Aug 272019
 


Pablo Picasso Female bust (Dora Maar) 1938

 

Brexit: Shutting Down Parliament ‘Gravest Abuse Of Power In Living Memory’ (G.)
Iran’s Rouhani Says No Talks With US Until Sanctions Lifted (R.)
Brazil To Reject $20m Pledged By G7 To Fight Amazon Fires (G.)
The Geo-Politics of Looming Recession (Crooke)
Bernie Sanders Media Plan Decrying Corporate Control Of The Press (Hill)
German Economy Contracted On Weaker Exports In Q2 (R.)
Lifting Of Greek Capital Controls Signals Return To Normalcy (K.)
Johnson & Johnson Gets $572mn Slap On Wrist For Opioid Crisis In Oklahoma (RT)
How Did the 737 Max Get Approved in the First Place? (Spiegel)
Pluto Is A Planet, NASA Chief Says (Ind.)

 

 

Don’t know why they’re not in court already.

Brexit: Shutting Down Parliament ‘Gravest Abuse Of Power In Living Memory’ (G.)

Boris Johnson would be committing the “gravest abuse of power and attack on UK constitutional principle in living memory” if he shuts down parliament to help force through a no-deal Brexit, according to legal advice obtained by Labour. In a six-page document prepared for Jeremy Corbyn, the shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, laid out how any such move by the prime minister would be open to immediate legal challenge in the courts. She said it could be subject to judicial review and the courts “might well even grant interim injunctive relief in order to allow both houses of parliament to continue to sit and discharge their primary and sovereign constitutional role in this current moment of national crisis”.

The advice from Chakrabarti, a barrister, was commissioned by Labour after leaked emails showed No 10 had sought the counsel of Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, on whether a five-week prorogation from 9 September might be possible to avoid a confidence vote and help enable a no-deal Brexit. The initial legal guidance for No 10 was that shutting parliament may be possible, unless action being taken in the courts by anti-Brexit campaigners succeeds in the meantime. Johnson was pressed repeatedly on Monday on what he would do if MPs tried to thwart his Brexit policy – at a press conference at the close of the G7 summit in Biarritz. He declined to rule out temporarily shutting down parliament.

“I think that this [is] really a matter for parliamentarians to get right ourselves,” he said. “We asked the people to vote on whether they wanted to stay in or leave the EU; they voted to leave by a big majority. [..] Parliament could be shut from 9 September until 14 October – two weeks before Johnson has promised to implement Brexit with or without a deal – under the plan being considered by No 10. The official reason would be a break before a Queen’s speech setting out Johnson’s legislative programme, but it would have the effect of stopping MPs legislating against a no-deal Brexit or ousting the prime minister.

Read more …

“Tehran has never wanted nuclear weapons.”

Iran’s Rouhani Says No Talks With US Until Sanctions Lifted (R.)

Iran will not talk to the United States until all sanctions imposed on Tehran are lifted, President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday, a day after President Donald Trump said he would meet his Iranian counterpart to try to end a nuclear standoff. Trump said on Monday he would meet Iran’s president under the right circumstances to end a confrontation over Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and that talks were underway to see how countries could open credit lines to keep Iran’s economy afloat. Rouhani said Iran was always ready to hold talks. “But first the U.S. should act by lifting all illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Iran.”


Speaking at a G7 summit in the French resort of Biarritz, Trump ruled out lifting economic sanctions to compensate for losses suffered by Iran. European parties to the deal have struggled to calm the deepening confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy. Iran has scaled back its commitments under the pact in retaliation to U.S. sanctions. “We will continue to scale back our commitments under the 2015 deal if our interests are not guaranteed,” said Rouhani in a speech broadcast live. “Tehran has never wanted nuclear weapons.”

Read more …

Money pledged by the west to fight Amazon fires: $20 million.
Money pledged by billionaires to rebuild Notre-Dame: $835 million.

Brazil To Reject $20m Pledged By G7 To Fight Amazon Fires (G.)

Brazil will reject the offer from G7 countries of $20m to help fight fires in the Amazon, government sources have said, with a senior official telling French president Emmanuel Macron to take care of “his home and his colonies.” “We appreciate [the offer], but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe,” Onyx Lorenzoni, chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the G1 news website. Lorenzoni was referring to a US$20m pledge made at the G7 summit in France to fight the rainforest blaze, which environmental campaigners dismissed as “chump change” in the efforts to fight the fires that have ravaged the Amazon. “Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site. What does he intend to teach our country?” he continued, referring to the fire in April that devastated the Notre-Dame cathedral.


AFP later confirmed the comments. Brazilian environment minister Ricardo Salles had earlier told reporters they had welcomed the G7 funding to fight the fires that have swept across 950,000 hectares (2.3m acres) and prompted the deployment of the army. But after a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers, the Brazilian government changed course. “Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron,” Lorenzoni said. The announcement of the $20m assistance package was the most concrete outcome of the three-day summit of major industrialised democracies in Biarritz and aimed to give money to Amazonian nations such as Brazil and Bolivia, primarily for more firefighting planes.

Read more …

History lessons always useful. But beware of causation and correlation.

The Geo-Politics of Looming Recession (Crooke)

[..] the ‘pattern’ starts with Woodrow Wilson’s observation in 1916, that “Britain has the earth, and Germany wants it”. Well, actually it was also about British élite fear of rivals (i.e. Germany arising), and the fear of Britain’s élites of appearing weak. Today, it is about the American élite fearing similarly, about China, and fearing a putative Eurasian ‘empire’. The old European empires effectively ‘died’ in 1916, Tooze states: As WWI entered its third year, the balance of power was visibly tilting from Europe to America. The belligerents simply could no longer sustain the costs of offensive war. The Western allies, and especially Britain, outfitted their forces by placing larger and larger war orders with the United States.

By the end of 1916, American investors had wagered two billion dollars on an Entente victory (equivalent to $560 billion in today’s money). It was also the year in which US output overtook that of the entire British Empire. The other side to the coin was that staggering quantity of Allied purchases called forth something like a war mobilization in the United States. American factories switched from civilian to military production. And the same occurred again in 1940-41. Huge profits resulted. Oligarchies were founded; and America’s lasting interest in its outsize military-security complex was founded. Wilson was the first American statesman to perceive that the United States had grown, in Tooze’s words, into “a power unlike any other.

It had emerged, quite suddenly, as a novel kind of ‘super-state,’ exercising a veto over the financial and security concerns of the other major states of the world.” Of course, after the war – there was the debt. A lot of it. France “was deeply in debt, owing billions to the United States and billions more to Britain. France had been a lender during the conflict too, but most of its credits had been extended to Russia, which repudiated all its foreign debts after the Revolution of 1917. The French solution was to exact reparations from Germany”. “Britain was willing to relax its demands on France. But it owed the United States even more than France did. Unless it collected from France—and from Italy and all the other smaller combatants as well—it could not hope to pay its American debts.”

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Can the press in the US still be saved?

Bernie Sanders Media Plan Decrying Corporate Control Of The Press (Hill)

Presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday released a plan to protect independent news outlets and journalists from the effects of widespread media consolidation. Sanders, decrying the mega-mergers he says have led to a handful of large corporations acting as gatekeepers for the information most Americans receive, calls for concrete steps “to rebuild and protect a diverse and truly independent press so that real journalists can do the critical jobs that they love” in an editorial for the Columbia Journalism Review. “Today, after decades of consolidation and deregulation, just a small handful of companies control almost everything you watch, read, and download, Sanders writes.


“Given that reality, we should not want even more of the free press to be put under the control of a handful of corporations and ‘benevolent’ billionaires who can use their media empires to punish their critics and shield themselves from scrutiny.” Sanders proposes policies to better protect both local and national independent journalism. The plan includes undoing moves by the Trump administration that have made corporate media mergers easier to complete and an immediate freeze on major media mergers until their effects on the free press can be studied. “In the spirit of existing federal laws, we will start requiring major media corporations to disclose whether or not their corporate transactions and merger proposals will involve significant journalism layoffs,” Sanders writes.

Read more …

Will Germany start applying stimulus, even at the risk of rising debt?

German Economy Contracted On Weaker Exports In Q2 (R.)

Germany’s economy contracted on weaker exports in the second quarter, detailed data showed on Tuesday, highlighting the Achilles heel of Europe’s largest economy due to escalating trade disputes and waning foreign demand. The Federal Statistics Office confirmed a preliminary gross domestic product contraction of 0.1% quarter-on-quarter from April to June after a 0.4% expansion in the first three months of the year. The outlook for the German economy is uncertain as sentiment indicators point to a bumpy road ahead and most economists expect another quarter of contraction which would be a technical recession. Exports fell more strongly than imports in the second quarter which meant that net trade deducted 0.5 percentage points from overall economic expansion.


Construction investment was also a drag, falling 1.0% on the quarter. Household spending, state expenditure and private-sector investment in machinery and equipment all increased, but they were not strong enough to counter the massive drag of net trade. “The details of the growth components show that the contraction was almost exclusively driven by weak exports,” Carsten Brzeski from ING said, adding that the GDP figures showed that not everything was bad. “Some relief from trade could easily lead to a rebound toward the end of the year. Fiscal stimulus could boost confidence and improve structural growth in the years ahead.” Senior government officials have hinted that Berlin is mulling more fiscal stimulus linked to a comprehensive package of climate protection measures. Some suggested the government could even take on new debt to finance those steps.

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The new government wants all the applause, but given they’ve been in power mere weeks, that doesn’t fly.

More worrying is that police have started evicting migrants and refugees from Exarchia, known as an anarchist neighborhood, where 1000s are living in squats. Where will they go now?

Tsipras was a big disappointment, but Greece in no country for a right wing government right now. It can only lead to violence.

Lifting Of Greek Capital Controls Signals Return To Normalcy (K.)

In what is seen as a move symbolizing Greece’s return to normalcy, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Monday announced the full lifting of capital controls, earlier than the government had initially envisaged. “Capital controls are as of today a thing of the past,” Mitsotakis declared in Parliament, adding that the restrictions had been imposed in June 2015 as a result of SYRIZA-led government policies that resulted in the flight of millions of euros from bank deposits. Stressing that “a four-year cycle of insecurity” has come to an end, he said a “new cycle of optimism has begun for the economy and the banking system” and added that since his center-right New Democracy party was elected in July “faith has been restored in the Greek economy and banking system.”

For his part, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras lamented the capital controls as “a destabilizing factor, an instability factor for the banking system.” He added that the complete abolition of restrictions will be effective as of September 1. The prime minister’s announcement came after officials of the Finance Ministry met with members of the country’s banks and the Capital Markets Commission earlier in the day. Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras had recommended in July that the final restrictions be lifted after observing a continuing increase in bank deposits. One of the key aims of the abolition of all restrictions is Greece’s upgrading by credit agencies, a move that will bolster investor interest.

Meanwhile, hours after the premier’s announcement, former finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos accused the government of piggybacking on his administration’s efforts to lift restrictions. “The only reason that capital controls had not been fully lifted was the banks’ reluctance due to political uncertainty [caused by] the elections. In any case, this is a positive step, which was fully prepared by SYRIZA,” Tsakalotos said. He said that the New Democracy government was benefiting from the SYRIZA administration’s economic legacy, adding that “we are still far from seeing a clear [ND] initiative.” “Of course, in the case of New Democracy, not having its own economic policy is probably better than having one,” he added.

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The state demanded $17 billion.

Johnson & Johnson Gets $572mn Slap On Wrist For Opioid Crisis In Oklahoma (RT)

Johnson & Johnson caused Oklahoma’s opioid crisis by pushing pain pills on the state and lying about their safety, a judge has declared in a landmark ruling, imposing a penalty on the pharma giant that amounts to pocket change. The company “caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome, in Oklahoma,” Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court ruled on Monday, declaring the “misleading marketing and promotion” of its products had “compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans.”

Johnson & Johnson’s drugs division, Janssen, supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients used to manufacture the deadly painkillers and lied about the safety and effectiveness of its products, state prosecutors charged. Using misleading promotional tactics to convince doctors to overlook the addiction risk, Janssen pushed opioids – including its own drugs, Duragesic and Nucynta – on medical professionals by colluding with pain patient advocacy organizations to enshrine pain as the “fifth vital sign” and opioids as the obvious remedy. The Johnson & Johnson suit is the first public-nuisance lawsuit against a drug company to go to trial, and Oklahoma’s victory means that the case will likely pave the way for future legal action against drug companies.

The state had sought $17 billion from Johnson & Johnson to remediate the crisis – a process Oklahoma officials claimed would end up costing between $12.7 and $17.5 billion. It was awarded just $572 million, a sum Balkman said was the maximum allowed under the public nuisance law and which pales in comparison to the company’s annual revenues, which totaled $82 billion last year. However, he left the door open to “additional programs and funding” that could be required “over an extended period of time.”

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Germany’s Der Spiegel sent entire teams of reporters all over the globe for comprehensive coverage. 3 long articles.

How Did the 737 Max Get Approved in the First Place? (Spiegel)

As has always been the case with large scandals, it is difficult to pinpoint the beginning. But there are plenty of reasons for identifying the year 2008 as the start of the 737 Max crisis, when Lufthansa made an announcement at the Farnborough Airshow that it planned to buy 30 Bombardier CS100s for its subsidiary Swiss. The jets, which are a bit smaller than the A320 and the Boeing 737, were a completely new model and, according to a former senior Lufthansa executive, that model was “the best on the market at the time.” The deal came as a provocation to the management of Airbus and Boeing, spoiled as they had been by success, and they reacted. But Airbus reacted more quickly and rapidly developed the A320neo.

The Dec. 1, 2010 announcement by the Europeans that the entire A320 family would be re-engineered and outfitted with new, unusually fuel-efficient and quiet engines must have hit Boeing’s Chicago headquarters like a bolt of lightning. Airbus promised to sink kerosene consumption by an entire 15 percent. And the year after the announcement, Airbus promptly sold more than 1,000 A320neo planes — with many longtime Boeing customers among the purchasers. At the time, Boeing had no fully developed plan for a new model or an acceptable new version of the 737. Most importantly, the company was not in a position to be able to install the new generation of jet engines on its planes. So, the industry was quite surprised when Boeing, just nine months later, appeared to catch up to Airbus.

In late August 2011, the construction of the 737 Max was announced, and the company even promised that the plane could be operated 7 percent more cheaply than the A320neo. It seems safe to assume that it was a difficult period for Boeing engineers. Even the smaller CFM56 turbines could only be crammed under the wings of the old 737 by resorting to a handful of tricks. But the CFM LEAP, which Airbus intended to use, has an air intake that is almost two meters in diameter — and the Boeing engineers had to fit them onto a plane where they didn’t fit at all. Once again, they tried to compress the engine shape. And once again, they commissioned a customized, smaller version of the engine. They tried pretty much everything to create more space under the plane, even lengthening the landing gear by 20 centimeters. The most important change, though, was installing the turbines a bit higher on the wings and quite a bit further forward.

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Some people have weird hobbies.

Pluto Is A Planet, NASA Chief Says (Ind.)

Pluto’s status as a planet has once again been called into question after the head of Nasa said he believed the celestial body to be a planet. Speaking at the FIRST Robotics event in Oklahoma, Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine went against convention by placing himself firmly on one side of the Pluto debate. “Just so you know, in my view Pluto is a planet,” he said. “You can write that the Nasa administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learned it and I’m committed to it.” Pluto was first declared a planet in 1930 after it was discovered by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh.


At the time it was believed to be the ninth planet from the Sun, existing on the outer edges of the solar system in the Kuiper belt. Its status as a planet was called into question 62 years later after other similarly-sized objects were discovered in the same region of space. In 2005, astronomers discovered a dwarf planet called Eris that was 27 per cent larger than Pluto. A year later, the International Astronomical Union laid out its official definition for what constituted a planet. Pluto was not included. Since then it has been classified as a dwarf planet, though the icy object has attracted a dedicated following of people who claim Pluto should be considered a planet.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 042019
 


Odilon Redon The Birth of Venus II c.1910

 

How do you define terror? Perhaps, because of the way the term has evolved in the English language, one wouldn’t call the west ‘terrorists’ per se, but ‘we’ are certainly spreading terror and terrorizing very large groups of people. Yeah, bring on the tanks and parade them around town. Add a marching band that plays some war tunes.

The ‘official’ storyline : at the request of the US, Gibraltar police and UK marines have seized an oil tanker in Gibraltar. The super-tanker, 1000 feet (330 meters) long, carrying 2 million barrels, had stopped there after sailing all around the Cape of Good Hope instead of taking the Suez canal on its way, ostensibly, from Iran to Syria.

And, according to the storyline as presented to and in the western press, because the EU still has sanctions on Iran, the British seized the ship. Another little detail I really appreciate is that Spain’s acting foreign minister, Josep Borrell, said Madrid was looking into the seizure and how it may affect Spanish sovereignty since Spain does not recognize the waters around Gibraltar as British.

That Borrell guy is the newly picked EU foreign policy czar, and according to some sources he’s supportive of Iran and critical of Israel. Them’s the webs we weave. He’s certainly in favor of Palestinian statehood. But we’re wandering…

Why did the tanker take that giant detour along the African coastline? Because potential problems were anticipated in the Suez canal. But also: why dock in Gibraltar? Because no problems were anticipated there. However, the US had been following the ship all along, and set this up.

A trap, a set-up, give it a name. I would think this is about Iran, not about sanctions on Syria; that’s just a convenient excuse. Moreover, as people have been pointing out, there have been countless arms deliveries to Syrian rebels in the past years (yes, that’s illegal) which were not seized.

 

The sanctions on Syria were always aimed at one goal: getting rid of Assad. That purpose failed either miserably or spectacularly, depending on your point of view. It did achieve one thing though, and if I were you I wouldn’t be too sure this was not the goal all along.

That is, out of a pre-war population of 22 million, the United Nations in 2016 identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance; over 6 million are internally displaced within Syria, and around 5 million are refugees outside of Syria. About half a million are estimated to have died, the same number as in Iraq.

And Assad is still there and probably stronger than ever. But it doesn’t even matter whether the US/UK/EU regime change efforts are successful or not, and I have no doubt they’ve always known this. Their aim is to create chaos as a war tactic, and kill as many people as they can. How do you define terror, terrorism? However you define it, ‘we’ are spreading it.

