Jan 132019
 
 January 13, 2019  Posted by at 10:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Field with Flowers near Arles 1888

 

Venture Capital Spending Hit All-Time High In 2018 In Tech Bubble 2.0 (Colombo)
Trump Vents Fury Over Russia Stories (G.)
House Democrats Eye Reported FBI Probe Of Trump (R.)
Schumer To Force Vote On US Decision To Lift Sanctions On Russia Firms (R.)
The Manafort Revelation Is Not a Smoking Gun (Maté)
What Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal Really Reveals (Stephen Cohen)
Republican Baby Boomers More Likely To Share Fake News On Facebook (MW)
May Warns Of Catastrophe If Lawmakers Don’t Back Brexit Deal (R.)
Labour Set To Call Vote To Topple Theresa May’s Government (G.)
Police Use Water Cannon And Teargas On Paris Protesters (G.)
The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End (538)

 

 

All politics today, with one finance story (and one on recycling). Expect venture capital to plunge in 2019.

Venture Capital Spending Hit All-Time High In 2018 In Tech Bubble 2.0 (Colombo)

Though most people look at record VC spending as a sign of a strong, healthy economy, my research has found that the current VC boom is the result of another tech bubble that inflated due to the Federal Reserves ultra-stimulative monetary policies of the past decade. Unfortunately, this tech bubble is going to end just like the late-1990s dotcom bubble did – in another disastrous bust. The chart below shows the monthly count of global VC deals that raised $100 million or more since 2007. According to this chart, a new “unicorn” startup was born every four days in 2018.

The chart below shows the Nasdaq Composite Index and the two bubbles that formed in it in the past two decades. Lofty tech stock prices and valuations encourage the tech startup bubble because publicly traded tech companies have more buying power with which to acquire tech startups and because they allow startups to IPO at very high valuations.

In the chart below, I compared the monthly global VC deals chart to the Nasdaq Composite Index and they line up perfectly. Surges in the Nasdaq lead to surges in VC deals, while lulls or declines in the Nasdaq lead to lulls or declines in VC deals.

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The FBI has to be investigated over this (why was the probe launched?). But no-one has the power to do so.

Trump Vents Fury Over Russia Stories (G.)

Donald Trump has strongly denied the stunning claim that he was secretly working on behalf of Russia and again threatened to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall. In 20-minute live phone interview with Fox News on Saturday night, he described as an “insult” the New York Times story that alleged the FBI launched an investigation into whether the he was acting as a Russian asset, against his own country’s interests. Trump said the story, which claimed the investigation opened after Trump fired the FBI director James Comey in May 2017, was “the most insulting article ever written”. “If you read the article you’ll see that they found absolutely nothing,” he said during the Fox News interview. “I think [the story] was a great insult and the New York Times is a disaster of a paper. It’s a very horrible thing they said.”

Citing anonymous sources, the Times said the investigation was part counterintelligence, to determine whether Trump was knowingly or unknowingly working for Moscow and posed a threat to national security. It was also part criminal, to ascertain whether Trump’s dismissal of Comey constituted obstruction of justice. The FBI effort was soon absorbed into the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, the Times reported, adding that it was unclear if the counterintelligence aspect is still being pursued. The president again called Comey a “liar” and claimed the entire Russia investigation was a “terrible hoax”. “Everybody knows it. It’s really a shame because it takes time; it takes effort. Everybody knows there’s no collusion,” he said.

[..] Trump’s warm relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has long set alarm bells ringing. The day after firing Comey, he hosted Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in the Oval Office – and disclosed intelligence from an Israeli counterterrorism operation. At a summit in Helsinki last summer, Trump appeared to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies on the question of election interference. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Trump took the notes from of a 2017 meeting with Putin in Hamburg from his own interpreter. Citing current and former US officials, the paper also said Trump instructed the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials. Asked why he would not release the conversations, Trump said: “I would. I don’t care … I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.”

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Sometimes you think they actually believe their Putin as bogeymen tales. But that can’t be true. They know as well as we do that there’s never been any proof, and you can’t base policy on innuendo alone. That would be dangerous.

House Democrats Eye Reported FBI Probe Of Trump (R.)

