Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Fall of the Rebel Angels 1562
Lots of rants today, obviously, lots of -slightly- different angles.. Here’s Dr. D’s. He beat me to it…
Dr. D: Too annoyed to comment on the attack. But hey, really NOT attacking would be the change here.
There was a recent article, falsely saying:
“[H]is successful repression of the Chechen revolt…hardly endeared Putin to the Chechens.”
Oddly, this was from Russia Today. No, the Chechen war was a gruesome and unpopular war, however it was just part of the MacKinderesque plan of first lying, killing, then robbing Russia up front by lowering the price of Russia’s exports gold and oil (using Saudi oil and Canadian gold), starting an arms race, then collapsing the ruble and empowering every corrupt, criminal oligarch we could find using pallets of $100 bills. No joke, official record. Russia’s collapse and the Chechen war was no “accident”, no natural consequence of the socialism system or collapse, but a soup-to-nuts military operation. We had the nuts, and they were in the soup. The “accident” here was trusting anything the West says, ever. Haven’t they ever heard about the Indians?
Anyway, the 100-year-old plan of MacKinder, father of geopolitics, was believed by other tottering dinosaurs like Brzezinski in an age no longer run by the horse and cannon and that plan was to cut open the “long, soft underbelly” of Russia, which started with funding Islamic fighters (terrorists) out of Afghanistan (admitted and applauded), then move on through Islamic Chechens, Uzbeks, Kazaks, etc. Although completely crippled, Putin – who was put in power BY the west, BY Clinton – nevertheless stopped them in Chechnya, and was naturally savaged by the West for defending his nation in a proxy Civil War. For beyond hating men and families, they hate nations, for all these things restrain murderous self-serving psychopathy.
It’s a little more complicated than that as the USSR was broken up, there were cross-protectorate treaties, but that’s very typically 1,000-year Russian way. They don’t have ethnic and religious problems, or not in the western sense, because they do what America claims to do (with the States for example) and leave people alone, to be individual states, customs, religions, and people. They also don’t have a problem with Putin, as the Russian Way is really a sort of monarchism in the old sense, with a king and court and advisors, and always has been back through him, the Soviets, Stalin, Romanov, Peter, and back since they were Russian.
What’s my point? They don’t think about things the way we do. Not entirely. Chechnya was not “breaking away” and “fighting Russia” as reported, it was subverted by the West TO attack Russia. Chechens know this, but like all CIA ops, half of the target country were for and half were against. So when Putin wouldn’t stop sending the army in and leveled the country (like we’ve done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and everywhere else we’ve ever been) half the Chechen people were in support of Putin – or anyone! – to restore law, order, Chechen customs, and peace against the ISIS-like radical Wahhabists who were funded by Saudi Arabia as indeed he did, in the brutal respect-only-strength way they do things in that part of the world.
What? That’s crazy. Yes? So how do you explain that the present Chechen leader — a nation as sovereign as Canada — told Putin at the start of the Syrian war he would send any number of Chechen fighters to any place on the planet, and kill anybody Putin wanted, and consider it an personal honor. And these are deeply Islamic, hard-core militants. You see, despite also being hard-core Islamists and all around hard-bodies, they too hate Saudi Arabia, Wahhabists, and the intervention of the West that devastated their country. Killing millions of southern Russians for the goal of killing more northern Russians, as it were, every child growing up in rubble-filled war zone. What’s not to hate?
…But why would we report that? That we made a treaty with Russia, invaded on all sides anyway, then killed +2 million with Disaster Capitalism and +2 million more in the ‘Stans with the intent of wiping Russia off the map?
You see Reagan didn’t want to WIN the Cold War. He wanted to END it. The Cheney-Rumsfeld-Dr. Strangelove wing could never forgive that. His body wasn’t cold before they were back, this time behind Clinton, to finish the occupation of Russia as the last step to world domination. This is why the crazies back in the PNAC days were desperate to nuke the helpless Russia even then. They were right. If you didn’t nuke them, openly attack them, they would survive and escape, which would ultimamtely thwart the Neocon/Deep State plans to take over the world. And so they have.
But as we see today, they never give up. They’re still aching to start a world-wide nuclear exchange and openly agitating 24/7 on CNN to do so. No amount of bombing is enough, no number of bankrupted, shattered cities are too many just to get Russia out of the way, whose historic job, sadly but heroically, is to crush and utterly destroy the idiotic plans of meglomaniac warmongers from the West like Hitler and Napoleon, and dash them to pieces on the rocks of reality. Because the West never restrains its maniacs, it empowers them.
Being a country the size of Canada, Russia doesn’t escape this, but in the irrefutable monkey-hammering Russia gives, like say destroying 30 German divisions and 5 Million men with little more than hunting rifles and force of will – most of all the fighting in WWII – or killing 500,000 of Napoleon’s 650,000 and sending him back barefoot, well, even the western propaganda and passion for self-delusion can’t hide that…but it doesn’t help Russia any to get shot when finally facing down their violent, meth-addled neighbors. Russia knows this, and they will in fact bomb the West with iron resolve if we don’t cut it out, yet we show no signs of coming to our senses. We never have before. Russia is what stops them, going way back.
You’d think we’d learn something. Brzezinski did. Just before he died he said his life-long plan to destroy Russia, culminating in WWIII by cutting off the Ukraine with the New Charge of the Light Brigade was a complete failure. This is the 100 year plan of MacKinder, and these dinosaurs just won’t die. They won’t learn. They have no imagination, doing the same failed thing over and over, generation after generation. Maybe we’ll have to as well.
Maybe we — or rather the Deep State — won’t stop until Russia drops a Satan-II missile, a single one of which would destroy New England. Or a nuclear sub drone hits NY. Or their pop-up stealth pods level Charleston. Or they sink every U.S. surface ship on the planet in 5 minutes using the Sunburn missile. Easy as pushing a button. U.S. military power is leveled, the people set back 75 years, 120 Million dead. Is that what you want America? On behalf of whom? Dick Cheney, HSBC, the City of London?
But there is reason to hope, as core right figurehead Tucker Carlson recently gave a steely antiwar commentary to reach the dinosaur viewers of Fox News, Republicans-by-name. Although driven back to the darkest corners, what remains of the real Left is historically anti-war, although you’d never know it by the way 90% of the party acts. That’s seen in this far-left (or rather the People’s Left) far-left (or rather the People’s Left) Jimmy Dore video.
But if the Right and Left come together against collective bankruptcy and suicide, then they can only unite against the Deep State of Dr. Strangelove, and turn back to human priorities, against the God-knows-what priority of killing everyone on earth they can find, one by one, for any reason they can come up with. Doesn’t it sound like we should be against this? I am. Are you?
American media outlets can’t help themselves. They love war. They love war more than they hate Trump. They love war so much, they are cheering on the president they hate to militarily escalate in Syria. And if he doesn’t escalate in Syria, it proves he is controlled by the Kremlin, they tell us. If he wants to demonstrate that Russia isn’t calling the shots, he must bomb Syria. And he must bomb Syria to punish Assad for an alleged chemical attack that has yet to be properly investigated to determine whether it took place and who is responsible. The US media isn’t interested in evidence, they have been repeating that Assad was behind this alleged attack from the beginning and through repetition it has become a truth.
NBC recently published claims fed to them by anonymous US intelligence officials claiming to have proof that the attack did indeed take place and that Assad is responsible. It’s not as if US officials have ever lied about weapons of mass destruction in the past to justify war, so why should NBC be skeptical of this? Meanwhile, CNN—when it isn’t busy obsessing over Stormy Daniels—has hosted a parade of war hawks agitating for military escalation against Syria, against Iran, even against Russia. For example US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has never seen a country he doesn’t want to bomb, was allowed to go on air and call Assad a legitimate military target, saying Trump should take him out to “send a strong message other bad actors like North Korea and Iran.”
He went largely unchallenged by the CNN host whose only qualm was where the US could bomb in Syria to properly punish the Assad government. “It’s tough to decide what option to hit. What is a good option? You’d be forced to take out the air force but it doesn’t sound like taking out the air force will stop if it’s chemical attacks coming out of a helicopter,” she said to Graham. The editorial board at the Washington Post, a newspaper that is owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos who has a $600 million contract with the CIA that is never disclosed by the paper on stories related to the intelligence agency despite the clear conflict of interest, agitated for Trump to go further than just bombing Syria once.
The Post wants to see a longer term plan for regime change and US military domination over Syria. “The reality Mr. Trump has not yet faced is that as long as the dictator he called “Animal Assad” remains in place, Syria’s wars will continue, breeding Islamist terrorists and propelling refugees toward Europe,” said the Post. But the reality is the opposite: it is the US’ war of regime change in Syria that has prolonged the war, bred Islamist terrorists, and propelled refugees toward Europe, and the Post is calling for continuing that regime change operation.
The US military has revealed the three-nation stake on Syria targeting alleged chemicals assets is over for now – declaring “right now this is a one-time shot”. Defence Secretary James Mattis said the US, UK and France had acted together, having determined that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians a week ago. He said it would depend on Mr Assad if there were further strikes. “Right now this is a one-time shot,” he told a briefing on Friday night at the Pentagon. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, said the targets included a Syrian research facility, a chemical weapons storage facility and a command post. The first of these was located in Damascus, the first time that the US had struck close to the capital.
Asked whether the US and its allies was planning further attacks, Mr Mattis said: “That depends open Assad.” The Defence Secretary said he was “certain” the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons in an attack on civilians, something that Mr Assad and its Russian allies have denied. He said the US was still investigating what sort of chemical weapons had been used. “We are aware of one of the chemical agents” that was used, but further assessments were continuing. While it was reported that Russian forces were not warned in advance of the strike, he said that usual deescalation communications did go ahead, the process Moscow and Washington use to avoid unintentional attacks on each other’s forces, or accidental clashes or their aircraft.
The destructive impact of the far-too-rapid transition was an increase in the mortality rate, which medical researchers concluded meant that “an extra 2.5-3 million Russian adults died in middle age in the period 1992-2001 than would have been expected based on 1991 mortality. ” In strict economic terms, the transition was an abject failure – that is, if you think it was intended to improve Russian living standards. GDP virtually halved between 1990 and 1998, living standards plummeted, crime proliferated, and Russian society almost collapsed. Even today, output is barely above pre-transition levels.n
The failure of the rapid transition policies forced on Russia by the US is even more apparent when Russia’s transition performance is compared with China’s, where the communists remained firmly in control, and where the transition was deliberately undertaken at a measured pace. Russia’s per capita GDP today is only slightly above its level at the end of the Soviet period. China’s per capita GDP is ten times what it was in 1990. However, viewed from the very bottom of this brutal process in 1998, Russia has made remarkable progress: from 1998 until now, GDP has more than doubled, in both total and per capita terms. For almost all of this time, Russia’s president or prime minister has been Vladimir Putin.
Prior to his election in 2000, Putin rose to prominence in part because of his successful repression of the Chechen revolt. This hardly endeared Putin to the Chechens. But it gave him the aura of a strongman at the time most Russians believed their country desperately needed one, to eliminate the low-level mafia who tormented the public directly, to subdue the Oligarchs who exploited them, and to stand up to the West when his predecessor Yeltsin had effectively been a puppet. Putin can’t be solely credited with starting the economic turnaround, but his strongman approach to running Russia was welcomed, and is still welcomed, by the majority of his countrymen.
Russia is far from perfect under Putin, and Putin is far from perfect himself. But its economy and its national pride have been restored under his rule, and the Russian public cannot be faulted for feeling substantial antipathy towards the West, and the US in particular. Given that Russia has legitimate grievances about how the West treated it after it decided to join the capitalist camp, and the disastrous outcomes of all previous Western attempts at regime change, I’d rather our so-called leaders aimed for rapprochement with Russia, and yes, with Putin, instead of heightened animosity.
President Trump acted without congressional authorization in ordering a military attack against Syria tonight. This is a clear violation of the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8 which makes it clear that only Congress has the power to declare war. The President’s Article II authority as “Commander in Chief” does not give him the authority to act independent of Congress on matters of war. This is not a mere technicality. The doctrine of separation of powers is the only thing which protects the US from becoming a dictatorship. The President is subject to the law. The gas attack on Douma must be dealt with in an international court of law. If the US does not stand for the rule of law, how can we demand other countries to do so?
The attack on Syria will embolden ISIS. Our military power should not be used to help, directly or indirectly, ISIS and those elements whose philosophy is inimical to the United States of America. The President has violated the Constitution, usurping the power of Congress. This is not about whether or not the President hates Syria’s leaders. It is about whether or not he loves the US Constitution, which he took an oath to defend. The President chose to order a military attack almost a week after the gas attack on Douma. He had plenty of time to seek congressional approval, but he chose not to do so, even though he himself specifically said “The President must get congressional approval before attacking Syria – big mistake if he does not.” (Twitter, August 30th, 2013).
From Syria, to Iraq, Iran to Libya, our understandings of the long-wars in the Middle-East as moral, humanitarian interventions designed to democratise and civilise are the result of a carefully crafted propaganda campaign waged by the US and its allies. Each of these uprisings were launched by US proxies, designed to destabilize the regions, justifying regime change that suit the economic interests of its investors, banks and corporations, captured comprehensively in a new book by Canadian author and analyst, Stephen Gowans, Washington’s Long War on Syria. You might be surprised to know that both the Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi government, led by Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez Al Assad, (succeeded by Bashaar Al Assaad) and Sadaam Hussein respectively, were socialist governments.
Or Ba’ath Arab Socialist governments, to be precise. Ba’ath Arab Socialism can be summed up in their constitutions supporting the values of: ‘freedom of the Arab world, freedom from foreign powers and freedom of socialism’. Its doctrine was supported in Libya, as it was in Iraq and Syria. Of course, particularly in Hussein’s case, we cannot claim that these governments were without their problems. Ethnic cleansing is not to be overlooked, but condemned on the strongest grounds. But of course these were not the reasons the US and its allies decided to get into it. “For the last quarter of a century, the US and its allies have waged highly destructive campaigns of economic warfare against Syria and Iraq, the economic equivalent of nuclear war,” writes Gowans,
“and have done so because they are opposed to Ba’ath Arab Socialist efforts to bring politics and the economics of the Arab world under the control of those who live and work in the Arab world.” In the case of Iraq, it had combined its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy, leading to what is known as ‘The Golden Age’, where, according to a State Department Official: “Schools, universities, hospitals, factories, museums and theatres proliferated employment so universal, a labour shortage developed.” When the Ba’ath Arab Socialists were driven from power in Iraq, the US installed military dictator, Paul El Briener who set about a ‘de-Ba’athification’ of the government, expelling every member of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist party and imposed a constitution forbidding any secular Arab leader from ever holding office in Iraq again.
The Donald seems to be taking a Deep Breath on his Syria bombfest, but the Deep State has him by the orange hairs. So we doubt the delay will last much longer. That’s because our Art of the Deal genius is getting bamboozled yet again. They are telling him that wiping out up to a dozen Syrian airfields, military installations and a dog-eared factory or two that can be identified as chemical weapons sites will amount to some pretty serious Shock & Awe where it counts: That is, the mere witnessing of it will cause the Fat Boy of Pyongyang to brown his ample trousers, thereby getting his “mind right” for the upcoming summit. That’s exactly the kind of macho-bargainer stuff that the Donald thrives on, and is further proof that the Deep State has figured out exactly how to press his buttons.
To be sure, Trump is no innocent victim. He voluntarily made himself hostage to the War Party by surrounding himself with failed generals and the most rabid war-mongers to be found in the Imperial City—-John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel. Indeed, you have to wonder. How could anyone with even a half-baked notion of America First think that a hard core interventionist like John Bolton should be brought up right close and personal to the POTUS ear lobes, Walrus mustache and all? But whatever the Donald was thinking when he made such horrendous choices for his top national security posts, these denizens of the War Party have wasted no time shoving their own agenda right down his throat.
And at the top of that agenda is systematic, relentless escalation of provocations against Russia and Iran. That’s because confrontation with these demonized states is the best way to keep Imperial Washington (and therefore the entire country) on a war-footing and the national security gravy train overflowing with fiscal largesse. As we indicated in Part 1, the impending attack on Syria is actually a shot across the bow aimed at Tehran and Moscow. The cover story is simply a humanitarian sounding ruse. Ostensibly, Bashar Assad is being administered a good hard spanking via a barrage of cruise missile birch switches.
That begs the question, of course, of how homeland security is actually enhanced by selectively spanking some malefactors and not others. In this case, even the surely bogus claim that 40 civilians were gassed in Douma hardly compares to the 10,000 civilians that have been slaughtered by American bombs delivered by the Saudi air force in Yemen; or the thousands of anti-government prisoners that have been summarily executed by General al-Sisi in Egypt under this stewardship of Washington’s $1.2 billion annual stipend; or the thousands of civilians that Israel has killed during its periodic “lawn-mowing” exercises on the Gaza Strip.
Legal uncertainty surrounds the capacity of companies such as Facebook to transfer European users’ data to the US after a High Court judge asked the most senior EU court to consider 11 questions on the issue. The referral stems from a case taken by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems. The questions raise significant issues of EU law with huge implications, including whether the High Court has correctly found there is “mass indiscriminate processing” of data by US government agencies under the PRISM and Upstream programmes authorised there. The questions also ask whether EU law applies to the processing of personal data for national security purposes regardless of whether that data processing takes place in the EU or US or other third country.
Other questions concern whether the Privacy Shield Decision and other measures in the US afford adequate protection for EU citizens whose data is transferred there. The ECJ is also asked to decide the extent of a data protection authority’s (DAA) power to suspend data flows if it considers a third country is subject to surveillance laws which conflict with EU law. After Ms Justice Caroline Costello set out the questions on Thursday in a formal request to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling, Paul Gallagher SC, for Facebook, asked for time to consider that in the context of possibly seeking an appeal against the judge’s decision to make a reference to the CJEU in the first place.