That grossly failed attempt to depose Assad has left Europe with a refugee problem it may never be able to control. And the only reason there is such a problem is that Europe, in particular Britain and France, along with the US, tried to bomb these people’s homelands out of existence. Because their leaders didn’t want to conform to “our standards”, i.e. have our oil companies seize and control their supplies.

 

But while you weren’t looking some things changed, irreversibly so. The US and Europe are no longer the undisputed and overwhelming global military power they once were. Russia has become a target they cannot even consider attacking anymore, because their armies, assembled in NATO, wouldn’t stand a chance.

China is not yet at the ‘might’ level of Russia, but US and NATO are in no position to attack a country of 1.4 billion people either. Their military prominence ended around the turn of the century/millennium, and they’re not going to get it back. Better make peace fast.

So what we’ve seen for a few decades now is proxy wars. In which Russia in particular has been reluctant to engage but decisive when it does. Moscow didn’t want to let Assad go, and so they made sure he stayed. Syria is Russia’s one single stronghold in the Middle East, and deemed indispensable.

Meanwhile, as over half of Syrians, some 11 million people, have been forced to flee their homes, with millions of them traumatized by war, ‘we’ elect to seize a tanker allegedly headed for a refinery in the country, so we can make sure all those people have no oil or less oil for a while longer.

So the refugees that do have the courage and will to return will find it that much harder to rebuild their homes and towns, and will tell those still abroad not to join them. At the same time Assad is doing fine, he may be the target of the sanctions but he doesn’t suffer from them, his people do.

 

Yes, let’s parade some tanks around town. And let’s praise the heroic UK marines who seized an utterly defenseless oil tanker manned by a bunch of dirt-poor Philippinos. Yay! There is probably some profound irony that explains why Trump and Bolton and Pompeo want a military parade at the very moment the US military must concede defeat in all theaters but the propaganda one.

Still there it is. The only people the US, the west, can still credibly threaten, are defenseless civilians, women, children. The leaders of nations are out of reach. Maduro, Assad, let alone Putin or Xi.

Happy 4th of July. Not sure how independent you yourself are, but I can see a few people who did achieve independence from western terror. Just not the poor, the ones that count. But don’t look at the tanks, look at the wind instead. The winds are shifting.

 

 

 

 

Jul 012019
 


Pablo Picasso Portrait of woman in wheelchair 1936

 

The Longest Economic Expansion On Record: What Happens Next? (ZH)
Surprise Collapse Of Regional Chinese Bank Sets Off Domino Effect (Salmon)
George Soros And Charles Koch Team Up To End Us ‘Forever War’ Policy (BG)
Europe Circumvents US Sanctions On Iran (Coppola)
Laffer: Federal Reserve Shouldn’t Be Independent From White House (NYP)
Hong Kong On Edge As Protests Erupt Ahead Of Handover Rally (R.)
Erdogan Says ‘Some People’ Paying ‘Serious Money’ To Bury Khashoggi Issue (R.)
Erdogan Says S-400 Systems Delivered Within 10 Days, No US Sanctions (R.)
Erdogan Says ‘Never Possible’ To Consider US Plan For Middle East (R.)
The Real Threat From Facebook’s Libra Coin (Coppola)
Goldman Sachs Has Given Itself A 150-Minute Miniseries (Cohan)
The Mythical Economic Data On Climate Change (Steve Keen)
Insects As A Whole Will Go Down The Path Of Extinction In A Few Decades (AFP)

 

 

I think we know the answer.

The Longest Economic Expansion On Record: What Happens Next? (ZH)

On July 1, the US economic expansion will become the longest on record, entering its 121st month since the end of the 2009 recession (which according to the NBER ended in June of that year), and surpassing the previous record – the March 1991 – March 2001 expansion – which ended with the bursting of the dot com bubble. As Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid writes, since US business cycles have been tracked from 1854 there have been 34 expansions. The last four have all been long relative to the past and are all in the top six in terms of duration. The other two in this top six were the June 1938-cycle which was boosted by the WWII rearmament efforts, and the Feb 1961-cycle where the Fed were late to deal with ever increasing US inflation, leading to too loose monetary policy and an extended cycle.


As part of a recent analysis, Deutsche Bank explains why this cycle – and the past four – have been so long relative to history, show various economic and market indicators from this cycle relative to the past to put the record-breaking expansion in some context, and predict what may happen next. It may come as a surprise to exactly nobody, that there is a distinct correlation between the rising length of the US business cycle – and ensuing economic and market crashes which terminate said expansion – and the advent of the Federal Reserve. Oh, and globalization has a lot to do with everything too.

Read more …

When confidence disappears, what are you left with?

Surprise Collapse Of Regional Chinese Bank Sets Off Domino Effect (Salmon)

First it was China. The end of May saw the collapse of an obscure Inner Mongolian bank, Baoshang, which had about $90 billion in assets and which had seemed perfectly healthy. The government blamed misappropriation of funds by the bank’s owner, but the damage was done. The interbank lending market in China seized up, especially for smaller institutions. Small and medium-sized Chinese banks are collectively as big as the large players, and they’re very reliant on interbank funding. After Baoshang defaulted on its interbank obligations, it became very hard for smaller banks to convince larger ones that they were safe. The central bank ended up having to step in with $125 billion of emergency liquidity, and things still aren’t back to normal.


Next came investment funds. The GAM Greensill Supply Chain Finance fund, in Switzerland, imploded in early June, followed in short succession by Neil Woodford’s Equity Income fund in the U.K. Then came French asset manager H20 Asset Management, running into similar problems. Much like Chinese banks, funds that invest in illiquid securities suddenly find themselves under extreme scrutiny. Each bad apple seems to infect another. Be smart: This isn’t a financial crisis, although it’s very similar to how many crises start. Every bull market has a massive “bezzle,” to use J.K. Galbraith’s famous term. We’re seeing the beginning of a rise in skepticism, and a shrinking bezzle. That’s good for honesty; it’s less good for asset prices.

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It really says this: “The street cred they bring from both ends of the political spectrum ..”

George Soros And Charles Koch Team Up To End Us ‘Forever War’ Policy (BG)

Besides being billionaires and spending much of their fortunes to promote pet causes, the leftist financier George Soros and the right-wing Koch brothers have little in common. They could be seen as polar opposites. Soros is an old-fashioned New Deal liberal. The Koch brothers are fire-breathing right-wingers who dream of cutting taxes and dismantling government. Now they have found something to agree on: the United States must end its “forever war” and adopt an entirely new foreign policy. In one of the most remarkable partnerships in modern American political history, Soros and Charles Koch, the more active of the two brothers, are joining to finance a new foreign-policy think tank in Washington. It will promote an approach to the world based on diplomacy and restraint rather than threats, sanctions, and bombing.

This is a radical notion in Washington, where every major think tank promotes some variant of neocon militarism or liberal interventionism. Soros and Koch are uniting to revive the fading vision of a peaceable United States. The street cred they bring from both ends of the political spectrum — along with the money they are providing — will make this new think tank an off-pitch voice for statesmanship amid a Washington chorus that promotes brinksmanship. “This is big,” said Trita Parsi, former president of the National Iranian American Council and a co-founder of the new think tank. “It shows how important ending endless war is if they’re willing to put aside their differences and get together on this project. We are going to challenge the basis of American foreign policy in a way that has not been done in at least the last quarter-century.”

Since peaceful foreign policy was a founding principle of the United States, it’s appropriate that the name of this think tank harken back to history. It will be called the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an homage to John Quincy Adams, who in a seminal speech on Independence Day in 1821 declared that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” The Quincy Institute will promote a foreign policy based on that live-and-let-live principle.

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Potential powder keg.

Europe Circumvents US Sanctions On Iran (Coppola)

Europe has found a way of circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran. The governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom have developed a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to enable European businesses to maintain non-dollar trade with Iran without breaking U.S. sanctions. That SPV, known as INSTEX, is now up and running. The three governments announced the successful implementation of INSTEX at a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on June 28, 2019. The meeting was chaired on behalf of the EU by the Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Helga Schmid, and was attended by representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Iran.

In a statement, Schmid said: “France, Germany and the United Kingdom informed participants that INSTEX had been made operational and available to all EU Member States and that the first transactions are being processed. Ongoing complementary cooperation with the Iranian corresponding entity (STFI), which has already been established, will speed up. They confirmed that some EU Member States were in the process of joining INSTEX as shareholders, the special purpose vehicle aimed at facilitating legitimate business with Iran. They are also working to open INSTEX to economic operators from third countries.”

JCPOA is better known as the “Iran nuclear deal.” The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from JCPOA in May 2018, when it reimposed sanctions on Iran’s oil export sector. But other countries, including EU member states, have so far declined to follow suit. They claim that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal, and the U.S.’s decision to reimpose sanctions was unjustified.

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Nuff said: “..was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom this month for his contributions to Republican economic theory, particularly the idea of “trickle down economics”

Laffer: Federal Reserve Shouldn’t Be Independent From White House (NYP)

Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Arthur Laffer, an economist who served as an adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, took some shots at the embattled Federal Reserve chairman as he also questioned the body’s autonomy. “The fed shouldn’t be independent of the administration. Never should be. None of those people were elected. They were appointed. And there’s no reason for them being appointed. It’s a policy tool that should be in the hands of the Congress and the President to make our country better,” Laffer told John Catsimatidis in an interview that aired Sunday on AM 970 New York. “Not in the hands of some Princeton professors who never worked a day in their lives except on an academic paper that’s far from reality. I don’t think there should be an independent Fed,” Laffer added.


Laffer also speculated that Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve who has been criticized by Trump, “feels very besieged.” “I’m sure Powell doesn’t feel good about Donald Trump,” Laffer said. “But, you know, it’s not his job to feel good or bad about Donald Trump.” Like Trump, Laffer encouraged Powell to be a “professional” and lower interest rates. The president has been frustrated by the fed’s interest rate hikes, though Powell backed off in late 2018. Laffer, an adviser to President Ronald Reagan, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom this month for his contributions to Republican economic theory, particularly the idea of “trickle down economics” — that lower tax rates trickle down to the rest of the economy.

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Violent too.

Hong Kong On Edge As Protests Erupt Ahead Of Handover Rally (R.)

Thousands of demonstrators faced off with riot police early on Monday, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, as authorities braced for more mass protests amid widespread anger over a controversial extradition bill. More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger and frustration at Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam, posing the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Opponents of the now-suspended extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law and are demanding it be scrapped and Lam step down.


Police fired pepper spray to disperse some demonstrators, mostly black-clad students wearing hard hats and face masks, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule. Riot police with helmets and batons raced towards protesters at one point and held up red banners warning they would use force if the activists charged. The protesters once again paralyzed parts of the financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers and wooden planks.

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And he knows who they are.

Erdogan Says ‘Some People’ Paying ‘Serious Money’ To Bury Khashoggi Issue (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said “some people” were paying “serious money” to bury the issue of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, broadcaster NTV reported on Monday. Erdogan, who was speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, did not elaborate. Speaking earlier at the summit, Erdogan said Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must uncover the killers of the Washington Post columnist, and added that some aspects of the murder were still being hidden.

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Really? You sure?

Erdogan Says S-400 Systems Delivered Within 10 Days, No US Sanctions (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the first delivery of the Russian S-400 missile defense system would take place within 10 days, broadcaster NTV reported on Sunday, a day after he said there would be no U.S. sanctions over the deal. Turkey and the United States, NATO allies, have been at odds over Ankara’s decision to purchase the S-400s, with Washington warning of U.S. sanctions if the delivery took place. Turkey has dismissed the warnings, saying it would not back down. The United States says the S-400s will compromise its Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets, of which Turkey is a producer and buyer. Washington has also formally started the process of expelling Turkey from the F-35 program, halting the training of Turkish pilots in the United States.


But on Saturday, Erdogan said U.S. President Donald Trump had told him there would be no sanctions over the Russian deal, after Trump said Turkey had been treated unfairly over the move. The White House said Trump “expressed concern” over the S-400 deal and “encouraged Turkey to work with the United States on defense cooperation in a way that strengthens the NATO alliance.” Speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Japan, where he held bilateral talks with Trump, Erdogan said he believed the dispute over the S-400s would be overcome “without a problem” and added that his U.S. counterpart supported Turkey in the dispute. “In our phone calls, when we come together bilaterally, Mr Trump has not said so far: ‘We will impose these sanctions.’ On the S-400s, he said to me: ‘You are right.’ We carried this issue to a very advanced level,” Erdogan said, according to NTV.

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“.. the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey would hold a summit in July to discuss developments in Syria..”

Erdogan Says ‘Never Possible’ To Consider US Plan For Middle East (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said it was “never possible” for Turkey to positively consider the $50 billion U.S. peace plan for the Middle East, broadcaster NTV reported on Monday. The White House last week outlined a $50 billion Middle East economic plan that would create a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies, and fund a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza. Speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Japan, Erdogan also said that the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey would hold a summit in July to discuss developments in Syria, NTV said.

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Digital identities.

The Real Threat From Facebook’s Libra Coin (Coppola)

Facebook’s business model since its inception has been to harvest and monetize data. I see no reason to assume that this has changed. So when I find, buried in Libra’s whitepaper, two sentences that imply Facebook’s real aim in creating Libra is to set the standard for global digital identities, my hair stands on end. As Dave Birch, director of Consult Hyperion and an expert on digital identity, puts it: “There are no throwaway remarks in a Facebook white paper that has taken a year to put together. It’s in there for a reason. [Facebook] are actually going to try and fix the identity problem.”

Dave seems fairly sanguine about Facebook’s intention. But I am not. We now know just how damaging Facebook’s data harvesting can be. If Facebook became the standard setter for digital identities, it could gain access to all personal data. And that is what it wants. Not control of finance, control of data. And if you think your personal data would be digitally secure from harvesting simply because Facebook said so, you are the biggest sucker in the world.

From a financial perspective, Libra seems fairly harmless. Even if all 2bn of Facebook’s users adopted Libra for some transactions, and all 90m of its small businesses used Libra for purchases and sales, it is not going to pose a major threat to the financial system, let alone replace sovereign currencies. But Libra is in reality a vehicle for bringing about Facebook’s wider aim of becoming the standard setter for digital identity. And that is a much, much bigger issue. Facebook is the last organization on earth that should have anything to do with digital identity or standards setting. For that reason, Libra must be stopped.

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Accumulating power for 150 years.

Goldman Sachs Has Given Itself A 150-Minute Miniseries (Cohan)

Goldman Sachs is impeccably predatory, elegantly selfish. It’s harder to get into than Harvard. And when you do leave, there’s a good chance you’ll be Treasury secretary, national economic adviser, or the governor of New Jersey, as if the lucre were only a detour and not the whole point. In era after era of boom and bust, Goldman’s bankers never lost their shirts, even as all around them were losing theirs. Goldman is an inescapable American institution, a part of history, and now, like the Civil War and New York City and baseball, on the occasion of its 150th birthday, it has its own multipart documentary series directed by someone named Burns. Unlike those other institutions, though, it paid for the documentary itself, for what has to be an eight-figure sum (it declined to say how much it spent), given the luscious production values.

Among its other gifts, Goldman has always had a near-obsession for selling itself, its intelligence, its civic-mindedness. Goldman Sachs at 150 is the most expansive expression yet of this impulse. Goldman Sachs at 150 is a strange bit of filmmaking, hard to get one’s mind around. It’s obviously a piece of corporate marketing, so a viewer starts by resisting its conclusions—but its documentary tropes are so familiar that it wears you down. Current and former white male partners are interviewed in abundance, of course, but Burns—in this case Ric Burns, younger brother of Ken—also spends time with a number of Goldman’s female partners and partners of color, some of whom are also women. (In other words, a public relations home run.) It’s not exactly hagiography, because Goldman is clever enough to include in the film a number of instances in which it really messed up—and almost went out of business.

That makes the film, which is available on Amazon Prime, nearly credible as a piece of journalism, but only nearly so. More than anything it reveals both Goldman’s gargantuan superego and its immense—and justified—pride in making it to 150. (Among major American investment banks, only Brown Brothers Harriman (founded in 1818) and Lazard (founded in 1848) are older than Goldman.) Burns’s Goldman Sachs at 150 is mostly a story of Goldman’s glory. One cannot help thinking, while watching the film, that Goldman is Lake Wobegon on the Hudson: all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. I’ve never seen so many polished, happy, prosperous well-dressed people (of all stripes) in one place at one time. I feel certain this was not an accident.

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Steve destroys William Nordhaus’s Nobel material.

The Mythical Economic Data On Climate Change (Steve Keen)

What this shows is that mainstream economists are generally climate change trivializers—not that they know anything meaningful about the magnitude of disruption to the globe’s ecological and economic systems that will result from climate change. The 30-times difference in expectations of serious disruption from climate change between scientists and economists should have been the takeaway from this survey, not the average of the expectations of damage. Nordhaus at least acknowledges one important flaw in this survey: with him asking the questions, people who weren’t experts in climate change—the majority, at 14 of the 19 respondents (if we count Nordhaus and Pearce as experts, at least in the sense that their own models would have given them a basis for their opinions)—could have been intimidated by Nordhaus’s own well-known position, to give answers that were similar to what Nordhaus himself would give. He framed the answers in effect, by being the one asking the questions:


“Two important methodological issues may contaminate the results. The first is the interviewer effect. I am known to the respondents as one who has developed estimates of the impact of climatic change that are modest compared with some of the scientific concerns and popular rhetoric, and this knowledge might have influenced the respondents (p. 46)” Therefore, the substantive content of this “data” is not the average temperature result from the opinions of 2 climate change experts and 16 others (mainly economists), but the huge difference between the climatic expert predictions and the guesses of the other 16 (where 2 of these, Nordhaus and Pearce, would have been influenced in their answers by the results of their own models—including earlier versions of the model Nordhaus was using this data point to calibrate).

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“Unless we change our ways of producing food,..”

Insects As A Whole Will Go Down The Path Of Extinction In A Few Decades (AFP)

[..] the total biomass of flying insects here has plummeted by 76 percent. To demonstrate the rapid decline, a lab technician holds up two bottles: one from 1994 contains 1,400 grammes of trapped insects, the newest one just 300 grammes. “We only became aware of the seriousness of this decline in 2011, and every year since then we have seen it get worse,” says Sorg, the man who sounded the alarm. At the time, the news didn’t make major waves outside ecological circles. Concern about biodiversity loss focused mostly on large charismatic mammal species, and environmental monitoring such as that in Krefeld was considered a quaint Sunday hobby, largely ignored by the scientific community.

