John William Waterhouse It’s Sweet Doing Nothing / Dolce Far Niente 1879
The very first thing we must conclude from looking at the pork-laden $900 billion US “stimulus bill” is that this is all Washington is capable of anymore. This is it. That it has nothing to do with which party you vote for. If you don’t come to that conclusion, you’re seriously disoriented.
Both parties have been talking about the bill for 8 months, and blamed each other for any delays, while filling up the bill with by now over 5,500 pages of pork, and given representatives who don’t know the contents, just a few hours before voting on it. That is not an accident, that is by design, and both parties designed it together.
Neither gives a flying hoot about their own voters, which the bill is supposed to serve, other than at election time – and even then. If they did, they could have issued a separate bill half a year ago. But the system doesn’t work like that. The system says that if you want to save/serve the people, you absolutely must serve a thousand other interests at the same time. And that’s where things run off the rails.
The Republicans insist on including one special interest that their lobbyists say can’t be left out, then the Democrats and their lobbies say okay, but then we want this interest in, etc., and before you know it, you have 5,500 pages of special interests, and the amounts going to the people will have to be cut because the total amounts are starting to look too high.
Do note -again- that it’s the lobbyists who write the legislation, not the politicians. The politicians, in the media, go through this very predictable cattle trade, they reach an accord, and then they turn around and blame each other for anything their voters and representatives might have wanted in there but didn’t get. Just like they did for the 8 previous months. Same difference. Cool, calculated, a blame game between friends.
But the Americans the stimulus is supposed to be for, have no seat at the table. Only the people they voted for do, and among those, only the ones who’ve been there long enough, 30-40 years, and who have amassed huge multi-million dollar fortunes while on 200-300K salaries. Newly elected reps and senators have no say. They may gain a say, but only if they comply with what the lobbyists tell them to do.
If 200 million Americans finally get a $600 check, sometime in spring 2021(?!), that would cost $120 billion. If 300 million do, $180 billion. The pork stimulus package is for $900 billion. And they want you to believe this is meant to help the people, and most of the people believe that. And that works too, because of the way the media, very much complicit in the charade, “report” the entire thing.
But c’mon man! Every American could get a $600 check every month for the next half year if the corporate subsidies and all sorts of other pork were left out of bills like this. But that’s not how Washington operates. Washington is not about people, it’s about money.
Many poor Americans used to have to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet, but most are lucky to find even one job these days, let alone enough to make ends meet. It’s cool, calm and calculated, and it makes no difference at all whether it’s Pelosi, McConnell, Schumer or Lindsey Graham. They’re in a big club, and you ain’t in it. But at least please stop believing the nonsense they’re spouting. They live in their own world, and you live in yours. And never the twain shall meet.
Of course it can make sense to support businesses as well in virustime. But there’s no urgent need to do that in the very same bill that is meant to support the people. It’s just that the latter is the ideal vehicle to hide the pork in. A separate bill to support business would be much more transparent, and people could see what’s in it. And it wouldn’t be 5,500 pages either.
It’s a design, it’s a model, it’s how this has worked for decades. The same decades that the decision makers have been “serving” on Capitol Hill. There is no accident anywhere in there. It’s a design.
We try to run the Automatic Earth on donations. Since ad revenue has collapsed, you are now not just a reader, but an integral part of the process that builds this site.
Click at the top of the sidebars for Paypal and Patreon donations. Thank you for your support.
Support the Automatic Earth in virustime, election time, all the time. Click at the top of the sidebars to donate with Paypal and Patreon.
Weekend, so lower numbers. US new deaths were below 1,000 (976), so I lost that grpah.
Hedge funds dollar
Hedge Funds ramped-up their bearish Dollar bets. The aggregate USD short position reached $28.9bn, an increase of whopping $4.455bn, effectively back to peak USD bearish levels seen in 2018 and 2012, Scotia says. Euro is primary vehicle being used to express negative Dollar view. pic.twitter.com/nI3zLZtNrM
In a remarkable twist, the raging coronavirus pandemic has forced even countries like the US to adopt “socialist” welfare programs, acclaimed author and risk analyst Nassim Taleb has told RT. While people spend days worrying about global wars, our biggest threats have always been the pandemics, the author of ‘The Black Swan’ and ‘Skin in the Game’ told RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze on her show SophieCo. Visionaries. The advent of the novel coronavirus will tremendously change societies in many ways, making them better ready for future crises, he said. “So the world will be different, wiser. But, hopefully, it will be good for peace, because people will understand tomorrow that the enemy is not some person with weapons. The enemy is that thing you don’t see: a tiny little germ you can have on top of a pencil,” the writer added.
What I think is going to happen is a transformation of economic structures to accommodate potential pandemics. Even if they never happen again, people will be prepared for them. He cited the boom of teleworking, Zoom conference calls, and online shopping as examples of people adapting to the new reality. According to Taleb, globalization would become more “guarded,” rather than disappear entirely. “The physical movement of population… would be reduced, and business travel will not be as active as we saw in the past,” he said. One of the most remarkable changes the pandemic has brought, the writer noted, was how some governments have been “extremely helpful” to citizens trapped in quarantines and lockdowns.
This touched the US as well, where a $2 trillion stimulus package was adopted in May, the largest in the nation’s history. Who would have thought that the first socialist president of the United States would be Donald Trump? He gave people universal basic income for a few months, and they took possession of companies. If that’s not socialism, I don’t know what is. So, the individuals got a protective net that they didn’t have before. “Mark my words, if you want a headline done – ‘Who would have expected the Covid to run both domestic and foreign policy?’, ‘Covid to bring socialism to countries like the United States,’” Taleb said.
Yeah. No. Everyone may get this wrong or confused, but from what I can see he signed just one executive order (on payroll tax), the other three are memoranda. Details on that:
The hierarchy is: Proclamations, executive orders, presidential memoranda, presidential notices, and presidential determinations. Notices and determinations are usually required by Congress on specific issues. Authority: Under an executive order signed by President John F. Kennedy, an executive order must cite the authority the president has to issue it. That could be the constitution, or a specific statute. Presidential memoranda have no such requirement.
After failing to reach a deal with the U.S. Congress for a fresh round of coronavirus pandemic relief, President Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders aimed at pumping up America’s pandemic-hit economy. The orders are likely to face some legal challenges. Trump’s order cuts enhanced federal unemployment benefits – a lifeline for the tens of millions of Americans thrown out of work during the pandemic – from $600 to $400 per week. Democrats had been lobbying to extend the original $600 a week enhanced benefits, which expired on July 31. Trump proposes taking most of the money from the coffers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency – $44 billion, according to the order – with 25% of the money coming from states.
It’s not clear how Trump will convince state governments, whose revenues have been hard hit by the crisis, to pony up their proposed share. Trump called the reduced payments “generous.” Trump’s first order waives the payroll tax that funds Social Security in a bid to inject extra money directly into salaried employees’ pockets. Trump has been pushing the idea for a while but it has found little support in Congress from Democrats or his fellow Republicans. The executive order says the cut comes into effect on Sept. 1, but Trump said it “most likely” would be retroactive to Aug. 1 and translate into “bigger paychecks for working families.”
Trump’s order protecting homeowners and renters from evictions is unlikely to face a challenge from Democrats; indeed, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week encouraged the move. But it isn’t clear how it will be executed. The order directs authorities to provide “temporary financial assistance” to renters and homeowners “struggling to meet their monthly rental or mortgage obligations.” Even Trump seemed a little hazy on the order’s ultimate effects, saying “we don’t want people being evicted and the act that I am signing will solve that problem – largely, hopefully, completely.” Trump said that interest on student loan payments – frozen since March – would be suspended until the end of the year.
Moscow’s Gamelei Center could register the world’s first coronavirus vaccine on August 12, Russia’s deputy health minister has revealed. Oleg Gridnev says medical workers and the elderly will be given priority for immunization. The senior minister at the department, Mikhail Murashko, announced last week that a nationwide mass vaccination program is planned to begin in October. Murashko added that all expenses will be covered by the government. “The registration of the vaccine developed at the Gamelei Center will take place on August 12,” Gridnev told journalists in Ufa on Friday morning, as cited by RIA Novosti. “Now the last stage, the third, is underway. This is the testing part and is extremely important. We have to understand that the vaccine itself must be safe.”
The Health Ministry, in an official statement, clarified that “the documents required for registration of the vaccine developed by the Gamelei Center, including data from clinical trials, are under examination. The issue of its registration will be decided upon the results of the examination.” Clinical trials of the formula began at Moscow’s Sechenov University on June 18. In a study involving 38 volunteers, it passed safety protocols. It was observed that all those who took part developed immunity to the infection. The speed with which Russia has managed to research and approve a formula has raised some eyebrows in the West, but Vadim Tarasov, a top scientist at Sechenov, said the country had a head start as it has spent the last 20 years developing skills in this field and trying to understand how viruses transmit.
The haste is fairly easy to grasp when you consider the effect Covid-19 has had on the world’s largest country. With more than 870,000 cases, it is among the four countries worst affected by the epidemic, along with the US, Brazil, and India. Russia’s 14,725 fatalities is the 11th highest in the world, although when measured per capita, the death rate ranks 47th, below Germany, but above Austria. The technology behind the Russian vaccine is based on adenovirus, the common cold. Created artificially, the vaccine proteins replicate those of Covid-19, triggering “an immune response similar to that caused by the coronavirus itself,” Tarasov said. In other words, immunization is similar to having survived the virus, but without its life-threatening risks.
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which has bankrolled the research, last week compared the vaccine discovery process to the Space Race. “Americans were surprised when they heard Sputnik’s beeping, it’s the same with this vaccine. Russia will have got there first,” he told US TV.
The magnitude of the infection fatality risk (IFR) of SARS-CoV-2 remains under debate. Because the IFR is the number of deaths divided by the number of infected, serological studies are needed to identify asymptomatic and mild cases. Also, because ascertainment of deaths attributable to COVID-19 is often incomplete, the calculation of the IFR needs to be complemented with data on excess mortality. We used data from a nation-wide seroepidemiological study and two sources of mortality information -deaths among laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and excess deaths- to estimate the range of IFR, both overall and by age and sex, in Spain.
The overall IFR ranged between 1.1% and 1.4% in men and 0.58% to 0.77% in women. The IFR increased sharply after age 50, ranging between 11.6% and 16.4% in men ≥80 years and between 4.6% and 6.5% in women ≥80 years. Our IFR estimates for SARS-CoV-2 are substantially greater than IFR estimators for seasonal influenza, justifying the implementation of special public health measures.
Republicans and Democrats failed to reach a compromise on a Covid-19 economic relief bill, but one comment from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) about schools needing to reopen has some seeing hypocrisy on the left. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Schumer addressed the press after failed negotiations with Republicans on a potential relief bill. While many of their complaints about Republicans refusing to continue robust unemployment and other government programs was to be expected, one comment from Schumer went viral as it didn’t seem to match the outrage shown to President Donald Trump when he mentioned the same thing. “If you don’t open up the schools, you’re going to hurt the economy significantly,” Schumer said, “because lots of people can’t go to work.”
The president has floated the idea of fully reopening most schools in the fall despite the coronavirus pandemic, but he has found pushback with liberal critics each and every time. Schumer’s admission that not reopening schools will hurt the economy, which the president has argued, was seen as a surprising “moment of clarity” by critics on social media who latched onto the comment. The disagreement on reopening schools comes down to federal funding. Schumer and Pelosi have argued the only way to safely let kids back into the in-person education system is through major federal funding. Trump has argued that schools in hotspots for the coronavirus should be taking precautions when reopening, but the failure to add federal funding into a Covid-19 economic package has the left and right at a standstill on the issue.
Already a heated debate, it is only bound to get more heated as the country draws nearer to the dates schools would normally open their doors again. Experts have argued since schooling is a childcare issue, keeping them closed affects not only children and employees of the education system, but also parents who cannot return to work. “Because children and parents are dying from that trauma, too. They’re dying because they can’t do what they’re doing. Mothers can’t go to work because all of a sudden they have to stay home and watch their child, and fathers,” the president told CBS News last month when asked why he considered not reopening schools a “terrible decision.”
Pelosi has argued the president is “messing” with childrens’ health and risking another outbreak of the virus with his support for reopening schools. “Going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus,” she told CNN. “If there are CDC guidelines, they should be requirements.”
Just because Trump’s claims of rampant mail-in voting fraud aren’t supported by evidence doesn’t mean election experts aren’t concerned about problems holding a presidential election during a pandemic. It’s unknown whether the United States Postal Service can handle a surge of mail-in ballots in a timely fashion, and other officials have cautioned about long lines and a shortage of workers at in-person polling stations, which have been limited during the coronavirus outbreak. Some have predicted the crush of remote voting could mean a final winner in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden won’t be known for days or even weeks.
Democrats are pushing for $25 billion for USPS in the next coronavirus recovery bill to help address those concerns, but it remains a source of disagreement with Republicans. There have already been some some notable delays in down-ballot elections during the pandemic, including one New York race this summer. Six weeks after a Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat, all of the ballots have yet to be counted. “This is a rare case where the president is not overstating the case,” argued Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group that has sued in North Carolina and Pennsylvania over the accuracy of voting rolls. “Frankly he’s understating the problem that I think we are going to face on Election Day. The system is going to break.”
The Trump campaign is holding events touting its legal actions on voting rules. And privately, the White House is debating possible further action, according to two people familiar with the situation. The White House declined to comment on whether Trump would be signing an executive order on the issue. “All Americans deserve an election system that is secure and President Trump is highlighting that Democrats’ plan for universal mail-in voting would lead to fraud,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews. “While Democrats continue to call for a radical overhaul of our nation’s voting system, President Trump will continue to work to ensure the security and integrity of our elections.”
The New York Fed released a doozie of a household credit report. It summarized what individual lenders have been reporting about their own practices: If you can’t make the payments on your mortgage, auto loan, credit card debt, or student loan, just ask for a deferral or forbearance, and you won’t have to make the payments, and the loan won’t count as delinquent if it wasn’t delinquent before. And even if it was delinquent before, you can “cure” a delinquency by getting the loan deferred and modified. No payment, no problem. Student loan borrowers were automatically rolled into forbearance under the CARES Act, and even though many students had stopped making payments, delinquency rates plunged because the Department of Education had decided to report as “current” all those loans that are in forbearance, even if they were delinquent. Yup, according to New York Fed data, the delinquency rate of student loan borrowers, though many had stopped making payments, plunged from 10.75% in Q1, to 6.97% in Q2, the lowest since 2007:
Student loan forbearance is available until September 30, and interest is waived until then, instead of being added to the loan. In a blog post, the New York Fed said that 88% of the student-loan borrowers, including private-loan borrowers and Federal Family Education Loan borrowers, had a “scheduled payment of $0,” meaning that at least 88% of the student loans were in some form of forbearance. Until September 30. And then what? And because delinquencies in student loans, auto loans, credit card debt, and mortgages are being “cured” by putting the loans in deferral programs and modifying the delinquent loans, they become “current” loans even though no catch-up payments have been made.
