Aug 052019
 


Piet Mondriaan Study for Blue Apple Tree Series 1908

 

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

 

 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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Feel lucky?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Is this enough to end the Fed?

Inside The Plunge Protection Team: Chaos (ZH)

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

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


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

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

Russiagate is the New 42 (Craig Murray)

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

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


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

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Poverty as a means of getting rid of the unwanted.

Austerity Populism (G.)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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Always a sucker for a good history lesson.

America’s Other Original Sin (Bacevich)

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

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

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

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


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

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Aug 042019
 


Julie Edgley Immature white tailed eagle.

 

An Economy Based on Plunder (PCR)
Economics Is A Failing Discipline Doing Great Harm (Simms)
Joe Biden To Millennials: Stop Complaining (HPo)
Dominic Cummings: UK Lawmakers Can’t Stop No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Justice Dept Bill Comes Due For Russiagate Costs (RT)
Celebrities, Royals, Politicians Fear Release Of Jeffrey Epstein Files (Tel.)
California Scrubs Controversial Kamala Harris-Era Arrest Reports
America’s Elites: Fractured and At Odds with Each Other (Crooke)
We Must Change Food Production To Save The World (G.)
The Sea Eagle Has Landed – Centuries After It Disappeared (G.)

 

 

Two mass shootings in the US, Iran seizes another tanker and police in France and Hogn Kong chase protesters. Must be Sunday.

Well, yes, it’s been about plunder for as long as our ‘civilization’ exists. We prefer to use other terms, that’s all.

An Economy Based on Plunder (PCR)

Capitalists have claimed responsibility for America’s past economic success. Let’s begin by setting the record straight. American success had little to do with capitalism. This is not to say that the US would have had more success with something like Soviet central planning. Prior to 1900 when the frontier was closed, America’s success was a multi-century long success based on the plunder of a pristine environment and abundant natural resources. Individuals and companies were capitalized simply by occupying the land and using the resources present. As the population grew and resources were depleted, the per capita resource endowment declined.

America got a second wind from World War I, which devastated European powers and permitted the emergence of the US as a budding world power. World War II finished off Europe and put economic and financial supremacy in Washington’s hands. The US dollar seized the world reserve currency role from the British pound, enabling the US to pay its bills by printing money. The world currency role of the dollar, more than nuclear weapons, has been the source of American power. Russia has equal or greater nuclear weapons power, but it is the dollar not the ruble that is the currency in which international payments are settled. The world currency role made the US the financial hegemon.

This power together with the IMF and World Bank enabled the US to plunder foreign resources the way vanishing American resources had been plundered. We can conclude that plunder of natural resources and the ability to externalize much of the cost have been major contributors right through the present day to the success of American capitalism. [..] Essentially, capitalism is a plunder mechanism that generates short-run profits by externalizing long-run costs. It exhausts natural resources, including air, land, and water, for temporary profits while imposing most of its costs, such as pollution, on the environment.

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And economics is designed to justify the plunder.

Economics Is A Failing Discipline Doing Great Harm (Simms)

[..] neoclassical economics has so deeply entrenched the notion that markets are better than all other ways of organising life, that decisions escape rational scrutiny. Academic economists will tell you that their discipline offers a far more complex picture of the world. But, at the policy level, what tilts a spending decision one way or the other is the simple power of the seeming “folk wisdom” that markets are best. It becomes the rule of thumb. They might look less good if the assumptions on which the equilibrium models that got us here were more widely known. The idea of perfect markets under perfect competition, for example, asks us to believe in a world where everybody knows everything, there are an infinite number of companies, no barriers to setting up a business, where any product can stand in for any other (say, a banana for a tractor) and, crucially, there are no “externalities” (economic speak for “consequences”) from production or consumption.


All models use a few simplifying assumptions, but those underpinning mainstream economics more often distort and detach from reality. It’s one of the reasons why students have rebelled, forming groups to demand that universities take a more pluralistic approach to teaching economics. Katie Kedward left a banking job in the City for ethical reasons and sought a degree that would make sense of economics. Despairing at the unreality of mainstream courses, she found a rare exception: a master’s in ecological economics at the University of Leeds. The course, though, isn’t even taught in the economics department but the School of Earth and Environment. That’s why new groups are emerging to promote heterodox economics, which draws on the insights of the study of complexity, neuro and behavioural science, ecology, feminism and the core economy of family, mutualism and community.

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Yeah, don’t just sit there, do something instead. Like seize Joe’s wealth.

Joe Biden To Millennials: Stop Complaining (HPo)

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a message for the millennial generation: Stop complaining if you aren’t going to engage with politics. The 2020 Democratic presidential contender stood by the skepticism he expressed last year when asked about young adults’ belief that they face outsize hurdles to secure housing and pay off debt. “I have no empathy for it. Give me a break,” Biden said in January 2018. Asked to explain what he meant, Biden began talking about his personal experience growing up with “very modest means” and how he felt upon learning about a study that found relatively few young people today would consider running for political office.

“We have an obligation to get engaged,” Biden said at Saturday’s AFSCME forum, co-moderated by HuffPost. “You all have an obligation to get engaged.” “Don’t tell me how bad it is. Change it. Change it. Change it,” he said. He added: “My generation did it.” = Biden drew some criticism the first time he went after millennials, more than a year before he announced his candidacy. Conservative New York Times opinion writer and climate denier Bret Stephens later sided with Biden in a column criticizing the millennial generation, which Stephens said specializes in “histrionic self-pity and moral self-righteousness.”

As HuffPost’s Michael Hobbes reported in 2017, there is a large amount of research and data that paints a bleak financial future for young people, many of whom are already reporting that they’re finding themselves priced out of the housing market. Although Biden has consistently polled highest among the wide field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, his supporters skew older and more moderate. At the forum, he went on to say, “I just don’t want people telling me on a college campus, ‘Oh, woe is me, I’ve got it so bad.’ … Come on.”

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Checkmate?

Dominic Cummings: UK Lawmakers Can’t Stop No-Deal Brexit (R.)

Lawmakers will be unable to stop a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 by bringing down Britain’s government in a vote of no confidence next month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide has advised, according to the Sunday Telegraph. Dominic Cummings, one of architects of the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union, told ministers that Johnson could schedule a general election after the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline if he loses a vote of no confidence in parliament, the newspaper said, citing sources. Johnson has promised to lead Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal but has a working majority of just one after his Conservative Party lost a parliamentary seat on Friday.


Some of his lawmakers have hinted they would vote against him to prevent a no-deal Brexit — a rising prospect that has sent the pound tumbling to 30-month lows against the dollar over the last few days. Lawmakers are unable to table a motion of no confidence before next month because the House of Commons is in recess until Sept. 3. “(Lawmakers) don’t realise that if there is a no-confidence vote in September or October, we’ll call an election for after the 31st and leave anyway,” Cummings was quoted by one of the Sunday Telegraph’s sources as saying. Johnson has said he would prefer to the leave the EU with a deal but has rejected the Irish backstop — an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland — which the EU says is key to any agreement.

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“..the special counsel’s office spent $25 million digging for Russian infiltrators in the White House.”

Justice Dept Bill Comes Due For Russiagate Costs (RT)

Nearly two years of fruitlessly hunting for collusion between US President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government cost the country $31.7 million, the Justice Department has revealed. The cost of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month probe was released in a Justice Department accounting report on Friday. While the last six months of the investigation, which concluded in May with Mueller’s resignation, cost “only” $6.5 million as he began sending prosecutors home and writing up the 448-page report, turning the full force of the country’s investigative apparatus against a president and his campaign isn’t cheap. From May 2017 to September 2018, the special counsel’s office spent $25 million digging for Russian infiltrators in the White House.

Some $2.4 million of the last phase’s expenses would have been spent anyway on Department salaries, according to the report, but the itemized breakdown provides an interesting window into the bureaucratic swamp that produced the pricey nothingburger. “Transportation of Things” may have cost just $229, but Justice Department employees billed the government for $235,812 to work out of the special counsel’s office instead of their own offices (filed under “Travel and Transportation of Persons”). While the special counsel investigation infamously turned up no proof of the promised Russian collusion, that did not stop Trump’s political opponents from attempting to reframe the expensive endeavor as a victory – based on the handful of process crimes levied against Trump associates – or a “roadmap to impeachment,” since Mueller did not explicitly say Trump should not be prosecuted and outlined 10 potential scenarios of obstruction of justice.

Adding insult to injury, several key “facts” in the report have already been proven wrong or misleading, such as the identity of Konstantin Kilimnik, who Mueller described as having links to Russian intelligence but who was actually a US State Department asset. And last month, a federal judge found that Mueller had utterly failed to prove that the company running the “troll farm” that supposedly committed “sweeping and systematic” interference in US elections on behalf of the Russian government had any government connections at all.

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Who’s powerful enough to remain hidden?

Celebrities, Royals, Politicians Fear Release Of Jeffrey Epstein Files (Tel.)

In Room 270, the records management unit, on the second floor of an imposing granite and marble courthouse in lower Manhattan, 167 documents totaling more than 2,000 pages are being kept under lock and key. But they are about to be unsealed and made public – making a host of important people around the world, including celebrities, politicians and royals, very nervous. The files contain explosive allegations in the case of Giuffre v Maxwell, in which Virginia Giuffre, a woman who claims to have been Jeffrey Epstein’s teenage “sex slave”, sued Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and the billionaire’s former girlfriend, for defamation.

The case was settled in May 2017 on the eve of the trial but the details were not disclosed and the final judgment and supporting documents were sealed, with the court noting the “highly sensitive nature of the underlying allegations.” According to other court documents that have been published, Ms Giuffre has made allegations of sexual abuse against “numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well known Prime Minister, and other world leaders.” An appeal to unseal the rest of the documents was launched by the Miami Herald newspaper, which has spearheaded media investigations into Epstein. It was rejected three times. But last month the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered their release, ruling that the public’s right to know outweighed the privacy rights of the high-profile individuals named.

It what may be an indication of the fame of those individuals, the judges made a striking plea to the media to “exercise restraint” in reporting the allegations about to come to light. They also allowed parties involved to apply for minor redactions, delaying the release. Another delay is possible as Miss Maxwell has launched an appeal to keep the documents sealed, her lawyers arguing that a full release would trigger a “furious feeding frenzy.” They wrote: “Plaintiff Giuffre made numerous allegations of sexual, if not criminal, conduct against a wide range of third parties. Because of the media no reference to anyone in this case is benign: a reference to any person is toxic and lethal to that person’s reputation. Facts and truth are all but irrelevant.”


Prince Andrew, Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2001

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Have you no shame?

California Scrubs Controversial Kamala Harris-Era Arrest Reports (ZH)

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has scrubbed arrest records from Sen. Kamala Harris’s controversial tenure as the state’s top law enforcement official, according to the Washington Free Beacon. The purge was conducted during a ‘routine website redesign,’ removing public access to several key incarceration reports. Twice a year, the CDCR releases information about the number of new individuals incarcerated in the California prison system as part of its “Offender Data Points” series. These reports provide important information on demographics, sentence length, offense type, and other figures relevant to criminal justice and incarceration.

Until recently, these reports were publicly available at the CDCR’s website. A search using archive.org’s Wayback Machine reveals that as of April 25, 2019—the most recent indexed date—ODP reports were available dating back to the spring of 2009. As of August 2019, the same web page now serves only a single ODP report, the one for Spring 2019. The pre-2019 reports have been removed. -Washington Free Beacon During the Democratic debates on Wednesday night, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) excoriated Harris’s record as California Attorney General, rattling off a laundry list of ‘inconvenient’ facts – such as the 1,500-plus Californians Harris sent to prison for marijuana-related offenses, blocking evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until forced to do so by the courts, and using prison inmates as cheap labor. Harris did not refute any of Gabbard’s statements.

The now-scrubbed records were used by the Free Beacon in prior reporting – “specifically the finding that more than 120,000 black and Latino Californians were sent to prison while she was in the State A.G.’s office.” A CDCR employee claims that the changes have nothing to do with Harris’s campaign, and were instead prompted by California law AB 434 which ‘sets standards for web accessibility.’

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Reeks too much of fear-mongering to me. Alastair Crooke can theorize all he wants.

America’s Elites: Fractured and At Odds with Each Other (Crooke)

Something is ‘up’. When two Financial Times columnists – pillars of the western Establishment – raise a warning flag, we must take note: Martin Wolf was first off, with a piece dramatically headlined: The looming 100-year, US-China Conflict. No ‘mere’ trade war, he implied, but a full-spectrum struggle. Then his FT colleague Edward Luce, pointed out that Wolf’s “argument is more nuanced than the headline. Having spent part of this week among leading policymakers and thinkers at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado,” Luce writes, “I am inclined to think Martin was not exaggerating. The speed with which US political leaders of all stripes have united behind the idea of a ‘new cold war’ is something that takes my breath away. Eighteen months ago the phrase was dismissed as fringe scaremongering. Today it is consensus.”

A significant shift is underway in US policy circles, it seems. Luce’s final ‘take’ is that “it is very hard to see what, or who, is going to prevent this great power rivalry from dominating the 21st century”. It is clear that there is indeed now a clear bi-partisan consensus in the US on China. Luce is surely right. But that is far from being the end of it. A collective psychology of belligerence seems to be taking shape, and, as one commentator noted, it has become not just a great-power rivalry, but a rivalry amongst ‘Beltway’ policy wonks to show “who has the bigger dick”.

And quick to demonstrate this, at Aspen (after others had unveiled their masculinity on China and Iran), was the US envoy for Syria (and deputy US National Security Adviser), James Jeffrey: A US policy boiled down to one overriding component: ‘hammering Russia’. “Hammering Russia” (he insisted repeatedly), will continue until President Putin understands there is no military solution in Syria (he said with heightened verbal emphasis). Russia falsely assumes that Assad has ‘won’ war: “He hasn’t”, Jeffrey said. And the US is committed to demonstrating this fundamental ‘truth’.

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We must change it to preserve our own mental health.

We Must Change Food Production To Save The World (G.)

Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week. A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land. Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground. In future these problems are likely to get worse. “Climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action,” the report states. It is a bleak analysis of the dangers ahead and comes when rising greenhouse gas emissions have made news after triggering a range of severe meteorological events.

[..] The new IPCC report emphasises that land will have to be managed more sustainably so that it releases much less carbon than at present. Peat lands will need to be restored by halting drainage schemes; meat consumption will have to be cut to reduce methane production; while food waste will have to be reduced. Among the measures put forward by the report is the proposal of a major shift towards vegetarian and vegan diets. “The consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

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First since 1780.

The Sea Eagle Has Landed – Centuries After It Disappeared (G.)

Sea eagles have returned to the Isle of Wight 239 years after they were last seen there. Six chicks brought from Scotland were taken to the island last month as part of a programme to reintroduce the birds to England’s south coast. Also known as white-tailed eagles, the birds will be released into the wild in the next few weeks. Over the next five years 60 young sea eagles – which grow to have a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres (8ft) and are Britain’s largest bird of prey – will be released on the island in a programme approved by Nature England. It is hoped the birds will begin breeding there by 2024.


“Sea eagles were once a common sight in England and southern Europe but were lost centuries ago,” said Roy Dennis, who has pioneered the reintroduction of the birds to Britain. “This project aims to reverse that situation by restoring them to their ancestral nesting places.” Dennis added that the last pair of sea eagles in England bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. A spokesperson for Forestry England said the new chicks had been doing well since their arrival and that once their health had been checked they would be released into the wild at several different locations in the next few weeks.


White tailed eagle. Photo:Arturo de Frias Marques

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Assange: The persecution

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 152019
 


Arnold Böcklin Mermaids at play 1886

 

Freeing Julian Assange: Part Two (Suzie Dawson)
Well Guess What? He Was Right Again! Free Julian Assange (CJ)
DOJ Bloodhounds on the Scent of John Brennan (Ray McGovern)
System To Circumvent US Sanctions On Iran Ready Soon: German FM (AlJ)
Jeremy Corbyn Challenges UK Government’s Iran Tanker Accusations (BBC)
Brexit Britain Wallows In Dangerous Talk Of National Humiliation (O’Toole)
All Eyes On Fed As Stock Market Pines For Rate Cut (R.)
US Commercial Real Estate Is Another Dangerous Bubble In The Making (Colombo)
The “Deficits Don’t Matter” Folly (Stockman)
Beijing Yields To Hong Kong’s Financial Clout (R.)
Meanwhile, over on Planet Japan (Simon Black)

 

 

Trump was merely added years after the Russia-WikiLeaks slander had started.

Freeing Julian Assange: Part Two (Suzie Dawson)

The public has been led to believe that the 2016 election and the resulting Mueller Report is the definitive evidence that WikiLeaks was somehow in cahoots with Russia, reinforcing the premise that they were in a political alliance with, or favoured, Donald Trump and his Presidential election campaign. Prominent Russiagate-skeptics have long pointed out the multitude of gaping holes inherent in those theories, including the advocacy group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) who have produced credible forensic work analysing the 2016 WikiLeaks releases, that resoundingly debunks officials claims.


In the course of researching this article, I stumbled across a major discovery that augments that: the false notion of WikiLeaks being a front for Russian intelligence isn’t new – it has been pushed by media since 2009. It turns out the circulation of the WikiLeaks-Russia myth was a tried and true diversionary, smear tactic that was simply regurgitated in 2016. Julian Assange believed that UK intelligence agencies were behind the pushing of that narrative, and he was publicly stating so at the end of last decade. He wouldn’t make such claims lightly, and other emerging facts support his suspicion.

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“Otherwise you are just the establishment’s PR firm.”

Well Guess What? He Was Right Again! Free Julian Assange (CJ)

“Today’s the day that journalism gets put on trial,” Dimmack said. “And it’s interesting that behind me there are this many cameras. There haven’t been this many cameras for quite a while. It’s interesting that when Julian was dragged out and kidnapped from within that Ecuadorian embassy, all of you guys had actually gone home, and it was a Russian TV station that actually caught it, Ruptly. It’s almost as if you don’t care.”

“For seven years you have smeared and slandered that man who is going to appear on video in that court in about fifteen minutes,” Dimmack told the mainstream press, right to their fucking faces. “You are all responsible for what has happened today! All of you in the media! Every one of you. You have got blood on your hands. When he released those documents that Chelsea Manning gave him, all he did was the job of a publisher. That’s it. Right now Julian Assange is going to court and put on trial for exposing war criminals as war criminals. And all of you for seven years have smeared and slandered him. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

“You have all got a chance right now to actually do a U-turn and repair some of the damage that you have done over the last seven years,” Dimmack roared. “The Fourth Estate is extremely important. You know this. This is why journalism is such a noble profession; you are meant to hold power accountable, not to suck up to it sycophantically and just repeat propaganda. Otherwise you are just the establishment’s PR firm.” “Stand up for Julian Assange and tell the truth,” he continued. “Ask yourselves why is it for seven years you have printed lie after lie after lie about him? Why is it for seven years you have said that he went to the Ecuadorian embassy to escape a rape charge? No he didn’t! How many times have I said it? He went in there to escape extradition to the United States.” “Well guess what?” Dimmack concluded, gesturing to the courthouse. “He was right again! Free Julian Assange.”

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More Russiagate.

DOJ Bloodhounds on the Scent of John Brennan (Ray McGovern)

The New York Times Thursday morning has bad news for one of its favorite anonymous sources, former CIA Director John Brennan. The Times reports that the Justice Department plans to interview senior CIA officers to focus on the allegation that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian intelligence to intervene in the 2016 election to help Donald J. Trump. DOJ investigators will be looking for evidence to support that remarkable claim that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report failed to establish. Despite the collusion conspiracy theory having been put to rest, many Americans, including members of Congress, right and left, continue to accept the evidence-impoverished, media-cum-“former-intelligence-officer” meme that the Kremlin interfered massively in the 2016 presidential election.

One cannot escape the analogy with the fraudulent evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As in 2002 and 2003, when the mania for the invasion of Iraq mounted, Establishment media have simply regurgitated what intelligence sources like Brennan told them about Russia-gate. No one batted an eye when Brennan told a House committee in May 2017, “I don’t do evidence.” As we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity have warned numerous times over the past two plus years, there is no reliable forensic evidence to support the story that Russia hacked into the DNC. Moreover, in a piece I wrote in May, “Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russia-gate,” I again noted that accumulating forensic evidence from metadata clearly points to an inside DNC job — a leak, not a hack, by Russia or anyone else.

So Brennan and his partners, FBI Director James Comey and National Intelligence Director James Clapper were making stuff up and feeding thin but explosive gruel to the hungry stenographers that pass today for Russiagate obsessed journalists. With Justice Department investigators’ noses to the ground, it should be just a matter of time before they identify Brennan conclusively as fabricator-in-chief of the Russiagate story. Evidence, real evidence in this case, abounds, since the Brennan-Comey-Clapper gang of three were sure Hillary Clinton would become president. Consequently, they did not perform due diligence to hide their tracks.

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From Monday. A few days later, the tankers were attacked. And not with mines either.

