Mar 032019
 


Pablo Picasso The artist and his model 1926

 

US is Cleanest Dirty Shirt Among Manufacturing Giants (WS)
Trump Just Might Have Won the 2020 Election Today (Reason)
Massive Cuts Are Coming To Social Security (MW)
Balance Sheet “Error” Hits UK’s Fastest Growing, Most Popular Bank (DQ)
Brexit Supporters Give May Three Tests For EU Deal (R.)
Will Brexit Be UK’s Constitutional Moment? (IT)
Guaido To Return To Venezuela After Touring Neighbor Countries (R.)
Europe’s Leaders Are Aiding Italy’s Populists (Varoufakis)
France’s ‘Yellow Vests’ March Largely Without Violence As Tensions Ease (R.)
Chelsea Manning Ordered To Testify Before Grand Jury In Assange Probe (WaPo)
Chelsea Manning Shows Federal Grand Juries Are Tools of Repression (IC)

 

 

Great set of graphs from Wolf Richter. Makes one wonder what will happen once this becomes clear outside of graphs.

US is Cleanest Dirty Shirt Among Manufacturing Giants (WS)

The global slowdown in manufacturing progressed another notch in February. Among the top four manufacturing giants in the world, the US is the cleanest dirty shirt. Together, they produced 58% of the world’s “value added in manufacturing” in 2016: • China: $3.08 trillion (26% of global total) • US: $2.18 trillion (18% of global total) • Japan: $979 billion (8% of global total • Germany: $718 billion (6% of global total) In February, [China] manufacturing output declined for the third month in a row, and at the steepest rate since March 2016, according to the official Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. For these PMI measures, a value below 50 means “contraction,” and a value above 50 means “expansion”:

Small-sized manufacturers in China got hit the worst, with their PMI falling to 45.3, while the index for mid-sized manufacturers dropped to 46.9. Large manufacturers showed growth, at 51.5.[..] The Nikkei Japan Manufacturing PMI fell to a 32-month low of 48.9 in February. New orders declined at a quickened pace as new export orders continued to fall “amid lower sales to China.” “Deteriorating demand conditions were signaled in the February PMI survey,” according to IHS Markit, which compiles the survey. New orders for Japanese manufacturers “dropped at the fastest rate in over two-and-a-half years.” And the decline in orders was “broad-based across both domestic and foreign markets, with falling new export sales also recorded.”

The IHS Markit/BME Germany Manufacturing PMI in February dropped below 50 for the second month in a row, and at 47.6 to the lowest level – the fastest contraction – since December 2012, “showing a deepening downturn in new orders and the first drop in output in almost six years”. All sub-indices except employment were in contraction mode. Hardest hit were the intermediate and capital goods sectors. Only manufacturers of consumer goods recorded an increase in output. IHS Market added that the downturn in new orders is “gathering pace, led by a sharp and accelerated decline in export sales. The level of new business from abroad fell the most since October 2012.”

But it’s not just in Germany… The IHS Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI fell to 49.3. Germany led the decline. The index for Spain (49.9) entered contraction mode for the first time since November 2013. The index for Italy (47.7) was in contraction mode for the fifth month in a row, and at the lowest level since May 2013. The chart below is on the same scale as the chart for Germany above; so you can see that the peak, and the decline from the peak, have been less pronounced than in Germany alone, with the manufacturing sectors in several Eurozone countries still in expansion mode – including in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, and Greece:

Operating conditions in the US manufacturing sector in February showed “softer, but still solid improvement … amid slower expansions in output and new orders,” according to the IHS Markit US Manufacturing PMI. Backlogs were still increasing, as was employment. The index, at 53.0, shows the slowest expansion in 18 months, “with firms reporting a marked easing in production growth in February, linked to a similar slowdown in order book growth.

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Others say the CPAC speech was just rambling. Fact remains there’s no-one anywhere close to running against him, none have a chance. And that’s pretty scary when you think about it: the Democrats haven’t advanced a single inch from 2016. The only thing they can think of, after seeing Russigate die, is to dig for more smear.

But if you can’t let go of oyour echo chamber hate of Trump, how are you ever going to understand him, a prerequisite for beating him?!