A U.S. House of Representatives committee will look into a newspaper report that the FBI investigated whether President Donald Trump has been working on behalf of Russia, against U.S. interests, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Saturday. The New York Times reported that the probe began in the days after Trump fired James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in May 2017 and said the agency’s counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether Trump’s actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Trump rejected the Times piece in a late Saturday night interview on Fox News as “the most insulting article I’ve ever had written” and lashed out at Comey and the FBI in half a dozen tweets.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said his panel “will take steps to better understand both the president’s actions and the FBI’s response to that behavior” in coming weeks. He also said lawmakers would seek to protect investigators from the president’s “increasingly unhinged attacks.” “There is no reason to doubt the seriousness or professionalism of the FBI, as the president did in reaction to this story,” Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. “We have learned from this reporting that, even in the earliest days of the Trump administration, the president’s behavior was so erratic and so concerning that the FBI felt compelled to do the unprecedented – open a counterintelligence investigation into a sitting president,” Nadler said.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he could not comment on the specifics of the report, but said his committee would press ahead with its probe of Trump’s contacts with Russia. “Counterintelligence concerns about those associated with the Trump campaign, including the president himself, have been at the heart of our investigation since the beginning,” said Schiff, a California Democrat. Schiff said meetings, contacts and communications between Trump associates and Russians, as well as “the web of lies about those interactions, and the president’s own statements and actions,” have heightened the need to follow the evidence where it leads.

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Schumer here moves on the basis of a collusion-themed link between Manafort and Deripaska.

But the article after this one says: “The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the [2016] campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.”

Schumer To Force Vote On US Decision To Lift Sanctions On Russia Firms (R.)

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Saturday he will force a vote soon on a resolution to disapprove the Trump administration’s decision to relax sanctions on three Russian companies connected to oligarch Oleg Deripaska. “I have concluded that the Treasury Department’s proposal is flawed and fails to sufficiently limit Oleg Deripaska’s control and influence of these companies and the Senate should move to block this misguided effort by the Trump Administration and keep these sanctions in place,” Schumer said in a news release.

The U.S. Treasury announced on Dec. 20 that it would lift sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska, including aluminum giant Rusal its parent En+ and power firm EuroSibEnergo, watering down the toughest penalties imposed since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. After lobbying by European governments that followed the imposition of sanctions, Washington postponed enforcement of the sanctions and started talks with Deripaska’s team on removing Rusal and En+ from the blacklist if he ceded control of Rusal. The businessman, who has close ties to the Kremlin, also had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have showed.

An FBI agent said in an affidavit attached to a 2017 search warrant unsealed earlier this year that he had reviewed tax returns for a company controlled by Manafort and his wife that showed a $10 million loan from a Russian lender identified as Deripaska. On Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted that the Trump administration would keep tight control on companies linked to Deripaska, despite the decision to ease restrictions. Mnuchin said the firms would face consequences including the reimposition of sanctions if they failed to comply with the terms. Schumer said given Deripaska’s potential involvement with Manafort, and since special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia has not yet concluded, “It’s all the more reason these sanctions must remain in place.”

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It’s a shame I don’t have more speace for Aaron Maté’s piece. Click the link and read.

@yashalevine on Twitter about Kilimnik: “Yep, the supposed Russian intelligence asset linking Trump through Manafort to the Kremlin spent a decade on the payroll of a CIA cutout meddling in Russian politics. “

The Manafort Revelation Is Not a Smoking Gun (Maté)

Partisans of the theory that Donald Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election believe that they have found their smoking gun. On Tuesday, defense attorneys inadvertently revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller has claimed that former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors about sharing polling data with a Russian associate. Now we’re being told that the revelation “is the closest thing we have seen to collusion,” (former FBI agent Clint Watts), “makes the no-collusion scenario even more remote,” (New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait), and, “effectively end[s] the debate about whether there was ‘collusion.’” (Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall). But like prior developments in the Mueller probe that sparked similar declarations, the latest information about Manafort is hardly proof of collusion.

