Apr 152018
 
 April 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


 

Russia Claims OPCW Manipulated Skripal Findings (AFP)
To Opt Out Of Facebook’s Tracking, I’m Going To Have To Join Facebook (Wired)
Tesla Is The Worst Car Manufacturer In The Developed World (F.)
New Lawsuit Alleges Musk Knowingly Lied About Model 3 Production (ZH)
Subprime Stages Comeback As ‘Non-Prime’ (CNBC)
247,977 Stories In The Vacant City (NYDN)
Judge Rules Exxon Can’t Stop Probe Into Whether They Lied For Decades (Ind.)
World May Hit 2ºC Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking (NC)
‘There Is No Such Thing As Past Or Future’ (G.)
Time is Elastic (Rovelli)

 

 

Curiouser. You’d think Russia doesn’t just make up an entire Swiss lab.

Russia Claims OPCW Manipulated Skripal Findings (AFP)

Moscow on Saturday accused the chemical weapons watchdog of manipulating the results of its investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian spy, saying his samples had traces of a nerve agent used by the west. Britain says former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were last month targeted with a nerve agent of the novichok family, which was developed in the Soviet Union. The attack shredded ties between Russia and Britain and led to a crisis in relations between Moscow and the west including a huge wave of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said it confirmed “the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical” without naming the substance involved.

On Saturday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, claimed the UN-linked Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had sent the Skripals’ biomedical samples to Swiss experts who found they contained traces of the nerve agent BZ, used by the west. “According to the results of the examination, the samples had traces of toxic chemical BZ and its precursors,” Lavrov said, citing what he said was “confidential information”. “Russia and the USSR never developed such chemical substances,” he said. “In this regard we are asking the OPCW why the information which reflected the conclusions of specialists from the Spiez laboratory was completely omitted from the final document.”

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Not a discussion we should leave up to Facebook. Or Congress.

To Opt Out Of Facebook’s Tracking, I’m Going To Have To Join Facebook (Wired)

Now I know what you’re thinking. What kind of person has never been on Facebook? I’d like to tell you it was all about privacy, but the truth is, I just had a bad feeling about it. You see, I went to Cambridge, so I was one of the first to get the chance to join what you insist on calling your “community.” And almost instantly, it was clear that it turned people into wankers. (Bigger wankers. This was Cambridge, after all.) If I remember correctly, in the early days everyone was desperate to have a higher friend count. Then it was obsessive tagging in photos. Yes, even in its earliest days, your system brought out the worst in people.

It’s not easy, not being on Facebook. At first, it was the parties. At a certain point, people stopped sending email invites. They just assumed you were on Facebook – and, if you weren’t, you didn’t find out. I’m 35 now, so I don’t get invited to parties, unless they’re for small children. Instead, I miss out on work, because I can’t contact people or share my articles. When you finally make journalism pivot to Facebook Groups, I’ll be completely screwed. I considered joining many times. But every time I aired the thought, I got the same reaction: “Don’t! It’s the worst!” I wasn’t sure if I remembered this correctly, so I called a few people to check. All agreed: they hate your service, but they have to use it, because everyone else does. (One person objected. She works in your London office.)

Every other social network, even Twitter, has a core of fans that genuinely wish it well. You’re the sole exception. Then I got into tech, and privacy, and data protection, and I learned that you were throttling internet freedoms in developing countries, and letting random strangers see your users’ most intimate details, so I started becoming one of those paranoid people who uses a VPN all the time, and puts a scrap of torn-off Post-It note on their laptop camera. Just like you! But you probably knew all this about me anyway. Which brings me back to my question. In your testimony to Congress, you said: “Anyone can turn off or opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not.”

But, as you should know, while that’s possible for someone on Facebook, for me, a non-Facebook user, it’s not. Your illegal trackers follow me across 30 per cent of the internet, building a “shadow profile” you store in a nonanonymised format in your “Hive” analysis database. You claim to do it “for security purposes” (let me tell you, if Facebook’s security requires you to surveil the world’s population, then you have made a desert and called it peace). But reporters – and people who used to work in your advertising team – say the information is collected to improve the friend suggestions you’ll give me in case I do ever sign up. It’s one more growth hack on a whole site of them.

What can I do to stop you? I’ve installed tracker blockers on my browser, but, since you killed the media business, a lot of my favourite sites make me disable them. And your trackers work in the apps on my phone. Unless I go full tin-foil hat (and it’s tempting), you’ve basically left me with one option. To opt out of Facebook’s tracking, I’m going to have to join Facebook. So yeah: fuck you. Because, of course, this is exactly your plan. Forcing people onto Facebook is what you’re all about.

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“..that is a terrible way to produce a consumer product, and a terrible way to generate returns for shareholders.”

Tesla Is The Worst Car Manufacturer In The Developed World (F.)

I visited my first auto plant in 1992, and have been fortunate enough to visit plants in most countries where cars are made. I have seen workers sleeping under half-finished bodies in Brazil, seen employees trying to make doors fit by using rubber hammers at a now-closed Ford facility in New Jersey and, noted, that, yes, they do have beer in the vending machines at many German auto factories. To see a rack of die castings sitting outside exposed to the weather at a facility that is, according to Google Maps, 10.7 miles away from the actual Tesla assembly facility in Fremont is just mind-boggling. Tesla is the worst car manufacturer in the developed world. Bar none. Note that I didn’t write “designer” or “marketer,” but manufacturer.

Musk had zero auto industry experience when founding Tesla and CTO J.T. Straubel—who according to Tesla’s 10-K filing personally holds Tesla’s important patents—developed a love for electric vehicles by rebuilding golf carts. It’s just astounding to me that the markets are affording a $50 billion valuation to a company that can’t perform the most basic task for which it was incorporated. Famed VW purchasing chief José Ignacio López de Arriortúa famously walked into a plant and repeatedly pointed at boxes of yet-to-be-used parts and yelled the word “capital.” When capital is tied up in byzantine manufacturing processes that stunts the development of cash flow. It’s all connected. This is why Tesla has such dire cash flow problems.

This is why I believe—sorry, Elon—Tesla is going to have to issue equity this year. My favorite automotive mantra is “quality is designed in.” That’s the most damning piece of information in the CNBC article, actually, more damning than the pictures of parts racks. Here is the quote: “Current and former employees from the company’s Fremont, Calif. and Sparks, Nevada factories blame Tesla for spending less time to vet suppliers than is typical in auto manufacturing. These people said the company failed to comprehensively test “variance specs” with some vendors before embarking on Model 3 production.”

Tesla has cut corners in building up to current production, and published reports this week indicated Tesla was alerting suppliers of an incredibly fast 19-month design-to-job one timetable on the upcoming Model Y crossover. So, it would seem corner-cutting is continuing, and that is a terrible way to produce a consumer product, and a terrible way to generate returns for shareholders.

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He better hope he wins this one.

New Lawsuit Alleges Musk Knowingly Lied About Model 3 Production (ZH)

A new securities class action lawsuit filed in late March 2018, which names Elon Musk as a defendant, alleges that the Tesla CEO knew that the Model 3 was not going to be able to be produced as the rates he claimed – and that the company was not going to be able to meet production goals due to – get this – the production lines not even being assembled. The lawsuit alleges that this didn’t prevent Elon Musk from going out and telling the investing public otherwise, hence the allegation of securities fraud. First, the allegation that Musk was told by his own employees that the Model 3 couldn’t be mass produced by the end of 2017, which was the company’s stated goal.

Then, after claiming in May 2017 that the company was “on track” to meet its mass production goal, it’s alleged the company hadn’t even finished building its production lines, clearly meaning it wasn’t “on track”. The lawsuit alleges that Musk knew the line was “way behind”. The suit alleges that the company was building Model 3’s by hand at a “pilot shop” at the same time Tesla claimed to be on track for “mass production”; it also claims that it was “evident to anyone who visited the facility” – including Elon Musk – that the line wasn’t built and that “construction workers were spending most of their shifts sitting around with nothing to do”. We also read in the lawsuit that Tesla’s Gigafactory, at the time in question, was allegedly capable of producing only one battery pack per day – and that the production of one battery pack took “two shifts” to complete.

The suit alleges that the company’s former CFO, Jason Wheeler – who is one of more than 50 key executives and VPs to have left the company over the last half decade or so – told Elon Musk personally that they wouldn’t be able to mass produce by the end of 2017. The entire lawsuit is available at this link and some of the most interesting content was first shared by critics of the company on Twitter. The drumbeat of accountability for Elon Musk continues to pound louder and louder as each day progresses, with some analysts calling for the SEC to investigate him if the company doesn’t meet its stated cash flow positive and “no capital raise” guidance for the back end of 2018.

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Got to find the last sucker.

Subprime Stages Comeback As ‘Non-Prime’ (CNBC)

They were blamed for the biggest financial disaster in a century. Subprime mortgages – home loans to borrowers with sketchy credit who put little to no skin in the game. Following the epic housing crash, they disappeared, due to strong, new regulation, and zero demand from investors who were badly burned. Barely a decade later, they’re coming back with a new name — nonprime — and, so far, some new standards. California-based Carrington Mortgage Services, a midsized lender, just announced an expansion into the space, offering loans to borrowers, “with less-than-perfect credit.” Carrington will originate and service the loans, but it will also securitize them for sale to investors.

“We believe there is actually a market today in the secondary market for people who want to buy nonprime loans that have been properly underwritten,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings. “We’re not going back to the bad old days of ninja lending, when people with no jobs, no income, and no assets were getting loans.” Sharga said Carrington will manually underwrite each loan, assessing the individual risks. But it will allow its borrowers to have FICO credit scores as low as 500. The current average for agency-backed mortgages is in the mid-700s. Borrowers can take out loans of up to $1.5 million on single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums.

They can also do cash-out refinances, where borrowers tap extra equity in their homes, up to $500,000. Recent credit events, like a foreclosure, bankruptcy or a history of late payments are acceptable. All loans, however, will not be the same for all borrowers. If a borrower is higher risk, a higher down payment will be required, and the interest rate will likely be higher. “What we’re talking about is underwriting that goes back to common sense sort of practices. If you have risk, you offset risk somewhere else,” added Sharga, while touting, “We probably are going to have the widest range of products for people with challenging credit in the marketplace.”

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It’s not about people, it’s about money. Fundamental flaw.

