Dec 022018
 
 December 2, 2018  Posted by at 5:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frans Masereel Montmartre 1925

 

 

The way ‘news’ is reported through known outlets changes so fast hardly a soul notices that news as we once knew it no longer exists. This is due to a large extent to the advent of the internet in general, and social media in particular. On the one hand this has led to an absolute overkill in ‘news’, forcing people to pick between sources once they find they can’t read or view it all, on the other hand it has allowed news outlets to flood the former news waves with so much of the same that nobody can compare one source with the other anymore.

Once you achieve that situation, you’re more or less free to make the news, rather than just report on it. The rise of Donald Trump has made the existing mass media realize that one-sided negative reporting on the man sells better than anything objective can. The MSM have sort of won the battle versus the interwebs, albeit only in that regard, and only for this moment, but that is enough for them for now; just like their readers, they don’t have the scope or the energy to look any further or deeper.

This is in a nutshell, and we really should take a much more profound look but that’s another chapter, what has changed the news, and what will keep on changing it until the truth sets us all free. This is what drives outlets like CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian today, because it provides them with readers and viewers. Which they would not have if they didn’t conduct a 24/7 war on a set list of topics they know their audience can’t get enough of.

For these outlets, there are are three targets: Assange, Putin and Trump. And it’s especially the alleged links between the three that gets media -and politicians- excited, because if such links exist, the case against the individual targets is greatly reinforced. Trump can be portrayed in a much more damaging light if he’s painted off as Putin’s stooge, Putin becomes an enemy of America, Britain and the EU is he’s deciding elections in these countries (and poisoning people), and Assange can really only be set in a negative light if he aids and abets both of them.

The problem would be evidence. Or it would seem to be, at least. But the news has changed. We are well into the second year of ‘reporting’ on how Trump and Putin have conspired against Hillary, and there is still no proof other than intelligence services swearing on their mothers’ graves that really, Assange, Putin and Trump have targeted our democracies in order to take over control of them by illegal means.

They are the enemy, and you, who are of course on the other side, are their victims. But your trusted media will save you from a grueling fate. Now, if the passing of George HW Bush makes anything clear, it’s how united politicians and media are in praise of him, and against everyone else. The Observer, Guardian’s Sunday sister, puts it ever so eloquently today:

“Whether it’s his shabby efforts to defend Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his professed “love” for North Korea’s ruthless dictator, Kim Jong-un, or his unashamed kowtowing to Putin, Trump undermines his office.

What a sorry contrast he presents with the dignified former president, George HW Bush, who died this weekend. Bush Sr wasn’t perfect, but he understood what making America great really means.”

It shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to point out that HW was basically a war criminal in thinly veiled disguise, who ordered the bombing of a caravan of civilians in Iraq 27 years ago, as the US had invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein had taken Kuwait egged on by that same US. If you can call that dignified, you have issues.

By the same token, it shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to point out that the umpteenth Guardian hit piece on Julian Assange was just that, and invented from A to Z as well. If, when seeing the headline, you didn’t see that in the first fraction of a second, you haven’t been paying attention; you’re well into the news matrix. By now, everyone should recognize these things for what they are. But it only appears to get harder. It’s what outlets like to report, and readers like to read. It paints the world into a nice neat scheme, in which the bad guys are easy to spot, and you find yourself in a safe and cozy corner.

The problem, though, is that the entire thing is fantasy. The headline Manafort Held Secret Talks With Assange In Ecuadorian Embassy, Sources Say does not contain one iota of truth. But what does it matter? Assange has been cut off from the world, he can’t defend himself. Manafort is about to be thrown in jail for lying. The Russians can’t be trusted on anything, whatever they say must be a lie. And Trump gets so much of this stuff, he wouldn’t know where to begin anymore if he’d want to sue for libel.

One interesting detail about that ‘article’, after we’ve already established that they made it up, we know there’s not a single sign of Manafort having been in London around the time he allegedly met with Assange, is the connection between the Guardian and Ecuador. The paper has stationed people in Quito, the country’s capital. And sources within the Ecuadorian government appear to be feeding them material. Such as the claim that Manafort visited Assange. He wasn’t there. We know that from his passports and surveillance cameras.

