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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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..”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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”.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
[..] 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.
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:
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.
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”.
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.”
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.
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.”
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..”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
I thought they were kidding, Daily Mail after all. But there are more reports on this. In a nutshell: the people who support this are much less capable of doing THEIR jobs than Trump is of doing his. They’re 100% delusional. And they lack a very essential respect for the American system and the Office of the President.
But it’ll all just keep coming. This is on the same day that both the NYT and AP feel forced finally to state that their Russiagate/hacking reporting has been based on nothing at all.
A Democratic congressman has proposed convening a special committee of psychiatrists and other doctors whose job would be to determine if President Donald Trump is fit to serve in the Oval Office. Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who also teaches constitutional law at American University, has predictably failed to attract any Republicans to his banner. But the U.S. Constitution’s 25th Amendment does allow for a majority of the president’s cabinet, or ‘such other body as Congress may by law provide,’ to decide if an Oval Office occupant is unable to carry out his duties – and then to put it to a full congressional vote. Vice President Mike Pence would also have to agree, which could slow down the process – or speed it up if he wanted the levers of power for himself.
The 25th Amendment has been around since shortly after the John F. Kennedy assassination, but Congress has never formed its own committee in case it’s needed to judge a president’s mental health. Raskin’s bill would allow the four Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to each choose a psychiatrist and another doctor. Then each party would add a former statesman – like a retired president or vice president. The final group of 10 would meet and choose an 11th member, who would become the committee’s chairman. Once the group is officially seated, the House and Senate could direct it through a joint resolution to conduct an actual examination of the president ‘to determine whether the president is incapacitated, either mentally or physically,’ according to the Raskin bill.
And if the president refuses to participate, the bill dictates, that ‘shall be taken into consideration by the commission in reaching a conclusion.’ Under the 25th Amendment, such a committee – or the president’s cabinet – can notify Congress in writing that a sitting president is unfit. In either case the vice president must concur, and he would immediately become ‘acting president.’ Presidents have voluntarily transferred their powers to vice presidents in the past, including when they are put under anesthesia for medical procedures. In the case of Raskin’s plan, the Constitution holds that both houses of Congress would hold a vote within three weeks. If two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate agreed that the president couldn’t discharge his duties, he would be dismissed.
Raskin’s plan could have a fatal flaw, however: Legal scholars tend to agree that when the Constitution’s framers first provided for the replacement of a president with an ‘inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the Office,’ they weren’t talking about mere eccentricities. And when the 25th Amendment was sent to the states for ratification in 1965, the Senate agreed that ‘inability’ meant that a president was ‘unable to make or communicate his decisions’ and suffered from a ‘mental debility’ rendering him ‘unable or unwilling to make any rational decision.’ So far two dozen members of the House, all Democrats, have signed on to cosponsor the bill. Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a far-left liberal Democrat, claimed Friday in a Fox Business Channel interview that Congress can remove ‘incompetent’ presidents. ‘The 25th Amendment is utilized when a president is perceived to be incompetent or unable to do his or her job,’ she said.
Remember when – for years and years after the grand, global QE experiment started – any suggestion that central bankers are the primary cause behind global wealth inequality, and thus directly responsible for such political outcomes as Brexit and Trump – was branded as a conspiracy theory by bloggers living in their parents’ basement? We do, because we were accused over and over of just that (our position on the Fed and other central banks should be familiar to all by now). Well, as of this morning, none other than the chief investment strategist at BofA, Michael Hartnett, is a basement dwelling, tinfoil hatter because in his latest Flow Show report, writes that “central banks have exacerbated inequality via Wall St inflation & Main St deflation.”
Of course we knew that, you knew that, and pretty much everyone else knew that, but those whose jobs depended on not admitting it, kept their mouths shut terrified of pointing out that the central banking emperor is not only naked, but an idiot. Well, the seal has been broken, and even the biggest cowards from within the financial establishment, most of whom can be found on financial twitter for some inexplicable reason, can speak up now. However, it’s what Hartnett said next that was more notable, namely that the “massive outperformance of deflation assets versus inflation assets shows central bank failure in War on Deflation…they have failed to boost wage expectations, inflation expectation, “animal spirits” on Main St.”
And, according to the Bank of American, now that central banks are in full reverse mode, there are “two ways to cure inequality…you can make the poor richer…or you can make the rich poorer…” So for anyone still confused, about what is taking place right now, the “Fed/ECB are now tightening to make Wall St poorer” because it is “no longer politically acceptable to stoke Wall St bubble.” Sooner or later the market will get it, and when it does, those who sell first will be happy. Everyone else will be stuck with a market that is locked limited down, with no position sales possible indefinitely, maybe in perpetuity.
Once upon a time people used to have mortgage burning ceremonies when later in their working years the balance on the one-time loan they took out in their 30s to buy their castle was finally reduced to zero. And there was no such thing as student loans, and not only because students are inherently not credit worthy. College was paid for with family savings, summer jobs, work study and an austere life of four to a dorm room. No more. The essence of debt in the present era is that it is perpetually increased and rolled-over. It’s never reduced and paid-off. To be sure, much of mainstream opinion considers that reality unremarkable — even evidence of economic progress and enlightenment. Keynesians, Washington politicians and Wall Street gamblers would have it no other way because their entire modus operandi is based not just on ever more debt, but more importantly, on ever higher leverage.
The chart below not only proves the latter point, but documents that over the last four decades rising leverage has been insinuated into every nook and cranny of the U.S. economy. Nominal GDP (dark blue) grew by 6X from $3 trillion to $18 trillion, whereas total credit outstanding (light blue) soared by 13X from $5 trillion to $64 trillion. Consequently, the national leverage ratio rose from 1.5X in 1980 to 3.5X today. My point today is not to moralize, but to discuss the practical implications of the nation’s debt-topia for Ben Franklin’s other two certainties — death and (especially) taxes. There’s no doubt that the modus operandi of the American economy has been transformed by the trends displayed in the below chart. It so happened that the 1.5X ratio of total debt-to-income (GDP) at the beginning of the chart was not an aberration.
It had actually been a constant for 100 years — except for a couple of unusual years during the Great Depression. It was also linked with the greatest period of capitalist prosperity, economic growth and rising living standards in recorded history. By contrast, today’s 3.5X debt-to-income ratio has two clear implications. First, the nation effectively performed a leveraged buyout (LBO) on itself during the last forty years. And that did temporarily add to the appearance of prosperity. But it also means that the U.S. economy is now lugging two turns of extra debt compared to the historic norm. Mainstream opinion, of course, says “so what?” The U.S. economy is lugging $35 trillion of extra debt, that’s what. That’s right. In the absence of the 40-year leverage aberration since the late 1970s, the chart below would show about $29 trillion of credit market debt (public and private) outstanding, not $64 trillion.
The aggregate real disposable income of UK households has fallen for three quarters in a row for the first time since the 1970s, according to the Office for National Statistics. The ONS said that the inflation-adjusted compensation of the household sector fell 1.4% in the first three months of 2017, reflecting spiking inflation and weak pay growth. It was the biggest decline since the first quarter of 2013 and followed a 0.4% fall in Q4 2016 and a 0.3% slip in Q3 2016. Three consecutive quarters of contraction is the worst run for the series since 1976-77. The ONS also said that the aggregate household savings rate collapsed to just 1.7%, down from 3.3% in the final quarter of 2016, and the lowest on record, although it said one-off tax payment factors might have distorted the latest reading.
Nevertheless, weak pay growth means that households have had to resort to running down their savings and borrowing to support consumption, which has almost single-handedly powered the overall economy since last June’s Brexit vote. “This is not sustainable and fuels the belief that weakened consumer spending is likely to hold back the economy over the coming months,” said Howard Archer of the EY Item Club. “With consumer confidence declining and banks reporting that they intend to restrict the supply of secured credit, the saving rate is more likely to rise than fall ahead,” said Samuel Tombs of Pantheon.
China’s move to open up its fixed income market to foreign investors will eventually unleash “massive” demand for the mainland’s bonds, the chief executive of the company that operates Hong Kong’s stock exchange, told CNBC on Friday. In May, regulators in Hong Kong and on the mainland approved a “bond connect” program to allow investors operating in Hong Kong to trade Chinese bonds, called a “northbound” flow, with a “southbound” flow of Chinese investment into Hong Kong to be considered later. Authorities also won’t cap the amount that foreigners can invest in China. “I think this is a huge breakthrough,” HKEx CEO Charles Li told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
Li said that while large investors are already able to access the mainland fixed income market though existing programs, the bond connect would be fundamentally different. “People are now finally able to do it and able to do it in a way that is familiar, that is similar to the way we trade U.S. dollar Treasurys or other international treasury fixed income instruments,” he said. “That is something so new. That the demand, underlying demand, the potent demand are massive.” He noted that with China’s yuan being included in the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket in November 2015, some investors must include at least some renminbi assets on their balance sheets. Inclusion in the SDR means the renminbi is now officially recognized as a reserve currency. “That will require massive reallocation of capital but over quite a long period of time,” Li said, saying foreign investment into Chinese bonds was “at the beginning of the beginning.”
A federal judge on Friday ordered Illinois to start paying $293 million in state money toward Medicaid bills every month and an additional $1 billion over the course of the next year, worsening a cash-flow problem caused by two years of budget-free spending by state government. U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s ruling came after lawyers representing Medicaid patients and attorneys for the state were unable to agree on a plan to deal with bills and pay down a $3 billion backlog owed to health care providers. The ruling requires the state to start promptly paying all new Medicaid bills, which is estimated at about $586 million per month, and to pay down $2 billion of its bill backlog in payments spread out over the course of the coming fiscal year. The federal government pays half of those costs, so the bottom line for the state will be $293 million per month and $1 billion in backlogged bill payments over the next year.
Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office earlier in the week had offered to pay an additional $150 million per month, but the plaintiffs rejected it, saying it wasn’t enough. The $150 million would have only cost the state $75 million because of the federal match, and Mendoza’s office said that was all the state could spare while meeting other demands. Now, Mendoza said Friday’s ruling would cause her to likely have to cut payments to the state’s pension funds, state payroll or payments to local governments. Payments to bond holders won’t be interrupted, she said. “As if the governor and legislators needed any more reason to compromise and settle on a comprehensive budget plan immediately, Friday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court takes the state’s finances from horrific to catastrophic,” Mendoza said in a statement. “A comprehensive budget plan must be passed immediately.”
Gov. Paul LePage said Friday that he won’t sign a state budget package endorsed Thursday night by a special panel, ensuring a partial shutdown of state government at midnight. The Republican governor’s opposition to the budget deal would force Maine’s first state government shutdown since 1991, which could stretch 10 days if LePage holds a budget bill for the full time the Constitution allows before he must act. A budget would go to him tonight if the Legislature can muster two-thirds votes in both chambers, but even that was a big “if” on Friday. LePage hosted House Republicans for a Friday morning meeting where he reportedly implored them to oppose the budget deal negotiated by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.
LePage told reporters his major objections were the overall cost of the budget package – around $7.1 billion – and that it proposes raising the state’s lodging tax from 9% to 10.5% without income tax cuts. However, the budget package currently under consideration contains an income tax cut of 3% because it eliminates the surtax on income above $200,000 per year for education which was approved by voters last year. LePage said “on June 30” – the deadline for Maine’s next fiscal year – “they’re trying to put a gun to the governor’s head,” but it won’t work. “This budget they have has no prayer, and if they’re hell-bent on bringing this budget down, we will shut down at midnight tonight and we will talk to them in 10 days,” LePage said.
Nonprofit social service agencies prepared Friday to cut programs, close facilities and lay off staff after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an order that slashes funding to maintain essential state services after lawmakers couldn’t come to terms on a budget before the end of the fiscal year. Barry Simon, president and CEO of Oak Hill, said his Hartford-based agency which serves people with developmental disabilities has decided to close four group homes and consolidate two others. Oak Hill was already losing money on those programs and anticipated the problem would be acerbated by the additional state reimbursement cuts in Malloy’s executive order. “Because of this situation, we’re pulling the trigger because it’s only going to get worse,” he said. Simon said 26 individuals live at the six affected group homes, some as long as 20 years. Most are being moved into other facilities.
Meanwhile, Oak Hill is scaling back day programs and employment services for people currently receiving services. And Simon said his agency cut off new admissions two months ago, in anticipation of the state budget impasse. Malloy called it “regrettable” he had to sign the executive order. When it became clear an agreement wasn’t possible on a new, two-year state budget before the fiscal year ended, the Democrat urged the General Assembly to pass a three-month “mini budget” he created. Malloy said it would be less draconian than the executive order and give lawmakers more time to reach a budget deal. While Democratic and Republican state Senate leaders supported Malloy’s mini budget, House leaders did not. Democratic House officials instead offered an eleventh-hour, two-year budget they said can be ready for a vote July 18. Malloy, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.