According to an accidentally unredacted passage, Mueller believes that Manafort “lied about sharing polling data…related to the 2016 presidential campaign,” with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked as Manafort’s fixer and translator in Ukraine. Manafort’s employment of Kilimnik has fueled speculation because Mueller has stated that Kilimnik has “ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”Yet Mueller’s only references that Kilmnik has Kremlin “ties” came in two court filings in 2017 and 2018, and it’s not clear what Mueller meant in either case. In April 2018, Manafort’s attorneys told a Virginia judge that they have made “multiple discovery requests” seeking any contacts between Manafort and “Russian intelligence officials,” but that the special counsel informed them that “there are no materials responsive to [those] requests.”

Kilimnik insists that he has “no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service.” According to a lengthy profile in The Atlantic, “insinuations” that Kilimnik has worked for Russian intelligence during his years in Ukraine “were never backed by more than a smattering of circumstantial evidence.” All of this has been lost on US media outlets, who routinely portray Kilimnik as a “Russian operative” or an “alleged Russian spy.” [..] Rather than imagining it as part of some grand Trump-Russia conspiracy, there’s a more plausible explanation for why Manafort wanted public polling data to be forwarded to Ukrainian oligarchs. Manafort was heavily in debt when he joined Trump’s team. Being able to show former Ukrainian clients “that he was managing a winning candidate,” the Times noted, “would help [Manafort] collect money he claimed to be owed for his work on behalf of the Ukrainian parties.”

All of this highlights another inconvenient fact about Mueller’s case against Manafort: It is not about Russia, but about tax, bank, and lobbying violations stemming from his time in Ukraine. The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the [2016] campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.

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And what goes for Aaron Maté’s piece is also valid for Stephen Cohen. Worth reading the whole thing.

What Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal Really Reveals (Stephen Cohen)

First, no foreign-policy initiative undertaken by President Trump, however wise it may be in regard to US national interests, will be accepted by that establishment. Any prominent political figure who does so will promptly and falsely be branded, in the malign spirit of Russiagate, as “pro-Putin,” or, as was Senator Rand Paul, arguably the only foreign-policy statesman in the senate today, “an isolationist.” This is unprecedented in modern American history. Not even Richard Nixon was subject to such establishment constraints on his ability to conduct national-security policy during the Watergate scandals.

Second, not surprisingly, the condemnations of Trump’s decision are infused with escalating, but still unproven, Russiagate allegations of the president’s “collusion” with the Kremlin. Thus, equally predictably, the Times finds a Moscow source to say, of the withdrawals, “Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving” to Putin. (In fact, it is not clear that the Kremlin is eager to see the United States withdraw from either Syria or Afghanistan, as this would leave Russia alone with what it regards as common terrorist enemies.)

Closer to home, there is the newly reelected Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who, when asked about Trump’s policies and Russian President Putin, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid: “I think that the president’s relationship with thugs all over the world is appalling. Vladimir Putin, really? Really? I think it’s dangerous.” By this “leadership” reasoning, Trump should be the first US president since FDR to have no “relationship” whatsoever with a Kremlin leader. And to the extent that Pelosi speaks for the Democratic Party, it can no longer be considered a party of American national security.

But, third, something larger than even anti-Trumpism plays a major role in condemnations of the president’s withdrawal decisions: imperial thinking about America’s rightful role in the world. Euphemisms abound, but, if not an entreaty to American empire, what else could the New York Times’ David Sanger mean when he writes of a “world order that the United States has led for the 73 years since World War II,” and complains that Trump is reducing “the global footprint needed to keep that order together”? Or when President Obama’s national-security adviser Susan Rice bemoans Trump’s failures in “preserving American global leadership,” which a Times lead editorial insists is an “imperative”?

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The news about fake news has itself become fake news.

Republican Baby Boomers More Likely To Share Fake News On Facebook (MW)

Social media doesn’t help people differentiate what is real from what is fake, but the phrase “fake news” has been used by social scientists to describe fictional articles online and perhaps more famously by President Donald Trump, who uses it as a cudgel against mainstream media outlets. Facebook, meanwhile, struggles to stem the flow of fake news and erroneous memes, though Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said the world’s biggest social-media site is making progress in dealing with the problem. Trump’s relationship with the media has been acrimonious from the moment he embarked on his campaign for president.