The Guardian has a vendetta with Julian Assange, and Ecuador’s new president uses the paper to smear Assange’s name, painting him as an unwashed slob and a cat hater. This is your news, Britain and other anglo readers, this is what it’s come to. Already. And we’re just in the first inning of the game of making up the news as we go along.

The byline of that Manafort/Assange fantasy piece says “Luke Harding and Dan Collyns in Quito”. Now, on May 16 2018 I published an article entitled I Am Julian Assange, in which I referred to no less than three Guardian articles all published the day before, and all with the same topic.

The first one, Revealed: Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange, lists Dan Collyns, Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Luke Harding, Fernando Villavicencio and Cristina Solórzano as authors. The second one, How Julian Assange Became An Unwelcome Guest In Ecuador’s Embassy, lists Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Collyns.Number three is Why Does Ecuador Want Assange Out Of Its London Embassy?, written by poor lonely Dan Collyns in Quito all by himself.

It seems obvious that ‘Ecuador’ didn’t get sick of Assange. What happened was Ecuador changed presidents. Rafael Correa’s longtime friend and right hand man Lenin Moreno ran for president as his logical successor, only to turn against his former mentor as soon as he was elected. And not long after that, the Guardian has sources in Quito which it could use to smear Assange even further.

 

This way of ‘making’ the news is not limited to the Guardian, and it’s not limited to its coverage of WikiLeaks. We must ask ourselves every step of the way if we can still call this sort of thing ‘news’, ‘coverage’ and ‘reporting’. Let’s hope both WikiLeaks and Paul Manafort sue the paper, but apparently they’ll need a lot of money to do it. An additional layer of protection for fake news.

The Guardian is not just after Assange, and it’s not just Luke Harding writing hit pieces. Here are the paper’s editors on November 30. The fallout of the Manafort/Assange piece has made them sort of careful in that they say: “what we say is probably not true, but imagine if it were! Wouldn’t that be terrible?!”

America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)

Earlier this week Donald Trump stood on the south lawn of the White House and ridiculed Theresa May’s Brexit agreement as a “great deal for the EU”. He is likely to make the same contemptuous case during the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend, although pointedly there is no planned bilateral. Given the political stakes facing her back home, Mrs May must feel as if 14,000 miles is a long way to travel for the weekend merely to be trashed by supposedly her greatest ally. When this happens, though, who does Mrs May imagine is confronting her? Is it just Mr Trump himself, America First president, sworn enemy of the international order in general and the European Union in particular?

That’s a bad enough reality. But might her accuser also be, at some level, Vladimir Putin, a leader whose interest in weakening the EU and breaking Britain from it as damagingly as possible outdoes even that of Mr Trump?

That prospect is even worse. Such speculation would normally seem, and still probably is, a step too far. The idea that a US president is in any way doing the Kremlin’s business as well as his own is the stuff of spy thrillers and of John le Carré TV adaptations. Yet the icy fact is that the conspiracy theory may now also contain an element of truth.

[..] Days before he took office in 2017, Mr Trump said that “the closest I came to Russia” was in selling a Florida property to a Russian oligarch in 2008. If Mr Cohen’s statement is true, Mr Trump was telling his country a lie. What is more, the Russians knew it. Potentially, that raises issues of US national security. If Mr Putin knew that Mr Trump was concealing information about his Russian business interests, this could give Moscow leverage over the US leader. Mr Trump might feel constrained to praise Mr Putin or to avoid conflicts with Russia over policy. All this may indeed be very far-fetched. Yet Russia’s activities in the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton and in favour of Mr Trump are not fiction.

They prompted the setting up of the Mueller inquiry into links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Another document this week suggests a longtime Trump adviser, Roger Stone, may have sought information about WikiLeaks plans to release hacked Democratic party emails in 2016. There is nothing in the documents released this week that proves that Mr Trump conspired with Russian efforts to win him the presidency.

