Sep 072020
 
 September 7, 2020  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Robert Doisneau Le Baiser Blotto, Paris 1953

 

Assange Makes His Way To Date With Destiny He Always Predicted (SMH)
Interview With Barry Pollack, Julian Assange’s US Lawyer (Gosztola)
The Fight To Control Who Reports From Portland (Reason)
Growing Numbers Of District Attorneys Are Out To Undermine The Law (NYP)
DC PR Firm Ran Fake News Networks For Right-Wing Latin American Regimes (GZ)
Biden Ad About Trump Plan That Doesn’t Exist Receives 4 WaPo Pinocchios (WJ)
A Rogue Institution And Clear & Present Danger To Liberty In America (Stockman)
Russians Are The Dumbest Idiots On The Planet! (Saker)

 

 

The only thing I, or anyone, should be writing about really today is the ultimate disgrace that is the Julian Assange extradition hearing which just started at the Old Bailey in London. What else matters on a day like this? Then again, the hearing is supposed to last for three(?!) weeks, so we’ll have plenty to say about it.

For now, I’ll just repeat: this is how we treat our best and brightest. It’s a deeply sad day. And yes, who are we to let this happen? What prospects, or even rights, do we have for a better future for ourselves and our children if we let him be silenced and killed? Don’t we allow those prospects and rights to be killed along with him?

 

 

 

 

US new daily cases at their lowest since June 21.

 

 

 

 

 

Herd immunity

 

 

it’s ironic that Julian was the only one who knew about this for years. Perhaps even more ironic, though, is that he allowed himself to be set up.

Assange Makes His Way To Date With Destiny He Always Predicted (SMH)

As Julian Assange makes his way in a prison van this morning, London time, to the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court for his US extradition hearing, he’s heading for a date with destiny he long predicted. In Melbourne in 2010, after he had released the infamous US helicopter gunship video, Collateral Murder, which showed innocent civilians, including two Reuters news staff being mown down in a Baghdad square, Assange worried about being snatched off the streets. Now the United States is trying a less dramatic but equally questionable version of its CIA rendition program. The attempt to extradite Assange is designed to stifle dissent, sending a chill through the ranks of investigative journalists worldwide. If Assange can be prosecuted for exposing evidence of US war crimes, so can any journalist anywhere in the world.

It was just such a fear of being extradited to the US that led Assange to successfully seek asylum in London’s Ecuador embassy in 2012, where he remained until April last year when police stormed in and arrested him – a particularly zealous act for the relatively minor offence of skipping bail. As he makes his way into the court today, Assange is walking in the footsteps of one of the UK’s most celebrated investigative reporters, who exposed Britain’s worldwide electronic intelligence gathering operation. Duncan Campbell, working for the magazine Time Out in London, had revealed the existence of the then secret Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s version of the Australian Signals Directorate and the US National Security Agency.

Campbell was arrested in 1977 with two other men and accused of being a spy. He was charged with “unauthorised receipt of classified information” and publishing information “intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy”. The trial collapsed after the defence exposed the fact the prosecution had stacked the jury with military personnel and others who had signed the Official Secrets Act. It was evidence of just how far the British state would go in its attempt to secure a conviction in a national security case. Fifty years later, Assange can point to a similar intervention, when the Crown Prosecution Service appeared desperate to pressure Sweden not to “get cold feet” as it considered dropping an extradition request regarding sex allegations against Assange.

Despite repeated denials by the British government, Assange has always argued the Swedish extradition was part of a plan to pass him to the US. It seems he was right. There’s also the role of the chief magistrate, Lady Emma Arbuthnot. She broke the judicial rules of impartiality by not recusing herself from overseeing the Assange case. Her husband, a member of the House of Lords, is a former Conservative defence minister. He was also a paid consultant for a company run by the former head of MI6. A second hearing found Campbell and his co-defendants guilty of unauthorised receipt of classified information. They were given non-custodial sentences. Possibly as a result of the public uproar about what had happened, the more damaging charge against Campbell was dropped.

Assange

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“…every day the New York Times and the Washington Post publish classified information..”

Interview With Barry Pollack, Julian Assange’s US Lawyer (Gosztola)

GOSZTOLA: One of the issues that has become pronounced is we see the U.S. government making this argument that Julian should be denied First Amendment rights while at the same time suggesting they can bring a prosecution under the Espionage Act. But many defense attorneys have defended alleged leakers by claiming the Espionage Act is too broad when it comes to the First Amendment, making First Amendment defenses to try to see how far those might go. How do you view this dynamic that is part of the U.S. prosecution?

POLLACK: The position that the U.S. is taking is a very dangerous one. The position the U.S. is taking is that they have jurisdiction all over the world and can pursue criminal charges against any journalist anywhere on the planet, whether they’re a U.S. citizen or not. But if they’re not a U.S. citizen, not only can the U.S. pursue charges against them but that person has no defense under the First Amendment. It remains to be seen whether a U.S. court would accept that position, but that certainly is the position that the government is taking. In the cases that have been brought under the Espionage Act to date, efforts to build defenses around the First Amendment have been quite unsuccessful. The courts have not [generally allowed or supported defenses] based on the First Amendment. But those are cases where the defendant was a leaker, not a publisher. This case is unique. The U.S. government has never tried to charge a journalist or a publisher under the Espionage Act.

GOSZTOLA: That raises an important question in my mind, which is, how can someone who is not from the U.S. be expected to submit to these U.S. secrecy laws and regulations, especially when he never signed a non-disclosure agreement? A key part of these Espionage Act prosecutions are that they are brought forward as strict liability offenses, that he signed something. It seems that there is no evidence whatsoever in favor of the U.S. government that he signed anything to agree to not disclose information.

POLLACK: That’s correct. In the cases that have been brought to date, the charges have been against an employee of the government, a government contractor, a former employee of the government, all people who entered into an agreement with the government that they would not disclose classified information. Journalists don’t enter into that type of agreement, and every day the New York Times and the Washington Post publish classified information. The Department of Justice has never charged a domestic reporter under the Espionage Act. Up until the current administration, I think it was widely understood that doing so would be inconsistent with the First Amendment. Publishers do not have those kinds of non-disclosure agreements. They report what is newsworthy, and that includes classified information that comes into their possession.

What the government is doing here is not only charging a publisher who has no non-disclosure obligation but charging a publisher who is not in the United States. They’re charging an Australian citizen, who is publishing from the U.K. So it is an unprecedented prosecution.

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Behind the masks.

The Fight To Control Who Reports From Portland (Reason)

“YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO FILM!” is a cry you hear incessantly at protests in Portland, Oregon, always shouted at close range to your face by after-dark demonstrators. You can assert that, yes, you can film; you can point out that they themselves are filming incessantly; you can push their hands away from covering your phone; you can have your phone record them stealing your phone—all of these things have happened to me—and none will have any impact on their contention that “YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO FILM” and its occasional variation, “PHOTOGRAPHY EQUALS DEATH!” I cannot say who came up with these anti-camera battle cries. But it’s easy to understand why protesters use them: to shape the narrative the country sees about the protests.

And that narrative, in my estimation after many weeks covering street clashes in a city where I lived for 15 years, is 90 percent bullshit. I wondered, the first time I attended the protests at the federal building back in July, who all these young people with PRESS emblazoned on their jackets or helmets were. I asked one such guy who he worked for. “Independent Press Corps,” he told me. As it turned out, dozens of other young PRESS people happened to work for the same outfit, which I at first assumed was a fancy way of saying “I want to report stuff and stream it on my Instagram.” This turned out to be naive. The IPC is an organized group in league with the activists, and it is usually their footage you see streamed online and recycled on the news: mostly innocent protestors being harassed and beaten by police.

