Jan 132020
 


G.G. Bain Three-ton electric sign blown into Broadway, New York. 1912

 

‘I’m Spending All My Money To Get Rid Of Trump’: Michael Bloomberg (R.)
What If @realDonaldTrump Is Brilliant? (Papachelas)
Warren, Sanders Campaigns Spar In Rare Show Of Discord (R.)
How Bad Can The Climate Crisis Get If Trump Wins Again? (G.)
Avoid UK Recession By Kickstarting Green Economy, Says Thinktank (G.)
China Is Really Worried About Unemployment, Social Unrest (CNN)
Ford’s China Vehicle Sales Drop 26% In Third Straight Year Of Decline (R.)
Downing of PS-752 Already Being Used To Smear MH-17 Skeptics (OffG)
Bolivia Exiled Ex-President Morales Calls On Radio For Armed Militias (R.)
Somebody Snuck A Potato Into CES 2020 (F.)

 

 

All of the money, none of the prospects. Will he be the first to spend a full billion? Don’t change your station.

‘I’m Spending All My Money To Get Rid Of Trump’: Michael Bloomberg (R.)

U.S. presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg told Reuters he is ready to spend much of his vast fortune to oust Republican President Donald Trump from the White House in 2020, rejecting criticism from rivals for the Democratic nomination that the billionaire is trying to buy the U.S. election. Ranked by Forbes as the eighth-richest American, Bloomberg has flooded U.S. airwaves and social media feeds with messages that he stands the best chance to beat Trump, spending more on campaign ads since he launched his campaign in November than his main Democratic rivals have over the last year.

“Number one priority is to get rid of Donald Trump. I’m spending all my money to get rid of Trump,” Bloomberg told Reuters aboard his campaign bus on Saturday, during a nearly 300-mile (483-km) drive across Texas, one of the 14 states that will vote on Super Tuesday on March 3. “Do you want me to spend more or less? End of story.” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading Democratic presidential contenders who has vowed to get money out of politics, blasted Bloomberg when he launched his campaign with a $37-million TV advertising blitz, accusing the former New York City mayor of trying to buy American democracy. “These are just political things they say, hoping they catch on and they don’t like me doing it, because it competes with them, not because it’s bad policy,” Bloomberg said.


After entering the race late and missing the first six Democratic debates, Bloomberg generally sits fifth in national public opinion polls behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Warren and Pete Buttigieg. But not just the two liberal standard-bearers of Warren and Sanders, all of the four are too liberal to beat Trump, Bloomberg said. “One of the reasons I’m reasonably confident I could beat Trump is I would be acceptable to the moderate Republicans you have to have,” said Bloomberg, a former Republican who made his fortune selling financial information to Wall Street firms. “Whether you like it or not, you can’t win the election unless you get moderate Republicans to cross the line. The others are much too liberal for them and they would certainly vote for Donald Trump.”

Read more …

No, I don’t think Trump is brilliant, thank you. Just funny to see this coming from Greece.

What If @realDonaldTrump Is Brilliant? (Papachelas)

History is often written by those who don’t follow the rules or, rather, by those who ostentatiously throw them onto the trash heap of history. Donald Trump is one of those people, whether we like it or not. In an era where political correctness and slick public relations are the norm in politics and beyond, Trump came along with his own unique style and turned everything on its head. This started during his candidacy for president. A one-time close associate of his described how his team tried to convince him to start using prepared speeches, reading from a teleprompter. He didn’t like the idea at all but he agreed to give it a go.

When the moment came for his first public speech, he started reading from the teleprompter, darting looks to his left and right, clearly uncomfortable with the whole process. At one point, his patience at an end, he petulantly threw down the screen and blamed his awkwardness on his team, declaring that he preferred making speeches without teleprompters. His associates were aghast for a few minutes. But after seeing the rave reception of the move by Trump’s supporters, they realized that his instinct and political brilliance was probably beyond them.

He pulled it off in domestic politics; could he also do it in foreign policy? All the relevant literature, handbooks and collected wisdom of experts far and near suggest that such a feat is impossible. What is essentially a negotiating tactic from the Manhattan real estate world cannot work in the forum of international politics. The art of pushing someone to the end of their tether and then making a deal at the last minute would be rejected as unenforceable. But that’s exactly what Trump is testing now. The assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq by American forces was a very extreme act which all Trump’s predecessors had avoided, as had even successive Israeli governments. Trump did it.