System To Circumvent US Sanctions On Iran Ready Soon: German FM (AlJ)

A European payment system designed to circumvent US sanctions on Iran will be ready soon, Germany announced on Monday. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran as part of European efforts to salvage the historic JCPOA nuclear pact and defuse rising US-Iranian tension. Iran and Germany held “frank and serious” talks on saving the 2015 deal with world powers, Zarif told a joint press conference. “Tehran will cooperate with EU signatories of the deal to save it,” Zarif said. Maas said earlier the payment system, known as INSTEX, (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) will soon be ready to go after months of work.


“This is an instrument of a new kind so it’s not straightforward to operationalise it,” he said, pointing to the complexity of trying to install a totally new payment system. “But all the formal requirements are in place now, and so I’m assuming we’ll be ready to use it in the foreseeable future,” added Maas about the system for barter-based trade with Iran. A cautious thaw in relations between Tehran and Washington began in 2015 when the deal was struck between six world powers and Iran, limiting its nuclear activity. But tensions with the US have mounted since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions. Iran has criticised the European signatories of the JCPOA for failing to salvage the pact after Trump pulled the US out. “There is a serious situation in the region. An escalation of tension is becoming uncontrollable and military action wouldn’t be in line with the interests of any party,” Maas said.

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From Skripal to Iran.

Jeremy Corbyn Challenges UK Government’s Iran Tanker Accusations (BBC)

Jeremy Corbyn has questioned whether the government has “credible evidence” to show Iran is behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said responsibility for Thursday’s attack in the Gulf of Oman “almost certainly” lies with the Iranian regime. But the Labour leader tweeted that there was no evidence for this. Mr Hunt responded that Mr Corbyn’s comments were “pathetic” and said he should back British intelligence. It is the second time in the past few weeks that tankers appear to have been attacked in the region and comes amid escalating tension between Iran and the United States.


The US military released video footage which it said proved Iran was behind Thursday’s attacks on the Norwegian and Japanese tankers – something Iran has categorically denied. The UK Foreign Office said it was “almost certain” that a branch of the Iranian military – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – attacked the two tankers on 13 June, adding that “no other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible”. “These latest attacks build on a pattern of destabilising Iranian behaviour and pose a serious danger to the region,” Mr Hunt said. However, in a tweet Mr Corbyn questioned that assessment and said the UK should ease tensions in the region, not fuel a military escalation.

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And it works!

Brexit Britain Wallows In Dangerous Talk Of National Humiliation (O’Toole)

Launching his bid for the Tory leadership this week, Dominic Raab announced, histrionically: “We’ve been humiliated as a country.” For those of us who do not live on planet Brexit, this might have been mistaken for a belated reaction to the genuinely demeaning spectacle of Donald Trump’s state visit a week earlier. But, of course, like almost all of his fellow contenders to be the next prime minister, Raab was playing his part in a strange performance in which the national honour has been so horribly besmirched by the European Union that it can be salved only by taking the pain of a no-deal Brexit.

Perhaps if you keep acting out phoney feelings, you end up not being able to recognise the real thing. Brexit Britain has been wallowing in a hyped-up psychodrama of national humiliation. It is, indeed, one of the very few things that remainers and leavers still share, even if they feel mortified for very different reasons. In relation to the EU, this sense of humiliation is wildly overplayed. But when Trump comes to town and really does degrade Britain, the sense of wounded dignity that ought to be felt seems curiously absent.

[..] how come the idea of national humiliation has loomed so large in Brexit? Shortly before the missed departure date of 29 March, a Sky Data poll asked: “Is the way Britain is dealing with Brexit a national humiliation?” Ninety per cent of respondents said yes. This idea of collective abasement is everywhere in the Brexit narrative. A random sample of headlines from across the spectrum tells the story: “Brexit and the prospect of national humiliation” (Financial Times); “Voice of the Mirror: Theresa May’s Brexit is a national humiliation”; “A national humiliation: Never was so much embarrassment caused to so many by so few” (Telegraph); “‘Humiliating to have to beg’ for EU exit, says Arlene Foster” (Irish Times). And so, endlessly, on.

There is something hysterical in this constant evocation of humiliation. It is a cry of outraged self-regard: how dare they treat us like this? Yes, of course, the Brexit debacle has reduced Britain’s prestige around the world. And the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May is indeed a miserable thing when compared with the glorious visions that preceded it. But Britain has not been humiliated by the EU – the deal was shaped by May’s (and Arlene Foster’s) red lines. Britain did not get what the Brexiters fantasised about, but it did get what it actually asked for. That’s not humiliation.

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Markets my ass. The only thing that’s left is the Fed. Markets are dead.

All Eyes On Fed As Stock Market Pines For Rate Cut (R.)

The Federal Open Market Committee meeting next week is shaping up as a pivotal one for Wall Street, with stocks primed for a selloff should the Fed fail to take an even more dovish tilt after policymakers raised expectations for a rate cut in recent weeks. The benchmark S&P 500 has rallied more than 5% this month as softening economic data coupled with comments by Fed officials heightened expectations the Fed will cut rates by the end of the year and, at the very least, telegraph it is leaning toward a later rate cut at its June 18-19 meeting. Those gains came on the heels of a selloff in May of nearly 7% in the S&P, largely fueled by investor concerns that trade wars were escalating, slowing the economy and putting it at risk of falling into a recession.


Bets for a rate cut were amplified by comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on June 4, who said the central bank will respond “as appropriate” to the risks from a global trade war and other developments, and after a weak May payrolls report on June 7. Bank of America Merrill Lynch Chief Economist Michelle Meyer expects the Fed’s “dot plots” projection of interest rates, which represents the anonymous, individual rate projections of Fed policymakers for the next few years, to shift lower as officials start to factor in cuts. However, “the median dot will signal a Fed on hold,” Meyer said in a note. “The market has somehow convinced themselves that we are in an easing cycle. I am not sure how we got so far ahead of ourselves,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.

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Virtual wealth in a virtual reality.

US Commercial Real Estate Is Another Dangerous Bubble In The Making (Colombo)

As a result of the Fed’s ZIRP and QE programs in the past decade, virtually all types of assets soared in value: stocks, bonds, art, classic cars, farmland, residential real estate, and commercial real estate. On average, U.S. commercial real estate prices have surged by 111%, or more than double, since their 2009 low. Interestingly, most people don’t realize that U.S. commercial real estate also experienced a bubble from 2004 to 2008 at the same time as the U.S. housing bubble. This early bubble inflated for many of the same reasons as the housing bubble, which were ultra-low borrowing costs and loose lending standards. From 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate prices rose 66%, but crashed by nearly 40% during the 2008 financial crisis. Commercial real estate prices have increased even more in the current bubble (111% vs. 66%), which means that the coming commercial real estate bust is likely to be even worse than the 2008 bust.

As discussed earlier, low interest rate environments often cause dangerous bubbles to develop by encouraging borrowing booms. Like the U.S. commercial real estate bubble of 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate lending has flourished during the current bubble. Since 2012, total commercial real estate loans at U.S. banks have increased by an alarming $700 billion or 50%.

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“There haven’t been any cataclysmic consequences, so why worry about it?”

The “Deficits Don’t Matter” Folly (Stockman)

Well, that was timely. The US Treasury just posted a record $207 billion deficit for May and record monthly spending of $440 billion. That brought the rolling 12 month deficit to just shy of the trillion dollar mark at $986 billion. The timely part is two-fold. First, it just so happens that May marked month #119 of the current expansion, making it tied for the duration record with the 1990s cycle. But even JM Keynes himself would be rolling in his grave in light of the chart below. To wit, even by the lights of hardcore Keynesians of yore, fiscal deficits were supposed to be falling sharply at the end of a business cycle or even moving into surplus as they did in 1999-2000, not erupting toward 5% of GDP as has now happened.

The second timely note, of sorts, is that the Wall Street Journal was Johnny on the Spot this AM with a front page story entitled, “How Washington Learned to Love Debt and Deficits”. The story’s quote from the current Dem Chairman of the House Budget Committee, John Yarmouth, says it all. There simply has never been such bipartisan complacency about the nation’s public finances in all of modern history – including during the biggest borrow and spend days of FDR, LBJ and every president since Gerald Ford: “Rep. John Yarmuth (D., Ky.), House Budget Committee chairman, says he rarely hears from constituents concerned about rising deficits and debt. Many voters’ attitudes, he says: “There haven’t been any cataclysmic consequences, so why worry about it?”

The WSJ story is a dog’s breakfast of rationalizations, non sequitirs, political double-talk and Keynesian tommyrot. What is the most telling, however, is that it was co-authored by Jon Hilsenrath, who was the paper’s long-time Fed reporter. Yet it contains not a single word about the role of central banks in fostering the utter collapse of fiscal responsibility described by his lengthy report. So for want of doubt, here is the culprit. The central banks of the world have expanded their balance sheets by upwards of $22 trillion since the turn of the century, thereby massively monetizing the erupting public debt of the US and most of the world via fiat credit snatched from thin air.

So did that massive $22 trillion “buy” order from the central banks weigh heavily on the supply of funds side of the scales in the fixed income market, thereby driving bond prices skyward and yields ever lower? Why, goodness gracious, yes it did!

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Really?

Beijing Yields To Hong Kong’s Financial Clout (R.)

Beijing has yielded to Hong Kong’s unique economic status. Carrie Lam, chief executive of the special administrative region, on Saturday indefinitely suspended a bill that would have allowed extradition to the mainland, responding to mass rallies and violent street protests that rocked the city. It’s a defeat for her, and leaves the central government embarrassed. But for the Chinese Communist Party, preserving Hong Kong’s financial role still trumps the desire for more political control. Lam took office in 2017, and is considered a reliable Beijing loyalist. Pushing through the extradition bill, however, came from her, she said. Either way, the central government endorsed it enthusiastically as well. Yet the strength and breadth of the protests caught both Lam and Beijing off guard.


The backlash was not confined to democracy advocates, much less to a radical minority that began calling for independence after the Occupy movement in 2014. It extended to anyone who distrusted the Chinese legal system. In the end, that seemed to be almost everyone. Some tycoons began moving funds out of Hong Kong to Singapore in advance of the bill’s passage, Reuters reported, a hint of the outflows before the 1997 handover from Britain. And not only did the pro-Beijing camp fail to mobilise against the demonstrations in force – as it did in 2014 – the conservative business community began expressing public doubts about the agenda almost immediately. Financial markets wobbled. Worse still, U.S. politicians threatened to re-evaluate Hong Kong’s unique status, which could affect everything from visas to trade.

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We’re all on planet Japan. Pension systems everywhere are imploding.

Meanwhile, over on Planet Japan (Simon Black)

It was only a few days ago that the Japanese government’s Financial Services Agency published its oddly-titled “Annual Report on Ageing Society”. (Like everything in Japan, English translations often hilariously miss the mark…) This is a report that the Ministry of Finance puts out every year. And as the name implies, the report discusses the state of Japan’s pension fund, and its future prospects for taking care of its senior citizens. Bear in mind that Japan has the oldest population in the world; Japan ranks #2 in the world for average age (46.9, just behind Monaco), #1 in the world for the greatest percentage of citizens over the age of 70, and #1 in the world for life expectancy. In a nutshell, this means that Planet Japan has more people collecting pension benefits, for more years, than anywhere else.

Yet at the same time, Japan’s pension fund is completely insolvent. There simply aren’t enough people paying into the system to make good on the promises that have been made. At present there are only 2 workers paying into the pension program for every 1 retiree receiving benefits in Japan. The math simply doesn’t add up, and it’s only getting worse. Planet Japan’s birth rate is infamously low, and the population here is actually DECLINING. So, fast forward another 10-15 years, and there will be even MORE people collecting pension benefits, and even FEWER people paying into the system. This year’s ‘Annual Report on Ageing Society’ plainly stated this reality; it was a brutally honest assessment of Japan’s underfunded pension program.

The report went on to tell people that they needed to save their own money for retirement because the pension fund wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. This terrified a lot of Japanese workers and pensioners. So the government stepped in to quickly solve the problem… by making the report disappear. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for the report, calling it “inaccurate and misleading.” And Finance Minister Taro Aso– himself a pensioner at age 78 (though in typical Japanese form he looks like he’s 45)– simply un-published the report.

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May 312019
 


 

Julian Assange Shows Psychological Torture Symptoms – UN Expert (G.)
Julian Assange Must Never Be Extradited (Matt Taibbi)
The Unrelenting State (Craig Murray)
Trump Announces Tariffs On Mexico Until ‘Immigration Problem Remedied’ (G.)
Futures, Peso Tumble As Trump Unleashes Tariffs On Mexico (ZH)
GOP Senator Grassley Blasts Trump Over Mexico Tariff Threat (Hill)
Russiagate Is #1 Threat To US National Security – Stephen Cohen (RT)
Malaysia PM Wants Evidence To Show Russia Shot Down MH17 (FMT)
Boeing Admits It ‘Fell Short’ On Safety Alert For 737 (BBC)
Yield-Curve Spaghetti (WS)
Ted Cruz, AOC Agree To Ban Former Congress Members From Becoming Lobbyists (G.)

 

 

Time is ticking away.

Julian Assange Shows Psychological Torture Symptoms – UN Expert (G.)

Julian Assange is showing all the symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to psychological torture and should not be extradited to the US, according to a senior UN expert who visited him in prison. Nils Melzer, UN’s special rapporteur on torture, is expected to make his appeal to the UK government on Friday. It comes after Assange, the co-founder of WikiLeaks, was said by his lawyers to be too ill to appear by video link for the latest court hearing of the case on Thursday. Assange has been moved to the health ward of Belmarsh prison, London, where he has been serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail while fighting extradition to the US.

He is accused of violating the Espionage Act by publishing secret documents containing the names of confidential US military and diplomatic sources. After meeting Assange earlier this month in the company of medical experts who examined him, Melzer will say on Friday that he fears the Australian’s human rights could be seriously violated if he is extradited to the US and will condemn what he describes as the “deliberate and concerted abuse inflicted for years” on him. “Physically there were ailments but that side of things are being addressed by the prison health service and there was nothing urgent or dangerous in that way,” Melzer said.

“What was worrying was the psychological side and his constant anxiety. It was perceptible that he had a sense of being under threat from everyone. He understood what my function was but it’s more that he was extremely agitated and busy with his own thoughts. It was difficult to have a very structured conversation with him.” [..] The lawyer [..] said that his office had been approached by Assange’s lawyers in December. But he said that he was initially reluctant to do so, admitting he was affected by what he called the “prejudice” around the case.However, he began looking into the case again in March and, earlier this week, wrote letters to the foreign ministers of the US, the UK and Sweden.

“In the course of the past nine years, Mr Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination,” Melzer will say on Friday. He added the UK authorities had contacted his Geneva office to indicate that the British government would be issuing a point-by-point rebuttal of the assertions made in his letter. [..] “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.”

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I doubt Orwell ever knew how right he was.

Julian Assange Must Never Be Extradited (Matt Taibbi)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today sits in the Belmarsh High Security prison in southeast London. Not just for his sake but for everyone’s, we now have to hope he’s never moved from there to America. The United States filed charges against Assange early last month. The case seemed to have been designed to assuage fears that speech freedoms or the press were being targeted. That specific offense was “computer hacking conspiracy” from back in 2010. The “crime” was absurdly thin, a claim that Assange agreed (but failed, apparently) to try to help Chelsea Manning develop an administrative password that could have helped her conceal identity as she downloaded secrets. One typewritten phrase, “No luck so far,” was the damning piece of evidence.

The troubling parts of that case lurked in the rest of the indictment, which seemed to sell normal journalistic activity as part of the offense. The government complained that Assange “took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure.” Prosecutors likewise said, “Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States.” The indictment stressed Assange/Manning were seeking “national defense information” that could be “used to the injury of the United States.” The indictment likewise noted that the pair had been guilty of transmitting such information to “any person not entitled to receive it.” It was these passages that made me nervous a month and a half ago, because they seemed to speak to a larger ambition.

Use of phrases like “national defense information” given to persons “not entitled to receive it” gave off a strong whiff of Britain’s Official Secrets Acts, America’s Defense Secrets Act of 1911 (which prohibited “national defense” information going to “those not entitled to receive it”) and our Espionage Act of 1917, which retained many of the same concepts. All of these laws were written in a way that plainly contradicted basic free speech protections. The Espionage Act was revised in 1950 by the McCarran Internal Security Act, sponsored by Nevada Senator Pat McGarran (who incidentally was said to be the inspiration for the corrupt “Senator Pat Geary” character in The Godfather). The change potentially removed a requirement that the person obtaining classified information had to have intent to harm the country.

There was a way to read the new law that criminalized what the Columbia Law Review back in 1973 (during the Pentagon Papers controversy) called the “mere retention” of classified material. This provision buried in subsection 793 of the Espionage Law has, since passage, been a ticking time bomb for journalism. The law seems clearly to permit the government to prosecute anyone who simply obtains or receives “national defense” information. This would place not only sources who steal and deliver such information at risk of prosecution, but also the journalists who receive and publish it. If the government ever decided to start using this tool to successfully prosecute reporters and publishers, we’d pretty quickly have no reporters and publishers.

I’m not exaggerating when I say virtually every reporter who’s ever done national security reporting has at some time or another looked at, or been told, or actually received copies of, “national defense” information they were technically “not entitled to receive.

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Britain employs torture. What do its own laws say about that?

The Unrelenting State (Craig Murray)

We are seriously worried about the condition of Julian Assange. He was too unwell to appear in court yesterday, and his Swedish lawyer, Per Samuelson, found him in a state where he was unable to conduct a conversation and give instructions. There are very definite physical symptoms, particularly rapid weight loss, and we are not satisfied that genuine and sufficient diagnostic efforts are being made to determine the underlying cause. Julian had been held for the last year in poor, highly confining and increasingly oppressive conditions in the Ecuadorean Embassy and his health was already deteriorating alarmingly before his expulsion and arrest.

A number of conditions, including dental abcesses, can have very serious consequences if long term untreated, and the continual refusal by the British government and latterly the Ecuadoreans to permit him access to adequate healthcare while a political asylee was a callous denial of basic human rights. I confess to feeling an amount of personal relief after his arrest that at least he would now get proper medical treatment. However there now seems to be no intention to provide that and indeed since he has been in Belmarsh his health problems have accelerated. I witnessed enough of the British state’s complicity in torture to know that this may be more than just the consequence of unintended neglect. That the most lucid man I know is now not capable of having a rational conversation is extremely alarming.

There is no rational reason that Assange needs to be kept in a high security facility for terrorists and violent offenders. We are seeing the motive behind his unprecedented lengthy imprisonment for jumping police bail when he entered political asylum. As a convicted prisoner, Assange can be kept in a worse regime than if he were merely on remand for his extradition proceedings. In particular, his access to his lawyers is extremely restricted and for a man facing major legal proceedings in the UK, USA and Sweden it is impossible, even were he healthy, for his lawyers to have sufficient time with him adequately to prepare his cases while he is under the restrictions placed on a convict. Of course we know from the fact that, within three hours of being dragged from the Ecuadorean Embassy, he was already convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term, that the state has no intention that his lawyers should be able to prepare.

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It’s like hammering in a nail with a pair of scissors.

Trump Announces Tariffs On Mexico Until ‘Immigration Problem Remedied’ (G.)

In a surprise announcement that could compromise a major trade deal, Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he is slapping a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports to pressure the country to do more to crack down on the surge of Central American migrants trying to cross the border. He said the percentage would gradually increase “until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied”. Trump made the announcement by tweet after telling reporters earlier Thursday that he was planning “a major statement” that would be his “biggest” so far on the border. “On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP. The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied,” he wrote, “at which time the Tariffs will be removed.”


Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, responded with a two-page letter to Trump on Thursday night. “The Statue of Liberty is not an empty symbol,” he said. “With all due respect, even though you have the right to say it, ‘make America great again’ is a fallacy because, until the end of times, and beyond national borders, universal justice and fraternity should prevail,” he wrote. Amlo, as the president is commonly called, offered his US counterpart history lessons on past periods of cordial US-Mexico relations. He also included details of his plans to develop Central America to stop migration and warned: “I don’t lack courage, I’m not a coward nor timid, rather, I act on principles.”

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“The only way the S&P 500 doesn’t sink massively today is if Trump rows back on this.”

Futures, Peso Tumble As Trump Unleashes Tariffs On Mexico (ZH)

Update 2: some borderline apocalyptic observations from Bloomberg markets live managing editor, Mark Cudmore who writes the following: “This Mexico tariff news is far worse than even the initial market reaction makes it out to be. The timing is almost immediate. Chaos for both companies and bureaucrats. No time for anyone to prepare or make contingencies. The only way the S&P 500 doesn’t sink massively today is if Trump rows back on this. The U.S. imported almost $350b worth of goods from Mexico in 2018. What makes it even worse again, if possible, is that so many traders were hoping Trump would soon take a more conciliatory trade zone because U.S. stocks have weakened. This is a black swan event for markets and people aren’t even registering. Maybe traders are all hoping there’s some mistake or that this won’t be implemented.”


