Oct 122020
 


Edward Hopper The barber shop 1931

 

 

How their beloved neighbors see America, a comment by Automatic Earth commenter ByronBishop. I don’t think I need to add much. Took the title from a comment on the comment.

 

 

ByronBishop: I live in rural Canada and I do not have television, so my information on the American presidential election comes from newspapers and some online blogs. But what impresses me the most in this cycle is what good theatre it is!

It is my view that the choice for American voters is simply this: which collection of billionaires will run the country? The Democrats or Republicans? At root, their policies are not very different; their principal goal is to maintain and extend their privilege, and to continue to develop the legal and fiscal framework that supports their activities. This framework consists of, among other things, the following policies, and most crucially, broad public acceptance of the righteousness of these policies:

• To maintain very low taxes on income and capital gains, favourable treatment of dividend and interest income, and no inheritance tax

• In the financial manipulation field, improve public and regulatory acceptance of the attitude usefully articulated by JH Kuntsler as “nothing matters and anything goes”. This allows (among many other things) private equity firms to buy up useful and productive enterprises, strip out all the assets in fees and special dividends and through the sale of high-yield (and chancy) bonds, and to then release the debt-ridden hulk back into the marketplace to sink (mostly) or swim (rarely). Also supports share buybacks, collateralised debt instruments, relocation of factories to low-wage states and countries.

• Keep the American military actively working around the world, preferably using expensive armaments. Where possible avoid stationing troops in warzones as casualties provoke bad publicity. Promote demand for novel and very expensive war materiel. (Smart bombs and drones sell to government on a cost-plus basis.)

• Support the National Rifle Association, which is in fact an association of arms manufacturers and merchants with a noisy public relations arm consisting of private members defending their Second Amendment rights. Until forty years ago the Second Amendment right was the right to join a well-regulated militia, but now it is the right to have many expensive weapons in your house.

• Everyone must recognise that public healthcare is un-American. It is a moral issue: if you cannot afford healthcare you do not deserve it. Some of the highest paid executive teams in the US are in the healthcare field, while executive teams in Canadian and European countries are mostly paid on a civil service scale. Shareholders in American healthcare companies become very rich. Were healthcare to become nationalised like in Canada and most European nations, most of the private profit would be lost

• Large corporations must be permitted to manipulate share prices through buybacks and curious business practices (Boeing, the airlines), but must then be protected by bailouts if their business falters.

• The financialisation of the economy must be regulated as lightly as possible so that fees can continue to flow.

• Regulatory capture must be celebrated (under a different name). The two-way flow of personnel from regulated industries to regulatory government departments ensures that little impedes business development.

• To ensure that the courts at all levels are staffed with conservative, business-friendly judges.

• To ensure that environmental protection regulations do not unduly interfere with business operations

I do not for a moment think that the billionaires and multi-millionaires conspire to run the American system. They are not a cabal; they do not meet. Rather, theirs is an emergent system: many individuals working towards their own goals will thus help others pursuing their own goals. It is like a flock of shorebirds wheeling and swooping in perfect unison; they are not directed, but they are simply responding to the actions of their neighbouring birds.

The billionaires achieve this through owning mainstream media companies, funding think tanks and policy research institutes, and supporting lobbyist groups and public relations shills. And they have been astonished , I am sure, to discover how cheaply they can buy the support of members of Congress. Chump-change donations to campaign funding pays off in spades. Lobbyists have language ready to drop in to any bill, to achieve corporate aims. That’s how emergency support of American workers became bailouts for cruise companies, who are based offshore and pay few American taxes.

And then members of Congress have to be made part of the investing class. For example, a fabulous oil & gas play is spun off into a Special Purpose Vehicle whose success is assured, and select politicians are invited to invest in it. If they cannot afford to purchase shares a private loan is arranged and documented and subsequently repaid, all above board. The company is spectacularly successful and the “investors” score big-time and repay any loans. Didn’t George W Bush succeed in an investment in professional sports in Texas, in a similar way? And by the way, how did Senate Majority Leader McConnell amass a self-declared net worth of $10 million after a lifetime of working as a civil servant at $200k per year?

All of the rest is theatre. In this election cycle the hot-button issues are access to abortion (again), racism and social justice (again), overseas wars, China as an economic threat, Russia! Russia! Russia!, voting systems and practices, and the age and personalities of the presidential candidates. All theatre. The billionaires don’t care about any of these things, as almost none of these things personally affect them. Safe and discreet abortion is always available somewhere in the world where private jets fly. Billionaires do not ever see people of different colour or status or class unless they choose to, and then only in circumstances they control. Russia and China are opportunities, not threats. And the presidential candidates can be influenced very cheaply. A Nevada casino magnate had the American embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for only $25 million in campaign donations to a notoriously cheap candidate.

The one thing that most amazes me is how the billionaires can continue to convince people to vote against their own best interests, whether economic interest, social interest or even national interest. At one time they used “race” quite openly, appealing to feelings of racial superiority or to fears of being electorally overwhelmed by “those people”, whether black or brown or oriental or poor. When openly racist campaigning became no longer acceptable, some genius concluded that “abortion” would make an excellent substitute, as it can combine all of the race and class issues and can bring in all of the family values baggage as well. Few other issues can motivate such a wide cross-section of the American public, and it can motivate people on either side of the issue. With so much focus on abortion who has time to worry about the domination of government by corporate interests?

Many commentators focus on the gross inequality of incomes and wealth in the USA, and a recent report by the Rand Corporation brings this in to clear focus. They analysed the growth in incomes across the entire working population of the USA for the period from the end of World War II to the present, and they found that up until 1975 or so the increase in general prosperity in the nation was shared equally across all income groups. Starting in the mid-1970’s however, most of the increase in prosperity was arrogated by the top income earners, so that the rich got richer and no-one else shared in the good times. The astonishing figure that the Rand researchers came up with was that the top 1% has actually taken all of the $50 trillion dollars in new wealth from everyone else in the 45 year period to 2020. There is a reason why so many people feel that the American Dream has passed them by – it’s because it actually has.

The usual remedy for this sort of gross inequality of power and wealth in society is revolution. The French Revolution comes to mind, but also the Russian Revolution. I wonder what was the root cause of the great social and political upheavals in Europe in 1848? (I can’t remember.) A less frequent remedy is the rise of a genuine populist movement, one that can actually re-distribute power (and thus wealth and opportunity). As Gwnne Dyer usefully says: populism is not an ideology, it is a technique. In America, I suspect that a true populist leader could only arise at the state level, and then from outside the two main parties.

If the current polarisation in American politics continues, the states may become the primary protector of social values (progressive or conservative) and the regulations that flow from them (access to abortion, gun rights and restrictions, access to health care, role of religion in public life, etc), and it may be that a true populist, charismatic leader can emerge and accrue the political power and authenticity to restrict the ability of the elites to organise state society. And that might spread, state by state. We outsiders can only hope that our fellow citizens in the USA can get their sh!t together at some point. Watching civil unrest unfold is no fun – I have cousins in America.

 

 

 

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Sep 212020
 


Ray K. Metzker Europe 1961

 

Leak Shows Biggest Western Banks Finance Cartels, Terrorists & Mobsters (ZH)
Can We, Like, Stop Praising Sweden Now? (MB)
How COVID-19 Spreads (CDC)
People Not Rushing Back to Movie Theaters (NBCW)
Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky Home Targeted In Supreme Court Protest (Fox)
The War on Populism: The Final Act (CJ Hopkins)
Hunter Biden Is “Riding The Dragon” (ZH)
Biden’s Foreign Policy Advisors Loyal to Israel, Defense Contractors (CP)
Down the 1619 Project’s Memory Hole (Quillette)
JK Rowling’s Books Burned or Banned Around the World (Turley)
World’s Richest 1% Cause Double CO2 Emissions Of Poorest 50% – Oxfam (G.)
Ilargi: Why Trump Will Win (Yves Smith)

 

 

US new deaths lowest since July 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biden 200 million

 

 

Lots of questions. My first and immediate one was: would this have been leaked to Assange if he had been available, and not to, of all places, BuzzFeed? Second: will the journalists and publishers (BBC et al) involved, now be treated the same way Assange has? There will be much more on this, but do keep watching out for criminal investigations. That will say a lot.

Leak Shows Biggest Western Banks Finance Cartels, Terrorists & Mobsters (ZH)

In what looks like one of the biggest leaks of private banking records since the Panama Papers, Buzzfeed News has published a lengthy investigation into how the world’s biggest banks allow dirty money from organized criminals, drug cartels, and terror groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban to flow through their networks. The “FinCEN Files”, as Buzzfeed calls them, offer “a never-before-seen picture of corruption and complicity.” A lengthy investigation by Buzzfeed and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – the same group that handled the Mossack Fonseca leaks – Instead of combating financial crime, the current system of requiring banks to report all suspicious transactions to FinCen simply allows money laundering to flourish, while ensuring that any enforcement will be of the ‘whack-a-mole’ variety.

“These documents, compiled by banks, shared with the government, but kept from public view, expose the hollowness of banking safeguards, and the ease with which criminals have exploited them. Profits from deadly drug wars, fortunes embezzled from developing countries, and hard-earned savings stolen in a Ponzi scheme were all allowed to flow into and out of these financial institutions, despite warnings from the banks’ own employees. Money laundering is a crime that makes other crimes possible. It can accelerate economic inequality, drain public funds, undermine democracy, and destabilize nations — and the banks play a key role. “Some of these people in those crisp white shirts in their sharp suits are feeding off the tragedy of people dying all over the world,” said Martin Woods, a former suspicious transactions investigator for Wachovia.

Laws that were meant to stop financial crime have instead allowed it to flourish. So long as a bank files a notice that it may be facilitating criminal activity, it all but immunizes itself and its executives from criminal prosecution. The suspicious activity alert effectively gives them a free pass to keep moving the money and collecting the fees. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, is the agency within the Treasury Department charged with combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes. It collects millions of these suspicious activity reports, known as SARs. It makes them available to US law enforcement agencies and other nations’ financial intelligence operations. It even compiles a report called “Kleptocracy Weekly” that summarizes the dealings of foreign leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. What it does not do is force the banks to shut the money laundering down.”

Read more …

Let’s.

Can We, Like, Stop Praising Sweden Now? (MB)

I don’t expect the virus psychos to listen but here is the chart, courtesy of Greg Jericho at The Fake Left:

Sweden and EL Trumpo, hand in hand. Unleash the virus and unleash the economic decline.

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CDC update. Seemed easier as a pic. Do they still have any credibility left? You know, after Redfield’s “Act for one Man and one Mask”?

How COVID-19 Spreads (CDC)

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Common sense. Works better than any lockdown.

People Not Rushing Back to Movie Theaters (NBCW)

About three quarters of the country’s movie theaters are open, but Americans are not going back in significant numbers in the COVID-era, even with new films coming into the marketplace weekly. The biggest movies continue to limp along. According to studio estimates Sunday, Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” earned $4.7 million in its third weekend from nearly 2,930 locations, Disney’s “The New Mutants” added $1.6 million in its fourth weekend, “Unhinged” brought in $1.3 million and Sony’s rom-com “The Broken Hearts Gallery” picked up an additional $800,000 in its second frame. And newcomers aren’t faring any better. The faith-based “Infidel,” which stars Jim Caviezel, did the best with $1.5 million from just over 1,700 theaters.


This weekend also saw the limited release of two adult dramas, IFC’s “The Nest,” with Jude Law and Carrie Coon, and Bleecker Street’s “The Secrets We Keep,” with Noomi Rapace. Both played in under 500 theaters across the country and neither got much more than $200 per location. “The Nest” earned an estimated $62,000 from 301 locations and “The Secrets We Keep” brought in just under $90,000 from 471 theaters. “There’s no question that this is an extraordinarily challenging marketplace, especially for North America,” said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore’s senior media analyst. “This is a slow roll out. It’s going to take some time.”

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Stay away from people’s homes and families.

But what curious details in the article, feels like a small town daily:

“After facing the towing of her vehicle, the woman went inside the store and bought a six-pack of beer but police arrested her anyway, the report said. The arrest prompted other protesters to start chanting, and one member of the crowd kicked a glass door and damaged it, the newspaper reported. Other protesters agreed to move vehicles that were blocking traffic on a nearby street, following a police request.”

Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky Home Targeted In Supreme Court Protest (Fox)

At least one protester was arrested Saturday after a group of about 100 people gathered outside the Kentucky home of Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader is a key figure in determining whether a nominee appointed by President Trump will succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before Election Day. “Ruth Sent Us,” and “No Ethics No Shame,” read some of the signs carried by crowd members in Louisville, local FOX station WDRB-TV reported. “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Mitch McConnell has got to go,” others chanted. Reports were unclear on whether McConnell was at home in Kentucky or in Washington on Saturday.


In addition to the impending battle over the court vacancy, McConnell, 78 – a member of the Senate since 1985 — also faces a reelection fight on Kentucky’s November ballot. One protester was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and improper parking, after police determined she used a pharmacy parking lot without planning to patronize the store, the Courier Journal of Louisville reported. After facing the towing of her vehicle, the woman went inside the store and bought a six-pack of beer but police arrested her anyway, the report said. The arrest prompted other protesters to start chanting, and one member of the crowd kicked a glass door and damaged it, the newspaper reported. Other protesters agreed to move vehicles that were blocking traffic on a nearby street, following a police request.

2016/2020

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“..our protagonist is GloboCap (i.e., the global capitalist empire), or “democracy,” as it is known in the entertainment business.”

The War on Populism: The Final Act (CJ Hopkins)

So, it appears the War on Populism is building toward an exciting climax. All the proper pieces are in place for a Class-A GloboCap color revolution, and maybe even civil war. You got your unauthorized Putin-Nazi president, your imaginary apocalyptic pandemic, your violent identitarian civil unrest, your heavily-armed politically-polarized populace, your ominous rumblings from military quarters … you couldn’t really ask for much more. OK, the plot is pretty obvious by now (as it is in all big-budget action spectacles, which is essentially what color revolutions are), but that won’t spoil our viewing experience. The fun isn’t in guessing what is going to happen. Everybody knows what’s going to happen. The fun is in watching Bruce, or Sigourney, or “the moderate rebels,” or the GloboCap “Resistance,” take down the monster, or the terrorists, or Hitler, and save the world, or democracy, or whatever.

The show-runners at GloboCap understand this, and they are sticking to the classic Act III formula (i.e., the one they teach in all those scriptwriting seminars, which, full disclosure, I teach a few of those). They’ve been running the War on Populism by the numbers since the very beginning. I’m going to break that down in just a moment, act by act, plot point by plot point, but, first, let’s quickly cover the basics. The first thing every big Hollywood action picture (or GloboCap color revolution) needs is a solid logline to build the plot around. The logline shows us: (1) our protagonist, (2) what our protagonist is trying to do, and (3) our antagonist or antagonistic force. For example, here’s one everyone will recognize: “A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.”

In our case, the logline writes itself: “After America is taken over by a Russian-backed Hitlerian dictator, the forces of democracy unite to depose the tyrant and save the free world.” Donald Trump is our antagonist, of course. And what an antagonist he has been! As the deep-state spooks and the corporate media have been relentlessly repeating for the last four years, the man is both a Russian-backed traitor and literally the resurrection of Hitler! In terms of baddies, it doesn’t get any better. It goes without saying that our protagonist is GloboCap (i.e., the global capitalist empire), or “democracy,” as it is known in the entertainment business.

Now, we’re in the middle of Act III already, and, as in every big-budget action movie, our protagonist suffered a series of mounting losses all throughout Act II, and the baddie was mostly driving the action. Now it’s time for the Final Push, but, before all the action gets underway, here’s a quick recap of those previous acts. Ready? All right, here we go …

Read more …

Full 40 minute movie. is Hunter’s basement the one below Joe’s?

Hunter Biden Is “Riding The Dragon” (ZH)

In the lead-up to the November election political investigator and author Peter Schweizer, who currently heads the Florida-based Government Accountability Institute, has unveiled a bombshell exposé presenting damning evidence of Hunter and his father Joe Biden’s shady and hidden financial dealings with China. Directed by Matthew Taylor, whose prior works include Clinton Cash and Creepy Line, the 41-minute film entitled “Riding the Dragon: The Bidens’ Chinese Secrets,” details a pile of corporate records, financial documents, legal briefings as well as court papers which tie Hunter’s firm with a major Chinese defense contractor, namely Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC), and multiple other PLA linked companies.


“It’s a relationship that grew while Joe Biden was vice president of the United States and shortly after he was appointed the point person on U.S. policy towards China,” Schweizer, who narratives the film, described upon the documentary’s release earlier this month. “This new firm started making investment deals that would serve the strategic interests of the Chinese military.” “It’s the story of the second most powerful man in the world at the time and how his family was striking deals with America’s chief rival on the global stage, the People’s Republic of China,” he added.

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“Biden’s campaign is so beholden to AIPAC that they have adopted racist tropes to define Palestinians, the same tropes used to justify apartheid policies.”

Biden’s Foreign Policy Advisors Loyal to Israel, Defense Contractors (CP)

When Donald Trump was elected president, the foreign policy apparatus that Barack Obama’s administration built did not disappear. The power brokers went to think tanks and lobbying firms, cashing in on the uncertainty with help from defense contractors and other corporations. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s potential foreign policy would likely be a continuation of Obama’s aggressive approach with the use of extrajudicial killings and jailing of asylum seekers. Advisors have made clear that Biden would have no intention of making military aid to Israel conditional on Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians. Michèle Flournoy, a front-runner for Biden’s pick for Secretary of Defense, is already considered something of a glass ceiling breaker as the highest-ranking woman to have served as a Senate-confirmed Presidential appointee in the Pentagon.

In 2011 the Washington Post described her as “tall and slender with a regal manner” and “known for being extremely poised and rarely showing emotion.” In 2018, Flournoy co-founded WestExec advisors with Biden foreign policy advisor Antony Blinken, Former Deputy Secretary of State. Blinken, who is also a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and global affairs analyst at CNN, is on leave from the firm to focus on the presidential campaign. The firm is a group of senior national security professionals who advise corporations, including former CIA deputy director David S. Cohen and Dan Shapiro, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel. WestExec does not disclose its clients, but according to the American Prospect, they work with Israeli artificial intelligence company Windward.

In July, as part of the Democratic National Committee, Shapiro called on members to oppose a measure to condition U.S. aid to Israel so “no US aid may be used to facilitate annexation or to violate Palestinians rights.” The measure was rejected by a wide margin. “While we understand that those concerns have not been addressed to the full satisfaction of all parties, we believe we have taken significant and overdue strides while sustaining the unity of our Party,” Shapiro said. Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris has drawn criticism in the past for her relationship with the Israeli government. In May 2019, she met with representatives of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from California in her Senate office after saying she would not attend the conference. Her campaign communications director said at the time that “her support for Israel is central to who she is.”

In 2017, Harris visited Israel, where she was photographed speaking with two members of the Israel Defense Forces in front of a Raytheon Iron Dome missile defense battery. She visited a cybersecurity development program run by the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Finally, she met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem the day after he had announced a plan to deport 40,000 African asylum seekers. She told AIPAC the same year: “[The] first resolution I co-sponsored as a United States senator was to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations and reaffirm that the United States seeks a just, secure, and sustainable two-state solution.” Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told the Middle East Eye: “Biden’s campaign is so beholden to AIPAC that they have adopted racist tropes to define Palestinians, the same tropes used to justify apartheid policies.”

Read more …

Rewriting history is not as easy as it may seem.

Down the 1619 Project’s Memory Hole (Quillette)

The history of the American Revolution isn’t the only thing the New York Times is revising through its 1619 Project. The “paper of record” has also taken to quietly altering the published text of the project itself after one of its claims came under intense criticism. When the 1619 Project went to print in August 2019 as a special edition of the New York Times Magazine, the newspaper put up an interactive version on its website. The original opening text stated: The 1619 project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

The passage, and in particular its description of the year 1619 as “our true founding,” quickly became a flashpoint for controversy around the project. Critics on both the Left and Right took issue with the paper’s declared intention of displacing 1776 with the alternative date—a point that was also emphasized in the magazine feature’s graphics, showing the date of American independence crossed out and replaced by the date of the first slave ship’s arrival in Jamestown, Virginia. For several months after the 1619 Project first launched, its creator and organizer Nikole Hannah-Jones doubled down on the claim. “I argue that 1619 is our true founding,” she tweeted the week after the project launched. “Also, look at the banner pic in my profile”—a reference to the graphic of the date 1776 crossed out with a line. It’s a claim she repeated many times over.

But something changed as the historical controversies around the 1619 Project intensified in late 2019 and early 2020. A group of five distinguished historians took issue with Hannah-Jones’s lead essay, focusing on its historically unsupported claim that protecting slavery was a primary motive of the American revolutionaries when they broke away from Britain in 1776. Other details of the project soon came under scrutiny, revealing both errors of fact and dubious interpretations of evidence in other essays, such as Matthew Desmond’s 1619 Project piece attempting to connect American capitalism with slavery. Finally back in March, a historian who the Times recruited to fact-check Hannah-Jones’s essay revealed that she had warned the paper against publishing its claims about the motives of the American Revolution on account of their weak evidence. The 1619 Project’s editors ignored the advice.

Throughout the controversy, the line about the year 1619 being “our true founding” continued to haunt the Times. This criticism did not aim to denigrate the project’s titular date or the associated events in the history of slavery. Rather, the passage came to symbolize the Times’s blurring of historical analysis with editorial hyperbole. The announced intention of reframing the country’s origin date struck many readers across the political spectrum as an implicit repudiation of the American revolution and its underlying principles. Rather than address this controversy directly, the Times—it now appears—decided to send it down the memory hole—the euphemized term for selectively editing inconvenient passages out of old newspaper reports in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

Without announcement or correction, the newspaper quietly edited out the offending passage such that it now reads: The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

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Rewriting history 2.0. Harry Potter meets George Orwell. It feels an eternity ago that I wrote “No More Washington or America”, about once you get started, there is no end.

JK Rowling’s Books Burned or Banned Around the World (Turley)

In Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore told the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” Many are learning the truth of that line written by famed author JK Rowling as self-described progressives burn her books or ban them from shelves because she personally holds an opposing view of gender. Much like the boycott movement of Chick-Fil-A over comments by its CEO, people are seeking to punish Rowling through attacks on her literature. We previously discussed the embracing of art destruction as analogous to book burning, but now actual book burning is being embraced as a weapon of the woke.

A TikTok series show people around the world burning copies of Rowlings’ books. In one video of a burning pile of books by TikTok user @elmcdo, a voice is heard saying “You have to stop using ‘death of the author’ as an excuse to have your cake and eat it too. While the reader’s perspective is an important part of interpretation and meaning, it is impossible to completely divorce a work from its creator. The positive impact that J.K. Rowling’s work had on millions of readers does not negate how her hateful lobbying has affected the trans community.” That sums up the logic of every book burner in history. You cannot read a book because of the views or religion or identity of the author. It is better to burn the book to protect society.

Then there is Rabble Books and Games in Maylands, Perth. The owner owner Nat Latter proudly declared on Facebook that he had removed all fo the Harry Potter books from bookshelves to guarantee “a safer space for our community.” So you can buy a Rowlings book by having it retrieved from behind the back room like pornography. It is a form of censoring by making it more difficult to buy some books rather than others because you disfavor authors with opposing views. Latter seems to relish the role of a book censoring book seller: “Whilst stocking a book isn’t an endorsement (good grief, that would be a minefield), and we will always take orders for books that aren’t in stock, there are more worthy books to put on the shelf, books that don’t harm communities and won’t make us sad to unpack them.”

Does Latter also hide works with opposing views on gender from the Bible to the Koran to classic novels? Indeed, why not pull all of the work of authors like Hemingway and others for their views of women or race relations or other issues? Book sellers used to be people who wants to be gateways to knowledge and a world of different ideas and values. Now readers are being protected from even seeing the name of an author who personally holds opposing or offensive views. [..] These actions only prove again what Albus Dumbledore said (and J.K. Rowling wrote): “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

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Not in the least surprising. The poorest half, 3.5 billion people, are good for just 7% of emissions.

World’s Richest 1% Cause Double CO2 Emissions Of Poorest 50% – Oxfam (G.)

