Rembrandt van Rijn Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem 1630
Watching Day 1 yesterday of the impeachment inquiry that isn’t one, I was thinking about an old children’s game, which is just as useful for adults, in which, in a wide circle of persons, no. 1 tells no. 2 a story, no. 2 tells no. 3, and so forth. If the total numbers of persons in the circle is large enough, it’s certain that the story, if it has enough details, will have changed unrecognizably by, say, no. 20.
That little game is a nice illustration of why you’ve all heard the words “Hearsay, Your Honor” spoken by some lawyer or another in 1000+ movies and TV series. And hearsay was all there was yesterday from “witnesses” Bill Taylor and George Kent. They are both “witnesses” who didn’t witness anything related to the hearing in course and neither ever met or spoke to President Trump, but both claim to know exactly what he was thinking, why he did what he did, and said what he said, based on things they heard from third parties, quite a few of whom remain anonymous.
Little of what they said would therefore be ruled admissible in a court of law. But the House inquiry is not a court of law. It can probably best be compared to a grand jury, a very one-sided format designed to let a prosecutor find and present enough evidence to let a case go to court. If Taylor and Kent had been in a court room, you would have heard “Hearsay, Your Honor” about once in every ten seconds. That gets old fast.
So why do we have this circus going on when it is obvious that round 2 (or 3, if you think the basement hearings were round 1), the Senate trial which must follow if the Dems decide to impeach Trump, has to acquit him because the House based its entire case on hearsay? I don’t know, but perhaps we see some of it in Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley (IL)’s statement: “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct … and it’s certainly valid in this instance”
Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley (IL) on evidence: “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct … and it’s certainly valid in this instance” pic.twitter.com/JD0Ui6acxD
Note that Quigley in that little video got shut down very rapidly in his enthusiasm for using hearsay by someone (I can’t see who) saying none of the exceptions he seemed to refer to applied to “this testimony”. And that’s the crux here: courts may have in the past, after much deliberation, allowed hearsay in specific cases, but Quigley tries to make it look as if that is now some general rule, and that is certainly not true.
Before I forget, something that struck me at the start yesterday was how both Adam Schiff and Bill Taylor in their openings emphasized their focus on Russia, while this case is not about that, but about Ukraine. And Russia Russia Russia has been shot down along with Robert Muller in his memorably awful “defense” of his failed report a few months ago.
Schiff’s opening words:
In 2014, Russia invaded a United States ally, Ukraine, to reverse that nation’s embrace of the West, and to fulfill Vladimir Putin’s desire to rebuild a Russian empire. In the following years, thirteen thousand Ukrainians died as they battled superior Russian forces.
There is so much wrong and debatable and leading and what not in just those few words, I don’t even know where to start. I guess perhaps I should be shouting out “Hearsay, Your Honor” at the top of my lungs. Then there’s Taylor:
After his opening statement, Taylor answers questions. He tells committee members: “If we withdraw or suspend or threaten to withdraw our security assistance” to Ukraine, it sends a “message to Ukrainians, but its just as important to the Russians who are looking for any sign of weakness”. “That affects us” he adds. It affects the world that we live in; that our children and grandchildren will grow up in,” he adds, appearing to become emotional. “Ukraine is on the front line of that conflict,” he concludes.
These statements are important because they tell us that Schiff and Taylor both see the world through the same glasses. The Russians are looking for signs of US weakness that they can use to advance their grand plan to (re) build a grand empire. That comes with the idea that the US didn’t cause the mayhem in Ukraine in 2014 with their coup, no, it was Russia which reacted so it wouldn’t lose its only warm water port.
Back to the hearing. Taylor said it was his “clear understanding” that President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine until the Bidens and other matters were investigated. At the very least there is no proof of that. It’s much more likely from what we know today that Ukraine didn’t know Trump withheld the aid until after the July 25 phone call this whole thing rests on. It was suggested yesterday that they didn’t know until the end of August, but I’ve seen people claim that they knew a few weeks earlier. But Zelensky didn’t know on July 25, that we can agree on.
And anyway, this is merely Taylor’s opinion. Based on hearsay. Based on what some guy told him some other guy told him etc etc. And though Taylor never met Trump, the very idea of withholding aid to one of the most corrupt nations on the planet scares the heebees out of him because Russia Russia Russia.
Taylor is a career diplomat who has bought hook line and sinker into established US policy in the region, and who will defend it until his dying breath. And if that means going against the president of the country he allegedly serves, who has every right to rebalance that policy, Taylor will do it. That is what he was saying.
Taylor came close to matching Mueller’s uber-bumbling performance the other day, though he didn’t quite get there. Kent was not quite that bad, but he’s in the same camp, the same career field, and the same deep state, FBI-CIA controlled policy-making no matter who gets elected president. And looking at Bill Taylor, how can one not question the wisdom of people like him making decisions on matters such as that?
Republican counsel Steve Castor started off strong, at least from what I saw, but seemed to fizzle out a little because he became lost in his own one question every five seconds model. Perhaps it was the format, maximum time limits etc., which you don’t have in a courtroom. Jim Jordan did well, he just got named to the committee, but he could have been more effective as well. Still, this part was strong:
You didn’t listen in on President Trump & Zelensky’s call?
Taylor: I did not.
Jordan: You’ve never talked with Chief of Staff Mulvaney?
Taylor: I never did.
Jordan: You’ve never met the President?
Taylor: That’s correct.
Jordan: And you’re their star witness.
All in all, if you thought yesterday was a good day for the Democrats, for the inquiry, or for Adam Schiff, you really need to check a few fundamental issues. All Schiff managed to bring to the table was hearsay. And it’s only because of the grand jury-like format that he even gets to start day 2. No judge would have let him. But there is no judge, and there is no jury. There’s only an executioner.
PS I found this thing from the BBC intriguing and illustrative:
Bill Taylor, the acting US ambassador to Ukraine, said a member of his staff was told Mr Trump was preoccupied with pushing for a probe into Mr Biden. He was speaking at the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry.
[..] During a detailed opening statement, Mr Taylor said a member of his staff had overheard a telephone call in which the president inquired about “the investigations” into Mr Biden. The call was with Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, who reportedly told the president over the phone from a restaurant in Kyiv that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward”. After the call, the staff member “asked ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine”, Mr Taylor said. Mr Taylor said: “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
First, it argues that a member of Taylor’s staff was told something by a third party, but later it changes to him/her hearing the president “live”. Albeit through an allegedly private phone call in which Trump may have sounded a bit loud. You want to impeach your president on the basis of a maybe overheard phone call that someone told you someone told someone else about?
By the way, that phone call allegedly was between Trump and Gordon Sondland, hotelier cum US ambassador to the EU, the same person who testified in the famous Schiff basement and whose laywer at some point contested Taylor’s statements about what Sondland told him, after which the latter went back to the basement to change his testimony. He said she said but then he said and then she said and so on.
What’s on the schedule for the circus today, is it the clowns or the elephants? I may take a day off. We have weeks more of this. And already I have no idea left of who told whom what.
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Rembrandt van Rijn Portrait of Rembrandt with gorget 1629
During the Senate hearing into Boeing on October 29, Senator Jon Tester told the company’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg: “I would walk before I would get on a 737 MAX. I would walk.” He added: “There is no way … You shouldn’t be cutting corners and I see corners being cut.”
That’s all fine and well, but the hearing, which continues today, Wednesday, lays bare a giant gap in US law: that of accountability. Muilenburg is the “ultimately responsible” in a chain of command that is responsible for killing 346 people. But he is still the CEO, even if he was demoted from the chairman of the board position. Which was taken over by another -10 year- veteran of the company by the way. Fresh insights galore.
If you are employed by a large company, you can sign off on such decisions, the ones that kill people, and walk away unscathed. It reminds one of Monsanto/Bayer, which just annnounced that the number of Roundup lawsuits against it went from 18,000 in July to 43,000 today. Bayer at the same time announced that its turnover rose by 6% in Q3. 43,000 lawsuits and they’re doing fine, thank you.
In that same vein, Boeing shares rose 2.4% last night after the hearing (“a sign investors were relieved.”) What the “investors” buying those shares may have missed is that India’s budget carrier IndiGo ordered 300 new aircraft from Airbus, at an initial cost of $33 billion -which will be subject to a juicy discount, but still-.
Now, Boeing is America’s biggest exporter. It’s also one of the cornerstones of Pentagon policy, a huge provider for the US military. So one can only expect the Senate to be lenient, to appear to be tough but let things more or less go. Still, the fact remains that Muilenburg et al made cost-cutting and other decisions that killed 346 people. But CNCB still labeled this a “brutal Senate hearing”. Yeah. Define ‘brutal’.
Maybe the thing is that those deaths were not in the US, but in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Think maybe the Senate is influenced by that? What do you think would have happened if two 737 MAX’s had fallen out of the sky in the US, even if only in deplorables’ territory? We can sort of imagine, can’t we?
And no, it’s not an all black and white picture, some people involved made some sense (via Seattle Times):
..at least one member of the Senate committee that grilled Muilenburg on Tuesday suggested the troubled aircraft shouldn’t be flying again until a much-maligned Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight program retreats from its practice of delegating authority to Boeing and other aerospace manufacturers.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal — citing revelations in recent news reports of a Boeing engineer’s claims that the MAX’s safety was compromised by cost and schedule considerations, and that the company pushed to undercut regulatory oversight — pushed back against findings that the FAA’s practice of delegating more safety certification authority is only likely to increase.
“The story of Boeing sabotaging rigorous safety scrutiny is chilling to all of us — and more reason to keep the 737 MAX grounded until certification is really and truly independent and the system is reformed,” said Blumenthal, D-Conn.
But, you know, the entire narrative is about ‘the company’, not about the people in the company who make these fatal decisions. They can do whatever they want, secure in the knowledge they will never be held to account. For financial losses perhaps at some point, but not for the loss of life. At best, they’ll get fired and walk away with a huge bonus. And that’s just wrong.
And it’s not like there were no warning signs (via Seattle Times again, from Oct 3):
Seven weeks after the second fatal crash of a 737 MAX in March, a Boeing engineer submitted a scathing internal ethics complaint alleging that management — determined to keep down costs for airline customers — had blocked significant safety improvements during the jet’s development. The ethics charge, filed by 33-year-old engineer Curtis Ewbank, whose job involved studying past crashes and using that information to make new planes safer, describes how around 2014 his group presented to managers and senior executives a proposal to add various safety upgrades to the MAX.
The complaint, a copy of which was reviewed by The Seattle Times, suggests that one of the proposed systems could have potentially prevented the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people. Three of Ewbank’s former colleagues interviewed for this story concurred. The details revealed in the ethics complaint raise new questions about the culture at Boeing and whether the long-held imperative that safety must be the overarching priority was compromised on the MAX by business considerations and management’s focus on schedule and cost. Managers twice rejected adding the new system on the basis of “cost and potential (pilot) training impact,” the complaint states.
This one is from AP, Oct 18. These are just the most recent revelations, this stuff goes back years. Neither Boeing nor the FAA ever did anything, until the planes started falling from the skies:
A former senior Boeing test pilot told a co-worker that he unknowingly misled safety regulators about problems with a flight-control system that would later be implicated in two deadly crashes of the company’s 737 Max. The pilot, Mark Forkner, told another Boeing employee in 2016 that the flight system, called MCAS, was “egregious” and “running rampant” while he tested it in a flight simulator.
“So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” wrote Forkner, then Boeing’s chief technical pilot for the 737. The exchange occurred as Boeing was trying to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that MCAS was safe. MCAS was designed at least in part to prevent the Max from stalling in some situations. The FAA certified the plane without fully understanding MCAS, according to a panel of international safety regulators.
Forkner also lobbied FAA to remove mention of MCAS from the operating manual and pilot training for the Max, saying the system would only operate in rare circumstances. FAA allowed Boeing to do so, and most pilots did not know about MCAS until after the first crash, which occurred in October 2018 in Indonesia.
As I covered extensively before the issue at hand is that Boeing, in order to cut costs, among other things, decided to have just one -active- “angle-of-attack” sensor (which measures the angle of the plane vs income air, it’s located at the bottom front of the fuselage) on the plane. All it takes is one bird flying into it to compromise and/or deactivate that sensor. And then neither the software not the pilots know what to do anymore. But yeah, it’s cheaper… One sensor won’t do, nor will two, you need at least three in case one is defective. But yeah, that costs money. Seattle Times once again:
Boeing’s chief engineer for commercial airlines acknowledged that the company erred by not specifically testing the potential for a key sensor to erroneously cause software on the 737 Max to drive down the plane’s nose. In both fatal crashes, faulty data from one of two angle-of-attack sensors, which measure the pitch of the plane against the oncoming stream of air, caused the 737 Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, to drive down the jet’s nose, which pilots struggled to counteract before ultimately entering a fatal dive.
John Hamilton, vice president and chief engineer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told senators that the company “did test the MCAS uncommanded inputs to the stabilizer system, due to whatever causes was driving it, not specifically due to an AOA sensor.’’ Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the Senate Commerce Committee’s top Democrat, asked if he now thought that was wrong. “In hindsight, senator, yes,’’ Hamilton replied.
They didn’t test the hardware at all, they tested the software! And all they have to say is that that was wrong. But only in hindsight! And then they tried to fix the mess they created with a new software program, MCAS, but didn’t even tell the pilots it existed. I kid you not! They did this because it might have required pilots to do more training, which raises the price of a plane, and they were already losing out to Airbus.
And lest we forget, this all happened because when Boeing was busy spending its capital on buying back its own shares, Airbus had developed a new plane to accommodate a much more energy-efficient -though larger- engine. When Boeing figured that out, they had neither the time nor the money left (because of the share buybacks) to develop their own new plane.
