Mar 032019
 


Pablo Picasso The artist and his model 1926

 

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

 

 

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

US is Cleanest Dirty Shirt Among Manufacturing Giants (WS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Massive Cuts Are Coming To Social Security (MW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can he be resuscitated? Or will he be arrested?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Word is they want Assange for harm to US operatives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Feb 202019
 


Henri Rousseau Tour Eiffel 1898

 

Asia Shares Rally To Four-Month High On Hopes Of US-China Trade Deal (R.)
Surging US Oil Supply “Neutralizes” OPEC Cuts, Venezuela Sanctions (R.)
Theresa May To Put New Backstop Proposals To EU (G.)
UK Manufacturers Warn Of ‘Catastrophic’ No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Despite The Slaughter In Yemen, Britain Is Still Chasing Arms Sales (G.)
Covington High School Student Files $250 Million Defamation Suit vs WaPo (ZH)
Salvini Set To Emerge As Biggest Winner In EU Parliament Elections
Thousands Rally Against Anti-Semitism In France After Spike In Attacks (R.)
Cuba Denies Having Forces In Venezuela, Says US Readies Intervention (R.)
Putin Vows To Improve Russia’s Living Conditions (AFP)
Russiagate In Flames: No Collusion, DNC Hack Narrative Dismantled (Vos)
Trends In Modern Propaganda (Southfront)
European Farms Could Grow Green And Still Be Able To Feed Population (G.)

 

 

In reality, it’s only central banks that matter.

Asia Shares Rally To Four-Month High On Hopes Of US-China Trade Deal (R.)

World stocks hit a four-month high on Wednesday on hopes of progress in trade talks between the United States and China, with a dovish backdrop at major central banks also helping push markets back into the black. U.S. President Donald Trump said negotiations with China were going well and suggested he was open to extending the deadline to complete them beyond March 1. Up to now, it was assumed U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports would rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no trade deal was reached by then. Asian shares soared on Trump’s comment, and European stock indices also strengthened, pushing the MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, to a four-month high.

Deutsche Bank’s chief strategist Jim Reid said the newsflow was encouraging, despite signs that more progress was needed. “The overall feeling is that it is one step forward, three-quarters of a step back at the moment. So positive momentum but still fragile,” he said in a note. While hopes for a trade deal between the world’s two largest economy are seen as the primary driver for world stocks, dovish central bank messages are also playing a part. New York Fed President John Williams on Tuesday said he was comfortable with the level U.S. interest rates were at and that he saw no need to raise them again unless economic growth or inflation shifted to an unexpectedly higher gear.

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This too is possible only because the Fed keeps interest rates low. US oil is drowning in debt.

Surging US Oil Supply “Neutralizes” OPEC Cuts, Venezuela Sanctions (R.)

Oil prices slipped away from 2019 highs on Wednesday, with surging U.S. supply and slowing economic growth tempering upward pressure from supply cuts led by producer club OPEC and from Washington’s sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures hit 2019 highs of $56.39 per barrel on Wednesday but had slipped back to $56.16 per barrel by 0746 GMT, which was slightly above their last settlement. International Brent crude futures were at $66.41 per barrel, down 4 cents from their last close, though still not far off their 2019 high of $66.83 per barrel, hit on Monday. Oil prices have been supported by supply cuts led by OPEC.

OPEC-member and top crude exporter Saudi Arabia is expected to reduce shipments of light crude oil to Asia in March as part of the effort to tighten markets. OPEC as well as some non-affiliated producers such as Russia agreed late last year to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to prevent a large supply overhang from swelling. “We have lowered Saudi crude oil output in line with announcements…(and) are now assuming that Saudi Arabia will produce in the first three quarters of 2019 less than the 10.31 million bpd target it agreed to at the Dec. 7 OPEC, non-OPEC meeting,” French bank BNP Paribas said in a note.

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Useless and she knows it. 37 days to go. What May is doing is running down the clock, so MPs will feel forced to accept her deal they voted down in a historical defeat just weeks ago.

Theresa May To Put New Backstop Proposals To EU (G.)

Theresa May will present the EU with new legal proposals to solve the Irish backstop issue on Wednesday, which Downing Street hopes will be enough to convince Eurosceptics to back her Brexit deal. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, confirmed late on Tuesday that the government no longer intended to pursue alternative arrangements for the backstop in the withdrawal agreement, which had been championed by cross-factional MPs including Eurosceptic Steve Baker and soft Brexiter Nicky Morgan. Instead, the prime minister is travelling to Brussels to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, with a plan to secure legal assurances that the backstop would not permanently bind the UK into a customs union.

She was forced to admit to Conservative MPs who met her on Tuesday night that the Irish backstop could not be replaced by the “Malthouse compromise” – proposals for a free trade agreement with as-yet-unknown technology to avoid customs checks on the Irish border. However, she stressed that this solution would still be examined in future to help solve the issue of customs arrangements at the Irish border. Hammond confirmed that the Malthouse compromise was no longer a viable option in a speech to the Make UK dinner held by the manufacturers’ association EEF on Tuesday night. He called the plan a “valuable effort” that should be looked at again during the transition period, but said it could not provide a solution now.

“It is clear that the EU will not consider replacing the backstop with such an alternative arrangement now, in order to address our immediate challenge,” he said, adding that the alternative arrangement would “require significant changes to EU legislation and customs practices that would need to be negotiated with the EU member states and others”.

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Whatever the outcome, May will blame anyone but herself.

UK Manufacturers Warn Of ‘Catastrophic’ No-Deal Brexit (R.)

Britain faces the “catastrophic prospect” of a no-deal Brexit next month due to the selfishness of some politicians and chaotic parliamentary proceedings, the head of the country’s main manufacturing association said on Tuesday. The strong warning from Make UK, previously known as the EEF, comes as Japanese carmaker Honda is expected to say it is preparing to shut its main UK plant with a loss of 3,500 jobs. Nissan earlier this month canceled plans to build its X-Trail sport utility vehicle in Britain, mostly blaming “business reasons” but also citing Brexit uncertainty. “Let me be clear … for those hard Brexiteers who accuse us of scaremongering. This is very real and very serious,”

Make UK’s chair, Judith Hackitt, said in remarks ahead of the group’s annual conference. Finance minister Philip Hammond and business minister Greg Clark – who are on the pro-European wing of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party – as well as opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, are due to address the conference. Corbyn intends to call again for May to back his proposal for a permanent customs union with the European Union and full guarantees for existing worker and consumer rights. He plans to meet chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier this week. [..] Some 49 percent of 429 manufacturers surveyed for Make UK said a no-deal Brexit would make Britain unattractive, compared with 28 percent who said Britain would still be an attractive location, with bigger companies more likely to express concerns.

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It’s remarkable how arms manufacturers never have to face any ethics claims, anywhere in the world. No government that says: are you crazy? And sure they make a few billion here and there, but their influence far outweighs their economic value.

Despite The Slaughter In Yemen, Britain Is Still Chasing Arms Sales (G.)

A Khaleeji bagpipe band, a colourful aircraft display, a performance by the Armenian Military Orchestra and a big show of support from the Emirate royal families. These were some of the touches at Sunday’s opening ceremony for the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (Idex 2019) in Abu Dhabi, the Middle East’s biggest arms fair. It’s a decadent and distasteful celebration of militarism and weaponry. Missiles, rifles, tanks, helicopters and warships are on display for anyone that can afford them. More than 100,000 people will attend this week, including representatives from all of the world’s biggest arms companies and military delegates from 57 nations.

Among those looking to do business is the UK government, which has sent a team of civil servants to support UK arms company reps in doing as much business as possible. Particularly with the uncertainty of Brexit on the horizon, they will pull out all stops to cement sales. There is no way of knowing what kind of deals will be discussed, or the kind of weaponry that might be sold as a result. We don’t know how these weapons will be used, or who they will be used against. But the results could be devastating. There is no shortage of UK arms in the Middle East. With rising military budgets, it is an important region for the arms trade. In 2017 it accounted for more than two-thirds of all UK arms sales.

It’s been eight years since the Arab spring uprisings. UK-made weapons were implicated in the violence, particularly in Libya where UK contractors were upgrading Gaddafi’s tanks on the eve of the uprising, and Egypt where UK-made teargas was turned on protesters. No lessons were learned, and there has been a significant increase in arms sales to many of the regimes. Since the uprisings began, and, despite the atrocities that have taken place, the UK has licensed a further £200m worth of arms to Egypt, and £100m worth to Bahrain. The sales include rifles, ammunition, armoured vehicles and a host of other deadly weaponry.

The impact of UK arms sales is most strongly felt in Yemen, where UK-made fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the ongoing war. For almost four years now the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has used them to inflict the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 60,000 people have been killed, and yet the arms sales continue unabated. Last week a House of Lords committee chaired by a former Conservative cabinet member told the government that these arms sales are illegal.

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“According to the Daily Wire, Sandmann’s lawyers sent “letters for potential lawsuits to over 50 entities ranging from Democratic politicians to celebrities to media figures.” Nice list at the source.

Covington High School Student Files $250 Million Defamation Suit vs WaPo (ZH)

After an investigation conducted by the Covington Diocese turned up no evidence that 16-year-old high school student Nicholas Sandmann confronted Native American activist Nathan Phillips during a March for Life rally at the Lincoln Memorial last month, seemingly confirming that the mainstream press was incorrect to pillory the white, MAGA-hat wearing teen for a confrontation that never actually happened, lawyers for Sandmann filed the first of what are expected to be many defamation lawsuits demanding compensatory and punitive damages for leading an Internet mob that villified Sandmann and his peers. According to Reuters, lawyers Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry are seeking $250 million in damages from the Washington Post on behalf of Sandmann, a sum equal to the amount that billionaire Jeff Bezos paid to buy the paper in 2013.

The suit claims that the paper – which helped publicize a now infamous photo that helped trigger an Internet mob that swiftly outed the teen and demanded he be punished – led the hate campaign against Sandmann – and failed to practice proper journalistic due diligence – “because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ souvenir cap on a school field trip to the January 18 March for Life in Washington, D.C. when he was unexpectedly and suddenly confronted by Nathan Phillips (‘Phillips’), a known Native American activist, who beat a drum and sang loudly within inches of his face (‘the January 18 incident’).” Not only did the diocese’s investigation corroborate the students’ version of events, but it also found no evidence to support Phillips’ claims that Sandmann and his fellow students had been chanting “build the wall” at the time of the confrontation.

What really happened – as is now widely known – is that the students, who were marching with the pro-life rally, were verbally accosted by the Black Hebrew Israelites, who hurled homophobic slurs at the students and accosted them. “In targeting and bullying Nicholas by falsely accusing him of instigating the January 18 incident, the Post conveyed that Nicholas engaged in acts of racism by “swarming” Phillips, “blocking” his exit away from the students, and otherwise engaging in racist misconduct,” the suit read. “The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (“the President”) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President.” The Washington Post’s Vice President for Communications Kristine Coratti Kelly told Reuters “We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit and we plan to mount a vigorous defense.”

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I bet the shift will be much more dramatic.

Salvini Set To Emerge As Biggest Winner In EU Parliament Elections

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s efforts to undermine the EU status quo by rallying a broad coalition of eurosceptic groups during spring elections for the European Parliament are set to pay off big time, according to the first forecast of the expected results released by the chamber on Tuesday. According to the polling, which was cited by the FT, Salvini’s League Party is expected to make some of the most striking gains in the May vote, possibly becoming the second-largest party in the assembly after Germany’s center right Christian Democratic Union.

Mr Salvini’s League is on course to dominate in Italy by winning 32 per cent of the vote and 27 seats, according to the poll. If so, it would be the second-biggest party in the chamber after Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, which is forecast to hold 29 seats, down from 34 in the last election in 2014. The CDU is a mainstay of the European People’s party, the parliament’s main centre-right group. The EPP is predicted to slip from 217 seats to 183 seats, while the centre-left Social Democrat grouping is projected to lose almost one-third of its seats — from 186 to 135.

In total, Eurosceptic parties are expected to win 153 seats in the chamber. Though they control the same number now, their share of the votes will climb as the total number of seats in the chamber falls to 705 from 751 to account for the UK’s departure. In addition to Salvini’s League, the Eurosceptic faction in the EUP includes Poland’s Law and Justice party, Italy’s Five Star Movement and France’s Rassemblement National. Law and Justice and France’s RN have pledged to join forces in the coming parliament. Other Eurosceptic parties including Spain’s far-right Vox and the Dutch Forum for Democracy are expected to win seats in the chamber for the first time.

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My money is on Macron having staged the entire thing. Just so he can say: “It’s a real question of authority…” The man’s under severe pressure. And anitisemitism sells.

Thousands Rally Against Anti-Semitism In France After Spike In Attacks (R.)

Thousands of people rallied across France after a surge of anti-Semitic attacks in recent weeks that culminated on Tuesday with vandals daubing swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans on dozens of graves in a Jewish cemetery. Political leaders from all parties, including former Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, gathered in Paris filling the Place de la Republique, a symbol of the nation, to decry anti-Semitic acts with one common slogan: “Enough!” People also lined the streets of cities from Lille in the north to Toulouse and Marseille in the south. President Emmanuel Macron paid respects at one of the 96 desecrated graves in the village of Quatzenheim, near the eastern city of Strasbourg.

“Whoever did this is not worthy of the French republic and will be punished… We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them,” he said, walking through a gate scarred with a swastika as he entered the graveyard. Macron later visited the national Holocaust memorial in Paris with the heads of the Senate and National Assembly. France is home to the biggest Jewish community in Europe — around 550,000 — a population that has grown by about half since World War Two, but anti-Semitic attacks remain common. Government statistics released last week showed there were more than 500 anti-Semitic attacks in the country last year, a 74 percent increase from 2017. “Some people are provoking the authority of the state. It needs to be dealt with now and extremely firmly,” Sarkozy told reporters. “It’s a real question of authority. Violence is spreading and it needs to stop now.”

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Might as well drag Cuba into it as well while you’re at it.

Cuba Denies Having Forces In Venezuela, Says US Readies Intervention (R.)

Cuba denied on Tuesday it has security forces in Venezuela and charged the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign of lies paving the way for military intervention in the South American country. U.S. President Donald Trump and members of the administration have charged that Cuba’s security forces and military control Venezuela’s and that troops are also on the ground there. “Our government categorically and energetically rejects this slander,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said at a Havana press conference, adding all of the some 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela were civilians, most health professionals. Rodriguez called on the U.S. administration to produce proof.

“There is a big political and communications campaign underway which are usually the prelude to larger actions by this government,” Rodriguez said. Communist-run Cuba has been a key backer of the Venezuelan government since the Bolivarian Revolution that began under former leader Hugo Chavez in 1998. The Trump administration has been trying to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down and hand over power to Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly. [..] Rodriguez termed the political crisis in Venezuela “a failed imperialist coup … fabricated in Washington,” and warned plans to deliver humanitarian aid were a recipe for violence and intervention.

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The western press of course can’t report on Putin without trying to make him look weakened. This time there’s a survey that has his approval rating at 64%, “his lowest in 5 years”. From the same “independent” pollsters comes an October poll that says only 40% would have voted for Putin. While he was re-elected 6 months earlier with 76%.

Putin Vows To Improve Russia’s Living Conditions (AFP)

President Vladimir Putin promised Russians rapid improvements in their living conditions as he delivered his annual state of the nation address Wednesday under pressure from falling approval ratings. Putin, who was elected to a fourth term last year with more than 76 percent of the vote, laid out a series of new measures in his speech to Russia’s two houses of parliament. His promises seemed aimed at addressing growing discontent over the dismal living conditions, especially outside Moscow, that many Russians still face nearly 20 years after Putin came to power. “We cannot wait, the situation must change for the better now,” Putin told assembled lawmakers from the lower house State Duma and upper house Federation Council.

“Within this year (Russians) should feel changes,” he said, promising a wide range of steps including new child benefits and lower taxes for larger families. “We did and will do everything for the strengthening of family values,” he said. “The incomes of Russian families should of course rise”. Putin, 66, appeared calm and confident as usual during the speech, but the Kremlin is reportedly deeply concerned by the fall in his personal approval ratings in recent months. A survey by Russia’s independent Levada Center released in January found his approval rating at 64 percent — a figure many Western leaders could only dream of, but Putin’s lowest in five years.

Russians appear increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of economic growth and the concentration of the country’s wealth in a few hands in Moscow. Moves by the government to implement economic reforms, including an increase in the retirement age and a rise in the value-added tax from January 1, have prompted widespread opposition including rare street protests. Another Levada poll in October found only 40 percent of Russians would vote for Putin if an election were held.

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All true, and Elizabeth Lea Vos means well. But the moment she uses terms like “neo-McCarthyist insanity”, she writes herself straight into an echo-chamber. Don’t.

Russiagate In Flames: No Collusion, DNC Hack Narrative Dismantled (Vos)

In the last few weeks, we have witnessed two pillars of the Russiagate narrative continue to disintegrate and erode. First, we heard that a bipartisan inquiry by the Senate Intelligence Committee admitted that they have yet to find evidence indicating that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential election. Secondly, new light was shed on the process by which the DNC Emails published by WikiLeaks may have been sourced, thanks to two reports: one authored by former NSA Technical Director Bill Binney and former CIA analyst Larry Johnson, with the other work penned by Disobedient Media’s Adam Carter. Of course, this does not entail that the establishment-backed media will stop promoting the neo-McCarthyist insanity that has held legacy press audiences captive for the last two and a half years.

A recent report from NBC related an admission from both Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, indicating that they have discovered no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion to date. NBC’s report reads in part: “The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the 2016 election has uncovered no direct evidence of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia, Democrats and Republicans on the committee told NBC News. But different parties’ investigators in the probe, which is winding down, disagree over the implications of a pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians.” Let’s review that again: the only thing the Democrats and Republicans disagree on is the significance of an alleged “Pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians.”

[..] Last month, The Nation’s Aaron Mate wrote: “Not a single Trump official has been accused of colluding with the Russian government or even of committing any crimes during the 2016 campaign. As The New York Times recently noted, “no public evidence has emerged showing that [Trump’s] campaign conspired with Russia.”

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We’re awash in made-up narratives.

Trends In Modern Propaganda (Southfront)

On February 13, BBC Syria’s producer Riam Dalati came out with a statement that “After almost 6 months of investigations” he “can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged” and “no fatalities had occurred in the hospital.” Dalati added that he believes that “the attack did happen” but no Sarin was used and “everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.” [..] Dalati’s statement widely circulated independent media organizations and was even commented by the Russian defense and foreign ministries. Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the revelation as a “theater of absurd.”