247,977 Stories In The Vacant City (NYDN)

There’s a hidden city in the five boroughs. Though its permanent population is zero, it is growing faster than any other neighborhood. Early numbers from the Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy Survey show the unoccupied city has ballooned by 65,406 apartments since 2014, an astonishing 35% jump in size in the three years since the last survey. Today, 247,977 units — equivalent to more than 11% of all rental apartments in New York City — sit either empty or scarcely occupied, even as many New Yorkers struggle to find an apartment they can afford. The Vacant City — let’s call it that, with a tip of the hat to the 1948 movie and old TV series “Naked City” — has tripled in 30 years.

A generation ago, there were just 72,051 apartments in the Vacant City. Back in 1987, when rents were cheap by today’s standards at a median $395 a month, the Vacant City made up less than 4% of rental apartments. Today, the median rent is $1,450, having risen twice as fast as inflation, even while the Vacant City tripled in size. The numbers just don’t add up the way conventional wisdom said they should. For years, development officials, the real estate industry and think tanks have told us that artificially low rents are holding the city back. Higher rents, the argument went, would free landlords to make a reasonable amount of money and serve as an incentive to increase the housing supply.

The new Census gleanings finally put the lie to that reasoning. We have higher prices for sure — but the only part of the city’s residential real estate that has grown is the Vacant City. More apartments are being held off the market than ever. Some remain vacant for legitimate reasons. Almost 28,000 of those unused units have been rented or sold but not yet occupied, or are awaiting a sale. Almost 80,000 are getting renovated, 9,600 tied up in court, and 12,700 vacant because the owner is ill or elderly or simply can’t be bothered. But that still leaves more than 100,000 units — 74,945 occupied temporarily or seasonally, and 27,009 held off the market for unexplained reasons.

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Shell, Exxon, they’ve all known all along. But they have lots of power.

Judge Rules Exxon Can’t Stop Probe Into Whether They Lied For Decades (Ind.)

A Massachusetts judge has ruled that ExxonMobil cannot stop a probe into whether the oil giant misled shareholders for decades about the dangers of climate change and its impact on their business. The judge, in a Friday ruling, found that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has grounds to pursue its civil investigation into the matter even though Exxon is not technically an in-resident corporation. The judgement follows after a federal judge in New York dismissed a similar lawsuit aimed at ending the climate change probe late last month. In that lawsuit, Exxon argued that Ms Healey and her New York counterpart, Eric Schneiderman, were pursuing their climate probes in bad faith. The judge dismissed the argument as “implausible”.

“For the second time this month, Exxon’s scorched earth campaign to block our investigation has been entirely rejected by the courts. In its decision today, our state’s highest court affirmed that Exxon is subject to our laws, and that our office has authority to investigate,” Ms Healey said in a statement following the decision. “Now Exxon must come forward with the truth, what it knew about climate change, when, and what it told the world. The people of Massachusetts — and people everywhere — deserve answers.” New York and Massachusetts first began their climate change probes after news reports in 2015 found that Exxon had known for years that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to combat climate change impacts, but did not reveal those concerns to shareholders or the public.

Exxon has denied that their public policies were in any way inconsistent with what their scientists’ findings that climate change poses a serious risk to its business and to the environment.

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It’s used to be 2100. Now it’s 2030.

World May Hit 2ºC Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking (NC)

In 2011, a Cornell University research team first made the groundbreaking discovery that leaking methane from the shale gas fracking boom could make burning fracked gas worse for the climate than coal. In a sobering lecture released this month, a member of that team, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University, outlined more precisely the role U.S. fracking is playing in changing the world’s climate. The most recent climate data suggests that the world is on track to cross the two degrees of warming threshold set in the Paris accord in just 10 to 15 years, says Ingraffea in a 13-minute lecture titled “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken,” which was posted online on April 4.

That’s if American energy policy follows the track predicted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which expects 1 million natural gas wells will be producing gas in the U.S. in 2050, up from roughly 100,000 today. An average global temperature increase of 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) will bring catastrophic changes — even as compared against a change of 1.5° C (2.7° F). “Heat waves would last around a third longer, rain storms would be about a third more intense, the increase in sea level would be approximately that much higher and the percentage of tropical coral reefs at risk of severe degradation would be roughly that much greater,” with just that half-degree difference, NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained in a 2016 post about climate change.

A draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was leaked this January, concludes that it’s “extremely unlikely” that the world will keep to a 1.5° change, estimating that the world will cross that threshold in roughly 20 years, somewhat slower than Ingraffea’s presentation concludes.

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Hawking’s successor.

‘There Is No Such Thing As Past Or Future’ (G.)

Rovelli’s work as a physicist, in crude terms, occupies the large space left by Einstein on the one hand, and the development of quantum theory on the other. If the theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous, quantum theory describes a world in which discrete quantities of energy interact. In Rovelli’s words, “quantum mechanics cannot deal with the curvature of spacetime, and general relativity cannot account for quanta”. Both theories are successful; but their apparent incompatibility is an open problem, and one of the current tasks of theoretical physics is to attempt to construct a conceptual framework in which they both work.

Rovelli’s field of loop theory, or loop quantum gravity, offers a possible answer to the problem, in which spacetime itself is understood to be granular, a fine structure woven from loops. String theory offers another, different route towards solving the problem. When I ask him what he thinks about the possibility that his loop quantum gravity work may be wrong, he gently explains that being wrong isn’t the point; being part of the conversation is the point. And anyway, “If you ask who had the longest and most striking list of results it’s Einstein without any doubt. But if you ask who is the scientist who made most mistakes, it’s still Einstein.”

How does time fit in to his work? Time, Einstein long ago showed, is relative – time passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object, for example. In this relative world, an absolute “now” is more or less meaningless. Time, then, is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us. Time is, in Rovelli’s words, “part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space”. For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorising, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. His theories ask us to accept the notion that time is merely a function of our “blurred” human perception.

We see the world only through a glass, darkly; we are watching Plato’s shadow-play in the cave. According to Rovelli, our undeniable experience of time is inextricably linked to the way heat behaves. In The Order of Time, he asks why can we know only the past, and not the future? The key, he suggests, is the one-directional flow of heat from warmer objects to colder ones. An ice cube dropped into a hot cup of coffee cools the coffee. But the process is not reversible: it is a one-way street, as demonstrated by the second law of thermodynamics. Time is also, as we experience it, a one-way street. He explains it in relation to the concept of entropy – the measure of the disordering of things.

Entropy was lower in the past. Entropy is higher in the future – there is more disorder, there are more possibilities. The pack of cards of the future is shuffled and uncertain, unlike the ordered and neatly arranged pack of cards of the past. But entropy, heat, past and future are qualities that belong not to the fundamental grammar of the world but to our superficial observation of it. “If I observe the microscopic state of things,” writes Rovelli, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’.”

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Extract from Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time.

Why do things fall? Because “..the movement of things inclines naturally towards where time passes more slowly..”

Time is Elastic (Rovelli)

Reality is often very different from what it seems. The Earth appears to be flat but is in fact spherical. The sun seems to revolve in the sky when it is really we who are spinning. Neither is time what it seems to be. Let’s begin with a simple fact: time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. The difference is small but can be measured with precision timepieces that can be bought today for a few thousand pounds. This slowing down can be detected between levels just a few centimetres apart: a clock placed on the floor runs a little more slowly than one on a table. It is not just the clocks that slow down: lower down, all processes are slower. Two friends separate, with one of them living in the plains and the other going to live in the mountains.

They meet up again years later: the one who has stayed down has lived less, aged less, the mechanism of his cuckoo clock has oscillated fewer times. He has had less time to do things, his plants have grown less, his thoughts have had less time to unfold … Lower down, there is simply less time than at altitude. Einstein understood this slowing down of time a century before we had clocks precise enough to measure it. He imagined that the sun and the Earth each modified the space and time that surrounded them, just as a body immersed in water displaces the water around it. This modification of the structure of time influences in turn the movement of bodies, causing them to “fall” towards each other.

What does it mean, this “modification of the structure of time”? It means precisely the slowing down of time described above: a mass slows down time around itself. The Earth is a large mass and slows down time in its vicinity. It does so more in the plains and less in the mountains, because the plains are closer to it. This is why the friend who stays at sea level ages more slowly. If things fall, it is due to this slowing down of time. Where time passes uniformly, in interplanetary space, things do not fall. They float. Here on the surface of our planet, on the other hand, the movement of things inclines naturally towards where time passes more slowly, as when we run down the beach into the sea and the resistance of the water on our legs makes us fall headfirst into the waves. Things fall downwards because, down there, time is slowed by the Earth.

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Apr 102018
 
 April 10, 2018  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Acme Storm over Manhattan 1950

 

Trump Blasts “Disgraceful” FBI Raid Of Lawyer’s Office (ZH)
Xi Vows To Further Open China Economy As US Trade Spat Simmers (AFP)
Global Debt Jumped to Record $237 Trillion Last Year
US Deficit to Surpass $1 Trillion Two Years Ahead of Estimates – CBO (BBG)
Global Trade Is Broken, And Trump Is Sparking The Crisis Needed (Morici)
Russian Firms And Rouble Hit Heavily By Trump Sanctions (G.)
Bitcoin, the Biggest Bubble in History, Is Popping – BofA (BBG)
Bots, Good Or Bad, Dominate Twitter Conversation (AFP)
Black Lives Matter Facebook Page With 700,000 Followers Exposed As Fake (G.)
10 New Zealanders Download App On Facebook, Expose 63,714 Friends (G.)
Your Facebook Data Is Only Worth $5.20 On The Dark Web (MW)
Jerome Is The New Janet: Same Old Keynesian Jabberwocky (Stockman)
Yulia Skripal Discharged From Hospital (G.)
No Trace Of Chemical Weapons In Douma, Photos Are Fake – Russia (RT)
“Weapons Of Mass Destruction,” And All (Kunstler)
In 2020, German Society Will Start Collapsing (GEFIRA)
Fishing Boat Caught With Illegal 18-Mile-Long Nets (Ind.)

 

 

“..the fact that the FBI likely seized privileged material between the president and his lawyer is certainly troubling.”

Or is it just a promotion campaign for Comey’s book tour?