And by doing so he simultaneously sent a clear message to the Middle East that the USA is no longer dependent on its oil and natural gas reserves. Iran responded in a relatively reasonable fashion. In a few weeks, it will become clear whether those who believe that Iran will hit back harder – albeit under or over the radar – are right, or whether a new balance of power will finally emerge that puts it “in its place” and possibly leads to a new deal. That’s when a lot of so-called experts will be banging their heads against the wall.

Read more …

Prepare for 11 months of this, getting uglier as we go along.

Warren, Sanders Campaigns Spar In Rare Show Of Discord (R.)

A rare sign of discord emerged on Sunday between progressive Democratic presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders over a report that Sanders’ campaign volunteers had called her a candidate of the elite in conversations with voters. “I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me,” Warren told reporters after a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa, which will hold the nation’s first nominating contest on Feb. 3. “I hope Bernie reconsiders and turns his campaign in a different direction.” Warren and Sanders, who are friends, fellow U.S. senators and their party’s progressive standard-bearers, agreed early in the nominating contest to an informal non-aggression pact and have largely avoided criticizing each other.


Politico reported late on Saturday that Sanders’ campaign had distributed talking points for volunteers on what to say to voters who are thinking of supporting his main rivals – former Vice President Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Warren. The guidance suggested that volunteers argue Warren was supported by “highly-educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what,” rather than motivating people who do not normally vote, Politico reported. Sanders said on Sunday he did not approve the negative talking points about other candidates. “We have over 500 people on our campaign. People do certain things. I’m sure that on Elizabeth’s campaign people do certain things as well,” Sanders told reporters after a rally in Iowa.

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Blaming Trump for a process that has taken centuries to develop is as silly as it is lazy. There is no government anywhere that is willing to commit anything other than lip service to this.

How Bad Can The Climate Crisis Get If Trump Wins Again? (G.)

Climate pollution in the US is up under Donald Trump and threatens to undermine international efforts to stall the crisis, especially if he wins re-election this year and secures a second term in the White House. While US climate emissions fell 2.1% in 2019, they rose significantly in 2018, according to estimates from the economic analysis firm Rhodium Group. On net, emissions are slightly higher than in the beginning of 2017, when Trump’s administration began enacting dozens of environment rollbacks aimed at helping the oil and gas industry. Trump is still working to further weaken bedrock standards. This week he proposed to allow major projects like pipelines and highways to bypass reviews of how they will contribute to global warming.

The draft rule is unlikely to become final before the November election, but it is yet another reason industries weighing climate choices might delay significant action. “What they have done is created confusion within the business community and the environmental world as to what are going to be the standards,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who led the Environmental Protection Agency under the Republican president George W Bush. “Essentially every regulation the agency promulgates gets a lawsuit that goes with it, almost inevitably … that’s the only good thing you can say about it.” Whitman called the approach “mindless” and said “whoever is a bigger donor gets to tell them what the environmental policy should be, it seems”.

In the absence of any federal climate action, states, cities and businesses have pledged their own efforts, seeking to encourage other big emitters like China and India to continue to slow their growing climate pollution. Andrew Light, a climate negotiator for President Barack Obama’s state department, said the world is taking note of those efforts, but if Trump is re-elected “you are going to see a lot of people who are worried anew about what the US can do.” Americans choosing Trump would send the signal that they don’t care about the climate, Light said.

America’s Pledge, a project to quantify ongoing US emissions reductions, estimates that non-federal actors – like states and cities – could cut climate pollution 37% below 2005 levels by 2030. A Democrat in the White House could increase that to 49% with what Light described as modest, politically achievable policy changes. Experts are increasingly calling for the US to halve its emissions by 2030 and neutralize them by 2050.

Read more …

Next up: $50 trillion. You’re being had.

Avoid UK Recession By Kickstarting Green Economy, Says Thinktank (G.)

The government fightback against the next recession should include pumping as much as £50bn into green projects, in a move that would help reboot the economy and tackle the climate emergency, according to a left-leaning thinktank. Against a backdrop of concern among economists that Britain is ill-equipped to combat another downturn on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis, the New Economics Foundation thinktank said a green plan to beat a future slump was required. In the event of a recession, it said the government should spend at least 2% of GDP, or around £30bn, to decarbonise the economy, by investing in renewable energy projects, planting trees, transport infrastructure, electric vehicles, and retrofitting homes with new insulation.

For a larger economic shock, as much as 3% of GDP, or around £50bn, could be spent. Leading economists including former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers and the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, Olivier Blanchard, have called on governments around the globe to prepare for future economic shocks with readily available blueprints to raise government spending. It comes as central banks, including the Bank of England, have limited capacity to provide support because interest rates remain close to the lowest levels on record more than a decade after the financial crisis. Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, has hinted that Threadneedle Street could cut rates soon, while warning that it is running out of ways to combat recessions.