Update 1: it’s going from bad to worse, with the White House warning that it will hike Mexico tariffs to 25% by October 1, if the border crisis persists, as Trump is activating a scorched earth approach whereby he will “punish” any offshore nation that he believes is transgressing, by imposing tariffs. Meanwhile, moments after Trump’s shock tweet, the Mexican deputy foreign minister Seade said that if President’s threat to impose tariffs is carried out, “it would be disastrous”, and Mexico would “respond strongly”, adding that “we will not remain with out arms folded” before the tariff deadline “to see if it is serious.”

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“Trade policy and border security are separate issues.”

GOP Senator Grassley Blasts Trump Over Mexico Tariff Threat (Hill)

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) condemned President Trump’s new tariffs on Mexico late Thursday, calling the move a “misuse” of presidential tariff authority and cautioning the levies could derail passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). “Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent,” Grassley said in a statement. The lawmaker cautioned that following through on Trump’s tariff threat “would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA,” a revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).


“I support nearly every one of President Trump’s immigration policies, but this is not one of them,” he added. Trump announced he would impose the tariffs to pressure Mexico to stop the flow of migrants into the U.S. via the southern border. [..] Grassley had previously threatened to derail Trump’s central trade achievement over continued steel and aluminum tariffs. Last week, Trump hinted that he had reached a deal to drop those tariffs, paving the way for the USMCA in the Senate.

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“This is the worst scandal in American history. It’s the worst, at least, since the Civil War.”

Russiagate Is #1 Threat To US National Security – Stephen Cohen (RT)

The systemwide US Russophobia that reached its nadir with Russiagate has created a “catastrophe” for both domestic politics and foreign relations that threatens the future of the American system, professor Stephen Cohen tells RT. War with Russia could easily break out if the US insists on pursuing the policy of “demonization” that birthed Russiagate instead of returning to detente and cooperation, New York University professor emeritus of Russian history Stephen Cohen argues on Chris Hedges’ On Contact. While NATO deliberately antagonized post-Soviet Russia by expanding up to its borders, the US deployed missile defense systems along those borders after scrapping an arms treaty, leaving President Vladimir Putin devoid of “illusions” about the goodwill of the West – but armed with “nuclear missiles that can evade and elude any missile defense system.”


Cohen believes the conspiracy theory – which remains front-page news in US media despite being thoroughly discredited, both by independent investigators and last month by special counsel Robert Mueller’s report – is the work of the CIA and its former director, John Brennan, who are dead set against any kind of cooperation with Russia. Attorney General William Barr, who is investigating the FBI over how the 2016 counterintelligence probe began, should take a look at Brennan and his agency, Cohen says. “If our intelligence services are off the reservation to the point that they can first try to destroy a presidential candidate and then a president…we need to know it,” Cohen says. “This is the worst scandal in American history. It’s the worst, at least, since the Civil War.” And the damage wrought by this “catastrophe” hasn’t stopped at the US border.

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“We don’t know why we are excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it.”

Malaysia PM Wants Evidence To Show Russia Shot Down MH17 (FMT)

The Malaysian government wants strong evidence to show that Russia is responsible for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 tragedy in 2014, said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today. He said Malaysia accepted the investigation report of Holland but only up to the point where the plane was brought down by a missile made by Russia. Mahathir said while the government agreed that the plane was brought down by a Russian missile, it cannot be certain that the missile was launched by Russia. “They are accusing Russia but where is the evidence? We know the missile that brought down the plane is a Russian-type missile, but it could also be made in Ukraine. “You need strong evidence to show it was fired by the Russians.

“It could be by the rebels in Ukraine; it could be Ukrainian government because they too have the same missile,” he said during a dialogue and media conference with the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club (FCCJ) here today. Mahathir said people of Russia are military people and they would know that MH17 is a passenger plane. “I don’t think a very highly disciplined party is responsible for launching the missile,” he said. The prime minister said Malaysia should also be involved in examining the black box as the plane belongs to Malaysia and there were Malaysian passengers. “We may not have the expertise but we can buy the expertise. For some reason, Malaysia was not allowed to check the black box to see what happened.

“We don’t know why we are excluded from the examination but from the very beginning, we see too much politics in it. “The idea was not to find out how this happened but seems to be concentrated on trying to pin it on the Russians. This is not a neutral kind of examination,” said Mahathir. “Had a neutral party examined and made the conclusion, Malaysia is willing to accept the findings but here we have parties with political interests in the matter,” he added.

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Why is the CEO still in office?

Boeing Admits It ‘Fell Short’ On Safety Alert For 737 (BBC)

Boeing has admitted it “fell short” when it failed to implement a safety alert system on the 737 Max. The aircraft was grounded globally in March after two crashes within months. Boeing boss Dennis Muilenburg said a mistake had been made in the software for a cockpit warning light called an “angle-of-attack (AOA) disagree alert”. He said: “We clearly fell short and the implementation of this angle-of-attack disagree alert was a mistake, right, we did not implement it properly.” In an interview with Norah O’Donnell of CBS News he said Boeing was now fixing the problem.


The alert could have notified pilots and maintenance crews that there was a problem early in the flight. One flight safety expert said if there had been an AOA disagree alert on board the Ethiopian airlines flight it “would have been the very first clue” for the pilots that something was wrong. Chris Brady, a pilot and author of The Boeing 737 Technical Guide said: “I’m fairly confident that the Ethiopian Airlines flight probably would not have crashed if they had had the AOA disagree alert” on the aircraft.

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“This is getting pretty nutty, when you think about it.”

Yield-Curve Spaghetti (WS)

On Thursday, the US Treasury yield curve sagged further in the middle, producing an ever more beautiful middle-age sag, so to speak, that first started taking shape late last year. The chart shows the yield curves on seven dates. Each line represents the yields from the 1-month yield on the left to the 30-year yield on the right, on that date. The steep green line coming up from the bottom represents the yields on December 14, 2016, when the Fed got serious about rate hikes — the steep slope, with short-term yields a lot lower than long-term yields, is what a yield curve in normal-ish times is supposed to look like. The beautifully sagging red line represents the yields today, May 30. The entire portion of the yield curve from the 3-year yield through the 10-year yield has now dropped by over 1 percentage point since the peak on November 8, 2018.

Some more standouts: The 3-year yield inched down to 2.00%, the lowest since January 2, 2018, forming the low point of the middle-age sag. On Nov 8, it was at 3.05%. The 10-year yield dipped to 2.22%, lowest since Sep 18, 2017, and below 1-year and shorter maturities; but it remains above the 2-year yield and in this cycle has not inverted with the 2-year yield yet. The 1-month yield ticked up to 2.37%, from 2.35% yesterday, which had been the bottom of its range, and as is to be expected, right in the middle of the Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate (2.25% -2.50%). The 6-month yield had been anchored since late October at round 2.5%, with only slight variations. It now too has dropped out of this range and hit 2.38% over the past two days but ticked up to 2.40% today. The 30-year yield dropped to 2.65%, the lowest since Nov 7, 2016. This is getting pretty nutty, when you think about it.

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AOC should be focusing all her energy on Assange.

Ted Cruz, AOC Agree To Ban Former Congress Members From Becoming Lobbyists (G.)

A conversation on Twitter has led to an unlikely collaboration between the Republican senator Ted Cruz and the Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to pass legislation targeting lobbying by former members of Congress. The two lawmakers tweeted support of placing restrictions or a potential lifetime ban on former Congress members becoming lobbyists. The conversation began when Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a study from Public Citizen that found 60% of former Congress members had taken jobs influencing federal policy. “If you are a member of Congress and leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around and leverage your service for a lobbyist check,” she wrote.


Cruz retweeted Ocasio-Cortez, suggesting bipartisan legislation to fight the Washington political “swamp”. The Republican House representative Chip Roy tweeted that he would help Ocasio-Cortez spearhead the effort. She agreed to create a bipartisan team in the House while Cruz forms one in the Senate to write a ban. [..] Previous efforts to prevent lobbying from former congresspeople have been put forth but not passed, including a 2017 bill co-sponsored by the Republican senator Cory Gardner and the Democratic senators Michael Bennet and Al Franken. Also in 2017, Senator Jon Tester of Montana introduced legislation that would ban lawmakers from lobbying their former colleagues until five years after leaving office, but it failed to gain traction.

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May 232019
 


Leonardo da Vinci The madonna of the carnation1478-80

 

Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi Warfare Hits New Level (USA Today)
AG Barr Puts Former Intel Bosses Clapper, Brennan On Notice (Brock)
Trump To Declassify “Bucket 5” Russiagate Docs (ZH)
Avenatti Indicted For Defrauding Stormy Daniels, Extorting Nike (ABC)
Inside The Epic Fall Of Michael Avenatti (VF)
Credit-Card Charge-Offs Rise Across Banking System (WS)
The Corporate Maginot Line (Lebowitz)
The Truth About US Inequality (Colombo)
Xi Calls Trade War “New Long March” (R.)
Panasonic, Toshiba Join Firms Stepping Away From Huawei (AFP)
FAA Chief Has No Timetable For Boeing 737 MAX Approval (R.)
UK Government To Lodge Complaint Over UN’s Austerity Report (G.)
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter Are Parasites (Hawley)

 

 

Whoever you favor, it seems obvious that calling for impeaching Trump makes bipartisan work on issues impossible. Pelosi doesn’t do that, but most of her party does.

Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi Warfare Hits New Level (USA Today)

President Donald Trump’s decision to storm out of an infrastructure meeting with Democrats left lawmakers scrambling to assess whether the fallout would reach other White House priorities, including a pending trade deal with Canada and Mexico that the president hopes will replace NAFTA. Fuming about longstanding Democratic investigations, Trump refused to shake hands with Democrats Wednesday and walked out of a meeting, prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to accuse the president of throwing “a temper tantrum for us all to see.” Trump disputed the characterization in a tweet late Wednesday. “This is not true. I was purposely very polite and calm, much as I was minutes later with the press in the Rose Garden,” Trump wrote. “Can be easily proven. It is all such a lie!”


Trump has already indicated he’s prepared to push most of his legislative agenda off until after the 2020 election, a recognition that Democrats and Republicans were unlikely to reach consensus on much of anything as nearly two dozen Democratic presidential candidates barnstorm early primary states in the hunt for the nomination. Trump appeared to further close the door on bipartisan agreement with a hastily called statement Wednesday in the Rose Garden in which he indicated Washington could not be on an “investigations” track while also pursuing legislation. “Let them play their games. We’re going to go down one track at a time,” Trump said of Democrats. “Let them finish up. And we’ll be all set.”

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Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, was an FBI special agent for 24 years and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

AG Barr Puts Former Intel Bosses Clapper, Brennan On Notice (Brock)

Attorney General William Barr has signaled that his interest in examining the origins of the investigation into the Trump campaign extends beyond whether the FBI operated “by the book,” as former FBI Director James Comey asserts. Barr also wants to understand the role that the larger intelligence community, or IC, may have played in all of this. Barr has thrown punches that have left an interesting mix of characters with a standing eight count. Certain eyes around D.C. are a little glassy right now. Barr’s words and actions are telling. First, he raised the concern that the Trump campaign was “spied” upon. His use of the word “spying” appears more calculated than casual. The wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed is also telling.

“The FBI doesn’t spy” became the sputtering counter-refrain of those trying to mask their nervousness. It’s a fair point that’s beside the point. The FBI is charged with acting under strict legal restrictions and court orders. Spying is not a term traditionally associated with those activities. But it also misses the point Barr appears to be making. The IC does spy; that’s what they do. Barr may have been referring less to the FBI and more to the IC’s possible murky involvement. This seems to be validated by Barr’s second haymaker in as many weeks: his appointment of a surrogate investigator, U.S. Attorney John Durham.

Why would the attorney general add a third investigation to those under way by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz and U.S. Attorney John Huber? Because those investigations are focused on the FBI. Durham’s assignment is not similarly constrained; his marching orders appear broader. Through Durham, Barr can start dusting for fingerprints across the government, not just the FBI. The squirming has begun.

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Wonder what will be kept secret.

Trump To Declassify “Bucket 5” Russiagate Docs (ZH)

As Congressional Democrats insist on conducting post-Mueller probes into President Trump and those around him, much of the recent infighting and backpedaling we’ve seen from former Obama intel chiefs is starting to make sense. Appearing with Fox News’s Sean Hannity Tuesday night, The Hill’s John Solomon revealed that according to his sources (and Hannity’s as well), President Trump will begin declassifying ‘Russiagate’ documents in the next 6-7 days. Among those will be the so-called “Bucket Five” – documents which were originally presented to the Gang of Eight in 2016, which included everything the FBI and DOJ used against Trump campaign aide Carter Page – including the FISA surveillance application and its underlying exculpatory intelligence documents which the FISA court may have never seen.

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The MSM’s favorite boy. What a story. He even forged Stormy Daniels’ signature. Tried to shake down Nike for $20 million. He could spend the rest of his life in jail.

Avenatti Indicted For Defrauding Stormy Daniels, Extorting Nike (ABC)

Federal prosecutors in New York charged Michael Avenatti with additional financial crimes Wednesday, including allegedly forging the signature of his former client Stormy Daniels and diverting nearly $300,000 owed to her for a book advance into his own account, according to court records filed on Wednesday. Prosecutors said that he then used money he took from Daniels to make monthly payments on his Ferrari, as well as to cover airfare, dry cleaning, hotels and restaurant bills, as well as payroll and insurance costs for his law firm’s employees. The new charges accuse Avenatti of misappropriating money that was supposed to be paid to Daniels when Avenatti was representing the adult film actress in her public battle against President Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen.


“Avenatti used misrepresentations and a fraudulent document purporting to bear his client’s name and signature to convince his client’s literary agent to divert money owed to Avenatti’s client to an account controlled by Avenatti,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “Avenatti then spent the money principally for his own personal and business purposes.” Federal prosecutors in Manhattan – who have already accused Avenatti of extortion in a case involving Nike – also indicted him separately on extortion charges in the Nike case on Wednesday.

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Background at Vanity Fair.

Inside The Epic Fall Of Michael Avenatti (VF)

[..] federal prosecutors in Los Angeles filed a 197-page complaint accusing him of wire and bank fraud, in which the office detailed allegations of Avenatti misappropriating client settlement money for personal use (the receipts were gaudy: $216,720 to a Neiman Marcus, six figures to a Porsche dealership, and $68,500 at a luxury watch store). The complaint also claimed that Avenatti defrauded a bank by submitting false tax returns in order to obtain millions of dollars in loans. A few weeks later, on April 11, federal officials in California handed down a 36-count indictment, including 19 tax-related charges, 10 counts of wire fraud, 4 counts of bankruptcy fraud, and 2 bank-fraud charges. Avenatti had “[taken] money from one scheme and [used] it to lull clients, to string them along, to prevent them from going to authorities and [took] money from different pots as needed.”


One such client was a paraplegic man who had reached a $4 million agreement to settle a case related to his injuries but had not received the money. Avenatti allegedly deposited some of the settlement into a personal account associated with his car-racing team. Avenatti pleaded not guilty. He would not get into specifics about the case, but told me, “I look forward to all of the documents and all of the facts coming to light when it comes to the allegations set forth.” He noted: “The facts, in reality, are not as clear-cut as the government has made them out to be.”

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Are we about to see bank failures again?

Credit-Card Charge-Offs Rise Across Banking System (WS)

In the first quarter, the credit-card “charge-off” rate at the 4,650 or so smaller US commercial banks – all banks other than the largest 100 banks – ticked down to 7.37%, the sixth quarter in a row above 7%. During the peak of the Financial Crisis, the charge-off rate at these banks was above 7% only four quarters, but not in a row, topping out at 8.9%. These smaller banks have taken a lot of risk in their credit card strategies in recent years, going aggressively after subprime customers that had run out of luck at the largest banks. The credit-card charge off rate at the largest 100 banks rose to 3.78%, the highest since the first quarter of 2013. For all commercial banks combined, the charge-off rate rose to 3.83%, the highest since the fourth quarter 2012. The largest banks have learned a costly lesson during the Financial Crisis, when they got hammered with double-digit charge-off rates and have since focused on customers with lower risk profiles. And yet, slowly but surely, credit card charge-offs are rising across the board:

These data points that the Federal Reserve Board of Governors reported Tuesday afternoon are another warning in consumer land where serious auto-loan delinquencies, driven by subprime loans, have reached Q3 2009 levels. Credit cards have not yet reached this stage, but problems are beginning to pile up. A credit card loan is deemed “delinquent” when it is 30 days or more past due. Balances are removed from the delinquency basket when the customer cures the delinquency, or when the bank “charges off” the delinquent balance (net of whatever it was able to recover) against its loan loss reserves. The charge-off rate is figured as a percent of average credit-card balances, and is annualized.


The delinquency rate on credit-card loan balances at commercial banks other than the largest 100 banks declined to 5.43%, after having spiked to 6.2% in the third quarter. During peak-Financial Crisis, the delinquency rate at these smaller banks topped out at 5.9%. So these smaller banks got walloped last year, and they’re now scrambling to clean up, and tighten the lending standards.

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Remember AAA? Guess where your pension fund is invested today.

The Corporate Maginot Line (Lebowitz)

Since the post-financial crisis era began more than a decade ago, record low-interest rates and the Fed’s acquisition of $4 trillion of the highest quality fixed-income assets has led investors to scratch and claw for any asset, regardless of quality, offering returns above the rate of inflation. Financial media articles and Wall Street research discussing this dynamic are a dime-a-dozen. What we have not heard a peep about, however, are the inherent risks within the corporate bond market that have blossomed due to the way many corporate debt investors are managed and their somewhat unique strategies, objectives, and legal guidelines.

[..] Often overlooked, the bifurcation of investor limits and objectives makes an analysis of the corporate bond market different than that of the equity markets. The differences can be especially interesting if a large number of securities traverse the well-defined BBB-/BB+ “Maginot” line, a metaphor for expensive efforts offering a false line of security. The U.S. corporate bond market is approximately $6.4 trillion in size. Of that, over 80% is currently rated investment grade and 20% is junk-rated.This number does not include bank loans, derivatives, or other forms of debt on corporate balance sheets.

Since 2000, the corporate bond market has changed drastically in size and, importantly, in credit composition. Over this period, the corporate bond market has grown by 378%, greatly outstripping the 111% growth of GDP. The bar chart below shows how the credit composition of the corporate bond market shifted markedly with the surge in debt outstanding.

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Very long from my friend Jesse. Haven’t had time to read it yet, it’s a huge project. named Explaining Capitalism. Agree with most of what I have seen, but he has to be careful about terminology. Elizabeth Warren is not a far left politician for most people in the world, that’s at best a narrow US view.

Also: a 70% top-tax-rate is not by definition socialist; we know because the US in the 1950s-60s was not a socialist country.

As for wealth redistribution, I’m afraid you can’t escape it, because the whole edifice has gotten so out of whack. Even if you would turn back all the Fed’s failed policies today, you wouldn’t repair the consequences. Call that socialist if you want, but if you don’t do it, all hell will break loose.

The Truth About US Inequality (Colombo)

Rising economic inequality and how to address it has been one of the most important issues in the United States since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Rising inequality has spurred a powerful left-wing economic movement that kicked off with Occupy Wall Street in 2011, led to the 2016 presidential campaign of socialist Bernie Sanders (which was very popular with young Americans), and has now contributed to the rise and growing clout of far-left politicians including Elizabeth Warren and millennial socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are both calling for wealth redistribution policies. At the core of this left-wing economic movement is a growing disbelief and distrust in capitalism itself, as well as the belief that an excessive rich-poor gap is an inevitable outcome of capitalism.


As a result, young Americans now favor socialism over capitalism. Even 45% of Republican voters support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 70% top-tax-rate proposal, while “conservative” Fox News host Tucker Carlson threw in the towel on capitalism. The report you are reading – “The Truth About U.S. Inequality” – completely turns the conventional wisdom (i.e., the left-biased explanation) about growing U.S. wealth and income inequality on its head. Here’s the reality in a nutshell: growing U.S. economic inequality is not the fault of capitalism, but the byproduct of unbacked fiat (aka “paper”) currency, central banking/the Federal Reserve, and a massive wealth bubble that has been inflated by the Fed. Instituting free market capitalism and sound money is actually the only solution to America’s growing economic inequality.

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Still longing back to Mao.

Xi Calls Trade War “New Long March” (R.)

China must prepare for difficult times as the international situation is increasingly complex, President Xi Jinping said in comments carried by state media on Wednesday, as the U.S.-China trade war took a mounting toll on tech giant Huawei. The world’s two largest economies have escalated tariff increases on each other’s imports after talks broke down to resolve their dispute, and the acrimony has intensified since Washington last week blacklisted Chinese telecom equipment company Huawei. The listing, which curbs Huawei’s access to U.S.-made components, is a potentially devastating blow for the company that has rattled technology supply chains and investors, and saw several mobile carriers on Wednesday delay the launch of new Huawei smartphone handsets.