Trump Blasts “Disgraceful” FBI Raid Of Lawyer’s Office (ZH)

Update II: As many probably suspected, Trump attorney Michael Cohen is under investigation for possible fraud and campaign finance violations, the Washington Post reported. The FBI has seized documents – including emails, tax documents and other records – related to Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Meanwhile, President Trump has stepped up to defend his longtime personal attorney, calling the raid “a whole new level of unfairness” and going as far to say it was an “attack on our country, on what we stand for before heading into a meeting with top military leaders.” He also described the special counsel’s team as “the most conflicted group of people I’ve ever met” and said the raid was “a disgraceful situation.”

Trump added that the raid happened after Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein – who is supervising the Mueller probe – approved a referral that Mueller brought to the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Jeff Sessions also came under fire as the president bashed him once again for recusing himself from the Mueller probe. Trump also exclaimed that “no one is looking at the other side” referring to Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails. “I have this witch hunt constantly going on,” he said. Of course, Trump has every reason to defend Cohen. As Trump’s longtime lawyer, Cohen knows where the bodies are buried. And the fact that the FBI likely seized privileged material between the president and his lawyer is certainly troubling.

Update: Michael Cohen’s lawyer says the FBI seized privileged communications between Cohen and his clients – a group that notably includes President Trump. And thus, we have what could quite possibly be an ulterior motive for the search. While initial reports suggested the raid on Cohen’s home wasn’t related to the Mueller probe, CBS is reporting that it’s unclear whether the raid was in relation to Stormy Daniels, the Mueller probe or something else. The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen’s office in Rockefeller Center was searched along with his home and hotel room. The search was executed by the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office which is carrying out an independent investigation in coordination with Mueller. Cohen has of course already turned over his emails to the special counsel.

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For now it’s just words. But his tone could have been different.

Xi Vows To Further Open China Economy As US Trade Spat Simmers (AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Tuesday to lower car tariffs this year and take other steps to further open the world’s number two economy, indirectly addressing major complaints by the United States in a simmering trade row. Promising a “new phase of opening up”, Xi told an economic forum on the southern island of Hainan that Beijing “does not seek a trade surplus” and hopes to increase imports. He said China will take measures to liberalise automobile investment, significantly reduce tariffs on cars this year and protect intellectual property – all areas that have been high on the list of demands by Washington. “Economic globalisation is an irreversible trend of the time,” Xi told the Boao Forum for Asia.

“The door of China’s opening up will not close, it will only open wider and wider.” Xi pushed measures in areas that have been high on the list of US President Donald Trump’s ire at China. “When a car is sent to the United States from China, there is a Tariff to be paid of 2.5%. When a car is sent to China from the United States, there is a Tariff to be paid of 25%,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Does that sound like free or fair trade. No, it sounds like STUPID TRADE – going on for years!” Without directly responding to Trump, Xi promised China would lower import tariffs for vehicles and other products, but he gave no details or an exact date for taking the measures.

[..] Xi also pledged specific measures to address IP protection. “This year, we will reorganise the State Intellectual Property Office to strengthen law enforcement,” he told the forum, an Asian version of the World Economic Forum, which draws global leaders to its annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. “We encourage Chinese and foreign companies to carry out normal technical exchanges and cooperation to protect the legitimate intellectual property rights of foreign-funded enterprises in China,” he said.

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This will be important: “Ireland and Italy are the only major countries where household debt as a percentage of GDP is below 50%.

Global Debt Jumped to Record $237 Trillion Last Year

Global debt rose to a record $237 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2017, more than $70 trillion higher from a decade earlier, according to an analysis by the Institute of International Finance. Among mature markets, household debt as a percentage of GDP hit all-time highs in Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. That’s a worrying signal, with interest rates beginning to rise globally. Ireland and Italy are the only major countries where household debt as a percentage of GDP is below 50%. Still, the ratio of global debt-to-GDP fell for the fifth consecutive quarter as the world’s economic growth accelerated. The ratio is now around 317.8% of GDP, or 4 percentage points below the high in the third quarter of 2016, according to the IIF. Among emerging markets, household debt to GDP is approaching parity in South Korea at 94.6%.

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And the Fed wants to raise rates?!

US Deficit to Surpass $1 Trillion Two Years Ahead of Estimates – CBO (BBG)

The U.S. budget deficit will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, two years sooner than previously estimated, as tax cuts and spending increases signed by President Donald Trump do little to boost long-term economic growth, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Spending will exceed revenue by $804 billion in the fiscal year through September, jumping from a projected $563 billion shortfall forecast in June, the non-partisan arm of Congress said in a report Monday. In fiscal 2019, the deficit will reach $981 billion, compared with an earlier projection of $689 billion. The nation’s budget gap was only set to surpass the trillion-dollar level in fiscal 2022 under CBO’s report last June.

Deficits are growing as the Trump administration enacted a tax overhaul this year that will lower federal revenue and Congress approved a roughly $300 billion spending increase. The fresh CBO estimates could heighten investor worries as they weigh the potential impact that tariff threats between the U.S. and China may have on the world economy. The report includes new projections for the effects of the tax legislation – saying it will increase the deficit by almost $1.9 trillion over the next 11 years, when accounting for its macroeconomic effects and increased debt-service costs. In December, Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation had said the tax package would reduce federal revenue by almost $1.1 trillion over a 10-year period.

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The WTO and democracy.

Global Trade Is Broken, And Trump Is Sparking The Crisis Needed (Morici)

[..] It may be time to recognize that China is not a market economy — and is not likely to become one anytime soon. Over time, the WTO membership encompassed increasingly diverse nations. For example, Saudi Arabia joined in 2005, is not a democracy and hardly has a market economy. It’s a monarchy and dependent on oil, its government seeks to rig petroleum markets through OPEC. Nondemocratic, nonmarket economies were admitted on the premise that participation in the system would encourage reforms but as Saudi Arabia demonstrates — similar to Mexico in the 1980s — political and economic progress mostly happens when autocratic regimes are threatened by financial crisis.

For the oil kingdom, it took the U.S. shale boom and prospects of oil permanently depressed at about $65 a barrel to inspire House of Saud to select a progressive crown prince. China joined the WTO in 2002 but has hardly liberalized. Beijing is perfecting Orwellian mechanisms to monitor its citizens’ activities and squash political dissent. President Xi Jinping is enhancing the role of state-owned enterprises, extending state influence over private firms and foreign subsidiaries, and compelling the latter to form joint ventures with Chinese firms and embrace Beijing’s propaganda strategies.

China’s state capitalism clearly creates unfair advantages, imposes trade deficits and job losses on other nations, and has been the target of many unfair trade complaints in the WTO, but Beijing has invested in top flight U.S. lawyers — for example, Steptoe & Johnson. And the activities of its complex mix of state-owned and state-supported private enterprise have proven difficult to discipline under WTO rules, which were written to constrain governments operating in a market context.

From 2011 to 2017, the United States was frustrated in many dispute settlement processes covering nearly 50 industries. In 2016, the administration aides cited a long list of complaints in an effort to block the reappointment of a South Korean judge to the appellate body. Since then, Mr. Trump has been criticized — as he seems to be for every principled action — for continuing this policy by blocking the appointment of other judges to compel reform. It may be time to recognize that China is not a market economy — and is not likely to become one anytime soon. And it is not likely possible to rewrite the WTO rules just to suit its peculiar system.

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Talk is better.

Russian Firms And Rouble Hit Heavily By Trump Sanctions (G.)

The Trump administration’s new sanctions on Russian oligarchs and top government officials began to bite on Monday as the rouble suffered its biggest daily fall in more than three years, the main Russian stock index slumped and investors dumped shares in businesses controlled by Oleg Deripaska. Russia’s currency briefly dipped more than 4% before recovering slightly to trade at 60.42 to the dollar on Monday evening, down 3.8%, its biggest daily percentage fall since January 2015. The value of Deripaska’s aluminium producer Rusal halved in Hong Kong and more than 40% was wiped off the value of his London-listed EN+ as investors took fright at the potential impact.

Shares in Rusal and EN+ had already fallen sharply on Friday in response to the sanctions, which were announced towards the end of trading in London. The Russian stock market also fell heavily. The main RTS index dropped 11%, affecting companies not caught by the sanctions. The price of aluminium jumped as traders worried Rusal would be excluded from supplying the market. The firm, which produces almost 6% of the world’s aluminium, said the sanctions could cause technical defaults on bank loans and some credit obligations. Both Rusal and EN+, Deripaska’s holding company, said the sanctions could be “materially adverse to the business and prospects” of the companies.

Rusal and seven other companies linked to Deripaska were the main targets when the US imposed sanctions designed to punish Vladimir Putin’s inner circle for “malign activity”, including support for Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria and interfering with the US election in 2016. Rusal sells more than 10% of its aluminium to the US.

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Not my words. But nice graph.

Bitcoin, the Biggest Bubble in History, Is Popping – BofA (BBG)

The greatest bubble in history is popping, according to Bank of America. The cryptocurrency is tracking the downfalls of the other massive asset-price bubbles in history less than one year out from its record, analysts lead by Chief Investment Strategist Michael Hartnett wrote in a note Sunday. The cryptocurrency has fallen more than 65% since peaking in December at $19,511. Bitcoin rose 2.2% to $6,750 on Monday.

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“..accounting for two-thirds of tweets linking to popular websites..”

Bots, Good Or Bad, Dominate Twitter Conversation (AFP)

Automated accounts or “bots” play a big role in disseminating information on Twitter, accounting for two-thirds of tweets linking to popular websites, a study showed Monday. The Pew Research Center report found bots were a major source for diffusing information on news, sports, entertainment and other topics. The researchers found that of all tweeted links to popular websites, 66% were shared by accounts that appeared to be automated rather than human users. While bots have gained attention due to concerns over Russian-sponsored manipulation of social media during the 2016 political campaign and for other hot-button topics, the researchers said they made no effort to distinguish between “good” or “bad” bots.

“The study does not find evidence that automated accounts currently have a liberal or conservative ‘political bias’ in their overall link-sharing behavior,” the researchers wrote. Twitter’s policy on automated accounts, last updated in November, allows bots to operate but with limitations. The policy allows for bots to “automatically broadcast helpful information” or “run creative campaigns that auto-reply to users.” But Twitter’s rules forbid automatic posts about trending topics or using automation “to attempt to influence or manipulate trending topics.” It also bans the use of multiple accounts to generate more activity.

“These findings illustrate the extent to which bots play a prominent and pervasive role in the social media environment,” says Pew researcher Aaron Smith. “Automated accounts are far from a niche phenomenon: They share a significant portion of tweeted links to even the most prominent and mainstream publications and online outlets. Since these accounts can impact the information people see on social media, it is important to have a sense their overall prevalence on social media.”