So what they did was they stuck such an engine (which they did have) onto a 737 model that was not equipped for the much bigger and heavier load. That in turn lead them to work on a software solution to lift the nose of the plane despite that load, which might have worked in theory but was always a bad idea, something in the vein of putting a giraffe’s neck on a hummingbird.
But Muilenburg and his people kept pushing it all, because they knew they had been caught awfully wanting, and they needed that more cost-efficient plane. And this is how all the ensuing mess started. It was all because of money. Of the execs being caught with their pants down, and trying to hide their naked hairy asses.
And then, as I started out this essay, they are still not held accountable. The company will face billions in ‘repair’ damages, some of them may lose their jobs or bonuses, but none will be held responsible for the deaths of those 346 people.
That is just not right. Not in the case of Monsanto, and not in that of Boeing. Not all Boeing planes are disasters, but the 737 definitely is. Donald Trump a few months ago suggested they should just rebrand the plane, give it another name, do some expensive PR work and bob’s your uncle. But let me ask you, would you fly on a 737, even if under another name? Far as I know, all they did was change the software, not the hardware.
Plus, the other day some airline, was that in South Korea?!, grounded a whole bunch of 787’s because of cracks on their wings. Look, I’m not saying Boeing’s in trouble. I’m just saying Boeing’s in deep trouble. But then, you know, they’ll kick out Muilenburg and some other guys, and a few FAA heads will retire, and they’ll declare the rotten apples gone, and we’re off to a whole new start. Yay! But the 346 people will still be dead.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Republican Senators on Wednesday to prepare for an impeachment trial of President Trump as soon as Thanksgiving, according to the Boston Globe. The announcement comes as House Democrats roll the dice on a second-hand claim from a CIA ‘whistleblower’ that President Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate former VP Joe Biden – who the whistleblower worked for – and Biden’s son Hunter [..] .. while Trump will almost certainly be impeached by the Democrat-controlled House, the GOP-controlled Senate will be able to pick apart the entire affair.
“In their closed-door weekly luncheon, McConnell gave a presentation about the impeachment process and fielded questions alongside his staff and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who was a manager for the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton. “Impeachment is the first step to remove a president, with the House voting on formal charges and the Senate holding a trial in which it either convicts or acquits him. -Boston Globe “There’s sort of a planned expectation that it would be sometime around Thanksgiving, so you’d have basically Thanksgiving to Christmas — which would be wonderful because there’s no deadline in the world like the next break to motivate senators,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) following the meeting.
McConnell has previously said that if the House impeaches Trump, Senate rules would force him to begin a trial – one which could force the Bidens to testify. “Not only could Mr. Biden be forced to be in D.C. at a critical moment in the presidential campaign, but so could many of his chief rivals — the half-dozen senators also vying for Democrats’ presidential nomination, impeachment experts said. For that matter, if the House chooses to impeach Mr. Trump on charges stemming from the special counsel’s Russia investigation, aides said it could open the door to witnesses such as fired FBI Agent Peter Strzok or even major figures from the Obama administration. Mr. Trump could even be present for the entire spectacle. Experts said the Senate would have a hard time refusing him if he demanded to confront the witnesses against him.” -Washington Times
One of President Donald Trump’s golf resorts in Florida will host the G7 summit next June, the White House says. White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney denied President Trump would profit from the event. The aide said “Donald Trump’s brand is probably strong enough as it is”, so he did not need a branding boost. Mr Trump has previously said he is not involved with the daily operations of the Trump Organization and that his sons run the business. Mr Mulvaney told reporters on Thursday that an advance team of scouts had started with a list of possible locations for the summit in about a dozen states. The team, he said, went to visit the venues in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Tennessee and Utah.
“And it became apparent at the end of that process that Doral was by far and away, far and away, the best physical facility for this meeting. “In fact I was talking to one of the advance teams when they came back and I said, ‘What was it like?’ And they said, ‘You’re not going to believe this but it’s almost like they built this facility to host this type of event.'” The chief of staff said the event would be made available “at cost” and that using the Doral would save millions of dollars and was cheaper than the other potential sites. Earlier this year the US president floated the idea of his Doral property hosting the G7. But Mr Mulvaney denied on Thursday that his boss was profiting from the presidency, pointing out that he donates his salary to charity.
“It’s the most recognisable name in the English language [Trump] and probably around the world right now, so no, that has nothing to do with that,” he said. Mr Mulvaney said he had initially been sceptical about the idea and “aware of the political sort of criticism that we’d come under for doing it at Doral”. He added: “I get the criticisms, so does he. Basically, he’d be criticised regardless of what he’d chose to do, but no there’s no issue here on him profiting from this any way, shape or form.”
Turkey has agreed to a ceasefire in northern Syria to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw, US Vice-President Mike Pence has announced. All military operations will be paused for five days, and the US will help facilitate an “orderly withdrawal” of Kurdish-led troops from what Turkey has termed a “safe zone” on the border. Turkey launched its assault last week. It aimed to repel a Kurdish militia that it views as a terrorist group, and resettle Syrian refugees in the area. Critics fear this could lead to ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population.
The cross-border offensive came after US President Donald Trump pulled US forces out of the border region. His decision prompted a raft of criticism at home and abroad, with some accusing him of giving Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a “green light” for the operation. Mr Trump tweeted about the ceasefire before Mr Pence announced it, writing that “millions of lives will be saved!” Mr Pence thanked Donald Trump’s “strong leadership” during the announcement. “He wanted a ceasefire. He wanted to stop the violence,” the vice-president said.
When President Trump Tweeted last week that “it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous endless wars,” adding that the US would be withdrawing from Syria, Washington went into a panic. Suddenly Republicans, Democrats, the media, the think tanks, and the war industry all discovered and quickly became experts on “the Kurds,” who we were told were an “ally” being sent to their slaughter by an ignorant President Trump. But it was all just another bipartisan ploy to keep the “forever war” gravy train rolling through the Beltway. Interventionists will do anything to prevent US troops from ever coming home, and their favorite tactic is promoting “mission creep.”
As President Trump Tweeted, we were told in 2014 by President Obama that the US military would go into Syria for just 30 days to save the Yazidi minority that they claimed were threatened. Then that mission crept into “we must fight ISIS” and so the US military continued to illegally occupy and bomb Syria for five more years. Even though it was the Syrian army with its Russian and Iranian allies that did the bulk of the fighting against al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, President Trump took credit and called for the troops to come home. But when the military comes home, the military-industrial-Congressional-media complex loses its cash cow, so a new rationale had to be invented.
The latest “mission creep” was that we had to stay in Syria to save our “allies” the Kurds. All of a sudden our military presence in Syria was not about fighting terrorism but rather about putting US troops between our NATO ally Turkey and our proxy fighting force, the Kurds. Do they really want us to believe that it is “pro-American” for our troops to fight and die refereeing a long-standing dispute between the Turks and Kurds?
The U.S. media get yesterday’s talks between U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan all wrong. Those talks were just a show to soothe the criticism against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeast Syria. The fake negotiations did not change the larger win-win-win-win plan or the facts on the ground. The Syrian Arab Army is replacing the Kurdish PKK/YPG troops at the border with Turkey. The armed PKK/YPG forces, which had deceivingly renamed themselves (vid) “Syrian Democratic Forces” to win U.S. support, will be disbanded and integrated into the Syrian army. Those moves are sufficient to give Turkey the security guarantees it needs. They will prevent any further Turkish invasion.
[..] The U.S. can not “allow Turkey to annex a portion of Syria”. The U.S. does not own Syria. It is completely bollocks to think that it has the power to allow Turkey to annex parts of it. Turkey will not “gain territory”. There will be no Turkish “security corridor”. The Kurdish civilians in Kobani, Ras al Ain and Qamishli areas will not go anywhere. The Turks will not touch those Kurdish majority areas because they are, or soon will be, under control of the Syrian government and its army. [..] The Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu confirmed that Turkey agrees with the Syrian government moves: “Russia “promised that the PKK or YPG will not be on the other side of the border,” Cavusoglu said in an interview with the BBC. “If Russia, accompanied by the Syrian army, removes YPG elements from the region, we will not oppose this.”
These moves have been planned all along. The Turkish invasion in northeast Syria was designed to give Trump a reason to withdraw U.S. troops. It was designed to push the Kurdish forces to finally submit to the Syrian government. Behind the scene Russia had already organized the replacement of the Kurdish forces with Syrian government troops. It has coordinated the Syrian army moves with the U.S. military. Turkey had agreed that Syrian government control would be sufficient to alleviate its concern about a Kurdish guerilla and a Kurdish proto-state at its border. Any further Turkish invasion of Syria is thereby unnecessary. The plan has everyone winning. Turkey will be free of a Kurdish threat. Syria regains its territory. The U.S. can leave without further trouble. Russia and Iran gain standing. The Kurds get taken care of.
Boris Johnson has signed a deal he said he didn’t need, creating a border he didn’t want, under the authority of a Court he didn’t accept, to be submitted to a Parliament he doesn’t control. The one “great” thing about the agreement with the European Union that the U.K. prime minister hailed Thursday is that it reduces – if slightly – the possibility of a hard Brexit, and the associated foreseeable economic crisis. But beyond the forex market’s obvious relief at the possible end of three years of uncertainty — the pound jumped almost 1% on the news, before reversing — this is still a deal that will hurt the British economy. On a scale of 1 to 10 — from no-pain, remain in the EU to maximum damage, no-deal Brexit — the agreement concluded just a few hours before an EU leaders summit in Brussels registers as an 8 or 9.
Its economic impact will be worse than the deal negotiated by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May and rejected three times by the U.K. Parliament earlier this year. That is true both in the short term and in the long term. In the short term, it leaves the U.K. outside the customs union where it would have stayed under the infamous “backstop” negotiated by the previous government. But more uncertainty is also hanging over the near term economic future. The dearth of investment in the last three years has been the main drag on the U.K. economy, which explains why the country’s GDP is now 1-to-3% lower than it would have been if voters had opted for remain in 2016.
EU leaders have left open the option of extending Brexit beyond 31 October if the new deal is voted down by the Commons, in a blow to Boris Johnson’s strategy. The prime minister had been seeking to pitch Saturday’s vote in the Commons as a choice between deal or no deal after coming to an agreement with the EU. Johnson was helped by comments from Jean-Claude Juncker casting doubt on the possibility of a further Brexit delay, but the heads of state and government did not follow the European commission president’s lead. A summit communique issued after two hours of discussion tasked the commission and European parliament with taking “the necessary steps to ensure that the agreement can enter into force on November 1”.
But a senior EU official said that the leaders would follow events on Saturday, and reflect on the next steps if they were in a “different situation”. A second diplomatic source said they had chosen not to interfere in a “sensitive domestic debate … but they leave the door open to the possibility of an extension, to be discussed at a later stage – if required”. Johnson is facing an uphill battle to build a majority after the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist party rejected the revised deal, describing it as driving “a coach and horses through the professed sanctity of the Belfast agreement”. Juncker had tried to help sell the deal by pouring doubt on a further Brexit extension in the event of it being rejected.
MPs have won a key parliamentary vote paving the way for a Commons bid to secure a second referendum on Saturday. Ex-Tory backbencher Sir Oliver Letwin led a successful attempt to allow backbench MPs to amend Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans, in a knife-edge vote that passed by 287 votes to 275. MPs also approved a rare Saturday sitting to scrutinise Mr Johnson’s new plan – but the government’s proposal for a short debate on a motion to either “approve the deal or approve a no-deal Brexit” were derailed by the backbench victory. The move now clears the way for pro-EU MPs to force a vote on a second referendum, by tacking on an amendment calling for another public vote on the prime minister’s Brexit blueprint.
Sir Oliver said the plan would allow MPs to move any amendment to the government’s proposal and for them to be voted upon, if selected by Speaker John Bercow. He suggested that it could close a loophole in the so-called Benn Act – which requires the PM to seek a Brexit delay if he does not have a deal by 19 October. The law only compels the PM to seek an extension if MPs fail to pass a motion. Sir Oliver told MPs: “That will enable those of us, like me, who wish to support and carry through and eventually see the ratification of this deal, not to put us in the position of allowing the government off the Benn Act hook on Saturday, but only at a time when the bill has been taken through both Houses of Parliament and legislated on.”
A discussion you won’t be able to escape. It might be good to get the terminology straight. I think Tucker Carlson called Medicare for All pure socialism, but that would mean Canada, the UK, most of Europe and Asian countries like Thailand all pure socialist countries. Hard to maintain.
The Institute for Policy Studies on Thursday shared the results of extensive research into how the $750 billion U.S. military budget could be significantly slashed, freeing up annual funding to cover the cost of Medicare for All—calling into question the notion that the program needs to create any tax burden whatsoever for working families. Lindsay Koshgarian, director of the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), took aim in a New York Timesop-ed at a “chorus of scolds” from both sides of the aisle who say that raising middle class taxes is the only way to pay for Medicare for All. The pervasive claim was a primary focus of Tuesday night’s debate, while Medicare for All proponents Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) attempted to focus on the dire need for a universal healthcare program.
At the Democratic presidential primary debate on CNN Tuesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was criticized by some opponents for saying that “costs will go down for hardworking, middle-class families” under Medicare for All, without using the word “taxes.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), on the other hand, clearly stated that taxes may go up for some middle class families but pointed out that the increase would be more than offset by the fact that they’ll no longer have to pay monthly premiums, deductibles, and other medical costs. “All these ambitious policies of course will come with a hefty price tag,” wrote Koshgarian. “Proposals to fund Medicare for All have focused on raising taxes. But what if we could imagine another way entirely?”
“Over 18 years, the United States has spent $4.9 trillion on wars, with only more intractable violence in the Middle East and beyond to show for it,” she added. “That’s nearly the $300 billion per year over the current system that is estimated to cover Medicare for All (though estimates vary).” “While we can’t un-spend that $4.9 trillion,” Koshgarian continued, “imagine if we could make different choices for the next 20 years.”