Yet those efforts were real. For two years, Mr Trump has gone to unprecedented lengths to attack the special counsel. After November’s midterms, he seemed on the verge of firing Mr Mueller. He may yet do so. But this week’s charges suggest that there is plenty more still to be revealed. Mr Trump still has questions to answer from the investigating authorities, from the new Congress – and from America’s long-suffering allies.

You see what they do, and how they do it? Big statement, and then say it’s probably not true. Post Manafort/Assange disaster piece, their lawyers have provided a way to legally make outrageous claims. It’s still smear, and it’s still slander, but they’ve already covered their asses by saying it’s probably a step too far. Still managed to say it though… And hey, what’s not to like about the phrase “..America’s long-suffering allies”?

Also on November 30, the Guardian ran the following piece. Note the headline. And realize there never was a deal. Which the article acknowledges of course. Just not in the headline.

Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace

Donald Trump, drawn deeper into an investigation into Russian meddling in US elections, has defended his pursuit of a business deal in Moscow at the same time he was running for president as “very legal & very cool”. Trump appeared rattled this week after Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, confessed that he lied to Congress about a Russian property contract he pursued on his boss’s behalf during the Republican primary campaign in 2016. The surprise admission cast the president himself as a pivotal figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion for the first time. In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump recalled “happily living my life” as a property developer before running for president after seeing the “Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)”.

Smear Slander Rinse and Repeat. All you need to do is add “it’s probably not true” here and there, and you’re good to go. People claim that the coming age of AI and algorithms is a threat to news dissemination, but at this pace there won’t be much left to threaten.

I think I’ll close with that Observer quote I posted above. It’s just perfect.

Donald Trump’s Growing List Of Failures (Observer Op-Ed)

“Whether it’s his shabby efforts to defend Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his professed “love” for North Korea’s ruthless dictator, Kim Jong-un, or his unashamed kowtowing to Putin, Trump undermines his office. What a sorry contrast he presents with the dignified former president, George HW Bush, who died this weekend. Bush Sr wasn’t perfect, but he understood what making America great really means.”

Okay, can’t help myself. MbS: not shabby efforts, but a refusal to risk being singled out and be blamed for $400 oil prices by the same Senators who tolerated Saudi behavior for decades. Kim Jong-un: Trump is closer to peace in Korea than anyone in decades. The claim Trump is ‘kowtowing’ to Putin only makes sense if you believe the unproven allegations of collusion. Robert Mueller hasn’t provided any evidence of it in 18 months, but a bunch of guys in a London office know better? As far as the dignity of Bush 41 is concerned, I see no reason to add one single syllable.

I will never get tired of defending Julian Assange. I do get tired of defending Trump, but the media leaves me no choice. There’s a dire need for at least a little balance in what passes for the news, and that balance seems to get further out of reach every passing day. News outlets have resorted to propaganda campaigns against individuals, organizations and even entire nations because it helps them sell copies, ads and airtime.

And frankly, we must prepare for smear and allegations thought up out of thin air just to make a profit, to be used to lock away people for life regardless of what a nation’s laws say, for presidents to be impeached because it suits the owners of papers or TV stations (despite Trump being their meal ticket), and we must for the inevitable endgame, fake news as the reason to start a -nuclear- war.

 

 

Nov 282018
 
 November 28, 2018  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Yasuhiro Ishimoto Chicago 1959

 

Stock Market Selloff Only Half-done, Final Leg In 2019 – Morgan Stanley (MW)
Home Prices Have Surged, Government’s Share Of Mortgages Will Too (MW)
Trump Says ‘Not Even A Little Bit Happy’ With Fed’s Powell (R.)
Manafort’s Lawyer Repeatedly Briefed Trump Attorneys On Mueller Talks (ZH)
If Manafort Visited Assange There Should Be Ample Evidence (Greenwald)
Manafort Plans To Explore “All Legal Options” Against The Guardian (ZH)
Poroshenko Claims Ukraine Offered ‘Military Assistance’ By US (Ind.)
‘Put Putin In His Place’, Ukrainian Ambassador Tells Germany (R.)
Ukraine Digests What Martial Law Will Mean (Ind.)
Chancellor Admits UK Will Be Worse Off Under All Brexit Scenarios (G.)
Murphy to the Rescue (Kunstler)

 

 

Sorry, useless predictions. MS knows no more than you do.