Still, about 32 million people are claiming unemployment insurance. A much smaller employment shock during the Financial Crisis caused the percentage of delinquent loan balances to soar, and the percentage of “current” loan balances to plunge, to bottom out at 88% in Q4 2009. Not this time. As the percentage of delinquent loan balances fell, the percentage of “current” loan balances jumped to 96.4%, a record high in the New York Fed’s data going back to 2003. Yup, crazy world. Ally Financial reported in its 10-Q filing with the SEC for the second quarter that about 21% of its auto-loan customers were enrolled in its deferral program where they don’t have to make payments for 120 days. “The vast majority of our loan deferrals for customers in the program are scheduled to expire by the end of August 2020,” it said. And then what?
Lenders like these types of programs because they can kick the can of delinquencies down the road, and instead they have “performing loans” for which they can accrue interest which makes their investors happy, even though the customers don’t make any interest or principal payments. Bank regulators normally get nervous about deferral programs. But it appears that bank regulators have been told the shelter at home until further notice. Across all lenders, about 5.9% of the $1.34 trillion in auto loans – so close to $80 billion – are in forbearance, according to the New York Fed. And as a result, borrowers who cannot make the payment, don’t have to make it, and their loans are still deemed “current,” and the percentage of auto loans that are newly delinquent dropped to 6.29%, a record low in the data – while during the last crisis, the delinquent balances were above 10% for nearly two years:
Social media companies continued to assert their power over the political sphere this week, with Twitter temporarily suspending the Trump campaign’s ability to post until it removed a clip of a Fox News interview with the president regarding COVID-19. When the Democratic National Committee reposted the video to debunk it, Twitter similarly banned the DNC from tweeting until it too deleted the footage. With Twitter seemingly unbothered by the implications of suspending a presidential campaign’s account just 12 weeks before the election, what might the future hold as control of our public squares is increasingly centralized?
Twitch became the first social media platform to formally suspend a presidential candidate’s account this past June when it deleted two of President Trump’s campaign rally videos for violations of its “hateful conduct” rules. In doing so, it emphasized the divide between physical and virtual campaigning. At an in-person rally a candidate can present the policy proposals he or she believes supporters want. Virtual rallies, however, are policed by an army of moderators enforcing ever-changing acceptable speech policies, forcing politicians to self-censor or risk deletion from the online world that increasingly shapes elections.
In the case of this week’s ban, the story is all the more remarkable because the video in question was actually a cable TV interview with the nation’s leader, meaning that social platforms were in effect banning a major news organization’s reporting. As news is increasingly consumed through social media, the upshot is that the online platform’s acceptable speech rules are being applied to traditional news outlets. Additionally, rather than link the video to an outside fact check, Facebook simply deleted it as “a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation” while Twitter forced the campaign to delete the post as a “violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation.” Both companies cited as the offending statement Trump’s claim that children have “much stronger immune systems” than adults and thus “they don’t have a problem” when infected.
While oversimplifying, Trump’s claims are not that far removed from those of CDC Director Robert Redfield and infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who have cited the pathogen’s significantly reduced severity in children in their calls to safely reopen schools this fall. While more measured than the “immunity” claimed by Trump, the gist of his statement — that COVID-19’s impact on children appears to be less severe than its effect on older Americans — aligns with the public statements of his medical advisers. Moreover, when Elon Musk tweeted in March that “kids are essentially immune,” Twitter clarified that his tweet did not violate its COVID-19 rules. To this date, Musk’s tweet carries no warnings or fact-checking statements from Twitter refuting it or adding additional context to his claims.
In many ways, social media platforms have become modern-day incarnations of the Hays Code that governed Hollywood from the 1930s to 1960s, establishing “morality” standards and enforcing them with an army of censors. By shaping popular culture through its control of movies, the Hays Code ensured that generations of Americans were presented an idealized world of benevolent public institutions, including police and politicians whose good works were spotlighted and any wrongdoing was punished. Moreover, as an extrajudicial speech regulation, studios could modify the rules and exempt content at will, much as social platforms do today.
The ideological battle over the fate of TikTok is provoking fist fights in the Oval Office, and a scramble among the country’s biggest tech firms to see if they might be able to come up with a workable pitch that would allow them to win approval to buy the US operations (along with New Zealand, Australia and Canada, and possibly more) of the popular Chinese-owned social media platform – the only real obstacle to a deal at a time when corporate credit is essentially free. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the app, which the Trump Administration is threatening to shut down in the US over fears of a “national security threat” (Chinese law forces all Chinese companies to cooperate with state security forces, provoking fears that ByteDance, TikTok’s owner, might be compelled to set up a pipeline of Americans’ private information straight to Beijing), has become perhaps the biggest political football at a time of intense strain in the bilateral relationship.
But amid the chaos and the geopolitical posturing of the leaders of the world’s two largest economies, America’s tech giants apparently see an opportunity, however unlikely, to circumvent opposition to further tech-industry mergers and seal what very well might be the last major merger in the industry for quite some time. And with the world headed into a period of protracted slowdown, companies might as well take advantage of the free money, and lock in that future EPS growth while they can. Since anti-trust scrutiny is such a hot issue in the world of big tech right now, it seems every company that has reportedly engaged in “talks” about the prospects for a deal has a reason for why it might assuage regulators and lawmakers and convince both Congress and the White House to agree to the deal.
Being the smallest of the three major companies rumored to be potential suitors, Twitter obviously has the best case from a purely anti-trust standpoint (although it seems reporters keep coming up with excuses for why Microsoft or Facebook could still make it work). Plus, Twitter’s comparatively tiny $29 billion market cap means it would likely need help from outside investors – a great opportunity for Sequoia and the other big VC firms who backed ByteDance who reportedly were in talks about a deal to bring TikTok into the US under their purview. The deal would have valued TikTok at $50 billion, according to unconfirmed reports.
The United States plans to cut its troop levels in Afghanistan to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview broadcast on Saturday, adding detail to drawdown plans U.S. President Donald Trump announced earlier this week. The United States currently has about 8,600 troops in Afghanistan. Trump said in an interview released Monday by Axios that the United States planned to lower that number to about 4,000.
The world’s five largest oil companies collectively cut the value of their assets by nearly $50 billion in the second quarter, and slashed production rates as the coronavirus pandemic caused a drastic fall in fuel prices and demand. The dramatic reductions in asset valuations and decline in output show the depth of the pain in the second quarter. Fuel demand at one point was down by more than 30% worldwide, and still remains below pre-pandemic levels. Several executives said they took massive writedowns because they expect demand to remain impaired for several more quarters as people travel less and use less fuel due to the ongoing global pandemic that has killed more than 700,000 people.
Of those five companies, only Exxon Mobil did not book sizeable impairments. But an ongoing re-evaluation of its plans could lead to a “significant portion” of its assets being impaired, it reported, and signal the elimination of 20% or 4.4 billion barrels of its oil and gas reserves. By contrast, BP took a $17 billion hit. It said it plans to re-center its spending in coming years around renewables and less on oil and natural gas. Weak demand means oil producers must revisit business plans, said Lee Maginniss, managing director at consultants Alarez & Marsal. He said the goal should be to pump only what generates cash in excess of overhead costs. “It’s low-cost production mode through the end of 2021 for sure, and to 2022 to the extent there are new development plans being contemplated,” Maginniss said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday that it was a matter of Ukraine’s national security to stay out of U.S. internal politics, particularly its election. “#Ukraine did not and will not allow itself to interfere in the elections and thus harm our trusting and sincere partnership with the #USA,” he wrote on Twitter late on Saturday. Zelenskiy, 42, was a comic actor when he won a landslide election last year. But the first year of his presidency was overshadowed by Ukraine’s unwitting involvement in events that led to the impeachment of Republican U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump had unsuccessfully pressed Ukraine to launch an investigation into his Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential race, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Never, under any circumstances, it’s acceptable to meddle in another country’s sovereign elections,” Zelenskiy wrote. Zelenskiy appealed to Ukrainian politicians to avoid any actions that could be linked to U.S. elections, nor allow themselves to try to solve any of their personal, political or business problems that way. “Ukraine’s reputation is worth much more than the reputation of any of our politicians,” the president said.
George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, has announced he is releasing a new book called “Out of Many, One” which will celebrate America’s diversity and immigrant populations. “Our immigrant heritage has enriched America’s history. It continues to shape our society. Each generation of Americans — of immigrants — brings a renewal to our national character and adds vitality to our culture. Newcomers have a special way of appreciating the opportunities of America, and when they seize those opportunities, our whole nation benefits,” the former president said. The book, scheduled for release in March 2021 will feature 43 images of immigrants, painted by Bush himself [..]
“While I recognize that immigration can be an emotional issue, I reject the premise that it is a partisan issue. It is perhaps the most American of issues, and it should be one that unites us,” he said in a press release. “My hope is that this book will help focus our collective attention on the positive impacts that immigrants are making on our country.” With immigration becoming an increasingly hot partisan issue, the move celebrating the practice is the latest in a series of actions that Bush has taken to distance himself from the current Republican president. Both Bush and his father claimed they did not vote for Trump in 2016, leading to delight from many Democrats. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for example, yearned for a by-gone age, admitting to wishing Bush were still president, even though at the time she described him as a “total failure” in every aspect of governing.
[..] Bush bragged about greatly increasing the U.S.’ detention capacity for immigrants, using drones to patrol the area, and building 700 hundred miles of fencing and wall, which served as a stepping stone to Trump’s border plans. The increasingly militarized border mirrored the increasingly hostile rhetoric towards immigrants that dominated the Republican Party today. Bush is no stranger to covering controversial topics in his art. In 2017, he released a similar bestselling book called “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors.” In it, he painted dozens of fallen American servicemen, all of whom died fighting in wars he started under false pretenses and has expressed no remorse for doing so. Neither Bush nor the great number of outlets who praised the book appeared at all interested in Middle Eastern victims of his policy.
Man this George Bush rebranding is amazing. It’s almost like he wasn’t the Donald Trump of his days https://t.co/aAucRzDJeA
An American man with ties to Amnesty International and key Hong Kong separatist figures has been posing online as a Hong Kong native named Kong Tsung-gan. Routinely cited as a grassroots activist and writer by major media organizations and published in English-language media, the fictitious character Kong appears to have been concocted to disseminate anti-China propaganda behind the cover of yellowface. Through Kong Tsung-gan’s prolific digital presence and uninterrogated reputation in mainstream Western media, he disseminates a constant stream of content hyping up the Hong Kong “freedom struggle” while clamoring for the US to turn up the heat on China.
Whispers about Kong’s true identity have been circulating on social media among Hong Kong residents, and was even mentioned in a brief account last December by The Standard. The Grayzone spoke to several locals outraged by a deceptive stunt they considered not only unethical, but racist. They said they have kept their views to themselves due to the atmosphere of intimidation looming over the city, where self-styled “freedom fighters” harass and target seemingly anyone who speaks out publicly against them.
The Twitter user Kong Tsung-gan (@KongTsungGan) first appeared in March 2015. Kong Tsung-gan’s earliest tweets featured commentary about Tibet and the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement. At some point, Kong changed his Twitter avatar to a black-and-white headshot of an unknown Asian person. A search of the Wayback Machine internet archive shows that this photo remained up until sometime in late 2019. Later, Kong changed his Twitter avatar to an image depicting Liu Xia, the wife of the late Nobel Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo. Liu Xiaobo was a right-wing ideologue who celebrated the US wars on Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and was rewarded with the 2014 Democracy Award by the National Endowment for Democracy – the favorite meddling machine of the US government.
[..] At around the time he created his Twitter account, Kong Tsung-gan published his first Medium post. He has since filled his Medium feed with protest timelines, lists of recommended human rights books and journalism (including a link to the questionable China “expert” Adrian Zenz), and “first-hand accounts” of his protest experiences on the ground. In one account, Kong Tsung-gan claimed he attended a Band 1 government school, implying he was a native Hong Kong resident. Kong’s work has been amplified by Joshua Wong, the Hong Kong protest poster-boy who has enjoyed photo-ops with neoconservative Republican senators like Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton.
A recent study has confirmed that half of Germany’s population owns just 1.5% of the country’s wealth, while the top 0.1% own 20%. And inequality is getting worse. During the last two decades, the real disposable income of the poorest 50% has been falling while that of the top 1% has been rising fast, along with house and share prices. It is against this background of high and rising inequality that the mood of the German public must be understood, in particular popular resistance to the idea of a eurozone fiscal union. German workers, who are increasingly struggling to make ends meet, understandably refuse to endorse the idea of huge amounts of money being constantly channeled to citizens of other countries. The fact that Germany is getting richer overall is irrelevant to them.
From experience, they know that any money sent to Italy or Greece will probably come from them, not the top 0.1% – not to mention that it will probably end up in the pockets of vile Greek oligarchs, or of private German companies that have purchased Greek assets for next to nothing. As a result, the European Union’s recently agreed €750 billion ($880 billion) pandemic recovery fund, dubbed Next Generation EU, threatens to deepen divisions across Europe, rather than being the unifying balm of many commentators’ dreams. Setting aside the scheme’s macroeconomic insignificance, it is important to take a fresh look at it from the perspective of a typical German worker languishing among the bottom 50% of the country’s wealth distribution.
Her government, a typical German worker is told, will be liable for €100 billion of new debt that the EU will use to help foreigners recover from the pandemic’s economic fallout. “Italians will receive €80 billion from Europe’s Recovery Fund,” she hears. “Spaniards will collect €78 billion, and even the Greeks will pocket €23 billion.” And what will she get? Less than nothing. Because her government is already in fiscal consolidation mode, trying to return its budget to a small surplus by 2021, she can expect only stagnant wages and more austerity for her local hospitals, schools, roads, and other infrastructure.1 While she may well feel compassion to the Italians and Spaniards, who lost so many people to COVID-19, she will never accept repeating this exercise in debt mutualization on behalf of southern or East Europeans. The solidarity of German workers, toward whom no one shows any solidarity, has its limits – as it should.
The coronavirus focus shifts decidedly to the west. The increases in cases in the US and many European countries are scary. Greece from 9 to 31 cases, Germany doubles to 577, Netherlands have their first death. It’s been a while since we saw over 3,000 new cases in a day. The last time was when most were still in China.
We’ll pass 100,000 cases later today.
And judging from what US political figures and pundits say these days, you’d swear the virus may have reached their brains.
• Cases 98,928 (+ 3,048 from Tuesday’s 95,880)
• Deaths 3,390 (+ 102 from yesterday’s 3,288)
• Italy cases rise to 3,859 from 3,090 yesterday
• Netherlands cases rise from 38 to 82 (First death today)
• Germany cases from 283 to 577
• France cases from 285 to 423
• US cases from 158 to 233
• Canada cases from 37 to 48
• Sweden 52 to 101
• Belgium 23 to 50
• Greece 9 to 31
• Iran shuts 60,000 mosques.
Ben Hunt on Twitter:
• Just heard that Wells Fargo ordered employees to cancel all domestic travel plans, likely to require employees to work from home starting Monday. Wells Fargo has >270,000 employees.
• Walmart canceled a national meeting next week in Dallas of senior execs, store managers and distributors. Domestic travel eliminated.
• Dupont has grounded all domestic and int’l employee travel, banned all visitors from office meetings, and is exploring mandatory WFH.
• Procter & Gamble is doing the same with travel and visitors.
• Rudy Havenstein: “HEALTH NEWS: When you get the coronavirus, the official CDC recommendation to treat a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever is to lower the rate hedge funds can borrow at from 1.5% to 0%, and increase Treasury purchases to $200 billion per month.”