The wealthiest 1% of the world’s population were responsible for the emission of more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorer half of the world from 1990 to 2015, according to new research. Carbon dioxide emissions rose by 60% over the 25-year period, but the increase in emissions from the richest 1% was three times greater than the increase in emissions from the poorest half. The report, compiled by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute, warned that rampant overconsumption and the rich world’s addiction to high-carbon transport are exhausting the world’s “carbon budget”.

Such a concentration of carbon emissions in the hands of the rich means that despite taking the world to the brink of climate catastrophe, through burning fossil fuels, we have still failed to improve the lives of billions, said Tim Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research at Oxfam International. “The global carbon budget has been squandered to expand the consumption of the already rich, rather than to improve humanity,” he told the Guardian. “A finite amount of carbon can be added to the atmosphere if we want to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We need to ensure that carbon is used for the best.”

The richest 10% of the global population, comprising about 630 million people, were responsible for about 52% of global emissions over the 25-year period, the study showed. Globally, the richest 10% are those with incomes above about $35,000 (£27,000) a year, and the richest 1% are people earning more than about $100,000.

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Yves posted my essay from yesterday at Naked Capitalism, with this interesting comment. I know some people here feel poorly treated at NC, but I never have, and Yves and I have had a solid relationship for 12 years or so.

Ilargi: Why Trump Will Win (Yves Smith)

Yves here. As Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway said: “The good thing about someone else’s prejudices is that they either confirm your own, or they make you cross – either of which is a blessing in these bland times.” Here Ilargi reveals a bias…but not, as some might suggest, of being pro-Trump, but of seeing this Presidential election as being personality-driven. I doubt that is correct, which is one of the many factors that makes this contest too difficult to call despite Trump lagging in polls. Historically, marketers did not like “psychographic” market segmentations because they would cross demographic and geographic lines, which made it difficult to target prospects cost-effectively.

With the Internet creating social media outlets that cater to people with particular views, like lovin’ gunz or believing in Russiagate, suddenly that sort of segmentation is not only viable but may actually be attractive. As readers know well, Sanders was running on policy, not personality. As one friend said, Sanders has all the charm of your cranky Jewish uncle telling you to take your feet off the coffee table. Under prodding, he did make some small efforts in his 2020 campaign to seem less scold-y by smiling more and telling a bit of his life story. And as readers also know, Sanders had strong support among young voters. The Democratic party leadership beat Sanders not by having better policies or a more appealing a candidate, but by using what amounts to machine politics: rallying different voter blocs that are loyal to the party either by design or default.

The extension of the machine policy mindset is the Democratic party strategm of invoking tribalism. This is particularly effective because their core, the professional-managerial class, is so convinced of its right to rule via merit that it is almost incapable of seeing itself as a class (see Thomas Frank’s Listen, Liberal for a brilliant description of its ethnography). But its shadow side, in Jungian terms, of the PMC is its stereotype of the white working class. In their minds, this uneducated, undisciplined lot is getting what it deserves, and having them have influence is an affront to the proper ordering of society. Hillary’s “deplorables” remark was no accident. Time recapped what she said:

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” Clinton said. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.” She said the other half of Trump’s supporters “feel that the government has let them down” and are “desperate for change.” “Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well,” she said. What is the subtext of Hillary’s remark? That Trump’s voters are lower income and less educated. The less educated part is correct, the lower income is not.

[..] What about the general election? A few weeks ago, the American National Election Study — the longest-running election survey in the United States — released its 2016 survey data. And it showed that in November 2016, the Trump coalition looked a lot like it did during the primaries…many of the voters without college educations who supported Trump were relatively affluent. It isn’t hard to imagine that higher income/less educated voters would resent the preening of the credentialed elites and would find Trump’s total lack of respect for what they hold dear to be attractive. But the gods look to have handed Biden a gift with the timing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. It’s galvanizing Democratic Party donations and will probably persuade some voters who weren’t terribly keen about Biden to go to the effort of voting for him.

Read more …

 

 

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Aug 032020
 


W. Eugene Smith Orson Welles 1941

 

Supporters Urge Joe Biden Not to Debate Trump (NW)
Kansas Should Go F— Itself (Matt Taibbi)
How Congress Maintains Endless War (Zuesse)
White House Says Not Optimistic On Near-Term Deal For COVID Relief Bill (R.)
The Fed Is Planning To Send Money Directly To Americans In Next Crisis (ZH)
Fed’s Kashkari Suggests 4-6 Week Shutdown (R.)
Tech Stock Buybacks Are Surging (ZH)
America’s Monopoly Problem Goes Way Beyond the Tech Giants (Dayen)
White House Puts Chinese Apps On Notice (SCMP)
Humanity Likely Faces Rapid ‘Catastrophic Collapse’ – Study (NYP)
How The Guardian and New York Times ‘Set Up’ Julian Assange (M.)

 

 

Every single thing about the US will from now on in evolve around party politics. But not in any way that you’ve ever seen.

 

 

Sunday numbers were quite low. But not every state and country reports anymore in the weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben Hunt Sweden

 

 

They would like that, but debates are a solid tradition. So they’ll try for just the one debate, they’ll try for a format that includes a teleprompter, they’ll try for factcheckers that can interrupt Trump all the time in the same way the House did with Bill Barr.

This piece even implies that Trump beat Hillary only because he was telling lies all the time.

Supporters Urge Joe Biden Not to Debate Trump (NW)

Democratic strategists and supporters of Vice President Joe Biden are urging him not to debate President Donald Trump in the lead-up to Election Day, citing Trump’s publicity stunts and disregard for the rules in 2016. Meanwhile Biden backers, including some conservatives, applauded the University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan for cancelling their scheduled debates over COVID-19 concerns. Former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart joined several Democratic Party strategists in bluntly advising Biden, “whatever you do, don’t debate Trump.” Speaking on CNN Saturday, Lockhart said Trump shouldn’t be given another platform which will enable him to “repeat lies,” which he said occurred in the 2016 debates against Hillary Clinton.

The Trump campaign has pushed the other way and urged the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which officially oversees the events, to hold even more debates. “We saw in the debates in 2016 Hillary Clinton showed a mastery of the issues, every point she made was more honest and bested Trump,” Lockhart told CNN. “But Trump came out of the debates doing better I think because he just kept repeating the same old lies: ‘we’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it,’ ‘we’re going to keep all those Mexican rapists out of the country,’ and ‘we’re going to make great trade deals’ — none of these things have come to pass.” “Giving him that national forum to continue to spout — get him to 21,000 or 22,000 lies — I think just isn’t worth it for the Democrats or for Biden,” Lockhart continued.

Several opinion columns published in recent months have called for an outright cancellation of the debates, describing them — alongside the party conventions — as outdated political rituals designed purely for TV ratings. Longtime Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton senior adviser Zac Petkanas agreed with calls for Biden to back out of any and all debates with Trump in the coming months. As it stands currently, there are three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate scheduled between September 29 and October 22. “Biden shouldn’t feel obligated to throw Trump a lifeline by granting him any debates at all. This is not a normal presidential election and Trump is not a legitimate candidate,” Petkanas tweeted last week, expressing his “opinion that no one asked for.”

Mussolini

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“The difference today is that enlightened liberals are the ones mouthing this age-old anti-populist catechism.”

Thomas Frank published What’s the Matter with Kansas? in 2004. His new book is The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism.

Kansas Should Go F— Itself (Matt Taibbi)

The new conception of populism, as popularized by historians like Richard Hofstadter, pitted the common run of voters against a growing class of elite-educated managerial professionals, philosopher-kings who set correct policy for the ignorant masses. The model of enlightened government for this new “technocratic” class of “consensus thinkers” was John Kennedy’s “Camelot” cabinet of Experts in Shirtsleeves, with Robert McNamara’s corporatized Pentagon their Shining Bureaucracy on a Hill. This vision of ideal democracy has dominated mainstream press discourse for almost seventy years.

Since the establishment of this template, Frank notes, “virtually everyone who writes on the subject agrees that populism is ‘anti-pluralist,’ by which they mean that it is racist or sexist or discriminatory in some way… Populism’s hatred for ‘the elite,’ meanwhile, is thought to be merely a fig leaf for this ugly intolerance.” Trump and Bernie Sanders both got hit with every cliché described in Frank’s book. Both were depicted as xenophobic, bigoted, emotion-laden, resistant to modernity, susceptible to foreign influence, and captured by “unrealistic” ideas they lacked the expertise to implement. At the conclusion of The People, No, Frank sums up the book’s obvious subtext, seeming almost to apologize for its implications:

“My point here is not to suggest that Trump is a “very stable genius,” as he likes to say, or that he led a genuine populist insurgency; in my opinion, he isn’t and he didn’t. What I mean to show is that the message of anti-populism is the same as ever: the lower orders, it insists, are driven by irrationality, bigotry, authoritarianism, and hate; democracy is a problem because it gives such people a voice. The difference today is that enlightened liberals are the ones mouthing this age-old anti-populist catechism.”

[..] The book’s concept also reflects the Sovietish reality of post-Trump media, which is now dotted with so many perilous taboos that it sometimes seems there’s no way to get audiences to see certain truths except indirectly, or via metaphor. The average blue-state media consumer by 2020 has ingested so much propaganda about Trump (and Sanders, for that matter) that he or she will be almost immune to the damning narratives in this book. Protesting, “But Trump is a racist,” they won’t see the real point – that these furious propaganda campaigns that have been repeated almost word for word dating back to the 1890s are aimed at voters, not politicians.

In the eighties and nineties, TV producers and newspaper editors established the ironclad rule of never showing audiences pictures of urban poverty, unless it was being chased by cops. In the 2010s the press began to cartoonize the “white working class” in a distantly similar way. This began before Trump. As Bernie Sanders told Rolling Stone after the 2016 election, when the small-town American saw himself or herself on TV, it was always “a caricature. Some idiot. Or maybe some criminal, some white working-class guy who has just stabbed three people.”

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But there’s still only one war party, which sits its fat ass across the aisles.

“Glenn Greenwald gave an hour-long lecture on how America’s billionaires control the U.S. Government..”

How Congress Maintains Endless War (Zuesse)

The Intercept, 9 July 2020 – 2:45: There is “this huge cleavage between how members of Congress present themselves, their imagery and rhetoric and branding, what they present to the voters, on the one hand, and the reality of what they do in the bowels of Congress and the underbelly of Congressional proceedings, on the other. Most of the constituents back in their home districts have no idea what it is that the people they’ve voted for have been doing, and this gap between belief and reality is enormous.” Four crucial military-budget amendments were debated in the House just now, as follows: • to block Trump from withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. • to block Trump from withdrawing 10,000 troops from Germany • to limit U.S. assistance to the Sauds’ bombing of Yemen • to require Trump to explain why he wants to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty

On all four issues, the pro-imperialist position prevailed in nearly unanimous votes — overwhelming in both Parties. Dick Cheney’s daughter, Republican Liz Cheney, dominated the debates, though the House of Representatives is now led by Democrats, not Republicans. Greenwald (citing other investigators) documents that the U.S. news-media are in the business of deceiving the voters to believe that there are fundamental differences between the Parties. “The extent to which they clash is wildly exaggerated” by the press (in order to pump up the percentages of Americans who vote, so as to maintain, both domestically and internationally, the lie that America is a democracy — actually represents the interests of the voters).

16:00: The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee — which writes the nearly $750B annual Pentagon budget — is the veteran (23 years) House Democrat Adam Smith of Boeing’s Washington State. “The majority of his district are people of color.” He’s “clearly a pro-war hawk” a consistent neoconservative, voted to invade Iraq and all the rest. “This is whom Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have chosen to head the House Armed Services Committee — someone with this record.” He is “the single most influential member of Congress when it comes to shaping military spending.” He was primaried by a progressive Democrat, and the “defense industry opened up their coffers” and enabled Adam Smith to defeat the challenger.

That’s the opening. Greenwald went on, after that, to discuss other key appointees by Nancy Pelosi who are almost as important as Adam Smith is, in shaping the Government’s military budget. They’re all corrupt. And then he went, at further length, to describe the methods of deceiving the voters, such as how these very same Democrats who are actually agents of the billionaires who own the ‘defense’ contractors and the ‘news’ media etc., campaign for Democrats’ votes by emphasizing how evil the Republican Party is on the issues that Democratic Party voters care far more about than they do about America’s destructions of Iraq and Syria and Libya and Honduras and Ukraine, and imposing crushing economic blockades (sanctions) against the residents in Iran, Venezuela and many other lands.

Read more …

We saw this coming from miles away: no better opportunity for both sides to blame the other. Screw the people, it’s about power.

White House Says Not Optimistic On Near-Term Deal For COVID Relief Bill (R.)

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Sunday he was not optimistic on reaching agreement soon on a deal for the next round of legislation to provide relief to Americans hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. “I’m not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term,” Meadows said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” as staff members from both sides were meeting to try to iron out differences over the bill. Democrats were standing in the way of a separate agreement to extend some federal unemployment benefits in the short-term while negotiations continue on an overall relief package, he said. “We continue to see really a stonewalling of any piecemeal type of legislation that happens on Capitol Hill,” Meadows said. “Hopefully that will change in the coming days.”


Lawmakers and the White House have been unable to reach an accord for a next round of economic relief from a pandemic that has killed more than 150,000 Americans and triggered the sharpest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Both sides said on Saturday they had their most positive talks yet. But there was no sign of movement on the biggest sticking point – $600 per week in extra federal unemployment benefits for Americans that has been a lifeline for millions of jobless Americans and expired on Friday. Asked about efforts to renew the expired emergency federal jobless benefits, Pelosi said, referring to Trump: “He’s the one standing in the way of that.”

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Because we badly need central bakers to interfere in politics. How far away are we from MMT here?

The Fed Is Planning To Send Money Directly To Americans In Next Crisis (ZH)

Over the past decade, the one common theme despite the political upheaval and growing social and geopolitical instability, was that the market would keep marching higher and the Fed would continue injecting liquidity into the system. The second common theme is that despite sparking unprecedented asset price inflation, price as measured across the broader economy (at least using the flawed CPI metric) would remain subdued (as a reminder, the Fed is desperate to ignite broad inflation as that is the only way the countless trillions of excess debt can be eliminated and yet it has so far failed to do so).

The Fed’s failure to reach its inflation target has sparked broad criticism from the economic establishment, even though as we showed in June, deflation is now a direct function of the Fed’s unconventional monetary policies as the lower yields slide, the lower the propensity to spend. In other words, the harder the Fed fights to stimulate inflation, the more deflation and more saving it spurs as a result (incidentally this is not the first time this “discovery” was made, in December we wrote “One Bank Makes A Stunning Discovery – The Fed’s Rate Cuts Are Now Deflationary”). In short, ever since the Fed launched QE and NIRP, it has been making the situation it has been trying to “fix” even worse, all the while blowing a massive asset price bubble.


And having recently accepted that its preferred stimulus pathway has failed to boost the broader economy, the blame has fallen on how monetary policy is intermediated, specifically the way the Fed creates excess reserves which end up at commercial banks instead of “tricking down” all the way to the consumer level. To be in the aftermath of the covid pandemic shutdowns the Fed has tried to short-circuit this process, and in conjunction with the Treasury it has launched “helicopter money” which has resulted in a direct transfer of funds to US corporations via PPP loans, as well as to end consumers via the emergency $600 weekly unemployment benefits which however are set to expire unless renewed by Congress as explained last week, as Democrats and Republicans feud over which fiscal stimulus will be implemented next.

And yet, the lament is that even as the economy was desperately in need of a massive liquidity tsunami, the funds created by the Fed and Treasury (now that the US operates under a quasi-MMT regime) did not make their way to those who need them the most: end consumers. Which is why we read with great interest a Bloomberg interview published on Saturday with two former central bank officials: Simon Potter, who led the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s markets group i.e., he was the head of the Fed’s Plunge Protection Team for years, and Julia Coronado, who spent eight years as an economist for the Fed’s Board of Governors, who are among the innovators brainstorming solutions to what has emerged as the most crucial and difficult problem facing the Fed: get money swiftly to people who need it most in a crisis.


The response was striking: they two propose creating a monetary tool that they call recession insurance bonds, which draw on some of the advances in digital payments, which will be wired instantly to Americans. As Coronado explains the details, Congress would grant the Federal Reserve an additional tool for providing support—say, a percent of GDP [in a lump sum that would be divided equally and distributed] to households in a recession.

Read more …

And while we’re at it, let the Fed regulate the lockdowns too. Such monetary wizards must be good at everything.

Fed’s Kashkari Suggests 4-6 Week Shutdown (R.)

The U.S. economy could benefit if the nation were to “lock down really hard” for four to six weeks, a top Federal Reserve official said on Sunday, adding that Congress can well afford large sums for coronavirus relief efforts. The economy, which in the second quarter suffered its biggest blow since the Great Depression, would be able to mount a robust recovery, but only if the virus were brought under control, Neel Kashkari, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “If we don’t do that and we just have this raging virus spreading throughout the country with flare-ups and local lockdowns for the next year or two, which is entirely possible, we’re going to see many, many more business bankruptcies,” Kashkari said.


“That’s going to be a much slower recovery for all of us.” He said Congress is positioned to spend big on coronavirus relief efforts because the nation’s budget gap can be financed without relying on foreign borrowing, given how much Americans are saving. “Those of us who are fortunate enough to still have our jobs, we’re saving a lot more money because we’re not going to restaurants or movie theaters or vacations,” Kashkari said. “That actually means that we have a lot more resources as a country to support those who have been laid off,” he said.

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When you let this continue, you’re not trying to let the economy recover.

Tech Stock Buybacks Are Surging (ZH)

Two months ago, we showed that contrary to conventional wisdom and corporate reps and warrants that buybacks had effectively been put on hold for the duration of the covid pandemic, not only were companies still repurchasing their shares but it was the tech names – those who have stormed higher since the March lows – that were the biggest culprits. Now, two months after we first revealed Wall Street’s worst kept secret, the Financial Times has also noticed that Corporate America is finding it hard to kick the share buyback habit, even after the US slipped into its worst recession in decades.

While total buybacks are indeed expected to drop this year as the downturn caused by coronavirus saps corporate profits, companies in the S&P 500 that have reported second-quarter earnings so far have reduced the number of their outstanding shares by an average of 0.3 per cent from the previous quarter, according to calculations from Credit Suisse. Furthermore, updates showed that some of the largest US multinationals continued to buy back their own stock or even accelerated stock repurchases and nowhere more so than the tech names we first highlighted at the end of May. Take Google’s parent company Alphabet, which spent $6.9bn on buybacks for the quarter, up 92% from a year prior, the company revealed in its earnings results last Thursday.

Microsoft, the second-largest listed US company, purchased $5.8bn of its own stock in the period, up 25% from a year earlier, and likely among the chief reasons for the stock’s amazing surge. Elsewhere, Biogen spent $2.8bn on buybacks for the period, up 17% from last year, WR Berkley, an insurer, did not buy any of its shares in the second quarter last year, but spent $97m on its stock in the period this year, and Celanese increased its planned buybacks for the year by $500m to $1.5bn in July, after selling its stake in a Japanese joint venture. Of course, the biggest source of buybacks was once again Apple, which repurchased $16BN in the second quarter, down 6% on the period last year, though by far the biggest stock repurchaser among S&P 500 companies in recent years.

Read more …

Preventing monopolies was once one of Washington’s main preoccupations.

America’s Monopoly Problem Goes Way Beyond the Tech Giants (Dayen)

The truth is that, even if Congress somehow decreed the breakup of all four tech giants, the U.S. would still have an astounding number of industries controlled by a tiny number of firms. That’s because the structure of modern capitalism favors companies that operate at once-unimaginable scale, in the absence of a government will to prevent monopolies from forming. Lawmakers and the public should be concerned about the surveillance networks by which Facebook and Google—which dominate the digital-advertising market—track users, build data profiles on them, and serve them customized ads. But millions of rural Americans cannot access the internet to begin with, in part because telecom companies harass, fight, and induce state legislatures to pass laws restricting municipal broadband.

Across America, people send their kids to Starbucks parking lots to piggyback on the wifi and complete their homework. Amazon’s rapidly expanding e-commerce empire—and the potential consequences for Main Streets and municipal tax bases across the country—is definitely worth worrying about. But among the other forces squeezing out small retailers are dollar stores, a market segment dominated by two firms that together have about six times more outlets in America than Walmart. Last summer in Marlinton, West Virginia, I saw a Dollar General right next door to a Family Dollar. Despite the pandemic, Dollar General still plans to open 1,000 new stores in 2020. Software developers who want to sell apps to iPhone users must do so through Apple’s App Store, which spells out rules that they must follow and collects up to 30 percent of sales.

This is little different from the situation of small farmers, who must raise livestock to the exacting specifications of the meatpacking giants and can lose their livelihoods on those companies’ whims. And just as Amazon sometimes undercuts the smaller third-party sellers that use its platform, Big Agriculture competes directly with smaller suppliers; the top four hog firms, which control around two-thirds of the market, typically own farms, slaughterhouses, warehouses, and distribution trucks, every step from the pig trough to the dinner table. Whether you are shopping for pacemakers, sanitary napkins, or wholesale office supplies, you will find very few sellers. You think you have choices in grocery aisles or at car-rental counters, but the majority of consumer products come from a handful of companies.

Competition is hardly stiff when even many store brands are just renamed versions of market-leading products; at Costco, the batteries come from Duracell and the coffee from Starbucks. To focus the discussion of monopoly on the tech sector is to minimize the scope of a problem long in the making. Forty years ago, the government essentially stopped policing industry concentration. The conservative legal theorist Robert Bork—later a failed Supreme Court nominee—and his allies in the law-and-economics movement argued that any merger making businesses more efficient must be approved, and that a larger scale generally increases efficiency. Bork’s analysis gained enormous power in the courts and the Reagan administration. The lawyers and the bankers who handled mergers and acquisitions loved it.

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Pelosi and Schumer agree.

White House Puts Chinese Apps On Notice (SCMP)

US President Donald Trump will take action against TikTok, WeChat and “countless” Chinese software companies that pose a national security threat to America, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday, apparently widening the scope of attention the US government is paying to online tech platforms developed in China. “These Chinese software companies doing business with the United States, whether it’s TikTok or WeChat, there are countless more … are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party their national security apparatus,” Pompeo said in a Fox News interview. “It could be their facial recognition pattern, it could be information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends who they’re connected to.”

“Those are the issues President Trump’s made clear we’re going to take care of,” Pompeo said. “He will take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party.” Focusing on TikTok specifically, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whose department is overseeing a national security review of the company, said on Sunday that the company will need to be blocked in the US or sold to another company. Pompeo’s warning to Chinese software companies came as Trump agreed to give the Chinese internet giant ByteDance 45 days to negotiate a sale of the popular short-video app to Microsoft, according three people familiar with matter, Reuters reported.

[..] The mobile platform, which lets users create and share 15 second videos with custom music clips, has built a huge user base in the US, particularly within younger age brackets. Mnuchin added that he had spoken with Chuck Schumer, the most senior Democrat in the Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also a Democrat, about the issue and that they all agree that a sale or a block on the site would be necessary, using the authority of International Emergency Economic Powers Act, if needed. Responding to the drumbeat of comments about TikTok over the past week, the company’s general manager for US operations, Vanessa Pappas, told users on Saturday that the company was working to give them “the safest app” and that “We’re not planning on going anywhere”.

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Too much repetition makes people look away.

Humanity Likely Faces Rapid ‘Catastrophic Collapse’ – Study (NYP)

It’s not the news you want to hear during a global health crisis. In a new theoretical study appearing in Nature Scientific Reports, a pair of statistical researchers have warned that rampant human consumption has sent us on a tailspin towards a rapid “catastrophic collapse” — which could happen in the next two to four decades. Forest density, or the current lack thereof, is considered the cataclysmic canary in the coal mine, according to the report. By comparing the rate of deforestation against humanity’s rate of consumption, study authors Mauro Bologna and Gerardo Aquino have determined there’s a 90% chance our species will collapse within decades — calling this estimate an “optimistic” measure.

“Based on the current resource consumption rates and best estimate of technological rate growth our study shows that we have very low probability, less than 10% in most optimistic estimate, to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse,” they wrote. While much attention has been paid to the ways in which greenhouse gases have contributed to the demise of our species, Aquino focused mathematical models on the “undeniable fact” of human-driven deforestation. “Before the development of human civilizations, our planet was covered by 60 million square kilometers [37 million square miles] of forest,” according to the article. “As a result of deforestation, less than 40 million square kilometers [25 million square miles] currently remain.”