Stock Market Selloff Only Half-done, Final Leg In 2019 – Morgan Stanley (MW)

Elon Musk’s cringe-inducing Twitter meltdown, the rise and fall of bitcoin, and the record-breaking oil plunge — for some 2018 can’t end soon enough. But be careful for what you wish for as the bear that has rampaged through the stock market is expected to return in the new year, according to one Wall Street strategist. “The Rolling Bear market is now better understood by the consensus; and more importantly, it is better priced, with forward price/earnings falling 18% from peak to trough. In short, while 90% of the price damage has been done by this bear, we’ve likely only served 50% of the time,” said Mike Wilson, an equity strategist at Morgan Stanley, in a note to clients.

Wilson was among the handful of market watchers to predict the recent market wipeout even as stocks were trading at record levels. “The Rolling Bear is tired from all the mauling he has done this year. However, he is likely just resting rather than hibernating,” he said. ”The final leg of this bear likely won’t come until numbers are reduced for 2019, although that should feel a lot less painful than the multiple compression stage we experienced in 2018.” The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average are poised to close out November in the red as worries about tighter liquidity resulting from the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate hikes and a trade war with China triggered an exodus from stocks.

Read more …

Why do Fannie and Freddie atill guarantee $700,000+ loans? If they didn’t, homes would become much more affordable.

Home Prices Have Surged, Government’s Share Of Mortgages Will Too (MW)

A federal regulator has raised the dollar amount of home loans that qualify for backing by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two giant government-sponsored enterprises. In 2019, the maximum conforming loan limit will be $484,350, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday. That’s up 6.9% from the 2018 maximum of $453,100. The change is based on the rate of change in home prices between the third quarter of 2017 and third quarter of 2018, as measured by FHFA’s House Price Index. But in higher-priced areas, loan limits are capped at 150% of the baseline $484,350. That means Fannie and Freddie will guarantee loans up to $726,525 in roughly 100 higher-cost counties.

Raising the dollar limit on Fannie- and Freddie-backed loans is one way of lubricating the mortgage market. If banks or other lenders can sell bigger mortgages to the enterprises, that makes it easier for them to keep lending. In turn, that makes it easier for would-be buyers to find financing that is generally more advantageous than other types of mortgages, like those backed by the Federal Housing Administration. But it also increases the risk to taxpayers. Fannie and Freddie operate with only a slim capital reserve, as the result of a 2012 directive from Congress that was patched over late in 2017. The update was owed to an agreement between FHFA Director Mel Watt and the U.S. Treasury even as they continue to guarantee between 40%-50% of new mortgages. That means that in any given quarter, either company is at risk of having to take taxpayer money.

Read more …

Trump senses the danger, and then ridicules himself.

Trump Says ‘Not Even A Little Bit Happy’ With Fed’s Powell (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday kept up his criticism of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, saying rising interest rates and other Fed policies were damaging the U.S. economy, the Washington Post said. “So far, I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay,” the Post quoted Trump as saying in an interview, referring to the man he picked last year to lead the Fed. “Not even a little bit. And I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m just telling you I think that the Fed is way off-base with what they’re doing.”

In recent months, the Republican president has repeatedly criticized Powell and the Fed’s interest rate increases that he said was making it more expensive for his administration to finance its escalating deficits. Trump has called the Fed “crazy” and “ridiculous.” “I’m doing deals, and I’m not being accommodated by the Fed,” Trump told the Post on Tuesday. “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”

Read more …

Joint defense agreements are common and fully legal, but the NY Times labels this one “highly unusual”. Summarized: Mueller was outflanked, though he could/should have known, and Manafort may be relying on a pardon.