The state of denial. Pensions funds have all moved into risk assets, so if stocks start falling, it’s over and out. Moreover, there will be far more elderly people soon vs the young, which will reduce contributions enormously while increasing payouts. At least try some realism. Zero interest rates klill pensions. Period.
The planned reductions, due to take effect from January 2020, have shaken a country renowned for having one of the world’s strongest pension systems, and are an early warning to others about the impact of record low interest rates. [..] The European Central Bank’s (ECB) stimulus policies, which have helped drive interest rates into negative territory, are blamed in part for the impending cuts in the Netherlands and have triggered a fierce debate over how the funding of pensions should be calculated. ECB President Mario Draghi said last month that the central bank was “very concerned” about the side effects of negative rates, but maintained they were required for economic growth.
At the heart of the Dutch debate is a technical question over how to calculate the cost of future pension payouts while the ECB helps keep rates low. Actuaries make assumptions about how long pensioners will live, count up the future payments that have been promised to them and then use an assumed interest rate to “discount” how much must be put away to pay them. The lower this interest rate, “rekenrente” in Dutch, the more conservative the accounting, and the more it costs to meet future liabilities. The rekenrente is derived from government bond yields — which have turned negative across Europe as interest rates steadily fell this summer.
Each 1% fall in interest rates has led to roughly a 12% fall in the coverage ratio between assets and liabilities in pension pots, the Dutch central bank says. As a January deadline approaches, cuts appear inevitable. That has led several funds and some experts to argue that the rekenrente, which is around 0.3%, should be raised instead. Many blame ECB policy and see its effects as temporary. Increasing the rekenrente to 2% or 3% would restore the funds to full solvency. Corien Wortmann-Kool, the chairwoman of the 456 billion euro ABP civil servants fund, told Reuters she opposes pension cuts as “unnecessary” for now.
Earlier today, I wrote: “What is an impeachable offense? Turns out, it’s anything the Democrats can get enough votes for.” And I realize saying that gets rid of half my possible audience, but it’s still the impression I’ve gotten over the past -less than- 24 hours.
After 2+ years of her fellow party members and Congress(wo)men riding on the now-defunct Robert Mueller train and clamoring non-stop for impeachment of Donald Trump, the man who stole the 2016 election from their candidate, God’s own candidate Hillary, the one who deserved to win, after 2+ years Nancy Pelosi does a 180 and joins the chorus. So as not to end up as fish food.
And sure, if she’s finally spotted an impeachable offense, that would make sense. But she herself states she joined because of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s Zelensky, and we know Pelosi doesn’t know what was said in that call, nor what’s in the opaque whistleblower complaint linked to it, a complaint moreover that’s based solely on hearsay.
Making the contents of the call public would set a dangerous precedent, because no foreign leader would ever again speak freely to a US president. Even sharing it ‘only’ with Capitol Hill would make them cautious. In that regard, the White House reluctance to share both the call and the complaint makes a lot of sense.
We’re talking many decades of carefully crafted tradition, whose importance cannot be overestimated. Wars have been avoided by these calls. But then again, as Trump said, he’s sure everybody and their pet intelligence hamster is listening in the talks already, so what’s the use anymore?
Democratic Party members smell something, and they think they’re sure is blood, without ever contemplating it might be their own. They’ve all been thinking impeachment for a long time, and now more than ever, because they appear to realize it might be the only way to get rid of Trump and get their people in charge, that the ballot box may well not deliver that outcome.
Ryan Grim’s piece for the Intercept provides a a good picture of what is going on in Dem Camp, not because it’s so well written, it’s actually quite shaky, but because between the lines the despair seeps through. Do read the whole thing, it’s worth the while because it tells a story nobody really talks about.
That is, on various levels of the US political system, Democratic party candidates have become increasingly fearful of losing their seats, and impeachment must bring them ‘salvation’. You get the idea it’s not even so much about what Trump does, but squarely about him standing in their way, like he stood in Hillary’s.
[..] as Democrats prepped for a series of private meetings, it was clear that nerves had been frayed. August had been a challenge for the party’s rank-and-file, as activists and angry citizens back home browbeat them at town halls, grocery stores, and local events for the party’s unwillingness to impeach President Donald Trump.
“We spent all summer getting the shit kicked out of us back home,” said one Democrat who received such treatment. The day before, former Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski had made a mockery of the Judiciary Committee’s interview of him, betraying open contempt for the process and the people running it.
Swing district freshmen Democrats known as frontliners, meanwhile, had spent the last few weeks vocally decrying the pressure on them to call for impeachment, claiming it was putting them in a political jam. Democrats were debating publicly whether the hearings Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., was running at his Judiciary Committee were or were not in fact the launch of impeachment proceedings.
I’m not sure to which extent to believe this. Do Democrat voters really pester their local politicians about impeaching Trump? Or are they making this up because they need something to blame for their own failures?
[..] The members without official primary challenges were by no means safe, either, as they might soon draw a challenge unless the trajectory of the politics changed. Freshman Lori Trahan from Massachusetts, for instance, came out for impeachment after Dan Koh, whom she beat in a primary by 147 votes in 2018, called on her to do so, with the clear threat that he may run again.
The seats of upward of 200 Democrats were being put at risk to protect a handful of loud frontliners, Raskin argued, and it wasn’t obvious that the strategy was actually protecting them from anything. Grassroots activists were demobilizing, Democrats across the board were facing primary challenges, and somehow, someway, Democrats seemed to be losing, again, to Trump. Something had to give.
“Democrats seemed to be losing, again, to Trump. Something had to give.” That sums it up. And we now know what it was that had to give. That doesn’t make it a winning strategy, though. And then came the Ukraine “news”. It was god-given. The “new” Kavanaugh story a few days before had seemed to, but it was false. Now, however….
[..] That something came later that night, in the form of a Washington Post scoop about a whistleblower complaint from a member of the U.S. intelligence community about a promise Trump had made to a foreign leader. Then, on Thursday evening, the Post reported that the country involved was Ukraine.
The news had landed like a bomb in a Democratic caucus that was already ready to explode. Calls to impeach Trump rained down from the party’s left flank and its presidential candidates. On Friday evening, Democrats were bracing for a backlash back home. “It’s going to be a brutal weekend for a lot of people, especially those who haven’t spoken for impeachment,” one Democrat predicted. Indeed it was.
Democrats, including frontliners, spent the weekend furiously texting and calling each other as they worked through how to respond to Trump’s latest lawlessness. “People are pissed,” said another Democrat over the weekend. “Frontliners are pissed! And not even the ‘progressive’ frontliners either.”
It’s a feeding frenzy inside an echo chamber. All quite rational, of course. And Pelosi had no choice but to join in, or she would have been fish food.
Pelosi didn’t seem to understand the shift that was taking place under her feet. Reporter John Harwood asked an aide to Pelosi over the weekend if the news changed her calculus on impeachment and got back the reply: “no. see any GOP votes for it?”
Jon Favreau, a speechwriter for President Barack Obama who now serves, from his perch at Pod Save America, as something of a tribune for the volunteer-resistance army that phone banked and door-knocked Democrats into the majority, was apoplectic. “This is insane,” he said. “This is pathetic. This is not what we worked so hard for in 2018.” By Tuesday afternoon, Pelosi was calling for impeachment proceedings to begin.
We want impeachment, and we’ll figure out later what for. There are Democrats right now, after recognizing nobody knows what is in either the call or the complaint, who say it’s about Trump’s entire body of work, about months and months of violating the constitution etc. I think they’ll have to be more specific than that for the inquiry, however.
“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution,” Pelosi said in a formal address in Washington on Tuesday evening. “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
I swear, one of these days I’m going to lose it over the next person who says “No one is above the law.” That must be the emptiest statement in politics, ever, but certainly these days.
Now, of course, lest we forget, that plenty Democrats ‘support’ impeachment doesn’t mean much of anything. There’s about a zero Kelvin chance of getting it through the Senate. Plus, you need a specific reason for impeachment, and we’ve already seen the Ukraine isn’t it, because nobody even knows what was said.
Which makes me think Pelosi’s heart can’t be in it, and that makes her a weak advocate for the issue. So what other grounds for impeachment will they come up with? That can only be things that happened in the past, and things Pelosi never thought were impeachable, or at least wouldn’t get enough votes. Why should they now?
As an aside, the Democrat candidates and frontliners -and Nancy Pelosi as per last night- are throwing Joe Biden under the bus, who’s still their leading candidate. Because there’s no way Biden will survive a thorough investigation into Ukraine. That is so obvious I’m wondering if they meant to get rid of him all along.
And then there are the ‘technicalities’. “In his response to the Democrats’ move, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said: “Speaker Pelosi happens to be the Speaker of this House, but she does not speak for America when it comes to this issue.” “She cannot unilaterally decide we’re in an impeachment inquiry,” he added.”
And I absolutely love this bit: “In her announcement Ms Pelosi said the six congressional committees already investigating Mr Trump would continue their work, but now under the umbrella of a formal impeachment inquiry.”. That says Heads of the Five Families to me, right there. You got your Tattaglia, your Barzoni etc.
There are 6 different active investigations into Trump. Well over two years after Robert Mueller started his $40 million utter failure of an investigation. Why? Impeachment. And they have all come up empty so far.
Love this bit too from the BBC on Ukraine media: “Some argue that the timing could not be worse for President Zelensky, who is scheduled to meet Donald Trump in New York later on Wednesday. Public TV station Pershy describes the controversy as a “trap” for Ukraine. “It would be stupid to start playing into the hands of either Democrats or Republicans,” said one of the channel’s commentators. Others contend that the Ukrainian president has US politicians over the barrel. “Zelensky has two pistols in his hands: one pointing at Trump, and the other at Biden,” reports Pryamy TV.
She told “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday that she’ll remain consistent to her message that the road to 2020 can only be found in a clear victory and mandate, saying it’s for “the American people… making that decision” of who is in the White House, not impeachment.
“I believe that impeachment at this juncture would be terribly divisive for the country at a time when we are already extremely divided. The hyperpartisanship is one of the main things driving our country apart,” Gabbard told host Brian Kilmeade. “I think it’s important to beat Donald Trump, that’s why I’m running for president,” she said.
“But I think it’s the American people who need to make their voices heard making that decision.”
We need to get Tulsi her own party, right? Because right now, she’s not fighting Trump, she’s fighting the DNC and the rest of her ‘own’ party. What a waste of time and money, and conviction and talent.
Rembrandt van Rijn A woman bathing in a stream 1654
A dear friend the other day accused me of defending Trump. I don’t, and never have, but it made me think that if she says it, probably others say and think the same; I’ve written a lot about him. So let me explain once again. Though I think perhaps this has reached a “you’re either with us or against us’ level.
What I noticed, and have written a lot about, during and since the 2016 US presidential campaign, is that the media, both in the US and abroad, started making up accusations against Trump from scratch. This included the collusion with Russia accusation that led to the Mueller probe.
There was never any proof of the accusation, which is why the conclusion of the probe was No Collusion. I started writing this yesterday while awaiting the presentation of the Mueller report, but it wouldn’t have mattered one way or the other: the accusation was clear, and so was the conclusion.
Even if some proof were found though other means going forward, it would still make no difference: US media published over half a million articles on the topic, and not one of them was based on any proof. If that proof had existed, Mueller would have found and used it.
And sure, Trump may not be a straight shooter, there may be all kinds of illegal activity going on in his organization, but that doesn’t justify using the collusion accusation for a 2-year long probe. If Trump is guilty of criminal acts, he should be investigated for that, not for some made-up narrative. It’s dangerous.
Axios report[ed] that since May 2017, exactly 533,074 web articles have been published about Russia and Trump-Mueller, which in turn have generated “245 million interactions – including likes, comments and shares – on Twitter and Facebook.” “From January 20, 2017 (Inauguration Day) through March 21, 2019 (the last night before special counsel Robert Mueller sent his report to the attorney general), the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts produced a combined 2,284 minutes of ‘collusion’ coverage, most of it (1,909 minutes) following Mueller’s appointment on May 17, 2017,” MRC reports
What the Mueller report says is that 500,000 articles about collusion, and 245 million social media interactions in their wake, were written without any proof whatsoever (or Mueller would have used that proof). That doesn’t mean they may not have been true, or that they can’t be found to be true in the future, it means there was no proof when they were published. They Were All Lying.
The same goes for the Steele dossier. It holds zero proof of collusion between Trump’s team and Russia. Or Mueller would have used that proof. New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, CNN: they all had zero proof when they published, not a thing. Or Mueller would have used that proof. Rachel Maddow’s near nightly collusion rants: no proof. Or Mueller would have used that proof.
That there is no proof also means there has never been any proof. Why that is important, and how important it is, is something we’re very clearly seeing in the case concerning Julian Assange. That, too, is based on made-up stories.
I suggested a few days ago in the Automatic Earth comment section that the advent of the internet, and social media in particular, has greatly facilitated the power of repetition: say something often enough and few people will be able to resist the idea that it must be true. Or at least some of it.
If you look at the amount of time people spend in ‘their’ Facebook, the power of repetition becomes obvious. 245 million social media interactions. On top of half a million articles. How were people supposed to believe, in the face of such a barrage, that there never was any collusion?
Or that Assange is squeaky clean, both in person and in his alleged involvement in the collusion? There is only one way to counter all this: for people like me to keep pointing it out, and to hope that at least a few people pick it up.
That has nothing to do with defending Trump. It has to do with defending my own sanity and that of my readers. Of course it would have been easier, and undoubtedly more profitable, to go with the flow and load on more suspicions, allegations and accusations.
All those media made a mint doing it, and the Automatic Earth might have too. But that is not why we are here.
The Democrats, and the media sympathetic to them, now have seamlessly shifted their attention from Collusion to Obstruction. Which leads to a bit of both interesting and humorous logic: No Collusion? No Obstruction.