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“.. upwards of $100,000 in donations, at least some of which was directed to bank accounts registered in Australia.”

One thing: Facebook could have known this.

Black Lives Matter Facebook Page With 700,000 Followers Exposed As Fake (G.)

A high-ranking Australian union official has been suspended amid reports he ran a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page that solicited donations from the movement’s supporters. CNN reports that Ian MacKay – an official with the National Union of Workers – helped set up and run a Facebook page called Black Lives Matter as well as other domain names linked to black rights. The page, which was removed by Facebook after CNN’s queries, had almost 700,000 followers – more than double the official Black Lives Matter page. MacKay – who is white – did not respond to calls or emails but denied running the page when contacted by CNN. A statement given to the Guardian by the NUW’s national secretary, Tim Kennedy, said the union had launched an investigation into the claims made in the CNN report.

He said the union had suspended “the relevant officials pending the outcome of an investigation”. “The NUW is not involved in and has not authorised any activities with reference to claims made in CNN’s story,” he said. The Guardian understands MacKay and one other NUW official has been suspended. In 2015 Mackay was appointed vice president of the NUW’s general branch and the union’s public office records state that he still holds the position. The investigation quoted sources who said the page may have garnered upwards of $100,000 in donations, at least some of which was directed to bank accounts registered in Australia.

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This happened 4 years ago! And only now Facebook is “..in the process of alerting New Zealanders..”?!

10 New Zealanders Download App On Facebook, Expose 63,714 Friends (G.)

Ten New Zealanders who downloaded an app on Facebook could have exposed up to 63,714 of their compatriots to the data mining tactics of Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has told the country’s privacy commissioner that it is in the process of alerting New Zealanders who were affected by the breach, which occurred when ten users downloaded a personality quiz app. “For New Zealand, we estimate a total of 63,724 people may have been impacted – 10 are estimated to have downloaded the quiz app with 63,714 friends possibly impacted,” said Antonia Sanda, head of communications for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, John Edwards, said he was urgently seeking further information from Facebook on how New Zealanders data was used by Cambridge Analytica, and is working closely with his counterparts in the US, UK Australia and Canada to establish the severity and ramifications of the privacy beach. “I think we have some real information deficits that I hope my colleagues in the UK and the US will uncover … I am not sure New Zealanders were ‘targeted’ but I think there is a level of complacency [in New Zealand]. And when you say we’re so far away, we’re only one click away really,” Edwards said.

Edwards deleted his own Facebook account shortly after the revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica broke, and said New Zealanders should seriously consider doing the same and then resetting their profile. “I am actually quite concerned about the drip-feed of information [from Facebook]. These events occurred four years ago. There was knowledge about Cambridge Analytica targeting tactics a good two years ago, yet we are really only seeing Facebook confront this issue now,” Edwards said.

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This, too, is Facebook. Supply and demand.

Your Facebook Data Is Only Worth $5.20 On The Dark Web (MW)

Were you impacted by Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data? An estimated 87 million Facebook users will find out Monday whether the group improperly used their data, the social-media company said. All 2.2 billion Facebook users will get see a message on Facebook called “Protecting Your Information,” that lays out which third-party apps have access to your individual Facebook profile. Whether or not you were impacted by the Cambridge Analytica incident, there’s a depressing aspect of many recent privacy violations: The most important parts of your identity can be sold online for just a few dollars.

Consumers have to spend hours of their time — and, sometimes, their own money — when they find out their driver’s license, Facebook “likes” or Social Security number have been exposed to hackers. But those who sell them are making only petty cash. That’s according to a new report from the content marketing agency Fractl, which analyzed all the fraud-related listings on three large “dark web” marketplaces — Dream, Point and Wall Street Market — over several days last month. The “dark web” is part of the internet that people can only access by using special software. To create this report, Fractl accessed the dark web through the browser Tor.

People buy other risky or illegal substances on the dark web, including drugs, pirated content like movies or music and materials that help with scams, including credit-card “skimmers.” Facebook logins can be sold for $5.20 each because they allow criminals to have access to personal data that could potentially let them hack into more of an individual’s accounts. The credentials to a PayPal account with a relatively high balance can be sold on the dark web for $247 on average, the report found. One’s entire online identity, including personal identification numbers and hacked financial accounts, can be sold for only about $1,200 on the dark web, Fractl found. That’s because so much personal information may already available to hackers, after repeated data breaches across a range of industries.

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“..fiscally incontinent government..” Great line.

Jerome Is The New Janet: Same Old Keynesian Jabberwocky (Stockman)

The election of 2016 was supposed to be the most disruptive break with the status quo in modern history, if ever. On the single most important decision of his tenure, however, the Donald has lined-up check-by-jowl with Barry and Dubya, too. That is to say, Trump’s new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, amounts to Janet Yellen in trousers and tie. In fact, you can make it a three-part composite by adding Bernanke with a full head of hair and Greenspan sans the mumble. The overarching point here is that the great problems plaguing American society – scarcity of good jobs, punk GDP growth, faltering productivity, raging wealth mal-distribution, massive indebtedness, egregious speculative bubbles, fiscally incontinent government – are overwhelmingly caused by our rogue central bank.

They are the fetid fruits of massive and sustained financial repression and falsification of the most import prices in all of capitalism – the prices of money, debt, equities and other financial assets. Moreover, the worst of it is that the Fed is overwhelmingly the province of an unelected politburo that rules by the lights of its own Keynesian groupthink and by the hypnotic power of its Big Lie. So powerful is the latter that American democracy has meekly seconded vast, open-ended power to dominate the financial markets, and therefore the warp and woof of the nation’s $19 trillion economy, to a tiny priesthood possessing neither of the usual instruments of rule.

That is to say, never before in history has a people so completely and abjectly surrendered to an occupying power – even though its ostensibly democratic government already possessed all the votes and all the guns. So it is no exaggeration to say, therefore, that the Fed is an alien state unto itself. That was powerfully symbolized most recently by the appointment of John Williams, a lifetime apparatchik at the San Francisco Fed, to the job of head satrap at the central bank’s Liberty Street outpost in the heart of Wall Street. In the scheme of things, the President of the New York Fed is #2 in the whole central banking apparatus, and as such is immensely more powerful than any Senate Committee Chairman or House Speaker. But Williams’ appointment was not reviewed or passed upon by a single elected official accountable to any voter anywhere in the US of A.

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Hard to tell what the next steps are.

Yulia Skripal Discharged From Hospital (G.)

Yulia Skripal, the daughter of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, has been discharged from hospital, according to reports. Just over one month after she and her father were found in Salisbury in Wiltshire after being poisoned with a nerve agent, the BBC reported that Skripal had left Salisbury district hospital. Skripal, 33, flew to the UK on 3 March, the day before she and her father are believed to have been poisoned by a novichok nerve agent. She released a statement on Friday to say her strength was “growing daily”. The BBC reported on Tuesday morning that Skripal had been taken to a secure location, though a hospital spokesman declined to comment on the reports. Christine Blanshard, the hospital’s deputy chief executive, and Lorna Wilkinson, the director of nursing, are to make a statement later on Tuesday morning.

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It’s the White Helmets again.

No Trace Of Chemical Weapons In Douma, Photos Are Fake – Russia (RT)

The Russian military has found no trace of chemical weapons use after searching parts of Syria’s Douma allegedly targeted by an “attack.” Photos of victims posted by the White Helmets are fake, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Experts in radiological, chemical and biological warfare, as well as medics, on Monday inspected the parts of the Eastern Ghouta city of Douma, where an alleged chemical attack supposedly took place on Saturday, the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria said in a statement. The specialists “found no traces of the use of chemical agents” after searching the sites, the statement said. The center’s medical specialists also visited a local hospital but found no patients that showed signs of chemical weapons poisoning.

“All these facts show… that no chemical weapons were used in the town of Douma, as it was claimed by the White Helmets,” the statement said, referring to the controversial “civil defense” group that was among the first to report about the alleged attack. “All the accusations brought by the White Helmets, as well as their photos… allegedly showing the victims of the chemical attack, are nothing more than a yet another piece of fake news and an attempt to disrupt the ceasefire,” the Reconciliation Center said. On Saturday, some rebel-linked groups, including the White Helmets, accused the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical attack that, allegedly, affected dozens of civilians in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma.

The reports have already provoked a wave of outrage in the West, as the US and the EU rushed to put the blame for the incident on Damascus and Moscow. US President Donald Trum hastily denounced the perceived attack as a “mindless” atrocity and a “humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever,” warning of a “big price” to be paid. Syria and Russia have dismissed the accusations and called the reports fake news, aimed at helping the extremists and at justifying potential strikes against Syrian forces. In the very early hours of Monday, Israeli fighter jets targeted Syria’s T-4 airbase in Homs province, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Israel has not commented on the strike. Earlier, a number of Israeli officials had called on the US to strike Syria as a response to the reported chemical attack.

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Like is the case with Russia, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has declared Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal destroyed.

“Weapons Of Mass Destruction,” And All (Kunstler)

[..] a joint mission of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was called in to supervise the destruction of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons, and certified it as accomplished in late 2014. Yet, poison gas incidents continued – most notoriously in 2017 when President Donald Trump responded to one with a sortie of cruise missiles against a vacant Syrian government airfield. And now another incident in the Damascus suburb of Douma has provoked Mr. Trump to tweetstormed threats of retaliatory violence, just days after he proposed a swift withdrawal from that vexing corner of the world.

Surely by now the American public has developed some immunity to claims of nefarious doings in foreign lands (“weapons of mass destruction,” and all). The operative sentence in that New York Times report is “…Syrian forces hit a suburb of Damascus with bombs that rescue workers said unleashed toxic gas.” Yeah, well, how clear is it that the toxic gas was contained in the bombs, or rather that the bombs dropped by the Syrian military blew up a chemical weapon depot controlled by anti-government Jihadis? Does that hodgepodge of maniacs show any respect for the UN, or the Geneva Convention, or any other agency of international law?

As in many previous such incidents, we don’t know who was responsible — though there is plenty of reason to believe that parties within the US establishment are against Mr. Trump’s idea of getting the hell out of that place, and might cook up a convenient reason to prevent it. Lastly, how is it in Bashar al-Assad’s interests to provoke a fresh international uproar against him and his regime? I’d say it is not the least in his interest, since he is on the verge of putting an end to the awful conflict. He may not be a model of rectitude by Western standards, but he’s not a mental defective. And he has very able Russian support advising him in what has been so far a long and difficult effort to prevent his state from failing — or being failed for him.