Manafort’s Lawyer Repeatedly Briefed Trump Attorneys On Mueller Talks (ZH)

One day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller said that Paul Manafort had lied and violated his plea agreement with Federal prosecutors, and as a result should be sentenced immediately, the NYT has reported that in a “highly unusual” arrangement, a lawyer for Paul Manafort had repeatedly briefed president Trump’s lawyer on what he told Mueller and other federal investigators after he agreed to cooperate with the special counsel. While the arrangement is not illegal, it reportedly inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began “cooperating” two months ago, with some legal experts speculating that Manafort’s backdoor cooperation with Trump’s legal team was a bid by Trump’s former campaign chair for a presidential pardon even as he worked with Mueller in hopes of a lighter sentence.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani acknowledged the arrangement to the NYT, and “defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed.” Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office. As an example of what Manafort told the Trump legal team, Giuliani said, Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing told him that prosecutors hammered away at whether the president knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians promised to deliver damaging information on Hillary Clinton to his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, although this line of investigation is hardly a surprise. Trump has long denied knowing about the meeting in advance, with Giuliani saying that Mueller “wants Manafort to incriminate Trump.”

What is notable is that this kind of joint defense agreement is legal, and while Downing’s discussions with the president’s team violated no laws, they helped contribute to a deteriorating relationship between lawyers for Manafort and Mueller’s prosecutors, who on Monday accused Manafort of holding out on them and even lying, despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant. As a result of the collapse of the plea deal, Manafort will now face sentencing on two conspiracy charges and eight counts of financial fraud — crimes that could put him behind bars for at least 10 years. Just as importantly, Manafort’s frequent updates helped reassure Trump’s legal team that Manafort had not implicated the president in any possible wrongdoing, which begs the question just how was Manafort “cooperating” with Mueller for two whole months.

Read more …

Greenwald: “The Guardian itself “obtained the Embassy’s visitors logs in May,” and made no mention of Manafort’s visits at the time..”

Excuse me, but Greenwald and others do Luke Harding and the Guardian far too much honor by going into the details. The guy wrote a book called ‘Collusion’ for Pete’s sake. he does smear and hit pieces on Assange for a living. WikiLeaks is dead on when it says “Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation..”

Only, Harding and Guardian have published at least a dozen other stories of the same ‘level’. That reputation should be long gone. It’s not. Matrix.

If Manafort Visited Assange There Should Be Ample Evidence (Greenwald)

The Guardian today published a blockbuster, instantly viral story claiming that anonymous sources told the newspaper that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort visited Julian Assange at least three times in the Ecuadorian Embassy, “in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016.” The article – from lead reporter Luke Harding, who has a long-standing and vicious personal feud with WikiLeaks and is still promoting his book titled “Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House” – presents no evidence, documents or other tangible proof to substantiate its claim, and it is deliberately vague on a key point: whether any of these alleged visits happened once Manafort was managing Trump’s campaign.

For its part, WikiLeaks vehemently and unambiguously denies the claim. “Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation,” the organization tweeted, adding: “WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.” The group also predicted: “This is going to be one of the most infamous news disasters since Stern published the ‘Hitler Diaries.’ [..] Of course it is possible that Manafort visited Assange – either on the dates the Guardian claims or at other times – but since the Guardian presents literally no evidence for the reader to evaluate, relying instead on a combination of an anonymous source and a secret and bizarrely vague intelligence document it claims it reviewed (but does not publish), no rational person would assume this story to be true.

But the main point is this one: London itself is one of the world’s most surveilled, if not the most surveilled, cities. And the Ecuadorian Embassy in that city – for obvious reasons – is one of the most scrutinized, surveilled, monitored and filmed locations on the planet.

Read more …

Entirely in the vein of my article yesterday about people living in the Matrix, we need to ponder that outlets like the Guardian no longer care about their credibility, but instead rely on people swallowing whole anything they say, today about Manafort, Assange and Russian aggression, tomorrow about other topics. That is plenty scary.

