s unpopularity. The Democratic Party lost fewer seats in Obama’s second midterm in 2014 when Obama was no more popular than in his first midterm four years earlier, but Democrats were defending fewer seats.
I tip my cap, as we all should, to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico. And to Presidents Luis Arce of Bolivia, Xiaomara Castro of Honduras, Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala and Nayib Bukele of El Savador. They all pointedly declined to join President Joe Biden at his Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last week, joining to protest Biden’s refusal to invite Miguel Díaz–Canel, Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega, the presidents of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua respectively. Add it up. Eight of the region’s 33 nations were absent when Biden convened the summit “to demonstrate the resurgence of U.S. leadership in the region,” as the government-supervised New York Times forlornly put it. Don’t they ever get tired of these long-exhausted phrases over on Eighth Avenue?
“There can be no Americas summit if all the countries of the American continent do not participate,” López Obrador explained at a press conference announcing his decision. “Or there can be, but we believe that means continuing with the politics of old, of interventionism, of a lack of respect for the nations and their people.” Well said, Señor Presidente. Speaking more bluntly, Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president until the U.S. cultivated a coup that forced him into exile three years ago, called the summit “stillborn.” There is nothing like clear, plain language to get a clear, plain point across. This, the ninth such summit since Bill Clinton convened the first in Miami in 1994, was far more than Biden’s latest flop on the public relations side. In my read it is another sign among many that Washington is losing its hold over its southern neighbors.
This could prove an historic shift, reversing more than a century of usually coercive influence. Dollying out still further, the administration’s failure in Los Angeles last week signals a startlingly swift decline in American power everywhere other than Western Europe and among longtime allies such as Japan and South Korea. Biden drastically misread his moment with his “America is back” bit as he took office 18 months ago. Having overplayed his hand, he is now destined to preside over a significant inflection point in the late-phase imperium’s crumbling hegemony. It is exactly what Joe “Not on my watch” Biden wanted most to avoid.
Children are turning up in doctors’ clinics infected with as many as three different types of viruses, in what experts believe is the result of their immune systems being weakened from two years of COVID lockdowns and mask-wearing. Medical staff have come to expect a surge in cases of flu and severe colds during the winter. But they are reporting that there is not the usual downturn as summer approaches – and they suspect it could be due to the strict pandemic practices. Furthermore, some of common strains of the flu appear to have disappeared, flummoxing scientists. Thomas Murray, an infection-control expert and associate professor of pediatrics at Yale, told The Washington Post on Monday that his team was seeing children with combinations of seven common viruses – adenovirus, rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human metapneumovirus, influenza and parainfluenza, as well as the coronavirus.
Some children were admitted with two viruses and a few with three, he said. ‘That’s not typical for any time of year and certainly not typical in May and June,’ he said. CDC data obtained by DailyMail.com showed lower overall levels of influenza infections among young children – but an abnormal surge starting several weeks ago during the beginning of the summer months, normally a dead period for respiratory infections. Other strange patterns have emerged. The rhinovirus, known as the common cold, is normally not severe enough to send people to hospital – but now it is. RSV normally tapers off in the warmer weather, as does the influenza, but they have not.
And the Yamagata strain of flu has not been seen since early 2020 – which researchers say could because it is extinct, or perhaps just dormant and waiting for the right moment to return. ‘It’s a massive natural experiment,’ said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and chief science officer at the digital health platform eMed, told the Post.
Yesterday, as cryptocurrency prices crashed and many lost their shirts and asses due to overleveraging, Celsius Network, a loan platform for cryptocurrency, chose to pause all withdrawals, swaps, or transfers between accounts, citing “extreme market conditions.” To be clear, this means that billions of dollars of funds are being held hostage on a non-specific timeline by a company that several people have suggested may not have the liquidity to handle a full withdrawal of funds. It’s a bit like if you went to a bank and put money in there, but there was a rough day on the stock market, so now your debit card doesn’t work, and you can’t transfer money to anyone.
Binance, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges, also paused withdrawals of Bitcoin, citing a “stuck transaction,” a hold that lasted for three hours. In the last 48 hours, I’ve watched Bitcoin crumble from just under $25,000 on Monday to just over $21,000 as I write this – a number I’ll likely update multiple times before I finish writing this – and people are despairing. The Celsius Network subreddit includes some of the more depressing posts I’ve ever read, with users saying stuff like “they can legally just steal all our money?” and “Fuckfuckfuck” and “Bruh I was gonna exit today too RIP.” Crypto.com and BlockFi have both announced layoffs, and Coinbase retracted hundreds of job offers from people who had agreed to them, including at least one person who needed it for a visa.
What we are seeing is a connection between actions, consequences, ignorance and hubris. This crash – to whatever extent it continues – may end up damaging many millions more lives than the ones in 2017/2018 simply because more people have been exposed to crypto through hucksters and celebrities telling them this was the future. And just like the rest of the startup world, the crypto industry massively overhired to deal with the rush of new money and excitement in the industry, with clearly no strategy to prepare for the thing that crypto is best known for – crashing.
Here’s the problem with companies whose hype-and hoopla stocks have collapsed by 80% or 90%: They’re facing an existential crisis. They cannot raise more money. But their operations were never designed to make money in the first place. Their business model relied on burning cash, and the whole thing was designed from get-go to use home-made growth metrics to bamboozle investors into buying the stock and pump up the shares. Then the companies, based on their high share price, could issue more shares and raise more money, and feed their cash-burn machine. The plan was to fake it until they could make it.
But with their shares down 80% or 90%, they cannot fake it any longer, and they cannot sell more shares because no one wants them, and they’re going to run out of cash and won’t be able to cover their expenses, and then they cease to exist, and their shares will go to zero, unless they can get the cash-outflows under control, which means cost-cutting. And the fastest and most significant places to cut cost is staff and advertising. If they cannot cut their costs enough, and cannot get their expenses to be less than their revenues, they’ll eventually run out of money. And then that’s it. But if they can cut costs enough, and cut their staff and advertising and other things enough, so that costs come in line, their revenues may sag, or sag even more, and then they may be reporting declining revenues, or more rapidly declining revenues, and continued losses because revenues are now declining faster than expenses, and the whole thing turns into a classic mess.
There are hundreds of companies in this position that went public during the hype-and-hoopla era of money printing and interest rate repression, and they’re all fundamentally facing the same existential crisis, though each company has unique challenges, and in addition, all have to face their industry challenges.
Elon Musk has come to the defense of the woman behind the controversial Twitter account “Libs of TikTok” after she tweeted that she was receiving death threats. Musk, the Tesla CEO who has committed to acquiring the social media site for $44 billion, tweeted: “Why?” after the “Libs of TikTok” creator — who was identified by The Washington Post as Chaya Raichik of Brooklyn, New York — tweeted on Monday she had “now received about a dozen death threats after radical leftists accused me of being a domestic terrorist extremist.” “Twitter has not removed any of the accounts of those who sent the threats,” she added. Musk then commented: “A platform cannot be considered inclusive or fair if it is biased against half the country.” The tech mogul has vowed to change Twitter’s content moderation policies once he takes the company private once the acquisition is complete.
Musk has said he intends to reinstate former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, which was shut down after the events at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Raichik also tweeted that she was forced to relocate due to continuing death threats from other social media users. “Update: After the events of the past 2 days I’ve decided to move to a safer location until things calm down,” read a post from “Libs of TikTok” that was tweeted on Tuesday. “Thank you all for your kind words and support.” Raichik on Monday posted a screenshot of a message she received from another social media user who claimed to have sent her a pipe bomb “for literally supporting nazi bigots.” “Hi @FBI, I’m being threatened with a pipe bomb. Can you please look into this?” she tweeted in response.
Raichik tweeted that she received at least a dozen death threats from other social media users. Last week, Raichik was prevented from posting on her Twitter account after users protested a tweet thread about drag shows to which young children were invited. “Libs of TikTok” posts TikTok videos from liberals who often speak about gender identity and other hot-button issues that have become a staple of political and cultural debates. The account has amassed more than 1.2 million followers.
Twitter suspended the accounts of users who sent death threats targeting the owner of the Libs of TikTok Twitter handle after Elon Musk criticized the company. Musk, who has been in discussions to buy Twitter, asked the company why it has not responded to the threats targeting Libs of TikTok, which reposts videos made by leftists. The Libs of TikTok account claimed on Monday to have “received about a dozen death threats after radical leftists accused me of being a domestic terrorist extremist.” The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz revealed in April that Chaya Raichik was behind the account, and Raichik told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson she was forced into hiding after Lorenz’s article.
Commentator Ian Miles Cheong responded to Musk questioning Twitter by criticizing the platform’s apparent bias against conservatives. “On a just platform, everyone would be treated equally. As it is, you can be banned for merely criticizing (not even threatening) woke progressives, but they can send conservatives death threats without any repercussions,” he wrote. “A platform cannot be considered inclusive or fair if it is biased against half the country,” Musk responded to Cheong. On Tuesday, Raichik thanked Musk and posted pictures captioned “How it started” with Musk’s comments and “How it’s going” with emails from Twitter notifying her about the threatening accounts being suspended.
Raichik seemingly had a sense of humor about the situation. Commenting on a tweet from the Daily Wire about Musk’s response to the threats, she said: “It could’ve been worse… I could have been misgendered.”
Boris Johnson’s plan to send an inaugural flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda has been abandoned after a dramatic 11th-hour ruling by the European court of human rights. Up to seven people who had come to the UK seeking refuge had been expected to be removed to the east African country an hour and a half before the flight was due to take off. But a ruling by the ECHR on one of the seven cases allowed lawyers for the other six to make successful last-minute applications. The decision is a significant and embarrassing blow for Boris Johnson and his home secretary, Priti Patel, who had promised to start sending thousands of asylum seekers 4,000 miles to the east African country in May.
It comes hours after the prime minister threatened to take the UK out of the ECHR and accused lawyers of aiding criminals exploiting refugees in the Channel. The legality of the Rwanda policy will be tested in a full court hearing next month. Responding to the decision, Patel said she was “disappointed” by the legal challenge, made pointed criticisms of the ECHR ruling and said that the policy will continue. “We will not be deterred from doing the right thing and delivering our plans to control our nation’s borders,” she said. “Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now.” Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said that the government must take responsibility for the failed flight, and indicated that the government does not mind clashing with lawyers and the European courts.
“Ministers are pursuing a policy they know isn’t workable and that won’t tackle criminal gangs,” she wrote on Twitter last night. “But they still paid Rwanda £120m and hired a jet that hasn’t taken off because they just want a row and someone else to blame.” [..] The ECHR examined the case of a 54-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker who crossed the Channel in a boat. He claimed asylum in the UK last month citing danger to his life in Iraq. Five days later, he was served with a notice of intent indicating that the Home Office was considering deeming his asylum claim inadmissible and relocating him to Rwanda. A doctor at the detention centre issued a report saying that he may have been a victim of torture, it is understood.
The United States, Canada and other countries have established a new partnership aimed at securing the supply of critical minerals, which are essential for clean energy and other technologies,as global demand for them rises, the State Department said on Tuesday. Demand for the minerals, such as nickel, lithium and cobalt, is projected to expand significantly in the coming decades. Massive amounts of these minerals will be needed to meet the United States’ emissions reduction goals, Jose Fernandez, under secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment at the State Department, said in a telephone interview. “You will need six times more lithium by 2050 than you use today in order to meet the clean energy goals,” Fernandez said, speaking from Toronto.
Canada “is an important supplier of critical minerals,” he added. The minerals are key inputs in batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels, and are also used in products ranging from computers to household appliances. The Minerals Security Partnership will aim to help “catalyze investment from governments and the private sector for strategic opportunities … that adhere to the highest environmental, social, and governance standards,” the State Department said in a statement. The U.S. government has been working with Canada to boost regional supply chains to counter China’s dominance in the sector. Critical minerals are “a generational economic opportunity for Canada if we get it right,” Canada’s natural resources minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, said in a phone interview.
Eva K Bartlett: According to Western media, now copy-paste reporting the same claims, Russian forces apparently secretly buried *up to 9,000 Mariupol civilians* in “mass graves” in a town just west of the city.
“Not an inch of #NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.”
—Memorandum of conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow, Feb 9 1990
“..using unfortunate citizens as expendable material while posing unshaved before cameras and talk nonsense with eyes shining from stimulators.”
Gonzalo Lira: “Remember, Medvedev is considered dovish and pro-Western—so imagine what the hawkish anti-Westerners in Moscow are like.”
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky does not need any peaceful settlement, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev asserted. “Zelensky does not need any peace treaty. For him, peace is the end,” he said on his Telegram channel. According to him, this end would be “either a quick one – from the Nazis who will hang him for a deal with Russians, or a slower one, from his competition who will attain his dismissal as the president who lost a war.” He pointed out that Zelensky’s retinue confirms this saying that “there will be no peace treaty.” “That is why Zelensky in the future will keep begging the West for money and weapons, trying to prove he is still in the game, that he is the hope of the liberal world, that he is the last stronghold of European democracy which a bear in a cotton-padded jacket wants to tear apart,” Medvedev said.
He added that at the same time, Zelensky would “imitate concern for Ukrainians, periodically positioning them as a human shield against the Bandera followers.” Additionally, according to the deputy chairman, the Ukrainian president will continue “to send hired killers to Russian journalists, positioning himself as a tough exterminator, spawn criminal fake news about Russia’s military operation using unfortunate citizens as expendable material while posing unshaved before cameras and talk nonsense with eyes shining from stimulators.” “There is no other way for Zelensky to remain in office. That is, if the office itself remains,” Medvedev concluded.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrat lawmakers arrived in Kyiv for an unannounced visit with President Volodymyr Zelensky and did just what the script said: they praised the comedian for his courage and promised more weapons to keep the killing going. It is not truly U.S. support unless it comes with a trigger. Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. official to make the journey to Kyiv for a photo-op, promised Zelensky that more weapons were coming and Washington would continue to fund its proxy war against Moscow. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., was part of the delegation that genuflected at the Altar of Zelensky, and told reporters afterwards that there were three areas of focus: “weapons, weapons, and weapons.” He also posted a photo on his Twitter page promising Kyiv that the U.S. “is in this to win in and we will stand with Ukraine until victory is won.”
He did not clarify exactly what the U.S. was “in,” but the Biden administration has not announced publicly that the country is at war with Russia. Pelosi’s freak-show – which included Rep. Adam Schiff – was there to send an “unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine.” “We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom, that we are on a frontier of freedom and that your fight is a fight for everyone. And so our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” she said. Schiff, who looked like a school boy meeting his hero when waiting to shake Zelensky’s hand, also got the memo and, after the visit, said one thing is clear: “We must continue to give military aid to Ukraine, and humanitarian assistance to those seeking refuge at home and in neighboring countries like Poland.”
Schiff said he was in “awe of the courage of President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people. In the face of extreme Russian brutality, Zelenskyy has inspired his people, and freedom-loving individuals across the world.” U.S. officials have been bolder in recent weeks because the propaganda campaign has been so effective. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who once sat on Raytheon’s board, said at the news conference last week that the U.S. wants to see Russia “weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” He continued, “So it has already lost a lot of military capability. And a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.” Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, also told reporters that the U.S. wants “a free and independent Ukraine,” and “that is going to involve a weakened Russia, a strengthened NATO.”
Pope Francis has said that he’s ready to meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in hopes of brokering an end to the war in Ukraine, according to the Vatican news agencies. He said in an interview published Tuesday by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, “I am not going to Kyiv for now; I feel that I must not go. First I must go to Moscow. First I must meet Putin. But I am also a priest, what can I do? I do what I can. If Putin would only open the door…”. The Roman Catholic leader’s criticisms of Russia’s actions in Ukraine were made clear throughout the interview, but among the more interesting and surprising lines came when he addressed the roots of the invasion and war which started on Feb 24. He told the newspaper that “the barking of NATO at the gates of Russia” is likely what motivated Putin to attack Ukraine.
Below is the relevant section of the interview, according to a machine translation from the Italian: “Pope Francis’ concern is that Putin, for the moment, will not stop . He also tries to think about the roots of this behavior, about the reasons that push him to such a brutal war. Perhaps the “barking of NATO at Russia’s door” prompted the head of the Kremlin to react badly and unleash the conflict. “An anger that I don’t know if it was provoked – he wonders – but perhaps eased, yes”. Also interesting is that Francis came close to condemning the international weapons transfers now pouring into Ukraine, led by the US which has lately authorized an unprecedented billions in military aid to Ukraine’s government.
“And now those who care about peace are faced with the great question of the supply of weapons by Western nations to the Ukrainian resistance,” the Pope began with his thoughts on this question. He admitted the question is controversial even within the Catholic world. “I can’t answer, I’m too far away, to the question of whether it is right to supply the Ukrainians,” he said, before taking a swipe at the weapons industry. “The clear thing is that weapons are being tested in that land. The Russians now know that tanks are of little use and are thinking of other things. Wars are fought for this: to test the weapons we have produced.”
“This was the case in the Spanish Civil War before the Second World War. The arms trade is a scandal, few oppose it.” He then invoked the case of the years’-long Saudi-US war on Yemen, describing that “Two or three years ago a ship loaded with weapons arrived in Genoa which had to be transferred to a large freighter to transport them to Yemen. The port workers did not want to do it. They said: let’s think of the children of Yemen. It’s a small thing, but a nice gesture. There should be so many like that.”
Ukraine is one of the fronts of the battle of Good against Evil, it is not the battle of countries or even ideas. Today is May 3rd and today I want to talk about what we’re all fighting against. It’s not even about what happens in Ukraine, but about what happens in the world in general. A Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, told us about how he was brought back to Russia . He was being transferred in manacles and they were removed only after US representative made absolutely sure the US exchange prisoner was aboard the Russian plane. Before that, for almost 24 hours, Konstantin couldn’t even drink water properly because of the manacles – he physically couldn’t take a bottle of water, so he had to ask the guard to pour water into his mouth.
That’s how Americans treat the prisoner who was already pardoned and was to be exchanged. The American prisoner was treated entirely differently, in humane conditions. And here I remembered the first thing that amazes the Ukrainian prisoners when they are taken captive – they don’t expect the decent treatment they get. They know how the Russian prisoners are treated in Ukraine – they are beaten, tortured, sometimes even killed. Ukrainians are surprised that they are not even beaten. This is a huge difference that can’t be ignored. This goes for journalism as well – the Russian journalists, like me, get regular death threats and are in real danger. There is not a single case of someone threatening a Ukrainian journalist that takes official Kiev position.
If someone makes calls to do something about them, it is about lawful actions. On another level – social networks – the situation is similar. Take note at how hateful the messaging is from Kiev-aligned posters – they call to kill children and women etc, while there’s not a single call for such things from our side. There’s like a Satanist hatred coming from their side, with constant lies – how during the first couple of weeks they called on regular Ukrainian citizens to make phone calls to their friends in Russia and lie “for the sake of Ukrainian victory”. We can see this “lying for the greater good” on all levels.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been giving details to the European Parliament of a sixth package of sanctions targeting Russia’s economy, its military and propaganda. She said that Russia’s Vladimir Putin wanted to wipe Ukraine from the map and would not succeed and it was his own country that was sinking. “We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion,” she said. “So in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and at the same time be very careful that we minimise the impact on the global market.” Von der Leyen said crude oil imports would be phased out over six months and refined products by the end of 2022.