We’ve been hearing it for years: America’s public pensions are a ticking time bomb. Well, at long last, the state of Illinois is about to expose just how big this blowup could be. As of the 2015 fiscal year, Illinois had promised its employees $199 billion in retirement benefits. Right now, it’s $119.1 billion short. That gap lies at the center of a years-in-the-making fiscal mess that’s threatening to drop the state’s credit rating to junk-bond status. But Illinois is hardly alone. Connecticut and New Jersey—states that, to most of the world, seem like oases of prosperity—are under growing financial strain, too. We’ve ranked the states by the size of their funding gap. The lower the funding ratio, the more money the state has to come up with to meet its pension obligations.
“The American people, by and large, have no more idea how false and fragile the financial arrangements of the nation are than the average eight-year-old has about why the re-po squad is towing away Daddy’s Ford-F150.”
The preview of coming attractions is currently playing out in Illinois — soon to be joined by Connecticut, California, Kentucky, and many other bankrupt states. Illinois is dead broke. It can’t pay the contractors who fix things like roads and storm drains, and supply food to its prisons. It’s over $200-billion deep in pension obligations that will never be honored. Its Medicaid system is a shambles. It doesn’t even have the cash-on-hand to pay lottery winners (what happened to all the cash paid into the lottery by the suckers who didn’t win, which is supposed to pay off the winners?). The state legislature hasn’t passed a budget in three years. The governor and the mayor of Chicago and everybody else nominally in charge have no idea what they’re going to do about it. Think the federal government is going to just step in and save the day there?
They’d have to bail out every other foundering state and that’s just not going to happen, especially with that same federal government about to run out of cash money itself, with no resolution of the debt ceiling controversy that might allow it to even pretend to borrow more money by issuing treasury bonds that are instantly bought by the Federal Reserve — which, of course, is not an official government agency but a private banking consortium contracted to manage the nation’s money. Do you begin to see the outlines of the clusterfuck rising like a bad moon over the harvest season of 2017? The American people, by and large, have no more idea how false and fragile the financial arrangements of the nation are than the average eight-year-old has about why the re-po squad is towing away Daddy’s Ford-F150.
We’re just doing what we always do: gittin’ our summer on. Breaking out the potato salad and the Bud Lites – at least those who have enough mojo left in their MasterCards to charge the party supplies. An awful lot of Americans must be maxed out, though, people who actually used to work at things and get paid for it. Each one of them is a walking Illinois now, facing each dawning day with a bigger load of problems, more things they can’t pay for, and moving closer to the dreadful day when everything is gone, every chattel, every knickknack, the very roof over their head, and most particularly the belief that they live in a fair and decent society.
Absurd theater 2017. Because: “The intelligence that prompted the administration’s warning to Syria this week was “far from conclusive,” said a U.S. official familiar with it. “It did not come close to saying that a chemical weapons attack was coming,” the official said.”
But Nikki Haley says: “I would like to think that the president saved many innocent men, women and children.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad appeared so far to have heeded a warning this week from Washington not to carry out a chemical weapons attack. Russia, the Syrian government’s main backer in the country’s civil war, warned that it would respond proportionately if the United States took pre-emptive measures against Syrian forces to stop what the White House says could be a planned chemical attack. The White House said on Monday it appeared the Syrian military was preparing to conduct a chemical weapons attack and said that Assad and his forces would “pay a heavy price” if it did so. The warning was based on intelligence that indicated preparations for such a strike were under way at Syria’s Shayrat airfield, U.S. officials said.
“It appears that they took the warning seriously,” Mattis said. “They didn’t do it,” he told reporters flying with him to Brussels for a meeting of NATO defense ministers. He offered no evidence other than the fact that an attack had not taken place. Asked whether he believed Assad’s forces had called off any such strike completely, Mattis said: “I think you better ask Assad about that.” Washington accused Syrian forces of using the Shayrat airfield for a chemical weapons attack in April. Syria denies this. The intelligence that prompted the administration’s warning to Syria this week was “far from conclusive,” said a U.S. official familiar with it. “It did not come close to saying that a chemical weapons attack was coming,” the official said.
[..] Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Moscow will respond if the United States takes measures against Syrian government forces. “We will react with dignity, in proportion to the real situation that may take place,” he said at a news conference in the city of Krasnodar. Lavrov said he hoped the United States was not preparing to use its intelligence assessments about the Syrian government’s intentions as a pretext to mount a “provocation” in Syria. [..] In Washington, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, credited Trump with saving Syrian lives. “Due to the president’s actions, we did not see an incident,” Haley told U.S. lawmakers. “I would like to think that the president saved many innocent men, women and children.”
Donald Trump has been in office for five months and it would appear that at least some of the outlines of his foreign policy are beginning to take shape, though that may be exaggeration as no one seems to be in charge. The “America First” slogan seemingly does not apply to what is developing, as actual U.S. interests do not appear to be driving what takes place, and there does not seem to be any overriding principle that shapes the responses to the many challenges confronting Washington worldwide. The two most important observations that one might make are both quite negative. First, lamentably, the promised détente with Russia has actually gone into reverse, with the relationship between the two countries at the lowest point since the time of the late, lamented Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State.
Second, we are already at war with Syria even though the media and Congress seem blissfully unaware of that fact. We are also making aggressive moves intended to create a casus belli for going to war with Iran, and are doubling down in Afghanistan with more troops on the way, so Donald Trump’s pledge to avoid pointless wars and nation-building were apparently little more than glib talking points intended to make Barack Obama look bad. The situation with Russia can be repaired as Vladimir Putin is a realist head of state of a country that is vulnerable and willing to work with Washington, but it will require an end to the constant vituperation being directed against Moscow by the media and the Democratic Party. That process could easily spin out for another year with all parties now agreeing that Russia intervened in our election even though no one has yet presented any evidence that Russia did anything at all.
Syria is more complicated. Senators Tim Kaine and Rand Paul have raised the alarm over American involvement in that country, declaring the U.S. military intervention to be illegal. Indeed it is, as it is a violation of the United Nations Charter and the American Constitution. No one has argued that Syria in any way threatens the United States, and the current policy is also an affront to common sense: like it or not Syria is a sovereign country in which we Americans have set up military bases and are supporting “rebels” (including jihadis and terrorists) who are seeking to overthrow the legitimate government. We have also established a so-called “de-confliction” zone in the southeast of the country to protect our proxies without the consent of the government in Damascus. All of that adds up to what is unambiguously unprovoked aggression, an act of war.
A diplomatic crisis on the Arabian Peninsula is turning into a protracted standoff, and some analysts now say the risk of armed conflict is emerging. The dispute between Qatar, a major natural gas exporter, and its neighbors is now entering its fifth week. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and implemented a partial blockade on June 5 in a bid to bring the tiny Persian Gulf monarchy in line with Saudi-dominated foreign policy. Some analysts initially thought the parties would seek a resolution by the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but last week, the anti-Qatar alliance issued a series of harsh demands. “It’s escalated to a stage where it’s very difficult for both sides to back down,” Firas Modad, analyst at IHS Markit, told CNBC this week.
The demands include non-starters such as shutting down Al Jazeera news and closing a Turkish military base. The coalition also calls on Qatar to end its alleged ties to terrorist groups and political opposition figures in Gulf nations and Egypt. It demanded Qatar pay reparations and submit to compliance reviews going forward. Qatar has rejected the demands. That is likely to trigger a series of additional economic and political sanctions against the government in Doha, causing the impasse to stretch out for months, risk consultancy Eurasia Group concluded in a briefing this week. “The crisis will continue to escalate before the Qatari leadership ultimately adjusts its policy positions, or in a slightly less likely scenario, opts to cement an alliance with Turkey and closer ties with Iran,” Eurasia Group said.
Director Oliver Stone, who’s recently released series “The Putin Interviews” stirred up controversy among liberals who accused him of being a Russian propagandist, appeared on the Liberty Report with former Texas Congressman Ron Paul to discuss the documentary, his views about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and why the US’s aggressive approach to containing the purported threat posed by Russia has led to a breakdown in relations between the two powers. Stone said he’s been “interested” in Russia since being raised as a conservative in New York City, claiming that his father instilled a “fear” of Communism and Russians in him at a young age. In the early 1980s, Stone visited the country for the first time as a screenwriter with the idea of interviewing several dissidents. He has returned several times since.
In particular, Stone has become interested in the case of Snowden, whom he praised as “the most American of patriots.” “I was interested in Russia – I went back into the 2000s. The Snowden story occupied me. And of course, it’s so ironic that he the most American of patriots is living in Moscow because he has to. It’s the only country in the world that would give him asylum – in other words it’s the only country in the word that can deny the US what it wants which is Snowden.” “[Putin] explained to me that Russians wanted an extradition treaty with the US for years, but nothing doing, because there are a lot of Russian criminals in America who stole money from Russia. He did nothing wrong in Russian terms so they gave him asylum – now its 3 years 5 years whatever its going to be. I wish Ed well I really do.”
Stone also shared a story about watching the movie “Dr. Strangelove” with Putin, who he said was greatly moved. “I showed him the movie Dr. Strangelove…and he watched it very serious about it. He said this movie was very accurate of that time and it’s still accurate today.” Circling back to the issue of nuclear deterrents, Stone said he’s worried that rising tensions around the world could trigger a “nuclear confrontation.” “I’m saying I have reached that age when I am not really concerned about what happens to me but… it’s not just about the US, but about the whole planet and I feel a nuclear confrontation, an accident, could happen tomorrow. But you put ABMs in Poland and Romania – that’s a gigantic mistake.”
“An ABM can be converted overnight from a defensive missile to an offensive missile. They’re surrounded from the North the East and the West by US missiles and we don’t seem to realize it.” Stone says he’s “scared for America,” explaining that many US citizens prefer to blindly accept media spin that’s favorable to the US establishment, without questioning it, or trying to understand Russia’s point of view. “It’s a good thing I went through JFK when I was younger…there’s been a lot of controversy around my movies. I’m scared not for myself because I’m at that age, they can’t destroy me anymore, but I’m scared for America, I’m afraid they’ve lost their sense. I’m afraid there’s a lack of foresight and leadership.”
20% of the 100 largest payments under the European Union’s “direct” subsidy system now go to people or families on the Sunday Times Rich List. According to a new investigation by Energydesk billionaires and aristocrats last year scooped up an even greater proportion of the UK’s biggest farm subsidy payouts, with “basic payments” to the Top 100’s Rich List recipients totalling £11.2 million in 2016 – up from £10.6 million the previous year. Direct EU subsidies – now known as “basic payments” – have attracted criticism for largely rewarding landowners simply for owning land, rather than paying farmers to invest in environmental or other “public goods”. The National Trust – which itself received £1.6m in basic payments last year – said the system needed fundamental reform, even if it meant the trust getting less income for its land.
Richard Hebditch, the trust’s external affairs director, said: “Rather than being paid for how much land you happen to farm, a new model which delivers clear public benefit from the money being spent is within reach after Brexit. “Farmers should receive a fair market price for safe and sustainable supplies of food, with public funding paying for the crucial role of protecting vulnerable natural resources, caring for our heritage and landscape and helping address issues like flooding and climate change.” Ironically, the farm business owned by prominent Brexit-backing billionaire inventor Sir James Dyson is now the biggest for-profit recipient of direct EU farm subsidies in the UK. Beeswax Dyson Farming netted £1.6 million under the basic payment scheme last year – up from £1.4 million in 2015. According to the Rich List, Sir James and family are worth £7.8 billion, and he is a bigger landowner than the Queen, with holdings of around 25,000 acres.
The EU executive will discuss further measures with Italy and Greece in the coming week to help the Mediterranean states deal with irregular migrants, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday. Asked at a news conference what, in particular, the Commission might do to help Italy, where arrivals from Libya are up a third on a year ago, Juncker said: “I will see with the Italian prime minister, with the Greek prime minister, during the coming week what further efforts the Commission can line up to relieve Italy and Greece in their difficult struggles.” He recalled that he had described both countries as “heroic” and said he had discussed the issue on Thursday at a meeting in Berlin with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and leaders of other big EU states which are members of the global G20.
“I said Italy and Greece … cannot be left alone in this refugee crises,’ Juncker told reporters in Tallinn, where he was meeting the Estonian government as it takes on the six-month presidency of European Union ministerial councils. He rejected any suggestion the Union had failed to help the countries where most refugees and migrants are arriving, noting EU funds allocated to Italy and Greece and border guard and other personnel sent to help process those arriving. The Commission on Thursday threw its weight behind a plea by Italy for fellow EU states to allow rescue boats carrying migrants to dock in their ports.