China’s CCP media mouthpiece, Xinhua News, has published a new article titled “Be bold: the world owes China a thank you.” In it, the author suggests that the coronavirus outbreak is much worse in the United States than authorities are letting on – while noting that President Trump praised China’s measures to control the outbreak during a recent press conference. Xinhua also points out that the US stock market “has plummeted continuously, with a drop of more than 12% in just one week.” The article then suggests the travel ban imposed on China – including the restriction of people who have visited China – was ‘unkind,’ and has had a ‘great economic impact’ on the country. The punchline? If China retaliates against the United States at this time, including a travel ban or a strategic restriction over medical exports, America would be “plunged into the mighty sea of coronavirus.”
[..] 80% of present medicines consumed in the United States are produced in China. This includes Chinese companies and foreign drug companies that have outsourced their drug manufacture in joint ventures with Chinese partners. According to Rosemary Gibson of the Hastings Center bioethics research institute, who authored a book in 2018 on the theme, the dependency is more than alarming. Gibson cites medical newsletters giving the estimate that today some 80% of all pharmaceutical active ingredients in the USA are made in China. “It’s not just the ingredients. It’s also the chemical precursors, the chemical building blocks used to make the active ingredients. We are dependent on China for the chemical building blocks to make a whole category of antibiotics… known as cephalosporins. They are used in the United States thousands of times every day for people with very serious infections.”
The made in China drugs today include most antibiotics, birth control pills, blood pressure medicines such as valsartan, blood thinners such as heparin, and various cancer drugs. It includes such common medicines as penicillin, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), and aspirin. The list also includes medications to treat HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, cancer, depression, epilepsy, among others. A recent Department of Commerce study found that 97 percent of all antibiotics in the United States came from China.
A fast spreading coronavirus outbreak could knock $211 billion off the combined economies of the Asia-Pacific, with Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia among the most exposed, S&P Global Ratings said on Friday. S&P cut its 2020 growth forecast for China to 4.8% from previous estimate of 5.7%. It forecast Australian growth to slow sharply to 1.2% from an already below-trend 2.2% in 2019. Japan would take 0.5 percentage point hit and Korea a 1 percentage point knock. “The balance of risks remains to the downside due to local transmission, including in economies with low reported cases, secondary transmissions in China as people return to work and tighter financial conditions,” S&P said in a report.
In other forecasts, Hong Kong’s economy would likely contract by -0.8% in 2020, Singapore’s would flat line, and Thailand’s expansion likely slow to 1.6%. [..] S&P did not cut growth forecasts for emerging markets of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and India, citing the fact that reported infections in those countries were still low. However, it noted the outlook could quickly deteriorate if the low level of cases was due to minimal testing and if those countries were swept up in financial contagion.
South Korea issued a strongly worded protest on Friday against Japan’s decision to quarantine South Korean visitors for two weeks, as coronavirus containment measures ignited a fresh diplomatic row between the Asian nations. Japan joined the list of almost 100 countries that have imposed restrictions on South Korean travelers, barring arrivals from highly affected areas starting on Saturday and ordering a two-week quarantine for those from other regions. The South Korean foreign ministry said Japan’s ambassador would be summoned to explain Tokyo’s decision and receive a formal complaint. Seoul has previously summoned ambassadors from Vietnam and Singapore over similar travel restrictions.
“It is extremely regrettable Japan took this unreasonable and excessive step without sufficient prior consultation with us, and we strongly urge immediate reconsideration,” it said. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Seoul would respond with countermeasures, although he gave no details on what actions could be taken. The presidential Blue House discussed the issue at a meeting of its National Security Council, an official said. The row came as the number of new cases in South Korea, the country with the biggest outbreak of the flu-like virus outside China, fell to 196 from 760 the previous day, for a total of 6,284 infections. The death toll rose by seven to 42, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
The Ministry of Health has licensed commercial production of test kits that help diagnose the novel coronavirus infection in just one hour. It was developed jointly by the Vietnam Military Medical University and tech firm Viet A Corporation. It is based on reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), a technique that combines reverse transcription of RNA into DNA and amplification of specific DNA targets using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The kit can detect the new coronavirus in specimens of droplets obtained from the respiratory tract and blood samples.
Do Quyet, director of the university, said all tests done by the university and Viet A Corporation found the kit meeting World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards. Independent testing of the kit by the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology on various disease samples using five different devices turned up completely accurate results every time, he said. [..] Phan Quoc Viet, CEO of Viet A, said his company could make 10,000 kits a day, and triple the capacity if needed. Authorities said this capacity would enable Vietnam to not only meet domestic demand but also export. China, the U.S., Japan, Germany, and now Vietnam are the only countries to make test kits for the new coronavirus.
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration chief Stephen Dickson said on Thursday he thinks a certification test flight for the Boeing 737 MAX – a key milestone for the return of the grounded plane – could come soon. “We’re working though the last few software review and documentation issues and then I think within a matter of a few weeks we should be seeing a certification flight,” Dickson said at a Washington aviation conference. Reuters has previously reported that a certification flight is not expected until April and officials said that is still the case. The 737 MAX has been grounded for almost a year after two fatal crashes killed 346 people in five months.
Donald Trump attacked Joe Biden’s cognitive abilities on Thursday night during an event in the former-vice president’s hometown that could set the tone for an ugly general election. Appearing at a Fox News town hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Trump – who has faced repeated scrutiny over his own mental acuity – said there was “something going on” with Biden, in what may prove a rehearsal for Republican attacks during the presidential election. Thursday marked Trump’s first public event since Biden’s surprisingly strong performance on Super Tuesday, when he won 10 out of 14 states available to propel him into the lead in the Democratic primary.
Trump said he had been “all set” to face Biden’s rival Bernie Sanders, whom he called a “communist”, until the recent vote. “Then we have this crazy thing that happened on Tuesday, which [Biden] thought was Thursday, but he also said 150 million people were killed with guns and that he was running for the United States Senate. There’s something going on there,” Trump said. Biden – who did say those things – has a track record of gaffes and has turned in bumbling debate performances, but Trump’s line of attack raised the unedifying spectacle of an election focused on two men in their 70s attacking each other’s alleged cognitive decline.
Biden is a huge fraud & pathological liar with no fixed principles or beliefs other than his own power. His career stands for nothing other than serving powerful corporate & militaristic interests for his own power.
U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, the lone Republican to vote to convict President Donald Trump of abuse of power following his impeachment, said on Thursday a Senate Republican investigation of Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden appeared politically motivated. Romney told reporters a probe of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson would be better pursued by the FBI or another federal agency “if there’s something of significance that needs to be evaluated.” Johnson is poised to issue the first subpoena in an investigation of Hunter Biden’s seat on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma when his father was U.S. vice president. Hunter Biden’s role has been attacked as corrupt without evidence by Trump and congressional Republicans.
“There’s no question but that the appearance of looking into Burisma and Hunter Biden appears political. And I think people are tired of these kind of political investigations,” Romney, a member of the homeland security panel, said. Trump was impeached on abuse-of-power and obstruction charges in the Democratic-led House of Representatives after he asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in July. He was acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats said Trump was trying to shore up his re-election prospects by targeting Biden. Trump continues to question Hunter Biden’s position at Burisma. “That will be a major issue in the campaign,” Trump told Fox News on Wednesday night. “I will bring that up all the time.”
Chuck Schumer, the top U.S. Senate Democrat, expressed regret on Thursday for remarks he made a day earlier that two Supreme Court justices appointed by President Donald Trump would “pay the price” if they rule in favor of abortion restrictions. “I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language. I shouldn’t have used the words I did. But in no way was I making a threat. I never, never would do such a thing,” Schumer said on the Senate floor amid Republican demands that he apologize for his comments about Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Schumer seemed to stop short of a full apology, saying instead that the words he used during an abortion rights rally outside the Supreme Court building directed at the two conservative justices “didn’t come out the way I intended to.”
“Of course I didn’t intend to suggest anything other than political and public-opinion consequences for the Supreme Court. And it’s a gross distortion to imply otherwise,” Schumer said. Fifteen Republican lawmakers introduced a Senate resolution on Thursday seeking to formally censure Schumer for what they called his “threatening statements” and to call on senators to “respect the independence” of the federal judiciary. At the Wednesday rally, Schumer said the two justices “won’t know what hit you” if they rule in favor of abortion restrictions in a case the Supreme Court was hearing that day involving a challenge to the legality of a Louisiana law that could make the procedure more difficult to obtain. “I want to tell you Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh – you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price,” Schumer said during the speech.
Chief Justice John Roberts hours later condemned Schumer’s comments as “inappropriate” and “dangerous.”
Throughout 2019, Uncle Joe was barely touched by his opponents, each of whom hoped that either somebody else would hit him first or that Biden would just self-combust. Nobody wanted to look like they were doing Trump’s bidding, as he went after Biden relentlessly for corruption in Ukraine. And the two candidates who hit Biden head-on — Kamala Harris and Julián Castro — soon enough became cautionary tales. But had Warren done to Biden in the fall what she did to Bloomberg just recently, she may not have been the one to pay the price.
If a genuine ideological debate had broke out between Biden and Warren over the social role of Wall Street and corporate America, while Sanders was still struggling to escape the low double digits, a large swath of progressives may have rallied to Warren, eager for the fight. Warren had come into public life battling Biden over bankruptcy, and some of her harshest rhetoric ever has been directed at him, particularly as she warned that “senators like Joe Biden should not be allowed to sell out women in the morning and be heralded as their friend in the evening.” Instead, campaign advisers argued that the race should be treated more as if it was a game of golf — each player hitting their own shots, aiming for the best round — rather than boxing, where a punch is blocked and met with a counterpunch.
Warren situated her campaign as the heir to several generations of persistent women — from the Bread and Roses strike, to the garment workers in New York, washerwomen in Atlanta, and janitors in Los Angeles — but stopped short of taking the fight directly to Biden until it was too late. (Though she did bury Buttigieg in a wine cave, which must have been satisfying, if not ultimately enough to win.) On Super Tuesday, it became clear that in a contest for the support of suburban voters, Sanders is at a major disadvantage. That’s not the case with Warren, but by the time that contest came, she was no longer in it.
Tin-foil hat wearer and Russia conspiracy theorist Rachel Maddow says Bernie supporters hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016 and will do it again in 2020: “Schismatic, factionalist, and injurious.” pic.twitter.com/07wHCw3pmB
In a further demonstration of the abuses that led to the surveillance of Trump officials, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court has barred FBI officials involved in the wiretapping of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page from appearing before the court. in rebuke that exceeded the remedial recommendations made by the independent monitor recently appointed by the court. Notably, this goes beyond the recommendations for David Kris, the highly controversial choice as an independent monitor of reforms. The order of Judge Boasberg further belies arguments that the surveillance of the Trump-relate figures was well-based and justified, as I discussed in any earlier column.
Boasberg declared “FBI personnel under disciplinary review in relation to their work on FISA applications accordingly should not participate in drafting, verifying, reviewing, or submitting such applications to the Court while the review is pending. The same prohibition applies to any DOJ attorney under disciplinary review, as well as any DOJ or FBI personnel who are the subject of a criminal referral related to their work on FISA applications.” We will have to wait to see if there are meaningful reforms of this court. Boasberg made a baffling mistake in the appointment of Kris. Moreover, this is not a permanent ban. Most importantly, Sen. Rand Paul is being opposed in his efforts to put serious protections in place, including opposition from the Justice Department.
Rania Khalek has an excellent overview of the years of western involvement that led to the mess.
The ceasefire doesn’t solve a thing though. Assad and Putin will never accept a terrorist enclave in Syria. They want Al Qeada et al gone. But to achieve that, Turkey will have to withdraw first. That is what Erdogan and Putin discussed for 6 hours yesterday.
Syria’s war-battered Idlib region was quiet but tense on Friday as a ceasefire deal between Moscow and Ankara took effect, with residents and opposition forces describing a lull in air raids that have pounded the last rebel-held enclave in Syria. Russia and Turkey made the agreement on Thursday evening, after six hours of talks in Moscow, to contain a conflict that has displaced nearly a million people in three months in northwest Syria. Russia and NATO-member Turkey back opposing sides in Syria’s nine-year-old war. Moscow supports President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey backs some rebel groups, and the two sides had been edging closer to direct confrontation in recent weeks.
Several previous deals to end the fighting in Idlib have collapsed. Analysts and residents said they feared the latest ceasefire would also fizzle out as it did not address the humanitarian crisis or air protection in any detail. “This deal isn’t designed to last, rather it is designed to fail – and I am afraid in the not too distant future,” said Galip Dalay, IPC-Mercator fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “Any ceasefire arrangement in Idlib, unless it has a no-fly zone dimension, is bound to fail. Deals in the past never de-escalated. They merely froze the crisis until the next escalation.”
Turkey & Russia reached a ceasefire agreement for Idlib but it looks like it’s already failing.
How did Turkey (a NATO member!) end up fighting on the SAME SIDE as al Qaeda against the Syrians & Russia?
Starting last week multiple journalists published proof that Turkish authorities were actively facilitating refugee and migrant movement toward EU borders after Erdogan began making good on his prior threat to ‘open the gates’ — angry over the unfolding Idlib crisis. This included footage of buses staged in Istanbul and other cities to take thousands to the land border with Greece. And now Ankara is now openly saying it’s implemented a policy of not only pushing migrants to the border, but ensuring they won’t come back — even after Greece shut its border and has been seen using harsh tactics to keep people from entering in a heightened militarized response.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced Thursday the deployment of 1,000 special operations police officers to ensure migrants can’t return. “Turkey will deploy 1,000 special operations police officers to prevent migrant pushback at the border,” the minister said, according to Turkey’s Daily Sabah. The newspaper reported further: “Soylu told reporters that the European Union’s border protection agency Frontex and Greece have pushed 4,900 migrants back to Turkey since March 1.” He also claimed 164 migrants had been injured by Greek border security and Frontex. The interior minister also estimated that almost 140,000 migrants are in the first wave headed toward Europe, which began departing Turkey last Friday.
If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes he can bully European leaders by provoking a fresh migrant crisis in southern Europe, then he would be well-advised to think again. Ankara’s announcement that it is once again opening the floodgates to allow millions of refugees from Syria’s brutal civil war to travel to south-eastern Europe in search of refuge has been taken to persuade European leaders to back Turkey’s increasingly desperate situation in Syria. Having launched an ill-considered military offensive against the Assad regime in northern Syria, Mr Erdogan now finds himself facing the consequences of his action, with regime forces, backed by Russia and Iran, waging a highly effective campaign against the Turks, which has so far resulted in the deaths of scores of Turkish troops.
In addition, Turkey’s decision to deploy thousands of troops to Idlib province in northern Syria has resulted in a fresh wave of refugees fleeing across the border into southern Turkey, where Turkish officials are already struggling to cope with the estimated four million Syrian refugees that have already sought sanctuary in the sprawling refugee camps. One of the main reasons that Mr Erdogan now finds himself facing this difficult predicament is that he has badly underestimated the nature of his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When Turkey took the controversial decision last year to purchase Russia’s state-of-the-art S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, Mr Erdogan calculated that it would herald new era of friendly cooperation with Ankara’s long-standing rival in Moscow even if, by pressing ahead with the deal, the Turks risked jeopardising their relationship with NATO, which bitterly opposed the deal. There was certainly an expectation in Ankara that improved relations with Moscow would result in better cooperation between the two countries on the post-conflict settlement in Syria, especially regarding Turkey’s desire to establish a safe zone in northern Syria.