The researchers set out to “evaluate the probability of avoiding the self-destruction of our civilization” based on numerical simulations — charts and graphs that don’t look like much to us laymen, but for two theoretical physicists, they amount to disaster. They also call into play “Fermi’s paradox,” which refers to the theoretical discussion of extraterrestrial life from Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist who once asked, “Where is everybody?” One aspect of the discourse is the idea that self-destruction caused by unsustainable environmental exploitation may be an inevitability of intelligent life — and thus a potential reason why we have not yet had the opportunity to meet our galactic neighbors.

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From February, but highly relevant today.

How The Guardian and New York Times ‘Set Up’ Julian Assange (M.)

[..] as the War Logs’ mutually-agreed publication deadline loomed, both the Times and Guardian grew increasingly anxious about being associated with the material. His film, shot just prior to the release, documents this transformation in real-time — in one highly illuminating segment, Assange informs Gavin MacFayden, then-director of the University of London’s Centre for Investigative Journalism, the New York Times has requested WikiLeaks ‘scoop’ them by publishing analysis of the Afghan War Logs first. The ‘naivety’ Davis referenced is palpably on display — “they want to report on our reporting, so they can claim they’re not involved!” Assange splutters bemusedly, in evident disbelief a newspaper would be actively resistant to publishing a seismic exclusive.

As Davis attested, the footage makes for thoroughly “chilling” viewing in the present day, given Assange is “now in jail as a result of that subterfuge”. Simultaneously, Assange himself was also growing increasingly anxious, in his case about the identities of informants and other individuals featured in the logs being revealed — no effort had been made by Guardian journalists to remove a single one, and despite repeated requests he wasn’t provided with staff or technical support to redact them. As a result, the WikiLeaks chief took up the “moral responsibility” for the files — his requests for publication to be delayed in order to give him enough time to adequately “cleanse” the documents were ignored, so he was compelled to “literally work all night” to redact around 10,000 names, Davis said.

In a perverse irony, the documentarian also exposed how despite Assange ultimately acquiescing to publishing the Logs Sunday 25th July 2010 in order to allow The Guardian and Times to ‘report’ on the story the next day, the plan was disrupted by technical issues with the WikiLeaks website. As Assange struggled to get the content online, Davis said he was inundated with “panicked, hysterical calls” from The Times and Guardian, which grew more frenzied as the day wore on — the two outlets were literally on the verge of ‘stopping the presses’, as the front-page splashes on the Afghan War Logs were entirely predicated on the notion WikiLeaks had published the documents the day prior.

It would take several days for WikiLeaks to publish the War Logs — The Guardian and Times nevertheless ran their scheduled stories on 26th July 2010, reporting on the release of the logs, despite the fact they hadn’t actually appeared on the WikiLeaks website. “Julian was their fall guy. They printed a lie. These two high priests of journalistic integrity very happily colluded, reporting on something that hadn’t happened. The entire searchable Afghan War Logs interface was the sole creation of The Guardian, they promoted it on their website and in the paper, but then they turned round and said ‘we didn’t publish this, Julian did’. They set him up from the start. They should be in jail too,” Davis concluded.

Read more …

 

 

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A 1968 cartoon.

 

 

Easily Tweet of the day. Hands down.

 

 

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Aug 052019
 


Piet Mondriaan Study for Blue Apple Tree Series 1908

 

Currency War Begins: China Crashes Yuan Past 7, Halts US Agri Imports (ZH)
China Lets Yuan Slump Past 7 Per Dollar For First Time In Over A Decade (R.)
Hong Kong Brought To A Standstill As City-Wide Strikes And Protests Hit (G.)
Job Growth In Trump Land Is Dead In The Water (MW)
10 Alarming Things About The Economy That Politicians Won’t Tell You (MW)
The Crashes That Cause Grown Men To Cry (Eric Peters)
Inside The Plunge Protection Team: Chaos (ZH)
Russiagate is the New 42 (Craig Murray)
Austerity Populism (G.)
Bellingcat Unloads 4,000-Word Hit Piece On Tulsi Gabbard (RT)
America’s Other Original Sin (Bacevich)

 

 

“..trade talks, even the fake kind, is now over, dead and buried..”

Currency War Begins: China Crashes Yuan Past 7, Halts US Agri Imports (ZH)

Update 2: – China’s central bank has confirmed that it is, indeed, on, saying that it is able to keep the yuan exchange rate at a reasonable and balanced level – whatever that means – while acknowledging that the Yuan plunging beyond 7 per dollar is due to market supply and demand, trade protectionism and expectations on additional tariffs on Chinese goods. Meanwhile, resorting to its old, tired and worn out tricks, Dow Jones reports that the PBOC will crack down on short-term Yuan speculation, and anchor market expectations. Which is great… if only the PBOC didn’t say exactly the same back in May, when it warned currenct traders that those “shorting the yuan will inevitably suffer from a huge loss.” Three months later, it’s currency traders 1 – Beijing 0.


Update 1 – China is firing all the big guns tonight, because just an hour after Beijing effectively devalued the yuan, when it launched the latest currency war with the US, Bloomberg reported that the Chinese government has asked its state-owned enterprises “to suspend imports of U.S. agricultural products after President Donald Trump ratcheted up trade tensions with the Asian nation last week.” China’s state-run agricultural firms have now stopped buying American farm goods, and are waiting to see how trade talks progress. Translation: trade talks, even the fake kind, is now over, dead and buried, and the only question is how Trump will react.

[..] in a dramatically unsettling move for global stability, China’s offshore yuan just collapsed below 7/USD — after the PBOC fixed the onshore yuan below 6.90 for the first time in 2019 — the currency plunging a stunning 12 handles to its weakest on record against the dollar as countless stop losses were triggered and thousands of traders were margined out.

“A break of 7 is quite shocking to the market, and close attention will be paid to how China would deal with this move,” says Tsutomu Soma, general manager of the investment trust and fixed-income securities at SBI Securities Co. in Tokyo in a phone interview. This is the weakest offshore yuan has ever been against the dollar…

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Beijing control over the yuan is worrisome. It also prohibits uptake of the currency in global trade.

China Lets Yuan Slump Past 7 Per Dollar For First Time In Over A Decade (R.)

China on Monday let the yuan tumble beyond the key 7-per-dollar level for the first time in more than a decade, in a sign Beijing might be willing to tolerate further currency weakness in the face of an escalating trade row with the United States. The sharp 1.4% drop in the yuan came after the People’s Bank of China set the daily mid-point of the currency’s trading band at 6.9225 per dollar, its weakest level since December 2018. “Today’s fixing was the last line in the sand,” said Ken Cheung, senior Asian FX strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong. “The PBOC has fully given the green light to yuan depreciation”. The shakeout in the yuan comes days after Trump stunned financial markets by vowing to impose 10% tariffs on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports from Sept. 1, abruptly breaking a brief month-long ceasefire in the bruising trade war.

After opening the onshore session at 6.9999 per dollar, the yuan had weakened to 7.0266 per dollar by 0351 GMT, down 1.2% on the day after earlier losing as much as 1.4% of its value. Monday marked the first time the yuan had breached the 7-per-dollar level since May 9, 2008. With the escalating trade war giving Beijing fewer reasons to maintain yuan stability, analysts said they expect the currency to continue to weaken. “In the short-term, the yuan’s strength would be largely determined by the domestic economy. If third-quarter economic growth stabilizes, the yuan could stabilize around 7.2 or 7.3 level,” Zhang Yi, chief economist at Zhonghai Shengrong Capital Management in Beijing.


Capital Economics senior China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard said the PBOC had probably been holding back against allowing a weaker yuan to avoid derailing trade negotiations with the United States. “The fact that they have now stopped defending 7.00 against the dollar suggests that they have all but abandoned hopes for a trade deal with the U.S.,” he said.

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Organizers swore peaceful protests. But a few agitators can take care of that.

Hong Kong Brought To A Standstill As City-Wide Strikes And Protests Hit (G.)

Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, has warned that mass protests have pushed the region to the brink of a “very dangerous situation” as residents have gone on strike, paralysing the city. Lam, who has disappeared from public view for the past two weeks, gave a media briefing in which she condemned the protests for hurting Hong Kong’s economy and stability. “Such extensive disruptions in the name of certain demands or uncooperative movement have seriously undermined Hong Kong law and order and are pushing our city, the city we all love, and many of us helped to build, to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” she said.

On Monday, transport across Hong Kong was brought to a standstill and more than 150 flights out of the city were cancelled. Almost 100 outbound and 100 inbound flights were cancelled. Protesters also blocked key roads and stopped trains throughout the city. [..] Protesters have shifted tactics beyond only marches and protests in the streets. Civil servants from more than 30 government departments, as well as pilots, teachers, construction workers, engineers, and aviation staff all pledged to strike on Monday.


On Monday morning, several lines of the MTR, the rail network serving Hong Kong, were suspended as protesters, many wearing face masks and black clothing, blocked the doors of trains, preventing them departing the stations. There were also reports of discarded umbrellas being wedged in train doors to prevent them from closing, delaying services. Monday’s planned city-wide protest, which is aimed to disrupt peak-hour travel of commuters, is the fifth consecutive day of mass demonstrations in the city. Simultaneous rallies were planned for seven of Hong Kong’s 18 districts on Monday. Hong Kong has not held a general strike in more than 50 years.

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“Rural America is older, sicker, poorer and more dependent upon state aid than it was before.”

Job Growth In Trump Land Is Dead In The Water (MW)

Since the economy began adding jobs after the Great Recession nine years ago, about 21.5 million jobs have been created in the United States, the second-best stretch of hiring in the nation’s history, second only to the 1990s. But job growth isn’t being spread evenly across the land. Most of the new jobs have been located in a just a few dozen large and dynamic cities, leaving slower-growing cities, small towns and rural areas — where about half of Americans live — far behind. Along with climate change and racial justice, economic development is America’s biggest challenge over the next few decades. Inclusive growth is a must, or else our society will fall apart. The problem: No one — certainly not President Trump — has found the magic wand that will bring back jobs to rural and small-town America.

According to a study titled “The Future of Work in America” by the McKinsey Global Institute released in July, 25 cities that are home to about 30% of Americans will capture about 60% of the job growth between 2017 and 2030, just as they did between 2007 and 2017. Twelve are megacities (and their extended suburbs): Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington. Another 13 are high-growth hubs in smaller cities: Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Nashville, Orlando, Portland (Ore.), Raleigh, San Antonio, San Jose, Seattle, and Tampa. A few other smaller, fast-growing cities will also add jobs, while vast swaths of the South, Midwest and Plains will lose jobs.


The New York metro area, home to 20 million people, added more jobs over the past year than all the small towns and rural areas — with 46 million people — did combined. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the political map will recognize that the growth is mostly occurring in places that vote for Democrats, while the stagnation is mostly in places that vote for Republicans. Donald Trump has appealed to those who are the most fearful, the most resentful and the most despairing, but the situation hasn’t gotten any better since his election. Rural America is older, sicker, poorer and more dependent upon state aid than it was before.

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Feel lucky?

10 Alarming Things About The Economy That Politicians Won’t Tell You (MW)

Here are 10 remarkable forecasts and assumptions that Washington is making and isn’t telling you. These are all contained in the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent Long-Term Budget Outlook, the cornerstone document of government financial and economic planning.

1. We’re going to have a lot more immigrants. A lot. They’re expecting a net 22.5 million more immigrants to come to the U.S. over the next 20 years. By 2049, they’re expecting immigration to account for a stunning 87% of annual population growth.

2. We’re going to have a lot more illegal immigrants. Despite the current bluster and the scandals at the border, the CBO expects we’ll have 2.4 million more illegal immigrants (or “undocumented residents,” or whatever) in 20 years’ time than we have today.

3. We’re going to be up to our eyeballs in debt. The national debt is expected to skyrocket to an “unprecedented” 144% of GDP by 2049, or twice the level today. That would put the debt just under $100 trillion. The figure today: Around $18 trillion. As recently as 2000: $4 trillion. Oh, and this isn’t even the worst-case scenario: The national debt could exceed 200% of GDP in 30 years’ time, the CBO acknowledges.

4. We’re going to owe so much money that by 2049 the annual interest on the debt will be about 5% of GDP — roughly the share that we spend today on Social Security. And that’s even if interest rates stay low. Despite rising debt and federal spending, the government is expecting — or hoping — the average rate on federal debt will rise only from today’s lowly 2.4% to 4.2%, still modest by historic standards, by 2049.

5. This debt, and these deficits, will damage the economy. They will crowd private investment out of the debt markets, reducing income and growth, says the CBO. And as we’ll have to borrow more and more from abroad to finance the government, they’ll lead to bigger and bigger interest payments leaving the country.

6. Social Security, Medicare, other health programs and net interest are going to soak up so much of the budget that we’re going to have to slash everything else to the smallest share of the economy in 70 years — just 7%. The average over the past 50 years: 11%.

7. Just to keep the federal deficit to these levels, your taxes will go up. The Obama tax hike on “Cadillac” health-insurance plans will kick in starting in 2022, and the 2017 Trump tax cuts will expire in 2025.

8. Most working stiffs can say goodbye to any other tax cuts. Uncle Sam is explicitly relying on your taxes to go up thanks to “bracket creep,” where income-tax brackets rise only in line with inflation while your income — you hope — rises faster.

9. While tax rates go up for most people, they won’t for those earning the most. That’s because more and more of their income will be above the Social Security “cap,” saving them an effective 12.4% a year. The cap this year is $132,900.

10. Meanwhile, working stiffs will be taxed at twice the marginal rate of those who live on dividends. By 2049, says the CBO, labor income will be taxed at a marginal rate of 32%, compared to just 16% for capital income. Good to know, isn’t it? It would be great to see some of this stuff come up in the presidential race, wouldn’t it?

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“The Fed hiked 25bps to 3.25% in Feb 1994. Grown men cried on the trading floor. Salesmen. They were soon laid off. Their clients suffered staggering losses. They too were fired.”

The Crashes That Cause Grown Men To Cry (Eric Peters)

He started his career in 1989, with Fed Funds at 9.75%. The Fed slashed rates to 8.25% in Dec 1989 as the S&L Crisis unfolded. They continued cutting until Aug 1992, when rates hit a mindboggling low of 3.00%. The Fed kept money that cheap for 1.5 yrs. Investors had recently earned 9.75% for taking no risk and found themselves starved for returns. So banks structured complex products that offered enhanced yields by selling volatility – they were great, provided the Fed neither hiked nor cut rates. They flew off the shelves. Salespeople gouged their clients. The Fed hiked 25bps to 3.25% in Feb 1994. Grown men cried on the trading floor. Salesmen. They were soon laid off. Their clients suffered staggering losses. They too were fired.


And as their bosses and boards discovered the scale of their unbounded risk, they instructed the banks to get them out at the best price. Whenever that happened, the cost was far bigger than expected. And this in turn was reflexive. Those clients who had earlier assured themselves that they could stomach the ride – because they were long-term investors – were forced to vomit. They call that period The Great Bond Massacre. But it seemed like every few years, another great massacre would unfold in one thing or another. So he assumed that this is how the world worked. Of course, he wasn’t alone. Global central bankers also recognized this to be the case. So they strived to avoid new massacres. But their tools only worked when the mechanic applied greater leverage with each use. Massacre after massacre, they cranked away. By 2019, they had produced the longest economic expansion and equity bull market in American history.

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Is this enough to end the Fed?

Inside The Plunge Protection Team: Chaos (ZH)

Now, thanks to Bloomberg, we have a much more detailed look into what transpired at the trading desk of the “Plunge Protection Team”, and what we learn is that the past year said institution which forms the bedrock of support for the US capital market has been gripped by what at times is sheer chaos. Why? Perhaps it will not come as a surprise to anyone, that the reason for said chaos is another career economist, in this case the “new” president of the New York Fed, John Williams (no relation to the Star Wars guy). As Bloomberg details in a “must read” report, “an unusual level of internal tension broke out in recent weeks at the fortress-like Federal Reserve Bank of New York in lower Manhattan.”

This was prompted by the sudden departure of the two longtime officials mentioned above, which “shook staff, sank morale and drew attention to the leadership of the New York Fed under John Williams as he enters his second year at the helm.” And yes, this is the same John Williams who two weeks ago prompted a mini market tantrum following one of the most epic communication fuck ups by a central banker. As Bloomberg writes “the story involves Simon Potter, who ran the all-important markets desk, and Richard Dzina, head of the financial services group. Both were abruptly relieved of their roles in late May by Williams.


Little explanation was given, but according to current and former New York Fed employees, as well as those close to the bank, the nature of the exits, by fault or design, seemed to be a warning: fall in line.” It is not clear exactly what the two titans of US capital markets had to “fall in line” for, but two things are certain – i) Potter did not “resign”, he was fired by Williams, and ii) now that an economist with zero capital markets experience is in charge, and following his termination of Potter and Dzina, the world is one step closer to collapse as a clueless PhD hack is in charge of the most important market in the world.

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“Judge Koeltl concluded that, quite simply, the claims made as the basis of Russiagate are insufficient to even warrant a hearing.”

Russiagate is the New 42 (Craig Murray)

Douglas Adams famously suggested that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. In the world of the political elite, the answer is Russiagate. What has caused the electorate to turn on the political elite, to defeat Hillary and to rush to Brexit? Why, the evil Russians, of course, are behind it all. It was the Russians who hacked the DNC and published Hillary’s emails, thus causing her to lose the election because… the Russians, dammit, who cares what was in the emails? It was the Russians. It is the Russians who are behind Wikileaks, and Julian Assange is a Putin agent (as is that evil Craig Murray). It was the Russians who swayed the 1,300,000,000 dollar Presidential election campaign result with 100,000 dollars worth of Facebook advertising.

It was the evil Russians who once did a dodgy trade deal with Aaron Banks then did something improbable with Cambridge Analytica that hypnotised people en masse via Facebook into supporting Brexit. All of this is known to be true by every Blairite, every Clintonite, by the BBC, by CNN, by the Guardian, the New York Times and the Washington Post. “The Russians did it” is the article of faith for the political elite who cannot understand why the electorate rejected the triangulated “consensus” the elite constructed and sold to us, where the filthy rich get ever richer and the rest of us have falling incomes, low employment rights and scanty welfare benefits. You don’t like that system? You have been hypnotised and misled by evil Russian trolls and hackers. [Whether Trump and/or Brexit were worthy beneficiaries of the popular desire to express discontent is an entirely different argument and not one I address here].


Except virtually none of this is true. Mueller’s inability to defend in person his deeply flawed report took a certain amount of steam out of the blame Russia campaign. But what should have killed off “Russiagate” forever is the judgement of Judge John G Koeltl of the Federal District Court of New York. In a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee against Russia and against Wikileaks, and against inter alia Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Julian Assange, for the first time the claims of collusion between Trump and Russia were subjected to actual scrutiny in a court of law. And Judge Koeltl concluded that, quite simply, the claims made as the basis of Russiagate are insufficient to even warrant a hearing. The judgement is 81 pages long, but if you want to understand the truth about the entire “Russiagate” spin it is well worth reading it in full. Otherwise let me walk you through it.

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Poverty as a means of getting rid of the unwanted.

Austerity Populism (G.)

In a recent book ostensibly focused on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, but partly about recent British political history, the academics Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts explain the last decade in terms of “austerity populism”. Cuts, welfare crackdowns and the case for leave, they explain, were all sold to the public via the exclusion of supposedly unproductive undesirables: “scroungers” in the austerity narrative; “migrants” in the stories that swirled around the 2016 referendum. Both traded on a nostalgic idea of national struggle, keeping calm and carrying on, and some strange, latent belief that the country was in need of a purgative spell of pain akin to an imaginary version of the second world war.

In this vision, David Cameron’s election victory in 2015 and the leave side’s win a year later were watershed moments on the same national journey. But if austerity populism has so far been politically successful, it also comes with obvious risks. Trumpeting the wonders of slashing services and kicking around the poor only works for as long as the majority of people are largely untouched by those things – which is why Johnson is now partly changing tack and pledging to spend money (although our nasty, broken benefits system and countless imperilled public services will surely remain untouched).


By the same token, the romance of leaving the EU will only endure while its losers – sheep farmers, car industry workers, people who have come to the UK from central and eastern Europe – form a minority, and enough voters can still be persuaded that they will be winners in a Tory Brexit. Yet, however shambolic the opposition offered by Labour, the lived reality of no deal would surely risk tipping too many people into doubt and fear and away from the Conservatives, which is one reason why Johnson and his allies are in such an obvious hurry. The emotional side of me would simply describe this all as a very English tragedy, centred on a mean-spiritedness that the woman I met in Dover would instantly recognise. And at least until the end of this long, overheated summer and the start of an autumn of nightmares, millions of us will carry on behaving much as we have done for the last decade: not just passing by on the other side, but dancing as we do it.

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A weird propaganda tool. That we pay attention to it is a flashing red sign of where our societies are at.

Bellingcat Unloads 4,000-Word Hit Piece On Tulsi Gabbard (RT)

Running as an anti-war candidate in the US comes with a target painted on your back that draws fire from those rooting for foreign interventions. In case of Tulsi Gabbard, it includes a lengthy piece on chemical attacks in Syria. Gabbard, a Democratic presidential hopeful, became the most-googled candidate during the second primary debate – but the surge of public interest came with renewed attacks against her anti-interventionist agenda. In case you’ve missed it all, Gabbard has been branded a ‘Russian’ spoiler for whichever candidate is eventually picked, and, once again, an apologist for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Joining the chorus of bashers on Sunday was Elliot Higgins, the founder of the UK-based ‘citizen investigation’ outlet Bellingcat, who wrote a whopping 4,000-word piece attacking Gabbard’s negative attitude toward regime change wars. In particular, Higgins didn’t like her skepticism over chemical weapons attacks in Syria reflected on her campaign website. The attacks were used by Washington to justify missile attacks against the country’s government – and by extension continued illegal US military presence in the country.


The mammoth piece starts with screenshots featuring logos of RT and InfoWars (Russian propaganda, dear readers, conspiracy theories!) and goes on to criticize anyone doubting the US-favored narrative about what happened in Syria. MIT Professor Theodore Postol gets an honorable mention, with whom Higgins no longer debates in person since their encounter in 2018. Back then, Higgins failed to address Postol’s technical criticisms of his investigations and instead resorted to mocking applauses and calling his opponent a tool of Russian propaganda.

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Always a sucker for a good history lesson.

America’s Other Original Sin (Bacevich)

Can there be more than one Original Sin? I’m guessing that may be a theological nonstarter, but as a basis for historical interpretation there is real merit in considering the possibility of multiple exiles from the Garden of Eden. That the arrival of the first African slaves to Jamestown 400 years ago this month qualifies as America’s Original Sin is now widely recognized. While holdouts remain, most agree that slavery and racism together have left an indelible stain on our nation. Many would argue that this awareness has arrived belatedly. I might even cite myself as an example.

As a kid growing up in Northwest Indiana in the middle of the last century, I judged slavery to have been an unfortunate mistake long since corrected. In the de facto segregated Calumet region where my family lived, race obviously remained a sensitive subject, but to my mind one best kept at arm’s length. I had more important things to worry about than the relationship between white people like me and those who were not white—why the Cubs were permanently stuck in or near the National League cellar being but one example. In the decades since, I’ve learned to see matters differently. So have many others.

But let me suggest the possibility of a Second Original Sin, not rising to the level of the first, but at least deserving far more attention than it has received. And that’s the sin committed in December 1898, when the United States laid claim to the Philippines. The history of this transaction, centering on a transfer of sovereign authority from Madrid to Washington, is both well known and almost entirely forgotten. As had been the case with race in East Chicago, Indiana, back in the late 1950s, the incorporation of the Philippines into an increasingly far-flung American empire has been written off. This, I have come to believe, is unfortunate, especially today when the American empire appears increasingly precarious.

The essential facts are these. In April 1898, the United States went to war with Spain. The war’s nominal purpose was to liberate Cuba from oppressive colonial rule. The war’s subsequent conduct found the United States not only invading and occupying Cuba, but also seizing Puerto Rico, completing a deferred annexation of Hawaii, scarfing up various other small properties in the Pacific, and, not least of all, replacing Spain as colonial masters of the Philippine Archipelago, located across the Pacific.


1898 US Political Cartoon: U.S. President William McKinley is shown holding the Philippines, depicted as a savage child, as the world looks on. The implied options for McKinley are to keep the Philippines, or give it back to Spain, which the cartoon compares to throwing a child off a cliff.