Although she made no mention of any exemptions, two countries that are most reliant on Russian oil, Slovakia and Hungary, are expected to be given longer to find alternative sources. “Thus we maximise pressure on Russia while at the same time we minimise the collateral damage on us and our partners around the globe. We have to ensure that our economy remains strong.” She went on to give details of a package of relief and reconstruction for Ukraine: “We want to Ukraine to win this war,” she said. Von der Leyen said Ukraine’s economic output was set to fall by 35%-50% in 2022 and it would need €5bn a month just to keep going. “We have to do our share too.”
German Minister Wolfgang Schmidt to Galina Yanchenko, a Ukrainian MP who blamed him for not cutting off Russian gas:
"Let's be blunt. Every day, Russian gas runs through Ukrainian pipelines. Every day, Russian gas is served to Ukraine. So Ukraine did also not switch off" pic.twitter.com/SVs78Lg3QK
General Trevor Cadieu (Trevor John Cadieu), captured by Russian troops while trying to escape from the cellars of Azovstal, was the commander of the Canadian Ground Forces, APA reports citing Mailbd. Seated in the catacombs under the Mariupol steel plant “Azovstal” nationalists staged a provocation, trying to hide the Canadian general’s attempt to escape. After the capture of a high-ranking foreign soldier by units of the RF Armed Forces, it became clear why so many efforts were made to save him.
A high-ranking mercenary tried to break out of the encirclement at Azovstal several times. It was for this that the West insisted on humanitarian corridors for the exit of civilians: among them, foreign specialists had to leave the catacombs. According to media reports, the general’s name is Trevor Kadieu. Seven months ago, he was appointed to the post of commander of the Canadian Army, but before the inauguration, he was involved in a sex scandal. In the harassment that occurred back in 1994, he was accused by a former colleague. The general called the accusations false, but in April 2022 he retired from military service.
Hunter Biden flew to Moscow for a meeting with a now-sanctioned Russian oligarch with reportedly close ties to Vladimir Putin, laptop files reveal. Vladimir Yevtushenkov, 73, owned a company which reportedly supplied Putin’s forces with drones used for deadly bombing raids in Ukraine and until last year owned key Russian defense contractor RTI. But while he was added to the UK and Australian sanctions lists this month but remains one of a handful of oligarchs unsanctioned by the Biden administration. Hunter’s multiple meetings and apparent business deals with him are the latest in a troubling web of his connections to Putin-linked mega-rich individuals which has emerged from his abandoned laptop.
Emails show the president’s son and his business partners were courting Yevtushenkov for an investment in their real estate company in 2012 and 2013. Rosemont Realty was founded in 2008 by Hunter’s Yale schoolmates: Devon Archer and former secretary of state John Kerry’s stepson Chris Heinz. Hunter joined the firm’s advisory board in 2010 and was a part owner, earning him hundreds of thousands. Emails show that in 2011, his now-jailed business partner Archer was traveling to Russia, staying in luxury hotels and dining on bear meat, laying the foundations for future real estate deals that he believed could be lucrative for the firm. In November that year Archer wrote to an associate: ‘Moscow is going great… It does look like I will be back quite a bit based on our initial response to the real estate fund pitch.’
Three months later Hunter got involved, scheduling a trip to the Russian capital for a dinner with Yevtushenkov at the headquarters of his company Sistema on February 16, 2012, according to emails and calendar entries on his laptop. Documents published this week by journalist Vicky Ward on her blog suggest the Russian billionaire then took a trip to the US for meetings with Hunter and his Rosemont Realty business partners. A Sistema itinerary translated from Russian, which Ward reported was leaked to her from a source close to Yevtushenkov’s company, lists a March 14, 2012 ‘breakfast with Hunter Biden’ at the Ritz-Carlton in New York.
The Delaware computer repairman who blew the whistle on Hunter Biden’s laptop — filed a multi-million-dollar defamation suit Tuesday against Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, CNN, The Daily Beast and Politico, saying they falsely accused him of peddling Russian disinformation. The former shop owner, John Paul Mac Isaac, decided to fight back after losing his business and being harassed for 18 months by Big Tech, the media and Delaware locals in President Biden’s home state. “After fighting to reveal the truth, all I want now is for the rest of the country to know that there was a collective and orchestrated effort by social and mainstream media to block a real story with real consequences for the nation,” the 45-year-old Mac Isaac told The Post.
“This was collusion led by 51 former pillars in the intelligence community and backed by words and actions of a politically motivated DOJ and FBI,” he continued. “I want this lawsuit to reveal that collusion and more importantly, who gave the marching orders.” Mac Isaac came to legally own the laptop after Biden’s son Hunter dropped it off at his store for repairs in April 2019 and never came back. The material on the laptop has raised serious questions about what Biden knew of his son’s overseas business deals, during which he and the president’s brother, Jim Biden, often invoked his powerful name. After handing over a copy of the laptop’s hard drive to the FBI in December 2019, eight months later Mac Isaac alerted then-President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who provided a copy of the hard drive to The Post.
When The Post’s first story broke in October 2020 — just three weeks before the presidential election — Twitter and Facebook moved to censor it. Then Schiff and 51 former intelligence officials labeled the laptop Russian disinformation. In the aftermath, Mac Isaac says his business and reputation was ruined. “Twitter initially labeled my action hacking, so for the first day after my information was leaked, I was bombarded with hate mail and death threats revolving around the idea that I was a hacker, a thief and a criminal,” Mac Isaac said. Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, “has some explaining” to do, Mac Isaac insisted. “Without any intel, the head of the intel committee decided to share with CNN and its viewers a complete and utter lie,” Mac Isaac said. “A lie issued in the protection of a preferred presidential candidate.”
Mac Isaac said he’s since endured false accusations of being a Russian spy and a “stooge” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The fight to get to the bottom of who told everyone this was Russian disinformation is far more important for the nation than me clearing my name,” Mac Isaac said. In the suit, which was filed in Montgomery County, Md., Mac Isaac claims Schiff defamed him in an interview on CNN two days after The Post began publishing revelations from the laptop. In the interview with Wolf Blitzer, Schiff told the CNN host — without citing evidence — that he believed “the Kremlin” was behind a smear of Joe and Hunter Biden.
Mac Isaac tried unsuccessfully to sue Twitter for defamation last year and was lumbered with the tech giant’s legal bills — an amount he says is roughly $175,000. But Mac Isaac now has well-heeled backers at non-profit The America Project, which was founded by Trump loyalists retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, brother Joe Flynn and businessman Pat Byrne. “[We are] honored to sponsor John Paul Mac Isaac in his fight against the injustice that has been done to him when the political elite coordinated with the leftist news media claiming the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation – which was a blatant lie,” Flynn said.
No sooner was it that I wrote an article talking about how Russia was going to back the ruble with gold than “one of the Russia’s most powerful security/intelligence officers and a close ally of Putin” has admitted the country’s intentions to do just that. And I’m predicting that no sooner will the gravity of this decision finally sink in with the West that China will follow closely in Russia’s footsteps and do the same. Russia backing its currency with gold represents one of the most drastic changes to the foreign currency market in decades. As of 2022, precisely zero countries still adhere to a gold standard, though many countries still hold gold in reserve.
The new global monetary system is likely going to look like Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia and other countries with commodity-backed, sound money on one side – and the west and our allies, with our “infinite” fiat, under the tutelage of rocket surgeon Neel Kashkari, on the other. Despite the enormity of the situation, the news hasn’t really been digested by global markets yet. The FX market has been relatively calm, but for the ruble strengthening, and gold prices have crashed so far this week, with front month futures falling nearly $50/oz. on Monday, back down to about $1,860/oz. Aside from the FX market, the news also hasn’t been digested by US politicians or financial “thought leaders” yet.
However, there are underground rumblings starting to catch the ears of those who are actively listening. Ronan Manly wrote for BullionStar.com last week: “On Tuesday 26 April in an interview with newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta (RG), the Secretary of the Russian Federation’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said that Russian experts are working on a project to back the Russian ruble with gold and other commodities.” Manly was kind enough to translate the interview with RG, which stated Russia’s intentions to back the ruble with gold in crystal clear fashion:
RG Question: And what do we need to do to ensure the ruble’s sovereignty? Nikolai Patrushev: “For any national financial system to be sovereignized, its means of payment must have intrinsic value and price stability, without being pegged to the dollar. Now experts are working on a project proposed by the scientific community to create a two-circuit monetary and financial system. In particular, it is proposed to determine the value of the ruble, which should be backed by both gold and a group of goods that are currency values, and to put the ruble exchange rate in line with the real purchasing power parity.” Manly concludes, matter-of-factly: “So there you have it. The Russian Government is actively working on creating a gold and commodity backed Russian ruble with intrinsic value which is outside the orbit of the US dollar.”
The leaking of a draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has rocked the Court and Washington. The 98-page draft opinion is dated Feb. 10, 2022 and authored by Associate Justice Samuel Alito. I have two columns (in USA Today and The Hill) today on the opinion and the disgraceful leak from within the Court. The opinion is joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. It declares that “Roe and Casey must be overruled. It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” The opinion can change but the damage done to the Court as an institution will likely be lasting. This shattered a long tradition of the Court of strict secrecy and integrity in the handling of drafts.
The leak is the greatest crisis faced by Chief Justice John Roberts and the greatest security breach in the history of the Court. While leaks have appeared periodically on internal strife or issues on the Court, I cannot recall anything of this scale. Roe itself was the subject of leaks. The Washington Post did run some leaks the court’s internal deliberations. Then there was a premature disclosure of information hours before the formal release of the opinions. A few hours before the release, word got out on the holding of the Court. However, that all pales in comparison to the release of a draft opinion months in advance of the expected release. Chief Justice Roberts has confirmed the legitimacy of the draft and the launching of an investigation. The question is how the Court will proceed in the investigation. Anyone taking this deeply unethical act is likely to have taken steps to hide their tracks.
I would be surprised if there were a paper trail or email record. However, anyone who would take such a reckless act may have been equally reckless in the means used to violate the Court’s rules. If the culprit is a lawyer, disbarment would seem a virtual certainty. This person may be a hero in the eyes of some, but will remain a pariah in the eyes of any ethical lawyer. Yet, disbarment could be the least of the problems. If a suspect lies to the FBI, there could be prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 1001. Thus, the culprit will have to make a decision today of whether to radically increase the potential costs of this act. There are a relatively small number of individuals with access to these drafts. It is likely that the culprit will be contacted quickly with others by investigators. That will prove a critical moment that could transform an unethical into a criminal act.
Alito’s draft is written as a majority opinion, suggesting that at least five of the Court’s justices — a majority — voted after oral argument in Dobbs to overrule Roe on the ground that it was “egregiously wrong from the start” and “deeply damaging.” In an extremely rare event for the Court, an unknown person with unknown motives leaked the draft opinion to Politico, which justifiably published it. A subsequent leak to CNN on Monday night claimed that the five justices in favor of overruling Roe were Bush 43 appointee Alito, Bush 41 appointee Clarence Thomas, and three Trump appointees (Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett), while Chief Justice Roberts, appointed by Bush 43, is prepared to uphold the constitutionality of Mississippi’s abortion law without overruling Roe.
Draft rulings and even justices’ votes sometimes change in the period between the initial vote after oral argument and the issuance of the final decision. Depending on whom you choose to believe, this leak is either the work of a liberal justice or clerk designed to engender political pressure on the justices so that at least one abandons their intention to overrule Roe, or it came from a conservative justice or clerk, designed to make it very difficult for one of the justices in the majority to switch sides. Whatever the leaker’s motives, a decision to overrule this 49-year-old precedent, one of the most controversial in the Court’s history, would be one of the most significant judicial decisions issued in decades. The reaction to this leak — like the reaction to the initial ruling in Roe back in 1973 — was intense and strident, and will likely only escalate once the ruling is formally issued.
Every time there is a controversy regarding a Supreme Court ruling, the same set of radical fallacies emerges regarding the role of the Court, the Constitution and how the American republic is designed to function. Each time the Court invalidates a democratically elected law on the ground that it violates a constitutional guarantee — as happened in Roe — those who favor the invalidated law proclaim that something “undemocratic” has transpired, that it is a form of “judicial tyranny” for “five unelected judges” to overturn the will of the majority. Conversely, when the Court refuses to invalidate a democratically elected law, those who regard that law as pernicious, as an attack on fundamental rights, accuse the Court of failing to protect vulnerable individuals.
This by-now-reflexive discourse about the Supreme Court ignores its core function. Like the U.S. Constitution itself, the Court is designed to be an anti-majoritarian check against the excesses of majoritarian sentiment. The Founders wanted to establish a democracy that empowered majorities of citizens to choose their leaders, but also feared that majorities would be inclined to coalesce around unjust laws that would deprive basic rights, and thus sought to impose limits on the power of majorities as well.
Do the covid vaccines save lives? That is the question on many people’s minds, that has led to heated discussions across the world. A bombshell new study by a distinguished team of Danish researchers led by Prof. Christine Stabell-Benn suggests a surprisingly nuanced answer. In the randomized trials of the covid vaccines, the adenovector-based vaccines, including the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, reduced all-cause mortality of study participants relative to people randomly assigned a placebo. Indeed, the reduction in mortality is larger than expected from the Covid effect and may suggest additional beneficial “non-specific effects” from those vaccines against other health threats.
On the other hand, Stabell-Benn and her colleagues found no statistically meaningful evidence in the trial data that the mRNA vaccines reduced all-cause mortality. The numbers of deaths from other causes including cardiovascular deaths appear to be increased in this group, compensating for the beneficial effect of the vaccines on Covid. Stabell-Benn is keen to stress that the sample is relatively small and is calling for further investigation, and also that the study took place during very low levels of Covid, so the relative advantage of protection against Covid would have been smaller at that time compared to at other points in the pandemic.
However, these preliminary results stand in sharp contrast to the unambiguous message from public health agencies and governments worldwide, which granted emergency authorization to the vaccines based on evidence from the trials that the vaccines reduce the likelihood of getting symptomatic covid. From a purely scientific perspective, preventing symptomatic covid is an interesting outcome to study. From a public health perspective, prevention of covid symptoms is not as important as prevention of death or disease transmission, which the randomized trials did not study. Dr. Stabell Benn and her colleagues have now looked at overall mortality for the first time.
At the very least, the plain implication (since both sets of vaccines are available) is that public health authorities should have recommended the cheaper adenovector vaccines over the mRNA vaccines all along for most patients. In other words, the international move to de-authorise the AstraZeneca vaccine across Europe and elsewhere looks like it may have been a mistake, and that AZ was actually a better option than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. It offers a potential contributory explanation for the better overall mortality outcomes in the UK (which overwhelmingly used the AZ vaccine) than much of continental Europe (which phased out the AZ vaccine) after the vaccine programme in the second half of 2021.
A new peer-reviewed study entitled: “Correlation Between Mask Compliance and COVID-19 Outcomes in Europe” has demonstrated that use of face masks, even widespread, did not correlate with better outcomes during the COVID epidemic, based on data from 35 European countries with populations of over one million people each, encompassing a total of 602 million people. The study noted that the average proportion of mask usage in the period investigated (October 2020 until March 2021) was 60.9% ± 19.9%. Governments and advisory bodies have recommended and often mandated the wearing of face masks in public spaces and in many areas mandates or recommendations remain in place, despite the fact, the study notes, that randomized controlled trials from prior to and during the epidemic have failed to show a benefit to the wearing of such masks with regard to COVID transmission.
“Positive correlation between mask usage and cases was not statistically significant,” the study also found, “while the correlation between mask usage and deaths was positive and significant (rho = 0.351, p = 0.039).” That is to say, more mask usage correlated with a higher death rate. The study used a variety of statistical methods to study correlation but “none of these tests provided negative correlations between mask usage and cases/deaths … Surprisingly, weak positive correlations were observed when mask compliance was plotted against morbidity (cases/million) or mortality (deaths/million) in each country.”
The study also noted that the public may have gained the impression that masks could be helpful due to the fact that mandates were usually implemented after the first peak of COVID cases had passed. However, it became evident that masks were not in fact helpful later that same year, when widespread mask usage does not appear to have mitigated the severity of the COVID wave of winter 2020. “Moreover,” the study concludes, “the moderate positive correlation between mask usage and deaths in Western Europe also suggests that the universal use of masks may have had harmful unintended consequences.”
Some of the nation’s biggest brands including Coca-Cola, Disney and Kraft are facing calls to boycott Twitter if the company’s soon-to-be owner, billionaire Elon Musk, rolls back content moderation policies limiting hate speech and election misinformation. In a letter sent to brands Tuesday ahead of the 2022 NewFronts digital advertising conference, more than two dozen civil society groups said marketers should secure commitments from Twitter to retain its most critical policies, including on civic integrity and hateful conduct, and threaten to withdraw funding if Twitter does not comply. “As top advertisers on Twitter, your brand risks association with a platform amplifying hate, extremism, health misinformation, and conspiracy theorists,” the letter said, adding: “Your ad dollars can either fund Musk’s vanity project or hold him to account.”
In an investor filing Monday, Twitter told advertisers “we have no planned changes to our commitment to brand safety” but that the company “cannot speculate on changes Elon Musk may make post closing.” The letter, first reported by CNN, urges advertisers to make their next ad deals with Twitter contingent on changes to platform policy under Musk. It offers the latest example of how some advocacy groups have leaned on the immense power of corporate speech — and specifically digital advertising, the lifeblood of many tech platforms — in attempts to shape tech companies’ behavior. It leverages years of growing realizations by the ad industry that brands can face reputational damage if their ads appear next to white supremacist content or other harmful material.
Tuesday’s initiative bears echoes of a far-reaching advertising boycott in 2020 that saw companies ranging from Adidas to Starbucks pulling their ads from Facebook over what they said were its failures to keep hate speech from spreading. But unlike that campaign, the groups behind Tuesday’s letter said advertisers have a chance to be more proactive and strategic this time, because Musk has already telegraphed what he plans to do with Twitter. (The Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder has pledged to restore “free speech” to the platform by, among other things, easing up on content removals and account bans. He also wants to “authenticate all real humans” on Twitter.)
As advertisers prepare to negotiate forward-looking contracts with Twitter this week during the NewFronts conference, they can preemptively protect themselves from any damage to their brands resulting from Musk’s eventual takeover, said Angelo Carusone, CEO of Media Matters for America, one of the organizations behind the letter. “If Elon Musk comes in and gets rid of all the brand safety protections, I think Coca-Cola should be able to cancel their contract,” Carusone said. “It would be very revealing if Twitter refuses to or does not sign or does not give those cancellation options.” Tuesday’s letter targeted other big-name advertisers, as well, including Apple, Best Buy and HBO — the last of which is owned by WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent.
Henry Bacon Fisherfolk returning with their nets, Étretat 1890
Let’s try a different angle. How about the world through the eyes of children’s? I don’t want to dwell on John McCain, too many people already do today, but I would suggest that your thoughts and prayers are with the souls of the hundreds of thousands of children that died because McCain advocated bombing them. Or, indeed, 50-odd years ago, were bombed by him personally. I wanted to leave him be altogether, don’t kick a man when he’s down, but I can’t get the image out of my head of him singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”.