The foundation said that raising investment in green infrastructure was required regardless of whether Britain was facing a recession or not. However, it said that a plan for fighting a future downturn should have decarbonisation at its core. [..] It said that spending around £10.5bn on a mass insulation programme for homes – equivalent to only a third of the coalition government’s tax cuts between 2010 and 2013 – would have enabled residential emissions to fall by around 30% by 2018.

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Why would CNN run a piece like this, at this point in time?

China Is Really Worried About Unemployment, Social Unrest (CNN)

The Chinese government wants to do whatever it can to protect the economy in 2020. It’s got an enormous task ahead of it. Beijing has made clear that the world’s second largest economy cannot spiral into a slump and risk mass layoffs as it tangles with rising debt, cooling domestic demand and an ongoing trade war with the United States. That’s particularly important this year because it marks the conclusion of the government’s 13th Five-Year Plan, during which it promised to establish a “moderately prosperous society” and end poverty. Senior members of the Communist Party’s Politburo — the seven most powerful men in China — said last week that all efforts must be taken to achieve those goals in 2020.

In recent weeks, the government has bombarded the economy with a wave of stimulus measures, from tariff reductions that could help soothe the pain from rising prices, to rate cuts that could fuel more bank lending. Authorities are also amping up the language they’re using to describe the situation. China’s State Council last month called on local governments to “go to all lengths” to prevent massive job losses this year — what it characterized as the country’s top policy priority. The chief administrative office even warned that the country could face “massive unexpected incidents” if unemployment balloons — a euphemism in China widely understood to refer to social unrest and riots, and one that is rare in public government documents.

In recent years, the government has said it has to create 11 million new jobs annually to keep employment on track. While China’s official unemployment data has barely budged over the last several years, hovering between 4% and 5%, Beijing’s messaging suggests that it is unusually worried about the slowing economy and the challenges that the year could bring. “Beijing is much more worried about social unrest than about ballooning local debt, which at one point seemed to be a priority, ” said David Zweig, director of Transnational China Consulting Limited and a professor emeritus at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Huge protests, after all, have for months consumed Hong Kong, which local officials said last November would sink into its first annual recession in a decade.

The protests have focused on calls for greater democracy, but economic factors such as the soaring cost of housing and an increasingly competitive labor market have been fueling a growing sense of dissatisfaction, particularly among the city’s young people. Social unrest might be the “black swan” risk facing the country, Zweig added, using a phrase that Chinese President Xi Jinping himself uttered last year to describe an improbable but chaotic event. “2020 is going to be very difficult, and mass unemployment may be the most feared problem,” said Frank Ching, a China political commentator and adjunct associate professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s not just an economic issue — it could develop into a political one. “

Read more …

And 15% for GM. Who’s taking over? Reuters doesn’t say.

Ford’s China Vehicle Sales Drop 26% In Third Straight Year Of Decline (R.)

Ford Motor Co’s China vehicle sales fell for a third consecutive year, by 26.1%, as it battles a prolonged overall sales decline in its second-biggest market that has hit demand for its mass-market Ford brand and sports utility vehicles. The U.S. automaker delivered 146,473 vehicles in China in the fourth quarter, down 14.7% year-on-year, Ford said in a statement. In total, it sold 567,854 vehicles over 2019. Ford has been trying to revive sales in China after its business began slumping in late 2017. Sales sank 37% in 2018, after a 6% decline in 2017. Anning Chen, president and chief executive of Ford Greater China, said that while 2019 was a “challenging” year for the automaker, it saw its market share in the high-to-premium segment stabilize and its sales decline in the value segment start to narrow in the second-half of the year.


“The pressure from the external environment and downward trend of the industry volume will continue in 2020, and we will put more efforts into strengthening our product lineup with more customer-centric products and customer experiences to mitigate the external pressure and improve dealers’ profitability.” The automaker plans to launch more than 30 new models in China over the next three years of which over a third will be electric vehicles. It has also said it would localize management teams by hiring more Chinese staff and aimed to improve relationships with joint venture partners. [..] Its larger U.S. rival General Motors last week said its sales in China fell 15% from a year earlier to 3.09 million vehicles in 2019, its second year of decline.

Read more …

Waiting for the Belingcat “analysis”.