EU diplomats said they were looking at Italian concerns over how private charities are picking up people just off the Libyan coast. Some see that as encouraging more to take to the sea. The rescue organisations complain of unfair criticism. About 10,000 people have been rescued over the past three days. Italy has taken in 82,000 people so far this year. Voters dealt a blow to the ruling party in local elections last week, opting for groups promising a tougher line on immigration. The Commission has signalled readiness to give Italy more cash to help with increased arrivals, though officials and diplomats in Brussels are sceptical there would be any swift agreement for other EU states to take in the private boats.
We asked this question one week after Trump was elected: “What does history predict for the Trump presidency?” The answer we furnished — based on over a century of data — was this: “A 100% chance of recession within his first year.” Not a 90% chance, that is. Not even a 99% chance. But a 100% chance of recession. That answer came by way of a certain Raoul Pal. He used to captain one of the largest hedge funds in the world. And to prove his case he called the unimpeachable witness of history to the stand… Crunching 107 years worth of data, he showed the U.S. economy enters or is in a recession every time a two-term president vacates the throne: “Since 1910, the U.S. economy is either in recession or enters a recession within 12 months in every single instance at the end of a two-term presidency… effecting a 100% chance of recession for the new president.”
Obama was a two-term president – if memory serves. Only two incoming presidents were not treated to a recession within the first year of office. And both followed one-term reigns: “Not every single election sees a recession, only every two-term incumbent change… Only two presidents in history did not see a recession, and they were inaugurated after single-term presidents.” Mr. Pal couldn’t fully explain the phenomenon. Maybe it takes two terms for presidential mischief to work its way into the economic machinery. One-term presidents just can’t heave enough sand in the gears. Regardless of the reason, this fellow’s research pointed him to one conclusion: “It is not a coincidence.” Trump’s now five months into his first 12. Where does the prediction stand? By grace of God or Janet Yellen or neither or both, no recession yet.
But our pessimistic side reminds us that seven months remain. And anxiety riles the deeps of our being… For we’ve spotted ill omens… disturbing portents of recession among the recent economic data… Old Daily Reckoning hand Wolf Richter: Over the past five decades, each time commercial and industrial loan balances at U.S. banks shrank or stalled… a recession was either already in progress or would start soon. There has been no exception since the 1960s. Last time this happened was during the financial crisis. “Now,” Wolf says, “it’s happening again.” Last month commercial and industrial loans (C&I) outstanding fell to $2.095 trillion, according to the St. Louis Fed. That’s down 4.5% from their November 2016 peak, says Wolf. And it marked the 30th consecutive week of no growth in C&I loans. Wolf argues C&I loans matter because they directly reflect the real economy – unlike today’s stock market, which is crooked as a Brit’s teeth.
Much was made of the fact that Australia recently replaced The Netherlands as the world record holder for the longest period without a recession (using the colloquial definition of two consecutive quarters of negative growth). The Netherlands went just under 26 years (103 quarters between 1982 and 2008) without a recession, and Australia surpassed this when it recorded 0.3% growth in the March 2017 quarter (for an annual growth rate of 1.7%).
Rather less attention was given to another Australian record: household debt. Before its recession-free record was set, Australia had already overtaken The Netherlands for the record of the highest level of household debt ever recorded for a large country (one with more than 10 million people).
Australia’s household debt level of 123% of GDP has been exceeded only by Switzerland (population 8.3 million, household debt of 128% of GDP in 2016 Q3) and Denmark (population 5.6 million, 139% of GDP in 2009).2 Australia also stands apart from its household leverage competitors in another important respect: Denmark, Switzerland and The Netherlands also run significant current account surpluses—Switzerland’s average surplus since 2000 has been the highest on the planet at over 10% of GDP; Denmark’s has averaged 5.75% since 2005; The Netherlands’ average current account surplus is around 8% of GDP.
Australia, in contrast, has averaged a current account deficit of 3.2% of GDP since 1960, and 4.3% since 2000. Australia therefore holds the record of the highest level of household debt for a country running a trade deficit, and has done so since 2010, when it overtook the previous record-holder: Ireland. Ireland’s household debt level has also plunged since then, from a peak of 118% of GDP in 2010 to 54%. Australia’s closest competitor now is Canada, which has a household debt level 22% lower than Australia’s, and an average trade deficit of 1.4% of GDP, versus Australia’s long-run average of 3.2%.
Why does this matter? Because Australia’s two records are related: Australia avoided a recession in 2008 only by adding additional leverage to its already over-indebted household sector, and the only ways that Australia can keep its winning streak on GDP growth going (given that its government is obsessed with trying to run a surplus) is to either to achieve a huge trade surplus, or for the household sector to continue piling on debt faster than GDP itself grows. A trade surplus is one of three ways to increase both aggregate demand and the amount of money in an economy:3 goods you sell to foreigners are paid for in US dollars, which the exporter then effectively sells to its country’s Central Bank in return for domestic currency (on that front, The Netherlands is, like Germany, a huge beneficiary of the Euro).
If the British economy crashes as a result of Brexit, it will not vindicate economists. It will simply illustrate once again, their failure. I and my colleagues at Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME) believe there is urgent need for an independent, public inquiry into the economics profession, and its role in precipitating both the financial crisis of 2007-9, the subsequent very slow ‘recovery’; and in the British European referendum campaign. Financial disarray is not unlikely under Brexit, but whether this turns into anything material depends in the first instance on economic policy. How can we trust economists at the Treasury not to impose more disastrous policies? Economists have once again proved themselves not only irrelevant, but a dangerous irrelevance. For too long they have resisted call after call for reform. If they will not do it themselves then it is time for others to take control.
The profession should be brought to account through a public inquiry into the this failure. In voting to leave the EU, England overwhelmingly has rejected economics – and in particular the dominant economic narrative. Unfortunately, the economics profession as a whole cannot resign, though perhaps the President of the RES, Andrew Chesher, should consider his position. Because this hardship is indirectly a consequence of the economics profession. Economists led the way to financial liberalisation of the past 40 years, which led to soaring levels of debt, crises and financial ruin. Economists dictated the terms for austerity that has so harmed the economy and society over the past years. As the policies have failed, the vast majority of economists have refused to concede wrongdoing, nor have societies been offered alternative economics policies.
While it is risky to second guess public opinion, it may just be that the prospect of hardship to come might not have been very compelling for those already suffering the hardship of low wages, insecure low-skilled jobs, bad housing, high rents, an under-resourced and increasingly privatised NHS, and other forms of public sector ‘austerity’. With this historic vote, the British people have not just rejected the EU. They have done something that should worry the British establishment, and their friends in the City of London, and internationally, far more. Perhaps most symbolically, even the Queen suggested they did not know what they were doing. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the British public did not find the opinion of Remain ‘experts compelling’.
As the nightmare of the Grenfell Tower disaster continues to unfold, one of the many painful questions being asked by survivors is: ‘Where are we going to live now?’ Kensington & Chelsea Council have still been unable to give firm assurances that residents will be rehoused in the area, issuing a statement on Friday afternoon (later contradicted) that “Given the number of households involved, it is possible the council will have to explore housing options that may become available in other parts of the capital”. On Friday, the Times reported that Jeremy Corbyn had an alternative solution. “Corbyn: seize properties of the rich for Grenfell homeless” ran its above-the-fold headline (£). This was not, of course, what Corbyn had actually proposed, as the article itself revealed.
In a parliamentary debate, the Labour leader had suggested that “Properties must be found, requisitioned if necessary, to make sure those residents do get rehoused locally… It cannot be acceptable that in London you have luxury buildings and flats kept as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live.” Not quite the State appropriation of private property conveyed by the sub-editor’s fevered headline, then – but a proposal for making better use of empty housing which happens to be supported by 59% of the British public, according to YouGov. So how many empty homes are there in Kensington? A lot, it turns out. The Department for Communities and Local Government regularly publishes statistics on vacant dwellings, broken down by local authority area.
The latest figures for Kensington & Chelsea reveal there are 1,399 vacant dwellings in the borough, as of April 2017 – and the number hasn’t dropped below a thousand for over a decade. 600 people lived in Grenfell Tower – so there are more than enough empty homes in the borough to house them all, if the properties could be accessed. But where are these empty homes? And who owns them? It turns out that Kensington Council themselves know precisely where they are. In a report published in July 2015, the council’s Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee examined in detail the problem of ‘buy to leave’ in the borough. ‘Buy to leave’ is the phenomenon of purchasing a property where the buyer has no intention to live in it; where the home is regarded purely as an investment – one that, in London’s super-heated property market, will rapidly accrue in value.
The council’s report used a variety of methods to locate empty housing, from council tax registers and payment data, to energy use and Land Registry records. Their findings broadly corroborate central government stats – that there are around a thousand long-term empty homes in Kensington & Chelsea. And on page 13 of the report, they display an extraordinary map of the 941 homes classified as unoccupied dwellings for the purposes of council tax:
Saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.” That comment was made by famed whistleblower Edward Snowden during a recent interview on the Ron Paul Liberty Report. In his conversation with Dr. Paul and Daniel McAdams, published Tuesday, an articulate Snowden discusses the true meaning of freedom, the nature of the deep state, and even his upbringing as a child of a government family. “I’d like to know a little bit, what do you do all day long?” a genuinely curious Dr. Paul asks as his opening question. After talking about the insanity that erupted — both in the political spectrum and his personal life — following the revelations he made back in 2013, Snowden says he’s now become a hot commodity for groups championing causes.
“They want me to sort of front for these issues of privacy and civil liberties and protection of people’s rights,” Snowden replies. “And I want to do what I can, but I’m not a politician. I’m an engineer.” The whistleblower goes on to talk about how he’s now, at long last, finally able to devote time to more practical applications. For him, this means focusing on the area that holds the key to finding a balance between rights and laws in the digital age — technology. “How technically is this even happening?” Snowden poses, digging straight to the heart of the issue of mass surveillance. “How is it that so many governments are spying on so many people? Because even if we pass the best legal reforms in the world in the United States, that doesn’t do anything against China, or Russia, or Germany, or France or Brazil or any other country in the world.”
Continuing, Snowden says that future generations’ rights and protections will be dependent on the current generation’s ability to adapt to a constantly shifting environment: “We need to find new means, new mechanisms, for enforcing these rights in the new times. And I think that’s going to be primarily through science and technology.”
Brazil’s federal police has said that investigators have found evidence the president, Michel Temer, received bribes to help businesses, raising a new threat that the embattled leader could be suspended from office pending a corruption trial. Temer has been under investigation due to plea bargain testimony by the wealthy businessman Joesley Batista of the giant meatpacking company JBS that linked the president and an aide to bribes and the president to an alleged endorsement of hush money for jailed ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha. Temer has denied any wrongdoing and insists he will not resign. If Brazil’s top prosecutor agrees with the federal police recommendation, Congress will decide whether Temer should be investigated by the supreme court, which is the only body that can formally investigate the president.
If two-thirds of Congress voted to allow the investigation, Temer would be suspended from office pending trial. In a report published on Tuesday by Brazil’s top court, federal police investigators said they had enough evidence of bribes being paid to warrant a formal investigation of Temer for “passive corruption” – Brazil’s charge for the act of taking bribes. It said former Temer aide Rodrigo Rocha Loures directly received bribes from JBS on the president’s behalf. A previously released video made by investigators shows Loures carrying a suitcase filled with about $150,000 in cash allegedly being sent from JBS to the president. Loures later gave the bag and most of the money to Brazil’s federal police, authorities have said.
After recruiting Trump, the KGB and Moscow have clearly also managed to make all House Republicans their puppets, because the Senate bill that passed last week and slapped new sanctions on Russia (but really was meant to block the production on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia and which Germany, Austria and France all said is a provocation by the US and would prompt retaliation) just hit a major stumbling block in the House. At least that’s our interpretation of tomorrow’s CNN “hot take.” Shortly after House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas said that House leaders concluded that the legislation, S. 722, violated the origination clause of the Constitution, which requires legislation that raises revenue to originate in the House, and would require amendments, Democrats immediately accused the GOP of delaying tactics and “covering” for the Russian agent in the White House.
“House Republicans are considering using a procedural excuse to hide what they’re really doing: covering for a president who has been far too soft on Russia,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement. “The Senate passed this bill on a strong bipartisan vote of 98-2, sending a powerful message to President Trump that he should not lift sanctions on Russia.” And, if the House does pass it, a huge diplomatic scandal would erupt only not between the US and Russia, but Washington and its European allies who have slammed this latest intervention by the US in European affairs… a scandal which the Democrats would also promptly blame on Trump. That said, the bill may still pass: Brady pushed back against Democrat suggestions that House GOP leadership is trying to delay the bill, stressing that he thought the Senate legislation was sound policy.