To remember that, perhaps the most vile and infamous thing he’s ever done (it’s in the top ten), and then see someone like Ocasio-Cortez say he was an “unparalleled example of human decency”, it’s almost comedy. But not as funny as when in the 2008 campaign the woman in the red dress asked him if Obama was an Arab, and he responded: “No, ma’am. No, ma’am. He’s a decent, family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about”.
That is full-blown hilarious. And hardly a soul caught it, which makes it many times worse. It made him a decent man in the eyes of Americans to defend Obama by declaring that Arabs are per definition neither decent nor family men. Yeah, well, you might as well bomb them all then. But enough about McCain: it’s about the children, and their souls, not his.
The Pope is visiting Ireland this weekend. There is really just one subject on people’s minds, even though the ‘leaders’ say this is one of Ireland’s biggest events in 40 years. What’s on their minds is -child- sex abuse by Catholic clergy. And it’s been -and probably still is- rampant in the country. Like it’s been everywhere the Catholic church is an important force. Which is in many countries, there are 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. The man claimed he was begging for God’s forgiveness. Not sure that will do it, there, Francis.
The Roman Catholic religion, and the Church, are fronts for the world’s biggest business empire, a multinational at least 1500 years older than the next one, Holland’s VOC -which existed maybe 100 years-. It has played power politics for longer than anyone else, all over the world. Its real estate portfolio alone is worth more than many a country. For that matter, it effectively owns many a country.
There would have to be a huge outcry over the child abuse before there could ever be an investigation. Multiple popes have promised exactly such investigations, and nothing has happened. It would upset the business model too much. And most faithful still believe their priests are decent men, anyway. Yes, there’s that word again, ‘decent’.
If a priest can no longer be maintained in a specific church because he’s been too obvious, too perverted and too greedy, he simply gets transferred to another parish. They’ve been doing this for 1,500 years, they got it down. And when things heat up, they beg god for forgiveness. While the Church gets ever richer.
At a 2% annual growth rate, wealth doubles every 34-35 years. The Catholic Church has been at it for 1,500. Do your math. Or look at it this way: real estate prices have been surging over the past few decades. And that’s the Vatican’s main industry. Anyone want to venture a guess at how much money they have made?
The Vatican is a facade hiding behind a facade hiding behind… Francis Ford Coppola tried tackling the topic in The Godfather III, but he was only mildly successful and not many people believed his portrayal. But, again, this is not about the Pope playing Kabuki theater like all his predecessors, it’s about the children.
In the US, some 500 children are still separated from their parents, if they’re still in the country. Haven’t heard much from Judge Dana Sabraw, according to whose ruling they should have been reunited weeks ago. Where is the Judge? Where are the children?
At the same time, we learn that about 52% of Americans under 18 -i.e. children, some 40 million of them- live in households that depend on some form of welfare. And Americans want to chide European nations for being ‘socialist’. That’s humor too.
But again, it’s about the children. How can they ever reach their potential if there’s a constant cloud of financial worry hanging over their heads, if many of them still don’t enough to eat, if much of what they eat is junk food, which is full of glyphosate to boot, and if it takes $100,000 or so in debt just to get a degree?
And that’s just the kids at home. Abroad, Americans treat children even a lot worse than they do their own. With the shining example of John McCain in mind, they have supplied the Saudi’s with much of the weaponry needed to murder many thousands more children in Yemen. 1.2 million human beings are estimated to have died in Iraq alone. Thanks John. That’s what, half a million children there alone?
In Greece, numbers came out this week that said the number of refugees on the islands is presently 16,000, vs 10,000 a year ago. And yes, many of them are children. Still in overcrowded camps, nothing has changed. It’s like the Catholic Church’s promising investigations. Nothing ever happens. Nobody cares. Well, nobody who has the power to make things happen.
The politicians all think about their careers. If it helps them in the next election to help refugees, children, countries, they will. If not, not. In the case of Greece, people are waking up to what actually happened to this country. Just too late. Matthew Klein wrote in Barron’s:
There was no political will in 2010 to spend hundreds of billions of euros to bail out Dutch, French, and German banks. To Greece’s eternal misfortune, however, there was enough “solidarity” to launder that Northern European bank bailout through the Greek government.
What does that have to do with children? Apart from the thousands of refugee children stranded on Greek islands and the mainland, Greek children themselves often no longer have access to sufficient food, healthcare, education, no matter how hard parents and others try. But at least Germany and Holland et al can boast about their growing economies.
We’re getting this wrong, we’re getting it all upside down. Children are not objects to treat and use to further political and corporate agendas. They are the future. Abuse them, maim them, kill them, under-feed them, under-educate them, and you end up with a screwed-up, abusive, underfed and under-educated world.
In that report about US children living in welfare dependent households there’s an interesting number: while 52.1% of under-18’s live in such a household, only 18.8% of over 75’s do. In other words, wealth is heavily skewed towards baby boomers and older. And that is somewhat defensible, since people need money for retirement, but it’s not if it means condemning others to food stamps.
This paints the portrait of a broken society, and -predictably- the weakest are the victims. Children. But the most heartbreaking, even if that is a hard point to make when we’ve already seen how many have been bombed, comes from Nauru, Australia’s ‘private’ prison island for refugees. As Australians think about how much their property has surged in price this week, their government(s) are responsible -in their name- for this:
A girl suffering “resignation syndrome” and who is refusing all food and water has been ordered off Nauru by an Australian court, as a succession of critically ill children are brought from the island. At least three children have left the island since Thursday, and reports from island sources say at least three more children, as young as 12, are “on FFR” – food and fluid refusal.
The current crisis on the island is overwhelming medical staff, who are referring dozens of children for transfer off the island, only to have their decisions rebuffed by Australian Border Force officials on the island or department of home affairs bureaucrats in Canberra. Two children were moved off the island with their families on Thursday.
Early on Friday morning, a 14-year-old refugee boy suffering a major depressive disorder and severe muscle wastage after not getting out of bed for four months, was flown directly from Nauru to Brisbane with his family. There are concerns, doctors say, he may never be able to walk normally again.
Later on Friday, in the federal court, Justice Tom Thawley ordered another girl – given the designation EIV18 by the court – to be moved to Australia for urgent medical treatment. Court orders prevent publication of the girl’s age – other than the fact she is a child – her name or country of origin. [..] The girl has been inside the supported accommodation area of the regional processing centre for three weeks, and has been refusing food and water for much of that time.
Before she, too, fell into acute depression and “resignation syndrome”, and refused to eat or drink anything, she had been one of the brightest and most articulate of the refugee children on Nauru. “Before she got sick, she was the best-performing student,” a source familiar with the girl and her condition told the Guardian. “She had a dream to be a doctor in Australia and to help others. Now, she is on food-and-fluid refusal and begging to die as death is better than Nauru.”
Can you be a worse human being than John McCain was? It’s not easy. But some people are still trying. Hard to fathom how Australians can be so silent about this. Where are the protests in the streets of Melbourne and Sydney?
Caring only about your own children while throwing the rest away with the bathwater is neither feasible nor viable. You’re bringing up children destined to fight and hate each other. For no reason that I can see at all. Do you enjoy the world of John McCain, where children were bombed for 50 years in two dozen or so countries? Or do you think that’s not such a good idea?
McCain could succeed only because his country, and the world around him, failed. Don’t set up your children, and all children, to fail in the same way he did.
I was going to leave McCain in peace. I strongly believe in not kicking a man when he’s down, and besides there’s already so much anger out there. I’ve always thought that perhaps as a POW he suffered some kind of brain damage. But I still can’t get the image out of my head of him singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” And then seeing people refer to him as an “unparalleled example of human decency”. It’s too much.
McCain is not alone in having their blood on his hands. Yet in a Regime, a Government-Media-Complex, comprised of warmongers, McCain enjoys the dubious distinction of being the warmonger par excellence. On the false pretense that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat against the United States via the “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) that he never possessed, McCain urged as loudly and tirelessly as anyone for war. Those libertarians and old right conservative sorts who exposed holes in the WMD narrative and forecasted the disaster to which such a war would lead were dismissed, ignored, or mocked. Estimates of casualties vary, but today, some 14 years after McCain got his way, anywhere between 195,000 and possibly one million Iraqis are dead.
The Iraq Body Count project found that during the decade following the invasion, 174,000 Iraqis were killed. Of this number, 112,000-123,000 were civilian noncombatants. At present, the number is closer to 200,000 civilian noncombatant deaths. Between 2003 and 2014, nearly 5,000 American service members lost their lives in this war that McCain and his ilk cooked on the basis of a lie. Yet contractors, aid relief workers, and journalists are also among those who lost their lives. While we can tabulate numbers, the pain, suffering, and trauma endured by the loved ones of those killed is incalculable. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and American corpses that McCain and his comrades left in the wake of their rush to war, there are that many more who have lived but who suffer daily.
Steele has won a legal case in the USA, where he had been sued by three Russian oligarchs who claimed that the ‘Dirty Dossier’ traduced their reputations. And he won on the basis that his report was protected by First Amendment rights under the constitution of the USA, which guarantees US citizens the right to freedom of expression. Despite the fact that Steele is British. “But Judge Anthony Epstein disagreed, writing in his judgment that “advocacy on issues of public interest has the capacity to inform public debate, and thereby furthers the purposes of the First Amendment, regardless of the citizenship or residency of the speakers.”
This is the nub of the issue: Steele, a former official UK intelligence officer and current mercenary spy-for-hire, is granted legal protection by the American courts for digging up and subsequently leaking what appears to be controversial and defamatory information about the current US president as well as various Russians, all paid for by Trump’s political opponents. And Steele is given the full protection of the US legal system. On the other hand, we have an award-winning journalist and publisher, Assange, whose organization WikiLeaks has never been found to report anything factually incorrect in more than 10 years, being told that if he were to be extradited from his current political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to face the full wrath of a vengeful American establishment, he is not entitled to claim the protection of the First Amendment because he is an Australian citizen, not an American.
[..] On a slightly tangential note, there has been some speculation, suppressed in the UK at least via the D Notice censorship system, that MI6 informant and Russian traitor Sergei Skripal, the victim of the alleged Novichok poisoning in the UK earlier this year, remained in contact with his alleged handler Pablo Miller, who also is reported to work for Orbis Business Intelligence. If this were indeed the case, then it would be a logical assumption that Orbis, via Miller, might well have used Skripal as one of its “reliable sources” for the Dossier.
President Donald Trump said NSA whistleblower Reality Winner‘s five-year prison sentence for leaking a classified document to the media was “unfair” – and he used the assertion to again attack Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a Friday morning tweet, Trump called Winner’s leaks “‘small potatoes’ compared to what Hillary Clinton did,” referring to his repeated accusations that his rival in the 2016 election had broken the law in her use of a private email server while Secretary of State. The tweet also marks the second time in two days that Trump has lashed out at Sessions, following remarks he made Wednesday saying his Attorney General “never took control of the Justice Department.”
“So unfair Jeff, Double Standard,” Trump wrote Friday. The attacks on Sessions come directly after Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty and implicated the President in campaign financing crimes.Winner, an ex-NSA contractor, leaked classified government information to a news organization in 2017. That news organization was never officially identified in court proceedings, however on the same day Winner was arrested the investigative site The Intercept released a report detailing a Russian attempt to influence voting in the 2016 election. Trump’s apparent support for Winner is contrary to his insistence that Edward Snowden, another former NSA employee who leaked secret information to the media, is a “traitor.”
Why was Michael Cohen investigated? Because the “Steele dossier” had him making secret trips to meet with Russians that never happened, so his business dealings got a thorough scrubbing and, in the process, he fell into the Paul Manafort bin reserved by the special counsel for squeezing until the juice comes out. We are back to 1998 all over again, with presidents and candidates covering up their alleged marital misdeeds and prosecutors trying to turn legal acts into illegal ones by inventing new crimes.
The plot to get President Trump out of office thickens, as Cohen obviously was his own mini crime syndicate and decided that his betrayals meant he would be better served turning on his old boss to cut the best deal with prosecutors he could rather than holding out and getting the full Manafort treatment. That was clear the minute he hired attorney Lanny Davis, who does not try cases and did past work for Hillary Clinton. Cohen had recorded his client, trying to entrap him, sold information about Trump to corporations for millions of dollars while acting as his lawyer, and did not pay taxes on millions.
The sweetener for the prosecutors, of course, was getting Cohen to plead guilty to campaign violations that were not campaign violations. Money paid to people who come out of the woodwork and shake down people under threat of revealing bad sexual stories are not legitimate campaign expenditures. They are personal expenditures. That is true for both candidates we like and candidates we do not. Just imagine if candidates used campaign funds instead of their own money to pay folks like Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about affairs. They would get indicted for misuse of campaign funds for personal purposes and for tax evasion.
[Keynes in 1919 on the Treaty of Versailles] : “The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable – abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe.”
[..] Just as British civil servants, especially in the treasury and foreign office, never thought for a second that Germany would meet the demands of Versailles, I can’t believe anybody at the ECB or IMF thinks there is a chance that they will get back what Greece apparently owes them. According to some experts, Germany ended up paying back less then one-sixth of what was demanded in 1919. The withdrawal agreement that the United Kingdom may or may not negotiate over the next few weeks will not bear such close resemblance to those postwar reparations. At least Germany – and, more recently, Greece – tried to limit the damage being inflicted by the other side of the table.
Today the UK negotiators turn up for talks goaded by the Brexiteers to do as bad a deal as possible, to inflict as much damage as they can on themselves. If Keynes were alive today he would write another scathing polemic. The EU has a big call to make. Having crushed the Greeks, does it now do the same to the British? Does it accede to their weird demands for a dreadful deal? How much should it punish the Brexiteers for their idiocy?
Brussels is looking at opponents squabbling over whether to shoot themselves in the foot or the head. Are EU leaders, unlike their 1919 counterparts, able to see that the time for (limited) generosity has arrived? They have the opportunity to save the British from themselves. Why would they do this? The Versailles negotiators couldn’t see that it was in their own interests not to overly punish the Germans. Europe today runs too many risks from an enfeebled and resentful UK. Europe needs to remind itself of the civilising zeal of the EU’s founders and the values of the Enlightenment. Or, at the very least, the value of enlightened self-interest.
For some time now our two most influential economic institutions -the Bank of England and the Treasury – have been pulling in opposite directions. The Bank has tried to do its job of boosting aggregate demand (spending), but the Treasury has been running fiscal austerity, which has the opposite effect. The great irony is that through its monetary policy stimulus the Bank of England has opened up significant ‘fiscal space’. ‘Fiscal space’is a term used by the IMF to describe the extent to which national governments can take on more public borrowing without harming their economy. This begs the question whether the Treasury has acted irresponsibly by not taking full advantage of the fiscal potential the Bank affords it?
Without fiscal cooperation, the Bank is left trying to stimulate the economy on its own by indirectly influencing the borrowing and spending behaviour of the private sector. To this end, the Bank has lowered interest rates to historic lows, and has injected £445 billion and £125 billion of new money through so called Quantitative Easing (QE) and the Term Funding Scheme (TFS), respectively. In doing so, the Bank has helped keep the economy afloat – but at what cost? Standalone monetary policy has reduced the number of safe assets in the market, supported more risk taking, encouraged households to take on more debt (to record levels), fuelled asset price bubbles, and promoted inequality. To boot, very little of the new money created by the Bank has trickled down into productive investments and household incomes.
Had Greece been a country with its own currency, such as the Czech Republic or New Zealand, the central bank could have plugged the funding gap and prevented an abrupt collapse in spending. Membership in the euro area removed that option. The government and the banks owed debt in a currency the Bank of Greece could not print, and the ECB was not keen on helping. The textbook response would have been for the government to default on its debt and get a loan from the International Monetary Fund to help smooth out the adjustment. The amount of money required to buy time after a restructuring would not have been large compared with the nearly €300 billion that ended up being lent.
That option was blocked, however, by a coalition of Greece’s “European partners” and the U.S. They were still traumatized by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and had come to believe that its default had made the financial crisis far worse than it otherwise would have been. The result was a firm commitment to avoid any reduction in what the Greek government owed. Their concern was not about what a default would do to Greece, but about what it would do to them. In addition to the €230 billion in potential losses on government debt, which by itself might have been enough to wipe out the capital of many large European banks, foreigners had another €120 billion in exposure to Greek banks. Greek banks did not have much exposure to Greek government debt—only about 8% of total assets in 2009—but it was still more than their total capital and loan-loss reserves.
Restructuring the government’s debt would therefore have required either the partial liquidation of the Greek banking system or an explicit bailout of Greece’s banks paid by someone else. Again, this should have been doable, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet were terrified about how it might affect the still-fragile Euro-American financial system. [..] There was no political will in 2010 to spend hundreds of billions of euros to bail out Dutch, French, and German banks. To Greece’s eternal misfortune, however, there was enough “solidarity” to launder that Northern European bank bailout through the Greek government.
On the European continent, a far worse drama was unfolding due to the EU’s odd decision, back in 1998, to create monetary union featuring a European Central Bank without a state to support it politically and 19 governments responsible for salvaging their banks in times of financial tumult, but without a central bank to aid them. Why this anomalous arrangement? Because the German condition for swapping the deutschmark for the euro was a total ban on any central bank financing of banks or governments – Italian or Greek, say. So, when in 2009 the French and German banks proved even more insolvent than those of Wall Street or the City, there was no central bank with the legal authority, or backed by the political will, to save them.
Thus, in 2009, even Germany’s Chancellor Merkel panicked when told that her government had to inject, overnight, €406bn of taxpayers’ money into the German banks. Alas, it was not enough. A few months later, Mrs Merkel’s aides informed her that, just like the German banks, the over-indebted Greek state was finding it impossible to roll over its debt. Had it declared its bankruptcy, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal would follow suit, with the result that Berlin and Paris would have faced a fresh bailout of their banks greater than €1tn. At that point, it was decided that the Greek government could not be allowed to tell the truth, that is, confess to its bankruptcy.
To maintain the lie, insolvent Athens was given, under the smokescreen of “solidarity with the Greeks”, the largest loan in human history, to be passed on immediately to the German and French banks. To pacify angry German parliamentarians, that gargantuan loan was given on condition of brutal austerity for the Greek people, placing them in a permanent great depression. To get a feel for the devastation that ensued, imagine what would have happened in the UK if RBS, Lloyds and the other City banks had been rescued without the help of the Bank of England and solely via foreign loans to the exchequer. All granted on the condition that UK wages would be reduced by 40%, pensions by 45%, the minimum wage by 30%, NHS spending by 32%. The UK would now be the wasteland of Europe, just as Greece is today.
A new study by a School of Dentistry faculty member and dozens of other researchers from the University of Washington and around the world has found that Greece’s population health declined markedly and death rates rose sharply after harsh austerity measures were imposed on Greece by the European Union and the International Money Fund in 2010. “This study is important because it provides a framework for health surveillance on a national level following major socioeconomic changes,” said Dr. Georgios Kotsakis of the School of Dentistry’s Department of Periodontics, one of the study’s authors. The study, which was published this week in the British journal The Lancet Public Health, reported that government health spending fell sharply and that the causes of death that increased the most were largely those that could have been addressed by health care.
The researchers noted that Greece’s reduced health spending, required as part of the austerity measures, had been criticized for omitting measures to protect the country’s National Health System. They said that health policymakers should place a special focus on ensuring that Greece’s health-care system is equipped to meet the needs of the country’s citizens. The researchers identified an increase in the pace at which Greece’s population was aging as another important concern and wrote: “The increase in total deaths in children younger than 5 years and older adults with increase in causes sensitive to resource availability (e.g., access to screening and urgent care) suggest that the health system requires substantial restructuring to cope with the effects that the financial crisis has had on resource availability, resource allocation, and population structure.”