The Mueller probe would never have happened if it had been clear there was no collusion. But everyone and their pet hamster were saying there was. And there was the Steele dossier, heavily promoted by John McCain and John Brennan. Neither of whom had any proof of collusion.
The obstruction the anti-Trumpers are now aiming their arrows at consists of Trump allegedly wanting to fire Mueller and/or stopping an investigation that should never have been instigated into a collusion that never existed and was based on a smear campaign.
And now they want to impeach him for that? For attempting to stop the country wasting its resources and halt an investigation into nothing at all?
Know what I hope? That they’ll call on Mueller to testify in a joint session of Senate and Congress and that Rand Paul gets to ask him to address this tweet of his:
“Rand Paul: BREAKING: A high-level source tells me it was Brennan who insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier be included in the Intelligence Report… Brennan should be asked to testify under oath in Congress ASAP.”
And why Mueller refused to go talk to Assange, who offered actual evidence that no Russians were involved. Or how about these stonkers:
“Undoubtedly there is collusion,” Adam Schiff said. “We will continue to investigate the counterintelligence issues. That is, is the president or people around him compromised? … It doesn’t appear that was any part of Mueller’s report.”
Preet Bharara: “It’s clear that Bob Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction.”
There’ll never be such a joint session, the Democrats want to play a home game in Congress. So there will have to be a separate session in the Senate. No doubt that will happen. Trump was right about one thing (well, two): 1) A special Counsel fcuks up a presidency, and 2) this should never happen to another president again.
Not that I have any faith in Capitol Hill, mind you. Because they will agree, and they will agree on one thing only, as Philip Giraldi stipulates once more:
[..] even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people. A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189.
It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.”
And that brings us back to Robert Mueller’s investigation into hot air, which, while it entirely eviscerates even the notion of collusion, still contains accusations against Julian Assange and ‘the Russians’.
Why does he leave those in, when there was no collusion? It’s dead simple. Because unlike accusations against Trump, he doesn’t have to prove them. Which is why I will not stop saying, as I first did some 10 weeks ago, that Robert Mueller Is A Coward And A Liar.
Again, this has nothing to do with defending Trump, it’s about defending and maintaining my own sanity and yours, and the rule of law.
As I said back then about Mueller refusing to talk to Assange, and James Comey in 2017 making sure the DOJ didn’t either :
Every single American should be alarmed by this perversion of justice. Nothing to do with what you think of Trump, or of Assange. The very principles of the system are being perverted, including, but certainly not limited to, its deepest core, that of every individual’s right to defend themselves. Just so Robert Mueller can continue his already failed investigation into collusion that has shown no such thing, and which wouldn’t have been started 20 months ago if we knew then what we know now.
Get off your Trump collusion hobby-horse, that quest has already died regardless, and start defending the legal system and the Constitution. Because if you don’t, what’s to keep the next Robert Mueller from going after you, or someone you like or love? It’s in everyone’s interest to demand that these proceedings – like all legal proceedings- are conducted according to the law, but in Mueller’s hands, they are not.
And that should be a much bigger worry than whether or not you like or dislike a former game-show host.
I’ve said this before as well: I’ll always defend Julian Assange, but I won’t defend Donald Trump. Is that clear now?
My friend Jesse Colombo is right to point out the impact of imploding asset bubbles is the main takeaway. But I think even more than that, it’s who will be the main victims of that: those who have no assets. The losses will land on their shoulders.
It’s not fashionable to wear flapper dresses and do the Charleston, but 1920s-style wealth inequality is definitely back in style. New research says America’s ultra-rich haven’t held as much of the country’s wealth since the Jazz Age, those freewheeling times before the country’s finances shattered. “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,” wrote Gabriel Zucman, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Zucman said all the research on the issue also points to large wealth concentrations in China and Russia in recent decades. The same thing is happening in France and the U.K., but at a “more moderate rise,” the paper said.
In 1929 — before Wall Street’s crash unleashed the Great Depression — the top 0.1% richest adults’ share of total household wealth was close to 25%, according to Zucman’s paper, which was distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Those rates plunged in the early 1930s and continued dropping to below 10% in the late 1970s, findings show. Rates have been on the rebound since the early 1980s, and are currently close to 20%. It’s become especially hard to measure the full extent of riches these days. “Since the 1980s, a large offshore wealth management industry has developed which makes some forms wealth (namely, financial portfolios) harder to capture,” the paper added.
[..] Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck; the recent federal government’s partial government shutdown forced some federal workers to food pantries, and cast a harsh light on Americans’ lack of savings. Jesse Colombo says people should be more worried about issues other than the current gap between the rich and poor. “America’s wealth inequality is not a permanent situation, but a temporary one because the asset bubbles behind the wealth bubble are going to burst and cause a severe economic crisis,” he added. “My argument is that our society should be worrying more about these asset bubbles than the temporary inequality.” “What is the common denominator between U.S. wealth inequality during the Roaring Twenties and now?” he said. “A massive stock market bubble.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the 2016 election has uncovered no direct evidence of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia, Democrats and Republicans on the committee told NBC News. But different parties’ investigators in the probe, which is winding down, disagree over the implications of a pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians. Last week, Sen. Richard Burr, the panel’s Republican chairman, told CBS News that, while more facts may be uncovered, “If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia.” Democratic Senate investigators told NBC News on condition of anonymity that Burr’s characterizations, while accurate, lacked context. One aide said, “We were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude.'”
For MS(NBC), Russigate has been a major investment. And they’re still trying to squeak past it by saying an official report will take many more months etc., but it’s done as far as the Senate is concerned. And Mueller has given zero indication of having anything collusion-related.
We knew this day was coming, but watching an MSNBC anchor and guest pundits squirm during a live Tuesday morning update in which NBC News intelligence and national security correspondent, Ken Dilanian, read aloud that the Senate Intelligence Committee admits it has found “no direct evidence” of collusion between President Trump and Russia, is a segment that itself perhaps belongs to the history books. Mediaite described of the “stunned” MSNBC host’s demeanor: “The report met surprise first, then skepticism, with Jackson and her guests.” They awkwardly and visibly try to make sense of hard and unambiguous reporting that runs contrary to everything being parroted in the MSNBC echo chamber over the past 2 years.
To drive home the explosive significance of the findings, Dilanian noted just how long the ‘collusion’ incessant drumbeat has lasted: “After two years and interviewing more than 200 witnesses, the Senate intelligence Committee has not uncovered any direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” said Dilanian. “That’s according to sources on both the Republican and the Democratic side of the aisle.” And in a prior NBC News article Tuesday morning, Dilanian spelled out: “After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.”
MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson and her guest panelists’ faces looked visibly confused and uncomfortable as they learned the Senate report is going in the opposite direction of everything MSNBC and other mainstream outlets have been breathlessly reporting on a near 24/7 basis. More importantly, if this is a precursor of what the Mueller report concludes in a few weeks/months, the TV station that built its current reputation on the premise of Russian collusion, may have no option but to go on indefinite hiatus. Watch the segment above, with host Hallie Jackson appearing to grow exasperated by the 2:20 mark:“If and when the president, as he may inevitably do, points to these conclusions and says look, the Senate intelligence committee found I am not guilty of conspiracy… he would be correct in saying that?”
Dilanian noted that while the Republican chair of the committee made what he characterized as “partisan” comments the week prior, it turned out be unanimous fact. “What I found,” he said, “is that Democrats don’t dispute that characterization.” [..] Dilanian also noted the Senate intel committee has access to classified material, which means “if there was an intercept between officers suggesting they were conspiring with the Trump campaign, [the committee] would see that. And that has not emerged.” “So that evidence does not exist, and Trump will claim vindication,” he repeated.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate would vote on the Green New Deal introduced last week by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “I’ve noted with great interest the Green New Deal, and we’re going to be voting on that in the Senate to give everybody an opportunity to go on record,” McConnell told reporters. The bill, which is not expected to pass the Republican-dominated upper chamber, could force some Democrats to make a politically awkward calculation. Democratic liberals, including all of the senators currently running for president, have come out in support of the legislation, which calls for generating 100% of the nation’s power from renewable sources within 10 years. Scientists have said that dramatic, immediate action is necessary to stem the catastrophic effects of climate change.
Democratic moderates have been less than enthusiastic about the proposal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi derisively referred to the House version of the bill as a “green dream,” while only 11 of the 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats have signed on to sponsor the bill. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is widely expected to enter into the 2020 race, has declined to say whether he supports the proposal. “I’m not going to take position on every bill that’s coming out,” he said Tuesday, according to Politico. “I support a Green New Deal. I think we need to aggressively support climate change [legislation]. That’s my answer.” Republicans control the Senate, with 53 members of the 100-seat chamber. Democrats control the House of Representatives, but it is not clear if the House will vote on the measure under Pelosi’s leadership.
Sometimes losing can pay dividends in unexpected ways, and that seems particularly true in the case of stocks and trade. For the past five decades, the U.S. stock market has comparatively outperformed when the trade deficit widened and vice versa, suggesting that even if the U.S. emerges victorious from its trade war with China, investors may have few reasons to rejoice. At face value, it may seem counterintuitive, but for the U.S., which relies on trade to fuel its economic juggernaut, a deficit can actually be a sign that all is well. “Since at least 1970, U.S. stocks have done best when its trade deficit worsens,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group, who explained that if imports rise, it indicates that domestic consumption is healthy.
“And if exports go up, it means foreign demand is strong. So when we have a trade deficit, it means the U.S. is doing better,” he said. A trade balance is the difference between how much a country sells and buys from abroad, and a deficit is often viewed as a negative, chiefly as it means a country is spending more than it is making. But as the chart below demonstrates, U.S. stocks vis-a-vis foreign equities have done quite well notwithstanding all the depressing headlines over the years about how the rest of the world is taking advantage of the U.S.
And Labour wants part of the Green New Deal fame too. But what do any of these people really know about physics, about energy? It all still looks like a typical dumb politics approach: we’ll get rich while going green, promise!
Labour is to set out how the UK can move swiftly to a decarbonised future to tackle the unfolding climate crisis and put “meat on the bones” of its promise to create hundreds of thousands of high-skilled, unionised green jobs. Trade unionists and industry leaders will come together with academics, engineers and public institutions to build detailed regional plans setting out the challenges and opportunities ahead. The proposal, due to be outlined on Wednesday by Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, will involve a national call for evidence and a series of regional events to build “a detailed action plan” to maximise the benefits of moving to a zero-carbon future.
“A decade of austerity and decades of neoliberalism have left many in our country asking: what is Britain for?” Long-Bailey told the Guardian. “This has been brought into focus by the government’s handling of Brexit, which is at its core deeply pessimistic, with nothing to say about the future.” She said a future Labour government would oversee an economic revolution to tackle the climate crisis, using the full power of the state to decarbonise the economy and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in struggling towns and cities across the UK. “We believe that together, we can transform the UK through a green jobs revolution, tackling the environmental crisis in a way that brings hope and prosperity back to parts of the UK that have been held back for too long.”
[..] Long-Bailey said Labour was determined to move beyond rhetoric about a green revolution and work out exactly how that could be achieved, and how it could translate to new well-paid, unionised jobs across the UK. “We’re launching an unprecedented call for evidence about what this means for your town, your city, your region,” she said. “We want to bring unions, industry, universities, the public sector and others together to build this vision out into a practical reality.” Labour says a key plank of its plan will be to ensure a “just transition” to high quality green jobs for those currently working in carbon-emitting industries. To do that it will have to persuade its trade union backers, who represent people in high-carbon industries, that there is a viable economic alternative.
Brexit is an acid test of whether it is possible to reshape globalisation in a way that offers the benefits of trade while allaying public fears about the erosion of democracy, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said. Speaking in London, Carney said the ramifications of the UK’s departure from the EU would be felt around the world and would determine whether it was possible to shrug off rising protectionism in favour of a new era of international cooperation. The governor cited trade tensions and the result of the 2016 referendum as examples of fundamental pressures to reorder globalisation. “It is possible that new rules of the road will be developed for a more inclusive and resilient global economy. At the same time, there is a risk that countries turn inwards, undercutting growth and prosperity for all.”
Carney’s recent comments about Brexit have highlighted the short-term risks to the economy of leaving the EU next month without an agreement in place, but he used his speech on the state of the global economy to provide a more upbeat assessment. “In many respects, Brexit is the first test of a new global order and could prove the acid test of whether a way can be found to broaden the benefits of openness while enhancing democratic accountability,” he said, speaking at a Financial Times event in London. “Brexit can lead to a new form of international cooperation and cross-border commerce built on a better balance of local and supranational authorities. In these respects, Brexit could affect both the short and long-term global outlooks.”
The politicians pushing Brexit should be careful not follow in the footsteps of revolutionary leaders who “ended up on the guillotine”, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief has said. At a press conference in Strasbourg Guy Verhofstadt compared Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre – leading figures in the French revolution who were ultimately executed by their former comrades. He said it was “important to remind” the senior Conservatives that their historical counterparts had ended up losing their heads.
“I know that within the Tory party the hard Brexiteers are compared to the leaders of the French revolution. I think Gove is Brissot, and Boris Johnson is Danton, and Rees-Mogg is compared to Robespierre,” Mr Verhofstadt said. “We should not forget that the efforts of these men were not appreciated by the common man they claimed to represent – because they all ended up on the guillotine. So that’s important to remind [them].” His comments come a week after European Council president Donald Tusk caused a story in the UK by saying there was a “special place in hell” for Brexiteers who had advocated leaving the EU without a serious plan of how to do it.
Theresa May’s high-stakes Brexit strategy may have been accidentally revealed after her chief negotiator Olly Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar saying MPs will be given a last-minute choice between her deal and a lengthy delay. The prime minister has repeatedly insisted that the government intends to leave the EU as planned on 29 March, and urged MPs to “hold our nerve”, while she tries to renegotiate changes to the Irish backstop. “So our work continues,” she told MPs on Tuesday. “Having secured an agreement with the European Union for further talks, we now need some time to complete that process. The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this house requires and deliver Brexit on time.”