The police indeed have tear-gassed and beaten people; there has been brutality. It is equally true, but featured less prominently in the news coverage, that activists spend hours every night menacing and setting fires to police stations and other institutions: City Hall, Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters, and last week Mayor Ted Wheeler’s apartment building (until he agreed to move out). With the PRESS crew recording part of the story and the “YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO FILM!” crew harassing other journalists, the result can be a misleading view of the protests. It’s a revolution via the cellphone video they allow you to see. The IPC and other documentarians who are deemed sympathetic to the activists’ cause agree on certain principles. You do not show activists’ faces.

You only show activists in a defensive position: responding to, rather than inciting, violence. You enhance what can appear to be police brutality, e.g., activists defending themselves with homemade shields, often bearing the anarchist circle-A, against police. The shields are largely ineffective for personal defense, but extremely effective for optics, and that’s precisely the point. If a member of the IPC is arrested, he or she will be protected. Reporters seen as not sufficiently sympathetic to the cause—which is defined by the Ten Demands for Justice, and includes most notably the abolition of the police—will be followed, be harassed, have their notes photographed and their phones blocked or stolen. (All these things have happened to me in the last month. A photographer friend has been repeatedly doxxed and placed on a list of “enemies.”)

If you forget any of these rules, you can just refer to the handy Google spreadsheet of approved journalists and suggested behavior. The spreadsheet contains names, Twitter handles, and ways to financially support the journos who make the cut.

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No matter what side you’re on, this is quite the development.

Growing Numbers Of District Attorneys Are Out To Undermine The Law (NYP)

One reason for the surging, often protracted violence in US cities is the rise of a host of progressive prosecutors who actually tilt against law and order. The trend is most glaring in places known for their kooky left-wing politics, like Portland and San Francisco, but extreme leftists have also taken over as district attorneys in cities like Chicago and Boston. Many owe big thanks for their elections to funding from far-left fatcat George Soros. In Portland, violent “protests” have dragged on for months, thanks to the idiocy of Mayor Ted Wheeler, who let hoodlums drive him out of his own condo — but also to Multnomah County DA Mike Schmidt, who dropped charges against hundreds of people arrested for offenses like interfering with cops, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass and rioting. Schmidt also made it harder to prosecute assaults on cops.


In Contra County, Calif., outside San Francisco, DA Diana Becton will now consider looters’ “needs” when weighing criminal charges. At Politico, she and four other black, female DAs (from Chicago, Boston, St. Louis and Durham) actually slammed the very criminal-justice system they were elected to enforce — ludicrously claiming it was “constructed to control Black people and people of color” and that it’s now doing just that. The Bay City’s DA is Chesa Boudin, the son of Brink’s robbery cop-killers who was raised by radical Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. He, too, has adopted rules making it harder to prosecute suspects. Chicago’s State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who vowed to cut the jail population, dropped 35 percent more felony cases than her predecessor over three years (including that of alleged racial hoaxter Jussie Smollett).

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I think of Assange immediately when I read things like this.

DC PR Firm Ran Fake News Networks For Right-Wing Latin American Regimes (GZ)

A major US PR firm located just a few blocks from the White House has been caught running an industrial grade propaganda operation on social media. The information warfare blitzkrieg relied on fake accounts and pages to spread disinformation on behalf of right-wing, US-backed governments in Latin America, while deploying covert propaganda to destabilize the leftist governments targeted by the US in Venezuela and Mexico. The company behind the campaign, CLS Strategies, signed a contract to represent Bolivia’s far-right junta and provide “strategic communications counsel” in the lead-up to that country’s ostensible election. After coming to power through a US-backed military coup in November 2019, the Bolivian regime has delayed the election numerous times on specious grounds.

CLS Strategies also used its network of fake accounts and pages to push propaganda on behalf of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition and the US-backed parallel coup regime of Juan Guaidó. Some of the CLS-run Facebook and Instagram profiles even posed as disgruntled Venezuelan soldiers, and called on members of the armed forces to rebel against the socialist government. Other pages claimed to be run by disaffected former supporters of leftist leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. The DC-based company similarly filled social media with disinformation demonizing Mexico’s left-wing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his party Morena, who have been under increasing attack by right-wing oligarch forces. On Facebook, the PR firm spent a staggering $3.6 million on ads to promote this propaganda.

CLS Strategies has close links to the US government. The firm employs former government officials like Mark Feierstein, who oversaw Latin America policy for the Obama White House. Feierstein also served as coordinator of Latin America activities for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a regime-change arm that has been used as a front for covert CIA operations and spearheaded the Trump administration’s coup attempts in Venezuela. Another CLS senior advisor, David Romley, worked as a Pentagon spokesman, press attaché to the secretary of defense, and public affairs officer for the US Marine Corps. Before moving to CLS, Romley also served as vice president for communications at the German Marshall Fund, a prominent Cold War-era think tank funded by the US government and NATO that has been integral in pushing the new cold war on Russia and China.

[..] he Grayzone has reported on social media corporations’ US government-backed censorship of independent media outlets and voices critical of US foreign policy. Virtually all of Facebook’s purges of alleged fake accounts have targeted foreign governments and firms in other countries. The CLS Strategies fake news ring is apparently the first time Facebook has ever taken down a US-based operation. Facebook published a press release on September 1 acknowledging that it had removed a network of 55 fake accounts and 42 pages, along with 36 Instagram profiles…

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WaPo are his best friends.

Biden Ad About Trump Plan That Doesn’t Exist Receives 4 WaPo Pinocchios (WJ)

The truth is that the Biden campaign lied, according to The Washington Post, which awarded the campaign its maximum rating for untruthfulness over a recent ad. The ad puts a highly unfavorable spin on President Donald Trump’s executive order that created a payroll tax holiday. The order did not end the payroll tax, which funds Social Security, but deferred it. Trump’s order was accompanied by comments from the president saying that he would like to see the tax eliminated in the future and that if re-elected, he would seek to make that happen. The Biden ad claimed: “The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration just released an analysis of Trump’s planned cuts to Social Security. Under Trump’s plan, Social Security would become permanently depleted by the middle of calendar year 2023.

“If Trump gets his way, Social Security benefits will run out in just three years from now. Don’t let it happen. Joe Biden will protect Social Security.” Well, not quite. As The Post noted, Stephen Goss, the chief actuary of Social Security, was asked by four Democratic senators to respond to “hypothetical legislation” that would mandate a “zero percent” payroll tax. The senators wanted to know how long it would take for Social Security to run out of funds if no money flowed into its coffers. “I am not aware that anyone has proposed the hypothetical legislation you describe,” Goss riposted in his reply. He then said that if there was no new money flowing, the fund would run dry up in 2023.

However, Goss also said that if any new legislation used the U.S. Treasury’s General Fund instead of the payroll tax as the source of the funding to meet Social Security’s needs, which is what Trump proposed, “the projected depletion date of the trust fund reserves would be essentially unaffected by the legislation.” What this means, according to The Post, is that “Democrats ginned up a letter from the chief actuary to describe a plan that does not currently exist.” [..] “The ad cites ‘Trump’s plan.’ But the actuary’s letter says it is referring only to a hypothetical plan sketched out by Democrats.”

The Post pointed out that the Biden campaign ad misrepresents Goss’ letter. “The ad asserts that if ‘Trump gets his way,’ benefits will run out. But actually the letter says if transfers are made from general funds, no benefits would run out. That, at least at the moment, is what Trump says he would do. “That adds up to Four Pinocchios,” Kessler wrote. On its ratings scale, no whopper is a bigger lie than one that receives four Pinocchios.