They reported that while the country’s overall death rate rose by about 5.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, it jumped by about 17.7 percent in the six years that followed, after austerity measures were imposed. The rate rose three times faster than the rate in Western Europe overall, and came at a time when mortality rates were actually declining worldwide. The largest increase came among people 70 and older, while the very young also saw a disproportionate increase.
Italy on Sunday disembarked all 150 migrants from a rescue ship that had been docked for five days in a Sicilian port, ending the migrants’ ordeal and a bitter stand-off between Rome’s anti-establishment government and its European Union partners. The migrants, mainly from Eritrea, had been stranded in the port of Catania since Monday because the government refused to let them off the boat until other EU states agreed to take some of them in. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Albania had offered to accept 20 of the migrants and Ireland 20-25, while the rest would be housed by Italy’s Catholic Church “at zero cost” to the Italian taxpayer.
“The church has opened its heart and opened its wallet,” Salvini, from the right-wing League party, told supporters at a rally in Pinzolo in northern Italy on Saturday evening. Salvini, who has led a popular crackdown against immigration since the government took office in June, also announced that he had been placed under investigation by a Sicilian prosecutor for abuse of office, kidnapping and illegal arrest. “Being investigated for defending the rights of Italians is a disgrace,” he said. On Saturday, the United Nations called for reason from all sides after a meeting of envoys from 10 EU states in Brussels a day earlier failed to break the deadlock. “Frightened people who may be in need of international protection should not be caught in the maelstrom of politics,” the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement.
Wave after wave of scandal concerning decades of abuse by priests and cover-up by bishops has crashed at the doors of the Vatican this year. The issue threatens to derail Francis’s papacy unless he can belatedly show that he does not just understand the scale and systemic nature of the problem but is willing to take concrete action to deal with it. The past few weeks alone have seen the publication of a shocking grand jury report into clerical abuse and its concealment in Pennsylvania, the resignation as a cardinal of a former archbishop of Washington over alleged sexual assaults, a police raid on the Catholic church’s HQ in Chile, the sentencing of an Australian archbishop convicted of covering up child abuse, and a growing clamour from Irish survivors for the pope to take responsibility for these failings.
More scandals and revelations may be looming. Cardinal George Pell, the third-ranking official in the Vatican and an ally of Pope Francis, is facing legal proceedings in Australia relating to allegations of historic sexual offences. Early next year, the trial will begin in France of two cardinals on charges of concealing sexual abuse. “This is a potential tipping point, not just for Francis’s papacy, but in the Catholic church writ large,” said John Allen, editor of the Catholic magazine Crux and a Vatican expert. “Ordinary Mass-going Catholics are saying that when this first blew up, and for a long time afterwards, they stuck with the church, because people in power were saying, ‘we understand how awful this is, it has to be fixed and we’re going to fix it’. What is punching Catholics in the gut right now is the thought that what they were told about the determination to get this sorted simply wasn’t real.”
Apple Inc said on Tuesday it handed its shareholders $20 billion through share buybacks in the June quarter, bringing its tally this year to a record $43 billion and helping push its stock price to an all-time high. With a mountain of overseas cash freed up by last year’s sweeping U.S. corporate tax cuts, Apple’s share repurchases in the first half of calendar 2018 exceed the stock market value of almost three quarters of the companies in the S&P 500, including Ford, Delta Air Lines and Twitter Inc. Apple’s share repurchases in the June quarter were only eclipsed in the history of the S&P 500 by Apple repurchasing $22.8 billion of its shares in the prior quarter, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices analyst Howard Silverblatt.
The recent pace of Apple’s buybacks, disclosed in a quarterly report that beat Wall Street’s expectations, could help support the iPhone maker’s stock as investors worry that some high-flying technology companies have become too expensive. Confidence in top-shelf technology and consumer stocks has been shaken in recent days following poor results from Facebook and Netflix. Apple said in May it was adding $100 billion to its budget for buybacks. Its stock is up 16% in 2018, compared with the S&P 500’s 5% rise. “I see the buybacks as a major determinant of near-term price appreciation,” said D.A. Davidson & Co analyst Thomas Forte.
Think China’s new “proactive” fiscal policy shigt will be sufficient to kick start the local economy, and boost global GDP? Think again. In the latest analysis from Vertical Group’s Gordon Johnson, the strategist writes “that China’s proactive fiscal policy pledge could fall short as servicing its existing credit stock absorbs an increasing share of GDP.” As a reminder, last week, China’s State Council said it will adopt a proactive fiscal policy, outlining ways to fund ¥1.4tn in bonds to local government for infrastructure & provide ¥1.1tn in tax cuts, among other actions (e.g., R&D tax credits), all while urging no broad-based stimulus.
In Johnson’s view, this is a narrative that is rather reminiscent of ‘14, when the gov’t unleashed a wave of “micro-stimulus” measures after a string of weak data points (i.e., 5 mos. of contracting real estate investment). Yet, as he notes, the most recent PBoC mini-stimulus is much smaller than ‘14, while key restrictions remain in place for real estate/shadow loans (historically growth-driving conduits), compounded by the law of diminishing returns, suggesting a smaller boost from a much larger base this time around.
Moreover, China’s total credit stock is markedly higher now than in ’14, implying more of every yuan in stimulus is going to service outstanding debt. How much? That may well be the critical question to gauge the flow through from any new fiscal policy. Here is Vertical Group’s answer: While China exited ’17 with an est. 266% of total credit to GDP, some economists put that ratio at >300% today. On trailing 12-mo. nominal GDP of ¥86.5tn, as of 2Q, this equates to >¥259.5tn in credit, which, assuming an avg. borrowing cost of 6%, means China’s annual debt service is ~¥14.3tn, or 18.0% of GDP – sensitizing interest & credit-to-GDP, to a respective range of 4-7% & 285-320%, puts China’s debt service at 14-22% of GDP.
As Greeks attempt to recover from the devastating and deadly wildfires, The IMF has decided to pile on the pain with a new report that raises questions about Greece’s debt sustainability, warning that the nation’s cash buffer is set to drop by half by end of 2022. IMF Mission Chief for Greece Peter Dohlman told reporters on conference call this morning that Greece’s cash buffer will rise to EU24b as a result of debt relief measures agreed by euro-area finance ministers in June, but that amount is set to drop by half to EU12b by end of 2022. Translating The IMF’s newspeak, it is explaining that without more generous debt relief measures, Greece “could struggle to maintain market access over the long run”, the fund said in its last economic assessment of the country before the end of its bailout on August 20.
The fund’s calculations find Greece’s debt costs will “begin an uninterrupted rise” after 2038 — costing around 20% of the country’s GDP every year. It is at this point that “additional relief would be needed to secure debt sustainability”, said the report. [..] Additionally, the fund suggests that Greek banks raise capital: “Stress tests results published by the ECB in May point to the resilience of the Greek banks in the baseline scenario but significant capital depletions in the adverse scenario,” IMF says in Art. IV report on the state of the Greek economy. IMF “staff estimates that if the three banks with lower CET1 were asked to maintain capital ratios under adverse conditions in line with a capital requirement of 7.5–8.0%, the related capital shortfall could be in the range of €1.3–1.9 billion”.
The IMF has just released its latest review of the Greek economy. “Following a deep and protracted contraction,” it says in its press release, “growth has finally returned to Greece.” The green light has been given for Greece’s exit from its bailout program in August 2018. For many, this is welcome news. Greece has turned a corner. The dark days are behind it, and the future will be bright. But is this really the end of Greece’s troubles – or will there be more pain to come? The magnitude of Greece’s collapse over the last decade is extraordinary. Right at the start of the IMF’s review is this chart, which compares the fall in Greek output over the last 10 years with other major historical contractions, including the U.S.’s Great Depression:
The Greek people have just lived through a Depression as deep as the Great Depression and considerably longer. It is now the greatest recorded peacetime Depression. Fortunately, the Greatest Depression may now have run its course. The Greek economy grew by 1.4% in 2017, and the IMF projects that GDP growth will rise to 2% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2019. Of course, IMF growth forecasts for Greece need to be treated with considerable caution. As the Greek economy sank ever deeper into depression, the IMF continued to predict that growth would rebound “any day now.” The satirical blog ZeroHedge lampooned the IMF’s dire forecasting record as “hockey stick comedy.” But Greece did emerge from its long-running depression in 2017, and indications so far are that growth will be maintained this year.
[..] The legacy of the Greatest Depression, even with the doubtful benefit of those structural reforms, is a terribly weak and deeply damaged economy. Adult unemployment, which peaked at over 25% at the height of the Greatest Depression, is still over 20%, while youth unemployment is twice as high. In a footnote to its review, the IMF comments that structural unemployment (the average excess of people over jobs across the business cycle) was 15% in 2016 and is expected to fall only gradually “over the next two decades.” Many of Greece’s young people will be middle-aged by the time there is any work for them. Some may never work at all. An entire generation thrown on the scrap heap.
Despite all the pain the Greeks have endured to fix their country’s finances, Greece’s fiscal situation remains extremely precarious. The IMF staff predictions show absolutely no room for fiscal expansion, even though it is desperately needed, not least to relieve extremely high poverty levels. One in four people in Greece is living below the poverty line.
The EU’s declaration on the trade and security relationship with the UK after Brexit will be just five to 30 pages long, reflecting a lack of time to have an internal debate and scepticism that Theresa May will remain in Downing Street to deliver it, officials in Brussels have disclosed. While the UK is seeking a “precise and substantive” document, to match the recently published 100-page white paper, officials in Brussels say the EU’s political declaration on the “future framework” has diminishing importance for them. Brussels is aware that the prime minister needs the document, due in the autumn, to be a “sweetener” to the main withdrawal agreement, which will commit the UK to pay a £39bn divorce bill and spell out whatever difficult deal is sealed on the issue of the Irish border.
The declaration will not be legally binding on either party but is designed to offer major economic actors some reassurance through a vision of the future trading and security relationship, and it will form part of the package on which the UK parliament and MEPs will ultimately vote in the new year. Given doubts in Brussels that May will get a deal through parliament, or remain in Downing Street for long if she manages it with the help of Labour votes, there will not be the high level of detail that the British government has been seeking, sources said.
A senior EU official told The Guardian that the paper could even be as short as “four or five pages”, the same length as the European council guidelines setting out the bloc’s headline objectives. “It can either be four five pages, or it could be a bit more elaborate but I think we are in the league of five to 25 to 35 pages. We have not time to thrash out the details,” the official said. “The more details you want the more advanced you should be in these negotiations.” The official added: “The reality is that, imagine after March next year the UK gets rid of May, the hard Brexiters take over and Boris says: ‘Too bad. I am not interested in all this. I want a basic free trade agreement, I want all my freedom.’ We have to adjust.
Ministers have been accused of misleading the public after denying that plans to “turn most of Kent into a giant lorry park” are because of Brexit. Work is underway to convert four lanes of a 13-mile stretch of the M20 motorway to allow hundreds of articulated lorries to park up if they are delayed in reaching the Port of Dover. The Department for Transport (DfT) claimed the work was simply an improvement on the existing Operation Stack, a way of managing traffic used many times to cope with “serious disruption to cross-channel transport”. But it has now emerged that the project has been renamed Operation Brock – which Kent County Council says stands for “Brexit Operations Across Kent”.
Vast extra space for lorries will be needed if the Brexit talks fail and, as Theresa May has threatened, the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal next year. There will be massive disruption if any extra checks are required in future – with one study warning of immediate 20-mile tailbacks at Dover if the time taken to clear customs merely doubles from the current two minutes. Virendra Sharma, a Labour MP and supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group, said: “The government is trying to hide the devastating impact of their Brexit policy. “Food will rot on the motorway and jobs are at risk as manufacturing supply chains are muddled and slowed by Brexit. We cannot let ministers use secrecy to railroad the concerns of councils about Brexit.”
The British motor industry has warned that “no one would confess to being Brexit ready” in their trade. Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), argues that his members are “increasingly concerned” about the prospects for the UK leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, in the light of developments since Theresa May published the government’s latest Brexit white paper, which he and the SMMT welcomed. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has since expressed scepticism about the proposed Facilitated Customs Arrangement (FCA), which would have been of particular value to manufacturing and the automotive sector.
In the light of EU resistance, and growing UK political volatility, the chances of the UK going to a “no deal” exit are increasing, meaning that Britain would move to WTO terms, as opposed to staying in the Single Market, the customs union or the FCA. This would imply tariffs of up to 10% in UK-EU trade in cars and parts, and greater bureaucracy in both directions, which would only be partly mitigated by “stockpiling” in the short run, given the demands of “just in time” manufacturing techniques and integrated cross-border supply chains. There is a tail risk that factory production of models such as the Mini at BMW’s plant in Oxford could be disrupted if crucial car components become unavailable.
Mr Hawes added that the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit was something no-one wished to see and that industry leaders wished to see “all options open as long as possible”. Reflecting on the 1,100 trucks that enter the UK from Europe every day to feed its factories, he said that the eight months remaining until formal Brexit on 29 March 2019 were “a real challenge”. British car production for the home market almost halved in June, compared to the same month a year ago, due to what the industry calls “a perfect storm” of factors that resulted in a freakish result.
Hersh is honest enough to admit that today he might not have made it. He worked during the heyday of American journalism – when he was paid handsomely for exposes and when media outlets had the financial muscle to fund serious writing. When he covered the Paris Peace Accords for The Times, he was put up at the world famous five-star deluxe Hotel de Crillon. It is not long before we discuss contemporaneous events including the alleged Russian hacking of the US presidential election. Hersh has vociferously strong opinions on the subject and smells a rat. He states that there is “a great deal of animosity towards Russia. All of that stuff about Russia hacking the election appears to be preposterous.” He has been researching the subject but is not ready to go public… yet.
Hersh quips that the last time he heard the US defence establishment have high confidence, it was regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He points out that the NSA only has moderate confidence in Russian hacking. It is a point that has been made before; there has been no national intelligence estimate in which all 17 US intelligence agencies would have to sign off. “When the intel community wants to say something they say it… High confidence effectively means that they don’t know.” Hersh is also on the record as stating that the official version of the Skripal poisoning does not stand up to scrutiny. He tells me: “The story of novichok poisoning has not held up very well. He [Skripal] was most likely talking to British intelligence services about Russian organised crime.”
The unfortunate turn of events with the contamination of other victims is suggestive, according to Hersh, of organised crime elements rather than state-sponsored actions – though this flies in the face of the UK government’s position. [..] He ends the Goldsmiths talk with an anecdote about having lunch with his sources in the wake of 9/11. He vents his anger at the agencies for not sharing information. One of his CIA sources fires back: “Sy you still don’t get it after all these years – the FBI catches bank robbers, the CIA robs banks.” It is a delicious, if cryptic aphorism.
In your first Papal visit outside of Rome only months after your election as Supreme Pontiff, you choose the Italian island of Lampedusa, a refuge for migrants and asylum seekers fleeing the prospect of death. You did so to express your closeness and love to suffering people, to promote their dignity, which was under threat at home and in jeopardy in the countries where they seek refuge. Your first act upon arrival was to lay a wreath in the sea in memory of all those who had lost their lives seeking refuge. We, the undersigned, write to you, Your Holiness, as a loving Father to those who lives are in imminent danger, begging and beseeching you to speak up for someone whose life is in imminent danger.
A life that can only be saved by your intervention. In order to lessen the possibility of us laying a wreath in the coming days, in memory of the stateless asylum seeker Julian Assange, we ask that you speak out on his behalf. Julian is possible moments or hours away but certainly days away from being abducted by a SAS squad from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where his asylum status is about to be revoked. Based on the precedent the risk of death is very high. Last time the SAS entered an Embassy in London they assassinated their targets after they had surrendered and were unarmed lying on the ground.
With all legal avenues exhausted and the British, American, Ecuadorian and Australian governments all arranging the imminent raid on Julian, we cry out to you, Holy Father and ask that you encourage nations to respect the life of Julian Assange and to cease his arbitrary detention (as cited by the United Nations) and grant him asylum status where he can continue his work as a journalist, telling the truth, that is the truth that respects the dignity of persons. Please, Holy Father speak up and defend this life which so many powerful nations want to end and whose life only you can plead for leniency in a manner which may be heeded by the powerful who seek to end him.
[..] new British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed Assange was facing “serious charges” from local police. But there is confusion about what they are, as he is only facing a minor charge for breaching bail. Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer in London, told news.com.au she was “obviously very concerned” about the speculation he could be forced from the embassy. “We are monitoring that really closely. From our point of view he requires ongoing protection (because) the risk of prosecution is as high as it has ever been.” The Times quoted a source familiar with the case who expected Assange would “lose his asylum status imminently. This means he will be expelled from the embassy. When this will happen is impossible to say.”
It was Ms Robinson’s view, and Assange’s, that Australia could help break the stalemate. “Julian is still an Australian citizen and they have an obligation — and I think a duty — to exercise rights of protection over an Australian citizen,” she said. “They could usefully engage in this to help solve the impasse.” Ms Robinson said Canberra had good relationships with both the UK and US, so it shouldn’t be a difficult matter. “For me as a fellow Australian citizen, it is disappointing the government has not done more — but that doesn’t preclude them from doing it now and I very much hope that they will.” She said it raised concerns about the Federal Government’s willingness to “stand up for Australians” when the US Government was involved.
[..] Ms Robinson was mystified as to what charges Mr Hunt was referring to. “Jeremy Hunt’s statement is curious in the sense that Mr Assange doesn’t face any charges whatsoever … A magistrate will have to decide whether to bring bail proceedings against him when he leaves the embassy.” [..] “So is Mr Hunt talking about an extradition request from the US where he would face serious charges?” asked Ms Robinson. “Has he misspoken and disclosed that?” She told news.com.au that would be a serious matter. Assange’s legal team had sought assurances from the UK there was no extradition request and had been met with a “standard, blanket will not confirm or deny”. “So if Mr Hunt is talking about serious charges … there are none on the public record, so of course, we are concerned about what that might be from the US.”
As attempts to evict Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London get more and more aggressive, we are seeing a proportionate increase in the establishment smear campaign against him and against WikiLeaks. This is not a coincidence. The planned campaign to remove Assange from political asylum and the greatly escalated smear campaign to destroy public support for Assange are both occurring at the same time that Assange has been cut off from the world without internet, phone calls or visitors, completely unable to defend himself from the smear campaign. This, also, is not a coincidence.
The ability to control the narrative about what is going on in the world is of unparalleled importance to the plutocrats who use governments as tools to advance their agendas. The agenda to make an example of a leak publisher with a massive platform who has repeatedly exposed the corruption of the establishment upon which western plutocrats have built their empires will require continuous narrative spin, since the precedent set by prosecuting a journalist for publishing authentic documents would arguably constitute a greater leap in the direction of Orwellian dystopia than the Patriot Act.
Among the latest components of this campaign has been a viral dump of Twitter DMs being promoted as a hot news item by outlets like Motherboard, The Hill, Forbes and Think Progress and across #Resistance Twitter. The fact that the juicy bits from those DMs had already been published months ago by The Intercept, and the fact that the smears and spin we’re seeing reruns of today were long ago ripped to shreds in journalist Suzie Dawson’s epic essay “Being Julian Assange” after the Intercept publication, has not dampened the orgiastic frenzy with which this non-story is being bandied about by establishment loyalists and defenders of power as evidence of Assange’s nefariousness.