Since then he has not only labeled as “fake” news outlets that have reported critically on his administration but described CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and the New York Times as “the enemy of the American people.” The good news: Most Facebook users did not share any fake news articles during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, according to a study released Wednesday, but the small number who did were mostly Republican Americans over the age of 65. The findings suggest the need for “renewed attention” to educate “particular vulnerable individuals,” such as aging baby boomers, about fake news or misleading information that appears to resemble a fact-checked news article published by a legitimate and fact-based media outlet, researchers said.

[..] To shed light on the issue in the latest study of which users were more likely to share misleading facts on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election, Andrew Guess, an associate professor at Princeton University, and his colleagues disseminated an online survey to 3,500 people in three waves throughout the 2016 campaign. Of the respondents, 1,331 in the initial wave agreed to share their Facebook profile data, which allowed researchers to analyze the age and political affiliations of those people who were more likely to spread fake news.

The results showed that 90% of these users actually did not share misleading or fake articles and only 8.5% shared one or more fake news articles. A plurality, 18%, of the Facebook users who shared the fake stories were both self-identified Republicans and over the age of 65, the authors concluded, and these individuals shared nearly seven times as many fake news articles as respondents in the youngest age group, ranging in age from 18 to 29.

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Catastrophe is inevitable for May.

May Warns Of Catastrophe If Lawmakers Don’t Back Brexit Deal (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned lawmakers that failure to back her plan to leave the European Union would be catastrophic for Britain, in a plea for support two days ahead of a vote in parliament that she is expected to lose. Lawmakers are set to vote on May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, after she shelved plans for a vote in December when it became clear that not enough lawmakers from her own party or others would back the deal she agreed with Brussels. May looks little closer to securing the support she needs, but writing in the Sunday Express she said lawmakers must not let down the people who voted for Brexit.

“Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy,” May said. “So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.” On Friday, her foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Brexit might not happen at all if May’s deal was defeated. Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, is scheduled to quit the European Union on March 29. The Sunday Times reported that rebel lawmakers were planning to wrest control of the legislative agenda away from May next week with a view to suspending or delaying Brexit, citing a senior government source.

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Way too late.

Labour Set To Call Vote To Topple Theresa May’s Government (G.)

Labour MPs have been told to prepare for Jeremy Corbyn to table a dramatic and immediate vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s government as early as Tuesday evening in an attempt to force a general election if – as expected – she suffers a heavy defeat this week on her Brexit deal. Messages have been sent to Labour MPs, even those who are unwell, to ensure their presence both for the “meaningful vote” on the prime minister’s Brexit blueprint on Tuesday and the following day. Labour whips have told MPs the no-confidence vote is likely to be tabled within hours of a government loss, with the actual vote taking place on Wednesday.

The news comes before what promises to be one of the most tumultuous 24 hours in recent parliamentary history in which, barring another delay, May will put her Brexit deal to parliament despite deep and widespread opposition across the Commons, including from many MPs inside her own party. A senior shadow cabinet member said: “There is now recognition that we cannot wait any longer. If May goes down to defeat and she does not resign and call an election, this is the moment we have to act.” Senior Tories said on Saturday that they could not see how the prime minister could win the meaningful vote “in any circumstances” and that a defeat by less than 100 would now be regarded as the best she could hope for.

But even if she suffered a loss of closer to 200, which many Tories fear could be the case, Conservative MPs and ministers still expect her to stagger on and seek to bring an improved offer back to the Commons for a further vote within weeks.

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The number of protesters is increasing rapidly again.

Police Use Water Cannon And Teargas On Paris Protesters (G.)

Gilets jaunes protesters engaged in a ninth weekend of protests all over France on Saturday as the president, Emmanuel Macron, prepared to stake his political future on an open letter to the French people and a national debate. Officials said that at least 84,000 demonstrators turned out across France, thousands more than last weekend, with about 8,000 of those in Paris where protests passed “without serious incident”. Gilets jaunes – named after the hi-vis yellow vests French motorists must carry in their vehicles – said the number was higher but did not give a figure. After the violence of previous weeks, the government put on a show of strength, deploying 80,000 police officers nationwide and about 7,000 in Paris.