“Over the past years, and not only in Syria, we have seen just a tragic farce performed by the Western community and mass media, which on the one hand, speak about the high democratic goals and how they care about the civilians of a sovereign state, and on the other hand, they just do not give a damn about all laws, the international law, freedoms and rights of a nation and certain people,” Zakharova stressed. She compared this case with the situation developing around Iraq prior to the start of the US intervention and recalled how then US ambassador to the UN Colin Powell was convincing the international community that there is a need to rescue “Iraq, Iraqi nation and democracy”.

The Russian Defense Ministry also commented on the issue by saying that Russia is not surprised by the appearance of new discrediting details. “Many of today’s top-ranking politicians in the United States and Europe, then tearing their throats in ‘defending the peaceful Syrians from the terrible chemical attacks of the regime” and sanctioning missile and air strikes on Syria, will try to forget the topic in order to avoid moral, political and criminal liability,” defense ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

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There is no doubt about this. But it will require dumping the agri-industrial approach to providing our food.

European Farms Could Grow Green And Still Be Able To Feed Population (G.)

Europe would still be able to feed its growing population even if it switched entirely to environmentally friendly approaches such as organic farming, according to a scientific paper. A week after research revealed a steep decline in global insect populations that has been linked to the use of pesticides, the study from European thinktank IDDRI claims such chemicals can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions radically reduced in Europe through agroecological farming, while still producing enough nutritious food for an increasing population. Agroecology takes into account natural ecosystems and uses local knowledge to plant crops that increase the sustainability of the farming system as a whole.

The IDDRI study, entitled Ten Years for Agroecology, used modelling to examine the reduction in yields that would result from a transition to such an approach. Reductions, the authors argue, could be mitigated by eliminating food-feed competition – reorienting diets towards plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, and away from grain-fed white meat. More than half the EU’s cereals and oilseed crops are fed to animals. The study models a future in which European meat production has been cut by 40%, with the greatest reductions in grain-fed pork and poultry. “Pesticide-hungry intensive production is not the only way to feed a growing population” said Rob Percival, the head of food policy at the Soil Association.

“The Ten Years for Agroecology study shows that agroecological and organic farming can feed Europe a healthy diet, while responding to climate change, phasing out pesticides, and maintaining vital biodiversity.” [..] The study is being published in parallel with the UK launch of the Eat-Lancet “planetary health diet”, which proposes a shift towards a more plant-based diet. The agroecology study addresses similar concerns, but places greater emphasis on farmland biodiversity.

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Feb 082019
 
 February 8, 2019  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali They were there 1931

 

AOC, The Little Socialist That Could (Strassel)
Green New Deal Takes Its First Congressional Baby Step (IC)
Are Billionaires The American Dream? (NYMag)
China Is Unlikely To Become The World’s Largest Economy Anytime Soon (Colombo)
European Economy Raises Fresh Global Growth Fears (MW)
US Consumer Credit Hits $4 Trillion; Student, Auto Loans Hit All Time High (ZH)
Corbyn Sparks Labour Civil War Over Referendum (Ind.)
Brexit Deal May Not Be Put To MPs Until Late March (G.)
France Recalls Rome Envoy Over Worst Verbal Onslaught ‘Since The War’ (G.)
Rome’s War Of Words With Macron May Prove Self-Defeating (G.)
Fiat Chrysler Shares Plummet 12% On Weak Outlook (CNBC)
‘Globish’: Why France Has A Love-Hate Relationship With Global English (G.)
Trump’s Absurd Claim that Americans Are Free from Government Coercion (Bovard)
Albert Edwards: Negative Rates, 15% Budget Deficits And Helicopter Money (ZH)
Fed’s Powell On The Biggest Challenge Over The Next Decade (CNBC)

 

 

AOC is a step too far for Kimberley Strassel- and many others. She tweets: “The Republican Party has a secret weapon for 2020. It’s especially effective because it’s stealthy: The Democrats seem oblivious to its power. And the GOP needn’t lift a finger for it to work. All Republicans have to do is sit back and watch 29-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez . . . exist.”

That reminds me a lot of what many people said about Trump a few years ago, and that is no coincidence. AOC shakes up things like the Donald did, things in desperate need of shaking up.

She unveiled her Green New Deal, and got tons of ridicule. But 9 senators and 64 congressmen already sponsor her resolution. Perhaps her biggest danger is that they, the old guard, line up with her, and she becomes one of them. Or no, her biggest risk is in criticizing Trump and falling into the old guard that way. While her biggest danger is calling herself a socialist, which is a death sentence in the US.

And there’s her limited knowledge of energy issues, which apparently leads her to think present systems can be replaced 1-on-1 by renewable ones, while the no. 1 energy plan should be to use much less.

But she got something to say, this piece is pretty solid, and it will appeal to many disgruntelds:

AOC, The Little Socialist That Could (Strassel)

AOC, as she’s better known, today exists largely in front of the cameras. In a few months she’s gone from an unknown New York bartender to the democratic socialist darling of the left and its media hordes. Her megaphone is so loud that she rivals Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the face of the Democratic Party. Republicans don’t know whether to applaud or laugh. Most do both. For them, what’s not to love? She’s set off a fratricidal war on the left, with her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, this week slamming the “radical conservatives” among the Democrats holding the party “hostage.” She’s made friends with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labour Party, who has been accused of anti-Semitism.

She’s called the American system of wealth creation “immoral” and believes government has a duty to provide “economic security” to people who are “unwilling to work.” As a representative of New York, she’s making California look sensible. On Thursday Ms. Ocasio-Cortez unveiled her vaunted Green New Deal, complete with the details of how Democrats plan to reach climate nirvana in a mere 10 years. It came in the form of a resolution, sponsored in the Senate by Massachusetts’ Edward Markey, on which AOC is determined to force a full House vote. That means every Democrat in Washington will get to go on the record in favor of abolishing air travel, outlawing steaks, forcing all American homeowners to retrofit their houses, putting every miner, oil rigger, livestock rancher and gas-station attendant out of a job, and spending trillions and trillions more tax money.

Oh, also for government-run health care, which is somehow a prerequisite for a clean economy. It’s a GOP dream, especially because the media presented her plan with a straight face – as a legitimate proposal from a legitimate leader in the Democratic Party. Republicans are thrilled to treat it that way in the march to 2020, as their set-piece example of what Democrats would do to the economy and average Americans if given control. The Green New Deal encapsulates everything Americans fear from government, all in one bonkers resolution.

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AOC already has 9 senators and 64 congressmen sponsoring her resolution. Look for them distancing themselves as soon as it hurts them in the polls.

Green New Deal Takes Its First Congressional Baby Step (IC)

Over the last few months, support for the Green New Deal has become a litmus test for 2020 Democratic hopefuls, and the resolution serves dual purposes: to unite lawmakers around the idea of a Green New Deal, and to offer a basic definition of what that means. For 2020 contenders who have conceptually supported the Green New Deal, the resolution makes clear that the phrase isn’t just a talking point, but connected to a specific set of policy priorities. Confirmed and rumored presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders will be among the nine senators co-sponsoring the resolution. Sixty-four House Democrats will also be co-sponsoring the legislation, including Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Joe Neguse, D-Colo.

“We’re going to be pressuring all of the 2020 contenders to back this resolution,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, which helped launched the Green New Deal into the national spotlight with its sit-in at Pelosi’s office last November. “That’ll make it clear who’s using the Green New Deal as a buzzword and who’s actually serious about what it entails. For our generation, the difference between the Green New Deal as a buzzword and substantive policy is life and death.” [..] On Tuesday, the Sunrise Movement hosted some 500 watch parties around the country for a livestream laying out its next steps to support the resolution. As of Wednesday, the group was in the process of organizing visits to 600 congressional offices nationwide, for constituents to demand that their representatives co-sponsor Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s measure. Supported by Justice Democrats — the group that backed Ocasio-Cortez’s primary run — Sunrise will also be launching a 15-city campaign tour through early primary states.

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2 weeks old but relevant.

Are Billionaires The American Dream? (NYMag)

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville produced one of the earliest accounts of the American dream. In his famous study of the Jacksonian U.S., the Frenchman wrote that Americans possessed “the charm of anticipated success” — a ubiquitous optimism that he attributed to our country’s democratic character, and to the “general equality of condition” that prevailed among its “people.” On Wednesday night, Sean Hannity took de Tocqueville to task. In the Fox News’ host’s telling, general economic equality is not a precondition for the American dream, but rather, an insurmountable obstacle to it — because the American dream is (apparently) to earn more than $10 million year without having to pay a top marginal tax rate higher than 37 percent.

Of course, Hannity did not actually frame his argument as a rebuke of de Tocqueville. His true target was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. After popularizing the idea of a 70 percent top marginal tax rate earlier this month, the freshman congresswoman recently suggested that the mere existence of billionaires was both immoral, and a threat to American democracy. “I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong,” Ocasio-Cortez told the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, during an interview on Martin Luther King Day.

One day later, the congresswoman approvingly quoted an op-ed by the economists Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez, which argued that the purpose of high taxes on the wealthy wasn’t merely to generate revenue, but rather, to safeguard “democracy against oligarchy.” Hannity’s not buying it. The Fox News host informed his audience Wednesday that Ocasio-Cortez had “called the American dream immoral,” and that she wants to “empower the government to confiscate” said dream. “Better hide your nice things,” Hannity advised his audience (whom he ostensibly believes to be composed primarily of billionaires), “because here come the excess police.”

[..] “Power and property may be seperated for a time, by force or fraud — but divorced never, ” Benjamin Leigh, a conservative legislator in Virginia’s House of Delegates, argued at that state’s Constitutional Convention in 1830. “For, so soon as the pang of separation is felt … property will purchase power, or power will take property.”

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Good to see my longtime friend Jesse Colombo slowly moves to my position on markets, now spelling them “markets”. And we see China largely the same too.

China Is Unlikely To Become The World’s Largest Economy Anytime Soon (Colombo)

As I have been warning for several years, China is experiencing a credit and asset bubble like Japan was in the 1980s. China’s powerful credit expansion in the past decade (as the chart below shows) is one of the main reasons why the global economy recovered from the Great Recession. China’s credit bubble of the past decade will prove to be a one-shot deal – in the next global economic downturn, there won’t be another large economy like China to binge on debt and create a temporary growth party that bails everyone else out.

An economic stagnation or slowdown in China is the least of our worries, I’m afraid. I am worried about a full-blown popping of their credit and asset bubble (like Japan in the early-1990s), which would reverberate around the world. In that scenario, Western exports to China would plunge, commodity-exporting economies from Australia to emerging markets would suffer, and the global economy would experience another severe recession if not an outright depression. The world has played with fire over the past decade and it’s just a matter of time before we all pay the price.

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Caught on Twitter: “Asked at a presser if he wakes up each morning regretting that he’s the @bankofengland governor in the age of Brexit, @markcarney1 replies: “I don’t wake up in the morning any more … I wake up in the middle of the night.”

European Economy Raises Fresh Global Growth Fears (MW)

The Bank of England and the European Commission both offered downbeat outlooks on Thursday, reaffirming growing fears about the health of Europe’s economy. Although, the BOE left interest rates unchanged, as expected, it cut its forecast for 2019 GDP to 1.2% versus its previous estimate of 1.7%, with its current level representing the weakest growth since 2009 when a crisis sparked by complex mortgage bonds cast a pall over the global financial system. “Naturally, the uncertainty over Brexit means considerable uncertainty over the U.K. macro outlook, and therefore monetary policy,” said Bill Diviney, senior economist at ABN Amro.

Both the BOE and Diviney still see a soft Brexit — where Britain leaves the European Union with a trade agreement in place — as the most likely scenario, but the U.K. economy seems destined to slow, notwithstanding any expectations of a trade resolution. [..] And it doesn’t look rosy on either side of the English Channel. On Thursday, the European Commission cut its forecast for 2019 eurozone growth to 1.3% in 2019, compared with the 1.9% expected in November. Underlining its forecast was weaker-than-expected industrial and manufacturing data for the eurozone’s biggest economy Germany. “We think there are a number of important take-aways,” said Diviney. “First of all, despite the large downgrade in economic growth forecasts, they probably do not go far enough, and further revisions are likely.”

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From revolving into non-revolving credit. Progess in America 2019.

US Consumer Credit Hits $4 Trillion; Student, Auto Loans Hit All Time High (ZH)

After a few months of wild swings, in December US consumer credit normalized rising by $16.6 billion, just below the $17 billion expected, after November’s whopping $22.5 billion. The surge in borrowing in November brought the total to just above $4 trillion for the first time ever on the back of a America’s ongoing love affair with auto and student loans. Revolving credit increased by $1.7 billion to $1.045 trillion, a modest slowdown since November’s $4.8 billion.

[..] while the slowdown in December credit card use may prompt fresh questions about the strength of the US consumer during the all-important holiday spending season, the recent dramatic upward revision to personal savings notwithstanding, one place where there were no surprises, was in the total amount of student and auto loans: here as expected, both numbers hit fresh all time highs, with a record $1.593 trillion in student loans outstanding, an impressive increase of $10.3 billion in the quarter, while auto debt also hit a new all time high of $1.155 trillion, an increase of $9.5 billion in the quarter. In short, whether they want to or not, Americans continue to drown even deeper in debt, and enjoying every minute of it.

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Is it too late for Corbyn to take control of the conversation? is he even capable?

Corbyn Sparks Labour Civil War Over Referendum (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn is battling to calm a growing Labour civil war over his refusal to support a fresh Brexit referendum, as some of his MPs threatened to quit the party in protest. The Labour leader was forced to justify his intentions after his new offer to help Theresa May deliver Brexit triggered accusations that he had torpedoed his party’s policy of keeping a public vote on the table. Amid growing tensions, Mr Corbyn wrote to party members to insist that party backing for a Final Say referendum remained an option – hours after furious Labour MPs accused their leader of helping enable Brexit.

The backlash was triggered when Mr Corbyn wrote to Ms May on Wednesday evening offering continued discussions in “constructive manner” with the aim of “securing a sensible agreement that can win the support of parliament and bring the country together”. Labour would support an exit deal if five conditions were met, he said, including a customs union with the EU and guarantees on workers’ rights. The move infuriated anti-Brexit MPs pushing for Labour to back giving the public the final say on Brexit, with two suggesting they were considering quitting the party over the issue. Owen Smith, who stood against Mr Corbyn for the party leadership in 2016, said Labour should be opposing the “disaster” that is Brexit.

Asked if Mr Corbyn’s letter paved the way for Labour MPs to support a Brexit deal put forward by Ms May, he told BBC 5Live: “I think that’s probably right. My fear is that this is the leadership rolling the pitch for accepting a version of Theresa May’s deal, and I think that will be at odds with our values and damaging to our country and damaging to the politics that we’ve traditionally believed it. “Brexit is a right-wing ideological project and we should be opposing it on those terms.”

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And by then, why bother?

Brexit Deal May Not Be Put To MPs Until Late March (G.)

The Brexit negotiations are being pushed to the brink by Theresa May and the EU, with any last-minute offer by Brussels on the Irish backstop expected to be put to MPs just days before the UK is due to leave. In strained talks on Thursday, during which Donald Tusk suggested that Jeremy Corbyn’s plan could help resolve the Brexit crisis, Theresa May and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, agreed to hold the next face-to-face talks by the end of February. That move cuts deep into the remaining time, piling pressure on the British parliament to then accept what emerges or face a no-deal scenario.

It is understood that EU officials are looking at offering May a detailed plan of what a potential technological solution to the Irish border might look like, which could be included in the legally non-binding political declaration on the future trade deal. The blueprint would pinpoint the problem areas and commit to breaching the technical gaps where possible to offer an alternative to the customs union envisaged in the withdrawal agreement’s Irish backstop. But officials believe it is increasingly likely that any renegotiated deal will only be put to the Commons at the end of March, necessitating even then an extension of the article 50 negotiating period to get legislation through parliament.

On Thursday the German finance commissioner, Günther Hermann Oettinger, suggested the chance of a no-deal Brexit was now as high as 60%. “If the British side asks for an extension of two or three months and there are reasons for that, I think there’s a good chance that the member states would accept that unanimously,” he said. “But in the eight or 12 weeks there needs to be the possibility of achieving progress and that there must be a withdrawal agreement at the end of that.”

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Old paradigms are dying everywhere. Given the state we find ourselves in, how bad can that be?

France Recalls Rome Envoy Over Worst Verbal Onslaught ‘Since The War’ (G.)

Paris has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassador from Rome, in the worst crisis between the two neighbouring countries since the second world war. France blamed what it called baseless verbal attacks from Italy’s political leaders, which it said were “without precedent since world war two”. Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, the far-right Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio of the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, have in recent months criticised the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on a host of inflammatory issues, from immigration to the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) anti-government demonstrations.

Di Maio this week met leaders of the gilets jaunes seeking to run in May’s European parliament elections as he declared the “wind of change has crossed the Alps” and a “new Europe is being born of the yellow vests”. France said the comments were an unacceptable “provocation”. Announcing the immediate return to Paris of its ambassador for talks, the French foreign office said in a statement: “For several months, France has been the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements. Having disagreements is one thing but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another. “All of these actions are creating a serious situation which is raising questions about the Italian government’s intentions towards France.”

Salvini responded by saying the Italian government did not want to fall out with France and suggested a meeting with Macron to fix the relationship. “I don’t want to row with anyone, I’m prepared to go to Paris, even by foot, to discuss the many issues we have,” he said. But, in a further dig at Macron, he said France must first address three issues: French police must stop pushing migrants back into Italy, end lengthy border checks blocking traffic and hand over around 15 Italian leftist militants who have taken refuge in France in recent decades.

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Macron with his sub-30% approval rating is not a threat.

Rome’s War Of Words With Macron May Prove Self-Defeating (G.)

Diplomatic etiquette would normally classify the recall of an ambassador for “consultations” as a middle-order symbol of displeasure. During the cold war, the summoning, or withdrawal, of an ambassador was mundane. More recently, Hungary pulled its ambassador from the Netherlands in 2017, in response to criticism by the outgoing Dutch ambassador in Hungary. But for France to withdraw its ambassador to Rome for the first time since the second world war represents a genuine diplomatic shock. For two European powers to fall out to this extent shows how far European populists are prepared to break the rules. Only a fortnight ago, faced by persistent insults from Rome, the Elysée chose to take the high road, saying it would not enter a stupidity contest.

