Sep 142019
 
 September 14, 2019  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Kazimir Malevich Spotrsmeny 1931

 

Saudi Arabia Oil Facilities Ablaze After Drone Strikes (BBC)
Julian Assange To Stay In Prison Over Absconding Fears (BBC)
More Than Ever, Mike Pompeo At Helm Of Trump Foreign Policy (AFP)
Hopes Of Clean Break With EU Are Nonsense: Ex-Brexit Official (G.)
Scores Of Councils Say Food Shortages A Risk If UK Crashes Out Of EU (Ind.)
McCabe Lawyer Presses Justice Department To Drop Criminal Case (R.)
Tectonic Rumblings (Kunstler)
Latest Russian Spy Story Looks Like Another Elaborate Media Deception (Taibbi)
Felicity Huffman Shows Rich & Famous Can Get Away With ANYTHING (RT)
Crisis-Hit Boeing Readies Huge Effort To Return 737 MAX To The Skies (R.)
A Person The Most Powerful Government In The World Wanted To Go Away (G.)
‘If I Happen to Fall out of a Window, You Can Be Sure I Was Pushed’ (Spiegel)

 

 

Wonder who’s behind this, and who will get the blame. Not the same thing.

Saudi Arabia Oil Facilities Ablaze After Drone Strikes (BBC)

Drone attacks have set alight two major oil facilities run by the state-owned company Aramco in Saudi Arabia, state media say. Footage showed a huge blaze at Abqaiq, site of Aramco’s largest oil processing plant, while a second drone attack started fires in the Khurais oilfield. The fires are now under control at both facilities, state media said. A spokesman for the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen said it had deployed 10 drones in the attacks. The military spokesman told al-Masirah TV, owned by the Houthi movement and based in Beirut, that further attacks could be expected in the future. Saudi officials have not yet commented on who could be behind the attacks.


“At 04:00 (01:00 GMT), the industrial security teams of Aramco started dealing with fires at two of its facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais as a result of… drones,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported. “The two fires have been controlled.” Abqaiq is about 60km (37 miles) south-west of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, while Khurais, some 200km further south-west, has the country’s second largest oilfield. The Abqaiq plant turns sour crude into sweet crude, producing up to 7 million barrels a day. Aramco says it is the world’s largest “crude oil stabilisation plant”. Saudi security forces foiled an attempt by al-Qaeda to attack the Abqaiq facility with suicide bombers in 2006. The Khurais oilfield came on line in 2009 and is the nation’s second-largest after Ghawar. Khurais reportedly produces 1.5 million barrels a day with estimated recoverable oil reserves of more than 20 billion barrels.

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A circus of evil clowns.

Julian Assange To Stay In Prison Over Absconding Fears (BBC)

Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange is to remain in prison when his jail term ends because of his “history of absconding”, a judge has ruled. He was due to be released on 22 September after serving his sentence for breaching bail conditions. But Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard there were “substantial grounds” for believing he would abscond again. The Australian, 48, is fighting extradition to the US over allegations of leaking government secrets. He will face a full extradition hearing next year, starting on 25 February, after an extradition request was signed by the then home secretary Sajid Javid in June. Assange received a 50-week sentence in Belmarsh Prison, south-east London, after being found guilty of breaching the Bail Act in April.


He was arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he took refuge in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations – which he has denied. District judge Vanessa Baraitser on Friday told Assange, who appeared by video-link: “You have been produced today because your sentence of imprisonment is about to come to an end. “When that happens your remand status changes from a serving prisoner to a person facing extradition.” She said that his lawyer had declined to make an application for bail on his behalf, adding “perhaps not surprisingly in light of your history of absconding in these proceedings”. “In my view I have substantial ground for believing if I release you, you will abscond again.”

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“Pompeo has risen because he is careful to follow Trump’s lead.”

More Than Ever, Mike Pompeo At Helm Of Trump Foreign Policy (AFP)

Speaking at the White House after John Bolton’s surprise exit as national security adviser, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo couldn’t hide a smile of satisfaction. With the departure of Bolton, Pompeo has become the undisputed king of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy – with the exception, that is, of Trump himself. The former soldier, lawyer and businessman has made a quick ascent in Washington since arriving as a Kansas congressman elected in the 2010 right-wing populist “Tea Party” movement. But many speculate that Pompeo will choose not to stay long in his newly powerful position, enticed by an opening to represent Kansas in the Senate next year – perhaps with an eye on running for the top prize in the 2024 presidential election.


First tapped as CIA director before moving to the State Department last year, Pompeo is so close to Trump that the president last year said he was his only advisor with whom he has never argued. Expectations even rose that Trump would name Pompeo to replace Bolton — a rare dual-role as national security advisor and secretary of state last held by Henry Kissinger. Trump on Thursday ruled out the possibility but called Pompeo “fantastic” and said, “I get along with him so well.” Yet Pompeo’s power, analysts say, comes with a paradox. While Bolton, a Washington insider for over four decades, bulldozed his way to steer US foreign policy to the right on issues from Iran to Venezuela, Pompeo has risen because he is careful to follow Trump’s lead.

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“..what it does is it takes us legally out of the EU. But what it can’t do is undo all of the very close economic ties that we have with the EU..”

Hopes Of Clean Break With EU Are Nonsense: Ex-Brexit Official (G.)

Claiming a no-deal Brexit represents a clean break with the European Union is “nonsensical”, according to Philip Rycroft, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU. Boris Johnson has promised to extricate the UK from the EU on 31 October “come what may” – and has hinted that he could try to get around legislation mandating him to request a Brexit delay. The Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, whose party trounced the Tories in May’s European elections, has been urging the PM to deliver a “clean break Brexit” by leaving without a deal. But Rycroft, who was the most senior civil servant at DexEU until March this year, told the Guardian a no-deal Brexit would mark the beginning of a complex series of negotiations.

“It is not a clean break: what it does is it takes us legally out of the EU. But what it can’t do is undo all of the very close economic ties that we have with the EU, on which so much of our trade as a country depends. And nor would we want to undo all of the close security ties that we have with the EU,” he said. “And because of the importance of those ties both for the EU and the UK, it will remain hugely important to have those expressed through a formal relationship. In other words, we’re going to have to negotiate – and that negotiation on the future relationship starts with citizens, money and the border on the island of Ireland. “So the notion that no deal somehow means that we can turn our backs on the EU and break all our ties is just nonsensical.”


Rycroft spent part of his career at the Scottish Office and in the Scottish Executive before working in Nick Clegg’s office during the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, and helping to coordinate Whitehall’s approach to devolution from the Cabinet Office. He gave a speech on Monday warning that politicians should be thinking carefully about how to protect the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland after Brexit – deal or no deal. “Clearly at the moment, political time has collapsed: everything has become very short term, everyone’s worrying about what’s happening not even next week but tomorrow,” he said. “In those circumstances it’s very different to be lifting their eyes to a more distant horizon. How do we manage as a country, if and when we come out of the EU?”

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Councils are powerless.

Scores Of Councils Say Food Shortages A Risk If UK Crashes Out Of EU (Ind.)

Scores of local councils have said a no-deal Brexit could result in food, medicine and fuel shortages in their constituencies – with many stating that crashing out without an agreement could lead to civil unrest and damage to social care. Official documents from 63 councils uncovered by the People’s Vote campaign have revealed local authorities fear that fundamental services could suffer and others could be cut if the UK crashes out of the EU. It follows the release of the government’s Operation Yellowhammer planning paper, which warned lorries could face delays of up to two and a half days at Dover, and that protest and public disorder would take up “significant” police resources.


Of the councils that released their Brexit “risk registers”, more than two-thirds said food shortages could grip their local area. Many also said this could lead to unchecked contaminated food entering the supply chain. More than half warned of medicine supplies being put at risk, while 59 per cent said fuel could also become scarce leading to a breakdown in their ability to deploy services – on top of the damage caused to the general public. And just under two-thirds said civil unrest, increased tensions between communities and public disorder could be sparked, including Dartford council which warned of an “increase in hate crime” as the area had “always been a target” for extreme right wing groups.

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What do you mean they can’t find evidence?

McCabe Lawyer Presses Justice Department To Drop Criminal Case (R.)

A lawyer for former FBI official Andrew McCabe pressed U.S. prosecutors on Friday to drop their politically sensitive case against him, citing reports that suggest they may be having trouble securing criminal charges. The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating McCabe, the FBI’s former No. 2 official, for more than 1-1/2 years over allegations he misled internal investigators about his decision to share internal communications with a reporter at the height of the 2016 presidential election. Prosecutors and senior officials within the Justice Department, including Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, have recommended moving forward with criminal charges, according to sources familiar with the investigation.


But they might have encountered another hurdle. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that a federal grand jury investigating the case had been called back to consider evidence, but had left without returning an indictment. Grand juries are used in the U.S. legal system to assess the validity of possible criminal charges in major cases. To obtain an indictment, U.S. prosecutors typically need to convince the grand jury there is probable cause that a crime has been committed, which is a lower legal standard than that needed to secure a guilty verdict at trial. Proceedings are conducted in secret.

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How does Flynn pay his legal bills?

Tectonic Rumblings (Kunstler)

After Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, he moved to appoint General Flynn as his National Security Advisor. Within a few days, FBI director James Comey pulled off an entrapment gambit to incriminate General Flynn over a conversation he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — as if incoming high officials for foreign policy are not supposed to associate with foreign ambassadors. You understand now that the government had continued its surveillance of General Flynn for years, including tapping his phone when he moved into his White House office. That enabled Mr. Comey to set up a perjury trap. The General was successfully sandbagged this time, kicked offstage, and conned into a guilty plea. He’s been awaiting sentencing for more than a year.

A few months ago, General Flynn fired his old lawyers and hired Sidney Powell, an attorney who literally wrote the book on discovering prosecutorial misconduct in the case of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, whose prosecution over Mickey Mouse comped hotel bills was thrown out of court by the same Judge, Emmet Sullivan, who presides in the US versus Flynn. Ms. Powell has now declared that she intends to prove “egregious prosecutorial conduct” and suppression of exculpatory evidence against the DOJ lawyers who ran the case against General Flynn. The government never would have had a case if they revealed the FBI’s internal memos on General Flynn.


Attorney Powell is seeking to have the case thrown out of court. The FBI and the DOJ lawyers who conducted the prosecution have stonewalled the court on producing the documents at issue. Judge Sullivan may sense that he’s seen this movie before. The case took on a life of its own long before William Barr was confirmed as attorney general and one wonders if he has any role in ending this damaging farce. Legal protocol may require Judge Sullivan to complete the case one way or another. I wrote in this space a year ago that General Flynn had been subject to prosecutorial misconduct. Now, I’ll venture to assert that if Judge Sullivan does not throw the case out, Mr. Trump will step in and pardon General Flynn, and in doing so will make it clear exactly how and why he was run into court in the first place.

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Matt Taibbi on the story I covered early this week in Pulp Fiction Media

Latest Russian Spy Story Looks Like Another Elaborate Media Deception (Taibbi)

It’s a characteristic of third world countries to have the intelligence world and the media be intertwined enough that it’s not always clear whether the reporters and the reported-about are the same people. When you turn on the TV in Banana Republics, you’re never sure which group is talking to you. We’re now in that same paradigm in America. CNN has hired nearly a dozen former intelligence or counterintelligence officials as analysts in the last few years. Their big get was former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, but they also now have former deputy FBI chief Andrew McCabe, former FBI counsel James Baker, and multiple former CIA, NSA, and NSC officials.


Meanwhile, former CIA director John Brennan has an MSNBC/NBC gig, as does former CIA and DOD chief of staff Jeremy Bash, and several other ex-spooks. The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, who doubles as the CEO of one of America’s largest intelligence contractors. This odious situation is similar to 2003-2004, when cable networks were tossing contributor deals to every ex-general and ex-spook they could find while they were reporting on the Iraq invasion. At one point, FAIR.org found that 52 percent of the sources in network newscasts were current or former government officials. The numbers now aren’t quite that skewed, but CNN and MSNBC both employ former senior intelligence officials who comment upon stories in which they had direct involvement, especially the Russia investigation.

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Don’t want to turn into a gossip site, but the difference between 2 weeks and 5 years is a tad much.

Felicity Huffman Shows Rich & Famous Can Get Away With ANYTHING (RT)

That actress Felicity Huffman will go to jail for only 14 days over college entrance fraud shows there are really two justice systems in the US: one for the rich, famous and politically correct – and another for everyone else.
The ‘Desperate Housewives’ star pleaded guilty to paying $15,000 to falsify her daughter Sophia’s SAT – a college admissions test – and was sentenced to two weeks in jail, 250 hours of community service, a $30,000 fine and a year of supervised release. Altogether, a slap on the wrist to a Hollywood celebrity. It did not take long for her case to be contrasted with the fate of Tanya McDowell, a Connecticut woman who falsified a residency document in 2011 to enroll her son in a better school. McDowell ended up getting jailed for five years for first-degree larceny, and would have faced an even longer sentence had she not made a deal with prosecutors.


Comparing the two cases is absolutely apples to apples. That McDowell was later charged with selling drugs to undercover police officers and given a concurrent sentence does not change the severity of her initial punishment – 130 times longer than was meted out to Huffman. Could it be that it’s because Huffman is white and McDowell is black, and the US justice system is irreparably racist, as a lot of people have argued? Another possibility could be Huffman’s fame, fortune – and politics. After her arrest in April, Huffman was revealed to have donated over $10,000 to Democrats, including over $1,500 to the Senate campaign of Kamala Harris – the tough-on-crime prosecutor in San Francisco and California, now running for president.

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What do you guys think, will all regulators comply? How about the public? Do you want to board a 737 MAX?

Crisis-Hit Boeing Readies Huge Effort To Return 737 MAX To The Skies (R.)

As Boeing sets its sights on winning approval to fly its 737 MAX within weeks, following a six-month safety ban, engineers around the world are rolling out plans for one of the biggest logistical operations in civil aviation history. Inside Boeing’s 737 factory at Renton, Washington, south of Seattle, workers have pre-assembled dedicated tool kits for technicians tasked with installing software updates and readying over 500 jets that have sat idle for months, insiders said. Across the globe, Boeing teams are hammering out delivery schedules – and financial terms – with airline customers who have been forced to cancel flights, cut routes and fly aging jetliners while they await the MAX’s return.

Although regulators must still approve the jets for flight, Boeing and airline staff and executives say the world’s largest planemaker is weeks into an elaborate blueprint for production, maintenance and delivery that one source said involves 1,500 engineers – as many as it takes to design a small new jet. Another likened the logistics to a nation “going to war.” Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Engineer John Hamilton called the previously unreported mobilization more like an elaborate “ballet,” which includes synchronizing 680 suppliers of everything from carbon brakes to pilot seatbelts.


[..] Once regulators certify the MAX for flight, Boeing will have to mobilize hundreds of mechanics and pilots to bring the roughly 250 stored aircraft out of hibernation. Airlines estimate the process – which includes installing new software, changing fluids and cycling the engines – will take 100 to 150 hours per jet, and months in total for Boeing. In one example highlighting the minute risks that could upend months of planning, a team of employees is analyzing years of data on December snowfall at an airport in rural Moses Lake, Washington – where Boeing has parked some 100 jets – to predict demand for aircraft anti-freeze and runway performance.

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I know Snowden needs to sell his book, but the Guardian? Really? The paper runs a smear campaign against Assange, without whom Snowden would be in a very different set-up.

A Person The Most Powerful Government In The World Wanted To Go Away (G.)

The world’s most famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden, says he has detected a softening in public hostility towards him in the US over his disclosure of top-secret documents that revealed the extent of the global surveillance programmes run by American and British spy agencies. In an exclusive two-hour interview in Moscow to mark the publication of his memoirs, Permanent Record, Snowden said dire warnings that his disclosures would cause harm had not come to pass, and even former critics now conceded “we live in a better, freer and safer world” because of his revelations.

In the book, Snowden describes in detail for the first time his background, and what led him to leak details of the secret programmes being run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s secret communication headquarters, GCHQ. He describes the 18 years since the September 11 attacks as “a litany of American destruction by way of American self-destruction, with the promulgation of secret policies, secret laws, secret courts and secret wars”. Snowden also said: “The greatest danger still lies ahead, with the refinement of artificial intelligence capabilities, such as facial and pattern recognition. “An AI-equipped surveillance camera would be not a mere recording device, but could be made into something closer to an automated police officer.”


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Moscow is not such a bad place. It beats Belmarsh.

‘If I Happen to Fall out of a Window, You Can Be Sure I Was Pushed’ (Spiegel)

Book a suite in a luxury hotel in Moscow, send the room number encrypted to a pre-determined mobile number and then wait for a return message indicating a precise time: Meeting Edward Snwoden is pretty much exactly how children imagine the grand game of espionage is played. But then, on Monday, there he was, standing in our room on the first floor of the Hotel Metropol, as pale and boyish-looking as the was when the world first saw him in June 2013. For the last six years, he has been living in Russian exile. The U.S. has considered him to be an enemy of the state, right up there with Julian Assange, ever since he revealed, with the help of journalists, the full scope of the surveillance system operated by the National Security Agency (NSA).


For quite some time, though, he remained silent about how he smuggled the secrets out of the country and what his personal motivations were. Now, though, he has written a book about it. It will be published worldwide on September 17 under the title “Permanent Record.” Ahead of publication, Snowden spent over two-and-a-half hours patiently responding to questions from DER SPIEGEL.

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Vintage Australia map from 1773

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 072019
 
 September 7, 2019  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Portrait of Dora Maar 1942

 

The Financialization of the US Economy (WS)
Fed Chair Powell Repeats Vow To Act ‘As Appropriate’ (R.)
Tariffs Are No Longer China’s Biggest Problem In The Trade War (CNBC)
Boris Johnson Urged To Become A ‘Brexit Martyr’ (DM)
A Trump Brexit Threatens (Wight)
A Crackup Is Inevitable (Kunstler)
CIA, Mossad, “the Epstein Network” and an Orwellian Nightmare (Whitney Webb)
How MIT Concealed Its Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein (Farrow)
Boeing’s Chief Technical Pilot On The 737 MAX Project Pleads The Fifth (ST)
For The First Time In My Life, I’m Frightened To Be Jewish (David Graeber)
Edward Snowden’s Guardian Angels (F24)

 

 

But services don’t make stuff.

The Financialization of the US Economy (WS)

Service-producing industries dominate the US economy, accounting for over 70% of GDP. And this sector is hopping. Revenues in the major services categories rose 5.3% in the second quarter of 2019, compared to the same quarter a year earlier, to $4.05 trillion, not seasonally adjusted, according to the Commerce Department’s Quarterly Selected Services Estimates released today. For the first two quarters of 2019, service revenues rose 5.5% to $8.0 trillion. The pace of growth so far this year is slightly lower than the hot 6.0% growth for the year 2018.


Four biggies dominate the service sector, and the US economy overall. They accounted for $2.92 trillion in revenues in Q1, or about 72% of total service revenues, with the biggest of them all, finance and insurance, accounting for 32%, up from 31% at the end of last year. It is also the fastest-growing segment, even faster than healthcare, as the US economy is getting more and more financialized. The share of each of the big four of overall service revenues: • Finance and insurance: 32% • Healthcare: 17% • Professional, scientific, and technical services: 12% • “Information” services, such as telecommunications, software, and data processing: 11%.

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Only one act is appropriate: go home. Did you know Jay Powell is worth some $100 million? Do you think he’s concerned about Americans living paycheck to paycheck?

Fed Chair Powell Repeats Vow To Act ‘As Appropriate’ (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve will continue to act “as appropriate” to sustain the economic expansion in the world’s biggest economy, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said Friday in Zurich, sticking to a phrase that financial markets have read as signaling further interest-rate reductions ahead. “Our obligation is to use our tools to support the economy, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Powell said at the University of Zurich. Still, he said, “We are clearly at a time where there is a range of views” among Fed policymakers meeting Sept. 17-18 to decide on rates.


Powell’s careful wording reflects a split within the U.S. central bank about how best to respond to an economy where the job market and consumer spending are strong but rising trade tensions between Beijing and Washington, Britain’s possibly messy exit from the European Union, and a broad global slowdown pose risks. Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren for instance has made the case for leaving rates where they are until those risks are more tangible in the economic data. Others including St. Louis Fed President James Bullard have called for a half-a-percentage point interest-rate cut to get ahead of the trade war risks and bring the Fed’s policy rate more in line with market expectations. Meanwhile, financial markets are betting Fed policymakers will agree to split the difference and follow their quarter-point rate cut in July with another one later this month.

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Decoupling.