Downing of PS-752 Already Being Used To Smear MH-17 Skeptics (OffG)

Many have noted that Iran’s honorable decision to take responsibility for the catastrophe is in sharp contrast with Washington’s response in 1988 when the U.S. Navy shot down Iran Air Flight 655 scheduled from Tehran to Dubai over the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 occupants, after failing to cover it up. Just a month later, Vice President George H.W. Bush would notoriously state he would “never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” Although he was not directly referring to the incident, one can only imagine what the reaction would be if Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were to say the same weeks after shooting down the Ukrainian plane, let alone an American one.

Predictably, Tehran’s transparency has gone mostly unappreciated while the Trump administration is already trying to use the disaster to further demonize Iran. Oddly enough, Ukrainian International Airlines is partly owned by the infamous Ukrainian-Israeli oligarch, politician and energy tycoon Igor Kolomoisky, who was notably one of the biggest financiers of the anti-Russian, pro-EU coup d’etat which overthrew the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Kolomoisky is also a principal backer of current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky whose dubious phone call with Trump resulted in the 45th U.S. president’s impeachment last month.

In another astounding coincidence, Kolomoisky’s Privat Group is believed to control Burisma Holdings, the Cypress-based company whose executive board 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter was appointed to following the Maidan junta. The former Vice President admitted that he bribed Ukraine into firing its top prosecutor who was looking into his son’s corruption by threatening to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees. Kolomoisky, AKA “the Chameleon”, is one of the wealthiest people in the ex-Soviet country and was formerly appointed as governor of an administrative region bordering Donbass in eastern Ukraine following the 2014 putsch.

He has also funded a battalion of volunteer neo-Nazi mercenaries fighting alongside the Ukrainian army in the War in Donbass against Russian-speaking separatists which the military aid temporarily withheld by the Trump administration that was disputably contingent upon an investigation of Biden and his son goes to. In 2014, another infamous plane shootdown made international headlines when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) scheduled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

Read more …

Can Evo make a come-back?

Bolivia Exiled Ex-President Morales Calls On Radio For Armed Militias (R.)

Bolivia’s exiled former president Evo Morales on Sunday defended a call he made for the formation of armed groups, a recording of which was leaked on public radio. Speaking exclusively to Reuters on Sunday night in Argentina where he is in exile, the defiant former president confirmed his was the voice in a recording played on Bolivian radio calling for creation of armed militias “as in Venezuela”. He said people have a right to defend themselves if the new government was attacking them. He said he had not meant armed with guns and was referring to citizen defense groups that had always loosely existed. “In Bolivia, if the armed forces are shooting the people, killing the people, the people have the right to organize their security,” he said in the interview with Reuters.


“We´re not talking arms, more like slingshots,” he said. “In some times (these groups) were called militias, in other times they were called union security or union police and in some places it is called communal guard. It is not new.” In the recording released by radio station Kawsachun Coca Tropico, Morales said he and his supporters had been “too trusting” ahead of last year´s presidential election, and should have had a “Plan B.” “If between now and in a little while… I were to return (to Bolivia) or someone else goes back, we must organize as in Venezuela armed militias of the people,” Morales said in the recording. “We were too trusting. The blunder: we did not have a ‘Plan B’.”

Read more …

Is all innovation positive? Given how it’s promoted, one might think so. But that’s just because of the money involved.

Somebody Snuck A Potato Into CES 2020 (F.)

I almost walked right by it. But then I realized the object the young man was holding up, apparently thrilling the small crowd gathered around his tiny CES 2020 booth, was a potato. The vegetable in question looked like an ordinary, chunky Idaho spud, although protruding out of one side was some kind of antenna, a black plastic appendage bent upward. Close to the potato’s surface, the exterior of the antenna became a thin, blade-like electrode that pierced the skin, clearly doing… something. The man was regaling the crowd with his incredible smart product, which he said was finally unlocking the awesome decision-making power of the potato. The antenna, which he called the NeuraSpud, tapped into the potato’s “artificial intelligence.”

Once you connected your smartphone over Bluetooth to the device and launched the accompanying app, you could ask the potato anything — with your voice, no less — and it would spout an answer on the screen, the digital-vegetable equivalent of a Magic Eight Ball. If the smart potato sounds like a big, stupid stunt, that’s because it is. The man behind the idea, Nicholas Baldeck from France, told me he brought his admittedly ridiculous “invention” to CES to make a point about the torrent of smart gadgets at the show, many of which don’t really solve problems at all. “This product has way more chance of success than 60% of the startups here,” Baldeck says. “I am skeptical of this idea of ‘connected everything.’