Also in 2011, just across the Dutch border, ecology professor Hans de Kroon was working on the decline of birds in the region. He hypothesised that the birds suffered from a shortage of food, especially insects, but had no data to prove it. “Then our German colleagues from Krefeld got in touch and said, ‘we have the data, we’ve witnessed a strong decline, we are very concerned, could you analyse the data?’. “That’s how it all started.” In the search for the cause, the landscape around Krefeld provides some clues. In the distance, industrial chimneys billow smoke. On one side of the road lies a protected nature reserve. On the other, a sugar beet field is being sprayed with pesticides by an agricultural machine. “You see, protected reserves are not so protected,” says Sorg.

Across the border, Kroon says, “we must realise that here in western Europe our nature is getting smaller, the agriculture fields are very hostile to insects. There is no food, they get poisoned. “And nature areas are also more and more isolated. Insects can’t move from one place to another, it’s too far away.” Although the exact cause for the die-off is not yet clear, he says, “the cause is anthropogenic, there’s no doubt about it. “It is our greatest fear that a point of no return will be reached, which will lead to a permanent loss of diversity.” The Krefeld research played a central role in a meta-study published by Francisco Sanchez-Bayo and Kris Wyckhuys from the Australian universities of Sydney and Queensland.

In February, they published the first synthesis of 73 studies on entomological fauna around the world over the past 40 years, listing places from Costa Rica to southern France. They calculated that over 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction, and each year about one percent is added to the list. This is equivalent, they noted, to “the most massive extinction episode” since the dinosaurs disappeared. The main drivers appeared to be habitat loss and land conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanisation, followed by pollution, mainly from pesticides and fertilisers, invasive species and climate change. “The conclusion is clear,” they wrote. “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades.”

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Jun 252019
 


Caravaggio Conversion on the way to Damascus 1600-01

 

Something’s been nagging me for the past few days, and I’m not sure I’ve figured out why yet. It started when Donald Trump first called off the alleged planned strikes on targets in Iran because they would have cost 150 lives, and then the next day said the US would do sanctions instead. As they did on Monday, even directly targeting Trump’s equal, the “Supreme Leader Khameini”.

When Trump announced the sanctions, I thought: wait a minute, by presenting this the way you did, you effectively turned economic sanctions into a military tool: we chose not to do bombs but sanctions. Sounds the same as not doing a naval invasion but going for air attacks instead. The kind of decisions that were made in Vietnam a thousand times.

However, Vietnam was all out war (well, invasion is a better term). Which shamed the US, killed and maimed the sweet Lord only knows how many promising young Americans as well as millions of Vietnamese, and ended in humiliating defeat. But the US is not in an all out war in Iran, at least not yet. And if they would ever try to be, the outcome would be Vietnam squared.

Still, that’s not really my point here. It’s simply about the use of having the world reserve currency as a military weapon instead of an economic one. And I think that is highly significant. As well as an enormous threat to the US. The issue at hand is overreach.

While you could still argue that economic sanctions on North Korea, Venezuela and Russia are just that, economic and/or political ones, the way Trump phrased it, comparing sanctions one on one with military strikes, no longer leaves that opening when it comes to Iran. The new Iran sanctions are a preliminary act of war. Simply because of how he presented them. He explicitly stated that he swapped one for the other.

 

There are quite a few people who have been harping on the demise of the USD as reserve currency for a long time, and I always think: look, nobody wants the yuan, let alone the ruble. There’s no trade being executed in these currencies. So taking over from the USD is a pipe dream.

But that may very well change, and perhaps very fast too, if the US uses the dollar not as an economic weapon (and there are plenty issues with that already), but as a military one. That would potentially hugely speed up any efforts to move away from the buck in international trade.

For the simple reason that it becomes unreliable. Traders hate that, they can’t have that. A reserve currency must be neutral -to a point-. The world of trade doesn’t want the yuan because Beijing controls it and can therefore change conditions and values overnight. But if and when the US uses the USD as a military tool, it essentially risks doing exactly the same: it deneutralizes the USD.

Using the USD as an economic weapon is ugly, but something global trade can deal with. A military weapon, though, is something else altogether. And I see no sign that Trump understands this. The thing is, using your currency, which also happens to be the world reserve currency, as a military tool, means you’ve become a threat to everyone, the entire globe, overnight.

And people don’t want to live that way. Not Iran, not Russia, not China, not Europe, no-one. It’s one thing to use the USD for sanctions. But it’s a real different thing to use it as just a military alternative to “bombing a country into obliteration”.

 

What Trump did comes awfully close to signing the death warrant for the USD as the global reserve currency. And it’s really only because he and his people weren’t paying attention. He could have phrased the entire thing differently, and it would have been business as usual, a business that Moscow and Beijing are actively trying to undermine, but they could have waited a bit longer reacting.

Now, however, their plans have to be sped up. They’re going to be buying a lot of gold, as they’ve already been doing, they’ll try to do their mutual business in their own currencies backed by this gold, and they’ll speed up alternatives-to-USD plans with other countries in their neighborhood. Because they have no choice anymore.

I see Tyler Durden reporting that the US threatens to throw a Chinese state-owned bank out of the SWIFT system, and I think: great idea. Why not force China to quit the reserve currency system, the petrodollar, outright?! Why not force it to hasten the Asian/Russian alternative trade model into existence? What a great and lovely idea.

The US should today make friends. It should preserve the reserve currency status of the USD for as long as it can, by convincing allies and foes alike that it will protect its neutrality in global trade. But Trump and his people are doing the exact opposite, they’re playing all-on-red.

The US no longer has the economic, political or military might to dictate to the entire world any terms it wants to. Those days are long gone. That ended in Vietnam. Trump’s living in the last century, while Bolton and Pompeo, they live in their own time and world.

 

But yeah, sure, perhaps this is what the dying days of an empire MUST look like. Maybe there’s a model to follow and there’s no escape, maybe it’s all written in the stars. Like Rome and Greece and Genghis Khan. Maybe things simply just have to play out. Still, looking at that Trump statement about the new Iran sanctions that started me off, it doesn’t feel all that smart.

 

 

 

 

Jun 252019
 


Pablo Picasso Minotauromachie 1935

 

Interest Rates Don’t Need To Rise Much To Cause Recessions Now (Colombo)
The Federal Reserve Is About To Create A Lot More Zombies (MW)
The Solution to Trump’s Iran Mayhem (FFF)
Iran Says New US Sanctions “Permanent Closure” Of Diplomacy (AFP)
Oil Prices Drop Amid Demand Worries, But US-Iran Tensions Support (R.)
Provoking Iran Could Start a War, Crash the Entire World Economy (Pieraccini)
House Party (Jim Kunstler)
Three Years After The Brexit Referendum, What Has Changed? (Coppola)
Firms Fear For Deliveries In Shipping Pollution Shakeup (R.)
‘Climate Apartheid’: UN Expert Says Human Rights May Not Survive (G.)

 

 

The shadow Fed Funds rate is already rising sharply. Wiggle room approaches zero.

Interest Rates Don’t Need To Rise Much To Cause Recessions Now (Colombo)

As a result of debt growing faster than our underlying economy, America’s debt as a percent of GDP soared from just over 150% in the early-1980s to approximately 350% in recent years. This higher debt burden is the reason why our economy simply cannot handle interest rates as high as they were before 2008. Particularly worrisome is the fact that U.S. federal debt is at a record of over 100% of the GDP (vs. 62% before the Great Recession), which will make it a much greater challenge to keep the economy afloat in the coming recession:

As the Fed Funds rate chart below shows, the interest rate threshold necessary to trigger recessions (recessions are designated by the gray bars) keeps falling as our debt burden increases:

Though many optimists are quick to point out that the benchmark Fed Funds rate was only increased from 0% to 2.5% during the current tightening cycle, the reality is that the current tightening cycle is even more aggressive than the past several cycles when the Fed Funds rate is adjusted for quantitative easing (this is known as the shadow Fed Funds rate). According to this methodology, interest rates have increased by the equivalent of 5.41% in the current cycle versus just 3.62% before the 2001 recession and 4.26% before the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009:

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It’s like hearing my own echo.

The Federal Reserve Is About To Create A Lot More Zombies (MW)

Long-term interest rates just fell off a cliff. And if you think they can’t keep falling, think again. Albert Edwards, a strategist at SG Securities, pointed out in a recent note that none of the experts surveyed by the Wall Street Journal at the start of the year predicted 10-year Treasury yields would fall below 2.5%. Current level: 2%. I guess we can toss those forecasting models out the window. He adds that mainstream economists have been saying for years that long-term rates would never end up at zero percent. Yet rates in Europe are now negative. People are paying half a percent a year for the privilege of lending money to the government of Switzerland. Even in the U.S., 10-year rates adjusted for inflation are only 0.29%. A generation ago, they were typically 2% or better.

Western economists used to say that zero percent rates were a weird and unique thing you only saw in Japan — like people eating raw puffer fish and hoping not to die. It would never catch on over here, they said. But they already have. Today European rates are even lower than those in Japan. When U.S. rates first collapsed in 2011-2012, we were assured it was a freak one-off event and was never going to happen again. When it happened again in 2016, we were told it was, well, a “two-off” event that was certainly never going to happen a third time. Now it’s happening a third time, and I guess we’re waiting for the official line on why, once again, this is just a temporary derangement and nothing to worry about.

But the Bank for International Settlements says there is something to worry about, and it’s the reason that economic growth, inflation and interest rates can’t get off the ground: zombies. No, I’m not making this up. The BIS says there are way too many zombies around, and they’re killing the economy, and it’s all the fault of low interest rates. We’re talking “corporate zombies,” of course. The BIS found that, ever since the 1980s, falling interest rates have made it easier and easier for bad companies with lousy management and terrible products and dismal prospects to stay in business long after they should have gone the way of all flesh. These “zombie” companies can stay alive — or whatever the correct term is for zombies — if they can just keep borrowing.

And when money gets cheaper, that’s great for zombies. Lower interest rates are correlated with rising numbers of zombie companies, the BIS found. And there are a lot of zombies around. The BIS reckons no fewer than 12% of the non-financial companies on major developed stock markets could be “zombie” companies, at least by a loose definition. This is an epidemic. In the early 1990s, the figure was about 2%.

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“Restore America’s founding principles of a limited-government republic and its founding foreign policy of non-interventionism. That’s the way to restore peace, prosperity, morality, harmony, normality, fiscal responsibility, and freedom to our land.”

The Solution to Trump’s Iran Mayhem (FFF)

Should the Nobel Peace Prize be awarded to a man who resolves his own crises and then chooses to kill innocent people with sanctions rather than bombs as a way to achieve a political end? Even a blind man can see that Trump’s actions toward Iran have been entirely belligerent, all with the aim of squeezing the Iranian citizenry and bullying their government officials into complying with his dictates or else face a “defensive” U.S. bombing attack. It’s helpful to remind ourselves of what happened here. Iran entered into a deal with the U.S. government under the presidency of Barrack Obama. Pursuant to the deal, Iran would agree not to acquire nuclear weapons and the U.S. government would lift the brutal U.S. sanctions that were impoverishing and even killing the Iranian citizenry.

Complying with the agreement, Iran gave up its nuclear weapons programs, fully expecting the U.S. government to comply with its end of the bargain by lifting its sanctions. Then Donald Trump entered the presidency and proceeded to immediately tear up the deal, knowing full well that Iran had compiled with it with the expectation that the U.S. government would fulfill its end of the bargain. Not only did Trump not lift the sanctions, he doubled down and began enforcing them even more brutally than Obama had. In other words, Iran was double-crossed by the U.S. government operating under Trump. (I wonder if North Korean officials are noticing this.)

[..] The problems began when the U.S. government abandoned its founding policies of a limited-government republic and non-interventionism and instead became a national-security state and embraced a foreign policy of empire and interventionism. This is what gave the country a huge, permanent military establishment, both domestically and in foreign countries. It also gave the nation assassinations, torture, coups, regime-change operations, alliances with dictatorial regimes, installation of dictatorial regimes, sanctions, embargoes, illegal invasions and occupations, undeclared wars, wars of aggression, terrorism, a war on terrorism, out-of-control spending and debt, and, of course, the destruction of American liberty and privacy.

[..] There is but one solution to all this mayhem: Restore America’s founding principles of a limited-government republic and its founding foreign policy of non-interventionism. That’s the way to restore peace, prosperity, morality, harmony, normality, fiscal responsibility, and freedom to our land.

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Sanctions as a military tool. May not be that wise.

Iran Says New US Sanctions “Permanent Closure” Of Diplomacy (AFP)

Iran said Tuesday US sanctions on its leaders represent the “permanent closure” of diplomacy with Washington, after President Donald Trump tightened the screws on a nation he has threatened with “obliteration”. “Imposing fruitless sanctions against Iran’s supreme leader and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path to diplomacy with Trump’s desperate government,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a tweet. Washington imposed new sanctions against supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Monday ahead of blacklisting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later this week, its latest salvo in a tense standoff that has raised fears of a regional conflict.


“Trump’s government is destroying all established international mechanisms for keeping global peace and security,” he added. Tehran and Washington broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 over the hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran following Iran’s Islamic revolution. US President Donald Trump also imposed new sanctions Monday against top Iranian military chiefs, pressuring the country it has threatened with “obliteration” if a war breaks out.

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Oil prices fall in this climate. That’s remarkable.

Oil Prices Drop Amid Demand Worries, But US-Iran Tensions Support (R.)

Oil fell on Tuesday amid concerns over the outlook for crude demand, but prices were supported after Washington announced new sanctions on Iran amid mounting tensions in the Middle East. Benchmark Brent crude futures were down 34 cents, or 0.5%, at $64.52 a barrel by 0639 GMT. They dropped 0.5% on Monday. U.S. crude futures were down 24 cents, or 0.4%, at $57.66 a barrel. The U.S. benchmark rose 0.8% in the previous session. Brent climbed 5% last week and U.S. crude surged 10% after Iran shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday in the Gulf, adding to tensions stoked by attacks on oil tankers in the area in May and June. Washington has blamed the tanker attacks on Iran, which denies having any role.


U.S. President Donald Trump targeted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Iranian officials with sanctions on Monday, taking an unprecedented step to increase pressure on Iran after Tehran’s downing of the drone. “This would appear to effectively rule out any talks or negotiations to end the crisis,” said Tom O’Sullivan, founder of energy and security consultancy Mathyos Advisory.

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Derivatives and oil again.

Provoking Iran Could Start a War, Crash the Entire World Economy (Pieraccini)

As if the political and military situation at this time were not tense and complex enough, the two most important power groups in the United States, the Fed and the military-industrial complex, both face problems that threaten to diminish Washington’s status as a world superpower. The Fed could find itself defending the role of the US dollar as the world reserve currency during any conflict in the Persian Gulf that would see the cost of oil rise to $300 a barrel, threatening trillions of dollars in derivativesand toppling the global economy. The military-industrial complex would in turn be involved in a war that it would struggle to contain and even win, destroying the United States’ image of invincibility and inflicting a mortal blow on its ability to project power to the four corners of the world.

Just look at how surprised US officials were about Iran’s capabilities to shot down an advanced US Drone: “Iran’s ability to target and destroy the high-altitude American drone, which was developed to evade the very surface-to-air missiles used to bring it down, surprised some Defense Department officials, who interpreted it as a show of how difficult Tehran can make things for the United States as it deploys more troops and steps up surveillance in the region.” The US dollar-based economy has a huge debt problem caused by post-2008 economic policies. All central banks have lowered interest rates to zero or even negative, thus continuing to feed otherwise dying economies.

The central bank of central banks, the Bank for International Settlements, an entity hardly known to most people, has stated in writing that “the outstanding notional amount of derivative contracts is 542 trillion dollars.” The total combined GDP of all the countries of the world is around 75 trillion dollars. With the dimensions of the problem thus understood, it is important to look at how Deutsche Bank (DB), one of the largest financial institutions in the world, is dealing with this. The German bank alone has assets worth about 40 trillion dollars in derivatives, or more than half of annual global GDP. Their solution, not at all innovative or effective, has been to create yet another bad bank into which to pour at least 50 billion dollars of long-term assets, which are clearly toxic.

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Don’t know what to call it? No worries, mate, Jim can help.

“..as if Mr. Biden might have been mistaken for a waiter in the senators’ dining room, with its old fashioned-ways and renowned bean soup.”

House Party (Jim Kunstler)

As the first of 12 presidential debates blows in at mid-week like an evil patch of bad summer weather, twenty candidates vie for the position of Ole Massa on the Democratic Party plantation, and the air is gravid with bad vibes. One highly-favored entry, Mayor Pete (Buttigieg) of charming South Bend, Indiana, stepped into (and tripped over) a big fresh patty of mule poop over the weekend at a “town hall” meeting that was called to address the June 16 shooting of one Eric Logan, 54, by a police officer dispatched to check out “a suspicious individual going through cars” at 2:30 a.m. The officer said the suspect came at him with a knife. The officer failed to switch on his body-cam, or so the police department said. Conclusions were jumped to. Then, in the wee hours just before Mayor Pete’s June 24 town hall, another black man was killed and 10 other people wounded in the shoot-up of a watering hole called Kelly’s Pub.

God knows what that was about — no police were involved in the shoot-up — but Mayor Pete caught the blame for it, of course, and the Sunday town hall meeting turned into a shriek-in by outraged “community” members. He was hardly allowed to admit his failures, issue apologies, and promise to do better. After the ordeal, Mayor Pete struggled to hold in his tears talking to the media. No doubt he will be pressured to keep ‘splainin’ these matters until either his campaign folds up its tent or he is anointed at the national convention in Milwaukee.

Leader-of-the-Pack (in the polls, anyway) Joe Biden stepped into it perhaps even deeper than Mayor Pete last week when he bragged about how well he was able to work with the old southern segregationist fossils, Herman Talmadge (GA) and James O. Eastland (MS), who were still around in the senate when “Uncle Joe” first came on the scene decades ago. “We didn’t agree on much,” the former Veep said, “but we got things done.” What’s more, the candidate averred, going perhaps a bridge too far, Senator Eastland “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,’” as if Mr. Biden might have been mistaken for a waiter in the senators’ dining room, with its old fashioned-ways and renowned bean soup.