[..] Macron has attempted to take the sting out of the protests by announcing a “great national debate” to sound out the public on four themes: taxation, state institutions, democracy and citizenship, but just days before the consultation is due to begin on Tuesday, there is still confusion over how it will be carried out. The president will publish an open letter to the French people on Monday to “explain what I intend to do”. He said the debate was “a vital and very useful moment for our country”. “It’s a great opportunity and everyone must take it … I want a real debate,” he said.

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When are we going to stop producing the stuff that needs recycling?

The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End (538)

On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer. Americans love convenient recycling, but convenient recycling increasingly does not love us. Waste experts call the system of dumping all the recyclables into one bin “single-stream recycling.” It’s popular.

But the cost-benefit math of it has changed. The benefit — more participation and thus more material put forward for recycling — may have been overtaken by the cost — unrecyclable recyclables. On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer.

Most recycling programs in the United States are now single stream. Between 2005 and 2014, these programs went from covering 29 percent of American communities to 80 percent, according to a survey conducted by the American Forest and Paper Association. The popularity makes sense given that single-stream is convenient and a full 66 percent of people surveyed by Harris Poll last October said that they wouldn’t recycle at all if it wasn’t easy to do. Some experts have credited single stream with large increases in the amount of material recycled. Studies have shown that people choose to put more stuff out on the curb for recycling when they have a single-sort system. And the growth of single-stream recycling tracks with the growth of recycling overall in this country. But it also pretty closely tracks with skyrocketing contamination rates.

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Jul 122018
 
 July 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Blu Mural in Rome, Italy 2015 Click to enlarge See also here

 

Trade War Risk On (Hedgeye)
Corporate Bonds Are Getting Junkier (DDMB)
It’s Not Wage Rises That Are A Problem – It’s The Lack Of Them (Frank)
Britain Facing ‘State Of Emergency’ If No Deal Reached – Grieve (Ind.)
Trump Tells NATO Allies To Spend 4% of GDP On Defence (G.)
Germans Want Trump To Pull US Troops Out Of Germany (Ind.)
China’s Silky Charming of Arabia (Escobar)
The Supreme Court Is Much Too Powerful (Mises.org)
New Zealand Hospitals In Chaos As 30,000 Nurses Strike (G.)
EU Approves ‘Enhanced Surveillance’ for Post-Bailout Greece (GR)
Trash Piles Up In US As China Closes Door To Recycling (AFP)

 

 

Great cartoon.

Trade War Risk On (Hedgeye)

– Global equities are retreating materially today on fears of a commensurate escalation in the burgeoning trade war between the U.S. and China. Specifically, the Trump administration released a list of goods that it may target w/ sanctions totaling some $200 billion, while China’s Commerce Ministry described the move as “totally unacceptable bullying”, and promised to lodge complaints at the WTO without detailing what its retaliatory steps would be. Are trade wars bad for growth? Of course they are. Does anyone really possess a reliable framework for quantifying the ultimate impact ex ante? Probably not.

This we do know, however: prior to the last Friday’s tit-for-tat escalation targeting $34 billion in Chinese goods and a list of [mostly] U.S. agricultural products, Export growth was trending lower in 70% of the near-50 economies we maintain detailed predictive tracking algorithms for, while 77% of Manufacturing PMI series were trending lower. This figures reflect data through MAY and JUN, respectively, and are supportive of our view that trade tensions aren’t the driving force behind Global #Divergences; they are merely adding fuel to the fire. Global equities peaked in late-JAN for a reason.

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Anyone remember AAA?

Corporate Bonds Are Getting Junkier (DDMB)

Life insurers invest heavily in high-grade corporate bonds to fund annuities, life insurance policies and other products. Here’s a look at the possibility that the issues might be affected by credit rating grade inflation… Much has been made of the degradation of the $7.5 trillion U.S. corporate debt market. High yield offers too little, well, yield. And “high grade” now requires air quotes to account for the growing dominance of bonds rated BBB, which is the lowest rung on the investment-grade ladder before dropping into “junk” status. And then there’s the massive market for leveraged loans, where covenants protecting investors have all but disappeared.