A search and rescue charity has alleged that an Italian ship returned scores of people rescued from the Mediterranean to Libya, even though Libya is not regarded by Europe as a safe place under international law. In what would be an unprecedented case if confirmed, the Asso 28, an oil rig support vessel, allegedly saved 108 people from a dinghy and then took them to Tripoli. The allegation was made by Òscar Camps, the founder of Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish sea search and rescue NGO. It is unclear whether the ship had received instructions from the Italian coastguard. “The Asso 28, with an Italian flag, rescued 108 people in international waters and is now deporting them to Libya, a country where human rights are not respected. No chance [for them] to get asylum or shelter,” Camps wrote on Twitter.
Camps’ allegation was supported by Nicola Fratoianni, an Italian politician with Free and Equal, a small leftwing party, who was on board the Proactiva rescue ship. “We don’t know yet if this operation was instructed by the Italian coastguard, but if so it would be a very serious precedent, a real collective rejection, which Italy and the captain of the ship would have to respond to in court,” Fratoianni said. Two weeks ago Italy assured Germany that it would continue to accept migrants rescued at sea until an EU-wide plan on redistributing people across the continent was established. The pledge came after high-profile moves by Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and leader of the far-right League, to block rescue ships from docking at Italian ports.
In a response to Camps’ allegation on Tuesday, Salvini made no mention of the alleged involvement of an Italian ship in the incident. He wrote on Twitter: “The Libyan coastguard has rescued and brought back 611 immigrants in recent hours. The NGOs protest and the traffickers lose business? Fine, we’ll continue in this direction!” In another post, on Facebook, he wrote: “The Italian Coast Guard has not coordinated and participated in any of these operations, as falsely declared by a foreign NGO and a poorly informed leftist MP.”
In the minutes of the FOMC meeting on June 12 and 13, released this afternoon, there was a doozie, obscured somewhat by the dynamics of the rate hike plus the indication that there would be two more rate hikes this year, for a total of four, up from three at the prior meeting, with more hikes to come in 2019, along with other changes [..] But the doozie in the minutes was about the flattening “yield curve.” The yield curve is formed by Treasury yields of different maturities: normally, the two-year yield is quite a bit lower than the 10-year yield. Over the last several decades, each time the yield curve “inverted” – when the two-year yield ended up higher than the 10-year yield – a recession followed. The last time, the Financial Crisis followed.
So this has become a popular recession indicator that has cropped up a lot in the discussions of various Fed governors since last year. Today, the two-year yield closed at 2.55% and the 10-year yield at 2.84%. The spread between them was just 29 basis points, the lowest since before the Financial Crisis. The chart below shows the yield curves on December 14, 2016, when the Fed got serious about raising rates (black line); and today (red line). Note how the red line has “flattened” between the two-year and the 10-year markers, and how the spread has narrowed to just 29 basis points:
The chart below shows the two-year yield (black) and the 10-year yield (red) going back to 1992. Note how the spread has been narrowing in recent months.
The chart below tracks this spread for every day back to 2008. Today, the spread, at just 29 basis points, is the lowest since before the Financial Crisis:
There has been a lot of handwringing about this being an indicator that the next recession is nearing and that the Fed should back off with its rate hikes. But this Fed is getting seriously hawkish: In the minutes today, it revealed that instead of thinking about backing off with its rate hikes, it’s throwing out the flattening yield curve.
Theresa May has secured approval to negotiate a soft Brexit deal with the European Union, signing up her fractious cabinet at a Chequers awayday to a controversial plan to match EU standards on food and goods. The prime minister released a statement following the critical afternoon session of the long-awaited summit that alarmed Tory hard Brexiters, in which she confirmed she had won over the cabinet to new customs arrangements ending political deadlock on the issue. May said the cabinet had “agreed our collective position for the future of our negotiations with the EU”. That included a proposal to “create a UK-EU free trade area which establishes a common rule book for industrial goods and agricultural products” after Brexit.
Tory Brexiters voiced concern at the agreement, while soft Brexiters expressed relief. Andrea Jenkyns, a hardline MP, complained that “British businesses will continue to be a rule taker from the EU” and said she would “pray” that the detail was not as bad as she feared. Heidi Allen, a moderate, said she was “pleased to report Theresa May has secured cabinet agreement for a sensible, soft Brexit”. On Thursday, when the common rule book proposal was first leaked, hardline Brexiter cabinet ministers and Conservative MPs voiced alarm that it could prevent the UK striking a trade deal with the US, which has different standards in goods and foods, such as allowing chickens to be washed in chlorine.
But May was able to release the text of a three-page agreed statement before cabinet, following a relatively undramatic day of discussions, sat down for dinner to listen to No 10 communications chiefs make a presentation on how to sell the new proposals. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, appeared to react warmly to the proposals, noting in a tweet that the “Chequers discussion on future to be welcomed. I look forward to white paper. We will assess proposals to see if they are workable and realistic”. The prime minister made clear that she expected ministers would be sacked if they did not remain in line with her soft Brexit blueprint.
She wrote to Tory MPs to explain her plans and included a clear warning about discipline: “As we developed our policy on Brexit, I have allowed cabinet colleagues to express their individual views. Agreement on this proposal marks the point where that is no longer the case and collective responsibility is now fully restored.”
Theresa May has won the battle with her Brexiter rebels in the cabinet, but the war will be a long one. She gambled that the Brexit purists – those who gathered on the eve of the Chequers summit at the Foreign Office with Boris Johnson – would be outgunned at Chequers when the full cabinet was assembled. The choreography was impressive – May locked her ministers inside the Buckinghamshire retreat without their phones or special advisers. The final agreement – sent out on behalf of “HM government” came to journalists an hour before advisers had even seen it – and before they could get in contact with their ministers to know what concessions had been made. Within the hour, out came a letter to Conservative MPs warning the days of debate over the government’s Brexit position were over.
“Collective responsibility is now fully restored,” May warned. The deal clinched with her most difficult members of her cabinet, architects of the leave campaign such as Johnson and Michael Gove, gave May the leverage to demand similarly hardline MPs get in line. Downing Street has been briefing in a strident tone, practically daring hard Brexiter ministers to give it all up to walk down the Chequers drive. The numbers that will matter now are those in her parliamentary party. Some will express predictable fury, though in the hours since the deal was reached, Jacob Rees-Mogg was telling MPs to keep their powder dry. Key will be whether this is a deal that can win over mainstream backbenchers.
In recent weeks, a number of Conservative MPs had begun to express frustration that the prime minister was not prepared to face down one side of her party and lead. [..] On Monday, the prime minister will address the 1922 committee of backbenchers, though the timing of the summit means angry MPs will have the weekend to either cool off or come to the boil. “I’ll wait to see if this collective responsibility lasts the weekend,” another MP said. Perhaps just as crucially there are still some concerns about the future deal for UK services, around 80% of the UK economy. The agreement states the UK would “strike different arrangements for services, where it is in our interests to have regulatory flexibility, recognising the UK and the EU will not have current levels of access to each other’s markets”.
The chief executive of Airbus has accused the government of having “no clue” on how to leave the EU without harming the economy, as the prime minister aimed at uniting the cabinet behind a Brexit plan. The criticism from the aerospace firm, which employs 14,000 people in the UK, is the strongest intervention yet from the business community on the risk of a hard Brexit and came in the same week that Jaguar Land Rover, Britain’s largest carmaker, warned its were under threat. Speaking at a briefing in London before the Farnborough air show later this month, the Airbus chief executive, Tom Enders, said: “The sun is shining brightly on the UK, the English team is progressing towards the [World Cup] final, the RAF is preparing to celebrate its centenary and Her Majesty’s government still has no clue, no consensus on how to execute Brexit without severe harm.”
Enders said Airbus, a Franco-German group that supports a further 100,000 UK jobs in its supply chain, was wary of all types of Brexit, including a worst-case no-deal scenario. “Rest assured that we are taking first preparations as we speak in order to mitigate consequences from whatever Brexit scenario may follow,” he said. “Brexit in whatever form, soft or hard, light or clean, whatever you call it, will be damaging for industry, for our industry and damaging for the UK, whatever the outcome will be.”
Today’s establishment survey shows jobs rose by 213,000. Revisions were positive. The unemployment rate rose from 3.8% to 4.0% as the labor force rose by 601,000. More people are starting to look for jobs but employment only rose by 102,000. Nonfarm wage growth was +0.2% vs an Econoday consensus of +0.3%. The Phillips’ curve is a joke, but it’s still widely believed. The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for April was revised up from +159,000 to +175,000, and the change for May was revised up from +223,000 to +244,000. With these revisions, employment gains in April and May combined were 37,000 more than previously reported
Russia said on Friday it was imposing additional import duties on some U.S. industrial goods after the United States slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and warned that more retaliatory steps could be in the pipeline. The economy ministry said Russia would impose extra tariffs on some goods from the United States for which there are Russian-made substitutes.The extra duties of 25 to 40 percent will apply to imports of fiber optics and equipment for road construction, the oil and gas industries and metal processing and mining.
The ministry said the measures, signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, were intended to compensate for $87.6 million of damage suffered by Russian export-focused companies as a result of the U.S. metals tariffs. The U.S. tariff hike will cost an overall $537.6 million and Russia has the right to impose more compensatory measures in the future, the economy ministry said.
Canada’s government is investigating reports that US border patrol officers have intercepted and questioned crew members on more than 20 Canadian vessels in disputed waters off the coast of Maine. The reports have thrust a longstanding territorial dispute between the two countries into the spotlight; since the late 1700s tensions have simmered over a pair of tiny, treeless islands that sit between Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Primarily inhabited by nesting puffins, the islands of North Rock and Machias Seal remain the only disputed lands between US and Canada, with both claiming sovereign jurisdiction over the islands and their surrounding waters.
As a result, the area has long hosted lobster fisherman from both sides of the border. The question of jurisdiction flared up recently after the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association said a Canadian vessel had been stopped by US border patrol while fishing in the waters near Machias Seal Island in late June. “He informed them he was a Canadian vessel legally fishing in Canadian waters,” wrote Laurence Cook of the association on Facebook. He said he was “not surprised to see the Americans trying to push people around”, describing them as “typical American bullies.”
For years, conspiracy theories about smart phones listening to users without their permission to show them advertisements have abounded. While some researchers have shown this could happen, a first of its kind study just found something far more insidious. Academics at Northeastern University have just proven that your phone is recording your screen – as in taking video – and uploading it to third parties. For the last year, Elleen Pan, Jingjing Ren, Martina Lindorfer, Christo Wilson, and David Choffnes ran an experiment involving more than 17,000 of the most popular Android apps using ten different phones. Their findings were alarming, to say the least.
As Gizmodo points out, during the study, the researchers started to see that screenshots and video recordings of what people were doing in apps were being sent to third-party domains. For example, when one of the phones used an app from GoPuff, a delivery start-up for people who have sudden cravings for junk food, the interaction with the app was recorded and sent to a domain affiliated with Appsee, a mobile analytics company. The video included a screen where you could enter personal information – in this case, their zip code.
The blowup of the bond and stock markets later this year will put to a gloomy rest the ludicrous notion that America has been enjoying a great economic boom. It’s actually been an engineered hallucination, thanks to the global monetary authorities applying the magic of limitless credit to a bad habit of credulous speculation. The central banks have launched a program of so-called “quantitative tightening (QT)” — an idiotic phrase meant to counterpoise the equally fatuous “quantitative easing (QE),” PhD economist-speak for grotesque interference in the bond markets — that will choke down the credit supply at exactly the moment that governments and giant corporations need new loans to pay the interest on old loans. The trajectory there is obvious.
The big question, of course — hardly ever asked in the public arena — is what that will do to currencies, i.e., money. It can really only go two ways: either make money very scarce, in which case a lot of people and enterprises go broke, or, if the monetary authorities respond to the predicament by enabling a return to bottomless credit issuance, the money will become worthless — they’ll be plenty of it, but it won’t buy much. Such a turn of events will make an already-unhinged nation fly apart. [..] Oh, yes, there is also that Hieronymus Bosch Garden of Earthly Delights known as the Mueller Investigation, with its dreary outposts in the executive suite of the FBI, and all the tangled mysteries entailed there.
Mr. Mueller will come up with someone to indict on something, even if it’s ninety-seven ham sandwiches. I suspect Mr. Trump will manage to dump Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. And then the pardons will fly, like so many winged demons flapping from the mouth of Hades. Constitutional crisis may be too mild a word for what ensues. By holiday time in early winter, much will clarified about the actual direction of the country. By then, the “Walk Away” movement may even include the obdurate shills at CNN and The New York Times, and the Intellectual-Yet-Idiots on the college campuses. And the Golden Golem of Greatness will lie upended in the swamp that he just didn’t try hard enough to drain.
Twitter Inc suspended more than one million accounts a day in recent months to reduce the flow of misinformation on the platform, the Washington Post reported. Twitter and other social media platforms such as Facebook Inc have been under scrutiny by U.S. lawmakers and international regulators for doing too little to prevent the spread of false content. The companies have been taking steps such as deleting user accounts, introducing updates and actively monitoring content to help users avoid being a victim to fake content. Twitter suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June, and the pace has continued in July, the Post reported on Friday, citing data it obtained.
“It’s hard to believe that 70 million accounts were affected when Twitter has only 336 million monthly active users (MAU),” Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said. Twitter’s MAU is expected to grow nearly 3 percent to 337.06 in the second quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. “My guess is that a large number of these suspended accounts were dormant … it should have little impact on the company,” Pachter told Reuters. If the 70 million were mostly active accounts, the affected accounts would have been “screaming bloody murder”, added the analyst.
The impact of the U.S. tax reform on the U.S. trade balance was a hot item of debate last December. There was an argument that reducing the headline tax rate—and creating an even lower tax for the export of intangibles—would reduce the incentive for firms to book profits abroad in offshore tax centers. Booking those profits at home would raise U.S. services exports—while the service “exports” of countries like Ireland and Luxembourg (really re-exports of intellectual property created in the U.S) would fall. This would have no overall effect on the balance of payments. The rise in the recorded exports of intellectual property from the U.S. would be offset by a fall in the offshore income of U.S. firms.
For example, Google (U.S.) would show a bigger profit as offshore sales would be booked as exports of IP held in the U.S. (a service export) while Google (Bermuda) would show a smaller profit —and that would translate both into a smaller trade deficit and a smaller surplus on foreign direct investment income.* But shifting paper profits around would bring down the measured trade deficit—a potential win for Trump. It is obviously too soon to assess the full impact of the tax reform. But it isn’t too soon to start looking for some clues. The q1 balance of payments data doesn’t suggest that firms have lost their appetite for booking profits abroad, or their appetite for booking the bulk of their offshore profits in low tax jurisdictions. This shouldn’t be a surprise—the lowest rate in the new U.S. tax code is the new global minimum rate on intangibles.
Mainstream political parties have outlived their purpose as they cannot adapt to the changes in the political system and are out of step with the voters, Beppe Grillo, the founder of the Italian Five Star Movement (M5S), said. “The world of the old politics and old political parties,” which expect the people to trust them with defending the public interests, is “slowly dying out,” Grillo, a former Italian satirist and activist, told Ex-Ecuador President Rafael Correa during the “Conversations with Correa” show on RT Spanish. People are no more willing to just blindly follow some political forces, they are much more informed now, they seek for information in the internet and want to form their own opinions, he explained.
“The world is changing at a fantastic speed. However, the current generation of politicians does not feel these changes. They just do not see it,” Grillo said, adding that the politicians are oriented “on a short-term horizon.” Meanwhile, the society, particularly the young people, is no longer attracted by the ideas propagated by the mainstream parties. The existing “ideologies have outlived their usefulness,” Grillo said. “There are just good and bad ideas,” he added, explaining that “they are not divided into ‘right’ and ‘left’ anymore.” The self-described anti-establishment activist then criticized the mainstream politicians for hiding their own inability to adapt behind the warnings about the perceived threat of populism.
As for the populism, I am proud to be a populist, if the word ‘populus’ (the people) is still of some importance,” Grillo told Correa. “Our goal is to reach out to people, to encourage them to think for themselves, to give them instruments to fulfill their own ideas,” he added. He agreed with Correa’s statement that the so-called “anti-populism” is what really poses a threat to the modern society as it seeks to keep the system unchanged. He particularly agreed that “anti-populism” is in fact a “means of attack” as it sees everything that challenges the system as populism and seeks to clamp it down.
The number of aircraft in the skies will more than double by 2037, according to the latest Global Market Forecast by Airbus. The Toulouse-based plane maker says half the present 21,450 aircraft flying will still be aloft in 20 years. With 37,390 new planes predicted to take off, the world’s total will increase by 123 per cent to 47,990. The expected total number of aircraft is 11.3 per cent higher than it was in the last big forecast by Airbus, a year ago. The vast majority of the new planes will be smaller, narrow-bodied jets. More than three-quarters of deliveries will be from the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, or aircraft of a similar scale from other manufacturers.
Assuming the 737 is still being made in 2037, it will be the most enduring aircraft in aviation history, having first flown 70-years earlier. Of the 28,550 predicted new narrow-bodied planes, one of Airbus’s leading hopes is the A321 NEO, a re-engined version of an aircraft that attracted little attention when it was launched as a stretched A320 in the early 1990s. The latest version can hold up to 244 passengers, and the long-range variant can fly 4,600 miles – the distance from Manchester to Seattle. The economics of the A321 are very tempting to 21st-century airlines, particularly for “long, thin” routes.
[..] Last month, Eamonn Brennan, director general of the air-traffic provider, Eurocontrol, warned: “On our most likely scenario, there won’t be enough capacity for approximately 1.5 million flights or 160 million passengers in 2040. “Many airports will become much busier, with higher delays. By 2040, 16 airports will be highly congested operating at close to capacity for much of the day, up from six airports today. “As a result of this congestion the number of passengers delayed by between one and two hours will grow from around 50,000 each day now to around 470,000 a day in 2040.”
Pope Francis urged governments on Friday to make good on their commitments to curb global warming, warning that climate change, continued unsustainable development and rampant consumption threatens to turn the Earth into a vast pile of “rubble, deserts and refuse”. Francis made the appeal at a Vatican conference marking the third anniversary of his landmark environmental encyclical “Praise Be.” The document, meant to spur action at the 2015 Paris climate conference, called for a paradigm shift in humanity’s relationship with Mother Nature. In his remarks, Francis urged governments to honor their Paris commitments and said institutions such as the IMF and World Bank had important roles to play in encouraging reforms promoting sustainable development.
“There is a real danger that we will leave future generations only rubble, deserts and refuse,” he warned. The Paris accord, reached by 195 countries, seeks to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change by curbing global greenhouse gas emissions via individual, non-binding national plans. President Donald Trump has said the US will pull out of the accord negotiated by his predecessor unless he can get a better deal. Friday’s conference was the latest in a series of Vatican initiatives meant to impress a sense of urgency about global warming and the threat it poses in particular to the world’s poorest and most marginalised people. Recently, Francis invited oil executives and investors to the Vatican for a closed-door conference where he urged them to find alternatives to fossil fuels. He warned climate change was a challenge of “epochal proportions”.