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Jul 222019
 


Claude Monet Impression, sunrise 1872

 

Nadler: Mueller Has Evidence Of Trump High Crimes And Misdemeanours (G.)
Trump Has Nothing To Fear From Mueller (Hill)
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Plans Under Threat From Ministers’ Resignations (G.)
Incoming Prime Minister Poses A Brexit Puzzle For Brussels (G.)
From Hammond on to Johnson – Where Next For Fiscal Policy? (PE)
Abe Fails To Get Enough Votes To Change Japan’s Pacifist Constitution (AT)
Armed Mob Violence On Protesters Leaves Hong Kong In Shock (BBC)
Puerto Rico’s Week Of Massive Protests, Explained (Vox)
The Secret Sources of Populism (Bruno Maçães)
Latest Secret Government File Reveals UK Middle East Policy (TP)
Kicked Off the Land (New Yorker)
Losing My Religion For Equality (Jimmy Carter)

 

 

Curious to see what that evidence is, and curious to know why iot has remained hidden to date.

Nadler: Mueller Has Evidence Of Trump High Crimes And Misdemeanours (G.)

The eyes of America will be trained on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, as Robert Mueller testifies before two House committees about his report on Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice by the president. On Sunday, the chairman of the judiciary committee indicated the stakes when he said the 448-page report contained “very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours” – the benchmark for impeachment. “It’s important that we not have a lawless administration and a lawless president,” the New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler told Fox News Sunday.


“And it’s important that people see what we’re doing and what we’re dealing with.” Nadler’s committee would initiate impeachment proceedings. Mueller, a former director of the FBI, will also appear before the intelligence panel. “The report presents very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours,” he said, “and we have to present, or let Mueller present those facts to the American people and then see where we go from there because the administration must be held accountable and no president can be above the law.”

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Surprise: not everyone agrees with Nadler. Is everybody citing from the same report? Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004.

Trump Has Nothing To Fear From Mueller (Hill)

The president has nothing to fear from the testimony from Robert Mueller because nothing Mueller could possibly say will change the result of the report he delivered. He conclusively found that there was no collusion with the Russians by the Trump 2016 campaign, and he did not bring any indictments for obstruction of justice against the President or even a referral. What Mueller left open with regard to obstruction — if at all — was conclusively dealt with by the Justice Department through the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General who found that there was no probable cause to bring criminal charges against the president.


Congress is not bound by the Mueller investigation or its findings. Congress on its own could bring on impeachment proceedings in the House based on the report — if there was evidence contained therein to warrant such actions. Mueller’s testimony will add nothing other than to further politicize an investigation that was supposed to be apolitical. Mueller reminds me of the patient who decides not to be resuscitated only to find that doctors did so against his wishes. At best, Mueller is a reluctant witness and at worst — for Democrats — a hostile witness. He made it clear in his press conference months ago that he would like the report to speak for itself and that he would not go beyond his own reporting. Congress now runs the risk of further being seen as conducting a witch-hunt against the president by calling a witness who clearly has nothing further to add.

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Quite a few could walk, starting today, but most on Wednesday, when he takes over.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit Plans Under Threat From Ministers’ Resignations (G.)

Boris Johnson’s hoped-for triumphant march into Downing Street this week is set to be dampened by a carefully timed series of resignations by senior ministers, who will retreat to the backbenches with a vow to thwart any moves towards a no-deal Brexit. The announcements by Philip Hammond and David Gauke that they will step down on Wednesday, immediately before Johnson is likely to head to Buckingham Palace, highlight the perilous political climate for Theresa May’s expected successor. It comes amid predictions that the Conservatives’ already wafer-thin working Commons majority of three could entirely disappear by the time MPs return from their summer recess, with mooted defections to the Lib Dems coming on top of a predicted byelection defeat.


Barring a hugely unexpected twist, Johnson is expected to be announced on Tuesday as the victor over Jeremy Hunt in the vote of Conservative members, formally taking over the next day, after May holds a valedictory prime minister’s questions. However, some of the gloss will be removed with the promised resignations of Hammond, the chancellor, and Gauke, the justice secretary, with predictions that other ministers and junior ministers opposed to no deal, such as the international development secretary, Rory Stewart, could follow.

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Headline is just wrong. The EU has seen Boris coming from miles away. They know he will put the blame with Brussels. They know he wants to ditch the backstop, and they won’t let him. Then Boris will be known as the man who broke the Good Friday Agreement.

Incoming Prime Minister Poses A Brexit Puzzle For Brussels (G.)

While Westminster has been gripped by the Conservative leadership race, Brussels has been on a Brexit break. That respite will soon be over. And despite rumours of Brussels compromises in the works, the EU has no off-the-shelf Brexit plan for the new prime minister, who is expected to be announced on Tuesday. “It wouldn’t make any sense to start working on this now,” one senior EU source said. “Because we really need to know [what he wants]. The only thing we have seen are his public statements.” EU negotiators have had no contact with the teams of Boris Johnson – the widely presumed winner – or his rival, Jeremy Hunt. Danuta Hübner, a Polish centre-right member of the European parliament’s Brexit steering group, said there was a “worrying” lack of time to find a compromise before Britain’s departure day on 31 October.


She could not imagine the EU putting anything new on the table, but said it remained open to renegotiating the political declaration on future relations. “We cannot change the major red lines on our side, that there is no possibility of renegotiating the agreement, including the backstop.” Johnson and Hunt have vowed to tear up the backstop, the fallback plan to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, which both men have voted for at least once. Recent reports have suggested the EU is ready to offer a five-year transition to break the deadlock over the backstop. But three EU sources said this was a rehash of debates from the negotiation period, rather than fresh ideas. “It’s all quite ancient” and “not something that we are considering at all”, an official said.

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Ann Pettifor: “Hammond has quietly overseen the dismantling through austerity of a decent society…..”

From Hammond on to Johnson – Where Next For Fiscal Policy? (PE)

As Mr Johnson takes over as Leader of the Conservative Hard Brexit Cult, and by virtue thereof as Prime Minister, it is timely to take a quick look at what his economic and fiscal policy options are – at least in the lead up to DD-Day (Do or Die) on 31st October. It’s equally important to take stock of Mr Hammond’s record as he quietly fades away after three years as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Johnson proposes tax cuts for corporates (reduction in corporate tax rate, already one of the lowest of major economies), and praises President Trump’s example: “He has been very clever in allowing businesses to offset capital investment in tax, with capital allowances. I think we should think about that sort of thing for start-ups, in addition to cutting corporation tax, which would also be effective.” (Via Tom Newton Dunn, The Sun)


Johnson also promises significant tax cuts for the rich and well-to-do, notably by a big rise in the 40% income tax threshhold to £80,000 and by raising the starting-level of earnings for national insurance contribution (NIC) purposes. On the higher tax threshold, Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says this “costs about £9 billion and benefits the 4 million or so income taxpayers with the highest incomes. Most of the gain goes to those in the top 10% of the income distribution would gain an average of nearly £2,500 a year.” On the NIC issue, he calculates this costs £3 billion for every £1,000 the starting level is raised. All these measures will reduce the immediate tax take for government, probably by £20 to 30 billion per year initially, which is 1-1.5% of GDP.


Messrs Johnson & Hammond, circa 1910

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“The provisions, imposed by the United States after World War II, are popular with the public at large, but reviled by nationalists like Abe..”

Abe Fails To Get Enough Votes To Change Japan’s Pacifist Constitution (AT)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed victory Sunday for his ruling coalition in the upper house election, but appeared to fail to secure a “super majority” in the chamber in support of his dream to amend the nation’s pacifist constitution. With the results, the 64-year-old Abe, who is on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, aims to shore up his mandate ahead of a crucial consumption tax hike later this year, along with trade negotiations with Washington. “The ruling parties were given a majority … as people decided to urge us to firmly push for policies under the stable political base,” Abe told public broadcaster NHK.

“I want to meet their expectations soundly,” he said at the headquarters of his Liberal Democratic Party. Abe’s LDP and its coalition partner Komeito are forecast to take at least 69 of the 124 seats – about half the chamber – up for election on Sunday, with six seats still undecided, according to NHK. The two parties control 70 seats in the half of the 245-seat chamber that is not being contested, putting them on track to maintain their overall majority. [..] Local media did predict that forces in favor of revising the constitution, led by Abe’s LDP, were certain to fail to reach 85 of the seats up for grabs, which would have given them a two-thirds “super majority” in the chamber.

Following the vote, however, Abe said he would continue trying to expand support for the revision even if the pro-revision group eventually misses the target, necessary for proposing a constitutional amendment. Abe has pledged to “clearly stipulate the role of the Self-Defence Forces in the constitution,” which prohibits Japan from waging war and maintaining a military. The provisions, imposed by the United States after World War II, are popular with the public at large, but reviled by nationalists like Abe, who see them as outdated and punitive.

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Crazy. But Chinese.

Armed Mob Violence On Protesters Leaves Hong Kong In Shock (BBC)

Hong Kong has been left in shock after a night of violence on Sunday which saw dozens of masked men storm a train station. The men – dressed in white shirts and suspected to be triad gangsters – assaulted pro-democracy protesters and passers-by in the Yuen Long area. This is the first time this kind of violence has been seen in the ongoing anti-extradition demonstrations. Several lawmakers questioned why police were slow to arrive at the scene. Footage posted on social media showed dozens of men attacking people with batons inside the station. Forty-five people were injured, with one person in critical condition.


Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said police had taken more than an hour to arrive. “Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest cop to population ratio,” said another pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan in a tweet. “Where were [they?]” Police on Monday said they had not made any arrests but were still carrying out investigations. The mob attack followed a pro-democracy rally on Sunday in the centre of Hong Kong, where riot police had fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. The masked men stormed Yuen Long MTR station at about 22:30 local time (14:30 GMT), attacking passengers and people making their way back from the protest.

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“Protesters gave an ultimatum to the Governor after his address. “You have until 11:59pm to leave. If you refuse, we will make this country unmanageable“

Puerto Rico’s Week Of Massive Protests, Explained (Vox)

Thousands of protesters demonstrated in the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico Saturday, marking the eighth straight day of rallies calling for the resignation of the island’s governor. The crowds show no sign of ebbing, and analysts say that the protests are quickly becoming the biggest political demonstration in the US territory’s modern history. The protests arose in response to the leak of Telegram app messages in which Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his inner circle make light of the casualties caused by Hurricane Maria and disparage political opponents using vulgar, homophobic, and sexist language.

The text message leak came days after another scandal: The FBI arrested two former top officials in Rosselló’s government as part of a corruption probe over their handling of $15.5 million in contracts. The officials, former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and Ángela Ávila-Marrero (former chief of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration), are accused of funneling the contracts to businesses they had personal ties to, regardless of those companies’ relevant experience or ability. The incidents have galvanized a public that feels neglected and exploited by political and economic elites, and one that has endured great suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and a seemingly unresolvable debt crisis.

Calls for Rosselló’s resignation were growing following the corruption scandal; they exploded after the group chat scandal. Two cabinet officials have resigned in the wake of the scandals, but so far Rosselló has said that he plans to stay in office. Pressure on the governor is rising, however. The protests have garnered international attention, and a number of Puerto Rican celebrities like singer Ricky Martin (who was mocked in the leaked texts), Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and reggaeton star Bad Bunny have backed the demonstrations. “They mocked our dead, they mocked women, they mocked the LGBT community, they made fun of people with physical and mental disabilities, they made fun of obesity. It’s enough. This cannot be,” Martin said in a video on Twitter.

Many politicians from the US mainland have started to weigh in on the issue as well. President Donald Trump — who has called Puerto Rican officials “incompetent or corrupt” and who has opposed increased Hurricane Maria aid to the territory — was critical of Rosselló on Twitter. “The Governor is under siege, the Mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance, and the United States Congress foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief, much of which was squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again,” Trump tweeted on Thursday.

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Populism as a result of decaying power.

“As European affairs minister in Portugal, I had quickly become used to thinking of Poland as the EU’s fourth power, ahead of Spain and Italy”

The Secret Sources of Populism (Bruno Maçães)

Populism is a direct result of significant shifts in the global distribution of power. Namely, it is a reaction to the loss of power by a formerly hegemonic West. The populist parties competing for power in many European countries are reminiscent of the nationalist movements of the 1800s and 1900s in developing countries, which won support from people tired of feeling dependent on Europe and the United States. In particular, they sensed that their ancient civilizations had come to abandon their way of life for Western ideas. They lamented that their countries had been so deeply Westernized that only the sense of emptiness remained. “Our country resembles a hospital,” the Turkish writer Kazim Nami wrote in Turkish Country, a journal published between 1911 and 1931, “deprived of medicine, doctors and care.”

In Russia, a Europeanized aristocracy existed in an entirely different world from the peasantry. They spoke French, listened to different music and songs, ate different food, and had a radically different view of religion and the ends of life. It was as two countries rather than as two classes that they looked at each other, plotting a final and decisive struggle over Russia’s soul. Even in France, England, Germany, and the United States, a creeping sense of alienation was slowly developing between the classes, but it was of a different sort. Because these were the world’s ruling nations, elites assumed the responsibility of managing the affairs of foreign countries. Their outlook was more universal in character, although rooted in colonialism, and that created an inevitable distance with their compatriots.

Of course, as long as Western hegemony persisted, the spoils of empire flowed to the lower classes and reconciled them with those in power. But as the balance of power shifted, cosmopolitan elites appeared in a different light. It was implausible for them to dictate to the rest of the world from a position of growing weakness, and some had learned too well to incorporate the interests of the rest of humanity when formulating their positions. Today, many voters in Europe and the United States are starting to regard the elites as profoundly disconnected from what they see as the national interest. Distrust and alienation will keep growing.

Read more …

Divide and rule. Long read. Here’s one of its stories.

Latest Secret Government File Reveals UK Middle East Policy (TP)

In April 1941, nationalist army officers known as the Golden Square staged a coup in Iraq, overthrowing the pro-British regime, and signalled they were prepared to work with German and Italian intelligence. In response, the British embarked on a military campaign and eventually crushed the coup leaders two months later. But Suarez discovered in the files that the British were already wanting such a “military occupation of Iraq” by November 1940 – well before the Golden Square coup gave them a pretext for doing so. The reason was that Britain wanted to end “the mufti’s intrigues with the Italians”. One file notes: “We may be able to clip the mufti’s wings when we can get a new government in Iraq. FO [Foreign Office] are working on this.”

Suarez notes that a prominent thread in the British archive is: “How to effect a British coup without further alienating ‘the Arab world’ in the midst of the war, beyond what the empowering of Zionism had already done.” As British troops closed in on Baghdad, a violent anti-Jewish pogrom rocked the city, killing more than 180 Jewish Iraqis and destroying the homes of hundreds of members of the Jewish community who had lived in Iraq for centuries. The Farhud (violent dispossession) has been described as the Iraqi Jews’ Kristallnacht, the brutal pogrom against Jews carried out in Nazi Germany three years earlier.

There have long been claims that these riots were condoned or even orchestrated by the British to blacken the nationalist regime and justify Britain’s return to power in Baghdad and ongoing military occupation of Iraq. Historian Tony Rocca noted: “To Britain’s shame, the army was stood down. Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain’s ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct insubordination to express orders from Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety. Instead, Sir Kinahan went back to his residence, had a candlelight dinner and played a game of bridge.” Could this be the reason that UK government censors want the file to remain secret after all these years? It would neither be the first, nor the last time that British planners used or created pretexts to justify their military interventions.

Read more …

“Between 1910 and 1997, African-Americans lost about ninety per cent of their farmland. This problem is a major contributor to America’s racial wealth gap; the median wealth among black families is about a tenth that of white families.”

Kicked Off the Land (New Yorker)

In the spring of 2011, the brothers Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels were the talk of Carteret County, on the central coast of North Carolina. Some people said that the brothers were righteous; others thought that they had lost their minds. That March, Melvin and Licurtis stood in court and refused to leave the land that they had lived on all their lives, a portion of which had, without their knowledge or consent, been sold to developers years before. The brothers were among dozens of Reels family members who considered the land theirs, but Melvin and Licurtis had a particular stake in it. Melvin, who was sixty-four, with loose black curls combed into a ponytail, ran a club there and lived in an apartment above it. He’d established a career shrimping in the river that bordered the land, and his sense of self was tied to the water. Licurtis, who was fifty-three, had spent years building a house near the river’s edge, just steps from his mother’s.

Their great-grandfather had bought the land a hundred years earlier, when he was a generation removed from slavery. The property—sixty-five marshy acres that ran along Silver Dollar Road, from the woods to the river’s sandy shore—was racked by storms. Some called it the bottom, or the end of the world. Melvin and Licurtis’s grandfather Mitchell Reels was a deacon; he farmed watermelons, beets, and peas, and raised chickens and hogs. Churches held tent revivals on the waterfront, and kids played in the river, a prime spot for catching red-tailed shrimp and crabs bigger than shoes. During the later years of racial-segregation laws, the land was home to the only beach in the county that welcomed black families. “It’s our own little black country club,” Melvin and Licurtis’s sister Mamie liked to say.

In 1970, when Mitchell died, he had one final wish. “Whatever you do,” he told his family on the night that he passed away, “don’t let the white man have the land.” Mitchell didn’t trust the courts, so he didn’t leave a will. Instead, he let the land become heirs’ property, a form of ownership in which descendants inherit an interest, like holding stock in a company. The practice began during Reconstruction, when many African-Americans didn’t have access to the legal system, and it continued through the Jim Crow era, when black communities were suspicious of white Southern courts. In the United States today, seventy-six per cent of African-Americans do not have a will, more than twice the percentage of white Americans.

Many assume that not having a will keeps land in the family. In reality, it jeopardizes ownership. David Dietrich, a former co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Property Preservation Task Force, has called heirs’ property “the worst problem you never heard of.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized it as “the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.” Heirs’ property is estimated to make up more than a third of Southern black-owned land—3.5 million acres, worth more than twenty-eight billion dollars. These landowners are vulnerable to laws and loopholes that allow speculators and developers to acquire their property. Black families watch as their land is auctioned on courthouse steps or forced into a sale against their will.

Read more …

Carter leaves the Southern Baptist Convention after 60 years.

Losing My Religion For Equality (Jimmy Carter)

I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries. At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

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Feb 032019
 
 February 3, 2019  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Richard Oelze The expectation 1936

 

‘Gilets Jaunes’ Hold 12th Weekend Of Protests, Denounce Police Violence (EN)
More Rubber Bullets And Tear Gas At Yellow Vests Protests (DM)
Rebel Labour MPs Set To Quit Party And Form Centre Group (O.)
Labour Slump Gives Tories Biggest Lead Since General Election (O.)
Voters Will Never Forgive Tories For A No-Deal Brexit Disaster – Minister (O.)
Corbyn Calls For Snap Election To Help Put An End To Austerity (G.)
Queen To Be Evacuated If Brexit Turns Ugly (R.)
“We Are The Meteor… They Are The Dinosaurs…” (Saker)
La Dolce Vita Slips Away Again As Italy Tumbles Back Into Recession (O.)

 

 

 

 

For some reason, found it very hard to find info on the Yellow Vests’ Act 12 yesterday. The media can’t be bothered.

But interesting that some French kangaroo court says sure, keep aiming at your people’s eyes with those Flash-Balls.

Oh, and Macron saying he’s a Yellow Vest too is priceless.

‘Gilets Jaunes’ Hold 12th Weekend Of Protests, Denounce Police Violence (EN)

https://twitter.com/i/status/1091617683160879104

Thousands of “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) protesters marched through Paris and other French cities on Saturday for the 12th consecutive weekend of anti-government action, as they paid homage to those injured by police in previous demonstrations. Participants carried French flags and placards denouncing the government of President Emmanuel Macron, while a large banner showing photographs of people injured in clashes with police took centre stage at the march in Paris. The protest came after France’s top administrative court ruled on Friday that police could continue using controversial rubber-ball launchers against protesters.

Known as Defence Ball Launchers, the weapons fire rubber projectiles the size of golf balls, and have been blamed for leaving gilets jaunes with serious injuries including lost eyes and broken limbs. The judge said it was “necessary to allow police to use these weapons” because the protests were “frequently the occasion for acts of violence and destruction.” Around 1,000 police officers and 1,700 demonstrators have been injured since the protests began, according to official figures. [..] Macron launched a “Great National Debate” in a bid to resolve the crisis. On Thursday, he said that he too was a gilet jaune “if it meant being in favour of better salaries and having a more effective parliament.”

Read more …

The French government has insisted there was ‘no indication’ the guy last week lost his eye to a police projectile. They really do everything wrong.

More Rubber Bullets And Tear Gas At Yellow Vests Protests (DM)

Weapons including controversial rubber bullets were used against French Yellow Vests demonstrating on behalf of the ‘victims of police violence’ as they rioted in central Paris today. Heavily armed officers also used tear gas, baton charges and water cannons against members of the mass anti-government movement, who are named after their high visibility motoring jackets. They were staging their 12th Saturday in a row of demonstrations aimed at getting President Emmanuel Macron to resign. ‘We want him out, but we also want the police to stop wounding us with their Flash Ball weapons,’ said Jacques Caron, a 33-year-old Yellow Vest, who was on the street close to Place de la Bastille. The Interior Ministry reported 80,000 security officials had been deployed across France as the action erupted for a 12th successive Saturday.

In Valance in the south of France, the mayor said measures had been taken to prepare for about 10,000 demonstrators. Authorities fear up to 1,000 of those could be violent rioters. France’s top administrative court ruled Friday that police could continue using a rubber bullet launcher blamed for dozens of injuries during the Yellow Vest protests which have roiled the country since November. Last weekend Yellow Vest leader Jerome Rodrigues, 40, lost an eye after being hit by a fragment from a police projectile fired at him. Like others who have been mutilated in recent months, he said he was hit by a so-called Flash Ball – rubber projectiles fired from police guns. A bid to have them outlawed failed last week, and numerous officers were seen carrying them today.

There were 5,000 police and gendarmes standing by for trouble in the French capital today, and it started in the late afternoon when a march got close to Place de la Republicque. ‘Macron Resign’, the crowd chanted, as they threw bottles and anything else they could find at police. Huge white clouds of tear gas were smothering the area, covering rioters, as well as tourists. By 4pm there had been around 15 arrests in the Paris areas, many of them of suspected rioters carrying potential weapons, and for violent disorder. Rodrigues, 40, has bravely taken to the streets again this weekend after he suffered the life-changing injury. The French government has insisted there was ‘no indication’ he was injured by a police projectile.

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This should have happened at least 3 years ago, so they could have contested the Brexit vote. Useless now.

Rebel Labour MPs Set To Quit Party And Form Centre Group (O.)

A group of disaffected Labour MPs is preparing to quit the party and form a breakaway movement on the political centre ground amid growing discontent with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on Brexit and other key issues including immigration, foreign policy and antisemitism. The Observer has been told by multiple sources that at least six MPs have been drawing up plans to resign the whip and leave the party soon. There have also been discussions involving senior figures about a potentially far larger group splitting off at some point after Brexit, if Corbyn fails to do everything possible to oppose Theresa May’s plans for taking the UK out of the EU.

On Saturday night, three of the MPs widely rumoured to be involved in the plans for an initial breakaway – Angela Smith, Chris Leslie and Luciana Berger – refused to be drawn into talk of a split, and insisted they were focused on opposing Brexit. But they did not deny that moves could be made by the spring or early summer. Meanwhile, Brexit was being blamed for playing an “inevitable role” in the reported decision by Nissan to abandon plans to build its X-Trail model at its Sunderland plant. According to Sky News, the company will confirm cancelling plans to build the new version of the SUV on Monday, just 53 days before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU.

Sunderland Central Labour MP Julie Elliott said: “The constant uncertainty, the chaotic government. None of it is conducive to encouraging business investment in this country.” Leslie described rumours of a breakaway as “speculation” but said: “A lot of people’s patience is being tested right now. I think there are some questions we are all going to have to face, especially if Labour enables Brexit.”

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Corbyn couldn’t have done worse if he tried.

Labour Slump Gives Tories Biggest Lead Since General Election (O.)