Trump Just Might Have Won the 2020 Election Today (Reason)

It’s way too early to be thinking this, much less saying it, but what the hell: If Donald Trump is able to deliver the sort of performance he gave today at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual meeting of right-wingers held near Washington, D.C., his reelection is a foregone conclusion. There is simply no potential candidate in the Democratic Party who wouldn’t be absolutely blown off the stage by him. I say this as someone who is neither a Trump fanboy nor a Never Trumper. But he was not simply good, he was Prince-at-the-Super-Bowl great, deftly flinging juvenile taunts at everyone who has ever crossed him, tossing red meat to the Republican faithful, and going sotto voce serious to talk about justice being done for working-class Americans screwed over by global corporations.

In a heavily improvised speech that lasted over two hours, the 72-year-old former (future?) reality TV star hit every greatest hit in his repertoire (“Crooked Hillary,” “build the wall,” “America is winning again,” and more all made appearances) while riffing on everything from the Green New Deal to his own advanced age and weird hair to the wisdom of soldiers over generals. At times, it was like listening to Robin Williams’ genie in the Disney movie Aladdin, Howard Stern in his peak years as a radio shock jock, or Don Rickles as an insult comic. When he started making asides, Trump observed, “This is how I got elected, by going off script.” Two years into his presidency and he’s just getting warmed up.

First and foremost, Trump was frequently funny and outre in the casually mean way that New Yorkers exude like nobody else in America. “You put the wrong people in a couple of positions,” he said, lamenting the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor, “and all of a sudden they’re trying to take you out with bullshit.” He voiced Jeff Sessions in a mock-Southern accent, recusing “muhself” and asked the adoring crowd why the former attorney generally hadn’t told him he was going to do that before he was appointed.

Democrats backing the Green New Deal (GND) “are talking about trains to Hawaii,” he said. “They haven’t figured out how to get to Europe yet.” He begged the Democrats not to abandon the GND because he recognizes that the more its details and costs are discussed, the more absurd it will become. “When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your energy,” he said at one point. “Did the wind stop blowing, I’d like to watch television today, guys?” “We’ll go back to boats,” he said, drawing huge laughs when he added, “I don’t want to talk [the Democrats] out of [the GND], I just want to be the Republican who runs against it.”

He railed against Never-Trump Republicans: “They’re on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” he said, adding “they’re basically dishonest people” that no one cares about. He joked about being in the White House all alone on New Year’s because of the government shutdown. “I was in the White House and I was lonely, so I went to Iraq,” he said, recounting that when his plane was approaching the U.S. airstrip in Iraq, all lights had to be extinguished for landing. “We spend trillions of dollars in the Middle East and we can’t land planes [in Iraq] with the lights on,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “We gotta get out.”

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Every western country, and even China, should think about this.

Massive Cuts Are Coming To Social Security (MW)

The mother of all political battles is coming, and it’s about a wall. No, not that one. It’s another, much bigger wall. One that fewer people are talking about — so far. It’s the wall that Social Security is due to run into in just 15 years. That’s when, say Social Security’s trustees, the program’s trust fund is scheduled to run out of money. If nothing else is done, they say, after 2034 Social Security’s annual income will only be enough to pay “about three-quarters of scheduled benefits.” We’re talking about a 25% cut in payments. How big a deal will this be? As it happens, the Federal Reserve just put out a report that tackles this.

According to Fed data, at most one quarter of people currently nearing retirement are going to be able to shrug off any cuts at all in Social Security. Actually, it’s probably considerably less than one quarter. And everyone else will be in serious trouble. Half of those nearing retirement will end up in dire straits. That’s because most of them have little or nothing in private retirement plans. The country’s 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts? The old-fashioned company pension plans? Most of these assets are owned by the wealthiest 25% of the country, the Fed calculates. Between 83% and 85% of the total balance is in the hands of the highest-earning one-fourth.

For everyone else? It’s down to Social Security or bust. And that’s especially so for the bottom half of the income distribution. “Social Security is the key to understanding retirement resources for most families,” says the Fed. For example, the Fed looked at the balance sheets of those currently in their 50s who are nearing retirement. For the middle two quartiles by income — in other words, the middle 50% — Social Security accounts for somewhere between 47% and 64% of their total retirement wealth. For those in the bottom 25% it’s nearly all of it. They hold, on average, just $28,000 in private retirement plans.