Manafort Plans To Explore “All Legal Options” Against The Guardian (ZH)

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has responded to a “totally false and deliberately libelous” report in The Guardian that he had several meetings with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In a Tuesday afternoon statement through a spokesman, Manafort said: “This story is totally false and deliberately libelous. I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”

The Guardian reported on Tuesday – based on unnamed sources – that Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, right around the time he joined Trump’s campaign. “Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House. It is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. A well-placed source has told the Guardian that Manafort went to see Assange around March 2016. Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers.” -The Guardian

Read more …

If the US find someone else who obeys them, they’ll drop Poroshenko.

Poroshenko Claims Ukraine Offered ‘Military Assistance’ By US (Ind.)

Ukraine has been offered “military assistance” by the US amid rising tension with Russia, the country’s president Petro Poroshenko has claimed. America’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo, had assured him in a phone call that his country, had the “full support, full assistance, including military assistance, full coordination, what we [need] to do to protect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity”, Mr Poroshenko said. Addressing a suggestion that Donald Trump had been slow to back Ukraine over the stand-off, the Ukrainian leader told CNN host Christiane Amanpour, that the president “in his speech, also supported Ukrainian territorial integrity and [has] been on our side” The US president had earlier said: “We do not like what’s happening either way. We don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully it will get straightened out.”

Read more …

A bit overlooked perhaps. How much of a factor in the Russia aggression narrative is Nordstream 2? It would bankrupt Ukraine.

‘Put Putin In His Place’, Ukrainian Ambassador Tells Germany (R.)

Ukraine’s top diplomat in Germany urged Berlin and other Western states to punish Russia by extending sanctions, banning energy imports and putting the NordStream 2 gas pipeline on hold after Moscow seized three Ukrainian ships near Crimea. The ambassador even raised the possibility of sending German marines to the region. Several senior European politicians have raised the possibility of new sanctions against Russia after the incident on Sunday, which the West fears could ignite a wider conflict near Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. “Germany must take a clear line … and put (Russian President Vladimir) Putin in his place,” ambassador Andrij Melnyk told German radio on Wednesday. “Everything is at stake.”

“The club of sanctions should be wielded quickly …. There should be a complete ban on gas and oil imports from Russia, NordStream 2 must be put on ice,” he said, adding only such measures could stop Putin’s “brutal, hoooligan-like” behavior. Ukraine is already nervous about the prospect of the NordStream 2 pipeline which increases Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, fearing it will lose out on transit revenues. “In military terms, what can you do? Sending German marines to the coast of Crimea … could help stop an escalation. If you are there, Russians have fewer possibilities to act so brutally,” he said.

Read more …

Anything that smells of Russia will be thrown in dungeons. That’s what it means. And Poroshenko means to stay in power.

Ukraine Digests What Martial Law Will Mean (Ind.)

A day after the Ukrainian parliament voted to introduce martial law across 10 border regions, there was little clarity about what it would actually mean in practice. With parts of the government on different pages, and the introduction of measures that could cover most aspects of life, even family, some areas of the country bordered on panic mode. In the southern city of Odessa, there were rumours of forced mobilisation, though these turned out to be false. In other cities across the region, shortages of foreign currency were reported. The text of the law eventually voted on was considerably watered down from the edict originally presented by President Petro Poroshenko on Monday afternoon.

That contained provisions for a state of martial law lasting 60 days across the whole country. By logical extension, that would have meant delaying next March’s presidential elections, a point that caused uproar among the opposition. The eventual compromise saw a commitment to fix the date of the elections, the duration reduced to 30 days, and the zone of coverage reduced to 10 border regions. The Independent understands that these concessions were made only at the last moment, and the vote would not have passed without them. In the text agreed by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, the state of martial law was due to start on Wednesday morning at 9am local time.

But on Tuesday morning, the secretary of the national security council, Oleksandr Turchynov, said that a state of martial law was already in effect. To make matters even more complicated, the Government Courier, the state newspaper where all laws are published, printed a version of the original law, including provisions for 60 days of restrictions across all of Ukraine. [..] in the 10 border regions at least, the law potentially has a very wide scope. The presidential amendments introduce few restrictions on the overarching 2015 legislation covering martial law. In other words, it allows for extrajudicial searches of property, travel bans, closing media deemed against national interests, bans on rallies and demonstrations, limitations on private correspondence and communications, and even introducing limitations on education, private and family life.