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The divide has widened enormously. So much so that Brexit has become very dangerous.

Three Years After The Brexit Referendum, What Has Changed? (Coppola)

No-one should be fooled by the British media’s attempts to present this contest as a presidential battle like that between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016. It is nothing of the kind. The people of the U.K. will have no say in who leads them. That will be decided by about 160,000 Tory party members, mainly old, white, rich and male. Representative of the population of the U.K., they are not. Both leadership candidates have offered tax policies designed to please these people. Boris Johnson’s proposal to cut taxes for the very rich and pay for it by raising payroll taxes was described by The Economist as “a shameless bribe to the elderly and prosperous Tory party members who choose the leader.”

Jeremy Hunt’s approach is more subtle: lowering corporation tax to match Ireland’s rate is still a bung to the rich, but it can be dressed up in supply-side economic language to give the impression of benefiting wider U.K. society. Americans might recall that President Trump’s corporate tax cuts were advertised as benefiting middle-income people through trickle-down effects, though they have primarily benefited the very rich. The Economist – hardly a bastion of lefty economics – was decidedly lukewarm about Hunt’s proposal, pointing out that corporation tax had already been cut considerably and it might be better to tax cashflows rather than profits.

But this contest is really about Brexit. Tory party members are overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU, and very frustrated by what they see as May’s delay. They want Brexit now, even if that means leaving with no deal. And they will vote for the candidate they think is most likely to deliver that regardless of the consequences. A recent poll showed that most of them would accept the breakup of the U.K. and/or the death of their own party as the price of Brexit.

Boris Johnson set up this scene of him and his girlfriend after reports of police being called to a big fight the two had. And then someone added a few words. Priceless.

 

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“This is expected to push up the price of diesel fuel for trucks by as much as 100 percent.”

Excellent. Needless transport is our biggest scourge.

Firms Fear For Deliveries In Shipping Pollution Shakeup (R.)

U.S. furniture company RC Willey Home Furnishings is so concerned that new global clean air rules will cause transport disruption that it brought forward the shipment of arm chairs and sofas from China by two months. The tougher regulations, set by the United Nations shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), come into force on Jan 1. Costs will rise for ships towards the end of this year and there will be a knock on effect for trucks and other transporters that move goods around the world. For shipping companies it is the biggest shakeup in decades and adds to the pressures of an economic slowdown and the threat of an escalating trade war between the United States and China.

While consumers are not expected to pay more for goods, higher transport bills and disruption to company deliveries could further dent economic growth. Ship owners must cut sulphur emissions to 0.5% from 3.5%. They can do this by using low-sulphur fuel, installing exhaust gas cleaning systems or opting for other, more expensive, clean fuels such as liquefied natural gas or traveling more slowly. Jeff Child, president of Berkshire Hathaway’s RC Willey Home Furnishings, moved the delivery of about 450 containers from September and October to July and August. He wants to avoid any disruption in the peak fourth quarter as ships prepare for the changes, including refitting equipment. “We just don’t want to get caught in a situation where it affects our inventory,” he told Reuters.

Analysts say the container industry, which transports consumer goods such as sofas, designer clothes and bananas, will be one of the worst hit with extra costs of about $10 billion. The world’s two biggest container shipping lines – Denmark’s Maersk and Swiss headquartered MSC – say they face annual extra costs of over $2 billion each. Twenty-five logistics company executives told Reuters they would pass along any IMO-related costs, such as ship upgrades or more expensive fuel, to customers. “The sulphur cap will further put pressure on ocean freight rates and we… will have to pass those costs on to remain competitive,” Peder Winther, global head of ocean freight with Swiss transportation company Panalpina Group said.

[..] “Higher fuel prices would result in higher transport costs,” said Peter Nagle, an economist with the World Bank’s Development Prospects Group. “This would have the potential to lead to slower economic growth and trade.” Trucking companies will also suffer. The IMO rules do not apply to them but they will face new competition from ships for lower sulfur fuel. This is expected to push up the price of diesel fuel for trucks by as much as 100 percent.

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But nobody listens to the UN anymore.

‘Climate Apartheid’: UN Expert Says Human Rights May Not Survive (G.)

The world is increasingly at risk of “climate apartheid”, where the rich pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis while the rest of the world suffers, a report from a UN human rights expert has said. Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the impacts of global heating are likely to undermine not only basic rights to life, water, food, and housing for hundreds of millions of people, but also democracy and the rule of law. Alston is critical of the “patently inadequate” steps taken by the UN itself, countries, NGOs and businesses, saying they are “entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat”. His report to the UN human rights council (HRC) concludes: “Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval.”

The report also condemns Donald Trump for “actively silencing” climate science, and criticises the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, for promising to open up the Amazon rainforest to mining. But Alston said there were also some positive developments, including legal cases against states and fossil fuel companies, the activism of Greta Thunberg and the worldwide school strikes, and Extinction Rebellion. In May, Alston’s report on poverty in the UK compared Conservative party welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses. Ministers said his report gave a completely inaccurate picture, but Alston accused them of “total denial of a set of uncontested facts”.

Alston’s report on climate change and poverty will be formally presented to the HRC in Geneva on Friday. It said the greatest impact of the climate crisis would be on those living in poverty, with many losing access to adequate food and water. “Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Alston said. Developing countries will bear an estimated 75% of the costs of the climate crisis, the report said, despite the poorest half of the world’s population causing just 10% of carbon dioxide emissions.

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Jun 232019
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Saskia en profil in expensive attire 1640-45

 

Mapping the World’s Financial Weak Spots (IMF)
US Launched Cyber Attack On Iranian Rockets And Missiles (AP)
US To Hit Iran With ‘Major’ New Sanctions Monday: Trump (AFP)
Kushner’s Economic Plan For Mideast Peace Faces Broad Arab Rejection (R.)
Three Year Prison Sentence For Damaging EU Flag, German State Proposes (Exp.)
Johnson & Johnson Faces Multibillion Opioids Lawsuit (G.)
Istanbul Votes In Mayoral Re-Run, In Test For Turkish Democracy, Erdogan (R.)
EU Warns Turkey Of Sanctions For Cyprus Drilling (BBC)
Why Is UK Life Expectancy Faltering? (O.)
Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Giant Plastic Trap Put To Sea Again (AP)

 

 

But what does it tell us really?

Mapping the World’s Financial Weak Spots (IMF)

Where will the next financial crisis come from? The short answer is: We don’t know. We can, however, look for vulnerabilities in the system that, if left untreated, can develop into problems. What do we mean by a vulnerability? It is an area of weakness that can amplify and spread an unexpected economic shock, increasing the level of risk to the financial system. Imagine the impact of an earthquake on a house built on sand, as opposed to bedrock. In the financial world, cracks in the bedrock can arise from high levels of debt and mismatches of institutions’ risk factors such as currencies or the maturities of their exposures.


One such weak spot is the debt level in US corporations and the risks investors in their securities take. Lending to heavily indebted companies with weak credit ratings is on the rise and may be a widening crack in the system. This and other vulnerabilities are reflected in the Chart of the Week on a five-point scale ranging from lowest (dark green) to highest (red) for six sectors and five country groups. The chart shows the distribution of vulnerabilities across six sectors in five regions. It was constructed using dozens of indicators going back up to two decades.

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When I see “CrowdStrike” I stop believing anything.

US Launched Cyber Attack On Iranian Rockets And Missiles (AP)

The US military launched a cyber-attack on Iranian weapons systems on Thursday, according to sources, as President Donald Trump backed away from plans for a more conventional strike in response to Iran’s downing of a US surveillance drone. The hack disabled Iranian computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, two officials told the Associated Press, and were conducted with approval from Trump. A third official confirmed the broad outlines of the strike. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the operation.

Two of the officials said the attacks, which specifically targeted computer systems of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), had been provided as options after two oil tankers were bombed. The IRGC has been designated a foreign terrorist group by the Trump administration. Over the past year US officials have focused on persistently engaging with adversaries in cyberspace and undertaking more offensive operations. Tensions with Iran have escalated since the US withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and began a policy of “maximum pressure”. Iran has since been hit by multiple rounds of sanctions.[..]

The cyberattacks are the latest chapter in the US and Iran’s ongoing hacking of each other. In recent weeks hackers believed to be working for the Iranian government have targeted US government agencies, as well as sectors of the economy including finance, oil and gas, sending waves of spear-phishing emails, according to representatives of cybersecurity companies CrowdStrike and FireEye, which track such activity. This new campaign appears to have started shortly after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Iranian petrochemical sector this month.

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Inevitably hastening the demise of the reserve currency.

US To Hit Iran With ‘Major’ New Sanctions Monday: Trump (AFP)

President Donald Trump said Saturday that the United States would impose “major” new sanctions on Iran in two days — a move sure to exacerbate tensions with the Islamic republic inflamed by the downing of a US spy plane. Trump tamped down the threat of military action on Friday, when he called off retaliatory strikes at the last minute because the response was not “proportionate” to the drone’s destruction over the Strait of Hormuz. But he had said military action is still an option and brandished the threat of sanctions ever since. Now, he has set a timetable for fresh punitive economic measures to heap more pressure on an Iranian economy already reeling from the sanctions in place since Trump withdrew from an international nuclear deal with Tehran.


“We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday,” Trump tweeted. “I look forward to the day that Sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again – The sooner the better!” Earlier, before heading to Camp David for meetings with his advisors on the situation, Trump said he would be Iran’s “best friend” and that the Islamic republic could be a “wealthy” country if it renounced nuclear weapons. “We’re not going to have Iran have a nuclear weapon,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “When they agree to that, they’re going to have a wealthy country. They’re going to be so happy, and I’m going to be their best friend. I hope that happens.”

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In complete denial of what is at stake: “Homelands cannot be sold”.

Kushner’s Economic Plan For Mideast Peace Faces Broad Arab Rejection (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s economic vision as part of the wider plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was met with contempt, repudiation and exasperation in the Arab world, even as some in the Gulf called for it to be given a chance. The $50 billion “peace to prosperity” plan, set to be presented by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner at a conference in Bahrain next week, envisions a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies. But the lack of a political solution, which Washington has said would be unveiled later, prompted rejection not only from Palestinians but also in Arab countries that Israel would seek normal relations with.

From Sudan to Kuwait, prominent commentators and ordinary citizens denounced Kushner’s proposals in strikingly similar terms: “colossal waste of time,” “non-starter,” “dead on arrival.” “Homelands cannot be sold, even for all the money in the world,” Egyptian analyst Gamal Fahmy said. “This plan is the brainchild of real estate brokers, not politicians. Even Arab states that are described as moderate are not able to openly express support for it.” Commentator Sarkis Naoum at Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper said, “This economic plan, like others, won’t succeed because it has no political foundation.”

While the precise outline of the political plan has been shrouded with secrecy, officials briefed on it say Kushner has jettisoned the two-state solution – the long-standing worldwide formula that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The PLO has dismissed Kushner’s plans as “all abstract promises,” insisting that only a political solution will solve the problem. It said they were an attempt to bribe the Palestinians into accepting Israeli occupation.

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Huh?

Three Year Prison Sentence For Damaging EU Flag, German State Proposes (Exp.)

Anyone who attacks the blue and gold starred cloth displayed in public, rendering it “removed, destroyed, damaged, unusable or unrecognisable” could be slapped with a lengthy jail term or hefty fine. The proposed law will also protect the European anthem, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, according to a report in Saarbrucken Zeitung, a daily newspaper in West Germany. The Saxon bill seeks to bring the status of the union’s flag into line with that of other foreign flags and national symbols. The new bill says attacks “on the reputation of the symbols of the European Union” are unacceptable, according to Saarbrucken Zeitung.


It states that it is “a commandment of self-respect and self-assertion” that the state protects the EU “against malicious contempt”. Paragraph 104 of Germany’s criminal code states that anyone who damages the flag or symbol of a foreign nation will be imprisoned or fined. A precondition is that Germany maintains diplomatic relations with the state. Saxony, home to four million people, sits in eastern Germany, where far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) emerged as the strongest group in last month’s European elections.

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Will we see as many jail terms as for the financial crisis?

Johnson & Johnson Faces Multibillion Opioids Lawsuit (G.)

Day after day, the memos flashing across screens in an Oklahoma courtroom have jarred with the family-friendly public image of Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical giant best known for baby powder and Band-Aid. In one missive, a sales representative dismissed a doctor’s fears that patients might become addicted to the company’s opioid painkillers by telling him those who didn’t die probably wouldn’t get hooked. Another proposes targeting sales of the powerfully addictive drugs at those most at risk: men under 40.

As the state of Oklahoma’s multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson has unfolded over the past month, the company has struggled to explain marketing strategies its accusers say dangerously misrepresented the risk of opioid addiction to doctors, manipulated medical research, and helped drive an epidemic that has claimed 400,000 lives over the past two decades. Johnson & Johnson profited further as demand for opioids surged by buying poppy growing companies in Australia to supply the raw narcotic for its own medicines and other American drug makers. One expert witness at the forefront of combatting the epidemic, Dr Andrew Kolodny, told the court he had little idea about Johnson & Johnson’s role until he saw the evidence in the case. “I think it’s fair to characterize Johnson & Johnson as a kingpin in our opioid crisis,” he said.

Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mike Hunter, is suing Johnson & Johnson for billions of dollars for its alleged part in driving addiction and overdoses in his state in the first full trial of a drug maker over the opioid epidemic. But Hunter’s lawsuit has put the wider industry in the dock, too, by laying out how opioid manufacturers worked together to drive up sales by using their huge resources to influence medical policy and doctor prescribing. Hunter said the strategy was motivated by the industry’s “greed” as profits surged. [..] Purdue Pharma kickstarted the epidemic with its high-strength, long-lasting opioid, OxyContin, in the mid-1990s. The court heard how Johnson & Johnson quickly realized the potential and set about competing.

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Erdogan wobbles.

Istanbul Votes In Mayoral Re-Run, In Test For Turkish Democracy, Erdogan (R.)

Millions of Istanbul residents voted on Sunday in a re-run of a mayoral election that has become a referendum on President Tayyip Erdogan’s policies and a test of Turkey’s ailing democracy. In the initial March 31 vote, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate secured a narrow victory over Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) in Turkey’s largest city, a rare electoral defeat for the president. But after weeks of AKP appeals, Turkey’s High Election Board in May annulled the vote citing irregularities. The opposition called the decision a “coup” against democracy, which has raised the stakes for round two.

“It is really ridiculous that the election is being re-run. It was an election won fair and square,” said Asim Solak, 50, who said he was voting for the opposition candidate in the CHP stronghold of Tesvikiye. “It is clear who canceled the election. We hope this election re-run will be a big lesson for them,” he said. Erdogan has repeated his line that “whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey.” A second loss in the city, where in the 1990s he served as mayor, would be embarrassing for Erdogan and could weaken what until recently seemed to be his iron grip on power.

Turkey’s economy is in recession and the United States, its NATO ally, has threatened sanctions if Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defenses. A second AKP loss could also shed further light into what CHP mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu said was the misspending of billions of lira at the Istanbul municipality, which has a budget of around $4 billion. “If Imamoglu wins again, there’s going to be a chain of serious changes in Turkish politics,” journalist and writer Murat Yetkin said. “It will be interpreted as the beginning of a decline for AKP and for Erdogan as well,” he said, noting that the president himself had called the local elections “a matter of survival”.

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NATO and US need Turkey. It’s as central as Iran.

EU Warns Turkey Of Sanctions For Cyprus Drilling (BBC)

The EU has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey if it continues “illegal drilling” in waters near Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. The warning came at an EU summit in Brussels. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called Turkey’s actions “totally unacceptable”. Turkey launched a second drilling ship – the Yavuz – on Thursday for natural gas and oil prospecting off Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus is in the EU, but the breakaway north is pro-Turkey. The European Council – the EU government leaders – called on Turkey to “show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus and refrain from any such actions”.


“The European Council endorses the invitation to the [EU] Commission and the EEAS [EU foreign affairs service] to submit options for appropriate measures without delay, including targeted measures,” the statement said. The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey, and is internationally isolated. Turkey said it was drilling inside its continental shelf, complying with international law. Reuters news agency reported that a Turkish drilling ship, the Fatih, had been anchored west of Cyprus since early May and had begun drilling. [..] Turkey – a key Nato partner for the West – has extensive trade ties with the EU and has not yet been hit with EU sanctions, unlike Russia. The US has threatened Turkey with sanctions if Mr Erdogan goes ahead with a deal to buy S-400 air defence missiles from Russia.

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Given the attacks on the NHS, this should not be surprising. Same as in US.

Why Is UK Life Expectancy Faltering? (O.)

In a few days, a team of researchers, statisticians and geographers will gather at University College London to tackle an issue of increasing concern for doctors and health experts. They will investigate why many UK citizens are now living shorter, less healthy lives compared with the recent past. The emergence of faltering life expectancy in Britain has caused particular alarm because it reverses a trend that has continued, almost unbroken, for close to 100 years. Over this period, lives have lengthened continuously, blessing more and more British people with the gift of old age. But now that increase has come to a halt, statisticians have discovered. Indeed, among many sections of the UK population, declines have set in.

Hence the meeting, organised by the British Society for Population Studies, which has been organised so delegates can use data – to be released this week by the Office for National Statistics – to update their life expectancy projections. “It is a perfect storm,” says Danny Dorling, professor of social geography at Oxford University, who has organised the London meeting. “Our faltering life expectancy rates show we have now got the worst trend in health anywhere in western Europe since the second world war. To achieve that, we must have made a lot of bad decisions,” he said. Statisticians first noticed in 2013 that rises in life expectancy in the UK had begun to slow down. Gradually, the graph – which been rising for decades – flattened out until, a few years ago, it started to decline for increasing numbers of people.

The elderly, the poor and the newborn were worst affected. For example, life expectancies for those over 65 have dropped by more than six months. The trend now causes considerable concern among doctors who view life expectancy figures as barometers of the health of Britain. From this perspective, the nation is sickening – and a host of different factors have been put forward as explanations. One frequently made claim is that humans have simply reached the peak of longevity. “Life expectancy cannot be expected to increase forever,” Robert Courts, a Tory MP, told the Commons recently. Many statisticians point out, however, that life expectancy has continued to rise – well above UK levels – in many other places, including Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan and Scandinavia. Other factors must be involved, they state.