“I strongly support sanctions against Iran and Russia to hold them accountable. We were willing to work with the Senate throughout the process, but the final bill and final language violated the origination clause in the Constitution,” Brady told reporters on Tuesday. “I am confident working with the Senate and Chairman [Ed] Royce that we can move this legislation forward. So at the end of the day, this isn’t a policy issue, it’s not a partisan issue, it is a Constitutional issue that we will address.”
This is your fault, Clinton Democrats. You created this, and if our species is plunged into a new world war or extinction via nuclear holocaust, it will be your fault. You knuckle-dragging, vagina hat-wearing McCarthyite morons made this happen. American military provocations against the pro-Assad coalition in Syria are fast becoming a daily occurrence. In response to the US air force’s gunning down of a Syrian military plane on Sunday, Russia has cut off its hotline with which it was coordinating operations with America to avoid aerial collisions, and has warned that all US aircraft west of the Euphrates river will now be tracked and treated as potential targets. Today, 25 miles northwest of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, a US reconnaissance plane was intercepted by an armed Russian aircraft which came within five feet of the plane’s wingtip.
This on the same day that the US shot down yet another Iranian military drone in Syria. Clintonists have been working tirelessly since the election to manufacture these new Cold War tensions. Stephen Cohen, easily America’s foremost authority on US-Russia relations, has warned again and again that the political pressures being placed on the Trump administration to maintain escalations with Russia without conceding an inch has placed our species in a situation that is in some ways even more dangerous than those we faced at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If Kennedy had had to negotiate that crisis while being pressured by his entire country to keep escalating tensions with the USSR without yielding an inch, there is no way any terrestrial life would have existed beyond 1962. The Clintonists (along with their neocon buddies on the other side of the aisle) are responsible for creating those pressures.
“You know it’s easy to joke about this, except that we’re at maybe the most dangerous moment in US-Russian relations in my lifetime, and maybe ever. And the reason is that we’re in a new cold war, by whatever name.
We have three cold war fronts that are fraught with the possibility of hot war, in the Baltic region where NATO is carrying out an unprecedented military buildup on Russia’s border, in Ukraine where there is a civil and proxy war between Russia and the west, and of course in Syria, where Russian aircraft and American warplanes are flying in the same territory. Anything could happen.”
~ Stephen Cohen
It wasn’t enough for these Democratic neocons to try and elect a woman who had been pushing for dangerous escalations with Russia since long before any hacking allegations and who campaigned on a promise to invade Syria and seize control of an airspace wherein Russian military planes were conducting operations. No, once their initial bid to start World War 3 failed, these deranged death cultists began attacking Trump for any movement away from escalations with Russia or regime change in Syria and showering him with praise when he launched a missile strike against a Syrian airbase. The current administration is culpable for its own actions and should be unequivocally condemned for bowing to these pressures instead of honoring Trump’s campaign promises of pursuing detente with Russia and avoiding regime change in Syria, but if Clintonists had been pushing for peace instead of war this entire time the situation would doubtless look very, very different.
Iran has accused the United States of interfering in its domestic affairs after calls by the US Secretary of State to support “elements” that would ensure a “peaceful transition” in the Islamic Republic. Tehran also officially delivered a note of protest to the UN. Speaking last Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rex Tillerson said Washington will support efforts of a regime change in Iran. “Our policy towards Iran is to push back on this hegemony, contain their ability to develop obviously nuclear weapons, and to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government. Those elements are there, certainly as we know,” Tillerson said on June 14. In addition to voicing Washington’s apparent support of a regime change, Tillerson also said the US could pursue sanctions on Iran’s entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Tillerson’s remarks sparked an avalanche of criticism and condemnation from Iran. In the latest development, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss charge d’affaires to Tehran to protest Washington’s policy. The Embassy of Switzerland represents American interests in the Islamic Republic after the US cut diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980 in the wake of the 400-day US Embassy hostage crisis of 1979-1981. “Following the interfering and meddling statements made by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson… the charge d’affaires of the European country was summoned to express Iran’s complaint about Tillerson’s anti-Iran remarks in the country’s House of Representatives,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement, Mehr News reported.
[..] Tillerson’s remarks “is a brazen interventionist plan that runs counter to every norm and principle of international law, as well as the letter and spirit of UN Charter, and constitutes an unacceptable behavior in international relations,” Iran’s UN Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo said in the letter. Tehran further accused the US of violating the 1981 Algiers Accords, a set of agreements signed by Washington and Tehran to end the Iran hostage crisis. “The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs,” Point I of the Accord reads.
On the ground, the Syrian army is now undertaking one of its most ambitious operations since the start of the war, advancing around Sueda in the south, in the countryside of Damascus and east of Palmyra. They are heading parallel with the Euphrates in what is clearly an attempt by the government to “liberate” the surrounded government city of Deir ez-Zour, whose 10,000 Syrian soldiers have been besieged there for more than four years. If they can lift the siege, the Syrians will have another 10,000 soldiers free to join in the recapture of more territory. More importantly, however, the Syrian military suspects that Isis – on the verge of losing Raqqa to US-supported Kurds and Mosul to US-backed Iraqis – may try to break into the garrison of Deir ez-Zour and declare an alternative “capital” for itself in Syria.
In this context, the American strike on Monday was more a warning to the Syrians to stay away from the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces – the facade-name for large numbers of Kurds and a few Arab fighters – since they are now very close to each other in the desert. The Kurds will take Raqqa – there may well have been an agreement between Moscow and Washington on this – since the Syrian military is far more interested in relieving Deir ez-Zour. The map is quite literally changing by the day. But the Syrian military are still winning against Isis and its fellow militias – with Russian and Hezbollah help, of course – although comparatively few Iranians are involved. The US has been grossly exaggerating the size of the Iranian forces in Syria, perhaps because this fits in with Saudi and American nightmares of Iranian expansion. But the success of the Assad regime is certainly troubling the Americans – and the Kurds.
So who is fighting Isis? And who is not fighting Isis? Russia claims it has killed the terrible and self-appointed “caliph of the Islamic State”, al-Baghdadi. Russia says it is firing Cruise missiles at Isis. The Syrian army, supported by the Russians, is fighting Isis. I have witnessed this with my own eyes. But what is America doing attacking first Assad’s air base near Homs, then the regime’s allies near Al-Tanf and now one of Assad’s fighter jets? It seems that Washington is now keener to strike at Assad – and his Iranian supporters inside Syria – than it is to destroy Isis. That would be following Saudi Arabia’s policy, and maybe that’s what the Trump regime wants to do. Certainly, the Israelis have bombed both the Syrian regime forces and Hezbollah and the Iranians – but never Isis.
Greece will need additional debt relief to regain the trust of investors, even though it’s likely to exit its bailout with a €9 billion ($10 billion) cash buffer, the European Commission said in a draft report obtained by Bloomberg. The country’s €86 billion third bailout program from the European Stability Mechanism, agreed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European creditors in 2015, will expire in August 2018 with €27.4 billion left unused, the commission estimates in the so-called “compliance report” dated June 16. Disbursements up to then should also “cater for the build-up of seizable cash buffer” of around €9 billion, according to the document. The report contains an analysis of the country’s public debt that points to potential wrangling with the IMF following an agreement last week to disburse bailout funds, in which the fund only agreed to a new program “in principle.”
Even as the commission’s analysis points “to serious concerns regarding the sustainability of Greek public debt,” its assumptions about the country’s future growth prospects are still more optimistic than those of the IMF. The IMF hasn’t disbursed funds to Greece in almost three years on fears that the country’s debt is unsustainable. Last week’s compromise deal averts a Greek financing crisis this summer by allowing release of €8.5 billion of ESM funds, while the IMF holds out for more Greek debt relief from European creditors at a later stage before it gives out new loans. The June 15 deal by euro-area finance ministers commits to capping gross financing needs at 15% of GDP for the medium term, and 20% thereafter. The country’s gross financing needs will drop to 9.3% of GDP in 2020 from 17.5% this year, before rising again and surpassing 20% after 2045, according to the baseline scenario of the commission’s debt sustainability report.
[..] The baseline scenario is based on nominal GDP growth rates between 3 and 4% until 2060, considerably higher than past IMF baseline estimates. The fund’s own assessment will be released before its executive board meets to approve the in-principle stand-by arrangement next month. The debt dynamics “become explosive” from the mid-2030s in the the most adverse scenario. In this scenario, which is still more optimistic than IMF assumptions, Greece’s gross financing needs exceed 20% in 2033, reaching 56% by 2060, while debt skyrockets to 241.4% of Greek GDP by 2060.
The deal struck last week between Greece and its euro-zone creditors is business as usual – and that’s not a good thing. This protracted game of “extend and pretend” serves nobody’s long-term interests: not those of the Greek government, the IMF or, most of all, the people of Greece. Euro-zone finance ministers have unlocked a payment of €8.5 billion ($9.5 billion), the newest installment of a rescue plan worth €86 billion. This will let Athens make debt repayments of €7 billion that fall due next month. But there’s still no agreement on how to get Greece’s debt burden under control. The IMF had previously insisted that this question should be settled now. It was right, and it should have stuck to that position. The new agreement fails to recognize what everybody knows: that Greece’s debt is unsustainable on the current terms.
In an effort to pretend otherwise, Athens has promised primary budget surpluses (meaning net of interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP until 2022, and then of “above but close to 2%” until 2060. True, the Greek economy achieved a better-than-expected primary surplus last year. As the European recovery gathers pace, there could be more good fiscal news. But the idea that Greece can maintain this degree of fiscal control for the next 40 years is ridiculous. For instance, at some point during the next four decades, there might be another recession. Stranger things have happened. The blow to the credibility of the IMF could prove to be lasting damage. The fund points to its refusal to disburse money at this point as proof it’s serious about debt relief. Yet it remains a partner in a project that, by its own analysis, is bound to fail.
It should have said, enough. Europe doesn’t need the fund’s money or expertise. Governments only sought the fund’s seal of approval – and should have been denied it. Granted, the euro zone has done a lot to support Greece since its fiscal crisis began. Athens has been granted no fewer three rescue packages, worth €326 billion€ in total. The euro zone has allowed generous grace periods for official loans, extended their maturities and lowered the interest rate. As a result, Greece’s debt repayments are actually quite manageable for now.
The value of the local property market has plummeted some €2 trillion since the outbreak of the financial crisis eight years ago, according to the calculations of a Greek real estate consultancy. CBRE-Atria calculated that the Greek market has lost 65% of its value in the years from 2009 to 2017, dropping from about €3 trillion to €1 trillion today. The head of the consultancy, Yiannis Perrotis, says the problem is that the majority of properties are not quality assets, which means that the economic crisis has affected them more by increasing their value loss. “Properties such as old apartments in less popular areas, fields in non-touristic areas, stores or offices of low standards in secondary spots,” Perrotis explains, have been hardest hit.
The drop in values has been aggravated by the imposition of high taxation. It’s easy to find examples of properties whose value has dropped 60-65% in the last few years: Data from estate agents show that a new fifth-floor apartment of 60 square meters in Kypseli, central Athens, which sold for €150,000 in 2008, was resold at end-2016 for just €60,000, a decline of 60%; a newly built apartment in Ambelokipi, also in Athens, was sold for €270,000 before the crisis, and today is for sale for just €120,000, down 55%.
More than 120 refugees are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean after a boat sank off the Libyan cost on Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has said. Four survivors who were rescued by Libyan fishermen said the boat sank after its motor was stolen by human traffickers, according to IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo. After drifting for a while, the boat, believed to have been carrying 130 refugees — most of them of Sudanese and Nigerian nationality — capsized. News of the deaths comes on World Refugee Day, during which NGOs encourage the world to commemorate and show support for those forced to flee persecution. But there is little sign of the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean abating.
The death toll passed 1,000 in April — marking a record high with that figure not reached until the end of May last year — and the latest count by the IOM shows at least 1,850 have lost their lives on the dangerous crossing. Up to 146 people drowned when a refugee boat sunk in March, and up to 250 refugees, including a baby, were reported to have drowned in May after two refugee boats sunk in the Mediterranean Sea. It comes after a report earlier this month accused the EU of disregarding human rights and international law in its desperation to slow refugee boat crossings across the Mediterranean Sea. The bloc has pledged tens of millions of euros in funding for authorities in Libya, despite the country’s ongoing civil war and allegations of torture, rape and killings earning it the moniker “hell on Earth” among migrants, according to the report, published by the US-based Refugees International (RI) group.
It’s done. Bannon 1 – 0 Kushner. President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate pact and that he will seek to renegotiate the international agreement in a way that treats American workers better. “So we are getting out, but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal, and if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine,” Trump said Thursday, citing terms that he says benefit China’s economy at the expense of the U.S. “In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or really an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses” and its taxpayers, Trump said.