Pelosi: Wrap-up smear

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The Fed will have to end itself. We’re not able.

A Rogue Institution And Clear & Present Danger To Liberty In America (Stockman)

We have never heard more gibberish, double talk, and lies from one podium than we have from Fed Chairman Powell. There is no other way to say it: The Fed has become a dangerous rogue institution that has usurped plenary power over the financial system. This is all based on implicit theories that eventually lead to a massive speculative blow-off, even as it sucks the vitality out of the Main Street economy in the interim. The implicit theory is brazenly simple: The Fed believes that relentless credit expansion fosters greater economic growth and full employment. It believes that there is no practical limit to how much debt the household, business, and government sectors of the economy can tolerate or any notable adverse trade-offs from ever-higher leverage ratios.


Self-evidently, lower interest rates foster more debt issuance. When economic growth falters for any reason, the Fed’s first action is to push rates even lower. This ratcheting process has gone on for more than three decades, and interest rates have, for all practical purposes, been obliterated. The chart below takes all the short-run bobbing and weaving out of the GDP data by showing the rolling 20-year average of annual growth. It is dispositive. By 2019, the rolling 20-year growth trend had fallen to 2.1% per annum—a figure less than half of the 4.4% level in place exactly 50 years ago.

The above dismal trend line was not for want of trying with the debt elixir. At the end of 1969, total public and private debt (blue area in the chart below) stood at $1.54 trillion, which has since mushroomed to, well, nearly $78 trillion! In exactly half a century, the level of debt weighing on the US economy attributable to all borrowers—households, businesses, governments, and financials—is up by 51X. However, at the same time, the national income or nominal GDP (red area in the chart below), which supports it, has risen by only 21X. That alone points to the skunk in the woodpile.

The debt-to-GDP ratio in 1969 stood at 1.47X, which had been roughly centered in that area for a century since 1870—an interval that saw the greatest explosion of economic growth, mass prosperity, technological progress, and accumulated wealth in human history. It happened without any increase in the national leverage ratio at all. It had remained at the golden mean of 1.5X debt-to-income throughout. Today the total debt-to-national income ratio stands at 3.47X, or exactly two more turns of debt than 50 years ago. To be sure, two extra turns of debt sounds like investment banker jargon, but the phrase captures the essence of the rot that lies at the heart of the nation’s financial system and economy. Those two extra turns amount to $43 trillion of incremental debt, which constitutes the millstone crushing economic growth and the rudiments of sustainable prosperity.

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Is Germany just out for cheaper gas?

Russians Are The Dumbest Idiots On The Planet! (Saker)

Russians are dumb. Hopelessly stupid. They are amateurs of the worst kind. Ignoramuses on steroids. Why? Well, for one, their so-called super-dooper biowarfare agent “Novichok” seems unable to kill anybody. The Russians must have realized that. This is why, when they tried to kill Skripal (after freeing him from jail) they put that Novichok thing all over the place: on the bench near Salisbury, on Skripal’s door handle, even in some bottle of perfume a local addict found in the trash. Probably all over the Skripal home, and this is why the Brits initially said that they would tear down the extremely toxic place (yet both the Skripal cat and their hamster survived – tells you how utterly useless that pretend biowarfare substance really was…). One would have thought that after this total cluster-bleep the Russians would have learned their lesson.

But no. They are clearly too dumb for that. So they decided to poison Alexei Navalnyi, a well-know “dissident”. And they failed. Again! Not only did they use exactly the same “Novichok” (or so says the German media), they allowed Navalnyi’s aircraft to make an emergency landing and the FSB did nothing to prevent an ambulance to bring Navalnyi to a hospital. Apparently, the FSB does not even have the authority to prevent such urgent treatment of the man they want to kill. Heck, they can even create a traffic jam to prevent Navalnyi from getting to a hospital. How incompetent! Even worse, these accursed Russki doctors gave Navalnyi atropine, the exact same substance the Germans gave him. Makes me wonder if these doctors were not all CIA/BND agents trying to save Navalnyi’s life…


Clearly, the FSB are also stupid: they can’t even get aircraft or doctors to obey them… But it gets worse. In spite of the fact that Navalnyi has broken the terms of his suspended sentence and in spite of the fact that such a person cannot leave the country, these Russian imbeciles allowed him to fly to Germany while his body was still full of Novichok sloshing around. All the Russians needed to do to kill Navalnyi would have been to give him a heart attack using any one of the many untraceable agents in existence (say, potassium chloride). In despair, the clueless FSB might have caused Navalnyi do die in a car “crash”. But they can’t even do that. Shame on you, FSB! And since Navalnyi is diabetic, killing him ought to be fantastically simple: just give him the wrong dose of meds and, voilà, bye-bye Navalnyi. But not, these idiots decided to use the now infamous Novichok.

Read more …

 

 

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Feynman
https://twitter.com/ProfFeynman/status/1302459153768611840

Growing robot

 

 

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Feb 202018
 
 February 20, 2018  Posted by at 11:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Emanuel Leutze Washington Crossing the Delaware 1851

 

Morgan Stanley Says Stock Slide Was Just Appetizer for The Real Deal (BBG)
Weak Dollar Could Bring 3% Boost To Global Trade Growth (BBG)
More Than 80% Of American Adults Owe Somebody Else Money (Snyder)
Thirteen Russians and a Ham Sandwich (Jim Kunstler)
Seeking Post-Brexit Unity, EU Leaders Find More Fights (AFP)
UK Has a Secret Plan to Hold Brexit Cash If EU Refuses to Trade (BBG)
London’s Property Crash Has Begun (Reilly)
BOJ To Keep Retreating From Stimulus Under Kuroda (R.)
Italians Find Way Around Election Poll Ban With ‘Horse Races’ (BBG)
Turkey Threatens to Invade Greece (Bulut)
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector (CP)
France To Let Wolf Population Grow By 40% Despite Anger From Farmers (AFP)
Ocean Plastic Tide ‘Violates International Law’ (BBC)

 

 

A very safe bet.

Morgan Stanley Says Stock Slide Was Just Appetizer for The Real Deal (BBG)

The U.S. stock market only had a taste of the potential damage from higher bond yields earlier this year, with the biggest test yet to come, according to Morgan Stanley. “Appetizer, not the main course,” is how the bank’s strategists led by London-based Andrew Sheets described the correction of late January to early February. Although higher bond yields proved tough for equity investors to digest, the key metric of inflation-adjusted yields didn’t break out of their range for the past five years, they said in a note Monday. uld be at worst neutral, if they boost earnings along the way. Higher real yields, on the other hand, mean a bigger discount rate to value future earnings. Should they break out of the range over the past five years as investors anticipate greater central bank policy normalization, that could hit stocks harder, according to the Morgan Stanley thinking.

Relatively low real yields were a big support for equity valuations, so a break higher would indicate that stocks will have to rely on earnings – not multiple expansion – to drive them higher, Sheets and his colleagues wrote. And the challenge there is that a slowdown may loom starting in the second quarter, they said. “It’s when growth softens while inflation is still rising that returns suffer most,” the strategists wrote. “Strong global growth and a good first-quarter reporting season provided an important offset. We remain on watch for ‘tricky handoff’ in the second quarter, as core inflation rises and activity indicators moderate.”

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That’s real growth, right?!