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Germany, Japan, China.

In 2020, German Society Will Start Collapsing (GEFIRA)

The next crisis is just a couple of years away, and Germany will be its largest victim. Economies grow, driven by capital and labour. The ECB monetary policy is currently providing the German economy with enough funds, but the country is experiencing a catastrophic lack of youth, and its ageing labour force is not being replaced as a result of which workforce is already in short supply. Since the German population is declining at a staggering pace, before the end of the century there will only be 22 million indigenous Germans left. Currently the working population has already begun to shrink. This drop is still moderate compared to what will come after 2020.

The disappearing of the nation that has just begun will have catastrophic consequences. The German government recorded a large budget surplus last year, a sign that the authorities are not willing or able to invest in their own country. Germany lacks health care professionals, road construction workers and teachers, but allocating more tax money to this sector makes no sense because there are simply no people available. For that reason road construction sites have come to a standstill and road maintenance is postponed. In order to find consumers and labourers, the German industry is investing in new factories abroad.

In the past, the German economy was able to attract employees from Southern, Eastern and Central Europe, but at present the demographic situation in states such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland – which have long provided Germany with workforce – has worsened, so for all practical purposes these sources of labour have all but dried out. Poland for instance has lost a large number of young people to the West European labour market and the loss has not been made good because of extremely low fertility.The financial sector depends on a growing economy, but – apart from periods of temporary increase – there is no significant growth, and banks have to unwind their positions by selling their assets and returning cash to their clients. When the ageing population tries to sell its investments – stocks, obligations or companies – after 2020 they will find a declining working age population that is willing and able to buy these assets. It is already difficult for German business owners to find successors.

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Tragic species, mankind.

Fishing Boat Caught With Illegal 18-Mile-Long Nets (Ind.)

A fishing ship carrying 600 illegal nets stretching up to 18 miles has been seized after it escaped Chinese authorities, while using the flags of eight different countries to evade capture. The vessel, STS-50, had targeted a cod species called Antarctic toothfish that plays an important role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, according to Indonesia‘s fisheries ministry. Its hundreds of gillnets had walls of fine mesh and could expand to a distance of 18 miles. Gillnetting has been banned in Antarctic waters since 2006 and is described by Australia as posing a “huge risk to almost all marine life, including marine mammals due to [its] indiscriminate nature”.

The use of the nets also harm seabirds including endangered albatrosses, the country’s environment department said on its website in 2011. Indonesia was acting on a request from Interpol when it seized the officially stateless craft. It had eluded authorities by flying eight different flags at different times, including those of Sierra Leone, Togo, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Micronesia and Namibia, the ministry said in a statement. Interpol contacted Indonesia last week with a request to investigate the vessel, fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti said in the statement. “Navy ship Simeuleu conducted a ‘stop, investigate and detain’ operation on Friday and successfully seized the vessel,” she said.

The STS-50 had previously been detained by China, but escaped and was caught in the port of Maputo in Mozambique before fleeing again, Ms Pudjiastuti said. Prior to its capture off the Indonesian island of Weh in the northwestern province of Aceh, the vessel had also operated under several other names including Sea Breeze, Andrey Dolgov, STD No. 2 and Aida, the statement said. Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows the 54m-long, 452-tonne vessel was built in 1985.

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Apr 082018
 
 April 8, 2018  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Johannes Vermeer The Concert 1663
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, the single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)
Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)
Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)
Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)
US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)
China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)
Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)
China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)
No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)
Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)
US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)
Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

 

 

At some point it will stop. But it’s just too tempting.

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)

The world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030, according to a shocking analysis that has lead to a cross-party call for action. World leaders are being warned that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top will fuel growing distrust and anger over the coming decade unless action is taken to restore the balance. An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030. Even taking the financial crash into account, and measuring their assets over a longer period, they would still hold more than half of all wealth.

Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) – up from $140tn today. Analysts suggest wealth has become concentrated at the top because of recent income inequality, higher rates of saving among the wealthy, and the accumulation of assets. The wealthy also invested a large amount of equity in businesses, stocks and other financial assets, which have handed them disproportionate benefits.

New polling by Opinium suggests that voters perceive a major problem with the influence exerted by the very wealthy. Asked to select a group that would have the most power in 2030, most (34%) said the super-rich, while 28% opted for national governments. In a sign of falling levels of trust, those surveyed said they feared the consequences of wealth inequality would be rising levels of corruption (41%) or the “super-rich enjoying unfair influence on government policy” (43%).

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Once they have new identities, nobody can ever ask them a question again.

Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)

Britain is considering offering poisoned Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia new identities and a fresh life in the United States in an attempt to protect them from further murder attempts, the Sunday Times newspaper reported. It said officials at the MI6 intelligence agency have had discussions with their counterparts in the CIA about resettling the victims poisoned last month in the English city of Salisbury. “They will be offered new identities,” it quoted an unidentified source as saying.

The paper said its sources believed Britain would want to ensure their safety by resettling them in one of the so-called “five eyes” countries, the intelligence-sharing partnership that also includes the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. “The obvious place to resettle them is America because they’re less likely to be killed there and it’s easier to protect them there under a new identity,” it quoted what it called an intelligence source familiar with the negotiations as saying. “There’s a preference for them to be resettled in a five-eyes nation because their case would have huge security implications,” the source added.

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Some are more equal than others.

Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)

Facebook secretly deleted private messages from people’s inboxes that had been sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the company has admitted. Messages disappearing from people’s inboxes was first noted by TechCrunch, who cited three sources whose inboxes had been tampered with. It is not possible for normal Facebook users to delete messages from other people’s inboxes, though Mr Zuckerberg and other executives appear to have had access to the functionality for several years. Facebook said in a statement that the self-destructing feature was added in response to the Sony Pictures hack in 2014 that compromised personal information of Sony employees, as well as copies of unreleased films.

The feature may also have been used to prevent potentially embarrassing messages from resurfacing, such as a 2004 message sent by Mr Zuckerberg that reportedly called users of the social network “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their data. “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” Facebook said. “These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.” The messages were also missing when the affected users attempted to recover them using Facebook’s “download your information” tool.

Deleting private messages from people’s inboxes without their consent may potentially go against Facebook’s terms of service, which make no mention of removing content unless it is a violation of the firm’s community standards.

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We spy on you for your own good. Trust us, we know better.

Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)

Facebook scans the links and images that people send each other on Facebook Messenger, and reads chats when they’re flagged to moderators, making sure the content abides by the company’s rules. If it doesn’t, it gets blocked or taken down. The company confirmed the practice after an interview published earlier this week with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg raised questions about Messenger’s practices and privacy. Zuckerberg told Vox’s Ezra Klein a story about receiving a phone call related to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Facebook had detected people trying to send sensational messages through the Messenger app, he said. “In that case, our systems detect what’s going on,” Zuckerberg said. “We stop those messages from going through.”

Some people reacted with concern on Twitter: Was Facebook reading messages more generally? Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over how it handles users’ private data and the revelation struck a nerve. Messenger doesn’t use the data from the scanned messages for advertising, the company said, but the policy may extend beyond what Messenger users expect. The company told Bloomberg that while Messenger conversations are private, Facebook scans them and uses the same tools to prevent abuse there that it does on the social network more generally. All content must abide by the same “community standards.” People can report posts or messages for violating those standards, which would prompt a review by the company’s “community operations” team.

Automated tools can also do the work. “For example, on Messenger, when you send a photo, our automated systems scan it using photo matching technology to detect known child exploitation imagery or when you send a link, we scan it for malware or viruses,” a Facebook Messenger spokeswoman said in a statement. “Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behavior on our platform.”

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When Facebook looks at everybody’s everything, this should come as no surprise.

US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking to create a searchable database of hundreds of thousands of news sources, journalists, bloggers and “media influencers” for the federal government, a move a DHS spokesman called “standard practice.” In a job request posted last week to the Federal Business Opportunities website, the main contracting website used by the federal government, DHS wrote that it is seeking a contractor that is able to monitor up to 290,000 global news sources, track media coverage in up to 100 languages and can “track online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media.”

The request also seeks the ability to build lists of journalists “based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role.” Data to be collected would also include an analysis of each news source’s “sentiment,” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum and circulation. The database of “top media influencers” would include “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”

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Treasuries are the only thing China can buy with its -dollar- surplus.

China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)

When China builds a trade surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. That means its purchase of US dollar assets is non-discretionary unless it revalues its currency. Every time there is some kind of dispute between China and the United States, a litany of voices emerges to warn of spiking interest rates. These warnings are wrong-headed. We went through this very same exercise in 2010. And Michael Pettis’s commentary is useful in this context. Let me quote from Michael and explain what it means in today’s context:

“If China runs a current account surplus, it must accumulate net foreign claims by exactly that amount, and the entity against which it accumulates those claims (adjusting for actions by other players within the balance of payments) ultimately must run the corresponding current account deficit. And as long as China ran the largest current account surplus ever recorded as a share of global GDP, and the US the largest current account deficit ever recorded, and especially since China also ran an additional capital account surplus (i.e. other non-PBoC agents ran a net capital inflow), it was almost impossible for the PBoC to do anything but buy US dollar assets. Given the sheer amounts, a substantial portion of these assets had inevitably to be USG bonds.“

The source of acrimony between China and the US is China’s trade surplus with the US. Now, when China builds this surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. And so, for a large portion of that dollar hoard, the Chinese have decided to store it as Treasury bonds. We don’t have to argue the merits of the Trump trade position here. It’s irrelevant regarding China’s accumulation of Treasury securities or mortgage-backed securities. Note that now it is Germany instead of China that has the largest current account surplus. And the EU has drawn Trump’s ire for this reason.

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“..growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009”

Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)

The Reserve Bank of Australia is concerned that the rapid expansion of China’s shadow banking sector over the past decade poses a threat to financial stability.The RBA estimates that China’s shadow banking sector currently stands at USD$7 trillion, or around 60% of GDP, after growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009. This means China’s shadow banking sector is far largely proportionately compared to other emerging economies, and roughly on par with developed nations such as the UK and the US. The RBA points out that shadow banking has brought benefits to the Chinese economy, chief amongst them the provision of more innovative forms of financing to companies otherwise barred from the state-dominated banking system.