As Bloomberg reports, Trump’s announcement, delivered to cabinet members, supporters and conservative activists in the White House Rose Garden, spurns pleas from corporate executives, world leaders and even Pope Francis who warned the move imperils a global fight against climate change. As we noted earlier, we should prepare for the establishment to begin its mourning and fearmongering of the disaster about to befall the world. Pulling out means the U.S. joins Russia, Iran, North Korea and a string of Third World countries in not putting the agreement into action. Just two countries are not in the deal at all – one of them war-torn Syria, the other Nicaragua. The Hill notes that many Republicans on Capitol Hill are likely to support pulling out of the Paris deal – 20 leading Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asked Trump to do just that last week.
Withdrawing from Paris would greatly please conservative groups, which have orchestrated an all-out push in opposition to the pact. “Without any impact on global temperatures, Paris is the open door for egregious regulation, cronyism, and government spending that would be disastrous for the American economy as it is proving to be for those in Europe,” said Nick Loris, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “It is time for the U.S. to say ‘au revoir’ to the Paris agreement,” he said.
And use to NOT have their leader appear on TV. I’m thinking a decision by the new (American?!) campaign team installed after the Snap announcement. “Stay away from the camera, it can only do you harm!” Boris PM by July 1?
The Conservatives raised more than 10 times as much as Labour last week, partly thanks to a donation of over £1m from the theatre producer behind The Book of Mormon and The Phantom of the Opera. John Gore, whose company has produced a string of hit musicals, gave £1.05m as part of the £3.77m received by the Conservatives in the third week of the election campaign. In the same time, Labour received only £331,499. The Electoral Commission only publishes details of donations over £7,500, so the smaller donors who make up most of Labour’s fundraising are not identified. Almost all Labour’s larger donations came from unions, including £159,500 from Unite. The new figures show the Conservatives have received £15.2m since the start of 2017, while Labour has received £8.1m.
The large donations came as the poll lead held by the Conservatives and Theresa May appeared to fall following controversies around her social care policy. In the week starting 17 May, the Liberal Democrats received £310,500, of which £230,000 came from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and £25,000 came from the former BBC director general Greg Dyke. The Women’s Equality party received £71,552, with Edwina Snow, the Duke of Westminster’s sister who is married to the historian Dan Snow, giving £50,000. Ukip’s donations fell dramatically to £16,300 from £35,000 the previous week. Political parties can spend £30,000 for every seat they contest during the regulated period. There are 650 seats around the country, meaning that parties can spend up to £19.5m during the regulated period in the run-up to the election.
Befitting a surprise election, the manifestos from the main parties contained surprises. Labour is shaking off decades of shyness about nationalisation and tax increases for the rich and for the first time in decades has a policy agenda that is not Tory-lite. The Conservatives, meanwhile, say they are rejecting “the cult of selfish individualism” and “belief in untrammelled free markets”, while adopting the quasi-Marxist idea of an energy price cap. Despite these significant shifts, myths about the economy refuse to go away and hamper a more productive debate. They concern how the government manages public finances – “tax and spend”, if you will.
The first is that there is an inherent virtue in balancing the books. Conservatives still cling to the idea of eliminating the budget deficit, even if it is with a 10-year delay (2025, as opposed to George Osborne’s original goal of 2015). The budget-balancing myth is so powerful that Labour feels it has to cost its new spending pledges down to the last penny, lest it be accused of fiscal irresponsibility. However, as Keynes and his followers told us, whether a balanced budget is a good or a bad thing depends on the circumstances. In an overheating economy, deficit spending would be a serious folly. However, in today’s UK economy, whose underlying stagnation has been masked only by the release of excess liquidity on an oceanic scale, some deficit spending may be good – necessary, even.
The second myth is that the UK welfare state is especially large. Conservatives believe that it is bloated out of all proportion and needs to be drastically cut. Even the Labour party partly buys into this idea. Its extra spending pledge on this front is presented as an attempt to reverse the worst of the Tory cuts, rather than as an attempt to expand provision to rebuild the foundation for a decent society. The reality is the UK welfare state is not large at all. As of 2016, the British welfare state (measured by public social spending) was, at 21.5% of GDP, barely three-quarters of welfare spending in comparably rich countries in Europe – France’s is 31.5% and Denmark’s is 28.7%, for example. The UK welfare state is barely larger than the OECD average (21%), which includes a dozen or so countries such as Mexico, Chile, Turkey and Estonia, which are much poorer and/or have less need for public welfare provision. They have younger populations and stronger extended family networks.
The third myth is that welfare spending is consumption – that it is a drain on the nation’s productive resources and thus has to be minimised. This myth is what Conservative supporters subscribe to when they say that, despite their negative impact, we have to accept cuts in such things as disability benefit, unemployment benefit, child care and free school meals, because we “can’t afford them”. This myth even tints, although doesn’t define, Labour’s view on the welfare state. For example, Labour argues for an expansion of welfare spending, but promises to finance it with current revenue, thereby implicitly admitting that the money that goes into it is consumption that does not add to future output.
The banker at the other end of the phone line was furious, recalled Shanghai lawyer Wang Chaoyu. A pile of steel pledged as collateral for a loan of almost $3 million from his bank, China CITIC, had vanished from a warehouse on the outskirts of the city. Just several months earlier, in mid-2013, Wang and the banker had visited the warehouse and verified that the steel was there. “The first time I went, I saw the steel,” recalled Wang, an attorney at Beijing DHH Law Firm, which represents the Shanghai branch of CITIC. “Afterwards, the banker got in contact with me and said, ‘The pledged assets are no longer there.’” The trouble had begun in 2012, after CITIC loaned the money to Shanghai Hanning Iron and Steel, a privately held steel trader. Hanning failed to meet payments, according to a mediation agreement reviewed by Reuters, and CITIC took ownership of the steel.
It was when CITIC moved to retrieve the collateral that the banker visited the warehouse and discovered that the 291-tonne pile of steel was no longer there, Wang said. The bank is still in court trying to recoup its losses. The missing collateral is a setback for CITIC. But it is indicative of a much wider problem that could endanger the health of China’s financial system – fraudulent or “ghost” collateral. When bank auditors in China go looking, they too often find that collateral recorded on the books simply isn’t there. In some cases, collateral that has been pledged simply doesn’t exist. In others, it disappears as borrowers in financial distress sell the assets. There are also instances in which the same collateral has been pledged to multiple lenders. One lawyer said he discovered that the same pile of steel was used to secure loans from 10 different lenders.
With the mainland facing its slowest growth in over a quarter of a century, defaults are mounting as borrowers struggle to repay their loans. The danger of fraudulent collateral in this situation, say economists, is that it exacerbates the problem of bad debt for China’s banks, increasing the risk of financial turmoil. As growth slows, lenders can expect more nasty surprises, said Xin Qingquan at Chongqing University. More instances of fake collateral will arise, he said. [..] There are no official statistics or estimates of the problem. But fraudulent collateral is “a huge issue,” said Violet Ho, co-head of Greater China Investigations and Disputes Practice at Kroll, which conducts corporate investigations on the mainland. “Often you also see that the paperwork around collateral may be dodgy, and the bank loan officer knows, the intermediary knows, and the goods owner knows – so it’s essentially a Ponzi scheme.”
[..]Bad loans are mounting fast. Officially, just 1.74% of commercial bank loans were classified as non-performing at the end of March. But some analysts say lenders often mask the true level of bad debt and so the figure is likely much higher. Fitch Ratings said in a report last September that it had estimated non-performing loans in China’s financial system could be as high as 15% to 21%. This in a banking sector that has undergone a massive credit expansion. The value of outstanding bank loans ballooned to $17.2 trillion at the end of April from $5.8 trillion at the end of 2009, according to data from China’s central bank. In September last year, the Bank for International Settlements warned that excessive credit growth in China meant there was a growing risk of a banking crisis in the next three years.
The Bank of Japan’s assets apparently exceeded 500 trillion yen ($4.49 trillion) as of the end of May, growing to rival the country’s economy as the central bank continues its debt purchases under an ultraeasy monetary policy. The bank’s total assets stood at 498.15 trillion yen as of May 20. By the time the month ended Wednesday, its holdings of Japanese government bonds had increased by another 2.24 trillion yen. Assuming that the BOJ had not significantly reduced its non-JGB assets, its balance sheet almost certainly crossed over the 500 trillion yen mark into uncharted territory. The BOJ’s balance sheet began expanding at a rapid clip after Governor Haruhiko Kuroda launched unprecedented quantitative and qualitative easing in April 2013. At around 93%, the scale of the Japanese central bank’s assets in proportion to GDP has no close match. Latest data shows that the U.S. Fed held roughly $4.5 trillion in assets, which is equivalent to 23% of the country’s GDP.
The ECB’s balance sheet, at about €4.2 trillion ($4.71 trillion) is larger than the BOJ’s, but it still sits at around 28% of the eurozone GDP. The BOJ in September shifted its policy focus from QE to controlling the yield curve, but the bank is still snapping up JGBs to keep long-term rates at around zero. The central bank has stood firm on its pledge to continue expanding its balance sheet to boost currency supply until Japan’s consumer price inflation is steadily above 2%. This suggests that the BOJ’s balance sheet will continue expanding past the 500 trillion yen mark. This prospect makes some financial experts uneasy. Once the inflation target is finally met, and the BOJ starts raising interest rates, the bank will have to pay more in interest to financial institutions’ reserve deposits than it will earn from its low-yielding JGB holdings.
Between 20% and 25% of the nation’s shopping malls will close in the next five years, according to a new report from Credit Suisse that predicts e-commerce will continue to pull shoppers away from bricks-and-mortar retailers. For many, the Wall Street firm’s finding may come as no surprise. Long-standing retailers are dying off as shoppers’ habits shift online. Credit Suisse expects apparel sales to represent 35% of all e-commerce by 2030, up from 17% today. Traditional mall anchors, such as Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Sears, have announced numerous store closings in recent months. Clothiers including American Apparel and BCBG Max Azria have filed for bankruptcy. Bebe has closed all of its stores.
The report estimates that around 8,640 stores will close by the end of the year. Retail industry experts say Credit Suisse may have underestimated the scope of the upheaval. “It’s more in the 30% range,” Ron Friedman, a retail expert at accounting and advisory firm Marcum said of the share of malls that he predicts will close in the next five years. “There are a lot of malls that know they’re in big trouble.” By ignoring new shopping centers being built, the research note took an overly simplistic view of the changing landscape of shopping centers, said analyst David Marcotte, senior vice president with Kantar Retail. “There are still malls being built,” Marcotte said. “Predominantly outlet malls and lifestyle malls.”
Now don’t get me wrong. Do I think Emmanuel Macron, a former Rothschild investment banker whose “ambition was always two steps ahead of his experience”, is the second coming of Charles de Gaulle? Do I think Donald freakin’ Trump is a modern day Andrew Jackson? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha … good one! But here’s what I do think: • Something old and powerful is happening in the real world to crush the status quo political systems of every Western democracy. • Something predictably sad is happening in the political world to replace the old guard candidates with self-absorbed plutocrats like Trump and pretty boy bankers like Macron. • Something new and powerful is happening in the investment world to divorce political risk and volatility from market risk and volatility. The old force repeating itself in the real world is nicely summed up by these two charts, the most important charts I know. They’re specific to the U.S., but applicable everywhere in the West.
First, the Central Banker’s Bubble since March 2009 and the launch of QE1 has inflated U.S. household wealth far beyond what the nominal growth rate of the U.S. economy would otherwise support. This is a classic bubble in every sense of the word, with the primary difference from prior vast bubbles being its concentration and focus in financial assets — stocks and bonds — which are held primarily by the rich. Who wins the Academy Award for creation of wealth inequality in a supporting role? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the U.S. Federal Reserve.
And as the second chart shows, this central bank largesse has sharply accelerated the massive shift in wealth to the Rich from the Rest, a shift which began in the 1980s with the Reagan Revolution. We are now back to where we were in the 1930s, where the household wealth of the bottom 90% of U.S. wage earners is equal to the household wealth of the top one-tenth of 1% of U.S. wage earners.
So look … I’m not saying that the current level or dynamics of wealth inequality is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m just saying that it IS. And I understand that there are insurance programs today, like social security and pension funds, which are not reflected in this chart and didn’t exist in the 1930s, the last time you saw this sort of wealth inequality. I understand that there are a lot more people in the United States today than in the 1930s. I understand that there are all sorts of important differences in the nature of wealth distribution between today and the 1930s. I get all that. What I’m saying, though, is that just like in the 1930s, there is a political price to be paid for this level of wealth inequality. That price is political polarization and electoral rejection of status quo parties.