President Emmanuel Macron had also promised not answer back, saying that is what the Italian populists wanted. But faced by Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio’s repeated courting of leaders of the gilet jaunes (yellow vests) protests that have repeatedly sparked violence in Paris, French patience snapped. It marks an extraordinary collapse in Franco-Italian relations since the recent high water mark of January 2018 when Macron signed a bilateral treaty of friendship alongside Italy’s previous prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni. That was only two months before the Italian elections in May. Macron had signed the treaty partly to reassure the Italians that Paris would not only face toward Berlin after Brexit.

But perhaps the seeds of the collapse were sown the day the treaty was signed. In Rome, Macron could not resist saying he hoped the Italians in their elections would make a pro-European choice – advice that Italians, fixated by migration from Libya, totally ignored by bringing a populist coalition government to power. [..] Italy, in recession and heading for only 0.2% growth this year, will need some allies in Europe and in Brussels. Its banking system remains undercapitalised. The Five Star Movement is determined to show it is on the side of the people, and not the bankers, but translating that emotion into practical budgetary policy is proving difficult. Insults by contrast come easier, and cheaper.

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Oh, well, it’s just cars.

Fiat Chrysler Shares Plummet 12% On Weak Outlook (CNBC)

Fiat Chrysler shares crashed by nearly 12 percent Thursday after the Italian-American automaker forecast a weak outlook for 2019. The automaker said it expects results in the first half of the year to be down over last year, in part because the company will not be selling two generations of the Jeep Wrangler side-by-side, as it did in 2018. It is also planning some Wrangler production downtime to retool factories for launch of the plug-in hybrid version of the iconic off-road machine in early 2020. The company also said continued actions to manage dealer inventories will hit its finances in the first half of the year. It is also facing higher-than-expected capital expenditures, shelling out roughly €500 million in connection with U.S. diesel emissions cases. It’s also paying an effective tax rate that’s about 25% higher than it was in 2018, mostly due to changes in the US.

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Best English must be Jamaican. Shows that languages are alive.

‘Globish’: Why France Has A Love-Hate Relationship With Global English (G.)

French writers were up in arms this week after the Salon du Livre book fair in Paris announced a celebration of young adult books that would feature a “Bookroom”, a “Photobooth”, and even a “Bookquizz”, a prospect so exciting it needs two zs. Such anglicisms, critics wrote, were an “unconscionable act of cultural vandalism”, employing the “sub-English known as Globish”. It is a lamentable irony, then, that Globish has been so energetically popularised by a Frenchman. In 2004, the former IBM executive Jean-Paul Nerrière began selling his system of simplified English (only 1,500 words) to students around the world. (Globish is a portmanteau of “globe” and “English”.)

The earliest attested use of the term, however, described in 1997 a more natural linguistic hybridisation of various “non-western forms of English” that had become just as “creative and lively” as the standard tongue. “Globish” is therefore both a trademark for one man’s singular vision of international communication, and a way of describing the branching of English into multiple exotic planetary species. But the literary Parisians see it simply as yet more Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism. Well, as the French do sometimes say, c’est la life.

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A widespread idea, singling out Trump is not very useful.

Trump’s Absurd Claim that Americans Are Free from Government Coercion (Bovard)

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump received rapturous applause from Republicans for his declaration: “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.” But this uplifting sentiment cannot survive even a brief glance at the federal statute book or the heavy-handed enforcement tactics by federal, state, and local bureaucracies across the nation. In reality, the threat of government punishment permeates Americans’ daily lives more than ever before: The number of federal crimes has increased from 3 in 1789 to more than 4000 today.

Congress has criminalized “transporting alligator grass across a state line; unauthorized use of the slogan ‘Give a hoot, don’t pollute’; and pretending to be a 4-H club member with intent to defraud,” as the Buffalo Criminal Law Review noted. Law enforcement agencies arrested over 10 million people in 2017— roughly three percent of the population. Trump momentarily noticed the existence of government coercion last month when he complained about the FBI using “29 people” and “armored vehicles” for the arrest of Roger Stone. But SWAT teams conduct up to 80,000 raids a year, according to the ACLU, mostly for drug arrests or search warrants. Many innocent people have been killed in such raids.

Trump on Tuesday highlighted the case of Alice Johnson, unjustly sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Trump’s commutation of her sentence is no consolation to the targets of 1.6 million drug arrests in 2017 – and it is not like those individuals showed up voluntarily at police stations asking to be “cuffed-and-stuffed.” More people are arrested for marijuana offenses than for all violent crimes combined, according to FBI statistics. No coercion? Tell that to the scores of thousands of victims of asset forfeiture laws, which entitle law enforcement to confiscate people’s cash, cars, and other property based on the flimsiest accusation.

Federal law-enforcement agencies seized more property via asset forfeiture provisions in 2014 year than all the burglars stole from homeowners and businesses nationwide. Since 1970, the number of people confined in American prisons has increased by over 500 percent. Almost 10 percent of all American males will end up in prison at some point in their lives, according to an a 1997 Justice Department report. More than 10 percent of black males aged 20 to 34 were behind bars as of 2006, according to the Journal of American History.

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Jay Powell flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

Albert Edwards: Negative Rates, 15% Budget Deficits And Helicopter Money (ZH)

Earlier this week, when the San Fran Fed published a paper that suggested that the recovery would have been stronger if only the Fed had cut rates to negative, we proposed that this is nothing more than a trial balloon for the next recession/depression, one in which the Federal Reserve will seek affirmative “empirical evidence” that greenlights this unprecedented NIRPy step (in addition to QE of course). Today, in his latest note to clients after returning from a 2 week vacation in Jamaica, SocGen’s Albert Edwards picks up on this point and cranks it up to 11 writing that “as central banks thrash around for new tools, I have long thought the next recession would trigger the adoption of helicopter money and deeply negative Fed Funds. Clients have been sceptical of the latter because of the negative impact on bank margins, but now I am more convinced than ever that we will see negative Fed Funds.”

Predictably, Edwards takes aim at the SF Fed “analysis”, writing that “just because the San Fran Fed has published this paper doesn’t mean the Washington Fed will adopt the policy in the next recession, but with this economic cycle clearly now in its final act, one can sense that a number of trial balloons are being floated on what the Fed might do in the next recession. This is just one of them.” More to the point, Edwards also focuses on the recent resurgence of interest in Modern-Money Theory, i.e., MMT, or government-mandated helicopter money, which is predictably a “theory” espoused by socialists everywhere most notably Bernie Sanders and his economic advisors…

… and writes that “many of the more radical Democrats in the US seem to be adopting the idea and since I expect the US budget deficit to soar to 15% of GDP in the next recession, the ideas of MMT will surely become even more popular.” Edwards is convinced that “the Fed and other central banks will be desperate enough to adopt outright monetisation (aka helicopter money, that is to say the direct central bank financing of public sector deficits) in the next recession. And as that will coincide with public sector deficits in the mid teens, we will be conducting a live MMT experiment. Welcome to a brave new world!”

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If there’s anything that typifies how today’s institutions view the world, it must be that they see themselves in the frontline fighting against the problems they first caused.

Fed’s Powell On The Biggest Challenge Over The Next Decade (CNBC)

Sluggish productivity and widening wealth gap are the biggest challenges facing the U.S. over the next decade, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. Speaking at a town hall in Washington D.C. to a group of educators, the central bank leader said his greatest economic fears lie outside the Fed’s purview. Specifically, he called for more aggressive policies to address income inequality. Wages at the middle and lower levels have “grown much more slowly” than those at the higher end, he said. “We want prosperity to be widely shared. We need policies to make that happen,” Powell added.

For the chairman, the forum was a chance to take some lighter questions — he revealed that to relax he plays guitar and rides his bicycle — but he also turned serious when addressing the issues of the future. Powell stressed the importance of increasing labor force participation and improving mobility between income classes, which is an area where he said the U.S. has lagged in recent years. “That’s not our self-image as a country, nor is it where we want to be,” he said. “There are policies that we need to do that everyone should be able to agree on that will change mobility, improve people’s chances and enable people to better take part in the workforce of the future,” Powell added.

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Jan 102019
 


René Magritte The menaced assassin 1927

 

‘Total Waste Of Time’: Trump Walks Out Of Shutdown Talks With Democrats (RT)
Fed May Be Open To Changes To Balance Sheet Plan (R.)
China Still Borrows Billions In Low-Cost Loans From World Bank (CNBC)
Germany Probably Just Went Into A Recession (BI)
Yellow Vests Hope To Trigger Bank Run With Financial Protest (RT)
Salvini Suggests ‘European Spring’ To Bring End To ‘German-French Axis’ (RT)
MPs Push For Final Say Referendum As May Suffers Stunning Commons Defeat (Ind.)
May Loses Grip On Brexit Deal After Fresh Commons Humiliation (G.)
Theresa May Offers Tory Rebels Fresh Compromise Likely To Anger EU (Ind.)
Hunger In UK ‘Significant And Growing’ (Ind.)
Dark Overlord Hackers Leak More 9/11 Docs (RT)
Lonely George The Tree Snail Dies, And A Species Goes Extinct (NatGeo)

 

 

The longer it takes, the deeper the heels are dug in.

‘Total Waste Of Time’: Trump Walks Out Of Shutdown Talks With Democrats (RT)

President Donald Trump walked out of the negotiations with congressional Democrats, declaring it a “total waste of time” after they repeated their refusal to fund any sort of wall on the border with Mexico. “Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time,” Trump tweeted, referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California). “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!” After the meeting, Schumer and Pelosi denounced Trump for refusing to reopen the government, just as they had the previous evening.

“Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way,” Schumer told reporters outside the White House on Wednesday. Federal workers are “as disappointed as we are that Democrats are unwilling to engage in good-faith negotiations,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters after the meeting. The US government has been partially shut down for almost 19 days, after Senate Democrats refused to back a Republican-majority House bill that would allocate $5.7 billion to building the border wall. Democrats took over the House on January 3, and have proposed bills to reopen the government, but have rejected any funding to the wall, ever, calling it “immoral.”

“This is a crisis… it is a humanitarian crisis, it is a security crisis,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said. “And the reality is that walls work.” Some 800,000 federal workers will soon miss their first paycheck, and each sides has accused the other of ignoring their needs and interests. Prior to the meeting, Trump said he would be willing to declare a national emergency if the talks with Democrats failed. Asked by ABC reporter Jonathan Karl if he would be willing to reopen the government for the sake of federal workers, Trump asked him if he would do so in his place. “If you would do that, you should never be in this position, because you’d never get anything done,” the president said.

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First the rates, now a full 180º?!

Fed May Be Open To Changes To Balance Sheet Plan (R.)

Federal Reserve policymakers have indicated they may be open to tweaking a longstanding plan to shrink the central bank’s balance sheet, including by shedding housing-backed bonds earlier than anticipated or keeping a bigger-than-expected portfolio of assets. Those were among a range of options discussed at the Fed’s December meeting, minutes released on Wednesday showed. The discussion will continue at future meetings, the minutes said. JP Morgan chief U.S. economist Michael Feroli, writing in a note to investors, described the debate as informal “spitballing.” Fed Chair Jerome Powell himself said in December that shrinking the balance sheet was on “automatic pilot.”

But the discussion shows that the future of the plan may be in flux as policymakers become increasingly nervous about potential kinks in their control over short-term interest rates. The Fed for years bought bonds to stimulate a moribund economy, eventually accumulating a $4.5 trillion balance sheet, but began reversing course in 2013, first by slowing its bond-purchases and then, in 2017, allowing the portfolio to shrink. The Fed is now trimming its holdings by $50 billion each month, an amount intended to reduce the portfolio to a more “normal” size over a number of years without putting too much pressure on the Fed’s short-term policy rate. It has now shed more than $380 billion worth of U.S. Treasuries and mortgage bonds. But reserves are declining at a much faster rate, dropping to $1.51 trillion at the end of 2018, from a 2014 peak of more than $2.7 trillion.

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Very timely given my essay yesterday, China Won’t Be Taking Over:

“..tension has developed as China is lending billions of dollars of its own to developing countries under opaque terms as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative to build infrastructure.

China Still Borrows Billions In Low-Cost Loans From World Bank (CNBC)

China is borrowing billions of dollars each year from the World Bank, despite its position as the world’s second-largest economy, according to a study released Thursday. The Center for Global Development found that the World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development loaned China an average of $2 billion a year, totaling more than $7.8 billion, since the country surpassed the bank’s income threshold for lending in 2016. The IBRD lends to middle-income and creditworthy low-income countries. It uses resources from those loans to help boost poorer countries. But tension has developed as China is lending billions of dollars of its own to developing countries under opaque terms as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative to build infrastructure.

The administration of U.S President Donald Trump has been critical of lending to China that squeezes out loans to other countries. But cutting off China from World Bank funding could remove a useful tool to influence policy. “If we want China to be a more responsible lender in the world, then let’s use the World Bank to help them along with that,” said Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and lead author of the study. The study looked at the type of loans granted to China and found that $3 billion, or about 38 percent of the total, went to things that provide benefits beyond China’s border, such as pollution controls and green infrastructure projects.

[..] Some lawmakers want China reined in. “We must end the World Bank’s lending to China, especially at a time when Beijing itself is saddling developing countries with predatory debt on unfair terms. Growing the Chinese economy is not the World Bank’s job,” said Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a member of the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

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There was a time when Business Insider wouldn’t have posted such flimsy articles.

Germany Probably Just Went Into A Recession (BI)

German industry went into a sudden and unexpected collapse in November. The data is so bad some economists think it might be wrong. Germany may be in recession, economists said, after they trawled through an unexpectedly horrible set of industrial and manufacturing data published on Wednesday’s from the world’s fourth-largest economy. • German industrial production fell by -1.9% in November. • Year over year, production hit a low of -4.6% – the biggest trough since the 2008 crisis. • Germany’s exports fell -0.4% month over month in November, the government reported today. Suddenly, Europe is faltering.

Germany is the largest European economy and its leaders have an outsized influence on the rest of the EU and the European Central Bank. A recession in Germany could easily drag down France and Italy – and the latter country is already likely in a recession of its own. Greece is still struggling to recover from its debt crisis and neighbouring Turkey also dropped into a steep recession, triggered by the devaluation of its currency.

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Let’s see Macron counter this one. Is he going to close the ATMs? The banks?

Yellow Vests Hope To Trigger Bank Run With Financial Protest (RT)

Yellow Vest protesters are hoping to trigger a bank run with a nationwide coordinated cash withdrawal. By threatening the French financial system, protesters say, they want to peacefully force the government to pass their reforms. “If the banks weaken, the state weakens immediately,” said Yellow Vest “sympathizer” Tahz San on Facebook. “It’s elected officials’ worst nightmare.” Protesters plan to empty their bank accounts on Saturday, withdrawing as much money as possible in a bid to undermine the French banks – if not the euro itself. The plan is to “scare the state legally and without violence,” forcing the government to adopt the movement’s Citizens’ Referendum Initiative, which would allow citizens to propose and vote on new laws.

“We are going to get our bread back…you’re making money with our dough, and we’re fed up,” said protester Maxime Nicolle in a video message shared on YouTube. A well-coordinated financial action has the potential to bring the French banking system – and by extension the euro – to its knees, as banks always hold only a fraction of the funds the country’s citizens have in their accounts. However, most banks limit ATM withdrawals to a relatively low amount, meaning protesters would have to line up inside the banks to withdraw the rest of their money, giving the state plenty of time to place restrictions on withdrawals – though this would, no doubt, spark further protest.

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There will be a huge shift in power after the European Elections this spring.

Salvini Suggests ‘European Spring’ To Bring End To ‘German-French Axis’ (RT)

Italy’s Euroskeptic deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has said he wants Italy and Poland to join together to create a “European Spring” which could end the long-standing French and German domination on the continent. Speaking during a press conference with Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski in Warsaw on Wednesday, Salvini said that Poland and Italy “will be part of the new spring of Europe, the renaissance of European values” which would create a “new equilibrium” where the dominance of France and Germany is diminished. The leader of the Northern League party said that upcoming European parliamentary elections, set for May, could lead away from a Europe “that is run by bureaucrats.”

Salvini, who is aiming to forge alliances with other Eurosceptic parties across Europe ahead of the elections, was in Warsaw for meetings with members of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, which shares a similar anti-immigration and anti-Brussels ideology. At the meeting, Brudzinski also praised Salvini’s immigration policy and his decision to close Italian ports to migrant boats, saying that Poland was also committed to “strengthening borders.” At a press conference with France’s right-wing National Rally leader Marine Le Pen in October, Salvini promised a new era of “common sense” was coming to Europe with the rise of nationalist parties. Salvini’s Northern League formed a coalition government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in June last year.

M5S leader Luigi Di Maio has also been seeking to make friends with other anti-establishment parties across the continent, holding meetings with a number of party leaders from Poland, Croatia and Finland who share similar values. Earlier this week, Salvini and Di Maio were embroiled in a public feud with French government officials after they threw their support behind France’s Yellow Vest anti-government protest movement. On his public blog, Di Maio urged demonstrators “not to weaken,” and said he planned to meet with some of the activists in the coming days, while Salvini accused French President Emmanuel Macron of being “against his people.” France’s Minister for European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, shot back, telling the Italian duo to “sweep their own doorstep” before commenting on French affairs.

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“…even if an amendment did pass, the government would not be legally required to comply with what the Commons had voted for…”

MPs Push For Final Say Referendum As May Suffers Stunning Commons Defeat (Ind.)

MPs are weighing up how quickly to launch a bid for a fresh referendum on Brexit, after inflicting a stunning defeat on Theresa May which cleared the way for a Commons vote. Another Conservative revolt will force the prime minister to present her “plan B” within just three working days of what seems certain to be a heavy defeat of her proposed deal next Tuesday. The victory torpedoed Ms May’s apparent plan to force MPs to vote multiple times on that deal, while “running down the clock” to the threat of crashing out of the EU with no agreement, as the feared alternative. It triggered chaotic scenes in the Commons, as furious Brexiteers accused John Bercow, the Commons speaker, of blatant bias in allowing the vote, against legal advice.

The government must now table a motion, setting out what it plans to do if it loses on Tuesday, by 21 January – which, crucially, could be amended to allow parliament to “take back control”, as one senior Tory put it. Supporters of a Final Say referendum are weighing up whether to go for the kill immediately, or wait until after Jeremy Corbyn has, finally, set out Labour’s position. All eyes will be on the Labour leader, amid a growing expectation he will table a vote of no confidence in the government next week, to try to force a general election. That is likely to fail, piling enormous pressure on Mr Corbyn to then back a fresh referendum – without which a Commons majority for a public vote is unlikely.