[..] In 10 years’ time, when this issue becomes urgent, people in or near retirement will make up more than half the voting age population. They’ll make up and even bigger share of the actual likely voters. And those people, as we’ve just seen, can’t do without Social Security — no way, and no how. According to the U.S. Census, by 2030 those over age 65 will account for 26% of the voting age population, and those aged 45 to 59 and nearing retirement another 29%. And according to the U.S. Elections Project, in the last presidential elections just 43% of those in their 20s bothered to vote. The figure for the over 60 was 71%. Put those two things together, and by 2030 around 60% of likely voters will be over 45 — and half of those — will already be over 60. Good luck passing a 25% Social Security cut.

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“In the last five weeks the lender has lost 60% of its market cap..”

Balance Sheet “Error” Hits UK’s Fastest Growing, Most Popular Bank (DQ)

Shares of the UK’s fastest growing high street lender, Metro Bank, are in free fall. They tumbled 16% on Tuesday, 25% on Wednesday and 6.86% on Thursday, to come to rest at a price of 889 pence, the lowest since the London-based bank went public in 2016. In the last five weeks the lender has lost 60% of its market cap and is now worth just £866 million, down from £4 billion a year ago. The crisis began in earnest on January 22 when Metro’s shares crashed almost 40% — the worst one-day fall suffered by any British lender since the financial crisis — following an announcement by the bank’s management that it had incorrectly classified a huge chunk of commercial property loans and loans to commercial buy-to-rent operators that should have been among its “risk-weighted assets”.

The “error” left a gaping £900 million hole on Metro’s balance sheet. On Tuesday this week, things got even worse when the bank revealed that the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), the institution that had first flagged up Metro Bank’s accountancy error, and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are investigating the circumstances behind the error. The bank also announced plans for a £350 million rights issue, after raising £303 million from investors last July. But investors — led perhaps by well-connected investors — have been smelling a rat since March 2018. By the time the initial disclosure whacked the shares on January 22, 2019, they’d already dropped 45%. Now they’re down 77% from March 2018:

Metro’s tribulations are a timely reminder of how important a force trust can be in the financial markets, particularly when it comes to banks. To gauge how much of a credit risk a bank could pose to market participants, including the bank’s bondholders and counterparties, investors rely on the bank’s capital ratio, which itself depends on the amount of risk assigned to each portfolio. By assigning a lower risk weight to its mortgage lending portfolio, whether by accident or intentionally, Metro left investors thinking it was safer than it actually is.

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Not going to happen. Why give the Brexiteers what they want, and thereby leave the rest of the people alone?

Brexit Supporters Give May Three Tests For EU Deal (R.)

Brexit-supporting lawmakers who voted down British Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Union withdrawal deal in January have outlined demands for a revised treaty to ensure their support, the Sunday Times newspaper said. Lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected May’s deal in January. Many were unhappy with the “Irish backstop”, insurance to prevent return of hard border controls between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland. Critics said it could leave the country tied to EU rules indefinitely. Britain, due to exit the bloc on March 29, is attempting to amend the deal to provide assurances that the backstop would not be indefinite.

The Sunday Times said hardline Brexit supporters from May’s Conservative Party had drawn up a document outlining three tests the deal must pass to gain their support. These are a “clearly worded, legally binding, treaty-level clause which unambiguously overrides” the text of the withdrawal agreement, with language that goes beyond emphasizing the temporary nature of the backstop and a clear means to exit the backstop if subsequent trade talks fail. [..] In a further sign that former opponents of May’s deal might now back a revised version, Graham Brady, a senior Conservative lawmaker, said he would support it with legally binding assurances on the backstop.

“Once we have that, my colleagues in parliament need to recognize the strength of feeling,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. “The whole country is tired of vacillation and delay. When the right compromise is offered, we should pull together behind the Prime Minister and help her to deliver our exit from the European Union on March 29.”

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No haveng a written constitution leaves you open to havening more people insisting their multiple interpretations are the only correct one.

Will Brexit Be UK’s Constitutional Moment? (IT)

Does Brexit pose a constitutional crisis for the United Kingdom? Can its constitution be remade after Brexit or is it too late for that to happen? What are the consequences for Ireland and Northern Ireland? Constitutions are the set of fundamental rules governing a political system, usually defined as a nation. Typically they are written, short and legally entrenched, making them difficult to amend. Highly untypically, the UK’s constitution is unwritten and largely uncodified, sprawling over its common law and informal political conventions – even though the word was coined when the deposed King James II was accused in 1688 of having violated the “fundamental constitution of the kingdom”.