But Robbins, the most senior civil servant involved in the Brexit process, was overheard by a reporter from ITV, holding a late-night conversation in which he appeared to suggest she would wait until March – and then give MPs the choice between backing her, or accepting a long extension to article 50. According to the broadcaster, Robbins said the government had “got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March … extension is possible, but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one.” The tactic appears to be aimed squarely at members of the backbench Tory European Research Group (ERG), who may fear Brexit could ultimately be cancelled altogether, if MPs accept a delay.
“The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension,” Robbins was overheard saying. “In the end they will probably just give us an extension.” On the backstop, Robbins appeared to confirm that the government’s initial plan was for the backstop, which effectively keeps the UK in a customs union, to form a temporary “bridge” to the long-term trading relationship. “The big clash all along is the ‘safety net’,” Robbins said. “We agreed a bridge but it came out as a ‘safety net’.”
In Britain, for example, we now know that the EU referendum was won with the help of widespread cheating. We still don’t know the origins of much of the money spent by the leave campaigns. For example, we have no idea who provided the £435,000 channelled through Scotland, into Northern Ireland, through the coffers of the Democratic Unionist party and back into Scotland and England, to pay for pro-Brexit ads. Nor do we know the original source of the £8m that Arron Banks delivered to the Leave.EU campaign. We do know that both of the main leave campaigns have been fined for illegal activities, and that the conduct of the referendum has damaged many people’s faith in the political system.
But, astonishingly, the government has so far failed to introduce a single new law in response to these events. And now it’s happening again. Since mid-January an organisation called Britain’s Future has spent £125,000 on Facebook ads demanding a hard or no-deal Brexit. Most of them target particular constituencies. Where an MP is deemed sympathetic to the organisation’s aims, the voters who receive these ads are urged to tell him or her to “remove the backstop, rule out a customs union, deliver Brexit without delay”. Where the MP is deemed unsympathetic, the message is: “Don’t let them steal Brexit; Don’t let them ignore your vote.”
So who or what is Britain’s Future? Sorry, I have no idea. As openDemocracy points out, it has no published address and releases no information about who founded it, who controls it and who has been paying for these advertisements. The only person publicly associated with it is a journalist called Tim Dawson, who edits its website. Dawson has not yet replied to the questions I have sent him. It is, in other words, highly opaque. The anti-Brexit campaigns are not much better. People’s Vote and Best for Britain have also been spending heavily on Facebook ads, though not as much in recent weeks as Britain’s Future.
Spain’s socialist government could be forced to call a snap general election if rightwing parties and Catalan secessionists make good on their threats to reject the national budget in a key vote on Wednesday. The prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, faces an uphill battle to secure approval for the budget in the face of opposition from critics of his minority government. Sánchez’s PSOE, which holds 84 of the 350 seats in congress, relied on the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties to seize power from the conservative People’s party in a confidence vote last year. If, as seems likely, the budget is rejected by rightwing parties as well as the Catalan Republican Left and the Catalan European Democratic party, Sánchez is expected to call a snap general election in April or May.
The next general election is due to be held next year. The prime minister had been banking on the fact that the prospect of an early election – and a possible win for rightwing parties that fiercely oppose Catalan secession – would make the two big Catalan pro-independence parties swing behind the budget. But, speaking to the Guardian and other European media, the Catalan leader, Quim Torra, said the secessionist groupings would not be forced into supporting Sánchez’s budget plans. “Are we meant to approve the budget because we’re afraid of the Spanish right?” said Torra. “Mr Sánchez can obviously decide to call elections whenever he wants – he’s the prime minister. But why would he make dialogue conditional on approving the budget?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Australia were the first to fall into crisis. It hasn’t had a recession in I think 27 years, and that is like saying a homeowner hasn’t done a proper spring cleaning in decades.
The sharpest fall in home loans since the depths of the global financial crisis has prompted calls for the Reserve Bank to slice interest rates and cast doubt over the state of the budget leading into the federal election. As the NAB said the Reserve may have to cut rates within months, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed first time buyers and investors deserting the property market in a sign house prices may fall even further. Home loans in December fell by 5.9%. It was the second largest monthly fall since 2008-09 while the annual fall of 19.8% was the worst since the global financial crisis.
Investor loans have tumbled 28% over the past year while those for owner-occupiers have slumped by 16%. Since their peak in mid-2015, investor lending has dropped by almost 48%. First home buyers have been a key part of the market over the past year as they have taken advantage of falling prices but even they are now resisting the chance to enter the market. The number of loans to first time buyers fell 8% in the month to be 12% lower over the past year. NSW and Victoria are leading down the national market with sharp falls in total loan numbers through 2018. It’s not just housing. Business loans dropped by 9.7% in December to be 6.2% lower over the year.
Chinese banks are wise to resist maxing out their credit cards. Lenders have issued hundreds of millions of them to local consumers, facilitating debt-fuelled shopping sprees. It’s a lucrative but risky supplement to other types of loans, and some now appear to be pulling back. Banks in the People’s Republic issued more than 650 million credit cards as of the third quarter of 2018, up from less than 450 million three years earlier, official data show. Balances payable on cards reached 6.6 trillion yuan ($980 billion), an increase of more than 120% over the same period. Lenders are keen on the business. There’s a big opportunity for growth given relatively low penetration: the average Chinese individual has only half of a credit card, whereas the average American has three.
Plastic can be profitable, too, yielding higher interest rates and fees than typical corporate loans. That boosts net interest margins. Yet a reassessment may be underway, according to analysts at Citi Research. At Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, for instance, credit card lending made up 35% of total new loans in 2017. In the first half of 2018, that figure collapsed to negative 5%. It’s a similar story at China Merchants Bank and other lenders covered by the analysts – although some are still aiming at rapid growth, including Ping An Bank and Postal Savings Bank of China. Household credit stood at around half of GDP by the middle of last year, up from 18% a decade earlier, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Fitch Ratings projects household debt might reach 100% of disposable income by 2020, just below the 105% ratio in the US.
The current economic slowdown could make bankers’ affection for plastic look rash. Individuals tend to default on card debt first, and chasing after them in court is time-consuming, while recovery rates, sometimes estimated at below 16%, compare poorly with between 50% to 60% for corporate borrowers.
The collapse in China of a complex web of debt guarantees involving several private firms highlights risks in its financial system and opens up a potentially hazardous front for an economy in the grip of its slowest growth in nearly three decades. It is the last thing Beijing needs as it tries to fight off intensifying pressure on growth from a months-long trade dispute with the United States. Yet, as the government steps up economic support measures and moves to loosen gummed-up funding, it might be inadvertently inflaming financial risks with its call on state banks to sharply boost lending to the private sector.
The warning bells are already sounding in the once-prosperous eastern city of Dongying, a hub for oil refining and heavy industry in Shandong province. Here, at least 28 private companies are seeking to restructure their debts and avoid bankruptcy, mainly due to souring loans that they guaranteed for other firms, court rulings seen by Reuters show. Among the 28 firms are Shandong Dahai Group and Shandong Jinmao Textile Chemical Group, which were on the 2018 top 500 best-run private enterprises in China. For a private firm to get bank loans in China, especially those in traditional, capital-intensive industries, it often needs substantial collateral or the guarantee of another company. The guarantor itself is very likely to have taken on loans guaranteed by other firms.
Russia is preparing itself to be disconnected from the World Wide Web. The Lower House of Parliament passed in the first reading a law ensuring the security of the Russian part of the internet. The bill envisions the ‘Runet’ – the Russian segment of the internet – being able to operate independently from the rest of the world in case of global malfunctions or deliberate internet disconnection. The measures to ensure internet stability include the creation of a national DNS system that stores all of the domain names and corresponding IP numbers. The new legislation was drafted in response to the new US cyber strategy that accuses Russia, along with China, Iran, and North Korea, of using cyber tools to “undermine” its economy and democracy.
It also threatens dire consequences for anyone conducting cyber activity against the US. The autonomous system would ensure that Russia doesn’t face a total internet shutdown if relations with the West completely collapse and the US goes as far as cutting off Russian IP addresses from the World Wide Web. Back in 2012, then-US President Barack Obama signed an executive order allowing him to take control of all communications on American soil, including those crucial for the normal operation of the internet. The US National Security Agency actually caused a three-day internet blackout in Syria in November 2012, whistleblower Edward Snowden told Wired magazine. NSA hackers accidently ‘bricked’ one of the core routers while trying to install spyware on it.
The European Central Bank will halt its €2.6tn stimulus programme in January despite concerns that the eurozone is poised to slow down over the next couple of years. Mario Draghi, the ECB boss, warned that rising uncertainty had forced the bank to downgrade its outlook for the currency bloc next year and the effects would continue to be felt in 2020. Draghi, without mentioning the US-China trade war, Brexit or the Italian government’s dispute with Brussels, said: “The balance of risk is moving to the downside.” He said growth would be limited to 1.7% in 2019, “owing to the persistence of uncertainties related to geopolitical factors, the threat of protectionism, vulnerabilities in emerging markets and financial market volatility”.
The worse-than-expected outlook sent the euro tumbling on international exchanges as investors cut back their expectations for growth across the continent. Figures showing that the German economy contracted in the last quarter were a clear signal that the eurozone had come under pressure from weakening global trade, while the slowing of the bloc’s other two major economies – France and Italy – only added to the worsening outlook. However, the ECB said the recovery was strong enough that it could stop expanding its QE programme that has seen it pump €2.6tn into the eurozone economy to stoke growth and inflation from January.
The price of shipping a container from China to the United States has risen dramatically in the last year due to uncertainty surrounding trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. That’s because Chinese exporters have been rushing to get goods to U.S. ports before new tariffs kick in, but data are suggesting that trend may soon run out of steam. China and the U.S., the world’s two largest economies, have been locked in a tit-for-tat tariff fight over the last year, levying duties on each other’s imports worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the last few months. Increasingly strong fears of an all-out trade war have inspired exporters to push forward shipment dates — a phenomenon called front-loading.
In fact, freight prices for containers going from China to the U.S. have surged more than 100 percent from a year ago as of the beginning of December, according to data from Freightos, an online freight marketplace, “Transpacific ocean freight peak season has been a bonanza, with prices still more than double last year,” said a report on the most recent Freightos data published on the Baltic Exchange’s news website. That was as freight rates for China to the U.S. West Coast jumped 128 percent while those from China to the U.S. East Coast surged 123 percent compared to the same period a year ago. In contrast, China to North Europe freight rates were up just 11 percent in the same period due to pre-Christmas cargoes.
China on Friday reported industrial output and retail sales growth for the month of November that missed expectations, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, as the world’s second-largest economy started to show signs of slowing amid a bitter trade dispute with the U.S. Industrial output in November grew 5.4 percent from a year ago — the slowest pace in almost three years as it matched the rate of growth seen in January to February 2016, according to Reuters records. The growth in industrial production was lower than the 5.9 percent analysts in a Reuters poll had predicted.
Retail sales rose 8.1 percent in November — the weakest pace since 2003, according to Reuters’ records — lower than the 8.8 percent the analysts expected. November retail sales growth was down from 8.6 percent in October. Fixed asset investment rose 5.9 percent from January to November, marginally higher than the 5.8 percent the economists had forecast. FAI rose 5.7 percent from January to October. [..] The weaker Chinese data in November shows that the positive impact of front-loading had begun to taper off and that downward pressure on the Chinese economy was increasing, wrote Sue Trinh, head of Asia foreign exchange strategy at RBC Capital Markets in Hong Kong. The industrial output and retail sales data released on Friday were “ugly,” she added in a Friday note.
Wages are still worth a third less in some parts of the country than a decade ago, according to a report. Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that the average worker has lost £11,800 in real earnings since 2008. The UK has suffered the worst real wage slump among leading economies, said the union organisation. The biggest losses have been in areas including the London borough of Redbridge, Epsom and Waverley in Surrey, Selby in North Yorkshire and Anglesey in north Wales, the studyfound.
Workers have suffered real wage losses ranging from just under £5,000 in the north-east to more than £20,000 in London, said the report. The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “The government has failed to tackle Britain’s cost-of-living crisis. As a result, millions of families will be worse off this Christmas than a decade ago. “While pay packets have recovered in most leading economies, wage growth in the UK is stuck in the slow lane. “Ministers need to wake up and get wages rising faster. This means cranking up the pressure on businesses to pay staff more, especially at a time when many companies are sitting on large profits.”
Theresa May‘s Brexit plan was dealt another major blow at a meeting with EU leaders on Thursday night in a disastrous turn of events that resulted in them scrapping written commitments to help her pass her deal through parliament. After arriving in Brussels with promises to help the prime minister, European leaders were left amazed when she turned up without any developed requests or ideas. The 27 heads of state and government subsequently decided to delete lines from their council conclusions saying the EU “stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” and that “the backstop does not represent a desirable outcome for the union”.
The key paragraphs appeared in leaked earlier drafts on the conclusions and their absence leaves a barebones statement that does the bare minimum to help the prime minister. The limited assurances provided in the statement are extremely unlikely to placate Ms May’s MPs, who have said they want major changes to the agreement. Accounts of the meeting suggest the prime minister’s speech, in which she called for help to get the agreement “over the line”, was repeatedly interrupted by Angela Merkel asking her what she actually wanted from them. Senior UK government officials admitted that the prime minister did not bring any documented proposals with her to the meeting. The approach puzzled EU diplomats, who for days before the conference had said they needed to see what proposals Ms May had come up with before they could respond to her request for aid.