[..] by 21 January, there may still be no Commons majority for any alternative to Ms May’s doomed plan, whether a referendum, extending Article 50, or the soft Brexit “Norway option”. Furthermore, even if an amendment did pass, the government would not be legally required to comply with what the Commons had voted for…

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After next Tuesday the gloves really come off.

May Loses Grip On Brexit Deal After Fresh Commons Humiliation (G.)

Theresa May’s room for manoeuvre should her Brexit deal be rejected next week was further constrained on Wednesday night, after the government lost a second dramatic parliamentary showdown in as many days. An increasingly boxed-in prime minister must now set out her plan B within three working days of a defeat next Tuesday, after the rebel amendment passed. There were furious scenes in the House of Commons as the Speaker, John Bercow, took the controversial decision to allow a vote on the amendment, tabled by the former attorney general Dominic Grieve. A string of MPs, including the leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom, repeatedly intervened to question the Speaker’s approach. Some accused him of being biased against Brexit.

But parliament went on to back Grieve as the prime minister was defied by Conservative rebels determined to hand control of the Brexit process to MPs if next week’s vote is lost. The fresh defeat, which followed a separate backbench amendment to the finance bill on Tuesday, means the government will have to return to parliament swiftly with a plan. An accelerated timetable will also pile the pressure on Labour to move quickly. The motion setting out the government’s plan can be amended by MPs hoping to push their own alternative proposals, from a second referendum to a harder Brexit.

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One desperate woman. She now offers to break the deal she has with the EU. Then there’ll be nothing left.

Theresa May Offers Tory Rebels Fresh Compromise Likely To Anger EU (Ind.)

Theresa May is on a fresh collision course with Brussels after the government said it would give MPs the chance to override a key part of the exit deal agreed with the European Union. In a new bid to win over Tory rebels, ministers announced they would support moves to ensure parliament is given a vote in 2020 on whether or not to enter the controversial Northern Ireland backstop. That could see MPs vote to block the UK entering the backstop, even though it would be legally bound to do so under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. The government said on Wednesday that it will accept an amendment tabled by former Tory minister Sir Hugo Swire.

The motion says that if no trade deal with the EU is in place by 2020 ministers must hold a vote in parliament on whether or not to enter the backstop, and must limit the UK’s participation in the mechanism to one year. Both appear to contradict the terms of the withdrawal agreement with Brussels, which states that the backstop is the default option if a deal on the future relationship is not in place by the end of 2020 and says that this will apply indefinitely.

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“..call for the appointment of a “Minister for Hunger”..”

Hunger In UK ‘Significant And Growing’ (Ind.)

The government has been accused of presiding over “significant and growing” hunger as a report warns that one in five children in the UK live in homes that are severely food insecure – making it the worst for child hunger in Europe. A combination of high living costs, stagnating wages and the rollout of universal credit has led to a steady rise in food insecurity – yet ministers have allowed the issue to “fall between the cracks”, according to a report by the Environmental Audit Committee. In a damning indictment of the welfare system, the MPs accuse the government of being “silent” on food insecurity in its obesity strategy, and call for the appointment of a “minister for hunger” to ensure cross-departmental action on the issue.

The report cites figures showing that 2.2 million people in Britain are severely food insecure – the highest reported level in Europe. This indicates that the UK is responsible for one in five of all severely food insecure people on the continent. Recent data published by Unicef shows one in five youngsters under 15 now live in a food insecure home – which the committee described as a “scandal that cannot be allowed to continue”. It comes after Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in the UK, and that Brexit was exacerbating the problem.

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Becoming a weird story, fast.

Dark Overlord Hackers Leak More 9/11 Docs (RT)

The Dark Overlord hacker group has released decryption keys for a second batch of 9/11 documents, totalling over 7,500 files. Additional document leaks containing “more secrets” and “more truth” have been promised, for a price. The first batch of the supposed 18,000 documents was made available by the hackers at the weekend, along with a decryption key for ‘layer 1’ of the dump. The documents are believed to have been stolen from insurance companies, law firms and government agencies, and the hackers originally demanded an unspecified bitcoin ransom to keep them unreleased. After apparently failing to secure the ransom, the group then took bitcoin donations from the public, releasing ‘layer 1’ after collecting $12,000 – but then also releasing ‘layer 2’ on Wednesday despite not meeting its funding target.

So far, no ‘smoking gun’ has emerged detailing conspiracy or government involvement in the terrorist attacks. Instead, the documents build up a picture of insurance litigators brainstorming to see who they could sue for damages in the wake of the attacks. In emails, the lawyers discuss targeting the airlines, airplane manufacturers, the Federal Aviation Authority, the terrorists themselves, and foreign entities. Talking strategy, the lawyers mull taking action against Boeing for not fitting the 757 and 767 aircraft used in the attacks with automatic transponders, which could have alerted authorities sooner that something was amiss, a case that the lawyers admit in the documents was flimsy. The lawyers also discuss dropping a case against the FAA, for fear of rankling the government.

[..] The hacker group has promised three more layers of documents to come, if its price is met. The latest leak was accompanied with the message: “Continue to keep the bitcoins flowing, and we’ll continue to keep the truth flowing.” The hackers are asking for $2 million in bitcoin for the public release of its “megaleak,” which it has dubbed “the 9/11 Papers.” [..] The group may have a hard time paying its members if the latest ransom demands are not met, however. Cyberscoop reported on Tuesday that the group was posting recruitment ads on dark web forums in November, looking to hire four skilled cybercriminals. New employees were reportedly promised 50,000 pounds ($63,500) monthly, bumped up to 70,000 pounds ($89,000) after two years’ service.

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Life cannot exist in a vacuum. We either respect it all, or none of it.

“They’re revered in Native Hawaiian legends which hold that tree snails can sing beautifully, and are known as the ‘voice of the forest’.”

Lonely George The Tree Snail Dies, And A Species Goes Extinct (NatGeo)

George, a Hawaiian tree snail—and the last known member of the species Achatinella apexfulva—died on New Year’s Day. He was 14, which is quite old for a snail of his kind. George was born in a captive breeding facility at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the early 2000s, and soon after, the rest of his kin died. That’s when he got his name—after Lonesome George, the Pinta Island tortoise who was also the last of his kind. For over a decade, researchers searched in vain for another member of the species for George to mate with, to no avail. (Though these snails are hermaphrodites, two adults must mate to produce offspring, and researchers refer to George as a “he.”)


Photograph Courtesy Aaron K. Yoshino, Honolulu Magazine

“I’m sad, but really, I’m more angry because this was such a special species, and so few people knew about it,” says Rebecca Rundell, an evolutionary biologist with State University of New York who used to help care for George and his kin. Throughout his life, George was a public face for the struggles facing Hawaiian land snails. His death highlights both the vast diversity of indigenous snails—and their desperate plight. “I know it’s just a snail, but it represents a lot more,” says David Sischo, a wildlife biologist with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and coordinator of the Snail Extinction Prevention Program.

[..] In some ways, these snails are more like mammals or birds than other invertebrates: They regularly live well into their teens, take five or more years to reach sexual maturity, and give birth to less than ten offspring per year. They’re revered in Native Hawaiian legends which hold that tree snails can sing beautifully, and are known as the ‘voice of the forest’. (It’s not clear why since they aren’t known to make audible noises.) [..] Land snails and slugs represent about 40 percent of the known animal extinctions since 1500, more likely disappeared before becoming known to science …


Snails in the Achatinellinae family live on multiple Pacific islands, but are most diverse in Hawaii. Like many snails they face serious threats, particularly invasive predators, and hundreds of species have already gone extinct. Photographs Courtesy David Sischo, Hawaii Department Of Land And Natural Resources

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Nov 222018
 
 November 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Study of the Head and Clasped Hands of a Young Man as Christ in Prayer 1655

 

Mortgage Rates Slide May Be Too Late For The Housing Market (MW)
A $9 Trillion Corporate Debt Bomb Is ‘Bubbling’ In The US Economy (CNBC)
Multiple Risks Are Converging on Markets (Rickards)
May In Brussels Dash As Merkel Threatens To Pull The Plug On Brexit Summit (G.)
Salvini Ready To ‘Confront EU’ After Italy’s Budget Rejected Again (G.)
Facebook Admits Targeting George Soros After He Criticized Company (MW)
House GOP To Hold Hearing Into DOJ Probe Of Clinton Foundation (Hill)
Clinton Foundation Donations Plummet 90% (ZH)
Tyres And Synthetic Clothes ‘Biggest Causes Of Microplastic Pollution’ (G.)
Former New York Times Chief Lawyer: Rally to Support Julian Assange (Timm)

 

 

Despite Fed rate hikes, mortgage rates fall. An ominous sign. Maybe we should even say: mortgage rates fall because of Fed rate hikes. Is the pond getting smaller, or are there fewer fish?

Mortgage Rates Slide May Be Too Late For The Housing Market (MW)

Rates for home loans tumbled as turmoil rocked global financial markets, but any reprieve in rates may come too late for would-be home buyers or refinancers. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.81% in the November 21 week, down 13 basis points, mortgage liquidity provider Freddie Mac said Wednesday. That’s the biggest weekly decline since January 2015 and the lowest level for the popular product since early October. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.24%, down 12 basis points during the week. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 4.09%, down from 4.15%. Those rates don’t include fees associated with obtaining mortgage loans.

Fixed-rate mortgages follow the U.S. 10-year Treasury note, although with a slight delay. As a global stock sell-off has raged over the past week, bonds have been the best house in a bad neighborhood. The yield on the benchmark 10-year bond touched a six-week low Monday. Bond yields decline as prices rise, and vice versa. Meanwhile, this week has brought a raft of fresh information on the housing market, little of it cheery. Sales of already-owned homes perked up in October, but are still lower than the year-ago selling pace by more than 5%. Home builders broke ground on more — but not enough — homes. And one fresh data point bears watching: mortgage applications for newly-constructed houses are plunging, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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Forgive me for presuming there are several such debt bombs.

A $9 Trillion Corporate Debt Bomb Is ‘Bubbling’ In The US Economy (CNBC)

At first glance, it looks like a $9 trillion time bomb is ready to detonate, a corporate debt load that has escalated thanks to easy borrowing terms and a seemingly endless thirst from investors. On Wall Street, though, hopes are fairly high that it’s a manageable problem, at least for the next year or two. The resolution is critical for financial markets under fire. Stocks are floundering, credit spreads are blowing out and concern is building that a combination of higher interest rates on all that debt will begin to weigh meaningfully on corporate profit margins. “There is angst in the marketplace. It’s not misplaced at all,” said Michael Temple, director of credit research at asset manager Amundi Pioneer.

“But are we at that moment where this thing blows sky high? I would think that we’re not there yet. That’s not to say that we don’t get there at some point over the next 12 to 18 months as rates continue to move higher.” [..] Over the past decade, companies have taken advantage of low rates both to grow their businesses and reward shareholders. Total corporate debt has swelled from nearly $4.9 trillion in 2007 as the Great Recession was just starting to break out to nearly $9.1 trillion halfway through 2018, quietly surging 86 percent, according to Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association data. Other than a few hiccups and some fairly substantial turbulence in the energy sector in late-2015 and 2016, the market has performed well.

In fact, Fitch Ratings forecasts bond defaults for 2019 at the lowest since 2013, with leveraged loans at the lowest since 2011. Such high debt levels are “certainly something to take notice of,” said Eric Rosenthal, Fitch’s senior director of U.S. leveraged finance. “In terms of the systemic risk, at the moment it’s not there.” One reason markets worry about debt is that there’s not as much cash around to cover it. The cash-to-debt ratio for corporate borrowers fell to 12 percent in 2017, the lowest ever.

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It’s starting to feel like a siege.

Multiple Risks Are Converging on Markets (Rickards)

Warnings of economic collapse are no longer confined to the fringes of economic analysis but are now coming from major financial institutions and prominent economists, academics and wealth managers. Leading financial elites have been warning of coming collapses and dangers. These warnings range from the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio, the Bank for International Settlements and many other highly regarded sources. Just when we think we’ve seen enough of these, another one arrives. This time it’s the legendary Paul Tudor Jones, who manages Tudor Investment. I’ve met Jones; he’s a cerebral yet polite and mild-mannered manager from Tennessee who has not lost his Southern accent despite decades in Connecticut and an estate on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

What gives Jones’ voice added authority is his longevity in the fund investment world. He’s managed through the 1987 stock crash, the 1994 Mexican crisis, the 1998 Long Term Capital meltdown, the 2000 dot-com crash and, of course, the 2008 financial panic. Jones knows that panics happen, but he also knows they don’t happen all the time. Panics take years to build and usually have specific triggers (even though endpoints can spin wildly out of control). Jones does not treat the possibility of a financial crisis lightly, so his warning deserves close consideration. Jones warns that the next crisis is likely to be triggered by excessive debt, specifically corporate debt, which can be more difficult to manage or bail out than sovereign debt.

At the same time, other gurus are warning that the next panic will emerge from the foreign exchange market, overvalued equities or commercial real estate. Perhaps the real message is that all of these areas are vulnerable and the next crisis will seem to come from everywhere at once. That’s the danger. We’re looking at another debt crisis and global financial panic. Only this time it won’t come from mortgages alone but from all directions at once.

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The original headline talked of 24 hours.

May In Brussels Dash As Merkel Threatens To Pull The Plug On Brexit Summit (G.)

Theresa May is to make an emergency dash to Brussels on Saturday to complete the Brexit negotiations after the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, threatened to pull the plug on the Sunday leaders’ summit. As she emerged from talks in Brussels lasting nearly two hours with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, the British prime minister admitted that there were some major issues to resolve. Merkel had let it be known through her diplomats in Brussels that she was unwilling to negotiate with May on Sunday at the extraordinary Brexit summit. She had demanded a finalised agreement to emerge in good time before the leaders’ meeting.

The development threatened to disrupt Downing Street’s plans for agreement among leaders this month in time for a meaningful vote in parliament in early December. After meeting the European commission president on Wednesday, May said: “We have had a very good meeting this evening. We have made further progress and as a result, we have given sufficient direction to our negotiators. “I hope for them to be able to resolve the remaining issues and that work will start immediately. I now plan to return for further meetings, including with President Junker, on Saturday to discuss how we can bring to a conclusion this process and bring it to a conclusion in the interests of all our people.”

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Salvini and Di Maio said again this morning that they won’t change a letter in their budget.

Salvini Ready To ‘Confront EU’ After Italy’s Budget Rejected Again (G.)

Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has said he is prepared to confront EU leaders after the European commission rejected his country’s draft 2019 budget for a second time, while calling on them to “respect the Italian people”. Italy is facing sanctions after the commission said in a report that the government of the far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement had seriously violated fiscal rules. Both parties’ leaders have refused to succumb to pressure to change their deficit target of 2.4% of GDP as they endeavour to push through campaign promises, such as introducing a universal basic income, cutting taxes and lowering the retirement age.

Italy has about €2.3tn (£2tn) of public debt and the Bank of Italy warned this month that the cost of servicing the debt could rise to €5bn in 2019 and €9bn in 2020. The government is convinced that the budget would help the Italian economy grow by 1.5% over the next year. However, the economy stagnated in the third quarter. On Wednesday Italy’s national statistics agency, Istat, revised down its growth forecast for the year to 1.1%; in May it predicted 1.4% for 2018. Salvini, who leads the League, responded sarcastically to news of the commission’s report. “A letter from the EU? I’m also waiting for one from Father Christmas,” he told reporters.

Referring to the commission president and economics commissioner, Salvini said he was ready to “confront [Jean-Claude] Juncker, [Pierre] Moscovici or whoever” over a budget he said responded to the needs of Italians.

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But Zuckerberg and Sandberg plead innocent.

Facebook Admits Targeting George Soros After He Criticized Company (MW)

Facebook Inc. admitted Wednesday that it asked an opposition-research company to investigate billionaire George Soros over his criticism of the social network. In an internal memo released publicly late Wednesday, Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s outgoing head of communications and policy, said he was responsible for hiring the company, Definers Public Affairs, to investigate who was behind the “Freedom From Facebook” campaign. “In January 2018, investor and philanthropist George Soros attacked Facebook in a speech at Davos, calling us a ‘menace to society,’” Schrage wrote in the memo. “We had not heard such criticism from him before and wanted to determine if he had any financial motivation. Definers researched this using public information.

“Later, when the ‘Freedom from Facebook’ campaign emerged as a so-called grassroots coalition, the team asked Definers to help understand the groups behind them. They learned that George Soros was funding several of the coalition members. They prepared documents and distributed these to the press to show that this was not simply a spontaneous grassroots movement.” Definers later distributed a document suggesting Soros, a major donor to liberal causes, bankrolled the anti-Facebook campaign, playing into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Soros. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg have denied knowledge of the Definers efforts until after it was revealed by a New York Times report last week. Facebook has since cut ties with Definers.

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A long running but secretive investigation, running concurrently with Mueller’s.

House GOP To Hold Hearing Into DOJ Probe Of Clinton Foundation (Hill)

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Tuesday that House Republicans plan to hear testimony on Dec. 5 from the prosecutor appointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to probe alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation. [..] Meadows, who is also the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said the committee plans to delve into a number of Republicans concerns surrounding the foundation, including whether any tax-exempt proceeds were used for personal gain and whether the foundation complied with IRS laws. Sessions appointed Huber last year to work in tandem with the Justice Department to look into conservative claims of misconduct at the FBI and review several issues surrounding the Clintons.

This includes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ties to a Russian nuclear agency and concerns about the Clinton Foundation. Huber’s work has remained shrouded in mystery. The White House has released little information about Huber’s assignment other than Sessions’s address to Congress saying his appointed successor should address concerns raised by Republicans. But Meadows said the committee thinks it’s time Huber gives an update to Congress about his findings and expects him to be one of the witnesses at the hearing. Meadows also added that his committee is also trying to secure testimonies from whistleblowers who could have more information about potential improprieties surrounding the Clinton Foundation. “We’re just now starting to work with a couple of whistleblowers that would indicate that there is a great probability of significant improper activity that’s happening in and around the Clinton Foundation,” he said.

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They must have thought for quite a while that there would never be any scrutiny.