[..] downgrades of bonds issued by local governments raise the interest rates those governments must pay on holders of its debt, thereby costing those communities up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to the report, which was released Wednesday by the non-profit Roosevelt Institute’s ReFund America Project and focused on recent downgrades by Moody’s in relatively impoverished, predominantly-black localities. The more recent report [..] took a granular look at a few communities whose budgets were impacted by downgrades, which drive the prices of bonds down while raising the interest rate at which the government has to pay its bondholders. New Jersey was set to lose $258 million annually as a result of a Moody’s ratings drop, the report calculated, using the spread between interest rates on bonds with different Moody’s credit ratings and the amount of debt affected by the downgrade.
Moody’s announced a downgrade of the New Jersey’s $37 billion in publicly-issued debt to A3, six levels below the agency’s top rating of Aaa, in late March. The agency attributed the downgrade to “significant pension underfunding, including growth in the state’s large long-term liabilities, a persistent structural imbalance and weak fund balances,” as well as a tax cut that would decrease revenues by $1.1 billion over the next four years. New Jersey’s city of Newark — which is 52.4% African American and 33.8% Hispanic, compared to 12.6% and 16.3%, respectively, on the national level, according to U.S. Census data — was slated to lose an estimated $10 million annually as a result of a Moody’s downgrade, the report calculated. Newark’s median household income was just over $33,000, compared to nearly $54,000 nationwide, as of 2015.
That year, Moody’s downgraded Newark’s $374 million in general obligation unlimited tax bonds to Baa3, one level above junk bond status. The rating change, Moody’s said in the press release, reflected “the city’s further weakened financial position since last year,” along with its “reliance on market access for cash flow, history of aggressively structured budgets typically adopted late in the year and uncertainty around continued financial support from the state of New Jersey.” Further west, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) also stood to suffer tremendously from a Moody’s rating drop. The report authors calculated that the school system would lose out on $290 million annually from a September 2016 Moody’s downgrade to B3, five ranks below the highest junk bond rating. Nearly 40% of students are African American, 46.5% are Hispanic and 80.2% are considered “economically disadvantaged,” according to October 2016 CPS data.
Illinois had its bond rating downgraded to one step above junk by Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings, the lowest ranking on record for a U.S. state, as the long-running political stalemate over the budget shows no signs of ending. S&P warned that Illinois will likely lose its investment-grade status, an unprecedented step for a state, around July 1 if leaders haven’t agreed on a budget that chips away at the government’s chronic deficits. Moody’s followed S&P’s downgrade Thursday, citing Illinois’s underfunded pensions and the record backlog of bills that are equivalent to about 40% of its operating budget. “Legislative gridlock has sidetracked efforts not only to address pension needs but also to achieve fiscal balance,” Ted Hampton, Moody’s analyst, said in a statement.
“During the past year of fruitless negotiations and partisan wrangling, fundamental credit challenges have intensified enough to warrant a downgrade, regardless of whether a fiscal compromise is reached.” Illinois hasn’t had a full year budget in place for the past two years amid a clash between the Democrat-run legislature and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. That’s left the fifth most-populous state with a record $14.5 billion of unpaid bills, ravaged entities like universities and social service providers that rely on state aid and undermined Illinois’s standing in the bond market, where investors have demanded higher premiums for the risk of owning its debt. Moody’s called Illinois “an outlier among states” after suffering eight downgrades in as many years.
“The rating actions largely reflect the severe deterioration of Illinois’ fiscal condition, a byproduct of its stalemated budget negotiations,” S&P analyst Gabriel Petek said in a statement. “The unrelenting political brinkmanship now poses a threat to the timely payment of the state’s core priority payments.” Illinois’s 10-year bonds yield 4.4%, 2.5 percentage points more than those on top-rated debt. That spread – a measure of the perceived risk – is the highest since at least January 2013 and more than any of the other 19 states tracked by Bloomberg.
Uber reported yesterday that its NET LOSS totaled more than $700 million last quarter, despite pulling in a whopping $3.4 billion in revenue. (This means they spent at least $4.1 billion!) That’s the latest in a string of massive, 9-figure quarterly losses for the company. The only question I have is– how much cocaine are these people buying? Seriously, it’s REALLY HARD to spend so many billions of dollars. You could have over 100,000 employees (‘real’ employees, not Uber drivers) and pay them $150,000 EACH and still not blow through that much money in a single quarter. Even if you think about Research & Development, Uber still managed to burn through almost as much cash as NASA’s $4.8 billion budget last quarter. The real irony is that this company is worth $70 BILLION. And Uber is far from alone. Netflix is also worth $70 billion; and like Uber, they can’t make money.
Over the last twelve months Netflix burned through over $1.7 billion in cash, and they made up for it by going deeper into debt. The list goes on and on– Snapchat debuted with a $30 billion valuation after its IPO, only to subsequently report that they had lost $2.2 billion in the previous quarter. Telecom company Sprint is still somehow worth more than $30 billion despite having over $40 billion in debt and burning through more than $6 billion over the last three years. And then there’s Twitter, a rudderless, profitless company that is still worth over $13 billion. This is pure insanity. If companies that burn through obscene piles of cash and have no clear path to profitability are worth tens of billions of dollars, it seems like any business that’s cashflow positive should be worth TRILLIONS. None of this makes any sense, and investing in this environment is nothing more than gambling. Sure, it’s always possible these companies’ stock prices increase even more. Maybe Netflix and Twitter quadruple despite continuing losses and debt accumulation. Maybe Bitcoin surges to $50,000 next month. And maybe the Dallas Cowboys finally offer me the starting quarterback position next season.
Sometime this year, world public and private plus unfunded pensions will surpass $300 trillion. That is not even counting the $100 trillion in US government unfunded liabilities. Oops. These obligations cannot be paid. A time is coming when the market and voters will realize this. Will voters decide to tax “the rich” more? Will they increase their VAT rates and further slow growth? Will they reduce benefits? No matter what they decide, hard choices will bring political turmoil. And that, of course, will mean market turmoil. We are coming to a period I call “the Great Reset.” As it hits, we will have to deal, one way or another, with the largest twin bubbles in the history of the world. One of those bubbles is global debt, especially government debt. The other is the even larger bubble of government promises.
The other is the even larger bubble of government promises. History shows it is more than likely that the US will have a recession in the next few years. When it does come, it will likely blow the US government deficit up to $2 trillion a year. Obama took eight years to run up a $10 trillion debt after the 2008 recession. It might take just five years after the next recession to run up the next $10 trillion. Here is a chart my staff at Mauldin Economics created in late 2016 using Congressional Budget Office data. It shows what will happen in the next recession if revenues drop by the same percentage as they did in the last recession (without even counting likely higher expenditures this time).
And you can add the $1.3 trillion deficit in this chart to the more than $500 billion in off-budget debt—and add a higher interest rate expense as interest rates rise. The catalyst could be a European recession that spills over into the US. Or it might be one triggered by US monetary and fiscal mistakes. Or a funding crisis in China, or an emerging-market meltdown. Whatever the cause, the next recession will be just as global as the last one. And there will be more buildup of debt and more political and economic chaos.
The price of raw ivory in Asia has fallen dramatically since the Chinese government announced plans to ban its domestic legal ivory trade, according to new research seen by the Guardian. Poaching, however, is not dropping in parallel. Undercover investigators from the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) have been visiting traders in Hanoi over the last three years. In 2015 they were being offered raw ivory for an average of US$1322/kg in 2015, but by October 2016 that price had dropped to $750/kg, and by February this year prices were as much as 50% lower overall, at $660/kg. Traders complain that the ivory business has become very “difficult and unprofitable”, and are saying they want to get rid of their stock, according to the unpublished report seen by the Guardian. Worryingly, however, others are stockpiling waiting for prices to go up again.
Of all the ivory industries across Asia, it is Vietnam that has increased its production of illegal ivory items the fastest in the last decade, according to Save the Elephants. Vietnam now has one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world, with the majority of tusks being brought in from Africa. Although historically ivory carving is not considered a prestigious art form in Vietnam, as it is in China, the number of carvers has increased greatly. The demand for the worked pieces comes mostly from mainland China. Until recently, the chances of being arrested at the border slim due to inefficient law enforcement. But the prices for raw ivory are now declining as the Chinese market slows; this is partly due to China’s economic slowdown, and also to the announcement that the country will close down its domestic ivory trade.
China’s ivory factories were officially shut down by 31 March 2017, and all the retail outlets will be closed by the end of the year. Other countries have been taking similarly positive action on ivory, although the UK lags behind. Theresa May quietly dropped the conservative commitment to ban ivory from her manifesto, but voters have picked it up and there has been fury across social media. “All the traders we are speaking to are talking about what’s going on in China. It’s definitely having a significant impact on the trade,” said Sarah Stoner, senior intel analyst at the WJC. “A trader in one of the neighbouring countries who talked to our undercover investigators said he didn’t want to go to China anymore – it was so difficult in China now, and friends of his were arrested and sitting in jail. He seemed quite concerned about the situation,” said Pauline Verheji, WJC’S senior legal investigator.
Audi’s emissions scandal flared up again on Thursday after the German government accused the carmaker of cheating emissions tests with its top-end models, the first time Audi has been accused of such wrongdoing in its home country. The German Transport Ministry said it has asked Volkswagen’s luxury division to recall around 24,000 A7 and A8 models built between 2009 and 2013, about half of which were sold in Germany. VW Chief Executive Matthias Mueller was summoned to the Berlin-based ministry on Thursday, a ministry spokesman said, without elaborating. The affected Audi models with so-called Euro-5 emission standards emit about twice the legal limit of nitrogen oxides when the steering wheel is turned more than 15 degrees, the ministry said.
It is also the first time that Audi’s top-of-the-line A8 saloon has been implicated in emissions cheating. VW has said to date that the emissions-control software found in its rigged EA 189 diesel engine does not violate European law. The 80,000 3.0-liter vehicles affected by VW’s emissions cheating scandal in the United States included Audi A6, A7 and Q7 models as well as Porsche and VW brand cars. The ministry said it has issued a June 12 deadline for Audi to come up with a comprehensive plan to refit the cars. Ingolstadt-based Audi issued a recall for the 24,000 affected models late on Thursday, some 14,000 of which are registered in Germany, and said software updates will start in July. It will continue to cooperate with Germany’s KBA motor vehicle authority, Audi said.
Just a few hours after Megyn Kelly announced on NBC’s Today show that she would be interviewing Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg tomorrow at the International Economic Forum, Showtime released the first trailer and extended clip for The Putin Interviews, a sit-down with the Russian president conducted by the film-maker Oliver Stone for a four-part special that premieres on 12 June. Promoted as “the most detailed portrait of Putin ever granted to a Western interviewer”, The Putin Interviews spawned from several encounters over two years between Stone, director of politically oriented films including JFK and Nixon, and Putin. The interviews are to air as four one-hour installments, landing just a week after Kelly’s discussion with Putin, the centerpiece of her news magazine show on NBC, which premieres on Sunday night.
In the extended clip released on Thursday, Stone and Putin can be seen driving in a car with an English translator in the backseat, discussing topics such as Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing and Russian intelligence. “As an ex-KGB agent, you must have hated what Snowden did with every fiber of your being,” Stone asks in the clip. “Snowden is not a traitor,” Putin replies. “He did not betray the interests of his country. Nor did he transfer any information to any other country which would have been pernicious to his own country or to his own people. The only thing Snowden does, he does publicly.”
Two weeks before a critical Eurogroup summit, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble launched a broadside at Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, claiming that the leftist premier has not shifted the burden of austerity away from poorer Greeks as he had pledged. In his comments, Schaeuble also maintained that party influence on the Greek public administration has increased rather than decreased during Tsipras’s time in power, noting that ruling party officials have been appointed to the country’s privatization fund. Greek government sources responded tersely to Schaeuble’s criticism. “The responsibility of Schaeuble in managing the Greek crisis has been recorded historically,” one source said. “There is no point in his ascribing it to others.”
Meanwhike Germany’s Die Welt reported that the ECB had similar views on the need for Greek debt relief to the IMF, and indicated that Schaeuble might be facing pressure to make unpopular decisions ahead of elections scheduled to take place in Germany in September. Tsipras, for his part, apparently sought to lower expectations in comments on Thursday. During a visit to the Interior Ministry, he said the government’s goal was “fulfilling the country’s commitments” linked to Greece’s third international bailout. He dodged reporters’ questions about whether he expected to leave a European Union leaders’ summit on June 22 wearing a tie – something he has pledged to do only when Greece secures debt relief. “The important thing is that I don’t leave with further burdens,” Tsipras said.
Aides close to Tsipras will be closely following a Euro Working Group meeting scheduled for June 8 for indications about what kind of deal creditors are likely to put on the table at the Eurogroup summit planned for June 15. If the solution that is in the works is deemed to be too politically toxic, it is likely that Tsipras will undertake another round of telephone diplomacy with key EU leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. He spoke to several prominent EU leaders earlier this week to underline the Greek government’s conviction that it has honored its promises to creditors and it is their turn to reciprocate with debt relief.