Michael Collins SC, for the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), queried whether there was any entitlement to appeal a High Court decision to direct a reference but did not object to Facebook being given a short time to consider its approach. The judge, noting she had given judgment last October sanctioning a reference, said she was anxious to make the referral but would allow Facebook time to April 30th. Among the questions for reference include whether, when deciding if data privacy rights of an EU citizen are breached, the issue must be examined against the EU Charter and EU law or the national law of one or more EU states, or an amalgam of the laws of all member states. The High Court had found the appropriate comparator was EU law despite Facebook disputing that.
As Mark Zuckerberg left Congress on Tuesday after testifying to the Senate, he may have felt relieved. The four-hour Q&A session had been largely dominated by mundane questions of fact about how Facebook works, requests for apologies and updates he had already given and was happy to repeat, and shameless begs for the social network’s cash pile to be used to expand broadband access in senators’ home states. Less than 24 hours later, however, a very different pattern of questioning in front of 54 members of the House of Representatives suggested a much more worrying outcome for Facebook – that this could be the week its crisis moves from being about mistakes in the past to inherent problems in the present.
Perhaps, the representatives implied, Facebook doesn’t just have a problem. What if it is the problem? Questions were still asked about Cambridge Analytica, the 9m other apps the company has to investigate for historical data sharing, and the revelation that more than a billion users had their data scraped by third parties abusing a phone or email lookup feature. But just as many were asked about problems that revolved less around mistakes and more around fundamental facets of Facebook’s business. Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg appeared less inclined to answer those. “Will you make the commitment to change … all the user default settings to minimise, to the greatest extent possible, the collection and use of users’ data,” asked Frank Pallone, the panel’s top Democrat.
Zuckerberg, declining to give a yes or no, eventually agreed to follow up with an answer after the hearing. “Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy,” asked the Democratic congresswoman Anna Eshoo. “I’m not sure what that means,” was Zuckerberg’s reply. Europe’s general data protection regulation, Democrat Gene Green noted, gives EU citizens the right to opt out of the processing of their personal data for marketing purposes. “Will the same right … be available to Facebook users in the United States?” Zuckerberg: “Let me follow up with you on that.”
In December of last year, as Congress voted to pass the “Tax Cut & Jobs Act,” I wrote that without “real and substantive cuts to spending,” the debt and deficits will begin to balloon. At that time, I mapped out the trajectory of the deficit based on the cuts to revenue from lower tax rates and sustained levels of government spending.
Since that writing, the government has now lifted the “debt ceiling” for two years and passed a $1.3 Trillion “omnibus spending bill” to operate the government through the end of September, 2018. Of course, since the government has foregone the required Constitutional process of operating on a budget for the last decade, “continuing resolutions,” or “C.R.s,” will remain the standard operating procedure of managing the country’s finances. This means that spending will continue to grow unchecked into the foreseeable future as C.R.’s increase the previously budgeted spending levels automatically by 8% annually. (Rule of 72 says spending doubles every 9-years) The chart below tracks the cumulative increase in “excess” Government spending above revenue collections. Notice the point at which nominal GDP growth stopped rising.
Trillion dollar deficits, of course, are nothing to be excited about as rising debts, and surging deficits, as shown, impede economic growth longer-term as money is diverted from productive investments to debt-service. While many suggest that “all government spending is good spending,” the reality is that “recycled tax dollars” have a very low, if not negative, “multiplier effect” in the economy. As Dr. Lacy Hunt states: “The government expenditure multiplier is negative. Based on academic research, the best evidence suggests the multiplier is -0.01, which means that an additional dollar of deficit spending will reduce private GDP by $1.01, resulting in a one-cent decline in real GDP. The deficit spending provides a transitory boost to economic activity, but the initial effect is more than reversed in time. Within no more than three years the economy is worse off on a net basis, with the lagged effects outweighing the initial positive benefit.“
JPMorgan’s profits jumped 35 percent in the last quarter, compared to a year ago, partly thanks to a huge tax cut. Congress slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent in December as part of a major overhaul pushed for by President Donald Trump that also cut taxes for wealthy individuals. Higher interest rates also helped to boost profits, JPMorgan said. The bank earned $8.7bn (£6.1bn) in the first quarter, or $2.37 a share, up from $6.45bn, in the same period a year earlier. Analysts had predicted JPMorgan would earn $2.28 a share.
Pre-tax income rose by $2.6bn to $28.52bn in the quarter, the company paid $240 million less in taxes compared to a year earlier. “2018 is off to a good start with our businesses performing well across the board, driving strong top-line growth and building on the momentum from last year,“ chief executive Jamie Dimon said. “The global economy continues to do well, and we remain optimistic about the positive impact of tax reform in the US as business sentiment remains upbeat, and consumers benefit from job and wage growth.”
Rembrandt van Rijn Christ In The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee 1633
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered
I am gullible. Very. I betcha I am more gullible than you. And that tells you something, because you know how gullible you are. Or so you think. Still, as bad as I got it, something physically snapped in the back of my head this morning, I could hear it snap, when I saw this Guardian headline:
Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home. Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said. Counter-terrorism detectives will continue to focus their inquiries on the home address for the coming weeks, and possibly months…
See, because of my gullibility, I’ve decided that if I’m to have any idea of what really goes on around me, I’m condemned to reading a lot. Obviously, like you, I’ve found that the vast majority of what passes for news is as fake as it gets. More so by the day. So we have to read between the lines all the time. It’s what it is. But this…
If these two people have actually been poisoned, that’s a really terrible thing. But maybe lying about such things is much worse. And I doubt that anything at all we’ve been told about the Skripal case is true. Not because I don’t want to believe it, but because the storytellers plant so many trees they’re getting lost in their own forest.
Today the British press reports that the Skripal father and daughter pair were poisoned “from their front door”. They do that with the same level of certainty that just a few days ago they used in telling us they were poisoned through the air vents of the dad’s BMW. Exact same story, just a different location. And that’s after a by now long sequence of headlines that claimed it had happened inside the home, or in a bar, a pizzeria, or on the parkbench they were ostensibly ‘found’ on.
What that headline above, and all others on the topic that came before it, tells me is that evidently the hundreds of ‘experts’ involved in the case have not yet been able to locate the ‘nerve agent’. They’re still just guessing, even 25 days after the incident is supposed to have happened. How would that be done? I have no idea, but I’m surely thinking that after almost 4 weeks it’s essentially a pure guessing game, and nothing more than that.
Does the alleged nerve agent leave traces after all that time? I don’t have a clue, but I do know from what I’ve read that it’s apparently so toxic (as in lethal) that even very faint traces of the stuff are, well, lethal. So when I first read the BMW air vent theory last week I was thinking: did the guy who towed that car to the police station wear a full hazmat suit? He would have had to if he’s still alive.
And where is that car anyway? Come to think of it, where are the Skripals? And how is it possible that they survived the ‘attack’? Were they given a full blood transfusion? Are they being treated 24/7 by dedicated personnel in hazmat suits? There are too many questions for me to answer. And that goes for you too. And for Boris Johnson. And Donald Trump. And the governments of the 30-or-so nations that nevertheless expelled well over a hundred Russian diplomats.
Now, I’m not a chemist, let alone an organic chemist. So perhaps I should consult with my friend Dave Collum, who is. But I was going to write this from memory, not go back and find all those headlines, or ask around. This is not about me being 100% correct, it’s about the ‘news reports’ being so far off the truth.
Here’s what I have picked up about the nerve agent. The press calls it “Novichok“ (Russian for newbies), but Novichok is not a nerve agent, it’s a group of them. In the Skripal case, the journalists -who I can only hope are not as gullible as I am- behind all the ‘news’ have been told by ‘authorities’ that we’re dealing with A-234, which is a novichok nerve agent.
Developed by Russia a long time ago, but no longer produced in Russia after 1993, as the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed. Its chemical formula has been made public, which means that at least in theory anyone could produce it.
Russia would seem to be the last country to try that, because it would point straight to them. And they haven’t stood still for 25 years, they can make Novichok 2.0 if they want. Not that they appear to have much if any reason to poison the Skripals, there are quite a few parties that have at least as much incentive to do that.
Wait, before I forget, there was a policeman who allegedly ‘treated’ the Skripals first, and was himself ‘poisoned’ in the act and hospitalized, but was released a few days ago. What exactly happened to him? How did the A-234 not kill him? Did he receive such a faint trace that he was ‘cleaned’ within days? Where is he now? Why has he not released any statement? Doesn’t he strike you, too, as being a little bit pregnant?
But, again, I’m not a chemist. Collum, who I can’t really claim as a friend anymore, because he’s everybody’s friend these days, tweets a hint:
Hey organic chemists: the Novichuk nerve agents are like those below. [..] You could just use the racemate with plenty of effect. Unlike drugs, the goal here is to kill the recipient.
From what I understand, A-234, like all novichoks, is just a pesticide with a fancy dress on. Not terribly unique or special, and not terribly Russian after 25 years either. Just terribly lethal. Which by the way is saying something about how we produce our food, too. Can we blame Putin for losing our insects as well, please? It’s so much easier that way.
But I digress. As I started out saying, it’s the ‘news’ that yet another ‘location’ for the ‘nerve agent’ had been discovered after 25 days and hundreds of specialists, at the bleeping front door of the ‘victims’ home, as if nobody ever thought of looking there, that snapped that thingy in my head. Location, location, location.
Still, when I venture beyond what can be or has been proven, which is about as near to zero Kelvin as I even want to think about, there was this other thing this morning. Julian Assange has been cut off from the internet by his gracious Ecuadorian hosts in their London embassy. And I betcha that’s because he dared question Britain in the Skripal case, on Twitter.
Here’s my theory, borne off my gullibility in all its glory: Theresa May and her government have been stumbling from disaster to catastrophe over the Brexit calamity for months now, and they needed some relief. But they themselves are not smart enough to provide it. So someone got it for them.
They’re keeping Labour boss Jeremy Corbyn occupied for all he’s worth with a cocked-up narrative of him being an antisemite. Stupid as can be story, but it works for as long as they need it to. The other day the BBC photoshopped a Russian hat on Corbyn’s face; that stuck less than the Jew-hater tale, so they went with that one. Some UK parliamentary fake news committee wants to talk to Zuckerberg, but they should look closer to home. If fake news is what they’re really after.
So anyway, they all went with the Novichok concocted thing, and boy did that ever catch on. Even every western politicians’ pet hamsters have now sent their Russian caregivers packing. And you know what it is, even if May and Boris had any proof of Russian involvement, all those countries certainly do not. Even if they had the evidence, they’re not going to send it around to dozens of countries. Just not.
Boris Johnson couldn’t resist comparing Putin to Hitler. You can’t fall any lower than that. Or can you? The diplomats were all expelled on a day that Russia was lamenting the death of 64(?) victims (mostly children) in a shopping mall fire, in what they declared a day of national mourning. You think Boris sent his condolences?
I can write about this all day long, and weekends too. You know, Crimea, Ukraine, MH17, the new cold war narrative has been well prepared. And now John Bolton, who may well be the deadliest cartoon character we’ve ever seen -let alone imagined-, is all set to score the easy tip-in. But that is possible only because all of you are as gullible as I am. Don’t forget that. They’re blinding you with silence, with stupidity, with your own lack of neuron activity.
Even if this is a story with too many holes in it to qualify as Swiss cheese. The story doesn’t make any sense? Who cares, really, all the front pages shout it out in bold print. And if you get tired of it: where’s the remote, Mildred?
British politician and former candidate for mayor of London, George Galloway, on Twitter, says it so much better than I ever could, and shorter too, which is why I quote him at the end of this article:
Why do I not believe you? Let me count the ways. You’re not looking for anyone in connection with the attack on the Skripals. There is no manhunt, no all points alert, no description, no identikit drawing, no CCTV. No suspects. That means you already know what happened. #Russia
We know Facebook is trying to screw with your brains. Well, they’re not the only ones. Your government -and ‘intelligence’ services- want the monopoly on that, too.
I can not make this a definitive, or final, or complete story. Because nobody can. But I can tell you this: if you think that Russia or God forbid Putin, ‘poisoned’ the Skripals, you’re so wrong you’re beyond salvation. Not because it may or may not be true, but because you have seen no evidence. And you still go with it. Where’s the remote, Mildred?
Facebook and that worked with Donald Trump’s election team have come under mounting pressure, with calls for investigations and hearings to explain a vast data breach that affected tens of millions of people. In Britain, the head of the parliamentary committee investigating fake news accused Cambridge Analytica and Facebook of misleading MPs after revelations in the Observer that more than 50m Facebook profiles were harvested and used to build a system that may have influenced voters in the 2016 presidential campaign. The Conservative MP Damian Collins said he would call the heads of both companies, Alexander Nix and Mark Zuckerberg, to give further testimony.
His intervention came after a whistleblower spoke to the Observer and described how the profiles, mostly of US voters, were harvested for Cambridge Analytica, in one of Facebook’s biggest ever data breaches. The disclosures caused outrage on both sides of the Atlantic; in the US, a state attorney general has called for investigations and greater accountability and regulation. There have been reports that Cambridge Analytica is trying to stop the broadcast of a Channel 4 News exposé in which Nix is said to talk unguardedly about the company’s practices. According to the Financial Times, reporters posed as prospective clients and secretly filmed a series of meetings, including one with the chief executive. The report is due to air this week.
Very little credibility so far. From descriptions of the nerve agent, it would seem impossible that “..at least 38 people in Salisbury had been identified as having been affected by it..” and all lived to tell it. Is the whole Novichok story a fabrication? Know what, Boris? Why not show the proof you claim to have?!
Boris Johnson will today seek to convince the EU foreign affairs council to join him in fresh condemnation of Russia after his explosive claims that Moscow has been creating and stockpiling nerve agent novichok and working out how to use it for assassinations. Scientists from the UN-backed Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrive today to analyse samples of the agent used to poison the former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The foreign secretary made his claims after Russian EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov issued blanket denials and said British agents might have used their stockpiles at Porton Down.
As the row enters its third week, Johnson dismissed Chizhov’s comments, saying they were “not the response of a country that really believes it’s innocent”. On Sunday, Vladimir Putin, fresh from a profoundly unsurprising electoral victory, denied any such nerve agents existed and said the idea of carrying out such a killing during an election campaign would be “rubbish, drivel, nonsense”. The latest theory to gain prominence is that the Skripals were poisoned via his car’s ventilation system. The report, from ABC news in the US, came as counter-terrorism police renewed their appeal for sightings of Skripal’s burgundy BMW 320D saloon car on 4 March. ABC also reported that at least 38 people in Salisbury had been identified as having been affected by the nerve agent.
U.S. corporate debt levels stand above crisis highs even as default rates among the most leveraged firms remain subdued. With an economy hitting its stride, it’s perhaps no surprise that the high-yield bond market is placid. The extent of the divergence between debt levels and defaults, however, is worrying to some analysts who feel rising corporate indebtedness will eventually catch out unwary investors and deflate the junk-bond market. But beyond complacency John Lonski at Moody’s Capital Market Research, argued that globalization and the tendency of U.S. businesses to hoard cash as reasons why corporate debt levels may no longer move in sync with default rates and credit spreads.
The high-yield default rate in the fourth-quarter of 2017 fell to 3.3%, even as U.S. nonfinancial-corporate debt ended in 2017 at 45.4% of GDP. This compares with a much higher default rate of 11.1% in the second quarter of 2009, with corporate debt levels at 45% of GDP. Granted, the current levels come with the economy in the eighth year of an expansion, while the second quarter of 2009 marked the final quarter of the longest and deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression. The yield spread between high-yield bonds and safe government paper, as represented by the 10-year Treasury note narrowed to an average 3.63 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2017, from an average 12.02 percentage points in the second quarter of 2009.
The tight credit spreads reflects that borrowing costs are still close to historic lows, and that investors are demanding minimum compensation for holding arguably the riskiest debt in the bond market. One answer “might be supplied by the ever increasing globalization of U.S. businesses where the more relevant denominator is not U.S. GDP, but world GDP” said Lonski. The fortunes of U.S. companies are now wove into the broader global economy. When commodity prices took a hit in 2015 and early 2016, crimping growth in China and other emerging markets, high-yield bonds were also slammed.
Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that the Fed could never unload the securities it had acquired during QE. How things have changed! On Friday, the three-month Treasury yield closed at 1.78%, the highest since August 19, 2008. When yields rise, by definition bond prices fall:
Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that The Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate has been 1.25% to 1.50% since its last rate hike at the December FOMC meeting. In other words, the three-month yield is already above the upper limit of the Fed’s target range after the next rate hike. So the market has fully priced in a rate hike at the FOMC meeting ending March 21. And it’s also starting to price in another rate hike in June. In this rate-hike cycle, the Fed has engaged in policy action only at meetings that are followed by a press conference.