Clinton Foundation Donations Plummet 90% (ZH)

The Clinton Foundation saw contributions dry up approximately 90% over a three-year period between 2014 and 2017, according to financial statements. The global charity is currently under investigation by the DOJ, FBI and IRS for a variety of allegations – including whether favors were handed out while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, also known as “pay for play.” The Clinton-led State Department authorized $151 billion in Pentagon-brokered deals to 16 countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation – a 145% increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration, according to IBTimes.

2014

2017

“American defense contractors also donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and in some cases made personal payments to Bill Clinton for speaking engagements. Such firms and their subsidiaries were listed as contractors in $163 billion worth of Pentagon-negotiated deals that were authorized by the Clinton State Department between 2009 and 2012.” -IBTimes. Then there was that $1 million check Qatar reportedly gave Bill Clinton for his birthday in 2012, which the charity confirmed it accepted. Coincidentally, we’re sure, Qatar was one of the countries which gained State Department clearance to buy US weapons while Clinton was Secretary of State, “even as the department signaled them out ofr a range of alleged ills,” according to IBTimes.

Then there was the surely unrelated $145 million donated to the Foundation from parties linked to the Uranium One deal prior to its approval through a rubber-stamp committee. “The committee almost never met, and when it deliberated it was usually at a fairly low bureaucratic level,” Richard Perle said. Perle, who has worked for the Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations added, “I think it’s a bit of a joke.” –CBS. Meanwhile, according to a November 2016 report by the Dallas Observer, the Clinton Foundation has been under investigation by the IRS since July, 2016, while the Arkansas FBI field office has been investigating allegations of pay-for-play and tax code violations, according to The Hill.

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Like that fleece sweater?

Tyres And Synthetic Clothes ‘Biggest Causes Of Microplastic Pollution’ (G.)

Vehicle tyres and synthetic clothing are the two leading contributors to microplastic pollution from UK households, according to a new report from Friends of the Earth. The report estimates that between 9,000 and 32,000 tonnes of microplastic pollution enter British waterways each year from just four sources. The two leading sources are tyre abrasion, with between 7,000 and 19,000 tonnes entering surface waters each year, and clothing. In the UK an estimated two-thirds of clothing is made from synthetic plastic material, according to analysts from Eunomia, who wrote the report for FoE.

Up to 2,900 tonnes of microplastics from the washing of synthetic clothing such as fleeces could be passing through wastewater treatment into our rivers and estuaries. The scale of plastic pollution from household plastics is of the same magnitude as that from large plastic waste such as bottles and takeaway containers – about 26,000 tonnes of which enters UK waterways each year. The environmental campaign group is calling on the government’s resources and waste strategy – expected next month – to include measures for tackling microplastics as part of a comprehensive action plan. The four key contributors to microplastic pollution in the oceans from UK sources, according to the report, are:

• Vehicle tyres: 68,000 tonnes of microplastics from tyre tread abrasion are generated in the UK every year, with between 7,000 and 19,000 tonnes entering surface waters;

• Clothing: the washing of synthetic clothing could result in the generation of 2,300-5,900 tonnes of fibres annually in the UK – up to 2,900 tonnes of this could be passing through wastewater treatment into our rivers and estuaries;

• Plastic pellets used to manufacture plastic items. Up to 5,900 tonnes are lost to surface waters in the UK every year;

• Paints on buildings and road markings – weather and flake-off results in between 1,400 and 3,700 tonnes ending up in surface water every year.

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There’s a disturbing trend emerging that people are fully blind to. In this piece, and I’ve seen it a lot more recently, the topic is the 1st amendment. To make their well-meaning arguments, writers then pose questions like “What if Assange DID get his info from Russia?” or “What if Assange really DOES hate America?” The response of course is that this would make no difference as far as the 1st amendment is concerned.

But in the meantime the possibility that Assange is indeed a Russian agent who hates all Americans has been introduced into the narrative. That makes these articles effectively part of the smear campaign. There is no indication that either allegation is true, but they are posited by those ostensibly defending him. They don’t help. Or rather, they help smear.

Former New York Times Chief Lawyer: Rally to Support Julian Assange (Timm)

I recently spoke to James Goodale, the famed First Amendment lawyer and former general counsel the New York Times, who led the paper’s legal team in the famed Pentagon Papers case about the dire impact the Justice Department’s move may have on press freedom, regardless of whether people consider Assange himself a “journalist”.

There’s speculation on what Assange could be charged with. There’s a possibility that he could be outright charged under the Espionage Act for the act of publishing classified information. Then there’s the “conspiracy theory” that Assange was engaged in a conspiracy with his sources by asking them or soliciting more information from them that the sources may have gathered illegally. Do you find that type of charge would be just as dangerous as a charge for publishing information?

I do find that that charge would be just as dangerous. As a matter of fact, a charge against Assange for “conspiring” with a source is the most dangerous charge that I can think of with respect to the First Amendment in almost all my years representing media organizations. The reason is that one who is gathering/writing/distributing the news, as the law stands now, is free and clear under the First Amendment. If the government is able to say a person who is exempt under the First Amendment then loses that exemption because that person has “conspired” with a source who is subject to the Espionage Act or other law, then the government has succeeded in applying the standard to all news-gathering.

That will mean that the press ability to get newsworthy classified information from government sources will be severely curtailed, because every story that is based on leaked info will theoretically be subject to legal action by the government. It will be up to the person with the information to prove that they got it without violating the Espionage Act. This would be, in my view, the worst thing to happen to the First Amendment-almost ever.

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Sep 142018
 
 September 14, 2018  Posted by at 8:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Claude Monet The sheltered path 1888

 

The Bailouts for the Rich Are Why America Is So Screwed Right Now (Stoller)
Ten Years After the Crash, We’ve Learned Nothing (Taibbi)
Millions Of Americans Trapped In Underwater Homes 10 Years After Crisis (R.)
No-Deal Brexit Could Lead To Financial Crisis As Bad As 2008 – Carney (Ind.)
Europe’s Top Rights Court Rules Against Britain Over Mass Surveillance (AFP)
S&P Sees Major Opportunity In China’s $11 Trillion Bond Market (CNBC)
China Says World Trade System Not Perfect, Needs Reform (R.)
‘Little Mussolinis’: EU Chief Angers Italy With Comment On Far Right (R.)
Third Of Earth’s Surface Must Be Protected To Prevent Mass Extinction (Ind.)
Hurricane Florence Deluges Carolinas Ahead Of Landfall (R.)

 

 

And there are different ways…

The Bailouts for the Rich Are Why America Is So Screwed Right Now (Stoller)

In 1933, when FDR took power, global banking was essentially non-functional. Bankers had committed widespread fraud on top of a rickety and poorly structured financial system. Herbert Hoover, who organized an initial bailout by establishing what was known as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, was widely mocked for secretly sending money to Republican bankers rather than ordinary people. The new administration realized that trust in the system was essential. One of the first things Roosevelt did, even before he took office, was to embarrass powerful financiers. He did this by encouraging the Senate Banking Committee to continue its probe, under investigator Ferdinand Pecora, of the most powerful institutions on Wall Street, which were National City (now Citibank) and JP Morgan.

Pecora exposed these institutions as nests of corruption. The Senate Banking Committee made public Morgan’s “preferred list,” which was the group of powerful and famous people who essentially got bribes from Morgan. It included the most important men in the country, like former Republican President Calvin Coolidge, a Supreme Court Justice, important CEOs and military leaders, and important Democrats, too. Roosevelt also ordered his attorney general “vigorously to prosecute any violations of the law” that emerged from the investigations. New Dealers felt that “if the people become convinced that the big violators are to be punished it will be helpful in restoring confidence.” The DOJ indicted National City’s Charles Mitchell for tax evasion.

This was part of a series of aggressive attacks on the old order of corrupt political and economic elites. The administration pursued these cases, often losing the criminal complaints but continuing with civil charges. This bought the Democrats the trust of the public. When Roosevelt engaged in his own broad series of bank bailouts, the people rewarded his party with overwhelming gains in the midterm elections of 1934 and a resounding re-election in 1936. Along with an assertive populist Congress, the new administration used the bailout money in the RFC to implement mass foreclosure-mitigation programs, create deposit insurance, and put millions of people to work. He sought to save not the bankers but the savings of the people themselves.

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Neil Barofsky on Twitter: “No need to write a retrospective on the bailouts, @mtaibbi has got it all covered here.”

Taibbi’s reply: “Wow. Can I unpublish so you will write one? (Neil wrote the definitive book on the subject)”.

(Barofsky was the SIGTARP, the Special United States Treasury Department Inspector General overseeing the Troubled Assets Relief Program from late 2008 till early 2011)

Ten Years After the Crash, We’ve Learned Nothing (Taibbi)

Too Big To Fail shows Fuld on a rant: “People act like we’re crack dealers,” Fuld (James Woods) gripes. “Nobody put a gun to anybody’s head and said, ‘Hey, nimrod, buy a house you can’t afford. And you know what? While you’re at it, put a line of credit on that baby and buy yourself a boat.” This argument is the Wall Street equivalent of Reagan’s famous Cadillac-driving “welfare queen” spiel, which today is universally recognized as asinine race rhetoric. Were there masses of people pre-2008 buying houses they couldn’t afford? Hell yes. Were some of them speculators or “flippers” who were trying to game the bubble for profit? Sure. Most weren’t like that – most were ordinary working people, or, worse, elderly folks encouraged to refinance and use their houses as ATMs – but there were some flippers in there, sure.

People pointing the finger at homeowners are asking the wrong questions. The right question is, why didn’t the Fulds of the world care if those “nimrods” couldn’t afford their loans? The answer is, the game had nothing to do with whether or not the homeowner could pay. The homeowner was not the real mark. The real suckers were institutional customers like pensions, hedge funds and insurance companies, who invested in these mortgages. If you had a retirement fund and woke up one day in 2009 to see you’d lost 30 percent of your life savings, you were the mark. Ordinary Americans had their remaining cash in houses and retirement plans, and the subprime scheme was designed to suck the value out of both places, into the coffers of a few giant banks.

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“As of June 30, nearly one in 10 American homes with mortgages were “seriously” underwater..”

Millions Of Americans Trapped In Underwater Homes 10 Years After Crisis (R.)

School bus driver Michael Payne was renting an apartment on the 30th floor of a New York City high-rise, where the landlord’s idea of fixing broken windows was to cover them with boards. So when Payne and his wife Gail saw ads in the tabloids for brand-new houses in the Pennsylvania mountains for under $200,000, they saw an escape. The middle-aged couple took out a mortgage on a $168,000, four-bedroom home in a gated community with swimming pools, tennis courts and a clubhouse. “It was going for the American Dream,” Payne, now 61, said recently as he sat in his living room. “We felt rich.” Today the powder-blue split-level is worth less than half of what they paid for it 12 years ago at the peak of the nation’s housing bubble.

Located about 80 miles northwest of New York City in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, their home resides in one of the sickest real estate markets in the United States, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by a leading realty tracking firm. More than one-quarter of homeowners in Monroe County are deeply “underwater,” meaning they still owe more to their lenders than their houses are worth. The world has moved on from the global financial crisis. Hard-hit areas such as Las Vegas and the Rust Belt cities of Pittsburgh and Cleveland have seen their fortunes improve. But the Paynes and about 5.1 million other U.S. homeowners are still living with the fallout from the real estate bust that triggered the epic downturn.

As of June 30, nearly one in 10 American homes with mortgages were “seriously” underwater, according to Irvine, California-based ATTOM Data Solutions, meaning that their market values were at least 25 percent lower than the balance remaining on their mortgages.

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And he just signed up to oversee it till 2020.

No-Deal Brexit Could Lead To Financial Crisis As Bad As 2008 – Carney (Ind.)

A no-deal Brexit could lead to a financial crisis as bad as the crash in 2008, the governor of the Bank of England has warned. Mark Carney told Theresa May and senior ministers that not getting a deal with the European Union would lead to a number of negative economic consequences. It is also understood that Mr Carney warned house prices could fall by up to 35 per cent over three years in a worst case scenario, an event that could cause the value of sterling to plummet and force the bank to push up interest rates. His bleak prognosis came as France said it could halt flights and Eurostar trains from the UK if there was no agreement when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

The Bank of England declined to comment on Mr Carney’s briefing to ministers. Following the three-and-a-half hour meeting of the cabinet, a Downing Street spokesman said ministers remained confident of securing a Brexit agreement, but had agreed to “ramp up” their no-deal planning.

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So what changes now?

Europe’s Top Rights Court Rules Against Britain Over Mass Surveillance (AFP)

Europe’s top rights court ruled Thursday that Britain’s programme of mass surveillance, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his sensational leaks on US spying, violated people’s right to privacy. Ruling in the case of Big Brother Watch and Others versus the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, said the interception of journalistic material also violated the right to freedom of information. The case was brought by a group of journalists and rights activists who believe that their data may have been targeted. The court ruled that the existence of the surveillance programme “did not in and of itself violate the convention” but noted “that such a regime had to respect criteria set down in its case-law”.

They concluded that the mass trawling for information by Britain’s GCHQ spy agency violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to privacy because there was “insufficient oversight” of the programme. The court found the oversight to be doubly deficient, in the way in which the GCHQ selected internet providers for intercepting data and then filtered the messages, and the way in which intelligence agents selected which data to examine. It determined that the regime covering how the spy agency obtained data from internet and phone companies was “not in accordance with the law”.

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China needs money, badly. Or it wouldn’t open up like this.

S&P Sees Major Opportunity In China’s $11 Trillion Bond Market (CNBC)

Financial services and ratings giant S&P Global is honing in on China’s $11 trillion bond market, a move that may spell good news for international investors in search of more reliable ratings for bonds. Speaking to CNBC on Friday, S&P Global Chief Financial Officer Ewout Steenbergen explained that it’s a good time to enter China as Asia’s largest economy has lifted foreign ownership restrictions for credit ratings agencies. Elaborating on the company’s plan to offer ratings services for the bond market there, Steenbergen said that S&P Global intends to start a new entity for its mainland business.

“We are expanding our market intelligence business in China, very specific local content, for example for Chinese private company data … But the most attractive opportunity we have is in the ratings business,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “It is the third-largest domestic bond market in the world, we think it will overtake Japan soon to become the second-largest domestic bond market,” added Steenbergen, who is also an executive vice president at S&P Global. [..] Steenbergen said he hopes that S&P Global’s move to enter that market can create more confidence. “Today, Chinese domestic bonds, 2 percent are bought by international investors, 98 percent only by Chinese investors. And I think (how) we can help with the market is to create more maturity, more confidence.

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Another way to protest tariffs.

China Says World Trade System Not Perfect, Needs Reform (R.)

The current world trade system is not perfect and China supports reforms to it, including to the World Trade Organization, to make it fairer and more effective, Beijing’s top diplomat said. China is locked in a bitter trade war with the United States and has vowed repeatedly to uphold the multilateral trading system and free trade, with the WTO at its center. But speaking late on Thursday to reporters after meeting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said some reforms could be good. While certain doubts have been raised about the current international trading system, China has always supported the protection of free trade and believes that multilateralism with the WTO at its core should be strengthened, Wang added.

[..] China will not buckle to U.S. demands in any trade negotiations, the major state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Friday, after Chinese officials welcomed an invitation from Washington for a new round of talks. The official China Daily said that while China was “serious” about resolving the stand-off through talks, it would not be rolled over, despite concerns over a slowing economy and a falling stock market at home. “The Trump administration should not be mistaken that China will surrender to the U.S. demands. It has enough fuel to drive its economy even if a trade war is prolonged,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

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Brussels still feels superior.

‘Little Mussolinis’: EU Chief Angers Italy With Comment On Far Right (R.)

The EU’s top economic official has voiced fears that “little Mussolinis” might be emerging in Europe, drawing a furious response from Italy’s far-right interior minister who accused him of insulting his country and Italians. Pierre Moscovici, a Frenchman who is the European Union’s economics affairs commissioner, said the current political situation, with populist, far-right forces on the rise in many nations, resembled the 1930s when Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Italian fascist chief Benito Mussolini were in power. “Fortunately there is no sound of jackboots, there is no Hitler, (but maybe there are) small Mussolinis. That remains to be seen,” he told reporters in Paris, speaking in a jocular fashion.

Moscovici, a former French finance minister, mentioned no names, but Matteo Salvini, who is a deputy prime minister and heads Italy’s anti-immigrant League, took it personally. “He should wash his mouth out before insulting Italy, the Italians and their legitimate government,” Salvini said in a statement released by his office in Rome. Salvini took advantage of the spat to set out once again his grievances with France, which he accuses of not doing enough to help deal with migrants from Africa and of having plunged Libya into chaos by helping to oust former strongman Muammar Gaddafi. “EU commissioner Moscovici, instead of censuring his France that rejects immigrants … has bombed Libya and has broken European (budget) parameters, attacks Italy and talks about ‘many little Mussolini’ around Europe,” Salvini said.

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Yeah. Not going to happen.

Third Of Earth’s Surface Must Be Protected To Prevent Mass Extinction (Ind.)

Two leading scientists have issued a call for massive swathes of the planet’s land and sea to be protected from human interference in order to avert mass extinction. Current levels of protection “do not even come close to required levels”, they said, urging world leaders to come to a new arrangement by which at least 30 per cent of the planet’s surface is formally protected by 2030. Chief scientist of the National Geographic Society Jonathan Baillie and Chinese Academy of Sciences biologist Ya-Ping Zhang made their views clear in an editorial published in the journal Science.

They said the new target was the absolute minimum that ought to be conserved, and ideally this figure should rise to 50 per cent by the middle of the century. “This will be extremely challenging, but it is possible,” they said. “Anything less will likely result in a major extinction crisis and jeopardise the health and wellbeing of future generations.” Most current scientific estimates have the amount of space needed to safeguard the world’s animals and plants at between 25 and 75 per cent of land and oceans.

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Nervous weekend ahead. In the Philippines too.

Hurricane Florence Deluges Carolinas Ahead Of Landfall (R.)

Heavy rain, wind gusts and rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence swamped the Carolinas early on Friday as the massive storm crawled toward the coast, threatening millions of people in its path with record rainfall and punishing surf. Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Thursday evening and was moving west at only 6 mph (9 km/h). The hurricane’s sheer size means it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day, according to weather forecasters. Despite its unpredictable path, it was forecast to make landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, at midday on Friday.