Doctors may soon have a new weapon in the long-running war between antibiotics and bacteria. It’s a Swiss Army knife of a drug that’s tens of thousands of times more effective in lab tests against dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Starting with the discovery of penicillin in 1928, scientists and doctors have been finding and making molecules that weaken or kill bacteria in a range of different ways to help humans survive infections. And as soon as humans started employing these antibiotics, bacteria began evolving to beat those attacks. That has started to become a huge problem. So-called superbugs like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can ward off some of our most potent antibiotics, making infections by these bacteria extremely hard to treat.
Not only that, but their existence poses a strategic challenge as well, forcing doctors to think hard about when and where they use certain antibiotics, lest bacteria develop resistance to them and render them less effective. Vancomycin is one antibiotic that has stayed effective even as others have been been brought down by resistant bacteria. That’s because of the way vancomycin works: by latching onto one of the building blocks bacteria use to build their cell walls, like the microscopic equivalent of a bully stealing your shovel in the sandbox and not giving it back. (In this analogy, we’re on the bully’s side.) By interfering with such a critical cellular process in such a fundamental way, vancomycin makes it hard for bacteria to develop a simple mutation to defeat the antibiotic. That makes vancomycin one of our last lines of defense for treating infections like MRSA that others can’t.
It’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) added the drug to its list of essential medicines. Naturally, some bacteria have found ways to fight vancomycin, the most common being to substitute a different cell wall building block that the antibiotic can’t latch onto. Taking vancomycin out of doctors’ quivers would be a big blow. Which is why the WHO also lists vancomycin-resistant bacteria at number four and five on its list of the most threatening antibiotic-resistant microbes. So. To try to make sure vancomycin can beat those resistant bacteria, and stay effective for the next few decades—a reasonable lifetime for an antibiotic—chemists Dale Boger, Nicholas Isley and Akinori Okano at the Scripps Research Institute in California opened up the hood to make a few adjustments to the molecule.
After swapping out one part and bolting on a couple others, the group’s souped-up vancomycin was about 25,000 times more potent against resistant bacteria, and it had better endurance. They describe their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The major change was to the region of the molecule that grabs those cell wall building blocks, which are called D-alanyl-D-alanine. Resistant bacteria have learned to substitute the very similar D-alanyl-D-lactate, which your standard vancomycin can’t bind to very well, limiting its effectiveness. The researchers changed an oxygen atom for two atoms of hydrogen, making a new version of vancomycin that could hang onto either building block.
Looking at the incredible mess built up by the likes of Trump and Hillary, Farge and Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Marine Le Pen, Jeremy Corbyn looks better all the time. He’s an actual person, and he sticks to his guns.
Maybe what goes against him most is that people in this day and age don’t recognize him as a politician anymore; politicians are supposed to stab backs, tell lies and conspire against anyone threatening their shot at power.
Is there anyone who would argue that the world would have been a worse place with Bernie Sanders in the White House and Jeremy Corbyn at no. 10?
As the left has moved, and become, right, we need a left just for balance in our societies. Nothing to do with if you are a socialist or not, just balance.
Britain’s opposition Labour Party pledged to raise taxes on the well-off, renationalise key industries and end austerity in its manifesto on Tuesday, presenting voters with their starkest choice in decades in next month’s election. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the programme “radical and responsible”, saying the country had been run “for the rich, the elite and the vested interests” in seven years of Conservative government. “It will change our country,” he will say in his speech at the presentation of the manifesto in Bradford in northwest England, according to extracts released by the party’s press office. “It will lead us through Brexit while putting the preservation of jobs first,” he said. The manifesto is expected to include a tax increase from 40% to 45% for salaries of between ££80,000 (€94,000, $103,000) and ££150,0000 a year, according to The Times and The Daily Telegraph.
The current 40% tax rate applies to people earning between ££31,500 and ££150,000. There would also be a new top rate of income tax of 50%, the reports said. Labour has said the rise would fund increased investment in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) and would only affect 5% of earners. The Guardian reported that the party was also planning a levy on businesses with staff earning large salaries, set at 2.5% on those earning over ££330,000 and 5.0% on those earning more than ££500,000. Labour will also promise to renationalise the railways, the Royal Mail postal service and water companies, according to various reports. Labour has also promised it will increase corporation tax to 26% by 2022 and impose a “Robin Hood tax” on financial transactions. “It’s a programme that will reverse our national priorities to put the interests of the many first,” Corbyn is expected to say. “This is a programme of hope. The Tory campaign, by contrast, is built on one word: fear.”
An academic investigation has caught the UK media trying incredibly hard to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Number 10. The mainstream TV and newspaper media are pushing the agenda of the Conservative Party within their coverage, according to an investigation from Loughborough University. The Conservatives are the “most frequently reported” and “most extensively quoted” party, while issues pushed by Labour are “marginalised”, say the report’s authors. In newspapers, for example, the Conservatives received by far the most direct quotation, exceeding Labour by 45%. One of the most striking findings is how much non-political personality pervades the entire media’s election coverage. Last week, Theresa May made a policy-free appearance on The One Show with her husband Philip May. The BBC hosted the personality-driven chat, despite the sitting Prime Minister refusing to debate her record on TV.
Then, according to the content analysis, the broader media amplified the appearance and sidelined the real issues. And this is precisely the aim of a Conservative Party opting for cosy sofa chats over serious policy debate. The sheer weight of reporting on the sanitised family affair propelled the Conservative leader’s husband into the fifth most covered political figure during the study’s time frame. He received nearly double the coverage of the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, who leads a party controlling 56 out of the 59 Scottish seats. The Conservative leader’s husband, a family figure irrelevant to the election, also received nearly as much coverage as Labour’s Shadow Chancellor. John McDonnell was the fourth most covered political figure, reported on in 6.1% of all the election news items analysed. Theresa May was easily the most prominent, featuring in 32.4% – over a third of all news items analysed. Corbyn received much less coverage across TV and newspaper media, appearing in 21.4%.
Dystopia is here. It’s not just the “imagined place” of the dictionary definition or a future state of dystopian novels. It is very real and right now, at least for those of us trying to follow national politics. And it’s not just Donald Trump. It’s Barack Obama, it’s Ted Cruz, it’s the New York Times, it’s Breitbart News. It is an alternate universe detached from the world we live in but intruding into it in painful and dangerous ways. It is a media narrative of political conspirators colluding with a dictatorial archenemy, of an intemperate and delusional leader overturning the institutions of democracy, of a “deep-state” resistance to constitutional authority. It is a dystopia of rampant hypocrisy, where obstructing legislation, supporting a law-enforcement official who strays beyond the limits of his authority, or boycotting a president’s appointments is evil and undemocratic until it’s your party that wants to do it.
Two dystopian classics have shot back to the top of best-seller lists because the media suggest the authoritarian surveillance societies they portray have arrived. The 1948 novel “1984” and the 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” are touted as descriptions of where we are headed under Trump. While the author of “Handmaid,” Margaret Atwood, and the cast of the Hulu miniseries based on it see a Trump administration as the realization of the misogyny depicted in the novel, it’s obvious the U.S. is not about to become a Puritanical theocracy like that in the book. Critics on both the left and the right dispute the media meme that “Handmaid” is a depiction of the Trump era. Irish feminist Angela Nagle writes in the left-wing Jacobin magazine that it is neoliberal market forces that are oppressing women, not an imaginary theocratic state.
“The real-world dystopia for the majority of women in the age of Trump is not that they are being forced to have children by a repressive traditionalist state,” she wrote last week, “but that they’re being compelled not to by far more insidious forces, and those that do are financially and socially punished at every turn.” We are ruled by myths, she continues, but not those in the miniseries. “The mythologies of our age in the West are not enforced by repressive theocratic regimes,” Nagle says, “but by the market command to be free, to be creative, to be flexible, to love what you do for even the most uninspiring of jobs.”
Americans’ opinions of the two major political parties are now similar after the Democratic Party’s ratings slipped to 40% – from 45% last November – while the Republican Party’s image is essentially unchanged at 39%. The latest update on the party’s images is based on a May 3-7 Gallup poll, which asked Americans whether they have a favorable or an unfavorable opinion of each party. Throughout last year’s contentious presidential election campaign, U.S. adults rated neither party highly. In fact, more rated each party unfavorably than favorably. But Democrats maintained a slight edge in favorable ratings, including 45% to 40% in Gallup’s prior measurement, conducted last November after Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election.
So far, Trump’s unpopularity as president has done little to erode Americans’ views of the GOP, perhaps because they were already quite negative. However, Americans are now less positive toward the Democratic Party than they were last fall. The decline in Democratic Party favorability is mostly a result of lower ratings from self-identified Democrats. In November, 83% of Democrats had a positive opinion of the Democratic Party; now, 77% do. Independents are also slightly less positive toward the Democratic Party, while Republicans’ negative views of the opposing party are steady.
[..]Americans are quite negative toward both of the major political parties at this time. Trump’s unpopularity and the GOP’s challenges in governing a divided nation have done little to weaken the party’s poor image further. But those same factors have also done little to cast the opposing party, the Democrats, in a more favorable light. If anything, the Democratic Party’s positioning appears weakened, largely because its own supporters now hold a less positive view of the party. That could indicate Democrats are frustrated with the party’s minority status in Washington. Not since 2003 through 2006 have Democrats failed to control the presidency, House of Representatives or Senate. Prior to that, Democrats had control of either Congress or the presidency for more than 50 years.
Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier convicted of giving classified government materials to WikiLeaks, is due to be released from a Kansas military prison on Wednesday after serving seven years of her 35-year sentence. President Barack Obama granted Manning clemency in his final days in office in January. Though she’s set to be released from Fort Leavenworth, Manning’s lawyers and the Army have refused to say when and how she’ll be freed due to potential security concerns. Manning, who was known as Bradley Manning before transitioning in prison, was convicted in 2013 of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. She was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.
The Crescent, Oklahoma, native tweeted after being granted clemency that she plans to move to Maryland. Neither she nor her attorneys explained why, but she has an aunt who lives there. Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, has acknowledged leaking the materials, which included battlefield video. She said she wanted to expose what she considered to be the U.S. military’s disregard of the effects of war on civilians and that she released information that she didn’t believe would harm the U.S. Critics said the leaks laid bare some of the nation’s most-sensitive secrets and endangered information sources, prompting the State Department to help some of those people move to protect their safety. Several ambassadors were recalled, expelled or reassigned because of embarrassing disclosures.
Manning, who was arrested in 2010, filed a transgender rights lawsuit in prison and attempted suicide twice last year, according to her lawyers. Obama’s decision to commute Manning’s sentence to about seven years, including the time she spent locked up before being convicted, drew strong criticism from members of Congress and others, with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan calling the move “just outrageous.” In a statement last week — her first public comments since Obama intervened — Manning thanked that former president and said that letters of support from veterans and fellow transgender people inspired her “to work toward making life better for others.” “For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea,” she said.
“I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world. Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine.” Her attorneys have said Manning was subjected to violence in prison and argued the military mistreated her by requiring her to serve her sentence in an all-male prison, restricting her physical and mental health care and not allowing her to keep a feminine haircut. The Army said Tuesday that Manning would remain on active duty in a special, unpaid status that will legally entitle her to military medical care, along with commissary privileges. An Army spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson, said Manning will be on “excess leave” while her court-martial conviction is under appellate review.
Seven people who sheltered the whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013 are at risk of return to torture and persecution at home, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 11, 2017, the Hong Kong Immigration Department rejected their asylum claim; their lawyers are in the process of appealing the decision and pursuing a separate case for entry and asylum in Canada, where sponsors are ready to assist them. “Those who helped Edward Snowden in Hong Kong when he was seeking asylum now find themselves at dire risk if sent back to their countries,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Canada has the opportunity to a prevent a terrible outcome and should act immediately.”
The asylum-seekers include two men and a woman from Sri Lanka, and a woman from the Philippines, along with their three children who were born in Hong Kong and are stateless. The adults allege that they suffered torture and persecution in their home countries, and have been pursued by powerful people or officials who have tracked or threatened them. Their asylum lawyer, Robert Tibbo, brought Snowden, another client, to their homes in 2013 after he revealed he had disclosed classified information to the press. The families each freely allowed Snowden to stay with them for a short time after his disclosures became public but before his arrest was sought.
Neither the asylum-seekers nor their lawyer revealed their role in Snowden’s journey. However, journalists independently discovered their identities shortly before the release of an Oliver Stone movie about Snowden that shows him being hidden among asylum-seekers in Hong Kong. At that point, the asylum-seekers went public in an effort to have some control over how they were portrayed in the media.