The Conservatives have recorded their biggest lead since the last general election after support for Labour slumped by six points, according to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer. Theresa May’s party recorded a seven-point lead over Labour in the poll, its biggest since the disastrous election campaign that left her without a majority and relying on the support of Northern Irish DUP MPs. Labour’s support fell from 40% in the last poll to 34%, while Tory support went up from 37% to 41%. It comes despite continued infighting within the government over Brexit, including a record parliamentary defeat for the prime minister over her proposed deal.

The latest Opinium poll suggests that Labour has lost support from both sides of the Brexit debate. Labour has dropped five points among both remainers and leavers. For the first time since the election, less than half of remainers (49%) would opt for Labour. Approval for May’s handling of Brexit had increased slightly, while support for Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the issue has slumped to an all-time low. May’s approval ratings on Brexit edged up slightly to -30%, with 25% approving and 55% disapproving. Her rating had been -33% a fortnight ago.

Meanwhile, Corbyn’s net rating on the issue is now -44%, with 16% approving and 61% disapproving. His rating was -40% in the last poll a fortnight ago. Only 42% of current Labour voters approve of the way Corbyn has responded to the government on Brexit, while a quarter (26%) disapprove.

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Both existing leading parties in Britain are obsolete. Same as in so many other countries. What’s the big deal? Both Labour and Tories will be gone soon, but with leaving a giant Brexit hole behind.

Voters Will Never Forgive Tories For A No-Deal Brexit Disaster – Minister (O.)

Voters will be right to turn on the Conservative party should it allow Britain to crash out of the European Union without a deal, one of Theresa May’s ministers has warned. With concerns rising about a no-deal Brexit across Whitehall and inside the cabinet, Richard Harrington, a business minister, said that such an outcome would turn “a crisis into a catastrophe”, with manufacturers already stockpiling at the fastest rate since records began in the early 1990s. His intervention comes as some cabinet ministers are understood to believe that they have less than two weeks to persuade the prime minister to back a delay to Brexit, before a vote in parliament could force her hand.

MPs are due to hold another round of Brexit votes on 14 February. One senior government source said it was now “increasingly hard” to see how Britain would leave on schedule at the end of March. Writing for the Observer, Harrington calls on MPs to “grasp the nettle” and force through an extension of Britain’s EU membership, should the government and parliament fail to agree an acceptable exit deal. He also issues a stark warning about the electoral consequences for his party should it allow the UK to crash out of the bloc. “I understand the concerns of some MPs about being seen to delay or frustrate Brexit,” he writes. “And I know that, for others, they just want to ‘get on with it’.

“But however bracing the prospect of instant liberation from the EU may feel in abstract, that sentiment won’t last long when confronted with the economic, legal and practical reality. In the chaos that followed no deal, voters would turn on the Conservative party, and rightly so. “So it is time to focus on what in the end matters most – supporting growth and jobs in the UK … a no-deal Brexit would undermine all our efforts. It would entrench the social and economic divisions in this country, not heal them. And it … would turn a crisis into a catastrophe. That is why on 14 February … parliament needs to rule it out once and for all.”

Read more …

Talk about lousy timing. Austerity has been Britian’s main issue for years. But not now. Brexit is the big kahuna now.

Corbyn Calls For Snap Election To Help Put An End To Austerity (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has called for a snap general election during a meeting of anti-poverty charities in Glasgow. He said people who have experienced “the brunt of nine years of austerity” must be allowed a new vote. The Labour leader met with voluntary organisations and charities working to tackle poverty in south-west Glasgow on Saturday, where he criticised “Tory cuts” while pointing to double-digit yearly increases in food bank use and falling life expectancy in Scotland’s most populated city. “People are suffering under austerity as a direct result of Tory cuts in Westminster passed down by the SNP in Holyrood,” he said. “The people who are bearing the brunt of nine years of austerity cannot wait years for a general election. They need a general election now.”

Corbyn paid tribute to the volunteers and charities that have stepped in to support people who are suffering, but said people should not have to rely on the voluntary sector. “It is a disgrace that people are living on the streets and forced to rely on food banks in one of the richest countries in the world,” he added. “The SNP government has not just passed on Tory austerity, it has quadrupled it for local councils. And this week’s budget will mean another £230m in cuts that will hit local services the people of Scotland rely on. “There is a clear choice between more austerity or a Labour government that will put an end to austerity and build a country for the many, not the few.”

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Enough colonies left still?!

Queen To Be Evacuated If Brexit Turns Ugly (R.)

British officials have revived cold war emergency plans to relocate the royal family should there be riots in London if Britain suffers a disruptive departure from the European Union, two Sunday newspapers have reported. “These emergency evacuation plans have been in existence since the cold war but have now been repurposed in the event of civil disorder following a no-deal Brexit,” the Sunday Times said, quoting an unnamed source from the government’s Cabinet Office, which handles sensitive administrative issues. The Mail on Sunday also said it had learnt of plans to move the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth, to safe locations away from London.

In January an annual speech by the Queen, 92, to a women’s group was widely interpreted in Britain as a call for politicians to reach agreement over Brexit. Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative MP and keen supporter of Brexit, told the Mail on Sunday he believed the plans showed unnecessary panic by officials over a no-deal Brexit as senior royals had remained in London during bombing in the second world war. But the Sunday Times said an ex-police officer formerly in charge of royal protection, Dai Davies, expected Queen Elizabeth would be moved out of London if there was unrest. “If there were problems in London, clearly you would remove the royal family away from those key sites,” Davies was quoted as saying.

Read more …

A comment to an article at the Saker that was turned into an article, and copied by Zero Hedge. All nice and all until the anonymous writer says young people since they grew up on the internet are less brainwashed. I’d claim the opposite.

“We Are The Meteor… They Are The Dinosaurs…” (Saker)

The dinosaurs that are in control of our nation are old and do not understand any other way of life other than vicious imperialism. They do not understand compassion, empathy, understanding, respect, or love. The world has been this way for thousands of years. We are attempting to transition from the old ways of conquering, war, domination, and enslavement into an entirely new dimension, but the Old forces are not allowing this transition to come easily. They are fighting with everything they have. They have full control over our nation’s mainstream media establishment, and furthermore they have full control over the world’s global financial system and how it operates. This gives them incredible power to get away with almost anything they want to get away with.

The reality is that most Americans, and I agree with you it’s not right, don’t pay attention to what is actually going on in the world. They have their cars, their houses, and they don’t think too deeply about the world around them. For the have-nots, aka the poor, they are too disenfranchised and homeless or whatever to do anything about it. Nobody is united. There are only small groups, and small pockets of resistance here and there. Previous attempts to break this mold, which were led by John F Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, ended in assassination. Not enough people questioned the official narratives, at the time, surrounding these assassinations. Very few question the events of 9/11 and very few people take a look at what is happening outside of what the mainstream media is telling them. People’s needs are generally taken care of, and that’s all that matters to them.

The only real hope now lies in the younger generations. Those who grew up with the internet. They are a little less brainwashed. They read alternative media. They have access to more information, and therefore, the truth. They are questioning things. They are angry about what is happening and what their country is doing. Furthermore, there is a growing sense amongst the general population that the “powers that be” and the mainstream media do not serve their interests. (Which is why Trump was elected). So I would not say that all hope is lost and the US is doomed to start WW3.

Read more …

The Observer tries to go anti-populist, but trips up over the fact that Italy’s been falling for well over a decade, which actually caused the rise of populism.

La Dolce Vita Slips Away Again As Italy Tumbles Back Into Recession (O.)

Sharing his predictions on the economy less than a month ago, Luigi Di Maio, the Italian deputy prime minister, believed the country was on the cusp of an economic miracle akin to the one enjoyed in the 1960s. “During that period we built highways, now we can build digital highways,” he enthused. His comments were met with derisive laughter. There was even less to laugh about on Thursday when figures revealed that Italy, which is saddled with a public debt of about 130% of GDP, had lurched back into recession for the third time in a decade. [..] Officials in Rome can only look back over the past 10 years with sadness. Italian GDP is about 5% below where it stood in 2008 and unemployment, which hovered around 6% before the financial crisis, remains stubbornly at just over 10%.

Poverty levels are up and there is little extra money in the kitty to invest for the future without increasing the country’s enormous debts. A budget forged by the coalition of Salvini’s League party and Di Maio’s Five Star Movement (M5S) was agreed in December after months of battling with the European commission. At issue was the debt mountain and how the coalition planned to increase it in breach of EU rules. The EU’s 3% annual deficit limit was safe, but the rule preventing member states from increasing already high debt-to-GDP levels was going to be contravened. A compromise was reached once the EU accepted forecasts for 2019 that showed Italian GDP increasing by an optimistic 1%.

With the economy now in recession as it enters the new year and GDP growth flat at best, the prospects for maintaining Italy’s debt mountain at 130% of GDP are slim. Lorenzo Codogno, a former chief economist at the Italian finance ministry, believes the budget has set Rome on course for another crisis. “All the leading indicators suggest the first quarter of the year will be as bad as the last, and the second quarter will be flat. It’s likely things will pick up from there, but even then, it will mean the economy finishes the year in a weak position,” he says. Salvini and Di Maio have put increases in pension entitlements and plans to introduce a basic income high on their agenda, along with taxes on banks and cuts to business tax reliefs.

Read more …

Nov 272017
 
 November 27, 2017  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »


Guatave Courbet The cliffs of Étretat after the storm 1870

 

Why Are We Addicted To Debt? (Forbes)
China Debt Grows At Faster Pace Despite Years Of Efforts To Contain It (R.)
Maybe China Shouldn’t Open Up (Pettis)
OECD Warns on Rising Debt Risk as Canadians Most in the Red (BBG)
Bitcoin – Too Far Too Fast? (Peter Tchir)
Italy’s 5-Star, Stung By Fake News Claims, Wants OSCE Election Monitors (R.)
The Problem Isn’t Populism: the Problem Is the Status Quo Has Failed (CHS)
Britain Must Accept High Immigration Or Forget Trade Deal With India (BI)
Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)
Australia’s Final Solution (Connelly)
Fears For World’s Rarest Penguin As Population Plummets (G.)

 

 

Asia, that is. Check the marginal productivity of debt graph. And remember, once you’re at zero, you’re done. I’d venture you’re done way before even.

Why Are We Addicted To Debt? (Forbes)

Almost everyone is familiar with Asia’s rags to riches story. The recent economic miracle led to huge increases in living standards across the region. Average incomes rose by factors of 100% to even 400% in some areas. Not to mention the number of people surviving on less than $2 USD a day was cut in half. A major turning point for this economic wonder was when China joined of the World Trade Organization in 2002. Shortly after, Asia’s contribution to the global GDP jumped from 11% to 21%. However, debt distorts these figures in a variety of ways. So, that begs the question; was it a miracle or just an illusion? What tricks does Asia have up its sleeve? Many are becoming increasingly anxious over Asia’s debt-fueled economy. Their fears may soon become a reality.

[..] Asia’s ability to consume credit seems never ending. Even during the recent financial crisis, Asia witnessed governments working hard to maintain cheap money flowing into their financial systems. The Chinese government implemented a stimulus package with record low interest rates. They wanted to mimic the methods used by other global central banks during the 2007 and 2008 financial crisis. Despite the large amount of media attention China’s borrowing levels received, they’re not special. As you can see in the chart below, credit levels have soared throughout Asia. Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Malaysia all have increased their debt to GDP ratios since 2001.

An increased dependency on cheap, available credit produced household debt to shoot up in South Korea and Taiwan. What are the possible outcomes? In many of these economies, high debt levels could lead to tragedy. The main culprit would be GDP growth rate’s inability to balance out spiraling debt levels. This situation is called the marginal productivity of debt. Or put more simply, new debt is not as efficient at creating new growth. Look at the chart below to see how the marginal productivity of debt plays out in Asian economies. Even major, regional growth contributors like South Korea, Japan and China, have experienced this downward trend. Indonesia is the only exception.

Since 2001 China’s marginal productivity has declined by a factor just short of 50%. Since investment has been one of China’s main growth drivers (almost entirely financed by debt), this is concerning. To add fuel to the fire, much of that debt has been funneled into China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). For instance, while corporate debt was at 165% of the GDP in 2015, SOEs made up 71% of it. Meanwhile, those SOEs only contributed around 20% to China’s total GDP.

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Unstoppable?

China Debt Grows At Faster Pace Despite Years Of Efforts To Contain It (R.)

For years China’s top officials have touted their ambitious policy priority to wean the world’s second-largest economy off high levels of debt, but there is not much to show for it. On the contrary, a Reuters analysis shows the debt pile at Chinese firms has been climbing in that time, with levels at the end of September growing at the fastest pace in four years. The build-up has continued even as policymakers roll out a series of measures to end the explosive growth of debt, including persuading state firms and local governments to prune borrowing and tighter rules and monitoring of banks’ short-term borrowing. By some estimates, China’s overall debt is now as much as three times the size of its economy.

Without a comprehensive strategy to tackle the overhang, there is a growing risk China will have a banking crisis or sharply slower growth or both, the IMF said last year. China’s central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, made global headlines with a warning last month of the risks of a “Minsky moment”, referring to a sudden collapse in asset prices after long periods of growth, sparked by debt or currency pressures. On the sidelines of a key, twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress in October, Zhou referred to relatively high corporate debt and the fast pace of growth in household lending. While also pledging to fend off such risks, Zhou has acknowledged it will take some time to bring debt down to more manageable levels.

Reuters analysis of 2,146 China listed firms showed their total debt at the end of September jumped 23% from a year ago, the highest pace of growth since 2013. The analysis covered three-fifths of the country’s listed firms, but excluded financials, which have seen the brunt of government de-risking and deleveraging efforts so far.

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Michael Pettis still sees isolationism as an answer. But isn’t China too open for that already?

Maybe China Shouldn’t Open Up (Pettis)

China needs reform. This has long been the consensus advice from economists and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, whose recent “China 2030” report argues that Chinese leaders should strengthen the role of markets and liberalize legal, financial and other institutions governing the economy. Their to-do list is virtually gospel by now: free up trade and investment, unshackle the exchange rate and ease capital controls. Such reforms are held not only to be worthy in themselves, but critical to solving China’s biggest problem: its debt, which has skyrocketed to well over 260% of GDP from 162% in 2008. The speed and scale of credit expansion has raised fears of a financial crisis, even from such normally staid figures as central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan. The hope is that reforms will boost productivity enough to allow China to outgrow its debt burden before that crisis hits.

This logic is flawed for two reasons. First, China is unlikely to suffer a financial crisis, and this is precisely because of the government’s ability to restructure banking-sector liabilities at will. The real threat is different. Once a country’s debt burden is high enough to create uncertainty about allocating future debt-servicing costs, the debt itself becomes an obstacle to growth. This process – known as “financial distress” – is well-understood in finance theory but is still unfamiliar to many economists. So, unfortunately, is the corroborating history. In the past two centuries, there have been dozens of cases of overly-indebted countries whose policymakers have promised to implement liberalizing reforms meant to allow the country to outgrow its debt. None has succeeded. No excessively indebted country has ever outgrown its debt until a meaningful portion has been forcibly assigned to one economic sector or another.

There are many ways this can occur. Mexico restructured its debt at a discount in 1990, thereby forcing the cost onto creditors. Germany inflated the debt away after 1919, forcing the cost onto pensioners and others with fixed incomes. A decade ago, China forced the cost onto household savers through negative real interest rates. If it is going to regain sustainable growth, China, too, must deleverage. The only healthy way to do so is first, to force local governments to liquidate assets and assign part of the proceeds to debt reduction, and second, to wean China off its dependence on excessive investment by transferring wealth from local governments to households, so they can consume more.

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I wanted to include this article because it raises a serious question. The countries with arguably the highest household debt levels (or close) are New Zealand, Australia, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway. They are all missing from the OECD numbers. How can that be a coincidence?

OECD Warns on Rising Debt Risk as Canadians Most in the Red (BBG)

The OECD warned that rising private debt loads in both advanced and developing economies pose a risk to growth as Canada, South Korea and the U.K. lead the world in household borrowing. “Household and corporate debt in many advanced and emerging market economies is high,” the OECD said Thursday in a pre-released section of a report to be presented next week. “While higher indebtedness does not necessarily imply that problems are just around the corner, it does increase vulnerability to shocks”. With the global economy showing its most even expansion since the financial crisis, debt levels and credit quality are among the risks that could trigger a downturn. Consumer debt tops 100% of GDP in Canada, with South Korea and Britain both above 80%. On corporate borrowing, the OECD warned about a shift in risk from banks to the bond market and a “substantial” decrease in credit quality.

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As bitcoin nears $10K, Tchir reflects.

Bit from Twitter: @JorgeStolfi: “Bitcoin’s market cap just passed 150 billion USD. For those who do not know, that is how much money NEW bitcoin “investors” will have to spend, in order for the current bitcoin holders to get the money that they THINK they have.”

Bitcoin – Too Far Too Fast? (Peter Tchir)

As Bitcoin surges above $9,250 on the open this Sunday, I have to admit to having some real trepidation at these levels. I have been a proponent of the view that Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies would benefit from the launch of ETFs and futures. My view is that allowing for easier ‘adoption’ of Bitcoin will help fuel its growth as it lets new investors participate indirectly. I should not limit that theory to just more traditional ways to invest, like ETFs and futures, but should also include easier ways to establish wallets and to own Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) the ‘traditional’ way. There are a growing number of ‘easy’ to use guides to getting Bitcoin (I have glanced at many but haven’t followed through to verify how well they work of don’t work).

I am convinced that ease of access and the potential for more mainstream products linked to Bitcoin has helped fuel its surge. But now, I am concerned it has gone too far, too fast. I have three major concerns that could slow the price rise or even cause it to have a significant correction (yes, I am converting from bullish Bitcoin to at best neutral). Here are the three concerns:

1) Are all the ETF and Futures launches a ‘sell the news’ event? Basically the question is, while I believe that easier adoption will lead to inflows, how much of that is priced in? Have speculators loaded their electronic wallets with Bitcoin hoping to capitalize on the expected gains to the point, there won’t be more expected gains? Understanding when something is ‘already’ priced in is difficult at the best of times, let alone with something as complex and growing exponentially like Bitcoin, but, I can’t help but wonder. I have felt a switch in discussions I’m having over the last few weeks. A subtle switch, but one where the Bitcoin bulls seem more eager to name ever higher price targets, while the agnostics seem more willing to do work and think about it more, rather than in a rush to get some money into Bitcoin. The sort of behavior that may be indicating a ‘sell the news’ type of environment.

2) There are becoming too many competing investments which are causing some investors to question how ‘real’ the existing ones are. Yes, I understand that ICO’s aren’t necessarily dilutive, if you can purchase them with Bitcoin, but it does start to appear odd when it seems like virtually every day, someone or some entity is announcing some new variation on the theme.

3) Fedcoin, the potential for the Fed could be classified within concern number 2, but is really only part of a larger, separate concern – that governments or central banks will push back. I read this week, along with a lot of other people, an article describing that Bitcoin was now worth more than McDonald’s. While that sort of article is designed to ‘shock’ investors, especially more conservative investors, I think it represents a larger, growing concern that the ‘establishment’ has surrounding cryptocurrencies. Whether the concerns are more focused on the potential for illegal funds to enter the system, taxation, controlling ‘pump and dump’ schemes or making your own job more difficult to manage, I’m sensing they are rising to the surface again. I think we have hit another tipping point where to expect a response to attempt to slow down the growth and valuation of crytpocurrencies should be expected.

Something that has risen almost a ‘ten-bagger’ in less than a year is bound to attract attention. Bitcoin rebounded strongly after the China crackdown, so this fear might be over-rated, but a more organized government or central bank crackdown shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The bigger question, in my mind, is whether Bitcoin can withstand that – but that is a question for another day. I am torn, because my thesis of ‘ease of adoption’ seems to be playing out and in general it is a long way from being fully played out, which by itself is supportive of greater price appreciation. But, at the moment, my concerns are winning out and I’d be taking some chips, or bits, as the case may be, off the table.

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Russigate spreads its wings. But what if Russiagate is the real fake news?

Italy’s 5-Star, Stung By Fake News Claims, Wants OSCE Election Monitors (R.)

Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement wants international observers to monitor next year’s national election campaign to help ward off “fake news”, party leader Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday. His comments came after the ruling Democratic Party (PD) accused 5-Star supporters of using interlinked internet accounts to spread misinformation and smear the center-left government. Di Maio, who was elected 5-Star leader in September, said his party was often misrepresented by the traditional media and said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should oversee the forthcoming election. “The problem of fake news exists and we think it is necessary to have the OSCE monitor news and political debate during the election campaign,” Di Maio said on Facebook.

Such a request is unlikely to gain traction with 5-Star’s opponents, who allege that the maverick group is to blame for some of the most egregious smear campaigns. Last week unofficial Facebook accounts that back 5-Star published a photograph purportedly showing a close ally of PD leader Matteo Renzi attending the funeral of Mafia boss Salvatore Riina. In fact it was a photo taken in 2016 at the funeral of a murdered migrant. “Di Maio says he wants to call up OSCE monitors. Why doesn’t he call up U.N. peacekeepers and the Red Cross, and while he is at it, why not telephone (his associates) who are continuing to post this filth,” Renzi told a conference on Sunday. The sharing of false or misleading headlines and mass postings by automated social media “bots” has become a global issue, with accusations that Russia tried to influence votes in the United States and France. Moscow has denied this.

Some PD leaders called this weekend for legislation ahead of the elections, which are due by May, to crack down on the spread of false news. Renzi ruled that out on Sunday, but said his party would release twice-monthly reports on web abuses. “We do not want to shut down any website, but we want accountability,” Renzi said. The 5-Star party complains that it is unfairly treated by mainstream media, saying state broadcaster RAI is under the sway of the government, while the largest private media group is controlled by the family of former center-right prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Italy’s leading newspapers, which are owned by large industrial concerns, have also been highly critical of 5-Star, which has promised a campaign against corruption and is seen as unfriendly to big business.

Latest polls show 5-Star has built a stable lead over other parties, with support of around 28% against 24% for the PD and 15% for Forza Italia. A new electoral law which encourages coalition building ahead of the vote, means Berlusconi’s center-right bloc should emerge as the single largest political force, albeit without a clear parliamentary majority.

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Or the problem is that nobody wants to understand this.

The Problem Isn’t Populism: the Problem Is the Status Quo Has Failed (CHS)

The corporate/billionaires’ media would have us believe that the crisis we face is populism, a code word for every ugly manifestation of fascism known to humanity. By invoking populism as the cause of our distemper, the mainstream media is implicitly suggesting that the problem is “bad people” -those whose own failings manifest in an attraction to fascism. If we can successfully marginalize these troubled troglodytes, then our problem, populism, would go away and the wonderfulness, equality and widespread prosperity of pre-populist America will be restored. The problem isn’t populism -the problem is the status quo has failed 95% of the populace.

Life isn’t wonderful, prosperous and filled with expansive equality except in the Protected Elite of the top 5% of technocrats, corporate executives, tenured academics, bureaucrats, financiers, bankers, lobbyists and wealthy (or soon to be wealthy) politicos. The bottom 95% need a time machine to recover any semblance of prosperity. They need a time machine that goes back 20 years so they can buy a little bungalow on a postage-stamp lot for $150,000 on the Left and Right Coasts, because now the little bungalows cost $1 million and up. Housing valuations have become so detached from what people earn that even the top 5% has trouble qualifying for a jumbo mortgage without the help of the Bank of Mom and Dad or the family trust fund. The bottom 95% need a time machine to return to the days when college tuition and fees were semi-affordable–say, 30 years ago.

The bottom 95% also need a time machine to return to a time when they could afford healthcare insurance without government subsidies–a generation ago, or better yet, two generations ago. In an age where phantom wealth sprouts like poisoned mushrooms from speculative bubbles, the bottom 95% need a time machine that goes back 8 years so they buy the S&P 500 at 670, or better yet, buy bitcoin for $1 or $10, just to make up the loss in the purchasing power of their wages. Populism is the dismissive propaganda term that the media uses to distract us from the real cause of our problems: the total failure of the status quo, the corrupt, predatory, exploitive, inefficient, rentier pay-to-play-“democracy” cartel-state hierarchy that has failed the bottom 95%.

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Boomerang. Right back at you.