Jeremy Corbyn will seek to increase pressure on Theresa May in parliament next week in a bid to prevent the Tories running down the clock on Brexit. As the prime minister urged EU leaders to offer fresh concessions in Brussels on Thursday, senior Labour sources stressed the party was determined to “turn up the heat” at home. May’s spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that “there will be no meaningful vote before Christmas”, while the prime minister negotiates with her EU counterparts. But Labour fears May will only be able to win cosmetic changes to the backstop – and that she will use the ongoing talks as an excuse to avoid testing the will of parliament.
“There must be no more dither and delay, or attempts to run down the clock in an attempt to deny parliament alternative options,” Corbyn said on Thursday. “People and businesses need certainty. The prime minister should put her deal before parliament next week in our country’s interest,” he said, adding that there was “no time to waste”. The Labour leader has held meetings with the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, who has been pressing for the party to table a motion of no confidence in the government before parliament rises for a Christmas break next Thursday. That option has not been ruled out – depending on the reaction of Conservative backbenchers and the DUP when May reports back to MPs from the European council meeting on Monday.
But the party is also studying alternative, less drastic options, including tabling an urgent question on the government’s no-deal preparations; and demanding a three-hour emergency debate to allow parliament to set out its expectations for the latest negotiations over the backstop. It could also demand a full parliamentary debate of regulations readying the financial services sector for a no-deal Brexit, which are currently due to be considered in a committee. “Essentially we can throw the parliamentary kitchen sink at them,” said another senior Labour source, “with all the trimmings”. Some shadow ministers are more sceptical about calling a no-confidence vote early, fearing it would only unite the Conservatives behind May. One told the Guardian: “We’ve got to wait until January now.”
For two years, the British government has been negotiating the terms of its withdrawal with the European Commission, and now Prime Minister Theresa May is unable to secure a majority for that deal in parliament. The more chaotic things get in London, the more tempting it will become for the country to exit from Brexit through the emergency door the European Court of Justice unlocked on Monday when it declared that the British government could unilaterally move to revoke Article 50. A second referendum that would provide democratic legitimacy to that step seems increasingly likely. But such a move could potentially have graver consequences than an orderly Brexit — both for Britain and the EU.
There’s a good and perhaps even compelling argument for a second referendum: Now that a deal with the EU is on the table, voters would at least finally know what it is they were voting on. In the first referendum in June 2016, that wasn’t even remotely the case. But the campaign ahead of a second referendum would in all likelihood be even more xenophobic and hate-filled than the first. That could in turn produce a British society that is even more divided than it already is today, particularly given that recent polls show the pro-EU camp winning a second referendum by a narrow margin. This time, however, it is likely that the losers would be even angrier and more disappointed than the losers of the first vote.
Many would feel that their long-desired Brexit had been stolen from them and would turn away from democracy in frustration. It would provide a significant boost to anti-European right-wing populists. And this would lead to problem No. 2: Such an outcome would also be uncomfortable for the rest of the EU. The European bloc is currently desperately seeking to find common ground on important policy areas including economic and monetary union, defense and immigration. A Britain that is hopelessly divided on domestic policy could cause significant damage were it still an EU member state.
I’m wondering how much of any Green New Deal -there are quite a few- depends on investing billions in allowing energy consumption to stay at equal levels, just with a shift from fossil to something else. How many people propose a 10-20-50% cut in overall energy consumption?
[..] the latest Piketty manifesto retains a hybrid parliamentary chamber, but forfeits any Europeanist ambition – all proposals for debt pooling, risk sharing and fiscal transfers have been dropped. Instead, it suggests that national governments agree to raise €800bn (or 4% of eurozone GDP) through a harmonised corporate tax rate of 37%, an increased income tax rate for the top 1%, a new wealth tax for those with more than €1m in assets, and a C02 emissions tax of €30 per tonne. This money would then be spent within each nation-state that collected it – with next to no transfers across countries. But, if national money is to be raised and spent domestically, what is the point of another supranational parliamentary chamber?
Europe is weighed down by overgrown, quasi-insolvent banks, fiscally stressed states, irate German savers crushed by negative interest rates, and whole populations immersed in permanent depression: these are all symptoms of a decade-long financial crisis that has produced a mountain of savings sitting alongside a mountain of debts. The intention of taxing the rich and the polluters to fund innovation, migrants and the green transition is admirable. But it is insufficient to tackle Europe’s particular crisis. What Europe needs is a Green New Deal – this is what Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 – which I co-founded – and our European Spring alliance will be taking to voters in the European parliament elections next summer.
The great advantage of our Green New Deal is that we are taking a leaf out of US President Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal in the 1930s: our idea is to create €500bn every year in the green transition across Europe, without a euro in new taxes. Here’s how it would work: the European Investment Bank (EIB) issues bonds of that value with the ECB standing by, ready to purchase as many of them as necessary in the secondary markets. The EIB bonds will undoubtedly sell like hot cakes in a market desperate for a safe asset. Thus, the excess liquidity that keeps interest rates negative, crushing German pension funds, is soaked up and the Green New Deal is fully funded. Once hope in a Europe of shared, green prosperity is restored, it will be possible to have the necessary debate on new pan-European taxes on C02, the rich, big tech and so on – as well as settling the democratic constitution Europe deserves.
Thanks to the massive accumulation of wealth by a 1% skilled at gaming the system, the roots of a crisis that didn’t end with the end of the Great Recession have spread across the planet, while the dividing line between the “have-nots” and the “have-a-lots” only sharpened and widened. Though the media hasn’t been paying much attention to the resulting inequality, the statistics (when you see them) on that ever-widening wealth gap are mind-boggling. According to Inequality.org, for instance, those with at least $30 million in wealth globally had the fastest growth rate of any group between 2016 and 2017. The size of that club rose by 25.5% during those years, to 174,800 members.
Or if you really want to grasp what’s been happening, consider that, between 2009 and 2017, the number of billionaires whose combined wealth was greater than that of the world’s poorest 50% fell from 380 to just eight. And by the way, despite claims by the president that every other country is screwing America, the U.S. leads the pack when it comes to the growth of inequality. As Inequality.org notes, it has “much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1% than any other country.” That, in part, is due to an institution many in the U.S. normally pay little attention to: the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve. It helped spark that increase in wealth disparity domestically and globally by adopting a post-crisis monetary policy in which electronically fabricated money (via a program called quantitative easing, or QE) was offered to banks and corporations at significantly cheaper rates than to ordinary Americans.
[..] In our post-2008 era, people have witnessed trillions of dollars flowing into bank bailouts and other financial subsidies, not just from governments but from the world’s major central banks. Theoretically, private banks, as a result, would have more money and pay less interest to get it. They would then lend that money to Main Street. Businesses, big and small, would tap into those funds and, in turn, produce real economic growth through expansion, hiring sprees, and wage increases. People would then have more dollars in their pockets and, feeling more financially secure, would spend that money driving the economy to new heights — and all, of course, would then be well.
Manhattan-based federal prosecutors are investigating whether some of the $107 million in donations to then President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural committee were misspent, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said the investigation arose in part from the slew of materials seized in April raids on Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, by federal prosecutors. Cohen on Wednesday was sentenced to three years in prison on charges that came in part from those April raids on his office and residence. The criminal probe is also looking into whether some of the committee’s top spenders traded money for access to the incoming Trump administration, as well as “policy concessions or to influence official administration positions,” sources told the Journal.
“Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws,” the newspaper explained. “Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.” Federal prosecutors have reportedly also questioned Richard Gates — the ex-partner of onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — who pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and lying charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller. Gates, who has cooperated with investigators in Mueller’s probe of Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. election, served as deputy chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee.
Maria Butina’s only crime is that she is Russian, legal analysts told RT, attacking the US justice system for keeping her in solitary confinement until she admitted guilt to at least one of the many charges brought against her. “This is an utter and total miscarriage of justice,” retired CIA agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou told RT after Butina pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to register with the Justice Department as an agent of the Russian government. “You can see clearly, this is not about justice, this is not about criminal activity. This is about making a political point. This is about identifying Russia and Russians as the enemy of the United States, and punishing them.”
“We arrested this young woman because we need dirt on Trump and Russia. And she is Russian, political and pro-Trump,” US legal analyst Jennifer Breedon explained. “We are seeing [the Foreign Agents Registration Act – FARA] being used specifically as it relates to undermining the Donald Trump administration or conservatives really with anybody involved in Russia, friends with Russia or contacts.” The Russian gun activist was subjected to “unbearable pressure” from US authorities, by being kept in solitary confinement in the Alexandria detention center outside Washington, and only allowed to take an hour-long break from her “cage” per day. John Kiriakou believes this borderline “torture” could have forced her to admit to a crime she might never even have committed.
“This woman is not an enemy combatant. So, unless news surfaces that there was some kind of skirmish or issue within the jail… it seems to go against US policy and laws as to who is forced into solitary confinement, just based solely on the charges that were lodged against her,” Breedon said. “You are kept in a steel cage 23 hours a day. And for what? Because she failed to fill out a form to send to the Justice Department?” Kiriakou pondered. “It is no wonder people in solitary confinement in the United States commit suicide every day.”
Nothing to do with defying Trump, he wants this. Imagine he would say this, and then be held responsible for $400 oil. It’s much easier to speak as senator than as president. And many of these senators have politically supported Saudi for decades. They’re merely cleaning up their own mess.
The Senate has passed a resolution saying Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Defying Donald Trump’s desire to maintain close relations with Saudi Arabia including lucrative weapons deals, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker proposed the legislation, which has been backed by at least 10 of his fellow Republicans. The CIA is reported to have assessed with “high confidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed was involved in the order to kill Mr Khashoggi, partly based on the judgement that as the country’s de facto ruler he would have had to have known. Saudi authorities have blamed a “rogue” team of operatives for the killing and have repeatedly denied any involvement by the crown prince.
Mr Trump and a number of administration officials have sought to play down the CIA assessment, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying this week that it has been reported “inaccurately”. The joint resolution calls for the Saudi government to ensure “appropriate accountability” for all those responsible for Mr Khashoggi’s death, calls on Riyadh to release Saudi women’s rights activists and encourages the kingdom to increase efforts to enact economic and social reforms. However, it is unclear if the House of Representatives will consider voting on the measure.
Even as corporate executives engage in a spree of share buybacks to spur stock prices higher, many have eschewed adding to their employee’s pension pots. That’s according to Danielle DiMartino Booth of Quill Intelligence who picked out a few of the more standout firms whose “enthusiasm for funding pensions was subpar compared to buybacks.” She lined up five of the worst offenders to illustrate that in the pursuit of higher stock prices and shareholder value corporations often left other pressing needs to languish. They include the likes of Boeing, General Electric and Lockheed Martin. In the chart below, the amount of buybacks and pension contributions between 2009 and 2017 for the five companies is compared alongside their respective pension funding ratio, which represents how much the company can deliver on its future pension obligations as a percentage of the plan’s total assets.
One case Booth highlights in the chart is American Airlines. Though, the airline carried around $18.3 billion of pension obligations, its pension system was only 62% funded even after a nine-year bull market. Market participants have cited the prevalence of share repurchases to the stock market’s searing rise in the past few years, even as equities retreated from their record highs in October. A report by Goldman Sachs said share buybacks could hit a record $1 trillion this year, nearly doubling last year’s haul.
Since Donald Trump won the presidency, he has presided over both one the most tumultuous political times in recent memory, as well as the best economy the country has seen since well before the financial crisis. Consumer and small business confidence is up — but so are both the national debt and budget deficit. The chart below, using mostly data compiled by Goldman Sachs, quantifies just how much things changed from the days just before the election in November 2016 through September 2018. Of course, the stock market has weakened in October, which has been its historically most volatile month. The chart doesn’t include GDP, which has averaged 2.72 percent since Trump took over, compared to the 1.6 percent gain in 2016. But the numbers provide a solid overview of how conditions have evolved during the 45th president’s time in office.
Radio host Dr. Dave Janda says everybody in Washington knows the next big crash is right around the corner. It’s been 10 years since the Fed reflated the last meltdown, and Dr. Janda says President Trump is already blaming the Federal Reserve for killing the economy that his policies revived. Dr. Janda explains, “President Trump has been pointing the finger at the Fed. He’s been pointing the finger at the Fed, and that is exactly where he should be pointing. The globalist syndicate’s tentacle is the central banking system, and, in particular, in the United States, the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is one of the entities that is directly responsible for this financial mess our country is currently in.
You would never see Obama or the Bushes, or Bill Clinton, point at the Fed and say what Trump has said. Trump said, ‘I think the Fed has gone crazy. I think the Fed is making a mistake. They’re so tight with interest rates. I think the Fed has gone crazy.’ Just the other day, Trump said, ‘My biggest threat is the Fed. . . . The Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s too independent.’ Now, wait a minute, listen to that. It’s too independent. When was the last time a president of the United States said the Fed was too independent? . . . . Banking groups, that is their priority. So, when the President says the Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s my biggest enemy, and too independent, what he is saying is they are looking out for their own interests.
They are not looking out for the interests of our country or for you or for me or for any American, and he’s right. I don’t know of any other president that has had the guts to say this.” So, what happens next? Dr. Janda says, “Trump knew this thing was rigged to blow, the economy, the financial system, and when the right time came, he would start pointing the finger at the globalists, the Fed. I believe that’s where we are right now.”
The battle for control of the Senate is looking worse and worse for Democrats, who just a month ago saw a path to the majority but now increasingly look like they could lose more seats and have a smaller minority next year. Republicans have seen a bump in the polls in several key races since Labor Day. They believe momentum has flipped to their party since the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh polarized the electorate, hurting Democrats running for reelection in states where President Trump is popular. Two states where Democrats had hopes of pulling major upsets — Texas and Tennessee — have moved in favor of Republicans.