Gustave Moreau Orpheus at the Tomb of Eurydice 1891
“Don’t Take The Bait”, said 4 young congresswomen yesterday in a press conference in Washington DC. They were referring to comments Donald Trump had made about them earlier. However, just the simple act of calling the press conference meant they were … taking the bait.
Yes, Trump was out of line, way out of left field territory out of line. But he did that on purpose, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, were voluntarily following him into that same left field.
I’ve been saying for over 3 years now that the role of Trump is to expose the -inherent and longtime- failures of the US political system. But when I see things like that press-op, how can I possibly think the system has learned anything at all?
If Trump’s role is to reveal the failures of the system, and that same system turns around and blames Donald Trump for all of those failures, how are we ever supposed to take the next step out of here?
Trump has been especially vicious against the 4 women, and it’s simply not enough to put that down to his racism or anything like that. There’s something else going on; how obvious would you like it?
What is happening here is not Trump pandering or virtue-signalling to his base -that’s just an added feature. The reality is that Trump, in say (re-)election mode, sees a divide within the Democratic party, drives a wedge into that divide, and twists it.
His strong if not vicious attacks on the 4 women are aimed straight at Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden, plus all the rest of the centrist Dems. Trump is calling them out. So they will have to either end up supporting AOC and co, or they will not.
If they don’t the Dems are seriously split. They might have been anyway, but Trump makes it impossible for them to keep hiding that. He forces Pelosi et al to either stand behind AOC et al, or to leave her alone, as Nancy was sort of trying to do last week by saying (paraphrased) that “they are just four women”.
And then these girls take the bait to the extent that they call a press conference, which gets tons of attention, but not because they are so newsworthy, as I’m sure they believe, but because Trump is, as anything Trump still is.
It is Pelosi’s worst nightmare. The most vocal members of her party are the furthest removed from the picture she wants to present of the party. But she has to deal with it, with them. She talks about unity all the time, and for good reason.
And Pelosi is smart enough to understand what Trump is doing. She sees the big divide within the Dems and she sees how the divide could make her party lose in 2020. And she sees how Trump uses that.
But what can she do? Tell AOC to shut up for the good of Joe Biden’s chances? The last big shot the Dems have at redemption is next week’s 5 hour Mueller hearing on Capitol Hill. And if that doesn’t work out, where are they going to go? Is it perhaps not the greatest idea to keep people with such different ideas in one party?
Bernie Sanders wants Medicare for all, as allegedly do AOC and Elizabeth Warren. AOC wants a Green New Deal, whatever shape that may take, and so on and so on. But if they ever agree on one candidate to run against Trump in 2020, will this person (m/f) run on that platform too?
Or will they go for a center kind of like candidate who’s totally out of line with the four women Trump is aggressively railing against, who thinks US healthcare only needs to be tweaked in minor fashion, Biden-style?!
By now, it’s all good by Trump, because he understands how divided the Dems are, and he’s had time to prepare for using that division.
And he also understands that the main thing the Dems are going to run on, because they have nothing else, is that they are not Donald Trump. They’re not going to agree on Medicare for All or absolving all student debt or any grand plans like that, because they’re too divided to do it.
What unites them is Donald Trump. And then he has them where he wants them.
Please note this is not what I prefer, I think America needs a strong Democratic Party, or perhaps by now more than two parties. It’s just that I think -as I have since 2016- that Trump is the ultimate challenge to the US political sytem, and the system is failing miserably in its response.
I’m getting so sick of this. Powelll wants to cut rates but it makes no sense if he’s to uphold Trump’s claim of a great US economy. So what does his spin team come up with? Cut rates because other countries are not doing so well. Cut the crap.
The dollar eased on Thursday after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell set the stage for a rate cut later this month, vowing to “act as appropriate” to ensure the world’s biggest economy will be able to sustain a decade-long expansion. In testimony to Congress, Powell pointed to “broad” global weakness that was clouding the U.S. economic outlook amid uncertainty about the fallout from the Trump administration’s trade conflict with China and other nations. “Chairman Powell sounded dovish on most dimensions. This is slightly surprising given benign trade developments following last month’s G20 meeting and the recent rebound in nonfarm payrolls,” said Michael Swell, co-head of global fixed income portfolio management at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.
“Overall, his comments around slowing growth against a backdrop of muted inflation and elevated uncertainties is consistent with ‘insurance rate cuts’ this year.” Adding to a generally dovish tone in his testimony, the minutes from the Fed’s previous policy meeting showed many policymakers thought more stimulus would be needed soon, reviving speculation of an aggressive rate cut.
The Fed’s pumping is great news in the short term but it can’t last forever. Be prudent in your market investing.
Ocasio-Cortez : In early 2014, the Federal Reserve believed that the long run unemployment rate was around 5.4 percent. In early 2018, it as estimated that this was now lower, around 4.5 percent. Now, the estimate is around 4.2 percent. What is the current unemployment rate today? Powell : 3.7 percent.
Ocasio: 3.7 percent…Unemployment has fallen about three full points since 2014 but inflation is no higher today than it was five years ago. Given these facts, do you think it’s possible that the Fed’s estimates of the lowest sustainable unemployment rate may have been too high? Powell : Absolutely.
This exchange may sound dull and technical. But the congresswoman’s point has real human stakes. America’s central bank has a dual mandate: to promote full employment and price stability. How the Fed chooses to balance those two objectives has redistributive implications. The wealthy have far more to lose from inflation than they do from modest levels of unemployment. In fact, many business owners may actually prefer for the U.S. economy not to achieve full employment, since workers tend to be less demanding when jobs are scarce. By contrast, the most vulnerable workers in the U.S. — such as those with criminal records or little experience — will struggle to get a foothold in the labor market unless policy makers err on the side of letting unemployment fall “too low.”
And this is what AOC’s questions are implicitly about. If the Federal Reserve believes that the U.S. economy cannot sustain unemployment below 5 percent without suffering high inflation, then it will raise interest rates to cool off investment, thereby preventing too many workers from getting jobs. Ocasio-Cortez’s implication is that, by raising interest rates out of a fear of illusory inflation, the Fed may have needlessly hurt American workers. Powell’s concession on that point is significant, and suggests that the central bank will be less inclined to err on the side of hurting the vulnerable in the future.
President Donald Trump has reportedly tasked aides to find a way to weaken the U.S. dollar in an effort to boost the economy ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The president also asked about the greenback while interviewing Federal Reserve board nominees Judy Shelton and Christopher Waller, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News. Those individuals also told Bloomberg that Trump’s chief economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disapprove of the idea of government tampering to weaken the dollar. Traditionally, past administrations have always maintained publicly they were for a strong dollar because dollar assets like Treasurys are so widely held around the globe.
Trump has often bemoaned the relative strength of the U.S. dollar in foreign exchange markets, blaming foreign nations for devaluing their currencies and thereby inflating the American trade deficit. Last week, the president said in a tweet that the U.S. should match China and Europe’s “currency manipulation game.” “China and Europe playing big currency manipulation game and pumping money into their system in order to compete with USA,” Trump said on Twitter. “We should MATCH, or continue being the dummies who sit back and politely watch as other countries continue to play their games – as they have for many years!”
One landmark of American reform was the White-Slave Traffic Act, signed into law in 1910 (“white slavery,” we might note, is known today as “sex trafficking”). That law, aimed at preventing not only prostitution but also “debauchery,” is known as the Mann Act in honor of its principal author, Representative James R. Mann, Republican of Illinois, who served in Congress from 1897 to 1922. Mann’s career mostly coincided with the presidential tenures of two great reformers, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. And it’s hard to overstate just how central to progressive thinking was the combatting of “vice.” After all, if the goal was to create a just society, it also had to be a wholesome society; otherwise no justice could be sustainable.
Thus when Roosevelt served as police commissioner of New York City in the mid-1890s, he focused on fighting vice, rackets, and corruption. Of course, Mann, Roosevelt, and Wilson had much more on their minds than just cleaning up depravity. They saw themselves as reformers across the board; that is, they were eager to improve economic conditions as well as social ones. So it was that Mann also co-authored the Mann-Elkins Act, further regulating the railroads; he also spearheaded the Pure Food and Drug Act, creating the FDA. It’s interesting that when Mann died in 1922, The New York Times ran an entirely admiring obituary, recalling him as “a dominating figure in the House…[a] leader in dozens of parliamentary battles.” In other words, back then, the Times was fully onboard with full-spectrum cleanup, on the Right as well as the Left.
To be sure, the Mann Act hardly eradicated the problem of sex-trafficking, just as Mann’s other legislative efforts did not put an end to abuses in transportation and in foods and drugs. However, we can say that Mann made things better. Of course, the Mann Act has long been controversial. Back in 1913, the African-American boxer Jack Johnson was convicted according to its provisions. (Intriguingly, in 2018, Johnson was posthumously pardoned by President Trump.) In 1944, film legend Charlie Chaplin, too, found himself busted on a Mann Act rap. Chaplin was accused of transporting a young “actress” across state lines; he was acquitted after a sensational trial, but not before it was learned that he had financed his lover’s two abortions. Chaplin’s career in Hollywood was effectively over.
Sen. Chuck Schumer — who called on Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign and said President Trump should “answer” for his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein — accepted thousands of dollars in donations from the alleged pedophile throughout the 1990s, The Post has learned. Federal Election Commission records show that Schumer received seven $1,000 donations from Epstein between 1992 and 1997, first as a U.S. congressman from New York and then when he was vying to be the state’s senator in 1998, an election he won. Epstein — who was arrested Saturday and charged with sex trafficking and a related conspiracy count for allegedly sexually abusing a vast network of underage girls — also gave $10,000 to “Victory in New York,” a joint fundraising committee established by Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Epstein gave an additional $5,000 to “Win New York,” a Schumer-associated joint committee that benefited the Liberal Party of New York State. Both of Epstein’s donations to the committees came in October 1998 — and look to have primarily benefited the DSCC and the Liberal Party of New York, as Epstein would have already met the $2,000 limit of donating individually to Schumer. At the time, donors could give $1,000 to a candidate per election — once in the primary and again in the general. That means Schumer and Schumer-linked entities received a combined $22,000.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Schumer made three Epstein-related demands. He first called on Acosta to resign. [..] “Instead of prosecuting a predator and serial sex trafficker of children, Acosta chose to let him off easy,” Schumer said on the floor. “This is not acceptable. We cannot have, as one of the leading appointed officials in America, someone who has done this.” Schumer also asked that the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility make public its review of Acosta’s handling of the case. Finally, Schumer said that Trump should paint a fuller picture of what he meant when he called Epstein a “terrific guy” in a 2002 article for New York Magazine.
An April 2011 court filing shows that Trump eventually barred Epstein from Mar-a-Lago “because Epstein sexually assaulted a girl at the club,” the documents allege. Trump didn’t officially launch a political career until June 2015. No FEC records show that Epstein was ever a Trump donor.
Democratic congresswoman Stacey Plaskett has decided to reverse course and will give away the contributions she has received from Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of child sex trafficking. The move comes a day after her team told CNBC that she was unlikely to return the campaign donations after Epstein’s arrest. “In light of new information and allegations that have been made against Jeffrey Epstein I have decided to make contributions to Virgin Islands organizations that work with women and children in the amount of his previous contributions,” Plaskett said in a statement Tuesday.
“My litmus test for accepting campaign contributions has been based on whether the donor’s money was made legally or by ill-gotten means and that the contributor will not ask of me or my Congressional office for any special favors. All my contributions have passed that test. In this case however, I am uncomfortable having received money from someone who has been accused of these egregious actions multiple times,” said Plaskett, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands in the House as a delegate. Her spokesman Mike McQueery later noted the Epstein donations will be given to The Women’s Coalition and The Family Resource Center.
Her initial announcement led to an outcry on social media, with prominent Democratic strategists such as Adam Parkhomenko calling on Plaskett to give the money over to a nonprofit organization such as the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Since Epstein pleaded not guilty Monday, Plaskett is the first politician to say she is giving away donations from Epstein.
When it rains inside the halls of Deutsche Bank, the flood is biblical. Just when it seemed that the biggest (if not for long) German bank, already reeling from the biggest mass layoffs since Lehman, couldn’t possibly bear any more bad news, along comes the US government with yet another potentially criminal investigation, this time over Deutsche Bank’s involvement with the sprawling, multibillion-dollar Malaysian development fraud scandal that toppled a prime minister, crippled Goldman Sachs stock and stretched from Hollywood to Wall Street. According to the WSJ, the DOJ is investigating whether the German bank violated foreign corruption or anti-money-laundering laws in its work for the 1Malaysia Development Bhd. fund, or 1MDB, which included helping the fund raise $1.2 billion in 2014 as concerns about the fund’s management and financials had begun to circulate.
So how did Deutsche Bank get thrown into yet another scandal? It turns out that DB was snitched out by former Goldman banker, Tim Leissner, the man who was ground zero in the original 1MDB scandal, and who ended up costing Goldman billions in dollar in market cap as its stock tumbled last year as its role in the biggest Malaysian corruption scandal got exposed, and according to some, cost Lloyd Blankfein his job. As it turns out, Leissner is now cooperating with authorities, and among his “good Samaritan” duties decided to throw the one bank that has more dirt on it than Goldman: Deutsche Bank. As we have reported extensively in the past, prosecutors have been investigating similar issues at Goldman, where Leissner, a former managing director, pleaded guilty last year and admitted to earlier helping siphon off billions of dollars from the fund.
[..] But wait, there’s more! Because roughly at the same time as DB’s potential role in the 1MDB scandal was exposed by the WSJ, both the NYT and Bloomberg reported that the German bank had extended relations with yet another, even more scandalous figure: Jeffrey Epstein. According to NYT, Epstein “appears to have been doing business and trading currencies through Deutsche Bank until just a few months ago.” But as the possibility of federal charges loomed, the bank ended its client relationship with Epstein. It is not clear what the value of those accounts were at the time they were closed. Bloomberg confirms, reporting that “Deutsche Bank severed business ties with Jeffrey Epstein earlier this year, just as federal authorities were preparing to charge the financier with operating a sex-trafficking ring of underage girls [..] “
I would argue that [Obama] ran for President in 2008 on a slogan – Change You Can Believe In – which very much fits his generation, late baby boom reaching across to the early Gen X’ers. “Change you can believe in” is a moniker designed to evoke a sense of technocratic tweaking, of taking a good system and making it more efficient and more fair for all citizens. It is not a call for revolution. What Obama was saying was essentially, “I am going to take the system we have – the best that man has created – and make it better.” He was not saying, “the system is rigged. The system is broken. And I’m going to burn it down and build up something better.”