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Aug 262018
 
 August 26, 2018  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Starry night over the Rhône 1888

 

The Real John McCain (Kerwick)
Steele or Assange: Who Really Deserves 1st Amendment Protection? (Machon)
Trump: 5-Year Prison Sentence for Whistleblower Reality Winner ‘Unfair’ (TIME)
Cohen’s Plea Deal Is Prosecutor’s Attempt To Set Up Trump (Hill)
Europe Must Save The British From Themselves On Brexit (IT)
Ending The Fiscal-Monetary Tug-o-War (NEF)
Greece’s “Bailout” Was a Disaster for Greece (Klein)
Greece Remains A Debtor’s Prison, The EU Won’t Let Go Of The Keys (Varoufakis)
US Study Shows How Austerity Devastated Greece’s Health (UoW)
Italy Disembarks Stranded Migrants, Salvini Under Investigation (R.)
Time Is Running Out For The Pope To Pacify The Faithful’s Anger (O.)

 

 

I was going to leave McCain in peace. I strongly believe in not kicking a man when he’s down, and besides there’s already so much anger out there. I’ve always thought that perhaps as a POW he suffered some kind of brain damage. But I still can’t get the image out of my head of him singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” And then seeing people refer to him as an “unparalleled example of human decency”. It’s too much.

The Real John McCain (Kerwick)

McCain is not alone in having their blood on his hands. Yet in a Regime, a Government-Media-Complex, comprised of warmongers, McCain enjoys the dubious distinction of being the warmonger par excellence. On the false pretense that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat against the United States via the “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) that he never possessed, McCain urged as loudly and tirelessly as anyone for war. Those libertarians and old right conservative sorts who exposed holes in the WMD narrative and forecasted the disaster to which such a war would lead were dismissed, ignored, or mocked. Estimates of casualties vary, but today, some 14 years after McCain got his way, anywhere between 195,000 and possibly one million Iraqis are dead.

The Iraq Body Count project found that during the decade following the invasion, 174,000 Iraqis were killed. Of this number, 112,000-123,000 were civilian noncombatants. At present, the number is closer to 200,000 civilian noncombatant deaths. Between 2003 and 2014, nearly 5,000 American service members lost their lives in this war that McCain and his ilk cooked on the basis of a lie. Yet contractors, aid relief workers, and journalists are also among those who lost their lives. While we can tabulate numbers, the pain, suffering, and trauma endured by the loved ones of those killed is incalculable. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and American corpses that McCain and his comrades left in the wake of their rush to war, there are that many more who have lived but who suffer daily.

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Annie Machon is a former MI5 agent. She makes some very good points. One of them: Assange doesn’t get 1st amendment protection because he’s not American. Steele does get it even though he’s British.

Steele or Assange: Who Really Deserves 1st Amendment Protection? (Machon)

Steele has won a legal case in the USA, where he had been sued by three Russian oligarchs who claimed that the ‘Dirty Dossier’ traduced their reputations. And he won on the basis that his report was protected by First Amendment rights under the constitution of the USA, which guarantees US citizens the right to freedom of expression. Despite the fact that Steele is British. “But Judge Anthony Epstein disagreed, writing in his judgment that “advocacy on issues of public interest has the capacity to inform public debate, and thereby furthers the purposes of the First Amendment, regardless of the citizenship or residency of the speakers.”

This is the nub of the issue: Steele, a former official UK intelligence officer and current mercenary spy-for-hire, is granted legal protection by the American courts for digging up and subsequently leaking what appears to be controversial and defamatory information about the current US president as well as various Russians, all paid for by Trump’s political opponents. And Steele is given the full protection of the US legal system. On the other hand, we have an award-winning journalist and publisher, Assange, whose organization WikiLeaks has never been found to report anything factually incorrect in more than 10 years, being told that if he were to be extradited from his current political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to face the full wrath of a vengeful American establishment, he is not entitled to claim the protection of the First Amendment because he is an Australian citizen, not an American.

[..] On a slightly tangential note, there has been some speculation, suppressed in the UK at least via the D Notice censorship system, that MI6 informant and Russian traitor Sergei Skripal, the victim of the alleged Novichok poisoning in the UK earlier this year, remained in contact with his alleged handler Pablo Miller, who also is reported to work for Orbis Business Intelligence. If this were indeed the case, then it would be a logical assumption that Orbis, via Miller, might well have used Skripal as one of its “reliable sources” for the Dossier.

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Winner is definitely not a fan of Trump.

Trump: 5-Year Prison Sentence for Whistleblower Reality Winner ‘Unfair’ (TIME)

President Donald Trump said NSA whistleblower Reality Winner‘s five-year prison sentence for leaking a classified document to the media was “unfair” – and he used the assertion to again attack Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a Friday morning tweet, Trump called Winner’s leaks “‘small potatoes’ compared to what Hillary Clinton did,” referring to his repeated accusations that his rival in the 2016 election had broken the law in her use of a private email server while Secretary of State. The tweet also marks the second time in two days that Trump has lashed out at Sessions, following remarks he made Wednesday saying his Attorney General “never took control of the Justice Department.”

“So unfair Jeff, Double Standard,” Trump wrote Friday. The attacks on Sessions come directly after Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty and implicated the President in campaign financing crimes.Winner, an ex-NSA contractor, leaked classified government information to a news organization in 2017. That news organization was never officially identified in court proceedings, however on the same day Winner was arrested the investigative site The Intercept released a report detailing a Russian attempt to influence voting in the 2016 election. Trump’s apparent support for Winner is contrary to his insistence that Edward Snowden, another former NSA employee who leaked secret information to the media, is a “traitor.”

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No agreement on whether Cohen violated anything other then laws linked to his own business. Payments to mistresses may be perfectly legal.

Cohen’s Plea Deal Is Prosecutor’s Attempt To Set Up Trump (Hill)

Why was Michael Cohen investigated? Because the “Steele dossier” had him making secret trips to meet with Russians that never happened, so his business dealings got a thorough scrubbing and, in the process, he fell into the Paul Manafort bin reserved by the special counsel for squeezing until the juice comes out. We are back to 1998 all over again, with presidents and candidates covering up their alleged marital misdeeds and prosecutors trying to turn legal acts into illegal ones by inventing new crimes.

The plot to get President Trump out of office thickens, as Cohen obviously was his own mini crime syndicate and decided that his betrayals meant he would be better served turning on his old boss to cut the best deal with prosecutors he could rather than holding out and getting the full Manafort treatment. That was clear the minute he hired attorney Lanny Davis, who does not try cases and did past work for Hillary Clinton. Cohen had recorded his client, trying to entrap him, sold information about Trump to corporations for millions of dollars while acting as his lawyer, and did not pay taxes on millions.

The sweetener for the prosecutors, of course, was getting Cohen to plead guilty to campaign violations that were not campaign violations. Money paid to people who come out of the woodwork and shake down people under threat of revealing bad sexual stories are not legitimate campaign expenditures. They are personal expenditures. That is true for both candidates we like and candidates we do not. Just imagine if candidates used campaign funds instead of their own money to pay folks like Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about affairs. They would get indicted for misuse of campaign funds for personal purposes and for tax evasion.

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Germny, Greece, UK.

Europe Must Save The British From Themselves On Brexit (IT)

[Keynes in 1919 on the Treaty of Versailles] : “The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable – abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe.”

[..] Just as British civil servants, especially in the treasury and foreign office, never thought for a second that Germany would meet the demands of Versailles, I can’t believe anybody at the ECB or IMF thinks there is a chance that they will get back what Greece apparently owes them. According to some experts, Germany ended up paying back less then one-sixth of what was demanded in 1919. The withdrawal agreement that the United Kingdom may or may not negotiate over the next few weeks will not bear such close resemblance to those postwar reparations. At least Germany – and, more recently, Greece – tried to limit the damage being inflicted by the other side of the table.

Today the UK negotiators turn up for talks goaded by the Brexiteers to do as bad a deal as possible, to inflict as much damage as they can on themselves. If Keynes were alive today he would write another scathing polemic. The EU has a big call to make. Having crushed the Greeks, does it now do the same to the British? Does it accede to their weird demands for a dreadful deal? How much should it punish the Brexiteers for their idiocy?

Brussels is looking at opponents squabbling over whether to shoot themselves in the foot or the head. Are EU leaders, unlike their 1919 counterparts, able to see that the time for (limited) generosity has arrived? They have the opportunity to save the British from themselves. Why would they do this? The Versailles negotiators couldn’t see that it was in their own interests not to overly punish the Germans. Europe today runs too many risks from an enfeebled and resentful UK. Europe needs to remind itself of the civilising zeal of the EU’s founders and the values of the Enlightenment. Or, at the very least, the value of enlightened self-interest.

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The Bank of England and the Treasury move in opposite directions.

Ending The Fiscal-Monetary Tug-o-War (NEF)

For some time now our two most influential economic institutions -the Bank of England and the Treasury – have been pulling in opposite directions. The Bank has tried to do its job of boosting aggregate demand (spending), but the Treasury has been running fiscal austerity, which has the opposite effect. The great irony is that through its monetary policy stimulus the Bank of England has opened up significant ‘fiscal space’. ‘Fiscal space’is a term used by the IMF to describe the extent to which national governments can take on more public borrowing without harming their economy. This begs the question whether the Treasury has acted irresponsibly by not taking full advantage of the fiscal potential the Bank affords it?

Without fiscal cooperation, the Bank is left trying to stimulate the economy on its own by indirectly influencing the borrowing and spending behaviour of the private sector. To this end, the Bank has lowered interest rates to historic lows, and has injected £445 billion and £125 billion of new money through so called Quantitative Easing (QE) and the Term Funding Scheme (TFS), respectively. In doing so, the Bank has helped keep the economy afloat – but at what cost? Standalone monetary policy has reduced the number of safe assets in the market, supported more risk taking, encouraged households to take on more debt (to record levels), fuelled asset price bubbles, and promoted inequality. To boot, very little of the new money created by the Bank has trickled down into productive investments and household incomes.

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We are finally waking up. But it’s way too late.

Greece’s “Bailout” Was a Disaster for Greece (Klein)

Had Greece been a country with its own currency, such as the Czech Republic or New Zealand, the central bank could have plugged the funding gap and prevented an abrupt collapse in spending. Membership in the euro area removed that option. The government and the banks owed debt in a currency the Bank of Greece could not print, and the ECB was not keen on helping. The textbook response would have been for the government to default on its debt and get a loan from the International Monetary Fund to help smooth out the adjustment. The amount of money required to buy time after a restructuring would not have been large compared with the nearly €300 billion that ended up being lent.

That option was blocked, however, by a coalition of Greece’s “European partners” and the U.S. They were still traumatized by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and had come to believe that its default had made the financial crisis far worse than it otherwise would have been. The result was a firm commitment to avoid any reduction in what the Greek government owed. Their concern was not about what a default would do to Greece, but about what it would do to them. In addition to the €230 billion in potential losses on government debt, which by itself might have been enough to wipe out the capital of many large European banks, foreigners had another €120 billion in exposure to Greek banks. Greek banks did not have much exposure to Greek government debt—only about 8% of total assets in 2009—but it was still more than their total capital and loan-loss reserves.

Restructuring the government’s debt would therefore have required either the partial liquidation of the Greek banking system or an explicit bailout of Greece’s banks paid by someone else. Again, this should have been doable, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet were terrified about how it might affect the still-fragile Euro-American financial system. [..] There was no political will in 2010 to spend hundreds of billions of euros to bail out Dutch, French, and German banks. To Greece’s eternal misfortune, however, there was enough “solidarity” to launder that Northern European bank bailout through the Greek government.

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“..it was decided that the Greek government could not be allowed to tell the truth..”

Greece Remains A Debtor’s Prison, The EU Won’t Let Go Of The Keys (Varoufakis)

On the European continent, a far worse drama was unfolding due to the EU’s odd decision, back in 1998, to create monetary union featuring a European Central Bank without a state to support it politically and 19 governments responsible for salvaging their banks in times of financial tumult, but without a central bank to aid them. Why this anomalous arrangement? Because the German condition for swapping the deutschmark for the euro was a total ban on any central bank financing of banks or governments – Italian or Greek, say. So, when in 2009 the French and German banks proved even more insolvent than those of Wall Street or the City, there was no central bank with the legal authority, or backed by the political will, to save them.

Thus, in 2009, even Germany’s Chancellor Merkel panicked when told that her government had to inject, overnight, €406bn of taxpayers’ money into the German banks. Alas, it was not enough. A few months later, Mrs Merkel’s aides informed her that, just like the German banks, the over-indebted Greek state was finding it impossible to roll over its debt. Had it declared its bankruptcy, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal would follow suit, with the result that Berlin and Paris would have faced a fresh bailout of their banks greater than €1tn. At that point, it was decided that the Greek government could not be allowed to tell the truth, that is, confess to its bankruptcy.

To maintain the lie, insolvent Athens was given, under the smokescreen of “solidarity with the Greeks”, the largest loan in human history, to be passed on immediately to the German and French banks. To pacify angry German parliamentarians, that gargantuan loan was given on condition of brutal austerity for the Greek people, placing them in a permanent great depression. To get a feel for the devastation that ensued, imagine what would have happened in the UK if RBS, Lloyds and the other City banks had been rescued without the help of the Bank of England and solely via foreign loans to the exchequer. All granted on the condition that UK wages would be reduced by 40%, pensions by 45%, the minimum wage by 30%, NHS spending by 32%. The UK would now be the wasteland of Europe, just as Greece is today.

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How to devastate an entire population.

US Study Shows How Austerity Devastated Greece’s Health (UoW)

A new study by a School of Dentistry faculty member and dozens of other researchers from the University of Washington and around the world has found that Greece’s population health declined markedly and death rates rose sharply after harsh austerity measures were imposed on Greece by the European Union and the International Money Fund in 2010. “This study is important because it provides a framework for health surveillance on a national level following major socioeconomic changes,” said Dr. Georgios Kotsakis of the School of Dentistry’s Department of Periodontics, one of the study’s authors. The study, which was published this week in the British journal The Lancet Public Health, reported that government health spending fell sharply and that the causes of death that increased the most were largely those that could have been addressed by health care.

The researchers noted that Greece’s reduced health spending, required as part of the austerity measures, had been criticized for omitting measures to protect the country’s National Health System. They said that health policymakers should place a special focus on ensuring that Greece’s health-care system is equipped to meet the needs of the country’s citizens. The researchers identified an increase in the pace at which Greece’s population was aging as another important concern and wrote: “The increase in total deaths in children younger than 5 years and older adults with increase in causes sensitive to resource availability (e.g., access to screening and urgent care) suggest that the health system requires substantial restructuring to cope with the effects that the financial crisis has had on resource availability, resource allocation, and population structure.”

They reported that while the country’s overall death rate rose by about 5.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, it jumped by about 17.7 percent in the six years that followed, after austerity measures were imposed. The rate rose three times faster than the rate in Western Europe overall, and came at a time when mortality rates were actually declining worldwide. The largest increase came among people 70 and older, while the very young also saw a disproportionate increase.

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Yeah, but it’s only until the next ship tries to dock.

Italy Disembarks Stranded Migrants, Salvini Under Investigation (R.)

Italy on Sunday disembarked all 150 migrants from a rescue ship that had been docked for five days in a Sicilian port, ending the migrants’ ordeal and a bitter stand-off between Rome’s anti-establishment government and its European Union partners. The migrants, mainly from Eritrea, had been stranded in the port of Catania since Monday because the government refused to let them off the boat until other EU states agreed to take some of them in. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Albania had offered to accept 20 of the migrants and Ireland 20-25, while the rest would be housed by Italy’s Catholic Church “at zero cost” to the Italian taxpayer.

“The church has opened its heart and opened its wallet,” Salvini, from the right-wing League party, told supporters at a rally in Pinzolo in northern Italy on Saturday evening. Salvini, who has led a popular crackdown against immigration since the government took office in June, also announced that he had been placed under investigation by a Sicilian prosecutor for abuse of office, kidnapping and illegal arrest. “Being investigated for defending the rights of Italians is a disgrace,” he said. On Saturday, the United Nations called for reason from all sides after a meeting of envoys from 10 EU states in Brussels a day earlier failed to break the deadlock. “Frightened people who may be in need of international protection should not be caught in the maelstrom of politics,” the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement.

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The Vatican is a huge business empire disguised as a religion. That why there will never be a thorough investigation.

Time Is Running Out For The Pope To Pacify The Faithful’s Anger (O.)

Wave after wave of scandal concerning decades of abuse by priests and cover-up by bishops has crashed at the doors of the Vatican this year. The issue threatens to derail Francis’s papacy unless he can belatedly show that he does not just understand the scale and systemic nature of the problem but is willing to take concrete action to deal with it. The past few weeks alone have seen the publication of a shocking grand jury report into clerical abuse and its concealment in Pennsylvania, the resignation as a cardinal of a former archbishop of Washington over alleged sexual assaults, a police raid on the Catholic church’s HQ in Chile, the sentencing of an Australian archbishop convicted of covering up child abuse, and a growing clamour from Irish survivors for the pope to take responsibility for these failings.

More scandals and revelations may be looming. Cardinal George Pell, the third-ranking official in the Vatican and an ally of Pope Francis, is facing legal proceedings in Australia relating to allegations of historic sexual offences. Early next year, the trial will begin in France of two cardinals on charges of concealing sexual abuse. “This is a potential tipping point, not just for Francis’s papacy, but in the Catholic church writ large,” said John Allen, editor of the Catholic magazine Crux and a Vatican expert. “Ordinary Mass-going Catholics are saying that when this first blew up, and for a long time afterwards, they stuck with the church, because people in power were saying, ‘we understand how awful this is, it has to be fixed and we’re going to fix it’. What is punching Catholics in the gut right now is the thought that what they were told about the determination to get this sorted simply wasn’t real.”

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Aug 232018
 
 August 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Seated woman 1903

 

 

 

The Weaponization of the Dollar (Lebowitz)
Turkey’s Lira Crisis Was Written In Istanbul’s Skyline (G.)
U.S.-China Trade War Escalates As New Tariffs Kick In (R.)
Shooting War With China More Likely Than You Think (Rickards)
Wall Street Marks Longest-Ever ‘Bull Market’ (AFP)
Saudi Energy Minister Denies Aramco IPO Will Be Called Off (R.)
Australia In Crisis As Prime Minister Faces Down Political Coup Attempt (G.)
Trump Says He’s Considering Pardon For Manafort (R.)
Making Plans For A New World Order (Heiko Maas)
Italian Prosecutors Investigate Salvini’s Bar On Ship Arrivals (G.)

 

 

“..the true all-in cost of borrowing was not 5% but 54%.”