Britain Must Accept High Immigration Or Forget Trade Deal With India (BI)

Britain will struggle to sign new free trade deals with economic powerhouses like India after Brexit unless it is willing to accept high levels of immigration from these countries into Britain. That’s according to Lord Bilimoria, co-founder of Cobra beer, and one of Britain’s most well-known entrepreneurs. Bilimoria spoke to Business Insider on Friday following International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s claim that his efforts to make Britain a great trading nation are being undermined by the unwillingness of British businesses to export. The Indian-born British businessman described Fox as “utterly unfit” to serve as International Trade Secretary and claimed that nobody “across the board” in British business “has any respect” for the Conservative minister. “Nobody takes him seriously. That’s a fact,” Bilimoria told BI.

Bilimoria then described what he felt was a contradiction at the heart of the case for Brexit, in that Britain will not be able to significantly reduce inward migration — as many have Brexiteers promised — if it wants any hope of ambitious and wide-ranging free trade deals with countries like India. “What trade deals has he [Fox] actually done?” the life peer said. “The Indian high commissioner has warned that an agreement [between Britain and India] might not be in place until 2030 — and said talks haven’t even begun. “He said India will want the movement of professionals; the movement of doctors, the movement of engineers. He said both sides will benefit from this exchange. It won’t be a one-way street.”

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Excellent expansive overview of the past 100 years.

Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)

After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later when Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the red army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an end. The world had descended into what had been a 77-year global war, incepting with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations which germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into the world war and cold war which followed inexorably thereupon. To wit, upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped-out during that span.

The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam. [..] The end of the cold war meant world peace was finally at hand, yet 26 years later there is still no peace because Imperial Washington confounds it. In fact, the War Party entrenched in the nation’s capital is dedicated to economic interests and ideological perversions that guarantee perpetual war; they ensure endless waste on armaments and the inestimable death and human suffering that stems from 21st century high tech warfare and the terrorist blowback it inherently generates among those upon which the War Party inflicts its violent hegemony.

In short, there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77-year war ended. The great general and president, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, but that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word “congressional” in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch. So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the pork barrels and Sunday afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of beltway busybodies that constituted the civilian branches of the cold war armada (CIA, State, AID etc.) and the circle would have been complete. It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world. In a word, the real threat to peace circa 1991 was that Pax Americana would not go away quietly in the night.

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What’s happening to us? Manus, Greece, let alone Yemen, Myanmar, Syria, where are we heading?

Australia’s Final Solution (Connelly)

Over the weekend, 620 refugees were forcibly removed from the now decommissioned prison on Manus Island, following a ruling in October that their incarceration was unconstitutional. Under instruction from Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, prisoners were beaten with steel bars by Papua New Guinea’s paramilitary guards, starved of food, water, and electricity. They are forbidden access to doctors, nurses, social workers, urgently needed medication, and legal representation. Water supplies were deliberately destroyed. Makeshift wells were poisoned. The Australian government claims the prisoners were relocated to new facilities in nearby town, Lorengau, however those at the site say the facilities are both still under construction and at excess capacity. Prisoners forced onto buses were turned away at the gates, left sitting out in the heat for hours with no word on when they would be allowed to enter their new makeshift prisons.

[..] Australia, the ‘innovation nation’, the country of the fair go, could not possibly entertain a system of incarceration whose cruelty wasn’t entirely by design. So anchored are they to the lie that they ‘stopped the boats’, they will let more than 620 refugees fleeing civil war and religious persecution die from starvation, malnutrition, heart-problems and disease than find them a permanent home, lest they appear soft on national security. (FYI, they haven’t stopped the boats. The government has simply stopped reporting on their arrival. I have been told by members of the defence force who work on refugee ‘intercept vessels’ of mothers whose children had died in their arms, being sent back out to sea to drift aimlessly towards… anywhere but here. The boats haven’t stopped).

New Zealand’s Labour government has already volunteered to resettle the prisoners on both Manus and Nauru but their offers have been met with vitriol, scorn and diplomatic threats. Taking responsibility for a mess of its own making is a response too compassionate for this government. It needs to be barbaric. That’s the point of deterrence. If the barbarism isn’t obviously, outrageously cruel, then the system has failed. This is Australia’s final solution: ‘Deterrence’. Robbed of even the right to their own name, the refugees languishing in detention on Manus Island were literally issued numbers that would become their formal identity and how they are referred to by the prison guards (who incidentally have a long and “well-documented history of rapes, sexual assaults, physical abuse, murders and other serious human rights abuses”, according to a report from The Age).

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We’re picking off species one by one. We no longer respect life itself. Who are the gods we’re praying to, and why would they listen?

Fears For World’s Rarest Penguin As Population Plummets (G.)

Almost half the breeding population of the world’s most endangered penguin species, the yellow-eyed penguin, has disappeared in one part of New Zealand and conservation groups believe commercial fishing is to blame. The yellow-eyed penguin is endemic to New Zealand’s South Island and sub-Antarctic islands, where there are just 1,600 to 1,800 left in the wild, down from nearly 7,000 in 2000. During a recent survey of the island sanctuary of Whenua Hou (Codfish Island), department of conservation staff made the alarming discovery that close to half the island’s breeding population of penguins had vanished. Elsewhere in New Zealand the bird’s population is at its lowest level in 27 years. Forest & Bird’s chief executive Kevin Hague said because the island was predator-free the evidence pointed to the animals being caught and drowned in the nets of commercial fishing trawlers.

Only 3% of commercial trawlers have independent observers on them to report bycatch deaths. “Unlike previous years where disease and high temperatures caused deaths on land, this year birds have disappeared at sea,” said Hague. “There is an active set net fishery within the penguins’ Whenua Hou foraging ground, and the indications are that nearly half the Whenua Hou hoiho population has been drowned in one or more of these nets.” Last year 24 nests were recorded on Whenua Hou, but this year rangers only found 14. Penguin numbers are declining in other parts of the South Island as well, and researchers fear the beloved bird, which appears on the New Zealand $5 note, is heading ever closer to extinction. University of Otago’s Thomas Mattern, a penguin expert, told the Otago Daily Times he believed time was running out for the birds. “Quite frankly, the yellow-eyed penguins, in my professional opinion, are on their way out,” Mattern said.

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Jun 172017
 
 June 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Fred Lyon Broadway and Kearny Street, North Beach, San Francisco 1952

 

All Hell Is Going To Break Loose In The Bond Market (SBA)
The Fog of Markets (720G)
10 Years After Global Financial Crisis, World Still Suffers Debt Overhang (SMH)
Amazon, the Death of Brick & Mortar, Buys into Brick & Mortar (WS)
Special Prosecutor Mueller Is a Political Hack (Washington)
Fear of Contagion Feeds the Italian Banking Crisis (DQ)
China’s Smaller Banks Endure Record Borrowing Costs amid Squeeze (BBG)
Most Of Central London Hospital To Be Sold Off, Plans Reveal (G.)
Five Talks on Power, Populism, Politics & Europe (Varoufakis)
Spain Says Eurogroup May Block Greek Loan If Officials Not Granted Immunity (R.)
Swedish Commuters Can Use Hand Implant Chip Instead Of Train Tickets (Ind.)

 

 

“..the Federal Reserve has not allowed the market to do its one and only job, and that is to determine fair value.”

All Hell Is Going To Break Loose In The Bond Market (SBA)

This past Wednesday we heard from the Federal Reserve with regard to monetary policy, and as I predicted they did raise the federal funds rate 25 basis points however, instead of yields rising, they are dropping. More than a year and a half ago I had said publicly that the Federal Reserve’s attempt at trying to normalize bond yields would backfire-and this is exactly what is happening. It is clear to me that the Federal Reserve has absolutely lost control of what is occurring in the bond market. Remember, this is uncharted territory, we have never been here before in the history of the financial world-so the Federal Reserve actually has no idea of how the market will react in the current environment with regard to their attempt at normalizing interest rates. The yield curve as seen in the picture above continues to flatten out, and this trend will continue until the curve inverts.

The last time the yield curve inverted, the 2008 economic meltdown occurred, and the time before that we suffered the.com bubble meltdown. The fact is we are existing in a multiple bubble economy at this time, worse, and unlike anything which has ever been seen before. The reason why these bubbles exist is simple: the Federal Reserve has not allowed the market to do its one and only job, and that is to determine fair value. The Federal Reserve’s interest rate suppression cycle has not only allowed, but has been the driving force behind mass malinvestments across the entire spectrum of asset classes and as such, bubbles have been created. The Federal Reserve has created distortions across the spectrum of asset classes which is frankly beyond belief, worse than has ever been witnessed in the history of finance. What this means is when the yield curve inverts this time, we will experience a meltdown magnitudes greater then the 2008 crash.

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“..till injuries were wrought to the structure of human society which a century will not efface, and which may conceivably prove fatal to the present civilization.”

The Fog of Markets (720G)

“The year 1915 was fated to be disastrous to the cause of the Allies and to the whole world. By the mistakes of this year the opportunity was lost of confining the conflagration within limits which though enormous were not uncontrolled. Thereafter the fire roared on till it burnt itself out. Thereafter events passed very largely outside the scope of conscious choice. Governments and individuals conformed to the rhythm of the tragedy, and swayed and staggered forward in helpless violence, slaughtering and squandering on ever-increasing scales, till injuries were wrought to the structure of human society which a century will not efface, and which may conceivably prove fatal to the present civilization.” – Winston S. Churchill – The World Crisis: 1915

After reading that quote several times, it remains shocking that the politicians and individuals of that era unconsciously “conformed to the rhythm of the tragedy.” The paragraph above from Winston Churchill, describes the mass mindset of World War I when it was still in its infancy. War-time narratives, nationalism, destruction and the tremendous loss of life led most people to quickly accept and acclimate to an event that was beyond atrocious. Amazingly, less than a year before the period Churchill discusses, the same people likely would have thought that acceptance of such a calamity would be beyond comprehension. Wars and markets are obviously on two different planes, and we want to make it clear the purpose of this article is not to compare the evils of war to financial markets. That said, we must recognize that quick acceptance of abnormal circumstances, as Churchill describes, is a trait that we all possess.

The seemingly unabated march upwards in stock prices occurring over the last eight years has had a mind-numbing effect on investors. The relentless grind higher is backed by weak fundamentals providing little to no justification for elevated prices. Indeed, if there was no justification for such valuations during the economically superior timeframe of the late 1990’s, how does coherent logic rationalize current circumstances? For example, feeble economic growth, stagnating corporate earnings, unstable levels of debt, income and wage inequality and a host of other economic ills typically do not command a steep premium and so little regard for risk. This time, however, is different, and investors have turned a blind eye to such inconvenient facts and instead bank on a rosy future. Thus far, they have been rewarded. But as is so often the case with superficial gratification, the rewards are very likely to prove fleeting and what’s left behind will be deep regret.

Despite our education and experience which teach the many aspects of the discipline of prudent investing, investors are still prone to become victims of the philosophy and psychology of the world around them. These lapses, where popular opinion-based investment decisions crowd out the sound logic and rationale for prudence and discipline, eventually carry a destructively high price. Investors, actually the entire population, have become mesmerized by the system as altered and put forth by the central bankers. We have somehow become accustomed to believe that debt-enabling low interest rates make even more debt acceptable. Ever higher valuations of assets are justifiable on the false premise of a manufactured and artificial economic construct.

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Long from Australia, with lots of sources. Bit confusing even.

10 Years After Global Financial Crisis, World Still Suffers Debt Overhang (SMH)

Let’s start with the question of debt. Lord Adair Turner, who chaired the UK Financial Services Authority between 2008 and 2013 and helped redesign global banking, says the world since has not addressed this root cause of the crisis and that means it’s at risk of another one. Lord Turner, now chairman of New York-based Institute for New Economic Thinking, says the world is suffering from “irrational exuberance” and “debt overhang”. The latter term refers to countries trapped in a vicious cycle of debt, and when nations ultimately default on that debt – he predicts that the next crisis will come courtesy of China and that’s just a number of years away – it ends in their economic destruction.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) says global levels of debt held by households, governments, and non-financial corporates jumped by over $US70 trillion in the past decade to a record high of $US215 trillion, equating to 325 per cent of global GDP. “There’s been no deleveraging,” Lord Turner says. “Once you’ve got too much debt in the economy … it’s incredibly difficult to get rid of it. “If you say, ‘I’m going to write it off’, your banks go bankrupt … if you try get rid of it by people paying down that debt … the attempt to pay it back is what drives the economy into recession.” To avoid that, interest rates then fall, and that simply encourages more borrowing, he says.

[..] Steve Keen, Professor of Economics at Kingston University in London, a long-time doomsayer on Australia’s mortgage binge, says simply: “It’s dangerous”. He says the Reserve Bank and Australian politicians ignore the dangers of private household debt today just as former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke did before the GFC. Keen says the risk of recession is even higher now that APRA has slightly tightened lending standards. “It’s inevitable,” he says, sticking to his bold prediction that it will happen before year’s end.

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Grow your own food.

Amazon, the Death of Brick & Mortar, Buys into Brick & Mortar (WS)

Amazon, which is getting blamed profusely for the meltdown of brick-and-mortar stores and malls across the US, and which has been dabbling with its own initiatives into brick-and-mortar operations – including bookstores, after nearly wiping bookstores off the face of the US – said it would buy brick-and-mortar Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion. Amazon will get Whole Foods’s $15.7 billion in annual sales and more importantly, its brand, semi-loyal customers, and about 450 brick-and-mortar stores across 42 states. Whole Food shares jumped 27%. But in early trading, the shares of the largest brick-and-mortar grocery sellers in the US are getting crushed: Wal-Mart Stores -6.5%; Kroger, largest supermarket chain in the US, -14%; Costco -7%; Target -10%.

Amazon already sells groceries online via AmazonFresh, and a few months ago announced it would create a grocery store pickup service, another foray into brick-and-mortar. Selling groceries online has been tough in the US, though everyone has been trying, from innumerable startups to Safeway and Google Express (in cooperation with Costco et al.). Consumers are used to buying at the store by running through the aisles with their carts and choosing what they see or what’s on their list, or both, and they want to touch and check their produce before buying it, and they don’t want the dented apples or squished grapes or wilted lettuce. And they need it now on the way home from work so they can fix dinner.

With this acquisition, Amazon’s efforts to muscle its way into the grocery business and even more into the every-day lives of Americans have thus taken a quantum leap forward. But what industry is Amazon muscling into? Over the past six years, sales at grocery stores are up a total of 14%, not adjusted for inflation, according to the retail trade report by the Commerce Department. Over the same period, the Consumer Price Index for food rose 14%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hence, on an inflation-adjusted basis, “real” sales have been flat for six years.

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Did anyone doubt this? Safe to predict the investigation will be dragged out forever.

Special Prosecutor Mueller Is a Political Hack (Washington)

Torture FBI special agent Colleen Rowley points out: Mueller was even okay with the CIA conducting torture programs after his own agents warned against participation. Agents were simply instructed not to document such torture, and any “war crimes files” were made to disappear. Not only did “collect it all” surveillance and torture programs continue, but Mueller’s (and then Comey’s) FBI later worked to prosecute NSA and CIA whistleblowers who revealed these illegalities.

Iraq War Rowley notes: When you had the lead-up to the Iraq War … Mueller and, of course, the CIA and all the other directors, saluted smartly and went along with what Bush wanted, which was to gin up the intelligence to make a pretext for the Iraq War. For instance, in the case of the FBI, they actually had a receipt, and other documentary proof, that one of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had not been in Prague, as Dick Cheney was alleging. And yet those directors more or less kept quiet. That included … CIA, FBI, Mueller, and it included also the deputy attorney general at the time, James Comey.

Post 9/11 Round-Up FBI special agent Rowley also notes: Beyond ignoring politicized intelligence, Mueller bent to other political pressures. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mueller directed the “post 9/11 round-up” of about 1,000 immigrants who mostly happened to be in the wrong place (the New York City area) at the wrong time. FBI Headquarters encouraged more and more detentions for what seemed to be essentially P.R. purposes. Field offices were required to report daily the number of detentions in order to supply grist for FBI press releases about FBI “progress” in fighting terrorism. Consequently, some of the detainees were brutalized and jailed for up to a year despite the fact that none turned out to be terrorists.

9/11 Cover Up Rowley points out: The FBI and all the other officials claimed that there were no clues, that they had no warning [about 9/11] etc., and that was not the case. There had been all kinds of memos and intelligence coming in. I actually had a chance to meet Director Mueller personally the night before I testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee … [he was] trying to get us on his side, on the FBI side, so that we wouldn’t say anything terribly embarrassing. …

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EU’s post-Cyprus resolutions are being dumped whenever that’s easier.

Fear of Contagion Feeds the Italian Banking Crisis (DQ)

Spain’s Banco Popular had the dubious honor of being the first financial institution to be resolved under the EU’s Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, passed in January 2016. As a result, shareholders and subordinate bondholders were “bailed in” before the bank was sold to Santander for the princely sum of one euro. At first the operation was proclaimed a roaring success. As European banking crises go, this was an orderly one, reported The Economist. Taxpayers were not left on the hook, as long as you ignore the €5 billion of deferred tax credits Santander obtained from the operation. Depositors and senior bondholders were spared any of the fallout. But it may not last for long, for the chances of a similar approach being adopted to Italy’s banking crisis appear to be razor slim.

The ECB has already awarded Italy’s Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) a last-minute reprieve, on the grounds that while it did not pass certain parts of the ECB’s last stress test, the bank is perfectly solvent, albeit with serious liquidity problems. By contrast, Popular was also liquidity challenged but, unlike MPS, it passed all parts of the ECB’s 2016 stress test, which shows you how ineffectual these tests are — and how subjective the resolution process of a European bank can be. In a speech to the Italian Banking Association on Thursday, the Vice President of the ECB, Vítor Constâncio, suggested that under certain circumstances, it might be wiser to save a bank than to resolve it. What’s more, taxpayers should be called upon not only to save banks like MPS but also to make whole all holders of the bank’s subordinate debt, under the pretext that they were misled into purchasing them (as indeed some retail customers, but certainly not all, were).

A taxpayer-funded bailout of bondholders is also on the cards for the two mid-sized Veneto-based banks, Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which have already received billions of euros in taxpayer assistance. Italy’s Minister of Economy Pier Carlo Padoan continues to insist the two banks will not be wound down. This is the same man who insisted last year that a) there would be no need of any future bail outs; and b) Italy did not even have a banking problem on its hands. Padoan has no choice but to deny all rumors of a bail-in; otherwise there would be a massive rush for the exits. In the weeks and even days leading up to Popular’s collapse, Spain’s Economy Minister Luis de Guindos repeatedly reassured investors that the bank was perfectly safe and solvent.

All the while government agencies, including Spain’s social security fund, and regional government authorities were emptying the deposits they held with the bank as fast as they could. The total is unknown but it certain ran into billions of euros. To avoid a similar fate, Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca were instructed by the European Commission last week to find an additional €1.25 billion in private capital. That money still hasn’t arrived, and now Italy’s government is trying to persuade the European Commission and the ECB to water down the requirement to €600-800 million, while also urging Italian banks to chip in to the bank rescue fund. If they don’t and the two Veneto-based banks end up being wound down, they will have to cough up as much as €11 billion to refund the banks’ depositors.

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Deleveraging my donkey.

China’s Smaller Banks Endure Record Borrowing Costs amid Squeeze (BBG)

China’s smaller banks, caught between a seasonal cash squeeze and an official deleveraging drive, are stomaching record high borrowing costs to raise funds. Issuance of negotiable certificates of deposit jumped to 758 billion yuan ($111.5 billion) this week, the most since the securities were introduced in 2013 as a lifeline for smaller banks. The yield on one-month AAA rated NCDs has surged nearly one percentage point this month to an all-time high of 5.05%, while that on AA+ contracts reached 5.30%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The increase in NCD costs comes at a tough time for Chinese lenders, which face an unprecedented 4.5 trillion yuan of maturities this quarter. The pressure has been aggravated by the deleveraging drive, with the one-month Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate climbing for 22 days in a row to a two-year high.

The certificates are used mainly by smaller lenders – banks outside of China’s top 10 by market value accounted for 76% of total sales this year. “The smaller banks have no choice but to take the blow,” said Shan Kun, Shanghai-based head of China markets strategy at BNP Paribas. “They need to sell NCDs to get financing as they cut leverage gradually and as they have to cope with tighter liquidity this month. The rates will likely continue to climb, or at least stay elevated in the near term.” When cash supply tightens, small- and medium-sized lenders are usually among the hardest-hit because they lack the retail deposit arsenal of larger banks, said Yulia Wan, a Shanghai-based banking analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. They also may not have enough bonds to use as collateral to borrow money in the repo market. The banks need the money to finance longer-term and less liquid assets, such as debt and investment in loans and receivables, she added.

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Grand plans going back to Osborne and Cameron.

Most Of Central London Hospital To Be Sold Off, Plans Reveal (G.)

Almost all of a central London hospital is to be sold and its services diverted to already stretched facilities around the capital under plans for NHS modernisation seen by the Guardian. Charing Cross hospital, a flagship NHS facility in the heart of London, is to be cut to just 13% of its current size under proposals contained in sustainability and transformation plans published last year in 44 areas across England. Many of the officially published plans lacked precise detail about how local services would change, but internal supporting documents seen by the Guardian reveal the scale of the closures at the London site. The proposals claim much of the care currently offered at Charing Cross can be transferred to “community settings” such as local GP services, but health campaigners and clinicians say the transformation could endanger patients.

The documents include a map detailing how 13% of the current hospital site will remain, with the rest of its prime real estate in central London sold off. The plan is to introduce the changes after 2021. NHS chiefs have stated as recently as March that “there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross hospital”, and in March 2015 the then prime minister, David Cameron, said it was “scaremongering” to suggest that the Charing Cross A&E departmentwas earmarked for closure. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, echoed the claims. However, in the internal NHS documents the apparent downgrading of Charing Cross is outlined in great detail. The plan is to axe 10 major services at Charing Cross – 24/7 A&E, emergency surgery, intensive care and a range of complex emergency and non-emergency medical and surgical treatments. The remaining services would be a series of outpatient and GP clinics, X-ray and CT scans, a pharmacy and an urgent care centre for “minor injuries and illnesses”. Around 300 acute beds will be lost.

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Yanis.

Five Talks on Power, Populism, Politics & Europe (Varoufakis)

1 Yanis Varoufakis on power, populism and the future of the EU
2 Can Europe Make It? – Yanis Varoufakis speaks to openDemocracy
3 Yanis Varoufakis blows the lid on Europe’s hidden agenda
4 Yanis Varoufakis and his plan to take on Europe – again
5 Greece, Austerity, Brexit and Europe’s other darlings at GFMF2016

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In the EU, there’s immunity for officials committing crimes.

Spain Says Eurogroup May Block Greek Loan If Officials Not Granted Immunity (R.)

The Eurogroup of finance ministers may block an 8.5-billion-euro (7.44 billion pounds) loan to Greece if it does not grant immunity to privatisation agency officials from Spain, Italy and Slovakia, Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on Friday. In 2015, a Greek prosecutor charged three officials at the country’s privatisation agency with embezzlement for withholding interest payments and breach of duty in relation to a sale and lease-back deal of 28 state-owned buildings. The case is still pending. “If there’s not a definitive solution for the situation of these three experts, the Eurogroup will block the payment,” de Guindos said in Luxemburg.

Greece would do “whatever necessary” to immediately settle the legal case, a Greek government official said. European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said he was confident the problem would be resolved and that he would continue to discuss the issue with Spain during his visit to Madrid next week. “The problem has to be solved. We should not over dramatise it. The disbursement will happen and at the same time will find a solution to this problem,” Moscovici said on his arrival at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxemburg on Friday.

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Next up: a chip that makes your kids smarter. Try and resist that.

Swedish Commuters Can Use Hand Implant Chip Instead Of Train Tickets (Ind.)

Gone are the days when an e-ticket was seen as cutting edge – one Swedish rail company is offering passengers the option of using a biometric chip implanted into their hand in lieu of a paper train ticket. SJ is the first travel company in the world to let people use this innovative method that seems straight out of a sci-fi film. The tiny chip has the same technology as Oyster cards and contactless bank cards – NFC (Near Field Communication) – to enable conductors to scan passengers’ hands. Before you pack your bags for Sweden, the scheme is only applicable to those who already have the biometric implant – SJ is not offering to chip people. Around 2,000 Swedes have had the surgical implant to date, most of them employed in the tech industry.