During a three-day trip this week to the southern province of Jiangxi, a cradle of China’s Communist revolution, Xi urged people to learn the lessons of the hardships of the past. “Today, on the new Long March, we must overcome various major risks and challenges from home and abroad,” state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying, referring to the 1934-36 trek of Communist Party members fleeing a civil war to a remote rural base, from where they re-grouped and eventually took power in 1949. “Our country is still in a period of important strategic opportunities for development, but the international situation is increasingly complicated,” he said. “We must be conscious of the long-term and complex nature of various unfavorable factors at home and abroad, and appropriately prepare for various difficult situations.”

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Feels like this is going to take a long time.

Panasonic, Toshiba Join Firms Stepping Away From Huawei (AFP)

Japan’s Panasonic said Thursday it would stop supplying some components to Huawei, joining a growing list of firms distancing themselves from the Chinese telecoms giant after a US ban over security concerns. Japan’s Toshiba also announced it was temporarily halting shipments to Huawei to check whether US-made parts were involved, in order to comply with Washington’s new restrictions. The moves came a day after major Japanese and British mobile carriers said they would delay releasing new Huawei handsets, upping the pressure on the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer.


In an official statement emailed to AFP, Panasonic said it had announced in an “internal notification” that it would “suspend transactions with Huawei and its 68 affiliates that were banned by the US government”. It declined to comment on “other transactions that are not banned by the US”. Asked about its opinion about the news, Huawei pointed to a statement on Panasonic’s Chinese website that said the firm was supplying Huawei “normally” and doing so “strictly abiding by the relevant laws and regulations of countries and regions where Panasonic is present”.

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Loud calls for simulators. Which don’t exist. First one to be delivered by December. This ain’t over.

FAA Chief Has No Timetable For Boeing 737 MAX Approval (R.)

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday he does not have a specific timetable to approve Boeing Co’s 737 MAX for flight after two fatal crashes since October prompted the plane to be grounded worldwide. The FAA is meeting with more than 30 international air regulators including China, the European Union, Brazil and Canada on Thursday to discuss a software fix and new pilot training that Boeing has been developing to ensure the jets are safe to fly. “It’s a constant give and take until it is exactly right,” Deputy FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told reporters of the discussions with Boeing. “It’s taking as long as it takes to be right,” he said, adding: “I’m not tied to a timetable.”

[..] Asked if it is realistic that the 737 MAX could be flying again by August, Elwell declined to be specific. “If you said October I wouldn’t even say that, only because we haven’t finished determining exactly what the training requirements will be,” Elwell said. “If it takes a year to find everything we need to give us the confidence to lift the (grounding) order so be it.” Elwell said he plans to share the FAA’s “safety analysis that will form the basis for our return to service decision process” on Thursday. But he said the agency is still waiting for Boeing to formally submit the software upgrade for approval, and emphasized the FAA has not decided on the revised training requirements, including whether to require simulator training.

Elwell rejected any idea that he was trying to win consensus with international regulators over the path to re-approving the MAX at the meeting. “We have to be the first to lift the order. We are the state of design,” he said. [..] Foreign regulators have signaled disagreements over measures to end the grounding, with Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau calling in April for pilots to receive simulator training for the MAX, rather than just computer courses. Canada and Europe said on Wednesday they would bring back the grounded aircraft on their own terms if their specific concerns are not addressed. “From our point of view, if we all work together and we all reach the same aim, fine. If we don’t, we’ll choose our own time to decide when the planes are safe to fly again,” Canada’s Garneau told Reuters in an interview.

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The Tories are set for historic losses in the EU elections this weekend. They feel the pressure. Getting rid of May won’t solve a thing.

UK Government To Lodge Complaint Over UN’s Austerity Report (G.)

The work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, plans to lodge a formal complaint with the UN about the damning report on austerity in Britain by its special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston. Rudd will argue that Alston is politically biased and did not do enough research. The minister is seeking guidance from the Foreign Office on the best way to respond after Alston compared her department’s welfare policies to the creation of Victorian workhouses. Alston quoted the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes to warn that unless austerity was ended and welfare cuts were reversed, millions of poorer Britons faced lives that would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

The 21-page report said the government appeared unwilling to debate the impact of its austerity policies since 2010, which it said were “in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations”. Alston accused ministers of “window dressing to minimise political fallout” by insisting the country was enjoying record lows in absolute poverty, children in workless households and unemployment. The “endlessly repeated” mantra about rising employment overlooked that “close to 40% of children are predicted to be living in poverty two years from now, 16% of people over 65 live in relative poverty and millions of those who are in work are dependent upon various forms of charity to cope,” he said. The report will be formally presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 27 June.

The government believes Alston, a New York-based human rights lawyer, could not credibly have reached his conclusions after only an 11-day trip to the UK. Last November he visited nine towns and cities in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, holding town hall meetings and visiting poverty-related charities and organisations including food banks and youth programmes. Rudd is said to be particularly frustrated by Alston’s accusation that the government was responsible for the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”. She also believes Alston ventured off his beat by making criticisms about cuts to police numbers and legal aid. In a statement, the government said his report was “a barely believable documentation of Britain based on a tiny period of time spent here” and “a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty”.

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Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, is on the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. He wants Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to disappear completely.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter Are Parasites (Hawley)

Social media consumers are getting wise to the joke that when the product is free, they’re the ones being sold. But despite the growing threat of consumer exploitation, Washington still shrinks from confronting our social media giants. Why? Because the social giants have convinced the chattering class that America simply can’t do without them. Confront the industry, we’re told, and you might accidentally kill it — and with it, all the innovation it has (supposedly) brought to our society. Maybe. But maybe social media’s innovations do our country more harm than good. Maybe social media is best understood as a parasite on productive investment, on meaningful relationships, on a healthy society.

Maybe we’d be better off if Facebook disappeared. Ask the social giants what it is that they produce for America and you’ll hear grand statements about new forms of human interaction. But ask where their money comes from and you’ll get the real truth. Advertising is what the social giants truly care about, and for an obvious reason. It’s how they turn a profit. And when it comes to making money, they’ve been great innovators. They’ve designed platforms that extract massive amounts of personal data without telling consumers, then sell that data without consumers’ permission.

And in order to guarantee an audience big enough to make their ads profitable, big tech has developed a business model designed to do one thing above all: addict. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — they devote massive amounts of money and the best years of some of the nation’s brightest minds to developing new schemes to hijack their users’ neural circuitry. That’s because social media only works — to make money, anyway — if it consumes users’ time and attention, day after day. It needs to replace the various activities we enjoyed and did perfectly well before social media existed.

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May 162019
 


AFP Photo/TIMOTHY A. CLARY Jeff Koons – Stainless steel casting of inflatable rabbit (41″) sold for $91.1 million

 

Tulsi Gabbard Would Drop Julian Assange Charges, Pardon Edward Snowden (NW)
2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Can’t Win Against Trump – Cuban (SC)
Russiagate’s Monstrous Offspring (Lazare)
The REAL Story Behind The Russian Hoax (Graham Noble)
The Disinformationists (Hopkins)
No “Do-Over” On Russia Probe: White House Tells Nadler To Pound Sand (ZH)
Barr’s Investigator John Durham Once Probed Mueller in a Shocking Case (S. Noble)
Trump Declares National Emergency Over IT Threats (BBC)
US Blacklists Huawei (R.)
UK Labour To Renationalize Energy Network End Consumer ‘Rip-Off’ (G.)
Majority Of Europeans Expect End Of EU Within 20 Years (G.)
Pilots ‘Raised Boeing Safety Fears’ Months Before Ethiopia Crash (BBC)
Single-Use Plastics A Serious Climate Change Hazard (G.)
Zimbabwe Sells 100 Elephants To China, Dubai (AFP)

 

 

Her own party will make sure that never happens.

Tulsi Gabbard Would Drop Julian Assange Charges, Pardon Edward Snowden (NW)

(start video 1.40.00 in)

Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the U.S. should drop criminal charges against Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. The military veteran said during a lengthy interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast this week that WikiLeaks founder Assange and national security whistleblower Snowden should not be prosecuted for disclosing information. “What would you do about Julian Assange, what would you do about Edward Snowden?” Rogan asked. Gabbard said, if elected, she would drop the Assange charges and pardon Snowden. “We have got to address why [Snowden] did things the way that he did them,” she said.

“You hear the same thing from Chelsea Manning, how there is not an actual channel for whistleblowers like them to bring forward information that exposes egregious abuses of our constitutional rights and liberties, period. There was not a channel for that to happen in a real way, and that’s why they ended up taking the path that they did, and suffering the consequences.” In June 2013, Snowden handed over to journalists a trove of National Security Agency documents detailing a sprawling surveillance apparatus used by global intelligence agencies. The leak showed how the systems could be used to spy on U.S. citizens through their phone calls, text messages and internet use.

After fleeing the country to Hong Kong, a warrant was issued for Snowden’s arrest. Snowden was left stranded in Russia, where he was provided asylum. Gabbard told the podcast host that she could still remember the day she first read the details about mass surveillance in the American press. “I was shocked,” she said. “That was something that Snowden uncovered and released, something that I don’t know that even as members of Congress we would have been aware of,” Gabbard continued. “So now that we are aware of it, we can take action to close those loopholes, to change those policies, to protect our civil liberties… Was the NSA going to disclose that information voluntarily? Absolutely not.”

Assange, whose organization helped facilitate Snowden’s escape, was dramatically arrested last month and has been charged with conspiracy to commit computer hacking for “agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer,” the Justice Department said. On Monday, Sweden reopened its investigation into a rape allegation against Assange, who is now serving 50 weeks in a high-security U.K. prison relating to a 2010 bail violation. As a result, the WikiLeaks founder, who denies the assault allegation, is now facing two extradition charges.

“What happened with his arrest and all this stuff that just went down I think poses a great threat to our freedom of the press and to our freedom of speech,” Gabbard said. “The fact that the Trump administration has chosen to ignore how important it is that we uphold our freedoms…and go after him, it has a very chilling effect on both journalists and publishers…and also on every one of us as Americans. It was a warning call…saying ‘look what happened to this guy.’ It could happen to you. It could happen to any one of us.”

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I think he’s right.

2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Can’t Win Against Trump – Cuban (SC)

Mark Cuban was interviewed by Scott Wapner on CNBC on Tuesday. When asked about 2020 race and whether he’d consider running, he left open the possibility saying: “We’ll see.” “We’ll see what happens. It would take the perfect storm for me to do it,” the owner of Dallas Mavericks said. “There’s some things that could open the door, but I’m not projecting or predicting it right now.” “I still think there’s a real opportunity for somebody who is in the middle but has some charisma, has the ability to relate to both sides but is not a politician. The reality is people don’t trust politicians,” Cuban said. When asked who on the Democratic side has the best chance of winning, Cuban said “nobody right now.” “If you look at why people voted for Donald Trump, in my opinion, first and foremost it was because he wasn’t a politician…Politicians are the least trusted of every profession,” said Cuban.

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“The idea that America may in anyway be responsible for its own fate is of course unthinkable.”

Russiagate’s Monstrous Offspring (Lazare)

Assange is guiltier than ever. If Washington gets its hands on him, he’ll no doubt be hauled before some sort of Star Chamber and then clapped in a dungeon somewhere until he confesses that Russian intelligence made him do it, even though a careful reading of the Mueller report strongly suggests the opposite. Assange languishing behind bars, war breaking out in Latin America or the Persian Gulf, Trump in the Oval Office for four years more – it’s the worst of all possible worlds, and the Democratic Party’s bizarre fixation with Vladimir Putin is what’s pushing it.


Ultimately, Russia-gate is yet a variation on the tired old theme of American innocence. If something goes wrong, it can’t be the fault of decent Americans who, as we all know, are too good for our deeply flawed world. Rather, it must be the fault of dastardly foreigners trying to hack our democracy. It’s a deep-rooted form of xenophobia that has fueled everything from the criminalization of marijuana (smuggled in by evil Mexicans) to the 1950s Red Scare (a reaction to Communism smuggled in by evil Russians), and the war on terrorism (the work of evil Muslims). The idea that America may in anyway be responsible for its own fate is of course unthinkable.

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What will be the reactions when Brennan, Clapper, Comey are indicted?

The REAL Story Behind The Russian Hoax (Graham Noble)

If there is any issue that cries out for a special counsel investigation, it is the evolution of the Trump-Russia collusion theory. Attorney General William Barr may well have decided that the nation does not need to go through such an ordeal again, but he did the next best thing by tapping John H. Durham to investigate what could well be the most nefarious political conspiracy in American history. Durham is Connecticut’s top federal prosecutor, an attorney with a reputation for toughness and a resume that includes investigations into high-level government corruption cases. Reports suggest that he has been on the job for some weeks already, and that is an indication of how seriously the matter is being taken by the attorney general.


[..] If Barr did not anticipate the possibility of criminal indictments or the need to subpoena former government officials – people like former FBI Director James Comey – he could have handed off the probe to Michael Horowitz, the DOJ’s inspector general. Horowitz, who is currently looking into the FBI’s application for a FISA warrant in 2016 and three subsequent extensions of that warrant, does not have the scope of authority to investigate the affair conclusively. Essentially, inspectors general could be described more as auditors than investigators. The Justice Department’s IG is expected to deliver his report sometime in June, and Durham may well use Horowitz’s findings in his own investigation. Unlike Horowitz, Durham can subpoena private citizens – including former government officials – as well as utilize the full range of prosecutorial tools.

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2 years wasted on fiction. And still not over.

The Disinformationists (Hopkins)

So, the election-meddling Putin-Nazi disinformationists are at it again! Oh yes, while Americans have been distracted by Russiagate, Obstructiongate, Redactiongate, or whatever it’s being called at this point, here in Europe, we are purportedly being bombarded with Russian “disinformation” aimed at fomenting confusion and chaos in advance of the upcoming EU elections, which are due to take place in less than two weeks. The New York Times reports that an entire “constellation” of social media accounts “linked to Russia and far-right groups” is disseminating extremist “disinformation,” “encouraging discord,” and “amplifying distrust in the centrist parties that have governed for decades.”

These accounts share some of the same “digital fingerprints,” and are engaging in “tactics” similar to the “tactics used in previous Russian attacks,” notably the Kremlin’s notorious mass-brainwashing of millions of defenseless African Americans with those deceptive anti-masturbation memes during the 2016 elections. Now, this is not just a bunch of nonsense dressed up with authoritative-sounding lingo. No, The Times spoke to “analysts” and “advocacy groups,” which informed them that certain websites in Italy “share the same signatures” as certain other websites sharing certain “pro-Kremlin views.” Moreover, two “political groups” in Germany used the same Internet service providers as those “Russian hackers” who attacked our democracy by stealing those Democratic Party emails that transformed Americans overnight into a nation of Trump-loving white supremacists!


That hasn’t happened here in Europe yet, but I’m not sure how much longer we can hold out against this relentless onslaught. According to an “analysis” concocted by some cloud-based cybersecurity firm and authoritatively cited by Politico, at this point, “more than half of Europeans might have seen some form of disinformation” spread by “Russians” on social media. They might have been exposed to “extremist views” and “amplified content” possibly produced by the far-right Alternative for Germany party, and even (God help them!) supporters of Brexit.

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Step by step we’re finding out just how enormously the Democrats have failed.

No “Do-Over” On Russia Probe: White House Tells Nadler To Pound Sand (ZH)

White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a Wednesday letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) that Congress doesn’t get a “do over” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and others conducted by the Justice Department. Nadler has led recent efforts in the Democratic-controlled House to continue, which are set to include hearings with Mueller himself, along with key witnesses in his investigation. “Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized ‘do-over’ of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice,” reads the 12-page letter laying out a legal argument for why Nadler is overstepping his bounds.


The letter goes on to say “As presently framed, the Committee’s inquiries transparently amount to little more than an attempt to duplicate – and supplant – law enforcement inquiries, and apparently to do so simply because the actual law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice did not reach a conclusion favored by some members of the Committee.” “This is not a proper legislative purpose,” writes Cipollone. “While the letter does not invoke executive privilege over any of the documents requested — and leaves the door open to a more narrow request from House Democrats — White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said last week that President Trump “has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege” over the full, unredacted Mueller report itself.”-Axios

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Oh, we’re going to find out who Robert Swan Mueller III is. I got a lot of flack for calling him a coward and a liar, but in reality he’s much worse than that. “Mueller kept four innocent people in jail for years to protect the informant status of Whitey Bulger..”

Barr’s Investigator John Durham Once Probed Mueller in a Shocking Case (S. Noble)

Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham was appointed to investigate the origins of the Russia-Trump probe. Apparently, he has been on the job for weeks. Durham is the perfect investigator for the job by all accounts and he had experience with Robert Mueller in the Whitey Bulger case. He did not side with Mueller and Mueller’s agents suffered the consequences of Mueller’s, some would say, corrupt leadership. Back in the late 1990s, there were “allegations that FBI informants James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and Stephen ‘The Rifleman’ Flemmi had corrupted their handlers. So, in 1999, Janet Reno appointed John Durham as Special Prosecutor and charged him with investigating FBI corruption in Boston.

As it turned out, FBI agents aided mass murderer, Whitey Bulger and hid his crimes. Bulger was a protected informant. Durham sent one agent involved to prison for 10 years. Then-US Attorney, Robert Mueller is probably the one who should have landed in the pen. He allowed four innocent men to be sent to prison for a murder he knew they didn’t commit. He did it to protect Bulger. One of the four men was in Florida at the time of the murder and could not have committed the murder. When Durham went through the documents. He found that the four men had actually been framed. Four people who were innocent were kept in jail for years in order to protect the status of Whitey Bulger as an FBI informant.

The Boston Globe wrote: “[Mike] Albano [former Parole Board Member who was threatened by two F.B.I. agents for considering parole for the men imprisoned for a crime they did not commit] was appalled that, later that same year, Mueller was appointed FBI director, because it was Mueller, first as an assistant US attorney then as the acting U.S. attorney in Boston, who wrote letters to the parole and pardons board throughout the 1980s opposing clemency for the four men framed by FBI lies. Of course, Mueller was also in that position while Whitey Bulger was helping the FBI cart off his criminal competitors even as he buried bodies in shallow graves along the Neponset…”

[..] Robert Mueller was knee-deep in this scandal, along with Andrew Weissman and the agent sent to prison, but because Reno gave him very limited authority, Durham was not able to prosecute Mueller, who was not in the FBI at the time. Mueller kept four innocent people in jail for years to protect the informant status of Whitey Bulger, a mass-murdering Boston mobster who ended up dying in California, and it ended up costing the government $100 million plus in civil judgments.

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Two separate issues: the emergency, and naming Huawei an “entity”, meaning it can’t buy US tech without government approval.

Trump Declares National Emergency Over IT Threats (BBC)

President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to protect US computer networks from “foreign adversaries”. He signed an executive order which effectively bars US companies from using foreign telecoms believed to pose national security risks. The order does not name any company, but is believed to target Huawei. The Chinese tech giant said restricting its business in the US would only hurt American consumers and companies. Several countries, led by the US, have raised concerns in recent months that Huawei products could be used by China for surveillance, allegations the company has vehemently denied.

The US has been pressuring allies to shun Huawei in their next generation 5G mobile networks. In a separate development, the US commerce department added Huawei to its “entity list”, a move that bans the company from acquiring technology from US firms without government approval. The moves are likely to worsen tensions between the US and China, which had already escalated this week with tariff hikes in a trade war. Huawei has been at the epicentre of the US-China power struggle that has dominated global politics over the past year.


[..] Huawei consistently says that if the US bans Huawei from its networks, they are the ones to lose out, not Huawei. That is true. Even without the US market, Huawei is likely to control 40-60% of the networks around the world, industry analysts say. But what may hurt Huawei more is the US decision to put them on the “entity list” – effectively banning American suppliers from selling to the firm. Huawei may not need the US market, but it certainly needs the key components that it gets from the US.

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But Europe doesn’t.

US Blacklists Huawei (R.)

The Trump administration hit Chinese telecoms giant Huawei with severe sanctions on Wednesday, adding another incendiary element to the U.S.-China trade dispute just as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would visit China soon for more talks. The Commerce Department said it was adding Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and 70 affiliates to its “Entity List” – a move that bans the company from acquiring components and technology from U.S. firms without government approval.


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement that President Donald Trump backed the decision to “prevent American technology from being used by foreign owned entities in ways that potentially undermine U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.” Trump earlier in the day signed an executive order barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms deemed to pose a national security risk. While the order did not specifically name any country or company, U.S. officials have previously labeled Huawei a “threat” and lobbied allies not to use Huawei network equipment in next-generation 5G networks.

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Privatization gone wild.

UK Labour To Renationalize Energy Network End Consumer ‘Rip-Off’ (G.)

Labour will announce plans on Thursday to seize back control of Britain’s energy network from private shareholders in an effort to fight climate change and end fuel poverty. Jeremy Corbyn and the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, are expected to say that heat and electricity should be a human right for all and nationalisation of the network is key to decarbonising the economy. Under Labour’s plan, companies that control the UK’s £62bn energy infrastructure – the pipes and cables that supply homes and businesses with gas and electricity – would be taken back into state control soon after a Labour election win. This would include National Grid, and the network arms of Scottish Power and SSE, with the existing investors in those companies to be reimbursed with government bonds at a price determined by parliament.