There is much we can learn from the ancient traditions of Winterval, each culture’s festive myths and rituals being equally valid, and equally instructive, irrespective of their veracity or worth. Upon the solstice night in Latveria, for example, Pappy Puffklap leaves a dried clump of donkey excrement on the breakfast table of each home. Is this so very different from the wise kings bringing the infant Christ sealed flagons of foul-smelling gas, the divine in harmony with the physical at its most pungent? There is only really one story this Christmas. The snow that decorates your cards will soon be a half-remembered folk myth. The arctic ice sheet is melting from underneath as well as above now. Did you notice, or were you grime-dancing to Man’s Not Hot at an office Christmas party, the annual arse-photocopier roped off with “police line do not cross” tape, management confused by the exact nature of their legal responsibilities to staff buttocks in the current social recalibrations?
My own Christmas sounds a note of doom. So far, I have escaped ownership of a smartphone or a tablet. With a deserved sense of superiority, I have watched the rest of you degenerate into being no-attention-span zombie scum, fixated on trivial fruit-based games and the capture of invisible Japanese imps, entirely unaware of the geography of your own surroundings, info-pigs gobbling bites of fake news headfirst from shiny troughs 24 hours a day, while our decaying planet performs its last few million fatal, and yet still beautiful, rotations before you. The screens of the iPhones of proud parents, their heads respectfully bowed, displayed pages from Facebook and Twitter. But now I must become one of you. Having abandoned paper letters, and now declaring even email obsolete, my nine-year-old daughter’s school has told me I need an iPhone to receive any administrative communication.
And so, with a heavy heart, I have asked for one for Christmas, a shire horse begging for harness, a hamster requesting its own torturous wheel, Robert Lindsay asking for another series of My Family. But perhaps, like Jesus renouncing his divinity to become a mortal, finally owning an iPhone will help me to understand Observer readers, and the trivial concerns and inundations of ignorance that drive you in your futile lives. Beneath a powerful enough microscope, even a cluster of wriggling threadworm can be beautiful. I accepted my iPhone destiny on the morning of last Wednesday, but by the afternoon I wanted to renounce it. I attended the carol service of my niece’s nursery school. Upon each carved pew, the screens of the iPhones of proud parents, their heads respectfully bowed, displayed pages from Facebook and Twitter, and twinkled throughout the ancient religious ritual like the stars that led the wise men to the very cradle of Christ.
As the lights dimmed and the candles flared up for a beautiful choral arrangement of the Coventry Carol, the assembled infant singers could look up and see that many of the grownups in the room, their lowered faces lit beatifically from below by the Caravaggio glow of their iPhone screens, were not the slightest fucking bit interested in them or their stupid fucking song.
The biggest cryptocurrencies resumed their decline on Sunday, failing to reverse a selloff that began when bitcoin’s unprecedented rally fell short of breaking above $20,000. A rebound on Saturday fizzled in the afternoon and traders turned pessimistic again, driving bitcoin down 13% in the past 24 hours. The drop among the 10 largest digital coins, ranging as much as 17% for iota, brings more end-of-year weakness to a market that just had its worst four-day tumble since 2015. “The West is what’s causing this selloff,” said Mati Greenspan, senior market analyst at Tel Aviv-based online broker eToro, pointing to increased trading in dollars and less in yen. The recent cryptocurrency rally was so steep that investors were prone to take money off the table going into the Christmas holiday season, he said.
The retrenchment isn’t typical for cryptos, which often snap back after a few losing sessions. The last time bitcoin dropped for five successive weekdays was September and, before that, July. While the market has been volatile for most of this year, the rapid run-up has made the recent selloff sting more for digital coin enthusiasts. Traders have knocked about $160 billion in market value off the biggest cryptocurrencies in about three days, according to CoinMarketCap data. The tumble coincided with several warnings in the past week from financial authorities about elevated risk in holding digital coins. “The crypto market went to astronomical highs, so it’s got to come back to reality,” Greenspan said. “Something that goes up 150% in less than a month is probably going to have double-digit retracement.”
Bitcoin was at $13,367 as of 5 p.m. New York time. That’s almost one-third off its record high of $19,511, based on prices compiled by Bloomberg. Ethereum, the No. 2 cryptocurrency by market value, dropped about 12% in the past 24 hours, to $663.77, CoinMarketCap data show. While “nascent blockchain-based cryptocurrencies are rapidly entering mainstream finance,” some of the second-generation digital coins have a better outlook than bitcoin, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mike McGlone wrote in comments published Sunday. The whole group is akin to internet-based companies a few decades ago and exchange-traded funds more recently, he said. “Bitcoin is the crypto benchmark, but not the best representation of the technology,” McGlone wrote. Altcoins “should continue to gain on bitcoin, which has flaws and where futures can be shorted,” he said.
The world of cryptocurrencies is one of the most divisive topics in finance right now. On the one hand, figures like J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon have called it a “fraud” and dubbed those trading it “stupid.” On the other hand, there are those who see cryptocurrencies as one of the most revolutionary forces in finance. But amid the debate, there are a lot of people asking how to value this stuff and why bitcoin has traded nearly as high as $20,000. The answer right now is simple: There are no fundamentals. Even Robert Shiller, who won the Nobel Prize in 2013 for assessing asset prices, recently remarked that the value of bitcoin is “exceptionally ambiguous.” There’s no doubt that there is immense amount of speculation in the cryptocurrency market.
But when the bubble bursts and the hype dies down, that is where we may find value and it all comes down to the use cases for the different coins on the market. When bitcoin was created in 2009, the aim was to be an electronic cross-border payments system. The problem now is that bitcoin transactions are at record highs with faster traditional payment systems actually proving a better means. It’s hard to say bitcoin has an inherent value beyond the belief of the people trading it. But as many have said, it could become “digital gold,” in which case the price is likely to go higher. But looking forward, it’s highly likely that other digital tokens could surpass bitcoin because of their utility. Take a look at Ethereum. The company bills itself as a blockchain platform for others to build apps on.
Blockchain is the underlying technology behind bitcoin and acts as a decentralized ledger of transactions. But its uses span far beyond bitcoin. Ethereum has its own blockchain which companies like Microsoft and J.P. Morgan are experimenting with. Ethereum is specifically designed for so-called “smart contracts” which are pieces of software that execute a contract once certain conditions are met by all parties involved. This removes the need for complex paperwork and errors. Ripple is another blockchain company that is working on cross-border payments across different currencies in seconds. The digital coin created by the company called XRP, acts as a bridging currency to help facilitate transactions. Both Ethereum and Ripple have seen stunning rallies this year, but both are in the early stages of their experiments. But in the future, valuing them could be easier. For example, if Ripple began to process a fraction of the trillions of dollars that is transacted across borders, we could start to put a price on one XRP.
China needs to let local governments take responsibility for their finances, including allowing bankruptcies, as part of an effort to defuse their debt risks, a central bank official wrote on Monday. Central government control of the scale of local government bonds should be eliminated, while responsibility to issue and repay bonds should be held by the city or county that will actually use the funds, Xu Zhong, head of the People’s Bank of China’s research bureau, wrote in a an editorial on the financial news website Yicai. “Eliminate central government control on the scale of local government bond issues, expand the scale of local government debt issues,” Xu wrote. “Whether (bonds) can be issued, and at what price, must be examined and screened by the financial markets. There does not need to be worry about local governments chaotically issuing debt.”
China’s top leadership decided at a meeting this week to take concrete measures to strengthen the regulation of local government debt next year as policymakers look to rein in a massive debt pile and reduce financial risks facing the economy. The government needs to clarify responsibility as it explores a bankruptcy system for local governments, Xu wrote, as there is still an expectation that the central government will bail out those that run into fiscal problems. “China must have an example like the bankruptcy in Detroit. Only if we allow local state-owned firms and governments to go bankrupt will investors believe the central government will break the implicit guarantee,” Xu wrote, adding that social services should be maintained.
The United States city of Detroit filed the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy in July 2013, with $18 billion of debt. Xu also said that China should dismantle the hukou system of internal migration control, as free movement of people promoted equal access to public services and helped resolve imbalances in finances. In a report published on Saturday, China’s National Audit Office said China should dispel the “illusion” that the central government will pick up the bill for local government debt. But China should also increase the limit for local government debt as general government debt is primarily used for poverty relief spending, while also controlling spending on new projects.
China has followed up earlier restrictions on outbound investment with new regulations on foreign investment by private firms. The 36-point code of conduct for private firms seeks to ensure that overseas deals are rational and legal. This is part of an effort to regulate outbound investment, which had been strongly encouraged between 2012 and 2016, in order to reduce risks. The National Development and Reform Commission, along with four other agencies, released rules that require private enterprises to invest in overseas deals that are genuine and not meant to be used for transferring assets abroad or for money laundering. Private firms are now required to report investment plans to the government, and to seek approval if the investments involve sensitive countries or industries.
Investment in projects that fit within the scope of the One Belt One Road endeavor is strongly encouraged. Outbound investment reached $170 billion in 2016, but was curtailed at the end of 2016 as yuan depreciation pressures mounted. At that time, authorities cracked down upon companies with fraudulent or “irrational” foreign investment. In addition, this past August, specific categories were created to specify banned, restricted, and encouraged overseas investment industries for mergers and acquisitions. As a result, this year saw a decline in the value of outbound direct investment, dropping 42% year-on-year in the first three quarters of this year. The new measures imposed on private firms will further reduce capital outflows and debt used to finance overseas deals.
A code of conduct for state owned enterprises investing abroad will soon be published, as China’s government attempts to make sure that capital leaving the country is being invested in sound assets. These regulations have become necessary due to China’s struggle to reduce its debt load and due to the threat of currency depreciation. While the former represents a clear and present threat to financial stability, the latter has largely disappeared from the picture but apparently remains on the radar of government officials. Debt-fueled overseas acquisitions impose a drag on the economy, which contains high levels of corporate debt already. Acquisitions that are funded by debt must ensure that overseas investments are productive, so that firms can repay the debt in a timely manner.
China is likely to set its 2018 money growth target at an all-time low of around 9% to curb debt risks and contain asset bubbles, the official China Daily reported on Monday, citing economists involved in high-level policy discussions. Financial risks have become the biggest threat to the country’s economic stability in the medium and long term, the China Daily said. In the past year, deleveraging efforts in the financial system have pushed broad M2 money supply growth to its lowest since records began in 1996. In November, M2 expanded 9.1% from a year earlier, below the government’s full-year target of around 12%. The central bank has said slowing M2 growth could be a “new normal” as the government cracks down on riskier banking activities. In the past decade, the government has set its annual M2 targets between 12% and 17%.
Walk down almost any major New York street – say Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower, or Madison Avenue from midtown to the Upper East Side. Perhaps venture down Canal Street, or into the West Village around Bleecker, and some of the most expensive retail areas in the world are blitzed with vacant storefronts. The famed Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on the Upper West Side announced earlier this week that it is closing next month. A blow to the city’s cinephiles, certainly, but also a sign of the effects that rapid gentrification, coupled with technological innovation, are having on the city. Over the past several years, thousands of small retailers have closed, replaced by national chains. When they, too, fail, the stores lie vacant, and landlords, often institutional investors, are unwilling to drop rents.
A recent survey by New York councilmember Helen Rosenthal found 12% of stores on one stretch of the Upper West Side is unoccupied and ‘for lease’. The picture is repeated nationally. In October, the US surpassed the previous record for store closings, set after the 2008 financial crisis. The common refrain is that the devastation is the product of a profound shift in consumption to online, with Amazon frequently identified as the leading culprit. But this is maybe an over-simplification. “It’s not Amazon, it’s rent,” says Jeremiah Moss, author of the website and book Vanishing New York. “Over the decades, small businesses weathered the New York of the 70s with it near-bankruptcy and high crime. Businesses could survive the internet, but they need a reasonable rent to do that.”
Part of the problem is the changing make-up of New York landlords. Many are no longer mom-and-pop operations, but institutional investors and hedge funds that are unwilling to drop rents to match retail conditions. “They are running small businesses out of the city and replacing them with chain stores and temporary luxury businesses,” says Moss. In addition, he says, banks will devalue a property if it’s occupied by a small business, and increase it for a chain store. “There’s benefit to waiting for chain stores. If you are a hedge fund manager running a portfolio you leave it empty and take a write-off.” New York is famously a city of what author EB White called “tiny neighborhood units” is his classic 1949 essay Here is New York. White observed “that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village”.
Last year, three of the world’s largest meat companies – JBS, Cargill, and Tyson Foods – emitted more greenhouse gases than France, and nearly as much as some big oil companies. And yet, while energy giants like Exxon and Shell have drawn fire for their role in fueling climate change, the corporate meat and dairy industries have largely avoided scrutiny. If we are to avert environmental disaster, this double standard must change. To bring attention to this issue, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, GRAIN, and Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation recently teamed up to study the “supersized climate footprint” of the global livestock trade. What we found was shocking. In 2016, the world’s 20 largest meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases than Germany. If these companies were a country, they would be the world’s seventh-largest emitter.
Obviously, mitigating climate change will require tackling emissions from the meat and dairy industries. The question is how. Around the world, meat and dairy companies have become politically powerful entities. The recent corruption-related arrests of two JBS executives, the brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, pulled back the curtain on corruption in the industry. JBS is the largest meat processor in the world, earning nearly $20 billion more in 2016 than its closest rival, Tyson Foods. But JBS achieved its position with assistance from the Brazilian Development Bank, and apparently, by bribing more than 1,800 politicians. It is no wonder, then, that greenhouse-gas emissions are low on the company’s list of priorities. In 2016, JBS, Tyson and Cargill emitted 484 million tons of climate-changing gases, 46 million tons more than BP, the British energy giant.
Meat and dairy industry insiders push hard for pro-production policies, often at the expense of environmental and public health. From seeking to block reductions in nitrous oxide and methane emissions, to circumventing obligations to reduce air, water, and soil pollution, they have managed to increase profits while dumping pollution costs on the public. One consequence, among many, is that livestock production now accounts for nearly 15% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. That is a bigger share than the world’s entire transportation sector. Moreover, much of the growth in meat and dairy production in the coming decades is expected to come from the industrial model. If this growth conforms to the pace projected by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, our ability to keep temperatures from rising to apocalyptic levels will be severely undermined.
Pope Francis has likened the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to the migrations of millions of people today who are forced to leave homelands for a better life, or just for survival, and he expressed hope that no one will feel “there is no room for them on this Earth”. Francis celebrated Christmas vigil mass on Sunday in the splendour of St Peter’s Basilica, telling the faithful that the “simple story” of Jesus’ birth in a manger changed “our history forever. Everything that night became a source of hope.” Noting that Mary and Joseph arrived in a land “where there was no place for them”, Francis drew parallels with today. “So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” he said in his homily.
“We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.” Francis has made concern for economic migrants, war refugees and others on society’s margins a central plank of his papacy. He said God is present in “the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognisable, who walks through our cities and our neighbourhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our door”. That perception of God should develop into “new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this Earth”, he said.
Pressure on the leftist-led government from the migration crisis is growing as it is faced with mounting tension at island hot spots, criticism from inside the ruling SYRIZA party, and uncertainty over calls to readjust the EU deal with Turkey. Under the deal signed by the EU and Ankara in March 2016, all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to Greek islands are supposed to be returned to Turkey. However, during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov earlier in December, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras requested that Turkey also accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to ease overcrowding at camps.
Sources said Merkel avoided endorsing the Greek proposal which essentially violates the core of the EU-Turkey deal. Rather, the same sources said, Merkel stressed the need to bolster the presence of EU border agency Frontex along the Greek-Bulgarian border to safeguard the so-called Balkan route. Although officials in Athens have suggested that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acceded to the request during his recent visit to Greece, the issue has been deferred to ministerial-level deliberations. Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Ankara on Thursday for talks, as Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias appeared skeptical whether Erdogan had the political will to go the extra mile.
Meanwhile, as island reception centers are bursting at the seams and pressure from SYRIZA officials is intensifying, the government has already green-lighted transfers of asylum seekers who it claims are minors or disabled. Speaking to party officials, Tsipras vowed that asylum seekers past the first stage of their application process would be relocated to the mainland. Government officials, on the other hand, offered reassurances over a recent proposal by European Council President Donald Tusk for the abolition of mandatory quotas on relocating refugees across the EU. The proposal is set to be discussed at an EU summit in June but administration officials say too many states are opposed to it.
Do they vote for or against? Do they choose a candidate who represents their politics or one who, opinion polls suggest, is most likely to defeat the woman whose presence as one of two candidates in the second-round runoff in a fortnight seems a given, but whose name still provokes a frisson of fear for many: the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, with her anti-Europe, anti-immigration, “French-first” programme? As election day has approached, and with the added complication of the terrorist threat following the shooting of a police officer on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, the dilemma has caused particular anguish for France’s mainstream leftwing voters, whose candidate is trailing in fifth place.
There are no certainties, but barring all other candidates “dropping from a nasty virus”, as one political analyst put it, Benoît Hamon is facing a crushing defeat in the first round, ending his leadership dreams and putting the future of the country’s Socialist party (PS) in question. In a decline that mirrors that of Britain’s Labour party, the PS is facing years in a political desert, if it survives. If Hamon finishes last among the leading candidates, as polls predict, the party’s only hope of salvaging a thread of power will lie in winning enough parliamentary seats in the legislative elections that follow to form an influential group in the national assembly. Even then it will most likely be part of a coalition rather than a fully functioning opposition.
Even worse, and even more unthinkable, if leftwing voters turn en masse to Jean-Luc Mélenchon as their best hope of a place in the second round against the frontrunners – independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen or the conservative François Fillon – and Hamon polls less than 5%, none of Hamon’s campaign expenses will be reimbursed, bankrupting the PS. “Under 5% and the situation is really catastrophic,” Marc-Olivier Padis, of the Paris-based thinktank Terra Nova, told the Observer. “And it’s possible. We are hearing many socialists wondering if they should vote Mélenchon or Macron. The only thing that can save the party in this election is if enough socialists vote for Hamon out of loyalty.”
The 2017 French Presidential election marks a profound change in European political alignments. There is an ongoing shift from the traditional left-right rivalry to opposition between globalization, in the form of the European Union (EU), and national sovereignty. Standard media treatment sticks to a simple left-right dualism: “racist” rejection of immigrants is the main issue and that what matters most is to “stop Marine Le Pen!” Going from there to here is like walking through Alice’s looking glass. Almost everything is turned around. On this side of the glass, the left has turned into the right and part of the right is turning into the left. Fifty years ago, it was “the left” whose most ardent cause was passionate support for Third World national liberation struggles.
The left’s heroes were Ahmed Ben Bella, Sukarno, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, and above all Ho Chi Minh. What were these leaders fighting for? They were fighting to liberate their countries from Western imperialism. They were fighting for independence, for the right to determine their own way of life, preserve their own customs, decide their own future. They were fighting for national sovereignty, and the left supported that struggle. Today, it is all turned around. “Sovereignty” has become a bad word in the mainstream left. National sovereignty is an essentially defensive concept. It is about staying home and minding one’s own business. It is the opposite of the aggressive nationalism that inspired fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to conquer other countries, depriving them of their national sovereignty.
The confusion is due to the fact that most of what calls itself “the left” in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism – aka “globalization”. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and “soft” power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of “human rights” and “antiracism” – abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times.