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If breaks again will it ever sail again?

Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Giant Plastic Trap Put To Sea Again (AP)

A floating device designed to catch plastic waste has been redeployed in a second attempt to clean up a huge island of garbage swirling in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. Boyan Slat, creator of the Ocean Cleanup project, announced on Twitter that a 600-metre (2,000-foot) long floating boom that broke apart late last year was sent back to the Great Pacific garbage patch this week after four months of repair. A ship towed the U-shaped barrier from San Francisco to the patch in September to trap the plastic. But during the four months at sea, the boom broke apart under constant waves and wind and the boom wasn’t retaining the plastic it caught.

“Hopefully nature doesn’t have too many surprises in store for us this time,” Slat tweeted. “Either way, we’re set to learn a lot from this campaign.” Fitted with solar-powered lights, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas, the device intends to communicate its position at all times, allowing a support vessel to fish out the collected plastic every few months and transport it to dry land. The plastic barrier with a tapered 3-metre deep (10-foot deep) screen is intended to act like a coastline, trapping some of the 1.8tn pieces of plastic that scientists estimate are swirling in the patch while allowing marine life to safely swim beneath it.

During its first run, the organisation said marine biologists on board the support vessel did not observe any environmental impact. Slat has said he hopes one day to deploy 60 of the devices to skim plastic debris off the surface of the ocean.

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Mar 302019
 


René Magritte The muscles of the sky 1927

 

May Hopes To Hold Fourth Vote On Brexit Deal (Ind.)
May Ready To Trigger Election Within 10 Days (Ind.)
EU Gives Britain 11 Days To Come Up With New Brexit Plan (G.)
The Democrats Are Self-Destructing (PCR)
Wokester’s Nightmare (Kunstler)
Barr Says Mueller Report Will Be Released In Mid-April ‘If Not Sooner’ (AP)
On Russiagate and Our Refusal to Face Why Trump Won (Taibbi)
US Readying Sanctions On Russia Over Nerve-Agent Attack In Britain (R.)
Southwest To Keep Boeing 737 MAX Off Schedules Through May (R.)
TUI Sticks With Boeing, Sees 737 Maxs Flying By Mid-July (R.)
Human Population Explosion Squeezes Out Wildlife On African Savannah (Ind.)
The Places in America that Use the Most (and Least) Pesticides (PO)

 

 

Get me Bill Murray on the phone.

May Hopes To Hold Fourth Vote On Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May hopes to bring her Brexit deal back to parliament again next week after it was rejected for a third time by MPs – and appears poised to trigger a general election if parliament fails to agree a way forward. Despite the embattled prime minister’s dramatic promise on Wednesday that she would hand over the keys to 10 Downing Street if her Tory colleagues backed the withdrawal agreement, parliament voted against it on Friday, by 344 to 286. The Commons vote was held on the day when Britain was meant to be leaving the European Union, as Parliament Square outside overflowed with raucous pro-Brexit protesters.

A string of leave-supporting Conservative backbenchers who had twice rejected the deal, including Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, switched sides to support the agreement. But with Labour unwilling to shift its position, and the Democratic Unionist party’s 10 MPs implacably opposed, it was not enough to secure a majority for May. The result was a sense of stunned disbelief in Westminster. Asked what could happen next, one government source said: “Last one out, turn off the lights.” Immediately after the defeat was announced, May told MPs: “The implications of the house’s decision are grave. The legal default now is that the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on 12 April. In just 14 days’ time.”

Under the deal agreed by EU leaders in Brussels last week, if May had passed her withdrawal agreement this week, Brexit would have been delayed until 22 May. Now, she will have to return to Brussels for an emergency European council summit on 10 April. The EU27 expect her to ask for a longer delay – requiring Britain to participate in the European elections in May – or accept a no-deal Brexit two days later. However, her aides hope the 22 May date could still be in play if her deal is accepted next week.

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So what’s she waiting for?

May Ready To Trigger Election Within 10 Days (Ind.)

Britain is veering towards a new general election after MPs voted down Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a third time on Friday. She strongly hinted after the defeat that she will take the country to the polls if parliament does not pass a deal respecting the 2016 referendum result in the next 10 days. Ministers told The Independent a new election was a clear possibility featuring in the prime minister’s thinking, with her likely to have one final attempt to push her deal through next week. As thousands of pro-Brexit protesters shouted outside parliament, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scottish nationalists, who form the third biggest group in the House of Commons, also called for an election.


It comes as MPs will once again take control of the chamber’s schedule on Monday to hold indicative votes to see if a soft-Brexit compromise can achieve a majority. [..] Asked whether an election was now becoming a clear possibility, one cabinet source told The Independent without hesitation: “Yes. Absolutely. No question.” There had been speculation that the vote itself was set up for 29 March to make a show of Mr Corbyn’s party voting against Brexit ahead of a pending election campaign. One cabinet minister later said: “We would throw at them the question of ‘what did your MP do on exit day?’ “This is going to be difficult for a lot of individual Labour MPs in Leave areas.”

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10 days, 11 days, they’re intent on entertaining us every single day.

EU Gives Britain 11 Days To Come Up With New Brexit Plan (G.)

The EU has given the British government 11 days to come up with a fresh Brexit plan to avoid crashing out of the bloc at 11pm on 12 April. In the immediate aftermath of the crushing rejection of the prime minister’s deal, the European council president, Donald Tusk, called an emergency leaders’ summit. Should the UK seek a lengthy extension, leaders will debate any request at an extraordinary meeting on 10 April. EU capitals would require a clear justification at least two days earlier from Downing Street on the reason for a lengthy delay to allow officials to prepare. “We expect the UK to indicate a way forward before then, well in time for the European council to consider,” an official said.


EU heads of state and government expressed their alarm at the continued impasse in Westminster following the third defeat of May’s deal. The Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said: “It is up to the UK to indicate how it plans to proceed in order to avoid a no-deal scenario. The European council has agreed unanimously that the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened.” However, he added: “I believe we must be open to a long extension should the UK decide to fundamentally reconsider its approach … I believe that will result in a generous and understanding response from the 27.”

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Haven’t heard from Paul Craig Roberts in a while. Is that just me?

The Democrats Are Self-Destructing (PCR)

I know Democrats are disappointed not to have Trump’s head presented to them by Mueller on a silver platter. But surely not even Democrats are stupid enough to believe the Russiagate conspiracy tale. It was all cooked up by the military/security complex to prevent Trump from normalizing relations with Russia, thereby removing the enemy that justifies the $1,000 billion annual budget. Before writing such nonsense as Hartmann has written, he should have read Barr’s summary of the report. Barr quotes Mueller directly from the report: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Again from Mueller’s report: “The evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”


Other Democrats who cannot cope with their disappointment claim that although cleared of election theft collusion Trump was not cleared of obstruction of justice. This is nonsensical even for Democrats. As Trump committed no crime, what evidence did he obstruct? The evidence of his innocence? Just as murder requires a body, obstruction requires a crime to obstruct. But facts are boring to Democrats. They were certain that all the lies that they and the media whores told would find their way into Mueller’s report. Mueller’s staff was Democrat to the core, and Mueller used every dirty trick in the book in his effort to get something on Trump. It simply couldn’t be done. Democrats will never get over it, just as they never have got over Iran-Contra. Hartmann couldn’t write about the “Russiagate coverup” without dragging in Ronald Reagan and the “Iran-Contra coverup.”

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“It’s also very likely that Robert Mueller learned that the Steele Dossier was a fraud in the summer of 2017, if not shortly after his appointment in May of that year..”

Wokester’s Nightmare (Kunstler)

All of a sudden, a whole lot of people who have been punking the public-at-large will have to answer for their behavior. Despite the fog of misdirection blowing out of The New York Times, The WashPo, CNN, and MSNBC, it’s become obvious that the RussiaGate hoax was kicked off by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a cabal of Obama appointees in several executive agencies. The evidence is public, fully documented, and overwhelming that the so-called Steele Dossier was the sole animating instrument in both the 2016 pre-election effort to incriminate the Golden Golem of Greatness, and the Mueller Investigation launched post-election to cover-up those same political misdeeds of the Clinton campaign, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA, NSA, and State Department.


It’s also very likely that Robert Mueller learned that the Steele Dossier was a fraud in the summer of 2017, if not shortly after his appointment in May of that year, and yet he dragged out his investigation for almost two years in order to defame and antagonize Mr. Trump — and deflect attention from the ugly truth of the matter. It is certain Mr. Mueller knew that the Steele Dossier was purchased by Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS political “research” company, which was simultaneously in the paid employ of Mrs. Clinton and the Russian political lobbying agency Prevezon (as reported by Sean Davis in The Federalist). If the FBI brass did not bring that to Mr. Mueller’s attention right away, then either their incompetence is epic or they are criminally liable for concealing the hoax.

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Mueller’s doing the redacting with Barr.

Barr Says Mueller Report Will Be Released In Mid-April ‘If Not Sooner’ (AP)

Congress should expect to receive a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation by mid-April, Attorney General William Barr said Friday. In a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Barr said he shares a desire for Congress and the public to be able to read Mueller’s findings, which are included in the nearly 400-page report Mueller submitted last week. Barr said he does not plan to share the report with the White House before making it public. He said that while President Donald Trump would have the right to assert executive privilege over certain parts of the report, “he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me and, accordingly, there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review.”

Mueller officially concluded his investigation when he submitted the report last Friday. Two days later, Barr sent a four-page letter to Congress that detailed Mueller’s “principal conclusions.” Mueller’s report did not find that the Trump campaign coordinated or conspired with Russia, Barr wrote, and did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided on their own that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to establish that the president committed obstruction.

Barr said he is preparing to redact multiple categories of information from the report. Those include grand jury material; information that would compromise sensitive sources and methods; information that could affect ongoing investigations, including those referred by Mueller’s office to other Justice Department offices; and information that could infringe on the personal privacy and reputation of “peripheral third parties.” “Our progress is such that I anticipate we will be in a position to release the report by mid-April, if not sooner,” he said.

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Getting a bit tired of all the regurgitating and gloating, but this look back is nice.

On Russiagate and Our Refusal to Face Why Trump Won (Taibbi)

Nate Silver, the ex-baseball stats guru and renowned “National Oracle™” (as Gizmodo cheekily called him), laughed at Trump’s chances[1]. His site, FiveThirtyEight, ran a story called “Why Donald Trump Isn’t a Real Candidate, In One Chart.” The piece said Trump was more likely to “play in the NBA finals” or cameo in another Home Alone movie than win the nomination. Dana Milbank in the Washington Post: “I’m so certain Trump won’t win the nomination that I’ll eat my words if he does. Literally.” Milbank ended up actually doing this, for which he deserves a lot of credit. “Donald Trump is going to lose because he is crazy,” was the take of Jonathan Chait, who would soon be writing Trump might have been recruited by the KGB in 1987.

It isn’t just that wizards of prognostication were wrong. The bigger issue was why they were so confident. A common take was the political establishment just wouldn’t allow it. Former “The Note” writer Mark Halperin used to talk about having his finger on the pulse of the “Gang of 500,” which he described as “campaign consultants, strategists, pollsters, pundits and journalists who make up the modern-day political establishment.” The subtext of Halperin’s pieces was that the Gang of 500 decided elections. It’s hard to understand how it never occurred to Halperin or anyone else that people might be grossed out by the concept of 500 self-appointed guardians of democracy deciding the presidency for 300 million people.

In this case, just by saying out loud the idea that the people who mattered would never let Trump win, probably helped Trump win. It validated his talk about “elites.” Nate Cohn of The New York Times wrote Trump had “just about no shot of winning the nomination no matter how well he is doing in the early polls.” He prefaced this by saying it is “the party elites who traditionally decide nomination contests.” When Trump defied these predictions and sealed up the Republican nomination, he immediately became subject to a new legend, about how he was destined to be the biggest landslide loser in history of general elections: bigger than Alf Landon or even George McGovern, whose very name in America is synonymous with “loser.”

Here are some takes on Trump’s campaign after he sealed up the nomination: David Brooks: Trump will be the “biggest loser” in American politics. The Week: “Trump is poised to lose the biggest landslide in modern American history.” George Will: “Donald Trump may find a place in history – by losing just that badly.” I belong on this infamous list myself. In one of the worst mistakes of my career, I ended up changing my mind about “free-falling” Trump’s chances, spending the stretch run predicting doom for Republicans. I read too many polls and ignored what I was seeing, i.e. that even the post-Access Hollywood Trump was still packing stadiums.

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I swear I thought it was an April Fools prank.

US Readying Sanctions On Russia Over Nerve-Agent Attack In Britain (R.)

The White House has received a package of new sanctions to be imposed on Russia in retaliation for the 2018 nerve-agent attack on a Russian double agent in Britain, Bloomberg reported on Friday. Officials at the U.S. Treasury and State Departments have vetted the sanctions and are awaiting approval from the White House to issue them, Bloomberg said, citing people familiar with the matter. Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March 2018 after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to the front door of Skripal’s home.


Both Skripal and his daughter survived. Russia has denied any involvement in the attack. Asked about Friday’s report, a Trump administration official noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call in February that the United States was determined to hold Russia accountable for the attack through sanctions.

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Don’t think they’ll make it.

Southwest To Keep Boeing 737 MAX Off Schedules Through May (R.)

Southwest Airlines Co said on Friday it was pulling its Boeing Co 737 MAX jets from flight schedules through May, extending its earlier timeline from April 20, according to a company memorandum seen by Reuters. “This will impact the lines in May, but, now that the decision has been made, we can construct our schedule without those flights well in advance in hopes to minimize the daily disruptions,” the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association and the company said in the joint memorandum. Boeing’s top-selling 737 MAX jetliner has been grounded in the wake of two deadly crashes involving that model in five months, one in Indonesia last October and another on March 10 in Ethiopia.

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Europe’s no 1 tour operator. Note how nice Boeing and them are to each other:“..he was “very certain” of receiving some compensation from Boeing, probably next year.|”

TUI Sticks With Boeing, Sees 737 Maxs Flying By Mid-July (R.)

TUI remains committed to its Boeing 737 MAX orders despite two fatal crashes that have led to the grounding of the plane worldwide and caused the Anglo-German tour operator to issue a profit warning on Friday. TUI said its profit would fall by at least 200 million euros ($225 million) this year due to the cost of substituting planes, loss of business and lower fuel efficiency – further evidence of the financial impact of the two deadly accidents after warnings from North American airlines. The holiday firm’s shares fell to an all-time low.

Global airlines and travel groups have had to make contingency plans after 737 MAX planes were taken out of service following an Ethiopian Airlines disaster on March 10 that killed 157 people, five months after a Lion Air crash in Indonesia that killed 189. Boeing is planning a software fix to address an issue that can arise when the MAX’s anti-stall system, MCAS, repeatedly pushes the plane’s nose down. The MCAS system is at the center of safety investigations into the two crashes. Based on feedback from Boeing and EU regulator EASA, the planes should be flying again in July, TUI’s Chief Executive Friedrich Joussen told analysts on a call.

CEO Joussen said: “We are saving $1 million per year per aircraft in fuel, but – and here comes the but – safety first.” TUI has little scope to cancel flights, as some airlines are doing, because the flights feed its hotel and cruise business. It is leasing planes complete with crews to replace those due to have been flown by 737 MAXs at the cost of $1 million each per month, executives said, adding they had seen some tightening of the so-called wet-leasing market. Bookings were down by 10 percent in major markets since the Ethiopian crash, Joussen said, adding he was “very certain” of receiving some compensation from Boeing, probably next year.

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“.. a 400 per cent increase in human population over the last decade, while more than three quarters of the populations of some of the larger species of migrating animals like wildebeest, zebra and gazelle have been wiped out..”

Human Population Explosion Squeezes Out Wildlife On African Savannah (Ind.)

Encroachment by people into one of Africa’s most celebrated ecosystems is “squeezing the wildlife in its core”, by damaging habitation and disrupting the migration routes of animals, a major international study has concluded. Boundary areas of the Serengeti-Mara region in East Africa have seen a 400 per cent increase in human population over the last decade, while more than three quarters of the populations of some of the larger species of migrating animals like wildebeest, zebra and gazelle have been wiped out, scientists revealed after examining 40 years of data. Despite being one of the most protected ecosystems on Earth, the influx of people and livestock around both the Serengeti and Masai Mara has had a detrimental impact on plants, wild animals and soils.


This has occurred in two main ways, the study found. Firstly, the protected areas’ or “buffer zones” where more livestock including cattle are being reared, are leaving less and lower quality grasses for wildebeest, zebra and gazelle to graze. Secondly, the presence of people and farm animals has also reduced the frequency of natural fires, which in turn impacts the variety of vegetation, altering grazing opportunities for wildlife in the core protected areas. Publishing their findings in the journal Science, the authors said the impacts were cascading down the food chain. Animals were forced to eat less palatable herbs and therefore the beneficial interactions between plants and microorganisms that enable the ecosystem to flourish were being altered.


Zebra, gazelle and wildebeest populations have fallen as human populations have risen on the edges of protected areas (Getty)

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h/t Tyler

The Places in America that Use the Most (and Least) Pesticides (PO)

We decided to analyze data to uncover which states in the United States had the most and least exposure to pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural chemicals, with a particular focus on glyphosate, the active ingredient that is in the news right now. We looked at data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to see which compounds were most popular and which locations had the highest usage levels of these chemicals. By a significant margin, the most popular herbicide in the United States is glyphosate, which is four times more popular than the second most popular chemical. Not surprisingly, large agricultural states like California, Washington, and Illinois use the most pesticides.

However, some states that use a lot of these chemicals see very little glyphosate usage, while others nearly exclusively use the compound. In California for example, only 6 percent of pesticide usage is glyphosate, while in Montana, 52 percent of such usage is from glyphosate. [..] By a significant margin, glyphosate is the most popular pesticide used in American agriculture. Over 130 million kilograms were used in 2016, which was approximately four times more than the second-place pesticide, Atrazine. In total, just over 544 million kilograms of pesticides were used in the U.S. in 2016, and 24 percent of that was glyphosate. It’s hard to overestimate just how pervasive Roundup and glyphosate are this country.