How does that break down? Corporate bonds rated BBB now total $2.56 trillion, having surpassed in size the sum of higher-rated debentures, which total $2.55 trillion, according to Morgan Stanley. Put another way, BBB bonds outstanding exceed by 50% the size of the entire investment grade market at the peak of the last credit boom, in 2007. But aren’t they still investment grade? At little to no risk of default? In 2000, when BBB bonds were a mere third of the market, net leverage (total debt minus cash and short term investments divided by earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) was 1.7 times. By the end of last year, the ratio had ballooned to 2.9 times.

Given the marked deterioration in fundamentals, bond powerhouse PIMCO worries that “This suggests a greater tolerance from the credit rating agencies for higher leverage, which in turn warrants extra caution when investing in lower-rated IG names, especially in sectors where earnings are more closely tied to the business cycle.” [..] why not treat the BBB portion of the bond market for what it is: a high-risk slice of the corporate debt pie. Keeping count of “fallen angels,” or those investment-grade bonds that are downgraded into junk territory, will become a spectator sport.

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“Except in the very tightest labour markets, workers simply don’t have the power to demand their fair share.”

It’s Not Wage Rises That Are A Problem – It’s The Lack Of Them (Frank)

If you study the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers on wages for nonsupervisory workers over the past few decades, you will notice that wage growth has been strangely slow to pick up. Hot economies usually drive wages up pretty promptly; this recovery has been running since 2009 and it has barely moved the needle. It’s even more perverse on the other side of the Atlantic. According to a 2017 story in the Financial Times, Britain was “the only big, advanced economy in which wages contracted while the economy expanded” – an amazing achievement if you think about it. And UK thinktank the Resolution Foundation has said this decade is “set to be the worst for pay growth since the Napoleonic wars”.

How could such a thing happen in this modern and enlightened age? Well, for starters, think of all that whining we’re hearing from the US’s management, who will apparently blame anyone and do anything to avoid paying workers more. Every labour-management innovation seems to have been designed with this amazing goal in mind. Every great bipartisan political initiative, from free trade to welfare reform, points the same way. When Republicans are in charge, it’s open season on working-class organisations. And you can forget about increases in the minimum wage, regardless of who’s in the White House.

Of course it’s happening the same way in the UK; be it Thatcher’s war on unions or New Labour’s “third way”, Britain has followed the US model closely. Political decisions within both countries have had highly predictable results, and we are now fated to live with them. Good times aren’t really all that good for ordinary people any more, only for the people on top – the owners of companies, of real estate, of stocks. Except in the very tightest labour markets, workers simply don’t have the power to demand their fair share. If you ask me, this is the thing to panic about: not the possibility that workers might prosper, but that they’re not prospering yet.

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“..ordinary life will grind to a halt. That is the extent to which our lives are intermeshed with the lives of our European partners..”

Britain Facing ‘State Of Emergency’ If No Deal Reached – Grieve (Ind.)

Britain will face a “state of emergency” if no Brexit deal is reached by February, Dominic Grieve has warned at an exclusive event for Independent subscribers. Appearing on a stage with other key Brexit figures, including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Gina Miller, the leading Tory rebel said “ordinary life will grind to a halt” if the talks are still deadlocked as D-Day nears. The warning came as Mr Rees-Mogg launched his most outspoken attack yet on big businesses opposing a hard Brexit, claiming they have “got everything wrong in the whole of their history”. Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, suggested she would not accept any further “compromises” beyond the deal struck at Chequers by Theresa May – preferring a no-deal outcome. [..]

Last month, Mr Grieve, a former attorney general, led an aborted revolt to guarantee MPs a “meaningful vote” to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU without an agreement. In his most dramatic language yet, to underline the high stakes, Mr Grieve told the audience: “If by the end of February or early March it is clear that there is no deal on anything, there will be a declaration of a state of emergency in this country. “Actually, ordinary life will grind to a halt. That is the extent to which our lives are intermeshed with the lives of our European partners, and that is what will happen if there is no deal on anything.” Mr Grieve said hardline anti-Brexit MPs had “abdicated” their responsibilities to the public by boasting that they will do “absolutely nothing while we skated off the edge of the cliff into this major national crisis”. “That is the madness that has crept into some of the discourse in parliament,” he added.

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They won’t.

Trump Tells NATO Allies To Spend 4% of GDP On Defence (G.)