Weak Dollar Could Bring 3% Boost To Global Trade Growth (BBG)

The weak greenback may prove to be a boon for global trade. On top of the boost already coming from robust global GDP growth, the dollar’s fall over the past year may add over 3% to the level of world trade, according to Gabriel Sterne, global head of macro research at Oxford Economics Ltd. Tipping further dollar weakness, the risks are skewed to the upside for Oxford’s baseline forecast for 5% growth in world trade in 2018. “Falls in the value of the dollar oil the wheels of the global financial system, boosting global liquidity by strengthening balance sheets and alleviating currency mismatches,” Sterne wrote in a note.

“One important channel is variation in the differential between the cost of raising dollars onshore and offshore. Dollar weakness reduces the cross-currency basis, increases cross-border lending and boosts bank equities.” The biggest winners will likely be emerging economies given the weaker dollar will lower the value of their dollar-denominated debt, taking pressure off their balance sheets and from credit conditions more generally. “The seven-year link between dollar strength and U.S. recovery (2009-16) now appears broken, and we think it will remain so, with relatively strong U.S. growth and a weakening dollar providing a significant boost to global activity,” Sterne wrote.

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“..As debt levels spread through the system it consumes greater amounts of capital until it eventually kills the host…”

More Than 80% Of American Adults Owe Somebody Else Money (Snyder)

How long can our debt levels keep growing much, much faster than the overall economy? We haven’t had a year of 3 percent growth for the U.S. economy since the middle of the Bush administration, but we keep borrowing money as if there is no tomorrow. Much of the focus has been on the exploding debt of the federal government, and that is definitely something I plan to address once I get to Washington. But on an individual level, U.S. consumers have been extremely irresponsible as well. In fact, one new survey has found that more than 80 percent of all American adults are currently in debt… It’s no secret that America is a nation that runs on debt, but it may surprise you to learn that the overwhelming majority of U.S. adults owe money in some way, shape, or form. According to new data from Comet, here’s how many Americans have debt at present:

• 80.9% of Baby Boomers • 79.9% of Gen Xers • 81.5% of Millennials For most of us, it starts very early. We were told that going into debt to get a college education would not be a problem because we would be able to pay those loans off with the good jobs we would get after graduation. Unfortunately, those good jobs never really materialized for many of us, and now millions of former college students are absolutely drowning in debt. A study released Friday by the Brookings Institution finds that most borrowers who left school owing at least $50,000 in student loans in 2010 had failed to pay down any of their debt four years later. Instead, their balances had on average risen by 5% as interest accrued on their debt.

As of 2014 there were about 5 million borrowers with such large loan balances, out of 40 million Americans total with student debt. Large-balance borrowers represented 17% of student borrowers leaving college or grad school in 2014, up from 2% of all borrowers in 1990 after adjusting for inflation. Large-balance borrowers now owe 58% of the nation’s $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt. In addition to owing more than a trillion dollars on student loans, Americans are also now carrying more than a trillion dollars of auto loan debt and more than a trillion dollars of credit card debt. Corporations have been incredibly irresponsible as well. Corporate debt has doubled since the last financial crisis, and corporate bankruptcies have been rising steadily in recent years. All it would take for the dominoes to really start falling is some sort of a major economic downturn.

[..] We can’t keep doing this to ourselves. Our incessant greed is literally destroying the future, but anyone that tries to warn about the collective insanity that has descended upon our society is mocked and ridiculed. Let me ask you a question. Would you willingly choose to give yourself cancer? Of course not, but that is essentially what we are doing to ourselves as a society. Debt is economic cancer, and as Lance Roberts has pointed out, if we continue to allow debt levels to grow like this eventually it will kill our entire economy… Debt is, by its very nature, a cancer on economic growth. As debt levels rise it consumes more capital by diverting it from productive investments into debt service. As debt levels spread through the system it consumes greater amounts of capital until it eventually kills the host.

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“..the greatest act of bureaucratic ass-covering in US history.”

Thirteen Russians and a Ham Sandwich (Jim Kunstler)

Remember that one from 1996? Funny, that was the American mainstream media bragging, after the fact, about our own meddling in another nation’s election.

WASHINGTON — A team of American political strategists who helped [California] Gov. Pete Wilson with his abortive presidential bid earlier this year said this week that they served as Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin’s secret campaign weapon in his comeback win over a Communist challenge. —The Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1996

The beauty in Robert Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russian Facebook trolls is that they’ll never face trial, so Mr. Mueller will never have to prove his case. In the new misrule of law made popular by the #Me Too movement, accusations suffice to convict the target of an investigation. Kind of sounds like going medieval to me, but that’s how we roll now in the Land of the Free. Readers know, of course, that I’m not a Trump supporter, that I regard him as a national embarrassment, but I’m much more disturbed by the mindless hysteria ginned up Washington’s permanent bureaucracy in collusion with half a dozen major newspapers and cable news networks, who have run a psy-ops campaign to shove the country into a war mentality. The New York Times published a doozy of a lead story on Saturday, the day after the indictments were announced.

The headline said: Trump’s Conspicuous Silence Leaves a Struggle Against Russia Without a Leader. Dean Baquet and his editorial board are apparently seeking an American Napoleon who will mount a white horse and take our legions into Moscow to teach these rascals a lesson — or something like that. I’m surely not the only one to notice how this hysteria is designed to distract the public attention from the documented misconduct among FBI, CIA, NSA, State Department officials and the leaders of the #Resistance itself: the Democratic National Committee, its nominee in the 2016 election, HRC, and Barack Obama’s White House inner circle. You would think that at least some of this mischief would have come to Robert Mueller’s attention, since the paper trail of evidence is as broad and cluttered as the DC Beltway itself. It actually looks like the greatest act of bureaucratic ass-covering in US history.

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How to fake democracy.

Seeking Post-Brexit Unity, EU Leaders Find More Fights (AFP)

EU leaders face difficult talks this week on the thorny issues of how to plug holes in the post-Brexit budget and choose a successor for European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker. A special one-day summit in Brussels on Friday of the 27 leaders without Britain is meant to be a key step in the roadmap to a leaner and more unified bloc after Britain leaves in just over a year. But cracks have already appeared between French President Emmanuel Macron, leading the charge for a reformed Europe, and Juncker with his federalist vision of how top EU officials should be chosen in future. The row means the EU’s attempts to overcome the shock of losing a major member are running into the classic problems that have bedevilled it for its six decades of existence: money and sovereignty.

Juncker was picked after European elections in 2014 by a controversial “Spitzenkandidat” system — German for “lead candidate” — under which the political group with the most votes gets to nominate its candidate for the job. Both the European Parliament and Juncker back a repeat after the May 2019 European election, saying it gives the public a direct say in who heads the commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm. European Council President Donald Tusk — who coordinates summits and represents the EU member states — is expected to lay out options at the summit, including whether to continue with the Spitzenkandidat system. Leaders are expected to say it is their own “right and obligation” to choose the commission chief, while “taking into account” the views of parliament, as the EU treaties state, an EU source told AFP.

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“Formerly” secret?

UK Has a Secret Plan to Hold Brexit Cash If EU Refuses to Trade (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May’s team is eyeing up a contingency plan to hold back billions of pounds in Brexit payments, if the EU refuses to give the U.K. the trade deal it wants. Senior British officials have privately discussed the idea as a fall-back option that could be triggered if negotiations go wrong, three people familiar with the matter said. The plan is not the U.K.’s preferred outcome, but some in May’s administration believe it could be necessary in case the EU tries to renege on a future commitment to a free-trade deal. The proposal comes at a sensitive time, with British ministers seeking in public to build mutual trust with the EU rather than stoke suspicions. The U.K. is trying to persuade the bloc to cooperate on plans for an ambitious trade agreement, which will come into force after the split.