Tariffs Are No Longer China’s Biggest Problem In The Trade War (CNBC)

It’s not the new round of tariffs that went into effect; we’ve been playing the tit-for-tat tariff war for more than a year. It’s not the economic reports; they’ve been a little too mixed lately to force any dramatic moves. It’s not even the decision by Hong Kong administrator Carrie Lam to fully withdraw the controversial mainland extradition bill; it’s still not clear that the Hong Kong unrest would be affected in any way by a trade deal. Given the timing of the change in tone, it seems more likely that what’s making the difference is a realization on both sides that there’s another way this trade war could end – and that possible ending is one the U.S. is very unlikely to lose.


That alternate ending is summed up in one word: decoupling. The decoupling push is quite different than any U.S. efforts to get China to open up more of its economy to American companies. Instead, it focuses on reducing America’s extremely heavy reliance on China for so much of its manufacturing needs. Even if China’s economy weren’t so closed off to so many American goods and services, a strong argument has long been made that the U.S. needs to diversify its sources for imports. While finding those new sources wouldn’t necessarily do anything to dent America’s trade imbalances, it would reduce the risks of a major disruption to the U.S. economy based on disputes or other problems connected to a single foreign country.

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As I wrote yesterday, he has little to lose by resigning.

Boris Johnson Urged To Become A ‘Brexit Martyr’ (DM)

Boris Johnson wrote to all Tory members last night to indicate that he would rather defy the law than beg Brussels for a delay in bringing Britain out of the EU. The Prime Minister said he was only bound ‘in theory’ by a law which is expected to receive Royal Assent on Monday, taking a No Deal Brexit off the table. In his letter, he reiterated his determination to stand firm against Remainers, saying: ‘They just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do.’ Earlier on Friday he told reporters he would not entertain seeking another deadline extension from Brussels, as the incoming law compels him to do if no agreement is in place by October 19.

He was urged last night by Tory grandee Iain Duncan Smith to hold his nerve, saying he would be ‘martyred’ if he chose to break the law and risk a possible prison sentence for contempt of Parliament. Mr Duncan Smith told The Telegraph: ‘This is about Parliament versus the people. Boris Johnson is on the side of the people, who voted to leave the EU. ‘The people are sovereign because they elect Parliament. But Parliament wants to stop the will of the people.’ If Mr Johnson fails to carry out the will of Parliament, he risks being taken to court and, if a judge ordered him to obey Parliament, he could be held in contempt and even jailed for refusing.


Mr Johnson’s latest plans for a snap election appeared to have been scuppered yet again last night by a ’stitch-up’ between Jeremy Corbyn and Remain parties. Labour, the Lib Dems and Scots and Welsh nationalists agreed to block the public going to the polls before October 31. It leaves the Prime Minister in limbo, forced to choose between resigning or defying a law passed by MPs ruling out a No Deal Brexit.

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“This desire for godlike powers of total creation is precisely why free market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters.”

A Trump Brexit Threatens (Wight)

Trump’s otherworldly vice president, Mike Pence, has just said more in one short sentence to unravel the complexities of the Brexit crisis that continues to bedevil the UK, than the ocean of column inches that have been devoted to the subject since the referendum was held in 2016. Speaking at a black tie event in London on Thursday night, attended by an array of business executives, Pence proclaimed, “The minute the UK is out, America is in.” Pence, a man who stands as living proof that human evolution is not wedded to an ever upwards path, delivered these words with the bombast of a Roman proconsul addressing the notables of a soon-to-be client state.

Thus let there be no doubt that the hard no-deal Brexit advocated by the UK’s newly installed Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his supporters is to all intents a Trump Brexit – one that will see the UK economy opened up to the tender mercies of U.S. corporations on terms set not by London but Washington. In other words, we’re talking disaster capitalism on steroids, bringing with it the likely prospect of the decimation of what’s left of the UK’s welfare state, including that most revered totem to social solidarity, the National Health Service (NHS), which since the end of WWII, when it was established, has provided generations of British citizens with free healthcare at the point of need, funded out of general taxation, regardless of social class or personal wealth.


The NHS is therefore a socialist institution in all but name, which Johnson and his privileged right wing establishment acolytes in the hard Brexit camp would sooner see broken up and sold off to U.S. insurance companies in sacrifice to their god, the market. This is regardless of any and all assurances given to the contrary. In her classic work, Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein writes: “Believers in the shock doctrine [of disaster capitalism] are convinced that only a great rupture – a flood, a war, a terrorist attack – can generate the kind of vast, clean canvases they crave,” while earlier in the same passage, warning that “This desire for godlike powers of total creation is precisely why free market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters.”

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National sovereignty.

A Crackup Is Inevitable (Kunstler)

What’s at stake behind all the pushing-and-shoving is the question of national sovereignty. Does it matter anymore? I suspect it will matter increasingly for everyone in many nations, and at a smaller and smaller scale of political divisions so that, for instance, Great Britain itself will be faced with surrendering its dominion over Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is churning in the zeitgeist now, actually has been for some time since the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia cracked up. Even the United States finds itself increasingly disunited and it’s not inconceivable that before the century ends some regions may go their own way. Texans have been talking it up for years, and California is already acting like she’s started divorce proceedings.

China, meanwhile, is whipping its quasi-vassal Hong Kong like a dog because Xi Jinping is not in a position to bust Donald Trump upside the head and Xi’s got to take it out on somebody. Everything was looking so rosy for China as it burst out of its medieval cocoon into industrial adulthood, and now Mr. Trump is ruining the global arrangements that turned the sclerotic old outfit into a global super-dragon. They’ve had a blast driving down the capitalist road — even if they’re actually ruled by communists — but a storm of bad debt is coming up on them from behind, and if it catches up, the joyride is over and some kind of dreadful crackup happens.


All the abiding normality of the past seventy years is slipping away into flux. Modernity is finally yielding – to what? Nobody knows. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of money and economy. Beyond all the other quarrels of modern times — democracy versus communism, Islam versus the West, the wealthy north versus the poor south — one thing remained pretty steady: the flow of oil into the engines of economy. Turned out, the world didn’t have to run out of oil for that normality to fray badly; the oil just had to become marginally unaffordable, and voila! It’s hard for people to grok, especially here in the USA with oil production so far above the old 1970 prior peak that the proposition seems absurd.

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Whitney’s latest. Obvious must read.

CIA, Mossad, “the Epstein Network” and an Orwellian Nightmare (Whitney Webb)

Prior to the public scrutiny of Barak’s relationship to Jeffrey Epstein, following the latter’s arrest this past July and subsequent death, Barak had come under fire for his ties to disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Indeed, it was Ehud Barak who put Weinstein in contact with the Israeli private intelligence outfit Black Cube, which employs former Mossad agents and Israeli military intelligence operatives, as Weinstein sought to intimidate the women who had accused him of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Former Mossad director Meir Dagan led Black Cube’s board until his death in 2016 and Carbyne co-founder Lital Leshem is Black Cube’s former director of marketing.

After Barak put him in contact with Black Cube’s leadership, Weinstein, according to The New Yorker, used the private spy firm to “‘target,’ or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focused on their personal or sexual histories.” In addition, The New Yorker noted that “Weinstein monitored the progress of the investigations personally” and “also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating.”


Yet, more recently, it has been Barak’s close relationship to Epstein that has raised eyebrows and opened him up to political attacks from his rivals. Epstein and Barak were first introduced by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 2002, a time when Epstein’s pedophile blackmail and sex trafficking operation was in full swing.

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Pecunia non olet.

How MIT Concealed Its Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein (Farrow)

The M.I.T. Media Lab, which has been embroiled in a scandal over accepting donations from the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, had a deeper fund-raising relationship with Epstein than it has previously acknowledged, and it attempted to conceal the extent of its contacts with him. Dozens of pages of e-mails and other documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal that, although Epstein was listed as “disqualified” in M.I.T.’s official donor database, the Media Lab continued to accept gifts from him, consulted him about the use of the funds, and, by marking his contributions as anonymous, avoided disclosing their full extent, both publicly and within the university.


Perhaps most notably, Epstein appeared to serve as an intermediary between the lab and other wealthy donors, soliciting millions of dollars in donations from individuals and organizations, including the technologist and philanthropist Bill Gates and the investor Leon Black. According to the records obtained by The New Yorker and accounts from current and former faculty and staff of the media lab, Epstein was credited with securing at least $7.5 million in donations for the lab, including two million dollars from Gates and $5.5 million from Black, gifts the e-mails describe as “directed” by Epstein or made at his behest. The effort to conceal the lab’s contact with Epstein was so widely known that some staff in the office of the lab’s director, Joi Ito, referred to Epstein as Voldemort or “he who must not be named.”

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By refusing to send documents.

Boeing’s Chief Technical Pilot On The 737 MAX Project Pleads The Fifth (ST)

A former Boeing official who played a key role in the development of the 737 MAX has refused to provide documents sought by federal prosecutors investigating two fatal crashes of the jetliner, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mark Forkner, Boeing’s chief technical pilot on the MAX project, invoked the privilege in response to a grand jury subpoena issued by U.S. Justice Department prosecutors looking into the design and certification of the plane, the person said.

Invoking the Fifth to avoid testifying, while a legal right, is sometimes interpreted as an admission of guilt. Its use to resist a subpoena for documents is less common and may only imply a dance between prosecutors and defense attorneys, legal experts say. Forkner, now a first officer for Southwest Airlines, referred questions to his attorney when reached by phone. His attorney, David Gerger, of Houston, did not respond to inquiries.


Forkner, who worked at Boeing from 2011 to 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile, was frequently anxious about the deadlines and pressures faced in the MAX program, going to some of his peers in the piloting world for help, a person who worked on the project previously told The Seattle Times, speaking on condition of anonymity. The MCAS system, designed to move a powerful control surface at the tail to push the airplane’s nose down in certain rare situations, played a critical role in the crashes when the planes nose-dived out of the sky. During the certification process, Forkner suggested to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that MCAS not be included in the pilot manual, according to previous Seattle Times reporting.

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The anti-Corbyn campaign fallout.

For The First Time In My Life, I’m Frightened To Be Jewish (David Graeber)

I am 58 years old, and for the first time in my life, I am frightened to be Jewish. We live in a time when racism is being normalized, when Nazis parade in the streets in Europe and America; Jew baiters like Hungary’s Orban are treated as respectable players on the international scene, “white nationalist” propagandist Steve Bannon can openly coordinate scare-mongering tactics with Boris Johnson in London at the same time as in Pittsburg, murderers deluded by white nationalist propaganda are literally mowing Jews down with automatic weapons. How is it, then, that our political class has come to a consensus that the greatest threat to Britain’s Jewish community is a lifelong anti-racist accused of not being assiduous enough in disciplining party members who make offensive comments on the internet?


For almost all my Jewish friends, this is what is currently creating the greatest and most immediate sense of trepidation, even more than the actual Nazis: the apparently endless campaign by politicians like Margaret Hodge, Wes Streeting, and Tom Watson to weaponize antisemitism accusations against the current leadership of the Labour party. It is a campaign – which however it started, has been sustained primarily by people who are not themselves Jewish – so cynical and irresponsible that I genuinely believe it to be a form of antisemitism in itself. And it is a clear and present danger to Jewish people. To any of these politicians who may be reading this, I am begging you: if you really do care about Jews, please, stop this.

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Justin better act.

Edward Snowden’s Guardian Angels (F24)

After he revealed the National Security Agency’s illegal mass surveillance programmes in 2013, Edward Snowden received help from some unlikely accomplices. Four refugees and their lawyer allowed the whistleblower to escape and stay under the radar, at a time when he was the world’s most wanted man. For 13 days, they sheltered him in their tiny apartments located in the poorest area of Hong Kong, home to the marginalised community of asylum seekers. The mastermind behind the idea of hiding the American fugitive in plain sight was Robert Tibbo, a Canadian human rights lawyer, well known for defending asylum seekers in the region.

Snowden told FRANCE 24 he believes he owes his life to these unexpected allies, who could have turned him in at any time: “They could have written an email to the CIA and they could have gotten a big cheque or they could have finally gotten asylum in exchange. But they would have had to do it by selling someone into a grave. And for that, I’ll never be able to repay them.”


But since their identity was revealed, especially with the release of the Oliver Stone film “Snowden” in 2016, these refugees are being persecuted by Hong Kong authorities. Arrested on several occasions, they have been questioned about their ties with Snowden. The little welfare they received from the government has been cut. Today, they all live in constant fear in Hong Kong. If deported to their home country of Sri Lanka, they could face imprisonment, torture and even death. All of them have applied for asylum in Canada.

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Jul 142019
 


Salvador Dali The hand 1930

 

Where the American Dream Goes to Die: House Prices, Rents, and Incomes (WS)
Why Does The Media Only Care About Dead Migrant Children Under Trump? Ryan)
Big Tech ‘Indenture Entire Populations Into Servitude’ – Snowden (RT)
Epstein’s New Mexico Ranch Linked To Investigation (AP)
A Dozen New Epstein Abuse Victims Come Forward (ZH)
New Envoy Leak Claims Trump Scrapped Iran Nuclear Deal ‘To Spite Obama’ (BBC)
Suspected Leaker of UK Ambassador Cables Identified (R.)
UK Says Iran Tanker Will Be Freed After Guarantees On Destination (AFP)
The Spirit Of Rebellion Spreads In Hong Kong (G.)
Turkey Receives More S-400 Parts As US Holds Off Retaliation (RT)
Chevron Spills 800,000 Gallons Of Oil, Water In California (AP)

 

 

Lots more graphs in the article. This is what happens when a central bank blows a bubble.

Where the American Dream Goes to Die: House Prices, Rents, and Incomes (WS)

The “San Francisco Housing Crisis,” as it’s called on a daily basis, is an extreme. But housing costs in major urban areas in the US have been eating up more and more of household incomes, as house prices and rents have soared and as incomes have crept up painfully slowly. In many cities, not just San Francisco, this condition is now called a “housing crisis” where families with median incomes can no longer afford to rent or buy adequate housing, or where too much of their income is spent on housing, with not enough left over for other things. They have no savings, they barely make it to the next paycheck, and they can’t help the local economy because housing saps their spending power.


Just how out-of-whack this discrepancy between income versus rents and house prices has become over the years is depicted in a new study with long-term charts, released by the research department of Clever Real Estate. Based on Census data going back to 1960 for median household incomes, median gross rents per month, and median house prices, all adjusted for inflation, it shows that nationally, incomes since 1960 have risen just 16%, while rents have risen 72%, and house prices have soared 121%:

In Los Angeles, the median house price increased 358% since 1960, adjusted for inflation, while the median household income rose only 32%. In other words, house prices increased 11 times faster than household incomes:

San Francisco is tops, when it comes to house price increases: Since 1960, house prices surged 531% adjusted for inflation. Over the same period, household incomes also rose sharply, but not nearly enough: 91%. In San Francisco – where about 1% of the population is homeless and many others are struggling – the phrase “housing crisis” is in daily use for a reason: House prices increased about six times faster than incomes:

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In light of the expected ICE actions today, and the equally expected outrage, here’s Danielle Ryan from June 27. Everyone needs to get their facts straight, not just one set of them.

Why Does The Media Only Care About Dead Migrant Children Under Trump? Ryan)

A 2015 lawsuit described “inhumane” conditions in border detention facilities under Obama. Men, women and children, it said, were “packed into overcrowded and filthy holding cells with the lights glaring day and night.” They suffered “in brutally cold temperatures; deprived of beds, bedding, and sleep,” were denied adequate food, water and medical care, as well as “basic sanitation items” like soap, toilet paper and diapers. This all while the media treated Obama with kid gloves and liberals sang his praises.

There were no deaths of children in Customs and Border Protection custody under Obama — and there have been six under the Trump administration, so it is fair to argue, that with the implementation of some more extreme anti-asylum policies and perhaps an even greater lack of caring, Trump has taken an already dysfunctional, inhumane and under-funded system — and simply made it worse. There is a case to be made that he has done this on purpose; to make the situation as unappealing as possible to those who might be tempted to make the treacherous and potentially fatal journey to and across the US’s southern border — but the reality is, however unappealing he tries to make it, for many, it will still be more appealing than the alternative.

The biggest elephant in the room, however, is not that the Obama administration was guilty of many of the same things as the current one. It’s that every single US administration for decades has been guilty of contributing to the creation of this crisis through an abominable imperialist foreign policy that has ravaged the very countries these migrants are coming from. Democrats and Republicans have spent decades enthusiastically destabilizing Latin America under the guise of democracy promotion. In reality, they have stolen its wealth and resources, engineered military coups and installed dictators, funded and equipped death squads — and imposed deadly economic sanctions. Where are all the liberals crying about that? How could such inhumane policy have led to anything else?

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As Steve Wozniak advises people to get off Facebook.

Big Tech ‘Indenture Entire Populations Into Servitude’ – Snowden (RT)

Tech giants such as Google or Facebook store vast amounts of personal data for their own gain but they are also “happy to hand over” this data to governments, making people vulnerable to persecution, Edward Snowden warned. Any person can pretty much be sure that “everything you’ve done, everything you’ve typed into their search box, everything you have clicked on, everything you’ve liked” is duly recorded and stored in the enormous databanks of the big tech corporations, the NSA whistleblower said addressing the UK Open Rights Group Conference (ORGCON19) in London via a video link from Moscow. Your communications, as they happen largely today, don’t actually take place between you and the person that you are talking to.

They happen between you and Facebook, who then provides a copy of it to the person you are talking to, or you and Gmail, who then gives a copy of it to the person that you are talking to and every time these transactions occur through these service providers, they keep a record of it.” The corporations do that primarily to advance their own financial and economic interests, yet they seek to not only “better their class” but also to “better their state” and are, thus, more than happy to share the data they obtained with governments, which, in turn, make a use of it in its mass surveillance programs, Snowden warned.

“We see that governments increasingly care less and less about compliance, and care more and more about power,” he said, adding that the governmental security structures, which were supposedly created to protect the people against the threat of terrorism, are in fact used against pretty much anyone from critically-minded journalists and dissidents to immigrants and minorities. The corporations, which now virtually control the most part of internet communications, have been long abusing their position of power, forcing people into relations one would never “meaningfully consent to” while staying largely unaccountable. The law simply has not caught up to the fact that a technological corporation now can indenture entire populations into servitude to the corporate good, rather than to individual or public good.

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Middle of nowhere?!

Epstein’s New Mexico Ranch Linked To Investigation (AP)

At the center of Jeffrey Epstein’s secluded New Mexico ranch sits a sprawling residence the financier built decades ago — complete with plans for a 4,000-square-foot (372-square-meter) courtyard, a living room roughly the size of the average American home and a nearby private airplane runway. Known as the Zorro Ranch, the high-desert property is now tied to an investigation that the state attorney general’s office says it has opened into Epstein with plans to forward findings to federal authorities in New York. Epstein, who pleaded not guilty this week to federal sex trafficking charges in New York, has not faced criminal charges in New Mexico.

But the scandal surrounding him has still sent a jolt through the rural Southwestern state as it comes under scrutiny for laws that allowed him to avoid registering as a sex offender following a guilty plea a decade ago in Florida.“New Mexico continues to lag behind the rest of the country in strengthening outdated and weak laws that fail to protect our children from abuse,” Balderas said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press. “This is a huge black eye for our state.” In addition to confirming his office had interviewed possible victims of Epstein who visited his ranch south of Santa Fe, Balderas’ spokesman also said Friday that the attorney general would renew his push for legislation requiring anyone with a sex trafficking conviction to register as a sex offender in New Mexico.

[..] In New Mexico, the attorney general said he has been in touch with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. Balderas’ office has not said, however, how many accusers his office has interviewed and he has not elaborated on what they say took place at the ranch. In a 2015 court filing in Florida, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Epstein said she had been abused at several locations, including the New Mexico property.

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If the prosecutors are serious about asking girls to come forward, he cannot be allowed out on bail, because then they wouldn’t.

A Dozen New Epstein Abuse Victims Come Forward (ZH)

Jeffrey Epstein’s defense team is arguing that their client should be released on house arrest until his trial. They’re also arguing that the charges being brought against Epstein in New York were previously resolved in Florida ten years ago, where Epstein struck his sweetheart deal with prosecutors led by now-Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. But it appears the FBI’s request that any other victims of Epstein come forward succeeded in convincing more than a dozen women, whose cases were not part of the Florida prosecution, to come forward and testify about the abuse they suffered at the hands of Epstein.


According to the Miami Herald, which revived prosecutors’ interest in Epstein with its ‘Perversion of Justice’ series of investigative reports about how Epstein was let off with a slap on the wrist and minimal jail time despite evidence that he was an inveterate, unrepentant pedophile. At least four women have contacted David Boies, the New York power-lawyer who represents some of Epstein’s victims, and at least 10 others have approached other lawyers who have previously represented Epstein’s victims.