The Weaponization of the Dollar (Lebowitz)

China, Turkey, and Iran are all classified as emerging markets. While the classification is broad and includes a diverse group of countries, these countries have many things in common. One is that their currencies, for the most part, are not liquid or highly valued. Thus, they heavily rely on the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. dollar, to conduct international trade. As an example, when Pakistan buys oil from Qatar, they transact in U.S. dollars, not rupees or riyals. To facilitate trade efficiently, these countries must hold excess dollars in reserve. In almost all cases, emerging market nations rely on U.S. dollar-denominated debt for their transactional needs.

Dollar-denominated debt is currently the cause of much economic pain for Turkey. To understand why, we present a simplified example. Suppose on January 1, 2018, a Turkish corporation borrowed $100 million U.S. dollars with an agreement to pay it back with interest of 5% on August 15th, 2018. The company, as is typical, converts the loaned dollars to Turkish Lira. On August 15, 2018, the company will convert the Lira back to dollars in order to pay the principal and interest due on the loan. The following graph charts the Turkish Lira versus the Dollar over the life of the loan.

On January 1, 2018, one U.S. Dollar was worth 3.79 Lira. Over the next eight months, the U.S dollar appreciated significantly versus the Lira such that one U.S. dollar was worth approximately 5.81 Lira. As such, the company will now need 5.81 Lira to purchase each dollar it needs to repay the loan. Due to the strengthening of the U.S. dollar versus the Lira over the time period of the outstanding loan, the company would need 584,282,000 Lira to pay back what was originally a 378,750,000 Lira loan. In other words, the true all-in cost of borrowing was not 5% but 54%.

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“90% of the credit in Turkish real estate companies came from loans in foreign currencies.”

Turkey’s Lira Crisis Was Written In Istanbul’s Skyline (G.)

From a distance, Esenyurt, a newly built up neighbourhood on the edges of Istanbul, looks a bit like Hong Kong or Dubai, with a bustling downtown of shiny skyscrapers. Upon closer examination, however, you notice that tower after tower stands incomplete, lacking windows or furnishings; others are only half-occupied, their windows dark after nightfall. “In the residential areas, 100% of the construction has stopped,” says Mohamed Karman, a local estate agent, from his small office in the central square of Esenyurt. “Do you know why? The materials. Everything is in dollars, you pay in dollars.” The crash of the Turkish lira last week after two years of steady decline spooked global markets – but anyone looking at Istanbul’s skyline would have been far from surprised.

Everywhere you look in the city, evidence of a debt-fuelled construction boom abounds: new skyscrapers frame the horizon, huge shopping malls dot the streets and among several megaprojects is a new airport, set to be the world’s largest. Funding for this construction frenzy has been at the heart of Turkey’s economy, accounting for up to 20% of the country’s GDP growth in recent years, and employing around two million people. In a parallel to the 2008 financial crash, the boom was funded by low-interest loans and ballooning debt. Property developers funded their buildings with cheap loans in foreign currencies – and will be struck particularly hard by the lira’s collapse, as those loans grow harder to repay every day. According to government statistics, at the end of 2016 nearly 90% of the credit in Turkish real estate companies came from loans in foreign currencies.

[..] The Istanbul Sapphire – one of the tallest buildings in Europe when completed in 2011 – was financed through loans worth 164m lira in 2013, 154m of which was in US dollars. That loan would now cost around 539m lira.

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Is this the best they can do?

U.S.-China Trade War Escalates As New Tariffs Kick In (R.)

The United States and China escalated their acrimonious trade war on Thursday, implementing punitive 25 percent tariffs on $16 billion worth of each other’s goods, even as mid-level officials from both sides resumed talks in Washington. The world’s two largest economies have now slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on a combined $100 billion of products since early July, with more in the pipeline, adding to risks to global economic growth. China’s Commerce Ministry said Washington was “remaining obstinate” by implementing the latest tariffs, which kicked-in on both sides as scheduled at 12:01 p.m. in Beijing (0401 GMT). “China resolutely opposes this, and will continue to take necessary countermeasures,” it said in a brief statement.

“At the same time, to safeguard free trade and multilateral systems, and defend its own lawful interests, China will file suit regarding these tariff measures under the WTO dispute resolution mechanism,” it said. President Donald Trump has threatened to put duties on almost all of the more than $500 billion of Chinese goods exported to the United States annually unless Beijing agrees to sweeping changes to its intellectual property practices, industrial subsidy programs and tariff structures, and buys more U.S. goods. That figure would be far more than China imports from the United States, raising concerns that Beijing could consider other forms of retaliation, such as making life more difficult for American firms in China or allowing its yuan currency to weaken further to support its exporters.

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“The U.S. will win this trade war because Xi does not want to lose his throne.”

Shooting War With China More Likely Than You Think (Rickards)

The mainstream media narrative about the U.S.-China trade war implies that Trump is on a highly damaging ego trip and China holds all the cards. The exact opposite is true. Trump has ample financial warfare weapons including tariffs, penalties, bans on direct investment, improved cybersecurity, forced divestiture and freezing of assets. Meanwhile, China has almost run out of room to impose tariffs. Further, they will invite retribution if they try to devalue their currency further. China’s vulnerabilities run deeper than that. The U.S.-China trade war comes in the aftermath of a Chinese Communist Party conference that made Xi Jinping dictator for life and enshrined his doctrines on the same level as Mao Zedong.

Once Xi got these powers, he proceeded on a disastrous policy course that has resulted in a slowdown of the Chinese economy, higher debt defaults, lost investment opportunities in the U.S. and declining hard currency reserves. The knives are now out in Beijing. Reports are circulating that Xi’s opponents are questioning his judgment and the wisdom of expanding his powers at such a critical time. Many are starting to blame Xi for the trade war almost as much as they blame Trump. Xi still has torture, firing squads and concentration camps at his disposal, but the notion of a unified, coherent leadership structure in Beijing is now seen to be a myth. Trump will keep up the pressure; he never backs off and always doubles down.

It will be up to Xi to blink and acquiesce in many U.S. demands. The U.S. will win this trade war because Xi does not want to lose his throne. Yet there will still be material damage to the global economy and lasting animosity between Xi and Trump.

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Party.

Wall Street Marks Longest-Ever ‘Bull Market’ (AFP)

Wall Street graduated to the longest-ever “bull market” Wednesday, a run that began amid extraordinary crisis-era monetary policy and which experts think could persist at least a while longer. US President Donald Trump cheered the news after the S&P 500 closed for the 3,453rd straight time without a drop of 20 percent over the more than nine-year stretch. “Longest bull run in the history of the stock market. congratulations America!” Trump said on Twitter shortly after the closing bell. The marathon run comes amid signs the US economy has accelerated this year after a long period of slow but steady growth. Experts say trade wars and higher interest rates are among potential threats to the persistence of the bull run.

Market watchers liken the landmark to other stock market records, such as when the Dow hit 25,000 points for the first time. Investing in stocks remains concentrated among the wealthiest, with many Americans still hesitant to buy stocks following the 2008 financial crisis. While financial experts are well aware of the durability of the current stock market cycle, the record is “news more to Main Street than to Wall Street,” according to Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR. The S&P 500 finished the day down less than 0.1 percent at 2,861.82. When stocks fall at least 20 percent below their previous record, they enter a “bear market.”

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But several people insist it is. it’s just that it can’t be announced right now.

Saudi Energy Minister Denies Aramco IPO Will Be Called Off (R.)

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister denied a Reuters report that state oil giant Aramco’s initial public offering will be called off, in a statement issued early on Thursday. “The government remains committed to the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco, in accordance with the appropriate circumstances and appropriate time chosen by the Government,” Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement released on Saudi Press Agency. Reuters reported on Wednesday that four senior industry sources said Saudi Arabia has called off both the domestic and international stock listing of Aramco.

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Oz politics is so bad it’s not even funny.

Australia In Crisis As Prime Minister Faces Down Political Coup Attempt (G.)

Australia is on the brink of having its sixth prime minister in a decade after a chaotic, internecine coup attempted, but failed, to topple the incumbent Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday. In a media conference during which he refused to resign, Turnbull called on his challengers to prove he had lost the confidence of his own party, and made a thinly veiled swipe at influences “outside the parliament”. The reference was widely interpreted as an attack on the power of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation newspapers and TV channels, which have consistently campaigned against him. “The reality is that a minority in the party room supported by others outside the parliament have sought to bully, intimidate others into making this change of leadership that they’re seeking,” Turnbull said.

The leadership brawl stalled political business on Thursday morning when the government voted to shut down the House of Representatives until 10 September, unsure it would be able to command a majority on the floor of the House, and unwilling to face questions from the opposition after at least 13 ministers tendered their resignations. Since 2007, no Australian prime minister has served a full term in office, with four cut down by their own parties while in office, earning Canberra the title of “coup capital of the Pacific”. Turnbull survived Thursday, but appears almost certain to lose the prime ministership to a party room vote, likely as soon as Friday.

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But not today, for sure.

Trump Says He’s Considering Pardon For Manafort (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would consider pardoning his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on Tuesday of bank and tax fraud, according to a Fox News reporter who interviewed Trump. Fox News reporter Ainsley Earhardt said Trump told her in an interview on Wednesday that “he would consider” pardoning Manafort.“I think he feels bad for Manafort. They were friends,” Earhardt said in an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity” program on Wednesday night.

Fox News has been airing excerpts of the interview with Trump, which is scheduled to be shown in its entirety on Thursday morning. The excerpts have not included a clip of Trump saying he would consider pardoning Manafort. Manafort was convicted on Tuesday of two counts of bank fraud, five counts of tax fraud and one charge of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. In a tweet on Wednesday about the verdict, Trump called Manafort a “brave man” and said, “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family.”

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Maas is the new German foreign minister. His proposal for an alternative SWIFT system launched a debate. But really, “new world order”?

Making Plans For A New World Order (Heiko Maas)

It starts with us exposing fake news. Like this: If the current account balance of Europe and the US includes more than just trade in goods, then it is not the US that has a deficit, it’s Europe. One reason is the billions in profits that European subsidiaries of Internet giants such as Apple, Facebook and Google transfer to the US every year. So when we talk about fair rules, we must also talk about the fair taxation of profits like that. It is also important to correct fake news because it can quickly result in the wrong policies. As Europeans, we have made it clear to the Americans that we consider the withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran to be a mistake. Meanwhile, the first US sanctions have come back into force.

In this situation, it is of strategic importance that we make it clear to Washington that we want to work together. But also: That we will not allow you to go over our heads, and at our expense. That is why it was right to protect European companies legally from sanctions. It is therefore essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels independent of the US, a European monetary fund and an independent SWIFT [payments] system. The devil is in thousands of details. But every day that the Iran agreement lasts, is better than the potentially explosive crisis that threatens the Middle East otherwise.

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Let the courts decide.

Italian Prosecutors Investigate Salvini’s Bar On Ship Arrivals (G.)

Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the illegal detention of 177 migrants onboard a coastguard vessel that the minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini, refuses to allow to land. The Ubaldo Diciotti has been docked for 48 hours at the port of Catania, Sicily, but the migrants have not been allowed to disembark without having certainties from Brussels on their distribution to other countries. The investigation, conducted by the prosecutor of the city of Agrigento, was launched against “unknowns” but it is clear that if the magistrates were to go ahead with a judicial proceeding, Salvini would end up under investigation, being the only one responsible for the landing ban.

“I heard that the prosecutor’s office in Agrigento has opened an investigation,” said Salvini in a recent video on Facebook Live. “I also heard that the suspects are ‘unknown’ at the moment. But I’m not unknown. My name is Matteo Salvini, I’m the minister of the interior. Come on, try me too, I’m here.” The Ubaldo Diciotti docked on Monday night in the port of Catania but the migrants, including 29 unaccompanied minors, were refused authorisation to disembark. The ship picked up 190 people on 15 August from an overcrowded boat about 17 nautical miles from the Italian island of Lampedusa. Thirteen of them were evacuated for emergency medical treatment.

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Aug 212018
 
 August 21, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse The painter and his model 1916-17

 

China’s Biggest Risk May Be Its Property Market – Not The Trade War (CNBC)
Why Do American CEOs Get Paid So Much? (Galbraith)
Trump Says It Is ‘Dangerous’ For Twitter, Facebook To Ban Accounts (R.)
Trump Worries That Mueller Interview Could Be A ‘Perjury Trap’ (R.)
Trump Demands Fed Help On Economy, Complains About Interest Rate Rises (R.)
UK’s Hunt To Call On Trump To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia (G.)
‘Secret Directive’ Bans UN Agencies From Helping Rebuild Syria – Lavrov (RT)
UK Household Debt Balloons To £19bn As Bailiff Problems Multiply (Ind.)
NHS Leak Warns Of Brexit Drug Shortages And Disease Risk (G.)
Jacinda Ardern Freezes New Zealand MPs’ Pay To Tackle Rich-Poor Divide (G.)
Salvini Refuses To Let In Refugees After Coastguard Ship Docks (G.)
What Being Back in the Markets Actually Means for Greece (TPP)
The Winners Will Lose and the Losers Will Win (Kunstler)
The Inescapable Weight Of My $100,000 Student Debt (G.)

 

 

“Real estate investment accounts for about two-thirds of Chinese household assets..”

China’s Biggest Risk May Be Its Property Market – Not The Trade War (CNBC)

China’s hot real estate market remains a challenge for authorities trying to maintain stable economic growth in the face of trade tensions with the U.S. In fact, property is the country’s biggest risk in the next 12 months, much greater than the trade war, according to Larry Hu, head of greater China economics at Macquarie. He said he is especially watching whether the real estate market in lower-tier, or smaller, cities will see a downturn in prices or housing starts after recent sharp increases. Real estate investment accounts for about two-thirds of Chinese household assets, according to wealth manager Noah Holdings. The property market also plays a significant role in local government revenues, bank loans and corporate investment.

As a result, a sharp slowdown in the real estate market’s growth and drop in prices would have a negative affect on overall economic growth. So far, the market has been hot: The average selling price for newly built non-governmental housing in 60 tier-three and tier-four cities tracked by Tospur Real Estate Consulting rose 28.1 percent from January 2016 to May 2018. [..] Last week, Nanjing, a tier-two city, announced a ban on corporate purchases of residential properties, following similar moves to limit speculation by Shanghai and some other cities. That’s a good move for controlling risk, according to Joe Zhou, real estate and investment management firm JLL’s regional director for China capital markets. He said the government is not likely to loosen its policy soon and that prices could decline on average.

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“The reliance of tech firms on venture capital and bubble psychology, rather than cash flow..”

Why Do American CEOs Get Paid So Much? (Galbraith)

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute calls attention to the hardy perennial of how much America’s corporate titans make: bosses of the top 350 firms made an average of $18.9m in 2017. That’s a ratio of 312-1 over the median worker in their industries. Big bucks to be sure. And a big change since 1965, when the ratio was just 20-1. But what does it mean? And if there’s a problem, what is it, exactly? What it means, as the EPI economists carefully document, is that the top US corporate chiefs are paid overwhelmingly with stock options, and their income fluctuates with the market. About 80% of the pay packet is in stocks, and the rise of 17% in 2017 after two flat years surely suggests that the top CEOs (not unreasonably) sensed the market peaked last year.

So they cashed in. On the other 20% of the pay packets, no gains occurred. The US numbers have shock value. But bear in mind that they reflect not only the way companies are run, but also changes over decades in the structure of the US economy and tax law, specifically the rise of market valuations in technology and finance at the expense of the major industrial corporations, and a corresponding decline in unions, which held down the ratios in the sectors the industrial firms dominated a half century back. Plus, there is the radical decline in top marginal tax rates on income and capital gains, beginning in 1978, which gave executives strong reasons to restructure their pay away from inside-the-corporation perks (the penthouses and country clubs of yore) and toward cash and capital assets.

The reliance of tech firms on venture capital and bubble psychology, rather than cash flow, deepened this trend. Note also that there is something a bit artificial about the resulting “wealth.” Jeff Bezos may have a net worth of over $150bn, mostly in Amazon stock, but he couldn’t convert it into cash if he wanted to, neither by selling nor by borrowing. Any effort to sell would demolish Amazon’s valuation and hence his own fortune. The rich aren’t like us – they have more money, true, but some of it isn’t really money and it can disappear, by the billions, pretty fast.

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As I wrote yesterday, this will have to change.

Trump Says It Is ‘Dangerous’ For Twitter, Facebook To Ban Accounts (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that it is “very dangerous” for social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to silence voices on their services. Trump’s comments in an interview with Reuters come as the social media industry faces mounting scrutiny from Congress to police foreign propaganda. Trump has made his Twitter account – with more than 53 million followers – an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. Trump previously criticized the social media industry on Aug. 18, claiming without evidence in a series of tweets that unnamed companies were “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.”

In the same post, Trump said “too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad.” Those tweets followed actions taken by Apple, Alphabet, YouTube and Facebook to remove some content posted by Infowars, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones’ own Twitter account was temporarily suspended on Aug. 15. “I won’t mention names but when they take certain people off of Twitter or Facebook and they’re making that decision, that is really a dangerous thing because that could be you tomorrow,” said Trump.

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Also mentioned yesterday. Chances of a sitdown in the next 10 days don’t look good.

Trump Worries That Mueller Interview Could Be A ‘Perjury Trap’ (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he was worried that any statements under oath he provides to Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be used to bring perjury charges against him as part of the probe into Russia’s electoral interference. In an interview with Reuters, Trump echoed the concerns of his top lawyer in the probe, Rudy Giuliani, who has warned that any sit-down with Mueller could be a “perjury trap.” The president expressed fears that investigators could compare his statements with that of others who have testified in the probe, such as former FBI Director James Comey, and that any discrepancies could be used against him.

“So if I say something and he (Comey) says something, and it’s my word against his, and he’s best friends with Mueller, so Mueller might say: ‘Well, I believe Comey,’ and even if I’m telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That’s no good.” Despite his concerns, Trump did not comment on whether he would ultimately agree to an interview with Mueller, who is, among other things, investigating whether Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians during the 2016 election and whether Trump has obstructed justice in the probe. Trump also declined to say whether he might strip Mueller of his security clearance, as he did last week to former CIA Director John Brennan, who had repeatedly criticized Trump’s handling of foreign policy and national security issues.

“I haven’t given it a lot of thought,” he said. [..] Trump asserted that he retained the power to intervene in the probe, but that he had chosen not to do so for the moment. His administration, Trump said, was “a smooth-running machine, except in that world. And I’ve decided to stay out. Now I don’t have to stay out. “I can go in, and I could do whatever — I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out,” he said. “I’m totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven’t chosen to be involved. I’ll stay out.”