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Feb 282019
 


René Magritte The endearing truth 1966

 

Trump Says Deal With Kim Thwarted By North Korea’s Sanction Demands (R.)
Michael Cohen Predicts Revolution If Trump Loses In 2020 (RT)
Michael Cohen’s Explosive Allegations Spell Danger For Trump On Two Fronts (G.)
Why Trump Will Likely Be Reelected, And What It Means For Global Security (F.)
Regime Change is Urgently Needed…in Washington (OffG)
Venezuela Set For More False Flags (Cunningham)
Disintegration Of Global Capitalism Could Unleash WWIII (Nafeez Ahmed)
China Factory Activity At 3-Year Low, Export Orders Worst In A Decade (CNBC)
Denmark Government Wants Stores To Stop Accepting Cash (RT)
Chinese Dam Project In Guinea Could Kill Up To 1,500 Chimpanzees (G.)
Kenya Announces Death Penalty for Poachers (SAI)
The Endless Sunshine of Planetary Death (HmmD)
World’s Deepest Waters Becoming ‘Ultimate Sink’ For Plastic Waste (G.)
How To Live Happily With The 5,000 Other Species In Your House (G.)

 

 

No, not even that headline is true. Trump wants full denuclearization, and Kim wants full lifting of sanctions. That is complex, that takes trust, that will take a lot more talk. And that’s fine, as Trump recognizes. These meetings should become so common they don’t make the news anymore.

Trump Says Deal With Kim Thwarted By North Korea’s Sanction Demands (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had walked away from a nuclear deal at his summit with Kim Jong Un because of unacceptable demands from the North Korean leader to lift punishing U.S.-led sanctions. Trump said two days of talks in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi had made good progress in building relations and on the key issue of denuclearization, but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. “It was all about the sanctions,” Trump said at a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.” The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state undertook a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources hard cash.

Both Trump and Kim left the venue of their talks, the French-colonial-era Metropole hotel, without attending a planned lunch together. “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” Trump said, adding “it was a friendly walk”. Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office. Trump said Cohen “lied a lot” during Congressional testimony in Washington on Wednesday, though he had told the truth when he said there had been “no collusion” with Russia.

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I watched quite a bit of the ‘testimony’ yesterday, increasingly wondering: what are we watching here? Why is this show put on? It was clear from the ‘leaked’ files that Cohen had nothing, as I said yesterday morning. In the Q&A session he had way less than nothing. So yeah, let’s go with the most absurd headline of the bunch.

Michael Cohen Predicts Revolution If Trump Loses In 2020 (RT)

Trump consigliere turned federal informant Michael Cohen shared his fear that there will “never be a peaceful transition of power” if his former boss loses the 2020 election during a congressional hearing some called a ‘circus.’ “You don’t know him! I do!” Cohen insisted plaintively during his testimony before the Oversight Committee of the House of Representatives, before predicting Trump would refuse to step down even if he was defeated in 2020. “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat,” declared Cohen, who pleaded guilty to charges he lied to Congress regarding the special counsel’s ongoing ‘Russiagate’ probe in November, months after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and tax fraud. He has been busily feeding information to the various Trump probes ever since.

Despite promising big things – proof that Trump had instructed him to commit crimes, evidence of Trump’s racism, even the holy grail of Russian collusion – Cohen failed to deliver anything tangible to the salivating Democrats on the committee, admitting he had no “real examples” of collusion and instead filling his time on the stand with public displays of repentance over his ten years of service to Trump. “Everybody’s job at the Trump organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something. And that became the norm, and that’s what’s happening right now in this country,” Cohen intoned. “This destruction of our civility to one another is just out of control.” Republicans, meanwhile, repeatedly reminded the committee that Cohen had already been convicted for perjury. Rep. Carol Miller (R-West Virginia) denounced the entire affair as a “circus.”

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Things don’t magically become ‘explosive’ or ‘bombshell’ just because opinionated reporters say so. And these lines from Cohen don’t exactly save the narrative:

“Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion..”

“There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction..”

Michael Cohen’s Explosive Allegations Spell Danger For Trump On Two Fronts (G.)

Michael Cohen on Wednesday delivered a sharp warning to Donald Trump and the Republican party that the president faces legal and political peril on at least two fronts. First, the Trump-Russia investigation. Cohen became the first Trump associate to allege that, in 2016, Trump knew in advance that his eldest son, Donald Jr, was meeting Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton – and that WikiLeaks would be releasing emails stolen from Democrats by Russian operatives. Moreover, Cohen hinted that Robert Mueller, the special counsel currently wrapping up a two-year inquiry into whether Trump’s team coordinated with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, may have proof.

Cohen was asked by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat forced to resign as party chairwoman over the WikiLeaks disclosures, how they could corroborate his explosive allegations, which are based on remarks he says he overheard in Trump’s office. “I suspect that the special counsel’s office and other government agencies have the information you’re seeking,” Cohen said. Trump denied both allegations in his written answers to questions from Mueller. Cohen also reiterated that Trump lied repeatedly to the American public during the 2016 campaign by saying he had no dealings with Russia. In fact, Cohen has told prosecutors, Trump was keenly pursuing a lucrative tower in Moscow until June 2016.

Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion” with Moscow that the president vehemently denies. Still there was, Cohen said, “something odd” about the affectionate back-and-forth Trump had with Vladimir Putin in public remarks over the years. “There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction,” he said.

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The Democrats may be intent -again- on swamping the field with candidates, only to end up with the establishment candidate. That would mean they haven’t learned a thing in 4 years. Unless Ocasio rises to the occasion (get it? Ocasio->Occasion). But that’s doubtful, 1 year is short. So maybe they should chew on this a little:

Why Trump Will Likely Be Reelected, And What It Means For Global Security (F.)

Donald Trump’s presidency has been so widely derided in the national media that a casual observer might easily conclude his prospects for reelection are dim. However, that is not what the odds makers are saying. They give Trump a solid edge over any Democratic candidate in 2020. The odds makers are right. Trump will probably be reelected if he chooses to run. What follows is an explanation of why the odds favor Trump, and what eight years of his leadership would mean for global security. Let’s start with the factors favoring a second term. First of all, candidates who get elected to the presidency once tend to get reelected if they run. Only two chief executives seeking reelection over the last 50 years—Carter and Bush 41—failed in their bid for a second term.

Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama all won reelection, even though at least two of them were highly controversial. In fact, the most controversial presidents tend to roll up the biggest reelection victories. Second, Trump has presided over the strongest economy in living memory. Unemployment is at record lows, inflation is nearly non-existent, and new jobs are being created at a startling pace. Anyone who studies presidential politics knows that strong economies are the most important factor driving support for the incumbent. While growth may moderate between now and election day, few economists expect a recession anytime soon. Third, the nation is at peace. Trump has avoided involvement in new overseas adventures, and is pressing to scale back what is left of the operations he inherited from his predecessor.

Critics complain he is too eager to get out of places like Afghanistan and Syria, however the record shows that voters have little patience for foreign military intervention. Unpopular wars are the one issue that can eclipse a good economy in the minds of voters, but at the moment Trump seems to be delivering both peace and prosperity. Fourth, Democrats are busy reminding voters in the middle of the political spectrum why they voted for Trump in 2016. Ever since the Democrats drifted away from their blue-collar base in the 1970s, winning the party’s presidential nomination has required appeals to the Left. While many voters may resent the rich and want more government benefits, those sentiments become muted when the economy is strong.

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What if the entire third world unites against the west?

Regime Change is Urgently Needed…in Washington (OffG)

I am surprised that no one else is saying it, writing it, shouting it at each and every corner: It is not Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran that are in dire and crucial need of ‘regime change’. It is the United States of America, it is the entire European Union; in fact, the entire West. And the situation is urgent. The West has gone mad; it has gone so to speak, bananas; mental. And people there are too scared to even say it, to write about it. One country after another is falling, being destroyed, antagonized, humiliated, impoverished. Entire continents are treated as if they were inhabited by irresponsible toddlers, who are being chased and disciplined by sadistic adults, with rulers and belts in their hands yelling with maniacal expressions on their faces: “Behave, do as we say, or else!”

It all would be truly comical, if it weren’t so depressing. But… nobody is laughing. People are shaking, sweating, crying, begging, puking, but they are not chuckling. I see it everywhere where I work: in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. But why? It is because North American and European countries are actually seriously delivering their ultimatum: you either obey us, and prostrate yourself in front of us, or we will break you, violate you, and if everything else fails, we will kill your leaders and all of those who are standing in our way. This is not really funny, is it? Especially considering that it is being done to almost all the countries in what is called Latin America, to many African and Middle Eastern nations, and to various states on the Asian continent.

And it is all done ‘professionally’, with great sadistic craftsmanship and rituals. No one has yet withstood ‘regime change’ tactics, not even the once mighty Soviet Union, nor tremendous China, or proud and determined Afghanistan. Cuba, Venezuela, DPRK and Syria may be the only countries that are still standing. They resisted and mobilized all their resources in order to survive; and they have survived, but at a tremendous price.

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What a failure this has become in a few short weeks.

Venezuela Set For More False Flags (Cunningham)

It seems obvious the whole scenario of delivering US aid into Venezuela from neighboring countries was really intended as a pretext for military intervention by Washington. The government in Caracas had warned of such a contingency in advance, as had Russia, which is allied to President Maduro’s administration. Moscow’s experience in Syria has no doubt given a lot of valuable insights into the American playbook of using false flags for justifying military aggression. The timing of the Lima Group summit – 12 Latin American states along with the US and Canada – was meant to capitalize on the false-flag incident over aid, as well as other deadly clashes at the weekend that resulted in dozens of casualties.

However, the provocation did not go to plan, despite Pence and Guaido’s grandstanding assertions. The other downside for the US regime-change objective in Venezuela is that the Lima Group has for the moment broken ranks over the military option. Pence and Guaido stepped up the rhetoric calling for “all options” on the table – meaning military intervention. But the Lima Group, including US allies Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, issued a statement after the summit Monday rejecting any military action. They are still functioning as lackeys by calling for a “peaceful transition to democracy” and are in favor of the dubious US-anointed opposition figure Guaido, recognizing him as the “interim president” of Venezuela, in accordance with Washington’s desires.

Nevertheless, repudiation of the military option by Washington’s regional allies will be seen as a damper to the momentum for using American force to overthrow the Maduro government. Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourão repeatedly said in interviews that his government would not allow a US military incursion into Venezuela from its territory. The European Union also said it was opposed to any military force being used by the US against Venezuela. The emerging situation therefore puts the regime-change planners in Washington in a quandary. Their sanctions pressure for blackmailing defections in the Venezuelan political and military leadership has failed. So too has the much-vaunted spectacle of delivering US aid.

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So why is capitalism disintegrating? Maybe you should answer that first. Being deeply embedded in academia doesn’t impress me one bit. That same academia has helped lead us to this mess.

Disintegration Of Global Capitalism Could Unleash WWIII (Nafeez Ahmed)

A senior European Commission economist has warned that a Third World War is an extremely “high probability” in coming years due to the disintegration of global capitalism. In a working paper published last month, Professor Gerhard Hanappi argued that since the 2008 financial crash, the global economy has moved away from “integrated” capitalism into a “disintegrating” shift marked by the same sorts of trends which preceded previous world wars. Professor Hanappi is Jean Monnet Chair for Political Economy of European Integration -an European Commission appointment- at the Institute for Mathematical Models in Economics at the Vienna University of Technology. He also sits on the management committee of the Systemic Risks expert group in the EU-funded European Cooperation in Science and Technology research network.

In his new paper, Hanappi concludes that global conditions bear unnerving parallels with trends before the outbreak of the first and second world wars. Key red flags that the world is on a slippery slope to a global war, he finds, include: • the inexorable growth of military spending; • democracies transitioning into increasingly authoritarian police states; • heightening geopolitical tensions between great powers; • the resurgence of populism across the left and right; • the breakdown and weakening of established global institutions that govern transnational capitalism; • and the relentless widening of global inequalities. These trends, some of which were visible before the previous world wars, are reappearing in new forms. Hanappi argues that the defining feature of the current period is a transition from an older form of “integrating capitalism” to a new form of “disintegrating capitalism”, whose features most clearly emerged after the 2008 financial crisis.

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All the way back to 2008. Have we passed China’s peak already?

China Factory Activity At 3-Year Low, Export Orders Worst In A Decade (CNBC)

Factory activity in China contracted to a three-year low in February as export orders fell at the fastest pace since the global financial crisis, highlighting deepening cracks in an economy facing weak demand at home and abroad. The gloomy findings are likely to reinforce views that the world’s second-largest economy is still losing steam, after growth last year cooled to a near 30-year low. Even with increasing government stimulus to spur activity, concerns are growing that China may be at risk of a sharper slowdown if current Sino-U.S. trade talks fail to relieve some of the pressure. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell for the third straight month, dropping to 49.2 in February from 49.5 in January, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Thursday.

The 50-mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast the gauge would stay unchanged from January’s 49.5. “Unless the trade war truly turns into an extended truce, the weakening trend may not end quickly,” Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING, said in a note. “As such we expect March’s PMI to fall, too.” Manufacturing output contracted in February for the first time since January 2009, during the depths of the global crisis. Manufacturers also continued to cut jobs, a trend Beijing is closely watching as its weighs more support measures. New export orders shrank for a ninth straight month, and at a sharper rate, amid faltering global demand.

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Exactly what even the central bank in Holland has started warning against.

Denmark Government Wants Stores To Stop Accepting Cash (RT)

The Danish government is considering changing current laws which make it compulsory for the vast majority of stores to accept cash payments. The measure is part of Copenhagen’s push for a completely cashless society by 2030. The law change would allow petrol stations, convenience stores and clothing shops to choose to only accept card and online forms of payment. The anti-crime measure would provide additional security for stores, according to Denmark’s Business Minister Rasmus Jarlov. “Fewer people use cash today, so we think there should be a balance between the difficulty and security risks placed on business owners and the benefits of accepting cash,” Jarlov told the DR broadcaster.

A 2017 law enabled certain types of stores to apply for a dispensation to be cash-free between 10pm and 6am. The minister said that, “If you still want to use cash, I would advise saying so to the stores where you shop. I expect businesses to listen to their customers.” “We are not forcing anyone to stop using cash,” he added. Certain services, including supermarkets, postal services, doctors, pharmacies and other stores with “central societal functions,” will still be required to accept cash. Denmark’s endeavor to move towards a completely cash-free economy has been the subject of heated debate lately; with opponents saying the measure is aimed at placing citizens exclusively under state control. The government has “set a 2030 deadline to completely do away with paper money.”

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OK, this is easy. We get together, UN or something, to make sure such projects don’t happen anymore. We’ll make sure people get electricity from other sources, but we’re done destroying nature for it.

Chinese Dam Project In Guinea Could Kill Up To 1,500 Chimpanzees (G.)

Up to 1,500 chimpanzees could be killed by a new Chinese dam that will swamp a crucial sanctuary for the endangered primate in Guinea, experts have warned. The 294MW Koukoutamba dam will be built by Sinohydro, the world’s biggest hydroelectric power plant construction company, in the middle of a newly declared protected area called the Moyen-Bafing National park. The Chinese company is already facing similar criticism for building a dam in Indonesia that threatens the only known habitat of a newly discovered species of orangutan. Its executives signed a contract this week with local representatives eager to secure a power project that will bring energy and funds to one of Africa’s poorest countries. The flooding of swathes of the park is expected to force the displacement of 8,700 people.

It will also increase the pressure on western chimpanzees, which have declined by 80% in the past 20 years, and are now considered critically endangered – the highest level of risk – by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The highlands of Guinea are home to Africa’s healthiest remaining population of about 16,500 western chimpanzees. In most other countries, this subspecies is either extinct or perilously threatened in populations of less than 100 individuals. The Moyen-Bafing reserve was established in 2016 as a “chimpanzee offset” and funded by two mining companies – Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée and Guinea Alumina Corporation – in return for permission to open mineral excavation sites inside other territories of the primate.

Rebecca Kormos, a primatologist who has been researching the animal for decades, has warned that a dam inside the park would have the biggest impact a development project has ever had on chimpanzees. “I hope Sinohydro will reconsider engaging in a project that could drive the western chimpanzee into extinction. Once a species goes, it’s gone forever,” she said. She estimates 800 to 1,500 chimpanzees will die as a result of the project, either by having their habitats flooded or as a result of territorial conflicts if they try to move.

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Article’s a bit confused about timing, but the idea is one I’ve mentioned before. Stop trading with any country that trades in these materials, and shoot poachers on site.

Kenya Announces Death Penalty for Poachers (SAI)

Najib Balala, the tourism and wildlife minister of Kenya, recently announcedthat those who take the lives of innocent animals through poaching will soon face the death penalty in the African country. While this proposal hasn’t been officially enacted into law yet, Balala told China’s Xinhua news agency that wildlife poaching is on a fast track to becoming a capital offense. Sudan, Kenya’s last Rhino who was 45, lived at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya died last year. The species is now extinct due the Chinese demand for Rhino horn. While this measure may seem extreme, it is a last resort attempt to deter people from slaughtering Kenya’s rapidly decreasing wildlife population. Balala reportedly said:

“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of U.S. $200,000. However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.” As compared to recent years, poaching in Kenya is actually on the decline in the present day. According to the country’s tourism ministers, this decrease can largely be attributed to more serious wildlife law enforcement efforts and increased investment in conservation. “These efforts led to an 85 percent reduction in rhino poaching and a 78 percent reduction in elephant poaching, respectively, in 2017 compared to when poaching was at its peak in 2013 and 2012 respectively,” reported the ministry.

However, as Balala pointed out, wildlife poaching has not yet been completely eradicated in Kenya. The Independent reported, “Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 — and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed.” Furthermore, a poacher killed two black rhinos and a calf earlier this month in Kenya’s Meru National Park.


An ‘ordinary’ ivory shop in Hong Kong

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No more clouds.

The Endless Sunshine of Planetary Death (HmmD)

We’re on course to destroy the clouds, they said now. Not just the coral, not just the insects, not just all the wild vertebrates living on land. The clouds. Quanta Magazine, writing about a new Nature Geoscience study on warming and clouds, described the temperature spike known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when a sharp increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide led to an even sharper increase in temperature—along with “mass extinctions” of ocean life, immense dislocations of land animals, and “flash floods and protracted droughts.” How did the temperature jump out of normal boundaries into a lethal range? Clouds currently cover about two-thirds of the planet at any moment. But computer simulations of clouds have begun to suggest that as the Earth warms, clouds become scarcer.