Now it looks like innovation is about putting a chip into any object. I’m not sure the word ‘smart’ makes more sense before the word toothbrush than the word potato.” Baldeck went to a lot of trouble to make his point. His booth cost $1,000, and he spent about $4,000 in travel, equipment and marketing. Plus the electrode-driven antenna he brought really works, he says — though “works” in this context is somewhat fungible, since what the electrode is “reading” from the juices inside the potato to create the answers is probably just random junk. He also had to buy a bunch of potatoes.

Read more …

 

 

 

Include the Automatic Earth in your 2020 charity list. Support us on Paypal and Patreon.

 

Sep 052018
 


Henri Matisse Luxury, calm and pleasure 1904

 

JP Morgan Warns Next Crisis To Have Flash Crashes And Social Unrest (CNBC)
Share Buybacks Boost Earnings (Roberts)
Mueller To Accept Written Answers From Trump In Russia Probe (Ind.)
Senior Diplomat Exposes US Meddling In Russian Election (ZH)
Google Bosses Expected To Snub Senate (BBC)
Mervyn King Attacks ‘Incompetent’ Brexit Approach (BBC)
Angela Merkel Admits Collapse Of Brexit Talks Cannot Be Ruled Out (G.)
Mark Carney Willing To Stay On As BoE Governor To Help ‘Smooth’ Brexit (Ind.)
US ‘Could Have Forced A Greek Debt Haircut’ – Ashoka Mody (K.)
Eight Bird Species Are First Confirmed Avian Extinctions This Decade (G.)

 

 

Yeah, I know, the Woodward book. No objective views available. Lots of sensational quotes subject to interpretation. Tons of voices saying for instance that Trump wanted Mattis to kill Assad, even ordered him to. But Woodward writes that Trump said: “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them..”. That doesn’t sound like an order. That’s a first reaction from someone who’s been fooled by his own staff into believing Assad was responsible. Normal first reaction. Not an order. We’ll get some more balance, but it won’t come from the MSM.

 

Liquidity, volatility, fighting in the streets.

JP Morgan Warns Next Crisis To Have Flash Crashes And Social Unrest (CNBC)

Sudden, severe stock sell-offs sparked by lightning-fast machines. Unprecedented actions by central banks to shore up asset prices. Social unrest not seen in the U.S. in half a century. That’s how J.P. Morgan Chase’s head quant, Marko Kolanovic, envisions the next financial crisis. The forces that have transformed markets in the last decade, namely the rise of computerized trading and passive investing, are setting up conditions for potentially violent moves once the current bull market ends, according to a report from Kolanovic sent to the bank’s clients on Tuesday. His note is part of a 168-page mega-report, written for the 10th anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis, with perspectives from 48 of the bank’s analysts and economists.

Kolanovic, a 43-year-old analyst with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, has risen in prominence for explaining, and occasionally predicting, how the new, algorithm-dominated stock market will behave. The current bull rally, the longest in modern history by some measures, has been characterized by extended periods of calm punctuated with spasms of selling known as flash crashes. Recent examples include a nearly 1,600 point intraday drop in February and a 1,100 point decline in August 2015. “They are very rapid, sharp declines in asset values with sharp increases in market volatility,” Kolanovic, the bank’s global head of macro quantitative and derivatives research, said in a recent interview. But those flash crashes occurred during a backdrop of a U.S. economic expansion; the new market hasn’t been tested in the throes of a recession, he said.

“If you have these liquidity-driven sharp sell-offs that come at the end of the cycle, or maybe even causes the end of the cycle, then I think you can have a much more significant asset price correction and even more significant increase in market volatility,” Kolanovic said. [..] Kolanovic closes his report on an ominous note: “The next crisis is also likely to result in social tensions similar to those witnessed 50 years ago in 1968.”

Read more …

Tyler labeled it the graph of the decade. That may be a bit much, but it’s good to point out that earnings rise ONLY because there are so many fewer outstanding shares. Buybacks don’t only raise share prices, they raise earnings numbers too.

Share Buybacks Boost Earnings (Roberts)

[..] while top line SALES fell, bottom line revenue expanded as share buybacks and accounting gimmickry escalated for the quarter. The question is whether sales dramatically expanded in Q2? Given some of the recent economic data, we have our doubts and expect a smaller increase. (I will update this chart when S&P updates the sales/share figure for Q2) As shown in the chart below, the biggest support for earnings expansion in Q2 continues to be the dramatic decline in shares outstanding.