Nationalisation of the energy networks forms a central part of Labour’s plans to address climate change, with the party arguing that the profits generated from the infrastructure should be invested in the green economy rather than given to shareholders in the form of dividends. Long-Bailey will say energy customers have been “ripped off” by the privatisation of the UK’s energy grid, with shareholders paid £13bn in dividends over the past five years. “It’s an insult and an injustice to our people and our planet for companies operating the grid to rip customers off, line the pockets of the rich and not invest properly in renewable energy,” she will say.

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Well well.

Majority Of Europeans Expect End Of EU Within 20 Years (G.)

More than half of Europeans believe the EU is likely to collapse within a generation, despite support for the bloc hitting heights not recorded in more than a quarter of a century. In France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Greece, the Czech Republic and Poland, a majority of people surveyed thought EU disintegration was a “realistic possibility” in the next 10 to 20 years. The figures are particularly stark in France, where President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche party is trailing behind Marine Le Pen’s Brussels-bashing Rassemblement National (RN) in the polls for next week’s European elections.


According to the survey, commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) thinktank, 58% of people in France believe the EU is very likely or fairly likely to fall apart within 20 years, second only to Slovakia (66%). Of the 14 countries polled by YouGov – constituting 80% of the seats of the European parliament – it was only in Sweden (44%), Denmark (41%) and Spain (40%) that the proportion predicting implosion dipped below a majority. Nearly seven decades after the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, bringing together France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in a pact designed to stave off further war, three in 10 people polled said conflict among countries within the EU was a realistic possibility. As many as a third of voters in France and Poland said they believed a war could be possible.

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Probably the worst thing I’ve read on the 727 MAX disasters.

If no Boeing executive goes to jail for this, you know something’s terribly wrong. And the media, in this case the BBC, helps them, but how do you “inadvertently” make an alarm feature “optional”?

Pilots ‘Raised Boeing Safety Fears’ Months Before Ethiopia Crash (BBC)

American Airlines pilots confronted Boeing about potential safety issues in its 737 Max planes in a meeting last November, US media are reporting. They urged swift action after the first deadly 737 Max crash off Indonesia in October, according to audio obtained by CBS and the New York Times. Boeing reportedly resisted their calls but promised a software fix. But this had not been rolled out when an Ethiopian Airlines’ 737 Max crashed four months later, killing 157 people. Currently 737 Max planes are grounded worldwide amid concerns that an anti-stall system may have contributed to both crashes. Boeing is in the process of updating the system, known as MCAS, but denies it was solely to blame for the disasters.

In a closed door meeting with Boeing executives last November, which was secretly recorded, American Airlines’ pilots can be heard expressing concerns about the safety of MCAS. Boeing vice-president Mike Sinnett told the pilots: “No one has yet to conclude that the sole cause of this was this function on the airplane.” Later in the meeting, he added: “The worst thing that can ever happen is a tragedy like this, and the even worse thing would be another one.” The pilots also complained they had not been told about MCAS, which was new to the 737 Max, until after the Lion Air crash off Indonesia, which killed 189. “These guys didn’t even know the damn system was on the airplane, nor did anybody else,” said Mike Michaelis, head of safety for the pilots’ union.


Earlier this month Boeing admitted that it knew about another problem with its 737 Max jets a year before the fatal accidents, but took no action. The firm said it had inadvertently made an alarm feature optional instead of standard, but insisted that this did not jeopardise flight safety. The feature – an Angle of Attack (AOA) Disagree alert – was designed to let pilots know when two different sensors were reporting conflicting data. The US Federal Aviation Administration said the issue was “low risk”, but said Boeing could have helped to “eliminate possible confusion” by letting it know earlier.

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I don’t think we’re going to help anyone by trying to turn everything into a climate change issue. Plastics are bad, period. Ban them in all but absolutely necessary cases. The carbon footprint of plastic is 0.5 Gt-CO2 per year, or about 1/80th (1.25%) of total emissions. Electricity is 25%, food is 24%.

I do like the link to US shale boosting plastics production, though, that helps people understand.

Single-Use Plastics A Serious Climate Change Hazard (G.)

The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns. Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US. The report says plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product. This plastic binge threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement. It means that by 2050 plastic will be responsible for up to 13% of the total “carbon budget” – equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants – says the research published on Thursday.

The contribution of plastic production and disposal to climate change has been largely hidden, say the authors of the report by the Center for International Environmental Law, which estimates the greenhouse gas footprint of plastic from the cradle to the grave for the first time. While plastic pollution in the oceans has become a high-profile concern, the effect on climate change of the ubiquitous use of plastic has not been a focus. “After the extraction of fossil fuels to produce plastic, the carbon footprint of a material which has become ubiquitous across the globe continues through the refining process, and on well past its useful life as a drinks bottle or plastic bag, through the way it is disposed of and the plastic afterlife,” the report says. The authors say disposable plastic found in packaging and fast-moving consumer goods forms the largest and fastest-growing segment of the plastic economy.


Forty per cent of plastic packaging waste is disposed of at sanitary landfills, 14% goes to incineration facilities and 14% is collected for recycling. Incineration creates the most CO2 emissions among the plastic waste management methods. Nearly all plastic – 99% – is made from fossil fuels. Refining the material is the most greenhouse gas intensive part of the plastic lifecycle, and major expansions in the US and elsewhere will accelerate climate change, the report says. A Shell ethane cracker being constructed in Pennsylvania could emit up to 2.25m tonnes of CO2 each year and a new ethylene plant at ExxonMobil’s refinery in Baytown, Texas, could release up to 1.4m tonnes. The annual emissions from just these two new facilities would be equal to adding almost 800,000 cars to the road, the report says.

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Too many elephants, or too much land taken away from them? We should be paying Africans (not their governments) to take care of the wildlife. Stop dragging them around the world. This is not the 19th century.

Zimbabwe Sells 100 Elephants To China, Dubai (AFP)

Zimbabwe has sold nearly 100 elephants to China and Dubai for a total price of $2.7 million over six years, the country’s wildlife agency said Wednesday, citing overpopulation. Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo told AFP Zimbabwe’s elephants were overcrowding national parks, encroaching into human settlements, destroying crops and posing a risk to human life. “We have 84,000 elephants against a carrying capacity of 50,000,” he said, justifying the sales. “We believe in sustainable use of resources, so we sell a few elephants to take care of the rest. Farawo said 200 people have died in “human-and-animal conflict” in the past five years, “and at least 7,000 hectares of crop have been destroyed by elephants”.


The animals’ natural habitat has been depleted by climate change, he added, while recurrent droughts have added to strain on the overburdened national parks, forcing the pachyderms to seek food and water further afield. Farawo said money from the legal sales was allocated to anti-poaching projects, conservation work, research and welfare. According to the Zimbabwe Chronicle newspaper, 93 elephants were safely airlifted to parks in China and four to Dubai between 2012 and 2018, They were sold in a price range of between $13,500 and $41,500 each. Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have called for a global ban on elephant ivory trade to be relaxed due to the growing number of elephants in some regions. But over the past decade, the population of elephants across Africa has fallen by about 111,000 to 415,000, largely due to poaching for ivory, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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May 132019
 


James Ensor Demons tormenting me 1888

 

Sweden Reopens Rape Case Against Julian Assange (G.)
Ecuador To Give US All Documents & Devices Assange Left In London Embassy (RT)
Chelsea Manning Again Won’t Testify On WikiLeaks, Risking Return To Jail (AFP)
State Department Under Pressure Over Christopher Steele Contacts (DC)
Russiagate Is Eating America’s National Security (Stephen Cohen)
Schiff: Biden Ukraine Scandal Should Be Off Limits (ZH)
China ‘Won’t Swallow Bitter Fruit’ In US Trade War (R.)
Uber, the Worst Performing IPO in US Stock Market History (GizM)
Pakistan Agrees Another Multi-Billion IMF Bailout (R.)
Saudi Ship Blocked From Loading Arms In France Arrives At Spanish Port (R.)
Starving Gray Whales Wash Up Dead In Large Numbers From Mexico To Alaska (SFC)
Why Rapid Extinction Of Plant, Animal Species Matters (TO)

 

 

There never was a rape case vs Assange. So it cannot be reopened. There were never any charges at all. They refused to talk to Assange for 6 years. The British told them not to close the acse. It is obvious what the intention is: get him to Sweden which will extradite him to the US. Who cares about laws?

Read Assange’s November 2016 statement to Swedish prosecutors , six months before Sweden closed the “preliminary investigation”, in May 2017.

Sweden Reopens Rape Case Against Julian Assange (G.)

Swedish prosecutors have announced they are reopening an investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange. Prosecutors dropped the investigation in 2017 because they were unable to proceed while Assange remained in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. They said at the time that the investigation could be reopened if the situation changed. Assange, 47, was removed from the embassy last month after seven years inside, after the Ecuadorian government abruptly withdrew his asylum. He was arrested for breach of bail. A lawyer for one of the women involved in the Swedish allegations subsequently asked for the investigation to be resumed. Assange had also faced investigation for a second sex-related allegation, which was dropped in 2015 because time had run out. He denied both allegations.

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Nobody cares about any law anymore. That is our new world order.

Ecuador To Give US All Documents & Devices Assange Left In London Embassy (RT)

Ecuador’s Attorney General has informed a Julian Assange lawyer that the WikiLeaks co-founder’s files, computer, mobile phones and other electronic devices will be seized during a search at the London embassy and sent to the US. After an unsuccessful attempt by WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson to retrieve Assange’s personal belongings from Ecuador’s UK embassy, where Assange had been holed up for almost 7 years before his arrest and incarceration last month, the Ecuadorian government reportedly greenlighted the US request to provide it access to the documents and electronic devices left behind by the jailed WikiLeaks editor after he was hauled out of the embassy by the British police on April, 11.

The searches inside the embassy quarters formerly occupied by Assange are set to be conducted by police on May 20, El Pais reported, citing a notice sent to Assange’s Ecuadorian lawyer Carlos Poveda. Assange’s personal files, his computer, mobile phones, memory sticks, CDs and any other electronic devices uncovered during the searches will then be seized and sent to the US as a part of Ecuador’s response to the Department of Justice’s judicial request. The US is currently building a case to extradite on hacking charges. The files contain troves of sensitive information, include Assange’s communication with his lawyers and other legal documents – which, the lawyers argue, deprive him of the right to proper defense.


Having this data will potentially allow the US to “build and create new charges” to extradite Assange in violation of Ecuador’s own asylum policies. The news of the looming handover came as a bolt out of the blue for Assange’s defense team, Poveda told RT Spanish, adding that it’s impossible to be sure his things in the embassy haven’t been tampered with already. “Since Mr. Assange left the embassy, we cannot know for sure what has been happening inside these rooms.” The lawyers have requested CCTV records for the period since Assange’s arrest, Poveda said.

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Brian Stelter appears halfway normal. Chelsea appears very brave and very bright.

Chelsea Manning Again Won’t Testify On WikiLeaks, Risking Return To Jail (AFP)

Former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning said Sunday she again plans to refuse to testify before a grand jury about her leak of classified documents to WikiLeaks – even if it means returning to jail. Manning, who served seven years in prison over her transfer of secret diplomatic and military documents, recently spent another two months in lock-up for contempt of court after refusing to answer the grand jury’s questions. Federal prosecutors have for years been investigating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and they apparently want Manning to testify about her dealings with him.


Her release last week came on a technicality – that grand jury’s term was expiring. But a new grand jury has been convened and called on her to appear this week. “They’ve already stipulated they want to ask the same questions,” Manning told CNN. “I am going to refuse,” she added. “I have nothing new to provide.” Manning admitted that while she and her legal team do not know if she will be jailed again, she believes she has a “much stronger case in terms of the legal objections.” “We’re certainly going to raise every single legal challenge that we have,” said Manning…

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And who TF pops up in this? Victoria Nuland. Always there where the stench is worst.

State Department Under Pressure Over Christopher Steele Contacts (DC)

The State Department has largely avoided scrutiny from GOP-led investigations of the Steele dossier, but that changed this week with the release of notes that a State Department official took during an October 2016 meeting with dossier author Christopher Steele. In letters this week to Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pressed Pompeo for details about the Oct. 11, 2016 meeting, which was held at Foggy Bottom between Steele and Kathleen Kavalec, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Steele, a former British spy, was investigating President Donald Trump and his campaign on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC.

Kavalec’s notes from the meeting, which were released this week, show that Steele told her about contacts he had with the media, including The New York Times and Washington Post. They also showed that Steele said that his client for his anti-Trump research campaign (which he did not identify at the time) was “keen” to see information on Trump released prior to the Nov. 8, 2016 election. Steele also made dubious or inaccurate claims to Kavalec, including that Russia had planted a mole within the DNC and that the Russian government had a consulate in Miami. The trio of Republicans say that the notes contradict some of the claims that the FBI made in applications for surveillance warrants against Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser.

The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s unverified dossier to obtain the spy warrants. In a letter sent to Pompeo on Thursday, Grassley and Johnson, who chair the Senate Banking and Senate Homeland Security Committees, respectively, asserted that any contacts that Steele had with the media would contradict what the FBI claimed the Carter Page warrants. “If true, that would contradict the Carter Page FISA application where the FBI repeatedly represented to the court that Steele did not have unauthorized contacts with the press prior to October 2016,” they wrote. “Based on the publicly-released version of the typed notes of the meeting, it appears Steele’s intent of the meeting with the State Department was to maximize the impact of the unverified information that he had acquired in an effort to undermine the Trump campaign,” they added.

[..] In a letter sent Friday to Pompeo, Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sought communications between Steele and State Department employees, as well as between State employees and the Justice Department regarding Steele. He is also asking Pompeo to make Kavalec available for a transcribed interview. Victoria Nuland, who served as Kavalec’s boss at the bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, was the government official who approved an FBI agent in Rome meeting Steele in early July 2016.

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It’s been doing that for 3 years now.

Russiagate Is Eating America’s National Security (Stephen Cohen)

Now in its third year, Russiagate is the worst, most corrosive, and most fraudulent political scandal in modern American history. It rests on two related core allegations: that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “attack on American democracy” during the 2016 presidential campaign in order to put Donald Trump in the White House, and that Trump and his associates willfully colluded, or conspired, in this Kremlin “attack.” As I have argued from the outset—see my regular commentaries posted at TheNation.com and my recent book War With Russia?—and as recently confirmed, explicitly and tacitly, by special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report, there is no factual evidence for either allegation.

Nonetheless, these Russiagate allegations, not “Putin’s Russia,” continue to inflict grave damage on fundamental institutions of American democracy. They impugn the integrity of the presidency and now the office of the attorney general. They degrade the many Democratic members of Congress who persist in clinging to the allegations and thus the Democratic Party and Congress. And they have enticed mainstream media into one of the worst episodes of journalistic malpractice in modern times. But equally alarming, Russiagate continues to endanger American national security by depriving a US president, for the first time in the nuclear age, of the diplomatic flexibility to deal with a Kremlin leader in times of crisis.

We were given a vivid example in July 2018, when Trump held a summit with the current Kremlin occupant, as every president had done since Dwight Eisenhower. For that conventional, even necessary, act of diplomacy, Trump was widely accused of treasonous behavior, a charge that persists. Now we have another alarming example of this reckless disregard for US national security on the part of Russiagate zealots. On May 3, Trump called Putin. They discussed various issues, including the Mueller report. (As before, Putin had to know if Trump was free to implement any acts of security cooperation they might agree on. Indeed, the Russian policy elite openly debates this question, many of its members having decided that Trump cannot cooperate with Russia no matter his intentions.)

A major subject of the conversation was unavoidably the growing conflict over Venezuela, where Washington and Moscow have long-standing economic and political interests. Trump administration spokespeople have warned Moscow against interfering in America’s neighborhood, ignoring, of course, Washington’s deep involvement for years in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia. Kremlin representatives, on the other hand, have warned Washington against violating Venezuela’s sovereignty. Increasingly, there is talk, at least in Moscow policy circles, of a Cuban Missile–like crisis, the closest the United States and Russia (then Soviet Russia) ever came to nuclear war.

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In the same way Russiagate and the Steele dossier should have been off limits? Or is that different somehow?

Schiff: Biden Ukraine Scandal Should Be Off Limits (ZH)

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on Sunday that Joe Biden’s Ukraine corruption scandal should be off limits as the 2020 US election approaches, and that President Trump shouldn’t be allowed to investigate – or encourage Ukraine to investigate. Biden has come under fire for a March, 2016 incident in Kiev in which he threatened to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees to Ukraine unless President Petro Poroshenko fired his head prosecutor, General Viktor Shokin, who was leading a wide-ranging corruption investigation into natural gas firm Burisma Holdings. As it so happens, Joe’s son Hunter Biden sat on Burisma’s board, and waas indirectly paid as much as $50,000 per month.

‘I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” bragged Biden, recalling the conversation with Poroshenko. “Well, son of a bitch, he got fired,” Biden gloated. Biden claims he didn’t know Hunter was on the Burisma board for an entire two years (Hunter reportedly joined in April 2014, two years before Biden’s threat), and that the effort to remove Shokin had nothing to do with [this]. “Shokin was fired because he attacked the reformers within the prosecutor general’s office,” And this should be completely off limits to Trump, according to Adam Schiff

Schiff told ‘This Week’ that Congress should take up legislation banning political campaigns from working with foreign governments in an effort to influence US elections, responding to news that Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had planned to travel to Ukraine to encourage them to further investigate the Biden matter. Giuliani has since canceled the trip. In March, The Hill’s John Solomon revealed that Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has launched an investigation into the head of the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly attempting to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump during the 2016 US election by releasing damaging information about a “black ledger” of illegal business dealings by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

[..] To recap; Biden didn’t know his son Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas firm for a full two years, before threatening to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees if the President of Ukraine didn’t fire the guy investigating the Biden-linked Burisma, and Adam Schiff thinks that should be off limits to investigate, or for voters to consider, going into the 2020 election.

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What is this, a poetry contest?

China ‘Won’t Swallow Bitter Fruit’ In US Trade War (R.)

China will never surrender to external pressure, the government said on Monday, though stopped short of announcing how Beijing will hit back after Washington renewed its threat to impose tariffs on all Chinese imports in an escalating trade dispute. The trade war between the world’s top two economies jumped up a gear on Friday, with the United States hiking tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods after President Donald Trump said Beijing “broke the deal” by reneging on earlier commitments made during months of negotiations. Trump also ordered U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to begin imposing tariffs on all remaining imports from China, a move that would affect about an additional $300 billion worth of goods.


Beijing has vowed to respond to the latest U.S. tariffs, but has announced no details yet. “As for the details, please continue to pay attention. Copying a U.S. expression – wait and see,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing. “We have said many times that adding tariffs won’t resolve any problem. China will never surrender to external pressure. We have the confidence and the ability to protect our lawful and legitimate rights,” Geng added, responding to a question on Trump’s threat of putting duties on all Chinese imports. [..] “At no time will China forfeit the country’s respect, and no one should expect China to swallow bitter fruit that harms its core interests,” China’s top newspaper, the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a commentary.

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If it quacks like a scam….

Uber, the Worst Performing IPO in US Stock Market History (GizM)

Rideshare unicorn Uber doesn’t do anything small. When it was in the game of raising money, it raised close to $25 billion. When it loses that money—and it does every single quarter—it loses it at astronomical burn rates. It finally debuted on the New York Stock Exchange today, in the middle of international trade uncertainty and following a massive, international strike by its own drivers, how’d it do? According to University of Florida professor Jay Ritter, Uber’s 7.62 percent decline since hitting the NYSE makes it “bigger than first day dollar losses of any prior IPO in the U.S.” In terms of percentage losses, Uber’s dip doesn’t even scratch the surface of the worst IPOs.


But the staggering valuation of the company makes it, in raw scale, “among the top 10 IPOs ever” including companies outside the U.S., Ritter told Gizmodo in a phone interview. That single digit decline resulted in an estimated $617 million paper losses. Consider also that Uber’s debut valuation of $76.5 billion was a considerable drop from the between $90 billion and $120 billion the company had been worth in some analysts estimation just a month earlier—one meant to stanch the forthcoming bleeding that had begun with competitor Lyft’s bellyflop IPO. This defensive position did little to keep Uber or its investors from taking on water within a single day of trading.

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And at the same time names an IMF guy its central bank governor. Lock stock and barrel.

Pakistan Agrees Another Multi-Billion IMF Bailout (R.)

Pakistan has reached an accord with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year, $6 billion bailout package aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy, officials said on Sunday. The deal, which still needs approval by the IMF board in Washington, would be the 13th such bailout since the late 1980s Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh told PTV television he hoped it would be Pakistan’s last. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government came to power last year determined to avoid another bailout and initially sought billions of dollars in funding from friendly countries including China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


But with inflation climbing to over 8 percent, the rupee losing a third of its value over the past year, and foreign exchange reserves barely enough to cover two months of exports, it was forced to turn to the IMF. “Pakistan is facing a challenging economic environment, with lackluster growth, elevated inflation, high indebtedness, and a weak external position,” the IMF said in a statement outlining the framework deal. The IMF forecasts Pakistan’s economic growth slowing to 2.9% this fiscal year from 5.2% in 2018, while the central bank has cut its estimate to between 3.5-4%. As the bailout talks neared culmination, Khan shook up his top economic team, replacing Asad Umar with Hafeez Shaikh as finance minister and making IMF economist Reza Baqir central bank governor instead of Tariq Bajwa.