Obama’s message was a conservative message. It was a message that was steeped in the status quo, with the change coming only at the margin. It meant continuity in policy and a bevy of tried and trusted policymakers to get us to the next destination. Even Obamacare is a tweak of the existing policy. It is not a fundamentally different healthcare system controlled by different healthcare providers. [..] Donald Trump doesn’t think that way. Norms only matter to him to the degree they move his personal agenda forward. He’s a pretty simple guy in this sense. If a policy choice or a norm helps Donald Trump, then he’s for it. If it hurts him, he’s against it. It’s as simple as that. But, that’s not conservative …at all. Trump may message “Make America Great Again”. But, his process is more about bending and breaking rules, damn the consequences.
None of this is to say that Millennials would support Trump over Obama because they want change. It’s more that Obama’s ‘change you can believe in’ approach was a very incremental, status quo-oriented conservative approach that has disappointed Millennials. They want still more change – not a bend and break the rule kind – but a fundamental systemic change. What does that mean about the next economic downturn? Personally, I think it means that — when people living in precarious at-will employment, with insufficient healthcare coverage, saddled by student debt, unable to purchase homes to build wealth feel the full bore of an economic downturn — they will be willing to burn the system down. They will have no allegiance to the status quo and will vote accordingly.
Former British prime minister John Major vowed on Wednesday to go to court to block his party colleague Boris Johnson from suspending parliament and dragging the queen into a constitutional crisis to deliver a no-deal Brexit. Johnson, the favourite to win a Conservative leadership election and so become the next prime minister, has refused to rule out suspending, or proroguing, parliament to ensure Britain leaves the European Union on Oct. 31 — with or without a deal. That could provoke a constitutional crisis in one of the world’s oldest and most stable democracies because parliament is opposed to a disorderly exit, lacking a transition deal to ease the economic dislocation of leaving the bloc.
While it is essentially up to the prime minister to make the decision, Major, an opponent of Brexit who has not shied away for criticising his party on the issue, said it would require the queen’s blessing. “In order to close down parliament, the prime minister would have to go to Her Majesty the Queen and ask for her permission to prorogue,” he told BBC Radio. “If her first minister asks for that permission, it is almost inconceivable that the queen will do anything other than grant it. “She is then in the midst of a constitutional controversy that no serious politician should put the queen in the middle of. If that were to happen, there would be a queue of people who would seek judicial review. I for one would be prepared to go and seek judicial review.”
Major accused Johnson of hypocrisy for backing Brexit to secure more power for Britain’s parliament, only to propose to sideline lawmakers when it suited him. He said parliament had not been suspended since King Charles I did so during the English Civil War. Charles was eventually executed, in 1649.
A new team established by the global chemical weapons watchdog to attribute blame for the use of banned munitions in Syria will investigate nine alleged attacks during the country’s civil war, including in the town of Douma, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was created in 1997 as a technical body to enforce a global non-proliferation treaty. Until now it had been authorised only to say whether chemical attacks occurred, not who perpetrated them. Last June, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) was established by the OPCW’s member states during a special session, a move that has brought deeper political division to the U.N. -backed agency.
Now it has identified the locations of its first investigations to be conducted in the coming three years. A document circulated to OPCW member states, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said the team “has identified a non-exhaustive provisional list of incidents on which it intends to focus its investigative work” between 2014 and 2018. The British-led proposal creating the 10-member team was supported by the United States and European Union, but opposed by Russia, Iran, Syria and their allies. Syria has refused to issue visas to the team’s members or to provide it with documentation, OPCW chief Fernando Arias said in comments to member states published last month.
With the Persian Gulf uncharacteristically quiet in recent days, without any material provocation either real or staged, late on Wednesday CNN reported that five armed Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard boats unsuccessfully tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. There was no independent verification of the report, but instead it was once again sourced to those who stands to gain the most from a way with Iran, namely “two US officials with direct knowledge of the incident.” According to the report, the British Heritage tanker was sailing out of the Persian Gulf and was crossing into the Strait of Hormuz area when it was approached by the Iranian boats.
The Iranians ordered the tanker to change course and stop in nearby Iranian territorial waters, according to the officials. A US aircraft was overhead and recorded video of the incident, although so far a video has not been released. In addition to the US aircraft escort, the UK’s Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose had been escorting the tanker, and during the confrontation, it trained its deck guns on the Iranians and gave them a verbal warning to back away, which they did. Montrose is equipped on the deck with 30 mm guns specifically designed to drive off small boats. The frigate was in the region performing a “maritime security role” according to a prior notification from UK officials.
Salvador Dali Remorse, or Sphinx Embedded In Sand 1931
Any image of a dead child is always harrowing, for everyone but the most deranged psychopaths among us. If the child has drowned while seeking a better life it is possibly worse. The public reaction of politicians to such images, which varies from doing very little, or nothing, to solve the issues that have led to a child drowning, to trying to make cheap political gains from the image, must be the worst.
On September 2 2015, this photo of Syrian Kurdish 2 year-old Alan Kurdi, lifeless on a beach near Bodrum, Turkey, went viral. Almost 4 years later, all Europe has done is try to hide the problems that led to his death, by handing Turkey billions of euros to keep refugees inside that country. And still today conditions in Lesbos, Greece are appalling. Hardly a thing has changed.
Improvements to the situation that lead to Alan Kurdi’s death, within Syria itself, have had very little to do with European efforts. Russia had a much bigger role in that. And Syria is not the only source, or place, of troubles and refugees. Libya has turned into an open air slave market thanks to US and EU “efforts” under Obama. And Iraq is not exactly a land of milk and honey either. Or Afghanistan.
And then this week another picture of a drowned child made the frontpages -and more. That child, too, drowned due to a situation that has a long history: the US seeking to turn Central America into a dirt-poor, chaotic and unsafe environment that local people desperately want to escape. Same difference. And again, in the US and EU it is used as propaganda material.
So who do you blame for this? Trump of course. Who also gets the blame for the conditions in which children are held at the US-Mexico border, in “cages”. A disaster that caused Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to stage a scene in which she cried her heart out while looking at an empty parking lot in an expensive dress.
The truth is, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore. The people who are on AOC’s side of the divide will never see the reports on her faking the scene, that’s how segregated America has become. The “appropriate media” will convey the “appropriate” message” to the “appropriate audience”. Chuck Schumer even took the photograph to Capitol Hill for some quick and easy points.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: "President Trump, I want you to look at this photo. These are not drug dealers or vagrants or criminals. They are people simply fleeing a horrible situation in their home country for a better life." pic.twitter.com/zGJIWy3JQ0
What Schumer et al do not mention was that the “cages” AOC -ostensibly- cried about were built by the Obama government, i.e. Schumer’s own party. And there’s a few other things he conveniently left out. Like the fact that the horrible situations in their home countries that these people face are caused by the US itself, including Democrats like Schumer.
But first, some of the press on June 26, when the pictures came out:
The searing photograph of the sad discovery of their bodies on Monday, captured by journalist Julia Le Duc and published by Mexican newspaper La Jornada, highlights the perils faced by mostly Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty and hoping for asylum in the United States. According to Le Duc’s reporting for La Jornada, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, frustrated because the family from El Salvador was unable to present themselves to U.S. authorities and request asylum, swam across the river on Sunday with his daughter, Valeria.
He set her on the U.S. bank of the river and started back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. Martínez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away. The account was based on remarks by Ávalos to police at the scene — “amid tears” and “screams” — Le Duc told The Associated Press.
That border did not become “grim” overnight, it has been exactly that for many years. We have proof of that. But first, more easy points.
The Democratic presidential candidates rushed to condemn the “inhumane” situation on the US border with Mexico – with some directly blaming Donald Trump – after a picture of a Salvadoran father and his toddler daughter found dead in the Rio Grande shocked the nation. The photograph, which emerged on Tuesday night, showed Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 26, and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria laying facedown near Matamoros, Mexico, on the bank of the river that marks the US border – reopening a fierce debate about the scale of the crisis.
The picture, by journalist Julia Le Duc, has drawn comparisons to the 2015 image of three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Jurdi, who drowned off Kos in Greece – sparking a significant moment in the European debate over migrants and refugees. Beto O’Rourke said: “Trump is responsible for these deaths.” Writing on Twitter, the former Texas congressman added: “As his administration refuses to follow our laws – preventing refugees from presenting themselves for asylum at our ports of entry – they cause families to cross between ports, ensuring greater suffering & death. At the expense of our humanity, not to the benefit of our safety.”
Fellow 2020 hopeful senator Kamala Harris condemned the picture as “a stain on our moral conscience”. She wrote: “These families seeking asylum are often fleeing extreme violence. And what happens when they arrive? Trump says, ‘Go back to where you came from.’ That is inhumane. Children are dying.” Corey Booker, New Jersey senator and 2020 candidate, also blamed the president. “We should not look away. These are the consequences of Donald Trump’s inhumane and immoral immigration policy. This is being done in our name,” he tweeted.
These people don’t appear to have any knowledge of their own history, their own party. Either that or they’re flat-out lying. Kamala Harris: “..what happens when they arrive? Trump says, ‘Go back to where you came from.’ That is inhumane. Children are dying.” Here Kamala, Corey, Beto, take a listen to what Obama said in both 2007 and again in 2014. Take your time, we’ll wait:
While it’s impossible to quantify misery, and we should not even try, perhaps the closest we can get to doing it anyway is by looking at the number of people who have died at the US Southwest border. And if you can do that over an entire 20-year period, you at least have some indication.
And what do we see? The number of deaths under Trump is not high at all, at least in relative terms. Every death is one too many, true enough. But still. Since 2000, there was only one year, 2015, in which there were fewer deaths than in the two Trump years, 2017 and 2018.
Here’s a more detailed version of this (click for larger pic in new tab):
But yes, I know how much people love to hate Trump and his administration, and often for good reason too. But this whole thing appears to be about issues that existed during the previous Obama administration- and W. Bush- just as much, if not more. When Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi already were where they are now: in positions of -real- power. So you know, what do you do when they try and blame Trump for the very things they were complicit in?
And then there’s Salvini in Italy refusing entry to a ship filled with refugees. Which pretty much says he’s trying to force captains to break age-old maritime law (or the Law of the Sea, admiralty?!). And you can say he’s an idiot for doing it, and he is, but he is also telling the EU that Italy can’t accept 10 times more refugees than other EU nations just because it happens to have a coastline.
And sure Salvini is a belligerent fool, and so is Trump, but if you want to understand what happens you can’t stop at blaming only them. It’s tempting but it’s also far too easy. Even the Dalai Lama said people should stay in their own countries. But also that they should receive help from the west. Which for many decades have only been terrorizing them. This is as true in Africa as it is in Central America.
Arguably, all we need to do to stop children like Alan Kurdi and Valeria from drowning at border crossings is to make their home countries safe from our own criminal and deathly activities. But that’s not going to be easy. I read this piece today from think tanking US professors Mark Hannah and Stephen Wertheim, and it doesn’t even make sense beyond the initial message:
The last two presidents, Obama and Trump, were unlikely aspirants to the office partly because they bucked national-security orthodoxy, blasting Middle East wars and the political class that started them. Obama and Trump won their elections partly for the same reason. Once in office, however, they struggled to deliver. Endless war continues; diplomacy is in tatters; Americans suffer from underinvestment where they live and work; and the greatest threats, like climate change, loom larger across the globe. In 2020, the candidate who not only identifies these problems, but offers real solutions, will benefit.
Problem is, the Democrats are a radically pro-war party, just like the Republicans. The writers silently admit this by not naming one Democrat who is anti-war, and by not at all naming the one presidential candidate who is, Tulsi Gabbard. Which makes one suspect that they and their backers are not so much anti-war as they are anti-Trump, but since many Americans are anti-war these days, they see it as a possibly winning platform.
Given that Wertheim is a co-founder with George Soros and the Koch brothers of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, none of this is surprising. They just want the power back, and if that takes promising no more forever war during an election campaign, hey, that’s fine with them. And then once the election’s done, they can go back to their merry ways of inciting wars. They might as well claim they’re going to save us from climate change too.
The solution to the problem of children -and adults- drowning at border crossings is dead -pun intended- simple. Stop bombing people, stop interfering in their countries altogether, stop strangling them with economic sanctions. Implementing these very easy policies, though, is far from simple. And so the problem keeps growing.
The most important take-away from all this is that the problem is not Salvini or Trump, but the EU and US, the entire “body politic” of both. Where left and right are on the same side, that of power and money, and their ‘differences’ are mere distractions that serve to entertain their audiences. And the media whipping up a blind hatred of everything Salvini or Trump, is not going to make this world a better place.
Left and right alike dance to the tunes of the arms industries and other large corporations, which profit from chaos and misery, both in ‘powerless’ countries and at home. We’re stuck with “progressives” who have no meaningful link to progress and conservatives whose very last idea seems to be to conserve anything of value.
But be critical of the left and you’re labeled right wing, and vise versa. We live in a modern version of a segregated society, not progressing anywhere and not conserving a single thing on its way there.
We need to do better, much better, if we are to prevent the next child from drowning.
Joseph Mallord William Turner Teasing the Donkey 1827
So we’re going to do this all over again? Well, not if I can help it. Not that I have much hope that I can, mind you. As the bastions of war chime on, my voice, like so many others, will be drowned out. The military industrial complex knows how to do propaganda, better than anyone. But I’ll try.
Vietnam gave the US its biggest ever defeat, both militarily and morally, and yet mere years after its deeply humiliating withdrawal was put into action, the country was back at sending its promising young boys and girls not to its school systems, but to far away battle fields to be crippled, traumatized and slaughtered.
I know, I know, the UK and France do that too, but few other places do. Russia today uses its troops to defend its territory, China has yet to reveal its intentions. But the intentions of the US have been known ever since WWII ended.
In 1956, president Eisenhower, himself a longtime military man, warned the country upon taking leave of office, of the military-industrial complex that was threatening to take over its government. Less than 10 years later, that’s exactly what the complex did, and it’s never looked back.
And I’m thinking: you never learned anything at all? Not from Ike, not from Vietnam, not from the non-existent Iraqi WMD, and not from Libya or Syria? How is that even possible? Oh wait, I know, because the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN et al is where you get your so-called news. That’s why. Gotcha.
Today, May 26 2019, and I’m deeply ashamed to say it, I have two stories, one concerning a speech by VP Mike Pence at West Point, the other from Caitlin Johnstone about a Twitter thread initiated by the US military itself. Pence’s speech is heart breaking in its ignorance of US history, Caitlin’s is heart wrenching in its acknowledgment of that same history, and what it does to young Americans.
Now, I think this is not about Trump, as many will undoubtedly claim, it’s about Trump and Pelosi and Pence and McCain and Bolton and Hillary and Pompeo and Obama and all of the people hanging around both administrations. Let’s see what YOU think.
Vice President Mike Pence told the graduating class of the West Point Military Academy on Saturday that the world is “a dangerous place” and they should expect to see combat. “Men and women of West Point, no matter where you’re deployed, you will be the vanguard of freedom, and you know that the “soldier does not bear the sword in vain.” The work you do has never been more important. America will always seek peace, but peace comes through strength. And you are now that strength. It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life. You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen.
Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of you will join the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific, where North Korea continues to threaten the peace, and an increasingly militarized China challenges our presence in the region. Some of you will join the fight in Europe, where an aggressive Russia seeks to redraw international boundaries by force. And some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere. And when that day comes, I know you will move to the sound of the guns and do your duty, and you will fight, and you will win. The American people expect nothing less.”