Of course, such should not be a surprise. Since the recessionary lows, much of the rise in “profitability” have come from a variety of cost-cutting measures and accounting gimmicks rather than actual increases in top-line revenue. While tax cuts certainly provided the capital for a surge in buybacks, revenue growth, which is directly connected to a consumption-based economy, has remained muted. Since 2009, the reported earnings per share of corporations has increased by a total of 353%. This is the sharpest post-recession rise in reported EPS in history. However, the increase in earnings did not come from a commensurate increase in revenue which has only grown by a marginal 44% during the same period and declined from 49% in Q1.

The reality is that stock buybacks create an illusion of profitability. If a company earns $0.90 per share and has one million shares outstanding – reducing those shares to 900,000 will increase earnings per share to $1.00. No additional revenue was created, no more product was sold, it is simply accounting magic. Such activities do not spur economic growth or generate real wealth for shareholders. However, it does provide the basis for with which to keep Wall Street satisfied and stock option compensated executives happy.

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if Mueller does anything in the public eye before the mid terms are over, expect chaos.

Mueller To Accept Written Answers From Trump In Russia Probe (Ind.)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller will accept written answers from President Donald Trump on whether his campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 US election, but Mr Mueller is not ruling out a follow-up interview on that issue, Mr Mueller’s offer to accept written responses from the president on questions about possible collusion was contained in a letter that Mr Trump’s lawyers received on Friday, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. Mr Trump’s legal team and Mr Mueller’s investigators have been negotiating for months over whether the president will be formally interviewed in the probe.

The president’s team have not yet answered the letter. After receiving the written responses, Mr Mueller’s investigators would decide on a next step, which could include an interview with Mr Trump, the person said. The letter was first reported by the New York Times. It was not immediately clear what those conditions mean for other avenues Mr Mueller is exploring, including whether the president sought to obstruct the Russia investigation through actions such as the firing last year of former FBI Director James Comey.

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And there is Google.

Senior Diplomat Exposes US Meddling In Russian Election (ZH)

As Russian citizens prepare to head to the polls on Sunday to vote in regional elections, a senior Russian diplomat has revealed that Moscow has uncovered a US interference effort involving a Silicon Valley tech giant and activists opposed to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following a briefing on the matter, senior Russian diplomat Andrey Nesterenko told Russia’s Interfax news agency that the US “certainly does” meddle in the Russian electoral processes, as RT reported. The revelation followed reports that Russia has resumed a major airstrike of a reputed terrorist stronghold in Idlib province over the objections of President Trump, who warned that such a strike would be a humanitarian disaster.

“Our collective opinion is that electoral sovereignty is a principle that all civilized nations should respect” the diplomat said, adding that Moscow will notify “our American partners that the actions of their media outlets allow us to state that they are close to breaking Russian law.” Specifically, Nesterenko was referring to a possible violation of Russian election laws by Google parent Alphabet, which hosted advertisements for an illegal campaign rally organized by Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny. Navalny is calling for protests to denounce the vote, which he believes is biased. To help spread the word, Navalny’s public movement is using paid ads on Google services like YouTube. However, holding an event dedicated to an election campaign on the same day as the vote goes against Russian law.

The Russian Central Election Commission, media watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Anti-monopoly Service have reportedly informed Google about these illegal activities being carried out on its platform. “Living in a proper law-abiding nation, we expect every actor to play by the rules. Especially an informed player. If the opposite happens, I believe we have tools at our disposal [to address that],” Andrey Kashevarov, the deputy head of FAS, said.

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It’s like an all-out power game.

Google Bosses Expected To Snub Senate (BBC)

When Silicon Valley companies once again appear in front of the US Senate on Wednesday, there will be one major absentee: Google. The Senate Intelligence Committee wanted to hear from Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, or his boss Larry Page, the chief executive of Google’s parent firm, Alphabet. Barring a dramatic, last-minute change of plan, the BBC understands neither will attend. It would mark the first time a technology firm has refused to comply with the wishes of Congress since the wide-reaching inquiries into misinformation and meddling began in the wake of the 2016 election. Google had instead hoped to send Kent Walker, one of its top lawyers. The offer was abruptly shut down by the committee.

Its vice chairman, the Democratic Senator Mark Warner, said an empty chair would be left out to represent Google’s non-appearance. Eventually, senators may issue a subpoena, forcing an appearance under the threat of prosecution. “If Google thinks we’re just going to go away, they’re sadly mistaken,” said Senator Warner, speaking to Wired magazine. The hearing, scheduled to begin at 09:30 (13:30 GMT), is entitled “Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms”. As well as Google, Twitter and Facebook have been called to appear. Twitter will be represented by its chief executive, Jack Dorsey, while Facebook is sending its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. It will be the first time either executive has faced a congressional committee.