On Tuesday, Brexit Secretary David Davis will outline his idea for collaboration, promising the other 27 member countries that the U.K. won’t try to undercut them by tearing up regulations when it leaves. May is planning to announce her goals for a detailed draft trade accord in a major speech next week, with the aim of having a deal drafted by October to be signed soon after Brexit in March 2019. But the EU says a full trade agreement will be impossible to finish before Brexit. October’s conclusions are likely to form only an outline political declaration rather than a legally binding contract, raising fears among British lawmakers that the U.K. could be vulnerable if the EU backslides on the deal.

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It’ll be a steep fall.

London’s Property Crash Has Begun (Reilly)

The average age of a first time mum at London’s Chelsea and Westminster hospital is 37, a statistic that tells you everything you need to know about the choices supposedly affluent city dwellers are being forced to make in the capital. For the middle classes, the cost of living in London -the cost of getting by- long ago went past insane (£17,040: the cost per year of educating a four year-old child at Thomas’s school in Fulham, not including uniform). It’s the incredible price of property, of course, that’s been the engine driving this madness, ratcheting the pressure ever higher on Londoners who don’t own a home while making very wealthy, on paper at least, those who do.

For the last two decades and more, the capital’s property market to all intents and purposes has behaved like a giant Ponzi scheme played on a global scale. Money from all over the world has poured into London bricks, inflating values unrealistically in relation to wages, while the lavish bonuses paid to European bankers working in the City have also stoked momentum responsible for pushing up, for example, the average price of a London semi-detached house by 553 per cent between January 1995 and November 2017, from £133,820 to £873,603. Over the same period, the average cost of a detached house in the capital went from £257,748 to £1,453,271.

At last, however, the party is over. London property prices, now still flailing cartoonishly in mid-air despite being well over the edge of a cliff, are at the start of what we can call, for want of a better term, a death plunge. Although the carnage is only just beginning in earnest, desperate homeowners looking to sell are already dropping asking prices by tens of thousands of pounds and more. They know the tide is going out quickly. The reasons you would have to be clinically insane to buy property in London today are blessedly easy to understand. Describing a modern financial disaster normally requires some pretence of understanding, say, derivatives markets or the myriad immensely complex ways international banks package and trade debt. Not this time.

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Abenomics continues to its last breath.

BOJ To Keep Retreating From Stimulus Under Kuroda (R.)

The reappointment of Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda for another five-year term means the central bank will continue to gradually edge away from crisis-mode stimulus, former BOJ board member Takahide Kiuchi said. Premier Shinzo Abe’s decision to reappoint Kuroda, whose massive easing efforts failed to accelerate inflation to his 2% target since becoming governor in 2013, is a sign the government is no longer insisting that the BOJ meet its price goal quickly, he said. Since abandoning a policy targeting the pace of money printing in 2016, the BOJ is already whittling down its sweeping stimulus program by slowing its bond purchases, Kiuchi said.

“A de-facto normalization of monetary policy is already taking place and will continue under a reappointed Kuroda,” said Kiuchi, who served at the BOJ’s nine-member board until July. “The reappointment was a signal from the government that it wants continuity in monetary policy,” he told Reuters on Monday. The government reappointed Kuroda for another five-year term on Friday, signaling its hope the BOJ will keep up efforts to reflate the economy. During his tenure at the BOJ, Kiuchi has warned of the pitfalls of Kuroda’s monetary experiment and rightly predicted that the bank would be forced to slow its bond buying given the rising costs of its stimulus program. He retains deep insight into the workings of BOJ policy.

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Does that come with actual betting?

Italians Find Way Around Election Poll Ban With ‘Horse Races’ (BBG)

Italians have hit on a way around a ban on publishing polls in the two weeks before March 4 general elections: turn them into horse races. Bloggers Andrea Mancia and Simone Bressan have begun writing up the results of fictitious “underground” races as a means of conveying the performance of various political parties and coalitions without falling foul of the law. Hence, avid politics watchers can check on favorites like Burlesque and his stable — a not-so-thinly veiled reference to former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and his center-right coalition. They can also learn more about the performance of jockeys like Louis le Subjonctif, a reference to Five Star Movement lead candidate Luigi Di Maio and his supposed difficulties in correctly using the subjunctive tense in Italian.

This isn’t the first time the two bloggers have attempted to circumvent blackout legislation and they are not the only ones. Another blog, YouTrend.it, is known for publishing supposed polls with references to papal conclaves and names of imaginary cardinals to indicate the different candidates. During the two-week blackout period, pollsters continue to conduct surveys which circulate among politicians, market analysts and others, but are barred from publishing their findings. Newspapers and other media are also banned from publishing any indications of voting intentions so as not to influence the election.

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Jihad. Inside NATO.

Turkey Threatens to Invade Greece (Bulut)

In an incident that took place less than two weeks after the Greek Defense Ministry announced that Turkey had violated Greek airspace 138 times in a single day, a Turkish coast guard patrol boat on February 13 rammed a Greek coast guard vessel off the shore of Imia, one of many Greek islands over which Turkey claims sovereignty. Most of the areas within modern Greece’s current borders were under the occupation of the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century until the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and the establishment of the modern Greek state in 1832. The islands, however, like the rest of Greece, are legally and historically Greek, as their names indicate. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, and even much of the opposition seem intent on, if not obsessed with, invading and conquering these Greek islands, on the grounds that they are actually Turkish territory.

[..] The Ottoman dynasty and empire was established by a nomadic Turkmen chief sometime around the year 1300. During the more than 600 years of the Ottoman period, the Ottoman Turks, who also represented the Islamic Caliphate, regularly launched wars of jihad, invading and occupying lands across five continents. Neo-Ottomanists in Turkey still proudly embrace the concept of jihad (Islamic holy war) against the kafirs (infidels). The head of the state-funded Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, has openly described Turkey’s recent military invasion of Afrin as “jihad.”

This designation makes sense when one considers that Muslim Turks owe their demographic majority in Asia Minor to centuries of Turkish Muslim persecution and discrimination against the Christian, Yazidi and Jewish inhabitants of the area. In the 11th century, Turkic jihadists from Central Asia invaded and conquered the Greek-speaking, Christian Byzantine Empire, paving the way for the gradual Turkification and Islamization of the region through methods such as murder, kidnapping, rape and forced conversions.

The greatest 20th century Turkish assault against Christians took place in the 1914-1923 genocide of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians (Syriacs/Chaldeans) in Ottoman Turkey. This did not prevent Turkey, which continues to deny the genocide, from becoming a member of NATO in 1952. The assault also did not stop Turkey, three years after joining NATO, from committing a savage anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul or from forcibly expelling the remaining Greeks from Turkey in 1964. It is precisely because the Turks have never been held accountable for their criminal actions and aggression that they continue to threaten the security and sovereignty of their neighbors. It is high time for the West wake up and take Ankara to task.

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The church of science is not objective.

The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector (CP)

The Royal Society in the UK is a self-governing fellowship of distinguished scientists. Its purpose is reflected in its founding charters of the 1660s: to recognise, promote and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. Its motto, nullius in verba, is taken to mean ‘take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts based on experiment. In 2015, Steven Druker challenged the Royal Society to justify its outspoken and partisan support of GMO crops and to correct any errors of fact in his book ‘Altered Genes,Twisted Truth’. Not long after the book’s release, he wrote an open letter to the Society calling on it to acknowledge and correct the misleading and exaggerated statements that is has used to actively promote GMOs and in effect convey false impressions.