There are four of these press-conference meetings per year. The next two are this week and June. If, in this cycle, the Fed hike rates at an FOMC meeting that is not followed by a press conference – there are also four of them this year – it would be considered a “monetary shock” that the Fed decided to administer to the markets. It would be like a rate hike of 50 basis points instead of the expected 25 basis points. There would be a hue and cry in the markets around the world. But I think the Fed isn’t ready to spring that on the markets just yet. Maybe later. The two-year yield rose to 2.31% on Friday, the highest since August 29, 2008:
Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that In past rate hike cycles, the two-year yield reacted faster to rate-hike expectations than the 10-year yield. This is happening now as well. The 10-year yield has its own dynamics that are not in lockstep with the Fed’s rate-hike scenario. On Friday, the 10-year yield closed at 2.85%, within the same range where it had been since late February, tantalizingly close to 3%:
Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that [..] After the surge of the two-year yield, the difference between the two-year and the 10-year yield – the “two-10 spread” – has narrowed again. On Friday, it was at 54 basis points. In the chart below, note the narrowing at the end of last year to 50 basis points, then the mini-spike, as the 10-year yield surged faster than the two-year yield, and the recent fallback:
Despite a low unemployment rate and increasing wage growth, Americans still aren’t saving much. That’s according to a new survey from Bankrate.com, which found that 20% of Americans don’t save any of their annual income at all and even those who do save aren’t putting away a lot. Only 16% of survey respondents say that they save more than 15% of what they make, which is what experts generally recommend. A quarter of respondents report saving between 6 and 10% of their income and 21% say they sock away 5% or less.
At this rate, many people could be setting themselves up to fall short in retirement, Bankrate warns. “With a steady, significant share of the working population saving nothing or relatively little, it’s virtually guaranteed that they’ll be unable to afford a modest emergency expense or finance retirement,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “That amounts to a financial fail.” The economy might be prospering now, but that won’t last forever: “The party has to stop sometime, and when it does, employers will lay off workers,” the study says. In fact, Bankrate estimates that half of the American population won’t be able to maintain their standard of living once they stop working.
A report from GoBankingRates found similar results: Over 40% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire. What’s keeping Americans from saving? “Expenses” was the No. 1 answer of 39% of respondents. Another 16% say they don’t have a “good enough job” to be able to save, which presumably means they aren’t earning enough. “The average American has less than $5,000 in a financial account, a quarter to a fifth of what you should have, and those aged 55 to 64 who have retirement savings only carry $120,000 — which won’t last long in the absence of paychecks,” the survey reports.
The expected rise in US interest rates will increase financial pressures on developing countries already struggling with a 60% jump in their debt repayments since 2014, a leading charity has warned. The Jubilee Debt Campaign said a study of 126 developing nations showed that they were devoting more than 10% of their revenues on average to paying the interest on money borrowed – the highest level since before the G7 agreement to write off the debts of the world’s poorest nations at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. Five of the countries on the charity’s list – Angola, Lebanon, Ghana, Chad and Bhutan – were spending more than a third of government revenues on servicing debts.
Developing country debt moved down the international agenda following the Gleneagles agreement in which the G7 industrial countries agreed to spend £30bn writing off the debts owed to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank by the 18 poor countries. But developing country debt is now once again being closely monitored by the IMF, which says 30 of the 67 poor countries it assesses are in debt distress or at risk of being so. Lending to developing countries almost doubled between 2008 and 2014 as low interest rates in the west led to a search for higher-yielding investments. A boom in commodity prices meant many poor countries borrowed in anticipation of tax receipts that have not materialised.
But the Jubilee Debt Campaign said the boom–bust in commodity prices was only one factor behind rising debt, pointing out that some countries were paying back money owed by former dictators, while others had been struggling with high debts for many years but had not been eligible for help. The campaign said developing countries were also vulnerable to a rise in global interest rates as central banks withdrew the support they have been providing since 2008. [..] The US Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates this week – with the financial markets expecting two or three further upward moves during 2018.
Tim Jones, an economist at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: “Debt payments for many countries have risen rapidly as a result of a lending boom and fall in commodity prices. The situation may worsen further as US dollar interest rates rise, and as other central banks reduce monetary stimulus. Debt payments are reducing government budgets when more spending is needed to meet the sustainable development goals.”
[..]The latest available data shows that Oman, for instance, has a debt equivalent to 31.4% of their GDP for 2016, which is up from 4.9% in 2014, according to TradingEconomics.com. That jump in debt coincided with a fall in oil prices from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014 to a low of $26 in early 2016. Rising rates also tend to increase costs for businesses, says Rosso. And the higher costs of borrowing ultimately means that fewer businesses that request loans from banks will receive the money they need. In short, growth in the available credit in the economy will slow. If we learned nothing else from the financial crisis of 2008-2009, it is that the world of business runs on credit. Slower credit growth usually means slower economic growth.
The base case is that among the countries with the dollar peg such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman, the increased interest rates will likely drag on growth for their economies. The timing is really pretty bad for some of the countries involved. For instance, the Saudi economy shrank by 0.43% in the quarter ending September 2017, according to TradingEconomics.com. The prior quarter was worse; the economy sank 1.03%. Two quarters of negative growth is generally seen as a recession. Will the impact of rising rates push Saudi’s economy back into another recession? It’s hard to tell so far, but there is a risk. Similar problems seem likely for some other countries in the dollar-peg group.
The latest data from Oman is awful as well, although not as recent as that on Saudi Arabia. That economy contracted 14.1% in 2015, followed by another 5.1% decline in 2016. Likewise, the UAE has seen its growth steadily decline in each of the five years through 2016 from 6.9% to 3% most recently. That would not be bad for economic growth, but it is going in the wrong direction.
South Korea’s foreign minister has said that North Korea’s leader has “given his word” that he is committed to denuclearization, a prime condition for a potential summit with President Donald Trump in May. Trump has agreed to what would be historic talks after South Korean officials relayed that Kim Jong-un was committed to ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and was willing to halt nuclear and missile tests. North Korea hasn’t publicly confirmed the summit plans, and a meeting place isn’t known. South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul has asked the North “to indicate in clear terms the commitment to denuclearization” and she says Kim’s “conveyed that commitment.” She told the CBS programme Face the Nation that “he’s given his word” and it’s “the first time that the words came directly” from the North’s leader.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s immediate willingness to meet Kim Jong Un for nuclear talks likely caught the North Korean leader by surprise, forcing him to consider his position before responding publicly, the South Korean foreign minister said. “We were all quite surprised by the readiness of that decision,” South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “It was an extremely courageous decision on the part of President Trump. We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock.” Trump agreed to meet with Kim on March 8 after a briefing from South Korean officials.
The summit, expected to take place in a few months, would represent the first time a U.S. president has met a North Korean leader – either Kim or his father or grandfather – and is part of an overall strategy to dismantle that nation’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang has already detonated what it described as a hydrogen bomb capable of riding an intercontinental ballistic missile to cities across the U.S., and Kim has threatened to use nuclear arms against Americans. The summit, if it occurs, will likely follow an already-scheduled meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to take place in South Korea, at which denuclearization will also be discussed, Kang said.
Japan’s embattled prime minister has hit back at critics over a favouritism and cover-up scandal that has seen his popularity plunge and loosened his grip on power. In a statement in parliament, Shinzo Abe stressed he had not ordered bureaucrats to alter documents relating to a controversial land sale. “I have never ordered changes,” he said. The scandal surrounds the 2016 sale of state-owned land to a nationalist operator of schools who claims ties to Abe and his wife Akie. The sale was clinched at a price well below market value amid allegations that the high-level connections helped grease the deal. The affair first emerged early last year, but resurfaced after the revelation that official documents related to the sale had been changed.
Versions of the original and doctored documents made public by opposition lawmakers appeared to show passing references to Abe were scrubbed, along with several references to his wife Akie and Finance Minister Taro Aso. Aso has blamed the alterations on “some staff members” at the ministry. But Jiro Yamaguchi, a politics professor at Hosei University in Tokyo, said the public was “not at all convinced” by this explanation. “Why was the land sold at a discount price? Without any political pressure, this could never happen, and voters are angry about it,” said Yamaguchi. The prime minister repeated an apology, saying he “keenly felt” his responsibility over the scandal that has “shaken people’s confidence in government administration.”
The affair is hitting Abe’s ratings hard, with a new poll in the Asahi Shimbun showing public support nosediving by 13 percentage points from the previous month to 31%. The figure is the lowest approval rating for Abe in the poll since his return to power at the end of 2012.
Apple is designing and producing its own device displays for the first time, using a secret manufacturing facility near its California headquarters to make small numbers of the screens for testing purposes, according to people familiar with the situation. The technology giant is making a significant investment in the development of next-generation MicroLED screens, say the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. MicroLED screens use different light-emitting compounds than the current OLED displays and promise to make future gadgets slimmer, brighter and less power-hungry. The screens are far more difficult to produce than OLED displays, and the company almost killed the project a year or so ago, the people say.
Engineers have since been making progress and the technology is now at an advanced stage, they say, though consumers will probably have to wait a few years before seeing the results. The ambitious undertaking is the latest example of Apple bringing the design of key components in-house. The company has designed chips powering its mobile devices for several years. Its move into displays has the long-term potential to hurt a range of suppliers, from screen makers like Samsung, Japan Display, Sharp and LG to companies like Synaptics that produce chip-screen interfaces. It may also hurt Universal Display, a leading developer of OLED technology. Display makers in Asia fell after Bloomberg News reported the plans. Japan Display dropped as much as 4.4%, Sharp tumbled as much as 3.3% and Samsung slid 1.4%.
Canadians’ collective household debt has climbed to $1.8 trillion as an international financial group sounds an early warning that the country’s banking system is at risk from rising debt levels. Equifax Canada says consumers now owe $1.821 trillion including mortgages as of the fourth-quarter of 2017, marking a 6% increase from a year earlier. Although nearly half of Canadians reduced their personal liabilities, roughly 37% added to their debt to push the average amount up 3.3% to $22,837 per person, not including mortgages.
The fresh numbers come as an international financial group owned by the world’s central banks says Canada’s credit-to-GDP and debt-service ratios show early warning signs of potential risk to the banking system in the coming years. The latest report by the Bank for International Settlements says Canada’s credit-to-GDP gap and debt-service ratios have surpassed critical thresholds and are signalling red, pointing to vulnerabilities. The group, however, cautions that these indicators should not be treated as a formal stress test, but as a first step in a broader analysis.
Germany should consider stepping up its border controls, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Sunday. “Not that many border points in Germany are permanently occupied,” Seehofer told German weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, adding: “We will now discuss whether that needs to change.” Seehofer also appealed for the suspension of the Schengen Agreement, which allows free movement within the EU bloc. “Internal border checks [between EU member states] must be in place so long as the EU fails to effectively control the external border,” he said, adding: “I don’t see it being able to do this in the near future.” The reintroduction of border controls is a prerogative of EU member states. Under EU rules they must remain an exception and respect the principle of proportionality.
Germany’s temporarily reintroduced border controls continue until May 12 and have been imposed on the land border with Austria and on flight connections from Greece because of the “security situation in Europe and threats resulting from the continuous secondary movements,” according to the European Commission. Seehofer’s comments follow EU demands in February that Germany and four other Schengen members – Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway – lift their border controls when the current agreed terms run out in May. [..] Seehofer is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
More than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs. The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.
“For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,” says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. “In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.” Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum.
Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year. This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities. [..] By 2050, the report predicts, between 4.8 billion and 5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today, while the number of people at risk of floods will increase to 1.6 billion, from 1.2 billion.
Bit of a hyperbole headline perhaps (how would you know), but certainly unequalled in our times. I think Hawking greatest achievement was that once people had accepted his ‘initial’ groundbreaking theories on black holes (nothing can escape, event horizons etc.), he turned around and said they were not true: matter does escape from them after all: Hawking radiation.
He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.” Professor Hawking explored both the very smallest and very largest parts of the universe: testing the limits of human understanding across time and space space, and peering into the sub-molecular world of quantum theory. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web, was one of the first to respond to news of his death, saying on Twitter: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit”. Professor Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for 237 weeks.
Over the years, he would also embrace areas of popular culture appearing in both The Simpsons and hit US science comedy The Big Bang Theory. His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through the possibility of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes. His most famous theoretical breakthrough was the idea that black holes are not really black, but can produce thermal radiation and potentially “evaporate”. Scientists refer to such potential emanations as “Hawking radiation.” “My goal is simple,” Professor Hawking once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
With Roger Penrose, Professor Hawking showed that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. He spent much of his career trying to find a way to reconcile Einstein’s theory with quantum physics and produce a “Theory of Everything.” Professor Hawking said he wrote A Brief History of Time to convey as clearly as he could the topics that excited him. “My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time. “In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.”
[..] the Korean peninsula never had anything to do with American security. Its partition was an accident in the final days of WWII; the 1950-1953 war was utterly pointless and unnecessary; and the prolonged US occupation of the southern half of the peninsula was at once a provocation, a massive waste of treasure and a prime example of what imperial rulers do once bivouacked astride a global empire. That is, like Imperial Rome, they puff themselves up with self-importance and busy-body rule for its own sake. So doing, they invent self-serving rationalizations for hegemony, such as the insidious “indispensable nation” conceit—even as they extract the taxes and issue the mountains of debt required to fund the endless fiscal needs of the state’s machinery of war and foreign domination.
Indeed, Washington has long ago forgotten how its global empire came about or why the Korean frontier has remained a vestigial Maginot Line – long after the “enemies” it was designed to contain disappeared from the pages of history. We are referring, or course, to the Soviet Empire, which is no more; and the Red China Menace, which has morphed into a colossal Red Ponzi scheme of debt, malinvestment and speculative building madness that is a danger mostly to the 1.3 billion Chinese caught up in history’s craziest economic freak show. So whether by inadvertence or blind impulse, the Donald has now opened the door to sweeping away six decades of Washington duplicity and double-speak.
The fact is, the Korean problem is not complicated or some kind of imponderable riddle that baffles even the so-called “experts”.To the contrary, both a visiting Martian and an attentive reader of history not enthrall to the groupthink of Imperial Washington can see that the key to “de-nuclearizing” Korea is to demilitarize it and de-internationalize it at the same time. That is, if Washington ever wishes to de-escalate its current dangerous nuclear brinksmanship with the Fat Boy Of Pyongyang, it needs to get its 29,000 troops off the peninsula and end the constant war games and practice invasions of the North Korea; and to also tear up the Washington imposed mutual security agreements, and let the two halves of the “Hermit Kingdom” restore their own version of the pre-1945 status quo ante.
[..] since 2002 South Korea’s economy has grown every eight months by more than the entire current GDP of North Korea. But that doesn’t change the reality on the ground and the overwhelming case to permit Korea to be run by the Koreans under whatever state arrangements they can agree to. That was the exact aim of the South Korean governments after the Cold War ended when they pursued “sunshine policy” rapprochement with the North. That is, until it was shutdown by George Bush’s neocon hatchet men.
The firing of Secretary of State Tillerson, the movement of CIA Director Pompeo to Secretary of State, and the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the secret CIA torture prisons in Thailand, indicate that the military/security complex has closed its grip on the Trump regime. There will be no more talk of normalizing relations with Russia. The combination of the Israel Lobby, the neoconservatives, and the military/security complex have proven to be too powerful for peace to be established between the two nuclear powers. If you look at Trump’s administration, the above three forces are those in charge. Israel remains determined to use the US military to destabilize Syria and Iran in order to isolate Hezbollah and cut off the milita’s support and supplies.
The neoconservatives both support Israel’s interest and their own desire for Washington’s hegemony over the world. The military/security complex intends to hold on to the “Russia threat” as a justification of its budget and power. The presstitutes are in complete harmony with the scheme. Although Russiagate has been proven to be false charges orchestrated by the DNC, FBI, and CIA, the presstitutes continue to repeat the charges as if evidence exists that proves the charges to be true. The “stolen election” is fiction turned into fact. And now we have a new charge, that Putin ordered a former British spy in England to be eliminated while sitting on a park bench with the use of a highly unlikely form of military poison.
The charge is preposterous, but that is not preventing the fiction from becoming fact. Having served in Washington for a quarter century and having known members of the British government, I do not believe that any of them believe the Russiagate and Skripal poisoning stories. What is happening is that an agenda has taken precedence over truth. This is an extremely dangerous agenda. Russia’s new weapons easily give Russia military superiority over the US. As China and Iran see the situation similarly to the Russians, the US is greatly out-classed.
Yet, Washington and its vassals persist in making violent and false charges and threats against Russia, Iran, and on occasion China. Russia, Iran, and China know that these charges are false. Confronting an endless string of false and hostile charges, they prepare for war. The world is being driven to war, which would be nuclear, by a tiny minority: Israeli Zionists, neoconservatives, and the US military/security complex. We are witnessing the most reckless and irresponsible behavior in world history. Where are the voices against it?
As CIA director Mike Pompeo moves to become the United States’ secretary of state, deputy director Gina Haspel has been nominated to lead the agency. If confirmed by the Senate, she will become the first woman to run the CIA. Haspel’s nomination will be controversial; she played a leading role (paywall) in running a US torture site abroad and later destroyed the evidence of it. In 2002, she oversaw a secret prison in Thailand that tortured two terrorism suspects. That torture took place within the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which suspected terrorists are sent to US allies, and interrogated in “black sites” on their soil. One of the men, known as Abu Zubayda, was waterboarded 83 times in one month and was slammed into walls by the head.
He was deprived of sleep and kept in a coffin-like box. Interrogators later decided he didn’t have any useful information. ProPublica found that Haspel personally signed cables to CIA headquarters that detailed Zubayda’s interrogation. CIA videos of the torture were destroyed in 2005, on the orders of a cable drafted by Haspel. Her then-boss Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s director of operations for counterterrorism, signed off on the order. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes,” he wrote in his memoir, according to ProPublica. “They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.” The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a Berlin-based NGO, has been pushing Germany’s public prosecutor to arrest Haspel for her role in the torture program.
Theresa May is drawing up plans for an “economic war” with Vladimir Putin and his allies after Moscow refused to explain how a deadly Russian nerve agent came to be used in a rural British city. The Independent understands the ground is already being prepared for economic measures such as asset freezes and seizures, alongside visa bans against Russian individuals. Ms May is also understood to be considering expelling diplomats and pushing for joint international action with allies. The Prime Minister is set to meet her National Security Council on Wednesday to finalise her approach which is then likely be announced to the House of Commons in the afternoon.