Donald Trump left the opening day of the Nato summit in Brussels in disarray on Wednesday after making a surprise demand for members to raise their defence spending to 4% of GDP, and clashing with German chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed pipeline deal with Russia. Trump left the assembled presidents and prime ministers floundering, unsure whether he was serious about the 4% target, double the existing Nato target of 2%, which many do not meet, or whether it was just a ploy. After making the announcement, Trump walked out.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, confirmed the 4% figure. “During the president’s remarks today at the Nato summit he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to 4%,” she said. Sanders added: “President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and, at a very minimum, meet their already stated obligations.”

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So there. WHy on earth would you need so many US bases?

Germans Want Trump To Pull US Troops Out Of Germany (Ind.)

Germans would actually welcome the withdrawal of American troops stationed in their country, a new poll has found – as Donald Trump threatens to pull the plug on military support. The finding comes on the first day of a Nato summit in which the US president is urging Europe to spend more on defence if it wants to continue to receive American military protection. But far from being seen as a threat, a YouGov poll for the dpa news agency found that more Germans would welcome the departure of the 35,000-strong American force than would oppose it.

42% said they supported withdrawal while just 37% wanted the soldiers to stay, with 21% undecided. Last month the US media reported that the US government was in the process of assessing the cost of keeping troops in Germany ahead of a possible withdrawal, citing Pentagon sources. But the policy of actually pulling out of the country has not actually reached the negotiating table in his week’s Brussels summit and is not expected to be discussed as a possibility – for now.

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At some point the Chinese will run into Americans there.

China’s Silky Charming of Arabia (Escobar)

Under the radar, away from World Cup frenzy and the merger and acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo Inc. and Fiat, the eighth ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF), established in 2004, sailed on in Beijing, hosted by President Xi Jinping. Amid the torrential pledge of loans and aid, China committed to invest right across the Arab world in transportation infrastructure, oil and gas, finance, digital economy and artificial intelligence (AI). Significantly, Beijing will offer $15 million in aid for Palestinian economic development, as well as $91 million distributed among Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

A China-Arab bank consortium will be set up, with a dedicated fund of $3 billion tied up with the financial aid and loan package. Beijing also foresees importing a whopping $8 trillion from Arab states up to 2025. Predictably, once again Xi fully connected the whole Arab world with the expansion of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And careful to navigate the geopolitical minefield, he urged “relevant sides” to respect the international consensus in the Israel-Palestine confrontation, calling for justice. That may indicate a gradual, but sure departure from trademark Chinese passive or reactive policy across the Arab world, focused exclusively on energy and political non-interference.

Xi is now openly tying up Chinese financial aid and deals with nations across the Global South to an overall economic development drive; the only roadmap to solve intractable political and religious conflict. And that includes full respect of international deals. As much as the Arab world, Iran is in Southwest Asia. A day before the China-Arab forum, Premier Li Keqiang, in Berlin, was warning of “unforeseeable consequences” if the Iran nuclear deal, known as JCPOA, were to be discarded, as the Trump administration wants.

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Stating the obvious.

The Supreme Court Is Much Too Powerful (Mises.org)

The current frenzy over the vacancy on the Supreme Court in the wake of Justice Kennedy’s retirement highlights just how much power has been centralized in the hands of a small number of people in Washington, DC. The left has grown positively hysterical over the thought of yet another Trump-appointed judge being installed, who could potentially serve on the court for decades. Right-wingers who claim the left is overreacting, however, are unconvincing. One can only imagine the right’s reaction were Hillary Clinton president. She would have already had the opportunity to appoint Scalia’s replacement, and we might now be talking about her nominee to replace Justice Ginsberg.

The right-wing media would be filled with article after article about how the new court would be a disaster for health-care freedom, private gun ownership, and, of course, the unborn. But, as it is, we live in a country where five people on a court decide what the law is for 320 million people. And for some reason, many people think this is entirely normal. It’s our own American version of the Soviet politburo, but few are even bothering to ask whether it’s a good idea. After all, if it makes sense for a small handful of people to decide law for the entire country, why even bother with a House of Representatives? Even the Senate — composed primarily of multimillionaires living full-time in Washington, DC, is [by comparison] extravagantly “democratic.”