“Following Epstein’s arrest Saturday in New Jersey, four women have reached out to New York lawyer David Boies, and at least 10 other women have approached other lawyers who have represented dozens of Epstein’s alleged victims in the past. Jack Scarola, a Palm Beach attorney, said at least five women, all of whom were minors at the time of their alleged encounters with Epstein, have reached out to either him or Fort Lauderdale lawyer Brad Edwards. “The people we are speaking to are underage victims in Florida and in New York. They are not individuals whose claims have previously been part of any law enforcement investigation,” Scarola said. […] “I believe that there was a fairly effective message that was delivered by New York authorities that victims need not fear that they will be treated in the same way that victims had been treated in South Florida,” Scarola said


[..] But New York prosecutors – who say they found “an extraordinary volume of photographs of nude and partially nude young women and girls” while executing a search warrant at his Manhattan residence last weekend – have already argued that he’s likely to either flee the country or add to what they say are dozens of victims as young as 14 from New York to Palm Beach. “I don’t care if he gives up his license and his jet, he still has the wherewithal to take off any time,” said Spencer Kuvin, a Palm Beach attorney who represents three Epstein accusers. “Think about it – if he was a plumber in Queens, do you think the judge would say ‘Yeah, let’s give him an ankle bracelet and send him home?'”

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But then he provides no evidence. Is that an ambassador’s job?

New Envoy Leak Claims Trump Scrapped Iran Nuclear Deal ‘To Spite Obama’ (BBC)

Donald Trump abandoned the Iran nuclear deal to spite Barack Obama, according to a leaked memo written by the UK’s former ambassador to the US. Sir Kim Darroch described the move as an act of “diplomatic vandalism”, according to the Mail on Sunday. It says the memo was written after the then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson appealed to the US in 2018 to stick with the nuclear deal. Under that agreement Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities. It would also allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. However, President Trump did not think that the deal went far enough.


The newspaper reports that after Mr Johnson returned to the UK from the US, Sir Kim wrote that President Trump appeared to be abandoning the nuclear deal for “personality reasons” because the pact had been agreed by his predecessor, Barack Obama. The British ambassador is said to have highlighted splits amongst US presidential advisors and that the White House did not have a “day-to-day” strategy of what to do following withdrawal from the deal. The paper reports that Sir Kim wrote a memo to Mr Johnson, saying: “The outcome illustrated the paradox of this White House: you got exceptional access, seeing everyone short of the president; but on the substance, the administration is set upon an act of diplomatic vandalism, seemingly for ideological and personality reasons – it was Obama’s deal.

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They’re going to keelhaul him/her, set an example.

Suspected Leaker of UK Ambassador Cables Identified (R.)

The suspect behind the leak of confidential memos from Britain’s Washington ambassador has been identified, the Sunday Times newspaper has reported. British officials have launched an inquiry to find the person responsible for the leak of emails published by the Mail on Sunday. Counter-terrorism police have launched a criminal investigation. According to the Sunday Times, which cited unnamed government sources, a suspect had been identified and suggestions that it could be the result of a computer hack by a foreign state had been ruled out. “They think they know who did the leaking,” an unnamed government source told the paper.


“It’s now a case of building a case that will stand up in court. It was someone with access to historical files. They went in and grabbed a range of material. It was quite crude.” Both the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday reported that intelligence officials from the GCHQ eavesdropping spy agency were about to join the investigation to find the suspect by examining email and phone records. The Mail on Sunday published newspaper published memos from Kim Darroch in which he described Donald Trump’s administration as “inept” and “dysfunctional“, prompting an angry response from the US president and causing the envoy to announce his resignation. It has now published further memos from Darroch, defying a police warning that doing so could be a criminal act.

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What a pitiful little country Britain has become. Stumbling from blunder to blunder.

UK Says Iran Tanker Will Be Freed After Guarantees On Destination (AFP)

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt sought to ease tensions with Iran on Saturday, saying a tanker held by Gibraltar would be released if Tehran guaranteed it was not heading to Syria. He said he had a “constructive call” with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, who he said assured him that Tehran “is not seeking to escalate” tensions between the countries. “I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One,” a tanker seized off the coast of the tiny British territory of Gibraltar on July 4, Hunt tweeted. An Iranian statement confirmed the conversation and said Hunt underlined Iran’s “right to export oil”. It added that Tehran hoped that an investigation in Gibraltar into the seized ship “would lead quickly to the release of the Iranian tanker”.


US officials believe the tanker was destined for Syria to deliver oil, in violation of separate EU and US sanctions. Hunt said Britain “would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in Gib (Gibraltar) courts. “Was told by FM Zarif that Iran wants to resolve issue and is not seeking to escalate.” Tehran had reacted angrily to the seizure, and Britain this week said Iranian military vessels had tried to “impede the passage” of a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran, in its statement relayed by state media, said Zarif had told Hunt that his country would continue to export its oil “in all circumstances” and that the Grace One’s destination was a “legal” one, in “the eastern Mediterranean”. He did not specify where.

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Overall aversion against anything China. Not sure that helps.

The Spirit Of Rebellion Spreads In Hong Kong (G.)

An old Chinese idiom has become the key catchphrase of Hong Kong’s social discourse in recent days. Pien Dei Hoi Fa – flowers blooming everywhere – is the term being used to describe the emergence of local protests and so-called Lennon walls, colourful collages of sticky labels with political messages, that are popping up in local communities all over Hong Kong. Millions in this former British colony have flocked to the streets in several mass protests over the past month to fight against a proposed law that would allow individuals to be extradited to stand trial in China’s opaque courts. Now, feeling emboldened by the solidarity and big turnout at recent protests, which have made headlines across the world, Hong Kong people are now riding on the wave of their success to speak up on a range of issues, which are generally related to their discontent with the encroachment of China into Hong Kong.

Over the past weeks, there have already been many smaller scale rallies on the sidelines of the main protests, among them a couple of mothers’ rallies urging the authorities to listen to young people and numerous open-air Christian gatherings urging peace. But many more, with different themes, are in the pipeline: there are at least five planned protests or rallies over the coming week and nine until the end of the month, and lists of these are going viral on social media. On Saturday thousands of people turned out for a Reclaim Sheung Shui protest in a town near the mainland border, a show of anger against so-called parallel traders who snap up goods ranging from foreign-made formula milk to cosmetics and medicines and resell them in China.

On Sunday, a rally in Shatin against the extradition bill and a separate journalists’ march on Hong Kong island against the police’s rough handling of reporters are planned. There will be an elderly people’s march to support the young next Wednesday and a rally against pro-Beijing media in the next few weeks.

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‘..until after coup attempt anniversary..’ i.e. July 16. US, NATO can’t afford to let the S-400 anywhere near their equipment. So expulsion?

Turkey Receives More S-400 Parts As US Holds Off Retaliation (RT)

Additional S-400 air defense components have arrived in Turkey, as Washington remains unusually silent while reportedly contemplating the proper timing and degree of pain it wants to inflict on its NATO ally for disobedience. An Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane landed at Murted Turkish Air Force Base just outside Ankara on Saturday with the latest batch of S-400 parts, the Defense Ministry confirmed, a day after three gigantic Antonov An-124 jets delivered the first components of the defense system. The cargo was welcomed by a large number of military personnel and offloaded by heavy-duty military trucks into secure hangars.

Despite the lack of immediate reaction from Washington, the White House is currently working on a sanctions package which will be invoked under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. The content and degree of the punitive measures have reportedly already been carefully debated between State Department and National Security Council officials together with the Pentagon. Now it is up to Trump to sign off on the package, which is unlikely to come before the end of next week, as the administration allegedly wants to “wait until after Monday’s anniversary” of the Turkey military coup attempt as to “avoid fueling further speculation” about Washington’s possible involvement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the failed July 15, 2016 rebellion on a cleric living in the US under CIA protection and – amid souring relations with Washington which accused Turkey of conducting a brutal crackdown on the coup plotters – began increasingly turning to Russia for defense supplies.

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BAU. Carbon is a bitch. And there are still people who can look at an entire landscape, in this case a canyon, and declare there’s nothing much there. Every landscape teems with life.

Chevron Spills 800,000 Gallons Of Oil, Water In California (AP)

Officials began to clean up a massive oil spill Friday that dumped nearly 800,000 gallons of oil and water into a California canyon, making it larger — if less devastating — than the state’s last two major oil spills. The newly revealed spill has been flowing off and on since May and has again stopped, Chevron spokeswoman Veronica Flores-Paniagua said. She and California officials said the spill is not near any waterway and has not significantly affected wildlife. The last flow was Tuesday. Chevron reported that 794,000 gallons of oil and water have leaked out of the ground where it uses steam injection to extract oil in the large Cymric Oil Field about 35 miles west of Bakersfield.


The steam softens the thick crude so it can flow more readily and is a different process from fracking, which breaks up underground layers of rock. The state has issued Chevron a notice of violation ordering it to stop steam injections around the spill. The company also increased its production of oil from wells in the area. Both actions are intended to relieve underground pressure that may be forcing the mix of oil and water to the surface.

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May 292019
 


 

Assange Request To Postpone Alleged Rape Hearing Due To Bad Health Denied (RT)
US Crusade vs Assange Blueprint For Criminalizing Journalism – Greenwald (RT)
Christopher Steele Refuses To Cooperate With AG Barr’s Probe (ZH)
Pence Predicts Perpetual War at West Point Graduation (Maj. Danny Sjursen)
The Geography of War: No Iraq…? No Iran! (OffG)
China Steps Up Threat To Deprive US Of Rare Earths (AFP)
Corbyn Set To Back Second Brexit Referendum (R.)
UK By Far The Biggest Enabler Of Global Corporate Tax Dodging (Ind.)
Amnesty To Cull Managers After Probe Into ‘Toxic’ Workplace (CNA)
Canadian Lawmakers Fume After Facebook’s Zuckerberg Snubs Invitation (R.)
Family Of ‘Snowden Refugees’ Torn Apart As Canada Considers Asylum (SCMP)

 

 

Assange is in Belmarsh hospital. He is not doing well at all. “The lawyers who visited Julian Assange explained he is in such a bad shape that they could not even have a normal conversation with him.”

Assange Request To Postpone Alleged Rape Hearing Due To Bad Health Denied (RT)

A Swedish court has rejected a request to postpone a hearing on the detention of the WikiLeaks founder. Julian Assange’s lawyers requested the court session be postponed due to their client’s ill health. Swedish prosecutors reopened a rape case against Assange earlier this month after Assange was hauled from London’s Ecuadorian embassy and jailed for skipping a bail hearing in 2012. The rape investigation was originally dropped in 2017, and Assange has maintained his innocence since the case was first opened. The prosecutors filed a request to have Assange detained in absence last week “on probable cause suspected of for rape.” Detention in absence would allow the Swedish government to issue an arrest warrant for Assange.


Swedish defense lawyer Per Samuelson told Reuters on Tuesday that he sought to have the hearing postponed following a visit to Assange in custody on Friday. “One of the reasons is that Assange’s health situation on Friday was such that it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him,” Samuelson said. The lawyer said that any hearing should be stalled until Assange could talk the case through with his legal team “in peace and quiet.” WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson has said that the rape case against Assange was reopened as a result of “considerable political pressure on Sweden.”

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“..once one act of journalism has been legally reclassified as espionage, a precedent has been set, and further cases become impossible to oppose.”

US Crusade vs Assange Blueprint For Criminalizing Journalism – Greenwald (RT)

The latest indictments of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange are a blueprint for making journalists into felons, a test case for dismantling the First Amendment that will destroy journalism as we know it, Glenn Greenwald warned. “If Assange can be declared guilty of espionage for working with sources to obtain and publish information deemed ‘classified’ by the US government, then there’s nothing to stop the criminalization of every other media outlet that routinely does the same,” Greenwald wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Tuesday, highlighting what he considers “the greatest threat to press freedom in the Trump era, if not the last several decades.”

By redefining Assange’s actions as “espionage” rather than “journalism” or “publishing,” the Trump administration seeks to exempt him from legal protections governing speech that belong to everyone, from the Post itself to the lowliest blogger, the Intercept editor and former civil rights attorney explains. The public smearing of Assange – as a rapist, as a “foreign agent,” or any of the other epithets tossed his way over the last decade – is deliberate, designed to make the public cheer his persecution. Because once one act of journalism has been legally reclassified as espionage, a precedent has been set, and further cases become impossible to oppose.

Dismissing Assange as “not a journalist” – as government officials and Assange detractors in the press do on a regular basis – misses the point of the First Amendment entirely, Greenwald argued. Such a distinction puts unprecedented power in the hands of prosecutors to “restrict ‘freedom of the press’ to a small, cloistered priesthood of privileged citizens designated by the government” – something the First Amendment was designed to avoid.

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This is going to be a very ugly fight.

Christopher Steele Refuses To Cooperate With AG Barr’s Probe (ZH)

Having been practically a recluse since since the ‘fake dossier’ alleging links between Donald Trump and Russia that he produced was published by BuzzFeed in January 2017, Christophe Steele has reportedly refused to cooperate with AG Barr’s probes. Reuters reports that, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Steele, a former Russia expert for the British spy agency MI6, will not answer questions from prosecutor John Durham, named by Barr to examine the origins of the investigations into Trump and his campaign team. However, buried deep in Reuters story is the same source claiming that Steele might cooperate with a parallel inquiry by the Justice Department’s Inspector General into how U.S. law enforcement agencies handled pre-election investigations into both Trump and Clinton.

In the past Steele has cooperated, willingly being interviewed twice in the special counsel’s investigation, and submitting answers in writing to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but apparently this time he is not willing. With Steele refusing to cooperate, Joe DiGenova, former U.S. Attorney warned Monday on WMAL radio’s Mornings on the Mall radio show, “this is full scale war,” adding that “we are heading toward a gigantic, gigantic fight… “The intelligence community, which includes the FBI, is in full resistance to disclosing what they did during the presidential campaign.” Sara Carter reports that DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz is expected to release his report on the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Trump within weeks.

These investigation will hold those in the intelligence and law enforcement community accountable, depending on what evidence is discovered. This reporter is hearing from sources that it will be scathing. Those who abused their power and weaponized the tools meant to target America’s enemies against a political opponents should be held accountable.

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As I talked about in War and Young Americans earlier this week. That turned into a very nice thread with a lot of comments from vets. Don’t miss it!

Pence Predicts Perpetual War at West Point Graduation (Maj. Danny Sjursen)

Time was that a stint, or even a career, in the military did not necessarily translate into any serious combat duty. That may seem hard to believe eighteen years after 9/11, but this middle-aged middling major is just old enough to remember such a bygone era. As a cadet at West Point (2001-05), having joined the army just months before the September 11 attacks, most of my professors and tactical officers had never been to war. The colonels had joined in the early 1980s and, at worst, saw limited combat in the petite (and absurd) conflicts in Panama and/or Grenada. The captains and majors commissioned in the early 1990s. As such, most just missed Persian Gulf War 1.0, a few deployed to Somalia or the Balkans, and most hadn’t seen the elephant at all.


Back then, soldiers trained for war but didn’t necessarily expect to fight in one. The Cold War, post-Vietnam army was built as much to contain America’s enemies, and to deter war, as it was to actually engage in combat. Those days seem charmingly quaint from the viewpoint of 2019. Indeed, when I entered the U.S. Military Academy on July 2, 2001, my expectation was to travel the world and maybe do some light peacekeeping in Bosnia or Kosovo, not to fight extended wars. How naive that seems now. Instead I spent a career training for and deploying to wars across the Greater Middle East. Hell, that’s been the story of my entire generation of soldiers. When I graduated in 2005, this still seemed unique and profound. More than a decade later it’s simply the mundane way of things. So it was, this past week, that Vice President Mike Pence addressed the graduating class at West Point, and reminded them to prepare for ever more war.

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The US wouldn’t survive invading Iran.

The Geography of War: No Iraq…? No Iran! (OffG)

No other country in the Middle East is as important in countering America’s rush to provide Israel with another war than Iraq. Fortunately for Iran, the winds of change in Iraq and the many other local countries under similar threat, thus, make up an unbroken chain of border to border support. This support is only in part due to sympathy for Iran and its plight against the latest bluster by the Zio-American bully. In the politics of the Middle East, however, money is at the heart of all matters. As such, this ring of defensive nations is collectively and quickly shifting towards the new Russo/ Sino sphere of economic influence.

These countries now form a geo-political defensive perimeter that, with Iraq entering the fold, make a US ground war virtually impossible and an air war very restricted in opportunity. If Iraq holds, there will be no war in Iran. In the last two months, Iraq parliamentarians have been exceptionally vocal in their calls for all foreign military forces- particularly US forces- to leave immediately. Politicians from both blocs of Iraq’s divided parliament called for a vote to expel US troops and promised to schedule an extraordinary session to debate the matter. “Parliament must clearly and urgently express its view about the ongoing American violations of Iraqi sovereignty,” said Salam al-Shimiri, a lawmaker loyal to the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Iraq’s ambassador to Moscow, Haidar Mansour Hadi, went further saying that Iraq “does not want a new devastating war in the region.” He told a press conference in Moscow this past week, “Iraq is a sovereign nation. We will not let [the US] use our territory,” he said. Other comments by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi agreed. Other MPs called for a timetable for complete US troop withdrawal. Then a motion was introduced demanding war reparations from the US and Israel for using internationally banned weapons while destroying Iraq for seventeen years and somehow failing to find those “weapons of mass destruction.”

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Threats.

China Steps Up Threat To Deprive US Of Rare Earths (AFP)

Chinese state media on Wednesday dangled the threat of cutting exports of rare earths to the United States as a counter-strike in the trade war, potentially depriving Washington of a key resource used to make everything from smartphones to military hardware. The warning is the latest salvo in a dispute that has intensified since President Donald Trump ramped up tariffs against China and moved to blacklist telecom giant Huawei earlier this month, while trade talks have apparently stalled. Huawei stepped up its legal battle on Wednesday, announcing it had filed a motion in US court for summary judgment in its bid to overturn US legislation that bars federal agencies from using its equipment over security concerns.

Beijing had already dropped a big hint that rare earths could be in the firing line by showing images last week of President Xi Jinping visiting a rare earths factory in Ganzhou, central China. An unnamed official from the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s state planner, issued a cryptic warning late Tuesday. “You asked whether rare earths will become China’s countermeasure against unwarranted suppression from the US. What I can tell you is that if anyone wants to use products made from our rare-earth exports to curb and suppress China’s development, I’m sure the people of Ganzhou and across China will not be happy with that,” the official said in answers to questions published by state media.

[..] “Waging a trade war against China, the United States risks losing the supply of materials that are vital to sustaining its technological strength,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary. The state-owned Global Times tabloid warned in an editorial posted online that the “US will rue forcing China’s hand on rare earths”. “It is believed that if the US increasingly suppresses the development of China, sooner or later, China will use rare earths as a weapon,” the nationalist tabloid said.

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Who cares anymore?

Corbyn Set To Back Second Brexit Referendum (R.)

Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is set to back a second referendum on Brexit and it could be within days, the Mirror newspaper reported late on Tuesday, citing senior figures of the party. Corbyn, who has so far said the option of a second referendum should be kept on the table, is under pressure to endorse one without qualification. The prospect poses a dilemma as many of the party’s supporters backed Brexit. After being punished by voters in the European elections, which saw both pro-Brexit and pro-European Union parties surge at the expense of Labour and the governing Conservatives, Labour said a public vote was the way to reunite the country, but added this could also be a national election.


Corbyn himself on Monday had said that the British public should be asked again to give its verdict on Brexit, either through a general election or a second referendum. “With the Conservatives disintegrating and unable to govern, and parliament deadlocked, this issue will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote,” Corbyn had said, adding the party would have discussions on the way forward.

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And there are no laws?

UK By Far The Biggest Enabler Of Global Corporate Tax Dodging (Ind.)

The UK is by far the world’s biggest enabler of corporate tax dodging, helping funnel hundreds of billions of dollars away from state coffers, according to an international investigation. Of the top 10 countries allowing multinationals to avoid paying billions in tax on their profits, four are British overseas territories. Chancellor Philip Hammond has pledged to crack down on multinationals like Google and Amazon that boost profits by shifting huge sums through low-tax jurisdictions. But an index published today by the Tax Justice Network found that the UK has “single-handedly” done the most to break down the global corporate tax system which loses an estimated $500bn (£395bn) to avoidance.