Read more …

But that’s exactly what the people voted for, they want to be worse off, and you can’t deny them their vote, that’s bad for democracy.

Chancellor Admits UK Will Be Worse Off Under All Brexit Scenarios (G.)

Philip Hammond has admitted that the UK will be worse off “in pure economic terms” under all possible Brexit outcomes – including the prime minister’s own deal. Speaking on Wednesday morning, the chancellor gave strong hints the government had begun its contingency planning should it lose the vote in parliament on Theresa May’s Brexit deal negotiated with the EU. The latest Guardian analysis suggests 94 Tory MPs have confirmed they will vote against the deal, with numbers likely to tip into three figures in the coming days. Hammond suggested the economic hit would be mitigated if the deal was clinched, rather than the UK leaving with no deal.

Asked if all scenarios would have a cost, Hammond said: “If you look at this purely from an economic point of view, yes there will be a cost to leaving the European Union because there will be impediments to our trade.” Hammond said the deal would “absolutely minimise those costs” and would offer political benefits of being able to sign new trade deals and having new controls over fishing waters. “The economy will be slightly smaller in the prime minister’s preferred version,” he said. He said if the government loses the vote in parliament on 11 December, it would be in “uncharted political territory”. More than half of backbench Tory MPs who are not on the government payroll have committed to voting down the deal.

Read more …

Monday Morning I Want My Quarter Back

Murphy to the Rescue (Kunstler)

Ukraine verges on martial law after a naval incident with Russian ships in the waters off Crimea. Say what? Martial Law? They might as well declare a Chinese Fire Drill. Details of the actual incident around the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov remain murky besides the fact that two Ukrainian gunships and a tug disobeyed orders from Russian ships to stand down in Russian maritime waters and shots were fired. Who knew that Ukraine even had a navy, and how can they possibly pay for it? But now NATO is trying to get into the act, meaning the USA will get dragged into just the sort unnecessary and idiotic dispute that kicks off world wars.

Note to the Golden Golem of Greatness (aka Mr. Trump): this dog-fight is none of our goddam business. Russia, meanwhile, asked the UN Security Council to convene over this, which is the correct response. What could go wrong? Late Monday update: I’ve heard reports this afternoon that Russia had intel Ukrainian ships were transporting an explosive device supplied by NATO which they suspected was intended to be deployed to blow up the strategic bridge across the Kerch Strait. Still unconfirmed chatter. Developing story….

Yesterday, about five hundred Central American migrants rushed the border at Tijuana. The US Border Patrol tear-gassed them and they backed off. Bad optics for those trying to make the case for open borders. Naturally, The New York Times portrayed this as an assault on families, defaulting to their stock sob story, though the mob assembling down there is overwhelmingly composed of young men. Complicating matters, a new Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, takes over next Saturday, a Left-wing populist and enemy of Trumpismo. Tijuana is now choking on the thousands of wanderers who were induced to march north to test America’s broken immigration policies. What could go wrong?

The engine pulling that choo-choo train of grievance is Robert Mueller’s Russian Collusion investigation. I expect him to produce mighty rafts of charges against Mr. Trump, his family and associates, and anyone who ever received so much as a souvenir mug from his 2016 campaign. But I doubt that any of it will have a bearing on Russian election “meddling.” And in that case, the charges will be met by counter-charges of an illegitimate investigation, meaning welcome to that constitutional crisis we’ve been hearing about for two years. That’s a mild way of describing anything from a disorderly impeachment to troops in the American streets. What could go wrong there?

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


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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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Forgive me for presuming there are several such debt bombs.

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

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

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

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

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It’s starting to feel like a siege.

Multiple Risks Are Converging on Markets (Rickards)

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

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

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

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The original headline talked of 24 hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But Zuckerberg and Sandberg plead innocent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton Foundation Donations Plummet 90% (ZH)

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

2014

2017

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

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

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Like that fleece sweater?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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