Action came a step closer after the Russian Foreign Minister said his country would not cooperate with the British investigation into the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March. But Britain’s allies gave early support to Ms May’s push, with Angela Merkel calling for unified action and Donald Trump saying there must be “consequences” for those responsible. [..] A Government minister said: “What happens will be an economic war, these will be economic measures. “Russia’s economy is only half that of the UK, a lot of it concentrated in a few people’s hands. Well, we’ll do our bit to make it smaller if they want to carry on like this. “That doesn’t give us any pleasure at all, but we need the nations of Europe to behave within the rule of law and not like gangsters. The message has to be economic, political and diplomatic.”
“.. the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down..”
An important key to spotting a false flag is that the “knowledge” of who is to blame becomes available before any evidence is in. For example, in the case of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 over Eastern Ukraine, everyone in the West was convinced that “pro-Russian separatists” were to blame even before the means could be established. To this date, it isn’t understood how they could have done it given the equipment they had at their disposal. In this case, Russia was accused almost immediately, while British FM Boris Johnson was quick to volunteer that Britain should not send its team to the World Cup in Russia this summer, disclosing the real reason behind the assassination attempt.
Is there anything new and different behind this latest provocation? Not really; it seems like a replay of the Litvinenko assassination back in November 2006. The choice of an exotic poison (Polonium 210), the lack of evidence (the British claimed that compelling circumstantial evidence exists but haven’t provided any), and the instantaneous leap to “blame Russia” are all the same. The Russians offered to prosecute whoever is responsible if only the British would provide them with the evidence, but the British have failed to do so.
Giving the British story the benefit of the doubt, let’s see what would compel Russia’s secret services to go after Skripal. In Russia, he was convicted and sentenced for treason, then pardoned and released to the British in a prisoner exchange that included ten Russian spies who had worked in the US, including the rather memorable Anna Chapman. It is a very important rule of the spy business that those released in a spy swap are never acted against; if this rule were violated, the resulting bad faith would make spy swaps impossible to negotiate.
[..] My simple and consistent explanation, expressed in a single sentence, is as follows: Under direction from their colleagues in the US, and closely following a script previously worked out in the Litvinenko case over a decade ago, the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down in order to obtain an excuse to compromise the World Cup games in Russia this summer and also to create a scandal immediately before the Russian presidential election.
Google is cracking down on cryptocurrency-related advertising. The company is updating its financial services-related ad policies to ban any advertising about cryptocurrency-related content, including initial coin offerings (ICOs), wallets, and trading advice, Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, told CNBC. That means that even companies with legitimate cryptocurrency offerings won’t be allowed to serve ads through any of Google’s ad products, which place advertising on its own sites as well as third-party websites. This update will go into effect in June 2018, according to a company post.
“We don’t have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we’ve seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it’s an area that we want to approach with extreme caution,” Scott said. Google’s hard-line approach follows a similar ban that Facebook announced earlier this year. While the crypto-currency boom has produced a lot of excitement and wealth, it’s still a largely unregulated space and has spawned countless high-profile scams.
Virginia Fidler has it right, except for this: “The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem”. Thing is, it makes no difference if they’re aware or not. I’ve said it before: the demise of retirement systems is the no. 1 reason for UBI.
42% of Americans are facing their golden years with less than $10,000 in savings. A lack of savings and planning has reduced what should be an enjoyable time in seniors’ lives to a period of stress and worries for many. Out-of-pocket expenses for health care is spiraling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that Americans 65 years of age and older may spend up to $46,000 annually on healthcare. This is not good news for those with only $10,000 on which to fall back on. For adults over 50, this should be a call to act now, while there is still time. Only one-third of adults in that age group have savings greater than $10,000. Retirement planning needs to become a priority, as there is little time to waste.
Pensions are becoming rarer, and Social Security is becoming less secure than it used to be. Many health needs of seniors are not covered by Medicare. Some experts believe the Social Security system will be depleted by 2030. Adults over the age of 50 need to consider making contributions into 401(k) accounts or similar retirement plans. Social Security was never intended to be the sole income of retiring seniors. It was meant to supplement approximately only 40% of post-retirement spending. Social security was supposed to enhance seniors’ lives, not support it entirely. However, according to Investopedia.com, 43% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security to cover 90% of their basic needs. Almost a quarter of married couples depend on Social Security to meet most of their expenses.
Some seniors struggling with poverty are able to receive supplemental income (“SPM”), such as food stamps for a bit of additional help. The need is especially high for seniors who are women, African Americans, and Hispanics, and those with ongoing health issues.6,400,000 million American seniors are living at poverty level, struggling to meet fundamental needs such as rent and food. This number is likely to increase as more boomers become eligible for Social Security and the system becomes less able to support them.
What does this mean for the Millennial generation? The current Social Security system will be unsustainable at some point. It cannot continue at the current level. It probably won’t be abolished, as that would cause chaos for seniors. However, Millennials are aware that changes are coming. They know that benefits will likely be reduced by the time they grow older. The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem. Members of the boomer generation who assumed Social Security would take care of their needs are learning a hard lesson.
According to official figures released on Tuesday more than 500 migrants reached islands of the eastern Aegean in the previous four days, following a two-week lull in arrivals. The spike in arrivals was attributed by a Greek Police official to Turkish authorities, who, he said, control the influx. “But they always make sure not to overdo it so they can claim they are honoring the joint EU-Turkey agreement,” the official said, referring to a deal signed between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 to curb human smuggling. The two-week drop in arrivals eased the pressure on facilities, as did the transfer of migrants to camps on the mainland. But some camps, notably on Lesvos, remain overcrowded.
Back in late 2016, we showed the unprecedented domination of capital markets by central banks using a chart from Citi, which had put together a fascinating slideshow asking simply “Where is the utility in marginal QE” and specifically pointing out that the longer unconventional monetary policy such as QE continues, the bigger its marginal cost, until eventually QE becomes a detriment. A broad criticism of monetary policy, the presentation carried an amusing footnote: “This presentation does not change any of Citi’s existing, published views on the actual future path of monetary policy. It is merely intended as a contribution to the ongoing debate about the efficacy of available policy tools” – after all, the last thing the market wanted is the realization that even banks no longer have faith in the central planners.
Incidentally, Citi’s broad critique of global QE took place when central banks owned just over $18 trillion in assets. Fast forward to today when in its latest update of central bank holdings, Citi shows that as of this moment not only has the total increased by another $3 trillion to a grand total of $21 trillion and rising, but that the big six central banks now own over 40% of global GDP, more than double the 17% they held before the financial crisis less than a decade ago. Which is remarkable in a world where there is still some confusion about what is behind the “global coordinated recovery”, and where there are deluded people who claim that central banks are now out of the picture.
Global debt has reached record heights without any signs of relief. While central bankers try to explain away the phenomenon of these out-of-control numbers, it’s not much of a mystery. Immediate consumption with the promise of repayment sometime in the future has consequences. Global debt is staggering to the point most of it will never be repaid. Certainly not in our generation. Perhaps by our grandchildren, but as global debt keeps mounting, the picture is doubtful. The per capita global debt is $30,000. Who, exactly, will be making repayments? Economists insist that the 2007 financial crisis could not have been predicted. Yet, all the signs of out-of-control credit where there.
Today, economists are repeating the same mantra, despite the spiraling world debt. The question is not if the next bubble will strike. It’s a matter of when. The math is fairly simple. The more a country increases its debt to simply stay afloat, the more like the increasing debt will cause a tightening of credit. The next step in the equation is a burst bubble and economic crisis. This is what happened in 1929, happened again in 2007, and it’s happening now. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Out-of-control credit will undoubtedly slow down the US’s current economic growth. It probably won’t cause an outright crisis. Other countries may not be as fortunate.
Countries such as China, Belgium, South Korea, Australia, and Canada are experiencing an unprecedented credit bubble, with few systems in place to control it. The resulted inflation or simply write-offs of debts could result in a global financial disaster we have not seen before. The current economic upswing is unlikely to continue.
Even before he decided to launch a trade war and roll the nuclear dice by agreeing in the course of a West Wing afternoon to a risky sit-down with Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump was telling friends he was tired of being reined in. “I’m doing great, but I’m getting all these bad headlines,” Trump told a friend recently. A Republican in frequent contact with the White House told me Trump is “frustrated by all these people telling him what to do.” With the departures of Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn, the Trump presidency is entering a new phase—one in which Trump is feeling liberated to act on his impulses. “Trump is in command. He’s been in the job more than a year now. He knows how the levers of power work. He doesn’t give a fuck,” the Republican said.
Trump’s decision to circumvent the policy process and impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum reflects his emboldened desire to follow his impulses and defy his advisers. “It was like a fuck-you to Kelly,” a Trump friend said. “Trump is red-hot about Kelly trying to control him.” According to five Republicans close to the White House, Trump has diagnosed the problem as having the wrong team around him and is looking to replace his senior staff in the coming weeks. “Trump is going for a clean reset, but he needs to do it in a way that’s systemic so it doesn’t look like it’s chaos,” one Republican said. Sources said that the first officials to go will be Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom Trump has clashed with for months.
On Tuesday, Trump met with John Bolton in the Oval Office. When he plans to visit Mar-a-Lago next weekend, Trump is expected to interview more candidates for both positions, according to two sources. “He’s going for a clean slate,” one source said. Cohn had been lobbying to replace Kelly as chief, two sources said, and quit when he didn’t get the job. “Trump laughed at Gary when he brought it up,” one outside adviser to the White House said. Next on the departure list are Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Trump remains fiercely loyal to his family, but various distractions have eroded their efficacy within the administration. Both have been sidelined without top-secret security clearances by Kelly, and sources expect them to be leaving at some point in the near future.
Hours after European Union trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said she had “no immediate clarity” on whether the bloc will be let off the hook from planned U.S. tariffs, President Donald Trump laid down his conditions and repeated a threat if they’re not met. “The European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very badly on trade, are complaining about the tariffs on Steel & Aluminum,” he wrote on Twitter. “If they drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours. Big Deficit. If not, we Tax Cars etc. FAIR!” Trump’s response came after Malmstrom on Twitter described what she called “frank” but fruitless talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday.
There was still “no immediate clarity on the exact U.S. procedure on exemption,” Malmstrom, the 28-nation bloc’s trade commissioner, said after the meeting that also included Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko. “As a close security and trade partner of the U.S. the EU must be excluded from the announced measures,” she said. Canada, Mexico and Australia have secured exemptions from the tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum announced by Trump, though Canada’s and Mexico’s were conditioned on progress renegotiating NAFTA. Trump has called the tariffs a matter of national security while threatening to tax European car imports and impose “reciprocal taxes” on countries that charge higher duties on U.S. goods than the U.S. now charges on their products.
China’s parliament voted to repeal presidential term limits, allowing President Xi Jinping to retain power indefinitely in a formal break from succession rules set up after Mao Zedong’s turbulent rule. The rubber-stamp National People’s Congress agreed Sunday to strike a 36-year-old constitutional provision barring the president from serving more than two consecutive terms. The amendment – announced by the Communist Party two weeks ago – removes the only barrier keeping Xi, 64, from staying on after his expected second term ends in 2023. The vote – never in doubt – gives Xi more time to enact plans to centralize party control, increase global clout and curb financial and environmental risks.
It also ties the world’s most populous country more closely to the fate of a single man than at any point since reformer Deng Xiaoping began establishing a system for peaceful power transitions in the aftermath of Mao’s death. Before Sunday’s vote in Beijing, Donald Trump had joked that Xi was “now president for life.” The NPC could appoint Xi to a second term as soon as Saturday. “In the long run, the change may bring some uncertainties, like ‘key man’ risk,” Yanmei Xie, a China policy analyst for Gavekel Dragonomics in Beijing, said before the vote. “Dissenting is becoming riskier. The room for debate is becoming narrower. The risk of a policy mistake could become higher and correcting a flawed policy could take longer.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told NBC News that he “couldn’t care less” if Russian citizens tried to interfere in the 2016 American presidential election because, he claims, they were not connected to the Kremlin. In an exclusive and at-times combative interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin again denied the charge by U.S. intelligence services that he ordered meddling in the November 2016 vote that put Donald Trump in the White House. “Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” asked Putin, who will probably be returned as president in the March 18 elections.
Putin was unmoved by an indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller last month that accused 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies of interfering in the election – including supporting Trump’s campaign and “disparaging” Hillary Clinton’s. Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin. “So what if they’re Russians?” Putin said of the people named in last month’s indictment. “There are 146 million Russians. So what? … I don’t care. I couldn’t care less. … They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.” Putin even suggested that Jews or other ethnic groups had been involved in the meddling.
“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” he said. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.” Asked whether he was concerned about Russian citizens attacking U.S. democracy, Putin replied that he had yet to see any evidence that the alleged interference had broken Russian law. “Are we the ones who imposed sanctions on the United States? The U.S. imposed sanctions on us.” “We in Russia cannot prosecute anyone as long as they have not violated Russian law,” he said. “At least send us a piece of paper. … Give us a document. Give us an official request. And we’ll take a look at it.”
U.S. intelligence agencies and many Western analysts have said that Russian interference came at the orders of the Kremlin. Putin, Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin, dismissed this. “Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away … influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous even to you?” he said. “It’s not our goal to interfere. We do not see what goal we would accomplish by interfering. There’s no goal.”
Families struggling to make ends meet will be hit by the biggest annual benefits cut for six years, according to a new analysis that exposes the impact of continuing austerity measures on the low paid. Chancellor Philip Hammond is preparing to give a stripped-down spring statement on Tuesday, where he is expected to boast of lower than expected borrowing figures. He will use them to suggest Britain has reached a “turning point”. He will point to forecasts showing the “first sustained fall in debt for a generation” to claim “there is light at the end of the tunnel” in turning around Britain’s finances. However, he will be speaking just weeks before a further public spending squeeze will see the second largest annual cut to the benefits budget since the financial crash.
According to new research by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, the changes from April will save around £2.5bn and dent the incomes of the “just about managing” families that Theresa May has vowed to help. The cuts will affect around 11 million families, including 5 million of the struggling families that the prime minister stated she would focus on. There will also be some good news for the low paid, with more than 1.5 million workers set to benefit from a 4.4% pay rise when the national living wage increases from £7.50 to £7.83 at the start of April. However, that measure will be outweighed by the effective £2.5bn cuts to working-age benefits.
MPs are demanding an urgent explanation from ministers after being told that £817m allocated for desperately needed affordable housing and other projects in cash-strapped local authorities has been returned to the Treasury unspent. The surrender of the unused cash has astonished members of the cross-party housing, communities and local government select committee at a time when Theresa May has insisted housebuilding is a top priority and when many local authorities are becoming mired in ever deeper financial crises. On Monday the committee, which discovered the underspend for 2017-18, will interrogate housing minister Dominic Raab and homelessness minister Heather Wheeler on the issue, before Tuesday’s spring statement by the chancellor, Philip Hammond.
He is under heavy pressure from MPs, and the Tory-controlled Local Government Association, to signal extra help for the local authority sector, which has seen budget cuts of around 50% since 2010. The acting chair of the committee, the Tory MP Bob Blackman, said: “We will be wanting to know why this very large sum has not been spent at a time of great strain on local authority budgets, and why it was not channelled to other spending projects. It does not help those of us who argue that more should be given to local authorities if the chancellor knows money he gave last time has not even been spent.” MPs believe they can argue for more for local authorities because Hammond will announce that unexpectedly high tax receipts have left the Treasury with a windfall of between £7bn and £10bn.
When the chancellor Philip Hammond sits down on Tuesday after delivering his first spring statement – the streamlined replacement for what we used to call the budget – one man will be greatly in demand, popping up on every media outlet to tell us what the figures on borrowing levels and the projected deficit really mean. That man is Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). I suggest to him that his official role is to pour a bucket of cold water over Hammond’s head, and he doesn’t disagree. [..] The idea of the spring statement, with the budget now pushed back to autumn, is to tell us where we are financially, and to kickstart consultations about the long-term fiscal challenges facing the UK. That, for Johnson, is the important bit.
If the spring statement works, it is an opportunity to counteract the short-termism that bedevils British politics and to start thinking about the issues that really matter – the ageing population, the buckling health service, the lack of any coherent plan for social care, the fact that soon taxes are going to have to rise or public services will fall to pieces. There comes a point when you can no longer kick the can down the road because the road is no longer usable. The Office for Budget Responsibility numbers cited in the spring statement will be better than those projected last autumn because tax receipts have been higher than anticipated, and Johnson reckons Hammond will indulge in some self-congratulation for having met the government’s austerity targets (albeit two years later than his predecessor George Osborne forecast) and eliminated the deficit on day-to-day spending.
But Johnson is ready with his bucket of cold water. “Chancellors always talk up the positive numbers,” he says, “but we’re not out of austerity; we’re nowhere near out of austerity. There are still big spending cuts and big social security cuts to come.” [..] He says the government has done well to get the deficit under control [..] Local government until 2014 was coping fine. It really isn’t any more. Clearly, the health service is struggling in a way that, three or four years ago, it wasn’t. So it feels as if we’ve got to the crunch point. We’re really beginning to feel the cost.” Government borrowing is now back to pre-financial crash levels. “It is quite an achievement to have got borrowing down from the highest level since the war to pretty much normal kinds of levels,” he says.