Mike Pence is a very dangerous person. He’s planning to send American children into endless wars once again, 45-odd years after Vietnam and 20-odd years after Iraq. And there’s no-one left to stop him, other than Trump, Not exactly a solid guarantee. The Democrats will cheer this on, and their media will too. They always have.
Now, I’m not old enough to remember the whole story of the US involvement in Vietnam, but I do recall this 1985 video from Paul Hardcastle, which stated that the average age of the US soldier in Vietnam -towards the end- was 19. I have also seen Coppola’s movie “Apocalypse Now”, and many others, and yes, I’m wondering where today’s versions of these movies are.
Because, you know, when I read the Twitter thread picked up by Caitlin Johnstone listing what was supposed to be a promo thing from the army, my heart sinks and hurts and in the end is downright defeated. It’s like reading the accounts from Vietnam, and nothing has changed in 50+ years. How can that be? Says innocent me.
But religious nut Mike Pence has the guts to present this as some sort of heroic thing. For young Americans to go die in a desert for nothing at all other than Exxon’s access to oil and the profits of Boeing and Raytheon. And of course they’ve been setting this up for decades, that young kids -certainly blacks- who have no shot at a proper education, can get one only if they agree to become cannon fodder.
That’s ‘Nam, guys, that’s the 1960’s, history. And just look at how terribly that failed. Well, Mike Pence would like to repeat that failure.
After posting a video of a young recruit talking to the camera about how service allows him to better himself “as a man and a warrior”, the US Army tweeted, “How has serving impacted you?” As of this writing, the post has over 5,300 responses. Most of them are heartbreaking. “My daughter was raped while in the army,” said one responder. “They took her to the hospital where an all male staff tried to convince her to give the guy a break because it would ruin his life. She persisted. Wouldn’t back down. Did a tour in Iraq. Now suffers from PTSD.”
“I’ve had the same nightmare almost every night for the past 15 years,” said another. Tweet after tweet after tweet, people used the opportunity that the Army had inadvertently given them to describe how they or their loved one had been chewed up and spit out by a war machine that never cared about them. This article exists solely to document a few of the things that have been posted in that space, partly to help spread public awareness and partly in case the thread gets deleted in the interests of “national security”.
“my grandpa served in vietnam from when he was 18–25. he’s 70 now and every night he still has nightmares where he stands up tugging at the curtains or banging on the walls screaming at the top of his lungs for someone to help him. he refuses to talk about his time and when you mention anything about the war to him his face goes white and he has a panic attack. he cries almost every day and night and had to spend 10 years in a psychiatric facility for suicidal ideations from what he saw there.”
“My best friend joined the Army straight out of high school because his family was poor & he wanted a college education. He served his time & then some. Just as he was ready to retire he was sent to Iraq. You guys sent him back in a box. It destroyed his children.”
“My best friend from high school was denied his mental health treatment and forced to return to a third tour in Iraq, despite having such deep trauma that he could barely function. He took a handful of sleeping pills and shot himself in the head two weeks before deploying.”
If you got the stomach for it, guys, do read it. But I got to tell you, I find it hard.
The US killed millions of people and maimed ten times that in Vietnam, and that very much includes its own young and promising American citizens, and they did it again in Iraq. Mike Pence wants to repeat that in Iran and other theaters. Supported by Pelosi, Pompeo, Schumer, Bolton etc. Shame for them John McCain passed.
There’s only one US presidential candidate who’s explicitly spoken out against this mad repeat of Vietnam, and that’s Tulsi Gabbard, who actually “served” in Iraq. So she will be pushed aside by the DNC. Who are funded by the military industrial complex, don’t you know. Must serve the machine. We have a long way to go.
I always thought that Springsteen talking about Vietnam from Born In The USA is sort of like a haiku, encompassing the essence in just a few words, even if he doesn’t catch all the misery and bloodshed and mental anguish and broken lives and all of it (but how could you?):
I had a brother at Khe San;
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
I know people older than me have many more examples of this and from the time when the ‘war’ was actually ongoing. Eve of Destruction? Creedence? Please send suggestions.
But also, please recognize the similarities in the madness then and now.
And let’s try and make it stop.
Let’s try and stop history from even rhyming, let alone repeating.
Nassim Taleb likes to point out that in olden days those who declared wars would also be first in line to fight them. By design. The fair thing to do.
Let’s send Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer and Mike Pompeo and John Bolton and all of their families into Iran first. And then we can talk.
He gets very close to clamoring for a state-run economy. Let’s have a 5-year plan, shall we? It’s not that you couldn’t manipulate the ‘market’ 10,000 ponits higher right now, it’s what happens after that.
The value of the U.S. stock market has risen by $9.1 trillion, or 35.6%, since Election Day in 2016, according to Wilshire Associates. For President Donald Trump, that’s not nearly enough. Lately, he’s been blasting the Federal Reserve for raising rates, and he’s steadily urged the central banks to revert to the policies that supported the market during the last crisis, including the resumption of the Fed’s bond-buying program. “I would say in terms of quantitative tightening, it should actually now be quantitative easing,” he said last week. “You would see a rocket ship.”
On Sunday, he put numbers to that potential “rocket ship” rally: ‘If the Fed had done its job properly, which it has not, the Stock Market would have been up 5000 to 10,000 additional points, and GDP would have been well over 4% instead of 3%… with almost no inflation. Quantitative tightening was a killer, should have done the exact opposite!’ Trump’s tweet comes amid opposition from the Senate over his two picks, Herman Cain and Stephen Moore, for open seats on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. Cain, according to a report from ABC News on Friday, plans to remove his name from consideration.
Pelosi is one scary woman, a talking mummy. She’s everything that’s wrong with Washington. But it’s sort of good that the young ones have to fight. Still, that should start with standing up for Assange, because that’s where the establishment’s ugliness shows most.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just sent some more shade to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In a “60 Minutes” interview, correspondent Lesley Stahl pointed out the different groups within the House Democratic caucus. “You have these wings — AOC and her group on one side,” Stahl said. “That’s like five people,” Pelosi interrupted. Stahl corrected the snarky remark, saying that the “progressive group is more than five.” “Well, I’m progressive — I’m a progressive, yeah,” Pelosi responded. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has 98 members and is the second largest group of Democrats in the Congress. Ocasio-Cortez is one of the group’s most recognizable freshmen members.
Seven Democratic House members, including Ocasio-Cortez, are supported by the progressive political action the Justice Democrats, which Pelosi could also have been referring to. On several occasions now, Pelosi has downplayed any splits within her ranks — and also tried to dim some of Ocasio-Cortez’s star power. In a recent interview with USA Today, the House Speaker pointed out that votes are more significant than Twitter followers — a remark that was also interpreted to be a dig at AOC. “While there are people who have a large number of Twitter followers, what’s important is that we have a large number of votes on the floor of the House,” Pelosi said.
On “60 Minutes” Pelosi said her Democrats weren’t fractured by those loud voices on the left. “By and large, whatever orientation they came to Congress with, they know that we have to hold the center. That we have to … go down the mainstream,” Pelosi said. When asked by Stahl if they really know that, Pelosi answered in the affirmative. “They do,” she said.
The Guardian’s carefully constructed smear. No shame. Expect more, and expect it to get more intense. The paper has built strong ties with Ecuador ever since Moreno was elected with the explicit goal of smearing Assange.
Julian Assange repeatedly violated his asylum conditions and tried to use the Ecuadorian embassy in London as a “centre for spying”, Ecuador’s president has said in an interview with the Guardian. Lenín Moreno also said he had been given written undertakings from Britain that Assange’s fundamental rights would be respected and that he would not be sent anywhere to face the death penalty. Assange, 47, was taken from the embassy by British police last Thursday after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, ending a stay there of nearly seven years. The WikiLeaks co-founder faces up to 12 months in prison after being found guilty of breaching his bail conditions when he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012.
He made the move after losing a battle against extradition to Sweden where he faced allegations including of rape, which he denies. He is now expected to fight extradition to the US over an allegation that he conspired with the former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break into a classified government computer. Sweden is weighing up whether to reopen an investigation into the rape and sexual assault allegations. When there are competing extradition requests in the UK, the home secretary decides which country should take priority. Moreno’s move against Assange has proved controversial in Ecuador. The previous president, Rafael Correa, has accused his one-time political ally of “a crime humanity will never forget” and described Moreno as “the greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history”.
In what may have been part of a campaign to weaken Moreno, WikiLeaks was linked to an anonymous website that claimed Moreno’s brother had created an offshore company, and it leaked material included private pictures of Moreno and his family. In his first interview with English-speaking media since Assange was ejected from the embassy, Moreno denied he had acted as a reprisal for the way in which documents about his family had been leaked, and said he regretted that Assange had allegedly used the embassy to interfere in other country’s democracies. “Any attempt to destabilise is a reprehensible act for Ecuador, because we are a sovereign nation and respectful of the politics of each country,” he said in the interview, which was conducted by email.
It’s plain and simple. The same entities (Deep State, permanent government, the oligarchy, the Borg, whatever term you like) that targeted Trump with the phony Russia collusion narrative want Assange’s scalp nailed to the wall. It’s one thing for favored outlets like the Washington Post and CNN to disseminate classified information that favors the Deep State, quite another to reveal information contrary to its interests. As the premier dispenser of embarrassing secrets that facilitates online dissidence from the established narrative (also under attack by governments and their tech giant accomplices) an example must be made of Assange pour encourager les autres.
He can count on being sentenced to rotting for decades in a nasty Office Space federal prison (the US will gladly waive the death penalty to spare the Brits’ prissy Euro-consciences) but may very well die soon enough of natural causes. An essential role in Assange’s betrayal by Moreno was played by Trump’s Veep Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Former President Rafael Correa says a direct condition of Moreno’s getting a $4.2 billion IMF loan was Assange’s head on a platter. That’s a lot more plausible than establishment media reports that Assange was ejected for transgressing the Ecuadorians’ fastidious hygiene standards, which (whether based in fact or not) are just cynical defamations to justify his upcoming lynching.
It’s irrelevant whether Trump – who theoretically is the boss of all US agency operatives working with their Brit colleagues to get their mitts on Assange – let the nab go forward because he was unwilling to order his minions to stand down or was powerless to do so. In that regard, it’s similar to pointlessly asking why he has the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad national security team he does. Is it because of “Javanka”? Is it because he’s beholden to a gaggle of oligarchs? (Supposedly his being a self-financed billionaire made him immune from such influences.) Is it a reflection of a personality disorder?
There has been plenty of over-the-top gloating about Assange’s arrest. In the Atlantic, Michael Weiss said Assange “got what he deserved”. Some Democratic politicians have been salivating at the possibility of prosecuting him. Hillary Clinton said that Assange needs to “answer for what he has done”. Charles Schumer said he hoped Assange “will soon be held to account for his meddling in our elections on behalf of Putin and the Russian government”. Dianne Feinstein has been calling for Assange to be brought here and prosecuted since 2010. West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin went even further, with the truly disturbing comment that “now [Assange is] our property and we can get the facts and truth from him”.
Nor did Bernie Sanders speak up to defend Assange, opting for the same shameful silence he has taken on the imprisonment of whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The other 2020 candidates, with the exception of Mike Gravel and Tulsi Gabbard, have also stayed quiet. There’s a lot to be disturbed by here. First, it’s not clear that people like Schumer even care about the question of whether Assange broke any laws. Assange has been charged over allegedly helping Chelsea Manning to crack a Department of Defense password in 2010. The indictment has nothing to do with Putin or the 2016 election. Yet Democrats are thrilled enough to have a longtime villain in the clasps of the United States government that the actual charges, and their implications for free speech, are irrelevant.
Despite having been elected on a platform of continuing the leftist and nationalist policies of Rafael Correa’s Citizen’s Revolution, Moreno has actively attacked Correa’s legacy as well as the governments that ascribed to ‘21st century socialism.’ In recent months, Moreno’s government has restored a controversial fly-over program in the country with the US military, and also participated in the creation of the right-wing-led Prosur bloc as a measure to dismantle the Union of South American Nations created by Correa and allies such as the late Hugo Chavez. The Ecuadorian leader inked a $4.2 billion loan with the IMF, after spending months claiming Correa had driven the country into historic debt.
In light of these and other measures, Moreno’s move against Assange isn’t surprising, but the timing of it is about more than just appeasing his allies. “They want to use Julian Assange as a scapegoat to distract from the INA Papers scandal,” says Narvaez, referring to the allegations of corruption that have sullied Moreno, his family and other close associates. The Ecuadorian president is facing a political investigation over accusations of money laundering through offshore accounts and shell companies in Panama, including the INA Investment Corp, of which Moreno’s brother was the registered owner.
Documents obtained by an opposition lawmaker, as well as damning images and documents circulating on social media that were apparently hacked from Moreno’s telephone, have irreparably tarnished his image and his credibility as anti-corruption campaigner. Approval ratings for Moreno have since plummeted, and only 17 percent of Ecuadorians say they believe their president. Predictably, his party was punished at the polls in the country’s recent municipal elections, losing two-thirds of the territories they won previously. Risks of his impeachment are also growing.
[..] Impeachment or not, Moreno has long been rumored to be preparing an early exit and his right-wing allies appear poised to take over the helm in the Carondelet Palace. Nevertheless, his crusade against Correa’s Citizen’s Revolution has meant a dismantling of institutions and regulations, coupled with austerity measures that have included massive public layoffs. The country finds itself spiraling towards the political instability and disarray that characterized the Andean nation during the 1990s and early 2000s, and therefore laws and process may be insufficient to stop the extradition of Assange’s after his forced exit from Ecuador’s embassy. Assange is trapped in this Kafkaesque scenario, moved from one cage to another, waiting for his adversaries to determine his fate.
The Anonymous hackers who spent the weekend knocking Ecuadorian government websites offline have turned their attention to the United Kingdom, issuing a warning for the British government to “free Assange or chaos is coming for you. Speaking to the Gateway Pundit, a member of the hacker group who goes by the pseudonym ‘Nama’ declared they will be launching cyber attacks against the United States and Sweden after the UK. None of this was directed by WikiLeaks or Assange himself — the hackers say they are acting on their own as an act of protest. Over the weekend, the group took down or defaced over 30 Ecuadorian websites including the Central Bank of Ecuador, their Ministry of Interior, the Ecuadorian Assembly in the UK and the main website for the Government of Ecuador.
They also posted data dumps of 728 identification ID card numbers that appear to belong to people who work in the Ecuadorian government. After the websites had been offline for twelve hours, the hackers warned that if they were restored “we will fire again to burn their servers.” The official website of La Maná canton in Ecuador featured a picture of Assange for over twelve hours, along with a quote from him that read, “You have to start with the truth. The truth is the only way we can get anywhere. Because any decision-making based on lies or ignorance can not lead to a good conclusion.”
American Airlines has chosen to keep its fleet of Boeing 737 MAX grounded until at least August 19, even if it means canceling 115 flights a day in summer season, as probes into the troubled jet continue and new sales have frozen. The company, which owns 24 of the embattled jets that were involved in two recent deadly crashes, announced the decision in a letter to employees and customers. AA wants to ensure reliability “for the peak travel season and provide confidence to our customers and team members when it comes to their travel plans,” Chief Executive Doug Parker and President Robert Isom wrote.