The amount dodged globally each year is more than three times the NHS budget or roughly equivalent to the entire GDP of Belgium. Tax haven territories linked to Britain are responsible for around a third of the world’s corporate tax avoidance risk – more than four times the next greatest contributor, the Netherlands. Topping the list was the British Virgin Islands, followed by Bermuda and the Cayman Islands – all British overseas territories. Jersey, a Crown dependency, was seventh while the UK itself comes in thirteenth. Alex Cobham, chief executive at the Tax Justice Network, described the hypocrisy of rich nations which enable tax avoidance as “sickening”.

“A handful of the richest countries have waged a world tax war so corrosive, they’ve broken down the global corporate tax system beyond repair,” Mr Cobham said. “The UK, Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg – the Axis of Avoidance – line their own pockets at the expense of a crucial funding stream for sustainable human progress. “The ability of governments across the world to tax multinational corporations in order to pay teachers’ wages, build hospitals and ensure a level playing field for local businesses has been deliberately and ruthlessly undermined.”

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Corporate culture.

Amnesty To Cull Managers After Probe Into ‘Toxic’ Workplace (CNA)

Amnesty International said on Tuesday (May 28) most of its top leaders would leave the rights group this year after an external audit, prompted by two staff suicides, found a “toxic” working culture. The organisation, headquartered in London, will shed five of its seven-strong senior management team after the review into “staff wellbeing” ordered last year by secretary-general Kumi Naidoo. It found working at Amnesty often put employees under “exceptional stress” and that its efforts to support staff had been “ad hoc, reactive and piecemeal”. “Amnesty as a working environment is often described as ‘toxic’,” the report, carried out by consultants The KonTerra Group, stated.


“Organisational culture and management failures are the root cause of most staff wellbeing issues,” it concluded. Amnesty initiated the probe last August after Gaetan Mootoo, a well-known researcher, and paid intern Roz McGregor took their own lives within three months of each other that year. Mootoo, who had been with the organisation for decades and was known across Africa for his tireless dedication to his work, killed himself in its Paris offices where he worked. The 65-year-old left a suicide note allegedly “outlining his previous request for help because of the heavy and additional workload; help which was never forthcoming”. McGregor, 28, a British intern working at Amnesty’s Geneva office, reportedly suffered from insomnia and anxiety, and committed suicide at her family’s home near London six weeks after Mootoo’s death.

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Who do they think is more powerful?

Canadian Lawmakers Fume After Facebook’s Zuckerberg Snubs Invitation (R.)

Canadian lawmakers fumed on Tuesday when Facebook Inc founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg snubbed an invitation to Ottawa to testify on privacy and democracy before an international panel, slapping the billionaire with a standing summons. It was the second time in six months Zuckerberg and Facebook’s Chief Operating Office Sheryl Sandberg have failed to show up when invited to address a committee of international lawmakers investigating disinformation, privacy and how to protect democracy. Zuckerberg and Sandberg will be served with an formal summons should they “decide to come to Canada to go fishing,” said Canada’s Charlie Angus, a parliamentarian for the left-leaning New Democratic Party.


“It’s not good enough for them to blow us off.” If Zuckerberg and Sandberg do not comply, parliament could hold them in contempt, but it would be mainly a symbolic move. “It’s an expression by parliament that it’s unacceptable behavior,” Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a Canadian Liberal lawmaker, told Reuters after the hearing. Zuckerberg wrote an editorial published two months ago in which he said he was “looking forward” to discussing “with lawmakers around the world” the same issues being addressed by the committee. “If (Zuckerberg) was an honest individual in writing those words, he’d be sitting in that chair today,” Erskine-Smith said.

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Is Canada going to help those who helped Snowden?

Family Of ‘Snowden Refugees’ Torn Apart As Canada Considers Asylum (SCMP)

“I love you so, so, so much,” writes seven-year-old Sethumdi in a text message to her half-sister Keana. They have the same father and were born just three months apart. But they are now more than 12,000km away from each other, because Keana and her mother, Vanessa Mae Rodel, flew to Canada in March after being granted asylum. Sethumdi, who remains in Hong Kong with her parents and little brother – all asylum seekers – dreams about Keana’s life. In video chats, she admires Keana’s new bedroom and all the toys. She can see through the windows of her half-sister’s house a very different world. Keana, on the other side of the line, tells Sethumdi about her new school in Montreal and the French lessons she has been taking.

But Sethumdi still lives in a cramped flat in Hong Kong, where she has little space to study or sleep properly. She has to share one double bed with her parents and her three-year-old brother. And she is now raising more questions than ever. Nonis and her husband, Supun Thilina Kellapatha, both asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, have been in Hong Kong for over a decade. Their two children were already born in the city and they are stateless. They are all waiting for Canada to decide on refugee claims that were filed on their behalf in January 2017. Their story, already marked by persecution in their home country, took an unexpected turn in 2013, when their lawyer, Robert Tibbo, asked them to help someone at risk.

That person was American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who was on the run after leaking classified documents, which shone a light on the extent of electronic spying by the United States and other governments. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, was sheltered by this family as well as by Rodel, now in Montreal, and Ajith, another asylum seeker from Sri Lanka, who still remains in Hong Kong and is also waiting to receive an answer from the Canadian government.

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May 172019
 


Caravaggio The seven works of mercy (Sette opere di Misericordia) 1607

 

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

– Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, one day before he was murdered

 

What Martin Luther King King won through many hard-fought battles, and in the end through sacrificing his own life, has to be won all over again: freedom, truth, justice. And this time it’s Julian Assange who stands in the frontline. With Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden by his side. But I know you’re not very likely to agree with that assessment.

For one thing, I picked the kind of headline that will probably make many people not read an essay. But I’m not kidding, and I’m not saying this for effect. Julian Assange is like Martin Luther King in many ways, and he deserves for people to recognize that.

Assange and Dr. King were born in different times, the former 3 years after the latter was murdered. But when anyone wants to talk King’s legacy, then Assange very much IS that legacy. It would be nice if people like Dr. King’s youngest daughter Bernice, who is very vocal on her father’s legacy, would acknowledge this. Her father certainly would have.

What Julian Assange and Martin Luther King have in common is a superior intelligence, combined with unwavering courage and an unrelenting drive for justice and truth. Both men were born so brave they realized that they might have to give their lives for their causes. And then brought that realization into practice. Both in their own way gave their lives for our sins.

Shared intelligence and courage, justice and truth. Unfortunately, another thing the two share is gross and vile sex smears. Which hurt both men much more than anything else thrown at them. Not a coincidence. Sex smears invariably and for good reason work strongest in women. And in Reverend King’s case, his religious following, who were 99% black people. Lose the women and you lose half of your potential support.

In Assange’s case, the smears, which have even been upgraded to ‘rape’, keeps people from standing up for him. Once you have that word attached to you, you will never fully get rid of it no matter what happens. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI knew this in the 1960’s, and Robert Mueller and James Comey’s FBI certainly never forgot it half a century later.

 

And of course there are many many people saying that Assange is no Martin Luther King, that Dr. King was a much better man than Assange could ever be. I would urge them to study how Dr. King was perceived in the last 10 years of his life. The nation didn’t exactly revere him, far from it. Most didn’t like him at all, he was seen as a troublemaker, including by many black people, who thought he would make their lives even harder. And then there were Hoover’s sex smears.

After his murder, it took just a few years for the first campaign to establish a public holiday in his name to start. 15 years after the murder, in 1983, President Reagan signed it into law. Even if and when such a petition were started in the case of Assange’s death, which we should all hope will be many years away, the odds of it getting anywhere are slim. But the same would have been true in 1965. So there is hope.

Those willing to give their own lives in order to make other people’s lives better, richer, more just, are special people. Not flawless, for that would make them not people, but special. Yes, Jesus is an obvious example. And so is Mahatma Gandhi. And sure, I hear you say Assange is no Jesus and no Gandhi, but the pattern of peaceful resistance cannot be denied.

There are obviously plenty people who fight for what’s right. What makes Assange, Dr. King, Gandhi, Jesus stand out is that they are examples of people standing up to entire empires. They guy standing in front of the tanks in Tienanmen square in 1989 was another one. Dr. King, Gandhi, Jesus were murdered for what they did. The Chinese guy in all probability also was. That leaves us with Assange.

Does he need to die first before we can appreciate and recognize what he has achieved in our names, that he changed the world we live in for good, as in literally for good? Does it really have to end the same way? Julian Assange hasn’t even received his Nobel Peace Prize yet.

 

 

Here’s an article by Roy Peter Clark for the Poynter, November 25, 2014, about the FBI and sex smears.

How the Southern press foiled FBI’s attempt to smear MLK

Is it possible that we have to thank the white Southern press of the 1960s – even the segregationist press – for its restraint in resisting FBI attempts to smear the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., with sexual scandal? That question is raised, but not sufficiently developed, in a Nov. 11 New York Times piece written by Yale historian Beverly Gage. She discovered in the files of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover an uncensored draft of what has been called the “suicide letter.” The letter was part of an elaborate effort to discredit King, who was about to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.


Based on wire taps and audio tapes, the one-page letter, supposedly sent by an outraged black citizen, described in the vivid language of the day examples of King’s marital infidelities and sexual adventures. The writer, actually an FBI agent, threatened to go public in 34 days with details of King’s affairs. “There is only one thing left for you to do,” it read near the end. “You know what it is.”

From the article, a conversation between Gene Patterson, editor of the Atlanta Constitution from 1960-1968, later editor of the St. Petersburg Times, and Howell Raines, political editor of the St. Petersburg Times, who in 1977 published an oral history of the civil rights movement entitled My Soul Is Rested. In that book Patterson describes to Raines how he was approached by the FBI to smear Dr. King:

“An FBI agent was sent to see me with the bugging information that Dr. King had been engaged in extramarital sexual affairs. The FBI agent, obviously under orders of the director, Hoover, because nobody acted without his direction, urged me – he said, ‘Gene,…here you on this paper have raised Dr. King up to be some kind of model American, some kind of saint, some kind of moralist.’ He said, ‘Now, here’s the information, and why don’t you print it?’ The FBI, the secret police of this country!


And I had to explain to him, ‘Look, we’re not a peephole journal. We don’t print this kind of stuff on any man. And we’re not going to do it on Dr. King.’ And I said, ‘Furthermore, I’m shocked that you would be spying on an American citizen, whether it’s Dr. King or some other person because if it can happen to him, it can happen to all of us.’ And I asked him if he thought this wasn’t a misuse of the FBI. But he was highly offended at me, seeing us as an immoral newspaper for not printing back-alley gossip that the secret police of the United States were trying to ruin this man with.”

Patterson told Raines that one of the editors contacted by the FBI was Lou Harris of the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, a paper that supported segregation on its editorial pages. Patterson recalls:


“So I had a phone call from Lou Harris one day, and he said, ‘Gene, I had a call from an FBI agent over here, and you’d be amazed at what he told me about Dr. King.’ And I said, ‘Lou, you mean sex exploits.’ …He said, ‘Have you heard about this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, the FBI has been to see me, too.’ And I said, ‘What are you gonna do with it?’ he said, ‘Hell, I wouldn’t print that stuff. That’s beyond the pale.’ And this was a segregationist editor talking to me. And I said, ‘Lou, I’m proud of you. I’m not gonna mess with it either.’”

And then perhaps the most revealing bit.

One night, Patterson found himself on a plane to Atlanta with John Doar, one of Bobby Kennedy’s top aides in the Justice Department. Hoover was a powerful man, but supposedly subject to the direction of the Attorney General. “I want you to tell the attorney general about this,” said Patterson. “He should know what the FBI is up to.”


“Because the more I thought about it,” Patterson said, “the more worried I’d become about the misuse of secret police powers.” Patterson remembered that throughout his narrative, Doar never looked at him, staring straight ahead in stony silence. “And all of a sudden,” said Patterson, “it hit me like a thunderclap that Bobby Kennedy knew about it. I had made Doar very uncomfortable by relating it to him. Not one expression crossed that deadpan face of his. He just did not respond. It was like talking to a dead man.”

A half century after these incidents, the American intelligence and security apparatus have snooping powers well beyond anything that could be imagined by Dr. King, Patterson, and their contemporaries. Imagine the corruption of a J. Edgar Hoover armed with the weapons of the digital age. His original bugging of King, whom he hated and criticized publicly, was not in search of sexual indiscretions. Hoover’s goals were measured by the paranoid politics of his time: that King had consorted with Communists.

 

 

No matter where it leads, no matter what abuses it will bring, I’m going to tell the truth

-Dr. King

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 162019
 


AFP Photo/TIMOTHY A. CLARY Jeff Koons – Stainless steel casting of inflatable rabbit (41″) sold for $91.1 million

 

Tulsi Gabbard Would Drop Julian Assange Charges, Pardon Edward Snowden (NW)
2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Can’t Win Against Trump – Cuban (SC)
Russiagate’s Monstrous Offspring (Lazare)
The REAL Story Behind The Russian Hoax (Graham Noble)
The Disinformationists (Hopkins)
No “Do-Over” On Russia Probe: White House Tells Nadler To Pound Sand (ZH)
Barr’s Investigator John Durham Once Probed Mueller in a Shocking Case (S. Noble)
Trump Declares National Emergency Over IT Threats (BBC)
US Blacklists Huawei (R.)
UK Labour To Renationalize Energy Network End Consumer ‘Rip-Off’ (G.)
Majority Of Europeans Expect End Of EU Within 20 Years (G.)
Pilots ‘Raised Boeing Safety Fears’ Months Before Ethiopia Crash (BBC)
Single-Use Plastics A Serious Climate Change Hazard (G.)
Zimbabwe Sells 100 Elephants To China, Dubai (AFP)

 

 

Her own party will make sure that never happens.

Tulsi Gabbard Would Drop Julian Assange Charges, Pardon Edward Snowden (NW)

(start video 1.40.00 in)

Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the U.S. should drop criminal charges against Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. The military veteran said during a lengthy interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast this week that WikiLeaks founder Assange and national security whistleblower Snowden should not be prosecuted for disclosing information. “What would you do about Julian Assange, what would you do about Edward Snowden?” Rogan asked. Gabbard said, if elected, she would drop the Assange charges and pardon Snowden. “We have got to address why [Snowden] did things the way that he did them,” she said.

“You hear the same thing from Chelsea Manning, how there is not an actual channel for whistleblowers like them to bring forward information that exposes egregious abuses of our constitutional rights and liberties, period. There was not a channel for that to happen in a real way, and that’s why they ended up taking the path that they did, and suffering the consequences.” In June 2013, Snowden handed over to journalists a trove of National Security Agency documents detailing a sprawling surveillance apparatus used by global intelligence agencies. The leak showed how the systems could be used to spy on U.S. citizens through their phone calls, text messages and internet use.

After fleeing the country to Hong Kong, a warrant was issued for Snowden’s arrest. Snowden was left stranded in Russia, where he was provided asylum. Gabbard told the podcast host that she could still remember the day she first read the details about mass surveillance in the American press. “I was shocked,” she said. “That was something that Snowden uncovered and released, something that I don’t know that even as members of Congress we would have been aware of,” Gabbard continued. “So now that we are aware of it, we can take action to close those loopholes, to change those policies, to protect our civil liberties… Was the NSA going to disclose that information voluntarily? Absolutely not.”

Assange, whose organization helped facilitate Snowden’s escape, was dramatically arrested last month and has been charged with conspiracy to commit computer hacking for “agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer,” the Justice Department said. On Monday, Sweden reopened its investigation into a rape allegation against Assange, who is now serving 50 weeks in a high-security U.K. prison relating to a 2010 bail violation. As a result, the WikiLeaks founder, who denies the assault allegation, is now facing two extradition charges.

“What happened with his arrest and all this stuff that just went down I think poses a great threat to our freedom of the press and to our freedom of speech,” Gabbard said. “The fact that the Trump administration has chosen to ignore how important it is that we uphold our freedoms…and go after him, it has a very chilling effect on both journalists and publishers…and also on every one of us as Americans. It was a warning call…saying ‘look what happened to this guy.’ It could happen to you. It could happen to any one of us.”

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I think he’s right.

2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Can’t Win Against Trump – Cuban (SC)

Mark Cuban was interviewed by Scott Wapner on CNBC on Tuesday. When asked about 2020 race and whether he’d consider running, he left open the possibility saying: “We’ll see.” “We’ll see what happens. It would take the perfect storm for me to do it,” the owner of Dallas Mavericks said. “There’s some things that could open the door, but I’m not projecting or predicting it right now.” “I still think there’s a real opportunity for somebody who is in the middle but has some charisma, has the ability to relate to both sides but is not a politician. The reality is people don’t trust politicians,” Cuban said. When asked who on the Democratic side has the best chance of winning, Cuban said “nobody right now.” “If you look at why people voted for Donald Trump, in my opinion, first and foremost it was because he wasn’t a politician…Politicians are the least trusted of every profession,” said Cuban.

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“The idea that America may in anyway be responsible for its own fate is of course unthinkable.”

Russiagate’s Monstrous Offspring (Lazare)

Assange is guiltier than ever. If Washington gets its hands on him, he’ll no doubt be hauled before some sort of Star Chamber and then clapped in a dungeon somewhere until he confesses that Russian intelligence made him do it, even though a careful reading of the Mueller report strongly suggests the opposite. Assange languishing behind bars, war breaking out in Latin America or the Persian Gulf, Trump in the Oval Office for four years more – it’s the worst of all possible worlds, and the Democratic Party’s bizarre fixation with Vladimir Putin is what’s pushing it.


Ultimately, Russia-gate is yet a variation on the tired old theme of American innocence. If something goes wrong, it can’t be the fault of decent Americans who, as we all know, are too good for our deeply flawed world. Rather, it must be the fault of dastardly foreigners trying to hack our democracy. It’s a deep-rooted form of xenophobia that has fueled everything from the criminalization of marijuana (smuggled in by evil Mexicans) to the 1950s Red Scare (a reaction to Communism smuggled in by evil Russians), and the war on terrorism (the work of evil Muslims). The idea that America may in anyway be responsible for its own fate is of course unthinkable.

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What will be the reactions when Brennan, Clapper, Comey are indicted?

The REAL Story Behind The Russian Hoax (Graham Noble)

If there is any issue that cries out for a special counsel investigation, it is the evolution of the Trump-Russia collusion theory. Attorney General William Barr may well have decided that the nation does not need to go through such an ordeal again, but he did the next best thing by tapping John H. Durham to investigate what could well be the most nefarious political conspiracy in American history. Durham is Connecticut’s top federal prosecutor, an attorney with a reputation for toughness and a resume that includes investigations into high-level government corruption cases. Reports suggest that he has been on the job for some weeks already, and that is an indication of how seriously the matter is being taken by the attorney general.


[..] If Barr did not anticipate the possibility of criminal indictments or the need to subpoena former government officials – people like former FBI Director James Comey – he could have handed off the probe to Michael Horowitz, the DOJ’s inspector general. Horowitz, who is currently looking into the FBI’s application for a FISA warrant in 2016 and three subsequent extensions of that warrant, does not have the scope of authority to investigate the affair conclusively. Essentially, inspectors general could be described more as auditors than investigators. The Justice Department’s IG is expected to deliver his report sometime in June, and Durham may well use Horowitz’s findings in his own investigation. Unlike Horowitz, Durham can subpoena private citizens – including former government officials – as well as utilize the full range of prosecutorial tools.

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2 years wasted on fiction. And still not over.

The Disinformationists (Hopkins)

So, the election-meddling Putin-Nazi disinformationists are at it again! Oh yes, while Americans have been distracted by Russiagate, Obstructiongate, Redactiongate, or whatever it’s being called at this point, here in Europe, we are purportedly being bombarded with Russian “disinformation” aimed at fomenting confusion and chaos in advance of the upcoming EU elections, which are due to take place in less than two weeks. The New York Times reports that an entire “constellation” of social media accounts “linked to Russia and far-right groups” is disseminating extremist “disinformation,” “encouraging discord,” and “amplifying distrust in the centrist parties that have governed for decades.”

These accounts share some of the same “digital fingerprints,” and are engaging in “tactics” similar to the “tactics used in previous Russian attacks,” notably the Kremlin’s notorious mass-brainwashing of millions of defenseless African Americans with those deceptive anti-masturbation memes during the 2016 elections. Now, this is not just a bunch of nonsense dressed up with authoritative-sounding lingo. No, The Times spoke to “analysts” and “advocacy groups,” which informed them that certain websites in Italy “share the same signatures” as certain other websites sharing certain “pro-Kremlin views.” Moreover, two “political groups” in Germany used the same Internet service providers as those “Russian hackers” who attacked our democracy by stealing those Democratic Party emails that transformed Americans overnight into a nation of Trump-loving white supremacists!