The march of the brand new car once seemed unstoppable. Cheap finance and personal contract plans (PCPs) fuelled a boom in new cars, accounting for more than 80% of all new car registrations. A fall at the start of 2017 was blamed on a collapse in consumer confidence in diesel vehicles and last year remains one of the highest on record for new car registrations. However, the latest figures reveal that the number of new cars registered in February fell by 2.8% compared with the same month last year, making it the 11th month in a row to show a decline. And once again it’s being blamed on falling demand for diesel vehicles; diesel cars accounted for just 35% of the new cars registered last month, compared with more than 44% in February 2017.
[..] The previous surge in new car registrations had been partly fuelled by changes to the way we buy vehicles. Buying a brand new car with a relatively small deposit and monthly fee can be more immediately affordable than buying an older car upfront. 37% of car buyers claim to have bought on finance because it enabled them to spread out their payment monthly, 36% to get a better deal and, revealingly, 36% because they couldn’t afford to purchase a car otherwise. [..] Justin Benson, KPMG’s UK head of automotive, says: “Consumers aren’t necessarily turning away from car finance. There is, however, evidence to suggest that the new car market is pretty saturated, ie most cars in the last few years have been bought using PCP plans. So many are using the vehicles they already have and we are seeing a drop in demand – although Brexit is also in the back of people’s minds.”
Turkey’s leader has scorched NATO allies over their failure to support his “counter-terrorist” operation in the Kurdish-held Syrian region of Afrin, but expressed gratitude that they at least had no guts to openly oppose Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered the inflammatory comments while speaking before a gathering of his ruling AK Party in the Turkish city of Mersin on Saturday. “Hey NATO where are you? We’re fighting so much. NATO, Turkey is not a NATO country? Where are you? You’ve invited NATO-member states to Afghanistan,” Erdogan said. NATO members not only show no support towards Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch and would even openly oppose Ankara’s actions in Syria, but did not have the guts to do so, Erdogan claimed.
The offensive against Kurdish militias in Syria’s region of Afrin was launched late in January. Turkey describes the militias as offshoots of the terrorist-labeled outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). So far, 3,213 “terrorists” have been killed during the operation, carried out by Turkish troops and affiliated Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants, Erdogan stated. “In fact, they would openly oppose Turkey in Syria if they could. But seeing Turkey’s adamant position, they did not find [the] resolve to do so,” the president said. The Turkish leader also reiterated his earlier statements, that his only goal in Syria was the “fight against terrorism.” When Ankara reaches it, the troops will be pulled out of the country, he stated.
[..] Washington has repeatedly called upon Turkey to stop its “aggression” against the Afrin region, omitting the fact that the US-led coalition itself spent years in Syria without any invitation from the government or international approval. The recent UNSC resolution, which urged a 30-days Syria-wide ceasefire, has been also used to call upon Erdogan to halt the invasion. “Turkey is more than welcome to go back and read the exact text of this UN Security Council resolution, and I would suggest that they do so,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on February 27, stating that the Afrin region was “certainly within Syria.”
As tensions rise over the detention of two Greek soldiers who crossed the Turkish border accidentally and over Turkish aggression off Cyprus, statements by both Greek and Turkish officials over the weekend underscored the fragility of the situation. In an interview with French daily Liberation on Saturday, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos declared that “Greece is very close to a fatal accident with Turkey,” referring to Turkish violations of Greek air space and territorial waters. “We are obliged to defend our territory which is not only Greek but also European,” he said. Late last week, meanwhile, Kammenos had referred to two Greek soldiers being detained in Turkey as “hostages.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit published on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusogu said Turkey’s judiciary was seeking to determine whether the Greek soldiers crossed into Turkey by accident or deliberately. Asked whether Ankara was considering exchanging the two men with eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following an attempted Turkish coup in 2016, Cavusoglu ruled out such a prospect. “We do not want such an agreement,” he said.
Greece will probably not need a precautionary credit line after its bailout ends in August if the country sticks to reforms, the head of Europe’s rescue fund said in an interview released on Saturday. Greece has received 260 billion euros in financial aid from euro zone countries and the IMF since 2010, and its third bailout expires in August. The country regained market access last year but some European Union policymakers and Greek central bankers believe Athens cannot go it alone without a standby line of credit after its financial support ends. But a precautionary credit line would come with conditions attached, something the government is keen to avoid after eight years of austerity that has worn down Greeks and hurt its popularity in polls.
In an interview with Proto Thema newspaper, the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Klaus Regling, said having a precautionary arrangement available is good because it gives more assurances to markets, investors and the Greek population. “But it very much depends whether it’s really needed,” he said. “If everything remains quiet, reforms continue and Greece continues to develop its market access, then based on what we know today it’s probably not needed.” The ESM and the European Financial Stability Facility are Greece’s largest creditors, together holding more than half of its 332 billion euro public debt, a sum equal to nearly 180% of economic output.
They talk the talk because their pollsters say they must. And then deflect responsibility because they have no intention of doing anything. This way it becomes along term issue; the public must be heard first, and that takes years.
A tax on disposable cups is ridiculous. Just ban them, what’s the problem?
The public will be urged by the Government to suggest tax changes to curb plastic pollution, amid growing criticism that ministers are dragging their heels. A “call for evidence” on how tax incentives could cut the amount of single-use plastics – such as cutlery, foam trays and coffee cups – that end up littering the land and poisoning the seas will be launched. But the move, in Tuesday’s Spring Statement, is not expected to include any specific proposals, nor will a formal consultation be launched by the Treasury. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, will tell MPs he is determined that Britain will “lead the world in creating innovative solutions to tackling this global problem”.
But the call for evidence was first proposed by Mr Hammond four months ago, the delay prompting criticism that ministers have simply “talked the talk on plastic pollution”. A proposal for a 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups, made by a cross-party Commons committee in January was met with a cool response from the Government. In January, Theresa May delivered the first major speech on the environment from a sitting prime minister since 2004 and published a 25-year Environment Plan with the ambition of abolishing plastic waste by 2042. However, it was widely criticised for being vague, for the lack of proposed legislation and for the lengthy timescales for dealing with the problems involved. [..] The UK still creates 2.26 million tons of plastic packaging waste a year and recycles only around a third.
On Tuesday, Mr Hammond will say the call for evidence is intended to find ways to use the tax system to deliver both technological progress and behavioural change. Individuals, green groups and industry will be urged to have their say, as the Chancellor announces a £20m innovation fund for businesses and universities to develop the new technologies and approaches needed. The Chancellor said: “Single-use plastics waste is a scourge to our environment. From crisp packets to coffee cups, each year the UK produces millions of tonnes of waste which is neither recyclable nor biodegradable. “That’s why I want British businesses and universities to lead the world in creating innovative solutions to tackling this global problem.
The world may have hit ‘peak trade,’ according to an expert who pointed to robotics, digitization and localization as major game-changers for the sprawling supply chains that have defined globalization. Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Wealth Management, said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s recently announced trade tariffs are not to blame. “I don’t think that the modest taxes imposed by Trump are a driver of peak trade, at this stage. Trade protectionism — mainly non-tariff barriers to trade — have been rising for some years,” he told CNBC. Rather, Donovan said, the peak trade argument is based on “a reversal of the structural way in which globalization took place in recent years.” Globalization as we know it has meant long cross-border supply chains, where many different countries and entities would take part in the production or processing of goods.
The resulting value of trade rose for each country as a proportion of GDP. Trade to GDP, therefore, rose as supply chains lengthened. “What is now happening is that robotics and digitization mean we can produce efficiently, locally,” Donovan said. As an example, he compared the purchase of a compact disc — whose components, intellectual property and packaging would come from different places — a decade ago to downloading music now, which requires only one transaction of intellectual property. This reduces the ratio of trade to GDP. [..] “Robotics, digitization and localization mean that trade wars today are fighting battles from the past,” Donovan said. “I think global trade in goods (not services) revert to something like the old ‘imperial model’ of importing raw materials and then processing close to the consumer.”
China’s exports unexpectedly surged at the fastest pace in 3 years in February, suggesting its economic growth remains resilient even as trade relations with the United States rapidly deteriorate. Trade tensions have jumped to the top of the list of risks facing China this year, with proposed U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium imports suggesting more measures may be on the way, Zhou Hao, senior emerging markets economist at Commerzbank, [said]. China’s February exports rose 44.5% from a year earlier, compared with analysts’ median forecast for a 13.6% increase, and an 11.1% gain in January, official data showed on Thursday. Imports grew 6.3%, the General Administration of Customs said, missing analysts’ forecast for 9.7% growth, and down from a sharper-than-expected 36.9% jump in January.
Analysts caution Chinese data early in the year can be heavily distorted by the timing of the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in February this year but in January in 2017. But combined January-February trade data also showed a dramatic acceleration in export growth. Exports rose 24.4% on-year in Jan-Feb, much better than 10.8% in December and 4% growth in Jan-Feb last year. The government also releases combined data for the first two months in an attempt to smooth out seasonal distortions. The deceleration in import growth for February may be payback for the previous month’s unusual strength, rather than a sign there has been an abrupt weakening in demand. Robust import growth in January was mostly led by commodities as factories scrambled to restock inventories ahead of the long holiday. Imports in the first two months of the year rose 21.7%, compared with 4.5% in December.
Jesse Colombo’s comment: “And what’s amazing is that these retirement stats are during a massive, Fed-driven asset bubble that has inflated the value of retirement accounts – and people STILL can’t retire! Stick a fork in it…we’re done.”
At this rate, retirement is more of a fantasy than a reality for many people in this country. About 42% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire, according to a study by GoBankingRates released Tuesday. The No. 1 reason most people cited for not stashing more away was because they didn’t earn enough to save, followed by the fact that they were already struggling to pay bills, GoBankingRates said. The personal finance site polled more than 1,000 adults online in February.
For those with little or no savings, a serious lack of proper investment income and planning, coupled with a longer life expectancy, has destroyed any retirement expectations. Although millennials are most likely to have less than $10,000 saved, older Americans are also becoming steadily more pessimistic about their future economic prospects, according to a separate study by United Income, a start-up that aims to apply big-data analysis to financial planning.
America relinquished its role as the world’s leading manufacturer in exchange for cheaper imported goods and services from other countries. The profits of U.S.-based manufacturing companies were enhanced with cheaper foreign labor, but the wages of U.S. employees were impaired, and jobs in the manufacturing sector were exported to foreign lands. This had the effect of hollowing out America’s industrial base while at the same time stoking foreign appetite for U.S. debt as they received U.S. dollars and sought to invest them. In return, debt-driven consumption soared in the U.S. The trade deficit, also known as the current account balance, measures the net flow of goods and services in and out of a country. The graph shows the correlation between the cumulative deterioration of the U.S. current account balance and manufacturing jobs.
Since 1983, there have only been two quarters in which the current account balance was positive. During the most recent economic expansion, the current account balance has averaged -$443 billion per year. To further appreciate the ramifications of the reigning economic regime, consider that China gained full acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. The trade agreements that accompanied WTO status and allowed China easier access to U.S. markets have resulted in an approximate quintupling of the amount of exports from China to the U.S. Similarly, there has been a concurrent increase in the amount of credit that China has extended the U.S. government through their purchase of U.S. Treasury securities as shown below.
To further understand why the current economic regime is tricky to change, one must consider that the debts of years past have not been paid off. As such the U.S. Treasury regularly issues new debt that is used to pay for older debt that is maturing while at the same time issuing even more debt to fund current period deficits. Therefore, the important topic not being discussed is the United States’ (in)ability to reduce reliance on foreign funding that has proven essential in supporting the accumulated debt of consumption from years past. Trump’s ideas are far more complicated than simply leveling the trade playing field and reviving our industrial base. If the United States decides to equalize terms of trade, then we are redefining long-held agreements introduced and reinforced by previous administrations.
In breaking with that tradition of “we give you dollars, you give us cheap goods (cars, toys, lawnmowers, steel, etc.), we will most certainly also need to source alternative demand for our debt. In reality, new buyers will emerge but that likely implies an unfavorable adjustment to interest rates. The graph below compares the amount of U.S. Treasury debt that is funded abroad and the total amount of publicly traded U.S. debt. Consider further, foreigners have large holdings of U.S. corporate and securitized individual debt as well. (Importantly, also note that in recent years the Fed has bought over $2 trillion of Treasury securities through QE, more than making up for the recent slowdown in foreign buying.)
There are many ways of assessing the value of the stock market. The Shiller PE (price relative to the past decade’s worth of real, average earnings) and Tobin’s Q (the value of companies’ outstanding stock and debt relative to their replacement cost) are likely the two best. That doesn’t mean those metrics are accurate crash indicators, or that one can use them profitably as trading signals. Expensive stocks can stay expensive or get more expensive, and cheap stocks can stay cheap or get cheaper for inconveniently long periods of time.
But those metrics do have a good record of forecasting future long-term (one decade or more) returns. And that’s important for financial planning and wealth management. Difficult though it is sometimes, everyone must plug in an estimated return into a formula for retirement savings. And if an advisor is plugging in a 7% or so return for a balanced portfolio currently, he or she is likely not doing their job well. Stocks will almost certainly return less than their long-term 10% annualized average for the next decade or two given a starting Shiller PE over 30. The long-term average of the metric, after all, is under 17.
[..] Companies are always manipulating items on income statements to arrive at a particular earnings number. Recently, record numbers of companies have supported net income numbers with non-GAAP metrics. That can be legitimate sometimes. For example, depreciation on real estate is rarely commensurate with reality. But it can also be nefarious[..] So I created a chart showing sales per share growth and price per share growth of the S&P 500 dating back to the end of 2008. From the beginning of 2009 through the end of 2016, companies in the index grew profits per share by nearly 4% annualized, a perfectly respectable number for a mature economy. But price per share grew by a whopping 14.5% over that time. Over that 8 year period, sales grew less than 50% cumulatively, while share prices tripled.
Anyone invested in stocks should worry about this chart. How do share prices get so divorced from underlying corporate sales? One likely answer is low interest rates. But there must be other reasons because we’ve had low interest rates and low stock prices before – namely in the 1940s. That was after the Great Depression, and stocks were still likely viewed as suspect investments. Today, by contrast, stocks are not viewed with much suspicion, despite the technology bubble peaking in 2000 and the housing bubble in 2008. Investors still believe in stocks as an asset class.
As if a brewing trade war wasn’t enough to worry about, investors also need to be alert to the threat of a major currency conflict. Norihiro Takahashi, president of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, dismissed Donald Trump’s tariffs plan as a “performance” for his supporters, and said U.S. assets are no longer expensive, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week. That marks a change in stance since the December quarter, when the world’s largest pension fund scaled back its exposure to foreign assets. Takahashi’s comments could well be a veiled expression of Japan’s displeasure at a stronger yen. The Japanese currency has soared 6.6% against the greenback this year — and we’re only three months into 2018. For a yen-based investor, Treasuries, in particular, do indeed look more reasonably priced than in December.
In theory, currency policy falls under the jurisdiction of Japan’s finance ministry. In practice, government agencies from the Bank of Japan to the GPIF co-ordinate their actions. Don’t forget that on Oct. 31, 2014, the central bank expanded its monetary policy on the same day the GPIF adopted a “new policy asset mix” that increased the fund’s exposure to foreign bonds. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda can deny it, but the central bank has every interest in seeking a weak yen. Japanese corporate earnings are highly cyclical: On a market-weighted basis, companies on the Topix index derive more than 37% of their revenue from abroad, data compiled by Gadfly show. A strengthening yen can cause stocks to plunge, depressing consumption and tipping the economy back into deflation.
With the Topix down more than 10% from its January high, that’s no idle threat. CPI ex-food, the BOJ’s inflation metric, was 0.9% in January, still nowhere near the 2% target that was last breached in 2015. Kuroda’s domestic toolbox, meanwhile, is starting to look empty. With a record 40% of government bonds already in its hands, the central bank is running out of assets to buy.
The financial commentariat and the robo-machines are all in a tizzy this morning because Gary Cohn up and quit. But we say good riddance: The man gave Trump bad advice on nearly every single issue – trade, taxes, fiscal policy and the Fed. We didn’t make any bones about that viewpoint during our appearance on Fox Business this AM. When Maria Bartiromo asked us about Cohn’s departure, our reply was: Hallelujah, the Goldman Sachs Regency in the White House is finally over! The fact is, we do have a trade crisis, but Gary Cohn and the Wall Street pseudo-free traders don’t care and never have. That’s because they fiercely support a perverted, self-serving monetary regime that systematically and massively inflates financial assets, even as it strip mines and deflates the main street economy.
As we have been pointing out in this series, there is a perverse symbiosis between the Fed and the Dirty Float central banks of the 10 major countries (China, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan, etc), which account for 90% of the nation’s $810 billion trade deficit (2017). Together they have ripped the guts out of the US industrial economy – effectively sending jobs and production abroad and cash flow and liquidated capital to Wall Street. For its part, the Fed has monkey-hammered US competitiveness. That’s the result of its insensible 2.00% inflation policy, which has fatally inflated nominal dollar wages in a world market drowning in cheap labor priced in artificially under-valued currencies. At the same time, its massive interest rate repression and price-keeping operations in the stock market have turned the C-suites of corporate America into financial engineering joints.
So doing, they have slashed real net business investment by nearly 3o% since the turn of the century, by 20% from the 2007 pre-crisis peak and, actually, to a level in 2016 that barely exceeded real net investment two decades earlier in 1997. Meanwhile, the C-suites shuttled upwards of $15 trillion of cash flow and debt capacity during the last decade alone into stock buybacks, vanity M&A deals and excess dividends and recaps.