The fact that “sovereignism” is growing in Europe is interpreted by mainstream globalist media as proof that “Europe is moving to the right”– no doubt because Europeans are “racist”. This interpretation is biased and dangerous. People in more and more European nations are calling for national sovereignty precisely because they have lost it. They lost it to the European Union, and they want it back. That is why the British voted to leave the European Union. Not because they are “racist”, but primarily because they cherish their historic tradition of self-rule.
ECB officials signaled that their liquidity facilities remain available to counter any market tension that may arise in the aftermath of France’s presidential election, the first round of which takes place Sunday. “The central bank should be ready for any shocks that should materialize,” Governing Council member Ignazio Visco said at a press conference during the IMF spring meetings in Washington on Saturday. “And if there were to be such a shock, the instruments are the instruments that a central bank should use, which are liquidity provision, refinancing when needed. And intervening very quickly is really very easy now given the instruments we have.” Like the U.K.’s vote on whether to continue its membership of the EU in June, central bank readiness to support the banking system has been sought given the potential for such political events to create market turmoil.
In this case, a strong showing in the first round by anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen could cast doubt over the future of the single currency. Visco argued that the presence of central bank facilities makes it less likely they’ll actually be needed. [..] The euro area has years of experience with banking freeze-ups and has multiple instruments to address liquidity shortages that strike otherwise solvent banks. In particular, in the event a sudden credit-rating downgrade made French government debt ineligible as collateral for normal ECB refinancing operations, so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance may be available from the Bank of France. “If there should be problems for specific French banks, liquidity-wise, then the ECB has instruments to help solvent banks with liquidity problems,” Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said on Saturday. “This is ELA, emergency liquidity assistance. That could be given of course. But we don’t expect any special movements.”
Donald Trump and the GOP need an easy, highly visible legislative victory. Breaking up the Fed meets this criteria. In the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, policymakers rushed out the Dodd-Frank Act. This Act increased the Fed’s responsibilities. However, policymakers did this without examining the Fed’s performance in the run-up to the financial crisis. Had they done so, they would have seen the Fed failed as a bank supervisor and regulator. This failure alone mandates breaking up the Fed. After all, why should the Fed be given a second chance given how much its failure hurt the global real economy and taxpayers? Furthermore, this failure strongly suggests policymakers shouldn’t have rewarded the Fed with additional responsibilities. After all, there is no reason to believe the Fed’s failure as a bank supervisor and regulator won’t be repeated with any new responsibilities.
To the extent these new responsibilities exist in the Dodd-Frank Act, they too should be stripped away. What the Fed should be left with is responsibility for monetary policy and the payment system. All of the Fed’s bank supervision and regulatory responsibility should be transferred to the FDIC. There are many significant benefits from doing this including it reinforces market discipline on the banks. Unlike the Fed, the FDIC is responsible for protecting the taxpayers and has the authority to close a bank. The FDIC’s primary responsibility is minimizing the risk of loss by the taxpayer backed deposit insurance fund. It achieves this initially through regulation and supervision, but more importantly by a willingness to step in and close a bank that threatens to cause a loss to the fund.
Shareholders and unsecured bank creditors are keenly aware they are likely to lose their entire investment should the FDIC step up and close the bank they are invested in. As a result, they have an incentive to exert discipline on bank management to limit its risk taking so the bank is never taken over by the FDIC. For those who would argue that it is important to keep bank supervision and regulation together with monetary policy, I would point out there is no evidence showing this produces a better outcome. In the run-up to the Great Financial Crisis, the Bank of England and the ECB did not have supervision and regulation responsibility. The Fed did. Talk about a perfect controlled experiment.
From a global macroeconomic perspective, we encourage readers to consider that the world is experiencing an extended, rolling process of deflating its credit excesses. It is now simply China’s turn. For context, Japan started deflating their credit bubble in the early 1990s, and has now experienced more than 20 years of deflation and very little growth since. The US began its process in 2008, and after eight years has only recently been showing signs of sustainable recovery. The euro zone entered this process in 2011 and is still struggling six years onward. We believe China is now entering the early stages of this process. Having said that, we believe that Chinese authorities have a viable plan for deflating their credit excess in an orderly fashion.
Please stay posted as we will review this multi-pronged, market-based approach in our next column. For now, let’s turn our attention to the size of the credit excess that China created and why we estimate it to be the largest in the world. A credit excess is created by the speed and magnitude of credit that is created – if too much is created in too short a time period, excesses inevitably occur and non-performing loans (NPLs) emerge. To illustrate the credit excess that has been created in China, let’s review several key indicators, including the: 1) flow of new credit; 2) stock of outstanding credit; 3) credit deviation ratio (i.e., excess credit); 4) incremental capital output ratio (efficiency of credit allocation).
The US created 58% of GDP between 2002-07, and the global financial crisis followed. Japan created credit equivalent to the entire size of its economy between 1985-90 and subsequently experienced more than 20 years of deflation (admittedly reflecting the lack of restructuring). Thailand created a significant real estate bubble between 1992-97 and ended up with about 45% NPL ratios. Spain created credit equivalent to 116% of GDP between 2002-07 and still is trying to address a 20% unemployment rate. China created 139% of GDP in new credit between the first quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2014 (when GDP growth peaked), far greater than what was created in other major credit bubbles globally.
[..] Another important measure to assess the amount of credit in the economy which is “excessive” is the credit-to-GDP gap, as reported by the Bank of International Settlements. This ratio measures the difference between the current credit-to-GDP ratio in an economy against its long-term trend of what is necessary to optimally support long-term GDP growth. It is akin to measuring the amount of credit that is productively deployed into an economy. This metric is used by the Basel III framework in determining countercyclical capital buffers for a country’s banking system when credit creation becomes too fast (i.e., high credit growth requires higher capital ratios for banks).
Finally, to show that the pace of credit creation will necessarily slow, thereby exposing misallocated credit and driving the emergence of new NPL formation, we turn to the deterioration in China’s incremental capital output ratio. This ratio is the measure of the number of units of input required to produce one unit of GDP. For the 15 years prior to the credit impulse in 2009-14, China’s incremental capital output ratio has been consistently between two and four. Meaning that two to four yuan in fixed asset investment created one yuan in GDP. But as a result of the credit-driven economic growth model, and the excessive credit that has been created (and the subsequent excess capacity in the industrial economy), China’s investment efficiency has deteriorated to the point that its incremental capital output ratio is now over 13. Said another way, every 1 yuan in new fixed asset investment is now creating only 7 fen in GDP.
The devastation in the US retail sector is accelerating in 2017, and in addition to the surging number of brick and mortar retail bankruptcies, it is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in the soaring number of store closures. While the shuttering of retail stores has been a frequent topic on this website, most recently in the context of the next “big short”, namely the ongoing deterioration in the mall REITs and associated Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities and CDS, here is a stunning fact from Credit Suisse:”Barely a quarter into 2017, year-to-date retail store closings have already surpassed those of 2008.”
According to the Swiss bank’s calculations, on a unit basis, approximately 2,880 store closings were announced YTD, more than twice as many closings as the 1,153 announced during the same period last year. Historically, roughly 60% of store closure announcements occur in the first five months of the year. By extrapolating the year-to-date announcements, CS estimates that there could be more than 8,640 store closings this year, which will be higher than the historical 2008 peak of approximately 6,200 store closings, which suggests that for brick-and-mortar stores stores the current transition period is far worse than the depth of the credit crisis depression.
As the WSJ calculates, at least 10 retailers, including Limited Stores, electronics chain hhgregg and sporting-goods chain Gander Mountain have filed for bankruptcy protection so far this year. That compares with nine retailers that declared bankruptcy, with at least $50 million liabilities, for all of 2016. On Friday, women’s apparel chain Bebe Stores said it would close its remaining 170 shops and sell only online, while teen retailer Rue21 Inc. announced plans to close about 400 of its 1,100 locations. Another striking fact: on a square footage basis, approximately 49 million square feet of retail space has closed YTD. Should this pace persist by the end of the year, total square footage reductions could reach 147M square feet, another all time high, and surpassing the historical peak of 115M in 2001.
There are several key drivers behind the avalanche of “liquidation” signs on store fronts. The first is the glut of residual excess retail space. As the WSJ writes, the seeds of the industry’s current turmoil date back nearly three decades, when retailers, in the throes of a consumer-buying spree and flush with easy money, rushed to open new stores. The land grab wasn’t unlike the housing boom that was also under way at that time. “Thousands of new doors opened and rents soared,” Richard Hayne, chief executive of Urban Outfitters Inc., told analysts last month. “This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst.”
Retail sale volumes slumped in March, seeming to confirm doubts about the robustness of the consumer-led economy in the wake of last summer’s Brexit vote. According to the Office for National Statistics, sales were down 1.8% in the month, against City expectations of a 0.2% decline. The monthly data can be volatile and March’s decline follows a 1.7% spike in February, but the ONS itself highlighted the weakening trend this year and noted that over the three months to March there was the first quarterly decline in volumes since 2013. In the first quarter of 2017 sales were down 1.4%, the biggest decline since the first three months of 2010 when they fell 2%.
Retail sales performed much better than expected in the immediate wake of last June’s Brexit vote, helping to boost overall GDP growth and confounding widespread expectations that the economy would fall into recession. But economists said the latest data suggested gravity was now asserting itself as inflation, stemming from the sharp depreciation of the pound since last June, eats into incomes and wage growth remains chronically weak. “We should see these retail sales figures as the start of a period of much weaker consumer spending growth – which will act as a drag on the overall progress of the UK economy over this year and next,” said Andrew Sentance, senior economic adviser at PwC.
“This is the clearest indication yet that the expected slowdown in the UK economy has begun, and we should expect to see this confirmed in other economic data over the next few months.” James Knightley, an economist at ING described the figures as “dreadful”. “The story for the household sector isn’t great right now. Inflation is eating into household spending power with wages once again failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living. There is also a growing sense of job insecurity highlighted in some surveys, which may also be making households a little nervous,” he said. The household saving ratio, the gap between the sector’s aggregate income and spending, fell to just 3.3% in the final quarter of 2016, the weakest on record, prompting questions about the sustainability of the rate of consumer spending. Retail sales account for around 30% of household consumption, which in turn accounts for 60% of UK GDP.
The fact that Britain’s unemployment rate has fallen to its joint lowest level since 1975 belies the experience of thousands of BHS staff, who have struggled to find an equivalent job with a contract and regular hours. The jobless rate may be just 4.7% but official records show the number of people on zero-hours contracts hit a record high of 905,000 in the final three months of 2016. That was an increase of 101,000, or 13%, compared with the same period a year earlier. Last year, research by industry trade body the British Retail Consortium (BRC) identified a “lost generation” of predominantly female shop workers who – as thousands of BHS staff would find out – risk losing their jobs as structural change chews up the high street. It estimated there were nearly 500,000 retail workers, aged between 26 and 45, many of whom have children and need to work close to their family home, who would find it hard to find alternative jobs.
Using the benchmark of those earning less than £8.05 an hour, the BRC says 1.5 million people work in low-paid UK retail jobs. About 70% are female and one in five receive means-tested working age tax credits. Norman Pickavance, chair of the Fabian Society taskforce on the future of retail, says the majority of companies in the sector are trying to save money by moving towards less secure employment models. “There are more and more zero-hours-type contracts and self employment,” he says. “A year on from the demise of BHS, most retailers are continuing down that route of flexibility but there is a risk to them from Brexit. They have only been able to use these methods because of the abundance of labour and might have to rethink.”
[..] This trend is writ larger in the US, where analysts are talking about a “retail apocalypse”, as main street veterans like Macy’s and Sears line up to announce major store closure programmes. With American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch and JCPenney also axing stores, hundreds of American shopping mall outlets are closing for good. The cost in job terms has been stark, with more than 89,000 retail positions eliminated over the last six months. New York-based Global Data analyst Neil Saunders says the US and UK retail markets are not mirror images, with the American woes resulting from the fallout from a belated move by store chiefs to address the threat posed by the internet.
With more than five times more retail square footage per person than the UK, American store chiefs have also got a bigger problem on their hands than their British counterparts. “In terms of online penetration, the US is where the UK was five or so years ago,” continues Saunders. “What we are seeing is large US retailers scrabbling to adjust.” He adds: “Generally, UK retail is at a much later evolutionary stage than the US. There has already been quite a lot of adjustment in terms of the closure and adaptation of physical space.
Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency spied on the Interpol international police agency for years and on the group’s country liaison offices in dozens of countries such as Austria, Greece and the United States, a German magazine said. Der Spiegel magazine, citing documents it had seen, said the BND had added the email addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers of the police investigators to its sector surveillance list. In addition, the German spy agency also monitored the Europol police agency Europol which is based in The Hague, the magazine said. Der Spiegel reported in February that the BND also spied on the phones, faxes and emails of several news organizations, including the New York Times and Reuters.
The BND’s activities have come under intense scrutiny during a German parliamentary investigation into allegations that the US National Security Agency conducted mass surveillance outside of the United States, including a cellphone used by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Konstantin von Notz, a Greens party member who serves on the investigative committee, described the latest report about the BND’s spying activities as “scandalous and unfathomable.” “We now know that parliaments, various companies and even journalists and publishers have been targeted, as well as allied countries,” von Notz said in a statement. He said the latest reports showed how ineffective parliamentary controls had been thus far, despite new legislation aimed at reforming the BND. “It represents a danger to our rule of law,” he said.
Pope Francis urged governments on Saturday to get migrants and refugees out of holding centers, saying many had become “concentration camps”. During a visit to a Rome basilica, where he met migrants, Francis told of his visit to a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year. There he met a Muslim refugee from the Middle East who told him how “terrorists came to our country”. Islamists had slit the throat of the man’s Christian wife because she refused to throw her crucifix the ground. “I don’t know if he managed to leave that concentration camp, because refugee camps, many of them, are of concentration (type) because of the great number of people left there inside them,” the pope said.
Francis praised countries helping refugees and thanked them for “bearing this extra burden, because it seems that international accords are more important than human rights”. He did not elaborate but appeared to be referring to agreements that keep migrants from crossing borders. In February, the European Union pledged to finance migrant camps in Libya as part of a wider European Union drive to stem immigration from Africa. Humanitarian groups have criticized efforts to stop migrants in Libya, where – according to a U.N. report last December – they suffer arbitrary detention, forced labor, rape and torture.
South Korea suffered a 15.7% fall in exports to China in the first quarter this year, data showed Sunday, deepening its overall trade woes. It marks the biggest drop in seven years in South Korea’s outbound shipments to China, its single biggest market. China accounts for about 25% of South Korea’s total exports. Exports to China stood at $28.5 billion in the year’s first three months, down 15.7% from a year earlier, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA). By item, exports of semiconductors, flat panel displays, petrochemical products, car parts and synthetic resins recorded notable declines. Experts cited a structural problem and suggested a shift in trade strategy. “Over 70% of South Korean goods exported to China are intermediate goods. China’s demand for those is diminishing,” said Park Jin-woo, head of KITA’s strategic market research office.
“In particular, China is making massive investments and expanding facilities in such sectors as semiconductors, while reducing imports.” He stressed the need for targeting the consumer goods market instead. South Korea’s exports to the United States also sank 3.3% on-year to $16.8 billion in the January-March period and imports were down 4.9% to $10.1 billion. Trade with Japan remains in trouble as well. Exports fell 13.1% to $5.5 billion, representing a double-digit drop for the sixth consecutive quarter, and imports dwindled 11.2% to $10.6 billion. In contrast, exports to Vietnam, which has emerged as South Korea’s third-largest exports market, maintained an upward trend. Exports grew 7.6% to $7 billion, although growth rates showed signs of slowing.
A crisis rocking a loosely regulated lending network is underlining the risks of a financing boom that has channeled Chinese household money into Hollywood movies and Wall Street deals Droves of teary-eyed investors from around China have descended on Shanghai Kuailu Investment Group’s swanky offices over the past week to demand their money back after the firm halted redemptions on wealth-management products for the roughly 250,000 clients of the firm and three affiliates. The uncertainty around investments handled by Kuailu could force a re-evaluation of a financing trend that has become widespread, in the latest knock to a financial system damaged by months of stock-market turmoil and a slowing economy.
Kuailu is one of thousands of finance companies in a universe of Chinese “shadow banks” that funnel investors funds to businesses and individuals, often with an assurance of high returns. Moody’s estimated credit extended by nonbank financing companies in China stood at $370 billion in mid-2015. Many Chinese refer to the diverse industry using English: P2P, as in peer-to-peer lending, though that business of matching small lenders and borrowers is just one segment of operations at Kuailu. Kuailu isn’t the first such lender to leave investors hanging amid recent collapses in the sector. What is distinctive is how its problems are exposing an international dimension to the industry, which bankers said is common but little understood.
The Shanghai firm invested in at least 20 feature films, including the coming release of “The Bombing” starring Bruce Willis, according to the company. Client money holds a slice of a $9 billion deal to privatize NYSE-listed Chinese Internet-security company Qihoo 360 Technology, firm marketing documents show. A crisis-management specialist that Kuailu’s founding chairman this month put in charge of sorting through $1.5 billion in liabilities told the WSJ it wasn’t a Ponzi scheme, a fear some investors have raised with the company. “No cash flow. That’s the issue,” said Xu Qi, who estimated assets cover about 90% of what is owed to investors, but that most of it is tied up in investments or projects that can’t be quickly converted to cash.
Companies like Kuailu got their start in peer-to-peer lending, initially a modest effort to supply money to Chinese households and entrepreneurs that was endorsed by top government officials as a way to power new streams of consumer activity. But crowdsourced lending has quickly expanded and now powers financing across China, from wedding loans to land speculation. Like banks, but with less regulation, such lenders compete aggressively for deposits, often via online platforms. Many attract money faster than they can thoroughly research investments, according to analysts.
A meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers on an agreement to freeze output ran into last-minute trouble in Qatar on Sunday due to a new request by OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia, sources told Reuters. Oil ministers were heading into a meeting with the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani – who was instrumental in promoting output stability in recent months – in an attempt to rescue the deal designed to bolster the flagging price of crude. “There is an issue. Experts are discussing how to find an acceptable solution. I’m confident they will come up with a solution,” one of the sources said. According to another source, Saudi Arabia said it wanted all OPEC members to participate in the talks, despite insisting earlier on excluding Iran because Tehran does not want to freeze production.
Saudi Arabia has taken a tough stance on Iran, the only major OPEC producer to have refused to participate in the freeze. Tehran says it needs to regain market share after the lifting of international sanctions against it in January. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg that the kingdom would restrain its output only if all other major producers, including Iran, agreed to freeze production. More than a dozen nations inside and outside OPEC have officially confirmed they would attend the meeting in Doha but the role of Iran has been the key issue overhanging the talks. “We have told some OPEC and non-OPEC members like Russia that they should accept the reality of Iran’s return to the oil market,” Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, was quoted as saying by his ministry’s news agency SHANA on Saturday.
Iran’s top central banker is adding to growing doubts about an agreement to freeze output at a meeting of oil producers in Doha, Qatar on Sunday. Ahead of a pivotal meeting that may determine the near-term outlook for crude prices, Iran on Saturday announced that it would not participate in the conference. The country, still trying to recover from Western sanctions, is seen trying to preserve market share, and has steadfastly resisted any suggestions that Iran should freeze or curb output in order to prop up prices. On the sidelines of an IMF meeting in Washington, D.C., Valiollah Seif, head of Iran’s central bank told CNBC that asking Iran to freeze output right now is unfair.