Chinese households also benefited by obtaining access to investment products that provide competitive yields, in a highly regulated financial environment that provides few investment options.These benefits have also created problems, however, in the form of surging debt growth beyond the purview of regulatory scrutiny, riskier lending that is still inextricably linked to the Chinese banking system, as well as liquidity and maturity mismatches.These risks have been further exacerbated by the relative inexperience of China’s retail investors, and the perception that many financial instruments such as bank wealth management products enjoy “implicit guarantees. ”Beijing is well aware of the risks associated with exorbitant debt growth via shadow banking activity, launching a crackdown on the sector over a year ago as part of a broader deleveraging campaign.

The recently merged banking and insurance regulator has also flagged a continued focus on local government and state-owned enterprise leverage, alongside concern over the rapid increase in household borrowing.According to RBA analysts, however, Chinese regulators are still struggling to control breakneck credit growth in the economy.“Chinese regulators have been trying to mitigate these risks for some time, but it has been a challenge to design regulations that address these risks and are not easily circumvented,” said RBA officials in the Australian central bank’s March bulletin. In January China posted record growth in lending, which surged to 2.9 trillion yuan (approx. USD$458.5 billion) for a five-fold increase compared to the preceding month.

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What Xi can’t control.

China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)

The transformation of China’s economy, both in terms of GDP growth rate and poverty reduction since it started its transition to the market system in the late 1970s, has arguably been the biggest macroeconomic event of the past half-century. The model that has characterized the country’s high output growth rates has followed in the footsteps of the Asian “tigers“: first, its high growth rates of capital accumulation, driven by high investment-output ratios; second, a marked outward orientation through export-led growth policies; and third, the pursuit of industrialization (in particular the production and export of manufacturing goods), a key ingredient for fast growth and development. By almost every metric, China has advanced from economic backwater to the world’s second-largest GDP (and by some measures, is now the largest economy).

But in spite of signs of renewed economic activity in March, the country’s debt build-up has provoked increasing concern amongst Beijing’s policy makers, as it points to an underlying long-term financial fragility, particularly if trade war pressures intensify. Just last October during the Communist Party Plenary, Zhou Xiaochuan, then head of the country’s central bank, warned of a “Minsky moment“: “When there are too many pro-cyclical factors in an economy, cyclical fluctuations will be amplified. If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky Moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.”

To elaborate on Zhou’s statement, the economist Hyman Minsky described how once the debt “disease” goes metastatic, there will come a “Minsky moment” (a term originally coined by economist Paul McCulley) when euphoria gives way to concern and then to panic liquidation and credit revulsion. When that dynamic is in full flower, policy makers are powerless to avert it, no matter how much they want to bring the punchbowl back. Governor Zhou’s public warning was no doubt in response to recent rapid increase of debt which, according to Professor L. Randall Wray, “increased from 162% to 260% of GDP between 2008 and 2016,” and remains “a topic of discussion, if not deep concern.”

It may seem odd to warn of a Chinese slowdown, given the recent renewed surge in exports and the corresponding rise in both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing purchasing managing indices (both the manufacturing and service gauges remain above 50, and therefore indicative of robust economic activity). But these gains ought to be viewed against the backdrop of a more hostile external environment for Chinese manufactured goods. Discussing the recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, the New York Times reported that Trump has already provided brief exemptions to “Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea” (countries that “account for more than half of the $29 billion in steel sold to the United States in 2017”), which reinforces the idea that it is largely China that remains the major target of Trump’s economic nationalists.

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A nice thought experiment.

No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum, I borrowed this line from the Eagles’ 1976 hit “Hotel California” as an argument against Britain exiting the European Union. I told audiences up and down Britain that if they voted to leave the EU, they would end up more entangled with the EU Commission than ever before. As British Prime Minister Theresa May is finding out, disentangling a member state from the EU is an arduous and complex undertaking. But how much harder would Brexit have been had the United Kingdom adopted the euro back in 2000?

For starters, the people of Britain would never have been consulted on whether they wanted to check out of the EU. In a hypothetical eurozone Britain, the very announcement of a referendum on membership would have triggered a bank run. Given Britain’s chronic trade and current-account deficits, an exit from the euro would have necessarily caused a decline in the international value of UK bank deposits. Foreseeing this, depositors would have responded to the announcement of a referendum by immediately withdrawing their euros in cash or by wiring them to Frankfurt, Paris, New York, or elsewhere. And, foreseeing that reaction, no British prime minister, not even David Cameron, would have dared announce a Brexit referendum.

Looking further back, what would the effect of 16 years in the eurozone have been on the relative strength of Leavers and Remainers within the Conservative Party? What would Britain’s economic circumstances have been like prior to 2016 had the euro been the UK’s currency? Would the political pressure to hold the referendum in 2016 have been weaker had Britain shared the same currency as Germany, France, and Greece? As with all counterfactuals, we are treading on thin ice here. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to sketch a plausible economic past for a UK that, hypothetically, entered the eurozone in 2000.

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Time to follow the money on pot.

Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)

Legalised cannabis use may help solve America’s opioid crisis, two scientific studies have suggested. Two separate peer-reviewed studies in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found significant drops in opioid prescribing in US states that had relaxed their cannabis laws. Both studies appear to offer insights into possible ways to solve a crisis that saw 17,087 people die from prescription opioid overdoes in the US in 2016. The crisis has its origins in soaring prescription rates after a new generation of opioids were marketed in the 1980s and 1990s with inaccurate claims that they could alleviate chronic pain with minimal risk of addiction.

The new research was accompanied by an opinion piece in JAMA Internal Medicine which said both studies produced “results suggesting that cannabis legalisation may play a beneficial role in the opioid crisis”. In the first study, researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, looked at Medicare Part D prescriptions for people over the age of 65 between 2010 and 2015. It found that prescriptions for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses per year from an average of 23.08 million daily doses per year when a state instituted any medical cannabis law. When a state opened marijuana dispensaries, opioid prescriptions dropped by 3.7 million daily doses per year.

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Loophole. And a dangerous one.

US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)

Researchers in the US have been given the go-ahead to use gene-editing techniques to alter crops and plants. The decision opens the door for scientists to create a new generation of genetically altered crops without serious restriction and paves the way for approvals for similar work in Britain and the rest of Europe. The decision – by the US Department of Agriculture – has delighted scientists who had feared that limitations on the creation and growing of genetically modified crops would also be imposed on crops created using far simpler gene-editing techniques. “I think this decision by American legislators will have all sorts of benefits in the long run,” said Professor Denis Murphy of the University of South Wales.

“This is a win-win situation because agriculture for gene-editing is cheaper, faster, simpler and more precise than the genetic modification of plants, in which a gene is taken from one organism and moved to another.” The European Court of Justice indicated in January that it does not think crops created though gene-editing techniques should be regulated by the rules that govern genetically modified organisms in Europe. “At the same time, Britain’s Acre – the advisory committee on releases into the environment – also seems to be sympathetic to this position,” said Professor Huw Dylan Jones of Aberystwyth University. “It is very encouraging.”

In the wake of hostile green campaigns, Britain imposed severe restrictions on GM crops two decades ago and few have been grown. The prospect that this fate would also befall plants created by the newer and simpler technique of gene-editing worried many researchers who feared a technology at which Britain excels would be banned. These fears are now disappearing, they say. “If we have our own domestic gene-editing industry then scientists trained at our universities will have something to work on here when they qualify,” said Murphy. “At present, our young scientists have to go to work in another country if they want to continue working on the topic.”

Gene-editing could lead to the development of domestic crops particularly suited to Britain, said Dylan Jones. “Loliums and clovers that are good for grazing could be improved to make them more hardy, for example,” he said. “It is very hopeful.” Genetically modified crops are generated through the introduction of foreign DNA sequences. Gene-edited crops are created by editing an organism’s native genome. Gene-editing is more efficient, cheaper, quicker and more precise. By altering the DNA make-up of a gene the characteristics of a cell or an organism can be changed.

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I don’t like calling living creatures ‘pests’, and the tone here is a bit sensational, but the core is resistance against pesticides. We must stop poisoning nature.

Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

A pair of major agricultural pests have combined to produce a “mega-pest” that could threaten crops around the world. Losses from the original pest species, cotton bollworms and corn earworms, already amounts to billions of dollars worth of food. But a hybrid of the two, shows signs of rapidly developing resistance to pesticides and it scientists fear it could cross international boundaries undetected, wiping out all the crops it comes across. Bollworms and earworms are closely related. The bollworm has its origins in Africa, Asia and Europe while the earworm is a native of the Americas. Both are in fact moth caterpillars and they feed on more than 100 plant species including vital crops like corn, cotton, tomato and soybean.

A team of Australian scientists who discovered the hybrid mega-pests think the combination of international species could be creating a new strain with unlimited geographical boundaries. It is impossible to tell which individuals are hybrids just by looking at them, meaning by the time the hybrids have been detected it may be too late. [..] In Australia, a combination of pesticides is currently being employed to manage the nation’s bollworms, but chemical resistance is a major cause for concern. Bollworms are generally better at developing resistance than their earworm cousins, and are immune to the effects of many major insecticides.

However, within the “hybrid swarm” they studied in Brazil the scientists found creatures that were largely earworm in their genetic makeup, but with bollworm DNA coding for pesticide resistance. The scientists warned that the Brazilian case highlighted the threat that new “agriculturally problematic” strains of pest could soon spread throughout the rest of the Americas. “On top of the impact already felt in South America, recent estimates that 65% of the USA’s agricultural output is at risk of being affected by the bollworm demonstrates that this work has the potential to instigate changes to research priorities that will have direct ramifications for the people of America, through the food on their tables and the clothes on their backs,” said Dr Craig Anderson, one of the study’s authors.

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Mar 302018
 
 March 30, 2018  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Nocturne in Blue and Silver, The Lagoon, Venice 1880

 

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn (David Stockman)
Russia To Expel 150 Diplomats And Close US Consulate In St Petersburg (Ind.)
Yulia Skripal No Longer In Critical Condition (G.)
UK Household Spending Hit Six-Year Low In 2017 Amid Brexit Inflation (PA)
Bitcoin Drops Below $7,000, Down 50% in 2018 (BBG)
Tesla Recalls 123,000 Early Model S Cars (BBG)
Volkswagen Stores 300,000 Diesels Across US (R.)
Trump Says US Withdrawing From Syria ‘Very Soon’ (AFP)
Sessions Rejects Calls for Second Special Counsel, Appoints Investigator (BBG)

 

 

“Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state..” Are we seeing the Big Tech Backlash of 2018?