That continuing ideology was perfectly caught when the novelist AS Byatt last year told a disbelieving German writer, Matthias Matussek, in London: “You know, we British don’t need a constitution. We are the oldest democracy in the world.” She paused briefly before continuing: “For young countries like you Germans, constitutions could very well be useful.” The unwritten rules are now precariously balanced between the doctrine of absolute parliamentary sovereignty subject in principle to the monarch, and the shift to entrenchment represented by the 2016 Scotland Act which declared its self-government permanent, only to be abolished by a popular referendum.

At a conference last week in Mansfield College Oxford on remaking the UK constitution, the political theorist Stuart White said there is a real tension between these two conceptions of parliamentary and popular sovereignty. The Brexit maxim to “take back control” draws on both the notion of reversible treaty commitments and the 2016 referendum decision to leave the European Union. They are especially difficult to reconcile in a multinational polity like the UK where there is no longer a single people or demos.

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Can he be resuscitated? Or will he be arrested?

Guaido To Return To Venezuela After Touring Neighbor Countries (R.)

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Saturday he would return home after a visit to Ecuador and called for new protests next week against President Nicolas Maduro, whose government had banned him from traveling abroad. Guaido has spent the past few days touring between Latin American countries to muster support for his campaign to form a transition government and oust Maduro, whom he denounces as an illegitimate usurper. He had visited Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay after leaving Venezuela last week for Colombia to coordinate efforts there to send humanitarian aid into his country, though troops loyal to Maduro blocked a convoy of aid trucks and turned them back.

“As for the next steps for Venezuelans, I announce my return home from Ecuador,” Guaido told a news conference in the coastal town of Salinas alongside Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno. Guaido did not say when exactly or how he would return to Venezuela. He is expected to leave Ecuador at 9.30 a.m. local time on Sunday, according to the Ecuadorean government’s schedule for his visit. His return opens the possibility that Venezuelan authorities will try to arrest him. The Supreme Court had imposed a travel ban on him after he invoked the country’s constitution on Jan 23 to assume an interim presidency, which most Western nations now recognize as legitimate.

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“The fact that Italy’s public debt has a lower credit rating than private debt is a reflection not of public debt’s intrinsic inferiority but of a political choice made by European leaders. And, by bolstering an authoritarian politician, that choice is now blowing back on them.”

Europe’s Leaders Are Aiding Italy’s Populists (Varoufakis)

Italy is now the frontline in the battle of the euro. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is being propelled by a political tailwind that may, after the European Parliament elections in May, enhance his capacity to inflict serious damage on the European Union. What is both fascinating and disconcerting is that the xenophobia underpinning Salvini’s ever-increasing authority is being generated by the eurozone’s faulty architecture and the ensuing political blame game. In its recent report on the economic imbalances afflicting each EU member state, the European Commission blames the Italian government for its failure to rein in debt, which, it says, results in tepid income growth.

According to the Commission, the government’s reluctance to cut its budget deficit has spooked the bond markets, pushed interest rates up, and thus shrunk investment. Salvini could not be more pleased. The report presents a splendid opportunity to blame the Commission itself for Italy’s travails, by arguing that it was actually the EU’s fiscal austerity policies which constricted growth, pushed the economy to the brink of a new recession, and led to the election of the populist government now dominated by Salvini. And, as if that were not enough, it was the Commission’s threats of penalizing Italy unless it imposed even greater austerity that unnerved bond traders and pushed interest rates up.

Italy’s tragedy is that the Commission and Salvini are both right – and also both wrong. It is correct that Salvini’s announcement that the government would rescind its promise to impose pre-agreed levels of austerity alarmed investors, made Italian debt less viable, and caused capital flight. But it is also correct that the Commission’s fiscal rules, were they to be implemented fully, would have caused a recession that would have made Italian debt less viable anyway.

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BS headline. In France the protesters’ numbers are treated much as unemployment numbers are: whenever people ain’t looking, you push them down. And Reuters complies. Various videos tell a different story.

France’s ‘Yellow Vests’ March Largely Without Violence As Tensions Ease (R.)

Turnout for a 16th round of “yellow vest” protests in France on Saturday was below last week’s levels and marches were largely peaceful, in a relief for President Emmanuel Macron who has struggled to find a response to the movement. While turnout figures at midday were only half of last week, by nightfall the Interior Ministry counted a total of 39,300 protesters nationwide, of which 4,000 were in Paris. Last Saturday there had been 46,600 marchers, including 5,800 in Paris, compared with 41,000 the week before and 51,400 the week before that – well down on the more than 300,000 who marched at the start of the movement in November in a protest which degenerated into clashes with police in subsequent weeks.