Parker and Isom have at the same time expressed confidence in Boeing’s ability to fix the problem through software updates and changes to pilot training procedures. The US airline has 24 MAX planes in its fleet and is expected to get 16 more delivered this year. The grounding has already resulted in the cancelation of about 90 flights per day through early June, and the extension may put a strain on American’s ability to meet demand for seats during upcoming peak travel season. As many as 115 daily flights will have to be canceled in August, according to the letter.
Huawei is “open” to selling high-speed 5G chips and other silicon to rival smartphone maker Apple, marking a significant shift in the Chinese tech giant’s thinking toward its own intellectual property. The world’s largest networking equipment maker has been in the consumer market for a relatively short amount of time with its own-brand smartphones, but it has quickly risen to become the third-largest vendor by market share. Huawei started by selling phones at low prices but in recent years has shifted focus to increase its market share in the high end of the market, battling Apple and Samsung. As part of that move, Huawei has developed its own chips, including a modem to give smartphones 5G connectivity, and a processor to power its devices.
5G is next-generation mobile internet, which delivers data at very high speeds. So far, those pieces of technology have been used only in Huawei’s devices. That could change. In an interview with CNBC that aired Monday, Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said the company would consider selling its 5G chips to Apple. “We are open to Apple in this regard,” Ren said. The CEO spoke in Mandarin, which was translated into English by an official translator.
“They’re all liars mate,” said my London cabbie. “May was a Remainer. How were we going to get a good deal when our negotiators don’t want to leave?” he asked. I shrugged. “They’ll stall until they can say it’s not what people want no more – happened in every country that ever wanted a referendum or held one,” he said. “The EU paid to move a Land Rover factory from the Midlands to Slovakia where they earn 5 pound for every 25 we make – so our boys are out of work and the company makes more profit. How’s that right?,” he said. “For every two pound we put into the EU, we get one back.” So I asked if Brtiain held another referendum, which way it’d go? “We’re split in two mate, we’re absolutely shattered.”
In all the chaos surrounding Brexit, I keep coming back to the same, simple fact: this is essentially a basic failure of project management. Experts are out of favour right now, but what I’m about to tell you is not expert knowledge: it’s something you instinctively do every day, but perhaps don’t have a name for. But in Project Management, something I did for 22 years, there is a name for the decisions we all make: The Iron Triangle.
I’ve managed projects to deliver everything from air-traffic control software to stock management and distribution for the world’s largest toy manufacturer. I’ve worked on software for Intel, Microsoft, international charities, hospitals, pension services, banking and warehousing. At the start of any project, I would draw this diagram. It’s called The Iron Triangle because it has three points, and describes an absolutely unbreakable rule: you can only have 2 things from the Iron Triangle. Never all three. All three is impossible.
Though most people look at record VC spending as a sign of a strong, healthy economy, my research has found that the current VC boom is the result of another tech bubble that inflated due to the Federal Reserves ultra-stimulative monetary policies of the past decade. Unfortunately, this tech bubble is going to end just like the late-1990s dotcom bubble did – in another disastrous bust. The chart below shows the monthly count of global VC deals that raised $100 million or more since 2007. According to this chart, a new “unicorn” startup was born every four days in 2018.
The chart below shows the Nasdaq Composite Index and the two bubbles that formed in it in the past two decades. Lofty tech stock prices and valuations encourage the tech startup bubble because publicly traded tech companies have more buying power with which to acquire tech startups and because they allow startups to IPO at very high valuations.
In the chart below, I compared the monthly global VC deals chart to the Nasdaq Composite Index and they line up perfectly. Surges in the Nasdaq lead to surges in VC deals, while lulls or declines in the Nasdaq lead to lulls or declines in VC deals.
Donald Trump has strongly denied the stunning claim that he was secretly working on behalf of Russia and again threatened to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall. In 20-minute live phone interview with Fox News on Saturday night, he described as an “insult” the New York Times story that alleged the FBI launched an investigation into whether the he was acting as a Russian asset, against his own country’s interests. Trump said the story, which claimed the investigation opened after Trump fired the FBI director James Comey in May 2017, was “the most insulting article ever written”. “If you read the article you’ll see that they found absolutely nothing,” he said during the Fox News interview. “I think [the story] was a great insult and the New York Times is a disaster of a paper. It’s a very horrible thing they said.”
Citing anonymous sources, the Times said the investigation was part counterintelligence, to determine whether Trump was knowingly or unknowingly working for Moscow and posed a threat to national security. It was also part criminal, to ascertain whether Trump’s dismissal of Comey constituted obstruction of justice. The FBI effort was soon absorbed into the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, the Times reported, adding that it was unclear if the counterintelligence aspect is still being pursued. The president again called Comey a “liar” and claimed the entire Russia investigation was a “terrible hoax”. “Everybody knows it. It’s really a shame because it takes time; it takes effort. Everybody knows there’s no collusion,” he said.
[..] Trump’s warm relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has long set alarm bells ringing. The day after firing Comey, he hosted Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in the Oval Office – and disclosed intelligence from an Israeli counterterrorism operation. At a summit in Helsinki last summer, Trump appeared to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies on the question of election interference. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Trump took the notes from of a 2017 meeting with Putin in Hamburg from his own interpreter. Citing current and former US officials, the paper also said Trump instructed the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials. Asked why he would not release the conversations, Trump said: “I would. I don’t care … I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less.”
Sometimes you think they actually believe their Putin as bogeymen tales. But that can’t be true. They know as well as we do that there’s never been any proof, and you can’t base policy on innuendo alone. That would be dangerous.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee will look into a newspaper report that the FBI investigated whether President Donald Trump has been working on behalf of Russia, against U.S. interests, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Saturday. The New York Times reported that the probe began in the days after Trump fired James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in May 2017 and said the agency’s counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether Trump’s actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Trump rejected the Times piece in a late Saturday night interview on Fox News as “the most insulting article I’ve ever had written” and lashed out at Comey and the FBI in half a dozen tweets.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said his panel “will take steps to better understand both the president’s actions and the FBI’s response to that behavior” in coming weeks. He also said lawmakers would seek to protect investigators from the president’s “increasingly unhinged attacks.” “There is no reason to doubt the seriousness or professionalism of the FBI, as the president did in reaction to this story,” Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. “We have learned from this reporting that, even in the earliest days of the Trump administration, the president’s behavior was so erratic and so concerning that the FBI felt compelled to do the unprecedented – open a counterintelligence investigation into a sitting president,” Nadler said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he could not comment on the specifics of the report, but said his committee would press ahead with its probe of Trump’s contacts with Russia. “Counterintelligence concerns about those associated with the Trump campaign, including the president himself, have been at the heart of our investigation since the beginning,” said Schiff, a California Democrat. Schiff said meetings, contacts and communications between Trump associates and Russians, as well as “the web of lies about those interactions, and the president’s own statements and actions,” have heightened the need to follow the evidence where it leads.
Schumer here moves on the basis of a collusion-themed link between Manafort and Deripaska.
But the article after this one says: “The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the  campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.”
U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Saturday he will force a vote soon on a resolution to disapprove the Trump administration’s decision to relax sanctions on three Russian companies connected to oligarch Oleg Deripaska. “I have concluded that the Treasury Department’s proposal is flawed and fails to sufficiently limit Oleg Deripaska’s control and influence of these companies and the Senate should move to block this misguided effort by the Trump Administration and keep these sanctions in place,” Schumer said in a news release.
The U.S. Treasury announced on Dec. 20 that it would lift sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska, including aluminum giant Rusal its parent En+ and power firm EuroSibEnergo, watering down the toughest penalties imposed since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. After lobbying by European governments that followed the imposition of sanctions, Washington postponed enforcement of the sanctions and started talks with Deripaska’s team on removing Rusal and En+ from the blacklist if he ceded control of Rusal. The businessman, who has close ties to the Kremlin, also had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have showed.
An FBI agent said in an affidavit attached to a 2017 search warrant unsealed earlier this year that he had reviewed tax returns for a company controlled by Manafort and his wife that showed a $10 million loan from a Russian lender identified as Deripaska. On Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted that the Trump administration would keep tight control on companies linked to Deripaska, despite the decision to ease restrictions. Mnuchin said the firms would face consequences including the reimposition of sanctions if they failed to comply with the terms. Schumer said given Deripaska’s potential involvement with Manafort, and since special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia has not yet concluded, “It’s all the more reason these sanctions must remain in place.”
It’s a shame I don’t have more speace for Aaron Maté’s piece. Click the link and read.
@yashalevine on Twitter about Kilimnik: “Yep, the supposed Russian intelligence asset linking Trump through Manafort to the Kremlin spent a decade on the payroll of a CIA cutout meddling in Russian politics. “
Partisans of the theory that Donald Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election believe that they have found their smoking gun. On Tuesday, defense attorneys inadvertently revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller has claimed that former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors about sharing polling data with a Russian associate. Now we’re being told that the revelation “is the closest thing we have seen to collusion,” (former FBI agent Clint Watts), “makes the no-collusion scenario even more remote,” (New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait), and, “effectively end[s] the debate about whether there was ‘collusion.’” (Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall). But like prior developments in the Mueller probe that sparked similar declarations, the latest information about Manafort is hardly proof of collusion.
According to an accidentally unredacted passage, Mueller believes that Manafort “lied about sharing polling data…related to the 2016 presidential campaign,” with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked as Manafort’s fixer and translator in Ukraine. Manafort’s employment of Kilimnik has fueled speculation because Mueller has stated that Kilimnik has “ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”Yet Mueller’s only references that Kilmnik has Kremlin “ties” came in two court filings in 2017 and 2018, and it’s not clear what Mueller meant in either case. In April 2018, Manafort’s attorneys told a Virginia judge that they have made “multiple discovery requests” seeking any contacts between Manafort and “Russian intelligence officials,” but that the special counsel informed them that “there are no materials responsive to [those] requests.”
Kilimnik insists that he has “no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service.” According to a lengthy profile in The Atlantic, “insinuations” that Kilimnik has worked for Russian intelligence during his years in Ukraine “were never backed by more than a smattering of circumstantial evidence.” All of this has been lost on US media outlets, who routinely portray Kilimnik as a “Russian operative” or an “alleged Russian spy.” [..] Rather than imagining it as part of some grand Trump-Russia conspiracy, there’s a more plausible explanation for why Manafort wanted public polling data to be forwarded to Ukrainian oligarchs. Manafort was heavily in debt when he joined Trump’s team. Being able to show former Ukrainian clients “that he was managing a winning candidate,” the Times noted, “would help [Manafort] collect money he claimed to be owed for his work on behalf of the Ukrainian parties.”
All of this highlights another inconvenient fact about Mueller’s case against Manafort: It is not about Russia, but about tax, bank, and lobbying violations stemming from his time in Ukraine. The Virginia judge who presided over Manafort’s first trial said the charges against him “manifestly don’t have anything to do with the  campaign or with Russian collusion.” The collusion probe, the DC judge in Manafort’s second trial concurred, was “wholly irrelevant” to these charges.
First, no foreign-policy initiative undertaken by President Trump, however wise it may be in regard to US national interests, will be accepted by that establishment. Any prominent political figure who does so will promptly and falsely be branded, in the malign spirit of Russiagate, as “pro-Putin,” or, as was Senator Rand Paul, arguably the only foreign-policy statesman in the senate today, “an isolationist.” This is unprecedented in modern American history. Not even Richard Nixon was subject to such establishment constraints on his ability to conduct national-security policy during the Watergate scandals.
Second, not surprisingly, the condemnations of Trump’s decision are infused with escalating, but still unproven, Russiagate allegations of the president’s “collusion” with the Kremlin. Thus, equally predictably, the Times finds a Moscow source to say, of the withdrawals, “Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving” to Putin. (In fact, it is not clear that the Kremlin is eager to see the United States withdraw from either Syria or Afghanistan, as this would leave Russia alone with what it regards as common terrorist enemies.)
Closer to home, there is the newly reelected Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who, when asked about Trump’s policies and Russian President Putin, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid: “I think that the president’s relationship with thugs all over the world is appalling. Vladimir Putin, really? Really? I think it’s dangerous.” By this “leadership” reasoning, Trump should be the first US president since FDR to have no “relationship” whatsoever with a Kremlin leader. And to the extent that Pelosi speaks for the Democratic Party, it can no longer be considered a party of American national security.
But, third, something larger than even anti-Trumpism plays a major role in condemnations of the president’s withdrawal decisions: imperial thinking about America’s rightful role in the world. Euphemisms abound, but, if not an entreaty to American empire, what else could the New York Times’ David Sanger mean when he writes of a “world order that the United States has led for the 73 years since World War II,” and complains that Trump is reducing “the global footprint needed to keep that order together”? Or when President Obama’s national-security adviser Susan Rice bemoans Trump’s failures in “preserving American global leadership,” which a Times lead editorial insists is an “imperative”?
Social media doesn’t help people differentiate what is real from what is fake, but the phrase “fake news” has been used by social scientists to describe fictional articles online and perhaps more famously by President Donald Trump, who uses it as a cudgel against mainstream media outlets. Facebook, meanwhile, struggles to stem the flow of fake news and erroneous memes, though Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said the world’s biggest social-media site is making progress in dealing with the problem. Trump’s relationship with the media has been acrimonious from the moment he embarked on his campaign for president.
Since then he has not only labeled as “fake” news outlets that have reported critically on his administration but described CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and the New York Times as “the enemy of the American people.” The good news: Most Facebook users did not share any fake news articles during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, according to a study released Wednesday, but the small number who did were mostly Republican Americans over the age of 65. The findings suggest the need for “renewed attention” to educate “particular vulnerable individuals,” such as aging baby boomers, about fake news or misleading information that appears to resemble a fact-checked news article published by a legitimate and fact-based media outlet, researchers said.
[..] To shed light on the issue in the latest study of which users were more likely to share misleading facts on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election, Andrew Guess, an associate professor at Princeton University, and his colleagues disseminated an online survey to 3,500 people in three waves throughout the 2016 campaign. Of the respondents, 1,331 in the initial wave agreed to share their Facebook profile data, which allowed researchers to analyze the age and political affiliations of those people who were more likely to spread fake news.
The results showed that 90% of these users actually did not share misleading or fake articles and only 8.5% shared one or more fake news articles. A plurality, 18%, of the Facebook users who shared the fake stories were both self-identified Republicans and over the age of 65, the authors concluded, and these individuals shared nearly seven times as many fake news articles as respondents in the youngest age group, ranging in age from 18 to 29.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned lawmakers that failure to back her plan to leave the European Union would be catastrophic for Britain, in a plea for support two days ahead of a vote in parliament that she is expected to lose. Lawmakers are set to vote on May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, after she shelved plans for a vote in December when it became clear that not enough lawmakers from her own party or others would back the deal she agreed with Brussels. May looks little closer to securing the support she needs, but writing in the Sunday Express she said lawmakers must not let down the people who voted for Brexit.
“Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy,” May said. “So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.” On Friday, her foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Brexit might not happen at all if May’s deal was defeated. Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, is scheduled to quit the European Union on March 29. The Sunday Times reported that rebel lawmakers were planning to wrest control of the legislative agenda away from May next week with a view to suspending or delaying Brexit, citing a senior government source.