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn (David Stockman)

It is said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, and so it goes with the Donald. Banging on his Twitter keyboard in the morning darkness, he drilled Jeff Bezos a new one – or at least that’s what most people would call having their net worth lightened by about $2 billion: “I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” You can’t get more accurate than that. Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state, but Amazon’s outrageous postal subsidy – a $1.46 gift card from the USPS stabled on each box – isn’t the half of it.

The real crime here is that Amazon has been exempted from making a profit, and the culprit is the Federal Reserve’s malignant regime of Bubble Finance. The latter has destroyed financial discipline entirely and turned the stock market into the greatest den of speculation in human history. That’s why Bezos can kill established businesses with impunity. The casino allows him to run a pernicious business model based on “price to destroy”, rather than price for profit and a return on capital. Needless to say, under a regime of sound money and honest capital markets Amazon would be a far more benign economic creature. That’s because no real investors would value AMZN’s money-loosing e-Commerce business at $540 billion – nor even a small fraction of that after 25-years of profitless growth.

[..] At the end of the mini-correction in February 2016 Amazon’s market cap was $230 billion, but just 25 months later it was worth $775 billion at its March 12 peak. That staggering $545 billion gain in market cap had absolutely nothing to do with financial performance, of course. Operating free cash flow was a meager $6.4 billion during 2017 and had been $6.6 billion two years earlier. That is to say, AMZN was valued at a frisky 35X free cash flow in early 2016 and a completely insane 121X a few weeks ago. The fact that Bezos’ net worth exploded by $100 billion during that same 25 month interval perhaps explains why even the Donald found his acorn.

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By all means, let’s stop talking.

Russia To Expel 150 Diplomats And Close US Consulate In St Petersburg (Ind.)

Russia has said it will expel around 150 diplomats and close the US consulate in St Petersburg in retaliation to the coordinated international response over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. More than two dozen countries, including the US and many EU nations – as well as Nato – have ordered more than 150 Russian diplomats out this week in a show of solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury earlier this month. The UK has accused Russia of responsibility for the attack, during which it claims the Skripals were exposed to a class of nerve agent called novichok. Russia has denied being involved and its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov made clear that all expulsions will be responded to in kind.

Mr Lavrov said that US Ambassador Jon Huntsman was summoned to the Foreign Ministry where he was given notice that Russia is replicating the US decision to order 60 Russian diplomats out. Mr Lavrov added that Moscow will also retaliate to the decision by Washington to shut the Russian consulate in Seattle by closing the US consulate in St Petersburg. The tit-for-tat expulsions come as no surprise. But the shuttering of the American consulate in Russia’s second city is an escalation. The Seattle consulate is Russia’s smallest diplomatic outpost in the US. Fifty-eight of the US officials are based in Moscow, with another two general consulate officials in the eastern city of Yekateringburg. They have been declared persona non grata and have been told to leave Russia by 5 April.

The US Consulate in St Petersburg has two days to suspend operations, according to Russian media. During the briefing Mr Lavrov accused Britain of “forcing everyone to follow an anti-Russian course” and that they were “making mockery of international law”. Russia has called for a meeting with the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ask questions to “establish the truth”, he said. “The measures would be reciprocal … They include expulsion of the equivalent number of diplomats and they include our decision to withdraw our agreement to allow the United States’ general consulate to operate in St Petersburg,” Mr Lavrov said.

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How does one recover from being infected with one of the most lethal nerve agents ever?

The photo, dated 3 days after the ‘attack’, shows a policeman standing by the front door to the Skripal home, the very door through which father and daughter were allegedly poisoned. He wears no protection.

Yulia Skripal No Longer In Critical Condition (G.)

The condition of Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned with a nerve agent in Salisbury along with her father, is improving rapidly, doctors have said. Salisbury NHS foundation trust said on Thursday the 33-year-old was no longer in a critical condition, describing her medical state as stable. Christine Blanshard, the medical director for Salisbury district hospital, said: “I’m pleased to be able to report an improvement in the condition of Yulia Skripal. She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day. “I want to take this opportunity to once again thank the staff of Salisbury district hospital for delivering such high-quality care to these patients over the last few weeks. I am very proud both of our frontline staff and all those who support them.”

Her father’s condition was described by the hospital as still critical but stable. Sergei Skripal, 66, a former Russian double agent, is believed to have been the main target of the attack. The update came as Russia said it was taking tit-for-tat measures against all the nations that have expelled Russian diplomats over attack. In a separate development, Scotland Yard said police had placed a cordon around a children’s play area near Sergei Skripal’s home as a precautionary measure. “Officers investigating the attempted murders of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal are continuing to focus their enquiries around the Skripals’ home address,” a police statement revealed.

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Both spending and saving are hit.

UK Household Spending Hit Six-Year Low In 2017 Amid Brexit Inflation (PA)

Household spending slowed to its lowest annual growth for six years in 2017 amid Brexit-fuelled inflation, with borrowing surging and family savings slumping to a record low. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed economic growth slowed to 0.4% in the final three months of last year, down from 0.5% in the third quarter as weaker household spending took its toll. The ONS revised upgrowth for the year as a whole to 1.8% from the previous estimate of 1.7%, but this was still the lowest since 2012. It leaves the UK with the lowest growth among the G7 economies at the end of 2017 as it enters the final year of its membership of the European Union.

The quarterly national accounts data showed Britons turned to debt to support spending in the face of last year’s surging inflation, which outstripped paltry wage growth. The proportion of total income saved by households dropped to 4.9% in 2017, its lowest level since records began in 1963, the ONS said. Overall household spending fell last year to 1.7%, which was the lowest annual growth since 2011, according to the ONS. But there was some cheer in Thursday’s latest official data dump as figures revealed the UK’s current account deficit with the rest of the world narrowed to £82.9bn or 4.1% of GDP in 2017 – the smallest gap since 2011. This came as a growing world economy boosted the earnings on foreign investments.

In the fourth quarter, the current account deficit shrank by more than expected to £18.4bn, or 3.6% of GDP, down from £19.2bn in the previous three months. Net trade – exports less imports – made its largest contribution to full-year growth since 2011, the ONS reported.

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Shaky?!

Bitcoin Drops Below $7,000, Down 50% in 2018 (BBG)

Bitcoin’s miserable quarter isn’t over yet. The world’s biggest cryptocurrency by market value dropped below the $7,000 mark Friday morning in Asia, the first time it’s breached that level since early February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It fell as low as $6,912 before rebounding, trading at $7,094 as of 7:50 a.m in Hong Kong. The moves took the token’s losses in 2018 to a whopping 50%, and other digital assets, including rivals Ripple and Litecoin, slumped more. In addition, regulatory pressure is mounting in the cryptocurrency space, while major social media platforms are distancing themselves from the industry. Reddit, a community hub popular in the crypto community, no longer accepts payments made in Bitcoin, while Twitter confirmed Monday that it’s banning advertisements for initial coin offerings, joining Facebook and Google.

Looming over the market are sales of Bitcoin held by the trustee of Mt Gox, the now-defunct Japanese exchange. The trustee sold about $400 million in Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash in the last few months to reimburse the exchange’s creditors, according to his recent report. The trustee had said that he will sell more of the cryptocurrency he holds. As of early March, he was sitting on more than $1 billion. “Bitcoin is under selling pressure again and chances of its recovery are looking slim,” Naeem Aslam at TF Global Markets said in a note. It has “slid significantly, since the tech giants’ ban on ICOs,” he noted. The slump this year is its biggest quarterly decline since 2011. Keep in mind that Bitcoin rallied 1,400% last year.

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“Classic two hours after the close before a three-day weekend news release. Unbelievable (almost)!”

Tesla Recalls 123,000 Early Model S Cars (BBG)

Tesla is recalling all Model S cars built before April 2016 to retrofit a power-steering component as the company caps its worst one-month performance in the stock market since December 2010. The issue, which the carmaker said has not led to any accidents or injuries, impacts only the flagship Model S sedan, not the Model X sport utility vehicle or more affordable Model 3. The recall affects roughly 123,000 vehicles globally. The carmaker said it’s performing the voluntary recall after observing “excessive corrosion in the power steering bolts, though only in very cold climates, particularly those that frequently use calcium or magnesium road salts,” according to an email sent to impacted customers Thursday.

“Nonetheless, Tesla plans to replace all early Model S power steering bolts in all climates worldwide to account for the possibility that the vehicle may later be used in a highly corrosive environment,” the electric-car maker said in the customer email. Tesla has been routed this month as analysts and investors have questioned the company’s ability to mass-manufacture its new Model 3 sedan. Bottlenecks at Tesla’s battery factory and assembly plant have undermined that effort, limiting the return on that investment and arousing concern that the company may need to raise more cash. Moody’s Investors Service also downgraded Tesla’s credit rating further into junk on Tuesday.

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Maybe they can figure something out with Musk?

Volkswagen Stores 300,000 Diesels Across US (R.)

Volkswagen has taken parking lots to a whole new level in the US – and will not be emptying them soon. Volkswagen AG has paid more than $7.4bn to buy back about 350,000 US diesel vehicles, a recent court filing shows. The German automaker has been storing hundreds of thousands of vehicles around the US for months. Volkswagen has 37 secure storage facilities around the US housing nearly 300,000 vehicles, the filing from the program’s independent administrator said. The lots include a shuttered suburban Detroit football stadium, a former Minnesota paper mill and a desert site near Victorville, California.

VW spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said in a statement the storage facility in Victorville, California, is one of many “to ensure the responsible storage of vehicles that are bought back” under the terms of the Volkswagen diesel settlements. “These vehicles are being stored on an interim basis and routinely maintained in a manner to ensure their long-term operability and quality, so that they may be returned to commerce or exported once US regulators approve appropriate emissions modifications,” she said. In total VW has agreed to spend more than $25bn in the US for claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers and offered to buy back about 500,000 polluting vehicles.

The buybacks will continue through the end of 2019. The court filing said through 31 December Volkswagen bought back 335,000 diesel vehicles, resold 13,000 and destroyed about 28,000. As of the end of last year VW was storing 294,000 vehicles around the country. VW must buy back or fix 85% of the vehicles involved by June 2019 or face higher payments for emissions.