That hasn’t happened here in Europe yet, but I’m not sure how much longer we can hold out against this relentless onslaught. According to an “analysis” concocted by some cloud-based cybersecurity firm and authoritatively cited by Politico, at this point, “more than half of Europeans might have seen some form of disinformation” spread by “Russians” on social media. They might have been exposed to “extremist views” and “amplified content” possibly produced by the far-right Alternative for Germany party, and even (God help them!) supporters of Brexit.

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Step by step we’re finding out just how enormously the Democrats have failed.

No “Do-Over” On Russia Probe: White House Tells Nadler To Pound Sand (ZH)

White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a Wednesday letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) that Congress doesn’t get a “do over” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and others conducted by the Justice Department. Nadler has led recent efforts in the Democratic-controlled House to continue, which are set to include hearings with Mueller himself, along with key witnesses in his investigation. “Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized ‘do-over’ of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice,” reads the 12-page letter laying out a legal argument for why Nadler is overstepping his bounds.


The letter goes on to say “As presently framed, the Committee’s inquiries transparently amount to little more than an attempt to duplicate – and supplant – law enforcement inquiries, and apparently to do so simply because the actual law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice did not reach a conclusion favored by some members of the Committee.” “This is not a proper legislative purpose,” writes Cipollone. “While the letter does not invoke executive privilege over any of the documents requested — and leaves the door open to a more narrow request from House Democrats — White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said last week that President Trump “has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege” over the full, unredacted Mueller report itself.”-Axios

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Oh, we’re going to find out who Robert Swan Mueller III is. I got a lot of flack for calling him a coward and a liar, but in reality he’s much worse than that. “Mueller kept four innocent people in jail for years to protect the informant status of Whitey Bulger..”

Barr’s Investigator John Durham Once Probed Mueller in a Shocking Case (S. Noble)

Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham was appointed to investigate the origins of the Russia-Trump probe. Apparently, he has been on the job for weeks. Durham is the perfect investigator for the job by all accounts and he had experience with Robert Mueller in the Whitey Bulger case. He did not side with Mueller and Mueller’s agents suffered the consequences of Mueller’s, some would say, corrupt leadership. Back in the late 1990s, there were “allegations that FBI informants James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and Stephen ‘The Rifleman’ Flemmi had corrupted their handlers. So, in 1999, Janet Reno appointed John Durham as Special Prosecutor and charged him with investigating FBI corruption in Boston.

As it turned out, FBI agents aided mass murderer, Whitey Bulger and hid his crimes. Bulger was a protected informant. Durham sent one agent involved to prison for 10 years. Then-US Attorney, Robert Mueller is probably the one who should have landed in the pen. He allowed four innocent men to be sent to prison for a murder he knew they didn’t commit. He did it to protect Bulger. One of the four men was in Florida at the time of the murder and could not have committed the murder. When Durham went through the documents. He found that the four men had actually been framed. Four people who were innocent were kept in jail for years in order to protect the status of Whitey Bulger as an FBI informant.

The Boston Globe wrote: “[Mike] Albano [former Parole Board Member who was threatened by two F.B.I. agents for considering parole for the men imprisoned for a crime they did not commit] was appalled that, later that same year, Mueller was appointed FBI director, because it was Mueller, first as an assistant US attorney then as the acting U.S. attorney in Boston, who wrote letters to the parole and pardons board throughout the 1980s opposing clemency for the four men framed by FBI lies. Of course, Mueller was also in that position while Whitey Bulger was helping the FBI cart off his criminal competitors even as he buried bodies in shallow graves along the Neponset…”

[..] Robert Mueller was knee-deep in this scandal, along with Andrew Weissman and the agent sent to prison, but because Reno gave him very limited authority, Durham was not able to prosecute Mueller, who was not in the FBI at the time. Mueller kept four innocent people in jail for years to protect the informant status of Whitey Bulger, a mass-murdering Boston mobster who ended up dying in California, and it ended up costing the government $100 million plus in civil judgments.

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Two separate issues: the emergency, and naming Huawei an “entity”, meaning it can’t buy US tech without government approval.

Trump Declares National Emergency Over IT Threats (BBC)

President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to protect US computer networks from “foreign adversaries”. He signed an executive order which effectively bars US companies from using foreign telecoms believed to pose national security risks. The order does not name any company, but is believed to target Huawei. The Chinese tech giant said restricting its business in the US would only hurt American consumers and companies. Several countries, led by the US, have raised concerns in recent months that Huawei products could be used by China for surveillance, allegations the company has vehemently denied.

The US has been pressuring allies to shun Huawei in their next generation 5G mobile networks. In a separate development, the US commerce department added Huawei to its “entity list”, a move that bans the company from acquiring technology from US firms without government approval. The moves are likely to worsen tensions between the US and China, which had already escalated this week with tariff hikes in a trade war. Huawei has been at the epicentre of the US-China power struggle that has dominated global politics over the past year.


[..] Huawei consistently says that if the US bans Huawei from its networks, they are the ones to lose out, not Huawei. That is true. Even without the US market, Huawei is likely to control 40-60% of the networks around the world, industry analysts say. But what may hurt Huawei more is the US decision to put them on the “entity list” – effectively banning American suppliers from selling to the firm. Huawei may not need the US market, but it certainly needs the key components that it gets from the US.

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But Europe doesn’t.

US Blacklists Huawei (R.)

The Trump administration hit Chinese telecoms giant Huawei with severe sanctions on Wednesday, adding another incendiary element to the U.S.-China trade dispute just as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would visit China soon for more talks. The Commerce Department said it was adding Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and 70 affiliates to its “Entity List” – a move that bans the company from acquiring components and technology from U.S. firms without government approval.


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement that President Donald Trump backed the decision to “prevent American technology from being used by foreign owned entities in ways that potentially undermine U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.” Trump earlier in the day signed an executive order barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms deemed to pose a national security risk. While the order did not specifically name any country or company, U.S. officials have previously labeled Huawei a “threat” and lobbied allies not to use Huawei network equipment in next-generation 5G networks.

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Privatization gone wild.

UK Labour To Renationalize Energy Network End Consumer ‘Rip-Off’ (G.)

Labour will announce plans on Thursday to seize back control of Britain’s energy network from private shareholders in an effort to fight climate change and end fuel poverty. Jeremy Corbyn and the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, are expected to say that heat and electricity should be a human right for all and nationalisation of the network is key to decarbonising the economy. Under Labour’s plan, companies that control the UK’s £62bn energy infrastructure – the pipes and cables that supply homes and businesses with gas and electricity – would be taken back into state control soon after a Labour election win. This would include National Grid, and the network arms of Scottish Power and SSE, with the existing investors in those companies to be reimbursed with government bonds at a price determined by parliament.


Nationalisation of the energy networks forms a central part of Labour’s plans to address climate change, with the party arguing that the profits generated from the infrastructure should be invested in the green economy rather than given to shareholders in the form of dividends. Long-Bailey will say energy customers have been “ripped off” by the privatisation of the UK’s energy grid, with shareholders paid £13bn in dividends over the past five years. “It’s an insult and an injustice to our people and our planet for companies operating the grid to rip customers off, line the pockets of the rich and not invest properly in renewable energy,” she will say.

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Well well.

Majority Of Europeans Expect End Of EU Within 20 Years (G.)

More than half of Europeans believe the EU is likely to collapse within a generation, despite support for the bloc hitting heights not recorded in more than a quarter of a century. In France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Greece, the Czech Republic and Poland, a majority of people surveyed thought EU disintegration was a “realistic possibility” in the next 10 to 20 years. The figures are particularly stark in France, where President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche party is trailing behind Marine Le Pen’s Brussels-bashing Rassemblement National (RN) in the polls for next week’s European elections.


According to the survey, commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) thinktank, 58% of people in France believe the EU is very likely or fairly likely to fall apart within 20 years, second only to Slovakia (66%). Of the 14 countries polled by YouGov – constituting 80% of the seats of the European parliament – it was only in Sweden (44%), Denmark (41%) and Spain (40%) that the proportion predicting implosion dipped below a majority. Nearly seven decades after the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, bringing together France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in a pact designed to stave off further war, three in 10 people polled said conflict among countries within the EU was a realistic possibility. As many as a third of voters in France and Poland said they believed a war could be possible.

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Probably the worst thing I’ve read on the 727 MAX disasters.

If no Boeing executive goes to jail for this, you know something’s terribly wrong. And the media, in this case the BBC, helps them, but how do you “inadvertently” make an alarm feature “optional”?

Pilots ‘Raised Boeing Safety Fears’ Months Before Ethiopia Crash (BBC)

American Airlines pilots confronted Boeing about potential safety issues in its 737 Max planes in a meeting last November, US media are reporting. They urged swift action after the first deadly 737 Max crash off Indonesia in October, according to audio obtained by CBS and the New York Times. Boeing reportedly resisted their calls but promised a software fix. But this had not been rolled out when an Ethiopian Airlines’ 737 Max crashed four months later, killing 157 people. Currently 737 Max planes are grounded worldwide amid concerns that an anti-stall system may have contributed to both crashes. Boeing is in the process of updating the system, known as MCAS, but denies it was solely to blame for the disasters.

In a closed door meeting with Boeing executives last November, which was secretly recorded, American Airlines’ pilots can be heard expressing concerns about the safety of MCAS. Boeing vice-president Mike Sinnett told the pilots: “No one has yet to conclude that the sole cause of this was this function on the airplane.” Later in the meeting, he added: “The worst thing that can ever happen is a tragedy like this, and the even worse thing would be another one.” The pilots also complained they had not been told about MCAS, which was new to the 737 Max, until after the Lion Air crash off Indonesia, which killed 189. “These guys didn’t even know the damn system was on the airplane, nor did anybody else,” said Mike Michaelis, head of safety for the pilots’ union.


Earlier this month Boeing admitted that it knew about another problem with its 737 Max jets a year before the fatal accidents, but took no action. The firm said it had inadvertently made an alarm feature optional instead of standard, but insisted that this did not jeopardise flight safety. The feature – an Angle of Attack (AOA) Disagree alert – was designed to let pilots know when two different sensors were reporting conflicting data. The US Federal Aviation Administration said the issue was “low risk”, but said Boeing could have helped to “eliminate possible confusion” by letting it know earlier.

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I don’t think we’re going to help anyone by trying to turn everything into a climate change issue. Plastics are bad, period. Ban them in all but absolutely necessary cases. The carbon footprint of plastic is 0.5 Gt-CO2 per year, or about 1/80th (1.25%) of total emissions. Electricity is 25%, food is 24%.

I do like the link to US shale boosting plastics production, though, that helps people understand.

Single-Use Plastics A Serious Climate Change Hazard (G.)

The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns. Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US. The report says plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product. This plastic binge threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement. It means that by 2050 plastic will be responsible for up to 13% of the total “carbon budget” – equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants – says the research published on Thursday.

The contribution of plastic production and disposal to climate change has been largely hidden, say the authors of the report by the Center for International Environmental Law, which estimates the greenhouse gas footprint of plastic from the cradle to the grave for the first time. While plastic pollution in the oceans has become a high-profile concern, the effect on climate change of the ubiquitous use of plastic has not been a focus. “After the extraction of fossil fuels to produce plastic, the carbon footprint of a material which has become ubiquitous across the globe continues through the refining process, and on well past its useful life as a drinks bottle or plastic bag, through the way it is disposed of and the plastic afterlife,” the report says. The authors say disposable plastic found in packaging and fast-moving consumer goods forms the largest and fastest-growing segment of the plastic economy.


Forty per cent of plastic packaging waste is disposed of at sanitary landfills, 14% goes to incineration facilities and 14% is collected for recycling. Incineration creates the most CO2 emissions among the plastic waste management methods. Nearly all plastic – 99% – is made from fossil fuels. Refining the material is the most greenhouse gas intensive part of the plastic lifecycle, and major expansions in the US and elsewhere will accelerate climate change, the report says. A Shell ethane cracker being constructed in Pennsylvania could emit up to 2.25m tonnes of CO2 each year and a new ethylene plant at ExxonMobil’s refinery in Baytown, Texas, could release up to 1.4m tonnes. The annual emissions from just these two new facilities would be equal to adding almost 800,000 cars to the road, the report says.

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Too many elephants, or too much land taken away from them? We should be paying Africans (not their governments) to take care of the wildlife. Stop dragging them around the world. This is not the 19th century.

Zimbabwe Sells 100 Elephants To China, Dubai (AFP)

Zimbabwe has sold nearly 100 elephants to China and Dubai for a total price of $2.7 million over six years, the country’s wildlife agency said Wednesday, citing overpopulation. Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo told AFP Zimbabwe’s elephants were overcrowding national parks, encroaching into human settlements, destroying crops and posing a risk to human life. “We have 84,000 elephants against a carrying capacity of 50,000,” he said, justifying the sales. “We believe in sustainable use of resources, so we sell a few elephants to take care of the rest. Farawo said 200 people have died in “human-and-animal conflict” in the past five years, “and at least 7,000 hectares of crop have been destroyed by elephants”.


The animals’ natural habitat has been depleted by climate change, he added, while recurrent droughts have added to strain on the overburdened national parks, forcing the pachyderms to seek food and water further afield. Farawo said money from the legal sales was allocated to anti-poaching projects, conservation work, research and welfare. According to the Zimbabwe Chronicle newspaper, 93 elephants were safely airlifted to parks in China and four to Dubai between 2012 and 2018, They were sold in a price range of between $13,500 and $41,500 each. Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have called for a global ban on elephant ivory trade to be relaxed due to the growing number of elephants in some regions. But over the past decade, the population of elephants across Africa has fallen by about 111,000 to 415,000, largely due to poaching for ivory, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Jul 032018
 


Edward Hopper Summer interior 1909

 

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)
Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)
A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)
The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)
UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)
Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)
Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)
Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)
Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)
Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)
The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)
Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)
‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

 

 

And then QE ends.

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)

Stocks right now are hanging by a thread, boosted by a bonanza of corporate buying unrivaled in market history and held back by a burst in investor selling that also has set a new record. Both sides are motivated by fear, as corporations find little else to do with their $2.1 trillion in cash than buy back their own shares or make deals, while individual investors head to the sidelines amid fears that a global trade war could thwart the substantial momentum the U.S. economy has seen this year. “Corporate cash is going to find a home, and it’s either going to be in buybacks, dividends or M&A activity. What it’s not going to be is in capex,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR.

“Individuals are looking at the turbulence we’ve seen this year that we had not seen last year. That creates its own sort of exit sign for investors who don’t want to deal with that.” The numbers showing where each side put their cash in the second quarter are striking. Companies announced $433.6 billion in share repurchases during the period, nearly doubling the previous record of $242.1 billion in the first quarter, according to market research firm TrimTabs. Dow components Nike and Walgreens Boots Alliance led the most recent surge in buybacks, with $15 billion and $10 billion, respectively, last week. In all, 31 companies announced buybacks in excess of $1 billion during June.

At the same time, investors dumped $23.7 billion in stock market-focused funds in June, also a new record. For the full quarter, the brutal June brought global net equity outflows to $20.2 billion, the worst performance since the third quarter of 2016, just before the presidential election. The selling is particularly acute in mutual funds, which saw $52.9 billion in outflows during the quarter and are typically more the purview of the retail side.

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“People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick.”

Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)

The FT has reported this morning that: “Debt at UK listed companies has soared to hit a record high of £390bn as companies have scrambled to maintain dividend payouts in response to shareholder demand despite weak profitability.” They added: “UK plc’s net debt has surpassed pre-crisis levels to reach £390.7bn in the 2017-18 financial year, according to analysis from Link Asset Services, which assessed balance sheet data from 440 UK listed companies.” So what, you might ask? Does it matter that companies are making sense of low-interest rates to raise money when I am saying that government could and should be doing the same thing?

Actually, yes it does. And that’s because of what the cash is being used for. Borrowing for investment makes sense. Borrowing to fund revenue investment (that is training, for example, which cannot go on the balance sheet but still adds value to the business) makes sense. But borrowing to pay a dividend when current profits and cash flow would not support it? No, that makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, you are CEO on a large share price linked bonus package and your aim is to manipulate the market price of the company. It is that manipulation that is going on here, I suggest. These loans are being used to artificially inflate share prices.

The problem is systemic. In the US the problem is share buybacks, which I read recently have exceeded $5 trillion in the last decade, meaning that US companies are now by far the biggest buyers of their own shares. That is, once again, market manipulation. And this manipulation does matter. People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick. And companies claim that their pension funds are better funded as a result of these share prices, and so they are meeting their obligations to their employees when that too is a con-trick. They may be insolvent when the truth is known, so serious is the fraud.

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Japan plays a strange role in the global economy. It won’t be able to keep that up much longer. The Bank of Japan has many options; none are good.

A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)

Japan is at the very centre of the global financial system. It has run current account surpluses for decades, building the world’s largest net foreign investment surplus, or its accumulated national savings. Meanwhile, other nations, such as the US, have borrowed from nations like Japan to live beyond their own means, building net foreign investment deficits. We now have unprecedented levels of cross-national financing.

Much of Japan’s private sector saving is placed in Yen with financial institutions who then invest overseas. These institutions currency hedged most of their foreign assets to reduce risk weighted asset charges and currency write down risks. The cost of hedging USD assets has however risen due to a flattening USD yield curve and dislocations in FX forwards. As shown below, their effective yield on a 10 year US Treasury (UST) hedged with a 3 month USDJPY FX forward has fallen to 0.17%. As this is below the roughly 1% yield many financial institutions require to generate profits they have been selling USTs, even as unhedged 10 year UST yields rise. The effective yield will fall dramatically for here if 3 month USD Libor rises in line with the Fed’s “Dot Plot” forecast for short term rates, assuming other variables like 10 year UST yields remain constant.

As Japanese financial institutions sell US Treasuries, which are considered the safest foreign asset, they are shifting more into higher yielding and higher risk assets; foreign bonds excluding US treasuries as well as foreign equity and investment funds. This is a similar pattern to what we saw prior to the last global financial crisis. In essence, Japan’s financial institutions are forced to take on more risk in search of yield to cover rising hedge costs as the USD yield curve flattens late in the cycle. Critically as the world’s largest net creditor they facilitate significant added liquidity for higher risk overseas borrowers late into the cycle.

I follow these flows closely. One area I think is rather interesting is US Collateralised Loan Obligations (CLOs) which Bloomberg reports “ballooned to a record last quarter thanks in large part to unusually high demand from Japanese investors”. CLOs are essentially a basket of leveraged loans provided to generally lower rated companies with very little covenant protection. Alarmingly, some US borrowers have used this debt to purchase back so much of their own stock that their balance sheets now have negative net equity. A recent Fed discussion paper shows in the following chart that CLOs were the largest mechanism for the transfer of corporate credit risk out of undercapitalised banks in the US and into the shadow banking sector. Japanese financial institutions have been the underwriter of much of that risk in their search for yield.

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“This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.”

The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)

The European Central Bank (ECB) has signaled the end of its asset purchase program and even a possible rate hike before 2019. After more than 2 trillion euros of asset purchases and a zero interest rate policy, it is long overdue. The massive quantitative easing (QE) program has generated very significant imbalances and the risks far outweigh the questionable benefits. The balance sheet of the ECB is now more than 40 percent of the eurozone GDP. The governments of the eurozone, however, have not prepared themselves at all for the end of stimuli. They often claim that deficits have been reduced and risks contained. However, closer scrutiny shows that the bulk of deficit reductions came from lower cost of government debt.

Eurozone government spending has barely fallen, despite lower unemployment and rising tax revenues. Structural deficits remain stubborn, and in some cases, unchanged from 2013 levels. In other words, the problems are still there, they were just hidden for a while, swept under the rug of an ever-expanding global economy. The 19 eurozone countries have collectively saved 1.15 trillion euros in interest payments since 2008 due to ECB rate cuts and monetary policy interventions, according to German media outlet Handelsblatt. This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.

However, that illusion of savings and budget stability will rapidly disappear as most Eurozone countries face massive amounts of debt coming due in the 2018–2020 period and wasted precious years of quantitative easing without implementing strong structural reforms. The recent troubles of Italian banks are just one precursor of things to come. Taxes rose for families and small and medium-sized enterprises, while current spending by governments barely fell, competitiveness remained poor, and a massive 1 trillion euro in nonperforming loans raises doubts about the health of the European financial system.

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Good overview. Crises wherever you look.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)

When considering where the global credit cycle is at, it’s often easy to form a view based on a handful of recent articles, statistics and anecdotes. The most memorable of these tend to be either very positive or negative otherwise they wouldn’t be published or would be quickly forgotten. A better way to assess where the global credit cycle is at is to look for pockets of dodgy debt. If these pockets are few, credit is early in the cycle with good returns likely to lie ahead. If these pockets are numerous, that’s a clear indication that credit is late cycle.