[..] The affair risks becoming a public relations crisis for Google, which just last week was doing its best to bat back claims from President Donald Trump that it was censoring conservative news outlets in its search results. The White House did not provide any evidence to support the president’s complaints, but the topic may well come up at Wednesday’s hearing. “I don’t know if it’s because [Page] wants to avoid being asked about those things or because they think they’re so important and so powerful that they don’t need to provide congressional testimony,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio, speaking to the Washington Post. He also told the newspaper: “They should be careful with that. When a company gets too big to become accountable, they become a monopoly.”

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No kidding.

Mervyn King Attacks ‘Incompetent’ Brexit Approach (BBC)

Former Bank of England governor Lord King has blasted Brexit preparations as “incompetent”. The Brexit supporter said it “beggared belief” that the world’s sixth-biggest economy should be talking of stockpiling food and medicines. This left the government without a credible bargaining position, he said. “A government that cannot take action to prevent some of these catastrophic outcomes illustrates a whole lack of preparation,” he said. “It doesn’t tell us anything about whether the policy of staying in the EU is good or bad, it tells us everything about the incompetence of the preparation for it.” Lord King said the 11th-hour preparation for a no-deal Brexit had undermined the government’s negotiating position.

He added: “We haven’t had a credible bargaining position, because we hadn’t put in place measures where we could say to our colleagues in Europe, ‘Look, we’d like a free-trade deal, we think that you would probably like one too, but if we can’t agree, don’t be under any misapprehension, we have put in place the measures that would enable us to leave without one.'” He predicts that we will find ourselves with what’s been dubbed as Brino – Brexit in name only – which he said was the worst of all worlds. It’s also a state of affairs that he fears could drag on for years. “I think the biggest risk to the UK, and this is what worries me most, is that this issue isn’t going to go away, you know the referendum hasn’t decided it, because both camps feel that they haven’t got what they wanted.”

Lord King expressed regret and surprise that it was more difficult for a single country to present a united front than the other 27 EU members. He said: “They must have been really worried that they had 27 countries to try to corral, how could they have a united negotiating position, they were dealing with a country that was one country, made a clear decision, voted to leave, it knew what it wanted to do, how on earth could the EU manage to negotiate against this one decisive group on the other side of the Channel? “Well, the reality’s been completely the opposite. The EU has been united, has been clear, has been patient and it’s the UK that’s been divided without any clear strategy at all for how to get to where we want to go.”

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Maybe at this point Merkel should be more outspoken?

Angela Merkel Admits Collapse Of Brexit Talks Cannot Be Ruled Out (G.)

Angela Merkel has warned her country’s business leaders that the Brexit negotiations are in danger of collapse. With talks in Brussels at an impasse with just months to go before a deal needs to be agreed, the German chancellor made a rare intervention at a conference in Frankfurt. She told major players in the world of German finance on Tuesday: “We don’t want the discussions to break down. We will use all our force and creativity to make sure a deal happens. We don’t want these negotiations to collapse. But we also can’t fully rule that out because we still have no result.” The EU says it needs a deal to be struck on the withdrawal agreement covering citizens’ rights, the £39bn divorce bill and the Irish border, along with the political declaration on the future deal, by November at the latest.

The German chancellor has generally played a backseat role in the talks, preferring to intervene only at crunch points at EU summits. EU leaders are due to meet in Brussels in October, but an emergency summit is being pencilled in for 13 November in case the negotiations require an extra few weeks for agreement to be made. The leaders will be gathering at a summit in Salzburg later this month where the EU27 are planning a “carrot and stick” approach to Brexit, offering Theresa May warm words on the Chequers proposals to take to the Conservative conference alongside a sharp warning that they need a plan for Northern Ireland within weeks.

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Using the words ‘Brexit’ and ‘smooth’ in one sentence is just comedy. Wonder what they had to promise him. Knighthood?

Mark Carney Willing To Stay On As BoE Governor To Help ‘Smooth’ Brexit (Ind.)

Mark Carney told MPs on Tuesday that he was willing to stay on as governor of the Bank of England beyond his planned departure date in order to “smooth” the Brexit process. Mr Carney had planned to step down in June 2019 after six years in Threadneedle Street’s top job, two years fewer than BoE governors normally serve. But, asked by MPs on the Treasury Committee whether he would stay, Mr Carney said: “Even though I have already agreed to extend my time to support a smooth Brexit, I am willing to do whatever else I can in order to promote both a smooth Brexit and effective transition at the Bank of England.”