The Trump administration will initially exclude Canada and Mexico from stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, an exemption they would lose if they fail to reach an updated Nafta agreement with the U.S., White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Wednesday. The two nations won’t be subject to tariffs on their steel and aluminum if they sign a new NAFTA that meets the satisfaction of the U.S., Navarro said, adding that other American allies could use a similar system to ask for an exemption. If Nafta talks fall through, Canada and Mexico would face the same tariff as other nations, expected to be 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. “Here’s the situation, and the president has made this public,” Navarro said. “There’s going to be a provision which will exclude Canada and Mexico until the Nafta thing is concluded one way or another.”
The decision-making process regarding the tariffs has evolved and more changes could be made before President Donald Trump formally approves them. China on Thursday vowed to retaliate, its most forceful comments yet on the threatened tariffs. “A trade war is never the right solution,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing. “In a globalized world, it is particularly unhelpful, as it will harm both the initiator and the target countries. In the event of a trade war, China will make a justified and necessary response.” Earlier Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the tariff plan would feature “potential carve outs for Canada and Mexico based on national security” considerations and also possible exclusions for specific countries. Australia is among those making the case for exemption, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop citing her nation’s status as a “close ally and partner” in a Sky News interview on Thursday.
Apple’s iPhone X may not have wooed Asian consumers during the Lunar New Year holiday — but the company has some new products in the pipeline, according to Rosenblatt Securities’ Jun Zhang. Zhang chopped 5.5 million units off expectations for iPhone X sales for the first half of this year in a Wednesday research note. But with sales of high-end smartphones shrinking, Apple could offset lower iPhone sales with new products. “We are not surprised with the quick cooldown of iPhone X sales following Chinese New Year,” Zhang wrote. “Further iPhone X cuts, in our view, suggest the high-end smartphone market upgrade cycle continues to extend. We are seeing similar issues for Samsung’s S9 model since our research suggests that preorders are weak.”
Apple and Samsung, like many tech companies, and rarely release data on new products or unit sales outside of quarterly reports or launch events. But, Zhang wrote, Apple could sell 6 million to 8 million iPad Pro units with more advanced 3-D sensing, as well as new phones in the fall. A new red iPhone model, lower-end iPhones and a lower-priced HomePod might also be in the works, Zhang said. (Apple has had a partnership with HIV/AIDS organization (RED) for over a decade, and often sells red-colored products to support AIDS research and prevention.) “Since we expect the overall smartphone market to be flat this year, particularly in the mid-to-high end markets, Apple’s upcoming lower priced iPhone model could drive Apple’s unit growth,” Zhang wrote.
Thousands of homes in Vancouver have been declared unused and liable for a new empty homes tax as part of a government attempt to tackle skyrocketing home prices and soaring rents. About 4.6% or 8,481 homes in the western Canadian city stood empty or underutilised for more than 180 days in 2017, according to declarations submitted to the municipality by 98.85% of homeowners. Properties deemed empty will be subjected to a tax of 1% of their assessed value. Vancouver has rolled out a raft of measures to cool prices and improve housing affordability in the country’s most expensive real estate market. Empty houses, also a big issue in the UK, are only one aspect of the problem. In 2017 the provincial government of British Columbia raised its foreign buyer tax from 15% to 20% to target offshore investors blamed for pushing up prices.
Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, followed suit with a 15% tax in April. Before the foreign buyer tax, sales agents said investors in Hong Kong, China and other parts of Asia were acquiring up to 40% of Vancouver condominium projects marketed abroad, absorbing the more expensive units that domestic buyers could not afford. Nearly 61% of the homes declared empty in Vancouver were condos, and other multi-family properties made up almost 6%, according to the city government. More than a quarter of the empty properties were in downtown Vancouver. Property owners who did not submit a declaration and those who claimed exemptions, such as for renovations or if the owner was in hospital or long-term care, were included in the empty homes number.
There are more people called David or Steve who head up FTSE 100 companies than there are women or ethnic minorities, underscoring the extent to which corporate Britain is still dominated by men. According to research conducted by INvolve, a group that champions diversity and inclusion in business, there are currently five ethnic minority and seven female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. Nine are named David and four are called Steve. Later this month Royal Mail, which is headed up by Moya Greene, is set to join the index of the UK’s biggest publicly listed companies, taking the total number of female-led firms to eight.
The number highlights how women and ethnic minorities are still dramatically underrepresented on corporate boards across the UK. According to the Government’s Hampton-Alexander Review into female leaders across FTSE companies published last November, only five FTSE 250 companies had at the time achieved a gender-balanced board. Speaking at an event in London to mark International Women’s Day this week, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said that women are now joining boards in greater numbers than ever, but often as non-executive directors.
President Vladimir Putin, who recently startled the world by unveiling Russia’s advanced nuclear arsenal, has again spoken of nuclear arms, clarifying the circumstances in which Moscow is prepared to enter a nuclear war. “Certainly, it would be a global disaster for humanity; a disaster for the entire world,” Putin said, in an interview for a Russian documentary “The World Order 2018,” adding that “as a citizen of Russia and the head of the Russian state I must ask myself: Why would we want a world without Russia?” Even though Putin admitted that any conflict involving the use of nuclear weapons would have dire consequences for humanity, he maintained that Russia would be forced to defend itself using all available means if its very existence is put at stake.
“A decision on the use of nuclear weapons may only be taken if our ballistic missile attack warning system not only detects a launch, but also predicts that the warheads would hit Russian territory. This is called a retaliation strike,” he said in the interview. Russia’s latest edition of its nuclear doctrine allows the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack against Russia or its allies, or to a conventional attack that threatens the existence of Russia. Putin also denied Russia was interested in pursuing a nuclear arms race, saying that “to begin with, we did not start this… nuclear bomb was first developed not by us but by the US,” he said in the interview, pointing out that “we have never used nuclear weapons [although] the US used them against Japan.”
Boris Johnson just about observed diplomatic protocol when he addressed MPs about the apparent poisoning of Sergei Skripal. He stopped short of accusing the Russian state directly. But his inference – a malevolent and unjustified inference for the Foreign Secretary of a country that harps on about the rule of law – was indeed of Russian guilt. And it was clearest in the parallel he invited MPs to draw with the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Now it may indeed be that Russia – or Russians (something rather different) – are responsible for whatever happened in Salisbury. And it is true that Russians in the UK seem disproportionately accident-prone. But it is premature in the extreme to blame the Russian state, and just as misleading to draw this particular parallel with the Litvinenko case.
Both men may have been Russians branded traitors by their homeland, and both may have been victims of poisoning, but there are important differences. In Russia, Litvinenko worked against organised crime; he was less a spy in the conventional sense than a criminal intelligence officer. He fled the country after blowing the whistle on his corrupt bosses, and applied for asylum in the UK. His first choice, the US, had turned him down on the apparent grounds that the information he had to offer was not valuable enough. Unlike Skripal, he started working for MI5/6 only after arriving in the UK, and even then seems to have had difficulty getting on the payroll. His widow, Marina, is still battling to get the intelligence agencies to pay a pension or recognise a duty of care. It is cruel to say so, but Litvinenko seems almost to have been more use to the UK in death – as a totem of Russia’s general badness – than he was in life.
[..] For the moment, though, I will resist the temptation to delve into my inner Le Carre and return to Litvinenko. As I said, there are crucial differences between the two – differences that should militate against state-sponsored assassination being the favoured explanation for Skripal’s plight. But there should be doubts, too, about this judgment in the case of Litvinenko. The conclusions of the Litvinenko inquiry, now treated as unimpeachable proof of Russian state culpability, are nowhere near as definitive – or credible – as they have since been presented. The much-trumpeted (and over-interpreted) conclusion of the judge, Sir Robert Owen, was that “the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev [then head of the FSB] and also by President Putin”. He said there was “a strong probability” that Andrei Lugovoy poisoned Litvinenko “under the direction of the FSB” and the use of polonium-210 was “at very least a strong indicator of state involvement”. What sort of proof is that?
Turkey’s prime minister has renewed a threat against efforts to search for offshore gas around Cyprus. Turkey opposes what it says are “unilateral” efforts to search for gas, saying they infringe the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the ethnically split island’s resources. Binali Yildirim said Wednesday during a joint news conference with Tufan Erhurman, the so-called “prime minister” of the breakaway north of Cyprus, that “provocative activities will be met with the appropriate response.” Yildirim’s comments were in response to reports that an ExxonMobil vessel was heading toward the Mediterranean, coinciding with exercises in the area involving the US Navy. Last month, Turkish warships prevented a rig from reaching an area southeast of Cyprus where Italian company Eni was scheduled to drill for gas.
The United States recognizes the right of Cyprus to develop the resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone, and discourages any actions or statements that provoke a rise in tensions in the region, a State Department official has said. In a statement late on Wednesday, the official said that Washington’s policy on Cyprus’ EEZ was longstanding and has not changed, noting that the US “recognizes the right of the Republic of Cyprus to develop its resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone.” “We continue to believe the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement,” the official said. “We discourage any actions or rhetoric that increase tensions in the region.” The official did not comment directly on threats from Ankara regarding the arrival in the region of a research vessel belonging to US company ExxonMobil.
A costly “ice wall” is failing to keep groundwater from seeping into the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, data from operator Tokyo Electric Power Co shows, preventing it from removing radioactive melted fuel at the site seven years after the disaster. When the ice wall was announced in 2013, Tepco assured skeptics that it would limit the flow of groundwater into the plant’s basements, where it mixes with highly radioactive debris from the site’s reactors, to “nearly nothing.” However, since the ice wall became fully operational at the end of August, an average of 141 metric tonnes a day of water has seeped into the reactor and turbine areas, more than the average of 132 metric tonnes a day during the prior nine months, a Reuters analysis of the Tepco data showed.
The groundwater seepage has delayed Tepco’s clean-up at the site and may undermine the entire decommissioning process for the plant, which was battered by a tsunami seven years ago this Sunday. Waves knocked out power and triggered meltdowns at three of the site’s six reactors that spewed radiation, forcing 160,000 residents to flee, many of whom have not returned to this once-fertile coast. Though called an ice wall, Tepco has attempted to create something more like a frozen soil barrier. Using 34.5 billion yen ($324 million) in public funds, Tepco sunk about 1,500 tubes filled with brine to a depth of 30 meters (100 feet) in a 1.5-kilometre (1-mile) perimeter around four of the plant’s reactors. It then cools the brine to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit).
The aim is to freeze the soil into a solid mass that blocks groundwater flowing from the hills west of the plant to the coast. However, the continuing seepage has created vast amounts of toxic water that Tepco must pump out, decontaminate and store in tanks at Fukushima that now number 1,000, holding 1 million tonnes. It says it will run out of space by early 2021. “I believe the ice wall was ‘oversold’ in that it would solve all the release and storage concerns,” said Dale Klein, the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the head of an external committee advising Tepco on safety issues.
In Canada, more than 500 doctors and residents, as well as over 150 medical students, have signed a public letter protesting their own pay raises. “We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations,” the letter says. The group say they are offended that they would receive raises when nurses and patients are struggling. “These increases are all the more shocking because our nurses, clerks and other professionals face very difficult working conditions, while our patients live with the lack of access to required services because of the drastic cuts in recent years and the centralization of power in the Ministry of Health,” reads the letter, which was published February 25.
“The only thing that seems to be immune to the cuts is our remuneration,” the letter says. Canada has a public health system which provides “universal coverage for medically necessary health care services provided on the basis of need, rather than the ability to pay,” the government’s website says. The 213 general practitioners, 184 specialists, 149 resident medical doctors and 162 medical students want the money used for their raises to be returned to the system instead. “We believe that there is a way to redistribute the resources of the Quebec health system to promote the health of the population and meet the needs of patients without pushing workers to the end,” the letter says.
“We, Quebec doctors, are asking that the salary increases granted to physicians be canceled and that the resources of the system be better distributed for the good of the health care workers and to provide health services worthy to the people of Quebec.” A physician in Canada is paid $260,924 ($339,000 Canadian) for clinical services by the government’s Ministry of Health per year on average, according to a report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information published in September 2017. On average, a family physician is paid $211,717 ($275,000 Canadian) for clinical services and a surgical specialist is paid $354,915 ($461,000 Canadian), according to the same report.
Jim Grant, the world’s most famous interest rate observer, ventured on CNBC this week to expose and explain the utterly farcical world of financial markets (and in particular, risk assets) and how grotesquely distorted global bond markets have become. He began with an example… “As an example of where the world is mispricing interest rates… look to Italy, which is having a big [potentially disruptive] election on Sunday… …there is a speculative grade Italian security, Telecom Italia, the 5 1/4’s of 2022 are trading at 0.61 percent, that is a junk bond with a zero handle.” This bond traded with almost a 6 handle just 5 years ago… Thank you Mr Draghi. But it doesn’t stop there, Grant warns…
“…and since interest rates are critical in the pricing of financial instruments, these distortions preceded the uplift in all asset values.. and the manifestation of this manipulation is in many ways responsible for what we are now seeing in the markets.” These distortions and the chaotic aftermath of their withdrawal are exactly what current Fed Chair Powell warned of in 2013… “[W]hen it is time for us to sell, or even to stop buying, the response could be quite strong; there is every reason to expect a strong response. So there are a couple of ways to look at it. It is about $1.2 trillion in sales; you take 60 months, you get about $20 billion a month. That is a very doable thing, it sounds like, in a market where the norm by the middle of next year is $80 billion a month. Another way to look at it, though, is that it’s not so much the sale, the duration; it’s also unloading our short volatility position.
“I think we are actually at a point of encouraging risk-taking, and that should give us pause. Investors really do understand now that we will be there to prevent serious losses. It is not that it is easy for them to make money but that they have every incentive to take more risk, and they are doing so. Meanwhile, we look like we are blowing a fixed-income duration bubble right across the credit spectrum that will result in big losses when rates come up down the road. You can almost say that that is our strategy.”
Currency wars do not exist all the time; they arise under certain conditions and persist until there is either systemic reform or systemic collapse. The conditions that give rise to currency wars are too much debt and too little growth. In those circumstances, countries try to steal growth from trading partners by cheapening their currencies to promote exports and create export-related jobs. The problem with currency wars is that they are zero-sum or negative-sum games. It is true that countries can obtain short-term relief by cheapening their currencies, but sooner than later, their trading partners also cheapen their currencies to regain the export advantage. This process of tit-for-tat devaluations feeds on itself with the pendulum of short-term trade advantage swinging back and forth and no one getting any further ahead.
After a few years, the futility of currency wars becomes apparent, and countries resort to trade wars. This consists of punitive tariffs, export subsidies and nontariff barriers to trade. The dynamic is the same as in a currency war. The first country to impose tariffs gets a short-term advantage, but retaliation is not long in coming and the initial advantage is eliminated as trading partners impose tariffs in response. Despite the illusion of short-term advantage, in the long-run everyone is worse off. The original condition of too much debt and too little growth never goes away. Finally, tensions rise, rival blocs are formed and a shooting war begins. The shooting wars often have a not-so-hidden economic grievance or rationale behind them.
The sequence in the early 20th century began with a currency war that started in Weimar Germany with a hyperinflation (1921–23) and then extended through a French devaluation (1925), a U.K. devaluation (1931), a U.S. devaluation (1933) and another French/U.K. devaluation (1936). Meanwhile, a global trade war emerged after the Smoot-Hawley tariffs (1930) and comparable tariffs of trading partners of the U.S. Finally, a shooting war progressed with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931), the Japanese invasion of Beijing and China (1937), the German invasion of Poland (1939) and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941). Eventually, the world was engulfed in the flames of World War II, and the international monetary system came to a complete collapse until the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944.
The greatest threat to our economy comes from its ageing population. With the baby-boomer generation making up a large proportion of society, we find ourselves in a situation where public policy is mostly geared towards shoring up the gains made by boomers over the past 40 years, and industrial disputes are driven by an ageing union membership most worried about its pension entitlements. It is a problem that Britain shares with its continental cousins, the US and Japan, now that all are struggling with a situation where a fifth of their populations is aged over 65 and the proportion is rising fast. Ageing populations have many effects on an economy, not least the desire among those nearing retirement age to save excessively.
Each country’s baby boomers pursue the holy grail of wealth slightly differently, but in the main, property and pensions are the twin pillars supporting decades of retirement. When wealth is your goal, there is one evil monster that needs slaying, and that is inflation. This is one of the main reasons that since the 1990s the Bank of England is under instruction to keep inflation anchored around 2%. A recent blog by economists at the Bank has caused a stir by arguing that far from the baby-boomer savings glut being a passing phase – or at least a situation that will fade as the boomers die off – it will be with us for decades to come.
They argue that boomers have shown that they want to keep saving even as they move into their 80s and 90s, to fund possible extra health and care costs, and to pass on the maximum amount of wealth they can to their heirs. Some academics have argued that boomers will be forced to spend more than they save in later life to pay for health and long-term care, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. The $100 trillion of savings sloshing round the global financial system just keeps growing. This is not just because people in young nations such as Indonesia and India are starting to build up savings, but because older Brits, Germans and Swedes are doing the same when there had been an expectation that they would switch to spending.
[..] The Bank of England blog argues that the persistent glut of savings in stocks, bonds and property will maintain the trend of the past 30 years – of an excess of money chasing too few investment opportunities. And if older savers resist spending some of their pension, demand for goods is lower than expected, and inflation stays low. Central banks, in seeking to maintain a 2% inflation target, are the agents of baby boomers. It is their savings and wealth that are protected, not those of the young, who have much less, if any.
There is growing consensus among economists that Osborne’s post-crisis austerity programme deepened and lengthened Britain’s post-crisis recession, causing public and private investment to fall further and real wages to decline. Making large reductions to government spending is itself a major reason why the economy has been so slow in recovering. (Consider the multiplier effect where an injection of public money helps generate income and tax revenues.) In his first budget (June 2010) Osborne told parliament: “We are on track to have debt falling and a balanced structural current budget by the end of this parliament” (ie March 2015).