Druker cited specific instances where members of the Royal Society have at various times made false statements and the Society’s actions were not objective or based on scientific reasoning but biased and stridently pro-GMO. He argued that the Royal Society has misrepresented the case for GMOs and has effectively engaged in a campaign of disinformation. Almost three years later, from what we can gather, the Royal Society has not responded to Druker. [..] In a new, fully-referenced 45-page open letter, environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason is strident in her criticism of the Royal Society: “The Royal Society of London has thrown its hand in with the agrochemical industry, has received funding from it and accepted its word that GM crops are safe. The scientists who founded The Royal Society (Wren, Boyle, Wilkins and Newton) would turn in their graves.”

Rosemary Mason’s letter is addressed to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society. She sets out in some detail the disturbing effects of the rising use of agrochemicals on human health, the environment, biodiversity and ecology in the UK and beyond. As she notes, many have sounded the alarm over global mass poisoning as a result of tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals entering world markets with no evidence of safety. It has reached the point where we now have an ‘ecological Armageddon’ after a dramatic plunge in insect numbers. Given Mason’s concerns about the Royal Society’s collusion with corporate interests, she refers Ramakrishnan to the reputation of Monsanto and the findings of the Monsanto Tribunal, the Monsanto Papers and the dozens of lawsuits in the US involving that company.

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You can try… But French farmers are what they are..

France To Let Wolf Population Grow By 40% Despite Anger From Farmers (AFP)

The French government has announced it will allow the wolf population to grow 40% despite pressure from farmers in mountain regions who are worried about their sheep flocks. A new strategy unveiled by the centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron will enable the number of wolves to increase from an estimated 360 now to 500 by 2023. Hunting wiped out the grey wolf in France during the 1930s and they only returned in 1992 via Italy – currently home to around 2,000 wolves – before spreading into Switzerland and Germany. The regeneration of the population in France has led to tensions between the government and farmers in the Alps and Pyrenees mountains who complain that attacks on their livestock cause major financial losses.

In a bid to respond to that anger, hunters will be allowed to kill 10% of the population every year, which can be raised to 12% if attacks are more frequent than usual. “We place trust in all of the stakeholders and local lawmakers to calm the debate and enable a co-existence over the long-term,” agriculture minister Stephane Travert and environment minister Nicolas Hulot wrote in a foreword to the report. Hulot, a celebrity environmentalist, spoke recently of how wolf culling “makes me sick to the stomach” but he accepted it was a necessary measure to take farmers’ concerns into account. Hundreds of sheep were let loose on the streets of the city of Lyon last November in one of a number of protests against the wolf, which has protected status.

The 100-page wolf strategy will also enable livestock owners to apply for state funds to shield their animals, but it will make compensation contingent on them installing fencing and taking other protective measures. Wolves eat between 2-4kg (4.4 to 8.8lb) of meat a day on average and the predators have been blamed for an explosion in the number of attacks on livestock in mountainous areas. A total of 10,000 sheep were killed in the Alps region in 2016, according to official figures from the regional government, but the wolf is also known to feast on deer, wild boar or even domestic animals.

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When everyone’s guilty, who goes to jail?

Ocean Plastic Tide ‘Violates International Law’ (BBC)

The global tide of ocean plastic pollution is a clear violation of international law, campaigners say. They have been urging for a new global treaty to tackle the problem. But a new report – to be presented to a Royal Geographical Society conference on Tuesday – says littering the sea with plastics is already prohibited under existing agreements. The report urges those governments that are trying to tackle the issue to put legal pressure on those that are not. The paper has been written by the veteran environment journalist Oliver Tickell. His conclusions are backed by ClientEarth, the legal group that successfully sued the UK over failures to meet air pollution laws. Tickell says legal action against big polluters such as China, India and Indonesia can be taken only by a nation state.

So he calls for governments and green groups to support small island nations suffering most from plastic pollution. Tickell maintains that marine plastic litter can already be controlled through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); the London Convention; the MARPOL Convention; the Basel Convention; Customary Law, and many other regional agreements. Article 194 of UNCLOS, for instance, requires states to “prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source. “Measures shall include, inter alia, those designed to minimize to the fullest possible extent… the release of toxic, harmful or noxious substances, especially those which are persistent, from land-based sources… [and] shall include those necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life.”

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Feb 172018
 
 February 17, 2018  Posted by at 10:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Gilles Mostaert Sodom and Gomorrah 1597

 

Kudlow: Trump Needs A Return To ‘King Dollar’ (CNBC)
The Stock Market’s $3 Trillion Trauma (BBG)
Why Today’s Low Financial Stress Should Stress You Out (Colombo)
US Government Is Nowhere Close To Regulating Bitcoin (CNBC)
Banks Told They’re Lagging On Response To Climate Change Risks (BBG)
Monsanto Loses Bid To Stop Arkansas Ban On Weed Killer Dicamba (R.)
Yet Another Year of Magical Thinking (Jim Kunstler)
The End Of Germany’s Big-Tent Parties (Spiegel)
‘Absurd’ Meddling Claims & Indictment Of Russians Show New US Policy (RT)
Oxfam Told Of Aid Workers Raping Children In Haiti A Decade Ago (Ind.)
Oxfam Boss: ‘Anything We Say Is Being Manipulated. We’ve Been Savaged’ (G.)

 

 

Weak dollars make weak economies. Or is it the other way around?

Kudlow: Trump Needs A Return To ‘King Dollar’ (CNBC)

The Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress have passed one of the best pro-growth tax bills ever. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ranks in the all-time hall of fame of legislation, along with Ronald Reagan’s 1981 and 1986 Tax Acts and John F. Kennedy’s posthumous tax cuts of 1964. The announcements by Apple, FedEx, ATT, Fiat Chrysler and over 300 companies with multi-billion dollar investments in the U.S. are early indicators of good things to come from the tax rate cuts. When this is combined with President Donald Trump’s deregulation agenda, we see no reason why the economy cannot grow for a sustained period at 3 to 4% growth — up from 1.6% in Obama’s last year. But there is still a missing pillar of prosperity in the Trump economic agenda, and that is a sound dollar strategy.

The dollar weakened in 2017 and we want it stabilized. There’s little in this world that can bring our economy to its knees faster than a weak dollar in the foreign exchange markets. Just ask people who served in the administrations of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush 2 and Barack Obama’s first term. All of them were undone by a weak and depreciating dollar, surging inflation, spiking interest rates, plus financial or commodity bubbles. Meanwhile, under Reagan the U.S. dollar increased by 67% in value on foreign exchange markets through 1985. The price of gold, interest rates, and inflation all fell as well from double-digit inflationary highs, while the American economy reignited and the stock market launched its 18 year bull market.

Or, go back further in time. In May of 1962, President Kennedy’s Revenue Act was passed and he reaffirmed that the U.S. dollar was as good as gold — thus launching the incredible boom called the ‘Go-Go Sixties’. A strong dollar is an essential pillar of economic prosperity with minimal inflation, but we worry that the White House has not adopted this strategy. So we urge the Trump administration to return to the successful “King Dollar” policies that worked in the 60’s, 80’s and 90’s.

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When $3 trillion is almost nothing.

The Stock Market’s $3 Trillion Trauma (BBG)

Want a neat narrative? There isn’t one. Stocks buckled, $3 trillion was lost, then just as quickly, roughly half of it came back. Nothing quite explains every little twist and turn. Much of it remains a blur. But there are clues to be gleaned from the behavior of buyers and sellers. Several key facts stand out. One: a very large sum of money was plowed into equities amid January’s euphoria. Two: even more was yanked out as shares plunged. Three: corporate buyers showed up in force at the bottom. Combined, the flows are a framework for understanding — not a grand theory of everything, but an account of how money moved during the most tumultuous stretch in two years. They show how fast things change during a late-stage bull market, a rally that got back on track with this week’s 4.3% rebound.