“The chancellor and I have discussed this. I would expect an announcement to be made in due course.” The comments come after mounting speculation in recent days that the Treasury would like Mr Carney to stay on in his role, providing more continuity during uncertain economic times. There are fears that few candidates will put themselves forward for the job as the Brexit negotiations reach a critical stage.

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“What was the basic demand of SYRIZA? To tie debt repayments to GDP and so reduce the level of austerity. Any good economist will tell you that was a very reasonable starting point for the negotiation.”

US ‘Could Have Forced A Greek Debt Haircut’ – Ashoka Mody (K.)

“The fundamental reason why the Greek crisis lasted so long was the extreme level of austerity that was imposed.” That is the verdict of Ashoka Mody, visiting professor in International Economic Policy at Princeton University, a former deputy director of the IMF’s European Department and one of the most eloquent critics of the policies of the troika in Greece and elsewhere. Mody, who recently published a long-form version of these critiques in his book “EuroTragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts”, spoke to Kathimerini about the Greek crisis and those to blame for it. We began by discussing what many consider the original sin of the bailout period: the decision not to restructure Greece’s debt in May 2010. What should the IMF have done?

“It should have insisted, it should have made the restructuring a condition of its participation,” the Indian-born economist said, mentioning that the staff report all but admitted the debt was unsustainable and that Dominique Strauss-Kahn later said he was in favor of debt relief. “The reason it didn’t happen was the ideological opposition of the European Central Bank – in this case supported by the US Treasury. Strauss-Kahn did not want to offend either the Americans or the Europeans. The stance of the US Treasury was critical – if its representative on the Executive Board had come out in favor of a restructuring, it would have happened. Instead, it sided completely with the European viewpoint – the Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, believed that there should never be a restructuring in the midst of a crisis.”

Regarding the argument that the problem in Greece (compared with other bailout countries) was there was no ownership of reforms, Mody said: “It is indeed the case that IMF programs only succeed when there is ownership. The question is what were Greeks asked to own. The arithmetic of austerity was relentless, cruel. Whatever the Greeks did, with austerity on such a scale they could not have escaped the collapse in gross domestic product. And then things became even worse, because the recession led to targets being missed, which led to more measures! The IMF published studies at the time showing what a terrible idea it was to impose further austerity in a recession, how it worsens the debt-to-GDP ratio. Yet the IMF kept doing it in Greece, ignoring all its internal studies!”

[..] The conversation turned to 2015. How does he think the creditors should have handled SYRIZA differently? “Look, even before SYRIZA came to power, Wolfgang Schaeuble said that elections do not matter. On January 31, 2015, six days after the election, Erkki Liikanen, the head of the Finnish central bank, says that if the new government does not accept the program, the ECB will cut liquidity support for Greek banks. Four days later, the ECB withdraws the waiver [which allowed the banks to borrow cheaply from it, using Greek government bonds as collateral]. And in June, the Europeans close down the banks. What was the basic demand of SYRIZA? To tie debt repayments to GDP and so reduce the level of austerity. Any good economist will tell you that was a very reasonable starting point for the negotiation.”

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More of my friends are leaving every day. Some don’t even say goodbye.

Eight Bird Species Are First Confirmed Avian Extinctions This Decade (G.)

Spix’s macaw, a brilliant blue species of Brazilian parrot that starred in the children’s animation Rio, has become extinct this century, according to a new assessment of endangered birds. The macaw is one of eight species, including the poo-uli, the Pernambuco pygmy-owl and the cryptic treehunter, that can be added to the growing list of confirmed or highly likely extinctions, according to a new statistical analysis by BirdLife International. Historically, most bird extinctions have been small-island species vulnerable to hunting or invasive species but five of these new extinctions have occurred in South America and are attributed by scientists to deforestation.

Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s chief scientist, said the new study highlighted that an extinction crisis was now unfolding on large continents, driven by human habitat destruction. “People think of extinctions and think of the dodo but our analysis shows that extinctions are continuing and accelerating today,” he said. “Historically 90% of bird extinctions have been small populations on remote islands. Our evidence shows there is a growing wave of extinctions washing over the continent driven by habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture, drainage and logging.” More than 26,000 of the world’s species are now threatened, according to the latest “red list” assessment, with scientists warning that humans are driving a sixth great extinction event.


The Brazilian Spix’s macaw, as seen in the children’s movie Rio, is one of the eight birds to become extinct Photograph: Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation

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