State-owned operator SJ has said it expects about 200 people to take up the microchip method, but users must be signed up as a loyalty programme member to access the service. Customers buy tickets in the normal way by logging onto the website or mobile app, and their membership number, which is the reference code for the ticket, is linked to their chip. There are still kinks to be ironed out with the scheme, which began in earnest last week. Some passengers’ LinkedIn profiles were appearing instead of their train tickets when conductors scanned their biometric chip, while a number of train crew haven’t got the new SJ app which facilitates the scanning of biometric chips yet. “It’s just a matter of days before everyone has it,” says a spokesperson for SJ.

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Mar 272017
 


Ray K. Metzker Chicago 1958

 

Sharpest Credit Plunge Since 2008 Could Spell Disaster For US Economy (AEP)
Paper Wealth In US Stocks Reaches $32 Trillion (Fed)
Rich Chinese Race to Apply for a US Golden Visa (BBG)
Russia’s Banking System Has SWIFT Alternative Ready (RT)
Erdogan Setting Back Integration In Germany By Years: Schaeuble (R.)
France’s Le Pen Says The EU ‘Will Die’, Globalists To Be Defeated (R.)
Populism Is The Result Of Global Economic Failure (G.)
The West is Becoming Irrelevant (Vltchek)
The US Will Lose Control Of The Global Internet (Morozov)
Circular Runways Proposed For Airport Efficiency (Curbed)
Trump Presidency “Opens Door” To Planet-Hacking Geoengineer Experiments (G.)
UN’s Famine Appeal Is Billions Shy of Goal (NYT)
‘We Reached Our Limits’: Greece To Stop Taking Back Refugees (RT)
Greek-US Ties Set To Strengthen Significantly (K.)
Greece Considers Capital Control Tightening (K.)

 

 

The Telegraph changed the title of this Ambrose article overnight to “Fading Trump Rally Threatened By Rare Contraction Of US Credit”.

Sharpest Credit Plunge Since 2008 Could Spell Disaster For US Economy (AEP)

Credit strategists are increasingly disturbed by a sudden and rare contraction of US bank lending, fearing a synchronised slowdown in the US and China this year that could catch euphoric markets badly off guard. One key measure of US corporate borrowing is falling at the fastest rate since the onset of the Lehman Brothers crisis. Money supply growth in the US has also slowed markedly. These monetary and credit signals tend to be leading indicators for the real economy. Data from the US Federal Reserve shows that the $2 trillion market for commercial and industrial loans peaked in December. The sector has weakened abruptly as lenders tighten credit, especially for non-residential property. Over the last three months it has dropped at a rate of 5.4pc on annual basis, a pace of decline not seen since December 2008.

The deterioration in the broader $9 trillion market for loans and leases has been less dramatic but it too is shrinking, falling at a 1.6pc rate on a three-month basis. “Corporate lending has ground to a halt and I am staggered that the Fed is raising rates. They have made a very big mistake,” said Patrick Perret-Green from AD Macro. Credit experts at several big US banks have issued warnings over recent days, albeit sotto voce. “We’ve been surprised how little attention the slowdown in US bank lending has garnered,” said Matt King, global credit strategist at Citigroup.

While they are not yet alarmed, their concerns are worth heeding. Credit has tended to pick up signs of trouble several weeks before equity markets in recent episodes of financial stress. “Without another big dose of momentum, the cracks in the global reflationary consensus are liable to grow bigger. All around, existing trends are being called into question,” he said. Net corporate bond issuance has also stalled, indicating that borrowing by US firms as a whole is in decline. “So much for a Trump-driven expansion. Beneath the surface, we think a seismic battle is taking place,” he said.

Elga Bartsch and Chetan Ahya from Morgan Stanley said the credit squeeze is a warning sign and needs watching closely. “On our estimates, the credit impulse turned negative at the end of 2016. We have not seen such a sharp deceleration in bank lending to US corporates since the Great Financial Crisis,” they said. “Historically, credit downturns have led recessions. The plunge could reignite concerns that a highly leveraged US corporate sector may react strongly to even limited interest rates increases,” they said.

[..] Money and credit are certainly not flashing warnings of an imminent crisis, but they are hard to square with the exuberant view of investors that the world is on the cusp of an accelerating economic boom. That boom may already have peaked. The massive stimulus injected by the global authorities last year to counter the Chinese currency scare and any fall-out from Brexit is by now fading, and it is too early to tell whether business will pick up the baton. Any soft patch could all too easily combine with a slowdown in China as the country taps the brakes after an extreme episode of fiscal prime-pumping in 2016. Regulators are clamping down on property speculation and trying to rein in forms of pyramid lending, causing a sharp rise in Shibor lending rates. The worry in China is a maturity mismatch. Huge sums have been borrowed on the short-term markets. These debts have to be rolled over constantly to cover long-term liabilities. It was this sort of mismatch that brought down Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers.

[..] Weak US indicators are clearly at odds with the Trump rally on Wall Street, which has pushed equity valuations to nose-bleed levels. Kevin Gaynor from Nomura says his model of asset pricing suggests markets are in effect assuming global growth of 5pc and earnings increases of 30pc a year. These are heroic. “There is a time decay on this new temporary equilibrium,” he notes acidly. What is so disturbing is that each extra dollar of new debt now generates just $0.17 of extra GDP in the US, down from around $0.75 in the 1960s. Much of the corporate debt built up in this cycle has been to buy back stock or pay dividends.

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“Half could be erased and still exceed historical valuation norms.” Fall 50% and still be overvalued. But not a bubble?!

Paper Wealth In US Stocks Reaches $32 Trillion (Fed)

John Hussman comments: “Paper wealth in U.S. stocks reaches $32 trillion. Half could be erased and still exceed historical valuation norms.”

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They can take out $50,000 per year but need ten times that for a golden visa.

Rich Chinese Race to Apply for a US Golden Visa (BBG)

As members of Congress in Washington debate raising the minimum required to obtain a U.S. immigrant investor visa from $500,000 to $1.35 million, concern about the hike has set off a scramble among wealthy would-be participants in China. “Some clients are demanding that we make sure their applications are submitted before April 28,” the date the program expires unless extended or amended by Congress, said Judy Gao, director of the U.S. program at Can-Reach (Pacific), a Beijing-based agency that facilitates so-called EB-5 Immigrant Investor visas. “We’re working overtime to do that.” China’s wealthy, using not-always-legal means to skirt capital controls to get their money out and at the same time gain residency in the U.S., are continuing to dwarf all others as the largest participants in the EB-5 program, despite heightened measures by the Chinese government.

[..] Because Chinese individuals are limited to exchanging $50,000 worth of yuan a year, a 10th of what the EB-5 program requires, some agents are advising clients who don’t already have assets offshore to use a means nicknamed “smurfing” to move their money. “Our suggestion to the client is to open three to four personal accounts in the U.S. or line up three to four friends’ accounts, so they can split the money and wire it to different personal accounts without being put on a blacklist by the Chinese authorities,” said a Shanghai-based real estate agent who gave the surname Dong. “It may require a trip to the States to do so to facilitate the process.” [..] While the government in Beijing spent much of 2016 working to stop its citizens sending money abroad in order to stabilize its declining currency and foreign reserves, Chinese investors’ use of EB-5 continued anyway, totaling $3.8 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

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The sanctions and hysteria allow and force Russia to break the chains and be creative.

Russia’s Banking System Has SWIFT Alternative Ready (RT)

If the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) is shut down in Russia, the country’s banking system will not crash, according to Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina. Russia has a substitute. “There were threats that we can be disconnected from SWIFT. We have finished working on our own payment system, and if something happens, all operations in SWIFT format will work inside the country. We have created an alternative,” Nabiullina said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. She also added that 90% of ATMs in Russia are ready to accept the Mir payment system, a domestic version of Visa and MasterCard. Izvestia daily reported that as of January 2016, 330 Russian banks had been connected to the SWIFT alternative, the system for transfer of financial messages (SPFS).

In 2014 and 2015, when the crisis in relations between Russia and the West were at their peak over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, some Western politicians urged disconnecting Russia from SWIFT. In November 2015, Nabiullina said the SPFS was close to being completed. The central bank’s website says the system was established “as an alternative channel for interbank cooperation with the aim of ensuring the guaranteed and uninterrupted provision of services for the transmission of electronic messages on financial transactions.” At present, the system has some drawbacks. It doesn’t work from 9pm to 5am Moscow time and costs up to five cents per wire transfer, which is regarded expensive.

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Schäuble is not all stupidity.

Erdogan Setting Back Integration In Germany By Years: Schaeuble (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who accuses Chancellor Angela Merkel of using “Nazi methods” against Turks in Germany, is setting back their integration by years, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said. Berlin is growing increasingly frustrated about Erdogan repeatedly accusing it of applying “Nazi methods” by banning rallies aimed at drumming up support among Turks in Germany for a referendum that would strengthen the power of his presidency. Turks workers began moving to Germany in the 1960s and the country now has about 3 million people of Turkish background. Some are fully integrated while others live in ethnic communities with less contact with the majority population.

“Erdogan’s rhetoric makes me stunned,” Schaeuble, a veteran member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic (CDU) party, told the Welt am Sonntag weekly newspaper. “In a short time, it wilfully destroys the integration that has grown over years in Germany. The repair of the damage will take years,” he said. Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul on Sunday: “You call the president of the Turkish Republic a dictator. When we call them fascists, they get annoyed. When we call them Nazis, they get annoyed.” “You are fascists, you are. Be annoyed as much as you want with Nazi practices. If you draw swastikas on the walls of our mosques and don’t hold anyone accountable, you cannot take off this stain,” Erdogan said.

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According to Le Monde, one third of French (43% under 35) doesn’t know if they’re going to vote at all. And half still don’t know who to vote for. Beware the polls.

France’s Le Pen Says The EU ‘Will Die’, Globalists To Be Defeated (R.)

The European Union will disappear, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen told a rally on Sunday, aiming to re-enthuse core supporters in the final four weeks before voting gets underway. Buoyed by the unexpected election of Donald Trump in the United States and by Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the leader of the anti-EU and anti-immigrant National Front (FN) party, told the rally in Lille that the French election would be the next step in what she called a global rebellion of the people. “The European Union will die because the people do not want it anymore,” Le Pen said to loud cheers and applause. “The time has come to defeat globalists,” she said, adding: “My message is one of emancipation, of liberation … a call for all the patriots to gather behind our flag.”

Opinion polls forecast that Le Pen will do well in the April 23 first round of the presidential election only to lose the May 7 run-off to centrist Emmanuel Macron. Its anti-EU, anti-euro stance is one of the FN’s standard-bearing policies, both a mark of its anti-establishment stance that pleases grass-roots supporters and attracts voters angry with globalization, and a likely obstacle to its quest for power in a country where a majority oppose a return to the franc. Le Pen has over the past few months tried to accommodate this opposition to leaving the euro by continuing to criticize the unpopular EU while telling voters she would not abruptly pull France out of the bloc or the euro but instead hold a referendum after six months of renegotiating the terms of France’s EU membership.

On Sunday she told the rally she would seek to replace the EU by “another Europe,” which she called “the Europe of the people,” based on a loose cooperative of nations. “It must be done in a rational, well-prepared way,” she told Le Parisien in an interview published earlier on Sunday. “I don’t want chaos. Within the negotiation calendar I want to carry out … the euro would be the last step because I want to wait for the outcome of elections in Germany in the fall before renegotiating it.”

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But is the economic failure caused only by wrong policies?

Populism Is The Result Of Global Economic Failure (G.)

The rise of populism has rattled the global political establishment. Brexit came as a shock, as did the victory of Donald Trump. Much head-scratching has resulted as leaders seek to work out why large chunks of their electorates are so cross. The answer seems pretty simple. Populism is the result of economic failure. The 10 years since the financial crisis have shown that the system of economic governance which has held sway for the past four decades is broken. Some call this approach neoliberalism. Perhaps a better description would be unpopulism. Unpopulism meant tilting the balance of power in the workplace in favour of management and treating people like wage slaves. Unpopulism was rigged to ensure that the fruits of growth went to the few not to the many.

Unpopulism decreed that those responsible for the global financial crisis got away with it while those who were innocent bore the brunt of austerity. Anybody seeking to understand why Trump won the US presidential election should take a look at what has been happening to the division of the economic spoils. The share of national income that went to the bottom 90% of the population held steady at around 66% from 1950 to 1980. It then began a steep decline, falling to just over 50% when the financial crisis broke in 2007. Similarly, it is no longer the case that everybody benefits when the US economy is doing well. During the business cycle upswing between 1961 and 1969, the bottom 90% of Americans took 67% of the income gains. During the Reagan expansion two decades later they took 20%.

During the Greenspan housing bubble of 2001 to 2007, they got just two cents in every extra dollar of national income generated while the richest 10% took the rest. The US economist Thomas Palley* says that up until the late 1970s countries operated a virtuous circle growth model in which wages were the engine of demand growth. “Productivity growth drove wage growth which fueled demand growth. That promoted full employment, which provided the incentive to invest, which drove further productivity growth,” he says.

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China doesn’t want war. Neither does Russia.

The West is Becoming Irrelevant (Vltchek)

China, one of the oldest and greatest civilizations on Earth, went through the terrible period of ‘humiliation’. Divided, occupied and plundered by the West, it has never forgotten nor forgiven. Now the Chinese Communist state and its mixed economy are helping countries in virtually all parts of the world, from Oceania and Latin America, to the Middle East and especially Africa, to survive and to finally stand on their own feet. Despite all the vitriolic propaganda regurgitated by the West (those people in Europe or North America who know close to zero about Africa or China,habitually passing ‘confident’ and highly cynical ‘judgments’ about China’s involvement in the poor world; judgments based exclusively on the lies and fabrications produced by the Western media), China has been gaining great respect and trust in virtually all corners of the globe.

The Chinese people and their government are now standing firmly against Western imperialism. They will not allow any recurrence of the disgraceful and dreary past. The West is provoking this mighty and optimistic nation, pushing it into a terrible confrontation. China doesn’t want any military conflict. It is the most peaceful, the most non-confrontational large nation on Earth. But it is becoming clear that if pushed against the wall, this time it will not compromise: it will fight. In the last years I have spoken to many Chinese people, as I traveled to all corners of the country, and I’m convinced that by now the nation is ready to meet strength with strength. Such determination gives hope to many other countries on our Planet. The message is clear: the West cannot do whatever it wants, anymore. If it tries, it will be stopped. By reason or by force!

Russia is ready again, too. It is standing next to China, enormous and indignant. Go to Novosibirsk or Tomsk, to Khabarovsk, Vladivostok or Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka. Talk to Russian people and you will soon understand: almost nobody there believes or respects the West, anymore. Throughout history, Russia was attacked and ransacked from the West. Millions, tens of millions of its people were murdered, literally exterminated. And now, the nation is facing what some consider to be yet another imminent attack. Like the Chinese people, Russians are unwilling to compromise, anymore. The old Russian forecast is once again alive, that very one professed by Alexander Nevsky: Go tell all in foreign lands that Russia lives! Those who come to us in peace will be welcome as a guest. But those who come to us sword in hand will die by the sword! On that Russia stands and forever will we stand!

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By dismantling domestic privacy laws, ….

The US Will Lose Control Of The Global Internet (Morozov)

The numerous paradoxes that will haunt Donald Trump in the coming months were on full display during the recent Senate vote to undo privacy legislation that was passed in the last few years of the Obama administration. As part of a broader effort to treat internet service providers and telecoms operators as utility companies, Obama imposed restrictions on what these companies could do with all the user data from browsers and apps. Emboldened by Trump, the Republicans have just allowed these businesses to collect, sell and manipulate such data without user permission. From the short-sighted domestic perspective, it seems like a boon to the likes of Verizon and AT&T, especially as they increasingly find themselves confronting their data-rich counterparts in Silicon Valley.

Telecoms companies have been complaining (not entirely without reason) that the Obama administration favoured the interests of Google and Facebook which, invoking the lofty rhetoric of “keeping the internet free” only to defend their own business agenda, have traditionally faced somewhat lighter regulation. The Democrats, always happy to attack Trump, have jumped on the issue, warning that the Senate vote would foster ubiquitous and extensive surveillance by the telecoms industry – and Silicon Valley, of course, would never commit such sins. Under the new rules, complained Bill Nelson, a senator from Florida, “your broadband provider may know more about your health – and your reaction to illness – than you are willing to share with your doctor”.

Never mind that Google and Facebook already know all this – and much more – and generate little outrage from the Democrats. The Democrats, of course, only have themselves to blame for such ineptitude. From the early 1980s onwards, centre-left movements on both sides of the Atlantic no longer discussed technology policy in terms of justice, fairness or inequality. Instead, they preferred to emulate their neoliberal opponents and frame choices – about technology policy, but also about many other domains – in terms of just one goal that rules supreme above all other: innovation. The problem with building a political programme on such flimsy economistic foundations is that it immediately opens the door to competing narratives of just what kind of policy produces more innovation.

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I watch the increase in global aviation with a very heavy heart. But this is smart.

Circular Runways Proposed For Airport Efficiency (Curbed)

While airport terminal architecture has a solid history of style and innovation, rarely is a proposal put forth to utterly redesign the runway. But that’s precisely the aim of Henk Hesselink, a Dutch scientist working with the Netherlands Aerospace Centre. Dubbed the “endless runway”, Hesselink’s brainchild is a 360-degree landing strip measuring more than two miles in diameter. Since airplanes would be able to approach and take off from any direction around the proposed circle, they wouldn’t have to fight against crosswinds.

And three planes would be able to take off or land at the same time. Hesselink’s team uses flight simulators and computerized calculations to test the unconventional design, and have determined that round airports would be more efficient than existing layouts. With a central terminal, the airport would only use about a third of the land of the typical airport with the same airplane capacity. And there’s an added benefit to those living near airports: Flight paths could be more distributed, and thereby making plane noise more tolerable. So far, there have been no plans to actually build a circular runway, but Hesselink’s research continues on.

 

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The Better Than God crowd is not done with you just yet.

Trump Presidency “Opens Door” To Planet-Hacking Geoengineer Experiments (G.)

Harvard engineers who launched the world’s biggest solar geoengineering research program may get a dangerous boost from Donald Trump, environmental organizations are warning. Under the Trump administration, enthusiasm appears to be growing for the controversial technology of solar geo-engineering, which aims to spray sulphate particles into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s radiation back to space and decrease the temperature of Earth. Sometime in 2018, Harvard engineers David Keith and Frank Keutsch hope to test spraying from a high-altitude balloon over Arizona, in order to assess the risks and benefits of deployment on a larger scale. Keith cancelled a similar planned experiment in New Mexico in 2012, but announced he was ready for field testing at a geoengineering forum in Washington on Friday.

“The context for discussing solar geoengineering research has changed substantially since we planned and funded this forum nearly one year ago,” a forum briefing paper noted. While geoengineering received little favour under Obama, high-level officials within the Trump administration have been long-time advocates for planetary-scale manipulation of Earth systems. David Schnare, an architect of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition, has lobbied the US government and testified to Senate in favour of federal support for geoengineering. He has called for a multi-phase plan to fund research and conduct real-world testing within 18 months, deploy massive stratospheric spraying three years after, and continue spraying for a century, a duration geoengineers believe would be necessary to dial back the planet’s temperature.

“Clearly parts of the Trump administration are very willing to open the door to reckless schemes like David Keith’s, and may well have quietly given the nod to open-air experiments,” said Silvia Riberio, with technology watchdog ETC Group. “Worryingly, geoengineering may emerge as this administration’s preferred approach to global warming. In their view, building a big beautiful wall of sulphate in the sky could be a perfect excuse to allow uncontrolled fossil fuel extraction. We need to be focussing on radical emissions cuts, not dangerous and unjust technofixes.” [.] “Geoengineering holds forth the promise of addressing global warming concerns for just a few billion dollars a year,” he said in 2008, before helping launch a geoengineering unit while he ran the right-wing think tank American Economic Enterprise. “We would have an option to address global warming by rewarding scientific innovation. Bring on American ingenuity. Stop the green pig.”

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We need to do Bob Geldof all over again? We are a disgrace.

UN’s Famine Appeal Is Billions Shy of Goal (NYT)

A month ago, the secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, warned that 20 million people would fall into famine if his aid agencies could not corral $4.4 billion by the end of March. It is almost the end of March, and so far, the United Nations has received less than a tenth of the money – $423 million, according to its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The funding appeal, and the paltry response, comes as the Trump administration is poised to make sharp cuts to its foreign aid budget, including for the United Nations. Historically, the United States has been the agency’s largest single donor for humanitarian aid. For all four countries at risk — Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen – the United States has given $277 million so far this year, not all of it for famine relief.

The conditions for famine are specific and not easy to meet, which is why the last time a famine was declared was in Somalia in July 2011, after 260,000 had died of hunger and related complications. The three criteria for declaring a famine are when one in five households in a certain area face extreme food shortages; more than 30% of the population is acutely malnourished; and at least two people for every 10,000 die each day. A famine has already been declared in a swath of South Sudan. A similar risk looms over Somalia, still reeling from years of conflict, and Yemen, where Houthi insurgents are battling a Saudi-led coalition supported by the United States and Britain. In northern Nigeria, a famine could already be underway, according to an early warning system funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

But the security situation is so bad there that aid workers have been unable to assess levels of hunger. On Thursday, Somalia’s newly elected president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, told the Security Council by videolink from Mogadishu that half the population faces acute food shortages. The United Nations says it needs the $4.4 billion to deliver food, clean water and basic medicine like oral rehydration salts to avert diarrhea deaths among children. Only 8% of the money the agency needs for Yemen has been funded; for Nigeria, 9%; for South Sudan, 18%; and for Somalia, 32%. Of the 20 million who are at risk of famine are 1.4 million children, who are most vulnerable. To put the $4.4 billion appeal in perspective, Britain has made slightly less, $4.1 billion, from weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in the two years since the war began in Yemen.

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The most insane idea to come out of the EU yet. And there’s a lot of competition for that.

‘We Reached Our Limits’: Greece To Stop Taking Back Refugees (RT)

Greece will cease taking back refugees under the controversial Dublin Regulation, as the country’s limited capacities to host people are already on the brink of collapse, the Greek migration minister announced in an interview. As the European Commission pressures Athens to re-implement the Dublin Regulation – stipulating that refugees can be returned to the first EU state they arrived in – the Greek migration minister told Spiegel his country is not in a position to do so. The agreement was put on hold for Greece back in 2011 over problems in the country’s asylum system. “Greece is already shouldering a heavy burden,” Ioannis Mouzalas, the migration minister, said. “We accommodate 60,000 refugees… and it would be a mistake to make Greece’s burden heavier by the revival of the Dublin agreement,” he said, also adding that Germany, the primary destination for most refugees, “wants countries where refugees arrive first to bear a large portion of the burden.”

Under the Dublin Regulation, the European state where the asylum-seeker first arrives in the EU is responsible for examining an asylum claim. Refugees are fingerprinted in their first country of arrival to ensure irrefutable evidence of their entry. However, rights groups warn that imminent transfers from other EU countries back to Greece in line with the regulations are likely to cause more refugees than ever to go underground in western European countries, as many are desperate to stay there because of family links or successful attempts to start a new life. The scheme also adds even greater pressure to existing refugee facilities in Greece and beyond. Asked if Athens is ruling out implementation of the Dublin Regulation, Mouzalas answered in the affirmative, adding, “I want the Germans to understand that this is not because of political or ideological reasons, or failure to appreciate Germany’s assistance.” “Greece simply has no capacities to cope with additional arrival of refugees,” he said.

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Erdogan will not like this. And the US must realize that the EU squeezing Greece bone dry does not help such proposals. For good cooperation, you need strong and stable partners.

Greek-US Ties Set To Strengthen Significantly (K.)

Greece is examining US proposals for military cooperation which would widen ties to an extent not seen in the last three decades, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, Washington’s desire for stronger ties stems from its view that Greece has a significant geopolitical role to play as a pillar of stability in a volatile region. More specifically, Washington has proposed the participation of a Greek military vessel in a carrier battle group (CVBG), which consists of an aircraft carrier and a large number of escort vessels. According to the US proposals, the participation of a Greek vessel in the CVBG will be accompanied by the renewal of the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) between the two countries.

The MDCA is of utmost significance as it is through this pact that American military forces are permitted to use the Souda naval base on Crete. During a meeting last week US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos discussed the option of renewing the agreement for five to 10 years instead of each year, as has been the case to date. The Americans reportedly want to renew the deal every five years, as they want to expand the scope of their activities at the base. Sources have told Kathimerini that the only possible obstacle to the deal’s renewal on a five-year basis is that it must receive approval in Parliament, and the leftist-led coalition fears the possibility of dissent emanating from lawmakers of ruling SYRIZA.