Races in Nevada and Arizona, two other states where Democrats had hoped to make gains, remain tight, but Republicans feel more confident about their candidates. Meanwhile, the tide has moved against Democratic candidates in a couple of states that Trump won by double digits in 2016. In North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has fallen behind by double digits. And in Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D), who seemed poised for victory a month ago, has seen his race tighten amid attacks by the president. There is some good news for Democrats in the polls. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat to back Kavanaugh’s confirmation, has maintained a healthy average lead of 9 points in the polls, despite running in a state that Trump won by a whopping 42 points in 2016.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that he will make important statements on Tuesday at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting regarding the investigation on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fate, who was admittedly killed by Saudi authorities. “We seek justice and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth. This is not an ordinary case. I will make statements on Tuesday at the AK Party parliamentary group meeting. The incident will be revealed entirely,” said Erdogan at a ceremony in Istanbul.
His comments are likely to heighten speculation that Turkey may be about to reveal some of the results of its investigations into the killing of the dissident journalist [..] Turkish newspapers have released information detailing a 15-member team that purportedly arrived in Istanbul to confront Khashoggi at the consulate. “Why did these 15 people come here (to Istanbul), why were 18 people arrested (in Saudi Arabia)? These need to be explained in detail,” Erdogan said. Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor on Saturday said 18 people were arrested in connection with the incident. Turkish sources say the authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate.
“If the incident transpired as it has been told across the world, there is no way Saudi officials can cover this up by saying a team from Saudi Arabia came and two or three men among them murdered him,” Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of the AK Party, told broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview. “A crime committed in a consulate cannot be carried out without the knowledge of the senior state officials of that country. If this crime was really carried out as has been said, if the evidence really leads to that conclusion, the situation will be dire and this must have very serious legal consequences.”
Germany will not export arms to Saudi Arabia while the current uncertainty over the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi persists, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday. Campaigning for her party in a regional election, Merkel repeated to a news conference her earlier condemnation of Khashoggi’s killing, which Saudi Arabia admitted had taken place inside its consulate in Istanbul. “First, we condemn this act in the strongest terms,” she said. “Second, there is an urgent need to clarify what happened – we are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account … As far as arms exports are concerned, those can’t take place in the current circumstances.”
Germany wants other European Union member states to follow its example in stopping arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as uncertainty remains over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday. Riyadh has given multiple and conflicting accounts on what led to Khashoggi’s death on Oct. 2 at its consulate in Istanbul. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called the killing a “huge and grave mistake” but sought to shield Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince. Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that Germany would stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as the uncertainty around Khashoggi’s death persisted.
Altmaier, a close ally of Merkel, said Riyadh’s explanations on the case so far had not been satisfactory. “The government is in agreement that we will not approve further arms exports for the moment because we want to know what happened,” Altmaier told ZDF broadcaster. So far this year the German government had approved weapons exports worth more than 400 million euros ($462 million) to Saudi Arabia, making it the second-biggest recipient of German arms after Algeria. [..] Altmaier said other EU states should stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia in order to increase pressure on Riyadh over the Khashoggi case. “For me it would be important that we come to a joint European stance,” Altmaier said.
Bavaria’s state election last weekend proved painful for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In yet another election next week, Ms. Merkel is expected to see further discomfiture. The German leader could resign from her post at the December CDU party conference in December in order to take another senior European position. “Rumours are swirling in Brussels that Merkel could run for the European Commission next year”, Die Welt’s Stefanie Bolzen tells the BBC. As Jean-Claude Juncker gets ready to retire as European Commission President next year, there have been suggestions that French President Emanuel Macron is considering a run, Italy’s fierce and most popular politician in Italy’s history Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has also been asked to run, and now Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel could potentially be throwing her hat into the ring.
Fears that Italy’s banks face a black hole in their finances are expected to grow this week following a debt downgrade that could send the value of bank reserves plummeting. Despite efforts to shore up Italian banks’ reserves, a downgrade by the ratings agency Moody’s on Friday following a row between Rome and Brussels over the government’s budget could send them into freefall again. A senior government official added to the tension on Sunday by issuing a warning that Italy should not ignore the deteriorating financial situation and its effect on the country’s banks, including possible capital needs. Giancarlo Giorgetti said in a newspaper interview that a fire sale of Italian government bonds over the last five months had put huge pressure on bank reserves and could trigger a second crisis in two years.
The budget plans of Italy‘s populist government, which breach EU borrowing rules, have prompted investors to shed €67bn ($77bn) of Italian government bonds since May. The effect has been to push values down and the interest rate on government bonds, referred to as the yield, to more than three percentage points higher than safer German bonds. “The increase in the [bond yield] spread, the amount of public debt banks hold and new European Union banking rules put the industry under pressure and may generate the need to recapitalise the most fragile lenders,” said Giorgetti, who is an influential member of the far-right League, one of the two parties in Italy’s ruling coalition.
Theresa May will tell the Commons on Monday that 95% of the Brexit withdrawal agreement and its protocols are settled as she seeks to demonstrate to anxious MPs in her own party that she is making headway in the increasingly fraught divorce talks. The prime minister is expected to confirm she has resolved with the EU the future status of Gibraltar, developed a protocol around the UK’s military base in Cyprus and agreed a mechanism for resolving any future disputes with the EU.
Taking the unusual step of briefing planned remarks to the Commons in advance, May will conclude that “taking all of this together, 95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled” in talks that she has until now largely insisted on keeping secret. The prime minister is scheduled to make a statement on Monday afternoon, after intense criticism from the Tory right for appearing to have made no progress other than indicating at last week’s European summit that she was open to extending the post-Brexit transition period, prompting renewed speculation about a leadership challenge.
A clearly rattled Downing Street held two conference calls with cabinet ministers over the weekend to update them on the European summit before a cabinet discussion on Brexit on Tuesday. Concerns were raised about the transition period and time-limiting the Irish backstop. “No one is in the mood to be bounced,” said one cabinet source. May intends to show the progress made by highlighting all the specific areas of agreement already reached, including settling the divorce bill at £39bn, having an implementation period until at least the end of 2020 and recognising the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa.
Sydney’s housing market is facing the toughest conditions since the global financial crisis after auction rates slumped again at the weekend, with analysts predicting that the slowdown could get much worse in the months ahead. Australia’s biggest city saw only 44% of 567 listed properties sold at the weekend, according to Domain, the lowest preliminary clearance rate for a decade. The figure is likely to be revised down below 40%, a level of downturn not seen for a decade. The last time rates were in the 30% range was November 2008, at the peak of the global financial crisis. The two instances before that were May 2004, when New South Wales introduced vendor stamp duty, and July 1989, when interest rates were 17%.
Equally striking is the collapse in the total amount changing hands at auctions across the city, which sank to $160m at the weekend compared with $484m on the same weekend a year ago – a drop of about two-thirds. The decline in the property market, which AMP’s chief economist, Shane Oliver, thinks could fall 20% before bottoming out in 2020, has been most marked in Sydney where prices are down around 6.3% from the peak in 2017 as buyers drop out owing to tougher credit standards and falling confidence. The clearance rate in Melbourne at the weekend was below 50% on a much greater number of properties (nearly 1,000). But the dollar volume of auction sales shows a similar decline across the country, where buyers spent $453m at the weekend compared with $1.3bn the same weekend last year.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Triumph of Death 1562
Finally financial ‘markets’ go through a substantial dip, which Steve Mnuchin claims is just temporary and Donald Trump says is caused by the fact that the Fed is ‘loco’. Mnuchin may well be right, but it won’t be because he knows something you don’t.
And Trump is certainly right, but in reality the Fed has been loco for many years, so why be surprised if it acts crazy now? The reason Mnuchin and a million other ‘experts’ may be right without realizing it is that the Fed has been crazy enough to kill the financial markets.
Or at least killed what made the markets functional, and beneficial to society. And that may well be exactly what Jay Powell is trying to repair, but he may well not be aware of that either. Looked at from a ‘benign’ angle, Powell is perhaps raising rates so people can regain insight into what they’re buying.
The pre-Powell Fed pushed up asset prices (don’t let’s say ‘values’) to such heights nobody has any insight anymore into what anything is truly worth. And in what was formerly known as the financial markets that was not important, because what were formerly known as investors were making heaps of money regardless.
Surely they must all have known that this wouldn’t continue?! That it’s just a matter of timing, of knowing when it would end? Oh, but that’s not really possible, is it, without the very price discovery process the Fed successfully strangulated?
Still, there must also be tons of people left thinking the Fed can kick that can six times to the moon and back, or sixty. If only because they’ve never bothered to think about price discovery, and what role it plays in the very ‘markets’ they volunteer to spend their money in.
And along those same lines, many acknowledge housing bubbles in Sydney and Vancouver but think the US has learned its lesson a decade ago. And the loco Fed plays its role there too: mortgage rates have been ultra-low, enticing the last left batch of greater fools not mortally wounded by the last fire to jump in this time. Wolf Richter’s Case-Shiller graph says plenty in that regard:
But of course things tend back to normalcy, and it doesn’t take all the overleveraged stock- and home buyers longing for price discovery; it takes just a few to get the engine started. And then everyone will be along for the ride. So from that angle Jay Powell looks anything but crazy raising rates, we just can’t be sure if he knows what the consequences will be.
Not that it matters all that much what he does or does not know. What was formerly the market is like a pendulum swung so far out of balance that it costs ever more effort and money to keep it from moving towards equilibrium, and that process has only one possible outcome.
For mortgage rates, it looks something like this, and to make anyone able to buy any home at all higher rates will of necessity mean lower prices. You can’t, nobody can, not the Fed or the government can, keep that pendulum away from its tendency towards equilibrium forever.
For stocks it looks much the same. So why try, you’d think?! To prevent incumbents and ruling classes from being exposed as swimming naked, that’s why. They invented a way to make the entire nation swim naked, thinking they’d never be found out because the water levels were so high.
Whether yesterday’s 831-point Dow dip is temporary or not is of little interest. Much more important is that the entire asset prices situation is temporary. It doesn’t matter if the Fed pumps $1, $10, or $100 trillion into what once were markets, in the end it all comes down to how many people can pay how much money for the assets.
And since there is never an unending supply of greater fools, we know where this is going. The easy money and low rates and asset purchases at central banks and stock buybacks by companies can and will result only in more profits and more wealth for a few, and sheer endlessly less for the many.
Inequality in the US has now reached such extremities that the country’s AAA rating threatens to be taken away –as Moody’s indicated-; the government has so many people it must support financially (or let perish) that its financial position comes under pressure. Which is, again, negative for the many, for the few; they don’t care about that rating.
Yes, too many people are on some form of welfare in America. And Washington would love to throw many of them off of it. The many have no representation on Capitol Hill anymore. Just about any senator and congress(wo)man is a millionaire or certainly well-off.
How can the country get its rating back, or at least not lose it due to its increasing inequality? There seem to be two ways: let the 80 million now on welfare die by the side of the road, or provide them with jobs that allow them a fruitful life. That may sound like socialism or something, but it’s really the exact opposite.
It’s not the government’s role to give people jobs, but it is its role to make sure conditions are in place for the private sector to provide them. Trump’s ‘trade wars’ look crazy to many, but the intent is to get jobs back to the US. But there is much more.
America was once prosperous. What changed?
Here’s one thing: In what was -arguably?- America’s wealthiest time as a nation, the post-World War II period, income taxes for the richest were as high as 90% (1952: 92%); they were slowly brought down towards 70%. Only when Ronald Reagan took over in 1980 did they really fall (1982: 50%). This was ‘justified’ by lowering the highest income bracket (1982: $85,600, it had been between $200,000 and $400,000 for years).
In 1988, the top rate plunged to 28%, and the highest bracket to $29,750. Today, the top rate is 39.6% and the high bracket $400,000. In a graph, the consequences look like this:
The corporate tax rate, meanwhile, pulled this one, and don’t get started on tax havens etc.:
And that situation has led to a huge financial crisis, to the Fed going crazy and handing out trillions to the exact wrong part of society, those who already have a lot of money, and the result has been an absolute disaster, at least for the country; not so much for its elites.
But as even Moody’s now recognizes, you can’t run an AAA-rated country on elites alone. Despite the crazy Fed trillions, the US has achieved negative growth (imagine where it would be without):
Something must be done. Problem is, with only those millionaires in charge in the House and Senate, the likelihood of boosting income tax levels up to where they were when America was most prosperous is extremely low. And Trump’s tariffs are not on their own going to bring back the jobs; they can’t rebuild the lost infrastructure, for one thing.
Something must be done, and it’s entirely unclear what, or rather, who’s going to do it. The Democrats have nothing, or nothing but frustrated millionaires and Bernie Sanders. The GOP has only Trump. None of these people are going to vote to double their income taxes.
Much of what needs to be done will be classified as socialism, ridiculed and thrown out the window, even if the country was anything but socialist under Eisenhower and Kennedy, during its -at least economic- Golden Age.
It’s a nice puzzle, isn’t it? Well, maybe not so nice after all.
The world economy is at risk of another financial meltdown, following the failure of governments and regulators to push through all the reforms needed to protect the system from reckless behaviour, the International Monetary Fund has warned. With global debt levels well above those at the time of the last crash in 2008, the risk remains that unregulated parts of the financial system could trigger a global panic, the Washington-based lender of last resort said. Much has been done to shore up the reserves of banks in the last 10 years and to put in place more rigorous oversight of the financial sector, but “risks tend to rise during good times, such as the current period of low interest rates and subdued volatility, and those risks can always migrate to new areas”, the IMF said, adding, “supervisors must remain vigilant to these unfolding events”.
A dramatic rise in lending by the so-called shadow banks in China and the failure to impose tough restrictions on insurance companies and asset managers, which handle trillions of dollars of funds, are highlighted by the IMF as causes for concern. The growth of global banks such as JP Morgan and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to a scale beyond that seen in 2008, leading to fears that they remain “too big fail”, also registers on the IMF’s radar. The warning from the IMF Global Financial Stability report echoes similar concerns that complacency among regulators and a backlash against international agreements, especially from Donald Trump’s US administration, has undermined efforts to prepare for another downturn.