Protesters marched largely peacefully on Saturday from the Arc de Triomphe to Place Denfert-Rochereau on the residential left bank, though water cannon were briefly used to douse protesters on the Champs Elysees boulevard. Tear gas and water cannon were also used in Bordeaux, and in Toulouse, where some protesters marched behind a “cacatov party” banner – a play on Molotov cocktail firebombs – encouraging people to throw “poo-bombs” at police. There were no reports of anyone being hit by a “catatov”, but the threat of excrement projectiles was of concern to reporters covering the marches in Toulouse and Paris. Large parts of central Paris were in lockdown as thousands of police cordoned off key areas around the presidential palace and government buildings.

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Word is they want Assange for harm to US operatives.

Chelsea Manning Ordered To Testify Before Grand Jury In Assange Probe (WaPo)

Chelsea Manning has been called to testify before a grand jury in the investigation of Julian Assange, officials said. The summons is one of several indicators that prosecutors remain interested in WikiLeaks‘ publication of diplomatic cables and military war logs in 2010. Prosecutors in Virginia have been pursuing a case based on conduct that predates WikiLeaks’ publication of hacked emails during the 2016 presidential campaign, and it is not clear investigators are interested in that activity. Officials discussed the investigation of Mr Assange, who founded WikiLeaks, on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the grand jury process.

Ms Manning, whose subpoena was first reported by the New York Times, is a former Army private who served seven years in a military prison for passing secret State Department cables and military documents to WikiLeaks before receiving a commutation from Barack Obama. Ms Manning’s attorneys have filed a motion to quash the subpoena. “I object strenuously to this subpoena, and to the grand jury process in general,” Ms Manning said in a statement. “We’ve seen this power abused countless times to target political speech. I have nothing to contribute to this case and I resent being forced to endanger myself by participating in this predatory practice.”

The subpoena was signed last month by Gordon Kromberg, a national security prosecutor on the Assange case. Mr Kromberg last month persuaded a judge to leave sealed an indictment against Mr Assange despite its inadvertent exposure in an unrelated court filing last year. Under Mr Obama, Justice Department officials had decided not to pursue charges against Mr Assange and WikiLeaks after concluding that to do so could set a precedent that paved the way for prosecuting news organisations for publishing classified information. But the case got a fresh look under Donald Trump.

Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, said the Justice Department probably indicted Mr Assange last year to stay within the 10-year statute of limitations on unlawful possession or publication of national defence information, and is now working to add charges. “There’s nothing else that would make sense,” he said. “The heart of the controversy is, there’s never been a successful prosecution” for publishing classified information, Mr Vladeck said. “There has always been the spectre of a First Amendment defence.”

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Secret Courts and Secret Juries and Secret Documents and Secret Accusations. Nice country.

Chelsea Manning Shows Federal Grand Juries Are Tools of Repression (IC)

Chelsea Manning was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury and give testimony on March 5. The whistleblower filed a motion to quash the subpoena. As such, Manning risks incarceration under the coercive operations of the federal grand jury system. For Manning, the threat of further imprisonment is a particularly brutal one. Beginning in 2010, she was arrested, court-martialed, imprisoned, and tortured for exposing some of the worst crimes and brutalities of the Iraq and Afghan wars. She was released in 2017. Given the secrecy of federal grand jury procedures, we can’t know with any certainty to which potential case the subpoena pertains, or what Manning would be asked.

But since it was issued in the Eastern District of Virginia, we can make the informed speculation that it relates to inadvertently disclosed charges filed under seal against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in that same district. The New York Times reported that “there were multiple reasons to believe that the subpoena is related to the investigation of Mr. Assange,” including the district where the subpoena was issued and the assistant United States attorney that requested the subpoena, who is tied to the Assange prosecution. Another Assange associate, David House, told the Washington Post that he testified before the grand jury as well. “It was all related to disclosures around the war logs,” House said, a reference to the Iraq war documents that Manning released and Wikileaks published.

Manning’s decision to fight her subpoena, however, is not a question of protecting Assange, nor obstructing valid government investigations into federal crimes. Her challenge is an act of resistance against government repression and in defense of a free press.

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