“There was a technical correction but we saw some fear and some panic and some investors getting burned,” said Andrew Adams, a strategist at Raymond James Financial. “By no means did anyone expect that this selloff would be of this swiftness and magnitude.” Whatever the role of computers and automated traders as markets bucked and recovered, the events had a recognizable human ring. Investors – many of them of them newly christened, going by account data at discount brokerages – sent $16.4 billion to U.S. stock mutual funds and ETFs between Jan. 2 and the market peak of Jan. 26, EPFR data show. It was a decision they quickly reconsidered. Spooked by signs of inflation, shocked by the sight of traders unwinding bets against volatility, clients pulled almost $27 billion from the same set of funds in the next nine sessions.

One security, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust, saw $23.6 billion withdrawn in one week. What made the selloff stop is anyone’s guess. It happened at a chart level, the S&P 500’s average price over the last 200 days, that half the world was watching a week ago Friday. But who the buyers were is less of a mystery. The Goldman Sachs unit that executes share repurchases for clients saw 4.5 times its average daily volume last week, its busiest ever. “Retail investors were fearful immediately after the selloff, but not the companies,” said Aidan Garrib, macro strategist at Pavilion Global Markets. “Companies have buyback policies that get reconsidered every quarter, so if you told shareholders that you’re going to buy back stock, and then a market blow-up that had no impact on your fundamentals made the price fall more than expected, maybe it’s not a bad thing to step in.”

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Any and all low financial stress should stress you out. Because there should be a balance between greed and fear. Because stability breeds instability.

Why Today’s Low Financial Stress Should Stress You Out (Colombo)

In this piece, I will discuss a little-followed, but valuable market indicator called the “St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index.” According to the St. Louis Fed, this indicator was created in 2010 after economists sought a better way to track U.S. financial system stress in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This index uses 18 weekly data series: seven interest rate series, six yield spreads and five other indicators (mostly sentiment-related indicators). When the index is very high (such as in 2008), it means that the U.S. financial system is experiencing a great amount of stress. When the index is low (such as during an economic expansion and bull market), it means that the financial system is experiencing a low amount of stress. According to the chart below, U.S. financial system stress is currently at record lows:

According to the chart below (with my comments added in red), dangerous economic bubbles form during relative troughs in the St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index. The late-1990s Dot-com bubble formed when the index was at a relative low, as did the mid-2000s U.S. housing and credit bubble, and I believe that the “Everything Bubble” is forming during the current trough. The “Everything Bubble” is a bubble that is inflating in numerous global assets and sectors (including tech startups, U.S. equities, global bonds, some segments of the U.S. property market, property in China, emerging markets, Australia, Canada, and more) as a result of unprecedented central bank stimulus since the global financial crisis.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has manipulated interest rates by keeping them extremely low, which has led to the inflation of bubbles throughout the economy. As the chart below shows, bubbles form during periods of low interest rates. In this case, “low” is all relative because interest rates have been trending lower since the early-1980s, which is why asset and credit bubbles are becoming more extreme than in the past. Most people are unaware of how extreme our current bubble is, but it will certainly be another case of “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked” (to quote Warren Buffett).

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Not much need right now.

US Government Is Nowhere Close To Regulating Bitcoin (CNBC)

There’s a long way to go before the U.S. government starts regulating bitcoin, Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator, told CNBC on Friday. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Joyce emphasized the need to better understand the cryptocurrency’s risks and benefits before embarking on any sort of regulatory regime. “I think we’re still absolutely studying and understanding what the good ideas and bad ideas in that space are,” he said when asked about the potential for government regulation. “So, I don’t think it’s close.” Bitcoin is a decentralized cryptocurrency, meaning that unlike fiat currencies such as the dollar, it’s not backed by a central authority. Critics have said that this gives the currency, which saw huge price gains in 2017, no inherent value.

As transactions are completely anonymous, bitcoin has been accused of making it easier for those engaged in illicit activities to hide their money. “We are worried. There are benefits to the bitcoin concept — digital cash, digital currencies,” Joyce said. “But at the same time, if you look at the way bitcoin works after there is a criminal act that takes place, you can’t rewind the clock and take back that currency.” Joyce described the inherent problem with this lack of a trail, noting that in the case of credit card theft, for instance, individuals or companies can contact their banks and purchases can be undone and the cash retrieved. “With the current instantiation of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, we haven’t figured that out yet. So it’s a problem,” he said.

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Someone comes up with some arbitrary set of numbers (Paris) and expects banks to comply. We got nothing.

Banks Told They’re Lagging On Response To Climate Change Risks (BBG)

Fewer than half the world’s biggest banks are doing enough to forestall climate change that poses risks to their markets and economies. Most lenders still aren’t producing firm targets for low-carbon financial products that will aid efforts to keep temperatures from rising, according to a survey of 59 banks conducted by Boston Common Asset Management. Even the strongest banks in the survey, including Goldman Sachs, still struggle to define a climate strategy at the heart of their business, according to the report published Thursday and backed by more than 100 institutional investors. Scientists predict higher frequencies of floods, famines and superstorms unless the world keeps temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century.

Goldman Sachs was cited as a leader in the report after the investment bank set a 2025 target of $150 billion in clean energy financing and investing. It also released a clean energy impact report in 2016 that examined the impact of the $41 billion in green investments. Almost half of the groups have put in place climate risk assessments and 61% haven’t restricted the financing of coal. The global banking sector provided $600 billion in financing for the top 120 coal plant developers between 2014 and September 2017, according to the report. Boston Common called for all banks to disclose climate risk in line with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. They should also set clear targets to promote low carbon products and publish strategy reports aligned with the Paris Agreement, according to the recommendations.

“Since 2005, when Goldman Sachs established its Environmental Policy Framework, harnessing market-based solutions to address environmental challenges has become increasingly core to our business,” said Kyung-Ah Park, head of the Environmental Markets Group at Goldman Sachs. “Our $150 billion target of financing and investing in companies that promote clean technology and renewable energy is an example of our commitment to addressing climate change.”

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Because the state cannot be made a defendant in court.

Monsanto Loses Bid To Stop Arkansas Ban On Weed Killer Dicamba (R.)

An Arkansas judge on Friday dismissed a Monsanto lawsuit aiming to stop Arkansas from blocking the use of a controversial farm chemical the company makes, dealing a blow to its attempts to increase sales of genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto, which is being acquired by Bayer, filed the lawsuit last year in a bid to halt the state’s ban on sprayings of the weed killer known as dicamba from the period spanning April 16 to Oct. 31. Growers across the U.S. farm belt said last summer that dicamba drifted away from where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of crops that could not tolerate the herbicides. St. Louis-based Monsanto, the biggest U.S. seed company, said it was disappointed with the judge’s decision and would consider additional legal action.

In the ruling, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza cited a recent Arkansas Supreme Court decision that the state cannot be made a defendant in court, according to the Arkansas Agriculture Department. Dicamba, also sold by BASF and DowDuPont, is meant to be used during the summer growing season on soybeans and cotton that Monsanto engineered to resist the chemical. Monsanto is banking on the herbicide and its dicamba-resistant soybean seeds to dominate soybean production in the United States, the world’s second-largest exporter. The company says dicamba, which it sells under the name XtendiMax with VaporGrip, is safe when used properly.