In reviewing global debt, twelve sectors standout for their lax credit standards and increasing risk levels. There’s excessive risk taking in developed and emerging debt, as well as in government, corporate, consumer and financial sector debt. This points to global credit being late cycle. Central banks have failed to learn the lessons from the last crisis. By seeking to avoid or lessen the necessary cleansing of malinvestment and excessive debt, this cycle’s economic recovery has been unusually slow. Ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing have increased the risk of another financial crisis, the opposite of the financial stability target many central bankers have.

For global debt investors, the current conditions offer limited potential for gains beyond carry. With credit spreads in many sectors at close to their lowest in the last decade, there is greater potential for spreads to widen dramatically than there is for spreads to tighten substantially. Keeping credit duration low, staying senior in the capital structure and shifting up the rating spectrum will cost some carry. However, the cost of de-risking now is as low as it has been for a long time. If the risks in the dirty dozen sectors materialise in the medium term, the losses avoided by de-risking will be a multiple of the carry foregone.

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I’d say it’s about time for the British to wake up to the damage May et al are inflicting on the nation.

UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)

A draft of Theresa May’s Brexit plan has already been dismissed as unrealistic by senior EU officials, who say the UK has no chance of changing the European Union’s founding principles. The prime minister is gathering her squabbling ministers at Chequers on Friday for a one-day discussion to thrash out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. But EU sources who have seen drafts of the long-awaited British white paper said the proposals would never be accepted. “We read the white paper and we read ‘cake’,” an EU official told the Guardian, a reference to Boris Johnson’s one-liner of being “pro having [cake] and pro-eating it”. Since the British EU referendum, “cake” has entered the Brussels lexicon to describe anything seen as an unrealistic or far-fetched demand.

May’s white paper is expected to propose the UK remaining indefinitely in a single market for goods after Brexit, to avoid the need for checks at the Irish border. While the UK is offering concessions on financial services, it wants restrictions on free movement of people – a long-standing no-go for the EU. Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU council’s legal service, said it would be impossible for the EU to split the “four freedoms” underpinning the bloc’s internal market, which are written into the 1957 treaty that founded the European project: free movement of goods, services, capital and people. “The EU is in difficulties at the moment; the one and only success which glues all these countries together is a little bit the money and the internal market,” Piris said. “If you fudge the internal market by allowing a third state to choose what they want … it is the beginning of the end.”

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Not easy to find the right position on the topic. But Europe seems to show that uncontrolled immigration leads to the rise of right wing movements. Merkal gave birth to Salvini.

Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)

As liberals across America continue to attempt to one-up one another with the volume of virtue they can signal, specifically on the question of ‘open borders’ – especially since ‘jenny from the bronx’ victory over the weekend, none other than Nassim Nicholas Taleb unleashed a trite 3-tweet summary of how farcical this argument is…

What intellectuals don’t get about MIGRATION is the ethical notion of SYMMETRY:

1) OPEN BORDERS work if and only if the number of pple who want to go from EU/US to Africa/LatinAmer equals Africans/Latin Amer who want to move to EU/US

2) Controlled immigration is based on the symmetry that someone brings in at least as much as he/she gets out. And the ethics of the immigrant is to defend the system as payback, not mess it up. Uncontrolled immigration has all the attributes of invasions.

3) As a Christian Lebanese, saw the nightmare of uncontrolled immigration of Palestinians which caused the the civil war & as a part-time resident of N. Lebanon, I am seeing the effect of Syrian migration on the place.

So I despise these virtue-signaling open-borders imbeciles.

Silver Rule in #SkinInTheGame

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Mutti’s holding centers.

Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel survived a bruising challenge to her authority with a compromise deal on immigration but faced charges Tuesday that it spelt a final farewell to her welcoming stance toward refugees. In high-stakes crisis talks overnight, Merkel had put to rest for now a dangerous row with her hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that had threatened the survival of her fragile coalition government. In separate statements, Merkel praised the “very good compromise” that she said spelt a European solution, while Seehofer withdrew a resignation threat and gloated that “it’s worth fighting for your convictions”.

In a pact both sides hailed as a victory, Merkel and Seehofer agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed holding centres to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers and the repatriations of those who are rejected. They would either be sent back to EU countries that previously registered them or, in case arrival countries reject this – likely including frontline state Italy – be sent back to Austria, pending an agreement with Vienna. CSU general secretary called the hardening policy proposal the last building block “in a turn-around on asylum policy” after a mass influx brought over one million migrants and refugees.

But criticism and doubts were voiced quickly by other parties and groups, suggesting Merkel may only have won a temporary respite. Refugee support group Pro Asyl slammed what it labelled “detention centres in no-man’s land” and charged that German power politics were being played out “on the backs of those in need of protection”. Bernd Riexinger of the opposition far-left Die Linke party spoke of “mass internment camps” as proof that “humanity got lost along the way” and urged Merkel’s other coalition ally, the Social Democrats (SPD), to reject the plan.

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And Merkel made Kurz possible, too.

Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)

Austria’s government warned Tuesday it could “take measures to protect” its borders after Germany planned restrictions on the entry of migrants as part of a deal to avert a political crisis in Berlin. If the agreement reached Monday evening is approved by the German government as a whole, “we will be obliged to take measures to avoid disadvantages for Austria and its people,” the Austrian government said in a statement. It added it would be “ready to take measures to protect our southern borders in particular,” those with Italy and Slovenia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a deal Monday on migration with her rebellious interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to defuse a bitter row that had threatened her government.

Among the proposals is a plan to send back to Austria asylum seekers arriving in Germany who cannot be returned to their countries of entry into the European Union. Austria said it would be prepared to take similar measures to block asylum seekers at its southern borders, with the risk of a domino effect in Europe. “We are now waiting for a rapid clarification of the German position at a federal level,” said the statement, signed by Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his allies of the far-right Freedom party, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. “German considerations prove once again the importance of a common European protection of the external borders,” the statement said.

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Wonder what the strategy meetings were like.

Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)

Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company. But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment. The contradictory claim is Facebook’s latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities.

The suit, filed by an app startup, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit users’ personal data and force rival companies out of business. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that its decisions about “what not to publish” should be protected because it is a “publisher”. In court, Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, even drew comparison with traditional media: “The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts.” [..] Mehta argued in court Monday that Facebook’s decisions about data access were a “quintessential publisher function” and constituted “protected” activity, adding that this “includes both the decision of what to publish and the decision of what not to publish”.

David Godkin, an attorney for Six4Three, later responded: “For years, Facebook has been saying publicly … that it’s not a media company. This is a complete 180.” Questions about Facebook’s moral and legal responsibilities as a publisher have escalated surrounding its role in spreading false news and propaganda, along with questionable censorship decisions. Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor, said it was frustrating to see Facebook publicly deny that it was a publisher in some contexts but then claim it as a defense in court. “It’s politically expedient to deflect responsibility for making editorial judgements by claiming to be a platform,” he said, adding, “But it makes editorial decisions all the time, and it’s making them more frequently.”

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He did pull it off. But it may be too little too late. Biggest no-no: Model 3 was supposed to be $35,000. ended up at $78,000.

Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)

Tesla’s burning the midnight oil to hit a long-elusive target of making 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week failed to convince Wall Street that the electric carmaker could sustain that production pace, sending shares down 2.3% on Monday. Tesla met the target by running around the clock and pulling workers from other projects, workers said. The company also took the unprecedented step of setting up a new production line inside a tent on the campus of its Fremont factory, details of which Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted last month. Tesla’s heavily-shorted shares rose as much as 6.4% to $364.78 in early trading, but sank after several analysts questioned whether Tesla would be able to sustain the Model 3 production momentum, which is crucial for the long-term financial health of the company.

“In the interim, we do not see this production rate as operationally or financially sustainable,” said CFRA analyst Efraim Levy. “However, over time, we expect the manufacturing rate to become sustainable and even rise.” Levy cut CFRA’s rating on Tesla stock to “sell” from “hold.” Tesla, which Chief Executive Elon Musk hailed on Sunday as having become a “real car company,” said it now expects to boost production to 6,000 Model 3s per week by late August, signaling confidence about resolving technical and assembly issues that have plagued the company for months. Tesla also reaffirmed a positive cash flow and profit forecast for the year. Tesla has been burning through cash to produce the Model 3. Problems with an over-reliance on automation, battery issues and other bottlenecks have potentially compromised Tesla’s position in the electric car market as a host of competitors prepare to launch rival vehicles.

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NATO is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.”.

The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)

Whenever I’m having a rough day and need a pick-me-up, I turn to The New York Times’ editorial page. It’s always a gas to see how far the empire’s leading propaganda outfit is prepared to go in its mission to pull the wool over we the people’s gullible little eyes. The good editors have come through for me again with their latest entry, “Trump and Putin’s Too-Friendly Summit.” (Original title: “Trump and Putin: Best Frenemies for Life”). No doubt the original headline was deemed rather too impish for such a serious newspaper—it might, for instance, have alerted readers to the fact that the editorial’s content is not to be taken very seriously—and so was understandably jettisoned.

“One would think,” the editors write, “that the president of the United States would let Mr. Putin know that he faces a united front of Mr. Trump and his fellow NATO leaders, with whom he would have met days before the [Putin] summit in Helsinki.” Alas, during said meeting Trump reportedly remarked that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA”—the “free trade” agreement that has succeeded in decimating most of the manufacturing jobs spared by the automation wrecking ball. In other words, Trump does not necessarily think it’s a good idea to encircle Russia with a hostile military alliance whose existence, according to geopolitical expert Richard Sakwa, is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.” (If you haven’t read Professor Sakwa’s comprehensive study of the Ukrainian crisis, Frontline Ukraine, put it at the top of your summer reading list.)

One notes the Turgidsonian delight with which the Times reminds us that, should push come to shove, we’ve got those Russki bastards outgunned. Of course, gullibles like you and I are to pay no mind to the fact that such a confrontation (a military one, for the Times brought up NATO) would almost certainly involve a nuclear exchange, rendering the disparity in manpower that so excites the Times totally meaningless. No, what’s important is that NATO has twenty-nine member states and counting, while the Warsaw Pact was dissolved twenty-seven years ago: ergo, unless he wants the old mailed fist, Putin had better ask “how high?” when we tell him to jump. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a more delusional assessment of where things stand.

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“We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it.”

Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)

Like “swing vote” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor before him, “swing vote” justice Anthony Kennedy has been one of the worst Supreme Court jurists of the modern era. With swing-vote status comes great responsibility, and in the most consequential — and wrongly decided — cases of this generation, O’Connor and Kennedy were the Court’s key enablers. They • Cast the deciding vote that made each decision possible • Kept alive the illusion of the Court’s non-partisan legitimacy. Each of these points is critical in evaluating the modern Supreme Court. For two generations, it has made decisions that changed the constitution for the worse. (Small “c” on constitution to indicate the original written document, plus its amendments, plus the sum of all unwritten agreements and court decisions that determine how those documents are to be interpreted).

These horrible decisions are easy to list. They expanded the earlier decision on corporate personhood by enshrining money as political speech in a group of decisions that led to the infamous Citizens United case (whose majority opinion, by the way, was written by the so-called “moderate” Anthony Kennedy); repeatedly undermined the rights of citizens and workers relative to the corporations that rule and employ them; set back voting rights equality for at least a generation; and many more. After this next appointment, many fear Roe v. Wade may be reversed. Yet the Court has managed to keep (one is tempted to say curate) its reputation as a “divided body” and not a “captured body” thanks to its so-called swing vote justices and the press’s consistent and complicit portrayal of the Court as merely “divided.”

The second point above, about the illusion of the Court’s legitimacy, is just as important as the first. If the Court were ever widely seen as acting outside the bounds of its mandate, or worse, seen as a partisan, captured organ of a powerful and dangerous political minority (which it certainly is), all of its decisions would be rejected by the people at large, and more importantly, the nation would plunged into a constitutional crisis of monumental proportions. We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it. We should have been done with it long ago. Both O’Connor and Kennedy are responsible for that delay.


Image credit: Mike Thompson / Detroit Free Press

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A tale of two refugees
Putin: Snowden is free to do whatever he wants
Lenin: I ordered Assange to be gagged and isolated and am coordinating “next steps” with US

‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

United States President Donald Trump is expected to pressure Russia to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in exchange for sanctions relief at the upcoming Trump-Putin summit; however, Russia has emphasized that they “are not in a position” to expel Snowden and will “respect his rights” if any such attempt is made. “I have never discussed Edward Snowden with (Donald Trump’s) administration,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to Channel 4 reporters. “When he (Putin) was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide. We respect his rights, as an individual. That is why we were not in a position to expel him against his will because he found himself in Russia even without a U.S. passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong.”

Snowden, who is being prosecuted in the United States for leaking classified documents that showed surveillance abuse by U.S. intelligence agencies, was given political asylum in Russia after his passport was revoked. “Edward Snowden is the master of his own destiny,” Lavrov said. Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, where Putin is expected to push for an end to U.S. sanctions. Trump has said he would like better relations with Russia, perhaps as a way of pulling them away from China, but Trump’s opponents in the United States are already applying political pressure on him for holding the summit, in the midst of the tensest U.S.-Russian relations since the height of the Cold War.

The fate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also lay in the balance when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno this week. “The vice president raised the issue of Mr. Assange. It was a constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward,” a White House official said in a statement.

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Jun 302018
 


Paul Gauguin We hail thee Mary 1891

 

If The US Middle Class Disappears So Will The US Economy (Hutch)
Nervous Investors Exiting US Stocks At Near-Record Pace (CNBC)
Emerging Markets Are In A Death Cross (CNBC)
Are Central Banks Embracing Too Much Risk? (R.)
Stress Test Results Signal More Flexible New-Look Fed (R.)
EU Warns Deep Disputes With UK Threaten No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)
EU Leaders Say Post-Brexit Single-Market Access For Goods A Nonstarter (G.)
Hidden Figures (Jim Kunstler)
Canada Hits US With Retaliatory Tariffs: ‘We Will Not Back Down’ (G.)
Merkel Confirms Bilateral Migrant Agreements With Spain And Greece (DW)
Not Up To US To Decide On Assange Asylum, Ecuador Says (AFP)
Edward Snowden Calls Russian Government ‘Corrupt’ (Ind.)
The Great Firewall Of China (G.)

 

 

“..the “Walmartization” of America.”

If The US Middle Class Disappears So Will The US Economy (Hutch)

Economies have ebbs and flows. In spite of what they teach you in economics 101 nothing is ever in equilibrium. There are just too many parts as well as internal and external influences although there are times when activity is stronger than others. The US built one of the greatest economic powerhouses on earth after World War II, however it was already well on its way from the 1800s as it built out its infrastructure and put many to work. There was a time when the US consumed the majority of what it produced as a nation and then exported the remainder. Who was responsible for the consumption? It was the middle class. The middle class made up the majority of the population. They had jobs and respectable salaries. So what happened?

According to a research report by the Pew Research Center in 2012, “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class” they state: “For the half century following World War II, American families enjoyed rising prosperity in every decade—a streak that ended in the decade from 2000 to 2010, when inflation-adjusted family income fell for the middle income as well as for all other income groups, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.” The above graph shows that the 50s and 60s had the strongest middle class. In 1950 and 1951 the US had successive years of 8% GDP growth. The report also highlights how the net worth of middle income families—that is, the sum of assets minus debts— took a hit from 2001 to 2010 from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Median net worth fell 28%, to $93,150, erasing two decades of gains.

So we have a situation where consumer debt has increased over the years and incomes have fallen. There are a large number of reasons for this. The manufacturing base has shrunk as companies chose to produce goods in other countries in order to take advantage of cheap labour so they could give themselves pricing advantages. There is, what has become to be known as the “Walmartization” of America. Author John Atcheson writes, “If you want to know why the middle class disappeared and where they went, look no further than your local Walmart. People walked in for the low prices, and walked out with a pile of cheap stuff, but in a figurative sense, they left their wages, jobs, and dignity on the cutting room floor of the House of Cheap.” Driving prices lower and lower is just a race to the bottom that erodes everyone’s quality of life.

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Safety.

Nervous Investors Exiting US Stocks At Near-Record Pace (CNBC)

Investors bailed out of U.S. stocks at a near-record pace in the last week, as money flowing into Treasury bills surged to a 10-year high. Outflows from U.S. stock funds and ETFs totaled $24.2 billion, the third-highest ever, and the $30 billion that came out of global stock funds in total in the past week was the second-highest ever and largest since the financial crisis, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch strategists. The outflows from U.S. stocks were the highest since the stock market correction in February. Bonds, at the same time, saw small inflows of $700 million. “That nervousness, the losses people were experiencing in non-U.S. markets with the trade wars has probably led to what you’re seeing in the markets in the last week or so — a big unwind of positioning, a flight to quality,” said Michael Hartnett, BofAML chief investment strategist.

Hartnett said there was a “pervasive euphoria” about the U.S. at the beginning of the year and that has faded. Now, investors are adjusting positions, not panicking, though T-bills, considered the safest of safe haven bets, continued to pull in funds at a rapid pace. “It’s not like it’s February 2016. It’s not like we’re staring recession in the face, and everyone is cashed up to the eyeballs and policymakers are panicking. That’s not what’s happening. It’s just that people were pricing in Goldilocks forever earlier on in the year, and that was wrong. They’re probably unwinding that positioning,” he said. “It helps explain why the markets have firmed up in the last couple of days. You want to buy fear and sell greed.” Hartnett said July could be a month where investors sell volatility, but then the market could get rockier in August and September, ahead of the midterm elections.

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Prone to get a whole lot worse.

Emerging Markets Are In A Death Cross (CNBC)

Emerging markets are feeling the heat. China is in a bear market, Brazil is closing in on one, and the EEM emerging markets ETF could close out its worst quarter in nearly three years on Friday. Brace for more pain, says one technical analyst. “There’s really a time to own EEM and it’s time not to own EEM,” Piper Jaffray’s chief market technician Craig Johnson told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Thursday. “Our rising dollar is going to be an issue for EEM in here and it looks like to me you got probably another 12 percent downside before you get down to a material support area.”

A 12 percent decline from Thursday’s close would put the EEM ETF at around $37.50, its lowest level since March 2017. On Friday afternoon it had risen 1.5 percent to $43.35. The EEM ETF has also entered a death cross, a technical red flag for Johnson. A death cross marks the point on a chart where a longer-term moving average, such as the 200-day, breaks above a shorter-term moving average, such as the 50-day. The technical indicator demonstrates a sharp breakdown in a security’s price and often prefaces further downside.

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How is that a question?

Are Central Banks Embracing Too Much Risk? (R.)

Central banks are usually thought of as very conservative institutions; if they were cars they would be safe, family sedans. Lately, though, some central banks have been doing the market equivalent of zipping around in a sporty convertible. In recent years, at least two large central banks have been snapping up large quantities of equities, typically considered a risky investment. The Swiss National Bank now has about 20% of its reserves in equities, up from about 7 percent a decade ago. More than half of that is in U.S. equities. And to say that the Bank of Japan has become a player in that country’s equity market is an understatement; BOJ currently owns nearly 75% of the Japanese exchange-traded fund (ETF) market, again up sharply from just a few years ago.

Other central banks, including the European Central Bank and South African Reserve Bank, also make similar purchases, although Japan and Switzerland are the most aggressive buyers of equities. If the idea of a central bank owning a significant amount of stock in a company sounds strange to you, that’s hardly surprising. In the United States, for example, the Federal Reserve Bank is legally prohibited from owning equities, and instead invests its reserves in bonds and other government-backed securities. Some other countries, obviously, have different rules in their bank charters, and modest equity holdings have been a central bank strategy for years. Even so, the practice of central banks owning significant shares of equities is a very recent phenomenon. So why is it happening now, and what kind of risks does this unprecedented trend carry?

In the case of Japan, the motive is clear: for decades the country has had difficulty sustaining economic growth, and the Bank of Japan has already exhausted more traditional forms of stimulus, such as interest rate cuts and bond purchases. Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda have been at pain to stimulate growth and defy expectations of deflation. Switzerland’s bank, by contrast, seems to be acting more like an aggressive individual investor: it has been buying stocks because that is where money is to be made. Unbeknownst to many American investors, the Swiss National Bank is a significant shareholder in well-known American firms like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

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All in for Wall Street.

Stress Test Results Signal More Flexible New-Look Fed (R.)