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And why not: recovery is not possible anyway.

Greece Considers Capital Control Tightening (K.)

The capital controls were originally supposed to be a one-off measure that would be removed in a matter of months, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stating in September 2015 that they would be lifted in early 2017. Today, 21 months since they were imposed, the capital controls are still here, and with the drop in bank deposits, it appears more likely they will be tightened than relaxed or lifted. The truth is that a full Greek recovery will not be possible as long as the capital controls remain, but the economy remains mired in uncertainty and the banks have not seen their CCC+ credit rating improve.

Bank officials note it will be a long time before the restrictions are removed, and this will require the consolidation of a basic sense of confidence among citizens that the worst is over. This is particularly difficult today given that few bailout reviews have been completed according to schedule in the last seven years – and the ongoing second review of the third bailout program was supposed to have finished 13 months ago, in February 2016. Banks therefore fear that if deposit outflow continues as it has done in the first quarter of the year, further controls are quite likely.

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Mar 262017
 
 March 26, 2017  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Marion Post Wolcott “Center of town. Woodstock, Vermont. Snowy night” 1940

 

Will Trump’s Victory Break Up the Democratic Party? (Michael Hudson)
Condo Flippers in Miami-Dade Face The End Of A Bubble (WS)
What Global Central Bank Normalization Would Look Like (ZH)
Populism: The Phenomenon (Dalio et al)
The Peak Of – Dirty – Cash? (ZH)
Explaining Why White Middle Aged America Is Killing Itself (Worstall)
Brexit Vote Is ‘Closed Nationalism’ That Belongs In Past, Says Italian PM (G.)
Drink and Women – It’s A Culture Thang (DA)
Portugal’s Cabral Says Dijsselbloem Resignation Is Best for EU (BBG)
Trump Marks Greek Independence Day With Ominous Message (AP)
Syrian Asylum Seekers In UK Forced Into Poverty, Fear Deportation (G.)
Ogallala: What Happens to the US Midwest When the Water’s Gone? (NatGeo)

 

 

Long analysis by Hudson. Trump as Obama’s legacy. And ousting Bernie has left America without a Democratic party, like some self-fulfilling prophecy. (Graph is from another source, but a very good fit)

Will Trump’s Victory Break Up the Democratic Party? (Michael Hudson)

Trump is sufficiently intuitive to proclaim the euro a disaster, and he recommends that Greece leave it. He supports the rising nationalist parties in Britain, France, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands, all of which urge withdrawal from the eurozone – and reconciliation with Russia instead of sanctions. In place of the ill-fated TPP and TTIP, Trump advocates country-by-country trade deals favoring the United States. Toward this end, his designated ambassador to the European Union, Ted Malloch, urges the EU’s breakup. The EU is refusing to accept him as ambassador. At the time this volume is going to press, there is no way of knowing how successful these international reversals will be. What is more clear is what Trump’s political impact will have at home. His victory – or more accurately, Hillary’s resounding loss and the way she lost – has encouraged enormous pressure for a realignment of both parties.

Regardless of what President Trump may achieve vis-à-vis Europe, his actions as celebrity chaos agent may break up U.S. politics across the political spectrum. The Democratic Party has lost its ability to pose as the party of labor and the middle class. Firmly controlled by Wall Street and California billionaires, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) strategy of identity politics encourages any identity except that of wage earners. The candidates backed by the Donor Class have been Blue Dogs pledged to promote Wall Street and neocons urging a New Cold War with Russia. They preferred to lose with Hillary than to win behind Bernie Sanders. So Trump’s electoral victory is their legacy as well as Obama’s. Instead of Trump’s victory dispelling that strategy, the Democrats are doubling down. It is as if identity politics is all they have.

Trying to ride on Barack Obama’s coattails didn’t work. Promising “hope and change,” he won by posing as a transformational president, leading the Democrats to control of the White House, Senate and Congress in 2008. Swept into office by a national reaction against the George Bush’s Oil War in Iraq and the junk-mortgage crisis that left the economy debt-ridden, they had free rein to pass whatever new laws they chose – even a Public Option in health care if they had wanted, or make Wall Street banks absorb the losses from their bad and often fraudulent loans. But it turned out that Obama’s role was to prevent the changes that voters hoped to see, and indeed that the economy needed to recover: financial reform, debt writedowns to bring junk mortgages in line with fair market prices, and throwing crooked bankers in jail.

Obama rescued the banks, not the economy, and turned over the Justice Department and regulatory agencies to his Wall Street campaign contributors. He did not even pull back from war in the Near East, but extended it to Libya and Syria, blundering into the Ukrainian coup as well. Having dashed the hopes of his followers, Obama then praised his chosen successor Hillary Clinton as his “Third Term.” Enjoying this kiss of death, Hillary promised to keep up Obama’s policies. The straw that pushed voters over the edge was when she asked voters, “Aren’t you better off today than you were eight years ago?” Who were they going to believe: their eyes, or Hillary? National income statistics showed that only the top 5% of the population were better off. All the growth in GDP during Obama’s tenure went to them – the Donor Class that had gained control of the Democratic Party leadership. Real incomes have fallen for the remaining 95%.

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Rates still no low enough?

Condo Flippers in Miami-Dade Face The End Of A Bubble (WS)

Miami-Dade’s spectacular condo flipping mania is in turmoil, with sales plunging, inventory-for-sale soaring, and new supply flooding the market. It’s not like Miami hasn’t been through this before. In February, existing home sales of all types fell 10% year-over-year, to 1,835 homes. These sales “do not include Miami’s multi-billion dollar new construction condo market,” the Miami Association of Realtors clarified in its report on March 23. And this new construction market that is not included has become distressed. Sales of single-family homes fell 10% in February, to 881 houses. The report blamed the shortage of properties “in popular price points.” Prices have been rising sharply, and at the price points where people could actually buy a house – below $250,000 – few sellers were playing ball.

Hence a stalling market. Sales of high-priced units rose, but they weren’t enough to pull out the totals. Condo sales fell 10% as well, to 954 units. This time, the report didn’t blame the lack of supply. Instead: “Existing condo sales are competing with a robust new construction market.” At the same time, inventory of existing condos for sale, not including new units, rose 10% to 15,289. At the current sales rate, supply soared 29% to 14 months. This chart by StatFunding shows the plunge in sales and the surge in condos listed for sale. I circled the last five Februaries on the sales line (red). From February 2014 to February 2017, condo sales have plunged 25%. Andrew Stearns, StatFunding’s founder and CEO, calls the resale inventory – the dark green line that has soared 90% since early 2013 – “scary”:

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When ‘normalization’ becomes the scariest idea around.

What Global Central Bank Normalization Would Look Like (ZH)

As a result of countless failures by central banks to normalize monetary policy over the past 7 years, the market – especially bonds and rates – has become openly cynical and outright skeptical regarding the possibility of a successful renormalization of policy by global central banks. After all, Japan has been trying to do that for over 30 years and has yet to succeed; the ECB hiked in 2011 resulting in near collapse of the Eurozone. Ironically, the recent Trumpflation trade – which few expected as a result of the “shocking” Trump election victory – has emerged as the most credible catalyst to prompt inflation not only in the US but around the globe, resulting in two Fed rate hikes in rapid succession.

Still, now that Obamacare repeal has failed, and questions are rising whether Trump will be able to implement his proposed Tax reform, the market has aggressively faded not only the broader Trumpflation trade, but also all of the recent dollar strength since the US election: in short, bets on a “bening” global reflation are rapidly fading, suggesting that the latest push to normalize monetary policy will once again result in failure. And yet, “what if it goes according to plan” this time? That’s the question posed by Barclays’ Christian Keller who notes that, at least for the time being, “The synchronized upswing in the global economy continues, supporting sentiment, which thus far has ignored elevated policy uncertainties. Headline inflation is increasing due to stable oil prices, while core inflation rates are mixed.”

And, assuming nothing changes, this sets the backdrop for monetary policy normalization, albeit at different speeds and modes. Taking this thought experiment one step further, what would happen if indeed this time central banks are successful to renormalize monetary policy without leading to a market crash. In that case, Barclays expects three Fed hikes in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The ECB is likely to taper further in 2018 and to start increasing depo rates in parallel (in 2018). Conveniently, Barclays has created the following chart which lays out what “coordinated global renormalization” would look like. It can serve as a benchmark to those keeping tabs on where various central banks are in the current attempt to restore monetary normalcy.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt, populist.

Populism: The Phenomenon (Dalio et al)

Populism is a political and social phenomenon that arises from the common man, typically not well- educated, being fed up with 1) wealth and opportunity gaps, 2) perceived cultural threats from those with different values in the country and from outsiders, 3) the “establishment elites” in positions of power, and 4) government not working effectively for them. These sentiments lead that constituency to put strong leaders in power. Populist leaders are typically confrontational rather than collaborative and exclusive rather than inclusive. As a result, conflicts typically occur between opposing factions (usually the economic and socially left versus the right), both within the country and between countries. These conflicts typically become progressively more forceful in self- reinforcing ways.

Within countries, conflicts often lead to disorder (e.g., strikes and protests) that prompt stronger reactions and the growing pressure to more forcefully regain order by suppressing the other side. Influencing and, in some cases, controlling the media typically becomes an important aspect of engaging in the conflicts. In some cases, these conflicts have led to civil wars. Such conflicts have led a number of democracies to become dictatorships to bring order to the disorder that results from these conflicts. Between countries, conflicts typically occur because populist leaders’ natures are more confrontational than cooperative and because conflicts with other countries help to unify support for the leadership within their countries.

In other words, populism is a rebellion of the common man against the elites and, to some extent, against the system. The rebellion and the conflict that comes with it occur in varying degrees. Sometimes the system bends with it and sometimes the system breaks. Whether it bends or breaks in response to this rebellion and conflict depends on how flexible and well established the system is. It also seems to depend on how reasonable and respectful of the system the populists who gain power are.

[..] In the period between the two great wars (i.e., the 1920s-30s), most major countries were swept away by populism, and it drove world history more than any other force. The previously mentioned sentiments by the common man put into power populist leaders in all major countries except the United States and the UK (though we’d consider Franklin D. Roosevelt to be a quasi-populist, for reasons described below). Disorder and conflict between the left and the right (e.g., strikes that shut down operations, policies meant to undermine the opposition and the press, etc.) prompted democracies in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan to choose dictatorships because collective/inclusive decision making was perceived as tolerance for behaviors that undermined order, so autocratic leaders were given dictatorial powers to gain control.

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The differences are huge. In lots of countries going cashless is not going to fly.

The Peak Of – Dirty – Cash? (ZH)

In several major economies it’s crunch time for the future of cash. Goldman Sachs notes that this is largely policy-driven: tangible steps are being taken to wean economies off cash (e.g. India, Europe); but adds that, at the same time consumer expectations around convenience are rising and enabling technologies have proliferated in the shape of contactless cards, mobile wallets, cryptocurrencies and more. So, they ask, does the decline in cash payments imply the demise of cash? Not necessarily. Technology has been an important catalyst for shrinking cash usage, but it is by no means a new phenomenon. As we wrote in 2012, the first technological step-change in the payments arena was the shift from cash to plastic money, i.e. credit and debit cards, which happened in the 1960s.

There are many parallels to be drawn between that period and the ongoing shift to digital money: an initial period of an increasing number of providers was followed by a consolidation stage that established a few players (Visa and MasterCard primarily) as the industry standards, eventually accelerating the adoption of plastic money. However, the availability of technology alone has not ensured the demise of cash. As the following chart shows, there are several advanced economies in which it is still the dominant mode of payment in volume terms (surprisingly quite a few European countries are in the bottom left quadrant).

Japan is a striking example of this; lots of tech and lots of cash. The US also stands out, and this could at least partly be attributed to the fact that regulators in the US have explicitly stated that the market should manage the shift to digital payments by itself. On the other hand, Scandinavian countries are on the cusp of becoming some of the first cashless societies, as a result of industry-co-ordinated steps and government initiatives. Swish, a payment app developed jointly by the major Swedish banks, has been adopted by nearly half the Swedish population, and is now used to make over nine million payments a month. About 900 of Sweden’s 1,600 bank branches no longer keep cash on hand or take cash deposits and many, especially in rural areas, no longer have ATMs.

In conjunction with that, cash transactions were just c.2% of the value and 20% of the volume of all payments made last year (down from 40% five years ago). Denmark’s move to a cashless society is a deliberate result of policy, with the government removing the obligation for some retailers to accept payment in cash. Without this legislative push, we believe cash is very difficult to disrupt and substitute. After all, it is a free and convenient mode of transacting. So far, the selling point of the most broadly used alternatives to cash (cheques and cards) is greater convenience. But that hasn’t been sufficient to meaningfully reduce the market share of cash in countries outside Scandinavia and Canada.

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Plenty of theories.

Explaining Why White Middle Aged America Is Killing Itself (Worstall)

Back 18 months the team of Anne Case and Angus Deaton (who has since gained the economics Nobel) released a famous paper pointing out that white rural Americans were killing themselves. So much so that expected lifespans were in fact falling such was the rise in middle aged morbidity. That original paper found that the effect was geographically concentrated. And as I remarked at the time that’s a bit of a problem for the causality of that rise in morbidity. For we’ve got rather a lot of migration out of those rural areas. And it’s the better educated doing the leaving. Thus it is possible (no, no one has studied this in enough detail as yet for anyone to know) that the effect found is entirely down to those migration effects.

We know very well that poorer and less educated people are more likely to die in middle age than richer and better educated. So, if all the better educated and thus, in our current society, higher income people move away we will observe a rise in the death rate among the remnant population. Case and Deaton have returned to this subject with a new paper. And they agree that there is some of this compositional effect in their earlier findings: “It is important not to focus on those with less than a high school degree, a group that has grown markedly smaller over time, and is likely to be increasingly negatively selected on health.” And: “.. we note that for age-groups younger than 45, there has been a decline in the fraction of WNHs with only a high school degree, so that selection may be playing some role for the younger groups.”

Excellent, so that intuition of mine about those compositional effects was indeed correct at least in part. However, this new paper then drives a steamroller through my explanation by showing that this rise in morbidity is country-wide among that class and age group, middle aged and less educated whites. Except, well, I’m not quite sure it does. Fortunately, as I said last time, this is such an important result coming from such a well known name that it will be fully investigated. It’s not just going to be either ignored nor accepted at face value either. People will keep picking away at this until the definitive answer is understood.

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Yeah, the idea behind the EU was good. The execution has been terrible though. Celebrate while holding your breath.

Brexit Vote Is ‘Closed Nationalism’ That Belongs In Past, Says Italian PM (G.)

Britain’s decision to leave the EU has been described by the Italian prime minister as “closed nationalism” that belongs in the past during a summit in Rome to celebrate the bloc’s 60th anniversary. In an address at the Orazi and Curiazi Hall of the Capitol in the Piazza del Campidoglio, where the EU was founded six decades ago, Paolo Gentiloni expressed his discomfort with the motives behind the referendum result. He blamed the EU for not responding adequately to the economic crisis of 2008, but said: “That triggered in part of public opinion, unfortunately the majority of public opinion in the United Kingdom, it triggered a crisis of rejection. It brought forward the closed nationalism that we thought has been closed down in the archives.”

The leaders of the 27 member states that will make up the EU after the UK’s departure assembled on Saturday to mark the day on which six nations signed what was to become the Treaty of Rome. They signed a Rome declaration, which offered ringing phrases about peace and unity, and the importance of maintaining the union. “We, the leaders of 27 member states and of EU institutions, take pride in the achievements of the European Union: the construction of European unity is a bold, far-sighted endeavour,” it says. “Sixty years ago, recovering from the tragedy of two world wars, we decided to bond together and rebuild our continent from its ashes.

“We have built a unique union with common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare. “European unity started as the dream of a few, it became the hope of the many. Then Europe became one again. Today, we are united and stronger: hundreds of millions of people across Europe benefit from living in an enlarged union that has overcome the old divides.” The document stipulates that the EU will make progress on a social dimension, building on its citizens’ rights, and that some member states will enhance their cooperation, particularly in the field of defence. The text concludes: “We have united for the better. Europe is our common future.”

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Grains vs grapes. Why Southern Europeans are not big drinkers.

Drink and Women – It’s A Culture Thang (DA)

When it comes to consumables, though, blowing it on drink is not such a southern European thing. On old professor of mine, an expert in the history of booze (among other substances) often observed that Europe is divided into north and south by distinct cultures of intoxication rooted in our prehistory – the grape in the south, the grain in the north, originally the function of geography and climate which in turn determined access to different sources of plant sugar.

It is the grain-fermenting northerners who have traditionally drunk themselves to oblivion, and it is them that felt the teetotal backlash of the protestant reformation, whereas the Mediterranean world used their fermented grape juice more sparingly and even made it “taboo” by ghoulishly turning it into blood in the Christian sacrament. It is said that you can still observe this divide by walking down the main street of any Mediterranean town hosting a Club 18-30 resort in high tourist season. Some might say, therefore, that Jeroen is merely projecting his own cultural inclinations. They don’t call it Dutch courage for nothing.

No, when it comes to consumables, another famous one-line aetiology of the Greek crisis comes to mind: “We ate it together” (”Mazí ta fágame”), is what PASOK grandee Theodoros Pangalos poffered in 2010 in response to the question “where did the money go?”. A succinct description of the workings of clientelism, delivered by a true master of the art. The saying survives and thrives, in large part because it had a grotesque, evocative appeal in light of the speaker’s own well-fed physique, an apparent embodiment of gluttony openly admitting to the sin and beckoning us to join him at the trough. In the popular imagination it conjured up images of the Greek political class, bloated with greed both physical and metaphorical, sharing a well-furnished table with their clients, the ordinary voters.

And although we, too, like to accuse our elites of eating Marie Antoinette’s cake and caviar (or perhaps the Greek pre-crisis equivalent, lobster spaghetti), the most appropriate fare loading down the table would be a cholesterol feast, most likely at Baïraktaris, the legendary Athens kebab house and political hangout. Not the starched white tablecloths of Washington’s Palm Grill, London’s private clubs, or the Michelin-starred chateaux of Gallic political intrigue, but oilcloth and stacks of paper napkins, the great equaliser, where we do indeed tuck in together in large, boisterous groups. You may recall Baïraktaris as the scene of another famous apophthegm, by another regular, former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, to the effect that “five pimps run this country”. And that is as far as I will go with the “women” element.

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Bartender, stop serving this man.

Portugal’s Cabral Says Dijsselbloem Resignation Is Best for EU (BBG)

Portugal’s Economy Minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, whose Dutch party lost elections this month, should quit as chairman of the European finance ministers’ group after his comments about the duties of nations getting aid were deemed offensive. “It would be the best thing for Europe and the best thing he could do,” Cabral said in a Bloomberg Television interview from the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. “He just lost an election and I think he should not be trying to blame others for his own failures.” Dijsselbloem is under pressure to resign as leader of the euro area’s finance ministers after a German newspaper cited him saying, “I can’t spend all my money on women and drink and then at the end ask for your help.”

That remark inflamed tensions between stronger economies in the north and weaker nations including Greece, Ireland and Portugal. The Eurogroup chief has said he regrets causing offense, but doesn’t intend to resign. “I don’t think we can let the Eurogroup be divided in that way, and for that reason that person should be out,” Cabral said. “One of the worst things that some European responsibles have done in the past is not being leaders and trying to surpass their own difficulties at home by accusing other countries. This is a way of destroying Europe.”

On the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union, Cabral said the bloc must focus on getting good results from negotiations in the next two to five years and then moving on to other issues. He said broader trade pacts should be the goal rather than making Brexit the only thing on the agenda for Europe and the U.K. The EU should focus on trade talks that give serious results and make a priority “of opening to the world, of negotiating with Asia, of being part of this intuitive of One Belt-One Road with China and establishing links with Asia,” he said in the interview.

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Large military parade yesterday in Athens. Fighter jets flying so low car alarms were going off all the time.

Trump Marks Greek Independence Day With Ominous Message (AP)

President Donald Trump has marked Greek Independence Day with a rather ominous message. At a White House reception, Trump said that in the years to come “we don’t know what will be required to defend our freedom.” But he said it will take “great courage, and we will show it.” Greek Independence Day commemorates the start of the 1821 war that led to Greece’s independence after nearly 400 years as part of the Ottoman Empire. It’s celebrated annually on March 25. Trump told the crowd, “I love the Greeks.” He also introduced Greek-American members of the White House staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus. Trump said Priebus is “really terrific and hard-working,” along with being “one of the top Greeks in the country.”

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“..they were often too scared to pick up their allowance for fear of being detained.”

Syrian Asylum Seekers In UK Forced Into Poverty, Fear Deportation (G.)

Hundreds of Syrian asylum seekers are struggling to survive in the UK, with some facing destitution and others forced into exploitative work because they are afraid of being detained and deported. The Observer has found Syrian asylum seekers working in warehouses, construction sites and garages for as little as £10 a day. Many had stopped signing in with the Home Office after being held in detention centres for months. Hundreds more are living in destitution, reliant on charities for food parcels and clothes. Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said: “A two-tier system, where Syrian nationals who arrive in the UK as asylum seekers are left vulnerable to exploitation, seems completely at odds with the spirit behind the government’s commitment to offer a safe home to 20,000 Syrian refugees under its resettlement programme.

The Observer interviewed 10 Syrians, all living in limbo because of the Dublin regulation, which means asylum seekers can be sent back to the first EU country they reach. The men were fighting removal to countries including Bulgaria, where Human Rights Watch found asylum seekers being shot at, beaten with weapons by uniformed officials and sent back to Turkey. Several of the men we spoke to were being threatened with removal to Hungary, despite the fact that the Home Office told the Observer that it is not currently returning asylum seekers there. At least 50 Syrians have been removed under the regulation since the start of 2015, prompting some to drop off the radar. Eight of the men interviewed said that they had stopped signing in with immigration authorities because they were afraid of detention and removal. Most had family in the UK and were supporting themselves by working illegally.

[..] The Red Cross said it had seen 1,341 destitute Syrian asylum seekers in Britain last year, up from 1,159 the year before. In South Yorkshire, a quarter of all destitute asylum seekers seen, of all nationalities, said they experienced hunger every day. In nearly half of all the cases seen by the Red Cross, asylum seekers were facing destitution, despite receiving the full £36 a week afforded to them under government rules. The Syrians the Observer interviewed said they were often too scared to pick up their allowance for fear of being detained.

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Return to the desert. It’ll take centuries to refill the aquifer.

Ogallala: What Happens to the US Midwest When the Water’s Gone? (NatGeo)

For the past 60 years, the Ogallala has been pumped out faster than raindrops and snowmelt can seep back into the ground to replenish it, thanks largely to irrigation machinery like the one sleeping nearby. As a result, in parts of western Kansas, the aquifer has declined by more than 60% during that period. In some parts, it is already exhausted. The decline is steady now, dry years or wet. In 2015 rain was exceptionally heavy—50 to 100% above normal. Even so, water levels in the wells dropped again. Wilson’s field report will put the best face on it, noting it was the slowest decline in five years.

Tagging along with Wilson, I am nearing the end of a 5,000-mile journey along the back roads of Ogallala territory, from South Dakota to Texas. My drive has taken me through some of the most productive farmland anywhere, home to at least a $20-billion-a-year industry that grows nearly one-fifth of the United States’ wheat, corn, and beef cattle. It’s also a place facing hard choices: Farmers can reduce consumption of water to further extend the life of the aquifer. Or they can continue on their path toward an end that is already in sight. Some don’t like to frame the dilemma quite so starkly. But if they don’t reduce pumping and the aquifer is drained, food markets will be profoundly affected around the world. In the coming decades this slow-speed crisis will unfold just as the world needs to increase food production by 60%, according to the United Nations, to feed more than nine billion people by mid-century.

The draining of North America’s largest aquifer is playing out in similar ways across the world, as large groundwater basins in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East decline rapidly. Many of these aquifers, including the southern Ogallala, have little ability to recharge. Once their water is gone, they could take thousands of years to refill. “The consequences will be huge,” says Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead researcher on a study using satellites to record changes in the world’s 37 largest aquifers. “We need to sustain groundwater to sustain food production, and we’re not doing it. Is draining the Ogallala the smartest thing for food production in the U.S. and globally? This is the question we need to answer.”

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