The Arkansas ban hurts Monsanto’s ability to sell dicamba-tolerant seed in the state and has caused “irreparable harm” to the company, according to Monsanto’s lawsuit. The state also limited use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide in 2017 but allowed sales of products by other companies. David Wildy, an Arkansas farmer who served on a state task force that recommended the ban, said he supported Friday’s ruling. He said his soybeans suffered damage from the herbicide last year and that it threatens plants ranging from flowers to vegetables and peanuts when it drifts away from where it is sprayed. “If we can’t keep products on target, then there’s not a place for them in agriculture,” Wildy said in an telephone interview.

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If all the money and energy spent on Mars attacks were used to ameliorate life on earth, perhaps we’d have a shot.

Yet Another Year of Magical Thinking (Jim Kunstler)

There’s absolutely nothing that might make Mars a “sustainable” habitat for human beings, or probably any other form of Earthly life. The journey alone would destroy human bodies. If you think that living in Honolulu is expensive, with most daily needs of the population shipped or flown in, imagine what it would be like sending a cargo of provisions (Doritos? Pepperoni sticks? Mountain Dew? Fabreeze?) to a million “consumers” up on Mars. Or do you suppose the colonists will “print” their food, water, and other necessities? Elon Musk’s ventures have reportedly vacuumed in around $5 billion in federal subsidies. Mr. Musk is doing a fine job of keeping his benefactors entertained. Americans are still avid for adventures in space, where just about every other movie takes place.

I suppose it’s because they take us away from the awful conundrums of making a go of it here on Earth, a planet that humans were exquisitely evolved for (or designed for, if you will), and which we are in the process of rendering uninhabitable for ourselves and lots of other creatures. This is our home. Can we talk about the necessary adjustments and arrangements we have to make in order to continue the human project here? Just based on our performance on this blue planet, we are not qualified to infect other parts of the solar system.

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German politics is descending into chaos.

The End Of Germany’s Big-Tent Parties (Spiegel)

The country is slipping into a crisis and Germany, the bastion of stability in Europe, is becoming politically unstable. And every month the country continues to be run by a provisional government is another month that Germany doesn’t have a voice in Europe or the world.This is by no means purely a domestic development. The party system is currently being turn upside down across Western democracies. Owing to Germany’s prosperity and the sedative power of its chancellor, it long appeared that Merkel had been spared by the international development. But the torturous wrangling to create a new government has now dashed that hope.

In France, the two parties that once dominated the country now hold only just over a quarter of the seats in the national parliament. In Italy, the Five Star Movement, which doesn’t seem to stand for much other than the desire for change and its loathing of the status quo and is led by a former TV comedian, appears to have strong chances of winning the election there in March. In Germany, the old establishment parties are also struggling to maintain political stability. Combined support for the SPD and the conservatives has dropped from over 90% at the beginning of the 1970s to just 49% today. Their decline, which had previously been a slow and creeping process, has rapidly accelerated in recent months.

The party system in Germany is splintering, with seven parties now represented in national parliament. When it is no longer possible to form governments with two or three parties, it will necessarily become increasingly difficult to build stable governments. Italy already provides an example of what that can mean. The country is constantly swapping out its prime minister and holding snap elections. Italy has had almost 30 prime ministers and a total of 61 cabinets since 1946. In the same period, Germany has been governed by eight chancellors.

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Echo chambers just keep getting louder. Not much of substance. So why not RT’s comment? The Russians did it anyway.

‘Absurd’ Meddling Claims & Indictment Of Russians Show New US Policy (RT)

US indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three entities over alleged meddling in American elections in 2016 has been labelled absurd by the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova. “Turns out, there’ve been 13 people, in the opinion of the US Justice Department. 13 people interfered in the US elections? 13 against billions budgets of special agencies? Against intelligence and counterespionage, against the newest technologies? Absurd? – Yes.” Zakharova said in a Facebook post. The indictment, however, is the “modern American political reality,” Zakharova added, jokingly suggesting that the number 13 was picked due to its negative associations.

One of the indicted, Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, said he was not really upset by the accusations. “The Americans are very emotional people, they see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I am not at all upset that I am on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them,” Prigozhin told RIA Novosti. The entities and individuals were indicted by a US federal grand jury on Friday of “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump…and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” However, there are “no allegations” that the suspected activities of the Russian nationals somehow affected the polls, according to the US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that supporting Donald Trump has never been an official Russian policy, even if some Russians did express their backing of the new US leader. The Minister has expressed his discontent with the apparently continuing nosedive in the US-Russia relations. “It’s a pity that under Donald Trump, for more than a year of his presidency, our relations have not improved compared to the period of the Democratic administration. Even worsened to a certain extent,” Lavrov told Euronews.

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Close it down. It can’t be saved. You can’t send Oxfam people anywhere in the world anymore.

Oxfam Told Of Aid Workers Raping Children In Haiti A Decade Ago (Ind.)

Aid agencies including Oxfam were warned that aid workers were sexually abusing children in Haiti a decade ago, The Independent can reveal. Children as young as six were being coerced into sex in exchange for food and necessities, according to a damning report by Save the Children, which called for urgent action including the creation of a global watchdog. Its research exposed abuse linked to 23 humanitarian, peacekeeping and security organisations operating in Haiti, Ivory Coast and what was then Southern Sudan. “Our own fieldwork suggests that the scale of abuse is significant,” the report concluded. “Every agency is at risk from this problem … existing efforts to keep children safe from sexual exploitation and abuse are inadequate.”

It identified “every kind of child sexual abuse and exploitation imaginable”, including rape, prostitution, pornography, sexual slavery, assaults and trafficking. One 15-year-old girl in Haiti told how “humanitarian men” exposed themselves and offered her the equivalent of £2 to perform a sex act. “The men call to me in the streets and they ask me to go with them,” said another Haitian girl. “They do this will all of us young girls.” A six-year-old girl described being sexually assaulted and a homeless girl was given a single US dollar by a “man who works for an NGO” before being raped and severely injured, while boys were also reportedly raped. When asked why the abuse was not reported, children said they feared losing aid, did not trust local authorities, did not know who to go to, felt powerless or feared stigma and retaliation. “The people who are raping us and the people in the office are the same people,” said one girl in Haiti.

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See? Oxfam is the victim, not te raped children. That this guy still has a job there says more than enough.

Oxfam Boss: ‘Anything We Say Is Being Manipulated. We’ve Been Savaged’ (G.)

Oxfam has been reeling since the Times reported last week that several of the charity’s aid workers – including the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, had used prostitutes in Haiti while providing humanitarian work, following the 2011 earthquake. The men involved lost their jobs, but Oxfam is accused of covering up the scandal. Further revelations of sexual abuse in Oxfam shops, some against volunteers as young as 14, have emerged, engulfing the charity in a crisis unprecedented in its 76-year history. Many things have been said about Goldring and Oxfam this week, but the charge that they have failed to grasp the gravity of the situation seems absurd. Yet he came close to cancelling this interview, justifiably fretting that his words would be wilfully twisted to do Oxfam yet more damage. “Anything we say is being manipulated: ‘Oxfam’s still making excuses, still trying to justify itself.’

I went on the Today programme on the first day and tried to explain and it totally failed. All it did was fuel the fire.” Every explanation he’s tried to offer has been branded an excuse “and just failed in the court of public opinion. We’ve been savaged.” Even apologies only make matters worse. “I said on TV: ‘Yes, we could have done some things faster,’ and all of a sudden we’ve got two former ministers calling for my resignation. What I felt really clearly is many people haven’t wanted to listen to explanations.” To try again is a risk Goldring worries he may regret, but no one can doubt the courage it took. He talks to me alone, unchaperoned by press officers, and is unguarded and candid. The impression I form is of someone telling the truth: if Goldring has been guilty of anything, I think it might be naivety about the vulnerability of almost any organisation in the febrile public mood of distrust.

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