Labour MPs have been told to prepare for Jeremy Corbyn to table a dramatic and immediate vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s government as early as Tuesday evening in an attempt to force a general election if – as expected – she suffers a heavy defeat this week on her Brexit deal. Messages have been sent to Labour MPs, even those who are unwell, to ensure their presence both for the “meaningful vote” on the prime minister’s Brexit blueprint on Tuesday and the following day. Labour whips have told MPs the no-confidence vote is likely to be tabled within hours of a government loss, with the actual vote taking place on Wednesday.
The news comes before what promises to be one of the most tumultuous 24 hours in recent parliamentary history in which, barring another delay, May will put her Brexit deal to parliament despite deep and widespread opposition across the Commons, including from many MPs inside her own party. A senior shadow cabinet member said: “There is now recognition that we cannot wait any longer. If May goes down to defeat and she does not resign and call an election, this is the moment we have to act.” Senior Tories said on Saturday that they could not see how the prime minister could win the meaningful vote “in any circumstances” and that a defeat by less than 100 would now be regarded as the best she could hope for.
But even if she suffered a loss of closer to 200, which many Tories fear could be the case, Conservative MPs and ministers still expect her to stagger on and seek to bring an improved offer back to the Commons for a further vote within weeks.
Gilets jaunes protesters engaged in a ninth weekend of protests all over France on Saturday as the president, Emmanuel Macron, prepared to stake his political future on an open letter to the French people and a national debate. Officials said that at least 84,000 demonstrators turned out across France, thousands more than last weekend, with about 8,000 of those in Paris where protests passed “without serious incident”. Gilets jaunes – named after the hi-vis yellow vests French motorists must carry in their vehicles – said the number was higher but did not give a figure. After the violence of previous weeks, the government put on a show of strength, deploying 80,000 police officers nationwide and about 7,000 in Paris.
[..] Macron has attempted to take the sting out of the protests by announcing a “great national debate” to sound out the public on four themes: taxation, state institutions, democracy and citizenship, but just days before the consultation is due to begin on Tuesday, there is still confusion over how it will be carried out. The president will publish an open letter to the French people on Monday to “explain what I intend to do”. He said the debate was “a vital and very useful moment for our country”. “It’s a great opportunity and everyone must take it … I want a real debate,” he said.
On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer. Americans love convenient recycling, but convenient recycling increasingly does not love us. Waste experts call the system of dumping all the recyclables into one bin “single-stream recycling.” It’s popular.
But the cost-benefit math of it has changed. The benefit — more participation and thus more material put forward for recycling — may have been overtaken by the cost — unrecyclable recyclables. On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer.
Most recycling programs in the United States are now single stream. Between 2005 and 2014, these programs went from covering 29 percent of American communities to 80 percent, according to a survey conducted by the American Forest and Paper Association. The popularity makes sense given that single-stream is convenient and a full 66 percent of people surveyed by Harris Poll last October said that they wouldn’t recycle at all if it wasn’t easy to do. Some experts have credited single stream with large increases in the amount of material recycled. Studies have shown that people choose to put more stuff out on the curb for recycling when they have a single-sort system. And the growth of single-stream recycling tracks with the growth of recycling overall in this country. But it also pretty closely tracks with skyrocketing contamination rates.
Trump should be careful about doing underwhelming speeches. But America’s political problems are clear, and will not be solved anytime soon. That is, too many old people in charge. Limit number and length of terms in Washington. Get rid of Schumer and Pelosi.
In a somber televised plea, President Donald Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall Tuesday night, blaming illegal immigration for the scourge of drugs and violence in the U.S. and framing the debate over the partial government shutdown in stark terms. “This is a choice between right and wrong,” he declared. Democrats in response accused Trump appealing to “fear, not facts” and manufacturing a border crisis for political gain. Addressing the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued for spending some $5.7 billion for a border wall on both security and humanitarian grounds as he sought to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats amid the extended shutdown.
Trump, who will visit the Mexican border in person on Thursday, invited the Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him on Wednesday, saying it was “immoral” for “politicians to do nothing.” Previous meetings have led to no agreement as Trump insists on the wall that was his signature promise in the 2016 presidential campaign. Responding in their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers. Negotiations on wall funding could proceed in the meantime, they said. Schumer said Trump “just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.”
As a partial U.S. government shutdown neared the three-week mark, Democrats on Wednesday were set to test Republicans’ resolve in backing President Donald Trump’s drive to build a wall on the border with Mexico, which has sparked an impasse over agency funding. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats who took control of the chamber last week plan to advance a bill to immediately reopen the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies that have been in partial shutdown mode since Dec. 22. Democrats are eager to force Republicans to choose between funding the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service – at a time when it should be gearing up to issue tax refunds to millions of Americans – and voting to keep it partially shuttered.
In a countermove, the Trump administration said on Tuesday that even without a new shot of funding, the IRS would somehow make sure those refund checks get sent. But it was the Republican president’s insistence on a massive barrier on the border that dominated the Washington debate and sparked a political blame game. In a nationally televised address on Tuesday night, Trump asked: “How much more American blood must be shed before Congress does its job?” referring to murders he said were committed by illegal immigrants.
Theresa May faces a concerted campaign of parliamentary warfare from a powerful cross-party alliance of MPs determined to use every lever at their disposal to prevent Britain leaving the EU without a deal in March. The former staunch loyalist Sir Oliver Letwin signalled that he and other senior Conservatives would defy party whips, repeatedly if necessary, to avoid a no-deal Brexit, as the government suffered a humiliating defeat during a debate on the finance bill in the Commons. Letwin and 16 other former government ministers were among 20 Conservatives who banded together with the home affairs select committee chair, Yvette Cooper, and the Labour leadership to pass an anti no-deal amendment.
They defeated the government by 303 votes to 296 – a majority of seven – making May the first prime minister in 41 years to lose a vote on a government finance bill. The move came after the PM conceded to senior ministers she was on course to lose next week’s historic Brexit vote, as the first cabinet meeting of the new year exposed deep divisions about the best way out of the deadlock. May told her cabinet she would respond swiftly with a statement to the House of Commons if she failed to win MPs’ backing for her deal next Tuesday. But cabinet sources said it was unclear what course she planned to take – and the general mood was of how “boxed in” the government was.
MPs will attempt to force the government to return with an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit deal within three days of her plan being defeated in parliament. Another five-day debate leading up to a vote on May’s deal on 15 January will start on Wednesday, opened by the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay. Before that, MPs must approve a business motion to allow the debate and vote to go ahead, which a cross-party group of MPs, led by the Conservative Dominic Grieve, hope to amend if the Speaker allows it. The amendment says that following defeat of the government’s plan, which is widely anticipated, “a minister of the crown shall table within three sitting days a motion … considering the process of exiting the European Union under article 50”.
Other MPs who have signed the amendment include the former Tory cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin and ex-Tory ministers Jo Johnson, Guto Bebb and Sam Gyimah. It has also been backed by Labour MPs including Stephen Doughty and Chris Leslie. Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chair of the health select committee, who also signed the amendment, said the aim was to prevent the government “running down the clock” towards no deal. Previously, the Commons had mandated the government to make a statement within 21 days.
“If and when the PM’s plan is voted down on Tuesday, MPs can’t be made to wait potentially until 12 Feb for the next vote. The situation is too urgent now,” Leslie said. A previous amendment by Grieve that the Commons voted through before Christmas means that any statement the government brings forward after a defeat is in itself amendable – allowing MPs to put forward their own alternatives for the future of the Brexit process.
With just 80 days remaining until Brexit Day, March 29, nerves are fraying on both sides of the English Channel. Nowhere is this more true than in the City of London where the Square Mile’s dominance of the global financial industry faces its biggest threat in decades. In the City’s worst-case scenario — a crash-out Brexit on March 29 — London-based firms that have not prepped properly for this outcome could be cut off from the continent altogether. Since moving key operations and staff across the channel is a costly, complex, timely undertaking, many companies have preferred to play a waiting game. But the clock continues to tick down, and as the risk of a disorderly exit grows, inaction is becoming a risky strategy.
Since the EU Referendum in June 2016, only 36% of the financial services companies in London have said they are considering or have confirmed relocating operations and/or staff to Europe, according to the latest edition of Ernst&Young’s Brexit Tracker (which monitors 222 financial services firms in the UK). This rises to 56% (27 out of 48) among universal banks, investment banks, and brokerages. A total of 20 companies have already announced a transfer of assets out of London to Europe. “Not all firms have publicly declared the value of the assets being transferred, but the Brexit Tracker has followed public announcements worth around £800 billion ($1 trillion),” the report says.
This figure echoes findings by a study published in November by German trade group Frankfurt Main Finance (FMF), which estimated that London is poised to lose €800 billion ($900 billion) in balance-sheet assets by March 29. According to German Bank Helaba, Frankfurt alone has attracted 25 lenders looking to move part of their operations out of the City of London, including Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, UBS, Nomura and Standard Chartered Bank.
The western view of China’s political economy is driven partly by anecdote, partly by accepting Beijing’s propaganda/economic data as fact. Foreign investors have convinced themselves that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is superior in terms of economic management, this despite ample evidence to the contrary, thus accepting the official view is easy but also increasingly risky. In a December 15 speech , Renmin University’s Xiang Songzuo warned that Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash. He also suggested that the Chinese economy is actually shrinking. But this apostate view was quickly rejected by legions of captive western economists and investment analysts whose livelihood depends upon “selling China” to credulous foreign audiences.
Facts aside, the perception of China is what matters to global investors, part of a larger pathology of hope-based investment allocation that eschews those rare bits of hard data that disagree with the positive narrative. China growth, Tesla profitability, or the mystical blockchain all require more credulity than ever before. For example, in the first half of 2016 global capital markets stopped due to fear of a Chinese recession. Credit spreads soared and deal flows disappeared. But was this really a surprise? In fact, the Chinese government had accelerated official stimulus in 2015 and 2016 to counter a possible slowdown and, particularly, ensure a quiet domestic scene as paramount leader Xi Jinping was enshrined into the Chinese constitution.
Today western audiences are again said to be concerned about China’s economy and this concern is justified, but perhaps not for the reasons touted in the financial media. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released December 27, reports that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. Headed by Leland Miller, CBB is a research service that surveys thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter.
Contrary to the positive foreign narrative about “growth” in China, CBB contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation. “Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” CBB Managing Director Shehzad Qazi said in an interview.
China plans to introduce policies to boost domestic spending on items such as autos and home appliances this year, state television CCTV quoted a senior state planning official as saying on Tuesday. Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said in an interview with CCTV that the policies will be part of wider efforts to strengthen domestic consumption in China, the world’s second largest economy. The state planner will also introduce policies in house leasing and services, as well as elderly and child care, with plans to also lower investment barriers in other sectors such as culture and sports. He also said that the NDRC planned to move ahead with a second batch of major foreign-invested projects in the first quarter of 2019, which could include new energy ventures, according to an interview transcript published by state news agency Xinhua.
Apple, which slashed its quarterly sales forecast last week, has reduced planned production for its three new iPhone models by about 10 percent for the January-March quarter, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on Wednesday. That rare forecast cut exposed weakening iPhone demand in China, the world’s biggest smartphone market, where a slowing economy has also been buffeted by a trade war with the United States. Many analysts and consumers have said the new iPhones are overpriced. Apple asked its suppliers late last month to produce fewer-than-planned units of its XS, XS Max and XR models, the Nikkei reported, citing sources with knowledge of the request. The request was made before Apple announced its forecast cut, the Nikkei said.
Apple Inc. stock has taken a beating in recent months, but Chief Executive Tim Cook defended his company Tuesday, and expressed optimism that trade tensions with China would soon ease. Apple shares have fallen by more than one-third since their peak on Oct. 3, and tumbled further last week after the tech giant warned of disappointing iPhone sales in its holiday quarter. But in an interview Tuesday with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Cook said the company was still going strong, and its naysayers were full of “bologna.” “Here’s the truth, what the facts are,” Cook said about reports of slow iPhone XR sales, according to a CNBC transcript.
“Since we began shipping the iPhone XR, it has been the most popular iPhone every day, every single day, from when we started shipping, until now. . . . I mean, do I want to sell more? Of course I do. Of course I’d like to sell more. And we’re working on that.” Slower sales in China also contributed to Apple’s lowered forecast, and Cook said Tuesday he believes that situation to be “temporary.” “We believe, based on what we saw and the timing of it, that the tension, the trade-war tension with the U.S. created this more-sharp downturn,” he said. Cook said he’s “very optimistic” a trade deal between the U.S. and China will be reached. “I think a deal is very possible. And I’ve heard some very encouraging words,” he said.
OK, this is embarrassing in the land of super-stimulus via the ECB’s negative-interest-rate policy and years of QE that were supposed to perform miracles: Production in Germany’s industry, which includes construction, dropped 1.9% in November from the prior month (seasonally adjusted), the German statistical agency Destatis reported this morning. This drop is also embarrassing because economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had expected a 0.3% gain. The agency also downwardly revised October, to a monthly decline of 0.8%. This makes three months in a row of declines. In November, compared to a year earlier (adjusted for inflation and calendar differences, but not for seasonality), the production index dropped an ugly 4.7%:
Production was down in all major segments, including energy and construction which are focused on Germany itself, rather than exports. [..] Industrial production is a big power in the German economy. And the trend is not good. Germany’s GDP already declined in the third quarter:
The declines in production in October and November put Germany a step closer to “negative economic growth,” as it’s called euphemistically, for two quarters in a row. If this occurs, it would be a technical recession. And it’s not going to get a lot better soon: Destatis reported yesterday that new orders in manufacturing – a harbinger for future production – dropped 4.3% in November from a year ago (adjusted for inflation and calendar differences); and it revised down October’s orders to a year-over-year drop of 3.0%.
[..] this economic slowdown is occurring despite, or perhaps because of, the mother of all stimuli engineered by a major central bank – negative interest rates and massive QE – that has benefited a few hedge funds who were able to front run the ECB’s bond buys and make a quick buck, and bond traders for a while, as bond prices were rising due to falling yields. And it has allowed even junk-rated companies to borrow money for a song from beaten down investors, savers, and pension funds. But this stopped a year ago.
France is signaling it’s making preparations for a massive new crackdown on the gilets jaunes or “yellow vests” anti-government protests that have gripped the country for seven weeks. A new law under consideration could make any demonstration illegal to begin with if not previously approved by authorities, in an initiative already being compared to the pre-Maiden so-called “dictatorship law” in Ukraine. In the name of reigning in the violence that has recently included torching structures along the prestigious Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris, and smashing through the gates of government ministry buildings, the French government appears set to enact something close to a martial law scenario prohibiting almost any protest and curtailing freedom of speech.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presented the new initiative to curtail the violence and unrest while targeting “troublemakers” and banning anonymity through wearing masks on French TV channel TF1 on Monday. He said the law would give police authority crack down on “unauthorized demonstrations” at a moment when police are already arresting citizens for merely wearing a yellow vest, even if they are not directly engaged in protests in some cases. PM Philippe said the government would support a “new law punishing those who do not respect the requirement to declare [protests], those who take part in unauthorized demonstrations and those who arrive at demonstrations wearing face masks”.
Philippe’s tone during the statements was one of the proverbial “the gloves are off” as he described the onus would be on “the troublemakers, and not taxpayers, to pay for the damage caused” to businesses and property.