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“Macron defended the arms shipment to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, saying Riyadh had assured him the weapons would not be used against civilians.”

Saudi Ship Blocked From Loading Arms In France Arrives At Spanish Port (R.)

A Saudi ship, prevented by rights groups from loading an arms cargo at the French port of Le Havre on Friday, arrived at the Spanish port of Santander early on Monday. It was not clear what the Saudi ship was doing in Santander or how long it would stay docked there. Spain’s interior ministry said they had no information regarding the ship. The defense and foreign ministries were not immediately available for comment. French rights group ACAT argued in a legal challenge on Thursday that the arms consignment contravened a U.N. treaty because the weapons might be used against civilians in Yemen, though the case was thrown out by a French judge.


A classified report written by France’s DRM military intelligence agency and published by investigative website Disclose in April showed French arms were being used against civilians in the civil war in Yemen. The Saudi vessel Bahri-Yanbu set course for Santander shortly after the ruling but without the weapons it was charged with collecting. In Yemen, with fighting between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels backed by Iran, tens of thousands of people have been killed and fighting has spawned what the UN calls the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis. France’s President Emmanuel Macron defended the arms shipment to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, saying Riyadh had assured him the weapons would not be used against civilians.

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The system is disintegrating

Starving Gray Whales Wash Up Dead In Large Numbers From Mexico To Alaska (SFC)

Exhausted, emaciated gray whales are going belly up along the coast of San Francisco this year at a rate seen only once — during a two-year period 20 years ago — since whaling was banned and the leviathans were pulled from the brink of extinction. The death toll, part of a disturbing mass die-off from Mexico to Alaska, is happening largely because there is too little food in the ecosystem to sustain the behemoths on one of the world’s longest migrations, experts say. The hulking carcasses of nine gray whales, several of them starving, have been found since March in San Francisco Bay and along the coast from Pacifica to Point Reyes. That’s an unusually large number for the region.


“It’s definitely not normal,” said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which has for decades been monitoring the spectacular whale migrations along the San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma county coasts. The desperately hungry grays are taking dangerous detours into San Francisco Bay to look for food, a treat for whale watchers who have been seeing the gargantuan beasts in the estuary since February — but not such a good sign for those who care about their survival. “They are attempting to forage in the bay’s ‘dire straits’ with their ship-strike risk, unknown toxins in the bay mud, and other threats,” Schramm said. “Some cannot make it any farther and are simply giving up the ghost.”

The strandings are happening along the entire coast of California, where 31 dead gray whales have been found this year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. In all, 48 gray whales have been found dead along the coasts of California, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, fisheries service officials said. That’s not as bad as 1999, when 91 dead grays were recovered, or 2000, when 131 were found dead. But that die-off came in the wake of an unusually strong El Niño weather pattern that spread warm water along the entire West Coast and disrupted the food web. There is a mild El Niño this year, and water temperatures are higher than normal, but marine biologists say the balmy conditions locally do not fully explain the increased death toll, which also rose the previous two years.

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View from Singapore. If the only way people can look at extinction is from a point of view of how man could have profited, forget about it. Nature has its own value, independent of us, independent of monetary value.

Why Rapid Extinction Of Plant, Animal Species Matters (TO)

Human activities are putting a million species worldwide at risk of extinction, threatening ecosystems that people around the world depend on for survival, a United Nations (UN) assessment has found. [..] Global plant and animal species’ extinction is now “10 to hundreds of times” higher compared to that over the last 10 million years. Many of these extinctions will happen within decades, and that rate is set to climb, the report said. At least 680 vertebrate species have already been driven to extinction by human action in the last 500 years. The loss of habitats, overconsumption and pollution will result in countless more facing a similar fate. The extensive report illuminates the interconnectedness of nature with the economy, food security and health, said Nature Society Singapore’s president Shawn Lum.

[..] academic reports have revealed that Somali piracy has largely been driven by a lack of economic opportunities for local fishermen due to illegal fishing by foreign vessels depleting the fish population. Many organisms like fungi, maggots and houseflies also play an important role in the ecosystem to break down waste and dead creatures so that nutrients return to the system. While “hardly the face of conservation”, these species are crucial to every ecosystem. The loss of these species would have vast implications on plants and animals higher up the food chain, a group of environmental studies undergraduates at the National University of Singapore (NUS) explained. The UN report pointed out that 70 per cent of the world’s cancer drugs are natural and synthetic products inspired by nature.


An argument for conservation is that the loss of biodiversity could also result in undiscovered species which could potentially have served an important role in medicine. Member of Parliament for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency Louis Ng noted that the extinction of species on such a wide scale has severe implications on human beings. However, he believes that people should also consider the “intrinsic value” that these species play, and to conserve them simply to retain their existence. Said Mr Ng, who is also founder and chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society: “Human beings need animals for our survival, but the animals don’t need us.”


Hawksbill turtles, a critically endangered species, in the Indian Ocean coral reef, Maldives. Andrey Armyagov/Shutterstock.com

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May 082019
 


 

 

The Psychology of Russiagate (Gabor Maté)
Trump Tax Returns Show Over $1 Billion In Business Losses In A Decade (G.)
White House Orders Don McGahn Not To Comply With Congressional Subpoena (G.)
‘Bond King’ Gundlach: US National Debt ‘Totally Out Of Control’ (CNBC)
The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q1 2019 (WS)
Stocks Could Drop 10-20% If China And US ‘Dig In’ On Trade War – Siegel (CNBC)
China Says April Trade Surplus $13.84 Billion, Far Below Expectations (CNBC)
Germany, Wealthy Regions Are Biggest Winners Of EU Single Market (R.)
Hackers Steal $41 Million Worth Of Bitcoin From Binance Crypto Exchange (R.)
A War Is Brewing Over Lithium Mining At The Edge Of Death Valley (LA Times)
People Who Publicly Fret About Assange Rape Allegations Are Lying (CJ)
Humanity Is About to Kill 1 Million Species in a Murder-Suicide (NYMag)

 

 

This is fantastic. Please watch. Trump as a traumatized man. Elected by a society deeply in denial about its own trauma.

The Psychology of Russiagate (Gabor Maté)

What’s interesting is that in the aftermath of the Mueller thunderbolt of no proof of collusion, there were articles about how people are disappointed about this finding. Now, disappointment means that you’re expecting something and you wanted something to happen, and it didn’t happen. So that means that some people wanted Mueller to find evidence of collusion, which means that emotionally they were invested in it. It wasn’t just that they wanted to know the truth. They actually wanted the truth to look a certain way. And wherever we want the truth to look a certain way, there’s some reason that has to do with their own emotional needs and not just with the concern for reality.

And in politics in general, we think that people make decisions on intellectual grounds based on facts and beliefs. Very often, actually, people’s dynamics are driven by emotional forces that they’re not even aware of in themselves. And I, really, as I observed this whole Russiagate phenomenon from the beginning, it really seemed to me that there was a lot of emotionality in it that had little to do with the actual facts of the case. There is no question that for a lot of people in this country, the election of Trump was a traumatic event. Now, when a trauma reaction happens, which is to say you’re hurt and you’re pained and you’re confused and you’re scared and you’re bewildered, there’s basically two things you can do about it.

One is you can own that I’m pained and I’m hurt and I’m bewildered and I’m really scared. And then try and look at what happened to bring me to that situation. Or you can instead of dealing with those emotions come up with some kind of explanation that makes me feel better about them. So that I’ve got this pain. I’ve got this bewilderment. I’ve got this fear. So what I’m looking at, what does it say about American society that a man like this could even run for office, let alone be elected? What does it say about American society that so many people are actually enrolled in believing that this man could be any kind of a savior? What does that say about the divisions and the conflicts and the contradictions and the genuine problems in this culture? And how do we address those issues?

You can look at that. Or you can say there must be a devil somewhere behind all this, and that devil is a foreign power, and his name is Putin, and his country is Russia. Now you’ve got a simple explanation that doesn’t invite you or necessitate that you explore your own pain and your own fear and your own trauma.

If the video does not show in your email, please go to the Automatic Earth site

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Is it just me, or is this a really strange way to present old news as new? They really can’t find anything on the man? Didn’t he even write a book about this?

Trump Tax Returns Show Over $1 Billion In Business Losses In A Decade (G.)

Donald Trump’s businesses lost a total of more than $1bn from 1985 to 1994, enabling him to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. The newspaper, which said it obtained printouts from Trump’s official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts, found that Trump’s core businesses, including casinos, hotels and apartment buildings, lost $1.17bn over a decade. Trump posted losses in excess of $250m in both 1990 and 1991, according to the records, which appeared to be more than double any other individual US taxpayer in an annual IRS sampling of high-income earners.


The New York Times report comes amid a fresh battle between Democrats in Congress and the Trump administration over the release of the president’s tax returns. On Monday, the US Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, refused a request by the congressman Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House ways and means committee, for Trump’s tax returns. Democrats want Trump’s tax data as part of their investigations of possible conflicts of interest posed by his continued ownership of extensive business interests, even as he serves as president. Responding to the New York Times’ revelations, Charles Harder, a lawyer for the president, said the tax information was “highly inaccurate”.

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Yeah, well, if they try to keep Russigate going at this point in time, it’s not going to be easy.

White House Orders Don McGahn Not To Comply With Congressional Subpoena (G.)

The White House has informed Congress that it has ordered the former counsel Don McGahn not to hand over documents subpoenaed by a congressional committee investigating the findings of the special counsel Robert Mueller. In a letter to the House judiciary committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, the White House lawyer Pat Cipollone cited “significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege”. McGahn’s refusal is sure to set the Trump administration on course for another collision with the Democratic-led House over lawmakers’ pursuit of documents related to the Russia investigation.


In a subpoena, Congress had requested documents from McGahn pertaining to 36 matters, including discrete episodes in the Russia affair ranging from the resignation of the former national security adviser Michael Flynn to the 9 June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Cipollone said McGahn “does not have the legal right to disclose these documents to third persons”. In a follow-up letter to Congress, a lawyer for McGahn said he intended to follow the White House direction. “Where co-equal branches of government are making contradictory demands on Mr McGahn concerning the same set of documents,” the letter reads, “the appropriate response for Mr McGahn is to maintain the status quo unless and until the committee and the executive branch can reach an accommodation.”

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“Using leverage ratios alone, “45%, not just of the BBB but the entire corporate bond market would be junk right now..”

‘Bond King’ Gundlach: US National Debt ‘Totally Out Of Control’ (CNBC)

U.S. debt has climbed to an alarming level, according to DoubleLine CEO Jeffrey Gundlach. “People are starting to realize that the deficit and debt are totally out of control,” Gundlach said on CNBC’s “Halftime Report” Tuesday. Gundlach said the “main reason” the yield curve between 3-year and 5-year Treasury notes is steepening is the ballooning deficit. Last year, U.S. national debt increased by more than 6% of GDP, he said. An even bigger deficit could mean trouble in a recession, said Gundlach, whose DoubleLine has $130 billion in assets under management. Gundlach — sometimes known as the “bond king” — also flagged trouble in the corporate bond market, which got “dragged down” in the “economic mess that we’re in.”


“The corporate bond market is so much worse today than it was in 2006,” he said. Among Gundlach’s concerns: a corporate bond market that has tripled in size, and a BBB-rated bond market that is now bigger than the junk-bond market. Using leverage ratios alone, “45%, not just of the BBB but the entire corporate bond market would be junk right now,” he said, citing figures from Morgan Stanley. A recession or downturn could “spark” a wave of downgrades from investment grade bonds into junk bonds, he said. “The economy is in such bad shape to withstand a downturn again,” Gundlach said. “The national debt is exploding while we’re having some of the best GDP year over year that we’ve had in recent years.”

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Jubilee.

The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q1 2019 (WS)

Consumer debt – or consumer “credit” more euphemistically – includes auto loans, student loans, credit-card debt, and personal loans, but it excludes housing related debt, such as mortgages and HELOCs. Growing consumer debt helps prop up the US economy because it means that consumers – they’re called “consumers” not “people” for a reason – spend money they don’t have. There is always a reckoning in the future, but to heck with the future, and so here we go. Credit card debt and other revolving credit, such as personal lines of credit, in Q1 rose 3.4% compared to Q1 last year, to $1.0 trillion (not seasonally adjusted), according to the Federal Reserve Tuesday afternoon. This was a record for a first quarter, when consumers cut back while they try to dig themselves out from under their shopping season debts. But it wasn’t good enough. Credit card balances in Q1 were flat with Q4 2008, despite a decade of inflation, population growth, and economic growth. Our debt slaves are lackadaisical:

The thing is, over the same period, nominal GDP rose 5.1%. And in terms of GDP, credit card debts actually fell, which explains the soft-ish retail data in the first quarter. In a very un-American way, consumers were again lackadaisical in charging up their credit cards to the max. Credit cards are a key element in the banking industry’s profits. At commercial banks, the average interest rate on credit-card plans is 15.1% and the average assessed interest rate is 16.9%, on $1 trillion in outstanding credit balances. This amounts to around $150 billion to $169 billion a year in interest income! These banks rely on consumers to spend money they don’t have. So why don’t they consume with sufficient energy? That’s a baffling question for economists.


Total auto loans and leases outstanding for new and used vehicles in Q1 rose by $44.5 billion from a year ago, or by 4.0%, to a record of $1.16 trillion, despite new-vehicle sales that declined in Q1 by 3.2%, though there was some strength in used vehicles sales. The increase in borrowing was due to higher transaction prices of new and used vehicles, the rising average loan-to-value ratio, and the lengthening average duration of loans:

Student loans rose by 4.9% year-over-year in Q1, or by $74 billion, to a new record of $1.6 trillion (not seasonally adjusted). It has doubled since the beginning of 2010. Confusingly, enrollment in higher-education, based on the latest data available from the National Center for Education Statistics fell by 7% between 2010 and 2016. In other words, fewer students are enrolled, but all combined they borrow more as tuition continues to rise, and as the entire industry feeds on those government-guaranteed student loans. This ranges from device makers, such as Apple, text-book publishers, concert-ticket sellers, and commercial real estate investors specializing in student housing. Every dime a student borrows is spent, and it props up Corporate America, the university financial complex (UFI, my term), and the US economy overall – with heck to pay later:

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The Fed is the only thing dominating markets. Not China.

Stocks Could Drop 10-20% If China And US ‘Dig In’ On Trade War – Siegel (CNBC)

Stocks could drop significantly if the United States and China dig in during trade talks, Wharton finance professor Jeremy Siegel told CNBC on Tuesday. Tensions between the U.S. and China are high as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Monday that new tariffs on 25% of goods will go through on Friday. Siegel said this causes major risk to the downside. “If both sides dig in this market could go down 10% to 20%,” Siegel said on “Squawk Alley. ” “It’s a question of what happens on Friday. If it does happen on Friday, what is the retaliation of the Chinese? And that’s totally dominating the market for the next two or three weeks.”


Siegel said the market built in about a 90% chance that trade negotiations with China would be resolved. Since Trump’s tweets on Sunday threatening to raise tariffs the market, the market now projects no more than a 70% chance of a resolution, he said. This change is what is shocking the market downward, he said. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite all closed down more than 1.6% on Tuesday. Investors are waiting to see how the trade talks with China go this week but Trump will be watching the market, Siegel said. “The strongest thing that Donald Trump has going for him in next year’s election is the economy and the stock market. He cannot afford that to falter,” said Siegel.

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Why is Reuters still polling economists?

China Says April Trade Surplus $13.84 Billion, Far Below Expectations (CNBC)

China posted a big miss in its overall trade surplus for April, as exports unexpectedly fell and imports surprisingly rose. The numbers came on Wednesday as the trade impasse between the U.S. and China continues to drag on. Customs data on Wednesday showed that trade surplus for April came in at $13.84 billion. That was far lower than the $35 billion economists polled by Reuters had expected, and below the $32.65 billion posted in March. Dollar-denominated exports also missed expectations in April, falling 2.7% from a year ago, according to data from the China’s General Administration of Customs. Economists polled by Reuters expected an increase of 2.3% from a year earlier.


However, April imports unexpectedly rose by 4% from a year ago, compared to a decline of 3.6% that economists predicted. Imports in March fell 7.6%. China’s trade surplus with the U.S., meanwhile, rose to $21.01 billion in April from $20.5 billion in March, the data showed. U.S. and Chinese officials have met several times in a bid to hammer out a trade deal, but Washington said this week that tariffs on Chinese products will increase on Friday, fueling fears that negotiations could be derailed. The outlook for Chinese exports will remain challenging even if a trade deal is reached with the U.S. soon, said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics.

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In other news: the sky is blue. What I like here is they state everyone is better off because of the single market. I don’t even want to see their ‘proof’ for that.

Germany, Wealthy Regions Are Biggest Winners Of EU Single Market (R.)

The European Union’s industrial heartlands, its urban regions and Germany are the biggest beneficiaries of the bloc’s single market, according to a study that highlights the economic and social inequalities plaguing the bloc. The single market seeks to guarantee free movement of goods, capital, services and labor across the 28-nation EU. A report by the Bertelsmann Foundation found that Germany, Europe’s largest economy, benefited most in absolute terms from the single market, earning an extra 86 billion euros ($96 billion) a year because of it. It found that each German was on average 1,046 euros richer as a result of single market membership, while on average EU citizens were only 840 euros richer. “Not everyone profits equally from the single market, but everyone does gain,” said Aart De Geus, president of the Germany-based foundation.


The inequalities highlighted in the report are shaping EU politics ahead of this month’s European Parliament elections, in which some have called for a continent-wide minimum wage, while Italy, wrestling with low growth, has demanded the right to break European fiscal rules to finance tax cuts. Wealthy, advanced economies near the EU’s economic core such as Austria and the Netherlands are also far richer as a result of being members, the report showed, while poorer southern and eastern European countries benefit far less. “For countries like the Netherlands or Austria, the internal market is gold, since they have competitive sectors but are reliant on exports because they have small domestic markets,” said Dominic Ponattu, one of the study’s authors.

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Call me crazy, but isn’t this happening a little too often?

Hackers Steal $41 Million Worth Of Bitcoin From Binance Crypto Exchange (R.)

Hackers stole bitcoin worth $41 million from Binance, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, the company said on Wednesday, the latest in a string of thefts from cryptocurrency exchanges around the world. The 7,000 bitcoin were withdrawn by hackers using a variety of techniques, “including phishing, viruses and other attacks”, according to a post on Binance’s website by chief executive officer Zhao Changpeng. The post said user funds would not be affected because the company would use its secure asset fund for users to cover the loss.


Bitcoin’s price dropped by as much as 4.2 percent in early Asian trading as news of the hack broke, although it later recovered some of its losses. Zhao said on Twitter other crypto exchanges, including Coinbase, had blocked deposits from addresses linked to the hack. Last year, $950 million of cryptocurrencies was stolen from cryptocurrency exchanges and infrastructure services such as wallets, up nearly 260 percent from the previous year, research from U.S.-based cyber security firm CiptherTrace showed. Exchanges in Japan and South Korea accounted for 58 percent of the thefts last year, the research found.

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It ain’t easy being green.

A War Is Brewing Over Lithium Mining At The Edge Of Death Valley (LA Times)

A small Cessna soared high above the Mojave Desert recently, its engine growling in the choppy morning air. As the aircraft skirted the mountains on the edge of Death Valley National Park, a clutch of passengers and environmentalists peered intently at a broiling salt flat thousands of feet below. The desolate beauty of the Panamint Valley has long drawn all manner of naturalists, adventurers and social outcasts — including Charles Manson — off-road vehicle riders and top gun fighter pilots who blast overhead in simulated dogfights. Now this prehistoric lake bed is shaping up to be an unlikely battleground between environmentalists and battery technologists who believe the area might hold the key to a carbon-free future.


Recently, the Australia-based firm Battery Mineral Resources Ltd. asked the federal government for permission to drill four exploratory wells to see if the hot, salty brine beneath the valley floor contains economically viable concentrations of lithium. The soft, silvery-white metal is a key component of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and is crucial to the production of electric and hybrid vehicles. The drilling request has generated strong opposition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Defenders of Wildlife, who say the drilling project would be an initial step toward the creation of a full-scale lithium mining operation. They say lithium extraction would bring industrial sprawl, large and unsightly drying ponds and threaten a fragile ecosystem that supports Nelson’s bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and the Panamint alligator lizard, among other species.

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Why go into allegations that have no proven substance? There is no point in that which supports Assange. Tons of sympathy for Caitlin, but I really think this should be about Julian, not about her.