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A populist address? What does that mean?

Trump Says US Withdrawing From Syria ‘Very Soon’ (AFP)

US President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that US forces would pull out of Syria “very soon” and lamented what he said was Washington’s waste of $7 trillion in Middle East wars. In a populist address to industrial workers in Ohio, Trump said US forces were close to securing all of the territory that the Islamic State jihadist group once claimed. “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” he promised, to applause. Trump did not say who the others were who might take care of Syria, but Russia and Iran have sizable forces in the country to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “Very soon – very soon we’re coming out. We’re going to have 100% of the caliphate, as they call it – sometimes referred to as ‘land’ – taking it all back quickly, quickly,” he said.

“But we’re going to be coming out of there real soon. Going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was later asked at a briefing if she was aware of any decision for the US to pull out of Syria. She responded, “I am not, no. No.” The United States has more than 2,000 military personnel in eastern Syria, working with local militia groups to defeat the Islamic State group while trying to keep out of Syria’s broader civil war. Trump’s eagerness to quit the conflict flies in the face of a new US Syria strategy announced in January by then secretary of state Rex Tillerson – who has since been sacked. Tillerson argued that US forces must remain engaged in Syria to prevent IS and Al-Qaeda from returning and to deny Iran a chance “to further strengthen its position in Syria.”

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This is not over.

Sessions Rejects Calls for Second Special Counsel, Appoints Investigator (BBG)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected calls from Republican lawmakers for a second special counsel to look into potential misconduct by the Justice Department and the FBI in past investigations of Hillary Clinton, saying that the issues were already under scrutiny. In a letter to three Republican committee chairmen, Sessions disclosed Thursday that he has assigned John Huber, a U.S. attorney based in Utah, to conduct an internal probe into complaints of FBI bias and wrongdoing. “I am confident that Mr. Huber’s review will include a full, complete and objective evaluation of these matters in a manner that is consistent with the law and facts,” Sessions wrote to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy.

Sessions said he would consider the recommendations Huber might make, including “whether any matters merit the appointment of a special counsel” later. Huber has been the U.S. attorney in Utah since June 2015 and was twice confirmed unanimously by the Senate. He served for almost two years as an appointee of Democratic President Barack Obama, and was appointed by Sessions to continue his work in March 2017.| Gowdy and Goodlatte, in a joint statement released Thursday night, said that “while we continue to believe the appointment of a second special counsel is necessary, this is a step in the right direction.”

[..] Sessions reminded the chairmen in his letter that the department’s inspector general also is looking into some of the same matters. The attorney general’s letter came a day after that internal watchdog, Michael Horowitz, confirmed that he’s now examining the FBI’s actions early in its investigation into Russian campaign interference, including how it obtained a warrant to monitor Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.

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Mar 292018
 
 March 29, 2018  Posted by at 1:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Christ In The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee 1633
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

I am gullible. Very. I betcha I am more gullible than you. And that tells you something, because you know how gullible you are. Or so you think. Still, as bad as I got it, something physically snapped in the back of my head this morning, I could hear it snap, when I saw this Guardian headline:

Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say

Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home. Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said. Counter-terrorism detectives will continue to focus their inquiries on the home address for the coming weeks, and possibly months…

See, because of my gullibility, I’ve decided that if I’m to have any idea of what really goes on around me, I’m condemned to reading a lot. Obviously, like you, I’ve found that the vast majority of what passes for news is as fake as it gets. More so by the day. So we have to read between the lines all the time. It’s what it is. But this…

If these two people have actually been poisoned, that’s a really terrible thing. But maybe lying about such things is much worse. And I doubt that anything at all we’ve been told about the Skripal case is true. Not because I don’t want to believe it, but because the storytellers plant so many trees they’re getting lost in their own forest.

Today the British press reports that the Skripal father and daughter pair were poisoned “from their front door”. They do that with the same level of certainty that just a few days ago they used in telling us they were poisoned through the air vents of the dad’s BMW. Exact same story, just a different location. And that’s after a by now long sequence of headlines that claimed it had happened inside the home, or in a bar, a pizzeria, or on the parkbench they were ostensibly ‘found’ on.

What that headline above, and all others on the topic that came before it, tells me is that evidently the hundreds of ‘experts’ involved in the case have not yet been able to locate the ‘nerve agent’. They’re still just guessing, even 25 days after the incident is supposed to have happened. How would that be done? I have no idea, but I’m surely thinking that after almost 4 weeks it’s essentially a pure guessing game, and nothing more than that.

Does the alleged nerve agent leave traces after all that time? I don’t have a clue, but I do know from what I’ve read that it’s apparently so toxic (as in lethal) that even very faint traces of the stuff are, well, lethal. So when I first read the BMW air vent theory last week I was thinking: did the guy who towed that car to the police station wear a full hazmat suit? He would have had to if he’s still alive.

And where is that car anyway? Come to think of it, where are the Skripals? And how is it possible that they survived the ‘attack’? Were they given a full blood transfusion? Are they being treated 24/7 by dedicated personnel in hazmat suits? There are too many questions for me to answer. And that goes for you too. And for Boris Johnson. And Donald Trump. And the governments of the 30-or-so nations that nevertheless expelled well over a hundred Russian diplomats.

 

Now, I’m not a chemist, let alone an organic chemist. So perhaps I should consult with my friend Dave Collum, who is. But I was going to write this from memory, not go back and find all those headlines, or ask around. This is not about me being 100% correct, it’s about the ‘news reports’ being so far off the truth.

Here’s what I have picked up about the nerve agent. The press calls it “Novichok“ (Russian for newbies), but Novichok is not a nerve agent, it’s a group of them. In the Skripal case, the journalists -who I can only hope are not as gullible as I am- behind all the ‘news’ have been told by ‘authorities’ that we’re dealing with A-234, which is a novichok nerve agent.

Developed by Russia a long time ago, but no longer produced in Russia after 1993, as the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed. Its chemical formula has been made public, which means that at least in theory anyone could produce it.

Russia would seem to be the last country to try that, because it would point straight to them. And they haven’t stood still for 25 years, they can make Novichok 2.0 if they want. Not that they appear to have much if any reason to poison the Skripals, there are quite a few parties that have at least as much incentive to do that.

 

Wait, before I forget, there was a policeman who allegedly ‘treated’ the Skripals first, and was himself ‘poisoned’ in the act and hospitalized, but was released a few days ago. What exactly happened to him? How did the A-234 not kill him? Did he receive such a faint trace that he was ‘cleaned’ within days? Where is he now? Why has he not released any statement? Doesn’t he strike you, too, as being a little bit pregnant?

But, again, I’m not a chemist. Collum, who I can’t really claim as a friend anymore, because he’s everybody’s friend these days, tweets a hint:

Hey organic chemists: the Novichuk nerve agents are like those below. [..] You could just use the racemate with plenty of effect. Unlike drugs, the goal here is to kill the recipient.

From what I understand, A-234, like all novichoks, is just a pesticide with a fancy dress on. Not terribly unique or special, and not terribly Russian after 25 years either. Just terribly lethal. Which by the way is saying something about how we produce our food, too. Can we blame Putin for losing our insects as well, please? It’s so much easier that way.

 

But I digress. As I started out saying, it’s the ‘news’ that yet another ‘location’ for the ‘nerve agent’ had been discovered after 25 days and hundreds of specialists, at the bleeping front door of the ‘victims’ home, as if nobody ever thought of looking there, that snapped that thingy in my head. Location, location, location.

Still, when I venture beyond what can be or has been proven, which is about as near to zero Kelvin as I even want to think about, there was this other thing this morning. Julian Assange has been cut off from the internet by his gracious Ecuadorian hosts in their London embassy. And I betcha that’s because he dared question Britain in the Skripal case, on Twitter.

Here’s my theory, borne off my gullibility in all its glory: Theresa May and her government have been stumbling from disaster to catastrophe over the Brexit calamity for months now, and they needed some relief. But they themselves are not smart enough to provide it. So someone got it for them.

They’re keeping Labour boss Jeremy Corbyn occupied for all he’s worth with a cocked-up narrative of him being an antisemite. Stupid as can be story, but it works for as long as they need it to. The other day the BBC photoshopped a Russian hat on Corbyn’s face; that stuck less than the Jew-hater tale, so they went with that one. Some UK parliamentary fake news committee wants to talk to Zuckerberg, but they should look closer to home. If fake news is what they’re really after.

So anyway, they all went with the Novichok concocted thing, and boy did that ever catch on. Even every western politicians’ pet hamsters have now sent their Russian caregivers packing. And you know what it is, even if May and Boris had any proof of Russian involvement, all those countries certainly do not. Even if they had the evidence, they’re not going to send it around to dozens of countries. Just not.

Boris Johnson couldn’t resist comparing Putin to Hitler. You can’t fall any lower than that. Or can you? The diplomats were all expelled on a day that Russia was lamenting the death of 64(?) victims (mostly children) in a shopping mall fire, in what they declared a day of national mourning. You think Boris sent his condolences?

 

I can write about this all day long, and weekends too. You know, Crimea, Ukraine, MH17, the new cold war narrative has been well prepared. And now John Bolton, who may well be the deadliest cartoon character we’ve ever seen -let alone imagined-, is all set to score the easy tip-in. But that is possible only because all of you are as gullible as I am. Don’t forget that. They’re blinding you with silence, with stupidity, with your own lack of neuron activity.

Even if this is a story with too many holes in it to qualify as Swiss cheese. The story doesn’t make any sense? Who cares, really, all the front pages shout it out in bold print. And if you get tired of it: where’s the remote, Mildred?

 

British politician and former candidate for mayor of London, George Galloway, on Twitter, says it so much better than I ever could, and shorter too, which is why I quote him at the end of this article:

Why do I not believe you? Let me count the ways. You’re not looking for anyone in connection with the attack on the Skripals. There is no manhunt, no all points alert, no description, no identikit drawing, no CCTV. No suspects. That means you already know what happened. #Russia

We know Facebook is trying to screw with your brains. Well, they’re not the only ones. Your government -and ‘intelligence’ services- want the monopoly on that, too.

I can not make this a definitive, or final, or complete story. Because nobody can. But I can tell you this: if you think that Russia or God forbid Putin, ‘poisoned’ the Skripals, you’re so wrong you’re beyond salvation. Not because it may or may not be true, but because you have seen no evidence. And you still go with it. Where’s the remote, Mildred?