With fewer white surfaces reflecting sunlight back to space, the Earth gets even warmer, leading to more cloud loss. This feedback loop causes warming to spiral out of control. In computer simulations, researchers found that at 1,200 parts per million of carbon dioxide, the level at which temperatures would be expected to be 4º C above the historical baseline, the atmosphere would become too warm and too turbulent to allow sheets of stratocumulus clouds to form. If the clouds fell apart, the extra sunlight could bring on an extra 8 degrees of warming—for a total increase of 12º C, or more than 21º F. Like the methane-spilling permafrost or the fracturing Antarctic ice sheet, the clouds can’t come back if they’re broken; the runaway heating effect would linger even after carbon dioxide levels dropped. We would have irrevocably ruined the sky.

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“If you contaminate a river, it can be flushed clean. If you contaminate a coastline, it can be diluted by the tides. But, in the deepest point of the oceans, it just sits there.”

World’s Deepest Waters Becoming ‘Ultimate Sink’ For Plastic Waste (G.)

The world’s deepest ocean trenches are becoming “the ultimate sink” for plastic waste, according to a study that reveals contamination of animals even in these dark, remote regions of the planet. For the first time, scientists found microplastic ingestion by organisms in the Mariana trench and five other areas with a depth of more than 6,000 metres, prompting them to conclude “it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by plastic pollution”. The paper, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, highlights the threat posed by non-biodegradable substances in clothes, containers and packaging, which make their way from household bins via dump sites and rivers to the oceans, where they break up and sink to the floor.

The impact of plastic in shallower waters – where it chokes dolphins, whales and seabirds – is already well documented in academic journals and by TV programmes such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. But the study shows this problem is far more profound than previously realised. Researchers baited, caught and examined subsea creatures from six of the deepest places in the world – the Peru-Chile trench in the south-east Pacific, the New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches in the south-west Pacific, and the Japan trench, Izu-Bonin trench and Mariana trench in the north-west Pacific. In all six areas, they found ingestion of microparticles by amphipods – a shrimp-like crustacean that scavenges on the seabed. The deeper the region, the higher the rate of consumption. In the Mariana trench – which goes down to the lowest point on earth of 10,890 metres below sea level – 100% of samples contained at least one microparticle.

The materials included polyester-reinforced cotton and fibres made of lyocell, rayon, ramie, polyvinyl and polyethylene. The breadth of substances and broad range of geographic sites prompted the authors to observe that increasing volumes of global plastic waste will find their way from surface gyres into these trenches. “It is intuitive that the ultimate sink for this debris, in whatever size, is the deep sea,” they noted. Once the materials reach these areas the waste has nowhere else to go, said Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University, the lead author of the paper. “If you contaminate a river, it can be flushed clean. If you contaminate a coastline, it can be diluted by the tides. But, in the deepest point of the oceans, it just sits there. It can’t flush and there are no animals going in and out of those trenches.”

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The other side of the spectrum: celebrate and understand what life is. Should have mentioned EO Wilson, though, I think.

“..we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”

How To Live Happily With The 5,000 Other Species In Your House (G.)

The good news is that I will never be home alone again. The bad news – well, it’s not in fact bad news, but it is slightly unsettling – is that I share my home with at least 5,000 other species: wasps, flies, spiders, silverfish and an exotic bunch of wild bacteria. All that information is apparently contained in a patch of grey dust I have just swabbed with my right index finger from a door frame in my living room. It’s like a DNA test of my house, says Rob Dunn, a 43-year-old American biologist who has come to my house in Copenhagen to hunt microbial life. He carries no lab gear and his blue crewneck jumper and striped Oxford shirt are hardly the combat suit of an exterminator. But with every discovery we make, with every spider we find lurking in the corner or each swab of dust, he displays an almost childlike sense of excitement.

He swears and smiles, even whoops with delight: “This dust sample contains bacteria, your body microbes, your wife’s body microbes, your child’s body microbes. If you smoke weed we would find marijuana DNA in there. Everything is visible, but it’s also present in every breath. Every time you inhale, you inhale that story of your home.” [..] When he began working as a biologist he went to the jungle to study wild beasts, but now his research is dedicated to species much closer to home: to the flies, spiders and bacteria hidden in every nook and cranny of our kitchens, bathrooms and basements. To the “jungle of everyday life”, as he describes it in his new book.

Never Home Alone tracks how we have been disconnected from the ecosystems of our homes. It’s a book of hard truths – I now know that I shed 50m flakes of skin every day, providing food for thousands of bacteria, and that cockroaches are basically our perfect interspecies Tinder-match. It also confronts our irrational relationship with cleanliness. Our modern instinct might be to swat a spider on the kitchen worktop or blitz creepy crawlies into oblivion with antimicrobial sprays, but we could be killing useful allies, according to Dunn: “The key thing is that your life is going to be full of life. And your only choice is which life. Our default is that we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”

Read more …

Celebrate life:

Feb 152019
 


Pablo Picasso Three women at the edge of the beach 1924

 

NBC Issues Latest Reminder That Mueller Report Might Disappoint (ZH)
Trump Will Sign Spending Bill, Declare Emergency Over Border – McConnell (MW)
Russians Told To ‘Prepare For The Worst’ As US Proposes New Sanctions (Ind.)
Theresa May Suffers Embarrassing Defeat As Tories Rebel Over No-Deal (Ind.)
Dutch PM On Brexit: UK Is A Waning Country Too Small To Stand Alone (G.)
German Economy Narrowly Avoids Recession As Weaker Exports Take Toll (G.)
BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma “Gas Attack” Footage “Was Staged” (ZH)
As Amazon Drops New York City Project, Progressives Claim A Major Coup (R.)
White Supremacy Is a Key Driver of the Venezuela Coup (Palast)
How The US Has Hidden Its Empire (Immerwahr)
School Climate Strikes: ‘The Beginning Of Great Change’ (G.)
100s Of Endangered Animals At Risk Of Extinction Due To Wildlife Trade (Ind.)

 

 

They’re inventing a narrative as we speak that Mueller may have proof of collusion, but not enough for a criminal case, and therefore that proof may remain hidden. Which would give NBC plenty material for more empty allegations right up until the 2020 elections. In the media, it’s no longer about what you can prove, it’s about what wiggle room you have to smear and accuse. They’ll never give up: the Senate committee comes up nothing, and they prepare their audience for the Mueller probe doing the same, but somehow that means nothing. No matter what happens, the verdict is already there.

NBC Issues Latest Reminder That Mueller Report Might Disappoint (ZH)

“Millions of Americans may be sorely disappointed” by the Mueller report – or lack thereof, according to NBC News. Yes, after nearly three years of DOJ investigation, FBI spying, and what appears to have been a setup involving a mysterious Maltese professor who bragged about his ties to the Clinton Foundation – it looks like that “the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found.” The NBC report comes days after a bipartisan Senate investigation found no collusion between Trumpworld and Russia, and the same day as former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe admitted that he rushed to open the Russia probe out of fear of being fired.

Unless Mueller files a detailed indictment charging members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia, the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found — including potentially scandalous behavior that doesn’t amount to a provable crime . The reason: The special counsel operates under rules that severely constrain how much information can be made public. -NBC News And while the Attorney General will be required to notify Congress of Mueller’s findings, those reports must amount to “brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.” “Expectations that we will see a comprehensive report from the special counsel are high. But the written regulations that govern the special counsel’s reporting requirements should arguably dampen those expectations,” said former federal prosecutor Chuck Rosenberg.

[..] When asked about making the Mueller report public, newly minted Attorney General, William Barr, has said “My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law,” adding “I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and I will not let personal, political or other improper interests influence my decision.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said in January that her vote on Barr’s nomination is contingent upon whether he will release the report publicly. “My vote really depends on whether I believe that that report will come out as written,” said Feinstein. “I served for a long time on the Intelligence Committee, and I know redaction can be excessive.”

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TEXT

Trump Will Sign Spending Bill, Declare Emergency Over Border – McConnell (MW)

President Donald Trump will sign a spending bill to keep the government open and at the same time declare a national emergency at the border, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday. McConnell spoke from the Senate floor after Trump said on Twitter he was reviewing the bill with his team at the White House. Trump has discussed using an emergency declaration to build a proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a move that’s certain to provoke a brawl with Congress and perhaps in the courts.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump would sign the bill and “take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.” “The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” Sanders said. The measure passed the Senate on Thursday afternoon by an 83-16 vote, and the House approved it Thursday night with a 300-128 tally. Republicans including Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida voted against it.

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As RT states: “Even the most cursory observer will notice the bill treats alleged Russian meddling abroad and “illicit and corrupt activities” of the Russian president as established, proven facts (they are not).”

Russians Told To ‘Prepare For The Worst’ As US Proposes New Sanctions (Ind.)

Moscow has reacted to a proposed new package of United States sanctions with of mix of anger and resignation. As an influential former minister urged Russians to prepare for the worst, the Kremlin accused the US of “racketeering”. “We see clear symptoms of emotional Russophobia,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists. “But behind the emotions … is an entirely pragmatic, assertive trade calculation, and … nothing less than an attempt to engage in dishonest competition.” The new round of sanctions, proposed in the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act on Wednesday evening, would target Russia’s security service, sovereign debt, and its financial and energy sectors.

The sanctions package is awaiting congressional approval. m According to the bill’s authors, the measures have been proposed in response to two developments: Russian “interference in democratic processes abroad” and its “aggression against Ukraine”, including the seizing of Ukrainian warships in the Kerch strait in November. On Thursday, the proposed sanctions were met with a predictably angry response by Russian state television and more media-hungry parliamentarians. Perhaps the most memorable response was filed by Frants Klintsevich, the prominent, if excitable, member of the Defence and Security Committee of Russia’s upper house. He described the new sanctions as a “dangerous habit” akin to “smoking a pipe before breakfast, poisoning all those around”.

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In the future, this headline will sow much confusion about the date it applies to. May suffers embarrassing defeats almost every day.

Theresa May Suffers Embarrassing Defeat As Tories Rebel Over No-Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May’s Brexit plans have been dealt a body blow following a “fiasco” in the House of Commons, which saw dozens of Tories inflict an embarrassing defeat on their leader. Eurosceptic Conservatives refused to back a motion reiterating support for the prime minister’s negotiating strategy, deeply suspicious that she might try and use it to rule out a no-deal Brexit. The loss brutally exposes how trust between Ms May and her backbenchers has hit rock bottom, with many still furious over comments made by her chief negotiator in a Brussels bar this week which also appeared to exclude a no-deal scenario. But the defeat has also laid bare the extreme fragility of parliamentary support for her approach, with her ministers having claimed only last week that she had secured a “strong mandate” from the Commons.

On another dramatic night in parliament, Ms May was nowhere to be seen as the result was read out to cheers from the Labour benches. The government motion was defeated by 258 votes to 303. One leading Tory described the night as a “fiasco”, Jeremy Corbyn said the country was heading for a “catastrophe”, and a senior source in Brussels said: “There goes the strong mandate.” The Brexit fault line also cut through Mr Corbyn’s party on Thursday, with a significant number of Labour MPs apparently defying their leader’s will in a separate vote amid suspicions that some are close to breaking away. But the spotlight was firmly on the prime minister’s ailing administration as it contorted in an attempt to avoid defeat on what did not have to be a difficult night for Ms May.

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Rutte is an all-out neo-liberal globalist. The kind that control Brussels today. But will that still be the case after the May EU elections?

Dutch PM On Brexit: UK Is A Waning Country Too Small To Stand Alone (G.)

Britain is a “waning country” and too small to stand alone on the world stage, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has claimed in a withering assessment of the UK’s exit from the EU. Rutte, who has emerged as a key player in the talks over the past two years, also warned in an interview that the UK looked to be sliding off the “precipice” towards a “devastating” no-deal Brexit. “Who will be left weakened by Brexit is the United Kingdom,” he said. “It is already weakening, it is a waning country compared to two or three years ago. It is going to become an economy of middling size in the Atlantic Ocean. It is neither the US nor the EU. It is too small to appear on the world stage on its own.”

Rutte, who also claimed the Dutch would replace the UK in the bloc as the pre-eminent voice for free trade, has been regularly consulted by Theresa May on progress in the Brexit negotiations. The Netherlands is one of the EU member states that will be most affected by the barriers to trade that will emerge after the UK leaves the bloc, although it has been the beneficiary of some relocations by big businesses. Figures released last week by the Dutch investment agency revealed 42 companies had relocated to the Netherlands in 2018, citing Brexit as a reason, resulting in the movement of 1,923 jobs. Asked whether a Brexit deal was likely, Rutte said in an interview with European media outlets, including the Spanish newspaper El País: “My impression is that the ball is heading towards the precipice and everyone screams to stop, but nobody does anything to stop it, at least, from the British side.”

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When is Berlin going to start pumping money in?

German Economy Narrowly Avoids Recession As Weaker Exports Take Toll (G.)

Germany narrowly avoided falling into recession in the second half of last year as weaker exports dragged Europe’s largest economy to stalling point during the final three months of 2018. The German economy recorded zero growth in the fourth quarter, managing to just avoid a technical recession after reporting a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter amid a slump in industrial output. Several economists had previously warned that Germany was on the brink of recession because of consecutive monthly declines in factory output, with the country suffering from weaker levels of global demand and disruption at factories.

Tensions between the US and China have acted as a handbrake on global goods trade, while growth is slowing in the Chinese economy after years of rapid expansion. Sales of cars in China dropped last year for the first time in almost 30 years, affecting manufacturers across Europe. New vehicle emissions tests introduced after the VW emissions scandal have also caused disruption to factories across Europe, including in Britain. Manufacturing accounts for about a fifth of the Germany economy, about double the size of Britain’s industrial base. Overall growth for 2018 in Germany was 1.5%, marginally above the 1.4% expansion recorded in Britain.

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How things we’ve all know for years can still be bombshells.

BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma “Gas Attack” Footage “Was Staged” (ZH)

Now approaching nearly a year after the April 7, 2018 alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria — which the White House used as a pretext to bomb Syrian government facilities and bases throughout Damascus — a BBC reporter who investigated the incident on the ground has issued public statements saying the “Assad sarin attack” on Douma was indeed “staged”. Riam Dalati is a well-known BBC Syria producer who has long reported from the region. He shocked his nearly 20,000 twitter followers on Wednesday, which includes other mainstream journalists from major outlets, by stating that after a “six month investigation” he has concluded, “I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.”

The “hospital scene” is a reference to part of the horrid footage played over and over again on international networks showing children in a Douma hospital being hosed off and treated by doctors and White Helmets personnel as victims of the alleged chemical attack. The BBC’s Dalati stated on Wednesday: “After almost 6 months of investigations, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged. No fatalities occurred in the hospital.” He noted he had interviewed a number of White Helmets and opposition activists while reaching that conclusion.

He continued in a follow-up tweet: “Russia and at least one NATO country knew about what happened in the hospital. Documents were sent. However, no one knew what really happened at the flats apart from activists manipulating the scene there. This is why Russia focused solely on discrediting the hospital scene.” Dalati’s mention of activists at the flats “manipulating the scene there” is a reference to White Helmets and rebel activist produced footage purporting to show the deadly aftermath of a chemical attack inside a second scene — a bombed out apartment showing dozens of dead bodies.

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Yes, Amazon is the company that paid $0 in income taxes. And then people say progressives stand in the way of progress. Some progress.

As Amazon Drops New York City Project, Progressives Claim A Major Coup (R.)

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasted no time on Thursday in calling Amazon’s decision to scrap plans to build a major New York outpost with nearly $3 billion in city and state incentives a big victory for progressive politicians. The democratic socialist congresswoman has become the face of the Democratic Party’s ascendant left wing, thanks in part to her upset victory last year in a district near the proposed Amazon.com Inc development. “Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

Amazon blamed local opposition for its abrupt reversal, which some saw as the latest evidence of the progressive movement’s surging influence ahead of the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination next year. “They have shown sufficient power to back off the largest corporation in the world,” Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College in New York and an expert on city politics and public opinion. “They killed Amazon, the biggest beast around.”

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“Guaidó’s supporters, like Carmona’s, know they can’t win an election given the overwhelming fact of the newly empowered Mestizo majority. So Guaidó has skipped the idea of an election altogether..”

White Supremacy Is a Key Driver of the Venezuela Coup (Palast)

Four centuries of white supremacy in Venezuela by those who identify their ancestors as European came to an end with the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez, who won with the overwhelming support of the Mestizo majority. This turn away from white supremacy continues under Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor. In my interviews with Chavez for BBC beginning in 2002, he talked with humor about the fury of a white ruling class finding itself displaced by a man who embraced his own Indigenous and African heritage. In Venezuela, as in the USA, poverty and race are locked together. Why did so many Mestizo, poor Venezuelans love Chavez? As even the CIA’s surprisingly honest Fact Book states:

“Social investment in Venezuela during the Chavez administration reduced poverty from nearly 50% in 1999 to about 27% in 2011, increased school enrollment, substantially decreased infant and child mortality, and improved access to potable water and sanitation through social investment.” But, just as Maduro took office, the price of oil began its collapse, and the vast social programs that oil had paid for were now supported by borrowing money and printing it, causing wild inflation. The economic slide is now made impossibly worse by what the UN rapporteur for Venezuela compared to “medieval sieges.” The Trump administration cut off Venezuela from the oil sale proceeds from its biggest customer, the US.

Everyone has been hurt economically, but the privileged class’s bank accounts have become nearly worthless. So, knowing that the Mestizo majority would not elect their Great White Hope Guaidó, they simply took to the streets — often armed. (And yes, both sides are armed.) I’ve seen this movie before. When I look at today’s news reports of massive demonstrations against the so-called “dictatorship” of Venezuela’s left government, it looks awfully like 2002, when I was first in Caracas reporting for BBC Television. [..] In 2002, George W. Bush’s State Department cheer-led the coup. The plotters kidnapped Chavez and held him hostage. The coup was led by an oil industry leader and head of the Chamber of Commerce, Pedro Carmona, who had seized the nation’s White House, and, like Guaidó today, declared himself president.