People Who Publicly Fret About Assange Rape Allegations Are Lying (CJ)

As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, I have found it unspeakably infuriating the way this same patriarchal imperialist system which has allowed rape culture to thrive throughout the entirety of its existence has suddenly become deeply, deeply concerned about plot hole-riddled and completely unproven allegations against a man who just so happens to have published humiliating truths about that very same imperialist system. This same warmongering power structure which has never given a shit about women beyond our ability to fly a stealth bomber and squeeze new recruits out of our vaginas suddenly has the full force of its propaganda machine whipping liberals into a hysteria about allegations of acts that aren’t even illegal in the nations those liberals live in. Acts that these liberals have never even thought about pushing to make laws against in their own governments.


Do you know how you can be absolutely certain that anyone you see on social media rending their garments about Assange’s Swedish allegations is completely full of shit? Because no matter how hard you search through their post history, you will never, ever find any similarly enthusiastic push to ban the actions that Assange is accused of in their own government. In their own land, where their own daughters and sons will be impacted. They focus solely on shaky allegations against a target of the CIA and the Pentagon which are alleged to have happened in Sweden, a nation with very different sexual consent laws than the nations of these English-speaking concern trolls.

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Good headline.

Humanity Is About to Kill 1 Million Species in a Murder-Suicide (NYMag)

Human beings are more prosperous and numerous than we’ve ever been, while the Earth’s other species are dying off faster than at any time in human history. These two conditions are related. But if the second one persists long enough, we will be following our fellow organisms into the dustbin of geological history. This is the primary takeaway from a new United Nations report on our planet’s rapidly diminishing biodiversity. Humanity is reshaping the natural world at such scale and rapidity, an estimated 1 million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, according to the U.N. assessment.

Climate change is a major driver of all this death, but burning fossil fuels is far from our species’ only method of mass ecocide. We are also harvesting fish populations faster than they can reproduce themselves, annually dumping upward of 300 million tons of heavy metals and toxic sludge into the oceans, introducing devastating diseases and invasive species into vulnerable environments as we send people and goods hurtling across the globe, and simply taking up too much space — about 75 percent of the Earth’s land, and 85 percent of its wetlands, have been severely altered or destroyed by human development.

All this plunder has worked out fairly well for us, thus far. But all of our prosperity depends upon the natural world reproducing itself. As the New York Times notes, the U.N. has previously estimated that nature provides the economies of the Americas with $24 trillion worth of non-monetized benefits each year: “The Amazon rain forest absorbs immense quantities of carbon dioxide and helps slow the pace of global warming. Wetlands purify drinking water. Coral reefs sustain tourism and fisheries in the Caribbean. Exotic tropical plants form the basis of a variety of medicines. But as these natural landscapes wither and become less biologically rich, the services they can provide to humans have been dwindling.”

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There is no man or woman who can’t be touched

But you who come between them will be judged

-Leonard Cohen

 

 

 

 

May 052019
 


Giovanni Bellini The transfiguration c1490

 

Pelosi: Trump Could Contest 2020 Election Results – Be Prepared (Carter)
Joe Biden Says He ‘Doesn’t Have Time’ To Lay Out His Healthcare Plan (Ind.)
Trump Criticizes Social Media Bans Of Right-Wing Extremists (PA)
Trump Fires Off Tweetstorm on Social Media Censorship of Conservatives (GP)
Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russiagate (McGovern)
Fed To Give Banks A $36 Billion Taxpayer-Funded Subsidy (Middleton)
May Urges Corbyn To Agree A Brexit Deal (R.)
Anger Grows At May-Corbyn Bid To Stitch Up Brexit Deal (G.)
Austerity, Not ‘Failure’ Of Brexit, Behind Tories’ Election Wipeout (G.)
American Farmers Go Bankrupt (ZH)
US Trucking Skids into Downturn after Phenomenal Boom (WS)
Urban Greening Can Save Species, Cool Warming Cities, Make Us Happy (Conv.)

 

 

The Democrats, as personified by Pelosi, Schumer, Hillary, Biden etc., have no identity other than being against everything Trump. There are people in the party who do have ideas and an identity, like Tulsi Gabbard, AOC, and I’m not saying they’re all great ideas, but at least they have some. But they’re being sidelined.

And it’s of course funny to see Pelosi “pre-accusing” Trump of doing what she has done for 2+ years now. Accuse your opponent of what you yourself have done. Classic.

Pelosi: Trump Could Contest 2020 Election Results – Be Prepared (Carter)

In a New York Times interview on Saturday, Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal), shared her concerned that President Trump would not voluntarily step down unless Democrats win by a “big” enough margin in 2020. The Democratic Speaker of the House of Representative, expressed her concern over a possible scenario where Trump would not accept the election results if he were to lose re-election by a slim margin, the NY Times reported. “We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” Pelosi told the newspaper Wednesday.


“If we win by four seats, by a thousand votes each, he’s not going to respect the election,” said Ms. Pelosi, recalling her thinking in the run-up to the 2018 elections. “He would poison the public mind. He would challenge each of the races; he would say you can’t seat these people,” she added. “We had to win. Imagine if we hadn’t won — oh, don’t even imagine. So, as we go forward, we have to have the same approach.” In recent weeks Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat.

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Biden literally has nothing at all. Other than scolding Trump.

Joe Biden Says He ‘Doesn’t Have Time’ To Lay Out His Healthcare Plan (Ind.)

As Joe Biden storms through Iowa and prepares for his first visit as a presidential candidate in South Carolina, the Democratic front-runner has said he doesn’t “have the time” to lay out the details of his healthcare plan. “I don’t have time; I don’t want to keep you standing any longer,” Mr Biden said recently in Iowa City, declining to lay out his vision for America’s healthcare future to the assembled crowd, according to POLITICO. Likewise Mr Biden has been less than exhaustive when it comes to his other plans, be it foreign policy, or how to tackle climate change. The approach — one in which the former vice president has focused on the values needed in an American president, instead of on specifics of policy — stands in contrast to some of his stiffest competition from fellow Democrats hoping to shake up Democratic politics as we know it.


For months now, his closest competitor in the polls, Bernie Sanders, has been plugging his universal healthcare plan on the campaign trail, which he has dubbed Medicare for All. It’s a policy the Vermont senator has introduced repeatedly in Congress, and ran on in 2016, too. But Mr Sanders isn’t alone in pushing policy in the race. Elizabeth Warren has become known for doing so, offering up plans on issues ranging from healthcare – increase consumer subsidies, force insurers to accept tougher rules, and make insurance cheaper in the US — to improving accountability for private companies in charge of military housing.

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Two different takes on the same topic. First, the Press Association, which labels Paul Joseph Watson and James Woods as “Right-Wing Extremists”. A bit much, perhaps? Other labels I see flash by are far-right, alt-right, extremist conservatives. Isn’t it the labeling itself that is extremist?

Trump Criticizes Social Media Bans Of Right-Wing Extremists (PA)

US president Donald Trump has criticised social media companies after Facebook banned a number of extremist figures and has declared he was “monitoring and watching, closely!!” Mr Trump, who tweeted and retweeted complaints on Friday and Saturday, said he would “monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms”. He has previously claimed social media companies are biased against conservatives, something the companies have rejected as untrue. His comments came after Facebook this week banned Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones and other extremists, saying they violated its ban on “dangerous individuals”.


The company also removed right-wing personalities Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer, along with Mr Jones’s site, Infowars, which often posts conspiracy theories. The latest bans apply to Facebook’s main service and to Instagram, and extend to fan pages and other related accounts. Facebook’s move signalled new effort by the social media giant to remove people and groups promoting objectionable material such as hate, racism and anti-Semitism. The company said it has “always banned” people or groups that proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence, regardless of political ideology. On Twitter, Mr Trump cited a number of individuals he said were being unfairly treated by social media companies, including Mr Watson and actor James Woods. He insisted it was “getting worse and worse for Conservatives on social media!”

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But here’s how Cristina Laila at Gateway Pundit, the site known for Cassandra Fairbanks’ reporting on Julian Assange, phrases the issue. Whole different vocabulary.

Still, there’s a much bigger issue here. As I wrote in the comments the other day: What Facebook and Google are doing is very dangerous for the fabric of society. They’re turning us into China. It’s equal to saying: you cannot have a car, or gas, or a phone, a home. Because you grow a beard, or you have a crappy old car, or whatever.

Or it’s like saying you cannot drive on a certain road, maybe that’s a better example. At some point infrastructure must be available to everyone. You can’t say: this is private, go build your own road, or put up your own telephone poles, because your skin is black and we don’t like that around here.

“Facebook is a private company” is dead before you hit the water (for the same reason as AT&T). Problem is, no politician wants to burn their hands on the issue, which they don’t understand to begin with, until it’s too late. It’s much easier to say: look over there, those guys don’t do anything either.”

So, should Facebook be able to throw people out that haven’t been accused of anything criminal?

Trump Fires Off Tweetstorm on Social Media Censorship of Conservatives (GP)

The tech tyrants at Facebook went into overdrive this week and banned Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson and Alex Jones — without any explanation, the conservative journalists were labeled “dangerous” by Facebook. President Trump fired off a tweetstorm Friday evening on the social media censorship of conservatives and named James Woods and Paul Joseph Watson. “I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America — and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!” Trump tweeted. “We’re looking into it,” Trump said as he defended his friends Diamond and Silk.

“So surprised to see Conservative thinkers like James Woods banned from Twitter, and Paul Watson banned from Facebook!” Trump said linking to a Breitbart article on Twitter’s silencing of James Woods. Paul Joseph Watson works for Infowars and has been employed by Alex Jones for several years. On Thursday Paul Joseph Watson was banned from Facebook for being associated with Infowars and Alex Jones. Paul Joseph Watson has NEVER broken Facebook rules… But he associates with Alex Jones. Facebook is now banning anyone who is linked to Infowars or has shared too many stories from the conservative Infowars page. But it’s even worse… It is now a violation of Facebook policy to speak positively ANYWHERE about people they don’t like.

Twitter also banned conservative actor James Woods last weekend for paraphrasing American essayist, poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, for “abusive behavior.” James Woods tweeted, “If you try to kill the King, you better not miss.” #HangThemAll – similar to a quote from an essay Emerson wrote on Plato:“When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”

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If Americans were interested in the truth, they’d insist on their politicians and media and intelligence talking to the VIPS and Julian Assange. The fact that they haven’t, tells you all you need to know.

Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russiagate (McGovern)

George Orwell would have been in stitches Wednesday watching Attorney General William Barr and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spar on Russia-gate. The hearing had the hallmarks of the intentionally or naively blind leading the blind with political shamelessness. From time to time the discussion turned to the absence of a legal “predicate” to investigate President Donald Trump for colluding with Russia. That is, of course, important; and we can expect to hear a lot more about that in coming months. More important: what remains unacknowledged is the absence of an evidence-based major premise that should have been in place to anchor the rhetoric and accusations about Russia-gate over the past three years. With a lack of evidence sufficient to support a major premise, any syllogism falls of its own weight.


The major premise that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee and gave WikiLeaks highly embarrassing emails cannot bear close scrutiny. Yes, former CIA Director John Brennan has told Congress he does not “do evidence.” In the same odd vein, Brennan’s former FBI counterpart James Comey chose not to “do evidence” when he failed to seize and inspect the DNC computers that a contractor-of-ill-repute working for the DNC claimed were hacked by Russia. Call us old fashioned, but we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) still “do evidence” — and, in the case at hand, forensic investigation. For those who “can handle the truth,” the two former NSA technical directors in VIPS can readily explain how the DNC emails were not hacked — by Russia or anyone else — but rather were copied and leaked by someone with physical access to the DNC computers.

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The Fed is a socialist organization.

Fed To Give Banks A $36 Billion Taxpayer-Funded Subsidy (Middleton)

Before 2009, the Fed did not pay interest on banks’ excess reserves held at the Fed. This practice was introduced as a taxpayer-funded subsidy to the banks during the crisis (taxpayer-funded because the Fed turns over any profit at the end of the year to the Treasury). After beginning this practice, the Fed’s chief trader, Simon Potter, realized it could be used to raise interest rates without expelling excess reserves from the Fed, by sucking liquidity out of the short-term markets. In fall 2015, it began raising the interest rate on excess reserves, with the anticipated effect. At a current rate of about $36 billion a year, this is a cost to the Treasury that is indefensible. This amount is about half the budget for food stamps, for example, which politicians want to cut. There is no provision for these funds ever to be paid back. It is welfare for the bankers.

If the banks had been required to take excess reserves back onto their books it would have required financial disclosure of their quality, which is probably toxic for many. However, with the Financial Accounting Standards Board recently promulgating Financial Accounting Statements 56 and, previously, 157, the “extend and pretend” statement, it would seem they feel less and less need for financial disclosure of any kind. FAS 56 states that the government does not have to disclose what it spends taxpayers’ money on because of national security concerns.

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Lose big and do a deal. It would be voted down.

May Urges Corbyn To Agree A Brexit Deal (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has stepped up calls on Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to agree a cross-party deal to leave the European Union, following poor results for both parties in local elections on Thursday. May’s Conservatives lost more than a thousand seats on English local councils that were up for re-election, and Labour – which would typically aim to gain hundreds of seats in a mid-term vote – instead lost 81. Both parties have been locked in talks for the past few weeks to try to broker a Brexit deal that can get a majority in Parliament, after May’s minority government suffered three heavy defeats on her preferred deal earlier this year.

Senior Conservatives said on Saturday there was an increased need for compromise after the local election results, and the leader of the Scottish branch of the Conservative Party said a deal with Labour could be done within days. May added her voice to these calls in an essay published in a Sunday newspaper. “To the Leader of the Opposition I say this: Let’s listen to what the voters said in the local elections and put our differences aside for a moment. Let’s do a deal,” she wrote in the Mail on Sunday. The Sunday Times reported that the Conservatives would offer new concessions to Labour when talks restart on Tuesday, including a temporary customs union with the European Union, which would last until a national election due in June 2022.

“At that point Labour could use their manifesto to argue for a softer Brexit if they wanted to and a new Conservative prime minister could argue for a harder Brexit,” a source cited by the Sunday Times said.

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There is no solution. the sooner everyone understands that the better. Even a national government is now out of the question.

Anger Grows At May-Corbyn Bid To Stitch Up Brexit Deal (G.)

Last-ditch efforts by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to strike a compromise on Brexit looked doomed on Saturday as the party leaders faced mounting revolts from their own MPs and activists. Following Thursday’s local elections, in which both the Conservatives and Labour were punished severely by voters for failing to break the political deadlock, May and Corbyn have insisted their parties must now urgently agree a way forward in cross-party talks which will resume on Tuesday. On Saturday the prime minister reiterated her appeal, saying: “We have to find a way to break the deadlock. I believe the results of the local elections give fresh urgency to this.”

But opposition MPs and Tory Brexiters warned any deal the leadership teams stitch up behind the scenes would face inevitable defeat in parliament and cause more acrimony in the parties. The Observer can reveal that 104 opposition MPs, mainly from Labour but also SNP, Change UK, Green and Plaid Cymru, have written to May and Corbyn insisting they will not back a “Westminster stitch-up” unless there is a firm guarantee that any deal is then put to a confirmatory referendum. The MPs say: “The very worst thing we could do at this time is a Westminster stitch-up whether over the PM’s deal or another deal. This risks alienating both those who voted leave in 2016 and those who voted remain.”

They say that, “whatever the deal” is, it must be the subject of another referendum so voters can have the “final say”. Separately, senior Tory MPs insisted that any deal struck with Labour that involved anything close to a customs union – Corbyn’s central demand in the talks – would be rejected by more than 100 of the party’s MPs, who would see it as a betrayal of May’s promises on Brexit.

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No, both.

Austerity, Not ‘Failure’ Of Brexit, Behind Tories’ Election Wipeout (G.)

In my book Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment (2015), I pointed out that the “age of austerity” experienced during the post-1945 Attlee government was unavoidable as a debilitated UK adapted from a wartime economy to peacetime. Resources were strictly limited, and production had to be channelled away from armaments towards the normal needs of the population. Spending power was restricted because goods and food were in short supply. The austerity policy imposed by the Cameron-Osborne administration in 2010-15 – in coalition, let us not forget, with the Lib Dems – was a policy choice. George Osborne, in particular, seized the opportunity of the financial crisis of 2007-09 to cut back on public spending, or at least restrain its rate of growth.


The most obvious victims were local authorities and the electors they serve. Cuts varying between 30% and 40% were imposed on central government grants to local authorities, and the consequences were cumulative. Hardly a day goes by without sad reports of the impact the cuts are having on public services, one of the most recent being the way teachers in overstretched state schools are having to dip into their own pockets to provide textbooks. There are countless other examples. We were told by Theresa May and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, that austerity was coming to an end. But there is precious little sign of it. Which brings us back – I know you have been waiting for it – to the way that Brexit would compound the deleterious effects of austerity, a conclusion reached by every forecast I have examined.

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Big Ag wants it all. But YOU can still go look for a farmers’ market.

American Farmers Go Bankrupt (ZH)

The collapse of multi-generational family farms has sent bankruptcies in the Midwest to ten-year highs. “Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008. In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier,” reported WSJ. Steffes Group, a top auction firm in the upper Midwest, has seen auction activity rise 40% in 2019. “Up until now, there wasn’t a lot of motivation to exit farming,” said auctioneer Scott Steffes. “Now, what I’m hearing from folks is, ‘It’s no longer fun to farm.’”

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There are far too many trucks anyway.

US Trucking Skids into Downturn after Phenomenal Boom (WS)

Orders for Class-8 trucks – the heavy trucks that haul consumer goods, equipment, commodities, and supplies across the US to feed the goods-based economy – plunged 52% in April compared to April last year, to 16,400 orders, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence on Friday. It was the lowest April since 2016 when the industry cycled through its last transportation recession. This comes after orders had already plunged 67% year-over-year in March, 58% in February and January, and 43% in December. The collapse in orders is on the scale of the last transportation recession in 2015 and 2016. The chart shows the percent change of orders for each month compared to a year earlier:

The industry is very cyclical with big swings in both directions. Trucking companies get exuberant when capacity tightens and freight rates shoot up as they did in late 2017 and 2018, and they’re inclined to order when business is booming, but it takes a while to get these trucks built, and order backlogs at truck manufacturers piled up to reach close a year at the peak in 2018. Fear of not getting the equipment when they need it can cause industry-wide bouts of over-ordering at the peak of the cycle, which was summer 2018. But as capacity rises, and the cyclical freight business backs off from its blistering growth phase and ticks down a little as it has been since late 2018, trucking companies adjust by reducing their orders, and when push comes to shove, if they can still do it, by cancelling their orders. And that’s what is happening here.

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I think perhaps everyone intuitively understands how to re-design cities. Cars must go first.

Urban Greening Can Save Species, Cool Warming Cities, Make Us Happy (Conv.)

The current climate and ecological crisis demands a radical redesign of how we live and organise our societies. Yet these urgent changes, though complex, are far from impossible. Some of them are simple, beautiful, and beneficial to all. By greening our cities with street trees, urban parks, and community and rooftop gardens, we can keep ourselves cool amid rising temperatures, reverse the steady erosion of the rich tapestry of life on Earth, and foster happiness and social connection in the process. It is widely known that greenery in urban spaces helps improve city microclimates.

Thanks to heat generated by traffic and industrial activity, as well as the spread of heat-trapping concrete buildings that have steadily replaced plant life, urban air temperature is often higher than in rural environments. Hotter cities compel urban denizens to opt for air conditioners in order to stay cool, which further strains energy demands and worsens the urban heat island effect. Plants can help cool cities through the water that evaporates from their leaves when exposed to the sun’s rays, and by shading surfaces that otherwise might have absorbed heat. Research has found that on a sunny day, a single healthy tree can have the cooling power of more than ten air-conditioning units.

Plants also help keep harmful pollutants such as microscopic particulate matter at bay through a complex process known as dry deposition, whereby particles penetrate and become trapped in the wax or cuticles of leaves. Although banning or at least restricting vehicle use in city centres is crucial, mass greening can further reduce pollution and keep cities cool in the increasingly scorching summers that lie ahead.

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Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon
– Susan Ertz

 

 

Apr 192019
 


Vincent van Gogh Agostina Segatori Sitting in the Café du Tambourin 1887

 

Top Mueller Report Takeaways So Far (ZH)
Mueller, Trump, and ‘Two Years Of Bullshit’ (York)
The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report (Lazare)
Robert Mueller Obliterated the Trump-Russia Conspiracy Theories (Greenwald)
Democrats, Mueller Just Handed You a Road Map for Impeachment (Hasan)
Russiagate is Dead! Long Live Russiagate! (CP)
Washington Is Looking for a Fight (Giraldi)
With Kim-Putin Summit, Moscow Eyes Role In North Korea (AFP)
US Preparing More Charges Against Julian Assange (WSWS)
Maximum Vulnerability: China (And The World) Are Still In Big Trouble (AEP)
The Saker Interviews Dmitry Orlov (Saker)
Greek Economy Among The World’s Most ‘Miserable’ – Bloomberg (K.)
Ecuador Turns To Interpol To Arrest Former Foreign Minister (RT)
Emma Thompson Joins Climate Change Demonstration After Flying In From LA (PA)
Half Of UK Teachers Buying Essentials For Their Pupils (Ind.)