“What Iran is doing right now is trying to get back and secure its share of the market,” Seif said, adding that “what Saudi Arabia is asking Iran to do is not a very fair [or] logical request.” On several occasions, the leadership of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly said they would agree to an output freeze as long as Iran did too. Currently, analysts believe the two rivals are unlikely to reach a near-term consensus. Seif told CNBC that Iran, as a member of OPEC, has a quota of 2.4 million barrels per day. Under sanctions for its nuclear program, that quota went unfilled.
At the same other members used their output to fill the gap. “And right now, Iran is trying to just take back the quota it is entitled to get, so we are going to do that and this is the main direction of our economy,” Seif added. He went as far as to say other OPEC members are to blame for the sharp fall in oil prices, which are down more than 37% year to date. “This request is coming from those countries which are responsible for this surplus production in the market, because they have exceeded output beyond their quota, and I think this is not fair,” Seif added. He cautioned that this was his personal viewpoint, and the ultimate decision lies with Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zangeneh.
Greece’s creditors are considering seeking extra austerity measures that would be triggered if Athens misses its fiscal targets, in a bid to bridge differences between Europe and the IMF and break a deadlock threatening to unravel the Greek bailout. Under the proposal, say officials involved in the discussions, Greece would have to sign up to so-called contingency measures of up to about €3 billion, on top of the package of about €5 billion in tax increases and spending cuts Greece and its lenders are already negotiating. The country would only have to implement the extra measures if falls short of targeted budget surpluses for coming years that were set out in last year’s bailout agreement, the officials say.
The idea, which has support from the eurozone’s dominant power Germany, hasn’t yet been agreed upon, and officials on the creditors’ side say it would be politically hard for Greece’s embattled government to swallow. Creditors say the contingency-measures idea could finally overcome the monthslong disagreement between European institutions and the IMF about the outlook for Greece’s budget. That disunity has paralyzed talks about what Greece needs to do to secure a new IMF loan program and unlock rescue funding from Europe. Without billions of euros in fresh bailout funds, Greece faces bankruptcy in July, when large debts fall due. Months of talks without agreement have stoked concern in Europe about another Greek debt drama this summer, reviving fears the country could tumble out of the eurozone.
Athens has argued that imposing even-more austerity measures would go beyond what was agreed in the July 2015 bailout deal, according to people familiar with Athens’s thinking. The deadlock among creditors since last fall stems from Germany’s insistence that Greece get no more money from the eurozone’s bailout fund until the IMF agrees to lend more money too. Since Greece’s bailout odyssey began in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted IMF involvement is essential. But the IMF is unconvinced by the math of the eurozone’s July 2015 bailout plan for Greece. The fund says it can’t resume lending to Greece unless there is a combination of a credible fiscal plan for Greece and debt relief from Europe.
The creditors and Greece agreeing on a fiscal plan would allow for the start of concrete talks on a second thorny issue: debt relief for Greece. Germany is deeply reluctant to offer much debt relief, but tends to agree with the IMF about the weaknesses of Greece’s budget, rather than with the more upbeat assessments of the European Union’s executive arm, the Commission. The Commission believes around €5 billion of austerity measures would be enough for Greece to hit a key target in the bailout plan: a primary budget surplus, meaning before interest payments, of 3.5% of gross domestic product. But the IMF is more pessimistic about Greek growth and finances. It insists about €8 billion of savings are needed to hit the target. The European side’s proposed measures, the IMF thinks, would only get Greece to a primary surplus of 1.5% of GDP.
The name Nicolaus Copernicus is not usually mentioned in the same breath as corporate tax planning or Mossack Fonseca. This month, however, it probably should be. Six centuries ago, the Polish astronomer formulated a model of the universe that put the sun, rather than the earth, at the centre of the solar system. It was a paradigm shift that led to a transformation in the way that we view the universe. I suspect something similar might be happening with global finance. This month, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published some 11.5 million documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Among other things, these gave details about offshore companies the firm created for the elite.
The leak has already provoked a number of political scandals: last week, the Icelandic prime minister resigned after it emerged that he had an offshore company in Panama; and David Cameron, the British prime minister, has faced a steady stream of criticism about an offshore company created by his late father. Meanwhile, revelations about Chinese and Russian billionaires could spark further recriminations. To my mind, it is not just the revelations concerning the rich and famous that make the Panama Papers so fascinating; after all, it is not illegal to create such companies, unless they are used to evade taxes or launder money. Instead, the most interesting issue is whether this leak will create something akin to a Copernican moment.
Think about it. Most of us vaguely know that money flows through offshore centres but the details of this world are very shadowy and opaque. Thus, insofar as any of us have ever tried to visualise the 21st-century “map” of global finance, we assumed that the visible onshore activity was the “sun” that dominated this universe — and offshore finance just a fuzzy little planet, that hovered on the edge. But the Panama Papers have given contours to that fuzzy, offshore world. More specifically, anyone who wants to get a sense of what has been happening in Panama can now go on to the ICIJ website and search those 11.5 million documents with keywords. Try it out at home — it is as simple as a Wikipedia search.
As further details tumble out, it’s not just more names that will be generated but numbers too. Even before the data were readily available, activist groups such as the Tax Justice Network had claimed that some $21tn-$32tn was being stashed in offshore centres, but they had no real way of verifying the figure. With the Panama Papers online, more precise figures could emerge — and with that the ability to compare them with the overall picture of global banking. Could this spark a bigger policy change, such as a crackdown on tax avoidance or money laundering? A cynic might argue not. Remember, powerful vested interests are involved. But if you want to get a sense of what can happen when that mental map flips, think about how attitudes to shadow banking have changed in the past decade.
Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has warned British chancellor George Osborne that Berlin would be a tough negotiator if the UK votes to leave the EU. Speaking on the sidelines of the IMF spring meetings on Saturday, Mr Schäuble, one of the strongest forces in European politics, also jested that British football teams in a post-Brexit world should be excluded from the European champions league — something not actually linked to EU membership. His confirmation that Germany would not readily agree to an easy trading relationship with Britain after Brexit undermines the Leave campaign’s argument that the UK would be able to secure preferential EU trade deals without freedom of movement of people or the need for Britain to contribute to the EU budget.
The German finance minister, who is known for his unyielding negotiating positions, told German media that he wanted the UK to remain in the EU and did not want to inflame the British debate. But he added that if Britain were to leave, the process would not be easy. The Treasury confirmed that Mr Schäuble told Mr Osborne just how tough negotiations would be after Brexit during a bilateral meeting this weekend — and made the same joke about European football. In Washington this weekend, finance minsters from around the world have gradually been waking up to the possibility that Britain will seek to leave the EU within a matter of months. The IMF said it would wreak “severe damage” to the British and European economies.
Christine Lagarde, the IMF head, admitted this week that while she hoped Europe would avoid having to deal with Brexit, “the continued relationship with other countries in the EU would be at risk”. The difficulties of post-Brexit negotiations will be amplified by elections in Germany and France in 2017, European finance ministers said privately on the sidelines of the IMF meetings. With populist rightwing Eurosceptic parties threatening mainstream politics in both countries, the domestic incentives would prevent concessions to Britain as politicians would need to show their electorates that leaving the EU comes with a heavy price.
Many European officials and ministers have tried to avoid the subject of how they would negotiate with the UK after Brexit, saying instead that they hoped the British people would vote to remain. But some did speak out. Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism, said that the leave campaign’s ambition to secure full access to the single market without accepting free movement of people and budget contributions “has never happened in Europe”. “I’m pretty certain [the negotiations ] would take quite a while — two years is not enough — so there would be several years of high uncertainty, which would have a negative impact on the UK economy,” Mr Regling said.
For several years, Laurence D. Fink, chairman and chief executive of BlackRock, the money management giant, has been on a crusade, exhorting corporations to change their short-term ways. Executives should forgo tricks that reward short-term stock traders, he argues, like share buybacks purchased at high valuations. Instead, corporate managers should focus on creating value for long-term shareholders. It’s an admirable argument that has won Mr. Fink wise-man status on Wall Street and accolades in the press. Hillary Clinton has echoed his ideas on the campaign trail. Certainly, as the head of BlackRock, Mr. Fink wields an outsize stick. With $4.6 trillion in assets and ownership of shares in roughly 15,000 companies, BlackRock is the world’s largest investment manager.
But if Mr. Fink really wants to get the attention of company executives on stock buybacks and other corporate governance issues, why doesn’t BlackRock vote more often against CEO pay packages of companies that play the short-term game? Executive compensation is inextricably linked to the shareholder-unfriendly actions Mr. Fink has identified; voting against pay packages infected by short-termism would help curb the problem. But BlackRock rarely takes such a stance. From July 1, 2014, to last June 30, according to Proxy Insight, a data analysis firm, BlackRock voted to support pay practices at companies 96.2% of the time. On pay issues, anyway, Mr. Fink’s big stick is more like a wet noodle. BlackRock’s “yes” percentage runs far higher than that of other money managers that express concern about corporate responsibility. Domini Funds supported pay practices only 6% of the time during the period, while Calvert Investments did so at 46% of companies.
As fund manager Mark Williams deliberated from his London office where next to invest, the world’s most remote stock market was just too good to pass up. That’s worrying locals, 11,000 miles away in New Zealand. The S&P/NZX 50 Index is the world’s best-performing developed stock gauge this year, climbing more than 7% to a record after overseas buying of equities jumped 21% in 2015. That’s driven stock valuations in the South-Pacific nation close to a record high, leaving them more expensive than anywhere else in the region. Funds from Henderson Global Investors to Liontrust Asset Management are buying into New Zealand, lured by dividends almost double the global average, rising earnings and expectations the central bank will cut interest rates to maintain growth.
Yet with a market cap of about $75 billion, smaller than the publicly traded value of Nike, opportunities are becoming more limited, says Matthew Goodson, an Auckland-based investor. “We’ve seen significant offshore inflows into larger-cap stocks and that’s driven their valuations to unusually high levels,” Goodson, who helps oversee about $1 billion at Salt Funds Management, said by phone. “It’s swamped the market and it leaves them very vulnerable. We’re somewhat nervous.” Foreigners now own about one third of New Zealand’s market, about three times the overseas ownership of U.S. equities, according to estimates from brokerage JBWere. Mark Williams, a money manager at Liontrust, is optimistic, given he expects the nation’s central bank will cut its key interest rate from an already record-low 2.25%.
While New Zealand accounts for less than 0.1% of the MSCI All Country World Index, Williams said he has 4.5% of his fund invested in the country. He bought Spark New Zealand and Fletcher Building in March, attracted by dividend yields of more than 5%. Spark, a communications provider, is the largest member by weighting of the S&P/NZX 50 gauge. “We find plenty of opportunities in New Zealand,” Williams, who helps manage $6.7 billion running an Asian equity-income fund at Liontrust, said by phone from London. “Interest rates remain relatively high, so that could lead to further cuts.”
The Tata Steel sale has revived the battle between protectionists and free traders, a debate that became particularly acute in the run-up to the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995, which marked the success of “free traders” all around the world. In the protectionist camp, there is now a wide range of political parties from the extreme left to the extreme right: from Syriza to Ukip, from the Front National to Podemos. The common element for all these parties is that they dream of returning to a time when “we were in control”; when we could easily open or close our borders; when the world was manageable and small and we did not have to compromise. That is why they want national rules rather than international ones; and that is also why ultimately most of them despise the EU, because it is based not on direct control but on compromise.
The problem with that notion is that such a cosy world does not exist any more. The new generations expect to talk, travel and trade with each other all over the world, no matter where they are. My children, for example, know more about startup products released for crowdfunding around the world than about what is sold in shops in our high street; they respond to fashions that are created thousands of miles away; and they expect products to reach them almost instantaneously, no matter where they are made. Fluidity, speed, seamlessness and complexity define the 21st century. Fighting those trends makes sense only if you are of such an age and means that you can afford the luxury of whingeing about the present and dreaming nostalgically about the past, but if you are still trying to make your way in life, you have to embrace change and adapt.
Companies are rightly responding as quickly as possible to those new demands and, as a result, we are witnessing a level of international outsourcing that we could never have imagined. “Made in” labels mean little nowadays: companies based in the west often have their production plants elsewhere and use components sourced from third countries; and are financed by investors in yet other countries. If that were not complex enough, when countries impose trade barriers and erect controls, companies simply move overnight. Regulators and governments often do not stand a chance. That does not mean regulators should let modern trade become the Wild West. But it means they need to have the flexibility and tools to react better and faster.
I like Joe Stiglitz, both professionally and personally. His Globalization and its Discontents was virtually the only work by a Nobel Laureate economist that I cited favourably in my Debunking Economics, because he had the courage to challenge the professional orthodoxy on the “Washington Consensus”. Far more than most in the economics mainstream—like Ken Rogoff for example—Joe is capable of thinking outside its box. But Joe’s latest public contribution—“The Great Malaise Continues” on Project Syndicate—simply echoes the mainstream on a crucial point that explains why the US economy is at stall speed, which the mainstream simply doesn’t get. Joe correctly notes that “the world faces a deficiency of aggregate demand”, and attributes this to both “growing inequality and a mindless wave of fiscal austerity”, neither of which I dispute.
But then he adds that part of the problem is that “our banks … are not fit to fulfill their purpose” because “they have failed in their essential function of intermediation”: Between long-term savers (for example, sovereign wealth funds and those saving for retirement) and long-term investment in infrastructure stands our short-sighted and dysfunctional financial sector… Former US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke once said that the world is suffering from a “savings glut.” That might have been the case had the best use of the world’s savings been investing in shoddy homes in the Nevada desert. But in the real world, there is a shortage of funds; even projects with high social returns often can’t get financing. I’m the last one to defend banks, but here Joe is quite wrong: the banks have very good reasons not to “fulfill their purpose” today, because that purpose is not what Joe thinks it is.
Banks don’t “intermediate loans”, they “originate loans”, and they have every reason not to originate right now. In effect, Joe is complaining that banks aren’t doing what economics textbooks say they should do. But those textbooks are profoundly wrong about the actual functioning of banks, and until the economics profession gets its head around this and why it matters, then the economy will be stuck in the Great Malaise that Joe is hoping to lift us out of. The argument that banks merely intermediate between savers and investors leads the mainstream to a manifestly false conclusion: that the level of private debt today is too low, because too little private debt is being created right now. In reality, the level of private debt is way too high, and that’s why so little lending is occurring.
I can make the case empirically for non-economists pretty easily, thanks to an aside that Joe makes in his article. He observes that when WWII ended, many economists feared that there would be a period of stagnation: Others, harking back to the profound pessimism after the end of World War II, fear that the global economy could slip into depression, or at least into prolonged stagnation. In fact, the period from 1945 till 1965 is now regarded as the “Golden Age of Capitalism”. There was a severe slump initially as the economy changed from a war footing to a private one, but within 3 years, that transition was over and the US economy prospered—growing by as much as 10% in real terms in some years. (see Figure 1). The average from 1945 till 1965 was growth at 2.8% a year. In contrast, the average rate of economic growth since 2008 to today is precisely zero.
Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation.
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts. Several outside economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. But the threat is another sign of the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The administration, which argues that the legislation would put Americans at legal risk overseas, has been lobbying so intently against the bill that some lawmakers and families of Sept. 11 victims are infuriated.
In their view, the Obama administration has consistently sided with the kingdom and has thwarted their efforts to learn what they believe to be the truth about the role some Saudi officials played in the terrorist plot. “It’s stunning to think that our government would back the Saudis over its own citizens,” said Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and who is part of a group of victims’ family members pushing for the legislation. President Obama will arrive in Riyadh on Wednesday for meetings with King Salman and other Saudi officials. It is unclear whether the dispute over the Sept. 11 legislation will be on the agenda for the talks. Saudi officials have long denied that the kingdom had any role in the Sept. 11 plot, and the 9/11 Commission found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.”
But critics have noted that the commission’s narrow wording left open the possibility that less senior officials or parts of the Saudi government could have played a role. Suspicions have lingered, partly because of the conclusions of a 2002 congressional inquiry into the attacks that cited some evidence that Saudi officials living in the United States at the time had a hand in the plot. Those conclusions, contained in 28 pages of the report, still have not been released publicly. The dispute comes as bipartisan criticism is growing in Congress about Washington’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, for decades a crucial American ally in the Middle East and half of a partnership that once received little scrutiny from lawmakers. Last week, two senators introduced a resolution that would put restrictions on American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which have expanded during the Obama administration.
Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on Saturday addressed opponents of the French government’s workplace reforms at a protest in Paris, telling them the planned changes would “devalue labor.” “He (French President Francois Hollande) wants to devalue French labor… it can’t work,” Varoufakis told protesters as he paid a visit to the latest “Nuit Debout” (Up All Night) gathering at the city’s vast Place de la Republique. “Devaluing French labor can only deepen the crisis… I’m bringing to you solidarity from Athens,” he told the crowd. The labor reforms of France’s Socialist government aim to make it easier for struggling companies to fire people.
The government says they will make France’s rigid labor market more flexible but opponents say the reforms are too pro-business and will fail to reduce the 25% jobless rate among the young. Hundreds, at times thousands, of people have been demonstrating every night for the past two weeks at the Place de la Republique in central Paris. The labor reforms are a unifying theme of the gatherings but the so-called “Nuit Debout” movement is broader, embracing a range of anti-establishment grievances. The nightly protests have been marred by sporadic violence. The latest clashes erupted late Friday when, according to police, some 100 protesters set rubbish on fire and threw bottles and stones at officers, who responded with tear gas. Twenty-two people were arrested. The “Nuit Debout” demonstrations have spread to cities across France, becoming a major headache for the government.
Pope Francis made an emotional visit to the Greek island of Lesbos Saturday, plucking 12 Syrian refugees to take back to Rome with him and draw attention to what he called Europe’s most serious humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Francis, who has made migration a defining issue of his papacy, visited a refugee center as he appealed to the international community to deal with the migrants crisis as a humanitarian catastrophe. The pope said there was “reason to weep” on his visit to the refugees, and he brushed aside any political reasons for his invitation to have three families from Syria, 12 people including six children, accompany him on the flight home. “It is a purely humanitarian thing,” he told reporters on his chartered plane.
The Vatican will take financial responsibility for the families and an organization of volunteers, Comunità di Sant’Egidio, will initially host the groups, according to a statement. During the five-hour visit to Lesbos, the pontiff visited a refugee center with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church, and was welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He also criticized the use of walls to keep migrants out. “In reality, barriers create divisions instead of promoting the true progress of peoples, and divisions sooner or later lead to conflicts,” Francis said in a speech at the port of Lesbos.
The visit was made days after migrants to Greece started being sent back to Turkey under a European Union agreement that has been criticized by the Vatican and denounced by human rights groups as impractical and legally suspect. Lesbos has become a repository for migrants seeking a better life in the EU: there were 3,560 refugees on the island as of Wednesday morning with more arriving each day, according to a daily tally issued by the Greek authorities. As he began the journey to Greece, the pope told reporters on his flight that the trip is marked by sadness. “This is important. It is a sad trip,” he said. “Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories and need to be treated as such,” the pontiff said through his Twitter account.