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Whatever the predictable comments on this, what he really does is confirm the Fed’s independence.

Trump Demands Fed Help On Economy, Complains About Interest Rate Rises (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he was “not thrilled” with the Federal Reserve under his own appointee, Chairman Jerome Powell, for raising interest rates and said the U.S. central bank should do more to help him to boost the economy. In the middle of international trade disputes, Trump in an interview with Reuters also accused China and Europe of manipulating their respective currencies. American presidents have rarely criticized the Fed in recent decades because its independence has been seen as important for economic stability.

Trump has departed from this past practice and said he would not shy from future criticism should the Fed keep lifting rates. The president spooked investors in July when he criticized the U.S. central bank’s over tightening monetary policy. On Monday he said the Fed should be more accommodating on interest rates. “I’m not thrilled with his raising of interest rates, no. I’m not thrilled,” Trump said, referring to Powell.

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Nobody Hunt goes to Washington with veiled criticism of Trump. Good luck with that.

UK’s Hunt To Call On Trump To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia (G.)

The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is to urge Donald Trump to face down Moscow’s threat to western values by imposing wider economic sanctions against Russia and agreeing new rules to protect the legitimacy of democratic elections. In a speech in Washington on Tuesday during his first visit since taking over from Boris Johnson as the UK’s most senior diplomat, Hunt will specifically call for tighter regulation of online political advertising and new measures to prevent cyber attacks on electoral machinery. Hunt will also throw out a challenge to Trump’s protectionist policies by warning a weakening of free trade will only damage western economies, and ultimately western political power.

He will say the emergence of an international order based on the application of law rather than might had led to an exponential growth in trade, leading to extraordinary advances in economic and social prosperity across the globe. He will also call for Nato to set clearer red lines about Russia’s use of chemical weapons and incursions into foreign territory such as the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Without directly challenging the legitimacy of Trump’s election as president in 2016, he will point to the drawbacks in many recent democratic outcomes, saying: “The heart of any democracy is freedom of expression, which allows citizens to access independent information to help decide who to vote for. But the ubiquity of fake news, social media targeting and foreign attempts to manipulate elections have undermined confidence that this can actually happen.”

Any tarnishing of Trump’s electoral mandate is highly perilous territory for a foreign politician, and Hunt will temper his criticism by saying western leaders should not deceive themselves that populism is merely a byproduct of social media spreading fake news.

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Rebuilding Syria can solve a large part of Europe’s refugee problem, and US and UN are holding it back?

‘Secret Directive’ Bans UN Agencies From Helping Rebuild Syria – Lavrov (RT)

Washington’s “absolutely deconstructive” stance is hampering the rebuilding of Syria and constricts the UN in aiding the country until a so called ‘political transition’ takes place, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, said.
“We addressed UNESCO on how they plan to implement the longtime talks, the longtime understanding on attracting the potential of this organization to rebuilding Palmyra,” an ancient city, regarded by the agency as a World Heritage Site, Lavrov said. “From the explanations of why UNESCO has still been unable to get involved in this process actively, we took that there was some kind of a directive from the United Nations headquarters in New York.”

He said that the UN Secretariat, which is the organizations’ executive arms, has “actually issued and distributed a secret directive throughout the UN system in October last year that prohibited the agencies included in this system from participating in any kind of projects aimed at restoring the Syrian economy.” Only humanitarian aid and nothing more” was allowed, the minister told the journalists after talks with Lebanese counterpart, Gebran Bassil, in Moscow. “A term was put forward that restoration of Syria would only be on the agenda after a certain progress is made in the so-called political transition” in the country, he added. The Russian Foreign Ministry also said that due to the “absolutely deconstructive” stance of the US one also shouldn’t expect any positive decisions on rebuilding Syria and return of refugees to the country from the UN Security Council.

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“People can face having their essential services cut off, be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax..”

A country moving backwards.

UK Household Debt Balloons To £19bn As Bailiff Problems Multiply (Ind.)

UK households have fallen behind on essential bills such as council tax and electricity by as much as £18.9bn, according to Citizens Advice, which says it helps someone with bailiff-related problems every three minutes. The total outstanding debt includes almost £7.5bn in tax credit overpayments, £2.84bn owed in council tax and £2.2bn owed to water companies. Household debt has now overtaken consumer credit as the main money problem people contact Citizens Advice about, and the charity said that falling behind on household bills “has more severe consequences than missing consumer credit repayments”, such as overdrafts and personal loans.

“People can face having their essential services cut off, be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax,” Citizens Advice warned. The charity said it had seen a 24 per cent increase in bailiff problems since the government introduced reforms in 2014 that were meant to protect people from unfair bailiff practices. Under the reforms, bailiffs are no longer allowed to make late-night visits to collect debts, and are prevented from using force against people who owe money, amongst other rules.

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Since there is no progress on many essential Brexit elements, this is not some doom fantasy.

NHS Leak Warns Of Brexit Drug Shortages And Disease Risk (G.)

Hospitals face running out of drugs in a chaotic no-deal Brexit, the group that represents NHS hospital and ambulance service has privately warned. Poor co-ordination by ministers and health service bosses means there has been a failure to prepare for the UK to be left without a Brexit deal, a leaked letter from NHS Providers said. “Public health and disease control co-ordination could suffer,” said NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, setting out how a hard Brexit or no deal could negatively effect “the entire supply chain of pharmaceuticals” and “jeopardise” the EU citizens making up the “workforce on which the NHS relies”. Hopson’s letter, sent to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and NHS Improvement chief Ian Dalton on Friday, was leaked to the Times.

Hopson said the possibility of a no-deal or hard Brexit “with minimal regulatory alignment appears to be growing … For as long as that risk remains it is important that detailed operation planning is undertaken across the NHS. “Yet trusts tell us that their work in this area is being hampered by the lack of visible and appropriate communication. “Our members have begun planning … but they have hit a problem, in that some activities are clearly best done at a national level and, in the view of trusts, are best co-ordinated by NHS England and NHS Improvement. “However there has been no formal communication to trusts from either of your organisations on this issue.”

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Always risky to cut your immediate colleagues, but makes a ton of sense.

Jacinda Ardern Freezes New Zealand MPs’ Pay To Tackle Rich-Poor Divide (G.)

Jacinda Ardern has frozen the salaries of New Zealand’s MPs, saying the pay rises were out of step with the wider workforce and were adding to the rich-poor divide. The radical move has cross-party support from Ardern’s coalition partners, as well as the opposition National party. MPs’ salaries and allowances would be frozen till July 2019, Ardern said, while “a fairer formula for future pay increases” is developed for those in politics, who earn between NZ$163,000 ($108,000) to more than NZ$450,000 ($300,000). Ardern said the freeze was “the right thing to do” and was not about cost-cutting, but making New Zealand a more equitable nation.

The PM was prompted to take action after the Remuneration Authority recommended MPs receive a 3% pay rise, in a year that is seeing widespread strike action by teachers, nurses and other workers across New Zealand. Ardern earns more than NZ$450,000 a year, making her the fifth-highest paid leader in the OECD, and better paid than Canada’s Justin Trudeau and the UK’s Theresa May. According to a survey by Stuff, 62% of New Zealanders think the country’s prime ministers are paid too much. Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull earns the largest salary of any leader in the OECD. “It’s about whether or not it’s right that we receive a 3% pay increase that continues to extend that gap between those on the highest incomes and those on lower and more modest incomes,” Ardern told Radio NZ today.

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The EU MUST come up with a plan.

Salvini Refuses To Let In Refugees After Coastguard Ship Docks (G.)

An Italian coastguard ship with 177 people on board has docked in the Sicilian seaport of Catania, but Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has not given authorisation for the refugees and migrants to disembark. The passengers, who have been stuck on the coastguard boat Ubaldo Diciotti for five days will not be allowed on land until “Europe steps in to help’’, Salvini said. The Diciotti picked up 190 refugees and migrants last Wednesday from an overcrowded boat about 17 sea miles from the island of Lampedusa. Thirteen of them were evacuated for emergency medical treatment. Since then, Rome has insisted that Malta should take the group because their boat first passed through its search-and-rescue area.

But Malta has refused, claiming that the migrants wanted to reach Italy. Questioned by the Italian authorities, the 13 evacuated migrants claimed that the Maltese had escorted them outside its search-and-rescue zone. On Monday afternoon, after three days of negotiations, Italy’s transport minister Danilo Toninelli announced finally on Twitter that “The Diciotti ship will dock in Catania.” But shortly afterwards, sources close to Salvini said he had not given the authorisation to disembark, suggesting the boat was granted permission to dock but the migrants will have to remain on board. Salvini said on Italian TV: “The ship may land in Italy, as long as the 177 migrants are distributed, in a spirit of solidarity by the EU.”

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What does it mean? More debt.

What Being Back in the Markets Actually Means for Greece (TPP)

The devil, as they say in English, lies in the details. Being ‘back in the markets’, ‘turning a page,’ even declaring ‘the end of the Greek Crisis’ have all become commonplace expressions over the past few weeks. But what does this substantively mean? It means that an economy that has shrunk by around 25% saw, due to that shrinkage, its debts go up by about the same amount, despite near 100 billion Euro in debt being wiped off in 2012. Current outstanding Greek debt stands at 343 billion Euro. It now needs to pay a large chunk of that back to get back to where it was in 2008, with 109% debt to GDP.

The years of the Greek crisis (2010-2018) were the years that former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis famously described as the years of ‘extend and pretend.’ The EU would extend more credit (debt) to Greece that Greece would pretend to pay back. While most of the bailout cash prior to 2013 went through Greece back to Northern Banks, after 2013 most of the Debt was held by an opaqueprivate financial institution housed in Luxemburg called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). It’s the debts held by the ESM, and the loans disbursed by the ESM, that have been the focus of the new game of extend and pretend that is called variously ‘debt-relief’ and Greece ‘being back in the markets.’

Consider the following. The ESM lent 86 Billion Euro to Greece between August 2015 and July 2018. The final tranche of these loans will not be paid back until 2060, with payments beginning in 2034. This ten year deferral of payments along with an interest rate reduction to an average of 1.62% across issues is the much heralded debt relief agreement of June 21st 2018. All things considered, and given real ‘go to the market’ alternatives if you have Greece’s bond rating, this is not a bad deal – on paper. These measures, plus the final bailout cash being added to cash reserves, means that Greece will actually not have to return to the markets for funding for almost two years. Given this, the ‘return to the markets’ comes with some pretty large airbags, all of which makes buying Greek debt more attractive, hence recent bond rating upgrades. So, we are extending, but what are we still pretending?

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“..Pabst Blue Ribbon by the case!”

The Winners Will Lose and the Losers Will Win (Kunstler)

What a revoltin’ development, as Chester A. Riley used to say on “The Life of Riley” TV show back in 1955, when America was great (at least that’s the theory). Riley was an original deplorable before the concept even emerged from the murk of early pop culture. He worked in an aircraft factory somewhere in southern California, which only a few decades prior was the mecca of an earlier generations of losers: the Oakies and other Dust Bowl refugees who went west to pick fruit or get into the movies. Chester A. Riley supported a family on that job as a wing-riveter. All the male characters in the series had been through the Second World War, but were so far removed from the horror that the audience never heard about it.

That was the point: to forget all that gore and get down with the new crazes for backyard barbeque, seeing the USA in your Chevrolet, enjoying that healthful pack of Lucky Strikes in the valley of the Jolly Green Giant… double your pleasure, double your fun… and away go troubles down the drain…. As Tom Wolfe pointed out eons ago, the most overlooked feature of post-war American life was the way that the old US peasantry found themselves living higher on the hog than Louis the XVI and his court at Versailles. Hot and cold running water, all the deliciously engineered Betty Crocker cake you could eat, painless dentistry, and Yankees away games on Channel 11, with Pabst Blue Ribbon by the case! By 1960 or so, along came color TV and air-conditioning, and in places like Atlanta, St. Louis, and Little Rock, you barely had to go outside anymore, thank God! No more heat stroke, hookworm, or chiggers.

It was a helluva lot better than earlier peasant classes had it, for sure, but let’s face it: it was kind of a low-grade nirvana. And a couple of generations beyond “The Life of Riley” the whole thing has fallen apart. There are few hands-on jobs that allow a man to support a family. And what would we even mean by that? Stick the women back in kitchen and the laundry room? What a waste of human capital (even for socialists who oppose capital). The odd thing is that there is increasingly little for this class of people to do besides stand near the door of the WalMart, and if the vaunted tech entrepreneurs of this land have their way with robotics, you can be sure there would be less than nothing for them to do… except crawl off and die quietly, without leaving an odoriferous mess.

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Long read. Steve Keen comments: This will doom the USA to stagnation: a generation with too much debt and no prospect of using credit like the previous generation.

The Inescapable Weight Of My $100,000 Student Debt (G.)

On Halloween in 2008, about six weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, my mother called me from Michigan to tell me that my father had lost his job in the sales department of Visteon, an auto parts supplier for Ford. Two months later, my mother lost her job working for the city of Troy, a suburb about half an hour from Detroit. From there our lives seemed to accelerate, the terrible events compounding fast enough to elude immediate understanding. By June, my parents, unable to find any work in the state where they spent their entire lives, moved to New York, where my sister and I were both in school. A month later, the mortgage on my childhood home went into default.

After several months of unemployment, my mother got a job in New York City, fundraising for a children’s choir. In the summer of 2010, I completed my studies at New York University, where I received a BA and an MA in English literature, with more than $100,000 of debt, for which my father was a guarantor. My father was still unemployed and my mother had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She continued working, though her employer was clearly perturbed that she would have to take off every Friday for chemotherapy. To compensate for the lost time, on Mondays she rode early buses into the city from the Bronx, where, after months of harrowing uncertainty, my parents had settled. She wanted to be in the office first thing.

In January 2011, Chase Bank took full possession of the house in Michigan. Our last ties were severed by an email my father received from the realtor, who had tried and failed to sell the property, telling him he could now cancel the utilities. In May, I got a freelance contract with a newspaper that within a year would hire me full-time – paying me, after taxes, roughly $900 every two weeks. In September 2011, my parents were approved for bankruptcy, and in October, due to a paperwork error, their car was repossessed in the middle of the night by creditors. Meanwhile, the payments for my debt – which had been borrowed from a variety of federal and private lenders, most prominently Citibank – totalled about $1,100 a month.

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Jun 262018
 
 June 26, 2018  Posted by at 8:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Juan de la Corte (1597–1660) Lot And His Daughters Escaping From The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah

 

There is no migration crisis, said an article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail a few days ago. French President Emmanuel Macron followed up over the weekend with “there is no migrant crisis”. Really? If this is not a crisis, what is? Yes, numbers of refugees landing in Europe are down from 2015. But it’s not a numbers game. It’s about people.

If Angela Merkel’s political career is forced to a close next week because the EU cannot agree on a unified refugee policy, will they call it a crisis then? Oh wait, both Macron and the G&M agree that there is a crisis, just not a migration one. No, “the crisis is political opportunism”.

But can the crisis be placed squarely on Trump and Italy’s Salvini, or is perhaps what led to their popularity partly to blame for that popularity? Salvini didn’t bomb Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, nor did Trump cause the mayhem in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which is where most migrants come from. That was Bush, Obama, Billary, Blair, Cameron and their ilk. And before them Kissinger etc.

So who are the political opportunists exactly? “We” have exploited all of Africa, the Middle East and South and Central America for so long and so disgustingly thoroughly that it’s today the zenith of misleading arrogance to blame the consequences on Salvini, Trump and other right wingers.

You could see them coming from miles away. You created them. You literally built the space they occupy. What is happening is that the chaos we created in all these places is now boomeranging right back at us, on our own borders. And we’re not getting out of that chaos until we stop creating it in places where we don’t live. Until we allow people a future where they are born.

No, you’re right, Trump is not going to do that. His role is to disrupt the existing system that has relied on creating chaos for decades (or even longer, if you will). Salvini will play that part in Europe, by blowing up the EU. And after they’ve gone, we must find better people than them, but also better than all the rest that today fill our political classes, if we’re to turn chaos into order.

We have gathered our wealth through theft and murder. Untold millions have died and suffered for our riches. It’s time we acknowledge that. Just like it’s time that we acknowledge just how we choose our political “leaders”. Who all come from a tested model that relies on chaos and obfuscation. Because if we don’t, the chaos will continue and intensify.

Angela Merkel has created a problem for which she now has no possible solution anymore. She’s even allegedly trying to reach quid pro quo deals with Albania, Serbia and Skopje: take 100,000 or so refugees and you can become an EU member. The last gasps of Mutti. Merkel will leave behind a union about to implode. From a refugee crisis as well as a financial crisis. Thanks, Angela.

She should never have left Greece in its own double financial and refugee crisis; she should have helped to make it strong. That’s the de facto task of Europe’s leadership, even as it’s crazy that one country gets to call all the important shots for 27 others.

Too late now. Italy is very aware of how Greece has been treated, and very aware it could be next. What does Rome have to lose? They can afford to be fearless. Why not confront Brussels and Berlin? The union’s in tatters anyway.

As for Trump, he doesn’t have anyone to fear either. The Democrats, just like virtually all left wing parties in Europe, have lost their identity and therefore their voters because of Tony Blair, the Clintons stage act and Obama. The US media have become a lousy tired comedy routine, unable to see that a constant barrage of empty attacks on Trump could only ever make them irrelevant.

The New York Times, WaPo, CNN have created the space that Trump operates in. They might as well be working for him. And meanwhile the folks who actually constructed the multiple crises remain out of sight. And have their minions declare that there is no crisis. Or that it’s just a political one, brought on by opportunists.

Salvini and Trump are not the greatest specimens of the human race, but they are not to blame for what’s going on. Salvini will force Europe to either redo its Dublin accord or redo the EU altogether. Trump will water down his border policies. But the driving force behind all of it, hiding in the shadows, still remains.

And that force controls, as it has for many many years, your parliaments and governments. Want to be angry, want to be outraged? Yeah, right there. It’s not about how Trump treats the children, it’s about why they are there in the first place.

And yes, ICE and Homeland Security should be eliminated, they’re insults to America and to the Founding Fathers. But they’re not Trump’s creations. They were there for him to use. And so he did and does. But c’mon guys, take the blinders off. You can’t see a thing with them on. There is a bigger picture.