 

 

Papadopoulos as an agent of Israel is quite the surprise.

Top Mueller Report Takeaways So Far (ZH)

Prosecutors closely examined whether Donald Trump or members of his 2016 campaign conspired with Russia to release emails which were damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC, and/or any involvement with the Kremlin’s social media disinformation campaigns. The investigation also covered whether Trump associates operated as unregistered Russian (and in one case Israeli) agents, and whether the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian attorney violated campaign finance laws as a “thing-of-value” offered by foreign governments, or crossed any other legal boundaries.

At the end of the day, Mueller and his team did not find that any Trump campaign associates were operating on behalf of a foreign government in connection with the 2016 election. Mueller did, however, find Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates guilty of crimes connected to their work for the Ukrainian government prior to their involvement with Trump. There are a mountain of pages and footnotes to go through, but here are some takeaways so far:

Mueller was unable to establish that Trump committed any underlying crimes. “Unlike cases in which a subject engages in obstruction of justice to cover up a crime, the evidence we obtained did not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” the report reads.

Mueller considered pressing charges in connection with the Trump Tower meeting. The special counsel’s office considered prosecuting the Trump Tower meeting as a campaign-finance violation, however declined because they didn’t have “admissible evidence” likely to prove that Trump officials “wilfully” acted, or that the information offered by the Russians exceeded the threshold for prosecution. Interestingly – the Mueller report completely omits the involvement of Fusion GPS in the Trump tower meeting – as the Russian attorney involved in it, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was a Fusion GPS associate and met with founder Glenn Simpson before and after the Trump Tower meeting. Also noteworthy is that the Trump Tower meeting investigation “did not identify evidence connecting the events of June 9 & the GRU’s hack-and-dump operation.

Mueller looked at charging Trump aide George Papadopoulos as an agent of Israel.

Trump worried that the Special Counsel investigation would end his presidency. According to the Mueller report, when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions let Trump know about the appointment of a special counsel, Trump replied: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked,” adding “How could you allow this to happen, Jeff?” Trump goes on to say: “Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

Former White House attorney Don McGahn threatened to resign.McGahn was ready to hand in his resignation as White House counsel in June 2017 when Trump directed him to tell Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein that “Mueller has to go,” per the report. “In response to that request, McGahn decided to quit because he did not want to participate in events that he described as akin to the Saturday Night Massacre,” during the Nixon administration. McGahn would stay on as White House counsel for for another 16 months.

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No Collusion? No Problem. We’ve already moved over to Obstruction. Which is directly linked to the probe into the collusion which never existed. No Collusion? No Obstruction.

Mueller, Trump, and ‘Two Years Of Bullshit’ (York)

At its heart, the Trump-Russia probe was about one question: Did the Trump campaign conspire, coordinate, or collude with Russia to influence the 2016 election? Mueller has concluded that did not happen. Everything else in the Trump-Russia affair flowed from that one question. Paul Manafort’s shady finances would not have come under investigation were it not for that question. Carter Page would not have been wiretapped were it not for that question. Michael Flynn would not have been interviewed by the FBI were it not for that question. Zillions of hours on cable TV would not have been expended on Trump-Russia were it not for that question. And in the largest sense, there would have been no Mueller investigation were it not for that question.

And now Mueller has determined there was no collusion. Not that there was no criminal collusion. Or no prove-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt collusion. Just no collusion. Mueller’s report says it over and over and over again. Here are seven examples:

1. “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

2. “The investigation examined whether [contacts between Russia and Trump figures] involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.”

3. “The investigation did not establish that [Carter] Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.”

4. “The Office did not identify evidence in those [contacts between Russians and people around Trump after the GOP convention] of coordination between the Campaign and the Russian government.”

5. “The Office did not identify evidence of a connection between Manafort’s sharing polling data and Russia’s interference in the election … [and] the investigation did not establish that Manafort otherwise coordinated with the Russian government on its election-interference efforts.”

6. “The investigation did not establish that these [contacts between Russians and people around Trump during the transition] reflected or constituted coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia in its election interference activities.”

7. “The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons conspired or coordinated with the [Russian disinformation campaign].”

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The worst of Mueller is again connected to Russians and Assange he knows cannot defend themselves. Still a coward and a liar.

The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report (Lazare)

The narrative raises questions that the press studiously avoids. Why, for instance, would Assange announce on June 12 that a big disclosure is on the way before hearing from the supposed source? Was there a prior communication that Mueller has not disclosed? What about the reference to “new material” on June 22 – does that mean Assange already had other material in hand? After opening the Guccifer file on July 18, why would he publish it just four days later? Would that give WikiLeaks enough time to review some 28,000 documents to insure they’re genuine? “If a single one of those emails had been shown to be maliciously altered,” blogger Mark F. McCarty observes, “Wikileaks’ reputation would have been in tatters.”

There’s also the question that an investigator known as Adam Carter poses in Disobedient Media: why would Guccifer brag about giving WikiLeaks “thousands of files” that he wouldn’t send for another month? The narrative doesn’t make sense – a fact that is crucially important now that Assange is fighting for his freedom in the U.K. New Yorker staff writer Raffi Khatchadourian sounded a rare note of caution last summer when he warned that little about Guccifer 2.0 adds up. While claiming to be the source for some of WikiLeaks’ most explosive emails, the material he released on his own had proved mostly worthless – 20 documents that he “said were from the DNC but which were almost surely not,” as Khatchadourian puts it, a purported Hillary Clinton dossier that “was nothing of the sort,” screenshots of emails so blurry as to be “unreadable,” and so forth.


While insisting that “our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party, Assange told Khatchadourian that the source was not Guccifer either. “We received quite a lot of submissions of material that was already published in the rest of the press, and people seemingly submitted the Guccifer archives,” he said somewhat cryptically. “We didn’t publish them. They were already published.” When Khatchadourian asked why he didn’t put the material out regardless, he replied that “the material from Guccifer 2.0 – or on WordPress – we didn’t have the resources to independently verify.”

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Gleen Greenwald summarizes.

Robert Mueller Obliterated the Trump-Russia Conspiracy Theories (Greenwald)

In sum, Democrats and their supporters had the exact prosecutor they all agreed was the embodiment of competence and integrity in Robert Mueller. He assembled a team of prosecutors and investigators that countless media accounts heralded as the most aggressive and adept in the nation. They had subpoena power, the vast surveillance apparatus of the U.S. government at their disposal, a demonstrated willingness to imprison anyone who lied to them, and unlimited time and resources to dig up everything they could. The result of all of that was that not a single American – whether with the Trump campaign or otherwise – was charged or indicted on the core question of whether there was any conspiracy or coordination with Russia over the election. No Americans were charged or even accused of being controlled by or working at the behest of the Russian government.


None of the key White House aides at the center of the controversy who testified for hours and hours – including Donald Trump, Jr. or Jared Kushner – were charged with any crimes of any kind, not even perjury, obstruction of justice or lying to Congress. These facts are fatal to the conspiracy theorists who have drowned U.S. discourse for almost three years with a dangerous and distracting fixation on a fictitious espionage thriller involved unhinged claims of sexual and financial blackmail, nefarious infiltration of the U.S. Government by familiar foreign villains, and election cheating that empowered an illegitimate President. They got the exact prosecutor and investigation that they wanted, yet he could not establish that any of this happened and, in many cases, established that it did not.

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Also for the Intercept, Mehdi Hasan reaches a 180º different conclusion. Q: Can the country ever be repaired?

Democrats, Mueller Just Handed You a Road Map for Impeachment (Hasan)

You told us to be patient. You told us to be cautious. You told us to wait for Robert Mueller. Well, the time for waiting is over. And the moment for impeachment hearings has arrived. Forget the mendacious Attorney General William Barr, and his repeated — and repeatedly dishonest — attempts to summarize and spin the special counsel’s report prior to publication. You now have access to the report itself, and even the “lightly redacted” 448 pages provide you with a clear and detailed road map for impeaching Donald Trump, in line with Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution: “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”


Listen to special counsel Robert Mueller. “With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” he writes, adding: “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” Got that? The special counsel — who listed 11 instances of potential obstruction of justice in his report and refused to “exonerate” the president — placed the decision firmly in your court. This is the impeachment referral you claimed you were waiting for.

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Oh look, the country is united!

Russiagate is Dead! Long Live Russiagate! (CP)

Now that Mueller’s $40 million Humpty Trumpty investigation is over and found wanting of its original purpose (to retire Trump), perhaps the ruling class can return without interruption to the business of destroying the world with ordnance, greenhouse gases, and regime changes. A few more CIA-organized blackouts in Venezuela (it’s a simple trick if one follows the Agency’s “Freedom Fighter’s Manual”), and the US will come to the rescue, Grenada style, and set up yet another neoliberal regime. There is a small solace that with Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton, there is at least a semblance of transparency in their reckless interventions. The assessed value of Guaido and Salman, they forthrightly admit, is in their countries’ oil reserves. And Russians better respect the Monroe Doctrine and manifest destiny if they know what’s good for them. Crude as they may be, Trump’s men tell it like it is.


And when Bolton speaks of “the Western Hemisphere’s shared goals of democracy, security, and the rule of law,” he is of course referring to US-backed coups, military juntas, debt bondage, invasions, embargoes, assassinations, and other forms of gunboat diplomacy. That the US is not already formally at war with Russia (even with NATO forces all along its borders) has only to do with the latter’s nuclear arsenal deterrent. Since World War II, a period some describe as a “a period of unprecedented peace,” the US war machine has wiped out some 20 million people, including more than 1 million in Iraq since 2003, engaged in regime change of at least 36 governments, intervened in at least 82 foreign elections, including Russia (1996), planned more than 50 assassinations of foreign leaders, and bombed over 30 countries.

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“..even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress..”

Washington Is Looking for a Fight (Giraldi)

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.” Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step.

In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade. But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people. A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189.


It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey. The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

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When you weren’t looking:

With Kim-Putin Summit, Moscow Eyes Role In North Korea (AFP)

With Russia’s Vladimir Putin set for his first talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this month, Moscow is eyeing a major role in yet another global flashpoint. The situation on the Korean peninsula seemed to be stabilising after a historic meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump last year, at which they both backed de-nuclearisation. But a second round of talks ended in failure and Pyongyang this week said it was testing weapons again. Now Putin, who has long expressed his readiness to meet with Kim, is gearing up to play a bigger role in nuclear negotiations with Moscow’s Cold War-era ally, with which it shares a short border.


Russia’s main interest in the summit is to remind other players “that it exists and that it has economic and political potential” in the region, Andrei Lankov of Seoul’s Kookmin University told AFP. “Russia needs some sort of control over the situation on the Korean peninsula. Recent events have pushed out almost everyone apart from North Korea and the US, and of course nobody likes that,” he said. Russia has been inviting Kim for talks since last year but he was unwilling to spend time and resources on the trip because Moscow was not a major player, Lankov said. But now Kim is looking for all the allies he can get “because (the second round of US talks) were a failure, and he was not able to achieve the things he was counting on.”

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Lying scumbags.

US Preparing More Charges Against Julian Assange (WSWS)

On Wednesday, CNN reported US federal prosecutors confirmed there is an “ongoing criminal investigation” of Julian Assange, the 47-year-old founder of WikiLeaks. Prosecutors also indicated “affiliates” of Assange are under investigation, this according to another newly unsealed document. According to the CNN report, at least one document related to this investigation has been withheld from the public due to “ongoing activity.” The revelation, CNN reported, “confirms CNN and other news outlets’ reporting in recent days that WikiLeaks is connected to at least one probe that could result in more criminal charges.”

The report confirms the warnings made by the WSWS and others that the charges related to computer hacking leveled against Assange are merely a pretext for his extradition to the United States, after which additional charges would be brought against him. On April 11, Assange was expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and arrested by British officials on the public charge of conspiracy to bypass a password. That charge dated back to events in the 2011 WikiLeaks’ publication of the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs. Chelsea Manning turned over more than half a million documents exposing US war crimes and corruption to WikiLeaks for publication. The expulsion and arrest of Assange has been accompanied by an unrestrained campaign of media vilification aimed at transforming Assange into a non-person, undeserving of democratic rights.


But since Assange has been imprisoned in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison, public comments made by leading Democrats and US media officials indicate that charge was not the primary aim of the US investigation. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer tweeted, “Now that Julian Assange has been arrested, I hope he will soon be held to account for his meddling in our elections on behalf of Putin and the Russian government.” Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel tweeted that Assange “time after time compromised the national security of the United States and our allies by publicly releasing classified government documents and confidential materials related to our 2016 presidential election.” US, British and Ecuadorian governments have claimed Assange’s extradition is proper because the US is indicting on a single charge: attempting to help Chelsea Manning bypass a password. But this has now been revealed to be only the pretext. The real reason the US wants custody of the whistleblower was stated by Schumer and Engel.

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Ambrose Evans-Pritchard with lots of numbers.

Maximum Vulnerability: China (And The World) Are Still In Big Trouble (AEP)

China’s majestic and elegantly-stable GDP figures are best seen as an instrument of political combat. Donald Trump says “trade wars are good and easy to win” if your foes depend on your market and you can break them under pressure. He proclaimed victory when the Shanghai equity index went into a swoon over the winter. This is Trumpian gamesmanship. It is in China’s urgent interest to puncture such claims as trade talks come to a head. Xi Jinping had to beat expectations with a crowd-pleaser in the first quarter. The number was duly produced: 6.4 per cent. Let us all sing the March of the Volunteers. “Could it really be true?” asked Caixin magazine. This was a brave question in Uncle Xi’s evermore totalitarian regime.

Of course it is not true. Japan’s manufacturing exports to China fell by 9.4 per cent in March (year on year). Singapore’s shipments dropped by 8.7 per cent to China, 22 per cent to Indonesia, and 27 per cent to Taiwan. Korea’s exports are down 8.2 per cent. The greater China sphere of east Asia is in the midst of an industrial recession. Nomura’s forward-looking index still points to a deepening downturn. “Those expecting a strong rebound in Asian export growth in coming months could be in for disappointment,” said the bank. China’s rebound is hard to square with its own internal data. Simon Ward from Janus Henderson said nominal GDP growth – trickier to manipulate – is still falling. It dropped to 7.4 per cent from 8.1 per cent in the last quarter on 2018.


Household demand deposits fell by 1.1 per cent last month. This means that the growth rate of “true” M1 money is still at slump levels. It has ticked up a fraction but this is nothing like previous episodes of Chinese stimulus. It points towards stagnation into late 2019. “Hold the champagne,” he said. A paper last month by Wei Chen and Chang-Tai Tsieh for the Brookings Institution – “A Forensic Examination of China’s National Accounts” – concluded that GDP growth has been overstated by 1.7 per cent a year on average since 2006. [..] Bear in mind that if China’s economy is a fifth or a quarter smaller than claimed it implies that the total debt ratio is not 300 per cent of GDP (IIF data) but closer to 400 per cent. If China’s growth rate is 1.7 per cent lower – and falling every year – the country is less able to rely on nominal GDP expansion whittling away the liabilities.

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Great.

The Saker Interviews Dmitry Orlov (Saker)

[..] the image of the USSR as a typical empire is simply wrong. The right mental image of the USSR is that of a prostrate, emaciated sow (Russia) being suckled by 14 fat, greedy piglets (the other Soviet Socialist Republics). For all his numerous failings, Boris Yeltsin did one thing right: he dismantled the USSR (although the way he went about it was beyond incompetent and verged on treason). If you are in need of an explanation for why Russia is now resurgent, increasingly prosperous and able to invest vast sums in hypersonic weapons systems and in modernized infrastructure for its people, this is it: the 14 piglets had been sent off to root for themselves.


This bit of perspective, by the way, puts paid to the rank idiocy of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”: his theory that Russia wants to be an empire but cannot do so without the Ukraine shatters on contact with the realization that Russia hasn’t been an empire for over a century now and has no need or desire to become one again. In any case, these days empires are a bit retro, you know, and not at all useful except as a way for silly Americans to finish bankrupting themselves. Russia needs reliable trading partners who can pay their own way, not ungrateful dependents clamoring for handouts. Just bringing Crimea up to Russia’s contemporary standards after 30 years of Ukrainian neglect has turned out to be a monumental task; as far as doing that for the rest of the Ukraine—forget it!

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Thanks Germans.

Greek Economy Among The World’s Most ‘Miserable’ – Bloomberg (K.)

Greece ranks fifth among 11 nations with the most “miserable” economies in the world, according to a report by Bloomberg published on Wednesday. According to the Bloomberg Misery Index giving the country 20.1 points in 2018 and a projected 19.2 this year, Greece comes behind top-placed Venezuela (with nearly 930,000 points last year and a staggering 8 million this one), Argentina (42.7 in 2018 and 51.4 in 2019), South Africa (31.8 and 32.3 respectively) and Turkey, which is seen performing worse this year with 30.2 points against 26.8 in 2018.


What these countries have in common, the report said, is “intense economic stress and scant progress in taming price growth and getting people back to work.” “The Bloomberg Misery Index relies on the age-old concept that low inflation and unemployment generally illustrate how good an economy’s residents should feel,” the report said, adding that this year’s scores are based on Bloomberg economist surveys, while prior years reflect actual data.

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We’re seeing video of the first anti-Moreno demos. How much longer will the country put up with him?

Ecuador Turns To Interpol To Arrest Former Foreign Minister (RT)

The former foreign minister of Ecuador will be placed on Interpol’s Red Notice list, after fleeing the country for fear of prosecution, as the government of Lenin Moreno continues to crack down on Julian Assange’s supporters.
“The attorney general’s office began a criminal process against Ricardo Patino for the alleged crime of instigation,” the office said in a statement on Thursday. “[Patino] had given a speech in which he instigated people to take over public institutions and close roads.” Besides his alleged anti-government activities, Patino is also being sought for his supposed links to Swedish software developer Ola Bini, who was arrested last week on suspicions of ‘hacking’ for WikiLeaks. While authorities conduct their investigation, the judge ordered Patino to be held in pre-trial detention. Patino, however, is nowhere to be found, after reportedly fleeing Ecuador to Peru on Wednesday night.


Ecuador requested that Interpol issue a Red Notice on the former foreign minister –who’d served under president Rafael Correa– which asks foreign countries to locate and provisionally arrest the fugitive, pending extradition. Known for his criticism of the Moreno government, the 64-year-old was especially vocal over the suspension of Assange’s asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which resulted in his immediate arrest by the UK police. “Worldwide shame,” he tweeted, after Assange’s brutal arrest last week, accusing Moreno of violating the constitution and international law with his “betrayal” of the whistleblower. “We are victims of a fierce persecution that is carried out to hide the corruption of Moreno and his close circle,” the renegade politician said in a twitter statement. “We are going to fight, to continue fighting, with our heads held high.”

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Just fun.

Emma Thompson Joins Climate Change Demonstration After Flying In From LA (PA)

Dame Emma Thompson joined the Extinction Rebellion protests in London after flying from Los Angeles. In a video shared by the campaign group, the Hollywood star urged viewers to “come and join” the demonstrations. She said she was unable to be at the first day of the protest because she was “away” with her husband as she turned 60. “I absolutely wanted to be arrested on my 60th birthday but I didn’t quite manage that,” she said. “I’m so proud and thrilled to be part of Extinction Rebellion.” A representative of Dame Emma said she needed to take the 5,400-mile flight home to London after working in LA. She joined the protests on the day organisers announced plans to target Heathrow Airport at the start of the Easter bank holiday weekend.

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Post-Brexit Britain will be a third world country.

Half Of UK Teachers Buying Essentials For Their Pupils (Ind.)

Teachers are increasingly dipping into their own pockets to buy food, toiletries and clothes for pupils, as well as classroom resources like pens and paper amid funding pressures, according to a union. Nearly half (45 per cent) of teachers said they have used their cash to buy basic necessities for pupils in the past year – and the majority said it was down to squeezed budgets, a survey has found. One teacher said they spent at least £5,000 over the past few years on classroom resources. Another said they had gotten themselves into debt because of these purchases. The spending was revealed in a survey by teachers’ union NASUWT ahead of its conference on Friday.

The poll, of more than 4,000 teachers, found that one-in-five had bought lesson resources with their own money once a week, and more than one-in-10 (12 per cent) had done this several times a week. Nearly two-in-three (63 per cent) teachers said the amount of items they are buying has increased in the past three years, with the vast majority never being reimbursed by their schools. Teachers said they had bought items such as paper, pens, glue, pencils, toothpaste, sanitary products and spare coats for those children who do not have the right clothes for winter. One teacher said: “There is no money in school to buy anything other than what is deemed necessary. We are working on a zero budget in school and struggling to keep staff.”


Another teacher described their anguish at seeing a hungry child on free school meals watch their friends eat breakfast or snacks. They said: “When the child is unable to eat until lunchtime, which may be their only proper meal of the day, typically I have used my credit on the pre-payment system to give children cheese on toast.” One teacher said many female students miss school because they have not got sanitary products. They added: “In the community I serve, there is high poverty and many students don’t have the basics: shampoo, toothpaste and shower gel. “Many teachers in the school that I work in provide as much as they can.”

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