He slashed welfare as promised, but the economy slowed further. While employment revived, jobs have been recast as part-time, temporary and insecure. As a result, productivity stalled. These declines will cause permanent damage to the British economy. Convinced that a chancellor should “never let a crisis go to waste”, Osborne used the opportunity to shrink the state, as cuts to government spending tore into welfare provision and public services. Real spend per head of population fell, and the real spend per head was particularly felt by the vulnerable citizen, as the population grew older and more fragile. Under his watch, total managed expenditure was cut in real terms by £14bn (2016-17 prices).
These cuts were made worse by a 3-4% rise in population, and by the increasing needs of an ageing population. Public sector net investment was allowed to fall from £60bn in 2010 to £35bn in 2016. It caused intense suffering to small and large firms and suppliers, many of which went and are going bust, laying off staff. The insistence on balancing the current budget also hurt millions of individuals innocent of the causes of the crisis.
High above the red dirt and evergreen trees of Kemper County, Mississippi, gleams a 15-story monolith of pipes surrounded by a town-sized array of steel towers and white buildings. The hi-tech industrial site juts out of the surrounding forest, its sharp silhouette out of place amid the gray crumbling roads, catfish stands and trailer homes of nearby De Kalb, population: 1,164. The $7.5bn Kemper power plant once drew officials from as far as Saudi Arabia, Japan and Norway to marvel at a 21st-century power project so technologically complex its builder compared it to the moonshot of the 1960s. It’s promise? Energy from “clean coal”. “I’m impressed,” said Jukka Uosukainen, UN director for the Climate Technology Centre and Network, after a 2014 tour: “maybe using coal in the future is possible”.
Kemper, its managers claimed, would harness dirt-cheap lignite coal – the world’s least efficient and most abundant form of coal – to power homes and businesses in America’s lowest-income state while causing the least climate-changing pollution of any fossil fuel. It was a promise they wouldn’t keep. Last summer the plant’s owner, Southern Company, America’s second-largest utility company, announced it was abandoning construction after years of blown-out budgets and missed construction deadlines. “It hit us hard,” said Craig Hitt, executive director of the Kemper County Economic Development Authority. Some 75 miners, roughly half living inside Kemper County, have already been affected in a region where unemployment is 7.1% compared to a national average of just 4.1%. “It was going to be the biggest project in the history of the county, possibly in the state of Mississippi,” Hitt said.
Instead, this year, Kemper County was home to one of the first large coalmining layoffs of the Trump era. It’s failure is also likely to have a profound impact on the future of “clean coal”. “This was the flagship project that was going to lead the way for a whole new generation of coal power plants,” said Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. “If the initial project doesn’t work then who’s going to invest in any more like it?” [..] a review by the Guardian of more than 5,000 pages of confidential company documents, internal emails, white papers, and other materials provided anonymously by several former Southern Co insiders, plus on- and off-record interviews with other former Kemper engineers and managers, found evidence that top executives covered up construction problems and fundamental design flaws at the plant and knew, years before they admitted it publicly, that their plans had gone awry.
NBC’s Megyn Kelly has tried to establish herself as the US media’s preeminent “Putin whisperer” since confronting the Russian president last year over allegations he sanctioned interference by hacking groups in the 2016 US presidential election. In a formal interview with the Russian president, Kelly asked the Russian leader about the latest development in the ongoing controversy, Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities for election meddling. Ignoring that the indictment stated that the alleged activities of the trolls at the Internet Research Agency had no impact on the outcome of the election, Kelly insisted on pressing the Russian president about why Russia hadn’t acted to prosecute the men – including Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a wealthy Russian businessman.
Putin pointed out that no formal requests had been made by the US government, and no effort to share the incriminating information had been made. “I have to see first what they’ve done. Give us a document, give us an official request” Putin said in the NBC interview adding that “We can not respond to that if they do not violate Russian laws.” Kelly responded by listing some of the allegations, before Putin insisted that they shouldn’t be presented to him personally – but to Russia’s general prosecutor. “This has to go through official channels, not through the press, or yelling and hollering in the United States Congress,” Putin said. The broadcast aired a day after Putin grabbed headlines in Western media by revealing that Russia had recently finished testing a range of nuclear weapons that were capable of evading US anti-ballistic missile batteries, showing animated footage and digital representations of the missiles’ capabilities striking Florida which prompted an uproar at the US State Department.
Meanwhile, even though Russia has repeatedly criticized the US and NATO for installing anti-ballistic missile shields in Eastern Europe that Russia says more closely resemble offensive missile batteries, Putin pushed back against questions about whether the US and Russia were entering a new Cold War. The Russian leader said anybody spreading these accusations are more concerned with propaganda than accurate representations of the relationships between the two countries. “My point of view is that the individuals that have said that a new Cold War has started are not analysts. They do propaganda.” Repeating a claim that has been made by many Russian officials, Putin said the arms race between the US and Russia began when George W Bush withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002. “If you were to speak about an arms race, then an arms race began exactly at the time and moment the U.S. opted out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,” he said.
Never a good idea for a party that losses big in elections to be in government; what are elections for? The SPD is so divided now it could turn its back on Merkel at literally any moment over the nexy 4-5 years.
Germany’s Social Democratic party has agreed to form another “grand coalition” government with the conservative CDU, ending months of political uncertainty in Europe and guaranteeing Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term in office. Sunday’s announcement by the party’s leadership ends almost six months of uncertainty in German politics, the longest the country has been without a government in its postwar history. A majority of 66.02% members of 463,723 eligible SPD members voted in favour of renewing the constellation that has governed Germany for the last four years, its treasurer, Dietmar Nietan, confirmed at the party’s headquarters in Berlin.
“We now have some clarity”, said the Social Democrats’ caretaker leader, Olaf Scholz, a contender for the role of finance minister, speaking at the Willy Brandt House. “The SPD will enter into government”. The leadership of the SPD had initially ruled out joining Merkel in government in the wake of historically disappointing results at federal elections in September last year. But the collapse of talks to form an unorthodox “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats and the Green party forced the German centre-left back to the negotiating table, where it managed to secure a surprising victory in getting the chancellor to cede control of the influential finance ministry.
“..to borrow that €3 billion on behalf of its creditors, the Greek state added €816 million in interest payments to its debt repayments for 2025. Germany’s cost for rolling over the same sum, on the same day, was a mere €63 million…”
The big moment, it is said, will come in August, when Greece will be pronounced a “normal” European country again. Recently, in preparation for the government’s return to the money markets – from which it has been effectively excluded since 2010 – Greece’s public-debt authority has been testing the waters with a long-term bond issue. Unfortunately, all the happy talk about impending “debt relief” and a “clean exit” from Greece’s third “bailout” obscures an uglier truth: the country’s debt bondage is being extended to 2060. And, by ossifying Greece’s insolvency, while pretending to have overcome it, Europe’s establishment is demonstrating its dogged refusal to address the eurozone’s underlying fault lines. This augurs ill for ALL Europeans.
For an EU country to be considered “normal,” it should be subject to the scrutiny facing countries that were never bailed out. That means the standard twice-yearly checks of compliance with the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, as performed by the European Commission under the so-called European Semester procedure. Nevertheless, for countries like Ireland or Portugal, a tougher “post-program surveillance” procedure was designed following their bailouts: quarterly checks conducted not only by the European Commission but also by the European Central Bank.
It is plain to see why Greece’s road will be much bumpier than Ireland’s or Portugal’s. The ECB had already begun purchasing Irish and Portuguese debt in the secondary markets well before these countries’ bailout exit, as part of its “quantitative easing” program. This enabled the Irish and Portuguese governments to issue large quantities of new debt at low interest rates. Greece was never included the ECB’s quantitative easing program, for two reasons: its debt burden was too large to service in the long term, even with the help of ECB-sponsored low interest rates, and the ECB was under pressure, mainly from Germany, to wind down the program. Moreover, the post-program surveillance procedure does not give the “troika” of official creditors the leverage over Greece that they desire.
In celebrating Greece’s “clean exit,” while retaining its iron grip on the Greek government and withholding debt restructuring, Europe’s establishment is once again displaying its skill at inventing neologisms. Until 75% of Greece’s public debt is repaid – in 2060, at the earliest – the country, we are told, will be subject to “enhanced surveillance” (a term with unfortunate echoes of “enhanced interrogation”). In practice, this means 42 years of quarterly reviews, during which the European Commission and the ECB “in collaboration with the IMF” may impose new “measures” on Greece (such as austerity, fire sales of public property, and restrictions on organized labor). In short, the next two generations of Greeks will grow up with the troika and its “process” (perhaps under a different name) as a permanent fixture of life.
The celebration of Greece’s return to normality began a few weeks ago with the government’s oversubscribed €3 billion issue of its first seven-year bond in years. What the revelers failed to note, however, was that, to borrow that €3 billion on behalf of its creditors, the Greek state added €816 million in interest payments to its debt repayments for 2025. Germany’s cost for rolling over the same sum, on the same day, was a mere €63 million. Will Greece’s income rise by a similar amount between now and 2025 to make this sustainable?
“The agricultural feed companies, the chemical companies, the pharmaceutical companies that provide the antibiotics fed en masse to factory-farmed animals, the equipment manufacturers that sell cages and tractors – they all benefit.”
Some of Britain’s favourite wildlife is at risk of becoming extinct unless there is a new, 21st-century agricultural revolution, experts are warning. Species from hedgehogs to skylarks and birds of prey are being wiped out – in part by companies with vested interests in “destructive” factory farming, it was claimed on World Wildlife Day, which takes place today. The “alarming” declines in wildlife will threaten not just the richness of the planet but also our ability to grow food, according to the RSPB. After scientists warned last year that the world is facing a sixth mass extinction, turtle doves are on the brink of being wiped out, the latest survey figures show. Numbers of grey partridges, corn buntings and tree sparrows have dropped by at least 90 per cent in 40 years, leaving them all at risk of vanishing from Britain.
Earlier this month, a new report revealed that the number of hedgehogs in the countryside had more than halved since 2000. Nearly two-thirds of Britain’s skylarks and lapwings have disappeared, the European bird census showed, while Birdlife International says 95 per cent of turtle doves have vanished in 20 years. Just days after Environment Secretary Michael Gove unveiled plans to reward farmers who care for the environment, ornithologist Philip Lymbery warned of a culture among government policymakers and scientists of blaming biodiversity declines on climate change – instead of tackling those with “vested interests” in “disastrous” modern farming practices – because it was easier to avoid blaming anyone.
Mr Lymbery, head of charity Compassion in World Farming (CiWF), said changes in farming in the past half-century to drastically and artificially push up quantities of food produced were destroying species from nightingales to butterflies and peregrines. “I’m worried that policymakers and some scientists duck the issue by blaming all the things damaging nature on climate change,” he told The Independent. [..] “The agricultural feed companies, the chemical companies, the pharmaceutical companies that provide the antibiotics fed en masse to factory-farmed animals, the equipment manufacturers that sell cages and tractors – they all benefit. “It’s not the average farmer who benefits from industrial agriculture. And it needs to change.”
Just days before the first Academy Awards ceremony since Hollywood was hit with allegations of rampant sexual harassment, assault, and pedophilia, a Los Angeles street artist made a bold statement just a few miles from the Dolby Theater where the Oscars will be held. Sabo, a conservative-leaning artist who has previously tagged the city with art referencing former President Obama’s drones, purchased three billboards, echoing the sentiment of a Academy Award-nominated film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which tells the story of a mother who seeks accountability for her daughter’s rape and murder, which police in her small town have failed to solve. In the film, the mother purchases three billboards that read:
“RAPED WHILE DYING”
“AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”
“HOW COME CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”
In Sabo’s version, the billboards plastered in Hollywood read:
“AND THE OSCAR FOR BIGGEST PEDOPHILE GOES TO…”
“WE ALL KNEW AND STILL NO ARRESTS”
“NAME NAMES ON STAGE OR SHUT THE HELL UP!”
Kevin Spacey’s career went down in flames last year amid the fallout of widespread allegations of abuse by now-scorned producer Harvey Weinstein. Anthony Rapp accused the actor of making advances on him in 1986, when Rapp was only 14. Other accusations against Spacey followed, including some others that alleged Spacey attempted to take advantage of the victims when they were under the age of 18. Further, Corey Feldman, who has long warned of predatory, pedophilic behavior in Hollywood, revealed several of his accused abusers last year, citing John Grissom, former talent manager Marty Weiss, and Alphy Hoffman, who was the son of a high-power producer and ran the trendy Soda Pop Club, where Feldman claims widespread harassment took place in the 1980s.
Feldman claimed there were six abusers total, saying one is an A-list actor who might kill him. He has previously said his fellow child star, Corey Haim, now deceased, received worse abuse than he did. In a 2011 appearance on Nightline, Feldman said: “[T]he No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia…that’s the biggest problem for children in this industry… It’s the big secret.”
World stock markets have tumbled after Donald Trump said the United States would impose tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on imported aluminum next week. The threat of a trade war with China and higher goods prices led to a sharp sell-off in Wall Street on Thursday, causing Asian markets to take fright on Friday. The Nikkei index in Japan fell 2.4%, Hong Kong and South Korea were down 1.6%, and the ASX200 in Sydney was off 1% in early afternoon trading. Asian steelmakers bore the brunt. South Korea’s Posco fell 3% and Japan’s Nippon Steel 4%. Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets in Sydney said it was a “sharp reminder of the initial negative reaction to the election of Mr Trump ..
… An explanation may come, but the initial market interpretation of the move is rank populism. The lack of structure makes anticipating further measures and possible responses to retaliatory moves difficult to predict.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average had initially fallen more than 570 points, with heavy losses for manufacturers like Caterpillar and Boeing. The index closed down 420 points and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both dropped on the day. Trump campaigned on the promise of protecting the US steel industry but until now has done little to make good on those promises. At a meeting with US industry officials at the White House, he vowed to rebuild American steel and aluminum industries, saying they had been treated unfairly by other countries for decades.
The move is likely to increase tensions with China, whose top trade official, Lui He, is in Washington for trade talks. “People have no idea how badly our country has been treated by other countries, by people representing us that didn’t have a clue,” Trump said at a White House press conference attended by executives from the steel and aluminum industries. “Or if they did, then they should be ashamed of themselves because they’ve destroyed the steel industry, they’ve destroyed the aluminum industry, and other industries, frankly, when you look at all the plants, the car plants, automobile plants that moved down to Mexico for no reason whatsoever, except we didn’t know what we were doing. So we’re bringing it all back.”
Just when it looked like the global economy was running on all cylinders, President Donald Trump injected a degree of risk to the otherwise favorable outlook. The U.S. president announced on Thursday plans to impose 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% tariffs on foreign aluminum, with more details to be unveiled next week. American equities cratered for a third day as fears of a trade war spread and expectations for U.S. economic growth weakened a bit. The move to protect American metals producers threatens to raise prices for consumers and businesses that buy goods made with the raw materials. That will have implications for a U.S. central bank that’s debating how fast to raise interest rates this year.
“If tariffs go up, it will, at the margin, tend to put more upward pressure on prices, and those upward pressure on prices will have to be considered by the monetary authority,” New York Fed President William Dudley said in a speech in Brazil on Thursday. The extent of any economic damage will depend on the fine-print of Trump’s new policies and the severity of countries’ retaliation. Some economists worried the move might presage a shift toward an era of more economy-inhibiting protectionism just when it looked like the growth headwinds were fading. “It is possible that a more aggressive shift in policy is under way that could undermine the pro-growth tilt of fiscal policy, harming the U.S. and global economic expansions,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a research note after Trump’s announcement.
The stock market is flirting with a technical inflection point again. The S&P 500 Index briefly broke below its 100-day moving average Thursday, sinking as much as 2% after President Donald Trump said the U.S. will impose harsh tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The announcement added fuel to a fire that’s been smoldering since last month’s selloff, as investors continue to worry about rising inflation and interest rates. That anxiety has brought the market close to collapsing through the line of defense the moving average represents.
“You’ve broken down below the halfway point, now you’re toying below the initial high after the collapse, and you’ve gotten into all sorts of technical problems,” Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Weeden, said by phone. “Breaking some technical averages here is starting to scare people.” The S&P 500 fell 1.1% to 2,684.02 as of 3:27 p.m. in New York, after going as low as 2,659.65. The index is down about 2.5% on the week. Before February’s correction, the gauge hadn’t touched the 100-day barrier since last August. And while the market is recovering some of Thursday’s losses late in the session, it still risks closing below the line for the third time in a month.
Last month, MarketWatch used a chart overlay to illustrate how the stock market under John F. Kennedy has closely followed its performance over the same time frame with Donald Trump in the White House. Fast forward three weeks and, as of Wednesday’s close, the S&P 500, in relative terms, sat almost exactly where it did at this point during Kennedy’s administration. If the trend persists—a HUGE if, of course—prepare for some rather steep losses in the coming weeks. Perhaps it’s already started, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down nearly 600 points at its Thursday low.
“After 328 trading days since election day, the Trump S&P 500 sits right on top of the JFK S&P 500,” the blogger behind the Global Macro Monitor wrote. ”The index, 328 trading days after the election day of each president, is less than five basis points within one another. Rather stunning, don’t you think?”
NRA members have branded Donald Trump’s plans for stricter gun control legislation “stupid” and a “betrayal” after the president suggested reforms on Wednesday. In an open meeting with congressional Democrats and Republicans, Trump embraced raising the age limit on purchasing certain weapons and suggested that law enforcement should be allowed to confiscate people’s guns before going through due process in a court. Joe Biggs, an Austin, Texas-based NRA member and chief executive of Rogue Right, a conservative news website, was among those unimpressed by the proposal. “That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Hopefully he was just having a momentary brain fart, a lapse of judgment,” Biggs said.