Carmona told me proudly about the fancy inaugural ball held by the nation’s elite and attended by Bush’s ambassador. But the Bush/Carmona coup collapsed when a million mostly Mestizo, Indigenous and Black Venezuelans flooded the capital and forced the plotters to return their hero, the supposedly unpopular Chavez, to Miraflores, the presidential palace. “Presidente” Carmona fled. Today, Guaidó’s supporters, like Carmona’s, know they can’t win an election given the overwhelming fact of the newly empowered Mestizo majority. So Guaidó has skipped the idea of an election altogether, simply replacing running for office with the “recognition” from Trump and allies which Guaidó can’t get from Venezuelans.

Read more …

Wonderful summary of upcoming book.

How The US Has Hidden Its Empire (Immerwahr)

There aren’t many historical episodes more firmly lodged in the United States’s national memory than the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is one of only a few events that many people in the country can put a date to: 7 December 1941, the “date which will live in infamy,” as Franklin D Roosevelt put it. Hundreds of books have been written about it – the Library of Congress holds more than 350. And Hollywood has made movies. But what those films don’t show is what happened next. Nine hours after Japan attacked the territory of Hawaii, another set of Japanese planes came into view over another US territory, the Philippines. As at Pearl Harbor, they dropped their bombs, hitting several air bases, to devastating effect.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was just that – an attack. Japan’s bombers struck, retreated and never returned. Not so in the Philippines. There, the initial air raids were followed by more raids, then by invasion and conquest. Sixteen million Filipinos – US nationals who saluted the stars and stripes and looked to FDR as their commander in chief – fell under a foreign power. Contrary to popular memory, the event familiarly known as “Pearl Harbor” was in fact an all-out lightning strike on US and British holdings throughout the Pacific. On a single day, the Japanese attacked the US territories of Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island and Wake Island. They also attacked the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, and they invaded Thailand.

At first, “Pearl Harbor” was not the way most people referred to the bombings. “Japs bomb Manila, Hawaii” was the headline in one New Mexico paper; “Japanese Planes Bomb Honolulu, Island of Guam” in another in South Carolina. Sumner Welles, FDR’s undersecretary of state, described the event as “an attack upon Hawaii and upon the Philippines”. Eleanor Roosevelt used a similar formulation in her radio address on the night of 7 December, when she spoke of Japan “bombing our citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines”. That was how the first draft of FDR’s speech went, too: it presented the event as a “bombing in Hawaii and the Philippines”. Yet Roosevelt toyed with that draft all day, adding things in pencil, crossing other bits out.

At some point he deleted the prominent references to the Philippines. Why did Roosevelt demote the Philippines? We don’t know, but it’s not hard to guess. Roosevelt was trying to tell a clear story: Japan had attacked the US. But he faced a problem. Were Japan’s targets considered “the United States”? Legally, they were indisputably US territory. But would the public see them that way? What if Roosevelt’s audience didn’t care that Japan had attacked the Philippines or Guam? Polls taken slightly before the attack show that few in the continental US supported a military defense of those remote territories.


The Greater United States as it was in 1941

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Get them when they’re young. They dragged this girl over to Davos, letting her think that means something. Well, it did, it meant she became a puppet. Davos, Brussels; kids, you’re being used. You’re now part of a propaganda campaign that says ‘leaders’ actually give a damn. But they just want your future vote.

School Climate Strikes: ‘The Beginning Of Great Change’ (G.)

Greta Thunberg is hopeful the student climate strike on Friday can bring about positive change, as young people in more and more countries join the protest movement she started last summer as a lone campaigner outside the Swedish parliament. The 16-year-old welcomed the huge mobilisation planned in the UK, which follows demonstrations by tens of thousands of school and university students in Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Japan and more than a dozen other countries. “I think it’s great that England is joining the school strike in a major way this week. There has been a number of real heroes on school strike, for instance in Scotland and Ireland, for some time now. Such as Holly Gillibrand and the ones in Cork with the epic sign saying ‘the emperor is naked’,” she told the Guardian.

With an even bigger global mobilisation planned for 15 March, she feels the momentum is now building. “I think enough people have realised just how absurd the situation is. We are in the middle of the biggest crisis in human history and basically nothing is being done to prevent it. I think what we are seeing is the beginning of great changes and that is very hopeful,” she wrote. Thunberg has risen rapidly in prominence and influence. In December, she spoke at the United Nations climate conference, berating world leaders for behaving like irresponsible children. Last month, she had similarly harsh words for the global business elite at Davos. She said: “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

The movement she started has morphed and grown around the world , and, at times, linked up with older groups, including Extinction Rebellion, 350.org and Greenpeace. Next week she will take the train – having decided not to fly due to the high carbon emissions of aviation – to speak at an event alongside Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, in Brussels, and then on to Paris to join the school strikes now expanding in France. Veteran climate campaigners are astonished by what has been achieved in such a short time. “The movement that Greta launched is one of the most hopeful things in my 30 years of working on the climate question. It throws the generational challenge of global warming into its sharpest relief, and challenges adults to prove they are, actually, adults. So many thanks to all the young people who are stepping up,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org.

Read more …

Eh, school strikers?

100s Of Endangered Animals At Risk Of Extinction Due To Wildlife Trade (Ind.)

Hundreds of animal species are at risk of extinction because wildlife trade restrictions are taking too long to come into effect, a major new study warns. Over a quarter of animals on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list – the world’s most critically endangered – are not protected by Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Cites is regarded as the primary international framework for preventing species extinction due to international wildlife trade. It came into force in 1975 in order to coordinate and regulate trade in wildlife products, and can put into effect bans on sales of certain species or their body parts.

The research also revealed the long wait species have to gain recognition by Cites. Even among IUCN’s red-list species, 62 per cent of those protected by Cites had waited as long as 19 years for recognition or are still waiting to be listed up to 24 years after being first considered. “It’s absolutely critical that policymakers allow science to inform a speedy protection process,” said Eyal Frank, co-author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. He said: “New trends in wildlife trade can develop quickly, with some species going from common to near extinction in just a few years.

Read more …

Jan 282019
 


Pablo Picasso Bust of woman with arms raised 1922

 

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)
PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)
China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)
Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)
UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)
May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson (R.)
Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)
UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)
Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)
In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

 

 

Picked up these numbers last week on Twitter. Chavez announced cancer in late 2012, died early 2013. Oil prices only explain a smal part of it. Economic warfare does the rest.

@spectatorindex – Venezuela GDP growth.
2012: 5.6%
2013: 1.3%
2014: -3.9%
2015: -6.2%
2016: -17%
2017: -15%
2018: -16%

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)

The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans. The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him. European leaders are calling for “free and fair” elections. Russia and Turkey remain Nicolas Maduro’s key supporters.

Mr De Zayas, a former secretary of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and an expert in international law, spoke to The Independent following the presentation of his Venezuela report to the HRC in September. He said that since its presentation the report has been ignored by the UN and has not sparked the public debate he believes it deserves. “Sanctions kill,” he told The Independent, adding that they fall most heavily on the poorest people in society, demonstrably cause death through food and medicine shortages, lead to violations of human rights and are aimed at coercing economic change in a “sister democracy”. On his fact-finding mission to the country in late 2017, he found internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, but said “economic warfare” practised by the US, EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.

In the report, Mr de Zayas recommended, among other actions, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. The US sanctions are illegal under international law because they were not endorsed by the UN Security Council, Mr de Zayas, an expert on international law and a former senior lawyer with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns. “Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees,” Mr de Zayas said in his report.

Read more …

Xi remains nervous.

PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)

PBOC fixed the yuan dramatically stronger against the dollar overnight, sending offshore yuan surging to its strongest against the dollar in six months. While the Chinese currency is reportedly strengthening on the heels of trade talks optimism (which is entirely the opposite of the rhetoric coming out of Washington), we note that this was the biggest positive shift in the yuan fix in 19 months…

Notably, the yuan is strengthening considerably more against the dollar than it is against the broad basket of trade partner currencies…Shanghai Accord 2.0? And coincidentally, the surge in yuan comes the day after gold prices broke out higher… Perhaps the PBOC’s aggressive action was prompted to manage the Yuan peg against gold back into balance?

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If you look closer, nothing seems very dramatic. But real estate has become such a huge part of the economy that Beijing must weigh curbing risks vs continued growth.

It’s also the speed with which this has happened. 10 years ago Chinese didn’t borrow for homes. It’s literally been used to mitigate the financial crisis.

China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)

Loans to China’s property sector grew at a slower pace in 2018 as Beijing tightened home-purchase rules to curb bubble risk, but lending to property developers expanded slightly faster than the year before, central bank data showed on Friday. Outstanding yuan property loans grew 20% from a year earlier to 38.7 trillion yuan ($5.72 trillion) by end-December, compared with 20.9% growth in 2017, the PBOC said in a quarterly financial report. Outstanding mortgage lending climbed 17.8% year-on-year to 25.75 trillion yuan by the end of 2018, below a 22.2% rise in 2017, central bank data showed.

Policymakers have vowed to ensure “stable and healthy” development of the property market, repeatedly emphasizing that homes are for living in, not speculative investment. The government’s sustained drive to reduce debt risks in the economy has cooled the property market but a continued downturn in credit growth in the sector could add to growing pressures on the world’s second-largest economy. The real estate sector is a key driver of economic growth, so any further weakness could influence the pace and scope of fresh stimulus steps expected from Beijing this year.

Property investment is also looking wobbly, with analysts waiting to see if the government will risk loosening restrictions on home buyers that have kept speculation in check. Real estate investment in December rose 8.2% from a year earlier, down from 9.3% in November, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by the National Bureau of Statistics. That was just ahead of the slowest pace of growth last year at 7.7% recorded for October. Developers raised their borrowings last year though, with loans extended for property development up 22.6% in 2018 versus growth of 21.7% in 2017, the report showed. The central bank also said outstanding household loans jumped 18.2% to 47.9 trillion yuan by end-2018.

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How much can Brexit hurt the British? A lot, we must assume. Then again, if you fall for this stuff at this moment in time, maybe you deserve what’s coming. How about a crisis worse than the 1930s?

Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)

Britain’s biggest lender is to offer 100% mortgages to first-time buyers in a return to lending last seen before the financial crash – but only if the buyer has family that can stand behind the loan. Under the new Lloyds Bank “Lend A Hand” deal, a first-time buyer will be able to borrow up to £500,000 for a new home, without putting down a penny of deposit. The Lloyds move marks a major expansion into the first-time buyer market, as most other mainstream lenders demand a minimum deposit worth 5% of the property purchase price, although Barclays has offered a similar “family springboard” deal. Lloyds has priced the mortgages to undercut the Barclays offer.

The deal – part of what Lloyds said is a £30bn commitment to help first-time buyers – will reopen concern about a two-tier market where buyers with well-off families can elbow aside those without. Saving for a deposit is usually cited by first-time buyers as the biggest hurdle to home ownership. Lloyds said the average deposit put down by first-time buyers has climbed to £33,211, and a staggering £110,182 in London. The Lloyds deal requires that a member of the family – such as parent, grandparent or close relative – helps out. The bank will only grant the 100% mortgage if the family member puts a sum equal to 10% of the value of the property into a Lloyds savings account.

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“The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.”

UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)

The UK will be unable to have frictionless, tariff-free trade under World Trade Organization rules for up to seven years in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to two leading European Union law specialists. The ensuing chaos could double food prices and plunge Britain into a recession that could last up to 30 years, claim the lawyers who acted for Gina Miller in the historic case that forced the government to seek parliament’s approval to leave the EU. It has been claimed that the UK could simply move to WTO terms if there is no deal with the EU. But Anneli Howard, a specialist in EU and competition law at Monckton Chambers and a member of the bar’s Brexit working group, believes this isn’t true. “No deal means leaving with nothing,” she said. “The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.

It is impossible to say how long it would go on for. Some economists say 10 years, others say the effects could be felt for 20 or even 30 years: even ardent Brexiters agree it could be decades.” The government’s own statistics have estimated that under the worst case no-deal scenario, GDP would be 10.7% lower than if the UK stays in the EU, in 15 years. There are two apparently insurmountable hurdles to the UK trading on current WTO tariffs in the event of Britain crashing out in March, said Howard. Firstly, the UK must produce its own schedule covering both services and each of the 5,000-plus product lines covered in the WTO agreement and get it agreed by all the 163 WTO states in the 32 remaining parliamentary sitting days until 29 March 2019. A number of states have already raised objections to the UK’s draft schedule: 20 over goods and three over services.

To make it more complicated, there are no “default terms” Britain can crash out on, Howard said, while at the same time, the UK has been blocked by WTO members from simply relying on the EU’s “schedule” – its existing tariffs and tariff-free trade quotas. The second hurdle is the sheer volume of domestic legislation that would need to be passed before being able to trade under WTO rules: there are nine statutes and 600 statutory instruments that would need to be adopted. The government cannot simply cut and paste the 120,000 EU statutes into UK law and then make changes to them gradually, Howard said. “The UK will need to set up new enforcement bodies and transfer new powers to regulators to create our own domestic regimes,” she said.

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Fast and loose with Good Friday.

May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Theresa May will seek legally binding changes to the Irish backstop from the European Union in an attempt to break the deadlock over Brexit, lawmaker Boris Johnson wrote in The Telegraph on Sunday, citing senior government sources. The PM is looking to change the text of the agreement to insert either a sunset clause or a mechanism for the UK to escape without reference to the EU, Boris Johnson said in The Telegraph. The contentious backstop arrangement is designed to prevent a hard border between Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland by requiring Britain to keep some EU rules if it was unable to agree a trade deal with the bloc. Ireland said earlier on Sunday it would not accept any changes to the backstop agreement.

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The backstop will be May’s major point of contention this week. Stop her! There’s already talk of reinserting issues in the deal that have already been thrown out.

Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)

Ireland has launched a last-minute effort to warn Theresa May off any attempt to unravel the backstop, two days before a crucial Commons debate that may decide the next move for the UK’s rudderless Brexit policy. Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister and deputy prime minister, insisted the backstop – the mechanism to ensure there will be no hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland if Britain and the EU fail to strike a free trade deal – was “part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change”. In a forceful interview, he insisted it was only part of the withdrawal agreement because of the UK’s red lines.

On Tuesday Tory Brexiters may get the chance to vote for amendments that would signal their willingness to back May’s Brexit deal subject to the backstop’s either being removed or time-limited. Ministers have not formally backed any of the anti-backstop amendments, which are incompatible with the deal that May agreed with UK leaders, but if one were to pass by a majority, she would be able to present the EU with a firm idea of what changes might get her deal through parliament – something that as yet remains unclear to Brussels. In an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Coveney said he did not see the need for further compromise because “the backstop is already a compromise”.

Although originally Northern Ireland-specific, it was made UK-wide at the request of May, he said. “And the very need for the backstop in the first place was because of British red lines that they wanted to leave the customs union and single market,” he said.

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Many Brits are so poor they can’t even think of stockpiling.

UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)

Britain has begun stockpiling food, fuel, spare parts and ammunition at military bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus and the Falklands in case of a no-deal Brexit, Sky News has learnt. Extra supplies are also being built up at bases in the UK to reduce the risk of the armed forces running short and being unable to operate if it suddenly becomes much harder to import and export day-to-day goods after 29 March. Military chiefs have spent at least £23m on what is being described as “forward-purchased” goods, Sky News understands. The move is part of contingency planning by the government – codenamed Operation Yellowhammer – to reduce disruption if Britain departs from the European Union without an agreement, according to three defence sources.

“An army marches on its stomach. If supply lines breakdown they struggle,” one source said. Any blockage in the flow of food and other vital items to Britain’s military bases overseas could impact on operations and affect thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen. There is a concern that supplies delivered to British troops in the rest of Europe – the UK has a permanent presence in Cyprus and a base on the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, which shares a border with Spain – could be impacted, according to the sources.

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We haven’t seen any of it yet.

Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)

Britons have become angrier since the referendum to leave the EU, according to a survey which suggests there is widespread unhappiness about the direction in which the country is heading. 69 per cent of respondents said they felt their fellow citizens had become “angrier about politics and society” since the Brexit vote in 2016, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a long-established, annual survey of trust carried out across the globe. 40 per cent of people think others are now more likely to take part in violent protests, the UK results from the survey show, even though violent political protest in Britain is rare.

One person in six said they had fallen out with friends or relatives over the vote to leave the bloc, the survey found. Edelman, which said the findings exposed a “disUnited Kingdom”, found widespread concern about where the government was heading, particularly among those who voted remain, and those who backed Labour. Overall, about 65% of Britons think the country is “on the wrong track”, the survey suggests. Amongst remain voters the figure is 82%, but even among leave voters the figure is 43%. Some 60% of people who identify with the Conservatives think the country is heading in the right direction, but among Labour identifiers, the figure is just 20%.

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The coal phase-out is part of a 500 billion-euro switch away from fossil fuels and toward renewables..

Compensating coal-mining regions & consumers for higher electricity prices expected to cost German taxpayer up to €78bn.

But across the border lies Italy, and next to it Greece. How are they going to pay for such a switch? And if they don’t, what’s the use of Germany doing it?

In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

A proposal to stop Germany from using coal for power generation within two decades may leave an unexpected beneficiary: The company that burns the most of the fuel. While RWE AG was quick to say it’s “too soon” to shed all fossil fuel plants by 2038, the recommendations outlined this weekend by a panel advising Chancellor Angela Merkel called for compensation for the utilities and 40 billion euros ($45.6 billion) for regions coping with the transition. Together, the measures would significantly soften the blow on industry from Merkel’s vow to scale back greenhouse gases. They show how far the government has moved away from a quick clampdown on the most polluting fossil fuel and give more certainty for the future of some of RWE’s most valuable assets.

And while the proposals could yet be watered down by politicians, they signal a longer life for many of the utility’s plants than environmentalists had hoped for. “We believe that clarity, compensation payments, and a relatively long phase-out period should trigger a re-rating for the company’s conventional power generation,” said Guido Hoymann, an analyst at the private bank B. Metzler Seel. Sohn & Co. KGaA who added RWE to a list of top 10 German stocks.

Germany’s 120 or so remaining coal and lignite plants have a combined capacity of about 45 gigawatts. That’s enough to feed 40 percent of the nation’s power demand or about 32 million homes. Germany is already falling short on its targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions and sees closing coal plants as one of the most important ways to make the reductions needed. The coal commission includes members from the main political parties, environmental groups and industry charged with developing a consensus that Germany can live with for years to come.

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