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“be fair to those who care”

New Zealand Hospitals In Chaos As 30,000 Nurses Strike (G.)

Hospitals in New Zealand have cancelled elective surgeries and discharged patients early after 30,000 nurses walked off the job in the first such nationwide strike in 30 years. The 24-hour strike began on Thursday, and comes after months of negotiations between the government and nurses broke down on Wednesday, leaving hospitals to battle winter illnesses without crucial staff. Long delays at hospital emergency departments are expected around the country. Striking nurses held rallies in major cities, chanting “be fair to those who care” in the largest public demonstrations by the health sector ever seen on the country’s streets. Nurses said they were overworked and underpaid, with unsafe working conditions leading to burnout and exhaustion.

Patient care and staff wellbeing were routinely compromised, they said. Acting prime minister Winston Peters said the government was “very, very disappointed” that its latest offer of a 12.5% increase had been rejected, and that it would take time to address nine years of neglect under the previous National government. Although the May budget delivered a surplus, Peters said the extra funds were needed to handle unforeseen spending, such as managing the spread of mycoplasma bovis, a cow disease. “We are saying give us some time … it’s not that we’re not willing to, we haven’t got the money,” said Peters. “We’ve gone as far as we can go as a government. We got hold of a negotiated arrangement which we inherited – the nurses have had a raw nine years.”

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Straight jacket.

EU Approves ‘Enhanced Surveillance’ for Post-Bailout Greece (GR)

The European Commission on Wednesday said Greece will remain under an “enhanced surveillance framework” to ensure that it meets ambitious budget targets through 2022. The country will still be subject to quarterly inspections from creditors after the bailout program ends in late August. “Greece is now able to stand on its own two feet but that doesn’t mean it has to stand alone … The reform era has not ended,” EU Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said. “Enhanced surveillance is not a fourth program: it involves no new commitments or conditions. It is a framework to support the completion and delivery of ongoing reforms,” he added.

Despite returning to growth after a massive recession, Greece leaves the program still facing major difficulties. Banks are struggling to deal with a high rate of bad loans. At over 20%, Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the euro currency union. Government bonds remain below investment grade even though their yields have fallen to manageable rates. And to help reduce its debt, Greece has committed to punishingly high primary budget surpluses — that is, the budget excluding the cost of debt servicing — of above 3.5% through 2022. “Enhanced surveillance is there to help Greece build confidence with markets, investors and companies,” Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said. “They all want stability and predictability.”

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They’ll find a new dump.

Trash Piles Up In US As China Closes Door To Recycling (AFP)

For months, a major recycling facility for the greater Baltimore-Washington area has been facing a big problem: it has to pay to get rid of huge amounts of paper and plastic it would normally sell to China. Beijing is no longer buying, claiming the recycled materials are “contaminated.” For sure, the 900 tons of trash dumped at all hours of the day and night, five days a week, on the conveyor belts at the plant in Elkridge, Maryland – an hour’s drive from the US capital – are not clean. Amid the nerve-shattering din and clouds of brown dust, dozens of workers in gloves and masks – most of them women – nimbly pluck a diverse array of objects from the piles that could count as “contaminants.”

That could be anything from clothes to cables to tree branches to the bane of all recyclers: plastic bags, which are not supposed to go in recycling bins because they snarl up the machinery. “We’ve had to slow our machinery, and hire more people” to clean up the waste, says Michael Taylor, the head of recycling operations for Waste Management, the company that runs the plant. At the end of the sorting line is the end product — huge bales of compacted waste containing paper, cardboard or plastics. These have been bought up for decades by businesses, most of them based in China, which clean them up, crush them and transform them into raw materials for industrial plants.

Last year, China bought up more than half of the scrap materials exported by the United States. Globally, since 1992, 72% of plastic waste has ended up in China and Hong Kong, according to a study in the journal Science Advances. But since January, China has closed its borders to most paper and plastic waste in line with a new environmental policy pushed by Beijing, which no longer wants to be the world’s trash can, or even its recycle bin. For other waste products such as cardboard and metal, China has set a contamination level of 0.5% — a threshold too low for most current US technology to handle. US waste handlers say they expect China will close its doors to all recycled materials by 2020 — an impossibly short deadline.

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