He added: “Hopefully someone pulled him into the back and said: ‘You’ve just lost half your base by saying something that stupid.’” During the meeting Trump called for a “beautiful” bill which would expand background checks on gun purchases and restrict young people from purchasing certain weapons. But it was his suggestion that in some cases law enforcement should be allowed to “take the guns first, go through due process second” – that most alarmed gun owners on the right. “You spend your whole life on the right and you always think that Democrats are going to be the ones who take your guns,” Biggs said. “And then you hear President Trump say: ‘Oh we’re gonna take your guns and go through due process later.’” Biggs said he would vote for another candidate in the 2020 presidential election if Trump pushed through his reforms.
Putin in his state of the union announced to his people that Russia can defend itself from any attacks, including nuclear. Western media twist his words; the Guardian claims that “Russia threatens arms race” and even Zero Hedge says :“..the era of the Western world attempting to prevent Russia’s expansion is over.”
The new US nuclear posture allows a nuclear strike in response to a conventional attack. President Vladimir Putin said Russia, if attacked with nuclear weapons, would not hesitate to respond in kind. The warning came during a state of the nation address delivered by the Russian president on Thursday, in which he presented a number of new advanced strategic weapon systems which, he said, would render all anti-missile capabilities that the US currently has powerless. Putin also mentioned the new American nuclear posture, which has relaxed some rules on when the US is prepared to use its nuclear weapons. “We are greatly concerned by some parts of the new nuclear posture, which reduces the benchmark for the use of nuclear weapons…
..Whatever soothing words one may try to use behind closed doors, we can read what was written. And it says that these weapons can be used in response to a conventional attack or even a cyber-threat,” he said. “Our nuclear doctrine says Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack or an attack with other weapons of mass destruction against her or her allies, or a conventional attack against us that threatens the very existence of the state.” “It is my duty to state this: Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, be it small-scale, medium-scale or any other scale, will be treated as a nuclear attack on our country. The response will be instant and with all the relevant consequences,” Putin warned.
The Chinese government has banned George Orwell’s dystopian satirical novella Animal Farm and the letter ‘N’ in a wide-ranging online censorship crackdown. Experts believe the increased levels of suppression – which come just days after the Chinese Communist Party announced presidential term limits would be abolished – are a sign Xi Jinping hopes to become a dictator for life. The China Digital Times, a California-based site covering China, reports a list of terms excised from Chinese websites by government censors includes the letter ‘N’, Orwell’s novels Animal Farm and 1984, and the phrase ‘Xi Zedong’. The latter is a combination of President Xi and former chairman Mao Zedong’s names.
Search terms blocked on Sino Weibo, a microblogging site which is China’s equivalent of Twitter, include “disagree”, “personality cult”, “lifelong”, “immortality”, “emigrate”, and “shameless”. It was not immediately obvious why the ostensibly harmless letter ‘N’ had been banned, but some speculated it may either be being used or interpreted as a sign of dissent. [..] Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have long been blocked in the country and even Winnie the Pooh recently found himself subject to China’s latest internet crackdown. In July, references to the cartoon bear on Sina Weibo were removed after his image was compared to President Xi.
Our car addiction is deeply rooted. We built our communities around them. Not around ourselves. That is a much bigger problem than what fuel a car uses to power a vehicle 10-20 times heavier than its driver, with a 10% fuel efficiency.
Over half of diesel cars recently approved for sale in Europe are emitting pollutants far above current legal air pollution limits, despite being marketed as the “cleanest in history”. Analysis of emissions data from nearly 100 car models revealed many vehicles from the new “Euro 6” generation would not be allowed on the market if they were tested today. An investigation by Greenpeace found dozens of these high-polluting vehicles were approved for sale during a “monitoring period” in which there was no limit set on the amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx) they could emit on roads. Many of these vehicles have only gone on sale across Europe in the recent months. The news comes after a German court ruled cities can impose driving bans on certain diesel cars in an effort to deal with the country’s air pollution.
Such restrictions on diesel cars – including the clean air zones found in London and other UK cities – tend to focus on older, dirtier car models. However, Greenpeace campaigners emphasised that while newer Euro 6 models are described as “light years away from their older counterparts” many of them still have the capacity to emit high levels of pollutants. Following the so-called “dieselgate” scandal in 2015, which found VW had installed “cheat software” in its vehicles to fool lab emissions tests, there was a widespread push for tough new regulations. In the aftermath of the scandal, testing revealed diesel cars that met the latest “Euro 6” limits for NOx emissions in lab tests were massively exceeding those limits when driving on the road.
In a recent post, I wrote that the U.S. would almost certainly set a new oil production record this year. I noted that the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that last November U.S. oil production exceeded 10 million barrels per day (BPD) for the first time since 1970. This week the EIA revised November’s oil production upward, which pushed it into the #1 spot for monthly production. The revision increased U.S. oil production in November to 10.057 million BPD, just edging out the previous record of 10.044 million BPD from November 1970. However, many new records should be set this year, as the EIA projects that oil production will reach 11 million BPD by year-end.
This would push the U.S. into first place among the world’s oil producers. But depending on how it is measured, the U.S. is already #1. The 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy ranks the U.S. #1 in oil production, but that’s because they include natural gas liquids (NGLs), which have surged in the U.S. along with natural gas production. The gains in U.S. oil production are being driven by production gains across tight oil plays in the Bakken and Eagle Ford, and especially the Permian Basin – where oil production is approaching a staggering 3 million BPD.
Earlier this year, when Bitcoin’s price fell by more than 60% from its record close, a less-noticed Bitcoin figure also plunged: the number of daily transactions. There are many explanations for the fall-off in trading, from software- to news-related. What’s less understood is why the level hasn’t recovered as Bitcoin’s price made a 50% comeback since Feb. 5. That’s left some investors wondering whether the cryptocurrency is waning in popularity. The average number of trades recorded daily has roughly dropped in half from the December highs and touched its lowest in two years last month, even as Bitcoin became a household name and roared back above $10,000.
Around the world, gender bias is attracting renewed attention. Through protest marches and viral social-media campaigns, women everywhere are demanding an end to sexual harassment, abuse, femicide, and inequality. But, as successful as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have been in raising public awareness, the struggle for parity is far from over. Empowering women and girls is key to achieving all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. At the moment, however, gender bias remains a significant obstacle to global progress, and it is particularly acute in the workplace. Today, only 5% of S&P 500 companies are led by women, according to Catalyst, a non-profit CEO watchdog.
That dismal figure is all the more remarkable when one considers that 73% of global firms allegedly have equal-opportunity policies in place, according to a survey by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Moreover, while research shows a clear link between a company’s gender balance and its financial health, women occupy fewer than 20% of governing board seats in the world’s largest companies. Addressing such deficiencies is both an economic and a moral imperative. A 2015 report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that if women and men played an “identical role in labor markets,” $28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025. These global gains would be in addition to the benefits for individual companies.
Firms with greater gender equality are more innovative, generous, and profitable. But, at the current rate of female empowerment, it would take nearly 220 years to close the gender gap. The world cannot afford to wait that long; we need a new approach.
National Grid has warned that the UK would not have enough gas to meet public demand on Thursday, as temperatures plummeted and imports were affected by outages. But the government said households would not notice disruptions to their supply or any increase in energy bills because suppliers, including British Gas, bought energy further ahead. The energy minister Claire Perry said people should cook and use their heating as they would normally. But experts said there was a strong chance that industrial users could experience interruptions to their gas supply. Within-day wholesale gas prices soared 74% to 200p per therm after the formal deficit warning, which acts as a call to suppliers to bring forward more gas.
It is the first time such an alert has been issued since 2010. By lunchtime on Thursday the price had spiked even higher, hitting a high of 275p per therm at one point. National Grid’s forecast for the day initially showed a shortfall across the day of 49.5m cubic metres (mcm) below the country’s projected need of 395.7mcm, which would normally be around 300mcm at this time of year. The gas deficit warning aims to fill the gap, which has since narrowed to 16.5mcm. “We are in communication with industry partners and are closely monitoring the situation,” the company said.
Gas demand is now at a five-year high, according to the market watchers S&P Global Platts. Simon Wood, a gas analyst at the group, said: “There’s a strong chance you’ll see some interruptions for industrial users to balance the system.” Big energy users such as car manufacturers have supply contracts which can be interrupted in return for lower prices. The situation has been compounded by several supply outages, which can relate to very cold weather. There have been problems with a pipeline to the Netherlands, reductions in gas flows from Norway, and technical issues at facilities in the UK, including at the North Morecambe Barrow terminal.
Brexit would lead to an unprecedented food shortage if the U.K. leaves the European Union without a deal, the CEO of the country’s second-biggest grocer said. “The impact of closing the borders for a few days to the free movement of food would result in a food crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen,” J Sainsbury CEO Mike Coupe said in an interview. “It’s inconceivable to me that there won’t be a solution found.” Tensions are simmering between London and Brussels, with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May saying Wednesday that no one in her position could ever agree to the draft Brexit treaty published by the EU.
May is seeking to get the EU to sign on to a transition phase at a summit of leaders later this month, but Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned Thursday that any such agreement could still unravel before Britain’s scheduled exit in March 2019. Almost half of the food eaten in the U.K. is imported. Trade barriers would be especially damaging to Britain’s fresh-food retailers, who rely heavily on the unencumbered movement of perishable goods throughout the EU. In 2016, the U.K. imported 22.4 billion pounds ($30.8 billion) worth of meat, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Wild bees and honeybees are put at risk by three pesticides from a group known as neonicotinoids, Europe’s food safety watchdog said on Wednesday, confirming previous concerns that prompted an EU-wide ban on use of the chemicals. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report, which covered wild bees and honeybees and included a systematic review of scientific evidence published since EFSA’s 2013 evaluation, is seen as crucial to whether the European moratorium on neonicotinoid use remains in place. The updated risk assessment found variations due to factors such as species of bee, exposure and specific pesticide, “but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed,” said Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA’s pesticides unit.
The European Union has since 2014 had a moratorium on use of neonicotinoids — made and sold by various companies including Bayer and Syngenta — after lab research pointed to potential risks for bees, which are crucial for pollinating crops. EU nations will discuss a European Commission proposal to ban three neonicotinoids next month in the Plant Animal Food and Feed Standing Committee. “This is strengthening the scientific basis for the Commission’s proposal to ban outdoor use of the three neonicotinoids,” a spokeswoman for the EU executive said.
Designed to withstand a nuclear missile hit, the world’s biggest seed vault, nestled deep inside an Arctic mountain, is undergoing a makeover as rising temperatures melt the permafrost meant to protect it. Dubbed the “Noah’s Ark” of food crops, the Global Seed Vault is buried inside a former coal mine on Svalbard, a remote Arctic island in a Norwegian archipelago around 1,000 kilometres (650 miles) from the North Pole. Opened in 2008, the seed bank plays a key role in preserving the world’s genetic diversity: it is home to more than a million varieties of seeds, offering a safety net in case of natural catastrophe, war, climate change, disease or manmade disasters.
But warmer temperatures have disrupted the environment around the vault. In an unexpected development, the permafrost, which was meant to help keep the temperature inside the vault at a constant -18 Celsius (-0.4 Fahrenheit), melted in 2016. “The summer season was (warmer) than expected. We had water intrusions in the (access) tunnel that could be related to climate change,” Asmund Asdal, one of the seed bank’s coordinators, told AFP. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, scientific studies show. And while Europe is at the moment experiencing a subzero cold spell, the North Pole recently registered above-zero temperatures, 30 degrees higher than normal.
Scientists say warm spells like this are occurring with increasing frequency in the Arctic. Norway recently announced it would contribute 100 million kroner (10 million euros, $12.5 million) to improve the repository in a bid to protect the precious seeds. “We want to be sure that the seed vault will be cold throughout the whole year, even if the temperature continues to increase in Svalbard,” Norway’s Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale told AFP.
Frank Larson Chrysler reflection, 42nd Street near 5th Ave, New York 1950s
Update: Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned at 5pm local time, before the parliamentary debate could take place. But that still leaves Rutte in place with his own version of “when it gets serious, you have to lie”.
There will be a parliamentary debate in Holland (the Netherlands) today about abject lies about Russia and Vladimir Putin that its Foreign Minister, Halbe Zijlstra, has been telling the country for a few years now. Zijlstra is supposed to fly to Russia tomorrow to meet with his Russian peer, Sergey Lavrov. One would suppose Zijlstra will be fired later today, if only to prevent such a meeting from taking place, but that is by no means a given.
Here’s what happened: in 2006, there was a ‘conference’ in Putin’s dacha outside of Moscow. Zijlstra worked for Shell at the time at a lower level. Later, he has pretended he way present at a meeting with Putin in which the latter supposedly talked about his dreams for a ‘Greater Russia’.
Now, Zijlstra has revealed he was not at that meeting. He claimed ‘a source’ was there and told him about it, and he had wanted to protect the source and therefore pretended he himself was present. That source, then-Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, not only never asked for any such protection, he also sent an email to paper De Volkskrant saying that Zijlstra had ‘misinterpreted’ the story Van der Veer had told him (a diplomatic word for he lied).
Putin never talked about ambitions for a Greater Russia, and never said Kazachstan was ‘nice to have’. Zijlstra made that all up. There had been mention of Greater Russia, but in a nostalgic, historical manner. And now Van der Veer, undoubtedly much to his chagrin, gets dragged into this entire false tale.
Because the entire Dutch government, longtime Prime Minister Mark Rutte first and most of all, has said Zijlstra’s lies were somehow acceptable because the ‘inhoud’ (tenor, content, narrative) of his story was true. That is to say, Rutte claims that Putin does indeed dream of land-grabbing, of invading Ukraine, the Baltic States etc.
It doesn’t matter if you have no proof of something (see the painfully botched MH17 investigation), and neither does it matter if you just make the whole thing up. The only thing that matters in Holland is that you stick to the narrative. Which, there is no other way to look at it, is fully unproven and entirely made up.
This makes the government of Holland (a NATO member), and certainly Rutte, a danger to world peace. Therefore, Rutte has to go along with Zijlstra. Because he not only condones the latter’s lies and fantasies, maintained in his days as Foreign Minister, Rutte himself also makes claim after claim based on no proof at all. Or at least nothing he has ever revealed.
Holland should never have chaired the MH17 investigation, because it was its main victim (2/3 of the near 300 who died in the plane crash had Dutch passports). In the 3,5 years since the tragedy, not an ounce of evidence has ever been published by the investigators that proves Russia was the culprit. But claims to that end have been freely made over the entire period.
Fro his Putin-bashing, then-Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans got himself a cushy job as second to EU head Jean-Claude Juncker (and yes, Juncker’s “when it gets serious, you have to lie” comes to mind in the Zijlstra thing). Timmermans, like then-US Secretary of State Joe Biden, wasted no time in fingering Russia as the perpetrator. They both made this claim within minutes. Again, without any proof.
None of this is a specific Dutch issue. The western world, led by the US, has created an atmosphere and a narrative in which it’s deemed acceptable to lie about Russia, about Vladimir Putin, about Russian hackers, and about connections Americans and western Europeans who don’t abide by the narrative, have to Russia and everything connected with it.
And well, they are right in one sense: there is a pattern here. The Russiagate investigations in the US into ties of Trump associates with Russians, like the Dutch investigation into MH17, continue ad infinitum without producing a sliver of proof.
Various and multiple claims pertaining to alleged Russian actions in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria etc. have come up hollow. Indeed, what actions Russia has undertaken are largely in response to American and EU ‘provocation’.
And yes, all this plays out against the backdrop of the military-industrial complex that hides behind the identity of NATO, an organization without a reason to exist even since the Berlin wall came down (the wall has now been gone longer than it ever existed). NATO is a convenient entity for the entirety of the western arms industry, and the neocons that still hold sway in various of its member-nations, to publicize its fear-mongering anti-Russia messages from.
Those messages keep being duly publicized by mainstream media. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement today in which it said “bilateral relations with Holland are being overshadowed by an unparalleled anti-Russia campaign in Dutch media.”
“Holland accuses Russia of spreading disinformation (fake news). People in the Dutch government keep on making such unfunded claims.” Dutch media readily and uncritically disperse the idea that Russian authorities are obsessed with the creation of a Great Russia. How is that not an example of fake news?”
Holland would be crazy to let Zijlstra go to Moscow tomorrow to talk to Lavrov. But, given what has already been said, one can only conclude that the country is indeed crazy. Or at the very least its government is. Still, even if parliament today decides that Zijlstra must leave his post, chances that they’ll send Rutte packing as well are zero.
Even though as prime minster he’s publicly stated that his Foreign Minister telling outright lies about another country is no problem as long as he stays with the narrative that said country is a threat, a narrative for which apparently no evidence must ever be presented.
At the next EU meeting Rutte is more likely to be hailed for his stance, because the narrative is that of the entire EU, of Brussels, Berlin and Paris. And NATO.
Will this episode wake up the Dutch people? Fat chance. They will focus on Zijlstra, and probably clamor for him to leave, and then go about their daily job of feeding their readers and watchers their, as Moscow puts it, “unparralleled anti-Russia campaign.”
People like Rutte and Merkel do a very good job of showing us that Europeans have more to fear from their own governments than they do of Putin. But nobody is listening. Because their media have become as much of an echo chamber as the US MSM.
Still, make no mistake: what Rutte tells his people is that he cannot be trusted. That there are things more important than the truth: the narrative. This means they will never again be able to trust him to tell them the truth. He just said so himself.