The US dollar continued to soar in value over Wednesday night, signalling the likelihood of more interest rate rises and spelling trouble for developing countries that have borrowed heavily in the greenback. With impressive service sector data published on Wednesday and strong jobs figures in the non-farm payrolls expected on Friday, the dollar hit an 11-month high against the yen and drove US treasury yields to their highest since mid-2011. The pound slipped below $1.30. Rising US bond yields indicate that the Federal Reserve, under its hawkish chairman Jerome Powell, is likely to keep raising interest rates from their current 2.25% well into 2019. They are also unfavourable for emerging markets as they tend to draw away much-needed foreign funds while pressuring local currencies.
The Australian dollar, which is seen as a proxy for emerging Asian markets, slipped below US$0.71 and seems set to dip further. The Indian rupee fell to an all-time low against the dollar on Thursday morning of 73.77 while the Indonesian rupiah has plunged to a 20-year low. China’s currency, which has suffered as the trade war with the US has intensified, was not immune. The offshore yuan rate reached above 6.9 to the dollar. “This is a perfect storm for the rising dollar,” said Chris Weston of the online trading firm Pepperstone in Melbourne. “Strong economic performance and the Fed seen [as] happy to take rates higher. “Lots of countries have issued dollar-denominated debt and as the dollar goes higher, debt levels are exaggerated.”
Wall Street veteran Sam Stovall is warning stock investors the longest bull market on record will end with an epic meltdown. According to the CFRA chief investment strategist, it’s a side effect of an unprecedented business cycle. “Three conditions: Very long, very high, very expensive,” Stovall said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “History would imply that be careful because now we’re likely to fall into a very deep bear market when it does finally hit with the average decline being close to 40 percent plus.” His latest thoughts came as the Dow was hitting record highs. The blue chip index is now up more than 8 percent this year. The S&P 500 is performing a tad better — up more than 9 percent for 2018.
Since the bull market began on March 9, 2009, the Dow and S&P 500 have soared more than 300 percent each. For now, Stovall doesn’t see any near-term signs that the win streak is about to end. He remains confident stocks will see a fresh string of new highs in the final months of the year. Referring to history as a guide, Stovall noted that the fourth quarter is pretty strong during midterm election years, and seasonality points to more gains. He believes it will be easy for the S&P to grab another 80 points and break above 3,000 by year-end. However, 2019 may be where the troubles begin. “A lot of the euphoria, a lot of the optimism, is already built into share prices,” he said. “How much more [in earnings] can companies deliver? Expectations are for a 22 percent gain for the entire calendar year 2018. Then it slips to a 10 percent gain in 2019. Those optimistic numbers are already built into the market.”
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has exacted a mighty toll from stock market investors this year, according to analysts from JPMorgan Chase. According to researchers led by quantitative analyst Marko Kolanovic, stocks have suffered around $1.5 trillion in losses following speeches from the Fed’s top dog. Powell has hosted three news conferences this year following meetings of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee. Kolanovic & Co. said they were followed by an average decline of 0.44 percentage point in the S&P 500. Other talks and speeches have resulted in an average fall of 0.40 percentage point, with losses coming in five of the past nine prominent speeches or Congressional testimonies he has delivered. The JPMorgan Chase chart below illustrates the moves, with testimonies represented in red and FOMC news conferences in blue, before and after the start of Powell’s comments:
To be sure, the research team acknowledges that directly attributing a market reaction to Powell’s comments is folly—in other worlds, correlation doesn’t mean causality, as former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen was known for saying—but the researchers note that there is an uncanny relationship between Fed chief’s remarks and market action. “While we acknowledge that it is not possible to attribute the market impact of each speech with certainty, simple math indicates that ~$1.5 trillion of U.S. equity market value was lost this year following these speeches,” they wrote in the Wednesday research note.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed a cloture on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh late Wednesday, paving the way for a Friday procedural vote and – if Kavanaugh clears the procedural hurdle – a final vote as early as Saturday. McConnell touched off the process late Wednesday and announced that sometime during the evening, the FBI would deliver to an anxious Senate the potentially fateful document on claims that Kavanaugh sexually abused women, according to the AP. With Republicans clinging to a razor-thin 51-49 majority and five senators — including three Republicans — still vacillating, the conservative jurist’s prospects of Senate confirmation remained in doubt and potentially dependent on the file’s contents, which are supposed to be kept secret.
“There will be plenty of time for Members to review and be briefed on this supplemental material before a Friday cloture vote. So I am filing cloture on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination this evening so the process can move forward, as I indicated earlier this week,” McConnell said. So far, no Democrat has said they will support Kavanaugh though Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) remain undecided. Meanwhile, GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) have yet to say how they will vote on Kavanaugh. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) previously said he would support Kavanaugh and absent new information from the FBI’s background investigation into several sexual misconduct allegations is expected to be a yes vote, although Flake may revised his initial contract and claim that the FBI probe was not exhaustive enough.
Republicans would need two of out of the three swing votes to support Kavanaugh if every Democrat opposes him in order to get the 50 votes needed to let Vice President Pence break a tie and confirm him.
The White House has found no corroboration of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after examining interview reports from the FBI’s latest probe into the judge’s background, according to people familiar with the matter. It was unclear whether the White House, which for weeks has raised doubts about the allegations, had completed its review of the FBI interview reports. Officials were expected to be sending the FBI report to the Senate Judiciary Committee late Wednesday. Still, the White House’s conclusions from the report are not definitive at this point in the confirmation process. Senators who will decide Mr. Kavanaugh’s fate are set to review the findings on Thursday, and some of them may draw different conclusions.
The result could leave senators in much the same position as last week—faced with two witnesses providing mutually exclusive accounts and forced to decide between them. The investigation, which concluded two days before its Friday deadline, has faced mounting criticism in recent days from Democrats who have said the probe wasn’t appropriately comprehensive. Investigators spoke to one of the three women who made accusations of sexual misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh. Raj Shah, spokesman for the White House, said in a statement early Thursday morning: “The White House has received the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s supplemental background investigation into Judge Kavanaugh, and it is being transmitted to the Senate.”
Theresa May has made a bold pledge to bring a decade of austerity to a close, as she appealed to the public over the heads of her squabbling party to back her to deliver a Brexit deal. Speaking in Birmingham on Wednesday at the end of the Conservatives’ annual conference, which was marred by repeated clashes over Europe, May cast aside the chancellor’s concerns about the health of the country’s finances and signalled Brexit would mark an end to public spending cuts. Despite widespread speculation about her future, May also made several domestic policy announcements in an attempt to show she has not been blown off course by Brexit or noisy critics led by Boris Johnson.
They include: • Lifting the cap on local authorities borrowing to build new council homes. • Setting new targets for early cancer detection as part of a new “cancer strategy”. • Freezing fuel duty for the ninth consecutive year. But her most eye-catching pledge was the promise to bring to an end the decade-long programme of spending cuts imposed after the banking bailouts. “When we’ve secured a good Brexit deal for Britain, at the spending review next year we will set out our approach for the future,” she said. “A decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off.
“There must be no return to the uncontrolled borrowing of the past. No undoing all the progress of the last eight years. No taking Britain back to square one. But the British people need to know that the end is in sight. And our message to them must be this: we get it.”
The rupee’s plunge into record-low territory this year is unlikely to slow — even if India’s central bank hikes its rate this week, according to experts carefully watching the Reserve Bank of India. Analysts largely expect India, Asia’s third-largest economy, to raise its benchmark rate by 25 basis points at its meeting this week, with more increases to come this and next year. But while an interest rate hike would normally be expected to support a currency, the rupee “is in for continued losses ahead,” according to Prakash Sakpal, VP of research at Dutch bank ING. “Even if it hikes by 25 (basis points) as expected that’s unlikely to help the currency … The RBI will have to do more, though that looks unlikely on the grounds of on-target inflation and stress in the financial sector,” he said. Sakpal predicted the central bank will merely match the three U.S. Federal Reserve rate hikes this year without giving the rupee any leeway to gain against the dollar.
Amazon’s minimum-wage increase for its hourly workers comes with a trade-off: no more monthly bonuses and stock awards. Amazon confirmed in an email to CNBC that the company is getting rid of incentive pay and stock option awards as it increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The company, however, stressed that the wage increase “more than compensates” for the loss in other benefits. “The significant increase in hourly cash wages more than compensates for the phase out of incentive pay and [restrictive stock units],” Amazon’s spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
“We can confirm that all hourly Operations and Customer Service employees will see an increase in their total compensation as a result of this announcement. In addition, because it’s no longer incentive-based, the compensation will be more immediate and predictable.” Additionally, workers affected by the change will get a chance to review the new pay structures and share any concerns they might have with the company, according to a person familiar with the matter. The confirmation follows multiple reports on Wednesday that some of Amazon’s warehouse employees say they will make less as a result of this change.
The Guardian said warehouse workers currently receive one Amazon share (worth $1,959) at the end of every year, on top of another single share reward every five years. Yahoo News noted that warehouse workers can earn up to 8 percent of their monthly income every month, which could be as much as $3,000 a year for some workers. Workers were notified of the change on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg. Amazon disclosed in its announcement on Tuesday that it is replacing the stock awards program with the minimum-wage increase because employees prefer the “predictability and immediacy of cash” compared with stock awards. The company didn’t say anything about the monthly bonuses.
Banks doing business in Estonia, which has been at the center of a money-laundering scandal involving Danske Bank, handled more than $1 trillion in cross-border flows between 2008 and 2017, according to the country’s central bank. The European Union member country of just 1.3 million people has been rocked by revelations that banks there laundered money from Russia, Moldova and Azerbaijan via non-resident bank accounts. The scandal has forced lenders in Estonia and neighboring Latvia to shut down. The data on cross-border flows, first reported by Bloomberg, suggests that the scale of the money laundering through the small Baltic country may have been larger then previously thought. The news sent Nordic banking shares sharply lower.
The central bank said that between 2008 and 2017, cross-border transactions totaled 1.1 trillion euros ($1.27 trillion). The number includes all flows, including resident and non-resident transactions, a spokesman said. Estonia’s entire economic output came to about $25 billion last year – roughly the same as that of Uganda or Nepal – suggesting that much of the money flow was not directly linked to economic activity in the country. The central bank did not say whether it considered any of the flows suspicious. Bloomberg on Wednesday reported figures from the central bank saying that Estonia handled about 900 billion euros in non-resident cross-border transactions between 2008 and 2015.
The decision was of tremendous import and was not made quickly but it was made decisively. Judge Dana Christensen ruled against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly, and stopped the trophy hunt proposed by Wyoming and Idaho, those retro redneck havens of braindead racism, industrial serfdom, and furious, moron machismo. In shutting down this corrupt, deeply cynical piece of ecological crime on the part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service targeting the Yellowstone grizzly population of 700 bears, the judge kept unerringly to existing law, and ruled narrowly to render his decision unassailable. The key point is that, by law, no delisting action may be taken on a subpopulation of a threatened or endangered species that does not consider the effects on the species as a whole.
In other words, no action can be mandated on one population that does not include all others. This ruling, while it does not prevent a hunt of the entire species should such a despicable act of depravity ever be mandated, does prevent the kind of fatal assault on bear viability that killing them piecemeal–as would have been the case had the Yellowstone hunt gone ahead–represents. Because those who back this sort of blind madness are both stupid and relentless in their twisted perversity, this decision may well be appealed, and when that appeal is lost, the same lunacy may be tested in the NCDE or Cabinet-Yaak, regardless of the dead certainty that it will fail in court. This is the kind of minds one confronts in the fight for ecological sanity.
Beyond the relief and satisfaction and, yes, sheer elation, this decision has evoked in those who care about the viability of the Griz, it is impossible to ignore the dark future that looms for this world iconic creature due directly to human inability to love and live in symbiosis with the natural world. Far greater than the threat of human depredation on grizzlies, grim as it is, is the largely ignored imminent elimination of the habitat they must have to survive. It’s not complicated: without vast, connected areas of truly wild country where all the fatally destructive apparatus of human organization is absent, the bear and all top predators will be swiftly driven to extinction. This is not news. It has been common scientific knowledge for decades. And yet the combination of the utter corruption of our Capitalist politics with obscenely complicit sham enviro outfits known in the trade as Gang Green, has prevented passage of sane, adequate, and sufficient habitat legislation.
Humanity is waging a war of terror on wildlife across the globe, according to the head of a world-leading research institute who was previously a counter-terrorism expert for the UK government. Dominic Jermey, director general of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), also spent years in Afghanistan supporting the fight against terror, until leaving his post of UK ambassador in 2017. “Coming to ZSL, I am in a front row seat on a different kind of war, this time on wildlife,” he said in an article for the Guardian. “[It is] a war with catastrophic impacts on people and animals.” “While war and terror atrocities make daily headlines, the terror being waged on wildlife slides under the radar,” said Jermey, ahead of a global summit on tackling the illegal wildlife trade in London in October.
Other leaders are urging rapid action, with Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, calling the crisis “a blight on humanity” and UK environment secretary Michael Gove saying the “massive global problem” needs the same scale of international response being taken to fight climate change. Illegal hunting and the destruction of wild habitat has resulted in the start of what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in the Earth’s four-billion-year history. Over 80% of all mammals and half of plants are thought to have been lost since the rise of human civilisation.
Wildlife crime harms both people and animals, said Jermey: “The annihilation of wildlife by organised criminal gangs is violent, bloody, corrupt and insidious. It robs communities of their resources, their opportunities and their dignity. And we are all losers as the creatures with which we share this planet are pillaged to extinction.” One hundred million sharks are killed every year, mostly for their fins, and 20,000 African elephants for their ivory, he said. Losses have been greatest in recent decades, Jermey said, with a 58% decline in wildlife since 1970: “That’s like losing the entire [human] population of Asia from the world.”