[..] we were somewhat shocked to come across a report from money manager United Income which effectively argues that American retirees are saving too much money rather than too little. To summarize the thesis, United Income argues that retirees become more conservative as they grow older which causes them to save more and allocate less to equities…which is, of course, a somewhat self-serving conclusion but never mind that.
“Innovations in medicine and technology have extended human life by over 30 years since 1900. This has helped to double the amount of time the average adult now spends in retirement compared to several decades ago. But, the benefits of longer lives and retirement may be limited if older households curb their consumption or investment in preventive health measures because they are overly pessimistic about their future financial health. Overly negative viewpoints toward the future may also create self-fulfilling economic problems if it leads to an overly aggressive fixed-income portfolio.”
Unfortunately, when combined with the fact that “Median Net Wealth” is actually shrinking, it’s easy to deduce that while the majority of American retirees are actually spending their retirement income (and then some), there is a group of super wealthy old folks who simply can’t spend enough money to offset annual investment income growth….which speaks more to the growing wealth gap than to some economic fear that is causing retirees to hoard cash. In this context, it’s not too difficult to understand why aggregate YoY spending trends collapse as old folks get older. The most wealthy retirees can only find so many ways to burn their massive nest eggs which means that, at least for these folks, YoY spending doesn’t grow but retirement balances do…while the overwhelming majority of people simply run out of cash and have to cut every corner possible to survive….
Australia’s prized AAA rating will only rest on a firm footing once there’s a “meaningful moderation” in housing and credit, S&P Global Ratings said as it maintained a negative outlook on the country’s sovereign score. The country’s rating was affirmed by the credit assessor after the latest federal government budget projected a return to surplus by 2021, although S&P noted that revenue could disappoint and lawmakers may struggle to implement fiscal repair policies. It also highlighted risks stemming from Australia’s high level of external indebtedness. S&P has maintained a negative outlook on the country since last July when it issued a warning in the wake of a knife-edge federal election.
“The ratings could stabilize if we were to see a significant and sustained improvement in the medium-term budget outlook, leading to a return to a general government surplus,” S&P said in a statement Wednesday. “A stabilization of the ratings would also require a meaningful moderation of the credit and house price boom.” Home prices in Sydney and Melbourne have surged in the wake of unprecedented interest-rate cuts by the Reserve Bank of Australia as the country navigates its way through the aftermath of a mining boom. Regulators have progressively tightened lending restrictions amid concerns about financial stability.
China’s just-completed conference touting its Belt and Road initiative certainly looked like a triumph, with Russian President Vladimir Putin playing the piano and Chinese leaders announcing a string of potential deals and massive financial pledges. Underneath all the heady talk about China positioning itself at the heart of a new global order, though, lies in uncomfortable question: Can it afford to do so? Such doubts might seem spurious, given the numbers being tossed around. China claims nearly $900 billion worth of deals are already underway, with estimates of future spending ranging from $4 trillion to $8 trillion, depending on which Chinese government agency is doing the talking. At the conference itself, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged another $78 billion for the effort, which envisions building infrastructure to link China to Europe through Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
From no other country in the world would such pledges be remotely plausible. Yet even for China, they’ll be difficult to fulfill without clashing with the country’s other objectives. The first question is what currency to use for all this lending. Denominating loans in renminbi would accelerate China’s stated goal of internationalizing its currency. But it would also force officials to tolerate higher levels of offshore renminbi trading and international price-setting. So far, they’ve shown little appetite for either. Additionally, countries along the Belt-and-Road route would need to run trade surpluses with China in order to generate the currency needed to repay such loans. In fact, as Bloomberg Intelligence economist Tom Orlik has noted, China ran a $250 billion surplus with Belt-and-Road countries in 2016.
It will be mathematically impossible for Sri Lanka and Pakistan to repay big yuan-denominated loans when they’re running trade deficits with China close to $2 billion and $9 billion, respectively. Financing projects in dollars is no panacea either. Unless China conducts U.S. dollar bond offerings to fund these investments, it’ll have to tap its official foreign-exchange reserves. Those now hover around $3 trillion. That sounds like a lot. But outside estimates suggest anywhere from a few hundred billion to nearly $1 trillion of that money is illiquid. China needs nearly $900 billion to cover short-term external debt and another $400 to $800 billion to cover imports for three to six months. Pouring additional billions into Central Asian infrastructure projects would only tie up money China needs to defend the yuan.
And, borrowers would need to run significant dollar surpluses in order to repay dollar-denominated loans. Obviously, not every country can do so, or undervalue its currency to try and build up a surplus. Beyond the specific mechanisms, it’s unclear whether China has the financial capacity to lend at these levels to borrowers of dubious creditworthiness. As French bank Natixis S.A. has noted, in order to finance $5 trillion in projects, China “would need to see growth rates of around 50% in cross-border lending.” This would wreak havoc on Chinese creditworthiness and raise external debt from a “very comfortable” level (around 12% of GDP) to “more than 50%” if China can’t bring in other lenders.
“The relations between Turkey and the United States have been erected upon common democratic values and common interests.” That’s what Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a White House press conference with US president Donald Trump on Tuesday (May 16). But shortly after the event, Erdogan’s bodyguards proceeded to beat and kick people outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington DC. The altercation was captured on camera, and resulted in nine people being hurt, Voice of America said.
A photojournalist at the site said it seemed to be a pro-Turkey gathering at first, while some witnesses said the group outside the residence included a person carrying a flag of a Kurdish party in Syria allied with a militia the US plans to aid, over Turkey’s objections. [..] It’s not the first time Erdogan’s security has roughed up protesters on American soil. In 2016, the Washington Post reported clashes between protesters and the Turkish leader’s security detail. And in 2014, in New York, Turkish security threatened and pushed around journalists working for a newspaper perceived to be critical of Erdogan.
Turkish aeroplanes and helicopters illegally entered Greece’s airspace 141 times yesterday (15 May), the Hellenic National Defence General Staff reported. According to Greek press reports, 20 Turkish F-16, 5 CN-235 maritime surveillance aircraft and 19 helicopters entered the Athens flight information region (FIR) without submitting a flight plan. In all cases, Turkish aircraft were identified and intercepted by Greek fighters, while in nine cases the interception process resulted in near combat situations. In addition, two Turkish missile boats entered Greek territorial waters off the southeast Aegean island of Agathonisi. The vessels, which were taking part in a maritime exercise code-named Denizkurdu (Seawolf), stayed in Greek territorial waters for about 20 minutes.
As Kathimerini journal reported, last month Agathonisi was described as a “Turkish island” by Turkey’s Minister of European Union Affairs Omer Celik. While the EU and the international community recognise the sovereignty of Greece over the Greek Aegean islands, Turkey has a list of issues regarding the delimitation of territorial waters, national airspace, exclusive zones, etc. Ankara also claims “grey zones” of undetermined sovereignty over a number of small islets, most notably the islets of Imia/Kardak. The serious incidents occurred just a few hours after the meeting of Greek premier Alexis Tsipras with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Beijing. The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a strong communique saying that the incident “constitutes a flagrant violation of international law”.
“It is clear that there are forces in Turkey that do not want understanding and good neighbourly relations between the two countries,” the Greek ministry added. In the meantime, tensions between Ankara and Berlin also escalated. The German government is exploring the possibility of moving its troops out of Turkey’s Incirlik air base, which is crucial for the fight against ISIS, after a second German parliamentary delegation was prevented from visiting the Incirlik facility. German news agency dpa quoted Wolfgang Hellmich, the chairman of the Bundestag Defense Committee, as saying “we’re not going to be blackmailed” by the Ankara government.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s sudden rush to change the pacifist constitution that has defined Japan’s security policy since World War II risks eroding his popularity before an election due by the end of next year. This month, Abe proposed an amendment to recognize the existence of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces while maintaining Article 9, which renounces the right to war and prohibits land, sea and air forces. He wants the change to take effect by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics. Rewriting the constitution has been a longstanding goal of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, whose original members – including Abe’s grandfather, who was a prime minister – saw the document as a U.S. imposition that humiliated Japan after World War II.
For Abe, the timing appears opportune: not only are tensions high over North Korea, but his opponents are weak. Yet it also carries risks. The public is divided on changing the constitution, and even some members of his own party don’t support it. The issue could galvanize the opposition and potentially hurt Abe’s chances of becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. “It’s going to be very difficult for him to pull this off,” said Gerald Curtis, an emeritus professor of political science at Columbia University who is currently in Tokyo. “It will eat away at his support. Whether it eats away enough to threaten his third term – that’s unlikely.”
A group of about 50 combat engineers based at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown were deployed to Latvia on April 29 as part of Operation Reassurance. The mission is to build a town for 500 soldiers. According to commanding officer Lt.-Col. Chris Cotton, the installation will have «everything you would expect in a small town, from its kitchen to its quarters, its electrical distribution system, water distribution system, internet, gym facilities that would allow people to survive over the long term in Latvia». Obviously, this is an element of vast infrastructure to provide for a long-term commitment. In early April, a US-led battle group of 1,350 soldiers for NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Eastern Europe arrived at its base near Orzysz in northeastern Poland.
It took place just a few days after a NATO-Russia Council meeting took place on March 30. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the talks with Moscow «frank» and «constructive». Then the usual song and dance followed under the slogan of Russian threat. British RAF fighters are scheduled to be stationed to Romania this May. In March the first of 800 UK troops arrived in Estonia supported by around 300 armed vehicles. Along with French and Danish forces they’ll be stationed there on what NATO leadership calls «rotational basis». In January, German and Belgian forces arrived in Lithuania near the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The UK leads the Estonia Battlegroup while other NATO members are deploying forces to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland as part of the bloc’s Enhanced Forward Presence battalion.
All in all, 4,000 NATO troops with tanks, armored vehicles, air support, and high-tech intelligence centers deployed to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. In accordance with the fiscal year 2017 European Reassurance Initiative budget proposal, the US Army is reopening or creating five equipment-storage sites in the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and two locations in Germany. Last September, the service began to assemble more Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS) for permanent storage in Europe. Those stocks will be sufficient for another armored brigade to fall in on. The rotating brigade will bring its own equipment. The move will add hundreds of the Army’s most advanced weapons systems to beef up the US European Command’s combat capability. It will also free up an entire brigade’s worth of weapons currently being used by US forces training on the continent to enable more American troops to be rushed in on short notice.
The EU’s newest members are the fiercest opponents of its single market. As with so many of the toughest fights in Brussels, it all boils down to farmers and food. Central Europeans say big Western European landowners and multinational supermarkets are wiping out their farmers and shopkeepers. Protecting smallholders from powerful investors like banks has leapt to the top of the political agenda. Eastern European governments have rolled out a complex web of new laws to stop foreigners buying out swaths of ultra-cheap farmland. The European Commission regards this new legislation in the former communist countries as an existential threat to the EU’s free flow of goods, people and capital — the single market, in short — and struck back with infringement cases intended to preserve its sanctity.
In Bulgaria, for example, the European Commission launched an infringement proceeding last year over a law that investors should be resident for more than five years before they can buy farmland. In Romania, Brussels objected this year to rules that supermarkets should source 51 percent of fresh produce from local suppliers. There has been no decision on either case. It is in Poland, the regional heavyweight, that the battle over respect for the single market is fought the hardest. Brussels has already ordered the authorities to halt a tax on the retail sector on the grounds it grants a selective advantage to small, local shops with a low turnover over big foreign-owned supermarkets. All eyes are now focusing on how the European Commission will react to a growing chorus of complaints in Poland over the rights of foreigners to buy farmland.
Italy and Germany are reportedly seeking an EU mission to stabilise Libya’s 5,000km southern border with neighbouring countries and curb migration. German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported on Sunday (14 May) that the German interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, and his Italian counterpart, Marco Minniti, want the mission set up between Libya and Niger. The ministers sent a joint-letter last week to the European Commission, saying that an EU mission at the border between the two nations was needed “as soon as possible.” “The first months of this year have shown that our efforts up to this point have been insufficient. We must prevent hundreds of thousands of people who are in the hands of smugglers from risking their lives in Libya and the Mediterranean,” the letter states.
The letter, also seen by the French news agency AFP, says greater development and local support is needed for people living along the border. It also calls for “technical and financial support” to Libyan authorities. Abdulsalam Kajman, the vice president of the UN and EU-backed government seated in Tripoli, had also told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper on Sunday that Libya was willing to launch patrols with the help of other countries. “If we don’t resolve southern Libya’s problems, we will not resolve the migrant issue,” he said. Kajman added that Italy was prepared to help train a new patrol guard for the task. The plans are part of a broader effort to prevent people from leaving Libya on boats towards the EU and crack down on migrant smugglers. The exodus from the coast has increased by over 44% – when compared to the same period last year – with some 45,000 people having disembarked between January and mid-May so far.