This year’s Federal Reserve stress test results suggested a more flexible approach, a further sign the regulator’s new leadership is responding positively to a Wall Street push for pragmatic bank supervision, analysts and lawyers said. Banks that took a one-off capital hit due to the 2017 U.S. tax overhaul got a conditional pass, a departure from the Fed’s traditional strict pass-fail approach to quantitative capital issues, while scandal-plagued Wells Fargo was able to double share buyback plans. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were dinged since their capital fell below the Fed’s minimum, but the regulator’s response this year sounded a more industry-friendly tone under Chairman Jerome Powell and Vice Chairman Randal Quarles, President Donald Trump appointees, analysts and lawyers said.

“They have allowed firms to pass on the basis there were special circumstances and applied a level of pragmatism in the way they haven’t in the past. This is the new Fed and it signals to me an early retirement of this super-strict quantitative test,” said Mike Alix, financial services risk leader at PwC. The Fed on Thursday approved the capital plans of 34 lenders following the second leg of its annual tests, a process introduced after the 2007-2009 financial crisis to assess banks’ capacity to withstand a severe recession. The U.S. central bank has ramped up its worst-case scenarios each year.

The U.S. tax code rewrite signed into law in December meant Goldman and Morgan Stanley’s Thursday results were weighed, in part, by changes to the treatment of past losses on hypothetical tax bills under the Fed’s scenarios. But since the tax issue was a one-off and capital levels in the system are high, the Fed felt it was unnecessary to fail the two banks, senior Fed officials said.

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“Asked about Ms May’s dinner speech on Friday morning, Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, looked confused, and said: “There was a speech? Haha.”

EU Warns Deep Disputes With UK Threaten No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)

The European Union has warned that “serious divergence” between itself and Britain in Brexit talks risks the possibility of a no deal, following a meeting by the 27 national leaders in Brussels on Friday. After roughly an hour of discussion, leaders signed off a joint statement pledging to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal situation and highlighting their “concern” at the lack of progress on the Irish border issue. Speaking ahead of the meeting, Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, warned: “On Brexit, we have made progress, but huge and serious divergence remains, in particular on Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

Mr Barnier called for “workable and realistic proposals” to be included in a UK government white paper scheduled for release next month. He added that “time is very short” and said UK negotiators should return to Brussels on Monday to intensify talks. The EU says a deal must be struck before October to stop Britain crashing out of the bloc in March without a transition period – a scenario that would be expected to cause economic chaos. Theresa May on Thursday night addressed leaders over dinner about Brexit for 10 minutes but her speech was apparently overshadowed by hours of discussions about the EU migration crisis, the main focus of the summit. Asked about Ms May’s dinner speech on Friday morning, Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, looked confused, and said: “There was a speech? Haha.”

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One long litany of nonstarters.

EU Leaders Say Post-Brexit Single-Market Access For Goods A Nonstarter (G.)

Theresa May has been told by European leaders that an attempt to protect the UK’s industrial base by gaining single market access for goods alone after Brexit is a nonstarter, as the Irish prime minister warned: “We are not going to let them destroy the European Union.” After being given a “broad brush approach” presentation at a Brussels summit of May’s long-awaited paper, yet to be signed off by her warring British cabinet, the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, told her that unless the final document presented a departure from the UK government’s thinking over the last two years, it would be dead on arrival. The British government is continuing to push the idea of keeping frictionless trade on goods, claiming that it would be a good deal for Europe, given the large trade surplus it enjoys.

May has promised to publish her vision for the future trading relationship after a cabinet meeting at Chequers on Friday. Speaking at the end of a summit dominated by a row over migration, Donald Tusk, the European council president, said that “quick progress” in the Brexit negotiations was needed for there to be any hope of an agreement in October, at what is increasingly being billed as a make-or-break summit. “This is the last call to lay the cards on the table,” Tusk said, of the EU’s call for a workable plan. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said: “There is a clear message in this respect – we can no longer wait”.

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Anyone seen Jeff Sessions lately?

Hidden Figures (Jim Kunstler)

Now, Mr. Trey Gowdy (R – SC) is a different breed of porpoise among congressmen, kind of legal man-eating orca. In look and demeanor, he comes off as a cross between Atticus Finch and the young feller who played the banjo so well in the opening scenes of Deliverance. Mr. Rosenstein didn’t dare lay any mirthful smirky trips on Mr. Gowdy, who radiated the consolidated wrath of the legislative branch at this flock of executive branch popinjays. Mr. Gowdy, who is declining to run for his seat this year, may be bound for bigger things. Some say he may be the next Attorney General. In case you’ve forgotten, Rod Rosenstein is not the Attorney General, he’s the Deputy AG.

His boss is Mr. Jeff Sessions, an elusive figure for months now in the malarial DC backwaters, like that Louisiana Swamp Thang that turns up in the fake Bigfoot documentaries, looming hairily through the night-vision goggles in a cypress slough. Maybe three or four people have laid eyes on him since sometime back in April. Better check his office, make sure he isn’t hunched over face-down in a take-out order of tonkatsu ramen. It’s rumored that our president, the Golden Golem of Greatness, can, shall we say, put the Department of Justice and its subsidiary, the FBI, out of their current misery by finally firing a few of these conniving top dawgs. Order Rosenstein to release un-redacted files he’s been sitting on for a year, and fire his ass for cause when he refuses. In the case of Mr. Sessions, for Godsake, call the undertaker.

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Yogurt and whiskey.

Canada Hits US With Retaliatory Tariffs: ‘We Will Not Back Down’ (G.)

Canada has announced billions of dollars in retaliatory tariffs against the US in a tit-for-tat response to the Trump administration’s duties on Canadian steel and aluminum. Justin Trudeau’s government released the final list of items that will be targeted beginning 1 July. Some items will be subject to taxes of 10 or 25%. “We will not escalate and we will not back down,” the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said. The taxes on items including ketchup, lawnmowers and motorboats amount to $12.6bn. “This is a perfectly reciprocal action,” Freeland said. “It is a dollar-for-dollar response.” Freeland said they had no other choice and called the tariffs regrettable.

Many of the US products were chosen for their political rather than economic impact. For example, imports just $3m worth of yoghurt from the US annually and most of it comes from one plant in Wisconsin, the home state of the House speaker, Paul Ryan. The product will now be hit with a 10% duty. Another product on the list is whiskey, which comes from Tennessee and Kentucky, the latter of which is the home state of the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell. Freeland also said they are prepared if Donald Trump, the US president, escalates the trade war. “It is absolutely imperative that common sense should prevail,” she said. “Having said that, our approach from day one of the Nafta negotiations has been to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”

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How much money is on the line, Angela?

Merkel Confirms Bilateral Migrant Agreements With Spain And Greece (DW)

Spain and Greece have agreed to take back asylum seekers already registered in those countries who are intercepted at the Austria-German border, Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed on Friday. However she said no bilateral agreement had been made with Italy. The agreements are temporary measures to stem secondary migration until EU-wide policies take effect. “What we achieved here together is perhaps more than I had expected,” Merkel told reporters at the end of the summit. Merkel is to inform her coalition allies about the agreement on Friday evening.

Merkel was asked if the agreements with Athens and Madrid met demands from her German conservative CSU coalition partners. Merkel told reporters she believed they even surpassed them: “They are more than equivalent in their effect,” she said. “We are not at the end of the road. I always said that we would never be able to agree a common European asylum system here. But the more we agree among ourselves, the closer we get to a possible European solution. I’m convinced of that.” The tentative agreement with Greece and Spain came on the sidelines of an EU leaders’ summit that reached a breakthrough on migration. It will go into effect once operational details are worked out in the next four weeks, the Chancellery said.

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Does Ecuador have a spine?

Not Up To US To Decide On Assange Asylum, Ecuador Says (AFP)

It’s not up to Washington to decide the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Ecuador’s top diplomat said Friday, following the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence. Pence “raised the issue” of the Australian anti-secrecy activist – holed up at Ecuador’s embassy in London since 2012 – when he met with Lenin Moreno on Thursday, an official with the US vice president’s office confirmed. “Ecuador and the United Kingdom, and of course Mr Assange as a person who is currently staying, on asylum, at our embassy” will decide the next steps, Foreign Minister Jose Valencia told reporters. “It does not enter, therefore, on an agenda with the United States.” Pence and Moreno “agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward,” the US official told reporters traveling with Pence.

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Snowden sure has a spine.

Edward Snowden Calls Russian Government ‘Corrupt’ (Ind.)

Edward Snowden, who fled to Russia after releasing thousands of documents from the US National Security Agency, has suggested his current homeland’s government is “corrupt in many ways”. The ex-IT contractor and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worker, said the country’s citizen’s were warm and clever but he “strongly” disagreed with the policies of Russian president Vladimir Putin. “I think the public feels disempowered. Russians are not naive, they know that state TV is unreliable. The Russian government is corrupt in many ways, that’s something the Russian people realise,” the 35-year-old told German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. “Russian people are warm, they are clever. It’s a beautiful country. Their government is the problem not the people.”

Mr Snowden was granted asylum in Russia after his flight from the US when he made public the NSA’s widespread undeclared surveillance in 2013. He faces three charges under the Espionage Act in his homeland, each of which carry a minimum of 10 years in jail. He has been granted permission to stay in Russia until 2020. Asked by the Suddeutsche Zeitung whether his comments could put him in danger by angering Mr Putin, Mr Snowden said: “There’s no question, it’s a risk. Maybe they don’t care, right? Because I don’t speak Russian. “And I am literally a former CIA agent, so it’s very easy for them to discredit my political opinions as those of an American CIA agent in Russia.”

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Thought control.

The Great Firewall Of China (G.)

In December 2015, thousands of tech entrepreneurs and analysts, along with a few international heads of state, gathered in Wuzhen, in southern China, for the country’s second World Internet Conference. At the opening ceremony the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, set out his vision for the future of China’s internet. “We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber-development,” said Xi, warning against foreign interference “in other countries’ internal affairs”. No one was surprised by what they heard. Xi had already established that the Chinese internet would be a world unto itself, with its content closely monitored and managed by the Communist party.

In recent years, the Chinese leadership has devoted more and more resources to controlling content online. Government policies have contributed to a dramatic fall in the number of postings on the Chinese blogging platform Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter), and have silenced many of China’s most important voices advocating reform and opening up the internet. It wasn’t always like this. In the years before Xi became president in 2012, the internet had begun to afford the Chinese people an unprecedented level of transparency and power to communicate. Popular bloggers, some of whom advocated bold social and political reforms, commanded tens of millions of followers.

Chinese citizens used virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blocked websites. Citizens banded together online to hold authorities accountable for their actions, through virtual petitions and organising physical protests. In 2010, a survey of 300 Chinese officials revealed that 70% were anxious about whether mistakes or details about their private life might be leaked online. Of the almost 6,000 Chinese citizens also surveyed, 88% believed it was good for officials to feel this anxiety.

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Jun 052018
 


John French Sloan East Entrance, City Hall, Philadelphia 1901

 

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)
The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)
US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)
India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)
China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)
Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)
Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)
Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)
Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)
Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)
A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)
Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)
Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

 

 

Don’t think it will happen without an overall economic collapse.

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)

Trillions of dollars of fossil fuel wealth will be wiped out at some point over the next 17 years even if governments fail to impose binding carbon emissions limits on industry to curb global warming, according to a major new study. Environmentalists and policymakers have long warned of the threat of a “carbon bubble” and “stranded assets” for listed energy companies, based on the possibility they will never be able to realise the value of their vast stores of oil, gas and coal if politicians actually deliver on their decarbonisation promises.

But today a group of scientists and analysts from Cambridge, Nijmegen, Macao and the Open University take that warning a step further by arguing that these assets are destined to be stranded regardless of official policies to discourage the use of fossil fuels because clean energy technologies are now developing so rapidly that those polluting assets will be worthless in any case. “Our analysis suggests that, contrary to investor expectations, the stranding of fossil fuels assets may happen even without new climate policies. This suggests a carbon bubble is forming and it is likely to burst,” said Professor Jorge Viñuales from Cambridge University. If policymakers did deliver on the decarbonisation programmes, the loss for investors would be even more rapid.

The research is at odds with work from the International Energy Agency, which projects steady price rises for fossil fuels until 2040. And Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change has also done nothing to persuade most investors to take the stranded assets warning seriously. But the researchers’ new “simulation-based, energy-economy-carbon-cycle climate” model suggests investing in fossil fuel firms today is likely to prove a disastrous bet, suggesting that between $1 trillion and $4 trillion could be wiped off the value of global fossil fuel assets by 2035.

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Steel and concrete prices better not rise.

The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)

Electricity production is heavily dependent on materials like steel, concrete, copper and aluminum, for both producing electricity and moving it around to where it’s needed (see figure). Solar and Wind energy take more steel than any other energy source. Natural gas and nuclear take the least. Solar needs 1,600 tons of steel per MW, wind energy needs over 400 tons of steel, while gas and nuclear need only 4 and 40 tons, respectively. Wind and solar also require ten times more transmission, also heavily steel-intensive, since they are usually sited far away from where the energy is used.

The average high-voltage transmission tower includes about 30 tons of steel and transmission wire contains about a ton of steel per mile. Going from our biggest solar array, located in the Mohave Desert, to Los Angeles is almost 300 miles, requiring on the order of 10,000 tons of steel depending on specific design. While we tend to think of renewables as associated with Blue States, they are actually growing faster in Red States. Four of the five states with the most installed wind energy are Texas (20,321 MW), Iowa (6,917 MW), Oklahoma (6,645 MW) and Kansas (4,451 MW). The only Blue State in the top five is California (5,662 MW).

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Prop up your stock some more.

US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)

Money is pouring into the U.S. economy and in turn helping provide support for the otherwise struggling stock market. If current conditions persist, corporations are likely this year to inject more than $2.5 trillion into what UBS strategists term “flow” — the combination of share buybacks, dividends, and mergers and acquisitions activity. The development comes as companies find themselves awash in cash, thanks primarily to years of stashing away profits plus the benefits of a $1.5 trillion tax break this year that slashed corporate rates and encouraged firms to bring back money idling overseas. Companies have nearly $2.5 trillion in cash parked domestically, according to the Federal Reserve, and as much as $3.5 trillion overseas, various estimates have shown.

When all is said and done for 2018, UBS expects dividend issuance to top $500 billion, buybacks to range from $700 billion to $800 billion, and M&A to constitute about $1.3 trillion. If the numbers pan out, they would equate to about 10% of the S&P 500’s market cap and 12.5% of GDP. “Assuming improving growth and stable rates, we expect the positive positioning/flow backdrop to support US equities, which is important as the daily corporate flow slows from mid-June to mid-July,” UBS strategist Keith Parker said in a note. Parker pointed out that the firm has overweight positions in both tech and health care as the two sectors are leading the buyback boom.

Buybacks specifically have been on a torrid pace and are helping provide a floor to a market that for much of 2018 had looked tired and volatile after a 20% S&P 500 gain the year before. Repurchases are up 83% year to date, far ahead of the 9% gain in dividends, while M&A activity involving U.S. companies has surged 130%, according to UBS. [..] UBS estimates that the combination of buybacks, dividends and demand flows account for some 40% in performance this year. The S&P 500 has nudged 2.6% higher and the Dow industrials are just ahead of breakeven.

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The Fed retreats and the Treasury issues new debt.

India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)

In an op-ed published overnight in the FT, a central banker writes that when it comes to the turmoil gripping the world’s Emerging Markets, whether it is the acute, idiosyncratic version observed in Argentina and Turkey, which according to JPM may be doomed, or the more gradual selloffs observed in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico and India, don’t blame the Fed’s rate hike cycle. Instead blame the “double whammy” of the Fed’s shrinking balance sheet coupled with the dollar draining surge in debt issuance by the US Treasury.

That’s the message from the current Reserve Bank of India, Urjit Patel, who writes that “unlike previous turbulence, this episode cannot be attributed to the US Federal Reserve’s moves on interest rates, which have been rising steadily since December 2016 in a calibrated manner.” But does that mean that the Fed is not to blame for what increasingly looks like another budding EM crisis? Not at all: according to Patel, the dollar funding shortage “upheaval” stems from what he sees as the confluence of two significant events of which the Fed’s balance sheet reduction is one, while the second is the dramatic increase in US Treasury issuance to pay for Trump’s tax cuts; what is notable is that both events are drastically soaking up dollar liquidity.

As a result, Patel blames a lack a coordination between the Fed and Treasury on the adverse flow through across global funding markets as a result of this decline in dollar liquidity, and writes that “given the rapid rise in the size of the US deficit, the Fed must respond by slowing plans to shrink its balance sheet. If it does not, Treasuries will absorb such a large share of dollar liquidity that a crisis in the rest of the dollar bond markets is inevitable.” Putting these two parallel processes – which threaten to materially impair dollar funding markets – in context, on one hand there is QT, or the gradual decline in the Fed’s balance sheet which is set to peak at a rate of $50BN/month by October, while at the same time US net Treasury issuance is set to jump to $1.2 trillion in 2018 and 2019 to cover the forecasted budget deficit of $804BN and $981BN in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

And in a curious coincidence, the withdrawal of dollar funding by the Fed in monthly terms, as it reduces its reinvestment of income received, is proceeding at roughly the same pace as that of net issuance of debt by the US government. Furthermore, both processes are open ended which means that over the next few years, the government’s net issuance will stabilize, albeit at a high level, whereas the Fed’s balance-sheet reduction will keep rising. Both are terrible news for Emerging Markets, which are in desperate need of reversing the ongoing dollar outflows; however as long as Trump continues to make America great, and funds said stimulus with excess debt issuance, emerging market turmoil is virtually guaranteed.

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China retreats, too.

China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)

China’s debt crackdown is a key risk to the country’s economic growth and will have significant knock-on effects for the global economy, particularly emerging markets with high commodity dependence or close Chinese trade links, Fitch Ratings said. Beijing’s campaign to put a lid on debt could also lead to a sharp slowdown in business investment, Fitch said late on Sunday, forecasting that growth in the world’s second-biggest economy would slow to around 4.5% over the medium term. Fitch said the implications of this scenario for the global economy would be significant but not dramatic, unlike a full-scale hard landing.

One of the most significant effects would be on commodity prices, with Fitch expecting oil and metal prices to fall 5 to 10% from its baseline scenario, reflecting China’s large role as a commodity consumer. In April, a Reuters poll of 72 institutions showed economists expected China’s economic growth to slow to 6.5% this year and 6.3% next year as Beijing extends its crackdown on riskier lending practices. GDP in 2017 expanded 6.9% in real terms and 11.2% in nominal terms. Beijing’s financial crackdown, now in its third year, has slowly pushed up borrowing costs and is choking off alternative, murkier funding sources for companies such as shadow banking.

The ratio of Chinese corporate debt to GDP is already very high by international standards – at 168% in 2017 – and is expected to start rising again as nominal GDP growth declines towards 8% from the unusually high rate of more than 11% in 2017, Fitch said. If the government aims to stabilize its corporate debt ratio by 2022, Fitch said China’s nominal economic growth rate could fall by 1 percentage point a year over the medium term while business investment growth would drop 5percentage points per year.

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Restructuring Target2. That should be fun.

Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)

The political upheaval and social unrest fueling the current crisis in Italy should surprise no one. On the contrary, the only uncertainty was when exactly matters would come to a head. Now they have. Italy’s per capita GDP in 2018 is about 8% below its level in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis triggered the Great Recession. And the International Monetary Fund’s projections for 2023 suggest that Italy will still not have fully recovered from the cumulative output losses of the past decade. Among the 11 advanced economies that were hit by severe financial crises in 2007-2009, only Greece has suffered a deeper and more protracted economic depression.

Greece and Italy were the two economies carrying the highest debt burdens at the outset of the crisis (109% and 102% of GDP, respectively), leaving them poorly positioned to cope with major adverse shocks. Since the crisis erupted a decade ago, economic stagnation and costly banking weaknesses have propelled debt burdens higher still, despite a decade of exceptionally low interest rates. Greece has already faced more than one “credit event” and, while Italy has also had a couple of close calls, the spring of 2018 is turning out to be its most tumultuous episode yet. The summer will probably be worse, bringing Italy closer to a sovereign debt crisis. On the surface, general government debt appears to have stabilized since 2013, at around 130% of GDP. However, as I have stressed here and elsewhere, this “stability” is misleading.

General government debt is not the whole story for Italy, even setting aside the private debt loads and the recent renewed upturn in nonperforming bank loans (a daunting legacy of the financial crisis). When evaluating Italy’s sovereign risk, the central bank’s debts (Target2 balances) must be added to those of the general government. As the most recent available data (through March) show, these balances increase the ratio of public-sector debt to GDP by 26%. With many investors pulling out of Italian assets, capital flight in the more recent data is bound to show up as an even bigger Target2 hole. This debt, unlike pre-1999, pre-euro Italian debt, cannot be inflated away. In this regard, it is much like emerging markets’ dollar-denominated debts: it is either repaid or restructured.

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What the euro has meant for Greece and Italy: lower wages, higher unemployment and higher current account deficit.

Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)

[..] we thought it would be a good idea to remind readers why the euro exists in the first place. The briefest possible answer: to make sure the Deutsche Mark does not. As presented in the chart below – which shows the performance for each of the EU12 countries against the German DEM in every decade from the 1950s to the start of the Euro in 1999 – apart from a small revaluation of core countries in the 1990s, every country devalued to Germany in every decade between the 1950s and the start of the Euro. Said otherwise, the Deutsche Mark appreciated in value against all of its European peers for 5 consecutive decades, a condition which if left unchanged, would have led to an economic and trade crisis.

And as a bonus chart, here is same data (with the US and UK added) from the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 to the start of the Euro (Lira -82% devaluation to German DM) and during the 1990s (-24% devaluation) – the decade immediately leading up to the Euro start. As can be seen Italy is amongs the weakest performers relative to the German DM over these periods and showed the momentum that existed in the period leading up to the start of the Euro.

And while the fixed exchange of the Euro for European nations allowed the German export industry to go into overdrive, the lack of the possibility for an external, i.e. currency, devaluation, meant that Italy has been forced to do it all by engaging in internal devaluation, i.e., lower wages, higher unemployment and boosting its current account deficit, which however is made virtually impossible given Italy’s deteriorating demographics. This is what DB’s Jim Reid said of Italy’s potential future: Looking forward, Italy will not find it easy to grow out of its problems as its facing one of the worst set of demographics of the G20 countries. Its population size has peaked (according to the UN) and is expected to decline out to 2050. Its working age population (15-64 year olds as a proxy) is set to fall -24% over the same period and is again one of the worst placed in the G20.

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“Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago..”

Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)

Housing in the Greater Toronto Area is, let’s say, retrenching. Canada’s largest housing market has seen an enormous two-decade surge in prices that culminated in utter craziness in April 2017, when the Home Price Index had skyrocketed 32% from a year earlier. But now the hangover has set in and the bubble isn’t fun anymore. Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago, to 7,834 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). It affected all types of homes, even the once red-hot condos: • Detached houses -28.5% • Semi-detached houses -29.4% • Townhouses -13.4% • Condos -15.5%.

It was particularly unpleasant at the higher end: Sales of homes costing C$1.5 million or more plummeted by 46% year-over-year to 508 homes in May 2018, according to TREB data. Compared to the April 2017 peak of 1,362 sales in that price range, sales in May collapsed by 63%. But it’s not just at the high end. At the low end too. In May, sales of homes below C$500,000 – about 68% of them were condos – fell by 36% year-over-year to 5,253 homes. The TREB publishes two types of prices – the average price and its proprietary MLS Home Price Index based on a “composite benchmark home.” Both fell in May compared to a year ago.

The average price in May for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) fell 6.6% year-over-year to C$805,320, and is now down 12.3%, or an ear-ringing C$113,000, from the crazy peak in April 2017. There are no perfect measures of home prices in a market. Each has its own drawbacks. Average home prices can be impacted by the mix and by a few large outliers – but over the longer term, it gives a good impression of the direction. The chart below shows thepercentage change in average home prices in the GTA compared to a year earlier:

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Because the boom was a bubble.

Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)

It doesn’t feel all that long ago that Australian banks were the envy of the world. In March 2009, when stress-testing of US financial institutions drove the final spasm of the previous year’s credit crisis, you could have bought all the shares in Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays with their $US8.4 trillion ($11 trillion) of gross assets for less than you’d pay for the equity of Westpac, with $US347 billion of assets. Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s share price peaked six years later just a sliver south of three times the value of its net assets, an extraordinary level in a business where price-book ratios have struggled to break above one times over the past decade.

With the current Royal Commission inquiring into practices in the country’s financial services industry and a slew of court cases, those high-flyers have come to earth with a bump. CBA on Monday agreed to pay $700 million to settle a money laundering case in which it admitted that a software update allowed about 54,000 reportable transactions to go unreported over a period of almost three years. On Friday, ANZ and local units of Deutsche Bank and Citigroup announced they were facing possible criminal cartel charges over their handling of a $2.5 billion placement of ANZ shares in 2015. Having executives hauled up before government inquiries and paying out hundreds of millions in court settlements isn’t great for headlines, but it would be a mistake to see the declines in Australia’s banking sector as purely a result of this.

When your annual net income is in the region of $10 billion, as CBA’s is, a $700 million charge is more than just a rounding error. But the 1.2 per cent jump in the company’s stock after the settlement was announced Monday is an indication that the cost is worth less to shareholders than the benefit of putting the issue firmly in the past. The greater risk to Australia’s banks lurks not in the papers of regulators and inquisitors, but on the streets of the country’s sprawling suburbs. As we’ve argued before, the most ominous indicator to watch is also a favourite one of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Rents, as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, have been increasing at less than 1 per cent for nine consecutive quarters , the worst performance for the measure since the housing crash of the early 1990s.

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The spirit of Steve Jobs?!

Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)

Apple will attempt to frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users, within the next version of its iOS and Mac operating systems. “We’re shutting that down,” declared Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi, at the firm’s developers conference. He added that the web browser Safari would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity. The move is likely to add to tensions between the two companies. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook had previously described Facebook’s practices as being an “invasion of privacy” – an opinion Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg subsequently denounced as being “glib”.

At the WWDC conference – held in San Jose, California – Mr Federighi said that Facebook keeps watch over people in ways they might not be aware of. “We’ve all seen these – these like buttons, and share buttons and these comment fields. “Well it turns out these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not.” He then pointed to an onscreen alert that asked: “Do you want to allow Facebook.com to use cookies and available data while browsing?” “You can decide to keep your information private.”

One cyber-security expert applauded the move. “Apple is making changes to the core of how the browser works – surprisingly strong changes that should enable greater privacy,” said Kevin Beaumont. “Quite often the changes companies make around privacy are small, incremental, they don’t shake the market up much. “Here Apple is allowing users to see when tracking is enabled on a website – actually being able to visually see that with a prompt is breaking new ground.”

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Building on the Ring of Fire.

A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)

It’s only been in the last thirty years that Seattle hoisted up its tombstone cluster of several dozen office and condo towers. That’s what cities do these days to demonstrate their self-regard, and Seattle is perhaps America’s boomingest city, what with Microsoft’s and Amazon’s headquarters there — avatars of the digital economy. A megathrust earthquake there today would produce a scene that even the computer graphics artistes of Hollywood could not match for picturesque chaos. What were the city planners thinking when they signed off on those building plans?

I survived the journey through the Seattle tunnel, dogged by neurotic fantasies, and headed south to California’s Bay Area, another seismic doomer zone. For sure I am not the only casual observer who gets the doomish vibe out there on the Left Coast. Even if you are oblivious to the geology of the place, there’s plenty to suggest a sense of impossibility for business-as-usual continuing much longer. I got that end-of-an-era feeling in California traffic, specifically driving toward San Francisco on the I-80 freeway out in the suburban asteroid belt of Contra Costa County, past the sinister oil refineries of Mococo and the dormitory sprawl of Walnut Creek, Orinda, and Lafayette.

Things go on until they can’t, economist Herb Stein observed, back in the quaint old 20th century, as the USA revved up toward the final blowoff we’ve now entered. The shale oil “miracle” (so-called) has given even thoughtful adults the false impression that the California template for modern living will continue indefinitely. I’d give it less than five years now.

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Snowden deserves as much support as Assange does.

Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)

Edward Snowden has no regrets five years on from leaking the biggest cache of top-secret documents in history. He is wanted by the US. He is in exile in Russia. But he is satisfied with the way his revelations of mass surveillance have rocked governments, intelligence agencies and major internet companies. In a phone interview to mark the anniversary of the day the Guardian broke the story, he recalled the day his world – and that of many others around the globe – changed for good. He went to sleep in his Hong Kong hotel room and when he woke, the news that the National Security Agency had been vacuuming up the phone data of millions of Americans had been live for several hours.

Snowden knew at that moment his old life was over. “It was scary but it was liberating,” he said. “There was a sense of finality. There was no going back.” What has happened in the five years since? He is one of the most famous fugitives in the world, the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, a Hollywood movie, and at least a dozen books. The US and UK governments, on the basis of his revelations, have faced court challenges to surveillance laws. New legislation has been passed in both countries. The internet companies, responding to a public backlash over privacy, have made encryption commonplace.

Snowden, weighing up the changes, said some privacy campaigners had expressed disappointment with how things have developed, but he did not share it. “People say nothing has changed: that there is still mass surveillance. That is not how you measure change. Look back before 2013 and look at what has happened since. Everything changed.” The most important change, he said, was public awareness. “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance. But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.”

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Bayer-Monsanto: “It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits..”

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

Unless there is a major hiccup in the next few days, an incredibly powerful company will shortly be given a licence to dominate world farming. Following a nod from Donald Trump, powerful lobbying in Europe and a lot of political arm-twisting on several continents, the path has been cleared for Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, to be taken over by Bayer, the second-largest pesticide group, for an estimated $66bn (£50bn). The merger has been called both a “marriage made in hell” and “an important development for food security”.

Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get. It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.

Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds. You might think that these mergers would alert the government, but because political parties in Britain are so inward-looking, and because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard.

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Mar 212018
 
 March 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Dirk de Herder Amstel Bridge, Amsterdam1946

 

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)
EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)
UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)
Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)
The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)
Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)
German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)
Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)
Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)
France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

 

 

Net worth my ass.

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)

Nine years into the second-longest bull market run in history, the level of total net worth compared with income has reached a record, according to Joe LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis, citing Federal Reserve data. Since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, the disparity between net worth and income has soared, attributable in large part to the growth in financial assets, which have increased by $33.9 trillion, compared with $10.4 trillion in nonfinancial assets. Essentially, that means that American wallets have grown fatter from the accumulation of financial assets like stocks and mutual fund holdings than they have from gains in their homes and other physical assets like autos.

In all, total net worth of $98.75 trillion is now 6.79 times the $14.55 trillion in disposable income for households as of the fourth quarter, according to Fed financial accounts figures. That’s up from 6.71 times in the third quarter. The previous tops came in the first quarter of 2006, with 6.51, and the first quarter of 2000, at 6.12. Those two levels cast ominous signals over the U.S. economy. “A recession started four quarters from the peak of the former and eight quarters from the zenith in the latter,” LaVorgna said Tuesday in a note to clients. As a practical matter, the level should serve as a yellow flag for Fed officials, who are on a course of hiking rates gradually but steadily.

[..] The Fed is an important part of the equation in that it helped boost financial assets through historically low interest rates and an aggressive policy of monthly bond buying called quantitative easing. This is the first meeting for new Chairman Jerome Powell, who must navigate the Fed through rate increases aimed at controlling but not stopping growth. After years of mostly steady gains since the bull market run began in 2009, volatility has crept in 2018 and raised the specter that forward gains will be tougher to achieve. “Powell needs to be mindful of the current backdrop and not signal aggressive rate hikes to come,” LaVorgna said. “Otherwise, stock prices and the economy are in trouble.”

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Brussels and Facebook: they’re going to come for part of the loot of selling your data.

EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)

The EU will unveil proposals for a digital tax on US tech giants on Wednesday, bringing yet more turmoil to Facebook after revelations over misused data of 50 million users shocked the world. The special tax is the latest measure by the 28-nation European Union to rein in Silicon Valley giants and could further embitter the bad-tempered trade row pitting the EU against US President Donald Trump. EU Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici will present proposals aimed at recovering billions of euros from mainly US multinationals that shift earnings around Europe to pay lower tax rates.

The transatlantic blow has been championed by French President Emmanuel Macron and will be discussed over dinner at an EU leaders summit on Thursday. “This will be given top priority as tax file. There is a lot of political momentum on this issue,” an EU official said ahead of the announcement. The unprecedented tech tax follows major anti-trust decisions by the EU that have cost Apple and Google billions and also caught out Amazon. The commission’s tax, expected to be about 3% of sales, would affect revenue from digital advertising, paid subscriptions and the selling of personal data.

The EU tax plan will target mainly US companies with worldwide annual turnover above 750 million euros ($924 million), such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Uber. Spared are smaller European start-ups that struggle to compete with them. Companies like Netflix, which depend on subscriptions, will also avoid the chop. Brussels is seeking to choke tax-avoidance strategies used by the tech giants that, although legal, deprive EU governments of billions of euros in revenue.

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Got to admit, hard to say who I’d trust least with this, Facebook or the UK deep state.

UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)

The U.K.’s data protection watchdog ordered Facebook’s auditors to back down from a probe into a political analytics company accused of wrongly harvesting the data of millions of its users. The tech giant was planning to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s servers and systems, but the Information Commissioner’s Office told Facebook on Monday that it should withdraw from the research firm’s London premises. The ICO said it would seek to gain its own warrant to access the company’s computers and servers.

Facebook had said Monday that it was pursuing a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica and had hired digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to determine whether the data analytics company still possessed Facebook user data. But in an updated statement later that day, Facebook said: “Independent forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg were on site at Cambridge Analytica’s London office this evening. At the request of the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down.”

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Sold his shares first?!

Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton left Facebook last year. Now he’s saying others should do the same. In a tweet Tuesday, Action said: “It is time. #deletefacebook,” referencing the online movement that is gaining steam in the wake of revelations that the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was used without their permission by political data company Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential campaign. He did not immediately expand on his comment. While his Facebook profile was still active for hours after his tweet, it appeared deactivated later Tuesday night.

Acton and fellow co-founder Jan Koum sold the messaging service WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion. Acton received about $3 billion in the deal, and has a net worth of about $5.5 billion, according to Forbes. After staying on for three years, Acton quit Facebook in September, and is now a major backer of rival messaging service Signal, which boasts encryption to make its messages resistent to government surveillance. In February, he joined the newly launched nonprofit Signal Foundation as executive chairman, and invested $50 million into the app.

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Now connect this to the Facebook stories.

The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)

Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents. Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, “Bitcoin is #1 priority,” a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated.

The documents indicate that “tracking down” bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers. The NSA collected some bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”

The agency appears to have wanted even more data: The March 29 memo raised the question of whether the data source validated its users, and suggested that the agency retained bitcoin information in a file named “Provider user full.csv.” It also suggested powerful search capabilities against bitcoin targets, hinting that the NSA may have been using its XKeyScore searching system, where the bitcoin information and wide range of other NSA data was cataloged, to enhance its information on bitcoin users. An NSA reference document indicated that the data source provided “user data such as billing information and Internet Protocol addresses.” With this sort of information in hand, putting a name to a given bitcoin user would be easy.

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One took 519 days, the other 35 days. That’s an actual compariosn?

Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)

Bitcoin has long been compared to the dot-com bubble. Morgan Stanley says its recent moves are similar to the tech boom and bust, but on steroids. Bitcoin’s recent moves almost mirror that of the Nasdaq Composite Index in the lead-up to and aftermath of 2000, but at 15 times the speed, Morgan Stanley said. The Nasdaq climbed 278% in 519 days in the rally leading up to its high in March 2000, while Bitcoin soared 248% in 35 days in the last leg of the rally to its $19,511 high in December, according to the report. There have been three waves of weakness since Bitcoin peaked in December, with prices falling between 45% and 50% each time, before rebounding.

The Nasdaq’s bear market from 2000 had five price declines, averaging a similar 44%. The bear market also looks similar on the way up. There have been two Bitcoin bear market rallies of 43% on average, while the Nasdaq bear market rallies averaged 40%. Bear markets are nothing new for the first decentralized digital currency. Since the coin’s creation in 2009 there have been four bear markets with price declines ranging from 28% to 92%. From the December peak to the most recent low on February, Bitcoin’s price fell by 70%, “nothing out of the ordinary,” Morgan Stanley said.

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C’mon, close them down already. This movie’s getting boring.

German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)

German prosecutors said on Tuesday they had searched Volkswagen’s headquarters as part of a new investigation into whether the carmaker had overstated the fuel efficiency of more vehicles than previously disclosed. The news is the latest setback in the German company’s efforts to move on from a 2015 scandal in which it admitted to cheating U.S. emissions tests on diesel engines. Prosecutors from the city of Braunschweig searched 13 offices at Volkswagen’s (VW) headquarters in nearby Wolfsburg at the start of March, seizing documents and computer files that will now be reviewed, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said, confirming a report by German magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

They were checking a statement issued by VW on Dec. 9, 2015—about three months after its “dieselgate” scandal broke in the United States—over suspicions its contents were incorrect In that statement, VW said its own investigations found it had understated fuel consumption, and hence carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, on no more than 36,000 vehicles. That was much lower than its preliminary estimate of around 800,000 diesel and gasoline vehicles produced five weeks earlier, which caused VW to warn it could face a 2 billion euro ($2.5 billion) hit to profits from the disclosure. VW also said in its December 2015 statement that it had found no evidence of unlawful alterations to CO2 emissions data.

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We might as well keep thinking as long as we still can.

Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)

So our taxes don’t pay for spending, so what? So the government can’t run out of money. Big deal. Does that change anything? ‘We can’t afford it’ has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days. Perhaps even earlier. And while it might make you feel good to believe that, it is simply untrue. This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment if it keeps export prices low. Or the currency competitive. Or their bottom line stable. Ultimately, this comes down to what government is for, and what role markets should play in our lives. People are divided on this. And that is ok. Civil disagreements are a hallmark of a civilised society.

Economies and markets are complex beasts, that perform differently in different environments, under different conditions. Arguably across the duration of time, a range of potential solutions could apply at any given scenario. And the best solution is to pick and choose from a range of different economic schools of thought, and use them in combination. Unfortunately, across the world, the economists and historians that are seeking to gain greater clarity of how to do just that, by understanding the true function of economies and markets are being pushed out of universities and barred from institutions and organisations that would allow their research to come to fruition. This is not a mark of a civilised society, but corporate fascism that is actively suppressing research that threatens the dominance of late-stage capitalism.

If you feel comfortable convincing yourself that unemployment and homelessness is acceptable, if you think the fact that wages have not only stagnated but are in many countries actually going backwards somehow doesn’t affect you, that what most people earn in a lifetime will be insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement should not concern you, that addressing any one of these things would be a detriment not only to your bottom line but to the economy itself, if you can justify that position without relying on arguments over deficits and balanced budgets, well, more power to you, I guess. But we should be honest about our disagreements. And our opinions should be informed by an as accurate understanding of how wealth is created as possible.

For many people, whether or not government can afford to address unemployment and social spending isn’t the issue, the question is whether it should. The argument over budgets, debt ceilings and deficits have been used as a national pacifier that would have us believe that the health of the economy and our ability to earn a living relies on a degree of human suffering. We have been convinced that the balancing of federal budgets somehow relates to our ability to put food on the table, when in fact the opposite is true. These lies have made us paranoid and competitive, where the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. It’s a pretty genius strategy, really.

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On the 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

“Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”

Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)

Seven years ago today, NATO began its “humanitarian bombing” of Libya. While “humanitarian bombing” is an oxymoron, many believe that a country is not truly advancing human rights if it’s not bombing another back to the Stone Age. As an initial matter, it must be said that while the UN had authorized a NATO fly-zone over Libya to protect civilians – all civilians, by the way – there was never authorization for the full-scale invasion which was carried out and which quickly became aimed at regime change. Therefore, the NATO operation which actually took place was illegal.

[..] the intervention was spearheaded by Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice – three self-described warriors for human and women’s rights. Instead, they became three ushers of the Apocalypse. In addition, Italy and France, which also helped lead the charge for invasion, had their own reasons for intervening in Libya. For his part, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be singularly focused on killing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who allegedly gave him €50 million for his presidential campaign – a claim which was just coming to light and to which Gaddafi was the chief witness.

[..] Gaddafi had taken Libya from being the least prosperous country in Africa to the being the most prosperous by the time of the NATO operation. Thus, as one commentator explains, before the intervention, “Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.” Moreover, one of the main reasons, we were told, that NATO needed to intervene in 2011 was to save Benghazi from imminent harm from the government forces of Gaddafi.

However, Hillary Clinton’s own internal emails show that her team recognized that any humanitarian problems confronting Benghazi had passed by the time of the NATO bombing. For example, Clinton’s assistant, Huma Abedin, in an email dated February 21, 2011 – that is, just a mere four days after the initial anti-government protests broke out in Libya – explains that the Gaddafi forces no longer controlled Benghazi and that the mood in the city was indeed “celebratory” by that time. Then, on March 2, just over two weeks before the bombing began, Harriet Spanos of USAID sent an email describing “[s]ecurity reports” which “confirm that Benghazi has been calm over the past couple of days.”

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Rhinos, insects, birds. You are next.

Bird populations in France have fallen by 33% in just 15 years.

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

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